The Grey Swan Guild News Wrap — The Week That Was Friday, May 28, 2021

Credit: HYPERTEK @HyperTekGFX

Grey Swan Guild News Wrap Edition: #19 of Vol. 1

These are a series of stories and headlines we are tracking in the
Grey Swan Guild’s Global League of Sensemakers Newsroom. Here is The Great, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what we observed this week. Despite our eager impatience to learn what happens during the Friends Reunion, we took the time to gather for you news from the world and do some sensemaking from the threads of facts. This week, we cover economics, demographics, public health, mental health, environment, societal changes, big business, entertainment, brain science, innovative technology, worklife, and prehistory.

Join us on Sunday, May 30th at 8am (PST) 11am (EST) / 4pm BST on Clubhouse to engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors, including Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Ben Thurman, Louise Mowbray, and Antonia Nicols.

For more events, check the Grey Swan Calendar — We had another of our thoughtful Ateliers exploring what will come and what will go after the pandemic recedes. We surfaced 20 questions about societal habit changes, value norms and beliefs and peering into the collective sentiment. Stay tuned for a report and sensemaking results from the workshop.

The next Grey Swan Guild Atelier on June 11 will go around the world with a geographic lens to look at comparative experiences. All Ateliers are free for members and the public.

This week was not only the Friends reunion, it was also the beginning of Graduation Season. And unlike last year, Class of 2021 gets to celebrate IRL with a mix of in-person and virtual commencement ceremonies. Hybrid is the word, and not just for education. The debate goes on between advocates of remote work and supporters of workplace reopenings, against a backdrop of introvert-extrovert-ambivert preferences. Meanwhile, big business is weathering the pandemic storm with brio, with Amazon buying MGM Studios for $8.45 billion, Google seeing its first-quarter revenues jumping 34% from the first quarter of 2020, and Disney launching “drone fireworks”. However, this celebration mood doesn’t prevent the American people from remembering George Floyd’s revolting death which shattered the country a year ago, forcing a reckoning that more had to be done to tackle systemic racism. Let’s dig into the Great, Good, Bad, and Ugly of the week.

The Great 😇

Credit: HBO Max
  1. Streaming wars and drone light shows. Amazon announced its acquisition of MGM Studios and its wide-ranging catalog of 4,000 films and 17,000 TV shows to help bolster its film and TV division, Amazon Studios. The $8.45 billion deal marks the second-largest acquisition in Amazon’s history, behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods in 2017. This power move boosts Amazon’s ambitions to fight the streaming battle against Netflix, Disney+/Hulu, Apple TV+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, and the latest AT&T Discovery megadeal. In honor of National Streaming Day, the Disney Bundle lit up the Los Angeles sky with drones forming iconic characters and imagery from beloved movies, series, and sports across Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN. Imagine Baby Yoda or Handmaid’s Tale illuminating the sky. In the same spirit as drone light shows at a miniature scale, Scientists at Brigham Young University have created tiny 3D animations out of light. These hologram-like visions exploit a phenomenon called photophoresis (spherical lenses create aberrations in laser light, heating microscopic particles and trapping them inside the beam) and persistence of vision.
  2. Beam me up Scotty. Speaking of holograms, Google unveiled Project Starline, a hologram-like video chatting tool that makes it look like the person you’re talking to is right there in the same room. In times of physical distancing and still limited travel options, such technology is particularly praised. Project Starline consists of a booth decked out with cameras and sensors which capture your image and movements from multiple vantage points. The imagery then gets transmitted to a similar booth in a different room. In addition, spatial audio makes it seem like the sound of the other person’s voice is all around you. In the field of human augmentation, scientists have found a way to make artificial muscle fibers far more powerful than those found in nature, by imitating the structure of the complex DNA double helix. Potential applications include miniature machinery within prosthetic hands and dextrous robotic devices. Other instances of tech for good are developed by young innovators in Hong Kong, such as robots that can automatically disinfect shopping malls and deliver meals in quarantine hotels, or flight simulators to train pilots and students with an emphasis on aviation safety. Scientists at Lehigh University are interested in the challenges of “Toward next-generation learned robot manipulation”, which focus on training robots through machine learning to manipulate objects and environments like humans do.
  3. Stand by me. Together we’re stronger. Also promising is the field of gaming for good science. Canadian scientists won a Webby award for enlisting online gamers to identify COVID-19 in blood data. The collaboration engine provides a platform for citizen scientist gamers to participate in identifying blood disease and advance scientific research. In China, a Guangzhou student who got a habit of purchasing near expired food at reduced prices, established an online community of 60,000 people, who share tips on buying near-expired food every day. This trend gained traction in recent years, especially since China passed a new Anti-Food Waste Law in April, declaring that restaurants that “induce or mislead” customers into ordering excessively would be fined, and banning “eating shows” and “competitive eaters” on social media. More and more believe cities will come back stronger after the pandemic. Studies show urban living may not be as risky as we suspect. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Utah found that density wasn’t linked to infection rates, whereas connectivity and transportation between counties mattered more for viral spread and mortality. Cities actually proved to be more resilient and to distribute resources to their citizens efficiently and equitably.

The Good 😀

Credit: “Sapiens: A Graphic History: The Birth of Humankind (Vol. 1)” by Yuval Noah Harari
  1. Baby you can light my fire. Archaeologists from Israel and Canada have just proved that early humans were using fire at least 900,000 years ago, by dating a prehistoric cave in South Africa. This represents a major step towards confirming that human exploitation of fire for cooking and defence drove key aspects of human evolution, such as changes in human gut anatomy, dentition, facial shape and increased brain size that occurred at roughly that time. In other prehistoric news, recent research shows that brain networks for memory and planning may have set us apart from Neanderthals. By comparing the networks that govern our emotional reactions, self-control and self-awareness, among Neanderthals, chimps, and modern humans, scientists found out that humans have the most genetic sequences for self-control and self-awareness, whereas chimpanzees almost don’t and Neanderthals are at an intermediate level. These findings support the idea that higher creative capacities in modern humans evolved in Africa under powerful climatic stress and allowed modern humans to outpace Neanderthals when the two species met. However Neanderthals fare well on the emotional ladder. If geologist William King, who named the species Homo neanderthalensis, characterized it as brutish, with a “moral darkness”, it recently became clear that “Neanderthals were not the slow-witted louts we had imagined them to be”.’’
  2. Go go gadget car! Vehicles get smarter and greener. As futurists like to say, we need to be good historians to be valuable futures thinkers: “Look back to better look forward”. Well, who would have guessed that said modern humans who discovered the power of fire would one day land rovers on another planet (5 from NASA, 1 from China), build quantum computers as Google is announcing it will by 2029, or fly autonomous planes as Merlin Labs which is creating a truly autonomous digital pilot. From July 6, 2022, auto manufacturers will be obliged to fit new models destined for the European market with an event data recorder, which French drivers are already rejecting as “snitch black boxes”. If the transportation industry is active in technological breakthroughs, we can also salute ecofriendly initiatives. While Ford now expects 40% of the global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030, the California-based Sakuu Corporation has announced a new 3D printing system that duplicate large electric vehicle batteries on demand. The system uses new techniques to create solid-state batteries that are lighter and smaller than traditional lithium-ion batteries, mainly destined to the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market. And in the era of cancel culture, when a company is greenwashing, environmental campaigners don’t let go! Climate activists around the world celebrated a court order in The Hague for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions. Shell’s existing carbon mitigation strategy was considered “not concrete and full of conditions”.
  3. Mirror Mirror on the wall, who has the best fairway shot of all? “The first step toward advanced-age greatness is passion”, as the success of 50-year old golfer Phil Mickelson at the Ocean Course (PGA Championship) illustrates. He cut down on sugar, soda, lost weight, worked hard, and practiced meditation. A good recipe to defy aging! Celine Halioua, CEO of startup Cellular Longevity Inc., has another plan. She develops treatments to extend the life span of dogs while making them more active in their later years. If the treatments work in canines, she expects consumers and regulators to be favorably disposed to adopt similar techniques in humans. About 30,000 dog owners have entered their pets into the Dog Aging Project, an academic research study backed by the National Institutes of Health, to examine how genetic and environmental factors affect dogs’ aging processes. It is also running a trial in which 200 middle-aged dogs receive rapamycin. Meanwhile, Singapore-based biotech company Gero found a way to break the limit of human longevity by reversing the biological age. Their experimentation constitutes a conceptual breakthrough because “it determines and separates the roles of fundamental factors in human longevity — the ageing, defined as progressive loss of resilience, and age-related diseases, as executors of death following the loss of resilience.”

The Bad 😬

“Breeze of Innovation” was chosen as Urban Confluence Silicon Valley’s planned landmark in downtown San Jose. (Courtesy Urban Confluence Silicon Valley)
  1. The Decline of the American Empire. While we search for remedies to prevent ageing, America’s population growth is slowing down. At the end of April, the Census Bureau reported that between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. population grew at its slowest rate since the Great Depression and the second slowest rate in any decade since the country’s founding. The phenomenon is not just local. “All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.” Demographers even predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time. On the one end, fewer births combined with longer lifespans mean fewer productive young workers to balance those in retirement. On the other end, a slower-growing population puts less pressure on the climate. Add in the mix that fewer people means fewer innovations, and you end up with a formula for corrosive generational conflict and a country in long-term decline. On a side note, we discovered that sexually transmitted disease is taking more animals to the brink of extinction than you might imagine.
  2. “15 Minutes of fame” NFTs anyone? Modernity in question. New art creation in public spaces raises more and more concern from eco-conscious citizens — such as the upcoming downtown San Jose (California) landmark called “Breeze of Innovation”, supposed to shine a bright light on the skyline, which on the contrary sparked a backlash from residents and environmentalists. Another piece of innovative art in debate are non fungible tokens (NFTs). Charlotte Hornets NBA player LaMelo Ball becomes the first athlete to enter the world of dynamic NFTs as he releases a set of 500 NFT’s prior to the announcement of the NBA Rookie of the Year in June. The original “I ain’t never seen two pretty best friends” viral TikTok video (October 2020) is now being auctioned off as a NFT. The video reached over 55 million views, and the audio was used by 66,000 users in an effort to disprove Scott’s thesis or on the opposite to playfully make fun of their friends. And what happens when NFT meets real estate? Now people are selling and buying art, furniture, and even houses and land that exist only virtually.
  3. Workin’ in a coal mine. Hub and Spoke — and Stop Whining! What can we expect in the future of work? There doesn’t seem to be much consensus as varied theories and opinions about a return to the office circulate. An anonymous survey of 3,000 employees at well-respected companies such as top-tier companies, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, overwhelmingly (64%) responded that they wanted to continue staying at home. Others argue that the death of the office market was greatly exaggerated. The U.S. office building market is over $2 trillion in size. While demand for the office space we once knew may be shrinking, many companies are now planning their returns to the office, likely with a hybrid model that allows for more social distancing. If demand for office space is affected by remote work, it is compensated by a higher average amount of space allocated to each person, called “office de-densification”. Research suggests that dispersed teams, working remotely, are often more efficient than co-located teams at successfully completing projects. However remote teams tend to persist with failing projects longer than co-located teams. Going forward in a hybrid work environment, managers need to help dispersed teams get better at failing fast. Managers need to resort to better screening and project planning, more frequent sync-ups, as well as more monitoring and intervention. Some inspiration might be found in the Hub-and-Spoke work model. We must nonetheless recollect that the “remote work/return to the office/hybrid model” debate which inundates media and small talks tends to dismiss the situation of millions of frontline workers opening a breach between anxiety for those returning to the office and exhaustion for those on the frontline. “As news coverage of white-collar employees’ return to the office picks up, there is a sense of resentment among some essential workers for whom there is no return since they continued working on-site throughout the pandemic.”

The Ugly 😱

Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson was shot in the head on the weekend and a report on the Sky News Austalia YouTube channel has attracted thousands of racist comments this week
  1. No Salt, Please. A new World Meteorological Organization forecast for the next several years predicts a 90% chance that the world will set another record for the hottest year by the end of 2025 and that the Atlantic will continue to brew more potentially dangerous hurricanes than it used to. Another recently observed consequence is that climate change erases humanity’s oldest art. Indeed, extreme weather — and especially salt and minerals contained in flowing waters — is rapidly eroding the limestone caves where people first drew images 40,000 years ago! These salt deposits seep into the cave walls, then proceed to expand and contract as temperatures rise and fall. This process causes the rock to slowly disintegrate. In other ugly news for our planet, an analysis of the corporate network behind plastic production looked at 1,000 factories that make the raw materials needed for single-use products. Plastic bottles, food packages and bags are among billions of items that are used once and then thrown away, often ending up in the oceans. At the base of the plastic supply chain, the research identified 20 petrochemical companies that are the source of 55 percent of the world’s single-use plastic waste. The companies include ExxonMobil, Dow and Sinopec.
  2. This. Is. Not. Okay. At Apple, employees are discouraged from sharing their opinions about work and rarely do so. However this time, multiple female Apple employees went public about their concerns on Twitter after the hiring of Antonio García Martínez, a former product manager at Facebook who’d written a tell-all book about Silicon Valley. His tone in the book was considered brash and misogynistic. A letter pointing that his management role in the company would contribute to an unsafe working environment collected 2,000 signatures, was leaked to The Verge, and triggered his firing the same evening. Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson was shot in the head in London on the weekend. A report on the Sky News Australia YouTube channel has attracted more than 9,000 racist comments celebrating and mocking her shooting, as the 27-year-old mother of three is still fighting for her life. The comments (some of which included calls for violence against politicians, including murder) were not removed before a few days by Sky News Australia, which has been largely criticized by its lack of position. Meanwhile, the U.S. faces an outbreak of anti-semitic violence: in the wake of clashes in Israel and Gaza, synagogues have been vandalized and Jews have been threatened and attacked. If we take a look at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hate-crime data, we notice that even if we live in an age of heightened awareness of ethnic and racial victimhood, the number of anti-Semitic crimes has scarcely changed.
  3. Fake News for a Living. Researchers have found that 12 people are responsible for the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The Disinformation Dozen are anti-vaccine activists, alternative health entrepreneurs and physicians, sometimes running multiple accounts across the different platforms, often promoting natural health. Altogether they produced 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. Social media influencers in France with hundreds of thousands of subscribers claim that a mysterious advertising agency offered to pay them if they agreed to smear Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine with false-negative stories. French YouTuber Leo Grasset who has 1.1 million subscribers was contacted and offered a lucrative but low-key deal to falsely claim Pfizer’s vaccine posed a deadly risk and that regulators and the mainstream media were covering up the supposed dangers.

Cartoon of the Week

Meme of the Week

Terms of the Week

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” she wrote in 1978.

If you want to improve your vocabulary — and talk as creatively as Moira Rose in Schitt’s Creek, take a look at this list. We love Betweenity (indecision), Feriation (vacation), Forjeskit (exhausted from work), Kindergraph (kid’s photograph from school), Nicknackatory (toy store), Recubation (reclining), but there are 50 others.

Charts of the Week

Cumulative COVID-19 cases and death. Source: USA Today.
COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide. Source: USA Today.

Photo of the Week

Avocadoes and vaccines at your local grocery store

Videos of the Week

The Disney Bundle Lights Up the Night
Friends: The Reunion | Full Episode | HBO Max
Project Starline by Google — Feel like you’re there, together

That’s the Wrap! Your thoughts?

Why not join us on Sunday, [Date] at 8:00 (PST)/11am (EST) /4pm (BST) on Clubhouse to engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors, including Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Ben Thurman, Louise Mowbray and Antonia Nicols.

See you next week for Edition #20 where we will ponder and ruminate on the week that was, what it means for the future and Wrap it for you.

The GSG Medium is The Message

Visit our Medium channel every Friday for a weekly wrap on the world’s biggest challenges and other fresh articles and points of view The Guild is sharing. Please drop by our Grey Swan Guild website (greyswanguild.org) for more publications and articles about how we make sense of the world ongoing and also the raft of possibilities to participate as a Sensemaker.

This Week’s Grey Swan News Wrap Editor: Sylvia Gallusser, with help from the Editorial Team: Rob Tyrie, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Ben Thurman, Doyle Buehler, Louise Mowbray, Antonia Nicols, and Keith Philips.

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