Have your neighbors signed up?
Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,018 words, a 4-minute read.
Okay, let's start with ...
In the East Africa Rift, Ethiopia. Photo: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis/Getty
Some 6 millennia ago, temperatures abruptly plunged, and a profound drought ensued in the then-tropical Middle East: To survive, people abandoned their land, migrated, and ultimately organized into a string of cities, stewarded over by strong rulers including the pharaohs in Egypt.
Quick take: Today, geopolitics usually mean war, human ego, big economics, or disease. But the Middle East drama in the third and fourth millennia BC illustrates the much-underestimated role of earthly forces in shaping and utterly turning history — and is a window into what may be in store for current and future generations.
The big picture: Historians focus on social forces, big personalities and economics — but wind, tectonics and Earth's orbit are among the deeper dynamics that set "the very course of history," says Lewis Dartnell, author of "Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History."
The list of earthly induced geopolitics is long: The Harappan civilization, its collapse around 1700 BC blamed on drought or another weather catastrophe; the Minoans, their demise abetted by a volcanic eruption around 1500 BC; and the Little Ice Age of the 14th to the 19th centuries, which caused famine that wiped out swaths of France, Norway, and Sweden.
The Middle East events prior to the Bronze Age mirror some of the challenges we face today, according to a 2016 paper published in the Quaternary Science Reviews:
"If you fast-forward 10, 20, 30 years in the future, it will fundamentally change where rain falls. It will change where we can grow food. Throughout history, with climate change, if people can't support themselves where they are, they will move," Dartnell said.
What's next: Scientists believe that, in order to sustain complex intelligent life, other planets would have to have a very similar geological system to Earth's, including tectonics. That means that on terrestrial planets, continents would crash into each other and pull apart, mountains would push up, and the sun beating down would create a wind circulation system.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
With top talent and eager, deep-pocketed venture capitalists, the U.S. has far-and-away led the world in the number and amount of fundraising deals for AI companies, write Axios' Dion Rabouin and Kaveh.
But now, its lead has slipped: This year, for the first time, the majority of funding deals went outside the U.S. — mostly to Chinese and European companies, according to data from research firm CB Insights.
Between the lines: The number of startups in the U.S. has been relatively flat since the financial crisis — in part because Big Tech quickly snaps up many of the most promising shoots. Meanwhile AI startups in Europe, and especially China, have flared into prominence, driven by their governments' strategic planning to dominate AI.
What's happening: In addition to the Chinese government allocating significant spending to AI, more new companies are being started in a raft of different countries and raising equity, analysts from CB Insights tell Axios in an email.
Yes, but: The total amount of funding is still tilted heavily toward the U.S. — with the exception of a handful of Chinese mega-companies like TikTok owner ByteDance, which is the top-funded AI startup in the world. The U.S. funding lead is likely to continue because of its concentration of AI experts.
Shanghai. Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA/LightRocket/Getty
As we have reported, the emerging new economy is rooted in knowing as much as possible about large numbers of people, including their most intimate facts, manipulating behavior, and selling the results.
Now, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is planning to unleash this data-vacuuming tech on Neom, a futuristic new city-state he has in the works, write the WSJ's Justin Scheck, Rory Jones and Summer Said.
Among the technology Neom's planners propose are cameras, drones and facial recognition technology.
Such technology is most dramatically in use by China in its western region of Xinjiang. But Beijing has also sold the technology to at least 18 other countries, the NYT has reported.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The hidden costs of automated thinking (Jonathan Zittrain - New Yorker)
Einstein's disappointing success. (Alison Snyder - Axios)
Police are quietly pushing smart doorbells (Caroline Haskins — Vice)
Anyone can be gullible (Kera Bolonik - The Cut)
Can the internet save the department store? (Chris Mims - WSJ)
When Russia's Sergey Shubenkov stumbled in the 110-meter hurdles in the European Athletics Champions last August (see above), it was an opportune time to shout the family-safe, time-honored English expression, "Oops!"
But where did this visceral verbalization come from?
According to the WSJ's Ben Zimmer, the word oops — used to recognize an unintended slip of some sort — was first recorded in 1917, but that no one knows its derivation with certainty. Among the competing theories:
Thanks for reading!