Jul 11, 2018

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Welcome back to Future. Thanks for subscribing. Consider inviting your friends and colleagues to sign up.

I'd love to hear what you think we ought to cover, are getting wrong, or anything else you care to share. Just hit reply to this email or shoot me a message at steve@axios.com. Let's start with ...

1 big thing: AI and "the end of truth"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Advances in artificial intelligence are supercharging propaganda, espionage, and cybercrime, threatening "the end of truth," says a new report from the Center for a New American Security, shared first with Axios.

Kaveh Waddell writes: The biggest danger is so-called "deepfakes," or AI-doctored videos falsely showing people saying or doing something.

  • "We're moving into an era where seeing is no longer going to be believing," says Paul Scharre, director of the technology and national security program at CNAS and co-author of the report.
  • Deepfakes could be used as propaganda, for misinformation campaigns, or to derail diplomacy, Scharre says.
  • "I don't think we as a society are prepared for this."

Why it matters: Cybercriminals and governments are stocking up on the AI capabilities that will define the next generation of conflict. At the same time, automation and the rise of fake information are stirring up unrest. Together, these forces can turn society upside down.

The details: The report is an abridged encyclopedia of the good and ill that AI could bring to national security. Some of the scenarios show the potential upside of AI tools, but many would result in chaos if not challenged by smart AI countermeasures.

The bottom line: AI development is an arms race that will be won by the cleverest, best-funded side.

Go deeper: Read Kaveh's whole post.

2. Reversing the 20th century

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

One thread we've followed is the potential consequences of President Trump and a growing list of other populist western leaders tearing at the fabric of the post-World War II world order.

  • But as the story evolves, a larger picture is taking shape of a 21st century United States without many of the basic institutions that many consider key 20th century advances.

Just some of the pieces of this riptide:

  • Unions: A decimation of the 120-year-old union movement, most recently with last month's Supreme Court ruling weakening the funding of public unions.
  • Black voting: In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act, and last month the court decided that counties can purge voter rolls of people who don't regularly vote.
  • Women's rights: A primary conservative goal is the invalidation or weakening of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
  • International order: When Trump — along with the leaders of Italy, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Russia — challenge the post-war order, they strike institutions established to avoid another world war. 

In the NYT, Peter Baker quotes Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice. In the likelihood that Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as the next new Supreme Court justice, it will mean "a conservative court, really [for] the first time since the 1930s,” Levey tells him.

  • It's worth noting that that one of the main legacies of that court was the dismantlement of key components of the New Deal, which established Social Security and other key social programs that are part of the U.S. firmament.

Go deeper: Read the whole post.

3. Back to 1648

Ratifying Westphalia, 1648. Painting by Gerard ter Borch. Credit: historytoday

If the current global order is being upended, what will replace it?

We are getting a clue in the actions of western leaders and their allies, whose posture suggests a turn back to the foundational, 370-year-old system that preceded World War II.

  • This brutish order, established in 1648, was called the Westphalian system, and it more or less left states on their own.
  • In effectively embracing it today, western countries are rejecting the collective bodies that the U.S.-led victors of WWII established with the aim of preventing another catastrophic global war.
  • "Historically, great powers haven’t (even mostly) been able to sustain peace," says Mathew Burrows, a former senior U.S. intelligence officer now at the Atlantic Council. "They fall out with one another."

Karen Harris, managing director at Bain Macro Trends, tells Axios that the new order will be the U.S., Russia and China — "multiple parallel great powers pushing against each other in the two new borderlands of cyberspace and (actual) space."

  • That, she said, "will lead to a more fragmented geopolitical order and by extension, a more fragmented international trade and finance order."

The bottom line: Westphalia meant that states respected each other's territory and pledged not to intervene over borders. But Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, suggests that Russia has set an example by which it's each country for itself.

  • "In some cases, some of these leaders seem to want a 'Westphalia for me, but not for thee' approach — don't undermine my sovereignty, but understand if I feel compelled to undermine yours," Fontaine tells Axios. 
4. Mailbox — getting paid for data

At work. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty

Last week, we discussed who gets the profit from your web-surfing data habits. As of now, it's big tech companies like Facebook and Google, who get it free in exchange for providing search and friendship services.

But two readers responded by describing current startups that attempt to steer the money instead to the people doing the surfing.

How they work: The thing about data — meaning the history of your travails around the internet — is that scale is super-important. Data is almost never valuable on an individual level.

Companies like Facebook and China's Alibaba are powerful because they marshal the data of hundreds of millions of people, and isolate it in endless ways to suit the marketing requirements of any client on the planet.

What this means: While it's great to allow people to opt out of the use of their data in ways of which they do not approve — the current wave — it's not practical for any individual to try to actually sell his or her own data.

  • You still need someone who aggregates it with a ton of other people's data, then offers it up to advertisers, people looking to swing elections, and other customers.
  • That's where the startups come in: Datawallet and Wibson, two data marketing platforms.
  • Wibson's CEO, Mat Travizano, says the current value of a person's data for digital ads is about $240 a year.

Go deeper: Read the rest of the post.

5. Worthy of your time

Aftermath of fire in Goleta, CA, on July 7. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

Some companies are hiding their use of humans (Olivia Solon - Guardian)

Lots of ancients died old (Christine Cave - Aeon)

OECD confirms that Big Tech is subduing wages (Reuters)

The future will be hotter. Consider California (Andrew Freedman - Axios)

The surge of Britons trying to become Germans (Dave Gershgorn - Quartz)

End of the road for roughnecks (Christopher M. Matthews - WSJ)

6. 1 location thing: Where it's best to live

Oil drilling near Watford City, ND. Photo: Ken Cedeno/Corbis/Getty

The highest median salary for millennials in the U.S. is about $50,000 a year in San Jose, Calif., and the area around it, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.

  • Stef Kight writes: But once you figure in the cost of living and taxes, Silicon Valley doesn't look as great. You'd be better off — at least from a financial standpoint — moving to Bismarck, N.D., or Midland, Texas, where you'd only earn about $33,000, but would have more in your pocket at the end, the study's authors say.

What's going on: The Hamilton Project compared wages, taxes and the cost of living for 320 unique occupations in about 380 U.S. metropolitan areas, creating an interactive tool that allows further breakdown by age group.

  • Ryan Nunn, one of the authors, tells Axios that the study highlights the importance of living costs in deciding where to work. "It makes quite a bit of difference," he said.

The leading line of work differs substantially between Silicon Valley, Bismarck and Midland, the latter two featuring a lot of oil industry jobs, and San Jose information technology.

By the numbers: Bismarck, Midland, and Rochester, Minn., are the top three locations for adjusted median earnings in the 25-to-34-year-old category.

  • Yes, but: The highest-paying jobs were in San Jose, San Francisco and the D.C. metropolitan area.
Bryan Walsh