May 30, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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📺 Check out the new trailer for Season 2 of "Axios on HBO," premiering Sunday at 6 pm ET/PT. Episode 1 includes an exclusive interview with Jared Kushner.

Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Kaveh Waddell is at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

Situational awareness: Measles cases break 25-year record in the U.S. (Axios)

Smart Brevity count: 1,043 words/<5 min. read

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: The future of big electrics

The Rivian SUV. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA/LightRocket/Getty

When it comes to personal vehicles, Americans are pretty clear what they like — something large, muscular and gasoline-driven. Sedans were fewer than one-third of U.S. vehicles sold last year, and electrics just 2%.

  • But carmakers are betting that in the coming years, Americans will go electric in a big way. And behind that gamble are different electrics from those that consumers have been offered so far.
  • Specifically, electric pickup trucks and SUVs.

The big picture: For the last few years, electric cars have been one of the buzziest tech items on the market, propelled almost single-handedly by the showmanship and design of Elon Musk's Tesla Motors. But Tesla, Ford, BMW and GM have offered up almost exclusively sedans, with the Tesla Model X SUV being the exception.

  • That has been a big mistake. Speaking with Axios, Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas said the currently struggling Musk had "definitely" erred by first launching his mass-market Model 3 sedan, rather than the future Model Y crossover.
  • Tesla did not respond to an email.

Now, though, Musk and a crowd of other carmakers — Ford, VW, Volvo and a startup called Rivian — are on the verge of releasing a slew of SUVs, crossovers and electric pickup trucks.

Rivian is attracting a lot of the attention. Over the last three months, Amazon led a $700 million round of investment in the company, and Ford made a $500 million investment in it.

  • Late next year, Rivian says, it will start selling a $69,000 R1T pickup and a $72,500 R1S SUV, both capable of driving 400 miles on a single charge and going 0 to 60 in 3 seconds.
  • Ford said it will develop an electric vehicle with Rivian; and for Amazon, the investment is about building a vehicle using the Rivian chassis for last-mile delivery of its packages.
  • "Millions of people are buying pickup trucks for their daily driving. People like the image that comes with a pickup truck," Michael McHale, Rivian's director of communications, told Axios today.

The numbers back up this bet. For the first 3 months of 2019, 7 of the top-10 best-selling vehicles in the U.S., and 19 of the top 25, were either a pickup truck, an SUV or a jeep.

  • This is the 43rd straight year in which the Ford F-150 pickup is the most popular vehicle in the U.S.
  • Now, Ford says it will make an electric version of the truck. It has not said when, but prototypes have been photographed in Dearborn, Michigan.

For two reasons, few have been able to imagine an electric pickup. The batteries would be too heavy and expensive, and, it was believed, very few hard-core truck enthusiasts would be seen in a quiet, sissy electric.

  • Now that battery costs have plunged, pickups "should hit primetime over the next couple of years," says Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon.
  • In my travels and speeches, when I am in pickup country, I often ask the audience whether anyone would own an electric F-150. What I get back is a mystified shrug and, "Why not?"

The bottom line: These bigger electrics will come onto the market gradually, but within 5 years, electric pickups and SUVs will be an intensely competitive market.

2. The future of AI philanthropy

Guyot Hall, 1909. Photo: Princeton Library Division of Rare Books and Special Collections

The future of American philanthropy, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is massive contributions to computer science education — and to artificial intelligence in particular.

Driving the news: Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, donated an unspecified amount to Princeton to create a single, large computer science building.

  • The context for the Schmidt donation was a $350 million contribution by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman for a new college at MIT focusing on the study of AI and computing.
  • "Steve's donation triggered an arms race among all the universities to match him. This is the next trend in philanthropy, in my view," Schmidt told me.

At Princeton, computer science has gone from a major that barely existed to the biggest on campus, the school said. It's spread over nine buildings with 44 full-time tenure-track faculty. The Schmidt donation will go to consolidate all that into a renovated building currently called Guyot Hall.

  • Gone will be the homage to Arnold Guyot, Princeton’s first professor of geology and geography (1854–1884), for whom the building has been named until now. (In a news release, Princeton said Guyot will be honored in a new environmental science space to be built elsewhere on the campus.)
  • The renovated building will be named the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Hall.
3. Bot driving, at less than $2 an hour

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

The sidewalk bots that trundle through Berkeley, delivering food to students and residents near campus, are guided remotely, Kaveh writes.

The Kiwi Campus bot overseers are sitting thousands of miles away in Colombia, the native country of the company's three co-founders, reports Carolyn Said for the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • They each watch over up to three robots, setting waypoints every 5–10 seconds to get them from place to place.
  • And they're paid under $2 an hour for the work, Said reports — above local minimum wage.

Our thought bubble: We've written about the invisible, underpaid class of workers who power and improve AI, often from outside the developed countries where the technology is deployed for others' benefit. This couldn't be a better illustration of the pattern.

Kiwi did not respond to requests for comment.

4. Worthy of your time

Cat's Paw Nebula, from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Why fiction trumps truth (Yuval Noah Harari — NYT)

Life and death of a telescope (Miriam Kramer — Axios)

Huawei: 1,200 U.S. suppliers at risk (Louise Lucas, James Kynge, Sue-Lin Wong — FT)

Roman invisibility cloaks (MIT Tech Review)

Boring in Vegas (Laura Bliss — CityLab)

5. 1 fun thing: Shakespeare rhymes

Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty

A project to uncover how Shakespearean works were pronounced in his time — 400-plus years ago — stumbled upon a hint in the bard's own writing, Kaveh writes.

His rhyme schemes, it turns out, are a giveaway.

  • "Two-thirds of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets don't rhyme anymore," says Ben Crystal, an actor leading the pronunciation project, on a 2012 episode of NPR Weekend Edition.
  • Sonnet 116, for example, sounds in parts utterly incongruous in modern English, rhyming "proved" with "loved." But the two words should rhyme, with "proved" taking the vowel sound we use today in "loved."

The Shakespearean accent sounds surprisingly familiar, Crystal says. "It has flecks of nearly every regional U.K. English accent, and indeed American and in fact Australian, too."

Hark!

Bryan Walsh