The African Enterprise (09/08/2021)

Waste is our most valuable resource, The grand hierarchy of Intelligence, The Social Brain Hypothesis, and The racing men phenomenon.

Hi friends,

Greetings from Abuja.

Last week, I spent some time watching a video about transforming our trash into energy. As a civilization, we have only begun to learn that our conspicuous and no-end-in-sight brand of consumption leaves a toll.

This fact is often obscured by how clean our streets are. If we just dump all our trash in the right place then we've got this under control, right?. Our biggest and most unrelenting juggernaut is that of waste production.

There is no way to stop producing. Even our biological reactions have their waste products. So, we have to rethink waste management. That video on transforming waste to energy reminded me of my essay from some time ago about Waste being our most valuable resource. Although economics dictate that supply is inversely proportional to value, the opposite might be true for waste.

It could be our most valuable resource because of how abundant it is. We have mastered the art of creating waste. Maybe there's more that could be done to repurpose them. Most conversion efforts are still very cost-intensive but hey, once only the very wealthy could purchase cars, or mobile phones, or fly. Now, most people can.

Read the essay here.


Coolest things I learned this week

The grand hierarchy of Intelligence

Rodney brooks championed an approach to robotics called Embodied intelligence. One that is based on biological design. For example, Animals are not formed in one fell swoop. Instead, they evolve. New species slowly emerge over time through a gradual accumulation of functions. Natural selection favors functions that work, the rest are discarded.

In designing brook's robot, the team would start with a simple machine that could do just one function well. For example, if the function is Walk, it walked very well. The limbs would have springs and shock absorbers that allow it to respond to the environment in real-time. With those, it learns and adapts to the environment.

The more it learns, the more it's able to perform higher-level functions.

The underlying idea in this approach is the grand hierarchy of intelligence: High-level sophisticated tasks are performed by combining simple skills that are in turn just organizations of simpler skills.

In essence, Complex skill = Simple skill + Simple skill + Simple skill…

And, Simple skill = Simpler skill + Simpler skill + Simpler skill ...

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The Social Brain Hypothesis

Humans and non-human primates are the most intelligent creatures. This improved intellect is because primates have large brains relative to body size. Our brains weigh between 1300 - 1400g. So why did our brains get so big? 

The Social brain hypothesis is the widely agreed reason why primates have larger brains.

This hypothesis posits that living in a group conferred adaptive advantages as it created a snowball effect. As groups of people got larger, their joint behaviors got more complex. As behaviors got more complex, individuals developed new capabilities to support those behaviors. With these new capabilities, groups got even larger, and behavior got more complex, and so on.

The large brain evolved to cope with the complexities of Social life.

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The racing men phenomenon

During the just-concluded Tokyo Olympics, several world racing records tumbled. Karsten Warholm ran the 400m hurdles in 45.94 seconds to clinch the record. He had broken the previous 27-year-old record of 46.78 set in 1992 by finishing in  46.70s earlier this year.

In Silver was Rai Benjamin who finished in 46.17s. Also significantly less than the previous world record of 46.70s.

What this shows is the impact of the Racing men Phenomenon.

Warholm ran the race of his life to finish with the World record because just behind was Rai Benjamin also running the race of his life.

The racing men phenomenon crystallizes the importance of competitive push. Similarly, in the Women's Category, Sydney Mclaughlin ran the race of her life to finish in a world record time of 51.46s because just behind her, Dalilah Muhammed was running the race of her life. Finishing above her previous world record time of 52.16s in 51.58s.

If they were running that track alone, would they need to blow past speed limits in residential areas?

This racing men phenomenon is evident in every facet of life, business, and learning. As a civilization, our exploits have all been a result of a competitive push. 


That’s it for this week.

If you have any thoughts or questions, hit reply and we can have a chat. And if you enjoyed it, share it with friends.

Till next week,

Kelvin