Uncharted Insider - June 2021

On economic inequality, artificial intelligence, the balance of power between individuals and institutions, and western art.

Uncharted Insider - June 2021

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the June edition of the Uncharted Insider. Do you know someone who would enjoy the Uncharted Insider? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.

Uncharted Update

  • We received 340 applications for our Economic Inequality Initiative, the highest number of applications we’ve received for any program since the founding of our organization 11 years ago. 77% of applicants are people of color and 63% are women and non-binary founders.
  • We’re going fully remote, and keeping our office for quarterly summits. After months of research, check out our new work-anywhere hybrid policy.

On Individuals vs. Institutions
We’re witnessing a shift in the balance of power away from corporations/institutions and towards individuals. Employees are quitting in record numbers, demanding higher wages, and voting with their feet. In the investing world, retail investors hold far more power than they did even one year ago, and they’ve used their power to squeeze professional investors and back the meteoric rise of dubious cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin (in the US alone, there are 10 million new individual investors, just since COVID). In sports, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of paying NCAA student athletes, and Naomi Osaka, the best female tennis player in the world, withdrew from the French Open because she wanted to prioritize her own mental health over long-standing (and stressful) tournament requirements. In tech, new technologies built on the blockchain are disintermediating transactions and removing institutions that have long wielded power over individuals.

What’s going on? Technology is democratizing power by 1) increasing the reach and strength of an individual’s influence, 2) enabling individuals to mobilize en masse, 3) removing intermediaries and meddling institutions, and 4) creating networks of supporters that serve as a safety net. We are entering a world that will be increasingly technologized, distributed, and horizontal. As former Uncharted Mentor, Jeremy Heimans of Purpose, wrote in his 2018 book New Power, “The future will be a battle over mobilization. The everyday people, leaders, and organizations who flourish will be those best able to channel the participatory energy of those around them - for the good, for the bad, and for the trivial.”

On the Ownership of Algorithms
At Uncharted, we believe the two biggest problems facing the US in the next 30 years are climate change and extreme economic inequality, and we’re singularly focused on moonshot solutions, technologies, and policies addressing economic inequality in America. We’re not interested in shovel-ready solutions that have quick results (show me a solution that can produce immediate results, and I’ll show you a solution that doesn’t challenge the status quo), but we’ve been studying the research and looking years ahead to understand the biggest drivers that will influence economic inequality in the US in the next 5, 10, and 15 years.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that the largest exacerbator of economic inequality in the US in the next 30 years will be who owns and who controls artificial intelligence technologies (this podcast and this essay have been instructive). Thus far, the conversation around AI has orbited around two issues: bias in the algorithms and loss of jobs when the computers displace humans. Both are problems, sure, but they pale in comparison to the bigger issue of AI ownership and control. We’ll figure out how to reduce bias in algorithms, and job-losses won’t be as intense as feared, but just like in other areas of the economy, inequality is ultimately a question of who owns and who controls. AI will create fantastic wealth and immense power, but if we accept the premise that ownership creates power and power precedes and then drives policy (instead of the other way around), we have a short window of time before the ownership of AI and its power are so consolidated that any chance of equitable policies around it will be unlikely. We’re in a narrow window right now where AI is still quite embryonic, and we need to seize this moment to consider policies in one of the most consequential frontiers of the 21st century: the ownership and regulation of transformational technologies.

Compound Insight
What big trends are you seeing? What insights have you had? What are some major learnings in the last month in your work? One of the most powerful ways we can learn is by 1) gleaning the insights from those around us, and then 2) compounding those learnings over time. Simply share any big ideas or learning using this link, and I’ll select a few to publish in the next Insider so this community can continue to compound learnings from each other.

Can you help?

  • We received 340 applications for only 8 spots in this year’s Economic Inequality Initiative cohort. Our team has the capacity to invest in and accelerate up to 15 ventures. We have the team, we have the program, we have the pipeline. The only thing we need are bold funders willing to bet on long-term, transformational solutions with us. Who do you know that might be interested in sponsoring a seat for an additional venture this year?
  • Can you connect us to Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All
  • Who do you know at Town and Country magazine? Who do you know at Inside Philanthropy?

What I am reading

  • Essay: The irony of ambition being sold to women as a necessary ingredient in liberation. The revolt against ambition and what it means for feminism. Here.
  • Before the pandemic, 3% of Black students were homeschooled. After the pandemic, 16% of Black students were homeschooled. How racism in public schools is fomenting a renaissance in Black homeschooling. Here.
  • The 4-day workweek is going mainstream. Behind the global movement for less work and why Kickstarter will pilot a 4-day workweek in 2022. Here.
  • How sleep is the only true panacea in life. The ways sleep makes us smarter, healthier, and more creative. Here.

Something Personal
I’ve always loved American Western Art for its wide vistas and sweeping plains, but I’ve also felt conflicted about appreciating a style of art that often captures the scenes of western colonization. Western art is so expansive as an art movement that it’s probably unfair to indict it categorically; better, perhaps, to examine the merits of specific pieces: how does a specific painting portray life in the American west? What and whom does it center? What stories does this painting tell and how do those comport with the meta-narrative of colonization? Recently, I’ve been deeply taken by the contemporary painter Mark Maggiori. Mark is originally from France, but resides in New Mexico and paints stunning pieces that subtly challenge western art meta-narratives in two ways: 1) his paintings often profile Native women and Black cowboys as subjects (like this one), and 2) he manifests extraordinary cloudscapes that draw the eye away from the painting’s subject, instead centering the grandness of the sky, and, in turn, the relative smallness of the humans (like this one). The clouds loom over his unwitting subjects with an ominous power that leads one to wonder who will conquer who. When asked how long it took to paint one of his paintings, he once said: “it has taken me a lifetime.”


From Idaho this time,