February 9, 2016
Driving itself is changing. Between electric and self-driving vehicles, ubiquitous sensors, network connectivity, and new kinds of transportation companies, everything is in flux: cars, how we feel about them, even roads and cities. This isn’t just hypothetical; you can use these things today. A radical phase shift is redrawing the map, literally and metaphorically. ... the new tools and technologies for moving around are interesting; put them together and you get something profound. Connect these new systems and individual networks to each other and they self-assemble into a transportation super-network. It’s decentralized, offers multiple routes from node to node, carries any kind of person or thing to any kind of place, and adjusts itself in real time. ... Sound familiar? Of course it does. That’s how the Internet works. ... To the new transportation supernetwork, you and I are just data. It doesn’t matter where we want to go; it just knows how to get us there—faster, cheaper, and utterly in control.
A naturally occurring oxide, TiO2 is generally extracted from ilmenite ore and was first used as a pigment in the 19th century. In the 1940s chemists at DuPont refined the process until they hit on what’s widely considered a superior form of “titanium white,” which has been used in cosmetics and plastics and to whiten the chalked lines on tennis courts. DuPont has built its titanium dioxide into a $2.6 billion business, which it spun off as part of chemicals company Chemours, in Wilmington, Del., last fall. ... A handful of other companies produce TiO2, including Kronos Worldwide in Dallas and Tronox of Stamford, Conn. Chemours and these others will churn out more than 5 million tons of TiO2 powder in 2016. China also produces large amounts of the pigment, and its industries consume about a quarter of the world’s supply. Most of China’s TiO2 plants, however, use a less efficient and more hazardous process than the one developed at DuPont. Starting in the 1990s, if not earlier, China’s government and Chinese state-run businesses began seeking ways to adopt DuPont’s methods. Only they didn’t approach the company to make a formal deal. According to U.S. law enforcement officials, they set out to rip off DuPont. ... Most trade-secret theft goes unreported. Companies worry that disclosing such incidents will hurt their stock prices, harm relationships with customers, or prompt federal agents to put them under a microscope. Theft of trade secrets also rarely results in criminal charges because the cases are time-consuming and complicated, and it’s often difficult to win a conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. A 2013 study estimated that China accounted for as much as 80 percent of the $300 billion in losses sustained by U.S. companies from the theft of intellectual property. Often, China won’t even release the records or serve the subpoenas that might contribute to a prosecution. To win in court, companies must prove they properly safeguarded their trade secrets, something many fail to do.
In an industry where no one knows anything, here, finally, was someone who seemed to know something: Ryan Kavanaugh, a spikily red-haired man-child with an impish grin and a uniform of jeans and Converse sneakers who had an uncanny ability to fill a room and an irresistible outlook on how to make money making movies. Not yet 30 when he founded Relativity Media in 2004, he very quickly became not only a power player in Hollywood but the man who might just save it. With a dwindling number of studios putting out ever fewer movies, other than ones featuring name-brand superheroes, Kavanaugh became first a studio financier and then a fresh-faced buyer of textured, mid-budget films. To bankers, Kavanaugh appeared to have cracked the code, having come up with a way to forecast a famously unpredictable business by replacing the vagaries of intuition with the certainties of math. ... Even Hollywood wasn’t used to a pitch this good. Kavanaugh alternately dazzled and baffled — talking fast, scrawling numbers and arrows and lines on whiteboards, projecting spreadsheets. ... Borrowing a tool from Wall Street, he touted his “Monte Carlo model,” a computer program that runs thousands of simulations, as a device that could predict a film’s success far more reliably than even a sophisticated studio executive. Better, Kavanaugh convinced several studios that he could raise more money for them if they gave him access to their guarded “ultimates” numbers showing the historical or projected performance of a film across all platforms (DVD, video-on-demand, etc.) over a number of years.
I first heard about Luke Weiss from an elder of the Waorani, a tribe scattered along the Amazon tributaries of northeastern Ecuador. He spoke of a white man living with the Secoya, a small tribe settled on a nearby river, but one who had ceased to be a white man. This man had become Secoya. He practiced the tribe's oldest and most difficult traditions. He spoke a pure, antiquated Secoya dialect. What's more, he had achieved something no outsider ever had among the tribes of the region: He became apprentice and heir to the tribe's renowned healer, a 103-year-old shaman named Don Cesario. When people from local villages and distant towns seek out Cesario for healing, it is Weiss who prepares the ritual potions. ... Weiss, it turns out, is about to enter his second year of a master's program at the Yale School of Forestry. His research project: figuring out how to cultivate yoco, a caffeinated vine that suppresses appetite and provides a sustained energy boost, making it the go-to energy drink of the northern Amazon. Weiss wants to crack yoco's code. If it can be cultivated more easily at scale and turned into a marketable drink like yerba maté, then yoco could become a viable, sustainably produced cash crop — and the Secoya's only chance for cultural and economic survival. Young Secoya are leaving San Pablo for the cities or taking jobs with the oil companies.