⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa #25: Time for solutioneering💡// ka pai PM👏🙏// innovation: the only way is up❌// back on the menu🌶️// mask on (for privacy)🥸
A massive, door-opening legacy for the next generation
Welcome to this week’s ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment with a quick roundup of tech news and commentary relevant to Aotearoa New Zealand and then back on with *the book*.😶🌫️
ℹ️If you would rather not receive these Aotearoa New Zealand-focused posts — but want to keep receiving the weekly Memia newsletter each Wednesday — then you can configure this option in the “Manage Subscription” section on Substack.
👏🙏Ka pai PM
A big week in Aotearoa politics with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s sudden resignation last Thursday and a seamless, speedy transfer of responsibilities to new leader Chris Hipkins within just a few days. There’s been blanket coverage across all media outlets, but two of the more incisive commentaries I’ve read:
Danyl McLauchlan in The Democracy Project: The Visions Of Jacinda Ardern (also contains a set of links to all of the commentary pieces published on the day)
“Ardern is the embodiment of a very 21st century species of politician: the charismatic technocrat. Like Barack Obama, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, she campaigned in the soaring, sometimes even revolutionary rhetoric of the left while governing as a cautious centrist. But for her first two years in power Ardern had less agency than any Prime Minister in our post-war era. Her coalition partner, New Zealand First was a deeply conservative party, financed by wealthy donors firmly opposed to the kind of change Ardern vowed to deliver. Her Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters openly relished his role as a handbrake, strangling almost every policy Labour introduced. And she lacked a competent Cabinet. Years of infighting had left labour with only a handful of talented MPs. Nor could New Zealand’s public sector deliver on the government’s ambitious house-building, forestry and public transport projects. She kept promising change but her power was so limited, the results so meagre. The contradictions of Ardernism became too great for the public to reconcile.“
Bernard Hickey in The Kākā: The meaning and tragedy of Jacinda Ardern's time as PM:
“She wasn’t transformational, but did some extraordinarily good things in two of the biggest crisis moments in Aotearoa’s modern history. Her commitment to fiscal orthodoxy and limiting the tax take to 30% of GDP, along with ruling out capital gains or wealth taxes, meant she could not achieve what she promised on housing, transport, climate change and child poverty. She ruled out so many pathways that there were few places for Labour to go with its reforming instincts. I think that is ultimately why she is leaving…
In the end, she deserves our utmost respect and thanks. She was instinctively extraordinary with her responses and leadership after the Christchurch attacks and the arrival of Covid.”
Personally, I expect historians will look back very positively on her legacy, especially for her poly-crisis management and raising Aotearoa’s international profile as a modern, progressive state (regardless of the reality, natch...). Remember, we were one of the first countries worldwide who voted in a smart female leader from the next generation — a mould which is now common in several other countries. Early on in her term, her fresh political style provided an explicit counterpoint to the toxic amygdala-hijacking Trump presidency on the international stage
No-one can forget how she fronted the national crisis responses to both the 2019 Christchurch Mosque shootings and the Covid-19 pandemic from 2020 onwards with an empathetic but firm authority. In particular:
Major decisions made early on in the pandemic response have had unique long term outcomes for the whole country:
She has definitely spoken to the next generation more than the previous one, leveraging social media and somehow finding time to hold frequent Facebook live sessions with a generally adoring younger audience. (This shift in generational focus is probably one contributing factor behind the misogynistic abuse she has faced online… perhaps a subset of entitled boomers just aren’t used to being ignored…).
As a parent of 3 daughters I’m thankful for how she's modelled alternative behaviours to get ahead and demonstrated more about what's possible for them to achieve than any other public figure to date... and had a baby in her first year in office as well! If nothing else, Ardern leaves a massive, door-opening legacy for the next generation.
Her one major technology policy initiative, the Christchurch Call, has perhaps achieved more international profile and momentum than it would have without her sponsorship. But pointing to tangible outcomes is hard to do after three years.
Above everything else, I’ve appreciated the moments when her razor-sharp intellect and wit have shone through — usually when she has been travelling and speaking with overseas audiences. Here she is speaking at Chatham House in the UK last year (covered in Memia 2022.26) , holding the room spellbound:
Aotearoa too small, too backward to hold on to such a luminous talent for any longer than we did. I look forward to seeing what she turns her considerable skills and energy to next after a long, long break. Ka pai!
🌶️Back on the menu
Anyway, game on for the next election now with new PM Chris Hipkins. Everything is now back on the table.
Reminder: Raf Manji-led TOP is the only party to have released a tax policy for this year’s election. (And what a policy it is!).
The most interesting scenario to watch will be TOP’s ability to leverage a constituency win for Raf in Ilam win into holding the balance of power between National-ACT and Labour-Green power blocs — could decisively shape the future direction of the country’s politics for another decade.
❌Innovation: the only way is up
After my tirade last week on the lack of technologists in senior public sector roles, I’m pleased to be corrected: new Callaghan Innovation CEO Stefan Korn does indeed have a background in software startups and a PhD in artificial intelligence!
He has his work cut out in the new job: as a nation we now languish down towards the bottom of the OECD research and innovation league table: especially if you ignore Ireland’s distorted GDP…) 🤦
Rod McNaughton from Waipapa Taumata Rau / University of Auckland’s Business School has a timely article in Newsroom comparing Aotearoa’s innovation systems with Finland:
“The potential benefits of increasing our innovativeness are huge. Finland's GDP per capita is 16 percent higher than New Zealand's, and Switzerland's is a whopping 70 percent higher. Matching Finland would add another US$35 billion annually to our economy. The government's share would help fund much-needed improvements in healthcare, education, and other public goods essential to Kiwis' wellbeing. “
🥸Mask on (for privacy)
The debate about Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) in Aotearoa continues to hot up as the technology bleeds into the mainstream:
An informative Consumer NZ article at the end of last year covers the issues, identifying that facial recognition systems are already in use at 29 Foodstuffs North Island stores. But despite CCTV being used for decades, it’s not clear that this new technology is fit for purpose (or even complies with the updated Privacy Act 2020):
[Privacy law expert Frith Tweedie:] “If you’re using a third-party tool out of the US, what is that training data made up of? If it’s from a US population, it’s likely to struggle with recognising Māori and Pasifika people.”
In a 2021 report authored by Dr Andrew Chen and Dr Nessa Lynch in the wake of NZ Police’s Clearview AI trial, questions are raised about the role of facial tattoos in disrupting FRT systems. Far from making Māori or Pasifika populations immune to FRT, indigenous ethics commentator Karaitiana Taiuru expressed concern that these groups could be subjected to an increase in false arrests.”
The Privacy Commissioner is working on a Code of Practice on use of biometrics and involving supermarket chains closely.
Fellow Aotearoa futurist Melissa Clark-Reynolds is presenting a free webinar on 14th Feb hosted by Boma: get tickets here.
⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa: recap
Last year I wrote 23 weekly instalments of my forthcoming book ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa, sometimes taking a few roundabout paths through the topics at hand1. Time for a quick recap on how things have taken shape so far:
1. Introduction: Seizing the meta-opportunity from the meta-crisis
2. Defining a small country: just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s any less complex.
What do we mean by “Aotearoa New Zealand”, anyway?
3. Big challenges, big opportunities:
4. Accelerating technology change: But…what has the Singularity got to do with Aotearoa? General purpose technologies in 2023:
4.1 The Internet and its future governance: Get ready for the Splinternet
4.3 Software operating systems: steering away from national vendor lock-in
4.4 All the realities: VR, AR, XR: Just what is the Metaverse *FOR*?
4.6 Seizing the future means of production: robotics, additive manufacturing and nanotech: Machines that make machines that make machines that make material stuff
4.7 Biotechnology: Redesigning life itself
4.8 The Renewable Energy transition: Slowly…then all at once
(There are still plenty of gaps to fill in around technology together with systems of governance, indigenous and migrant cultures…but the next chapter is about how to take these new technologies and begin to imagine some of the opportunities they present for our small island nation in the South Pacific…)
⏩Time for solutioneering
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