Memia 2020.09: #Covid19nz turning point? // you (plural) are being watched // seeing through the fog // proof-of-human🧍 // thought-to-text // signalling-as-a-service
Hi / Kia ora
Welcome to Memia, a weekly roundup of new tech, strategy, foresight and interesting links curated by me, Ben Reid - all with a view from my (self-isolating) corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand. Please feel free to forward this email - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.
The most clicked links in the last issue (~5% of openers each) were: The Guardian: Coronavirus epidemic 'far from over' in Asia-Pacific, WHO warns, the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing at home and MIT Technology Review’s Covid-19 spread animation.
Unprecedented (that word again)
Pandemic-driven change continues to reverberate around the world. In the US where the virus is now sweeping uncontrolled throughout the country, the unemployment rates are, quite truly, *unprecedented*:
Kia kaha to everyone around the world who is affected.
A few weeks ago I wrote it’s only money. Bill Gates has announced that his Foundation is going all Manhattan Project on fixing the pandemic, funding the construction of factories for seven coronavirus vaccine candidates even though at most two will be used: 🤯
"It'll be a few billion dollars we'll waste on manufacturing for the constructs that don't get picked because something else is better…But a few billion in this, the situation we're in, where there's trillions of dollars ... being lost economically, it is worth it."
- Bill Gates
And here in NZ it’s *definitely* only money: *debt hibernation* is now a thing: the govt is introducing emergency legislation to provide “safe harbour” for directors of businesses facing financial insolvency. Claire Evans from law firm Lane Neave has written a helpful explainer. Thinking more broadly: why is financial solvency (which, let’s face it is arguably just imaginary numbers on a page…) so elevated from other concerns? What if during BAU directors risked prosecution for presiding over a business with net carbon emissions greater than zero? Or for increasing inequality in remuneration for their workers? Some fundamental Companies Act regulatory levers are there just waiting to be pulled after this all “blows over”…
You (plural) are being watched
Google released Covid-19 Community Mobility Reports for the world showing who has(n’t) been adhering to lockdown measures. We are a compliant nation, it seems:
But the argument about using technology for contact tracing continues: Andrew Chen lays out the issues here and Tom Barraclough writes how to develop digital contact tracing for New Zealand. Plus ankle bracelets are being actively considered for quarantine. This debate has plenty more legs yet.
Seeing through the fog
Cautiously, there are signs that New Zealand could be at the turning point in controlling Covid-19 outbreak. Yesterday there were more new recoveries than new cases for the first time:
I spent my Sunday afternoon (…pretty much every day in lockdown merges into the next, right…?) doing some first-pass modelling: Post-Covid-19 - some "axes of uncertainty" scenarios for New Zealand Inc.
Some other foresight links:
Essential read: Mariana Mazzucato: Capitalism’s Triple Crisis and the State’s new role.
Economist Shamabeel Eaqub has a quietly inspiring conversation with Seeds Podcast’s Steven Moe on the impact of COVID-19 and foundations for the future. He was excellent speaking to the Epidemic Response Committee last week - in particular his comments on intergenerational impact of the lockdown. Columnist Matthew Hooton also provided a lightning rod for these issues in the NZ Herald last week ($paywalled).
Australian futurist Ross Dawson looks into the future of air travel in a post-coronavirus world. TLDR: way fewer flights, way higher prices. And premium cabins could become “isolation class” for the very richest travellers.
PwC New Zealand takes a first look at the impact of the pandemic for Commercial Real Estate:
“The forced at-home working environment and forced shift to online retailing may also have a longer-term impact on the way we work and the type and amount of real estate businesses need to operate…It is virtually impossible to price commercial real estate at present…”
A few signals from near and far future:
Major investments in VR and AR continue: Apple is reportedly purchasing VR event content firm NextVR for US$100M - meanwhile Niantic, maker of the legendary AR game Pokémon Go acquired spatial mapping firm 6D.ai. Check out this demo of 6D in action, wow:
Thought-to-text: Scientists have successfully used neural networks to translate brain activity into words at natural speech rates, with as low as three percent error. Impressive progress on this problem - I wrote in 2017: Why Neuralink and Kernel are trying to solve the right problem at the wrong time. Maybe I was way too pessimistic.
Signalling-as-a-service: excellent essay by Julian Lehr, examining how software firms leverage a rarely-discussed human trait, signalling: eg “I live a healthy lifestyle” (training shoes), “I have financial status” (luxury goods like Louis Vuitton), “I am a worthy mate” (Tinder profile). Software itself isn’t a signal, but:
“…the financially most lucrative strategy for software companies is to provide distribution for free and instead monetize users who want to stand out of the crowd with paid signal amplification.”
Just who are you talking to on Zoom exactly? Deepfake Zoom filters emerge. Take care out there. (…Meanwhile terrifying things happen when an AI generates fake faces synced to music)
“25 years ago we didn't anticipate being body-scanned at airports; it may become totally normal to be temperature-scanned to enter museums, or to swipe an implant that shows your vaccinations are up to date”
Just What is a robot? (in sonnet form by MIT robotics Prof. Rodney Brooks).
…and firefighting drones in action:
The Kiwi tech sector continues to be oh so quiet. A few bright spots of news:
Online training specialists Redseed have published a free online course in partnership with registered Clinical Psychologist Graeme Clarke: Managing Stress & Anxiety in Times of Crisis - tools to help manage mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond. Well worth it.
It’s a fertile time for some very funny Covid-19 memes currently. My favourites from the last week (I expect this will become a regular feature, eh…):
And Boma New Zealand founder Kaila Colbin has written a charming bedtime story for adults during Covid-19: #staythefuckhome
Plus a couple of #toptips for Zoom backgrounds:
If you appreciate sculpture and statues, there are some incredible examples in this thread on Twitter:
Delighted that Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan have returned for one more Trip film The Trip to Greece. (Sneak peek here). (I fear that never again will a full Air NZ flight hear me guffaw from the other end of the plane…)🤣🤣🤣
Special effects circa 1898:
And finally, Wellington colleague Ed Strafford spotted this civic-minded bear. A strangely hypnotic moment.
The usual big 🙏 to those readers who sent in links and feedback to share in the newsletter - greatly appreciated. If you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in 🇳🇿 or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
More next week as usual.
Regards / Ngā mihi