Memia 2020.10: AC⚡BC // welcome to the new economy // planet healing // think BIG // "precision-ready" digital infrastructure // bubble living on Mars

Ditch the shovel, eh.

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 link in the last issue (~16% of openers) was my article exploring Post-Covid-19 - some "axes of uncertainty" scenarios for New Zealand Inc. More to come in that series soon.


The geyser of Covid-19 commentary continues to gush forth, charting our future After Coronavirus (AC) and [mostly but not always] wistfully remembering what life was like Before Coronavirus (BC). My pick from the last week:

Not doing so bad:

Welcome to the New Economy (1): ANZ released their merchant card transaction data for a week under Level 4 restrictions: “Digital goods” up, pretty much everything else: way down.

Welcome to the New Economy (2): the Treasury released their Weekly Economic Update, not quite all bad news🤐:

“…discretionary retail spending is well down, and indicators of declining consumer and business sentiment continue to emerge. The export sector is a bright spot, with commodity prices rising in NZ dollar terms and export volumes remaining high.”

Welcome to the New Economy (3): Treasury also published a report modeling ten economic scenarios for New Zealand: peaks in the unemployment rate may reach nearly 26% 🤯if no further direct fiscal support is forthcoming from government. (Expect more stimulus imminently…)

Fortress New Zealand: Despite the energetic global effort going into vaccine research (see Every Vaccine and Treatment in Development for COVID-19, So Far) there is still reasonable doubt that a viable vaccine will be found, at least within the next couple of years. Journalist Ian Wishart weaves this into a starkly convincing scenario: Fortress New Zealand: What Will Our Post Lockdown World Look Like?:

“There will be no overseas travel or inbound tourism for two – possibly three years. New Zealanders are going to have to holiday in their own country, because no other options will exist unless you are super-wealthy and can afford a month in quarantine at $300 a night…[but] we could still have immigration as an economic driver. People wanting to come and live here will be prepared to quarantine. Likewise the education sector will continue to attract long term foreign students.”

Thinking BIG: Xero founder Rod Drury takes a more optimistic tone: What we do now will shape New Zealand’s future. Rod sets out an ambitious vision consisting of post-Covid Think Big investments such as:

  • contactless payment networks

  • public shared 5G infrastructure (…after the nutters have passed through…)

  • renewable energy

  • electric planes, smart transport networks and autonomous buses

  • water storage (eg big dams)

  • (…and, er, top-end residential construction in luxury hotspots for rich overseas owners. Eh?)

Policy window shopping: Useful resource to compare what other governments are doing in response to the pandemic: Covid-19 Policy Watch.

The benefit of foresight: Wimbledon reportedly set to pocket over £100 million payout after paying pandemic insurance premiums for the past 17 years. Game. Set. Match.

Planet healing:

…and more planet healing: (do we really want to go back to before?)

Personal space: Is it the end for handshakes? From hereon will all close physical contact (handshakes, backslaps, hugs, a peck on the cheek…) be for bubble inmates only? 😔

“Precision ready” digital infrastructure

Iain White in the Spinoff lays into the recent government call for “shovel ready” infrastructure projects to kickstart the post-Covid-19 recovery:

“By definition, today’s shovel ready project is yesterday’s idea…While many projects will be laudable, collectively they will be fragmented and disconnected from a wider strategic vision for New Zealand.”

Once and for all, the mindset and definition of "Infrastructure" needs to be expanded beyond what is physical and can be dug into the ground or erected on a pole. Our economy is de-materialising and there is more need than ever to think intelligently about how we move information, people and stuff in future with efficiency and precision. Digital infrastructure is what we need.

Rod already suggests a few digital infrastructure projects in his article linked above: shared national 5G assets, smart cities and smart transport networks. I wrote previously about national real-time Digital Twin model based on public open data. There are plenty more ideas out there.

But we need a better term than “shovel-ready” when talking about modern infrastructure investment. It's the software and the data - and more precisely, the rules, conventions and systems around collecting and sharing that data - that will enable a flourishing economy for Aotearoa. Ditch the shovel and instead invest in “Precision Ready” digital and data infrastructure for the future.

[Weak] Signals

Lots of developments still happening at the edge of tech which may inform our near and far future just as much as - if not more than - the current pandemic.

Renewable energy and transport:

  • The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has completed early trials of “Virtual Power Plant” (VPP) distributed (eg not centralised) energy storage in partnership with Tesla - promising results.

  • Floating solar plants preserve land for other uses (at least when they’re deployed out at sea, that is…)

  • Megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel-cells could power massive container ships

  • Everyone’s going to need a transformer hoverbike (current model runs on electricity on the ground at least)

  • …Seriously, perhaps the hidden opportunity from flying air taxis like those currently under development in Aotearoa is land economics:

    • If a 50km, 20min point-to-point trip by air is as simple, safe and cheap as catching an Uber (and carbon-neutral at that)

    • …and most services sector tasks can be done from the home office

    • …and virtual reality social and educational experiences become richer than *real* reality

    • […and Covid-19 drives people towards living in less densely populated areas]

    • …then what happens to urban property values?


  • Bringing Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure to market is a hard - and unglamorous - problem to solve, but fundamental to enabling future smart wireless networks like those alluded to above. Swiss wireless module innovators UBlox recently acquired MQTT-connectivity-as-a-service firm Thingstream:

    “Thingstream’s MQTT Anywhere service offers data transfer across 600+ telecom carriers in 190 countries without necessitating a cellular data plan by transmitting MQTT‑SN messages over 2G, 3G, LTE, and LTE‑M networks.”

    IoT business models can build on top of that rather than reinventing.

Extended Reality (XR):

  • AR turns a rail ticket into a complete travel plan:

The Looking Glass is the first desktop holographic display designed for 3D creators. No VR or AR headgear required.


YOLOv3 object detection

Bubble living (on Mars):


Who’s doing what around NZ?

  • More terrestrially, along with 178 other participants I attended last week’s monthly CanterburyTech event via Zoom - four excellent talks about the move to remote teamworking from CDHB CDO Stella Ward, Stratos, Trineo and MediaSuite. Plus an appreciation of still being able to get together in the middle of all of this: actually one of the best events ever. (And plenty of the usual craft beer in evidence too…). Congrats Neil Hamilton, Andy Poulsen and the team for making the move online so successfully. You made it look easy.

  • Join the #HackTheCrisisNZ hackathon 17-19 April - help solve post COVID-19 challenges for your community. Open to all, 100% online, and run in collaboration with startup networks across New Zealand.

  • If you’re locked down in your bubble with time to learn new stuff: TechFuturesLab are running free live-online training sessions.

  • If you’ve put the periscope up on your career or business during the current crisis, Jen Lund at Nelson-based professional coaching firm MyTurn is offering *speedcoaching* sessions online.

  • And finally, if you’re finding yourself suddenly back in the job market and have an interest in working in health tech, NZHIT have launched a new Digital Health jobs board.

Lockdown humour

Some light relief.

  • Funny: Man creates hilarious AI version of himself… but it’s rubbish. 😃

  • Complex: dining etiquette for our times (it goes on for a while…):

Hidden Gems

Finally, three seemingly random pieces of online content which lit up long dormant neural pathways for me this week, I hope you appreciate.

The usual big 🙏 to those readers who have 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.

Regards / Ngā mihi