Memia 2020.14: Level 4-to-2😷// AoNZ north🧭// hallelujah for the technocracy?💾// just take my money💰// AI for equitable taxation// ✈️planes 🚄trains and 🚛autonomous-mobiles
Never. Underestimate. Redmond.
Hi / Kia ora
Memia is a weekly wide-angle roundup of foresight, strategy, emerging tech and other zeitgeist links curated by me, Ben Reid based here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Please feel free to forward this email - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.
A winding back of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions to Level 2 starts at midnight tonight in Aotearoa. Reasons to be optimistic about a return to some kind of normality…and reasons also to be hypercautious about virus recurrence.
BUT…the aftereffects of catching the virus are only just becoming apparent - and there is still no sign of an alternative long term strategy other than *hope* for a vaccine.😕
AoNZ North🧭- our new Azure region
Big news last week as Microsoft announced they were establishing their 60th datacentre region here in Aotearoa - impressive work by new country MD Vanessa Sorenson and team. In what was clearly a rapid “shovel readying” dance, the announcement was followed by a hasty media release from the Beehive: New Zealand COVID response earns Microsoft datacentre investment confidence:
“Protecting New Zealanders’ data and privacy is critically important. Onshore Cloud facilities give us stronger control of our data and reduce the concerns relating to storing data offshore…New Zealand also has a reliable, almost entirely renewable power supply, crucial for hyper-scale Cloud services, which fits the carbon neutrality commitments of companies like Microsoft”.
Fair enough. And:
“While I welcome this private investment, I want to be very clear that Microsoft’s decision to establish its Cloud facilities in New Zealand has been made through the company’s independent due diligence, and this is not a government procurement”
- Minister for Govt Digital Services Kris Faafoi
Very clear. So that All-of-Government contract goes to…
In all seriousness this is great news for New Zealand - I’ve previously championed the urgent need for focused national *digital* infrastructure investment: getting the advantages of hyperscale cloud way earlier than predicted hits the mark.
Not only does this give a local competitive advantage to MS by knocking a few milliseconds off the trans-Tasman hop and bolstering their carbon stats, it also opens a regional market in data regulation for all businesses concerned about Australian government’s “backdoor law”. I expect we will see a significant number of Aussie companies choosing to host on this side of the cable as a result. (Just don’t mention the US CLOUD Act).
All of which ignores the big question - what will this new “region” be called? The Azure map takes the convention “[Country name/abbreviation] [Compass direction]”. We Mainlanders are resigned to this sitting north of Tongariro - despite the closer proximity to hydro - so, “North”. But there’s debate within Microsoft whether it should be “Aotearoa North”, “New Zealand North” or “NZ North”?
Can I suggest: “AoNZ North”.
(…in fact, I’m going to abbreviate Aotearoa New Zealand as AoNZ in the newsletter for the next few weeks, see if it sticks…)
Two more takeaways:
Second: Never. Underestimate. Redmond:
Hallelujah for the technocracy?
“Two defects that have persisted for years were overcome in an instant: the silos and the absence of science…The policy adopted has been based on rigorous science, science that was changing as things developed…Rational policy based on good analysis, backed by science, is exactly the way policy should be made. Political ideology is no help in such an endeavour; you have to follow the data and analysis.”
(Other than the blithe assertion that government silos were somehow magicked away…?huh?…) it’s an alluring vision of a fit-for-purpose, data-enabled, future-facing, resilient, responsive democratic system that we suddenly find ourselves participating in…
…except not to everyone’s taste:
[*I reckon* 😜 an “ideology free zone” would be a welcome change to current democratic systems which seem to amplify ideology to the foreground rather than confine it to the edges… and (not unrelated) are particularly vulnerable to misinformation attacks.]
In reality, I sense the argument here is about the sophistication of ideology, not ideology itself. What the pandemic has shown is that governments now have (still primitive but) powerful predictive modelling tools which enable far more complex multi-dimensional decisions than ever before. Now they can - and hence are obligated to - make rapid value judgements which explicitly trade off future outcomes for public health, mortality, the economy, environment, social equity, personal liberty, individual privacy… against each other, with increased precision and control.
Provided the underlying models are transparent, the ideological judgements are there in plain sight for all to see - but only in the form of weightings on an optimisation decision. Now, ideological positions cannot validly be expressed as soundbites (“A OR B” - but rather as mathematical functions: “optimisation of (A, B, C………Y,Z….and hundreds more outcomes…)”.
Unfortunately ideological discourse is stuck back in primary 2, let alone data science 101. Democracy needs an upgrade to keep up.
(See also Technocracy for tax below…)
Just take my money💰
The Basics of Money by Michael Kendall:
“Economic history is a continuous cycle of attempts to create wealth through money expansion. The result is always the same. It ends in failure.”
Harvard Professor of Economics & Public Policy Kenneth Rogoff argues The Case for Deeply Negative Interest Rates of -3% or lower in response to the looming depression:
“A number of important steps are required to make deep negative rates feasible and effective. The most important, which no central bank (including the ECB) has yet taken, is to preclude large-scale hoarding of cash by financial firms, pension funds, and insurance companies. Various combinations of regulation, a time-varying fee for large-scale re-deposits of cash at the central bank, and phasing out large-denomination banknotes should do the trick.”
A trick that Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr might want to look at?
Echoing the discussion on technocracy above, Salesforce is using reinforcement learning AI to devise a more equitable tax system:
“Finding a tax policy that optimizes equality along with productivity is an unsolved problem…It would be amazing to make tax policy less political and more data driven."
(Their words not mine!) Millions of years of hypothetical economic models are simulated to determine the system that achieves the greatest productivity and the greatest income. The Salesforce team say that so far the models have achieved scenarios that are 16 percent *more effective* (hmmm🤔) than real-world models by economists. They have also promised to open-source the simulations and algorithms - until then here’s a more detailed technical post.
✈️planes 🚄trains and 🚛autonomous-mobiles
Researchers have developed a prototype jet engine which uses only electricity which perhaps could point the way towards carbon-neutral air travel. The device works by using microwaves to ionize compressed air, generating plasma which then provides thrust.
Air France was ordered to stop competing with TGV services where rail offers a viable alternative in exchange for a €7bn coronavirus aid package. Does this approach improve the case for a high speed train from Auckland to Christchurch?
Rather than pour money down big train set holes, Memia reader John McDermott suggests keep on (autonomously) truckin’ instead:
Memia’s regular collection of tech signals from the future:
Your Level 2 coffee break grazing: the Future Today Institute has rolled out a searchable database of all signals and trends published in the annual FTI 2020 Tech Trends Report. I keep going back to this.
“Artificial leaf” device turns water and sunlight into hydrogen fuel.
Room temperature quantum computing could be a reality in only 10 years. Meanwhile improving the measurement of electron spin qubits is helping develop fault-tolerant quantum computers. (Ht Andrew Leckie for the quantum links).
Following on from last week’s discussion of regenerative agriculture, MIT Tech Review points out that organic farming is actually worse for climate change - it cuts greenhouse-gas emissions only if you ignore the [inconvenient] fact that it requires a lot more land.
Alphabet subsidiary Loon, which launched its stratospheric communications balloons in Ōtautahi back in 2013 has increased its global coverage in partnership with AT&T, focusing on providing airborne mobile access in disaster-affected areas.
Despite the VR/AR winter, AR demos are still damn compelling:
Happening around AoNZ this week:
Tithe collection software company Pushpay shares hit a record high after predicting strong revenue growth - it has been benefitting from Covid-19 restrictions as church services move to live-streaming and “digital giving” grows. Congratulations. (But business model makes me slightly ick.🤢)
Movac Fund 4 invested $5 million into mission critical asset tracking firm TracPlus with Movac partner Mark Vivian taking a board seat.
Another week, another contact tracking app: George Wills, founder of Media Suite tells the backstory to tracing.co.nz - free app for AoNZ businesses.
AoNZ/UK foreign exchange software business MahiFX celebrated their 10th anniversary. Congrats to founders David and Susan Cooney and the Mahi team on the milestone. (I was involved right at the start - it’s been a long ride since that shaky day in Christchurch on 22 Feb 2011!)
Two free online events this week: this year’s Project Connect on 19th May explores Leadership in a Virtual Landscape. Also sign in to the Digital Entrepreneur Leadership Forum (DELF) across the ditch tomorrow (14th May). (Thanks Hal Josephson).
A few miscellaneous diversions from around the internet:
Dinosaurs lived on the other side of the galaxy:
Clark University Professor Esther Jones suggests that science fiction builds mental resiliency in young readers
And finally, skills🤹:
Big 🙏 as always to those readers who continue to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s appreciated! If you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in AoNZ or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
More next week.
Regards / Ngā mihi