Memia 2020.15: Surreal...unreal...not real🤯// surviving on a [$50Bn] budget🥔// de-central bank💳// self-growing bricks🧱// honest government and the machine🎰

Fifty sunrises

Hi / Kia ora

Memia is the weekly wide-angle roundup of foresight, strategy, emerging tech and other zeitgeist links curated by me, Ben Reid here in Aotearoa New Zealand and increasingly distributed in the ☁️☁️☁️. 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 (~13% of a record number of openers - thank you!) was the @Jaws19Show’s Zoom background cuppa. Class.

Surreal…

AoNZ got back to (new-)normal this week:

To be honest it felt surreal being back in the city and able to mix and mingle with others indoors after nearly 2 months of restrictions. There were so many upsides to the lockdown which I hope will continue to some degree: in particular the minimisation of unnecessary travel - personally I calculate I’ve reclaimed >10 (productive+personal) hours per week just from not being in transit somewhere, it will be sad to give that up. [Hilarious thread on the topic from Xero’s Nick Houldsworth here:]

Level 2 social distancing rules and contact tracing systems seem ad hoc and of dubious effectiveness if the virus returns…so right now it’s uncertain, despite the incredible numbers, whether the country has actually eradicated the virus or whether we’re only in a brief respite between lockdowns.

Meanwhile the rest of the world continues to respond with other approaches. Long term, it may be inevitable that Sweden’s herd immunity coronavirus strategy will be the world’s strategy. But at least AoNZ has the breathing space to make that decision deliberately - after learning from other experiences around the world.

…Unreal…

OK, that’s enough of the (sur)real world for this week.

Epic Games released a first look at Unreal Engine 5 - with the goal “to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life” - and within practical reach of game dev teams of all sizes. UE5 is scheduled to be available in preview early 2021. Leading title Fortnite (now with new Party Royale format) will be migrated to UE5 in mid-2021. Some very smart people are creating stunning creative technology.

Almost simultaneously Facebook announced the release of DeepFovea - their AR/VR rendering system, inspired by human vision:

After the most recent software update, the (Facebook-owned) Oculus Quest suddenly became an AR Headset. I’ve had a go with this new “passthrough AR” mode and, while it’s still basic, it gives a tantalising demo of how the promise of AR may actually be realised using a VR headset with cameras instead of too-magic (leap) photonic lightfield chips.

[…Extra 🤯: in future with DeepFovea, a headset with built-in camera zoom functionality could deliver bionic magnified eyesight without the need for bionic eyes.]

…Not real

Generative adversarial networks (GANs) are coming of age.

After thispersondoesnotexist.com was launched in 2019 using nVidia StyleGAN, now we have:

Other than being addictive fun, serious applications for generative AI tools are just around the corner: the ability to use GANs to explore the information space of ideas in a certain domain and discover the optimal forms - will unleash a whole new wave of productivity.

Think of the jobs information workers do: architect, web designer, teacher, city planner, lawyer, writer, artist… what is the (information) product of that labour?

Now insert here:

This {building | website | lesson plan | traffic plan | contract | speech | painting…} does not exist.

Opportunity for 1,000 new startups right there.

Surviving on a [$50Bn] budget

Last week AoNZ finance minister Grant Robertson unleashed the $50Bn Budget 2020 - the largest fiscal response by some measures globally:

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Net government debt is projected to increase from 20% of GDP currently to a peak of just over 55%. How will AoNZ pay back this debt? Economist Shamabeel Eaqub suggests a number of options, including:

“Do a one-off direct money injection from the RBNZ (money printing) to the government, which will effectively mean everyone in New Zealand, scaled by their New Zealand currency denominated wealth, pays for the Covid-19 cost without burdening future generations. There is a risk that such an operation will lead to inflation, or a loss of trust in our monetary system, which could devalue our currency and make it difficult for us (both government and private sector) to borrow money in the future.”

Who knew you could do that!?

Bank of government

Something else curious is going on: at short notice, the IRD has stepped up and become the Bank of Government, dishing out (up to) $100,000 interest-free loans to small businesses at pace. I’ve been seriously impressed how the machinery of government has been able to deliver both this scheme and the wage subsidy, rapidly standing up new online systems and distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in days with just a few clicks required.

So what exactly do the commercial banks do again? (Make $Bns of profits, I know…🦧)

De-central bank

In the words of an esteemed colleague I was conversing with this week:

“Every time I think I understand how money and monetary policy works I learn actually I don’t.”

Two articles which have helped me as I try to get my amateur head around the tectonic fault lines which are appearing in the international financial system:

Andy Hamilton, who as co-founder of Manaaki business support network has become a vital voice in the economic recovery suggests four priorities to support SMEs:

  1. Reform the Banking System

  2. Legislate for large companies to pay on 10 day terms

  3. Build a massive Kiwi investment fund

  4. Digitise NZ

Jumping straight to solution mode: a sovereign digital currency (aka programmable money) could help do all this and more. I agree with Dave Corbett from Centrality Fintech when he says:

“Early movement on programmable money is potentially another EFTPOS moment for New Zealand.”

AoNZ has a small, agile and independent monetary policy. Time and opportunity for the Reserve Bank to innovate.

[Weak] Signals

Tech signals from the future:

“Community Points are a way for Redditors to earn a piece of their favorite communities. Points can be spent on premium features and are used as a measure of reputation in the community.”

Rollcall

Happening around Aotearoa this week:

Hidden Gems

Entertaining from around the internet:

  • The Honest Government wants you to know about The Machine:

  • Finally: friend and colleague Justin Hygate is frequently to be seen elsewhere around the world or on an Air New Zealand flight. But during the lockdown he photographed and documented fifty sunrises over Sumner Beach in Ōtautahi. Sublime.

The usual huge 🙏 to everyone who continues 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

Ben