Memia 2020.17: The world went BOOM💥//sensemaking the narratives🧩// truth and the underlay🚧// make lying expensive💰

300 pizzas/hr

Hi / Kia ora

Welcome to Memia, a weekly cross-disciplinary melange of emerging tech, future squinting and global change - with added flavouring from Aotearoa New Zealand - written by me, Ben Reid. Please feel free to share - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.

The most clicked links in the last issue (~7% of openers each) were the Earth and the Milky Way seen from the Parker Solar Probe and Facebook’s teaser of the future of work in VR(AR).

First some good news…🙌

New Zealand’s Covid-19-free status continues to astound. As at the time of writing it’s 11 days with no new cases and only 1 active case in the entire country. That deserves a laser-eyed Kiwi!

(For readers outside AoNZ, a few years ago we held a crowdsourced competition to design a new national flag. Yet *somehow* kiwis elected to stay with the old design…🥱).

…and then the world went BOOM💥.

I don’t know about you, but this week feels like we’ve lived through a whole year’s worth of major global events in 7 days. Is this actually history in the making, or a magician’s sleight of hand, misdirecting attention from the real trick?

Fundamentally: it’s impossible for my human brain to adequately process the volume and velocity of stories we’ve been exposed to this week. Besides, the arcs of each narrative are still very much in the air:

  • From the US: racial inequality and police brutality has provoked a civil explosion. US riot police are kitted out with military-grade equipment bought cheap after surpluses left over from overseas wars.

  • Trump rattling the cage of social media companies with an executive order. In response, the tech bros are talking up open source and decentralised content moderation systems. (See Truth and the Underlay next).

  • Globally the coronavirus pandemic marches relentlessly up to 6.4 million cases and 378,000 recorded deaths, while a prolonged global recession appears unavoidable.

  • Due to the global Covid response, it is likely that major long term policy decisions on climate change will be squeezed into the next 18 months.

  • From China: While the world is preoccupied with Covid and the US civil meltdown, China has been flexing its muscles in Hong Kong, on the border with India and in the South China Sea.

  • And in amongst all of this, SpaceX transported two men to the International Space Station at the second attempt.

I gathered these narratives and underlying links together into an article to help me try to make sense of it all: Sensemaking from the narratives: the world goes BOOM in the last week of May 2020.

Truth and the underlay🚧

So, clearly this has been a week more than most of getting sucked down the Twitter rabbit hole. Nat Torkington provides good advice:

In this new world, with the current deluge of fake accounts, “fake news” and ubiquitous deepfakes just around the corner, just how does the average person (or a machine) work out what is true… and what isn’t?

Trump is right in the centre of this, at least for now. In the wake of this Trump tweet last week which Twitter chose to adorn with a “fact check” link…

…he signed a legally fraught Executive Order aiming to strip the social media giants (Facebook, Twitter, Google) of legal protections in Section 230, which prevents tech firms from being held responsible for the content on their sites.

Twitter subsequently hid another of Trump’s tweets for breaking its rules against “glorifying violence”.

At the heart of this debate lie at least two axes between free and controlled expression, and state vs private control:

This debate is still fresh in the minds of many New Zealanders after the Christchurch Call agreement signed in Paris last year. US Security analyst ET Brooking wrote:

“The Christchurch Call is a remarkable document… it stands as the first major multilateral statement jointly signed by both governments and Silicon Valley giants—a historic precedent that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago...”

But is it really up to a small number of Silicon Valley companies to set the rules, govern, design and operate massive content moderation/censorship apparatus, especially across international borders? (And do they even want to do it - for one the costs are enormous, even if AI will be able to do more and more over time… and don’t mention the US$52 million settlement for content moderators who developed PTSD on the job.)

In response, a number of tech bros have started calling for open source content moderation systems…effectively based upon a “truth layer” for the internet:

(This might upset some more humanities-leaning persuasions, but clearly there are people in the business who see this a solvable technology and data problem, not one of ethical principles).

Several avenues to explore:

“We extracted 448 claims from Plandemic. So essentially, we identified 448 teeny, tiny little debatable units of logic that are used as reason to support other claims and arguments in the film, which in turn rely on other claims and arguments to support them. Plandemic essentially implies that there are 448 questions that could be asked, and at least twice as many positions to be defended…”

  • The Underlay is a free open source system for structuring, storing, and aggregating open, distributed graph data. Its goal is to make machine-readable public knowledge accessible to all as a public good. (Sort of like Wikipedia but an API):

    “It provides a common interface for searching, accessing, vetting and building upon public knowledge from diverse, sometimes conflicting sources.”

  • Wolfram Alpha is a similar effort with a longer pedigree, but based on proprietary technology and algorithms.

  • Alternatively, take a Market based approach? Idea Markets take a radical decentralised approach to Make Lying Expensive:

  • Clearly a lifetime’s work to be done here yet…


Saying and doing around AoNZ this week:

  • Auckland technology and law researcher Matt Bartlett gives a great overview of the escalating AI Arms Race in his new Technocracy blog.

    • (This comes as the new Global Partnership on AI was launched. Initial membership is G7 nations but New Zealand is reported to be joining too. US Govt CTO Mike Kratsios said GPAI will be an “important” check on China’s approach to AI.)

    • (…not to be confused with the already 3 years old Partnership on AI [to Benefit People and Society]! So, we’ll just move over then?🤐).

[Weak] signals

Some tech signals from our near and far futures:

Hidden gems

Some light relief, we need it.

  • Bitcoin Rap Battle Debate: Smart, witty.

  • And this is 20 minutes well spent alone or with family:

On a personal note, last Sunday was 16 years since my young family and I landed in Aotearoa New Zealand after emigrating from Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s never been more of a privilege to live here than now. To celebrate, we took a walk up Mt Oxford (1364m) in Canterbury on a cloudless day:

The usual big 🙏 to everyone who has got in touch with links and feedback. If you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in AoNZ or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

More next week.

Regards / Ngā mihi