Memia 2020.17: The world went BOOM💥//sensemaking the narratives🧩// truth and the underlay🚧// make lying expensive💰
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:
“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:
Balaji S. Srinivasan @balajisIt shouldn’t be tech companies per se getting into fact checking. It should be open source technology. Free, universally available code and data for epistemology. Take a piece of text, parse it, extract assertions, compare to explicitly specified knowledge graphs and oracles. https://t.co/gDOEmZn7S4
(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:
Firstly, a refresher on Truth and Trust: how do we know what is true? by Jeff Giesea
Snopes is the original internet fact checking service, since before Google (it says on their website😜).
The Society Library is extracting the ideas, arguments, claims, and evidence from internet media to construct comprehensive, browseable databases of society’s ideas, ideologies, and world-views.
For a practical explanation of how they do this, read this absolutely excellent article Deconstructing the Logic of “Plandemic” - And why it’s so hard to talk logically about COVID-19 in general:
“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.”
Read the Underlay whitepaper: The Future of Knowledge for the underpinning principles.
Wolfram Alpha is a similar effort with a longer pedigree, but based on proprietary technology and algorithms.
Clearly a lifetime’s work to be done here yet…
Saying and doing around AoNZ this week:
(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?🤐).
Not the kind of rollcall story that we like to tell ourselves, but AoNZ fell 21(!!) places to 47th in the world in the recent StartupBlink startup ecosystem rankings. (But the 3 major cities all gained places…go figure…)🤔
I’ve been on the podcast blower again recently:
I joined the Canterbury Tech Epic podcast to discuss the role of technology in AoNZ’s Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery
I also enjoyed a wide ranging round-the-world conversation during lockdown with Mike Pearson and Amanda MacAuley: Sharing UK and NZ views: Real People, real experiences.
Some tech signals from our near and far futures:
Essential Benedict Evans essay - Not even wrong - ways to predict tech
8K Holographic displays are now available:
In the US the number of million dollar, 1-person businesses is accelerating (given the amount of money that’s being printed, is this altogether surprising…?!)
Researchers have developed a prototype security and privacy "nutrition label" for consumers using IoT devices:
Robots can make 300 pizzas/hr:
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