Memia 2020.18: 🥃To level one...and beyond // 🔥🧯firehose of falsehoods // 💧Water 📉meter 💣cluster // anyone remember 📈inflation?

Rule number 1: NEVER set it to 2020

Hi / Kia ora,

Welcome to another Memia newsletter by me, Ben Reid - a weekly scan across emerging tech and global change from my 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 links in the last issue (~4% of openers each) were my article Sensemaking from the narratives: the world goes BOOM in the last week of May 2020 and the video of the 300 pizzas/hr robot.

🥃To level one…and beyond

Well Aotearoa did it, joining 8 other countries so far to successfully eliminate Covid-19 from our borders. Well done scientists! (And everyone else, obviously…😄):

Elimination is an amazing milestone achievement. However, it’s inevitable that there will be new outbreaks of Covid-19 as borders open up - and corresponding returns to lockdown. From a scenario planning perspective, it’s likely worth modeling whether the health vs lives vs economy policy equation will be the same 2nd, 3rd, 4th… time around.

(Incidentally, another effect of the lockdown - the national flu-tracker survey has shown a huge drop in flu symptoms as well).

Meanwhile globally the pandemic rampages on…7.2 million cases, 408,000 deaths at the time of writing. (Still <0.1% of the global population - even if it’s possible, herd immunity usually requires 70-90% population to have immunity.)

So, what’s next for AoNZ?

The recently formed Digital Council of NZ provided an accessible summary of their Beyond Covid-19: advice to government ministers, structured around 4 themes:

  1. Social and digital inclusion

  2. Leveraging tech to empower business

  3. Enhancing tech sector Employment

  4. Privacy and trust

Overall: a set of sensible, mostly practical recommendations ready for coordinated investment. Couple of key nuggets which stood out for me:

  • Infrastructure projects should be “sensor-ready”, not “shovel ready”. Amen. (See my previous commentary and also discussion on water metering below).

  • A local platform for e-commerce:

    “we recognise there is no local equivalent to Shopify or Amazon. There should be. Options for supporting SMEs include building a local e-commerce platform equivalent, providing digital capability training for SMEs and developing incentives to adopt cloud-based technologies.”

    • Hmm. Firstly, advocating an “Amazon for New Zealand” is *perhaps* commercially inadvisable. That’s a scale game and AoNZ is tiny - where’s the consumer surplus going to come from? Personally I’d pick a different playing field…

    • Re: Shopify alternative: there are plenty of free open source e-commerce options out there - hopefully anyone developing an AoNZ ecommerce engine would start from there. (But again, how would you compete?)

    • There is, however, a common reference pattern to many local SME export business models: design and operate from AoNZ, manufacture in China (…+1 these days…), ship to 3PL warehouses in US and Europe and distribute from there. While many local exporting SMEs run on home-grown Xero for financials and Shopify for e-commerce, there’s a confusing menagerie of SaaS and 3PL vendors in the space between: inventory management, shipping, warehousing and distribution. Investing in an integrated “national exporter platform” - a loosely coupled ecosystem of SaaS vendors and implementation services which streamline exporter operations - would be a better place to start?

🔥🧯Firehose of falsehoods

Like many, last week I was reeling from social media coverage of the escalating civil unrest in the US - which has since spread (alongside Covid 😟) to supporting protests around the world.

(At the same time, Ivanka Trump was channeling the Hunger Games on Twitter.)

Last week I discussed options to establish “truth” online. The question of whether social media audiences are becoming more or less immune to manipulation by untruth - after Cambridge Analytica and with ever more widespread deepfake technology - still hangs in the balance.

In particular, one of the tactics increasingly being employed is a massive DDOS attack on “the truth” - a “Firehose of Falsehoods”, check out this thread:

Wikipedia summarises possible countermeasures in this arms race, but as the RAND researchers state

“Don't expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth.”

It’s AoNZ’s general election in just over 3 months’ time. Keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of this.

💧Water 📉meter 💣cluster

Former Ōtautahi city councillor Raf Manji brought a local story to my attention:

To cut a long tale short: in Christchurch, like cities all over the world, water is getting scarcer (despite the apparent abundance of freshwater underground aquifers - and let’s not even mention the massive water bottling plants sucking out adjacent aquifers just a few km away…😡). Apparently only 20% of residents collectively use over 50% of the city's water supply - while overall water use recently peaked at the highest levels in a decade in February. So City Council staff are proposing a change to water charges which targets the top 20% but also continues the current practice of charging for water based upon property value rather than actual consumption.

Three points here:

  1. My simplistic understanding is that the triple aim is to:

    • reduce overall water consumption to sustainable levels

    • ensure socially equitable allocation of water, and

    • keep the Council’s water operation financially sustainable

  2. Given these aims, Raf’s correct: it’s hard to summon externally defensible logic which says that water charges should be based upon using a property’s value as a proxy for consumption. Where’s the data to back up the assumed correlation? How does that lead to socially equitable allocation?

  3. This all stems from a historic underinvestment in accurate water metering systems meaning that pricing of this increasingly scarce resource will always be a “finger in the air” estimation exercise until a technology upgrade.

If ever there was a Covid-recovery “sensor-ready” infrastructure investment case, here it is: like UFB, roll out smart water metering across all of AoNZ - and in the process generate technology, systems and know-how to meet growing global demand for solutions in a future of water scarcity:

[Weak] Signals

Recent signals from near and far futures:

  • Smart Biology produces 3D Textbooks with incredible animations to better explain how biology works:


Moving and shaking in AoNZ in the last week:

Hidden gems

Alongside all of the trauma on Twitter over the last few weeks, it’s also been a vibrant time for humour and memes. Here are just a couple of highlights (follow @memialabs for regular updates).

  • Regular reader Hal Josephson pointed me to E-scooters as envisioned in the 1950s:

And finally, this gem of a moment signed off AoNZ’s move out of Covid restrictions. So HUMAN.

🙏 as always to readers who take the time to get 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 again next week.

Regards / Ngā mihi