Memia 2020.22: Covid-19🦠causal loops➰, a bang💥and a whimper😢// geostrategic🌏tipping points⚖️// bionic swallow swarms🕊️// kiwifruit🥝orchard AI💻

10 years of the sun in 1 minute☀️

Hi / Kia ora,

Welcome to another weekly Memia scan across emerging tech and unfolding futures, as viewed 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 link in the last issue (~9% of openers) was Aussie / Swedish game designer Andrew Hamilton’s stunning Unreal Engine rendering Memories of Australia.

[This week’s issue is slightly shorter than normal - taking a short break in my own backyard, enjoying clean air, hill forest walks and hot pools up at Hanmer Springs nestled in the mountains of the South Island / Te Waipounamu. An enjoyable visit as always, but clearly there’s been a major reconfiguration of the local economy to deal with the lack of international visitors…hopefully this is the nadir and it’s all uphill from here.]

Covid-19🦠causal loops➰, a bang💥and a whimper😢

  • The worldwide effects - direct and indirect - of the Covid-19 pandemic have spread way beyond the domain of public health. This “causal loops” diagram spotted by Jon Gosier helps to make sense of how the pandemic has spread from health to the economy, society, the environment and government interventions (click through for a larger view):

  • So just how will the Pandemic end? The Productivity Commission’s Dave Heatley quite plausibly predicts “with a bang and a whimper”: a cumulative combination of small improvements in treatment, immunity, testing, quarantining and contact tracing may eventually lead to a progressive reduction in cases and health system stress:

“There is a real possibility that the pandemic will fizzle out over time because the combined effect of multiple improvements, each insufficient to deliver a killer blow. Not all of the improvements … would be necessary; nor do any of them need to be perfect. If treatments improved so that COVID-19 was no more lethal than influenza, then a regular health system response may be more appropriate than a pandemic one.”

  • Here’s hoping. However, in case of complacency, Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic that long term symptoms from Covid can last for months, for people of all ages and without apparent co-morbidities. I for one am content to be living inside a quarantined border for the time being.

Geostrategic 🌏tipping points⚖️

[This section is a bit outside my usual ballpark but the international order is fluxing all around us and (at least in my echo chamber) no-one’s really talking much about what it might mean for Aotearoa. Yes there are a couple of small think tanks - including the NZ International Review - with mainly academic publications, but where is the online space for public AoNZ discourse on strategic national responses to international shifting currents?🤔]

Apparently it was Leon Trotsky who said:

“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

A few weeks ago, the Australian government went public as being “targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor", according to Aussie PM Scott Morrison. (Whoever could he mean?)

AoNZ GCSB Minister Andrew Little responded at the time, saying:

"New Zealand is not experiencing a large-scale, national-level cyber attack…We are not currently seeing malicious activity above the levels we would usually expect to see."

(Either AoNZ’s cyberdefences are more resilient or they just weren’t a target that week.🙈)

It *may or may not* have been a coincidence but just over a week later, Australia announced a major increase in defence spending, AU$270Bn for new weapons, fleets, technology and troops over the next decade. (AU$27Bn / year will significantly raise Australia’s position in the league table of countries by military expenditures).

Underpinning all of this are accelerating movements in the tectonics of global security and the “international rules-based order” on which New Zealand and many other smaller nations depend. The Covid pandemic is combining with increasing tensions between the US and China (not to mention India):

“Even as we stare down the Covid pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-Covid world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly…the Indo-Pacific is the epicentre of rising strategic competition…we have seen recently on the disputed border between India and China, in the South China Sea, and in the East China Sea…The Indo-Pacific is where we live. We want an open, sovereign Indo-Pacific, free from coercion and hegemony” - Australian PM Scott Morrison

Clearly the effects of these rapidly changing dynamics are happening in our back yard. A couple of pieces of commentary on this worth reading:

Aotearoa’s most recent national strategic defence review from 2018 anticipates these developments:

“New Zealand's security outlook may be shaped most powerfully by a combination of forces increasing pressure on the international rules-based order, which will play out in newly potent ways close to home.”

It’s ~2 months to AoNZ’s general election and defence is historically a bipartisan issue so let’s not expect a significant political debate on this. But post-election, uncertainties will include:

  • US presidential election result in November (and, in the event of a Biden win, an unimpeded handover of power…)

  • Ongoing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Where will it end?

  • If we are at the tipping point for a collapse in the “international rules based order”, what comes in its place? What would the new alliances look like? Or do smaller nations revert to “hedgehog” defence strategy?

  • New Zealand’s membership of the (US-aligned) Five-Eyes intelligence alliance, while China is by far our largest trading partner (NZ$30Bn of 2-way trade in the year to March 2020).

  • Defence budget: AoNZ spends 1.5% of GDP on defence (according to the CIA, anyway). Less than Australia. (Is spending / GDP the right metric??)

Anyone know any good sources where these issues are being analysed and discussed online, please point me to it, keen to understand and learn more.

[Weak] signals

Memia’s regular curation of some of the latest developments in tech which signal possible futures:

  • AI:

    • OpenAI’s new GPT3 algorithm doesn’t only generate written text, it writes code as well:


Some interesting bits and pieces from around Aotearoa’s shores this week:

  • The Treasury together with StatsNZ and Reserve Bank launched the New Zealand Activity Index: NOT an advance indicator of GDP, although not far off it either:

Hidden gems

From around the internet this week:

  • Not really a hidden gem, but I couldn’t get my head around the French advertising watchdog banning a 45-second e-bike advert from VanMoof for “discredit[ing] the automobile sector [...] while creating a climate of anxiety”. Huh? So here it is, then:

And for the rest, a bit of a space theme this week:

  • 10 years of the sun in 1 minute:

  • Why Jupiter was needed for life on Earth:

  • And one of Hubble’s most stunning images ever:

The usual 🙏 appreciation to those readers who take the time to get in touch with links and feedback!

…As always if you enjoy these Memia posts, please take the time to share with a friend in AoNZ or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

More again next week.

Regards / Ngā mihi