Memia 2020.24: Burning Earth🔥, encroaching sea🌏// enough pessimism already😓// forecasting 2100🔮// power, influence and Risk🎲// love is a coding challenge💌
DO NOT skateboard into a mosh pit on a cruise ship
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 sign up here to receive the free weekly newsletter direct to your inbox if you don’t already.
Burning Earth🔥, encroaching sea🌏
*In case you missed it* last month tied with 2019 for the warmest June on record. In particular there is a huge air temperature anomaly across Siberia with wildfires burning out of control in the Arctic. The Arctic Amplification effect is reported to have accelerated and the region is now warming close to three times the global mean. And burning Siberian vegetation contributes further to global warming by releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere…making next year’s fire risk even higher…
A major effect of global warming will be sea level rise. Back in 2015 geospatial scientist Jonathan Musther published a series of highly detailed maps projecting future sea level rise scenarios onto the AoNZ coastline for major cities including Auckland/Tāmakimakaurau, Wellington/Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Ōtautahi/Christchurch and and Ōtepoti/Dunedin. He wrote in a post The Encroaching Sea:
“Remember, the Greenland ice sheet alone, if completely melted, would lead to approximately a 7 m rise in global sea-level.”
…so check out the undersea future of Ōtautahi-Christchurch with 10m sea level rise…
…or 25m sea level rise, including “Banks Island”:
…If? Or when?
Enough pessimism already😓
As a counterpoint, popular science writer Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist and other well received books) argues cogently against a constant narrative of environmental pessimism:
“…Let me give some bigger [examples of things going right in the environment]: Far from starving, the seven billion people who now inhabit the planet are far better fed than the four billion of 1980. Famine has pretty much gone extinct in recent decades…Remarkably, this feeding of seven billion people has happened without taking much new land under the plow and the cow. Instead, in many places farmland has reverted to wilderness…
“One way of measuring [development] progress is to look at forests. Forests are still being cut down in poor countries, but they are expanding in rich ones. It turns out that when a country reaches a certain level of income, around $5,000 per person per year, it starts reforesting.”
“I will end with one further prediction. While climate change is real and man-made, it will not cause catastrophe by 2060. The current rate of warming over the past three decades is about half what scientists predicted in 1990: 0.17ºC per decade compared with 0.30ºC…Moreover, if warming continues like this, by 2060 we will still not have reached the sort of temperatures that were standard in the early part of the current interglacial period, when the Arctic Ocean regularly lost all of its ice during the summer. So we are not heading into unprecedented territory. And I suspect that we will ultimately solve the problem by substituting nuclear fusion for fossil fuels long before its consequences turn catastrophic.”
Not a viewpoint one hears often these days, but none the worse for it.
Two pieces of long range forecasting that caught my eye recently:
Oxford Economics published research ($walled) modelling the economic impact of future climate change. In aggregate they found that 3degC of warming by 2100 could reduce the level of global GDP in 2100 by 21%, with major negative impacts for the livelihoods of people in equatorial and southern hemisphere countries - some, like India, catastrophic:
Meanwhile a new IHME survey predicts that the global population will peak at 9.7Bn in 2064 - well below the UN’s projections:
Power, influence and Risk🎲
A couple of weeks ago in Memia 2020.22 I was decrying the lack of public discourse on Aotearoa’s place in the rapidly evolving New World Order. Since then Stuff.co.nz published a couple of quality articles on emerging geopolitical dynamics and how they affect AoNZ’s future as a small, progressive, independent trading nation. (Nice to see more cerebral journalism - and *finally* a website upgrade! - under new Stuff owner Sinead Boucher):
Martin Van Beynen: How does a small, weak country like NZ handle a monolith like China?
“[Professor Alex Tan, head of political science at Canterbury University] says a globalised order began as two layers. A free trade layer built on top of a world security and stability layer. Now it is building a further connecting layer which is about political thought leadership. And while this does depend on formal institutions like the UN, it has more the open characteristics of social media. Meaning a country like New Zealand can be an influencer.”
Reading these articles reminded me of my many misspent undergraduate hours playing the world conquest game Risk against an early Macintosh (don’t ask🤐):
Here’s the modern game board, notice anything missing?
In the traditional game of Risk, political powers conquer bordering territories using constantly-reinforced armies. It’s a game of scale, power, dominance (and, of course, dice🎲).
So…if “influencing” is now the name of the game, what are the new rules for 21st Century Risk? (Indeed, what are the new aims to win the game?!) An interesting framework to think about current global dynamics.
A few more signals received from the emerging future:
Supply change: the Japanese government announced 87 companies will receive a total of 70 billion yen ($653 million) to move manufacturing out of China, to reduce reliance and build more resilient supply chains.
🚀Space, race: also in Japan, the UAE successfully launched a space probe to Mars
💌 Algorithms: from Matt Bartlett’s Technocracy blog: How Tinder’s algorithm micromanages your dating life:
“For all we think of love as a personal, intimate thing, the reality is that love is increasingly engineered by a few programmers in Silicon Valley. As it turns out, love can ultimately boil down to a coding challenge.”
🔣But, increasingly, no actual coding is required:
The team at Intranel created a whole new training image dataset using just two scooter images and retrained a complex model to detect Lime vs Flamingo scooters in video, using Google Research’s low-power Coral local AI platform.
Microsoft’s Sketch2code creates software user interfaces from simple whiteboard sketches.
…meanwhile novel uses for OpenAI’s GPT-3 are proliferating around the internet. Check this out:
AR hardware: DreamGlass announced a crowdfunded set of AR glasses called the DreamGlass 4K, with 4K resolution and 5G connectivity.
Green ocean travel: the boat that makes its own hydrogen fuel from seawater.
…and Robotics: with the Covid-19 pandemic still accelerating worldwide, how to make a Robot Barber for a quarantine haircut.
A couple of notable mentions from around AoNZ this week:
Historically, New Zealand’s tangible-asset-obsessed banks have just not understood the tech sector - and as a result debt funding has rarely been a realistic option for growth unless founders put their house on the line. Therefore it was good to see a recent story of how BNZ structured a Customised Average Rate Loan (CARL) solution to enable AoNZ software business Modica make a strategic acquisition. Hattip to BNZ Head of Tech Industry Tim Wixon for innovating and pulling the local banking sector towards the 21st century.
Also massive kudos to Timely founder Ryan Baker and the whole team for successfully getting through Covid lockdown together (click for thread):
As usual to end with, a few gems I found around the internet this week:
AR Sculpture is my new favourite artform:
Deepfake alternative history: In Event Of Moon Disaster - watch Richard Nixon deliver the backup speech written in case the Apollo 11 mission failed.
Prof Esther Jones interview on RNZ: Science fiction helps build mental resilience in young people. Amen to that.
And a handy COVID Risk Matrix from XKCD🤣:
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 🌎🌍🌏. Thank you!
More again next week.
Regards / Ngā mihi