Memia 2020.29: Squinting at the far end of the Covid tunnel🔭// radical progressive⏩// climate risks assessed🔥//AI-powered government?🤔// deepfake startup camp🏕️// the last light🕯️
Free cash. Vote for me?💸
Hi / Kia ora,
Welcome to another Memia newsletter written by me, Ben Reid. Each issue I pull together a weekly scan across emerging tech and unfolding futures, as viewed from my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand. I hope you enjoy reading it.
The most clicked link in the last issue (~7% of openers) was the footage of demonstrators chanting “F**k the algorithm” in the UK. Quintessential 2020.
Squinting at the far end of the Covid tunnel🔭
As Aucklanders near 3 weeks in Level 3 lockdown(🙏🙏🙏 again Tāmaki Makaurau folks), it’s still anything but clear how the pandemic will pan out globally long term, regardless of domestic quarantine arrangements here in AoNZ. Four items that caught my eye this week:
'First case' of Covid-19 reinfection reported by scientists at University of Hong Kong (Science Magazine - also reported locally here: Stuff via AP):
(Original paper reported as accepted to scientific journal Clinical Infectious Diseases but not yet published so data not yet scrutinised)
Different genetic strain of the virus 2nd time around, definitely a new infection
Reinfection implies lifelong immunity may not be realistic and vaccine “booster shots” could be needed at least
The subject had mild symptoms the first time and none the second time - implying there may be some “residual immunity” second time around
Infection fatality rate (IFR) in the UK dropped by between 55 and 80 per cent between late June and early August, with similar trends across Europe
Possible explanations are that there are more cases among young people, or that cases are being treated more effectively in hospitals
Covid Immune Responses Explained (podcast with transcript) - Eric Topol and Abraham Verghese in conversation with immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki.
Auckland epidemiologist Jin Russell tweets a masterclass in analysing epidemiological data (click tweet for thread):In my last set of tweets on 's armchair epidemiological reckons, I emphasised that he does not have the skills to analyse epidemiological data. In his latest Herald piece, he unfortunately makes rookie mistakes again /1
MatthewHootonNZ @MatthewHootonNZIn NZ, not a single person under 60 has died, despite more than 1330 cases. Among that group, even the hospitalisation rate is as low as 4%. It’s only for those aged 80+ that Covid becomes a death sentence, albeit still only with a 30% chance of dying. https://t.co/MHXwGHcCzz
Given the near-absolute policy vacuum surrounding the now-delayed election here in AoNZ, here’s a refreshing blast of thinking from the other side of the world: Chris Yiu of the Tony Blair Institute lays out a manifesto for a radical progressive policy agenda:
“…In short: the institutions of the 20th century are fundamentally mismatched to the challenges of the 21st century…to prevail, progressives must instead return to being champions of progress. There are two important dividing lines on this journey of reinvention:
The first is between those who recognise that how we handle the technology revolution is the central question of our time, and those who do not.
The second is between those who believe that, properly managed, it can help us build a better and more equal society, and those who see it as a threat to be slowed or stopped.
This is why the new progressive agenda must be centred on the tech revolution.”
He organises the agenda into three top level components:
Guaranteeing a bright future for all
Predictive health for all
Personalised education for all
Universal digital inclusion
Unlocking economic opportunity and innovation
Reimagined social insurance
New global standards
An ARPA in every country
Renewing and remaking our institutions
Shared government technology
Platforms for public services
New global alliances
@Labour / @National: Pretty simple to copy and paste to fill in the whitespace...?😉 (Yeah right…)
(Also referenced is this piece: We Need a New Science of Progress: Humanity needs to get better at knowing how to get better by Stripe CEO Patrick Collison and Economist Tyler Cowen in The Atlantic.)
Back here in AoNZ, outside the mainstream political and economic arena there *are* a few progressive ideas circulating:
Comprehensive Stuff article by John McCrone: A kinder, greener, fairer economics to replace neoliberalism? speaking with thought leaders covering Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), Universal Basic Income (UBI), Green New Deal (GND) and tech deflation (no acronym🤐).
In particular, I enjoyed his conversation with reformed investment banker and former Christchurch City Councillor Raf Manji, now an independent strategy and risk consultant:
…New Zealand didn’t seem to understand that public debt was money creation to fuel national growth. Manji says post-GFC, world lending was at rock bottom interest rates. The [Christchurch earthquakes] rebuild had room to be ambitious. Yet New Zealand’s political parties were locked into an austerity contest of who could spend the least and so get the country into “surplus”. That is, ensure there was no capital being created to drive growth…
…The New Zealand Government ought to have a standing annual infrastructure spending target. Say a hard-wired 2 per cent increase in roads, sewers, energy projects and the other public goods that are the collective basis of economic growth…Many would complain this was the return of “big government”, Manji says. But it would establish an apolitical pipeline of obvious projects, like Auckland’s light rail, to be ticked off, preventing them becoming a never-ending political football.
TOP’s Geoff Simmons proposes “QE for the people” - the Reserve Bank give people $250/week cash as part of a 6-month Covid “debt jubilee” - to stimulate the economy with a [temporary?] UBI, fundamentally fairer than current monetary policy which effectively benefits those with debt, props up asset prices and ultimately increases inequality.
💸Free cash. Why isn’t everyone voting for Geoff!?!
At the beginning of the year I wrote about how a Sovereign Cryptocurrency would be a low-cost solution to rapidly implement UBI or other income redistribution. #JFDI?
Climate risks assessed🔥
The Ministry for the Environment Manatū Mō Te Taiao published the first national climate change risk assessment for New Zealand, which will be used by the Government to develop a national adaptation plan over the next two years.
Pete Bernhardt of Deloitte provides a neat visual summary of the risks mapped by Urgency vs Consequence (some may debate whether the axes are actually the wrong way around🤔 but really helpful graphic nonetheless…):
(Source: Pete Bernhardt)
Memia’s regular collection of technology signals from the ever-evolving future:
Gartner released their 2020 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. I enjoy these annual braindumps as they always introduce new terms which appear momentarily tangible but are guaranteed to be subsumed inside broader technology stacks by next year (My 2020 picks for this: “Digital Twin of the Person”, “Low cost single board computers at the Edge” and “Data Fabric”).
Interesting also that “Health Passport” - which has always seemed a mirage on the distant horizon has been rapidly accelerated, likely due to Covid-19:
Google announced a new certificate programme designed to disrupt traditional college degrees:
AI powered government?🤔
Policy Priority Inference is a research project led by the UK’s Alan Turing Institute developing new analytic methods to inform governments on how to prioritise public policies - using complex agent-based modeling of socioeconomic systems and policy-making processes.
It’s being promoted as a tool to help the UN solve global inequality and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Now Is the Time for AI-Powered Governments: Boston Consulting Group (BCG) lay out their AI warez for governments all around the world. Persuasive.
[Referring back to Chris Yiu’s post earlier: these kinds of developments really do split groups down the middle on whether using this tech in the public sector is viewed as an opportunity to be sped up or a threat to slow down.]
Gene drives are go: 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes are to be released in Florida to reduce local populations over time by preventing females reaching maturity.
What if Facebook goes down? Research on ethical and legal considerations for the demise of big tech just published. (See also Infinite Detail below).
Are AI-generated tennis matches🎾any less boring than the real thing? (Answer: No.)
🏕️Deepfake startup camp: Startup incubator Betaworks introduce Synthetic Camp, an accelerator programme for synthetic media startups…Edgy, d’ya think?
Congratulations to all the winners at this year’s New Zealand High Tech Awards, this year held virtually due to Covid. You can watch the livestream again here.
Congratulations to Asa Cox and the team at Arcanum.ai for oversubscribing their recent round with investment from WNT Ventures, ICEHouse Ventures and Enterprise Angels among others.
Tourwriter and Lightning Lab have partnered to launch Tourism Accelerator 2020. Applications open now. There’s an industry in need of startup innovation right now…
…And speaking of innovation, +1 for an initiative like this in the construction sector:
Jim Donovan @jimisambardNew Zealand does not know how to build at an affordable price, property expert says https://t.co/oPPg2uGleL
After reading The man whose science fiction keeps turning into our shitty cyberpunk reality, I’m really enjoying Tim Maughan’s debut novel Infinite Detail (The Guardian’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of The Year 2019) - basically a vivid and scarily believable exploration of societal collapse after the internet just switches off one day.😱
Radical relativism: new experimental proof of Wigner’s quantum paradox points to shaky foundations of objective reality:
“It could be that there are facts for one observer, and facts for another; they need not mesh” 🤯
Recent interstellar visitor Oumuamua continues to fascinate:
…and finally: 🕯️The Last Light, failed AR company Magic Leap’s in-house magnum opus, thought to be lost after nearly everyone who made it was laid off a few months ago - was surprisingly released last week:
As always, 🙏 appreciation to everyone who takes the time to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s great to hear from you!
…And a special request since you’ve read this far: please take a moment to share this email with your network in AoNZ and around the 🌎🌍🌏. Thank you!
Cheers / Ngā mihi