Memia 2020.37: After the landslide⏭️// getting the CBDCs💱// phoning on the moon🌑// robotic prosthetic🦿// killer drone swarms🛩️🛩️🛩️💥

Little crane, big crane, bigger crane…HUGE crane!🏗️

Hi / Kia ora,

Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter, my regular scan across the unfolding future and emerging tech - as viewed from my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.

The most clicked link in the last issue (~19% of openers) was the hilarious supermarket musical made with Tiktok Duet. Strangely uplifting.

After the landslide⏭️

[We had a general election here in Aotearoa last weekend. You may have heard about it. Skip ahead if AoNZ politics isn’t your thing…]

Well the results came in quickly and decisively: an election landslide for *Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party* leaves the country in a weirdly quiet post-campaign period as the (likely single-party) government is officially formed behind closed doors. (This is the first time since the MMP system was introduced in 1996 when a single elected party has had enough votes to govern alone).

Paradoxically for the Green Party, despite a stronger than expected performance with 10 MPs (including the impressive Gen-Z Chloe Swarbrick who won the Auckland Central constituency), they are likely to find themselves on the opposition bench rather than in coalition. So, definitely no wealth tax. Meanwhile National, the other traditional main party, were decimated and begin an extended period of wound-licking.

Reflections a few days after the main event:

Democracy and demographic shifts

Social media influence

  • This “organic reach” shouldn’t be mistaken for unfettered direct contact with voters… Facebook as the *Platform Owner* has control over the software environment within which each interaction takes place. The US (and if you include Tiktok, Chinese) tech giants have arguably only displaced 20th century media barons as electoral access brokers… but how else would modern politicians reach mass digital audiences without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and Tiktok?

Social media self-regulation

  • Given that there is still ~zero regulation of these platforms, what are the lessons for regulators before the next election campaign comes around?

  • (Worth re-reading last year’s Digital Democracy report by Wellington think tank The Workshop from last year which calls out three core problems underlying the issues with Big Tech and democracy:

    • Platform monopolies

    • Algorithmic opacity

    • Attention economy)

  • As we’re seeing from the current US presidential election, the increasingly complex political censor / arbiter role into which international social media platforms are placed sits in an uncomfortable cross-border regulatory limbo with no clear resolution in sight…no nation state Government can make the rules which can be enforced universally.

    • Local example: Facebook shut down conspiracy party Advance NZ’s page a few days out from final voting… FB Ts&Cs, FB policies, they had the legal right to do it - but what if they had done that to ACT instead? Or the Greens? or National or Labour?

  • Given this ambiguity Facebook have decided to self-regulate themselves out of the game in the US, announcing that they will ban US political ads after the US Presidential election to avoid misinformation campaigns. Too hard (and expensive…?) a problem to solve.

  • On a positive note, earlier fears of widespread foreign election interference and voter manipulation through misinformation - particularly via conspiracy theory party Advance NZ - proved illusory (this time), with Advance limping away with <1% of the vote.

    • *Perhaps* the evolving political information ecosystem is successfully self-regulating over time as the majority of voters become less credulous and get wiser to online risks - while technical solutions are also developed in parallel…

    • (Related: James Ball provides a level-headed and nuanced postmortem of the real story of Cambridge Analytica and Brexit 2 years on in the UK Spectator.)

A coalition in all but name…

  • Even if Labour do select to govern alone, as Robert Reid (no relation) points out: it’s still a coalition:

  • AoNZ futurist and Digital Council member Roger Dennis argues convincingly this week that the public sector urgently needs to be reformed - and he suggests a few constructive steps to achieve this starting now. ($wall). In the same article he also calls for urgent Democratic Reform:

    “…The second urgent issue for the incoming government is democracy because the current system of democracy is broken. Note that democracy itself isn’t broken, just the version NZ shares with many Western countries. This is particularly evident in the United States, where the former poster-child of democracy resembles a failed state. Other forms of democracy still deliver representation in government, and recent experiments such as America in One Room have shown that more participatory types of democracy work well.

    In NZ, we are fortunate to have high levels of trust in government. But for how long?”

Both themes close to my core thesis as well…watching closely for signs of change.

Getting the CBDCs💱

CBDCs - Central Bank Digital Currencies - or “Digital Fiat” have been gathering momentum throughout 2020. As I’ve previously flagged, China’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) has begun testing in cities including Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xiong'an, and Chengdu. Also of note, the Swedish Central Bank (Riksbank) began testing technical solution for the “e-krona” this year. Recent announcements by the ECB and Bank of England also point towards experimentation - and finally the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has an updated position: Assistant Governor Christian Hawkesby was on RNZ yesterday saying they are conducting their own research but have no plans for a “Digital Kiwi” so far.

That said, a couple of weeks ago ex-PWC partner Dave Corbett - CEO of Power Finance (previously Centrality Financial) took the covers off their new “Power Dollar” concept - hyped as the world’s first “sovereign-backed digital currency” (BUT NOT legal tender say Reserve Bank and IRD!)

(….The concept of a NZ$ fiat tether is well trodden and was previously done here by ill-fated Cryptopia with NZDT 3 years ago… decidedly NOT sovereign-backed, that didn’t end so well…)😬

Although right now there are only NZ$1000 worth of “Power Dollars” in circulation… (surely Aotearoa Tāra would be a better name?)…

…Power Finance is aiming to get a banking licence by the end of March next year and get on with disrupting the banking sector:

“Each of the partners would contribute capital, which would be held as Power Dollars, and in return would be able to begin lending, and even deposit-taking operations under Power Finance’s banking licence…Our plan is to attach that [banking] licence to the platform, which means that our partners will technically be able to operate as banks”

- Power Finance CEO Dave Corbett

Perhaps this is a model that will be followed: Central Banks effectively licence “fiat” digital currency operators in a similar way to how they licence commercial banks. Either way, traditional banks look likely to be rapidly disintermediated along the journey.

For the bigger picture on CDBCs, this long thread from Raoul Pal on the topic is really worth a read in full:

“If you don't think Central Bank Digital Currencies are coming, you are missing the big and important picture. This is going to be the biggest overhaul of the global financial system since Bretton Woods…”

Just a few use case examples he gives:

(1) targeted multi-interest debt payments :

“They can give, for example, restaurant owners a direct payment for stimulus whilst at the same time, charging negative interest rates on larger savers. They can create direct tax payments too, in the rails of the payments system. No more IRS?”

(2) Enabling granular behavioural economics:

“It [will] also will push behavioural economics to the forefront based on big data and real time activity data. CB's can now create incentives directly as rewards, or punishments. They can affect human behaviour in a way that is much less blunt than traditional monetary and fiscal policy”

(3) Direct distribution of a quasi-UBI:

“Right now [lending] has to be via debt at punitive rates but this changes all of that. Poor can get direct transfer payments with the debt in the CB balance sheet. Its the key step towards UBI…”

Basically in addition to providing granular transaction-level data and low cost cross-border transaction costs, CBDCs promise massive innovations in “outsourced fiscal policy” - Governments could make precision fiscal policy and then effectively hand off implementation to their central bank.

Now feels like a good time to start experimenting…!

[Weak] signals

Signals from the near and far future…

Long, long Covid:

Recent reading on the latest foresight arising from the Pandemic:

“While distilleries have switched back to making liquor and Ford has gone back to making cars, other structural changes in our economy could be long-lasting. Global supply chains could shrink, and in some cases we might see the full repatriation of manufacturing in certain industries, for instance in pharmaceuticals or high-tech machinery. Before the pandemic, the emphasis was on “just-in-time” production, with parts being delivered just when they were needed in the manufacturing process. In the post-pandemic period, the emphasis could shift to some extent to “just-in-case” supply chains, emphasizing proximity and certainty of delivery.”

Future warfare:

  • 🛩️🛩️🛩️💥Suicide Drones: China is openly testing killer robot swarms:

(If you haven’t already seen the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots’ terrifying 1-minute video on why this is A BAD THING, I suggest you watch it.)

Moving into space:

One-shot AI:

  • MIT Technology Review reports that a radical new approach to AI - “less than one”-shot learning - can teach an ML model to identify more objects than the number of examples it is trained on.

🦿Robotic prosthetic:

Future farming and food:

Mind expanding

Recommended reading:

Image credit: Brainstem and cerebellum from Self Reflected / Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards

Rollcall

In AoNZ this week:

  • Twitter intel that *someone* is importing a giant Tesla Powerpack order: 46 Powerpacks, 232 kWh each. Anyone know about the project?

  • 🌏Congratulations to Bar-Tailed Godwit 4BBRW who has been tracked flying more than 12,000km from Alaska to Auckland in 11 days, setting a new world record for avian non-stop flight.😀

Hidden gems

To finish, a few diversions from around the internet…:

  • I captured the favourite election tweets which got me chuckling.

  • Little crane, big crane, bigger crane…HUGE crane! Apparently this video is from 2012 but I only caught up with it this week.

  • And finally: some wholesome fun from Japan: a musical bottle train…

🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always to everyone who has taken time to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s great to hear from you.

Please take a moment to share this email with those in your network who you think might enjoy it. Thank you!

More next week.

Cheers / Ngā mihi

Ben