Memia 2020.41: Data science-advised government✔️// *interesting times*🌏// indistinguishability obfuscation#️⃣//solar powered smart dust💨//lab-grown human breast milk🍼
Hi and Kia ora,
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter, my regular scan across emerging tech, global change and the unfolding future - as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand.
The most clicked link in the last issue (~15% of openers) was the VR party at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. (I saw someone refer to the experience of “joy scrolling” through the FSTL memes last week, can totally relate😂).
You wait ages for a vaccine and then…
…two arrive one after the other:
Announcements of successful trials in the last week from Pfizer and Moderna have lifted global sentiment significantly - and effectively vindicated the “lock down the border and wait for a vaccine” strategy adopted by AoNZ’s government from early on in the pandemic. Now begins the logistical challenge of delivering it to billions of people around the planet…still some way to go, but light at the end of the tunnel. Go science.🏆
Data science-advised government✔️
🏆…Go science again: even if based on a somewhat selective polling sample, this chart from The Economist speaks volumes about the effectiveness of science-advised government. (AoNZ top of the league….except…where is Taiwan?🤔)
In particular the daily data modeling updates provided by the team at Auckland University’s Te Pūnaha Matatini kept the National Crisis Management Centre informed on the scenarios they were facing. Prof. Shaun Hendy who leads Te Pūnaha Matatini said:
“Politicians don’t need to be experts. They do have to be able to weigh evidence, and they do have to have access to expertise they trust. There was an extremely high level of trust between the Prime Minister and her science advisers.”
So…which other challenges could the AoNZ government use more data science modeling to help address? I’m thinking, in approximate order of Zeitgeist:
Housing shortages / market bubble
Wealth inequality / child poverty
But are the various policy shops within Wellington government departments tooled up and sufficiently skilled in data science to incorporate similarly effective modeling in their advice to ministers?
As I previously wrote in Memia 2020.10: “Precision ready” digital infrastructure - ditch the shovel, eh? there is much to be said for funding national “digital twin” data models for each of these issues and more...and putting them into a transparent “Government Policy Centre” digital environment for better informed decision making into the 2020s.
Now THAT’s infrastructure.
Aotearoa’s foreign policy just got interesting: new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta pushed out this tweet at the end of last week:👏
…Surely it *must* have been a coincidence when 2 days later: 'Covid-19' found on New Zealand meat products in China.🤷
This comes in the same week that Aotearoa and Australia joined China, Japan and other ASEAN nations to sign up to RCEP, creating the largest free trade zone on the planet, while already heightened trade tensions between China and Australia escalated with further blocked imports of Aussie agricultural and wine produce.
(…And all this as the world waits for the incoming Biden administration to detail its China policy…)
May we live in *interesting times*!
Some rather strong signals from the future this week:
Futurist Peter Diamandis’ style is not to everyone’s taste - a bit (tel-)evangelistic for me (“Abundance…. for US$12,500pp/year”) - but definitely worth reading his latest graph-filled post Proof of Exponential Tech Growth - upon which he bases his mindset of “data-driven optimism”.
Commercial spaceflight became fully operational as SpaceX Crew Dragon delivered 4 astronauts to the ISS, 18 years since the company was originally founded by Elon Musk. Let the race for Luna begin…
Stock photo provider Shutterstock acquired AI-generated music library Amper.:
“The company claims to hold the world’s largest dataset of musical composition algorithms.”
Anyone hoping to earn a living as a composer should reconsider now. (Looking back I first wrote about Amper in Sept 2017)
In a similar vein, Google AI researchers have been experimenting with automatic video creation from a web page:
Neuroscience-inspired AI visionary Jeff Hawkins’ research firm Numenta announced 50X speed improvements on Deep Learning networks using its brain-derived algorithms:
“A large, complex [deep learning] model can cost millions of dollars to train and to run, and the power required is growing at an exponential rate. New algorithms are essential to break through this performance bottleneck.”
#️⃣A breakthrough in cryptography with significant downstream ramifications: Indistinguishability Obfuscation (iO), previously unproven, has been demonstrated to be practical by cryptographic researchers at UCLA and University of Washington:
“[iO], if it could be built, would be able to hide not just collections of data but the inner workings of a computer program itself, creating a sort of cryptographic master tool from which nearly every other cryptographic protocol could be built…”
One commenter on the article sums up the significance:😨
“It means that bad actors will be able to produce perfectly obfuscated malware that can't be analyzed effectively, or perhaps even detected by anti-malware software.”
🚜We’re in New Zealand, so better have some farming links:
Indoors: enlightening conversation (as always) from Exponential View’s Azeem Azhar speaking with “vertical farmer” Mike Zelkind:
🍼New Zealand-manufactured infant formula milk is well over a billion-NZ-dollar export industry. Perhaps not for much longer (ht Melissa C-R):
💨Anyone who has read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (or Gartner Emerging Technology Hype Cycles from 2003(!) or 2013, for that matter) will be familiar with “Smart Dust”. Sci-fi is getting ever nearer to reality:
Stretching the neurons this week:
Personally I’m impressed but haven’t invested enough time in Roam Research to fully maximize its utility… but I know many adopters (“Roam-ans”) who are fervent in their admiration. Basically Roam automagically turns your daily work notes into a knowledge graph… and now has a 3D timeline too:
And just in case we were feeling a bit too much of Diamandis’ “data-driven optimism”, this profile of apocalyptic population scientist Peter Turchin brings us right back down to Earth: the next decade could be even worse. (Ht Roger Dennis for the link):
“…To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working…the fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions…
“Eventually, Turchin hopes, our understanding of historical dynamics will mature to the point that no government will make policy without reflecting on whether it is hurtling toward a mathematically preordained disaster.”
A few shout outs around AoNZ this week:
Congratulations to the team at New Zealand inventory management SaaS company Unleashed, acquired by UK-based ERP vendor Access Group.
And also a big shout out to the organising team for this week’s Canterbury Tech Summit - one of the only “in person” tech conferences held this year! I really enjoyed hearing updates from some innovative local tech organisations including Aceso Health, Double-O, Cacophony Project and Wisk (Skinny from NZ Country Director Anna Kominik: apparently ~3-4 years before piloted eVTOL aircraft become available… and a *wee bit longer* for full autonomy.)
The Wellbeing Protocol is a new “DAO for Social Good” - get along to BlockChainNZ Wellington meetup on 26 Nov to find out more from project initiator Mark Pascall.
As usual to finish with, a couple of items worth sharing:
🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s always great to hear from you. And if you enjoyed this newsletter, please feel free to share with a friend:
More next week…
Cheers / Ngā Mihi