Memia 2020.43: Inflation...not inflation📈// the liability of science🥼⚖️// APEC re-imagined🌏// protein folding problem solved🧬
[Missing Bagpipes Emoji]
Hi / Kia ora,
Welcome to another Memia weekly scan across emerging tech, global change and the unfolding future, as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand.
The most clicked link in the last issue (~19% of openers) was Oprah’s long-distance VR interview with Barack Obama. (Somehow *not* the Russian 64C Gravity Impulse research, what’s up, people?🤨)
Aotearoa’s house price index hit a near record 2.1% *monthly* increase in November, according to property market data firm CoreLogic.
Something feels awry with the way the RBNZ’s inflation target is measured using CPI alone:
View from the US in WSJ ($wall): How property booms eat our economic future:
“…These sorts of findings, which haven’t become a major topic of conversation among policy makers, could have huge implications for the way regulators and economists think about house prices and real-estate investment.
If the mainstream view shifts toward the idea that real estate booms cause capital misallocation so large that it becomes a drag on productivity, policy toward housing markets and the real-estate sector broadly could change considerably.”
The liability of science🥼⚖️
Just under a year ago in December 2019 (…a world away now…), the smouldering volcano Whakaari erupted suddenly causing 22 deaths and many serious injuries to visiting tourists and tour guides. This week, AoNZ’s safety agency Worksafe filed charges against 13 parties for failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others.
GNS Science, a publicly owned scientific research agency which has responsibility for monitoring volcanic activity at Whakaari, is among those charged.
Juliet Gerrard, PM’s Chief Science Advisor shared a pointed Reflection on science in emergencies:
“…preventing scientists from giving their free and frank advice in emergency situations – for example through fear of legal or career consequences – places a handicap on good decision making by our officials and politicians. Only by being able to access all the available knowledge, including its level of uncertainty and whether it is disputed, can decision makers effectively weigh up the possible consequences of the paths forward, guided by the best evidence.”
As a counterpoint, Shane Cronin, Professor of earth sciences at the University of Auckland writes in The Conversation: Why scientists should welcome charges against GNS over Whakaari.
Not sure exactly where I sit on this yet…but as with many aspects of our society my intuition is that there’s some still-dominant legacy memeplex embedded deep within our law which drives towards an adversarial “blame” framework based on assumed certainty - which is fundamentally inconsistent with the hypothesis, experimentation and uncertainty needed to reach better outcomes via science.
Aotearoa is a proud member of APEC:
In a busy couple of weeks of domestic politics, AoNZ’s PM found time to take part in a keynote dialogue with the excellent Brad Smith, President (sometimes referred to as “Secretary of State”) of Microsoft. Worth 30mins to watch a convincing leader at work on the international stage. (And also to see how the latest video iteration of how AoNZ is presenting itself to the world mid-Covid - ~1min in).
Also a lovely quote from Brad Smith:
“…If we look at the planet in a different way and look at the flow of ideas, New Zealand is not an island but a bridge.”
New Zealand takes on the APEC chair next year - Ardern’s three priorities underpinning a 20-year vision for Asia Pacific, in order, are:
Digital Technology and Innovation
Sustainability and Inclusion
As always, technology marches onward. This week’s collated tech signals from the future:
🧬Google AI subsidiary Deepmind announced that its deep learning network Alphafold had largely solved the Protein Folding Problem that has stood as a “grand challenge in biology for the past 50 years”. This is being recognised as one of the biggest breakthroughs in biological science ever:
“‘It will change everything’…The ability to accurately predict protein structures from their amino-acid sequence … [will] vastly accelerate efforts to understand the building blocks of cells and enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery.”
Across the ditch, Michael Evans, founder of EvansAI, continues to advocate for public investment in AI: Sketching the Outline of an Australian AI Strategy.
I admire Mike’s vision but I can’t help feeling that national AI strategies are a bit…*2018* and the conversation has moved on. If a country didn’t have a strategy in motion by then, the national game is now - almost by definition - more “adopt” than “invent”. AoNZ, unfortunately, also a case in point. (Very happy to be proved wrong).
Hours of Generative AI fun: This Startup Does Not Exist. Startup Weekend will never be the same.😅
And, according to Gary Grossman of global ad agency Edelman, This Is How We’ll Merge With AI (apparently).
Lots of industry commentary about Apple’s new M1 chips powering their new desktop devices. Impressive and game changing stuff - here’s a good overview by Kay Singh: Apple Silicon M1: Black. Magic. Fuckery.
Meanwhile Silicon AI innovators Cerebras have created a Trillion-Transistor “Wafer Scale” AI Chip That Just Left a Supercomputer in the Dust. The new CS-1 chip is 21.5cm wide(!) and houses 1.2 trillion transistors. Cerebras said the CS-1 completed a simulation of combustion in a power plant ~200 times faster than it took the Joule 2.0 supercomputer to do a similar task:
🤯As Cerebrus wrote in a blog post, the CS-1 was actually faster-than-real-time:
“It can tell you what is going to happen in the future faster than the laws of physics produce the same result.”
China’s Beidou Navigation System has reportedly surpassed US GPS in over 165 countries.
🐮Farm animals: Irish agritech startup Cainthus, which has developed facial recognition solution for cows, is seeking to raise more than €42m in its latest investment round. Moo.
Like a leaf but not a leaf– new artificial photosynthesis method to capture CO2 directly from the air and turn it into fuel.
Renewable CO2: Wellington’s Hot Lime Labs has developed a new technology to increase crop yields inside greenhouses and reduce carbon footprints by turning waste wood into clean, sustainable CO2.
🌿Instead of vertical farms, how about underground inner city farms? Deep underneath London in a complex of abandoned WW2 bomb shelters, farmers are growing 100 tons+/year of vegetables for the local market - pea shoots, garlic chives, cilantro, broccoli, wasabi mustard, arugula, fennel, red mustard, pink stem radishes, watercress, sunflower shoots, and salad leaves.
AWS suffered an outage during a systems upgrade… with very modern knock on effects:
It’s not Science Fiction - review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent near-future “hope fiction” novel Ministry for the Future, by Bill McKibben in NY Review of Books. (This book is my go-to Xmas present this year…recommended!)
Mind erasing: I have been reading There Is No Antimemetics Division by sci-fi author qntm. (An antimeme is an idea with self-censoring properties; an idea which, by its intrinsic nature, discourages or prevents people from spreading it.)
The fanbase have created a fantastic wiki based upon the book… very droll, very funny, very ⬛⬛⬛⬛.
The Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand, currently charged with advising government on all matters digital, are winding up their first year’s work with a 3D printed tree and the rhetorical question: Will you nurture the tree so that it bears fruit?
They use the theme to articulate two main priorities:
Tending to the ecosystem
Tackling the “orchard-level” problems
…and identify four “digital” areas to nurture today:
Ensuring everyone is included.
Understanding the emergent picture.
Building government for the digital age.
Enabling a thriving tech sector.
…Looking positive for year 2 (providing the investment is there!).
AoNZ on the map (just!)
I previously shared some of Alasdair Rae’s population density graphics back in Memia 2020.13 - this is a simply beautiful render of the world, I want a hi-res one for my wall!
…And this looks pretty neat happening in Ōtautahi: new art installation In Kahoots at Christchurch Art Gallery, a collaboration between artists Sean Kerr and Judy Darragh, combines AI and a game engine to generate a continuously unique immersive experience for visitors.
Finally, some polished jewels this week:
Flock of starlings:
Tetris, 2020 edition (with a bit of Escher thrown in for good measure):
…And even though I used to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, I have never ever found any excuse for the bagpipes (sorry, Evan!). However, the incredible multi-instrumentalist Gunhild Carling may just have swayed me:
(Here she is again with Postmodern Jukebox playing Pharrell Williams’ Happy on 10 different instruments).
🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback. (Shoutouts this week to Anna Pendergrast, Charlie Tomlinson, Bernard Hickey and Andrew Leckie).
Reminder: If you enjoyed this newsletter, please remember to share with someone else, thank you!
More next week…
Cheers / Ngā Mihi