Memia 2021.02: Four-eyes👀👀 and the Indo-Pacific🌏// avoiding a ghastly😱future🔮// digital vaccine credentials💉🛂// scouring through the rubbish 🚯₿

🎵Soon may the Wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum.🎵

Kia ora / Hi

Welcome to another Memia newsletter trying to sensemake the future as it unfolds - with a focus on relevance for Aotearoa and the wider Pacific region.

The most clicked link in the last issue (~12% of openers) was (quite rightly) futurist Eli Dourado’s fantastic list of the technologies he is watching in the 2020s

Four-eyes👀👀 and the Indo-Pacific🌏

I’ve been noticing some subtle ongoing shifts in Aotearoa’s posture towards major trading and strategic partners Australia, China and the US.

Most recently in the context of the imminent Biden/Harris administration taking over US foreign policy, the US releasing its newly-declassified Indo-Pacific Strategy on 13 Jan, the ongoing Chinese “trade war” on Australian exports and also Five-(Four-)Eyes responses to Chinese arrests of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong:

  • There is a lot at stake for Aotearoa’s economy to maintain strong trade relations with China and the wider Indo-Pacific region. Conversely, China’s regional assertive expansionism makes going it alone on defence a huge call.

  • However, the timing feels right for Aotearoa to accelerate a process of building long-wasted-away muscles of geopolitical independence in an increasingly interconnected world of “firm influence” rather than “hard power”.

I collated relevant commentary and recent analysis here: Four-eyes👀👀 and the Indo-Pacific🌏 (Subscriber-only post).

Avoiding a ghastly😱future🔮

17 leading international ecological and climate scientists released an alarm-raising article, Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future reviewing the extent to which experts and politicians are failing to grasp the scale of threats to the biosphere. Summarising the research, they describe likely future trends in biodiversity decline, mass extinction, climate disruption and planetary toxification, all linked to human consumption and population growth - threatening the survival of *all* species, including humans:

“Essentially, humans have created an ecological Ponzi scheme. Consumption, as a percentage of Earth's capacity to regenerate itself, has grown from 73% in 1960 to more than 170% today.”

The authors propose urgent (…yet idealistic…?) political action:

  • Abolishing the goal of perpetual economic growth

  • Revealing the true cost of products and activities by forcing those who damage the environment to pay for its restoration, such as through carbon pricing

  • Rapidly eliminating fossil fuels

  • Regulating markets by curtailing monopolisation and limiting undue corporate influence on policy

  • Reining in corporate lobbying of political representatives

  • Educating and empowering women around the globe, including giving them control over family planning.

They conclude with uncharacteristically forceful language (for scientists):

“Given the existence of a human “optimism bias” that triggers some to underestimate the severity of a crisis and ignore expert warnings, a good communication strategy must ideally undercut this bias without inducing disproportionate feelings of fear and despair. It is therefore incumbent on experts in any discipline that deals with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to eschew reticence, avoid sugar-coating the overwhelming challenges ahead and “tell it like it is.” Anything else is misleading at best, or negligent and potentially lethal for the human enterprise at worst.”

Powerful. But effective, though? Not sure.🤔

Digital vaccination credentials💉🛂

Katie Kenny in Stuff looks at the challenges of rolling out digital “vaccine passports” in New Zealand (unlikely to be a new feature of the Covid Tracker App for privacy reasons, but…):

  • (Trust in privacy is fundamental to the effectiveness of the tracing app generally: 2 weeks ago Singapore’s government controversially revealed that private Covid app data was actually available to police - prompting app disabling / uninstallation and, more fundamentally, a sense of broken trust between government and citizens.)

  • “Vaccination passports” are likely to become a critical feature for international travel in the foreseeable future: Australia’s Qantas airlines CEO Alan Joyce said last month:

    “We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers, and once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services…There will be some exceptions for people who can’t – for medical reasons – take vaccines. And our flights to New Zealand will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID as well, just as domestic flights will be exempt.”

  • Let that sink in. Leaving aside potential human rights and legal conundrums, the technological, logistical and privacy implications of rapidly deploying this requirement across international air travel will be radical. (It will also add to the risk of flying … imagine turning up at check-in desk only to be denied boarding because “computer says no”.)

  • In order for this to work at scale, it will require a real-time API where every passenger’s vaccination status is verified at checkin (online or in-person). :

    • Evidence of vaccination will need to be certified at source and securely held by the government or a trusted 3rd party. (The Estonian government and WHO are already collaborating. New Zealand is in the process of replacing its “decrepit” National Immunisation Register with a new NZ$23M National Immunisation Solution. (Hurry up, eh…)

    • International standards will be required to verify vaccination status between trusted 3rd parties. (See the newly formed Vaccine Credential Initiative for one candidate). (Also Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid protocol could help here, see later on).

    • Internationally accessible, secure, high availability APIs to verify vaccination status at check in.

    • In privacy-conscious countries at least, likely complemented by a “vaccination wallet” app which passengers can download and explicitly authorise access to the airline / other 3rd party.

  • This feels like a 10-year global-scale IT programme needing delivery within 3-6 months, winner takes all for decades. No wonder the world’s biggest tech companies are rushing to be the platform of choice for digital vaccination records. (Expect Google and Apple to enter the fray soon).

  • Bigger picture: *perhaps* this is a catalysing moment for public digital health which has been so slow to deliver in the past. In the same way that the AoNZ government has employed trust to deploy the Covid tracking app out onto citizens’ phones at scale - perhaps a *trusted* government-provided “vaccination wallet” app is the way to get a Personal Digital Health Record foothold onto enough citizens’ phones to finally start driving efficiencies of personalisation into public health service delivery in future.

Scouring through the rubbish🚯₿

₿itcoin hit a record high of over US$40,000 just over a week ago, pushing the total cryptocurrency market cap above US$1 Trillion for the first time.

Helpfully, the UK’s financial regulator warned cryptocurrency investors that they could 'lose all their money'.

They’re not wrong! Although probably not exactly what they meant…:

  • Programmer has two guesses left to access US$240M bitcoin wallet:

    • A San Francisco-based software developer was given 7,002 bitcoins 10 years ago worth $2-$6 each at the time - now valued at US$240M in total. He stashed them away in a digital wallet on his secure Ironkey device and forgot about them. And forgot his password to the IronKey…which only allows 10 password guesses before shutting off. Oops.

  • And in an even more desperate plight…:

Where’s a bank and a regulated financial system when you need one?😁

[Weak] signals

Signals from the near and far future:

  • First indication from Russia of how authoritarian states will try to respond to ubiquitous satellite internet (but like Signal, Telegram…how would they actually enforce it?)

  • Water now has a price in the US: NASDAQ started trading water futures for California’s drought-stricken districts. Is water a tradable commodity or a public good?

  • Africa’s Great Green Wall:

    • The African Development Bank, France and the World Bank pledged US$14.3bn in new funding towards Africa’s “Great Green Wall” - an 8,000km long and 15km wide area of trees, grasslands, vegetation and plants across the Sahel savannah.

  • And some geeking out after a virtual CES: the next generation of AR Glasses don’t need a Hololens-type visor or Magic-Leap goggles:

Mind expanding

Two pieces of speculative science caught in the dragnet this week:

Rollcall

  • As Aotearoa gets back to work after the long summer holiday, I’m looking forward to kicking off the year catching up with folks at the GEN NZ Unconference and Workshops in Wellington on 9th-10th Feb, thanks Dave Moskovitz and team for organising:

“GEN NZ brings together people from all over the country and the various niches in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to collaborate on how we can connect entrepreneurs to the resources and people they need to thrive, locally and globally.”

  • Also from Wellington, data science marketing firm Dot Loves Data knows how to make a striking visual:

    • (check the detail, it’s not as bad as it looks initially!)

Hidden gems

🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always for reading, and also to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback...much appreciated!

More next week…

Cheers / Ngā Mihi

Ben