Memia 2021.04: Cautious vaccination magic💉// tired: meme stocks📉// wired: meme metals📈// the four internets🌐// dirt is the word🌱// world after capital💲

Always looking up for alien gargoyles

Kia ora / Hi

Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter exploring emerging thinking, tech and the unfolding future, viewed from my corner of the world here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Cautious vaccination magic💉

As Aotearoa’s PM announced that borders are likely to stay closed for the whole of 2021, there are early signs of hope from Israel, one of the earliest countries to begin mass Covid-19 vaccinations:

More commentary on Israel in the Economist: how fast can vaccination against covid-19 make a difference? Also new research just out showing hopeful signs in the UK as well. (Big shout out to my mum in lockdown in the UK who gets her first jab this week!)

Tired: meme stocks📉

So, GameStop. (NOT GameSpot! Top marks, though.😂)

To summarise in 1 paragraph…retail traders in the r/WallStreetBets subreddit (8 million subscribers and counting…) initiated a short squeeze on GME (turning it overnight into a “meme stock”). Leveraging retail options trading platform Robinhood, retail investors took the tired video game retailer’s stock stratospheric, up over 1800% in a month at one point…

…in turn causing major Wall Street hedge funds to lose around US$19 billion attempting to shore up their short positions.

A few comment and opinion links:

The whole episode has garnered crazy amounts of online coverage - a friend’s Reddit feed was entirely full of GME and Robinhood-related posts at one point. (Perhaps now that Trump is gone, online oxygen is available for something else? Or just anti-Wall St schadenfreude? Whatever, it would be profoundly valuable to understand why shorting a stock gets so much headspace compared to, say, a *climate crisis* or a *once-in-a-century pandemic*. )🤯

Markets go on: there is an inevitability that hedge funds are dusting themselves down ready to invest in next-level multibillion-parameter ML models to ingest firehoses of social media data to profit off the next short squeeze…

Wired: meme metals📈

In breaking news, apparently silver has hit an 8-year high…🥱

That regular section on Aotearoa/China etc

Still keeping an eye on Indo-Pacific geopolitical tectonics:

“First, New Zealand respects rules of the market economy more than Australia does…Second, Wellington doesn't take sides between Beijing and Washington…
Third, New Zealand is relatively open toward the rise of China. It is among some developed countries that welcome China's participation in international affairs and its proactive role in global governance.”

  • Robert Ayson, Strategic Studies Professor at VUW, argues for changing the narrative away from zero-sum games: NZ must build collaboration, not more intense competition in the Asia-Pacific:

    “The Biden Administration will be seeking New Zealand’s involvement as a fellow democracy. This returns us to some familiar quandaries: just how much does New Zealand wants its China policy to be defined by its relationship with Washington, and how deeply involved does Wellington want to be in a US-China contest?”

  • Also of significant note, an informal (Alphabet-heavy) working group of US tech execs including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt produced a memo, apparently circulating in the Biden administration: Asymmetric Competition: A Strategy for China & Technology, forcefully advocating for a bifurcation of Chinese and US tech sectors. Good summary from Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian here in Axios. Of particular relevance:

“We urge a new multilateral forum called the T-12 to bring together key countries to coordinate responses to technological competition with members as the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Canada, the Netherlands, South Korea, Finland, Sweden, India, Israel, and Australia.”

Pfffft. Who wants to be in your club, anyway…🥺 (And I count 13?)

[Weak] signals

A veritable flood of future signals this week:

  • Luminary tech investment firm Ark Invest released their annual Big Ideas 2021 report (registration required) covering 15 topics including:

    • Deep Learning

    • Virtual Worlds

    • Orbital Aerospace and

    • Cell and Gene Therapy: Generation 2

    An excellent read.

  • 🌐Equally luminous, from the middle of last year but I only just caught it now, Stratechery’s Ben Thompson on India’s massive mobile telco Jio and “the Four Internets”:

(While you’re at it, also check out Stratechery’s 2020 Year In Review).

Governments and technology:

Scaling ClimateTech

As reported last week, Elon Musk has pumped up the carbon capture industry with his US$100M prize announcement. Starting to see more serious discussions on commercial carbon capture and removal applications as well:

Cyborg brains

Mind expanding

…But in the absence of a fully functioning BCI, I guess we still need to read📚:

  • 💲World After Capital is a new “work in progress” book by Venture Capitalist (oh, the irony) Albert Wenger, exploring themes of the new Attention Economy:

    “Capital is no longer scarce in some parts of the world and it is becoming rapidly less scarce everywhere. We should consider this to be the great success of capitalism. But markets, which were the crucial allocation mechanism for capital, will not solve the scarcity of attention. We are bad at allocating attention, both individually and collectively...Consider paying attention to finding your purpose in life: there is no supply and demand that will form a ‘purpose price’ for an individual; it’s ultimately up to you to allocate enough attention to this existential question.”

    (Of note: Albert is writing using gitbook - basically a collaborative book editing platform built on github. I’ve never come across this before but it’s my new favourite thing…the book never actually gets finished, it’s just a series of “pull requests”).

  • (Credible) Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb has a new book out on the mysterious Oumuamua object: Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. In January he recorded an 3-hour conversation with Lex Fridman where he goes deeply into his theory that Oumuamua may be a disc-shaped alien probe.

  • Before we go to Mars…the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program conducts analog missions to the moon and Mars for scientific research - at a habitat on the volcano Mauna Loa. Read the latest commander’s report: The Valoria 1 crew is fighting to survive the night.


Shout outs around Aotearoa:

Hidden gems

Discovered around the internet this week…:

🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always for reading, and to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback each week!

More next week.

Ngā Mihi / Cheers