Memia 2021.06: Emperor's new clothes👔// this metahuman does not exist🧔👱🧕🧖🙎// copyright©️cops👮// antilibrary📚// chesses♞// digitaldoers🦸
Scanne Ye QR Code
Kia ora / Hi
Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter exploring emerging tech and thinking about the future as it unfolds, with half an eye on my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.
The most clicked links in the last issue (~8% of openers) was Alex Baia’s gutlaughingly funny Winners Wake Up Early: Every Article I’ve Written About My Morning Routine.
A few disparate domestic narratives this week, weaving a dynamic zeitgeist of sorts:
🤞The Jacinda, Chippy and Ashley show🤞: all eyes back on daily Covid briefings as Tāmaki Makaurau is suddenly back in lockdown after 3 new community cases were detected at the weekend. The lockdown was announced at 7pm on Sunday night - an Auckland colleague told me that their daughter’s high school was teaching on Zoom at 8:30am the next day. How things have changed in 1 year!
At almost the same moment, the first batch of vaccines (Pfizer) arrived in the country. But Covid-19 and its variants are still likely to be endemic around the world for years to come. The border re-opening decision will be a hard one.
👔Emperor’s new clothes: Last week the speaker took 24 hours to back down on mandatory tie-wearing in parliament. Former Greens leader Metiria Turei is on point in The Spinoff: why the parliament necktie fight is so much more than some petty squabble.
“So while this seemingly meaningless squabble over whether to wear ties or not in the parliamentary chamber seems facile, in fact, it is a discussion about who exercises power and how that power is presented...Men’s suits are the ubiquitous visual representation of a man wielding authority and his tie is an essential element of that uniform…It seems more than timely to abandon the culturally bound and frankly lazy concept of business attire which is simply code for Pākehā visual symbols of authority.”
(There’s got to be some hyperviral meme forming out in the Tiktok ether which, once viewed, means *no-one* will be able to wear a tie seriously ever again.)
In much the same vein, a 16yo student in Dunedin with a cornrow hairstyle was told that his “extreme haircut” “violates” his school’s uniform policy, intended to:
“promote pride in the school and unity”
🤬“Policy” statements like this are so clearly just blustering BS in 2021. (Where’s the evidence base to support any kind of causal link - or correlation even - between enforced conformist dresscodes and measurable “pride” or “unity” in any institution?) Expect school uniform policies to face a mounting pile of discrimination challenges in the next few years…and uniforms to become a rarity within the decade…
(For me, these moments highlight the glaring leftover [colonial] anachronisms still hiding in plain sight in modern AoNZ: for each one there’s a visceral cognitive dissonance between traditionally accepted norms and rapidly evolving cultural values which indicates the tipping point is being reached.)
This metahuman does not exist🧔👱🧕🧖🙎
A logical outcome of generative AI dawned on me this week, prompted by recent developments:
Unreal Engine’s preview of their new “Metahuman” Creator:
Researchers have proven that the current generation of deepfake detectors can be fooled. Never believe anything you watch ever again?
Cleo, a robot built on the Mesmer platform developed by Engineered Arts, demonstrates advances in human-like expressive movements (and Celine Dion impressions, natch) for use in visitor attractions. Still a way to go until Westworld (so good…) but lifting out of uncanny valley.
And a team of geneticists and computer scientists have been using machine learning to work towards constructing artificial human genomes: which will help solve privacy issues inherent in working with real people’s DNA. But the wider implication is effectively to build a generative AI model of all possible human DNA: “this human genome does not exist”.
Couple all of this with advances in text-to-speech, GPT-3 and its successors, generative behavioural models - and pretty soon you could have a huge generative AI model of the information space of all possible [meta]humans: DNA, faces, voices, body shapes, personalities, gestures.
Walking down the (virtual) street it would become increasingly difficult to distinguish between meta- and baseline- human.
If you had a relationship with a metahuman, would you know? (Would you care?)2
More profoundly, what does this say about the essence of human individuality - that we are all just a single output of a gazillion-parameter deep neural network?🤔
As if metahumans weren’t enough this week…
Crypto blah blah:
I keep fixating on the strategic and economic moat that China appears to be building in plain sight with its DCEP digital currency: insightful commentary from Coindesk about why China is well-positioned to become the dominant digital currency across Africa:
“Since the mid 2000s, China has discreetly accumulated significant influence over Africa’s technology stack, close to 50% in the mobile handset and 70% in the mobile network layers…Now, China can launch its digital currency on top of this stack, running on specially designed chips embedded deep within dozens of popular Chinese phone brands that dominate Africa.”
Amazon is rumoured to be working on its own digital currency, launching first in Mexico.
Mastercard said that it is planning to support cryptocurrencies natively on its network - but only those that meet requirements around stability, privacy and anti money laundering compliance. So, not Bitcoin then. Or pretty much any decentralised currency. A move to support Libra/Diem, then?
Fast boat, slow boat🛥️:
…Meanwhile in Aotearoa:
Augmented reality coming closer to reality: New game Realworld lets you explore a model of the world from inside a VR headset with friends - and even leave virtual notes for people visiting these places in the real world. Sorta multiplayer digital twin Pokemon Go.
📚Loved this concept of an AntiLibrary from Anne-Laure Le Cunff at Ness Labs:
“The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.”
♞Different variants of the game of Chess which will stretch the mind:
Around Aotearoa this week:
🦸MASSIVE hat tip to what Andy H and the team at Manaaki are achieving here with their DigitalDoers programme, profoundly impactful:
Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie is working out the Covid pandemic back home in Aotearoa… he spoke to The Spinoff’s Duncan Grieve:
Congrats to Otago University AI Law experts James MacLaurin, Colin Gavaghan, Joy Liddicoat (/Vic Uni!) and Ali Knott who joined former colleague John Zerilli (now researching at Cambridge University) and other authors for their new book A Citizen’s Guide To Artificial Intelligence:
I take it everyone’s seen “I’m here live - I’m not a cat”?🐱
If Covid had happened 1000 years ago:
Inspired: Dumb Cuneiform (top spotting Saya Wahrlich)
The origin of the term “The Dog’s Bollocks”.
Radio Free Europe:
And finally, breathtaking starling murmurations in Brighton, UK:
🙏🙏🙏 Thanks as always for reading, and to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback each week - appreciated every time!
More again next week.
Ngā Mihi / Cheers
…And by then mental, virtual and physical human augmentations of all kinds will be in play too… pure sci fi!