Memia 2021.07: 10 years📅// Murdoch bargaining law📰// metayou😐// covid passports🛂// flying fruit pickers🍎// smart wool🐑// two-way futurism🤯

Deep fried 'erb🌿

Kia ora / Hi

Welcome to this week’s 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 (~11% of openers) was the stunning Starling Murmurations. (Matt B commented: “[they] look exactly like my imaginings of the nanoswarms in Michael Crichton's novel 'Prey' (Pray!)”).

  • Reminder: you’re invited to join the first MAMA Memia (Monthly Ask Me Anything) event next Monday at 12pm NZT. Email me for a Zoom invite and to send in questions, quite a few folks signed up already, looking forward to it!

10 years📅

Thinking backwards rather than forwards, for once… (see also Mind Expanding below).

I took a brief moment on Monday to reflect on the journey of my adopted city - Ōtautahi Christchurch - over the last 10 years since that massive earthquake hit on 22 Feb 2011. The anniversary has been widely covered in the news but sharing a couple of pieces I valued here:

“One of the biggest challenges of post-quake Christchurch was in changing the narrative about recovery; how do you explain the impacts of living with uncertainty, at every level, to decision-makers not encumbered by that same sense?”

“Then there’s the day to day. I live right next to the central city and walk through frequently. Beautiful new areas, from office blocks and hospo hubs to well-designed auditoria and parks sit next to massive, fenced-off empty lots that we’ve learned not to look at. Some derelict buildings, tattooed with graffiti, have been effectively abandoned by their owners, many of whom are landbanking or holding out for more insurance money; honestly, how dare they. The city that was and the city still to come are overlaid, ghostly, across a sea of Wilson’s car parks. I worry that this nuanced element will be lost, for the non-local viewer…”

(Gerard Smyth’s highly watchable documentary When a City Rises is available on TVNZ to view on demand - a key vignette for me was the capital flight to other Australasian cities paid for from commercial building insurance proceeds…explains a lot).

Personally… I still feel I haven’t really processed it all even now! The event and its immediate aftermath certainly left a permanent imprint: checking people were out of our office building, running to my car, trying to get across Moorhouse Ave with all the traffic lights out, driving down Wilsons Road when it was visibly undulating, bursting open with liquefaction like some Hollywood disaster movie, that visceral moment of relief knowing that the family was all ok...)

…But then the intervening years went by in such a haze… for some subliminal reason I haven’t processed my own Quake Story into words yet... a task for this year perhaps.

Three thoughts bubbling up, prompted by the anniversary:

  • The earthquake risks are constantly there nationally and EQC’s coffers are now relatively empty…how prepared is the country for a similar scale event in Wellington or another major centre? (And given rampant house price inflation, is EQC’s insurance “cap” (now $150K) high enough…?) Does the Treasury model this stuff in detail?

  • The amount of time, money and environmental impact to demolish all of the damaged commercial buildings: having witnessed it first hand, this is surely a case for full lifecycle building regulation: “clip-together” modular buildings designed for rapid deconstruction and reuse, not just demolition and landfill?

    • 🌱⏩🏢(Incidentally, my personal vision for construction in the far future: throw a nanotech “building seed” on the ground and feed it “nutrients”…for another newsletter.)

  • More fundamentally: even despite the insurance and rebuild organisational cluster🤬, I still feel immensely fortunate to live in a highly-insured country that has been able to support the majority of the city’s population to recover from a major disaster and move on with life. (Yes, there is lots more to be done for those who are not so fortunate). In the end, most of us have made it through ok. Likely a bit dented financially compared to our peers in Auckland and Wellington. But with a far deeper resilience than before - individually and collectively. The population is growing quickly, the sun is shining (31 degrees as I’m writing!) and the evolving cityscape continues to unfurl around us. Confidently #optimistic about Ōtautahi’s future.

Murdoch bargaining law📰

Australians woke up on Thursday last week to this message below as Facebook restricted users from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content in response to Australia’s imminent Media Bargaining Law:

Commentary splits a few ways:

"Google didn't take [the newspapers' advertising] money, any more than Boeing took money from the ocean liners. The internet destroyed the model."

(And it’s not like publishers pay for links either).

At the time of *publishing* this post (where’s my link tax?)😜, Facebook “backed down”:

“After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”

My 2c:

  • Benedict Evans is absolutely correct that regulating global tech companies is going to be fiendishly complex. This is just an opening salvo worldwide.

  • China is one of the only countries in the world which excluded Facebook and Google…and as a direct result has a thriving home-grown adtech sector on a completely different stack. Where is the Australian home-grown competitor?🤷

  • Just like Microsoft ~20 years ago, even though Facebook and Google look unassailable right now, never underestimate the power of a new technology paradigm to bring about change while regulators are still playing catchup. To me, it feels like unrestrained monopoly US adTech is reaching its peak…and if I had to take a punt, I’d be looking at decentralised information markets… perhaps like Aotearoa’s own 21e8, to change the playing field soon.

[Weak signals]

Lots of emerging tech this week, much of it touching the mainstream media more than usual:

Crypto conundrum:

🛂 Covid passports:

😐AI clones:

  • After last week’s Metahumans, here’s MetaYou:

🛰️It’s all happening in space:

  • Perseverance Mars landing: this video, just released yesterday, is spectacular:

🍎Flying fruit pickers!

🏡Not joining your Club

  • Invite-only Silicon Valley social audio phenomenon Clubhouse is all over my Twitter feed currently. Thanks to those who have offered me an invite, but (1) I’m too cool for school (Android, not iOS) and (2) having read John Naughton in the Guardian I’m wary that it’s a massive contact data hoovering exercise for 1%ers…plus the Stanford Internet Observatory discovered potential backdoors for the Chinese government to listen in. (Clubhouse was abruptly blocked in China on Feb 8).

🏭Modular 3D factories:

⚛️Hydrogen powered:

New South Wales startup LAVO is offering a hydrogen electrolysis “green battery” storage system to retain solar power for darker days.

Mind expanding

  • 🤯Two-way futurism: Epaminondas Christophilopoulos1, Deputy Chair of the Greek presidency’s foresight team, published an amazing paper last year: Special Relativity Theory Expands the Futures Cone’s Conceptualisation of the Futures and The Pasts. He takes Einstein’s Special Relativity and investigates how to expand the use of the “future cone” in futures studies: “considering various alternative developments of the future and the interconnections between different futures, different pasts and the present”:

  • How might this be applied? Well perhaps it *could* serve as an inspiration to reconceive property law to be temporally 2-way? In the same way as institutions like the Waitangi Tribunal attempt to right the wrongs of the past.... perhaps we need a Tribunal to "right the wrongs of the future”? (I’m thinking about house prices, Bernard…)

  • How 'moonshot' thinking could save the world: progressive economist Mariana Mazzucato talks with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about her new book "Mission Economy": how public and private sectors must collaborate to tackle the world's big problems (15min).

Rollcall

Around Aotearoa:

“You need to start another company. Immediately.”

  • (Last word to Jake himself in the Spinoff piece linked above. I think this qualifies as one of the most epic mic drops ever):

“Millar also revealed that he had no plans to return to New Zealand and would soon be permanently relocating to sub-Saharan Africa.”🤩

Best of luck, chap.👍

Hidden gems

A couple of international “specialty cuisine” items I spotted:

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

And a favour to ask this week: if you enjoy Memia each week, please share this post with one friend or colleague who might too.🙏🙏🙏

Ngā Mihi / Cheers

Ben

1

Thank goodness for copy-and-paste!