Memia 2021.09: Hey you, get out of my feed👑//1,000 🧠brains🧠// decoding global talent🗺️// sharp eyes👀and AIs👁️// NFT wha...⁉️// hydrogen goop🔋
Mmmm Cthulhu Pie🦑
Kia ora / Hi
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter, thinking about tech and the future as it unfolds, viewed from my corner of the world here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Busy week in Aotearoa: Tāmaki Makaurau came out of Covid Level 3 lockdown🙌 and new Civil Defence minister Kiri Allan earned a bump up in her profile after confidently fronting not one🌊, but two🌊(!) Tsunami alerts in one day:
Hey you, get out of my feed👑
HF, the mother of all viral memeplexes landed two days ago. Kelly Pendergrast sums it up:
This week it was actually impossible to partition myself away from this “news”: 3 items in top 6 Twitter “What’s happening” suggestions (seriously!? - can’t even train the algo to switch them off…?)
…and *over 15 minutes* on RNZ Morning Report (!!!) yesterday morning (I know because I kept having to tune away…🤬)…Thankfully at least my personalised Google News feed on Pixel 4a is way better trained…
As a fanboy following Numenta founder and neuroscience/AI maverick Jeff Hawkins’ sporadic Youtube lectures, I’ve been patiently waiting for his new book for years. It’s finally arrived:
Jeff did an interview in MIT Technology Review to mark the book launch: We’ll never have true AI without first understanding the brain. In summary, his fundamental model of “intelligence” draws on four baseline attributes found in the brain:
Embodiment: learning by moving
“A thousand brains”: tens of thousands of cortical columns “voting” to build up a viewpoint of reality
Continuous learning: ability to learn new things without forgetting previous stuff
Reference frames: our knowledge of the world is relative to our point of view
This book could be truly groundbreaking for the future of AI:
“The vast majority of AI researchers don’t really embrace the idea that the brain is important...And most people in AI have very little understanding of neuroscience. It’s not surprising, because it’s really hard..But one of the big goals of writing this book was to start a conversation about intelligence that we’re not having...this brain research is less than five years old. I’m hoping it’ll be a real turning point.”
On my reading list next.
Decoding global talent🗺️
Aotearoa landed in the top 10 for the first time in this year’s BCG Decoding global talent - virtual mobility in the global workforce survey:
(Unsurprisingly…) the number of people willing to move abroad for work has declined
The US has lost its status (to Canada) as the world’s most popular work destination
Countries that have managed the Covid-19 pandemic effectively, such as Aotearoa, Australia, Singapore and Japan have seen a boost in popularity
“Virtual mobility” is on the rise: 57% of respondents said they would work remotely for an employer that doesn’t have a physical presence in their home country
…But with Aotearoa house prices increasing at NZ$5,000 per week, when the world opens up again, where will the talent be able to afford to live?
Sharp eyes👀and AIs👁️
How the other half lives…
There are now more than 200 million public and private security cameras installed across China, many running facial recognition algorithms and feeding in to centralised surveillance infrastructure. OneZero published a comprehensive overview of the Chinese government’s litany of citizen surveillance programmes - the latest of which, “Sharp Eyes”, aims to surveil 100% of public space and “turn neighbours into agents of the surveillance state”.
The article also updates the list of surveillance tech manufacturers including Sensetime, Megvii, Hikvision and Dahua which have all been sanctioned by the U.S. government based on their involvement with human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Also this week, the bifurcation between US and Chinese tech stacks showed signs of widening further: China announced its 5-year economic plan - targeting supply chain independence (…and technological supremacy…) in key areas including integrated circuits (chips), AI, quantum computing, genetic and biotech research, neuroscience and aerospace.
…Too often the narrative here is one of a zero-sum “tech race” between two hegemonic superpowers… John Naughton in the Guardian has a wider take: Fear itself is the real threat to democracy, not tall tales of Chinese AI.
A busier week than usual on the newswire from the future:
Compelling interview in The Information: Mark Zuckerberg on Mind Reading, Apple and the Race to Mainstream VR - ($wall) - listen to the podcast for free here, writeup in The Verge here. A revealing interview with Zuckerberg on a several fronts:
Firstly, his saccharine lines about Facebook’s mission being “to connect people” and create “magical experiences” - as always I still can’t work out if he truly believes these lines or just trotting them out to disarm the interviewer and move the conversation on to the *more interesting tech stuff*.
His complete commitment to AR (and before that, VR) as the next tech platform after smartphones - but 10 years until fully mainstream. He openly states that Facebook sees the Oculus investment “similar to how Google saw Android” - eg a platform for control and leverage over the ecosystem, not to monetise directly.
His deep grasp of (and enthusiasm for) the 10-year AR technology roadmap - examples include the non-invasive neural interface work coming out of the Ctrl-Labs acquisition, foveated rendering tech, building (and owning) a completely new OS stack and the many hardware challenges still to be overcome. (This is a must-listen if you’re needing to understand the AR / VR tech roadmap).
Ultimately Zuckerberg’s AR vision (no doubt shared by Apple as well) is bigger than anything we have imagined to date:
to be able to “teleport” anywhere on the planet in real time
Also on the topic of mindreading: late in 2020, Chile’s parliament voted unanimously to adopt a new bill that enshrined “neuro-rights” for the country’s citizens by affording neuronal data the same status as donated organs. Neurobiologist Moheb Costandi writes in Neuroprivacy as a Basic Human Right:
“New braintech can capture a vast amount of personal data. It’s time to think about how yours will be protected.”
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are all the rage in the last few weeks:
NFT wha…⁉️ The Verge produced this handy FAQs article: NFTs, Explained
Alternatively, this infographic does a similar job:
Internet in the sky:
Hands-on review of Starlink’s satellite internet service from Tom’s Guide:
“impressively fast — even if it’s not consistent in beta form”
Level 3 Honda:
Indoor horticulture experimenting using micro drones and AI machine vision to kill moths before they lay eggs
Stealing the cookie jar:
Google announced their new position on what comes after cookies: Charting a course towards a more privacy-first web. While being seen to stand up for individual privacy, this isn’t entirely altruistic from Google: arguably this could be about consolidating their already dominant position at the centre of the adtech industry. A complex issue to follow in the next year…
One alternative take worth reading from Bennett Cyphers in EFF: Google’s FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is a Terrible Idea.
Quantum Xanadu in the cloud:
Canadian startup Xanadu says their photonic quantum computer is cloud-accessible, Python programmable, and ready to scale.
More modern alchemy1: Icelandic startup Carbfix captures and dissolves CO₂ in water then injects it into the ground where it turns into stone in less than two years. They are partnering with Bill Gates-funded Climeworks to scale up the carbon capture.
Hydrogen goop could be a more convenient fuel than hydrogen gas (Economist, $wall)
Coming in 2027, apparently:
As always, can’t get enough of speculative physics:
“Scotty, I need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead”:
Shoutouts this week for:
The largest Aotearoa car-share firm Mevo, part-funded by Z Energy, put on a growth spurt buying rival Kirikiriroa-based rival Loop and reaching a NZ$30 million vehicle supply agreement. Aiming to be live in Tāmaki Makaurau by the end of the year.
Kiwi micromobility guru Ollie Bruce is hosting an online panel discussion on urban transport sustainability 9am tomorrow NZ time:
Experienced tech investor Rowan Simpson provides his (refreshingly frank) thoughts on the challenges of defining the Aotearoa Tech Sector, our “3rd largest export sector” (??) in his weekly Top Three blog
“…I think the correct answer is to use a much broader definition: every company is a tech company. Or, at least, every company could and probably should be a tech company…Once we can accept that it's mostly nonsense to try and define what is and isn't a tech company, then we can stop putting our energy into trying to draw a line around "the sector" and reaching for participation trophies and instead focus on how technology can be applied to make every organisation better.”
A few nuggets still managed to bubble up out of the cauldron of noise this week:
Profile of Dennis Ritchie, inventor of the C programming language:
Bitcoin 1.0 the Ancient Stone Money of Yap (FT - $wall): Archaeological researchers studied the Micronesian island of Yap’s ancient money system which used large, heavy, scarce limestone discs (called “rai”) as a medium of exchange. The local population maintained an “oral ledger” to keep track of who owned which hunks of immovable limestone - “an exemplary ancient analog to blockchain”
🦑Mmmmm, Cthulhu Pie:
Thanks as always for reading, and to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback each week - appreciated!
More again next week.
Ngā mihi / Cheers