Memia 2021.10: Constitution-as-code📜// alternative internets🌐// very fast macarena🕺// Ōtautahi's first unicorn🦄// Wolverine X🐺

Happiness for under NZ$180K/year🤑

Kia ora,

Welcome to another Memia newsletter, my weekly scan across tech and the unfolding future…as always with a slant towards my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Constitution-as-code📜

The inconsequential white noise surrounding the British royal family has thankfully subsided this week.

Got me thinking, though… with the 94-year-old British Queen still the official Head of State in Aotearoa and Australia, this latest media feeding frenzy feels like a signal of acceleration towards new constitutional arrangements for both countries. (See also: the recent introduction of the inaugural Matariki public holiday on June 21 next year is a less-than-subtle indicator that the 7th June “Queen’s Birthday” holiday has a limited shelflife…🤔)

There are a few places to look for resources on alternative constitutional arrangements after - or perhaps before - Ma’am departs, including:

  • The Constitute Project is an international website which compiles the world’s constitutions to search and compare. They have compiled a complete single version of New Zealand’s current (otherwise scattered) constitution here.

  • Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler’s 2016 book A Constitution for New Zealand never really got traction (and disappointingly the website has been 404ing for while now) - but their proposed constitution is available in the Wayback Machine web archive.

  • New Zealand Republic is a campaign group for an independent, citizen of Aotearoa, head of state.

Tangentially…a few years ago Pia Andrews and the Aotearoa government Service Innovation Lab team explored ways in which machine-readable laws (“Legislation-as-code”) could transform government. So…if we’ve got to update the constitution soon, how about a “Constitution-as-code”?

…Cue the latest report, released last week, from the Brainbox team (with funding from te Manatu a Ture / the New Zealand Law Foundation): Legislation As Code For New Zealand:

A long report which I haven’t read in depth, but Tom, Curtis and Hamish’s main take is that, *even though* computational models of the law “…can be a useful tool to improve government service delivery, access to the law and access to justice…”

“…Passing legislation in code creates constitutional risk…[there are] serious reasons for concern about the idea of Parliament passing “legislation as code”. Enacting legislation in code undermines the separation of powers and the role of the Judiciary. It also confers too much power on Executive government…“legislation” should not be passed in code.”

So perhaps not so hasty…

Riffing around the theme, personally I’d want to explore alternative arrangements than having a single person as “Head of State”. With modern digital voting systems enabling (suitably anonymised) Liquid Democracy (alongside paper / in person representative voting for those who still prefer it), instead of a “Head of State” why not a decentralised “Senate Of The People By The People” providing oversight of the legislative and executive arms of government?

Alternative internets🌐

Also on my mind this week as the Myanmar coup becomes bloodier: state control of internet infrastructure.

Right now in Myanmar there is an ongoing cat-and-mouse between government-imposed internet blackouts (despite most of the internet infrastructure being operated by western companies) and citizens using VPNs to skirt around a hastily-erected national firewall.

Wikipedia provides this map of internet censorship and surveillance as of 2018 (hint: pink=pervasive).

Reading around the subject, thought I’d share a few links:

The decentralized internet is coming (a collection of articles thinking about the decentralised, programmable web)

Terrestrial network layer:

- Threefold is laying the “largest distributed peer-to-peer grid on the planet”

Helium: “people powered wireless revolution” - globally available network but currently just LoraWAN (very low bandwidth IoT) but expect will develop out to 2G, 3G over time... all backed by crypto token economic magic (h/t @oliverbruce for the pointer).

Satellite network layer:

- As recently covered, IoT over Swarm internet or

- Broadband over Starlink - planning “near global coverage of the populated world in 2021”. (Informative thread on Quora: Will China ban SpaceX’s Starlink service? …A: they will definitely try…)

Messaging / speech layer:

  • Telegram (As reported in Memia 2020.20, last year despite repeated attempts to shut it down, the encrypted messaging app forced the Russian government to reverse its 2-year ban after successfully decentralising its infrastructure making it impossible to block.)

  • Signal (CIA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden is a Signal user - as an aside, if you haven’t watched the gripping 2014 documentary CitizenFour capturing his first days after leaving the US you must!)

China’s strategy to build surveillance into the next internet stack and sell this technology to other authoritarian states (including Myanmar…?) is the game to watch.

[Weak] signals

Signals of something:

A couple of big tech headlines this week are signals of something, haven’t quite worked out what yet… (other than the desperation of waves of quantitatively-eased capital to find a home…):

Mixed Reality:

  • The launch of Microsoft Mesh a couple of weeks back was very cool - claiming to be the largest multi-user holographic mixed reality platform in the world. Microsoft XR fellow Alex Kipman delivered a completely virtual keynote - including beaming a hologram of Avatar creator James Cameron in live from AoNZ for a chat. More so than Facebook, Microsoft have been working hard at real-world business applications of XR. Watch here (from 51min in).

  • 🕺A few weeks ago in Memia 2021.07 I covered Unreal’s MetaHumans… here’s what you can do right now: the Very Fast Macarena.

Responsible AI:

  • Alongside XR, the generative AI fun continues too:

In other tech developments:

  • Tesla Semi track testing:

Mind expanding

Rollcall

  • 🦄Ōtautahi’s first unicorn! Seequent (formerly ARANZGeo) exited to US-based Bentley Systems for US$1.05Bn. Huge congratulations to the team including my good mates Dan Wallace and Nick Fogarty… fantastic outcome of many years of innovation and hard work. Great result for the company, investors and for Aotearoa… looking forward to seeing lots of mini-Seequent startups springing up with recycled angel funding in a year’s time!

  • …And on the same day (was this coordinated…!?) stalwart of the Xero era Vend also exited in a $US350m deal, joining forces with Canadian retail tech firm Lightspeed.

    • Founding investor and board member Rowan Simpson (getting a mention 2 weeks in row!) tells some of the inside story… pretty raw times along the way, which often gets forgotten. Again, congratulations to Vaughan, Rowan, Nick, Alex and the whole Vend family of thousands!

  • A rewarding personal moment this week: a couple of years ago in my previous gig at the AI Forum NZ, I wrote about a potential high-impact conservation use case for AI - delighted that data scientist Sagar Soni and the crew at Orbica are now working with DOC and The National Wilding Conifer Control Programme using AI to help control Wilding Pines.

Hidden gems

  • The Price of a Beer around the world (TL;DR: head to South Africa, avoid Qatar):

  • This fountain is hypnotic:

  • Nathan McGinley posted this stunning 3D map rendering of Te Pataka o Rakaihautū and I want one for my wall:

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

Ben

1

NZDT, sigh…