Memia 2021.10: Constitution-as-code📜// alternative internets🌐// very fast macarena🕺// Ōtautahi's first unicorn🦄// Wolverine X🐺
Happiness for under NZ$180K/year🤑
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.
Monday 15th March was the second anniversary of the awful terrorist attack in Ōtautahi. We will never forget the tragic and senseless loss. Kia kaha and warmth to everyone still living with the aftereffects.🫂
Also this week in Aotearoa:
The price of happiness: New Zealanders need a salary of NZ$178,328 to be happy. 5th most expensive in the world.🤑
…No wonder, house prices went up 19.3% in 2020 - delivering a staggering 16.3Bn of tax-free capital gains to property owners since the Covid lockdown in March last year. With Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr calling for political “courage” to make intergenerational changes…I feel a windfall tax in my bones.
⛵Oh, and the Americas Cup yawning (/yachting) is nearly over.
This week in Western Australia: echoes of Aotearoa’s 2020 Labour landslide election victory, rewarding WA State Premier’s handling of the pandemic and with ~50% of seats expected to be taken by women. Similar demographic tipping point happening across the ditch…?
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?
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:
- 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
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.
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…):
Lo-res mobile “virtual world” gaming company Roblox IPO’d and soared 50% to US$39Bn market cap.
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.
(The video uses VR body trackers from challenger VR headset maker HTC - they just announced a new US$130 Vive Pro lip tracking module as well).
Alongside XR, the generative AI fun continues too:
In other tech developments:
New Zealand-based crypto hedge fund Techemy Capital’s Techemynt launched the country’s first *compliant*1 stablecoin, NZDs, backed one-to-one by the NZ$ and deployed on the Ethereum blockchain by Blockchain Labs.
America’s first 3D printed homes went on sale in Austin, Texas.
Tesla Semi track testing:
And Alphabet’s “moonshot” subsidiary X is reportedly working on “Wolverine” - a project to give people superhuman hearing.
A hard-hitting profile by Karen Hao in MIT Technology Review of Joaquin Quiñonero, Facebook’s head of Responsible AI: How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation.
If you missed Sir Partha Dasgupta’s recent landmark UK review calling for transformational change in our economic approach to biodiversity, here he is speaking with RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan: GDP is not fit for purpose.
🦄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.
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