Memia 2021.11: So. Much. Room.🏗️🏠// it's dark down there🐟// kickstarter satellite launch kit🪛🛰️// the DOOM! report😱// lying awake thinking about NFTs🦧

Five new 21st-century charter cities in five years.

Kia ora,

Welcome to another Memia newsletter, my regular weekly scan across emerging tech and the future as it unfolds…as ever with a one eye pointing towards my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.

A few follow ups from last week’s issue:

  • The most clicked link (~15% of openers) was the singing deepfake Mona Lisa (and friends). Fun.

  • A couple of readers queried whether Seequent is in fact Ōtautahi’s second unicorn after Verizon purchased Telogis (by then HQ’ed in California but with their major software dev centre still in their home city) for an undisclosed amount in 2016, rumoured around town to be over 10 figures… but researching an SEC filing from February last year revealed the number as US$877 million. Still a decent payday for founders, and money wasn’t so cheap 4 years ago as it is now!

  • More on the need for alternative internets… Bloomberg Quint also reports on increasing internet shutdowns in Africa and the balancing act for Western tech giants and telcos to operate in increasingly authoritarian African nations.

I’ve got a few speaking gigs coming up in coming months: first up, looking forward to catching up with Te Whanganui-a-Tara whanau on Wed 14 April for Pizza and Chats with Ben Reid at CreativeHQ - speaking about Emerging Tech Opportunities for Aotearoa in 2021. Free event, click the link for tickets, see you there! (And thanks Hal Josephson for the invite🙏)

So. Much. Room.🏗️🏠

Most days the intense Aotearoa housing crisis feels like a completely intractable problem. I wrote about the tangled knot back in Memia 2020.45…but how to solve it before an entire generation of young Kiwis (my offspring among them) just emigrate somewhere else for a fairer deal? (Maybe joining Unfiltered’s Jake Millar in a new Sub-Saharan African Charter City?)

Once again the award for most persistent and authoritative commentary goes to Bernard Hickey - this from his Spinoff podcast at the weekend, A cacophony of magical thinking on housing:

“…Every time, they thought [housing policy] could be done within the rules of the game set in the early 1990s and frozen in place by MMP. That meant doing it within a framework of red lines, which are that government gets no larger than 30-35% of GDP, which means taxes and debt stay low, capital gains aren’t taxed, and expensive public infrastructure is paid for at the margin by new residents, rather than existing taxpayers and ratepayers at large. The other red line is that 1-2% population growth from net migration is acceptable and even desirable.”

As he goes on to explain, these assumptions haven’t *quite* played out as expected😞.

This was before yesterday’s long-awaited Government housing policy response aimed at stemming Aotearoa’s intensifying housing crisis. Jury’s out - some semi-effective demand-side measures…? and supply-side an investment of (only) NZ$3.8Bn into a new Housing Acceleration Fund to build infrastructure (“pipes…roads”…really outside the square stuff…).

One regular Memia correspondent on the topic writes heatedly:

“By my rough calculation on new building costs ($150k-per-RMA/newbuild, new subdivision land & services like sewerage, power, fibre, water reticulation, roading at around $50mil per 100 house subdivision) their $3.8 billion will get about 5500 new houses built at best. They needed to be thinking more in the order of $45 billion/PA to ‘turn this crisis around’.”

I’m not vouching for these estimates, but coming from a tech sector background with a deeply internalised sense of constant price deflation driven by technological innovation, I look at these numbers with disbelief. They’re based on pretty much the same technology to lay infrastructure and build houses in 2021 as in 1921 - how can a critical industry be SO lacking in innovation? (Yes there are advances at the edges in prefab / offsite manufacturing and digital twin models…but with so much global investment in disruptive innovation, why doesn’t building today cost, say, 10% of 2010 prices?)

It’s definitely time for more technology-, innovation- and sustainability-based thinking1 in the mix about housing and infrastructure supply.

Here are just a few tech and innovation trends which I think combine to make for rapid, scalable, sustainable, value for money opportunities - *if* regulations are tweaked rapidly enough:

“80 percent of the construction can be automated, with 95 percent fewer labour hours and 10 times less waste than conventional construction.”

On the relatively rare days I’m on a plane these days, I look down at the peaceful (…ravaged by intensive agriculture…for another day…) countryside below: there’s, like, So. Much. Room. to build.

Take the NZ$3.8Bn, a few tracts of nitrogen-weary farmland and establish five new 21st-century, sustainable, modular, prefab, dynamic charter cities throughout Aotearoa in five years. Who’s in?

It’s dark down there🐟

The PM’s Chief Science Advisor just launched her report on Aotearoa’s commercial fisheries. It’s a long report but with some measured recommendations leaning towards much stronger environmental protection. And it sounds like it was hard work to compile:

“ “The facts”: There is no accepted single source of truth in the fisheries sector and this report does not claim to be one. Passionate debate arises from (over-)interpretation of uncertain datasets by all sides, which supports conflicting narratives of ‘what the evidence says’. We have tried to highlight where particular points of contention lie in interpreting data and were saddened by the number of incidences of ‘alternate facts’ that we navigated in this project.

The inherent uncertainty in fisheries management is very easily manipulated to support a particular narrative. From an agreed percentage of how many of our stocks have been assessed, to the size of the original non-fished biomass, to a percentage of this biomass that can be sustainably harvested, to whether our trawling footprint is increasing or decreasing – the very basis of our fisheries management is often fiercely contested…

Data, data, data – it is dark down there, but we must make decisions anyway.

[Weak] signals

Ripping into this week’s weak signals:

Mind expanding

Mind exploding

  • 😱Thanks to Melissa C-R for pointing me to Nemesis: The DOOM! Report! A research team worked collaboratively with OpenAI’s GPT-3 to generate a largely machine-written report on the future:

As we worked, GPT-3 quickly recognized the genre of our undertaking: a report concerned with the future written by some kind of consultancy, expert group, or think tank. So it inadvertently rebranded us, naming this consultancy DOOM!:

“Our goal at DOOM! will be to consider a plurality of futures and then doing everything that we can to prevent nuclear war, oblivion and ruin.”

Take a long read through… my head still spinning...

Rollcall

Around AoNZ this week:

  • Entries are open for the Orion Energy Accelerator - a startup programme run by Ministry of Awesome and Orion Energy looking for:

    “Ground-breaking energy innovation to shape the future of our energy sector and power a cleaner and brighter New Zealand”

  • Wellington-based payroll fintech business Paysauce has partnered with BNZ to deliver an innovative microlending solution taking aim at payday lenders:

    “BNZ PayNow…protects financially vulnerable workers and provides them an alternative to loan sharks and payday lenders with extortionate interest rates… it means people can get access to their wages before the usual fortnightly or monthly pay run. For many people, this is the difference between paying for staples such as food, clothes and education with their own money over high interest loans between pay cheques.” - Angela Mentis, CEO, BNZ

    Good work.

  • Aotearoa-based firm Iosphere have launched their NEXUS Swarm satellite gateway - capable of connecting up to 150 remote IoT sensors over the Swarm satellite network using LoRa and RS485: likely a gamechanger for remote on-farm IoT networks.

Hidden gems

This week’s finds:

  • Incredible drone footage of the Fagradalsfjall eruption in Iceland (watch it fly right over the lava-frothing volcano mouth)

  • Inspiring thread on architecture passing through every country in Africa:

  • 🦧And the very last word on NFTs:

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

More again next week.

Ngā mihi / Cheers

Ben

1

As opposed to “Magical Thinking”!