Memia 2021.12: Is that ship still stuck?🚢// keep on asymmetric hedging⚖️// GAFAM.gov💻// line calls with no referee⛔// balance by smudge♾️
You either win or you learn, you never really lose💡
Welcome to this week’s Memia scan across the edge of the unfolding future…as ever with a one eye pointing towards my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand.
Re: last week’s issue:
The most clicked link (~5% of openers) was the mind exploding AI-written DOOM! report from Nemesis. That’s my audience.😁
On the topic of leveraging Aotearoa society’s high trust model to achieve influence internationally (cf. Taiwan), a reader who runs an export technology services firm commented that this chimes with their own experience:
“In China IP dissipates in no time…we are winning the jobs that we get because IP can be trusted with us, and because we communicate well.”
…so how to systematise and scale this trust so that it’s more than an intangible “NZ Story” branding discussion?
Around Aotearoa this week:
Australian bank Westpac got existential about its Aotearoa subsidiary. My 2c: with Stripe offering commodity banking functionality “as a service” for other fintech platforms to add value to further up the stack…and (sovereign/non-sovereign) digital currencies already in play internationally…maybe the parent is rightly asking the question: what are standalone banks *for* in future? (And who would pay NZ$10-NZ$15 billion for a second hand, progressively regulated, one...?)
Around the world this week:
Keep on asymmetric hedging⚖️
Strategic analyst and senior lecturer at Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, Reuben Steff published a landmark paper in the National Security Journal last week: The Biden Administration and New Zealand’s Strategic Options: Asymmetric Hedging, Tight Five Eyes Alignment, and Armed Neutrality.
Steff is one of Aotearoa’s leading strategic defence experts and his paper distils the zeitgeist:
“New Zealand confronts a seemingly inescapable dilemma: its security interests link it to traditional partners – Australia and the US – while ties between these two and China, [its] largest export market, are deteriorating”
Steff explores three main options:
Asymmetric hedging - basically more of the same… maintaining just enough of an illusion of an “independent foreign policy” to balance off security (US, Australia) with trade (China).
Tight Five Eyes - seeking a greater level of security shelter from traditional Five Eyes partners, and securing a formal security treaty with the US.
More radically, Armed Neutrality: formally give up alliance arrangements, freeing the country up to pursue a much greater degree of foreign policy independence. Basically, “Switzerland of the South Pacific”.
If you’re interested in the big picture affecting Aotearoa (and pretty much any small state in the Indo-Pacific) in 2021, I highly recommend reading all 17 pages (plus references) of this paper, the analysis is rich, subtle and absolutely contemporary.
My one comment is that the military analysis doesn’t explicitly take account of dynamic technology-driven changes in the defence landscape: I suspect (scarily) that exponential downward cost curves apply just as much to military technology: commoditised AI, autonomous microdrones (…airborne or subsurface swarms), low cost real-time satellite intelligence and resilient internet connectivity may bring the price ticket for small-state defence down from what it used to be. (Think aircraft carrier ($billions) vs autonomous microtorpedo swarm ($millions)…which wins?). Also it feels intuitively that relatively small investments in strong nation-level cyber security can fend off major big-state investments in cyber offense…
But for now, we’ll keep on hedging, eh😉:
Mahia, We Have A Problem: Superstar Kiwi startup Rocket Lab’s work for the US military creates major moral dilemmas.
Welcome to GAFAM.gov 💻
Provocative post from Tony Blair Institute’s Chris Yiu: If tech companies ran the country.
Triggered by this recent headline:
“Nevada’s proposal… echoes a broader motif in the contemporary policy debate: that however else we feel about them, the tech companies in our lives are often perceived to be more competent than many of the increasingly ineffectual arms of the state.”
He runs through an interesting thought experiment, imagining what it might be like if tech companies, not governments, ran the show. Government could be:
Better at handling scale
Doing less top down
Testing many more frontier ideas
Not any time soon, then. But his conclusion rings truer than ever:
“…in today’s rapidly changing world there is more than ever before for policymakers and political leaders to learn from what is happening beyond the corridors of power — and in particular from the organisations that are busy redefining the world through technology and innovation.”
Line calls with no referee⛔
The AoNZ Parliament is considering a compulsory nationwide digital censorship system. InternetNZ has prepared a brief and broad 3-paragraph submission, to which you can add your name if so inclined - before the deadline of Thursday (tomorrow!):
This week’s emerging tech signals from the near and far future…
Apparently Microsoft is negotiating to buy gamer messaging platform Discord. (Trying hard not to imagine what a shitshow the combined Teams, Skype and Discord would look like…😱)
ANYmal = Spot on wheels:
Boston Dynamics unveiled its new Stretch warehouse logistics robot which can shift up to 800 boxes an hour, comparable to a human worker.
NZ Funds Management’s KiwiSaver growth fund has invested 5% of its $350M investment value in bitcoin:
“If you are happy to invest in gold, you can’t really discount bitcoin”
— James Grigor, NZFM Chief Investment Officer
Credit card giant Visa is running a pilot enabling transactions on its payment network to be settled using the “stablecoin” cryptocurrency USDC.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Fintech:
In India, coercive lending apps which shut down your smartphone if you fall behind on payments.😬
Some major advances in healthtech recently:
So long colonoscopies:
A landmark brain cancer vaccine has passed the first phase of human trials.
Following on from the amazing rapid development of synthetic mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, scientists are now targeting other diseases using similar technology including Malaria and personalised cancer vaccine treatments.
On the adjacent topic of synthetic biology:
Scientists have used “reverse genetics” to craft a new synthetic “minimal viable organism” named JCVI-syn3A, using trial-and-error to identify the 7 genes required for normal cell division. Take a read to get a sense of the world-changing potential applications…
Stretching the neurons this week:
The question of who is/was Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto remains unanswered… the latest contribution is a heartfelt tribute to legendary Cypherpunk Len Sassaman, who committed suicide less than 2 months after Satoshi sent their haunting final communication in 2011, leaving behind an untouched BTC fortune worth around US$64Bn today:
I’ve moved on to other things and probably won’t be around in the future.
“Imagine a world in which all major private wealth (every factory, patent or plot of land) is constantly for sale at a fair price and where most of the value of this property is paid out equally to all citizens as a social dividend…We propose a new property system, called the Common Ownership Self-Assessed Tax (COST), that would make such a world come true. Every citizen and especially corporation would self-assess the value of assets they possess, pay a roughly 7% tax on these values and be required to sell the assets to anyone willing to purchase them at this self-assessed price.”
Sounds like a pipe dream, but many thinkers (including Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin) have given it their attention - one reviewer calling it:
“the most consequential work of political economy of the 21st century”
Around the tracks:
♾️Balance by Smudge:
Reuben Bijl and Toby Vincent, founders of trailblazing mobile software creators Smudge have collaborated with mentor and coach Stu Braxton to distil their learnings - from over a decade of developing software - into an elegant, rather profound book: Balance.
Great to see the AI Institute at University of Waikato officially launching next month - top achievement by Associate Director Jannat Maqbool and team.
And yet another sizeable tech firm exit: game developer Ninja Kiwi sold to Swedish firm MTG for NZ$203 million.
Most of this week’s humour quota went into Suez canal memes, but some alternative gems still to be found…
Ship memes go meta:
💡The future of learning is now:
Wow, how well equipped are these young (ages 6-14) students in this video of new gamified learning platform Synthesis. I absolutely loved the quote:
"You either win or you learn, you never really lose".
…Also this audio clip of learning reflections from 10yo Synthesis student Emmett. I’m no expert on education but this feels like seriously well-designed learning.
Forever blowing bubbles:
As always thanks for reading, and to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback each week.
Have a relaxing Easter break!
Ngā mihi / Cheers