Memia 2021.18: SARS CoV-2🦠origins, a live question❔// No.8 wire won’t cut it🪛// BIG rockets🚀// möbius strip, 2021 edition➰// lost Amy Winehouse🎤 // the internet computer 🌐// all in on govcoins🪙

We used facial recognition in a cool new way and we have pure hearts and good intentions.

Kia ora,

Welcome to another weekly Memia scan across emerging tech and the unfolding future from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Camp notices

  • The most clicked link in last week’s issue (~8% of openers each) was (obviously!) TheJuiceMedia’s latest Honest Government Ad | Electric Vehicles. Clearly there is a gap in the market on this side of Te Tai-o-Rehua1

  • An occasional reminder that I use Memia’s social media accounts to share the articles I’ve been scanning and reading (not all of which make it into the weekly newsletter) - if you don’t already, you can follow Memia on Linkedin, Twitter and (anyone?) Facebook. (Do it now - vanity metrics make *everybody* feel good.😇)

Maps of the week

Two instances this week when we wished Aotearoa *was* left off the map:

…and there was a moment back there when the giant lump of space junk left over from China’s Long March 5B rocket launch was heading right for Tāmaki Makaurau! (ended up in the Indian Ocean, but…)

🦠❔SARS CoV-2 origins, a live question2

Ancient history

Way back in April 2020 (Trump times, can you remember it??), the Australian government called for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, and was rounded on by China with a trade war… and so far things haven’t really de-escalated much.

Then at the end of March, the WHO released its report into the origins of the coronavirus. Dominic Dwyer, the Australian doctor who went to China as part of the mission to Wuhan, summarised the key findings:

“SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, most likely arose in bats, and then spread to humans via an as-yet unidentified intermediary animal. The evidence we have so far indicates the virus was possibly circulating in China in mid-to-late November 2019. We considered viral escape from a laboratory extremely unlikely.

But at the time, 14 countries - including Australia, Canada, US, UK, Denmark, Norway and Japan - but not New Zealand - released a joint statement "expressing shared concerns" that the study was "significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples". 

Last week

Then last week, prominent science writer Nicholas Wade let rip online in The Bulletin: The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

It’s an extensive read, going deeper into the molecular biology of viruses than I could claim to understand. But in summary, he argues in forensic detail in favour of the lab-leak theory of COVID origin - and furthermore that the research lab in question was part-funded by the US.

“As one public health physician has recently put it: “The irony is that it was US-funded research, and like a Greek tragedy may have created the end it was seeking to avoid: a pandemic.” Whether SARS-CoV-2 emerged from a laboratory or not, we must be sure that we do not move forward creating the very ends that we seek to avoid.”

So what to believe?

In Truth and the Underlay, Memia 2020.17 last year I explored various approaches to determining fact from fake on the internet:

“In this new world, with the current deluge of fake accounts, “fake news” and ubiquitous deepfakes just around the corner, just how does the average person (or a machine) work out what is true… and what isn’t?”

Discussing the Wade article with Matt this week, he pointed me to a couple of “wisdom of crowds” online aggregation sites which attempt just that:

  • This on Metaculus asking whether at least two of a list of major global public health organisations (eg WHO, CDC, NCID, PHE, etc) will declare by 2024 that COVID-19 had a lab origin (Credence 19%)

  • This on Rootclaim, which takes a more systematic approach to four hypotheses relevant to determining the likely origin of SARS-CoV-2 and concludes the likelihood of the gain-of-function and lab-leak theory to be 83%: 

But as he points out:

“These are not the same question (whether something is likely true, and whether organisations declare it to be so may be independent for various reasons), but the wide probability range (19-83%) suggests genuine deep uncertainty, ie very much a live question.”

Expect this one to run and run…

🪛No.8 wire won’t cut it

I experienced a rather subduing crystallisation of Aotearoa’s technology gap this week, courtesy of Azeem Azhar’s relentlessly excellent Exponential View newsletter. [Azeem has a new book coming out in Sept: order from AoNZ here].

This eye-popping Bloomberg article: The Chip Shortage Keeps Getting Worse. Why Can’t We Just Make More? by Ian King, Adrian Leung and Demetrios Pogkas lays out the stark physics, logistics and economics which could well drive much of the geopolitics of coming decades. (Also includes some hypnotic videos of the bleeding edge of chip-fab robotics).

I discuss some of the key points relevant to New Zealand in more detail here: No.8 Wire Won’t Cut It: Aotearoa’s strategic response options to evolving global semiconductor supply chains. (An occasional Memia subscriber-only post…handy link:)

[Weak] signals

Lots going on, as ever…

BIG rockets

Hyper-reality

Generative AI

Three diverse generative AI use cases I came across recently:

  • This satellite bracket designed in partnership between nTopology and Aotearoa-based titanium 3D printing outfit Zenith Tecnica is a thing of beauty…

    • …my mind is fizzing at how this generative design / additive manufacturing tech can be applied at scale to the construction industry (…not titanium but steel…?)

Tab hoarding

  • Just *one* of my browser windows currently open at the time of writing:

A new study has found many people who browse the internet experience tab overload:

“…saving articles to read later, leaving tasks as reminders, or burrowing down an internet hole until the stack of open web pages becomes impossible to navigate.”

  • (For 30 percent of participants the problem was so bad, they said they had a “tab hoarding” problem). (Nothing to see here, move along…)

Möbius strip, 2021 edition

🌐The Internet Computer

Not enough time to discuss in depth this week, but the DFINITY foundation held a major launch event for The Internet Computer:

“Limitless blockchain with the power, speed and scale of the Internet”

Worth reading the FAQs to grasp the scale of ambition of this initiative.

🪙GovCoins

CBDCs are now to be known as “GovCoins”.

  • Dave Corbett and the team at Auckland-based Fintech PowerFinance are talking a good talk about Embedded Finance use cases here in Aotearoa related to their NZ$-tethered (backed?) PowerDollar platform.

Big dome

  • Tropicalia in Northern France will be the world’s largest greenhouse when it is completed in the mid-2020s:

Mind expanding

Rollcall

Around the country this week:

  • Big shout out to Sean Audain and team at Wellington City Council… check out this showcase of Te Whanganui-a-Tara Digital Twin built on Unreal Engine 4, fantastic:

Hidden gems

Three nuggets this week:

  • Omen?

  • Which one are you?

As always thanks 🙏🙏🙏 for letting me into your inbox each week - and to all readers who send in links, comments and feedback…much appreciated!

More again next time.

Ngā mihi / Cheers

Ben

1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasman_Sea

2

Many thanks to Matt Boyd from Adapt Research for help with this section