Memia 2021.21: Speaking of the climate emergency🥵// learn to code?🔣// Unreal is real🤯// transit🚇microbiomes🦠// life on Mars🔭// happy humpback🐋
Building a bridge to Ash Vegas
Welcome to another Memia newsletter, my regular scan across emerging tech and thinking about the future - all viewed from my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
The most clicked link in last week’s issue (11% of openers) was Greenpeace UK’s confronting video of Britain’s plastic waste mountain.
It’s been a bit *damp* in my neck of the woods this week with over 500mm of rain reported in Waitaha/Canterbury by Metservice in under 48 hours. Thankfully no [human] fatalities from the flooding but the infrastructure and transport aftermath is going to be substantial…
Just one example, check out the drone footage below of the usually 10-cumec Ashburton River in 1400 cumec(!!!) flood. Yesterday, the closure of the 80-year old main SH1 road bridge effectively split Te Wai Pounamu in two for a time. (As of this morning light traffic is able to cross again but the bridge is now seriously damaged and facing major repairs).
Given the likelihood of more frequent extreme weather events like this in coming years, what are the infrastructure innovations needed to avoid future major transport disruptions?
MIT Technology Review reports on Five modern bridges that are pushing the bounds of engineering ($wall) - new technologies are enabling longer, safer, more durable, more earthquake-resilient bridges than ever before. In particular, new bridges are being fitted with sensors to collect real time data on structural condition, extending asset lifetimes. Just one stunning example is the Stonecutters bridge in Hong Kong:
…With a bit of vision and budget from Waka Kotahi, Ash-Vegas could get itself a new landmark bridge sooner rather than later?
🥵Speaking of the climate emergency…
More signs of a globally turning tide against the oil sector:
Despite this, independent researcher Gail Tverberg (ourfiniteworld.com) has an underlying thesis that the world is fast approaching a finite resources crunch: oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages and climate change…
“a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once”
Her most recent article, don’t expect the world economy to resume its prior growth pattern after COVID-19, is thought provoking:
“It is not surprising that some of the countries with the biggest oil import problems have been the most enthusiastic about travel cutbacks related to COVID-19.”
…underlined by this graph💡:
[…about which @HoneyBeeGeek also points out:]
So, given Tverberg’s analysis where would this leave Aotearoa? Facing an imminent collapsing global debt bubble while our economy is still wholly dependent on imported oil? And still without a clearly articulated roadmap towards an alternative… Happy days.
[Te Herenga Waka’s Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan do propose one such roadmap in their recent working paper: How to decarbonise New Zealand's transport sector].
Meanwhile things are looking up on the other side of the carbon ledger:
San Francisco startup Heirloom Carbon Technologies has developed a scalable process using limestone-based CO2 removal technology and has its first customer: payments giant Stripe plans to purchase nearly 250 tons of carbon removal from the company at $2,054 per ton. (Target price $50 per ton):
“Heirloom…says it could do carbon dioxide removal for $50 a ton once it reaches commercial scale, which would come in well below the estimates for other industrial approaches. Its goal is to remove 1 billion tons of the main greenhouse gas fueling climate change by 2035….Preventing the planet from warming by 2 ˚C could require pulling 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year by 2050 and 20 billion annually by 2100, according to a 2018 study.”
NewScientist reports that soil microbe transplants (“the soil equivalent of a faecal microbiome transplant”💩) could improve tree growth in reforestation projects and thus remove more CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Ethereum Foundation has *finally* announced its move to a Proof-of-Stake (POS) system, expecting the switch to be completed by the end of 2021. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin discusses how POS will shrink the current massive carbon footprint of cryptocurrency assets.
This week’s selection of signals from near and far futures this week:
🔣Learn to code? Microsoft introduced its first product features powered by GPT-3. This isn’t exactly a new concept but Power Apps “developers” will be able to use natural language (eg “find products where the name starts with ‘kids’” and then a tuned GPT-3 model offers choices for transforming the instruction into code, eg something like “Filter(‘BC Orders’ Left(‘Product Name’,4)=”Kids”).
So what do the kids learn now?
Wired magazine reports on the EU’s attempts to regulate AI: Dumbed Down AI Rhetoric Harms Everyone: “policymakers using sweeping platitudes to regulate AI may persecute citizens more than protect them”.
AI is learning how to create itself ($wall) - MIT Tech Review reports on evolutionary open-ended machine learning - such as Uber Labs’ POET which continuously creates new training environments through mutating older environments.
And Ai-Da is supposedly an “AI artist” with its own TED talk. Meh.
🦠🚇Microbial transit ecosystems
This is fascinating: scientist Chris Mason has led the collection of a global snapshot of public transit microbiomes around the world.
Here’s the sample from downtown Tāmaki Makaurau:
(Check out all of the worldwide results, mapped).
🤯Unreal is real
One year ago I covered the early preview of Unreal Engine 5. Creators Epic Games just announced early developer access. Friend and VR guru Tim Rastall has had a go: “frankly astonishing in terms of a technical leap forward”. Check it out:
(Watching this video, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of the hyper-real 3D rendering against the 2D 1990s-Photoshop-esque, mouse-driven desktop metaphor UX for the UE5 designer… surely the future of designing 3D games lies within the 3D environment itself?)
Everyone in space
Not just Starlink and Swarm: UK-based Oneweb successfully launched its 200th internet satellite into orbit for its worldwide internet connectivity constellation.
Russia announced the first mission of a nuclear-powered space tug scheduled in 2025 is set to take 50 months.
🔭Life on Mars:
(Alternative take: The Spacefaring Paradox - Deep-space human travel is a lose-lose proposition.)
😵Presentism vs Eternalism: Do the Past and Future Exist? (h/t Andrew Leckie).
Creating expressive robot swarms:
Around the motu this week:
One year on from the introduction of the NZ COVID Tracer app, Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau’s Andrew Chen recaps what it does, whether it has worked, and what we could have done better. Excellent read.
Rounding out last week’s extensive TechWeek 21 agenda, Greg Shanahan from TIN network calls out global uncertainty as the driver of investment in Aotearoa tech firms. Headline stats from the annual TIN investors’ report:
Venture capital investments in the NZ tech sector doubled to 92 last year, up from NZ$119 million in 2019 to NZ$127 million in 2020.
💸Not to be outdone by the newcomers, established local VC firms Movac, Icehouse Ventures and Global From Day One scored a coup with their investment in Ōtautahi trailblazers Dawn Aerospace. Next 🦄unicorn…?
My pick of the week’s interweb:
Cancel culture: I did a lot of algebra when I was younger. This is a real headscratcher…
*Ever so slightly* disturbing:
🐋And finally, a very happy humpback:
The usual huge 🙏 to everyone who continues to get in touch with links and feedback, it’s appreciated! If you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
Ngā mihi / Cheers