Memia 2021.23: Quantum Musk⚛️// construction physics🏗️// workforces everywhere🌎🌍🌏// unboiling an egg🥚// ahoy Alpha Centauri⭐// pool on my yacht🎱
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Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter - my regular scan across the latest emerging tech and thinking about the future. Onya for being here!
The most clicked link in last week’s issue was the story about murderous hacked sexbots of the future (only 6% of openers - although over 10% re-watched the video of the Ashburton river in flood from the week before. Go figure.🤷)
Yesterday I recorded a fun podcast on CBDCs with Aotearoa’s top independent purveyor of news and insights about our political economy, Bernard Hickey. Keep an eye on Bernard’s The Kaka newsletter for the recording - and I recommend subscribing if you don’t already: Bernard’s quality of analysis and daily work rate leaves us mere weekly Substackers look languid in comparison!
I’ll be speaking at the upcoming Tech Marketers Group conference at AUT in Tāmaki Makaurau / via livestream on 30th June - working title Emerging Digital Marketing Technologies and Trends in 2021… maybe see you there.
Hermit Kingdom for sometime yet it’s looking like: the latest data from the UK of the spreading Covid-19 Delta Variant, the PM’s Science Advisor softening us up on TV1: “it could be a couple of years at least before borders can reopen” and concerns about unvaccinated under-16s being an uncontrolled global vector for ongoing disease spread…Throw the borders open? Hmmm…
⚛️Quantum Musk:This is inaccurate. Tesla only sold ~10% of holdings to confirm BTC could be liquidated easily without moving market. When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions.
Chris Keall on the money😂:
Last week the US-based, vertically integrated, technology-driven off-site construction company Katerra, backed by the high profile Softbank Vision Fund and other investors to the tune of US$1.2Bn, declared that it was shuttering it’s 7500-employee US operations. This was a huge bet on transforming the construction sector to function more like a precision electronics manufacturing supply chain than the traditionally inefficient and low-scalability building industry.
Former Katerra employee Brian Potter chronicles what went wrong (and also what went right) in Another Day in Katerradise: basically out of control growth and an overly diversified group of products and business units which never really gelled together cohesively.
Going deeper into Brian’s excellent Construction Physics blog, a wealth of ideas and data about construction innovation, I came across this post: Construction costs around the world.
Lots of interesting analysis in here - but in particular Aotearoa’s positioning in house price-to-income ratios: 3rd in the world behind (off the charts) Hong Kong and Russia. (And also a pointer to why Katerra didn’t work so well in the US - housing costs are way more affordable there than almost any other advanced economy in the world).
This goes to the heart of a thought I’ve been gestating: Aotearoa’s housing crisis could potentially be the genesis of the biggest export-sector opportunity since dairy:
Funnel a few NZ$billions of investment into automated building systems , standards and integrated supply chains
Coordinate an optimised regulatory regime as well…
Solve the domestic housing shortage first off and break even doing it
Over time, the industry here becomes among the most advanced in the world at manufacturing and assembling high-quality, low cost, rapid-construction homes
…and then there’s a scalable export sector in off-site, automated construction systems ready to go.
A few other construction developments to catch up on:
What’s with the obsession with permanent buildings? High quality modular buildings can be assembled, extended and disassembled in days:
A miniature version of how I envision a future building site:
And in Bamboo news:
"Bamboo is an excellent building material because it is highly renewable and it has remarkable mechanical properties, it's light-weight, flexible and strong"
Mateo Gutierrez, University of Queensland
Check out this beautiful bamboo residence in Bali:
Facebook backtracked on previous efforts to get their workforce back into the office, changing their policies to allow almost all employees to apply to work remotely indefinitely…
…unlike Apple and Google. (Both of which, having spent US$Billions on shiny corporate campuses, one assumes are still in denial of the mark-to-market of their real estate “investments”.
Chris Herd, (admittedly not exactly unbiased) head of remote working firm FirstBase, goes deep into one of the most profound accelerations from the pandemic in the excellent thread below, reporting his survey results that:
on average companies will cut commercial office space by 50-70%
30% of companies will move to a 100% distributed model with no offices.
And given all of the ongoing noise about Aotearoa’s tech sector talent shortages…once again it’s obvious isn’t it?
A bit of a scientific flavour to this week’s signals from the future:
Bitcoin as legal tender
In what I expect will be the first of many such moves by smaller countries with a dependency on the US dollar and foreign remittances, El Salvador's president says he plans to make Bitcoin “legal tender” in the country, aiming to open up financial services to the 70% of Salvadorans who do not have bank accounts.
This was one of the more eyecatching Crypto news items I’ve seen in a while: Norton Is Adding Ethereum Mining Capabilities to Its Antivirus Software. Details are sketchy but given how much antivirus software already slows down a computer…would there be any performance left?
This move seems to be anticipating the forthcoming “Eth2” Proof of Stake upgrades which will require significantly less powerful computers to create new blocks - potentially creating a “Norton” pool of validators spread across millions of idle consumer devices worldwide…?
Carbon, carbon, carbon
Engineers at MIT have discovered a new way of generating electricity using a new material made from carbon nanotubes which “scavenges” energy from its environment.
Researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center have demonstrated that ultra-high-density hard drives made with graphene store ten times more data. (And if you thought that hard disk drives were a thing of the past…:)
“in 2020, around 1 billion terabytes of fresh HDD storage was produced"
Researchers are using HPC (“High Performance Computing”) to run high-resolution simulations of graphene formation on liquid copper.
Lithium from the sea
Surging demand for EVs and the batteries which power them is driving up lithium prices worldwide. Currently 60% of the world’s lithium supply comes from just five mines in Western Australia. However, the world’s oceans contain about 5,000 times more lithium than on land - but at extremely low concentrations – about 0.2 parts per million. Saudi Arabian researchers have worked out a more cost-effective way to extract lithium from seawater - producing hydrogen and chlorine as byproducts as well.
Related: Informative overview of the global lithium supply chain from Physics Today: Fears of a lithium supply crunch may be overblown
🥚Unboiling an egg
The Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD) — invented by Australian Flinders University Professor Colin Raston — is a breakthrough in advances in chemical reactivity and synthesis, with many potential applications in materials processing emerging. It was made famous by the proof of “unboiling an egg” - using mechanical energy to undo what thermal energy has done.
⭐Ahoy Alpha Centauri
Breakthrough Initiatives are thinking big (and nanoscopically small), planning a Mission To Alpha Centauri within a human lifetime:
“…using light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed involving a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch”
The energy required to power such a craft is estimated at 100GW (about 20% of US electricity consumption):
“It only needs to operate for 10 minutes at full power…So we imagine a battery or super capacitors that can store energy built up over several days and release it suddenly. The power would be delivered from 100 million lasers distributed over an area of a square kilometre”
For all you Powerpoint jockeys and consultants out there: this popped up in my feed this week courtesy of @rossdawson, an awesome interactive Periodic Table of Visualization Methods:
Around Aotearoa this week:
Futurist Roger Dennis, Wendy McGuinness and David Skilling draw attention to a little-known clause in the new Public Service Act 2020 in this Newsroom article:
(There’s a vibrant debate on what this actually means for the government and the country continuing on LinkedIn here).
🎱Pool on my yacht
Who knew there was a market for a self-balancing pool table to install on your yacht to match with your Bugatti? Just thinking about the customer segmentation model here blows my mind.
Who else can relate to this?
Thanks as ever for getting in touch with thoughts, links and feedback - always appreciated!
Reminder: if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
Ngā mihi / Cheers