Memia 2021.24: Inflated expectations📈// Bezos juxtaposed🛒//laws on LAWS🤖// spooky quantum internet👻// cooling culling🦌// woodsat🪵🛰️
The Metaverse, for llamas, by llamas
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - my regular scan across the latest emerging tech and thinking about the future. Thanks for being here!
☕Hot off the press: a recent UK-based study involving just under 500,000 participants showed that people who drank coffee had a 49% reduced risk of dying from chronic liver disease. One of this week’s more positive developments, I’d say.🙂
A couple of follow ups to last week’s plaintive dreaming about Aotearoa’s national ConstructionTech opportunity:
The Time To Build: Why Tech Investors Are Investing In The Built Environment1 is a report from ConstructionTech focused VC Shadow Ventures (🎩 spotting Hal Josephson):
“The built environment is one of the world’s largest asset classes (US$40 Trillion in the US) and contributors to growth and GDP (4% of GDP in the US). It’s also the second least digitized sector in the world according to McKinsey. You may know built environment technology by different names: PropTech, ConstructionTech, or ClimateTech. How we define it: technology that is innovating how we develop, design, build, and operate the world’s physical infrastructure.”
Shadow.vc’s thesis is that there are early-stage opportunities to be had:
“Undervalued and Non-consensus [Venture Capital] supports solving zero-to-one problems, not marginal improvements on existing stacks. It is early days, with few investors paying close attention which means realistic valuations.”
*Meanwhile in China* the video below shows the construction (=assembly) of a modular, earthquake-resistant, 10-storey tower block in just over one day. (🎩 spotting Andrew Leckie.)
(Maybe mute out the bizarre Scarborough Fair muzak backing track…).
So last year the US Fed magicked up trillions of dollars of new money (…and coincidentally(?) reclassified savings accounts to be part of M1 (liquid money supply), not M2)…
…and then this happened:
📉As macro investor Raoul Pal said a couple of months ago: when every central bank is printing money, it’s not inflation to watch for but “monetary debasement”…if a (crypto)asset portfolio and income isn’t increasing (~15% YoY?) relative to macro-debasing fiat currency then isn’t it actually going backwards in real value…?🤔
Not entirely unrelated: thanks to Memia reader Ryan Jennings for sharing this sublimely juxtaposed screenshot from his Twitter feed:
🤖Laws about LAWS
A moral/technological line was crossed in Libya in March last year when, according to a United Nations Report, autonomous drones:
“…were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true “fire, forget and find” capability.”
The details are unclear as to whether anyone was actually killed by the Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) in question - but this is the first documented evidence of a “killer robot” being deployed in the battlefield.
(In Memia 2020.37 I linked to the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots’ terrifying 1-minute video on why this is A BAD THING, you may want to watch it again.)
Earlier this week the AI Forum NZ facilitated an event with responsible minister Phil Twyford and MFAT to debate Aotearoa’s national policy on LAWS…this would sit within the wider national strategy for disarmament. Personally speaking, I believe that Aotearoa can afford to use some of its diplomatic capital to take an international leadership position on this issue - particularly as progress on coordinated international regulation is being impeded by mostly larger militarised states:
“States have yet to adequately respond to the development of weapons with autonomy, as diplomatic talks at the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons2 have struggled to achieve substantive action amidst political intransigence and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is calling on states to actively respond to this disturbing development and recognise the need to urgently negotiate prohibitions and regulations to ensure meaningful human control in the use of force – and to prevent the adoption of machines that would target people.”
Chances of a forceful national policy statement seeing the light of day this year…?🤐
Other tectonic tremors from this week:
Consulting behemoth McKinsey released its Top Trends In Tech report, identifying technologies attracting the biggest venture funding, patent activity and investment:
Future of connectivity
Future of programming
Next-level process automation and virtualization
Future of clean technologies
Worth a peruse…
East/West crypto mining bifurcation?
The Chinese state continued its crackdown on (non-state) cryptocurrencies with the southwest province of Sichuan the latest to order crypto mining projects to close. Bitcoin and other crypto prices were sent into yet another tailspin (heading down under $US30K at the time of writing...)
A few musings framed as open ended questions, responses welcome in the comments section:
Given how much global capital is now tied up in cryptocurrency (over US$1.25Trillion despite the price plunge), given previous such shocks, miners will most likely just redistribute themselves more evenly around the (unsubsidised) electricity markets of the world. (The incentives for mining remain and are actually temporarily improved by the reduction in mining capacity and the increase in transactions.
Will this lead to a longer term East/West bifurcation of cryptomining - and if so, are these moves only about internal economic control within China or could they be a starting move towards a new partitioning attack on the underlying Bitcoin protocol?
Is this partly intended to drive Chinese consumers to cash in their Bitcoin and move it into the (so far poorly adopted) state-controlled Digital Yuan (DCEP)?
With the upcoming rollout of Ethereum’s more energy-efficient Proof-Of-Stake (POS) consensus mechanism, would this mining policy apply to Ethereum validators too?
(And if POS works for ETH when will BTC fork that way…?)
👻Spooky quantum internet
Researchers in New York are working on a new and potentially revolutionary network: a “spooky” quantum internet stitched together by entangled photons.
Photovoltaic technology used in solar cells is only able to capture only ~20% of the sun’s energy into electricity. Natural photosynthesis, however, is radically more efficient, capable of storing ~60% of the sun’s energy as chemical energy in biomolecules. Researchers at the US Purdue University are aiming for clean artificial photosynthesis with up to 80% solar energy efficiency, although expect it to be >10 years until ready for commercial applications.
According to environmental lobby group Forest and Bird, culling deer, possums and other pests could undo 15 per cent of Aotearoa’s annual climate impact.
(I think someone needs to look at the numbers here in a bit more detail but stunning if it survives peer review…makes the environmental and economic incentives for total elimination of introduced pests compelling!).
The Metaverse, for llamas, by llamas
Here’s something novel to watch: Upland is a virtual property trading game…
“buy and sell virtual properties based on real world addresses on the blockchain”
…basically it seems to enable trading quasi-NFTs mapped onto the physical world…a parallel metaverse of “property rights”. Right now it’s just a cute game with a Llama theme (see trailer below) - but could this actually evolve into a more serious play as a global trading platform for real property rights…?
Tweaking the mental muscles this week:
I’d never heard of the political concept of “Sortition” until this week. Well argued by the UK’s @swardley (thread):
Trying to reconcile entrenched legal attitudes to risk with commercial (and social) imperatives for innovation is one of the constant battles I come across in Aotearoa business circles. Ōtautahi-based lawyer and Seeds podcast host Steven Moe has co-authored an accessible piece in Stuff with consulting director Louisa Taylor: How agile contracts can promote project innovation. This thinking needs to be more mainstream, it’s not exactly radical.
Researchers from Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou / University of Otago have called out that health benefits weren’t included in the economic forecasting in the recent He Pou a Rangi / Climate Change Commission’s final advice. The team of researchers - Tim Chambers, Simon Hales, Caroline Shaw, Jude Ball, Cristina Cleghorn, Nick Wilson and Michael Baker - instead assert that Aotearoa’s economy could actually “rev up” as carbon emissions are cut.
Scanning through the He Pou a Rangi advice, the still-pervasive cult of GDP is striking - even after the last 18 months when health outcomes trumped dollars, the “success” of “the economy” as measured by “Gross Domestic Product” is still treated like some cricket score that should be cheered on tribally… without actually being an proxy for the tribe’s overall wellbeing…there must be some meme along the lines of “ok, boomer” which renders anyone using the term “GDP” irrelevant from here on…?
(I’m reminded of the excellent environmental cartoons by Joel Pett:)
Quite a few nuggets to share this week:
Uplifting story from the excellent Rest Of World: In Argentina between 2011-2015, over 4 million students received a cheap government-issued netbook computer, sparking a musical renaissance: low-income teens installed open source software Audacity and turned the 1Gb machines into musical instruments, launching a new generation of "rappers, trappers, and freestylers".
Urban transport v.next:
And…a timeless work of art at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport:
Thanks as ever for getting in touch with thoughts, links and feedback - always appreciated, keep them coming!
And if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.
One provocative legal viewpoint on LAWS that I am aware of is that it would make any government, military - and arguably private hardware and AI/software manufacturer - involved in civilian fatalities in a warzone liable under the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons. In effect, truly intelligent LAWS *should* transform all warzones into policing situations by being able to distinguish civilians from military personnel… simple in theory but certainly not applicable to Libya-style guerrilla warfare…