Memia 2021.29: Still crystal ball gazing post-Covid🔮// housing crisis - just start a new country?🏴☠// WFH for innovation's sake💡// seeing sharper👁️// love and loss in the age of AI💕💻
Billionaire's trolly delima
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - a regular dose of thinking about technology and the future - as usual with half an eye on Aotearoa New Zealand.
For those in Ōtautahi I’m taking part in a speaker panel at the Canterbury Angel Investors event this afternoon (Wednesday 28th), I’ll be talking about technology due diligence for investing in early stage businesses.
In the last week:
🚀🍆Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire in space, travelling in his phallic Blue Origin New Shepard rocket, sparking a bloom of Austin Powers memes🤣:
🦾Tokyo 2021 Olympics started…no crowds but rather impressive robot athletes:
…not unrelated, Ōtautahi City Council made a “controversial” decision to reduce the seating capacity of the replacement stadium to *only* 25,000. Seems like a no-brainer to me: (1) future generations are likely to find stay-at-home digital entertainment more enticing than sitting on an uncomfortable seat in the cold, with a half-obscured view, pricy nutrition-free food and watered down beer…and (2) VR sports broadcasting will soon provide an enhanced experience compared to being there live. The world is changing fast. Keep up. How much would going down to 20,000 seats save?
🔮Still crystal ball gazing post-Covid
Three varying positions of note this week looking overseas at the UK, Australia and Iceland for hints of how countries will (or won’t) open up post-Covid:
“What happens in the UK in the next 2-4 weeks will be very instructive for Australian Pandemic policy”
2021 now a travel write-off by Bernard Hickey:
“It’s becoming clearer by the day that the Delta variant of Covid-19, which is 1,000[X] more transmissible and much deadlier for the unvaccinated than earlier variants, will shut down ‘normal’ travel to the rest of the world until well into 2023, if not longer.”
What happened when Iceland tentatively opened its borders😬:
🏴☠Housing crisis - just start a new country?
Aotearoa’s national housing crisis continues, unabated (some would say actively stimulated) by government and central bank policy:
One reader sees a dark scenario emerging:
“The thing is, if no one tries to ’solve’ this, we’re destined towards a second South Africa soon, with rising armed crimes, armed police, and massive wealth disparity. When the current generation of kids entrenched in what they see as permanent poverty grow up with no hopes, it will suddenly turn. I predict that is 5-6 years away.”
Personally I’m not so black and white - home ownership is only one measure of inequality and Aotearoa is still a more equal place to live than many other parts of the world. And maybe the next generation will aspire to other less material things. But the point is worth noting.
What is clear though is the impotence of our government and central bank to achieve a more even balance between gratifying the home-owning majority every electoral cycle and distributing wealth fairly across generations. (See also: keeping house prices high becomes an almost essential task of a UK government that wants to keep winning elections).
An intractable problem to change from within the current system architecture.
One possible way around the problem: technological progressive Balaji Srivinasan’s concept of new “Network States” in How To Start A New Country:
“We want to be able to peacefully start a new country for the same reason we want a bare plot of earth, a blank sheet of paper, an empty text buffer, a fresh startup, or a clean slate. Because we want to build something new without historical constraint.
…[In the past] making a fresh start was technologically infeasible, politically impossible, or judicially punishable.
And that's where we are today with countries, with cities, with nations, with governments, and with much of the physical world. Because the brand new is unthinkable, we fight over the old. But perhaps we can change that…
…Rather than starting with the physical territory, we start with the digital community. We recruit online for a group of people interested in founding a new virtual social network, a new city, and eventually a new country. We build the embryonic state as an open source project, we organize our internal economy around remote work, we cultivate in-person levels of civility, we simulate architecture in VR, and we create art and literature that reflects our values.
(A provocative and calmly subversive article, I recommend reading in full).
So…taking this concept of a network-first state (complete with its own “laws”/smart contracts and crypto-economy) might be a potential organising mechanism for communities of aspiring citizens to (*peacefully*) work around the endemic inertia, impotence and inequality of the status quo nation-state model - and design a “Future State 3.0” in which intergenerational equity is more deeply encoded into the “constitution”, and homes are simply affordable for those who need them.
(Perhaps also an iteration on Charter Cities: networked Charter Enclaves…)?
Another diverse set of signals from the future to report on this week:
Climate change disparity: a new map published by California scientists illustrates Anthropogenic climate change: Less than 8% of the earth’s surface area has generated 90% of historical GH emissions - however, more than 51% of the earth’s surface is projected to warm by at least 3°C before the end of the 21st century. (And just look at the Arctic!!)
Climate change adaptation: Dubai Is Creating Artificial Rainstorms With Drones.
Climate change tension: the River Karun, the longest river in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, has almost dried up this year, threatening civil war.
💡WFH for innovation’s sake
Reasons for not going back to the office no. 34,275: Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It says the NY Times ($wall):
“For some, the office even stifles creativity.”
Lowering the tone:
A rather efficient poo-cleaning robot cleans out the cowshed
A new toilet in use at a university in Ulsan, South Korea uses human faeces to help power a building and offers payment in cryptocurrency:
MicroLEDs Moving From Lab To Fab: Production advances in MicroLEDs (microscopic [<50 µm] versions of the LEDs we use today) will soon power new micro-display devices including high-resolution AR, VR and XR headsets.
In Scientific American: How Quantum Computing Could Remake Chemistry, bringing molecular modeling to a new level of accuracy and reducing researchers’ reliance on serendipity ($wall).
Tracking MPs’ phone use (actually I find this more a symptom of how utterly unproductive a Victorian-style debating chamber is in 2021…again shouldn’t we expect innovation here?)
💕💻Love and loss in the age of AI
The Jessica Simulation: A man used the GPT-3 powered chatbot engine Project December (previously covered in Memia 2021.14) to train a language model based on his dead fiancee’s text messages: rather spooky and with many, many nefarious applications…
Occasional recommendation of sci-fi I’m currently reading: Ra by Sam Hughes (aka qntm) is highly imaginative and eminently readable:
“Magic is real.
Discovered in the 1970s, magic is now a bona fide field of engineering. There's magic in heavy industry and magic in your home. It's what's next after electricity.
Student mage Laura Ferno has designs on the future: her mother died trying to reach space using magic, and Laura wants to succeed where she failed. But first, she has to work out what went wrong. And who her mother really was.
And whether, indeed, she's dead at all...”
(Second book by qntm I’ve read after There Is No Antimemetics Division covered in Memia 2020.43).
Only room for one link from around the motu this week:
Contact Energy and Meridian Energy are seeking registrations of interest to develop the world’s largest green hydrogen plant in Southland once the supply agreement with New Zealand Aluminium Smelters finishes at the end of 2024. Thinking big.
And to finish with…
Dark: The Trolley Dilemma, somewhat originally spelt, updated for 2021:
And while the billionaires go to space, occasionally space comes to Earth, amazing footage:
Thanks as ever for getting in touch with thoughts, feedback, links - always appreciated!
And if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.