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

Kia ora,

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.


In the last week:

🔮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 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…

Cloud Countries

…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.

Over time we eventually crowdfund territory in the real world, but not necessarily contiguous territory. Because an under-appreciated fact is that the internet allows us to network enclaves.”

(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…)?

[Weak] signals

Another diverse set of signals from the future to report on this week:

♨️Getting warmer

  • 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!!)

💡WFH for innovation’s sake

“For some, the office even stifles creativity.”

(er, yeah!?)

💩Poo stories

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:

👁️Seeing sharper

  • 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.

Quantum chemistry

Applied AI

  • 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…

Mind expanding

  • 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:

Green Hydrogen

Hidden gems

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 🌎🌍🌏.

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