Memia 2021.30: Covid-19’s ticking clock⏲️// progressive authoritarianism👊// all kinds of batteries🔋// metaversal🦄 // 🛰️orbiting space factories🏭// time crystal💎//decentralised everything🌐

Bonne chance, regulators!👍

Kia ora,

Welcome to the *30th* Memia newsletter of 2021 - a (very full this week!) regular scan across new technology and thinking about the future, viewed from my corner of the world Aotearoa New Zealand.


In the last week:

Woolworths NZ has indicated its online penetration increased from 3% total sales in FY2014 to over 12% in the current financial year to date”

Eric Crampton argues Why It’s Hard To Open A Supermarket In NZ: apparently it’s all down to real estate…Foodstuffs and Woolworths have got it all locked down. But then surely that’s a wide open invitation for a dedicated home delivery service like the UK’s Ocado to set up here: nearly 3 million price-gouged urban shoppers in the 6 largest cities…Ocado, we need your robots!!!

⏲️Covid-19’s ticking clock

I linked to some of the latest Covid crystal-ball gazing last week… since then, former Chief Science Advisor Peter Gluckman is to chair a new International Science Council panel to explore how the pandemic and its consequences will evolve over the next 3 to 10 years. He writes:

“The rapid development of multiple Covid vaccines has been a triumph of science. But the entire Covid story is certainly not a triumph for politics and global cooperation. The pandemic rolls on, and the virus continues to mutate. Global vaccine distribution is slow and biased to rich countries, leading to catastrophic outcomes for those without adequate supplies. The longer-term direct and indirect effects have been largely downplayed rather than confronted.

The International Science Council (ISC) became concerned that vaccine development has been hyped by politicians and others, as the end of the pandemic and a return to normality.“

The ISC panel aims to produce a “set of comprehensive system maps to inform decision-makers of the long-term impacts of their decisions”. Also on the panel is epidemiologist David Skegg, who chairs the group advising PM Jacinda Ardern as she prepares to unfurl the road map to a post-Covid NZ on August 12th.

👊Progressive authoritarianism

Some major economic left-turns happening in China right now as the CCP accelerates a crackdown on the Chinese tech sector under what Bloomberg calls “progressive authoritarianism”. Sudden new policy guidelines have been squarely aimed at Big Tech firms, forcing a greater emphasis on consumer and worker rights:

  • Online platforms such as Meituan need to ensure food delivery riders earn above the country’s minimum wage, are freed from “unreasonable demands” from algorithms and have access to social security and union membership

  • “Hijacked by capital” online tutoring companies must become non-profits

  • Any Chinese company holding data of >1 million users must now undergo a security review before listing its shares overseas

    These new policies and others have accelerated a massive market selloff that at its most extreme erased US$1.5 trillion from Chinese stocks in July (including tech giants Alibaba Group, Kuaishou Technology, Meituan and Tencent).

Watching this space…China seems to have suddenly switched to playing a different game, changing focus to social wellbeing not just money, where does this lead…

(This may also be calculated as part of the drive towards national tech self-sufficiency. Either way, tech investors are sitting pretty uneasily right now.)

🔋All kinds of batteries

This week was full of stories about new energy storage breakthroughs:

  • Rodney Brooks in IEEE Spectrum: The Battery Revolution Is Just Getting Started:

    “Incredible amounts of capital are going into gigaplants that produce millions of battery cells per day, and there are rivers of cash flowing to R&D on advanced batteries…Not only will batteries be needed for our phones, laptops, power tools, cars, ships, and planes, but also to store energy from renewable sources. Batteries are key to decarbonizing our economies.”

  • New Sodium ion battery tech is free from scarce lithium, cobalt, and nickel.

  • Claims that new Iron-air battery tech can store a megawatt-hour of electricity for a tenth of the cost of the cheapest lithium-ion batteries.

  • A new CO2 battery will make wind and solar dispatchable 'at an unprecedented low price'

Meanwhile as Aotearoa’s dirty secret: winter coal importing pushes renewable electricity below 80%, there are mounting calls to develop a massive pumped storage scheme at Lake Onslow in Te Wai Pounamu, capable of storing between 5 and 8 terawatt-hours of electricity in the form of water - effectively acting as a “giant battery back-up” for the country’s power supply.

[Weak] signals

Mostly tech signals from the future…


  • The Verge has an in-depth interview with Mark Zuckerberg… Mark in the Metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company’

Until the Metaverse (whatever it may be) arrives, here are two slightly more immediate applications of VR:

  • Tackling isolation in nursing homes:

  • Virtual recreation of crime scene forensic evidence:

🛰️Orbiting space factories🏭

🧠Cyborg futures

Everything you wanted to know about EEG Brain-Computer interfaces:

🥡Food security today

🕸️Amyloid-silk hybrid proteins

💎Time crystal

Mind expanding

🌐Decentralised everything

Given recent moves by both China and US to try and regulate crypto markets, I’ve been delving deeper into decentralised protocols this week:

“ENS runs on the Ethereum blockchain. This brings the benefits of decentralization, security, censorship-resistance, and programmability of the Ethereum blockchain to Internet naming, enabling new features like self-custody, composability in the greater Ethereum smart-contract ecosystem, and more.”

…if you’ve seen people registering as {name}.eth then they have registered their unique name on the Ethereum blockchain. (I just registered memia.eth for 2 years…*not* the most frugal exercise when ETH gas prices are running high…💸 (but thanks Ryan Jennings for the pointer).

  • I’ve previously enthusiastically covered Helium, the decentralised LoRaWAN IoT network, which is now up to 99,000 hotspots worldwide.

  • CoinDesk’s Michael J. Casey goes deeper into the tensions between DeFi and state regulation:

  • Perhaps most radically illustrative of future corporate forms is this post by Erik Voorhees, founder of DeFi trading mavens Shapeshift who are morphing into a DAO: Shapeshift Is Decentralizing:

“ShapeShift is open-sourcing everything

ShapeShift’s entire corporate structure will wind down

Control of ShapeShift will migrate to those holding FOX Tokens

To facilitate decentralized governance, the largest airdrop in history today distributed FOX to over a million customers and DeFi community members”

The journey so far:

“Starting last fall, ShapeShift began integrating decentralized exchanges (DEXs) to replace its own trading systems…on April 15 we enabled THORChain upon its launch for trading Bitcoin and other leading chains in a decentralized model.

That day, native, non-wrapped digital assets (such as Bitcoin and Ether) could be traded at scale, with no intermediary, for the first time in history.

With our integration of these DEXs, ShapeShift no longer provided trading services, and yet users didn’t lose their ability to trade. We outsourced the regulated activity to an immutable decentralized protocol.”

Bonne chance, regulators!👍


Around the motu:

  • At the other end of the scale — but arguably way more impactful over the long term — Kendall Flutey, co-founder of financial literacy edTech Banqer tells the company’s story so far:

  • (My first experience of Banqer was about 6 years ago when my then Year 6 daughter came home from school one day saying she had met “Kendall from Banqer” who had built a website to show how to invest money and how to save to buy a house…🤯). A massive congratulations to the (bootstrapped!) Banqer team on what you have achieved so far, you are making a massive dent on the world:

    “What do you ultimately want to achieve with Banqer?

    As a company, our purpose is to ensure all students are prepared for their financial future. I get pretty excited by the thought of a future where everyone is empowered to best navigate the financial world leading to better outcomes for them, their family, and society more broadly. So, just a small task ahead really.”

Hidden gems

Just one wee uncut gem this week (think about it):

(…following this led me to the video of that underwater nuclear test… incredible footage).

Thanks for getting in touch with thoughts, feedback, links - always appreciated!

And the usual reminder: if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

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🥾This coming weekend I will be tramping the Old Ghost Road… on the assumption that I make it back in one piece, I’ll see you again next Wednesday!

Ngā mihi