Memia 2021.36: 📈Super (de)growth📉// stay in the ground🛢️// colossal de-extinct mammoth🦣// super-massive🧮// unsteady seasteading🛳️// carbon (state) capture🏭
All lobster prices have increased due to high lobster prices
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - a regular scan across emerging tech, new ideas and thinking about the future - with one eye on my corner of the world in Aotearoa.
🖱️The most clicked link in the last issue (9% of openers) was the neck-and-neck AoNZ vs Australia vaccination race on OurWorldInData. (Trans-Tasman rivalry=clickbait…)
😷On Aotearoa’s current Covid-19 outbreak, not much more certainty to report since last week:
RNZ's Covid-19 in NZ In Numbers is updated daily - 604 active cases as of yesterday afternoon, daily new cases jumping around still.
Tāmaki Makaurau whanau still at Level 4 and now hanging out for Level 3 next Tuesday🤞… meanwhile the rest of us are learning to negotiate mask-wearing/not wearing etiquette when visiting cafes and bars…it’s a bit weird.
Bernard Hickey has started to detect a shifting national attitude to elimination as the current lockdown goes on and vaccination rates continue upwards… but still doesn’t expect easy international travel until late 2023.
In the last week Denmark removed all domestic restrictions with a 2-shot vaccination rate of 80% of over-12s - joining the UK and other European nations who have also relaxed restrictions. Aotearoa fortunate to be able to observe what happens from our south sea bubble before making irreversible policy decisions…
🐼Continuing on from last week’s newsletter trying to parse recent rapid shifts in social and economic regulation going on in China:
The Guardian view on Xi Jinping’s China: rectification, not revolution:
“Better than the Cultural Revolution” is a very low bar.
The Economist ($$): China has become a laboratory for the regulation of digital technology:
“There are new protections, but not from the Communist Party”
The latest intervention is to break up Ant Group/AliPay’s loans businesses - and “set up a state-run personal credit-scoring firm to handle Ant Group’s treasure trove of data”.
♞From a data- and software- perspective, this feels like a chess move to bring about a decisive competitive advantage for China’s financial system architecture over incumbent Western banking systems. Ant Group’s credit scoring and lending, joined with a (mandated?) state-backed digital currency enabling surveilled payments across the entire China-sphere, are base components of a new modular, scalable financial system architecture. Unlike the fragmented, evolved chaos/overlap/duplication seen in Western financial systems, with the added built in design feature of centralised control by the Chinese government/CCP. Formidable.
As the BIS told Western central banks this week: Act fast or miss the digital payments boat. The imminent Diem stablecoin and decentralised cryptocurrencies are already out in the lead...possible that boat was missed quite a few years ago.
💸All submissions to the recent Parliamentary Inquiry on Cryptocurrencies are available to read here. Some gems in there if you’ve got the time. Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker summarises the main positions: Critics and supporters of crypto-currencies clash in advice to MPs.
Memia webinar discussion on the topic coming up soon…
🎬Lastly, sci-fi tragics like me have a couple of things to look forward to before the end of the year:
Denis Villeneuve’s new Dune movie is finally nearing its Aotearoa release date on 21st October - looking forward to this if it’s anywhere near as spectacular as the trailer). (See also interview with Kara Kennedy below).
You’ve probably already seen the intriguing trailer for the new Matrix sequel Resurrections (release date: 22 Dec). Star Keanu Reeves got all philosophical talking with director Lana Wachowski:
“Twenty years ago you told a story in which you described the coming twenty years and the problems of the nature of digital, virtual life and how it was going to impact us and how we think about it, and gave us a frame to be able to think about it and talk about it. And you took the same character and the same stories and the same stuff, and somehow you made it about the next twenty years…How did you do that?”
(Twenty years ago!?!?)🤯
Future currents washing up into the present:
The NZ Super fund delivered a record 29.63% return, ending the 2020/21 financial year at NZ$59.8 billion, an increase of NZ$15 billion over the 12 months (!). Furthermore:
“Government contributions to the Fund over 2020/21 were $2.1 billion, while total NZ tax paid by the Fund in respect of the 2020/21 year was $2.3 billion.”
Anyway, this is generally considered *a good thing* for Aotearoa to have a growing sovereign share of global wealth: the Government isn’t projected to start making withdrawals from the fund (to help pay for superannuation) until the mid-2030s, with the fund projected to keep growing through to the 2070s…
…All of which assumes a capitalist global world order which survives through pandemic, climate crisis and ecological collapse. The Super Fund (arguably the institution with the longest outlook horizon of any in Aotearoa) has adopted the TCFD reporting recommendations in its 2020 Climate Change Report, well worth a read, particularly “Strategy” (p18-20):
The fund styles itself as “a long-term, growth-oriented, global investment fund” (my bolding) - growth is still a fundamental part of its DNA.
However, a recent paper published in Nature challenges conventional thinking, modeling climate mitigation scenarios based on economic de-growth. From the abstract:
“1.5 °C scenarios reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rely on combinations of controversial negative emissions and unprecedented technological change, while assuming continued growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Thus far, [modelers] and the IPCC have neglected to consider degrowth scenarios, where economic output declines due to stringent climate mitigation.”
(Basically, intentionally reducing global GDP correlates to declining carbon emissions. Not rocket science).
Heresy, right? But if we get 5 years further along this current road and none of the predicted carbon neutral / negative technologies eventuate at scale…will it be time for a “Ministry for the Future”-style coordinated global de-growth policies? (…And what impact would that have on NZ Super Fund’s investment strategy?) Food for thought.
🛢️Stay in the ground
Also in Nature this week, updated modelling demonstrates that most fossil-fuel reserves must remain in the ground in order to hit the 1.5 °C global warming goal:
The impact on balance sheets of all these stranded “assets” has yet to be worked through. Paul Ekins of University College London, one of the modelling research team, said:
“It is absolutely desperate, we are nowhere near the Paris target in terms of the fossil fuels people are planning to produce.
“Whenever wherever oil and gas is found, every government in the world, despite anything it may have said [about climate], tries to pump it out of the ground and into the atmosphere as quickly as possible. It will require private companies to write down their reserves but, for countries with nationalised oil companies, they just see a whole heap of their wealth evaporating.”
Interesting times ahead.
🦣Colossal de-extinct mammoth
Colossal is a new startup aiming to resurrect previously extinct species, starting with the woolly mammoth (the last of which died out 4,000 years ago). Co-founder George Church says the Harvard team is just 2 years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be “programmed into” an Asian elephant - and believes it will have its first woolly mammoth calves in the next four to six years:
“the technique could be replicated to “de-extinct” other species and even conserve ones that are currently endangered. Almost like a hard drive, Lamm says the technology Colossal is building can be used to “back up” and preserve critically endangered species and bring them back to life.”
Related: Watch former Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha professor Amy Fletcher’s talk from TEDxChristchurch 2016: De-extinction may be inevitable.
Numerai (strapline: “build the last hedge fund by predicting the stockmarket”) is a crowd-sourced hedge fund with trades determined by AI algorithms fueled by a network of thousands of anonymous data scientists. The Numerai dataset contains decades of historical data on the global stock market and machine learning models trained on the dataset learn to predict stock returns - and earn cryptocurrency (NMR) based on performance in the weekly Numerai Tournament.
Numerai just released a new “super-massive” dataset that hugely increases the amount of embedded information with 3x features, 5x training data and 20x new targets.
🕶️You looking at me?
Facebook had a rather subdued launch of its new “smart glasses” in partnership with Ray-Ban. Right now they are just dumb sunnies with stereo cameras which enable you to take a heads-up photo at any time - but Ben Egliston and Marcus Carter in The Conversation place the launch into context:
“Given this ignominious track record, what is Facebook hoping to achieve here? We believe — based on Facebook’s broader investments in VR and AR technologies — the ultimate aim is to gradually normalise wearable surveillance technology many people currently have deep and understandable reservations about.”
Nothing to see here, then.
Samsung made a stretchable display that gives new meaning to “3D content” - a glimpse of what the future of TV looks like?
Not-so-private wireless charging
When wireless charging your phone in future, perhaps a good idea to ensure your battery levels are kept low…
Cerebral strategist Simon Wardley explores the growing role of videogames in shaping future cultural values: Those Virtual Battlegrounds: I lost my country but I gained a big pile of virtual gold):
“…games themselves have values embedded within them whether it’s belief in property (the hoarding of gold coins) or fairness or unfairness (e.g. pay to play schemes where the wealthy can pay for advantage) or sharing or whatever the creator wishes. The very act of creating a video game will embed our values within it whether the action to add them was conscious or not.
Video games are now so widespread and immersive that they must be considered a powerful channel for spreading values rivalling that of radio, television and film. These are all enablement systems for values, allowing our values to diffuse throughout our own and other collectives…
…If you think China is simply reducing video game usage in children for reasons of addiction, I would suggest you consider that it is also limiting exposure to unfavourable beliefs. I’m quite certain it will also export its own beliefs in games.”
More in the same vein: Tyler Cowen: How Gaming Will Change Humanity as We Know It: the self-contained nature of games means they are not only eroding mass culture but also making government regulation more difficult.
Around the motu this week:
It’s Te Wiki o te reo Māori - I came across this from Andrew Douglas-Clifford (“The Map Kiwi”) - getting one for my office wall.
…And re: Bilingual traffic signs - by 2023 apparently…chop chop!
Congratulations to friends Dan Fowlie and Abhinav Keswani at Aotearoa-HQ’ed Salesforce partner Trineo announcing their acquisition by US-based Traction on Demand …the result of a long focus on quality and investing in people and culture. I remember first meeting two young technology entrepreneurs in a tiny office pre-Christchurch earthquake… come a long way!
As mentioned above, a few of us are getting rather excited to watch the forthcoming Dune film (hopefully in a cinema too!). Kara Kennedy (@DuneScholar) is Aotearoa’s leading Dune expert and talks to David Herkt in Stuff: What makes a world work? Exploring the groundbreaking universe of Frank Herbert's 'Dune'.
Also see this clip from the 1970s where Dune Author Frank Herbert talks about environmentalism.
Some enjoyable links to share this week:
This is just a fantastic and hilarious story: The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship. Long read, take the time to enjoy.
“Koch wanted to try to make the ship more fuel-efficient by installing a smaller engine, which he thought he could do while the ship was at anchor. “We were like, how are you going to cut a hole in the ship’s side big enough to get the engine out, which is below water level, and not sink the ship?”
Frank Gehry’s latest building, the stainless steel Luma Tower in Arles, southern France, is very different indeed, at least from the front. (🎩Thanks @Haljo for sharing).
🏭Carbon (state) capture
The latest Honest Government Ad from The Juice Media is - as usual - well researched, NSFW hilarious and deeply cutting (again, we really need someone doing something like this over here…)
That’s it for this week…thanks as always for getting in touch with your thoughts, feedback, links - appreciated! And please add your comments below if anything catches your attention this week.
Hang in there for another week Tāmaki Makaurau whanau 🤞.
Straight into it this week - I’ve been busy recording the first of the new Memia podcast series and researching for a few longer form articles…more soon…