Memia 2021.43: Metastasis or metamorphosis?🐛🦋// more meme stonks🐶// China's ghost cities🏗️// solar sheep farming⛅🐑// brainhacking🧠// awesome in the true sense of the word🤯
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - your regular scan across emerging tech, global change and the future as it unfolds from Aotearoa New Zealand.
The most clicked links in the last issue (only 4% of openers each were the Electrek guide to weird and wonderful EVs on Alibaba) and the first glimpse of Jeff Bezos’ US$500M superyacht.
Also this week:
Thanks for the positive feedback on the recent Memia podcast on nuclear disarmament with Lyndon Burford. In particular, shout out to Adapt Research’s Matt Boyd for pointing me onwards to:
Daniel Ellsberg – the original leaker of the Pentagon Papers which helped end the Vietnam War and Nixon presidency – talked at length with Robert Wiblin in 2018 for the excellent 80,000 Hours podcast series: On the creation of nuclear doomsday machines, the institutional insanity that maintains them, and a practical plan for dismantling them.
Toby Ord's 2020 book The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity puts the (necessarily speculative) probability of nuclear war that causes human extinction at ~1:1,000 this century.
(Memia podcasts are now available on Spotify! Keep an eye out for the next episode.)
The annual Antarctic ozone hole reached its peak area at 24.8 million square kilometers —roughly the size of North America. The 13th largest recorded since 1979 - but by now it would have been much bigger without the 1987 Montreal Protocol banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): to date the only UN treaty ever that has been ratified by every country on Earth — all 198 UN Member States…perhaps providing a glimmer of hope for tangible outcomes from this week’s “all hui, no doey” COP26 Climate Change Summit.
🐛🦋Metastasis or Metamorphosis?
The announcement was made by CEO Mark Zuckerberg towards the end of the hour-long Facebook Connect 21 webcast, which included a bunch of saccharine skits on what Meta’s vision for the Metaverse looks like. There are moments of “wow” when you want to buy into the Ready Player One vision - but right now, all too self-conscious and, er, *kids cartoon aesthetic*… Also, switch off the compulsory dental smiles and ubiquitous ambient music/sound!
More substantially, the launch was accompanied by a low-key podcast interview with Zuckerberg with Stratechery’s Ben Thompson which goes more into the *fuzzy* logic of the Metaverse strategy:
Ben Thompson: “Why now for the vision? There is an aspect of Facebook’s seems very hamstrung as far as acquisitions go, is there really any other alternative for Facebook’s cash flow other than returning it to investors than this all-in bet on the metaverse? I guess, in other words, is Facebook building the metaverse because it is best positioned to build something that is inevitable, or because Facebook needs the metaverse to exist so that it has further growth opportunities that are independent of Apple?”
Mark Zuckerberg: “…One of the things that I’ve found in building the company so far is that you can’t reduce everything to a business case upfront. I think a lot of times the biggest opportunity is you kind of just need to care about them and think that something is going to be awesome and have some conviction and build it. One of the things that I’ve been surprised about a number of times in my career is when something that seemed really obvious to me and that I expected clearly someone else is going to go build this thing, that they just don’t. I think a lot of times things that seem like they’re obvious that they should be invested in by someone, it just doesn’t happen.”
Sounds like every first-time startup founder I’ve ever met. Hmmm…🤔
Other recent data points illustrate the sheer financial scale of the Meta vision:
Establishing 10,000 new high-skilled jobs in the EU over the next five years to build “the Metaverse”.
“We expect our investment in Facebook Reality Labs to reduce our overall operating profit in 2021 by approximately $US10 billion” - David Wehner, Meta’s CFO said in the company’s earnings release last Monday. 10. Billion. Dollars. Per. Year.
Frankly most striking for me is Zuckerberg’s thousand-yard stare strategic thinking. Check out this (attributed) Facebook memo from 2015, Mark's Vision: just after the Oculus acquisition, he was also musing about purchasing leading gaming platform developer Unity: (my bolding)
“The strategic goal is clearest. We are vulnerable on mobile to Google and Apple because they make major mobile platforms. We would like a stronger position in the next wave of computing. We can achieve this only by building both a major platform as well as key apps…we need to build both.
…From a timing perspective, we are better off the sooner [our] next platform becomes ubiquitous and the shorter the time we exist in a primarily mobile world dominated by Apple and Google…Therefore, our goal is not only to win in VR/AR, but also to accelerate its arrival.”
(Is this reasoning still valid in 2021 with decentralised metaverses already in existence…?)
Zuckerberg is betting the farm on making his childhood vision a reality — and investors can stay for the ride or get off: Facebook/Meta recently expanded their share buyback scheme by US$50Bn. (The FT: “Silicon Valley’s favourite form of financial engineering. Even as operating profits decline, the company can support the earnings per share ratio by simply decreasing the number of shares in circulation.”)
And maybe the renaming will help to distract from the continuous onslaught of a never-ending PR crisis. Maybe not. (Zuckerberg would definitely benefit from some advice from the PR advisor to the CEO of YouTube (Who? Exactly.), arguably just as responsible for the tsunami of misinformation…
(Related: a controversial recent piece in ArsTechnica sheds light on key actors and systems behind fake news around the 2016 US election: “Hacker X”—the American who built a pro-Trump fake news empire—unmasks himself”. Fascinating.)
The bigger Meta question: is this Metastasis or Metamorphosis? — 22 years ago Microsoft was being dragged through the media and the courts with an antitrust case as a shamed and disliked monopolist… now it’s a reinvented US$2.5Trillion global tech firm with “ethics” and “responsibility” front and centre. Companies change. We’ll see…
On the humourous side, the whole event has been a festival of Meta-memes…including:
♾️Emanator detected: Like many here in Aotearoa I am stuck Dunescrolling…. (eg waiting for the film to reach cinemas here nearly 2 months after international release 😭)… but I have been going back through director Denis Villeneuve’s mostly magnificent back catalogue. Watching Blade Runner 2049 at the weekend I was struck by a similarity with the moment K’s virtual girlfriend gets an upgrade: (click tweet to see full pics - uncanny, huh?):
(Incidentally I thought this was my Smartest.Tweet.Ever. …but not many others did!🤣)
🐶More meme stonks
Global markets still a-flexing.
Memecoin Shiba Inu (SHIB) coin’s market cap shot up 75% in 24 hours to just under US$40Bn - that’s more than Deutsche Bank.
An NFT was seemingly purchased for over US$532 Million (CORRECTION FROM ORIGINAL POST: NOT Billion!!) . Er….
CryptoPunks Bot @cryptopunksbotPunk 9998 bought for 124,457.07 ETH ($532,414,877.01 USD) by 0x9b5a5c from 0x8e3983. https://t.co/dmT6jDRC1W #cryptopunks #ethereum https://t.co/UQlmm1oqkj
Once again, the fantastic Kyla Scanlon uniquely weaves the threads together as to WTF might be going on: Why Money Isn’t Real:
We often use inductive reasoning in finance -
“This company has x cash flow, cash flow is a good sign of a good company, so this is a good company”
[observation → analysis → theory]
But in Meme Markets, its more deductive reasoning
“dog coin goes up, this is a dog coin, dog coin go up”.
[idea → observation → conclusion]
Of course, this is all going to end well…
Were there any signals this week other than we’re all going to live in a corporate cartoon Metaverse??
Yes, lots! (But only enough room for a few links here after the extended Meta commentary above… as always, check out @memialabs Twitter feed for links that have been catching my eye recently. Normal service resumed next week.)
🏗️What housing crisis?
More stories of China's Ghost Cities - and 65 Million empty homes - there is a ghostly London, Manhattan, and Paris lying within China. Evergrande may take some time to sort out.
Bestselling book Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari has again been raising the very real likelihood that human brains could be hacked if AI is not regulated in a recent CBS interview:
"To hack a human being is to get to know that person better than they know themselves. And based on that, to increasingly manipulate you…
It's data about what's happening inside my body. What we have seen so far, it's corporations and governments collecting data about where we go, who we meet, what movies we watch. The next phase is surveillance going under our skin."
(A topic for more in-depth investigation another day… as someone who leans into promises of cyborgism/brain-augmentation with AI I’ve got a bunch of thoughts to unpack here…so much opportunity too. As always the issue’s not the technology per se but the [models governing] how it’s designed / applied…)
⛅🐑Solar sheep farming
An excellent illustrated thread from Canada on how to farm sheep and solar electricity, together.
Two videos I enjoyed recently pushing the edge of my understanding:
Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll gives a Long Now seminar: The Passage of Time & the Meaning of Life. (Basically: the universe might not have purpose, but humans can create meaning and purpose through how we approach reality.) Or: don’t worry about entropy.
Stanford University Professor of Biology and Neurology Robert M. Sapolsky gives a laid back Big Think lecture in What’s the best way to think about a brain? Your reptilian brain, explained.
The Meta announcement will have done wonders for long-innovating Aotearoa motion capture startup StretchSense. Congrats to CEO Ben O’Brien and team on the stamina to make it this far…future looking bright!
Ōtautahi-based pilot, ElectricAir’s Gary Freedman achieved the first all-electric flight across the Raukawa Moana (Cook Strait), travelling from Waiharakeke to Te Whanganui-a-Tara in 45 minutes on just NZ$2 of electricity.
🎃Scariest pumpkin ever
🤯Awesome in the true sense of the word
Natural Aotearoa really laid it on thick at the weekend for me - here’s my view tramping in the backcountry behind Lake Takapō. (With sincere apologies to all still in lockdown in Tāmaki Makaurau and Waikato).🫂
That’s it for another week…as always 🙏🙏🙏 to everyone who reaches out and gets in touch with thoughts, feedback, links. Keep’em coming!