Memia 2021.47: OMG Omicron😬// banning killer robots🤖// flattening the other curve📈// GauGAN 2🎨// BIG electric boat🔋🛳️// 3D-printed silence🤫
What doesn't kill you mutates and tries again
Welcome to the Memia newsletter - your regular scan across emerging tech and the unfolding future, from Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
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🎸(As always!) Memia readers exhibiting excellent taste: the most clicked link in the last issue (5% of openers ) was the most swagger *ever* to emanate from the Isle of Wight: Chaise Longue by Wet Leg.
Also in the last week…
The newest Covid-19 variant has got the world into another stir, in response to the rapid spread of the newly-named Omicron variant, first detected by onto-it South African epidemiologists:
The FT gives an overview of what is known so far: scientists fear emerging strain could be more transmissible and have higher resistance to vaccines.
Some very early anecdotal evidence from South Africa indicates that the symptoms may actually be ‘mild’, but nonetheless Covid-19 hospitalisations are rising in the province of Gauteng where omicron has been detected.
The official line from the WHO on Monday: Update on Omicron… effectively “we need more data”. But in case anyone forgot:
“The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”
Aotearoa futurist Roger Dennis outlines the possibility of a benevolent superspreader scenario: increased transmission rates but milder disease, leading to much quicker herd immunity than global vaccination. Way too early to tell, obviously, but hold that model in your head.
Either way, the following observation is as old as biology itself:
🤖Banning killer robots
Good to hear the news yesterday from Minister for Disarmament Phil Twyford that (*finally*) Aotearoa’s govt has adopted a robust national policy against Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS), aiming for legally-binding international prohibitions and seeking “to play a leadership role in building a multi-stakeholder coalition [for] constraints on AWS”:
“The idea of a future where the decision to take a human life is delegated to machines is abhorrent and inconsistent with NZ’s interests and values, and now we'll work with friends and allies to make sure this never comes to pass.”
(Not sure it’s our friends and allies we need to worry about tho…)🤔
It’s a big issue which will become real in the very near future. A global ban, like that for chemical weapons, is achievable with the right political will. More details at the Human Rights Watch Ban Killer Robots website.
(Meanwhile over on YouTube in Australia: I made a military drone for $1000)🤦.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, stepped down from the CEO role, handing the reins to CTO Parag Agrawal and also signaling he will depart from the board next year.
While there’s always room to improve, Twitter is a (im)pure melting pot of memetic evolution which I use for hours every day as a key info source for new tech, culture and ideas. It’s an engineering marvel and it works pretty well too.
End of an era. Congratulations on the thing that you built, @jack.
Signals from the future this week:
📈Flattening the other curve
China’s birthrate plummeted to the lowest level seen in official data going back to 1978, portending even more rapid demographic changes in the world’s most populous nation than anticipated. Official figures show there were only 8.5 births per 1,000 people in 2020. (Compare Nigeria 36.9, India 17.4, Aotearoa: 12.4). The curve is flattening faster than the most recent UN data predictions… but with relentless increases in human lifespan, it’s going to be a grey old world.
NVIDIA released the latest iteration of their GauGAN AI-generated image tool, now able to generate photographic-quality images just from text or sketch inputs.
🤯Mindblowing what’s possible *today*. Here’s my first go with the phrase “Snow topped mountains in New Zealand”. Try it out yourself here.
(Compare / contrast with Microsoft Research’s NÜWA AI: “Visual Synthesis Pre-training for Neural visUal World creAtion”).
South Korea agreed to host a UN-backed floating city prototype:
(Related: on the recent topic of Próspera, the libertarian “startup city” on an island in Honduras: it seems no-one asked the locals!)
🔋🛳️BIG electric boat
The first autonomous, zero-emission container ship has completed its maiden voyage in the Oslo Fjord.
🔋🚆BIG batteries on wheels
Zero-emissions electric trains can be thought of as big batteries on wheels… and backup national electricity grids at the same time.
₿ India crypto ban?
National governments continue to attempt to get to grips with regulating cryptocurrencies… while technology and innovation races even further ahead. India is the latest, mulling a total ban on private cryptocurrencies and the launch of its own official digital currency.
The Financial Express explores if such a ban is even possible:
“Exchanges can be shut down from operating in particular countries. However, imposing a complete ban on cryptocurrencies would never be possible. Decentralized exchanges do not come under the ambit of any government or entity. These are driven by communities of developers and crypto enthusiasts. Hence, despite a blanket ban on cryptocurrencies for transactional purposes, it would not be possible to put a complete ban on crypto”
(That said, soaring Ethereum Gas fees may just do the job instead).
See also: the Australian Taxation Office is keeping a close eye on Aussie crypto users’ tax liabilities: ATO commissioner Chris Jordan said the organisation is relying more on data from exchanges and brokers to “better analyse where someone needs a nudge in the right direction”. Ahem.
NZ-founded vegan cheese startup New Culture has just raised a US$25m Series A funding round from Kraft Heinz and other investors, aiming for 2023 commercial launch into the US:
"New Culture, using giant fermentation tanks, is inserting DNA sequences into microbes that effectively instruct them to express the target proteins (alpha caseins, kappa caseins and beta caseins) after feeding on a sugar solution."
A 3D-printed, noise-cancelling “acoustic metamaterial” can block out 94% of noise. Even in a Jet Engine. Impressive.
🤐What happens in the metaverse…
Isabella Kaminska in the FT has a Meta take that resonated with me: The metaverse is just the latest incarnation of Las Vegas:
“Facebook’s reinvention aims to create a standardised virtual reality where the house always wins”
♛Queen’s NFT gambit
DChess is a more relatable NFT project than most:
“A decentralized platform for everyone who wants to earn money playing the most beloved game in the history of mankind.“
(eg, more than 32x32 punk icons). As far as I can decipher, it’s a global platform for play-to-earn (P2E) chess tournaments with a token-based incentive economy and NFTs “artwork” of famous chess games to pump in liquidity. Hold me back.
Researchers Matt Boyd and Nick Wilson have a new paper out, continuing their work highlighting the lack of long-term foresight and the secrecy surrounding national-level risk management in Aotearoa: Current and future generations must flourish: Time for a long-term and global perspective on pandemic and other catastrophic risks. Cheery (but important!) long read.
Also I will be Interested to see the outputs of Wellington City’s trial of free public transport on weekends. Given macro carbon and sustainability targets, the microeconomics around urban transport is in total flux right now. Time for some data points.
The New Age Bullshit Generator is what generative AI was invented for. Namaste.
🚲On yer (weird looking) bike
(Thanks for spotting @samrag!)
🏄2022 be like
That’s it for this week… thanks for reading and 🙏🙏🙏 to everyone who reaches out and gets in touch with thoughts, feedback, links, always appreciated!