Memia 2022.03: Into the red🔴// banning “surveillance advertising”?🕵️// metaverse moves🥽♟️// womb for improvement🔧🤰// chameleon on wheels🦎🚘// sponge city🧽🏙️
Predicting 9 out of the last 5 virtual recessions
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter…as always scanning across emerging tech and the unfolding future, from Aotearoa New Zealand.
The newsletter gets longer and longer for some reason… Last week I asked a question, thanks to everyone who responded:
(✅Only ruining 10.5% of readers’ mornings😇).
(And I didn’t manage to keep under 102Kb this week either…🤦)
So… starting this weekend I’m launching Memia on Sunday, a regular extra edition for paid subscribers exploring 2-3 newsletter topics in more depth each week. The regular Wednesday newsletter continues - and I will aim to keep under 102Kb from now on!
(Not promising I’ll get one out every Sunday but will do my best…)
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The most clicked links in last week’s issue (9% of openers each) were the apocalyptic post-train-looting scene in Los Angeles and the apocalyptic satellite animation of the Tonga volcano.
Also in the week just gone:
🔴Into the red
After *miraculously* containing Omicron at the border for the whole summer, Aotearoa’s defences have finally succumbed and now we will be operating at traffic light “Red” level for the foreseeable future. (Here’s a handy infographic explaining the Traffic Light levels by Hazel Thumath). If Australia’s experience over the last couple of months is anything to go by, we’re in for a wild ride:
Again I’ll reference US physician Eric Topol: his latest synthesis of clinical Omicron data from around the world is worth reading in full but key insights:
Data is still coming in, but early evidence is clear that that 3rd booster shots demonstrably improve vaccine effectiveness for both Delta and Omicron variants:
Perhaps Aotearoa’s trajectory may follow a similar path to Portugal, with 90% 2-shot vaccinated and over 40% boosted: extremely high cases during their first Omicron wave, but so far relatively small impact for ICU admissions or deaths:
…But these patterns vary considerably across countries and Topol concludes that it’s too early to tell if the Omicron outbreak is the global Covid-19 “off-ramp” everyone’s hoping for:
“Omicron’s future trajectory isn’t clear, and we cannot rule out 2nd surges of Omicron at this point in places around the world…[especially] with so much of the world’s population, especially in low and middle income countries…yet to be vaccinated…
So we shouldn’t plan on a rosy picture. There’s too much we can do right now to seize control in case the most optimistic scenarios don’t play out.”
He advocates for further investment in rational vaccine design towards a variant-proof, pan-coronavirus vaccine.
Heroic stories and images of Tongan islanders surviving the tsunami and ashcloud devastation from the massive volcanic eruption on 15 Jan. The recovery is now underway but will take years.
A few follow-ups on last week’s commentary:
This eruption isn't going to cool the planet: scientists measuring the eruption plume concluded that Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai emitted only about 0.4 terragrams (Tg) of sulphur dioxide, about 1/50th the size of Mt Pinatubo (which emitted about 15Tg of SO2 in 1991).
Aotearoa’s new Pacific Partnering For Resilience foreign policy stance is getting its first significant run-out:
The government announced NZ$3M funding for humanitarian support for Tonga
Naval vessels Aotearoa and Canterbury bringing humanitarian aid and desalination plants to provide much-needed drinking water. This interview with extremely competent-sounding Commodore Garin Golding headlined the BBC World Service bulletin this week. A good look internationally.
And on the topic of broken undersea fibre cables:
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury law professor Karen Scott writes in The Conversation: Laws governing undersea cables have hardly changed since 1884 – Tonga is a reminder they need modernising
…And this in-depth post on Quora took me down a rabbit hole: Everything you ever wanted to know about how to lay an undersea cable
Once again, Kia Kaha to everyone affected in Tonga. Reminder that the Red Cross have an appeal here.
SpiceDAO, the DAO that spent US$2M on original concept art but without buying the legal copyright as well (…although can anyone do anything about it…?) are planning an animated series of Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Keeping an eye on this … DAOs to finance films could well become a thing.
This week’s curation of signals from near and far futures…
So many questions
Tech analyst Benedict Evans asks his trillion-dollar market Tech questions for 2022, from crypto to cars to fast fashion. Measured takes, as always.
🕵️Banning “surveillance advertising”?
US Democrat lawmakers introduced a new bill, the “Banning Surveillance Advertising Act” that would outlaw nearly all digital advertising targeting to consumers - with only a couple of exceptions: broad, location-based targeting and contextual ads.
Potentially this could push back the business models of Facebook, Google and other ad markets / data brokers 20 years to the “good old days” of search-based and website-content-based (contextual) advertising only. And level up the playing field to many others who have been squashed out by the two largest adtech players.
But does less privacy invasion <=> less “optimised” ads? (Who wants to view ads anyway?)
Google’s response: “The harmful consequences of Congress’s anti-tech bills. Meta/Facebook appear to be silent on the matter, to date.
Early responses from digital marketing industry voices also come across as strongly opposed.
I detect a (faint) echo of China’s tech crackdown from last year - regulators reining in profit-at-all-cost big tech companies in the name of (vaguely defined) societal wellbeing.
Again the common question, how would these rules be enforced consistently across international borders?
No doubt there’s a Web3 ad targeting DAO token being pumped somewhere…
See also: US FTC (under new chair Lina Khan) is ramping up regulatory pressure on big tech in parallel.
A couple of metaverse chess moves:
Pawn forward 1: Google is reportedly launching an AR headset in 2024, going up against Meta, Microsoft and (rumoured) Apple.
Check: Microsoft announced (subject to regulatory approval) it will acquire gaming giant Activision Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Starcraft, for an incredible US$69Bn in cash. (What’s the difference between gaming and the Metaverse, anyway?)
🔧🤰Womb for improvement
Changing gears somewhat...
As reported in Memia 2021.40, in 2017 scientists tested an “artificial womb” which had only been tested on foetal lambs.
In Womb for improvement, writer Aria Babu goes deep on the ethical arguments, legal and technology challenges to potentially achieve external gestation in humans:
“Pregnancy can be arduous, painful and for some women impossible. New technology may allow more women to have children, and save the lives of more prematurely born infants….[but] the main problems that the [reproductive research] sector faces are a lack of interest from an establishment that is nervous about causing uproar and outdated ethical standards written when we knew less about how embryos developed.“
Reflection: It’s now over 40 years since the world’s first human IVF baby was born… a huge controversy at the time … and now the technology is accepted as a standard fertility treatment. What would be fundamentally different with artificial wombs if the technology can be shown to work?
Predicting 9 out of the last 5 virtual recessions
Prediction from A16Z Web3 partner Jonathan Lai: “virtual economist” will be one of the most in-demand jobs of our time:
“As web3 grows and games become virtual economies where millions live and work, designing systems where users feel rewarded for time spent will be a critical skill”
Perhaps... but closer to today: I Spent Hundreds of Hours Working in VR. Here’s What I Learned:
“This is the promise of working from VR: a complete stillness but for an active mind. The world does not disturb me, and in return I do not disturb it.
I finally made it to the cyberpunk future I always dreamed of, jacked in to the Matrix, now rebranded as the Metaverse. But in all my excitement to get there, I hadn't realized that by choosing to be there, I was choosing to disappear myself from here.”
Liquid 3D printing
3D printing in a liquid gel removes gravity as a factor, radically speeding up production:
🦎🚘Chameleon on wheels
Carmaker BMW unveiled the world's first "colour-changing" car at CES a few weeks ago. What would Henry Ford think?
Shenzhen is facing its worst drought on record. Becoming a “sponge city” may be a sustainable solution for its urban water problems, leveraging more nature-based solutions to infiltrate, retain, and store stormwater for future water use.
Just room for one long form piece of deep thinking this week.
China tech analyst Dan Wang’s huge 2021 annual letter is hands down the best piece of writing on contemporary China I’ve ever read. (🙏 Azeem Azhar for the link). So many layers and insights, here is his take on Beijing’s tech policy:
“Internet platforms aren’t the only industries under suspicion. Beijing is also falling out of love with finance. It looks unwilling to let the vagaries of the financial markets dictate the pace of technological investment, which in the US has favored the internet over chips. Beijing has regularly denounced the “disorderly expansion of capital,” and sometimes its “barbaric growth.”
…Beijing’s attitude marks a difference with capitalism as it’s practiced in the US. Over the last two decades, the major American growth stories have been Silicon Valley (consumer internet and software) on one coast and Wall Street (financialization) on the other. For good measure, I’ll throw in a rejection of capitalism as it is practiced in the UK as well…: “With its emphasis on manufacturing, (China) cannot be like the UK, which is so successful in the sounding-clever industries—television, journalism, finance, and universities—while seeing a falling share of R&D intensity and a global loss of standing among its largest firms.”
The Chinese leadership looks more longingly at Germany, with its high level of manufacturing backed by industry-leading Mittelstand firms. Thus Beijing prefers that the best talent in the country work in manufacturing sectors rather than consumer internet and finance.”
Around the motu recently:
Already two sizeable Aotearoa tech exits of 2022:
Film-making cloud software firm Moxion acquired by Autodesk for US$10s of millions
Marine communication company Vesper Marine acquired by Garmin for an undisclosed amount.
Staying with the film industry locally, Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury plans to redevelop its Dovedale Campus into a NZ$95M Digital Screen Campus to be completed by 2025:
Luke Fitzmaurice won NZ Twitter last week with this:
The mysterious Ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism challenges our assumptions about ancient technology development: mindblowing implications.
As always thanks for reading!
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