Memia 2022.07: Information on misinformation😵💫// freedom to transact🪙// fly me to the moonbase🌕// disneylandland🎢// chemputation🧪💻// comparonomics📊// leotallica🕺🎸
Accelerate Coal Exit
Welcome to another Memia newsletter… your weekly dose of thinking about emerging technology and a complex, changing world from Aotearoa New Zealand.
Don’t forget to share Memia with a friend or colleague this week!
(And once again apologies for the way-too-long-for-Gmail newsletter… far too much going on as always… please click the title of the email above to read online if you prefer!)
The most clicked link in last week’s newsletter (8% of openers) was the video of Myro - the world’s first “intelligent” painting robot. Slightly hypnotic to watch and with a catchy soundtrack, too…
Onto tech later… but first it’s been a challenging week for everyone trying to make sense of all of the tidally flowing narratives happening around the world - definitely seeing signs that our individual and collective OODA loops are being disrupted.
So, more current affairs than usual this week…
First some good news, Tonga’s severed internet cable is finally fixed after nearly a month of limited internet connectivity. Yay. (Or not…see UK research on bandwidth / social capital below)
Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes is fronting an audacious takeover bid of 180-year-old Australian energy giant AGL to “accelerate coal exit“:
The aim is to buy the company for around AU$8Bn, shut its coal plants by 2030, and replace them with about eight gigawatts of new renewable energy and storage.
Is this the decarbonisation tide finally turning across the ditch…? Perhaps not so long as the Morrison government is still in power…. but either way, it will be entertainment to watch the FUD surrounding the offer impacting on fossil fuel sector share prices… perhaps the great reckoning that Ramez Naam has been predicting for years:
Russia’s will-he/won’t-he invasion of Ukraine inched another step closer with Vladimir Putin sending troops into the eastern Donbas region…
Whatever happens, familiar tactics from Putin:
(See also Quillette: What Putin Really Wants).
Bernard Hickey in The Kākā provides an overview of What the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine might mean for Aotearoa-NZ, in short:
Potential destabilisation of security and trade in Europe…
…but China is not getting involved … low trade risk here…(so far)
And Russian oil and gas disruption → higher oil prices → potentially even more inflation.
And in Canada, uncannily similar anti-vaccine mandate convoy protests have been firmly broken up by the government there as PM Justin Trudeau invoked never-used Emergencies Act legislation.
Interesting to compare the Canadian Police response to Aotearoa’s - more forceful but still restrained compared to what we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere in recent years…
One of the most controversial measures is the move to freeze the bank accounts of protesters and their funders…. A pivotal debate for democracies to have now - particularly before the imminent introduction of CBDCs…see Freedom to Transact below.
Closer to home…
The national Covid-19 vaccination programme continued apace, with over 10 million doses now administered. Both Auckland and Canterbury DHB regions hit >99% “at least partially vaccinated”. Appreciation to everyone involved for their ongoing dedication and hard work - the results are showing.👏👏👏
As predicted, the Omicron surge has begun and is tracking pretty close to previous modelling - the PM confirmed that the peak is likely to happen around mid-late March…watch this graph over the next week.
The anti-[vaccination mandates/government/rationality/social…] protests in the streets around Parliament in Te Whanganui-a-Tara have now been going on for 15 days and continue to dominate the wires.
Like many, I confess to compulsively refreshing Twitter for updates…(esp. @Te_Taipo’s as-far-as-I-know-very independent coverage.)
Who would want the Police’s job? Whatever the outcome of the protest postmortem, their behaviour has been remarkably professional and restrained to date, in so many ways impressive how they are managing a very new 360-degrees surveillance policing environment.
Particularly striking for me is (1) how young many of the police officers are (yeah I know, grandpa…👴), (2) how they have not gone all-in armed and in full body armour like some US police during the BLM protests in 2020 and (3) how many female police officers are involved on the front lines. A complete contrast to aggressive brute force policing we sometime see in other countries. Good to live in Aotearoa.
And they are now doing this under the relentless gaze of a growing torrent of social media…with livestreaming videos being uploaded from all directions. In many ways the modern internet panopticon regulates behaviour on both sides (to varying degrees, admittedly).
As I wrote previously, I suspect that so much evidence has been gathered in 2 weeks to completely congest the courts for years…
…But nonetheless Police digital intelligence will need constant upgrading from here on as new digital platforms keep coming onstream (who had ever heard of Zello before this week?)
On which topic…
😵💫Information on misinformation
As shared in Memia on Sunday, Sanjana Hattotuwa is a research fellow at Te Pūnaha Matatini and one of the authors of last year’s Disinformation Project working paper. Here’s his latest informative (20-tweet!) thread analysing the unprecedented quantum of misinformation before the protest, some striking insights:
“On 10 Feb, mis/disinfo producers on Facebook matched or w/ some metrics, overtook, ALL mainstream media FB Pages in NZ. Unprecedented, astonishing & troubling.”
And from this emerged a phenomenal splintering of narratives… an instance of the “epistemic babble” discussed on Sunday. And correlated, if not directly causally linked with the Wellington protest…
With impeccable timing, InternetNZ also released survey results showing Kiwis growing more worried about online misinformation. CEO Jordan Carter is supportive of exploring mandatory regulation:
“I think we might be beyond voluntary rules [for social media networks]. I think the problem is bigger than that…It is not about stopping people saying whatever they want. The problem is the way these systems are amplifying that and shape people’s perceptions of the world,”
(I’ve also seen a more hardline suggestion: route all Facebook and Telegram traffic in Aotearoa to /dev/null - but Russia and others tried this with Telegram and failed.)
(This came in the same week it was reported that independent teams of computer scientists used machine learning to identify the same two men as likely authors of the messages that fueled the viral QAnon movement.)
👀Also related, a study from the UK asserts that “social capital” may simply be inversely proportional to “internet bandwidth”:
Thanks also to regular Memia commenter Matt Boyd for providing these insights and links on Sunday’s post:
“I'm particularly interested in the way that the 'reds' and 'blues' form in those twitter maps. See for example how algorithmic bias (and platform incentives) can easily prevent a diverse group from reaching consensus and instead forces them into two opposed camps (no pun intended).
Also, this super interesting podcast about the 'Perception Gap' where the reds and blues think that the other each believes more extreme versions of what they actually believe, and how we could optimize platform algorithms to minimize the perception gap rather than optimize engagement:
Or deploy the Taiwanese 'Polis' system…which provides a safe social space to reach consensus on statements which must then underpin political/policy formation, no 'reply' allowed on this social media platform so no trolling, only 'agree' or 'disagree' and incentive to make conciliatory statements.
Extensive podcast here with Audrey Tang: https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/audrey-tang-what-we-can-learn-from-taiwan/
Also, our political leaders need to start taking all this seriously (platforms, algorithms, the perception gap, public consensus, etc) rather than using discord (no pun intended) to leverage political gain …This is a major serious issue. An existential threat, because one possible endgame is totalitarianism....“
National security (broadly defined) got substantially more complex in the last 2 weeks…
🪙Freedom to transact
As mentioned, as part of invoking the Emergencies Act, the Canadian government authorised (/forced) banks and other financial institutions to freeze the personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests - with no need for court orders.
We should remember that until very recently when most money was physical cash, this would have been practically impossible - but now with almost all financial transactions going through a centrally regulated and controlled digital banking system there been a largely unnoticed — but fundamental— shift in the balance between state financial power and individual citizens.
(👀And…Central Bank Digital Currencies looming.)
So, should a democratic state be able to remove freedom to transact from any citizen in 2022?
(And if so, how exactly does this state power differ in principle from, say, China’s vilified Social Credit System?)
Fair to say, Crypto Twitter just blew up on the news. I’ve curated a few of the more prominent threads presenting a range of views below (thanks @kcolbin for a couple of pointers).
TBH I haven’t had time to process the full range of arguments on either side - but it’s going to be a massively important debate for every democratic country to have *rationally* ASAPAP (As Soon As Possible After Protest).
The Nunchuk Bitcoin wallet team responded with style:
6529 @punk65291/ There are no other constitutional rights in substance without freedom to transact Being meaning to write this for 6 months, but the Canadian response to the trucker protests is illustrating this so vividly, that today is the day.
To add chilli to an already spicy dish:
A hack on a fundraising website set up for the Canadian protests exposed the identities of 104,000 donors who contributed CA$9.6 million to “Freedom Convoy 2022” and “Adopt a Trucker” - the majority of the donors were American, not Canadian.
Overseas sources of funding for the Aotearoa protests are also being investigated - a recent scoop by Stuff linking it to Canadian protest funding turned out to be in error, but there are ongoing allegations of foreign funding for the toxic CounterSpin media and others.
…In future could one country’s government freeze bank accounts in another country on the basis of funding an illegal protest?
And as a counterpoint in the same week… a massive whistleblower leak revealed the secret owners of 100bn Swiss francs (£80bn) held with Credit Suisse, which a consortium of journalists investigated and found millions of money laundering proceeds and money siphoned off from state assets.
Traditional Swiss banking secrecy has now been wedged open since they were *encouraged* by the US and others to join the “international convention on the automatic exchange of banking Information” in 2018 - however the Tax Justice Network estimates that countries around the world still collectively lose US$21bn each year in tax revenues because of Switzerland.
In a future “decentralized”, “anonymized” “self-sovereign” crypto world where centralized states can’t seize anyone’s borderless metaverse money… how would taxation work?
Way more questions than answers on this one. I suspect that by the time everyone’s just getting across the debate it will already be too late and decentralised crypto will be running wild across every border…(while the CCP will have built a parallel monetary universe where nothing gets in or out except through official state exchanges). Wild future ahead.
OK so in amongst the geo-socio-political flexing this week… some tech news…
Microsoft obviously know something about Teams that they’re not letting on…
3D rendering platform maker Unity unveiled new demo scenes for their Terrain authoring tool…astoundingly real:
Poor old Meta… Buzzfeed ran a test to find out how well Meta enforces its moderation and behaviour rules in their VR Horizon World… not very well it turns out (surprise!)
🌕Fly me to the Moonbase
SpaceX director of civil space development Nick Cummings teased future plans for a Moon base:
Who would choose to live permanently in a theme park? Disney announced StoryLiving - a plan to build residential communities across the US, catering to “those looking to write the next chapter of their lives with Disney”. Ew🤢.
I came across University of Glasgow “digital chemist” Lee Cronin a few months ago… Twitter profile:
“Trying to digitize chemistry & make alien life.“
He’s pushing a new concept he calls “Chemputation” - he makes some bold claims in the tweet below… but a radical paradigm shift if proven: the ability to just “code” for any molecule.
Here’s an in-depth profile of Cronin’s work from October last year: Using an Automated Chemistry Lab to Find the Origin of Life.
A big shout out to entrepreneur, polymath (and Memia reader🤩) Grant Ryan for releasing his new book Comparonomics: Why life is better than you think, and how to make it even better.
The book’s key concept is a deceptively simple - but powerful - tool to change how we perceive economics from absolute to relative: the Comparonomic Graph:
“The simple example of comparing our life to King Louis’s shows how bad constant dollar income is for understanding change over time. The standard economic analysis would show Louis was thousands of times wealthier in ‘real dollars’ but I doubt anyone would want to swap when they understand the reality of his life.”
The book builds on this alternative analysis to propose an alternative calculation for the value of goods and services from one period to another: Speed of Economic Progress (SEP), an alternative measure of economic growth comparable to GDP:
Overall, Comparonomics is a very accessible, thoughtful and thought-provoking read which firmly challenges conventional economic theories upon which so much of our lives still seem to revolve… recommended.
Finally, nearing the end of a marathon missive… three gems to finish with:
Threatening Music Notation
And finally, hat-tip to Roger Dennis who found this supremely juxtaposed mash-up masterpiece (one of many on Bill McClintock’s YouTube channel).
As always thanks for letting me into your inbox every week.🙏🙏🙏
Catch you again on Sunday (paid subscribers) or next week (everyone!).