Memia 2022.08: Ukraine: scenarios 🇺🇦🔮// chart of the decade💉💉💉// the other crisis🌏🔥// Signal signal📶// deepfake everything?🤯// builder bot🥽🤖// physicals vs. virtuals➗
Vaccinate against war
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter… your regular scan across emerging technology and a complex, *FLEXING* world, as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Ukraine war and the sudden explicit threat of nuclear conflict has put everything else into perspective this week. It’s just tragic to see the escalating destruction and loss of life on all sides already. Like everyone I’m hoping that matters de-escalate rapidly...but apprehensive about what might happen if not.
Alongside every other Kiwi, I voice my support for those defending and suffering in Ukraine 🇺🇦✊- and also send my extreme sympathy to the families of Ukrainian and Russian civilians and combatants who have been senselessly killed. Humanity needs to work on creating a better world order when this is over.🕊️
☢️ICYMI I interviewed Kiwi nuclear disarmament expert Lyndon Burford on a Memia podcast towards the end of last year. A more relevant conversation than ever.
[And again… 102Kb … yeah right! (Click on the title above to read online). As always please feel free to delete and unsubscribe at any time if these weekly emails are getting too long (or too heavy)…all good, and thank you for reading!🙏]
The first large-scale war held in full view of the 5-billion-strong global internet population (ex. China, anyway) is now underway.
There are plenty of real-time online sources for minute-by-minute updates on the invasion so I’m not going to link to them here. I have noticed that Twitter is often at least 24 hours, if not 48 hours ahead of mainstream news cycles for updates…But plenty of disinformation there too:
What’s become clear from this week’s even-more-compulsive-than-usual doomscrolling is that many Western strategists didn’t foresee events playing out as they have so far. In particular, just a week ago, despite the Russian military buildup around Ukraine, an imminent threat of nuclear escalation or the isolation of Russia’s Central Bank were not being seriously contemplated.
These two threads (note: both from US strategic think-tank viewpoint) are worth a dive-in for chronicling key events which unfolded:
I have come to perceive global geopolitics as moving tectonically: years of small subterranean tremors and then very suddenly a magnitude 8+ seismic event. Right now is one of those moments in history when fundamental geopolitical models of the world are being remade in real time. (Compounded by a potentially irrational antagonist being backed into a corner.) No-one has a stable model of what’s going on.
So, in the absence of a common model, here is a selection of articles and threads I’ve found helpful in the last few days which analyse multiple dimensions of the strategic situation:
The Economist: History will judge Vladimir Putin harshly for his war
Pippa Malgrem: Dead Man’s Switch.
US Russia watcher Fiona Hill interviewed in Politico: ‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes
Understanding other major geopolitical players:
Hong Kong Economic Journal: China will be big loser in Russian invasion of Ukraine
Aotearoa political economist Bernard Hickey: China will decide if globalisation ends
The Guardian: ‘They were fooled by Putin’: Chinese historians speak out against Russian invasion: An open letter written by five historians has denounced the war.
Modeling potential future scenarios:
Futurists Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojevic outline four simple alternative futures:
The new Marshall Plan for Russia.
Conflict contained to Ukraine.
OR: Conflict transformation:
“This conflict becomes an opportunity to rethink the world system reducing patriarchy, imperialism, and the worst of capitalism. A UN with teeth (and a WHO with teeth) are examples where global governance is required. Peacekeepers are created in the model of an Earthpol (policing the new green deal). They are able to attend conflicts anywhere eg Ukraine, within the USA, within China, and within Australia, for example. This is a far more democratic UN where the rules created after WW 2 are changed given the new realities. A Gaian polity emerges. We vaccinate against war. The "metaphor" - Gaia needs.”
Futurist Bryan Alexander collates together a set of simulations and scenarios for the Ukrainian crisis (h/t spotting Sam Ragnarsson). These infographics by Josh Calder are a spot-on guide but already need updating:
Israeli historian-philosopher Yuval Noah Harari: Why Vladimir Putin has already lost this war:
“Nations are ultimately built on stories. Each passing day adds more stories that Ukrainians will tell not only in the dark days ahead, but in the decades and generations to come. The president who refused to flee the capital, telling the US that he needs ammunition, not a ride; the soldiers from Snake Island who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself”; the civilians who tried to stop Russian tanks by sitting in their path. This is the stuff nations are built from. In the long run, these stories count for more than tanks.”
(But see also Physicals vs. Virtuals below).
Thread from independent research and journalist Kamil Galeev:Why Russia will lose this war? Much of the "realist" discourse is about accepting Putin's victory, cuz it's *guaranteed*. But how do we know it is? I'll argue that analysts 1) overrate Russian army 2) underrate Ukrainian one 3) misunderstand Russian strategy & political goals🧵
Te Whare Wananga o Waikato’s Reuben Steff: NZ must act as Putin rips future wide open.
Let’s all stay hopeful that things de-escalate this week…
💉💉💉Chart of the decade
Ironically in the same week that Aotearoa’s Covid-19 case numbers increased stratospherically, Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou/University of Otago epidemiologists Jennifer Summers, Michael Baker and Nick Wilson published a review of the impact of Aotearoa’s Covid-19 response strategies during the first 2 years of the pandemic. In summary: Aotearoa experienced an increase in life expectancy, decreased winter mortality, and net decline in (excess) mortality. As Bernard quotes it:
(Looking at that uptick for Australia’s excess mortality rate in the last few months, likely should anticipate something similar here soon… but still remarkable statistics).
🌏🔥The other crisis
The IPCC released their marathon Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. It’s massive - 3675 pages:
Summary for policymakers:
The gravity of the report should not be in doubt. This is the summary which was signed off by 200 governments worldwide:
“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted, anticipatory global action... will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
So…what? Expect a continuing acceleration of mainstream policy changes towards decarbonisation of our economy, but it is very likely too little, too late unless there is radical platform change at the next election.
(Or else people can always move to the Arctic…).
In amongst all the global flexing…
🏦Who needs CBDCs anyway?
Crypto Twitter has gone a bit quiet as the brute force of a politically-coordinated Central Bank lockout is brutally demonstrated on Russia’s economy.
(Bitcoin up 18% to US$43.4K in the last week at the time of writing.)
No correlation here:
Moxie Marlinspike @moxieIt's amazing to me that after all this time, almost all media coverage of Telegram still refers to it as an "encrypted messenger." Telegram has a lot of compelling features, but in terms of privacy and data collection, there is no worse choice. Here's how it actually works: 1/
A new study found that people trust AI-generated (“Deepfake”) faces more than real ones:
“Our evaluation of the photorealism of AI-synthesized faces indicates that synthesis engines have passed through the uncanny valley and are capable of creating faces that are indistinguishable—and more trustworthy—than real faces”
Case in point: allegedly a fake Ukrainian blogging account with a face generated at https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/ :
Let’s go next level on this:
What if 99% of the Metaverse — the future internet — was generated by AI? Timothy Shoup from the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies (CIFS) believes that “in the scenario where GPT-3 ‘gets loose’, the internet would be completely unrecognizable”…he “would bet on 99% to 99.9% being AI-generated by 2025 to 2030”.
I’ve touched on this before - see Memia 2021.45 Escape The Entropy, Matt Boyd’s prescient comment:
“This is the inevitable endgame to the internet... warring factions of AIs with unlimited productivity…. just as we cast aside a corrupted and fragmented old hard drive, and we cast aside a social media platform that has been spoiled by trolls and fake news, we will cast aside the internet. Suddenly 'proof of human' and a secure (quantum encrypted?) communication channel will be needed to escape the entropy”
(Given all of the preceding…) Meta last week demonstrated AI which helps humans generate scenes in the metaverse just by speaking. This is actually a conceptually impressive demo of what is coming soon1 - how easy it will be for anyone to create whole detailed virtual worlds without expensive authoring tools.
US startup Living Carbon shared new research demonstrating that trees with a “photosynthesis-enhanced” genetic trait can capture 27% more carbon dioxide, grow faster and accumulate of 53% more biomass.
Qorox is (as far as I know!) Aotearoa’s first concrete additive manufacturing construction company. This just-released video profiles a demo showroom featuring different design options for 3D-printed concrete buildings in an earthquake zone. According to their website, this method is 75% faster and reduces waste by 70% when compared to traditional construction.
➗ Physicals vs. Virtuals
The pseudonymous Washington DC-based analyst N.S. Lyons writes The Upheaval on Substack. He(?) has articulated a compelling new frame of reference for the societal rifts currently being experienced in wealthy Western nations. Whereas conventional political commentary focuses on “working class vs. elites”, “urban vs. rural”, even “conservative vs. woke”, in his piece on the recent Canadian trucking protests, he introduces two new political classes: the “Physicals” and the “Virtuals”:
“The first is a class that has been a part of human civilization for a really long time. These are the people who work primarily in the real, physical world. Maybe they work directly with their hands, like a carpenter, or a mechanic, or a farmer. Or maybe they are only a step away: they own or manage a business where they organize and direct employees who work with their hands, and buy or sell or move things around in the real world. Like a transport logistics company, maybe. This class necessarily works in a physical location, or they own or operate physical assets that are central to their trade.
The second class is different. It is, relatively speaking, a new civilizational innovation (at least in numbering more than a handful of people). This group is the “thinking classes” … They don’t interact much with the physical world directly; they are handlers of knowledge. They work with information, which might be digital or analog, numerical or narrative. But in all cases it exists at a level of abstraction from the real world. Manipulation and distribution of this information can influence the real world, but only through informational chains that pass directives to agents that can themselves act in the physical world …They are informational middlemen. This class can therefore do their job almost entirely from a laptop, by email or a virtual Zoom meeting, and has recently realized they don’t even need to be sitting in an office cubicle while they do it.
…When considering the causes and character of the current protest, and the response to it, I would say the divide between Physicals and Virtuals is by far the most relevant frame of analysis available. In fact I’d say this is among the most significant divides in all of Western politics today.”
It’s a compelling framework and IMO maps well onto what we’re observing in Aotearoa as well. Politicians of all stripes would do well to get their heads around this new political axis in time for 2023 elections…
Back in the Khaganate
With all of the focus on Ukraine, I admit that I’d never heard of Khazaria (aka the “Khazar Khaganate”) - which lasted over 300 years (650 to 965 AD):
A couple of shout-outs to Memia readers this week:
On the recent topic of misinformation spread by social media networks: Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou / University of Otago AI professor (and Soul Machines AI guru…) Ali Knott shared the report he and an international group of researchers and academics (including from Te Pūnaha Matatini) published last year: Responsible AI for Social Media Governance. (Coordinated by the Global Partnership on AI's Responsible AI working group).
The report considers two questions, focusing on Aotearoa as a case study:
How to actually define the concept of ‘harmful’ social media content?
What effects do social media recommender algorithms have on users’ attitudes towards extremism and misinformation?
This year several tech groups are exploring methods explored in the report: in theory, if the uptick of extremism on social media is partly due to recommender systems, then the problem may be able to be addressed at its root by just modifying these systems.
🐟Thanks for all the fish
Meanwhile friend and colleague Hal Josephson2 shares an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir LifeSize Story - 30 years ago this week, Douglas Adams saved my life:
“…A bit jet-lagged and tipsy, we walked out of the pub. Talking away, I looked left as I stepped off the curb to cross, rather than right (my autonomic action still being USA not yet the UK). 6’ 5” inch Douglas grabbed me by my neck & right arm to pull me back as a speeding (iconic) black taxi whizzed by. I could feel it’s tail-wind in my face. …I owe my life, limbs and unbattered body today to Douglas Adams.”
Not a lot of lightheartedness around this week. Still…
I enjoyed this sideways take on the protests at Parliament (*still* happening🙄):
🎵Welcome to my TEDTok
TikTok announced it will increase its maximum video length to 10 minutes…
Pop Crave @PopCraveTikTok bumps up max video length to 10 minutes. 🔗: https://t.co/uNf4xxAo9f https://t.co/REGS8BJ7XI
As always thanks for letting me into your inbox every week, especially everyone who reaches out with feedback and links - appreciated!🙏🙏🙏
Catch you again on Sunday. (I’m planning to go tramping up Avalanche Peak this weekend so likely to be a short one this weekend…)
Providing real-world events don’t get in the way instead…😬
🤩Frequently Memia’s Wednesday email first-responder from Hawkes Bay over his early morning cup of Java☕!