Memia 2022.16🇺🇦: Russia on fire🔥🔥// buyer's remorse?☹️// Pacific chokepoints🌏// after liberalism, digitalism?👁️// ‘live forever’ mode♾️// metaverse marriage💒🥽// 3D printed everything🖨️
Attempting to mid-wife a new kind of regenerative culture whilst simultaneously hospicing the old
Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter, as always scanning across emerging tech and the unfolding future - as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
The most clicked link in last week’s edition (only 5% of openers) was The Atlantic’s interview with hyper-authentic Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Another big week of events around the world…
🇷🇺🔥🔥Russia on fire
Both ends of Russia are on fire for different reasons:
Q: How do the world’s various emissions trading schemes keep tabs on the gigantic CO2 emissions here? A: They don’t.
Aotearoa currently leads the world in Covid cases per capita. And schools go back (maskless) next week as the first Omicron wave has plateaued and case numbers may be heading back up. Mask up, eh.😷
…But in the grand scheme of things, worth remembering how effective Aotearoa’s pandemic strategy has been to date: keeping a tight border while pushing to achieve the highest possible vaccination rates before “letting it rip” has delivered outcomes that still stand in direct contrast to much of the rest of the world.
Watching the dust settle on Elon Musk’s confirmed takeover of Twitter for US$44Billion yesterday:
“Making the algorithms open source” / “defeating the spam bots” appear to be mutually contradictory goals on the face of it.
(Incidentally, University of Maryland researchers recently tracked 186 Tesla-related bot accounts since 2010 and found that after each was launched, the company’s stock appreciated more than 2%. Ahem.)
And as for “authenticating all humans”… Proof of Human is a hugely complex problem to solve…are we going to see a Twitter version of Worldcoin - Twitter Orbs, anyone? Or just even harder captchas?
And as for “free speech”, Benedict Evans is hilariously on the money:
Fair to say there’s vast intangible value locked up in Twitter - it’s by far the only critical mass platform providing intelligence on what’s happening around the world (at least in one’s own echo chambers). But making major changes to the platform runs significant risks of collapsing the gravitational effect.
In particular, if the platform descends into a toxic cacophony of amplified Trumpist white noise *when* he’s re-platformed, it will be time to leave for many of us.
There is already an anecdotal exodus to alternatives such as Mastadon…but let’s be honest, the product isn’t the same, eh:
“Mastodon has a long way to go before it can reach the scale of Twitter. The mastodon.social server itself only has about 662,000 users while the entire federated platform is estimated to have over 3.5 million. In comparison, Twitter has 217 million daily active users.”
Remember Rule No. 1:
💊Poison pill hustle
Some credit should go to Twitter’s board for buying enough time with their “poison pill” move last week to do one final check they were maximising shareholder value:
No real surprise given recent tech share price falls: Meta down 40% in 6 months, Netflix’s cataclysmic result last week (losing 200,000 subscribers in its first such decline since 2011…share price down ~40% since!)… and don’t mention Block / Afterpay… the market for tech giant M&A is pretty soft right now…who else would buy at anywhere near this price? No-one it seems.
… and the board (including founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey) were likely shunted into a decision by the imminent earnings call tomorrow:
Looking through the SEC filings, Musk has taken out US$25.5 billion of new debt secured against his stock in Tesla, including a syndicated US$12.5M margin loan facility. At ~5% interest rate, the interest bill alone is estimated to be over US$1.25 billion per year - almost as much as last year’s entire Twitter EBITDA.
…Wikipedia defines the term Buyer’s remorse:
“Buyer's remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase. It is frequently associated with the purchase of an expensive item…
Buyer's remorse is thought to stem from cognitive dissonance, specifically post-decision dissonance, that arises when a person must make a difficult decision, such as a heavily invested purchase between two similarly appealing alternatives. Factors that affect buyer's remorse may include: resources invested, the involvement of the purchaser, whether the purchase is compatible with the purchaser's goals, feelings encountered post-purchase that include regret.”
How Musk will manage to turn the platform around and get out alive financially is a mystery right now. On previous form, Musk is not someone to be underestimated…and sure, there is value in there to be unlocked… a couple of more extreme suggestions I’ve seen out there:
Given all of the above…there is one take which may explain Musk’s financial logic behind the deal — buy $TWTR, pump $TSLA and…liquidity event:
Let the games begin…and the oxygen continue to be sucked out of the room…
How broken is capitalism?
❤️ Umair @umairhI just published Why Elon Musk Buying Twitter Is Even Worse Than You Think https://t.co/o2CsElmWbW
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury expert Anne-Marie Brady provides some analysis on China’s recent moves to establish a presence on the ground in the Solomon Islands. The Solomons are positioned at a strategic chokepoint for regional shipping lanes and undersea fibre cables, this thread is worth a read in full:
These risks have always been there, but are now coming to the fore:
As ever, Aotearoa and Australia sit precariously given our entwined trade relationship with China. Given everything else that is going on around the world right now, how can Aotearoa maintain a sovereign “independent foreign policy” posture…. and also position for the best long term outcomes?
It is a multi-dimensional puzzle. Former AoNZ Ambassador to China John McKinnon who now chairs the NZ-China Council writes in Stuff, it's no longer enough to view China through a single lens:
“New Zealand needs to use multiple lenses when viewing China, not only geopolitical but also human rights, economic and commercial, strategic, and cultural. None are sufficient alone. They have to be blended so that we can take a comprehensive view of our relations with this large and important country.”
👁️After liberalism, digitalism?
For all his detractors, US president Joe Biden has certainly been around the block a few times. His recent remarks at a White House fundraiser event included his assessment of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s political philosophy:
“I’ve had long discussions and over many, many hours — I mean, literally, over — I think it’s now up to 70-some hours with Xi Jinping. We traveled 17,000 miles. And he doesn’t have a democratic — with a small “d” — bone in his body. He’s a very smart and calculating guy.
And he’s just very straightforward with me. He doesn’t think that democracies can be sustained in the 21st century, in the second quarter of the century, because things are moving so rapidly, so incredibly fast that only — he doesn’t say “autocracy” — only autocracies are able to handle it. Because democracies require consensus, and it takes too much time, too much effort to get it together. And by that time, the event, the circumstance has gone beyond your ability to fix it.”
For me this is the most fundamental question of our time: can liberal democracies keep up with exponential (technology-driven) change? And if not, is the only alternative CCP-style autocracy…? What kinds of future political system upgrades should today’s liberal democratic states be looking at to provide a viable alternative?
Arguably what’s happened with the Ukraine conflict and the network power / “swarm” phenomenon indicates that globally-connected nation-state democracies are indeed capable of becoming fleeter of foot at establishing consensus…
For one possible alternative: Futurist Mark van Rijmenam describes a pessimistic vision of future techno-political systems: The Rise of Digitalism: will state surveillance (stepped up in response to the Coronavirus) trigger the end of liberalism?
Thought I’d add a new regular section to the newsletter, one or two data points to triangulate from each week. To start with:
🏘️Real estate is HUGE
(Tell me something I don’t know…)
A crop of rather dystopian links to share this week…
Future of the web?
From Wired magazine: The future of the web is marketing copy written by algorithms
“The killer app for GPT-3 could help marketers lure clicks and game Google rankings.”
♾️‘Live forever’ mode
Metaverse startup Somnium Space is developing ‘live forever’ mode - building an AI-driven model based upon large amounts of data collected while someone is alive (including full-motion bodysuit capture, photos, speech recordings, writing…) - to enable people to achieve a semblance of immortality after they die biologically:
“Somnium Space hopes to roll out the first set of AI versions of its users, in which people will be recreated as avatars with their movements and basic conversational abilities, by next year.“
Echoes last year’s story covered in Memia 2021.29 of the man who brought his dead girlfriend “back to life” as a chatbot using GPT-3 trained on their old text messages
Also echoes Black Mirror S02E01 Be Right Back
The New York Times interviews Japanese man Akihiko Kondo, who “married” Hatsune Miku, a fictional turquoise-haired, computer-synthesized pop singer.
“In Miku, Mr. Kondo has found love, inspiration and solace, he says. He and his assortment of Miku dolls eat, sleep and watch movies together. Sometimes, they sneak off on romantic getaways, posting photos on Instagram.
Mr. Kondo, 38, knows that people think it’s strange, even harmful. He knows that some — possibly those reading this article — hope he’ll grow out of it. And, yes, he knows that Miku isn’t real. But his feelings for her are, he says.”
(h/t spotting Melissa C-R).
Both of these stories signal a future high-definition, immersible VR metaverse where AI-generated “NPCs” (non-player-characters) become more and more believably interactive - and combined with haptic bodysuits and dildonics will have real-world physicality and sensation as well. In fact, the virtual characters may well be considered more interesting, more attractive - and more able to trigger feelings and emotions - than real humans in the real world.
In fact, when I think about it, this is the exact premise of the movie Her:
(*Fantastic* film if you haven’t seen it…do!)
🖨️3D printed everything
I enjoyed researching a bit deeper into 3D printing for last weekend’s Memia on Sunday. A couple more 3D printing developments today…
A research team led by Boston University has 3D bioprinted a miniature replica of a human heart – which beats like a real organ.
At the other end of the scale, GE Renewable Energy has installed a three storey 3D printer which will print wind turbine tower sections up to 20 metres high.
Nuclear reactor on a truck
Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries aims to commercialise a 500KW portable nuclear micro-reactor by the 2030s - designed to be transported to remote or disaster-stricken locations.
In my travels around various sensemaking individuals and communities on the internet, this week I stumbled upon a wonderfully articulate post by Melbournian Joe Lightfoot which struck a chord with much of what I’m trying to do with Memia (…and opened up a whole new set of noospheric rabbit-holes to dive down for the next few weeks…): The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets.
“Somewhere along the way I seem to have unofficially joined a subculture or memetic ecosystem that I’ve come to think of as The Liminal Web… “Liminal” because one definition of the word is ‘to occupy a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold’ which for me speaks perfectly to the idea that everyone in the space is in their own unique way attempting to mid-wife a new kind of regenerative culture whilst simultaneously hospicing the old.”
Found us a new tribe…? Take a dive with me and let me know your response… should we get an Aotearoa “Liminal Web” meetup going…?
Getting lost in Furland
Here’s a screengrab of the @memialabs graph of all followed and followers…need to examine the various clusters more closely but NZ Twitter is the bottom left (notice smaller icons = less connections = small country…) the other more international clusters break down loosely into US tech industry / VC / AI / crypto / VR / strategy / futurists…
Totally fascinating exercise, could get completely lost in there…
Man steals moon
Finally, this is perfect:
That’s it for another week. As always, thanks for reading, especially to everyone who reaches out with feedback and links!🙏🙏🙏
See you again on Sunday.