Memia 2022.17🇺🇦: 3D techno-geopolitics🌐// benevolent tech oligarchy💰🧑💻// web3 is going great🕸️// cambrian explosion🥽// kissing in VR💋// rods from God💥
Welcome to the Dark Forest
Welcome to this week’s Wednesday Memia newsletter: squinting at the future through a memetic aperture from Aotearoa New Zealand. As always, thanks for being here!
(Note: Another long one this week, I’ve given up attempting to fit these posts into Gmail’s 102Kb size limit… so, please click the title above to read the whole thing online… or download the Substack app for iOS if you have it).
The most clicked link in last week’s edition (only 4% of openers) was Anne Marie Brady’s thread on the Solomon Islands as regional strategic pinch-point. That storyline isn’t going away any time soon…
Also, turns out I was gotcha’d on Sunday with the stunning video of the moon rising / solar eclipse over the Arctic - thanks to the ever-alert Sam Ragnarsson who pointed out that it’s an (artful) fake.🤦
Also in the last week…
🇺🇦Ukraine digging in
The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues into its 67th day, with the map of territory looking pretty much like it did a month ago. With Ukraine constantly re-arming from the West, this war could go on for years…
(There are also signs this week that China’s state media are softening their pro-Russia stance.)
🌊Land subsiding / ocean rising
The NZ SeaRise project is a NZ$7.1 million, five-year (2018-2023) research programme funded by MBIE and hosted at Te Herenga Waka / Victoria University of Wellington. This week they released emphatic new data and interactive maps showing that sea level is rising twice as fast as previously thought in some parts of Aotearoa, reducing the amount of time authorities have to respond by decades.
The interactive map allows users to click on a particular location on the coast and see how much sea level is expected to rise, and by when, under different climate change scenarios.
(Takeaway: buy land on Rakiura and install solar panels and Starlink?!)
A 1.5km-high steam plume rose from Mt Ruapehu yesterday, following the strongest tremor in 2 decades and record 39degC temperatures in the crater lake. Ruapehu last erupted in 2007.
Geonet categorises current activity as a “2” on the Volcanic Alert Level scale:
🟢Chlöe is go-ey
In politics, the Green Party of Aotearoa removed the gender-based leadership rules in their constitution. Whoever saw that coming…?
The insane climate-change inertia of the current Western economic system is on full display as tens of thousands of empty “ghost flights” will have been flown since the Covid pandemic began, just to secure airport slots for European airlines.
🧍In-person, physical, real
I’m looking forward to my first in-person speaking gig in a long while at the TechMarketers NZ 2022 conference next week, where I’ll be talking about the latest emerging tech and impacts on digital marketing and our future - maybe see you there!
(My diary’s open in the next few months to speak at your conference or present to your board / leadership team, by Zoom or in person…drop me a line for more details).
I’m still working on coalescing a coherent set of geopolitical scenarios following my 120 axes of geopolitical uncertainty braindump a few weeks ago. Quick progress update here.
Geopolitics in 2022 is 2-dimensional
[*IF* we discount the extreme-but-still-very-much-alive scenario that Putin’s Russia will press the (self-)destruct button and initiate nuclear conflict…] Modern geopolitical predictions in 2022 centre on the strategic “great power” games between nation states and can be grouped according to two primary axes:
How evenly will global strategic power be distributed? (Eg will there be a hegemonic unipolar world (US OR China), a bi-polar world (US AND China) , tri-polar world (US AND China AND (EU / India) or a fully “rules-based“ multi-polar world with strategic power distributed evenly around the planet’s population?
…In the case of hegemony, will it be the US or China who is dominant?
If you map the various scenario axes I listed in my previous post, almost all of them can be categorised something like this:
(For example, if you take the lead from A.S. Lyons’ brilliant essay last week then they think we are heading towards a renewal of US-led hegemony for a few more years yet).
Techno-geopolitics: Musk, Balaji and the wildcard 3rd dimension
BUT…this two-dimensional framing rests upon one underlying assumption which is arguably challenged by rapidly advancing technology. Namely, that the nation state will continue as the only agent of strategic power into the future. (Despite its many, many shortcomings…)
If you add a 3rd axis to the gameplay, where significant, technology-enabled, non-nation state strategic actors emerge and challenge the status quo, then things start to get very interesting indeed:
There are two scenarios which spring to mind immediately: Balaji Srivinasan’s Network States and the *even fresher* Benevolent Tech Oligarchy embodied by Elon Musk (discussed next…).
(Excuse my rudimentary first-sketch drawing skills1… imagine a 3-dimensional perspective if you can…!)
(Also interesting to hypothesise about the collective power of AMAMA: Apple-Meta- Alphabet-Microsoft-Amazon and how that might manifest…).
Just a sketch for the time being but helpful for me to frame the evolving broader gamespace…
💰🧑💻Benevolent tech oligarchy
So…let’s go there for a moment: Elon Musk, global benevolent tech oligarch becomes more powerful than all of the world’s nation states put together. Yeah right.
…Although we should perhaps acknowledge “Musk’s razor” (in contrast to Occam’s):
Musk-as-Tony-Stark would be entertaining, right…?
Actually, it was this tweet by US-based, edge sense-maker Jordan Hall which triggered me onto the *possibility* of a Musk, Benevolent Tech Oligarch scenario:
If we add decentralised autonomous drone swarms into the mix for on-the-ground military superiority - which could communicate over the aforementioned “Web3 P2P mesh” - then absolutely, it’s possible that no nation state, even China, would be able to keep up. And don’t even mention AGI.
(Think what could be achieved by a well-intentioned dictator with a passion for technology and a gift for operations…re-allocating resources towards fixing climate change, ecological collapse and human wellbeing…)
(But shuddering to imagine what a Musk-led tech-bro global oligarchy would be like… Marc Andreessen as Head of Treasury? Sheryl Sandberg as Chief of Staff? Jack Dorsey as Vice-President of Twitter and the World? Worldcoin as legal tender??)
Unbelievable right now… but something like this could happen, I suppose… very few people called SpaceX or Tesla — now with massive “machines that makes machines” gigafactories far more advanced than any other manufacturing facility of that scale.
Anyway, with that scenario lodged in your mind, now watch this rather fawning TED interview with the man himself from just a few weeks back (the day after making his offer for Twitter), without shifting uncomfortably in your chair…
🕸️Web3 is going great
Hah… “Web3 enabled P2P mesh”…. not so fast.
Just in the last week there has been a rash of Web3
clusterfucks teething problems:
A bug(/exploit) in NFT project Akutars resulted in over 11,500 ETH, worth nearly US$33 million, to be locked up forever within a smart contract, inaccessible even to the development team.
The low-gas-fee Solana network went down for 7 Hours as bots swarmed the ‘Candy Machine’ NFT minting tool…
….while at the other end of the gas spectrum, Bored Ape Yacht Club makers Yuga Labs launched their Otherside Metaverse project: 55,000 “Otherdeeds” were sold at a flat price of 305 ApeCoin (around US$5,800 each), raising about US$285 million in what was considered the “largest NFT mint in history.” HOWEVER… buyers (I hesitate to use the word “investors”) spent a combined US$176 million in ETH gas fees… and caused the Ethereum network to clog up as well…
Just one example of the cognitive dissonance currently in this space:
Don’t get me wrong… crypto and “Web3” technology isn’t going away any time soon - but there are still many iterations to go for mass adoption to move beyond this NFT-grifting targeted at the mathematically illiterate….
Crypto in future will likely offer a spectrum of protections: those who choose to will always be able to transact directly in layer 1 (eg Bitcoin or ETH - but forfeiting any legal defence against loss/theft…)… but it’s becoming clearer to me that mainstream acceptance will need more advanced social, legal and regulatory protocols which provide more traditional legal-style protections… (Not totally dissimilar from banks today, tbh…)
Phew… and now on to general business.
Following on from Memia 2022.09 DroneDAO Wars, the US army is testing the biggest interactive drone swarm ever:
And Snap launched a new selfie drone, the Pixy. (I remember then-Ōtautahi-based entrepreneur Owen Flanagan trying to get his Selfiebot startup off the ground back in 2014! Timing…)
With all of the attention focused on Elon Musk and Twitter right now, Mark Zuckerburg must be seriously enjoying being out of the spotlight and getting on with building…
This week, Meta’s VR roadmap started leaking out, with four new headsets targeted for release by 2024, including Project Cambria, a high-end VR and XR headset billed as a device for the future of work, “replacing your laptop or work setup”.
The Verge also reports that the Cambria headset will run Meta’s Android OS and will have processing power more like a low-end laptop, like a “Chromebook for the face” that runs web apps in VR and XR.
💋Kissing in VR
On the subject of VR…researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group (FIG), have developed a new way to make users feel sensations in the mouth area while wearing a VR headset. The “mouth haptics” device uses an ultrasound phased array to stimulate lips, teeth and tongue in a virtual environment. Check it out:
The research doesn’t mention anything about kissing, but Gizmodo goes there and beyond:
“If and when someone runs with this idea and commercializes the mouth haptics hardware, we’re undoubtedly going to see the world’s first virtual reality kissing booth realized, among other experiences the researchers are probably wisely tip-toeing around.”
(Thanks @HoneyBeeGeek for giving me an excuse to include the word “[Tele]dildonics” two newsletters in a row!)
Industrial scale 3D bioprinted cultured meat is here.
🌌Welcome to the dark forest
This popped up in my feed, uncannily overlapping with much of my thinking:
In particular, celebrated Chinese sci-fi writer Cixin Liu’s theory about the Dark Forest of our galaxy still keeps me awake at night when I think about it:
“Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.”
Kickstarter cofounder Yancey Strickler, writing in 2019, translated the same concept to the internet today: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet, tracking the growth in private channels, newsletters and communities:
“In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.
…These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.”
👌An optimist’s guide to the future
More positively, the Guardian reviews Israeli economist Oded Galor’s sprawling new book “The Journey of Humanity“:
“…the signal characteristic of The Journey of Humanity is its optimism. If you need an evidence-based antidote to doomscrolling, here it is. The extraordinary increases in standards of living, huge falls in child mortality, incredible gains in knowledge and technology – these are the products of inexorable forces that are not going anywhere, Galor argues, and will only augment as time goes on.”
This week’s shout outs around the motu go to…
NZ's Food and Fibre think tank, Te Puna Whakaaronui (TPW) released an insightful report calling a likely inflection point for permanent global food system change- which will impact all aspects of Aotearoa’s food system, from exporting producers to domestic consumers.
New Zealand Post… soft-launching an innovation spike to test recycling of software plastics by mail, to be made into fenceposts.
Startup Ocean Flyer announced its aim to purchase and operate a fleet of 25 electric ground-effect seagliders - promising to fly people on routes such as Wellington to Lyttelton in 1 hour for $60 a seat, starting in 2025.
Lots of safety and regulatory questions to be answered before then… but maybe it could just be a better ROI than passenger rail for a long country surrounded by ocean with a mostly coastal population…?
(The Soviet Union was the first to develop ground-effect planes with the giant Ekranoplan - also known as the Caspian Sea Monster).
A few lighthearted moments to round out the week with:
This squirrel’s reaction🤣:
And finally, the awesome Australian TheJuiceMedia closed out with the “Season 2 Finale” of their Honest Government Ad satires. Aussie election day less that 3 weeks out now.
We desperately need a TheJuiceMedia equivalent over here, people…!
As always thanks for letting me into your inbox every week, and especially everyone who reaches out with feedback and links - appreciated!🙏🙏🙏
Catch you again on Sunday.
In my defence, I discovered that Google Slides doesn’t support transparent gradients…