Memia 2022.18🇺🇦: Two victory days✌️🖕// precipitous...📉// blue beret drone swarms?🇺🇳// prototyping 2040🔮// high hopes labs🎈// poo plant upgrade💩// 4X4 on legs🦿// political terraforming👀
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Welcome to the midweek Memia newsletter, your regular scan across emerging tech and the unfolding future, as viewed from the Meta-Aotearoa-verse.
In this issue: some incredible tech advances in drone swarms, VR, AR and transport in particular. (Hopefully by now from reading these newsletters you’ve somewhat internalized accelerating technological change - however even I admit to being a bit futureshocked this week.)
Also, this is one of those newsletters that I sat down and went “what am I going to write about…?!?” and then reviewed the Memia Twitter feed of everything I’ve been scanning … and now it’s probably the *Longest. Memia. Ever*.
🤷So best to:
(And hurry up with that Android app, eh Substack…)
🙏This week, a big shout out to all the paid Memia subscribers for supporting my writing. You are officially awesome, thank you!
😇(If you’re not a paid subscriber and want to be awesome too, it’s only NZ$99/year:)
Thanks to Kaila Colbin for pulling me up on a detail from last week’s newsletter: in my excitement at being a political seer, I wrongly summarised an article on the Green party’s new leadership policy by saying that they had “removed gender-based rules”. Actually the article I linked to said:
"The Green Party constitution no longer requires a male co-leader, instead requiring one woman and one person of any gender"
I stand corrected. (Chlöe is still go for the co-leadership, tho…)
E Tipu tix
Kaila is also the organiser of the third E Tipu: Boma Agri Summit being held on 21-22 June. This year’s speaker lineup is looking stellar - in particular I’m looking forward to hooking into a rapidly evolving advances in Aotearoa AgriTech and the international Ag VC funding landscape. (I’m also looking forward to the food, which is *amazing*).
If you haven’t booked already, Memia readers can get a ticket discount, click the links below:
Maybe catch you there. :-)
Before we get into the tech…. so much to keep an eye on around the world…
✌️🖕Two Victory Days
I’m finding it pretty hard to make much much sense of what’s happening on the ground from the OSINT / misinformation coming from all sides on Twitter right now. Signal-to-Noise ratio has gone down a lot in the last couple of weeks for me.
However, it seems that Putin’s Victory Day parade in Moscow turned out to be a damp squib, with no declaration of “victory” or general mobilisation as was predicted by Western media.
On the other hand, Zelenskyy’s Victory Day message was altogether more stirring:
“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine”
Watch the whole thing below, truly a master of social media (as well as wartime leadership, natch…).
🤡Send in McKinsey
On the related topic of Russian sanctions: there is (satirical) controversy over the US and UK decisions to ban exporting management consultancy services to Russia:
Samuel Ramani @SamRamani2BREAKING: The U.S. will join Britain in banning the provision of management consulting services to Russia
Asset prices locally and worldwide continue on a downward trajectory this week…
Bernard Hickey in the Kākā covers Westpac NZ’s updated Aotearoa house price predictions - projected down 15% over 2022 and 2023:
The Economist (via Jarden’s @maddireidy) agrees:
Over in China…
Ex-pat Kiwi Tony Fiddis provides in-depth news and analysis in his regular China Update podcast and Youtube channel. His recent update below gives a vivid impression of simmering tensions with the ongoing “dynamic zero covid” lockdowns across Shanghai and now Beijing, together with reports that sales in China’s housing market are down over 50% YoY. Worth a regular follow.
…And in the US, Fed Reserve monetary tightening is squeezing assets across the board:
Crypto markets are down >50% from their November 2021 highs:
And tech stocks aren’t faring much better:
(What’s that they say about “buying the dip”?)
Japan's population fell by a record 644,000 to 125.5 million in 2021, a combination of low birth rate and a sharp decline in foreign residents. That’s about 0.05% in one year.
A new American Geophysical Union (AGU) research study found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, agricultural water scarcity is predicted to intensify in 84% of cropland from 2026 to 2050. (Dark brown indicates greater water scarcity).
At least there was one piece of positive news this week: the US state of California (the 5th largest economy in the world) hit a record 99.87% renewable electricity supply last Saturday, serving 18,672 megawatts sourced mostly from solar power generation.
🇺🇳Blue beret drone swarms?
One of the most significant technological breakthroughs that I’ve been anticipating for some time happened last week, at least a year earlier than I expected.
A team of researchers from China’s Zhejiang University have published their work developing intelligent microdrone swarming behaviour in the wild - the capabilities shown in their demo video below are profound - navigating easily through a thick forest, tracking a person even when occluded. Huge kudos to the research team for their achievements.
But as ExtremeTech sums up:
“The swarm has another interesting and somewhat alarming capability. The designers showed the algorithm can follow a human target through the environment with incredible accuracy. If one robot loses sight of the target because they walk behind a tree, another will be able to maintain visual contact. That means the first robot still knows where the target is and can pick up again on the other side of the obstruction. With more development, this technology could make it virtually impossible for a person to evade the swarm. What happens then is up to the operator of said drone swarm.”
There are a number of thoughts which jump into my mind about how this tech may be used… mostly scary, but also veering towards the (naïvely?) optimistic:
Firstly, there are thousands of positive use cases to think about here - conservation, forestry, agriculture, construction, engineering… this research could make such a difference to any labour-supply-challenged activity operating outdoors.
(See Seed-firing drones below, for example)
BUT: this is also without doubt *the future of military hardware*. Even though Aotearoa should continue to support international diplomatic efforts to restrict autonomous weapons use, the ongoing development of this technology for offensive military use is unlikely to be stoppable now.
Remaining tech challenges - rechargeable power supply, battery life - will all likely be resolvable…probably the only way to disable a swarm like this would be to let off a localised EMP…which may be workable around too.
The tech could easily be open sourced and made 3D-printable as well… so it won’t only be large state actors that get their hands on these drone swarm capabilities. Small states, plus hostile (and perhaps benign) non-state actors - maybe “dark web” hacker groups like Anonymous - could secretly develop and manufacture this tech at scale. They could be produced in modular shipping container factories and shipped anywhere around the world undetected.
It feels like a race condition has been reached with this video - very soon military microdrone swarms might face off against other swarms in “drone wars”: may the best AI (coupled with the best satellite internet connection) win…
ON THE OTHER HAND, I am also quietly optimistic that developing this tech could mean that we never again see the mass casualties of war which we are witnessing in Ukraine in 2022. If this technology is already smart enough to detect individual humans then it will also be able to be programmed to avoid fatally wounding them. It could also spot (and pre-emptively disable) large artillery to prevent indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas.
In fact, the most optimistic scenario is that — in the right hands — autonomous drone swarms could actually result in all warfare becoming a zero-fatality “policing” exercise — disabling any hostile military actors, anywhere in the world if they [threaten to] break internationally-ratified laws of war.
(Send the next nano-generation down nuclear missile siloes with welding torches too…)
Could drone swarms like these be a new UN Blue Beret pre-emptive peacekeeping force?
If so (and even if not), wouldn’t some of Aotearoa’s increasing military budget arguably be better deployed on building drone capabilties than on more planes and boats to carry ever-scarcer military personnel…??
As I said above, this has turned out to be a rather overwhelming week of new tech and future-signalling developments… thinning the list down has been harder than usual.
FutureS Thinking is a Polish-led foresight think tank, who recently released Prototyping 2040:
“…a vision of four prototypes for western civilisation in 2040. To create the prototypes, the FutureS Thinking team critically analysed thousands of signals of change. The prototypes revolve around issues of social, economic and environmental importance. We looked at such aspects as work, everyday life, mobility, city planning, industry and finance. In addition, we investigated a number of key values that determine each of those aspects. The prototypes were created to inspire organisations, businesses and institutions to think with a longer perspective, and help them prepare for the changes which, in our opinion, are inevitable.”
The four scenarios are titled:
Less Is Enough
Worth a deeper explore and perhaps you can use these in your own organisation’s strategic planning?
🎈High hopes labs
Israeli climate startup High Hopes Labs claims to have trialled an affordable, scalable method of capturing frozen CO2 14km above Earth. They aim to catch 1,000 tonnes per balloon per day, for less than US$50 a tonne. This could be huge if it works at scale:
🤯GPT-4 is coming
The world’s next most advanced generative AI text model is expected sometime around July-August this year. AI expert Alberto Romero sums up what we know about it.
🥽Meet me in the Meta-verse (for real)
Meta’s early avatar collaboration technology demos were somewhat underwhelming - everyone (including myself) was rather dismissive…
Oh, but the things you can do with ~US$3Bn per quarter… now check out this latest avatar demo below - and then measure against the cost of all the world’s office real estate and business travel expenses. Perhaps Zuck’s not so dumb.
Two AR developments in the last week worth following up:
Niantic announced that it will be launching their city-scale Lightship visual positioning system for AR devices later this month, which will enable multiple devices to localize themselves in an urban environment - effectively this enables people using multiple devices to interact with the same object in AR out on any street.
And this demo turned up online showing the capabilities of Snap’s new City Landmarker feature:
(Given the carnage in the capital markets currently, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a Niantic / Snap merger some time soon…lots of complementarity)
💩Poo plant upgrade
Back down to Earth with a bump in the real world…
Living in Ōtautahi right now involves living with an exceptionally unpleasant lingering sulphurous smell, particularly if the wind is blowing in from the East, due to the ongoing saga of the burned-out poo plant. (My massive sympathies are there with the citizens of Bromley and surrounds, it must be completely unbearable to live next to, especially with no end in sight.)
Christchurch City Council is apparently still in negotiations with the insurers… but they could turn this unfortunate event into a long term win by following the Queensland city of Logan, which is the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to turn human waste into renewable energy with the opening of Australia's first biosolids gasification plant:
[Missing Drone Emoji] Even more drones…
Seed-firing drones: Australian start-up AirSeed Technology is using a fleet of 'octocopter' drones to fight deforestation by combining AI with specially designed seed pods which can be fired into the ground from high in the sky.
Silent drones: Florida-based startup Undefined Technologies has designed a drone it calls Silent Ventus - an all-electric flying machine powered by ion propulsion that promises a minimum noise signature.
🌾🍲Future farms, future food
Solar farming: This video from the WEF profiles a farm in Kenya growing crops under solar panels to improve productivity and water use:
Chew your food: University of Cambridge researchers have trained a robotic chef to chew food and “taste as you go”:
“If robots are to be used for certain aspects of food preparation, it’s important that they are able to ‘taste’ what they’re cooking”
Microbe-based “Faux beef”: increasingly, the carbon economics of traditional beef farming just don’t stack up:
THOR at sea: Norwegian maritime solutions company Ulstein unveiled ‘THOR’ - a new thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) vessel concept that could potentially power zero-emission cruises and other oceangoing craft. They design cool-looking boats too.
Magnetic bubbles in space: Sending astronauts on long-duration missions to other worlds would right now be impossible because of the hazardous radiation levels in space outside of Earth’s protective magnetic field. A new “Magnetic Bubble” prototype could change that.
🦿4X4 on legs: Hyundai is seriously building one of these:
World’s first fully-electric submersible hydrofoil: Deepseaker is in production, capable of hydrofoiling above the water at speeds of up to 23 knots (43 km/h) or dive down to 50m underwater.
Let’s just go easy on the mind expanding links today, eh😅 - I’ll keep most of the long reads back for Memia on Sunday!
Bryan Johnson (founder of brain-reading helmet startup Kernel) has a new publicity wheeze: getting his brain scanned while off his socks on Ketamine.
“Ketamine is a medication primarily used for induction and maintenance of anesthesia. It induces dissociative anesthesia, a trance-like state providing pain relief, sedation, and amnesia.”
🐔🐎Revenge of the chickenized reverse centaurs
Thanks @LeighElse for flagging Cory Doctorow’s latest podcast, proposing “a theory of the relationship between algorithms, interoperability and worker power”:
“A chickenized reverse-centaur is a worker who is misclassified as a contractor, micromanaged like an employee, and given no guarantees of pay or hours. This is end-stage app work capitalism, as with Doordash and Uber, where workers don't get to see the full amount on offer until they take the job.”
The solution? "Counter-algorithmic" apps:
The high-tech version of this comes from Indonesia, where tuyul apps – created by and for gig drivers – directly modify the way the companies' apps work. For example, one tuyul feature allows drivers to spoof GPS data, which means they can book fares from commuters arriving at train stations without having to jostle in (and exacerbate) the traffic jams that surround them.
A great read as usual from Cory.
🚀Catch me if you can
With all the attention on the recent achievements of SpaceX, it’s worth giving a shout out to celebrate local(*ish) champion Rocket Lab’s latest success, catching a returning rocket with a helicopter just off Horomaka / Banks Peninsula (from 51min in):
Also a shout out to John Hart for highlighting this *not totally unlikely* flip side of the benevolent tech oligarchy scenario I discussed last week: Eyes open!
To close on the usual lighter note, a selection of tweets which have had me chuckling to myself this week…
And finally, with all the attention on Ramraiders in the mainstream news right now, here’s the original Ram Raider:
Thanks for letting me into your inbox every week, and especially everyone who has been reaching out with feedback and links - my inbox has been really busy for the last few weeks, I really appreciate it, keep them coming!🙏🙏🙏
Catch you again on Sunday.