Memia 2022.19: Emissions reduction plan reduction🏭🤦// going 10km underground♨️// Pantheon of synthetic humans🧑🤝🧑🧑🤝🧑// future superhuman💪🧠// black hole at the heart of our galaxy🕳️
The world is not set up for ape-brained meatsacks any more
Welcome to the midweek Memia newsletter - scanning across emerging tech and thinking about the future from Aotearoa New Zealand.
iOS users - a reminder that you can read Memia in the Substack app (click below). For Gmail users, you can click on the email title above to read online and avoid the annoying “[Message clipped]” link.
(This week it emerged that the US Pentagon has been testing The Epirus system, a high-power microwave technology for use against drone threats.)
I had a great time last week speaking at my first in-person conference in a long time, TechMarketers #TMG22. Needless to say there were lots of DALLE-2 pictures🎨. I enjoyed meeting everyone on the day and great work from my good friend Justin Flitter and the TMG team for organising…good to get out and about again!
Also in the past week…:
🏭🤦Emissions reduction plan reduction
Minister for Climate Change James Shaw launched the Government’s flagship Emissions Reduction Plan, setting out a strategy to achieve the reductions specified by the 2022-2025 emissions budget. The plan includes spending “only” NZ$2.9b of the NZ$4.5b Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF) over the next four years, funded through the Emissions Trading Scheme.
I’ve only had time to skim commentary this week - but general impression has been “meh” from the environmentalist side - although a start, seems to be too many watered down measures which won’t move the CO2 dial far enough, soon enough. A few immediate jumpouts for me:
Bernard Hickey: A tame, late and skimpy Emissions Reduction Plan:
What’s Not in the plan?
no plan to ban imports of petrol and diesel-powered cars by any date, which was recommended by the Climate Commission and widely done overseas;
a decision not to stop new connections to the domestic gas network from 2025;
no decisions on congestion charges for Auckland or anywhere else, other than a vague suggestion of more consultation and no action for at least two and a half years;
no announcement of an extension of the half-price bus, train and ferry fares beyond the current three months;
no funding for future larger subsidies of public transport to ensure some sort of just transition;
no significant measures to encourage investment in renewable electricity generation or remove the current one million tonnes of coal currently being fed into Huntly by Genesis Energy to power Auckland; and,
the assumption about the closure of Tiwai Pt has been removed from the plan, which adds to the burden of moving to 100% renewable electricity and means the 30% fall in wholesale electricity prices cannot be relied upon to enable the transition.
…and NO ETS participation for the Agriculture sector until 2025 - Reluctance to move faster on agriculture sector emissions 'quite terrifying'!
Subsidies for EVs, not e-Bikes, despite e-Bikes and scooters outselling EVs 1:6 in Aotearoa
And…not a single mention of DACCS (Direct Air Carbon Capture and Sequestration)… my 2c: without investing in this tech at scale, no amount of emissions reductions will make a big enough difference.
(And no I’m not #greenwishing, I just grok how rapidly exponential tech can be deployed when it has the right amount of investment behind it).
…Part of a DACCS solution could be as simple as spreading readily available basalt rock dust on farmland, recent UK research has modelled:
“the potential of rock dust to offset the [UK[’s emissions was huge: by 2050, it could be removing up to 30 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, capturing almost half—45%—of the emissions the UK needs to vanquish from its atmosphere, if it hopes to reach its 2050 net zero targets...with successive applications of rock dust to farmland, the amount of captured CO2 could cumulatively reach up to 800 million tons by 2070”
🚦Starting the KiwiSaaS capability engine
The day before that, the govt also announced a NZ$20M investment into the Kiwi digital tech sector, including support for KiwiSaaS, a “capability engine” to meet ambitious staffing growth of the SaaS sector in the next few years and address the acute onshore skills shortages exacerbated by Covid and immigration rules:
Headline numbers from the press release:
The Aotearoa tech industry1 has grown around 77 percent faster than the general economy in the past seven years.
In 2020 alone, it contributed $7.4 billion to the economy.
Overall, very positive news: I would view this as forward-looking intent to drive towards a more tech-weighted economy in future, particularly as conventional agriculture will be challenged by climate change, sustainability regulation and high labour costs. Still not entirely sure that MBIE understands the tech sector or its potential though.
Recognition goes to NZTech CEO Graeme Muller and his team for pushing hard on this issue for several years and finally getting the result over the line. Ka pai.
↔️Diverging tech stacks
Turning my attention internationally…
Another significant development in the ongoing bifurcation of Western/Chinese tech stacks around the world: China’s government has ordered central agencies and state-backed corporations to replace foreign-branded PCs with domestic alternatives within two years.
“As the cost of technology has dropped, India has rolled out a national “tech stack”: a set of state-sponsored digital services that link ordinary Indians with an electronic identity, payments and tax systems, and bank accounts. The rapid adoption of these platforms is forcing a vast, inefficient, informal cash economy into the 21st century. It has turbocharged the world’s third-largest startup scene after America’s and China’s.”
🤑Sixty bucks a share
As covered on Sunday, Elon Musk is currently on Tweeting manouevres to haggle down the price of his Twitter acquisition, or maybe even exit the deal entirely, who can tell…
But Bloomberg’s Matt Levine games it out beautifully:
🕳️Black hole at the heart of our galaxy
And at an entirely different scale…last week astronomers unveiled the first image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, produced by the collaborative global research team running the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which combines observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes.
Going a bit deeper, I learned a few new things about black holes from this informative thread:
Yet another week of future-shaping technological advances coming in thick and fast. (Interestingly 2 weeks in a row with lots of significant Metaverse/VR/AR themed developments…)
👓Instant translation specs
Google teased a very convincing demo of forthcoming “live translation glasses” at this year’s I/O conference. “Subtitles for the real world” the video says. (This feature was promised years ago by the erstwhile Google Glass… sometimes these things take their time to arrive).
And Mark Zuckerberg leaked another teaser of the full-colour pass-through augmented reality experience coming soon as part of their Project Cambria headset. Although the demo is mostly Pokemon-type demo fluff, I am almost ready to believe that this next generation of VR/AR devices really could replace my laptop and enable me to work productively in 3 dimensions while travelling anywhere.
A Pantheon of synthetic humans
And yet more mindblowing demos… Hong Kong-based PantheonLab.AI released this video of their new synthetic human technologies at work - another advance on Unreal Engine Metahuman Creator - “people” made with this tech are now just about indistinguishable from the real thing.
I’ve previously predicted in Memia 2021.06 This metahuman does not exist🧔👱🧕🧖🙎 that we are rapidly exiting “Uncanny Valley” and most people will not be able to tell the difference between a synthetic / digital human and a real one in a video going forward. Combine this with even more sophisticated text-to-speech models like the upcoming GPT-4, more sophisticated emotion emulation software, it’s going to get wild out there in the metaverse trying to tell the humans from the NPCs.
One reflection: that’s pretty much it now for actors, pop stars and TV presenters. “Puff”. That career path just disappeared for good.
(I suppose a positive thing out of this is it will surely stop young people from aspiring to a career as a fashion model ever again!)
🥽🌕🥾Making VR realer
A couple of bizarre-o haptic devices filtering through this week: VR Moon Boots and a weird mask which makes it harder to breathe in VR. Who saw *that* coming?
It won’t just be actors and models who might be out of a job soon - here’s another couple of convincing demos of GPT-3 writing useful code from a simple text prompt. (I’ve chatted to a few experienced devs recently who use GitHub Copilot who say it really takes the load off…)
✈️Never mind the CO2 emissions
Mach5 commercial aircraft may arrive just after fossil fuels become legally impossible to burn…
The Hydropanel is a solar-powered device which extracts water vapour from the air and produces clean, potable water. In the right conditions it can pull up to 10 litres of water out of the air in 24 hours. Could be transformational for future water security around the world.
♨️Going 10km underground
I covered Geothermal energy startup Quaise in Memia 2022.10 - aiming to build the deepest geothermal power plants in the world, at least 10km into the Earth’s crust in most places. This technology could completely replace all fossil fuel energy use if it works - Eli Dourado estimates that there is 23,800x the amount of energy in the earth's crust as from coal, oil, gas, and methane combined.
Thanks to Eli for sharing Calvin French-Owen’s detailed notes of his recent tour of the Quaise research facility:
“There are a handful of (mostly volcanic) places where temperatures near the surface are quite high and you only need to go a few kilometers deep: Iceland, Italy, and New Zealand to name a few.
But everywhere else, we need to go deep. Very deep. 10km-underground-deeper-than-the-Mariana-trench deep.”
Quaise is aiming to develop low-cost drilling to 10km depths via a high energy milimeter-wave rather than a drillbit.
Elise Bohan is a Senior Research Scholar at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI). She has recently published a new book: Future Superhuman, exploring transhumanism in the near future:
From the book cover notes:
We’re hurtling towards a superhuman future – or, if we blunder, extinction. The only way out of our existential crises, from global warming to the risks posed by nuclear weapons, novel and bioengineered pathogens and unaligned AI, is up. We’ll need more technology to safeguard our future – and we’re going to invent and perhaps even merge with some of that technology.
What does that mean for our 20th century life-scripts? Are the robots coming for our jobs? How will human relationships change when AI knows us inside out? Will we still be having human babies by the century’s end? Elise Bohan unflinchingly explores possibilities most of us are afraid to imagine: the impacts of automation on our jobs, livelihoods and dating and mating careers, the stretching out of ‘the-circle-of-life’, the rise of AI friends and lovers, the liberation of women from pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, and the impending global baby-bust – and attendant proliferation of digital minds.
Or, as futurist Calum Chace puts it:
“Future Superhuman” is a welcome addition to the growing literature about our exponential future. Elise Bohan’s style is engagingly blunt: “we’re loath to admit it, but the world is not set up for ape-brained meatsacks any more.”
(My reading list keeps getting exponentially longer…)🤦
🧬Preparing for CRISPR
A number of futurists I follow have precision biotech driven by CRISPR genetic engineering as *the* major driver of social and economic change. But the very likely implications of this tech are still not fully embedded into our models of the future.
Samira Kiani, professor of genetic engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, published a a long and thoughtful column in Canada’s Globe and Mail: Human genetic engineering is coming. We must discuss the social and political implications now:
“We simply do not know the biological implications of human germline editing, and can’t fully know them without waiting 80 years to see how an embryos altered genome plays out over the course of a lifetime.
The culture of science is not equipped with that sort of patience. The social and political implications of gene editing are also huge unknowns, and unfortunately there’s been scant debate among policy makers and the general public.
Within the small, insular world of CRISPR researchers, it is assumed that work…is under way, most likely in privately funded labs, or in countries where the idea of engineering humans for morally questionable reasons – think designer babies and superhuman soldiers – could be viewed not as taboo, but as politically and economically desirable.”
Shout-outs around the motu (and beyond…) this week:
Congratulations to Singapore-based Kiwi entrepreneur Paul Copplestone, CEO of software company Supabase who have secured US$80 million (NZ$126.8m) in Series B funding…at a difficult time in capital markets, fair to say! (Supabase is an open-source alternative to Google’s Firebase - in a recent interview Paul indicated stratospheric growth of 1,900% in the last 12 months, now with 80,000 developers and over 100,000 databases on the service).
Get along to one the many online and in-person events happening this week for Techweek 22, “New Zealand’s Festival of Tech & Innovation”.
A few more lighthearted moments to end with:
Asking dumb questions
Malkovich? MALKOVICH! Malkovich.
I finally got around to re-watching Spike Jonze’s debut feature film, Being John Malkovich again last weekend for the first time in years (flagged onto the watchlist way back in Memia 2021.40)… wow I’d forgotten how utterly, uniquely, surreally funny this film was! The script contains so many pearlers:
“You don't know how lucky you are being a monkey. Because consciousness is a terrible curse. I think. I feel. I suffer. And all I ask in return is the opportunity to do my work. And they won't allow it... because I raise issues.”
And the plot is *off the rails*:
Craig Schwartz: There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Maxine: Sounds great! Who the fuck is John Malkovich?
Craig Schwartz: Oh, he's an actor. He's one of the great American actors of the 20th century.
Maxine: Oh yeah? What's he been in?
Craig Schwartz: Lots of things. That jewel thief movie, for example. He's very well respected. Anyway, the point is... this is a very odd thing. It's supernatural, for lack of a better word. I mean, it raises all sorts of philosophical-type questions, you know... about the nature of self, about the existence of a soul. You know, am I me? Is Malkovich Malkovich? I had a piece of wood in my hand Maxine. I don't have it any more. Where is it? Did it disappear? How could that be? Is it still in Malkovich's head? I don't know! Do you see what a metaphysical can of worms this portal is? I don't see how I could go on living my life the way I've lived it before.
[Maxine gestures toward a 7.5 story high window]
(Check out some of the other best quotes from the film).
After watching it again, I came across this fantastic review from 2019 by Rob Harvilla in The Ringer, celebrating 20 years after the film was released: ‘Being John Malkovich’ Was a Head Trip Masterpiece—and the Best Film of 1999.
Here’s the trailer, just to jog your memory, a must-watch movie.
And finally, a unique cafe in Tokyo serves coffee to writers on a deadline but won’t let you leave until you’ve completed your work!
As always, thanks for letting me into your inbox every week, and especially everyone who reaches out with feedback and links - I really appreciate it, keep them coming!🙏🙏🙏
Catch you again on Sunday.