Memia 2022.21: Mood: juxtaposition😵💫// "security cooperation"🙅// graphene LOOP➰// goodbye deforestation?🪵// text-to-Imagen🖼️// Abbatars🕺💃💃🕺// Alice, Bob and now Charlie⚛️🌐
You are a self-completing idea about yourself, a strange loop, and your own Reality
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter - scanning across the latest developments in emerging tech and thinking about the future from Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
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⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa
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My news feed this week has felt like the world is being pulled apart in multiple incoherent directions at once. Five juxtaposed impressions:
🇺🇦✊The 100-day (and counting) war
Russia’s destructive invasion of Ukraine has now been going on for 100 days, with the current territorial boundaries seemingly at a tightly contested stalemate despite recent marginal Russian gains in the east of the country (see animation map). Hundreds of lives continue to be lost every week.
Western resolve to continue backing the Ukrainian government despite mounting energy and food supply issues remains in place…for now. And disinformation(?) seems to be escalating on all sides…British tabloids have gone for clickbait broke this week with headlines of Putin’s death and replacement with a body double.
Meanwhile the environment is the silent victim: this BBC podcast discusses the environmental impacts of the war - and how environmental concerns can be given a voice amid relentless coverage of fighting and human suffering.
“…with airstrikes taking place in some of the most industrialised areas in the east of the country, the risk of long-term contamination from damaged coal mines and nuclear installations is very real.”
The intractably insane politics of passing any kind of gun control legislation in the US beggars belief (after yet another awful terrorist mass school shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas).
Contrast with: guns were banned during ex-president Trump's speech at this week’s NRA conference. (Due to US Secret Service requirements, not NRA, but still…).
…See also: John Oliver from 2014, Gun Control Whoop-De-Doo which delivers a solid counterpoint to pro-gun arguments: Australia’s successful gun control measures. (h/t Roger Dennis for sharing).
📉📈🤦Capital markets…more broken than ever
While major tech company values have plummeted so far this year, the market cap of top performing fossil fuel companies has been driven spectacularly higher on the back of a 60% increase in oil prices over the same period. (Chevron and Exxon Mobil market cap are both up >60% in 6 months).
Contrast this against:
The latest record CO2 readings on the Keeling Curve, which keeps on going up…:
🌴Pacific…but for how long?
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi is on a whirlwind tour of the Pacific, pushing a region-wide cooperation deal with Pacific island nations covering policing, security and data communication. (The proposal was passed back… for now… but the timing, with the recent change of government in Canberra, is surely not a coincidence. Our mostly peaceful region is definitely in play.
In the same week, the BBC released a powerful expose based upon thousands of photos and documents hacked from Chinese police servers in Xinjiang - revealing the human cost of the policy of Uyghur detention… ”targeting almost any expression of Uyghur identity, culture”
And 30 Chinese military planes entered Taiwanese airspace.
🙅Both stories put a sharper lens on the term “policing and security cooperation”.
Beyond all limits
Buried inside the latest UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) report is the warning of increased risk of total societal collapse due to breaching of planetary boundaries. (Oh happy days…)
In the same week: Aotearoa environmental scientists found that measuring degradative water effects, up to 11,000 litres of water are required to make one litre of milk. Mike Joy writes in The Conversation:
“Globally, synthetic nitrogen production has now eclipsed all that produced by natural systems. This disruption of the nitrogen cycle seriously threatens global human sustainability, not only through its impacts on the climate, but also through localised impacts on fresh water.”
And yet intensive, synthetic nitrogen-based dairy farming in Aotearoa just…continues.
Mind the (age) gap
Finally, I recently wrote in Memia 2022.15 Politics needs a new user interface about the voter turnout gap between younger and older generations and how — if younger voters actually turn out at the next election — changing demographics means that the government would like look very different to anything I’ve ever known in my boomer-majority lifetime.
Not so much a juxtaposition, but this acidic campaign ad from the US makes the point deliciously (h/t spotting by Brett Roberts). (I can just imagine the Aotearoa version already: no wealth tax, free Super, Gold cards and NIMBY housing regs taking centre stage). Gloves are off, then.
Onwards to Memia’s weekly curation of emerging tech signals from the near and far future. (As always, try to visualise an exponential curve driving increased frequency X 🤯mindblowing-ness of this section’s links each week!)
The Economist reports on a new application of “wonder-material” graphene ($$$): UK startup Levidian Nanosystems announced a deal with UAE-based Zero Carbon Ventures for 500 shipping-container-sized units which take methane emitted from landfill or oil-production sites, and turn it into hydrogen, along with a pile of graphene:
“The LOOP process uses microwaves to turn methane (a molecule composed of a carbon atom and four hydrogens) into a plasma by stripping electrons from its molecules. This causes the chemical bonds holding the molecule together to break, thus creating hydrogen (which is extracted from the top of the reaction chamber) and high-quality graphene (which collects at the bottom). The process does not rely on any catalysts.“
(Promo video here:)
In one key application, the graphene can then be used to strengthen cement, significantly reducing GHG emissions globally:
“The 5bn tonnes of cement produced each year … account for some 8% of the world’s anthropogenic CO2, and generate abnormally high emissions per dollar of revenue earned compared even with other polluting industries. Yet if less than 0.1% by weight of graphene is added to the mixture, concrete ends up 30% stronger. And stronger concrete means less of it is needed, with a consequent reduction in CO2.“
LOOP me in.
Synthetic meat, synthetic milk… it had to happen: synthetic wood.
Researchers at MIT have demonstrated a potential solution to deforestation (or commercial forestry, for that matter): 3D-bioprinted “lab-grown timber” which can be grown to any shape or size. Plus, early results show growth at least 2X the speed of a regular trees in nature.
Google AI released Imagen, their new text-to-image diffusion AI model with “an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding.”
(At the same time they released a text-to-image AI benchmarking tool called “Drawbench” - which (obviously) produces favourable results for Imagen vs. OpenAI’s recently state-of-the-art DALL-E 2 and others.)
Here’s a thread with some side-by-side comparisons and, yes, Imagen certainly does appear sharper to the untrained eye on most instructions).
NeRFy digital twins
A few recent lurches forward for AR / Digital Twin tech stacks:
More from the impressive team at Google Research, showing off the latest advances in NeRF (Neural Radiance Fields) which now enables “unbounded” view synthesis:
(Compare capabilities against this recent demo video of NVIDIA AI Instant NeRF based on drone footage flying over a mountaintop town).
This NeRF research underpins the announcement at Google I/O a few weeks ago of Immersive View for Google Maps, starting to roll out later this year. Not just views of building exteriors… but the interiors as well.
On the other side of the AR metaverse, Niantic officially launched Lightship VPS - its visual positioning system forming an underlying 3D map of the world so that AR devices can share the same frame of reference, even on massive scales:
Rave reviews are coming in from the first few nights of Abba Voyage, the new virtual concert phenomenon in London in which the original band members play “live” concerts featuring 3D holograms of their younger selves (“Abbatars”), recorded using mo-cap suits over the last few years:
Some footage from opening night below (41 years since their last concert!), by all accounts, it’s quite convincing, and certainly entertaining.
(YouTube is playing copyright whackamole with these concert footage videos so just search “Abba Voyage” if the one below doesn’t work).
Some behind the scenes footage:
The future of “live” music concerts just got way more interesting… I’m imagining that artists will start to play like this in multiple venues simultaneously…duets between alive and dead (and completely synthetic) musicians…and then the next (…but one) generation of VR headsets should make it just as real to tune in from home. (Those 30,000-seat stadiums will just sit empty…)
💯Kudos to Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn not just for making such timeless music but for innovating at the forefront of technology and art.
⚛️🌐Alice, Bob and now Charlie
Dutch researchers at Delft University led by physicist Ronald Hanson have made a breakthrough in “quantum teleportation” - succeeding in teleporting quantum information via a rudimentary network with no direct connection between sender and receiver, paving the way for the “quantum internet”:
“Basic teleportation had already been achieved – Hanson’s team and others have already demonstrated it – but only between two points, or adjacent nodes, named Alice and Bob. Now, Hanson’s team have managed to link this pair at a distance with a third, Charlie. The trio form the first network that, although rudimentary, allows us to contemplate a quantum internet, with infinite possibilities for computation and for observing a hitherto unknown world.”
(Alice&Bob is a related French quantum computing startup covered in Memia 2022.10).
🧠The next Ambrosia?
Finally…Ambrosia was a short-lived US startup which in 2016 began selling "young blood transfusions" for US$8,000/litre (under the guise of running a clinical trial). It shut down in 2019 in response to FDA concerns.
Cue next: scientists just published a paper in Nature finding young brain fluid improves memory in old mice.😬
Wow, a bumper crop of mind expanding links this week as well … spend some time exploring these if you can:
The hole at the bottom of maths
An accessible video overviewing the paradoxical concepts inherent in set theory, Georg Cantor’s infinity of infinities and Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. (I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Cantor years ago…crazy abstract but logically precise):
The Selfish Meme
Bernhard Mueller bends our concepts of reality and channels Douglas Adams in his post The Selfish Meme: A Simulation Theory of Everything. I’m still absorbing the implications of his model: (h/t Andrew Leckie for sharing this and several other links this week…)
“In this article, I describe a quantum algorithm that evolves all possible Realities, including our own, without the need for a first cause. I show that some version of the Multiverse theory is true: Many parallel Realities exist, each of which contains multiple Universes, whereby Universes are shared subjective descriptions of what’s observed in those Realities.
I introduce three fundamental new concepts that form the basis of Reality as it really is: Absolute Subjectivity, the Law of Attraction, and the Natural Selection of Memes (concepts). From these new first principles, I explain why there can’t be one unified theory that can make all objectively true predictions on both small and large scales.
I also explain concepts such as consciousness, self, and the question to 42.
…You are a self-completing idea about yourself, a strange loop, and your own Reality.”
Check out https://www.supermind.design/ - a practical guide to Augmented Collective Intelligence:
“A new lever for our transition to a sustainably prosperous future. We can radically improve how we work and live, by complementing people’s intelligence with increasingly smart machines that compound networks’ ideas and signals. Irrespective of distance, at hyperscale…
…Intelligent networks are made of large numbers of people and AI-powered machines, connected in a distributed knowledge-work architecture. They are “superminds”, and new organizational designs can capture their power.”
I suspect we are at the very earliest stages of how this is going to start defining work in the very near future.
Digital minds and society
…all of which perhaps leads us to: UK-based philosopher Nick Bostrom’s latest 2022 update of his seminal discussion paper: Propositions Concerning Digital Minds and Society.
Pretty much every philosophical and ethical question you’ve ever had about AI and digital minds is asked and open-mindedly discussed in here.
Best read with strong coffee in a quiet room.
Back down to earth…one notable mention around the motu this week:
Congrats to the team at Kiwi startup Parkable - getting the PM to help announce their new deal with Meta to sort out their “real world” campus parking problems for 60,000 employees.
Finally, the usual grab-bag of memes that caught my eye this week:
Two striking visualisations of global population density:
The truth(?) about starling murmurations:
Capitalist Trolley Problem
And after Luna crashed to zero, Luna 2 launched (and plunged). This tweet had me laughing out loud… (h/t Bernard Hickey for sharing).
That’s all for another week…thanks as always for getting in touch with your thoughts, feedback, links - appreciated!