Memia 2022.23: #cryptocrash⏬// sentient Kantian?😶🌫️// chief future officer🔮// dynamic world🌎// Web2+Web3=Web5?🧮// think gargantuan🦑// no more flat tyres// Serfdom 2.0⚠️
Mmmm tasty styrofoam
Welcome to this week’s Wednesday newsletter - scanning across emerging tech and thinking about the future from Aotearoa New Zealand.
(The usual reminder: these weekly emails are *way* too long for most email clients (sorry, not sorry😇). iOS users - you can read Memia in the Substack app (click below). Gmail users, you can click on the email title above to read online and avoid the annoying “[Message clipped]” link.)
Last weekend’s instalment of my upcoming book in 30 Sundays, ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa (paid subscribers only) went back to fundamentals and looked at the various lenses we can use to define the concept of “Aotearoa” in 2022. There are lots. (“Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s any less complex”).
(These weekly instalments are for paid subscribers only - otherwise readers can wait for the finished book when it arrives…!) Sign up for the next instalment here:
The most clicked link in last week’s edition (6% of openers) was the supremely excellent essay on Regrowth Economics: True Wealth Flows from Environmental and Civic Regeneration. Read and read again.
Also in the last week…
Firstly, when I’m editing together this “latest news” section each week I’m always trying not to get hijacked by emotionally heightened and generally negative slants of almost all the short-term news headlines. (Particularly toxic is domestic politics - in any country, I’m guessing, but it seems that the majority of politics headlines are designed to elicit an angry / fearful reaction...)
So it’s important to occasionally remind myself of the hardwired psychology which drives attention-seeking headlines and comment algorithms. There’s lots of science out there on negativity bias - here’s an accessible overview:
So, having said that…
🇺🇦👀Staying top of mind
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine continues through its fourth month with ongoing fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Western media appetite for battlefront news is fading as the ongoing fight to move a line on a map backwards and forwards shift to the background of collective consciousness… but the events and losses on the ground are no less brutal or catastrophic for the people who live there on the ground. Kia kaha from Aotearoa.✊
The shadow war *may* have reached US soil this week (according to the thread below, the massive Freeport LNG complex represents “over 20% of US natural gas exports, with ~80% of its shipments direct to Europe right now”.)
…And many parts of the world are now facing food price increases heavily exacerbated by the Ukraine war…including Aotearoa to some extent (intrigued to know more about those underlying stats…🤔):
At the time of writing, financial markets around the world are crashing around our heads, with crypto in particular nosediving: total cryptocurrency market cap (as measured in US$, anyway) fell under US$1 trillion for first time since Jan 2021. (That’s down over 66% in 8 months!!). Bitcoin went under US$23K, wiping all of its gains from the past 18 months — and Ethereum fared even worse, down over 40% in less than a week to under US$1100 at one point.
These numbers could well go down even further, illuminating just how much of the crypto “boom” has been pure tulip mania speculation and grift… as so many commentators are only to happy to point out. This certainly feels like a mark-to-market event.
However… for anyone keeping the faith with the conventional financial system, the Fed money printer could still be forced to go Brrrrrrrr any time….:
“At some point, something big like Lehman Bros. breaks. Someplace there is a weakest hand in the too-big-to-fail world, and rarely do we know the garbage that hidden hand has been holding until it breaks. We’ve seen many times over the past two decades how that kind of event can materialize in just one day. Literally one day! That’s when we get one of those spectacular bear market waterfalls where the Dow plunges 2,000-3,000 points in one day and then falls another 1,500 the next and still keeps stumbling down, crying for the Fed to save it…
…So, what happens if the Fed decides that it needs to rescue stocks and bonds with a return to QE or lower interest rates… For the first time that I can think of, the red-hot market many speculators now want to dive into is not FAANG stocks or any kind of stocks and not the safety of bonds, but the assurance of great and rapid gains in commodities in a time of widespread and growing shortages. So, now where does the free Fed fuel go? Most of it piles into the commodities market…”
— David Haggith, Seeking Alpha
Buy dairy futures, then.😒
Personally I’m not completely sucked into the “Crypto’s just a big ponzi scheme” vortex. Crypto is unusual in that it’s been subject to way more hype than most any other tech. But from my viewpoint there are still reasons to be cautiously patient with the technology in the long term… as with any emerging innovation these things take several early iterations to mature and evolve to then prove themselves at scale.
In particular, the Ethereum economy took a big step forward this week as the oldest testnet Ropsten successfully made the transition to Proof-of-Stake (PoS). (The full switch to PoS should massively reduce the CO2 emissions profile by ~99.95% and improve scalability and performance overall …and gas fees, natch…… among many other advantages) The Ropsten Merge is one of the last steps before the Ethereum Mainnet’s actual transition to the Consensus Layer (formerly ETH 2.0) now slated for August this year.
The stakes on the Merge could not be higher for all of Crypto and Web3, tbh. If this works then expect all major cryptocurrencies (including Bitcoin) to migrate to PoS over the next few years and for the technology to mount a viable challenge to the conventional global banking / money exchange system. (Also expect the “flippening” to happen sooner rather than later, albeit at an order of magnitude lower price point…)
As a senior Mastercard Exec recently stated: Crypto needs to become an “invisible” part of the financial system to enable mass adoption.
The other major clickbait story which hit the news wires this week:
So… firstly this appears to have been a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors stunt on the part of the “AI Engineer” involved - Ramez Naam has a thread on how what is presented is a highly edited transcript, pieced together and re-ordered from parts of 9 different conversations.
How does biological humanity abstract current ethical / societal norms to accommodate non-biological “sentience” *when* it arrives? Recommended reading is the working paper by Nick Bostrom et al: Propositions Concerning Digital Minds and Society which I flagged a couple of weeks ago in Memia 2022.21.
More immediately challenging is the application of this soon-to-be-mainstream technology in the hands of malicious actors. I agree with John Robb below that the near future internet/metaverse is on course to become an uninterpretable cacophony and the time to start building your personal dark forest network is now.
🔮Chief Future Officer
Thanks to my regular LinkedIn correspondent1 Rob Warner for tagging me into this article on FastCompany: Five benefits of hiring a chief futurist officer (together with clichéd stock photo of *young woman in short sleeved dress in abstract virtual reality scene*).
The post itself *isn’t that much tbh* but it did prompt me to reflect on the roles that I’ve been performing with some organisations for several years now - which could accurately be described as being a “CFO” (Chief Future Officer) on a fractional basis.
My observation is that most organisations (whether they are tech companies or… very much not) aren’t geared up with strategic or foresight antennae much beyond this year’s annual plan and budget. And they certainly aren’t big enough to be able to hire a full-time “Chief Futurist” role… and so will often engage with me / someone like me to fill that gap. Mostly it works, although it takes a while to build and diffuse capability — strategy and foresight are muscles that need regular exercise.
Another observation is cadence: some organisations like to engage on long term thinking monthly(!), some quarterly and some annually or even less… so far I’m still trying to get a read of what’s optimum for which type of organisation…mostly I think it’s a combination of the individuals involved and the rate of change in the sector they are operating in. (Eg Forestry vs. AI).
Anyway, to cut a long story short… after a bunch of LinkedIn banter on a Friday night I awarded myself a new job title, feels kinda authentic…!😇
And on to this week’s curation of tech signals from the near — and far — futures…
Google launched Dynamic World - an interactive, near realtime land cover dataset for our constantly changing planet. It’s pretty impressive:
Jack Dorsey’s TBD project announced Web5: an extra decentralized platform. A set of open source code libraries (still under development) which aim to enable 3rd party developers to bring decentralized identity and data storage to their applications.
@jack typically edgy:
TBD @TBD54566975Web5: An extra decentralized web platform https://t.co/LDW3MZ8tON
The reality is slightly more mundane…:
Luminary cyberpunk scifi author Neal Stephenson (noneother than the *actual* inventor of the term “metaverse”) put his name to a new “Layer 1 Blockchain”, Lamina1 to support a “free”, “provably carbon negative” metaverse.
Tracking this one, he’s one very smart mind decades ahead of the rest of us.
IHI Corporation has successfully tested a 330-ton prototype, ‘Kairyu’ to generate electricity from oceanic currents, 50 metres below the surface. Although the amounts generated from this prototype were relatively modest (only 100KW at 1-2 metres per second current), IHI is planning a much larger 2MW turbine:
“IHI estimates that if the energy present in the Kuroshio current could be harnessed, it could feasibly generate around 205 gigawatts of electricity, an amount it claims is in the same ballpark as [all of Japan’s'] current power generation.”
A perennial opportunity for Aotearoa as well - currents in Te Moana-o-Raukawa / Cook Strait, with very fast tidal currents of up to 2.5 metres per second calculated back in 2008 when a similar project was investigated.
Despite the lack of concrete announcements on their forthcoming VR / AR offerings at their recent WWDC22 event, Apple did wow the room with their seamless 3D spatial scanning API demo. Combine this with NeRFs and you can see where this is going…
Future speedy air transport?
Mayman Aerospace revealed a prototype of their VTOL P2 Speeder, featuring a modular design for autonomous or piloted flight, aimed at “good for humanity” applications including firefighting, search and rescue, medevac… and then law enforcement and military as you scroll further down their website…
Future sea transport
Meanwhile on the water:
No more flat tyres
Ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles are driving moves towards non-pneumatic tyres (NPTs) - a detailed overview of upcoming tyre technology from the BBC:
Full battery but no sleep
The new fold-up Shine Turbine by Canadian start-up Aurea Technologies offers "wind power that fits in your backpack" - able to collect as much as three phone charges worth of power in an hour. (Define a “phone charge”?)
Yes, you’d wake up in the morning with a fully charged battery, but…
(And thanks to Andrew for generally being my physics antennae, also flagging this significant advance in quantum physics this week):
Bose–Einstein condensates (BECs) are “macroscopic coherent matter waves” that have revolutionized quantum science and atomic physics. A new paper in Nature describes how they can be produced continuously - opening a new roadmap to many different types of quantum sensors.
Mmmm tasty styrofoam
Finally, scientists at University of Queensland have discovered that “superworms”— Zophobas morio darkling beetle larvae — can survive on a diet of polystyrene…and their gut enzymes could hold the key to higher polystyrene recycling rates.
A couple of links to tickle the neurons as usual…
⚠️Banksters + investors + rent-seeking = Serfdom 2.0?
A controversial piece by Jared A. Brock on the potential dangers of super-financialisation.
“There is a name for an economic system in which the vast majority own nothing and have to slave their entire lives just to stay alive.
It’s called serfdom.”
Would you trust automated government?
Sharing another article by Antistatic’s Anna and Kelly Pendergrast, this time in New Public: Can New Zealanders trust an automated government? exploring the tension between increased efficiency and maintaining trust in public services:
“Automation allows for increased speed, scale, and sometimes immutability, all of which can have huge benefits—especially for people profiting from the efficiency gains as a result. But without taking steps to build trust over time and involve users and diverse teams in design, trust in digital systems will remain unevenly distributed. Privileged people will likely trust that systems will serve them while less-privileged communities have little choice but to engage with digital infrastructures they don’t trust but which define the course of their lives.
If governments and organizations want to have trustworthy systems that truly serve a broader public, sometimes decision-making needs to be slowed down to a human scale, with the space to make adjustments to account for the needs of people affected. Because you don’t build trust with technical systems. You build trust through relationships.”
(I’m looking forward to getting into this topic in more detail in ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa… fair to say there are other perspectives that trust some technical systems more than people!).
Just a couple of shout-outs this week:
Aotearoa AI pioneers Soul Machines launched a “digital twin” of golfer Jack Nicklaus. The video below feels like SM’s animation tech (which was bleeding edge just a few years ago) isn’t quite keeping up with the latest avatar rendering tech - eg Unreal’s MetaHuman Creator)… but the use case is fascinating: hints again at a mass market for “digital immortality” in the future....
Dan Khan, stalwart of Aotearoa’s startup scene, is working with collaborators building a new DAO: Startup Community Next. The team are developing the DAO’s governance and operations in a cycle of “seasons”:
(Invite for folks to get involved in the link above.)
Nuggets and gems
And to end with…, mostly AI art again this week - including one to chill your heart and then a few more to warm it up again!.
[…] Starring Kermit
This thread of DALL-E images of Kermit the frog in the style of various movies/shows) is hilarious (and just…uncanny!).
Outputs from the free (but congested!) DALL-E Mini are doing the rounds on Twitter this week. Give it a try! (Nothing like the resolution or smartness of DALL-E 2 but still pretty amazing). I’m not entirely sure this one below is genuine… but this is by far the darkest AI art I’ve ever seen so far. Book into your calendar not to go out on Nov 5 2024, eh…
Two furry robot tweets
OK you can open your eyes now. Furry talking robots!
And raising the tone to finish with, Hubble is still magnificent. (Note to self: James Webb Space Telescope will release its 1st science-quality images July 12!!!)
That’s all for another week…thanks as always for getting in touch with your ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - see you next week!
But not on Twitter, what’s going on there? :-)