Memia 2022.27: Webb’s first deep field🌃// Elon pulls out↩️// try not to breathe😷// DarkFi⚫// WEF on DAOs😶🌫️// going underground🚇// quantum battery🔋// algae cement🦠// autodidactic universe♾️
Jacinda Ardern drinking Absinthe painted by William Blake
Another Wednesday, another Memia newsletter! Your regular weekly scan across the latest emerging tech and thinking about the future from here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
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⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa
ICYMI on Sunday, instalment 6 of my book ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa looked in more detail at the potential implications of the nascent theory of network states… and starting to imagine the full spectrum of future geopolitical scenarios for Aotearoa. (Worst case: nuclear armaggeddon; best case:
Scenario: Multipolar Pax Pacifica
Aotearoa Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s mid-2022 globetrotting mission to spin a message of “diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy” has a surprising impact on both US and China policy and leaders of both countries attend an unprecedented “Peace in the Pacific” summit in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland in early 2023, (the apex of Ardern’s prime ministership before she unexpectedly announces that she will be leaving to take up a top job at the UN).
(In the intervening period, China’s military posturing around Taiwan has de-escalated considerably and the Russia-Ukraine conflict has reached an uneasy truce with hopes being resolved by diplomatic negotiations. Putin remains nominally in the Presidency in Russia but is clearly sidelined from power. Fears of a far-right hijacking of the 2024 US presidential election subside as the extreme heat of political debate dissipates and the Republican Party returns to its broad-based roots).
The US and China governments reach an emphatic agreement to cooperate and prioritise climate change, environmental restoration and a peaceful trading co-existence with a new “rules-based order” based upon principles of equity and sustainability. They also signal cooperation on establishing a new globally governed base on the Moon.
In recognition of how close the world came to nuclear armaggeddon, a new treaty for nuclear disarmament is reached with agreement for total disarmament by 2030.
Meanwhile, somehow a new DACCS technological breakthrough shows how CO2 can be captured from the atmosphere and sequestered in vast quantities for a relatively low financial investment. New experiments demonstrate conclusively that extinct species can be brought back from the dead and a new pan-Covid vaccine is discovered which rapidly puts an end to the mutating virus for good.
For the first time in years the world can focus on shaping a more optimistic vision for future generations.
The United Nations is to be restructured to a more executive role, in particular with the Security Council seats to be rotated among all states on a regular basis. Some matters of national sovereignty are agreed to be ceded to a new “World Governmnent” directly elected by the world’s population and overeen by the post-UN body. Furthermore, a new Post-Covid Bretton Woods agreement is in the offing to reset global governance and rethink global financial institutions for an age of intangibles.
The Tāmaki Makaurau Treaty, as it becomes known, marks the beginning of a new global golden age, which future historians will refer to as Pax Pacifica, of mostly peaceful co-existence between peoples all around the world for the rest of the 21st century.
(I enjoyed writing that, but I’m realistic enough to be sceptical of it ever coming to pass…). Continuing on with some other (more likely!) scenarios this coming weekend…
Also in the last week…two more hopeful stories this week to start. (The usual downer Zeitgeist follows after that…)
🌃Webb’s first deep field
NASA finally unveiled the first composite image from the James Webb Telescope. The image above (“Webb’s First Deep Field”), of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, covers a patch of sky “approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground”.🤯 This first image provides the most detailed view of the early universe to date…revealing once again thousands of new galaxies in a tiny sliver of the night sky.
(The James Webb team should have revealed the next set of full-colour images by the time this newsletter is out…)
It forces a moment of reflection for me: on the vastness of the universe and our nanoscopic position within it…and how much better the world’s resources would be spent seeking more knowledge of how the physics of the universe works, rather than throwing bombs at each other in a tiny corner of a tiny planet in a tiny corner of a tiny galaxy.
Back down to terrestrial matters… three significant nature restoration initiatives lifted my spirits this week:
A pest eradication programme using IoT-connected traps on the 5000-hectare Kaitorete Spit in Waitaha/Canterbury has already eliminated 15 feral cats, 20 weasels, five ferrets, and hundreds of hedgehogs in only 4 months of operation. The programme aims to have the spit and the southeast corner of Banks Peninsula predator-free by 2024.
Meanwhile Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research has signed a $2.8m partnership with conservation group, Predator Free Rakiura, to eradicate predators including possums, rats, feral cats and hedgehogs over the next four years. (I remember seeing way too many rats when I was tramping there at the end of 2019…)
And Love RimuRimu is a new collective piloting the regeneration of seaweed forests in Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui / Wellington harbour:
😷Try not to breathe
Aotearoa on top of the developed world for Covid cases again…kia kaha to everyone in the health service right now, it sounds like a perfect storm…make sure you look after yourselves as well as everyone else!
Meanwhile indoor air quality meter sales are going through the roof… in particular CO2 concentration is a proxy for how many people are sharing the air you’re breathing. (Covered in this excellently pitched fun and factual piece by RNZ data journalist Farah Hancock whose breath are you breathing?)
In follow up, Farah Hancock also reported that Auckland Transport / Waka Kotahi decided not to invest in air filters on buses. Bernard Hickey groks the fundamental conundrum in our collective societal accounting system right now:
(My 2c: with higher investment in a better national-scale data model this question should actually have an answer for any curious citizen, pretty much instantly. What this country needs is a Wellbeing Digital Twin).
Not sure if this signals anything significant but my “China-Taiwan” newsfeed tripwire went off three times this week:
Billion person leak
An anonymous hacker claimed to have carried out one of the largest leaks of personal data in history, offering to sell access to a 26TB dataset containing personal data on nearly 1 billion Chinese citizens. The going price for the leaked data was only 10 Bitcoin (about US$215,000) left in a ransomware note on the hacked server:
Bob Diachenko @MayhemDayOneLooks like this 1B+ China database created some noise, so I had to comment it here: https://t.co/0Ma9qVtvvw
El Reg reports that the data was left publicly exposed on an open port hosting a Shanghai police dashboard since 2020. No doubt Western intelligence agencies and shadowy personal data brokers are having a very good week indeed.
⚖️New laws around the world
Three interesting international legal developments:
Japan brought a new cyberbullying law into effect, with tougher penalties including a prison term of up to one year for online insults.
The Dutch parliament made moves to legally force employers to consider employee requests to work from home as long as their professions allow it (the proposed legislation still needs to finally passed in the upper house):
Also in Europe, a group of environmental campaigners are suing 12 signatories of the 52-country energy charter treaty (including France, Germany and the UK) — all countries in which energy companies are using the treaty to sue governments over climate change policies that interfere with fossil fuel extraction.
↩️Elon pulls out
In the same week that it emerged that Elon Musk secretly fathered twins an executive at his company Neuralink and is now recorded as the father of (at least) nine children by three different partners, including triplets and two sets of twins…good on him I suppose… he also announced what everyone already knew: that he was pulling out of his $US44Bn deal to buy Twitter.
In the latest episode of the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway (thanks Nick Fogarty for putting me on to this!), Galloway (the man whose 2019 WeWTF post took down WeWork) mercilessly dissects Musk’s unviable position. Bottom line: Delaware courts don’t mess about, and with Twitter lawyered-up, the reported US$1Bn severance fee is just an entree…Musk’s likely up for at least US$16Bn in damages…no doubt he will make the most of it attention-wise but this may finally be one stonk too far.
OK, onwards to this week’s crop of tech developments.
“…a new Layer 1 blockchain, designed with anonymity at the forefront. It offers flexible private primitives that can be wielded to create any kind of application. DarkFi aims to make anonymous engineering highly accessible to developers..
DarkFi uses advances in zero-knowledge cryptography and includes a contracting language and developer toolkits to create uncensorable code. Go dark by depositing assets from Ethereum, Bitcoin or Solana into DarkFi to mint anonymous darkened assets and transact privately.“
Is anti-regulation technology regulatable? That is the question.
😶🌫️WEF on DAOs
An accessible white paper from the World Economic Forum on DAOs - Beyond The Hype:
Switzerland announced that it is going ahead with building the first phase of a massive new underground autonomous logistics network known as Cargo Sous Terrain. The first phase of CST is estimated to cost about US$3 billion and deliver a 70-km tunnel section with 10 hubs connecting Zurich with a logistics center in Härkingen-Niederbipp to the west.
When you think about it, any new urban development should have a tunnel grid network built in from now on to move all logistics underground…
In battery news, something for everyone...
The soaring price of lithium (up 6X since the start of the year) is casting doubt on the long term economic viability of the mode-shift to EVs. (And also why Tesla is planning on extreme vertical integration by getting into lithium mining.)
A battery-powered Danish car ferry set a world distance record of 50 nautical miles on a single charge:
Switzerland is definitely going through its own “Think Big” phase right now: a massive new US$2Bn pumped storage “water battery” system was put into operation on 1 July, with total power output of 900MW and storage capacity of 20 million kWh of electricity. The system is expected to significantly stabilise Switzerland and Europe’s energy grids.
Here in Aotearoa plans to build a similar pumped storage system at Lake Onslow in Otago (previously flagged in Memia 2021.30) have received Cabinet approval to move forward to the next stage of feasibility assessment. (The proposed project would be capable of storing at least 5 terawatt-hours of power — approximately an eighth of the total national annual electricity usage):
“Early analysis also shows Lake Onslow could mitigate the dry year problem and would support a pathway to a 100% renewable electricity system” — MBIE
Finnish researchers have come up with a really simple energy storage solution: a Sand Battery. A silo is filled with 100 tonnes of low-grade sand and heated to 500 degC using renewable electricity. When energy prices go high, the battery discharges hot air which in turn warms water for the district heating system which is then pumped around homes, offices and even the local swimming pool. (🎩 spotting Geoff Devereux)
And if that sounds a bit too simple for you, check out What Quantum Batteries Have In Store, explained here in Semiconductor Engineering (🎩 spotting Andrew Leckie):
“Quantum batteries exploit the strange physical laws of the very small — the quantum world — to gain performance advantages over classical batteries. Recent research on charging speed advantages and loss-free storage suggests this technology is poised for growth over the next three to five years.”
Imagine looking in your rear view mirror and seeing one of these things behind you!
🧠Listening to the brain
NextSense is a spinout from Alphabet’s X division which aims to be able to read an ECG of your brain activity using only a pair of earbuds. (The startup is focused on brain health, improving sleep, and epilepsy management to start with).
Satellite internet roundup
Lots of satellite news recently too:
An analysis from India on Starlink’s role in providing a military advantage to Ukraine:
“…Even more remarkable is Starlink’s contribution to the Ukrainian war effort…not only in circumventing Russian jamming and destruction of its satellites, but the space-based internet services of Starlink dispensed completely with ground infrastructure to transmit high bandwidth data.“
However, both China and Russia (below) are exploring ways to destroy or disable the Starlink constellation:
Meanwhile, Hackaday reports how to build a US$40 LoRaWAN satellite groundstation.
This is a good read: What Is the Environmental Impact of Each Building Material? (Hint: Wood=good, Aluminium Sheet=not so much).
🦠Or you could always use some carbon-neutral algae cement:
⚛️Entangled over 33km
A new distance record of 33km for quantum entanglement has been set by researchers in Germany.
Some longer watching and reading this week:
Celebrity philosopher-historian Yuval Noah Harari debates computer scientist Fei-Fei Lee (Co-Director of Stanford University's Human-Centered AI Institute) on the topic of Will AI Enhance or Hack Humanity?
Time to ditch dark matter?
Physicist Indranil Banik argues that Milgromian dynamics or Mond, proposed by Israeli physicist Mordehai Milgrom in 1982 is a superior theory of gravity than the standard cosmological model, which proposes there is more dark matter in the universe than visible matter.
More mindbending theoretical physics: an interview with physicist Lee Smolin explores his thinking anout applying the principles of evolutionary biology to the universe as a whole, so that the “laws of the universe” themselves are not constant but constantly changing - in fact the universe could be seen as “self-learning” (eg autodidactic). (Smolin has previously collaborated with famed Microsoft computer scientist Jaron Lanier, to model how the universe might be understood as a giant machine learning process.)
Currently falling asleep to the dulcet but doomspinning tones of geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan in the audio version of his new book The End Of The World Is Just The Beginning. Highly plausible narrative, if a bit US-centric and seeming to ignore the more extreme effects of climate change:
“2019 was the last great year for the world economy.
For generations, everything has been getting faster, better, and cheaper. Finally, we reached the point that almost anything you could ever want could be sent to your home within days—even hours—of when you decided you wanted it.
America made that happen, but now America has lost interest in keeping it going.
Globe-spanning supply chains are only possible with the protection of the U.S. Navy. The American dollar underpins internationalized energy and financial markets. Complex, innovative industries were created to satisfy American consumers. American security policy forced warring nations to lay down their arms. Billions of people have been fed and educated as the American-led trade system spread across the globe.
All of this was artificial. All this was temporary. All this is ending.
In The End of the World Is Just the Beginning, author and geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan maps out the next world: a world where countries or regions will have no choice but to make their own goods, grow their own food, secure their own energy, fight their own battles, and do it all with populations that are both shrinking and aging.”
Just one shout out this week to entrepreneur Adam Hutchinson and his team at oVRcome for winning an Innovation & Growth award at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in Sydney last week, for their work making mental health treatment more accessible using Virtual Reality. (Nice photo to put on the wall flanked by PMs Albanese and Ardern on the night!)
Nuggets and gems
And to end with, the habitual catch of attention-catching memes I spotted this week:
@greg16676935420 is among the top shitposters on the internet today.
Craiyon draws Jacinda
These are great.
Thanks as always to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - appreciated — bear with me, I always try to answer every message as promptly as I can!
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Finally…I have some availability coming up in September/October for a few public speaking gigs… if you’re planning an (in-person or remote) event and looking for an entertaining and thought-provoking tour through the latest emerging technologies and implications on our collective futures… get in touch.