Memia 2022.30: Immunity walls🦠🧱// data “sovereignty”🔏// broken AI alignment?🦾// crypto: the third category🥉// a fine Line🔜// build the earth🌍// reusable neutron rocket🚀// necro-arachnophobia🕷
*Concern* ≠ Action
Welcome to another midweek Memia newsletter, your regular horizon scan across emerging tech and the future as it unfolds… as viewed from here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
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(PSA: these weekly emails are *way* too long for most email clients…click on the title link above to read online or view in the Substack app):
Check out the latest ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment from Sunday (paid subscribers only) which looked at accelerating demographic shifts which will make the future *really* different to the past:
Also in the last week…
Aotearoa and Australia continue to struggle under the current wave of infections, hospitalisations and deaths from the Covid-19 BA.5 variant, particularly when compared to several other countries which were exposed to previous variant waves earlier while we were still in splendid “zero-covid” isolation. Eric Topol reviews the influence of prior infections on creating population-wide “immunity walls”:
“The ‘immunity wall’ of a population is an aggregate of many factors that include demographics such as age and comorbidities, like obesity or diabetes. Age is especially important given immunosenescence, the less potent immune response generally mounted with advanced age. For the pandemic, of particular note, it includes prior infections, vaccines, boosters, combined infections and boosters (hybrid immunity) and waning of the immunity from vaccines or infections over time...
…It is important to consider the immunity wall for each population to understand the impact of the virus and its evolutionary arc. The very same variant that is seen as “mild” in one county can be quite “severe” in another.”
Aotearoa became the third country (after Latvia and Lithuania) to join the International Court of Justice genocide case against Russia. Independent foreign policy. Kia kaha.
Cory Doctorow: Reality-based communities: Spending US$200b to relocate doomed communities will save US$1T, contains a delightful allegory:
“Think of "medical radium" as a model for [managed climate retreat]. Back in the old days, people used to stuff radium – a deadly, poisonous radioactive substance – into every orifice…
…eventually, we stopped putting radium in our assholes. Somewhere in the journey from the first ad for a radium suppository and the last one, people started to self-radicalize as radium deniers. They saw enough of their loved ones develop suppurating lesions and ghastly tumors that they no longer needed convincing. Once that happened, it was inevitable: America became a land of radium-free back passages… If a problem is real, denial can only last so long.“
(🎩spotting @leighelse as always).
On a similar, if less graphic, climate adaptation theme, here in Aotearoa, David Williams reports in Newsroom how we may be on the cusp of a rivers revolution:
“We’ve been fighting nature for years. Given climate change, it’s high time to let rivers roam”
Case in point: Canterbury’s mighty Rangitata:
Also in Newsroom, Rod Oram laments the recent infighting in the Green Party: With our politics, it’s amazing we’ve got this far on climate:
“We Kiwis have lots of common ground on which to build understanding and co-operation on climate. Above all we worry the most about it among 32 nations surveyed in Ipsos’ latest annual global report:”
(Key takeaway from that survey: *Concern* ≠ Action).
A new report from Te Whare Wananga o Waikato / University of Waikato academic Tahu Kukutai and Te Kāhui Raraunga of the Data Iwi Leaders Group, Māori data sovereignty and offshoring Māori data looks at the Aotearoa government’s “cloud-first” policy for outsourcing IT services hosting to overseas cloud data centre providers, mainly those operated by US tech giants Microsoft and Amazon:
“Government agencies in Aotearoa are increasingly offshoring their data, citing greater security and reduced cost as key factors. As the government accelerates its digital transformation strategy across the public service, Māori data sovereignty requirements must be central to decision making, particularly with regard to offshoring and procurement. This requires a more considered, intergenerational approach to data governance and stewardship than the current narrow focus on assessing offshoring risks through a cost benefit lens.
Consideration of a suite of options including strategic investment in locally-hosted solutions would not only give greater effect to Māori data sovereignty, but also enhance the public service drive for digital transformation.“
RNZ’s Phil Pennington has a good writeup on the issues raised: Head in the clouds? Call for NZ to take control of data storage, including this classic opening hook:
“Did you know the FBI could take a copy your data held in New Zealand if it got the legal OK in the US first, and you might never even know it?“
(Firstly, yes, I did know (since as early as 2012). Furthermore there’s little doubt in my mind that a whole shadowy network of identity data brokers has assembled every social media post, every facially-recognised photo ever posted online, every CV I ever sent to a recruitment agency back in the day, every credit history entry, every social graph friend connection… cross-referenced against all government IDs, educational certificates, driving licences, passport scans, phone numbers and email addresses I’ve ever provided to a hotel at check-in…. and this information is readily for sale on the “dark web” for cents in the dollar… and also likely already freely available to Five Eyes intelligence agencies thanks in no small part to their appendage Palantir.)
So IMO changing where the servers are hosted won’t really alter my data sovereignty that much. But yes, for sure it may provide comfort for some. (Assuming they have a preference for the SIS over the FBI, natch…)
Charlie Gates in Stuff covers a related topic, the expansion of Tatauranga Aotearoa’s joined-up “Integrated Data Infrastructure” (IDI):
“The Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) is a colossal trove of information. It holds personal data about virtually every New Zealander, and millions more who have lived, and died, here…This information used to be tightly held by the organisation that collected it. It was rarely shared with other agencies, and virtually never with outside parties.“
The tension between “seamless, cost-effective, efficiently run, joined up government digital services” and “surveillance state” is as acute as it has ever been…at the base level, it boils down to one simple question: who do we trust with (our) data?
…And before one gets too worried about what the US or Aotearoa governments might know about you, here’s a timely reminder of what certain mainstream Chinese-owned social media companies are hoovering up daily:
This is a topic of a much deeper and broader discussion for another day… but my immediate reaction is that it seems that the whole debate around data “sovereignty” may need to change its philosophical posture from protecting scarcity to leveraging abundance:
There are clear real-world scenarios where centralised government identification data gathered in good faith can have horrific implications: witness the terrifying account from Afghanistan covered in Memia 2021.32:
"I managed to get out, but it is shocking. On the highway from Bamyan [to Kabul], for 5 to 10km, you could see Taliban everywhere. If they stop you, search you, they put your finger on a biometric machine – they have that now - and they will find everything on you. And what will happen to you and your family? Your head will be cut off."
…So if Aotearoa was ever under threat of invasion, I would want an automatically-triggered “data bomb” to go off which (1) destroyed all real data inside the IDI and government ID systems — and all the backups — and (2) randomly generated 5 million different fictional citizen profiles together with made-up biometric data so that everyone is equally anonymous to our new overlords.
(Perhaps this scenario raises a flip-side of offshore data storage: establishing one or more "data embassies" in friendly nation states eg Australia), thus enabling an Aotearoa "government in exile" to operate in the worst case. (See Estonia picks Luxembourg for 'ultimate backup')).
Likewise keeping data scarce day-to-day enables the shadowy data brokers to more quickly triangulate, cross-reference and pinpoint who you are and where you come from. Letting off “denial of service” data bombs online from time to time which flood the internet with fake Aotearoa ID profiles (passports, driving licences etc) could be a more effective offensive strategy to achieve personal or collective data sovereignty than trying so hard to secure all the real data.
Even Web3 disciples who assert “personal data sovereignty” on the encrypted blockchain are probably way off in the long run. Yes I can use Tor, Signal, Skiff and DeSo to live a pseudonymous life online today… but likely governments and non-government actors are hoovering up the data in the hope of future quantum decryption only a few years down the line.
And then don’t start even start me on the topic of neuroprivacy - Chile still the only country to enshrine this as a human right… old-school lie detectors are just the beginning of mind-reading equipment coming downstream…
The long term implications: nothing stored digitally today (… or potentially inside your brain…) is likely secure in the future, encrypted or not — what then does anyone mean by data “sovereignty”?
A few other developments of note this week:
US and Chinese big tech firms are being forced to sign up to Indonesia’s strict new internet content restrictions: the regulation grants authorities the power to fine or block social media platforms that fail to comply with government content moderation orders. Google has complied…will Twitter be the first to be booted off the islands?
…On a similar topic, last week Big Tech’s approach to the same issue in Aotearoa briefly hit the front page of Techcrunch:
Two stories from rapidly re-aligning Australia:
Australia's prime minister lays path to vote on Indigenous voice - not before time, Aotearoa has lots of experience and encouragement to share here.
Australia and China on speaking terms again:
On to this week’s tech signals from near and far futures… another rip-through this week!
🦾Broken AI alignment?
Sensationalist headlines about a chess-playing robot breaking the finger of a seven-year-old child during a tournament in Russia probably disguise a background fear of the age-old AI alignment problem:
🥉Crypto: the third category
The UK Law Commission broke some new legal ground, proposing a “third category” of personal property for Crypto assets:
🔜A fine Line
Saudi Arabia released the latest concept visuals of “The Line” - Previously covered in Memia 2022.06), planned to be a 170-kilometre-long mirrored skyscraper housing nine million people. The sci-fi architect-studio visuals are quite stunning:
… but will it ever get built? (And what kind of surveillance state would evolve there with a hostile desert on all sides…??)
In particular the mirrored exterior is curious - here’s a video of a smaller prototype already built (what happens to all the birds fly into it, I wonder?):
2min explainer video here:
Nearby, the city-state of Dubai unveiled a Metaverse Strategy (those numbers…yeah, right):
And Estonia stepped up its “virtual civil servant” project:
OK so we’re all familiar with DALL-E (OpenAI) and Imagen (Google)… Apple hinted at the future beyond with their new GAUDI generative VR framework which can generate 3D indoor scenes from a text prompt and is “the foundation for a new generation of generative AI based on NeRFs”:
🌍Build The Earth
Build The Earth is a crowdsourced project to “recreate the entire planet in Minecraft”.
(🎩 @SamRag — and 2IC Nicole — for spotting!)
🚀Reusable Neutron Rocket
A couple of years ago, the concept of reusable space rockets which autonomously took off and landed back down on the planet would have been science fiction. SpaceX now do it regularly - and now Aotearoa-located Rocket Lab have one in development. Maybe 1-2 years until this starts taking off from Mahia?
(Also this week: Debris from Elon Musk's SpaceX craft crashes on to Australian property).
Australian regional airline Rex plans to retrofit some of its planes with electric-propulsion engines:
Norwegian scientists trialling their work in Saudi Arabia claim to have achieved 90% energy-efficient hydrogen production from natural gas with CO2 capture achieved in a single step:
"Currently established methods have energy efficiency ratings of between 70 and 75 percent, but our approach has a potential efficiency of 90 percent," says
"The end product is compressed hydrogen with a high degree of purity. The ceramic membrane reactor also separates carbon dioxide more efficiently, enabling the greenhouse gas to be easily transported and sequestered"
—Harald Malerød-Fjeld, CoorsTek Membrane Sciences in Oslo.
(I know, could be greenwashing or hopium…)
Whoever saw this headline coming?
The new arcology
Thanks to the bottomless intellectual well that is Venkatesh Rao for pointing me towards the concept of Arcology:
“a field of creating architectural design principles for very densely populated and ecologically low-impact human habitats.”
This rabbit hole leads to very profound musing indeed:
Stranger things than rewriting history?
I’m rather late getting into Netflix’s Stranger Things but enjoying the ride so far halfway through S1. In an interview in June, creators The Duffer Brothers discussed making tweaks to old episodes (something they later denied).
What do we think of continuous “director’s cuts”, effectively revising history with no changelog? Balaji Srivinasan has a chapter on exactly this in The Network State: : If News Is Fake, Imagine History).
🎩Genesis for spotting this cultural curiosity I had no idea existed: Artificial Cranial Deformation in Different Parts of the World: “A sense of intelligence, identity, and dignity”
Big ups to Te Matau-a-Māui / Hawke’s Bay-based solo game developer David Frampton whose civ-sim game Sapiens briefly got to number 2 on Steam globally:
“Create your own prehistoric civilization and lead your tribe in a world you shape. Start with nothing, build towns and industry, and advance through thousands of years of technological breakthroughs in this intimate yet expansive colony sim.”
Nuggets and gems
I know, this section is getting longer and longer each week… let me know if it’s too much. I need an editor, LOL...
The top of the bell curve pretty much describes my Roam Research workflow.
WFH power reversal
Most productive fortnight ever?
(2nd 🎩 to @leighelse this week)
TheJuiceMedia goes international
Season 3 of Patreon-funded TheJuiceMedia launched with this gem… is the US ready for Aussie satire!?! Bring it on.
Thanks as always to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - always appreciated!
I’m heading off-grid for a few days - going walkabout on what I expect will be an exceptionally muddy Queen Charlotte Track… back in time for next week’s newsletter!
Memia is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.