Memia 2022.33: Bank-as-infrastructure🏦// in the bleak midsummer😓// gone to that place in the cloud⛅// AGI takeoff⏫// text-to-movie🎦// electric sky pods🚡// mining 16-psyche🌑// grabby aliens👾
Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter, your regular scan across emerging tech and the unfolding future from Aotearoa New Zealand.
A big welcome to all of the new readers who have signed up in the last few weeks…subscriptions seem to be hitting a groove recently…thanks for being here! Reach out and say hi.
(This week’s is another huuuuuuge one. Regular readers know the drill by now: these weekly emails are *way* too long for most email clients…click on the link above to read online or view in the Substack app on iOS.)
More future demographic analysis in the latest ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment on Sunday (paid subscribers), exploring the likelihood of radically extended healthspans and what it might mean for public health systems…
Also in the last week…
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The biggest piece of non-news this week was the Government agreeing to buy out SOEs ACC and NZ Post (both of which it ultimately owns) for their stakes in Kiwibank (the largest domestically-owned bank in Aotearoa).
Now, why would a country possibly want to own a bank? Sheesh…
(I doubt that these points are necessarily front of mind of any of the stakeholders who made this decision but…) from now on the transactional payments system and the underlying technology has to be considered “infrastructure of national significance“ as least as important as any roads, ports, airports or energy plants. Not owning and controlling the country’s core banking and payments system is demonstrably costing the country at NZ$billions per year…in return for what?
Exerting more control over Kiwibank now should not only be leveraged to reduce these cash outflows but enables certain national-scale outcomes as well:
The government can finally release itself from its near-exclusive relationship (since 1989!?!?!) with Westpac for the provision of All-of-Government banking services.
Kiwibank could also enable the government to easily deliver a universal basic banking rollout: as Bernard Hickey outlined last month The case for Matariki accounts for all - give every resident a basic default state bank account / wallet, from birth to death.
All payments from government would go into your personal state-operated wallet/current account. This would include all welfare payments, cost of living support, “helicopter money” QE distributions if required in future…and obviously a UBI if and when it arrives.
Stretching the imagination just another step, why couldn’t Kiwibank partner with the Reserve Bank and one or more international tech partners to evolve these universal bank accounts into a new “bankless” Aotearoa Tāra digital currency (tethered 1-1 to NZ$) providing zero-transaction-cost, peer-to-peer mobile payments between NZ residents? (I covered this in more detail in Memia 2021.03). At which point who needs a traditional bank account?
And as for mortgage lending: Kiwibank’s whole model could just be redirected towards housing affordability and away from profit-making: instead become the default lender to owner occupiers, 25 year mortgages at Base Rate + 1%, funded by bonds which should still be at a lower interest rate. Aussie banks can choose to compete or exit. The simplest maths?
On payments, somehow Aotearoa has seen the globally early innovation of EFTPOS dissolved away by payment giants Visa and Mastercard. (From the Economist last week: Can the Visa-Mastercard duopoly be broken?)
Well, yes, some change is happening in a few major markets…
“Payments have been transformed in Brazil, China and Indonesia by cheap, convenient app-based options from tech giants like Mercado Pago, Ant Group, Tencent and Grab.“
…But here in Aotearoa the Reserve Bank and Government will likely require an international disruptive tech partner who isn’t scared of going up against Australian-owned banks, Visa and Mastercard… (and also isn’t Apple or Google who are just levering their way in anyway on the back of their smartphone duopoly…)
(Interesting timing, just as I finished writing this section I came across a post from Monday written by WorldLine (formerly Paymark, sold by the big four banks in 2018, now part of global financial transactions business Worldline Group) which currently handles ~70% of Aotearoa’s payment transactions: New Zealand needs digital wallets – before ‘Big Tech’ beats us to it … seems that someone is already working in this space after all…:
“We need to move now…The right digital wallet will need to be tailored to New Zealanders, and we have a small window of opportunity to take the lead on this. We need to move quickly to create our own digital wallet, otherwise Big Tech giants, like Apple, will bring one to market that may not fit our needs, may not sufficiently protect our people or it creates an extra cost burden for everyone.
Digital wallets aren’t just the future of payments. They’re the future of identification, loyalty schemes, age verification, digital New Zealand dollars – and more, so watch this space!”
PLUS….all of the preceding also needs to be framed within a looming ecological megacrisis. Last week’s report from Grant Thornton NZ’s financial system a major barrier to a low carbon circular economy is as polite as it can be about the inertia in the lending system:
“Banks and lenders: a shifting of mindset and skillset: … there is room for improvement. Lenders report they are inundated with requests for sustainable funding. But they admit they lack sufficiently trained staff around circularity. This means they revert to traditional commercial metrics to assess value and risk in their approval process, which makes for a difficult financing discussion between both lender and borrower, and it’s a clear disincentive to move away from a linear business model.”
In summary: given how oligopolistic, extractive and “uncircular” the financial transactions and bank lending sector is in Aotearoa, the timing is pretty much *now* to start enacting a radical rebalancing of the “ant/aphid” model of Australian-owned banks in Aotearoa… while ensuring anticipatory regulation of any future tech monopolies that might replace them.
As mentioned in Memia 2022.20, I’m a bit of a fanboy of new Aussie Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic, one of the only politicians who gets close to understanding tech. This week he announced a new Australian Robotics Strategy and an “end to innovation inertia” across the ditch:
“Innovation should be as much about making a difference as making a buck…There was deficient thinking in 2016 from the political realm and the backlash set considerations around innovation backwards. Innovation policy seemed to favour capital and wealth creation, rather than broader wellbeing.”
Where is the Ed Husic of Aotearoa politics???
😓In the Bleak Midsummer
The UK is doing it hard.
Top Edinburgh based scifi author Charles Stross (usually as accurate a bellweather for the future as anyone) gets pretty bleak in his blog: The gathering crisis:
“I have no idea what comes next…
The harvest is failing. Energy bills are soaring to the point where businesses, already hit by a bad recession, are going bust because they can't keep the lights on… A third of the country can't afford to pay their bills: there's a grass-roots movement to start a payment strike against the energy companies, who are seen as exploiting the situation for profit.
The health service is in crisis. Inflation is wiping out pensions and savings. A general strike seems possible by the end of the year, something that hasn't hit the UK since 1926.
Politics is dominated by an incumbent party who have ruled, except for a 13 year period (during which they were replaced by the Tory-Lite regime of Tony Blair), since 1979—43 years of conservative policies. They're completely out of new ideas, but the next leader of the nation is intent on recycling the same tired nostrums indefinitely, using an astroturfed culture war on wokery as cover rather than trying to address the deep structural problems of a state that has been hollowed out and looted for half a lifetime, so that there is no resilience left in our institutions.
This is the sort of crisis that brings down nations.”
Yes, UK energy prices have become crazily unaffordable in under a year… and it’s not even winter yet:
At least TheJuiceMedia turned up to highlight all the shitfuckery!
🧖Finland, Finland, Finland
A lot happened in Finland in the last week (that didn’t have anything to do with dancing):
Japanese not drinking enough
(🥴Still trying to get my head around this one…top spotting Andrew Leckie)
The Japanese NTA (National Tax Authority - equivalent of the IRD) is running a nationwide competition to boost alcohol consumption, asking younger adults for ideas to revitalise popularity of alcoholic drinks.
(Alcohol consumption in Japan has fallen from an average of 100 litres per person per year in 1995 to 75 litres in 2020, resulting in a huge hit to tax revenue required to fund Japan’s budget, already running a deficit of more than ¥48tn).
Crazy headline - how much would all the extra medical care cost down the road!?!?!
🎂Many (many, many, many…) happy returns
Finally this week, tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson biologically turned 45 and took his “community of organs” for a high-intensity mountain run along with his two sons, listening to his biomarkers along the way.
(Reminder: so far with his N=1 Project Blueprint experiment he claims to have reversed his biological age markers by 0.73 years for each month lived - that is losing 5.1 years in 7 months — an epigenetic world record.
N>1 soon I don’t doubt.
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Another bountiful week of eclectic signals from near and far futures… so much going on across so many planes of innovation.
🤯AI on AI
Former Deepmind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman is now co-founder of AI startup Inflection.ai (alongside fellow Greylock Partner Reid Hoffman and Chief Scientist Karen Simonyan). He’s still getting his mind blown by GPT-3, apparently….
Meanwhile legendary technologist John Carmack (co-founder of id software and formerly CTO at Meta-owned Oculus) announced his new startup Keen Technologies has raised US$20M to pursue Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Speaking to TechCrunch, he said:
“I do not believe in fast takeoffs … [but] I think that we will go from a point where we start seeing [AI-powered] things that credibly look like animals…I think animal intelligence is closer to human intelligence than a lot of people like to think and … There’s just that smooth spectrum of how the brain developed and cortexes and scaling of different things going on there.”
Here he is talking at length (before the announcement) to Lex Fridman:
Doesn’t take much to imagine what comes after DALL-E: Text-to-movie…
From last year: “what happens if you let AI write music, visuals, and story...?” Nyeshkerh is one of the first “movies” completely generated using generative AI. Trippy.
(Next: Text-to-CRISPR?!? “A squirrel-sized insect with the wings of an eagle, human-level intelligence and able to photosynthesise…“)
🥽VR headsets aha
Zuck became almost apologetic at the response his (let’s be honest) lame lo-res cartoon “selfie” to mark the launch of Horizon Worlds in France and Spain, which quite rightly drew the ire of the internet:
He is promising to do better, soon:
I can certainly believe the next generation of Horizon+Cambria will be pretty impressive, but Horizon isn’t the killer app for these headsets, at least not at first. Robert Scoble is likely closer to the money:
All those massive 75-inch LG, Samsung and Sony TVs that fill up Harvey Norman retail store space…? Goneburger. 3-5 years max. (I predicted exactly this when I was a guest on the Twice podcast in 2016…)1
🟥UASF vs OFAC
In Bitcoin mining, a soft fork is defined as:
“A soft-fork is a change to the Bitcoin protocol that makes validation rules stricter, meaning that all blocks and transactions that are valid with the new set of rules are also valid with the old ones. Thus any node that does not upgrade to the new protocol would still validate any block or transaction created under the new rules.“
A User-activated soft fork (UASF) is:
“the activation of a soft-fork without having obtained support from a large minority of miners. Normally, soft-forks are activated if they receive enough support from miners (95%), measured by counting the number of blocks signaling for a soft-fork proposal among the last 2016 mined blocks”
With Ethereum about to shift from Proof of Work (PoW) to Proof of Stake (PoS), the potential to implement UASFs becomes profoundly different:
That is, any validators choosing to enforce censorship such as that covered last week relating to the OFAC sanctions against Tornado Cash could literally be burned off the network. The broader Ethereum consensus network could literally censor legacy state regulators…
(Makes me think that under PoS each validator is effectively performing the combined role of a “mini central bank and regulator” needing to maintain its regulatory credentials and trust in a far more decentralised network…)
Colossal, the “de-extinction” company which made headlines last year with its plans to bring the mammoth back, announced a partnership with the Thylacine Integrated Genomic Restoration Research Lab (TIGRR) at the University of Melbourne with the goal to de-extinct the thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) and re-introduce it into the wild.
Another high-performing text-to-image generative AI tool, StableDiffusion launched into beta. check out this thread of comparisons to MidJourney and DALLE-2:
I spotted this concept video of a phone with its own mini-drone contained inside:
⛅Gone to that place in the
StoryFile is a company providing “conversational videos - videos that talk back”.
The company recently provided the tech at the UK funeral of Marina Smith, a leading Holocaust campaigner who “returned from beyond the grave in the form of an artificial intelligence-powered hologram, able to answer funeral guests’ questions and reveal family secrets.”
Orbital Marine is a Scottish tidal power startup “turning the tide on climate change“ - they have developed and deployed what they claim is the most powerful tidal turbine in the world in Orkney - a 2MW offshore unit. Check out the size of this thing:
(Again, where are the equivalent“think big” initiatives for Te Moana-o-Raukawa / Cook Strait?!)
🚡Electric sky pods
Another innovative infrastructure idea: electric “sky pods” to transport passengers and shipping containers long distances in UAE. (Imagine how many trucks an unbroken line of these from Kaitaia Wellington and Picton to Invercargill would remove from the roads?).
Virtual power plant
Tesla’s “virtual power plant” in California logged its first successful emergency response event - enabling electricity to be sent back into the grid by pooling power from Powerwall owners around the state who just answered “yes” on their phone app. Pretty major implications for grid peak load management in future…
Nanoelectrofuel flow battery
Staying on energy storage, I spotted this video about new “nanoelectrofuel” flow batteries from Infuit Energy (research funded by DARPA):
“The world's first non-consumable, nonflammable, non-combustible, rechargeable electric fuel engineered with domestically sourced, abundant raw materials.”
Apparently the liquid fuel can just be poured into a “battery” tank and emptied once it is used and is non-flammable (unlike Lithium-ion). Revolutionary if this scales as it could use existing fuel distribution infrastructure…
Given the progress which SpaceX, RocketLab and a few others worldwide are having… how long until the asteroid is rocketed closer to Earth orbit and mined…? 5 years? 10 years? Under the world’s current mostly capitalist system, where would the wealth generated go…?
I’m finding that I increasingly use graph databases as a way to transfer knowledge to collaborators. (For example, Memia subscribers get access to the full Memia archive in the fully searchable Memia Knowledge Graph in Roam Research).
When graphs are published in a visually engaging and interactive way, complex information becomes even more accessible and transferrable. One example: this interactive graph diagram from independent investigative reseach group DeSmog Mapped: Europe’s Fossil Fuel-Backed Hydrogen Lobby, laying out the relationships behind a “sprawling network of lobby groups, PR firms and consultancies, many of them funded by oil and gas companies”.
(Trying to find out which tool Gaia used to create this particular representation…)
Meanwhile, here’s how I want to work with my graph databases going forward:
Robin Hanson, philosopher and author of the mind-exploding book The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth (and not uncontroversial economist) spent 4 hours discussing his thinking about the Fermi Paradox, the expansion rate of “grabby” alien civilisations and whether aliens might already be here with Lex Fridman in June. Big canvas thinking for a long walk or drive…
Webb revising science
Speaking of big canvas thinking… some of the latest images returned by the Webb telescope are have delivered a startling finding: tens, hundreds, maybe even 1000 times more bright galaxies in the early universe than astronomers anticipated.
As a result, galaxy formation models may now need revising to fit with Webb’s images, less than 500 million years after the big bang.
A few exciting goings on around the motu as always!
Congratulations to Matt Boyd of Adapt Research and Nick Wilson for securing significant funding to conduct an Aotearoa New Zealand Catastrophe Resilience Project. They are currently hiring for what is definitely the most unique PD in Aotearoa this year: Nuclear winter and other catastrophes researcher.
Finally, here’s some innovation looking ready for commercialisation from Richard Green’s AI and Robotics group at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury: an autonomous underwater drone able to survey mussels and scallops for size, health, and any pests.
Nuggets and gems
A diverse pick of the links this week:
An eternal question
(Being from the UK living in Aotearoa I use both interchangeably.)
I sympathise with the computer
A tale from Micrrosoft back in the days of Windows XP, a manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” would crash several laptop models - and even caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn’t playing the video. What was the problem….?
Taming the garden (1)
A documentary about Georgia’s former prime minister’s unique hobby: “He collects century-old trees, some as tall as 15-floor buildings, from communities along the Georgian coast. At a great expense and inconvenience, these ancient giants are uprooted from their lands to be transplanted to his private garden.”
Taming the garden (2)
A huge “megasculpture” in the Nevada Desert visible from space:
Sheep Human Contest
I have no words.
Thanks as always to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - always appreciated!
See you again next week.
…but the episode seems to have since disappeared from the internet!