Memia 2022.34: Ukraine turning point?🇺🇦// has anyone heard about the climate?🔥🌊// Artemiss🚀// FedNow (next year)💸// new cambrian period🥽// DIY deepfakes😶🌫️// BIG wind 🌬️// filter-o-fish🐟
Weighted total futility
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter, scanning across emerging tech and the unfolding future, from here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
(PSA: 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.)
🙏I thought I’d share a couple of pieces of reader feedback on last week’s issue:
“Memia is both fabulous and terrifying at the same time. Great for the brain!“
(“Fabulous *and* terrifying” is the new high bar I aspire to.😂)
…And, from someone who’s worked in the education sector for many years:
"Yesterday’s Memia newsletter reminded me, link by link, that we have no real idea of the world that we are seeking to ‘prepare’ our children for …"
(Yep, I pretty much agree, the world is changing faster than we can keep up…which is quite liberating as well, in some ways!)
🙏Thanks as always to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links - it is always appreciated!
In the latest ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment on Sunday I got down to core business, setting the scene to explore how exponential technology change will define Aotearoa’s future:
“General-purpose technologies (GPTs) are technologies that can affect an entire economy (usually at a national or global level). GPTs have the potential to drastically alter societies through their impact on pre-existing economic and social structures. Examples include the steam engine, railroad, interchangeable parts, electricity, electronics, material handling, mechanization, control theory (automation), the automobile, the computer, the Internet, medicine, and artificial intelligence.“
In the next few instalments I’m going to summarise the key general purpose technologies which I think could have a fundamentally transformative impact on our future in the next decade or so. These are:
Next-generation internet (including satellites)
Utility (“Cloud”) computing
Virtual and augmented reality (“Metaverse”)
Additive manufacturing (“3D Printing”, “4D Printing”)
Decentralised computing (“Blockchain“, “Crypto”, “Web3”)
Biotechnology (incuding gene editing, synthetic life)
Human intelligence augmentation
Energy storage (“batteries”)
Renewable energy generation
Space exploration and extraction
In the near term, advances in these GPTs can be combined and pulled up into applied solutions in pretty much any area known today, presenting a smorgasbord of opportunities to make wellbeing better across any number of domains:
Looking forward to starting to write these sections over the next few weeks!
Also in the last week…
🇺🇦Ukraine turning point?
It’s now 6 months since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine began on 24 Feb. The war continues its grinding destruction as the northern hemisphere autumn approaches. Three notable developments this week (leaving aside the knock-on global energy and food crises…):
In terms of the actual war for territory, a Ukrainian counteroffensive around the Kherson region appears to have started pushing back against Russian occupation in the last few days…perhaps this is a turning point and Russia has exhausted its capacity to mobilise…or perhaps another long frontline stalemate looms. Keeping an eye on ISW maps day to day:
☢️More deeply worrying is the fighting (both sides blaming each other) around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, Southern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky actually said that Europe narrowly missed a radiation disaster last Thursday when the plant was briefly disconnected from Ukraine's power grid and back-up generators kicked in. The IAEA has now dispatched an inspection team to attempt to supervise the situation…
I remember clearly the fallout from Chernobyl spreading over the UK in 1984: it is estimated that about 400 times more radioactive material was released from Chernobyl than by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Related this week: UN negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have not reached an outcome, blocked by Russia:
Thinking forward to the aftermath of the war when it comes, Canadian drone-maker Draganfly is supplying demining groups in Ukraine with a handful of Landmine-Hunting Drones: UAVs equipped with sensors designed to map areas with suspected mines (no data yet on whether they work better than the currently used alternative is just to “use chopsticks with little prodders to poke in the ground“).
🔥🌊Has anyone heard about the climate?
More apocalyptic scenes from around the world dissipating into (half-hearted, too-late?) wake-up calls on the accelerating impacts of climate change:
Unprecedented drought causing China’s rivers to dry up:
(See also this macroeconomic analysis by Gopal Reddy of the broader consequences : Power shortages, a hidden water crisis, and a hard landing in China).
In Pakistan (population 220 million), torrential floods have washed out hill settlements and devastated the country:
Kia kaha to everyone affected. A humanitarian disaster is now unfolding in the aftermath of the floods: FYI the Pakistan High Commission in Wellington have opened a disaster relief donation fund and several other relief organisations are also ramping up donation funds.)
As Pakistan’s federal climate change minister Sherry Rehman said in a TV interview, one third of the country was underwater due to flooding and facing a completely failed harvest next year, Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is one of the most vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change. But are the wealthy major emitters stepping up?
(Not on the same scale as Pakistan but still globally notable are the destructive floods in the north of Te WaiPounamu just over a week ago: Marlborough and Nelson flooding: Long, complex recovery ahead).
We already know where is this heading, but there’s more confirmation of just how quickly:
The FT looks at the various sources causing Methane levels to rise more rapidly in line with a warming climate: most can be attributed to increasing emissions from natural wetlands and fossil fuel emissions, but agriculture Iincluding burping cows) plays its part as well:
And a new study in Nature Climate Change concludes that 25cm of sea level rise is now inevitable - even if all climate-damaging actions stopped immediately.
(As I wrote in ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa #1, the most significant effect of these climate-induced natural disasters will be massive climate refugee migration — orders of magnitude more than has ever been seen before. Hundreds of millions of internally displaced people in tropical regions will need to move to more temperate regions in a few short years. They will find a way… but global political stability will be frayed…)
Other notable snippets this week:
In the US, the White House moved to make all federally funded scientific research freely accessible - which will reduce (if not yet eliminate) rent taking from academic publishers.
See also: Open Access in New Zealand Wikipedia entry. To my knowledge the same policy is not in place here (yet)?
KiwiBank senior economist Jeremy Couchman claimed that Aotearoa’s housing shortage has more than halved in the last year falling from an estimated 57,000 homes to 23,000 - in part due to the country building 41,000 homes over the last year - the most since 1991. So it could be “over” within a year!?!?
A new research paper found that the carbon footprint of flights to and from Aotearoa increased by more than 50% from 2007 to 2017, with long-haul flying becoming less efficient. Overall emissions jumped by more than 50% to 8.4 Mt CO2 in 2017 — equivalent to almost 10% of all Aotearoa’s domestic GHG emissions.
I’m about to take my first long-haul flights in nearly 3 years and beating myself up about it tbh… flying to the UK and back to see family will increase my personal annual carbon footprint by over 50%… so I’m in the market for some personal offsets - Arawera Native Forest in Taranaki (offered by CarbonClick) has been audited at nearly 1 million kg (1,000 tonnes) of CO2 offset to date. Any other similar schemes you know of?
A quieter week than usual on the wires…
Nearly 50 years since Apollo 17 last went to the Moon (see below), NASA’s Artemis I mission to launch an unmanned space capsule into moon orbit and back to Earth was postponed after pre-launch cooling failed. A second launch attempt may happen this week… or be delayed further…
The SLS rocket is *huge*:
Meanwhile, SpaceX and T-Mobile announced an ambitious plan to provide ubiquitous connectivity from space to anyone with a cellphone:
Yes this would be a neat future with all sorts of positive global implications (eg up to 3Bn more people online and obseleting network-level censorship efforts like the Great Firewall)…BUT…
The plan would involve launching a constellation of significantly heavier “2nd generation” Starlink satellites… Astronomer Ronald Drimmel does some maths on why this would not be a good idea for the Earth’s atmosphere (basically up to 1,000 Starship launches / year => significant global warming, ozone depletion, thousands of tonnes of aluminium and rare earth minerals burning up in the upper atmosphere and orbital debris risk as thousands of satellites fall back to Earth after 6-7 years…). Click for thread:
💸FedNow (next year)
(I was talking about a centralised central bank payments system for Aotearoa last week… turns out the US is moving ahead on this with some pace…)
This week US Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard announced that FedNow, the Federal Reserve’s instant payment service, is scheduled to launch between May and July 2023. FedNow is designed to allow any financial participant: individuals, businesses, and banks to settle financial transactions in real time at any time of any day… but will depend upon banks and financial services providers upgrading their systems in time to work with FedNow. So will likely take a few years yet...
The crypto crash and general global crisis vibe have pulled global attention away from CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies) - China is rapidly-rolling-out its e-CNY. FedNow is designed to solve many of the same issues which a CBDC does, but *perhaps* without quite so much in-built centralised surveillance and control.
The graphic below does a pretty good job of explaining some of the compromises of central bank controlled digital money vs. bearer-assets like cash or Bitcoin:
🥽New Cambrian period
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg opened up more than he usually does in a 3 hour podcast conversation with Joe Rogan. Not a lot of profound insights in the conversation so perhaps listen at 2X speed… but lots of nuggets about the Metaverse strategy and day to day operations at Meta which provide a lot more colour than before.
The one big piece of news is that the next generation Meta Quest Pro headset (prototype pictured below… previously teased as “Project Cambria”)… is scheduled for release in October this year, much earlier than anticipated.
(I have a Quest 2 but after a few plays it generally sits unused for months…the user experience is impressive but not quite there yet and the apps ecosystem isn’t very useful… but if I can use one of these new headsets for work instead of a laptop — eg with the equivalent of 20 high-res screens at once — and watching a movie without getting sore eyes / headache / sore neck then I’m in. But not so much into gaming / metaverse “socialising”…)
This TikTok video blew a few people’s minds last week: detailing how creating a convincing deepfake video character with openly accessible AI and animation tools releasing onto the internet.
As I’ve said a number of times now, this is another signal that it’s time to start building our own dark forests… can you imagine (next year?) when your social media feeds are just filled with these things…
…and that it will be virtually impossible to tell if they are real people or not (or even genuine friends and family)? The phishing potential alone is just insanely huge…
Combine the two most common tech buzzwords today and you get “Quantum AI”… turns out there is actually such a thing under development!
Google recently open sourced TensorFlow Quantum (TFQ): a quantum machine learning library for rapid prototyping of hybrid quantum-classical ML models:
“TFQ focuses on quantum data and building hybrid quantum-classical models. It integrates quantum computing algorithms and logic designed in Cirq, and provides quantum computing primitives compatible with existing TensorFlow APIs, along with high-performance quantum circuit simulators.”
Here’s some simple Quantum AI code I wrote earlier🤓:
The Hornsea Two windfarm in the North Sea just off the coast of North Yorkshire is the largest wind generation plant in the world and is about to start operating at full capacity, generating 1.32GW - enough to power 1.3 million homes in the UK.
🚆All aboard the DACC train?
CO2Rail is the latest unlikely concept in Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC): save energy by sucking in air as the train is moving and then use energy from braking to separate the CO2 from the air and store it.
Their published research states:
“The technology will harvest meaningful quantities of CO2 at far lower costs and has the conservative potential to reach annual productivity of 0.45 gigatons by 2030, 2.9 gigatons by 2050, and 7.8 gigatons by 2075 with each car having an annual capacity of 3,000 tonnes of CO2 in the near term and more as the technology progresses.“
Jury’s out on this… as @AJ_QT asks:
Not only is gorse a noxious weed and also a helpful nursery plant for regenerating native forest… it could also potentially be farmed as a plant-based alternative to meat and dairy protein. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland are suggesting that gorse could be used to feed millions of people and/or animals (gorse contains 17% protein and broom has 21% protein):
“…if protein isolates can be produced in the correct way, so to be safe, they could be considered as human food in the future.”
Came across this interesting tethered drone form factor in use for an automated fruit picking proof of concept. Interesting because each “parent” unit can contain a much bigger battery power source than the individual drone unit and hence the drones can work for longer between charges. (And there could be recharge points at each end of a row, for example…). Nifty vid.
One day will every river have an AI-enabled fish gate?
Three links to tickle the neurons this week:
🌐Atlas of economic complexity
The new Atlas of Economic Complexity from the Harvard Growth Lab is a successor to the MIT Observatory of Economic Complexity which ran from 2014 to 2019… and the new visualisations finally combine services and product export data into one view. Here are all of Aotearoa’s US$49.9Bn exports in 2020 (look at ICT!):
There are a whole load of extra views included now - for example the Product Space view, depicting the “connectedness between products, based on the similarities of know-how required to produce them.”
Could spend hours in here…
The “cognitive elite”
This weekend’s piece An Administrative Revolution in the Spinoff by Danyl McLauchlan has set Wellington chattering again after his previous excellent essay In a captured state. Chronicling the rapid expansion of the bureaucratic (as opposed to “frontline”) state as part of the current Labour government’s numerous centralisation and investment projects (Health, Polytechnics, FENZ and others…).
“Aren’t we seeing an erosion in state capacity alongside all this centralisation and expansion? Aren’t outcomes in health, education and welfare trending down rather than up? What’s going on? You can’t have effective public services without bureaucracies, but it’s not clear that the torrents of money flowing into them are delivering more value to the public or to the marginalised communities some of them are named after. It’s almost as if the primary role of the administrative state is shifting from serving the people to the redistribution of wealth to the staffers, lawyers, PR companies, managers and consultancy firms that work in them, or for them. A billion dollars a year in public sector consultancy is an awful lot of money when you’re running out of teachers and nurses because you don’t pay them enough, and the fire trucks are breaking down.”
Danyl McLauchlan describes this virtual “cognitive class” thus:
“…they are a wealthy yet transient elite. They travel for their educational credentials, their careers and their holidays, which means they have more in common with other educated elites across national borders than they do with the majority of their fellow citizens, whom they generally regard as ignorant and parochial…
…the primary purpose of the…state is to create high income jobs and lucrative contracts for the cognitive elite – they are the true value creators, after all – and to deliver media campaigns celebrating the bravery of their visions, the nobility of their aspirations; to affirm that they are the good and smart people.“
50 Years since Apollo 17
As the Artemis programme nears its first launch, it is nearly exactly 50 years since the crew of Apollo 17 successfully completed the last US mission to the moon in December 1972:
Looking back at NASA’s achievements during the era of the Apollo space programme always blows me away — they were working with such primitive technology and scientific knowledge compared to what we have today. But Apollo 17 still holds the record for the longest ever crewed lunar landing mission (12 days 14 hours in total), during which time the astronauts spent 22 hours outside the lunar module, travelling a distance of 7.6 kilometers away from it in the “moon buggy”.
(If you haven’t watched the captivating 2019 documentary Apollo 11 I highly recommend it - not only to live the adventure alongside the protagonists, but also to understand the technological era they were working in - thousands of highly trained individual brains working as part of an intricately designed organisational system).
Two shout-outs this week:
It’s local elections time! Cheryl Doig and the team at Ōtautahi Futures Collective are developing a great concept for a Futures Retrospective gift to elected local body members:
“A retrospective typically looks back at what has been done, with the goal of improving things in the future. A futures retrospective takes you into the future and asks you to consider how you got there.“
The aim is to put together a curated collection of ~400-word future retrospective scenarios into a small publication to present to incoming councillors, to help them “consider the actions we need today to create a better tomorrow.”
I think this is an awesome initiative and a very practical way to help new councillors start their role with long term thinking in mind. I know that the team are inviting submissions for Ōtautahi - perhaps others would like to do this for their own local body, get in touch with Cheryl.
For all my coverage of DACCS in recent newsletters, I hadn’t realise that there’s a world leading DACCS startup on my doorstep. Ōtautahi-based Aspiring Materials were included in the top 60 worldwide list for this year’s US$100M Carbon Removal X-Prize and are researching ways to transform abundant magnesium silicate minerals for enhanced CO2 sequestration. (Thanks Gerald Mackenzie for the pointer!)
Nuggets and gems
Well here we are again at the end of another week’s newletter.
Weighted total futility
I loved this lightly satirical piece in The Economist a couple of months back: Work, the wasted years: Logging in, deleting emails, mistyping things. It all adds up:
“A new study, by academics from the Maryland and Delaware Enterprise University Partnership (MADEUP)…[identifies] the number of minutes that people waste on pointless activities each working day…The authors then extrapolate these figures to come up with a “weighted total futility” (WTF) lifetime estimate of time that could have been better spent. The results are literally unbelievable…
"Correcting typos takes up an average of 20 minutes in every white-collar worker’s day, the equivalent of 180 days, or half a year, over a 45-year career…Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in the time an average office worker spends changing font sizes during their career."
Wow, this is rather impressive:
Invincible rescues Kitty
Charming and clever:
Inflation adjusted effort
Inspired by recent talk of quiet quitting
💯A perfect joke
And to finish…
See you again next week (from the other side of the world…!)