Memia 2022.39: WW III…?🧨// shakier isles⚠️// online voting: so innovate🗳️💡// make-a-video📹// Optimus meh🤖// digital twins as history🧑🤝🧑// tragedy in the metaverse🥽// fake believe🕵️
You’ll never park again (illegally)
Welcome to another Memia newsletter: your regular scan across the latest emerging tech and the unfolding future, as viewed from the edge of the world here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Thanks for being here!
(⚠️Usual 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 on iOS.)
🥇The most clicked link in last week’s newsletter (7% of openers) was the NASA video of the DART probe smashing into asteroid Dimorphos).
This week’s ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment #15 (paid subscribers only) looked at the growing ubiquity (and oligopoly) of cloud computing and implications for data-, compute- and national- sovereignty:
Also in the last week… a run through the main news stories and angles I’ve been tracking this week:
The foreseeable outcomes of the Russia-Ukraine war continue to swing wildly back and forth between stalemate, Russian climbdown or nuclear escalation.
Despite Putin’s unilateral and illegal “annexation” of South-Eastern Ukrainian regions last week, the Ukraine military has continued to win back territory, most recently liberating the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region and seizing back parts of Kherson Oblast. The latest maps from @TheStudyOfWar below, likely already out of date by the time you read this:
The Russian economy will ‘die by winter’ because of the ‘catastrophic consequences’ of the military mobilisation, warns one Russian economist
The disastrous climate impact of the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage is only just becoming clear: the gas leaks are estimated to release 300,000 tonnes of methane gas into the atmosphere, the largest-ever release during a single event: climate impact similar to the annual emissions of 1 million cars.
There is at least one mitigation option:
(See also “Whodunnit?” below…)
We now seem to have entered another opaque phase of strategic posturing from the main protagonists, with the stakes escalating (being escalated?) in the online news media:
Prominent US and (deranged) Russian commentators are asserting that “World War III” actually started back on February 24th when Russia first invaded and the West backed Ukraine militarily… and that this war will go on for years and suck in other countries, notably China.
NATO members are now on alert for Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate the conflict with a nuclear test on Ukraine's borders, possibly delivered by submarine.
A mysterious train, possibly carrying nuclear weapons, was spotted making its way from central Russia towards Ukraine.
Much of the strategic narrative now seems to hinge on how China and India will respond if Putin did resort to nuclear (or chemical or biological…) weapons.
(Not to discount North Korea running interference, shooting a missile 4,000km over the Japanese archipelago yesterday).
Hold tight this week, even more so than previous weeks, things could get pretty wild…
📉Global economy flexing again
Arguably the Ukraine conflict has seen the US gain a significant economic advantage over its other Western partners in 2022 as the US$ has once again become the (“flight to safety”) de facto global reserve currency:
Related? Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and potentially several other large European investment banks are riding a wave of insolvency rumours (It would be big…CS says it has close to a US$100 billion capital buffer…!).
The fundamental question in 2022 is: are giant banks like CS and DB “too big to fail” this time around? Or are we due more Central Bank bailouts and money printing?
In parallel, the UK’s financial sector narrowly avoided tanking completely last week according to some reports…
The new Truss-led government was forced into an immediate U-turn on tax cuts for high earners… and the UK currency appears to have stabilised for the moment… but it’s an omnishambles, really.
(And even though we keep reassuring ourselves with our “sound economic management” narrative here in Aotearoa, our economy is so small that it wouldn’t take many dominos to destabilise our side of the world to a similar order of magnitude…)
It’s crazy to think that this time last year residents of Tāmaki Makaurau were still only half way through a 100-day Level 4 Covid lockdown. Seems like another era…
Now in 2022, the immunity levels which appear to have built up in Aotearoa’s population appear to be holding well, with new infection rates and reinfection rates tracking consistently lower:
With the Northern Hemisphere winter approaching, a raft of new mutated Omicron strains imply that more big COVID-19 waves may be coming soon.
Last month, the UK approved a new "bivalent" vaccine designed to work against the original BA.1 Omicron variant, as well as the ancestral Sars-CoV-2 strain that Aotearoa’s vaccination programme has targeted to date. The ODT asks: Should NZ be in a hurry for new boosters?
Meanwhile Pfizer paid almost US$120M to acquire Australian software company ResApp, which claims to have developed a smartphone app that can accurately diagnose COVID-19 by analyzing the sound of a cough (Previously covered in Memia 2022.14).
Don’t look now…
🥊Climate gloves off
As exemplified by TheJuiceMedia, biting, well pitched, satire is often the most effective cut-through messaging to talk to power. This clever take-down of Chevron doesn’t pull its punches… expect way more of these as the Climate wars escalate.
GNS Science released a comprehensive new national seismic hazard model that increases the likelihood of future earthquake shaking hazard throughout most of the country, more than doubling in some areas, highlighting the need to boost national resilience strategies and earthquake readiness.
"The shaking that we forecast to experience across any single location in New Zealand in the next decades is about half again as much or maybe twice as much as what we would have forecast 10 years ago,"
— GNS Seismologist Project Lead Matt Gerstenberger quoted by RNZ
🔝TOP policy drop
At the weekend, freshly minted leader of The Opportunities Party (TOP) Raf Manji dropped a comprehensive package of fiscally neutral tax policies, including:
NZ$15K Income Tax-Free threshold
0.75% Land Value Tax (LVT).
Raf discusses the details with Bernard Hickey here: Inside TOP's new NZ$7b land-tax-for-income tax switch plan, with extras. It really is a thing of beauty (click to enlarge):
(*Finally* there are some equitable, practical, *sensible* tax reform polices on the general election ballot next year…)
(Plus Raf announced he will stand in the Ilam constituency in Ōtautahi where he is already well known locally — previously he got 21% of the vote against incumbent Gerry Brownlee who won’t be standing next year — so there’s a decent possibility of him getting TOP onto the cross-benches in Parliament next October, perhaps with at least 3-4 MPs (or higher) in tow… could change the shape of our politics.
(Cue multiple-property-owning Boomer revolt…)
🗳️💡Online voting: so innovate
🤦I got into a couple of (ultimately unproductive) Twitter shouting matches this week on the topic of online voting. Doh.
First, some data…this from Infometrics’ Brad Olsen demonstrating clearly plummeting voter turnout in local elections since 1989:
In response to posting a Spinoff article from 2019 by AUT Policy Observatory’s Julienne Molineaux: Online voting as the big fix for low turnout is not a brainwave, it’s a brainfart…. my 2c:
Here’s an extract from her FAQs on the subject of online voting, also from 2019, giving one reason why online voting won’t work (my bolding):
“When it comes to voting, voters aren’t given a receipt that says how they voted – because that would enable the coercion or bribing of voters – so you might not know that your vote had been changed or corrupted. The election officials also might not know that anything was remiss. It’s possible no-one would know there was a problem.
Online shopping and banking’s paper trail provides a form of security and redress that is impossible with casting a secret ballot. Not knowing if the results generated from an election accurately reflect the wishes of voters risks undermining trust in the system and the outcome.”
I fundamentally disagree with the “impossible” here. “Impossible so far”, yes, but “Impossible full stop”, NO! Get out and INNOVATE!
(I may be missing something but I can immediately imagine a set of software and trust solutions to enable both an anonymised public ledger of all votes counted, together with an anonymised verification key given *to those who want it* at the time of voting, to get around the secret ballot problem…)
But before I start solutioneering too much, let’s pull the conversation up to outcomes: As I argued in last week’s newsletter, I’m *in favour* of online voting *for those who want it* because I expect it will:
(a) increase voter turnout (particularly young people)
(b) improve accessibility and convenience of voting (particularly young people)
(c) actually improve the verifiability of the vote count
(d) come with a manageable level of risk — certainly no worse than the archaic postal voting system we are experiencing this month.
Dave (@Lightweight above) isn’t in favour because he perceives an unmitigatable, existential risk to democracy from digital voting technology, admittedly citing some pretty valid case studies:
I’m learning that things get quite zealous (and not a little glib) in this debate...
Again, personally I just don’t get the reflex against innovation in this voting problem space compared to every other aspect of our lives that we use digital tools for all the time.
But I do know of several younger people (all renters and/or students) who did not receive their voting papers and have been unable to cast a special vote because they couldn’t get to a Council facility / are travelling away from home. Here’s a thread full of other examples. In my view they have been actively disenfranchised. A mobile voting app / website would solve this problem.
So why hasn’t it happened? The DIA’s proposed trial of online voting in 2019 local elections was called off for cost reasons and wasn’t resurrected this year.
After the sub-par experience of this election, my own view is that online voting trials should be established for 2025 — and earlier by-elections if possible — to test the potential solutions.
(Probably along with shifting responsibility for running local elections to the Electoral Commission and the establishment of an open-source repo for Aotearoa Election software source code, to be curated and certified by the EC before each vote.)
Here’s the draft list of threats they need to avoid. Nothing insurmountable.
Do it transparently, with a super-simple UX and a verifiable, anonymised ledger of counted votes and the unwarranted fear mongering will rapidly dissipate.
(Plus we’ll get future-ready democratic infrastructure which will support daily voting through liquid democratic processes…)
Moving on…. pretty much the usual advancing technology themes being covered in this week’s signals from the future… (no less mindblowing for it, but somehow it feels that future tech is a bit more predictable than it was…?)
VPN at the Edge
Microsoft is the first major vendor to roll out a privacy-protecting Virtual Private Network (VPN) switched on by default with its Edge web browser in Beta:
“In the Optimized (Recommended) mode, the VPN will automatically connect when you’re using public Wi-Fi or browsing unsecured networks and sites lacking a valid HTTP certificate. However, the VPN will not run while you’re streaming or watching videos — so that you can save up on traffic which is capped at a modest 1 GB per month.”
The feature is similar to Apple’s beta “Private Relay” service for Safari. Expect Google Chrome and Mozilla to follow suit…
2022 is the year when Generative AI went from neat experiment to mainstream creative and productivity tool. Expect the applications to keep coming in thick and fast in the next year…
Three stories to cover this week:
Meta AI published another milestone in generative AI video creation: Make-A-Video Studio, “a state-of-the-art AI system that generates videos from text”. This is my favourite example:
As with text-to-image tools like DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, you can see how this is going to drive huge upticks in creativity, productivity and innovation once it’s widely available.
My favourite feature is the automated animation capability: “from static to magic”:
Can you imagine how simple and low-cost it will be to cast and produce a movie in 2023 when each scene can be auto-generated from a series of prompts…?
(Meanwhile it’s not looking too rosy for Meta on the markets… CNBC puts the knife in: Facebook scrambles to escape stock’s death spiral as users flee, sales drop:
“I’m not sure there’s a core business that works anymore at Facebook,”
— Laura Martin, Needham.
Also the open source, desktop-deployable Stable Diffusion ecosystem continues to grow arms and legs:
Replicate is an animation tool built on top of SD, same as Static to Magic:
SD as interior design tool:
The disruptive potential of these Gen-AI tools are becoming clearer with every new application. A whole new wave of position descriptions, variations on “Generative AI Whisperer” are about to open up for those who hone their skills early on…
🤔“Common sense” AI?
Easy to scoff at this headline: Lab Revisits the Task of Putting Common Sense in AI but the underlying approach is interesting. Nonprofit AI Lab Basis aims to “model human reasoning to inform science and public policy” … if they get it right it could just “solve” many of the currently intractable problems with policymaking:
“applying machine learning to policymaking is an area we’re pursuing. How do you model a city? We’re starting to talk to agencies in New York City. How can we improve the trash problem? How can we reduce homelessness? If we instantiate this policy, what’s going to happen? And the inverse problem: If we want to reduce trash and reduce homelessness, what policies should we instantiate? How should we allocate resources? Could we build multiscale models, which capture different components of the city, in some coherent and cohesive way? And also make it accessible so you can actually help policymakers answer some concrete questions?“
Tesla’s (way too premature) unveiling of their “Optimus” humanoid robot was…a bit shit:
(The second “reveal” with a trio of T-shirted engineers holding the prototype robot up was top comedy straight out of Silicon Valley).
To be fair to the Tesla AI team it’s pretty impressive to have got the technology so far in such a short space of time - in a year’s time they may have got closer to Boston Dynamics levels of agility and performance…but right now it’s pretty basic.
The whole event was just a bit naff and the internet was underwhelmed. (Perhaps that explains why Musk is now sucking oxygen out of the room with a Twitter poll on solving the Ukraine war…. best to ignore.)
Earlier in the week, founder Elon Musk had claimed that Tesla’s forthcoming CyberTruck can “serve briefly as a boat”. Er…
(And in breaking news, after Twitter vs Elon Musk was moving towards a predictable verdict in the Delaware Court of the Chancery…Musk has apparently backed down from backing out and is now proposing to buy Twitter for the original price of US$54.20 a share (US$44Bn)). How to put a dent in a multi-billionaire’s wallet….
It’s been a while since I last checked in on Urbit:
“Urbit is a new OS and peer-to-peer network that’s simple by design, built to last forever, and 100% owned by its users.”
Urbit is made up of two components:
Urbit OS: the “overlay OS”, a Virtual machine which runs on any connected Unix box: contains a programming language and kernel designed to run software for an individual. In an Urbit world, each person has their own Urbit OS node, or ‘urbit’:
Your urbit is secure and private to you and entirely under your control. When you want to connect with others, you connect to their urbit directly — rather than going through a centralized service.
Urbit ID: an identity and authentication system designed to work with Urbit OS:
“Your Urbit ID is a short, memorable name (like ~ravmel-ropdyl) that’s a username, network address and crypto wallet all in one. It’s registered on a blockchain, you own it with a key and no one can take it away from you. Urbit IDs are cryptographic property.”
It’s a fascinating technology model supported by a growing developer community… check out this thread with links to a few new applications: still early days but this could be a critical mass model for the future of private, sovereign personal computing.
🧑🤝🧑Digital twins as history
Two rather sad Metaverse stories this week…
The Guardian covers a presentation by Tuvalu’s former attorney general and current high commissioner to Fiji, Dr Eselealofa Apinelu at the recent State of the Pacific conference. In it she said that 12,000 Tuvaluans need a “Digital Twin” so that they can remember the island nation after it disappears under the ocean (projected sometime before 2100 at the current rate of globa warming…)
“When that finally happens, that Tuvalu has disappeared and all they have is this virtual world … we should always be able to remember Tuvalu as it is, before it disappears”
🥽Tragedy in the metaverse
Drone-maker DJI’s new innovation HQ in Shenzhen is spectacular… with multiple high-ceilinged drone labs and a suspension footbridge between the two towers. Check out more photos in this Dezeen review.
✈️Two visions of aviation
Two contrasting visions of airborne innovation:
Hypersonic flights are the latest futurist subject imagined by Spanish Designer Oscar Viñals with his “Hyper Sting” concept design — “combining theoretical cold fusion nuclear systems and innovative Mach 3.5 technology”. (Pretty pictures, ain’t gonna happen…)
More realistically, a battery powered plane by Kiwi-backed firm Eviation had its first maiden flight in the US. This is one of a number of small electric-powered aircraft which are currently being developed.
🌱Plant based protein ain’t all it’s cooked up to be?
Given the environmental imperative to move away from consuming animal meat and towards plant-based substitutes, here is some interesting research which I doubt will be the last of its type we see (thanks @leighelse for spotting): Plant-based meat analogues weaken gastrointestinal digestive function and show less digestibility than real meat in mice.
🅿️You’ll never park again (illegally)
Nifty innovation out of China. Can think of a lot of uses for these (in cycle lanes in particular!)
A couple of links to share this week:
The new Economist podcast series “The Prince” fills in a number of gaps in understanding just who is Xi Jinping and how did he come to be on the cusp of a lifetime term as Chinese President?
Frank Drake, author of the famous Drake Equation which attempts to answer the question “how many intelligent civilizations should there be in our galaxy right now?”, passed away on 2 September.
🕵️Added to my fantasy bookshelf of books I will read when I have the time: Fake Believe: Conspiracy theories in Aotearoa by Dylan Reeve:
“Drawing on nearly two decades of quiet observation, extensive research and wide-reaching interviews with believers, former believers, and sceptics, Dylan Reeve sheds light on the seemingly increasingly relevant world of conspiracy theories in Aotearoa – where we are now, and where we might be heading.“
Big shout-out around the motu this week:
I had an awesome time on Friday at the final night of the Auspicious Victory / Hostile Body exhibition hosted at X-CHC in Ōtautahi (and in a virtual gallery in the Voxels metaverse). Some of the most advanced AI-generated art that I’ve seen, check it out online if you haven’t already.
My particular favourite piece in the exhibition was pretty much the darkest one on the wall (of course): Weighing the Pain In My Hands… here’s an animated variation by special request:
Enjoy your breakfast!!
Nuggets and gems
Finally some light relief!
An X-ray of someone wearing a DJI FPV headset…a prototype of future humanity?
The theories continue as to who blew up the Nordstream pipeline:
Russia? (Yeah right)
Or, maybe…. the Anglo-Saxons?
50 years ago next month, Italian pop star Adriano Celentano released the song “Prisencolinensinainciusol“ that hit No. 1 in his home country, despite the fact it wasn't performed in Italian. Or English, for that matter… (It’s got a pretty unique tribal beat to it as well, genius!)
To finish with…likely you’ve seen this hilarious clip doing the rounds this week, but in case not… enjoy!
And that’s a wrap for another week! Thanks to everyone who gets in touch each week with ideas, thoughts, feedback, links — always appreciated!
See you again next time.