Memia newsletter 2020.01

Memia 2020 reboot // Ending aging // Recruiting civil service 3.0 // Redistributive sovereign cryptos // AR finally nearing reality?

Hi / Kia ora,

(After a long hiatus since the previous newsletter, I’ve moved the Memia mailing list to the excellent Substack publishing platform. If you don’t want to receive these emails any more please click unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. Thank you!)

Memia 2020 reboot

Happy new decade! And welcome [back] to the rebooted Memia newsletter for the 2020s by me, Ben Reid.

(You find me bouncing off a short sabbatical break which has involved trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, touring around the South Island of New Zealand, swimming in the Cook Islands, time to properly connect with family and lots of reading and thinking…plus *finally* getting around to a few jobs around the house, natch. Highly recommended to take the time out, put the periscope up and recharge. Note to self: do it again some time.)

So back into it, then. As before I will be writing about developments at the confluence of emerging technology, business and society. I try to take a global perspective but will often focus in on what’s happening in my corner of the world - Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia. I hope you find it interesting! (And if you do, please feel free to share using the button below.)

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Ending aging / increasing healthspan

Over the break I absorbed the recent book Lifespan by David A Sinclair with Matthew D LaPlante. Sinclair, an Australian by upbringing, is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and arguably the world’s most high profile advocate of anti-aging medicine. (He was interviewed by RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan at the end of 2019).

The book itself is thought provoking for a number of reasons: firstly because of Sinclair’s sheer evangelistic certainty that aging is a disease on the verge of being cured. But mainly because it provides an accessible overview of the cutting edge of anti-aging science. Sinclair explains his information theory of aging which argues that cumulative loss of epigenetic information over time causes cells to stop repairing themselves, loss of cell identity, cell senescence, disease and eventually death.

The text is a mix of published science, personal anecdotes and speculation about the future. In particular he explains the science behind at least seven lifestyle and medicinal pathways to slowing (and potentially reversing…) aging:

  • Eat less often (“caloric restriction”)

  • Exposure to extreme temperatures (eg ice baths, saunas)

  • Exercise (particularly HIIT)

  • mTOR inhibition

  • AMPK inhibition

  • Sirtuin activation

  • Senolytics

(I’ve annotated a mindmap of the main concepts below.)

Sinclair is a slick but controversial salesman for treating aging as a curable disease - but then a product like longevity / immortality largely sells itself. (He lists a medley of prescription drugs and supplements that he personally attests to taking daily… but refuses to endorse any particular supplement manufacturer.)

(Reading his book emphasised for me the huge gap in my knowledge and basic understanding of genetics…this Audible lecture series has provided a helpful primer on what is a huge and complex - and rapidly changing - subject… this is so fundamental that it ought to be taught in primary schools, I think…)

Overall takeouts from Lifespan:

  1. Radical healthy lifespan (“healthspan”) extension is way nearer than individuals or governments (…or insurers…) are currently anticipating. What if the majority of today’s 50-year-olds live healthily beyond 100? 120? 150? (500 as recent research suggests?)

  2. Personally: if it’s increasingly likely that we could live well for another 100 years, how will that affect our own life planning? (Not just financial…)

  3. Globally: given recent projections of 11 billion people by 2100 despite falling fertility rates, what impact would this increased longevity have on global population, demographics and workforce by then?

Recruiting civil service 3.0

Dominic Cummings - the hidden force behind Brexit and Special Adviser (“SPAD”) to new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson - set a controversial new standard for public service recruitment with his post (on his personal blog): ‘Two hands are a lot’ — we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos…. In it he references scifi authors, AI experts and philosophers to envision a radically new technocratic paradigm for government decision making - seemingly built around interactive data-driven “seeing rooms” - kind of like the Palantir from Lord of the Rings… oh, hang on… :-/

Needless to say it’s generated quite a bit of commentary* - some links followed by a scything critique from Rachel Coldicutt here: Inside the Clubcard Panopticon.

Could (…should…) this approach work here in New Zealand? Leaving aside Cummings’ style, it’s a serious question: how many data scientists (…let alone weirdos…) work directly in the Prime Minister’s office in 2020? I suspect not many.

*[Most hilarious of which is this thread on Twitter started by Scottish scifi legend Charles Stross, whose 2005(!) novel Accelerando I’ve just re-read once more: intellectually effervescent, boiling with ideas, hyper-prescient decades out on the singularity and nature of trans/posthuman intelligence - and just plain batshit crazy and funny at times - probably my favourite book of all time, a pleasure to dive back into].

Sovereign cryptocurrency instead of wealth tax?

One of my sabbatical projects was to become more familiar with the arguments and data surrounding the continued increases in economic inequality around the world. French economist Thomas Piketty’s 2013 book Capital in the Twenty First Century is the clear jumping off point…but there are plenty of critics and counterarguments to his thesis that inequality is basically a “feature” of capitalism and can only be overcome by state intervention - likely in the form of a wealth tax. (See also Why an increasingly unequal New Zealand needs a wealth tax).

This led to exploring how wealth redistribution could be achieved by other means than conventional state machinery of tax-and-spend. What if, using new sovereign cryptocurrency platforms, wealth redistribution instead just became a function of money? Take a read of my gestating thoughts and feel free to add comments: Redistributive sovereign cryptocurrency - an alternative to a "wealth tax"?

Currently the Reserve Banks of New Zealand and Australia are taking a pretty conservative view of the opportunities from sovereign digital currency while China forges ahead.

Roll call

Congratulations to founders Greg Cross, Mark Sagar and the whole team at Auckland-based Human-AI business Soul Machines who kicked off the new decade with a US$40M Series B funding round to focus on global expansion and more R&D. Truly exciting development for New Zealand’s growing AI sector.

[Weak] signals

Each issue I’ll pull together a few weak signals from near and far future:

Hidden gems

Finally, I’m always finding gems hidden around the internet that deserve to be shared:

Thanks for reading to the end - please do reach out and let me know your thoughts on any of the items covered and let me know what you’d like to hear more/less of as well.

Until next time.

Regards / Ngā mihi

Ben