The Overshoot: don’t look up☢️an IAEA for superintelligence?🤖robot density🥽future of tourism⏱️drone endurance🩸multi-generational plasma exchange⚛️quantum man #2023.20
The AI is starting. Sit back and relax.
Another week, another Memia scan across emerging tech and the future as it hurtles towards us. Thanks for being here!
(I’ve been a bit under the weather with flu the last couple of days, brain just getting back into cognitive gear…hopefully everything still makes sense this week!)
In today’s newsletter:
The Overshoot: Don't Look Up 2 years on, scientists' dire warnings that the global economy is “an ecological Ponzi scheme” are still being blithely ignored by…nearly everyone.
📈 More climate graphs Record global ocean heat, sea ice loss, in global lake water storage
🤝 Papua New Guinea’s security pact with the US IS militarisation of the Pacific in all but name
💸 Risk of US default heightens as partisan brinksmanship continues on raising the USD37 trillion debt ceiling
📺 Deepfakes and markets viral AI-generated image of a Pentagon explosion wobbles markets
♻️ Offset no more Stricter rules on 'carbon neutral' claims in ads
⏩The Week in AI
💡 New AI releases from OpenAI, Meta AI Labs, Blockade Labs and trying out Godmode
🧳 Mr Altman goes to Washington - the US Senate Hearing on AI was high on theatre, low on regulatory substance
☢️Governance of Superintelligence OpenAI founders outline a path regardless of governments’ ability to execute
🛠️A Rust-y Future Microsoft starts to rewrite the 30-year-old Windows Kernel with Rust
🔓New Privacy Paradigms whether we like it or not
🏛️Digital Sovereignty does “Microsoft Cloud For Sovereignty” actually deliver that?
🤖Robot Density a big week in robots
🕶️XR News - Apple and Meta's upcoming AR technologies and a compelling demo of the future of tourism?
💱Nada Naira Nigeria's state-backed cryptocurrency struggles with adoption
⏱️Drone endurance a hydrogen-cell powered drone delivers a major advance
🩸Multi-generational plasma exchange hacking longevity hacking headlines
🛰️Space Rescue ambitious plans to resurrect the Spitzer Space Telescope
Nuggets and gems
🤯Anyma stunning transhuman trance music visuals
🌱Biosphere 2 a look back at the 1990s “Biosphere 2” experiment where 8 researchers lived inside a sealed structure for 2 years
⚛️Quantum man the work of quantum physicist-turned-sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae
Memia is a reader-supported publication. To help me keep putting in the time to write these newsletters every week (and to keep me topped up with caffeine…) please consider upgrading to a paid subscription, in particular if you read this for work! 🙏(25% off for corporate / group discounts).
🔝The most clicked links in last week’s newsletter (2% of openers each) were the ‘mind-boggling’ methane emissions from Turkmenistan and Andrew McCarthy’s gigapixel image of the Moon.
🤭Also shout out to reader Ed S for grokking my reference to Martha and the Muffins… “Echospeech (far away in time)”…
The usual wide-ranging set of Mind expanding links last Friday:
Mind expanding 19 May 2023: signal from the AI noise📡universal plausible deniability🙈seaflooding🌊the ethics of depopulation📉architectures of mind🐙how to rebuild our world from scratch🧰
(Monday’s ⏩Fast Forward Aotearoa instalment never made it out of draft due to the flu… will be rolled into next week’s post!)
The Overshoot: Don’t Look Up
43 years ago, sociologist William R Catton Jr. published his seminal (but at the time much ignored) book: Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change.
This month, Paul Mobbs writing in Resilience looks back at the book’s influence:
“‘Overshoot’, is ostensibly a book about biophysical limits, the theme that runs through it is about the human propensity for denying obvious facts: Our ability to deceive not only others, but more importantly, ourselves.”
The concept of Overshoot, humanity’s “eco-footprint” far exceeds our planet’s carrying capacity (which is itself being degraded…) leading to systems and population collapse, is still a long way from mainstream discourse… but arguably it is the most scientifically-grounded foundational framework within which to model future economic systems:
Earth’s regenerative capacity continues to decline rapidly: a strongly worded 2021 cross-disciplinary study, Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future (discussed in Memia 2021.02) revealed that humanity's consumption relative to Earth's regenerative capacity has surged since 1960:
“Essentially, humans have created an ecological Ponzi scheme. Consumption, as a percentage of Earth's capacity to regenerate itself, has grown from 73% in 1960 to more than 170% today.”
Fast forward to the end of 2022, the UN designated the ongoing famine in Madagascar as the first famine caused by climate change famine. As part of COP27 in November, António Guterres stated:
“Droughts, heatwaves & floods have a devastating impact on food production. The unfolding global food crisis cannot be stopped until nations manage the climate crisis.“
Roger Hallam, co-founder of activist group Extinction Rebellion, extrapolates:
Going just a bit deeper, I’m uncovering a whole network of Overshoot preppers. One example, Alan Urban, curator of website Collapse Survival, provides detailed reasoning: “We Are Going To Run Out Of Food – 7 Reasons There’s Going To Be A Global Famine”
“this is just the beginning. It has taken over 50 years for humans to raise the average global temperature by 1 degree Celsius, but many scientists believe the rate of warming will double over the next 25 years, bringing us to 2 degrees of warming within the next 20 years. By then, the air will hold 14% more moisture than it did before climate change…
…Considering how vital food is, you would think the mainstream media would talk about the dangers of food scarcity. Sure, they’ll briefly mention the coming climate disasters or the problem of dwindling resources, but they rarely mention the ultimate result of these predicaments: food shortages…
Until people are sufficiently frightened by climate change and resource depletion, they will continue with business as usual. It’s time to start telling people the truth about how bad things are. Only then will they feel motivated to start preparing for a dark future and mitigating the damage.”
This is hyperbole, right? Line go up forever, surely…
But mounting scientific evidence of accelerating global climate change and impending ecological collapse is…more compelling by the day. And yet, economic policymaking worldwide still shows little sign of optimising for anything other than “a pathological obsession with GDP”, let alone acknowledging Limits of Economic Growth and reframing economic policy within that.
And with the mainstream media more inane by the minute…The Overshoot is displaying uncanny Don’t Look Up vibes.
Also catching in my feed this week:
📈More climate graphs
On the topic of Overshoot…
Global ocean heat content continues to set records…
…as does sea ice…
…plus new research published in Science revealed a widespread decline in global lake water storage:
“The amount of water stored in large lakes has decreased over the past three decades due to both human and climatic drivers….satellite observations, climate models, and hydrologic models …show that more than 50% of both large natural lakes and reservoirs experienced volume loss over this time”
🤝Despite a no-show by Joe Biden (see below), Papua New Guinea signed a security pact with the US to allow “almost unfettered” access to PNG airspace, airports and territorial waters and pledging tens of millions of dollars in “security co-operation”.
This American largesse is in no small part a response to last year’s security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands:
Regional players including Aotearoa New Zealand are on record that they do not support the "militarisation of the Pacific"…although AoNZ Prime Minister Chris Hipkins walked the customary strategic tightrope between the US and China: "having a military presence doesn't necessarily signify militarisation". Yeah right.
💸Biden instead flew back to Washington to wade into more partisan brinksmanship on raising the US$31.4 Trillion US debt ceiling…still no deal with only 7 days to go.
The Economist peers over the abyss: What happens if America defaults on its debt? An unimaginable eventuality becomes all too imaginable. A 45% fall in US stock markets is one scenario. (But if that happens, wasn’t it all imaginary wealth anyway?)
Surely sovereign debt holders around the world are looking to diversify out of USD? It seems increasingly unwise to continue treating the USD as the “de facto” international reserve currency… while it is subject to increasingly volatile and byzantine domestic US politics…
And with the house of cards that is the US banking system… Balaji’s $1M Bitcoin bet doesn’t look entirely lost yet…
♻️The UK’s advertising watchdog announced stricter enforcement on use of terms such as ‘carbon neutral’ - in particular adverts claiming products are carbon neutral by using offsetting face a ban.
📺Deepfakes and markets: in a sign of things to come, an AI-generated image of an explosion at the Pentagon went viral online, causing markets to dip when a “reputable” Twitter account (discuss…) retweeted the video. Next up: believable video footage.
⏩The week in AI
💡New AI releases
OpenAI GPT-4 Internet Access and Plugins went on general beta release for the $20/month ChatGPT Plus subscription. I’m trying them out now (particularly Zapier), looks like another significant productivity step up again.
Meta AI labs released their new Massively Multilingual Speech (MMS) API (click to view demo video), claiming rather nobly to be “Preserving the World’s Language Diversity Through AI”. Identifying more than 4,000 spoken languages, 40 times more than any known previous technology. These models expand text-to-speech and speech-to-text technology from around 100 languages to more than 1100. Impressive:
Blockade Labs is an awesome generative AI text-to-3D world creator tool. Now they have added a “Sketch-to-Skybox” function to turn any quick line drawing into an immersive scene. Wow:
Godmode.space is one of a new crop of (Auto-) GPT-based agents currently in open beta. I took it for a spin…
Undaunted, it’s working through it, task by task…
🧳Mr Altman goes to Washington
The big story this week was the unedifying political theatre of the US gerontocracy vainly attempting to grapple with understanding (let alone regulating) exponential AI.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was the main attraction at a US Senate Hearing on AI, alongside a worthy academic and someone from IBM. (IBM!?!🤦)
Watch the Full hearing (2hr50min…don’t) or edited highlights of Altman’s testimony (27 min, best watched at 2X speed).
Altman was cogent and patient with the (frequently grandstanding) questioners, with the key headline being a call for government regulation of AI:
“My worst fears are that …we the field, the technology, the industry, cause significant harm to the world. ...I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong…
We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigating the risks of increasingly powerful models…“
A business mogul asking for government to regulate his industry!?!? Surely such a thing has never been seen before…
A broad spectrum of takes in response:
Was it indeed a genuine, well-meaning attempt to educate legislators?
Or…a move to capture any nascent regulatory apparatus?
Steven Sinofsky, who was in the front row for the Microsoft antitrust hearings so knows a thing or two. When a Business Pleads to be Regulated — On regulatory capture…
1/ There are two reactions a company can have when faced with calls for regulation. One is to appear to capitulate & work w/regulators to find a least disruptive path. Other is to fight it knowing you’re turning over control of your roadmap to a bureaucracy. There’s one more…
2/ Enter AI and the new big tech, who directly or historically have battled regulation for ~100 yrs. A new approach is to run towards regulation, literally ask to be regulated claiming tech is out of control 🆘
3/ When a well-positioned company begs for regulation, even if it seems to be capitulating out of service to industry, it is attempting a maneuver known as “regulatory capture”. Why? They know more about the tech than regulators.
Sinofsky also makes some very relevant general points about tech regulation. On Congressional Hearings On Artificial Intelligence
One question I wish would get asked more is what hypothetical concerns about AI usage are not already covered by existing regulations? AI does not exist nor is it used independent of any system, just as storage isn’t about privacy itself.
Regulation needs to respond to real and not hypothetical concerns (v theoretical concerns based on physics as we see in construction or based on biology as we see in pharma). Above all it should not be designed around some obvious point in time technology known to grow/change.“
Is this just Altman pulling the ladder up after him?
Or… just the latest in a long line of tech companies calling for regulation but then carrying on regardless…? Scott Galloway calls it as he sees it:
OR….maybe behind the innocent poker face he really is aiming for Accelerationist Utopia:
One intriguing moment was when Altman stated that he holds no equity in OpenAI:
“I’m doing this because I love it”
(Apparently there’s a backstory here going back to the stormy early days of OpenAI when Elon Musk was pushed out. Fair to say that as a co-founder of Y-Combinator, Altman is independently wealthy through other means… and, I would dare to say, optimizing for different outcomes than net wealth…)
Anyway… my 2c: national governments will continue to make progress at the pace of, er, national governments. AI companies (and the rapidly growing open source community) will continue to make progress…. more quickly. There’s only one outcome here.
☢️An IAEA for Superintelligence?
Probably with that understanding tacitly in mind, Altman and fellow OpenAI founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever immediately turned their (and our) attention up to issues of a higher order of significance with a policy post entitled Governance of Superintelligence:
“Given the picture as we see it now, it’s conceivable that within the next ten years, AI systems will exceed expert skill level in most domains, and carry out as much productive activity as one of today’s largest corporations.
In terms of both potential upsides and downsides, superintelligence will be more powerful than other technologies humanity has had to contend with in the past. We can have a dramatically more prosperous future; but we have to manage risk to get there. Given the possibility of existential risk, we can’t just be reactive. Nuclear energy is a commonly used historical example of a technology with this property; synthetic biology is another example.
We must mitigate the risks of today’s AI technology too, but superintelligence will require special treatment and coordination…
we are likely to eventually need something like an IAEA for superintelligence efforts; any effort above a certain capability (or resources like compute) threshold will need to be subject to an international authority that can inspect systems, require audits, test for compliance with safety standards, place restrictions on degrees of deployment and levels of security, etc. Tracking compute and energy usage could go a long way, and give us some hope this idea could actually be implementable.”
The “10 years” figure feels to me way too far into the future given the current pace of AI acceleration. Instead the cynical may judge that number to be selected to dangle an illusion of comfort to current global governance systems that they are in any way still relevant to the outcomes here… while also articulating the beginnings of a roadmap for some kind of industry self-regulation from those who want to participate.
Anyway it’s academic: with national governments (and the international meta-governance institutions) as slow and inert as they are, how long would a global regulatory body take to set up!? Less than 10 years? I doubt it.
(I may be wrong: international AI regulation was on the top of this week’s G7 Agenda).
Tech signals from near and far futures…
🛠️A Rust-y future
Microsoft has rewritten parts of the Windows Kernel (some of which contains code going back to the late 80s and early 90s, designed for the 286/386!) with 180,000 lines written in the modern “memory-safe” language Rust.
Rust has been gaining significant market share as a replacement for C and C++ but still has relatively small adoption.
🔓New privacy paradigms
Two stories which caught my eye this week which illustrate just how the concept of “privacy” is melting far faster than regulation:
ABC interactive: See your identity pieced together from stolen data
NYT: Your DNA Can Now Be Pulled From Thin Air. Privacy Experts Are Worried. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is trace amounts of genetic material that all living things leave behind them - and it can now be captured and analysed from thin air, by anyone.
Last year Microsoft announced Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty:
“a new solution that will enable governments to build and digitally transform workloads in the Microsoft cloud while helping to meet many of their specific compliance, security and policy requirements. Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty creates software boundaries in the cloud to establish the extra protection that governments require, leveraging hardware-based confidentiality and encryption controls.”
In an updated blog post, Microsoft expands on the details: Meeting Governments Where They Are, smoothing over the biggest concern:
“As all major cloud service providers operate globally, governments often wonder how legislation such as the U.S. CLOUD Act impacts cloud providers. This law does not change any of the legal and privacy protections. Microsoft adheres to the same principles and customer commitments for government demands for user data.“
(Er - so basically the CLOUD Act still applies!?)
My view: as someone living in small democracy where manyof our government systems run on Microsoft Azure data centres, I’m personally less concerned by the questions around security- and data-sovereignty and more by the progressive commercial oligopoly-lock-in that comes from going deeper and deeper with US tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and (to a lesser degree) Google. Not only does it open the door to decades of rent extraction, but it also hollows out any domestic capability to do anything about it. A concerted multi-country co-investment in an internationally-supported open source “GovStack” would be my preferred direction to provide optionality for non-US countries to retain “digital sovereignty”.
According to a 2022 report by the International Federation of Robotics, “Robot Density” (measured as number of robots per 10,000 employees) in manufacturing doubled in the six years to 2021, with South Korea and Singapore the biggest leaders in automation.
“Robot density is a key indicator of automation adoption in the manufacturing industry around the world…The new average of global robot density in the manufacturing industry surged to 141 robots per 10,000 employees – more than double the number six years ago.”
— Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics.
This increase in automation looks set to accelerate as technology advances and labour becomes scarcer due to demographics.
As a result, the implications of low-cost, high-density robotics could be quite transformational for global supply chains. As robotic intelligence, sensory apparatus and dexterity increase while unit costs keep coming down, the former investment logic to locate production in regions with abundant low-cost labour could get turned on its head. Instead the defining factors might well be best-value transport links for raw materials and market access, together with lowest cost real-estate and (green) energy supply.
Tesla’s massive “Gigafactories” (billed by Elmo as “machines building machines”) are just the first step on this evolutionary journey of manufacturing- the next is surely fully-automated “lights out” factories?
Anyway, food for thought. Last week there were also a few significant robotics announcements:
Tesla provided a sneak peak of the advances their AI and robotics team have made since last year’s
embarrassingtoo-early reveal in October last year.
This new update video shows the humanoid robots learning from their environment… impressive progress in just over 6 months.
(Spotted on Twitter…)
“Elon Musk : AI is dangerous. / Also Elon Musk : Creates AI automated robots…”
Sanctuary AI also took the wraps off its own humanoid droid, Phoenix:
(Writeup here: A general-purpose robot is entering the workforce)
Q: Why humanoid robots?
A: The global economy is already designed around the human form factor. Makes substitution as simple as possible…
Almost exactly a year ago (as covered in Memia 2022.22) home appliances maker Dyson revealed that it had been pouring money into AI and robotics research, including building a large new lab in Singapore. The first fruits of this R&D came out this week as Dyson launched its new 360 Vis Nav robot vacuum with:
“six times the suction of any other vacuum and armed with 360 vision”
More in-depth rumours on Apple’s upcoming Reality AR headset via Bloomberg: Apple’s New Headset Meets Reality…less than 2 weeks to go now until the reveal:
“Initially imagined as a pair of unobtrusive eyeglasses that could be worn all day, Apple’s device has morphed into a headset that resembles a pair of ski goggles and requires a separate battery pack.”
Meta is reported to be in talks to license technology from Magic Leap’s AR technology.
🥽The future of tourism? What if you could visit any place on Earth just by strapping on a VR headset and interacting with an AI chat interface? Last week Google released Photorealistic 3D Tiles API, offering offer high-resolution 3D maps in many of the world’s populated areas. 3D artist Nils Bakker created this mindblowing concept demo in just 1 week:
“I connected Unreal Engine to the ChatGPT API, let ChatGPT chat with Google's 3D tiles API, and voila! I unleashed a mini prototype that could find the sickest locations, load their 3D geometry, and even provide you with extra tourist info. It's like having your personal tour guide on a magical paper airplane ride!“
And going one level even further beyond… AR Portals (click to view video):
Nigeria’s state-sponsored digital currency the eNaira, meant as a hedge against inflation, hasn’t won over crypto users since being launched in 2021 and has been hindered by limited internet access. Rest Of World gathered the word on the street:
“The eNaira isn’t as sophisticated, independent, and flexible as the regular cryptocurrencies. It couldn’t compete, and so, was dead on arrival. A layman’s analogy will be the government asking me to drive a 2000 Corolla and abandon the latest model of Mercedes-Benz that I can afford. That is just not possible.”
“The fact that the product was government-led caused trust in it to be significantly low…People don’t trust the government to hand over their financial transaction information directly to them.”
The second point would surely apply to *any* CBDC long term.
Here’s a data point for you: Korean firm Hylium Industries have developed a multirotor aerial drone powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell which they claim has a flight endurance time of 5 hours (that is 10X the flight time of a battery-powered drone) with only 5 minutes required for refuelling.
🩸Multi-generational plasma exchange
Longevity hacker Bryan Johnson is getting rather adept at provoking lurid tabloid headlines to generate mountains of clickbait (and awareness) for his Blueprint longevity programme.
The latest: completing the world’s first ever multi-generational blood plasma exchange with his son… and his father. Erm….🤢
The Spitzer Space Telescope was the last of NASA's four "Great Observatories" put into space from 1990 to 2003. It was launched 20 years ago into an Earth-trailing orbit, since when it has drifted away from our planet at a rate of about 15 million kilometres per year. After many years of operations, in 2020 it was finally put into hibernation after systems on board ran out of helium coolant and could not communicate with Earth without being damaged by the sun.
Now a small private operator, Rhea Space Activity has an audacious plan to launch a "Spitzer Resurrector" robotic probe to “rescue” the observatory by providing a local communications relay.
💎Nuggets and gems
Memes I have sieved this week.
One of the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen, created by self-styled transhuman meta-producer" Anyma (🎩 spotting Anake)
The 1990s “Biosphere 2” experiment where 8 researchers lived inside a sealed structure for 2 years to simulate the feasibility of living on Mars. Things didn’t go so well… (click for thread).
Julian Voss-Andreae is a quantum physicist-turned-sculptor based in Portland, Oregon. He makes some of the most stunning metal sculptures inspired by his knowledge of the quantum domain.
As always, thanks for reading and the usual big shout out to everyone who gets in touch with suggested links and feedback. Appreciated. 🙏🙏🙏.
Unless the CIA (etc) decide to get heavy handed…
On food security (and lack of a discussion or strategy!) see our new post today about global catastrophe, NZ food security, & one solution, including link to technical paper and elevator pitch video: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2023/05/23/food-for-thought-frost-resistant-crops-to-hedge-against-the-impacts-of-nuclear-winter/