Think // Ahead: New Memia newsletter for the 2020s

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This is my regular digest of new developments at the edge of technology change for the 2020s – thinking ahead about the implications for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. I take a global perspective but with a particular focus on what’s happening in my corner of the world: Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Check out the latest posts:


Artificial Intelligence – Shaping a Future New Zealand

So I haven’t posted for a while… :-/

The main* reason is that last year I took up the Exec Director role with the AI Forum NZ and this has increasingly taken up much of my time over the last 9 months or so. Hugely rewarding work exploring, connecting with and developing the burgeoning AI ecosystem in New Zealand.

Last week we were proud to launch the Artificial Intelligence – Shaping a Future New Zealand report which is the product of nearly a year of research – benchmarking local AI capability against international developments, starting to understand the key impacts of AI on New Zealand’s economy and society and setting out some ambitious pathways towards a coordinated national AI Strategy. Take a read: download from the AI Forum website here.

The AI Forum’s work starts here to begin effecting the recommendations within the report. I expect I will be busy for a while yet…

*One other reason is here.





Memia Labs Monthly Digest #8 – September 2017

This month:
//HI+AI bands
//Mixed augmented realities
//Building Facebook's AI team
//Liquid elections
//Lastminute CTO
//Agribusiness armageddon
//Life 3.0
//RIP Cassini

This month in my role with @AIForumNZ I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion on AI at the Canterbury Tech Summit with @DrKatNZ and @ErichPrem. A wide ranging conversation and really pointing up the opportunities – and challenges – of AI uptake.


Slightly later than normal this month, here’s Memia’s September roundup of the new, novel and next. For regular updates follow us on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

And – as always – please get in touch with your thoughts on what you’d like to hear more of.

Ben Reid
Sign up for our regular mailing list at

My new band: Me + AI
Believe it or not, my first career choice was to be a pop musician. (Admittedly not a lot of demand for melodic punk-folk cross between The Pogues and Violent Femmes – we never got much further past our first self-published EP… 🙂 ).

The main challenges with any band are dealing with all the varying musical tastes, skills and, let’s face it, egos – yours truly included. This may all be a thing of the past thanks to developments in AI.

New AI startups such as Amper and Jukedeck are training their systems with hours of music recordings and scores to be able to produce professional sounding music (ok…muzak) in seconds using only a few inputs: eg beats per minute, rhythm, mood, and style. Meanwhile if you’re getting writer’s block, you can use AI tools like DeepBeat to generate song lyrics…

Here are a few early examples of what’s possible with HI+AI music production – the AI system appears to complement the musician by being able to replicate the progression, flow and tone of a modern pop song: which the artist then embellishes. Is this a whole new soundscape to be explored? …or will all music from now on converge into a mediocre average of what a neural net calculates “optimal” music should sound like?

How to build a world class AI capability (with a Facebook-sized budget, natch…)
I’m permanently immersed in reading about AI these days… in particular this HBR article Inside Facebook’s AI Workshop – an interview with Joaquin Candela, head of FB’s Applied Machine Learning (AML) group – stood out for me in the clear and relatable way it explains how FB have built their internal AI team by focusing on the business impacts at all times.

Mixed Augmented Realities
The big players have been busy:

  • Google’s AR Experiments site features work by coders who are experimenting with augmented reality – some intriguing peaks into the future in here (plus the usual ephemera).
  • Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for Augmented Reality is worth a read
  • Magic Leap (remember them?) devices are expected to cost between US$1,500 and US$2,000, and set to ship “to a small group of users within six months.” . Apparently “It would be bigger than a pair of glasses, but smaller than virtual reality headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift … Magic Leap’s device would require users to carry a puck-shaped device, around the size of a smartphone, that would wirelessly provide processing and information to the glasses.”

Liquid Election Time
September 23 is General Election day here in NZ – one of the closest fought campaigns ever known after new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern took over just 7 weeks ago. Watch this space, maybe there’ll be a new crowd in charge the day after…or maybe not.

While NZ benefits from an (imperfect) MMP proportional representation system which provides a high degree of stability and consensus to our politics (dull, even – but no Brexit or Trump votes going on here…) –  the whole parliamentary mechanism of how democracy is implemented seems increasingly archaic in modern times. Thus I was delighted to come across the concept of Liquid Democracy – “combining the advantages of Direct Democracy and Representative Democracy and creating a more democratic voting system that empowers voters to either vote on issues directly, or to delegate ones voting power to a trusted party.” It seems to make total sense now that new technologies exist to implement it at low cost  – NZ would be an ideal small country to test this system  – we should try it out.

Last minute CTO
Meanwhile in the last days of the General Election campaign, the National Party pivoted their position (partly in response to the recent NZ Tech Manifesto) with the announcement of the creation of a new national Chief Technology Officer role – not quite a “Ministry of the Future” but a step in the right direction, eh? Xero’s Rod Drury sums it up:

The Coming Kiwi Agribiz Armageddon and the Pollution Fallout
I’ve previously commented a number of times on the profound impacts of synthetic protein food investment on New Zealand’s heavily agricultural economy. Rosie Bosworth sums up much of the thinking in her article: Is New Zealand on the road to becoming the “Detroit of Agriculture?

In just the last few months:

I think we can all see how this plays out in ~10 years time…NZ primary sector prices collapse spectacularly in a matter of 1-3 years as industrial synthetic protein production takes off in-market overseas. This leaves disrupted Kiwi farmers desperately sucking the last drops of water out of the ground, pouring extra tonnes of nitrate on the land and antibiotics down animals throats in a fight for financial survival. Any concern for the environment or animal welfare will take second place. The whole house of cards topples as the banks call in debts on the hugely leveraged rural land underpinning most primary sector investment…NZ is left with a legacy of bankrupt farmers, depressed rural land prices and a polluted environment that will take decades to recover. How to avoid this, though? (Personally, I doubt that NZ can go “upmarket” to the high value niches – for one thing, virtually none of the upstream value chain assets are owned here…)

Perhaps the Netherlands, a small and crowded country, is currently number two global food producer in terms of value, shows us how it could be done. However the Dutch have the advantage of being right next to their market geographically.

Definitely one of the first matters on the desk of the new national CTO.

Life 3.0

Currently reading… Life 3.0: Being Human In The Age of Artificial Intelligence by cosmologist Max Tegmark, co-founder of the Future Of Life Institute. The book opens with a bang, outlining a near future scenario where a crack team of AI engineers bring about AGI and take over the world (for the “good”) – …but what then? Very thought provoking and accessible read.

RIP Cassini
Earlier this month – after nearly 20 years traveling hundreds of millions of miles and studying Saturn from every angle – the Cassini probe ended its mission by crashing directly into the surface of the planet. This accessible video outlines 10 Incredible Things We Learned From The Cassini Mission.
Perhaps one of the most profound aspects about the whole mission is the immortalisation of the 18th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini who originally discovered Saturn’s satellites and the division of its rings – pretty cool to have your name on the first satellite to visit the planet >200 years after looking through that telescope… what discoveries are we making today that mean individual people’s names will live on that long?


More again next month – Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email


Memia Labs Monthly Digest #7 – August 2017

This month:
//The coming quantum computing revolution
//Ready Player One's OASIS getting nearer
//The world is full of total jerkwads
//The best of times, the worst of times?
//Quantum thought

Celebrated New Zealand film director Peter Jackson and his Wingnut AR studio released a 2-min tabletop augmented reality demo created with Apple’s ARKit and Unreal Engine running on an iPad. The demo will be developed into Wingnut’s first game. Eye opening as to the entertainment opportunities available…

Here’s August’s roundup of what we’ve been reading and thinking this month. Another eclectic gathering! For regular updates follow us on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

And – as always – please get in touch with your thoughts on what you’d like to hear more of next…

Ben Reid
Consulting Director

Sign up for our regular mailing list at

The Coming Quantum Computing Revolution
My mind is still trying to absorb the full implications of this @a16z podcast on Quantum Computing.

In particular these lines jumped out at me:
– Nature is inherently quantum mechanical – computation becomes statistical, not boolean
– QUIL (Quantum Universal Instruction Language) solves the problem of how do you interface quantum computers with classical computers? Hybrid computers are needed.
– Evolution of processor units: Central Processing Unit (CPU) -> Graphics (GPU) -> Tensor (TPU) -> Quantum (QPU)
– “For a classical computer its power increases 2 to the power of n (no of transistors), but for a quantum computer it increases 2 to the power of q (no of qubits), which itself is 2 to the n. With the new technologies using silicon qubits, the number of qubits follows Moore’s law…” – Quantum computing power is following a hyper-exponential evolution –in a couple of years quantum computers could outperform any classical computer which has ever existed.

Amazing world we live in now where such world changing future technology insight is so accessible…in previous times this knowledge would have hidden in academic research labs and never seen the light of day…

VR Business
Back to (virtual) reality: VR appears to be hitting its stride in enterprise scenarios. There is a growing body of evidence that VR simulation delivers more effective training results(while also reducing hazards and costing far less) than more traditional methods. Industries as diverse as retail automotive and healthcare are actively deploying VR solutions now within their operations.

AR Entertainment
Celebrated New Zealand film director Peter Jackson’s Wingnut AR studio released a table-top augmented reality demo created with Apple’s ARKit and Unreal Engine and running on an iPad. The demo will be developed into Wingnut’s first game. Eye opening as to the entertainment opportunities – and intriguing platform choice given that PJ has previously been publicly associated with AR hypesters Magic Leap. (Where are they?)

Watch the full 2-min demo here:

Ready Player One?

One of my favourite books ever Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg (release date March 2018). Let’s hope that the film is true to the fun mythology of the book and doesn’t just turn into a procession of dull car chases like the trailer heralds….

There are signs that the imaginary massive multiplayer world of the book, OASIS, is taking its first steps towards reality: Japanese technology giant Softbank recently led a $502M investment round into UK-based startup,makers of SpatialOS and enablers of vast virtual and simulated worlds.

AI Policy
A highly useful resource released last month from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute AI researcher Miles Brundage on – Guide To Working In AI Policy and Strategy. Apparently there is a worldwide shortage of AI Policy analysts…get in quick. 🙂

AI Safety

AI Impacts surveyed 355 machine learning researchers on how good or bad they expect the results of ‘high-level machine intelligence’ to be for humanity: the results are shown below. The optimists outweigh the pessimists for now…just.

AI leader Andrew Ng thinks we should worry more about jobs than killer robots.

Meanwhile, the new film Supersapiens explores the question: As artificial intelligence rapidly blurs the boundaries between man and machine, are we witnessing the rise of a new human species?

SEC Rules on Cryptocurrencies
For the last few months I’ve been sharing my reading as I’ve ramped up my understanding of Cryptocurrencies. No more need, for Dan Romero from Coinbase has collated a definitive Cryptocurrency Reading List on Medium.

It’s the wild west out there…which has finally attracted the attentions of the SEC, who released guidance that DAO Tokens do count as securities and hence many of the ICOs carried out to date fall under SEC regulation. Andrew Simmonds from Simmonds Stewart lawyers outlines the main implications for anyone attempting an ICO from now on. If you’re a New Zealander, the extradition case of the infamous Kim Dotcom looms large in memory…

Incidentally, the very transparency of the Bitcoin blockchain has caused some regulators to remark somewhat humorously that they see Bitcoin trading as “Prosecution Futures“.

“The world is full of total jerkwads”
Fantastic 30-min interactive tutorial by the omnitalented Nicky Case on The Evolution of Trust – based on the principles of game theory. Absorbing.

Other bits and pieces we came across this month…
Boys and their toys  – General Atomics announced a new 10 Megajoule Railgun System capable of launching self-guiding projectiles at launch accelerations over 30,000 Gees.

True Random Number Generator Using Carbon Nanotubes – Hardware-based “true” random number generators are therefore considered the gold standard for security – researchers have built one from Carbon nanotubes, solving a problem for printed and flexible electronics.

100x Faster Blockchain – Microsoft’s new Coco blockchain framework can handle 1600 transactions per second with low hundreds of millisecond latency – they claim this is about 100 times better than other non-Coco protocols

Income Inequality continues to rise
This graph from the NY Times says it all. Meanwhile HBR reported earlier this year that income Inequality is rising between companies, not just individuals.

…But Is The World Really Better Than Ever?
Wonderful long essay from the Guardian exploring the world view of the New Optimists – arguably, by many factual measures, we are actually living in the best of times…and things keep getting better.

Measuring Gravitational Waves
Two very accessible videos from the NY Times and LIGO  explaining how the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has successfully managed to record the gravitational waves released by two distant black holes colliding trillions of years ago.

Quantum Thought
Finally…last month we linked to a recent Tim Ferriss podcast with Cryptocurrency visionary / polymath Nick Szabo. During the conversation (about 1hr 49min in) the term “Quantum Thought” comes up – this was a concept originally raised as a footnote on Nick’s incredible blog Unenumerated in 2012:

” Not only should you disagree with others, but you should disagree with yourself. …quantum thought, as I call it … demands that we simultaneously consider often mutually contradictory possibilities. Thinking about and presenting only one side’s arguments gives one’s thought and prose a false patina of consistency: a fallacy of thought and communications similar to false precision, but much more common and important. … In quantum reality, by contrast, I can be both for and against a proposition because I am entertaining at least two significantly possible but inconsistent hypotheses, or because I favor some parts of a set of ideas and not others. If you are unable or unwilling to think in such a quantum … manner, it is much less likely that your thoughts are worthy of others’ consideration. “

Beautifully put.

More again next month – Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email


Memia Labs Monthly Digest – July 2017

This month:
//Elon Musk, Superintelligent AI and Termites
//A First Look At ConstructionTech...
//Inequality In Hard Numbers...
//Principles of Scalability...
//...and the end of guessing?

There are still quadrillions of termites on the planet in 2017, and arguably their ability to understand human motivations is about the same as would be a human’s ability to understand the motivations of superintelligent AI robots. Elon Musk thinks we need to be worried about AI as an existential risk to humanity…I’m not so sure…

Here’s July’s roundup of reading and thinking at the confluence of future technology, business and society. For regular updates follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

As always get in touch with your thoughts on what you’d like to hear more of next…

Ben Reid
Consulting Director

Sign up for our regular mailing list at


First And Foremost, AI
Lots going on as usual in the AI field this month.

Google announced their new PAIR – People + AI initiative to advance research and design of people-centric AI systems.

Deepmind taught its AI agent to do Parkour using reinforcement learning

The European Parliament debated Do Robots Have Rights?

Elon Musk reprised his doomsaying about AI Safety at a meeting of US State Governors. (In follow up I got interviewed on NZ’s TV3 news in my role at the AI Forum NZ).

While Musk’s central arguments are certainly valid (and – as previously noted – covered in much more detail in Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies), personally I can’t help thinking that any robotic superintelligence would be more preoccupied with getting away from this paper-thin envelope of breathable atmosphere on the 3rd rock from the Sun and going off to explore the galaxy than engaging in any kind of Terminator-style war of attrition with baseline humanity. My philosophical view is that it is far more likely to view us with the same casual disinterest with which we humans view, say, termites in a termite mound today. Reassuringly there are still plenty of termites left in the world today. And their understanding of humans is probably about the level that ours would be of any posthuman superintelligence. Rest easy. :-/

A First Look Into ConstructionTech
Living in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand where the economy has been going through a 5-year construction boom thanks to both the 2011 earthquake rebuild and NZ’s fast-growing national economy generally, I am constantly amazed at how primitive the construction industry appears to be in its use of information management and automation technologies. Building sites in 2017 still crawl with people in high-vis, banging steel bolts into place with hammers and manually operating diesel-powered machinery. Projects are still managed using 2D paper plans and printed gantt charts.

Compare this to a mid-future vision of construction where the client walks around in a high-resolution VR rendering of their future building, changing walls, pipes, fixtures and fittings at will and immediately being able to see the price / compliance implications. Once they’re happy with the building they’re commissioning, they effectively click “Buy Now” and this sends instructions to a network of 3D-printers and other manufacturers (possibly on the other side of the world) to make up the modular components of the building and place them into containers to be shipped to site. When they arrive, a fleet of autonomous robots promptly take the pieces out of the containers and clip the building together piece by piece. Building consent is automatically filed with the local authorities.  (And it goes without saying that when the building is looking a bit tired in 50+ years time, it can be “unclipped” and removed from site and recycled without the risks of micro dust particles filling the air or filling huge amounts of landfill with rubble.)

In our current overinflated house price bubble market of 2017,  a residential house or commercial property just doesn’t seem to deliver anything like value for money. Buildings and property are effectively being used as a “reserve currency” rather than for housing itself – and the value of these properties can go down as well as up. Seems to me that construction is one of those asset-heavy industries which is ripe for disruption. And it seems the VCs of the world agree with nearly $1Bn being invested into ConstructionTech over 2015-2017.

Here’s a market map from CBInsights with over 100 ConstructionTech businesses profiled, in spaces including AR/VR, Drones, Risk Management, Marketplaces and Supply Chain Management. There must be thousands more worldwide. Watch this space.

The guys at SpaceCraft who have designed an “open-source” Wikihouse built out of plywood have an alternative approach to transform the economics of the construction sector.

There are 3D-printed houses that take less than 24 hours to construct.

You can even potentially grow a house out of grafted trees or (ew) synthetic meat.

Wealth Inequality – Facts and Figures
This online resource from starkly illustrates the uneven (and getting more so) distribution of income and wealth around the world, particularly in the US. Facts are facts. An essential resource.

Meanwhile Finland is the latest country to do a Basic Income Experiment, this time for the unemployed. Incidentally this month I was introduced to the concept of a Universal Basic Dividend rather than Universal Basic Income: “…the National Dividend would vary depending on the performance of the economy…” because the existing financial system generates consumer prices at a faster rate than it distributes consumer incomes”. Intriguing. Local NZ progressive politician Raf Manji also makes The Case for Economic Rights this month. Something has to be done, right?

The Principles Of Scalability

Philosopher Sam Harris talks to Geoffrey West, author of the recently published Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies ,  in this podcast “From Cells To Cities”. Massive wide-ranging 2-hour conversation on the similarities between how biological and social systems scale, the significance of fractals and emerging properties in complex “life-form”-like systems like cities. (Starts from around 8 minutes in). Fascinating. Can’t wait to read the book.

A Use For Blockchain?
The self-proclaimed “CryptoValley” Swiss town of Zug announces its implementation of citizen IDs using Ethereum-based Blockchain tech.

Following on from last month’s reading list, the Crypto bubble has deflated a bit in the last few weeks.

Meanwhile this podcast from Tim Ferriss talking to Crypto guru Nick Szabo – the guy who originally coined the term “smart contract” and arguably conceived of Bitcoin itself – is hugely insightful, helps to understand the fundamental (non-speculative) value of cryptocurrencies going forward.

Adoption Chain Risk
I enjoyed this article from prolific blogger and SaaS VC Tom Tunguz, introducing the concept of Adoption Chain Risk: “the extent to which partners will need to adopt your innovation before end consumers have a chance to assess the full value proposition.” This is a problem I’ve seen time and time again for SaaS startups that need to engage with the whole value chain, not just their immediate customer. Adoption Chain Risk – The Importance Of Selling To Everyone In Your Startup’s Supply Chain

(This Week) Coffee Is GOOD For You
Drinking more coffee is associated with a longer life, according to new research. Just as well, eh?

Speaking of Addictions…
“In Silicon Valley, it’s a race to the bottom of your brainstem; where your fear, anxiety, and loneliness reside…” You vs Technology

How stress works in the human body to make or break us. Long Aeon essay on how the “subtle flows and toxic hits of stress get under the skin, making and breaking the body and brain over a lifetime”.

The End Of Guessing?
Let’s leave off with this pearl which popped up on my LinkedIn feed last week (ignore the US-centric brandnames…):

The end of guessing:
We don’t guess the weather. We use the weather app.
We don’t guess for food delivery. We use Seamless.
We don’t guess for directions. We use Google maps.
We don’t guess to get a taxi. We use Uber.
We don’t guess for getting the best hotel or flight deal. We use Kayak.
We don’t guess for restaurants. We use Yelp.
We don’t guess for getting a contractor. We use Angie’s list.
We don’t guess for job salary. We use Glassdoor.
We don’t guess with our workout. We use Fitbit.
We don’t guess for getting the best rate. We use Bankrate.

We still guess for healthcare costs.
We still guess if we can pay off our student loans.
We still guess on TV advertising.

The more guessing is in an industry, the more likely it is to be disrupted.


Memia Labs Monthly Digest – June 2017

This month:
//Puppy slugs...
//the end of (books about) leadership?...
//cryptocurrency reading homework...
//thinking in 11 dimensions...
//...and the new Planets Suite.

2 years ago Google Researchers published a short article on Inceptionism – Going Deeper into Neural Networks. Google also open-sourced the code under the moniker DeepDream – which is now a well-used tool for digital artists worldwide to develop trippy psychedelic videos from iterating an image based on activity inside the neural network itself. See above one of the the earliest examples – the now famous “puppy slugs” – one of a number of applications of AI and machine learning to the more traditional field of art.

Here’s our regular roundup of what Memia Labs has been reading and thinking this month at the confluence of future technology, business and society. An eclectic collection of finds this month. For regular updates follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

As always get in touch with your thoughts on what you’d like to hear more of next…

Ben Reid
Consulting Director

Sign up for our regular mailing list at

AI <=> Art
Fascinatingly esoteric presentation at a recent AI Meetup I attended from artist Ronan Whitteker of the newly launched Aftermath Gallery: Artificial Intelligence and the Digital Arts. Some provocative examples of AI being applied in the artistic space: from trippy Puppy Slugs built with DeepDream to a short film scripted by an AI brought up on hundreds of sci-fi screenplays. Watch the whole of Ronan’s presentation here.

AI <=> Politics
Wired magazine floats the idea of electing an AI as the next President. (Couldn’t be any worse, right?)

AI <=> Leadership
Attended an informative panel in Auckland –The 4th Industrial Revolution – Artificial Intelligence hosted by the Trans Tasman Business Circle and featuring New Zealand AI leaders Greg Cross from Soul Machines and Danny Tomsett from FaceMe. Key insights from the talk included the rapid onboarding of virtual “employees” – avatars who are designed and parameterized to improve interactions real people (customers, staff, citizens…). Soul Machines (based on visionary Mark Sagar’s BabyX technology) are the poster child of the New Zealand AI industry (raising a US$7.5M Series A round last year) and FaceMe are well on the road to commercialising their virtual employee technology with Nadia – an avatar designed to help people with disabilities in Australia.
Soul Machines unveils its first emotionally intelligent, lifelike avatar
The discussion raised a deeper question for me about what “leadership” looks like in the future when many (most) of a manager’s direct reports aren’t biologically human. The skills to manage virtual employees are likely to be entirely different to those of traditional people management. Are all the shelfloads of business books about leadership…now redundant? Will “leaders” be replaced instead by an avatar “fleet controller” poring over her analytics dashboard and tweaking the personalities of her digital peons in response to changes in customer satisfaction metrics…?

Will all companies of the future have no biological employees at all? (We know that CEOs can potentially be replaced by software…).

Is a chief AI officer needed to drive an artificial intelligence strategy?

Cryptocurrency Reading Homework
It’s been a crazy month in the world of cryptocurrencies.

The total market capitalization of all Crypto$ broke through the US$100Bn barrier in the midst of a climb that has driven total values up more than 1,500% from just over $7bn on 1st January. At the time of writing there appears to be some sort of correction happening but it’s anyone’s guess as to where the valuations will go.

On the one hand this behaviour can easily be seen as a classic speculation bubble and prices will come back down to earth with a bump. But for an alternative viewpoint, given that the intrinsic value of a currency is subject to a network effect – eg the more users and use cases for exchange, the (exponentially) more its utility, it’s also possible to argue that the current values are still just a tiny percentage of their long term potential as users and use cases grow. It you look at the traditional bell curve of technology adoption, Crypto$ is still way to the left of the “innovators” segment:

Image result for crossing the chasm

So fair to say Crypto$ is likely to have an imminent major effect on our economy, banking and payments systems and needs to be more deeply understood. Here are some of the best articles I read in the last month:

Cryptoeconomics 101 – “If Satoshi is the Galileo of cryptoeconomics, Vitalik may be the Einstein.”

The Economist: A surge in the value of crypto-currencies provokes alarm

Thoughts on Tokens – “The most important takehome is that tokens are not equity, but are more similar to paid API keys. Nevertheless, they may represent a >1000X improvement in the time-to-liquidity and a >100X improvement in the size of the buyer base relative to traditional means for US technology financing — like a Kickstarter on steroids.”

I was wrong about Ethereum  – “Ethereum’s sole use case at the moment is ICOs and token creation. What’s driving the Ethereum price? Greed from speculators, investors and developers.”

Australia Will Recognize Bitcoin as Money and Protect Bitcoin Businesses, No Taxes – “Bitcoin will be treated as money in Australia by July 1, 2017, and will be exempt from goods and services tax (GST). Bitcoin traders and investors will not be taxed for purchasing and selling Bitcoin through regulated exchanges and trading platforms” …expect New Zealand to follow suit soon…

And this gem:
Image result for wannacry venn diagram

Blockchain isn’t just Crypto$ you know
And a few interesting developments in the more general Blockchain space too:

Russian group delivers the first unhackable quantum-safe blockchain. “Unhackable” yeah right.

Don’t use a blockchain unless you have to – “Your business doesn’t need to be decentralised… it doesn’t need a blockchain, it needs better branding, design, copywriting, and most importantly the ability to iterate their product quickly. They need to be able to throw features at the funnel and see what converts. You know, that thing where you build a business on the internet.”

The Mighty Amazon
Amazon is an amazing, ubiquitous and still growing company – and with its announcement this week that it is buying ailing US grocery chain Whole Foods is now entering a new phase in its US market dominance. Here are a couple of insightful pieces to help us understand Amazon’s strategy:

Why Amazon Is Eating The World :  “…the enduring benefit here is the improvement that comes from opening up Amazon’s internal [businesses] to outside users…” Think AWS, Amazon fulfilment… all services that they relentlessly put out into the market to ensure they are fit in the Darwinian sense…

Amazon strategy teardown from the remarkable @CBInsights

Still Trying To Get My Head Around…
The Human Brain Can Create Structures in Up to 11 Dimensions

Other interesting bits and pieces this month:
Mary Meeker hits peak (355!!!) slides in her annual Internet Trends address Lots of useful data in here.

Alphabet sell leading robotics firm Boston Dynamics to Japanese Softbank

It’s (NZ) election year! Voters’ judgement of a political candidate’s competence takes just 10 seconds.

Meet the frugal millenials planning for decades of retirement.

Not even wrong – ways to dismiss technology by @BenedictEvans – “I don’t think that anyone believes that if we had general AI, it would be a toy – indeed it’s more likely that it would think that we were a toy.”

Much more than a game, chess is an alternative history of humanity well worth reading for all chess players.

The Modern Tech Corporation Deconstructed
Came across this wonderful, playful article by Carlos Beuno on modern corporate strategy: A Priest, a Guru, and a Nerd-King Walk Into a Conference Room…

The New Planets Suite
Just can’t get enough space videos. 🙂

Here are two more gorgeous visualizations of our solar system that were released this month:

Flyby animation video of Jupiter made up from photos from NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it orbits from the giant gas planet’s north pole to and past its south pole. Those swirls of gas clouds are bigger than Earth!

A Fictive Flight Above A Real Mars – stitched together from images taken by the HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), a powerful camera attached to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been orbiting Mars since 2006.

More again next month – Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email


Memia Labs Monthly Digest – May 2017

This month:
//The humans behind the chatbots
//Total transition to autonomous electric vehicles
//(Stop) talking about false meat
//The end of forecasting
//...and space junk.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English saw the future at Christchurch’s EPIC building (which also houses Memia) as part of this month’s NZ Techweek programme. Nice work by AR/VR specialist Corvecto, even attracting the unforgiving attention of John Oliver. (Note to self: make sure there are no cameras around next time I put on a VR headset!).

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AR 25%, VR 75%

“Our base case software scenario is driven 75 percent by VR use cases vs 25 percent for AR use cases,” said a Goldman Sachs research report driving Microsoft’s strategic shift away from enterprise AR towards consumer VR, at least for a few years yet: What Happened to the Amazing HoloLens Future We Were Promised?

AI 100%

Idealab’s CEO Bill Gross writes up his takeaways from this year’s TED conference. In particular AI expert Noriko Arai’s talk about how she’s building an AI that can take (and pass) the University of Tokyo entrance exam, including reading and writing essay questions.

As a user of Clara for over a year now, HI+AI services continue to improve. But how much is HI and how much AI? BloombergTech goes behind the scenes and investigates The Humans Hiding Behind The Chatbots.

More on the BMI debate kicked off by Elon Musk’s Neuralink announcement: Wait but actually why: Brain-Machine Interfaces and Unit Economics of Human Output

And my own contribution from this month: Why Neuralink and Kernel are trying to solve the right problem at the wrong time

Huge fan of Jeff Hawkins and his team’s work at Numenta decoding how the neocortex works and reverse engineering it into software – here’s a rough early preview video of their latest work introducing a new concept in Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM): The Neuroscience Behind HTM Sensory Inference

Meanwhile… for those who want to learn more Machine Learning, FreeCodeCamp’s David Venturi published Every single Machine Learning course on the internet, ranked by your reviews. Background: “A year and a half ago, I dropped out of one of the best computer science programs in Canada. I started creating my own data science master’s program using online resources. I realized that I could learn everything I needed through edX, Coursera, and Udacity instead. And I could learn it faster, more efficiently, and for a fraction of the cost.” A superb resource, traditional universities should feel very afraid.


Roads, Roads and Less Roads

Recently the government here in New Zealand announced a big pre-election spendup on “infrastructure” – a euphemism for “more roads”.

The NZ Ministry of Transport is admirably transparent on its website about the investment and costs associated with roading: NZ$4Bn per year on the “Land Transport System”. Four. Billion. Dollars.  (NZ GDP is NZ$260Bn).

This has set me thinking about how advances in transportation technology could start to be applied now not only to significantly reduce the amount being spent, but to deliver better outcomes for everyone. Auckland’s traffic woes are an example where more roads are not going to solve the problems even today. And flying cars ain’t going to cut it any time soon either.

StartupGrind’s Geoff Nesnow wrote a neat summary last year of 50 implications of driverless cars (and trucks).

Implication no. 21: “Roads will be much emptier and smaller since self-driving cars need much less space between them (major cause of traffic today), people will share vehicles more than today (carpooling), traffic flow will be better regulated and algorithmic timing (i.e. leave at 10 versus 9:30) will optimize infrastructure utilization”.

A recent analysis from thinktank RethinkX predicts an extremely disruptive, total transition to EV / autonomous vehicles in 13 years.

Meanwhile India unveiled an ambitious plan to have only electric cars by 2030

Are any government transport agencies around the world modeling a decline in road usage in the future?

How about borrowing the concept of Negawatts – the amount of power saved from improved energy efficiency – and apply it to road usage – “NegaKm” is the car and truck journey km (and journey times) saved from more efficient and timely road use.

One key tool could be reverse-road-pricing: Rather than spend tens of millions of dollars widening a highway, how about holding that money and rewarding people to stay off that road during peak hours? Surely simple enough to trial for a year, registration through a mobile app and you’re away…Surely…?

Maybe we need 777-size cargo-carrying flying drones or giant cargo-carrying blimps to take freight off the roads instead.


Future of Food

More agri agitprop from provocateur-in-chief Rosie Bosworth: interview on NBR radio podcast on Why New Zealand is becoming the Detroit of Agriculture. (Nice turn of phrase, wonder who came up with that :-)). Synthetic biology (synbio) will disrupt the traditional (and, let’s face it, hugely inefficient, polluting and fundamentally unsustainable) pastoral agricultural model and maybe even allow countries such as NZ to meet our Paris Agreement commitments of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Similar themes at last week’s TechWeekNZ update from SingularityUNZ founder Kaila Colbin – here she is mapping the cost per Kg of synthetic meat.

(Incidentally, I was in a meeting recently when the conversation turned to synbio – one of the bankers in the room – maybe starting to feel a bit exposed – said “let’s stop talking about false meat“. Unlikely.)

More future food:

Startup Nutrient Rescue launched their plant-based wholefood powder shots – 5-10 serves of fruit and veges for $2, takes less than 1 min to prepare. Using.

Functional food leader Soylent raised a $50M Series B round led by GV (Google Ventures). “Soylent is addressing one of the biggest issues we face today: access to complete, affordable nutrition”.


Turning Facebook data into money

“…is harder than it sounds, mostly because the vast bulk of your user data is worthless. Turns out your blotto-drunk party pics and flirty co-worker messages have no commercial value whatsoever.”I’m an ex-Facebook exec: don’t believe what they tell you about ads

The Half-Life Of Forecasting?

The World Economic Forum published an article on The End Of Forecasting? Given the increasing mainstream acceptance of accelerationism and predictions like “The next double-century (2000-2200) promises no fewer than 150 breakthrough innovations on par with the steam engine, antibiotics and the airplane” – the article argues that

long-term forecasting is simply becoming obsolete and we need to adapt to a post-forecasting era.

Alternatively…the meaning of the phrase “long term” has a half-life attached to it: as technology-driven change accelerates, so our view out to the future shortens. But we can still forecast out effectively for the same order of magnitude change as previously – it’s just this will take exponentially less time to happen.


Dystopian Futures

Sometimes the future doesn’t seem so bright:

There’s a link in the WEF article above to a thought-provoking tweet quoting AliBaba founder Jack Ma – as we all live longer, the need may emerge to legislate for a maximum human lifespan.

And, in 5 years, most Americans won’t be able to afford clean, safe water?


Space Junk

And finally, here’s a hypnotic (12 mins) video from the European Space Agency showing manmade objects journeying from the outer solar system back to Earth.

More again next month – Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email


Why Neuralink and Kernel are trying to solve the right problem at the wrong time

Elon Musk’s recent announcement of his new startup Neuralink (together with an extensive 40,000-word backgrounder from WaitButWhy’s Tim Urban), and Bryan Johnson’s investment in Kernel point to a near-term future where humans are enabled to communicate “telepathically” – in a rich manner at least as expressive as spoken and written language – direct brain-to-brain, using either a Neuralink Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)…           

…or a Kernel BCI…

…or, a few years down the line, a mass-market consumer brand BCI:

This scenario poses an immediate problem – how do we get these different BCI products to talk to each other? If I’ve installed an Apple BCI and I want to communicate telepathically with your Android one, how do they interoperate? I certainly don’t want to get locked away in a walled (mind)garden! So, let’s assume we can implement a BCI translator…

Pretty soon, however, we’re going to have to support an exponential number of point-to-point translations…

…this will quickly get pretty expensive to create and maintain. Looks like we’ll need some kind of common language for all of the BCIs to talk to each other- say (to be glib) “Human Intelligence Markup Language” (HIML):

…and now we can send this easily across the internet too right?

So…to get this straight, in order for me to get any sort of useful network utility from my BCI device, there needs to be a common language which translates my brain’s activities into machine-readable format, sends them across the internet, and then re-translates them into a form that your brain will understand? Basically an abstraction of the whole range space of the human mind’s functionality and content? Hmmm….sounds like …English? Mandarin? Spanish? Japanese? Or that common meta-language that Google’s AI researcher recently observed….? Just less lossy, with more expression. (Instead of just saying “I love you”, somehow our BCIs translate the emotional state into a more directly experienceable message).

However engaging this thought experiment is, (un)fortunately this scenario is unlikely to play out any time soon – it’s more likely that Neuralink and Kernel are going after the right problem – but at the wrong time.

To explain, let’s go a bit further into our thought experiment. So… could a computer speak HIML?

…Pretty much yes, at least with a limited vocabulary initially. But they’ll get smarter, probably Turing-test-smart – to the point that most people, most of the time won’t be able to tell the difference between communicating telepathically with a computer or a human.

At this stage, computers (AIs) and humans would make up a new society of [telepathic] “human intelligences”, some biological, some (probably the vast majority) physically distributed across the datacentres of this world. Whether or not there’s a ghost inside, “humanity” will become a hybrid machine.

Let’s deconstruct the word “telepathically” for a moment. When we use that word – when Tim Urban talks about Elon’s “magic wizard hats” – what we’re actually implying is two things:

  1. It will be wireless, soundless, movement-less – just like thinking or listening
  2. It will be faster (higher outbound bandwidth) than speaking, writing, typing or any other current mode of outbound communication.

Solving problem 1 – cool. Pretty much clear you’ll need a direct BCI (either invasive or non-invasive) for that. Can’t wait.

But solving problem 2 – I’m not so sure. Could we ever get enough bandwidth, with enough accuracy and resolution out of a direct neural interface into our brains to compete with richly expressive speaking, writing or typing? More importantly, could we get it any time soon – and faster than other alternatives that might happen? I love Ramez Naam’s Nexus trilogy – but “Neural Dust” is pure scifi conjecture.

As Tim Urban points out, at current projected rates of progress, Stevenson’s Law suggests that the number of neurons we can simultaneously record seems to consistently double every 7.4 years – and if this continues, it will take until the end of this century to reach a million neurons, and until 2225 to record every neuron in the brain. And even then our brain neurons are biologically constrained to process information at a theoretical maximum of 30 bits per second.

Let’s look at this on a timeline:

Giving us telepathic brain-computer interfaces isn’t going to solve the outbound-bandwidth problem any time soon, especially since computers and AIs are just going to continue evolving off without us. Before long the communications and computational power of non-biological humanity will have eclipsed that of the entirety of human brains on the planet – if we’re not there already. Humanity will start to look like this:

…and then the AIs will continue to evolve at an accelerating pace relative to biological evolution, a moment later humanity will look like this…(look very carefully, you can still see the brains…).

What we have here is a hardware problem – our biological brains are not evolving fast enough to keep up with non-biological intelligence. By the time it becomes practical to wire a human brain into the net, that brain will be such an insignificant part of the overall intelligence infrastructure, it won’t even figure.

The problem we really need to be solving is replacing the physical brain itself – achieving whole-brain emulation, learning how to port / emulate human intelligence onto non-biological hardware so that we have a chance to keep up with the AIs. Science-fiction as it may sound now, given the exponential divergence in capacity this seems to be a far more pressing problem to solve than learning how to jack our biological brains in.

(Incidentally, whole brain emulation will give us richly-expressive telepathy as a by-product. (There are many other implications too, the book The Age of Em by Robin Hanson goes into these in much detail).

And the key to solving whole-brain emulation? It’s the “HIML” discussed above – essentially a richly expressive machine-readable vocabulary of the full range of the human brain’s functionality and content. That is why I’d argue that Neuralink and Kernel are accidentally trying to solve the right problem (HIML), but at the wrong time (after BCIs are workable). Arguably working on a portable model of human intelligence – rather than assuming that it will stay locked inside a skull – would be a better use of the millions of dollars being spent on BCIs in 2017.

Here’s a snap from last year’s SingularityUNZ conference in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand, which gets the point across quite well, I think – keynote speaker David Roberts speaking on technological disruption was saying at this point: “The next thing on this chart isn’t a bigger fatter skull. Our future is so unlike our past…” Humanity itself is about to be disrupted.

I’ll leave off with one of my favourite quotes in modern science fiction – from writer David Brin in his book Existence – which speaks hopefully about the dwindling – but still crucially important – role that humans may play in a future dominated by non-biological AIs.


“Wanting. Yearning. Desire…Wanting is what we do best. And machines have no facility for it. But with us, by joining us, they’ll find more vivid longing than any striving could ever satisfy. Moreover, if that is the job they assign us – to be in charge of wanting – how could we object?”



Memia Labs Monthly Digest – April 2017

This month: 
// Virtual + augmented realities
// Parallel cyrptoeconomies
// Neural lace (...really?)
// Federated machine learning
// ...and Neo-generalists.

Here’s the regular roundup of what Memia Labs has been reading and thinking this month at the confluence of future technology, business and society. As always please let me know what you’d like to hear more of next…

This selection of links is taken from our the regular Memia Labs Premium* subscription service – if you’re interested in more information please get in touch.

Ben Reid
Consulting Director

* Memia Labs Premium is a monthly service for Memia customers.
Sign up for our regular updates at

“Implicit in VR is the fact that everything – without exception – that occurs in VR is tracked. The virtual world is defined as a world under total surveillance, since nothing happens in VR without tracking it first.”
Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable

Virtual Reality is quickly developing proven real-world applications
This short film from the BBC shows just how far VR has come in the last year – showing applications for charity fundraising, treatment of PTSD, depression, teaching surgeons and, movingly, allowing hospice patients to experience their bucket-list items from their hospital bed.

Augmented Reality is already here, it’s just not widely distributed yet
Last year’s standout AR success of Pokemon Go (doubling Nintendo’s market capitalisation to $42Bn in months) and newly-IPO’d Snap’s continued AR innovation with it’s expanded World Lenses offering – commercial Augmented Reality is already mainstream, but still confined to the ghetto of social media and entertainment (and the under-20s).

@a16z’s Benedict Evans chronicles the end of Smartphone innovation, as the next mass technology platform – AR – rises to take its place in a classic disruption S-curve.

Parallel Worlds, Parallel Economies, Cryptocurrencies

As VR and AR technology develops at an amazing rate, the themes that are explored in scifi novels such as Ready Player One and Reamde – where entire parallel realities have developed with their own rules of society, politics and economy – are starting to eventuate.

In addition, the evolution in blockchain-based cryptocurrencies provide a more reliable and permeable substrate for real-virtual-real-world currency transactions than those traditionally backed by the game makers themselves.

Escape to another world
As video games get better and job prospects worse in the real world, this sympathetic article from the Economist’s 1843 magazine profiles the young men dropping out of the job market to spend their time in an alternate, gaming, reality. A justified escape “for those who feel that the outside world is more rigged than the game”?

Parallel economies in virtual gaming worlds have been around for over two decades now – early versions of World of Warcraft launched in 2004 saw the advent of Gold Farming – developing world cybercafes full of virtual “farmers” would churn out higher-level characters with pockets full of virtual “gold”. This practice was since regulated by WoW maker Blizzard but in-game and real-world purchases of virtual world assets are now commonplace across many virtual reality worlds – either using an in-game auction mechanism or using a direct exchange-rate – eg ~256 Linden dollars to one US$ in Second Life (registration required).

The World’s First Cryptocurrency Hedgefund
While not particularly focused on virtual-world currencies, a few months ago saw the unveiling of the world’s first blockchain asset hedgefund, Polychain Capital – with investment from Andreesson Horowitz and Union Square Ventures). Polychain founder Olaf Carlson-Wee is interviewed in a recent @a16z podcast: fascinating.

Can’t not mention Neuralink
More hyperactivity from Elon Musk (who incidentally also believes that we’re already living in a virtual world). Following on from his impromptu musings at last year’s Code Conference about Iain M Banks’ “Neural Lace” concept, he formally launched his new company Neuralink at the end of March. Plenty of noise, not a lot of substance at this stage.

An entertaining readup of Musk’s logic here from WaitButWhy:

Privacy Concerns
Who owns your face? – Modern advanced face recognition lets police identify people (and groups) from far away and without interacting with them. Yet, unlike fingerprinting, in the US no federal law governs face recognition in 2017.

Federated Learning: Collaborative Machine Learning without Centralized Training Data – A gnarly privacy issue of machine learning is that private data has always needed to be processed centrally (and hence may not be kept private any more). Here Google Research outline their solution: all the training data remains on a user’s device, and no individual updates are stored in the cloud. Good stuff.

Other Bits And Pieces
And here are some other links we bookmarked this month:

In Our Time: The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – The BBC’s Melvyn Bragg is one of those polymaths able to eloquently explore complex ideas across literally any domain of knowledge or culture. This podcast is a fascinating looking back at the fossil record to predict what is likely to happen as a result of current global warming trends – with some scary speculations at the end.

A New Li-Fi System That’s 100 Times Faster Than Wi-Fi – providing speeds of 42.8 Gbit/s over a distance of 2.5 meters – but still about 5 years away from being consumer-ready.

GitHub now lets its workers keep the IP when they use company resources for personal projects  – common sense prevails…

Personally I’m still challenged to find a concise answer when a family member or friend asks “so what exactly do you do in your job?” Apparently this is a classic problem for Neo-Generalists – “…living in an era still dominated by hyperspecialism and experts with ‘the one right answer’, the N-G defies easy classification – tricksters who traverse multiple domains, living between categories and labels.” As one reviewer put it, the book “forces us to re-evaluate traditional career trajectories and consider what it means to live, learn and lead in the 21st century.” Worth a read.

Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email



Memia Labs Monthly Digest March 2017

This month: 
// Quantum Computers Using DNA Storage
// (Don't) Tax The Robots 
// The Useless Class 
// The Astounding Cosmos

Here’s our monthly summary of what Memia Labs has been reading and thinking this month at the confluence of future technology, business and society.

This selection of links is taken from our the regular Memia Labs Premium* subscription service – if you’re interested in more information please get in touch.

Ben Reid
Consulting Director

* Memia Labs Premium is a monthly service for Memia customers.
Sign up for our regular updates at

Back in 1997, French director Luc Besson (accidentally?) imagined DNA-based memory: in this scene from his flamboyant film The Fifth Element, Supreme Being Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) was reconstructed from her orders-of-magnitude-more-complex-than-human DNA – with her memories perfectly intact right up until the moment she had died (in an exploding spaceship, natch). This month, scientists have discovered how to fit the maximum amount of data in a single nucleotide, leading us into a future of DNA-based storage, potentially powering the next generation of Quantum computers (not to mention built-in backups for our minds…).


Full stack vertical AI startups actually work – in amidst all the AI hype 2017 will be the year of breakout successes from a handful of vertically-oriented AI startups solving full-stack industry problems.

…and Robots (they really mean AI)

Taxation without representation? Tax the robots says Bill Gates (…you what!?!). Don’t tax the robots replies the Economist. Why? Because robots will take these 5 jobs (but probably not these 5).

Everyone’s talking about

Homo Deus
414JWlgTXGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This podcast with author Yuval Noah Harari are well worth a listen to get an overview of the themes explored. A clear exposition of the potential near future when humans may no longer the most intelligent beings on the planet. His phrase “the useless class” is particularly sobering…

Azeem Azhar:

Miscellaneous Tech

Welcome to the fog computing era OpenFog Consortium Releases Landmark Reference Architecture for Fog Computing  (but how open is this Cisco-led standard when you have to register to download it…!?).

Hard drives of the future could be made of DNA, just like Leeloo

In fact, asks Wired, What if quantum computers of the future used hard drives of DNA?

Global Tech Industry 

Taking your SaaS product upmarket – Enterprise features are common across the board, this is a great resource

The Human Condition

I usually describe myself as a “destination, not a journey person”. Unfortunately for me, apparently Happiness Is Always Seeking Something More

You’re a different person at 77 than 14

Tensors, Tensors, Everywhere

So What Exactly Is A Tensor Anyway?

Getting cosmological

Finally this month we are seeing ever more astounding visualizations of the cosmos in which we belong. Ever since Hubble Deep Field discovered previously unimagined depth to the universe in 1995, our understanding of our nano-nano-nanoscopic place in the universe is continually reinforced. The universe seems to be layered in multiple orders of magnitude there to be explored and understood. Enjoy these if you haven’t seen them before.

It all started here with the iPhone app Cosmic Eye

Laniakea – our home supercluster


On March 25th spare a thought for me when I will be taking part in the inaugural Breca Wanaka Swimrun event: 42km of trail running and 8km of swimming in the freezing cold depths of despair that is Lake Wanaka, New Zealand.

Assuming I make it back from that in one piece, more in a month’s time.  🙂

Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email