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DEC 2020: Keynote Speaker at NZ Debt Capital Markets Summit 2020 in Auckland

DEC 2020: Keynote Speaker at NZ Debt Capital Markets Summit 2020 in Auckland

Ben delivered a keynote presentation on “Artificial Intelligence: 2021 and beyond” and took part in an on-stage fireside chat with New Zealand Government Digital advisor Rachel Kelly at the Kanganews NZ Debt Capital Markets Summit 2020 in Auckland in December 2020 – great to connect with delegates at one of the few in-person conferences happening around the world!

For more information about booking technology futurist speaker Ben Reid to speak at your (virtual) conference, company event or podcast, see Ben Reid – Keynote Speaker.

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Guest speaker on Tech Load with Sandra Spencer on Melbourne’s 88.3 Southern FM

Guest speaker on Tech Load with Sandra Spencer on Melbourne’s 88.3 Southern FM

I had the pleasure of speaking with Sandra Spencer on her show Tech Load. Sandra presents tech headlines, interviews, music and innovators on Melbourne community radio. Listen to the show: Guest speaker on Tech Load with Sandra Spencer on Melbourne’s 88.3 Southern FM which aired Wednesday 25 November 2020 6pm-7pm
https://www.youtube.com/embed/4dcFOHqo1Z8
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Post-Covid-19 – some “axes of uncertainty” scenarios for New Zealand Inc.

Post-Covid-19 – some “axes of uncertainty” scenarios for New Zealand Inc.

Searching for opportunities on the other side of the pandemic response

It’s now early April 2020 and New Zealand is nearly two weeks into Level 4 lockdown in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Internationally it is now acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic has created an economic crisis “like no other” — one that is “way worse” than the 2008 global financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of IMF said:

“Never in the history of IMF have we witnessed the world economy come to a standstill.”

Large parts of the New Zealand economy have indeed effectively been shut down – or more generously “put into hibernation” – by the massive, unprecedented (that word again) restrictions on movement and commercial activity. Only essential businesses and those who are able to continue operating with staff working from home are permitted to continue trading. Companies operating in sectors such as tourism, air transport, hospitality and overseas education are effectively now without revenue for the foreseeable future and will likely have to close.

Right now, the initial Level 4 lockdown is expected to go on for at least 2 more weeks. But modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM) data science researchers, Suppression and mitigation strategies for control of COVID-19 in New Zealand, illustrates the following two mitigation scenarios where “high control” (=lockdown) continues intermittently either for 6 months until the virus races uncontrolled through the population, or for 2+ years until “herd immunity” is reached, assuming there is no vaccine available before then.

Source: Te Pūnaha MatatiniSuppression and mitigation strategies for control of COVID-19 in New Zealand

Meanwhile, there are voices raising questions about how sustainable the government’s “go hard and go early” approach to suppressing – or indeed eliminating – the virus in Aotearoa can be, together with questions surrounding the balancing of broader concerns – for example intergenerational equity, economic wellbeing, other health conditions and mental health of those affected by the longer term consequences of total economic wipeout.

There is huge uncertainty – perhaps more than at any time in New Zealand history. So in among this dense fog of unknowability, is it even possible to look out and model what Post-Covid-19 New Zealand might look like in a way that can help businesses adapt, survive and, ultimately, thrive?

Near-term scenario modeling

Coronavirus is the threat no-one saw coming:

“In their scenario planning, if they do scenario planning, I would doubt [businesses] would think about the world being shut down, borders being closed, everyone being in their houses”

– Wendy Kerr, Director, Auckland University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Here we are now, two weeks in and still at the very beginning of the pandemic response. Can we start constructing some scenarios to help with planning from here?

I have taken a first cut at exploring some of the main areas of uncertainty for the New Zealand context and ended up categorising them into “When”, “How much” and “Yes/no” questions, together with some initial stabs in the dark about high and low boundaries:

By no means exhaustive, but you get the drift. From these (quite specific) questions, it’s possible to choose a selection and sketch out some near-term scenarios that might form a backdrop to business planning – for example, two extremes:

However, being honest, there’s not a lot of opportunity apparent in any of these near-term scenarios – basically it’s going to be a grim game of cost-shedding and survival for most existing businesses during the lockdown and subsequent recession. And high levels of unemployment – how high depends on how rapidly the government mobilises its stimulus spending.

Axes of uncertainty

Quantitative Futurist Amy Webb of the Future Today Institute uses a technique called Axes of Uncertainty to explore potential longer term scenarios more broadly and use these to ensure more preparedness for the future. Axes can be External or Internal to an organisation. External Uncertainties can be broken into four categories: Economic, Social, Technological and Regulatory/Politics/Activism:

Credit: Amy Webb, Future Today Institute

Here are a few interesting (to me) New Zealand-relevant axes to consider, there are many others – feel free to suggest some more.

From my technologically-inquisitive perspective, there may be some areas for NZ businesses to investigate here. Firstly, for background, looking at our supply chains for import, here are some very enlightening visualisations from the excellent Observatory of Economic Complexity at MIT Media Lab:

(What is “Broadcasting Equipment”, anyone ???)

Below are just four scenario maps I’ve worked up using Amy Webb’s technique, with “Opportunity” and “Risk” seen from the (admittedly rather lofty and subjective) perspective of “NZ Inc”. Some nuggets of opportunity starting to appear.

(FWIW you can substitute “NZ” for pretty much any small economy that needs to trade outside its borders for any of these.)

Next steps?

Other than being an interesting diversion for a Sunday afternoon in Lockdown 😇, what else is this analysis useful for? The suggested final step in this process is: Find your action. Each of the scenarios above might apply to you or your organisation in varying ways, or not at all. Try using the technique yourself within your organisational context and see whether you come up with any previously unseen opportunities that could make the difference between surviving Covid-19 – and thriving afterwards.

Comments, feedback? Get in touch: ben.reid@memia.com

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

Sign up for Memia’s new email newsletter by me, Ben Reid at https://memia.substack.com

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:

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Redistributive sovereign cryptocurrency – an alternative to a “wealth tax”?

Redistributive sovereign cryptocurrency – an alternative to a “wealth tax”?

Can wealth redistribution be designed into money to reduce economic inequality?

Summary

Economic inequality is increasing around the world, with no signs of changing direction. Economist Thomas Piketty asserts that inequality is a fundamental “feature” of capitalism which requires state intervention to address – stoking heated political debates on introducing new “wealth taxes” around the world. Yet administering tax and benefit systems are a costly overhead for governments – introducing another tax in the traditional manner would create yet more complex and costly state machinery to collect and redistribute the proceeds.

What if instead the machinery of wealth redistribution was built into the monetary system itself? New sovereign digital (crypto-)currencies promise new monetary policy tools which could make the redistribution of income and wealth into a core function of money rather than the state – thus enabling central banks to simply target an “inequality rate” in much the same way as an inflation band or unemployment rate – and reducing the overhead of tax collection and distribution on governments around the world.

Background

Sovereign governments and central banks around the world are beginning to investigate sovereign digital currency instruments. China has stated that its sovereign cryptocurrency is “ready for launch”. The tiny Marshall Islands have announced a plan to create their own “SOV” cryptocurrency which will be legal tender when (if…) it is launched. Meanwhile Estonia’s ambitions for a state-backed cryptocurrency were dashed by the European Central Bank and other developed economy central banks including New Zealand and Australia have ruled out issuing digital currencies any time soon.

(And as Western economies procrastinate, Facebook has initiated the Libra consortium to launch a global cryptocurrency backed by traditional financial assets and independent of any sovereign government.)

Digital currency issued by central banks would enable national treasuries to make use of all the technological advantages of cryptocurrencies, but without ceding control to nationless, decentralized infrastructure such as Bitcoin, Ether and others. A sovereign digital-/crypto-currency – including a universal transaction ledger – promises to deliver completely new financial infrastructure for all users of money: real-time data collection, low transaction costs, bookkeeping, traceability not to mention the implementation of monetary policy. The potential efficiencies of scale and enhanced functionality of a unified national ledger system are significant.

(It should also be pointed out that introducing state-operated financial infrastructure would require increased oversight and controls – and may be perceived to infringe even further upon individual privacy and human rights than current “anti-money-laundering” / ”financial surveillance” regimes do. This post does not explore the social and regulatory implications further, other than acknowledging their fundamental importance.)

Addressing the inequality challenge

Inequality among the world’s population can take many forms: economic, health, lifespan to name a few commonly invoked dimensions. (Recent efforts have framed the problem as one of improving “wellbeing” for populations as a whole, targeting reductions in inequality across a range of socioeconomic measures. In particular in New Zealand where a basket of non-financial wellbeing measurements now underpin the annual government budgeting process.)

By many measures, economic inequality is increasing around the world. Income inequality within OECD countries is at its highest level for the past half century: the average income of the richest 10% of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10% across the OECD, up from seven times 25 years ago. Even more startling statistics surround wealth inequality: globally, the richest 1% population own 45% of the world’s wealth.  In the US in 2018, the richest three American men — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — held combined fortunes worth more than the total wealth of the poorest half of Americans.

Income and wealth redistribution – the old way

Through taxation, governments around the world engage in income and (to a lesser degree) wealth redistribution to attempt to reduce inequality. Traditional solutions are based upon collection of income taxes and then a range of means-tested benefit distributions. An analysis of all OECD countries’ redistributive policies shows that taxes and transfers redistribute income across all deciles, thereby reducing inequality to some degree. More recently there has been increased interest in novel mechanisms such as (universal) basic income (UBI) as a more effective and simpler redistributive mechanism.

In reality, the bureaucratic machinery of income redistribution places a significant cost on the state. For example, in New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development manages over NZ$26 billion of government expenditure, including over NZ$14.5Bn on superannuation (pension) payments and NZ$6.5Bn on benefits and assistance. (Social security and welfare spending makes up a total of NZ$33Bn – nearly 30% of total government spending).

French economist Thomas Piketty’s widely discussed 2014 book Capital in the Twenty-First Century examines the evidence that economic inequality is worsening and proposes taxing wealth as a solution. The central thesis of the book is that inequality is a “feature” of capitalism, and can only be reversed through state intervention.

In line with this, recent political discourse around inequality is starting to turn towards explicitly taxing wealth – US Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren proposes an “ultra-millionaire tax” based upon 2% of household net worth above US$50 million. Countries including Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands and Argentina all have some form of wealth tax already in place.

Functions of a central bank

In many countries, governance and management of monetary policy is devolved to a central bank (for example the Federal Reserve in the US, European Central Bank in the Euro Area, the Bank of England in the UK). Central banks generally have five main functions:

  1. Issuer of currency in circulation (notes and coins)
  2. Lender of last resort to banks
  3. Lender of last resort to government
  4. Ensure the stability of the banking system
  5. Set monetary policy, mainly through the control of interest rates.

While central banks in most developed nations are independent institutions and protected from political interference, monetary policy may be still be set to achieve certain government targets, in particular:

  • Keep price inflation within a certain target band
  • Economic growth targets
  • Unemployment targets

All quite straightforward, at least until the system crashes like in the GFC of 2008 when liquidity crises have required more unconventional monetary policy levers such as quantitative easing – “creating money” and using this money to buy bonds with the aim of reducing interest rates and boosting bank lending.

Sovereign cryptocurrencies – enabling new digital monetary policy levers

Enter sovereign digital-/ crypto-currencies.

Bitcoin, as the original, decentralised and critical mass cryptocurrency relies upon game theory to balance supply and demand for new coins. An energy-intensive “mining” process incrementally releases new bitcoin into circulation, with a theoretical maximum of 21 million bitcoins ever to exist. New bitcoins are created roughly every ten minutes and the rate at which they are generated drops by half about every four years until all will be in circulation. Pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto effectively set a monetary policy based on artificial scarcity at Bitcoin’s inception.

The lack of flexibility in Bitcoin’s algorithm to massage the money supply up or down (eg to support central bank activities such as quantitative easing) is a criticism of Bitcoin’s infrastructure. Critics argue that a global currency system based upon Bitcoin (or similar) cryptocurrencies would be incredibly brittle in the face of global financial crises.

For this reason, proponents of sovereign digital-/crypto-currencies argue in favour of new digital money supply which is governed and regulated through more traditional techniques – for example through the central bank deciding to issue more or less currency into circulation, or adjusting the interest rate paid to (extracted from) holders of currency.

So at the very least, monetary policy functions of sovereign cryptos echo those of fiat currencies world wide:

  • Controlling money supply
  • Setting interest rates

But by virtue of the new financial infrastructure they provide, sovereign cryptos potentially provide a raft of new functionality. For example, central banks could manage lending directly to businesses and individuals, rather than only to commercial banks – thus levelling the playing field and minimising rent taking by commercial banks adding lucrative interest rate margins for little risk.

When considering the inequality question, two other potential functions stand out in particular:

  • Automatic, near-zero-cost redistribution of wealth
  • Automatic, near-zero-cost redistribution of income

New digital monetary policy function #1: wealth redistribution

As we’ve seen:

  • Economic inequality is one of the critical issues of our time, and
  • State intervention through wealth taxes are considered the imminent way to address this.

What if the state function of tax collection and wealth redistribution could instead be delegated to central banks as a monetary policy lever? In the same way as some governments set unemployment targets for their central banks, what if they set “wealth inequality targets”?

Furthermore, what if sovereign digital currency infrastructure could replace much of the bureaucracy of wealth tax collection and redistribution with an automatic algorithm which more evenly distributes wealth across the currency system?

For example, to implement Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax – for each “household” in the universal ledger (sum up all the “household wallets”), if the total value of all currency holdings adds up to more than $50 million, remove an annualised 2% from those wallets and redistribute across the rest of the ledger according to “household” wealth. Running the redistributive algorithm across all accounts at a regular frequency (daily? hourly?) would increase precision and fairness.

It sounds simple and elegant – as with the current taxation system, this would need robust legislation to unambiguously define a “household” and map it to the correct wallets on the ledger. More importantly, however, the redistribution would only cover the small portion of total household wealth which is held in currency.

So, as currently, the tax system would still be needed to calculate all non-currency household assets and map these to the household calculation on the ledger as well. But arguably this automated redistribution infrastructure could be maintained at a fraction of the billions of dollars cost currently spent on state bureaucracies dedicated to tax collection and social benefit distribution.)

(The more fundamental question is whether the rich would choose to hold any of their wealth in such a redistributive currency at all… but then, how is this different to negative interest rates?)

New digital monetary policy function #2: income redistribution

In a similar way to wealth, income redistribution could be automated using sovereign digital currency infrastructure, removing the need for much of the current state infrastructure required for tax collection and redistribution. This may also have the added benefit of unburdening private enterprises from their undesired role as payroll tax collector…

The government of the day sets a clearly defined and legislated  “income equality target” which is then delegated to the central bank to implement as monetary policy.

In practice, each wallet on the ledger participates in many taxable / non-taxable income transactions. Periodically (each day, hour…?), all applicable income transactions would have the relevant taxable amount automatically debited from all wallets on the ledger and automatically redistributed to low-income wallets according to an algorithm optimised for the target set by government.

It seems intuitive that income redistribution would be an easier challenge than for wealth since almost all income transactions are already denominated in fiat currencies and paid digitally. This algorithm is also perhaps easier to apply because the concept of a “household” may not necessarily be required, each wallet being mapped to legal persons or companies.

Another aspect of income redistribution could be the automatic administration of a basic income – when “creating money”, central banks could distribute that money directly across all the individuals in the economy rather than effectively lending it to commercial banks.

Challenges

These two new tools for addressing economic inequality leverage potential new capabilities within sovereign digital currency infrastructure. The greatest potential benefits of these, besides actually reducing wealth and income inequality, would be significantly reducing the administrative cost to the state and increased precision and fairness of the taxation / redistribution systems.

Clearly there would be major challenges to implementation in many countries, including:

  • Fundamental legal objections to “theft of property” – where money is framed as immutable asset. But the entire concept of money relies on a collective hallucination of “property” which could be clearly defined in updated legislation.
  • Objections to increased state financial surveillance and intrusion on individual privacy
  • Digital inclusion – what about members of society not able / willing to participate in novel digital currencies?
  • Game theory – unless compelled to do so, why would anyone choose to hold wealth or receive income in a redistributive currency?
  • Security of digital currency and redistribution infrastructure and susceptibility to cyber attack
  • Risk of “big bang” rollout – perhaps mitigated by incentive-driven participation in pilot projects would support a new redistributive currency system to be introduced gradually

Conclusion

As with many new technology opportunities, China is forging ahead with establishing a next generation of digital currency infrastructure which promises to provide huge efficiencies of scale, performance and resilience for their monetary system. If this initiative is successful, the Chinese central bank will have access to an unmatched pool of transaction data which will enable them to manage their currency with an order of magnitude more precision than before.

Outside China, Western nations are slow to commit to upgrading their digital currency infrastructure. One reason for this may be anticipated objections from civil rights and privacy advocates to resist any further financial surveillance. It may be that private interests, for example the Facebook-led Libra consortium, seize the initiative from governments.

Meanwhile in the West economic inequality remains an ever more crucial political issue. Economists advocate wealth taxes as a solution but Governments will find it hard to gain the mandate to legislate these and costly to put in place the tax collection infrastructure.

This post has explored the alternative possibility of fundamentally designing income and wealth redistribution systems into the money we use – thus achieving targeted reductions in inequality at a fraction of the cost to the state of introducing and managing wealth taxes.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

Hi,

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
Director
labs@memia.com
Sign up for our regular mailing list at http://memia.com/labs/

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 labs@memia.com

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Memia Labs Monthly Digest #7 – August 2017

This month:
//The coming quantum computing revolution
//Ready Player One's OASIS getting nearer
//Supersapiens
//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
labs@memia.com

Sign up for our regular mailing list at http://memia.com/labs/

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 Improbable.io,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 80000Hours.org – 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 labs@memia.com

Off

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
labs@memia.com

Sign up for our regular mailing list at http://memia.com/labs/

 

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 Inequality.org 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.

Cryptocorrection
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

Stressful
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.

Off

Memia Labs Monthly Digest – June 2017

This month:
//Puppy slugs...
//the end of (books about) leadership?...
//CAIO... 
//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
labs@memia.com

Sign up for our regular mailing list at http://memia.com/labs/

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…).

CAIO
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 labs@memia.com