New Week #98
AI saw Elvis Presley become the star of this year's America's Got Talent. China and the US go head-to-head in a race for moon minerals. Plus more news and analysis from this week.
Welcome to the mid-week update from New World Same Humans, a newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.
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I’m preparing my annual pilgrimage to the brilliant NEXT Conference in Hamburg, where this year I’ll be speaking about technology as a system, the possibility of civilisational collapse, and how we should respond to this moment.
In the meantime, though, there’s news to discuss. In this week’s instalment, I return to a familiar NWSH theme via the appearance of Elvis in the final of America’s Got Talent.
Meanwhile, an announcement foreshadows an emerging geopolitical flashpoint: lunar resources.
✨ AIs got talent
This week, a further glimpse of the ongoing three-way collision between AI, virtual humans, and creativity.
A virtual human — in the form of 20th-century icon Elvis Presley — competed in the final of NBC’s light entertainment juggernaut America’s Got Talent. The avatar was the creation of London-based AI startup Metaphysic; the same people who went viral last year with their convincing deepfake TikToks of Tom Cruise.
When Metaphysic first appeared on AGT earlier this year, pantomime villain judge Simon Cowell called them ‘one of the most unique things we’ve ever seen on this show’. Their performances see a live singer take the stage to provide the voice and animation for a digital avatar that is projected on a huge screen:
Metaphysic’s Elvis lost out in the final to a Lebanese dance troupe called The Mayyas. The company say they want to help creators to build hyperrealistic virtual identities, and that they’re planning ‘more partnerships in the entertainment industry’.
⚡ NWSH Take: Okay, this is America’s Got Talent; the silliness quotient is high. But the Metaphysic Elvis has propelled AI-fuelled virtual humans into the heart of the mainstream. // Regular readers will know we’re dealing, here, with a NWSH obsession; I’ve written much on the collision between AI and creativity, and, specifically, on how AI will allow artists and performers a strange new kind of ghostly afterlife. Elvis reincarnated on AGT is just the start. Expect a host of much-loved singers and actors to be reincarnated on screens and stages across the coming years. Want a new Marilyn Monroe film? A new Prince album? Now you can (kind of) have it! Pending the agreement, of course, of the estate owners; expect deals worth billions of dollars. // The appetite for virtual humans won’t stop there, though. As people enter immersive VR and AR worlds — yes, we’re talking the metaverse — they’ll seek to build the photorealistic avatars that will be their virtual selves. That means an explosion of virtual identity creation, and the emergence of a whole new industry. One signal of what’s ahead? Metaphysic recently launched Every Anyone, a tool that empowers all of us to build our own virtual humans.
🌔 Moon dust
China this week announced that it has discovered a previously unknown mineral lurking inside a crystal taken from the moon.
The crystal was part of a batch of samples collected by China’s 2020 Chang’e-5 moon mission. Those samples were the first moon rocks brought back to Earth since 1976. The new mineral was named Changesite—(Y).
Hidden beneath the headlines on this new mineral, though? News that China has also found helium-3 inside their moon rocks. This is significant, because helium-3 — a stable isotope of helium that contains two protons and one neutron — has huge potential as a fuel source for nuclear fusion.
There’s little helium-3 here on Earth; scientists have long known that there much more on the moon. And NASA have been excited about lunar helium-3 and fusion since at least 1988. But experts have long wondered exactly how much of the isotope is up there. Now, China’s Atomic Energy Authority say they’ve measured the concentration of the isotope in their lunar samples. They did not make that measurement public.
⚡ NWSH Take: This story is a powerful signal of what’s ahead when it comes to China, the USA, and space. The announcement on Changesite—(Y) came as NASA published more detailed landing plans for its forthcoming Artemis III mission, which is intended to put humans back on the moon. See it as a reminder, then, that China does not intend to let NASA and US private space companies hog the 21st-century race back to the lunar surface. Indeed, it seems China is eyeing the same lunar landing areas as that intended for use by Artemis III for its Chang'e-7 lunar rover mission. Awkward. // But take the news on helium-3, and it’s clear things could go further than awkward. The stage is being set for a Great Power conflict over the right to mine trillions of dollars worth of moon minerals. And if nuclear fusion becomes a reality any time soon, expect the tension to become even more acute as two great powers go head to head to mine a source of near-infinite clean energy; see a good summary here. No wonder the US media are already comparing the coming US-China space race to the US-Soviet space rivalry of the mid 20th-century.
🗓️ Also this week
❄️ Scientists at Yale University have floated a plan to refreeze the Arctic and Antarctic by spraying sulphur dioxide high into the atmosphere. Under the plan, a fleet of 125 military air-to-air refuelling tankers would release sulphur dioxide particles into the atmosphere at an altitude of 43,000ft, and at a latitude intended to cast the poles into a slight shade. Back in Is More Technology the Answer to the Climate Crisis I looked at similar plans to cool the Earth via atmospheric geoengineering.
🙌 The founder of sustainable clothes company Patagonia has given the entire company away to the planet. Yvon Chouinard has signed Patagonia away into a non-profit trust, and all future profits will go towards fighting the climate crisis.
🛰 A huge new satellite could become the second brightest object in the night sky, after the moon. Scientists say the just-launched BlueWalker 3 satellite, which has antenna as large as squash courts, could outshine all the stars and planets in the sky. I’ve written much (some may say too much) on the damage that satellites are doing to our view of the sky at night.
🤖 Amazon has acquired the Belgian robotics firm Cloostermans, a leader in the warehouse robots space. Cloostermans was privately held, and the terms of the deal were undisclosed. Amazon has long been one of the company’s biggest customers; now they say they’ll work with the Cloostermans team to ‘build next-generation supply chain mechatronics’.
💥 Researchers at Oxford University say that a rapid transition to clean energy could save the world economy $12 trillion. The researchers modelled a ‘fast transition’ scenario that would see total decarbonisation by 2050; they say the results show lower energy system costs, plus a wider availability of energy globally, which would result in huge savings.
📱 TikTok won’t promise to stop sharing user data with China. In a session with the Senate Homeland Security Committee, TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas dodged questions around sharing data with China, and said only that ‘our final agreement with the US government will satisfy all national security concerns’.
🌐 Ethereum, the worlds second largest blockchain after bitcoin, has upgraded to a more energy-efficient system. In a long-awaited transition known as the Merge, the Ethereum blockchain has moved to a new ‘proof of stake’ system that will see it consume 99.9% less energy. Some observers expected a boost in the value of Ethereum following the Merge; so far that has failed to materialise.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,974,781,432
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7888329226
💉 Global population vaccinated: 62.4%
🗓️ 2022 progress bar: 71% complete
📖 On this day: On 16 September 1908 the General Motors Corporation is founded.
All Shook Up
Thanks for reading this week.
Metaphysic’s virtual Elvis brings together emerging AI technologies and our age-old desire to reincarnate those we have lost. It’s yet another classic case of new world, same humans.
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Now you’ve reached the end of this week’s instalment, why not forward the email to someone who’d also enjoy it? Or share it across one of your social networks, with a note on why you found it valuable. Remember: the larger and more diverse the NWSH community becomes, the better for all of us.
I’ll be back next week. Until then, be well,
P.S Huge thanks to Nikki Ritmeijer for the illustration at the top of this email. And to Monique van Dusseldorp for additional research and analysis.