New Week Same Humans #54

How many climate migrants will be created by global heating? Amazon's new home robot wants to know everything about you. 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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💡 This week’s Sunday note featured expert guest contributor Michael Bhaskar on big ideas and the frontiers of human knowledge. Go here to read Here Comes the Great Acceleration.💡

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This week, a major new report highlights the challenges posed by climate migration.

Also, why Amazon’s new home robot has designs on your life. And the CCP bans cryptocurrencies: for real this time.

Let’s go!

🗺️ The great migration

This week, new research highlights a megatrend set to reshape the century ahead: climate migration.

Researchers at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International say that climate migrants are at high risk of capture as modern-day slaves. Their report cites many examples, including that of a Ghanaian woman forced by drought to move to Accra; she now works as a porter and hands over all her earnings to the person who oversees that work.

This IIED report comes in the wake of a landmark analysis by the World Bank. It found that failure to slow warming could result in the internal displacement – that is, displacement without crossing national borders – of 216 million people by 2050.

⚡ NWSH Take: Back in October I wrote about the dark implications of climate migration for the nations that bear most responsibility here: the industrialised democracies of the Global North. // But the World Bank analysis is a reminder that most climate migration will be from rural to urban areas inside developing nations, and that those nations are ill-equipped to deal with the social and economic fallout. The outlines of a human tragedy are taking shape. // COP26 starts in Glasgow on Monday; 1.5 degrees of warming is the aim. We should strain every sinew, while acknowledging that 1.5C is unlikely. What to do, then, about migration? The rich world must do more to support adaptation in developing nations; they could start by handing over the $100 billion in climate aid they promised by 2020. // Climate migration will prove a world-historic disruption comparable in scale to the one effected by industrialisation in the 19th-century. We will live, soon enough, in even more interesting times.

🤖 A wheelie good boy

Do you dream of life with a member of the Amazon customer services team? Want to make it even easier to give Jeff all your disposable income?

Then meet the retail giant’s new home robot, Astro.

Launched this week, Astro uses sensors, cameras, and facial recognition technology to move autonomously around the home, check on loved ones, relay messages, and alert you to intruders. The device is currently available to select customers in the US.

⚡ NWSH Take: Amazon says Astro has been ‘embodied with a unique persona that is all its own.’ Watch the video and judge for yourself, but it’s clear this device is a play on a trend NWSH has covered often: virtual companions. That is, the rise of AI-fuelled entities intended to strike up an emotional, as well as functional, connection with the user. // But privacy. I’ve written before on the unprecedented panopticon Amazon is building, and the access it offers to our private selves. Days after launch, many are already asking: do you really want to set an Amazon surveillance device free in your home? // Leaked documents reveal Astro’s game plan: draw consumers in, and learn everything about them. That will allow even more personalised, and instant, product recommendations. How much privacy are we willing to swap for same-day delivery of the perfect yoga pants? We’re about to find out.

💴 The state vs DeFi

News surfaced this week of a comprehensive ban on cryptocurrencies in China.

Statements from the People’s Bank of China declared both crypto-mining and cryptocurrency transactions illegal; bitcoin fell 5% as the news echoed across social media.

DeFi enthusiasts like to say that China has banned crypto 18 times across the last few years. There’s some truth to that; back in May, for example, domestic financial institutions were told to halt all crypto transactions. But there’s widespread consensus that, this time, the CCP really means it. Unlike past announcements, the new statements leave no room for manoeuvre. Leading crypto platforms inside the country have already closed.

⚡ NWSH Take: Chinese crypto-heads will find ways around this ban. But, for now at least, bitcoin is on life support in China. The move is bold, but not surprising. And it’s all about power. // I’ve written a lot in recent weeks on China’s crackdown against its domestic tech sector. The CCP sees how Big Tech is becoming a rival power centre in the Global North, and it’s making clear that no such thing will be allowed at home. // This is the same, except for Big Tech swap in Banking and Finance. A shadow financial system outside the control of the CCP is the stuff of Xi Jinping’s nightmares, and he wants to squash it now. // In the end, then, this is all part of Xi’s play for a new kind of state; one that exerts total control over a society of 1.4 billion. Can the CCP win out over Big Tech and the decentralisation revolution that is the blockchain? The answer will do much to shape the decade ahead.

🗓️ Also this week

💥 Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says we’re at a watershed moment for AI. In a wide-ranging interview Schmidt said AI is set to transform our societies in the coming years, and highlighted its potential to create and spread disinformation.

📱 A crowd stampede shut down the launch of the iPhone 13 in China. Sounds like they really wanted that smaller notch size.

🛒 TikTok launched new shopping features, including shoppable links and livestreamed shopping. The move is intended to see the platform compete with Instagram for ecommerce dollars. TikTok just hit 1 billion monthly active users.

🧑‍🚀 Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin will reportedly fly William Shatner to space next month. Some people think this story is just a ruse intended to promote Shatner’s new album. Please let it be true.

🦾 DeepMind wants to create an AI that understands what it’s like to have a body. If we’re to realise the full potential of robotics, we need AIs that can control physical bodies in fluid and changing real-world situations. Don’t forget, those Boston Dynamics videos we’ve all seen are highly choreographed.

⚽ Canadian blockchain studio Dapper Labs has announced a new partnership with Spanish football league LaLiga. The company is behind massive NFT hits CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot, and a new funding round valued it at $7.6 billion.

🤳 Facebook is pausing work on a planned Instagram for children. The move comes amid widespread concern over the mental health impacts of Instagram on teen users.

🐹 A crypto-trading hamster called Mr Goxx has outperformed Warren Buffett and the S&P 500. Mr Goxx chooses one among dozens of cryptocurrencies by running on his hamster wheel, and then indicates a buy or sell instruction by passing through one of two tunnels.

🌍 Humans of Earth

Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.

🙋 Global population: 7,896,479,089
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7936271932

💉 Global population vaccinated: 33.0%

🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 74% complete

📖 On this day: On 29 September 1789 the United States Department of War establishes the nation’s first regular army, numbering several hundred men.

Strange Astronomies

Thanks for reading this week.

Amazon’s new robot wants to know everything about you. And this is just the beginning. We’re about to see the rise of a new kind of virtual companion that wants to be your mentor, counsellor, and best friend.

New World Same Humans will keep watching this trend, and a whole range of others. And there’s one thing you can do to help with that mission: share!

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.

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I’ll be back this Sunday. 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.

David Mattin is the founder of the Strategy and Futures Research Unit. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.