New Week Same Humans #55
The lead scientist behind new climate research says future generations will live 'unprecedented lives'. An internet time machine imagines the web in 2046. 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 examined the intersection of AI, creativity, and advanced consumerism. Go here to read AI Artisans.💡
This week, a new research paper examines the extreme weather that today’s children will have to contend with in adulthood.
Plus, Twitch gets leaked. Yes, all of it. And the Internet Archive’s new Wayforward Machine imagines an online dystopia in 2046.
🌪️ All the rage
This week, a new insight into an emotive aspect of climate change: inter-generational justice.
Children growing up now will experience extreme weather events at a rate two to seven times higher than their grandparents did, according to a paper just published in the journal Science. The Wall Street Journal summed it up:
If the planet continues to warm on its current trajectory, the average six-year-old will live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents, the study finds. They will see twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960.
Lead author Wim Thiery said the findings mean ‘people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios.’
The paper comes amid news that Alphabet’s DeepMind has developed a new machine learning model that can accurately predict whether it will rain within the next two hours.
Meteorology has become excellent at medium-term forecasts, but this kind of near-instant forecasting – known as nowcasting – has proven maddeningly difficult. DeepMind worked with the UK Met Office on the new model; Met Office scientists say it will help us better understand and manage extreme weather events.
⚡ NWSH Take: This new paper is a reminder of the way global heating brings to vivid life an age-old philosophical question: what do we owe future generations? That question encompasses not just our children, but generations yet to be born. // The moral intuition that we do have obligations to people who don’t yet exist is widely shared, even if is hard to explain. And once we accept that, there’s no getting around it: when it comes to the environment, we’ve failed. Even in the best scenarios, we’ll bequeath a significantly degraded environment to our descendants. // What to do? Obviously, we must mitigate heating by getting to net zero emissions as fast as possible. Investing in technologies that will help future generations manage extreme weather, too, can only be good. But we should also prepare, surely, for a massive intensification of inter-generational rage founded in this issue. In short: if you’re under 40, there are going to be a lot of angry 20-year-olds around when you’re 80.
👾 The book of revelation
At the time of writing, reports just a few hours old say that all of video game streaming site Twitch has been leaked.
Yes, all of it. That includes the source code, the entire comment history, details of payments made by the site to users, and encrypted passwords. The leak came in the form of a 125GB torrent link, posted to 4Chan by an anonymous user who says Twitch is ‘a disgusting toxic cesspool’. The platform has faced much criticism across the last few years, including from those who say it tolerates a culture of racism, sexism, and transphobia.
Unsurprisingly, it’s details of the astounding amounts earned by top streamers that has drawn the most attention. If genuine, they reveal that the number one streamer earned over $9 million from Twitch alone between August 2019 and October 2021.
⚡ NWSH Take: First, the caveat: this leak appears to be genuine, but it’s yet to be verified. // For users of Twitch, this is obviously a massive deal in its own right. As ever, though, it’s the underlying lesson that NWSH is interested in. Technologists love to talk about data privacy; for the most part the general public appear not to care. This story is a reminder that the true data Armageddon Event that will change that is likely to be ahead. Imagine if this was a comprehensive exposure of the members of, say, OnlyFans. Or log of all Facebook messages, ever. // The Armageddon leak will be comprehensive, explosive, and searchable by name, so that people can ferret out the behaviour of family and friends. And when it happens, the conversation around privacy will change forever. Via Twitch, and NWSH, you have been warned.
🔮 Internet time machine
Want a glimpse of the web as it will look 25 years from now? The people at Internet Archive have got you covered.
Internet Archive is the non-profit digital library best known for its iconic Wayback Machine: one of the great joys of the internet, it’s an archive of over 550 billion web pages that stretches back to the mid-1990s.
This week, the non-profit launched the Wayforward Machine, a site intended to provide a glimpse of our online future.
TL;DR: it’s not good news. The Wayforward Machine simulates an internet shattered by platform monopolies, punitive copyright laws, and authoritarian regimes.
Attempt to access a popular news site, for example, and you might see this banner: This site contains information that is currently classified as Thought Crime in your region.
⚡ NWSH Take: A world wide web riven by geopolitical borders is a big part of the Internet Archive’s nightmarish vision. Way back (sorry) in July 2020 I wrote about the emergence of the splinternet, and what it means for our shared future. // As China further cracks down on internet freedoms, and the Global North wrestles with complex questions around online monopoly power and social harms, we urgently need new answers to the challenges posed by the Wayforward Machine. More coming on this soon.
🧬 Hard coded
Scientists at Northwestern University have devised a new way to record digital data to DNA, and it cuts the time needed from days to minutes.
The method, called Time-sensitive Untemplated Recording using Tdt for Local Environmental Signals (TURTLES), involves the novel use of the enzyme Tdt to encode new information into DNA.
Yes, it gets complex quickly. But the real prize on offer here? Humanity now generates a huge amount of data, and we’ll soon run out of space for it. Current data storage facilities consume an insane amount of energy, and they’re vulnerable to physical decay.
DNA data storage could transform our ability to store digital data. That won’t just be useful for internet archivists (see story above), it will also extend the scope of the possible when it comes to scientific research. The DNA technique, says lead author Alec Callisto, could one day allow us to record an entire human brain.
🗓️ Also this week
🖼️ AI analysis shows that an iconic masterpiece hanging in London’s National Gallery is likely to be a fake. Samson and Delilah – believed to be by Rubens – was purchased by the gallery in 1980 for $5.4 million, the third highest auction price ever paid for a painting at that time.
👠 Paris Hilton is launching her own world inside Roblox. Paris World will allow fans to explore a simulation of Hilton’s own house, a zoo, and a private jet.
🇨🇳 China’s population could halve within the next 45 years according to a new study. Researchers at Xian Jiaotong University say census data shows a birthrate of 1.3 children per woman, which is far below that needed to maintain population. Back in New Week #38 I wrote about this census data, and the challenge it poses to China’s hegemonic ambitions.
☁️ When viewed from space, the Earth has not as bright as it used to be. Researchers at the Big Bear Solar Observatory say global heating means fewer clouds, which means a dimmer planet.
💸 Brazilian legislators are considering a bill that would make bitcoin a legal ‘payment currency’. The bill’s architect, Aureo Ribeiro, says it would make bitcoin an accepted form of payment throughout the country.
😲 A drone light show to celebrate the opening of the Wanda Plaza shopping mall in Zhengzhou hit a major malfunction. Footage has emerged of scores of drones crashing to Earth among the crowds of spectators.
🧑🚀 William Shatner has confirmed that he will fly to space on a Blue Origin rocket later this month. The announcement comes amid claims by former Blue Origin staff that the company’s rockets are unsafe.
🙌 The World Health Organisation has approved the world’s first malaria vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline’s Mosquirix is around 50% effective against severe forms of the disease; the WHO says it could prevent 23,000 deaths in children under five each year. Back in How We Make Progress I wrote about the search for an effective vaccine against malaria, which is probably the single greatest cause of death in our history.
🌍 Humans of Earth
Key metrics to help you keep track of Project Human.
🙋 Global population: 7,898,034,706
🌊 Earths currently needed: 1.7941053722
💉 Global population vaccinated: 34.4%
🗓️ 2021 progress bar: 76% complete
📖 On this day: On 6 October 1995 scientists at the University of Geneva announced the discovery of 51 Pegasi b, the first planet ever seen orbiting another sun.
Thanks for reading this week.
The Internet Archive’s Wayforward Machine is a playful experiment, but the questions it poses are all too real.
What happens when the deep human impulse towards freedom – including freedom of information – collides with monopolistic platforms and new forms of authoritarian government?
This newsletter will continue to attend to those questions, and a whole range of others, in the coming years.
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.
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.