Christmas 2024

By Robert Hickson 17/12/2014


I’m starting to get the hang of Holoblogging now, though usually the holographic images are more disquieting than informative and they leave me feeling queasy.

People don’t seem to spend as much time reviewing the “year that was” now. They’re more interested these days in sifting the data streams to predict what’s coming up.

But for me the four biggest events this year involved data, drugs or droids:

Google.govt.nz. It was only a matter of time. We’ve already had public private partnerships in roads, prisons, schools, and defence, so letting the private sector manage data from government wasn’t too big a step to take. Especially not after the continued data breaches from government agencies. Still, it’s one thing to let Google collect all my private online data and history, and another for them to also hold my salary, tax and medical histories.

Of course they say it’s all held separately, with the government data only in the new server farm down near Lake Manapouri. (How much cheaper would our power be if they’d diverted all that hydropower back into the national grid?) But surely there’s a backup or two elsewhere, that’s just good business practice. Both Google and the government are distinctly cagey about that.

I must say the service has been good though, and the Personal Data Display App is great for monitoring and controling which agencies have access to my data. No major breaches, or inappropriate targeted advertising yet. But it’s only been a year, and time will tell whether it has been a smart move.

The other big data story was, of course, the  “Data dairying” challenge. I wasn’t a player, but Fonterra’s MilkMade™ game App has they say helped them train their machine learning system (Ultimate Dairying Diagnostics for Environmental Reporting) to identify patterns and problems in the sensor data from their farming and processing operations. It’s encouraging that they’ve promised to keep making the data available online too.

“Cucumber solids”. Something good, at least, has come out of the offshore iron sands and rock phosphate mining. Sea cucumbers have thrived in some of the silt-laden sites near the mining operations. They may not be as familiar as milk solids yet, but their bioactive properties seem more likely to lead to greater economic returns if the compounds make it through clinical trials and regulatory approvals in the US and China. And the start-ups out of Victoria and Auckland Universities hold onto their IP. I’m guessing, though, that we’ll see more value out of the simpler natural health products that are starting to be produced from wee beasties.

DIY ‘Droid Army.  The severe tropical storms that hit Whangarei and other parts of Northland in June brought out the 64-bit maker crowd again (that’s still a clunky term, but not as bad as “Number 8 wire 2.0” that some started using). Of course most of the semi-autonomous homemade systems were hopeless in the rain and mud and rocks cleanup, and did more harm than good until civil defence shut them down.

But ShedWorx’s exoskeleton was the exception. The video clip of the Mayor’s mum in one helping reinforce a seawall will be gold to the company, as well as to the Mayor’s re-election campaign (though her mum may get more votes).

Trying to spot the artificially intelligent HBloggers this year has been an interesting distraction. It’s getting harder of course. I’m relieved that the blogger known as “Blubber” wasn’t an AI. That would be tragic, going to all that effort to create a “smart “system that was deliberately dumb just to bottom feed and cause offense. Still, my prediction for 2025 is that that it will happen.


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