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Idealog Year in Review: Spacetime's Alex Bartley Catt

Idealog Year in Review: Spacetime's Alex Bartley Catt

Spacetime's Alex Bartley Catt shares his views on the year that was and the years that could be.

What was the most interesting New Zealand company that caught your eye?
While technology usually gets my wheels spinning, there have been many companies focusing on producing sustainable and ethical business models. The big one for me is stepchangers.org who match businesses requiring CSR programmes with non-profits and community projects for social good. Quite a simple idea, but essential as it helps weed out weak CSR programmes and replace them with a real cause worth fighting for.
 
What about internationally?
It would have to be DeepMind, the artificial intelligence research company. They talk a lot about helping scientists solve big problems and pursuing the ethical use of technology, it's fantastic work. But the way they go about it is surprising. DeepMind is well known for the AI systems they build that can beat the worlds top chess, go, and video game players. 
 
What was the most interesting launch/trend/idea/building/product of the year?
AI. Or more specifically the effective use of machine learning. What we've seen in 2018 is a race to solve big problems with these technologies. Used throughout different areas of life and business, from healthcare to the arts, we're only scratching the surface of what we can achieve with AI. 
 
Most exciting project you worked on this year?
Our company Spacetime! We started in late 2017 and have worked hard to understand how AI can be applied to the problems we face in NZ. Some of these projects include making government services more accessible to the public, automating processes for business, and surfacing large amounts of information quickly and easily. With one project we're trying to help fisherman be more sustainable by using AI to track and understand fishing practices. 
 
What public event that impacted on or affected you the most?
To be honest, I'm lucky. I've got a particular privilege that allows me to move through life without being majorly affected by some of the crisis we face such as climate change and nasty politics. What really impacted me was the sheer number of people struggling or homeless over winter. Families sleeping in cars, garages, and on the streets. It's not a new problem, but I met a number of these people in 2018, and they seriously need our help. 
 

What was your favourite book/TV show/podcast/album/website/ magazine/story/performance enhancing of 2018?
Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote Sapiens and more recently 21 questions for the 21st century, has been touring the world speaking and podcasting. He interrogates the relationship between the history of humanity and technology. Yuval is profoundly insightful, I've learnt a lot that I can directly apply to my life and work.
 
Heroes?
Jacinda Arden and Clarke Gayford (Ultra progressive team breaking down stereotypes)
Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google who I believe is well-intentioned)
Steven Adams (You could argue he's luckily physically gifted, but there's no debating his great sense of humour and intense work-ethic)
 
Villains?
/
 
Your own personal highlight?
Moving into a flat full of ten intelligent and supportive friends.
 
Biggest learning for you?
Sometimes it's better to focus on helping yourself before helping others. This is evident with empathy. It takes in-depth consideration of how you feel before you can understand someone else. 
 
Going into 2019, what’s the change you want to see in the world?
Less division and hate, more consideration and love for each other. 
 
What should be invented and/or un-invented in the next year?
I'd like to see a system that can analyse your life and give you real-time insight into your impact on the environment. Might help us make lifestyle changes for the better. 
 
Is it the robots we should be worried about, or the humans? 
By definition, technology is designed and built by humans. We only have ourselves to blame for any robot misbehaviour.
 
How long before we have:  
DNA modification?
We have that right now, but it's early days. It will be a challenge for everyone when it starts to be used seriously on people. We still don't know enough. 
 
Driverless cars?
We have that too. Although we may never have driverless cars at mass scale depending on how technology/societal pressures/climate change disrupts transport. 
 
Immortality?
When we can understand and replicate the human brain in the digital world. Hopefully never.
 
Cities that all look like Venice?
Sooner than we'd all like. 
 
No animals farmed or eaten?
Maybe in small first world nations, that could be achieved within 10 years. Will be a big issue for the NZ economy unless we lead the charge.
 
Medical cannabis sold at the chemist?
A couple of years. Which is a couple years too late. 
 
Non-human, AI lovers?
Oh, they exist in the physical/sexual sense and will only get more realistic. More interesting is AI lovers that can provide companionship and support. When we start to build systems that can help people feel loved and supported, we may genuinely fall in love with AI.
 
Chips implanted in our brains?
Sounds scary but we do this for medical reasons today. When we have the equivalent of our smartphone (or internet) plugged into our heads, that could bring about rapid evolution (or demise) of the human race. 
 
Colonies on Mars?


Finding something a little less barren would be nice. Saving the planet would be nicer. Hopefully, we never have to make Mars home. 
 
Secure bunkers to protect us from the zombie apocalypse? 
The most affluent people in the world have these bunkers built in our backyard. Little do we know, those people consider us the zombies. 

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