China’s 640-Ton ‘Iron Monster’ Can Erect Colossal Bridges In a Few Days • Interesting Engineering

The SLJ900/32, aka Iron Monster, at work

Launching the Belt and Road initiative in 2013, China has proven to be the heir to the tradition of the Silk Road. The project comprises land-and-sea routes that link about 70 countries, approximately two-thirds of the world.

What enabled China to initiate and carry out this project was the developed construction machines that not only expedite the construction processes but resulted in cost and resources efficiency. SLJ900/32, locally known as the Iron Monster, is a step forward in bridge construction that lifts, carries, and sets prefabricated and full-length track sections at the loaded speed of 3.1 mph (5 km/h), leaving no place for the prolonged on-site assembling process.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Han Dynasty established the Silk Road, a network of land-and-sea routes that built a bridge between the east and west transforming China into a geoeconomic center. Inspired by the Silk Road, the People’s Republic of China commenced the Belt and Road initiative to link Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Silk Road Economic Belt, the on-land routes of the project, links East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe while the Maritime Silk Road connects China’s coastlands to Europe.

As the need for more land and nautical routes to complete the Belt and Road project increased, there was a demand for more progressive machines to increase the pace of this large-scale project. Therefore, Iron Monster, alongside other machinery, was invented to fulfill the goal of connecting three continents throughout a marine and land network.

Even though critics claim this project forces Chinese debts on poorer countries setting the Chinese World Order, these inventions are still of high importance in construction engineering. Designed by the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute and manufactured by the Beijing Wow Joint Machinery Company, SLJ900/32 constructs long bridges with numerous spans at a notable speed.

One of the real-life instances of SLJ900/32 is the longest road-rail steel arch bridge project in the world: the Yibin Jinsha River Railway Bridge. Before the Yibin Jinsha, it took 12 hours to travel between Sichuan and Guizhou provinces in China, but now, the estimated travel time dropped to three hours. Another example, which is one of the several high-speed rail projects, is the one linking Inner Mongolia and the rest of the country as part of China’s vision of an 18,641.1-mile-long (30,000 km) high-speed rail.

The bridge girdling machine moves via its 64 fully rotating wheels divided into 4 blocks. The construction process begins as it carries the beams all the way from the very edge of the bridge to the installation point, where it will be connected to a predetermined pillar. Then, using a pneumatic structure, the machine is moored to the first pillar to extend to the second one, anchoring to it, and place the beam. Afterward, SLJ900/32 continues the same steps with the new segment in tow.

Requiring much less human resources in comparison with crane-used bridge constructions, Iron Monster still requires a crew to overlook the entire process besides cleaning and maintaining its various parts. The crew’s job starts as the machine sets the segment and the whole procedure repeats till the completion of the bridge.

The machine has proven to be efficient, specifically in larger construction projects including the Belt and Road, due to the frugal use of human resources, eliminating the cost of expensive scaffolding, and the increased pace of project performance. Moreover, its 640-ton (580 tonnes) weight requires the bridges to bear more than the maximum load, which is accounted as an unexpected added value and results in more safety for the bridges constructed using this machinery.

Unfortunately, the money and technology used to build these machines should be repeated every four years for their lifespan allows them to lay about 700 to 1,000 bridge spans- the distance between two intermediate supporters for the bridge- which gives them longevity of approximately four years.

Source: https://interestingengineering.com/chinas-640-ton-iron-monster-can-erect-colossal-bridges-in-a-few-days

Saving Capitalism or Saving the Planet? • Global Research

Source: https://www.globalresearch.ca/saving-capitalism-saving-planet/5761570

The UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team helped to push the public towards accepting the COVID narrative, restrictions and lockdowns. It is now working on ‘nudging’ people towards further possible restrictions or at least big changes in their behaviour in the name of ‘climate emergency’. From frequent news stories and advertisements to soap opera storylines and government announcements, the message about impending climate catastrophe is almost relentless.

Part of the messaging includes blaming the public’s consumption habits for a perceived ‘climate emergency’. At the same time, young people are being told that we only have a decade or so (depending on who is saying it) to ‘save the planet’.

Setting the agenda are powerful corporations that helped degrade much of the environment in the first place. But ordinary people, not the multi-billionaires pushing this agenda, will pay the price for this as living more frugally seems to be part of the programme (‘own nothing and be happy’). Could we at some future point see ‘climate emergency’ lockdowns, not to ‘save the NHS’ but to ‘save the planet’?

A tendency to focus on individual behaviour and not ‘the system’ exists.

But let us not forget this is a system that deliberately sought to eradicate a culture of self-reliance that prevailed among the working class in the 19th century (self-education, recycling products, a culture of thrift, etc) via advertising and a formal school education that ensured conformity and set in motion a lifetime of wage labour and dependency on the products manufactured by an environmentally destructive capitalism.

A system that has its roots in inflicting massive violence across the globe to exert control over land and resources elsewhere.

In his 2018 book ‘The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequalities and its solutions’, Jason Hickel describes the processes involved in Europe’s wealth accumulation over a 150-year period of colonialism that resulted in tens of millions of deaths.

By using other countries’ land, Britain effectively doubled the size of arable land in its control. This made it more practical to then reassign the rural population at home (by stripping people of their means of production) to industrial labour. This too was underpinned by massive violence (burning villages, destroying houses, razing crops).

Hickel argues that none of this was inevitable but was rooted in the fear of being left behind by other countries because of Europe’s relative lack of land resources to produce commodities.

This is worth bearing in mind as we currently witness a fundamental shift in our relationship to the state resulting from authoritarian COVID-related policies and the rapidly emerging corporate-led green agenda. We should never underestimate the ruthlessness involved in the quest for preserving wealth and power and the propensity for wrecking lives and nature to achieve this.

Commodification of nature

Current green agenda ‘solutions’ are based on a notion of ‘stakeholder’ capitalism or private-public partnerships whereby vested interests are accorded greater weight, with governments and public money merely facilitating the priorities of private capital.

A key component of this strategy involves the ‘financialisation of nature’ and the production of new ‘green’ markets to deal with capitalism’s crisis of over accumulation and weak consumer demand caused by decades of neoliberal policies and the declining purchasing power of working people. The banking sector is especially set to make a killing via ‘green profiling’ and ‘green bonds’.

According to Friends of the Earth (FoE), corporations and states will use the financialisation of nature discourse to weaken laws and regulations designed to protect the environment with the aim of facilitating the goals of extractive industries, while allowing mega-infrastructure projects in protected areas and other contested places.

Global corporations will be able to ‘offset’ (greenwash) their activities by, for example, protecting or planting a forest elsewhere (on indigenous people’s land) or perhaps even investing in (imposing) industrial agriculture which grows herbicide-resistant GMO commodity crop monocultures that are misleadingly portrayed as ‘climate friendly’.

FoE states:“Offsetting schemes allow companies to exceed legally defined limits of destruction at a particular location, or destroy protected habitat, on the promise of compensation elsewhere; and allow banks to finance such destruction on the same premise.”

This agenda could result in the weakening of current environmental protection legislation or its eradication in some regions under the pretext of compensating for the effects elsewhere. How ecoservice ‘assets’ (for example, a forest that performs a service to the ecosystem by acting as a carbon sink) are to be evaluated in a monetary sense is very likely to be done on terms that are highly favourable to the corporations involved, meaning that environmental protection will play second fiddle to corporate and finance sector return-on-investment interests.

As FoE argues, business wants this system to be implemented on its terms, which means the bottom line will be more important than stringent rules that prohibit environmental destruction.

Saving capitalism

The envisaged commodification of nature will ensure massive profit-seeking opportunities through the opening up of new markets and the creation of fresh investment instruments.

Capitalism needs to keep expanding into or creating new markets to ensure the accumulation of capital to offset the tendency for the general rate of profit to fall (according to writer Ted Reese, it has trended downwards from an estimated 43% in the 1870s to 17% in the 2000s). The system suffers from a rising overaccumulation (surplus) of capital.Reese notes that, although wages and corporate taxes have been slashed, the exploitability of labour continued to become increasingly insufficient to meet the demands of capital accumulation. By late 2019, the world economy was suffocating under a mountain of debt. Many companies could not generate enough profit and falling turnover, squeezed margins, limited cashflows and highly leveraged balance sheets were prevalent. In effect, economic growth was already grinding to a halt prior to the massive stock market crash in February 2020.

In the form of COVID ‘relief’, there has been a multi-trillion bailout for capitalism as well as the driving of smaller enterprises to bankruptcy. Or they have being swallowed up by global interests. Either way, the likes of Amazon and other predatory global corporations have been the winners.

New ‘green’ Ponzi trading schemes to offset carbon emissions and commodify ‘ecoservices’ along with electric vehicles and an ‘energy transition’ represent a further restructuring of the capitalist economy, resulting in a shift away from a consumer oriented demand-led system.

It essentially leaves those responsible for environmental degradation at the wheel, imposing their will and their narrative on the rest of us.

Global agribusiness

Between 2000 and 2009, Indonesia supplied more than half of the global palm oil market at an annual expense of some 340,000 hectares of Indonesian countryside. Consider too that Brazil and Indonesia have spent over 100 times more in subsidies to industries that cause deforestation than they received in international conservation aid from the UN to prevent it.

These two countries gave over $40bn in subsidies to the palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuels sectors between 2009 and 2012, some 126 times more than the $346m they received to preserve their rain forests.

India is the world’s leading importer of palm oil, accounting for around 15% of the global supply. It imports over two-­thirds of its palm oil from Indonesia.

Until the mid-1990s, India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils. Under pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO), import tariffs were reduced, leading to an influx of cheap (subsidised) edible oil imports that domestic farmers could not compete with. This was a deliberate policy that effectively devastated the home-grown edible oils sector and served the interests of palm oil growers and US grain and agriculture commodity company Cargill, which helped write international trade rules to secure access to the Indian market on its terms.

Indonesia leads the world in global palm oil production, but palm oil plantations have too often replaced tropical forests, leading to the killing of endangered species and the uprooting of local communities as well as contributing to the release of potential environment-damaging gases. Indonesia emits more of these gases than any country besides China and the US, largely due to the production of palm oil.

The issue of palm oil is one example from the many that could be provided to highlight how the drive to facilitate corporate need and profit trumps any notion of environmental protection or addressing any ‘climate emergency’. Whether it is in Indonesia, Latin America or elsewhere, transnational agribusiness – and the system of globalised industrial commodity crop agriculture it promotes – fuels much of the destruction we see today.

Even if the mass production of lab-created food, under the guise of ‘saving the planet’ and ‘sustainability’, becomes logistically possible (which despite all the hype is not at this stage), it may still need biomass and huge amounts of energy. Whose land will be used to grow these biomass commodities and which food crops will they replace? And will it involve that now-famous Gates’ euphemism ‘land mobility’ (farmers losing their land)?

Microsoft is already mapping Indian farmers’ lands and capturing agriculture datasets such as crop yields, weather data, farmers’ personal details, profile of land held (cadastral maps, farm size, land titles, local climatic and geographical conditions), production details (crops grown, production history, input history, quality of output, machinery in possession) and financial details (input costs, average return, credit history).

Is this an example of stakeholder-partnership capitalism, whereby a government facilitates the gathering of such information by a private player which can then use the data for developing a land market (courtesy of land law changes that the government enacts) for institutional investors at the expense of smallholder farmers who find themselves ‘land mobile’? This is a major concern among farmers and civil society in India.

Back in 2017, agribusiness giant Monsanto was judged to have engaged in practices that impinged on the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. Judges at the ‘Monsanto Tribunal’, held in The Hague, concluded that if ecocide were to be formally recognised as a crime in international criminal law, Monsanto could be found guilty.

The tribunal called for the need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law. However, it was also careful to note that an existing set of legal rules serves to protect investors’ rights in the framework of the WTO and in bilateral investment treaties and in clauses in free trade agreements. These investor trade rights provisions undermine the capacity of nations to maintain policies, laws and practices protecting human rights and the environment and represent a disturbing shift in power.

The tribunal denounced the severe disparity between the rights of multinational corporations and their obligations.

While the Monsanto Tribunal judged that company to be guilty of human rights violations, including crimes against the environment, in a sense we also witnessed global capitalism on trial.

Global conglomerates can only operate as they do because of a framework designed to allow them to capture or co-opt governments and regulatory bodies and to use the WTO and bilateral trade deals to lever influence. As Jason Hickel notes in his book (previously referred to), old-style colonialism may have gone but governments in the Global North and its corporations have found new ways to assert dominance via leveraging aid, market access and ‘philanthropic’ interventions to force lower income countries to do what they want.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ and its ongoing commitment to an unjust model of globalisation is an example of this and a recipe for further plunder and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few.

Brazil and Indonesia have subsidised private corporations to effectively destroy the environment through their practices. Canada and the UK are working with the GMO biotech sector to facilitate its needs. And India is facilitating the destruction of its agrarian base according to World Bank directives for the benefit of the likes of Corteva and Cargill.

The TRIPS Agreement, written by Monsanto, and the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, written by Cargill, was key to a new era of corporate imperialism. It came as little surprise that in 2013 India’s then Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar accused US companies of derailing the nation’s oil seeds production programme.

Powerful corporations continue to regard themselves as the owners of people, the planet and the environment and as having the right – enshrined in laws and agreements they wrote – to exploit and devastate for commercial gain.

Partnership or co-option?

It was noticeable during a debate on food and agriculture at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow that there was much talk about transforming the food system through partnerships and agreements. Fine-sounding stuff, especially when the role of agroecology and regenerative farming was mentioned.

However, if, for instance, the interests you hope to form partnerships with are coercing countries to eradicate their essential buffer food stocks then bid for such food on the global market with US dollars (as in India) or are lobbying for the enclosure of seeds through patents (as in Africa and elsewhere), then surely this deliberate deepening of dependency should be challenged; otherwise ‘partnership’ really means co-option.

Similarly, the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) that took place during September in New York was little more than an enabler of corporate needs. The UNFSS was founded on a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum and was disproportionately influenced by corporate actors.

Those granted a pivotal role at the UNFSS support industrial food systems that promote ultra-processed foods, deforestation, industrial livestock production, intensive pesticide use and commodity crop monocultures, all of which cause soil deterioration, water contamination and irreversible impacts on biodiversity and human health. And this will continue as long as the environmental effects can be ‘offset’ or these practices can be twisted on the basis of them somehow being ‘climate-friendly’.

Critics of the UNFSS offer genuine alternatives to the prevailing food system. In doing so, they also provide genuine solutions to climate-related issues and food injustice based on notions of food sovereignty, localisation and a system of food cultivation deriving from agroecological principles and practices. Something which people who organised the climate summit in Glasgow would do well to bear in mind.

Current greenwashed policies are being sold by tugging at the emotional heartstrings of the public. This green agenda, with its lexicon of ‘sustainability’, ‘carbon neutrality’, ‘net-zero’ and doom-laden forecasts, is part of a programme that seeks to restructure capitalism, to create new investment markets and instruments and to return the system to viable levels of profitability.

Colin Todhunter, independent writer and analyst specialising in development, food and agriculture based in Europe/India, Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG)

The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite • Matthew Ball

Source: matthewball.vc

Published January 13, 2020

Technology frequently produces surprises that nobody predicts. However, the biggest developments are often anticipated decades in advance. In 1945 Vannevar Bush described what he called the “Memex”, a single device that would store all books, records and communications, and mechanically link them together by association. This concept was then used to formulate the idea of “hypertext” (a term coined two decades later), which in turn guided the development of the World Wide Web (developed another two decades later). The “Streaming Wars” have only just begun, yet the first streaming video took place more than 25 years ago. What’s more, many of the attributes of this so-called war have been hypothesized for decades, such as virtually infinite supplies of content, on-demand playback, interactivity, dynamic and personalized ads, and the value of converging content with distribution.

In this sense, the rough outlines of future solutions are often understood and, in a sense, agreed upon well in advance of the technical capacity to produce them. Still, it’s often impossible to predict how they’ll fall into place, which features matter more or less, what sort of governance models or competitive dynamics will drive them, or what new experiences will be produced. By the time Netflix launched its streaming service, much of Hollywood knew that the future of television was online (IP TV had been deployed in the late 1999s). The challenge was timing and how to package such a service (it took another 10 years for Hollywood to accept all of their channels, genres and content needs to be collapsed into a single app/brand). The popularity of video game broadcasting and YouTubers still elude many in the media industry, as does the idea that the best way to monetize content might be to give it away for free and charge for optional $0.99 items of no consequential value. The acquisition of media conglomerate Time Warner by landline internet giant AOL was set in 2000 based on the idea media and tech/distribution needed to converge, but was unwound in 2009 after it failed to produce much benefit. Nine years later, it was then bought by mobile internet giant AT&T under the same premise.

While many technologists imagined some sort of “personal computer”, its attributes and timing were so unpredictable that Microsoft dominated the PC era that began in the 1990s rather than the mainframe domineer IBM. And while Microsoft clearly foresaw mobile, it misread the role of the operating system and of hardware, hence the rise of Android and iOS globally (and Microsoft’s shift from the OS layer to the app/services one). In a similar sense, Steve Jobs’ priorities for computing were always “right”, they were just too early and focused on the wrong device. More broadly, the two most dominant cases of the early Internet were instant messaging and email, and yet the importance of social apps/networks was still unexpected until the late 2000s. And for that matter, all of the prerequisites for building Facebook existed pre-Y2K, but Facebook didn’t come along until 2005 – and even then, it was an accident.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of those in the technology community have imagined a future state of, if not quasi-successor to, the Internet – called the “Metaverse”. And it would revolutionize not just the infrastructure layer of the digital world, but also much of the physical one, as well as all the services and platforms atop them, how they work, and what they sell. Although the full vision for the Metaverse remains hard to define, seemingly fantastical, and decades away, the pieces have started to feel very real. And as always with this sort of change, its arc is as long and unpredictable as its end state is lucrative.

To this end, the Metaverse has become the newest macro-goal for many of the world’s tech giants. As I outlined in February of 2019, it is the express goal of Epic Games, maker of the Unreal Engine and Fortnite. It is also the driver behind Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR and its newly announced Horizon virtual world/meeting space, among many, many other projects, such as AR glasses and brain-to-machine interfaces and communication. The tens of billions that will be spent on cloud gaming over the next decade, too, is based on the belief that such technologies will underpin our online-offline virtual future.

Ultimately, you’ll find many of the same items in the offices of Big Tech CEOs. However, the most well-worn is likely to be a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which first described and essentially coined the terms “Metaverse” and “Avatar”. And there are many reasons why.

CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS THE “METAVERSE”?

The most common conceptions of the Metaverse stem from science fiction. Here, the Metaverse is typically portrayed as a sort of digital “jacked-in” internet – a manifestation of actual reality, but one based in a virtual (often theme park-like) world, such those portrayed in Ready Player One and The Matrix. And while these sorts of experiences are likely to be an aspect of the Metaverse, this conception is limited in the same way movies like Tron portrayed the Internet as a literal digital “information superhighway” of bits.

Just as it was hard to envision in 1982 what the Internet of 2020 would be — and harder still to communicate it to those who had never even “logged” onto it at that time — we don’t really know how to describe the Metaverse. However, we can identify core attributes.

The Metaverse, we think, will…

  • Be persistent – which is to say, it never “resets” or “pauses” or “ends”, it just continues indefinitely
  • Be synchronous and live – even though pre-scheduled and self-contained events will happen, just as they do in “real life”, the Metaverse will be a living experience that exists consistently for everyone and in real-time
  • Be without any cap to concurrent users, while also providing each user with an individual sense of “presence” – everyone can be a part of the Metaverse and participate in a specific event/place/activity together, at the same time and with individual agency
  • Be a fully functioning economy – individuals and businesses will be able to create, own, invest, sell, and be rewarded for an incredibly wide range of “work” that produces “value” that is recognized by others
  • Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms
  • Offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content, and so on across each of these experiences – your Counter-Strike gun skin, for example, could also be used to decorate a gun in Fortnite, or be gifted to a friend on/through Facebook. Similarly, a car designed for Rocket League (or even for Porsche’s website) could be brought over to work in Roblox. Today, the digital world basically acts as though it were a mall where every store used its own currency, required proprietary ID cards, had proprietary units of measurement for things like shoes or calories, and different dress codes, etc.
  • Be populated by “content” and “experiences” created and operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises

There are a few other ideas that may be core to the Metaverse, but are not widely agreed upon. One of these concerns is whether participants will have a single consistent digital identity (or “avatar”) that they will use across all experiences. This would have practical value but is probably unlikely as each of the leaders in the “Metaverse era” will still want their own identity systems. Today, for example, there are a few dominant account systems – but none have exhaustive coverage of the web and they often stack atop one another with only limited data sharing/access (e.g. your iPhone is based around an iOS account, then you might log into an app using your Facebook ID, which itself is your Gmail account).

There is also disagreement on how much interoperability is required for the Metaverse to really be “the Metaverse”, rather than just an evolution of today’s Internet. Many also debate whether a true Metaverse can have a single operator (as is the case in Ready Player One). Some believe the definition (and success) of a Metaverse requires it to be a heavily decentralized platform built mostly upon community-based standards and protocols (like the open web) and an “open source” Metaverse OS or platform (this doesn’t mean there won’t be dominant closed platforms in the Metaverse).

Another idea relates to the fundamental communications architecture of the Metaverse. This is described in more detail later in the piece, but while today’s Internet is structured around individual servers “talking” to one another on an as-needed basis, some believe the Metaverse needs be “wired” and “operated” around persistent many-to-many connections. But even here, there’s no consensus around exactly how this would work, nor the degree of decentralization required.

It’s also helpful to consider what the Metaverse is often, but incorrectly, likened to. While each of these analogies is likely to be a part of the Metaverse, they aren’t actually the Metaverse. For example, The Metaverse is not…

  • A “virtual world” – Virtual worlds and games with AI-driven characters have existed for decades, as have those populated with “real” humans in real-time. This isn’t a “meta” (Greek for “beyond”) universe, just a synthetic and fictional one designed for a single purpose (a game).
  • A “virtual space” – Digital content experiences like Second Life are often seen as “proto-Metaverses” because they (A) lack game-like goals or skill systems; (B) are virtual hangouts that persist; (C) offer nearly synchronous content updates; and (D) have real humans represented by digital avatars. However, these are not sufficient attributes for the Metaverse.
  • “Virtual reality” – VR is a way to experience a virtual world or space. Sense of presence in a digital world doesn’t make a Metaverse. It is like saying you have a thriving city because you can see and walk around it.
  • A “digital and virtual economy” – These, too, already exist. Individual games such as World of Warcraft have long had functioning economies where real people trade virtual goods for real money, or perform virtual tasks in exchange for real money. In addition, platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, as well as technologies such as Bitcoin, are based around the hiring of individuals/businesses/computational power to perform virtual and digital tasks. We are already transacting at scale for purely digital items for purely digital activities via purely digital marketplaces.
  • A “game” – Fortnite has many elements of the Metaverse. It (A) mashes up IP; (B) has a consistent identity that spans multiple closed platforms; (C) is a gateway to a myriad of experiences, some of which are purely social; (D) compensates creators for creating content, etc. However, as is the case with Ready Player One, it remains too narrow in what it does, how far it extends, and what “work” can occur (at least for now). While the Metaverse may have some game-like goals, include games, and involve gamification, it is not itself a game, nor is it oriented around specific objectives.
  • A “virtual theme park or Disneyland” – Not only will the “attractions” be infinite, they will not be centrally “designed” or programmed like Disneyland, nor will they all be about fun or entertainment. In addition, the distribution of engagement will have a very long tail
  • A “new app store” – No one needs another way to open apps, nor would doing so “in VR” (as an example) unlock/enable the sorts of value supposed by a successor Internet. The Metaverse is substantively different from today’s Internet/mobile models, architecture, and priorities.
  • A “new UGC platform” – The Metaverse is not just another YouTube or Facebook-like platform in which countless individuals can “create”, “share”, and “monetize” content, and where the most popular content represents only the tiniest share of overall consumption. The Metaverse will be a place in which proper empires are invested in and built, and where these richly capitalized businesses can fully own a customer, control APIs/data, unit economics, etc. In addition, it’s likely that, as with the web, a dozen or so platforms hold significant shares of user time, experiences, content, etc.

(If you want a simpler way to think about the Metaverse, you can imagine it as the Nightmare Before Christmas – you can walk into any experience or activity, and potentially address almost any of your needs, from a single starting point or world that’s also populated by everyone else you know. This is why hypertext is such a key example. But what’s important is to recognize the Metaverse isn’t a game, a piece of hardware, or an online experience. This is like saying is World of Warcraft, the iPhone, or Google is the Internet. They are digital worlds, devices, services, websites, etc. The Internet is a wide set of protocols, technology, tubes and languages, plus access devices and content and communication experiences atop them. Metaverse will be too.)

CHAPTER 2: WHY DOES THE METAVERSE MATTER?

Even if the Metaverse falls short of the fantastical visions captured by science fiction authors, it is likely to produce trillions in value as a new computing platform or content medium. But in its full vision, the Metaverse becomes the gateway to most digital experiences, a key component of all physical ones, and the next great labor platform.

The value of being a key participant, if not a driver, of such a system is self-evident – there is no “owner” of the Internet today, but nearly all of the leading Internet companies rank among the 10 most valuable public companies on earth. And if the Metaverse does indeed serve as a functional “successor” to the web — only this time with even greater reach, time spent, and more commercial activity — there’s likely to be even more economic upside. Regardless, the Metaverse should produce the same diversity of opportunity as we saw with the web – new companies, products and services will emerge to manage everything from payment processing to identity verification, hiring, ad delivery, content creation, security, and so forth. This, in turn, will mean many present-day incumbents are likely to fall.

More broadly, the Metaverse stands to alter how we allocate and monetize modern resources. For centuries, developed economies have transformed as the scarcity of labor and real-estate waxed and waned. Under the Metaverse, would-be laborers who choose to live outside cities will be able to participate in the “high value” economy via virtual labor. As more consumer spending shifts to virtual goods, services, and experiences, we’ll also see further shifts in where we live, the infrastructure that’s built, and who performs which tasks. Consider, for example, “Gold Farming”. Not long after in-game trade economies emerged, many “players” – often employed by a larger company and typically in lower-income countries — would spend a workday collecting digital resources for sale inside or outside the game. These sales were typically to higher-income players in the West. And while this “labor” is typically menial, repetitive, and limited to a few applications, the diversity and value of this “work” will grow as the Metaverse itself does.

CHAPTER 3: BUILDING THE METAVERSE

The Metaverse will require countless new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations, and discoveries to work. And it won’t directly come into existence; there will be no clean “Before Metaverse” and “After Metaverse”. Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services, and capabilities integrate and meld together. However, it’s helpful to think of three core elements that need to come into place.

(One way I try to think about these three areas from a procedural perspective is via the Book of Genesis – first, one must create the underlying universe (“concurrency infrastructure”), then s/he must define its laws of physics and rules (“standards and protocols”), then s/he must fill it with life (“content”) that’s worthwhile, evolves, and iterates against selection pressures. God, in other words, doesn’t create and design the world as though it were a miniature model, but enables one to grow across a mostly blank tableau etc.)

Concurrency Infrastructure

At a foundational level, the technology simply does not yet exist for there to be hundreds, let alone millions of people participating in a shared, synchronous experience. Consider Fortnite’s 2019 Marshmello concert. An astounding 11MM people experienced the event in real time. However, they did not do so together. In truth, there were more than 100,000 instances of the Marshmello concert, all of which were slightly out of sync and capped at 100 players per instance. Epic can probably do more than this today, but not into several hundred, let alone millions.

Not only does the Metaverse require infrastructure that currently does not exist, the Internet was never designed for anything near this experience. After all, it was designed to share files from one computer to another. As a result, most of the Internet’s underlying systems are oriented around one server talking to one other server or an end-user device. This model continues today. There are billions of people on today’s Facebook, for example, but each user shares an individual connection with the Facebook server, not with any other user. Accordingly, when you access content from another user, you’re really just pulling the latest information that Facebook is giving you. The earliest form of pseudo-synchronous programs were text chats, but you’re still just pushing largely static data to a server and pulling the latest information from it when/where/how/as it’s needed. The Internet simply wasn’t designed for persistent (versus continuous) communication, let alone persistent communication that is synchronized in precise real time to countless others.

To operate, the Metaverse requires something more akin to video conferencing and video games. These experiences work because of persistent connections that update each other in real-time and with a degree of accuracy that other programs don’t generally need. However, they tend not to have high levels of concurrency: most video chat programs max out beyond a few people, and once you hit 50, you tend to need to “live stream” a broadcast to your viewers, rather than share a two-way connection. These experiences neither need to be, nor are they, exactly live.

To this end, part of the reason that the battle royale genre is only recently popular in video games now is because it’s only recently possible to play live with so many other users. Although some games with highest concurrencies have existed for more than twenty years, such as Second Life or Warcraft, they essentially spoofed the experience by “sharding” and splitting users into different “worlds” and servers. Eve Online, for example, can technically have more than 100,000 players “in the same game”, but they are split across different galaxies (i.e. server nodes). As a result, a player only really sees or interacts with a small handful of other players at any one time. In addition, traveling to another galaxy means disconnecting from one server and loading another (which the game is able to narratively “hide” by forcing players to jump to light speed in order to cross the vastness of space). And if/when Eve Online did get to battles involving hundreds of users, the system slowed to a crawl. And this still worked because the gameplay dynamic was based on predominantly large-scale, pre-planned ship-based combat. If it was a “fast-twitch” game such as Rocket League or Call of Duty, these slowdowns would have been unplayable.

A number of companies are working hard to solve this problem, such as the aptly named Improbable. But this is an enormous computational challenge and one that fights against the underlying design/intent of the Internet.

Standards, Protocols, and their Adoption

The Internet as we experience it today works because of standards and protocols for visual presentation, file loading, communications, graphics, data, and so forth. These include everything from consumer-recognizable .GIFs filetypes to the websocket protocol that underlies almost every form of real-time communication between a browser and other servers on the internet.

The Metaverse will require an even broader, more complex, and resilient set of S&Ps. What’s more, the importance of interoperability and live synchronous experiences means we’ll need to prune some existing standards and “standardize” around a smaller set per function. Today, for example, there are a multitude of image file formats: .GIF, .JPEG, .PNG, .BMP, .TIFF, .WEBP, etc. And while the web today is built on open standards, much of it is closed and proprietary. Amazon and Facebook and Google use similar technologies, but they aren’t designed to transition into one another — just as Ford’s wheels aren’t designed to fit a GM chassis. In addition, these companies are incredibly resistant to cross-integrating their systems or sharing their data. Such moves might raise the overall value of the “digital economy”, but also weakens their hyper-valuable network effects and makes it easier for a user to move their digital lives elsewhere.

This will be enormously difficult and take decades. And the more valuable and interoperable the Metaverse is, the harder it will be to establish industry-wide consensus around topics such as data security, data persistence, forward compatible code evolution, and transactions. In addition, the Metaverse will need altogether new rules for censorship, control of communications, regulatory enforcement, tax reporting, the prevention of online radicalization, and many more challenges that we’re still struggling with today.

While the establishments of standards usually involve actual meetings, negotiations, and debates, the standards for the Metaverse won’t be established upfront. The standard process is much messier and organic, with meetings and opinions changing on an ad hoc basis.

To use a meta analogy for the Metaverse, consider SimCity. In ideal circumstances, the “Mayor” (i.e. player) would first design their mega-metropolis, then build from day one to this final vision. But in the game, as with real life, you can’t just “build” a 10MM person city. You start with a small town and optimize for it first (e.g. where the roads are, schools are, utility capacity, etc.). As it grows, you build around this town, occasionally but judiciously tearing down and replacing “old” sections, sometimes only if/when a problem (insufficient supply of power) or disaster hits (a fire). But unlike SimCity, there will be many mayors, not one — and their desires and incentives will often conflict.

We don’t know exactly what the Metaverse will need, let alone which existing standards will transfer over, how, to what effects, when, or through which applications and groups. As a result, it’s important to consider how the Metaverse emerges, not just around which technological standard.

The ‘On-Ramp’ Experience

Just as the standards for the Metaverse can’t simply be “declared”, consumers and businesses won’t embrace a would-be proto-Metaverse simply because it’s available.

Consider the real world. Just making a mall capable of fitting a hundred thousand people or a hundred shops doesn’t mean it attracts a single consumer or brand. “Town squares” emerge organically around existing infrastructure and behaviors, to fulfill existing civilian and commercial needs. Ultimately, any place of congregation — be it a bar, basement, park, museum or merry-go-round — is attended because of who or what is already there, not because it’s a place in of itself.

The same is true of digital experiences. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, didn’t work because it announced it would be a “social network”, but because it emerged first as a campus hot-or-not, then became a digital yearbook turned photo-sharing and messaging service. As with Facebook, the Metaverse needs to be “populated”, rather than just “populable”, and this population must then fill in this digital world with things to do and content to consume.

This is why considering Fortnite as a video game or interactive experience is to think too small and too immediately. Fortnite began as a game, but it quickly evolved into a social square. Its players aren’t logging in to “play”, per se, but to be with their virtual and real-world friends. Teenagers in the 1970s to 2010s would come home and spend three hours talking on the phone. Now they talk to their friends on Fortnite, but not about Fortnite. Instead, they talk about school, movies, sports, news, boys, girls and more. After all, Fortnite doesn’t have a story or IP – the plot is what happens on it and who is there.

Furthermore, Fortnite is rapidly becoming a medium through which other brands, IP, and stories express themselves. Most famously, this includes last year’s live Marshmello concert. However, such examples have rapidly expanded since. In December 2019, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker released a clip of the hotly-anticipated film exclusively in Fortnite as part of a larger, in-game audience-interactive event that included a live mocap interview with director J.J. Abrams. What’s more, this event was explicitly referenced in the opening moments of the film. The band Weezer produced a bespoke island where fans could get an exclusive first listen to their new album (while dancing with other “players”. Fortnite has also produced several themed “limited-time modes” involving the likes of Nike’s Air Jordan and Lionsgate’s John Wick film series. In some cases, these “LTMs” transform part of Fortnite’s map into a mini-virtual world that, when entered, changes the aesthetics, items and playstyle of the game to resemble another. This has included the universe of the game Borderlands, Batman’s hometown of Gotham, and the old west.

To this end, Fortnite is one of the few places where the IP of Marvel and DC intersects. You can literally wear a Marvel character’s costume inside Gotham City, while interacting with those wearing legally licensed NFL uniforms. This sort of thing hasn’t really happened before. But it will be critical to the Metaverse.

More broadly, a whole sub-economy on Fortnite has emerged where “players” can build (and monetize) their own content. This can be as small as digital outfits (“skins”) or dances (“emotes”). However, it has rapidly expanded into creating all new games and experiences using Fortnite’s engine, assets, and aesthetics. This includes everything from simple treasure hunts, to immersive mash-ups of the Brothers Grimm with parkour culture, to a 10-hour sci-fi story that spans multiple dimensions and timelines. In fact, Fortnite’s Creative Mode already feels like a proto-Metaverse. Here, a player loads their avatar — one specific to them and which is used in all Fortnite-related experiences — and lands in a game-like lobby and can choose from thousands of “doors” (i.e. space-time rifts) that send them to one of thousands of different worlds with up to 99 other players.

This speaks to the longer term-vision for the game, one that creative director Donald Mustard is increasingly clear about. Fortnite isn’t the Metaverse, but nothing is closer to the Metaverse today in spirit and it is clear how the “game” might eventually underpin one.

Epic Games’ Epic Game Plan

The best example of Fortnite’s potential is demonstrated by its ability to persuade many supposed competitors into cooperation (or early “interoperability”) with one another. Today, Fortnite works across each major entertainment platform – iOS, Android, PlayStation, Nintendo, PC, Xbox — allowing full cross-play that spans multiple identity/account systems, payment methods, social graphs, and typically closed ecosystems. For years, this was heavily resisted by the major gaming platforms as they believed that enabling such an experience would undermine their network effects and reduce the need to buy their proprietary hardware. As a result, a friend with Call of Duty on PlayStation could never play with their friend with Call of Duty on Xbox, even though both Sony and Microsoft knew they wanted to.

Similarly, it’s unusual for IP owners to allow their characters and stories to be intermingled with other IP. This does happen from time to time (e.g. there are several Marvel v DC comic book crossovers and video games). But it’s particularly rare to see it crossed over in an experience they don’t control editorially, let alone one based around unpredictability (not even the creative team behind Fortnite knows what it will do in 2021) and with such a wide range of IP.

This organic evolution can’t be overemphasized. If you “declared” your intent to start a Metaverse, these parties would never embrace interoperability or entrust their IP. But Fortnite has become so popular and so unique that most counterparties have no choice but to participate – in fact, they’re probably desperate to integrate into the “game” – just as P&G can’t say “eh, Facebook isn’t for us”. Fortnite is too valuable a platform.

At the same time, Epic is bringing far more than a plausible on-ramp to its efforts to build the Metaverse. In addition to operating Fortnite — which was in theory a side project — Epic Games also owns the second largest independent gaming engine, Unreal. This means thousands of games already operate on its “stack” of tools and software (to simplify things), making it easier to share assets, integrate experiences, and share user profiles. Over time, the sophistication of Epic’s gaming engine has grown so significant it now powers a variety of traditional media experiences. Disney’s The Mandalorian was shot and fully rendered in Unreal, with director Jon Favreau able to literally enter its digital sets to frame a shot and position characters. If Disney so chooses, audiences could freely investigate much of these sets — most of the environment and assets already exist. And outside film and TV, Unreal is increasingly being used for live events, too: Unreal powers Fox Sports’s NASCAR set, for example.

Still, the Metaverse requires everyone to be able to create and contribute ‘content’ and ‘experiences,’ not just well-staffed corporations and technically skilled individuals trying to make games or movies. To this end, Epic acquired the company Twinmotion in April of last year. The company was/is focused not on VFX engineers or game designers, but on offering intuitive, icon-based software that enables “architecture, construction, urban planning and landscaping professionals” to produce realistic, immersive digital environments based in Unreal “in seconds”. According to Epic Games Founder/CEO Tim Sweeney, this means that there are now three ways to create in Unreal: the standard “coding” engine itself, the more simplified and “visual” Twinmotion, and Fortnite Creative Mode for those with no experience in programming and design. Over time, each option is likely to become more capable, easier to use and integrated.

Another increasingly important part of Epic’s offering is its “Online Services” suite, which allows developers to immediately support cross-play across Sony + Microsoft + Nintendo + PC + iOS + Android and leverage Epic’s account systems/social graph (which has 1.6B player connections). This itself isn’t that unique — Microsoft spent $400MM acquiring PlayFab and millions more to support Xbox Live, while Amazon has bought both GameSparks and GameLift in order to sell services to game developers that need lots of servers and tools for their online games to work. Valve doesn’t offer server infrastructure, but its Steamworks solution gives developers match-making and account services for free — but only for the Steam Store, Valve’s core business. This reveals Epic’s play with Online Services. Unlike today’s market leaders, Epic doesn’t charge. It’s also available free to any engine, any platform, and any game. And it operates at the scale of Fortnite’s player network, allowing any title to leverage the world’s largest player graph to kickstart their userbases. There is obviously value in such an offering, but to Epic, it is “more valuable if free” as it extends the company’s already enormous social graph, makes it much easier for more games to “talk to” one another, and enables players to more seamlessly jump from experience to experience. All of this, too, diminishes Epic’s reliance upon Fortnite when it comes to building the Metaverse. And while Epic Online Services are still in private beta, the company has suggested it will be publicly available in Q2 2020 and should support “hundreds or thousands of games in 2020”. Note, too, that this all reduces Epic’s reliance on Fortnite in its long-term efforts to build the Metaverse.

Epic also operates one of the largest (albeit a still small) digital game store – which means players already access a wide variety of digital content and experiences through Epic. Few consumers were clamoring for greater fragmentation of digital content, and most were reasonably happy with market leader Steam. However, Epic Games Founder/CEO Tim Sweeney has been vocal about the fact that today’s standard 30% commissions for digital content sales (e.g. iOS or Amazon or Google Play) are not just usurious, they prevent the creation of a real digital world economy. Just imagine, for example, if credit card fees weren’t 0.5-2.5% but up to 60-20x as much; whole sectors of the physical economy wouldn’t be able to operate (such as a coffee shop or grocery store). To this end, Epic charges only 12% (which includes the 5% Unreal licensing fee, too, making it only 7% for many customers). Notably, rumors persist that Sweeney had fought for even lower fees but settled with his board at 12% – a sum he himself admits doesn’t always cover operating costs. This doesn’t mean there isn’t an overall business here – and operating a storefront will doubtlessly help build the Metaverse – but Sweeney’s efforts seem much broader. He openly implores Google and Apple, which generate several thousand times the revenue of Epic’s fledgling store, to match Epic’s rates.

CHAPTER 4: WHO ELSE CAN BUILD THE METAVERSE?

Although the Metaverse has the potential to succeed the Internet as a computing platform, its underlying development process is likely to share little in common with its antecedent. The Internet came from public research universities and US government programs. This was in part because few in private business understood the commercial potential of a World Wide Web, but it was also true that these groups were essentially the only entities with the computational talent, resources, and ambitions to build it. None of this is true when it comes to the Metaverse.

Not only is private industry fully aware of the potential of the Metaverse, it probably has the most aggressive conviction in this future, not to mention the most cash (at least when it comes from a willingness to fund Metaverse R&D), the best engineering talent, and greatest desire for conquest. The major tech companies don’t just want to lead the Metaverse, they want to own and define it. There will still be a large role for open-source projects with non-corporate ethos — and they will attract some of the most interesting creative talent in the Metaverse — but there are only a few likely leaders in the early Metaverse. And you’ll recognize each one.

Microsoft is a good example. The company has hundreds of millions of federated user identities via Office 365 and LinkedIn, is the second largest cloud vendor in the world, has an extensive suite of work-related software and services that span all systems/platforms/infrastructure, clear technical experience in massive shared online content/operations, and a set of potential gateway experiences via Minecraft, Xbox + Xbox Live, and HoloLens. To this end, the Metaverse offers Microsoft the opportunity to reclaim the OS/hardware leadership it ceded during the handoff from PC to mobile. But more importantly, CEO Satya Nadella understands Microsoft, at a minimum, needs to be wherever work happens. Having successfully adapted from enterprise to consumer, PC to mobile, and offline to online, all while maintaining a dominant role in the “work” economy, it’s hard to envision Microsoft won’t be a primary driver in the virtualized future of labor and information processing.

Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has not explicitly declared his intent to develop and own the Metaverse, his obsession with it seems fairly clear. And this is smart. More than any other company, Facebook has the most to lose from the Metaverse as it will build an even larger and more capable social graph and represent both a new computing platform and a new engagement platform. At the same time, the Metaverse also allows Facebook to extend its reach up and down the stack. Despite several efforts to build a smartphone OS and deploy consumer hardware, Facebook remains the one FAAMG company stuck purely at the app/service layer. Through the Metaverse, Facebook could become the next Android or iOS/iPhone (hence Oculus), not to mention a virtual goods version of Amazon.

Facebook’s Metaverse advantages are immense. It has more users, daily usage and user-generated content created each day than any other platform on earth, as well as the second largest share of digital ad spend, billions in cash, thousands of world-class engineers, and conviction from a founder with majority voting rights. Its Metaverse-oriented assets are also growing rapidly and now include patents for semiconductor and brain-to-machine computing interfaces. At the same time, Facebook has a very troubled track record as a platform for where third-party developers/companies can build sustainable businesses, as a ringleader in a consortium (e.g. Libra), and in managing user data/trust.

Amazon is interesting in a few regards. Most obviously, it will always want to be the primary place in which we buy ‘stuff.’ Whether that’s bought inside a game engine, a virtual world, or web browser is irrelevant (it already sells inside Twitch). In addition, the company already has hundreds of millions of credit cards, the largest share of ecommerce globally (ex-China), is the world’s largest cloud vendor, operates numerous different consumer media experiences (video, music, ebooks, audiobooks, video game broadcasting, etc.) and third-party commerce platforms (e.g. Fulfilled by Amazon, Amazon Channels), is building what they hope will be the first major gaming/rendering engine purpose-designed for the cloud computing era, reportedly working on AR glasses, and is the leader in in-home/office digital assistants.

More importantly, Founder/CEO Jeff Bezos feels very strongly about underlying infrastructure plays. The web, for example, runs on AWS (Amazon’s best business). 80% of its revenue is actually via “Fulfilled by Amazon,” where the company sells, packages, and delivers products sold by other businesses, instead of Amazon buying and then selling the inventory directly (like most retailers). And while the goal of Elon Musk’s private aerospace company, SpaceX, is to colonize mars, Bezos has been clear his goal with Blue Origin is to facilitate the buildout of space infrastructure similar to early web protocols and his AWS, so that “we could build gigantic chip factories in space and just send little bits down.” To this end, Amazon is likely to be more supportive of a truly “open” Metaverse than any other FAAMG company — it doesn’t need to control the UX or ID because it benefits from enormous increases in back-end infrastructure usage and digital transactions.

The Internet is a mine of data and the Metaverse will have both more data and perhaps greater returns on it than today’s web. And no one monetizes this data better at global scale than Google. In addition, the company is not just the market leader in indexing both the digital and physical world (nearly 10,000 employees contribute to its mapping initiatives), but it is also the most successful digital software and services company outside of China. It also operates the most used operating system on earth (Android), as well as the most open of the major consumer computing platforms. Though unsuccessful, Google was first to really run after the wearable computing opportunity via Google Glass, and is making an aggressive move into digitizing the home via Google Assistant, its Nest suite of products and FitBit. Accordingly, the Metaverse is likely the only initiative that can unite all of Google’s sprawling investments to date, from edge computing on Stadia, to Project Fi, Google Street View, its extensive purchases of dark fiber, wearables, virtual assistants and more.

Apple is unlikely to drive or operate the underlying Metaverse. True, it operates the second largest computing platform of the modern era (and by far the most valuable one), as well as the largest game stores on the planet (which also means it pays more to developers than anyone else on earth). In addition, the company is investing heavily into AR devices and “connective tissue” that will aid the Metaverse (e.g. beacons, Apple Watch, Apple AirPods). However, building an open platform for creation — where everyone can access the full range of user data and device APIs — is antithetical to Apple’s ethos and business strategy. All of which is to say, Apple is more likely to be the dominant way the Western world engages with Metaverse rather than the operator/driver. As with the Internet, this will probably work out pretty well for everyone.

If the Metaverse requires a broad interplay of assets, experiences, and common APIs, Unity will have a foundational role. This engine is used by more than half of mobile games and is even more widely deployed in real-world rendering/simulation use cases (e.g. architecture, design, engineering) than Unreal. And while director Jon Favreau produced Disney’s The Mandalorian in Unreal, he also produced and shot the photo realistic Lion King in Unity. It also operates one of the largest digital ad networks (a nice side effect of powering 10B daily minutes of mobile entertainment). However, it’s not yet clear what role Unity will have in driving the Metaverse. It doesn’t have a store, a user account system, or a real direct-to-consumer experience. Most of its ancillary (i.e. non-engine or advertising) services have not been widely adopted. In addition, most (though not all) Unity-powered games are relatively simple mobile titles rather than those likely to serve as gateways to the Metaverse. However, its inevitable influence over standards, playtime, and content creation are so large that it’s difficult to imagine it won’t be acquired by and integrated into a major technology player with a wider range of assets and advantages.

In the past, an acquisition of Unity was hard to justify. Even though the company is enormously valuable, any would-be acquirer has to keep Unity fully platform-agnostic in order to preserve its market share, developer support, and influence (e.g. Google couldn’t make Unity exclusive to or best on Android/Chrome exclusive without losing hordes of developers). This doesn’t mean turning Unity into a proprietary engine can’t be strategically smart. The value destroyed by such a decision and the premium required to buy Unity is likely to make such a move prohibitive. But if the goal of a Unity acquisition is to ensure a foundational role in the new Internet, an acquirer instead has an incentive to keep the engine open/available across platforms, and the price can easily become irrelevant.

If Epic has a viable path to the Metaverse, Valve must too. Valve’s Steam is orders larger than the Epic Games Store in terms of users, revenue, and playtime. It owns several of the most popular, long-running multiplayer games (Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, DotA). The company also has a lengthy history in content and monetization innovation (it was the first to experiment at scale with AAA free-to-play games and with player-to-player marketplaces). Valve has also spent years developing and releasing VR hardware, generates billions in profits each year, and is privately owned by a team of technologists focused on open-source technologies with a disdain for closed ecosystems. At the same time, Valve’s engine, Source, has seen limited adoption, and unlike Epic, it does not seem to be corralled around uniting its capabilities and assets to create the Metaverse.

Others

While it’s convenient to think of a single lead company or experience ushering in the Metaverse, the process itself will really be led through a Cambrian explosion of different “things” coming together (not that there can’t be a leader or big winner). To this end, there is also a myriad of start-ups trying to build early, proto-Metaverse styled experiences. Ubiquity6, as an example, hopes to use millions of individual content creators to “map” the real world then build smartphone/AR/VR-accessible digital experiences atop these maps. The similarly named Singularity6 is building a virtual world that, unlike Fortnite, is intended to develop into a Metaverse from day one. Other companies, such as Genvid (a portfolio company), are building SDKs that allow anyone to build server-rendered experiences that millions can participate in together using livestreams with light client-side interactivity. While this lacks several of the key attributes of the Metaverse today, such as individual “presence”, it begins amassing enormous volumes of “players” into fully shared virtual environments that aren’t currently possible via cloud or locally-rendered gaming.

Magic Leap seems to believe that by owning the hardware layer, it can be the core driver of the Metaverse (Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson is the company’s Chief Futurist). In fact, most of the FAAMG companies seem to believe that glasses will be a key gateway into our digital future and are collectively investing billions into the form factor. With this in mind, Snapchat, which boasts a large and heavily-engaged social graph and has strongly anchored itself around cameras, glasses, location-based experiences, and digital avatars, could have a key role in the Metaverse (especially if acquired).And for all of its uniqueness, Fortnite isn’t even the only Fortnite — there are several other online “games” that share many of the same attributes, behaviors, and potential. Minecraft and Roblox, for example, both boast more than 100MM monthly users (Fortnite probably has fewer) and have also been able to mash up various intellectual properties (such as Marvel and DC). What’s more, these “games” are even more reliant on user-generated content and user-led experiences — there is no underlying game-like goal such as “winning” or “surviving” in Minecraft, the “game” is creation (which isn’t to say that users haven’t created many “games” with game-like goals). In 2019, Roblox says it will have paid out more than $100MM to its game creators around the world (a group that ranges from single “developers” to studios of “10 or 20 people”). The company also notes that it doesn’t even pay these developers directly — unlike the iOS app store — they receive direct payment from users. And in the fall of 2019, Roblox launched its “Developer Marketplace”, which allows developers to monetize not just their games, but also the assets, plug-ins, vehicles, 3D models, terrains, and other items they produce for these games. Meanwhile, many other games, such as Grand Theft Auto Online (which has an estimated 50MM+ monthly active players), has added socializing-oriented modes (such as a casino) where users can create, operate, or participate in activities purely for the sake of “hanging out”.

Building Together

Ultimately, too much of the Metaverse remains unclear for us to have strong convictions on who will lead it or how they’ll get us there. And in truth, it’s most likely the Metaverse emerges from a network of different platforms, bodies, and technologies working together (however reluctantly) and embracing interoperability. The Internet today is a product of a relatively messy process in which the open (mostly academic) internet developed in parallel with closed (mostly consumer-oriented) services that often looked to “rebuild” or “reset” open standards and protocols.

To this end, it’s hard to imagine any of the major technology companies being “pushed out” by the Metaverse and/or lacking a major role. Not only will the Metaverse grow the pie by too much, big transitions tend to disrupt when they’re hard to see and incumbents are slow to respond or capital constrained. None of this is true today (which doesn’t mean market share won’t shift, or that some companies, such as Epic, won’t surge to the forefront).

At the same time, it’s likely that China’s forked Metaverse will be even more different from (and centrally controlled compared to) the Western one. And here, the tech/media conglomerate Tencent (which also publishes most of the Western games released in China, as well as those of Japan’s Nintendo and Square Enix), is an obvious anchor. The company also owns a reported 40% of Epic Games.

1v1v1v1v1v1…

The visions, technologies, and capabilities I’ve described above still feel like science fiction – even if they come to be, they’re decades away. At the same time, many of the pieces are starting to come together. Thus, the questions are ones of who and why and to which ends. And so, it’s helpful to return to the (lengthy) creation of the World Wide Web. Imagine if instead of being designed by nonprofits and technologists looking to share research files and messages, it was designed to sell ads or collect user data for profits.

This is why it’s so important to Sweeney for his company to lead early efforts to establish the Metaverse — he fears who might instead. “As we build up these platforms toward the Metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies, they are going to have far more power over our lives, our private data, and our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history,” Sweeney said in May 2017. Two months later, he was even more explicit: “The amount of power possessed by Google and Facebook. President Eisenhower said it about the military-industrial complex. They pose a grave threat to our democracy.” As “founder and controlling shareholder of Epic”, Sweeney “would never allow” Epic to “share user data…with any other company. We [won’t] share it, sell it, or broker access to it for advertising like so many other companies do.”

There may not be 100 players, but it’s still a battle royale.

Matthew Ball (@ballmatthew).

China Leads The 6G Charge • ZERO HEDGE

Source: https://www.zerohedge.com/technology/forget-5g-china-leads-6g-charge

While the world is still very much in the transition phase with 5G, research is already well underway for the next iteration of the technology standard for mobile broadband networks – 6G.

Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that, according to a whitepaper by Samsung it takes an average of ten years for a new standard to become ready for commercialization, with 5G taking eight years. The tech giant suggested a potential rollout date of 2028-2030 for 6G, highlighting the urgent need for progress to be made.

As this infographic shows, the country at the front of this new charge is China.

Data from the Cyber Creative Institute as covered by Nikkei Asia shows that of around 20,000 6G-related patent applications as of August 2021, 40.3 percent originated from the Asian superpower. The United States isn’t far behind, however, claiming 35.2 percent of the applications. The home of Samsung, South Korea, is in fifth place (when combining applications for European countries) with 4.2 percent.

The source assessed patent applications for nine core 6G technologies including communications, quantum technology, base stations and artificial intelligence. 6G is expected to be about ten times faster than 5G.

Iran has joined the SCO, now it needs to turbo-boost its economy • THE CRADLE

Source: https://thecradle.co/Article/analysis/2019

With Iran’s full accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) complete, Tehran now needs to wrangle big trade deals with its new regional friends to offset US sanctions against its beleaguered economy.

“Today, we will launch procedures to admit Iran as a full member of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization),” Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Friday, putting to rest the rampant speculation that Iran will officially accede to Asia’s most coveted security organization.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is in Dushanbe, Tajikistan with a high level diplomatic and economic delegation to attend the annual two-day SCO summit. The visit, marking Raisi’s first foreign trip, is already a dazzling success for the new head of state. The Islamic Republic had, until today, only enjoyed SCO observer status (since 2005), and had undergone two previous failed attempts to gain full membership.

The announcement of Iran’s accession to the SCO comes as little surprise to experts who predicted that Tehran’s comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with China last March and its subsequent announcement of a similar agreement with Moscow, would pave the way for Iran’s upgraded SCO status. Recent developments in Afghanistan have only confirmed for Beijing and Moscow – the organization’s main stakeholders – the value of Iran within the regional security organization.

Founded in 2001, the SCO brings together regional powers, such as Russia and China, along with India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The organization represents a geographical region of 60 million square kilometers (23 million square miles) and a population of over 3 billion.

Economy of the SCO

During its first 20 years, the SCO was largely viewed as a political and security grouping of countries that sought to cooperate against “terrorism, separatism, and extremism.” However, it has recently also sought to bolster economic cooperation among members and is expected to further develop these ambitions in the coming years.

In 2018, at the Qingdao summit in China, the SCO adopted an agreement consisting of 17 documents, which included action plans for economic cooperation between the SCO member states and the need “to examine the prospects of expanding the use of national currency in trade and investment.”

The SCO’s eight member states, four observer states, and six dialogue partners boast a total economic volume of close to $20 trillion and a total foreign trade volume of $6.6 trillion, 100 times larger than the values of 20 years ago.

For Iran and its ailing, US-sanctioned economy, joining the SCO provides access to significantly larger markets and the world’s fastest-growing international corridors. It also further consolidates Tehran’s unofficial alliance with major powers Moscow and Beijing against the West on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s trade with SCO members

According to the latest data announced by Iran’s Customs Administration (IRICA), the value of trade between Iran and the members of the SCO (including observer states) reached $28 billion during the last Iranian calendar year (ending 21 March, 2021). That makes China Iran’s single largest trade partner with a trade value of $18.9 billion, almost two thirds of Iran’s total trade with SCO members.

Despite being one of the pivotal members of the organization, Russia ranks fourth in terms of trade volume with Iran, after India ($3.4b) and Afghanistan ($2.3b), recording only $1.6 billion in total trade with the Islamic Republic. According to the Iranian data, Pakistan stands fifth in terms of trade value with Iran within the bloc, while the remaining six countries have a combined trade value of just $569 million.

IRSN

Considering Iran’s total trade volume of $73.89 billion during the last Iranian (1339) calendar year – $11.2 billion lower than the previous year – Tehran’s trade with the SCO countries has already approached nearly 38 percent of its total trade, 26 percent of which was with China alone.

Iran’s other top trade partners are Iraq, UAE, and Turkey respectively, followed by Afghanistan in the same period.

US sanctions

While Iran’s accession to full membership status in the SCO can theoretically boost the country’s trade with other member states, there are significant obstacles which are unlikely to allow Tehran to reap an economic windfall, at least in the short run.

Among Iran’s most difficult obstacles is a series of US-led sanctions against the country’s financial and transportation institutions, in addition to being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global intergovernmental organization tasked with devising standards on combating money laundering and ‘terrorism financing.’ Given the exposure of most countries to US markets and financial networks, and due to the risk of heavy penalties or loss of access to US and European markets, major companies are reluctant to do business with Iran.

The former head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization (TPO), Mohammad-Reza Modudi, was quoted by local media earlier this week as saying that many countries, including Iran’s neighbors such as Iraq, “are not willing to do business with Iran out of fear of being sanctioned by American banks or the US Treasury.”

He added that despite Iran’s good production capability, exporting many of the Iranian-made products will not be easy. “We [Iran] have not prepared the needed capacity for these products to be competitive in international markets,” Modudi explained.

Compounding Iran’s lack of focus on the economic benefits of the SCO, is the fact that other Iranian officials view the SCO through a purely political and security lens. Hossein Malaek, Iran’s former ambassador to China, believes that Tehran’s membership in the SCO “has nothing to do with economic issues.”

In an interview with ILNA news agency last month, Malaek was quoted as saying that “Iran’s presence in the Shanghai Agreement will not have any economic aspect, and this cooperation only has security aspects,” and emphasized that “no economic agreement will be signed between Iran and the SCO.”

The political and security benefits of becoming a member state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization might outweigh other benefits for Iran in the short run. However, if Tehran helps secure the SCO’s energy needs by increasing oil and gas output to its new partners, and facilitates much-needed land access to other markets in West Asia and Europe in the long term, Iran’s economy stands to benefit substantially from its new eastward alignment.

BRICS’ Influence Grows as Three New Members Join the New Development Bank

Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst

The New Development Bank (NDB) was created by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) in 2015. The BRICS bank, as it is more commonly known, invests mainly in developing economies in areas such as transportation, water and sanitation, clean energy, digital infrastructure, social infrastructure and urban development. On September 2, NDB President Marcos Troyjo announced that the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Bangladesh were the first members of the bank’s expansion.

“New members will have in NDB a platform to foster their cooperation in infrastructure and sustainable development,” said NDB President Marcos Troyjo in a statement. “We will continue to expand the bank’s membership in a gradual and balanced manner.”

The UAE, Uruguay and Bangladesh will become fully fledged members once internal processes of the NDB is complete. However, the NDB’s ambitions do not end there, and according to Brazilian newspaper Estadão, a fourth partner, likely from Africa, should be announced by the end of the year. In fact, the Shanghai-based bank anticipates three to four new members per year, reaching up to 20 members in the coming years.

Although BRICS is obviously already represented in South America and South Asia by Brazil and India respectively, the accession of Uruguay and Bangladesh into the NDB allows the bank to act on a regional scale. It also opens the possibility for future membership in BRICS. With NDB members neighboring each other in South America and South Asia, the bank has the possibility to finance binational projects that promotes regional economic and transportation integration.

For his part, Emirati Minister of State for Financial Affairs, Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, said: “The United Arab Emirates membership in the New Development Bank represents a new step to enhance the role of the UAE economy on the global stage, especially in light of the great capabilities and expertise that the country possesses in supporting infrastructure projects and sustainable development. This monumental step would not have been achieved without the vision and direction of the UAE leadership, who believe in the importance of supporting development projects around the world, especially in emerging economies.”

The UAE has undergone a massive transformation in the past quarter of a century, turning desert wastelands into thriving economic hubs and progressing from reactionary Salafi ideology to one of tolerance and open-mindedness. As recently as the beginning of the Syrian War in 2011, the UAE was backing jihadist groups, but in a matter of only a few years reverted from this policy and became far more moderate and independent in their decision making and pursuit of partnerships.

Originally a major oil exporter, and still is, the UAE has now diversified its economy so that it is in line with the UN 2030 agenda to end poverty and hunger, protect human rights and gender equality, and protect the planet from degradation. The UAE has immense resources that can be directed towards projects that are in line with not only the UN’s vision, but also the NDB’s.

BRICS signed an agreement on Tuesday involving 28 projects in the fields of computer programming, technical services, culture, art, economy, commerce, logistics and transportation – with a total value of more than $2.1 billion. The UAE’s contribution to such projects will be fundamental in deciding whether the mega-rich Arab country should ascend into BRICS and not only the NDB.

The selection of the UAE, Uruguay and Bangladesh as the first three non-founding partners of the NDB indicates the intentions of BRICS – regional expansion with a focus on economic and transportation cooperation. This cooperation, as well as integration, is especially crucial as the world struggles to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout. Because of this, the NDB will likely focus in the short to medium term on the rejuvenation of member countries following the pandemic, particularly in transitioning to a digital economy and green energy.

It was estimated that emerging economies needed about $2 trillion in infrastructure investments per year for the next 20 years to maintain growth rates, however, commercial banks have refused to meet the gap. Essentially, the NDB partly fills the gap that Western financial institutions refuse to do.

By positioning itself to take advantage of a unique opportunity to project a new vision for financing, the NDB is challenging the dominance of Western financial institutions and also progressing the prestige of BRICS in its endeavour to advance a multipolar world order. The accession of the UAE sees one of the Middle East’s most influential countries join the NDB, whilst Uruguay and Bangladesh open the path for regional integration under the context of BRICS, something that has not occurred since the group was established in 2006.

Source: InfoBrics

China’s Belt and Road Initiative – Various Viewpoints

China’s Belt and Road – Mythical Vigilante

LYNDON LAROUCHE BELT AND ROAD 1997 SILK ROAD
Rothschild Controlled Belt and Road Initiative
BRI #1 of 3
BRI #2 of 3
BRI #3 of 3
Taiwan in the Crosshairs of the Belt and Road Initiative
Israel Opens Chinese Operated Port in Haifa – Belt and Road
Afghanistan • China’s Belt and Road Initiative
From the Suez Canal to the Belt and Road

Smart Cities & the End of the Era of Man by Joaquin Flores

Changes in the productive forces such as any sort of 4th Industrial Revolution must come with vigorous public debate and referendums on planning for a post labor economy, Joaquin Flores writes.

The world and its affairs have been turned upside down, and overnight the elite’s game plan was laid out bare for the world to see: the use of new coercive technologies, AI, automation, and transhumanism.

The public has experienced the roll-out of the new normal regime through a series of sudden changes such as lockdowns and requirements for new kinds of current medical documentation in order to preserve the right of travel and work.

With the ‘new normal’, the ‘great reset’, or ‘building back better’, are we fair in asking if this is their last, best, and final? It is certainly strange that Klaus Schwab, a man who presents so poorly and provokes such suspicion among the audience, would have been rolled out as best spokesman for this endeavor.

When smart cities entered the popular debate, it was clear that technical colleges and universities were being actively propagandized by vectors representing this agenda. These can be understood as a type of large-scale housing project for a post-labor economy that uses control over access to electrical power and proximity to delivery drones as its model.


The outlines of a new social contract such as Klaus Schwab’s; that an academic may have penned such a thing or that society might be discussing it, is normal and even important. But that his ideas are being rolled out as the new reality we must accept, is most surely an affront to civil society and human dignity. It is an attack on pluralism and constitutional systems around the world.

Yet a part of this agenda involves what is arguably the end of humanity as we have known it, perhaps the end of mankind itself if defined a certain way. We are naturally being assured that this is yet the beginning of a new kind of man.

All of this has the frightening look and feel of a ruling class that has just jumped from one way of doing things over to some grand new singular idea.

The particular publicly promoted culture of the elite, of the ruling class, necessarily bears the marks of social ‘good’ and social ‘permissibility’, because this whole public display is for popular consumption and has been selected just for that reason. As we have developed in past works, they merely use this discursive framework because it disarms the public. In developing on describing the aspirations and modus operandi of technocracy in rising, Alastair Crooke explains in Is the Era Finally Coming to an End?

“We are dealing here with the ideology of an aspirant ruling class that aims to hoard wealth and position, whilst flaunting its immaculate progressive and globalist credentials. Intractable culture wars, and an epistemic crisis, in which key factual and scientific questions have been politicised, is essentially nothing more than a bid to retain power, by those who stand at the apex of this ‘Creative Class’ – a tight circle of hugely wealthy oligarchs.

Even so, schools are pressured to teach a single version of history, private corporations sack employees for deviant opinions, and cultural institutions act as guardians of orthodoxy. The prototype for these practices is the U.S., which still proclaims its singular history and divisions as the source of emulation for every contemporary society.”

For much of the 20th century the institutions implored us to believe that socially directed labor does not fundamentally produce the origin of value, only later to find that at the end of that era only this truth could explain the crisis that AI and automation bring.

Because Robots do not Eat or Own Things
So much of the economy is simply people washing each other’s clothes. The rise of automation and AI makes some great number of humanity, greater than some 9/10th’s of the population, entirely redundant in terms of labor force.

Therefore, the intentional slow-down of business not only accomplishes the obvious upwards redistribution of wealth and further consolidating corporate monopoly “capitalism”, but in the long-term establishes new efficiency matrixes regarding the actual optimal human population size at this particular time.

And yet we have a very serious problem. New coercive technologies have been developed, while other liberatory technologies have been suppressed, to control the great mass of humanity. Yet there’s much more, it is that a whole new period can be ushered in, within which population reduction is a goal. In relation to this is the birth of a new type of man, who is beyond man and also no longer man.

In Klaus Schwab’s book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2016), it is clear that transhumanism is a project which aims to integrate cybernetic technologies and nano-tech to transform human beings at the level of DNA (ch. 2.1.3 Biological, Megatrends, The Fourth Industrial Revolution).

Schwab implores us in this section of the book to set-aside the admittedly grave and serious ethical questions these raise, and proceeds to the assertion that these hold the potential to solve the present economic and ecological problems decisively and positively.

If we take these at face value, perhaps the proposals such as smart cities can seem attractive as solutions. But there is high danger in this naiveté.

Because Schwab writes his text in the language of European center-left social-democracy, which is the legitimating ideology in the Trans-Atlantic sphere, the real and truly unspeakable conclusions which one would necessarily have to infer from the text, are left unsaid.

Yet we have large sectors of the staff and employees of the so-called humanitarian spheres, including health and education NGO’s, and the university systems, believing that the proposed changes are humanitarian. Schwab makes explicit overtures to this theme throughout the text.

We must understand to the contrary that the use of nano-tech, cybernetics, and other transhumanist technologies which are proposed to be integrated into the human organism are not what they seem. We are approached with the idea that these only enhance and do not direct thinking, and that these merely work to assist in the body’s functions, longevity, cognitive capacity and so forth.

But this would be true only for the elite themselves along with some other layer. For the rest of humanity, the use of oncoviruses through mandatory inoculation, as well as other forms of biological warfare as a class-war weapon could be the norm.

Whatever future population will remain after depopulation efforts, the resources at the disposal for this remaining population per capita will be less than presently enjoyed by those of the middle-class populations in 1st world countries. This seems counterintuitive, if one believes there is some aim of improving the living conditions for the population that remains. But here we confront smart cities.

As we have discussed previously, this involves using Tokyo as an example in terms of living spaces – 150 square foot apartments with low ceiling heights. There are even greater dangers to the development of so-called smart cities which like panopticons are large prison networks.

The development of these kinds of arrangements works against decentralized living models as well. They rely upon the same supply line frailties which in turn will justify the further development of the police state, using cyberterrorism as a pretext.

In addition, all energy consumed will be tracked in the apartment with ‘smart appliances’ that will send the data back to monitoring and enforcement agencies. The aim of smart cities is to create the hydraulic despotism as discussed in our past discussion of oriental despotism.

The Single-Minded Crisis
It all does seem like a new idea, indeed, has been decided upon and rolled out. Not an invitation for a conversation, not a proposal that we get a referendum on. Just rolled out over the heads of the public.

The disastrous result we have encountered through the formalization of anti-democratic technocratic institutions which want to rule indefinitely, is the erroneous belief that the technocratic elite today – who have ruled over the past century – are equipped to effect a social transformation that accounts for the new technologies. What the World Economic Forum publishes makes us aware that the elite are aware that their system is producing “undesired” inequities. Despite this, they are apparently aware of the limitations imposed on them by their position in relation to everything else.

The efforts and plans of the WEF assume and rely upon the existence of an interlocking directorate at the top level of Western society. Conversely, its vision is necessarily limited and its aims are directed in large part by the imposition of this directorate on a common vision. From this common vision, we begin to produce single-mindedness.

So they created semi-meritocratic educational institutions, recruiting and scouting fresh minds for the great new idea, so that the problem of single-mindedness can be overcome.

The Platonic-gnostic film ‘Dark City’ explains why these are attempts will fail. In this film, a dying alien race of strangers rules over abducted people on a small city-sized flat-earth island in deep-space, where the people believe they are living back on earth. This race is dying because they have a single consciousness and thought, and they are studying humans – for their diversity – to find the single-mind to emulate for the coming period.

What this race of strangers does is akin to what the elites today attempt to do with their think tanks and gestures towards meritocracy. The strangers are trying to distill from the collectivity of humanity the single new idea that will give them new life.

But the strangers are engaged in self-defeat, the solution they envision is at the root of their problem. A single consciousness cannot be used to replace the old consciousness of a single-minded entity if the problem is a single-consciousness problem. What makes humanity are the multiplicity of divergent consciousness and the differences through the diversity of their experiences.

The ruling class in the west presents itself like these strangers, having awareness of the crisis of their own making, but with a limited understanding of solutions to those things it can understand.

Concluding Thoughts
We can see that changes in the productive forces such as any sort of 4th Industrial Revolution must also come with vigorous public debate and referendums on planning for a post labor economy.

For humanity, a 4th Industrial Revolution is one that could promise to decentralize power because it decentralizes the entire cycle of commodity production and distribution. Therefore, we have the possibility of a new kind of elite, whose power is based upon more horizontally situated power vectors, flattened as a product of their localized domain of power. But the elites today are working against this idea of a 4IR.

We understand already that the elites have proposed smart cities and the use of these kinds of ‘hydraulic’ despotisms, as concentrations of power and society. They will control the power source and can control citizens’ access to amenities and rental objects to their smart apartment, based on social credit. Such a proposal is misanthropic and tyrannical in its essence, but is also the best that a single-minded consciousness can arrive at.

These kinds of smart cities will have a total size, that correspond to a total human population, a lower number to be sure – but what exactly to be determined by technocratic solutions that represent the sensibilities of the ruling class at the time.

Because there are any number of viable alternatives, all of which appear better than the best offer being made by the elites, the civilizational crisis in the west right now is a political crisis and one characterized by irreconcilable differences.

  • Joaquin Flores is educated in the field of IR and IPE at California State University Los Angeles; previously served as a business agent and organizer for the SEIU labor union; has published internationally on subjects of geopolitics, war, and diplomacy; serves as the director of the Belgrade-based Center for Syncretic Studies, and is Chief Editor at Fort Russ News.

Direxion Closing Four ETFs — dWeb.News

NEW YORK, Aug. 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Due to the their inability to attract sufficient investment assets, the Board of Trustees of the Direxion Shares ETF Trust has decided to liquidate and close four ETFs (each, a “Fund” and collectively, the “Funds”), based on the recommendation of the funds’ adviser, Rafferty Asset Management, LLC. As […]

Direxion Closing Four ETFs — dWeb.News

Petrodollar System

Source: https://seancover.com/2021/08/20/the-petrodollar-system/

Many of us are familiar with the idea that the dollar is the global reserve currency. This means that when other countries conduct trade, goods are often priced and paid in US dollars, even when the US is not involved in the transaction.

This gives the US tremendous power both globally and at home. Internationally, having the global reserve currency gives us immense policy influence—for example, financial sanctions. When we impose sanctions on Iran, we can basically cut them off from the global banking system entirely by cutting off their ability to use the dollar and the SWIFT system in international trade. By essentially being able to ban them from using the dollar, they are cut off from the global economy, which is overwhelmingly priced in dollars.

But why is the dollar the global reserve currency? Well – one huge reason is because of oil. Oil is priced globally in dollars. If Russia wants to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, they do it in dollars. Why though?

In the mid-1970s, the US agreed to provide military protection to Saudi Arabia in exchange for the global pricing of oil in dollars. This is the backbone for the dollar’s international strength and provides a global demand for dollars that no other country or region can compete with.

Understanding this is where things start to get complicated and morally grey. In exchange for the power we receive in return – oil priced in dollars globally – we are protecting the regime of a country with longstanding problems and human rights abuses (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/saudi-arabia#). Furthermore, we are also supporting the global oil trade.

In a way, the US is reliant on oil. We need other countries to keep demanding oil because, without that, $USD would not be as needed globally, and we would lose significant international power.

It is almost hypocritical for our leaders to talk about green energy in the US when not only are we protecting the Saudi oil trade, but we need it to continue, to enforce the global dollar hegemony that has been present since the end of WWII. Hypocritical isn’t really the right word though, since most politicians don’t understand the dynamic at play here any more than the average person does.

Can we just stop protecting Saudi oil? It’s not so simple.

The global soft power we would lose is considerable. Sanctions against Iran don’t do nearly as much if they can just buy whatever they want in Russian rubles instead of dollars.

And it’s not just international either. Global demand for dollars sucks USD out of the country, which is good since we print a ton of new dollars. If global demand for USD falls, yet we keep increasing the money supply, those dollars will stay in the country, and price inflation would likely rise. If you want more deficit spending, more social programs, more stimulus, etc., you need global demand for the dollar to stay high. This is why the US can create much more new money than, for example, Nicaragua can.

To summarize – it’s complicated. We’re protecting a corrupt Saudi oil regime and we’re protecting the global use of oil itself. We need countries to keep buying oil priced in dollars to maintain the dollar’s dominance, even though it’s at odds with the green future that we want. And if we stop that protection, it causes a ton of other problems for the US.

While the dollar may not be ‘backed’ by anything, the backbone of its strength is oil.

If you have time, check out this piece by Lyn Alden https://www.lynalden.com/fraying-petrodollar-system/. It’s like a 45-minute read, so you might want to break it into chunks.

Cyber Variant – Asymmetrical Warfare/Multiple Fronts (update): Lithuania, US Congress, UK Police, Ethereum, Microsoft, Deep Fakes, Bots, Agriculture Cyber Risk

The EU’s Rise as a Defense Technological Power: From Strategic Autonomy to Technological Sovereignty – from Frontier Post

Source: Original Article

RALUCA CSERNATONI

STRATEGIC AUTONOMY ISN’T JUST DEFENSE, IT’S ALSO TECHNOLOGY

Over the past two decades, the impact of new and emerging technologies and increased digitalization have become the prime drivers of globalization and international competition. States around the world are making digital autonomy, technological supremacy, and innovation the cornerstones of their diplomatic, security, and economic efforts. The European Union (EU) is no exception.

The coronavirus pandemic and its broader implications have further highlighted the importance of digital transformation in all aspects of society, as well as the need to reduce strategic dependencies in key, high-end technology areas, value and supply chains, and critical infrastructures. Against the backdrop of a deteriorating geopolitical and security environment, it comes as no surprise that European digital and technological sovereignty are at the center of current EU policy discussions.

There are indeed signs of a new and yet conceptually ambiguous narrative taking shape around building the EU’s technological innovation power. What exactly are the practical and policy implications of a new “technological sovereignty” narrative? And more importantly, what EU tech sovereignty efforts have been made in line with broader European strategic autonomy objectives?

The concept of European strategic autonomy is certainly not new. It initially emerged in discussions related to the EU’s space and security and defense policy strategies, as well as in terms of upping the EU’s game in military capability building. Political discussions about European strategic autonomy indeed have a long and controversial history.

The term has deep historical roots in French strategic culture and thinking, and since the 1990s, it has typically referred to the notion that the EU should be able to carry out modest-size, out-of-area, and militarily well-equipped crisis management operations, especially in its own neighborhood, and independently of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

While the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy (EUGS) in June 2016 is credited for putting the concept of strategic autonomy on the EU’s foreign and security policy agendas, the reality is that various EU institutions and member states have long been discussing the need to upgrade the EU’s defense technological and industrial portfolio and crisis management capabilities. Key to such debates was the preservation of a competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base.

In the words of Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and vice president of the European Commission, the concept of strategic autonomy is indeed not new, as it has been extensively used in the military realm and for a long time was limited to issues related to European security and defense. According to Borrell, strategic autonomy is also a “process of political survival” for the EU, and its logic should be expanded to other sectors.

This narrow security and defense focus has been recently expanded by the geopolitically focused European Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen and under the stated ambition to revamp the European power agenda in various strategic sectors. The underlying logic behind strategic autonomy has started to increasingly encompass discussions about technological protectionism and capacity building in new domains related to digitalization, data, space, energy, and new and emerging technologies.

The new technological sovereignty narrative is meant to build EU-wide consensus around the need to preserve European leadership and autonomy in various key technological areas. It is the EU’s attempt to put forward a pragmatic and autonomous approach to avoid dependencies and geopolitical coercion in critical technological sectors.

The stakes could not be higher. Indeed, the incumbent commission has started to actively circulate various notions of sovereignty derived from discussions on strategic autonomy and defense sovereignty by populating the discursive landscape with related concepts such as technological, digital, and data sovereignty.

This expansion is revealing increasing fears that more protective autonomy in other policy areas than security and defense is needed to safeguard the EU’s economic and strategic interests and European values. Hence, the impact of terms such as sovereignty, power, and strategic autonomy floating around the technology, digitalization, and data spheres should not be easily disregarded.

These terms give strategic meaning to EU action and institutionalize different sectoral approaches to sovereignty building. They are also indicative of recent EU-led policy, regulatory, and funding efforts in the industrial, technological, and digital domains. But which are the most significant initiatives designed to consolidate the EU’s quest for various sovereignties, and do they amount to a coherent and integrated approach?

EU TECHNOLOGICAL SOVEREIGNTY IS IN THE MAKING

Behind the EU’s recent multiple sovereignty agendas is the need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation. The very label of a geopolitical European Commission implies a new level of engagement for the EU in the global balance of power. Technological and digital sovereignty are at the heart of such ambitions.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the urgency to shore up technological, digital, and regulatory responses to preserve the EU’s economic clout, industrial competitiveness, and geopolitical influence, as well as to reduce dependencies in critical technology areas. What has the EU done so far, and what must it still do to meet that goal of technological sovereignty?

Four cross-cutting dimensions can help unpack the concept of technological sovereignty and better structure the discussion about EU initiatives, programs, and instruments:

DEFENSE CAPABILITY DEVELOPMENT

According to Arnout Molenaar, the head of division in the European External Action Service, dealing with security and defense policy is also related to “a learning curve for the Union to develop a ‘hard power’ mentality.” Technology plays a fundamental role in terms of making possible the EU’s hard military power ambitions—not only to act in a tense geopolitical setting but also to defend the EU’s interests in areas related to technology, security, and defense matters.

In this regard, collaborative EU defense research and development (R&D) initiatives have been prioritized at the EU level for some time now to support the competitiveness of the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base.

EU institutions and agencies have made considerable efforts to preserve Europe’s edge in key areas, including emerging and disruptive security technologies and infrastructures such as cybersecurity, drones, secure networks, space technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), and quantum technology.

Indeed, recent EU initiatives such as the European Commission’s European Defence Fund (EDF) as part of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2021–2027—as well as its precursor programs, the Preparatory Action on Defence Research and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme—are intended to financially empower the EU’s autonomy in defense technology and industry and its research and innovation capacity in future-oriented and disruptive defense technologies.

Such initiatives have been framed as timely catalysts and potential game changers for increasing collective European action and for fostering cutting-edge defense research and innovation in Europe. The commission funded the Preparatory Action on Defence Research as a test case of defense-related research and technology projects, pulling directly from the EU budget line rather than from member states’ joint initiatives. This scheme was a concrete step designed to demonstrate the added value of EU-supported defense technology research and innovation.

If successfully implemented, the EDF is expected to bolster more lucrative and joint research and capability-driven investment schemes in defense technologies across Europe and to increase the EU’s global leadership position in strategic tech sectors. The commission has already pledged a relatively small percentage of up to 8 percent of the EDF funding to disruptive technology actions.

However, with the initially proposed amount of 13 billion euros ($15.4 billion) now reduced to about 8 billion euros ($9.5 billion), the EDF’s real potential to create value added and to incentivize technological and industrial cooperation and competitiveness in Europe is unclear.

Indeed, this reduction could be accounted for by the fact that some member states either took a budget-restrictive approach to the entire 2021–2027 MFF or judged that on balance, they would benefit less from the EDF than their contribution to it and thus opted for reducing the overall funding.

What is certain is that the EDF marks an important paradigm shift in consolidating the EU’s increased supranational activism in the field of defense technology and industry as a basis for building the EU’s military hard power and defense portfolio. The fund also consolidates the European Commission’s increasing role and strong interventionism in the EU security and defense policy fields that have traditionally been the exclusive preserve of member states’ decisionmaking.

There is also a clear message that developing the defense industry and technology base in Europe is key to strategic autonomy. Hence, logic dictates that defense-related technological sovereignty is central to the EU’s strategic autonomy. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether the reduced funding dedicated to the EDF and the small percentage of it that is flagged for disruptive military technologies are sufficient to foster high-risk, high-reward technological innovation in the European defense sector.

CROSS-DOMAIN APPROACH TO INNOVATION

The swift operationalization of the EDF, coupled by fostering synergies with other EU initiatives in terms of civil-military R&D cross-fertilization, might very well be what Europe needs to maintain its innovational and technological edge.

To this end, the commission’s Action Plan on Synergies Between Civil, Defence and Space Industries from February 2021—the so-called Three-Point Belt Plan—is one way ahead to propose a more horizontal and cross-domain approach for boosting research, technology development, and the EU’s overall innovation power.

Announced in the Industrial Strategy for Europe from March 2020, the commission’s 2021 Three-Point Belt Plan aims to establish a structured approach and create new opportunities for innovation synergies among relevant EU-funded programs and instruments, especially in the case of emerging and disruptive technologies. It defines critical technologies as relevant across the defense, space, and related civil industries and as essential to Europe’s technological sovereignty by reducing risks of overdependence on external players.

To make this happen, the commission will set up within its services an EU Observatory of Critical Technologies, which will be in charge of regular monitoring and analysis of key technology areas with a view to closing existing gaps and dependencies. It will also use technology road maps and forecasting to identify emerging technologies.

This undertaking will ostensibly facilitate spin-off from EU funding for space and defense R&D and spin-in from civil-driven innovation. The seventeen-page-long action plan mentions the term “technological sovereignty” no less than eight times, while the word “synergies” appears thirty-one times.

This is significant as the document puts forward a more comprehensive civil-military approach to innovation, especially in the case of critical technologies, with a view to scaling up the existing EU toolbox by streamlining various initiatives such as the EDF, the EU Space program, and other EU instruments.

The real challenge is how to foster innovation and facilitate coordinated action between programs and sectoral instruments such as the Digital Europe Programme, which is focused on building the strategic digital capacities of the EU and on facilitating the wide deployment of digital technologies; the Horizon Europe program for research and innovation; the Connecting Europe Facility; the European Innovation Council; InvestEU; and NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost Europe’s post-pandemic recovery.

Yet the relatively low numbers allocated for research and innovation in the EU’s key funding programs for research and innovation, such as Horizon Europe, might suggest the contrary. There is also the question of differing and sometimes conflicting research and innovation cultures in Europe’s unevenly distributed civil, defense, and space industries.

Another related issue is that of digital sovereignty, a term sometimes used interchangeably with technological sovereignty. Without going into theoretical debates about the two concepts, by and large digital sovereignty is yet another iteration of technological sovereignty from external players in cyberspace. It rests, according to EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, on three inseparable pillars: “computing power, control over our data and secure connectivity.” This means that, in the case of digital sovereignty, Europe wants to free itself from its hardware and software dependencies either from third countries or Big Tech players.

In doing so, Europe aims to foster its growing digital infrastructure and economy, while making sure the union’s core democratic values also apply in the digital era. Furthermore, according to the European Commission, a secure and sovereign, European-based, resilient, and sustainable digital infrastructure is vital to this transformation.

In this respect, the Digital Europe Programme also aims to boost the EU’s innovation power. It is meant to up the investment stakes in supercomputing, AI, and cybersecurity, including via a network of Digital Innovation Hubs across Europe.

Complementarity with other EU programs and strategic plans is yet again key to achieving digital sovereignty, especially in high technology areas such as AI. For instance, the European Commission’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence identified the need to develop a comprehensive policy and governance approach to AI for the EU to “become a global leader in innovation in the data economy and its applications.”

According to the document, one of the main building blocks to achieve this goal is an “ecosystem of excellence” as well as public-private partnerships that will leverage up to 20 billion euros of private and public sector resources along the entire value chain, from research and innovation to accelerating the deployment and uptake of AI-based solutions benefitting public services and businesses.

First published in 2018, the new and updated 2021 Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence further consolidates collaboration between the commission and member states to enable joint actions, public-private partnerships, and research and innovation networks. Funding will be allocated via the Digital Europe Programme and Horizon Europe program, the Recovery and Resilience Facility that foresees a target goal of 20 percent of expenditure on digital goals, and the Cohesion Policy program.

The overall goal is to improve Europe’s competitiveness in the global digital economy, support digitalization, and build innovation capacity in new digital technologies. It also comes as no surprise that the EU’s new Cybersecurity Strategy in the Digital Decade from December 2020 identifies key technologies like AI, quantum computing, and future generation networks as essential to Europe’s digital future and cybersecurity.

DIGITALIZATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE RESILIENCE

Several initiatives have also been aimed at strengthening and rationalizing the EU’s resilience in the case of critical infrastructure, including in terms of digital infrastructure connectivity. The EU’s Critical Information Infrastructure Protection from as early as 2009 aimed to strengthen the security and resilience of vital information and communication technology infrastructures.

There are growing risks associated with the increased digitalization of societies, critical infrastructure resilience, and the security of supply chains, especially in terms of managing critical dependencies. Related to this, the European Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF2) Digital program aims to support investments in digital connectivity infrastructures during the period of the 2021­–2027 MFF. Among foreseen actions are the deployment of and access to very high-capacity networks, including 5G systems, and the significant upgrade of existing backbone networks including submarine cables.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the issue of European sovereignty over supply chains has also received a renewed sense of urgency. The 5G joint toolbox endorsed by the commission in January 2020 plays an important role as a major enabler for critical infrastructure resilience that will help mitigate the main cybersecurity risks of future generations’ mobile networks and leverage a robust set of cybersecurity measures in Europe.

Thanks to the new toolbox, the EU and member states can now more effectively protect critical infrastructure connectivity. At the heart of EU and member states’ concerns around 5G is the interference by foreign states, in particular China, providing 5G equipment via state-controlled companies and high-risk vendors that present immediate security threats against increasingly digitalized economies and societies in Europe.

This may indeed jeopardize Europe’s critical infrastructure resilience. Similar concerns have been expressed regarding the need to promote and protect sensitive technologies with the potential for dual-use applications. These concerns also come up in relation to the common framework for screening foreign direct investments and the EU regulation on such screening that became operational in October 2020.

Similarly, the commission’s approach to modernize the EU’s export controls on sensitive dual-use technologies is intended to strengthen the EU’s response to evolving security risks and to the impact of new and emerging technologies by better addressing the risks of human rights violations associated with trade in sensitive cyber surveillance technologies.

Other challenges could impact the EU’s innovation resilience, such as potential geopolitical disruptions to critical supply chains like in the case of critical raw materials or semiconductors. This has already been played out in the technological war between the United States and China and the growing weaponization of trade policies.

Accordingly, Europe risks becoming exposed to global tech wars if it does not promote homegrown solutions and address geopolitically risky dependencies in critical technology domains. This has been made clear in the case of the global semiconductor value chain on design, materials, and advanced manufacturing.

The design and production of processor semiconductors are one key area where coordinated plans from twenty-one member states are encouraged under the NextGenerationEU funding scheme. Yet the expense and level of technological sophistication required in creating a chip design ecosystem in Europe imply that it will take years before Europe can develop cutting-edge capabilities.

The European Commission has also taken steps to address risks related to critical raw materials and supply chains, having released in September 2020 an Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials accompanied by an updated List of Critical Raw Materials and a foresight study examining dependent sectors and strategic technology areas for the 2030 to 2050 horizon.

TECH-RELATED REGULATORY ACTIVISM

Equally, the rush to regulate and set technological standards brings about new geopolitical tensions. Considering that new and emerging technologies are becoming a crucial element in great power competition, their regulation is becoming increasingly politicized. Consequently, the EU has taken a global lead concerning the creation of a regime of international norms and standards governing emerging disruptive technologies.

As shown by the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU’s strategic edge primarily resides in its market, normative, and regulatory power—what has been described as the Brussels effect. Yet in the current international climate of a so-called technological war being waged by the United States and China, there is still a long way to go for Europe to become a leader in socially responsible and sustainable high-tech industries.

For this to happen, the EU should reinforce the ethical development and deployment of new and emerging technologies, as well as strengthen its strategic autonomy in critical technology areas. In a nutshell, for the EU to become a global leader in regulation and standards setting, it should also invest heavily in research and innovation so that it becomes a source of cutting-edge technology, not just regulation.

EU leaders have argued that technological sovereignty is also about protecting European culture and values, in which human-centered autonomy is prioritized by emphasizing individual citizens’ sovereign rights to their own data and in their interactions with AI.

With the new strategy for a Europe fit for the digital age, the European Commission wants to deliver on the promise of human-centered and risk-based new tech regulation, together with a comprehensive regulatory packaging including the European Digital Strategy, the European Data Strategy, the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, as well as the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence and the EU’s latest AI regulation package.

Now more than ever, the devil is in the details. The Commission’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence already proposed creating an “ecosystem of trust” in Europe by putting forward a legal framework that addresses the risks for fundamental rights and safety under the label of a secure, human-centered, and trustworthy AI.

In the European Commission Proposal for AI regulation on Laying Down Harmonised Rules on Artificial Intelligence (Artificial Intelligence Act) and Amending Certain Union Legislative Acts (April 21, 2021), the EU is proposing a legal framework that does not look at AI technology itself but at how AI is used and for what purposes. It also differentiates between four different categories of uses that have no or minimal risk or limited, high, or unacceptable risk.

The high-risk uses of AI are the main focus of the framework due to their huge impact on citizens’ lives and public interest. In particular, all remote biometric identification systems are considered high risk and subjected to strict requirements. If the proposed legal framework were to be adopted, it would position the EU as potentially taking a strong stance on high-risk AI systems, which would be subjected to a new set of strict obligations.

Some limited uses—for instance, the use of AI in social scoring systems or AI applications that manipulate human behavior—are prohibited outright because they are considered unacceptable. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the enforcement of these rules falls within the responsibility of national authorities to assess whether AI systems meet their obligations.

The EU has also underscored the importance of global rules, international regulatory convergence, proactive agenda setting in technological standardization, and a commitment to fundamental rights protections when it comes to new (digital) technologies in collaboration with key like-minded partners.

The draft EU AI regulation, in a sweeping stroke, associates the EU’s technological leadership with the stated ambition to become a “global leader in the development of secure, trustworthy and ethical” AI. From this perspective, only “common action at [the] Union level can also protect the Union’s digital sovereignty and leverage its tools and regulatory powers to shape global rules and standards.”

The union’s great expectations are understandable, yet they should be tempered. The EU may have a harder time in setting global rules and red lines. Also, the international influence of the EU’s AI rule book might actually be decided in a transatlantic context and under the recently announced EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council. What is more, the EU and member states need to actively engage in the ongoing international discussions on the creation of a global AI norms regime, especially in relevant bilateral, multilateral, regional, and UN fora.

CONCLUSION

The above tour d’horizon aims to address key building blocks in what potentially constitutes Europe’s quest for defense technological power. Without a doubt, in an era of global digitalization and geostrategic rivalry, technology is creating new sources of power and security in international affairs. That is why European competitiveness in innovation, research, and technology is so important for achieving strategic autonomy.

Technology has been and remains a key ingredient for global power projection. Breton stated that Europe must now lay the foundations or find the keys to its multiple sovereignties for the next twenty years. Given increasing global technological competition, the rallying call of the day in Brussels is for the EU to learn the language of power and secure its digital and economic future.

The four interconnected dimensions outlined above—cursorily mapping the EU’s various programs, strategies, and initiatives—represent key analytical entry points in understanding the EU’s recent activism toward building a more coherent European sovereignty agenda with technology at its core.

By following this reasoning, European technological sovereignty is manifested across military capacity building, innovation capacity, infrastructure resilience, or regulatory prowess. It is also a prerequisite for European strategic autonomy and the EU’s ability to act as an independent global actor.

Yet recent efforts for Europe to become more technologically sovereign can only be successful when they are coordinated and comprehensive, especially because the impact of emerging disruptive technologies is pervasive and cuts across many sectors. The challenge is to bring together and operationalize the different initiatives and instruments that comprise a complex governance structure reuniting EU institutions and agencies, EU member states, and commercial actors and industrial sectors.

In reality, most of the above initiatives are quite recent, and the EU has just begun to connect all of its financial resources and bridge its strategic and policy thinking across the four dimensions. For this to happen, there needs to be more willingness from EU institutions and member states to cooperate across interlinked political, strategic, economic, and technical matters.

While the EU is advancing in the regulation and governance of new and emerging technologies, it is not yet clear how recent and rather limited research funding initiatives will actually shore up the EU’s critical infrastructure resilience and innovation power in strategic technological domains. Only a persistent and substantial investment policy in future and emerging technologies can ensure the EU’s technological competitiveness, coupled with efforts to create a human rights–centric international norms regime for its ethical and responsible research and development.

If the EU can streamline its goals, interests, and values in such a plethora of defense and tech-related programs, harness the current transformative wave of innovation, and mitigate potential disruptions and human rights harms, it might well become more technologically sovereign in the decades to come. However, the jury is still out on what the future may hold.

Iran Opens Major Energy Port on Persian Gulf – Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° August 2, 2021

Source: https://syria360.wordpress.com/2021/08/02/iran-opens-major-energy-port-on-persian-gulf/

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran’s Oil Ministry brought online a major port on the coasts of the Persian Gulf to expedite exports of petroleum products from the South Pars giant energy hub.

The Siraf Exports and Service Port was inaugurated upon an order by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

The port, located in the southwestern province of Bushehr, has two wharfs which will be dedicated to exports of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and sulfur. The products will be directly supplied from nearby refineries that run on natural gas pumped from the South Pars, the world’s largest gas reserve which is shared between Iran and Qatar in the Persian Gulf.

Pipelines linking five South Pars refineries to Siraf would allow exports of 5,000 cubic meters per hour of cold LPG from the port which is one of the deepest in the region.

Construction of the port began in 2014 by Khatam Headquarters, a major engineering energy company.

More than $350 million has been spent on the port, and the project will create 200 permanent jobs in the region.

As the port came on line, the end of development works at Phase 14 of South Pars with the rollout of few remaining installations was also announced.

Iran has spent $2.4 billion to fully develop Phase 14 over the past 11 years. That means that the country has built out all 28 phases of the giant gas field except for one where works stalled in 2018 because of pressure on foreign contractors.

In relevant remarks on Sunday, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said that production from Phase 11, which is now being developed by a domestic contractor, will begin before March 2022.