Thursday, March 24, 2016

Friday Thinking 25 March 2016

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. 

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

Building a crystal ball to predict and prevent terror attacks, a real-world version of Minority Report, is the ultimate goal of crime fighters the world over. But, so far, more data has just meant more noise, security experts say. “There are not enough examples of terrorist activity to model what it looks like in data, and that’s true no matter how much data you have,” says Jim Harper, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “You need yeast to make bread. You can’t make up for a lack of yeast by adding more flour.”
China Tries Its Hand at Pre-Crime

By 2022, 1 trillion networked sensors will be embedded in the world around us. These connected sensors will contain data about our habits, our activities and our bodies, and there are growing concerns it could be used against us.
What does the internet of things mean for our personal privacy?

Newer scientists are finding now that when you respond to a placebo, for example, if it eases your pain, that’s not an imaginary effect. You didn’t just think that your pain has disappeared. There are real measurable biological changes going on in the brain and the body that are very similar to the changes that you get that are caused by drugs. So these placebo effects are just as real as any effect from a chemical drug. That really has to start shifting our perspective on this to realize that mental changes have very physical effects on the body that can impact our health.
Chronic Stress: A Case of Mind Over Matter?

We humans are changing. We have become so intertwined with what we have created that we are no longer separate from it. We have outgrown the distinction between the natural and the artificial. We are what we make. We are our thoughts, whether they are created by our neurons, by our electronically augmented minds, by our technologically mediated social interactions, or by our machines themselves. We are our bodies, whether they are born in womb or test tube, our genes inherited or designed, organs augmented, repaired, transplanted, or manufactured. Our prosthetic enhancements are as simple as contact lenses and tattoos and as complex as robotic limbs and search engines. They are both functional and aesthetic. We are our perceptions, whether they are through our eyes and ears or our sensory-fused hyper-spectral sensors, processed as much by computers as by our own cortex. We are our institutions, cooperating super-organisms, entangled amalgams of people and machines with super-human intelligence, processing, sensing, deciding, acting. Our home planet is inhabited by both engineered organisms and evolved machines. Our very atmosphere is the emergent creation of forests, farms and factories. Empowered by the tools of the Enlightenment, connected by networked flows of freight and fuel and finance, by information and ideas, we are becoming something new. We are at the dawn of the Age of Entanglement.

So what is this brave new world that we are creating, governed neither by the mysteries of nature or the logic of science, but by the magic of their entanglement? It is governed by the mathematics of strange attractors. Its geometry is fractal. Its music is improvisational and generative rather than composed: Eno instead of Mozart. Its art is about process more than artifact. …. The aesthetic of the Entanglement is the beauty that emerges from processes that are neither entirely natural nor artificial, but blend the best of both….. We can no longer see ourselves as separate from the natural world or our technology, but as a part of them, integrated, codependent, and entangled.

Unlike the Enlightenment, where progress was analytic and came from taking things apart, progress in the Age of Entanglement is synthetic and comes from putting things together.
[This article has four MUST SEE short videos]
Danny Hillis - The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement

Here’s an interesting critique of Holocracy by Gary Hamel - worth the read.
...there are millions of managers who have a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo. Bureaucracy is a massive, multi-player game and those who excel at it are typically unenthusiastic about changing it. Someone who’s invested 30 years in acquiring the power and privileges of an executive vice-president is unlikely to look   favorably on a proposal to downgrade formal titles and abolish the link between rank and compensation.
Beating bureaucracy isn’t just one more re-org. What’s needed is an approach that’s emergent, collaborative, iterative, and inescapable; one that “rolls up” rather than “rolls out;” something more like an open innovation project and less like Mao’s cultural revolution.
Top-Down Solutions Like Holacracy Won’t Fix Bureaucracy
For all its enemies, bureaucracy is amazingly resilient. Since 1983, the number of managers, supervisors, and support staff employed in the U.S. economy has nearly doubled, while employment in other occupations has grown by less than 40%, according to our analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That makes bureaucracy the organizational equivalent of kudzu, the invasive, herbicide-resistant vine that has overrun thousands of acres of woodland in the American south.

Why is bureaucracy so difficult to eradicate?
….there’s no well-trodden path for building a post-bureaucratic organization. While one can draw inspiration from companies that are famously non-bureaucratic, like Morning Star, the California-based tomato processor, and W.L. Gore, the high-tech materials company known for its Gore-Tex fabrics, these companies developed their distinctive management practices over decades. While there’s much to learn from these and other vanguards, any bureaucracy-bound organization that wants to overhaul its management model will have to invent its own map. The challenge is not unlike that faced by the first surgeons who attempted to transplant human organs: the stakes were high and the protocols few.

Minority Report was released in 2002, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick that was published in 1956 and set 100 years in the future - 2054. This effort by China is only 62 years after the publication of the novel. What’s important to note is the efforts of Big Media to push surveillance and control of how we use personal devices through digital rights management is not dissimilar from the FBI efforts to have Apple break their own security. This is a space to watch (pun intended).
“We don’t call it a big data platform but a united information environment.” —Wu Manqing, China Electronics Technology
China Tries Its Hand at Pre-Crime
Beijing wants to identify subversives before they strike.
China’s effort to flush out threats to stability is expanding into an area that used to exist only in dystopian sci-fi: pre-crime. The Communist Party has directed one of the country’s largest state-run defense contractors, China Electronics Technology Group, to develop software to collate data on jobs, hobbies, consumption habits, and other behavior of ordinary citizens to predict terrorist acts before they occur. “It’s very crucial to examine the cause after an act of terror,” Wu Manqing, the chief engineer for the military contractor, told reporters at a conference in December. “But what is more important is to predict the upcoming activities.”

The program is unprecedented because there are no safeguards from privacy protection laws and minimal pushback from civil liberty advocates and companies, says Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has advised Google on freedom of expression and the Internet. The project also takes advantage of an existing vast network of neighborhood informants assigned by the Communist Party to monitor everything from family planning violations to unorthodox behavior. A draft cybersecurity law unveiled in July grants the government almost unbridled access to user data in the name of national security. “If neither legal restrictions nor unfettered political debate about Big Brother surveillance is a factor for a regime, then there are many different sorts of data that could be collated and cross-referenced to help identify possible terrorists or subversives,” says Paul Pillar, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

This is a very nice - short article -recommended to me, and introducing some fundamental shifts that are integral to the change in conditions of change.
The Physics of Disruption
Jeremy England, a rising star in the world of physics, has made quite a stir with his ideas about the meaning of life. In a nutshell, England argues that while disorder in the universe tends to increase over time, living things harness energy around them to create order from randomness.

Or, more accurately, he argues that life is the universe’s way to dissipate energy more efficiently, meaning that what we see as order is really just nature’s way of spreading disorder more broadly.  It’s an intriguing theory, implying that life is not a cosmic historical accident, but the inevitable consequence of physics.

It is also the exact opposite of how we tend to see things.  We assume that the energy we employ to create order as constructive or “putting things aright,” when actually we are setting the stage for more disorder.  In other words, most people look at an ordered system as the natural way things should be.  That’s what opens up opportunities for successful disruption.

The research in this domain is filled with disagreement -and often deep biases. Still we know how important all forms of play are to the development of intelligence and the creations of stimulating environments for enriching neural development.
New research says video-gaming kids are smarter and more social
Conventional wisdom may still say video games are a bad thing, but the evidence is slowly piling up: Moderate video gaming is associated with emotional and intellectual intelligence. A new study in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology says video game use is associated with better academic functioning and sociability in grade-schoolers. Lee Banville, in an article in Games and Learning, interpreted the study for us non-medical types.

According to Banville, the study, called “Is time spent playing video games associated with mental health, cognitive and social skills in young children?” found that “kids who played video games five or more hours a week did better in school and suffered no emotional or mental health problems.” The study came out of Columbia University and included data on kids aged 6 to 11 from six European Union countries.

The study acknowledged what a lot of parents already know: That kids love to play video games with other kids. And video gaming in a group, such as playing Minecraft with classmates, can open social doors. This can be especially true for kids who don’t play sports. Video games give them a way to practice teamwork. As this study notes: “…Playing video games is today, even more so than in the past two decades, a highly social activity for most children as the vast majority of children play their video games with a friend…Some games explicitly reward effective cooperation, supporting and helping behavior.”

The topic of this article is another approach in that could not only transform or enhance learning - but perhaps enable a mind-body integrated approach to health.
DARPA using peripheral nerve stimulation to accelerate learning
The body’s branching network of peripheral nerves connects neurons in the brain and spinal cord to organs, skin, and muscles, regulating a host of biological functions from digestion to sensation to locomotion. But the peripheral nervous system can do even more than that, which is why DARPA already has research programs underway to harness it for a number of functions—as a substitute for drugs to treat diseases and accelerate healing, for example, as well as to control advanced prosthetic limbs and restore tactile sensation to their users.

Now, pushing those limits further, DARPA aims to enlist the body’s peripheral nerves to achieve something that has long been considered the brain’s domain alone: facilitating learning. The effort will turn on its head the usual notion that the brain tells the peripheral nervous system what to do.

The new program, Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), seeks to advance the pace and effectiveness of a specific kind of learning—cognitive skills training—through the precise activation of peripheral nerves that can in turn promote and strengthen neuronal connections in the brain. TNT will pursue development of a platform technology to enhance learning of a wide range of cognitive skills, with a goal of reducing the cost and duration of the Defense Department’s extensive training regimen, while improving outcomes. If successful, TNT could accelerate learning and reduce the time needed to train foreign language specialists, intelligence analysts, cryptographers, and others.

The speed at which AI and robotics are moving is incredulous - literally. Given the recent evidence from AlphaGo we can only imagine what the next generation of industrial and personal robotics will achieve.
One of the big potential benefits of the learning approach, Hido says, is that it can be accelerated if several robots work in parallel and then share what they have learned. So eight robots working together for one hour can perform the same learning as one machine going for eight hours. “Our project is oriented to distributed learning,” Hido says. “You can imagine hundreds of factory robots sharing information.”
This Factory Robot Learns a New Job Overnight
The world’s largest industrial robot maker, Fanuc, is developing robots that use reinforcement learning to figure out how to do things.
Inside a modest-looking office building in Tokyo lives an unusually clever industrial robot made by the Japanese company Fanuc. Give the robot a task, like picking widgets out of one box and putting them into another container, and it will spend the night figuring out how to do it. Come morning, the machine should have mastered the job as well as if it had been programmed by an expert.Fanuc demonstrates a robot trained through reinforcement learning at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo in December.

Industrial robots are capable of extreme precision and speed, but they normally need to be programmed very carefully in order to do something like grasp an object. This is difficult and time-consuming, and it means that such robots can usually work only in tightly controlled environments.

Fanuc’s robot uses a technique known as deep reinforcement learning to train itself, over time, how to learn a new task. It tries picking up objects while capturing video footage of the process. Each time it succeeds or fails, it remembers how the object looked, knowledge that is used to refine a deep learning model, or a large neural network, that controls its action. Deep learning has proved to be a powerful approach in pattern recognition over the past few years.

“After eight hours or so it gets to 90 percent accuracy or above, which is almost the same as if an expert were to program it,” explains Shohei Hido, chief research officer at Preferred Networks, a Tokyo-based company specializing in machine learning. “It works overnight; the next morning it is tuned.”

Robotics and AI capable of overnight learning - if that isn’t incredible enough - we also have to ask what work is left for humans. This article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis - provides evidence that routine jobs are not in the future. The graphs are a must view. -One key issue that is a definite problem is the label of low-skill for work involving the care of others -good care requires a different form of social skill and knowledge.
Given this, it is important to classify occupations according to how routine their tasks are. It is also important to classify occupations by whether they use mostly cognitive skills or mostly manual skills (brain vs brawn). The following figure shows the evolution of U.S. employment across four types of occupations:
  • Nonroutine cognitive occupations, which include management and professional occupations
  • Nonroutine manual occupations, which include service occupations related to assisting or caring for others
  • Routine cognitive, which include sales and office occupations
  • Routine manual, which include construction, transportation, production and repair occupations
Jobs Involving Routine Tasks Aren't Growing
U.S. labor markets are undergoing important long-run changes. These include:
  • The decline of middle-skill occupations, such as manufacturing and production occupations
  • The growth in both high- and low-skill occupations, such as managers and professional occupations on one end, and assisting or caring for others on the other.

Economists have coined the term “job polarization” for this process. As has been argued in the economic literature, the most likely drivers of job polarization are automation and offshoring, as both these forces lower the demand for middle-skill occupations relative to the rest.

For example, some jobs that require performing routine or repetitive tasks can be automated. Also, some stages of the production process of a good or service can be performed in foreign countries. Therefore, some tasks can be outsourced. In general, the types of tasks that can be outsourced are mostly routine tasks.

This is work that most of us would deeply agree is non-routine - however, it also makes the idea of an AI-ssistant even more radical. This is worth the view.
The Robot Revolution: Developing machines to promote human health
Visionary engineers launch a promising new era for robot-assisted health care
THE ROBOTS that inhabited the sci-fi world of the late Isaac Asimov were programmed to avoid hurting humans. Now his 20th-century fiction is turning into 21st-century fact, but there’s a twist. It’s not enough for many of today’s real-life robots to avert human harm. They’re being created and coded to promote human health.

These robots can be gentle and funny. Sometimes they’re downright cute. Ultimately, they’re helpful. It’s a robot revolution, and USC engineers and innovators play a leading role in it, recruiting automatons to support the well-being of the young and old.

There’s a reason to enlist technology in the effort. In part, as the U.S. population ages and the volume of patients in need of support surpasses the number of human caregivers, robots are at the ready to close the gap. In hospitals and homes, these machines may soon do everything from encouraging stroke victims to exercise their limbs to serving as eyes for people whose sight has been impaired by diseases of aging. They’re also under study as a potential way to help children with autism.

Health-minded robots are just a part of the expanding universe of robotics at USC. Some of the university’s best engineering minds have created or coded robots to quickly build houses on land or dive deep under the sea. But health care is one area where robots shine brightest. Read on to meet a few of the growing fleet of “Tro-bots.”

How many jobs are centered on driving? How much of this driving is routine? But another key concern is who will own the digital infrastructure enabling a sea of connected cars, homes, devices? The incumbent rent-seekers? Or will we build a fiber optic and wireless commons?
Gartner foresees 250M connected vehicles on the road by 2020
Cars will be connected to other cars, homes and businesses -- and the infrastructure around them
If you buy a car during the next five years, there's a good chance it will have a wireless network connection that will enable a myriad of mobile services.
That's the prediction market research firm Gartner made today, when it released a report predicting that there will be about 250 million "connected" cars on the road by 2020.

Early last year, Gartner had predicted 150 million connected cars by that time; its latest report markedly ups that number.
Driving the adoption of connected car technology is the expansion of high-bandwidth wireless network infrastructure, rising expectations for access to mobile content and better service from smartphones and tablets.

Here’s something related to interconnected transportation.
Intelligence: Free Range Data Reveals All
National intelligence services (like the CIA and MI6) continue to find themselves relying more and more on civilian sources for the best data and analysis. A recent example was revealed because of all the anxiety over the huge numbers of illegal migrants trying to get into Europe and other Western countries, many of them by boat. Turns out that the best tool for reducing the use of ships for smuggling was an Israeli firm that built a business on creating a database of normal, and abnormal (and usually illegal) behavior by ships at sea for shipping and maritime insurance companies.

This data was easier to collect since the 1990s when all larger ships were required to use the AIS (Automated Identification System) which is essentially an automatic radio beacon (transponder) that, when it receives a signal from a nearby AIS equipped ship, responds with the ship's identity, course, and speed. This is meant to enable AIS ships to avoid collisions with each other. An AIS activity database makes it possible to identify patterns of normal and abnormal behavior. The abnormal behavior, like arriving outside a port and waiting for several days to enter, is what smugglers are often forced to do to avoid arrest. Same thing with travelling outside the most efficient (in terms of fuel used and weather encountered) routes. With enough of this data and a thorough analysis it is very difficult for seagoing criminals to escape detection. Now that navies and coast guards are increasing using this “maritime BI (Business Intelligence)” tool to more quickly shut down the criminal gangs making over a billion dollars a year from all this people smuggling.

A few years ago I was pondering the exponential decrease in the cost of gene sequencing and wondering when it would become an item covered under health care insurance and integrated into the birth registration process and/or when it would become focus of a national effort - a genetic census. Concerns about privacy are matched by understanding that the gene pool is ‘our common wealth’ and any individual anomalies are actually research opportunities that can benefit all of us. In terms of privacy - well anonymity is no protection and in fact hides many dark shadows.
Kuwait has become the first country to make DNA testing mandatory for all residents
Those who refuse risk prison time.
In a controversial move, Kuwait has passed a law making it mandatory for all its 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents to have their DNA entered onto a national database.

Anyone who refuses to submit their DNA for testing risks one year in prison and a fine of up to US$33,000, and those who provide a fake sample can be jailed for seven years.

The decision came after an Islamic State-led suicide bombing in Kuwait City on 26 June, which killed 26 people and wounded 227 more. The government hopes that the new database, which is projected to cost around US$400 million, will make it quicker and easier to make arrests in the future.

"We have approved the DNA testing law and approved the additional funding. We are prepared to approve anything needed to boost security measures in the country," independent MP Jamal al-Omar told AFP.

Going beyond a genetic census - here’s something way beyond banking one’s own blood. - The domestication of DNA progresses - how far away are we for growing our own new organs.
Of the 4,000 Americans waiting for heart transplants, only 2,500 will receive new hearts in the next year. Even for those lucky enough to get a transplant, the biggest risk is the their bodies will reject the new heart and launch a massive immune reaction against the foreign cells. To combat the problems of organ shortage and decrease the chance that a patient’s body will reject it, researchers have been working to create synthetic organs from patients’ own cells. Now a team of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has gotten one step closer, using adult skin cells to regenerate functional human heart tissue, according to a study published recently in the journal Circulation Research.

Ideally, scientists would be able to grow working hearts from patients’ own tissues, but they’re not quite there yet. That’s because organs have a particular architecture. It's easier to grow them in the lab if they have a scaffolding on which the cells can build, like building a house with the frame already constructed.

While this isn’t the first time heart tissue has been grown in the lab, it’s the closest researchers have come to their end goal: Growing an entire working human heart. But the researchers admit that they’re not quite ready to do that. They are next planning to improve their yield of pluripotent stem cells (a whole heart would take tens of billions, one researcher said in a press release), find a way to help the cells mature more quickly, and perfecting the body-like conditions in which the heart develops. In the end, the researchers hope that they can create individualized hearts for their patients so that transplant rejection will no longer be a likely side effect.

And how soon until the domestication of DNA transforms to an industrial scale capacity.
Living factories of the future
Scientists are designing cells that can manufacture drugs, food and materials — and even act as diagnostic biosensors. But first they must agree on a set of engineering tools.
From an evolutionary perspective, yeast has no business producing a pain killer. But by re-engineering the microbe's genome, Christina Smolke at Stanford University in California has made it do precisely that. Smolke and her team turned yeast into a biofactory that, by starting with sugar as a raw ingredient, makes the potent pain-relief drug hydrocodone.

This feat is a prime example of synthetic biology, in which scientists reprogram cells to replicate products found in nature — or even make more-specialized materials that would never normally be produced by a natural organism.

Synthetic biologists are ambitious. “We'd all love to imagine a world where we could adapt biology to manufacture any product renewably, quickly and on demand,” says Michael Jewett, a synthetic biologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Groups around the world are engineering yeast, bacteria and other cells to make plastics, biofuels, medicines and even textiles, with the goal of creating living factories that are cheaper, simpler and more sustainable than their industrial counterparts. For instance, the biomaterials company Spiber Inc. in Tsuruoka, Japan, has reprogrammed bacteria to churn out spider silk for use in strong, lightweight winter clothing.

Our microbial ecologies have many significant impacts on our health and well-being. While most of us have been educated to consider our personal bacterial residents as largely worrisome - there is a sea change in the scientific view of their positive impact. But also an increasing understanding of their very real potential for negative impact.
Controversial New Push to Tie Microbes to Alzheimer's Disease
A journal article says herpes virus and Lyme disease bacteria are behind the mind-robbing illness, but not all researchers are convinced
Scientists have long puzzled over the root causes of Alzheimer's disease, a devastating and typically fatal condition that currently denies more than five million Americans their cognition and memory. But in a provocative editorial soon to be published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a cadre of scientists argue that the complex disease may have a surprisingly simple trigger: tiny brain-infecting microbes. This controversial view, which is not new, has long been dismissed as outlandish, but a growing body of work suggests it may be worth considering and further studying. If researchers can prove the theory and iron out the many argued-over details—both formidable tasks, as brain infections are difficult to study—Alzheimer's could become a preventable illness.

The editorial, signed by 31 scientists around the world, argues that in certain vulnerable individuals—such as those with the APOE ε4 gene variant, a known Alzheimer’s risk factor—common microbial infections can infect the aging brain and cause debilitating damage. These microbes may include herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the ubiquitous virus that causes cold sores as well as Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause pneumonia and Lyme disease, respectively.

This is a must see - the emergence of smart dust is very close - what this means is that everything we buy can have an RFID chip - a box of cereal, a shirt (each strand of fabric), a pencil, a sheet of paper in a pad of paper… even paper money become digital and traceable …. let your imagination run…
The data is written during the fabrication process, using ROM, and is therefore non-rewritable, providing a high level of authenticity. “By taking advantage of the merits of compactness, high authenticity and wireless communication, and combining it with Internet technology, the µ-Chip may be utilized in a broad range of applications such as security, transportation, amusement, traceability and logistics”
the enhanced compactness and thinness of the new chip has further broadened the range of possible applications, including gift certificates that can be authenticated. The new RFID “powder” can also be incorporated into thin paper, such as currency, creating so-called “bugged” money.
What was only a theoretical concept in 2001 has now become a reality
Hitachi Develops World’s Smallest RFID Chip
The Japanese giant Hitachi has developed the world’s smallest and thinnest Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip. Measuring only 0.15 x 0.15 millimeters in size and 7.5 micrometers thick, the wireless chip is a smaller version of the previous record holder – Hitachi’s 0.4 x 0.4 mm “Micro-Chip”. The company used semiconductor miniaturization and electron beam technology to write data on the chip substrates to achieve this decrease in size. The new chips have a wide range of potential applications from military to transportation, logistics and even consumer electronics.

Nicknamed “Powder” or “Dust”, these chips consist of 128-bit ROM (Read Only Memory) that can store a 38-digit number. Hitachi says the distance between each circuit element was reduced using the Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) process, where an insulation layer and a monocrystalline silicon layer are formed upon the silicon base substrate, and the transistor is then formed on this SOI substrate. When compared to the conventional process where a transistor is formed directly upon the silicon substrate, this technology significantly reduces parasitic capacitance and current leakage, improving the transistor’s performance. The SOI process also prevents the interference between neighboring devices, which often causes product malfunctions.

It maybe that the transistor-based Moore’s Law is coming up to an ultimate barrier - but given dust-like sensors and the continuing decrease in the cost of computing (including the cloud) - we remain at the very birthing of the digital environment and the Internet of Things.
The Promise of a $9 Computer
For those living at or near the poverty line, the expense of a computer is out of the question. But a new low-cost device could change that and more.
Consider how much it costs to read this article. Forget about subscription costs; there are none. And let's take the Internet cost out too, because either you have access for the cost of a cup of coffee, or the time it takes to get a library card. But, the device you're using to read it? A newspaper or magazine costs a few or several bucks, but whatever you're using to read this—laptop, phone with a data plan, tablet—costs at least a couple hundred.

That's not an outrageous cost for those with a steady income, or without hefty bills to pay, or sans debt. But for those living at or near the poverty line—$20,090 for a family of three—it's a significant chunk of change. What if that cost was reduced to only nine dollars?

That's the thinking behind a new computer that may be a game changer for heightening technology literacy.

Here is some great news - and more evidence of the phase transition in energy geo-politics.
Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Have Now Been Flat for Two Years Running
The International Energy Agency says emissions growth has decoupled from global economic growth.
New data published by the International Energy Agency extends the surprising finding, discovered last year, that global carbon dioxide emissions have stopped growing despite continued economic growth. The latest data show the trend has continued for a second consecutive year, which the IEA says is a result of renewable energy accounting for 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015. China’s slowing economic growth has played a key role in these figures as well, though, and with India and several other developing economies set to grow substantially over the next several years, it’s not clear how long we can expect this “decoupling” trend to continue.

The IEA and the Global Carbon Project, an international group of climate researchers, have now independently concluded that China’s emissions appear to have declined in 2015. This reflects a substantial drop in coal use that corresponds with a slowdown in construction, but also with actions taken by the Chinese government to curb coal consumption for the sake of reducing air pollution. China has pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030, but it could be that we have already seen the peak more than a decade early.

And to add more ‘fuel’ (pun intended) to the picture of stabilizing (and plausibly decreasing) carbon & other greenhouse gas emissions this is heartening - a nice graph and article from the World Economic Forum.
But it's not just that solar is becoming cheaper – it's also that fossil fuel generation is becoming more expensive. That's because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is almost nothing, whereas coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. Power companies will choose the free power whenever they can, which means less is required from the fossil fuel power stations and the marginal cost of their power rises.
Is solar set to take over the world?
It's the largest power plant of its kind. Built in the Moroccan desert, the $765 million Noor-Ouarzazate complex is set to power over a million homes.

Even a few years ago, a project of this scale in the North African desert would almost certainly have been an oil or gas power station. But the Noor-Ouarzazate complex runs on the power of the sun.

It is a sign of how far solar power has come that such large infrastructure projects are now being built. That the scheme was partly funded through a loan from the World Bank also shows how solar is becoming mainstream.

Of course, concern over the use of fossil fuels and global warming is a large part of solar’s current success. But the reason it is doing quite so well, quite so quickly really comes down to price.

The cost of power generated by solar has plummeted to the point where, in many parts of the world, it is now close to coal or gas generated electricity.

Is transportation facing another looming disruption (besides the self-driving vehicles)?
Transpod's dream: Hyperloop high-speed travel between cities
Toronto startup aims to have commercial concept by 2020 for Hyperloop travel proposed by Elon Musk
Imagine you could travel from Montreal to Toronto in 30 minutes after buying a ticket to ride inside an aluminum pod that travelled at high speed inside a low-pressure tube.

That's the dream of Toronto startup Transpod, which has taken up the challenge posed by SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk to design what he calls the "fifth mode of transportation."

Sebastien Gendron, founder of Transpod, says the company is working with the University of Toronto toward the goal of having a commercial prototype by 2020.

And if that dream seems too dreamy.
Slovakia reaches deal with HTT for first Hyperloop in Europe
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has reached an agreement with the government of Slovakia to explore building a local Hyperloop system.
The next steps in this project will include identifying a route that can connect three European capitals, Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, with Vienna in Austria and Budapest in Hungary.

HTT is a US-based research firm that was formed using a crowd collaboration approach to develop a transportation system based on the Hyperloop concept, which was envisioned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in 2013.

Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation concept by Tesla Motors and Elon Musk that is designed to move pods of people at high speed. The Bratislava-to-Vienna route will take approximately eight minutes at Hyperloop's full speed and the Bratislava-to-Budapest route ten minutes.

For Serious Fun
This is a great site - and these authors are worth following - for anyone who loves language including a current update on the evolution of doublespeak.
The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language
Spinglish—the devious dialect of English used by professional spin doctors—is all around us. And the fact is, until you’ve mastered it, politicians and corporations (not to mention your colleagues and friends) will continue putting things over on you, and generally getting the better of you, every minute of every day—without your even knowing it.

However, once you perfect the art of terminological inexactitude, you’ll be the one manipulating and one-upping everyone else! And here’s the beauty part: Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, authors of the New York Times semi-bestseller The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook, have compiled this handy yet astonishingly comprehensive lexicon and translation guide—a fictionary, if you will—to help you do just that. If you want to succeed in business (or politics, sports, the arts, or life in general) without really lying, this is the book for you! (Your results may vary.)
Here’s the same authors in action - analysing three of the Presidential debates - well worth the read - for the joy of what language does to the capacity to know. :)

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