Thursday, August 18, 2016

Friday Thinking 19 Aug 2016

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9


John Lennon & Yoko Ono Interview with Marshall McLuhan - part 1

“The Blockchain as a technology will get more and more ready for mass usage. As it is mostly open source, developers around the world contribute into the technology and usability of the applications. Security, scalability and usability of the applications are main features which need to be improved, at which point it will definitely disrupt old business models. The Blockchain allows one to design businesses and services without "central point of failure" or minimise that role and create totally new business models. Additionally, it will make businesses and services much more transparent, secure and trustful. And many more services can be automated of-course.”

The Chicken and Egg: Blockchain Existed Before Bitcoin

IN 2013, WHEN University of Birmingham computer scientist Flavio Garcia and a team of researchers were preparing to reveal a vulnerability that allowed them to start the ignition of millions of Volkswagen cars and drive them off without a key, they were hit with a lawsuit that delayed the publication of their research for two years. But that experience doesn’t seem to have deterred Garcia and his colleagues from probing more of VW’s flaws: Now, a year after that hack was finally publicized, Garcia and a new team of researchers are back with another paper that shows how Volkswagen left not only its ignition vulnerable but the keyless entry system that unlocks the vehicle’s doors, too. And this time, they say, the flaw applies to practically every car Volkswagen has sold since 1995.

A New Wireless Hack Can Unlock 100 Million Volkswagens

Researchers who uncovered a security key that protects Windows devices as they boot up say their discovery is proof that encryption backdoors do not work.
The pair of researchers, credited by their hacker nicknames MY123 and Slipstream, found the cryptographic key protecting a feature called Secure Boot.

They believe the discovery highlights a problem with requests law enforcement officials have made for technology companies to provide police with some form of access to otherwise virtually unbreakable encryption that might be used by criminals.

“Microsoft implemented a ‘secure golden key’ system. And the golden keys got released from [Microsoft's] own stupidity,” wrote the researchers in their report, in a section addressed by name to the FBI.
“Now, what happens if you tell everyone to make a ‘secure golden key’ system? Hopefully you can add 2+2.”

Researchers crack Microsoft feature, encryption backdoors similarly crackable

This is a MUST READ article - the clearest explanation of why we need a fiber optic to the home infrastructure - if we are going to unleash the wealth that a digital environment can create and enable.
It’s just plain physics. In order to work, 99% of any “5G” wireless deployment will have to be fiber running very close to every home and business.
you wouldn’t want that fiber plus 5G connection to be controlled by any one player; handing one actor that power would enable it to play all kinds of games with data caps and overages that would be bad for innovation, economic growth, and the well-being of citizens.

The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype.

5G is just a marketing term. The connectivity we crave — cheap, fast, ubiquitous — won’t happen without more fiber in the ground.
Here’s what you need to understand: “5G” is a marketing term. There is no 5G standard — yet. The International Telecommunications Union plans to have standards ready by 2020. So for the moment “5G” refers to a handful of different kinds of technologies that are predicted, but not guaranteed, to emerge at some point in the next 3 to 7 years. (3GPP, a carrier consortium that will be contributing to the ITU process, said last year that until an actual standard exists, “’5G’ will remain a marketing & industry term that companies will use as they see fit.” At least they’re candid.) At the moment, advertising something as “5G” carries no greater significance than saying it’s “blazing fast” or “next generation” — but because “5G” sounds technical, it’s good for sales. We are a long way away from actual deployment.

Now, the lack of a standard won’t stop carriers from marketing “5G” technologies in the meantime. But because we won’t have a standard they won’t be accountable for what they’re offering.

Second, this “wireless fiber” will never happen unless we have… more fiber. Real fiber, in the form of fiber optic cables reaching businesses and homes. (This is the “last mile” problem; fiber already runs between cities.)

This is a technology well worth watching - it has the potential to massively disrupt certain domains of transportation and connect the world in ways hard to imagine now (e.g. how we supply the Arctic). Although it focuses on the spider robots that fix the airships - the airships are what’s new. No Roads - No Problems. There are two very short videos.

How Lockheed Martin's SPIDER Blimp-Fixing Robot Works

Airships, which are distinct from blimps by being much more rigid and sounding much less silly, are one of those unusual technologies that has been undergoing a resurgence recently after falling out of favor half a century ago. Airships have potential to be a very practical and cost effective way to move massive amounts of stuff from one place to another place, especially if the another place is low on infrastructure and has a reasonable amount of patience.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has been developing a particular kind of airship called a hybrid airship, which uses a combination of aerodynamics and lifting gas to get airborne, for the last decade or so. The P-791 technology demonstrator first flew in 2006, and a company called Hybrid Enterprises is taking Lockheed’s airship technology to commercialization. Their LMH-1 will be able to carry over 20,000 kilograms of whatever you want, along with 19 passengers, up to 2,500 kilometers, and it’s going to be a real thing: Hybrid Airships recently closed a US $480 million contract to built 12 of them for cargo delivery.

This is looming on the horizon - much closer and faster than we can imagine. This is a great discussion.
What will transportation look like 20 years from now?
I do think one of the fundamental shifts the transportation world will pivot around is a movement by all the players to recognize that the unit of economic optimization will have moved sometime during this period from vehicles sold to trips provided. Fully autonomous cars are going to be more expensive. Society will find ways to better utilize those assets. Cars are used just 4 percent of their time—96 percent of the time they’re sitting in parking spaces, and each car has somewhere on the order of three or four parking spaces reserved in its name in our great land. That’s a shame, especially for cities.

Google’s Driverless-Car Czar on Taking the Human Out of the Equation

How John Krafcik went from mechanical to digital and why he thinks you have to go fully autonomous.
What can be learned from the Tesla fatality?
Well, first of all, it’s a tragedy. I mean, Joshua Brown lost his life. A couple of key points, though. One is, he was one of probably a hundred or so people who died that day in automotive fatalities, in the U.S. alone. You know the statistics: 35,000 fatalities, up 7 percent from the year prior. Globally, it’s over 1.2 million. It’s as if a 737 was crashing every hour of every day all year. From a macro standpoint, it’s a very, very big problem.

But we need to make sure we’re using the right language when we talk about what happened with that accident, because that wasn’t a self-driving car, what we refer to as an L4, or fully autonomous car. That was a car with traffic-aware cruise control and a lane-keeping function—an L2, where, for better or worse, it was the responsibility of the driver to be cautious. We, as humans, are fallible creatures. [The crash] confirms our sense that the route to full autonomy, though much harder, is the right route. And we’ve learned from experience what happens when you put really smart people with really clear instructions inside a car with capabilities like that Tesla one.
Back in 2012 we had a technology that was very similar. We let Google employees test it, after lengthy training sessions imploring them to pay attention at all times. We wanted to see how they were interacting with the technology. After three months we saw enough to say this is definitely a problem. People would take their eyes off the road for some period, look down at their phones and start texting while in the driver’s seat. Turning around to the back to get their laptop because they needed to plug their phone in. Right? When you’re hurtling down the road at 60 miles an hour in a two-ton vehicle?

That takes us to the fundamental conundrum of the L2 semi-autonomous solutions: As they get better and better, but not quite good enough for humans to zone out entirely, then risk increases. So we need to take the human out of the loop. With L4, which is our focus at Google, the idea is, you don’t need a steering wheel or controls because we’re going to take care of everything, and you just have to say, “I want to go to that destination,” and the car will take you there.

While on the topic of self-driving vehicles (air-land-sea) here’s what’s coming. The image alone is worth the look - the chip is smaller than the distance between the ear-nose of the head on a dime.

MIT and DARPA Pack Lidar Sensor Onto Single Chip

Light detection and ranging, or lidar, is a sensing technology based on laser light. It’s similar to radar, but can have a higher resolution, since the wavelength of light is about 100,000 times smaller than radio wavelengths. For robots, this is very important: Since radar cannot accurately image small features, a robot equipped with only a radar module would have a hard time grasping a complex object. At the moment, primary applications of lidar are autonomous vehicles and robotics, but also include terrain and ocean mapping and UAVs. Lidar systems are integral to almost all autonomous vehicles and many other robots that operate autonomously in commercial or industrial environments.

Our lidar chips are produced on 300-millimeter wafers, making their potential production cost on the order of $10 each at production volumes of millions of units per year. These on-chip devices promise to be orders of magnitude smaller, lighter, and cheaper than lidar systems available on the market today. They also have the potential to be much more robust because of the lack of moving parts. The non-mechanical beam steering in this device is 1,000 times faster than what is currently achieved in mechanical lidar systems, and potentially allows for an even faster image scan rate. This can be useful for accurately tracking small high-speed objects that are only in the lidar’s field of view for a short amount of time, which could be important for obstacle avoidance for high-speed UAVs.

The key new infrastructure of the early 21st Century is fiber-to-every-home and ubiquitous free urban wifi. The electrification of North America would not have happened without public and cooperative initiatives
The New York Times reports that around 40 electric coöperatives are building out high-speed Internet infrastructure, while many towns are also leaning on old electricity laws to secure funding to do the same. Such arrangements obviously aren’t a new idea, but in 2010 only one existed across the whole of the U.S. to supply broadband. They tend to be be customer-owned, and in many cases the initiatives don’t just use the same idea as their electrical predecessors—they’re also hanging fiber-optic cable between the same poles that were installed decades ago.

Locally Owned Internet Is an Antidote for the Digital Divide

Borrowing ideas and infrastructure from the early 20th century, rural America is finally getting the digital connections that it deserves.
Broadband coöperatives are cropping up throughout rural America, bringing high-speed Internet to places that would otherwise be without.

Telecom and cable companies don’t like delivering Internet infrastructure to the sticks. Sadly for residents of remote regions, the numbers simply don’t stack up: the cost of hardware and installation can’t be paid off by the small number users at the end of the cabling. Meanwhile, broadband in urban areas continues to improve, exacerbating what the Federal Communications Commission has referred to as a “persistent digital divide.”

It’s not a new story. Electric companies felt the same way about building out infrastructure in remote areas in the early 1900s. Back then, local coöperatives took the initiative and installed their own hardware, hanging electrical cables in order to supply small settlements and farms with a utility that changed lives.

This is related to not just the driverless car but to the ever growing prosthetic extensions we are surrounding ourselves with - including implants and algorithms that are becoming our AI-ssistants.

“I Want to Know What Code Is Running Inside My Body”

Marie Moe is a cyborg who runs on proprietary software she can’t trust. She’d like to change that.
At age 33, Marie Moe learned that her heart might fail her at any moment. A computer security expert in Norway, she found out she has a fairly common heart condition that disrupts her normal pulse, so she had to get a pacemaker. The surgery was quick and uncomplicated. Just a few weeks later she was able to travel to London for a course on ethical hacking.

She felt fine, until she was climbing the stairs in Covent Garden, one of the deepest stations in the London Underground. Suddenly, something went very wrong with her heart. “I felt like I was going to die,” she says. “It was a horrible feeling. I had no breath left, I didn’t know what was happening.” Back in Norway, it took her cardiac technicians months to figure out what had happened: The heart rate limits on her pacemaker had been set incorrectly, so that as she exerted herself, the pacemaker’s default safety mode switched on, cutting her heart rate instantaneously from 160 beats per minute to 80.

Why did that happen, and why did it take so long to figure it out? She’s not quite sure, but she obtained her own medical records and saw notes suggesting that the programming device the technicians used to interrogate her pacemaker either had a faulty user interface or a software bug.

She started digging around some more. She found the technical manual for her pacemaker online, and learned that her device had remote monitoring capabilities that worried her. To a computer security professional, wireless communication was just one more way that the device was vulnerable to malicious tinkering.

Then she bought a pacemaker programmer online, and she and other hackers figured out that it could be used to update the code on her implant. She didn’t hack her own device, though — she was mainly alarmed that she’d entrusted her heartbeat to a stranger’s code, which might get updated without her knowledge. “I want to know what code is running inside my body,” she says. “If someone wants to alter that code, I want to make an informed decision.”

This is truly a fascinating development - a new application of the cyberworld. The application of Virtual Reality tools may become a key part of physiotherapy as soon as possible after injury.
Exactly why such techniques may help isn’t known. One theory is that when people make repeated efforts to willfully alter their EEG signal, it may help re-establish connections to remaining nerve fibers below the injury area. “We may have rekindled the remaining nerves to be able to send messages from the brain of the patients to the periphery,” says Nicolelis.

In Rehab Clinics, a Possible New Role for Brain-Computer Interfaces

Paralyzed people regained some motion after operating a brain-controlled robotic exoskeleton.
Eight paraplegics who used their thoughts to operate a robotic exoskeleton regained partial feeling and control over their legs, according to a study that points to a possible new type of rehabilitation therapy.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, is a follow-up to a highly publicized spectacle during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in which a paralyzed patient was shown on television using a brain-controlled robotic exoskeleton to kick a soccer ball.
The Walk Again Project, as it is known, is led by Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian-born neuroscientist and longtime professor at Duke University, whose provocative work with brain-computer interfaces has kindled fanfare and skepticism.

The eight patients, who all had complete spinal cord injury, meaning they were paralyzed and had no sensation below the lesion, trained twice a week for a year using a brain-computer interface to control either an avatar seen through virtual-reality goggles or a robotic harness.

There’s a growing body of evidence that such biofeedback—like observing an avatar you control—may help people recover from injuries, including strokes. “The approach they are aiming for is enhancing the neurological signals to induce plasticity, the healing of the brain,” says Bolu Ajiboye, a brain-computer interface researcher from Case Western University.

This is a long article exploring several dimensions of AI in relation to learning and language. It’s worth the read for anyone interested in an accessible summary of machine learning and language.
Google is considering several options for commercializing the technology, including some sort of intelligent assistant and a tool for health care. Afterward, I asked him about the importance of being able to communicate with the AI behind such systems. “That’s an interesting question,” he said after a pause. “For some applications it may be important. Like in health care, it may be important to know why a decision is being made.”

Indeed, as AI systems become increasingly sophisticated and complex, it is hard to envision how we will collaborate with them without language—without being able to ask them, “Why?” More than this, the ability to communicate effortlessly with computers would make them infinitely more useful, and it would feel nothing short of magical. After all, language is our most powerful way of making sense of the world and interacting with it. It’s about time that our machines caught up.

AI’s Language Problem

Machines that truly understand language would be incredibly useful. But we don’t know how to build them.
Yet despite  impressive advances, one fundamental capability remains elusive: language. Systems like Siri and IBM’s Watson can follow simple spoken or typed commands and answer basic questions, but they can’t hold a conversation and have no real understanding of the words they use. If AI is to be truly transformative, this must change.

Even though AlphaGo cannot speak, it contains technology that might lead to greater language understanding. At companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as at leading academic AI labs, researchers are attempting to finally solve that seemingly intractable problem, using some of the same AI tools—including deep learning—that are responsible for AlphaGo’s success and today’s AI revival. Whether they succeed will determine the scale and character of what is turning into an artificial-­intelligence revolution. It will help determine whether we have machines we can easily communicate with—machines that become an intimate part of our everyday life—or whether AI systems remain mysterious black boxes, even as they become more autonomous. “There’s no way you can have an AI system that’s humanlike that doesn’t have language at the heart of it,” says Josh Tenenbaum, a professor of cognitive science and computation at MIT. “It’s one of the most obvious things that set human intelligence apart.”

Perhaps the same techniques that let AlphaGo conquer Go will finally enable computers to master language, or perhaps something else will also be required. But without language understanding, the impact of AI will be different. Of course, we can still have immensely powerful and intelligent software like AlphaGo. But our relationship with AI may be far less collaborative and perhaps far less friendly. “A nagging question since the beginning was ‘What if you had things that were intelligent in the sense of being effective, but not like us in the sense of not empathizing with what we are?’” says Terry Winograd, a professor emeritus at Stanford University. “You can imagine machines that are not based on human intelligence, which are based on this big-data stuff, and which run the world.”

Will AI progress continue to accelerate - this is an interesting perspective - regardless of the motives behind the move. This may be a weak signal of a more significant imperative to develop new business models for the near-zero marginal cost economy and the emergence of social computing as the work paradigm of value creation.
Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, all of the majors including Amazon, IBM, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Baidu, Yahoo, and Microsoft have made their code open source and available to anyone.  And Google has even offered the use of part of its here-to-fore proprietary deep learning TensorFlow AI for free to it commercial customers.
Data scientists may be rare but those with expertise in Deep Learning are even more rare.  For all these major players going open source helps recruit top AI talent.

Deep Learning for Everyone – and (Almost) Free

The most important developments in Deep Learning and AI in the last year may not be technical at all, but rather a major change in business model.  In the space of about six months all the majors have made their Deep Learning IP open source, hoping to gain on the competition from the power of the broader developer base and wide adoption.

As with traditional advanced analytic algorithms the foundations were laid in academia.  There are at least 50 different Deep Learning tool sets available and most are already open source.  Over the last five years or so this has attracted a number of startups also aspiring to build the perfect AI platform.  However, the dominance of the major players probably signals that this opportunity for independent platform development is over, except perhaps as takeover targets.

It’s interesting to note that Apple, pretty much alone among the majors continues to resist going open source and keeps its code proprietary.  It’s unclear how long they will be able to hold out on their reputation alone.  Open source is a field attracting both solid researchers and developers from industry and academia, but also the individual performers from whom innovation frequently arises.

And in line with accelerating progress in AI and also in the “Moore’s Law is Dead - Long Live Moore’s Law” file. Despite nearing a limit in the shrinking of traditional microchips - new design architectures for specialized purposes can continue the curve of power and price.
...although graphics chips are much more efficient at running deep-learning software than Intel’s conventional CPUs, chips specifically designed for the task should be even more efficient.

Nervana claims the chip can do as much neural processing as 200 microprocessors or 10 GPUs, in large part because it features a new memory technology that lets it process far more bits at the same time.

Intel Buys a Startup to Catch Up in Deep Learning

Acquisition should let Nervana Systems speed development of its chips radically redesigned for artificial intelligence.
Earlier this year, Nervana Systems CEO Naveen Rao was asked what would happen if Intel began attacking the fast-growing market for chips designed specifically for running “deep learning” software.

“They would be unstoppable,” he said.
Now, Rao will be a key player in Intel’s attempt to catch up in one of the most promising new silicon markets to emerge since the smartphone. Intel revealed Tuesday that it is buying Nervana and its deep-learning hardware and software for an undisclosed amount.

The acquisition marks a departure for Intel and comes at a crucial moment. The company became the world’s largest chip maker with a single-minded strategy to make its x86 microprocessors the standard for running a huge swath of applications, from solitaire to massive payroll systems. Nervana and other startups believe deep learning requires entirely new chip architectures that work more like the human brain—by processing millions of random bits of data to come up with an insight, rather than by running an algorithm created by a programmer. (You can see how Rao described this in detail at EmTech Digital in May.)

Here’s something I think I would be willing to try - the beginning of prosthetic new senses and a deep extension of our sense of proprioception within and upon the world. From artificial intelligence to enhanced memory-analysis-intelligence to artificial senses extending our mind deeply into our ecologies.
“By constantly sensing the magnetic north, it gives us a whole new perception about our continuous orientation with earth and nature, which is another major pillar to connect us even more to our planet and the forces that drive it,” he said.

Your First Step to Becoming A Cyborg: Getting This Pierced In You

If you’ve always wanted to be a cyborg, an artificially-enhanced human with bionic technology, but you’ve always been too afraid of getting a chip in your wrist, North Sense might be your answer. The new product, which vibrates every time it senses the magnetic north, is hinged into your skin with piercing barbells.

Created by Cyborg Nest, a new company and online shop, North Sense is the first cyborg product in a series that will launch over the coming year. The company will show off its progress at an event in Las Vegas on July 26.

North Sense is what they call an “artificial sense” that vibrates each time you’re facing magnetic north, which humans have no natural ability to sense.
“We believe that if we could sense something that animals can sense, we can understand more about this world,” said Babitz.
Here’s the company website - for anyone who wants to spend $350

This is a project that is on an ‘inevitable’ trajectory - inevitable in the sense that conservatively - by 2015 - there will be at least one global mobile service offering services anywhere in the world without ‘roaming’ fees - access no matter where you are.

APT and Chinese partners plan global mobile broadband network

Satellite fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong has created a joint venture with mainland Chinese institutions to launch a global mobile broadband satellite network aimed principally at the aeronautical and maritime markets, APT said July 23.

The network, if launched as planned, would catapult APT from its current position as a midsize regional satellite operator into a global player. Other companies with similar global-mobility ambitions include fleet operators ViaSat Inc., Intelsat, SES and Inmarsat.

APT has been among the early adopters in Asia of high-throughput-satellite (HTS) technology, which slices its coverage into dozens or hundreds of small spot beams to permit the reuse of radio spectrum and multiply total throughput capacity.

Re-use, recycle, reduce - this is a brilliant way to metamorph some of the disused oil infrastructure to green uses.
"There are thousands of wells in Alberta that are just sitting there," said Anderson, who formally submitted the proposal on Monday. "Instead of saying we need federal money to clean them up, we can use them for other purposes."
Nick Wilson, director of the Living Energy Project, said abandoning a disused well can cost up to C$300,000, while converting it to geothermal and putting a greenhouse on top would be less than half that.

Geothermal makeover eyed for Alberta's old oil wells

Disused oil and gas wells dotting Canada's energy heartland may bear fruit for Alberta's farmers under a proposal to use waste heat from the idle facilities to allow crops to grow, even in the country's harsh winter conditions.

Provincial legislator Shaye Anderson wants the Alberta government to allow an old well to be converted to geothermal energy to heat an 8,000 square-foot greenhouse. Currently the wells can only be used for extracting hydrocarbons.

The Living Energy Project pilot could help tackle the issue of Alberta's 78,000 disused wells and provide jobs for thousands of unemployed oilfield services workers, laid off as a result of the two-year slump in global crude prices.

If accepted, the plan would mark the first time in Canada that disused wells have been used as a tool in agriculture. In the United States, there are two projects in Wyoming and one in North Dakota where oil wells are used for power generation.

On the energy storage frontier - this next development could be very significant.
"We have a fighting chance of bringing down the capital cost to $100 a kilowatt hour, and that will change the world. It could complement wind and solar on a very large scale,"

Cheap $100 per kilowatt grid scale flow batteries appear in the 2020-2025 timeframe

Professor Michael Aziz, leader of the Harvard project, said there are still problems to sort out with the "calendar life" of storage chemicals but the basic design is essentially proven.
A Harvard team is addressing the challenges of grid storage by designing a flow battery based on inexpensive organic molecules in aqueous (water-based) electrolyte. The team has focused on non-toxic quinone molecules, which can be found in plants such as rhubarb, as an electroactive chemical that can reversibly store energy in a water-based solution at room temperature. The group employed theoretical and organic synthetic methods to evaluate hundreds of thousands of possible quinone-based chemicals that might offer the necessary electrochemical potential, solubility in water, and thermodynamic stability. The first demonstration of these systems, 2,7-anthraquinone disulfonic acid coupled to a bromine solution, has a reduction-oxidation window of 0.8 V. Details of this early, proof of concept battery were published in 2014

There are some very interesting ideas and possibles in this article - well worth the read - we still have to think about near zero marginal cost of alternative energy sources and the Idea of floating farms - very interesting.

New desalination tech could help quench global thirst

Scientists seek cheaper strategies for producing freshwater
...water woes have people thirstily eyeing the more than one sextillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans and some underground aquifers with high salt content. For drinking or irrigation, the salt must come out of all those liters. And while desalination has been implemented in some areas — such as Israel and drought-stricken California
— for much of the world, salt-removal is a prohibitively expensive energy drain.

Recent innovations could bring costs down and make the technology more accessible. A new wonder material may make desalination plants more efficient. Solar-powered disks could also serve up freshwater with no need for electricity. Once freshwater is on tap, coastal floating farms could supply food to Earth’s most parched places, one scientist proposes.

In 2015, more than 18,000 desalination plants worldwide had the annual capacity to produce 31.6 trillion liters of freshwater across 150 countries. While still less than 1 percent of worldwide freshwater usage, desalination production is two-thirds higher than it was in 2008. Driving the boom is a decades-long drop in energy requirements thanks to innovations such as energy-efficient water pumps, improved membranes and plant configurations that use outbound water to help pressurize incoming water. Seawater desalination in the 1970s consumed as much as 20 kilowatt-hours of energy per cubic meter of produced fresh-water; modern plants typically require just over three kilowatt-hours.

The progress in the Blockchain - Distributed Ledger technology requires more than hardware-software innovation - it also involves serious institutional innovations.
"We are bringing together accounting blockchain industry experts to explore and to determine the value of a joint accounting and blockchain industry consortium."

'Big Four' Accounting Firms Meet to Consider Blockchain Consortium

Blockchain representatives from each of the 'Big Four' accounting firms are set to meet this morning with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to discuss establishing a distributed ledger consortium.

Held at Microsoft's headquarters in New York City, the event marks the first meeting between blockchain specialists from Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC. Collectively, the four firms last year generated $123.7bn revenue.

The meeting is being hosted by ethereum-focused startup Consensys, but the attendees will be considering a wide-range of possible blockchain solutions.

According to Consensys head of blockchain accounting, Griffin Anderson, the series of roundtable discussions will center on how the accounting industry could work together to develop new blockchain standards.

If we believe the popular press - the world continues to get worse. But here’s an honest alternative accounting of the current state of the world. This is worth the read and very worth remembering when we think of the future possibilities.

The Decline of War

We are experiencing one of the least discussed, yet most remarkable cultural shifts of all time: war, one of our species’ most abiding and defining social practices, is at its lowest ebb ever
On Wednesday 21st June, the Colombian government agreed to a ceasefire with the country’s largest rebel group. For most people, this story would have passed unnoticed, buried amongst the headlines. That’s a pity. Not only does it mark the end of a 50 year old war that has killed more than 220,000 people, it also signals the end of official armed conflict in the entire western hemisphere of the planet. It means that all of the war in the world is now contained to an arc stretching from Nigeria to Pakistan, containing less than a sixth of the world’s population. If you can tear your attention away from the 24 hour news cycle, you’ll be astonished to hear that we are experiencing one of the least discussed, yet most remarkable cultural shifts of all time: war, one of our species’ most abiding and defining social practices, is at its lowest ebb ever.

The immediate reaction to a claim like that is of course, disbelief. The brutal conflict in Syria has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and displaced millions. We are in the midst of the largest refugee crisis of modern times, and terrorism is also at an all-time high. Every night our screens are saturated with images of hollowed out buildings in Fallujah and Aleppo, masked men flying black flags in the desert, and the faces of the latest innocent victims in Baghdad, Lagos, Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

But, as Joshua S. Goldstein and Steven Pinker point out in a recent Boston Globe editorial, our obsession with these stories blind us to a far greater truth. Outside the Middle East, war is effectively disappearing. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is on the retreat from many of its home terrories. In the Central African Republic, a newly elected government has brought genuine hope for lasting peace. In Ukraine, a shaky ceasefire is holding despite partial flare ups. We have short memories too. We forget about the civil wars that ended recently in Chad, Sudan, Peru, Iran, Sri Lanka, India and Angola and have forgotten earlier ones from a generation ago in places like Greece, Tibet, Algeria, Indonesia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique that killed millions of people.

This is fascinating - for all of us who have thought that at least by now we’ve learned all there is to know about fire. The 2 min videos are must see.

Researchers hope to use firenadoes to clean up oil spills

Fire tornadoes -- or 'firenadoes' -- can be wild and unpredictable, but a team of researchers at the University of Maryland are hoping to harness their power, transforming them into an eco-friendly alternative to cleaning up oil spills.
While studying firenadoes, the team discovered a new type of flame called the "blue whirl".

“Blue whirls evolve from traditional yellow fire whirls. The yellow color is due to radiating soot particles, which form when there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely,” Elaine Oran, one of the study's co-authors said in a statement.
“Blue in the whirl indicates there is enough oxygen for complete combustion, which means less or no soot, and is therefore a cleaner burn.”

Typical fire tornadoes tend to burn bright red or orange and are hard to predict, but scientists say blue whirls are more stable.

For Interest
I think this is ‘about time’ - that said - I wouldn’t want to be on the committee choosing the winner.

Berggruen Institute Launches $1M Nobel Prize for Philosophy

I recently caught up with billionaire investor and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen regarding his recent launch of the $1M “Nobel Prize” for philosophy. The Berggruen Institute has added philosophy and culture as a key addition to its pre-existing focus on governance as a way to improve the state of the world by recognizing the next Socrates.

Nicolas Berggruen: Politics matter: imagine living in North vs. South Korea, or East vs. West Germany — same people, very different political systems. This is the impetus behind starting the Berggruen Institute. I felt that by having an impact on politics, we could make the biggest difference and contribution to people’s lives. Importantly, culture, which comes from philosophical and religious traditions, has shaped societies, which is why we added the Philosophy and Culture Center to complement the Institute’s Governance Center.

We have found that there is space for an independent institution such as ours that can draw on some of the greatest talent worldwide to come up with questions, proposals and reforms. Our mission is to contribute to the world of ideas and create useful change.

This is a fascinating conversation between Icons of the second half of the 20th Century.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono Interview with Marshall McLuhan - part 1

John Lennon & Yoko Ono Interview with Marshall McLuhan, University of Toronto, Canada - December 20, 1969

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