Thursday, November 24, 2016

Friday Thinking 25 Nov. 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


China’s Driverless Trucks Are Revving Their Engines

First communication became digitized and free to everyone. Then, when clean energy became free, things started to move quickly. Transportation dropped dramatically in price. It made no sense for us to own cars anymore, because we could call a driverless vehicle or a flying car for longer journeys within minutes. We started transporting ourselves in a much more organized and coordinated way when public transport became easier, quicker and more convenient than the car. Now I can hardly believe that we accepted congestion and traffic jams, not to mention the air pollution from combustion engines. What were we thinking?

… the breakthrough of the circular economy easier. When products are turned into services, no one has an interest in things with a short life span. Everything is designed for durability, repairability and recyclability. The materials are flowing more quickly in our economy and can be transformed to new products pretty easily. Environmental problems seem far away, since we only use clean energy and clean production methods. The air is clean, the water is clean and nobody would dare to touch the protected areas of nature because they constitute such value to our well being. In the cities we have plenty of green space and plants and trees all over. I still do not understand why in the past we filled all free spots in the city with concrete.

The new age of farm machines include weeding robots, self-driving tractors, and crop-spraying drones. The drivers: higher productivity, an aging human workforce (principal farmers are 58 years old on average), and the cost of employing humans (California's minimum wage increases could lead to an automation wave, according to some reports).

"If you take a very long view [of] the world of agriculture, you can see that employment has come down as a total share of the world population, while the amount of food produced has gone up. Productivity has dramatically increased and we see robots as the next step in enabling that," says Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, lead author of a new report about agricultural automation.

Other technologies will increasingly come on stream, though, including "scouts" that check on the health of plants, auto-steer tractors, and data-mapping drones.
Ghaffarzadeh sees drones and robots hastening a move to precision farming, where crops are managed in small batches, or even individually, instead of as whole fields. That, in turn, could reduce indiscriminate spraying with herbicides and pesticides, and the waste of costly inputs, like artificial fertilizers.

Why Agriculture Could Be Automated Before Other Industries

In the world's developed countries about 80 percent of the population use the internet. But only about 40 percent in developing countries and less than 15 percent in less-developed countries are online, according to a report by the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

In several of Africa's poorer and more fragile countries, only one person in 10 is on the internet. The offline population is female, elderly, less educated, poorer and lives in rural areas.

Globally, 47 percent of the world's population is online, still far short of a U.N. target of 60 percent by 2020. Some 3.9 billion people, more than half the world's population, are not. ITU expects 3.5 billion people to have access by the end of this year.

"In 2016, people no longer go online, they are online. The spread of 3G and 4G networks across the world had brought the internet to more and more people," the report said.

Almost half the world will be online by end of 2016; poorer countries will lag

It’s not even January and the predictions are beginning in earnest - Here’s one list looking at the world in 2076.

We’ve seen the future, and it will blow your mind

Futurology is doomed to failure, and a lot can happen in 60 years. But there are ways to make informed guesses about what is over the horizon
JOURNALISM has famously been described as “the first rough draft of history.” New Scientist‘s own brand of journalism – which is 60 years old this week – is a bit different. We aim to provide a first rough draft of the future.

Over the past 60 years we have not just reported new discoveries and inventions in science and technology. We have also tried to explain why they matter and where they’re likely to lead. That’s not easy. There can be very fine lines between testable predictions, educated guesswork and flights of fancy.

Many early issues of The New Scientist contain eerily prophetic stories about ideas and issues that would go on to shape the world – that rough draft of the future. We hope the same will be true of what we’re publishing today. But it is very much a rough draft: then, as now, attempting to predict the future in detail is a largely futile enterprise.

New Scientist is an optimistic publication. We think the future can be better than today. But we are not Panglossian. We do not simply insist that we reside in the best of all possible worlds; we think we have to make it so. That’s what humanity has always striven to do. And we only succeed if we think about the future.

In that spirit, in this issue we’re indulging in some educated guesswork about what might happen over the next 60 years. We have chosen scenarios that look plausible today – which might mean they look as naive as those jetpacks tomorrow. Perhaps you should think of this as a guide to what the future will almost certainly not be like.

This is really a Must View - a 47 min video presentation by Bruce Sterling - journalist and sci-fi writer. He’s acerbic, entertaining and pulls no punches in his critique, as he describes our times as one of ‘dark euphoria’. For anyone interested in a truly insightful description of the state of the Internet - this is it. For anyone who knows me - knows I’m a deep techno-optimist (not idealist nor utopian) - but this is deeply realist and tempers optimism with a fine view of our bio-tech-culture shadows.

Webstock ‘13: Bruce Sterling - What a feeling!

In a performance full of subtle shades of meaning highlighting the delicate ebb and flow of the agitations of the body, Bruce Sterling, renowned science fiction author, design essayist, Net critic and a founder of the EFF, will recreate the famous audition scene from iconic eighties movie Flashdance.

With a risk of overloading on Bruce Sterling - this is another very recent keynote by him making a call for an open-source movement for the Internet-of-Things and outlining an art project - human experiment about living in a world of the Internet of things.

ThingsCon15: Bruce Sterling (Keynote)

The experiment - Casa Jasmina has a website with lots of information.


“Casa Jasmina” is a two-year pilot project in the business space of domestic electronic networking, or, “the Internet of Things in the Home.” Our goal is to integrate traditional Italian skills in furniture and interior design with emergent skills in Italian open-source electronics.The project is a showplace inside the large industrial building already shared by Toolbox Co-Working, Fablab Torino and Officine Arduino.
Casa Jasmina showplace has three main functions:
  • A real-world testbed for hacks, experiments and innovative IoT and digital fabrication projects.
  • A curated space for public exposure of excellent artifacts and best practices.
  • A guest-house for occasional visitors to Toolbox, Officine Arduino and
  • Fablab Torino.
Although it resembles an apartment home, Casa Jasmina is actually a combination of lab, gallery space and B&B, so it needs dynamic management. Casa Jasmina is not merely a kitchen, library, bedroom, and bathroom. It’s a public interface for a larger Internet-of-Things process of building things, acquiring installing things, removing things, repairing and maintaining things, storing things, recording and linking to things, and, last but very importantly, getting rid of things.

We are building Casa Jasmina in order to encourage industries that will create tomorrow’s living spaces.

Casa Jasmina is an incubator, and its purpose is industry-boosting in the Torino and Piemonte IoT space. The successors of the Casa Jasmina project will be real homes with real, innovative products inside.

This is a short audiocast that tries to explain why enabling society to organize itself as a complex system (rather than a complicated mechanism) enables better adaptability and ultimately better decisions.

'Hierarchical organizartions are failing' - Yaneer Bar-Yam

The United States should not have a president at all due to a complex nature of the human society. That’s according to a new analysis conducted by researchers from the New England Complex System Institute. Their recent study has shown that the existing system of representative democracy in the U.S. is failing. Director of the study - Yaneer Bar-Yam -says that happens because the system is too complex for one individual – in this case a president - to be able to handle it. He goes on to explain that today's citizens expect that a president must know how to respond to the challenges of the world, but that idea is wrong. According to Mr. Bar-Yam, it would be more effective to have a networked system of governance. This means that small teams specialized in certain policies should work together to make decisions regarding any issues of concern. Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, Founding President of the New England Complex Systems Institute.

Here’s a 3 min video and article from ProPublica about what Facebook is doing with our data. There are three other short episodes that are well worth the view.

What Facebook Knows About You

WE LIVE IN AN ERA of increasing automation. Machines help us not only with manual labor but also with intellectual tasks, such as curating the news we read and calculating the best driving directions. But as machines make more decisions for us, it is increasingly important to understand the algorithms that produce their judgments.

We’ve spent the year investigating algorithms, from how they’ve been used to predict future criminals to Amazon’s use of them to advantage itself over competitors.
All too often, these algorithms are a black box: It’s impossible for outsiders to know what’s going inside them. Today we’re launching a series of experiments to help give you the power to see inside.

Our first stop: Facebook and your personal data.
Facebook has a particularly comprehensive set of dossiers on its more than 2 billion members. Every time a Facebook member likes a post, tags a photo, updates their favorite movies in their profile, posts a comment about a politician, or changes their relationship status, Facebook logs it. When they browse the Web, Facebook collects information about pages they visit that contain Facebook sharing buttons. When they use Instagram or WhatsApp on their phone, which are both owned by Facebook, they contribute more data to Facebook’s dossier.

And in case that wasn’t enough, Facebook also buys data about its users’ mortgages, car ownership and shopping habits from some of the biggest commercial data brokers.

The state of the Internet as far as free access and use is not as bright as it used to be. Here’s a report from Freedom House. Of the 65 countries they examine Canada is third most free after Estonia and Iceland.

Silencing the Messenger:

Communication Apps Under Pressure

  • Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Two-thirds of all internet users – 67 percent – live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.
  • Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year. Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook.
  • Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.

Here is an excellent account of the current state of mobile uptake by Pew Research.

Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies

But advanced economies still have higher rates of technology use
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, both economically and socially, technology adoption remains one of the defining factors in human progress. To that end, there has been a noticeable rise over the past two years in the percentage of people in the emerging and developing nations surveyed by Pew Research Center who say that they use the internet and own a smartphone. And while people in advanced economies still use the internet more and own more high-tech gadgets, the rest of the emerging world is catching up.

In 2013, a median of 45% across 21 emerging and developing countries reported using the internet at least occasionally or owning a smartphone. In 2015, that figure rose to 54%, with much of that increase coming from large emerging economies such as Malaysia, Brazil and China. By comparison, a median of 87% use the internet across 11 advanced economies surveyed in 2015, including the U.S. and Canada, major Western European nations, developed Pacific nations (Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Israel. This represents a 33-percentage-point gap compared with emerging and developing nations.

Danah Boyd has a great point in this article - relevant to science becoming the source of news and infotaiment - even if the specific case is about polling it is also relevant to broader forms of science publication.
The red pill is here. And it ain’t pretty.
We live in a world shaped by fear and hype, not because it has to be that way, but because this is the obvious paradigm that can fuel the capitalist information architectures we have produced.

Many critics think that the answer is to tear down capitalism, make communal information systems, or get rid of social media. I disagree. But I do think that we need to actively work to understand complexity, respectfully engage people where they’re at, and build the infrastructure to enable people to hear and appreciate different perspectives. This is what it means to be truly informed.

Reality check: I blame the media.

The media is supposed to be a check to power, but, for years now, it has basked in becoming power in its own right. What worries me right now is that, as it continues to report out the spectacle, it has no structure for self-reflection, for understanding its weaknesses, its potential for manipulation.

I believe in data, but data itself has become spectacle. I cannot believe that it has become acceptable for media entities to throw around polling data without any critique of the limits of that data, to produce fancy visualizations which suggest that numbers are magical information. Every pollster got it wrong. And there’s a reason. They weren’t paying attention to the various structural forces that made their sample flawed, the various reasons why a disgusted nation wasn’t going to contribute useful information to inform a media spectacle. This abuse of data has to stop. We need data to be responsible, not entertainment.

This election has been a spectacle because the media has enjoyed making it as such. And in doing so, they showcased just how easily they could be gamed. I refer to the sector as a whole because individual journalists and editors are operating within a structural frame, unmotivated to change the status quo even as they see similar structural problems to the ones I do. They feel as though they “have” to tell a story because others are doing so, because their readers can’t resist reading. They live in the world pressured by clicks and other elements of the attention economy. They need attention in order to survive financially. And they need a spectacle, a close race.

This is a function worth watching and emulating - for anyone interested in knowledge management and supporting all many of research. For organization imagine the JUICE function linked with an indexed and searchable research database.
"Our intention is to support journalists very discreetly in the work that they do,” Maiden told Motherboard. “As you're writing a story you can, with a click of a button, ask [JUICE] to invoke different ways of offering you creative and productive advice about the ways in which you can take your story in valuable directions.”

Google-Backed A.I. Aims to Help Journalists Write Better News Stories

Neil Maiden, professor of digital creativity at UK’s Cass Business School, is part of a team in London that is building this tool [JUICE]. The idea is to help journalists create more unique, higher-quality articles by using the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest additional information for journalists to add to their work. But while AI is already writing news stories, can it help journalists build better stories?

The project that Maiden is heading up is called JUICE, and is funded by Google’s Digital News Initiative to help journalists “discover and explore new creative angles on stories they write”. A collaboration between Cass Business School and the Department of Journalism at City, University of London, JUICE’s core product is an add-on to Google Docs that uses AI systems such as language processing, web searches, and recommendation algorithms to help journalists write their stories.

Here is a great 6 min video clearly demonstrating the tool as an extension of Google Docs. Worth the view.

JUICE - Digital Creativity Support for Journalists

This short video describes a new digital prototype, called JUICE, under development with a Google award to City University London

And here’s another description which includes contact information for anyone interested.
“This Google-funded project has enabled us to deploy our advanced creative search and recommendations tools to a new sector – journalism.  JUICE fits with how journalists work. Use of it can nudge journalists to be more creative, and improve their productivity at the same time.”

New Google tool in development will boost journalist productivity

Cass Business School and the Department of Journalism at City, University of London are collaborating on a new digital project, funded by Google’s Digital News Initiative, to support journalist creativity and productivity during the early stages of story development.

The project is called JUICE and is an add-on to Google Docs that supports a journalist to discover and explore new creative angles on stories as they write.  JUICE, which appears a simple sidebar in Google Docs, also supports journalists to be more productive with features to discover and download related references into the new stories.

To deliver these capabilities, JUICE embeds different forms of artificial intelligence - natural language processing, creative web searches, and creativity recommendation algorithms - to support and guide the journalist.

The world of the brain-network interface is here - it’s just not evenly distributed. This is a version of a ‘brain-on-a-chip’.

First home brain implant lets ‘locked-in’ woman communicate

A paralyzed woman has learned to use a brain implant to communicate by thought alone. It is the first time a brain–computer interface has been used at home in a person’s day-to-day life, without the need for doctors and engineers to recalibrate the device.

“It’s special to be the first,” says HB, who is 58 years old and wishes to remain anonymous. She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2008. The disease ravages nerve cells, leaving people unable to control their bodies. Within a couple of years of diagnosis, HB had lost the ability to breathe and required a ventilator. “She is almost completely locked in,” says Nick Ramsey at the Brain Center of University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

When Ramsey met her, the woman relied on an eye-tracking device to communicate. The device allows her to choose letters on a screen to spell out words, but may not work forever – one in three people with ALS lose the ability to move their eyes. However, teams around the world have been working to develop devices that are controlled directly by the brain to help people like HB.

Here’s something to ponder about all our IoT - things.

All smart TVs are watching you back, but Vizio's spyware never blinks

Vizio made news last April when it pushed out a firmware update that turned on all its' sets spyware features out of the box. Since then, it's only gotten worse.
A Pro Publica investigation found that Vizio has comprehensively won the race to the bottom, turning on more invasive features and offering fewer privacy promises than competitors like Samsung and LG.

Vizio sets track your viewing habits in fine-grained detail, and share that information, along with information that can be used to personally identify you, with a variety of third party data-brokers who can then link this to your online activities. Vizio has a hot-ticket item: US privacy statutes prohibit cable operators and streaming services from selling this information, but Vizio says these privacy laws don't apply to the company that supplies your TV itself.

The company is using this to its advantage as it readies its IPO, whose prospectus touts the company's ability to track "highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy" as a reason to be optimistic about its future earnings.

The IoT plus AI has looming shadows when not linked to actual humans and transparent positive purpose.

How the Bot-y Politic Influenced This Election

Nearly 20 percent of all election-related tweets come from an army of influential robots.
If your political conversations on social media seem mechanical and predictable, it might be because you are debating with a robot.

A study published the day before the election found an estimated 400,000 bots operating on Twitter that were tweeting—and being retweeted—at a remarkable pace, generating nearly 20 percent of all election-related messages.

Besides being numerous, these bots are also quite influential, and capable of distorting the online debate, according to authors Alessandro Bessi and Emilio Ferrara of the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute.
One thing remains mysterious: who is creating them? That’s still impossible to determine, Ferrara told MIT Technology Review in a discussion about his study, conducted over a month this fall, a period that included all three presidential debates.

This may be old news by now - but it is another step forward in the blend of human-human-made integration.
“For the first time in my 24 years with diabetes, I was able to exercise whenever I wanted and work with my patients without the constant fear of hypoglycemia.” After more than a decade in development, several artificial pancreas projects are moving into the final stages before they become widely available.

The Artificial Pancreas Is Here

Devices that autonomously regulate blood sugar levels are in the final stages before widespread availability
Type 1 diabetics, who do not produce the hormone insulin, must be vigilant about their blood glucose (sugar) levels. Chronic high blood sugar, which results from too little insulin, can lead to nerve and organ damage; low levels can cause seizures or death. The current gold standard in care involves a continuous glucose monitor (a sensor inserted under the skin), an insulin pump (a wearable device that can be programmed to release varying amounts of insulin), and a lot of trial-and-error work by the user—because the monitor and the pump don't talk to each other.

Researchers have been working to make things easier for patients by integrating and automating the steps in the process. The end result—the artificial pancreas—is a system that can figure out how much insulin the body needs in near real time and then deliver that amount on its own. “The artificial pancreas will allow us to live a near-normal life until there is a cure,” says Kelly Dunkling Reilly, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator who was a subject in a recent clinical trial of Boston-based Beta Bionics's iLet pancreas.

And the enhanced surgeon is on the horizon.
Axsis’s creators say that cataract surgery is just the start.  “I think it will quickly find more applications,” says Wagner. It could, for example, be used in gastrointestinal operations. Put the pincer end of Axsis on an endoscope and it could solve any small problems – like removing polyps – then and there. “Nowadays, when you find something in the colon or in the stomach, you leave it there,” says Wagner.
Wagner hopes the robot could one day enable operations surgeons can only dream of. “We just want to push forward what’s possible.”

Robot surgeon can slice eyes finely enough to remove cataracts

See what it can do. A new surgical robot can make the micro-scale movements needed for a particularly delicate procedure: cataract surgery.

Axsis, a system developed by Cambridge Consultants, is a small, teleoperated robot with two arms tipped with tiny pincers. It’s designed to operate on the eye with greater accuracy than a human.

Globally, 20 million people have cataract surgery every year, making it one of the most common surgeries in the world. Although complications are very rare, they still affect tens of thousands of people.

Here’s a little update from Google - harkening the near future day of ubiquitous translation. There’s an illustration that is worth the view.
With this update, Google Translate is improving more in a single leap than we’ve seen in the last ten years combined. But this is just the beginning. While we’re starting with eight language pairs within Google Search  the Google Translate app, and website; our goal is to eventually roll Neural Machine Translation out to all 103 languages and surfaces where you can access Google Translate.

Found in translation: More accurate, fluent sentences in Google Translate

In 10 years, Google Translate has gone from supporting just a few languages to 103, connecting strangers, reaching across language barriers and even helping people find love. At the start, we pioneered large-scale statistical machine translation, which uses statistical models to translate text. Today, we’re introducing the next step in making Google Translate even better: Neural Machine Translation.  

Neural Machine Translation has been generating exciting research results for a few years and in September, our researchers announced Google's version of this technique. At a high level, the Neural system translates whole sentences at a time, rather than just piece by piece. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar. Since it’s easier to understand each sentence, translated paragraphs and articles are a lot smoother and easier to read. And this is all possible because of end-to-end learning system built on Neural Machine Translation, which basically means that the system learns over time to create better, more natural translations.

Today we’re putting Neural Machine Translation into action with a total of eight languages to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world's population, covering more than 35% of all Google Translate queries!

This seems exciting and hugely creepy - hinting at a scientific foundation for our scary myths of Vampires and other seekers of immortality.
“Young human plasma improves cognition,” says Minami, who presented her findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California, on Monday. “Their memory was preserved.”
“It’s more or less what we would expect,” says Victoria Bolotina, at Boston University in Massachusetts. “The blood of young people must have something in it that’s important for keeping them young,” she says.

Blood from human teens rejuvenates body and brains of old mice

Blood plasma from young people has been found to rejuvenate old mice, improving their memory, cognition, and physical activity. The method has the potential to be developed into a treatment for people, says Sakura Minami of Alkahest, the company behind the work.

Previous research has found that stitching old and young mice together has an interesting effect. While sharing a blood system works out well for the older mouse, the younger one isn’t so lucky. The young animals started to show signs of brain ageing, while the brains of the older mice started to look younger. “We see a rejuvenation effect,” says Minami.

The key to youth appears to be in the blood plasma – the liquid part of blood. Several studies have found that injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can help rejuvenate the brain and other organs, including the liver, heart, and muscle.

This is an interesting breakthrough - that will have significant impact in harnessing renewable energy - through new forms of energy storage.
“This is a big deal!” says Douglas Kauffman, lead researcher on the project. “Precious metals are a serious cost-barrier for large-scale deployment of electrochemical systems, and eliminating them from the picture should enable less expensive electrochemical systems.”

Move Over Platinum, We Want Nickel!

A catalyst developed by researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is revolutionizing catalyst design — the way they are studied, how they work, and how much they cost — and it may help meet the ever-growing demand for energy with minimal environmental impact.

Catalysts make things happen. They speed up chemical reactions and reduce the amount of energy needed to produce useful products. For example, catalysts are used in electrochemical systems to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into valuable fuels and chemicals. Carbon dioxide conversion is important because it redirects CO2, a major greenhouse gas, away from the atmosphere and into useful products. On an industrial scale, CO2 conversion offers a way to reduce CO2 emissions associated with burning fossil fuels. Catalysts can also convert water into hydrogen, which is an ultra-clean energy source for a variety of applications.

An electrochemical system can be thought of like a battery: it contains negative and positive terminals called electrodes. The negative electrode provides the electrons needed to convert CO2 and produce hydrogen. Just like a battery, an electrochemical system also requires a positive electrode for electricity to flow. The positive electrode completes the circuit by oxidizing water into oxygen. Instead of powering a phone or a light bulb, the circuit does chemistry.

The great thing about CO2 conversion systems is that renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, can power them. This provides an opportunity to produce “carbon neutral” or “carbon negative” fuels, because no additional CO2 emissions are associated with the power source.

And more on energy and domestication of DNA to produce more effective enzymes.
"We had seen how efforts to directly assemble synthetic pathways for CO2-fixation in a living organism did not succeed so far," said Tobias Erb of MPI, who led the study. "So we took a radically different, reductionist approach by assembling synthetic principal components in a bottom-up fashion in a test tube."

Engineering a more efficient system for harnessing carbon dioxide

Scientists have reverse engineered a biosynthetic pathway for more effective carbon fixation that is based on a new CO2-fixing enzyme that is nearly 20 times faster than the most prevalent enzyme in nature responsible for capturing CO2 in plants by using sunlight as energy.

By deploying the concept of metabolic "retrosynthesis," dismantling the reaction step by step all the way back to smaller precursors, the team juggled the thermodynamic conditions and came up with a strategy that yielded more promising results that competed favorably with natural-occurring metabolic pathways. Then they plumbed the depths of the public databases for enzymes that would support their model and selected several dozen to try out.

Here’s another signal of the looming change in energy geo-politics.

Oil company announces installation of solar panels at 5,000 gas stations, first step to convert them into EV charging stations?

Total, the major French multinational oil and gas company, announced today a $300 million investment to install about 200 MW of solar capacity at 5,000 gas stations around the world. The investment is being presented as a way for Total’s operations to reduce its carbon footprint, but what if it’s the first step to convert the gas stations into electric vehicle charging stations?

As the global car fleet transition from being powered by gasoline and diesel to being powered by electricity, the refueling infrastructure is also bound to change. Gas stations have already mostly all become convenience stores, but they still depend on the traffic from drivers refueling their tanks.

Obviously, we will need less charging stations than gas stations when electric vehicles will be more common since the majority of the charging happens at home, but a significant number of stations will still be required for long distance travel and for EV owners without home access to charging, like apartment dwellers.

If you are to offer charging, you might as well produce the electricity from solar energy on location where it is economically viable, which is far from being everywhere yet, but it is quickly expanding in different markets.
Total didn’t specify where its new solar installations will be deployed other than at “5,000 of its service stations worldwide” including “800 in France” and they will be deployed over the next five years.

The panels will be supplied by Sunpower, which is owned by Total.

And another signal.
“This is a small step toward a future where other customer-sited resources may help make the grid more efficient, reliable and capable of integrating intermittent energy sources like wind and solar,” Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in the post.

Microsoft Signs Biggest Wind-Power Buy for Data Center

Microsoft Corp. committed to its largest wind-power purchase to date with a deal to buy 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas.
Allianz Risk Transfer AG’s Bloom Wind Project in Kansas and Black Hills Corp.’s Happy Jack and Silver Sage wind farms in Wyoming will provide all of the power needed by a data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming, under two long-term contracts cover, according a Microsoft blog post Monday. Terms weren’t disclosed.
Under a new arrangement with Black Hills’s utility in Wyoming, backup generators at the data center will be available as a secondary resource to provide power to the local grid when needed. That means the utility can avoid building a new power plant.

Microsoft’s data centers will get about 44 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and hydropower sources this year and 50 percent in two years, Smith said. The company already has deals for 20 megawatts of solar power and 285 megawatts of wind, according to the blog post.

The self-driving vehicle is looming on the near horizon - and the first frontier will likely be long haul trucking and mass transit.
The truck freight industry in the U.S. is even bigger, valued at around $700 billion. Uber, which is also developing automated taxis in Pittsburgh, has moved quickly to create self-driving trucks after acquiring a startup called Otto in August this year. One of Otto’s trucks performed its first delivery, a consignment of 50,000 bottles of beer, in a stunt performed last month.

China’s Driverless Trucks Are Revving Their Engines

Several companies are taking advantage of the lack of restrictions on testing autonomous vehicles in China.
A number of companies are developing automation technologies that promise to lower costs, reduce accidents, and improve overall efficiency for the trucking industry by allowing drivers to make longer trips that include periods of rest.

In Europe and the U.S., Volvo, Daimler, Uber, and others are testing trucks capable of driving themselves under expert supervision. But several Chinese-based companies are working on automated trucks, and lenient regulations as well as a desire to overhaul the country’s chaotic trucking industry may smooth the way for the technology’s introduction. This could provide a handy edge in the race to develop a lucrative new way of hauling goods.

Across China, around 7.2 million trucks and 16 million drivers are responsible for intercity transportation of goods, according to figures provided by TuSimple. This industry is worth more than $300 billion, and drivers account for around 40 percent of the costs incurred by truck companies. Some long-distance trips across China require two or even three drivers to complete. Autonomy would allow a single driver to sleep during long highway stretches.

Personal Appeal
Hello everyone, - Any contribution will help make this happen.

As most people likely know, I am a parent of a young adult with Autism Spectrum intellectual disabilities. I’m not alone – there are many parents like me – and we are all concerned about what will happen to our children in the future.

I’ve joined forces with a team of local, and largely Ottawa-based community and family members, advocates and academics, to support the opening of theSpace, a truly ground-breaking community hub and social-studio gathering place for adults with Autism and Intellectual disabilities.

This effort is hoping to find the necessary start-up funds through a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign. The campaign launched today and only has 29 days left to raise the funds we need.

theSpace aims to support the ‘social nature’ of creative learning and increased self-efficacy – to fill a gap in generative community engagement – and to provide richer opportunities for both younger and older adults with Autism---across their life course.

theSpace will enact a type of ‘storefront’ or a safe third space—neither work nor play-- where those who are too often isolated or relegated to the fringes, could, quite literally, drop in and find the ready opportunity to create, connect with others, feel a sense of belonging, membership and genuine personal agency---and learn through doing! Doing-learning where work is play and play is work.

Please consider supporting the initiative – it is both a prototype for those with cognitive disabilities but also anticipates a more general transformation of both social and creative community spaces.

Any donation will help - Please feel free to pass along the links and the poster.