Thursday, March 2, 2017

Friday Thinking 3 March 2017

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


Forget hoverboards! World's first fully-manned hoverbike tested in Moscow

The other characters are people you don’t know: Pat, Fay, Julie, Rebecca, the mason, roofer and landscaper. All those are people with small businesses. None of them want to grow their businesses any larger than they need to be. None thought about an exit when they started up. None call themselves “entrepreneurs,” or go to expensive conferences. Instead they socialize at bars, clubs, gyms, restaurants, churches, city parks, beaches, ball games and on the street. They tend to have roles rather than jobs. When you need one, you look for a mechanic, a painter, a lawyer or a driver. All of them also help each other out, side by side, face to face, in the physical world.

Small is the New Big

Company chief Gabe Newell has spoken on multiple occasions about the benefits of this arrangement, which he says creates "an efficient market for people's time" and ensures that people are less likely to burn out because they're always working on what they think is most valuable to their customers.

"I think it's that fact that you're always voting with your time, you're always making a decision about how to spend your work product, that actually makes it easy for people to be fired up," Newell told Gamasutra and other outlets during a press briefing last week. "Because they're always working on stuff that to them seems significant. Nobody's working on yet another sequel. 'Oh, it's the fall, we have to come out with, you know, version 17.'"

"There are plenty of great developers for whom this is a terrible place to work"

That's all well and good -- but how does it go bad? Some folks have left Valve, and some have been asked to leave; according to Newell, the company's internal structure -- or lack thereof -- can actually be totally ruinous to someone who is unhappy or unproductive in an unstructured environment.

Gabe Newell discusses the downsides of working at Valve

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?
We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

Governments claim to want to reduce the number of children being excluded from school. So why are their curriculums and tests so narrow that they alienate any child whose mind does not work in a particular way?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

Our schools were designed to produce the workforce required by 19th-century factories. The desired product was workers who would sit silently at their benches all day, behaving identically, to produce identical products, submitting to punishment if they failed to achieve the requisite standards. Collaboration and critical thinking were just what the factory owners wished to discourage.

George Monbiot - In age of robots, schools teaching children to be redundant

Gallup has released its 2017 State of the American Workplace, and the first words, from Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chair and CEO, takes a very strong stand:

The very practice of management no longer works.
The old ways — annual reviews, forced rankings, outdated competencies — no longer achieve the intended results.
Turns out that employees have little faith in their leadership:
  • 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.
  • 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.
  • 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.
A much higher number of workers are ready to find a new place to work,

The way we work doesn’t work -Gallup State of American Workplace 2017

ALMOST 150 years after photovoltaic cells and wind turbines were invented, they still generate only 7% of the world’s electricity. Yet something remarkable is happening. From being peripheral to the energy system just over a decade ago, they are now growing faster than any other energy source and their falling costs are making them competitive with fossil fuels. BP, an oil firm, expects renewables to account for half of the growth in global energy supply over the next 20 years. It is no longer far-fetched to think that the world is entering an era of clean, unlimited and cheap power. About time, too.

Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems

We definitely live in interesting times. If the 21st century is the century of complexity then we have to apprehend how complexity entangle every part of our lives - identity, culture, science, economy and perhaps most importantly the complex politics shaping our societies and governance. This is a long - 40 min read - a MUST READ for anyone interested in glimpsing just how complex our politics have become. This is vital if we are not to let ourselves become seduced into simplistic attitudes, analysis and ideas of solutions. For anyone working in bureaucracies (and subject to functional stupidity - you know it when you encounter topics/issues that can’t be discussed) or interested in military-civil studies - this article will introduce you the the very useful concept of the ‘deep state’ or ‘deep politics’.
While the article is focused on criticizing the Trump Presidency - the insight it provides extend far beyond his tenure.

How the Trump regime was manufactured by a war inside the Deep State

A systemic crisis in the global Deep System has driven the violent radicalization of a Deep State faction
President Donald Trump is not fighting a war on the establishment: he’s fighting a war to protect the establishment from itself, and the rest of us.

At first glance, this isn’t obvious. Among his first actions upon taking office, Trump vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership, the controversial free trade agreement which critics rightly said would lead to US job losses while giving transnational corporations massive power over national state policies on health, education and other issues.

Trump further plans to ditch the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US, which would have diluted key state regulations on the activities of transnational corporates on issues like food safety, the environment and banking; and to renegotiate NAFTA, potentially heightening tensions with Canada.

Trump appears to be in conflict with the bulk of the US intelligence community, and is actively seeking to restructure the government to minimize checks and balances, and thus consolidate his executive power.

His White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has restructured the National Security Council, granting himself and Trump’s Chief of Staff Richard ‘Reince’ Priebus permanent seats on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee – opening the door to the White House politicization of the government’s highest national security body.
Trump’s White House has purged almost the entire senior staff of the State Department, and tested the loyalty of the Department of Homeland Security with its new ‘Muslim ban’ order.

So what is going on? One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”). Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents.
But at best this is an extremely partial picture.
In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous:
The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission.

The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System.
The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.

The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.

Here’s another development in the emergence of the blockchain.
Situated at the intersection of agriculture, finance and technology, The Seam with the help of IBM, is uniquely positioned to introduce blockchain technology to cotton-affiliated businesses worldwide.

IBM's Blockchain Consortium With The Seam Deploys 'Hyperledger' For Cotton Trading

US commodities trading and agribusiness software provider The Seam, which has cleared or processed over $7 billion through its cloud-based platforms, is forming a blockchain consortium in conjunction with IBM for the billion dollar global cotton industry deployed on the Hyperledger Fabric, with the project kicking off early this year and poised to yield significant efficiencies.

By using a secure, distributed and immutable digital ledger through the blockchain, the protagonists behind the project scheduled to commence over the first quarter of 2017 posit that it enables companies to work together on a “foundation of trust, increased speed and reduced interference.”

Working with IBM, the company headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, has revealed its intention to lead an “industry-wide collaboration” to create a supply chain and trading ecosystem built on IBM blockchain technology, specifically using the Hyperledger Fabric, which provides a foundation for developing blockchain solutions with a modular architecture, pluggable implementations and so-called container technology.

The development should be seen in context of applying blockchain technologies to global supply chains that could generate multiple billions in annual efficiencies according to the likes of ‘Big Blue’ – IBM. While leveraging open source best practices, Hyperledger Fabric enables confidentiality, scalability, and security in business environments.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been getting lots of press in the last year related to security concerns - thus while the number of devices is still accelerating - it is slowing down. One wonders how the parallel emergence of the Blockchain can improve the IoT’s security.

IoT devices will outnumber the world's population this year for the first time

But analyst firm Gartner has slashed its 2020 forecast for Internet of Things devices by 20 percent, or five billion units.
There will be 8.4 billion connected things in 2017, setting the stage for 20.4 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices to be deployed by 2020, according to analyst firm Gartner.

The installed base of hard-to-secure smart things, such as TVs, fridges, and security cameras, is expected to grow 31 percent this year to reach 8.4 billion devices, or around a billion more than the world's total population. That figure compares with last year's total installed base of 6.38 billion devices.

Gartner expects that spending on IoT devices and services will reach $2 trillion in 2017, with China, North America, and Western Europe accounting for 67 percent of all devices.

Consumer devices are the main driver today and will account for 5.2 billion units in 2017, or 63 percent of the total. Businesses meanwhile are set to use 3.1 billion connected devices this year.

Talking about IoT and security - this is a good warning about our toys.
“Objects that have concealed cameras or microphones that can send information endanger the private sphere,” said Jochen Homann, the agency’s president. “The Cayla doll is forbidden in Germany,” he added, citing a German telecommunications law.

The Bright-Eyed Talking Doll That Just Might Be a Spy

Cayla is a blond, bright-eyed doll that chatters about horses and hobbies. She plays games and accurately answers questions about the world at large. She could also be eavesdropping on your child.

That’s the stark warning parents in Germany received on Friday from the country’s telecommunications watchdog, the Federal Network Agency, which said hackers could use the doll to steal personal data by recording private conversations over an insecure Bluetooth connection.

The watchdog said it was pulling the doll off store shelves and banning them in Germany.

Mr. Homann encouraged parents to deactivate the doll, which is manufactured by United States-based Genesis Toys and distributed by the Vivid Toy group. “This is also about protecting the rights of the weakest in society,” he said.

The announcement reflects the growing concerns over “smart” products in the home that can get, well, too smart. A string of reports in recent years about hackers targeting and remotely controlling items like baby monitors have sounded the alarm.

Not only security issues loom in the emerging digital environment but a deep problem of software interoperability as software evolves and there is an increasing complexity of software/hardware legacies. Problems also arise when organizational politics and actors aren’t aligned in purpose and vision.
I still have great expectations for Watson and a vast and increasing progeny of AI to bring analytical power to all domains.

MD Anderson Benches IBM Watson In Setback For Artificial Intelligence In Medicine

It was one of those amazing “we’re living in the future” moments. In an October 2013 press release, IBM declared that MD Anderson, the cancer center that is part of the University of Texas, “is using the IBM Watson cognitive computing system for its mission to eradicate cancer.”

Well, now that future is past. The partnership between IBM and one of the world’s top cancer research institutions is falling apart. The project is on hold, MD Anderson confirms, and has been since late last year. MD Anderson is actively requesting bids from other contractors who might replace IBM in future efforts. And a scathing report from auditors at the University of Texas says the project cost MD Anderson more than $62 million and yet did not meet its goals. The report, however, states: “Results stated herein should not be interpreted as an opinion on the scientific basis or functional capabilities of the system in its current state.”

Another signal in the emerging number of pilot project on a guaranteed annual income.

Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs and lower wages?

Both left and right are promoting the idea of a basic wage for everyone, currently on trial, as a solution to the new world of work
When he got the letter after Christmas saying he was entitled to an unconditional income of €560 (£478) a month, Mika Ruusunen couldn’t believe his luck. “At first I thought it was a joke. I had to read it many times. I looked for any evidence it might be false.”

But the father of two was not the victim of a scam. He has been selected to take part in an experiment being run by the Finnish government, in which 2,000 unemployed people between the ages of 25 and 58 will receive a guaranteed sum – a “basic income” – of €560 a month for two years. It replaces their unemployment benefit, but they will continue to receive it whether or not they find work. The government hopes it will encourage the unemployed to take on part-time work without worrying about losing their benefits.

This is a very short article by George Lakoff - but illustrates the capacity of frames and metaphors to not only structure how we reason - but to colonize our reasoning.


Journalists are the courageous people we trust to #ProtectTheTruth.
Journalists are bravely standing up to Trump’s attacks on the free press, as they should. Yet one way in which they’re expressing their solidarity and resistance shows how little most journalists know about political framing and messaging.

Case in point: Trump has labeled journalists as “enemies.” So, journalists have responded by labeling themselves “#NotTheEnemy.” This hashtag is currently trending on Twitter, which is unfortunate. Adopting this slogan is a big mistake that helps Trump.

Anyone who has read my books or taken my classes at Berkeley will immediately understand why. For those new to political framing and messaging, I’ll explain briefly here.
Quick: Don’t think of an elephant!

This is a short but interesting article with an illuminating graphs of the complex convergence of multiple factors we are facing. As a deep optimist I think it is the complexity of our challenges that drive us to find ways through them. The fact that two-way interactions ("bidirectional coupling") are not included in the current models, is significant - because bidirectional coupling can represent both negative and positive mitigation of our challenges.

It's more than just climate change

A new scientific paper by a University of Maryland-led international team of distinguished scientists, including five members of the National Academies, argues that there are critical two-way feedbacks missing from current climate models that are used to inform environmental, climate, and economic policies. The most important inadequately-modeled variables are inequality, consumption, and population.

In this research, the authors present extensive evidence of the need for a new paradigm of modeling that incorporates the feedbacks that the Earth System has on humans, and propose a framework for future modeling that would serve as a more realistic guide for policymaking and sustainable development.

Twelve of the interdisciplinary team of 20 coauthors are from the University of Maryland, with multiple other universities (Northeastern University, Columbia University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University) and other institutions (Joint Global Change Research Institute, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the Institute for Global Environment and Society, Japan's RIKEN research institute, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center) also represented.

The study explains that the Earth System (e.g., atmosphere, ocean, land, and biosphere) provides the Human System (e.g., humans and their production, distribution, and consumption) not only the sources of its inputs (e.g., water, energy, biomass, and materials) but also the sinks (e.g., atmosphere, oceans, rivers, lakes, and lands) that absorb and process its outputs (e.g., emissions, pollution, and other wastes).

This is fascinating - there is still so much to understand about how life can happen in more conditions than we imagine. The pictures of the crystals and the caves are worth the view and the 5 min video.

Weird Life Found Trapped in Giant Underground Crystals

Floating in pockets of fluid, the microbes are likely new to science and may be up to 50,000 years old, a NASA researcher says.
Creatures that thrive on iron, sulfur, and other chemicals have been found trapped inside giant crystals deep in a Mexican cave. The microbial life-forms are most likely new to science, and if the researchers who found them are correct, the organisms are still active even though they have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years.

If verified, the discovery adds to evidence that microbial life on Earth can endure harsher conditions in isolated places than scientists previously thought possible. (See “Life Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice for First Time?”)

“These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” says NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who announced the find today at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.”

We know that dinosaurs still roam the earth only we now call them ‘chickens’ and raptors. :) But this is a different way to have chickens give birth to new (or older) life forms.

Hens that can lay eggs from other species could save rare birds

Genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping create a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare and exotic birds.

Like a seed bank for poultry, the aviary will store primordial stem cells that give rise to eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring.

So far, the team from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. Held in a freezer at minus 150C, the cells will remain viable for decades.

Here’s something that’s been a couple of years away for almost 20 years - but it seems like we’ll see products - pricey products this year.

Delivering on spider silk’s promise

Prototype products emerge, but scale-up challenges persist
Adidas, The North Face, and Patagonia are among the brands jostling to become the first to launch a mass-market product made from synthetic spider silk. Adidas is racing to introduce a biodegradable running shoe made from the silk later this year. The North Face’s Moon Parka with waterproof spider silk fiber could become a must-have for eco-minded fashionistas.

But don’t ditch your old nylon running shoes and jackets quite yet. Behind the scenes, manufacturers are having problems translating lab-based processes for the novel material to commercial scale. Spider silk developers Bolt Threads and Spiber—both keen on explaining how their silk will change the world—have stumbled and been forced to delay initial product rollouts.

While the grind toward commercialization continues, companies are abuzz about possible uses for spider silk. It is made using renewable raw materials. It’s biodegradable yet waterproof. It’s strong and elastic. Spider silk is even garnering interest from developers of cosmetics and medical devices. And with academic researchers unearthing new knowledge about how to make it and enhance its functionality, spider silk’s range of potential applications continues to expand.

This is a wonderful 10 min video exploring the concept of gaming literacy - worth the read for anyone who doesn’t play games but have children or spouses that do. :)

Basic Game Literacy - Why It's Hard to Learn How to Play

Even if we reduce game literacy to just "being able to play," the number of genres and platforms make it surprisingly difficult for even experienced players to claim well-rounded literacy. But the creative rewards for a game literate community could be immense.

Here’s a perfect example of how the advent of robotics can enhance human performance.
Unlike most surgical robots, there is no need for a joystick to operate the device. The eye surgeon and the robot co-manipulate the instrument. The surgeon guides the needle into the vein while the robot eliminates any vibration of the needle, thereby increasing the level of precision more than tenfold. After locking the robot, the needle and the eye are automatically stabilised. The surgeon can then inject the product into the vein in a controlled way.
Worldwide there are 16.4 million people with a blocked retinal vein caused by thrombosis in the blood vessel. In Belgium, there are about 25.000 patients.


Eye surgeons at University Hospitals Leuven have been the first to use a surgical robot to operate on a patient with retinal vein occlusion. The robot uses a needle of barely 0.03 millimetre to inject a thrombolytic drug into the patient’s retinal vein. KU Leuven developed the robot and needle specifically for this procedure.

The operation was successful and is a world first. It shows that it is technically possible to safely dissolve a blood clot from the retinal vein with robotic support. A phase 2 trial now has to show what the clinical impact is for patients with retinal vein occlusion, a disorder that can lead to blindness.

Patients with retinal vein occlusion have a blood clot in one of the retinal veins. This leads to reduced eyesight or even blindness in the affected eye. At the moment, treatment consists of monthly injections in the eye that only reduce the side effects of the thrombosis. Until recently, taking away the blood clot itself was not possible.

Researchers from University Hospitals Leuven and KU Leuven are studying retinal vein cannulation (RVC), a revolutionary treatment that addresses the cause of retinal vein occlusion by removing the blood clot in the retinal vein. RVC is a promising method that requires the eye surgeon to insert an ultrathin needle into the vein and inject a medicine to dissolve the blood clot. This is a real feat, because a retinal vein is only 0.1 millimetre wide – similar to a human hair. No surgeon is able to manually inject a drug into such a thin vein while holding the needle perfectly still for 10 minutes. The danger of damaging the vein or the retina would simply be too high.

The urban farm is emerging as a perfect site for automation - helping to increase quality and quantity of yield.
The innovation will boost production from 21,000 lettuces a day to 50,000 a day, the firm said, adding that it planned to raise that figure to half a million lettuces daily within five years.
The new farm – an extension of its existing Kameoka farm – will improve efficiency and reduce labour costs by about half. The use of LED lighting means energy costs will be slashed by almost a third, and about 98% of the water needed to grow the crops will be recycled.

Japanese firm to open world’s first robot-run farm

Spread says it will open the fully automated farm with robots handling almost every step of the process
A Japanese company is to open the world’s first “robot farm”, as agriculture joins other sectors of the economy in attempting to fill labour shortages created by the country’s rapidly ageing population.

Spread, a vegetable producer, said industrial robots would carry out all but one of the tasks needed to grow the tens of thousands of lettuces it produces each day at its vast indoor farm in Kameoka, Kyoto prefecture, starting from mid-2017.

The robots will do everything from re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming and harvesting crops.

“The seeds will still be planted by humans, but every other step, from the transplanting of young seedlings to larger spaces as they grow to harvesting the lettuces, will be done automatically,” said JJ Price, Spread’s global marketing manager.

Another breakthrough in 3D printing - not quite ready but soon.
The advantage of Daqri’s chip, the company says, is that it can create holograms without the need for complex optics. On a silicon wafer, a tiny grid of tunable crystals is used to control the magnitude and time delay, or phase, of reflected light shined at the surface of the chip from a laser. Software adjusts the crystals to create patterns of interference in the light, resulting in a three-dimensional light field.

This Super-Fast 3-D Printer Is Powered by Holograms

A startup called Daqri has technology that can print solid objects faster and also powers a new kind of head-up display.
A bright-green laser flashes on, shining into a petri dish full of goo. From nowhere, the shape of a paper clip emerges—ghostly at first, then solid. Five seconds later the clip is fished out, cleaned up, and ready for use.

The basic principle here is an established 3-D-printing technique that uses lasers to cure a light-activated monomer into solid plastic. But unlike other approaches, which scan a laser back and forth to create shapes one layer at a time, this system does it all at once using a 3-D light field—in other words, a hologram. It could make 3-D printing far faster.

At the heart of the device that printed the paper clip is a holographic chip developed by Daqri, a startup that designs and builds augmented-reality devices out of laboratories in San Francisco and in Milton Keynes, U.K. The company makes smart glasses similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens and head-up displays for cars; the latter have been fitted to over 150,000 vehicles made by Jaguar Land Rover.

There are some limitations. The current hardware only creates shallow forms, for example, such as the paper clip in the video. But the depth should increase with the size of the holographic chip that’s used, and the company is planning to scale up the device accordingly.

Here’s something aimed at augmenting those with a hearing disability - but one can imagine this sort of technology becoming an interface as well.

New Smart Glove Turns Sign Language Into Text and Speech

Advancements in Wearable Technology have made it possible for those with disabilities to gain access to game changing devices with clout.  
For those who are hard of hearing, products such as MotionSavvy, founded by a team of students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Solar Ear, a solar-powered hearing aid battery, are playing a significant role in improving the quality of life for those with disabilities.

With so much development taking place in this realm, the wearable device that has recently given us food for thought is the wireless SignLanguageGlove which is the work of MA in Computational Arts graduate Hadeel Ayoub. Developed to improve communication between people with different disabilities, the smart glove is able to recognise hand movements and convert them into relevant text.

So how does it work? Much like Google Translate, the smart glove has been designed to help hard of hearing users make themselves understood by those who can’t usually interpret sign language. The glove’s circuit is comprised of flex sensors, an accelerometer, a microcontroller board, and a four digit graphic numerical display capable of translating sign language gestures into visual words and displaying them onto the screen. The five flex sensors attached to the glove correspond to the five fingers, detecting bends and curvatures then reporting the values to a serial monitor.

For Fun
This is a prototype of something we may see soon - I’m a bit worried of ‘falling into the blades’ but I imagine they can be covered safely.

Forget hoverboards! World's first fully-manned hoverbike tested in Moscow

Hoversurf, the Russian creators of the first manned quadcopter released test flight footage of their newest generation flying bike, ‘Scorpion 3’ in Moscow

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