Thursday, July 27, 2017

Friday Thinking 28 July 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



Fears about the frailty of human wisdom go back at least as far as Ancient Greece and the fable of Plato’s cave, in which humans are held captive and can only glimpse the shadows of true forms flickering on the stone walls. We prisoners struggle to turn towards the light and see the source (or truth) of images, and we resist doing so. In another Platonic dialogue, the Phaedrus, Socrates worries that the very medium of knowledge – writing – might discourage us from memorising and thinking for ourselves. It’s as though the faculty of reason that defines us is also something we’re constantly in danger of losing, and even tend to avoid.

This paradoxical logic of loss – in which we value that which we’re at the greatest risk of forsaking – is at work in how we’re dealing with our current predicament. It’s only by confronting how close we are to destruction that we might finally do something; it’s only by embracing the vulnerability of humanity itself that we have any hope of establishing a just future. Or so say the sages of pop culture, political theory and contemporary philosophy. Ecological destruction is what will finally force us to act on the violence of capitalism, according to Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014).

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum has long argued that an attempt to secure humans from fragility and vulnerability explains the origins of political hierarchies from Plato to the present; it is only if we appreciate our own precarious bodily life, and the emotions and fears that attach to being human animals, that we can understand and overcome racism, sexism and other irrational hatreds. Disorder and potential destruction are actually opportunities to become more robust, argues Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile (2012) – and in Thank You for Being Late (2016), the New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman claims that the current, overwhelming ‘age of accelerations’ is an opportunity to take a pause. Meanwhile, Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute pursues research focused on avoiding existential catastrophes, at the same time as working on technological maturity and ‘superintelligence’.

End-times for humanity

The most terrible thing anyone has said to me about this work is "You realise you just proved prejudices are true."  No, we just showed that some biases reflect some aspects of historic reality.  One of the stereotypes I've seen demonstrated by one of the leading IAT researchers is that we associate {{good with our right hands} and {bad with our left hands}} way more easily than we associate {{good with our left hands} and {bad with our right hands.}}  Next to no one has believed that the left side of our body was bad in Europe for centuries (the Romans believed it!)  You can't say that it's true.  But it's a very strong implicit bias, because it's been a big part of our historic culture.

We Didn't Prove Prejudice Is True but  where word meanings come from

There is an audacious economic phenomenon happening in China.

It has nothing to do with debt, infrastructure spending or the other major economic topics du jour. It has to do with cash — specifically, how China is systematically and rapidly doing away with paper money and coins.

Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay — the two smartphone payment options — before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility.

Just as startling is how quickly the transition has happened. Only three years ago there would be no question at all, because everyone was still using cash.

“From a tech standpoint, this is probably one of the single most important innovations that has happened first in China, and at the moment it’s only in China,” said Richard Lim, managing director of venture capital firm GSR Ventures.

There is a corollary for what could happen here. In Japan in the early 2000s, flip phones could do everything from stream cable TV to pay at stores. But because the phones were so advanced, Japan was slow to adopt smartphones, and it went from tech giant to tech laggard in 15 years.

Now in Japan those flip phones, which are still being used, are called Galápagos phones because they evolved perfectly for an isolated environment.

In Urban China, Cash Is Rapidly Becoming Obsolete

Well here’s a signal that is counter to the current ‘conventional wisdom’ about social media and Fake News. Remember it was mainstream media that spread the ‘fake news’ about the smoking gun of weapons of mass destruction. Fake news was already well described by Herman and Chomsky’s 1988 book - “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media”. The graphs in this article are worth the view.
Two things are immediately striking. First, the majority in most countries and in most groups do not use sources from across the political spectrum. But also, second, that both social media news users and those incidentally exposed to news on social media not only (a) consume news from more sources but also (b) have a more politically diverse online news diet than those who do not use social media at all.

Using social media appears to diversify your news diet, not narrow it

“The central fear, as Eli Pariser has put it, is that ‘news-filtering algorithms narrow what we know.’ This, at least, is the theory.”
Despite widespread fears that social media and other forms of algorithmically-filtered services (like search) lead to filter bubbles, we know surprisingly little about what effect social media have on people’s news diets.

Data from the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report can help address this. Contrary to conventional wisdom, our analysis shows that social media use is clearly associated with incidental exposure to additional sources of news that people otherwise wouldn’t use — and with more politically diverse news diets.

This matters because distributed discovery — where people find and access news via third parties, like social media, search engines, and increasingly messaging apps — is becoming a more and more important part of how people use media.

This is another signal about the emerging digital environment’s message of ‘social computing’ through near-zero coordination costs - as a result of the collapse of transaction costs, the rising importance of opportunity costs. This doesn’t mean that traditional organizations will disappear - but it does mean that in order to survive they will have to evolve at minimum - internal capacities to enable ‘flash organizations.’

The Pop-Up Employer: Build a Team, Do the Job, Say Goodbye

At first glance, the organization chart for the maker of True Story, a card game and mobile app in which players trade stories from their daily lives, resembled that of any company. There was a content division to churn out copy for game cards; graphic designers to devise the logo and the packaging; developers to build the mobile app and the website. There was even a play-testing division to catch potential hiccups.

Upon closer inspection, the producer of True Story wasn’t really a firm: The workers were all freelancers who typically had never met and, perhaps more striking, the entire organization existed solely to create the game and then disbanded.

True Story was a case study in what two Stanford professors call “flash organizations” — ephemeral setups to execute a single, complex project in ways traditionally associated with corporations, nonprofit groups or governments.

….Then there is perhaps the least likely of innovations: middle management. The typical freelancer performs worker-bee tasks. Flash-like organizations tend to combine both workers and managers.

Yet the flash model appears to have revolutionary potential. If nothing else, millions of middle-management jobs that fell by the wayside in recent decades might one day be reincarnated as freelance project-manager positions. “The bottleneck now is project managers,” Ms. Valentine said. “It’s a really tough position to fill.”

This is an awesome idea - one that every single city could use to let citizens participate in the re-imagining and ongoing developments of their cities and communities. This provides not just engagement - but a platform for citizen and community development. The key concept is that architecture is the colonization of our future - should this colonization be in the hands of the few - or should all citizens have access to participative re-imagening?

United Nations uses Minecraft to design public spaces

United Nations initiative turns ordinary citizens into urban planners through a world-building videogame.
A United Nations initiative is using the computer game Minecraft to help citizens design public spaces in more than 25 developing countries.

In 2012, UN-Habitat, the UN Programme for Sustainable Cities, teamed up with Mojang, makers of the popular world-building computer game, Dezeen reported. Minecraft is the world’s second best-selling videogame of all time, according to the report. In the game, players use textured cubes to build a virtual world.

Called Block by Block, the UN project turned the game into a “community participation tool” in urban design, with a focus on poor communities, according to the website. The initiative also funds public space projects in the region and all over the world, in countries such as India, Nepal, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Mexico.

Local residents in these countries attend workshops to learn how to build virtual landscapes in Minecraft, Dezeen reported. They then present their ideas to local governments, and eventually, they are turned into architectural drawings. For example, in Hanoi, a group of teenagers used Minecraft to come up with ideas to improve safety in their local neighbourhood.

The initiative “aims to involve youth in the planning process in urban areas by giving them the opportunity to show planners and decision makers how they would like to see their cities in the future,” said Pontus Westerberg, coordinator of the initiative.

This is a great signal about the future of not only work - but learning as well. There is a great 3 min video that very clearly illustrates the power of this technology to improve performance in complicated environments - including medical environments.
A recent Forrester Research report predicts that by 2025, nearly 14.4 million US workers will wear smart glasses.


Don’t call Heather Erickson a glasshole.
Yes, that’s Google Glass on her frames. But she’s not using it to check her Facebook, dictate messages, or capture a no-hands video while riding a roller coaster. Erickson is a 30-year-old factory worker in rural Jackson, Minnesota. For her, Glass is not a hip way to hang apps in front of her eyeballs, but a tool—as much a tool as her power wrenches. It walks her through her shifts at Station 50 on the factory floor, where she builds motors for tractors.

No one at Erickson’s factory is concerned that the consumer version of Glass, after an initial burst of media glory, was condemned for bugginess and creepiness, then ushered into a gadget version of the Bardo. The original Glass designers had starry-eyed visions of masses blissfully living their lives in tandem with a wraparound frame and a tiny computer screen hovering over their eye. But the dream quickly gave way to disillusionment as early adopters found that it delivered less than it promised—and users became the target of shaming from outsiders concerned about privacy. Within three years, Alphabet (the parent company of Google and its sister company, the “moonshot factory” called X) had given up Glass for good—or so people assumed.

What they didn’t know was that Alphabet was commissioning a small group to develop a version for the workplace. The team lives in Alphabet's X division, where Glass was first developed as a passion project of Google cofounder Sergey Brin. Now the focus was on making a practical workplace tool that saves time and money. Announced today, it is called Glass Enterprise Edition.

Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations. Other businesses, like medical practices, are introducing Enterprise Edition in their workplaces to transform previously cumbersome tasks.

Upskill and Boeing Use Skylight to Reinvent Wire Harness Assembly
There's no margin for error when building an airliner. That's why Boeing uses smart glasses and Skylight from Upskill to guide technicians as they wire hundreds of planes a year. The result: Boeing has cut its wiring production time by a remarkable 25% and has lowered error rates to nearly zero.

In David Graeber’s book “Debt: The First 5000 Years” he argues that ‘debt’ is literally social fabric - that we maintain relationships by never really settling up exactly - always keeping some form of favor or obligation open as a signal of trust and relationship. When we want to ensure there is ‘no relationship’ between us - we settle up exactly to signal there is no obligation.
This article is an interesting signal of this very argument and points to a need to be more informal in our ‘relationship accounting’.
“It’s making people less generous and chivalrous,” Ms. Pennoyer said. “It used to be you’d go to a restaurant, and you’d put down your credit cards and split it 50-50, even if one person had steak and one had chicken. But now people pay exactly to the cent.”

Thanks to Venmo, We Now All Know How Cheap Our Friends Are

Margaret Pennoyer, an elementary school teacher in Manhattan, had just returned from a bachelorette party in Napa Valley when she received an email that had been sent to all the guests. The two organizers had itemized each woman’s individual expenses, which they had covered, and requested reimbursement through Venmo, an app that transfers money between users who have linked their bank accounts to their phones. Ms. Pennoyer owed $31.98 to one woman and $20.62 to the other.

In a previous time, the organizers likely would have asked everyone to bring enough cash to repay them in person or to mail a check afterward, courteously rounding down to $30 and $20. But the Venmo request, calculated to the penny, struck Ms. Pennoyer, 29, as emblematic of how the app, the most popular among her fellow millennials for everything from entertainment expenses to rent shares, “changes friendships and makes them more transactional,” she said. “It’s nickel-and-diming everything, literally.”

By rendering payments between friends nearly invisible — no cash changes hands, no checks are written — Venmo theoretically should make these relationships less obviously transactional. Yet not only does it encourage pettiness, distilling the messiness of human experience down to a digitally precise data point, but by making it so easy to pay someone back for purchases as trifling as a coffee, the app arguably promotes the libertarian, every-user-for-himself ethos of Silicon Valley.

Here’s another interesting signal of the emerging infrastructure of the digital environment.

The Startup Behind NYC’s Plan to Replace Phone Booths with 7,500 Connected Kiosks

Intersection, which is funded by Alphabet, hopes they could someday guide autonomous vehicles, too.
If you live in a big city, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of rushing to the subway only to realize—eventually—that it’s delayed and you would have been better off walking or taking the bus. What if there were digital screens mounted on street corners that warned you the subway was running late and directed you to other forms of transportation? And what if those screens also notified you of community events, listed daily pollution levels, and solicited your opinion on local government initiatives?

Such a scenario may soon be reality in London and New York. Both cities are replacing outdated phone booths with Wi-Fi kiosks that have embedded computing tablets, USB charging ports, keypads for making phone calls, and large screens that display relevant information to passersby. New York, which started installing its “LinkNYC” kiosks in 2016, currently has more than 900 activated across all five boroughs and plans to increase that number to 7,500. The U.K. just started erecting its “InLinkUK” kiosks in London and intends to deploy up to 1,000 across the country.

This is an important signal about a fundamental phase transition in our understanding genetic inheritance, our embeddedness in a microbial ecology and our environment. Domesticating DNA opens our minds to a vast complexity of becoming. This is a long read but for anyone interested in the nature of evolution and adaptability it is a MUST READ.

The Human Microbiome and the Missing Heritability Problem

The “missing heritability” problem states that genetic variants in Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) cannot completely explain the heritability of complex traits. Traditionally, the heritability of a phenotype is measured through familial studies using twins, siblings and other close relatives, making assumptions on the genetic similarities between them. When this heritability is compared to the one obtained through GWAS for the same traits, a substantial gap between both measurements arise with genome wide studies reporting significantly smaller values. Several mechanisms for this “missing heritability” have been proposed, such as epigenetics, epistasis, and sequencing depth. However, none of them are able to fully account for this gap in heritability. In this paper we provide evidence that suggests that in order for the phenotypic heritability of human traits to be broadly understood and accounted for, the compositional and functional diversity of the human microbiome must be taken into account. This hypothesis is based on several observations: (A) The composition of the human microbiome is associated with many important traits, including obesity, cancer, and neurological disorders. (B) Our microbiome encodes a second genome with nearly a 100 times more genes than the human genome, and this second genome may act as a rich source of genetic variation and phenotypic plasticity. (C) Human genotypes interact with the composition and structure of our microbiome, but cannot by themselves explain microbial variation. (D) Microbial genetic composition can be strongly influenced by the host's behavior, its environment or by vertical and horizontal transmissions from other hosts. Therefore, genetic similarities assumed in familial studies may cause overestimations of heritability values. We also propose a method that allows the compositional and functional diversity of our microbiome to be incorporated to genome wide association studies.

This is a great signal and 13 min TED Talk. It signals a few things about developments in science - the technological development, new understanding of the human brain (including baby brains) and how scientists are not only increasingly diverse - but becoming more human.

Baby Brains: Unlocking Our Humanity

At MIT, Rebecca Saxe studies human brain development, in order to understand how the human mind is built. The challenges and rewards of this research connect her experiences, as a scientist and as a mother.

Rebecca Saxe is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and an associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Saxe was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, before studying Psychology, Philosophy, and Physiology at Oxford University in Oxford, UK. She did her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, and then was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. Her research addresses the human brain’s astonishing capacity for complex abstract thought. She is especially known for her work on “Theory of Mind”, people’s ability to think about the thoughts, beliefs, plans, hopes, and emotions of other people. Central questions in this research include: how does an adult’s brain construct thoughts about thoughts? How do these capacities develop in infancy and childhood? How is this aspect of brain development affected by the environment, and by disease?

Here’s a strong signal about the domestication of DNA for nano-manufacturing of things and materials. This is a short but relatively comprehensive summary of the field thus far.

Building Nanoscale Structures with DNA

The versatility of geometric shapes made from the nucleic acid are proving useful in a wide variety of fields from molecular computation to biology to medicine.
DNA—the biological information-storage unit and the mechanism by which traits are passed on from generation to generation—is more than just an essential molecule of life. In the chemical sense, the nucleic acid has properties that make it useful for nonbiological applications. Researchers are now using DNA to store massive amounts of data, for example, including books and images, a Shakespearean sonnet, and even a computer operating system, with data encoded in the molecule’s nucleotide sequences. At an even more fundamental level, DNA is a critical building block of nanoscale shapes and structures. Researchers have created myriad nanoscale objects and devices using the nucleic acid, with applications in biosensing, drug delivery, biomolecular analysis, and molecular computation, to name but a few. DNA provides a highly specific route to building nanostructures. While the field is still addressing how to scale up into the micrometer range, it is possible to imagine a future with DNA-based computer chips performing calculations and DNA nanobots delivering personalized medicine to target sites in the human body.

And not just DNA but bacteria as well are being harnessed to do new things through integration with nano-machines. There is a cool 44 sec video.

Physicists Just Found a Way to Spin Teeny Tiny Robot Motors With Bacteria

It may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but researchers have found a way to power micromotors with the help of swimming bacteria. For the first time, the team were able to make the tiny propeller-like structures spin in the same direction by adjusting the light conditions.

The new micromotors can be produced in large amounts at a low cost, and could be used to deliver targeted drugs to treat disease.

"We can produce large arrays of independently controlled rotors that use light as the ultimate energy source," says Roberto Di Leonardo, lead author from the Sapienza University of Rome.

"Our design combines a high rotational speed with an enormous reduction in fluctuation when compared to previous attempts based on wild-type bacteria and flat structures."

They may be tiny at less than one millimetre, but microbots are set to to make a huge impact in a variety of applications, from improving drug delivery and disease diagnosis to moving huge objects such as cars, just like a team of ants.

If anyone has read Neal Stephenson’s book “Diamond Age” this should sound familiar - certainly a step toward developing the personal learning tutor. And in fact is a good signal relevant to the future of education.

Sesame Workshop and IBM team up to test a new A.I.-powered teaching method

Can A.I. help build better educational apps for kids? That’s a question Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s TV program “Sesame Street” and others, aims to answer. The company has teamed up with IBM to create the first vocabulary learning app powered by IBM’s A.I., which adapts itself the child’s current reading level and vocabulary range, then continues to intelligently adjust as the child’s vocabulary skills improve.

IBM and Sesame Workshop announced last year that the two companies would work together on a line of cognitive apps, games and educational toys. This new app is the first result of that three-year partnership.

The companies have now just completed a pilot trial for the app, where it was introduced to over 150 students in Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools. Located in the Atlanta metro area, Gwinnett County schools (GCPS) is one of the top urban school districts in the U.S., and the 13th largest district in the nation. It’s also a three-time finalist and two-time winner of The Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The app itself is built for preschool and Kindergarten-aged children on the IBM and Sesame Intelligent Play and Learning Platform. This IBM Cloud-based platform is designed to take advantage of A.I. platform IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities, which are then tied to Sesame Workshop’s understanding and expertise in the field of early childhood education.

During the pilot program, students and educators tested the app in a classroom environment on tablet computers.

This is a key signal about an emerging computational paradigm related to algorithmic intelligence. This is a very accessible account of this field.

Neuroevolution: A different kind of deep learning

The quest to evolve neural networks through evolutionary algorithms.
Neuroevolution is making a comeback. Prominent artificial intelligence labs and researchers are experimenting with it, a string of new successes have bolstered enthusiasm, and new opportunities for impact in deep learning are emerging. Maybe you haven’t heard of neuroevolution in the midst of all the excitement over deep learning, but it’s been lurking just below the surface, the subject of study for a small, enthusiastic research community for decades. And it’s starting to gain more attention as people recognize its potential.

Put simply, neuroevolution is a subfield within artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) that consists of trying to trigger an evolutionary process similar to the one that produced our brains, except inside a computer. In other words, neuroevolution seeks to develop the means of evolving neural networks through evolutionary algorithms.

So much focus on related to foresight tends to be on emerging technologies - but we can’t overlook progress and surprises in fundamental science. After all - the quantum computer may be only a few years away. This year one of the Nobel Prizes was for basic progress in the concept of topology and the application of these conceptualizations to understanding matter and the possibilities of new materials. This is an important signal of new forms of computational capability based on subatomic particles rather than on electrons. The article is accessible and worth the read.

The strange topology that is reshaping physics

Topological effects might be hiding inside perfectly ordinary materials, waiting to reveal bizarre new particles or bolster quantum computing.
Charles Kane never thought he would be cavorting with topologists. “I don't think like a mathematician,” admits Kane, a theoretical physicist who has tended to focus on tangible problems about solid materials. He is not alone. Physicists have typically paid little attention to topology — the mathematical study of shapes and their arrangement in space. But now Kane and other physicists are flocking to the field.
In the past decade, they have found that topology provides unique insight into the physics of materials, such as how some insulators can sneakily conduct electricity along a single-atom layer on their surfaces.

Some of these topological effects were uncovered in the 1980s, but only in the past few years have researchers begun to realize that they could be much more prevalent and bizarre than anyone expected. Topological materials have been “sitting in plain sight, and people didn't think to look for them”, says Kane, who is at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Now, topological physics is truly exploding: it seems increasingly rare to see a paper on solid-state physics that doesn’t have the word topology in the title. And experimentalists are about to get even busier. A study on page 298 of this week’s Nature unveils an atlas of materials that might host topological effects1, giving physicists many more places to go looking for bizarre states of matter such as Weyl fermions or quantum-spin liquids.

Scientists hope that topological materials could eventually find applications in faster, more efficient computer chips, or even in fanciful quantum computers. And the materials are already being used as virtual laboratories to test predictions about exotic and undiscovered elementary particles and the laws of physics. Many researchers say that the real reward of topological physics will be a deeper understanding of the nature of matter itself. “Emergent phenomena in topological physics are probably all around us — even in a piece of rock,” says Zahid Hasan, a physicist at Princeton University in New Jersey.

This is a great article comparing disruption in different cultures - what is needed is both physically different and culturally ‘ready’. This is worth the read for anyone interested in innovation and disruption.

Why This $4,000 Renault Is as Disruptive as the Tesla Model 3

Want to see the future of transportation? Spend 96 hours in India.
What is disruption? Ask the clickbait mills and the sheep who retweet them, and thy name is Tesla. Everyone knows the Tesla narrative. Autonomy! Electrification! Superchargers! Musk! If it weren’t for Tesla, we’d still be waiting for our electric and autonomous future to dawn. The Model 3 will disrupt, just as Tesla has disrupted the entire automotive sector, and now you can own one for only $35,000, plus options. It’s all true, but it’s only half right.

Go to India and Renault will sell the other half of disruption for just under $4,000.

This French-Indian disruptor is called the Kwid, and it’s the opposite of the Tesla Model 3 in almost every way. It lacks any of the technology or performance that earn cars placement on magazine covers. It’s a front-wheel-drive, 3-cylinder, 800-cc, four-door compact crossover (CUV) with plastic cladding. Boxes ticked? None. And yet it is the most important car in the largest segment in what will soon be the third largest car market in the world.

The reason it's so important is not because of its price, but because of what it represents, which is why the unlikely story of the Kwid says as much about Tesla’s future as it does about India’s.

Here’s a signal about the QR code - widely used in China to facilitate money transactions - but the potential is vast for many other unpredictable uses.


Don't look now, but QR codes have begun to creep back. They have different names now—Snap Codes and Spotify Codes and Messenger Codes and Other Things Codes—and a much improved sense of style, but the idea hasn't changed. Because QR codes, it turns out, were just ahead of their time. They required a world where everyone always had their phone, where all phone had great cameras, and where that camera was capable of doing more than just opening websites. Over the last few years, both the underlying technology and the way people use it have caught up to QR codes. Before long, scanning codes will feel as natural as thumbing your fingerprint to unlock your phone. And the rise of QR codes will bring augmented reality into your life in all sorts of previously impossible ways. QR codes aren’t a failure from the past. They’re the future. For real this time.

Beware the Fine Print
This is both funny and scary.

Thousands sign up to clean sewage because they didn't read the small print

Those who fell for the gag clause inserted into wifi terms and conditions committed to more than a month of community service
Do you read the terms and conditions? Probably not. No one does. And so, inevitably, 22,000 people have now found themselves legally bound to 1000 hours of community service, including, but not limited to, cleaning toilets at festivals, scraping chewing gum off the streets and “manually relieving sewer blockages”.

The (hopefully) joke clause was inserted in the terms and conditions of Manchester-based wifi company Purple for a period of two weeks, “to illustrate the lack of consumer awareness of what they are signing up to when they access free wifi”. The company operates wifi hotspots for a number of brands, including Legoland, Outback Steakhouse and Pizza Express.

Purple also offered a prize for anyone who actually read the terms and conditions, and flagged up the “community service clause”. Just one person claimed it.

It’s no surprise that people will agree to anything to get free wifi. In 2014, cybersecurity firm F-Secure ran a similar experiment in London, operating a wifi hotspot that anyone could use – in exchange for their firstborn child. The so-called “Herod clause” was clearly stated in the terms and conditions, and six people still signed up. Though it’s not clear how many of them simply dislike their eldest children.

This is an awesome selection of images of trees in all their glory. Well worth the view.

A Walk in the Woods: A Photo Appreciation of Trees

A collection of images of unusual, intriguing, and beautiful trees and forests around the world, from Madagascar to Poland, Scotland to Hong Kong, the United States, and more.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Friday Thinking 21 July 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



But in a car industry roiled by self-driving vehicles and self-promoting Tesla, which is now valued as highly as General Motors and far more highly than Ford, automakers have to sell more than cars to be seen as exciting by Wall Street. They’ve got to be technology companies, not manufacturers. And that means developing autonomous systems, rethinking the motive power under the hood, and figuring out the art of bold pronouncements.

Either the automotive world is going to undergo a radical transformation around 2020, or these companies have seriously erred in their planning.

All the Promises Automakers Have Made About the Future of Cars

Our entire approach to managing complex systems like our environment is flawed. Until the late 20th Century we could get away with this flaw because we weren’t powerful enough to matter. This has changed …. we need to level up quickly. We need to switch from trying to manage complex systems with complicated control structures and invent entirely new techniques for intrinsically up regulating the complex systems that make up our natural world. We don’t yet know how to do this.

Complex systems that include human beings are different. Unlike atmospheres and nitrogen cycles, people can forecast, strategize and adapt hyper-rapidly to our environment. Dave Snowden calls this anthro-complexity. We have to innovate an entirely new approach to governance that is adequate to the challenging set of problems posed by anthro-complexity. We really don’t know how to do this.

Finally, we have to come to terms with the real nature of technology, the difficult to predict feedback loops of how we affect technology and how it affects us. And then we have to figure out how to navigate the actual consequences of exponential technology — on ourselves and on our lived world. Most people aren’t even prepared to think about how to do this.

Understanding the Blue Church

There are many patterns of collective behavior in biology that are easy to see because they occur along the familiar dimensions of space and time. Think of the murmuration of starlings. Or army ants that span gaps on the forest floor by linking their own bodies into bridges. Loose groups of shoaling fish that snap into tight schools when a predator shows up.

Then there are less obvious patterns, like those that the evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack tries to understand. In 2006, her graduate work at Emory University showed how just a few formidable-looking fighters could stabilize an entire group of macaques by intervening in scuffles between weaker monkeys, who would submit with teeth-baring grins rather than risk a fight they thought they would lose. But when Flack removed some of the police, the whole group became fractured and chaotic.

Like flocking or schooling, the policing behavior arises from individual interactions to produce a macroscopic effect on the entire ensemble. But it is subtler, perhaps harder to visualize and measure. Or, as Flack says of macaque society and many of the other systems she studies, “their metric space is a social coordinate space. It’s not Euclidean.”

How Nature Solves Problems Through Computation

When we hear the word efficiency we zero in―subconsciously―on the most measurable criteria, like speed of service or consumption of energy. Efficiency means measurable efficiency. That’s not neutral at all, since it favors what can best be measured. And herein lies the problem, in three respects:

1. Because costs are usually easier to measure than benefits, efficiency often reduces to economy: cutting measurable costs at the expense of less measurable benefits. Think of all those governments that have cut the costs of health care or education while the quality of those services have deteriorated. (I defy anyone to come up with an adequate measure of what a child really learns in a classroom.) How about those CEOs who cut budgets for research so that they can earn bigger bonuses right away, or the student who found all sorts of ways to make an orchestra more efficient.

2. Because economic costs are typically easier to measure than social costs, efficiency can actually result in an escalation of social costs. Making a factory or a school more efficient is easy, so long as you don’t care about the air polluted or the minds turned off learning. I’ll bet the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh was very efficient.

3. Because economic benefits are typically easier to measure than social benefits, efficiency drives us toward an economic mindset that can result in social degradation. In a nutshell, we are efficient when we eat fast food instead of good food.

So beware of efficiency, and of efficiency experts, as well as of efficient education, heath care, and music, even efficient factories. Be careful too of balanced scorecards, because, while they include all kinds of criteria may be well intentioned, the dice are loaded in favor of those that can most easily be measured.

What could possibly be wrong with “efficiency”? Plenty.

This is a signal of the potential of the digital environment to become an infrastructural platform for a new political economy.

Estonia is trying to convert the EU to its digital creed

The country of e-residency wonders why others are more skeptical.
ESTONIANS are among Europe’s least pious folk. Just 2% of the population attend services weekly in the medieval churches of Tallinn, or anywhere else. A growing number of the inhabitants of this forested, sparsely populated land subscribe to the nature-loving precepts of neo-paganism. But there is only one faith that truly unites Estonians. Broach the subject of digital technology, and you will be amazed by their fervour.

Estonia has carved out a niche as a startup hub and a friendly environment for foreign businesses. Its biggest innovation, however, lies in e-government. Citizens of this tiny Baltic nation can conduct almost every encounter with the state online. A digital-signature system makes official transactions a doddle. Armed with an ID card and a PIN, Estonians can vote, submit applications or sign contracts in seconds. Officials claim this lifts annual GDP by 2% while saving a mound of paperwork and creating opportunities for business. Estonians abroad lament the red tape involved in even simple tasks like applying for a driving licence.

These achievements have made e-government a potent source of soft power for Estonia. Its latest startup is an e-governance academy designed to spread the word, and pilgrimages to Tallinn are now compulsory for governments curious about digitisation. “Is it true that there’s only 1.3m of you? I don’t believe it! You are everywhere,” exclaimed an African emissary on a recent visit. Japan has built an ID system with Estonian help. Its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is one of over 21,000 foreign “e-residents” of Estonia, all of whom can incorporate businesses in the country without setting foot in it. (The first was one of Charlemagne’s colleagues.) Estonia is aiming for 10m e-residents by 2025. Many of them, it hopes, will be British entrepreneurs otherwise severed from the European Union’s single market by Brexit. “E-residency”, says an official, “is our gift to the world.”

Now, as Estonia assumes the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers, it has been granted a pulpit from which to preach the digital gospel to the rest of Europe. As well as managing legislative disputes between the EU’s 28 governments, Estonia will spend the next six months pressing its vision upon the rest of the club, which, it fears, may be left behind by more digitally astute policymakers in other parts of the world. The crowning moment will be a “digital summit” in September, which almost all of the EU’s leaders will attend.

Chief among Estonia’s plans is a proposal to expand the EU’s familiar four freedoms—the unhindered movement of goods, services, capital and people across borders—to include a fifth: data. Data-localisation rules can hinder cross-border trade as effectively as tariffs on goods, or regulations that protect service industries. (The European Commission counts over 50 such laws across the EU.) By one estimate, a fully functional data market could raise the EU’s GDP by about €8bn ($9.1bn) a year. Data-sharing between governments can make life easier for travellers, too. Optimists hope that a pilot programme between Estonia and neighbouring Finland to share medical records, which enables travelling patients to pick up prescriptions in either country, could serve as a prototype. And because Estonia’s platforms are open, businesses can build upon them to provide their own services.

And another interesting article that is signalling the increasing call for alternative forms of self-governance.

Ex-diplomat Carne Ross: the case for anarchism

How a high-flying diplomat and Middle East adviser lost his faith in western democracy – but put his trust in people power
If you were to play a game of word association with the term “anarchism” what would be the likely responses? Perhaps the anarchy sign, with the capital A over a circle. Black flags. The turn-of-the-century bombers immortalised by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent. Or maybe Johnny Rotten singing Anarchy in the UK.

What it would be unlikely to evoke is the image of an English diplomat, a veteran of the Foreign Office and the United Nations, a man schooled in the subtle arts of negotiation and persuasion. But that is the profile of Carne Ross, a former Middle East expert in the UK’s delegation to the UN, who is said to be the inspiration for a character in John le Carré’s novel A Delicate Truth. For Ross, as a new film shows, is now of one of world’s most active proselytisers for the virtues of an anarchist revolution.

With anarchism hardly top of the political agenda, that may sound like a limited claim to fame, akin to being the world’s tallest pygmy. In fact, anarchist ideas are taking root everywhere from Grenfell Tower to Rojava, the Kurd-run area of northern Syria.
Anarchism as a political outlook is rooted in the notion of direct democracy, a polity in which power moves from the bottom upwards. Many of those protesting at the Grenfell Tower fire argue that it was a symptom of a politics that goes in the other direction, from the uncaring top down to the unheard bottom. Ross not only wants to reverse what he sees as a failed kind of democracy, but believes the crisis of “neoliberalism” has created the conditions in which people are beginning to voice their disapproval of the status quo.

Here’s a signal that may sort of blend anarchy and corporate governance - at least related to finance technology.
“One of our goals was to make it ridiculously easy to roll [blockchains] out,” he said. “Now we’re at the next phase of—now I’ve got this blockchain, what do I do with it? So we’re kind of stuck on that piece right now.”   

The Corporate Blockchain

Hundreds of financiers, Wall Street analysts, and C-suite executives gathered in New York City this week to peer into the future of finance at the CB Insights’ Future of Fintech conference. And on Wednesday afternoon, they took a moment to ponder one of the greatest existential threats to their industry—and how they might turn it to their advantage.

Attendees crammed into a standing-room-only session to hear about the role that blockchains would play in existing businesses. To many in finance, it’s a perplexing topic. After all, the Bitcoin blockchain was long ago predicted to render modern finance—and financial firms—obsolete.

Instead, many financial firms have embraced blockchain technology, and even become rather bullish about it in the process. But companies have also found that preparing a blockchain to go live, and integrating it with existing systems, can be a daunting process.

Up on stage, and tasked with guiding the crowd through its mixed bag of emotions, were: Marley Gray, principal program manager for Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain Engineering; Joe Lubin, founder of the blockchain consulting firm ConsenSys; and Rumi Morales, executive director of CME Ventures, the investment arm of CME Group which manages the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Gray set the tone for the discussion from his vantage point at Microsoft, which offers a platform that it calls blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) to help companies build their own blockchain-based networks and applications. As a result, Gray has seen how early experiments have fared across many industries.

Many banks and stock exchanges are on the cusp of moving from pilots and proof-of-concepts to actual blockchain implementations. Morales, who has overseen her firm’s investments into Ripple and Digital Currency Group(which owns the cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk and has funded Coinbase, a trading service), suggested the industry is facing a moment of truth.

Most of us think of Amazon as an online book company - but it’s much more than that. This is a wonderful infographic that shows very simply the vast reaches of Amazon - current as well as future trajectories.

The Jeff Bezos Empire in One Giant Chart

With a fortune largely tied to his 78.9 million shares of Amazon, the net worth of Jeff Bezos continues to be on the rise.

Just days ago, Amazon shares reached all-time highs after the company’s ambitious acquisition of Whole Foods. This puts Bezos just $4 billion away from displacing Bill Gates as the world’s number one billionaire – and if the stock continues upwards, he could take the title any day.

We’ve previously showed how Bezos built Amazon from scratch, but today’s infographic focuses on the extent and reach of Jeff Bezos and his Amazon Empire.

This is another signal outlining the advent of algorithmic intelligence, although AI is already writing many stories in certain newspapers.

Press Association wins Google grant to run news service written by computers

News agency gets €706,000 to use AI for creation of up to 30,000 local stories a month in partnership with Urbs Media
Robots will help a national news agency to create up to 30,000 local news stories a month, with the help of human journalists and funded by a Google grant.
The Press Association has won a €706,000 (£621,000) grant to run a news service with computers writing localised news stories.

The national news agency, which supplies copy to news outlets in the UK and Ireland, has teamed up with data-driven news start-up Urbs Media for the project, which aims to create “a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets”.

It won one of the largest grants to date from Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI), which is aimed at supporting innovation in European digital journalism. PA and Urbs Media will set up Radar – Reporters And Data And Robots – to produce thousands of stories each month.

PA’s editor-in-chief, Peter Clifton, said journalists will still be involved in spotting and creating stories and will use artificial intelligence to increase the amount of content. He said: “Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually. It is a fantastic step forward for PA.”

Having AI write news stories may seems scary for journalists - but this next thing bring the notion of Fake News to a whole new level - beyond what we’ve grown used to with photoshop. You have to see the 2 min video to see exactly how scary this could be.

AI Creates Fake Obama

Artificial intelligence software could generate highly realistic fake videos of former president Barack Obama using existing audio and video clips of him, a new study [PDF] finds.

Such work could one day help generate digital models of a person for virtual reality or augmented reality applications, researchers say.

Computer scientists at the University of Washington previously revealed they could generate digital doppelgängers of anyone by analyzing images of them collected from the Internet, from celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger to public figures such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Such work suggested it could one day be relatively easy to create such models of anybody, when there are untold numbers of digital photos of everyone on the Internet.

The researchers chose Obama for their latest work because there were hours of high-definition video of him available online in the public domain. The research team had a neural net analyze millions of frames of video to determine how elements of Obama's face moved as he talked, such as his lips and teeth and wrinkles around his mouth and chin.

One possible institutional innovation that can be enacted in the face of emerging galactic data and algorithmic intelligence could be national and international ‘Auditor Generals of Algorithms’. The need to ensure that algorithms are and continue to do what their creators claim they are doing and what users trust they are doing is an important contributor to the trust necessary to make the most productive and useful advances appropriate to open and democratic societies.

Biased Algorithms Are Everywhere, and No One Seems to Care

The big companies developing them show no interest in fixing the problem.
Opaque and potentially biased mathematical models are remaking our lives—and neither the companies responsible for developing them nor the government is interested in addressing the problem.

This week a group of researchers, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, launched an effort to identify and highlight algorithmic bias. The AI Now initiative was announced at an event held at MIT to discuss what many experts see as a growing challenge.

Algorithmic bias is shaping up to be a major societal issue at a critical moment in the evolution of machine learning and AI. If the bias lurking inside the algorithms that make ever-more-important decisions goes unrecognized and unchecked, it could have serious negative consequences, especially for poorer communities and minorities. The eventual outcry might also stymie the progress of an incredibly useful technology (see “Inspecting Algorithms for Bias”).

Algorithms that may conceal hidden biases are already routinely used to make vital financial and legal decisions. Proprietary algorithms are used to decide, for instance, who gets a job interview, who gets granted parole, and who gets a loan.

Fundamental to the emerging Digital Environment, Digital Nations and their infrastructures and to open flourishing of democratic societies is the need for access to data, not just ‘big data’ or ‘Enormous’ data but perhaps ‘Galactic’ data. And the capacity to access all galactic sized databases. This means the need to develop more appropriate privacy and property regimes - after all - personal data is almost entirely created in social contexts (even our birthday) and the benefits to each individual and to societies collectively increase exponentially when data can be shared. At minimum the approach to protect the individual and society may be best ensure via recourse when damage is done - because privacy as making data personal property won’t prevent misuse but will foreclose on many unknowable opportunities to create value.
“It’s still early days for understanding algorithmic bias,” Crawford and Whittaker said in an e-mail. “Just this year we’ve seen more systems that have issues, and these are just the ones that have been investigated.”


ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER record-breaking AI research study released by Google—this time with results that are a reminder of a crucial business dynamic of the current AI boom. The ecosystem of tech companies that consumers and the economy increasingly depend on is traditionally said to be kept innovative and un-monopolistic by disruption, the process whereby smaller companies upend larger ones. But when competition in tech depends on machine learning systems powered by huge stockpiles of data, slaying a tech giant may be harder than ever.

Google’s new paper, released as a preprint Monday, describes an expensive collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. Their experiments on image recognition tied up 50 powerful graphics processors for two solid months, and used an unprecedentedly huge collection of 300 million labeled images (much work in image recognition uses a standard collection of just 1 million images). The project was designed to test whether it’s possible to get more accurate image recognition not by tweaking the design of existing algorithms but just by feeding them much, much more data.

Showing that more data can equal more performance out even at huge scale suggests that there could be even greater benefits to being a data-rich tech giant like Google, Facebook, or Microsoft than previously realized. Crunching Google’s giant dataset of 300 million images didn’t produce a huge benefit—jumping from 1 million to 300 million images increased the object detection score achieved by just 3 percentage points—but the paper’s authors say they think can widen that advantage by tuning their software to be better suited to super-large datasets. Even if that turns out not to be the case, in the tech industry small advantages can be important. Every incremental gain in the accuracy of self-driving car vision will be crucial, for example, and a small efficiency boost to a product that draws billions in revenue adds up fast.

Data hoarding is already well established as a defensive strategy among AI-centric companies. Google, Microsoft and others have open-sourced lots of software, and even hardware designs, but are less free with the kind data that makes such tools useful. Tech companies do release data: Last year, Google released a vast dataset drawn from more than 7 million YouTube videos, and Salesforce opened up one drawn from Wikipedia to help algorithms work with language. But Luke de Oliveira, a partner at AI development lab Manifold and a visiting researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, says that (as you might expect) such releases don’t usually offer much of value to potential competitors. “These are never datasets that are truly crucial for the continued market position of a product,” he says.

This is an interesting article - signaling the origin of chemical warfare and the need to understand the great complexity and benefit of protecting plants which includes enabling plants to shift their resource from self-protection (via chemicals, thorns, hard shells, etc) and toward more nutrition in the parts we eat.

Caterpillars Turn to Cannibalism: Study

Herbivores may take to omnivory and eat conspecifics when the plants they feed on produce unsavory protective chemicals.
When plants come under attack—by a hungry caterpillar, for instance—many of them activate defenses that make their foliage less tasty, less nutritious, or toxic. But until now, scientists weren’t sure what the consequences of these plant defenses were for the caterpillar. In a paper published today (July 10) in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers have shown that a tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plant’s protections can encourage beet armyworm caterpillars (Spodoptera exigua) to cannibalize other caterpillars.

“We’ve known for a long time that herbivores do eat other insects, but so far people studying herbivory have kind of ignored that because it’s a lot easier to put herbivores in a neat bin in which they only eat plants,” says Michigan State University ecologist William Wetzel, who did not participate in the study. “And this is some of the first work to really incorporate the effects of cannibalism into plant-herbivore interactions.”

John Orrock, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, usually studies how animals behave when they’re at risk of being attacked, but became intrigued by the ability plants have to also respond to threats. “Plants aren’t just bystanders,” he says.

One of plants’ reactions is to produce nasty-tasting chemicals, and Orrock was curious how they affect herbivores. “Once the plant changes its chemistry, it occurred to us that the plant might become so untasty that a better item on the menu might be a fellow caterpillar,” he says.

This is a good signal about future potential developments related to brain-computer interface.

DARPA Wants Brain Implants That Record From 1 Million Neurons

DARPA is known for issuing big challenges. Still, the mission statement for its new Neural Engineering Systems Design program is a doozy: Make neural implants that can record high-fidelity signals from 1 million neurons.

Today’s best brain implants, like the experimental system that a paralyzed man used to control a robotic arm, record from just a few hundred neurons. Recording from 1 million neurons would provide a much richer signal that could be used to better control external devices such as wheelchairs, robots, and computer cursors.

What’s more, the DARPA program calls for the tech to be bidirectional; the implants must be able to not only record signals, but also to transmit computer-generated signals to the neurons. That feature would allow for neural prosthetics that provide blind people with visual information or deaf people with auditory info.

Today the agency announced the six research groups that have been awarded grants under the NESD program. In a press release, DARPA says that even the 1-million-neuron goal is just a starting point. “A million neurons represents a miniscule percentage of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain. Its deeper complexities are going to remain a mystery for some time to come,” says Phillip Alvelda, who launched the program in January. “But if we’re successful in delivering rich sensory signals directly to the brain, NESD will lay a broad foundation for new neurological therapies.”

Another interesting step in the progress of medical arts and sciences for treating disease.

Engineered cell therapy for cancer gets thumbs up from FDA advisers

Treatment shows promise in young people with leukaemia, but safety risks abound.
External advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have thrown their support behind a therapy that genetically engineers a patient’s own immune cells to target and destroy cancers.

In a unanimous vote on 12 July, the panel determined that the benefits of CAR-T therapy outweigh its risks. The vote comes as the agency considers whether to issue its first approval of a CAR-T therapy, for a drug called tisagenlecleucel, manufactured by Novartis of Basel, Switzerland.

The FDA is not obligated to follow the recommendations of its advisers, but it often does.
Novartis is seeking approval to use tisagenlecleucel to treat children and young adults who have a form of leukaemia called acute B-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia, and who have not responded sufficiently to previous treatment or have relapsed since that treatment. In the United States, about 15% of children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia relapse.

Studies have shown that CAR-T therapies can produce lasting remissions in such cases. In one key trial of tisagenlecleucel, which started in 2015, 52 out of 63 participants — 82.5% — experienced overall remissions. The unpublished trial had no control group, so investigators cannot yet say with certainty how much effect the treatment had. But many participants of such trials have remained cancer-free for months or years.

Many of the FDA’s advisers were effusive in their praise. “This is a major advance, and is ushering in a new era,” said panel member Malcolm Smith, a paediatric oncologist at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Timothy Cripe, an oncologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, called it one of the most exciting things he has seen in his lifetime.

But the therapy poses serious risks. During the 2015 tisagenlecleucel trial, 47% of participants experienced an extreme inflammatory reaction known as cytokine release syndrome, severe cases of which are called cytokine storms. The syndrome — characterized by symptoms such as high fevers and organ failure — can be life-threatening. But Novartis says trial clinicians were able to manage the reaction successfully in all cases.

This is an interesting signal of the ongoing development of exoskeleton augmentation for humans in work and play. The images are worth the view.

"Chairless chair" is designed to provide support for active factory workers

This flexible exoskeleton, designed by Swiss studio Sapetti, allows its wearer to sit down whenever and wherever they need to.

The Chairless Chair is designed primarily for manufacturing environments, where workers are required to stand for long periods of time and where traditional chairs would be an obstacle.

The wearable exoskeleton allows users to walk around freely but have instant support once they get into a bending, squatting or crouching position.

This would reduce the number of instances where employees feel physical strain, so could potentially reduce absences and early retirement.

This is a 7 min video visualizing the growth of the human population since 1 AD with markers for significant cultural developments - it’s a nice summary of the history of the last two thousand years.

Human Population Through the Past 200,000 Years

It took 200,000 years for our human population to reach 1 billion—and only 200 years to reach 7 billion, with temporary declines from events such as the Black Death. But growth has begun slowing, as women have fewer children on average. When will our global population peak? And how can we minimize our impact on Earth’s resources, even as we approach 11 billion?

Climate Change is upon us - although there is no consensus on how much humans will be able to mitigate this - especially in the short term. At minimum rising sea levels threaten a vast number of cities on coastlines. One has to keep in mind - that China provides one model of preparing and adapting for mass human migration as half a billion people will have migrated from rural to urban situations. This is another signal that - as the saying goes “never let a disaster go to waste’ - there are opportunities for the redesign and re-architecting of human societies in the near future.
'Floating ports and cities are an innovative solution which reflect the Dutch maritime tradition.'

Dutch researchers reveal radical plans for mile-wide 'floating islands' to combat rising sea levels

Made up of 87 floating triangles of different sizes, the huge, flexible island made of concrete or steel would eventually stretch 1.5 to two kilometres (one to 1.2 miles), or a total of three square kilometres.

Squeezed for space in this tiny northern European country, 'some cities are starting to look into floating solutions, like a floating park on the river for example, where they want to have an area for recreation close by the city centre,' Olaf Waals from the Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands (MARIN) told AFP.

The researchers say their floating island would provide space for people to 'work and live on'.

If plans for floating islands go ahead it would be a twist in the history of this low-lying country, much of which down the centuries has been reclaimed from the sea and which is protected from the waters by an intricate system of dykes and canals.

'In these times of rising sea levels, overpopulated cities and a rising number of activities on the seas, building up the dykes and pumping out the sands is perhaps not the most efficient solution,' said Waals, referring to common methods to reclaim land.

I love my coffee - have for many years felt myself to be an aficionado - and in the last two years have bought green beans - and roasted them at home myself. This is another of a long line of research providing evidence of its health benefits.
“It’s really reassuring to see similar patterns across very diverse populations with different lifestyle and genetic susceptibilities,” says lead study author V. Wendy Setiawan, Ph.D., an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
In both studies, the benefits were similar among regular and decaf coffee drinkers. The protective effects of coffee may be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, but researchers haven’t yet pinpointed the exact ones. “There are thousands of biologically active compounds in coffee and it’s hard to separate them,” says Setiawan. “The benefit could come from a combination of all these compounds working together.”

Drink Coffee and You May Live Longer

New research finds a link between your morning cup and longevity
Two large new studies published today in Annals of Internal Medicine provide even more evidence that your daily coffee ritual is likely a very healthy habit. While most previous coffee research has involved primarily Caucasian individuals in the U.S., both studies looked at more diverse populations and found that drinking coffee (regular or decaf) was associated with a reduced risk of dying from any cause.

In one of the studies, the largest to include nonwhites, researchers from the Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles tracked more than 185,000 African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians, and whites for an average of 16 years. The results showed that you don’t have to over caffeinate yourself to get the health benefits of coffee. Those who consumed just one cup a day were 12 percent less likely to die over the course of the study than people who did not drink coffee. Drinking two or more cups daily reduced the risk of dying by 18 percent. (The results could not be extended to Native Hawaiians, however, because there were too few of them in the study for the researchers to draw conclusions.)

The other study involved more than 520,000 men and women. All were Caucasian, but they were from 10 different European countries. Men who drank the equivalent of three or more cups per day were 18 percent less likely to die during the 16-year follow-up period than non-coffee drinkers; women had an 8 percent reduced risk. In particular, coffee users had a lower risk of dying from circulatory and liver diseases and had reduced levels of key liver enzymes that, when elevated, can be an indicator of liver disease.

Here’s something for kids and the ‘childlike’ adults who have a creative streak. Once you have a 3D model - there is one more step to transform the model into layers and then it’s ready for 3D printing.

Tinkercad features

Tinkercad is an easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. Tinkercad allows users to imagine anything and then design it in minutes.

For those who are willing to buy either HTC’s VIVE or Occulus Rift - this new online application is awesome - the video is worth the view even if you’re not going to buy the 3D head gear.

Introducing Blocks

Create beautiful 3D models in no time