Thursday, December 28, 2017

Friday Thinking 29 Dec. 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



Initially, Tufekci writes, most governments failed to understand the power digital technologies have unleashed. But in recent years regimes have wised up to the platforms, and begun to use them in ever more effective ways — a lesson both China and Russia have learned well.

“Rather than a complete totalitarianism based on fear and blocking of information,” she explains, “the newer methods include demonizing online mediums, and mobilizing armies of supporters or paid employees who muddy the online waters with misinformation, information glut, doubt, confusion, harrasment, and distraction, making it hard for ordinary people to navigate the networked public sphere, and sort facts from fiction, truth from hoaxes. Many governments target dissidents by hacking and releasing their personal and private information to try to embarrass or harass them, rather than acting directly.”

She continues: “Whereas a social movement has to persuade people to act, a government or a powerful group defending the status quo only has to create enough confusion to paralyze people into inaction.”

In other words, information warfare is a two-way street. How might protest movements stay ahead of ever more sophisticated government tactics? By understanding and signaling their unique capacities, which Tufekci ably breaks into component parts, including a movement’s ability drive a particular narrative, affect change, and disrupt the status quo.

Fake News, Information Warfare & the Modern State: How Did We Get Here?

Can I guarantee that scientists in the future will never make the breakthroughs that will lead to the kind of general-intelligence computer capabilities that might truly threaten us? Not absolutely. But I think that the real danger is not that such a scenario will happen, but that we won’t embrace the option to double down on humanity while also using AI to improve our lives. This decision is ultimately up to us: Whatever we choose may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we choose a world in which we are fully replaceable by machines, whether it happens or not, we are surrendering our humanity and our pursuit for meaning. If everyone capitulates, our humanity will come to an end.

Such a capitulation is not only premature and unproven, but also irresponsible to our legacy, our ancestors, and our maker. On the other hand, if we choose to pursue our humanity, and even if the improbable happen and machines truly replace us, we can then capitulate knowing that we did the responsible thing, and that we had fun doing it. We will have no regrets over how we lived.

I do not think the day will ever come—unless we foolishly make it happen ourselves. Let us choose to let machines be machines, and let humans be humans. Let us choose to use our machines, and love one another.

A Blueprint for Coexistence with Artificial Intelligence

Today, we define management as the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. And if this is not a red flag to a CEO running anything other than a widget factory, I don’t know what is. Controlling things no longer appears plausible, and controlling people is downright counterproductive. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

While the division of labour was the hallmark of the industrial era, it is becoming increasingly difficult today to parse out and allocate white-collar work in the form of specific tasks. Regardless of how we describe the present, be it the digital epoch, the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, or the “second machine age”, what it boils down to is that all work that requires supervision is being outsourced to robots and algorithms. Non-standard, creative, experimental work, on the other hand, doesn’t naturally lend itself to management.

Is the age of management over?

“I’ll publish a cookbook and I’ll have 125 recipes. People only use five,” he said. And they won’t even follow them: “They’ll use those as like a guide that they’ll kind of interchange different ingredients with.”

All of this has led Florence to a conclusion that seems unusual for a person who has spent his career producing recipes. “Recipes are dead,” said Florence. “They’re dead the same way paper maps are dead.”

At the Smart Kitchen Summit in October, Florence announced that he had signed on with what he says will be the kitchen equivalent of GPS. He joined Innit, a start-up building a “connected food platform” — connecting the smart kitchen with software that aims to personalize and automate cooking. The company’s newly released app, the thing Florence thinks will be a recipe-killer, promises highly customizable “micro-cooking content.” It will offer thousands of permutations of meals, and it could preheat your oven, too. Eventually, it could go further — perhaps suggesting foods based on your genetic profile or how many steps your fitness tracker registered that day. It might be able to order your groceries or help you build your own meal kit. Someday, it might even know the entire contents of your fridge.

‘Recipes are dead’: What the future of cooking might look like

Bitcoin may be in a bubble, but not all bubbles are created equal. Some are shimmering nothings, reflecting little more than an underlying pyramid scheme. But others are like ocean swells that could become enormous waves. Consider the tech stocks of the late 1990s — a bubble, to be sure, but in retrospect, was Amazon really overvalued?

What gives the Bitcoin bubble significance is that, like ’90s tech, it is part of something much larger than itself. More and more we are losing faith in humans and depending instead on machines. The transformation is more obvious outside of finance. We trust in computers to fly airplanes, help surgeons cut into our bodies and simplify daily tasks, like finding our way home. In this respect, finance is actually behind: Where we no longer feel we can trust people, we let computer code take over.

Bitcoin is part of this trend. It was, after all, a carnival of human errors and misfeasance that inspired the invention of Bitcoin in 2009, namely, the financial crisis. Banks backed by economically powerful nations had been the symbol of financial trustworthiness, the gold standard in the post-gold era. But they revealed themselves as reckless, drunk on other people’s money, holding extraordinarily complex assets premised on a web of promises that were often mutually incompatible. To a computer programmer, the financial system still looks a lot like untested code with weak debugging that puts way too much faith in the idea that humans will behave properly. As with any bad software, it can be expected to crash when conditions change.

This all helps explain the popularity of Bitcoin as an asset independent of government, mainstream banks and their various shenanigans. But still, is it really worth anything at all? It is based on a “blockchain,” a technology that creates a decentralized public ledger and rigorously tracks transfers. It is maintained by its users, and no government can mint more coins. Bitcoin isn’t backed by any sovereign, and unlike a stock or a bond, it gives you a claim to nothing other than Bitcoin itself. Yet that illusory quality is true of most forms of money, a shared hallucination that we tolerate as long as it works. If enough others value something, that can be enough to make it serve as a store of value. Sure, Bitcoin will crash again, but over its lifetime, it has already withstood multiple crashes, runs and splits. It actually feels tested.

Despite its virtual nature, it is still a human institution, facing its own misdeeds and governance problems. Odds are that Bitcoin may never function well as a general medium of exchange (something you can buy things with) because of its wild fluctuations, but might work fine as a store of value that you can sell. It may, like Netscape circa 1995, be portending changes to come. But Bitcoin has captured something. As much as we may love other humans, it is now in code we trust.

Tim Wu - The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust

with every successive year, as we launch a thousand-plus features and services, we just have the capabilities to make it easier for the rest of the market to use us. So we’ve expanded our total addressable market with what we’ve made available to customers.

This happens with every big technology innovation. When you make something much more cost-effective and much faster to get done, people spend less per unit of technology, but they consume absolutely more, because people have insatiable amount of ideas. So I think the total addressable market for the areas that we touch, which is infrastructure, software, hardware and datacenter services, is trillions of dollars.

...First of all, typically when there’s a big, new shift in a medium, like the cloud is — which I think is the biggest technology shift in our generation — typically you find startups who have lesser alternatives and fewer choices to leverage are the first to make that big shift. But enterprises always follow if there’s value there, and there’s so much value in the cloud, from a cost perspective, from an agility perspective, from an efficient allocation of resources perspective, from an ability to get global with your applications, to have lower latency and better data sovereignty in the countries you operate in.

How Amazon Web Services aims to win cloud computing’s next big battle

In 2018, we'll be entering the final, hardest-fought fourth phase of globalization: global creolization. The two-year transition we've just experienced is remarkable primarily for one thing: the degree to which the massive global ethnonationalist reaction has largely failed to slow or halt the process of continued global political, economic, and cultural integration. Powerful as nationalist ideologues and their angry mobs are, for better or worse, they seem incapable of slowing the juggernaut significantly. Much to my own surprise, given my dark expectations at the beginning of the year, ethnonationalists around the world have largely failed to produce anything beyond cosmetic, theatrical gestures in service of their declared agendas. Two years in, it is becoming clear that the global reactionary movement is primarily an aesthetic reaction, trafficking in symbols rather than substance. Of course, they've won some minor battles, but I find myself ending the year on a much more cheerful mood than I began it, with far greater faith in a globalized, cosmopolitan future. The tide appears to have turned.

….the global ethnonationalist reaction has been primarily an aesthetic one. To natural conservatives, a pidgin is an aesthetically incoherent, messy, dissonant, repulsive state, one that provokes a disgust reaction. One to which a purer, uncontaminated isolated culture is clearly preferable. But subconsciously, reactionaries tend to recognize the inevitable future: the incoherence of a pidgin will, if allowed to persist, turn into the strange alien beauty of a new creole. A cultural entity that will do more than compete for hearts and minds with the older cultures it emerged from: it is almost certain to defeat them. In a global culture war, time is on the side of the creoles, despite their fragile young state. The longer a culture war lasts, the more the advantage swings to favor the creoles.  

Global Creolization, the fourth stage of globalization

Fake news is not new - but perhaps what is new is the scale and scope of how it can be created and spread. This may be a similar watershed to the first introduction of the printing press - when from the Church’s point of view the world was suddenly filled with fake news.
This is a great article and the 6 min video is worth the view.


There’s a revolution afoot, and you will know it by the stripes.
Earlier this year, a group of Berkeley researchers released a pair of videos. In one, a horse trots behind a chain link fence. In the second video, the horse is suddenly sporting a zebra’s black-and-white pattern. The execution isn’t flawless, but the stripes fit the horse so neatly that it throws the equine family tree into chaos.

The technologies underlying this shift will soon push us into new creative realms, amplifying the capabilities of today’s artists and elevating amateurs to the level of seasoned pros. We will search for new definitions of creativity that extend the umbrella to the output of machines. But this boom will have a dark side, too. Some AI-generated content will be used to deceive, kicking off fears of an avalanche of algorithmic fake news. Old debates about whether an image was doctored will give way to new ones about the pedigree of all kinds of content, including text. You’ll find yourself wondering, if you haven’t yet: What role did humans play, if any, in the creation of that album/TV series/clickbait article?

A world awash in AI-generated content is a classic case of a utopia that is also a dystopia. It’s messy, it’s beautiful, and it’s already here.

This is a great 30 min video providing a current summary of AI capability and companies using AI.

AI: What's Working, What's Not

It’s the golden age of artificial intelligence (AI), a.k.a. machine learning, deep learning, and other distributed computing. But like every golden age, there’s a gold rush-like buzz in the air that makes it hard to tell what’s hype and what’s not; what’s actually happening now vs. what will happen later (or not at all). What should we pay attention to… and how do we know where to look? And what should every business be thinking about?

Andreessen Horowitz operating partner and head of the deal and research team Frank Chen reflects on all this and more, in this talk delivered at our most recent annual a16z Summit, which took place November 2017.

Here’s a good signal about a proactive approach for embracing the emerging digital society. This is a longish read - but worth it.
“We had to set a goal that resonates, large enough for the society to believe in,”
A tenet of the Estonian system is that an individual owns all information recorded about him or her. Every time a doctor (or a border guard, a police officer, a banker, or a minister) glances at any of Piperal’s secure data online, that look is recorded and reported. Peeping at another person’s secure data for no reason is a criminal offense. “In Estonia, we don’t have Big Brother; we have Little Brother,” a local told me. “You can tell him what to do and maybe also beat him up.”
In what may have been the seminal insight of twenty-first-century Estonia, Martens realized that whoever offered the most ubiquitous and secure platform would run the country’s digital future—and that it should be an elected leadership, not profit-seeking Big Tech.

Estonia, the Digital Republic

Its government is virtual, borderless, blockchained, and secure. Has this tiny post-Soviet nation found the way of the future?
Within this gated community lives a man, his family, and one vision of the future. Taavi Kotka, who spent four years as Estonia’s chief information officer, is one of the leading public faces of a project known as e-Estonia: a co√∂rdinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society.

E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with—legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation. A lawn outside Kotka’s large house was being trimmed by a small robot, wheeling itself forward and nibbling the grass.

“Everything here is robots,” Kotka said. “Robots here, robots there.” He sometimes felt that the lawnmower had a soul. “At parties, it gets close to people,” he explained.

Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

Another important signal from Estonia - harkening the transformation of currency and the introduction of an ecology of ‘tokens’.
Governments do need to consider the disruptive impact of how crypto tokens can be used as currency because they provide a more efficient means for exchanging value globally. However, crypto tokens have far more significance than their use as a currency and don’t necessarily fall into that category.
An independent report released this month by Deloitte revealed that e-residents have already brought €14.4 million back to Estonia in the first three years and this is predicted to rise to €1.8 billion by 2025, which is a return of €100 for every €1 invested in the programme.
The purpose of estcoin is to accelerate this, while also providing additional funds and interest for the development of our digital nation.

We’re planning to launch estcoin — and that’s only the start

We’re working to make e-Residency the best option globally for entrepreneurs launching a trusted ICO, while proceeding with three variants of our own ‘estcoin’ under consideration.
The startup world is being rapidly transformed by Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).
Instead of giving up shares, many startups are now raising finance by issuing their own blockchain-based crypto coins to investors around the world.

The US, Singapore and Switzerland are currently the leading jurisdictions for entrepreneurs considering where to launch their ICOs, although all governments are still figuring out how to regulate ICOs. Unfortunately for both entrepreneurs and investors, that means ICOs continue to operate in what could be described as legal grey areas at best, while the lack of clarity and trust is holding back the benefits of this innovation in finance.

Despite this, the amount of money being raised globally by startups through ICOs is now far in excess of the amount being raised through venture capital. Raising finance is only half the story of ICOs though. People who invest in crypto tokens issued by a startup are then strongly incentivised to support the development of that startup in other ways too and they tend to form an online community.

So in August we published an article on our e-Residency blog asking what would happen if a country, such as Estonia, decided to launch its own crypto tokens with an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). We nicknamed these proposed tokens ‘estcoins’ and explained how e-Residency would provide the platform for distributing and trading them globally because it’s a secure digital identity that anyone in the world can apply for…..

This is a good article signaling the shift in social fabric and the trust necessary for a political economy to function.

The Evolution of Trust in a Digital Economy

The ultimate social impact of blockchain technology depends on who controls our digital identities
Banks and governments have in many ways failed to broker trust for the global economy, especially in the past few decades. Ordinary people have grown wary of centralized power and are seeking alternatives.
Bitcoin—and blockchain technology in general—allows the brokering of trust to be shifted toward machines and away from human intermediaries such as bankers. This technology could design exploitation out of the system instead of punishing it later.
Blockchains lend themselves both to human emancipation and to an unprecedented degree of surveillance and control. How they end up being used depends on how the software handles digital identity.

To participate in today’s global economy, ordinary people must accept an asymmetrical bargain: their lives are transparent to states, banks and corporations, whereas the behavior and inner workings of the powerful actors are kept hidden. The boundaries between the consumer and the citizen have irreversibly blurred. Harvard University social scientist Shoshana Zuboff has called this one-sided, extractive interaction “surveillance capitalism,” and it is a major structural issue. The very institutions whose charter is brokering social trust—banks and governments—have in many parts of the world spectacularly failed to do so, especially during the lifetimes of those younger than 35.

This is another important article signalling the conflict of governance arising in the rapidly emerging digital environment and platforms based on costless coordination - should they be public commons or gated empires. There is a great 17 min video as well. Worth the read.

From Territorial to Functional Sovereignty: The Case of Amazon

Economists tend to characterize the scope of regulation as a simple matter of expanding or contracting state power. But a political economy perspective emphasizes that social relations abhor a power vacuum. When state authority contracts, private parties fill the gap. That power can feel just as oppressive, and have effects just as pervasive, as garden variety administrative agency enforcement of civil law. As Robert Lee Hale stated, “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

We are familiar with that power in employer-employee relationships, or when a massive firm extracts concessions from suppliers. But what about when a firm presumes to exercise juridical power, not as a party to a conflict, but the authority deciding it? I worry that such scenarios will become all the more common as massive digital platforms exercise more power over our commercial lives.

My answer focused on the identity and aspirations of major digital firms. They are no longer market participants. Rather, in their fields, they are market makers, able to exert regulatory control over the terms on which others can sell goods and services. Moreover, they aspire to displace more government roles over time, replacing the logic of territorial sovereignty with functional sovereignty. In functional arenas from room-letting to transportation to commerce, persons will be increasingly subject to corporate, rather than democratic, control.

The Digital Environment promises many things including the Internet-of-Things-Sensors and corresponding increases in ‘big data’. It is also enacting platforms of costless coordination - and hence the Internet-of-Actions - building tacit knowledge networks as and when needed. This is a signal of a beyond the gig economy - economy.

Technology Horizons 2017 Research: Toward an Internet of Actions

Ubiquitous networking has transformed cyberspace into a pervasive layer atop our physical reality. Meanwhile, the emerging Internet of Things promises to imbue ambient intelligence into every space and every object, from factories and forests to furniture and food packaging. All the devices around us, and inside us, will be sensors and storytellers, keeping a constant vigil on our world and sharing what they learn with the network. A constant flow of real-time data will enable us to index our physical world with a greater resolution than ever possible. That database will become the backbone of a new kind of human-machine interface: a search engine for reality itself. But to what end?

In the next decade, the web will evolve from an Internet of Information toward an Internet of Actions transforming everything from how we conduct business to our relationship with the material and natural world around us to how we get things done. A simple, spoken language request will trigger a cascade of search and orchestration of digital and physical activities, collaborations between people and algorithms, to anticipate and meet our needs. Our workspaces will sense our presence and dynamically pull information and ambient resources to enhance the ways we collaborate. We’ll buy a new deck for our house online and the network will order the materials, identify and route the best-suited contractors, tightly choreograph the construction, and summon an autonomous truck to deliver the waste to the recycling facility.

The Internet of Actions will get to know us, mining our digital footprints and understanding our intentions. It will anticipate our needs and behave proactively, offering us its services before we even ask. As we move from the Internet of Information toward an Internet of Actions, we will redefine our relationship with the physical world and the digital intelligence that powers it.

This is a good article providing a brief summary of the state of 23andMe a gene sequencing company (I had my genes done) - of course this is not a full sequencing of the genome. This is worth the view for anyone interested in genetic-based research and is willing to partner with the company.

The Rising Research Profile of 23andMe

An exploration of the genetics of earlobe attachment is just the latest collaborative research project to come out of the personal genetic testing company.
University of Pittsburgh researcher Seth Weinberg first got in touch with personal genetics company 23andMe to talk about data in September, 2015. He and Pittsburgh colleague John Shaffer were studying the genetic factors underlying earlobe attachment—whether that fleshy part at the bottom of the ear hangs loose or is fixed to the side of the head. By a few years ago, they and their collaborators had assembled genetic data from around 10,000 volunteers, and identified six loci in the human genome related to earlobe variation.

During the project, Weinberg recalled a 2010 research paper from 23andMe that had analyzed genetic data from several thousand customers who had consented to be involved in research and had entered information about themselves online. “This paper was about a bunch of different traits,” Weinberg tells The Scientist. “One of them was earlobe attachment.”

Weinberg reached out to see whether 23andMe might be willing to share that paper’s analyses. “They were enthusiastic about wanting to be involved,” Weinberg says. “A month or two into the process, they said, ‘Why don’t we just reanalyze the trait, and then you can update it from all the data we have available?’ It didn’t take us long to look at that option and say, ‘OK!’”

The data that 23andMe had available by then, it turned out, included the genetic details and self-reported earlobe features from nearly 65,000 customers. The paper that resulted from that collaboration, published yesterday (November 30) in the American Journal of Human Genetics, not only replicates the six loci highlighted by the Pittsburg researchers’ original 10,000-person cohort, it contributes another 43.

With the tremendous emphasis on AI that fills the news today - there are other developments which are challenging out ideas of intelligence, mind and awareness. This longish article - is important in expanding our sense of self as an ecology of beings becoming.

The minds of plants

From the memories of flowers to the sociability of trees, the cognitive capacities of our vegetal cousins are all around us
At first glance, the Cornish mallow (Lavatera cretica) is little more than an unprepossessing weed. It has pinkish flowers and broad, flat leaves that track sunlight throughout the day. However, it’s what the mallow does at night that has propelled this humble plant into the scientific spotlight. Hours before the dawn, it springs into action, turning its leaves to face the anticipated direction of the sunrise. The mallow seems to remember where and when the Sun has come up on previous days, and acts to make sure it can gather as much light energy as possible each morning. When scientists try to confuse mallows in their laboratories by swapping the location of the light source, the plants simply learn the new orientation.

What does it even mean to say that a mallow can learn and remember the location of the sunrise? The idea that plants can behave intelligently, let alone learn or form memories, was a fringe notion until quite recently. Memories are thought to be so fundamentally cognitive that some theorists argue that they’re a necessary and sufficient marker of whether an organism can do the most basic kinds of thinking. Surely memory requires a brain, and plants lack even the rudimentary nervous systems of bugs and worms.

However, over the past decade or so this view has been forcefully challenged. The mallow isn’t an anomaly. Plants are not simply organic, passive automata. We now know that they can sense and integrate information about dozens of different environmental variables, and that they use this knowledge to guide flexible, adaptive behaviour.

Plants also communicate with one another and other organisms, such as parasites and microbes, using a variety of channels – including ‘mycorrhizal networks’ of fungus that link up the root systems of multiple plants, like some kind of subterranean internet. Perhaps it’s not really so surprising, then, that plants learn and use memories for prediction and decision-making.

The issue of fairness is built on a biology of accounting - whether it’s the circulation of credit and debt or the regulation of living systems via homeostasis.
"It's really still a bit of a mystery why we would seek to enforce norms and justice and fairness when it doesn't concern us and ourselves," says Nikolaus Steinbeis, a senior lecturer at University College London and co-author on the new study. "What you see in adults and young children is that they're willing to pay to punish someone when they don't get anything out of it."


Chimpanzees and children as young as six will pay to see offenders punished, suggesting justice-seeking behavior in humans has deep evolutionary roots.
Humans are social animals. We feel bad when misfortune befalls our friends, and pleasure when it befalls our foes. Plenty of research has documented justice-seeking behavior in adults, even pursuing punishment for offenders who have harmed others rather than ourselves. In a new study, published today in Nature Human Behavior, researchers looked at both children and chimpanzees to find out just how deeply rooted our penchant for revenge is.

In an attempt to better understand this phenomenon, Steinbeis and his colleagues looked at children aged four to six in order to pin down exactly when this behavior emerges. In one experiment, a puppet offered participants one of their favorite toys and then handed it over to the child; in another, the puppet offered the child the toy but then kept the toy for itself. Afterwards, the friendly (prosocial) puppet and the mischievous (antisocial) puppets were both physically punished just out of view of the young participants, who could choose to pay with stickers to watch as the punishment was meted out. The chimpanzee experiment mirrored that of the children, except puppets were replaced with humans, toys with food, and stickers with physical effort.

Both chimps and the oldest children were more motivated to see antisocial characters punished than prosocial ones. "What normally happens in evolutionary anthropology is that young children can do something and chimps can't," Steinbeis says. "In this case, we actually see really similar behavior in chimps, so this might be something which is rooted quite deeply."

This is another signal of the accelerating phase transition in our transportation paradigms.

Chinese City to Become World's First to Switch Entire Bus Fleet to Electric

The city of Shenzen, China is home to a staggering 16,000 buses. To compare, that's more buses than the five largest North American bus fleets combined (New York City, Los Angeles County, New Jersey Transit, Chicago and Toronto).

Now, after a six-year effort to replace its diesel-fueled buses, the major Chinese city is well on its way to become the world's first city to electrify its entire public transit bus fleet.

Shenzen has methodically electrified its buses in recent years to curb unhealthy air pollution and cut emissions. According to the United Nations' Climate Action program, in 2015 there were 3,600 electric buses on the city's roads. By 2016, the number increased to 9,000. By May 2017, the number reached 14,500. The remaining 1,500 buses will go emission-free before the end of the year.

Shenzen, which has a population of 11.91 million, is also planning to switch its taxis to electric by 2020.

It is always great to have insight from good science fiction writers - especially when there also some science involved. It’s nice to see Nature including these writers in a larger discussion.
...our attempts to imagine the future are thwarted by the fact that the evolution of technology is dominated by false starts, chance encounters and path dependence. No one who saw the first HTML page by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee could have predicted Tumblr and Twitter, or have imagined that applying filters to selfies would become a multibillion-dollar business. ‘Black swans’ interrupt every smooth extrapolation curve.

Science fiction when the future is now

Six authors parse the implications of our unhinged era for their craft.
AlphaGo, fake news, cyberwar: 2017 has felt science-fictional in the here and now. Space settlement and sea-steading seem just around the bend; so, at times, do nuclear war and pandemic. With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?

Nature asked six prominent sci-fi writers — Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard — to reflect on what the genre has to offer at the end of an extraordinary year.

This is definitely a signal of what’s to come in the new world of demographics - of unprecedented swarms of elders.

Meet the Counter Strike e-sports team where everyone is over 60

They’re called the Silver Snipers
Earlier this year, Monica Idenfors stumbled upon a strange ad. It was a call for seniors interested in joining an e-sports team, with the goal of competing in a Counter Strike tournament at the Dreamhack digital festival in Sweden. As a recent retiree, Idenfors thought it sounded like an “exciting opportunity,” and a good way to spend her newfound free time. She signed up, and eventually joined as one of five members of a new squad cleverly named the Silver Snipers.

At 62-years-old, she was the youngest member of the team, but all the members had something in common beyond their age: none had ever played Counter Strike before. Once they started training, they had just three weeks to prepare for a tournament where they’d go up against players with years of experience.

Sponsored by Lenovo, the Silver Snipers were assembled with the explicit goal of broadening the audience of e-sports, which typically skews quite young. The team is coached by former Counter Strike pro Tommy “Potti” Ingemarsson who, since retiring from playing, has started working as a manager. Most recently, he’s been mentoring students and other newcomers to the world of competitive gaming. The Silver Snipers presented an opportunity to take that concept even further, with a brand new demographic. “We want everyone to be involved,” Ingemarsson says.

But first came the training. Three weeks isn’t much time for anyone to prepare for a tournament, let alone complete newcomers who had little experience with video games before.

Despite all of their enthusiasm, the tournament didn’t go so well. Up against teams with significantly more experience, the Silver Snipers lost both of their matches, though they did manage to win a round. “Knitting Knight” even scored a trio of headshots in one match. But the results were still positive.

The team is in the process of organizing a more regular training schedule for 2018, and potentially moving into different games in the future. Idenfors says …. learning how to pull off headshots in Counter Strike has also helped her relax. “I have days when I’m frustrated or anxious, but when I’m gaming it helps,” she says. “I feel good after.”

This is a fascinating short piece - that may be hard for many to keep up with - but it is a great signal of new emerging science and physics. It is worth the read - simply for the insight.

'Weyl-Kondo semimetal': Physicists discover new type of quantum material

U.S. and European physicists searching for an explanation for high-temperature superconductivity were surprised when their theoretical model pointed to the existence of a never-before-seen material in a different realm of physics: topological quantum materials.

In a new study due this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Rice University theoretical physicist Qimiao Si and colleagues at the Rice Center for Quantum Materials in Houston and the Vienna University of Technology in Austria make predictions that could help experimental physicists create what the authors have coined a "Weyl-Kondo semimetal," a quantum material with an assorted collection of properties seen in disparate materials like topological insulators, heavy fermion metals and high-temperature superconductors.

All these materials fall under the heading of "quantum materials," ceramics, layered composites and other materials whose electromagnetic behavior cannot be explained by classical physics. In the words of noted science writer Philip Ball, quantum materials are those in which "the quantum aspects assert themselves tenaciously, and the only way to fully understand how the material behaves is to keep the quantum in view."

These quirky behaviors arise only at very cold temperatures, where they cannot be masked by the overwhelming forces of thermal energy. The most celebrated quantum materials are the high-temperature superconductors discovered in the 1980s, so named for their ability to conduct electrical current without resistance at temperatures well above those of traditional superconductors. Another classic example is the heavy fermion materials discovered in the late 1970s. In these, electrons appear to be effectively hundreds of times more massive than normal and, equally unusual, the effective electron mass seems to vary strongly as temperature changes.

These pictures are awesome - a pleasure to view.

Ancient Trees: This Woman Spent 14 Years Photographing The World’s Oldest Trees

Did you know that there are ancient trees on our planet that are thousands and thousands of years old?

Some of them have been around for so long, they even predate the existence of Islam and Christianity.

I myself have always been fascinated by trees and felt a special connection to them.
In this collection of breath taking photographs, Beth Moon — a photographer based out of San Francisco — traveled all around the world to capture some of the most remarkable ancient trees that she could find.