Thursday, November 29, 2018

Friday Thinking 30 Nov 2018

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. Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works. Techne = Knowledge-as-Know-How :: Technology = Embodied Know-How  

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



A general term is useful only if it subsumes related concepts in such a way that semantic value is added. If our comprehension is not increased by our chosen generalised term, then we shouldn’t use it. A common claim such as ‘they stole my intellectual property’ is singularly uninformative, since the general term ‘intellectual property’ obscures more than it illuminates. If copyright infringement is alleged, we try to identify the copyrightable concrete expression, the nature of the infringement and so on. If patent infringement is alleged, we check another set of conditions (does the ‘new’ invention replicate the design of the older one?), and so on for trademarks (does the offending symbol substantially and misleadingly resemble the protected trademark?) and trade secrets (did the enterprise attempt to keep supposedly protected information secret?) The use of the general term ‘intellectual property’ tells us precisely nothing.

Furthermore, the extreme generality encouraged by ‘intellectual property’ obscures the specific areas of contention created by the varying legal regimes. Those debating copyright law wonder whether the copying of academic papers should be allowed; patent law is irrelevant here. Those debating patent law wonder whether pharmaceutical companies should have to issue compulsory licences for life-saving drugs to poor countries; copyright law is irrelevant here. ‘Fair use’ is contested in copyright litigation; there is no such notion in patent law. ‘Non-obviousness’ is contested in patent law; there is no such notion in copyright law. Clubbing these diversities under the term ‘intellectual property’ has induced a terrible intellectual error: facile and misleading over-generalisation.

Indiscriminate use of ‘intellectual property’ has unsurprisingly bred absurdity. Anything associated with a ‘creator’ – be it artistic or scientific – is often grouped under ‘intellectual property’, which doesn’t make much sense. And the widespread embrace of ‘intellectual property’ has led to historical amnesia.

Why then does ‘intellectual property’ remain in use? Because it has polemical and rhetorical value. Its deployment, especially by a putative owner, is a powerful inducement to change one’s position in a policy argument. It is one thing to accuse someone of copyright infringement, and another to accuse of them of the theft of property. The former sounds like a legally resolvable technicality; the latter sounds like an unambiguously sinful act.
Knowledge and creative works are nonrivalrous, nondepletable goods subject to network effects. To control them like ‘tangible property’ is to reduce their social utility.

legal protections offered to intellectual property assets are utilitarian grants – they are neither perpetual nor exclusive. (Tangible property is said to be perpetual because it is yours till you dispose of it.) Their terms are limited and amenable to nonexclusive use. Patent law offers exceptions for experimental use, and prior-use rights for business methods; copyright law for fair use; trademark law for nominative use; trade secrets for reverse engineering and independent discovery.

End intellectual property

Copyrights, patents and trademarks are all important, but the term ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious

Say leadership and we see an individual—even if that individual is determined to "empower" everyone else. (Must people who are hired to do a job have to be empowered to do that job?) Too often, however, it’s about something else: a great white knight riding in on a great white horse to save everybody else (even when headed straight into a black hole). If one individual is the leader, then everyone else must be a follower. Do we really want a world of followers?

Think of the established organizations that you admire most. I’ll bet that beyond leadership is a profound sense of communityship. (Never heard that word? I made it up1, to put leadership in its place, namely to support communityship.) Effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.

How can you recognize communityship in an organization? That’s easy. You feel the energy in the place, the commitment of its people, their collective interest in what they do. They don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. They respect the organization because the organization respects them. No fear of being fired because some “leader” hasn’t made the anticipated numbers on some bottom line. Imagine a whole world of such organizations!

Sure we need leadership, especially to establish communityship in new organizations and help sustain it in established organizations. What we don’t need is an obsession with leadership—of some individual singled out from the rest, as if he or she is the be-all and end-all of organizing (and is paid accordingly). So here’s to just enough leadership, embedded in communityship.

Henry Mintzberg - Communityship beyond Leadership

Knowledge work is characterized by variety and exception rather than predictability and routine. Work corresponds more with art through creative and contextual engagements. It is impossible to separate a knowledge process from its outcomes. Knowledge work is about agency, human beings being more intensely present for each other.

The focus is changing from generic skills to contextual presence, empathy and interaction. Instead of competences and skills, we should talk about agency.

Individuals competing on job markets may be one of the historic mistakes we have inherited from the early industrial era. It made sense a very long time ago but now we should think differently. The really big objective of digital transformation is to reconfigure work in a way that brings these relationships into the center. Success today is increasingly a result of skillful presence: it is about empathy and interaction. Interaction creates capability beyond individuals. Cooperative performance can be more than what could ever be predicted just by looking at the performance of the parties involved. It is not about individual skills any more. Agency, which here means performance and resilience, is an emergent property of cooperative interaction supported by intelligent technologies.

Networks provide problem-solving capability that results directly from the richness of communication and the intelligence of our tools. What happens in interaction between the parts creates a reality that cannot be seen in the parts or even seen in all of the parts.

The most important reason why we need a new concept of agency supplementing competences, is because workers and their contributions in the post-industrial world are highly contextual and, at best, too diverse to rank. They are, and should be, too qualitatively different to compare quantitatively.

Instead of talking about generic competences, we need to focus on continuously developing agency — for everybody.

Esko Kilpi - We need to shift our focus from competencies to agency

This is an important signal about the current state of information in our digital and social-political systems. Well worth the read.

Information Attacks against Democracies

Democracy is an information system.
That's the starting place of our new paper: "Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy." In it, we look at democracy through the lens of information security, trying to understand the current waves of Internet disinformation attacks. Specifically, we wanted to explain why the same disinformation campaigns that act as a stabilizing influence in Russia are destabilizing in the United States.

The answer revolves around the different ways autocracies and democracies work as information systems. We start by differentiating between two types of knowledge that societies use in their political systems. The first is common political knowledge, which is the body of information that people in a society broadly agree on. People agree on who the rulers are and what their claim to legitimacy is. People agree broadly on how their government works, even if they don't like it. In a democracy, people agree about how elections work: how districts are created and defined, how candidates are chosen, and that their votes count­ -- even if only roughly and imperfectly.

We contrast this with a very different form of knowledge that we call contested political knowledge, which is, broadly, things that people in society disagree about. Examples are easy to bring to mind: how much of a role the government should play in the economy, what the tax rules should be, what sorts of regulations are beneficial and what sorts are harmful, and so on.

This seems basic, but it gets interesting when we contrast both of these forms of knowledge across autocracies and democracies. These two forms of government have incompatible needs for common and contested political knowledge.

This is an amazing signal - highlighting a huge benefit from self-driving transportation - in terms of commute times and energy use. Now also imagine smart traffic lights. See the 2 min video.
In the figure eight scenario, replacing just one of the 14 “human”-driven cars with a self-driving car doubled the average car speed, the researchers reported last month at the Conference on Robot Learning in Zurich, Switzerland. In the merge scenarios, replacing 10% of the regular cars with self-driving cars also increased overall traffic flow, in some cases doubling the average car speed.

Watch just a few self-driving cars stop traffic jams

Anyone can start a traffic jam—all it takes is tapping on your brakes. The driver behind you will brake, as will the next driver, starting a shock wave of stop-and-go reactions that can travel backward for kilometers. Now, scientists have shown that a few self-driving cars can prevent such jams—and in some cases double the average speed of surrounding vehicles.

The researchers used a video game–style interface to control simulated cars on made-up roadways. In one scenario, the cars drove around a figure eight with a central intersection. In others, one or several lanes of traffic merged, or the cars traversed a Manhattan-like city grid with traffic lights at each crossing. The team looked at various ratios of self-driving cars mixed with regular cars that simulated typical human driving.

In each scenario, the researchers tested four algorithms that used reinforcement learning—a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that learns skills through trial and error. In the figure eight and merging scenarios, a central algorithm controlled all self-driving cars, experimenting by changing their patterns of acceleration and braking. In the Manhattan scenario, the AI-controlled traffic lights instead of cars.

Just how fast can AI improve to seem human? The answer may be about how fast and how much human data AI can access.
“For users and platforms alike, it is getting harder to discern ‘real’ users and authentic account activities from fake, spammy, and malicious manipulations,” writes the researcher Amelia Acker in a recent Data & Society report that explores how metadata — your likes, comments, reactions — is being used to hoodwink the public in new and increasingly lifelike ways. “Manipulators are getting craftier at faking what looks like authentic behavior on social media.”

The bots of the future are going to use our own metadata to seem more human

A new Data & Society report suggests social media manipulators are now in the business of ‘data craft’
Today the internet is a quagmire of captial-c Content, made navigable by retweets, likes, and favorites; everything posted can be quantified by its corresponding reactions. Though in aggregate it may seem like noise, to people in the business of disinformation, there’s a valuable signal there to be picked apart and studied. Our activity on social platforms — those favorites and likes and retweets — are a form of metadata that can help manipulators and their bots appear human to the algorithms that police social networks. And that problem is about to get a lot worse: bots are starting to mimic your social media activity in order to look more human.

This is an interesting weak signal about two emerging technologies - blockchain/distributed-ledger and quantum computing. That this is published by Nature gives it some weight.

Quantum computers put blockchain security at risk

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will founder unless they integrate quantum technologies
By 2025, up to 10% of global gross domestic product is likely to be stored on blockchains. A blockchain is a digital tool that uses cryptography techniques to protect information from unauthorized changes. It lies at the root of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Blockchain-related products are used everywhere from finance and manufacturing to healthcare, in a market worth more than US$150 billion.

When information is money, data security, transparency and accountability are crucial. A blockchain is a secure digital record, or ledger. It is maintained collectively by users around the globe, rather than by one central administration. Decisions such as whether to add an entry (or block) to the ledger are based on consensus — so personal trust doesn’t come into it. Any party inside or outside the network can check the integrity of the ledger by making a simple calculation.

But within a decade, quantum computers will be able to break a blockchain’s cryptographic codes. Here we highlight how quantum technology makes blockchains vulnerable — and how it could render them more secure.

The accelerating pace of development and implementation of vast species of AI brings hope and fear. Augmenting human capacity for good and ill. Here’s a signal of an emerging arms race as AI becomes another ubiquitous tool-weapon. Perhaps by having AI able to identify a person’s behavior (e.g. walking gait, facial patterns, etc) - our personal AI-ssistance will learn to recognize when something ‘not-self’ seems to be operating in our systems.
"It’s very much like the human body’s own immune system," says the company’s co-CEO Nicole Eagan. "As complex as it is, it has this innate sense of what’s self and not self. And when it finds something that doesn’t belong—that’s not self—it has an extremely precise and rapid response."

The rare form of machine learning that can spot hackers who have already broken in

Darktrace’s unsupervised-learning models sound the alarm before intruders can cause serious damage.
In 2013, a group of British intelligence agents noticed something odd. While most efforts to secure digital infrastructure were fixated on blocking bad guys from getting in, few focused on the reverse: stopping them from leaking information out. Based on that idea, the group founded a new cybersecurity company called Darktrace.

The firm partnered with mathematicians at the University of Cambridge to develop a tool that would use machine learning to catch internal breaches. Rather than train the algorithms on historical examples of attacks, however, they needed a way for the system to recognize new instances of anomalous behavior. They turned to unsupervised learning, a technique based on a rare type of machine-learning algorithm that doesn’t require humans to specify what to look for.

Electric buses will displace about 233,000 barrels of oil demand a day by the end of the year. Add in the much smaller displacement from electric cars, and there’s 279,000 barrels a day displaced — about as much oil as Greece consumes per day.
Another is Europe. As Bloomberg Intelligence’s Rob Barnett notes, the latest figures from Germany show demand for diesel fell 9 percent in the first half of the year. The influence of Green Party lawmakers will dent demand further.
Then there’s Italy, where demand for gasoline has fallen by nearly half since 2005.

For those you think TED Talks are worth criticizing - this is a good TED Talk critique - although it is from 2013 - This is a MUST VIEW.

New Perspectives - What's Wrong with TED Talks? Benjamin Bratton at TEDxSanDiego 2013 - Re:Think

Benjamin Bratton, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD and Director of The Center for Design and Geopoltics at CALIT2, asks: Why don't the bright futures promised in TED talks come true? Professor Bratton attacks the intellectual viability of TED, calling it placebo politics, middlebrow megachurch infotainment, and the equivalent of right-wing media channels. Does TED falsely present problems as simply puzzles to be solved by rearranging the pieces?

This would be a weak signal of the emerging ubiquitous interface with the digital environment. While not a new idea and not ready for primetime it is looming closer and closer. There is a 2 min video demonstration.

HyperSurfaces turns any surface into a user interface using vibration sensors and AI

Imagine any surface, such as a wooden table, car door or glass wall, could be turned into a user interface without the need for physical buttons or a touch screen. That’s the ambition of HyperSurfaces, the London startup originally behind the Mogees line of music devices and software, which today is unveiling what it claims is a major breakthrough in UI technology.

Dubbed “HyperSurfaces,”  the new technology, for which the company has four related patents pending, combines vibration sensors and the latest developments in machine learning/AI to transform any object of any material, shape and size into an intelligent object able to recognise physical interactions.

Equally important is that once trained for a particular object, the HyperSurfaces neural network-trained algorithms are able to run on dedicated microchips that don’t require connection to the cloud for processing. This means that gestures can be instantly recognised and in turn trigger specific commands entirely locally and at much lower cost.

Another weak signal of the developing ubiquitous interface with the digital environment - this one is aimed to help people who are paralysed - but inevitably this technology will progress to provide capabilities augmenting everyone who wants.
Using nothing more than their intentions to move a cursor, the three participants performed seven common digital tasks, including web browsing and sending e-mail. One participant looked up orchid care, ordered groceries online and played a digital piano. “The tablet became second nature to me, very intuitive,” she told the researchers when asked about her experience, according to the study.

Brain implants let paralyzed people use tablets to send texts and stream music

Devices that monitor neural activity may help immobilized people resume their digital lives
Devices that eavesdrop on neural activity can help paralyzed people command computer tablets to stream music, text friends, check the weather or surf the internet.

Three people with paralysis below the neck were able to navigate off-the-shelf computer tablets using an electrode array system called BrainGate2. The results, published November 21 in PLOS One, are the latest to show that neural signals can be harnessed to directly allow movement.

The two men and one woman had electrode grids implanted over part of the motor cortex, an area of the brain that helps control movement. The brain implants picked up neural activity indicating that the participants were thinking about moving a cursor. Those patterns were then sent to a virtual mouse that was wirelessly paired to the tablet.

This is a weak signal of the potential for a ‘metabolic’ economy - where every output can be an input (or a niche opportunity to transform output-as-input). All those place where people ‘rent’ their beer can now be part of a metabolic manufacturing process. This can bring on lots of bad puns - like providing a new meaning to ‘laying a brick’ :)

World-first: Bio-bricks from urine

The world’s first bio-brick grown from human urine has been unveiled by University of Cape Town (UCT) master’s student in civil engineering Suzanne Lambert, signalling an innovative paradigm shift in waste recovery.
The bio-bricks are created through a natural process called microbial carbonate precipitation. It’s not unlike the way seashells are formed, said Lambert’s supervisor Dr Dyllon Randall, a senior lecturer in water quality engineering.

In this case, loose sand is colonised with bacteria that produce urease. An enzyme, the urease breaks down the urea in urine while producing calcium carbonate through a complex chemical reaction. This cements the sand into any shape, whether it’s a solid column, or now, for the first time, a rectangular building brick.

The development is also good news for the environment and global warming as bio-bricks are made in moulds at room temperature. Regular bricks are kiln-fired at temperatures around 1 400°C and produce vast quantities of carbon dioxide.

The strength of the bio-bricks would depend on client needs.
“The longer you allow the little bacteria to make the cement, the stronger the product is going to be. We can optimise that process.”
the bio-brick process produces as by-products nitrogen and potassium, which are important components of commercial fertilisers.

Chemically speaking, urine is liquid gold, according to Randall. It accounts for less than 1% of domestic waste water (by volume) but contains 80% of the nitrogen, 56% of the phosphorus and 63% of the potassium of this waste water.
Some 97% of the phosphorus present in the urine can be converted into calcium phosphate, the key ingredient in fertilisers that underpin commercial farming worldwide.

What will the world look like in a decade - as a result of the phase transition in energy geopolitics? An important signal of the approaching threshold.
"There are some scenarios, in some parts of the U.S., where it is cheaper to build and operate wind and solar than keep a coal plant running," said a Lazard banker who was involved in the report. "You have seen coal plants shutting down because of this."

It's now cheaper to build a new wind farm than to keep a coal plant running

Inflation dictates that the cost of living will continue to rise — except, it seems, when it comes to renewable energy. The cost of building a new utility-scale solar or wind farm has now dropped below the cost of operating an existing coal plant, according to an analysis by the investment bank Lazard. Accounting for government tax credits and other energy incentives would bring the cost even lower.

Every year, the investment bank analyzes the cost of different types of energy using a metric called the levelized cost of energy, or LCOE. This analysis factors in the cost of components and the cost of operations, as well as the cost of debt, to come up with the smallest dollar amount, per unit of energy, for an investor in the project to see a 12 percent return.

The LCOE for coal this year is between $27 and $45 per megawatt. That figure is $29 to $56 for a wind farm and $31 to $44 for a solar farm, depending on the technology used.

An interesting signal for two types of technology - wind energy generation and superconducting.

World first as wind turbine upgraded with high temperature superconductor

Superconductors are breaking into the energy industry for the first time after a conventional, working wind turbine had its permanent magnets replaced by superconducting tape. The switch means that it’s possible to build lighter, smaller wind turbines that are less dependent on expensive rare earth elements. This means that the price tag of turbines could fall and, in turn, cut energy costs.

Generators could be made from superconducting magnets, however, offering significant savings in size and weight. ‘We can make a machine that will deliver the same amount of power for roughly half the weight and half the volume of a regular wind turbine,’ says Marc Dhalle, materials scientist at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The EU-funded project, EcoSwing, was coordinated by Danish turbine company Envision.
The new generator is 4m in diameter, 1.5m smaller than a conventional one. It sits inside an 88m high 3.6MW turbine in Thyboron, Denmark

‘A wind generator making 1MW of power will contain roughly a tonne of neodymium in its magnets. In our generator, we use about 1kg of [the rare earth] gadolinium, so we use orders of magnitude less of this relatively rare and expensive material,’ says Dhalle. Gadolinium, which replaces neodymium in the turbine, costs just $18.70/kg (£14.50/kg) of gadolinium oxide, compared with $45.50/kg of neodymium oxide, according to Roskill and Asian Metal.

Signals of the looming transportation transition abound - but this one may be a significant catalyst - especially if China begin to export cars in a serious way - perhaps not to the developed world - but to the developing world.
At Friday's opening, China's top electric-vehicle maker, BYD, unveiled its Tang sports utility vehicle, which can travel 600 km on a single charge, outdistancing Nissan Motor's Leaf at 400 km. Tang can also accelerate to 100 kph 0.5 seconds faster than Tesla's Model X, said Zhao Changjiang, head of BYD's auto sales said.

Chinese electric-car makers charge ahead, powered by state

Wave of vehicles at Guangzhou auto show risks oversaturating market
Ahead of a mandate for new-energy vehicles in China that rolls out in January, Chinese and foreign automakers are accelerating their shift to electric vehicles, with the latest offerings on full display at the Guangzhou International Automobile Exhibition, which opened Friday.

The momentum lies with Chinese manufacturers, which have a running start from years of state subsidies and protection. Foreign automakers are racing to catch up, as it becomes clearer that the experiment in transitioning from combustion engines will happen here, in the world's largest car market.

But as is often the case in China, a state-led push into a certain field, with little regard for market mechanisms, poses the risk of distorting the industry. Already, there are signs of a proliferation of players in new-energy vehicles that could lead to an oversupply.

The last few decades of cognitive and bioscience has changed our understanding of what being a human is - and it continues to reveal ever more complexity in our genetic ecologies. This is a good read and makes the concept of GMO look outmoded.

Our Genome’s Viral Graveyard

How viral DNA has shaped human evolution
Just when you thought your body couldn’t get any more microbial, it’s time to meet the ancient viruses buried in your genetic code.

With an estimated 10^31 viruses on earth, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’ve infiltrated every corner of existence — including between the base pairs of our own DNA. Look closely and you’ll find that viral genes make up a significant proportion of the human genome. This may sound alarming when we consider that the most common contexts in which we discuss viruses involve lethal diseases and global pandemics— but these viral elements are little more than fossils of their infectious ancestors.

all vertebrate genomes studied so far contain endogenous retroviruses. Humans, of course, are not immune, and these integration events are theorized to have happened 30 or 40 times over the course of our history, until 8 percent of the human genome was purely viral. Eight percent sounds trivial — until you consider that only 1.5 percent of our genome actually codes for proteins, the functioning units of a cell.

At first pass, the insertion of retroviral regulatory elements into the human genome may sound like a frightful genetic experiment resulting in human-virus hybrid monsters. But retroviral relics tend to exert their most common and interesting effects by ramping human gene expression up or down, often with far-reaching consequences on our health.

Given that the endogenous retrovirus modus operandi involves haphazard hopping into the genome, it’s unsurprising that their presence can add some unwanted genetic baggage. But retroviral villainy may be the exception rather than the norm. As it turns out, the power of endogenous retroviruses is all about location — and over the course of human evolution, we have managed to co-opt this genetic ammunition for our own purposes as well.

We are only approaching the threshold of our understanding of life as we domesticate bacteria - here is a signal about what bacterial capabilities are possible.
“We ... discovered that benthic bacteria are taking up large amounts of carbon dioxide and assimilating it into their biomass through an unknown process,” Sweetman said in a statement. “Their biomass then potentially becomes a food source for other animals in the deep sea, so actually what we’ve discovered is a potential alternative food source in the deepest parts of the ocean, where we thought there was none.”
“If the findings from the study are scaled up to the oceans globally, it could mean 200 million tonnes of CO2 is being turned into biomass every year. “This equates to approximately 10 percent of the CO2 that the oceans remove each year, so it’s possibly an important part of the deep-sea carbon cycle,”


Bacteria that absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) and potentially turns itself into a food source for other sea creatures has been discovered in one of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists were studying the ecosystems in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ), a trench that extends 2.5 miles beneath the surface of the ocean. The area is currently being explored for its deep sea mining potential—contractors from nations including Korea, Germany and the U.K. believe the site to be a promising source of polymetallic nodules, which contain metals like nickel, copper and cobalt. Teams of researchers are now conducting surveys to assess the biodiversity of the CCFZ to understand what the impact deep sea mining might have.

Andrew Sweetman, from the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, U.K., and his colleagues carried out a series of experiments of the sediments located in the CCFZ and discovered something unexpected—bacteria that was consuming huge amounts of CO2. Findings are published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

The findings follow another study carried out last year where scientists discovered bacteria in a lake located deep beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet was consuming methane—an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Researchers found the bacteria was digesting methane and preventing it from entering the water and eventually escaping into the atmosphere.

And more from the world of stranger than fiction - as we open the door to domesticating DNA.
Capturing excess CO2 produced by purple bacteria could be useful not only for reducing carbon emissions, but also for refining biogas from organic waste for use as fuel.

Purple bacteria 'batteries' turn sewage into clean energy

You've flushed something valuable down the toilet today.
Organic compounds in household sewage and industrial wastewater are a rich potential source of energy, bioplastics and even proteins for animal feed—but with no efficient extraction method, treatment plants discard them as contaminants. Now researchers have found an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective solution.

Published in Frontiers in Energy Research, their study is the first to show that purple phototrophic bacteria—which can store energy from light—when supplied with an electric current can recover near to 100% of carbon from any type of organic waste, while generating hydrogen gas for electricity production.

The bacteria can use organic molecules and nitrogen gas—instead of CO2 and H2O—to provide carbon, electrons and nitrogen for photosynthesis. This means that they grow faster than alternative phototrophic bacteria and algae, and can generate hydrogen gas, proteins or a type of biodegradable polyester as byproducts of metabolism.

Which metabolic product predominates depends on the bacteria's environmental conditions—like light intensity, temperature, and the types of organics and nutrients available.