I was at the Web Summit last week in Lisbon. I’ve never seen quite so many black North Face rucksacks in one place, although black faces were almost totally absent. OK, there was some refreshing energy and optimism, but also quite a bit of delusion (in my opinion) surrounding future AI and the inevitability of conscious machines.
But the best bit was, without doubt, the sustainable merchandise. Hand-knitted jumpers for £800 and re-useable drink containers. Heaven forbid that any of the 70,000 attendees used a single use coffee cup. These, of course, were all sold alongside the fact that tech uses around 15-20 per cent of global energy (depending on whom you believe) and has a carbon footprint that would put BP and Boeing to shame (See a good article on the carbon footprint of AI here).
Clearly any industry will create emissions, especially during any transition to clean energy, but what gets my goat is how certain groups and individuals have focussed on one area (e.g. flying) at the total exclusion of others. For example, emissions from the global fashion industry and textile industries match and possibly exceed aviation.
BTW, if anyone has a reliable figure for carbon emissions created by Apple, Facebook and Uber et al – but especially Google and Amazon (incl. AWS) please share!
Here’s a visual showing some of the things that might theoretically be possible in the distant future. Note that all the ideas listed here are possible from a laws of physics point of view, although the engineering challenges and costs associated with most of them are, shall we say, a bit ‘far out’.
The way this works is that the ideas that are closest (larger type) are nearer than the things far away (in smaller type). There’s some vague clustering of ideas too (for example, human habitation, propulsion, water and so on).
The ideas are as follows:
First woman on the moon
never to breathe Earth’s air
emigration of climate refugees into space
in space than on Earth
Use of lunar
lava tubes for human habitation
with pseudo-gravity & circadian rhythm simulation
AI-controlled data-farms on distant planet
AI ‘lifeform’ in space
of panspermia hypothesis
the Universe is a simulation
engineering of space colonists for increased resilience
exoplanets with bacteria
Synthetic biology to detoxify space soil for agriculture
specially bred for space soils
storage vaults in space
found in meteorites
found on distant planet
mining for minerals & water
fusion-powered craft with water from comets
of space food
hamburger grown in space
3D & 4-D printing of space cities in-situ
modular robots for space-based construction
junk limits launch of satellites from Earth
removal using 2-D space dumpsters
fined for space littering
pit stops & ‘shipyards’
travel to shorten space journeys
harvesting for propulsion purposes
around the Sun to harvest energy
collisions between dead stars to create energy
systems allow for relocation of planets
destruction of an exoplanet
Rearrangement of constellations to send message to a future intelligence
This chart was created to boldly go where no infographic has gone before by Professor Roberto Trotta and Richard Watson at Imperial College London. Thanks to Lawrence (Wond Design), Maria (Imperial Tech Foresight) and Sergiu (ex Imperial, aerospace engineering). If NASA eventually read this, the answer is yes! Printable PDF is coming…
Here’s something I’ve discovered. Many things move up and down and in some cases round and round. Therefore, if you have an idea that’s off-trend, or against conventional wisdom, the best thing to do in some instances is simply wait. Case in point my own low-fi newsletter called brainmail. It ran for about 12-years, but I eventually killed it off due to GDPR amongst other things. But it now looks like a hot new idea.
What’s that Confucius, or some other old dude, once said? Something like if you sit on a river bank and wait for long enough, the body of your enemy will eventually float past. BTW, sitting by the water in Lisbon, at the Web Summit, this thought feels especially true.
I know I’m not supposed to be reading newspapers, but when I find one left on a train I sometimes flick through.
Anyway, I’m getting increasing concerned by the removal of people. First it was the supermarket (and what a sterile, soulless, joyless place that now is), then it was my bank (no cashiers now, just terminals, with one overworked person with an iPad endlessly explaining to people over the age of 40 (you know, the ones with all the money) why they now have to deal with machines rather than human beings. Above is the latest example.
In theory this might be a good idea. Another channel to contact the police. But we all know what’s going to happen. Mission Creep. It will save the Met a load of money and will eventually be the only way you can contact the police. God forbid your phone gets lost or runs out of battery. And how exactly is an online police station going to provide empathy or reassurance?
Writing in the Washington Post, Brigid Schulte, a time-use researcher and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, quotes an article in a 1959 edition of the Harvard Business Review saying that: “boredom, which used to bother only aristocrats, had become a common curse.” Similarly, in 1960, the US broadcaster Eric Sevareid thought the gravest crisis facing America was: “the rise of leisure”, although this, is an old argument indeed – “Idleness and lack of occupation tend―nay are dragged―towards evil” as Hippocrates observed in Decorum. But we should be careful not to confuse being lazy with being idle. What might be termed ‘strategic idleness’ can pay dividends, as Jack Welch, former CEO of one of the world’s most admired companies, General Electric, would attest. Welch famously spent an hour each day looking out of the window, while Lord Melbourne, a former Prime Minister of Great Britain, praised the value of what he termed “masterful inactivity.”