Sebastian Lindstrom has a restless soul. As a child growing up in Sweden, the only thing he really enjoyed was going on vacation, so he began studying abroad as a high schooler, served in the Swedish Military Special Forces, and co-founded a children’s charity in Ghana before he started college. But it was a trip he organized while at the University of Hong Kong that really set him on the path to wandering with a purpose: He was majoring in international business and global management when he decided to recruit a team to travel the length of Africa, from Morocco to South Africa, filming “untold stories and unsung heroes.”
Drawing on his university connections as well as his membership in the Sandbox Network—a worldwide incubator for “extraordinary young leaders” under the age of 30—Lindstrom put together a group that would eventually visit 16 countries across the continent. “We were a skeleton crew of random people who wanted to explore,” he says. “People would pay for themselves, and we would never stay in hotels, we would sleep in tents if necessary, and travel as cheap as possible. The premise was to see if we could find a best practice that shows how grassroots nonprofits operate. We wanted to focus on positive stories that would inspire people to take action.” That trip (and the people he met along the way, including filmmaker Alicia Sully) would form the basis forWhat Took You So Long, Lindstrom’s “disruptive” filmmaking lab, dedicated to traveling to the most remote corners of the globe to document people who are doing good things (and making money making ads for companies doing good things, too, of course).
The results of that first African trip can be seen on What Took You So Long’s YouTube channel in a collection of short videos spotlighting the tiny charitable operations they visited along the way. “A lot of development people who travel around, they come in with big SUVs,” Lindstrom says. “We look like backpackers. When we would come to an organization, usually we would stay with them. They helped with translation, helped with security, and that connection enabled us to capture more genuine video content. They would host us, and as a thank you we would shoot a video for them.” The team also assembled a long-form documentary they proceeded to show in 20 cities across the U.S. and Europe, using Open Space Technology to host discussions after each screening on how to make aid more effective.
Inside a blocky building in a Vancouver suburb, across the street from a dowdy McDonald’s, is a place chilled colder than anywhere in the known universe. Inside that is a computer processor that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the CIA’s investment arm, In-Q-Tel, believe can tap the quirks of quantum mechanics to unleash more computing power than any conventional computer chip. Bezos and In-Q-Tel are in a group of investors who are betting $30 million on this prospect.
If the bet works out, some of the world’s thorniest computing problems, such as the hunt for new drugs or efforts to build artificial intelligence, would become dramatically less challenging. This development would also clear the tainted reputation of D-Wave Systems, the startup whose eight-year-long effort to create a quantum computer has earned little more than skepticism bordering on ridicule from prominent physicists.
D-Wave’s supercooled processor is designed to handle what software engineers call “optimization” problems, the core of conundrums such as figuring out the most efficient delivery route, or how the atoms in a protein will move around when it meets a drug compound. “Virtually everything has to do with optimization, and it’s the bedrock of machine learning, which underlies virtually all the wealth creation on the Internet,” says Geordie Rose, D-Wave’s founder and chief technology officer. In machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, software examines information about the world and formulates an appropriate way to act in the future. It underpins technologies such as speech recognition and product recommendations and is a priority for research by companies, such as Google and Amazon, that rely on big data.
“Our intelligence community customers have many complex problems that tax classical computing architecture,” Robert Ames, vice president for information and communication technologies at In-Q-Tel, said in a statement released today. In-Q-Tel’s primary “customer” is the CIA, and the National Security Agency is another. Both are known to be investing heavily in automated intelligence gathering and analysis.
Rose, a confident Canadian with a guitar and samurai sword propped in the corner of his windowless office, has been making grand claims to journalists since 2007, when he unveiled D-Wave’s first proof-of-concept processor at a high-profile event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Attendees saw a D-Wave processor (apparently) solve sudoku puzzles and find a close match to a particular drug molecule in a collection of other compounds. But in the weeks, months, and years that followed, skepticism and accusations of fraud rained down on the company from academic experts on quantum computing. Rose’s initial predictions about how quickly the company would increase the size and capabilities of its chips fell by the wayside, and the company, although still well-funded, was publicly quiet.
Signing up Bezos and In-Q-Tel—the company’s most prominent backers yet—is the latest in a series of events that suggest D-Wave thinks it is ready to finally answer its critics. In May 2011, the company published a paper in the prestigious journal Nature that critical academics said was the first to prove D-Wave’s chips have some of the quantum properties needed to back up Rose’s claims. Artificial intelligence researchers at Google regularly log into a D-Wave computer over the Internet to try it out, and 2011 also saw the company sign its first customer. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin paid $10 million for a computer for research into automatically detecting software bugs in complex projects such as the delayed F-35 fighter (see “Tapping Quantum Effects for Software that Learns”). Questions remain about just how its technology works, but D-Wave says more evidence is forthcoming. It is readying an improved processor that Rose calls the company’s first true product rather than a piece of research equipment. D-Wave is expected to announce other major customers in coming months.
Cause and Effect: Visualizing Sustainability (Gestalten, 2012) showcases the campaigns, posters, digital media, and guerrilla marketing that have the power to change not only how we think about the environment, but also what we do about it. The thesis is simple: The more elegant the delivery, the more receptive we are to the message.
I’m salivating over this piece that critically analyzes sustainability. Both of my masters degrees were heavy on the theoretics and history of sustainability. I even taught a class at UMass-Amherst on trends in sustainability research.
The Anthropocene brings into relief a destabilizing ambivalence running through the conceptual and rhetorical registers of sustainability, one that has been there from its initial formulation as “sustainable development.” In one register, the discourse of sustainability seems to offer a sweeping retraction of modern aspirations in light of the Anthropocene and its implications. What needs sustaining is nature’s (and thus also humanity’s) limits. This inflection of sustainability presupposes a background picture of fundamental scarcity and judges claims of abundance to be illusory.
Depending on your point of view, resources are either finite or unlimited. I believe the Earth’s resources are finite, frailly so. I never fully bought into the concept of “sustainable development,” to the continuous frowning of my advisers, who, it must be said, have staked their careers teaching sustainability principles. Never has so much confused hope been placed into one theoretical pot. Never had environmentalism been so distorted and utterly taken over by corporate devils.
From the “resources are finite” point of view, “sustainable development” is an oxymoron, plain and simple. And I cannot think of an historical analog in the liberal arts where an applied theory been such a fantastical failure. Only corporations can practice “sustainable development.” The infrastructure, food and water supply, hospitals and schools, computers and electricity - books - all the world’s resources that make humankind possible are corporate owned. All dollars flow up. Sustainability is an immeasurable impossibility.
The purported age of material surfeit enjoyed by industrialized nations for the past one hundred years, on this view, came through massive exploitation of the world’s poor societies, through extensive externalization of the real costs of industrialization, and through the plundering of the finite reserves of carbon that have been stored up over eons in the depths of the earth. In short, our fabled abundance came about by overrunning critical social and planetary limits for the sake of present gains, to the benefit of only a minority of humans and at the expense of future generations and other species. The Anthropocene, on this view, represents the redlining of our critical life support systems.
What is needed, I’ve argued before, is a new and expanded theory of environmental conservation. We already have a foundation of environmental management, and the best successes are rooted in conservation. We need to expand upon this foundation and duplicate successes. New Conservation, for example, would be tied to civic duty - that is, taking part in law making, attending city meetings, engaging in government decisions, and learning to run for office. I think we need a blending of steady environmentalism and ethical citizenship. (I’m aware that going to city budget meetings are not as sexy as protest, but it’s a new world with tougher laws and smarter authorities. Protest is no longer sustainable [e.g., OWS]).
A New Conservationism would trace the tracks of Teddy Roosevelt’s environmental legacy. And, it would improve upon subsequent environmental theories that have work and continue to function.
This modern concept of sustainability must die. It is capitalism by another name, and capitalism fundamentally depends on massive - massive - extraction of finite resources. It serves only in the efficient extraction or resources for corporate profit. There are no social benefits - none that can be tangibly measured with any clarity (fair trade is a teeny, tiny niche. It, too, is unsustainable. See the Conclusions section of Fairtrade Foundation’s ten-year report). Sustainable development is demonstrably not sustainable.
This is a must read article. It analyzes the history and purpose of sustainability, “Abundance on Trial: The Cultural Significance of “Sustainability””
|—||Are We Addicted to Gadgets or Indentured to Work? - Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic (via thisistheverge)|
UCLA researchers have developed a new transparent solar cell that is an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. Their study appears in the journal ACS Nano.
The UCLA team describes a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells nearly 70% transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current.
“These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications,” said study leader Yang Yang, a UCLA professor of materials science and engineering, who also is director of the Nano Renewable Energy Center at California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI).
Yang, who is also the holder of the Carol and Lawrence E. Tannas, Jr., Endowed Chair in Engineering, added that there has been intense world-wide interest in so-called polymer solar cells. “Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible,” he said. “More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”
Marjan Van Aubel’s graduation project, The Energy Collection, imbues one of the most ordinary domestic objects—glassware—with the ability to harvest energy.
“The project started when I was doing research for future possibilities of colour,” van Aubel explains to Co.Design. The 26-year-old became interested in a new technique for solar energy collection developed by a Swiss scientist named Michael Graetzel. In 2009, Graetzel discovered a new type of dye-sensitized solar cell, based on nanocrystalline oxide film. In shorthand, the cells use color to generate electricity the same way plants do. “He discovered that the dye that gives the red or blue colour to berries, gives off an electron when light strikes it,” explains van Aubel on her website. “When the cell is exposed to light, the dye transmits its electrons to the titanium dioxide and releases an electric current.”
Van Aubel’s collection of household glassware is coated in photosynthetic films of all shades (at first glance, the pieces look like they’re filled with colored water). When the glass is left in sunlight—even in diffused sunlight—it absorbs energy. When the glass isn’t in use, it goes back on a special shelf engraved with magnetic tracks that allow users to convert the stored energy as they see fit.