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Predictive traffic patterns is one of the logical extensions of our relentless data collection, as are highway lanes that can redraw themselves as need dictates. The former can be done now, while the latter will have to wait for an infrastructure overhaul. From Kristine Lofgren at Inhabitat:

“In most parts of the country, traffic planners review data every few years to adjust traffic signals and improve traffic movement. But thanks to several advanced signal system across the US, that’s all changing. For instance, in Utah, traffic planners can actually adjust a signal in almost real-time because of a system made up of a network of closed-circuit cameras connected to a fiberoptic network. The system allows traffic planners to adjust signals in as few as 30 seconds to react to changing traffic needs.

By some estimates, investing in signaling pays back at a ratio of 40 to 1. That’s something you don’t see with other traffic management strategies like building new roads. Even better, efficient traffic flow means fewer emissions. But Utah’s system can be expensive to install and run. To make the system feasible and affordable for any city, Stephen Smith at Carnegie Mellon University in New Jersey is working on an automated system (Utah’s is monitored by live people) that uses radar censors and cameras so that it can adjust real-time.”

Science writer Fred Hapgood dreamed big when Omni asked him, in 1990, to pen “No Assembly Required,” an article that predicted how insect-sized microorganisms would be serving our needs by 2029. None of his prognostications seem even remotely just 15 years away. Three excerpts follow, about futuristic dental care, housecleaning and home security.

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Dental Microsnails That Brush Your Teeth for You While You Sleep

During the average lifetime a human spends a total of 40 days of his life brushing his teeth. (Sixty if he flosses.) Recent breakthroughs in microtractor technology, however, have now made it possible for us to offer our customers the dental microsnaii.

Just rub onto teeth before sleeping: During the night each microsnaii glued to a pair of traction balls, systematically explores the entire surface of the tooth on which it lands. As it moves, powered by the mouth’s own natural electrochemistry, it secretes minute quantities of bioengineered enzymes that detect and epoxy microcracks in enamel, remove plaque, and shred organic material caught between teeth. You awake to find your smile polished to a high gloss. Microsnails are small enough to be barely detectable by the tongue and harmless if swallowed. They vanish down the gut after they’ve finished their job.

For those interested in the latest in decorative dentistry, Microbots also makes an “artist microsnaii” that colors
your incisors in the pattern of your choice, from a simple checkerboard to selected graphics based on works of
Braque, Klee, Mondrian, and De Kooning. lmages fade after 24 hours.

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Tiny Quicker Picker-Uppers

Let your fingers do the housecleaning. Order Micromaids from our catalog and put a thousand domestic servants in the palm of your hand.

Arrange “anthills” (small containers, each the size of a bagel) inconspicuously under chairs and behind furniture (autocamouflaging is standard with this year’s models). When the colony has detected no footfalls in that room for an hour, thousands of Micromaids, legged vehicles the size and shape of a clove, spread-out through the room. They locate loose grains of sand, grit, lint, skin, hair, and other debris, then carry the refuse back to the anthill. If the hill detects vibrations, it releases a high-pitched acoustic signal, summoning the Micromaids to return.

These home bases serve as tiny waste disposal plants. Each contains specialized microbots that process the
trash. Some secrete enzymes and bacteria to break down and sanitize organic matter. Others use tiny pincers to crush and cut up larger items. The anthill then seals the garbage in a polymer bag, which it custom-produces to surround the excreted refuse. The Micromaids carry this package to a preprogrammed location, such as a chute leading to a trash compactor in the basement of your house.

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RoboHornets: The Ultimate Weapon for Home Security

Let’s face it — as wonderful as the  twenty-first century can be, home security is a growing challenge for all of us. Here’s how Microbots can help you deal with it: Whenever the nest detects a possible intruder entering a zone you have designated as “private,” a mosquito-size probe takes off and lands quietly on the person’s clothing and locates a flake of skin caught in the garment. An onboard DNA sampler then radios the raw biological data back to the nest, where a DNA fingerprinting lab performs an analysis and checks the results against a list of those individuals cleared for access to the area. If the person is unauthorized, the mosquito probe triggers a loud and explicit warning message from a rooftop speaker while summoning a cloud of other RoboHornets, each carrying a vicious-looking one-inch-long crimson-colored stinger. Any intruder continuing to ignore the warning message will receive a lesson in the sanctity of private property, the memory of which will linger for several months.•

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From the March 2, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Wellesley, Mass. — Preparations were made at the Wellesley College farm to-day for the Institution to begin breeding its own cats for dissection by the young women students. By so doing Wellesley becomes the first educational institution in the world to raise its own laboratory victims, and makes itself independent of the exigencies of the chase which sometimes yielded fat cats, sometimes thin ones, and frequently mangy ones. The experiment is the result of the arrest and fine imposed on a Wellesley janitor for stealing valuable felines for the college dissection tables.”

After VictrolaHut, RadioShack is the most perplexing American company still in business. Named after an outdated technology and offering none of the advantages of other brick-and-mortar stores let alone online outlets, its stock currently trades for 94 cents, which is about three dollars too high. I wish those folks well, but really! From Sarah Halzack’s Washington Post article about the chain (sort of) trying to reinvent itself:

“The company is pitching the remodeled stores as ‘interactive,’ a word that seems ubiquitous these days as many brick-and-mortar retailers try to create a unique experience in their shops to help ward off online competitors. At the outpost on Seventh Street NW in the District’s bustling Gallery Place neighborhood, the company has added a sleek headphone demonstration station where customers can try out gear from brands such as Beats by Dr. Dre and Skullcandy. A ‘speaker wall’ allows customers to sample many of the speakers sold in the store by controlling them from an iPad. Gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad are displayed so customers can play with them, a set-up that marks a change from before, when the shop only showed printed renderings of what the devices looked like when taken out of the box.

‘It’s really just all about improving the customer experience and delivering on their expectations for us as a brand,’ said Jennifer Warren, RadioShack’s chief marketing officer.

Although these additions might mark a step forward for RadioShack, the ability to test gadgets has long been available at competitors such as Apple and Best Buy. Also, RadioShack plans to remodel only 100 stores by the end of the year — a small fraction of its 4,000 locations.

‘They’re right now effectively catching up to what others have done,’ said Will Frohnhoefer, an equity research analyst at BTIG.”

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robo

A piece of Superintelligence that Nick Bostrom adapted for Slate which stresses that AI doesn’t need be like humans to surpass us:

“An artificial intelligence can be far less humanlike in its motivations than a green scaly space alien. The extraterrestrial (let us assume) is a biological creature that has arisen through an evolutionary process and can therefore be expected to have the kinds of motivation typical of evolved creatures. It would not be hugely surprising, for example, to find that some random intelligent alien would have motives related to one or more items like food, air, temperature, energy expenditure, occurrence or threat of bodily injury, disease, predation, sex, or progeny. A member of an intelligent social species might also have motivations related to cooperation and competition: Like us, it might show in-group loyalty, resentment of free riders, perhaps even a vain concern with reputation and appearance.

An AI, by contrast, need not care intrinsically about any of those things. There is nothing paradoxical about an AI whose sole final goal is to count the grains of sand on Boracay, or to calculate the decimal expansion of pi, or to maximize the total number of paper clips that will exist in its future light cone. In fact, it would be easier to create an AI with simple goals like these than to build one that had a humanlike set of values and dispositions. Compare how easy it is to write a program that measures how many digits of pi have been calculated and stored in memory with how difficult it would be to create a program that reliably measures the degree of realization of some more meaningful goal—human flourishing, say, or global justice.”

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Peter Thiel, contrarian Libertarian, always makes for an interesting subject for a Reddit AMA, not only for his differences of opinion but also for his breadth of interests. A few exchanges follow from his latest one.

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Question:

At Disrupt this week, you mentioned that “Uber was the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.” However, if the power law holds true, isn’t it optimal strategy to do anything to win?

Peter Thiel:

Not optimal if you break the law to the point where the company gets shut down (think Napster). I’m not saying that will happen to Uber, but I think they’ve pushed the line really far.

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Question:

A lot of people on Reddit care about Net Neutrality, and also have a healthy distrust of government. The commonly proposed solution being suggested by the EFF and other pro-technology and net neutrality organizations is to classify broadband/internet service as a Title II common carrier (AKA as a ‘telecommunication service’ that can not discriminate data, instead of ‘information service’ which can). My main hesitation with this is that this would give the FCC even more control over ISPs, which may have unintended consequences on the freedom on the internet. What are your views on current net neutrality issues, and do you have any ideas on this or other solutions?

Peter Thiel:

We’ve had these debates about net neutrality for over 15 years. It hasn’t been necessary so far, and I’m not sure anything has changed to make it necessary right now.

And I don’t like government regulation: We need the US government to regulate the internet about as much as we need the EU to regulate Google — I suspect the cons greatly outweigh the pros, especially in practice.

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Question:

What is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?

Peter Thiel:

Most people believe that capitalism and competition are synonyms, and I think they are opposites. A capitalist accumulates capital, and in a world of perfect competition all the capital gets competed away: The restaurant industry in SF is very competitive and very non-capitalistic (e.g., very hard way to make money), whereas Google is very capitalistic and has had no serious competition since 2002.

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Question:

Why do you think more wealthy people don’t fund anti-aging research? What do you think could be done to encourage them to do more?

Peter Thiel:

Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it.

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Question:

What did you think when you first met Elon Musk?

Peter Thiel:

Very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven — a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.

It was kind of scary to be competing against his startup in Palo Alto in Dec 1999-Mar 2000.

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Question:

What was your reaction to The Social Network movie?

Peter Thiel:

The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.•

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Norbert Wiener’s worried vision for an automated America never was realized–until maybe now, that is. In an article in the August 18, 1950 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the cyberneticist and mathematician explained how the second Industrial Revolution might be a mixed blessing. The story:

Cambridge, Mass. — If Russia doesn’t ruin us the robots will, a noted scientist predicted today. Dr. Norbert Wiener, professor of mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Moscow and the new mechanical brains might even prove unwitting allies in driving the United States into a ‘decade or more of ruin and despair.’

Wiener is the bearded former boy prodigy who earned his doctorate of philosophy at the age of 19 and went on to develop the new science of ‘cybernetics’–the use of communication in controlling men or machines.

Will Take Over Tasks

He said the United States is on the verge of a ‘second industrial revolution’ in which robot factories operated by so-called mechanical brains will take over all the routine tasks of production from men.

‘Short of any violent political changes or another great war, I should give a rough estimate that it will take the new tools 10 or 20 years to come into their own,’ Wiener said.

But he added that the demands of a war with Russia would speed the development of robot factories and almost inevitably see the automatic man age in full swing within less than five years.’

What happen to humans when the robots take over?

May Be a Good Thing

Wiener has a word of warning about that in a new book, The Human Use of Human Beings, which will be published Monday by Houghton Mifflin Company.

If the new machines are used wisely, he said, it may in the long run ‘make this a good thing and the source of the leisure which is necessary for the cultural development of man on all sides.

But Wiener said the depression of the 1930s will look like ‘pleasant joke’ in comparison with what will happen if the nation misuses the new machines which can calculate, remember, pass judgement and even succumb to nervous breakdowns.

‘Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword,’ he said. ‘It may be used for the benefit of humanity, assuming that humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible.'”

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Here’s another video that’s popped up again after being unavailable for a spell. It’s narrated 1977 footage of innovations aimed to aid the deaf and blind. At the 3:40 mark, there’s excellent footage of the Kurzweil Reading Machine and its inventor.

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Those preparing for one apocalypse or another (and their personal shoppers) are driven by myriad forces: facts, prejudices and profits among them. But I’ll add another cause to those obvious ones: hope. I don’t believe the culture of dystopia is ringing cash registers because people are literally hopeful that billions of human beings will die, but I do think many hold dear the fantasy of a post-civilization because of the disquiet the developed word causes. To think that it could all be over is to ease anxieties. Maybe we don’t only fear scarcity but also the absence of it. From Jason Concepcion at Grantland:

“Modern life is way too dark for stories about building great nations. Tides are in full ebb. Dystopian fiction and media is a reaction to our reaction to the now constant whisper of bad fucking news: terrorism, financial crisis, the erosion of the middle class, historic drought, racial animus, global warming, choosing between water and energy. In dystopian stories, as in real life, the only sane reaction to a stranger with a gun is fear and flight.

Dystopias reflect the fear that our future will be one of scarcity, without the the promise of a great manifest destiny. ‘In a way, how can you be a sane and compassionate human being and not be increasingly alarmed by what’s happening to the planet, when it’s potentially civilization-ending?’ said author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) recently in the New York Times.

Dystopian fiction takes the stark drama of the frontier and moves it into your neighborhood. This modern-frontier idea manifests itself most tellingly on reality television. Shows like Doomsday Castle and Doomsday Preppers take environmental and economic fears and view them through the lens of America’s demographic shift.

Both shows can be summed up as terrified white people stockpiling food and guns. One man on Doomsday Preppers explains his system for hiding and securing food supply caches thusly: ‘Out here in the rural areas, people are going to be spilling out to take what farmers have. I’m not going to allow my family to be a target.'”

From Mattathias Schwartz’s largely negative Technology Review critique of Nicholas Car’s latest book, The Glass Cage, which focuses on the dark side of automation, some smart commentary about the real nature of Facebook:

“Carr spends most of The Glass Cage treating automation as though it were a problem of unenlightened personal choices—suggesting that we should often opt out of technologies like GPS in favor of manual alternatives. Yet the decision to adopt many other innovations is not always so voluntary. There is often something seductive and even coercive about them. Consider a technology that Carr himself discusses: Facebook, which seeks to automate the management of human relationships. Once the majority has accepted the site’s addictive design and slight utility, it gets harder for any one individual to opt out. (Though Facebook may not look like an example of automation, it is indeed work in disguise. The workers—or ‘users’—are not paid a wage and the product, personal data, is not sold in a visible or public market, but it does have a residual echo of the machine room. Personal expression and relationships constitute the raw material; the continuously updated feed is the production line.)

Carr flirts with real anger in The Glass Cage, but he doesn’t go far enough in exploring more constructive pushback to automation. The resistance he endorses is the docile, individualized resistance of the consumer—a photographer who shoots on film, an architect who brainstorms on paper. These are small, personal choices with few broader consequences. The frustrations that Carr diagnoses—the longing for an older world, or a different world, or technologies that embody more humanistic and less exploitative intentions—are widespread. For these alternatives to appear feasible, someone must do the hard work of imagining what they would look like.”

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Google hobos they might be called, these employees of the search giant who apparently live in their cars in the parking lot while using the generous facilities of the company’s campus to bathe, eat and manage their errands. It’s an odd, modern mix of vagrancy and the lush life. From Alyson Shontell of Business Insider:

“Why bother paying rent when you can shower, eat, work out, do laundry, and sleep at your office?

Google perks are so good some employees say they’ve spent weeks living on campus to avoid paying rent, according to a Quora thread.

‘Technically, you weren’t supposed to live at the office, but people got around that by living in their cars in the parking lot of the office or the Shoreline parking lot,’ one Googler writes. ‘[One] guy lived in the camper for 2-3 years. Showered at the gym. Did his laundry on campus. Ate every meal on campus he could. After the 2-3 years, he had saved up enough money to buy a house.”

Former Google designer Brandon Oxedine says he lived on Google’s campus for three months in 2013.

‘I was in a unique situation working at Google where I had showers and food that were very convenient to me,’ he writes on Quora. ‘I lived in a Volvo station wagon…I set up a twin mattress from IKEA and put up black curtains (on the 90% blacked out windows) and slept there mostly every night.'”

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Maybe we don’t all need flying cars, but we have to be able to do better than the current municipal buses, which are essentially CO2-vomiting dinosaurs. From Daniel Gross at Slate:

“Forget about Tesla and its futuristic new Gigafactory. When it comes to using electricity for transportation, the real action may lie in the polar opposite of the fancy sports car.

Municipal intracity buses may be déclassé, unloved, slow, lumbering behemoths. But they’re the workhorses of America’s transit systems. Last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association, buses hauled 5.36 billion passengers. While usage has fallen in recent years, thanks in part to the growth of light rail and subway systems, buses still account for more rides each year than heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail combined—and for about half of all public transit trips.

Proterra, a South Carolina-based manufacturer with Silicon Valley ties, thinks it can lead the electric revolution. Fueled by the two forces that are transforming renewable and alternative energy in this country—venture capital and the U.S. government—the company has already put a few dozen electric buses on the road, with the promise of more to come. ‘Our technology could literally remove every single dirty diesel bus from cities,’ said Proterra CEO Ryan Popple.

It’s difficult for all-electric vehicles to compete against super-efficient hybrid gas cars like the Prius or the hybrid-model Camry, which already get very good gas mileage. ‘But we’re competing against the most atrociously inefficient vehicle in the planet,’ said Popple, a former finance executive at Tesla.”

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A follow-up post to the recent one about the history of air conditioning in the U.S., here’s an exchange about initial resistance to the machines from an interview with Salvatore Basile, author of Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed America, by Susannah Locke of Vox:

Question:

There seemed to be a ton of resistance to the idea of air conditioning. People weren’t even interested in the idea of getting cooler air. Why was that?

Salvatore Basile: 

The US is a puritan country. And because we’re a puritan country, I found that there were people who would quote the book of Amos from the Bible as the reason — that the Lord was the being who created the wind. In other words, man was not to do this. So fans were inherently sinful. This, I think, carried on to the idea of any machine that would change the weather, even though heat was something that we’d been doing for millennia.

The idea of cooling your own air, I have a feeling, to many people that felt very self-indulgent at the time. I think they objected to that from a moral standpoint. So the idea that human comfort would be mixed up with morals, well that’s sort of a bad place for the PR of air conditioning to exist. And when we got into the idea of having a machine that could actually cool the air (and the first examples of that were in the 19th century), there was one man who was ousted from his church because he had seen such a machine. And it was powered by a steam engine, and his church committee had accused him of lying because such a thing could not exist. It was against nature.

So transferring that into the modern time, I think there were many people who thought

God made bad weather so you should just put up with it.’ And I think the idea of dealing with heat was to ignore it. Indeed, in Victorian society, one must ignore hot weather because it did not exist. That was simply the given standard of behavior for the time. And so many people would ignore it and then keel over from heat stroke.

With that kind of mindset in the population, to offer them the chance to be cool did create a lot of opposition at first.”

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The famous “Crying Indian” PSA from four decades ago, which showed a Native-American tearing up over how we had carelessly polluted this great land, was a rousing success, playing upon both a sense of guilt (of both the environmental and genocidal varieties) and one of patriotism. The print and TV ad’s weeping star, Iron Eyes Cody, became (literally) the poster boy for “American Indians.” One problem: He was Italian-American, as much a fake as the glycerine tear he had “shed.” Many parties had an interest in maintaining the lie, and even after the actor was at long last exposed, he continued to deny the ruse until he passed away at 94. Talk about commitment to a role. From Zachary Crockett at Priceonomics:

“From 1930 to the late 1980s, Iron Eyes starred in a variety of Western films alongside the likes of John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Ronald Reagan. Clad in headdresses and traditional garb, he portrayed Crazy Horse in Sitting Bull (1954), galloped through the plains in The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), and appeared in over 100 television programs. When major motion picture houses needed to verify the authenticity of tribal dances and attire, Iron Eyes was brought in as a consultant. He even provided the ‘ancestral chanting’ on Joni Mitchell’s 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. 

By all accounts, he was Hollywood’s — and America’s — favorite Native American.

But several (real) Native American actors soon came to doubt Iron Eyes’ authenticity. Jay Silverheels, the Indian actor who played ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger, pointed out inaccuracies in Iron Eyes’ story; Running Deer, a Native American stuntman, agreed that there was something strangely off-putting about the man’s heritage. It wasn’t until years later that these doubts were affirmed.

The Italian Cherokee

In 1996, a journalist with The New Orleans Times-Picayune ventured to Gueydan, Louisiana, the small town Iron Eyes had allegedly grown up in, and sought out his heritage. Here, it was revealed that ‘America’s favorite Indian’ was actually a second-generation Italian. 

‘He just left,’ recalled his sister, Mae Abshire Duhon, ‘and the next thing we heard was that he had turned Indian.’

At first, residents of Gueydan were reticent to reveal Iron Eyes’ true story — simply because  they were proud he’d hailed from there, and didn’t want his image tarnished. Hollywood, along with the ad agencies that had profited from his image, was wary to accept the man’s tale as fabricated. The story didn’t hit the newswires and was slow to gain steam, but The Crying Indian’s cover was eventually blown.”

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Semi-autonomous vehicles are certainly close to be road-ready–cars are already outfitted with some such features–but I would have assumed that fully autonomous ones were more than a decade away. Elon Musk says that it isn’t so, that they’re just a handful of years down the road. From Phys.org:

“US electric car maker Tesla is developing technology that could see vehicles run on ‘full auto pilot’ in as little as five or six years, according to its chief executive Elon Musk.

The colourful entrepreneur said his firm was stepping on the accelerator in the race against rivals such as Google and Volvo to create a driverless car, which could revolutionise the road by drastically cutting mortality rates.

‘The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies,’ Musk told reporters in Tokyo Monday.

‘I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability,’ added Tesla’s 43-year-old head.

There are no self-driving cars on the market yet, but several automakers have been working on autonomous or semi-autonomous features, such as self parking, which are seen as a major advance for the auto sector.

Musk’s comments suggest that the arrival of self-driving cars could be closer than previously thought—a January report by the research firm IHS said they could start hitting highways by 2025 and number as many as 35 million globally by 2035.”

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A paperless world can save the trees, sure, but those data centers we’re all plugged into come with tremendous needs for water and electricity, and every technological advance seemingly grows that beast a little more. From Izabella Kaminska at Financial Times:

“Most technology users remain blissfully unaware of the internet’s carbon footprint because most ‘users’ never have to come up close and personal with a data centre.

Yet, for all the energy efficiency that technology brings us, data centres remain the technology world’s dark little energy guzzling secret.

Data centres, it could be said, represent the unglamorous side of the technology business. They’re the plumbing that holds the whole thing together. They’re the secret sauce that gives one player an advantage over another. As a consequence, there’s zero advantage — either from a security or cosmetic point of view — of bringing attention to where your data centre is located, how it is run or how much energy it consumes.

The location of Visa’s data centres, for example, is strictly guarded. Google, meanwhile, releases only sparse information about how much energy their centres consume.

But according to a new report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch the plumbing that holds the world’s information and technology communication systems together already consumes up to 10 per cent of the world’s electricity.”

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From David Warmflash’s Discover argument for putting the first permanent space settlement on the Moon instead of Mars:

“A colony on the moon, on the other hand, would be within easy reach. Like Mars, the moon has caverns and caves that can be sealed for paraterraforming, along with craters that can be enclosed with pressure domes.

One fascinating lunar colonyproposal would utilize the Shackleton crater at the moon’s south pole, enclosing a domed city with a 5,000-foot ceiling and a diameter of 25 miles.  A colony in that location would have access to large deposits of water ice and would be situated on the boundary between lunar sunlight and darkness. Its proponents estimate a Shackleton dome colony could support 10,000 settlers after just 15 years of assembly by autonomous robots.

In the event of an Earth-wide disaster, evacuating people to the moon would be far easier than to Mars. Another, even nearer option would be free space colonies. These would be built using materials mined from the moon or from near-Earth asteroids. The colonies could be located in the Earth-moon system at sites that are gravitationally advantageous, known as Lagrangian points. In these regions, a colony’s distance and orientation to both the Earth and the moon, or to the Earth and the sun, would remain constant. Utilizing Earth-moon Lagrangian points, it would be relatively easy to transport lunar materials to the site of the planned colony and build it, and the travel time from Earth would be similar to the travel time to the moon, meaning a few days with current technology.”

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Speaking of autonomous vehicles, GM is aiming for 2017 to have leading-edge semi-autonomous function. From Jerry Hirsch at the Los Angeles Times:

“GM is to offer what it is calling ‘Super Cruise’ in a new Cadillac model that [GM’s chief executive Mary] Barra didn’t name.

The system will allow drivers to switch the vehicle into a semi-automated mode in which it will automatically keep the car in its lane, making necessary steering adjustments, and autonomously trigger braking and speed control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

‘With Super Cruise, when there’s a congestion alert on roads like California’s Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop-and-go traffic around,’ Barra said. ‘And if the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedals and let the car do the work.'”

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Fully autonomous cars may be further up the road, but smart, connected cars are something we could do right now if common standards were achieved and infrastructure updated. Some of the benefits from the Economist:

“Some parts of the transformation are already in place. Many new cars are already being fitted with equipment that lets them maintain their distance and stay in a motorway lane automatically at a range of speeds, and recognise a parking space and slot into it. They are also getting mobile-telecoms connections: soon, all new cars in Europe will have to be able to alert the emergency services if their on-board sensors detect a crash. Singapore has led the way with using variable tolls to smooth traffic flows during rush-hours; Britain is pioneering ‘smart motorways,’ whose speed limits vary constantly to achieve a similar effect. Combined, these innovations could create a much more efficient system in which cars and their drivers are constantly alerted to hazards and routed around blockages, traffic always flows at the optimum speed and vehicles can join up into ‘platoons’ on the motorways, travelling closer together, yet with less risk of crashing. …

If cars are to connect, new infrastructure will have to be built. Roads and parking spaces will need sensors to monitor them; motorways will need dedicated lanes for platooning. But this will not necessarily be expensive. Upgrading traffic signals so they can be controlled remotely by a central traffic-management system is a lot cheaper than building new roads.”

From a blog post about longevity by Peter Diamandis, one of the true believers behind Singularity University, who thinks humans may soon outlive all their troubles–or at least their old ones:

“One of the companies I co-founded earlier this year Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), is working on increasing the healthy, active human lifespan even further.

Our goal is to make 100 years old the ‘new 60.’

Imagine being able to maintain esthetics, mobility and cognition for an extra 40 years. I co-founded HLI along with Dr. Craig Venter (the first person to sequence the human genome and create the first synthetic life form) and Bob Hariri, MD/Ph.D, one of the world’s leading pioneers in stem cells.

What decisions would you make differently today if you knew you would most likely live to be 150? How would you think about your 50s, or 60s? How would you evaluate your career arcs, or investments, or even the area in which you live?”

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You can’t currently bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water, as Jake Gittes was told. The severe California drought has transformed the city’s ubiquitous swimming pools from oases into threats. From Rory Carroll in the Guardian:

“Some cities have turned off fountains and rationed water until – unless – rains come. California has given local agencies the authority to fine those who waste water up to $500 a day. Environmentalists are depicting green lawns – another symbol of the middle-class dream – as reckless.

Against that backdrop, private swimming pools can appear indulgent, if not selfish. The average uncovered pool in LA loses about 20,000 gallons to evaporation per year.

Those with leaks can lose an additional 700 gallons daily, according to [UC Santa Barbara media studies professor Dick] Hebdige. His essay for the 2012 Backyard Oasis exhibition on southern Californian pools was entitled, ‘HOLE … swimming … floating … sinking … drowning.’

Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic, said private pools represented a bold 20th-century effort to cleave the metropolis from the natural world, specifically the Pacific.

‘Increasingly that brashness looks misplaced or antique; instead we seem at the mercy of forces beyond our control when it comes to water,’ he noted last month. ‘The swimming pool – like the surface parking lot, the freeway, the lawn and the single-family house – is rapidly fading as a symbolic and cultural marker of Los Angeles.’

As you descend into LA, arguably the second most striking thing about the city – after the endless, concrete vastness – is the number of turquoise pools. Big and small, rectangular and square, round and oval, thousands glint in the sun.

There are an estimated 1.1m pools in California.”

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Andrew Carnegie was among the wealthy philanthropists who funded public libraries in America so that learning wasn’t limited to just the school day. He got no arguments, of course. Bill Gates, who wants to change curriculum, has unsurprisingly had a bumpier ride. A champion of Common Core and the force behind the multidisciplinary Big History courses designed by Australian educator David Christian, Gates and his good intentions have raised the question of whether a billionaire’s influence should have a seat in the classroom itself. While I would have personally loved taking Big History in high school, the issue is a real one. From Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times:

“Beginning with the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, billionaires have long seen the nation’s education as a willing cause for their philanthropy — and, with it, their own ideas about how students should learn. The latest crop of billionaires, however, has tended to take the line that fixing our broken educational system is the key to unlocking our stagnant economy. Whether it’s hedge-fund managers like Paul Tudor Jones (who has given tens of millions to support charter schools) or industrialists like Eli Broad (who has backed ‘blended learning’ programs that feature enhanced technology), these philanthropists have generally espoused the idea that education should operate more like a business. (The Walton Foundation, backed by the family that founded Walmart, has taken this idea to new heights: It has spent more than $1 billion supporting various charter schools and voucher programs that seek to establish alternatives to the current public-school system.) Often these patrons want to restructure the system to make it more efficient, utilizing the latest technology and management philosophies to turn out a new generation of employable students.

For many teachers, [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten explained, this outside influence has become off-putting, if not downright scary. ‘We have a really polarized environment in terms of education, which we didn’t have 10 years ago,’ she said. ‘Public education was a bipartisan or multipartisan enterprise — it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat or elite or not elite. People viewed public education as an anchor of democracy and a propeller of the economy in the country.’ Now, she said, ‘there are people that have been far away from classrooms who have an outsize influence on what happens inside classrooms. Beforehand, the philanthropies were viewed as one of many voices in education. Now they are viewed — and the market reformers and the tech folks — as the dominant forces, and as dissonant to those who work in schools every day. She took a deep breath and softened her tone: ‘In some ways, I give Bill Gates huge credit. Bill Gates took a risk to get engaged. The fact that he was willing to step up and say, ‘Public education is important,’ is very different than foundations like the Walton Foundation, who basically try to undermine public education at every opportunity.’

Gates appears to have been chastened by his experience with the A.F.T. When he speaks about his broader educational initiatives, he is careful to mention that the change he supports comes from the teachers, too. ‘When Melinda and I go on the road and talk to teachers, it’s just so clear there is a real hunger for this,’ he said. ‘If you can take a teacher and give him or her the help to become a great teacher, everyone benefits: the kids, the teacher, the community, the unions. Everyone.’

Gates resists any suggestion that Big History is some sort of curio or vanity project. But some of this earlier antipathy has raised skepticism about his support of the Big History Project. ‘I just finished reading William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts,’ says Scott L. Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. ‘It’s about philanthropists and their effect on the poor globally. It’s this exact idea that here you have this ‘expert’ in the middle’ — that is, Gates — ‘enabling the pursuit of this project. And frankly, in the eyes of the critics, he’s really not an expert. He just happens to be a guy that watched a DVD and thought it was a good idea and had a bunch of money to fund it.'”

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Louis C.K. hating on Common Core:

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The Woodlands, a master-planned suburb of Houston established in 1974, was the bleeding edge of quantified smart homes, as each unit was wired and connected.

Tesla has quickly built the kind of brand loyalty that even out-grades Apple at the height of Steve Jobs’ second go around as guru-in-chief. Why? An explanation of the emotional pull of Elon Musk’s EVs, from Tamara Rutter at USA Today:

“Another way that psychologists explain brand loyalty is through emotional connection. All of the most recognizable brands today have one thing in common: They make an emotional connection with consumers. One of the easiest ways for a brand to do this is by standing for something. In fact, a study by marketing research firm CEB found that rather than being loyal to a company per se, people are loyal to what that company represents.

Tesla wins major points in this regard because it is passionately dedicated to promoting mass adoption of electric vehicles in hopes of one day solving our planet’s energy problem. People feel good about driving a Tesla because they no longer need to buy gas, and as a bonus, they’re helping the planet in the process.

Many Tesla drivers have launched meet-ups or social gatherings for fellow owners and enthusiasts to connect with one another. There are also dozens of meet-up groups around the world for electric-car enthusiasts in general. The important takeaway here is that creating sustainable energy solutions is an increasingly important cause today, one to which millions of people are committed.”

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No matter how many more stories Margaret Atwood writes in her life, the one she is currently working on will be her last, in a sense. The last one read for the first time, anyhow. The author’s current work will be buried in a time capsule for 100 years as part of a deep-future project which runs counter to our insta-culture. From Alison Flood at the Guardian:

“Depending on perspective, it is an author’s dream – or nightmare:Margaret Atwood will never know what readers think of the piece of fictions he is currently working on, because the unpublished, unread manuscript from the Man Booker prize-winning novelist will be locked away for the next 100 years.

Atwood has just been named as the first contributor to an astonishing new public artwork. The Future Library project, conceived by the award-winning young Scottish artist Katie Paterson, began, quietly, this summer, with the planting of a forest of 1,000 trees in Nordmarka, just outside Oslo. It will slowly unfold over the next century. Every year until 2114, one writer will be invited to contribute a new text to the collection, and in 2114, the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed – and, finally, read.

‘It is the kind of thing you either immediately say yes or no to. You don’t think about it for very long,’ said Atwood, speaking from Copenhagen. ‘I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

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