Tag Archives: Earth

Backing into World War III

By Robert Kagan – Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China.

The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries.

The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. History shows that world orders do collapse, however, and when they do it is often unexpected, rapid, and violent.

The late 18th century was the high point of the Enlightenment in Europe, before the continent fell suddenly into the abyss of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war.

Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15?

That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

It will be more than a shame if Americans were to destroy what they created—and not because it was no longer possible to sustain but simply because they chose to stop trying. more> https://goo.gl/cGZ3En

How to play mathematics

BOOK REVIEW

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
Physics on the Fringe, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Author: Ron Eglash.

(glasbergen.com)By Margaret Wertheim – The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things materially embodying fiendishly complex pieces of mathematics. How can we make sense of this? I’d like to propose that sea slugs and electrons, and many other modest natural systems, are engaged in what we might call the performance of mathematics.

Rather than thinking about maths, they are doing it.

In the fibers of their beings and the ongoing continuity of their growth and existence they enact mathematical relationships and become mathematicians-by-practice. By looking at nature this way, we are led into a consideration of mathematics itself not through the lens of its representational power but instead as a kind of transaction.

Rather than being a remote abstraction, mathematics can be conceived of as something more like music or dancing; an activity that takes place not so much in the writing down as in the playing out.

Since at least the time of Pythagoras and Plato, there’s been a great deal of discussion in Western philosophy about how we can understand the fact that many physical systems have mathematical representations: the segmented arrangements in sunflowers, pine cones and pineapples (Fibonacci numbers); the curve of nautilus shells, elephant tusks and rams horns (logarithmic spiral); music (harmonic ratios and Fourier transforms); atoms, stars and galaxies, which all now have powerful mathematical descriptors; even the cosmos as a whole, now represented by the equations of general relativity.

The physicist Eugene Wigner has termed this startling fact ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’.

Why does the real world actualize maths at all? And so much of it?

Even arcane parts of mathematics, such as abstract algebras and obscure bits of topology often turn out to be manifest somewhere in nature. more> https://goo.gl/ifKV2Z

Updates from Georgia Tech

The Health Informatics Revolution
By John Toon – Using massive data sets, machine learning, and high-performance computing, health analytics and informatics is drawing us closer to the holy grail of health care: precision medicine, which promises diagnosis and treatment tailored to individual patients. The information, including findings from the latest peer-reviewed studies, will arrive on the desktops and mobile devices of clinicians in health care facilities large and small through a new generation of decision-support systems.

“There are massive implications over the coming decade for how informatics will change the way care is delivered, and probably more so for how care is experienced by patients,” said Jon Duke, M.D., director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Health Analytics and Informatics.

“By providing data both behind the scenes and as part of efforts to change behavior, informatics is facilitating our ability to understand patients at smaller population levels. This will allow us to focus our diagnostic paths and treatments much better than we could before.”

Georgia Tech’s health informatics effort combines academic researchers in computing and the biosciences, practitioners familiar with the challenges of the medical community, extension personnel who understand the issues private companies face, and engineers and data scientists with expertise in building and operating secure networks tapping massive databases.

“It takes all of these components to really make a difference in an area as complex as health informatics,” said Margaret Wagner Dahl, Georgia Tech’s associate vice president for information technology and analytics.

“This integrated approach allows us to add value to collaborators as diverse as pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, large private employers, and federal agencies.” more> https://goo.gl/63pIZd

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The fatal expense of American imperialism

BOOK REVIEW

The Age of Sustainable Development, Author: Jeffrey D. Sachs.

By Jeffrey D. Sachs – This tradition of US-led regime change has been part and parcel of US foreign policy in other parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Wars of regime change are costly to the United States, and often devastating to the countries involved.

It is nearly a truism that US wars of regime change have rarely served America’s security needs. Even when the wars succeed in overthrowing a government, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Moammar Khadafy in Libya, the result is rarely a stable government, and is more often a civil war.

A “successful” regime change often lights a long fuse leading to a future explosion, such as the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and installation of the autocratic Shah of Iran, which was followed by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

These wars destabilized and impoverished the countries involved rather than settling the politics in America’s favor. The wars of regime change were, with few exceptions, a litany of foreign policy failure. They were also extraordinarily costly for the United States itself.

Alas, the blinders and arrogance of American imperial thinking prevented the United States from settling down to a new era of peace. As the Cold War was ending, the United States was beginning a new era of wars, this time in the Middle East. The United States would sweep away the Soviet-backed regimes in the Middle East and establish unrivaled US political dominance. Or at least that was the plan. more> https://goo.gl/tLrvil

Deep time’s uncanny future is full of ghostly human traces

By David Farrier – The Anthropocene, or era of the human, denotes how industrial civilisation has changed the Earth in ways that are comparable with deep-time processes.

The planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles, ocean chemistry and biodiversity – each one the product of millions of years of slow evolution – have been radically and permanently disrupted by human activity.

The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century, have both been proposed as start dates for the Anthropocene.

But a consensus has gathered around the Great Acceleration – the sudden and dramatic jump in consumption that began around 1950, followed by a huge rise in global population, an explosion in the use of plastics, and the collapse of agricultural diversity.

There is also something disturbingly banal about the Anthropocene.

Arguably, it’s in the encounter with everyday objects, surfaces and textures that we get the best sense of its scope and scale. Some 60 billion chickens are killed for human consumption each year; in the future, fossilised chicken bones will be present on every continent as a testimony to the intrusion of human desires in the geological record.

Plastics, which began being mass-produced in the middle of the 20th century, give us back the world as the West has been taught to see it – pliable, immediately available, and smoothed to our advantage. Yet almost every piece of plastic ever made remains in existence in some form, and their chemical traces are increasingly present in our bodies.

Humans created 5 billion gigabytes of digital information in 2003; in 2013 it took only 10 minutes to produce the same amount of data. more> https://goo.gl/q9dRCD

Updates from GE

GE Reports [VIDEO] – In December 2015, 195 countries gathered in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP 21 after the 21st Conference of the Parties) and collectively agreed to reduce global emissions in an effort to combat climate change. This agreement is referred to as the Paris Agreement.

GE Reports Perspectives talked to James Cameron, global climate policy expert, Partner in SYSTEMIQ, and GE Ecomagination advisory board member, on how the process works, why it matters to business and what people should know about the next climate talks held in Morocco in November.

  • How does the UN Climate Change Conference process work, and why does it matter?
  • What’s happened since the Paris Agreement was signed last year at the COP 21 meetings?
  • How will businesses be affected by the Paris Agreement at the global and local level? How will it impact industries such as energy?
  • The 2016 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 22) will be held Nov. 7 to 18 in Morocco. What will happen at those meetings, and what should businesses know about it?

more> https://goo.gl/E9X2CX

How data will destroy human freedom

BOOK REVIEW

Sapiens, Author: Yuval Noah Harari.
Homo Deus, Author: Yuval Noah Harari.

By David Runciman – Yuval Noah Harari‘s previous book, the global bestseller Sapiens, laid out the last 75,000 years of human history to remind us that there is nothing special or essential about who we are. We are an accident.

Homo sapiens is just one possible way of being human, an evolutionary contingency like every other creature on the planet. That book ended with the thought that the story of homo sapiens could be coming to an end. We are at the height of our power but we may also have reached its limit.

Homo Deus makes good on this thought to explain how our unparalleled ability to control the world around us is turning us into something new.

The evidence of our power is everywhere: we have not simply conquered nature but have also begun to defeat humanity’s own worst enemies. War is increasingly obsolete; famine is rare; disease is on the retreat around the world. We have achieved these triumphs by building ever more complex networks that treat human beings as units of information.

Not all of this is new. The modern state, which has been around for about 400 years, is really just another data-processing machine. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, writing in 1651, called it an “automaton” (or what we would call a robot). Its robotic quality is the source of its power and also its heartlessness: states don’t have a conscience, which is what allows them sometimes to do the most fearful things.

What’s changed is that there are now processing machines that are far more efficient than states: as Harari points out, governments find it almost impossible to keep up with the pace of technological advance. more> http://goo.gl/dfkc8w

Updates from GE

Fortune Magazine List Names GE As A Top World Changer
GE – It took considerable time and investment to boost the efficiency of GE’s gigantic HA gas turbine, affectionately known as “HArriet,” by just a few percent. The company’s scientists used super materials and other technologies borrowed from jet engines to coax every last bit of performance from the machine, and gained the notice of Guinness when it hit 62 percent efficiency.

The efficiency drive also encapsulates what propelled GE to third position on Fortune magazine’s Change the World list. The magazine ranked companies that are tackling the world’s biggest problems for their measurable social impact, business results and degree of innovation.

In the case of HArriet, a 1,000-megawatt power plant using two of the turbines paired with steam turbines, a configuration called combined cycle, could save an estimated $50 million on fuel over 10 years from a 1 percent gain.

Increasing efficiency also makes the already clean turbine – when it burns 3.3 tons of natural gas mixed with air, it results in just 6.3 fluid ounces of pollution, a volume slightly larger than a half-can of soda – even cleaner. more> http://goo.gl/JYfCSE

Is the Oil Industry Dying?

By Richard Heinberg = Back in the early years of the current millennium, I was among a handful of authors warning that world petroleum production rates would soon hit a maximum level and start to decline, and that the eventual result would be economic mayhem.

Indeed, the entire petroleum business is currently in deep trouble. Countries that rely on crude oil export revenues are facing enormous budget deficits, and in some cases are having trouble maintaining basic services to their people.

The worst instance is Venezuela, where hunger is rampant. But hard times have also fallen on Nigeria, the Middle Eastern monarchies, Russia, and even Canada to some degree.

Any way you look at it, the industry faces a grim future.

Even if prices go up, there is no guarantee of recovery: Investors may be shy to rush back to oil since they have no assurance that a price rout won’t recur in months or years. more> http://goo.gl/LGBYQB

Updates from Boeing

Boeing: UAV’s. Holograms. Wildfire.
By Jennifer Beloy – While more than 625,000 acres of wildfires burned throughout the Pacific Northwest, crew members of the Insitu Rapid Response team launched a ScanEagle unmanned aircraft into the hazy skies above the Paradise Fire in Washington’sOlympic National Park. Insitu is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company located in Eastern Washington. The event marked the beginning of an operational demonstration designed to show how unmanned aircraft technology can be a powerful partner in the fight against wildfires.

ScanEagle flew six operations, delivering more than 37 hours of infrared video in real time to Incident Command personnel. Motion imagery software provided enhanced video and geo-registration capabilities that enabled fire officials to pinpoint the fire’s perimeter and identify areas of intense heat. The drone also assisted helicopter assets with evaluating water drop locations. more> boeing.com/innovation