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Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Virtual Economies

This arstechnica article on the IRS being urged to tax activities in virtual worlds once again reminds us that when it comes to diversifying the economy, there are many ways to do that.  We normally talk about the economy in terms of major sectors like ‘construction’ or singular pillar industries like ‘tourism,’ but the economy is actually a very complex and dynamic thing, and our traditional focus on single shot cures for both short term recovery and long-term growth are likely to fall short of either hope.

There are leading-edge theories about economic growth that posit that our modern, post-industrial economies grow through the development of new technologies and the changes those new capabilities provoke in how we do work and how we produce value.  At the industry and organizational level, we would then be looking at how businesses evolve through applying new technologies and reorganizing themselves around those technologies, not just for greater efficiencies but also to produce new things of value.  Broad change and evolution in economies then is not achieved simply through a government stimulus package or by simply dumping money into public works projects, but more likely through consistent support of new R&D, new businesses, and lots of experimentation.

For Hawai’i, one has to wonder how many different (and new) areas of entrepreneurship and experimentation we should be open to and supportive.  No one really nows what ‘virtual’ economies (which actually are real economies for intangible goods) could become for Hawai’i, but for a place with geographic isolation, multi-cultural populations, and reasonable tech infrastructure, maybe more of us should be looking at developing and growing creative new online economies.

Filed under: Business, Economics, Hawai'i, Technology, Wealth

Paper from Not-Trees

Scan: WorldChanging.org had a recent article on Canada trying out wheat pulp to produce paper rather than from the more traditional trees.  These are exciting types of experiments and innovations: striving for an indefinitely maintainable lifestyle that doesn’t simultaneously ask us to go back to a pre-industrial society.

Thoughts: I think the importance of these types of experiments, just like trying to use corn to make biodegradable plastics, are that they hint at the broader array of strategies that we have to begin to invest in.  In terms of making change, at least the kinds of dramatic and systemic changes that many people are hoping for, it is unlikely to come from a single strategic thrust, like grass-roots ‘do-your-part’ movements.  Getting everyone to use CFLs makes everyone feel good, but it doesn’t in any way alter the system: how electricity is generated, how houses and light bulbs are manufactured and distributed across the planet, or how we work at ‘jobs’ to make ‘money’ to ‘buy’ these things at ‘stores,’ to which we drive on asphalt surface roads in ‘cars.’

An array of strategies, each aimed at a different leverage point, is important.  Attention and resources have to be drawn to investing in the next set of technologies that will undergird a 21st century lifestyle, and these technologies come from more than just energy: they certainly have to include things like paper, plastics, and electronics.  So, our question comes to: what are the array of strategies that Hawaii as a collective can employ to effect the kinds of changes so many seem to want?  What (realistic) roles can Hawaii imagine for itself within the national and global drive towards a different economy and a different impact on the planet?

Filed under: Hawai'i, Sustainability, Technology

Regrowing Tissue

Scan: A recent BBC article featured a man who had lost a fingertip but regrew it with the use of an experimental ‘cellular matrix.’  The man had lost the tip to a model airplane propeller, but with the application of special ‘dust’ developed at the University of Pittsburgh, he regrew the finger tip.  See a somewhat graphic video.

Thoughts: the current buzz word for the mainstream is ‘sustainability’, with an array of overlapping and related notions ranging from ‘no-growth’ to hybrid cars to anti-GMO supporters.  But even as the public consciousness is being focused by non-profits, corporations, and politicians on ‘green’ issues, potentially dramatic advances in health sciences continue to be made everyday.  While the 21st century health system is no longer the top of mind issue, the developments in understanding human biology and manipulating its course still promise some of the most fundamental changes civilization may yet undergo.  Notions of disease, injury, and the medical professions stand to be redefined as advances in things like automation, medical records, tissue regeneration, remote monitoring, and genetic manipulation are woven together.  Visit here for a short primer on how some experts expect the “P4” generation of health care to emerge.

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Filed under: Biology, Health, Technology

Robots: Practical Demands

Scan: A recent article featured an estimate that robots could be able to help Japan with its impending shortfall in human workers. Well-known as a leading example of the graying of the societies in developed countries, Japan is contemplating a 16% drop in its workforce by 2030. Some researchers propose that robots could be deployed in a variety of roles throughout society to take up the slack (and not, they point out, to simply replace each worker, head for head).

Thoughts: Robots and semi-autonomous systems are in wide use today, from the amusing Aibo robotic pets and Roomba floor cleaners to the critical auto-pilot systems that not only fly planes but can land them alone as well. Increasingly researchers and policy makers are looking to expand the applications for unmanned systems, from machines that do extremely hazardous work (such as exploration and on battlefields) to systems that extend the capabilities of a limited workforce (such as in medicine and personal care). Amidst the continual growth in robotic technology is a concern that such automation dehumanizes society or takes away some important attribute attained by humans through working with their own hands. Yet, the purpose of technology (which includes not only the physical invention but also the ways in which it is put to use and the new social forms it enables) is to make life easier for humans. From irrigating crops to filling decayed teeth, technology has enabled humans to thrive as they have. Despite the common Hollywood image of mankind creating sentient robots who turn into Cylons who threaten the extinction of Mankind, robots are far more likely to provide us with the ability to perform new functions that we desire and to enable society to devote more of its energy to ‘higher pursuits’, not unlike ancient societies where the elite, freed from manual labor, devoted itself to creating the foundations of the cultures we live in today. Of course, for this to happen, we have to figure out how to evolve our economies to permit citizens (oops – workers) to become something more than just life-long laborers.

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Filed under: Technology

Wind Turbines

Scan: There’s been recent chatter about new wind power technology under development: wind turbines that use maglev in place of traditional mechanics and ball bearings. The new turbines are purported to be much more efficient, due to the dramatic improvement in output and increase in longevity with much lower maintenance costs (over traditional wind power towers). The Maglev Wind Turbine is under development in Arizona in the US and facilities for production are reportedly also under development in China.

maglev2.jpg

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Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Energy, Technology

Supersonic Travel

Scan: a company called Reaction Engines Limited is working on what experts claim is a theoretically sound model of a supersonic 300 person passenger jet. The jet, known as the A2, uses two kinds of engines to create efficient thrust at sub- and supersonic speeds (up to Mach 5). The A5 is expected to be able to run from Brussels to Sydney in under 4 hours. More spectacularly, the design of the jet calls for hydrogen as the fuel, producing a zero-carbon emissions footprint from in-flight operations.

a2_ground.jpg

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Filed under: Hawai'i, Technology, Transportation

The Global Information Society

Scan:
The second World Information Society Report, which looks at the growth of the global information society, is a joint publication of the International Telecommunication Union and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The report follows up on the progress of activities that were identified as important by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in 2003 and 2005.  Participants at the WSIS recognized that the global digital divide needs to be bridged, and they identified activities that need to be conducted in order to expand the borders of the information society and bring more people into its realm.

The report includes composite indices of data that measure the global information society.

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Filed under: Technology

More Desalination

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Texas has a new $2.2 million pilot project desalination plant in Brownsville, part of Texas’s initiative to build a full-scale $150 million plant in 2010. A Texas spokesperson quoted in an ENN article claims desalination is just one of the more than 4,000 water management ‘strategies’ that the state has in its plan. The article goes on to explain that desalination has not become the obvious and widespread option for creating potable water because of the huge energy requirements. Currently, desalinating water costs about $650 for every 326,000 gallons (enough to supply two homes for one year), whereas purifying non potable fresh water sources costs about $200.

Related:

  • Teatro del Aqua: a new design for water desalination that capitalizes on the natural water cycle driven by the Sun near sea water, with innovative visual design and social applications
  • Global Water Intelligence: a monthly newsletter that provides information and data on the international water market

Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Technology

Understanding Society

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A recent Tech Review article on artificial societies briefly explores the work of Joshua Epstein, a noted researcher in the use of agent-based modeling or artificial societies. The article notes how Epstein and fellow researchers such as Robert Axtell have been using new computer simulations based on agents (actors programmed with very simple rules) to set in motion systems of agents to observe the phenomena that result. In this way, complex social phenomena, like economic behavior, civilizational development, and genocide can be ‘grown’ from simple set-ups. According to an Epstein quote in the article, “Artificial society modeling allows us to ‘grow’ social structures in silico demonstrating that certain sets of microspecifications are sufficient to generate the macro­phenomena of interest.”

The article notes that while the researchers have been able to use this method to prompt the fairly accurate recreation of actual historical events (like the siting of virtual Anasazi dwellings in the same place as the historical ones), the researchers are clear that these new models provide fascinating new explanatory power and not necessarily predictive power.

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Filed under: Change, Technology

Creating Biofuels

Scan:
Biotechnology companies are turning to the field of synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms that produce and excrete hydrocarbons for fuels.  The hydrocarbon fuels are of course better aligned with existing technology and would require less energy to produce than current alternatives such as ethanol.  See the recent Technology Review article for more on these developments.

Related:

  •  A Better Biofuel: another Tech Review article that looks at some of the developments in synthetic biology to create biofuels.
  • Energy and Environment Best Practice Report: a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors that “illustrates what cities nationwide have done and continue to do to address the challenges associated with the interface of energy scarcity and environmental concerns.”
  • Annual Energy Outlook 2007: The annual report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with projections to 2030.

Filed under: Energy, Technology

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.


The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


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