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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

#1,223 – Shine Forward

The history of innovation and the history of artificial lighting are often considered one in the same.  After all, it was electricity that powered the Industrial Evolution, allowed people to move to the suburbs, gave rise to the middle class, and ultimately ushered in the Computer Age.  In fact, their histories are so intertwined that the universal symbol for innovation and idea creation is the light bulb itself.  Not to mention the fact that the most famous inventor of all-time, the man synonymous with both great success and great failure, is none other than Thomas Edison, the man who invented said light bulb.

And yet in spite of all that the light bulb itself hasn’t changed that much over the past hundred years.  It might last longer, burn brighter or be more environmentally friendly nowadays but it is, for the most part, still the same old light bulb.  Until now that is.  For the light bulb of the future might not be a bulb at all.  It might not even be a physical object.  That’s right.  In the near future our lighting may be delivered to us via remarkable bioluminescent plants.  Avatar style.

As Inverse puts it:

“During the nearly three-hour ride that is Avatar, James Cameron builds a strange world filled with mountain banshees, sex tails, and forests pulsating with bioluminescence. If you’re a regular Jake Sully yearning for the world of Pandora, you don’t need to wait much longer for your life to become more Avatar-like: On Wednesday, scientists reported that they’re already working on creating real plants that glow like the fauna of the film, which could one day fill up your home, making you one with the Na’vi.”

So, how does this neat parlor trick work?!

According to the article, “The plants are able to glow because they are infused with luciferase, the enzyme responsible for making fireflies glow. In the reaction, luciferase interacts with a molecule called luciferin to create light, and another molecule called co-enzyme A allows the process to happen by removing the reaction byproduct that can inhibit glow. So, the researchers packaged these three molecules into nanoparticles and poured them into a chemical solution.  Putting the plants into this solution and hitting them with high pressure allows the particles to enter the tiny pores of the plants, and once they go there, biological magic happens: luciferin is released and interacts with luciferase, and suddenly the chemical reaction causes the plants to glow.”

To be a fair a lot more work has to be done before our living rooms and places of business start to look like Pandora.  But at this rate it’s not far-fetched to imagine such a world existing.  James Cameron would be proud.  Edison too.

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Are bio-luminescent plants the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I consider myself a creative person.  Someone who is not long for the rat race.  Someone who would rather be traveling the world, taking pictures of landscapes and blogging about innovation.  A true Renaissance Man who spends any remaining free time reading, antiquing, podcasting, mapping the stars, painting, or partaking in any number of various other left or right brain side projects depending on my mood and the time of day.

In our modern economy a person like me is living pay check to pay check as a lowly knowledge worker, pushing paper at a 9 to 5.  In our future economy a person like me is a high-end bread winner, pulling in a six or seven figure salary.  Welcome to the Imagination Age, that forthcoming period of time that is likely to succeed the Information Age as the preeminent driver of technological progress and wealth creation.

As the Singularity Hub explains:

“In many ways, the future is unpredictable. A report by the World Economic Forum reveals that almost 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future do not even exist yet. Combined with technological automation and the disappearance of traditional jobs, this leaves us with a critical question: how can we survive such a world?

The answer may be imagination.

Initially coined by Rita J. King, the imagination age is a theoretical period beyond the information age where creativity and imagination will become the primary creators of economic value. This is driven by technological trends like virtual reality and the rise of digital platforms like YouTube, all of which increase demand for user-generated content and creativity. It is also driven by automation, which will take away a lot of monotonous and routine jobs, leaving more higher-ordered and creative jobs.”

In fact, we’re already starting to see the foundation of this new economy start to form as Internet celebrities rise to fame not just on YouTube but on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook as well.  In the future, buoyed by a government issued Universal Basic Income we will all be content creators, generating value with our imagination, creativity, and ability to think outside the box.  Or in some cases with our winning personalities.

For further proof of what the future of work will look like all one has to do is look at the burgeoning podcast scene.  The days of listening to local sports talk radio in your car on your way to work are quickly coming to an end.  Now we’re surrounding by infinite listening choices as everyone and their mother spouts prophetic about everything from movies to politics.

As far as I’m concerned the Imagination Age can’t come soon enough.  Being able to flip the switch and turn my part-time creative pursuits into the primary drivers of my wealth would be a dream come true.

But would that dream actually come true or would it be more of a nightmare?  After all, if everyone is busy creating content then who is going to consume it?

Quite the conundrum isn’t it?

Imagine that.

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Is the Imagination Age coming soon? Is it already here?

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Whenever somebody asks me why I don’t drink I usually respond by saying that I don’t like the taste.  Beer, champagne, wine.  It doesn’t matter.  They’re all acquired tastes that I don’t have the patience to acquire seeing as how I’m a picky eater.  Of course, that’s not the only reason why I don’t drink.  Primarily, it’s because I’m not a fan of the lifestyle.  Standing around a loud, crowded bar constantly getting bumped into while meatheads spill their beers on me, is not my idea of a good time.  I’d rather go to bed early, wake up early, and conquer the next day than deal with the after effects of a hangover.  But rather than explain all that I just revert to my standard, “I don’t like the taste”, retort whenever the topic comes up.

However, it looks like I’m going to have to come up with a new excuse the next time someone asks me why I don’t drink thanks to a new invention capable of changing the taste of any beverage.  After all, I’m not going to be able to avoid drinking beer now that I can have one that’ll taste like chocolate milk or whatever else I’d prefer.

As Springwise puts it:

“Craving a drink that is a bit more high-tech than your average martini? Well, you may be in luck. A team of researchers at the National University of Singapore, led by Nimesha Ranasinghe, have developed a programmable cocktail glass which is capable of tricking your senses into thinking that you are drinking just about anything.  Named the Vocktail, the glass and specially-designed stand contain scent cartridges and micro air-pumps to provide aroma; LEDs to alter the color of the drink; and two silver electrodes on the rim of the glass which stimulate the tongue to add salty, bitter or sweet notes. The Vocktail also comes with an app that allows drinkers to fully customize their own drinks.”

Just think about the possibilities that this Vocktail, or virtual cocktail, would enable.  Instead of needing to stock a full bar, you could in theory, just carry a few standard, run of the mill ingredients, and then “trick” your friends or customers into thinking that they really ordered their favorite drink, when in fact, all they ordered was a glass of apple juice.

Or if you find yourself in a social situation that doesn’t suit your tastes, say at a bachelor party where everyone is sharing a bucket of beers, or at a Sunday morning brunch where everyone is sharing some Sangria, you no longer have to avoid participating.  Thanks to the Vocktail you can now pound a beer or share a glass with everyone else because when you do, you’ll actually be tasting your favorite rum.

Or taken one step further, imagine the possibilities for the Vocktail to be used as an instrument of health, not just as another way to get drunk.  For example, what if I could drink a horrible tasting Kale shake or some other kind of vegetable juice concoction but have it taste like soda?  Or better yet, what if you could turn water into anything you wanted?  This would be a total game changer.  By replacing soda with water we’d finally have a leg up on putting an end to the obesity epidemic.

That’s why the Vocktail has the potential to be so transformative.  From enabling me to finally drink alcohol to enabling me to finally kick my soda habit, the Vocktail could change my life forever.  For better or for worse.

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Is the Vocktail the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,154 – Kestrel Materials

Bundling up under several layers when it’s cold out or lugging around a jacket when it’s warm out in case it might get cold later in the evening might soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new type of adaptive clothing from Kestrel Materials.

According to Futurism:

“Kestrel Materials has designed a fabric that’s a step-up from breathable and waterproof types, and their goal is simple enough: ‘reduce the need for bulky layers.’ To do this, the startup has created an adaptive material that reacts to cold and warmth.

When exposed to cold surroundings, the fabric flexes and creates air pockets that trap heat and keep people warm. During warmer weather, the air pockets collapse and prevent heat from being trapped in the clothing. Since the material uses common fibers, such as nylon and polyester, the applications for such an adaptive fabric are as plentiful as the styles of clothes people wear.”

This new material doesn’t just alter its properties to adjust to the weather.  It also changes its shape.  As the Kestrel Materials website describes:

“Our fabrics change shape, increasing their thickness and insulation in response to the cold…early prototypes have demonstrated more than a doubling of material thickness in response to a temperature change of 10 degrees Celsius .”

Kestrel Materials aren’t the only ones looking to design adaptive clothing.  The Army has been working on a solution as well, that according to Quartz, “uses a coating of fine silver nanowires on ordinary fabrics, such as cotton or polyester, as a way to potentially keep soldiers warm in extreme cold.  The coating makes the fabric conductive, and with just a few volts of electricity, it can generate a substantial amount of heat.”

How much electricity are we talking about needing? 3 volts, the amount found in a watch battery, would be more than enough, capable of heating up the clothing by 110 degrees Celsius.

Between Kestrel Materials, the Army, and other clothing designers and fashion brands that are working on similar approaches it’s likely that our days of layering up will soon be over.

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In the future we may not have to bundle up anymore.

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I’d love to work at Google.  But, then again, who wouldn’t?  The free food.  The Quidditch Patch.  The 20% free time rule.  The secretive moonshot lab.  The never ending quest to make all of the world’s information easily accessible.  The desire to make the world a better place just so long as they aren’t being evil along the way.  Google has it all.  Everything you look for in a workplace from perks to work life balance to that hard to quantify feeling that what you’re doing with your life actually matters.   But, let’s face it, I’m never going to work at Google.

It wouldn’t be for a lack of trying though.  I’ve applied in the past and been rejected.  But that’s okay.  Google is highly selective.  Only about 1% of applicants get admitted.  By comparison Harvard admits 7% of applicants.  They also like to hire engineers, programmers, computer scientists, math wizards, quants, and those predisposed to quantitative analysis and I am none of those things.  I can’t even figure out how much to tip at dinner.

But what if I could work at Google?  As a matter of fact, what if everyone could?  What if there was no such thing as positions or job openings?  No such thing as qualifications or prerequisites.  No tricky interview questions to ponder.  No riddles to solve.  No references required.  What if everyone who wanted to work at a place like Google could? No questions asked.

I know how that sounds but in my mind it’s a logical response to the looming question of what will happen to society once robots take all our jobs.  With millions of unemployed people roaming the streets society could be on the verge of collapse unless somebody steps in and does something about it.  The idea of a Universal Income has been trending lately as one possible solution.  One that Sir Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg have been passionately championing with Elon Musk even calling it an inevitability.  The basic premise is that as a response to automation, governments would just give every citizen an arbitrary stipend to cover the minimum cost of living.  With this stipend in hand citizens would be free to pursue their dreams and passion projects.  To become writers, actors, painters and photographers.  To become well fed “starving artists”.

But this plan has never seemed all that feasible to me.  Where is the money for these stipends coming from?  If we can’t fund social security how are we going to fund a basic universal income?  What makes more sense to me then is the idea of a limitless corporation.  A company that would hire anyone who wanted to work it, head count be damned.  In theory, this would be a universal basic income with a catch.  Anyone would be free to join this fictitious company, to punch in and get paid by the hour, but this is no free stipend.  You’d have to earn your paycheck, just like at a real modern day company, but the difference is that there’s no one to tell you how to go about doing that.  There are no bosses.  No assigned projects.  No deadlines to meet.  You are on your own.

If you’re not successful in your chosen endeavor, no problem.  You’d still collect your stipend just for trying.  But if you are successful?  If you managed to start your own company, publish a book, or launch a profitable career as a world famous lip gloss reviewer on YouTube, well then that’s where things would get interesting.  You’d be filthy rich but you wouldn’t be the only one to benefit from your success.  This limitless corporation would as well.  They’d get a portion of your earnings and all your future earnings with that money going into a general pool to fund the basic universal income of everyone else who wasn’t successful.

In a way this is a kind of hybrid communist/capitalist system.  Everyone’s basic needs are met and everyone shares in individual successes.  Google kind of works this way already.  Engineers collect a standard paycheck but they’re also free to work on passion projects.  If one of those passion projects winds up becoming an actual Google product, then great.  Everyone benefits.  That’s kind of like what would happen at the limitless corporation.  Instead of 20% of your time dedicated to passion projects it would be 100% of your time.  But the end result is the same.  The corporation would own the product you created so that they could integrate it into a wider ecosystem.

Under such a system prolific individuals could still rise above the crowd and enjoy a better lifestyle than everyone else.  But there wouldn’t be a wide divide between the 1% and the 99% percent.  We’d all be working together, helping each other to innovate, coming together to create value that would benefit all of society while the robots did all of our dirty work for us.

Is this crazy?  Probably.  But is it also crazy enough to work?  Possibly.  But, hey, if you don’t like this plan there is an alternate solution.  Just hire me to work at Google now.

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What if everyone who wanted to work could? No questions asked.

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#1,151 – Temporal Treasure

Yesterday I saw a post on LinkedIn in which a sales recruiter was complaining about a rude CEO that she had to deal with.  In her post she recapped how she had emailed him twice and never received a response.  After emailing for a third time she was floored by the response that she did get.  Something to the effect of, “if you email me again, I’m going to charge you for my time spent on dealing with your emails.”

When I read this my initial reaction was the same reaction that I’m sure most people had.  That this CEO must be a total douche to say that aloud even if he was thinking it.  But then I began to look at this rant with a different slant.  What if the CEO had a point?  If he’s the leader of a Fortune 500 company his time is extremely valuable.  So why shouldn’t he be allowed to charge for it?  And if he’s allowed to charge for it, then why can’t we all charge for our time?

On the surface this sounds absurd.  Something that would be impossible to enforce.  But there may be some merit to the idea.  Perhaps, in a weird way, it’s even an appropriate response to robots taking all of jobs.  In the face of insurmountable unemployment we’d create a financial system built around something other than actual employment.  A system build around time.

Such a system could be a variation on the theme of the Justin Timberlake movie In Time.  Instead of paying people in units of time, increasing or decreasing their lifespans, we could pay them for their time.  If you respond to an email, you’d get paid.  If you spoke on the phone with someone, or responded to a text, you’d get paid.  Maybe you’d even get paid every time you edited a Wikipedia article, read a blog post, answered a question on Quora, shared a video on YouTube, or commented on a Facebook thread.  Anytime you did anything that contributed positively to society you’d get paid by the person who benefited from your value add.  Available funds would flow freely through society, getting passed from neighbor to neighbor throughout the course of the day.

In a sense, the wealthiest among us would be the people who were the most helpful, the most accessible.  We’d be living in a true reputation economy in which your actions really, truly mattered.  And in a way, it’s the society that we’ve already started living in.  We already pay a neighbor a few bucks when they give us a ride to the airport or when they let us crash at their apartment.  It’s called taking an Uber and renting an Airbnb.  The share economy is the reputation economy.  So why not also make it the time economy?

Email overload is one of the scourges of modern day life as that CEO’s response attested to.  Trying to get down to inbox zero is an exercise in futility.  But if we actually had to pay to send an email, wouldn’t that all change?  If it cost, say 5 cents to send an email, and an additional one cent per additional recipient, I’m pretty sure that my twelve person fantasy football league wouldn’t indulge in petty reply all debate threads 100 emails long because none of those cheap bastards would want to spend $100 over the course of a season just to get the last word in an argument.  Actually, I probably would, but that’s just me.  Everyone else probably wouldn’t.  And if everyone else stops sending hundreds of emails then your email inbox might start looking more manageable.  You’d also have the added benefit of knowing that you’re not receiving junk email because if somebody paid to speak to you, it must be important.

Would a society built around a series of micropayments flounder or flourish.  Would we get more done since we have less to do or would we do less since we’d only want to do things that we could paid for?  Would such a system bring us together or tear us apart?

Only time will tell.

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Is getting paid for your time the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Almost every major city in the world has a museum of Natural History.  A place where people can congregate to marvel at dinosaur fossils, shards of broken pottery from ancient cultures, and mannequins made to look like Neanderthals.  A place where people can examine handheld tools, crude drawings, and other artifacts gleamed from archaeological digs.  A place where cultural anthropology is on full display.

But what we don’t have is a Museum of Natural History of the Mind.  A place where people can congregate to marvel at how the mind has evolved and how it continues to do so.  Granted, most of the inventions and innovations on display in a museum of Natural History are products of the human mind and therefore already accounted for.  You could certainly argue that having a separate museum dedicated to the mind would be a duplicative effort.  But studying human history through the lens of the various cultures that have pre-dated modern man doesn’t capture the full essence of the transformation that the mind has gone through during that same time span.  The Earth has come a long way over the course of its illustrious history and we are right to want to pay homage to our lineage and our birthplace.  But the mind has come an equally long way in a much shorter period of time.  Shouldn’t we be paying our respects to the highest power that we know, that which we don’t yet fully understand, the holy grail of modern achievement, biological or otherwise, the human mind?

Technically, a Museum of the Mind does exist.  The Bethlem Gallery in England, housed in a former mental institution, is dedicated to displaying artworks from mentally afflicted artists.  But a museum dedicated to the Natural History of the Mind, at least as I’m imagining it, doesn’t exist.  What would such a museum look like?  Well for starters, here’s a look at some of the topics that such a museum would touch on:

  • The history of communication from storytelling to the Oral Culture of the Ancient Greeks, to the advent of Cuneiform and the written word, to the invention of the Printing Press, all the way to the Information Age and the creation of the Internet.  Each new innovation has re-shaped our minds as we went from reading aloud to reading silently, from reading intently for long periods of time, to reading quickly in a haphazard fashion.  Going forward our minds will continue to evolve in lockstep with our ever changing communication methods.

 

  • What is consciousness?  What region or regions of the brain is responsible for it?  Will we ever find out?  An exhibit dedicated to consciousness could take museum patrons on a tour of the cutting-edge of modern day brain scanning and mapping as scientists race to answer these questions.  An actual working lab could be situated on the museum campus allowing for patrons to view real brain science in real time in a fish bowl like setting.  Anyone hoping to contribute directly to science can take part in control group experiments that will directly aid current research.  Anyone just interested in learning about how the process works can take part in reenactments of famous experiments.

 

  • What is dreaming?  Why do we dream and what do recurring dreams mean?  An entire exhibit could be dedicated to daydreams, REM cycle sleep, nightmares and everything in between.  Add your dreams to a worldwide database of dreams and discover the most common dreams for the region that you live in.  Find out what it really means when you’re constantly getting chased in your dreams.

 

  • Why is that we do our best thinking while in the shower?  Does brainstorming really work?  Are there tricks to make us more creative?  More innovative?  More imaginative?  What are the best environments for creative thinking?  Or some locations more creative than others?  Where in the world does innovation most often occur?  Find out in this exhibit dedicated to creativity which will span the entire campus and feature all of the various environments thought to spur creativity.  Go on a long walk through the forested gardens that surround the museum.  Frolic through the splash pads on a warmer summer day.  Sit in solitude in the illustrious study.  Just to be sure to write down your ideas before you leave the premises.

 

  • We can easily recall a cherished childhood memory but have trouble remembering what we ate for lunch yesterday.  Why is that?  Why is it that some memories fade over time while others become ingrained in our subconscious? Can we trust our memories in a court of law or elsewhere for that matter?  Can we get to the point where we can implant false memories or remove traumatic ones?  Find out if an exhibit dedicated to memory.  If you can remember how to get to it.  It’ll be situated at the end of a corn field maze.

The museum could also focus on brain disorders and extraordinary feats such as those people who can remember everything that’s ever happened to them.  Patrons can take IQ and personality tests to see how they stack up against their peers.  An Escape the Room style game could represent what it’s like to be stuck inside a dream state; the only way out of the dream is to figure a way out of the room.  A Carnival style House of Horrors could make use of hypnotism and other illusions to demonstrate what happens when your mind plays tricks on you.  What color is that dress?  Find out why we can’t all agree.  The gift shop could be filled with puzzles and other brain teasers.  Anything and everything having to do with the mind and the brain would be in play.

Such a museum would be a fascinating world wind tour of human history.  We’d learn where we came from, where we’re at, and where we’re heading.  We’d learn the entire essence of what it means to be human. I even have the perfect tagline in mind: “Come with an open mind.  Leave with a full heart.”

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Is a Museum of the Mind the Greatest Idea Ever?

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