How Solar Can Benefit Emerging Economies

More homeowners and commercial enterprises are realizing solar energy is no longer just an alternative to the status-quo but the power of the future—and we at Modernize agree. For developing nations, the use of renewable energy is about creating an energy democracy. By taking advantage of the adaptability, low cost, and portability of solar systems, emerging nations across the globe can access agricultural innovations, health care, education, and clean water.

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Agricultural Advantages

Nearly all of the almost two billion people around the world without electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa, subsisting on livestock and often meager crops. Grid expansion concerns have prevented any realistic implementation of electric fencing or irrigation systems, but their solar-powered counterparts now offer a solution to combating droughts and crop- and livestock-destroying pests. Once agricultural products have been harvested, solar power can be used to dehydration and refrigeration it in order to avoid waste and reduce health concerns associated with unsound food products. Solar-powered ovens allow cooking without the need for carbon-producing fuels, which is especially important for poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

Access to Health Care

Many people who live in emerging economies lack even basic health care, for a variety of reasons—even regions assisted by nonprofit organizations struggle with a lack of resources to power vital equipment. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts only one in four clinics in sub-Saharan Africa is equipped with electricity, and those were mostly unreliable systems due to grid outages and political conflict. Across Haiti, clinics and labs are largely dependent on dangerous and natural resource-draining diesel generators. Consistent power sources are essential to keeping medical equipment sterilized and medications and vaccines stored properly. In the neediest areas, solar energy would provide care as fundamental as proper lighting for treatment. Since 2009, We Care Solar has provided “solar suitcases” to midwives and healthcare officials in remote regions across the globe with enough solar-powered equipment, including medical-grade lighting and blood bank refrigeration, to perform even a Caesarean birth.

Closing the Gap

Even the most dedicated teacher can’t overcome all obstacles. Areas with emerging formal educational systems are often dependent on outdated textbooks, and even basic supplies like pencils and paper get expensive—and these traditional tools aren’t the greenest choice. Organizations like One Laptop per Child (OLPC) have long been providing educational technology to underprivileged areas to reduce waste and ensure students are able to access up-to-date information. But laptops and tablets require charging, and areas without access to electricity are denied the very access many organizations hoped to provide. Renewable solar electricity allows people living in remote or disadvantaged regions to power up in a digital world and engage in today’s job and educational markets. Microfinancing has the potential to help entrepreneurs in developing economies, but without access to communications technology, this point is moot. Solar WiFi is even becoming available, thanks to a nonprofit called GreenWiFi.

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Clean Water

Almost nine hundred million people in the world live without access to clean water. Campaigns to provide bottled water have either been riddled with scandal, greed, inefficiency, or a combination of the three. Water collection often falls to women, who spend hours gathering water that isn’t even clean. Simply boiling water doesn’t destroy dangerous particles of debris and requires a dependable heat source. Although solar disinfection was developed in the 1980s, it was some time before reliable, larger-scale systems became available for personal and commercial use. But the Watly machine—currently being tested in Ghana in sub-Saharan Africa, where thirty-nine percent of people live without clean water—may be just what the world has needed. The system captures solar energy through photovoltaic panels, which then powers an intensive water filtration system, providing nearly fifteen hundred gallons per day, in addition to providing a charging station for electronics and WiFi within a half-mile radius. In addition to providing basic needs, the company predicts that just the process of installation of the machine across Africa alone could create over fifty thousand jobs.

The ball is rolling to increase renewable energy sources for developing nations, and with careful implementation and local ownership, the economies of these regions will benefit as much as its individual citizens.

Guest article by Kelley Walters

Meat without murder. Great idea, terrible name.

We were introduced to the world’s first lab grown beef burger in 2013. But since then, extreme progress has been made in improving the process and cutting the costs of producing these stem cell burgers meaning that mass production may soon become a viable option, since the first lab grown burger had a price tag of $325k, price per lb is now $5k, and this will continue to fall.

Worldwide number cows could be halved as early as 2018, claims Ramat Gan of the Modern Agriculture Foundation.

However, the “meat without murder” hook only touches on a small proportion of what this new fantastical meat production can mean for the environmental impact. An independent study found that lab-grown beef uses 45% less energy than the average global representative figure for farming cattle. It also produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 99% less land.

Eat green

The sustainability of what could turn a hugely inefficient and resource heavy industry is a factor that is hard to put figures to. But as deforestation continues to make room for cattle, drought from deforestation continues, greenhouse gas emmissions from livestock and transportation continue, we take a bizarre cognitive dissonance as to how bad for the environment eating meat can actually be.

With a focus on localisation of these ‘factories’, powered by renewable energy and the food miles reduced, the industry can become environmentally friendly over-night.

The losers

Whilst the current narrative focusses on the ethical benefit of being able to stop slaughtering animals, (40 billion animals a year according to Vegetarian Times) other industries will invariably lose out as in reality, very little of the animal is wasted. With contributions to other market sectors such as clothing, cosmetics, fuel and others are still going to be reliant on the real thing, demand for livestock is not likely to drop by much too soon.

So whilst everyone is talking about how we won’t need to slaughter what are sentient and cognitively agile creatures, we should also consider how eating “lab grown” meat is probably going to be one of the most environmentally friendly breakthroughs we have ever had.

So as China plan to mass produce animals for consumption by cloning, lab grown meat will be a welcome addition to the local supermarket.

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Do Unto Others Before they Do Unto You

Capitalism and competition and our innate need for more than what we have is what is built into our biology. Since our early cavemen days of hunting for food and fighting for shelter, we have selfishly held onto our assets with very minimal worry about how others are affected.

Greed is a survival tactic in our current society and that is what is causing there to be a huge disparity in the distribution of wealth and leaves us fighting a huge on-going conflict between what is moral vs what is legal vs what we need. And these problems are only multiplied the more powerful you get.

A competition-based society is all about doing unto others before they do unto you. The more ruthless and grasping you are, the more you “win”. Except, we all recognize that it’s wrong and immoral to slaughter babies for money (or rather, let babies die because they have none) and other horrible activities so we then try to make “laws” to force sanctions for people and countries to behave in the diametrically opposed way to what a competition-based approach demands.

So you have an innate, built-in requirement to be a greedy scumbag, and an externally imposed “ban” on being a greedy scumbag.

Obviously things don’t work out. They can’t, not when society and the ruling classes are at war with itself. It just so happens the more that you have, the more you can fight these laws and sanctions.

Really, there are just two ways to go – either we stop caring about the suffering of others and go all out on the competition, let the sharks eat the minnows and go with “every man for himself”, or we retool to a cooperation and sharing-based approach to society where giving everyone a good life of freedom and guaranteed access to resources no longer even requires laws to try to make people act in ways that are entirely conflicting with how society actually functions.

A law or ban is in itself an admission that you’ve failed to solve the problem and just go, much like a beleaguered parent “because I said so, that’s why!”

Change starts within ourselves and if ideas and memes of positivity and caring could spread as easily as a celebrity nipple slip, we might one day be able to fix the world and all the problems therein.

Autonomous Weapons & Artificial Intelligence

When we think about autonomous weapons and artificial intelligence we will often talk about Terminator and Skynet and all the other highly glamorised killing machines portrayed by film and media, but in light of the recent combined letter from more than 1000 experts, we will look to explore exactly what these experts mean by autonomous weapons and the applications behind them.

forget terminators, expect weaponised autonomous quadcopters
forget terminators, expect weaponised autonomous quadcopters

We explored the difference between the different types of AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) which specialises in one job, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that looks a lot like human intelligence with ability to plan, learn and comprehend complex ideas, and Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) which demonstrates an intelligence many hundred times more powerful than ours, we don’t know how this type of intelligence will manifest itself.

When we consider which of these level of super intelligence could be brought into an autonomous machine, we are coming very close to, if not past the point, where computer processing power can be attached to a vehicle with imaging software and ballistic to be sent out to ‘hunt’ anything that it is programmed to identify.

Realistically, we aren’t waiting for full bodied androids to roam around before they can be weaponised, and this is the point that thousands of AI and robotics experts, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Wozniak and philosophers such as Chomsky are putting across in their open letter to world leaders.

The precedent that this could potentially send is that these can and will be able to be produced cheaply and on a huge scale. The implications and possibilities surrounding what these could potentially achieve is stated in the letter as they go on to describe autonomous weapons such as these as the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” warning that “it will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”

There are obvious and catastrophic repercussions that could unfold if the worlds military powers push ahead with autonomous weapon development, the letter concludes and proposes and outright ban on autonomous weapons, whilst also being careful to highlight the benefits that AI could have on humanity.

“We believe that an AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”

Again, the importance between different levels of intelligence is a key factor here, and it is still likely that any “autonomous machines” are created with the idea that a human is at some point in control of the final kill switch, they are still going to be as “effective” as if they were controlled by artificial intelligence.

There are very positive routes that can be travelled down through artificial intelligence and obviously very negative routes, but something that always needs to be remembered is development of weapons is a constant and as long as companies such as DARPA continue to research artificial intelligence, the two paths are likely to conjoin at some point in the future.

We commend Stephen Hawking and the Future of Life institute for putting this letter together, and we can hope for an international treaty in similar vein to the Chemical Weapons Treaty, which many states signed to not use chemical weapons, but the effectiveness, profitability and precision in targeting that Autonomous Weapons will have, may be too large of a draw for states to join.

Decentralisation and Disintermediation

When looking at futurology, it is easy to get caught up in the world of super AI, flying cars, mega cities, but the overlying trend of the 21st Century is one of Decentralization & Disintermediation – this is the trend that is underpinning all the others and seems to be the most fascinating of all.

The internet has been the key driver to this, our first decentralised utility, and almost everything the internet touches it starts to change under their influence; knowledge (in it’s broadest sense) used to be under the control of traditional gate-keepers that used to pick and choose what came to light and what people would learn – newspapers, libraries, universities, music industry, etc – knowledge has become available to all that choose to read it.

Iif you follow through, as a train of thought, Decentralization & Disintermediationhas a whole range of effects on upcoming technological advancements and change – decentralized energy production is already becoming more commonplace with the improving of solar panels and coming off the grid, decentralized industrial production through accessible 3D printing and potentially nano printers, cheap decentralized education and healthcare (think MOOC’s/Khan Academy & AI Doctors such as Watson), decentralized money (think one of the many blockchain currencies) – everything points to the days of all powerful centralized states being in the past.

The fading of importance of centralization & centralized bodies in our lives will be one of the defining features of the 21st century.

It is how the current powers rise up to retain their centralized power which is going to be the key, they won’t be able to hold onto their power forever.

Automation vs Job Creation

The economic impact of ensuring a healthy and productive workforce and a low unemployment rate provides is obvious to a countries GDP. But large corporations are hitting a fork in the road where automation and job creation may not work hand in hand.

It is no longer a system only for the assembly line, but many jobs with the service are at risk of being replaced with automation.

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Most of us in the West live under a capitalist system which demands that everyone have work, or be excluded from basic necessities like food and housing.

The argument is that in the not-so-distant future, we will see more and more jobs vanish to companies choosing automation of employment, and if you were faced with the decision over a worker that is error prone, can get ill, may make inconsistent judgements and many more, compared to a completely consistent, loyal worker ‘robot’ that never gets sick or tired, doesn’t require payment, only servicing a couple times a year. The answer is obvious. The jobs will be automated.

Of course, the service sector will grow and absorb some of these displaced people, but not all of them. Even the service sector will see automation, even McDonalds and banks such as Barclays are looking to introduce automation into their day to day operations.

So we are presented with a problem. We will very soon have structural unemployment at levels higher than a capitalist system can tolerate. Indeed, its already beginning. The resulting economic inequity will cause political friction in the form of “class warfare,” as it is termed, this recent study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission warns that the UK is on the brink of becoming a permanently divided society.

Shortly after the 2nd industrial revolution we saw automation of the agriculture, and further automation in the manufacturing industry. However, after some time, the service sector exploded from a meagre few percent to more than half of all employment. This created more jobs free of automation, and allowed capitalism to continue.

The changing structure of employment during economic development
The changing structure of employment during economic development

But are we going to see the same thing happen again, where are the jobs going to come from? Are they going to move back in to agricultural or manufacturing? One of the big arguments is that with this upcoming round of automation that there is going to be a huge gap in what type of jobs are going to be created.

Speculating which jobs are going to remain is going to take a whole lot of deeper thinking.

CGP Grey takes a harrowing look at the future of jobs in his video, Humans Need Not Apply. Discuss below.

7 Apps for Self Improvement

The road to self improvement and self betterment can be long and arduous, but with a little commitment and with the help of some of these apps and websites, you can try to improve some of those daily habits;

irunurun - Alternativemindsets recommendation
irunurun – Alternativemindsets recommendation
  • HabitRPG – Keep yourself on the right track with this app that turns your life into an RPG where you earn gold by doing your daily tasks.
  • Chains.cc – Helps you improve your habits by tackling one day at a time. It is a popular way of tackling change and habits and can also be used for positivity.
  • HabitBull – Keep track of a number of habits by breaking the old ones and building on the newer better ones. (Only on Android)
  • Habit List – Similar to HabitBull but for iPhone.
  • irunurun – With a focus on recurring behaviours, this app looks to create a routine in your positive behaviours.
  • Pomodoro Challenge Timer – This app is about is challenging you to work harder at work and change your habits. This is a subject we will be exploring more in further months as to be happy at work means you are more likely to be happy at home.
  • Wunderlist – A list maker, but it helps you capture ideas and is a place for you put a note about all the things you’d like to. Great for writing about your aspirations.

Many of these apps will look to put pressure on you to achieve your daily tasks, they can do so through encouragement through crowds and by sharing across social media. Do you have any tips for gadgets for self improvement?

Bringing Energy to Remote Areas

Not just any energy renewable energy! With a lot of the worlds most remotest destinations still unable to get an internet connection, there is still plenty of work to be done to create a level playing field for everyone on the planet. There are many different advancements being made across the globe, with Google purchasing solar powered drone makers as a method to provide internet access, and Facebook’s foray into investment of this nature shows there are steps being made to provide everyone with access. However, this MIT startup aims to go one step further and provide renewable energy and wifi across Alaska using their enormous helium-filled wind turbines. They are soon to float over the city of Fairbanks and should produce enough electricity for around a dozen families living off the grid. Just have a look at the video and imagine the potential for remote families, disaster relief and sustainable energy across the globe. These turbines can access high-altitude winds, they generate roughly double the energy of standard ground turbines. In addition to generating lower-cost energy for remote areas, the turbines could serve as sources of internet connectivity and cellphone service. The flying turbine transfers the energy through cables that tether it to the ground. The obvious issue is with the rising cost of helium, how sustainable will this be? How do you think it compares to Google and Facebooks versions?

Renewable energy by air
Renewable energy by air

Unemploment

Unemployment is a dirty word.

You don’t work hard enough.

You are lazy.

You have no desire and aspirations.

 

These are the themes we are treated to on a daily basis, forced down our throat by corporations to make us work longer hours. Longer hours toward a goal that is not our own.

Every our you spend working is working towards someone else’s aspirations.

 

We are a complex society and why is it that so many ours of our waking lives are spent repeating tasks.

 

George Carling (R.I.P) said it best;

Unemployment is a dirty thing to be, but eventually, shouldn’t we just…enjoy ourselves? And I don’t mean when we’re 65 years or older. People SHOULDN’T have to work so much to have an enjoyable life, that’s just the way the world is right now, but why not try to change it at least a little? Could you imagine what the world would be like if 20 hours a week at work was considered ‘killing it’? What you would do with that time with your families, with your own ambitions?”

There are theories such as Guaranteed Basic Income that look to allow this. Giving every human an income enough to survive upon, then what you do above that is up to you. There are a lot of advocates and a lot of futurology theorists that talk about this as a necessity for progression as a species.

 

Being unemployed isn’t a sin, it doesn’t dictate who you are as a human. As long as you have aspirations and you make steps to achieve those aspirations, the rest can provide for itself.

Until society shifts and people realise the benefit they can give to their communities then I feel we will be doomed to continue working the 40+ hour weeks toward pointless endeavours.

Until next time, don’t work too hard.

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