Wanda Diaz Merced studies the light emitted by gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic events in the universe. When she lost her sight and was left without a way to do her science, she had a revelatory insight: the light curves she could no longer see could be translated into sound. Through sonification, she regained mastery over her work, and now she’s advocating for a more inclusive scientific community. "Science is for everyone," she says. "It has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers."
Tagged with “innovation” (43)
Why cities live forever
West focussed on cities in his discussion of the newly discovered exponential scaling laws that govern everything alive.
“We live,” he said, “in an exponentially expanding socio-economic universe.”
Global urbanization has reached the point that there are a million new people arriving in cities every week, and that rate is expected to continue to midcentury.
What is the attraction?
One reason for constant urban growth is that the bigger the city, the more efficient it is, because of economies of scale.
With each doubling of a city’s size, the numbers of gas stations and power lines and water lines, etc. increase at a rate a little less than double.
In other words, with every size increase there is a 15% improvement in energy efficiency.
“That‘s why New York is the greenest city in America,” West said.
The same dynamics of networks explain how what is called “power-law scaling“ works in biology.
The bigger the animal, the slower and more efficient its metabolism is, at a rate lower than 1-to-1 (“sublinear” in West’s terminology).
This leads to some remarkable constants.
Shrews weigh 2 grams, and in their 14-month life their heart beats a billion times.
Blue whales weigh 200 million grams, and in their 100-year life, their heart beats the same billion times.
Ditto for all mammals (except humans, who have achieved a lifetime average of 2 billion heartbeats, presumably for cultural reasons.)
In physical terms, cities are like organisms, enjoying sublinear economies of scale with each increase in size.
But when you look at cities in terms of their social-economic networks, an astonishing finding emerges. Once again there is power-law scaling if you count patents, wages, tax receipts, crimes, restaurants, even the pace of walking, but instead of slowing down with increasing size, cities speed up with increasing size.
Their increase is greater that 1:1.
It is superlinear.
“Bigger cities are better,” said West.
Each time they increase in size, they are 15% more innovative socio-economically at the same time they are 15% more efficient in terms of energy and materials.
Furthermore, they apparently live forever.
They create most of civilization’s problems, but they are capable of solving problems even faster than they create them.
However, when you compare companies with cities, companies have similar metabolic efficiencies of scale as they grow, but their innovation rate, instead of increasing with size,
slows down as they get ever bigger. And they are mortal.
The average lifespan of a publicly traded companies is 10 years.
They can grow prodigiously, but their net income, sales, profits, and assets can’t quite keep up—they are sublinear.
Successful new companies start off like cities, full of innovation, but over time the nature of corporate growth leads them to focus ever more solely on exploiting their success, and eventually they taper off and die like animals.
The city feeds on their corpses and creates new companies.
"The actual path of a raindrop as it goes down the valley is unpredictable, but the general direction is inevitable," says digital visionary Kevin Kelly — and technology is much the same, driven by patterns that are surprising but inevitable. Over the next 20 years, he says, our penchant for making things smarter and smarter will have a profound impact on nearly everything we do. Kelly explores three trends in AI we need to understand in order to embrace it and steer its development. "The most popular AI product 20 years from now that everyone uses has not been invented yet," Kelly says. "That means that you’re not late."
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies "originals": thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. "The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most," Grant says. "You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones."
If the U.K. is to continue its economic march onward and upward, technology needs to play an increasing role, say Martha Lane Fox (that’s Baroness of Soho Lane-Fox in more public settings) and Russell Davies in this segment of the pod … another one of our on-the-road a16z podcasts from London.
But it can’t just be the same apps and software solutions that are coming out of Silicon Valley, say these two European tech veterans (Lane Fox is a web entrepreneur and on the boards of multiple tech companies and open data initiatives, while Davies is a writer and digital strategist). The U.K. needs to do things differently to create and maintain an edge against all the tech powers around the globe. Lane Fox and Davies describe what a bright tech future could look like — a lot more women in the industry, for starters — and how it might differ from, and compete with, the best around the world.
The Creator Economy
Media innovations drive economic shifts, Saffo began.
“We invent new technology and then use it to reinvent ourselves.”
The Industrial/producer Economy.
At the beginning of the 20th century the leading scarcity was stuff, and so manufacture was systematized.
By 1914 one of Ford’s workers could buy a Model T car with four month’s salary.
Production efficiency won the Second World War for the allies.
In 1944 the US was producing 8 aircraft carriers a month, a plane every five minutes, and 50 merchant ships a day.
The process became so efficient that its success ended the dominance of that economy.
That always happens.
“Every new abundance creates an adjacent scarcity.“
The Consumer Economy.
The new scarcity was desire.
1958 brought the first credit card.
The CEOs of leading companies shifted from heads of production to heads of marketing.
Container ships doubled global trade.
The Creator Economy.
In 1971 Herbert Simon predicted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.”
The new scarcity turned out to be engagement.
The mass media television channels that had dominated the Consumer Economy were overwhelmed by personal media—YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google, Etsy.
Hollywood was overwhelmed by video games.
(The blockbuster movie “Avatar“ opened in 2009 with a $73 million weekend.
The previous month, the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million in 24 hours.)
Mass participation became the new normal.
Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation.
Value is created by engagement—-from Wikipedia entries to Google queries to Mechanical Turk services to Airbnb to Uber to Kaggle analyses.
Burning Man sets the standard of “no spectators.”
Makers insist that “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”
Saffo advised recalling four warnings for revolutionaries.
1) There are winners and losers.
2) Don’t confuse early results with long-term outcomes.
Successful insurgents become over-powerful incumbents.
Technologies of freedom become technologies of control.
If we want privacy now, we have to pay extra for it.
As with our smart phones, we will subscribe to self-driving cars, not own them.
With our every move tracked, we are like radio-collared bears.
Our jobs are being atomized, with ever more parts taken over by robots.
We trade freedom for convenience.
Over the 30 or so years remaining in the Creator Economy, Saffo figures that we will redefine freedom in terms of interdependence, and he closed with Richard Brautigan’s poem about a “cybernetic ecology” where we “are all watched over by machines of loving grace.”
Walter Isaacson | The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Bestselling biographer Walter Isaacson’s portrait of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, released just weeks after the tech guru’s death, became an international bestseller and broke all records for sales of a biography. Isaacson has also penned “energetic, entertaining, and worldly” (The New Yorker) bios of Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger, and Albert Einstein. The president and CEO of the Aspen Institute for educational and policy studies, he has also served as the chairman of CNN, managing editor of Time magazine, and chairman emeritus of Teach for America. The Innovators is the revealing, century-spanning saga of the people who created the computer and the Internet.
Walter Isaacson’s passion lies at the intersection of American culture and technology. Most of his biographies—of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs—examine the innovators behind the devices and programs that lie at the heart of our society.
His latest book, "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution," focuses on the community dynamics that have helped build the technology that drives the United States today.
At the event "Science and Story: The History of the Future," produced by the World Science Festival in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society, Issacson told John Hockenberry that one of the driving ideas behind "The Innovators" was to dispel the "lone wolf" myth of modern technology.
"We give a little too much credit to the lone inventor who, in the basement or the garage, comes up with a lightbulb moment and innovation occurs," he says.
Isaacson also explores the intersection of culture and technology in American history and in our lives today. "There are two distinct strands, I think, in the American character, which you can read [Alexis de] Toqueville on," he explains.
"One is our maker culture character, the quilting bees and barn raisings and everything else. The other great strand in the history of technology and the history of America is to form community and to make connection," he says. "And those two strands interweave interestingly, because the do-it-yourself culture in America is really a do-it-ourselves culture in which people love to get together and sort of do a barn raising together or a quilting bee together or a Maker’s Faire together."
In which George talks about copper in Zambia and China, and James Bridle drops by to talk about museums, party balloons, surveillance, and his experiences flying a blimp (‘kite’) over London. Intro and outro music courtesy, as ever, of Chris Arkenberg.
Links and works referenced:
‘Mining Copper in Zambia’ (Fast Company)
‘China’s giant pile of copper is inflating its credit bubble’ (Quartz)
‘Why a collapse in copper prices is a worrying sign for China’s financial system’ (Quartz)
‘Americans and Chinese are buying houses so you should buy copper’ (Quartz)
‘Chinese mining firms in Zambia under fire for mistreating workers’ (Guardian)
‘FTSE4Good Index Series: measuring environmental and social standards’ (Guardian)
Mollas-Gallart, J. 1997. ‘Which way to go? Defence technology and the diversity of ‘dual-use’ technology transfer’, Research Policy 26 (3): 367-385.
Grätz, T. 2003. ‘Gold-mining and risk management: A case study from Northern Benin’, Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 68 (2): 192-208. [Benin rather than Zambia, and gold rather than copper; whoops.]
Rapid Response Collecting (V&A)
‘Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A’ (Icon review)
‘3D-printed guns: easy to print, a nightmare to import’ (Wired.co.uk)
‘Why all the fuss over the V&A’s 3D-printed gun? It’s a symbol - not a threat’ (Independent)
Digital Revolution (Barbican)
Talk to Me (MoMA)
‘@ in Context: Criteria for an Acquisition’ (MoMA)
Right to Flight
‘The right to flight: why I’m flying a balloon over London this summer’ (Guardian)
Where do the boldest innovations, with the deepest consequences for society, come from?
Many business leaders, entrepreneurs, and libertarians claim that the private sector leads the way always, and government at best follows by decades and at worst impedes the process with bureaucratic regulations.
Mariana Mazzucato proves otherwise. Many of the most profound innovations—from the Internet and GPS to nanotech and biotech —had their origin in government programs developed specifically to explore innovations that might eventually attract private sector interest. Ignoring this entrepreneurial risk taking role of government has fuelled a very different story about governments role in the economy, and also fuelled the dysfunctional dynamic whereby risk is socialised—with tax payers absorbing the greatest risk—- but rewards are not. Mazzucato will argue that socialization of risk, privatization of rewards is not only bad for the future of innovation eco-systems but also a key driver of inequality. What to do about it?
Mazzucato is a professor of the Economics of Innovation at Sussex University and author of The Entrepreneurial State: debunking private vs. public sector myths.
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