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Shape the future

nanofarm

Small scale farming and Nanofarming improving

How are we going to feed ourselves in 2050, when the population of the world reaches 9.7 billion? How are we going to manage resources, when the majority of fresh water in the world goes to farming, and nearly half of farm produce ends up in landfills? Food waste of various types is the leading cause of methane gas production from landfills, which is contributing to climate change and impacting our access to fresh water. Across the world, being overweight (rich countries) and underweight (poor countries) is causing loss of life and human potential, and an enormous burden on health care systems. Will a kitchen still be used?

These strangely circular global problems can be broken down into these: unequal land and water resources; systems of agriculture that will require infrastructure development for storage and shipping of food in the developing world; systems of food shopping and eating behaviors in the developed world that perpetuates waste and obesity.  It might seem like a simple problem with simple solutions, to have half of the world ill from poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency, and half dying of diseases caused by obesity. Even stranger to have people going hungry while half the food we produce goes to waste. But these are problems of different systems, and changes in one system, while impactful, do not necessarily cause change across the board.

The challenges of agriculture, infrastructure development, storage and shipping of food, and nutrition in the developing world, are related systems that can be affected by resources, research, and hard work. In the developed world, resources, research, and hard work are also needed to affect change. But what is it that we need to change? Patterns of behavior, cultural standards, entitlement, habit? Are we all just spoiled brats who want what we want, and if it isn’t right, we throw it away in a snit? Will we have to face a global Armageddon on fresh strawberries and the decimation of the artisanal cheese industry before we start showing some care about our food?

We can leave the whole charged issue of spoiled brat/snit to the sociologists. The rest of us want to do better. We want to eat healthy food, and we want to eat ugly squash and tomatoes to save them from an afterlife in the landfill, covered with flies and making methane gas. We don’t want to throw away food, but we also don’t want to overeat, and after two weeks in the fridge, the Chinese food take out really needs to go. We would all probably eat less meat and more quinoa if we had a clue how to cook it, or what you were supposed to do with it in reference to a pot of chili. And we all want to support local organic farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of monoculture farms, but some mornings we just need to grab a muffin and go, and we don’t care how far that muffin had to travel to get into our hands.

These are guilt-laden conundrums, in which we take on responsibility for the fate of the planet as a direct consequence of how far our coffee beans were forced to travel. It’s no wonder that eating, tasting, growing, a simple cob of corn comes with a mantle of blame and quiet desperation before we even begin to douse it in butter and salt. It’s ridiculous, but it’s us.

But individual changes in behavior, while helpful, are not going to change a system that is unsuited for the current population growth v. resources issue as we understand it. At this time, most of us have kitchens in our homes or apartments. We shop for groceries in the grocery store, and take food home to cook for meals. We eat out in restaurants or fast food places a couple of times a week. In this system, farmers are going bankrupt, farm workers who pick produce are starving, fast food and restaurant workers are living below the poverty line, and grocery stores are showing huge profits. In addition, much of the food we buy is better travelled than we are. Those crazy jet-setting grapes, that arrive in the store after a long ocean voyage from South America!

Food waste happens in the current system in several places: at the farms, unattractive fresh fruits and veggies are not even picked–too expensive, and no market. At the grocery store, the nice-looking stuff goes fast, while the asymmetrical squash sits until it is past prime.  And when those lovely grapes are on sale, we take home a huge bag, and after several days of gorging on grapes, we let the rest of the bag sit until it starts to form raisins, even in the fridge, and we throw it away. There are several nonprofit groups who are developing systems to deal with food waste, including rescuing ugly produce and delivering it to food banks. While these groups are doing good work, they are not changing the system that is producing the problem. Continue reading

geoengineering

Climate Engineering basics

Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, is a group of technologies that are seeking to mitigate the effects of climate change by two methods. The first of these, CDR, stands for carbon dioxide removal. The second is SRM, or solar radiation management.

CDR technologies are trying to remove the excess carbon stored in the atmosphere–greenhouse gases and emissions. When businesses and activists talk about the “carbon footprint,” they are talking about the total carbon emissions from a human activity. Positive carbon footprints mean the excess carbon we produce is hanging over our heads, stuck in the atmosphere.

What exactly is geoengineering? Engineers are working on technologies that will slow or reverse the consequences of climate change. These are two basic types: carbon dioxide removal, or CDR—this tech removes emissions and greenhouse gases. The second type is solar radiation management, or SRM. This tech reduces the amount of solar energy warming the planet.

Two concerns are at the top of a long list of concerns regarding efforts to reduce or reverse climate change. Do we understand the effects of a single change introduced into a complex system? Does complexity itself predict that we cannot know the consequences of a single change introduced into a system of great complexity, such as the atmosphere of the earth? Continue reading

wearables

Smart Clothing for Woman

The dress works like this: it’s made of efoil, a new textile that is engineered to change opacity, and connected to an integral heartbeat monitor. When the wearer’s heartbeat accelerates, such as with the approach of a lover, the dress turns transparent. Part of an ongoing collaborative series about intimacy, technology, and fashion, the Intimacy 2.0 dress is the work of FashionTech designer/engineer Anouk Wipprecht and Dutch Studio Roosegaarde.

The majority of Anouk Wipprecht’s  FashionTech clothing, a wonderful mix of robotics, artificial intelligence, and wearable electronics, features a fierce beauty, like powerful exoskeletons, clothing that is ours to command. This FashionTech isn’t designed to make us pretty, but to make us powerful, a wearable host-system that can poke the eye out of any stupid bastard that approaches us with evil intent. The fierceness of most FashionTech, clothing that will bring a smile of delight to the eyes of powerful women everywhere, is why the Intimacy 2.0 dress has it backward.

Imagine this. You walk into a party, dressed to the nines in your new efoil dress, and naturally you feel a bit nervous, a bit excited, so your heart is beating excitedly, and then, just as you always knew it would, your clothing betrays you, turns translucent, and you stand naked in front of a crowd of strangers.

Your heart beats faster with the approach not just of a lover but of an enemy. A heart beats faster with challenge, dread, excitement, and what we need our clothing to do when our heart beats faster is to protect, not reveal. Continue reading

femtech

Female startups rising

The last years have seen a number of exciting startups securing venture capital and developing innovative products that include healthcare wearables. FemTech is the name for the women-led, women-designed new product startups, and the success of these traditional and consumer health care products can be summed up in two words: market potential.

Women’s healthcare has been underfunded by the research and development world, but the last few years have seen a number of innovative products brought to market. While much of femTech is focusing on reproductive technology and sexual health, such as fertility startups that are helping young women harvest and save their eggs for later childbirth decisions, to a birth control telemedicine and delivery model, to apps that are as sensitive as the birth control pill for contraception, not all the focus is on reproductive health.

Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of women worldwide, and Bloomer Tech is developing a number of wearables with biometric sensors to collect and analyze heart heath data. The data can be used to guide real-time medical decision making, while collecting big data amounts of women’s heart health data for research. The material developed has flexible, washable circuits embedded in textiles, a technology that will allow a number of interesting developments in the ability of wearables to collect biometric data. Their first product is a bra with the flexible circuits embedded to collect data on heart disease risk factors. It communicates to an app on a smartphone via Bluetooth. Most important, the user decides on how much and what data can be shared with a medical professional, researcher, or other person.

Bellabeat, the maker of LeafUrban jewelry, is leading the jewelry/design/health monitoring pack. The beautiful leaf-shaped jewelry looks nothing like a fitness tracker, and provides several important tools for women hoping to find a better tool to monitor health: it helps track menstrual periods, so women can keep track of fertility and contraception, and it monitors signs of stress and offers guided meditation. Like other health and fitness devices, it monitors activity and sleep, and gives the user data.

However, the largest amount of VC funding remains with startup companies focusing on a product that has both cachet and market potential. Many, or most, new products focus on women’s sexual and reproductive health. Elvie raised $6 million for a small device to help women do Kegel exercises properly. Women’s health care startups in FemTech have raised, to date, over $1.1 billion for research and development. Continue reading

payments

Trends in banking industry

For many banks the thought of integrating modern technologies feels like a minefield. Claudia Hauser, EMEA financial services lead at Microsoft, believes that financial institutions need to proactively embrace technological innovation. As the market becomes more transparent, customers are using online price-comparison services to shop around. The digital revolution has also given customers the option to seek other businesses if their current providers do not offer services on multiple channels. Banks are creating user-centric experiences for customers to differentiate each other from the competition (smartbanking solutions). However, this is still a challenge for most financial institutions.  A recent survey reported that 53% of millennials in the U.S. do not see any difference between banks. Anytime, anywhere banking is essential, but it is also the norm.

There is a lack of “human touch” between banks and their customers, and this is one of the reasons why people only visit a branch when they have to, and their relationship to banks is mostly transactional. Fintech companies like Venmo and Sqaure Cash are serious competition for banks. These platforms mimic the natural flow of people when it comes to sending money, which banks are unable to do because of legal regulations and obsolete IT structures.  However, these fintech companies can only provide bank-like services but not a complete holistic financial model.

Banks can offer great help to their customers by providing personalized feedback based on their spending habits and offer smartbanking tools. In today’s technologically oriented culture, the opportunities for banks to integrate this information are endless. Banks are in the enviable position to know every financial touchpoint of their customers, from where they prefer to shop to their credit capacity.

What will the financial world look like in fifty years? Everything will change, except human nature. (Or, nothing will really change.) The financial and banking sector is embracing the new opportunities of emerging technology. Data mining and machine learning platforms, and the rapidly developing world of artificial neural networks, are having significant impacts on the global financial world. Continue reading

ecommerce

etailers vs retailers

In the etailers versus retailers war, the etailers are winning. Market shares for everything ecommerce are growing. Tech solutions have concentrated efforts on customer management and marketing software for ecommerce platforms. Consumers have responded by shopping online in their pajamas in the middle of the global night from every possible corner of the world.

Big data analysis and trend and pattern prediction using deep neural networks will continue to form a growing part of planning and market analysis. Human-AI hybrid management teams will become more common. We may see something similar in the way stakeholders are planning and implementing complex infrastructure development now. Business may find itself regularly collaborating with government, education, and the private sector to plan, manage and fund business projects. This collaborative organizational model will allow the heavy burdens of regulatory compliance, funding, public opinion, environmental impact, and other challenges to be met by a team with a variety of skills. This new collaborative model can reduce the risks associated with the digital transformation of business.

There are, however, some limitations and challenges that remain. Some industries are very well suited to ecommerce, and some are less so. Who are the winners so far?

Medical and Legal Ecommerce

Consultations with experts–doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other specialty information brokers are very well suited to ecommerce applications. In the US, the federal government recently passed a bill allowing insurance reimbursement through Tricare, one of the federal insurance programs, for telemedicine. This bill signals tacit approval for these services, and they have responded by developing very workable systems for both medical and mental health visits. Tech such as video conferencing allows face to face meetings, and systems have been put into place to limit the possibility of diversion or misuse, such as the restriction on prescribing controlled substances through a teleconference. Tech which allows interstate prescribing electronically to drug stores who are in the system, such as the chain drug stores and those registered with the large insurance providers, means medicines are available immediately after a visit. New technologies allow home-bound patients to deliver results of weights, blood pressure readings, and blood samples to the medical provider through electronic systems.

Continue reading

security

Overcoming The False Hope of a Ransomware Attack (Part 2)

Welcome back to the second half of our two-part article on how ransomware is built to deliver false hope in order to scam businesses harder than hackers have ever scammed before. While ransomware was once grudgingly praised for the innovative integration of cryptography into malware, as it turns out, this is mostly just an illusion. Last time we talked about the rising threat of ransomware, how malware has a long tradition of destroying files, and the way ransomware works once it attacks your computer. Join us again today as we pick up right where we left off with encryption, how it works, and why ransomware uses it.

Ransomware Encryption

The big confusion about ransomware is the use of encryption. At first, it was lauded as one of the cleverest upgrades to malware since email attachments but in reality, the only reason encryption is used instead of full-on deletion is to create false hope and the possibility that companies will pay up.

Here’s how it works: Encryption relies on a key, the thing that determines how the files will be encrypted. One of the simplest encryption keys is the backward alphabet where A=Z, B=Y, C=X, and so on. A more complex version might use a specific page of a specific book where A=first letter, etc. The point of the encryption key is that as long as it is sufficiently complicated or impossible to predict, you cannot decrypt anything that has been encrypted without the original key.

When your files are encrypted through ransomware, it’s important to understand that modern encryption software can randomly generate one-time nonsense keys that cannot be decrypted and, if the key is lost, so too is anything that was encrypted with it. This means that unless you get the exact key used to wreck your files, there’s simply no way you’ll be able to get them back. Some hackers will promise to give you the key and a decryption tool but experience has revealed the majority of these promises to be outright lies.

Trusting Hackers

Continue reading

stratecta - ransomware security

Overcoming The False Hope of a Ransomware Attack (Part 1)

Every modern business deals with a certain amount of technology. From tech companies that consist internally of nothing but professionals at computers to minimally technical industries that still rely on databases and business software to keep everything running smoothly, the need for a secure network, email security and backups of archived business data is universal. When your data is in danger and it looks like there’s a chance of recovering anything that has been lost, most companies will jump through flaming hoops for any either planned or, worse, unplanned recovery method. That is exactly why ransomware is so terrible. The hope of getting your files back after a disaster is often more powerful than the fear of losing them in the first place.

While you may think that your files are being held hostage, your disaster recovery plan is much more reliable than any hacker’s “promise” that you’ll see your files again.

Malware Has Always Wiped Files

To understand the innovation of ransomware, it may help to have a better grasp on the history of malware as a whole. Ransomware is just one of the most recent innovations in a long chain of malicious, invasive software. In fact, while there has been a significant rise in the ability of malware to actually do something like steal credit card numbers or extortion, malware has traditionally been almost completely pointlessly evil. Worms have roamed the web since before the internet unification seeking out vulnerable systems and often infected websites are simply left up to hurt anyone who comes across them.

When an infection is successful, whether it was targeted or random, the malware’s goal is simply to cause pain. Spamware makes your system unusable with constant pop-ups, spyware steals your login information and uses it for fraud or more spam, and many forms of malware despite the name will simply explore your files, deleting or corrupting them as it goes. Hackers have always deleted files for fun and there’s no reason to assume that they’re going to stop now just because they’ve also figured out how to make a little side cash.

What Ransomware Does

When ransomware gets onto your computer, it’s first act is usually to lurk around for a while. During this time, it may finish installing itself, spread from the first computer into the local network, and map all your files. These processes usually happen quietly using background resources and the delay often masks the true infection point, whether it as a bad website, a phishing email, or an actual hacker security breach in which the ransomware was placed on your computer. Continue reading

e-cars

3 Revolutions: Transportation, Climate Change, and the Future of Cars

In one future world, we will live in the less expensive suburbs or rural areas, and come into the city for work in our driverless vehicles. To avoid expensive parking fees, we’ll send our vehicles out to roam around, hang out at the mall and grocery store and come pick us up when work is over. The possibility of hoards of driverless and riderless vehicles on the streets and in parking lots, hovering, just waiting for instructions, seems like the opening scene of a movie where you know things are about to go terribly wrong.

This scene of the zombie vehicles taking over the parking lots and streets of urban centers is quite possible. But a University of California professor is working to save us all.

Lewis Fulton’s 3 Revolutions Policy Initiative

A professor at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, Fulton has been publishing work on a mobility program for the future world. He says, and back up his claims with science, that three things have to change simultaneously for the future of transportation and climate change to work: electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and ride-sharing. The Paris Agreement in 2015 hopes to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees. Some estimate this means 100 million new electrical vehicles on the road by 2030.

The snake in the woodpile is the lithium-ion battery, and the extensive mining for raw materials that is needed to supply the battery power for electric vehicles. There is concern that the current levels of energy use to produce these batteries means they will have a higher carbon footprint for much of their life, compared to current petroleum-based internal combustion engine vehicles. We can hope that the scientists who are working on this technology can continue to improve methods and materials used in manufacture, and lower the carbon footprint of these batteries.  Continue reading

stratecta

Digital Transformation: Things a Digital Document Can Do that Paper Can’t

When companies are wondering whether or not to go through the most basic stage of the digital transformation, moving from paperwork documents to digital document management, there are often a lot of fears about how implementation and unfamiliarity with the new system will slow down productivity and potentially confuse the staff. However, the same things can be said about any major change, including drastically altering the catered lunch menu. The real thing that administrators and business owners should be considering about the digital transformation is all the ways that digital document management can enhance the efficiency of your business both in predictable and unpredictable situations.

To help you understand the drastic difference between a business run on paper and a business run through digital documents and software, let’s narrow the focus down to the humble document. All the things that can be done with a digital document, but on for which the original and every copy is paper.

1) Same Document Form for Drafts and Final Copies

The first thing to realize is that no one writes their documents on typewriters anymore which means that nearly 100% of modern documents and paperwork start in digital form on a word processor. That word processor saves a digital document which is then printed out. Though many companies who work with paper still think of a paper copy as ‘the original’, in truth, the originals of all but historical documents are now digital. The paper is the real copy and every time an edit is made or a new version is drafted, the document is created in digital form, printed to paper, and then interacted with.

Why not just skip the paper stage? When you work with digital documents, there’s no need to print unless a client needs a physical copy for a specific reason like pen-and-ink signatures or they request a hard copy for their own private records. Otherwise, you can receive, develop, work with, and submit documents all in a single digital form.

2) Infinite Editing of a Single Document

When you’re working primarily with physical copies of your paperwork, edits are not just challenging in that they must be done carefully and neatly. Every old copy will need to be tossed in favor of new print-outs of the edited work. Edits on paper are permanent or, even with hand-written documents done in pencil, require wear and tear on both the eraser and the paper.

Digital documents, on the other hand, can be edited an infinite number of times, revised, corrected, and collaborated on without an eraser white-out/liquid-paper, or constant printing and re-printing because digital edits are easy and cost nothing. Along the same lines, the edited document and the original can be the same file, ensuring that everyone who has access now has access to the updated version. Continue reading