Category Archives: Formación

Usando el pensamiento de futuros in la enseñanza en el proyecto Enseñando el Futuro Cercano

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Using futures thinking in the Near Future Teaching project

Hi, we have been supporting the Near Future Teaching core team recently on parts of this project. We haven’t yet posted, so here is a short introduction:

We are part of Andthen, a small design strategy consultancy company based in Glasgow, that marries design research with futures thinking to help organisations of all shapes and sizes with early stage innovation. We are working on this project over the next few months to offer some expertise of using a futures-driven approach in strategic planning, and will be posting here about our process and thinking.

— Zoë Prosser and Santini Basra

An intro to futures thinking

While futures thinking is by no means a young practice, it is not particularly defined or established as a discipline; there are few recognised futures thinking degrees, and there is varied understanding of what constitutes a ‘futurist.’ The terms ‘foresight,’ ‘futurism,’ ‘futurology,’ ‘anticipation studies,’ ‘futures thinking,’ and sometimes ‘futures’ for short, are often used interchangeably. While some are slightly varied within their definitions, they all essentially describe the practice of thinking in a structured way about the future, and the methods and approaches that are used to do so. For simplicity, we will just use the term ‘futures thinking’ to describe the practice in this post.

While, as mentioned, futures thinking is a somewhat nebulous discipline, there are characteristics of the practice that are commonly agreed upon:

You can’t know the future

The first and most central tenet of futures thinking is that it is not concerned with prediction; practitioners agree that ‘you can’t know the future.’ Instead, it is about anticipation and exploration. Futures thinking seeks to unpack the question ‘what could happen?’ over attempting to answer ‘what will happen?’

Futures Thinking

Fig.1. Based on a well known taxonomy of futures, the Futures Cone is a visual tool that helps to categorise different future scenarios according to likelihood and preferability.

To move past prediction, futures research looks beyond the scope of ‘probable futures,’ to explore the full realm of ‘possible futures’ (see Fig.1.), and in doing so uncovers a suite of unforeseen opportunities and risks. Ultimately, a futures thinking project may have an emphasis on defining which futures are ‘preferable,’ however this is challenging as different groups of people or organisations are likely to have different opinions about what is preferable.

Systemic factors over everyday occurrences

The second tenet is that futures thinking is primarily concerned with systemic factors (and thus has significant crossover with systems thinking), and less so with immediate problems. It recognises that everything is interconnected, and that in order to make meaningful and long-lasting impact, one must understand and intervene in the overall system, rather than simply addressing individual elements.

Not outcome oriented

Futures thinking is not about considering an outcome, or the specifics of a solution. Instead, its divergent, explorative focus intends to give clues or provide information as to where and why something needs to change.
Balancing the empirical with the intuitive

Futures thinking uses a balance of empirical research and intuitive extrapolation to create visions of change that are not only provocative, but also well informed and specific to the contexts which they indent to impact.

Andthen’s Approach

At Andthen, our foundations are rooted in design and strategy; we embrace futures thinking as an approach and a mindset while working in a design strategy space. The effect of this is that we are much more outcome-oriented than the average futures thinker. Futures thinking is a great way to explore and foster critical discussion, but we believe this should be complimented with rigorous analytical mindsets in order to convert exploration and discussion into action. We therefore practice an outcome-oriented approach to futures thinking, and explore futures as a way of understanding what is happening now, and what we should do about it.

Through the exploration of possible futures, we help organisations realise where they want to go and how they want to develop. We foster an understanding of what positive change means to those we work with and create visions to succinctly communicate this.

By leveraging these visions, it becomes easier for organisations to proactively shape change, and create the conditions for their preferred futures to flourish.

Our approach at Andthen combines an explorative futures thinking mindset with a design-led strategic one, from which we focus on defining the actions that are required to move organisations towards their preferred futures.

However, ultimately we see futures thinking as a mindset, which exists beyond any one project or initiative. Our core mission is to encourage a mindset that is constantly interrogating and critically thinking about change. This mindset will routinely challenge organisational ‘myopia’ (short-sightedness), and will contribute to an expanding understanding of various contexts and environments; one that considers seemingly unrelated systemic social, political, technological and economic issues as source material to drive constructive innovation.

Getting back to Near Future Teaching

Within this project, we have an opportunity to use futures thinking to analyse the rich insights that emerged from the Near Future Teaching community scoping (as evidenced in the vox pop interviews and workshops conducted in the early phases project). With reference to external systemic drivers of change in education, society, science and technology (captured in two reviews — Future teaching trends: science and technologyFuture teaching trends: society and education), this futures thinking methodology is being used to investigate the values of staff and students within the University of Edinburgh.

We will look to explore various possibilities for futures of digital education at the University, and in doing so define its best course of action to uphold staff and student values in the face of rapid change.

6 grandes impactos en el futuro de los negocios

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¿Cómo impactarán los cambios a gran escala en el futuro de su negocio?

Por Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury y Helena Calle de Fast Future.

Los shocks son algo que aceptamos ya sea que se trate de una estrella de la realidad como presidente de los Estados Unidos o de que el Reino Unido haya abandonado la UE. Además de aceptarlos prepararse para las crisis es importante para nosotros como individuos, empresas, gobiernos o la sociedad. Muchos de esos shocks pueden anticiparse, lo cual, por supuesto, es una parte central del trabajo que hacemos como futuristas. En nuestro próximo libro 500 Futures , presentamos una gama de estos factores futuros y posibles interrupciones que podrían dar forma a la próxima década y más allá. Aquí destacamos seis posibles impactos que podrían tener un impacto verdaderamente transformador y que todo emprendedor necesita considerar para emprendimientos existentes y futuros.

  1. Total Recall Lite: experimenta mundos peligrosos y diferentes desde la comodidad de Main Street.

Con el rápido aumento de las tasas de cierres minoristas en todo el mundo, podrían ser reemplazados por centros de experiencia ricos en tecnología que ofrezcan la promesa de conectarse, zonificar fuera de la vida cotidiana y sintonizar una gama de otras experiencias mundanas. Un nuevo tipo de agente de recreación podría comenzar a aparecer en los distritos de compras y centros comerciales de todo el mundo. Donde antes los agentes de viajes proporcionaban a sus clientes una tienda de vacaciones de una parada, cada vez más podían unirse, e incluso reemplazarse, por agentes de experiencia.

Equipado con una gama de tecnologías inmersivas y multisensoriales, como la realidad aumentada y virtual, los clientes experimentarán el calor, la humedad, la lluvia y los sonidos de la selva amazónica. Para una experiencia más seca, ¿por qué no probar el intenso calor, el sol cegador y las arenas movedizas del desierto del Sahara? Para aquellos que buscan experiencias de otro mundo, ¿por qué no seleccionar los sonidos inquietantes del viento que pasa a través del Elysium Planitia en el vacío cercano de la atmósfera marciana? Sobre la base de la tendencia de la experiencia de regalos de los próximos noughties, la popularidad de este nuevo fenómeno minorista podría crecer exponencialmente.

  1. Muerte de la pantalla y la palabra hablada

Dentro de una década, las computadoras, teléfonos inteligentes y tabletas podrían reemplazarse por la proyección de datos e imágenes directamente en nuestros ojos. Las proyecciones de realidad virtual podrían superponerse en nuestros globos oculares para influir y enriquecer nuestra experiencia al interactuar con el mundo. Cuando se combina con la transferencia de pensamiento a través de nuestros auriculares, es posible que nunca tengamos que volver a hablar con otro ser humano. Podríamos interactuar en silencio con el avatar de un amigo en lugar de tener que escribir el texto en una pantalla. La realidad mixta podría convertirse en nuestra experiencia cotidiana de la vida. Aquellos que viven en esta realidad de realidad mixta pueden optar por no interactuar con los humanos que no usan la proyección del globo ocular y la transferencia de pensamiento, y aún así requieren que hagamos el esfuerzo de hablar.

  1. Desenchufar: ¿El día festivo fuera de la red?

El aumento del estrés en el lugar de trabajo y las presiones de la disponibilidad 24/7 para el empleado moderno podrían hacer que empleadores, médicos e incluso el estado obliguen a las personas a tomar deliberadamente un descanso sin conexión para redescubrirse y rejuvenecerse. El deseo de privacidad y la necesidad de desconectarse y desconectarse de la red también es probable que crezca a medida que nos enredamos cada vez más en la matriz de objetos y sensores habilitados digitalmente que siempre están conectados y que se conectan y monitorean a los seres humanos virtualmente .

Hoy en día, algunos retiros ofrecen zonas libres de wifi como un servicio, otros se promocionan como un refugio sin tecnología. En un futuro cercano, los ‘santuarios’ totalmente desconectados y fuera de la red eléctrica pueden convertirse en el próximo destino de vacaciones más popular para escapar del estilo de vida moderno y constante que se observa constantemente. Los gobiernos podrían verse obligados a actuar para imponer tales interrupciones debido a los crecientes costos para la sociedad de mala salud mental y la posible pérdida de ingresos fiscales de las personas que toman licencia por enfermedad a largo plazo, o simplemente renuncian a sus trabajos debido al estrés.

  1. El fin del envejecimiento?

La manipulación de nuestras células a nivel genético utilizando nanobots ingeribles podría ayudar a revertir o retrasar el proceso de envejecimiento de manera bastante dramática. Los nanobots son capaces de moverse a través de nuestros cuerpos y la corriente sanguínea para realizar tareas específicas, como eliminar o reposicionar moléculas de un lugar a otro. El desarrollo de esta tecnología podría tener efectos dramáticos en la salud humana futura. Con base en los requisitos de salud del paciente y sus predisposiciones genéticas, los nanobots podrían diseñarse para fabricar los medicamentos requeridos de forma autónoma. Cada vez que una enfermedad comienza a manifestarse, como el cáncer, los nanobots pueden administrar la medicina necesaria para combatirla.

  1. Brexit trae abajo la economía global?

Un Brexit mal gestionado y caótico podría conducir a una recesión mundial prolongada.

Las empresas extranjeras pueden optar por sacar operaciones clave del Reino Unido para garantizar la continuidad del acceso a los mercados europeos. El ritmo de la automatización puede acelerarse a medida que las empresas buscan reducir sus riesgos reduciendo los costos de personal y reemplazando a los humanos con máquinas. Las perspectivas de un período de transición incierto y el reequilibrio prolongado posterior a la transición de la economía del Reino Unido podrían asustar a los mercados, haciendo bajar los precios de las acciones y el valor de la libra. Colectivamente, estas medidas podrían conducir a recortes masivos de empleos tanto en el sector público como en el privado, la disminución del gasto, mayores costos de importación y una reducción significativa en los ingresos fiscales del gobierno. La economía del Reino Unido podría caer en una recesión prolongada que durará varios años con un efecto de contagio que arrasa el planeta e impulsa una desaceleración global.

  1. ¿Automóviles manuales prohibidos en los centros urbanos?

Los días de conducir en los concurridos centros de la ciudad podrían estar contados. Con la transición de los automóviles de gasolina y diésel a eléctricos, se estableció el precedente para aceptar nuevas tecnologías en el transporte personal. Los automóviles eléctricos buscaban mantener a las personas a salvo de la contaminación de los motores de gasolina y diesel, y la promesa de autos autónomos es eliminar el error humano; la principal causa de accidentes de tráfico y las lesiones y muertes resultantes. Con el desarrollo de la inteligencia artificial en los vehículos y la conectividad con las señales de tráfico, las autoridades de la ciudad podrían comenzar a prohibir los autos de conducción manual desde los centros de las ciudades, eliminando casi totalmente los accidentes.

Los choques a gran escala continuarán llegando. Todos debemos anticipar aquellos que impactan nuestros negocios actuales y tomar medidas en respuesta. También podemos anticiparnos para ayudar a dar forma a nuestras próximas ideas de negocios.


Sobre los autores

Los autores son futuristas con Fast Future: una firma de prospectiva profesional especializada en la presentación de discursos de apertura, educación ejecutiva, investigación y consultoría sobre el futuro emergente y los impactos del cambio para los clientes globales. Fast Future publica libros de pensadores futuros de todo el mundo, que exploran cómo los desarrollos como la inteligencia artificial, la robótica, las tecnologías exponenciales y el pensamiento disruptivo pueden afectar a individuos, sociedades, empresas y gobiernos y crear los sectores trillonarios del futuro. Fast Future tiene un enfoque particular en garantizar que estos avances se aprovechen para liberar el potencial individual y permitir que un ser humano

Más sobre el cisne negro

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Más sobre el cisne negro

Alberto Benegas Lynch (h)

En realidad el problema central de las sociedades consiste básicamente en el deseo irrefrenable de gobernantes por manejar vidas y haciendas ajenas. Por introspección sabemos lo que queremos y, sobre todo, somos también concientes de los cambios que operan en nuestro interior y en el medio que nos rodea. No somos la misma persona hoy que la que fuimos ayer ni seremos la misma mañana, debido a que incorporamos otros conocimientos, otras perspectivas y otras preferencias. Seguimos manteniendo la misma identidad, pero nuestros horizontes no son los mismos si hemos aprovechado el proceso de prueba y error en nuestras vidas. Las circunstancias y las situaciones son permanentemente cambiantes, lo cual nos hace modificar decisiones previas. Esto es lo que precisamente no toman en cuanta los burócratas que pretenden administrar lo que concierne a otros.

La interacción libre y voluntaria entre las partes permite un proceso de win-win en el contexto del óptimo Pareto, esto es, que cada uno de los participantes en una sociedad abierta mejora su posición respecto a la que tenía antes de la transacción. Esto es lo que no entienden llamados líderes del mundo libre como hoy Donald Trump, que ha iniciado una guerra comercial, en verdad un oxímoron, puesto que, como queda dicho, por definición, el comercio apunta a la obtención de ganancias para todas las partes involucradas. Nadie interviene en una actividad comercial si no es con la idea de ganar. La terminología de las así denominadas “guerras comerciales” no figura en los diccionarios fuera de los aparatos estatales que ponen palos en las ruedas.

Como también se ha apuntado, en el contexto del mercado el sistema de precios basado en la propiedad privada trasmite información sobre qué hacer y qué no hacer. En esta situación, los empresarios están incentivados para satisfacer al prójimo al efecto de incrementar su patrimonio, de lo contrario, incurre en quebrantos.

Si los aparatos estatales se inmiscuyen en el mercado, se distorsionan los precios y, por lo tanto, la contabilidad y la evaluación de proyectos también quedan desdibujadas, con lo que la asignación de los siempre escasos recursos se dirige a áreas distintas de las que se hubieran aplicado si no hubiera habido la antedicha intromisión, cosa que se traduce en derroche de capital, que, a su vez, implica una contracción en los salarios e ingresos en términos reales.

En otros términos, la intervención gubernamental en los negocios privados no solo bloquea la referida información, sino que concentra ignorancia en los así llamados planificadores estatales, en lugar de abrir cauce al aprovechamiento del conocimiento siempre disperso y fraccionado. Como ha apuntado Michael Polanyi, cada uno en el spot tiene sus habilidades, a veces “conocimiento tácito” cuando no lo puede explicitar, pero en todo caso ninguno de los operadores en el mercado tiene la visión de conjunto. Como también se ha subrayado desde la escuela escocesa en adelante, este proceso produce un resultado que no ha sido previsto por ninguno de los participantes. Solo en las mentes afiebradas de los megalómanos cabe la posibilidad de improvisar perspectivas omnicomprensivas que intentan manejar, con los resultados catastróficos por todos conocidos.

Antes he escrito sobre lo que a continuación expongo, pero estimo que es del caso reiterar aspectos de lo dicho. De tanto en tanto aparecen libros cuyos autores revelan gran creatividad, que significa verdaderos desafíos para el pensamiento. Son obras que se apartan de los moldes convencionales, se deslizan por avenidas poco exploradas y, por ende, nada tienen que ver con estereotipos y lugares comunes tanto en el fondo como en la forma en que son presentadas las respuestas a los más variados enigmas intelectuales.

Este es el caso del libro de Nassim Nicholas Taleb, titulado El cisne negro, publicado por Paidós en Barcelona (que me recomendó en su momento mi amigo y ex alumno Enrique Pochat). El eje central del trabajo de marras gira en trono al problema de la inducción tratado por autores como Hume y Popper, es decir, la manía de extrapolar los casos conocidos del pasado al futuro como si la vida fuera algo inexorablemente lineal. Lo que se estima como poco probable, ilustrado en este libro con la figura del cisne negro, al fin y al cabo ocurre con frecuencia.

Ilustra la idea con un ejemplo adaptado de Bertrand Russell: los pavos que son generosamente alimentados día tras día. Se acostumbran a esa rutina, la dan por sentada, entran en confianza con la mano que les da de comer hasta que llega el Día de Acción de Gracias en el que los pavos son engullidos y cambia abruptamente la tendencia.

Taleb nos muestra cómo en cada esquina de las calles del futuro nos deparan las más diversas sorpresas. Nos muestra cómo en realidad todos los grandes acontecimientos de la historia no fueron previstos por los “expertos” y los “futurólogos” (salvo algunos escritores de ciencia ficción). Nos invita a que nos detengamos a mirar “lo que se ve y lo que no se ve” siguiendo la clásica fórmula del decimonónico Frédéric Bastiat. Por ejemplo, nos aconseja liberarnos de la mala costumbre de encandilarnos con algunas de las cosas que realizan los gobiernos sin considerar lo que se hubiera realizado si no hubiera sido por la intromisión gubernamental que succiona recursos a que los titulares hubieran dado otro destino.

Uno de los apartados del libro se titula “Suguimos ingnorando a Hayek” para aludir a las contribuciones de aquel premio Nobel en Economía y destacar que la coordinación social no surge del decreto del aparato estatal, sino, como queda dicho, a través de millones de arreglos contractuales libres y voluntarios que conforman la organización social espontánea y que las ciencias de la acción humana no pueden recurrir a la misma metodología de las ciencias naturales, donde no hay propósito deliberado sino reacción mecánica a determinados estímulos.

La obra constituye un canto a la humildad y una embestida contra quienes asumen que saben más de lo que conocen (y de lo que es posible conocer), un alegato contra la soberbia gubernamental que pretende administrar el fruto del trabajo ajeno en lugar de dejar en paz a la gente y abstenerse de proceder como si fueran los dueños de los países que gobiernan. En un campo más amplio, la obra está dirigida a todos los que posan de sabios poseedores de conocimientos preclaros del futuro. Y no se trata de memoria insuficiente para almacenar datos, como ha puntualizado Thomas Sowell, el problema medular radica en que la información no está disponible antes de haberse llevado a cabo la acción correspondiente.

Por su parte, Teleb pone en evidencia los problemas graves que se suscitan al subestimar la ignorancia y pontificar sobre aquello que no está al alcance de los mortales. Es que, como escribe, “la historia no gatea: da saltos” y lo improbable, fruto de contrafácticos y escenarios alternativos, no suele tomarse en cuenta, lo cual produce reiterados y extendidos cementerios ocultos tras ostentosos y aparatosos modelitos matemáticos y campanas de Gauss que resultan ser fraudes conscientes o inconscientes de diversa magnitud, al tiempo que no permite desembarazarse del cemento mental que oprime e inflexibiliza la estructura cortical. Precisamente, el autor marca que Henri Poincaré ha dedicado mucho tiempo a refutar predicciones basadas en la linealidad construidas sobre lo habitual, a pesar de que “los sucesos casi siempre son estrafalarios”.

Explica también el rol de la suerte, incluso en los grandes descubrimientos de la medicina como el de Alexander Fleming en el caso de la penicilina, aunque, como ha apuntado Pasteur, la suerte favorece a los que trabajan con ahínco y están alertas. Después de todo, como también nos recuerda el autor, “lo empírico” proviene de Sextus Empiricus que inauguró, en Roma, doscientos años antes de Cristo, una escuela en medicina que no aceptaba teorías y para el tratamiento se basaba únicamente en la experiencia, lo cual, claro está, no abría cauces para lo nuevo.

El positivismo ha hecho mucho daño a la ciencia al sostener que no hay verdad si no es verificable; a lo que, por una parte, Morris Cohen responde que esa proposición no es verificable y, por otra, Karl Popper ha demostrado que nada en la ciencia es verificable, es solo corroborable provisoriamente que debe estar abierta a posibles refutaciones.

Los intereses creados de los pronosticadores dificultan posiciones modestas y razonables y son a veces como aquel agente fúnebre que decía: “Yo no le deseo mal a nadie, pero tampoco me quiero quedar sin trabajo”. Este tipo de conclusiones aplicadas a los planificadores de sociedades terminan haciendo que la gente se alimente igual que lo hacen los caballos de ajedrez (salteado). Estos resultados se repiten machaconamente y, sin embargo, debido a la demagogia, aceptar las advertencias se torna tan difícil como venderle hielo a un esquimal.

En definitiva, nos explica Taleb que el aprendizaje y los consiguientes andamiajes teóricos se lleva a cabo a través de la prueba y el error, y que deben establecerse sistemas que abran las máximas posibilidades para que este proceso tenga lugar. Podemos coincidir o no con todo lo que nos propone el autor, como que después de un tiempo no es infrecuente que también discrepamos con ciertos párrafos que nosotros mismos hemos escrito, pero, en todo caso, prestar atención al “impacto de lo altamente improbable” resulta de gran fertilidad. Al fin y al cabo, tal como concluye Taleb, cada uno de nosotros somos “cisnes negros” debido a la muy baja probabilidad de que hayamos nacido.

Por último y en tren de no desperdiciar el tiempo, para actualizar nuestras potencialidades en busca del bien y en lo posible evitar sorpresas de nuevos cisnes negros, debemos bucear en nuestros propios interiores. En este sentido, consignamos al margen que también resulta de interés prestar atención a tantos autores que conjeturan sobre lo que ocurre mientras dormimos en cuanto al significado de los sueños, puesto que no es menor el hecho de que durante una tercera parte de nuestra vida no estamos despiertos, por lo que una persona de 75 años ha dormido 25 años. Un tiempo tan prolongado que no justifica desentenderse de lo que allí sucede.

El autor es Doctor en Economía y también es Doctor en Ciencias de Dirección, preside la Sección Ciencias Económicas de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Buenos Aires y es miembro de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias Económicas.

Ilustración: Daniela Martín del Campo

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Utopía de la patria

Revista Nexos VIERNES, 6 DE ABRIL DE 2018, 

Álvaro Ruiz Rodilla

“No amo mi patria/ su fulgor abstracto/ es inasible”. En estos versos iniciales de “Alta traición” han fincado su relación con México varias generaciones. El poema citadísimo de José Emilio Pacheco sigue así: “Pero (aunque suene mal)/ daría la vida/ por diez lugares suyos/ cierta gente/ puertos, bosques, desiertos, fortalezas […]”; y desde ahí empiezo: un punto y aparte, o verso de pie quebrado, con el que recordar que los nacionalismos alimentan ideologías nefastas y, peor aun ahora, con ese despertar xenófobo que ha ganado terreno en Estados Unidos y Europa. Aun así, es imposible rechazar el apego al territorio y a su gente. La idea de “México” me lleva primero a pensar en un territorio del pasado, la tierra perdida de la infancia, las plazas y avenidas que vieron nacer a mis padres. El lugar exacto en el laberinto de Borges: la vida a la que llegamos por una puerta de entrada desconocida, al igual que ignoramos la de salida. La otra idea de “México” es menos una sensación y más una construcción intelectual: la historia y la geografía que compartimos, los ingenios de una lengua juguetona, con sus modismos y su música que nos amarra y apacigua, los espejos enterrados de nuestra identidad imaginada, siempre plural y cambiante. Ninguna de esas ideas de México deja de ocuparme y atormentarme, a veces como una mano grotesca y proteica que me aplasta, otras como un paisaje de mar y aire que se abre.


         Aunque del país de nuestros padres recibimos, con todos sus bemoles, una clase media más sólida, la transición democrática, universidades de primer nivel y una cultura escéptica ante el legado de la nación revolucionaria, parece que en el México de 2018 todo queda por hacer. Nuestro país es un erial de fosas y desaparecidos, de tierras sin ley en donde ha vuelto la tiranía feudal y el cobro de suelos. La guerra del narco tiene cada vez más las características de una guerra civil. Un poeta que renuncia a sus versos luego del atroz asesinato de su hijo es el símbolo que nos define ahora. Los hijos de México mueren en un campo de batalla inasible. ¿Qué pasará con toda una generación de jóvenes arrastrados por la ola de violencia que levantó esta guerra? ¿Cómo es su presente desesperado, aislado? Al futuro del país lo pueblan sombras errantes y ríos de sangre.

Podremos imaginar, a contracorriente, utopías siempre deseables. Pero ya es una esperanza áspera concebir que quien escoge el camino del trabajo honesto, el cansancio de las más de cuatro horas diarias en transporte público, el riesgo de atravesar zonas feminicidas, de ser asaltada, secuestrada o violada, es un héroe anónimo cotidiano porque resistió al poder avasallador de la violencia, de las redes y el dinero criminales. La altura de nuestras esperanzas, ahí, se reduce. En el horizonte se agolpan los nubarrones del delito institucional y la corrupción eterna. El cielo se cierra sobre islas de miedo, inseguridad y pesimismo. Nuestras expectativas suelen situarse entre dejar de empeorar o resignarse a consignas inútiles y amargas: “todos los políticos son iguales”; “todos roban”.

Es de todos conocida la frase de Oscar Wilde: “Un mapa del mundo que no contenga la isla de Utopía no vale la pena mirarlo siquiera, pues deja por fuera imaginar el único país en que la humanidad siempre desembarca”. Está claro que el XXI no es el siglo del idealismo. Pero vale la pena pensar en ese mapa, no desde la abstracción impuesta sino desde una imaginación serena. Recuerdo un proyecto impulsado, en 2011, por la revista La Vie des Idées: pensar el mundo en 2112. En vez de vaticinar más catástrofes, abrir ventanas de posibilidades. Varios intelectuales imaginaron, entonces, ese mundo futurístico; otros hicieron el ejercicio de ficción retrospectiva: escribir la historia desde el 2112. Techo salarial igualitario a partir del control fiscal y el control ecológico, reducción drástica de presos y cárceles, creación de una Asamblea Ciudadana Rotatoria con elecciones mediante sorteo, revolución de la movilidad urbana mediante el reemplazo del vehículo privado de combustión por transporte público inteligente —personal y masivo— y la reorganización urbana en polos de trabajo y vivienda, etcétera. Se dice fácil, pero lo importante no es la validez de estas ideas —hoy parecen risibles o descabelladas— sino constatar que también, en su época, parecía utópica la abolición de la esclavitud, el sufragio universal, la emancipación de las mujeres, el derecho a la educación o el seguro social. Y, sin embargo, estos principios alimentaron nuestras aspiraciones democráticas durante siglos.

En el México de hoy, todo lo anterior es mucho pedir. La utopía inmediata está más bien en pacificar el país, encontrar a los ausentes o darles sepultura a nuestros muertos. Porque al final —vuelvo a saquear al clásico— “quizá no es tiempo ahora./ Nuestra época nos dejó/ hablando solos”.


Álvaro Ruiz Rodilla
Investigador y editor en nexos en línea.

Prediciendo el futuro de largo plazo hacia el 2118

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Predicting the Long-Term Future – 2043, 2118, and 2218

Tomado de: Fast future publishing, or, 04/06/2018

The team at Fast Future have been doing an exercise to envisage scenarios of what our world might look 25, 100, and 200 years into the future. Here are the outcomes. We’d welcome your thoughts on these scenarios, and your own views on how our world might play out.

2043: How the world might look in 25 years 

Artificial living – artificial intelligence (AI) will permeate our world. The technology will be in use across every aspect of society from healthcare and education to entertainment and financial services. Smart systems could manage our social lives, help us select the ideal partners for dating, marriage, and reproduction, monitor our health in liaison with our doctors, and personalise our education so content is delivered in the way we learn best. The technology will be making legal decisions in court, determining our benefit payments, fact checking politicians, and powering the transport sector.

Smarter money – By combining the power of AI and blockchain, the concept of money could evolve into electronic tokens with far more types of assets tradeable within the one “currency”. For example, we might earn tokens from our employment, as rewards from retailers and airlines, and as micro-credits for completing workplace training or school learning tasks. Instead of simply liking a track from a musician, we could now make a micro-payment to them with a fraction of a token. This evolution from cash and cryptocurrencies towards a universal means of exchange could mean the end of cash and foreign exchange markets.
Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future

Autonomous city centers – Following a widely invoked policy to ban petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles from city centers, the same happened with manually driven cars. An era marked by exponential change has seen changing ideas of asset ownership, radical leaps forward in AI, increasingly efficient electric propulsion units for vehicles, and the emergence of smart city infrastructures. These relatively smooth transitions led to other changes in cities, including the removal of redundant traffic signals and the remodelling of some street intersections.

Autonomous cargo aircraft – While most passengers are sceptical about an autonomous plane ride to their destination in the sun, cargo has no such qualms. While regulations allow the operation of autonomous aircraft for cargo purposes, they are still operated between specialist cargo hub airports, separate from passenger traffic.

Autonomous commuter trains – Overground and subway / metro commuter services are now fully automated in many cities. At busier stations and at peak travel times, train staff supervise the safety of passengers at the station, but the trains themselves are fully autonomous with AI systems driving the train and monitoring passengers. As yet, long distance express trains retain on board crews, although much like civilian aircraft, the drivers’ roles are to supervise the systems and provide on board customer service.

The first 3D printed Moonbase – Following a series of missions to create an autonomous 3D accommodation manufacturing facility on the Moon’s surface, the facility is now ready. The Moonbase will support greater and more extensive autonomous and human exploration of the Moon’s surface and serve as a base for onward missions to deep space.
Steve Wells, COO, Fast Future

Food revolution – Within next 25 year every aspect of the life we know will change. The way we produce our food will change. Fruits and vegetables might be grown in buildings controlled by AI rather than on farms, meat could be cloned, and we might see widespread consumption of 3D printed food.

Asia rising – Looking at the development of the Asian market, is reasonable to expect that within 25 years world economic and industrial leadership will have passed to China and India. The growth of China and other Asian economies will continue to outstrip more developed nations as see Asian nations as the driving force of the world economy rather than the USA and European countries.
Karolina Dolatowska, Researcher, Fast Future

Agricultural disruption – The food chain will undergo a major transformation led by AI, vertical farming and lab grown meat. Hydroponics plants, fruits, and vegetable might change agriculture as we know it, and help revolutionize the food industry. Overpopulation is having major consequences, driving a lack of growing space and food in many parts of the world. The growing global population will force us to find creative solutions. Having AI-controlled hydroponic vertical farms on the sides of buildings might be one of the solutions.

Artificial meat – In-vitro cloned meat could be another future solution to our food supply problems. While lab grown meat may still face many challenges, such as flavour control, it also has many advantages such as less waste, less risk of viruses, reduced space requirements, and lower emissions and environmental impacts among others. These benefits seem to outweigh the disadvantages and drawback of traditionally reared livestock. The idea of artificial meat might disturb us, nonetheless this solution seems to be finding its way into our diets.
Helena Calle, Researcher, Fast Future

Water innovation – As climate change continues to alter rainfall patterns worldwide, water may become an increasingly scarce resource. Regions with the financial capital may be able to invest in the latest microfiltration technologies, thus allowing constant recycling of waste water into drinkable water. Desalination plants may be the solution in arid regions along coastlines. Hopefully, as technology improves, and costs fall, the issues associated with desalination, namely high energy usage and residual salt, could be resolved to such a degree that coastal regions all over the world would be able to afford desalination.
April Koury, Researcher, Fast Future

Artificial wombs – within the next 25 years it may be possible to prevent preterm mortality in infants by use of artificial wombs that provide all the conditions required to safely achieve full development and birth of a foetus. This technology would at first be used to save at-risk pregnancies but may over time become a reproductive technology available to consumers interested in having a baby without pregnancy.

Antibiotic failure – Many pathogens are gaining immunity to the antibiotic medicines available today. Without antibiotics, common illness and medical procedures, even pregnancy and childbirth, could become endangering events. In the next 25 years, is it possible that we will experience “the end of antibiotics” (as the World Health Organization put it in 2016)? Fortunately, the microbial threat is being met with advanced drug development, allowing medical researchers to explore new approaches to fight superbugs. New strategies on the horizon range from genetic modification of germs and implantable semiconductors through to the discovery of new antibacterial agents in soil.
Alexandra Whittington, Foresight Director, Fast Future

2118: How the world might look in 100 years 

The world has been transformed by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the emergence of artificial superintelligence (ASI), and the reworking of economic and financial systems using distributed technologies such as blockchain. The majority of people now work on a voluntary basis as all their basic needs are catered for by guaranteed incomes and free universal services such as transport, food, education, and utilities. Old notions such as government have been replaced by community decision making and the community at large now owns the intellectual property for all new advances in science and technology. The community is also a 50% shareholder in every business, with the returns reinvested based on priorities set by the community. You can still work if you want to – but no one has a job, we just play various roles in society, and self-organisation by activities is the way most things get done.

Society leads a far more balanced existence on the planet – only using what we need, managing our resources more sustainably. The focus of education is on maximising the individual’s talents and potential, and with lifespans of 150 years or more now routine, there is plenty of time to try our hand at everything we’d like to do. Wealth has been redistributed with a maximum multiple of ten between the assets of the richest and poorest, but most assets are in public ownership. Education centres such as schools, colleges, and universities have become the gathering centre for the community, where anyone can attend free courses, run 24/7/365 and delivered by anyone who has something to say – either in presence or via a variety of electronic delivery services.
Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future

“A world divided between abundance and automation – where technology has been deployed for the good of society; where products and services are basically free across a numbers of linked nation states and trading / political blocks with reasonably successfully harmonised taxation and regulatory systems – and the rest; states initially side-lined as politically and economically incompatible and a number of disparate nation states struggling to make the transition to the “modern” world, and a source of unrest within their own borders and internationally, have basically divided the world in two.

Colonies on the Moon and Mars are beginning to thrive with corporate governance. Given the colonisation – initially through a moon base staging post to Mars – was established by the private sector rather than the state players involved in the 1960’s and 70’s space race, there was little that governments on earth could do other than hang onto their coat tails as the technology developed came through company R&D activities. Both the Moon and Mars became staging posts for autonomous missions deep into the solar system as the search and commercialisation of other planets gathers pace.”
Steve Wells, COO, Fast Future

2218: How the world might look in 200 years

“In 2218 the natural systems of the earth could be well on their way to rebounding from the brink of collapse. If today’s decision-makers choose to put resources toward avoiding ecological collapse (including strict adherence to carbon policies, and full support for development of renewable energy), the world of 2218 might be a more healthy and balanced place where life can be supported for hundreds of years to come. Some scientists, including the late Stephen Hawking, warn that we have 100 years of life left on this planet. Instead of exacerbating the issues for another 100 years, we could solve the problems we have created on earth which threaten life as we know it. If we take that advice today, and begin repairing things now, we may have a very desirable, functional and safe ecosystem for future generations to enjoy. If we do not, I doubt there will be much to see in 2218”
Alexandra Whittington, Foresight Director, Fast Future

Earth has become part of the Inter-Galactic Federation of Planets (IGFP). The period from 2020-2050 saw a series of inter-related and cascading collapses of the economic, trade, financial, political, environmental, and social systems that had previously steered growth and progress. Advances in technologies such as AI had only served to accelerate dysfunctionality and wealth disparity. After the chaos of systemic failure, the planet gradually moved to adopt open, fairer, and more ecologically sound governance practices. As Earth started to establish a new equilibrium, so members of the IGFP started to make contact and introduce us to their values, ways of life, and advanced science and technology. Earth finally joined the IGFP in 2120 after a prolonged period of transition and adjustment.

In 2018, the New Earth now pursues an ecologically sound path and stewardship of the planet is a core part of the education curriculum alongside community engagement and civic responsibility. Abundance has become a reality, money no longer exists as a means of exchange, but citizens can accumulate credits for their acts of learning and service. Credits can be traded for the rights to visit the most distant of planets or to work on the most community focused initiatives. Manufacturing of goods is largely in the hands of technology, and ownership has been replaced by usership, with sharing a key organising principle across society. Everyone can have a say on every issue, and an elected IGFP governance council serves strict two year time limits to steward through the choices made by citizens.
Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future

Los Precarios languidecen en el peldaño inferior del sistema laboral mundial

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Las 5 mentiras más grandes del capitalismo global


15 ene 2017

Los Precariat se pueden dividir en tres otros grupos: los Atavists, que añoran un pasado perdido; Nostalgics (nostálgicos) que esperan en vano un presente, un hogar; y Progressives (progresistas) que esperan un futuro perdido. El último grupo incluye mayormente a los que van a la universidad solo para terminar con muchas deudas y poca esperanza de una carrera o desarrollo personal.

El primer grupo, los Atavists, es el que ha participado del alboroto político al apoyar el Brexit, el triunfo de Donald Trump, la Liga Norte de derecha en Italia, el Frente nacional de Marine Le Pen en Francia, y otros populismos nacionalistas en otros lugares de Europa. Básicamente, en cada lugar que parece ganar la derecha populista.

Pero los Progressives también se han revelado, parándose codo a codo con los gustos de Podemos en España, Bernie Sanders en los EE. UU., Jeremy Corbyn en Gran Bretaña, el Alternativet en Dinamarca y los nuevos movimientos de izquierda en Alemania, Portugal y Escandinavia.

Mientras tanto, las minorías, los inmigrantes y los refugiados que forman parte de los Nostálgicos, están latentes, y con seguridad no podrán seguir mucho más sin esperanza.

La era del odio

Hay claramente mucho odio allí afuera, un gran descontento sobre las élites y el orden establecido que alimenta bastante energía política. Los tres grupos de los Precariat están reaccionando de diferentes maneras al crecimiento de la desigualdad e inseguridad económica de las últimas tres décadas; todos han visto el desmantelamiento del sistema de distribución de ingresos del siglo 20 que vinculó ingresos y beneficios a trabajos.

Por el interés de la competitividad en una economía mundial globalizada, los gobiernos de todas las facetas introdujeron reformas al mercado laboral que promovían flexibilidad pero acentuaban inseguridades de Precariat. Al debilitar las normativas para los bancos y las compañías financieras, permitieron que los financistas tengan más ingresos mientras empujan a los Precariat a mayores deudas. Reforzaron derechos de propiedad de todo tipo: físicos, financieros e intelectuales, que dieron una participación mayor de ingresos y riqueza a los poseedores de activos a expensas de todos los demás. Y otorgaron recortes impositivos para los ricos y subsidios generosos para las empresas, mientras demandaban reducciones en el gasto público para equilibrar presupuestos, cortaban beneficios para los Precariat y bajaban la renta absoluta y relativa.

En cada caso, el argumento era que las medidas impulsarían el crecimiento económico, al agrandar la torta para que todos puedan compartirla. En cambio, casi todas las ganancias han ido a una pequeña élite mundial, que, sin sorprender realmente, ha presionado incluso para obtener más. No hubo compensación alguna.

Y cuanto más se presente este prospecto fraudulento, más enojadas se pondrán todas las partes de los Precariat. Las feas consecuencias políticas deberían estar claras para todos.

No es demasiado tarde para que las democracias liberales presenten reformas transformadoras que respondan a los problemas de los Precariat mientras promueven el desarrollo y el crecimiento económico. Pero hasta ahora solo hubo palabras donde se necesitan acciones. Las élites liberales deben realizar verdaderas concesiones o encontrar los valores que reclaman conservar, tolerancia, libertad, seguridad económica y diversidad cultural, a un gran riesgo, en especial cuando se trata de la ira de los Atavists.

Lo primero que hay que hacer es enfrentar el sistema actual del capitalismo rentista. Aquí es donde una creciente proporción de riqueza va a propietarios de activos ya privilegiados (rentistas), mientras que los ingresos de la mayoría de los trabajos disminuyen de valor. John Maynard Keynes predijo en 1936 que el desarrollo del capitalismo durante el siglo 20 terminaría en “la eutanasia de los rentistas”, cuando la captación de rentas se haga más difícil. La realidad ha mostrado lo contrario. Las empresas y financieras han aprovechado su creciente influencia para inducir a los gobiernos y organizaciones internacionales a que construyan un marco global de instituciones y normativas que permitan a las élites maximizar sus ingresos por rentas.

El capitalismo moderno está basado en cinco mentiras:

1. La primera mentira es el reclamo de que el capitalismo mundial se basa en mercados libres. Sin exagerar, podríamos decir que lo que se ha construido es el sistema de mercado menos libre que se pueda imaginar. Además, la propiedad intelectual resulta ser una de las principales fuentes de ingresos por rentas, a través del poder de mercado creado por la divulgación de marcas (fundamental para una identidad corporativa), derechos de autor, derechos de diseño, indicaciones geográficas, secretos comerciales, y sobre todo, patentes.

Las industrias de alta aplicación de tecnología y conocimientos, que ahora representan más del 30 % de la producción mundial, ganan lo mismo o más en ingresos de renta por derechos de propiedad intelectual como por la producción de bienes o servicios. Esto representa una elección política de los gobiernos alrededor del mundo para otorgar monopolios sobre conocimiento a intereses privados, permitiéndoles restringir el acceso público al conocimiento y elevar el precio de obtenerlo, o de los productos y servicios que representan. No por nada Thomas Jefferson dijo que las ideas no deberían ser sujeto de propiedad.

2. La segunda mentira es que se necesitan fuertes derechos de propiedad intelectual para alentar y recompensar los riesgos de inversión en investigación y desarrollo. Incluso es el público, los contribuyentes normales, que soportan el costo de mucha de esa inversión. Muchas de las vacas lecheras empresariales derivan de la investigación financiada públicamente, en instituciones o universidades públicas, o a través de subsidios y exenciones tributarias. Además, la mayoría de las innovaciones que dieron grandes resultados en ingresos de rentas a las empresas o individuos son el resultado de una serie de ideas y experimentos atribuibles a muchos individuos o grupos que no son recompensados. Y muchas patentes se presentan para bloquear a la competencia o evitar demandas, y no están pensadas para ser explotadas para la producción.

3. La tercera mentira es que el fortalecimiento de los derechos de propiedad es bueno para el crecimiento. Por el contrario, al aumentar la desigualdad y distorsionar los patrones de consumo, se obstaculizó el crecimiento e hizo que el crecimiento existente sea menos sustentable. El crecimiento lento e inestable desarrolla frustración económica para millones, sin mencionar los riesgos políticos que vienen con ella.

4. La cuarta es que los beneficios crecientes reflejan la eficiencia administrativa y un retorno a asumir riesgos. En realidad, el aumento de participación en beneficios ha ido principalmente a aquellos que reciben un ingreso de rentas, en gran parte vinculado con activos financieros.

5. “El trabajo es el mejor camino para salir de la pobreza”. Esta es la quinta mentira, y la más importante políticamente. Para millones de personas entre los Precariat, es una broma pesada.

Guerra a los salarios

Esta es la clave. El sistema de distribución de ingresos se ha deshecho. En toda la OCDE, los salarios reales se han ido estancando durante tres décadas. La parte de ingresos que va al capital ha ido aumentando y es mucho más elevada de lo que solía ser. Y los asalariados con altos ingresos se llevan una mayor participación del ingreso que va al empleo, afectando más a los Precariat.

Tres relaciones económicas ilustran lo que sucede con los salarios. Primero, solía ser el caso de que cuando crecía la productividad, los salarios crecían en paralelo; ahora, en los EE. UU. y en otros lados, los salarios no cambian. Segundo, solía suceder que cuando aumentaban las ganancias, los salarios aumentaban; ahora, los salarios no cambian. Tercero, solía suceder que cuando aumentaba el empleo, los salarios promedio también aumentaban; ahora, los salarios promedio incluso pueden caer, porque los trabajos nuevos pagan menos.

Sin importar cuán duro trabajen los Precariat, enfrentan escasas perspectivas de escapar de una vida de inseguridad económica. Y cuanto más se mantenga esa verdad inconveniente, mayor es el peligro de que escuchen a los populistas autoritarios de cuasiverdad que ofrecen revertir la historia. La única forma de escapar a estas “políticas del infierno” es construir un nuevo sistema de distribución de ingresos apropiado para el siglo 21.

10 tecnologías disruptivas para el 2018

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 Dueling neural networks. Artificial embryos. AI in the cloud. Welcome to our annual list of the 10 technology advances we think will shape the way we work and live now and for years to come.

Every year since 2001 we’ve picked what we call the 10 Breakthrough Technologies. People often ask, what exactly do you mean by “breakthrough”? It’s a reasonable question—some of our picks haven’t yet reached widespread use, while others may be on the cusp of becoming commercially available. What we’re really looking for is a technology, or perhaps even a collection of technologies, that will have a profound effect on our lives.

For this year, a new technique in artificial intelligence called GANs is giving machines imagination; artificial embryos, despite some thorny ethical constraints, are redefining how life can be created and are opening a research window into the early moments of a human life; and a pilot plant in the heart of Texas’s petrochemical industry is attempting to create completely clean power from natural gas—probably a major energy source for the foreseeable future. These and the rest of our list will be worth keeping an eye on. —The Editors

3-D Metal Printing


While 3-D printing has been around for decades, it has remained largely in the domain of hobbyists and designers producing one-off prototypes. And printing objects with anything other than plasticsin particular, metalhas been expensive and painfully slow.

Now, however, it’s becoming cheap and easy enough to be a potentially practical way of manufacturing parts. If widely adopted, it could change the way we mass-produce many products.

3-D Metal Printing
  • BreakthroughNow printers can make metal objects quickly and cheaply.
  • Why It MattersThe ability to make large and complex metal ­objects on demand could transform manufacturing.
  • Key PlayersMarkforged, Desktop Metal, GE
  • AvailabilityNow

In the short term, manufacturers wouldn’t need to maintain large inventoriesthey could simply print an object, such as a replacement part for an aging car, whenever someone needs it.

In the longer term, large factories that mass-produce a limited range of parts might be replaced by smaller ones that make a wider variety, adapting to customers’ changing needs.

The technology can create lighter, stronger parts, and complex shapes that aren’t possible with conventional metal fabrication methods. It can also provide more precise control of the microstructure of metals. In 2017, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced they had developed a 3-D-printing method for creating stainless-steel parts twice as strong as traditionally made ones. 

Also in 2017, 3-D-printing company Markforged, a small startup based outside Boston, released the first 3-D metal printer for under $100,000.

Another Boston-area startup, Desktop Metal, began to ship its first metal prototyping machines in December 2017. It plans to begin selling larger machines, designed for manufacturing, that are 100 times faster than older metal printing methods.

The printing of metal parts is also getting easier. Desktop Metal now offers software that generates designs ready for 3-D printing. Users tell the program the specs of the object they want to print, and the software produces a computer model suitable for printing.   

GE, which has long been a proponent of using 3-D printing in its aviation products (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013: Additive Manufacturing”), has a test version of its new metal printer that is fast enough to make large parts. The company plans to begin selling the printer in 2018. —Erin Winick

Artificial Embryos


In a breakthrough that redefines how life can be created, embryologists working at the University of Cambridge in the UK have grown realistic-looking mouse embryos using only stem cells. No egg. No sperm. Just cells plucked from another embryo.

Artificial Embryos
  • BreakthroughWithout using eggs or sperm cells, researchers have made embryo-like structures from stem cells alone, providing a whole new route to creating life.
  • Why It MattersArtificial embryos will make it easier for researchers to study the mysterious beginnings of a human life, but they’re stoking new bioethical debates.
  • Key PlayersUniversity of Cambridge; University of Michigan; Rockefeller University
  • AvailabilityNow

The researchers placed the cells carefully in a three-dimensional scaffold and watched, fascinated, as they started communicating and lining up into the distinctive bullet shape of a mouse embryo several days old.

“We know that stem cells are magical in their powerful potential of what they can do. We did not realize they could self-organize so beautifully or perfectly,” Magdelena Zernicka­-Goetz, who headed the team, told an interviewer at the time.

Zernicka-Goetz says her “synthetic” embryos probably couldn’t have grown into mice. Nonetheless, they’re a hint that soon we could have mammals born without an egg at all.

That isn’t Zernicka-Goetz’s goal. She wants to study how the cells of an early embryo begin taking on their specialized roles. The next step, she says, is to make an artificial embryo out of human stem cells, work that’s being pursued at the University of Michigan and Rockefeller University.

Synthetic human embryos would be a boon to scientists, letting them tease apart events early in development. And since such embryos start with easily manipulated stem cells, labs will be able to employ a full range of tools, such as gene editing, to investigate them as they grow.

Artificial embryos, however, pose ethical questions. What if they turn out to be indistinguishable from real embryos? How long can they be grown in the lab before they feel pain? We need to address those questions before the science races ahead much further, bioethicists say. —Antonio Regalado

Sensing City


Numerous smart-city schemes have run into delays, dialed down their ambitious goals, or priced out everyone except the super-wealthy. A new project in Toronto, called Quayside, is hoping to change that pattern of failures by rethinking an urban neighborhood from the ground up and rebuilding it around the latest digital technologies.

Sensing City
  • BreakthroughA Toronto neighborhood aims to be the first place to successfully integrate cutting-edge urban design with state-of-the-art digital technology.
  • Why It MattersSmart cities could make urban areas more affordable, livable, and environmentally friendly.
  • Key PlayersSidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto
  • AvailabilityProject announced in October 2017; construction could begin in 2019

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, based in New York City, is collaborating with the Canadian government on the high-tech project, slated for Toronto’s industrial waterfront.

One of the project’s goals is to base decisions about design, policy, and technology on information from an extensive network of sensors that gather data on everything from air quality to noise levels to people’s activities.

The plan calls for all vehicles to be autonomous and shared. Robots will roam underground doing menial chores like delivering the mail. Sidewalk Labs says it will open access to the software and systems it’s creating so other companies can build services on top of them, much as people build apps for mobile phones.

The company intends to closely monitor public infrastructure, and this has raised concerns about data governance and privacy. But Sidewalk Labs believes it can work with the community and the local government to alleviate those worries.

“What’s distinctive about what we’re trying to do in Quayside is that the project is not only extraordinarily ambitious but also has a certain amount of humility,” says Rit Aggarwala, the executive in charge of Sidewalk Labs’ urban-systems planning. That humility may help Quayside avoid the pitfalls that have plagued previous smart-city initiatives.

Other North American cities are already clamoring to be next on Sidewalk Labs’ list, according to Waterfront Toronto, the public agency overseeing Quayside’s development. “San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and Boston have all called asking for introductions,” says the agency’s CEO, Will Fleissig. —Elizabeth Woyke

AI for Everybody


Artificial intelligence has so far been mainly the plaything of big tech companies like Amazon, Baidu, Google, and Microsoft, as well as some startups. For many other companies and parts of the economy, AI systems are too expensive and too difficult to implement fully.

AI for Everybody
  • BreakthroughCloud-based AI is making the technology cheaper and easier to use.
  • Why It MattersRight now the use of AI is dominated by a relatively few companies, but as a cloud-based service, it could be widely available to many more, giving the economy a boost.
  • Key PlayersAmazon; Google; Microsoft
  • AvailabilityNow

What’s the solution? Machine-learning tools based in the cloud are bringing AI to a far broader audience. So far, Amazon dominates cloud AI with its AWS subsidiary. Google is challenging that with TensorFlow, an open-source AI library that can be used to build other machine-learning software. Recently Google announced Cloud AutoML, a suite of pre-trained systems that could make AI simpler to use.

Microsoft, which has its own AI-powered cloud platform, Azure, is teaming up with Amazon to offer Gluon, an open-source deep-learning library. Gluon is supposed to make building neural netsa key technology in AI that crudely mimics how the human brain learnsas easy as building a smartphone app.

It is uncertain which of these companies will become the leader in offering AI cloud services.  But it is a huge business opportunity for the winners.

These products will be essential if the AI revolution is going to spread more broadly through different parts of the economy.

Currently AI is used mostly in the tech industry, where it has created efficiencies and produced new products and services. But many other businesses and industries have struggled to take advantage of the advances in artificial intelligence. Sectors such as medicine, manufacturing, and energy could also be transformed if they were able to implement the technology more fully, with a huge boost to economic productivity.

Most companies, though, still don’t have enough people who know how to use cloud AI. So Amazon and Google are also setting up consultancy services. Once the cloud puts the technology within the reach of almost everyone, the real AI revolution can begin.
Jackie Snow

Dueling Neural Networks


Artificial intelligence is getting very good at identifying things: show it a million pictures, and it can tell you with uncanny accuracy which ones depict a pedestrian crossing a street. But AI is hopeless at generating images of pedestrians by itself. If it could do that, it would be able to create gobs of realistic but synthetic pictures depicting pedestrians in various settings, which a self-driving car could use to train itself without ever going out on the road.

Dueling Neural Networks
  • BreakthroughTwo AI systems can spar with each other to create ultra-realistic original images or sounds, something machines have never been able to do before.
  • Why It MattersThis gives machines something akin to a sense of imagination, which may help them become less reliant on humans—but also turns them into alarmingly powerful tools for digital fakery.
  • Key PlayersGoogle Brain, DeepMind, Nvidia
  • AvailabilityNow

The problem is, creating something entirely new requires imaginationand until now that has perplexed AIs.

The solution first occurred to Ian Goodfellow, then a PhD student at the University of Montreal, during an academic argument in a bar in 2014. The approach, known as a generative adversarial network, or GAN, takes two neural networksthe simplified mathematical models of the human brain that underpin most modern machine learningand pits them against each other in a digital cat-and-mouse game.

Both networks are trained on the same data set. One, known as the generator, is tasked with creating variations on images it’s already seenperhaps a picture of a pedestrian with an extra arm. The second, known as the discriminator, is asked to identify whether the example it sees is like the images it has been trained on or a fake produced by the generatorbasically, is that three-armed person likely to be real?

Over time, the generator can become so good at producing images that the discriminator can’t spot fakes. Essentially, the generator has been taught to recognize, and then create, realistic-looking images of pedestrians.

The technology has become one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade, able to help machines produce results that fool even humans.

GANs have been put to use creating realistic-sounding speech and photorealistic fake imagery. In one compelling example, researchers from chipmaker Nvidia primed a GAN with celebrity photographs to create hundreds of credible faces of people who don’t exist. Another research group made not-unconvincing fake paintings that look like the works of van Gogh. Pushed further, GANs can reimagine images in different waysmaking a sunny road appear snowy, or turning horses into zebras.

The results aren’t always perfect: GANs can conjure up bicycles with two sets of handlebars, say, or faces with eyebrows in the wrong place. But because the images and sounds are often startlingly realistic, some experts believe there’s a sense in which GANs are beginning to understand the underlying structure of the world they see and hear. And that means AI may gain, along with a sense of imagination, a more independent ability to make sense of what it sees in the world. —Jamie Condliffe

Babel-Fish Earbuds


In the cult sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you slide a yellow Babel fish into your ear to get translations in an instant. In the real world, Google has come up with an interim solution: a $159 pair of earbuds, called Pixel Buds. These work with its Pixel smartphones and Google Translate app to produce practically real-time translation.

Babel-Fish Earbuds
  • BreakthroughNear-real-time translation now works for a large number of languages and is easy to use.
  • Why It MattersIn an increasingly global world, language is still a barrier to communication.
  • Key PlayersGoogle and Baidu
  • AvailabilityNow

One person wears the earbuds, while the other holds a phone. The earbud wearer speaks in his or her languageEnglish is the defaultand the app translates the talking and plays it aloud on the phone. The person holding the phone responds; this response is translated and played through the earbuds.

Google Translate already has a conversation feature, and its iOS and Android apps let two users speak as it automatically figures out what languages they’re using and then translates them. But background noise can make it hard for the app to understand what people are saying, and also to figure out when one person has stopped speaking and it’s time to start translating.

Pixel Buds get around these problems because the wearer taps and holds a finger on the right earbud while talking. Splitting the interaction between the phone and the earbuds gives each person control of a microphone and helps the speakers maintain eye contact, since they’re not trying to pass a phone back and forth.

The Pixel Buds were widely panned for subpar design. They do look silly, and they may not fit well in your ears. They can also be hard to set up with a phone.

Clunky hardware can be fixed, though. Pixel Buds show the promise of mutually intelligible communication between languages in close to real time. And no fish required. —Rachel Metz

Zero-Carbon Natural Gas


The world is probably stuck with natural gas as one of our primary sources of electricity for the foreseeable future. Cheap and readily available, it now accounts for more than 30 percent of US electricity and 22 percent of world electricity. And although it’s cleaner than coal, it’s still a massive source of carbon emissions.

A pilot power plant just outside Houston, in the heart of the US petroleum and refining industry, is testing a technology that could make clean energy from natural gas a reality. The company behind the 50-megawatt project, Net Power, believes it can generate power at least as cheaply as standard natural-gas plants and capture essentially all the carbon dioxide released in the process.

Zero-Carbon Natural Gas
  • BreakthroughA power plant efficiently and cheaply captures carbon released by burning natural gas, avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • Why It MattersAround 32 percent of US electricity is produced with natural gas, accounting for around 30 percent of the power sector’s carbon emissions.
  • Key Players8 Rivers Capital; Exelon Generation; CB&I
  • Availability3 to 5 years

If so, it would mean the world has a way to produce carbon-free energy from a fossil fuel at a reasonable cost. Such natural-gas plants could be cranked up and down on demand, avoiding the high capital costs of nuclear power and sidestepping the unsteady supply that renewables generally provide.

Net Power is a collaboration between technology development firm 8 Rivers Capital, Exelon Generation, and energy construction firm CB&I. The company is in the process of commissioning the plant and has begun initial testing. It intends to release results from early evaluations in the months ahead.

The plant puts the carbon dioxide released from burning natural gas under high pressure and heat, using the resulting supercritical CO2 as the “working fluid” that drives a specially built turbine. Much of the carbon dioxide can be continuously recycled; the rest can be captured cheaply.

A key part of pushing down the costs depends on selling that carbon dioxide. Today the main use is in helping to extract oil from petroleum wells. That’s a limited market, and not a particularly green one. Eventually, however, Net Power hopes to see growing demand for carbon dioxide in cement manufacturing and in making plastics and other carbon-based materials.

Net Power’s technology won’t solve all the problems with natural gas, particularly on the extraction side. But as long as we’re using natural gas, we might as well use it as cleanly as possible. Of all the clean-energy technologies in development, Net Power’s is one of the furthest along to promise more than a marginal advance in cutting carbon emissions. —James Temple

Perfect Online Privacy


True internet privacy could finally become possible thanks to a new tool that canfor instancelet you prove you’re over 18 without revealing your date of birth, or prove you have enough money in the bank for a financial transaction without revealing your balance or other details. That limits the risk of a privacy breach or identity theft.

Perfect Online Privacy
  • BreakthroughComputer scientists are perfecting a cryptographic tool for proving something without revealing the information underlying the proof.
  • Why It MattersIf you need to disclose personal information to get something done online, it will be easier to do so without risking your privacy or exposing yourself to identity theft.
  • Key PlayersZcash; JPMorgan Chase; ING
  • AvailabilityNow

The tool is an emerging cryptographic protocol called a zero-­knowledge proof. Though researchers have worked on it for decades, interest has exploded in the past year, thanks in part to the growing obsession with cryptocurrencies, most of which aren’t private.

Much of the credit for a practical zero-knowledge proof goes to Zcash, a digital currency that launched in late 2016. Zcash’s developers used a method called a zk-SNARK (for “zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge”) to give users the power to transact anonymously.

That’s not normally possible in Bitcoin and most other public blockchain systems, in which transactions are visible to everyone. Though these transactions are theoretically anonymous, they can be combined with other data to track and even identify users. Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum, the world’s second-most-popular blockchain network, has described zk-SNARKs as an “absolutely game-changing technology.”

For banks, this could be a way to use blockchains in payment systems without sacrificing their clients’ privacy. Last year, JPMorgan Chase added zk-SNARKs to its own blockchain-based payment system.

For all their promise, though, zk-SNARKs are computation-heavy and slow. They also require a so-called “trusted setup,” creating a cryptographic key that could compromise the whole system if it fell into the wrong hands. But researchers are looking at alternatives that deploy zero-knowledge proofs more efficiently and don’t require such a key. —Mike Orcutt

Genetic Fortune-Telling


One day, babies will get DNA report cards at birth. These reports will offer predictions about their chances of suffering a heart attack or cancer, of getting hooked on tobacco, and of being smarter than average.

Genetic Fortune Telling
  • BreakthroughScientists can now use your genome to predict your chances of getting heart disease or breast cancer, and even your IQ.
  • Why It MattersDNA-based predictions could be the next great public health advance, but they will increase the risks of genetic discrimination.
  • Key PlayersHelix; 23andMe; Myriad Genetics; UK Biobank; Broad Institute
  • AvailabilityNow

The science making these report cards possible has suddenly arrived, thanks to huge genetic studiessome involving more than a million people.

It turns out that most common diseases and many behaviors and traits, including intelligence, are a result of not one or a few genes but many acting in concert. Using the data from large ongoing genetic studies, scientists are creating what they call “polygenic risk scores.”

Though the new DNA tests offer probabilities, not diagnoses, they could greatly benefit medicine. For example, if women at high risk for breast cancer got more mammograms and those at low risk got fewer, those exams might catch more real cancers and set off fewer false alarms.

Pharmaceutical companies can also use the scores in clinical trials of preventive drugs for such illnesses as Alzheimer’s or heart disease. By picking volunteers who are more likely to get sick, they can more accurately test how well the drugs work.

The trouble is, the predictions are far from perfect. Who wants to know they might develop Alzheimer’s? What if someone with a low risk score for cancer puts off being screened, and then develops cancer anyway?

Polygenic scores are also controversial because they can predict any trait, not only diseases. For instance, they can now forecast about 10 percent of a person’s performance on IQ tests. As the scores improve, it’s likely that DNA IQ predictions will become routinely available. But how will parents and educators use that information?

To behavioral geneticist Eric ­Turk­heimer, the chance that genetic data will be used for both good and bad is what makes the new technology “simultaneously exciting and alarming.” —Antonio Regalado

Materials’ Quantum Leap


The prospect of powerful new quantum computers comes with a puzzle. They’ll be capable of feats of computation inconceivable with today’s machines, but we haven’t yet figured out what we might do with those powers.

Materials’ Quantum Leap
  • BreakthroughIBM has simulated the electronic structure of a small molecule, using a seven-qubit quantum computer.
  • Why It MattersUnderstanding molecules in exact detail will allow chemists to design more effective drugs and better materials for generating and distributing energy.
  • Key PlayersIBM; Google; Harvard’s Alán Aspuru-Guzik
  • Availability5 to 10 years

One likely and enticing possibility: precisely designing molecules.

Chemists are already dreaming of new proteins for far more effective drugs, novel electrolytes for better batteries, compounds that could turn sunlight directly into a liquid fuel, and much more efficient solar cells.

We don’t have these things because molecules are ridiculously hard to model on a classical computer. Try simulating the behavior of the electrons in even a relatively simple molecule and you run into complexities far beyond the capabilities of today’s computers.

But it’s a natural problem for quantum computers, which instead of digital bits representing 1s and 0s use “qubits” that are themselves quantum systems. Recently, IBM researchers used a quantum computer with seven qubits to model a small molecule made of three atoms.

It should become possible to accurately simulate far larger and more interesting molecules as scientists build machines with more qubits and, just as important, better quantum algorithms. —David Rotman

La era del algoritmo ha llegado y tus datos son un tesoro

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Las fórmulas para convertir gigantescas cantidades de datos en información con valor económico se convierten en el gran activo de las multinacionales

San Fernando de Henares 
Sala de monitorización digital de Indra en San Fernando de Henares (Madrid) VICTOR SAINZ VÍDEO: JAIME CASAL

¿Qué tienen en común las menciones en las redes sociales al turismo de Mozambique, la recogida de residuos en la localidad riojana de Haro o la eficiencia energética de los edificios registrados en el catastro? En principio, nada. Pero una visita a la sala de monitorización de eventos de Indra basta para encontrar el nexo entre elementos tan dispares.

Un 90% de los datos de toda la historia se han generado en estos cinco años

Aquí, en esta habitación repleta de pantallas con luces tintineantes, un grupo de ingenieros controla 24 horas al día siete días a la semana la información que reciben de una infinidad de procesadores. Se dedican a observar la evolución de estos indicadores, y envían sus conclusiones a los clientes que han contratado sus servicios, ya sean empresas o administraciones públicas. Es este un excelente lugar para comprender por qué los algoritmos se han convertido en el secreto del éxito de muchas grandes compañías: un secreto que les permite canalizar un flujo ingente de información para tomar decisiones fundamentales para su actividad. 

Desde esta sala-observatorio que Indra tiene en la localidad madrileña de San Fernando de Henares, José Antonio Rubio explica que es aquí donde gigantescas cantidades de datos son convertidas en conocimiento susceptible de ser monetizar. “Los algoritmos no solo tienen la capacidad de explicar la realidad, sino también de anticipar comportamientos. Es una ventaja para evitar o minimizar riesgos o para aprovechar oportunidades”, asegura Rubio, director de Soluciones Digitales de Minsait, la unidad de negocio creada por Indra para encarar la transformación digital.

No es una novedad que las compañías obtengan datos de la analítica avanzada para estudiar características del producto que planean sacar al mercado; el precio al que lo quiere colocar o incluso decisiones internas tan sensibles como la política de retribuciones a sus empleados. Lo sorprendente es la dimensión. No es solo que recientemente se haya multiplicado hasta volúmenes difíciles de imaginar el número de datos en circulación —se calcula que la humanidad ha generado en los últimos cinco años un 90% de la información de toda la historia—. También han crecido vertiginosamente las posibilidades de interconectarlos. La palabra revolución corre de boca en boca entre académicos y gestores empresariales en contacto con el floreciente negocio de los algoritmos y el llamado big data.

“El reto ahora es transformar esos datos en valor”, dicen en el BBVA

“La primera revolución llegó hace unos años con el almacenamiento de inmensas cantidades de datos procedentes de las huellas electrónicas que todos dejamos. La segunda, en la que estamos inmersos, procede de la capacidad que tanto empresarios como usuarios o investigadores tienen para analizar estos datos. Esta segunda revolución procede de los algoritmos supercapaces y de lo que algunos llaman inteligencia artificial pero yo prefiero denominar superexpertos”, explica Estaban Moro, profesor de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid y del MediaLab del MIT de Boston.

Segunda revolución

José Antonio Rubio, director de Soluciones Digitales en Minsait
José Antonio Rubio, director de Soluciones Digitales en Minsait VICTOR SAINZ
 A esta segunda revolución ha contribuido cada uno de los millones de personas que cada día entregan sus datos de forma gratuita y continua, ya sea subiendo una foto a Facebook, comprando con una tarjeta de crédito o pasando por los torniquetes del metro con una tarjeta magnética.

Al calor de gigantes como Facebook y Google, que basan su enorme poder en la combinación de datos y algoritmos, cada vez más empresas invierten cantidades crecientes de dinero en todo lo relacionado con big data. Es el caso del BBVA, cuya apuesta va dirigida tanto a proyectos invisibles para los clientes —como los motores que permiten procesar más información para analizar las necesidades de sus usuarios— como a otras iniciativas fácilmente identificables, como la que permite a los clientes del banco prever la situación de sus finanzas a final de mes.

La ciberseguridad es ya la mayor preocupación de los inversores

“Hace décadas que el sector financiero usa modelos matemáticos. En los años setenta, el cliente de un banco venía definido por muy pocos atributos, como el lugar de residencia, edad, profesión o ingresos. Pero ahora deja una huella digital muy profunda que nos ayuda a conocerlos para particularizar nuestra oferta de servicios y minimizar los riesgos. La novedad es la profundidad de los datos y la capacidad analítica”, asegura Juan Murillo, responsable de divulgación analítica del BBVA. “El gran reto ahora es ver cómo se transforman todos esos datos en valor, no solo para la empresa, sino para nuestros clientes y para la sociedad”, añade.

Las amplísimas posibilidades que ofrecen los algoritmos no están exentas de riesgos. Los peligros son muchos: van desde la ciberseguridad —para hacer frente a hackeo o robo de fórmulas— hasta la privacidad de los usuarios, pasando por los posibles sesgos de las máquinas.

Así, un reciente estudio de la Universidad Carlos III concluía que Facebook maneja para usos publicitarios datos sensibles del 25% de los ciudadanos europeos, que son etiquetados en la red social en función de asuntos tan privados como su ideología política, orientación sexual, religión, etnia o salud. La Agencia Española de Protección de Datos ya impuso en septiembre una multa de 1,2 millones de euros a la red social de Mark Zuckerberg por usar información sin permiso.

La ciberseguridad, por su parte, se ha convertido en la principal preocupación de los inversores de todo el mundo: un 41% declaraba estar “extremadamente preocupado” por este asunto, según el Global Investors Survey de 2018 publicado esta semana por PwC. “Un problema de los algoritmos es que carecen de contexto. Pueden hacer estupendamente bien una tarea, pero si los sacas de esa actividad fallan estrepitosamente. Una empresa que se fusione con otra tendrá que aprender a entrenar de nuevo los algoritmos de la fusionada. Y para eso tienen que saber cómo se crearon”, reflexiona Moro, el experto del MIT estadounidense.

De vuelta a la sala de monitorización de Indra, Rubio desgrana las distintas utilidades que ofrece a sus clientes. Por motivos de confidencialidad, no puede hablar de las decenas de empresas a las que suministra información. Por eso pone ejemplos un tanto exóticos como el del turismo en Mozambique o los residuos de Haro. Cuando termina, la pregunta gira en torno a la posibilidad de que los algoritmos se hayan convertido en el tesoro más preciado de las empresas. “Definitivamente, sí”, responde sin dudar.

¿Y los riesgos? ¿Van a tomar las máquinas el lugar de los humanos? “Esto es algo que preocupa. Todo lo que desconocemos genera desconfianza. Pero la tecnología nos habilita para limitar los riesgos y acercar las industrias digitales a las personas. El riesgo es inherente al ser humano, no a las tecnologías”, concluye Rubio.


Al ser preguntada por la brecha salarial entre hombres y mujeres, Fuencisla Clemares, directora general de Google España, vino a decir que en su empresa no sabían lo que era eso. Allí, un algoritmo ciego a las cuestiones de género propone cuánto debe cobrar cada uno. La frialdad de las matemáticas puede lograr decisiones más objetivas y libres de prejuicios. Pero, ¿y si las máquinas tienen su propio sesgo? ¿Y si este es aún más invisible que el de los humanos?

Un reciente artículo del Financial Times contaba cómo en una empresa estadounidense de atención telefónica, la valoración del trabajo de los empleados había pasado de los humanos a las máquinas. Pero que estas puntuaban con una nota más baja a aquellos con un fuerte acento, ya que a veces no podían entender lo que decían. Ejemplos como este muestran el riesgo creciente de que los algoritmos se alcen como los nuevos jueces de un tribunal supremo e inapelable.

Esteban Moro, investigador de la Universidad Carlos III y del Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) centra el debate en una palabra: la escala. “El problema no es que los algoritmos tengan sesgo, porque los humanos también los tenemos. El problema es que estas fórmulas matemáticas pueden afectar a cientos de millones de personas y tomar decisiones con efectos mucho mayores que las sentencias de un juez”, explica. Así, una persona que busca empleo puede librarse de la tiranía de los gustos o prejuicios del director de recursos de una u otra empresa. Pero a cambio se enfrenta a los criterios que comparten macroportales de ofertas de trabajo. El monstruo se hace más grande.

Juan Francisco Gago, director de Prácticas Digitales en Minsait, de Indra, admite que, en la medida en que los algoritmos acaban tomando decisiones, pueden suscitar problemas morales. Y para ello pone el ejemplo de un aparato de inteligencia artificial capaz de hacer detecciones de cáncer. “Quizás con más precisión que un oncólogo humano”, matiza. “Pero al final, la responsabilidad no puede estar en una máquina, sino en los individuos que la programan. Es necesario que se establezca un marco regulatorio para esos casos”, asegura el directivo de Indra.

El Reglamento General de Protección de Datos, que entrará en vigor en la UE el próximo mes de mayo, establece que los ciudadanos europeos no deben ser sometidos a decisiones “basadas únicamente en el proceso de datos automáticos”, con una mención expresa a las “prácticas de contratación digital sin intervención humana”.

El equipo del MIT donde trabaja Moro desarrolla un proyecto de ingeniería inversa donde se pretende analizar cómo trabajan los algoritmos de gigantes como Google y Facebook. La idea es hacer experimentos con personas que introducen diversas informaciones en las redes, para ver luego cómo estas empresas reaccionan. Se trata, en el fondo, de intentar domar a la bestia y ver si es posible conocer cómo funcionan fórmulas matemáticas que tienen un impacto en nuestras vidas. Un impacto que nadie duda irá a más en los próximos años.

Cómo la realidad aumentada puede hacer mas segura y mejor la operación aeronáutica

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Let’s face it, we all have daydreamed of sitting in a cockpit and roaming the wild, blue yonder. It’s hard to find someone who wouldn’t have been fascinated by aviation at some point in their life. But for all the gratification that flying brings with it, no one can deny that it is also in equal measure, a dangerous thing. Now, for the number of moving parts that make up an aircraft, it is a surprisingly efficient and safe machine. The incredibly high standard to which an aircraft is made and maintained ensures that failure rates become a statistical improbability. No, the real weak link in the chain isn’t a plane’s hydraulics or engines or control surfaces as one might expect, but is in fact the pilot itself.

Current studies point that pilot error accounts for a staggering 85% of all aviation accidents. And while accident rates in commercial aviation have decreased over the past few years, in general, they have remained mostly the same. Accidents in personal flight have actually gone up by 20% in the last decade.

 ar helmet flight

Augmented Reality in General Aviation

With all the numbers, it’s easy to just point the finger at pilots and say they didn’t do their job right. But there is more to it than just that. Richard Collins in his article – Was it Really Pilot Error – Or Was it Something Else? sums up the real problem here very succinctly – “Pilots don’t err on purpose, though, they err because they don’t know better.

Anyone who has flown (or has even tried out a desktop flight simulator) will tell you that flying ain’t easy. Even a glancing look at the controls of a Cessna 172 can confound a student pilot, let alone those of a Boeing 737 which consists of hundreds of switches and dials.

Pilots need to consider a lot of information before making the simplest of decisions and small errors have a way of snowballing out of control. Reading instruments, terrain, and weather to make decisions can get very tedious very fast. Being a pilot myself, I know at first hand how dangerous such a scenario can be.

This is where Augmented Reality (AR) steps in. The problem of pilot error isn’t so much as information not being available, but rather, too much information presented all the time that can lead to analysis paralysis. With AR applications, timely relevant information can be presented to the pilot when it is needed in an intuitive format, so that they can focus on the task at hand.

The idea of using AR in aviation isn’t so far fetched either, in fact, it has already been successfully implemented. Today, every fourth generation onwards fighter jet comes with a standard issue Heads Up Display (HUD) that displays critical navigational, flight, targeting, and mission related information on a piece of glass in front of the pilot. The idea is to ensure the pilot need not keep looking down at the instruments while in the heat of the battle. The fifth generation F-35 Lightning 2 has taken this concept even further by installing a complete AR package within the pilot’s helmet, giving them unprecedented 360 degree situational awareness and even see-thru ability.

Now, while most technologies typically trickle down from military applications to consumer markets, startups such as Aero Glass are also disrupting the traditional aviation landscape. Today, thanks to falling hardware prices and advancements in visualization technologies, AR is finally ready to make its appearance in commercial flying as well, a development that is long overdue. Many car models from Audi, BMW and Toyota have HUDs and it’s easy to find third party add ons for regular cars as well, so it’s definitely due for flight systems.

How AR Can Help Pilots

As stated before, the primary utility of AR in aviation is its ability to overlay relevant information on demand. Today’s AR systems can visualize terrain, navigation, air-traffic, instrument, weather, and airspace information in a 360-degree, 3D overlay that is easy to understand. Here are a few ways in which AR can assist a pilot. The following are shots from a working Aero Glass prototype in action.

AR runway markers can guide pilots during taxiing and taking off.

AR runway markers can guide pilots during taxiing and taking off.

So, let’s say a pilot is getting ready to taxi. Their AR HMD can create a virtual checklist that can help them with their pre-flight checks. Once the check is complete, the HMD can display runway information and guide the pilot to their designated runway. The pilot can even be alerted of other aircraft that are taxiing/landing/taking off.

AR overlays and instructions can be superimposed on runways to make landings easier.

AR overlays and instructions can be superimposed on runways to make landings easier.

Likewise, when the pilot is getting ready to take off or land, the AR system can display a simple corridor overlay to show the appropriate path. This is particularly useful as taking off and landings are the riskiest part of flying. As pilots are closer to the ground, any emergency needs to be addressed quickly. By telling a pilot exactly what needs to be done, an AR system can negate oversights making take-offs and landings simpler and safer.

A corridor overlay can let pilots know when they are going off course.

A corridor overlay can let pilots know when they are going off course.

Finally, an AR system can prove very handy during the cruise phase of the flight as well. Important information including artificial horizons, waypoints, weather updates, flight plans, restricted areas and terrain information can be displayed to provide complete situational awareness.

The display can be customized to a pilot’s preferences and modes can be turned on and off as well. It’s worth noting that a very high degree of precision is required to make this work and even the slightest different in overlay can have drastic (and potentially fatal) consequences.

Check out the below video to see a working Aero Glass prototype in action:

AR Use Cases Beyond Piloting

While the above mentioned uses of AR are quite obvious and well tested, the technology presents opportunities elsewhere as well. Maintenance Repair and Operations (MRO) are another area that can benefit greatly from AR. Training and licensing a technician can be very expensive and time consuming. In the U.S.A., it can take up to 8 years for a maintenance professional to become fully licensed primarily because training is usually hands-on and getting access to equipment can be tough at times.

AR, VR, and Mixed Reality are already proving to be invaluable here. By creating virtual replicas of the actual components, technicians can practice their skills in a safe environment as many times as needed. They can place their hands on virtual parts and work with them just as they would on the real thing. AR/VR based instructions can reduce the amount of time and money required to train a professional, while making training completely accident-free.

An AR follow-me car can guide a driver to their destination.

An AR follow-me car can guide a driver to their destination.

Likewise while HUDs are making appearances in automobiles, they are barely scratching the surface of what’s possible. Wearable AR systems can provide 360-degree situational awareness to drivers just like pilots and help them drive safer. Landmarks, navigational information, and hazards, can all be displayed in front of a driver’s line of sight so that they don’t need to keep taking their eyes off the road.

Some people are of the opinion that automation is the future of both general and military aviation. Autopilot and sensor technology are no doubt making great strides and they will make the skies safer. That being said, technology won’t be replacing the humble pilots anytime soon, error prone as they might be.

Take for instance the case of Flight 1549 (the flight the movie Sully is based on). Heading from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, the plane experienced a bird strike just 3 minutes after take off which took out both the engines. Finding that he couldn’t turn back, nor could they make it to New Jersey’s Teterboro airport, the pilot decided to ditch the plane in the Hudson river, which he successfully did saving all the 155 people onboard. Now known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” the incident is a reminder that the human element cannot be overlooked as machines cannot make decisions of such nature.

Augmented reality applications such as those being developed by Aero Glass will help pilots of the future avoid costly mistakes and make timely decisions that will save lives. While the technology is still under development, it goes without saying that the enhancements to safety they bring are well worth the time.

Disclosure: This is a guest post by an actual pilot named Ákos Maróy; he is also the founder of Aero Glass. The content in this article was not produced by the UploadVR staff, but was edited for grammar and flow. No compensation was exchanged for the creation of this content.

El metaverso basará su confianza en las cadenas de bloques

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“Virtual worlds are going to be one of the first killer apps for blockchains and perhaps the deepest users of them.” – Fred Ehrsam, Co-Founder, Coinbase

Christian Lemmerz, a German-Danish sculptor who normally carves his subjects into marble, currently has his latest work on display in Venice, Italy. “La Apparizione,” a towering golden image of a crucified Jesus Christ, won’t be found sitting on a pedestal, however, because this is a work of virtual reality art.

That means viewers attending the exhibit are first made to stand in an empty room where they are placed inside a VR headset display. Only once the headset is on do they see the floating, pulsing Jesus hovering before them.

Lemmerz’s statue is also for sale, and with only five editions of the piece now released, each one costs around $100,000. That may be an expensive price tag for a piece of software, but not out of line for a high-end work of art.

In theory, this work could also be hacked, stolen, endlessly copied, and distributed online. Art forgery, a practice that dates back at least 2,000 years, presents a unique set of challenges for the industry when the art itself is made from lines of code. It’s likely that Lemmerz would not appreciate if forgeries of his work soon poured out from file-sharing sites like Pirate Bay.

Since the price of art depends on scarcity and authenticity to preserve it’s value, how might the value of a prized digital work be protected?

One promising solution is blockchain technology.

In fact, blockchain may become the way we verify the legitimacy of almost any virtual asset, including currencies, identity, and the authenticity and ownership of virtual property. Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of the popular cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, has written that “virtual worlds are going to be one of the first killer apps for blockchains and perhaps the deepest users of them.”

In the case of verifying digital art like “La Apparizione,” using a blockchain is more straightforward. As I wrote in 2016, “blockchains are powerful for one reason: they solve the problem of proving that when someone sends you a digital “something” (like bitcoin, for example), they didn’t keep a copy for themselves, or send it to 20 other people.” Using a blockchain to buy and sell rare VR art is one way to validate that a particular work is indeed the original.

“Blockchains may be the best way to authenticate ownership of virtual property, or even establish and preserve someone’s identity.”

Ehrsam is pointing at an even deeper insight about the use of blockchains in virtual reality. As more companies, including Second Life developer Linden Lab, work to build the large-scale virtual worlds often compared to concepts like the “metaverse” from Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash or the OASIS in Ready Player One, blockchains may be the best way to authenticate ownership of virtual property, or even establish and preserve someone’s identity.

Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life and a new VR world called High Fidelity, posted an essay indicating his own enthusiasm for the way that blockchains may be useful in VR. High Fidelity is now launching a new cryptocurrency, called HFC, on a public blockchain that will be used, among other things, to verify the authenticity and ownership of virtual goods.

“If there was no concept of intellectual property in virtual worlds, there would be little motivation to create things, since your creations would immediately be re-used and re-distributed by others without agreement,” Rosedale tells Singularity Hub.

Rosedale says that content creators won’t be incentivized to create digital property if they cannot protect and profit from their work. And considering that buying and selling virtual property is already profitable for many virtual world users, it does seem like an aspect of virtual life many will want to protect.

In 2016 alone, the buying and selling of virtual goods and services between users in Second Life was $500 million—making its economy larger than the GDP of some small countries. Users exchange fashion accessories for their avatars and virtual furniture to decorate their online spaces, and artists like Lemmerz could reasonably seek out collectors and galleries willing to buy their work.

According to High Fidelity, the HFC blockchain will be used to ensure that virtual goods are the original by allowing creators to assign certificates to their work.

“Users will be able to register their creations on the blockchain so they can prove ownership of their designs. Next, when something is bought, a certificate will be issued on the blockchain proving that the new owner has a legitimate copy,” Rosedale says.

This system will serve a similar function as patents and trademarks in the real world. High Fidelity says they intend to create a process of review, similar to that conducted in many countries, to ensure that the registration of a digital certificate be granted to real original work that doesn’t infringe on earlier creations. Once assigned, the certificate cannot be canceled and will be insured on the HFC blockchain.

“Unverified goods could be dangerous, for example containing malicious scripts. Certified digital assets will be much more safe, just as with the App Store today,” Rosedale adds.

“If your assets are on a blockchain, no single operator of a world can take them from you. If your identity lives on the blockchain, you can’t be deleted,” Ehrsam writes.

Another major benefit blockchains offer, as Ehrsam points out, is that they prevent any single company or centralized intermediary from having the power to manipulate things. As depicted in Ready Player One, where a single oligarchic company owns and operates the servers that host the story’s virtual world, a single company hosting any virtual world could in theory exploit users in a variety of ways.

“If your assets are on a blockchain, no single operator of a world can take them from you. If your identity lives on the blockchain, you can’t be deleted,” Ehrsam writes.

Ehrsam’s key takeaway is insightful. He writes, “When you drill down, blockchains are really a shared version of reality everyone agrees on. So whether it’s a fully immersive VR experience, augmented reality, or even Bitcoin or Ethereum in the physical world as a shared ledger for our ‘real world,’ we’ll increasingly trust blockchains as our basis for reality.”

Since virtual reality is a public space constructed entirely of software, blockchains may prove useful and perhaps essential in providing a foundation for trust.

For more, High Fidelity also posted a followup post detailing the use of the HFC blockchain specifically for protecting intellectual property in virtual reality.

Image Credit: Tithi Luadthong /

Aaron Frank is a writer and speaker and one of the earliest hires at Singularity University. Aaron is focused on the intersection of emerging technologies and accelerating change and is fascinated by the impact that both will have on business, society, and culture.

As a writer, his articles have appeared online in Vice’s Motherboard, Wired UK and Forbes. As a speaker, Aaron has lectured fo… Learn More

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