Merry Seasonings - one and all.
News is something someone somewhere doesn’t want printed. Everything else is advertising.
The process of journalism is so being radically remade by the forces of technology and economics that there is no longer anything that might be described as “an industry” for the individual journalist to enter.
There is no standardized career path, set of tools and templates for production, or category of employers that are stable and predictable.
C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell, Clay Shirky - Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present
In an exponential world, it stands to reason that our traditional, linear approaches to strategy will need to be re-thought from the ground up. One way to characterize the big shift in strategy is that we are moving from strategies shaped by terrain to strategies shaped by trajectory. What do I mean by this?
Strategies of terrain
If you think about traditional approaches to strategy, they were profoundly shaped by the current landscape. The job of the strategist was to look across the surrounding terrain from the vantage point of the company and determine what were the most favorable positions to occupy – where could the company build positions of sustainable competitive advantage? Sure, there was a dynamic component to the strategy – your actions could alter the landscape and any good strategist would need to anticipate the likely actions of existing competitors and potential new entrants. But the starting point was always your current position and the current landscape surrounding your existing position.
But here’s the problem. In a world that’s more rapidly changing, there’s a significant risk involved in focusing on a narrowing terrain today. The core competency approach can be easily blind-sided if it turns out that the capabilities that are creating great economic value today suddenly become obsolete.We may be focusing on making better and better buggy whips while missing the fact that the market is shifting from horse drawn carriages to cars.
Strategies of trajectory
What we need to do at this point is to step back and reassess at a more basic level our approach to strategy. Rather than focusing on terrain, however narrowly or broadly defined, perhaps we should shift our attention to trajectory.
Here’s the paradox. At precisely the time that change is accelerating and uncertainty increasing, we need more than ever to have a clear view of the trajectory of change and how it will reshape the business landscape in the decades ahead.
Playing a wait and see game in the hope that things will become clearer over time can be very dangerous. By the time you see what’s happening, it may be too late to do anything about it. Fast followers in an exponential world will increasingly find that they are on a path to the grave.
It helps to know that we don’t need a detailed blueprint of that future landscape – all we need is enough detail to give us a sense of direction and to help us make some difficult choices in the near-term.
John Hagel - The Big Shift in Strategy - Part 1
UP to 87.7 percent of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work. Less than 12.3 percent of America’s workforce possesses the attributes of worker passion. This “passion gap” is important because passionate workers are committed to continually achieving higher levels of performance. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate workers because such workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement—more than the one-time performance “bump” that follows a bonus or the implementation of a worker engagement initiative. These workers have both personal resilience and an orientation toward learning and improvement that helps organizations develop the resilience needed to withstand and grow stronger from continuous market challenges and disruptions.
Unfortunately, not only do many companies not recognize the value of worker passion, they view it with suspicion. Many work environments are actually hostile to it. The types of processes and policies designed to minimize risk taking and variances from standard procedures effectively discourage passion.
Passion at work: Cultivating worker passion as a cornerstone of talent development
“We’re nearing the point where it’s a superior educational experience, as far as the lectures are concerned, to engage with them online,” says a Harvard professor. If that’s true, traditional universities will have to show that most of the other things they offer on campus can’t be replaced by technology.
Education researchers are still just beginning to mine all the data that MOOCs generate about how students respond to the material. Researchers like Pritchard can track every step of every student through a MOOC; he says that for him to study his traditional students that way, “they’d have to carry a head-cam 24-7.” Eventually, such data should yield insights about the best ways to present, sequence, and assess particular subjects. Kevin Carey, who has researched MOOCs as director of education policy at the New America Foundation, points out that today’s MOOCs haven’t even begun to make serious use of artificial intelligence to personalize courses according to each student’s strengths and weaknesses (a surprise considering that pioneers like Thrun and Coursera’s Daphne Koller came from AI backgrounds).
What Are MOOCs Good For?
MOOCs may not be changing colleges as boosters claimed, but they can prove valuable in surprising ways.
It is becoming increasingly likely that from the perspective of a not too distant future the period from the late Renaissance to the beginning of the 21st century will be seen as dominated and even defined by the cultural significance of print – not least in the form of the mass-produced book which is virtually synonymous with Western culture. It accordingly seems appropriate to designate this period, roughly corresponding to the half-millennium from 1500 to 2000, “the Gutenberg Parenthesis”.
With the invention of moveable type and the printing press, the conditions for communication of and access to information and knowledge changed radically. The change affected not merely the material appearance of information and knowledge dissemination but also, in the process, the very nature of cognition. Today, in analogous but inverse manner, the mass-produced book is being absorbed into a digital environment, which both enables reproduction and dissemination surpassing even the longest print runs, but which in terms of the disseminated substance also reduces the book to just another option in a wealth of different media modes and permutations. The closing of the Gutenberg Parenthesis is accordingly the opening up to a completely new and so far only-partially glimpsed - let alone understood - cognitive situation.
THE GUTENBERG PARENTHESIS – PRINT, BOOK AND COGNITION
Position paper by The Gutenberg Parenthesis Research Forum
So what is “scaling”? In its most elemental form, it simply refers to how systems respond when their sizes change. What happens to cities or companies if their sizes are doubled? What happens to buildings, airplanes, economies, or animals if they are halved? Do cities that are twice as large have approximately twice as many roads and produce double the number of patents? Should the profits of a company twice the size of another company double? Does an animal that is half the mass of another animal require half as much food?
No wonder cities have continued to grow. When we move to a city within an urban system that is twice as large, we become, on average, 15% more wealthy, more productive, more creative…and we do this using a fraction of the infrastructure. The discovery of economies of scale and the resulting fruits of innovation and wealth creation brought a fundamentally new dynamic beyond classic biology to the planet. This surprising universality is observed in urban systems in the United States, China, Japan, Europe, and Latin America and transcends history, geography, and culture. What a remarkable outcome manifested in the emergent behavior resulting from human interaction and social networking!
Geoffrey West - Scaling: The surprising mathematics of life and civilization
This is an excellent 20 min. TED Talk about complexity - a Must View.
How complex systems will save us | Bud Caddell | TEDxIndianapolis
This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. A global recession sparked by a speculative bubble in a single domestic market, a regional uprising sparked by one man’s self immolation, a devastating storm sparked by individual fossil fuel consumption – in the aftermath of each event, millions of people found themselves at the mercy of conditions outside of their control. The script for the 21st century continues to repeat itself: connectedness begets complexity, complexity begets uncertainty, and uncertainty begets chaos. How do organizations prepare for events they can’t foresee? The answer lies in the science of complex systems, the most ambitious organizations of our time, and our own courage to embrace uncertainty.
Bud Caddell (Los Angeles, CA USA) heads up Undercurrent’s Los Angeles-based office and is a strategic consultant, speaker, and author. In 2012, Business Insider named Bud the most creative person under 30. Adweek listed him in their top 50 industry professionals of 2012, and The Guardian placed him in their 10 digital strategists to watch in 2013. He’s been cited byNYMag and the Harvard Business Review, and his work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and AdAge.
For anyone who’s not heard of Bitcoin - here’s something to inspire you to get up to speed, because even the Canadian Senate is being educated on the implications of cryptocurrencies, decentralized programmable money and decentralized autonomous organizations. This is a brilliant discussion - Antonopoulos is extremely well informed and answers Senate questions with great honesty, clarity and insight. Although is is almost 2 hrs - this really is a MUST VIEW.
Andreas M. Antonopoulos educates Senate of Canada about Bitcoin (Oct 8, ENG)
October 8th 2014, Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce
“Study on the use of digital currency”, 11th session
In Canada, the public debate surrounding Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies is currently being formalized as the official “Study on the use of digital currency”, a consultative exercise conducted at the initiative of the Senate of Canada’s Banking, Trade and Commerce committee.
Although the Senate of Canada exerts less authority than the House of Commons, its standing committees have proven to be an influential source of expertise and opinion. It also enjoys considerable international attention: according to Stuart Hoegner, general counsel at the Bitcoin Alliance, “no other parliamentary body in the world has publicly canvassed the breadth of materials and opinion that this committee has”.
A short article with more links (including one to this video) is here:
Defending the blockchain
“Centralized financial networks can never be fully open to innovation because their security depends on access control.” — Andreas Antonopoulos
This is an excellent and short blog post on education by a well known Canadian educator. Worth the read.
More Than Apps and Gadgets
Umair Haque, who is perhaps the only economist I can read without suffering indigestion, quite rightly condemns today’s penchant for addressing social problems with yet another app. “If you believe that Ubers, tacocopters, and dating-slash-butler apps…change the world…especially this world,” he writes, “you’re not just clueless. You’re hopeless.”
That, if I may share a secret, is what has always bothered me about my work in education. In so many ways, we are either working to keep in power those who are already in power, providing them elite educations at exclusive universities, or we are perpetuating the servitude of the working people, teaching employment skills and vocational trades to the children of factory workers and farmers. And educators themselves, especially in today’s outcomes-based environment, are so often cast in the role of the butler or the maid, pandering to, rather than enlightening, the children of our employers.
That is why I am engaged not merely in the development of learning technology, but also engaged in the development of means, methods and mechanisms to deliver open learning – with ‘open’ being thought of in the widest and most liberating sense. And when I design educational systems – even when I am working with partners in government and industry – I am first and foremost thinking of my client as the students and learners themselves. And that is why I think in terms not of pedagogy and learning design, but in terms of self-management and personal development.
Educational technology is meaningless if it is not also liberating technology. The purpose of education is not to serve certain social objectives or as a means to employment, but rather to place in the hands of the learner the best and most useful set of tools possible to enable him or her to choose and forge the best quality life for themselves, or as John Stuart Mill would say, to pursue their own good in their own way.
Speaking about more than Apps - here’s something that points to a new form of digital netizenship.
Estonia's new kind of residency
“What's an e-resident?” you may ask. Well, in a ceremony in Estonia, one of the world's most wired countries according to Freedom House, Edward Lucas – a senior editor at The Economist – was given the world's first "e-resident" card by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves last week.
E-residency is not the same as citizenship or legal residency, it is digital residency that gives you special powers. We caught up with Ed Lucas, the new E-Estonian, in his London office so he could show us what he could do with his new e-identity.
You can launch a company in Estonia without having to be there, and utilize the country's financial services. Insert your E-resident card into the smartcard reader attached to your computer, and you can access these services anywhere in the world as if you were physically present, replacing the need to sign things on paper. And, Lucas says, this is just the beginning.
“Just as we have competition between Visa and MasterCard and American Express, we're going to have competition between providers of digital identities. And the one that offers the best combination of security and convenience will come out on top.”
From the idea of a ‘certified identity’ as a netizen here’s something that looks at the built environment of the smart city - an interesting read.
Legibility and Interpretability in Predictive Models (of Cities)
The discussions among the Data & Society fellows over the last few months have been steadily working their way up the food chain from the rudiments of data collection to the mechanics of data processing to the sorcery data analytics (literally, Ingrid Burrington is doing some interesting thinking about magic and data). In early December, these conversations reached a crescendo with a deeply critical talk by Cathy O’Neill, who blogs at MathBabe.org and is the author of the forthcoming book “Weapons of Math Destruction”.
While I still feel like we are finding our feet… we are still talking about “algorithms” with a sense of wonder and lack of nuance and technical background that we scoff at in the broader public’s use of terms like “big data”, we are making progress. We are moving beyond the fetishization of big data — the volume, veracity, velocity meme — and starting to realize that the real breakthroughs are happening at the other end of the funnel — its the algorithms. As Gary King told Harvard Magazine, more data and more computations “is nothing compared to a big algorithm”.
The challenge is that 99.9999% of “the algorithms” are hidden. This was something that I wrote in the most basic terms in Smart Cities, and my concern has only grown. Back then writing in late 2012:
The most powerful information in the smart city is the code that controls it. Exposing the algorithms of smart-city software will be the most challenging task of all. They already govern many aspects of our lives, but we are hardly even aware of their existence.
I went on to recap some of the relevant history and the context for the urban simulation renaissance….
…computer modeling of cities began in the 1960s. Michael Batty, the professor who runs one of the world’s leading centers for research in urban simulation at University College London, describes the era as “a milieu dominated by the sense that the early and mid-twentieth century successes in science could extend to the entire realm of human affairs.” Yet after those early failures and a long hibernation, Batty believes a renaissance in computer simulation of cities is upon us. The historical drought of data that starved so many models of the past has given way to a flood. Computing capacity is abundant and cheap. And like all kinds of software, the development of urban simulations is accelerating. “You can build models faster and quicker,” he says. “If they’re no good, you can throw them away much more rapidly than you ever could in the past.”
Citizens will need legal tools to seize the models directly. The Freedom of Information Act and other local sunshine statutes may offer tools for obtaining code or documentation. The impacts could be profound. Imagine how differently the inequitable closings of fire stations in 1960s New York might have played out if the deeply flawed assumptions of RAND’s models had been scrutinized by watchdogs. At the time, there was one case in Boston where citizen opposition “eventually corrected the modeler’s assumptions” according to Lee. Today assumptions are being encoded into algorithms into an increasing array of decision-support tools that inform planners and public officials as they execute their duties. But the prospects for greater scrutiny may actually be shrinking instead. New York’s landmark 2012 open data law, the most comprehensive in the nation, explicitly exempts the city’s computer code from disclosure.
Here is the conference discussed in the article
Understanding and Improving Cities
Policy/Research Partnerships in the Digital Age
The conference was webcast live. Video of the conference will be available in early January on this website and on Harvard's YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=3DE21962E80B6A89
Now why are cities more ecological? Because (given all things being equal) they are the beneficiaries of a natural scaling law - another way that things change.
Scaling: The surprising mathematics of life and civilization
By Geoffrey West, Distinguished Professor and Past President, Santa Fe Institute
Sandwiched between quarks, Higgs, strings, and dark matter, I had been struggling with developing a physics-inspired network theory for the origin of these scaling laws, while Brown and his then-student, Brian Enquist (now at the University of Arizona), had been speculating that nutrient transportation through the bloodstream was a key ingredient.
Simmon’s intuition that we might have something to say to one another changed our lives and marked the beginning of what became known as the “scaling program” at SFI. The implications of scaling phenomena later expanded beyond biology, ecology, and biomedicine to embrace human socioeconomic systems such as cities and companies – even extending to the challenge of global sustainability. Thus began a beautiful relationship with Brown, Enquist, and SFI and, by extension, with the ensuing cadre of wonderful postdocs, students, and faculty who have since worked on the Institute’s scaling and cities programs.
Our sustained collaboration has been enormously productive, extraordinarily exciting, and tremendously fun. Beginning in 1996, initially with Brown, Enquist, and me, and later with the expanded group, we met every Friday at SFI from 9 a.m. to around 3 p.m. This continued almost uninterrupted until just the last couple of years. At the outset this was a huge commitment as both Brown and I ran large research groups elsewhere.
Speaking of Algorithms … and Artificial Intelligence - what humans are good at.
Computer equal to or better than humans at cataloging science
In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess wizard Garry Kasparov. This year, a computer system developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison equaled or bested scientists at the complex task of extracting data from scientific publications and placing it in a database that catalogs the results of tens of thousands of individual studies.
“We demonstrated that the system was no worse than people on all the things we measured, and it was better in some categories,” saysChristopher Ré, who guided the software development for a project while a UW professor of computer sciences.
The development, described in the current issue of PLoS, marks a milestone in the quest to rapidly and precisely summarize, collate and index the vast output of scientists around the globe, says first author Shanan Peters, a professor of geoscience at UW-Madison.
Speaking of models built on Big Data - here’s a long article but worth the read.
Why “Big Data” Is a Big Deal
Information science promises to change the world.
DATA NOW STREAM from daily life: from phones and credit cards and televisions and computers; from the infrastructure of cities; from sensor-equipped buildings, trains, buses, planes, bridges, and factories. The data flow so fast that the total accumulation of the past two years—a zettabyte—dwarfs the prior record of human civilization. “There is a big data revolution,” says Weatherhead University Professor Gary King. But it is not the quantity of data that is revolutionary. “The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”
The revolution lies in improved statistical and computational methods, not in the exponential growth of storage or even computational capacity, King explains. The doubling of computing power every 18 months (Moore’s Law) “is nothing compared to a big algorithm”—a set of rules that can be used to solve a problem a thousand times faster than conventional computational methods could. One colleague, faced with a mountain of data, figured out that he would need a $2-million computer to analyze it. Instead, King and his graduate students came up with an algorithm within two hours that would do the same thing in 20 minutes—on a laptop: a simple example, but illustrative.
Speaking about Apps - here is something to think about - is the Internet actually bringing us back to our ‘real’ selves? There is a 4 min video as well.
The Gutenberg Parenthesis: Thomas Pettitt on parallels between the pre-print era and our own Internet age
Could the most reliable futurist of the digital age be…Johannes Gutenberg?
Possibly. Or, definitely, if you subscribe to the theory of the Gutenberg Parenthesis: the idea that the post-Gutenberg era — the period from, roughly, the 15th century to the 20th, an age defined by textuality — was essentially an interruption in the broader arc of human communication. And that we are now, via the discursive architecture of the web, slowly returning to a state in which orality — conversation, gossip, the ephemeral — defines our media culture.
It’s a controversial idea, but a fascinating one. And one whose back-to-the-future sensibility (particularly now, with the introduction of the iPad and other Potential Game-Changers) seems increasingly relevant: When you’re living through a revolution, it’s helpful to know what you may be turning toward.
The original paper can be found here:
BEFORE THE GUTENBERG PARENTHESIS: ELIZABETHAN-AMERICAN COMPATIBILITIES
This is a video lecture by George Lakoff, that is almost 2 hrs long. But it gives you a substantive understanding of frames, metaphors as providing the fundamental structures to how people (including philosophers) reason. In the middle of the lecture he elaborates two key moral frameworks - that are vitally important if we are to understand not just politics - but how our institutions and organizations are governed. Highly recommended.
George Lakoff "The Brain and Its Politics"
George Lakoff is the co-founder of the Rockridge Institute, a think tank for progressive politics and public policies. His talk surveys basic findings about what human reason is really like and shows why this matters in politics. Over the past 30 years, Lakoff posits, cognitive and brain sciences have shown that human reason --instead of being conscious and logical — takes place mostly below the level of consciousness and is much more interesting and complex than was once believed.
This is a very long piece (120 pages). But I would rate it as a MUST READ for many reasons. It is well written - a joy to read. Although it is focused the transformation of journalism - many many aspects are well suited to the numerous knowledge domains (including social science, research, teaching and more) that are being disrupted by the technologies of the digital environment. One of the great pleasure of this piece is that it is not a ‘consultant’s’ report - the critique is hard hitting as much as it’s fair and balanced.
Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present
by C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell, Clay Shirky
This essay is part survey and part manifesto, one that concerns itself with the practice of journalism and the practices of journalists in the United States. It is not, however, about “the future of the news industry,” both because much of that future is already here and because there is no such thing as the news industry anymore.
There used to be one, held together by the usual things that hold an industry together: similarity of methods among a relatively small and coherent group of businesses, and an inability for anyone outside that group to produce a competitive product. Those conditions no longer hold true.
If you wanted to sum up the past decade of the news ecosystem in a single phrase, it might be this: Everybody suddenly got a lot more freedom. The newsmakers, the advertisers, the startups, and, especially, the people formerly known as the audience have all been given new freedom to communicate, narrowly and broadly, outside the old strictures of the broadcast and publishing models. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of new tools and techniques, and, more importantly, new assumptions and expectations, and these changes have wrecked the old clarity.
There’s no way to look at organizations as various as the Texas Tribune, SCOTUSblog and Front Porch Forum or such platforms as Facebook, YouTube and Storify and see anything like coherence. There’s no way to look at new experiments in nonprofit journalism like Andy Carvin’s work at NPR during the Arab Spring and convince yourself that journalism is securely in the hands of for-profit businesses. And there’s no way to look at experiments in funding journalism via Kickstarter, or the coverage of protest movements via mobile phone, and convince yourself that making information public can be done only by professionals and institutions.
Many of the changes talked about in the last decade as part of the future landscape of journalism have already taken place; much of journalism’s imagined future is now its lived-in present. (As William Gibson noted long ago, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”) Our goal is to write about what has already happened and what is happening today, and what we can learn from it, rather than engaging in much speculation.
This is a fantastic site - a MUST VISIT & EXPLORE. There are some short video on this site explain the vision of the project.
Pantheon - Mapping Historical Cultural Production
You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.
This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to electromagnetic waves.
Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development. Dive in, visualize, and enjoy.
Dive in here - choose the country you wish to focus on: http://pantheon.media.mit.edu/treemap/country_exports/all/all/-4000/2010/H15/pantheon
This is a very fascinating study with important implications for the future of individual identity. Very pertinent to social scientists concerned with social issues.
Virtual bodyswapping diminishes people's negative biases about others
Researchers explain how they have used the brain's ability to bring together information from different senses to make white people feel that they were inhabiting black bodies and adults feel like they had children's bodies. The results of such virtual bodyswapping experiments are remarkable and have important implications for approaching phenomena such as race and gender discrimination.
What if you could, for a moment, have the body of someone of a different race, age, or sex? Would that change the way you feel about yourself or the way that you stereotype different social groups? In a paper publishing online December 15 in the Cell Press journalTrends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers explain how they have used the brain's ability to bring together information from different senses to make white people feel that they were inhabiting black bodies and adults feel like they had children's bodies. The results of such virtual bodyswapping experiments are remarkable and have important implications for approaching phenomena such as race and gender discrimination.
And another benefit of virtuality. As wearables become conventional working prothetics - and access to cloud storage (personal or corporate) - Search becomes key.
Saving Old Information Can Boost Memory for New Information
The simple act of saving something, such as a file on a computer, may improve our memory for the information we encounter next, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research suggests that the act of saving helps to free up cognitive resources that can be used to remember new information.
“Our findings show that people are significantly better at learning and remembering new information when they save previous information,” says psychological scientist and study author Benjamin Storm of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“The idea is pretty simple: Saving acts as a form of offloading. By ensuring that certain information will be digitally accessible, we can re-allocate cognitive resources away from maintaining that information and focus instead on remembering new information.”
This is a very interesting article proposing a new theory for the origin life. It the article generate more curiosity - a much deeper and profoundly more comprehensive view that is very similar can be found in Terrence Deacon’s fantastic book “Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerges From Matter” (highly recommend this book).
This Physicist Has A Groundbreaking Idea About Why Life Exists
Why does life exist?
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning, and a colossal stroke of luck.
But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”
From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat.
Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.
Speaking about life - here’s a fantastic web site with some great visuals.
the Tree of Life Web Project
The Tree of Life Web Project (ToL) is a collaborative effort of biologists and nature enthusiasts from around the world. On more than 10,000 World Wide Web pages, the project provides information about biodiversity, the characteristics of different groups of organisms, and their evolutionary history (phylogeny).
Each page contains information about a particular group, e.g., salamanders, segmented worms, phlox flowers, tyrannosaurs, euglenids, Heliconius butterflies, club fungi, or the vampire squid. ToL pages are linked one to another hierarchically, in the form of the evolutionary tree of life. Starting with the root of all Life on Earth and moving out along diverging branches to individual species, the structure of the ToL project thus illustrates the genetic connections between all living things.
Speaking of the Tree of Life - here’s a hugely important effort that could enable the emergence of a global commons of DNA information.
Geneticists Begin Tests of an Internet for DNA
Scientists are starting to open their DNA databases online, creating a network that could pave the way for gene analysis at a new scale.
A coalition of geneticists and computer programmers calling itself the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health is developing protocols for exchanging DNA information across the Internet. The researchers hope their work could be as important to medical science as HTTP, the protocol created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, was to the Web.
One of the group’s first demonstration projects is a simple search engine that combs through the DNA letters of thousands of human genomes stored at nine locations, including Google’s server farms and the University of Leicester, in the U.K. According to the group, which includes key players in the Human Genome Project, the search engine is the start of a kind of Internet of DNA that may eventually link millions of genomes together.
The technologies being developed are application program interfaces, or APIs, that let different gene databases communicate. Pooling information could speed discoveries about what genes do and help doctors diagnose rare birth defects by matching children with suspected gene mutations to others who are known to have them.
The alliance was conceived two years ago at a meeting in New York of 50 scientists who were concerned that genome data was trapped in private databases, tied down by legal consent agreements with patients, limited by privacy rules, or jealously controlled by scientists to further their own scientific work. It styles itself after the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, a body that oversees standards for the Web.
And speaking of the Tree of Life - and possibly an extension of the tree to include synthetic life?
A Step Toward Artificial Cells, Built from Silicon
A microfluidic cell copies some basic functions of life.
In a step toward sophisticated artificial cells, scientists have engineered a silicon chip that can produce proteins from DNA, the most basic function of life.
The system, though relatively simple, suggests a path to mimicking life with partly manufactured components, says Roy Bar-Ziv, a materials scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who is leading the work.
Cells constantly create proteins from instructions coded in DNA sequences. How much of each protein is made is controlled by other genes, often in complicated feedback loops. Bar-Ziv calls his cell-on-a-chip “a new system allowing us to examine how genes are turned on and off outside the living cell.”
Speaking of artificial life?
As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up
A machine that administers sedatives recently began treating patients at a Seattle hospital. At a Silicon Valley hotel, a bellhop robot delivers items to people’s rooms. Last spring, a software algorithm wrote a breaking news article about an earthquake that The Los Angeles Times published.
Although fears that technology will displace jobs are at least as old as the Luddites, there are signs that this time may really be different. The technological breakthroughs of recent years — allowing machines to mimic the human mind — are enabling machines to do knowledge jobs and service jobs, in addition to factory and clerical work.
And over the same 15-year period that digital technology has inserted itself into nearly every aspect of life, the job market has fallen into a long malaise. Even with the economy’s recent improvement, the share of working-age adults who are working is substantially lower than a decade ago — and lower than any point in the 1990s.
On the more human front - here’s something from Havard Business Review, that may not surprise most workers.
Loyalty to a Leader Is Overrated, Even Dangerous
The other night I watched Raymond Reddington, fictional star of the TV series The Blacklist, pull off another impossible plotline without breaking a sweat, explaining calmly to one of his minions that the key to winning is to “value loyalty above all else.” The notion of loyalty as a protective force that leads to great success is so much a part of how we think about leadership that it is very easy to accept, even when it is not espoused by someone as exceptionally interesting to watch as James Spader.
I would contend that loyalty is linked with success in many people’s minds because the archetypal successful leader always demands utmost loyalty and in turn this demand is linked with a special competence. Remain loyal, the story goes, things will go well. Think of (my daughter’s favorite) Kung Fu Panda only developing as a fighting warrior when he submits fully to his master, Grand Master Oogway or (in a more serious vein) Moses leading his people out of Egypt because they believed in him enough to follow. On the other hand, when followers don’t do as they are told and express disloyalty, then disaster ensues. Think of Homer’s description of Odysseus’ men, who encountered hardship primarily when they disobeyed their warrior leader, such as opening the “bag of winds” even though he had ordered them not to and thus being unable to ride the winds home. Over and over again throughout history and art we are given the strong leader who simply wants to aim for the proper goal, and the disloyal underlings who continually threaten to undermine his (or her) greatness by disobeying. Over time these stories lead to an implicit expectation that when loyalty prevails, so does success.
This idea is, I submit, one of the most dangerous myths in organizational life.