Downsizing: A Radical Solution To Save Planet Earth?

David Jonker

Alexander Payne’s social satire Downsizing, premiering September 11 at Toronto International Film Festival as part of Our Digital Future film series presented by SAP, will have you questioning your role in our crowded and unsustainable future.

Right now, that future feels closer than ever. With Hurricane Harvey battering Texas on August 25 and Hurricane Irma following close behind, people are wondering if severe storms will become the “new normal” because of climate change. Meanwhile, recent tests on tap water samples around the world found that 83% were contaminated with plastic particles.

Reactions are mixed on such issues, with many scratching their heads, others skeptical, and some downright indifferent. After all, nobody wants to give up their gadgets, gizmos, and other gaudy wonders. Yet, our planet’s natural resources cannot sustain all that stuff for all the world’s ballooning population.

Among those who appreciate the dangers mankind presents to Earth and themselves are the scientists, technologists, and engineers seeking solutions to minimize our impact on the planet, as well as the ethical activists and artists who hold up mirrors for humanity to confront its unsustainable path.

What are we to do?

Population “downsizing”

Payne’s Downsizing explores tongue-in-cheek the idea of quite literally downsizing every human being. The film imagines a future in which scientists have found a way to shrink humans to five inches tall. The lead, played by Matt Damon, and his wife, played by Kirsten Wiig, decide to “do the drop,” figuring they can help save the planet from human destruction and solve their financial woes (your money goes a lot further when you’re tiny). It makes one wonder, “would I shrink myself to save the world and still have it all?”

It’s not the first time a controversial scientific solution to “too many people on Earth” has been imagined on the screen. The 1973 film Soylent Green [spoiler alert] is based on a dystopia in which human corpses are turned into green wafers and rationed out to those still alive. In the TV series Utopia, a protein is designed with the intention of sterilizing up to 95% of the population, leaving a perfect world in its wake for the survivors.

For now, such ideas for controlling population through scientific means remain firmly in the realm of science fiction; though the topic of population control is a favorite among conspiracy theorists, who say we might not know if governments employed these methods.

Use fewer resources, live more simply

In 1854, more than 100 years before we started taking climate change seriously, Henry David Thoreau was already writing of his resistance against industrial civilization by moving to the woods because he “wished to live deliberately.” Quartz called Thoreau the “original hipster minimalist,“ saying his “experiment is the prototypical guide to the simple life.”

This is a difficult pill to swallow for most, though a small but growing number of people are taking inspiration from thinkers like Thoreau, as well as modern minimalists like Marie Kondo, placing less value on “stuff.” Time will tell if the movement can grow big enough to make a real difference.

Colonize on other planets

Stephen Hawking thinks humans only have 100 years to escape Earth and colonize a new planet, and the likes of Elon Musk are set on making it happen. Philosopher John Zerzan, however, believes destroying this planet and moving on to the next is no kind of answer. Whatever your take, it’s hard to imagine a future in which moving to a new planet or living on the Starship Enterprise is anything other than physically arduous and emotionally distressing, if it’s even feasible at all.

Build sustainable technology and production practices

Electricity 2.0 is on its way. As I wrote in a previous post, digitization and decentralization of the grid, the rise of renewable sources like solar and wind, the impact of the Internet of Things, and more are coming together to reshape the utilities space. Furthermore, electric vehicles are building momentum as a solution to our reliance on fossil fuels to get from A to B. Created with eco-sensitivity, this new power infrastructure could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Just as important, companies are exploring more sustainable practices for food and goods production, as is seen with circular economy concepts. These solutions aren’t radical, and look the most realistic and promising, if you take human nature for what it is. Nevertheless, it will be a monumental challenge requiring progressive government and corporate policies, plus a collective shift in our cultural mindset.

Whether it’s reducing consumption, embracing sustainable technologies, or shrinking ourselves to five inches tall, there is no doubt we need to find a way to downsize our human footprint. As Hurricane Harvey and Irma, along with mounting evidence elsewhere, might imply, it’s time to act, one way or another. The big question is, how?

Find out more about the Our Digital Future film series presented by SAP at TIFF 17Watch a thought-provoking discussion with David Jonker about how films show us our digital future.

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David Jonker

About David Jonker

David Jonker is Senior Director of SAP Leonardo and predictive analytic solutions at SAP. He drives go-to-market and co-innovation initiatives across the SAP solution portfolio for Big Data and predictive analytics.

Next-Gen Environmental Consulting: The Tectonic Shift In Pollution Management

Brian Kahl

A consultant is commuting to her office in a driverless car when her cell phone buzzes with an alert. The text message indicates that indoor TCE concentrations at her client’s aerospace facility have just exceeded established threshold levels from two vapor intrusion (VI) monitoring stations.

She opens her laptop to access her secure web data portal, where she can view a live feed of a dozen monitoring stations. After reviewing time-series plots of recent VOC data, the consultant then views a playback loop of plume visualizations to evaluate trends and possible causality. With a click of the mouse, she checks the status of mitigation blowers and notices that high TCE levels indeed triggered the blower actuators; however, the system appeared to have little effect on subsequent indoor air readings.

The consultant immediately contacts her client and informs him that an exposure condition exists in Office #4; however, the VOC source does not appear to be from the subsurface. After a discussion of potential causes, a professional field technician is dispatched to the site for diagnostic evaluation of the event. The technician finds that the VI mitigation system is operating perfectly and begins an audit of the affected office, including an interview of relevant site workers.

His audit discovers that an equipment repair service was utilizing a degreasing product that included TCE. After removing the offending source and turning on the HVAC, both the technician and the offsite consultant watch as the TCE levels diminish to below actionable levels. The technician files his notes on the web data portal and the consultant generates a brief event report that is automatically disseminated to the client and company counsel. After reviewing the report, the client forwards the report to the company’s insurance agent and regulatory case worker for compliance documentation.

While most of us are not yet riding in driverless cars, the convergence of emerging technologies has already demonstrated the capabilities described above. With the widespread availability of inexpensive broadband, ubiquitous wireless communication, embedded systems, sensor technology, and real-time analytics, the environmental industry is poised for major disruption to its legacy business model. Regardless of what we label the evolving interconnectivity of smart devices—Internet of Things (IoT), wireless sensor networks, artificial intelligence, etc.), we are already seeing major disruptions to industries, and especially service provider markets (taxis vs. Uber, cashiers vs. self-check kiosks, toll booths vs EZPass, etc.).

IoT and automated, unattended, real-time sensor networks are already seeing success in industrial automation, process control, energy monitoring, homeland security, leak detection, and even weather tracking. We now have earthquake and tsunami early-warning systems that offer real-time lifesaving advantages, yet the average consulting firm continues to deploy manual labor for collecting and reporting information from the environment.

Some would argue that the pervasive billable-hours business model, combined with a tiered compliance process, is to blame for industry’s slow adoption of automation technology. Resistance to investing in change may be further complicated by a growing skills gap that is often outpaced by the rate of emerging technologies.

It seems clear that innovative firms that decide to adopt tools that automate much of their field service and reporting roles will require alternative revenue sources to replace the lost hourly labor billings. Consulting managers and principals will need to look at their revenue models with entirely new lenses and begin to offer alternative packaged solutions in addition to traditional professional consulting services.

Perhaps market forces will necessitate these changes. When internet commerce rolled across the business map like a well-armed tactical army, we saw what happened to the industries that resisted the urge to change their operating model. The emergence of the mobile connected economy not only disrupted the service industries, its infectious influence on consumer expectations was left intact. The condition of high-paced expectations will begin to permeate corporate boardrooms, and responsible parties will begin to demand faster answers (and remedies) from professionals. Given the rapid pace of innovation driven by a convergence of reliable technology, it seems like a compelling time for this change to occur.

Consultants will need to make the shift to the new faster-paced approach to managing, interpreting, and advising—perhaps a work environment where less time is spent writing and more time is spent reviewing and advising based on electronic data and graphics. As responsible parties and regulatory decision makers learn about cost-competitive and quicker alternative solutions to environmental problems, their expectations will drive market adoption.

Similarly, as earth scientists start to recognize the efficiencies and intellectual insights offered by temporally relevant spatial data, their business models will necessarily adapt. Perhaps we will start to see outcome-based service models develop where flat fees are charged for a desired outcome in services like compliance monitoring. As innovative agile players enter the market, legacy firms will need to re-examine their business models and either adapt or partner in this coming tectonic shift to next-gen environmental consulting.

For more insight on developing an effective digital transformation plan, see 4 Strategic Differentiators To Look For In Your Digital Partner.

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Brian Kahl

About Brian Kahl

Brian Kahl is a Professional Geologist with over 30 years of experience managing environmental pollution issues. Mr. Kahl works with technology partners to implement real-time automated environmental monitoring solutions using sensor-based remote data acquisition and processing. As a contributing writer, Mr. Kahl shares insights about emerging digital automation technologies that are transforming the professional environmental management industry.

Future Cities: A Nexus Of Smart Utilities, Smart Transport, And Smart Tourism

Dr. Hichem Maya

Increasing urbanization represents one of the greatest challenges and opportunities today. The goal is to sustainably and holistically develop these future cities that will work on a smart, integrated, and connected digital network to improve livability and grow economic prosperity.

Innovation in this context means different things to different sectors. For citizens, it’s about quality of life, well-run institutions, and jobs. For businesses, it’s about the ability to thrive and innovate. For urban governments, it’s about transforming operations, empowering officials, and engaging better with citizens.

One of the top priorities of Dubai Plan 2021 is to create a smart and sustainable city that is integrated and connected. By developing and investing in a long-term strategy for success, governments can collaborate with technology providers on things such as improving traffic congestion, rethinking the distribution of utilities and resources, and optimizing tourist movement throughout the city.

Smarter traffic flow to reduce congestion

Congestion costs cities billions in fuel and wasted time, as well as increased accidents and pollution. Combining an intelligent traffic management platform and a traffic congestion management system could be the solution Dubai needs to manage roadway traffic. This approach involves intricate measurement of traffic flows and congestion to inform city planning.

Big Data from smart applications can deliver instant insights on traffic flows to help streamline movement within the city. Centralization of data from smart sensors supports data quality and contributes to a traffic data model with a flexible interface for leveraging tools and value-added innovations.

Smart sensors, along with algorithms applied to incoming data, can also enable decision-making to improve congestion and traffic flow. These tools can provide an early warning system for traffic problems, support public travel guidance systems, and create a working framework for traffic control from all perspectives. In each case, the aim is a safer, less congested city.

Smarter utilities to save resources

To meet customer, regulator, and shareholder expectations, the role of utility companies is expanding beyond providing utility services into connecting various components of the new energy economy.

Water is a critical resource that’s in short supply, and leaks, which are costly in terms of money and the environment, must be promptly fixed. IoT sensors in the water distribution network detect leaks early on, reducing the risk of water pollution and conserving scarce resources.

Energy distribution can be controlled with smart billing that incorporates meter and device management, as well as enterprise asset management. The results are significant: reducing the annual service and maintenance cost by 31% by resolving issues at the root, and achieving a 71% improvement in recordable accident frequency by integrating safety and health systems with asset management.

Smart tourism to welcome visitors (and support citizens)

Dubai’s smart city initiative helps tourists to feel welcomed in the city by promoting the local economy, capitalizing on tourist expenditures, and distributing tourism to minimize crowding. The advantages of the network include information about real-time traffic, local attractions and landmarks, and transportation arrival and departures.

The tourist network connects public and private enterprises with tourists, visitors, and constituents. Leveraging Internet of Things capabilities; Big Data; predictive algorithms; and in-memory computing, mobile, and hybrid cloud platforms delivers the right proposals and offers from the relevant service providers to tourists at the right time, in the right context, and based on geolocalized and personalized profiles.

iBeacons placed at selected tourist attractions could push information of interest to the user. Businesses can also leverage user behaviors and selections to target and engage customers more effectively. Not only will this system improve the tourist experience, but by successfully distributing tourist crowds, citizens will enjoy a better quality of life.

With this network, the city can also create tourist profiles to improve urban planning and better balance visitor crowds by enticing tourists to change their plans in response to compelling offerings made by the city’s partners.

The vision for a smart city platform will enable Dubai to establish an urban network that can directly link small business owners with customers (both citizens and visitors) through low-cost distribution channels.

For more on how cities are leveraging smart technology, listen to experts discuss Smarter Cities: Future Metropolis and Societal Impact.

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Dr. Hichem Maya

About Dr. Hichem Maya

Dr. Hichem Maya leads the industry digital transformation and value engineering team in the Middle East and North Africa at SAP. The organization helps businesses from a variety of industries to identify the proper value generated through digital technologies adoption.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Jenny Dearborn: Soft Skills Will Be Essential for Future Careers

Jenny Dearborn

The Japanese culture has always shown a special reverence for its elderly. That’s why, in 1963, the government began a tradition of giving a silver dish, called a sakazuki, to each citizen who reached the age of 100 by Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Elders Day), which is celebrated on the third Monday of each September.

That first year, there were 153 recipients, according to The Japan Times. By 2016, the number had swelled to more than 65,000, and the dishes cost the already cash-strapped government more than US$2 million, Business Insider reports. Despite the country’s continued devotion to its seniors, the article continues, the government felt obliged to downgrade the finish of the dishes to silver plating to save money.

What tends to get lost in discussions about automation taking over jobs and Millennials taking over the workplace is the impact of increased longevity. In the future, people will need to be in the workforce much longer than they are today. Half of the people born in Japan today, for example, are predicted to live to 107, making their ancestors seem fragile, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors at the London Business School and authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The End of the Three-Stage Career

Assuming that advances in healthcare continue, future generations in wealthier societies could be looking at careers lasting 65 or more years, rather than at the roughly 40 years for today’s 70-year-olds, write Gratton and Scott. The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

It will be replaced by a new model in which people continually learn new skills and shed old ones. Consider that today’s most in-demand occupations and specialties did not exist 10 years ago, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum.

And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, the report notes.

Our current educational systems are not equipped to cope with this degree of change. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is outdated by the time students graduate, the report continues.

Skills That Transcend the Job Market

Instead of treating post-secondary education as a jumping-off point for a specific career path, we may see a switch to a shorter school career that focuses more on skills that transcend a constantly shifting job market. Today, some of these skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, are taught mostly in the context of broader disciplines, such as math or the humanities.

Other competencies that will become critically important in the future are currently treated as if they come naturally or over time with maturity or experience. We receive little, if any, formal training, for example, in creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change. (No wonder the self-help marketplace continues to thrive!)

The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

These skills, which today are heaped together under the dismissive “soft” rubric, are going to harden up to become indispensable. They will become more important, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will usher in an era of infinite information, rendering the concept of an expert in most of today’s job disciplines a quaint relic. As our ability to know more than those around us decreases, our need to be able to collaborate well (with both humans and machines) will help define our success in the future.

Individuals and organizations alike will have to learn how to become more flexible and ready to give up set-in-stone ideas about how businesses and careers are supposed to operate. Given the rapid advances in knowledge and attendant skills that the future will bring, we must be willing to say, repeatedly, that whatever we’ve learned to that point doesn’t apply anymore.

Careers will become more like life itself: a series of unpredictable, fluid experiences rather than a tightly scripted narrative. We need to think about the way forward and be more willing to accept change at the individual and organizational levels.

Rethink Employee Training

One way that organizations can help employees manage this shift is by rethinking training. Today, overworked and overwhelmed employees devote just 1% of their workweek to learning, according to a study by consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. Meanwhile, top business leaders such as Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight spend about five hours a week reading, thinking, and experimenting, according to an article in Inc. magazine.

If organizations are to avoid high turnover costs in a world where the need for new skills is shifting constantly, they must give employees more time for learning and make training courses more relevant to the future needs of organizations and individuals, not just to their current needs.

The amount of learning required will vary by role. That’s why at SAP we’re creating learning personas for specific roles in the company and determining how many hours will be required for each. We’re also dividing up training hours into distinct topics:

  • Law: 10%. This is training required by law, such as training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Company: 20%. Company training includes internal policies and systems.

  • Business: 30%. Employees learn skills required for their current roles in their business units.

  • Future: 40%. This is internal, external, and employee-driven training to close critical skill gaps for jobs of the future.

In the future, we will always need to learn, grow, read, seek out knowledge and truth, and better ourselves with new skills. With the support of employers and educators, we will transform our hardwired fear of change into excitement for change.

We must be able to say to ourselves, “I’m excited to learn something new that I never thought I could do or that never seemed possible before.” D!

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