November 05, 2012
The Singularity Understood & Misunderstood
I've been attending Singularity events since they started having them, before people really knew what singularity meant.
Frankly, most people still don't.
Outside high powered technology circles and intellectuals, singularity isn't a topic that is discussed on dates or at the dinner table, even in Silicon Valley where technology and deals are sexier than toned women in miniskirts.
According to Wikipedia, "the technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood."
Advocates talk about an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, AND most importantly, that they won't stop until the cognitive abilities surpass the human mind.
Whoah Nellie! That's what I said when I first read Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near and on many occasions since being involved in "singularity circles" since then. It's a scary concept for mere mortals to comprehend, at least until you better understand the landscape.
The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who I had an opportunity to hang with at the latest Singularity Summit in San Francisco in October. He argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces might be possible causes of the singularity.
Think of it as an era in time where civilization as we know has dramatically changed. The Singularians (yes, that's what they call themselves), believe that this era will "transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity."
I love that but wonder if technological singularity is the only way (or the best way) to transcend and amplify humans.
There is a group of spiritual and creative types like me who are intrigued by the singularity. We find some truth to it and while some of it sounds attractive and appealing, there's a whole subsection of the singularity world that takes me back to "Whoah Nellie" again and again.
When you sit on the right brain side of the fence for most of your life, you find yourself arguing (oops, debating) with scientists and technologists about all the issues that are often left out of the discussion, like emotions, love and feeling. Oh yeah, and intuition, something women have notoriously 'owned' because we're so damn good at it.
One could argue that in this new era, things like emotion and love will be transformed also, so how we view matters of the heart will not be the same way we view them today. In other words, there's no point trying to figure out how they'll matter in this new era because everything will be transcended: our intelligence and our emotional states.
What I love about singularian culture (if there is such a thing), is the commitment to progress, technological advancement (largely for positive change) and the ongoing, intriguing debate about the future and where we're heading. And, oh btw, it's an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds who are pushing the needle forward today.
If you have a discussion with someone about singularity who knows what they're talking about, you shouldn't be too far along in the conversation before the phrase exponential growth comes up, a phrase referred to by Moore's Law as a logical reason why we can expect the singularity to happen sooner than some believe.
So, who's among this circle aside from respected futurist Ray Kurzweil (below) and scientist fiction writer Vernor Vinge? It's broad and growing every day.
They've even formed a university around it, whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
Hans Moravec and Eliezer Yudkowsky are also cited as singularity theorists and the circle is expanding as "its" tentacles dip into other industries.
Speakers at the recent Singularity Summit included thinkers and entrepreneurs such as Julia Galef who spoke on rationality, cognition and the future, Linda Avey who addressed personal genomics, and professor Steven Pinker (below) who took us through a history of violence. (video here)
We also had an interactive dialogue with Daniel Kahneman, heard about artificial intelligence and the barrier of meaning from Melanie Mitchell, and our 'viral' future from Carl Zimmer. (below)
A quest in metaphysics was explored by Jaan Tallinn (below), Robin Hanson's topic was: A Tsunami of Life: The Extraordinary Society of Emulated Minds and Stuart Armstrong discussed how we're 'predicting' AI.
Temple Grandin who has done a lot of work with autism spoke to us about different types of thinking. There's the photorealistic visual thinker (poor in algebra), the pattern thinker (poor at music & math), the verbal mind (poor at drawing) and the auditory thinkers (who are poor at drawing). She brought up the power of bottom up thinking rather than bottom down, where you learn by specific examples. In other words, get out and discover things, citing travel as a great educator. Hear hear.
She says, "many talented, quirky and gifted students are going nowhere because they have no mentors to help them through their quirkiness." So right. While I received emotional support from my grandparents along the way (they raised me), I received more emotional support from random mentors who fell into my life path, amazing accidents in time I thought as a child.
Pinker, who took us on a journey of violence, talked about its connection to literacy. Much of his research wouldn't surprise anyone since its logical: literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the equation, winning over superstitious thinking.
Literacy is also a mixture of cosmopolitanism, where you increasingly consume fiction, drama, journalism and the arts.
The implication of this over time resulted in the need to redefine modernity...what culture means: our tribes, family, community and religion.
Like Kurzweil, I always love hearing Pinker speak. My brain is better off at the end of it.
So, if singularity thinking is drawing some of the best and the brightest, what's the real controversy aside from fear of the unknown, which is inevitable?
Carl H. Flygt quotes Bill Joy in a paper he wrote in 2005 on singularity theory:
“A traditional utopia is a good society and a good life involving other people,” says Bill Joy. “This techno-utopia is all about: ‘I don’t get diseases; I don’t die; I get to have better eyesight and be smarter’ and all of this. If you described this to Socrates or Plato they would laugh at you.”
But the paper goes on to say, "But Socrates or Plato would not laugh at the idea of pure conversation, which cuts off the me-talk before it can start and puts the human being directly in community with the reality of his (her) cosmic consciousness, of his (her) ontological impulses and of his (her) capacity for self-control and settlement into the higher bodies given human nature by its cosmic mereology."
I have no clue whether this paper has any credibility and note that it's also now seven years old...but, it was and is a viewpoint. Naysayer LogicPriest who calls himself an atheist, skeptic, anti-authoritarian and crazy person who likes cat and among other things, science, doesn't discount that AI isn't possible because any system of enough complexity can emerge into intelligence. He feels we may have very little to say to it however.
He writes: "we would need to emulate much of ourselves in an AI. We would need some pretend body and environment, some emulated limbic and nervous system (the brain is only PART of the nervous system, something most futurists forget). We would also need to build a completely different type of computer, one where the architecture is structurally tied to certain actions, one with DNA instructions, separate abstracted layers like our 'reptile' brain to work it's normal, computer functions and higher order processors for complex thought."
Regardless if you're an outside observer who is merely curious, a student of science, or writers like those I discovered in my search who have strong opinions on the topic, technology is accelerating with a force that's hard to deny. It is working its way into our every existence.
Consider that we use it get directions, read digital books, buy products and communicate to the outside world not to mention the people who email a loved one in the very next room rather than have a "human" conversation with them.
We use it for voting, research, asking questions on the most basic things like how to start a lawnmower or how to cook a turkey, sending photos to grandparents, watching a movie and monitoring our diets. We even use it to virtually talk to doctors about our health, consultants about our finances and teachers about our children's education. There's no end to how and where we use it or will use it in the not too distant future. Augmented reality is here and expanding.
The real question is a moral and ethical one. How conscious, present and aware are those who are building and executing the stuff that brings us into the next era, the one singularity promises is nearer than we think? What is their mission for "it" and for "us" as a species?
How will this explosion impact life as we know it? And, for women, artists, creative right brains and expressionists of the world, how will it impact things we hold so dear like love, emotion, physical relationships and our identity around spirituality?
What do you think?
Note: Twitter handles of some of the people either in this world or who talk about it from time-to-time: @raykurzweil2035 @labenz @lukeprog @laurademing @sydney_uni @ricolution @Sydney_ideas @jayrosen_nyc @biotechbusdev @elonmusk @robertwrighter @stephenfry @edge @rkurzban @temple_grandin @laurademing @lindaavey @sapinker @melmitchell1 @carlzimmer @robinhanson @wilbanks @ch402 @magicsaucemedia @noorFSiddigui
November 5, 2012 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 04, 2012
Steven Pinker Speaks on Violence in San Francisco
His topic amongst a large group of singularians, scientists, authors, thinkers, students and technologists? Violence.
He took is on a journey of the decline of violence over time as a persistent development, showing methods that showed prehistoric violence versus the modern violence of today aka life before states and life after states.
It's obvious that literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the conversation ruling out and winning over superstition, which is still alive in a lot of more primitive cultures today.
See my latest write-up on singularity and the future of technology based on my most recent experience at the Singularity Summit. Below is a short video excerpt from his talk.
Video and photo credit: Renee Blodgett.
October 05, 2012
Ray Kurzweil on Ethics & Natural Language Processing
Kurzweil, known for his work in voice recognition, natural language processing, singularity and future predictions, I'm always curious to hear what he's going to share, especially when he moves onto the brain.
Says Ray in a response to the question of why natural language processing has taken so long to advance, "you have to take a hierarchial approach just like human language - you have to build it that way. We learn things layer by layer and we have to educate our synthetic neocortexes too."
When you start to dive deep into a discussion about synthetic neocortexes, where do you go from there, particularly when the majority of the audience are Web 2.0 and mobile geeks not scientists or researchers. Venture Beat's Matt Marshall interviewed Ray, his next to last stage interview before leaving the DEMO Conferences as producer.
Matt asked about ethics, which was a perfect segway into artificial intelligence. You can't have a discussion with Ray without artificial intelligence coming up at least once.
"Technology has always been a double edged sword," says Ray. "Just like fire has been used for good and evil, AI can be as dangerous as fire when put in the wrong hands." He reminded the audience that AI is already widely distributed however and that it's not just being used in a dark lab in some government building.
And, look how far we've come. A kid in Africa now has access to more knowledge and information than the President of the United States did 20 years ago. If that's not an example of exponential growth, I don't know what is...
See below for the interview on video. Even though it is a HD video clip, bear in mind that the sound quality may not be crisp.
September 30, 2012
MIT's Jodie Wu, an Inspiration & Force Behind Change in Tanzania
Enough people know I love Africa and the fact that I have spent time there and lived there.
Combine these known facts with her entrepreneur and technology work and it makes sense that we'd have a lot to talk about.
I also love meeting women CEOs who are an inspiration to be around and in the midst of all this background, did I mention that she's only 25?
She was a speaker this September at the event, the second year I made my way across country to Louisville Kentucky to meet interesting people who are help shaping the world.
Her company Global Cycle Solutions is a social enterprise developing bicycle attachments that improve the lives of smallholder farmers. In May 2009, as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at MIT, she led her team to win the MIT 100K Business Plan Competition, and in August 2009, she moved to Arusha, Tanzania, to launch her company.
Her vision is to end "cycled poverty." I had an opportunity to spend time with her before and after her talk. She says, "so much money is going into foreign aid and it's not being spent effectively. The typical person just needs tools and investment in their education. If they buy it, they need it, if they don’t buy it, then it isn’t good enough.
Fair enough. Even if the technology is advanced and might work in the U.S. or Europe, if Africans don't buy the product, then it means its not solving real needs they have every day.
In Tanzania, Bernard their inventor, is creating water pumps, grinders and pedals and working on designing a better bike for Africa.
Her favorite product they're working on right now is the solar lantern. She says with a smile, "it actually bounces like a ball but it doesn’t break. The most significant thing about the light right away is that when people use it, their productivity goes up right away. People can charge their phones at their houses rather than them having to walk five kilometers just to charge their phone, which is what people are doing today."
When she was asked by someone from the audience about how they decided on price, she said that narrowing down the "right price" was difficult, because it depends on their harvest and the timing of it. In other words, $50 is not a lot but they may not have the money to buy it until their harvest comes in. They are testing the pay per use model and when they have all the money, they can opt to buy their own.
Not a boat load of MIT graduates take off for Africa to start a company. Why Tanzania? She says she asked herself after graduation, “is it really going to make me happy working to make a larger corporation richer? What I love about working in Africa, you can see the impact of your engineering immediately – there’s an immediate satisfaction."
Having lived in Africa myself, I resonate with her sense of satisfaction and the immediate reward. I also remembered such a stronger sense of gratitude and appreciation than we have in the west.
On lessons learned? The best advice she received from one of her MIT mentors was “Just do it.” She also learned that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. She thought she’d be in Tanzania for two years and then move onto other countries, but she learned that two years wasn’t realistic at all. Jodie thought that they'd break even in two years, but they’ve been there for four years and she thinks she probably has another two years before she can move her projects into other African markets.
Other great advice she received along the way is one that everyone can learn from: “if any one task is taking more than 20% of your time, delegate and outsource it.” I laughed out loud when she talked about experiences hiring: “if I don’t love you during the interview process and want to go to lunch with you next week, then I won’t love working with you.” It's so true and yet sometimes we are blinded in the interviewing process because we think of skills more than we think of synergy, at least right away.
Jodie apparently pays all of her employees through her phone. She sees so many opportunities in that area and countries like Tanzania are miles ahead. “LEDs are becoming so efficient and that could change things dramatically for Tanzania and other parts of Africa. Remember that 90% of the population is off the grid,” says Jodie.
They’ve set up a group of village ambassadors who have become their evangelists. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of a virtual sales force but it’s organic...the way it should be.
Jodie is an inspiration and it's great to see her MIT education and knowledge pouring into an eastern African country that needs it so much.
August 03, 2012
Cory Doctorow on the Century of War Against Your Computer
Cory Doctorow spoke this week at the LONG NOW Foundation. The topic? A provocative one entitled: The coming century of war against your computer.
The war against computer freedom will just keep escalating, Doctorow contends. The copyright wars, net neutrality, and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) were early samples of what is to come. Victories in those battles were temporary.
Conflict in the decades ahead will feature ever higher stakes, more convoluted issues, and far more powerful technology. The debate is about how civilization decides to conduct itself and in whose interests.
Stewart Brand's fabulous summary of the event below where Doctorow kicked things off by framing the issue this way: “Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into---airplanes, cars---and something we put into our bodies---pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy.“
Sometimes humans are not so trustworthy, and programs may override you: “I can’t let you do that, Dave.” (Reference to the self-protective insane computer Hal in Kubrick’s film “2001.” That time the human was more trustworthy than the computer.) Who decides who can override whom?
The core issues for Doctorow come down to Human Rights versus Property Rights, Lockdown versus Certainty, and Owners versus mere Users.
Apple computers such as the iPhone are locked down---it lets you run only what Apple trusts. Android phones let you run only what you trust. Doctorow has changed his mind in favor of a foundational computer device call the “Trusted Platform Module” (TPM) which provides secure crypto, remote attestation, and sealed storage. He sees it as a crucial “nub of secure certainty” in your machine.
If it’s your machine, you rule it. It‘s a Human Right: your computer should not be overridable. And a Property Right: “you own what you buy, even if it what you do with it pisses off the vendor.” That’s clear when the Owner and the User are the same person. What about when they’re not?
There are systems where we really want the authorities to rule---airplanes, nuclear reactors, probably self-driving cars (“as a species we are terrible drivers.”) The firmware in those machines should be inviolable by users and outside attackers. But the power of Owners over Users can be deeply troubling, such as in matters of surveillance.
There are powers that want full data on what Users are up to---governments, companies, schools, parents. Behind your company computer is the IT department and the people they report to. They want to know all about your email and your web activities, and there is reason for that. But we need to contemplate the “total and terrifying power of Owners over Users.”
Recognizing that we are necessarily transitory Users of many systems, such as everything involving Cloud computing or storage, Doctorow favors keeping your own box with its own processors and storage. He strongly favors the democratization and wide distribution of expertise. As a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who co-sponsored the talk) he supports public defense of freedom in every sort of digital rights issue.
“The potential for abuse in the computer world is large,” Doctorow concluded. “It will keep getting larger.”
For more information on future LONG NOW Seminars in San Francisco, visit their site. They bring one amazing speaker after another to speak, so it's worth attending one if you haven't and live in California or don't live closeby but can plan a trip around one of their upcoming events.
Photo credit: Oreillynet.com.
July 30, 2012
Singularity University, Women@TheFrontier & 10 Incredible Women Design the Future
The program: "Designing the Future 2012", brought together some of today's female game-changers who are designing the future and disrupting the status quo.
Women@TheFrontier's Susan Fonseca and KristinaMaria T-Gutierrez introduced inspirational women who had one heart warming story after another to share.
NASA's Yvonne Cagle also paid a sentimental tribute to astronaut Sally Ride who passed away on July 23.
Ray Kurzweil kicked things off and also closed the event in a unique appearance with his daughter Amy Kurzweil who interviewed him in fireside chat style.
Ray's son was also in attendance with a beaming smile throughout the interview as he watched father and sister chat informally in front of a few hundred people on everything from inspiration and life lessons to technology, health and the future.
Below is Women@TheFrontier founder and CEO Susan Fonseca.
A poised and graceful Kay Koplovitz took the stage with confidence, something certainly not new to her as the first woman to head a television network; she founded USANetworks under the banner of Madison Square Garden Sports in the seventies.
She is also known for founding the Sci-Fi Channel which has become a top ten rated cable network and USANetworks, which runs in 60 countries worldwide.
President Clinton also appointed Kay to chair the bipartisan National Women’s Business Council. With a success record that keeps going, she is a great reminder that persistence and tenacity pays off.
She reminded the audience that 57% of women have masters degrees and 52% of women have doctorate degrees as she threw a quote from Coca Cola CEO onto the screen who said in 2010: "The drivers of the post American world won't be led by China but led by women."
She added a quote from Hilary Clinton who had encouraged companies and individuals to "unlock potential of women by investing in girls and women" at the Global Impact Economy Forum this year.
Lakshmi Pratury, who I first met in the early days of TED, then stepped onto the stage to share her magic as a natural storyteller, using humor, authenticity and life examples in her tales on India and inspiration.
Lakshmi is the Founder of INKTalks, the INK Conference and Ixoraa Media, whose mission is to strengthen the ties between United States and India through sponsored corporate, cultural, and media events.
She says of her time spent in America, "the one thing I learned from my time in America is how to tell a story." And let's be honest, all great stories ignite emotion through shared resonance and reflection, which is something Lakshmi does so well.
She says: "what we are is who we focus on feeding and the community we build around us - it's never about us individually." Hear Hear.
Lakshmi talked on the early days of India before the economy took off, which frankly is the only India I know. My first and only visit was in 1989 and rest assured, it is a very different country today.
Says Lakshmi of the perception of India, then and now, which is one of the things that led her to start the INK Conference: "the way people describe India from inside out has always been one dimensional, so I felt we needed to bring the depth and complexity of Indian culture to the world."
The notion of diving in even if you don't have the experience, is not only a great message to all girls and women, but to every and anyone who has an idea. "Every time I say I'm going to do something without really knowing how to do it, it just happens," she says. "You always have to remember that whatever you do or embrace, you don't have to do it alone."
Like me, she is a collector of people, and says that "collecting people IS HER passion." How wonderful is that? Connecting those human dots isn't a bad way to spend your life. Extraordinary things always happen as a result, like the work she is doing in India.
Wearing bright pink/red shoes and a necklace made from a 3D printer, she connected with the audience with her own great storytelling.
Ping describes herself as an artist and a scientist whose chosen expression is business. It's in her bio and it's something she says often in her presentations.
She co-founded Geomagic, a leading US software company which pioneers 3D technologies that fundamentally change the way products are designed and manufactured around the world...from repairing vintage cars at Jay Leno's garage to preserving US treasures and digitally recreating the Statue of Liberty.
Another woman who has faced challenges and adversity, she has shown that staying close to your passion and not giving up works if you believe in what you're doing. She is known for her work with geometry processing, and computer graphics as well as her time as a writer for The China Times.
Inspirational on and off the stage, she has spent many years lecturing on such subjects as feminism, cultural criticism, and was news commentary at National Taiwan University and Taipei National University of the Arts, also serving as ambassador at large for Taiwan for a few years.
While we're on the topic of inspiration and female role models, it doesn't get much better than Amy Purdy who lost both her legs to Neisseria meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis, at the age of 19.
As a double amputee, competitive snowboarder and spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, she talks to people around the globe about her experience and overcoming life obstacles in order to reach your life dreams and goals, regardless of what is thrown your way.
Amy has played a runway model in a music video for Madonna, taken on a role in an independent film and has modeled for a number of photography projects.
She says to the audience, "When you face adversity and rough patches of trying to fit in, ask yourself what defines normalcy, beauty and what defines you? Embracing your uniqueness whatever that is turns your life from ordinary to extraordinary." Hear hear Amy. You were truly an inspiration to watch and meet.
Hannah Chung is the co-founder and force behind Jerry the Bear, a stuffed bear that helps children learn how to manage their diabetes. Inspired to help children, she says she is never looking back and laughs as she shows us a photo of her in a stuffed bear costume.
"I'm happy to wear a bear costume for years to come if it means making an impact on kid's lives," she tells us.
When Jerry’s eyelids close, he is showing that he is low in energy, until he is fed certain foods or given a pretend insulin injection which then boost his glucose levels. The results are shown on a little screen that is implanted into Jerry's belly.
Hannah’s father and grandparents have Type II diabetes and after her grandfather passed away from hypoglycemia, she was inspired to make a difference by helping others manage diabetes as effectively as possible.
Kudos to the Singularity University and Women@TheFrontier teams for pulling off an incredibly inspirational and moving event with a group of remarkable, dynamic women.
I look forward to future events they plan to host in other cities around the U.S.
Below is the video of Amy and Ray Kurzweil in a fireside chat:
Photo credit of Laskshmi taken in Munich: Nadine Rupp/Getty Images Europe. Hannah: From the Mccormick.northwestern.edu site. Amy Purdy and Legs: AmberB Photography. All other photos: Renee Blodgett.
July 09, 2012
Is Social Media Turning You Into a Low Self Esteem Anxiety-Rich Freak?
Roughly half of the survey’s nearly 300 participants, reported that their use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and others reduces the quality of their lives.
Confidence is affected, they say, self esteem is lower they say and two-thirds claim they find it difficult to relax or sleep after spending time on social networks.
This isn't rocket science. Ask anyone you know who spends a lot of time in front of a screen, glued to online games, social networks, management platforms like Hootsuite or sites where they're engaging in any way.
Roughly a quarter cited work or relationship difficulties due to online confrontations and more than half of the participants say they feel “worried or uncomfortable” at times they are unable to access their Facebook or email accounts. I have seen anxiety arise around me when people can't access their worlds online, including something as small as a Foursquare check-in.
Spend more time in an always on digital world and of course you're anxiety will increase. This isn't rocket science. But people are so hooked into the notion that it connects us 'more' that they don't look for the obvious negative side effects.
Sure, I can meet new people across the globe if I am constantly glued to my Hootsuite stream, and given that I run a travel blog, there's a lot of pluses to that, but bottom line, it takes us away from real human connections - there's only so many hours in a day.
It doesn't help that tools like Klout, Kred, PeerIndex and others assign us grades on a daily basis that encourage high school "who's the popular kid of the day" behavior. Offline for a day or a week and your Klout score goes down.
The tools are so one dimensional and dare I say "unheathily addictive" that it keeps you drawn into a social media online game you can never win, particularly if you want to have healthy relationships offline. Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains doesn't lie. Not a new book, but the behavior shift is real whether or not you agree with everything in the book. Also see my post from last year on multiple digital personas.
I find it ironic that a post entitled: How Social Media Makes Romantic Relationship Thrive is immediately above a post entitled: Social Media Fuels Low Self Esteem & Anxiety on Mashable, where I originally learned about the study. Here's a link to a video reporting some of the results.
People I talk to seem to be fighting to get quality time with their other halves and the main culprit in the way? Mobile Devices and their PCs. Enuf said.
July 9, 2012 in America The Free, Europe, On Geo-Location, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, United Kingdom, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 23, 2012
American Academy of Environmental Medicine Warns People About Smart Meters
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has released its latest position paper on electromagnetic field (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) health effects calling for immediate caution regarding smart meter installations. Citing several peer-reviewed scientific studies, the AAEM concludes that “significant harmful biological effects occur from non-thermal RF exposure” showing causality.
As an article over at The Blaze says of smart meters impact: headaches, insomnia, tinnitus, DNA breakdown are all just a few of the myriad problems mentioned when people talk about the constant bombardment of EMFs or electromagnetic frequencies, a huge by-product of the new Smart Meters being installed by public utilities around the country.
“A more thorough review of technological options to achieve society’s worthwhile communications and business objectives must be conducted to protect human health and wellbeing” stated Dr. William J. Rea, a member of the AAEM and former thoracic surgeon. “By continuing to layer more and more wireless communication within our communities, we are setting the stage for widespread disease.”The AAEM also expresses concern regarding significant, but poorly understood quantum field health effects of EMF and RF. “More independent research is needed to assess the safety of ‘Smart Meter’ technology,” said Dr. Amy Dean, board certified internist and President-Elect of the AAEM. “Patients are reporting to physicians the development of symptoms and adverse health effects after smart meters are installed on their homes. Immediate action is necessary to protect the public’s health. Our research shows that chronic RF and EMF exposure can be very harmful.”
Dr. William J. Rea, past president of AAEM, and a long time researcher on the effects of EMFs on the human body, says “Technological advances must be assessed for harmful effects in order to protect society from the ravages of end-stage disease like cancer, heart disease, brain dysfunction, respiratory distress, and fibromyalgia. EMF and wireless technology are the latest innovations to challenge the physician whose goal is to help patients and prevent disease.”
The AAEM Calls For:
- Immediate caution regarding “Smart Meter” installation due to potentially harmful RF exposure
- Accommodation for health considerations regarding EMF and RF exposure, including exposure to wireless “Smart Meter” technology
- Independent studies to further understand health effects from EMF and RF exposure
- Use of safer technology, including for “Smart Meters”, such as hard-wiring, fiber optics or other non-harmful methods of data transmission
- Independent studies to further understand the health effects from EMF and RF exposures
- Recognition that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a growing problem worldwide
- Consideration and independent research regarding the quantum effects of EMF and RF on human health
- Understanding and control of this electrical environmental bombardment for the protection of society
Information on the effect of installing millions of Smart Meters, all equipped with wireless transmitters that are constantly filling the environment with EMFs, is just starting to trickle in. An electrical engineer named Rob States has been looking into this problem:
“Since individuals with no history of RF disease are experiencing symptoms the first day the meter is installed, we can assume the meter’s RF emissions are not the only problem. The RF network is activated months after initial meter installation. Extensive measurements have demonstrated that all of the meters measured so far, including ABB, GE, and Landis Gyr, emit noise on the customer’s electric wiring in the form of high frequency voltage spikes, typically with an amplitude of 2 volts, but a frequency any ware from 4,000 Hertz, up to 60,000 Hz. The actual frequency of the phenomena is influenced by the devices that are plugged into the customer’s power. Some houses are much worse than others, and this observation has been confirmed by PG&E installers that have talked to us.”
The AAEM’s position paper on electromagnetic and radiofrequency fields can be found here. AAEM is an international association of physicians and other professionals dedicated to addressing the clinical aspects of environmental health.
May 01, 2012
Remembering the Strong Female Forces In Our Lives
This week, I couldn't stop thinking about them. Among "them" was not THE woman in my life who guided me, took care of me, shaped me. That was my grandmother and like most grandmothers of women in their forties, they're no longer a phone call away.
The benefits of being raised by your grandmother is that you are surrounded by older, wiser women at a much earlier age, all of which have stories, many of which remind you not to take the world....and everyone in it so seriously.
In my grandmother's circle was an incedible group of women who got together for lunches, martinis, and shopping, even in the 1930s and 40s when they were all healthy, raising children and had husbands that they 'navigated.' (see My Mother's Kitchen -- 2004 blogging days) and a dedication to mothers).
All of them strong, yet sweet...the kind of women who didn't tolerate weak character or housewives without some other mission or job. It wasn't the south, yet a couple of them have moved north for some reason or another. Most of us were "baked" in a small town in upstate New York and with that came things like country fairs, football games, horse farms, 4H, piano lessons, and more sewing and craft afficiandos than wine snobs.
Learning the basics of being a 'woman' of that time was part of living in a small town...you know, the traditional stuff: sewing a button, baking a cake, rolling pie dough the 'right' way, dance lessons, serving tea. Yet, they absolutely tolerated if not encouraged sports for women. While I regularly played many a' sport in school, none of these stronger older women who influenced me in my life played a thing.
In their walled garden, which I used to eavesdrop on from time-to-time, they often talked about navigating their family unit. Many women relied on my grandmother's advice (today, they'd call her a 'coach'), to help them negotiate things at home, whether it was getting their husband to purchase something to make their lives easier, or being able to work and play more while raising a family of 5, and so on. She was also the master peacemaker and networker.
The constant, common thread woven into all of their personalities was spunk and perserverance. I think about them often now more than ever, three gone, four still living. I dreampt about one of them a couple of nights in a row recently and woke up with my heart racing. "How old is she now?" I thought. "Could my dream be a sign that she's sick and in her last days" I thought. "Is she already gone and she visited me at night to say goodbye?" I thought.
The number I had for Bernie was disconnected which is never a good sign. She was with my aunt and uncle in the driveway waiting for me the day my grandmother died. I was too naive to believe my grandmother would actually die despite a long battle with cancer -- remember no one talked about stressful situations then...they just smoked and drank more martinis. They didn't tell me the news in the driveway that day nor did they go with me to the hospital. I drove alone and heard the news alone from some fatigued nurse who didn't know who I was and released the information about my grandmother's passing in a not so gentle manner. I was 16. I had no reaction until I belted in the elevator moments later but without shedding a tear - where was everyone I thought?
Among the faces that came in and out of my mind were all the strong women in my grandmother's life...my life. I imagined their pain learning the news I had just been given, knowing that not all of them had known yet.
My grandfather wasn't in the driveway that day but Bernie had been. Perhaps she wasn't 'authorized' to tell me? I'm highly intuitive and yet something blocked me from connecting the dots after seeing Bernie's red blotchy eyes on that very sad and long summer afternoon when I was "sweet" 16.
I learned a lot about Bernie and these strong female forces in my life, almost all intuitively. When we visited her house, I had to pass time while the 'grown ups' played their cards and drank martinis. It was the 70s - there were no cell phones, online games on TV or computers.
And, no one had a parenting rulebook that said your kids had to be in bed by 8 every night. It was a time loaded with boundaries, an era when adults dicated the agenda, not children.
I used to crawl on my hands and knees through their attic, unpacking boxes and snooping inside. I'd roam through the closets, dressing myself up in her hats and oversized jackets. Downstairs, I'd hear her strong laughter dominating the table and that beautiful and feminine way she egged the men on exuding her confidence and wit. A gift. I even knew it then but didn't have a label for it. My grandmother had it too.
Audrey was a little more refined in public yet exuded the same strength and gift. She's 95 now and lives in Florida, alone. I managed to get her on the phone for a long chat a few years ago. I feared she'd barely be able to hear me or keep up with my pace, but the first thing she did was drill me, like I was still 18. I smiled as I listened to her first question, which may have come before hello: "are you still playing the piano? I hope you're still playing the piano" suggesting that my grandmother would be shedding more than a tear had I not let her gift and now my gift, pour out into other people's silence.
Truth be told, I had stopped playing but a piano remains in the house and I told her, I can't imagine any house without a piano and will always feel that way. She tells me she's trying to order music online now (online in her nineties -- really?) but some of the music she's looking for is hard to find. I imagined Colony Music in mid-town would have it I told her, a place I visit every time I'm in New York just because.
Then we got onto men. She's dating a younger man (mid-eighties) but his eyesight is failing so she often has to drive on longer hauls (1-2 hours). Without complaining, it was clear she did most of the work and I kept wondering, is there ever a time when strong women like us ever get 'taken care of?" Before we hit the grave? She told me that her biggest beef was that he was a fan of George Bush and she couldn't really get him to change his mind. "These are the compromises you make for companionship," she said.
I was reminded to listen to my inner voice...the wonderful intuition that women have, rely on and use regularly for all sorts of things, yet it's a skill and gift that doesn't list well on paper or in the boardroom.
When I was 18, I lived out of my car for awhile, not far from where Audrey and her husband lived in Florida at the time. A workaholic from the beginning of 'life' itself, I had three jobs, two boyfriends and was eager to save as much as I could for travel. Frankly, rent just seemed like a waste of money when I was working 6.5 days anyway. Somehow my highly intuitive grandfather discovered this through his Sherlock-skills over 1,500 miles away and sent Audrey to deal with me. What was and is remarkable for a woman born at the turn of the century is how much she understood my need to do precisely what I was doing.
They had traveled in academic circles, lived in Paris for awhile and let's be clear, did not and would not ever have slept in her car or on a park bench in her life. Yet, it was okay that I did, for then. She believed in the process of life and that everyone's process is different. Her handwritten letters which I receive every year and have since I was ten demonstrate her perserverance, her tolerance and her inner strength - letter after letter, word after word, you could sense her gratitude and faith in the world, and her positive role in it.
Marcie was a long time neighbor who grew up in the south on a farm. She was #8 in a line of 11, her youngest sister from Pittsburg being the only other sibling alive. She has also lost two children of her own and her inlaws husbands and wives are all gone from cancer and heart disease.
When I couldn't reach Bernie, and countless Google searches didn't pull up a thing, I called Marcie considering it a universal sign and nod that it's time to reach out to these strong female forces in my life. It's these quiet nods that we have to not just listen to, but act on, for it is action on these nods (messages if you like, from our inner voice aka the universe), that allow US to DESIGN our lives, not let someone else design them for us. From this place, we proactively live life, not react to it. We become the creator, not the victim. The designer, not the canvas.
Alongside my grandfather, she taught me to drive. Through the neighborhoods we went in a beat up old Chevrolet. She asked, "I was trying to recall how long ago that was again?" Its amusing how much easier it is to come up with a precise number to that question to someone in their mid-eighties than it is to the hot 30 year old man you just met from Argentina.
Three things were on her mind: how much harder it was to do physical things, the climate, remarking how much warmer it was this winter and how odd the weather has been in recent years, and the economy.
I on my iPhone and she on the same square black GT phone she has had in her kitchen since 1966, we talked about my life in the "bubble", the Silicon Valley eco-system that doesn't seem to subscribe to recessionary issues that affect the rest of the country. That said, it is increasingly becoming harder for people around me to keep up with the accidental millionaires and billionaires who are sprouting up overnight as a result of some freak paranoia acquisition play by an industry giant.
This led us to gratitude and reality checks. She told me about a time in the early forties when she put an apple on her father's tab in the country grocer on her way home from school one day and her reaction to the scolding she received when it was "discovered." Given that she has the same strong, resilient streak that all the women in my grandmother's circle had, she decided to take charge of her own decisions and got a job in an ice cream shop. It was 1944 she recalls and she made just under $3 for two days of work.
It's hard to imagine numbers like this today, yet despite what salaries have become, the majority of Americans can't pay their bills on time or if you happen to live in a major metropolitan area, afford the $1M+ that it cost to purchase a home today. And so, people don't or they go bankrupt.
It seems as if everything is inflated around me...last time I walked down Fillmore Street, I don't remember seeing so many unremarkable $500 tops and $800 bags. Shopping culture and consumerism despite the economic situation remains high (read my blog post on Qatar's over-the-top growth) and yet, the happiest people I know have less. Only two days ago, I came across a photo with a quote from Justin Wolfers at the Aspen Ideas event saying "Richer countries are overwhelmingly happier than poorer countries." From a viewpoint that poorer countries are full of people with sicker family members and less ability to save them, I agree.
In my experience traveling to 80 countries and living in nearly a dozen, it feels like the people I've met who have had less and live simpler lives with less stuff, are richer in spirit, and are focused on doing rather than earning, less weighted down by money.
So, I'm not sure if I agree with you Justin, but I do agree that communities where economic and social balance becomes far out of whack, depression and a feeling that the world doesn't make sense can certainly be higher.
People from the old world, Marcie, Audrey, Bernie and my grandparents among them, understood contrasts, balance and gratitude and had so much more resilience, kindness and empathy than what I encounter on a regular basis. It's not that the world has become a harsher place, it's that we may all too busy responding and reacting to things being thrown our way (on and offline), that we may have forgotten to tap into what and who we know best - ourselves.
Returning to and relying on ourselves and trusting our own intution for guidance and our life path may be the best gift we can give ourselves. Refer to my review on Rescue America: the urgent calling to return to what made America great.
How well I know these women or knew my grandmother is not as relevant as the impact they had on me, and the inner strength they have provided and still do, even those who are no longer walking on this physical land.
It's always about our journeys and the joy and yes, even sorrow, we leave behind along the way. Within that joy and sorrow are lessons learned and gifts we share and receive, strength, courage and empathy passed on from our tribes, in my case, a tribe of strong fabulous women I think about often. And, when their smiling faces and emphathetic hearts come into clear view, there's sunshine in the house and my day somehow gets breezier and lighter as I think about them weaving in and out of my life. Never gone, just displaced and forever cherished.
A few blog posts on happiness worth referencing:
- What Motivates People Across Cultures
- We're Happier When We Share
- Bhutan's Gross Happiness Experiment
- On Laughing More
- Money Doesn't Bring You Happiness
- On Death (but one that will bring you comfort)
- Tony Hsieh on Happiness & Profits
- First Image (women/wind): 3D Art
- Path: Wharton Executive Management Site
- Bird with wings: Society 6
April 29, 2012
TEDxSummit in Qatar's Doha Brings Together Nearly 100 Cultures to Accelerate Change & Meaning
I recently came back from Doha Qatar, where I attended a week-long event exclusively for TEDx organizers.
The first TEDxSummit was hosted by the Doha Film Institute at the Katara Cultural Center aka the Katara Valley of Cultures. The "village" is a bit like a sprawling outdoor convention center that houses an ampitheatre, tents and domes where you can see live concerts and events.
Katara was born out of a long held vision to position the State of Qatar as a cultural lighthouse of art if you will, highlighting the best of theatre, literature, music and visual art in the Middle East. It sits along the water, so you can watch boats sail by and a sunrise in the early evening off in the distance while you take in your event, whether it be performing arts or meetings, or in our case, a mishmash of both.
Before arriving, I wasn't sure what to expect, from the kinds of content they'd choose to why Qatar and what is Qatar? Refer to my numerous posts on Qatar including a write-up on the Arab Museum of Modern Art, images of the impressive Museum of Islamic Art, a display of work from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang and the over-the-top Murakami Ego exhibit.
What is Qatar is probably the most mind blowing takeaway from the event as you'll see from my write-ups. At first, it didn't make sense why we were having an event in such a remote place, a country barely known to so many and yet, after returning from the Summit, the location makes perfect sense.
Given that the Summit attracted TEDsters from nearly a hundred countries around the world, it is in fact a fairly central location, though obviously a longer haul for those of us on the American west coast. And, given the diversity of the attendees, Qatar, which rather than having hundreds of years of history and cultural references, really only started to make its marks a few decades ago.
In other words, its a country in search of an identity as demonstrated by the volume of new immigrants pouring in to tap into Qatar's exploding economic growth...less a land of local Qataris and more a land of transplants from Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the list goes on.
And, let's not forget other stats: 75% of those living in Doha and surrounding area are expats/foreign nationals. Doha is preparing for its growing global interest; the city is about as modern as it gets with highrises going up faster than Las Vegas hotels in its prime.
The other reason Qatar makes sense as a location, is that so few of us in the west know "enough" about the Middle East, particularly the complexities of Islam and the culture that goes along with it. Understanding Qatar helps you understand the rest of the region.
Through greater understanding comes compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a willingness to not just expand your horizons and knowledge base, but reach out and help in whatever way makes sense. This, by the way, is integral to what TED at its core is about.
And so, we all embarked on soil that is new, yet old, to discuss ways we can help each other, sharing best practices, what works and what doesn't.
Some of the sessions included: How to Write About Your Speakers, Sponsorships, Keeping Your Event Sustainable, Social Media Strategies, Building Salons, Blogging, Making Change with Corporate Events, Capturing Great Photo Content, Planning, Stage & Production Tips, Branding, Livestreaming, Working with Tight Budgets and more.
Clearly it made sense for teams from specific regions to pow-wow with each other. Wwe had breakout sessions in large tents in the middle of the desert broken out by parts of the world, i.e., Eastern Europe, Australia, Central America and in the states, it was broken down even further (northern California, Midwest and so on).
Below are ketchnotes of one of the TEDxSummit sessions from C. Todd Lombardo, organizer of TEDxSomerville in the greater Boston area.
While meeting by region helps each group share resources, and even space for meetings, its amazing how much you can learn from organizers in parts of the world that have nothing in common with your own. This is separate of course from what you learned from locals who happened to be hanging out or 'working the event' -- in the middle of the desert.
For example, storytelling on stage is very different at a small event in West Africa, yet what is so natural in a village is often missing from a large TEDx stage that may resort to Powerpoint and a speaker's 20 years of experience and knowledge. The opposite applies too of course; there are clearly things from larger events that small towns can use to expand their presence and brand awareness. In other words: borrow from the formal for the informal and take the informal into the formal and make magic happen by blending the best of both together.
The other surprise for me was the whole concept of "you don't know what you don't know and you don't know who you don't know." I didn't even know all the organizers in my own region (greater Bay Area), nor did I know the depth of where TEDx events had spread.
For example, while the events are largely by geography, there are a few that are connected to brands/companies, universities and other institutions. Did you know that there's a TEDxHouses of Parliament? This isn't just fascinating data - this is revolutionary. Consider the kinds of conversations they have already had and will evolve as a result of this kind of "new" organization and collaboration.
Bringing everyone together to share, collaborate and execute on ideas around the world is brilliant. Let's not forget the 'healing' and compassion that comes as a result of greater understanding, which inevitably comes from bringing such a global audience together in one place.
Well done and hats off to Bruno Giussani, Chris Anderson, Lara Stein, and the NY & Doha teams for turning another great idea into a reality.
Some of the Speaker and Presentation Highlights include:
- 'The Human Arabesque' opening night video sourced inspiration from Doha's Museum of Islamic Art. The team researched traditional arabesque patterns in a quest to incorporate regional culture to create a moving, human sculpture representing the transformative power of x.
- Futurist Juan Enriquez has always been a long time favorite of mine. He contends that science and technology are leading us rapidly towards the next "human species." See excelvm.com.
- Vinay Venkatraman, who is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has developed an alternative vision to creating a more inclusive world through a design concept he refers to as 'Frugal Digital.'
- TED Senior Fellow Cesar Harada demonstrated a bold new design for a sailing craft with a flexible rudder -- on both ends. Called 'Protei,' the robot is designed to sense and clean up oceans.
- I loved Shereen El Fedi's talk on how bad laws fuel and good laws fight HIV. Chart after chart, example after example, she demonstrated her point. Check out their work at HIV Law Commission.
- Amit Sood wowed the crowd with an incredibly impressive demo of the Google Art Project. They have collected and curated the world's greatest art, from museums and beyond, onto the web, making it as easy to access your favorite piece of work or view art you've never heard of or are likely never to see in person. You can even search by sub-category, by typing in for example, red and Picasso for everything that Picasso did in red. There are other filters as well that could keep you glued to this site for hours if not days.
- Rives, who many of us know as a renowned poet, has given awe-inspiring performances on the TED stage before. In Doha, he took us a journey of factoids using his poetic tongue. Bouncing from site to site, we learned about some of the most trivial and not so trivial knowledge on the web, ranging from culture and politics to insects and sex.
- With passion and energy, Indian artist Raghava KK argued why everyone should have a 200-year plan.
- Rare book scholar William Noel fascinated the audience with his research. Using a particle accelerator to read ancient works, he took us on a journey from start to finish. He's a huge believer in open-source and open-data and he and his team are making their work open to others (aka the web of ancient manuscripts).
- Comedian Maz Jobrani intertwined humor with local culture and events. You have depth as a comedian when you can stand on a stage in Qatar and have Americans, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Qataris, Scandinavians, Japanese and Aussies all laughing at the same time. He's known for his work on the 'Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,' which traveled around the world, including the Middle East.
- National Food Security Programme chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya educated me most about where Qatar was a hundred years ago versus where it is today and where's its heading. They're working on a Master Plan, using Qatar, which only has two days of water supply, as a model for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture in arid regions.
- Yahay Alabdeli who curates TEDxBaghdad created a lot of teary eyed attendees with his story about how he traveled back to Iraq after 34 years to create an event that pulled not just locals but others who had left Iraq but returned specifically for his event. As you can imagine, it was much more than a reunion. He went through a number of obstacles to make it happen, so it seems perfect that his event theme was: "Making the Impossible Possible."
- One of my old time favorites Hans Rosling returned to the TED stage, bringing humor to sex, religion and data once again. What was even more fascinating was having his global trends in health and economics from every country in the world presented in a place where we had representation by nearly every region in the world. All of his talks exude one of his sweetest talents - his dry humor and quirkiness. Beyond the quirkiness he shows in his professional life, which adds to the power of his talks, let's not forget that the man swallows swords for kicks in his spare time. What's not to adore about Hans? (see a video interview with Hans at the Summit here - he uses legos, rocks and humor that reveals deep insight in typical Hans-style).
Because the event was an International Summit where best practices and learning beyond "talks" were a big part of the agenda, the highlights that will inevitably be glued to people's minds and hearts include the experiencial activities.
Below is a brainstorming session in a tent set up in the desert dunes, roughly an hour and a half south of Doha.
There was dune bashing, also in the south of the country.
And, kayacking among mangroves in the north, after which we were guests in the home of a local man, who fed us well and shared some of his photos and life experiences:
A visit to the Al-Zubara Fort:
A boat tour along the water:
The incredibly breathtaking Islam Museum of Art:
Education City has representation from some of the top schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, and others, with a goal to grow Qatar's knowledge base, making it an attractive place to visit and work in the future.
Below, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Weill Cornell.
Below is a shot taken at one of the cafes in the Souq Waqif one night (we ended up in the Souq several evenings). Despite the fact that the Souq doesn't serve alcohol, it was a great place to hang out, socialize, shop, drink coffee and eat fabulous local food.
Desert Day in the South. Of course, it wouldn't be desert day without an opportunity to catch a ride on a camel:
A casual shot of TEDx organizers in the desert...
Then there was the late afternoon drumming session, which frankly, I can never get 'enough of...'.
A music jam session in one of the main tents - small but intimate and full of great TEDx talent:
18-year old Jordanian pianist Sima Sirriyeh, who composes her own pieces played for us on the main stage.
Opening night, they danced and sang. And then, danced and sang some more.
We took in the best of the local culture and greater Doha through visits to Souq Faqif, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Cai Guo Qiang and Murakami Ego exhibitions. Also check out Doha's Centre for Media Freedom.Late nights were spent in the hotel bars where we stayed: The W and Kempinski Hotels.
- Katara Village, Fort, Boat, Landscape City Shots, Brainstorm session, Hands, Anderson, Dunes, TedxStage Shot1: Javier Junes
- Yahay Alabdeli, Cesar Harada, Inside Museum of Islamic Art: Duncan Davidson
- Group shot in dunes: taken on my camera by a TEDx-er
- North site visit for lunch, middle of desert scene, Hans sword shot from a previous event, casual desert day shot, camel close up, Souq, Maz Jobrani, opening night, drumming circle, jam session in tent after hours, Sima Sirriyeh: Renee Blodgett
- Education City Weill Cornell University shot - website.
April 29, 2012 in Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Events, On Africa, On Education, On Health, On India, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Travel, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack