Some crazy realistic 3D face modeling.

October 6th, 2014

Six Cs

This week I launched a new personal website, refreshing the design, updating what I’ve done and announcing a new service offer. You can read more about it there but there’s also a bit of thinking to explain the topics I work with and around and I thought I’d re-post it here with some notes.

Through the two issues of The Alpine Review we’ve put everything we’ve been reading and thinking about so it’s natural that in now offering a form of “trends report” (although I hate the use of “trends”) service and consultancy alongside it I would thread much of the same paths. However, where “a compendium of ideas for a world in transition” might be a very good teaser to draw people to a magazine, it’s a bit short when offering monthly or quarterly briefings to organizations. I include a sample list of topics on my services page but I wanted to say more around that so I started thinking on and mapping what I’m most interested in, which also represents very well what appears most in those briefings.

In the end, some might see those themes as a somewhat comprehensive overview of the world today but that’s not the aim. Rather, those are the six themes I center my reading and research upon in exploring, and explaining, what’s happening in our world. I also group them under the overall idea of “Transitional Edges & The Network.” Here’s the re-post:

Transitional Edges & The Network

Societies, cultures, cities and industries are going through a variety of transitions. Moving in new directions, accelerating, slowing down, stretching, pulling, being invented, dying. Much of that has been said before and is now apparent to all. However, those movements are ongoing, some still accelerating, there is still so much to be understood, to be mapped out.

I find that the best places to look to when trying to understand where things are going are the boundaries, where edges meet, where things are made and mixed. I’ve taken to calling those places “transitional edges.”

It’s clear that the Internet, “The Network,” is now present in all areas of our lives and growing in importance. Yet, in many ways, it’s still only the beginning, still very early days. The Network—and more broadly computation—enables connexions across the globe, organization, collaboration, but also unprecedented level of surveillance and concentration of wealth and power, unbridled “disruption” of laws and industries. Its impact, potential, reach and future are still being determined, sometimes even fought over.


Starting from these somewhat broad ideas of transitional edges and the networked—or hyperconnected-age, I’ve identified some more specific areas of investigation and interest which I refer to as the “Six Cs”.

Computation. Algorithms, Automation & Robotics.

Calculations and actions by computers are managing, controlling, accelerating, optimizing and obfuscating a fast rising slice of our daily lives. What’s next? How does it impact our future? How do we become more literate and better informed about this major force in our societies?

Connexion. Of people & things.

“Everyone” is connected, becoming a node in the network, a participant, a destination, a link. Now millions of “things” are joining us online while we still don’t completely understand how our hyperconnectedness impacts us. How do we make better sense of that and figure out how billions of people and billions of things interact and cohabitate?

Cities & Infrastructures.

We are now more urban than {agrarian}, we live in growing cities built with and on gigantic, often hidden, infrastructures. We need to live together, move, build, grow, accept and include everyone within our cities. How do we do so while looking at and preparing for the future?

Collaboration & Creation, Adhocracy.

We can now connect and collaborate from anywhere. We do so in groups, projects and communities, many of which are self-organized, open, innovative and horizontal. We create new tools and new ways of making. How can these ideas and ideals reach more people and help us meet all the challenges ahead?

Climate change & Milieu.

Humanity is now affecting the climate, polluting and decimating ecosystems, extinguishing species by the thousands. How do we change? Where do er find the promising inventions, adaptations and actions?


Interesting in itself but also a consequence of the themes above. The network, cities, cultures, societies, and climate are all large systems, as they grow and interact more closely we go beyond the complicated and deal with complexity. How do we grasp complexity and act accordingly?

October 2nd, 2014

Donkey Drones

A fascinating and inspiring vision for widespread use of drones in Africa.

For many people, drone is an ugly word. It evokes a whining sound, something insectile. The dislike of the drones themselves is understandable. It is a new technology, used mainly for killing or peeping. However, this early negative feeling will begin to shift with positive use cases for drones. Before 2020, drones will take over search functions at sea. Never again will a coastguard helicopter go blindly into the night in search of a sinking ship. Instead, it will be guided by a drone sent ahead of them to locate those in peril. Drones will monitor the wellbeing of crops and animals. They will be used in mapping, counting, policing, and sports. And they will also lift things.

Donkeys will fly roughly at that Eiffel height, in what I call the lower sky. The routes will be geofenced: donkeys will only be able to fly in an air corridor about 200 metres wide and 150 metres high. Busier routes will resemble a high-speed ski gondola, without cables or supporting structures.

Every small town will have its own clean energy donkey station like the one below. The traffic to and from it will mostly be on foot and bikes. The stations will serve as the petrol station of the near future. They will incorporate postal and courier services.

The next decade will be among the most decisive in Africa’s recorded history. Fertility rates in the largest African countries are not falling as fast as had been predicted. At the present rate Africa’s population will be 2.7 billion by 2050, against 228 million in 1950. To have a chance of prosperity, African economies need to quickly turn growth into manufacturing jobs. The problem is that they are growing, but not transforming. Growth rates are much too low. In key economies like Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal manufacturing is dominated by small, informal firms. The poorest countries seem to be de-industrialising. New factories, such as in Ethiopia, will not offset the dumping of cheap finished goods from Asia on African markets.

I have identified 80 kilometre routes in Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda. Other prospective countries for early routes are Angola, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. Routes can be tacked together to extend range. By way of example, it is possible in Rwanda to set up a donkey route from the town of Gitarama over the Nyungwe forest to Lake Kivu and down to the Congolese city of Bukavu. A country as compact and hilly as Rwanda can quickly draw routes across its lower sky and intersect them to most improve health and economic outcomes. My future Africa initiative at EPFL will get the first route up and running. An associated fund based in Africa and Switzerland will push for world-class research on the robotics, engineering, logistics, and law related to donkeys. It will also push for the establishment of an international agency for the lower sky, which will set global norms for the use of donkeys and other civilian drones.

September 30th, 2014

Hemp Based Graphene Alternative

Researchers “cook” hemp bark using their hydrothermal synthesis process, creating a material which can be used to make supercapacitors, one of the promising uses of graphene. Their material however can be produced for a fraction of the cost.

Dr Mitlin’s team took these fibres and recycled them into supercapacitors – energy storage devices which are transforming the way electronics are powered. Conventional batteries store large reservoirs of energy and drip-feed it slowly, whereas supercapacitors can rapidly discharge their entire load.. They are ideal in machines that rely on sharp bursts of power. In electric cars, for example, supercapacitors are used for regenerative braking.. Releasing this torrent requires electrodes with high surface area – one of graphene’s many phenomenal properties.
August 13th, 2014


The Navdy is a HUD (Heads Up Display) for your car and links to your smart phone. Looks like it’s some pretty great technology and it’s an excellent idea for navigation and probably for taking calls. But tweeting?? Texting? Getting notifications? All while driving? That’s idiotic and irresponsible, much less so than doing the same thing right on the phone but still dumb. You are driving a few tons of steel, at speed, in between other tons of steel and often between fragile little piles of flesh, can you just drive please?

August 13th, 2014

The Other Rosetta

It sometimes feels like we are standing still in our “space age” progress but then you SpaceX / Elon Musk news and you feel we’re finally moving again. Sometimes you even get progress from other sources, like the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft rendezvousing with a comet for the first time.

The Rosetta mission will be the first to give scientists close-up measurements of a comet as it transforms from a cold and inactive state to an active body that sheds hundreds of kilos of dust and gas as it swings around the sun. The comet is in a 6.5-year elliptical orbit that comes within the orbits of Mars and Earth and back out to beyond the gas giant Jupiter. “After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4bn kilometres, we are delighted to announce finally, we are here,” said ESA’s director general, Jean-Jacques Dordain. “Europe’s Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins. Discoveries can start.”
August 11th, 2014


As I start blogging again (!), one of the things I’ll be mentioning regularly are algorithms. Computation is one of the driving force of many changes in society today but the word itself, the creation of, the uses and impacts of algorithms are often hard to grasp. Here’s a “mundane” usage yet extraordinary technically example, researchers at Microsoft have created software which takes first-person video and speeds it up—common enough—but also smooths out the result dramatically.

August 11th, 2014

“Impossible” Space Drive

NASA have released a report laying out some research results around an “impossible” microwave thrusters, which might confirm. a major breakthrough in space propulsion. Wired also has a follow up, 10 questions about Nasa’s ‘impossible’ space drive answered.

This compares with Nasa’s plans using conventional technology which takes six months just to get there, and requires several hundred tons to be put into Earth’s orbit to start with. You also have to stay there for at least 18 months while you wait for the planets to align again for the journey back. The new drive provides enough thrust to overcome the gravitational attraction of the Sun at these distances, which makes manoeuvring much easier. A less conservative projection has an advanced drive developing ten times as much thrust for the same power — this cuts the transit time to Mars to 28 days, and can generally fly around the solar system at will, a true Nasa dream machine.
August 8th, 2014