Connect with us

Tech

The Green Future Index

Published

on

Quote icon


Highlights

Efforts to combat climate change have been taking shape for more than a decade, but until now many have largely generated “empty words, loopholes, and greenwash,” in the sharp words of climate activist Greta Thunberg. However, 2020 has finally created the momentum and convergence of political, private sector, and social will for a decisive new agenda for tackling arguably humanity’s greatest threat.

One trigger for the new momentum is the tragedy of mounting and endless record-breaking natural disasters caused by global heating. The combined acreage destroyed by wildfires in California, Australia, and the Amazon in this past year alone was the largest ever witnessed, consuming a land area greater than Belarus.

$148.5b

California’s 2018 wildfires cost the US economy $148.5 billion, or 0.7% of the country’s annual GDP, estimate leading academics at universities including University College of London.

Another is the covid-19 pandemic; in stimulating a global economic recovery, governments and businesses have the choice to either “build back better” by channelling innovation and investment toward clean energy, industry, transportation, and food, or to plump for short-term gains and shore up the polluting industries of the past.

“There are only three things that reduce emissions: efficiency and conservation, carbon capture and storage, and shutting things down.”

Julio Friedmann

Julio Friedmann

Senior research scholar
Center on Global Energy Policy
Columbia University

Against this backdrop, MIT Technology Review Insights has developed the Green Future Index, a ranking of 76 leading nations and territories based on their progress and commitment toward building a low carbon future. The 76 economies are ranked within five pillars that combine to form the index. These pillars are Carbon emissions, Energy transition, Green society, Clean innovation, and Climate policy.

Green leaders: The top 20 economies

European countries dominate the top of the Green Future Index, with 15 European nations in the top 20. Many European countries have already made some progress with curbing emissions, transitioning their energy production to renewable sources, and investing in green mobility. The coordinated efforts of EU member states to commit more than €200 billion in bold green economy investments, as part of the European Commission’s sweeping post-covid Recovery and Resilience Facility, will give European nations an additional boost in years ahead.

Quote icon

“When we lose that biodiversity, we lose everything – opportunities for new economic growth and social inclusion – not just the ability to take carbon out of the air.”

Bill Magnusson

Bill Magnusson

Senior researcher in biodiversity
National Institute of Amazonian Research

The uneven progress of many of the world’s largest economies is reflected in the index. The United States sits in 40th place, in part hobbled by a number of years of climate policy misdirection, and China, in 45th place, still has a long way to go in terms of energy transition despite accounting for nearly half of the world’s net additions of renewable energy through wind and solar last year. Between these two economies, however, billions of dollars were spent on innovation in green technology and transitional processes—meaning both should be able to make progress in the rankings in years to come if they are truly committed to their stated (or, in the case of the United States, reclaimed) carbon neutrality objectives.

Ranking of the G20 economies

Note: This list excludes the European Union

Quote icon

“While there is growing global and local civil society pressure for Latin America to pursue decarbonization pathways, several governments are betting on fossil fuel extraction as exports to shore up their balance sheets—not only for the short term, but also to bank them so they can weather future crises.”

Isabel Cavelier Adarve

Isabel Cavelier Adarve

Co-founder and director of vision
Transforma

The bottom 15 countries in the index we call “Climate abstainers”, largely due to their inability to create and hold to firm energy transition and policy implementation goals, often against a backdrop of fossil fuel dependency. These include Japan which, despite recently renewed commitments, is ranked 60th—the country is still weighed down by legacy industries and the shadow of Fukushima. Inability to move policy and industrial frameworks beyond existing carbon-intensive economies drag down the scores of our lowest-ranking economies: Russia, Iran, Paraguay, and Qatar.

Tech

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

Published

on

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence


As we inched nearer, I worried about infringing upon the other participants’ personal space. Then I remembered that oceans and thousands of miles separated me from them—and wasn’t ditching the notion of personal space the whole point? So I tried to settle into the intimacy.

“What happens in VR is that sense of completely forgetting about the existence of the external world,” says Agnieszka Sekula, a PhD candidate at the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology in Australia and a cofounder of a company that uses VR to enhance psychedelic therapy. “So there is definitely similarity there to this sense of experiencing an alternate reality under psychedelics that feels more real than what’s actually out there.” 

But, she adds, “there’s definitely differences between what a psychedelic experience feels like and what virtual reality feels like.” Because of this, she appreciates that Isness-D charts a new path to transcendence instead of just mimicking one that existed already.

More research is needed on the enduring effects of an Isness-D experience and whether virtual reality, in general, can induce benefits similar to psychedelics. The dominant theory on how psychedelics improve clinical outcomes (a debate far from settled) is that their effect is driven by both the subjective experience of a trip and the drug’s neurochemical effect on the brain. Since VR only mirrors the subjective experience, its clinical benefit, which has yet to be rigorously tested, may not be as strong.

We moved closer still, until we met in the center of the circle—four clumps of smoke billowing together.

Jacob Aday, a psychiatry researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, says he wishes the study had measured participants’ mental wellness. He thinks VR likely can downregulate the default mode network—a brain network that’s active when our thoughts aren’t directed at a specific task, and which psychedelics can suppress (scientists theorize that this is what causes ego death). People shown awe-inspiring videos have diminished activity in this network. VR is better at inducing awe than regular video, so Isness-D might similarly dial it down.

Already, a startup called aNUma that spun out of Glowacki’s lab allows anyone with a VR headset to sign up for Isness sessions weekly. The startup sells a shortened version of Isness-D to companies for virtual wellness retreats, and provides a similar experience called Ripple to help patients, their families, and their caregivers cope with terminal illness. A coauthor of the paper describing Isness-D is even piloting it in couples and family therapy.

“What we’ve found is that representing people as pure luminosity really releases them from a lot of judgments and projections,” Glowacki says. That includes negative thoughts about their body and prejudices. He has personally facilitated aNUma sessions for cancer patients and their loved ones. One, a woman with pancreatic cancer, died days later. The last time she and her friends gathered was as mingling balls of light.

For one phase of my Isness-D experience, moving created a brief electric trail that marked where I’d just been. After a few moments of this, the narration prodded: “What does it feel like to see the past?” I started to think of people from my past who I missed or had hurt. In sloppy cursive, I used my finger to write their names in the air. Just as quickly as I scribbled them, I watched them vanish.

Continue Reading

Tech

Corruption is sending shock waves through China’s chipmaking industry

Published

on

Corruption is sending shock waves through China’s chipmaking industry


It remains unclear whether the failure of Unigroup directly triggered the anticorruption earthquake within Big Fund. However, the strategy that the latter has taken—throwing massive investments against the wall and seeing what sticks—can fail miserably. According to longtime observers, that strategy is also the perfect breeding ground for corruption.

“This is the least surprising corruption investigation I’ve heard of for a while,” says Matt Sheehan, a fellow at the US think tank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Not because I know Ding Wenwu is personally corrupt, but when you have that amount of money sloshing around in an industry, it’d be way more surprising if there isn’t a major corruption scandal.”

A significant part of the problem was a lack of precision, says Sheehan. China knew it needed to invest in semiconductors but didn’t know what exact sub-industry or company to prioritize. The country has been forced to learn by trial and error, feeling its way through issues like the bankruptcy of Unigroup and the expanding technology blockade by the US. The next step should be more targeted investments into specific companies, Sheehan says.

That might mean a new boss for the Big Fund—someone who’s better versed in getting financial returns, says Paul Triolo, a senior VP at the business strategy firm Albright Stonebridge, which advises companies operating in China. Many of the Big Fund’s managers came from government backgrounds and may simply have lacked the relevant experience. Ding, who’s under investigation now, used to be a department director at China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

“You need competent people to run this [Big Fund] that understand the industry, finance, and are not going to fund projects that don’t have a sound commercial basis,” Triolo says.

Ultimately, these investigations may end up being positive for China’s semiconductor industry because they highlight the limitation of politically driven funding and may push the Big Fund to be managed on a more market-based basis. Beijing’s appetite for experiments is waning as its worries about self-sufficiency intensify. “They can’t afford to squander $5 billion on fabs that aren’t going to be viable,” says Triolo.

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: experimental embryos and the US monkeypox emergency

Published

on

The Download: experimental embryos and the US monkeypox emergency


In a search for novel forms of longevity medicine, a biotech company based in Israel says it intends to create embryo-stage versions of people in order to harvest tissues for use in transplant treatments.

The company, Renewal Bio, is pursuing recent advances in stem-cell technology and artificial wombs, demonstrated by Jacob Hanna, a biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Earlier this week, Hanna showed that starting with mouse stem cells, his lab could form highly realistic-looking mouse embryos and keep them growing in a mechanical womb for several days until they developed beating hearts, flowing blood, and cranial folds. 

It’s the first time such an advanced embryo has been mimicked without sperm, eggs, or even a uterus. Now Hanna has set his sights on extending the technology to humans—he’s already experimenting with human cells and hopes to eventually produce artificial models of human embryos. “We view the embryo as the best 3D bio printer,” he says. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

Automated techniques could make it easier to develop AI

Machine-learning researchers have to make many decisions when designing new models, meaning that complex models end up being designed by human intuition, rather than systematically. A growing field called automated machine learning, or autoML, aims to eliminate that guesswork, allowing algorithms to take over the decision making, which could both simplify the process and make machine learning more accessible.

Big Tech is paying attention. Companies like Amazon and Google already offer low-code machine-learning tools that take advantage of autoML techniques, and computer scientists are excited by the notion of being able to simply specify a problem, before tasking the computer with figuring it out. But researchers have a lot of work to do before autoML can be deployed more widely. Read the full story.

Tammy Xu

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The US has declared monkeypox a public health emergency
It has surpassed 7,100 cases, more than any other country. (WSJ $)
+ Many queer men have been unable to get vaccinated. (Vox)
+ Some people will be at risk of contracting both monkeypox and covid. (The Atlantic $)
+ There’s still no evidence to suggest that monkeypox has become more virulent. (Slate)
+ Everything you need to know about the monkeypox vaccines. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Alex Jones must pay $4 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim
The conspiracy theorist is finally facing consequences for calling the massacre a hoax. (BBC)
+ The jury could choose to award further damages, too. (Buzzfeed News

3 Elon Musk has accused Twitter of fraud 
He also claims he was “hoodwinked” into signing the purchase agreement. (Bloomberg $)
+ A tool used to assess Twitter bots reportedly flagged Musk’s own account as one. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s lawyers aren’t holding back. (The Verge)
+ Meanwhile, Musk predicts the US will weather a “mild recession” for 18 months. (Insider)

4 The UK’s cost of living crisis has birthed a wave of scams
Which feels particularly cruel, if sadly inevitable. (FT $)

5 Your brain appears to unlock new realities when you die 🧠
The new dimensions of reality some dying people experience are not the same as hallucinating. (Neo.Life)

6 We’re buying fewer video games than we used to
With less disposable income, shoppers are cutting down on non-essentials. (WP $)

7 The animals we know least about are most at risk of extinction
Many are already believed to have died out before we could discover them. (Motherboard)
+ Machine learning could help identify the species most at risk. (The Verge)
+ Understanding how species mate is crucial to ensuring their future safety. (Knowable Magazine)

8 The internet is obsessed with tracking the celebrities’ flights
Aviation enthusiasts are revealing the data that the rich and famous would rather keep secret. (The Guardian)

9 Hollywood is getting better at portraying young, online lives  
Being Extremely Online is no longer the preserve of the loner. (The Atlantic $)
+ How the next generation is reshaping political discourse. (MIT Technology Review)

10 TikTok can’t get enough of young farmers 🐄🐏
Their rural lives are striking a chord. (FT $)
+ Elsewhere on TikTok, users are paying money to wake people up. (Wired $)

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2021 Seminole Press.