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Does #sustainability, IoT and AI all come togeher in 2018? Vision 2030 and beyond.

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by: Peter Sant
does  sustainability  iot and ai all come togeher in 2018  vision 2030 and beyond

Can technologies – and the will to leverage them – lead to a more sustainable future and, if so, how? It’s one of the questions addressed in a report by Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future. A broader look at sustainability and technology, spiced with some takeaways from the report, entitled ‘Vision 2030: A connected future – how the Internet of Things, data and connectivity can drive business and a sustainable future’.

There are substantial opportunities in IoT, data and connectivity to be used for sustainability – providing commercial, social and environmental benefits (Vision 2030)

We previously covered the role and potential of IoT, data analytics and connectivity in the scope of specific areas of sustainability. Examples include the social dimension of sustainability with, among others, the call for true citizen participation in smart cities or the need to address human fears and distrust regarding technologies, globalization and the future of people themselves, their children, the pace of change in technologies and so forth, which have led to a previously unseen level of distrust concerning close to, about, anything one can trust and distrust.

Other examples include the environmental protection dimension of sustainability. We tackled how ecology and the saving of natural resources and energy ranks high on the agenda in building management, in Industry 4.0 and in regulations concerning energy performant buildings, how they drive building management evolutions and how they lead to the rise of energy efficient building technologies in many parts of the world.
IoT and sustainability vision 2030
A smart building by definition is – or should be – smart on the levels of energy and ecology. A smart city by definition is – or should be – smart on the levels of climate, pollution, natural resources and the natural environment in which it is embedded (often with natural ecosystems also embedded in the smart city itself, think about vertical gardening or the green public space, for instance).

The challenge of data, technology and science versus perceptions, beliefs and human agendas in sustainability

Yet, sustainability is of course about much more. It’s about economic development, social development and the environment. In recent years the focus of sustainability increasingly is on the natural ecosystems in which we have the privilege to live, work and breathe but which are under pressure as everyone by now should now. For some sustainability is only about the natural ecosystem. Technologies and sustainability or natural/societal challenges are intertwined on many levels. There is the fear regarding technologies, the impact on nature and society of technologies and how they are leveraged and the hope for technologies to help in solving what some indeed call the pressure on the natural ecosystem and others call the disastrous state of our planetary ecosystem that goes beyond imagination and beyond the impact of initiatives that are currently taken and planned in an ecological scope.

As we are part of this ecosystem in which, again, we have the privilege to live, many technologies indeed can help with the proper will and priorities. At the same time one can wonder in which degree this is the case. Should we focus on settling on other planets as some advice to do or can we do more here and now?

Technology is not the limiting factor in solving the problems. What I am finding more challenging are the organizational operations and political will (Vision 2030)

The simple answer is that there is always much more than can be done and that there are certain groups that do not want more to be done as the quote from ‘Vision 2030: A Connected Future‘ on the challenges regarding, among others, political will nicely illustrates. In fact, it already shows one of the many shortcomings of technology as it is. We like to believe that we live in an age in which there is so much data and technology-enabled intelligence that close to everything can be understood and explained. However, as humans we often observe and refuse the explanations for what we observe. Climate change, for instance, is still seen as a myth by many.
It is hard to address challenges if they are not recognized enough because of myriad reasons. Whether you believe in climate change and in the role we, as humans, have in it or not, in the end doesn’t change data and hard facts and observations, however. And these observations tell us more than enough about ample sustainability challenges to address, not just by understanding them but mainly by acting.
2 hand an a mobile telephone. Testing environment for IoT and sustainability

Technologies, corporate social responsibility and corporate reality in sustainability

Fortunately there are ample non-profit organizations, associations, researchers, governments and companies that come with regulations, certifications, technologies and policies to address sustainability challenges. Numbers, data and information alone are not going to solve the world’s biggest sustainability issues (Vision 2030).
Green buildings, IoT and smart city technologies and projects to reduce air pollution, renewable energy, the circular economy, inventions and innovations with regards to how we live, consume, travel and work with a positive impact on climate, nature and more.
Sustainability has been on the agenda of corporations for many years. Yet, when you talk about sustainability efforts or corporate responsibility and ustainability (CR&S) for many the words PR, lip service and spin come to mind.
As per usual there is always a big portion of black and white thinking in areas where organizations that have business goals (what corporations are), and sustainability, which is about natural and societal challenges in global ecosystems, meet each other.

Sometimes we have scratched our heads when seeing companies promoting their sustainability and overall CR&S efforts and then looking at the reality of their actions and the impact on one or the other pillar of sustainable development goals such as the protection of the environment. However, at least as often and certainly in more recent years we’ve had the pleasure to work with organizations that effectively make a difference.
While it is predicted that data will grow by up to 10 times by 2025, the energy demand and (depending on the energy source) resulting CO2 emissions from data centers is also rising. Already, data centres consume 1.2% of global power (Vision 2030)

It can’t be denied that sustainability has gained far more attention in recent years, certainly on the mentioned level of ecology, natural resources, the natural ecosystem, climate, pollution, energy consumption and the overall natural environment in which we have that privilege to work and live.
However, at the same time it can’t be denied that in some circles sustainability only seems to be about economic development, overlooking the social and environmental goals. Fortunately the choices and goals of the few, no matter how powerful the few may be, haven’t changed the actions in the field and in the goals that are put forward in a changing environment. One organization is not the other. One person is not the other.

Trust, fear, inclusion, openness and the possibilities of connected technology

Its kicking in an open door if we say that technological evolutions, and more specifically their current and future impact, are accelerating at a pace that makes it hard to keep up for many.
Some people are very positive about the future and potential benefits of myriad technologies, also on the level of what they can do to build a more sustainable future. Others are very uncertain or even scared about the pace of change and what technologies could and might bring. It shows in political and socio-economical changes but it also shows in the warnings with regards to specific technologies that are made by even those who are most involved and closest to these technological evolutions.

What we need to see is technology that is more human-shaped and human-proofed – solving real challenges and serving real human needs (Vision 2030)

All these voices deserve to be heard and shouldn’t be ignored. Fear of technological evolutions, globalization and the pace at which everything seems to change is real. It would also be a mistake to think that these fears only live among somewhat older generations. While facts may show that some generations are less scared about (the future of)technology we invite you to come over, have a cup of coffee and see and hear how also the teenage children of extremely digital savvy parents who passed the age of 50 are truly afraid when their parents tell them about what is going on in technology. That’s first-hand experience.

Engaging customers into sustainability issues is not easy (Vision 2030)

Technology and sustainability, it remains a matter of true knowledge and information(which in times of fake news and an unseen culture of fear and technological manipulation is already a challenge as such), informed human will, data-driven actions and many questions which we won’t address all right now. However, it is also a matter of us, as consumers, willing to change our ways and patterns as the report rightfully states.


The question whether technology can do enough also remains open for future contributions.

IoT, open data and technologies for a sustainable future according to business leaders and experts. As mentioned, it is a joint initiative of Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future and is based on a survey of business leaders. It also is based upon interviews with, quote, “external opinion formers, including designers, data experts, entrepreneurs and think tanks”. So, you can see what they believe too.
Businesses and government need to join the conversation about governance of technology, and help develop appropriate measures and standards that ensure technology is channelled for the greater good (Vision 2030).
According to the report a whopping 98 percent of business leaders seems very positive about the contribution of IoT and a connected technology reality to a sustainable future. On the other hand, only half of the respondents take action.
The report, which you can check out below and read more about in the press release and in the article with the same title as the report, ‘Vision 2030: A Connected Future’, emphasizes some technologies and contains recommendations to close the gap  between the awareness regarding the positive contributions these technologies, which essentially revolve around data and IoT, could make to that sustainable future and actually making it happen, removing the barriers to do so.
It doesn’t answer our questions whether we and technologies can do enough but it can help make you think and possibly act in one or the other way. A sustainable future by 2030 cannot be predicted. It can’t be assumed that the responding business leaders are right. It’s in debate and differences that solutions and insights are born, as long as we keep an open attitude. Yet, one can’t debate forever if urgencies are proven and real. 98% of business leaders see IoT contributing to sustainable future; but only half are taking action.

The respondents to the survey and authors of the report see many ways in which IoT, data and connectivity can lead to a sustainable future and many are very valid as far as we’re concerned. Ultimately, it’s up to everyone and to leaders, academics, scientists and policy makers and all of us to assess whether these ways are the ways to go and what other ways might be needed.
The report mentions, among others, open data infrastructures and data integration, digital citizenship with informed and empowered citizens (compare with what smart city Barcelona wants to focus on: informed citizens with a voice), transparency and globalizing empathy.
Our take? Some of the mentioned technologies might not be the best possible to realize a sustainable future. Yet, others certainly do and can contribute. Moreover, several of the mentioned challenges are addressed. The rest is up to you. It’s important to think.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: yuttana Contributor Studio – sustainability image in quote: Shutterstock – Copyright: D-Krab  – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners. By: I-Scoop

The next step

Brain-computer interfaces could change the way people think, soldiers fight and Alzheimer’s is treated. But are we in control of the ethical ramifications?
At the World Government Summit in Dubai in February, Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said that people would need to become cyborgs to be relevant in an artificial intelligence age. He said that a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence” would be necessary to ensure we stay economically valuable. 

Soon afterwards, the serial entrepreneur created Neuralink, with the intention of connecting computers directly to human brains. He wants to do this using “neural lace” technology – implanting tiny electrodes into the brain for direct computing capabilities.
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) aren’t a new idea. Various forms of BCI are already available, from ones that sit on top of your head and measure brain signals to devices that are implanted into your brain tissue.
They are mainly one-directional, with the most common uses enabling motor control and communication tools for people with brain injuries. In March, a man who was paralysed from below the neck moved his hand using the power of concentration.

Cognitive enhancement

A researcher uses a brain-computer interface helmet at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Grenoble.
Photograph: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

But Musk’s plans go beyond this: he wants to use BCIs in a bi-directional capacity, so that plugging in could make us smarter, improve our memory, help with decision-making and eventually provide an extension of the human mind.
“Musk’s goals of cognitive enhancement relate to healthy or able-bodied subjects, because he is afraid of AI and that computers will ultimately become more intelligent than the humans who made the computers,” explains BCI expert Professor Pedram Mohseni of Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, who sold the rights to the name Neuralink to Musk.
 “He wants to directly tap into the brain to read out thoughts, effectively bypassing low-bandwidth mechanisms such as speaking or texting to convey the thoughts. This is pie-in-the-sky stuff, but Musk has the credibility to talk about these things,” he adds.

Musk is not alone in believing that “neurotechnology” could be the next big thing. Silicon Valley is abuzz with similar projects. Bryan Johnson, for example, has also been testing “neural lace”. He founded Kernel, a startup to enhance human intelligence by developing brain implants linking people’s thoughts to computers.

In 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that people will one day be able to share “full sensory and emotional experiences” online – not just photos and videos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at its secretive hardware division, Building 8.
However, it is unlikely this technology will be available anytime soon, and some of the more ambitious projects may be unrealistic, according to Mohseni.


A brain scan of a patient with Alzheimer’s.
Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

“In my opinion, we are at least 10 to 15 years away from the cognitive enhancement goals in healthy, able-bodied subjects. It certainly appears to be, from the more immediate goals of Neuralink, that the neurotechnology focus will continue to be on patients with various neurological injuries or diseases,” he says.
Mohseni says one of the best current examples of cognitive enhancement is the work of Professor Ted Berger, of the University of Southern California, who has been working on a memory prosthesis to replace the damaged parts of the hippocampus in patients who have lost their memory due to, for example, Alzheimer’s disease.
In this case, a computer is to be implanted in the brain that acts similaly to the biological hippocampus from an input and output perspective,” he says. “Berger has results from both rodents and non-human primate models, as well as preliminary results in several human subjects.”

Understanding the brain

In the UK, research is ongoing. Davide Valeriani, senior research officer at University of Essex’s BCI-NE Lab, is using an electroencephalogram (EEG)-based BCI to tap into the unconscious minds of people as they make decisions. BCIs could be a fundamental tool for going beyond human limits, hence improving everyone’s life.
“Everyone who makes decisions wears the EEG cap, which is part of a BCI, a tool to help measure EEG activity ... it measures electrical activity to gather patterns associated with confident or non-confident decisions,” says Valeriani. “We train the BCI – the computer basically – by asking people to make decisions without knowing the answer and then tell the machine, ‘Look, in this case we know the decision made by the user is correct, so associate those patterns to confident decisions’ – as we know that confidence is related to probability of being correct. So during training the machine knows which answers were correct and which one were not. The user doesn’t know all the time.”

“I hope more resources will be put into supporting this very promising area of research. BCIs are not only an invaluable tool for people with disabilities, but they could be a fundamental tool for going beyond human limits, hence improving everyone’s life.”
He notes, however, that one of the biggest challenges with this technology is that first we need to better understand how the human brain works before deciding where and how to apply BCI. “This is why many agencies have been investing in basic neuroscience research – for example, the Brain initiative in the US and the Human Brain Project in the EU.”
The human brain project image
Whenever there is talk of enhancing humans, moral questions remain – particularly around where the human ends and the machine begins. “In my opinion, one way to overcome these ethical concerns is to let humans decide whether they want to use a BCI to augment their capabilities,” Valeriani says.
“Neuroethicists are working to give advice to policymakers about what should be regulated. I am quite confident that, in the future, we will be more open to the possibility of using BCIs if such systems provide a clear and tangible advantage to our lives.”

By: Sarah Mash, THE GUARDIAN

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Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.  
Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.  
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