Thursday, 3 August 2017

Raconteur/Charles Orton-Jones: Planning for a smarter world

TECNOLOGY/A SMARTER WORLD
Planning for a smarter world

Futurists often fall into two opposing camps, but the issues facing society are everyone’s concern

By CHARLES ORTON-JONES  -  April 12, 2017

Growing waste levels is a major concern for Downers, as landfi ll capacity begins to run out
Growing waste levels is a major concern for Downers, as landfill capacity begins to run out

Are you an Up or a Down? The future of our planet may depend on your decision. There are two tribes warring to control earth’s resources, and the victors will determine how we live.

The Uppers gaze at the stars. They dream of a techno-utopia, in which all our problems are solved by innovations. Look at traffic jams: more cars on the roads mean more boring jams, right? In fact, driverless cars may be able to form a peloton to squeeze more vehicles onto our roads. Combine this innovation with real-time routing software and jams may be a thing of the past. Uppers fizz with enthusiasm for solutions like this to solve the world’s problems.

Downers look to the earth. Their instinct is to conserve to preserve. According to the science writer Tim De Chant’s 2012 calculations we’d need 4.1 earths if everyone lived like Americans currently do, or 5.5 earths if we adopted the habits of the United Arab Emirates. But if we all scale back our shopping and energy usage to the eco-friendly levels of Costa Rica then our solitary planet’s resources will cope, according to Mr De Chant.

The World Wildlife Fund runs a campaign to get us to use less power. The WWF’s annual Earth Hour asks people to switch off all lights together as a reminder of the need to conserve. An act of collective Down thinking.

    The more we understand the world around us the better decisions we can make

The Up-versus-Down terminology was coined in the 1973 work UpWingers: A Futurist Manifesto by the Iranian visionary FM Esfandiary. It was the year of the oil crisis. Nuclear war loomed. A population crisis threatened food supply. Those worries are still with us, plus a load more.

It’s possible to filter the troubles of the world today through his Up and Down logic. The world is struggling to produce enough food. The founder of the Leon food chain, Henry Dimbleby, recently wrote: “We are putting all this pressure on the land and need to feed all these people. There is a fascinating question, full of moral hazard about how we do that.”

Mr Dimbleby weighed up whether we should eat less meat, or accelerate research into Japanese tower farms and lab-grown meat. A classic Up-Down analysis.

Great thinkers sometimes switch sides. The ecologist George Monbiot reversed his position on nuclear power from Down to Up. Once vehemently anti, he gave up hoping people would scale down energy usage. And nuclear is far better than coal. So now he’s pro-nuclear.
WWF’s global Earth Hour campaign asks people to switch off all lights as a reminder of the need to conserve energy
WWF’s global Earth Hour campaign asks people to switch off all lights as a reminder of the need to conserve energy
A combination of the two

It’s arguable we don’t need to chose. Perhaps the ideals of the Downs – protecting fragile resources and fostering beautiful environments – are compatible with the innovations of the Up community. Look at recycling. Sweden announced in December it is so efficient at recycling it has run out of rubbish, and must import debris from other countries. A hippy ideal was filtered through high-tech processes to deliver a result both sides can celebrate.

The same is true for all sorts of global problems. Transport is a nightmare right now. The solutions can take the best of both ideologies. We can work from home (a classic Down solution) by using fibre broadband (Up). We ditch cars and travel by public transport (Down) through new systems like Crossrail (Up).

The key is better planning. Mapping software allows innovators of all creeds to roll out transformative solutions on a vast scale. For example, the UK needs to upgrade mobile phone coverage – currently ranked worse than Albania’s. Our base stations are in the wrong places. Better planning through sophisticated mapping is the solution. Apps and mobile broadband can improve productivity and lower the burdens on the planet.

The more we understand the world around us the better decisions we can make. Mapping software gives us astonishing precision – down to 2.5cm resolution. We can fuse multiple data sources, such as traffic flow, geology, population density, utilities and vegetation. As this report demonstrates, maps can solve problems with devastating efficiency.

Whether you are an Up or Down, the problems facing Mother Earth are all our concern. The right software gives us the power to tackle challenges in the manner of our choosing.
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