Mind the morsel: food, mindfulness and death.

(Reading time 8 minutes)

The repeated dry thud of the hammer striking the wooden block announces the meal time. The monks seat themselves upon their platforms, facing their bowls which are carefully wrapped in cloth. In a precise choreography of movements, they untie the knot, lift out the utensils and napkins, then the bowls, and calmly place these in front of them. The cloth is carefully folded and placed next to them. Then they wait in meditative silence. One by one, monks assigned to cooking duties move by them pouring and placing foods into the bowls, them move onto the next seated monk, raising a trail of fragrances and steam. A bell rings, and the monks begin a ritualised engagement with the food, inviting  all their senses to participate. They smell , the look, they savour. Sometimes all food is served at once, sometimes many different dishes are served after one another. When the last morsel has been eaten, the monks clean their bowls with a napkin and hot water, and then arrange all items on the wrapping, and tie up the knot. They lift the bundle up again and return it to their respective storage compartment.

During all this time not a single word is spoken. The meal was entirely made from donated/gifted ingredients, and food grown on the temple grounds by the monks. This is meal-time at a zen monastery.

elsewhere, Mindless Morsels.

Food is socializing.
Food is pleasure.
Food is communion.
Food is nourishment.
Food is social status.
Food is medicine.
Food is control.
Food is religious.
Food is priceless.

More often than not however, for most people in what is often referred to as the deloped world, food just happens.

It happens in between loud conversations both friendly and hostile. It is rushed in mouthfuls in between words in a meeting, or while getting children ready for school. It is consumed voraciously and washed down with drinks on a Friday evening. It is snacked obliviously while the eyes are entranced by the intense drama unfolding on a screen. It is mechanically ingested while your team forges ahead to score that decisive goal, the entertainment demanding our fullest attention. It is taken discretely in scoops and handfuls from the buffet for fear of missing out. It is piled down round after round in reply to a persistent craving. Thirst and hunger, fatigue, fragrances and aromas, the rustling of someone else’s sandwich bag, and virtually anywhere you look there is something that reminds us about food.

But can you actually remember subtle nuances of fragrance and flavour, aroma, even temperature of your last cup of coffee? Or what particular flavours and aromas were present this morning in your breakfast, or last night’s dinner?. That is, without checking Instagram to remind yourself what you ate.

Besides a general and obvious description, don’t be surprised if you struggle. You are not alone.

With the technological advancements of food production and distribution we have massively improved access to food and disperesd regional variety of ingredients across the globe, while on a local scale we have lost  over 80% of our agricultural diversity including many native and indigenous food stocks, and with that we have also lost the knowledge about their cultivation and preparation.

As a byproduct of this convenience we have also lost our ability to comprehend the true significance of every morsel of food that we place in our mouths. And we paying for it dearly. Modern food production (both plant and animal based foods) make up over a third of all green-house-gas emissions, and the scale of soil degradation, and land and ecosystem destruction is threatening its very production. We also have a grave (and growing) health epidemic that is firmly founded on how and what we eat.

Mindful Eating.

While the deeply considered and ritualized meals of a zen monk are perhaps an extreme manifestation that is neither practical nor necessary for most, it provides a useful framework towards grasping the true meaning of food.

The general perception of mindfulness is often misunderstoood as a passive thing, implying non-action. Mindfulness is not an action, it is a way to act. It is not constrained by what the activity is. It may be as fundamental and simple as simple breathing, or as laborious and physical as sowing crops.

And if we take this idea toward its most extreme application, it is also possible to kill mindfully.

The first of the ten grave precepts of Buddhism (and parallel principles exist in nearly every other faith or philosophical framework) proposes that we should endeavor to avoid or abstain from killing any other living being. Yet while the natural order may appear in direct conflict with this principle, it is actually a profoundly important – and evolutionarily essential – foundation to the propagation of life. The conflict is not in between nature and this foundational philosophical value, but in our understanding and our western relationship with life and death. Virtually every religious and spiritual teaching has undergone millennia of repeated translations and cultural shifts, and the languages and the concepts embodied within specific words can today only be assumed from what we know about their cultural context.

The teh common and underling fundamental premise is less about killing than it is about preserving and protecting life.

Vegan eating has long been associated and represented by many religions as the embodiment of this idea of not killing. While on the surface it may appear like a credible argument, the simple fact is that all complex living organisms exclusively rely on other living organisms for sustenance, either plant or animal. Besides certain bacteria, every living organism needs to eat other living-origin matter to stay alive. Humans are no exception. In order to eat the leaf of a cabbage we must dismember it, – remove it from its life-support system- to take advantage of its medicinal and nutritional potency. Even the most staunch vegetarian is inflicting death upon a living organism with every mouthful.

We can not survive without consuming – and thereby transforming – another living organism or a part of it into nutrients that we ourselves need to live. There seemingly is simply no way to escape the life-and-death duality. We either kill in order to eat and maintain ourselves alive, or we abstain from killing, and die of hunger, thus intentionally bringing about our own death.

Life and death.

Linguistically, we define death as the opposite of life.  Other definitions include the absence of conscious self-awareness, or even absence of self-regulating biological processes. We have no difficulty in recognising life and death, even a child has an intuitive understanding of these modes of existence. And while science accurately predict and define the presence of life  through specific measures and observable processes, a comprehensive definition of what it is remains elusive.

The concept becomes even more intimidating if we take the definition beyond the individual organism. Think ant vs ant colony.

If we consider life as a function that is not intrinsically tied to single individual organisms, but that the organism is part of a larger living system, the the “transfer” of life-supporting matter for one organism to another acquires a whole new level of meaning: we are now ensuring that life is sustained, that such matter (i.e. the nutrients) are being utilised to nourish, heal and sustain another living organism. Life and death are evolutionary pre-requisites, and at this level, both have essential life-preserving purposes. In the concept of killing is no longer true in the strictest sense of the word, eating and all activities invested in the harvesting of food -be it animal or plant origin- becomes an act of transfer of life, of transformation. And transformation underpins all forms of existence.

Let us return again to the very ritualized meal of a Zen monk.

Before the food is eaten, it, and its origins, are acknowledged.
This simple recognition places a whole new level of understanding upon what is served to us (or what we may have prepared ourselves for others) It raises our consciousness towards deep respect to what it is we are eating. We embody and feel gratitude towards the source of the food itself. This is no longer just consuming, it is mindfully recognizing and cherishing the life that transformed will become a part of ourselves.

It rises our conciseness towards the healing and nourishing power of the dish. It is also useful in bringing to our attention when such food may be unhealthy, reducing our wellness, robbing us of vitality, or simply being sourced from a nearly endless chain of processing that leaves little or no trace of its true origin.

Then we see the dish, we contemplate it. We rise our conciseness yet again to the presentation. The colors, the size and form of the ingredients. Our attention now centers our respect on the cook, of the offering itself, and the effort made by either ourselves or so someone else in bringing that regenerating nourishment and healing to us. We recognize the offering as a a gesture of generosity, and we can delight in the craftsmanship and be thankful for it.

Then we allow ourselves to inhale the aromas. As before, our conscious appreciation continues to be elevated – and yet we have not had a single mouthful of it! It is impossible at this point not to sense a profound reverence and gratitude for what we are about to eat. Our show of such respect is to do justice to the offering, by devoting our full attention to the meal, taking the time to appreciate and recognize the subtle and the bold flavours, the fragrances and the textures that constitue our meal.

Most good foods are full of lush and complex favors. From a simple piece of apple to a mouthful of plain steamed rice, all have layers of delight that are only revealed to us whe we allow ourselves to be fully present, to mindfully eat. And while it is not necessary to eat austere and minimalistic dishes, doing so from time to time will only help you have an even more fulfilling experience when you eat a complex dish.

All along this process our awareness to how this food makes us feel naturally also increases, resulting in a very clear sense of when we have had enough to eat. It is impossible to over-eat when we are eating mindfully, even if our plate is stashed high. A well known Japanese saying sums this up: “Hara Hachi Bu” or “eat until you are eight parts (or eighty percent) full”. Only when you are fully aware and present while eating is it possible to sense when’s our have eaten just enough.

I invite you to apply this level of attention to your next meal, regardless of where or what it is. Leave your desk if you can. Stop and sit down, somewhere you can calmly eat. Away from screens, magazines, book and mobile devices, including your mobile phone.

One by one invite every one of your senses to participate and share the meal with you. Even the simplest food will appear sublime, extraordinary. It is not something that anyone can describe for you, as that can not easily be put into words. I can only encourage you to practice it, and feel it. A deep sense of fulfillment from a meal is only possible when we have appreciated in full all its qualities, experienced the flavours and aromas, and reached the point where we have eaten enough to feel contented and satisfied, but not so much that later on our satisfaction is diminished by a feeling of bloated fullness.

This is a simple practice that when cultivated will change your life.

Receive your meal with genuine gratitude, and consume it with respect and your full attention, embodying such gratitude, honouring all the life that now becomes part of you. Not only will your enjoyment of food increase, but your will naturally be drawn to the pleasure of wholesome foods. And just imagine what powerful effect this will have on your overall health, your stamina, your mental clarity and ultimately your life-expectancy. Teach this to your fiends, your spouse, your children no matter what their age, perhaps even teach it to your parents.

Over-consumption and mindless eating are becoming a tragic generation-defining habit, augmented by the disastrous  medical and the social ailments that these foster. Meals are consumed from disposable containers while reading social media feeds. The food itself has become secondary – a nearly forgotten mechanic activity, devoid of purpose, and devoid of the profound delight and communion that is inherently and naturally part of it. While there is a trend emerging in reclaiming our knowledge of not just preparing foods, but also understanding and mastering its production, for most people simply giving each meal the attention it deserves is all that is needed.

Food, besides your breath, it is the only other substance that ever becomes a part of you.

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – part 4: Dinosaurs in the Sun.

Reading time 5 minutes

In 1980 Sharp launched the first solar-powered commercial device: a calculator. Like most, my imagination went wild as I envisaged a world where our gadgets never ran out of power. The future was promising to be an exciting place.

What happened? We are still plugging our gadgets in.

Instead, the most evident change has been the increased use of re-chargeable batteries, their reduced size, and their capacity to provide a lot more power. But overall our power sources and industry has changed little, and not until the early 2000;s when the increasing smog problems in large cities due to coal-power toxic gas and CO2 pollution did serious investment in solar and other clean energy sources begin to contest the dominance of fossil-fuels in a meaningful way. So far the argument for not burning fossil origin fuels has been centered on the emission problem, and to a lesser degree on the extraordinarily damaging extraction. There is however another strong argument for saving it for more important uses (such as inert recyclable plastics necessary for sterile medical applications), or the use of coal (in far more conservative quantities) for nano-technology, electronics and industrial composite materials which has not yet entered the mainstream awareness.

While the rethoric surrounding energy industries and their importance to economies worldwide drowns out the real issues, the reality is extraordinarily simple.

The earth does not have an energy shortage. The shortage, and the inaccessibility is caused entirely by a legacy supply and business model that emerged with the industrial revolution, and being entirely dependent on that technology, it is obsolete and incapable of evolving along with innovation.

What we lack today is not better technology, but transitional models.

As a result the process is showing up to become deeply disruptive, as new technologies that have developed far enough to become overwhelming better propositions have begun to simply wipe out its predecessors, sidestep their systems and rendering them obsolete.

Besides having a considerable economic advantage (requiring little or no subsidies to be cost competitive) there is also the added benefit of speedy deployment, significantly reduced infrastructure, geographic independence, and a extraordinarily small environmental footprint. While this is often treated as an “externality” and not a factored cost within the industry, the overall economy still carries the burden of such damage in other sectors.

But that is today. What about the future?

First of all, I believe that the future will be primarily based on solar energy. Initially we will see this coupled with batteries, but in the long run we will see new technologies based on natural processes such as photosyntesis, organic substances and bacteria. processes, both for small-scale generation as well as storage. Some of the technologies currently in early stages of development include Sediment Microbial Fuel Cells (based on plants and soil) and a variety of bacteria-based systems that produce electricity while desalinating water or purifying wastewater. While these are currently still only a laboratory reality, it is easy to see the multiple benefits of such systems. Increased interest and investment and the prospect of commercially lucrative developments is certain to lead to some disruptive offering, and at the very least make a meaningful contribution to more specialised sectors of energy production.

Another aspect of solar that is non-visible light. Currently solar panels work predominantly with the visible light spectrum, but that is also changing. One of the side-plots to solar currently being developed in Canada is the use of light colours and electro-magentic radiation that is not visible to our human eyes, such as infra-red, ultraviolet and radio waves, which also hit the earth in abundance at night time. That means that while the output would not be the same as from direct sunlight, devices will still be able to generate some electricity at night.

Add to this photo-voltaic paints, films and flexible membranes. Houses, vehicles, and paved surfaces and gadgets would be painted with light sensitive paints (these already exist), or have surfaces covered with flexible transparent adhesive solar/radiation collecting films.

Combined with hyper-efficient batteries (think 100 x or more the current charge capacity) and wireless induction re-chargers, it is not hard to see that a power-points in your house will become obsolete. Most small devices will be nearly or totally energy-self sufficient. There will be no need to pay energy utilities for infrastructure costs – overland wiring will be obsolete and will at some point result in firms who will dismantle and reclaim tremendous amounts of increasingly scarce and precious copper for re-use elsewhere. No overland and streetside power-lines, and more importantly, an entire risk eliminated from the community: electrocution.

Not only will kids be able to safely fly a kite in the neighbourhood, your footpath trees will grow lush and full canopies. This may sound utopian, but only to those unaware of the critical tipping points being passed by the ongoing transformation of the energy industry world-wide. So far two countries have already achieved a 100% clean energy supply, and the number is only going to increase over the coming years, in particular in those places where there is no or only limited existing infrastructure now, such as large parts of India and Africa.

With a few exceptions (cooking, heating and refrigeration are unavoidably energy-intensive) the high voltage grid is history. The most dangerous electrical thing a child may stick his fingers in will be a usb socket, but even that will be a rarity. Most devices will simply have an induction contact plate for recharging.

Again, it is easy to see the profound disruptive capacity of emerging innovations on just two aspects of our every-day lives. It is hard to accept that this is probable, but the reality is that it is in fact almost inevitable. As these technologies get better, and the increasing cost of externalities and problems associated with an altered climate (due to our modification of the atmosphere’s delicate chemical balance) are drawn from the purses of entire countries’ economies, the impetus for transformation will only increase.

Paid electricity suppliers, and the entire networks upon which they operate will become a thing of the past.

Why? Because as we inevitably advance towards the de-coupling of income from labour, the provision of energy for the population becomes a necessary investment by governments in order to keep a country operational. On the upside, those costs will be considerably lower than they currently are, primarily because there will be little or no infrastructure build and to maintain.

As mentioned in my previous posts, all the propositions here are based on already known and existing trends and technologies, and because of that it is inherently conservative. To expect less would be naive, and any business that is intending to survive through this period of intense disruption needs to position itself to service a vastly different, but in my opinion much better world.

While I have not directly addressed the elephant in the room – social and economic models – I believe every one of us have a role to play in accelerating these changes rather than resisting them. There will be enough resistance from businesses and industries that are destined to be annihilated in the process, as well as inherently change-averse and conservative public institutions and governments. But there is also a tremendous momentum from the sheer scale, profitability and social good of these emerging opportunities. When these profound transformations are impeded and forced to slow down unnaturally, the greater the cost and damage to economies and individuals becomes, and the risk for social conflict, instability and humanitarian crises increases.

I invite you to imagine with me the day when a vast part of the population can invest their time into passion projects, the wellbeing of others, creative and artistic endeavors and stuff that no-one has imagined yet. A world where poverty is eliminated because nobody needs to work for money, and where healthy, nutritious food, water and basic are abundant and accessible in every corner of the planet. You and I will experience this world. And I look forward to be inspired and amazed by the innovations and inventions of tomorrow as I was as a kid when reading sci-fi novels and looking a books about the future.

Where will you be? What is your part of the dream?

Next week we return to our regular topics around Mindful Living. If you have enjoyed this series I’d love top hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments and be part of the conversation.

>>If you missed the previous parts of this series you can read them here [Part 1]  [Part 2]  and  [Part 3].

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – Part 3

Reading time 4 minutes

As we continue our journey into the future and look at what is happening in a decade or two from now, the time around 2025-2035. We are surrounded by people who are working on passion-projects and moving around in self-driving smart vehicles. Even smarter devices that make your iWatch look like a stone-axe are keeping you connected to the internet of things, enabling communication with with your home, your transport devices, collaborators and retailers, enabling making payments and other transactions.

But while robots and smart devices don’t take lunch breaks, we will.

The challenge we face today is that food production in its current form is not able to be increased at the same rate as the world’s population with our current agricultural methods.

One of the first things that we will be confronted with is a very significant decrease in meat consumption.

Meat is by far the most resource-intensive and ecologically “expensive” food to produce.
Combined with the fact that the current consumption levels in the western diet are actually causing an increased in colon cancer and other ailments, and being a contributor towards obesity epidemic. This is not as a result of the meat itself, but as a result of the habitual over-eating and unnaturally large servings of food that are common today.

The second – and far more sinister problem with meats is that the antibiotics required to maintain the health of industrially farmed animals cycle through the food chain, primarily via water. It means we are eating – and accumulating vast uncontrolled quantities of antibiotics that not only mess with our immunity, but cause resistant mutations in pathogens. To make matters worse, the livestock industry requires 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of meat protein and as a result consumes about seven times as much plant based food than what humans consume (based on US figures – these vary between countries depending on the region’s respective primary source of food).

It is highly likely that plant based foods will form the most significant part of our food intake.

But before you decide to jump the curve and become a vegetarian, it is important to aknowledge that a very similar problem exists with our current methods of industrial agriculture.

While antibiotics are the trojan horse of meat and dairy, pesticides are the equivalent problem in the plant-foods. Our current industrial agriculture methods for plant-based foods are as unsustainable as the ones for animal products. While GMO’s are contentious and are blamed for all sorts of ailments, the reality is that all food we eat today is GMO. The fashionable idea of Paleo diets (derived from “Paleolithic”, the period of very early human life from about 2.6 million years to approximately 10,000 years ago) ignore two important factors: none of the foods that have been agriculturally developed (through selective breeding and domestication, and blending of plant varieties) existed in the paleolithic. Secondly their diets varied greatly between regions and seasons. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, and significant agriculture did not emerge until the very end of the paleolithic. Today we do not (and would not) eat any of the foods they ate, most of those pre-agricultural varietes no longer exist.

One of the greatest indicators is a resurgence of lower-yield organic farming. And while these are producing smaller crop volumes, peripheral problems such as soil depletion and water-table problems are also significantly reduced. One of the most successful technological innovations of recent years is salt-water farming. This is industrial scale greenhouse farming for vegetables that is extraordinarily water-efficient. Already a commercial reality in arid countries including UAE and Australia, methods like these show tremendous promise for sustainable food production.

But besides organic grains, fruit and veggies, what will be on your plate?

Chances are that a significant part of your animal protein intake will come from farmed fish, seaweed, algae- and mushroom-derived “vege-meat” products, and “grown meat”. While still in early development, growing meat in the lab is a reality, and one that holds promise to provide meat proteins and nutrients without the enormous overhead of farming animals. But as mentioned earlier, it is likely that those will be a significantly smaller share of you overall food intake, which will be primarily plant-based, using moderate-yield organic methods. Given that a significant portion of the population will have a far greater availability of free time while robots do the boring, dangerous and repetitive work, it is not unimaginable that seasonal community and home gardens will make an important and sustainable contribution to the food mix.

Another area that will change profoundly is food-related waste, and food waste.

Disposable protective packaging will no longer be polluting – as Architect William McDonough proposed in 2002 in his book “Cradle to Cradle”, it will serve secondary purposes such as decompose an release nutrients or act as a composting enhancer. All food waste will be collected for composting either by local or by community level collection, and utilised to regenerate and enhance the soil for agriculture.

Overall food will simply become healthier again, by the simple necessity of an ecologically sustainable and sufficient supply.

This has a profound effect on health and leisure industries. Not only does healthier food mean generally less lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, it means longer active lifespans, more energetic people with lots of free time eager to engage in meaningful experiences. The demand for experience-based entertainment will be a significant industry, that will in turn require salvaging, restoring and protecting many endangered natural ecosystems. And again, with that comes yet another industry: ecological regeneration and ecosystem restoration, this time driven by a strong economic motivator.

So now we know how we are fed the humans (and started living longer, working less, travelling more, and repairing ecosystems), but what powers the machines, the internet of things?

Last week I promised you the food and the energy of the next two decades. I have decided however to keep things brief, and so I have split this episode into two. I will explore energy next week. This is another area that is overflowing with innovative changes and possibilities worthy of the best science fiction. Except that it is not sci-fi.

The purpose of these posts is to encourage you to imagine a different future.

It is to create a context for you, so that you may wake up tomorrow exited about the future, and eager to be a part of it instead of afraid of it, to contribute and help shape it rather than to be unexpectedly derailed by it.

It’s purpose is to fight the dark and distorted reality portrayed by mainstream media, and reveal one far more certain, and far more exciting: the future as is being created right under our noses, sometimes quietly and sometimes with great fanfare, by innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Here is a link to Saltwater Farming.

Cradle to Cradle Book, Amazon (no, I am not affiliated in any way – it is still a great book!)

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Who Killed “Time is Money?” – Part 2 (Who killed the taxi driver?)

Reading time 5 minutes

NOTE:Items underlined have links at the bottom of the article.

Last week I began this four part series by declaring the progressive demise of the “Time is Money” paradigm. As we enter an era when an increasing portion of the population will not be able to rely on a job as a source of income, we are also presented with an extraordinary opportunity: to develop a social and cultural environment where you do what matters to you, not what pays you. Although no single magical solution to how the “decoupling” of income from work has yet been defined, the momentum that automation has is such that a tipping point will force the issue, most likely sooner than people realize.

But while we envisage life in a world where work is optional, what else can we expect?

I will do my best over the remaining three episodes to put context around your future life. This context is not a pipe dream. Nor is it so far in the future that you can afford the luxury of ignoring it. This is a context of a world one or two decades into the future, and virtually everything that I put forward here is already a technical reality. What that really means is that however hard I try to make this a “big visionary thing”, the visionary element is massively undercooked. More on that later.

While I have endeavoured to keep things clustered into topics, some crossover is inevitable. Take your time to read this slowly and carefully. And above all, I’d like to invite you to join in the conversation, and encourage you upfront to share your comments by using the comments link below.

Over the last two years of working with Architecture students, their final projects are always envisioned to be delivered ten years into the future. So I will begin with the topic of transport technology, as many other things cascade from those transformations.

Earlier this year Tesla opened in Australia. Welcome to the electric car. While Elon Musk is changing the transport, portable energy and advanced battery technology around the globe (and now taking those batteries and using them on solar-powered houses), this is only a small stepping stone in our story.

The real game-change will come with self-driving cars.

While most people feel deeply uneasy about handing the steering wheel over to a web-connected and GPS-and-sensor-guided learning computer, the reality is profoundly significant. To begin with it eliminates car accidents almost completely, and the fail-safe systems will mean that even in a failure is unlikely to result in death on injury. That alone is a game-changer for insurance and health. consider that in Australia on average for the last decade, every year just under 1% of the population suffered serious injuries car accidents (and one in 20,000 died). Although this number is low compared to death rates from heart disease etc, it is also completely preventable. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Forget taxis (sorry Uber-drivers, this will affect you too!). You can have your car drop you off at the entrance of your favourite restaurant, park itself in a machines-only parking rack nearby, and come at your request (via voice request on your  smartphone) collect you and your inebriated party (it knows where you are from your phone request location) and drive you all safely back home. No driving, no taxi queue, this is your car. This also means drivers licenses will be a thing of the past: your teenage kids may have access to safe and reliable transport with tracking and restrictions as may be necessary for personal safety.

It is clear that even before we delve too deeply into the subject, transportation gets a pretty severe upgrade. And it does not stop at personal transportation. Your food gets to the supermarket with self-driving electric – possibly even solar-powered (we’ll come back to this) trucks without drivers that fall asleep at the wheel or are kept awake with a chemical cocktail that makes the most hardened junkie jealous. The trucks go 24-7, day and night, no rest stops needed. Goodbye truckie – a whole industry rendered obsolete. Plug in some automatic inventory tracking, automatic maintenance scheduling etc. and the whole thing starts to look  pretty clever without a human in sight. We can keep digging deeper, but you get the picture. This is significant. This is not sci-fi, it’s here and you can find out more in this Ted talk from Google’s Sebastian Thrun. (link below)

So what else does this self-driving car change? For the first time since the horse-drawn cart we can have cars and people share transit spaces in urban centres. Sensor technology on a car does not just see what a driver sees, it can see 360 degrees without ever blinking. It knows exactly who and what is in front, beside and behind the vehicle, which way and how fast it is moving, and what it is. It can see in the blackest darkness, blizzard, rain or fog. And because it knows where every other car nearby is, it does not need traffic lights. Automated flow controllers (where cars share info with each other) ensure that movement is smooth, steady, efficient, and optimised. Wooha! Optimized? What on earth does that mean? It means that through predictive positioning algorithms cars can cross intersections, move safely through crowded pedestrian spaces, merge with other traffic etc. without stopping. It all happens in a smooth, fluid motion. You could sip your latte in the car and not spill a drop on the moisture-repellent self-cleaning upholstery. Good Bye traffic lights, and Good Bye traffic jams!. This is fun so lets keep going: no speeding tickets as cars behave to location specific restrictions. No more carparks as we know them, you get dropped off and call your car when and where you need it. Even halfway across town if necessary (although you may wish to tell it to meet you at your destination at a set time) I can see this being really handy when doing cross-country bush-walks.

Of course this technology has a profound effect on public transport as well. But by far the most profound impact will be on the shapes of our cities, our road network and supporting infrastructure. Your suburban street could look very different, and as a result new social interaction behaviours become possible.  No designated pedestrian crossings, no traffic lights. Footpaths can have fruit trees where directional signs once stood. Imagine car-sharing and pooling made possible through a simple request on your smartphone “I need to be at the golf club by 3pm” could cue up a selection of available cars, Uber-style. But being driverless means that cars that are passing you on the way to picking up someone from the golf club at 3:15 don’t make an empty journey.

This is just one thread of a whole complex web of possibility. I said earlier that this vision is “undercooked”. As outrageous and over the top you may think it is, it pales in comparison to what will actually be. That is because every single thing I have listed here is already a technological reality, although notnecessarily a commercial one – yet.

What this vision does not include is the stuff that has not been invented yet, or that has not reached a sufficient level of technical viability.

But rest assured, that many of those things that are currently facing hurdles will be resolved. Some game-changers will come from problems being solved in unrelated areas. In the same way as car-battery technology is being used to store your domestic solar charge for night-time use, other things will have a crossover effect, unlocking that which was previously unachievable. Challenges that crowd-source knowledge such as the X-prize are accelerating both the rate of innovations, as well as the nature of them.

It would be extraordinarily naive not to expect other game-changers to turn entire industries on their head, wipe them out and create new opportunities within the next decade. What those industries are and how they will change is up to us to imagine today.

Here are some fun links:

Video of a moving sidewalk at the Paris Exhibition 1900.

Sebastian Thrun TED Talk showing off Google’s driverless car. Hold on to your hat!

 The X-Prize website – lots of cool stuff here!.

Last weeks Post – Part 1.

Next week we will look at food and energy – two closely related areas that are fundamental to an enduring human future.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Who killed “Time is Money?”

“Time is money.”

This declaration attributed to a letter written by Ben Franklin has become one of the philosophical foundations of our modern lifestyle, where the vast population willingly trades one for the other.

The quote however has been taken out of context.

The problem is this:
Money is a renewable resource. Time is not.

Today you have 24 hours. 1440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. Yes that looks like a big number, but its exactly the same number of seconds as everyone else. And at midnight tonight you will have spent everyone of those 86,400 seconds. You can’t save it, stash it, or store it away. You don’t get to choose when you use it, you only get to chose WHAT you use it for.
So for centuries we have been primed to do this strange trade deal where we use our time to service someone with something of greater value that the money we accept in return. We call it a business transaction, and it is expected of anyone in order earn money. It comes in a variety of different formats, but even passive money takes some form of work to set up.

But the time for money paradigm is under threat by its own extraordinary success: a century of rapid technological advances have materialised technologies that are accelerating exponentially making human workers in vast areas of industry obsolete.

So should you panic?

Not yet. I believe it is a good thing.

First of all, the very purpose of industrialisation was to free people from chores, and to create machines that would be at our service. Somehow we have lost focus on the way there and the whole process has become oddly distorted, but ultimately we are succeeding extraordinarily well in creating complex systems that can serve us, and they are only going to get better, more capable, more accessible and more successful.

But you are a human. Should you panic?

Right now the big panic is setting in at the level of global economists, as they begin to understand the dilemma. The writing is already on the wall (and has been for some time) that time can no longer be money.

In a very near future, time will no longer be money. At least not in the conventional way that we have grown up to understand it. The dilemma facing economists – and governments (if and when they wake up to the opportunity) is the decoupling of money from labour, and there are a range of possible an viable solutions already known. In the very near future we will see a transition from our current model to one where the mechanisms of national trade and revenue are underpinned by a largely automated industry – which is also entering a state of flux and profound transformation made possible by the internet of things, “intelligent” data, 3-d printing, microbots and lots of other cool stuff that was once sci-fi.

Should you panic?

No, no you should not panic. But I believe you need to begin thinking what it is that you really, really want to be doing.

Not just as an interest, but at the level of obsession, of passion. You no longer have the luxury of a half-fulfilled life, because almost certainly within your lifetime, and definitely in your kids lifetime, work will be a thing of the past, and a matter of choice, not money. As we are increasingly displaced from our “jobs” by automation – we will finally begin to reap the rewards of a century of rapid technological development. And that is a huge opportunity, but we need to begin to reawaken the dreamer within in order for us to continue our journey. In some places the process will hurt, but overall I believe that it will be a rapid transition, (“creative destruction” for those familiar with the concept) simply because once the death of time is money becomes an inescapable economic reality, it will force the hand of decision-makers to act fast.

Today you have what is left of your 86,400 seconds ahead of you. Some of that time you have already pre-committed. Some of that time will be devoted to biological demands of your body – eating, sleeping, reading FB posts on your smartphone while visiting the outhouse. The balance of that time is at your disposal. Take the batteries out of the TV remote, give a few of those precious seconds over to yourself, some quiet time to imagine stuff, and to reinvent your dreams.

Don’t panic. Dream.

Dream, and let those dreams become blueprints for the life you want.

Over the next few weeks my posts will be about dream and future stuff, the world the way I imagine it, things I expect to happen, things I expect to become possible. Mix those up with your own dreams. and you will discover and imagine new possibilities, and you will want to travel along that path towards them. and you will look forward to the day when you are no longer required at your “job”.

Please share this, and post your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear your views and ideas on this.

The future is NOT now!

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

This week I had conversations that are so eloquently captured in this quote attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer. The conversations contrasted two very different mindsets.

One of these mindsets will take us forward. The other will not.

Let me begin with the latter one. These proponents suggested that the changes required to transform our energy industries could not possibly happen, as there was too much invested in the current framework. Statistics were quoted, physics and maths used to substantiate impossibility. Thus they also felt that further investment in the present technologies – although problematic – was appropriate. Whatever the outcomes, the expectations were being molded, shrunk, and sliced to fit into the present circumstances.

On a different subject, the other proponents were seeking to solve a series of design problems. The tone of this conversation was very different. There were few disagreements, as most of the discussion was founded on speculation. Even a rebuttal would be speculation. There were few facts in this conversation, and many “What ifs”. The present circumstances were only relevant as a starting point. There was not even the slightest indication that these circumstances were part of the final picture. In fact, it was understood that they could not, and must not, be part of the final picture.

When I think back the transformations that have taken place in the world since my childhood,

I know that even in my wildest imagination I can not conceive what my children’s world will look like to them in three or four decades.

In my most absurd moment of creative extravagance, I know that the very best I can come up with pales in comparison to what they will experience. I only ever felt this daunted when reading Asimov’s Foundation books, and pondering on the whole idea of imagining a world not one or two generations ahead, but thousands of years. 

We have nothing to be afraid of dreaming up some faraway goalposts for us to aim at from the present. The future is not now, we can not base our decisions for tomorrow only on what is possible today. Sure, common sense applies, but infuse it with some uncommon sense. We need to imagine what we want, not what we have, or even what is possible.

We can only dream. But we place that dream into one absolute certainty: Tomorrow something will be possible that was not possible today.

 

The answer is found two deep.

How often do we find ourselves looking at a problem that resembles the iron curtain rather than a garden fence, a confronting and virtually un-surmountable show-stopper that defies all logic?

It could be a product we can’t seem to get to market, a potential client we can’t get in front of, or a family member that we are being challenged with. The point is, it bugs us, and sometimes it can cripple our business, a relationship or our life. 

Invariably the barrier is our way of thinking.

When a farming entrepreneur was looking to establish a farm in an area where the only water was oceanic saltwater, they had to look beyond the logical solutions. What was immediately available was clearly not going to work. What was available however had the potential of becoming a resource for something that would work.

I call this “two deep” interaction: looking not just at what we are directly engaged with, but Instead we look at the relationships of the things that we engage with directly.
Big picture thinking is like climbing a tree to look over the fence, going two deep is jumping over the fence and looking for solutions from the the other side. 

Next time you are confronted with a problem that completely leaves you stuck, take a step back and “zoom out”. The important thing is not to see the bigger picture with your agenda, but with the agenda of each of the second and possibly third level interactions that you are exploring. Most of these are likely to be invisible or not relevant to you directly. You may need to get a second pair of eyes to help you with the process. You may need to look at your problem perhaps from your customer’s point of view. It may be caused by a character trait of your kid’s teacher. It may be legislation that is affecting your supplier. The solutions that will create uniqueness and competitive edge are always found two deep.

The farm gets its fresh water from a solar-powered desalination system, and the result is a farming model of unprecedented energy and water efficiency. Nobody would have looked at the arid paddock and expected a crop to grow. This is a great example how we can solve problems by looking beyond our conventional interactions, by going two deep.

The solution to that irritating, elusive and absurd problem is waiting for you two deep. Now you know where to look.

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Start Pedaling – there is no such thing as balance!

For most of my life I have always sought to attain and live in a state of balance. For all my efforts, it still eludes me, and you may have found it elusive too.

 
Because there is no such thing as balance in its purest form. There is always change and movement.

 
The problem is that life is more like riding a bicycle: your level of control increases with your speed – (within reason of course, there is a range of optimal speeds!).
 
First of all, you need to move, you need to exert effort in order to advance.
And secondly, you need to have some idea where you are heading.
 
If either one of these is missing you will eventually succumb to gravity. This is not a matter of choice, it is only a matter of time.
 
In my two decades as a Architect, I have seen how entire associated industries have desperately attempted to stay in control while balancing in the same spot, at a terrible cost. While other industries have undergone profound transformations, we still do business like we did half a century ago. And unless we decide on a course, and begin pushing the pedals soon, there will be none left standing. It is only a matter of time.
 
And time is what we what we do no longer have much of. We must use our ability to solve complex problems, and solve our own problem quickly. We need to accept that we got it wrong, that we gave up pushing the pedals and are no longer moving forward.  We must now commit to rapid learning, and to a willingness to reinvent the profession completely. By that I do not mean we need to re-learn design, but instead to learn how to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, to rediscover how our imagination can make a meaningful contribution.
 
Getting into motion will most likely hurt. There are no roads, not paradigms, no signposts, no case studies, no templates. It is our role to think up what is possible, what is desirable, and to bring that into being, for others to travel along safely. Standing still will almost certainly kill us.
 
Because when you are not moving, there is no such thing as balance.
 
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3 Ways Power Suppliers are self-destructing.

You open the familiarly branded envelope and uneasily extract the notice. You already know it will be bad news: It is a power bill.
You look at the amount, and feel a knot in your throat. Immediately you think of some scheduled purchases that you had planned for this month, and that you may now have to tell your partner that perhaps those must wait another month…

For some this may already sound familiar. For some it may become a familiar scene when the predicted 20% increase in electricity prices becomes real in a few months!

Rising electricity prices are a blessing in disguise. They cause three important things to happen, three forces that are fatal for the power retailers.

1. They raise the error margin for disruptive innovators. In simple terms they will not have to try so hard to be competitive. They can afford to be more expensive than even the current alternative, and still be in the race. This exponentially increases the chances of a disruptive innovation (or several) entering the market. Marginal ideas suddenly become commercially viable.

2. They create a massive pool of customers for these innovations and new products. Some people will simply not be able to afford to buy from the conventional suppliers, some will simply look for better options because those have become available.

3. The power retailers will be unable to respond fast enough. The higher prices will invariably be linked with quarterly and annual profitability obligations. Those figures will be eroded simultaneously by both the loss of market-share and by the probable need to lower prices.

What will these disruptive ideas look like? What happens to the grid? The imagination is the limit, and over the next few blogs I will explore some of these ideas.

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Who are you influencing?

What are you doing?

I mean that seriously, what are you doing? What is your influence, your cause?

So what is my point?  – First, some context:

The “forces” that are the most powerful influences on the future of our planetary ecological integrity are driven not by corporations, but by people. People who have forged a capacity to make and influence such decisions. They may deliver those decisions through corporate or political channels. But ultimately a person or group of people, driven by a conviction, and agenda and a value system, make a decision.

This authority to influence was established in the course of their lives.

The point is, we all have this capacity. We can move the same magnitude of ideas and of values in the direction of our conviction, of our agenda. And we have been given the same uncertain lifespan to do so. We influence daily. The  question is, are we nurturing the influences that we desire, or are we allowing ourselves to be swept along to another current, unwittingly donating our small part towards its strength and power? We find ourselves contemplating a very real possibility of a horrific future for us, but even more so for our children, heralded by the announcement of 400ppm of atmospheric CO2 this week.  The number may be academic, but its meaning is far from it.  The plain truth is that we have chosen to support the influence of people whose views we may never have agreed with in the first place.  We do so when we purchase products that come branded with an indelible stamp of collateral damage, in a faraway country.  We do so when we fail to build the visions that are in line with what we believe in in quiet moments alone. We do so when we consent to propositions because challenging them may cause us inconvenience, or cost us a friendship, or possibly a job.

 
We have the permission, in fact we have an obligation, to excercise this influence.
Now that you know, it is in your awareness, you can not afford to ignore your capacity, nor give it away with a clean conscience. The price is too high. This is your problem too.
Align yourself with people who believe what you believe.
Buy from them, work for them or with them, make them your clients, your customers, your allies.
Your voice, your influence will be multiplied.And one day, ten or so years from now, when your children ask what you did, you can proudly tell them that you did everything you could. 

And it made all the difference.