Category: technology

Are Robots Really Going to Take Our Jobs?

What comes to mind when you think of a robot?

R2-D2?

A vacuum spinning around on the hardwood floor harassing your dog?

A humanoid that has life-like skin and piercing eyes?

A mechanical arm that grips objects in a science lab?

Or a computer that has human-like intelligence and responds to commands you give it, but doesn’t have a face?

It’s easy to pay attention to the exterior of what makes a robot a robot when you imagine one. It’s usually made of a special type of plastic. It might have flashing lights, metal screws and wires, some type of face or control board, is automated, and speaks in a mechanical voice or makes beeping or whirring noises.

But what really makes robots interesting doesn’t concern their exteriors, but what’s inside them— their programmed and automated elements. Their elements that work for us.

Etymology of “robot”

The term “robot” comes from the Czech playwright, novelist and journalist named Karel Capek. And it’s derived from the Old Church Slavonic word “rabota” which means “servitude of forced labor.”

Capek introduced the term in 1920 in his play “RUR,” or “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Professor Markel described the following about the etymology of “robot” in his NPR interview:

“And he [Capek] was writing this play about a company, Rossum’s Universal Robots, that was actually using biotechnology. They were mass-producing workers using the latest biology, chemistry and physiology to produce workers who lack nothing but a soul. They couldn’t love. They couldn’t have feelings. But they could do all the works that humans preferred not to do. And, of course, the company was soon inundated with our orders.”

This history of the word “robot” is incredibly interesting for a few reasons:

  • Robots were created to complete jobs that humans didn’t want to do.
  • Humans had to carry out the labor of creating the robots.
  • Robots still lacked human sentiments and a sense of mortality.

Now, as we ask, “Are robots going to take our jobs?” let’s keep those main points in mind.

Definition of “robot” used here

There are a variety of highly specialized individuals out there who make the distinction between the following (as they should):

  • Robotics
  • Automation Software
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
  • Desktop Automation
  • Enterprise RPA
  • Intelligent Process Automation
  • Software Robot
  • Autonomics
  • Heuristics
  • Adaptive Automation
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Virtual Workforce
  • [etc.]

However, in the remainder of this post, I should make it clear that when I refer to robots, I am referring to an entity that is completing work for humans, by humans, automatically.

The definition of “robot” used here will be: “a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.”

Although many devices and entities can learn and adapt to their surroundings, they still have their limitations and cannot either create themselves from scratch or carry out work without set parameters, data sets, and programs that humans provide them.

And while robots typically have arms, legs, and some sort of head or face, that is not what makes them a robot. What makes a robot a robot is its ability to automatically perform tasks for humans, within a certain set of parameters provided to it, usually via a computer program or software.

Are robots still created to complete jobs that humans don’t want to do?

While there are robots out there for our entertainment, some of the first patented robots were invented to complete jobs that humans didn’t want to do.

The first patented digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and was named the Unimate. General Motors used it to lift pieces of hot metal from die casting machines at the Inland Fisher Guide Plant in New Jersey.

Hundreds of years before the Unimate was created, Leonardo DaVinci drew designs for a mechanical knight around 1495. And before that, robots (then known as “instruments” or “automatons”) were referred to throughout ancient texts.

Aristotle, most notably, mentioned that the human condition was dependent on what machines can and cannot do, and that we can imagine that machines will do much more. If machines did more of our work, everyone, even slaves, would become freer. (Politics, Book One, Part IV)

The main purpose for robots, machines, or any type of automated object over the centuries has been to complete a job for humans that they didn’t want to do. While some robots are used for entertainment, the ones we create on a mass scale are those devices that take work away from us.

Uh-oh. So, yes, robots are taking jobs away from us.

Let’ see some of the jobs available where robots are already replacing humans:

  • Teacher
  • Chef
  • Factory Worker
  • Surgeon
  • Retail Sales Associate
  • Security Guard
  • Shepherd
  • Farmer
  • Pharmacist
  • Food Delivery Driver
  • Journalist
  • Soldier
  • Hotel Receptionist
  • Telephone Sales Person
  • Construction Worker
  • Accountant
  • Tour Guide
  • Mixologist
  • Bartender
  • Librarian
  • Hospital Administrator

Are we giving robots these jobs because we don’t want them anymore?

While all the fields on the list above are by no means completely run by robots (yet?), it’s important to note that the list includes blue-collar, white-collar, and highly specialized occupations.

Oxford University researchers have estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades. If this is the case, then what will the individuals holding positions automated or run by robots do when and if robots take them over? Will workers be able to adapt to the demand for new jobs in time?

Will looking at the robots that are already being massed produced now be an indicator of which occupations are at risk first, or provide insight into whether they are occupations we truly don’t want to do?

What robots are being created on a mass-scale?

Are humans still involved in the labor of creating and maintaining robots?

The most notable mass-produced robots are cars that drive autonomously, the robot vacuum, and flying drones. Differences between industrial, collaborative, and service robots continue to mold together too, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing the field of robotics and automated work to take off.

The International Federation of Robots claims that robots will create a lot of jobs:

“Robotics will be a major driver for global job creation over the next five years.  The announcement is based on a study conducted by the market research firm, Metra Martech, “Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment”.

One million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of close to three million jobs, the study concluded. A growth in robot use over the next five years will result in the creation of one million high quality jobs around the world. Robots will help to create jobs in some of the most critical industries of this century: consumer electronics, food, solar & wind power, and advanced battery manufacturing to name just a few.”

Robots are anticipated to replace humans within critical industries doing jobs that are unsafe, would not be economically viable in a high wage economy, or jobs that would be impossible for humans to do. So even if humans are being replaced by robots, it’s because humans want to be replaced by the robots in certain areas.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that humans must be around to tell these robots what to do, and humans must create them or program them. They would not exist if humans didn’t have a desire or need to create them in the first place.

So, even if robots are taking our jobs, we can always determine what jobs we want them to take. And we can tell them when they should start or stop working… Right?

Will robots ever be capable of human sentiments or consciousness?

Does it Matter?

If robots are going to handle most human jobs (including the ones we want), they must also possess human sentiments and be self-aware…that is, unless we are telling them what to do and providing them with set parameters. And even with these set parameters, odd or unique things will happen that robots won’t know how to handle because they will be outside of their programmed parameters. Why? Because robots must interact with humans and work for humans if they are to handle human jobs. And humans are weird, sometimes erratic, and a lot of times not rational at all. The capacity to respond to other humans as a human is still up to humans.

Imagine a customer care service representative on the phone who is instructed by their employer to follow a script when assisting you with your concern. It can be infuriating at times, especially if you have a unique concern that falls outside of their script. You need empathy, their critical thinking skills, and creativity to solve your unique problem, not their regurgitated spiel.

Furthermore, the science is just not there yet. Virtual reality is still not reality.

Most robots and automated machines are based on digital binary systems. These systems cannot capture complex human thoughts or emotions or create them on their own. Unlike digital computers, brains contain a host of analogue cellular and molecular processes, biochemical reactions, electrostatic forces, global synchronized neuron firing at specific frequencies, and unique structural and functional connections with countless feedback loops. Computers cannot emulate this because they are not biological, but man-made.

In the long run, whether robots will ever emulate the human brain is a moot point because it will only happen if it’s scientifically possible (and this is very far from being proved), and if humans want this to happen in the first place. And if this does happen, in hundreds of years from now, I hope we are at least smart enough to include a “destruct now” emergency button, just in case.

To briefly sum up the meditations in this post:

Are robots taking human jobs? Yes.

But they are mostly jobs humans don’t want to do anymore, or need help doing because they are unsafe, tedious, too difficult, or impossible for humans to do. At least, that’s the case for now.

Because humans are still in control of creating robots, they are still determining and building the labor force and what robots can do. It isn’t quite “man vs machine,” where the robots win. And the potential for this happening anytime soon is very slim.

And because robots are non-organic, non-sentient things created by humans, they can’t take our jobs…unless they are the jobs we don’t want. We program them with the jobs we want them to complete. And that is worth meditating about.

What are your thoughts?

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Fake News: Why it Matters and What We Can Do About it

The 2016 presidential election did a lot more than make most of us uneasy and want to crawl into a dark hole and hide until it was over. It brought to light, in full force, the issue of “fake news” and its ability to spread like a contagious foot fungus. We saw it spread across social media and the entire Internet.

Regardless of the spot on the political spectrum in which you find yourself, fake news is something we’ve all read about in the past couple of months, and it needs to be addressed in a real and practical way. It’s time to stop and ask ourselves a few questions, and attempt to get some answers.

What is “fake news”?

Many individuals now think of fake news as a form of political propaganda, especially since its existence received a lot of attention during and after the 2016 election. I mean, when is the whole truth and nothing but the truth disclosed during a political campaign anyway? The tradition of highlighting not-so-nice things about your opponent in a blatantly biased TV commercial ad during election season should be expected. Fabricating news entirely shouldn’t be though.

Lately, we have seen fake news go beyond traditional political propaganda or tabloid ads claiming a celebrity was abducted by aliens. One well-known example was dubbed “Pizzagate”, when a man fired a rifle in a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant after reading a story online that the restaurant was involved in a child-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton.

In his Buzzfeed article “Top Fake News of 2016,” Craig Silverman highlights research he conducted using BuzzSumo. Silverman discusses the top-performing fake content on Facebook in 2016, with a link to a Google spreadsheet with links to the 50 top-performing articles.

Here are some fake stories that were in the top 20 on the list:

  • “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide” (This one received over 2 million Facebook engagements!)
  • “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement”
  • “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America”
  • “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide”
  • “President Obama Confirms He Will Refuse to Leave Office If Trump Is Elected”

The best way to tell if a story is “fake news” is to verify its source and its credibility. Here is a starter  list of fake news websites to be wary of on Facebook if you’re interested in seeing what unreliable sources look like. And here is another list.

Is fake news a real problem? If so, for whom?

Fake news was obviously a problem for the individuals inside the pizza restaurant in D.C. where a man started shooting his rifle. But it’s also a prevalent problem among Americans in general.

According to a recent Pew Research study:

 “About two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. This sense is shared widely across incomes, education levels, partisan affiliations and most other demographic characteristics.”

So, yes, fake news is a real problem for most Americans. According to the same Pew study, a quarter of Americans also admitted to spreading fake news in 2016, and most of them were well aware that the items they were sharing were fake.

What’s even more disturbing than a large chunk of Americans knowingly engaging with and spreading fake news? The fact that engagement for fake news on Facebook surpassed that of the content from major news outlets leading up to and during the 2016 election. Pulitzer winner, Politifact, even designated their “2016 Lie of the Year” to “fake news” itself. Because there were so many instances of fake news stories that were created, by so many individuals, they were unable to pinpoint just one.

Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as its word of 2016. It’s defined as the condition when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Fake news is a sign that we are living in a post-truth society.

 

Important Question:

When we can’t agree on straightforward facts — or even that there are such things as facts — how are we supposed to talk to each other?

 

Fake news is also a major problem for students across the United States. This Stanford History Education Group study reveals that across the United States, many students can’t tell the difference between a reported news article, a persuasive opinion piece, and a corporate ad. This is a major problem. Future generations should be able to make these distinctions, especially when they are old enough to vote.

Who or what is responsible for fake news?

Because fake news is primarily spread across social media and search engines, Facebook and Google were accused of aiding the contagion of fake content across the web during the 2016 election. Many experts claimed that there was more each company could have done with their algorithms to prevent fake news stories from spreading. Each company has since put the wheels in motion to stop fake news from spreading. You can read more about that here.

Some claim that most individuals who create fake news do it for the revenue that ads on Facebook and Google generate. “I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense,” Paul Horner, a prolific, Facebook-focused fake-news writer claimed in this Washington Post article. However, there are a lot of people like Jestin Coler (and his 20+ writers) who “insists this [creating fake news] is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election.” (source– NPR).

While we like to blame social media and writers for the epidemic of fake news, it’s up to us as content-consumers to verify what we are reading. And hopefully a lot more of us start caring about the quality of what we are consuming.

How can we prevent fake news from spreading?

The first and obvious way to prevent fake news from spreading is to refrain from creating it or sharing it at all.

Here are some other tips:

  • Bookmark some of the sources listed in this post that identify some of the better known fake news outlets and stories.
  • Determine who wrote the piece in question- the byline. Verify the author’s history and reputation as a writer, as well as the sources they are using.
  • Identify when (date and time) the piece in question was published. Note:“Breaking News” is continuously updated.
  • Notice how the piece makes you feel when you read it. If you get enraged, take a breath and check the facts before sharing it.
  • Use sources and 3rd party fact-checkers to verify facts in the articles you encounter, such as Politifact, Factcheck.org, The Washington Post Fact Checker. And use the SharetheFacts.org’s widget.

 

We should never believe anything we read without thinking about it first, especially if it conjures up intense emotions. And we should always use our critical thinking skills.

Share this post if you want others to be more aware too!

 

Is Technology Necessary for Self-Help?

Self-help techniques and paraphernalia get a bad rap. Sometimes we judge others who seek out help as being devoid of something, whether it be on an intellectual, physical, or spiritual level. However, the size of the overall self-help industry is worth around $9 billion annually.

Odd, isn’t it? Why do we want to pretend like we think self-help, also known as “self-development” or “self-improvement”, is a lowly thing, when we are literally buying it on a mass scale?

Should the items on the list below be considered as avenues for “self-help”?

 

  • Webinars
  • Online Courses
  • Wearable Devices
  • Apps
  • Social Media
  • Podcasts

 

Technology is noticeably the essential component of the items on this list; and all the items listed yield data and or information.

We should think about the role technology plays in the betterment of our livelihoods. When we use a device like a Fitbit to help us follow fitness goals, should we consider that “self-help”? Should we consider it “self-help” when we watch a spiritual leader’s most recent podcast, or tune in to a webinar on marketing trends for our professional development? Why or why not?

Is it critical to rely solely on the data and information that technology yields to us for self-improvement, or is it simply more convenient to have an app track everything for us?

 

MEDITATE ABOUT THIS: Is technology an accessory to our self-help goals, simply making it easier to attain our goals? Or is technology necessary to attaining our self-help goals, where we can’t improve ourselves or our lives without it?

 

Let’s take some examples from the list above to see if we can determine if they are necessary to our intellectual, physical, or spiritual improvement…or just nice to have as an accessory.

 

Intellectual Self-Improvement & Technology

Online learning through webinars and on-demand classes are more prevalent than ever. If we are trying to expand our knowledge in a certain area of expertise, is it even possible to do so without the Internet and information that is hosted online? Perhaps. But not if we want to ensure we have the most relevant and up-to-date information.

While books are still printed and sold in large quantities, we can’t deny that the avenues in which we educate ourselves are majorly held online now, and are digital. Books are now a supplement to a course, not the main instrument from which a course is derived. With the widespread use of search engines, on-demand courses, testing platforms, conferencing tools, mobile tutoring apps, and virtual webinars, technology is a major component behind how we learn more and improve our skills.

Are we able to improve our expertise without technology?

 

Physical Self-Improvement & Technology

The Fitbit is a popular device people wear in order to track their heart rates when they move, how often they move, as well as their sleeping patterns. It is part of a trend of wearable technology and apps that track one’s fitness goals so that they can increase their physical activity levels and get in better shape.

Some may argue that we don’t necessarily need wearable technology or apps to make sure we get to the gym on a regular basis. And while that may be true to some extent, it’s important to consider where we would be without devices such as the Fitbit. Counting the calories we consume and the pounds we lose is not necessarily a foolproof way to assess our health. The human body is complex and many factors need to be considered when gauging one’s physical health.

Sure, we could follow a human personal trainer’s planned sessions, but if we don’t have real-time data on our physical state, reminders, and reports, then how are we calculating physical improvement?

 

Spiritual Self-Improvement & Technology

Self-help e-books and podcasts abound; here’s a short list published by the Huffington Post.

We seek out media that allows us to explore big questions or change the current state of our emotional well-being, content that inspires us. The best part is, we can engage with others and share these pieces of media online through social networks.

Many people still go to a physical location for worship and prayer, or attend motivational talks held at conference centers. However, the digital media used for spiritual self-help online, or even the media used at large talks held in conference centers, assists with the proliferation and sharing of spiritual improvement of the self.

Is it possible to grow spiritually without utilizing digital information for knowledge attainment, and to be part of a spiritual community? Are podcasts and similar media a major force behind how we have come to understand the ways in which we can improve and practice spirituality?

 

We can certainly read a book to increase our skill levels, go to the gym on a regular basis without tracking anything on a device, and seek out spiritual confidence without podcasts and digital media. But, can we be the best we can be intellectually, physically, or spiritually without technology at all?

If we are seeking ways to improve ourselves, can we do so without the help of technology in the world we live in now?

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Does Technology Really Make Us More Productive?

Image Source

Every day a new smartphone app crosses our digital path. Google Play for Android has over 1.5 million apps and the Apple store has over 1.2 million (source). The IoT (Internet of Things) movement is flourishing, as well. In 2015, Gartner predicted that by 2016, 6.4 billion “things” (everything from your coffee pot to your office printer) will be connected to the Internet (source).

Need to get a grocery list together, organized by where certain items are located in the grocery store you frequent? There’s an app for that. Need to communicate with your remote team on a particular project while you are away on a business trip, but you don’t want to bombard their inboxes in the middle of the night? There’s an app for that too. You can even print out items for your team meeting from your smartphone when you are commuting to the office so that your reports are ready when you arrive (hopefully, for everyone’s safety, you’re on a train or in a cab when you do this).

This sounds terrific! We can do everything faster and more conveniently than ever before, at work and in our personal lives. We’re always connected to our teams and have limitless ways to be more productive and save time. And this is all made possible through the Internet and our smartphones. Great! But…

Let’s pause and meditate about this for a moment before we continue downloading the most recent productivity app. Let’s think about why we feel this need to be connected to the Internet all the time across all devices, why we feel the need to track our every movement and plan, and why we think that it makes us more productive. I’m starting to wonder if it does. And I know that I’m not the only one. (Total disclosure: I have 6 productivity apps on my smartphone at the moment, not including all the Microsoft Office products I use. So… I am trying to play the “devil’s advocate” here and think about this from all angles.)

While a number of enterprises and companies attempt to go mobile so that their workforce can be on the go, sometimes it causes problems because there isn’t just one single app for everything that needs to be done for a project, or for someone in a certain role. As highlighted in this article , typically apps aren’t comprehensive and only contain singular functions. For instance, you have an app for writing documents, and another one for editing it, and yet another one for financial spreadsheets, and another one for team communications, and yet another one for a project calendar. This doesn’t seem to be conducive to being more productive because you have to constantly learn different apps each time you are attempting a different type of task, and you always have to open and close apps to get what you need done… and then you have to remember to sync them all!

According to a study conducted by Pew Research, 46% of workers feel more productive because they have access to the Internet, email, and smartphones. However, only 2% of total time spent on mobile apps is used for the purpose of being more productive (infographic source). There are also a multitude of apps being created that monitor our activity on the Internet and shut down our access to the Internet so that we can be more productive; here’s a list of some of them. So there’s an app that makes sure we don’t use other apps.

                                                                     worride_face

Nowadays, we are constantly being sold this idea that we need to be more productive, at work and in our personal lives. We need to do more, quicker, cheaper, and on the go with our mobile devices. How? There’s an app for that. And the apps all notify us, every minute of every day, that we need to be doing something.

There are so many apps intended to make us more productive that I couldn’t even count the number of productivity apps available for download in the Play Store on my Android device. And when I searched the Google Play Store for a simple grocery shopping list organizer, there were 24 results! This doesn’t even include the options that are available in the Apple store.

For those of us who live and breathe simply to discover the newest app or productivity software, 24 apps for a category may not seem that high. However, if you’re like many Americans, you don’t live simply to discover the newest and greatest app. According to another Pew Research study, over 60% of Americans don’t flock to adopting new technology and wait until it has been on the market for a while (there a variety of contributing factors for this).

There have also been many movements, articles, and pleas (made by people other than our family members born before the 1960’s) about disconnecting ourselves from our devices entirely every now and then so that we can be more productive and less stressed out. Here are a couple of resources to consider:  Why unplugging can lead to happier, more productive workers , Why You Need To Unplug Every 90 Minutes

So, after you meditate on this, will you go download an app, or unplug entirely? Perhaps the best way to be productive is somewhere in between…

 

Extra Reading Related to this Topic: Technology isn’t workingWe Should Always Have Three-Day Weekends

 

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Technology Inspired by Nature… Musings & Examples

Technology makes our lives easier and more fulfilling. We can do things faster and more efficiently than ever before. This is no secret.

We have our GPS, which makes it less likely we’ll find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere (unless, of course, that is where we would like to be). It’s easier and faster to stay in touch and communicate with others we work with, family members on the other side of the globe, and those individuals who share our unusual fascination for things like duct tape art and collecting elongated coins. Technology has also allowed us to reach new feats in medical research and data collection. The list could continue for pages, but I won’t offer an exhaustive list (at least, not in this short post).

Throughout history, philosophers, scientists, and scholars, have recognized the influence nature has had on technological innovation. The most notable testimony of this insight is from ancient Greece— “technology learns from or imitates nature (Plato, Laws X 899a ff.). According to Democritus, for example, house-building and weaving were first invented by imitating swallows and spiders building their nests and nets, respectively” (source, section 1.1).

In my most recent post (in the spirit of celebrating National Great Outdoors Month) I posed the question of whether technology can bring us closer to nature. Now, I think it would be interesting to think of the ways that nature has inspired technological innovation. This will help us better understand why we innovate gadgets, gizmos, and apps.

Questions for Meditation:

What advances in technology in the modern age are inspired by nature? Is this important to consider when innovating technology? If so, why?

Leonardo da Vinci seemed to think so. He studied bats and birds, and sketched flying contraptions that mimicked the shape and mobility of their wings (source). Da Vinci is notorious for using what we now call biomimicry (an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies).

Da Vinci stated, “Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.” If we presume (like da Vinci) that necessity drives nature, would it benefit us to think that necessity should then drive technological innovation? Is technological innovation most successful when it is driven by nature, which is driven by necessity?

                                           Necessity –> Nature –> Technology    ?

      Below are some modern examples of nature inspiring technological innovation:

velcro

                                               (photo source)

  Burrs & Velcro                                                 

 “After a hunting trip in the Alps in 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral’s dog was covered in burdock burrs. Mestral put one under his microscope and discovered a simple design of hooks that nimbly attached to fur and socks.” (source) Voila, Velcro was born.

 


bulet_train

                                           (photo source)

Kingfisher Bird & Shinkansen Bullet Train           

Engineers were concerned with the sonic boom that train riders would experience after a high speed train they were inventing emerged from tunnels. After engineer Nakatsu observed the Kingfisher bird in nature, the problem was resolved.

“The Kingfisher is a type of bird that dives from the air, which has low resistance, into high-resistance water, and incredibly does it without splashing. Nakatsu thought the reason was the streamlined shape of its beak. They conducted tests to measure pressure waves arising from shooting bullets of various shapes into a pipe. The data showed that the ideal shape for this Shinkansen is almost identical to a kingfisher’s beak! They then fitted the front of the train with a design similar to the kingfisher’s beak, and the problem with the sonic booms was gone.” (source)


drone

                                      (photo source)

Bees & Drones

Drone designers are now looking to bees to help them better understand how to make drones more efficient at navigating airspace.

“…motion-direction detecting circuits could be wired together to also detect motion-speed. This is how bees control their flight — and could very well be the future of how drones behave, too.” (source)


NASA_Gecko

                                         (photo source)

Gecko Skin & Robots

“NASA has been learning a few tricks by observing the gecko.

Tiny hairs on their feet allow these small lizards to grip and climb walls – and they don’t lose their stickiness over time. The harder they press their feet, the stickier they become.

Aaron Parness and colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have developed a material containing minute synthetic hairs that stick to a surface when a force is applied to make the hairs bend.

Prototype objects have been developed which might in future be able to act as anchors on board the International Space Station – but the technology may also be able to be used on its exterior, by repair or inspection robots.”

Using the same principle, researchers at Stanford University in the US have developed tiny robots that can drag more than 2,000 times their own weight. (source)


butterfly_blue

                                                     (photo source)

Butterfly Wings & E-readers

“Researchers developing color displays for e-readers are taking inspiration from an unlikely source: butterfly wings. Qualcomm MEMS Technologies created the first full-color, video-friendly e-reader prototype based on the way butterfly wings gleam in bright light. The display, known as Mirasol, works by reflecting light, instead of transmitting light from behind the screen the way LCD monitors do. The new type of screen can be read in bright sunlight and has longer battery life.” (source)


firefly_lightbulb

                                              (photo source)

Firefly Light Bulbs

“When insects of the genus Photuris light fires in their bellies, the radiance is amplified by their anatomy — sharp, jagged scales, according to research published in January [2103] by scientists from Belgium, France, and Canada.

Based on this observation, the scientists then built and laid a similar structure on a light-emitting diode (LED), which increased its brightness by 55 percent.” (source)


algae

                                                  (photo source)

Algae & Biofuel

“Depending on your favorite species, algae can be eaten, burned for heat, or used to produce hydrogen, methane, biodiesel, or plain old fertilizer. Algae is so prolific, and comes in so many varieties, that it’s actually a chore to isolate your preferred species for cultivation out of a water sample from the wild. The best part is that algae soaks up the sun and lots of CO2 to work its magic. That’s two forms of renewable energy used to produce fuels or foods (sushi anyone?) in high demand.” (source)

What would you add to this list? Do you think that technology inspired by nature is inspired by necessity?

Comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Technology Bring Us Closer to Nature?

June is now officially recognized as National Great Outdoors Month.

While we recognize this month, we’ll tell ourselves that we need to leave our tablets and smartphones back at home or the cabin as we hike the Appalachian Trail (or part of it), fish in the stream in our backyard, bike our way through the vast plains, or launch our boat from the nearby marina.

It’s summer time now and we all want to be outside.  We may not all, however, want to leave our beloved gadgets and apps behind. We have photos and stories to share with the world! And we know we can’t leave emails from our boss or potential clients neglected for too long.

 

We think about what photos and moments we want to capture and share on social media as we hike along…

Nature_post_6

 

 

It’s no secret that technology pervades every aspect of our lives; how we work, where we work, how we learn, how we communicate. The list goes on and on…

And with the constant innovation of new phone apps, gizmos and gadgets, we are all being told now that we should disconnect more frequently from our devices and social media accounts.

Being glued to our screens constantly shrinks our brains, makes us lazy thinkers, makes us suffer from “text claw” and could wreck our spines, makes us emotionally unstable because we are getting lonely  and sad as we scroll through our Facebook feeds, and makes us more irritable because we aren’t sleeping due to our circadian rhythm being all out of whack… so they* say.

*“they” here is referring to those individuals who conduct medical and psychological studies regarding effects of technology use on us mortals who all need to constantly remember to lead healthier and more balanced lifestyles (whatever that means) … far, far away from blue screens that haunt us at night as we try to sleep but can’t escape… from the addictive power of Netflix.

While all of that might be true… just for a few moments, I’d like to think about how technology could bring us closer to nature.

And while we should definitely experience the outdoors more while the sun is out in full force, I would like to pose two questions for meditation:

1- Should we view technology and nature as opposites? (Man vs Machine)

 2- In order to take full advantage of the great outdoors and appreciate it, do we need to leave all of our gizmos, gadgets, devices, and apps behind?

Perhaps we should consider a different perspective, where nature and technology meet; a perspective where technology not only allows us to appreciate the great outdoors more, but can even potentially save a life and make our lives more fulfilling, while we’re surrounded by fresh foliage and chirping herons.

Consider the following before you go explore the great outdoors:

  • The American Red Cross mobile apps provide information for:
    • Administering first aid (even for Rover, your furry pal who’s hiking with you)
    • Local weather patterns
    • How to prepare for a natural disaster

 

  • There are apps that allow you to navigate the terrain in front of you before you attempt to tackle it, so you don’t encounter terrain that you aren’t prepared to cover or that has changed due to recent weather (source). And let’s not forget the often taken for granted GPS. You know, Google even has maps for a lot more than city streets (google it).

 

 

 

Even though the above list is short, it exemplifies how technology can potentially bring us even closer to appreciating our experiences in the outdoors (opposed to the trending theme that blue screens are evil and will kill us all).

 

What do you think? Do you have an app or device that you love to use when in the great outdoors; that allows you to appreciate nature more than you would without it? Or do you believe in the sanctity of disconnecting completely while you listen to birds singing and the nearby brook babble?

Comment below.

To Blog or Not To Blog … That is THE Question. Here’s My Answer.

Forgive the pun with the clichéd Shakespearean quote.

In my defense, deciding whether to start a blog is THE question for:

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Trendsetters
  • Marketers and Content Strategists
  • Small, Medium, and Large Businesses
  • Researchers and Scholars
  • Political and Social Activists
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Government Entities
  • Statisticians and Data Experts
  • Freelancers
  • Hobbyists

… As you can see, the list can continue…

C’mon, everyone’s doing it. But, should you? … Should I? …

Time is our most precious commodity. Planning and managing any type of content can be very time-consuming in the beginning stages, especially if you haven’t the foggiest notion where to start, or if you should even start in the first place. I hope to shed some light on this conundrum, as I navigate through this experience myself.

If you want to get straight to business, you can skip to the Eye-Popping Stats About Blogging and 5 Reasons Why I Started My Blog sections below.

 

My Experience- Why I Started a Blog

A year ago, I was living in Chicago working for a Fortune 500 company. I was a small fish in a very big pond. And I wanted to swim! I was new to the tech scene and I was a sponge, soaking up all of the information I could get my hands on about systems’ integrations and coding websites (among a lot of other things). I wanted to learn everything there was to know about technology. The possibilities made available to me through learning more about technology were endless! I went in head first.

When I started to get involved with a group inside the company that discussed issues about women and minorities in the tech scene, I instantly became a supporter and advocate for these issues. At this time, I also started volunteering with organizations outside of the company that helped middle school and high school students learn how to code; they also worked to set the students up with internships and relevant job skills in the tech industry. It was amazing to help these kids and to be a part of the future of tech. I was inspired.

By way of being involved with these groups and organizations, I began to learn more and more about the digital divide, as well as the lack of a clear and coherent definition across sectors and industries regarding what exactly it is. Behold, my passion and mission were born. Answers were needed!

After years of perfecting the craft of writing an academic research paper and marketing copy for organizations—writing for others— I finally had something to say about a topic that was important to me and members in my community, something I wanted to talk to everyone about. I wasn’t in it to make money. I wanted to be engaged with others and help move digital literacy initiatives ahead in any way possible.

I started networking… a lot. I met a lot of amazing people in the startup industry and co-working spaces, technical experts, leaders and founders of nonprofit organizations, politicians, researchers, executives, and individuals (like myself at the time) who were passionate about a variety of different noble causes… but were unsure of where to start.

I received some amazing advice from a lot of influential people and respected peers. Some said I should start my own nonprofit. I should be a consultant. I should write a book. I should interview experts. I should travel abroad for extended periods. I should talk to anyone and everyone starting a new venture to build a support system. I should go to events with contests. I should speak at events and conferences. I should volunteer more. I should get certified in this or that. The list of amazing ideas continues…

Yet no one ever suggested to me that I should write a blog. And while I thought about the idea of starting a blog…at the time, I was okay that no one encouraged me to start a blog. I had the impression (unfairly so; as at that time I had never even subscribed to a blog before) that blogging was either for complainers who like to rant about anything and everything about an overly specific niche, or for people who were exceedingly extroverted and wanted to be the center of attention at all times. That may sound shocking to others who regularly read blogs, and I’m sure a few social marketing strategists will shutter at those statements too. However, that was my perception at the time. I liked writing and creating content for others because I didn’t want to be at the center of everything. In all honesty, it petrified me.

My conundrum, however, was that I am extremely passionate about digital literacy initiatives and standing beside those individuals, organizations, and businesses that would really benefit from learning more about technology in order to gain more exposure, obtain better jobs, enhance their bottom line, and achieve a better quality of day-to-day experiences; just by gaining access to, and learning about trends in technology. But, I didn’t have an online space to share those ideas with others who cared about the same topics too. I thought I would be able to make an impact and contribute to the conversation without a blog, without engaging in a conversation that many people around the country and globe could access, consume, engage with, and share.

Now I realize how incredibly wrong I was. And my findings and the numbers prove it. Here are just a few eye-popping stats for businesses, organizations, and social ventures to consider.

Eye-Popping Stats About Blogging

  • Companies who blog receive 97% more links to their website. (source)
  • 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs. (source)
  • On average, companies that blog receive 434% more indexed pages. (source)
  • Small businesses that blog get 126% more lead growth than those that do not blog. (source)
  • 56% of leading business bloggers are hiring additional resources in the next 12 months. (source)
  • Long-form blog posts generate 9 times more leads than short-form blog posts. (source)
  • 57% of business bloggers’ outsourced blog posts originate from non-paid guest posts.(source)

The above stats are enticing and telling. People want to engage with small businesses, organizations, and social ventures online, via blogs. While this is no longer a secret to many, it still is to some. The above stats are a powerful testament to how essential it is to continue the conversation you think is important to start, and to create a space to facilitate that conversation.

I have now officially started my blogging schedule to keep the conversation going. Technology impacts every facet of our daily lives now. And it is imperative that we don’t leave so many others out of the conversation. Technology impacts our economy (locally, nationally, and globally), how we get jobs and achieve our income levels, how we engage with political movements and ideals, our education attainment levels, the opportunities we have to start our own businesses and social ventures, and so much more. Below are five reasons why I decided to take blogging more seriously than I did in the past. Hopefully you can tailor them to your own unique situation. You may have similar reasons or different reasons, but as revealed above, the stats behind the benefits to blogging are enticing. If you want to get your brand or message across to the right group, blogging is a truly viable option.

 5 Reasons Why I Started My Blog

1- I Want to Find My Audience and Expand My Reach

While I have found a lot of individuals interested in how technology impacts society and business, I find it difficult to find local in-person events or initiatives that are solely about this topic and at once all-encompassing. I want an online space where people can come to discuss the many and diverse facets of how technology shapes our lives, work, education, businesses, and communities—no matter their locales.

2- I Want to Engage in Conversation

I have many years of experience writing academic and corporate pieces, but I want to finally be able to engage with others about topics that are important, in a conversational manner. I want there to be a back-and-forth, and interesting view points and questions from others who are from all different walks of life.

 

3- I Want to Help Facilitate the Conversations that Others are Already Having

I want to create an actual place (albeit virtual) where people can go to engage in conversations about the ways technology has influenced everyday life, as well as things that are interesting and new; such as information about a new business application, a new or free coding class or platform, a fundraiser for a social venture, a new skill that can be acquired to stand out in the job market, market research and trends, etc.

 

4- I Want to Encourage Collaboration

Whether you are a CEO of a marketing company, a college student in the humanities, a 50-year old starting a new career path, a woman learning to code, a web development expert with over 10 years of experience, a manager of a nonprofit that assists job-seekers, an immigrant who is navigating the tech space in a new country, or an entrepreneur interested in creating a new mobile app (just to name a few concrete examples)… this is a space where you can find something of value, and contribute to the discussion. In fact, the value of this space is dependent upon you being a part of this discussion.

 

5- I Want to Inspire Others

I want others to know that this conversation is indeed being had and that they do indeed have a space in this ever-changing and ever-challenging world of technology, social media, and web content. I want to create awareness. And I want to inspire others to share the resources, experiences, and wealth of knowledge they have with others.

 

You can join this conversation by following this blog. Click on the “Follow” button below this post. And if you start your own blog, please SHARE your experience!

 

6 Apps for Giving and Staying Connected During the Holidays

During the holiday season it has become tradition to travel across the country to visit family and friends. We cook wonderful and elaborate meals, fill our plates with too much food, pepper our social media feeds with what we are thankful for and cute photos of our kids and or pets in festive garb. Many of us rush out the door during the early hours the Friday after Thanksgiving to wait in lines at superstores to get the best deals. And after arriving home frazzled and drained, I am sure the promise to never forget about what the holiday season is actually all about is uttered… that is, until Cyber Monday rolls around. And then we spend the next few weeks panicking about what to buy others and what type of drink options to have at the party we’re hosting, while trying to squeeze attending our coworker’s  charity fund raiser into our schedule that is already filled with lunch meetings, holiday plays, and potlucks.

Stress is unavoidable during the holiday season. The below list of apps is here to help you stay  focused on what I believe most of us believe the holiday season is all about… GIVING and BEING CONNECTED. Even while you are busy, these apps make it easy to give and stay connected. 

All apps listed are available on iOS and Android devices for free unless otherwise notated.

1.Elfster

Their slogan: “Elfster is a FREE gift exchange website to make gift-giving easier. We make Christmas, holidays and other gift exchanges free, easy, and fun!”

Through this app, you can get gift ideas for friends and loved ones in the “shop” section that is arranged by categories of interest, price range, and even links to items on Amazon and Etsy.  You can also set up a Secret Santa gift exchange, as well as utilize their free online giving platform for your family and friends, local community, charities, and business. Additionally, you can share gift wish lists with family members and friends so they know not only what you want but where to get it.

2. Charity Miles

Their slogan: “Raise money for charity when you walk, run, or bike.”

Through this app, bikers earn up to 10¢ per mile; walkers and runners earn up to 25¢ per mile. Select which charity you’d like to run, walk, or bike for and press “start.” The app tracks your distance and earns money for the organization you selected. Organizations include, Feeding America, Autism Speaks, DoSomething.org and more. This is a great way to earn money for an organization during the holiday season (and even after) while staying fit or just walking the dog.

3.  Givelify Mobile Giving App

Their slogan: “One app, any cause, any time.”

If you are traveling during the holidays, this app makes it easy to donate to a cause that is important to you while you are on the go. You only have to follow three easy steps: 1) Choose a donation amount 2) Select the fundraising campaign to which you’d like to contribute, and 3) tap “Give Now”. This app also makes it incredibly easy for those who are leading fundraising and donation campaigns to track details so that when tax time rolls around you have all the information you need in reports.

4.

My Christmas Tree (Android)

Christmas Tree (iOS)

These apps allow you to decorate a Christmas tree and share it with others through social media, email, and SMS. This is a great idea for those family members who won’t be able to come over to trim the tree with you this year. It can also keep the kids occupied.

5. Stre.am

Their Slogan: “Share your world & watch live video with just your phone.”

If you want to share video of your kids opening their gifts, playing in the snow, or singing in the choir, this app helps you capture and share these timeless moments. It’s also a great way to share your moments, in live action, with family and friends who are on the other side of the country or world.

6. Pinterest is a great platform to use for sharing holiday recipes with others, and to get ideas for  new traditions; for instance, gingerbread cheesecake bites. There are also a lot of great ideas for decorating the house and hosting parties.

There are so many apps out there for the holidays. Share your favorite app to use during the holidays with others, below.