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Published on March 29th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley

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Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing Keys To Climate Change Challenges

March 29th, 2017 by  


If the human race has any hope of meeting the challenge of climate change, it will need to think its way out of the conundrum it has wrought. People need meaningful work to do. Business owners need profits to stay in business. Commerce takes energy — lots of it — to keep chugging ahead. But work and commerce generate effluent that poisons the land, the air, and the seas. The more successful mankind gets at lifting itself out of ignorance and poverty, the more it sows the seeds of its own destruction.

climate change

A few lucky souls can decamp to new colonies on Mars to escape the ravages of climate change, but that won’t help the billions left behind. And what’s to say our species won’t pollute neighboring planets the way it did the earth? Maybe what is needed is more collaboration and more innovation. Fortunately there is a way that can happen, thanks to computational tools that weren’t available just a few short years ago.

We Are Already Cyborgs

Elon Musk, the foremost creative force of our time, says,

“We’re already a cyborg, I mean you have a digital or partial version of yourself in the form of your emails and your social media and all the things that you do and you have basically superpowers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there. You have more power than the president of the United States had 20 years ago. You can answer any question, you can video conference with anyone anywhere, you can send a message to anyone instantly. You can just do incredible things.”

Autodesk Leads The Way

One company that makes access to some of those incredible things possible is Autodesk, a company that offers cloud-based software packages for multiple industries ranging from architecture, engineering, and construction, to product design, to media and entertainment. All are offered on a subscription basis starting as low as $300 a year.

Recently, Jason Pohl, head designer for Orange County Choppers, used Autodesk’s Fusion 360 suite to create an all new electric motorcycle. “I wanted it to stand alone, completely,” he says. Using an electric motor allowed Pohl to eliminate the exhaust system and V-twin engine of other OCC designs, which “opened up a whole new world of possibilities.” With a slimmer drivetrain, he explains, “You have room to express yourself with more creative elements that take up the whole bike.”

electric motorcycle

Say Hello To Hack Rod

Felix Holst and Mouse McCoy are co-founders of Hack Rod, a start up that wants to provide an end to end resource for those who want to build a custom car but don’t know where to begin. They worked with Autodesk to create a unique platform that anyone, even someone without an engineering degree, can use to design a custom vehicle. Just plug in the dimensions, weight, and motive power desired and the program, which is cloud based, will spit out the best possible design.

The process takes just a few minutes as the computer runs through thousands of permutations a second. It would take a normal backyard tinker several lifetimes to explore all the possibilities. Below is a gif that shows how the process works in near real time. Prepare to be amazed!

Hack Rod

The best part is that Holst and McCoy have programmed their software package to find suppliers who will fabricate the needed pieces — often using 3-D additive printers — and drop ship them directly to the customer’s home. No muss, no fuss. Your own personal customized car is just a few mouse clicks away.

After the program was up and running, Holst and McCoy realized that it works equally well for almost any manufactured product. With 3-D printing, the cost of one part is virtually the same on a unit basis as the cost of a component that is part of a 10,000 piece manufacturing run. So they have expanded their platform to take on manufacturing projects other than making vehicles.

OpenAI Teaches Bots To Talk

Elon Musk’s name is never far from this kind of conversation. In conjunction with Y Combinator founder Sam Altman, he established OpenAI last year to fund and encourage research into artificial intelligence. This week, OpenAI has accomplished something truly revolutionary. It has taught AI bots to talk to each other using a machine language they have created themselves. The implications of bots that can write their own code are simply staggering.

Yes, the tasks they can accomplish are quite simple. Two of the bots are asked to find a third bot or move it to another location. And the exercise occurs in only two dimensions. But this is like the first day of school for mankind. Today, one bot can program itself to find another bot. Tomorrow it might be able to design a new solar panel or wind turbine blade or battery cell that will help power earth’s energy needs with clean renewable power to mitigate the effects of climate change. It might even think of a whole new way to harvest energy from nature.

Are We Ready To Implant Computer Chips In Our Brains?

Musk this week has created yet another startup called Neuralink. Listed as a medical technology company in its home state of California, its purpose is to study how to create interfaces between computers and the human brain that will boost the output speed of the human thought process. Implanting chips in our brains may be one way of accomplishing that. Musk points out that a computer can perform millions of calculations in the time it takes a person to send a text message. The human brain is just too slow for Elon’s liking. If we could boost that output speed, maybe we could find answers to life’s important issues faster.

The Internet Giveth And The Internet Taketh Away

The internet has always held out the possibility of connecting billions of human minds together in a way that would promote advanced solutions to mankind’s most pressing problems like climate change. But it has also become a force for separating us into disparate groups who loathe each other — Christians vs. Muslims, blacks vs. whites, those who urinate standing up vs. those who do it sitting down, those on that side of the Mexican border vs. those on this side of it, those with one kind of ID vs. those without the magic talisman. Technology is excellent at slicing and dicing us into smaller and smaller groups so marketers and politicians can leverage that information to get us to do what they want.

What is really needed, though, is new ideas that prevent the digital universe from turning us all into two legged protoplasmic containers of hate, ready to battle each other to the death at the drop of a slogan or presidential Tweet. So far, no one has figured out the answer to the most important question of all — how to train our digital assistants not to exacerbate humanity’s baser instincts.


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may take him. His muse is Charles Kuralt -- "I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what's around the bend?" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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