How does one become a faster and better decision maker? — Quartz at Work

via How does one become a faster and better decision maker? — Quartz at Work

Inside the quest to save the banana from extinction — Quartz

via Inside the quest to save the banana from extinction — Quartz

Panama disease, an infection that ravages banana plants, has been sweeping across Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. The impact has been devastating. In the Philippines alone, losses have totaled $400 million. And the disease threatens not only the livelihoods of everyone in this $44 billion industry but also the 400 million people in developing countries who depend on bananas for a substantial proportion of their calorie intake.

However, there may be hope. In an attempt to save the banana and the industry that produces it, scientists are in a race to create a new plant resistant to Panama disease. But perhaps this crisis is a warning that we are growing our food in an unsustainable way and we will need to look to more radical changes for a permanent solution.

Panama disease, an infection that ravages banana plants, has been sweeping across Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. The impact has been devastating. In the Philippines alone, losses have totaled $400 million. And the disease threatens not only the livelihoods of everyone in this $44 billion industry but also the 400 million people in developing countries who depend on bananas for a substantial proportion of their calorie intake.

However, there may be hope. In an attempt to save the banana and the industry that produces it, scientists are in a race to create a new plant resistant to Panama disease. But perhaps this crisis is a warning that we are growing our food in an unsustainable way and we will need to look to more radical changes for a permanent solution.

BBC – Future – Why ‘plant blindness’ matters — and what you can do about it

via BBC – Future – Why ‘plant blindness’ matters — and what you can do about it

 

What is the last animal you saw? Can you remember its colour, size and shape? Could you easily distinguish it from other animals?

Now, how about the last plant you saw?

If your mental images of animals are sharper than those of plants, you’re not alone. Children recognise that animals are living creatures before they can tell that plants are also alive. Tests of recall also show that study participants remember pictures of animals better than images of plants. For instance, one US study tested “attentional blink” – the ability to notice one of two rapid-fire images – using pictures of plants, animals and unrelated objects. This showed that participants more accurately detected images of animals than plants.

This tendency is so widespread that Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee, a pair of US botanists and biology educators, coined a term for it in 1998: “plant blindness”. They described it as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment”.

‘Plant blindness’ is ‘the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment’

‘Plant blindness’ is ‘the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment’ (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Plant blindness, not surprisingly, results in an under-appreciation of plants – and in a limited interest in plant conservationPlant biology courses around the world are shutting down at a dizzying rate and public funding for plant science is drying up. While studies haven’t been done on the extent of plant blindness and its change over time, increased urbanisation and time spent with devices means that “nature deficit disorder” (the harm caused to humans by being alienated from nature) is on the rise. And with less exposure to plants comes greater plant blindness. As Schussler has explained, “humans can only recognise (visually) what they already know”.

Plant conservation matters for environmental health. But it also matters, ultimately, for human health

This is problematic. Plant conservation matters for environmental health. But it also matters, ultimately, for human health.

Plant research is critical to many scientific breakthroughs, from hardier food crops to more effective medicines. More than 28,000 plant species are used medicinally, including plant-derived anti-cancer drugs and blood thinners. (BBC Future recently wrote about one recent example: how mushrooms could help us fight cancer).

The Madagascar periwinkle contains two alkaloids that are used to fight leukaemia

The Madagascar periwinkle contains two alkaloids that are used to fight leukaemia and Hodgkin’s disease (Credit: Getty)

Experimenting on plants also offers an ethical advantage over some forms of animal testing: versatile techniques in areas like genome editing can be refined using plants, which are easy and inexpensive to breed and control. For instance, the genome sequencing of Arabidopsis, a flowering plant important in biology research, was a landmark not only in plant genetics, but in genome sequencing in general.

You might also like:
• How we’re creating ‘super plants’ to help humanity
• The quest to explore Colombia’s untouched jungles
• The mystery of the lost Roman herb

Given how crucial plants are – and always have been – to our very survival, how did humans come to be “plant-blind”?

Seeing green

There are cognitive and cultural reasons that animals, even animal species no more objectively important to humans than plants, are easier to distinguish.

Part of it is how we categorise the world. “The brain is fundamentally a difference detector,” Schussler and Wandersee explain. Because plants barely move, grow close to each other, and are often similar in colour, our brains tend to group them together. With about 10 million bits of visual data per second transmitted by the human retina, the human visual system filters out non-threatening things like plants and clumps them together.

Because plants tend to be similar in colour and almost unmoving, our brains group them

Because plants tend to be similar in colour and almost unmoving, our brains tend to group them together (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

This isn’t restricted to humans. Limited attentional capacity even may affect the ways blue jays visually hone in on plants and insects around them.

Then there is our preference for biobehavioural similarity: as primates, we tend to notice creatures that are most similar to us. “From my experience with great apes, they are generally more interested in the creatures more similar to them in appearance,” says Fumihiro Kano, an ape psychologist at Japan’s Kyoto University. As with humans, there’s a social element to this visual preference. “Human-reared apes are more interested in human images than non-human images, including their own species,” Kano says.

In human societies, there’s also constant reinforcement of the idea that animals are fundamentally more interesting and visible than plants. We name animals and assign them human characteristics. We often use animals as sport team mascots. And we’re attuned to individual variation among animals: the personality of a dog, say, or the unique colour pattern of a butterfly.

People are more supportive of conservation efforts for species with human-like characteristics

Seeing animals as similar – or more similar – to us encourages our empathy. With conservation decisions, that’s key. Most of us feel prompted to want to protect, say, polar bears not because we run through a rational list of reasons why we need them, but because they tug on our heart-strings, says environmental psychologist Kathryn Williams of the University of Melbourne. Even within animal conservation, certain charismatic animals (particularly large mammals with forward-facing eyes) receive the lion’s share of attention. Indeed, Williams’ research has shown that people are more supportive of conservation efforts for species with human-like characteristics.

An endangered ghost orchid blooms at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

An endangered ghost orchid blooms at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in Copeland, Florida; plants make up 57% of the US endangered species list (Credit: Getty)

The challenge is magnified for plants. For example, in 2011 plants made up 57% of the federal endangered species list in the US. But they received less than 4% of federal endangered species funding.

“Building those emotional connections with ecosystems and species and the plant as a whole is crucial for plant conservation,” Williams says.

Building emotional connections with plants is crucial for their conservation

Building emotional connections with plants is crucial for their conservation (Credit: Getty)

Of course, science isn’t a zero-sum game where more interest and money in one set of organisms needs to automatically result in fewer resources elsewhere. But as with any type of bias, acknowledging it is the first step to reducing it.

Becoming less plant blind

One key to reducing plant blindness is increasing the frequency and variety of ways we see plants. This should start early – as Schussler, who is a professor of biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, puts it, “before students start saying they are bored with plants”. One citizen science project aiming to help with this is TreeVersity, which asks ordinary people to help classify images of plants from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.

Everyday interactions with plants is the best strategy, says Schussler. She lists talking about conservation of plants in local parks and gardening.

It is important to get children involved with plants early, such as on nature walks

It is important to get children involved with plants early, such as on nature walks, like the one shown here at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (Credit: Getty)

Plants also could be emphasised more in art. Dawn Sanders of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, who has collaborated on environmental art projects at the Gothenburg Botanical Garden, has found that visuals and stories are important for getting students to connect with plants and to start asking questions about plants’ experiences, such as how old plants get.

Sanders’ work also points to cultural variations. “Plant blindness is not applicable to all people in the same way,” she says. Compared to the initial research on US students, she says, “we have found our Swedish students connect with plants through memory, emotion and beauty, particularly around things like midsummer and the first days of spring”. For instance, vitsippa (wood anemone) is valued as a herald of spring.

In India, the human-plant link may be more about religion and medicine. Geetanjali Sachdev researches botanical art and education at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. “Their value is certainly experienced at a visceral level,” she says of plants. “We can’t escape it because plants are so intertwined in so many aspects of Indian cultural life.”

Geetanjali Sachdev has noticed plant motifs everywhere in Indian cities

Geetanjali Sachdev has noticed plant motifs everywhere in Indian cities (Credit: Geetanjali Sachdev)

In fact, Sachdev has been documenting the ubiquity of plant motifs around Indian cities: from lotus flowers painted on water tankers to botanical kolam (powder) drawings on the ground.

These images extend beyond flowers, which so often dominate memorable encounters with plants in Western countries. “From mythological perspectives, trees, leaves and flowers would all be significant, but from medicinal perspectives in Ayurveda (an Indian form of traditional medicine), many other parts of the plants have value – leaves, roots, flowers and seeds,” she says.

So, plant blindness is neither universal nor inevitable. “Although our human brains may be wired for plant blindness, we can overcome it with greater awareness,” Schussler says.

A mural in India’s first designated public art district uses plant motifs

A mural in India’s first designated public art district, the Lodhi Colony of New Delhi, uses plant motifs (Credit: Getty)

Williams is also optimistic about increasing empathy for plants. “It’s not at all implausible,” she says. “It’s about imagination.” Even fictional plant characters are turning up. Two from the comics world are McPedro, the Scottish-Irish cactus from the web comic Girls with Slingshots, and Marvel’s superhero tree Groot, who has sparked some quirky biology discussions.

The world’s food supply is facing more challenges than ever, due to a combination of population growth, water scarcity, reduced agricultural land, and climate change. Through research on biofuels, plants are also important as a potential source of renewable energy. That means it’s critical to be able to detect, learn from, and innovate with our green friends. Our future depends on it.

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UPI Digital Payments Cross $20 Bn But Transactions Fall
The digital payments industry in India continues to cross its growth targets month-by-month. In April 2019, the government-owned Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has recorded 781.79 Mn transactions with a total worth $20.42 Bn (INR 1,42,034.39 Cr).
After Reliance came up with its hybrid online-offline model to foray into ecommerce segment, now Walmart-owned Flipkart is also looking to follow the same strategy and use convenience stores for expanding its business.
Amazon India’s sellers have reportedly exported $1 Bn in goods, a 56% rise in the number of local merchant sales to international markets. The company projected that exports by Indian sellers will touch $5Bn by 2023, under Amazon’s global selling initiative.
Flipkart-owned Myntra-Jabong will continue to operate independently, Walmart international division president and CEO, Judith McKenna reportedly said, eliminating the speculations on its integration with Flipkart’s fashion vertical.
As India continues to explore ways to leverage blockchain, job openings in the field have also been on the rise. A study by jobs portal Indeed has shown that India has recorded a high number of vacancies in for blockchain and cryptocurrency development.
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Junglee has so far launched four games in categories such as fantasy sports (Howzat), social (Eatme.io) and skill (JungleeRummy, Junglee Teenpatti). Gera admitted that while they are able to monetise from all avenues, 90% of the revenue comes from skill-based games.
With the use, overuse, and misuse of social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit, and others, voters are continuously showered with a blizzard of information and misinformation. However, what voters do not know is a planned strategy of candidates to change their perception.
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Did you know…

… that today is National Mother Goose Day? Observed each year on May 1, this day honors Mother Goose, the imaginary author of a collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes loved by all. In honor of Mother Goose Day, revisit those wonderful childhood stories!

~~~

Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

— Oscar Wilde

Via : PNUTS: In a Nutshell

IN A NUTSHELL: MUST READ

Akihito Jumpstarts A New Era In Japan: On Tuesday Japan’s Emperor Akihito, 85, abdicated the Chrysanthemum Throne, something a Japanese monarch hadn’t done in over 200 years. The last emperor to abdicate was Kokaku in 1817. Akihito’s eldest son, 59-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, will officially assume the symbolic role and sacred imperial regalia in a ceremony Wednesday morning. Akihito’s health has been an issue, and he apparently wanted to spare his son having to wait out any prolonged illness. He first expressed a desire to step down three years ago, but could not do so until a special act of Parliament was passed.

Akihito became emperor in 1989, succeeding his father, Hirohito, who reigned during WWII. Akihito set about atoning for the country’s militaristic sins, traveling widely throughout Asia to countries that had been attacked or conquered by Japan during the war in an effort to spread a message of peace. The emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, have been hugely popular as they continued to work to bring the monarchy closer to the people. They were especially comforting when traveling to disaster sites to console the victims. While in the Kobe region after 1995’s earthquake that killed 6,500 people, Akihito broke with tradition and kneeled before survivors. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people and caused a nuclear disaster, Akihito gave an unprecedented nationally televised address urging everyone to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.”

Akihito now will be known as the Heisei emperor, after the name given to the era in which he reigned. His son’s new era will be known as Reiwa. Visitors to the palace grounds Tuesday expressed the hope that Naruhito’s wife, Masako, who had been a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry before marriage, will be instrumental in pushing Japan closer to gender equality. As a young office worker said: “I hope she will be active in international relations…[and] society will be better so that women can participate more.”

‘Biodegradable’ plastic bags survive three years in soil and sea | Environment | The Guardian

via ‘Biodegradable’ plastic bags survive three years in soil and sea | Environment | The Guardian

 

‘Biodegradable’ plastic bags survive three years in soil and sea

Study found bags were still able to carry shopping despite environmental claims

A plastic bag labelled biodegradable after three years in the marine environment.
 A plastic bag labelled biodegradable after three years in the marine environment. Photograph: Imogen Napper

Plastic bags that claim to be biodegradable were still intact and able to carry shopping three years after being exposed to the natural environment, a study has found.

The research for the first time tested compostable bags, two forms of biodegradable bag and conventional carrier bags after long-term exposure to the sea, air and earth. None of the bags decomposed fully in all environments.

The compostable bag appears to have fared better than the so-called biodegradable bag. The compostable bag sample had completely disappeared after three months in the marine environment but researchers say more work is needed to establish what the breakdown products are and to consider any potential environmental consequences.

After three years the “biodegradable” bags that had been buried in the soil and the sea were able to carry shopping. The compostable bag was present in the soil 27 months after being buried, but when tested with shopping was unable to hold any weight without tearing.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit say the study – published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology – raises the question of whether biodegradable formulations can be relied on to offer a sufficiently advanced rate of degradation and therefore a realistic solution to the problem of plastic litter.

Imogen Napper, who led the study, said: After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping. For biodegradable bags to be able to do that was the most surprising. When you see something labelled in that way, I think you automatically assume it will degrade more quickly than conventional bags. But, after three years at least, our research shows that might not be the case.”

About half of plastics are discarded after a single use and considerable quantities end up as litter.

Despite the introduction of charges for plastic bags in the UK, supermarkets are still producing billions each year. A survey of the top 10 supermarkets by Greenpeace revealed they were producing 1.1bn single-use plastic bags, 1.2bn plastic produce bags for fruit and vegetables and 958m reusable “bags for life” a year.

The Plymouth study says that in 2010 it was estimated that 98.6bn plastic carrier bags were placed on the EU market and about 100bn additional plastic bags have been placed every year since.

Awareness of the problem of plastic pollution and the impact on the environment has led to a growth in so-called biodegradable and compostable options.

The research says some of these products are marketed alongside statements indicating they can be “recycled back into nature much more quickly than ordinary plastic” or “plant-based alternatives to plastic”.

But Napper said the results showed none of the bags could be relied on to show any substantial deterioration over a three-year period in all environments. “It is therefore not clear that the oxo-biodegradable or biodegradable formulations provide sufficiently advanced rates of deterioration to be advantageous in the context of reducing marine litter, compared to conventional bags,” the research found.

The research showed that the way compostable bags were disposed of was important. They should biodegrade in a managed composting process through the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms. But the report said this required a waste stream dedicated to compostable waste – which the UK does not have.

Vegware, which produced the compostable bag used in the research, said the study was a timely reminder that no material was magic, and could only be recycled in its correct facility.

“It’s important to understand the differences between terms like compostable, biodegradable and (oxo)-degradable,” a spokesperson said. “Discarding a product in the environment is still littering, compostable or otherwise. Burying isn’t composting. Compostable materials can compost with five key conditions – microbes, oxygen, moisture, warmth and time.”

Five different types of plastic carrier bag were compared. These included two types of oxo-biodegradable bag, one biodegradable bag, one compostable bag, and a high-density polyethylene bag – a conventional plastic bag.

 Plastic in paradise: the battle for the Galápagos Islands’ future – video

The study found a lack of clear evidence that biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable and compostable materials offered an environmental advantage over conventional plastics, and the potential for fragmentation into microplastics caused additional concern.

Prof Richard Thompson, head of the unit, said the research raised questions about whether the public was being misled.

We demonstrate here that the materials tested did not present any consistent, reliable and relevant advantage in the context of marine litter,” he said. “It concerns me that these novel materials also present challenges in recycling. Our study emphasises the need for standards relating to degradable materials, clearly outlining the appropriate disposal pathway and rates of degradation that can be expected.”

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Why It’s So Hard to Study the Toxic Dust Blowing From Earth’s Youngest Desert – Atlas Obscura

via Why It’s So Hard to Study the Toxic Dust Blowing From Earth’s Youngest Desert – Atlas Obscura

 

Two fishing vessels nestled in the sands near the former seaport city of Moynaq, Uzbekistan.
Two fishing vessels nestled in the sands near the former seaport city of Moynaq, Uzbekistan. ARIAN ZWEGERS/CC BY 2.0

ALONG THE BORDER BETWEEN UZBEKISTAN and Kazakhstan, a fleet of rusted ships sits trapped. This was once the world’s fourth largest inland body of water, but today it’s more dry than wet—a barren, salt-scoured wasteland. What was once known as the Aral Sea is now the Aralkum Desert, or Aral Sands. It’s currently the world’s youngest desert, and acts as a key engine for Central Asian dust storms.

The Aral was once fed by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, and sustained both a thriving economy and rich ecosystem. Around 1960, the rivers were diverted by the former Soviet Union to feed irrigation networks for cotton production. Over the following six decades, the sea underwent a process never before seen on Earth. Waters retreated from the southern basin, concentrating the sea’s salt. Agricultural runoff brought in both herbicides and pesticides, poisoning the lakebed. Eventually, an empty, salty, toxic desert was all that remained.

The transformation from Aral Sea to the Aralkum.
The transformation from Aral Sea to the Aralkum. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY/PUBLIC DOMAIN

“This is the perfect source for dust storms,” says Ralph Kahn, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via email. More than 100 million tons of salt dust is blown out of the Aralkum and across Asia each year, creating a serious public health issue across a vast area.

Dust storms in the Aralkum are almost weekly occurrences and can last for days. For those who reside nearby, food and water sources can become contaminated after just one of these storms. Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, experiences abnormally high rates of tuberculosis, anemia, cancers, liver ailments, birth and genetic defects—all likely in some way caused or exacerbated by the dust. And traces of that same dust have been found as far away as Greenland and Norway.

To understand dust storms, scientists have long relied on remote sensing technology—satellites that can actually see the full scope of such storms and observe their spread. But information obtained via remote sensing only goes so far, and it must be combined with fieldwork in order to ensure findings are correctly interpreted. This is commonly referred to as “ground truth,” explains Thomas Gill*, who studies wind and geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. Ground truth provides critical context for calibrating and correlating large-scale data sets obtained from satellites and provides researchers with details that can’t be observed from space. And according to Gill, it’s a lack of ground truth-type knowledge that is preventing a fuller understanding of Aralkum’s dust storms. “To the best of my knowledge, we don’t have a good set of data of what the conditions are actually like there on the ground to cross-check, double-check, and confirm what the satellite is telling us,” Gill says.

Russian postage stamp created to raise awareness of the sea-turned-desert.
Russian postage stamp created to raise awareness of the sea-turned-desert. PUBLIC DOMAIN

This is largely due to the inhospitable and toxic environment of the Aralkum itself, a reality that is already decades-old. Gill recalls a story from his time researching Owens Dry Lake in Central California. It was around 1990 or ‘91, and Gill was accompanied by a group of then-Soviet scientists interested in the Aral Sea, which was still in the process of drying out. When Gill asked the team why they weren’t conducting fieldwork at the Aral Sea, they responded: “Are you crazy? No way! It’s too remote and dangerous there, you can’t really collect any data, and it’s so treacherous if you go there you could die!” The situation has only worsened since then, and according to Kahn, very few surface data stations exist on the ground in Central Asia.

In the face of such obstacles, researchers must continue to rely heavily on satellite data. But capturing an Aralkum dust storm from space, Gill explains, is like trying to take a picture of a polar bear in a snowstorm. When dust storms rage elsewhere on Earth—like in the Sahara Desert—they eventually blow out over the dark ocean, making them easy to see. But in the landlocked Aralkum, the contrast between the surface and airborne dust is minimal. Plus, clouds often get in the way. Satellites also struggle with quantifying the amount of dust in dust storms, or providing a sense of their contents. “It is not easy to derive the optical properties of non-spherical particles theoretically,” says Kahn, “and it is also difficult to collect adequate samples.” The result is an incomplete understanding of a major ecological and public health problem.

A man walks past an orphaned ship rusting away in the desert.
A man walks past an orphaned ship rusting away in the desert. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Filling in that understanding, experts say, will require a combination of old and new technologies, to supplement satellites and their limitations. Drones have enormous potential—they’re hard to control in dust storms, but they’re getting better and more robust, says Gill. There are also hybrid systems that bring together a range of data sources. Gill also cites the growing field of chemical sensing, using detectors that can acquire the chemical signature of dust particles in the field. “The Aralkum can be seen as the world’s newest desert,” he says, “and maybe there are some real unusual things going on there, due to the fact that it’s so extreme, so new, so weird, and so unusual.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reversed the first and last names of one of the individuals we quoted. His name is Thomas Gill, not Gill Thomas. Additionally, Ralph Kahn’s surname was misspelled on second reference. The story has since been updated to address those errors.

IFTF: Signaling Work and Learning Readiness in 2030: The Future of Assessment

via IFTF: Signaling Work and Learning Readiness in 2030: The Future of Assessment

Signaling Work and Learning Readiness in 2030: The Future of Assessment

A Summary of the Colloquium

On February 19-20, Institute for the Future partnered with Lumina Foundation to assemble a colloquium of educators, entrepreneurs, and philanthropic leaders to re-envision the ways that learners in the future will signal their skills and competencies for work—and the ways that the marketplace will signal its changing needs for those skills and competencies. The discussion focused on five zones of change and innovation, which are outlined below. 

You can download a conceptual infographic representing our findings, here. 

Changing Labor Economy

IFTF presented a forecast for the future of work that challenges us to think beyond present-day debates about automation and AI—beyond questions of teacher pay and the burden of debt for learners—to understand the fundamental shifts taking place in the workplace. This shift can be described as a transition from a marketplace of steady blue collar, white collar, and professional jobs to one where micro-tasks increasingly replace long-term employment. In this labor market, machine coordination via platforms like UpWork and Uber take over many traditional management tasks, and long-standing institutions are disrupted by digital platforms that focus on building the efficiency of a small staff rather than hiring, training, and managing a large full-time staff.

New Generation of Learners and Workers

Already this shift is giving rise to new kinds of learners and workers. IFTF shared its recent research to understand the skills, competencies, and aspirations of this emerging workforce. The research interviewed 60 lead learners from 6 global cities to understand the emerging learning and working patterns of the next generation. (These lead learners are comparable to lead users of new technologies: they are the first signals of trends that may quickly be picked up by early adopters whose practices then spread to the mainstream.) This study of Global Youth Skills sets the stage for re-envisioning a new infrastructure for signaling skills—as a learner/worker seeking employment or employer seeking particular kinds of talent.

Paths to Achieving Individual Potential

While the good jobs of the past century provided a target for talent development, they also created many of the inequalities we see today. They rank people based on standardized assessments that fill the slots in hierarchical organizational charts of traditional institutions. Increasingly, in the digital coordination economy, we have the tools to match individuals more effectively—and equitably—with work+learn opportunities that will lead individuals to strong lifelong paths.

Over the next decade, new kinds of services will emerge to assess, document, and validate skills and talent in this new work marketplace. The colloquium explored four scenarios for these new services:

Gaming the future: The games of tomorrow, together with emerging brain science, will build competencies and assess matches to work tasks. Some work tasks will actually be embedded in games, and earnings will grow as “players” level up their skills in the game environment.

Recommending paths to the future: Netflix-like playlists of courses and tasks will suggest personalized work+learn pathways and signal knowledge and skills of users via their profiles. AI-driven analysis of playlists and profiles will help uncover the best paths for an individual, based on the patterns of the crowd.

Social learning: Social media will help learners and workers find mentors and build their reputations with “fans and followers.” Fostering a fan base will become a strategy not only for building a reputation in everything from crafts to coding, but also creating an income stream in learning pyramids where everyone is a both a mentor and learner.

Graphing our work+learn networks, with so-called graph IDs that assess the value of learning in networks. Using a combination of network analysis and blockchain-style tokens that attest to learning “transactions,” these graph IDs will offer a profile of all the past work+learn connections for an individual and project potential for growth based on as-yet untapped resources in the larger network.

Building a New Signaling Infrastructure

These shifts in the way we assess work readiness will require a new a signaling infrastructure, with new assessment tools, new institutional forms, and new kinds of standards. Here is what the new infrastructure could look like:

  • Tools for recording, measuring, and validating learn+work readiness
    Work+learn experiences would be continuously updated. They would be captured by everything from video attestations by teachers and immutable blockchain transactions to algorithmic analysis of immersive learning in augmented and virtual reality simulations. They could be captured with a browser plug-in that also enables users to shape their own work+learn stories from all this data. Learners in this future environment would also need trusted tools to help secure their data for their personal use—and possibly for profit. The flip side of this personal signaling toolset could be tools for visualizing the larger work+learn context, such as dynamic maps of changing labor markets and their skill requirements. Learners could use these maps to plot their personal paths, again with the assistance of algorithmic analysis.
  • New institutional forms for signaling across a global labor economy
    The emerging marketplace for work is already driving a shift from traditional institutions to a platform-based economy, where platforms continuously innovate services using so-called application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs provide “handles” that allow people or services to ask for something—whether it’s a data point about an individual or a stream of digital actions in a game. These APIs are new gatekeepers, creating the new rules and rights of way in the networked world.

    Over the next decade, the global work+learn economy might be expected to transition from traditional gatekeepers (who have used standardized tests, curricula, and credentials to manage the flows of talent) to API-driven services that create different kinds of organizations. Already, we see companies like Uber, AirBnB, and even Amazon providing massive services at scale with many fewer employees. While significantly cutting full-time jobs, these platform-based organizations often redeploy the talent from traditional organizations. So we might expect to see today’s university professors engaged in micro- assessments via diverse platforms. Crypto currencies could be used to measure and reward contributions in open source learning environments. Think Gitcoin, for example, and its formula for connecting developers to online jobs, based on their contributions to the Github community of programmers.

    Even traditional human-to-human services like counseling, coaching, and curating work+learn experiences will use digital platforms and their analytical capacities to provide a more human touch in individual, personalized services. Some will likely gain “trusted status” by emphasizing local community connections and face-to-face interactions in local spaces, with shared civic objectives. Others will use digital profiles to find the best teaching and counseling matches.

  • Standards for an era of global micro-learning and micro-working
    Just as the digital coordination economy calls on us to rethink our traditional institutions, the new global labor economy seems to demand that we rethink what we mean by standards—and how we use them in a volatile labor market where requisite skills are rapidly changing to meet often unprecedented social, economic, environmental, and political challenges.

    The emerging digital coordination economy is nothing if not a standards-based economy. The tools and protocols that allow digital coordination across organizations, platforms, and geographies all build on foundational standards that assure interoperability. The same will likely be true of standards for assessing and validating work-readiness, but these standards will focus less on specific content (such as recommended reading level) and more on procedures for identifying learning (such as patterns of leveling up in a game or the growth of one’s graph ID on the blockchain). At the very least, taxonomies of skills for work tasks need to be created and updated from the real-world labor data as the digital coordination economy evolves.

A Decade of Innovation

For the past century, we have thought of learning—both education and training—as a way to build an efficient workforce while affording learners the opportunity to grow their earning power through learning. Now we’re shifting to a new kind of workforce focused less on predefined job categories and skill requirements and more on tapping the unique potential of billions of worker-learners for a rapidly evolving labor landscape. The next decade will not only challenge us to reinvent learning for this new kind of distributed, dynamic, and ultimately more creative workforce. It will also inspire us to re-envision the tools, practices, and standards of assessment for the infinity of pathways that tomorrow’s learners and workers will pioneer to create their uniquely meaningful lives.

IFTF: Journalism and False Information

via IFTF: Journalism and False Information

The following summary and briefs were conducted by the IFTF Digital Intelligence Lab and made possible by a grant from the New Venture Fund to survey leading journalists and experts to ascertain the impact of false information on the information ecosystem and the production of news.

Following the 2016 election, the field of journalism has been upended by revelations that the spread of false information is not only abundant, but has also potentially undermined democratic outcomes. Empirical studies have shown that digital false information* is impacting information flows surrounding key socio-political issues in the United States and around the globe. Little, however, is known about how the proliferation of false information has affected the field of journalism. This is particularly concerning, considering the fact that journalists are key conduits of information for not only general news, but also the most pressing issues facing society.

This study explores the impact of the rise in false information within the information ecosystem on the production of news. The following report is divided into three briefs. In the first brief, we define the scope of the problem within the field of journalism and outline the challenges journalists are facing due to the rising presence of false information. In the second, we detail the effects of the increasing focus on false information on the profession at large, the production of news, and journalists individually. Finally, in the third, we outline actionable recommendations drawn from journalists themselves to mitigate the negative impact of false information on the production of news. We compliment these recommendations with an experimental intervention that enables participants to more accurately determine the credibility of news stories. This intervention could be applied in newsrooms and on social media platforms.

Read all 3 reports in the series below.

Written by Kerry Ann Carter Persen, Katie Joseff, Douglas Guilbeault, Joshua A. Becker, and  Samuel C. Woolley.

  • False Information in the Current News Environment
  • The Effects of False Information on Journalism
  • Mitigating the Negative Impact of False Information

Methodology

This project draws primarily from an analysis of interviews, closed-door panels, an original survey, and secondary sources. We conducted 22 in-depth semi-structured interviews with journalists and media experts from July to November 2018. Interviews were conducted by phone and lasted between 20 and 75 minutes. The journalists interviewed were from the United States and the United Kingdom, and reported on health, education, technology, and politics. Roughly 80% were reporters with national or international outlets, while the remainder worked in local news. They worked across prominent television, print, and digital outlets.

Interviews were supplemented by an original survey conducted in the fall of 2018. The survey included 1,018 respondents with 803 completing the survey. Respondents were U.S.-based journalists and editors that report on agriculture, education, energy and natural resources, environment, health, and science. In addition, we attended four closed-door panels on the current state of the media environment with leading journalists, editors, and a bureau chief from Washington D.C. in September 2018. Supplementary information was drawn from existing literature and secondary sources.

Finally, we conducted a test of a possible intervention that could be applied to newsrooms or more broadly on social media platforms. The experiment involved 360 respondents drawn from Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online crowdsourcing marketplace, in late 2018. Respondents were asked to rank the accuracy of randomly assigned real and false stories from the media and to update their opinions based on varying network conditions. The intervention ultimately helped to identify conditions under which respondents improved their accuracy in distinguishing false stories from real stories. The intervention is detailed in the third brief.

Recommendations

Journalists would benefit from resources across six areas to mitigate the impacts of false information: 1) tools and trainings on mis- and disinformation, 2) guidelines for reporting on false information, 3) advice on operational and legal security, 4) mental health resources, 5) accountability mechanisms, and 6) improved media literacy education.

This report has highlighted the lack of consensus regarding the challenges posed by misinformation, disinformation, and “fake news.” The terms themselves are often ill-defined or conflated. This suggests a need for a set of guidelines on how to contextualize them in the current news environment. Further, there is a significant gap in awareness about the sophistication and power of disinformation campaigns among working journalists. Those reporting on disinformation, as well as experts in the area, tend to understand the potential pitfalls and risks of being targeted by false information; however, others do not even acknowledge that the terrain of information flows and technology has shifted. Awareness campaigns that highlight the ways in which computation propaganda— the use of automation and algorithms on social media to manipulate public opinion—and sophisticated manipulative actors can reach journalists would be helpful in closing that gap. Trainings on social media, tools available to identify false information, and access to individuals with expertise in false information and data science would be complementary to these efforts.

Perhaps the most contentious debate in this space is when and how to report on false information. Understanding when it is appropriate to cover false information and how to do so to avoid giving it “oxygen” or inadvertently lend it credibility is still not well understood across the field of journalism. Guidelines for coverage, like those that Data & Society have developed, should be more widely spread and discussed within the profession through journalism classes, professional associations, and within newsrooms.

In the current news environment, journalists feel discouraged and discredited. More awareness of the anxiety prevalent across the field and strategies to approach accusations of “fake news” or spreading misinformation is greatly needed. Many journalists explicitly said they would benefit from better mental health resources and a broader, more visible discussion about the implications of harassment and declining credibility in the field. Further research is needed to better understand how anxiety and harassment is influencing who is entering the field and who is potentially leaving the field. Some of those interviewed and surveyed hypothesized that increased burnout or the deterrent of the current news environment may have effects on the future of the news force, particularly for minorities and women. This could have long-term effects on the production of news. There is an urgent need in the journalism community for more trainings and information on operational and legal security, on approaches to establishing and re-establishing accountability in the face of the current cascade of false information, and increased media and information literacy in the U.S. education system.

The original intervention we propose—informed by thorough experiment-based, empirical, research—suggests that efforts to establish networks to identify or label false information must be designed with care. Our results indicate that interventions that label information as true or false may actually result in amplifying error in unsophisticated (less-informed) networks. Instead, and crucially, labeling a story’s credibility on a continuous scale improved the accuracy of networks and outperformed improvements in accuracy from networks labeling stories dichotomously as true or false. These findings have implications for many of the current interventions being tested in the field. We believe that further research should be conducted in order to better understand the conditions under which networks or interventions, including the one we present here, can be applied successfully to the field of journalism, or more broadly on social media.

Future research should also expand on the current tools to identify disinformation campaigns and false information, as well as the different contexts of these issues globally. Easily accessible and usable tools that could help journalists identify fake video or images would be beneficial to the field. Unfortunately, the tools that can help identify things like deep fakes (or highly convincing counterfeit video) are often outpaced by the development of technology. Aggregations of resources for journalists like technological tools—as well as more traditional websites, databases, and experts—would be helpful. Indeed, our survey and interviews suggest that there is a lack of mutual awareness of the potential tools and resources currently available for checking sources and tracking disinformation efforts. In closing, we must note that this report is limited in scope to the current news environment in the United States and, somewhat, the United Kingdom. Delving into the implications for false information globally, particularly in the developing world, is a critical next step for future research.

For more information

If you are interested in learning more about how to work with IFTF’s Digital Intelligence Lab, please contact

via Futurism Newsletter

GAS UP / BY KRISTIN HOUSER

This Startup’s Making Tech to Convert Air Pollution Into Gasoline

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur thinks there’s still a place for gasoline in the future — we just need to source it from the air instead of the ground. The startup Prometheus is developing a machine that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and transforms it into usable gasoline. The idea is that the device would trap and convert more carbon than a car would produce — essentially making fossil fuel-powered vehicles a carbon-neutral form of transportation.

HEADLINES FROM TODAY

 1.    Burger King Will Sell Meatless Whoppers Across US This Year

 2.    Watch Out SpaceX: Chinese Startups Are Testing Reusable Rockets

 3.    Bird Announces Monthly Scooter Subscription Service

 4.    A Chinese Startup Got 3 Times Square Billboards to Diss Tesla

A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
OF INTEREST
RENDERING MODELS / BY DAN ROBITZSKI

Amazing AI Generates Entire Bodies of People Who Don’t Exist

A new deep learning algorithm can generate high-resolution, photorealistic images of people — faces, hair, outfits, and all — from scratch. The AI-generated models are the most realistic we’ve encountered, and the tech will soon be licensed out to clothing companies and advertising agencies interested in whipping up photogenic models they don’t have to pay — but algorithms like this could also be misused to undermine public trust in digital media.

NEWS IN QUOTES
“What our predictions show is that by 2030 the atmosphere is going to frost out and vanish around the whole planet.” 

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Did you know…

Did you know…

… that today is the birthday of the Stratosphere Tower? In 1996, the Stratosphere Tower opened in Las Vegas, Nevada. At 1,149 feet, it is the tallest free-standing observation tower in America. It also has the world’s highest wedding chapel, a spinning cafe, and plenty of casino action. Voted “Best Place to View the City” by Las Vegas Review-Journal readers, year after year.

~~~

Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“All the failures in my life freed me from all my fears so that I can succeed.”

— Patience Johnson

Ethical Alliance Daily Newsletter

Ethical Alliance Daily News 

Switzerland: Swiss Investigating Oil Trader Gunvor for Foreign Bribery
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United States: St. Louis County Executive Indicted on Corruption Charges
Apr 30, 2019 07:00 pm

St. Louis County’s top elected official resigned Monday after being indicted on corruption charges accusing him of trading political favors for campaign donations. A federal grand jury indicted County Executive Steve Stenger on charges of bribery, mail fraud and the…
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United States: Corruption Claims, Mailbox Send Hawaii Power Couple to Trial
Apr 30, 2019 07:00 pm

Louis Kealoha was Honolulu’s Rolex-wearing police chief and his wife, Katherine, was the Maserati-driving prosecutor in charge of an elite unit targeting career criminals. The Kealohas were allegedly so desperate to fund their lavish lifestyle that they swindled more than…
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Apr 30, 2019 06:30 pm

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China: Former senior provincial official stands trial for bribery
Apr 30, 2019 06:00 pm

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Malaysia: Former PM Najib fails to have seven corruption charges dismissed
Apr 30, 2019 05:30 pm

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