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In cities across Germany, Big Brother looks like a smiley face. The Fühlometer, a piece by Julius von Bismarck, Benjamin Maus, and Richard Wilhelmer, uses security cameras and sophisticated software to ‘read’ the faces of pedestrians, and then categorize them according to their emotions. The giant robot mirrors the mood of the city’s inhabitants, and perhaps encourages them to put on a happy face… or else.
City rats, it seems, prefer the same foods that humans do: Greasy, fatty, sweet, and salty. Although rats are usually seen as the billy goats of city life, ready to chow down on anything remotely edible, they show a marked distain for healthy vegetables. According to author Robert Sullivan, “A rat might starve in an alley full of raw carrots”. Like a human that missed the low-carb fad, Rattus norvegicus instead loads up on white bread, fried chicken, and mac and cheese.
Rats don’t only exhibit a human-like tendency to indulge in junk food. Although they naturally opt for sweet over spicy, their cultural background plays in a role in what they eat. In Manhattan’s East Harlem, home to one of the city’s biggest Latino populations, rats have reportedly developed a preference for the same spicy food that other rodents would reject.
Rats mirror our urban lives, eating what we don’t, absorbing our culture, and taking up residence in even the more undesirable real estate. Maybe they make us uneasy because they’re too good at acting human.
Artist Jaroslav Kyša has invented a novel form of social protest. By scattering seed in front of targets in London, he can attract droves of pigeons that disrupt shoppers and slow down traffic. Kyša’s tactic might be a useful diversion for the Occupy protestors. After all, birds are immune to capsaican, the active ingredient in pepper spray.
Via Edible Geography.
Protei is a sailing robot that’s designed to clean up oil spills without human assistance. After sailing upwind, the bot drifts downwind, zigg-zagging across the surface to absorb oil in its long, tail-like boom. Since Protei is self-righting, it will be able to operate even under hurricane conditions, keeping human crews out of danger from both high winds and toxic chemicals. The robots can be operated by remote control, or can be programmed to work together as an autonomous swarm.
Though it’s currently only a prototype, the eco-friendly, open-source Protei may some day radically change how we clean up the ocean. Though it was originally designed to sop up future Deepwater Horizons, modified Protei could possibly be used to gather plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
More photos after the jump.
Some blackbirds have found city living so much fun (the theater scene! the restaurants!) that they have given up migrating south for the winter. Cities are usually warmer than the surrounding country, with lots of discarded food for the birds to scavenge. If the non-migratory birds start breeding sooner, the two populations may eventually split into different species. Even if we can’t predict what fully urban blackbirds will look like, we do know that they will likely be smarter than their country counterparts.
Photo via TarikB
Humans are the only species on earth that cooks its food. Not only do we cook our food, but we usually find the flavor of cooked foods preferable to the raw version. Compare the smell of raw and pan-fried bacon. Which version makes you drool?
It’s no coincidence that your dog may be drooling alongside you. Several animals that have never eaten cooked food show a marked preference for a nice roast or stir-fry. Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans all prefer cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, and even meat.
This natural predisposition has important implications for human evolution. Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that cooking is not some simple, pleasant cultural development. Instead, it is the central driving force that transformed us from primitive hominids into Homo erectus and on through to Homo sapiens.
Clothing giant H&M no longer uses real humans in its online catalog. The company has admitted that it pastes real models’ heads on computer-generated bodies. At least there’s a “racially diverse” example thrown in with the caucasian cyborgs. CGI humanity: For when even Photoshop can’t invent a perfect body.
Thanks to Stefan. Story and image via Jezebel.
Corals are the master builders of the animal kingdom. Powered on plankton and their symbiotic algae, hard corals extract the carbon dissolved in seawater and turn it into their calcium carbonate skeletons. Now a company is trying to replicate this process, not to grow reefs, but to create cement.
Cement, though it may seem like a neutral material, is a massive source of carbon emissions. The cement industry is responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions, with each ton of cement producing a ton of CO2. Biomineralization expert Brent Constantz hopes to green the production of cement by capturing flue gases from factories, running them through a saline solution, and using electricity to convert the gases into solids. For 542 million years, corals have been sequestering carbon dissolved in water. Constantz’s company Calera may have figured out how to do the same on a much shorter time scale.
Black wolves should probably not exist. The same species as their gray relatives, these wolves have a genetic mutation that causes them to produces excess melanin, a pigment responsible for coat color. The origin of black wolves has long been a puzzle. Unlike domestic animals, wild species usually don’t exhibit such dramatic variations in coloration, especially within the same population. While all tigers are orange and striped, and all grizzly bears are brown, “gray” wolves range from pure white to brown to red to black.
Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that dogs may be the cause of the wolves’ unusual coloration. Dogs have a unique gene for melanism, which is also shared by European, Asian and American black wolves. Scientists estimate that the gene arose somewhere between 12,779 and 121,182 years ago, with a preferred time of around 50,000 years. Even if European wolves were the first to don a black coat, it was domestic dogs that brought the gene to the wolves (and coyotes) of North America.
Most new mutations tend to disappear within a few generations. With North American wolf, however, this accidental genetic loaner from dogs has become a stable part of their population’s DNA. Clearly, black wolves derive some benefit from their coloration. The reasons why are still a mystery: Black coat color doesn’t aid in camouflage, but since it occurs more frequently in southern, forest-dwelling wolves, it may have some advantage for life in warmer climates.
The melanism gene in wolves is one of the few instances, perhaps even the only instance, in which interbreeding with a domestic animal has conferred an adaptive edge on a wild animal. As climate change progresses, and forests march northward, it may be that the “gray” wolf population will soon switch to black, all thanks to some melanistic, prehistoric pooches.
Thanksgiving is fake-for-real. While it’s true that there was a minor harvest feast in 1621, held by English immigrants and Wampanoag Indians, the event was never celebrated regularly, and largely dropped off the national radar for the next 200 years. It took the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln to formalize the holiday, a political move he hoped would promote national unity.
Even if the holiday is invented, at least the food is real, right? When Americans sit down to groaning tables on Thursday, it’s tempting to think we’re participating in a culinary tradition not that far removed from the time of the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving food is, after all, as authentic and naturally American as apples (Kazakhstan), potatoes (Peru), and green bean casserole (Campbell Soup Company). Maybe we can find some culinary authenticity hiding between the gravy boat and the cranberry sauce. Hope you’re hungry…
When fruit flies die, they don’t go to heaven, but they do get to go to outer space. At least that’s the conceit of artist HsienYu Cheng’s Collector: Afterlife, which zaps bugs with high voltage and then reincarnates them in a Space Invaders-style video game. Each dead fly translates to one extra life for the onscreen hero. When the lives run out, the player has to wait around for more flies to wander into the trap’s deadly blue light. It’s a digital age update on the concept of rebirth, or just a new take on the spider and its web.
Mediamatic is hosting a pop-up urban mushroom farm in the middle of Amsterdam. Rows and rows of shiitake, oyster, and the elusive almond-flavored Agaricus subrufescens are sprouting on metal shelves. With its experimental vibe, Paddestoelen Paradijs (Mushroom Paradise) proves that mushrooms might just be our best friends in the age of resource scarcity. They grow off dead, decaying, and often discarded organic matter, are low emission, and their roots can produce a material that’s stronger than wood, as light as packing foam, and completely biodegradable.
Click through to see a living wall, the Christian mushroom cult, and Philosopher’s Stones.
In The Watchers, the creative geniuses at Studio Smack picture a world where surveillance systems don’t just watch us – they actively judge. Are you a green-coded Conformist or a red-alert Intellectual? The tone is paranoid, but it’s a vivid reminder that our technological systems make us as much as we make them. Autonomous algorithms already control our economy, our internet, and our vacuum cleaners. It’s not a stretch to imagine that autonomous cameras will control our security and social spaces. Make sure to wait for the twist ending.
Recently Google slapped our site with a warning that “something’s not right here!” It seems that the Drug Enforcement Agency has caught the Next Nature staff handing out baggies of performance-enhancing pills in Amsterdam. How else will our audience be able to handle the Power Show without an artificial boost?
Okay, so we’ve been joking: Google found a potential security leak in our website last week. We fixed it quickly, and a few more days elapsed before the Internet noticed. But we have been distributing these snappy pink flyers. Click through to learn more about the side effects of Next Nature.
In God’s Browser, Geert Mul uses scores of images pulled from the internet as the frames in an abstract film. Using specially developed image recognition software, Mul creates the illusion of motion between unrelated images. The same software also generates musical notes that vary with the speed and type of the image being displayed.
The result is a hypnotic experience that blends pictures of nature, culture, sunsets, skeletons and supermodels into a portrait of humanity’s collective visual consciousness. The visual power of God’s Browser emphasizes that, in an image-saturated society, the simulation can become just as valuable and meaningful as the “authentic” object. Mul’s work looks, and sounds, like the creation of a virtual world, where God could only connect to the universe from the internet.
Geert Mul will be presenting God’s Brower at the Next Nature Power Show in collaboration with philosopher Jos de Mul. Jos de Mul has previously been featured on Next Nature with his essay The Technological Sublime.
Today marks another milestone in the march of the Anthropocene. According to United Nations demographers, the seven billionth person on Earth arrived today, just in time to put on a tiny halloween costume (might we suggest an adorably endangered tuna?). It’s taken just 12 years to add the last billion people, and even with slowing birth rates, it will still take us only 14 years to add another billion more.
What does the burgeoning population of Homo sapiens mean for our overloaded planet? Learn more about the global effects of the Anthropocene here and here. If you’re in the Amsterdam area on November 5th, Christian Schwägerl will be giving a talk on the “Age of Man” at the Next Nature Power Show.
Image via Looking to Business.
In her directorial debut, body architect Lucy McRae applies her trademark manipulation of the human form to the Australian group Rat vs. Possum. Using pastel colors, spandex, and cut-outs in a white wall, she turns the deterritorialization of the body into a pop confection. In the past, McRae has made LED clothing that responds to the wearer’s level of excitement, and dresses made from fluid-filled tubes that communicate emotional states.
Arne Hendricks will be presenting The Incredible Shrinking Man at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th.
Social erosion, fisheries depletion, deforestation- for the 7 billion people on earth, we’re not just approaching an era of resource scarcity, we’re already there. Except for the lucky few, food, shelter, and even water can be expensive and in short supply. We have tried to address global problems with bigger technologies and bigger laws, but what if we decided to go small? Really small. How would the world change if every human was only 50 centimeters tall?