Today the human impact on our planet can hardly be underestimated. Climate change, population explosion, genetic manipulation, digital networks, hurricane control and engineered microbes. Untouched old nature is almost nowhere to be found. “We were here,” echoes all over. This omnipresence of human activity motivated some to announce the end of nature and proclaim a post natural future. Contrary to these observations, I believe that it is not nature that died, disappeared or became obsolete, rather that our notion of nature is changing.
Over the last few decades, the public has been – and still is – creating awareness on the values of organically produced foods. For many foodies an important value of organic foods is the pure production process, without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The food industry tries to capitalize on this by increasing their yield in other ways. To minimize crop losses and thus maximize revenues, they have started to engineer killer bugs. These bugs are programmed to act as pesticides, eating and killing insects to protect the crops.
However, an ethical question arises. Are we now relocating the chemical process of crop preservation from the crops themselves to the insects? Is it better to modify and “enhance” these bugs, so the issue shifts from the crops to a new species and thus an altered ecosystem?
Via Businessweek. Illustration by Gerald Leung.
Birds use whatever they can get their beaks on to build nests, including cigarette butts. Surprising new research from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México shows that instead of giving baby birds a bad case of smoker’s cough, the cigarettes in their nests might actually be helping them. The more used-up filters a nest had, the fewer nest-dwelling parasites called it home.
Since nicotine is a natural pesticide, it’s likely that trace remains of the chemical in the butts are keeping away the creepy-crawlies. The researchers still don’t know if the birds are using butts because they’re good insulators, or if they’re somehow aware of their anti-parasite properties. Birds in more wild environments have been known to line their nests with strong-smelling, bug-repelling herbs, so it’s possible they’re instinctively attracted to that special cigarette stink.
Beyond the doomsday hype, what should we actually fear for the future? For doom-mongers delight, the Berlin-based design studio Bold Futures made a handy poster + interactive graph of the fatal disasters that might snuff us someday.
Their doom menu ranges from irresponsible human behavior gone astray, to ‘natural’ disasters, to out-of-control technology. Notice that mixing the various scenario’s results in a lethal next nature cocktail. Let’s hope we can avoid such dystopia and manage to plot out a more rewarding track towards the future. Anyhow, we can be sure we will get the next nature we deserve.
The Senseless Drawing Robot is a painting robot that interprets nearby street and sidewalk traffic and turns it into sprays of pigment. The robot is turning chaos into order, and then injecting that order with a bit more chaos. Japanese designers So Kanno and Takahiro Yamaguchi have found a way around the input-output nature of these drawing machines by mounting a double pendulum on top of a modified electric skateboard and a pressure-based paint system. The Senseless Drawing Robot has a level of unpredictability akin to Pollock’s dripping brush. Can we earnestly claim that this robot is doing things all that differently from Pollock?
Though disgusting, sewage is an abundant, nutrient-rich resource. Researchers at the University of West England have taken advantage of this fact by creating a robot that turns human poo into energy. The EcoBotIII has an artificial stomach that consists of layers of microbial fuel cells that digest sewage and transform them into fuel. In case you’re wondering, the robot has a “solid waste excretion mechanism“, so it can poop just like you do. The hope is that autonomous robots such as these might patrol sewer systems looking for problems, or be put to work in sewage treatment plants to drive down treatment costs.
Thanks to Yuri for the heads up.
Design by planning vs design by doing. Desire paths are unplanned paths grown by the erosion of its use. They emerge as shortcuts where constructed pathways take a circuitous route. Perhaps one day, all our roads will be desire paths.
If you’ve noticed candy-colored pigeons flapping through Copenhagen lately, don’t blame a freak chemical spill. Artist Julien Charriere and photographer Julius von Bismark have built a conveyer-belt device, equipped with seed and spray nozzles, to lure in unwitting pigeons for a brisk airbrushing. The bird trap was installed for a week to mark the Copenhagen’s architectural biennial, with a total of 35 birds being transformed from drab flying rats into limited-edition “prints”. Watch out, pigeons: Now that you’re art, you’ll have to watch out for overzealous collectors.
Plentiful, familiar and practically tame, pigeons make great raw material for bio-hackers. We’ve seen them used as tools for protestors, as secure alternatives to file-sharing, and as genetically engineered soap dispensers. With green roofs and backyard chickens proliferating through trendy cities, perhaps these artists are paving the way for pigeons to become the next hip urban organism. The only drawback to a pigeon rainbow? There’s definitely not a pot of gold at the end.
Check out the full, gloriously colored collection here. Thanks to Mike Bularz for the tip.
Chef Dan Barber discusses a dilemma facing many chefs today: how to keep fish on the menu? With impeccable research and deadpan humor, he chronicles the discovery of a unique open-ended and utmost sustainable fish farm in Spain.
Idea worth spreading: Embrace complexity and guide its growth.
Plants have it tough. They’re tasty, silent, and stuck to the spot. With Jurema Action Plant, artist Ivan Henriques has given plants the mobility they deserve . Henriques’ pieces links up Mimosa pudica – the touch-me-not plant – with hacked wheelchair. When the plant’s touch-sensitive leaves curl away from a person’s prying fingers, integrated sensors trigger the wheelchair robot to scoot away to safety.
While plants do not have nervous systems like animals or wires like machines, they do use electrical signaling within their cells. Henriques takes advantage of this fact, using a series of electrodes placed around the plant to measure changes in its electromagnetic field. These electrodes communicate to the robot which direction it should flee. Add a pair of water tanks, and the shy Mimosa plant is fully self-sufficient. Jurema Action Plant is a hybrid entity, a way to empower plants through machinery to give them the trappings of conscious behavior. Just like the Lorax, Jurema Action Plant speaks for the trees.
Action Plant will be exhibited at the 2012 Transnatural Festival in Amsterdam.
A few days ago we wrote about the animal rights activists that broke into the Rayfish Footwear fish farm and stole the entire stock of genetically modified stingrays that the company was growing into bio-personalized sneakers.
The company now released a video in which their CEO, Raymond Ong, discusses the controversy around their product. He believes that “the issues that have surfaced since his company website was launched, reflect the complexity of our consumptive relationship with animals.” and calls the robbery an “irresponsible act that will have unforeseen consequences for years to come”.
The CEO furthermore claims the highest standards of wellbeing for both his stingrays and his workers, steering the debate towards the question whether it is more unethical to buy a pair of expensive handmade sneakers you know were “raised” for your own personal satisfaction, or to buy cheap disposable sneakers made by underpaid workers from cow leather “raised” under deplorable conditions.
“Most of us have become complete strangers to the products that surround us”, Ong said. The CEO also noted his concern that the genetically modified stingrays may interbreed with wild populations. Speaking of nature caused by people…
Dolphins in Port Adelaide, Australia, have been observed performing a remarkable trick: tail-walking, a trait so rare it has only been seen in the wild one other time. More remarkable still, these dolphins seem to have picked up this move from Billie, a female dolphin who briefly lived in a tourist attraction before being returned to the wild. Billie, who learned this skill from human trainers, has now taught it to her calves, and to another adult female and her calves. In animals, most cultural transmission of behavior is linked to finding food. Chimpanzees fishs for termites, and certain groups of dolphins hydroplane to catch fish. The behavior of Billie and her companions is unusual in that it is performed just for fun. Dolphins’ reputation for playfulness may be well-deserved.
Thanks to Tensai Hilra for the tip. Photo via Jared422_80.
Whale sharks are great at filtering; plastic needs to be filtered. For now, however, whale sharks only have an appetite for plankton. Industrial designer Elie Ahovi has jumped into the void with her Marine Drone, an autonomous robot that can dredge up the plastic junk that currently clogs our oceans. Roaming the ocean for two-week periods, Ahovi’s drone can collect plastic in its attached net while scaring off any marine life with an irritating high-pitched tone. When its batteries run low, the robot returns to a home base where humans can collect the plastic and ship it off to a recycling plant.
Via Popular Science.
Researchers at Stanford and the J. Craig Venter Institute recently created the first complete computer model of an organism. The simulation models the genome and life processes of Mycoplasma genitalium, an aptly-named bacteria that makes its home in human genitals. The team’s leader, Markus W. Covert, hopes that similar simulations may eventually allow for more medical experiments than is currently possible, and at faster rates. One day we may be able to bypass lab rats entirely and plug new drugs directly into a model of a cancer cell.
There’s a new threat to the world’s unemployed. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a robot that helps to organize shop inventories, making that trip to the store simpler for shoppers, cheaper for bosses, and harder on workers. AndyVision, as our newest retail overlord is called, is programmed to roll through the aisles, checking to see if products are low or out of stock, and if its puny human coworkers have incorrectly shelved an item. Human employees get the bot’s updates on iPads, and are sent scurrying to restock the shelves. Customers short on time can access AndyVision’s map to more quickly locate their canned goods and hunting supplies for the impending robot apocalypse.
With a Kinect sensor, learning algorithms and floor plans, AndyVision is well-equipped to make his takeover of minimum-wage jobs even more effective. The robot currently only works at Carnegie Mellon’s campus store, but customers can expect to see these automated workers in other local stores sometime in 2013. AndyVision might look cute and inoffensive, but remember: In the United States alone, 5 million fewer workers are needed now to produce more goods than they did in 2006, all thanks to automation. Robots are coming to make our cameras, our sushi, and in a sure sign of the singularity end-times, our Starbucks.
Have you heard of Elephantiasis? It is a disease caused by microscopic parasitic worms that cause a thickening of the skin and underlying tissues. The disease typically occurs in tropical regions, however, as it seems it recently transferred to consumer products.