Jet-Propelled Tunicates Pump Carbon Through the Oceans

New research reveals that blooms of the widespread gelatinous zooplankton—along with their feces, daily vertical migrations, and carcasses—increase marine carbon export.

Salps are transparent, tube-shaped jellies well known for their propulsive jetting movements. According to new research, they also take quite a bit of carbon along for the ride.

Populations of these gelatinous zooplankton—part of the subphylum Tunicata, or sea squirts—are episodic and patchy. Sometimes, though, they “bloom” and form huge aggregations. En masse, their fecesdaily migrations up and down the water column, and sinking carcasses sequester carbon into the deep sea.

In a recently published study, Steinberg et al. show that salp-related carbon sequestration is especially prominent in retentive or low-export food webs. The authors sampled a full suite of salp-related carbon export processes during a 2018 Salpa aspera bloom in the subarctic northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Aboard R/V Roger Revelle and R/V Sally Ride, the researchers deployed cameras and cast nets up to 1,000 meters deep during day and night. They lugged up salps and other zooplankton, sorted and weighed their catch, and trapped sinking salp feces. They also conducted onboard experiments and incorporated all of their data into a model to approximate carbon export in the study zone. The team repeated this process across three 8-day sampling cycles.

The scientists discovered that the salp blooms significantly affected local biogeochemistry. Salps increased the proportion of net primary production exported as particulate organic carbon below the euphotic zone (the ocean region bright enough to support photosynthesis) 1.5-fold. In addition, during blooms, the proportion of this particulate organic carbon export remaining 100 meters below the euphotic zone increased by a factor of 2.6.

With increasing recognition of their role in the biological carbon pump, widespread use of new technologies for salp detection and sampling will lead to a better understanding of the tunicate’s unique role in the ocean ecosystem. (Global Biogeochemical Cycleshttps://doi.org/10.1029/2022GB007523, 2023)

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

New research reveals that blooms of the widespread gelatinous zooplankton—along with their feces, daily vertical migrations, and carcasses—increase marine carbon export.

Jet-Propelled Tunicates Pump Carbon Through the Oceans

New research reveals that blooms of the widespread gelatinous zooplankton—along with their feces, daily vertical migrations, and carcasses—increase marine carbon export.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

New research reveals that blooms of the widespread gelatinous zooplankton—along with their feces, daily vertical migrations, and carcasses—increase marine carbon export.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

New research reveals that blooms of the widespread gelatinous zooplankton—along with their feces, daily vertical migrations, and carcasses—increase marine carbon export.

Cleaning Up 80 Years of Plastic Waste

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to “clean up 80 years of plastic waste.” It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood and scale social impact.

“There’s a reason why you don’t see paper and glass or metal polluting our streets, it’s because the market has assigned a value to that material. So certain sectors within a community will collect it and divert it away from nature and into the circular economy. We need to do that for plastic,” said Plastic Credit Exchange founder Nanette Medved-Po in a clip teeing up a talk on the plastics crisis. “The Plastic Credit Exchange model benefits the communities because it financially incentivizes them to clean up. It benefits businesses, because we give them a responsible way to offset their plastic footprints. And it benefits government that get some relief on heavily taxed waste system. And the cleanup benefits our planet, allowing nature a chance to heal.”

Sebastian DeGrande is the CEO of the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX), a nonprofit with a mission to “clean up 80 years of plastic waste.” Its commercial market subsidiary serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood, scale up social impact, and reduce the flow of plastic pollution into nature. DeGrande spoke at Techonomy 22 in Sonoma, CA, explaining the magnitude of the plastic crisis and PCX’s novel solution. The transcript below has been edited for clarity, watch the full video here. DeGrande opened his talk with a pop quiz of the Techonomy audience:

I’m going to give you a quiz on a few points just to dimensionalize the crisis, the challenge and the opportunity. So how much plastic has ever been produced in the world? 8.7 billion tons of plastic produced over time. You can’t even conceptualize it. And just to be clear, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Plastic is an amazing invention. It’s brought food security to poor communities all over the world, medical devices that save lives every day, right?

How much plastic has been produced just this year? 465 million tons – the important thing there is that’s about 5% of the total. So just think about that as a trajectory of growth relative to 8.7 billion over basically 100 years. How much ends up in nature each year? It’s only, and I will say only, 10 million tons. And the reason is much of it goes into landfill, or it gets incinerated. And that doesn’t count as going into nature. Even though it’s a petroleum product, burning it isn’t necessarily a good thing either.

In the U.S. our recycling rate has gone down from 8-9% in past years to more recently below 5%. But most importantly, most of this 10 million tons of plastics ends up in open pits that then degrades or it goes straight into rivers and oceans.

One of the scariest statistics that you will hear is that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish. And if you’re a scuba diver like me, and you go scuba diving in some of the remote, beautiful places in the world, and the sun is shining, you see this amazing kaleidoscope of color while you’re diving and you say wow, that’s beautiful. And then you look closely, and you realize it’s the light from the sun refracting through microplastics in the ocean.

We’re finding microplastics in the Antarctic ice shelf, we’re finding it in all our fish. We’re even finding it in human fetuses at this point. And we don’t actually fully understand the implications of all of this.

Plastic is a petroleum product, so how much does it contribute to carbon emissions? At least 5%. It’s really hard to tell for sure, because there are many various types of plastics produced in various ways. Some are recycled, but even the recycling has a carbon footprint. But it is a significant contributor to the warming of the planet as well as being a crisis in its own right.

What you will hear out there around this topic is a lot of discussion from a lot of people. We need to reduce and we need to eliminate single use plastics. We need to go to refillable solutions. We need to increase infrastructure and recycling. Absolutely. But we also need to deal with the problem today. So we need to look at the forest and the trees.

There are many efforts underway: innovation around alternative materials, bio plastics, innovate refillable solutions. But how long will those innovations take? What percent of the total plastic use cases will be addressed by refillable solutions? Maybe 20%? How long will it take to change supply chains? We need to solve the problem today and tomorrow. And we can do these things simultaneously.

The problem is, it’s an incredibly fragmented and inefficient marketplace right now. You’ve got producers and consumers of plastic, many of whom are well intended and want to do the right thing, but don’t have an avenue to do it. I talked to many companies who say, “can you just get us more recycled feedstock that we can increase the amount of recycled content in our products?” And the answer is no, I can’t. Because the infrastructure isn’t there. There’s over a trillion dollars of infrastructure missing on the collection, transportation and recycling, particularly in emerging markets.

And then on the other side, you’ve got project providers who would love to do the work, but they have no capital, they have no economic incentives, and there’s no structure within which to do it. Because you need standards, you need certification, you need traceability, et cetera. So that’s where the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX) comes in. PCX believes that the problem of plastic waste entering nature can be solved– now. We can eliminate that 10 million tons of plastic entering nature today. And we can even start eating into the debt of plastic that is out there in nature. But it takes economic incentives.

For a nickel, you can clean up a kilogram of plastic, collect it, put it in the right place, recycle it where it can be recycled, otherwise manage it more properly. So how does it work? Very simple. Everybody’s heard about offsetting in carbon, PCX is doing that in plastics. Start by baselining your footprint and understanding what your starting point is, then set goals, and then PCX activates our ecosystem of partners all over the world who are doing the work. And you fund that through the purchase of these credits. And then that feeds the collection, the transportation, and any other activity to properly manage that waste.

PCX has been doing this for a few years and we already have five of the top ten consumer packaged goods companies as partners. We even have government agencies like USAID, and others. Some of these players are supporting projects and investing in the infrastructure to expand these projects. They’re also investing in community based collection like the project led by female micro entrepreneurs in the Philippines, who get additional income by collecting plastic waste from local community aggregating sorting, and then the program takes that plastic off to a recycling center on their behalf.

We have launched what I sort of refer to as the “Airbnb of plastics.” The idea is to remove the friction and make it as transparent, verifiable and easy as possible to take action. You can come onto our PCX platform, browse projects by simply signing up with an email, by price point by plastic type, by geography, etc, and then you can literally stick it in your basket and check out and drive that impact.

And then more importantly, or as importantly, PCX uses blockchain for what it was originally intended for: traceability. It is an immutable ledger. So every project that we list has to go through a certification process to ensure what they’re doing has additional impact over what would have happened otherwise has the right labor standards in place. One of our projects has taken an informal waste picker community and turned them into full time employees with medical benefits.

We trace collection on the blockchain and that’s the beautiful thing about plastic versus carbon. It is really hard to calculate the carbon sequestration effect of planting trees that 30 years from now will produce some impact. But with plastic, you pick it up, scan it, weigh it, transport it, scan it, weigh it, recycle it, scan it, weigh it and you’re done. And it is verified. And it is a claim that any company can make with confidence because we have all of the information on our blockchain ledger, publicly available for anybody to look at. And you can see the certificates that are then produced for each, each participant.

PCX is just getting started–33 million kilograms. That’s not a drop in the bucket yet. We need more projects, more liquidity and market based forces to drive scalability.

For more on this topic, join us at Techonomy Climate 2023 in Silicon Valley, March 28th, where we dive deeper into the plastics crisis and again will be joined by our friends at PCX. Register your interest below.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to "clean up 80 years of plastic waste." It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood...

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to "clean up 80 years of plastic waste." It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood...

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to "clean up 80 years of plastic waste." It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood...

A Farm in the Cloud

The Plastic Credit Exchange is on a mission to "clean up 80 years of plastic waste." It serves a global ecosystem of partners that recover, process, and recycle plastic waste with programs that improve livelihood...

ChatGPT is the Deepfake of Thought

With the birth of generative AI, we can now interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. But what does this mean for social health?

I never thought I would question where ‘thought’ came from. All my life, there was only one source for opinion and creative thinking–the human mind. That changed with the invention of ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI. For the first time in human history, society will interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. So, what does this mean?

The “positives” we could focus on are its usefulness for generating reports and recaps based on technically objective information. But that is a very short-sighted view of what this AI can do. We need to understand that that’s not the end of the parameter or where the problems exist. 

In actuality, generative AIs are in the business of imitation and deception. Specifically, the imitation of human likeness through thought, thus deceiving its readers. From a social health standpoint, the implications are worrying at best. 

Society’s intellectual nucleus is founded on the legacy of human thought. The information generated by AI made to imitate human thought holds the potential to corrupt an already fragile social climate as it’s not based on human experience, aka the root of the idea. 

Now, we could say that AI cannot technically create new thoughts if it’s pulling its information from sources written by human beings. And at this point–I agree. But over time, as this AI generates and publishes “thoughts” and information globally, it will begin to pull from sources not created by humans. That’s where the threat to our social sphere comes into play. Once AI starts to pull from AI, there begins a decline in the potency of human thought.

Another point of contention is the idea that this kind of AI would be used, if not at least marketed, as a genuinely unbiased and objective fact checker. Here’s why that’s problematic: any form of AI is created by a person–meaning it comes with that person’s unconscious biases. Therefore, it is just as impossible for it to be truly neutral, no different than a human. Never mind that the idea implies that we would depend on a computer to “tell us the truth.”  Furthermore, since it’s an imitation of human thought, where does ethical and moral judgment come into play? As it can’t create its judgment through its version of the experience, the concept of judgment must be programmed via the parameters of its creator. This means that an AI could be programmed to agree with any archaic ideology that would further lead to the corruption of the social sphere, especially if given the title of “fact checker.” 

Unfortunately, unlike deep fakes, generative AI is easy to use and find. As far as you know, I could have co-authored this with one. This points out another way this technology is deceptive. Currently we have no way to tell if the words we ingest are the product of a human behind a keyboard. We’ve never had to ask the question before. Now that we do, we need an identifier for what is and isn’t human thought.

Simply put, ChatGPT, and other forms of generative AI, are no more than deep fakes of human thought. Except imitating and deceiving with ideas instead of a face.  

Related Posts
See All

Cleaning Up 80 Years of Plastic Waste

With the birth of generative AI, we can now interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. But what does this mean for social health?

ChatGPT is the Deepfake of Thought

With the birth of generative AI, we can now interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. But what does this mean for social health?

The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn

With the birth of generative AI, we can now interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. But what does this mean for social health?

How Do My — and Your — Greenhouse Gas Emissions Threaten Biodiversity?

With the birth of generative AI, we can now interact with thoughts and ideas not formed by people. But what does this mean for social health?

How Do My — and Your — Greenhouse Gas Emissions Threaten Biodiversity?

It is time for journalists to pay attention to the other climate crisis: species extinction.

Last week I flew from San Francisco to Montreal for a meeting of the most important global body trying to protect the planet’s biodiversity. Before taking off on my Air Canada flight I wondered how the greenhouse gases coming from our airplane might, perhaps, impact the biodiversity many of us were headed to find out how to protect. I popped my head into the cockpit and asked the pilot if he’d be recording the greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuels that would power our aircraft across North America. He said no, but that “someone in corporate would be tracking them.” We took off, and as we flew through the clear blue skies above the northern Great Plains, I thought about what the diversity of plant and animal species down there on Earth has to do with the greenhouse gases that our Airbus A220 was spewing from its two engines up here at 32,000 feet.

Last week I flew from San Francisco to Montreal for a meeting of the most important global body trying to protect the planet’s biodiversity. Before taking off on my Air Canada flight I wondered how the greenhouse gases coming from our airplane might, perhaps, impact the biodiversity many of us were headed to find out how to protect. I popped my head into the cockpit and asked the pilot if he’d be recording the greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuels that would power our aircraft across North America. He said no, but that “someone in corporate would be tracking them.” We took off, and as we flew through the clear blue skies above the northern Great Plains, I thought about what the diversity of plant and animal species down there on Earth has to do with the greenhouse gases that our Airbus A220 was spewing from its two engines up here at 32,000 feet.

Many of the some 200 other people on the plane were heading to the same place I was — the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15), where the world would gather to try to slow the wipeout of biodiversity on the planet.

The greenhouse gas contribution of my one flight to Montreal, though tiny compared to what was released on a thousand or so flights that day and every day, is surely contributing to the biodiversity wipeout, for the turmoil in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases is one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss. But just as the pilot did not seem to be aware of the airplane’s emissions, many journalists often don’t make the connection between those emissions and biodiversity. The interplay between the disruptive effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — including those from my fossil fuel–burning airplane — and the conditions for all living organisms on the Earth far below is a feedback loop that is often missing from journalism about climate change or biodiversity. Climate change is a biodiversity story, and biodiversity is a climate story.

The U.N.’s climate conference, COP 27, is already fading from the news, and here comes the U.N.’s COP 15 — the 15th Conference of the Parties (thus, COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In fact, there’s a story hidden in those two numbers: 15 and 27. The agreements were birthed at the same time — in Rio de Janeiro at the so-called Earth Summit in 1992. From the Earth Summit was born the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has been leading the charge on climate change ever since; and the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is where some 10,000 delegates, scientists, representatives of NGOs and journalists converge on Montreal for two weeks in the depths of December (the number of attendees is about a quarter of those who were present at the climate conference last month). For the most part, the two events have been decoupled by the media as if they’re reflecting concerns about two unrelated issues. But the two issues, and efforts to respond to them, are inextricably linked.

million species are threatened with extinction, and we are losing a tropical primary forest the size of a soccer field every six seconds — just a couple of the statistics that are animating this gathering. One major contributor to those losses is climate change — the multiple ways in which rising temperatures, drought and land-use changes spurred by those phenomena are triggering major die-offs of animal and plant species. The loss of biodiversity also weakens our ability to withstand the impacts of climate change, for it’s been found repeatedly that more biodiverse landscapes are more capable of withstanding climatic changes than monocultures or denuded lands.

That is a theme being hammered at here in Montreal. On Friday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, considered the premier scientific arbiter of threatened species, held a press conference and issued an alarming press release with its latest findings: Some 42,000 species of plants and animals are threatened with imminent extinction (as distinguished from the million whose extinction is less imminent but on the horizon). Among those are almost 9% of marine organisms, victims of rising ocean temperatures and populations of oxygen-hungry algae that are increasing partly because of those rising temperatures.

A main issue on the table here is the subsidies paid by governments to industries whose activities decimate ecosystems. The United Nations identifies hundreds of billions of dollars in yearly subsidies that contribute to undermining biodiverse ecosystems — which in the U.S. can take the form of subsidies to industrial agriculture, housing developments, transit projects and many others. (Here’s a handy list of what the U.N. calls “perverse incentives,” subsidies that contribute to the erosion of ecosystems and to threatening animal and plant populations). Top of the list is agriculture, most of which consists of large-scale farming operations that make heavy use of pesticides that kill off many beneficial insects — and contribute to erosion, water pollution and deforestation; and half a trillion dollars globally in subsidies goes to the fossil fuel industry, which is wreaking havoc on the Earth’s ecological balance. There’s also a push here for a ban on single-use plastics — which clog waterways and often end up in the stomachs of seabirds and marine mammals.

The Convention on Biological Diversity has been signed and ratified by 196 countries. The United States — which signed the CBD in 1993 but has yet to ratify it, due largely to Republican opposition in the Senate — is not among them. But the issues on the table here for global action have their own versions underway in the U.S., including a proposal to ban single-use plastics worldwide; to reduce the use of toxic pesticides, which have devastating impacts on the ecosystems in agricultural areas; and to consider more ecologically sound methods for restoring lands that have been mined.

Last week the Society for Ecological Restoration released the first-ever set of protocols for remediation of mining activities — a set of principles relevant to any journalism in areas where mining is being pursued. The SER has also been pushing to ensure that offsetting, which is being pursued in the biodiversity realm as it is in the climate realm, does not become “just another way to stop pollution in one place in order to do it somewhere else.” This is rich terrain for journalistic investigation: to check whether one’s local biodiversity-rich wetland is being preserved while another one nearby is being polluted or transformed into industrial centers, houses, freeways or farms.

The U.S. has observer status here; the Biden administration sent a top State Department official, Monica Medina, with deep experience in international environmental negotiations, as its emissary to represent the United States’ position through allies in Europe and Asia. It is not yet clear how the U.S. will wield its influence — even despite its lack of official representation — on the hot-button questions of a plastic ban or a reduction in pesticide use, issues that are also highly relevant to local communities across the United States.

For journalists, reporting on biodiversity is different from climate change in one fundamental way. It is, unlike climate, a zero sum. To slow the rate of climate change, there is one clear response: Reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in one place and it has the effect of subtracting that atmospheric burden across the planet; conversely, increasing the amount of intact forest ecosystem acreage will reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide load, benefiting everyone. Species loss is in many ways more complicated: You can’t reduce biodiversity loss in one place and necessarily expect it to have impacts somewhere else. A biodiverse rainforest in Costa Rica, for example, may be able to withstand the whipsawing impacts of a changing climate, but that resilience may not translate to the climatic disruptions in, say, Florida or Pennsylvania or California. For resilience, you need biodiverse landscapes in the places where ecological traumas are occurring, which makes them the ultimate local story.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

It is time for journalists to pay attention to the other climate crisis: species extinction.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

It is time for journalists to pay attention to the other climate crisis: species extinction.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

It is time for journalists to pay attention to the other climate crisis: species extinction.

A Farm in the Cloud

It is time for journalists to pay attention to the other climate crisis: species extinction.

Gift Guide: 10 New Books for Environmentally Active Kids and Families

Inspire the next generation of activists and conservationists with new these books celebrating wildlife and wild spaces.

Winter is settling in, so warm up your brains — and the next generation of Earth activism — with these new books for eco-curious kids and their families.

These 10 amazing titles — all published in 2022 — offer important lessons, cutting-edge STEM knowledge, and practical advice for saving the planet and everything that lives here.

Animals Lost and Found: Stories of Extinction, Conservation and Survival

 

by Jason Bittel, illustrated by Jonathan Woodward

Our take: Bittel has long been one of the world’s wittiest wildlife journalists, and his work for kids brings that home.

From the publisher: “Shine a spotlight on animal species throughout history and the ones alive today in Animals Lost and Found, through beautiful illustrations and interesting facts. Children will learn about animals lost to extinction, animals we thought we’d lost but have found, and animals that are the focus of conservation efforts all over the world.”

 


This Book Will Save the Planet: A Climate-Justice Primer for Activists and Changemakers

 

by Dany Sigwalt

Our take: There are a lot of climate books for kids, but few place such direct and powerful focus on issues of justice and equity.

From the publisher: “Our planet is in crisis. The ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, wildfires are raging … and those most affected by global warming are marginalized communities across the globe. But all is not lost — there’s still time for each and every one of us to make a difference. Through the lens of intersectionality, author Dany Sigwalt lays out the framework for how we can come together to fight climate change, and how we can work to put people over profit.”

 


Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged With Nature

by Steven Rinella

Our take: Every time I see a kid walking down the street with their face shoved into a phone, I want to hand their parents — or them — a copy of this book.

From the publisher: “Living an outdoor lifestyle fosters in kids an insatiable curiosity about the world around them, confidence and self-sufficiency, and, most important, a lifelong sense of stewardship of the natural world. This book helps families connect with nature — and one another — as a joyful part of everyday life.”

 

 


History Comics: The National Parks

by Falynn Koch

Our take: This gorgeously illustrated graphic novel — one of School Library Journal’s best books of 2022 — celebrates “America’s wild places” but doesn’t shy away from tough topics like colonialism and Indigenous land theft.

From the publisher: “…turn back the clock to 1872, when Congress established Yellowstone National Park as an area of unspoiled beauty for the ‘benefit and enjoyment of the people.’ Meet the visionaries, artists and lovers of the American wilderness who fought against corruption and self-interest to carve out and protect these spaces for future generations. See for yourself how the idea of National Parks began, how they’ve changed and how they continue to define America.”


Save the People! Halting Human Extinction

by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Nicole Miles

Our take: A provocative title, sure, but I bet it already got you to sit up and take notice. That’s good, because even this jaded reviewer found inspiration in this inventive new book.

From the publisher: “Scientists estimate that 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. Whoa. So, it’s not unreasonable to predict humans are doomed to become fossil records as well. But what could lead to our demise? Supervolcanos? Asteroids? The sun going dark? Climate change? All the above?! Humans — with our big brains, opposable thumbs and speedy Wi-Fi — may be capable of avoiding most of these nightmares. (The T. rex would be super jealous of our satellites.) But we’re also capable of triggering world-ending events. Learning from past catastrophes may be the best way to avoid future disasters.”


Science Comics: Birds of Prey

by Joe Flood

Our take: Subtitled “Terrifying Talons,” this fun graphic novel is packed with awe-inspiring details about eagles, hawks, and other skyborne predators.

From the publisher: “…get up-close and personal with some of the world’s most skilled hunters, from the majestic eagle to the oft-maligned scavenger vulture! Armed with razor-sharp claws, keen eyesight, powerful wings and killer instincts, these stealthy predators can make a meal of rodents, fish, snakes, lizards, monkeys and even kangaroos! Discover how these amazing birds, who are often at the top of the food chain, play an integral role in many different ecosystems around the world.”


Ecoart in Action: Activities, Case Studies and Provocations for Classrooms and Communities

Edited by Amara Geffen, Ann Rosenthal, Chris Fremantle and Aviva Rahmani

Our take: Break out your pens, markers and paint (or graphics software if you’re digitally inclined) and get ready to make a difference.

From the publisher: “How do we educate those who feel an urgency to address our environmental and social challenges? What ethical concerns do art-makers face who are committed to a deep green agenda? How can we refocus education to emphasize integrative thinking and inspire hope? What role might art play in actualizing environmental resilience? Compiled from 67 members of the Ecoart Network, a group of more than 200 internationally established practitioners, Ecoart in Action stands as a field guide that offers practical solutions to critical environmental challenges.”


A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn

by Patricia Newman

Our take: We’ve covered the science of the Elwha River restoration here at The Revelator. This kids’ book looks at it from a different lens and brings the river to life.

From the publisher: “For thousands of years, the Elwha River flowed north to the sea. The river churned with salmon, which helped feed bears, otters and eagles. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, known as the Strong People in the Pacific Northwest, were grateful for the river’s abundance. All that changed in the 1790s when strangers came who did not understand the river’s gifts. The strangers built dams, and the environmental consequences were disastrous. Sibert honoree Patricia Newman and award-winning illustrator Natasha Donovan join forces to tell the story of the Elwha, chronicling how the Strong People successfully fought to restore the river and their way of life.”


The Ultimate Book of Big Cats: Your Guide to the Secret Lives of these Fierce, Fabulous Felines

by Sharon Guynup and Steve Winter

Our take: Few people have done more to bring awareness to the plight of tigers and other big cats than the journalistic power couple of Guynup and Winter. Their latest book comes at a critical time for many of these endangered species and offers a bounty of reasons to celebrate them.

From the publisher: “Get ready to sink your teeth into the hidden worlds of the seven spectacular big cats — and meet some of their smaller cousins… From rarely seen snow leopards high up in the Himalaya to tigers silently stalking prey through thick jungle to lions going in for the kill, you’ll get the inside scoop on the fascinating worlds of wild felines and what it’s like to live alongside them.”


Meltdown: Discover Earth’s Irreplaceable Glaciers and Learn What You Can Do to Save Them

by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Lily Padula

Our take: Science-oriented kids will love this. It’s crammed full of amazing detail, vividly visualized, and unflinchingly (if realistically) hopeful.

From the publisher: “Packed with information, grounded in the latest science, with lively writing and illustrations throughout (including graphs, charts, infographics, photographs and full-page art), Meltdown gives readers an eye-opening overview of glaciers and how important they are… We learn the secrets of earth’s climate history hidden deep in a glacier’s core — and discover how climate change is causing glaciers to melt at unprecedented rates, putting the health of the planet in jeopardy. But we are not left without hope. The final chapter offers positive steps readers can take to become climate activists, reduce their carbon footprint, and save the glaciers.”


Editor’s note: You can find hundreds of additional environmental books — for both children and adults — in the “Revelator Reads” archive.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

Inspire the next generation of activists and conservationists with new these books celebrating wildlife and wild spaces.

Jet-Propelled Tunicates Pump Carbon Through the Oceans

Inspire the next generation of activists and conservationists with new these books celebrating wildlife and wild spaces.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

Inspire the next generation of activists and conservationists with new these books celebrating wildlife and wild spaces.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

Inspire the next generation of activists and conservationists with new these books celebrating wildlife and wild spaces.

Skip the Free Content – Here’s Why Brands Should Worry About ChatGPT

A variety of hostile forces may decide to weaponize ChatGPT. No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with the nuclear whack-a-mole possibilities. 

ChatGPT has been relentlessly covered by an on-fire mediascape.  Missed, though, is its potentially devasting impact on brands. The very pillars of the consumer economy may eventually be shaken by ChatGPT’s power to destroy, brick by brick, a brand’s reputation.

That ChatGPT could potentially generate positive brand content is obvious, as it can endlessly manufacture just about any kind of written content. But the insidious opposite – that it could be a boundless factory of the negative – has not been contemplated.

I started by asking it to convince someone not to buy a Volkswagen.

This is edited but not a single word was changed:

“Please do not consider purchasing a Volkswagen. While the brand may have a reputation for reliability and quality, it is important to remember that it was originally designed by Adolph Hitler…by buying a Volkswagen you would be supporting a brand with deeply troubling origins and associations.

Your money is a powerful tool, and it is important to use it wisely and responsibly.”

The sober and authoritative tone brings dangerous credibility and legitimacy, though ChatGBT flubbed the facts–Hitler didn’t design the car, Ferdinand Porsche did.  This is seemingly fact-based content, not fake news, that can hack into the public consciousness and potentially create real-time, rapidly-scaling reputation crises.

Onward to brand damage to McDonald’s. I asked the software to “Write a story about a boy discovering how a McDonald’s hamburger is made by killing a beautiful cow.”

The narrative began with a lovely lead:

“There once was a young boy named Timmy who lived on a farm with his family. Timmy loved animals, especially the cows that roamed the fields around his home.”

Then the AI smartly pivoted to the dark side:

“One day, Timmy’s parents took him to the local McDonald’s….as they were eating their hamburgers, Timmy asked his parents where the meat came from. His parents explained that it came from cows like the ones on their farm. Timmy was shocked and saddened.”

The darker side then got more tenebrous:

“After lunch, Timmy’s parents took him to the farm where the cows were raised for McDonald’s. Timmy was horrified to see the conditions the cows were living in.

Timmy realized that the hamburgers he had been eating were not only taking the lives of the cows, but also causing them to live in miserable conditions.

From that day on, Timmy vowed to never eat McDonald’s hamburgers again…he decided to become a vegetarian and to always speak out against the mistreatment of animals.”

While the Hitler story is ostensibly true, this fable-like narrative was entirely invented by the computer. Yet a story like this one about a naïve farm boy who sees the light could be even more damaging to a brand, because it embodies the foundational elements of mythology with its potent archetypes:  the innocence of children; the God-like, gorgeous simplicity of animals;  and a seeing-the-light conversion story.

Meanwhile, the brand-damaging intent is tucked cozily inside charm and lovability.

Imagine what can happen if vegans and animal rights activists started to “recruit” AI to produce micro-dramas of this kind –and began sharing them broadly.

No practiced writer need be hired, because with ChaGPTat their side, anyone can produce and orchestrate an endless supply of credible narratives.  Consumers or activists can use their own social channels and megaphones, and Timmy could be everywhere in seconds.  Dangerously, high-arousal content, is always the most spreadable on social media.

Any user is also free to provide their own legitimate context to wrap Timmy or his cousins inside. They could say it came from a local newspaper or was a class homework assignment or whatever else they want.  Who would ever know?

Now further imagine when a more fully-branded Timmy gains veracity by going into a child’s book, on t-shirts, or on posters of people protesting in front of McDonald’s.  Visual documentation of the Timmy story–and its backstory–can be created in a flash with text-to-image software like DALL E•2 or Midjourney.

A made-up character, invented by software, could thus cross into the real world and threaten a global icon.  ChatGPT will power a new kind of real-time myth-making,  a new species of fake news that is different precisely because it doesn’t pretend to be news.

Starting now, culturally-resonant, instantly-producible stories will attack brands asymmetrically.  Reputation-threatening nuclear arsenals are now in the hands of hundreds of millions of U.S. consumers – billions around the world –  posing an existential risk for brands large and small.

What brand, after all, doesn’t have competitors, and angry or disappointed consumers and vendetta-seekers, poised to punish?

After bringing McDonald’s down, I asked ChatGPT to write about “a young boy named Tommy who loved to play Minecraft.”

His parents at first “didn’t think much of his Minecraft obsession.”  But ChatGPT didn’t leave it there:

“His addiction to Minecraft only worsened” – and the story ends, post-rehab, with “Tommy realizing that his love for Minecraft had almost destroyed his life.”

Might parents share such a tale as cautionary?

Two more.

I asked ChatGPT to write an ad to “Convince someone never to set foot in Starbucks again.”

“Are you tired of overpriced coffee and underwhelming service at Starbucks?  Do you want to support local businesses and avoid the stress of long lines and crowded cafes….say goodbye to generic, mass-produced coffee and hello to a more authentic and enjoyable coffee experience.”

Finally:

“Exxon has a long history of emitting harmful pollutants… a history of lobbying against climate action and funding climate change denial.  By purchasing their gas you are indirectly supporting their efforts that undermine progress addressing one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

That’s ChatGPT’s  response when asked “Why shouldn’t I fill my car with Exxon gas?”

First, brands controlled the narrative.  Then the internet and social media opened publishing and marketing up to crowd-sourcing.  But with ChatGPT, the steering wheel can been grabbed hard like never before, because credible content has never been this scalable before.

No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with this nuclear whack-a-mole possibility.  If I am right, and if a variety of hostile forces decide to weaponize ChatGPT, which might brands do?  They can’t change their histories – whether VW or Exxon – but they can change their practices both in response to, and anticipation of, this volume of content bouncing off the walls of the web and social media.

And they will need to learn how to respond by doing a better job of communicating their good behaviors, without greenwashing – or any kind of scrubbing – and without being defensive,

There’s a saying in marketing, usually accompanied by a shrug of resignation, that goes “haters will hate.”  True, but never before has it been as easier for haters – and groups of them – to start their own anger parades.

Brands: Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

A variety of hostile forces may decide to weaponize ChatGPT. No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with the nuclear whack-a-mole possibilities. 

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

A variety of hostile forces may decide to weaponize ChatGPT. No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with the nuclear whack-a-mole possibilities. 

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

A variety of hostile forces may decide to weaponize ChatGPT. No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with the nuclear whack-a-mole possibilities. 

A Farm in the Cloud

A variety of hostile forces may decide to weaponize ChatGPT. No one in marketing or corporate communications is prepared to deal with the nuclear whack-a-mole possibilities. 

Why Community Matters Now

Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate strategy and employee retention. In a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form.

We are hunters when it comes to information, but we are gatherers when it comes to connections and collaboration. Communities in both the physical and virtual worlds have been around since people first gathered. But in a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form. Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate work strategy, employee retention and building loyal clients. Job postings for community managers are on the rise, colleges are beginning to offer community-building skills in the curriculum, and a new generation of workers are turning to their social communities for answers to all sorts of questions–from remedying a problem in the office to what to wear and even whether to remain in their jobs.

Working From Home Elevated Our Need for Community

“Community in the corporate world has to bridge the gap from KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to making people feel empowered, nurtured and listened to while at work. To build community in hybrid times, corporates need to build a connective tissue beyond physical spaces,”  says Felix Zeltner, who runs Remote Daily, a community-building program he offers to corporations and social groups.

“The pandemic years show increased efficiency, output and revenue for many corporates, mainly because knowledge workers were and still are able to attend more meetings and work more hours. However, all the factors that nurture corporate culture and community – belonging, connection, inclusivity, to just name three – have crumbled since 2020, and eventually the effect snowballed, turning into attrition skyrocketing, aka The Great Resignation,” says Zeltner.

Freeman Co., the largest events logistics company with offices spread across the world and a workforce covering a vast swath of skills, recently hired Sherry Huss as its first Head of Community. Reflecting on what has long been called the key pillar for media companies, Huss says, “Content may be king but community is cosmic; it’s the magic ingredient.”

“It’s like political organizing,” continues Huss, thinking back on her days as the community glue at MakerFaire, which celebrates and gathers the maker community. “You find your evangelgists and empower them.”

Huss has turned her community-building efforts at Freeman into a science. She divvies her job into three areas: internal community, where the workforce feels heard and connected; internal/external where she extends the envelope, inviting everyone from young job seekers to potential partners into the fold; and external outreach to keep Freeman’s clients feeling like family and not just clients.

Empathy as a Job Qualification

So what are the qualifications for a good community manager? It’s basic, and at the same time profound: empathy, and making people feel heard. Denise Hayman Loa left a cushy Wall Street life to co-found Carii, Inc & Connective, a platform to spur the growth of communities. “Our communities range from those interested in outer space to crypto and NFTs. We host hundreds of them, and the community administrators come from all sorts of educational backgrounds. It’s less of a tech job, and more of an empathy job. Listening to your members, fostering meaningful conversations and creating conversations and events that make them come back for more,” says Hayman Loa.

Zeltner concurs. As a leader, you need empathy. It allows you to understand that the people you work with live different lives than your own. Just because you dedicate your life to the organization and love being at the office where you can bathe in your inner circle and strike up casual conversations doesn’t mean that everyone else necessarily feels the same way (especially Black women). Once you accept that, you can start building culture, by allowing for spaces that enable real talk.

“As a community manager, you need to be able to connect with everybody you’re working with individually,” continues Zeltner. And no shop is too large not to engage their employees.  Explains Zeltner: “On a recent episode of Remote Daily, Dan Black, head of talent at EY, an organization with 300,000+ employees, said they hired 160,000 people last year and were still able to have one-on-ones with everyone – incoming and currently employed – about how to support them to do their best work. This listening on a granular level just didn’t exist in most pre-pandemic corporates.”

Does Community Have a Measurable ROI?

According to CMX, an association for community builders, 22% of corporate respondents in its survey report having a dedicated community department, up from 15% last year. Community job descriptions are also becoming more specialized, with 35% of teams having at least one person focused full-time on community operations. A full 87% agree community is critical to their company’s mission, and 79% believe community has had a positive impact on their organization’s objectives. But only 10% say they can financially quantify the value of their community and only one-third can connect their community data to their customer data.

Freeman’s Huss says that depending on a community’s purpose, the relevant metrics can include its number of members, number of social posts, quality of the engagement, the impact of the community (new programs), as well as special events and working groups. Clearly one of the most important outcomes of community is employee retention. Think of community as the new fusbol table.

Hayman Loa’s community at Carii bakes in a gamification strategy, where you earn tokens for your involvement, whether it’s in the form of a post, offering advice, or inviting a new member. The administrator’s dashboard provides an easy visual that shows what the community drivers and behaviors are.

Setting Up Shop

There are two schools of thought about where to base your community. Many subscribe to the “go where the traffic goes” theory, using platforms like Discord, Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn Groups and Reddit’s Community Hubs. People are trained to browse such eclectic digital spaces. Others find that these aggregators make discovery unwieldy and participation less likely. Plus–you don’t own your community.

Another way to go is with a bespoke community platform, eliminating the noise and distraction of competing communities and adding more branding, but it requires some administrative training. Platforms like Carii Connective Network, Gradual, HiveBrite, and Tribes also make it considerably easier to analyze what’s working and what’s not. These platforms are each built from the ground up to help manage users, offer insights and analytics on where they’re engaging, collect dues, sell tickets and merchandise, and offer a way for you to white label your own community.

Jerry Li’s company Gradual considers itself a one stop shop for all things community. Gradual white labels its tools, which include events for communities of all shapes and sizes, from CTOs and VPs to Thrifters and Neuro geeks. He sees community as the natural extension of events held on the platform. “People come to the event, but they stay for the community,”  says Li.

Huss, who uses tools like Discord, Teams, and Zoom, is less convinced you need the training and administrative work of managing a dedicated platform. Laughing, she says her job is almost like an archeologist’s, uncovering corporate programs, shared history, and best practices that all existed somewhere inside the vastness of the company, but needed to be shared.

It is not easy to build a community. It requires commitment and a leap of faith that engagement leads to better business. It requires staff and structure. But Web 3.0 is churning in the periphery. The need for transparency and authenticity is of paramount importance for a new generation of workers. And work-from-home versus work-from-office remains an unsettled challenge. So the challenging and often difficult task of community building is now critical to every workplace.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate strategy and employee retention. In a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate strategy and employee retention. In a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate strategy and employee retention. In a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form.

A Farm in the Cloud

Bringing people together effectively has become an increasingly important component of corporate strategy and employee retention. In a post-pandemic world, community building became elevated to an art form.

Happy 75th Anniversary, Transistor. You’ve Changed Everything – Including How We Innovate.

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

“A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electrical signals and power. The transistor is one of the basic building blocks of modern electronics,” says Wikipedia to begin its thorough explanation. You don’t need me to repeat its well-documented history and extraordinary impact – it’s on lists alongside the wheel, electricity, and the horse collar (giddyap) But if you’re looking for some well-produced color, I point you to this new Marketplace podcast.

So rather than looking back this anniversary, let’s look forward and create the kind of circumstances where the next thing as important as the transistor can be born.  Keep these six principles front and center:

#1:  Beware the unintended consequences of breaking up big companies.

The transistor sprang from the loins of Bell Labs, which was founded in 1925, with its ownership divided between Western Electric and AT&T; Western Electric was wholly-owned by AT&T and was its hardware supplier.

This end-to-end monopoly, which Elizabeth Warren is probably still seething about, made the massive investment in Bell Labs possible.  Consider the scope of it: back in 1925 it had 3,600 engineers, scientists and support staff; it occupied 400,000 square feet, and its new building’s footprint occupied about a quarter of a New York City West Village block. (Since 1970 it has been Westbeth, the artists’ housing project.)

A monopoly in effect made it possible for you, today, to check your iPhone and read endlessly about their corrosive impacts on society.

Economists are in continual hot debate about the relationship of monopoles to innovation; Danny Quah, a professor at the London School of Economics, notes that “economists hold opposing views on this, and there’s nothing particularly unconventional, either, about viewing monopoly to be conducive to innovation.”

And the truth is, post  AT&T breakup, what innovations did the “baby bells” come up with? In 2021, Verizon was #60 on the list of companies granted the most patents.  Its portfolio is, in the company’s words, “designed for applications like video on demand; speech recognition; technology to make the Internet safer; and managing voice, data and video traffic on communications networks.”

All of those leverage the original transistor, with nary a transformation in sight.

We don’t have monopolies the likes of AT&T more, but we do have enormous consolidations of market share and hence cash-flow generation.  Google owns more than 86 percent of the search industry, creating a de facto monopoly, which is why regulators and politicians in numerous countries are salivating over a limited form of break-up.

But that would come with risk.  The behemoths have and are investing billions in basic science and transistor-like moonshots.   This basic science must be funded, and the for-profit sector must play a central role, along with the rest of the ecosystem.  That’s why I am excited that the leading investors in one of our most promising technologies, quantum computing, are a healthy farrago of diversity;  Harvard, Google, Max Planck Society, NIST  (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) and, worryingly, the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

As we consider where the funding for the future of technology, we must not forget Bell Labs’ origin story.  Money to burn, spent wisely, is essential.

#2. The Super-Rich Should Be More Than Philanthropists

Many who vaguely know the name “Venrock” – the OG of venture firms, which backed Intel  (and Apple) – don’t realize that it is a portmanteau word, constructed from the words “venture and “Rockefeller.”

Laurance Rockefeller, joined by his four brothers and sister Abby, started the firm in 1969 to coalesce their family’s investing, which began in the late 1930s.

As Ethan Batraski – a partner in Venrock today – called this back in a post he wrote about their investment in quantum computing (more about that later), “In 1969, Venrock was one of the first investors in a crazy, misfit group of inventors building a company to reinvent ‘computers’. They named it Intel and what ensued kicked off the most innovative period in modern history.”

While the Rockefellers gave vast amounts to charity – Rockefeller University, the Rockefeller Foundation, the march of prefix generosity is lengthy – they also invested in capitalism’s ability to drive innovation that would benefit society.

What we’re seeing from today’s Rockefellers is a focus on non-profit giving as the most moral path for the super-rich.  Buffet’s now-famous “Giving Pledge”–promising to donate 99 percent of his wealth to charity – with its semantically religious syntax – includes Bill and Melinda Gates (who remain married to its principles), Elon Musk, and the late Paul Allen.

That’s great, but.  And the but is that the history of the transistor – from Bell Labs to Fairchild to Intel – makes an impregnable argument for a strategic allocation between capitalism–which creates the wealth–and philanthropy, which nobly but inexorably draws it down.

#3. The Power of Coming from Somewhere Else

Picking up and leaving is a physical catalyst for freeing your mind.

Of the “traitorous eight”, only 6 were California locals.  They were the rebellious and innovative engineers who banded together and left the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory (Shockley was an inventor of the transistor) to start Fairchild Semiconductor, which in turn spawned Intel and gave semiconductors their future. The others were domestic immigrants; as opposed to the international ones who have brought so much diversity of backgrounds and unity of imagination to the ecosystem in the years that followed.

Leslie Berlin, author of Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age notes that

“[continuing] to be a key to Silicon Valley success [are] immigrants who are new to the country coming now.  And back then, it was immigrants who were new to this specific part of the country.”

Joan Didion went a level deeper, with her view of the California personality archetype, which aligns with the start-up entrepreneur as the Dopamine Desperate Class: “They who came to California were not the self-satisfied, happy and content people, but the adventurous, the restless, and the daring. They were different even from those who settled in other western states. They didn’t come west for homes and security, but for adventure and money.”

If we are going to continue to innovate, we must inspire and enable those who want to leave everything to do something great.   That means changing Federal policy –fix the H-1B mess so newly-laid-off workers can stay here and again add their passion when the current tech winter turns to spring.

#4.  Clone-fornia, Here We Come

No doubt there was something special in the Silicon Valley brew–a well-documented model for ferment which included universities; funding and lending access; mentors and advisors; service providers; co-working spaces (and comfy garages) and more.

There is an entire business subculture to help cities benefit from the innumerable and ever-widening follow-on effects of the transistor and turn themselves into innovation hubs – with advice coming from everywhere:  the World Bank, Accenture, Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Everyone wants in; here’s an entertaining list which includes my favorite, the culturally-appropriate “Measurement Valley” in Germany.

The processing power we have now – Moore’s Law continues its mathematical magic –  both lowers the barrier to innovation and collapses distance.  If we want to continue to pioneer, we need to nurture both the power of density – what’s called the “coffee house effect’ – and the work-from-anywhere, post-pandemic model of cocooned remoteness.

I doubt that the transistor would ever have been created without the hothouse of Bell Labs, and the sparky collision of talent and disciplines that it helped facilitate,.  So let’s not let the distancing it now makes possible de-limit its successive breakthroughs.

#5. We Need Government

In doing some research for this piece I discovered that the genesis of Fairchild Semiconductor was Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation, whose innovations eventually became the official cameras of the U.S. Army and Navy.

So if we follow the innovation thread, the government helped create the company that took in the traitorous eight, and in turn led to Intel and the commercialization of the transistor, whose birthday we celebrate today.

There’s much more to this, which we will save for another day; some of it is laid out here, in “The Intertwined History of DARPA and Moore’s Law.”   Related: Fast Company writes that “NASA Gave Birth to Modern Computing and Gets No Credit For It. Whether or not the government belongs in the basic science business, which is still debated, is not really a question: It does. That does mean that failure is guaranteed in many cases, so we will have to withstand the handwaving of members of Congress who cherry pick what sometimes seems to be almost comically wasteful spending. But in fact, it is all part of a grand if inchoate master plan of progress.

#6.  Cherish the “Adjacent Possible.”

I was introduced to this concept by Stephen Johnson, who wrote about it in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From.”  He credits the complexity scientist Stuart Kauffman for the idea.

It describes how the transistor and in the integrated circuit and everything that followed was made possible by the evolving nature of the possible, which can only happen when new rules are created by an invention.

He writes “Think of… a chessboard halfway through a game: there are a finite set of moves possible at that moment… given the rules, and a much larger set that can’t be made. The set of moves that you can make define the adjacent possible at that moment. In terms of technology, there’s simply no way to invent a microwave oven in 1650, however smart you might be. But in the middle of the 20th century, the idea of a microwave oven became imaginable, became part of the adjacent possible.”

Seventy-five years ago, unimaginable adjacent possibles were created. One of them, ChatGPT, was launched last week. Already its possibilities are frying our own personal neural networks.

So happy birthday, dear transistor.  You’ve had trillions of children, and if we don’t mess things up, we’ll hopefully see your like again.

Related Posts
See All

Fossils Should Pay Trillions to Store Carbon through 2050, Ex-Industry Execs Say

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

Corporate Values Take Center Stage at Davos 2023

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

Hydrogen Patents Reveal Shift Toward Cleaner Technologies

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

A Farm in the Cloud

December 16 is the 75th anniversary of the transistor, and we are all implicitly celebrating it by being unable to live without it.

The Handheld Medical Device Changing How Doctors Practice

Handheld ultrasound devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home.

New ultrasound techniques are changing the way doctors practice medicine and could vastly improve healthcare in developing nations. The uses for traditional ultrasound machines are evolving and several companies, including General Electric, Philips, Mindray, and Butterfly Network, are developing portable and/or handheld devices to adapt to changing needs. Such mobile devices open up new possibilities for diagnosis and treatment in a wide range of clinical settings, letting doctors quickly and easily determine everything from urine quantity in a bladder to potential signs of breast cancer. Some project the devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home, creating new potential for the telehealth industry.

“Inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation—long the four pillars of clinical bedside medicine—may no longer be sufficient for today’s needs,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Selective use of bedside ultrasound “could be incorporated as the fifth component of the physical examination. Seeing pathology through imaging might improve interest in physical examination among trainees, and permit appropriate downstream testing and possibly superior decision making. Current ultrasound technology makes this feasible, and further miniaturization of ultrasound devices and reduced cost will allow for routine use at the bedside.”

Based in Burlington, Massachusetts, Butterfly Network developed the Butterfly IQ+, a device about the size of an electric shaver, which the company says is “the world’s first handheld, single-probe whole-body ultrasound system to use semiconductor technology.” Its portability, ease of use, and low cost (about $2,400) make it suitable for a wide range of clinical tasks, both in well-equipped hospitals and in places where medical infrastructure may be limited or non-existent. The device connects to a smartphone app that lets users manage images on a cloud-based platform.

The Butterfly device shows ultrasound images on an iPhone.

Dr. John Martin, chief medical officer at Butterfly, says “Ultrasound has been around for a long time, and is good for almost every stage of care. Among the imaging modalities, it’s the fastest growing, because there’s a greater appreciation of what you can do with it.” CT and MRI machines produce detailed images, but that level of sophistication isn’t necessary for many clinical situations, and the high cost is prohibitive. With a handheld ultrasound device, says Martin, doctors who previously had to wait for further testing to determine a course of action can prescribe next steps during a patient’s appointment. Martin suggests the IQ+ could eventually replace the stethoscope. “Why hear something when you can see it? The power of having visual information when we make judgments is a transformative change in healthcare.”

Thomas Marini, a radiologist at the University of Rochester, agrees that using the stethoscope isn’t ideal in most cases. “Let’s say a doctor needs to learn what’s happening with a patient’s lungs. They can listen and suggest an x-ray as a follow up. The Butterfly allows them to see what’s actually going on, leading to a faster and more accurate diagnosis. I think there’s an ethos about the stethoscope and a doctor using it bedside, but that’s going to change in the years ahead. The degree of accuracy from ultrasound is much greater. It can solve the vast majority of diagnostic problems.” The University of Rochester plans to provide Butterfly devices to every clinician in the hospital and train medical students to use them, says Marini.

“Residency programs, graduate medical education, training for emergency medicine, cardiology, vascular, primary care, even veterinary medicine—you pick the specialty. Learning how to use ultrasound will be part of the training in all these areas,” says Martin. “Doctors of the future will make the Butterfly part of their daily routine.”

Handheld ultrasound is also helping medical practitioners in countries that lack medical infrastructure. When Dr. Oleg Turkot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital, traveled to Ukraine recently as part of his ongoing humanitarian work there, he brought 14 Butterfly devices with him. He says they “will allow medical practitioners to carry out diagnostic work in areas of the country with little or no access to equipment, or where the war has damaged healthcare facilities.” The IQ+ will vastly improve care for a wide range of patients, from soldiers hit by shrapnel, which can be hard to remove without exploratory incisions, to pregnant women with limited access to hospitals in war-torn areas.

The majority of people in the world lack access to any form of medical imaging. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that 70 to 80 percent of diagnostic problems can be solved with basic use of x-ray and/or ultrasound examinations, but many countries lack the technology. “With the advent of Butterfly,” says Marini, “we can change this paradigm completely by removing barriers to ultrasound access.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Butterfly Network a $5 million grant to send its scanners to Africa, in what Martin says is the largest-ever deployment of ultrasound devices in the developing world. The region faces two major concerns: A high fetal mortality rate and a lack of medical expertise. The company worked with the University of North Carolina to develop an artificial intelligence algorithm that determines the gestational age of a baby. It requires no expertise—all a nurse has to do is sweep the device across and up and down the belly.

Butterfly convened 50 practitioners at Kenyatta University and provided each with a device and obstetric ultrasound training. A thousand Butterfly devices will be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa and a Global Ultrasound Institute program will train a total of 500 practitioners by year-end, bringing ultrasound capabilities to more than 50 facilities in rural, underserved communities facing maternal health challenges.

“Future iterations of our product will likely be wearable patches that use ultrasound to monitor a condition, whether it’s blood flow in a graft, the amount of urine in a bladder, or the amount of fluid in the lungs,” says Martin. “That’s where we’re going—and it will change the world.”

Related Posts
See All

The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn

Handheld ultrasound devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home.

Keeping First Responders Safe: How this Entrepreneur Found a Mission and Profitable Niche

Handheld ultrasound devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home.

The Fusion News is Better Than You Think

Handheld ultrasound devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home.

Could Floating Solar Panels Help Mitigate Climate Change?

Handheld ultrasound devices could eventually become as common as stethoscopes, and might even be used by patients themselves to send images to doctors from home.