This program focuses on technology in an ecotopian world, and our guest is Bill Halal, author of a new book called TECHNOLOGY’S PROMISE, published by Palgrave Macmillan. We talk with Bill about the role technology can play in a transition to a sustainable world, or, as he phrases it, “converting the energy and environmental mess into an opportunity.” He also has some interesting ideas on how technology may lead to a nonhierarchical restructuring of business, government, and other institutions.

Listen to Ecotopia #13 Online Now!

In the News:

 

  • ·        From Marketwire comes an announcement of “Last Gadget Standing,” a new products competition that will take place next week, where else but in Las Vegas? The sponsors explain that they’ll take the

“top ten coolest gadgets for 2009, pit them head to head, and have the audience online and at a live event vote on their favorites….”

This year’s contestants include a new netbook, a modular build-your-own gadget kit, a personal stress reliever, new camera phones, and a a high definition video camera.”  Previous winners of the competition include: ONStar, the General Motors satellite tracking system; the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner;   Celestron SkyScout, which uses GPS technology to help identify any visible object in the sky; and Eye-Fi, a device that transmits digital photos directly to a personal computer wirelessly. 

As we discuss throughout the show, the question remains whether these kinds of gadgets are a healthy use of resources and ingenuity. Do you really need a robot vacuum cleaner?  But if you want to follow this year’s competition and even vote on the coolest gadgets for 2009 go to http://lastgadgetstanding.com/

 

  • ·        A contest with more fruitful, perhaps less self indulgent technological devices is the California Clean Tech Open, an annual technology contest that aims to:

“serve as an innovation catalyst, providing the infrastructure and processes to develop and motivate entrepreneurs and early stage companies creating clean, environmentally sustainable technologies”

The winnters in their 2008 contest included:
* In the air, water and waste category: Over the Moon Diapers, a San Francisco enterprise that says its didies offer “substantial energy savings to both diaper services and consumers, and (are) made almost entirely of recycled and recyclable fabrics.”  
* In the energy efficiency category: Viridis Earth, which has developed a $350 device that the firm says can improve the efficiency of residential air conditioners by at least 20 percent.
* In green building: BottleStone, a Los Altos Hills business whose ceramic stone surface material is 80 percent recycled waste glass.
* In the renewables category, Focal Point Energy of Mountain View captures the power of the sun using thin flexible reflective membranes to produce hot water and steam for industrial use.
* In smart power: Power Assure of Santa Clara makes on-demand energy efficiency management software for data centers.
* In transportation: ElectraDrive of San Francisco, which specializes in converting conventional cars and light trucks to electric vehicles in a swift and inexpensive adaptation process.

Each winner received a prize package worth $100,000: $50,000 in cash and another $50,000 in business services, including office space for a year in a San Jose entrepreneureal complex, plus legal, recruiting, accounting, public relations, insurance and marketing help tailored for an early-stage company.”   http://cacleantech.org/

 

  • ·        A group that tracks new technology in service of the environment calls itself the EcoGeeks.  Their mission:  

 Science, technology gadgets and…baby seals. We’re in a bit of an eco-mess, but we’ve got the brains to lick any problem. And that’s why EcoGeek.org publishes up to ten stories daily about innovations that are saving the planet.”

In the current issue, Megan Tracy writes of an invention that is aimed at urban wind power.  She writes:

           Wind  power has so far been relegated to areas offshore and rural, but a Cleveland State University professor wants urban centers to be able to join in on the fun too. Dr. Majid Rashidi has designed a helical wind tower that can harness wind from atop city buildings.

 

  • ·        Eco-Geek doesn’t mind poking fun a more frivolous inventions, too:  Yoni Levinson writes about a pair of sun glasses that come complete with solar panels, teeny tiny ones.

“Thanks to thin films and – in this case – dye-sensitized cells, designers can put solar panels pretty much anywhere. The fact that … the two designers created …self-energy converting sunglasses  probably has less to do with the inherent brilliance of this creation, and more to do with the fact that they were looking at a pair of sunglasses one day and said ‘Hey! What if we put SOLAR CELLS in these?’ It would take a lot of guts to actually wear [these solar powered shades] in public, even if the things do power your iPod. They aren’t exactly Ray Bans. Also, last time I checked solar cells worked best when positioned to face the sunlight. But people don’t like to look into the sunlight, even when wearing sunglasses. Seems like a waste to make solar cells that will end up capturing so much less energy than they could in another application.”
http://www.ecogeek.org/.s .

Inteview with Bill Halal

Bill Halal author of TECHNOLOGY’S PROMISE. Bill is  a professor emeritus of Science and Technology at George Washington University and is founder of TechCAst, an organization that ponders technology and its future applications. 

Our questions for Bill:

               –Being a prophet is a difficult and dangerous business if you’re wrong. The Old Testament suggests that false prophets should be “cast alive into a lake burning with brimstone.”  But your new book, TECHNOLOGY’S PROMISE, boldly makes numerous predictions for the next several decades. Please tell us about your TECHCAST project and how you work to make your predictions accurate.

               –In chapter two of TECHNOLOGY’S PROMISE, you explore a topic that is central to this program, “Transition to a Sustainable World,” and you seem confident that some of the world’s most pressing problems can and will be (fully or partially) solved through the use of technology. 

Let’s discuss:

      …the realities of population explosion and energy consumption, growing demands for declining resources.

      …prospects for alternative energy.  What do you think of “clean coal”?  wind? solar?  biomass?  conservation?  (You seem comfortable with the thought of nuclear energy futures, while many environmentalists remain skeptical–please explain TECHCAST’s take on nuclear. )

       …Do you think Americans (and people worldwide) have enough self discipline to use these technologies rather than, say, just sucking oil out of the ground and the shale until it’s gone?

       …the future for organic farming–can we be organic and economically viable too?

                –In chapter eight, you discuss “Shifting Structures of Society: Business,Government, and Other Institutions in a Knowledge Age.” 

Let’s discuss:

      …the creative destruction of institutions. Can we really anticipate the downfall of hierarchies?

      …the concept of “internal enterprise.”

      …corporation and community, especially with regard to health care.

The book is TECHNOLOGY’S PROMISE and it is published by Palgrave MacMillan.  You can also check out the Techcast site where the consultants are listed and other predictions given  http://www.techcast.org/. Also check out Bill’s website for more information and predictions home.gwu.edu/~halal/.

Food for Thought:

 

  •           We’ve been talking tonight about Technology’s Promise. On that topic, our  list of recommended reading includes Erich Fromm’s 1968 book The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology. Fromm recognized that technology, per se, is not the enemy, that people can choose actively to use technology to further human and humane ends.  Fromm wrote:

“A specter is stalking on our midst whom only a few see with clarity. It is not the old ghost of communism or fascism. It is a new specter; a completely mechanized society, devoted to maximal material output and consumption, directed by computers; and in this social process, man himself is being transformed into a part of the total machine, well fed and entertained, yet passive, unalive, and with little feeling.”

But the process of creating this dehumanized “megamachine” is reversible, says Fromm, and the solution is to factor human beings back into the technological system.

  •             An excellent educational organization that shares Fromm’s philosophy (and that of others like Jacques Ellul, Aldous Huxley, and Lewis Mumford) is the International Association for Science, Technology, and Society.  Going up against some of the more conventional science teaching organizations, ISTS advocates a broad interdisciplinary curriculum where the social and economic consequences of scientific and technological research are balanced with pure science and gadgetry for its own sake.  ISTS includes in its mission:

To re-integrate western culture to include technology and society
To create a technologically literate citizenry
To help human societal values direct an evolving technology
To provide a radically new approach to education concerned with science and technology at all levels

For example, an article on their website does not swoon over flat screen TVs, but suggests that these giants are coming to dominate living space and conversation space—technology that can further damage quality of life in a TV-obsessed society. They include practical plans for a “TV stand lift,” ,which your flat screen TV behind a piece of furniture,  www.IASTS.org.

 

  •             Finally, we want to quote the work of the Longview Institute, “a virtual think tank” on what they call the “moral economy The mission:

“The mission of the Longview Institute is to articulate and promote a vision of our nation based on a moral economy and a just society. Our belief in individual liberty, accompanied by collective responsibility, is deeply rooted in the highest ideals of the American progressive tradition. Working with others, we seek to influence Americans to think about old problems in new ways and to change the terms of debate. Our ultimate goal is to rethink and promote public policy that will lead to an America admired for its moral economy, its personal freedom, and its social and economic justice.”

http://www.longviewinstitute.org/aboutus

Play List:

 

The James Bond Theme    3:51    The Ventures                           

Inspector Gadget (Theme)             1:25    Cathodic Orchestra

Land of the Future               5:14    Josh Lasden & Synoptic                         

Knight Rider                         2:38                                     

Auld Lang Syne                   2:36    Straight No Chaser 

Holiday Spirits    5:06    The Herbaliser    

U Don’t Dance 2 Tekno Anymore 3:38    Alabama 3    

Weave Me the Sunshine   4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary