517 results for “Suburban Utopia”

Electric cars might not yet be green, but we should buy them anyway

Ranald Boydell
December 4th 2019

Transforming the way we travel is an essential part of tackling the climate crisis. The transport sector contributes about 20% of global carbon emissions. In the UK the figure is 33%, and the country has made virtually no progress in reducing emissions from transport. In many countries, they’re actually increasing.

Electric vehicles are often hailed as the solution to this quandary, but some question their environmental credentials. With much of the world’s electricity still produced from fossil fuels, the criticism …

Four visions for the future of public transport

Marcus Enoch
November 7th 2019

The way people get around is starting to change, and as a professor of transport strategy I do rather wonder if the modes of transport we use today will still be around by the turn of the next century.

Growing up, my favourite book was a children’s encyclopaedia first published in 1953. One double page spread featured an annotated cityscape, showing all aspects of the built environment – most of which we would still be familiar with now. The various …

Truly smart homes could help dementia patients live independently

Dorothy Monekosso
October 28th 2019

You might already have what’s often called a “smart home”, with your lights or music connected to voice-controlled technology such as Alexa or Siri. But when researchers talk about smart homes, we usually mean technologies that use artificial intelligence to learn your habits and automatically adjust your home in response to them. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are thermostats that learn when you are likely to be home and what temperature you prefer, and adjust themselves accordingly without …

Driverless and electric, or car-free? How cities are cutting out cars, and why

Vanessa Bates Ramirez
September 26th 2019

It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.…

299 trees grow in a football stadium

Ruben Baart
September 19th 2019

Some centuries ago landscape painters taught us to appreciate the quality of an untouched landscape. Ever since we have been doing everything to recreate it. We camouflage cell phone antenna mast to look like trees, we fly thousands of miles to experience a pristine landscape — and, as of this month, we can visit a native European forest inside an Austrian football stadium.

The installation, titled For Forest: The Unending Attraction of Nature, houses 299 native Central European tree species …

Smart cities could give the visually impaired a new outlook on urban life

Drishty Sobnath and Ikram Ur Rehman
September 17th 2019

Travelling to work, meeting friends for a catch up or just doing some shopping are often taken for granted by people with no known disabilities. For the visually impaired, these seemingly simple things can be a serious challenge.

But imagine a city equipped with technology that enables the visually impaired to recognise people, places or even bank notes, helping them to live more independently whether indoors or in a public place. That’s the promise of so-called smart cities, which use …

A guide to parenting with AI Barbie

Siri Beerends
August 13th 2019

The rise of artificial intelligence has brought us more advanced toys. If AI Barbie and her talking robotic friends are going to raise our kids, what would their parenting style be like?

In the nineties, Tamagotchi was hugely popular amongst kids; the egg-shaped key chain wasn’t to be let out of your sight, ever. Four simple buttons gave millions of children worldwide the ability to feed snacks and attention to their pixelated pet, so as to keep it from dying …

Swiss hotel chain offers a ‘social media sitter’ to handle your Instagram while you relax

bryan clark
January 8th 2019

Ibis, A popular European hotel chain, just introduced the world to
the “social media sitter.” It’s the answer to a problem few knew
existed, and even fewer though we needed professional help with.

“Enjoy your trip without digital stress. Our Social Media Sitter takes care of your Instagram profile. And you can explore the city in peace,” a Google-translated version of Ibis’ website reads. Because, if you go on vacation without overwhelming your Instagram followers with intimate glimpses into your …

Face the future of intimacy with Kiiroo

Ruben Baart
May 12th 2018

Meet the teledildonics, an ingenious species of bi-directionally controlled sextoys from the future, available today. These touch emulating vibrators find each other on social sex networks to, in accordance with the preferred embodiment, perform two-way interactive sessions that interface controls to the stimulation device(s) located at, well, your body. …

A next natural landscape of bikes

Alec Schellinx
April 4th 2018

It was just little over a year ago that bike sharing schemes started to take off in China. Yet in the blink of an eye, millions of bikes painted in vivid colours, popped up in and around the streets of many a Chinese city. With these colourful newcomers flooding a still immature market at an overwhelming pace, offer quickly exceeded demand and the unbridled ambitions of bike entrepreneurs thus quickly came to be overshadowed by a nagging problem of overcapacity.…

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Transforming the way we travel is an essential part of tackling the climate crisis. The transport sector contributes about 20% of global carbon emissions. In the UK the figure is 33%, and the country has made virtually no progress in reducing emissions from transport. In many countries, they’re actually increasing.

Electric vehicles are often hailed as the solution to this quandary, but some question their environmental credentials. With much of the world’s electricity still produced from fossil fuels, the criticism goes that EVs may actually be responsible for more carbon emissions over their lifetime than combustion engine vehicles.

As German economics professor Hans-Werner Sinn put it in a recent controversial article, all we are doing is transferring carbon emissions “from the exhaust pipe to the power plant”.

The assumptions underlying these claims are questionable. But even if true, this line of argument misses a key point. The car we choose to buy today directly influences the future of our energy system. Choose a combustion-powered vehicle and we lock in ongoing fossil fuel use. Choose an electric vehicle and we support the switch to a zero carbon society.

Due in large part to the high carbon-cost of EV batteries, the manufacturing process for an electric vehicle causes more carbon emissions than for a combustion engine vehicle. This means that the source of electricity used during the life of an EV is critical in determining how eco-friendly they are.

The proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources is increasing fast. TEOH JIN THONG/Shutterstock

While two thirds of the world’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels, this proportion is decreasing rapidly. At least four countries are already at or close to being powered entirely by renewable electricity: Iceland, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Norway. Brazil is one of the ten largest economies in the world and they are at 75% renewable electricity. In the UK, the proportion of electricity provided by fossil fuels has halved over the last decade and is currently about 40%.

As the transition towards renewable electricity progresses, so too will the carbon footprint of EVs keep decreasing in step. This means that the superiority in carbon cost that electric vehicles already have over combustion vehicles, even if narrow now, will widen in the years to come.

Influencing the future

The electricity transition is only half the story. The production and purchase of new combustion vehicles locks in dependence on fossil fuel use for the life of that vehicle – just short of 14 years on average in the UK.

Retrofitting combustion engines to use hydrogen or biofuel is an option in theory, but its an expensive one which is probably more applicable to heavy vehicles than cars. Mass use of hydrogen would also require an entirely new and complex distribution system for a gas that is hard to make and store efficiently. Biofuel could use existing infrastructure, but would require vast swathes of agricultural land to satisfy demand.

If the number of fossil-fuel powered cars on the road stays high, it will be difficult to make serious headway in reducing transport emissions. In contrast, switching to EVs transfers energy demand from the transport sector to the electricity sector, allowing countries to more readily tackle the carbon cost of travel.

Progress in doing so is of course dependent on the speed at which industry and government decarbonise their energy supply. But the technology already exists to shed the grid’s reliance on fossil fuels, and many countries have committed to do so by 2050 or sooner. The distribution grid also already exists – we just need to install charging stations.

Electric vehicles can be plugged into mains power at home overnight, allowing owners to save on bills. ganzoben/Shutterstock

And in choosing where they source their electricity from, consumers are able to exert much greater influence on the energy transition than the present transport system that locks them into high-carbon lifestyles. Given that renewable electricity tariffs are already among the cheapest available, this could be a particularly potent force for decarbonisation.

Grid burden

The scale of the transition from combustion to electricity-powered transport is huge. Average household electricity demand could double once EV charging is included, and this will place extra strain on both the grid and energy bills.

But this burden can be cushioned by careful use of technology. For example, cars can be charged overnight when there is surplus capacity, and there are already special energy tariffs to encourage this. Spare electricity from car batteries could also be redirected to the grid when demand is at its peak, making EVs “virtual power plants” that can offset increases in household energy bills.

Of course, producing any large industrial product results in some negative environmental impacts. The mining of lithium for EV batteries is polluting and depletes water supplies, in turn harming wildlife and compromising local livelihoods. Ultimately, the best way to reduce the carbon and pollution costs of transport is to make and use less cars, which means that expanding car sharing and improving public transport are essential.

But for those cars that we do use, EVs are the least bad option. The switch to electric vehicles needs to be seen as part of a broader shift in the way society is organised to tackle the climate crisis. That requires consumers, industry, and government to all play their part in creating a carbon-free future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The way people get around is starting to change, and as a professor of transport strategy I do rather wonder if the modes of transport we use today will still be around by the turn of the next century.

Growing up, my favourite book was a children’s encyclopaedia first published in 1953. One double page spread featured an annotated cityscape, showing all aspects of the built environment – most of which we would still be familiar with now. The various modes of transport illustrated – trains, buses, lorries, taxis, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrians and private cars – still work together as a system in fundamentally the same ways.

But a whole range of possible (though not inevitable) societal and technological changes could revolutionise how we travel in the coming decades. These include large-scale responses to the climate change agenda and energy sourcing and security; shifting demographic trends (such as growing numbers of elderly people); the development of the collaborative economy; the growing use of big data; and the apparent inevitability of driverless cars.

To examine what future urban transport systems might look like, I recently directed a future-gazing project for New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport exploring how people might be travelling in the year 2045. I helped develop four scenarios, along two axes of change.

The first axis considered automation – at one end, vehicles are still be driven much like today (partial automation). At the other, they’re driverless (full automation). The second axis related to how dense cities could become – one future where the population is more dispersed (like Los Angeles) and another where it is concentrated at a higher density (more like Hong Kong). With these axes in mind, I generated four possible futures for public transport, which could play out in cities across the world.

Choose your fighter. By Marcus Enoch, Author provided

1. Shared shuttles

In the “shared shuttle” city, demand responsive minibuses, Uber-style taxis and micro-modes – such as shared bicycles, electric bikes and hoverboards – to cover the “last mile” to your destination are widespread. Hiring these different forms of transport is simple, thanks to seamless booking and payment systems and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit among a range of commercial, social and government transport providers. Meanwhile, new environmental regulations mean that owning a car is more expensive than it used to be, and private vehicles are restricted to the suburbs.

Flexibility is a core feature of this scenario, with vehicles and services that adjust to the needs of individuals, and with how the space continually adapts to meet the needs of the city as a whole. There’s also a collaborative ethos, reinforced by the development of a more compact and high-density city, while progress toward full automation has been slow because of safety and privacy concerns.

2. Mobility market

Private cars still dominate urban transport in the mobility market scenario. Many citizens live and often work in dispersed, low-density suburban areas, since city-centre housing became too expensive for most to afford. Fewer people walk and cycle, because of the long distances involved. And the use of public transport has declined, since less dense transport networks mean there are fewer viable routes, though a limited network of automated trains and buses is still used for trips to the city centre.

Car use has fallen somewhat since the 2010s, because “active management” measures – such as pre-bookable fast lanes and tolls – are now necessary to control congestion, despite the completion of a sizeable road building programme in the recent past.

Instead, commercially provided pre-paid personalised “mobility packages” are helping to stimulate the use of a whole range of shared mobility options, such as car-pooling, bike hire and air taxi schemes. These now account for around a quarter of all journeys.

3. Connected corridors

Society in this high-tech, highly urbanised world of connected corridors is characterised by perceptive but obedient citizens who trade access to their personal data in return for being able to use an extremely efficient transport system. Physically switching between different services or even different modes of travel is hassle free, thanks to well designed interchange points, and fully integrated timetabling, ticketing and information systems.

For instance, travellers might walk, e-cycle or take a demand-responsive minibus to a main route interchange, then board a high frequency rail service to get across town and finally take a shared autonomous taxi to their destination. Each will be guided by a personalised, all-knowing “travel ambassador” app on their smartphone or embedded chip, which will minimise overall travel times or maybe maximise sightseeing opportunities, according to their preferences.

Private cars are not really needed. People trust technology to deliver inexpensive and secure transport services and appreciate living close to work, family and friends.

4. Plentiful pods

In this future, fleets of variously-sized driverless pods now provide around three-quarters of those journeys that still need to be taken across the low-density, high-tech city. These pods having largely replaced most existing public transport services, and the vast majority of privately-owned cars.

People do still walk or cycle for some shorter trips. But pods are so convenient, providing affordable point-to-point journeys for those not satisfied by virtual interactions. Passengers can pay even less, if they agree to share with others. Pods are also fully connected to the internet, and are priced and tailored to meet customer needs. Ultimately, pods give people the freedom to work, learn or live where the weather is best or the houses are cheapest.

My research did not pass judgement as to which scenario should be pursued. But it did conclude that public transport will need to evolve to meet future challenges, and that the role of government will still be of key importance going forward, no matter which path is chosen. Personally though, if forced to choose, I think I’d favour a shared shuttle future more than the others - it just seems more sociable.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover image: Renault's float autonomous car

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You might already have what’s often called a “smart home”, with your lights or music connected to voice-controlled technology such as Alexa or Siri. But when researchers talk about smart homes, we usually mean technologies that use artificial intelligence to learn your habits and automatically adjust your home in response to them. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are thermostats that learn when you are likely to be home and what temperature you prefer, and adjust themselves accordingly without you needing to change the settings.

My colleagues and I are interested in how this kind of true smart home technology could help people with dementia. We hope it could learn to recognise the different domestic activities a dementia sufferer carries out throughout the day and help them with each one. This could even lead up to the introduction of household robots to automatically assist with chores.

The growing number of people with dementia is encouraging care providers to look to technology as a way of supporting human carers and improving patients’ quality of life. In particular, we want to use technology to help people with dementia live more independently for as long as possible.

Dementia affects people’s cognitive abilities (things like perception, learning, memory and problem-solving skills). There are many ways that smart home technology can help with this. It can improve safety by automatically closing doors if they are left open or turning off cookers if they are left unattended. Bed and chair sensors or wearable devices can detect how well someone is sleeping or if they have been inactive for an unusual amount of time.

Lights, TVs and phones can be controlled by voice-activated technology or a pictorial interface for people with memory problems. Appliances such as kettles, fridges and washing machines can be controlled remotely.

People with dementia can also become disoriented, wander and get lost. Sophisticated monitoring systems using radiowaves inside and GPS outside can track people’s movements and raise an alert if they travel outside a certain area.

All of the data from these devices could be fed in to complex artificial intelligence that would automatically learn the typical things people do in the house. This is the classic AI problem of pattern matching (looking for and learning patterns from lots of data). To start with, the computer would build a coarse model of the inhabitants’ daily routines and would then be able to detect when something unusual is happening, such as not getting up or eating at the usual time.

A finer model could then represent the steps in a particular activity such as washing hands or making a cup of tea. Monitoring what the person is doing step by step means that, if they forget halfway through, the system can remind them and help them continue.

The more general model of the daily routine could use innocuous sensors such as those in beds or doors. But for the software to have a more detailed understanding of what is happening in the house you would need cameras and video processing that would be able to detect specific actions such as someone falling over. The downside to these improved models is a loss of privacy.

Future smart homes could include robot carers. Via Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/Shutterstock

The smart home of the future could also come equipped with a humanoid robot to help with chores. Research in this area is moving at a steady, albeit slow, pace, with Japan taking the lead with nurse robots.

The biggest challenge with robots in the home or care home is that of operating in an unstructured environment. Factory robots can operate with speed and precision because they perform specific, pre-programmed tasks in a purpose-designed space. But the average home is less structured and changes frequently as furniture, objects and people move around. This is a key problem which researchers are investigating using artificial intelligence techniques, such as capturing data from images (computer vision).

Robots don’t just have the potential to help with physical labour either. While most smart home technologies focus on mobility, strength and other physical characteristics, emotional well-being is equally important. A good example is the PARO robot, which looks like a cute toy seal but is designed to provide therapeutic emotional support and comfort.

Understanding interaction

The real smartness in all this technology comes from automatically discovering how the person interacts with their environment in order to provide support at the right moment. If we just built technology to do everything for people then it would actually reduced their independence.

For example, emotion-recognition software could judge someone’s feelings from their expression could adjust the house or suggest activities in response, for example by changing the lighting or encouraging the patient to take some exercise. As the inhabitant’s physical and cognitive decline increases, the smart house would adapt to provide more appropriate support.

There are still many challenges to overcome, from improving the reliability and robustness of sensors, to preventing annoying or disturbing alarms, to making sure the technology is safe from cybercriminals. And for all the technology, there will always be a need for a human in the loop. The technology is intended to complement human carers and must be adapted to individual users. But the potential is there for genuine smart homes to help people with dementia live richer, fuller and hopefully longer lives.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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It’s common consensus in the tech industry that the days of cars as we know them—powered by gas, driven by humans, and individually owned by all who want and can afford one—are numbered. Imminent is the age of autonomous, electric, and shared transportation, and we’re continuously taking small steps towards making it a reality. Self-driving software is getting better at avoiding accidents. Battery storage capacity is climbing. Solar energy is getting cheaper. This all points to a bright automotive future.

But not everyone is on board—in fact, some cities are taking the opposite approach, phasing out gas-powered cars altogether, limiting use of hybrid and electric cars, and making urban centers car-free. Will they be left in the dust as the rest of us are autonomously driven into the (energy-producing) sunset? Or do the anti-car folks have it right—is the brighter future one that forgoes cars in favor of even more sustainable and healthy modes of transportation?

Too much of a good thing

What might Henry Ford think if he saw what’s become of his invention? Highways clogged with traffic, accidents a leading cause of death, commuters sealed alone and sedentary in their vehicles for hours.

Ford may have never expected cars to become cheap and accessible enough for us to use them to the extent we do today. And as the global middle class grows, cars are likely to proliferate even more; as people make more money, they want cars not just for transportation and convenience, but as status symbols.

The countries where the middle class has the most potential to grow—that is, countries where poverty rates are still relatively high—are also seeing people flock to cities in search of work and security. The UN predicts that 90 percent of the global shift to urban areas will take place in Asia and Africa, with Delhi, Dhaka, Bombay, and Kinshasa among the top 10 most populated future mega-cities.

It would be messy enough to add millions more cars to cities that have an existing infrastructure for them—and far messier to add them to cities like these that don’t. Plus, even if the cars are electric, the electricity has to come from somewhere, and even the world’s wealthiest countries aren’t likely to get to 100 percent renewables until 2050 at the soonest. And you can only have so much congestion before a city’s quality of life and economy are impacted.

Mexico City was the first in the world to take serious action against traffic congestion, implementing daily “no drive restrictions” based on license plate numbers. London, Singapore, and Stockholm all use congestion pricing, where drivers have to pay to enter city centers or crowded streets.

These are minor measures compared to the steps other cities are taking to discourage people from driving.

Auf Wiedersehen, don’t drive

Ready? Here are some rapid-fire stats on cities taking steps to limit cars.

Madrid made its city center a designated low-emission zone, restricting access by older diesel and gas cars and planning to ban these vehicles from the zone completely by 2020. Hybrid cars can get an “eco label” and circulate freely.

The whole of Denmark is planning to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2030, and the sale of hybrid cars starting in 2035. Copenhagen already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership and highest rates of bike commuting in Europe.

In Paris, no cars are allowed in the city center between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m on the first Sunday of every month. Cars made before 1997 aren’t allowed in the city on weekdays, and the city is doubling its number of bike lanes.

Athens will ban diesel cars by 2025 and already restricts the days of the week they can drive in the city center, based on license plate numbers.

Oslo has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2030, and doing away with non-electric cars will be key to its success. The city has restricted access for private vehicles, turned road space into pedestrian space, and eliminated almost all of the parking spots in the city center.

While Hamburg will still allow cars in its city center, it’s laying down plans that will make it far easier for people not to have to drive, including a “green network” that will connect parks and cover 40 percent of the city’s space.

Brussels will ban all diesel vehicles by 2030 and is heavily promoting public and shared transportation. It’s even making its trains, buses, and shared bikes free to use on days with excessively high air pollution.

The Netherlands will only allow emissions-free vehicles by 2030, and is pumping €345 million into its already robust bicycle infrastructure.

Helsinki is redesigning its suburbs, which people primarily reach by driving, into walkable communities linked to the city by public transit, in hopes that Finns won’t need to own cars at all within 10 years.

Why all the goodbyes?

Cutting out cars has the obvious benefit of reducing pollution—again, even if the cars are electric, we’re not yet to the point of 100 percent clean energy. And in fact, higher temperatures and less rain in many parts of the world mean pollution from cars is even more potent, and gets washed away less frequently.

Going auto-free is good for people, too; it encourages more exercise (by walking and biking more), less isolation (by taking public or shared transportation), more time saved (no sitting still in clogged traffic) with less stress (I repeat—no sitting still in clogged traffic), and improved safety (car accidents definitely kill more people than bike or train accidents do). Greening city centers will also make those cities more pleasant to live in and visit.

It’s worth noting that the cities reducing car usage are almost all in Europe, where such measures are far more feasible than, say, the US, where outside of major urban areas, it’s hard to go anywhere without a car. American cities expanded into now-sprawling suburbs largely thanks to the invention of the car, and have a degree of dependence on driving that will be hard to scale back from.

European cities, in contrast, were further developed by the time cars proliferated; they’d already largely been built around public transportation, and continued to expand train systems even as cars became more popular. Plus, European countries’ comparatively small size makes it much more practical to rely on public transit than in the US; many US states are larger than European countries.

The cities in developing countries that are set for population booms in the next two to three decades would be wise to follow Europe’s example rather than that of the US.

A habit we’ll never fully kick

Cars will, of course, continue to be widely used, including right at the edges of the cities that are banning them. The measures to discourage car usage and ownership are a start, but major shifts in urban planning and in peoples’ behavior aren’t as straightforward, and will take much longer to change.

If big tech’s vision plays out, though, people will be able to use cars and reduce the danger, time, and stress associated with them; autonomous cars will pick us up, deftly navigate city streets, drop us at our destinations, then go pick up their next passenger.

It does seem, then, that the days of cars as we know them are numbered, whether they’re replaced by high-tech versions of their former selves or switched out for bikes and trains.

But fear not—the transition will happen slowly. There’s plenty of time left to sing at the top of your lungs (in between honking at bad drivers and checking a maps app to see how traffic looks) while sealed inside your good old reliable, private, gas-powered, human-driven chariot.

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University. Image Credit: Joshua Bolton / Unsplash

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Some centuries ago landscape painters taught us to appreciate the quality of an untouched landscape. Ever since we have been doing everything to recreate it. We camouflage cell phone antenna mast to look like trees, we fly thousands of miles to experience a pristine landscape — and, as of this month, we can visit a native European forest inside an Austrian football stadium.

The installation, titled For Forest: The Unending Attraction of Nature, houses 299 native Central European tree species and has turned into a lush forest of birches, willows, maples and oaks and many other varieties. With the ephemeral forest, the stadium hopes to attract wildlife (including humans, although humans are not allowed to walk around inside the forest) during the seven weeks the installation is open.

The project is designed by Swiss curator Klaus Littmann as a commemorative to the environment: “[It] aims to challenge our perception of nature and question its future,” it reads on the official press release. “It seeks to become a memorial, reminding us that nature, which we so often take for granted, may someday only be found in specially designated spaces".

It’s certainly an unusual sight, but as you enjoy the following images why not ask yourself: Is a forest in a football stadium the best way to speak about climate change?

Photography: Gerard Maurer and UNIMO.

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Travelling to work, meeting friends for a catch up or just doing some shopping are often taken for granted by people with no known disabilities. For the visually impaired, these seemingly simple things can be a serious challenge.

But imagine a city equipped with technology that enables the visually impaired to recognise people, places or even bank notes, helping them to live more independently whether indoors or in a public place. That’s the promise of so-called smart cities, which use things like internet-connected devices and artificial intelligence to improve services and the quality of life for their residents.

For example, the visually impaired could hugely benefit from a smart city’s enhanced transport system. “Virtual Warsaw”, a smart city project in Poland’s busy capital, is based on cutting edge technologies and aims to provide a set of “eyes” to those who have visual problems.

The city has developed a network of beacon sensors to assist the visually impaired to move around independently. These are small, low-cost transmitters that can be fitted to buildings and send people real-time information about their surroundings to their phones via Bluetooth. This can include the location of building entrances, bus stops, or even empty seats on a bus or where to queue in municipal buildings.

In 2018, Dubai ran a pilot scheme involving an iPhone app that can convert written information in metro stations into audio instructions, helping users navigate from the entrance to the ticket machine, gate, platform and carriage.

Once travellers have arrived at their destination, smart cities can help them navigate public spaces. Simply providing better connectivity for smartphones is a good start, for example by fitting buildings with 5G-enabled small cells instead of relying on traditional masts for signal.

This would enable the visually impaired to make better use of smartphone apps such as Seeing AI and Blind Square, which can describe surroundings or give audio directions to users. Google is also developing a platform called Lookout, that uses a camera to help people identify money or recognise the colour of objects.

Better connected for real-time navigation. Via Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

But smart cities can go further with public technology. For example, they could provide automated information points with tactile maps or audio systems describing the surrounding location. If these included a camera that users can point at different buildings and other aspects of the environment, then image recognition, an application of artificial intelligence, could recognise these objects and describe them to the user.

Similarly, shopping malls could be equipped with product-recognition devices to allow shoppers to compare products in shops. These could come in the form of simple clips that can be added on top of any pair of glasses and can identify and describe a product to a user.

Smart buildings

Smart city technology can also help inside buildings. One existing example is voice-controlled home assistant technology such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home, which can already be used to operate locks, lights and appliances or add items to a shopping list. But we should also expect home automation to go further, with sensors used to open windows and close curtains in response to changing weather conditions, and even to help people find lost objects.

Smart cities will revolutionise how people live, communicate or shop, especially for visually impaired people. We are now starting to witness the emergence of smart cities such as in Dubai, Singapore, New York and Warsaw. However, the adoption of smart city technology is still in its infancy, which is why the European Union is investing up to €1 billion in supporting projects in around 300 cities.

A recent review by professional services firm PwC found that smart city development is expected to increase steadily around the world over the next seven years, creating a US$2.5 trillion market by 2025. Urban development is growing at the fastest rate in human history. Smart city technology can help to meet some of the expectations of urban development that are growing just as fast.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The rise of artificial intelligence has brought us more advanced toys. If AI Barbie and her talking robotic friends are going to raise our kids, what would their parenting style be like?

In the nineties, Tamagotchi was hugely popular amongst kids; the egg-shaped key chain wasn’t to be let out of your sight, ever. Four simple buttons gave millions of children worldwide the ability to feed snacks and attention to their pixelated pet, so as to keep it from dying a tragic, virtual death.

The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning and face, emotion and voice recognition technologies, has advanced our robotic friends in a very significant way. It might feel awkward for you to confide in Pepper, Zora, Hello Barbie, Alice, Sam, Kayla, iCat, Paro or Robear, but for some kids, this is their daily reality.

New ways of communicating 

Because of the use in healthcare and education, the ethical debate about robotic companionship has existed for quite some time. Society has debated the social value of interactive robotic contact. Some people feel that robots can only simulate understanding and empathy and are therefore only second-best to real human contact. There are also worries about the way social robots change human communication. If our companions do not have a consciousness, this could make us humans less social. Some even say that kids commandeering Alexa could lead to them talking in the same way to their parents.

Others point to the valuable communication that social robots could stimulate. An example is robots that are used to help autistic kids make contact with other people. But we need different frameworks and categories to understand these new forms of interaction. As a study has confirmed, kids categorize their robotic friends somewhere in the range between ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’.

Strikingly, there is no such debate regarding smart toys - except some debates about safety concerns - even though the Internet of Toys is an emerging market that can heavily influence the identity development and socialisation of young kids.

Big Barbie is judging you

The media exhaustively warns against smart Barbies that can be hacked, can be listened into, can be used to scrape data and to record videos. But parents themselves can not be let off the hook. Some parents are spying on their kids 24/7 with their own version of smart toys, with tracking apps or teddy bears with built-in cameras. Pedagogues are worried that kids are not able to explore their boundaries anymore or that they no longer dare to make mistakes because they always feel like their parents are watching them.

The current debate about smart toys is mostly focused on privacy. ‘Big Barbie is watching you’ is on our radar, but what about ‘Big Barbie is judging you’?

Kid: "I feel shy trying to make new friends."

Barbie: "Feeling shy is nothing to feel bad about. Just remember this, you made friends with me right away.”

Barbie seems to have distinct ideas about friendship, which proposes the question about which other subjects she might have (strong) opinions. What would she for example answer if you would ask her if she is religious? Or more importantly, what do the programmers think that AI Barbie should answer when a kid asks her if she is religious?

The responses that have been programmed into smart toys indirectly contain value judgments about the world surrounding us. These judgments influence the way in which kids develop their identities. In May of 2018, Stefania Druga presented the first results of her study ‘My Doll Says It’s OK: Voice-Enabled Toy Influences Children’s Moral Decisions’. The most important conclusion: smart toys have more influence on the moral choices of children than humans do. And, they change the way children play, fantasize and work together.

If parents buy an AI Barbie or AI Cayla, they are not just bringing a talking doll into their homes – they will have to deal with an AI guide to parenting too. They need to learn to cooperate and co-educate with it. Are the pre-programmed beliefs about education pedagogically justifiable and who creates them?

Parenting is something everyone has an opinion about. Currently, there’s a large debate about so-called ‘curling parents’. These are parents – just like in the sport of Curling– that sweep away all obstacles for their kids. Pedagogues are afraid that this does not allow children to develop into resilient adults that are able to deal with friction. If friction is so essential to our development, we might also need smart toys that contradict us now and then.

Authoritarian or laissez-faire

We do not know a lot yet about what parental guidelines are programmed into smart toys and the way in which AI intervenes in the relationship between parents and their children. It is important to further research this, to get an idea of how we want smart toys to function. This also means that we have to be aware that smart toys reflect the values, judgements and stakes from the world it is developed in.

Together with Stefania Druga, the Creative Learning Lab of Waag and SETUP organized a hackathon to design several provotypes (provoking prototypes). We programmed AI toys with different styles of upbringing and explored if it was possible to give kids space for a freer, more creative way of playing. How predictable is AI Barbie and will she be more of an authoritarian or more laissez-faire? By developing possible scenarios and discussing different perspectives with researchers, the event kickstarted a lively dialogue about smart toys, and showed that there is much more to discuss.

An important realization is that when we talk about for example human-robot friendships, we think of these concepts in holistic terms. This limits us from thinking about which aspects of friendship AI or smart toys can replace, which does not mean that they replace friendship completely. What aspects we can and want to replace is a question worth exploring. After all, the AI guide to parenting is something we will have to develop together, not something we should leave up to toy manufacturers alone.

The AI AI Barbie project is a collaboration between SETUP and Waag.

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Ibis, A popular European hotel chain, just introduced the world to the “social media sitter.” It’s the answer to a problem few knew existed, and even fewer though we needed professional help with.

“Enjoy your trip without digital stress. Our Social Media Sitter takes care of your Instagram profile. And you can explore the city in peace,” a Google-translated version of Ibis’ website reads. Because, if you go on vacation without overwhelming your Instagram followers with intimate glimpses into your personal life, did you ever really go on vacation?

Details are slim, but so far we know that Ibis Hotels plans to allow any guest at its Geneva or Zurich locations, to book weekend appointments with local influencers, or social media sitters. The sitter would be responsible for social media upkeep, leaving you to pound mojitos and throw up in the elevator like the glamorous bastard you were born to be.

According to a translated statement, the hotel has brought on some real social media star power to help with the promotion. Insta aficionados like Sara Leutenegger, a contestant on Germany’s Next Top Model.

The service starts at £70 (about $79 USD), and guests will be responsible for handing over their Instagram passwords to their sitter. All posts made by the sitter are marked #postedbysocialmediasitter on Instagram.

“We closely follow societal trends and adapt to offer our customers innovative services. This initiative is also part of our commitment to providing a memorable experience,” Philippe Alanou, senior Vice President of Accor Hotels (Ibis‘ parent company) told The Evening Standard.

Alanou might be on to something. Recent research suggests that millennials are killing off larger chains, as they are no longer interested in discounts or freebies, but how “Instagrammable” the experience is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8EdcBEeM9E
[post_title] => Swiss hotel chain offers a ‘social media sitter’ to handle your Instagram while you relax [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => social-media-sitter [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-13 14:39:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-13 13:39:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=107345 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 81441 [post_author] => 873 [post_date] => 2018-05-12 12:16:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-12 11:16:42 [post_content] => Meet the teledildonics, an ingenious species of bi-directionally controlled sextoys from the future, available today. These touch emulating vibrators find each other on social sex networks to, in accordance with the preferred embodiment, perform two-way interactive sessions that interface controls to the stimulation device(s) located at, well, your body.Tuning into our current research on how technology radically alters our attitude towards reproduction, gender, relationships and love in the 21st century, we caught up with the team from Amsterdam-based teledildonic manufacturer Kiiroo to learn more about modern dating, tactile sensations, and the future of long distance love. Because nothing says “I love you” like teledildonics.
"Intimacy is something that is constantly evolving"
The term ‘teledildonic’ stems from the mid-70s, and made a public entrance in the late 80s, to become the promise of 90s cybersex. Yet today, teledildonics still remain in a niche. It seems that the world is still not ready for this sexual revolution. However with the current trend of exponential technology, I wonder: How will exponential technology change our relationship with sex?Change is a powerful word. We will not change our current relationship with sex, but rather enhance it. Intimacy is something that is constantly evolving. People find new things that interest them in the bedroom, and when distance separates couples, people get creative with how they keep the spark alive.We went from phone sex, to Skype sex, and now the use of teledildonics to mimic sex, and we have even come so far as to have sex in 3D/VR in real time.Nothing will ever replace the power of emotion that you feel when you are with your loved one, but technology will definitely enhance those feelings and generate excitement.Early sexual, yet political technology (read: anti conception) disconnected sex from reproduction. New technology seems to disconnect intimacy from sex. How does the Kiiroo product contribute to a new societal perspective on recreational sex with technology?Kiiroo initially created the “Kiiroo Couple Set” in 2013/2014 to help bring couples who were in long-distance relationships closer together. As a company, we know that nothing will ever replace real intimacy, and the feeling of being with your significant other, but we created the closest possible form of intimacy that you can have through the Internet.Now, a few years later, our devices and technology are being used for an array of recreational activities. Webcam performers use interactive devices in live webcam performances, getting tipped by customers sends tips to the devices to make them vibrate or stroke in real time corresponding to tip amounts. We have interactive erotic content in 2D and VR that syncs seamlessly to all of our devices.
"We went from phone sex, to Skype sex, and now the use of teledildonics to mimic sex"
How does Kiiroo see the relationship between sex and technology? And how has this relationship changed over time, and how will it change in the future?We see the relationship between sex and technology as constantly evolving. Technology will never replace real intimacy, but it is opening the doors for self-expression, comfort and exploration in the bedroom and also promoting safer sex at the same time. We can learn a lot through technology, and technology will always be an accompaniment rather than a replacement.Technology holds the potential to facilitate intimate, yet emotional experiences from a distance. One way to put it, is that Kiiroo is facilitating such intimate encounters. How does technology add to our understanding of intersubjective relationships?Technology enables us to explore and connect with each other to a greater degree than before. It creates a platform or a safe space where we are able to interact with each other to a different degree than we were previously able to. Communication is experienced differently once there is touch involved from a distance; you get to communicate in ways you never thought you could. Thus, maintaining a closer bond with each other. You are also able to explore fantasy lands together where you are subjected to an array of choices to your liking in a safe and comfortable space.Also, as we have become more of a world that tends to live lives online, we find more comfort in learning about a person before actually being with them.Then how do tactile (technological) sensations play a role in governing our sexual activities?Being touched is one of the most personal intimate experiences someone can have. Combined with other senses, touch can be a very powerful experience leading to some powerful emotions and reactions. Multiple stimuli need to be stimulated in order to amplify sensations; touch, visual, audio - if you combine them the sensations become more real and powerful than if you just have one.If you think about smell for instance; smelling certain things can trigger certain emotions. Like when you smell a perfume that your ex-boyfriend used to wear, this triggers emotions – whether happy, sad, angry etc. Technology like the Kiiroo devices can do this too, it triggers those feelings that you couldn’t feel from your partner without them actually being in the same space.
"Sex toys are opening up the doors to new ways of experiencing sex"
How does modern dating influence new sexualities?Technology makes it easier to find likeminded people, who may have the same sexual preference as you, the same fetishes, the same beliefs and more. Forums, groups, etc. create same places for people to find likeminded others. It’s the same for interactive sex toys; people use Reddit, Craigslist and more to find other teledildonic toy users.Sex toys are opening up the doors to new ways of experiencing sex. You can have sex before you meet, with different people before meeting for the first time. Technology allows people to meet for the first time in a safe space.If for instance, you live in Australia, and your partner lives in London, the time difference is huge. Your partner in London can record an interactive session and you can play it in your time zone and your partner can play it in theirs. We’re blurring the boundaries.VR livestream in a new and exciting setting is very intimate too. You can decide how the room looks and influence all kinds of things that will make this experience closer and more intimate while your partner(s) are 1000kms away.Modern dating’s influence on new sexualities to sum up - we feel that technology is allowing us to explore who we are in such detail that it gives us the self-freedom to become who we needed to become, not who society told us to be, not how society told us to be, but who we are.
"Technology will enhance feelings of emotion and generate excitement"
In a world heavily filtered through screens, we start to experience intimacy (and touch, for that matter) as a virtual experience as well. Even relationships and love are becoming virtual practice. Are we striving for relationships in a not-so-relational world?The answer to this can be two-fold. we don’t think everyone will have a similar stance on technology in a long-standing relationship, and technology to forge new relationships.On one hand, we have technology that is aiding relationships that have been separated for one reason or another, to help them keep the spark alive for that period of time that they are apart. On the other hand, we have relationships that start through the Internet and transpire to become something more and more concrete or fizzle out at a point.We have become an Internet connected society, we are constantly on our phones, on the Internet and constantly watching our screens, it was inevitable that technology would creep its way into our bedrooms.We have become this society that spends more of our lives on Facebook or Instagram where we have found a space of belonging in a not so relational world. But we have to look at it in the eyes of someone who is not me or you, perhaps someone that has been isolated due to disease or disability or work, not everyone has found a sense of belonging in the world, so it’s only natural that we turn to technology to create a safe space or a comfortable space for ourselves in a world that may not be our own, but it is the world where we can be ourselves.
"It was inevitable that technology would creep its way into our bedrooms"
Teledildonics hold the psychopharmacological possibility of “de-gendering” the human brain using technology (considering gender is a construct). How do you relate to a post-gender world and how can teledildonics highlight the breadth and variety of human gender, sex, and sexuality?With VR for instance, you can be a gender that is not your own; you can see a woman or man’s body and experience how it is to see your body as a different sex. Combining it with devices you can enhance that experience. It will be possible to experience new adventures. VR games are even more de-gendered, you chose the person you want to be.The same goes with the devices, some (not all) can be used by multiple genders, for multiple reasons to stimulate different areas of the body and can connect to an array of interactive content that spans across an array of sexual preferences.How do you relate to the concept of objectification (using technology) in terms of human connectedness?Technology by definition objectifies as we do refer to technology as an object, it’s something we use not something we (not everyone) are connected to. If you as a person are not there, but there is a representation of you, I may not see you as real. But, if you are interacting with me and we form a connection through technology, there is ample room to form a connection.Modern sex toys seem to have evolved towards slick, high-end design (household) objects. What’s the main challenge of teledildonic design today?The entire industry is becoming more sex positive and more aware of the things we put in and around our body. High-end designs that may look like a speaker etc. are mainly for reasons of discretion at home. As sex and the use of sex toys is still quite a taboo topic in many households, we have found the more discreet, compact and travel friendly a device is, the more people will consider buying it. Some designs are so big and bulky that it deters people from even considering buying it.Materials also play a huge part in the design of high-end devices; medical grade silicone, biodegradable materials, body safe materials all need to be considered when creating new devices.
"If you stay ahead of the game, the undesirable futures can be avoided"
Linking to undesirable futures of new sex toys that are vulnerable to hackers, what would be undesirable for this teledildonic future? (even if it is commercially exploitable?)Over the last few years we have seen a number of teledildonic toys get hacked, and companies have had major issues with data being retrieved and more.As a company, it is vital to keep privacy and security as the utmost importance in order to avoid what we may consider undesirable futures.The most undesirable future would probably be being hacked, but that is why we work with a Bug Bounty Program and Hacker1 to ensure that our systems and devices are not vulnerable to negative external hacking.If you stay ahead of the game, the undesirable futures can be avoided.Does me using Kiiroo devices make me a cyborg?Haha definitely not. The definition of cyborg is “a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.” Our devices are not implanted into the body. [post_title] => Face the future of intimacy with Kiiroo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => teledildonics-kiiroo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-17 17:50:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-17 16:50:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=81441 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 81223 [post_author] => 1419 [post_date] => 2018-04-04 16:54:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-04 15:54:47 [post_content] => It was just little over a year ago that bike sharing schemes started to take off in China. Yet in the blink of an eye, millions of bikes painted in vivid colours, popped up in and around the streets of many a Chinese city. With these colourful newcomers flooding a still immature market at an overwhelming pace, offer quickly exceeded demand and the unbridled ambitions of bike entrepreneurs thus quickly came to be overshadowed by a nagging problem of overcapacity.Bike sharing companies currently have no other choice than to stockpile millions of their unused bikes in large vacant lots. Similarly, illegally parked bikes are being impounded by the thousands every day and transferred to these so-called ‘bicycle graveyards.’ As a result, steep polychromatic metal hills and vast multi-coloured ferrous fields have become an emerging feature of China’s ever changing urban landscape.But as nature sets to reclaim these abandoned two-wheelers, the sights of this entrepreneurial endeavour gone wild are gradually fading away under layers of dust and wild grasses. The imprint thus left in the earth crust, will nonetheless remain as a witness of this singular spectacle for future generations. [post_title] => A next natural landscape of bikes [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => next-natural-landscape-of-bikes [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-17 11:38:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-17 10:38:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=81223 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 ))[post_count] => 10 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 126141 [post_author] => 2304 [post_date] => 2019-12-04 15:33:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-04 14:33:00 [post_content] =>

Transforming the way we travel is an essential part of tackling the climate crisis. The transport sector contributes about 20% of global carbon emissions. In the UK the figure is 33%, and the country has made virtually no progress in reducing emissions from transport. In many countries, they’re actually increasing.

Electric vehicles are often hailed as the solution to this quandary, but some question their environmental credentials. With much of the world’s electricity still produced from fossil fuels, the criticism goes that EVs may actually be responsible for more carbon emissions over their lifetime than combustion engine vehicles.

As German economics professor Hans-Werner Sinn put it in a recent controversial article, all we are doing is transferring carbon emissions “from the exhaust pipe to the power plant”.

The assumptions underlying these claims are questionable. But even if true, this line of argument misses a key point. The car we choose to buy today directly influences the future of our energy system. Choose a combustion-powered vehicle and we lock in ongoing fossil fuel use. Choose an electric vehicle and we support the switch to a zero carbon society.

Due in large part to the high carbon-cost of EV batteries, the manufacturing process for an electric vehicle causes more carbon emissions than for a combustion engine vehicle. This means that the source of electricity used during the life of an EV is critical in determining how eco-friendly they are.

The proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources is increasing fast. TEOH JIN THONG/Shutterstock

While two thirds of the world’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels, this proportion is decreasing rapidly. At least four countries are already at or close to being powered entirely by renewable electricity: Iceland, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Norway. Brazil is one of the ten largest economies in the world and they are at 75% renewable electricity. In the UK, the proportion of electricity provided by fossil fuels has halved over the last decade and is currently about 40%.

As the transition towards renewable electricity progresses, so too will the carbon footprint of EVs keep decreasing in step. This means that the superiority in carbon cost that electric vehicles already have over combustion vehicles, even if narrow now, will widen in the years to come.

Influencing the future

The electricity transition is only half the story. The production and purchase of new combustion vehicles locks in dependence on fossil fuel use for the life of that vehicle – just short of 14 years on average in the UK.

Retrofitting combustion engines to use hydrogen or biofuel is an option in theory, but its an expensive one which is probably more applicable to heavy vehicles than cars. Mass use of hydrogen would also require an entirely new and complex distribution system for a gas that is hard to make and store efficiently. Biofuel could use existing infrastructure, but would require vast swathes of agricultural land to satisfy demand.

If the number of fossil-fuel powered cars on the road stays high, it will be difficult to make serious headway in reducing transport emissions. In contrast, switching to EVs transfers energy demand from the transport sector to the electricity sector, allowing countries to more readily tackle the carbon cost of travel.

Progress in doing so is of course dependent on the speed at which industry and government decarbonise their energy supply. But the technology already exists to shed the grid’s reliance on fossil fuels, and many countries have committed to do so by 2050 or sooner. The distribution grid also already exists – we just need to install charging stations.

Electric vehicles can be plugged into mains power at home overnight, allowing owners to save on bills. ganzoben/Shutterstock

And in choosing where they source their electricity from, consumers are able to exert much greater influence on the energy transition than the present transport system that locks them into high-carbon lifestyles. Given that renewable electricity tariffs are already among the cheapest available, this could be a particularly potent force for decarbonisation.

Grid burden

The scale of the transition from combustion to electricity-powered transport is huge. Average household electricity demand could double once EV charging is included, and this will place extra strain on both the grid and energy bills.

But this burden can be cushioned by careful use of technology. For example, cars can be charged overnight when there is surplus capacity, and there are already special energy tariffs to encourage this. Spare electricity from car batteries could also be redirected to the grid when demand is at its peak, making EVs “virtual power plants” that can offset increases in household energy bills.

Of course, producing any large industrial product results in some negative environmental impacts. The mining of lithium for EV batteries is polluting and depletes water supplies, in turn harming wildlife and compromising local livelihoods. Ultimately, the best way to reduce the carbon and pollution costs of transport is to make and use less cars, which means that expanding car sharing and improving public transport are essential.

But for those cars that we do use, EVs are the least bad option. The switch to electric vehicles needs to be seen as part of a broader shift in the way society is organised to tackle the climate crisis. That requires consumers, industry, and government to all play their part in creating a carbon-free future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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