Plug it in, baby!

A corner has been turned in both the transportation and energy games.

Glance back over the history of science fiction and you will find a recurring dream many writers had for the future: flying cars. While vessels packed with people speeding overhead is still an illusion - and that’s probably a good thing - another dream for the daily commute is very real: electric vehicles. And they’ve just turned an important corner, thanks to a large degree by the Chinese dislike for face masks. Pollution is a major problem in Chinese cities, and without the trifles of democratic bureaucracy, the government’s answer has been both swift

AI, Robot?

Robots won’t take over the world while their brains still sit in a box.

At Google’s annual developer conference earlier this month, crowds gasped in awe at an audio recording of someone booking a hair appointment. Now, nerds may make good foxes but they’re hardly slaves to fashion; so why the OMG! with a phone call? The caller was a computer. The demonstration was the unveiling of Google’s latest development in digital assistants - Duplex. An extension to the Google Assistant smartphone app, Duplex provides the app with the ability to call, say, a restaurant, salon, or vehicle repair centre,

Oh, Jerusalem

When a move is more than a move.

Embassies are funny things. Firstly, technically-speaking, they’re not buildings, they’re people. An ‘embassy’ is a permanent official diplomatic delegation, not the building in which they operate. Secondly, the size and seniority of an embassy reflect the importance it places on a foreign country. Thirdly, where an embassy is based speaks volumes. That’s why they’re invariably based in a foreign country’s capital. Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital, although Jerusalem is the spiritual home to the Jewish nation. However, the eastern part of Jerusalem is also home to sites sacred to Christians and Muslims. Read More

Forked Lightning – the deadly global scenario on the horizon

Flags are lining up that could herald another global financial crash.

In the initial module of Growing Foxes* we introduce students to the art of identifying drivers/flags which can turn the world around them upside down. Think of a driver or flag as the first of a line of dominoes. If it is toppled, all the other dominoes in the row topple too. We not only want our students to improve their ability in scanning the horizon for the equivalent of the first domino to fall; we also want them to trace the causal chain linking it to the other dominoes before they fall too. That demands foresight to play the relevant scenario

Say, “Jeez!”

A smiling politician is a sign something ill is probably afoot.

Alright, we’ll come clean: the image above isn’t real. It’s the iconic work of activist artists Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, best known for creating photo-art in response to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it points to a key move popular with politicians, celebrities, and, it must be said, activists: the photo op (short for photo opportunity), usually carefully crafted to send a specific message. In political days gone by, messages were simple, as were the photo ops. Message: that a politician identified with voters (photo op: eating simple food in a cafe),

The angry hornet

The Middle East is a hornets’ nest, and Trump just hit it with a big stick.

There are few parts of the world more worked-up than the Middle East; it bristles with centuries-old cultural and religious quarrels that have scarred the region with endless wars. It will not find peace in the near future. But there are ways to calm things down, such as negotiating with the major players. The diplomatic logic is this: treat a player as an outcast and it will act as such. Iran is such a player. For three years, and until last week, the international community had been enjoying a

An inconvenient wipe

Environmental awareness pitches concern against convenience.

The truth about being environmentally aware is that it is inconvenient; how much so depends on those expressing concern. Tying yourself to a tree to stop deforestation is highly inconvenient, firing off a tweet in support of those hugging the trees less so. But there’s always a trade-off. Smartphones are packed with rare earth metals. These don’t grow on trees. They’re buried deep underground, and the ore is often laced with radioactive materials. That’s pretty nasty stuff. Separating the metal from the ore requires huge amounts of carcinogenic toxins including sulphates, ammonia and hydrochloric acid. It’s estimated that processing one

The new rule of life being absolutely free

A new rule has emerged from the collapse of the traditional retail business model.

Imagine this scenario. You drive your car to the local shopping mall and you park it in a pay zone. You go into a supermarket in the mall and every aisle is full of advertisements on screens as you make your way around the shop to buy food. You notice that the content on the screens changes for each customer depending on his or her gender, stylishness of clothing and age. You sense you are being targeted according to your profile. When you reach the till, the staff member waves you through saying that the food is all

You, cancer fighter

The fight against cancer has a new weapon: you.

If you want an idea of the power in your hands, know this: less than 50 years ago NASA ran an entire space programme that put astronauts on the moon, using the combined computing power that’s a minuscule fraction of that of your smartphone. And here’s the kicker - most of your smartphone power is wasted. But now you can do something about that. Here are some dots, see if you can connect them: Dot 1: Research into cancer produces eye-wateringly huge amounts of data that need to be processed on large, very powerful, computers. Read More

Scratching backs

It’s negotiation, not nogotiation.

At the end of April the unbelievable happened: the leaders of North and South Korea met, shook hands, planted a tree, and had a cup of tea and a nice long chat. In full view of the media. It was both a puzzling and encouraging sight. It was also really long overdue - the two countries are technically still at war. Wars rarely end abruptly with one side surrendering and the victor determining the terms. Normally, wars fizzle out towards an agreed cessation of hostilities. Then protracted negotiations normally form part of a peace settlement. The Korean War started in June 1950 and