Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lifestyle and New Media

Laurence Desarzens, urban communicator,
Media & communication specialist for lifestyle companies

Laurence is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Club of Amsterdam: Laurence - you are in close touch with youth culture - this from a cultural as well as commercial involvement. Lifestyle is more and more the defining factor for new media. Can you give us some examples how young "urban tribes" are dealing with communication and media at large?

First I think we should talk once about the definition of what is “youth” today. Maybe “youth” is less related to an age group and more to a lifestyle. Keeping this in mind … Using new media (which essentially are tools) need time, that’s certainly why it influence your lifestyle. And for sure if you are using these tools you keep in contact to your network and group. That’s what allows you to learn, share and exchange, work, be cool ;). You use mobile, internet, constantly and everywhere, you communicate constantly. So everything influences everything to give birth to colourful, and creative trends in all fields, who constantly evolve. These trends can also be scary and dark off course. It’s the people and not the media who are defining the content. Or is it really ;)

Youth tribes fluidly use all means of new technologies to surf what can be of their very specific interests NOW. They double-check validity, relevance and credibility with their friends faster than the speed of light. They copy, they fake, because the tools are theirs to do so, and why not. They use what is the most convenient for them to communicate … internet, gsm, whatever.

You will see website about specific cultures interests: skate, sneaker culture, music, who can bloom in a very short time. You see trends come, go and come back, and mutate. If you take people in hip hop music, you have young producers doing beats, exchanging and working cross borders. Influenced by anything. So they use all these tools whatever they are … AIM, Skype you name it.

In hip hop and really in all subcultures it’s simply amazing to see all these mosaic of ideas, tastes and styles developing and exchanging via new media. If main media are not interested they create their own. Look at record label like Stones Throw for example … or Ninja Tune … They build shops, platform, and post. There are many examples besides my space and you tube. is a sneaker community for example, or the fashion blogs who are now giving “the ton” somewhere to print media such as Vogue, it’s “le monde a l’envers”.

Club of Amsterdam: Improved bandwidth allows to distribute content through Internet and wireless close to dvd quality. This means a radical change of the media landscape. Can you give us examples of "everybody can be a tv station" etc?

What defines a TV station? If it’s about making programs at regular time, with specific subjects, selected and where the information is provided via a journalistic approach, I think it then to have more bandwidth doesn’t necessarily facilitate. But if it’s posting moving images about specific subjects then certainly with bandwidth availability we see an explosion of the worst and the best DIY TV online. Like TV on demand.

In wide interests website like show what is happening when bandwidth and tools are available to everyone … I let you guess, sex definitely is the huge potential for online TV … on the other hand of the ethical spectrum you have a site like which is for the Christians community.

For entertainment was there pretty early on, and can be seen as TV on demand with lot of ads, special shows, like TV on demand again. Many subcultures used the bandwidth available to document their products, lifestyles or visions, from skateboard to graffiti, and off course hip hop . That’s what’s interesting regarding my own interests. But is it TV or not?

Club of Amsterdam: What do you expect from a dialogue about media and human experience?

Enhance my knowledge and my network on all levels. Seen the volume of information we need to exchange to proof the intel we get. You are nothing without the others. So I would like to define collaborative visions based on respect and openness or how to optimize these processes, we need to go over the clichés, the fear, we need to admit we can’t have it all, and we don’t need to have it all. I just need to be able to plug in. So it’s about keeping the network open. And respect again.

Thank you Laurence!

The Future of the Web

Q&A with Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Director and Roelof Van Zwol, Senior Researcher, Yahoo! Research Barcelona

Ricardo is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Club of Amsterdam: Ricardo and Roelof - the Internet is constantly changing and offering new possibilities like Web 2.0. Social networks will benefit from these new features. Can you give us an idea how human interaction will improve?

Social networks will allows for direct communication with users with similar backgrounds, or interests, or with experts in a certain area.For example, inside Yahoo! we use a social network tool that is the perfect example, where given a few keywords, the experts in any topic like "social media" can instantly be found. It uses not only the self-descriptive tags provided by a user, but also the tags that other people used to tag fellow colleagues. We are using it on a regular basis, and it is especially useful for checking one's background, or for finding the person with the right expertise within the Yahoo! company, within seconds. Thus at a professional level it already improves the efficiency. When it comes to social networks on the Web, it also allows for the formation of large online communities that share common interests, and allow a user to share, and acquire knowledge. One recent development in the area of social networks, called second life, allows users and companies to start a new and perhaps more exciting life on the Internet.

Club of Amsterdam: Knowledge is essential for further development and innovation. Collaborative media will give us a world of new opportunities. Can you describe a future scenario?

The second life example already gives you a hint of where the "Future of the Web" will go. Last year, Yahoo! Research has organized a workshop under this title in Barcelona focused in Web Search, when the lab was opened. One future scenario will be that you are commuting to work, and would like to know which route to take, in order to avoid traffic jams, or that it might be better to work form home, due to expected traffic in the evening. You ask this question, and instantaneously receive audiovisual information from either validated sources, like traffic cameras, or from other commuters that have found themselves stuck in a traffic jam.

Club of Amsterdam: What are new developments in social media?

We already see that the dialog between users and media allows for new forms of interaction between users and their computers. Flickr, the Yahoo! photo sharing site, allows users to upload, and tag their photos online for sharing with their friends or to directly show them to a large community. When another user is exploring the Flickr photo database, he or she can provide additional tags, a photo rating, or give comments on the image. This allows for the retrieval of high quality and interesting photos at a scale that was not envisioned possible before. Currently, the Flickr site contains hundreds of millions of photos that are hand tagged by users, while the current state of the art in content-based image retrieval (CBIR) is not yet ready to handle this scale. This does not mean that existing research in this area has become obsolete. On the contrary, the combination ofCBIR with social media should allow for even better sharing and retrieval services in the future.

New forms of media are appearing on a daily basis, and it is next to impossible to track all the new developments in this area. It is however sure that the online presence of users will increase and that the role of media in this perspective is significant. It will allow for direct interactive communication through rich media channels in a fast changing world.

Thank you Ricardo and Roelof!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Summit for the Future 2005 video

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rudy de Waele about "We Media"

Rudy de Waele, Founder,

Rudy is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Early Bird Registration till March 16!

Club of Amsterdam: Rudy, you are a leading consultant to the wireless industry. This industry is developing very fast. In most cases I get the impression that products once reaching the customers are already outdated. How does the mobile industry relate their product development to "quality of life"?

This is indeed an industry where products have an average 'lifecycle' of approximately 2 years. Device manufacturers are designing products to different target customers, with the flashy, shiny, trendy products as to be used by the opinion leaders, early birds/first movers and trendsetters first, and while learning from their experience, the manufactures designs new and improved products that will fit the mass market demand in 1 or 2 years.

"Quality of life" is very important in mobile and wireless since every new generation of phones adds something new to satisfy the demands of the consumer and meet the expectations set by the marketing of the products. Don't forget that the mobile phone is the most sold 'aspirational gadget' of all times.

For example the new data services, all multimedia (camera, images, video, mp3player, webbrowser, etc.) integrated now in nearly any standard phone, was just unimaginable only a couple of years ago. Note that a typical high-end smartphone can match the performance of a mid-range laptop computer only five years ago! Nokia don't call them phones any longer but multimedia computers... But these new gadgets might bring also new addictions, away from TV or PC to smaller screens such as mobile devices.

Club of Amsterdam: New technologies are getting more hybrid. Virtual worlds merge with the "real" world and in this context the user experience is also changing. How does the future consumer create his "personal" media experience?

The youth of today wants to stay connected all the time with their network of friends, news, entertainment and events around through the PC or the mobile... the universal sense of belonging has translated itself in the need to 'stay connected' or 'always on'.

In 5 years time, my 'wearable media' (MyMedia) device will be able to do a lot more things then what is currently possible, it will have the capacity to store entire movies in good quality, my whole music catalogue, photo album, design- and project works just on my mobile device, to take that with me wherever I'll be, to connect it to other devices and (bigger) screens and enjoy that media together with friends. There will be a lot more possibilities for the user to be 'always on' connected to the internet, the news, entertainment and stay connected to my social networks connected with my friends and exchange more content. So, pretty soon, anyone will have the tools and the possibility to create his own media channel, through audio or video. An explosion of user-media is yet still to come.

The virtual will more easily connect with the physical world through taggable objects, once tagged with a phone through image recognition, qr-codes or 2D codes, will bring you directly to some added-value or complementary content or information on the subject tagged.

Club of Amsterdam: What do you expect from a dialogue about media and human experience?

Raise a set of questions that are essential to create a good human experience in relation to the rapid technology developments of today. To think and discuss about those questions and to put forward some essential issues towards the industry. What is the influence of all this media to our children, society in general? What can be done to improve this? How can we improve our learning systems using media annd technology to make sure our children can rapidly change/adapt to deal with the future changes? Who will control global digital access in the future? What about universal access? Multilingualism? Mobile learning systems? Media conglomerations? Is this really we media or their media? How to organize the overflow of information coming to us? Wikipedia example? Who owns what kind of information and who can manipulate what?

Thank you Rudy!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Q&A with Simon Taylor about Climate and Energy Provision

Simon Taylor is Director and Co-Founder of Global Witness

Simon is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Max. 20 Delegates
Early Bird registration till March 9th!

Club of Amsterdam: Simon, you are a Director and Co-Founder of Global Witness, an organisation that exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources - amongst them oil and gas. What are your long-term strategies and how do plan to implement them?

In 1993 together with two others, Charmian Gooch and Patrick Alley, I set up Global Witness to expose the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses.

Half of Global Witness’ work involves the compilation of first hand evidence and information about the situation on the ground in areas of conflict and instability through conducting investigations, field visits, and standard research. Such information is then compiled into hard-hitting reports which are subsequently taken to all key policy makers to ensure change. Half of our work is accurate information gathering – the other half strategically using such information to drive positive change.

Right now, the existing modalities for natural resource extraction do not work. Details of such arrangements are usually shrouded in secrecy, and the provision of concessions almost always, certainly in the developing world, involves major corruption. Usually also in our experience, it is very hard to see the benefits being accrued to the country and its population – rather, the population is usually on the receiving end of a litany of abuse, a degradation of quality of life, and very often conflict. Such conditions tend to prevail for the masses, whilst a small elite benefit on a vast scale through the wholesale asset-stripping of state assets and the passing of the proceeds through the international banking system, with no questions asked.

So, in summary, the existing international architecture which governs the roles of companies taking advantage of such conditions requires a major overhaul. Right now, shareholders, influential mafia-style middlemen, international banks, and elites within natural resource-exporting countries benefit on a massive scale, at the direct expense of their populations. You could even say that the populations of these countries subsidise these “profits” with their livelihoods, and very often with their lives.

Global Witness has been exposing key examples of such business practices and the systems by which business activities operate for over a decade. We have been the key initiator of a number of international processes, including the Kimberley Process to combat conflict or blood diamonds, the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), which came about as a UK Government response to the launching of the Publish What You Pay Campaign (PWYP), and the FLEG initiatives to address illegal logging. These processes are far from complete. In addition, we urgently require additional changes to this international trade and business architecture, otherwise companies and individuals will continue conduct business in areas of conflict and instability, without any accountability over the impact of their actions on local populations.

Global Witness will continue to expose examples of bad business in any and all sectors which influence instability and conflict and which destroy serious efforts at development in such countries. Coming out of this work will be further deliverable strategies to address these issues.

Club of Amsterdam: "Publish What You Pay" - conceived and co-launched by Global Witness - is a campaign that aims to help citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries. Can you describe its impact?

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) was launched to demand mandatory revenue disclosure from companies in the oil and gas, and mining sectors. Other sectors may be included later. This was because many such companies had been, and continue to be, involved in sleazy deals with producer country elites. These company activities have included the running of slush funds in tax havens for the purpose of bribery or delivery of “favours”, outright bribery, the payments of vast sums into personal accounts and even the payment for and delivery of weapons into conflict zones via company subsidiaries that do not officially exist. We have even come across a system where a major prominent international oil company deliberately rigged the debt of a producer country, such that it completely controlled the entire economy of the country – of course, to its favour. Of course, the other half of this coin is the role of elites in resource exporting countries who, as described above benefit from such activities.

Before launching PWYP in 2002, Global Witness had already been involved in a 2 ½ year discussion with some of the more enlightened oil and gas companies to create the conditions for these companies to disclosure their payment data on a voluntary basis. In early 2001, BP announced that it intended to disclose such data in Angola – only to be faced with contract termination and being thrown out of the country. The circumstances around this incident ultimately demonstrated the limits to which oil companies, even if they wanted to, could go. Ultimately, going it alone would be disastrous for any company – not only this, but those companies which were fundamentally part of the problem had no intention of following such an example, and would be left to pick up contracts at the expense of the “good” companies. Such a voluntary process was thus completely inoperable!

The launch of PWYP quite rapidly created a reaction from the UK Government, which launched the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), which brings together producer and consumer governments, a large percentage of the global key oil, gas and mining companies (there is a need to attract more of them), and civil society. The initiative is based on the premise that countries would volunteer to disclose the revenue streams they obtain from the extraction and export of oil and gas and mining products. Once a country steps up to the mark, all companies would be then be obliged to disclose the payments they make for the extraction of the resources in their concessions. This way, comparison can be made between what companies say they pay, and what countries say they receive. Any discrepancy could then be independently assessed, with civil society being intimately involved in the process. The result would be a level of disclosure of the vast rents which accrue as a consequence of natural resource extraction (in particular, oil and gas) which hitherto has not been available. This would create an absolute minimum, but vitally important, first step towards creating accountable governance over such revenues in order that they might actually benefit the citizens of the countries concerned.

There are various areas of concern with these arrangements thus far. The most important of these is that it remains very hard to imagine the likes of President dos Santos of Angola, or President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea (there are many others who could be added to this list) actually volunteering their countries to implement EITI. The elites who call the shots in both these countries are amongst the pre-eminent kleptocrats in the world today, and they have no interest in being held accountable for the expenditure of their State’s revenues, which are currently making them very rich. Having said that, there is some delivery coming from EITI due to the significant implementation of EITI by Nigeria and Azerbaijan – both places where it would have been hard to believe this was possible only a short while ago. These are significant steps forward, but it is important to understand that this is a work in progress and we need to see where the initiative goes over the next year to year and half, whilst also continuing with efforts to deliver mandatory disclosure mechanisms in a variety of jurisdictions.

PWYP is now a coalition of 300+ civil society organizations across all continents of the world. It is an extremely effective and efficient coalition and is represented on the International Advisory board of EITI, such that civil society plays a key role in the evolution and delivery of EITI. The PWYP coalition is intimately involved in a global push to deliver parallel mandatory solutions to revenue transparency, premised on the idea that we need to see accountability over the management of resource revenues by both the elites who control the expenditure, and the companies who do the paying. The consequence of this global engagement is that the idea of revenue transparency in all countries for natural resource extraction has moved from an issue where we were initially laughed at by company and government officials as being unrealistic, to a situation today where it is in the mainstream, and where the key largest oil, gas and mining companies, together with an array of producer and consumer countries have agreed to the delivery of revenue transparency. We now need to keep up the pressure and see where this process goes.

Club of Amsterdam: The way we use energy and we treat the environment are closely connected. What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy" and more specifically: What role should nuclear energy play?

We are rapidly heading to a global crunch-time regarding the provision and utilisation of energy. This “crunch” primarily relates to two major global crises, which if not addressed are likely to precipitate a vast array of additional crises, seriously threatening any future prosperity, let alone the prospect of significant development across the world’s least developed countries. I am referring here to the nexus of the climate and energy provision crises – each in their own right seemingly vast imponderable problems, but which when taken together create a problem the scale of which humanity has not yet experienced.

We are familiar with many of the serious implications of impending climate change, and so I will not go into any detail here. However, thus far the political response to this situation is massively inadequate to the task. We see political posturing, and at best now at least the clarion call for action on the basis that this is a serious matter for humanity to address. But then, almost in the same breath, the “solutions” put forward are so inadequate that one might be tempted to laugh, if the implications were not so serious.

Simultaneously, and neatly compartmentalised into another section of governments’ thinking, we also hear the call for energy security. Whilst it is of course obvious from any state’s perspective, to secure stable supplies of essential energy, it is clear that for the main part such calls relate to securing ever more supplies of oil and gas – the very things we should be avoiding if we wish to slow down and ultimately prevent dangerous climate change. The consequence of this shallow thinking is that the entire global energy provision system of financial, diplomatic and corporate operations remains geared to business as usual.

As if this was not bad enough from a climate change point of view, we are rapidly heading towards (if we have not got there already!) a peak in global conventional oil production. Gas is not too far behind. The consequence of global conventional oil peaking is not that we run out of oil – oil will still be available for a long time to come. What it does mean once this peak in output is reached is that global oil production will no longer be able to match demand. Furthermore, the lines on any graph of production versus demand are likely to separate very quickly. All this leads ultimately, and within very few years, into very dangerous territory: At best it will completely undermine the global governance agenda, leading to the end of such initiatives as EITI, with companies and governments rushing to the bottom to outbid one another in a downward spiral of dirty deals. At worst, within very few years after a peak of oil output, we face the prospect of global powers – nuclear armed powers - facing off against each other in an increasingly aggressive posture for essential energy resources.

Following on from the climate crisis disaster, political thinking around the provision of energy represents a second massive abrogation of responsibility by our political leadership. Given the pre-eminent role oil plays right across the global economy, it is not just the prospect of military confrontation we should be worried about. Indeed the economic implications could be a disaster on the scale of 1929 all over again.

There are of course no easy solutions to this situation. However, what is clearly required is the kind of global leadership and international cooperation on the scale we have seldom seen in the past. The output needs to be nothing short of a global revolution around the way in which we generate and utilize energy and its subsequent equitable availability. Nothing less will suffice. Whilst this might sound dismissive, nuclear power would seem to be an unnecessary distraction which does nothing to address either our overall energy requirements, or the overall use of carbon intensive energy sources – and that is before we consider the implications of the complete lack of adequate waste management, the propensity for increased nuclear use to create its own security of supply problem, the appalling overall record of the industry when it comes to onsite safety and maintenance, and the increased risks of nuclear proliferation and the potential for terrorism.

In terms of the dialogue, I would hope we can discuss some of these issues further during the LAB on Old and New ENERGY.

Thank you Simon!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Q&A with Nathalie Horbach about the future of Nuclear Energy

Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee

Nathalie is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Max. 20 Delegates
Early Bird registration till March 9th!

Club of Amsterdam: Nathalie - you teach at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee and you follow the policies of nuclear energy at national and international level. There seems to be on one side a growing pro nuclear energy mood in Europe and on the other side a country like Germany follows a clear exit strategy. How is Europe going to deal with this situation?

Europe leaves its member-states the option to choose which course they prefer to follow. However, it now explicitly recognizes the "necessity" of including nuclear energy in the energy mix, for reasons of security of supply and diversification of energy sources, and emission constraints. Due to liberalisation, increased competition and European integration of national energy markets, it seems that such an accommodating approach is both justified and effective. It leaves those member-states, such as France or Finland, with a vested interest and political support to ensure the necessary nuclear share within Europe, while others, such as Germany, may pursue other options in respect of renewables (wind) thereby adequately responding to public pressure. In this way, joint investments in and further development of nuclear energy will be channeled to dynamic and secure markets, which allow also for channeling of safeguards, security and safety activities in order to further improve and ensure safe, reliable and sensible use of nuclear energy in the future. However, due to potential risks involved in nuclear activities, it is important to improve transparency and fair competition (especially in safety and technology) worldwide instead of merely regional, while preventing protectionist approaches.

Club of Amsterdam: Can you explain how nuclear energy relates to environmental issues? What role is it going to play in context of sustainable energy sources like wind energy etc.?

Nuclear energy provides for a credible alternative source of electricity. It does not emit CO2 although, similar to renewable energy sources, emissions are not entirely zero. Due to the need to mitigate recognized risks, nuclear energy has the most secured and innovative energy fuel cycle, in respect of both strict international and national safety and liability regulation (polluter-pays), including internalization of such costs in the electricity price.

It is for that reason that it can be considered to be increasingly 'sustainable'. However, there remains the issue of waste, which includes also an intergenerational aspect, that could be both negative (imposing a potential 'radioactive' inheritance) and positive (potentiality of an essential future energy source in view of new technological reprocessing developments), even though not imposing society with unconfined and uncontrollable emissions. In addition, proliferation and terrorism risks continues to be a source of concern, resulting in political reservations with respect to nuclear energy. Nonetheless, nuclear energy seems in the mid- to long term to be a 'sensible choice' in view of all available options. It is a credible and necessary alternative, especially in combination with renewable sources of energy, to reduce carbon fuel dependency both to respond to climate change and environmental concerns as well as insecurities inherent (and recently increasing) in the global energy supply market.

As such, the policy to no longer exclude nuclear energy as an option and even to increase reliance on nuclear power, could play an important mid-term role. On the one hand, it attracts further investment into developing safer and environmental neutral forms of generating nuclear electricity. Such is currently the focus of joint efforts in respect of nuclear fusion and 'new generation' nuclear facilities, which are constructed to be inherently safe, highly economical, proliferation resistant and produce minimal waste. On the other hand, it ensures an adequate electricity supply in the middle long-term, while reducing usage of carbon fuel as part of a global policy, and thus allows in the meantime increasing efforts and investments in further maturing other energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) in order to shift to a potential better sustainable option in the long-term.

Club of Amsterdam: What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy"?

It is important to accumulate all fresh, innovative and diverging views, ideas and experience into a solid and new energy dialogue in order to extract important elements for a comprehensive and reality driven energy policy for the future. Often discussions in this field are constructed around narrow and obsolete premises, leaving aside a great potential that might result from a wider and more comprehensive approach based on an innovative method of guiding and channeling thoughts within a more 'philosophical' environment. This dialogue could encourage such a focus in search of consensus on new parameters, essential requirements and contemporary guiding principles appropriate to be incorporated in the preparation of future (European and other international) energy policies or strategies.

Thank you Nathalie!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Q&A with Paul Holister about Nanotechnology & Energy

Paul Holister is a consultant specialising in, among other things, the commercial and societal impacts of new technologies. He is currently writing "Nanotechnology and the Future of Energy", to be published by John Wiley and Sons.

Paul is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Max. 20 Delegates
Early Bird registration till March 9th!

Club of Amsterdam: Paul, you are currently writing a book about "Nanotechnology and the Future of Energy". Can you describe how nanotechnology can have an impact on energy generation, storage, and utilization?

Nanotechnology operates at such a fundamental level that there is very little of a technological nature that it will not impact. Thus its effects on energy generation, transmission, storage and consumption are numerous and diverse. Some will be incremental and some quite possibly revolutionary.

Rather than trying to sketch the whole landscape, a few examples will hopefully illustrate the variety.
At the mundane end of the scale you have anti-fouling paints for wave or tidal power, or materials with a higher tolerance for radiation in nuclear reactors. I did say mundane.

In wind power, the potentially enormous improvements in strength-to-weight ratio of composite materials used in blades could pay back surprisingly well because the relationship of blade length to efficiency is not linear but follows a power law - though there is much argument about how this pans out in the real world.

At the other extreme of nanotech impact, you have solar energy. We are children in this area, and the playground is built on the nanoscale. Almost any development is going to involve nanotech - an intriguing recent exception being the use of lenses to focus light on old-fashioned silicon photovoltaics, thus demanding less of this expensive material. This is one of the areas where nanotech-enabled technology could well be revolutionary.

But what makes for a revolution in energy generation? Two things: availability and economics. The fact that solar energy is so bountiful - enough hits the Earth in a minute to meet our global requirements for at least a week - makes it potentially revolutionary; it's just the cost of capturing that energy that has been standing in the way. Reduce that enough, or increase the cost of the alternatives, and you have a revolution.

One other energy source could, I believe, be equally revolutionary. Not fusion, which, despite the dreams of my youth, I sadly have to relegate to a distant future - not that the ongoing experiments aren't worthwhile. Geothermal energy, boring as hot rocks and steam may sound - outside of saunas, that is -, has revolutionary potential for the same reason as solar - an essentially unlimited supply of energy untapped only because of economics. The nanotech connection is not as direct here as with solar - you have tougher materials to cut drilling costs or thermoelectric tunneling for efficient low-grade heat conversion - but it only takes the right conjunction of developments and geothermal power stations will be springing up - or down - all over the place.

I've only considered here principal power generation, but this should already give some sense of the breadth and potential scale of impact. I'd be surprised to find any reader of this unaware of the excitement surrounding developments in fuel cell and battery technology. Nanotechnology figures almost without exception in the cutting edge of both.

But I could go on for ages answering this question - you could almost make a book out of it ...

How do nanotechnology-based solutions apply particularly, if at all, to environmental concerns and energy security issues?

From an energy security point of view, nanotech developments are invariably positive since, at the very least, they can help save energy - aerogels for better insulation, IR-reflective window coatings, low-grade heat conversion in cars, etc.. They also assist to varying degrees in the development of alternatives to the fossil fuels upon which so many of us are now so dangerously dependant. I've already mentioned the potential of solar and geothermal energy.

On the environmental front the answer is not so clear. We live in a world where short-term economics have an overwhelming influence on decision making.

The good news for those who worry about things like global warming, is that the increasing cost of oil - a long-term trend that will not stop, oil being a finite resource - and the decreasing cost of alternatives such as solar energy, give renewables an ever more favourable economic position. When you look at the diverse spread of nanotech-related impacts they are almost always supporting technologies with an improved environmental profile.

Unfortunately, there is a rather big exception to this. Nanotechnology has helped greatly improve the effectiveness of catalysts. Fuel cells and catalytic converters are among the welcome beneficiaries.

But catalysis is also at the heart of gas-to-liquid and coal liquefaction technologies that promise oil independence for those with access to previously uneconomical gas reserves or to coal reserves. Energy security is a big carrot and it so happens that two highly-populated countries that rank among the fastest-growing economies in the world, and thus the fastest-growing energy consumers, are coal-rich: China and India. North America too is coal-rich.

If such countries can start to economically run their cars, trucks and buses on diesel made from coal - which ironically is low-emission compared with normal diesel at the vehicle end but overall produces more CO2 than oil-based diesel - then we could be looking at a greenhouse gas nightmare scenario - there is enough coal in the world to supply our energy needs for hundreds of years.

So, greenhouse nightmare or an emission-free future? Nanotechnology can enable them both. Barring a global wave of forward planning unseen in mankind's history, economics will probably make the decision for us.

What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy"?

Taking 'old energy' to be the way we have done things since the dawn of the industrial revolution, i.e. primarily by burning fossil fuels, I think that the likeliest difference between old and new energy, and the generator of greatest debate, will be systemic rather than one particular technology or another. The question of when and how the transition to new energy occurs is also intriguing - as the coal liquefaction scenario above shows, we could in theory be stuck with the old, or pretty similar, for some time to come.

We have gorged ourselves for more than a century on the energy equivalent of a free lunch. As we start to realise that, while there may be such a thing as a free lunch, it isn't necessarily dinner and breakfast too, we can size up the alternatives, the most striking thing about which is their diversity.
Only coal and nuclear fission are potential candidates for maintaining the uniform and monolithic energy network we have now in the developed world. There are good reasons to avoid both, if we can - some would argue that we cannot.

All the alternatives involve a mix of technologies and energy sources, with energy not always being produced where you want and when you want, thus producing a far more complex system than we have now. The phrase 'intelligent grid' is often held up as an example of how this complexity will operate, with buying, selling and saving of energy being possible at many scales. I'd rather do away with the 'grid' word altogether because it evokes the electricity grid that we in the developed world generally take for granted but which exists only as a consequence of our historical dependence on fossil fuels, and is grossly inefficient. In a mixed-energy-source scenario, the traditional grid would be challenged by localised generation, the form of which would vary according to location - Saudi: sunshine; Greenland: geothermal.

The gridless or localised grid scenario begs the question of how large amounts of energy will be transferred from one place to another, which will no doubt continue to be either required or an economically viable activity. The classic answer is hydrogen, but it is unfortunately a lousy way to transport energy, thanks largely to its volatility. In theory, the development of cheap, high-load superconducting cables - perhaps made of carbon nanotubes - might keep the old-fashioned grid alive but it seems to me that an efficient means of converting whatever energy source happens to be available to you into a fuel that is liquid, or close to it, at room temperature - e.g. methanol -, combined with a fuel cell technology to make good use of it, would be a hard system to beat when it comes to storage and transmission.

As I write, there are at least a few scientists around the world trying to figure out ways to outdo Mother Nature in turning sunlight into a compact, transportable energy source. All of which happens, of course, on the nanoscale.

Thank you Paul!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Innovation - a hybrid connection between old practices?

Humberto Schwab, Director Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher, Moderator of the Club of Amsterdam LABs in Girona near Barcelona.

Club of Amsterdam:
Humberto - you are an Innovation Philosopher - most people hardly see a connection between philosophy and daily life and even less between philosophy and business. What is the added value? Why has philosophy something to say?

Philosophy is the body of experimental and theoretical knowledge collected and shared by humanity since the invention of this specie. It is the richest fountain of wisdom about our selves as human beings, our needs and aspirations, our world outside and inside us and most of all about our values.

In philosophy we investigate falsehood and truth, the permanent and the temporarily, good and bad acting, good government and bad societies, beautiful and ugliness.

Most of all we have gathered wisdom about the quality of life. We try to make our daily life every day an experience of quality. At least many people try to reach this. This striving for quality is what connects our life with philosophy. Essential in our daily life is that we have our eyes wide open to see the right elements in their right relation; this is where philosophical methods are. We need to get rid of prejudice and false presumptions.

In business – more and more – the essence lies in the ability in enhancing the quality of life, in part or as a whole. This quality is related to issues of ethical policy and sustainable business. Sustainable is not only a matter of the natural environment, more and more we realize that sustainability concerns the quality of our communities. The pursuit of the good life is more and more the frame in which innovation in the experience economy is moving.

Last but not least, philosophy contains all the possible concepts, approaches, notions and strategies to frame productive ways of reasoning. Innovation is essential the rethinking of tradition, tradition as recipes for life. Taking traditional steps over again leads to new insights.

That is why innovation is often a hybrid connection between old practices.

Innovation sometimes demands new paradigms; philosophy is the producer of new paradigms.

You have been involved in large-scale educational programs. Can you give us an example of what you did and what the outcome was?

We managed to position philosophy in the official juridical structure of the secondary school system in the Netherlands. This old philosophy was recognized as one of the strongest innovation in Holland. I designed a complete program for the schools. A big innovation was the transformation of 100 excellent Dutch teachers from different disciplines into real Socratic teachers. That means wise people who put forward the right questions and not the answers.

At the moment I am involved in fundamental innovations of education in the Netherlands and in Spain.

In our society of the future learning is a value as such. This demands a totally different perspective on education and schooling. In an i-society learning has a different place then in the past hierarchical society. We need business, ngo-s, academies, citizen’s organisations and local government to co-create a challenging learning landscape in Europe.

In your EuroLab you use a special combination of techniques - some have been widely used in industries. Can you tell us why you choose them and how you adapt them to your projects?

The most used techniques are used instrumental while I always want to work in dialogues. A dialogue involves the total presence and commitment of the individual as reflective being. This means maximal awareness and maximal responsibility.

We cannot oppose general techniques on humans, without losing their individual strength. The Appreciative Inquiry method is very strong dialogue method in business, especially when - like the present situation - the relations between the stakeholders become totally different. The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) bring to light all the hidden good practices and experiences of all the individuals involved, emerged from their personal life. The top down model of the expert above sending his missives down kills the experience wisdom present in the whole organization. This AI method is fruit of a bunch of scientific insight on the effects of positive psychological approaches.

The Socratic method I have adapted to learning situations in school and business is the strongest context I know. Fundamental in this method is the key role of the good question. Putting forward basic questions is the art of collaboration. It gives new air to breath new ideas. People hardly share basic questions, let alone basic assumptions. Yet they work in contexts as if they share assumptions, values and concepts. The deconstructing of a basic question and the reconstructing of a shared answer uses collective intelligence as a rich fountain and provokes strong bounding on crucial challenges. In the Socratic discourse, the philosophical tradition serves as a support system, it helps to articulate good intuitions, good arguments and good ideas of all the participants. The Socratic chair (trained philosopher) represents the tradition and embodies it in a supportive way for each participant.

In a Socratic discourse the group transform in a natural way into a reflecting body that emerges a higher intelligence and a higher responsibility. It exercises human collectively at his best. It has strong rules that forces people to rethink other positions and to rehearse steps in thinking taken by others, it forces people to listen and repeat and to clarify all concepts used. The strong authoritative way of safeguarding the rules by the Socratic chair, gives rise to a real strong participation of all in an egalitarian way.

The strong relation between flourishing business and democratic cultures lies precise in the opportunity to put forward any valuable question of the quality of human life. The dialogue starts with the rethinking of standing practices and will virtualize new possible worlds and actions.
Good business ideas are in fact very often philosophical brainwaves!

More and more good business and good government are critically checked on qualitative grounds, from citizens perspectives.

From the Socratic brainstorms we have to come to a stage of productive planning. The future scenario methods are excellent in binding people on shared visions of the future and on shared actions to realize desired scenarios. Good dialogues generate an emergent intelligence that will give complete new frames and horizons. Yet scenarios without value dialogues are blind.
That is why in my EuroLABS the basic structure is the embedding of the personas in a value dialogue context. The revitalization of the basic existential questions generates an energy that also creates strong creative content.

I often hear that there has been enough talking and we should act now. Why do you put dialogue into the centre of your labs? And how does it relate to Do-Tanks?

There has definitely been enough talking, but then we talk about talking in the one-dimensional level we are used to do. Besides this talking is mostly discussions without any check of concepts, understanding of each other or reflections on principles or presumptions. This talking is often a chat between deaf people, they afterwards will follow their own routine in the way of thinking they were used to do.

The Club of Amsterdam LABs lead to a change in internal dialogue; people really need a strong dialogue with other beings to change their internal reflections and dialogues. This will directly lead to action, when you make shared action plans and design a sustainable dialogue with the stakeholders. To shift from a money driven society to a value driven society needs a new way of talking: the real human dialogue.

Action is always for a crucial part guided thinking or unconscious frameworks of meaning. The Socratic dialogues make sharing intelligent action possible.

Club of Amsterdam LABs:

LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 9th!
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, UK
Simon Taylor, Director and Co-Founder, Global Witness, UKChristof van Agt, International Energy Agency, FrancePaul Holister, Nanotechnology & Energy, France

LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 16th
Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Laurence Desarzens, urban communicator,
Paul F.M.J. Verschure, ICREA research professor, Technology Department, University Pompeu Fabra
Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Director, Yahoo! Research Rudy de Waele, Founder,