The TED talk that I delivered last year on the main stage in Vancouver has now been released.
Over 18 minutes I explain the principals of how you could go about rebooting civilisation after an apocalypse. This thought experiment was a way of holding up a mirror to our world, to explore all the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how modern civilisation works; the stuff we just take for granted in our everyday lives. What enabled society to progress through the centuries and millennia of history?
In this talk I focus on three areas of capability: Food, Fire, and Knowledge.
The excellent people at 10:10 have just launched a really nifty new smartphone app. Look Up! turns anyone into a solar treasure hunter. With just a few clicks you can help find roofs that could be turned into solar power stations, and then add them to the solar panel treasure map.
The app is a bit like Pokémon GO for clean energy and so is great fun to play. And there are even prizes for the people who log the most solar potential before the end of British Summer Time on the 30th October. So there’s no excuse not to get involved, and make sure you Look Up!
The Conversation website also runs a regular podcast, and this week I interviewed with them on the subject of Rebooting.
For the sake of a thought experiment, what could you do if the world as we know it came to an end? It could be a nuclear apocalypse, a superbug that wipes out most of humanity, or even a catastrophic asteroid. What sort of guide book would you need to survive these doomsday scenarios? Listen to find out how long you can last off the food that will be left lying around and the crucial knowledge you need to rebuild civilisation.
And looking to an even more extreme scenario, what would happen to the Earth if humanity itself was driven to extinction. Matthew Wills, an expert in evolutionary processes, discusses what sort of life might develop in our place. The clues, it turns out, are in the last big wipeout – the asteroid that did for the dinosaurs.
Listen to The Conversation podcast on Rebooting here
Like Geology? Love MineCraft…? Then these models will be perfect for you…
The British Geological Survey has recreated several of their geological maps as 3D landscapes within the MineCraft game. Now you can explore the British Isles both above and below the ground! These models not only show the rolling land surface, but also how the underlying rock strata rise and fall, and overlap and fold, at different depths. All of the three-dimensional geology, elevation and topography are drawn from BGS and Ordinance Survey data. Now for the first time you can tunnel underground in MineCraft through real geological layers.
See the BGS website for more details on how these were made, and to download the MineCraft models.
Thought the history of civilisation, humanity has exploited an ever increasing repertoire of metals in our tools and technology. Copper and bronze, iron and steel, gold, silver, aluminium, tungsten, and so on.
Nowadays, we carry around in our pocket a huge range of metals — not just coins, but your smart phone in fact encapsulates an incredible selection of different metals, some pretty rare in Earth’s crust. The US Geological Survey has produced this amazing infographic of all the minerals and metals contained within the advanced electronics in your phone and other devices. Each material is selected for its particular combination of properties needed for the different functions within electronics. And these are sourced from mines all over the planet. Who’d have thought that we use such a range of materials everyday of our lives without even realising!
Chapter 10 of The Knowledge talks about ways to make inks for art and writing. Both the ancient Egyptians and Chinese developed a black ink based on soot, about 4,500 years ago. The tiny particles of carbon in the soot serve as a wonderfully dark pigment, which when mixed with water and a thickening agent like tree gum or gelatine (animal glue) gives you a great, black ink. Still very popular with artists today, ‘India Ink’ is therefore a misnomer as it was actually developed in China, and only traded with India. A suspension of carbon-black particles is also the basis of modern photocopier and laser-printer toner. Historically, these incredibly fine carbon particles were collected above the sooty flame from an oil lamp, or by charring organic materials like wood or bone.
Now, Gravity Labs, a spin-off from MIT, have developed a thoroughly modern, and eco-friendly, method for capturing carbon black. Graviky Labs founder Anirudh Sharma and his team worked with Tiger beer in Thailand to create an air filter that can be attached to the exhaust pipe of cars, trucks, or boat engines. The device captures the emitted soot particles from the diesel engine, which are then used for making paints and inks for local artists — Air Ink.
This is such an innovative idea for converting pollution into art!
Every now and then a new product comes along that seems to obvious in retrospect that you’re surprised no-one had thought of it before. I wrote earlier about the nifty BioLite electricity-generating stove that couples the gasification principle with the thermoelectric effect (real space probe technology!)
The Estream is another great example. Estream is a portable hydroelectric generator that fits in your backpack. Simply dunk the mini-turbine into a fast flowing stream or river, and the device will convert the energy of the moving water into electricity to charge-up on the internal battery. This stored energy can then be used to charge any USB devices, or even power the integrated light as a hangable lamp.
Perfect for taking on camping trips, or making a big difference to off-grid living and providing for yourself if civilisation ever did collapse!
The Flash Forward podcast, written and presented by Rose Eveleth, is consistently fascinating. Once a fortnight, Flash Forward visits a different possible scenario for our own future. The epidode lays out the premise with a series of imagined news broadcasts, and then interviews a range of experts to fully explore the likely consequences and ramifications for society and our everyday lives. These potential futures include everything from a world where you knew the exact date you’d die, to one with universal translation devices, or all drugs were legal.
Last month Flash Forward covered a scenario close to the thought experiment behind The Knowledge. ‘Episode 15: KABOOM’ explores what would happen if all the active volcanoes on the Earth were to start erupting at the same time. Obviously the answer is: lots of bad things… But what happens to humans and our planet? Who survives, and how?