Google CEO Wants Land Set Aside for Experimentation

future-city-1Back in May, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page hosted a rare Q&A session with the attendees of the Google I/O keynote speech. During this time, he gave some rather unfiltered and unabashed answers to some serious questions, one of which was how he and others should focus on reducing negativity and focusing on changing the world.

Page responded by saying that “the pace of change is increasing” and that “we haven’t adapted systems to deal with that.” He was also sure to point out that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.” Towards that end, he claimed that an area of the world should be set aside for unregulated scientific experimentation. His exact words were:

There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation. And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world… some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.

So basically he’s looking for a large chunk of real-estate to conduct beta tests in it. What could possibly go wrong?

detroit_experimentOne rather creative suggestion comes from Roy Klabin of PolicyMic, who suggest that an aging and dilapidated Detroit might be just the locale Page and his associates are looking for. This past week, the city declared bankruptcy, and began offering to sell city assets and eradicate retirement funds to meet its $18 billion debt obligations.

What’s more, he suggests that SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who’s always after innovation, should team up with Google. Between the two giants, there’s more than enough investment capital to pull Detroit out of debt and work to rehabilitate the city’s economy. Hell, with a little work, the city could be transformed back into the industrial hub it once was.

And due to a mass exodus of industry and working people from the city, there is no shortage of space. Already the city is considering converting segments of former urban sprawl into farming and agricultural land. But looking farther afield, Klabin sees no reason why these space couldn’t be made available for advanced construction projects involving arcologies and other sustainable-living structures.

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Not a bad idea, really. With cities like Boston, New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Moscow, Chendu, Tokyo and Masdar City all proposing or even working towards the creation of arcologies, there’s no reason why the former Industrial Heartland – now known as the “Rust Belt” – shouldn’t be getting in on the action.

Naturally, there are some who would express fear over the idea, not to mention Page’s blunt choice of words. But Page did stress the need for positive change, not aimless experimentation. And future generations will need housing and food, and to be able to provide these things in a way that doesn’t burden their environment the way urban sprawl does. Might as well get a jump on things!

And thanks to what some are calling the “New Industrial Revolution” – a trend that embraces nanofabrication, self-assembling DNA structures, cybernetics, and 3D printing – opportunities exist to rebuild our global economy in a way that is cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable. Anyone with space to offer and an open mind can get in on the ground floor. The only question is, what are they willing to give up?

venus_projectThere’s also a precedent here for what is being proposed. The famous American architect and designer Jacque Fresco has been advocating something similar for decades. Believing that society needs to reshape the way it lives, works, and produces, he created the Venus Project – a series of designs for a future living space that would incorporate new technologies, smarter materials and building methods, and alternative forms of energy.

And then there’s the kind of work being proposed by designer Mitchell Joachim and Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology). And amongst their many proposed design concepts is one where cities use vertical towers filled with energy-creating algae (pictured below) to generate power. But even more ambitious is their plan to “urbaneer” Brooklyn’s Navy Yard by turning natural ecological tissues into viable buildings.

future-city2This concept also calls to mind Arconsanti, the brainchild of architect Paolo Solari, who invented the concept of arcology. His proposed future city began construction back in the 1970 in central Arizona, but remains incomplete. Designed to incorporate such things as 3D architecture, vertical farming, and clean, renewable energy, this unfinished city still stands as the blueprint for Solari’s vision of a future where architecture and ecology could be combined.

What’s more, this kind of innovation and development will come in mighty handy when it comes to time to build colonies on the Moon and Mars. Already, numerous Earth cities and settlements are being considered as possible blueprints for extra-Terran settlement – places like Las Vegas, Dubai, Arviat, Black Rock City and the Pueblos and pre-Columbian New Mexico.

Black Rock City - home to "Burning Man" - shown in a Martian crater
Black Rock City – home to “Burning Man” – shown in a Martian crater

These are all prime examples of cities built to withstand dry, inhospitable environments. As such, sustainability and resource management play a major role in each of their designs. But given the pace at which technology is advancing and the opportunities it presents for high-tech living that is also environmentally friendly, some test models will need to be made.

And building them would also provide an opportunity to test out some of the latest proposed construction methods, one that do away with the brutally inefficient building process and replace it with things like drones, constructive bacteria, additive manufacturing, and advanced computer modelling. At some point, a large-scale project to see how these methods work together will be in order.

Let’s just hope Page’s ideas for a beta-testing settlement doesn’t turn into a modern day Laputa!

And be sure to check out this video from the Venus Project, where Jacque Fresco explains his inspirations and ideas for a future settlement:


Sources:
1.
Elon Musk and Google Should Purchase and Transform a Bankrupt Detroit (http://www.policymic.com/)
2. Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation (theverge.com)

3. Six Earth Cities That Will Provide Blueprints for Martian Settlements (io9.com)
4. The Venus Project (thevenusproject.org)
5. Arcosanti Website (arcosanti.org)
6. Terreform ONE website (terreform.org)

The Future of Cities and Urban Planning

future-city-1With the development of vertical farms, carbon capture technology, clean energy and arcologies, the future of city life and urban planning is likely to be much different than it does today. Using current trends, there are a number of people who are determined to gain some understanding of what that might look like. One such group is Arup, a design and engineering firm that produced a mockup that visualizes what urban environments will look like in 2050.

Based on the world as it is today, certain facts about the future seem relatively certain. For starters, three-quarters of the population will live in cities, or 6.75 billion of the projected 9 billion global total. In addition, everyone will have grown up with the Internet, and its successors, and city residents will have access to less natural resources than they do today, making regeneration and efficiency more of a priority.

Add to this several emerging technologies, and our urban environments are likely to look something like the building mockup below. As you can see, it has its own energy systems (“micro-wind,” “solar PV paint,” and “algae facade” for producing biofuels). There is an integrated layer for meat, poultry, fish, and vegetable farming, a “building membrane” that converts CO2 to oxygen, heat recovery surfaces, materials that phase change and repair themselves, integration with the rest of the city, and much more.

future_urban_planning

Most futuristic of all is the fact that the structure is completely modular and designed to be shifted about (by robots, of course). The building has three layer types, with different life-spans. At the bottom is a permanent layer – with a 10 to 20-year lifespan – which includes the “facade and primary fit-out walls, finishes, or on-floor mechanical plant” – and a third layer that can incorporate rapid changes, such as new IT equipment.

As Arup’s Josef Hargrave described the building when unveiling the design:

[A]ble to make informed and calculated decisions based on their surrounding environment… [a] living and breathing [structure] able to support the cities and people of tomorrow.

In short, the building is designed with personal needs in mind, based on information gleamed from a person’s behaviors, stated preferences, and even genetic information.

aircleaning_skyscraper3But what is even more interesting is how these buildings will be constructed. As countless developments are made in the field of robotics, biotechnology and nanotechnology, both the materials used and the processes involved are likely to be radically different. The rigid construction that we are used to is likely to give way to buildings which are far more flexible, adaptive, and – best of all – built by robots, drones, tiny machines and bacteria cultures.

Once again, this change is due mainly to the pressures that are being placed on urban environments, and not just technological advances. As our world becomes even more densely populated, greater proportions of people live in urban environments, and resources become more constrained, the way we build our cities must offer optimum efficiency with minimal impact.

nanomachineryTowards this end, innovations in additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions.

What this means is that cities could be grown, or assembled at the atomic level, forming buildings that are either living creatures themselves, or composed of self-replicated machines that can adapt and change as needed. Might sound like science fiction, but countless firms and labs are working towards this very thing every day.

It has already been demonstrated that single cells are capable of being programmed to carry out computational operations, and that DNA strains are capable of being arranged to carry out specialized functions. Given the rapid progress in the field of biotech and biomimetics (technology that imitates biology), a future where the built environment imitates organic life seems just around the corner.

biofabrication For example, at Harvard there is a biotech research outfit known as Robobees that is working on a concept known as “programming group dynamics”. Like corals, beehives, and termite colonies, there’s a scalar effect gained from coordinating large numbers of simple agents to perform complex goals. Towards this end, Robobees has been working towards the creation of robotic insects that exhibit the swarming behaviors of bees.

Mike Rubenstein leads another Harvard lab, known as Kilobot, which is dedicated to creating a “low cost scalable robot system for demonstrating collective behaviors.” His lab, along with the work of researcher’s like Nancy Lynch at MIT, are laying the frameworks for asynchronous distributed networks and multi-agent coordination, aka swarm robotics, that would also be capable of erecting large structures thanks to centralized, hive-mind programming.

nanorobot1

In addition to MIT, Caltech, and various academic research departments, there are also scores of private firms and DIY labs looking to make things happen. For example, the companies Autodesk Research and Organovo recently announced a partnership where they will be combining their resources – modelling the microscopic organic world and building bioprinters – to begin biofabricating everything from drugs to nanomachines.

And then there are outfits like the Columbia Living Architecture Lab, a group that explores ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing, the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.

ESA_moonbaseAnd let’s not forget 3D printing, a possibility which is being explored by NASA and the European Space Agency as the means to create a settlement on the Moon. In the case of the ESA, they have partnered with roboticist Enrico Dini, who created a 3-D printer large enough to print houses from sand. Using his concept, the ESA hopes to do the same thing using regolith – aka. moon dust – to build structures on Earth’s only satellite.

All of these projects are brewing in university and corporate labs, but it’s likely that there are far more of them sprouting in DIY labs and skunkworks all across the globe. And in the end, each of them is dedicated to the efficiency of natural systems, and their realization through biomimetic technology. And given that the future is likely to be characterized by resources shortages, environmental degradation and the need for security, it is likely to assume that all of these areas of study are likely to produce some very interesting scenarios.

As I’ve said many times before, the future is likely to be a very interesting place, thanks to the convergence of both Climate Change and technological change. With so many advances promising a future of post-scarcity, post-mortality, a means of production and a level of control over our environment which is nothing short of mind-boggling – and a history of environmental degradation and resource depletion that promises shortages, scarcity, and some frightening prospects – our living spaces are likely to change drastically.

The 21st century is going to be a very interesting time, people. Let’s just hope we make it out alive!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

“The Moonlight”: China’s Hills get the Mega-City Treatment

moonlightArtist Yang Yongliang recently unveiled a new series of picture art in the gallery at the Galerie Paris-Beijing. In The Moonlight series,  he depicts China’s rolling hills in a hyper-futuristic context. With The Moonlight series, he combines his skills in traditional Chinese artistry with a little “urban romance”, adding a sprawling, shimmering megalopolis to the traditional setting and motifs.

Having studied traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Shanghai Fine Arts Institute, Yang has long shown a preference for art that juxtaposes the natural with the man-made. As you scroll through the collection, you notice close ups of the cliff-scaling domiciles, crisscrossed patterns of roads, and even what appears to be cranes standing on mountain tops.

silentvalleyAnd of course, this is just the latest in a long line of Yang’s classic-modern masterpieces. In fact, Moonlight is quite similar to his earlier piece, The Silent Valley, where we see a woman in a white silk robe looking at hills in the distance. In two pictures, we see those hills are alive with brilliant lights, a clear indication of habitation.

moonlight2And then there’s Bowl of Taipei, where the Taiwanese mega-city – situated again on mountainous terrain – is depicted as a small island contained within a bowl. Resembling a world within a world, the clouds that wrap the hillside estates and waterfalls look very much like steam wafting up from a hot bowl of noodles!

Follow the links below to take a gander at the collection. And if you should find yourself in Paris, Brussels or Beijing in the near future, the show will be running from March 14th to April 27th of this year.

Source: IO9, thiscoloassal.com

Masdar City

Imagine a city that runs entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy source. A city that generates entirely no carbon and no waste, with mass transit that relies on electronic, computer-controlled pod cars. That is the concept behind Masdar City, a planned urban environment located 17 km south-east of the capital of the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi).

Designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners, and with the majority of the seed capital coming from the government of Abu Dhabi, Masdar is a blueprint for future cities based on sustainability, clean energy, and the latest and best in manufacturing, recycling and waste management technology. On top of that, it will contain some of the most advanced facilities in the world, dedicated to science, commerce and eduction.

In essence, it is the answer of what to do about rapidly advancing technology, urban growth, and development in the developing world. Point of interest include:

Masdar Institute:
Wouldn’t you know it? At the heart of a city based on sustainability and clean energy is an institute dedicated to the furtherance of these very things. Known as the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST), this research-oriented university was developed in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and focuses on the development of alternative energy, sustainability, and the environment.

In addition, its facilities use 70% less electricity and potable water than normal buildings of similar size and is fitted with a metering system that constantly observes power consumption. It’s full range of programs include Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Engineering Systems and Management, Water and Environmental Engineering, Computing & Information Science, Electrical Power Engineering and Microsystems.

Renewable Energy:
In addition to its planned 40 to 60 megawatt solar power plant, which will power further construction projects, with additional solar panels to  be placed on rooftops, for a total output of 130 megawatts. In addition, wind farms will be established outside the city’s perimeter capable of producing up to 20 megawatts, and the city intends to utilise geothermal energy as well.In addition, Masdar plans to host the world’s largest hydrogen power plant, a major breakthrough in terms of clean energy!

Water Management:
When it comes to water consumption, that too will be handled in an environmentally-friendly way that also utilizes solar energy. At the hear of this plan lies a solar-powered desalination plant. Approximately 80 percent of the water used will be recycled and waste greywater will be reused for crop irrigation and other purposes.

Waste Management:
As already noted, the city will also attempt to reduce waste to zero. Biological waste will be used to create nutrient-rich soil and fertiliser, and plans exist to incinerate it for the sake of generating additional power. Industrial waste, such as plastics and metals, will be recycled or re-purposed for other uses. The exterior wood used throughout the city is Palmwood, a sustainable hardwood-substitute developed by Pacific Green using plantation coconut palms that no longer bear fruit.

Transportation:
Initially, the planners for Masdar considered banning the use of automobiles altogether, focusing instead on mass transit and personal rapid transit (PRT) systems, with existing road and railways connecting to other locations outside the city. This systems utilize a series of podcars, designed by the company 2getthere, contains 10 passenger and 3 freight vehicles and serves 2 passenger and 3 freight stations connected by 1.2 kilometers of one-way track.

The cars travel at an average of 20km/h (12mph), trips take about 2 and a half minutes and are presently free of charge. Last year, a system of 10 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars was deployed as part of a one-year pilot to test a point-to-point transportation solution for the city to complement the PRT and the freight rapid transit (FRT).

Summary:
Given the mounting environmental crisis this planet faces, cities like Masdar may very well be the solution to future urban planning and expansion. But of course, as an incurable sci-fi geek, I also consider cities like this to be a handy blueprint for the day when it comes time to plan extra-solar and even exoplanet settlements. Not only are they effective at curbing our carbon footprint and environmental impact, they are also a  good way to start over fresh on a new world!

Related links:
Masdar Institute (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/)
Masdar City (http://www.masdar.ae/en/home/index.aspx)