March 2014 • Volume 15, No. 3
In this issue:
Rare sighting of a pair of angel sharks.
As many as a quarter of the world’s shark and ray species could disappear in the next two decades, warns a forum of 302 ecologists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The sudden absence of these species could throw marine ecosystems out of balance everywhere, including those that we rely on for seafood.
The ecologists assessed 1,041 species and found 249, or 23%, to merit the designations “threatened,” “endangered,” or the most severe category, “critically endangered.” Only 23% were at healthy enough population numbers to be deemed safe. Sawfishes and angel sharks were the most-threatened shark species, while wedgefishes, sleeper rays, and whiptail stingrays were the ray species most in danger.
Overfishing for shark fins, shark and ray meat, and shark- or ray-derived liver oil are major contributors to the problem, according to the report. It also identified high fatalities from accidental ensnarement of the predators in fishnets. Not helping matters is the fear that these creatures inspire among the public. Many human beachgoers would be glad to see fewer of them.
But the truth is that we need them. Ecologists ascribe these predators a prominent role in keeping the oceans’ food chains in balance. Whole fisheries and coral reefs might collapse if these species were not around. —Rick Docksai
Unemployed Teens May Have Better Things to Do Than Work
About three in five working-age American adults are currently employed or looking for work—the lowest U.S. workforce participation rate since 1978. According to conventional wisdom, the rest are so discouraged by the anemic economy that they’re no longer seeking employment. New analysis from Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, says that this explanation is misleading.
What’s skewing the data? Teenagers are, according to the report. The participation rate has declined among other age groups, but it’s the 16- to 19-year-olds who are really throwing off the numbers. Labor participation among teenagers has fallen from 54% in 2006 to 30% last January.
The reason may be surprising: While it’s easy to write them off as victims of a poor economy, many teenagers aren’t seeking work simply because they do not want jobs. Of those who aren’t currently working, only 8.3% of teenagers say that they would like to be employed.
“It is important to realize that over the last twenty years, there has been a dramatic change in how teens prioritize their lives, and employment no longer plays as important a role,” explains John A. Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It is easy to understand how a young person weighing his or her options would conclude that sports, clubs and summer school are more likely to pay better dividends over the long run, compared to a minimum wage job in fast food.” —Keturah Hetrick
Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas
Whenever water evaporates, it takes energy with it. A team of researchers has found a way to tap into this energy, using humidity-sensitive bacteria. Their method could lead to large-scale generators that create abundant energy from moisture in the air above sun-warmed ponds and harbors.
The researchers coated a latex rubber sheet with a strain of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis, which shrivel into hard spores when their surroundings run dry and swell back up to their original sizes when moisture returns. The bacteria’s expansions and contractions added to the rubber’s own expansions and contractions as the surrounding air grew alternately drier or more humid, and this propelled an adjacent magnet to power an actuator and generate electricity.
Evaporation is “the largest power source in nature,” says lead researcher Ozgur Sahin, associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University. Even tiny bacteria are powerful when they wield it. In his first experiments, Sahin placed spores on a silicon plank. As soon as he breathed near it, the plank began bending back and forth with a thousand times as much force as a human muscle and 10 times as much force as many industrial-grade materials. By his calculations, moistening a pound of dry spores would create enough thrust to lift a car off the ground. Even more force generation might be possible with genetically engineered bacteria, he adds. —Rick Docksai
Sources: Wyss Institute at Harvard University. The paper, “Bacillus spores as building blocks for stimuli-responsive materials and nanogenerators,” by Xi Chen, L. Mahadevan, Adam Driks, and Ozgur Sahin, was published in Nature Nanotechnology 9, 137–141 (2014).
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Here is what’s in the March-April 2014 issue:
By Princess Aliyah Pandolfi
A new flying robotics challenge takes aim at the armed groups that are hunting the black rhino and other animals out of existence. Read more.
By Rick Docksai
If current trends continue, we’ll be dealing with three times as much waste by the end of this century as we are now, warns the World Bank. One solution is to treat waste as a resource—a solution that could also cut global pollution, stave off looming resource crises, and lower manufacturing costs, among other benefits.Read more.
By Karl Albrecht
When revolutionary euphoria sets in, we may be tempted to set aside our critical judgments and enroll ourselves in the dream. Only later, after experience, might we get a more sober perspective on what we were promised and what we got. Here are eight of the “grand promises” of the digital information technology revolution, with reality checks and revised visions of what lies ahead. Read more.
By Irving H. Buchen
Organizational missteps may be signs of coming catastrophes that we have time to avert. Read more.
By Patrick Tucker
A new remake of the sci-fi classic RoboCop imagines a future where humanity and machinery merge, to awesome result. Is it a realistic vision? Somewhat, neuroscientist Charles Higgins tells us. Read more.
By John F. Copper
Will the “language of the future” be Chinese or English or both? An international studies researcher looks at how modernization and globalization challenge linguistic diversity. Read more.
By Patrick Tucker
Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab and One Laptop per Child, shared his views on the future of learning at the World Future Society’s annual conference.Read more.
World Trends & Forecasts
Recent Blog Standouts from THE FUTURIST Magazine
Hello and welcome! This blog has been created to take you on a journey in time, to help you imagine what kinds of learning lives our children and grandchildren will have as they encounter and inherit the world we are creating now. What sort of education could possibly prepare them for this world? Read more.
After Fukushima it would seem that nuclear power has no future even in a world combating anthropogenic (human caused) climate change because of the burning of fossil fuels for electricity. But that belies the truth. Read more.
The work of strategy experts should ideally be focused on analytic, conceptual thinking, before stepping into operational planning. But often, the pressure to present a hands-on and actionable plan stands in the way of studying situations from a wider angle. Read more.
Protestors in the eastern Ukrainian port city Sevastopol uttered contempt for the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych—but not for the reasons that you might think. They didn’t denounce his corruption, his curtailing of media, his flagrant human-rights violations, or his retreat from potentially lucrative new pacts with the West. Read more.
There’s a scene in the movie Loopers where Joe, a character from the present time, announces that he is studying French for use later in life. Another character, Abe, who has traveled back in time from the future, suggests that Joe go to China instead. Read more.
A recent Pew poll found that a quarter of Americans in serious relationships say that their significant other is sometimes “distracted” by cell phone use when they’re together. That number rises to 42% among young adults (18-29 years old) who are in relationships.Read more.
Can you train like an Olympic athlete, see through the back of your head, and remember everything you did today? These things are completely unrealistic for most of us, but we are getting closer with breakthroughs in wearable devices. Read more.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper, at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, asserted (again) that malevolent insiders with access to top secret material, like Edward Snowden, constituted a top threat to our nation’s national security. The lawmakers agreed and pressed Clapper to explain how he was changing the practices within his office and across the intelligence community to prevent another Snowden-scale data breach. Read more.
As if you didn’t already have enough to be nervous about, here’s something creepy to ponder as the year 2014 gets under way. Read more.
Someone interviewing me for a magazine asked me what current technology tomorrow’s children would find obsolete. I almost answered “The Internet.” Then I decided to think about that answer a little bit because it’s pretty scary. Then I decided it’s true. Shortly, humans may find today’s wide open Internet as archaic as we now find phones that are wired to walls.Read more.
Business is becoming more and more multigenerational, especially as Boomers plan to work longer, out of necessity for some but also as a result of longer, healthier life spans. None of this is news to anyone, much less to futurists. Read more.
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