Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth assessment report on the state of climate science.
The latest report from the UN-sponsored body spoke of humanity's "unequivocal" contribution to climate change. Media headlines followed with phrases like "code red", "catastrophe", "frightening", "hell", paired with images of burning forests.
Humans may be screwed, but here's why I'm still optimistic about Earth's future.
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The scoop: Overpopulation is a myth... because Jack Ma and Elon Musk said so. On a more serious note, a population collapse is more likely than an overpopulated planet.
Some talking points for the dinner table:
- Overcrowded cities ≠ overcrowded planet. The entire world population can fit in the state of Texas with the same population density as Manhattan.
- Lopsided populations will inevitably occur in modern advanced nations. That means young workers will be unable to support aging populations, causing natural population declines.
- 'Malthusian traps' refer to inevitable food shortages as populations grow. Either Malthus was right and some of us go hungry (as in we don't need to artificially halt population growth), or he's wrong and the population keeps growing sustainably through innovation.
Bottom line: The Earth has plenty to offer for 9 billion mouths. And a sustained population decline due to lower fertility rates is already becoming a realistic outcome. We just need to spread out more.
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The scoop: 40% of insect species are at risk of extinction.
Why it matters: We need bugs to survive and thrive.
- Pollination: Pollinators pollinate plants; we need them to keep doing that.
- Pest control: Paradoxically, predatory and parasitic insects kill pests.
- Decomposition: Some insects are primary or secondary decomposers. They serve an important function to clean-up animal waste.
- Food security: Many mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians depend on bugs for food. They are a quick and easy resource for a nutritious meal.
- Research and innovation: Technology mimics nature (think birds and planes). Researchers can observe the ethology of insects and learn new ways to innovate. An example? Ant colony optimization in computer science.
What's causing the insect decline: Habitat loss from agriculture and urbanization is the #1 driver. Agro-chemical pollutants (think pesticides), invasive species and climate change also play a role. You can check out some cool charts and figures below to learn more.
How to help: Contribute to the fight against pesticides, support or start a small farm, and educate others about the importance of insects. A more positive perception of 'bug people' can also lead to change.
Bottom line: We need bugs to survive, yet insect populations are on the decline. This issue deserves more recognition.
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The scoop Tech companies can use AI to compose new songs using existing datasets of music. This poses a serious threat to musicians and artists. Let's talk about it.
About the tech
- AIVA Technologies, based in Luxembourg, created an AI that composes music for movies, commercials, games and TV shows.
- OpenAI’s Jukebox allows users to generate genre-specific music. You can look up an artist and select a genre. Theoretically, it would fuse that artist with a Mississippi the selected genre.
- Holograms tours are becoming increasingly popular. Eventually, using AI composition tools and hologram tech, deceased artists will be able to tour new music... and it will be hard to tell the difference from a standard pop concert.
- VOCALOID is a voice synthesizing software that allows users to create 'virtual pop stars'. They are already widely popular in Asia.
- Other voice synthesizing tools allow users to imitate famous voices and spit out whatever output you'd like. Copyright law hasn't caught up to this deepfake dystopian reality, so feel free to go make Jay-Z say whatever you want.
Humans > robots ... for now At least for the foreseeable future, AI is incapable of creating music without mimicking an existing data set that originated from human innovation. Similar to the way AIVA pitched their product, Artificial Intelligence can be used to help the artist speed-up and maximize the composition process. It should be treated as a tool, not a replacement.
Zoom out There will always be a place for bipedal fleshbags in the arts. With or without AI in music. Why? Because the consumers of creation are also fleshbags, and we want to be wowed and wooed by the hairy, smelly creatures that feel and squeal just like we do.
What does this have to do with sustainability? Supporting a pro-human future (in the face of tech) is a critical component of a sustainable future. We need to develop new technologies in a way that prioritizes happiness and harmony over production and profit.
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