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The Grey Swan Guild News Wrap — The Week That Was, May 28, 2021

Grey Swan Guild — News Wrap Edition: #19 of Vol. 1

These are a series of stories and headlines we are tracking in the
Grey Swan Guild’s Global League of Sensemakers Newsroom. Here is The Great, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what we observed this week. Despite our eager impatience to learn what happens during the Friends Reunion, we took the time to gather for you news from the world and do some sensemaking from the threads of facts. This week, we cover economics, demographics, public health, mental health, environment, societal changes, big business, entertainment, brain science, innovative technology, worklife, and prehistory.

Join us on Sunday, May 30th at 8am (PST) 11am (EST) / 4pm BST on Clubhouse to engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors, including Sylvia GallusserSean MoffittAgustín BorrazásRob TyrieBen ThurmanLouise Mowbray, and Antonia Nicols.

For more events, check the Grey Swan Calendar — We had another of our thoughtful Ateliers exploring what will come and what will go after the pandemic recedes. We surfaced 20 questions about societal habit changes, value norms and beliefs and peering into the collective sentiment. Stay tuned for a report and sensemaking results from the workshop.

The next Grey Swan Guild Atelier on June 11 will go around the world with a geographic lens to look at comparative experiences. All Ateliers are free for members and the public.

This week was not only the Friends reunion, it was also the beginning of Graduation Season. And unlike last year, Class of 2021 gets to celebrate IRL with a mix of in-person and virtual commencement ceremonies. Hybrid is the word, and not just for education. The debate goes on between advocates of remote work and supporters of workplace reopenings, against a backdrop of introvert-extrovert-ambivert preferences. Meanwhile, big business is weathering the pandemic storm with brio, with Amazon buying MGM Studios for $8.45 billion, Google seeing its first-quarter revenues jumping 34% from the first quarter of 2020, and Disney launching “drone fireworks”. However, this celebration mood doesn’t prevent the American people from remembering George Floyd’s revolting death which shattered the country a year ago, forcing a reckoning that more had to be done to tackle systemic racism. Let’s dig into the Great, Good, Bad, and Ugly of the week.

The Great 😇

Credit: HBO Max
  1. Streaming wars and drone light shows. Amazon announced its acquisition of MGM Studios and its wide-ranging catalog of 4,000 films and 17,000 TV shows to help bolster its film and TV division, Amazon Studios. The $8.45 billion deal marks the second-largest acquisition in Amazon’s history, behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods in 2017. This power move boosts Amazon’s ambitions to fight the streaming battle against Netflix, Disney+/Hulu, Apple TV+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, and the latest AT&T Discovery megadeal. In honor of National Streaming Day, the Disney Bundle lit up the Los Angeles sky with drones forming iconic characters and imagery from beloved movies, series, and sports across Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN. Imagine Baby Yoda or Handmaid’s Tale illuminating the sky. In the same spirit as drone light shows at a miniature scale, Scientists at Brigham Young University have created tiny 3D animations out of light. These hologram-like visions exploit a phenomenon called photophoresis (spherical lenses create aberrations in laser light, heating microscopic particles and trapping them inside the beam) and persistence of vision.
  2. Beam me up ScottySpeaking of holograms, Google unveiled Project Starline, a hologram-like video chatting tool that makes it look like the person you’re talking to is right there in the same room. In times of physical distancing and still limited travel options, such technology is particularly praised. Project Starline consists of a booth decked out with cameras and sensors which capture your image and movements from multiple vantage points. The imagery then gets transmitted to a similar booth in a different room. In addition, spatial audio makes it seem like the sound of the other person’s voice is all around you. In the field of human augmentation, scientists have found a way to make artificial muscle fibers far more powerful than those found in nature, by imitating the structure of the complex DNA double helix. Potential applications include miniature machinery within prosthetic hands and dextrous robotic devices. Other instances of tech for good are developed by young innovators in Hong Kong, such as robots that can automatically disinfect shopping malls and deliver meals in quarantine hotels, or flight simulators to train pilots and students with an emphasis on aviation safety. Scientists at Lehigh University are interested in the challenges of “Toward next-generation learned robot manipulation”, which focus on training robots through machine learning to manipulate objects and environments like humans do.
  3. Stand by me. Together we’re stronger. Also promising is the field of gaming for good science. Canadian scientists won a Webby award for enlisting online gamers to identify COVID-19 in blood data. The collaboration engine provides a platform for citizen scientist gamers to participate in identifying blood disease and advance scientific research. In China, a Guangzhou student who got a habit of purchasing near expired food at reduced prices, established an online community of 60,000 people, who share tips on buying near-expired food every day. This trend gained traction in recent years, especially since China passed a new Anti-Food Waste Law in April, declaring that restaurants that “induce or mislead” customers into ordering excessively would be fined, and banning “eating shows” and “competitive eaters” on social media. More and more believe cities will come back stronger after the pandemic. Studies show urban living may not be as risky as we suspect. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Utah found that density wasn’t linked to infection rates, whereas connectivity and transportation between counties mattered more for viral spread and mortality. Cities actually proved to be more resilient and to distribute resources to their citizens efficiently and equitably.

The Good 😀

Credit: “Sapiens: A Graphic History: The Birth of Humankind (Vol. 1)” by Yuval Noah Harari
  1. Baby you can light my fire. Archaeologists from Israel and Canada have just proved that early humans were using fire at least 900,000 years ago, by dating a prehistoric cave in South Africa. This represents a major step towards confirming that human exploitation of fire for cooking and defence drove key aspects of human evolution, such as changes in human gut anatomy, dentition, facial shape and increased brain size that occurred at roughly that time. In other prehistoric news, recent research shows that brain networks for memory and planning may have set us apart from Neanderthals. By comparing the networks that govern our emotional reactions, self-control and self-awareness, among Neanderthals, chimps, and modern humans, scientists found out that humans have the most genetic sequences for self-control and self-awareness, whereas chimpanzees almost don’t and Neanderthals are at an intermediate level. These findings support the idea that higher creative capacities in modern humans evolved in Africa under powerful climatic stress and allowed modern humans to outpace Neanderthals when the two species met. However Neanderthals fare well on the emotional ladder. If geologist William King, who named the species Homo neanderthalensis, characterized it as brutish, with a “moral darkness”, it recently became clear that “Neanderthals were not the slow-witted louts we had imagined them to be”.’’
  2. Go go gadget car! Vehicles get smarter and greener. As futurists like to say, we need to be good historians to be valuable futures thinkers: “Look back to better look forward”. Well, who would have guessed that said modern humans who discovered the power of fire would one day land rovers on another planet (5 from NASA, 1 from China), build quantum computers as Google is announcing it will by 2029, or fly autonomous planes as Merlin Labs which is creating a truly autonomous digital pilot. From July 6, 2022, auto manufacturers will be obliged to fit new models destined for the European market with an event data recorder, which French drivers are already rejecting as “snitch black boxes”. If the transportation industry is active in technological breakthroughs, we can also salute ecofriendly initiatives. While Ford now expects 40% of the global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030, the California-based Sakuu Corporation has announced a new 3D printing system that duplicate large electric vehicle batteries on demand. The system uses new techniques to create solid-state batteries that are lighter and smaller than traditional lithium-ion batteries, mainly destined to the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market. And in the era of cancel culture, when a company is greenwashing, environmental campaigners don’t let go! Climate activists around the world celebrated a court order in The Hague for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions. Shell’s existing carbon mitigation strategy was considered “not concrete and full of conditions”.
  3. Mirror Mirror on the wall, who has the best fairway shot of all? “The first step toward advanced-age greatness is passion”, as the success of 50-year old golfer Phil Mickelson at the Ocean Course (PGA Championship) illustrates. He cut down on sugar, soda, lost weight, worked hard, and practiced meditation. A good recipe to defy aging! Celine Halioua, CEO of startup Cellular Longevity Inc., has another plan. She develops treatments to extend the life span of dogs while making them more active in their later years. If the treatments work in canines, she expects consumers and regulators to be favorably disposed to adopt similar techniques in humans. About 30,000 dog owners have entered their pets into the Dog Aging Project, an academic research study backed by the National Institutes of Health, to examine how genetic and environmental factors affect dogs’ aging processes. It is also running a trial in which 200 middle-aged dogs receive rapamycin. Meanwhile, Singapore-based biotech company Gero found a way to break the limit of human longevity by reversing the biological age. Their experimentation constitutes a conceptual breakthrough because “it determines and separates the roles of fundamental factors in human longevity — the ageing, defined as progressive loss of resilience, and age-related diseases, as executors of death following the loss of resilience.”

Read the full article on Grey Swan Guild’s Medium page.

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Published by Sylvia

Futurist - Futures Thinking & Strategic Foresight

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