Despite Extinction Rebellion’s Efforts, Will Weaponized Robots Give Us Enough Time To Tackle Climate Change?

In October 2019, the activist movement Extinction Rebellion disrupted daily routines in major cities around the world to highlight the dangers from man-made climate change, and that time is running out to do anything meaningful about it. In London, demonstrators glued themselves to office building doors, the pavement, trains and cars – even to the top of an aircraft about to take off!

They also ran a UK crowdfunding project with a target of £1 million to fund their activities, maybe even to pay some of the fines their members picked up – just a guess. As at October 29 the crowdfunding is still running and they’ve reached nearly £965,000, they’re almost there.

Though within the 30-50 year time frame we are usually told is going to be decisive, some people believe there are other threats that ought to be taken just as seriously, if not more, from artificial intelligence and robotics.

Robot threat to jobs

Many of us have become accustomed to doom-mongers’ comments about the threats to livelihoods from robots doing repetitive and menial work. Inevitable consequences usually list mass unemployment, with non-working people subsidized by far higher taxes levied on those still in work. How would norms of social inclusion and the rule of law cope with an ever more divisive and polarized world of haves and have nots? And that includes having a sense of purpose as much as anything else.

Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at Berkeley, California, and one of the world’s leading experts in AI, has weighed in with his own opinions in a new book published this month titled “Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control.”

He asks readers to imagine a scenario in which a comparable risk is external, one in which advanced aliens from another world email the United Nations and say “we’re coming, we’ll be with you in 30 to 50 years.” Would our planet’s best minds be mobilized to prepare for this extra-terrestrial incursion more than we are preparing for the creation of our own super-humanly intelligent machines? 

Pace of technology leaves controls behind

Technology continues to develop at a faster and faster pace. Machine learning-powered artificial intelligence is increasingly likely to enable automation to take on more complex tasks thought were once thought to be ‘machine-proof.’

Flying aircraft, as an example, is a highly skilled profession, not one of the highly repetitive jobs that are supposedly under most threat from robots. Airline pilots can earn substantial incomes and generally receive public admiration. How close are we to that changing, with their role totally automated?

The Probability of Job Automation By Occupation

Source: Office of National Statistics

Lockheed Martin, the US global aerospace corporation, is currently sponsoring an open innovation challenge to combine AI, machine learning and fully autonomous flight. The goal is to create an AI framework that could pilot racing drones through high-speed aerial courses without any GPS, data relay or human intervention. 

420 teams from 81 countries have been whittled down to nine finalists who will compete in four races in the coming months. The winning team will win $1 million plus an extra $250,000 if their AI drone can beat a human-piloted drone: the challenge-winning drone will race the fastest 2019 DRL Allianz World Champion pilot at the end of the season. 

However, there are often unintended consequences. In a less sporting context, weaponization of drone technology has already been achieved. In 2016, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) carried out its first successful drone attack, killing two ‘opponents’ in northern Iraq. Terrorist groups are increasingly using drones and elementary artificial intelligence in attacks. Improved AI could prove a formidable threat, allowing non-state actors to automate killing on a massive scale, creating incidents of mass destruction.

A former Google software engineer and member of the International Committee for Robot Arms ControlLaura Nolan, has warned that autonomous killer robots could accidentally start a war in the future. She has called for automated weaponry to be outlawed by international treaties. Which ones? What treaties do terrorist organizations sign up to? 

Terrorist groups aren’t the only parties involved. Stuart Russell’s book  points out Israel has developed an autonomous “loitering munition” called Harop, which can hunt and destroy objects it classes as hostile. Anti-personnel microdrones equipped with facial-recognition systems and explosive weaponry might already exist. Slaughterbots, they are called.

At the time when Extinction Rebellion were disrupting major cities around the world, and targeting hubs of finance, media and transport, Russell put forward the notion that the leading tech firms in Silicon Valley and China must learn to accept regulation in the area of weaponry. “Let’s hope it doesn’t require a Chernobyl-sized disaster (or worse),” he warns, “to overcome the industry’s resistance.” 

But whilst authors and activists can point and warn of the dangers, I have to ask the question again about “who can introduce enforceable regulation, and act with whose authority?” Any suggestions or comments out there?

UK-based Food Sharing App Targets $1 Trillion Annual Wastage

UK-based Food Sharing App Targets $1 Trillion Annual Wastage
Half the food wasted in the UK is thrown away at home. In total, a third of all the food produced in the world is wasted. It represents an annual value of $1 trillion and it’s one of our planet’s greatest problems. There are millions of people who don’t have enough, deforestation to create grazing and arable land afflicts ecosystems for farmers to produce too much, and animal methane gases contribute to global warming and climate change.

Co-founders Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One knew each other from their MBA studies at Stanford Business School where they became firm friends. They hatched an idea to start OLIO in 2015, an app to connect neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This can be fresh or packaged food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from a local baker, or the groceries left in the fridge when people go away.

They launched the OLIO app in 2015 and now have almost 25,000 volunteers operating in over 50 countries. I met Tessa recently and she kindly agreed to share her story with me.

How did you first test for public support of your idea to engage the crowd in a breakthrough solution?

We carried out some market research using SurveyMonkey and we found that 1 in 3 people are “physically pained” about throwing away good food. We then set up a WhatsApp group with 12 people and found they were very enthusiastic about sharing food that would otherwise go to waste. From that we received incredibly valuable feedback and suggestions.

With the support of our first investor we built the MVP (minimal viable product) version of the app. And working like crazy, exactly 5 months after we’d incorporated the company (we were Mums on a mission with no time to spare!), we launched the app in the App Store on 9th July 2015, quickly followed by Google Play three weeks later. The very first version of the app was extremely basic, and could only be used in five postcodes in North London. But that didn’t matter, we were live and ready to bring food sharing to the world!

 

And what’s your growth been like since those early days?

We’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve now got 750,000 users plus 25,000 brand Ambassadors (volunteers) all over the world. And together they’ve shared over a million portions of food – which is the environmental equivalent of taking almost 3 million car miles off the road!

How do you cope with different food safety regulations on person-to-person food exchange in all these different countries?

Food safety and regulation is something we take very seriously. All the food redistribution undertaken by our “Food Waste Heroes” – who collect unsold food from local food businesses and share it via the app – is governed by an incredibly robust Food Safety Management System. And the neighbour-to-neighbour sharing is covered in our standard T&Cs.

You’ve already mentioned a “first investor.” What was it like, raising funding to be able to dedicate yourselves to OLIO and make it grow?

Our very first investor was Simpleweb, who are a development agency in Bristol, and they absolutely loved the problem we are trying to solve and so wanted to partner on it. That enabled us to get the first version of the app built. Since then we’ve raised three rounds of equity financing, and each one has been very different – our latest round was a $6m Series A round led by Octopus Ventures this summer. Fundraising is always challenging, but incredibly rewarding once completed. It’s been quite a sobering experience being a female-founded startup team – because only 2% of VC funding last year went to female founded startups.

How does OLIO make money?

OLIO generates revenues by charging businesses for the service we provide via our Food Waste Heroes Programme to enable them to have zero edible food waste stores. Businesses are increasingly recognising that it’s no longer acceptable to be throwing away perfectly good food – their customers don’t like it, and their employees don’t like it either.

Is there ever a clash between volunteers helping for free and the OLIO founders want to make money?

Our volunteers understand that OLIO needs to have a sustainable business model, and therefore generate revenues, to be able to continue to exist and have the incredible impact we’re having. So they’ve been some of our biggest supporters as we’ve started to monetise.

Your growth rate has been really impressive. What marketing have you used?

Our Ambassadors have definitely been at the heart of our growth. We’ve also had some amazing bursts of new users whenever we’re featured on television, or in the App Store. Press has been useful for reinforcing the brand and credibility although it doesn’t drive immediate downloads. In terms of paid advertising, Facebook and Google have been most effective.

What are your plans for the future?

We have an unashamedly bold ambition for the future – in 10 years’ time we want a billion people to be using OLIO. When we raised our Series A funding this summer, it enabled us to double the size of our team and so now we’re really accelerating our growth.

Thank you Tessa, your story is so inspiring.

If you would like sign up to OLIO and start sharing recyclable surplus food then please go to their website now to download the app.

Mayor of London has £1m for Community Projects Using Crowdfunding: Sep 3 Deadline

Mayor of London Has £1m For Community Projects Using Crowdfunding

The Mayor of London recently announced an allocation of £1 million available to a range of grassroots community projects. Operating in conjunction with UK crowdfunding platform Spacehive and the Greater London Authority, community project leaders can apply for a maximum contribution of up to £50,000 for new not-for-profit projects that serve the wider community. It’s a competitive process, and I can help applicants to succeed. The deadline for applications is September 3.

The Mayor and GLA’s main purposes of the initiative appear to be to:

  • Crowdsource ideas at a grassroots community level that add to or improve local facilities, maybe through new uses of disused buildings and locations, to inspire City Hall regeneration policy-making.
  • Show Londoners that their City Hall and elected representatives are listening and responsive in a demonstration of growing transparency and accountability.

The re-purposing of abandoned locations and unused buildings, particularly high street retail units, is a matter of growing national concern. Online shopping, road congestion, scarcity or cost of parking spaces and a recent hike in business rates have all reduced footfall and raised costs at traditional retail outlets.

The #CrowdfundLDN project will crowdsource many ideas that could influence local authority policies on how to respond to the hollowing out of previously vibrant areas within communities, and also empower groups of volunteer citizens to work together to deliver their solutions at a lower project cost than full funding from any local authority’s budget.

In 2017 the initiative also attracted a number of corporate donors who wanted association with the initiative. Backers included renewal energy company Bulb, creative co-working space Second Home, Ladbrokes and B&Q alongside Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Growing a Greener Britain and Veolia.

Here’s the 2018 timeline.

  1.  Mayor of London Has £1m For Community Projects Using CrowdfundingWorkshops are currently taking place throughout London to raise awareness and participation levels, and to brief interested parties on the scheme details.
  2.  During July and August project leaders will start to build their crowdfunding pitch on the Spacehive platform, identifying necessary skill sets and assembling their team(s) to finalise the pitch, raise the money  and then deliver the end project. Completed crowdfunding pitches, including plans on how the project will be delivered and then maintained as a going concern, must be submitted to Spacehive by September 3.
  3. Later in September the projects that meet a required standard of community benefit, validation of local community support, short-term achievability and longer-term viability will go live on Spacehive and start to generate funding.
  4. 30 to 40-or-so projects selected to receive a contribution from the Mayor of London’s £1m budget will be announced in October at an event staged in London’s County Hall, headquarters of the GLA and Mayor of London (as in main image in 2017).
  5. Each project will then continue its crowdfunding efforts during November and December to reach their target. The crowdfunding will be on an “All or Nothing basis,” meaning if a project fails to reach the outstanding balance of its overall target the Mayor will keep his money and the project will not go ahead.

Being selected is naturally very positive news to tell potential backers through PR and social media. Projects that fail to receive a Mayor’s contribution can still choose to continue their efforts to raise funds, though of course they will have a tougher job to reach their target.

Benefits for the funding applicants are numerous, and include: 

  1. At a community level, participation in the scheme draws together people with a shared focus on involvement in a project for ulterior motives. Firm friendships and alliances between local businesses have been forged in the previous two years of the scheme.
  2. At a personal level, a number of individuals may develop new skills through the experience and interaction of being part of a team, and gain personal confidence through empowerment. All and any of these factors could boost their employment prospects and future personal earning potential.
  3. All successful projects will improve the number and range of London’s community facilities available to the city’s population.

Previous successful projects include building a sustainable food yard, kitchen and event space at Bankside near the Tate Modern to act as a hub for the promotion of sustainable food activity. The project provides education, outreach and advocacy for innovation in sustainable food practices, and incubator space for startups. Affordable access to a professional kitchen as a community resource enables hopeful commercial food and drink suppliers and would-be chefs and restaurant owners to experiment, gain experience and refine skills.

One project completed the external refurbishment of an iconic and much loved local art deco cinema in Hackney. The project also created a second screen allowing for more local events and the sustainable operation of the enterprise as a non-profit community facility.

Mayor of London Has £1m For Community Projects Using Crowdfundingsouth London disused railway space will enjoy a new lease of life as a 900m pedestrian walkway and natural garden area in what was previously a rail yard used for coal wagons. It is a facility comparable to the inspiring and better known elevated walkway examples in New York and Paris. An initial crowdfunding project in 2015 on Spacehive raised money for a feasibility study, now published as a 180-page document. In addition to a contribution from the Mayor of London, Southwark Council also donated £10,000.

Previously abandoned garden allotments in Tolworth, Kingston Upon Thames, were re-purposed as a suburban farming project to teach food-growing skills and create a productive, sustainable source of locally produced food. The designers of the growing space went on to win an award at the prestigious Royal Horticultural Show at Hampton Court with an edible garden.

Details of all 25 projects backed in this initiative by the Mayor of London in 2017, which between them received a total contribution of £400,000, are here.

Mayor of London Has £1m For Community Projects Using CrowdfundingSpacehive has made a lot of useful information and planning guides available, and also gives details on additional sources of funding in some boroughs. Though if you’d like extra support and insight about using crowdfunding to make your idea for a local community project become a reality then please contact me via [email protected] There’s no charge for the first meeting or conversation on Skype or the phone, and let’s take it from there. You can also follow me on Twitter, @Cliveref.