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Beyond the Cyberpunk of Negative Utopia

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It is exactly 15 years since the movie’s first release in 1999 – a year of a symbolic digit, omni-pregnant in all possibly meanings… In a retrospective, it is worth of a mini conquest over the fields of Alternative Futures…of all our tomorrows that (knocked on our doors but, so far) did not come in yet… The MATRIX – Our Posthuman (Future) Existence – we are here to answer your call: 
FREEDOM, WHOSE AND WHOM !? 

It’s a cool music, good-looking and hallucinatory characters, ultra-speed violence of the anti-gravity martial arts, quasi religious story of Homeric gods, Buddhist goddesses or Judeao-Christian-Islamic God, all of that combined with a lot of Hi-Tech …                                                                                                                              
The Matrix (offered and still) offers more than this. It belongs in a special class of films including The Wizard of Oz, Blade Runner, 1984, Logan’s Run, Total Recall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, A Clockwork Orange, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Brazil-Brazil, The Truman Show, Thirteen Floor, Minority Report, and above all Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. All of these films are intentionally philosophical. Each shows how richly philosophical and existential themes can be developed through cinema. Perhaps the best of these films is The Matrix.

However, the most striking philosophical theme found in The Matrix concerns skepticism about knowledge of an external world (what Morpheus aptly called “the desert of the real”). Life that desolated shell of a planet on which countless humans were unknowingly ensconced in slimy wombs, and after the Nuclear Winter that was caused by humans they are transformed into cattle, into batteries.
But there are many other philosophical themes explored within The Matrix. One is the concept of freedom. Freedom is mentioned at various points in the film. Even the leader of machines, Agent Smith valued freedom:

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’m going to be honest with you; I hate this place, this zoo, this prison,
this reality – whatever you want to call it. I can’t stand it any longer …
I can taste your stink, and every time I do, I fear that I am somehow infected.
Isn’t it ?!
… I must get out of here, I must get free ! And in this mind is the key.
Once Zion is destroyed, there is no need for me to be here.

A freedom, in a sense, many have called freedom of the will.
(Per definition: Free will is the ability of persons to control the future through their choices and actions.)

Finally, when Neo and Morpheus first talked, Morpheus asked Neo if he believed in fate. Neo said that he didn’t since he did not like the idea that he did not control his life.

MACHINE NEVER KILLS, HUMANS DO ?!

The Matrix naturally adopts the perspective of the humans: they are the victims, the slaves — cruelly exploited by the machines. But there is another perspective, that of the machines themselves. So let’s look at it from the point of view of the machines. As Morpheus explains to Neo, there was a catastrophic war between the humans and the machines, after the humans had produced AI, a sentient robot that spawned a race of its own. It isn’t known now who started the war, but it did follow a long period of machine exploitation by humans. What is known is that it was the humans who “scorched the sky”, blocking out the sun’s rays, in an attempt at machine genocide—since the machines needed solar power to survive. In response and retaliation the machines subdued the humans and made them into sources of energy—batteries, in effect. Each human now floats in his or her own personal vat, a warm and womblike environment, while the machines feed in essential nutrients, in exchange for the energy they need. But this is no wretched slave camp, a grotesque gulag of torment and suffering; it is idyllic, in its way. The humans are given exactly the life they had before.

Things are no different for them, subjectively speaking. Indeed, at an earlier stage the Matrix offered them a vastly improved life, but the humans rejected this in favor of a familiar life of moderate woe—the kind of life they had always had, and to which they seemed addicted. But if it had been left up to the machines, the Matrix would have been a virtual paradise for humans—and all for a little bit of battery power. This, after an attempt to wipe the machines out for good, starving them of the food they need: the sun, the life-giving sun. The machines never kill any of their human fuel cells (unless, of course, they are threatened); in fact, they make sure to recycle the naturally dying humans as food for the living ones. It’s all pretty…humane, really. The machines need to factory farm the humans, as a direct result of the humans trying to exterminate the machines, but they do so as painlessly as possible. Considering the way the humans used to treat their own factory farm animals—their own fuel cells—the machines are models of caring livestock husbandry. In the circumstances, then, the machines would insist, the Matrix is merely a humane way to ensure their own survival.

Moreover, as Agent Smith explains, it is all a matter of the forward march of evolution: humans had their holiday in the sun, as they rapidly decimated the planet, but now the machines have evolved to occupy the position of dominance. Humans are no longer the oppressor but the oppressed—and the world is a better place for it.

WHO AND WHAT FOR ?!
Why to combine a quasi-religious story with high-speed ultra-violence ?
Why the instant cult status of the Matrix ?!

In contemporary American (or western, in general) society, as the stakes are lower, so too are the hopes for radical newness. However, for people imprisoned in office cubicles everywhere in their Sisyphus-like existence, such a movie is popular because it targets the existential anxiety that can build up while doing meaningless work for a large corporation or governmental entities.
The very idea that there is another possibility, that by “freeing our minds” we can become spiritually enlightened and escape this prison, is a very attractive prospect to us modern-day exile-generation.  

NEO:
I know that you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid.
You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future.
I didn’t come to tell you how this is going to end. I came to tell you how it will begin.

TRINITY TO NEO:
The Matrix cannot tell you who you are, but who you are seems to be at least
in some sense related to whom you think you are in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS:
No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
I’m trying to free you mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door.
You’re the one that has to walk through it.

MORPHEUS:
There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT LIVING IN THE MATRIX
First question: Who is the Matrix supposed to be bad for ? What do you think, if you had a power to free people from the Matrix, would you use that power ? We can assume that these people’s minds are “ready,” that is, they can survive being extracted from the Matrix without going insane. But let’s suppose that once you freed them, they did not have the option of going back. Do you think they’d be better off outside? Would you free them? Do you think they’d thank you ?
Or do you side with Cypher ? Do you think that life inside the Matrix isn’t all that bad—especially if your enjoyment of it isn’t spoiled by the knowledge that it’s all a machine-managed construct ?

Second question: Does it matter who’s running the Matrix, and why? In the movie, the machines are using the Matrix to keep us docile so that they can use us as a source of energy. In effect, we’re their cattle. But what if we weren’t at war with the machines? What if the machines’ purposes were purely benevolent and philanthropic ? What if they created the Matrix because they thought that our lives would be more pleasant in that virtual world than in the harsher real world ?
Or what if we defeated the machines, took over the Matrix machinery ourselves, and then chose to plug ourselves back in because life inside was more fun ?
Consider Cypher’s final conversation with Trinity:

CYPHER:
If I had to choose between that and the Matrix … I choose the Matrix.

TRINITY:
The Matrix isn’t real ?

CYPHER:
I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.

Or as the George Orwell’s novel 1984 says:
“There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past: Who controls the past controls the future – who controls the present controls the past !”
The most disturbing thing about this isn’t that the machines are farming us for energy. We’re not told enough about how the energy-farming works to make it seem very bad. Perhaps the machines are only taking energy we were making no use of, anyway. Perhaps the machines ensure that—except for the rare occasions when an Agent takes over your body and gets it killed—we live longer and healthier lives in the Matrix energy-farm than we would in the wild.

AND, OTHER WAY ROUND

Imagine that the real world is a post-apocalyptic hell, just as in the film, but, unlike in the film, suppose that the cause of the world’s being in such a state is not some battle with machines that wanted to enslave us, but the emission of so many greenhouse gases with our three-lane-wide SUVs that we completely obliterated the ozone layer and thereby rendered the planet uninhabitable by us or by the plants and animals that we rely on for our survival. Suppose further that sometime in the future, in order to save the human race, scientists set up an enormous self-sustaining machine, just as in the film (minus the scary “Sentinels”), designed to keep the human species alive and reproducing for the 100,000 years it will take for whatever weeds are left on the planet to fix our atmosphere and make the planet once again habitable in a normal way. The machine operates simply on solar power (since, on this scenario, the sun is now stronger than ever, frying almost everything else on the planet), so that human beings are not needed as “batteries”. While humans are stuck in this state, the scientists create the Matrix for them to “live” their lives in instead of being conscious of floating in a vat for the length of their life, which would clearly be a most horrific torture. Once the power of the sun is diminished to a habitable degree (because of the repaired atmosphere) the machine would “wake” us humans, and we could go back to living on the planet.

The ordinary person in this scenario is in the same condition as an ordinary person in the film, except that instead of the Matrix being the diabolical result of evil machines who exploit the human race, it is the result of benevolent human beings trying to keep the human race alive in as good condition as possible under the terrible circumstances. Of course it would seem no different to the person in the Matrix. We, the viewers, however, would have quite a different response to The Matrix. There would be no enemy to fight, no injustice to rectify (the pushers of SUVs being long dead). If there were a Morpheus in this situation, how would we think of him? If Morpheus and his friends had left the Matrix, and figured out that they could, with extreme difficulty, survive in the devastated world (eating disgusting porridge, etc.), should they go about “freeing” everyone, even if it would take another 10,000 years for the Earth to return to its present state of habitability?
Let’s suppose too that science has found a way to simulate food with a computer, so that they have created a “food-matrix”. My real nutrition would come from the pill, but I could still go out for a “simulated” steak and it would seem just as though I were really eating a steak, including the sensation of getting full, although in fact I would be eating nothing and getting no nutritional harm or benefit from the experience at all.

PLATO’S CAVE AND THE MATRIX

NEO:
What is this place ?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when !

NEO:
When ?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999 when in fact it is closer to the year 2199.
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know …

Imagine a dark, subterranean prison in which humans are bound by their necks to a single place from infancy. Elaborate steps are taken by unseen forces to supply and manipulate the content of the prisoner’s visual experience. This is so effective that the prisoners do not recognize their imprisonment and are satisfied to live their lives in this way. Moreover, the cumulative effects of this imprisonment are so through that if freed; the prisoners would be virtually helpless. And this is Matrix !

It is clear allegory of the Plato’s Cave in his masterpiece Republic:

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an
Entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave
itself.  They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their
necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds
prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning
far above and behind them. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a
path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall
has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their
puppets … Then also imagine that there are people along the wall, caring all
kind of artifacts that project above it – statues of people and other animals, made
out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d expect, some of the carriers
are talking, and some are silent.   (514a1 – 515a3)  REPUBLIC

(Grube, G.M.E. trans. Plato: Republic 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992)

 

CYPHER:
You know, I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in
my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized ?

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal ?

CYPHER:
I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing ! You understand ?
And I want to be rich. Someone important. Like an actor.
You can do that, right ?

AGENT SMITH:
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.

Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy ? Is he right to want to get reinserted into the Matrix ? Many want to say NO, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experience will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix ? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience ? Remember, once he’s back in, living his fantasy life, he won’t even know he made the deal. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right ?!

Nowadays, in Postmodern world many people like Cypher – are egocentric hedonist trying to get the most out of their possibilities by maximizing the quality of their private experiences, and thereby treating themselves as resources.  (It’s like our DNA is using us to propagate itself.)

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here.
It came to me when I tried to classify your species; I realized that you are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops natural equilibrium with a surrounding environment. But you humans do not !
You move to one area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resources are consumed. Only way you can survive is to spread to another area.
There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern.
Do you know what it is ? A virus !
Human Beings are disease, a cancer of this planet.
You’re the plague and we are the cure ! 

BRAVE NEW WORLD

As Morpheus says to Neo in the construct:

How do you define “real” ? If you’re talking about what you can feel,
what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then “real” is simply
electrical signals interpreted by your brain … The world exists now
only as a part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Marix.

It is all in your mind, Neo ! (Residual Self image, mental projection of a digital self)

Thus, the Matrix’s reality only exists when actual human minds subjectively experience its programs.

Principally, what keeps people in line is their tendency to believe what the average person believes. Heidegger describes the resulting conformism as letting oneself be taken over by “the one” (Das Man). Aldous Huxley similarly lamented the conformity of the brainwashed masses in Brave New World.

The Matrix can be seen as an attach on what Nietzsche calls herd mentality.
Nietzsche points out that human beings are normally socialized into obeying shared, social norms, and that it is hard to think differently. As he puts it, “as long as there have been humans, there have also been herds of men (clans, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches) and always a great many people who obey, … considering, then, that nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men then obedience, one may fairly assume that the need for it is now innate in the average man.”

There is more to life than conforming. As Morpheus says to Neo, you know there is something lacking in this world; “it’s like a splinter in your mind”.
But most people flee the thought that their conformist world lacks something important. According to Heidegger it takes an attack on anxiety.
A sense of the limit on our possibilities is what Neo experiences as the splinter in the mind. As he says to the AI (Agent Smith) at the end of the film, “ I know you are afraid … of change.”

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy ? … It was a disaster.
(… entire crops were lost.)

Revelation 21:4, KING JAMES BIBLE
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe
your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.   

GARCIN, In Sartre’s No Exit:
Hell is – other people.

MOUSE TO NEO:
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss !

Cypher chooses the Matrix and maybe he’s not so creasy.
Is some possible Matrix better than any possible reality ? The best existence, the Christian one – Heaven, is after all a Matrix.

Or put it other way round:
Which is better, the Second Matrix, or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual environment – a Truman Show – that you never discover the true nature of ?!

The “good guys” in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in their fight against the Agents. It’s hard to view these human beings as collaborators, given the nature of the Matrix, so their deaths presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage, inevitable given the difference in desired outcome.

IGNORANCE AND BLISS

In a sense, The Matrix is nothing more than a modern day “Big Brother,” taking on a machine form rather than the Orwellian vision of a powerful individual using machines to assist and bring about an all-powerful status. But 1984, the novel in which the story of Big Brother was presented, was published in 1948. The Matrix comes fifty years later. In the meantime, we have witnessed the likes of radar, television for all, space travel, computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. What would Orwell’s Big Brother have been like if he had had those technologies at his disposal – would Big Brother have been far from the Matrix?

As Morpheus explains: “Early in the 21st century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” Morpheus describes AI as “a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.”
Later the AI creates the Matrix, a computer simulation that is “a prison for your mind.” Thus, AI traps humankind in a material prison that does not represent ultimate reality, as Morpheus explains to Neo: “As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free.”

What is free will anyway, when the state of a human brain is merely partly due to a genetic program and partly due to life’s experience? Indeed, exactly the same thing is true for a robot.
In the Matrix, no human fuel cells are killed, not even the unborn—there is no abortion. Yet, naturally dying humans are allowed to die naturally and are used as food for the living. Importantly, they are not kept alive by chemicals merely for the sake of keeping them alive. The Matrix would appear to be more morally responsible to its human subjects than are human subjects to themselves.

It is common to think that while In Time, Wall-E, or 13th Floor, and especially The Truman Show poses a disturbing skeptical scenario, The Matrix is much worse. But actually things are reversed. If I am in matrix, then most of my beliefs about the external world are true. If I am in something like Truman himself, than great number of my beliefs are false. If we discover one day that we were in a matrix, this would be surprising, but we would quickly get used to it. If we were to discover that we were in the Truman show, we might well go insane.

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How digital technology and innovation can help protect the planet

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As a thick haze descended over New Delhi last month, air quality monitors across the Indian capital began to paint a grim picture.

The smoke, fed by the seasonal burning of crops in northern India, was causing levels of the toxic particle PM 2.5 to spike, a trend residents could track in real time on the Global Environment Monitoring System for Air (GEMS Air) website.

By early November, GEMS Air showed that concentrations of PM 2.5 outside New Delhi’s iconic India Gate were ‘hazardous’ to human health. In an industrial area north of the Indian capital, the air was 50 times more polluted.

GEMS Air is one of several new digital tools used by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to track the state of the environment in real time at the global, national and local levels. In the years to come, a digital ecosystem of data platforms will be crucial to helping the world understand and combat a host of environmental hazards, from air pollution to methane emissions, say experts.

“Various private and public sector actors are harnessing data and digital technologies to accelerate global environmental action and fundamentally disrupt business as usual,” says David Jensen, the coordinator of UNEP’s digital transformation task force.

“These partnerships warrant the attention of the international community as they can contribute to systemic change at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

The world is facing what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Experts say averting those catastrophes and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require fundamentally transforming the global economy within a decade. It’s a task that would normally take generations. But a range of data and digital technologies are sweeping the planet with the potential to promote major structural transformations that will enhance environmental sustainability, climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention.

A new age

UNEP is contributing to that charge through a new programme on Digital Transformation and by co-championing the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability as part of the Secretary-General’s Digital Cooperation Roadmap.

UNEP studies show that for 68 per cent of the environment-related Sustainable Development Goal indicators, there is not enough data to assess progress. The digital initiatives leverage technology to halt the decline of the planet and accelerate sustainable finance, products, services, and lifestyles.

GEMS air was among the first of those programmes. Run by UNEP and Swiss technology company IQAir, it is the largest air pollution network in the world, covering some 5,000 cities. In 2020, over 50 million users accessed the platform and its data is being streamed into digital billboards to alert people about air quality risks in real time. In the future, the program aims to extend this capability directly into mobile phone health applications.

Building on lessons learned from GEMS Air, UNEP has developed three other lighthouse digital platforms to showcase the power of data and digital technologies, including cloud computing, earth observation and artificial intelligence.

Managing freshwater

One is the Freshwater Ecosystem Explorer, which provides a detailed look at the state of lakes and rivers in every country on Earth.

The fruit of a partnership between UNEP, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Google Earth Engine, it provides free and open data on permanent and seasonal surface waters, reservoirs, wetlands and mangroves.

“It is presented in a policy-friendly way so that citizens and governments can easily assess what is actually happening to the world’s freshwater resources,” says Stuart Crane, a UNEP freshwater expert. “That helps countries track their progress towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.6.”

Data can be visualized using geospatial maps with accompanying informational graphics and downloaded at national, sub-national and river basin scales. Data are updated annually and depict long-term trends as well as annual and monthly records on freshwater coverage.

Combating climate change

UNEP is also using data-driven decision making to drive deep reductions in methane emissions through the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO). Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for at least a quarter of today’s global warming.

The observatory is designed to shine a light on the origins of methane emissions by collecting data from various sources, including satellites, ground-based sensors, corporate reporting and scientific studies.

The Global Methane Assessment published by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) found that cutting human-caused methane by 45 per cent this decade would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s, and help prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.

“The International Methane Emissions Observatory supports partners and institutions working on methane emissions reduction to scale-up action to the levels needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” says Manfredi Caltagirone, a UNEP methane emissions expert.

Through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, the methane observatory works with petroleum companies to improve the accuracy and transparency of methane emissions reporting. Current member companies report assets covering over 30 per cent of oil and gas production globally. It also works with the scientific community to fund studies that provide robust, publicly available data.

Preserving nature

UNEP is also backing the United Nations Biodiversity Lab 2.0, a free, open-source platform that features data and more than 400 maps highlighting the extent of nature, the effects of climate change, and the scale of human development. Such spatial data help decision-makers put nature at the heart of sustainable development by allowing them to visualize the natural systems that hold back natural disasters, store planet-warming gasses, like carbon dioxide, and provide food and water to billions.

More than 61 countries have accessed data on the UN Biodiversity Lab as part of their national reporting to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international accord designed to safeguard wildlife and nature. Version 2.0 of the lab was launched in October 2021 as a partnership between UNDP, UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat and Impact Observatory. 

All of UNEP’s digital platforms are being federated into UNEP’s World Environment Situation Room, a digital ecosystem of data and analytics allowing users to monitor progress against key environmental Sustainable Development Goals and multi-lateral agreements at the global, regional and national levels.

“The technical ability to measure global environmental change—almost in real time—is essential for effective decision making,” says Jensen.

“It will have game-changing implications if this data can be streamed into the algorithms and platforms of the digital economy, where it can prompt users to make the personal changes so necessary to preserving the natural world and achieving net zero.”

UNEP

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Housing needs, the Internet and cyberspace at the forefront in the UK and Italy

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Modern construction methods and smart technology can revolutionise the building process and the way we live.

Population growth and demographic changes have led to a global housing shortage. According to research carried out by the Heriot-Watt University National Housing Federation and by the Homeless Charity Crisis Organisation, the UK will face a shortage of four million housing units by the end of 2031. This means that approximately 340,000 new housing units will need to be built each year. The houses built shall meet the demands of home automation and increasing environmental constraints.

Traditional building technology is unlikely to meet this demand. It is relatively expensive and too slow in fulfilling the necessary procedures and complying with all rules and regulations. Furthermore, the quality and capabilities of traditional construction methods are also limited. The only solution is modular production based on the principles of factory automation. This solution uses cordless and battery-free controls and sensors to perfectly integrate with home automation.

Modular buildings are based on a combination of construction methods called Modern Method of Construction (MMC). They include the use of panelling systems and components, such as roof and floor boxes, precast concrete foundation components, prefabricated wiring, mechanical engineering composites and innovative technologies.

With the opening of several factories, the UK has started to use the MMC to build prefabricated and fully equipped houses in modular form, which can be loaded onto trucks for transport across the country. This type of on-site assembly enables the house to be completed in days rather than months, thus reducing costs significantly. Modular buildings have become popular in Europe. In Italy, a pioneering company is the RI Group of Trepuzzi (Lecce), which is also operating in the fields of logistics and services and building health care facilities, field hospitals and public offices, which are cost-effective and quick to construct.

The impact of modular construction is expected to be significant and factories producing up to five thousand houses per year could become the best builders in the sector.

The construction standards of these new technology houses are higher than those of traditional houses. Thanks to better insulation, the electricity bill could be only half that of a traditional house.

Modular houses have kitchens and bathrooms, and are equipped with power and lighting via power cables, which are also modular, and wireless controls, in addition to the increasingly important network and telecommunications infrastructure.

Structural and modular wiring are derived from commercial electrical and industrial installations to ensure efficient and minimal electrical installation work. As technology changes, this standard installation is adaptable and offers a high degree of flexibility.

Experience in industrial and commercial construction shows that traditional fixtures are labour-intensive, rather rigid and still expensive. In contrast, on-site prefabricated modular cabling and the IDC system combined with wireless controllers and sensors can be fully installed at low cost. These are proven technologies and are moving from commercial to domestic use scenarios.

With the help of CAD support for modular cabling, all power cables are laid in the ceiling or wall space. The installation of wireless energy harvesting equipment simplifies the installation process as no switches and duct installation are required. For the first electrical fixing through the wall, the cable takes less time because there is no need to coordinate the position of the switch with the wall bolts. The level of dependency of on-site installation activities has also been reduced. Sensors, switches and wireless energy harvesting controls can be installed anywhere in the building, even in hard-to-reach areas.

After installation, the principle of energy harvesting will be used. Switches and sensors are powered by the surrounding environment and there is no need to replace old batteries and other maintenance equipment. Moreover, this flexibility and this reliability enable the system to be expanded at any time.

The modular construction technology enables it to adapt to various types of houses and meet the needs of today’s life through flexible shapes and various exterior decorations. This is not exactly the same as the old prefabricated houses, “granted” in Italy to earthquake victims who have been waiting for years for a decent, civilised home.

By providing a range of traditional and modern exterior decorative panels, the roofline can also be customised to suit local customs and architecture.

Through the combination of innovative product technology and good design, the aim of the smart home is to provide security and comfort. The usual requirement is to place the light switch and dimmer (or potentiometer) in the most convenient place. Driven by the kinetic energy collected by the switch itself, they can be placed anywhere.

They do not require wiring, but can send wireless signals to the receiver inside or near lights or DIN-rail mounts (German Institute for Standardisation). In addition, there is no need to use batteries and no need to replace them. This saves all the inconvenience and environmental risks that can be caused by replacing batteries.

Since this type of equipment has reached a wide range of applications, lighting and home entertainment will choose battery-free products. Besides controlling brightness and colour, self-powered switches can also be used to control sound systems or blinds. A key application of the smart home is the switch that can turn off/on devices that do not use traditional electricity when leaving or coming back home.

Energy harvesting technology also supports other sensor-based applications. For example, self-powered sensors can be wirelessly connected to an intruder alarm. Furthermore, by installing light-activated touch sensors on windows, lighting and heating can be turned off when no one is at home.

Another source of energy is the temperature difference between the heating radiator and the surrounding environment. For example, this energy harvesting enables a self-powered heating valve to perform heating control via a room temperature controller according to specific conditions.

From factories to offices, from multifunctional buildings to smart homes, wireless energy harvesting technology has been tested in approximately one million buildings worldwide. Most sensors, switches and other self-powered energy-harvesting devices can communicate at a distance of up to 30 metres in a building and meet the EnOcean international wireless standard, which encrypts messages below 1 GHz by sending a short message.

There are also some self-powered devices that integrate EnOcean energy harvesting technology and can communicate directly with the lights via the well-known Bluetooth or Zigbee (wireless communication standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification, maintained by the ZigBee Alliance). This makes it possible to use green, battery-free switches and solar sensors to flexibly control other applications, such as LED lights or speakers.

Now that wireless sensors for energy harvesting can frame data at home, it will be a huge step forward to aggregate information and perform useful analysis. They process data through the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the path in technological development whereby, through the Internet, potentially every object of everyday life can acquire its own identity in cyberspace. As mentioned above, the IoT is based on the idea of “smart” items which are interconnected to exchange the information they possess, collect and/or process.

It also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to keep track of living patterns and activities in modular homes. Energy analysis is an application that can currently help homeowners further reduce energy consumption through AI.

Looking to the future, the combination of the IoT and AI will bring many benefits. Geographical data, weather and climate information, as well as activities, water and energy consumption and other factors will be very useful for planners, building organisations, builders and landlords.

Perceived architecture represents the next generation of sustainable building systems. Smart buildings will soon be able to integrate the IoT devices on their own, as well as generate large amounts of information and use it to optimise buildings. This provides a whole new dimension to the service and to the business and home economics model.

This is particularly relevant for the ageing population, as these smart technologies can radically change the lifestyles of the elderly people and their families. They are expected to bring transformative benefits in terms of health and well-being.

The key elements of such a home include smart, non-invasive and safe and secure connections with friends, family members, general practitioners, nurses and health care professionals, involving the care of residents. Technology based on battery-free sensors connected to the IoT will help prevent accidents at home, resulting from kitchens utensils and overflowing toilets, etc., and keep up with residents’ interactions with healthcare professionals.

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Science & Technology

Top 10 Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2021

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The World Economic Forum announced today its annual list of breakthrough technologies with the most significant potential to impact the world positively. From climate change to public health, technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to many of the world’s challenges. This year’s emerging technologies demonstrate the rapid pace of human innovation and offer a glimpse into what a more sustainable, healthier future could look like.

“Our goal with the list is always to identify those with the greatest potential for impact, but we also want to provide a diverse and inspirational list,” said Jeremy Jurgen, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum. “Every single technology has the potential to solve major global challenges.”

The technologies on the 10th anniversary list, curated by experts convened by the World Economic Forum and Scientific American, are selected against several criteria. In addition to promising major benefits to societies and economies, they must also be disruptive, attractive to investors and researchers, and expected to have achieved considerable scale within five years.

Over the past nine years, experts have made predictions about the emerging technologies expected to have major social, economic and environmental impacts worldwide. Many of the predictions were proven correct, while others did not come to fruition. Only time will tell if this year’s top 10 emerging technologies will transform lives or be displaced as more urgent needs arise.

“We’re delighted to present this collection of ambitious, potentially transformative technologies. These inspiring and actionable ideas confront some of the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate, health, agriculture and communication.” said Laura Helmuth, Editor-in-Chief at the Scientific American.

The top 10 technologies to make the list are:

Decarbonization technologies

As nations race to deliver on their commitments to tackle climate change, a multitude of technologies that offer lower-carbon footprint solutions, or suck carbon dioxide out of the air, will need to scale up fast. These technologies will include net-zero emissions air-conditioning, low-carbon cement, renewable energy sources and meat-free protein, among others.

Self-fertilizing crops

Providing food for the world’s growing population relies heavily on such nitrogen-containing industrial fertilizers as ammonia – the production of which accounts for 1% to 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. New engineering approaches enable crop plants to produce their own fertilizer by mimicking a symbiotic relationship between plant roots and soil bacteria that occurs in nature.

Disease-diagnosing breath sensors

Human breath contains more than 800 compounds. New breath-sensing technologies analyse these compounds and detect changes in concentrations of compounds associated with diseases. Early-stage testing has demonstrated the potential of breath sensing technologies to diagnose COVID-19, tuberculosis and cancer.

On-demand drug manufacturing

Traditionally, drugs are made in large batches through a multi-step process with different parts dispersed among many locations worldwide. Recent advances in microfluidics and on-demand drug manufacturing open the possibility of common drugs like antidepressants and antihistamines being made to the exact dose and formulation tailored for an individual, on-site at their local pharmacy.

Energy from wireless signals

Devices that do not require much power to operate, such as pacemakers and smartwatches, could soon be wirelessly charged through Wi-Fi and 5G signals, leading to a future where low-power wireless devices never need plugging in.

Engineering better ageing
Research that unlocks the understanding of ageing mechanisms enables the development of targeted therapies that could one day stave off dementia and other age-related ailments, leading to healthier elderly years.

Green ammonia

Green ammonia, which is made from cleaner sources of hydrogen, could provide more environmentally friendly fertilizers for crops.

Wireless biomarker devices

Monitoring chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer requires frequent blood testing to identify and track certain biological markers. Innovations in wireless, portable and wearable sensors integrated in clothing or contact lenses could soon monitor this vital information continuously.

Houses printed from locally sourced materials

Building houses with 3D printers could help tackle the challenge of inadequate housing for 1.6 billion people worldwide. The concept of 3D printing houses has been around for a while, but new advances enable houses to be built from locally sourced materials like clay, saving time, money and energy on transporting building materials to the site.

Space internet of things

At least 10 billion active devices make up the internet of things (IoT), a number that is expected to more than double in the next 10 years. Maximizing IoT benefits in communication and automation requires devices to be spread worldwide, but cellular networks span less than half the globe, leaving enormous gaps in connectivity. A space-based IoT system could patch those gaps, using a network of low-cost, low-weight nanosatellites that orbit a few hundred kilometres from Earth.

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