World Bytes

World Bytes: Our Future on Earth?

By Terrance Malkinson

In the beginning, there was Earth — natural, sustainable, and undamaged. Rene Heller in his Scientific American article “Better Than Earth” [312(1):32-39. January, 2015. ] states, “In fact, Earth is well past its inhabitable prime, and the biosphere is fast-approaching its denouement. All things considered, it seems reasonable to say our planet is at present only marginally habitable.” In the article, he defends this belief that the Earth will become far less life-friendly because of uncontrollable astro-biological factors such as our sun’s natural progression of exhausting its hydrogen fuel, fusing more energetic helium in its core, overheating the earth, and exterminating all life. This is a slow, long-term uncontrollable change that is occurring and will continue over the next half a billion years. He goes on to explore the possibility of habitable planets orbiting stars other than our sun that not only hold possibility of extraterrestrial life but also offer the possibility for human habitation in an environment better than the earth. The suggestion of extraterrestrial life and human travel to other planets has been the subject of scientific investigation for many years, current space exploration, and has been the theme of many radio dramas and movies.

There is however an even more immediate concern for the sustainability of life on earth. Uncontrolled human population growth, destruction of the biodiversity of vegetation and animal life forms, fracturing of the earth’s crust in our quest for energy, and many other damaging practices are but a few of our activities, internationally, compromising the quality of human life for all. All are primarily a result of our belief that we must pursue “growth” at any cost.

The question needs to be asked: “Why the obsession with the necessity of growth?” More people, more structures, and more destruction of nature are not in our best immediate and long-term interest. Perhaps we should consider growth but from a different point of view. Perhaps we should be doing a better job of managing what we have and managing a more equitable earned distribution of wealth to all citizens of the world. Importantly, we must manage a better understanding and promote tolerance among all citizens of the world respecting their cultures, and beliefs. This can only help but to reduce the dramatically increasing foci of human violence that we are experiencing. One enabler of global understanding was discussed by the author at the recent 2014 IEEE International Humanitarian Technology Conference. The presentation Sports for Global Citizenship” co-authored by his IEEE student mentee Chaun He [IEEE eXplore in press] discusses how “participation in non-competitive and competitive sports as an individual or as a member of team regardless of economic status, nationality, gender, or ability is a facilitator of both self-understanding and for achieving an understanding of other cultures and value systems.”

We cannot control astro-biological factors and we will not be able to travel to distant planets for many generations, but we can, and must, mitigate man-made destructive practices if we are to survive and importantly survive together safely with a quality life worth living.

Other Bytes

  • The January/February 2015 issue of Discover [pp. 7-98. ] provides its analysis of the 100 top science stories of 2014. Leading the 100 stories profiled in the issue is the “Ebola Explosion”, followed by “Climate in Crisis”, and in third place “Rosetta’s Comet Rendezvous”. An excellent and reader-friendly series of 100 short comprehensive articles that highlight current scientific issues and the incredible work of the world’s innovators and scientists.
  • In his article “20/20 Visions: How the Next Five Years Will Revolutionize Business” [Entrepreneur. pp. 32-36. January 2015.] Jason Ankeny provides the insights of leading futurists and cultural anthropologists of their forecasts on changes that might occur in the next five years as the pace of innovation accelerates; resulting in radical new technologies, business models, customer experiences and a new breed of entrepreneurs.  Another articles in the same issue of Entrepreneur include “Women to Watch” [pp.38-46] which profiles that spotlight leading women innovators who are effecting positive change in our society and “Best of the Best” [pp. 48-54] which profiles of the winners of Entrepreneur’s entrepreneur of 2014 awards recipients.
  • Mary Del Ciancio provides a look at the emerging trend of human operators and robots working together, collaboratively and safely in manufacturing operations in a natural way leveraging the strengths of both the robots and their human operators in “Collaborative Robots” [Manufacturing Automation. 29(7):16-19. November/December, 2014. ]. The latest version of the ISO 10218 standard for robots and robotic devices defines a collaborative operation as “a state in which purposely designed robots work in direct co-operation with a human within a defined workspace.” In the article the author discusses the opportunities, factors that make collaborative robots safe, implementation considerations, and visions of the future.
  • Robert Blanchard in his article “Big-Box Bonanza” [Railway Age. pp.24-27 November, 2014 ] discusses how railroads are searching for ways to keep intermodal transport moving and expanding on a rail network that is constrained by rail and terminal capacity. Intermodal transport refers to the movement of freight in a container using a standardized reusable steel box which can be transferred from one mode of transport (ship, rail, truck) to another without unloading and reloading the containers contents.  The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. As the author concludes “railroads are not naturally nimble networks, so creating and sustaining fluidity will require considerable out-of-the-box thinking.”
  • Travis Hessman discusses in his article “Biomimicry: What Would Nature Do?” how we might conquer some of the toughest challenges for 21st century design by analyzing how nature solved a similar problem. [Industry Week. 263(11):12-14. December, 2014. ]. Biomimicry works by duplicating features and functions that have evolved naturally and successfully in nature. Many interesting case studies are provided of industry problems that have been solved by investigating solutions already available in nature. Regrettably, the bio-diversity of our planet is diminishing dramatically due to a growing mass of humanity, and we will lose important new opportunities. As the author concludes: “Biomimicry is a new way of thinking that needs to be injected into an engineer’s design process.”
  • In the cover story of the January 2015 issue of Training and Development [“Wanting it More.” 69(1):32-36].Tony Bingham and Pat Galagan discuss how the software giant SAP is moving into the cloud, led by a charismatic CEO, Bill McDermott and supported by far-reaching talent development. After 40 years as a leader in enterprise software, SAP is becoming cloud-based. Strategy for change management, role of millennial’s, necessity of humility to keep learning and growing, and the nurturing of passion, curiosity and innovation are but a few of the topics explored with Bill McDermott. Continuing on in the same issue, Jenny Dearborn in her role as chief learning officer provides the article “Learning at the Speed of Business: SAP Leads in the Cloud” [pp. 38-41] and describes the leadership principles used to effect change and organization success.
  • In “Why Managers Still Matter.” Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein. [MIT Sloan Management Review 56(1):73-80. Fall 2014. ] discuss how even in today’s knowledge-based economy, where managerial authority is thought to be in decline; there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement organizational rules. They suggest that the role of managers needs to be redefined, focusing on organizational goals and principles they want employees to apply on the job. Importantly, they believe that managerial authority remains essential in situations where decisions are time-sensitive, knowledge is concentrated and multiple decisions need to be coordinated.
  • A special report in Canadian Business [“What We Learned.” 88(1):31-44. January, 2015. ] provides 57 pieces of business wisdom from Canadian business leaders that emerged from their experiences during 2014. A plethora of valuable information that confirms the application of the accumulated body of business knowledge and the exciting innovative concepts emerging to meet the challenges of changing market conditions.
  • “Core Values” is the title of a report in Building [64(5):22-26. November 2014 ] that describes how post-secondary educational institutions can be vital to the creation of thriving city centers. Three Canadian case studies are provided.  In the conclusion to the article, author Leslie Smith summarizes the concept that post-secondary venues attract energetic people that provide invaluable sources of innovation and engagements to the surrounding community ” “They have a way of shaping thriving social settings.”

Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for Today’s Engineer, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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