REPOST: Can a Giant Science Fair Transform Kazakhstan’s Economy?

Technology has proven to be one of the main pillars of a country’s economic boom. This is exactly what oil-dependent Central Asian country Kazakhstan is trying to achieve, starting with hosting the Expo 2017. Read the full story on The New York Times:

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — By day, the huge and gleaming sphere looks like the spaceship of aliens who may not have come in peace. At night, it blinks out a playful pattern of colors and boosterish slogans on its high-tech outer skin — a few parts light show, a few parts bumper sticker.

Known officially as the Nur Alem, the imposing silver globe is the symbol and centerpiece of Kazakhstan’s latest attempt at an “Open For Business” sign. Five years ago, the country won the rights to stage what is essentially the world’s largest science fair. More than 100 nations built pavilions on a once-empty corner of this capital city. The Kazakh government chipped in a reported $3 billion, and, after an 11th-hour, all-hands push, met a June 10 deadline to open Expo 2017.

The theme of the fair, which closes on Sunday, is “Future Energy.” That may sound like a stab at humor given that oil, gas and metals are the lifeblood of the country. But guided by the hand of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first and, so far, only president of this former Soviet Republic, Kazakhstan is trying for a dramatic economic makeover.

Five years ago, Kazakhstan won the rights to stage what is essentially the world’s largest science fair, where more than 100 nations built pavilions. | Credit Maxim Babenko for The New York Times

The country does not want to merely sell off state-owned assets. The goal is to wean the nation from a dependence on natural resources and to transform it into a financial hub, the Dubai of Central Asia. There are plans for a new stock exchange overseen by an independent judicial system. Tech start-ups will get the come-hither, too, with the hope of giving rise to Kazakhstan’s own version of Silicon Valley.

All of this will take foreign investors, and not enough of them have reached for their checkbooks yet. As a share of the country’s gross domestic product, net foreign investment has dropped to 3.5 percent, from a high of 13 percent in 2004, the World Bank reports.

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Virtual Reality (VR) will soon take over these top industries

Image source: independent.co.uk

The Virtual Reality (VR) technology has exceeded consumers’ expectations by introducing creative and flexible innovations that expanded its initial role in the gaming industry to a wider scope of applications in medicine, military, and most especially in business operations. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are banking on its unique capabilities to sell their products, serve customers better, and stimulate more robust economic activity.

Since this is a new and still growing technology, we can only predict some of its future functions that can significantly change the world as we know it. What we do know is how virtual reality is slowly but effectively influencing business operations, boosting productivity and output by combining both the digital and the physical.

Here are the industries that could potentially benefit from virtual reality (VR):

  1. Human resources and manpower management

Imagine a faster and a more productive recruiting process through the use of VR especially designed to enable recruiters to assess applicants’ skills and performance in real time. The same technology will allow an easy and cost-effective way for candidates to experience the actual home office, to get to know the company – and even to meet with their teams across the globe.

  1. Education and training

Virtual reality will finally allow a reliable and consistent technology-based training that can provide a more productive learning environment for its participants. With an immersive experience and the complete digital, almost-physical tools, companies can boost employee engagement and full participation in tasks and in the facilitation of other necessary trainings.

  1. Advertising and branding

Experts have predicted that virtual reality will play a very important role in promoting and building brand awareness and it will totally transform the marketing and advertising industries as we know it. Nowadays, customers have developed a preference for anything technology-related and being the tech-savvy that they are, they focus on products that can provide convenience, entertainment and tangibility. So how can you provide consumers the ability to physically feel and touch products and services with minimal effort? An immersive experience through VR.

  1. Commercial real estate

Using virtual reality in the real estate industry can greatly boost property sales without needing to spend physical and financial costs compared to its traditional operations. Consumers and potential homebuyers can fully explore multi-dimensional settings and examine properties in real-time without going through the hassle of visiting different locations.

MOOCs: The e-learning trend that’s producing quality workers of the future

Image source: ec.europa.eu

Evolve or lose your relevance. This is the only way to respond to today’s dynamic and ever-evolving call for highly-skilled and up-to-date workers of the modern world and companies know exactly what to do to keep up. Designed to enable workers to regulate their own learning, Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs became popular as an answer to the workforce’s growing demand for a practical and more accessible way to acquire new and valuable skills.

Many experts believe that a self-guided format of learning can achieve what its tutor-guided counterpart failed to do: to bridge the employee training gap that has been hindering workers to be their best because of different factors and limitations that this old-fashioned method failed to address for years.

Image source: harvardgazette.com

An MOOC and the type of training that it offers can make better and more informed workers who can adapt to any complex and rapidly evolving trade. However, its number one asset relies on the convenience it gives to its learners. For instance, it offers the perfect formula for a well-managed work-life balance, while having an extra time to study online, at their own pace.

The way how this method helps employees to be the best version of themselves as a professional can actually boost their confidence – and for their company, improve employee retention. This is because happy and well-informed employees usually feel fulfilled more satisfied with what they do. This feeling of contentment contributes to their loyalty to the organization because they know that they have all the chance to grow professionally.

Lastly, aside from its benefits to the employee, it’s an economizing option for companies because MOOCs can train and serve an unlimited number of workers.

REPOST: Smart technology needs smart users

Regardless of how smart, green, or sophisticated technology gets, we can’t fully measure its efficiency unless we use it properly. However, that too, can be subject to numerous cognitive biases and misconceptions. Social science, in this case, could be of great help. Learn more from this article on Phys.org:

 

The energy transition requires digital technologies and interested users who will apply them intelligently. Credit: iStock / amesy

 

What’s the point of smart assistants and intelligent electricity meters if people don’t use them correctly? In order to cope with the energy transition, we need a combination of digital technologies and smart user behaviour – and the social sciences can help.

A quarter of energy consumption worldwide occurs in the home, and this percentage is increasing, even in OECD countries, despite more efficient fridges and better insulation. The amount of energy a household requires is strongly dependent on the behaviour and purchase decisions of the inhabitants – and both are rarely based on well-informed assessments.

On the one hand, households often invest considerably less in economical appliances and energy efficiency than would be financially advisable. On the other, people who do try to save energy often concentrate their efforts in areas with little impact: they’ll be fastidious about turning off the lights when leaving a room, but will leave the window open, while underestimating how much energy heating and hot water require – over 80 percent of the household total.

 

Information technology – our salvation?

Numerous companies, organisations and politicians are therefore hoping for digital progress. Intelligent electricity meters and clever apps are supposed to show people where they can most effectively save energy. The results thus far haven’t been particularly encouraging: in large-scale studies on smart electricity meters, the realized savings came to around two percent of a household’s total electricity consumption (or 0.5 percent of its total energy consumption).

This isn’t a huge surprise: during the development of these kinds of systems, the focus is generally on technical and legal questions rather than the issue of how to create designs that will encourage people to actively engage with them. Many system developers assume a user who weighs up and optimises information on the basis of rational economic considerations.

 

Smart technology can benefit from the social sciences

However, our behaviour is anything but rational. It is subject to numerous cognitive biases and misconceptions. Factors such as social norms (how other people think and act) and defaults (predefined settings) shape our thoughts and actions far more than most of us realise.

Whether we decide in favour of green energy, for example, isn’t just a matter of price: A German power company managed to increase the proportion of new customers choosing green energy ten times over, simply by placing green energy as the default selection in the dropdown menu. And it wasn’t that this change was leading customers to choose green energy by accident. In fact, a study carried out alongside this experiment showed that most people care about the environment – which makes it harder for us to actively refuse green power when the box is already ticked for us.

Decades of work in the social sciences have yielded insights into how information can influence human behaviour, and how we can present information in such a way that people will notice it and react accordingly. Using these insights, systems that provide feedback on energy consumption can be designed far more cheaply and effectively than is currently the case.

Energy providers already have years of experience with data analysis and customer segmentation, and they can now systematically test measures for practicality. However, in order to effectively convince a majority of customers to engage with their own energy consumption, insights into human behaviour are essential.

 

Social sciences can benefit from smart technology

Smartphones, intelligent gadgets and sophisticated sensors are gathering more and more data in many areas of our lives. They enable the provision of timely and situationally relevant information. Now, for the first time in human history, it’s possible – and cheap – to collect behavioural data “in the wild” and over long periods of time. This provides a valuable addition to the controlled, yet usually artificial, conditions of laboratory studies, which are often associated with high costs. Digital technology also makes it possible to tailor measures to an individual and to continually improve them.

 

Empowering people – not patronising them

Of course, the goal of this must be the development of systems that support us, but don’t manipulate us. As researchers, we need to ensure that data protection, individual privacy and scientific integrity are maintained. We all need to be aware of the responsibility implicit in working with personal data. In light of this, the combination of digital technologies and social sciences offers major opportunities for the energy transition – and beyond.

R&D: Creating the next economic phenomenon

Scientific and technological breakthroughs have propelled many of history’s greatest economic triumphs. In fact, it is almost always technology that served as catalyst to accelerating local or national development. The invention of the cotton gin, the discovery of oil, the arrival of the Internet, and the proliferation of mobile devices all have played a key role in shaping economies. As such, research and development (R&D) has become a crucial part of any economic plan—whether within a private organization or on a national level.

Image source: gatech.edu

R&D has become so important that many countries are willing to allocate a significant percentage of their GDP on innovation. It is perhaps the top reason why the likes of Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the United States have successfully led the world into high tech industries, even causing major revolutions with strong global impact. They have made exemplary advancements in just a matter of less than a decade (social media, for example, was not as widespread as 10 years ago).

As a multidisciplinary activity, R&D ultimately aims to make man’s tasks much easier, economically sound, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable.  It tries to effectively create an eclectic model in which all systems—whether corporate or governmental—can use to streamline processes or produce excellent products. While it primarily exists to boost revenues and foster financial competitiveness for the organizations that it is identified with, R&D has also been seen to create new cultures that provide a new understanding about the human condition.

Image source: globalspec.com

R&D has the strongest potential to build new economic empires, even more powerful than natural resources themselves (probably why some resource-scarce countries have succeeded to advance their economies). Hence, tech companies form a vital component of many investment portfolios, including those of top asset management companies like LOM Financial. R&D will continue making a central role in many fiscal agenda and will most likely lay out the blueprint of the next economic phenomenon.

REPOST: EU environment and science money moved to military fund

Subsidizing research and procurement of high-end defense technologies isn’t necessarily bad. However, diverting funds to the defense industry earmarked for environmental and climate protection may be an imprudent decision. More details from the EU Observer:

 

Preparation of the launch of a Galileo satellite in 2014 (Photo: European Space Agency)

 

The European Commission is proposing to finance parts of its proposed defence fund with money originally allocated to energy, environmental and scientific programmes.

The EU’s executive announced its plan to subsidise research and procurement of high-end defence technologies on Wednesday (7 June), but the origin of the money has gone largely under-reported.

In 2019 and 2020, the commission wants to redirect €145 million that was originally allocated to the Connecting Europe Facility, a programme aimed at integrating European energy markets, increasing energy security, protecting the environment, and promoting interoperability of digital service infrastructures.

Of that sum, €40 million was supposed to go to projects that contribute to “sustainable development and protection of the environment”.

The redirection has irked some environmental groups.

“If it’s correct that the European Commission is proposing to divert funds earmarked for environmental and climate protection to the defence industry – as appears to be the case – this is a new low,” said Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The security of humankind depends on having a liveable climate and healthy planet,” Stoczkiewicz told EUobserver in a written statement.

“More funds, not less, are urgently needed to bring about the transition to a clean, sustainable energy system. In this crucial period when the future of Europe is in the spotlight, the EU institutions needs to demonstrate they are focused on the health of people and planet, not on the interests of the defence industry.”

 

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Explaining Earth’s weirdest and most ‘beautiful’ natural phenomena

Tourism is a huge business. In places like The Bahamas and Bermuda, for example, it forms part of the economy’s core sectors, along with financial services. Opulent man-made structures and astonishing beaches are often the key drivers of high tourist traffic, but in some cases, ‘weird’ natural attractions could be just as intriguing.

 

Nature has never failed to amaze us with its mesmerizing wonders and even with the progress of science and research, many of the natural phenomena still remain unexplained. Some of these curiosities on the other hand have recently been answered and we are given the opportunity to enjoy these weird but beautiful marvels without losing out mind.

 

Here are some of the world’s weird but beautiful natural phenomena that should be in every traveler’s bucket list:

 

  1. Australia’s pink lakes

As a home to many geological phenomena, Australia is used to all the mysteries that nature has to offer. One example is Lake Hillier’s strawberry-milk lake, one of the country’s most famous bubble-gum colored bodies of water. Even if it was discovered in 1802, it was only recently when scientists concluded that the coloration was caused by a specific bacteria.

 

Image source: www.australia.com

 

  1. The red crab army

An annual crossing of millions of crabs in Christmas Island has made this national park in the Indian Ocean a popular destination for one of the world’s weirdest migrations. Locals and authorities do their part in protecting this yearly passage and even created barriers that divided the roads between cars and the red crabs.

 

Image source: christmasislandcrabs.com

 

  1. Earthworm poop “mountains”

These poop-piling worms are natives of South America and are called, “surales.” According to researchers, these earthworms are responsible for the thousand square miles of huge mounds in the wetlands of Columbia and Venezuela. These poop “mountains” can reach up to 16 feet across that follow polka-dotted patterns.

 

Image source: sciencenews.org

 

  1. Alien-like underwater crop circles

Seen off the coast of southern Japan, these underwater wonders are often dubbed as the crop circles of the ocean floor and was first spotted in 1995. However, it was only until 2011 when the culprit of these bizarre patterns was caught on camera – a male pufferfish for the sole purpose of wooing females.

 

Image source: boredpanda.com

 

 

REPOST: Dominica, the Caribbean’s Best-Kept Secret for Nature Lovers

Ever heard of the Caribbean island called ‘Dominica?’ This off-the-radar tropical destination boasts off some of the planet’s most pristine natural environments—from geothermic rock pools and lush tropical rainforests, to giant waterfalls and gorgeous black beaches—spread across an area smaller than New York City! Let this article from Vogue make you fall in love with this island:

 

Approaching Secret Beach by boat.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Liao

 

Tucked away between Guadeloupe and Martinique is unadulterated Dominica (pronounced dom-ah-nee-ka). Because it’s often confused with the Dominican Republic and lacks direct long-haul flights, the destination has predominantly remained under the radar. But with few places left in this world that feel unspoiled, the country truly stands out. A favorite of Vogue’s Fashion News Director, Chioma Nnadi—who used to live on Martinique and brought her family and friends to Dominica twice because she loved it so much—she blissfully sighs when I tell her I’ve just returned from the verdant island. “Everything about Dominica is kind of magical. The fact that it feels like a small village, but has so many natural and unexpected wonders packed into one island, is beyond anything I have ever seen before. If you’re expecting a picture-postcard Caribbean beach scene with powdery white sand, then you won’t find it [there], but that’s also what makes it special,” she raves. With two-thirds of Dominica covered in rain forest, 365 rivers weaving their way around the land, and a number of volcanoes and waterfalls, you’ll wonder whether or not you’ve been transported back to the Jurassic period. Don’t expect to come here for white-glove service the way you would in St. Barth’s or Grand Cayman, but rather to get a taste of what local, unsullied life is like. “Seeing how the indigenous Carib communities, which still build very traditional wooden houses literally on stilts, live was super-memorable,” recalls Nnadi. Now, who’s ready to pack their bags for the Caribbean’s “Nature Island”?

 

What to Do

Hike Waitukubuli Trail

The longest in the Caribbean, coming in at 115 miles, it’s recommended that you walk one segment a day, which would lead to a whopping two-week hike through the mountainous terrain. It’s no easy feat, but for the truly ambitious, it’s a scenic bucket-list endeavor that will put you face-to-face with sulfur springs, local farmers, and picturesque waterfalls.

A waterfall cascades into the ocean.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Liao

 

Sail Around the Island

For those who want a quick glance of Dominica without all the work of a grueling 14-day trek, hop on a speedboat and motor your way around. On the northern end you’ll come across Douglas Point, otherwise known as Split Rock, named after the slab of stone that halved underwater upon separating from its cliff, as well as a waterfall that cascades directly into the ocean.

 

Visit Boiling Lake

Be forewarned that this is known as one of the most difficult hikes you may ever endure. Located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the island’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, it takes about six hours round-trip and requires scaling steep inclines and trudges through sludgy mud and multiple rivers. It’s strenuous, but for the avid hiker, totally worth it when it comes to the panoramic views of the rain forest and a pit stop at a natural Jacuzzi before reaching the world’s second largest boiling lake.

 

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Modern marvels: Everyday consumer products and biotechnology

To most, biotechnology sounds like a big word, and it is. It sends the population imagery of scientists in large white lab coats, goggles, masks, and plastic gloves fiddling with their test tubes and petri dishes, transferring strains of bacteria from one container to the other. Enzyme research and microbiology play a big part in the industry, but that’s not all there is to it. Biotechnology plays a crucial role in the development of everyday consumer products as well, most of the populace just don’t seem to realize it.

 

Image source: dcmh.net

 

One of the no-brainers when it comes to biotech application is pharmaceuticals. Bio-processing is utilized in order to develop new medicine which are hard to reproduce due to purity quality control. Biotechnology has made a significant impact in the world of pills, and it is projected to grow in the future.

 

When drivers go to their nearest gas station, they can sometimes see fuel dispensers with large stickers labeled ‘biodiesel.’  This marvel of modern biotechnology helps reduce the carbon emissions from cars as a result of burning fossil fuel. It is not as popular as of the moment, but it will become a significant force in the aversion of climate change.

 

Image source: dailymail.co.uk

 

A lot of food that everyone eats is a result of biotechnology as well. Numerous biochemicals are used in the processing of sweeteners, flavors, and acidity regulators.  Those substances are then utilized in order to vastly improve the taste of everyday foodstuff. Drinks are no exception to this as well, most especially alcohol.

 

Biotechnology is a huge industry, with sector earnings in the US estimated to have grown on average of more than 10% each year over the past decade. As of 2015, about 670 public companies and over 200 thousand employees in the US and Europe generate some US$133 billion of biotech revenue. Biotech companies are among the fastest growing businesses in the world, making them important components in various investment portfolios, including those managed by large financial institutions like the LOM Group.

 

REPOST: 21 uses for the most ‘fascinating metal in existence’ (Business Insider)

One of the seven ‘metals of antiquity,’ silver has been used in a variety of applications throughout history. The following infographic published on Business Insider illustrates the many wonderful modern uses of this precious metal.

 

From our perspective, silver is the most fascinating metal in existence.

 

Silver is best known for having extraordinary properties that have made it an effective monetary metal for thousands of years. Currency buffs all know the metal as being rare, durable, fungible, malleable, ductile, and divisible, which match the properties of money agreed on by most economists. Silver, of course, has been used by civilizations ranging from Ancient Rome to the United States for monetary purposes.

 

However, these monetary uses are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of silver’s overall utility. More than 50% of all silver uses are for industrial applications, and it’s not just a single application that dominates that mix.

 

Silver has an array of properties that make it interesting for many practical purposes. Firstly, silver is the most conductive and the most reflective metal, which make it useful in batteries, solar panels, and electronics. It’s also an effective industrial catalyst for producing very important materials such as plastics or polyester. Lastly, silver is extremely anti-bacterial and non-toxic, making it handy for a wide variety of medical and technological applications.

 

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist