The looming threat of global climate change temporarily paralyzed the United States in 2013 when a nation-wide drought reached its second full year. Energy and food prices hit record highs; education and healthcare costs soon followed.
In today’s markets, it seems like cell phones and other data-transferring sensors are the only consumer products dropping in price. The majority of the world population relies on data-transferring sensors to get the best deals on essentials with prices rapidly fluctuating.
In the mid-2010s, small start-ups in Israel harnessed the voluntarily contributed data in order to create highly accurate algorithms. These early algorithms were sold to individuals in exchange for more of their personal data.
Now the market for Big Data based algorithms is thriving, particularly in the natural resource sector. For example, in order to learn to how to best conserve fresh water, individuals and communities contract an algorithm generator to tailor its mathematical models for their specific needs.
Because the customer is able to operate more efficiently, the customer will often choose to pay the algorithm generator directly with fresh water. In this way, the algorithm generators have accrued massive amounts of precious natural resources, which they sell at a premium to individuals who are not in a financial position to pay for algorithms; increasing not just the wealth gap, but a resource gap too.
As the pace of resource depletion slows, new “glocalized communities” are formed. New technologies means information can transfer easily and quickly across long distances; allowing the sharing of ideas and experiences between communities around the globe.
However, while information is transferred freely, high transportation costs hinder the movement of goods, sometimes even between nearby towns. Geographically small communities are establishing a more nuanced understanding of their environment and among them, a new mentality of “frugal innovation” flourishes dependent on a combination of accurate mathematical modeling and good old-fashioned scrappy thriftiness.
Community Kitchen Space
The big university nearby moved many of its classes online, and Lisa took advantage of the empty dining facilities to open a community kitchen space. Local farmers, like Henry, teach classes. People eagerly seek out conventional wisdom from different cultures as a low-cost way to improve their health and sense of wellbeing. Occasionally Henry virtually includes farmers from his sister cities to teach regional nutritional knowledge. With the proliferation of self-tracking devices, these age-old practices now have millions of data points to back up their efficacy. All the right metrics - diabetes rates, BMI’s, and blood pressure - are dropping. Those who still struggle with overindulgence are able to program their environments with timed interventions at potential moments of weakness.
$12 Big Macs
Lisa might be the only person thankful for the recent droughts. A decrease in availability of red meat and industrial-scale corn and soy means many of her patients have been left with no choice but to tap into local food systems. A few weeks ago she was thrilled when McDonald's was forced to yet again raise their prices. With Big Macs at $12, suddenly cooking at home started to make a lot more sense.
Hospitals had to scale down, so Lisa moved her practice to one of the many small, community clinics popping up all over town. With lower overhead costs, smart automated systems, and nimble adoption of EMR’s, patients have a much more seamless interaction with their health maintenance.
10 years ago the infant mortality rate in some neighborhoods was comparable to that of developing nations at 23 deaths for every 1,000 births. Frugal innovations like the Odon Device as well as increased availability of mobile ultrasound devices have lowered those rates, which in turn saves on costs of intensive neonatal care.
Localized Medical Deliveries
Sterile and durable alternative to plastics haven’t been approved for medical devices, so the clinics sometimes face shortages in supplies as the market price for oil fluctuates. Highly networked local communications systems allow for an alert to go out so that supplies are redistributed in the community.
Biometric ID from Ahmedabad
Fear of the wrath of Big Data seems to be subsiding and people readily volunteer their health data with an understanding that it will be used to improve the system. Still, companies are seeking profit by hacking these data streams. Lisa and her colleagues have been working with a sister city, Ahmedabad, India to build more resilient networks. In 2012 the successful implementation of a Universal Biometric ID system made Ahmedabad the poster child for deft data use. The income gap is closing as the formerly anonymous poor are able to claim their rights to social services and goods. The biometric ID system means medical and education records are portable, and absenteeism of health workers at rural clinics is a thing of the past - you have to scan in to get paid.
The Old Farmland
Henry’s father’s industrial methods are a thing of the past. The most valuable part of Henry’s education came from working in the field and getting his hands dirty. It’s this knowledge that has helped him and his family get ahead in the city where their condominium and communal garden is more profitable than their old farmland.
With terribly high transportation costs, it's much more profitable for Henry to grow food for his community from an urban farm. After checking with his ranalysts, Henry learned it would save him water to cross his native lettuce species with an invasive variety from a neighboring large city. By turning the invasive species into a part of his micro ecosystem, Henry also saves time on weeding! Henry has a plan to video chat with his friends in a distant sister city who will teach him the specifics of cross breeding lettuces.
Henry’s son came home from school earlier this week crying-- he had been teased and called a ?carnivore,? a derogatory term implying that he was wasteful because of his meat consumption practices._
In reality, most people still eat a small amount of meat but because of Henry’s family background, he chooses to serve meat a little more frequently than most. Still, Henry is by no means wasteful. Henry raises a pig and a few chickens in his backyard every year, sustaining them largely on compost and leftovers from weekly communal meals.
The old farmland
The old farmland Henry's father once tilled is mostly left fallow with some segments (indicated here in yellow) rented at low prices to experimental “ranalysts”? young, creative computer scientists that are experimenting with new crop pairings and utilizing Big Data to discover new farming techniques and efficient resource management practices. (Some rent out spaces in old farm-land, others are even on old oil-tankers in the ocean utilizing currents to follow rain patterns and raise crops).
The Field's House
The Field's waterfront house has never been more valuable. While the neighborhood used to be worthwhile for its exclusivity, now, waterfront property means that an industrious family can farm its own fish. When she gets home from school, Scarlett feeds the karp, double-checks the filter and the water oxygen levels, and takes a quick video with her phone. Her myFish app calculates how much the karp have grown through image recognition processing.
With the State's new taxes on Private Schools, many have closed. Point Park Preparatory Academy was one of them. Scarlett and Greg now attend Riverside Middle and High School. It's a foreign, almost surreal feeling, spending so much time in a school that had always been right across from their house. It's almost as if the school was waiting for them. Now that his children attend public school, Mr. Fields, a city official, has joined the movement for increased public school funding. Riverside was able to afford much of the high-tech science equipment that went up for sale when Point Park closed two years ago.
Riverside just finished construction on the AlgoLab, or Algorithm Lab. It's a join venture between Creative Thinking Department, which includes the arts and languages, and the Math Department. In the AlgoLab, students collaborate to find and develop creative new algorithms for processing and interpreting big data.
Greg has been hard at work with his classmates calculating an equation for measuring tree growth in the forests by measuring tree shadows through satellite imagery.
Student Fish Farming
After the transition to city-wide composting, the city felt pressure to adopt more full-cycle approaches to managing its own waste. The town-run fish farm uses tilapia and carp to filter waste from the nearby high school and town hall. Students oversee the process and compete to develop the most efficient algorithms for when and how to introduce new waste/feed into each of the 8 major tanks.
The winning student or team of students is promised an internship in city hall, where they will be given funding to pursue new algorithm-backed techniques for reducing waste.
Soon after Scarlett entered Middle School, she was driven out with her class into Longpine woods and shown her acre. The wooded acre doesn't belong to her. She can't sell it or trade it. It is hers to take care of, and she takes great pride in her responsibility.
Some of her classmates are a bit more obsessed with their own acres, even claiming to have named all of the trees in the plot. Scarlett uses the data satellite tracking service and monitors her acre as a carbon sink. She visits her acre once a month, scanning for birds nests and uploading photos on her phone.
MyAcre.org, home of the national Acre program, manages the world's largest fragmented national park. Acres are bought from private citizens, by private citizens and organizations, and then donated to the project. Satellite watchdogs protect the forests from would-be illegal loggers.
At the beginning of the semester, Greg's Environmental Science class was given a challenge. The nearby park, despite all of the changes in the town, had somehow been left behind. It's hideous manicured cemetery like style, permeated by infrequent trees, reflects neither the scrappy efficiency of urban farming, nor the town's burgeoning need for preserved public greens as a meeting space. The challenge is, what's the best use of the space?
Greg's classmates recognize his gift with math, and he has been tasked with evaluating the importance of the park as a carbon sink. If they level the land to make way for communal relaxation spaces, such as fields and playgrounds, where and how can they store the freed up carbon?
The City's annual goal is to reduce its carbon footprint by 5%. He estimates that the park, if all the trees are cut down, will release about 100 tons of carbon... This is really stressing Greg out.
Work and Charity
The algorithms might lower the cost of local, organic lettuce, but efficiency also means fewer people are going to restaurants. The Breakfast Bonanza AND the Chile Place went out of business, leaving Anya with exactly zero part time jobs. She managed to find a cleaning job washing windows nearby, but it's only 15 hours per week. There’s a small non-profit that raises money to give individuals like Anya “micro-algorithms,” but with resources so constrained across the city, the resulting scrappy thriftiness translates into few people donating to non-profits.
Isolated by Poverty
The glocalization of the city means that once abstract socio-economic divisions now form the borders of exclusionary neighborhoods. Homogenized communities of upper and middle class residents have fewer reasons to even walk through Anya’s low-income locality, isolating Anya and her community.
Allegedly, an innovative ride-share program that relies on personal, alternative-fuel vehicles is taking the place of the city-wide bus routes. This concerns Anya who knows that it will make it more difficult for her to find a ride from her low-income neighborhood to the wealthier neighborhoods where she cleans houses now that the restaurant and tourism industry has faltered.
Residents and Landlords
New building efficiency standards require any new residential buildings in the city to either supply its own energy or its own food. This is the excuse that Anya’s landlord gives her when he tells her that he cannot renovate her apartment. Though the current structure isn’t particularly environmentally friendly, the landlord’s algorithms have determined that it’s energy efficient for his residents to live in an old building with a broken elevator and no air-conditioning.
Conversely, a new desalination plant is being built next door. Though it’s energy efficient and environmentally friendly, it is loud and smelly-- two reasons why city leaders decided to build it in Anya’s neighborhood and not in their own.
Anya has been struggling under resource constraint her entire life. Eight years ago, when the high cost of consumer goods started inconveniencing the upper class enough for them to take action, politicians and activists in the news started proclaiming the eminence of algorithms.
Anya thought her life would change for the better, but “efficiency for all” did not include her. Unable to afford a customized algorithm, Anya doesn't have enough resources anyway to make managing them worth the expense.
Going to Ghana
Ae Sook has been commissioned by GAFE, the Global Agency For Energy conservation. GAFE was created a year ago, by 193 member states, to mobilize the leading minds in the world to come up with a solution for the world's water crisis. "Where were these guys a decade ago?" Ae wondered for the umpteenth time as she packed her bags to leave for the GAFE headquarters in Ghana.
Five years ago, during her free time, Ae came up with a blueprint for software that would monitor water usage at continental, state, regional, and individual levels. It is aided by unmanned drones with powerful sensors that collect data about water levels in large potable water bodies. The data is then transmitted to ground receivers and analyzed by support vector machines. This determines how much of the water can be used and how long the water will be available based on climate patterns.
Ae simulated a running version on 100 nodes in 10 countries. That caught the attention of GAFE, who mandated widespread adoption of the software for total monitoring of the global water crisis. It is being implemented in 100 of the 193 GAFE member states.
'Si' valley, which once nurtured innovation in all fields tech, can now barely afford to pay attention to the next icosa-core processor. Almost all brainpower is focused on writing software that would allow a careful and 'rationed' (that dreaded word) use of water.