Signals: GM Tobacco ... Hacking with the Fish ... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 15
June 2, 2015

GM Tobacco Could Boost Biorefineries

Tobacco and genetically modified organisms are often viewed as enemies of human and environmental health. Soon, they may take on more heroic roles, thanks to a plan to use engineered tobacco as “green factories.”

Many countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, have set ambitious environmental goals to decarbonize, which means finding substitutes for petroleum and the many industrial products on which they are based. Biorefineries to produce these alternative fuels and products require enzymes to break down biomass into sugars. But the enzymes are currently the most expensive part of the process.

To lower the costs, researchers at Bioforsk in Norway have their eye on tobacco, which has large leaves, is fast growing, and can be harvested several times a year. The researchers aim to insert genes into the tobacco to make the plants produce more enzymes, thus breaking down the cell walls of biomass more effectively.“

Many people are skeptical [of] GMOs, but in this case, we use tobacco plants with the help of biotechnology to produce valuable enzymes for industrial biorefinery,” says lead researcher Jihong Liu Clarke. I believe there are mainly benefits, because we produce cheap enzymes and use the tobacco plant in a health-friendly way.”

Source: Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. Photo: Erling Fløistad

Signals: biorefineries, energy, GMOs, industrial products, tobacco

Hackathon Seeks Sustainable Fishing Technologies

The U.S. State Department is sponsoring a “Fishackathon” to encourage innovative approaches to sustainable fishing. Last year’s inaugural event united 150 volunteer technologists at five U.S. aquariums to build mobile phone apps for fishers in developing countries. This year’s event, June 7 and 8, invites coders, designers, and enthusiasts around the world to #codeforfish.

The efforts will focus on five key problem areas for sustainable fishing: tracking and monitoring fish catches, reporting illegal fishers, registering boats and licensing fishers, identifying fish species and educating others about their market value, and mapping fish stocks to better inform policy makers.

Examples of specific challenges presented to the Fishackathon participants:

  • Track aquaculture feed ingredients from the original source to the harvested product.
  • A tool to provide sourcing information and access to local, sustainable seafood.
  • An app to trace and determine a catch's origin within the Indian Ocean.

“The ‘hacks’ might approach the issues in a number of ways, but all center on finding innovative tools to either gather and synthesize data from the ground up, or disseminate information from the top down,” says Thomas Debass, deputy special representative for global partnerships at the Office of Global Partnerships in the U.S. State Department.

Source:Five ways technology can help sustainable fishing,” Thomas Debass, Devex #innov8aid, The Development Innovators Blog (May 28, 2015). Details:

Signals: fishing, innovation, sustainability

Call for papers! If you are working on a foresight analysis project, AAI Foresight would welcome the opportunity to publish your work in the Foresight Reports series. Please contact Cindy Wagner, consulting editor, at

Improving Productivity Requires Training the Supervisors

Improving supervisors’ competence and reducing burdensome regulations are the keys to better productivity, according to a survey of small and medium-sized enterprises in Finland.

The costs of labor, particularly those associated with social security, were named the biggest obstacle to productivity, notes the study published by Lappeenranta University of Technology.

The new survey, a follow-up to 1997 research, revealed key changes in the sources of challenges over the past two decades. Previously, small and medium-sized businesses struggled with lack of resources, but now point to external factors such as legislation and their employees’ trade union activities.

Significantly, the companies surveyed also noted a lack of competence among supervisors as an obstacle for improving productivity. The researchers observe that, as productivity enables enterprises to thin out their workforces, the skills of supervisors take on more importance.

“Companies must see to facilitating the further education of their supervisors,” says senior researcher Sanna Pekkola. “Supervisors must also personally ensure that they have the required competence and maintain it. This requires a willing and active perspective with regard to further education and up-keeping one’s knowledge.”

Source: Lappeenranta University of Technology.

Signals: business, labor, management, productivity, training

News for the Foresight Community

  • In the News, CBS-San Francisco: Driverless cars are arriving ahead of schedule, and “the transformative impact is going to be vastly greater than we realize,” says Paul Saffo. While such vehicles may be safer for their occupants, they’ll also be massive data-collection machines—as susceptible to hacking as any other device, Saffo notes. Read more:Why Driverless Cars Both Excite and Terrify Automotive Futurists” (posted online May 20, 2015)
  • In the News, Fast Company: Robots and algorithms will replace jobs ranging from military troops to stock traders, says Graeme Codrington (TomorrowToday Global). But in 2025, humans will still be in hot demand for tasks requiring higher-level thinking and judgment, but they’ll be doing so “on demand” as freelancers or contractors. Joe Tankersley (Unique Visions) suggests a few new careers: “tribers” who can build ad hoc teams, urban artisan farmers and advisers, and end-of-life planners. Read more:The Top Jobs in 10 Years Might Not Be What You Expect” by Michael Grothaus, Fast Company (posted online May 18, 2015)
  • New book: The Future of Business edited by Rohit Talwar examines trends that will be affecting businesses over the next 10 to 20 years. More than 50 futurists contributed to the volume, including Maree Conway (“Foresight Infused Strategy”), Gray Scott (“Automation, Digitization, and Simulation”), and Dan Bubley (“Future of the Phone Call”). The book comes out June 11 and is available for preorder (discount coupon code rt1) at Fast Future Publishing.
  • New book: Lone Wolf Terrorism Prospects and Potential Strategies to Address the Threat, written by Ted Gordon, Yair Sharan, and Elizabeth Florescu, is based on a Real Time Delphi study conducted by The Millennium Project. The study explores the phenomenon of lone wolf attacks, including more than 100 case studies, as well as weapons that might be used in the future, emerging detection technologies, and defense strategies. Details: For a 25% pre-publication discount, use the coupon code “DISC" at checkout.
  • In Memoriam: Michael Michaelis (1919-2015). Former World Future Society board member Michael Michaelis died peacefully on May 19, less than a month before his 96th birthday. He lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After serving on the Advisory Council that led to the formation of the World Future Society, Michaelis was invited to become a founding board member in recognition of his vital connections with a vast array of thinkers and leaders in government, business, and academia. He also contributed two inspiring articles to The Futurist magazine during the organization’s formative years: “Building the World We Want” (June 1968) and “The Management of Change” (February 1971). A memorial is planned for fall 2015. Details: Pumphrey Funeral Home.