Signals: Minor Infections, Major Problems... Waterless Recycling... Autonomous Autos... and more

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Volume 1,
Number 7
February 2, 2015

Minor or Hidden Infections May Accelerate Mortality

If you escaped that horrific flu or other infection that’s been going around in your neighborhood, school, or workplace, you may count yourself lucky. Maybe you only got a mild infection, or felt well and kept on working just as effectively as ever. The bad news is that such hidden or mild, untreated infections could be shortening your life.

In studies of migratory birds with mild malaria infections, researchers at Sweden’s Lund University discovered that the cumulative effects of chronic infections shortened the birds’ telomeres—the caps on chromosomes that protect DNA—accelerating the aging process.

“The small, non-measureable effects of the chronic disease appear to underlie the accelerated shortening of the telomeres. When the telomeres get too short, this has a fatal effect and causes premature death,” said Lund researcher Dennis Hasselquist of the Department of Biology, a member of the research team. “If this is a general mechanism for any type of mild, chronic infection, which is quite possible, it will mean our study is of major interest to understand the impact that mild illnesses can have on other organisms, including humans.”

Reference: M. Asghar, D. Hasselquist, B. Hansson, P. Zehtindjiev, H. Westerdahl, S. Bensch, “Hidden costs of infection: Chronic malaria accelerates telomere degradation and senescence in wild birds,” Science (January 23, 2015), Vol. 347, No. 6220, pp. 436-4381. DOI: 10.1126/science.1261121

Signals: aging, health, longevity, telomeres

Dry Innovation for Plastics Recycling

Water-intensive processes for recycling plastic waste could one day be replaced with new techniques that don’t require liquids. A dry recycling process developed by Ak Inovex of Mexico also promises to reduce energy consumption, use less space, and cut costs.

Using customizable machinery, the process can work with any type of plastic material, such as Styrofoam and polystyrene, to produce small plastic beads or pellets. Rather than dehydrating the original materials at high heat and then cooling them with water, Ak Inovex uses a patent-pending process of cooling through contact with special walls.

The company now plans to add biodetergents to the cleaning process for the recycled plastic products, thus keeping water use and costs at the lowest possible levels. Ak Inovex was a participant in Cleantech Challenge Mexico, a contest to promote the development of green companies. (See also “Power Pedaling with Bamboo Bike,” Foresight SIGNALS, Vol. 1, no. 6.)

Source: Investigación y Desarrollo [in Spanish].

Signals: green technology, innovation, Mexico, plastics, recycling, water

Liability and the Self-Driving Car: Report from Timothy Mack

The auto industry is clearly convinced that the question of autonomous vehicles is “not if, but when.” But the potential impacts on the industry, such as liability issues, are less clear.

Motor Trend analyst Frank Markus notes a number of relatively clear benefits of a working national autonomous-vehicle system, such as reduced accidents, increased mobility for nondrivers, reduced fuel consumption, and intelligent driving patterns.

But one of the most interesting questions regards autonomous and driver-controlled vehicles sharing the same roadways: If there are far fewer accidents, there will still be accidents, but probably fewer insurers to cover them. Who is responsible when accidents happen? Who pays? Rather than owners of autonomous vehicles taking out insurance (and paying premiums), would it fall on manufacturers to indemnify their products?

One possibility is public/private special compensation funds to underwrite unintended consequences. Owners of older, non-autonomous cars might be required to financially subsidize the rollout of presumably safer autonomous vehicles and road systems. Of course, manufacturers’ liability remains a toss-up in any court of law.

Timothy Mack is the managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc. This report was adapted from the Foresight SIGNALS Blog. Image credit: Sam Churchill, via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Signals: AI, autonomous vehicles, insurance, law, transportation

Scholarly Researchers Embrace Skepticism

A journal devoted to exploring the philosophical concept of skepticism has now been included in Scopus, a database of peer-reviewed literature that covers nearly 22,000 titles by 5,000 publishers worldwide. Scopus offers researchers wide access to tools facilitating tracking, analysis, and visualization of research.

Brill’s International Journal for the Study of Skepticism, edited by Diego E. Machuca (CONICET, Argentina) and Duncan H. Pritchard (University of Edinburgh), publishes articles and organizes symposiums on all aspects of skeptical thought and current problems, including debates on epistemology, metaethics, and the philosophy of religion, among many other topics.

“The journal is fully committed to the highest standards of clarity and rigor, and serves as a forum for debate and exchange of ideas among leading international philosophers and scholars,” according to its mission statement.

Brill is an international academic publisher based in Lieden, the Netherlands, covering Middle East and Islamic Studies, Asian Studies, Classical Studies, History, Biblical and Religious Studies, Language and Linguistics, Biology, International Law, and more.

Details: Brill press release. Follow @Scopus on Twitter.

Signals: academic publishing, philosophy, research, skepticism

Futurists and Foresight in the News

Global Strategic Foresight Community: The World Economic Forum has established a new future-oriented interest group comprising leaders and stakeholders in government, industry, and the foresight profession. Among the participants are The Art of the Long View author Peter Schwartz of, The Millennium Project founder Jerome C. Glenn, NATO strategic analyst Stephanie Babst, and Julius Gatune of the African Centre for Economic Transformation. The GSFC will “provide a peer network to compare and contrast insights as well as to positively shape future-related industry, regional and global agendas.” Details

Survey on New Approaches in Foresight: Futurists around the world often develop new methodologies, which may affect outcomes in their foresight work. To better understand these new approaches and their impacts on science, technology, and innovation policy around the world, particularly Southeast Asia, The Future Impacts Consulting firm invites Foresight SIGNALS readers to participate in a brief survey (deadline February 6). Details: Contact Cornelia Daheim,

Technolife 2035: The English-language version of Teknoelämää 2035 by Finnish futurists Elina and Kari Hiltunen is now in progress and should be available soon. Elina’s previous book, Foresight and Innovation: How Companies are Coping with the Future, available in both Finnish and English, offers unique foresight tools that she has developed, such as the TrendWiki, Futures Windows, Strategic Serendipity, and the Futuropoly board game. Details

Earth Policy Institute to Close: Leading environmental policy expert Lester R. Brown has announced his plans to retire from the think tank he founded in 2001. EPI will close by July this year, and the English-language versions of its principal publications will be housed at Rutgers University, Brown’s alma mater, in the new Lester R. Brown Reading Room. Brown’s career, spanning more than half a century, was devoted to measuring the planet’s resources and assessing its well-being, and issuing urgent warnings on such problems as climate change, overpopulation, and unsustainable consumption of resources. Details

Frances Segraves, Former Futurist Staff Editor: We sadly report the passing of our friend and former colleague, pioneering newspaper journalist Frances Segraves, on January 14. She was 87. Frances was a staff editor for The Futurist magazine and the World Future Society Bulletin, retiring at the end of 1998. Before joining WFS to work with her longtime friends Ed and Sally Cornish, Frances was one of the first female reporters in the 1950s to cover hard news stories, working for The Frederick News, The Baltimore Sun, Bethlehem Globe-Times, and The Washington Star. She was also an activist in the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Details