Signals: Obesity and the Knowledge Worker ... We Are One ... and more

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Volume 2,
Number 1
November 3, 2015

Obesity and the Knowledge Worker

You’re a highly skilled knowledge worker of the Information Age, with decision-making authority over your equally skilled employees. Feeling good about yourself? Hang on.

Research has shown that having a high level of control over your job can mitigate the stresses involved that contribute to obesity. But a team of Australian researchers now observes that different types of job control—skill discretion and decision authority—have different effects: Skilled workers with freedom to use those skills had lower body mass index and smaller waist size, while workers required to make a lot of decisions had bigger waist size.

With a global population of overweight people approaching 2 billion, researchers are pursuing a wide range of factors behind the growing epidemic. “When looking at the wide system of factors that cause and maintain obesity, work stress is just a small part of a very large and tangled network of interactive factors,” said lead author Christopher Bean, a health psychology PhD candidate from the University of Adelaide, in a press statement.

Reference: Christopher G. Bean, Helen R. Winefield, Charli Sargent, and Amanda D. Hutchinson, “Differential associations of job control components with both waist circumference and body mass index,” Social Science & Medicine, Volume 143 (October 2015), published by Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.08.034.

Signals: health, information age, knowledge workers, obesity, stress, work

Combining 3D Printing and Clean Energy

Additive manufacturing processes (aka 3D printing) have come a long way from rapid prototyping. A project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory merges building and vehicle construction with clean energy systems to create a possible solution to the challenges of the modern electric grid, such as intermittent outages and the impacts of extreme weather.

For its Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE) demonstration, ORNL and partners printed both a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle and a solar-powered building, connecting them to create an integrated energy system. The intermittent power from the building’s 3.2-kilowatt solar array is balanced with supplemental power from the vehicle via the system’s central control.

“Working together, we designed a building that innovates construction and building practices and a vehicle with a long enough range to serve as a primary power source,” said ORNL’s Roderick Jackson, who led the AMIE demonstration project. “Our integrated system allows you to get multiple uses out of your vehicle.”

Details: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Image: Carlos Jones, courtesy of ORNL.

Signals: construction, energy, 3D printing

Hot Topic: Travel, Tourism, Traffic, and Technology

Advances in transportation technology over the past 50 years have enabled people to travel farther than ever, and to spend less time doing so. While investment in transportation has expanded employment and leisure opportunities, the total number of trips that people take has remained stable since 1965, according to Britain's latest National Transportation Survey, reported in the journal Significance.

Many current advances in transportation technologies go largely unseen, as in Fraunhofer IAO’s UR:BAN research initiative to create safer and more efficient streets in tomorrow’s cities. The project combines cognitive assistance technologies, networked traffic systems, and human factors research that will help predict what drivers, pedestrians, and others will do, preventing accidents and optimizing travel.

Other technologies affecting travel trends include smartphones, wearable devices, and social networking that have converged to create the booming sharing economy as exemplified by Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Nightswapping, and others, writes Singapore futurist Harish Shah.

“As these Sharing Economy models gradually converge with other developments also driven by technological evolution, they will very much impact the way the conventional hospitality industry players will have to do business,” Shah writes. Up next: telepresence robotics and 4D virtual reality that eliminate the need to travel altogether.

But technology is not the only force driving change in travel trends. As TechCast Global observes in its case study of Las Vegas, stresses in both the climate and the economy could leave desert-bound cities in the dust.

“Ten years from now, [Las Vegas] may have been evacuated and overrun by desert,” TechCast reports. “This gaudy entertainment capital faces serious challenges in the coming decades. They could be even worse in the years beyond 2035.”

News from AAI Foresight: New Website … We Are One!

This fall, AAI Foresight introduced an all-new website designed by Lisa Mathias. The site is designed to improve user navigation and integration with AAI’s publications and projects. As is the future itself, the site is a work-in-progress, so please browse and send us your feedback.

Plus, Foresight Signals celebrates its first birthday with this edition! Highlights of the past year include:

Also beginning with this edition (Volume 2, Number 1), Foresight Signals will be published monthly. It will still be free, and it will still cover a variety of stories for and about the foresight community. Share your stories, news, feedback, and signals with us and your fellow foresight professionals. Log in to comment here or write to consulting editor Cindy Wagner at

Mack Report: Coal’s Future Impacts

As coal-based energy declines, it will take other enterprises down with it, writes AAI Foresight Managing Principal Timothy C. Mack in his latest blog, “Coal and the Cascading Consequences of Change.”

Clean coal was long considered the wave of the future, but the U.S. government’s cancellation of the FutureGen project, which would have used oxy-combustion (considered the least-cost approach to clean coal), means more coal companies will fold.

One of the businesses affected by this decline is coal transportation, which often relies on waterways, Mack observes: “While water transport reductions largely impact inland waterway regions, systemic change is seldom confined, but cascades outwards, often producing unexpected negative impacts at the same time that industries such as renewable power grow.”

Read “Coal and the Cascading Consequences of Change.”

Signals: coal, energy, transportation