Breakthrough Spotlight: NYT Year in Ideas

So the New York times magazine has released their annual year in ideas article. Of course this is a great opportunity to find some breakthroughs!  Although all the ideas are incredible, interesting, inspiring and most importantly, pushes the possibilities frontier outward, here are some of my favorites and some comments!

Google Algorithm as Extinction Model, The

Allesina and Pascual borrowed Google’s PageRank algorithm and modified it to model ecosystems in the natural world. As they explained in September in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the modified algorithm was more efficient than existing ecosystem-extinction models at identifying which species’ extinction would cause the greatest number of other species in the food web also to go extinct. “Our algorithm is faster and computationally simpler,” Allesina says.

The PageRank algorithm could be useful in analyzing other networks too. The world features countless interconnected systems ranging in size from the minuscule (metabolic networks within a single cell) to the immense (international financial markets). After publishing the paper, Allesina received e-mail messages from dozens of researchers interested in adapting the PageRank algorithm. “PageRank is a technique for finding hidden flows in huge quantities of data,” says Yonatan Zunger, a Google software engineer who used to work on search technology and who contacted Allesina after seeing his research. “There are all kinds of networks. PageRank is enormously applicable beyond the Web.”

Could this help one find a whole new way of modeling economic systems?

Killer Earth

In his book “The Medea Hypothesis,”…, Ward argues that for billions of years the biosphere has been its own worst enemy.

It is certainly a revolutionary way of understanding man’s own relationship with nature. And everyone can understand his hypothesis, that mother nature is indiscriminate and will kill you will no remorse. All more of the reason to conquer it as means for survival, or at least fear its great power. This philosophical turn may not brood well for tree-hugging environmentalists.

Printable Batteries

The premise here is that if we can have such thin visual elements, how could we ever power them for the sake of design? Printable batteries should be able to help the contours of thin design stay consistent.  Already able to be put into practice in a rudimentary level, this battery could be the beginning for all sorts of gadgetry that improve design as well as functionality.

Waste Tracking

It begins with a garbage can outfitted with a scanner. When an unwanted item is dropped in, its UPC barcode or radio-frequency identification tag is read — as in the checkout line on the day it was purchased.The scanner tracks important information like the make, model and component parts and, when Smart Trash is fully operational, will send that data to a waste company’s Web site or a site like eBay to determine how much the item is worth to recyclers or in the secondhand market. That data can in turn be downloaded by the garbage collector at pickup, or relayed via a WiFi connection to the waste company, which will distribute the items accordingly — to e-waste handlers, recyclers and secondhand dealers. The user would get money for his trash in the form of rebates or sales proceeds.

A step towards making a more efficient after waste market for the disposable of valuable products. When natural resources become more scare, streamlining of this system is going to be essential to greasing the wheels of the consumer economy.

That is the ones that mostly stood out to me. Some others included lithium in the water supply, myth of the deficient older employee, random promotions and social networking as foreign policy.


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