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Circular Economy: Doing More With Less

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From waste to wealth, circular economic models go beyond the ‘take-make-dispose’ principle to ensure more sustainable supply chains and products that have a second life.


The traditional economy is built on the idea of “take, make, dispose”. It’s linear, economically inefficient and unsustainable. But in a circular economy, companies look to take end-of-life products and push them back into the economy as a resource.

It’s a circular economic model that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, to extract the maximum value from them while in use, and to recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.

“So you’re continually using these resources and not using the planet’s finite resources,” explains Kirstie McIntyre, Global Director for HP Inc.’s social and environmental responsibility operations.

McIntyre is also a founding member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global organization focused on promoting the concept of a circular economy.

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“There are some big challenges in sustainability. There are challenges now, and they will be more acute in the future,” McIntyre says. “It also means companies need to question and innovate in fundamental ways. This isn’t just about a little bit of recycling.”

Circular economy theory questions how we can maintain a thriving economy within the limits of the planet, taking both resource depletion and climate change into account.

“When you work in sustainability, it can be quite depressing. There are plenty of smart people doing space exploration; Elon Musk is one of them. But I don’t think we can afford to wait for Elon Musk to find another planet for us to pull resources from, I think we’ve got to get on with this now, ourselves,” adds McIntyre.

HP’s framework revolves around doing more with less. It’s about moving away from simply recycling and into a functional circular economy. And it’s more than eco-printing for a “forest-friendly” future where more trees are planted than are cut down to enable printing operations.

“There are big sustainability issues in front of us. We have a large responsibility because we’re leaders in our industry. It’s about ensuring our products, where possible, have a second life. When that’s not possible, they’re taken apart so we can use the components,” says McIntyre.

Innovations that matter are innovations that have a positive impact. HP is just one of many companies working towards the idea of a circular economy; in 2018, trans-national consumer goods company Unilever revealed that its sustainable brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business, delivering 70% of its sales growth.

Caroline Laurie is the Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher. In a digital-first world where transparency and provenance are becoming increasingly prevalent, Laurie believes that businesses can actually benefit from becoming more sustainable.

“Sustainability drives you to think differently about your business. Customers’ expectations of big business are getting higher, yet their trust in big business is getting lower. You’ll very rarely find consumers making a choice between two products. But what they want to know is that you’ve made that choice for them. It is often about range editing. Customers want to trust in brands to do the right thing,” explains Laurie.

In other words, sustainability done right brings consumer trust, and with it business, commercial, social, and environmental benefits.

“None of us can solve these issues on our own in isolation. This is about complete value chain re-engineering. This isn’t about philanthropy anymore, it’s about real commercial sense,” ends Laurie.

Caroline Laurie – Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher. Picture: Supplied

The war on plastic straws

Coffee shops are turning to glass and paper as alternative sipping options, with some restaurants even offering tubes of pasta as an alternative, more sustainable solution to the traditional plastic drinking straw. There’s a war on plastic straws, and it is the start of both companies and consumers becoming more conscious of the use, reuse, recyclability and disposal of plastics… but is our focus wrong?

“Customers rarely understand the relative environmental impact of different types of materials,” says Andrew Smith, the CEO and co-founder of Yuppiechef, the kitchen-focused e-commerce website.

“They believe plastic is bad and paper is good, but this is not always true. Plastic is often recyclable and can have very little environmental impact.”

Moving away from single-use plastic – and applying the principles of the circular economy – the New Plastics Economy initiative was formed towards the end of 2018 with the over-arching goal that plastics never become waste. The organization believes that instead they should re-enter the economy as part of products made from recycled plastic material wherever possible.

Digital twins?

Technology has a massive role to play in creating a greener supply chain. For many, this means the use of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and digital twins. A ‘digital twin’ is a 1:1 digital copy of a product, process or service, used to provide deep technical training on a device or service without requiring a physical representation of said device or service. According to research and advisory company Gartner, 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021.

Jason Ried is the Founder and Managing Director of Fuzzy Logic, an innovative software development company based in South Africa’s Western Cape province that has created digital twins of large machinery for mines and automotive and healthcare companies.

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“Using augmented reality solutions on mobile devices or headsets (like Microsoft HoloLens), we allow users to ‘see’ a digital representation of the machinery they’re being trained on as if it was really there,” explains Ried.

“Users can get a sense of the scale and design without needing the real thing in front of them. They are able to assemble and disassemble the machine as many times as required to fully learn its intricacies, while each action is digitally tracked and stored, allowing management to understand how well each user performed.”

From a sustainability point of view, there are major benefits in the creation and use of ‘digital twins’ in business: not only do digital twins save time and money, they enhance learning by increasing the quality of training and retained knowledge.

Once digital twins are integrated into business workflows, companies like Fuzzy Logic can further enhance productivity by overlaying digital data onto physical objects.

“Users might, for instance, see steps to repair a part, while info like current temperature and pressure display alongside the machine, updating in real time as users interact with it. This strengthens the link between digital and physical objects,” he says.

Jason Ried the Founder and Managing Director of Fuzzy Logic. Picture: Supplied

Ultimately, the concept of a circular economy is about doing more, with less. Gartner’s Managing Vice President, Steven Steutermann, says it best:

“The goal is to deliver customer value with minimal waste,” Steutermann says. “For such a system to be efficient, it must be automated, and this is where the previous factors come into play. Using technologies such as digital twins and AI in an automated fashion enables the supply chain to execute against circular economy principles by acting on its own and ultimately becoming its own ecosystem.”

-Tiana Cline

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How A BlackBerry Wiretap Helped Crack A Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Cartel

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On August 18, 2017, four men travelling in a dual-engine speedboat carrying 1,590 pounds of cocaine were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard northwest of the Galapagos Islands.

The federal agents manning the channel chose to launch a helicopter to hover over the boat. With this aggressive move, the men began to jettison the bales of coke, each with their own GPS tracker so they could be picked up at a later date, according to the government’s narrative. They attempted to flee, and when they ignored the warning shots from the helicopter, the chopper fired rounds directly at the boat, disabling it.

After the bales were collected, the government realized they had just stopped a huge amount of cocaine from entering the U.S. In total, it carried a street value of $25 million. The four men, all Ecuadorians, were swiftly arrested and charged.

Though the cartel had set up a sophisticated, multilayered operation that sought to slip coke into the country and up to Ohio via land, air and sea, they had made a crucial error: They used BlackBerry phones. As the drug barons chatted about shifting cocaine and how to avoid the narcs over BlackBerry Messenger, a wiretap on a server in Texas was quietly collecting all their communications.

In a case that’s Narcos meets The Wire, federal agents have, since June 2017, been listening in on that server. And beyond that interception, Forbes can exclusively reveal it is yielding results. On Friday, an Ohio court is unsealing charges against one of the crew’s top brass: Francisco Golon-Valenzuela, 40.

Known as El Toro, Spanish for The Bull, the Guatemalan was extradited from Panama earlier this week and is appearing before a magistrate judge today. (Forbes hasn’t yet made contact with his counsel for a response but will update if comment is forthcoming.)

Described as one of various organizers and leaders of the unnamed cartel, El Toro is charged with conspiring to distribute at least 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on the high seas. As a result, he’s facing between 10 years and life in prison.

A key to BlackBerry 

For any organized crime operation, BlackBerry has always been a poor choice. No longer extant since being decommissioned in spring this year, BlackBerry Messenger did encrypt messages, but the Canadian manufacturer of the once-ubiquitous smartphone had the key. And all messages went through a BlackBerry-owned server. If law enforcement could legally compel BlackBerry to hand over that key, they would get all the plain-text messages previously garbled into gibberish with that key.

Compare this to genuine, end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal; they create keys on the phone itself and the device owner controls them. To spy on those messages, governments either have to hack a target device or have physical access to the phone. Both are tricky to do, especially for investigations of multinational criminal outfits. Police can put a kind of tap on a WhatsApp server, known as a pen register.

This will tell them what numbers have called or messaged one another, and at what date and time, but won’t provide any message content. This makes those apps considerably more attractive to privacy-conscious folk than those where the developer holds the keys, though sometimes to the chagrin of law enforcement.

It’s unclear how or when the DEA got access to the BlackBerry server. A so-called Title III order was issued, granting them court approval to carry out the wiretap, though that remains under seal.

It proved vital to the investigation. “There would be no case without the without the Title III on BlackBerry Messenger,” said Dave DeVillers, who was recently nominated as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “The defendants, the seizures, the conspiracy were all identified with the Title III.”

A spokesperson for BlackBerry said: “We do not speculate or comment upon individual matters of lawful access.” The company has, however, previously made its stance on encryption public: Unlike other major tech providers like Apple or Google, BlackBerry will hand over the keys if it’s served with a legitimate law enforcement request.

If the police did receive a key from BlackBerry, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 2016, it emerged that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had decrypted more than one million BlackBerry messages as part of a homicide investigation dating back to 2010.

As per reports from that time, it’s possible to use one of BlackBerry’s keys to unlock not just one device’s messages, but those on other phones too. Forbes asked the DOJ whether investigators would’ve been able to access other, innocent people’s BlackBerry messages as part of this wiretap, but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.

Fishermen and spies

However those BlackBerry messages were intercepted, they helped illuminate a dark criminal conspiracy constructed of myriad parts. As revealed in today’s indictment, made known to Forbes ahead of publication, the gang employed “load coordinators.” Think of them as project managers, helping locate drivers for trucks and boats while finding people to invest in the cocaine.

Fishermen and other maritime workers were also allegedly recruited. They would help both in refueling the drug baron’s ships, but also helping transport the powder, prosecutors said.

Other individuals became ad hoc spies, sharing information on the activities and locations of police and military personnel trying to intercept shipments, according to the government’s allegations. Other coconspirators sheltered individuals who were at risk of extradition—not that it saved El Toro.

Forbes first became aware of the investigation in 2017, when a search warrant detailed various BlackBerry intercepts. In one, a pair of cartel employees discussed having to put some cocaine transports on hold because of a multinational maritime exercise—the Unitas Pacifico 2017—taking place in their shipment lanes, according to the warrant. BlackBerry wasn’t the only major tech provider to help on the case; That search warrant was for a Google account linked to one of the suspects, which investigators believe was used for further logistics.

The investigation has revealed that the 2017 seizure wasn’t the only time the cops had disrupted what was evidently a criminal enterprise worth hundreds of millions. In May 2016, long before the BlackBerry wiretap went up and the investigation into the cartel had begun in earnest, U.S. authorities intercepted 1,940 pounds of coke near the Guatemalan-Mexico border, worth another $30 million.

Despite such successes, DeVillers told Forbes the American government will never interdict its way to ending the drug trade. “We can only disrupt it,” he added. “And if we turn the tools used by the cartels to run their organization against them, we do just that.”

-Thomas Brewster; Forbes

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How Virtual Therapy Apps Are Trying To Disrupt The Mental Health Industry

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Millions of Americans deal with mental illness each year, and more than half of them go untreated. As the mental health industry has grown in recent years, so has the number of tech startups offering virtual therapy, which range from online and app-based chatbots to video therapy sessions and messaging. 

Still a nascent industry, with most startups in the early seed-stage funding round, these companies say they aim to increase access to qualified mental health care providers and reduce the social stigma that comes with seeking help. 

While the efficacy of virtual therapy, compared with traditional in-person therapy, is still being hotly debated, its popularity is undeniable. Its most recognizable pioneers, BetterHelp and TalkSpace, have enrolled nearly 700,000 and more than 1 million users respectively. And investors are taking notice.

Funding for mental health tech startups has boomed in the past few years, jumping from roughly $100 million in 2014 to more than $500 million in 2018, according to Pitchbook. In May of this year, the subscription-based online therapy platform Talkspace raised an additional $50 million, bringing its total funding to just under $110 million since its 2012 inception.

The ubiquity of smartphones, coupled with the lessening of the stigma associated with mental health treatment have played a large role in the growing demand for virtual therapy. Of the various services offered on the Talkspace platform, “clients by far want asynchronous text messaging,” says Neil Leibowitz, the company’s chief medical officer.

Users seem to prefer back-and-forth messaging that isn’t restricted to a narrow window of time over face-to-face interactions. At BetterHelp, founder Alon Matas notes that older users are more likely to go for phone and video therapy sessions, whereas younger users favor text messaging.

“Each generation is getting progressively more mobile-native,” says John Prendergass, an associate director at Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ healthcare investment group, “so I think we’re going to see people become increasingly more accustomed, or predisposed, to a higher level of comfort in seeking care online.”

The ease and convenience of virtual therapy is another draw, particularly for busy people or those who live in rural areas with limited access to therapy and a range of care options.

Alison Darcy, founder and CEO of Woebot, a free automated chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to provide therapeutic services without the direct involvement of humans, says that with Woebot and other similar services, there is no need to schedule appointments weeks in advance and users can receive real-time coaching at the moment they need it, unlike traditional therapy. The sense of anonymity online can also lead to more openness and transparency and attracts people who normally wouldn’t seek therapy.

Along with stigma, the cost of therapy has historically acted as a barrier to accessing quality mental-health care. Health insurance is often unlikely to cover therapy sessions. In most cities, sessions run about $75 to $150 each, and can go as high as $200 or more in places like New York City. Web therapists don’t have to bear the expense of brick-and-mortar offices, filing paperwork or marketing their services, and these savings can be passed on to clients. 

BetterHelp offers a $200-a-month membership that includes weekly live sessions with a therapist and unlimited messaging in between, while Talkspace’s cheapest monthly subscription at $260-a-month, offers unlimited text, video and audio messaging.

But virtual therapy, particularly text-based therapy, is not suitable for everyone. Nor is it likely to make traditional therapy obsolete. “Online therapy isn’t good for people who have severe mental and relational health issues, or any kind of psychosis, deep depression or violence,” says Christiana Awosan, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

At her New York and New Jersey offices, she works predominantly with black clients, a population that she says prefers face-to-face meetings. “This community is wary of mental health in general because of structural discrimination,” Awosan says. “They pay attention to nonverbal cues and so they need to first build trust in-person.”  

Virtual therapy apps can still be beneficial for people with low-level anxiety, stress or insomnia, and they can also help users become aware of harmful behaviors and obtain a higher sense of well-being. 

Sean Luo, a psychiatrist whose consultancy work focuses on machine learning techniques in mental health technology, says: “This why some of these companies are getting very high valuations. There are a lot of commercialization possibilities.” He adds that from a mental health treatment perspective, a virtual therapy app “isn’t going to solve your problems, because people who are truly ill will by definition require a lot more.”

Relying on digital therapy platforms might also provide a false sense of security for users who actually need more serious mental-health care, and many of these apps are ill-equipped to deal with emergencies like suicide, drug overdoses or the medical consequences of psychiatric illness. “The level of intervention simply isn’t strong enough,” says Luo, “and so these aspects still need to be evaluated by a trained professional.

Ruth Umoh, Diversity and Inclusion Writer, Forbes Staff.

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AI 50 Founders Say This Is What People Get Wrong About Artificial Intelligence

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Forbes’ new list of promising artificial intelligence companies highlights how the technology is creating real value across industries like transportation, healthcare, HR, insurance and finance.

Naturally, the founders of the honoree companies are excited about the technology’s benefits and, in their roles, spend a lot of time thinking and talking about its strengths and limitations. Here’s what they think people get wrong about artificial intelligence.

Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby says she’s too often encountered the idea that AI is “evil.”

“AI—like any technology in history—is neutral,” she says. “It’s what we do with it that counts, so it’s our responsibility, as an AI ecosystem, to drive it in the right direction.” 

Companies need to be aware of how AI could widen bounds of inequality, she adds: “Any AI that is designed to interact with humans—Affectiva’s included—must be evaluated with regards to the ethical and privacy implications of these technologies.”

Sarjoun Skaff, CTO and cofounder of Bossa Nova Robotics, says that the biggest misconception he encounters is that artificial intelligence is actually, well, intelligent. 

“The truth is much more mundane,” he says. “AI is a very good pattern-matching tool. To make it work well, though, scientists need to understand the details of how it internally works and not treat it as an ‘intelligent’ black box. At the end of the day, making good use of great pattern matching still belongs to humans.”

Similarly, Aira cofounder Suman Kanuganti says that the public has “over-inflated expectations” for artificial intelligence.

“Garry Kasparov sums it up nicely: ‘We are in the beginning of MS-DOS and people think we are Windows 10,’” Kanuganti says. “AI realistically is still like a 3-year-old child at this stage. When it works, it feels magical. It does some things well, but there’s still a long way to go.”

So, no, we are nowhere close to “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI, where machines are actually as smart as humans.

“We’re still a long way from AI having the general intelligence of even a flea,” says David Gausebeck.

Despite the tendency to overestimate what artificial intelligence can do, the difficulty of building an effective system is often underestimated, some founders say.

“The systems you need to implement and manage machine learning in production are often much more complex than the algorithms themselves,” says Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer. “You can’t throw models at a complex business problem and expect returned value. You need to build an ecosystem to manage those models and connect their intelligence to your applications.” 

Put another way, you can’t just “sprinkle on some artificial intelligence like a magic sauce,” says Feedzai CEO Nuno Sebastiao.

One of the most common tropes that a handful of founders brought up was the idea that artificial intelligence is primarily a job killer.

People.ai founder Oleg Rogynskyy says that AI should be seen as a creator of new opportunities instead of a destroyer of jobs.

“In a nutshell, AI does two things: It automates repetitive low-value-add work for humans (which will indeed take low-complexity jobs away), which we think of as ‘Autopilot,’  and it guides people on how to do their work or other activities better (which makes humans more effective at what they do), which we call ‘Copilot,’” he says. “While Autopilot can take simple, repetitive and boring jobs away, Copilot is absolutely the best way to guide, train and educate humans on how to do new things.”

– By Jillian D’Onfro, Forbes

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