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Worldwide, The Rate of Technological Adoption is Accelerating. That’s Very Mixed News.

James Manyika, director at the McKinsey Global Institute, explains that technology isn't just for rich countries anymore.

James Manyika: Technology is no longer something that’s just restricted to large companies or large countries or even rich countries. So everywhere on the planet now has access, you know, at least it has the potential to have access to technology. People in developing economies often own smartphones and technologies at equivalent rates to people in the developed world. In fact, quite often they’ll have that before they even have sanitation in some cases. So the pervasive nature of technology is one of the most important features of it. The other important feature is just the rate and pace at which adoption is actually occurring. Just to put some comparative numbers on this: If you think about television, it took something like 38 years before television penetration got to the first 50 million people. It took Twitter nine months. So just the rate in acceleration in which adoption occurs is pretty phenomenal. And then the other feature that becomes very interesting about technology is not just its pace and scale and the rate of innovation, but the economic aspects of technology.

So when you have things in digital form, that actually has a profound impact on how it affects the economics of things. So digital technologies have this feature that economists think of it as the non-rivalry, non-excludability of it. And what that means is that my use of something that’s a digital form doesn’t necessarily as a physical technological matter preclude your use of it. The good news about that is that from a user standpoint, this is all good because that’s what economists talk about is consumer surplus. So the fact that it doesn’t cost us that much more to get access to information whether it’s educational material, entertainment material, that’s all good for us as consumers. I think it puts new challenges for companies because now you have to think about how do you generate revenues and monetize this. We’ve seen how technology has caused, you know, with these marginal cost economics, disruptions in many, many, many, many industries whether it’s the needier worlds, the entertainment world. So it has these disruptive effects. But for users, it’s generally good in the sense that it’s all useful information that you get. The investments in technology infrastructure and technology assets is now pervasive across every sector whether it's — we’re talking health care or we’re talking the public sector or we’re talking about education or we’re talking about industrial. In fact, one of the more exciting things about in the industrial arena is what everybody now refers to as the Internet of Things.

That for the first time, we’re now going to be connecting machines, sensors, physical things of any sort that we like. That’s going to have a huge and profound impact. So think about all the machine-to-machine communications, interactions. Think about the possibility for how we manage our use of energy, how we manage our homes, how we manage these settings — whether it’s the workspace, the home, the car — when machines and things get connected. What I find interesting about that in particular is what that does to questions about industry’s trend competition. I think we always used to imagine that, you know, companies would compete within their sectors. So this idea is, you know, sectors, made sense at some point. But when you have technology and technology-based assets, I think it becomes possible to enter many, many sectors on the base of the technology platforms. Think about the fact that now we’re talking about Amazon as a computing company through their Cloud services. Think about the fact that you now have Alibaba applying for banking licenses. Think about the fact that some of the most profound innovations and transportations are being done by technology Internet companies — Google and others. So I think when one of the things that happens in technology makes it possible for participants and competition to come from often outside the sector. So that’s one big change to industry structure. Another big change to industry structure is on the question of what it takes to compete. So you’re now going to see many, many small companies be able to have kind of the power, the access, and the potential to disrupt sectors that historically you’d have associated with just large companies. So this idea of competition coming from outside the sector, outside the geography, and very often from much smaller companies. I think it’s going to have a profound impact on the structure of industries and the economy.

 

James Manyika, director at the McKinsey Global Institute, explains that technology isn't just for rich countries anymore. Smartphones, Internet connections, and other forms of exponential technology have become pervasive at an absolutely unprecedented rate. While mostly a positive change, with this transition comes the possibility of unforeseen economic consequences, in particular with regard to how difficult it will be for local companies to compete with international juggernauts. Dr. Manyika's latest book is No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends..

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

NASA
Surprising Science
  • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
  • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
  • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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