The world needs reimagining.
We must question our assumptions.
We need to cast our gaze beyond the obvious.
We must SHIFT our PERSPECTIVE.
Is there more than meets the eye?
The alternatives may be unexpected.
The implications may be ambiguous.
The question remains:
Are you ready to reimagine government?
Thought Provocations by Jonathon Keats
The Edge of Government innovation experience challenges visitors to think in new and often counter-intuitive ways about how to solve the most pressing challenges of our time. The main purpose of the exhibit is to inform, inspire and trigger new thinking through interactive experiences.
Humans have lived on Earth for several thousand years. Microbial life has been here much longer, surviving extreme climates and catastrophes that may anticipate future perils. Microbes are resilient, and free of human biases.
Could we extract policy advice from microorganisms? The plasmodial slime mold is an ideal candidate, expertly managing risk to optimise opportunities. Could slime mold resolve dilemmas that governments struggle to address? Could we engage other unconventional forms of intelligence when human brainpower is insufficient?
This thought experiment proposes a new approach to solving wicked problems by modelling human conditions in a Petri dish and observing how slime molds behave.
What other intelligences could you tap into from unconventional sources?
In July of 2022, the flow rate of the Danube slowed to one third its summertime average. For life living on the river, the perspective might have been different; relative to the flow rate, everything else in the world sped up.
Our clocks are precise but nature may be more accurate. Could rivers calibrate behavioral patterns? Could they provide the missing feedback mechanism needed for humans to synchronize their lives with the environment?
This thought experiment inverts the normal power structure in which humankind tries to dominate nature. The direction of control is reversed. What would happen if your watershed were in charge? What else could nature regulate?"
What else could nature regulate?
The standard metre is defined as the distance travelled by light in 1/299,792,458 of a second. This length is the mathematical basis for other metric units, from litres to watts.
What would happen if we recalibrated the metre to correspond to your heartbeat? This measurement system would be tailored to the individual instead of the masses. From the size of A4 stationery to the brightness of a 10-watt light bulb, the whole world would be individualised. Would this enhance or diminish people’s lives?
This thought experiment confronts the growing tension between individualism and the common good. While fulfilling personal preferences can weaken community ties, focusing on community needs may blur individual identity. Balancing between the two exposes the dilemma.
What else can be better understood by posing a paradox?
Dalian Environmental Tech.Co.,Ltd
The Edge of Government innovation experience challenges visitors to think in new and often counter-intuitive ways about how to solve the most pressing public challenges of our time.
Contributors & partners:
Using 500-million-year-old intelligent city planners
Imagine if governments were to harvest the power of other intelligent lifeforms to optimise urban transit routes and enhance transportation systems, minimising congestion and improving efficiency. The slime mold may not have a brain, but it displays second to none navigating skills to get resources from point A to point B as efficiently and resiliently as possible.
Building on this premise, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, designed a virtual model that uses slime mold’s networking abilities to create a portion of the Toronto metro. The results suggested that the computer model could create a more efficient and resilient urban transit system. The Canadian model generated a network that was 40% more resilient than human-engineered equivalents, for the same travel time. Urban city planners could use this model to design new networks or expand current ones.
Slime mold has been used for similar applications not only in Canada, but also the United States, Japan and the UK. Imagine how this single cell organism could help the public sector develop solutions to improve the distribution of energy resources and enhance the efficiency of communication networks.
What other intelligent life forms could influence a more sustainable future?
Training Artificial Intelligence based on Biological Models
The Deep Green project is the result of a design innovation collaboration between ecoLogicStudio in the UK and the United Nations Development Program. Deploying Artificial Intelligence Deep Green gathers hi-resolution data on urban landscape and infrastructure to produce simulated scenarios of sustainable urban development based on recognised biological models. A form of generative AI drives the simulation of scenarios based on biological models of the growth of Slime Mold. These plans are visualized in a series of speculative hi-resolution drawings, rendered images as well as experienced in immersive virtual reality scenario rooms.
This approach to urban planning recognizes the invisible layers of informal urban spaces that develop organically, and that supplement existing public services. For example, 99% of Guatemala City's 2,240 garbage sites have no environmental systems and are classified as illegal, but they grew out of the needs of the community. Strategic decision making at municipal level fails to account for the complexity of these community-driven activities. Deep Green's approach, modeled around the behavior of slime mold, is able to better simulate sustainable urban development, combining central planning with local self-organization.
Two proposals emerged in the Guatemala City analysis: a re-wilding plan foster a new coexistence between human and wild animals, and an urban agriculture plan proposing a method to guarantee food security and to employ the impoverished rural population. The aim is to find new synergies and direct investments where and when they have the most potential to engender positive change. Other Deep Green scenarios include Mogadishu, Somalia, and Vranje in Serbia.
What other sources of intelligence can be codified into AI?
Finding rich biodiversity data in unexpected places
What if governments were to use parasitic worms to collect biodiversity data? At present, gathering this information is expensive and time consuming, especially in more remote places where access is more difficult for humans. Yet, monitoring the health of our ecosystem is essential to adopting well-informed and effective conservation strategies.
A study led by a team of American and Chinese researchers has highlighted what could be an alternative way to collect biodiversity data by detecting species with the help of an unlikely ally - leeches. Profuse in southwest China, bloodsucking leeches are gluttonous for any vertebrate that crosses their path. Their ability to preserve their blood meal for months makes them the perfect organism to record what animals roam where they thrive.
For this study, over 30,000 leeches were collected by park rangers in the Ailaosham National Nature Reserve in Yunnan, China, over a period of three months. From the leeches’ blood, the researchers successfully identified the DNA of all the animals the predatory worm had come into contact with, including mammals like cattle and leopard cats, as well as amphibians, reptiles and birds. More time and cost-efficient than manual methods or camera traps, this natural screening tool could help governments assess biodiversity in a more effective and standardised way. Similar promising studies were also conducted in Indonesia, Vietnam, Madagascar and Bangladesh.
What other species could governments employ to collect intelligence?
Policies addressing the ‘elephants in the room’
Only 4% of the world’s mammals are left in the wild. This small number is facing growing threats. Climate change, increasing interactions with humans who share the same territory, and ineffective policy-making decisions, all have the potential to negatively impact the wellbeing and survival of animals, with devastating consequences for us all.
What if policymakers included the voices of animals in their decision-making process? Animals in the Room (AIR), an international group of philosophers, scientists, and animal welfare specialists, is currently developing work in Kenya, in partnership with key stakeholders, to craft a deliberative approach to including elephants perspectives in key decision making.
The process involves integrating insights into animal communication from local communities living in close proximity to the elephants, and leading scientific experts, with interventions designed to orient humans (e.g., government, conservation, NGO’s) toward animal’s perspectives, including artificial intelligence to “listen” to animals. Together, these stakeholders will form a deliberative assembly tasked with making recommendations for resolving conflicts. The process is being developed in India, Canada, the US, and Italy.
How else could we consider other species when drafting policies?
Animals and other creatures have a say in shaping government priorities
Government planning is designed around human needs. But policy decisions not only affect humans, they also have an impact on our ecosystem and habitats, from plants and animals, to fungi and micro-organisms. What if we were to acknowledge and accommodate this diverse array of forms of life, giving also non-human inhabitants a seat at the planning table?
This is what the city of Helsinki pilots through game-based methods to ignite the imagination of envisioning the futures as a part of its Carbon-negative City scenario making. Helsinki aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030, carbon-zero by 2040, and thereafter carbon-negative.
To realise its carbon-negative future, the role of humans as the only central focus of planning is extended to include more holistically planetary wellbeing, multispecies justice and restoration of biodiversity to reach the long-term targets that essentially depend on earth system boundaries. Other cities known for their efforts in implementing urban planning strategies that consider the wellbeing of both humans and diverse species, and foster biodiversity, include Singapore, Berlin, Germany; Melbourne, Australia; and, Curitiba, Brazil.
How else could governments include other species in their planning pocesses?
Measuring time inequality
Countries are acknowledging time as both a necessary commodity and a human right, advocating for a reform of traditional work-life balance scenarios. Barcelona has led the charge as one of the first European cities to include time-use in the city’s policy agenda, inspiring over 75 other cities globally, including Strasbourg, France; Milan, Italy; and, Montevideo, Uruguay, which are part of the World Regional and Local Governments Time Network. Examples of these innovative public policies that governments are already implementing range from enacting Time Policies Laws and appointing a Chief Time Policies Officer to providing free child education and reorganising city services schedules to reduce rush hour traffic.
Time poverty —the lack of time for oneself —has far-reaching effects on physical and mental health, productivity, equality, and sustainability. Recognising the right to time as the fundamental basis for new public policies is the key to addressing time poverty and inequalities while fostering a balanced use of time. These cross-sectoral policies aim to create a more equitable, efficient, sustainable, and healthier society, enabling implementation from different governance levels.
The laws have the potential to impact 88% of employees, while increasing productivity by 15% and positively impacting GDP. 35% of women currently experience time poverty, and can be provided with two additional hours of free time per week. Commute times can be reduced by 40%. Finally, overall happiness and wellbeing will improve by 10%
Leading institutions in support of these policies have endorsed the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies and convene annually in Barcelona for the World Time Policies Summit, also known as Time Use Week.
What else can we do to value and protect personal time?
Mapping climate projections to current realities
How much easier would government planning and policy making for climate change be if we could visit the future today to experience what we need to prepare for? The Climate Analogues tool is a CSIRO developed web platform that uses climate modelling to help today’s users identify cities that are experiencing the climate that their own city is projected to have in the future.
Widely used since its initial publication, the platform has proven particularly valuable in the agricultural sector, contributing to adaptation strategies in an industry worth over $70 billion per annum in Australia. It is also an important resource for individuals and organisations across various sectors, offering an accessible introduction to climate change adaptation over the 21st century.
Users can select pre-set scenarios for the future climate based on three emission scenarios, selecting from three time periods (2030, 2050, or 2090), manually adjusting temperature and rainfall thresholds if needed. By understanding what matched cities currently experience as their climate, this can assist organisations and policy makers become better prepared for their city’s future.
What else can we do to encourage learning that helps prepare us for the future?
Recreating lost memories with AI
Dementia is a neurological disease that affects a person's memory and ability to think and communicate. But what if we could help dementia patients recreate these memories? Synthetic Memories explores the use of generative Artificial Intelligence as a reminiscence therapy tool for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Collaborating with social workers and neurotherapists, the project studies how convincing image projections of the past have the potential to slow disease progression.
Beyond its use in the healthcare industry, Synthetic Memories also reconstructs the memories of migrants and elder populations who are losing access to their past. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, Synthetic Memories created new visual memories of migrant communities from different areas about the impact of gentrification on the city's urbanism through architectonic memory regeneration.
This initiative not only addresses societal challenges, but actively contributes to the discourse on responsible AI deployment, emphasizing empathy and cultural inclusivity.
How else can memories preserve our history?
Our data for our benefit
Aapti Institute is a global public research institution focusing on the intersection of technology and society based in Bengaluru, India. Identifying challenges of imbalanced data control and lack of value in the data economy, Aapti proposes Data Stewardship as a potential solution, citing structures like Data Cooperatives, Trusts, and Exchanges.
Based on their research Aapti emphasises the suitability of the cooperative structure, particularly for women and women’s empowerment, given how common cooperatives are and their democratic governance structure for shared assets. Women’s data cooperatives address invisibility in data, enhance decision-making power, facilitating financial access, and creating gender-specific value propositions. This is especially valuable in the agricultural sector where there is increasing feminisation of the labour force, and women are unable to deploy their data meaningfully to draw value from it.
To explore this idea further, Aapti Institute along with collaborator Data2x worked with a women’s farmer cooperative with more than 1000 members in India to demonstrate the need for and value of data pooling for better credit. Deploying co-design methods to build bottom up governance of data, Aapti worked with the cooperative to design road maps for implementation for adding a data layer to the cooperative. They are currently supporting two organisations in Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.
What else can we do to create a shared sense of ownership in our communities?
Innovation Matchmaking Platform
Manthan is a initiative addressing challenges faced by startups in innovation. It emphasises emerging technologies, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and centres of excellence to support top-tier startups. The platform aggregates global problem statements, connecting Indian startups with diverse demands and showcasing market-ready innovations and future R&D initiatives. In the 1.5 years that it has been operational, more than 1,300 research institutes and 35,000 users have signed up.
Manthan won the "Business Tech of the Year" award and sourced 1195 proposals, boasting 319 success stories. The platform helped facilitate 6356 Crores (approx. AED 28 billion) of funding opportunities in the emerging tech sector.
Having been benchmarked with various organisations globally, including Microsoft, Intel, TCS, IBM, Amazon Web Services, and major banks, Manthan presents a unique and beneficial model for potential adoption by other nations.
What else can we do to create new links between supply and demand?
Courts might not be the only trusted arbiters for disputes
The speed and borderless nature of the online economy creates more disputes than traditional court and arbitration systems can handle. Kleros is an authorised and decentralised dispute platform built on blockchain technology. Its protocol is designed to provide transparent and efficient dispute resolution across borders for a wide variety of cases.
Gamers, e-sports enthusiasts, social media influencers and many more actors of the new economy can now resolve disputes that cannot be handled by traditional courts due to their high-volume, low-value and intrinisically digital nature. Kleros employs a token-based system with its native cryptocurrency to incentivise jurors who participate in the dispute resolution process. Jurors analyse evidence and vote on the outcome of a dispute and their decisions are enforced through smart contracts.
So far, Kleros has resolved over 1,600 disputes, typically within 3 days, and around $1 million was distributed as fees to jurors. Despite this, estimates suggest that Kleros is around 8 to 10 times cheaper than traditional dispute resolution methods.
In May 2021, a Mexican court accepted a Kleros ruling regarding a decentralised arbitration clause in a leasing contract, as valid under Mexican law. The ruling marks the first case ever resolved by blockchain application to be accepted in a real-world court, highlighting that blockchain dispute resolution schemes can be accommodated within traditional arbitration even in the lack of updated legal frameworks.
What else are the needs of individuals in new economies?
Designing a curriculum customised to individual missions
In a fast-changing world, the jobs students pursue upon graduation often do not match what they studied. But what if students weren’t forced to pick a major? What if they could craft their own personal educational journey combining passion with purpose?
The African Leadership University is re-imagining higher education by offering a self-curated learning journey. Students declare missions, not majors, thus designing their educational experience according to the problems they want to solve and the impact they want to make in Africa.
Covering challenges from urbanisation, education, infrastructure, climate change, healthcare, governance and job creation, students spend their university years acquiring the knowledge and practical experience they need to explore their mission.
Mission facilitators guide students through a self-driven, personalised learning journey. By the time they graduate, students are equipped with a diverse skillset that emphasises cross-disciplinary thinking and ethical leadership. Currently, there are 2,285 students enrolled in the university. The program has been impactful: 60% of ALU students and alumni have initiated new ventures, and the employment opportunities generated through those ventures have touched the lives of nearly 48,000 individuals. Not only that, but as a result of the focus on African challenges, the approach significantly reduced the brain drain of students being employed in Western countries, and retained talent in Africa.
How else can we empower young people to address the world's challenges?
Supporting the ecosystem with robotic bees
The honeybee is a crucial species for ecosystem stability and agriculture, with its pollination required for 75% of crops grown for human food globally. For such a crucial insect to our survival, little is known about the behavior of the queen bee, the only reproductive individual who defines the well-being of the whole hive. Therefore, advances towards improving the health and reproductivity of the queen bee is likely to improve the well-being of the hive, which will in turn address the decline in the honeybee population and ensure sufficient food for people.
In the EU-FET RoboRoyale project we are using Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to observe and understand the interactions of the queen bee with the rest of the hive. The AI-based multi-robot system will support and imitate the bees that are in charge of feeding, grooming, and cleaning of the queen with small robotic surrogates, as well as the facilitation of regulatory information transfer from the queen to the workers.
A thriving honeybee pollution will result in increased pollination, supporting the surrounding ecosystem, plant growth, and animals. The project explores the potential of bio-hybrid technology, offering insights into synthesizing symbiotic super-organisms of cooperating robots and animals. The RoboRoyale project is being implemented by a consortium of partners from UK (Durham Univ.), the Czech Republic (CTU), Austria (U. of Graz), and Türkiye (METU).
Who else can we serve by shifting perspectives?
Acclaimed as a “poet of ideas” by The New Yorker, Jonathon Keats is a world-renowned artist, writer and experimental philosopher. He has exhibited and lectured at dozens of institutions worldwide, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Triennale di Milano, and from SXSW to UNESCO. He is the author of seven books – most recently You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future (Oxford University Press) – and writes an art column for Forbes.com. Keats is a fellow at the Berggruen Institute, a research fellow at the Highland Institute and the Long Now Foundation, a research associate at the University of Arizona, principal philosopher at Earth Law Center, and an artist-in-residence at Hyundai and the SETI Institute. He co-directs the Future Democracies Laboratory at San José State University and the Consortium for Climate-Adapted Cultural Heritage at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics. Keats is represented by Modernism Gallery in San Francisco. A monograph about his work, Thought Experiments, was recently published by Hirmer Verlag. The installations exhibited at the Edge of Government are based on his thought experiments.
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