TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 18

1. Islamic State is hunting for Syrian chemical weapons that eluded international inspectors.

By Paul D. Shinkman in U.S. News and World Report

2. The true promise of education technology is in differentiating learning to meet the needs of each student.

By Jennifer Carolan in EdSurge

3. A robot’s ethical dilemma: How would a self-driving car weigh the safety of its passengers against the risk to other motorists?

By Aviva Rutkin in New Scientist

4. A disaster relief organization is giving military veterans a chance to do good and recapture the spirit of their service.

By Jonathan Lesser in Medium

5. Future social scientists will have a wealth of data from Facebook likes and shares to truly understand what moves us.

By Jonathan Wai in Quartz

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

How to Make the World’s Poor $500 Billion Richer

Central American Migrants Attempt Arduous Voyage Thru Mexico To U.S.
Honduran migrants at a shelter for undocumented Central American immigrants on Sept. 14, 2014 in Tenosique, Mexico. The research by Copenhagen Consensus Center suggests that free mobility of skilled workers should be encouraged. John Moore—Getty Images

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 63 teams of the world’s top economists to look at economic, social and environmental costs and benefits

There is a way to make the poor of this world $500 billion better off, but this solution is rarely discussed.

This matters, because the international community is gearing up to produce the next set of development goals for 2015-2030, to continue the work of the Millennium Development Goals. $2.5 trillion in development aid plus unknown trillions from national budgets hang in the balance of these goals, so getting our priorities right is vital. Spending money on poorly chosen targets is a wasted opportunity to do much more good elsewhere.

To do the most good, my think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, has asked 63 teams of the world’s top economists to look at the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of all the top targets. Some of these are obvious, like health, education, food, water and environment, but some are less so—though often discussed in the development community. One such example is the transfer of technology from rich to poor and middle-income countries as an aid to sustainable development.

The reason technology is so important is that it makes people more productive, which boosts overall economic growth. Not just that, but once knowledge has been gained, it is embedded in society and can be used as a stepping stone for future growth. Countries with a reasonable technical or research and development base are in a better position to absorb and make the best use of more new technologies as they become available.

Professor Keith E. Maskus from the University of Colorado has written an extensive paper on what works and how much good it will do. As he rightly points out, the UN’s technology-related targets are simply too general and bland. Instead, using the economic literature, he puts forward two proposals.

The first proposal is straight-forward: if our goal is to get more technology available for the poor, maybe we should simply increase investment in research and development (R&D), especially in the developing world.

The point is the benefits from R&D do not just go to the company doing it; there are also broader societal benefits as productivity gains occur elsewhere in the economy and other people learn on the job or see the possibility for more innovation. After Apple produced an innovative touch screen on its first iPhone, the knowledge is now available to lots of products in many different areas.

This broader benefit justifies governments supporting research, either through tax credits or direct government spending on research in public institutions. Right now, the developing countries spend just 0.2% of their GDP on R&D and perhaps 0.3% in 2030. If we instead aim at 0.5% of GDP by 2030, this would naturally increase the direct government costs, but it would also increase the long-run technological innovation and capabilities.

The models estimate in total, that for every dollar spent, we could likely end up doing $3 worth of good. That is not bad.

However, there is another, and much more effective way to increase technological capabilities in low-income countries. Instead of focusing on innovating more technology to make people more productive, we could focus on getting more people to places where they would be productive.

While allowing the free mobility of goods (free trade) can add several percentage points to global GDP, we have long known that free mobility of people could add anywhere from 67-147% to global GDP. Allowing free mobility could essentially double the world’s income.

This is because people in poor areas are not inherently unproductive but their circumstances mostly make them unproductive. So, if they were to migrate, from say, Guatemala to the US, they would become much more productive.

Of course, absolutely free mobility would result in a massive relocation from poor to rich countries, which would likely engender huge political issues. But professor Maskus suggests that we could start off with a modest goal of increasing current skilled migration by 5-20% with 10-year visas. Since we have the best models for the Americas, he estimates the outcome for this region, but it is likely the results can scale for the rest of the world.

A 5% increase in skilled migration would mean an extra 136,000 managerial and technical workers, with 97,000 going to the US. Although other research shows migrants would only become half (or less) as productive as Americans, this would still make them much better off. The model shows they would earn $15 billion more over the next 25 years. Moreover, as they would bring with them new ideas and concepts, they will increase productivity in the US and elsewhere by $1.5 billion.

Of course, this will also mean an outflow of skilled workers from poorer countries. For instance, 30,000 people will leave Mexico for 10 years. But they will send back money – about $3 billion in total. And while many worry about a ‘brain drain’, there is actually more evidence for a ‘brain gain’: If there is an opportunity to go abroad and make more money as a doctor or engineer, it will induce more young to invest in a professional education, meaning more doctors and technicians in the long run. And as these skilled professionals come back after 10 years, they will also bring back new ideas and higher productivity.

In total, the costs, mostly in lost tax revenue are significantly outweighed by the gains. For every dollar spent, this target could do $10-20 worth of good. With the Americas making up one-third of the global economy, the potential benefits could go as high as $500 billion. That should make the target of higher labor mobility a strong contender for the world’s next set of goals.

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It. His new book is How To Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 16

1. America can offset China’s rising power and Russia’s influence in Asia by strengthening its relationship with India.

By Paul J. Leaf in the National Interest

2. MIT moms challenge engineers and students to pitch ways to improve breast pumps in a ‘hackathon.’

By Katie Levingston in Boston.com

3. College is disproportionately off limits to poor and minority students. Here are some critical steps to close that gap.

By Antoinette Flores at the Center for American Progress

4. State governments should stop paying off businesses to ‘create jobs.’ The tax incentives and other giveaways are a waste.

By Richard Florida in the Los Angeles Times

5. One way the NFL can address the mishandling of domestic violence by its players: paying to rebuild our nation’s depleted support system for survivors of abuse.

By Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

New Robot Cheetah Can Run (And Jump) Without a Tether

'Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground,' says researcher.

(via MIT News)

TIME Innovation

This Company Makes Shoes That Look Like Confectionery Treats

The Shoe Bakery makes shoes that appear to be covered in frosting and ice cream

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Those heels look shoe delicious! Orlando-based shoe company ‘The Shoe Bakery’ creates footwear that are inspired by confectionary treats like ice cream, cupcakes, donuts, and cake. “My love for shoes came with the passion for being unique,” says founder Chris Campbell. “I love shoes and sweets so why not put them together?”

As you can see, excellent craftsmanship and great attention to detail went into the making of these sweet-looking shoes. Customers can even order custom-made designs, which will cost around $200-400 and will take about 3-6 weeks to finish. With shoes that look as mouthwatering as these, I think I’d rather eat them than wear them!

You can find out more about The Shoe Bakery and purchase their products here.

Via Design Taxi

TIME Innovation

This Is What Customers Really Crave

Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

According to the co-founder of Fast Company

bif10-600-sq-info

This is one of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18

“The real promise of the technology revolution isn’t its products—it’s the new ways by which it has enabled us to express our humanity,” claims Bill Taylor, co-founder of the iconic Fast Company magazine and author of the bestseller, Practically Radical.

 

“Today, smaller and smaller teams are building bigger and bigger things, faster,” he explains. In today’s marketplace—which is streamlined by technology and defined by abundant choice— “corporate muscle mass” such as factories and storefronts have lost the clout they had 50 years prior.

 

“What customers really crave is a sense of humanity,” claims Taylor.

“Leaders of economically successful organizations are every bit as rigorous about the human side of their enterprises as they are about R&D and acquisitions,” he maintains. Taylor encourages us to recognize the influence of passion brands. “Apple, Google, HBO” he lists, all have dominated their industry sectors thanks to the might of a zealous group of consumers.

“Ultimately, your culture is what sustains your strategy.”

+++

The aspect of technological revolution that currently fascinates Bill Taylor is the power of businesses that are facilitated by technology, but driven by a human touch.

As a primer, he shares three guidelines for companies looking to embrace this new culture of work:

  1. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Breakaway success requires a commitment to the unprecedented.

“If your customers can live without you, eventually they will,” warns Taylor. “You can’t just be the best at what you do—you have to be the only organization that does what you do.”

Taylor looks up to an early adopter of this principle: Southwest Airlines. “They were never a “low-cost” airline,” he argues, “they were a “big idea” airline.”

Taylor says, “Southwest’s purpose from day one was to ‘democratize the skies,’ to give rank-and-file families the freedom to fly. In the early 1970s when they began to operate, air travel was a luxury of business travelers and the well-to-do.”

Southwest was successful because “their strategy was completely at odds with the rest of the airline industry.”

  1. Create meaning and camaraderie at every level of the organization.

Instead of giving their employees the chance to amass power to get rich, companies must instead help them unleash freedoms from within, allowing people in their ranks to give input about the goods and services they produce.

“People want their work to be consistent with what they care about as human beings,” Taylor says. “The best leaders unearth the passion, energy, and commitment of their people by enabling them to make a real difference to their customers and one another.”

He urges companies to examine themselves. He asks them, “What does it mean—in terms of the language, the daily rituals—to be a member of your organization?”

Taylor shares a revolutionary tip: “The real use of social media is not so that we can market our product to a broader audience, but to give our people the capacity to humanize our brand.”

  1. Be kind—it’s more important than being clever.

We can’t thrive in a corporate world that sacrifices humanity for the sake of profit, Taylor maintains.

At a BIF Summit several years ago, Taylor shared a story of two automobile dealers his father encountered while shopping for a car.

The first dealer sold Cadillacs, a brand Taylor’s father had long been loyal to. Cadillac sent the man a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, but because he wanted to buy a car 24 hours after the coupon expired, the dealer refused to honor it.

The second dealer sold Buicks. After a conversation with Taylor’s father, this dealer offered to honor the expired Cadillac discount. The same dealer let the man test-drive the car over a weekend, and, when an emergency surgery prohibited timely return of the vehicle, sent a lovely bouquet of flowers with a “hilarious note.”

“Which car do you think my father bought?” Taylor asks.

“Small gestures of kindness send big signals about who we are and why people should want to affiliate with us.” He adds, “It was the highest ROI on a bouquet of flowers in history.”

+++

Bill Taylor says he “always looks forward” to the Collaborative Innovation Summit, hosted by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI. Taylor has joined the lineup of radical business thinkers at BIF Summit more than once.

“I’m proud to say I crashed the first BIF Summit in 2004,” he says, “because I’ve been back every year since. It is one of the most exciting and authentic learning laboratories I’ve ever encountered.”

“Community is an overused word, but BIF truly is a community. We come together once a year, and learn from and support each other all the rest of the year.”

“I live for months off the energy that I get from the BIF Summit,” he professes. “It’s a poetry slam for innovators. What a refreshing break from standard operating procedure.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 15

1. Relief organizations today are dangerously politicized and risk irrelevancy. To survive, they must evolve into decentralized networks for sharing knowledge, aid, and true humanity.

By Paul Currion in Aeon

2. There is more to measuring economic strength than jobs. For manufacturing, America is one of the most cost-competitive countries in the industrial world.

By Harold L. Sirkin, Michael Zinser, and Justin Rose in BCG Perspectives

3. Could a secret online marketplace for illegal drugs provide a safer alternative to our modern drug war?

By Colin Moore in Substance

4. Marketing to so-called “influencers” is a waste of advertising dollars.

By Greg Satell in Harvard Business Review

5. Technology vs. Tradition: Menstrupedia tackles taboos in India to improve women’s health and lives.

By Priti Salian in TakePart

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Innovation

6 Ideas From Science Fiction That Should Become Reality

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Coneyl Jay—Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Let’s violate the laws of physics

Science fiction writers can be eerily prescient. Consider what John Brunner got right about our world in 2010, as described in his 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar: a world shaken up by terrorist attacks and school shootings, the near-abandonment of Detroit, a zeal for upgrading everything, including our bodies. When Isaac Asimov envisioned in 1964 what 2014 would be like, he described what we’ve come to know as satellite phones, Skype calls, and driverless cars. Of course, with all hits, there have been some misses: we don’t have Brunner’s single super computer that powers the world, but the rhizome of the Internet with servers all over the globe; we don’t have the moon colonies that Asimov assumed we’d already have. Still, the power of science fiction comes from the license to dream – and in many case to have nightmares. In advance of the Zócalo/ASU Center for Science and the Imagination Event “Can Science Fiction Revolutionize Science?”, we asked experts: What idea from science fiction would you most like to see become reality?

1. Instant messaging – across galaxies

By Seth Shostak

There are many concepts in science fiction that would be truly revolutionary if they were to change from fantasy to fact. Strong artificial intelligence, for example, would demote us as the rulers of the planet. Our species might take on a new status – as pets.

Building orbiting space colonies is another staple of sci-fi that would have major effect. Getting some of the population away from Earth and mining natural resources from asteroids or other bodies would permanently relieve many of the environmental pressures on our world.

These are examples of developments that would shift Homo sapiens into another gear. But they’re not truly spectacular because, frankly, they’re too plausible. They’re almost certain to happen, and perhaps quite soon. They don’t violate physics.

However, here’s something that’s in a different camp altogether: instantaneous communication. It does violate physics, at least the physics that we know. We’re not talking warp drive, but warp communication: the ability to exchange bits of information between any two locations, no matter how great the separation, without delay.

Consider what happened when the alien planet Alderaan is destroyed in the Star Wars film A New Hope. Millions of people are killed, but thanks to the instant messaging capability of The Force (whatever that is) Obi-Wan Kenobi feels their pain immediately.

That capability would change everything, and forever. Face it, there can never be a galactic empire in which biological beings cooperate or compete as long the delivery time for messages (“Help, Klingon attack!” or “Join the Vulcan book club”) is tens of thousands of years.

Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence would become trivial and gratifying. All that’s necessary is to systematically ping every star system in the galaxy, and – without delay – check for a response.

Instant communication would put everyone everywhere on-line. It would unite the cosmos intellectually and culturally. Goodbye isolation; hello socialization.

Seth Shostak is the senior astronomer and director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, a Mountain View, California-based organization that aims to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe. Shostak is also the author of the book, Confessions of an Alien Hunter and host of the radio show, Big Picture Science.

2. Pushing past culture clashes

By Bobak Ferdowsi

I’d pick the thing I recognized when I first started watching reruns of Star Trek and reading the works of Arthur C. Clarke – international cooperation.

I grew up in a multicultural family where, since my birth, there has been animosity between the nations my parents come from – Iran and the United States. The idea that one day humanity would push past the clashes between nations and cultures to pursue the human endeavor of exploration is immensely appealing. Even more wonderful in this science-fiction universe, cultures are not lost, but instead preserved and appreciated. Even today, we face so many challenges on our own planet that stem from cultural misunderstandings and perceived differences in interests.

If I’m forced to suggest a single technical fantasy to become reality, I suppose it would be the replicators from the later generations of Star Trek. The ability to readily convert energy into matter opens up the possibility of providing supplies to remote and underserved locations. While our present has yet to solve the issue of clean, renewable energy, I feel that is within our ability in the next generations. Ultimately I’d like to believe this technology would minimize many of the conflicts over supplies, which I think could be worsened by climate change, growing populations, and shrinking resources.

I’m optimistic about our future – in large part because so many of the engineers and inventors of today are ­inspired by science fiction. Flip-phones and tablets are a reality. Xprize has a competition to build a medical tricorder, and already our cell phones are being leveraged as platforms for new growth. It may not happen at once, but the good news is we’re making progress – and have the imagination of science fiction chroniclers to help us.

Bobak Ferdowsi is a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is a member of the Europa Clipper study team, and previously worked on the Mars Curiosity rover and Cassini Saturn orbiter. He plays softball at JPL and often rides his bike to work.

3. My own personal spacecraft

By Leroy Chiao

I want more than just the flying car that we were promised when I was young. I want a personal spacecraft! The personal spacecraft would not launch on rockets, or need parachutes or a runway to land. It would not be a vehicle that just propels you into orbit around a body (like Earth), but would instead be capable of travel far beyond.

Inspired by a combination of the flying cars in Blade Runner and the fighter spacecraft in Star Wars that can land on and depart from planets easily, my vehicle would take off and land vertically. The versions of those kinds of jump jets in existence (like the military’s Harrier) are VERY loud, but mine would not make a lot of noise. And mine would fly both through the atmosphere, as well as into space. It would not need any refurbishment to fly again. It would be practical for everyday use, just like your car today.

Would this ever be possible? Yes, but several things need to be invented and solved first:

  1. A nearly infinite, compact, lightweight power source. This would be absolutely necessary to power the engines and run the systems (including active shielding from radiation that could fry the pilot and passengers once they left the Earth’s protective magnetic force field).
  2. Quiet, small, lightweight, powerful, and clean engines. These would run off of the power supply described above. They would have to be quiet, otherwise the roar from everyone operating these vehicles would be deafening. They would have to be clean. Otherwise, if everyone had one, the environment would quickly become polluted or contaminated.
  3. Automated collision avoidance and navigation. This is easier than you might think. With transponders and sensors that are just a bit more advanced than those today, coupled with high-speed connection to data and computing power in the cloud, this could actually become a reality sooner rather than later.
  4. Oh, and all of this stuff would have to be inexpensive.

Why not go directly to teleportation? Call me old-fashioned, but I am squeamish about the idea of having my molecules disassembled and reassembled at another location. Would I still be me, even if it all worked physically? Consciousness and the idea of a soul are still pretty darned intangible.

Leroy Chiao served as a NASA astronaut from 1990-2005. During his 15-year career, he flew four missions into space, three times on Space Shuttles and once as the co-pilot of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. On that flight, he served as the commander of Expedition 10, a six-and-a-half month mission. Among other positions, he serves as a Special Advisor to the Space Foundation, and also to the Houston Association for Space and Science Education.

  1. Beyond the big things, an improvement in nail polish

By Amy Mainzer

Obviously I’d love a transporter for every time I’m stuck in traffic, or the unlimited clean energy derived from banana peels by the Mr. Fusion generator from Back to the Future. But forgetting about civilization-changing technologies for a second, one idea that I have always really liked is a much, much smaller one: the futuristic manicure from Total Recall.

In the movie, someone figured out how to make nail polish that changes colors with the touch of some kind of pen. It’s just a short moment, but this small detail helps to establish a world that truly is futuristic. It also struck me as something that someone might actually invent one day. Although it’s fun to think of big stuff like warp drive and time travel, I’ve always particularly enjoyed thinking about the smaller ways that technology changes our lives. What will day-to-day life be like in the future?

I really wish someone would make nail polish that changes colors by tapping a pen – because I hate the smell of acetone.

Amy Mainzer is an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She’s the principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission, a space telescope that searches for asteroids and comets using infrared light.

5. Truly clean energy sources

By Steven Gould

I’d like to see cheap, safe, clean energy production come into being, whether in the form of orbiting satellites that can beam solar energy down to the Earth in microwaves (à la Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story “Reason”) or super efficient photo-electric panels (as in Robert Heinlein’s 1940 short story “Let There Be Light”). But something that replaces the burning of fossil fuel and drastically cuts our pumping of carbon dioxide into earth’s atmosphere. The likeliest technology on the horizon is nuclear fusion, (clean energy released by the controlled fusing of atoms) but, sadly, we’re talking a distant horizon. I’d also like to see technology that lets us capture and sequester carbon in high volumes. If these “science-fictional” technologies aren’t forthcoming, I’d like to see the most far-fetched, science fictional thing yet: that governments of the world start making decisions based on our best scientific consensus and in the best interest of our species and biosphere, rather than unduly considering the vested interests of corporations.

Otherwise we’re going see a lot of science fiction ideas coming true–things like:

- John Barnes’ Mother of Storms, in which the clathrate gun hypothesis (where a rise in sea temperature triggers a runaway release of methane that leads to even higher temperatures) causes a devastating superstorm.

- Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy, in which the disruption of ocean circulation patterns halts the Gulf Stream with catastrophic results.

- And even J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World from 1962, in which melting ice caps have raised world sea levels.

Much as I love the positive futures of science fiction — the spread of humanity out into our solar system or farther, the creation of artificial intelligences that will help us to solve our many problems, a resource-abundant future in which the vast economic disparity of our current times is eliminated — it is the “If this goes on” kinds of science fiction that I am most worried will come true.

But don’t count us out yet. We’re clever monkeys.

Steven Gould is the award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of the Jumper books (which inspired the 2008 movie of the same name) as well as standalone novels Wildside, Helm, Blind Waves, 7th Sigma, and Greenwar (written with Laura J. Mixon.) He is the current president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and his latest book is Exo (Jumper IV.)

6. These toys should come with warning labels

By Devon Maloney

From touch screens to psychokinesis, there seems to be little left for science to pluck from the pages of revered sci-fi visionaries like Isaac Asimov or Gene Roddenberry and place in the hands the consumer. For authors, it’s made predicting the future feel a little like determining the future, which is a pretty cool system. We’re quite literally getting almost everything we’ve ever dreamed of, and very quickly, to boot.

But one thing that I think often, if not most of the time, gets lost in translation from page to life is perhaps the most vital piece of science fiction’s offerings: the instruction manual. While any inventor can develop a device and bring it into existence, sci-fi authors can pair their imaginings with philosophical and ethical explorations of what tech like this might mean, for individuals, groups, and the future of humanity. The way in which we use the tools we create—and in which those tools might use us—is perhaps even more important than their simple existence. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? deftly draws parallels between the proliferation of android servants and our present dehumanization of the poor; the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed has superhuman abilities but instead of giving her power, they open her to subjugation, directly trouncing the utopian idea that technology will unquestionably be a great equalizer. Roddenberry gave us the pro-diversity IDIC and the anti-imperialist Prime Directive — two of the most deeply humanist philosophies in fiction, period. And Asimov, with his laws of robotics and the subsequent roboethics conversations they inspired (see: Arthur C. Clarke’s HAL 9000 and The Terminator‘s Skynet), gave us some of, if not the most widely disregarded warnings in the rapidly evolving production of artificially intelligent tech.

Too often we are like children at Christmas, ripping open boxes of sophisticated electronic toys—and ignoring their bright DO NOT GET WET warning labels as we bring them into the swimming pool with us. What a deeply tragic irony that the entirety of science fiction and dystopian fiction might come to fruition: both the miraculous, utopian tech and our inability to see how, if mindlessly utilized, it will most certainly destroy us.

Devon Maloney is an L.A.-based culture journalist and critic. She writes about science fiction and dystopia for Wired; her writing also appears in publications like Grantland, Billboard, SPIN, T magazine, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, GQ, and Vulture.

This piece originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

I Dish Out the Food Your Supermarket Can’t Use

Opening of specialty grocer Trader Joe's
Milk lines the shelves at Trader Joe's, located on Colorado Blvd. and East 8th Avenue in Denver, for the grand opening of specialty grocer, February, 14 2014. RJ Sangosti—Denver Post via Getty Images

Linda Hess is the President and Founder of Urban Harvester a non-profit 501c-3 organization. www.urbanharvester.org.

My neighbors were going hungry, so I got my local Trader Joe’s to donate carloads of groceries

In the spring of 2009, my teenage daughter and I attended a memorial service in Pasadena, California, followed by a family-style luncheon. The retired clergyman who officiated the service was holding a plate in one hand and arranging the leftovers onto it. The plate was teetering on the edge of the very full table; I walked over and asked if I could help.

I assumed he was preparing food for the family to eat later in the day. Instead, he told me the sandwiches were going to nearby apartments of elder adults who had very limited access to food. He said this would likely be their meal for the day.

I asked if I could visit the seniors he was helping, maybe bring a casserole or some flowers to cheer up their day. And so the following Monday morning, my friend Marie and I brought little tuna casseroles and cupcakes, and joined the clergyman on visits to three apartments within three miles of my house.

Each stop went from bad to worse. The first apartment, a block from the Rose Parade route, was home to a lovely woman whose hands were crippled by arthritis and whose back was curled over. She could only push buttons on her microwave and use pop-top cans. The second apartment wasn’t much better. The third apartment stank of stagnant air and animal feces. A very thin woman with extremely swollen ankles the size of baseball bats and large eyeglasses sat on a bare daybed mattress with no sheets or blankets. Her closet door was open, and only one dress was hanging in it. She offered us water—apologizing for having nothing else to share—and said that the glasses were in the cupboard. We found just one glass and nothing else but cans of cat food. Her fridge was empty.

We chatted about the weather and the TV show she’d had on, but my head was spinning, and I couldn’t focus. It felt like hours had passed, but it was only minutes. I’d walked by this building a hundred times, coffee and cell phone in hand—often on my way to or from a meal.

As I stood with my hand on the door, I felt I had to make a decision right then and there. Do I do nothing and let this be someone else’s problem — and feel pain and intense guilt when this woman dies from neglect? Or do I get involved?

An hour later I dashed into Trader Joe’s in South Pasadena and shared my shock at what I’d just seen and experienced. A wonderful man named Joe – not the Trader Joe– told me to come back on Wednesday. He would help me get some items the people I’d just visited could eat and easily open.

Joe was as good as his word. He helped fold down the seats of my Prius and loaded dolly after dolly of fruits and boxed vegetables. He explained that this food was excess, and the store donated it to make room for newer shipments. (I would learn later that other grocery stores – but not all – do this and more) There was so much food I could only make left turns because I couldn’t see out the other window.

I soon learned more about the 52 million Americans—one in six of us—who are unsure of where their next meal will come from. I also learned that grocery stores and many food-derived businesses discard their excess unexpired food daily instead of donating it: Up to 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. My big question was: Where did this discarded food go, and how could we get it to struggling people like those I had met in my neighborhood?

For the next two and a half years, I made weekly pick-ups at Trader Joe’s and delivered food to organizations in the Pasadena area, including the AIDS Service Center, the Union Station Homeless Services Pasadena, and Holy Family – The Giving Bank. Meanwhile, I learned everything I could about food waste.

In spring 2010, I attended a convention in San Diego on organics recycling and sustainability to gain an overview of the waste industry. I wanted to be able to have a respectable conversation if a food supplier chose to not donate edible food. For three days, I was a human sponge, absorbing information about sustainability, composting, and renewable energy. They didn’t particularly care about feeding people, but I gained an enormous amount of respect for their passion and commitment to efficiency and reducing waste. They cared as much about preserving the same pristine organic food I was interested in, just for different reasons.

When I got home I reached out to local agencies in need of food—homeless shelters, churches, food banks from Long Beach to the Westside, senior centers, children’s homes. I asked them how often they needed donations, and whether they required food to be prepared and pre-packaged or if it could be kitchen-made. Then I approached the health department about food safety regulations. Through these meetings I realized that it wasn’t as simple as taking food that one place didn’t need and delivering it to where it was needed. Donating food, I discovered, had a unique set of rules that were outdated and hadn’t been adapted for today’s state-of-the-art methods of heating and cooling food.

I realized the process could be made much more user-friendly so that more cities and companies would want to participate.

In 2012 I founded Urban Harvester, a Los Angeles-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our focus is connecting untapped food resources to the nearest shelter, soup kitchen, and pantry. We designed a scalable model that includes education and outreach to bring communities and business together.

We don’t have a fleet of trucks or a facility; our goal is simply to connect the dots. We are like a dating service bringing together the food and the agencies who need it. We are now partnering with 211 LA – an L.A. County network that includes 49,000 city, county, public assistant and nonprofit programs – to try to connect to more agencies for our food work; 211LA is part of a larger national network of programs that serve 93 percent of the country. Today this connection work is done personally and locally, but we have built a database and are using technology to build up a system to connect food and agencies that need food at any hour and across the world.

All types of food suppliers are now involved—not just grocery stores but restaurants, food trucks, Starbucks, the South Pasadena Unified School District, a music festival, a temple, a farmers market (and many wonderful food retailers that prefer to donate food quietly). Just a few weeks ago, we proposed and won unanimous passage from the South Pasadena city council of first resolution: Businesses cannot dispose of edible extra food that is professionally prepared, but instead must make responsible efforts to connect the food to local agencies.

Our goal is to keep taking big steps, albeit one at time, to help people with their basic needs.

Linda Hess is the President and Founder of Urban Harvester a non-profit 501c-3 organization. http://www.urbanharvester.org. She wrote this piece for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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