Tomorrow is good: Human beings, machines with emotions?

Computers are good at abstract thinking; we are all too keen to delegate complex calculations to them in order to free ourselves from that chore. There is something threatening about the intelligence of machines too. Robots and synthetic or artificial intelligence (AI) force us to question our place in the world. What does it mean to be human? Where does the boundary lie between man and machine? What is man? – enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant pondered. Our moral views on in vitro fertilization (IVF) have evolved considerably over the past decades. Even to the extent that many people would find it unacceptable to refuse a couple who is eligible (within certain rules, such as age) to go through with an IVF procedure in the Netherlands or Belgium.  Reference is then made in this context to techno-moral change: modifying moral beliefs as a consequence of technology.

Die as a cyborg

Machine and body will become more and more intertwined. Philosopher James Moor asserts that we are born today as human beings, but that many of us will die as cyborgs. Cyborg stands for ‘cybernetic organism’. As in, partly human, partly computer. Moor’s claims are justified, even though cyborg may sound like science fiction. A good example is the pacemaker which is in fact a miniature computer. Moreover, there are pacemakers that are connected to the internet. There are bionic limbs too, such as a bionic arm for disabled veterans or people with congenital disabilities. As well as exoskeletons for patients with full paraplegia.

For example, knee or hip prostheses are implants in the body, which we have been familiar with for some time already. These are not computerized technologies. Still, our human dignity and integrity have not been altered by them. We have over time accepted these implants without any problems. Even further developments, as yet unknown to us, may amount to a broader sense of human dignity. Consequently, we should not be ‘automatically’ opposed to them.

Thanks to science and technology, human beings have been improving for centuries. And the results are clearly apparent, because we are living longer and healthier lives. The debate must now focus on ethical boundaries and problems – what is desirable? And also – what kind of cyborgs do we want to be? For example, AI implants should not only be accessible to the happy few who can afford them, which invariably means that only they can enjoy the benefits. The principle of justice is important for ensuring fair, democratic access to technology. Damage or risk of harm to the patient and third parties obviously needs to be curtailed.

Are we expendable?

How unique is humankind? Are we replaceable by robots and AI systems? AI researcher Rodney Brooks thinks we should rid ourselves of the idea that we are special. We, people, are ‘just’ machines with emotions. Not only are we able to build computers that recognize emotions, but eventually we could also build emotions into them. According to him, it will at some point even be possible to design a computer with real emotions and a state of consciousness. But he also remains rather cautious and avoids making statements about when that is going to happen. That is a wise decision, because the brain is extraordinarily complex. There is still not enough known about its specific workings or the very long evolution that preceded it. Least of all about being able to replicate it just like that.

 

Tomorrow is Good: The Benefits of Mistakes and Failures lie in Learning

The topic of a “culture of error” or a “culture that allows mistakes to be made” is fashionable and has recently been discussed in many companies and conferences. This discussion ranges from the enthusiasm and the desire for a quick introduction of so-called FuckUp Events in companies to the complete rejection of any tolerance for errors. The proponents want to celebrate mistakes as a learning opportunity while the critics describe mistakes as a cost factor that reduces profits and must therefore be bad per se. Both of these views fall short of the mark.

I have already written in previous articles why I love FuckUp Nights. This is because they enable us to learn: both the people concerned, who must have reported on such an experience and reflected on it, and the listeners, because they can learn through observation and the experiences of others. Talking about mistakes, errors or failed projects is an important part of a learning culture. Do they really need to be celebrated, as critics like to argue? No, they don’t. It is not at all about celebrating mistakes, as is sometimes done in Silicon Valley. What is the point of celebrating a failure and highlighting how grandiose it was? That would mean that we actually want to fail and make mistakes. I don’t think anyone likes to fail voluntarily. And certainly not healthy, happy, competent or successful people, as some authors like to express it.

It simply hurts

If failure is the ultimate non-achievement of personal goals, then it’s going to hurt because it is also about identity and downfall. This holds true whether it’s a project, an unachieved important goal, the end of a relationship or insolvency. Some go so far as to link the experience of failure to identity-creating motives and goals, in which case failure is simply painful. When we talk about a real culture of mistakes or learning, this has nothing to do with celebrating mistakes, but rather with the processing of emotional pain on a personal level. These negative emotions can also have a negative influence on the loyalty of an employee to their company.

For companies, the question arises as to how they can nevertheless benefit from the costs of an error or failure. The benefit of mistakes and failure lies in the learning effect. An error culture and a learning culture are mutually dependent, so to speak. Without mistakes there is no learning and there is no learning without mistakes. But learning is also an investment in the future in which the same mistake will hopefully not be made again. And then an open attitude towards mistakes and failures suddenly has a completely different meaning – namely investing in the experience and competence of employees.

Unwanted results are perfectly normal

Of course, not every mistake or failure is the same. If a mistake is predictable and avoidable, there is no reason other than negligence or stupidity for it to happen. The causes should have been known and thus avoided. If a mistake is neither predictable nor avoidable, that’s a different story. This is the case, for example, in complex and unsafe situations or when, as with innovations, new processes and products are involved. These must first be tested and checked in order to find out what the actual properties and results would be. This is different if a mistake is neither predictable nor avoidable, as is the case, for example, in complex and unsafe situations. Or when, as with innovations, new processes and products are involved. These must first be tested and checked in order to find out what the actual properties and results would be. Unexpected and undesired results are completely normal and cannot be avoided. And yet they are valuable for gaining knowledge about how it doesn’t work and new ideas about how it could work.

When I speak of a culture of error or improved learning, I speak of a culture in which exactly these unforeseeable and unavoidable errors may happen in order to learn from them. In principle, we have two learning strategies at our disposal: Imitation or exploration. Imitating others helps us to learn from their experiences and competences. This also means that we don’t try anything new, meaning that the results are predictable and avoidable. If we want to break new ground, explore and discover something new – exploration – then we have to be prepared to engage in something unpredictable and unavoidable.

If this unpredictable and inevitable is personally important and identity-building, then no matter how normal, natural or desirable the failure is – it will be painful.

Overcoming failure

Studies show that negative feelings in connection with failed projects increase the risk of decreasing commitment and loyalty of employees to the company. According to these studies, the processing of negative emotions and coping with failure is also influenced by the employees’ perception of how the company deals with failure and the amount of time given to employees to process it.

A credible error or learning culture is mandatory for all companies that are active in an environment in which errors cannot be avoided or foreseen. This is likely to apply to any company that operates in a so-called VUCA environment – in other words, almost all companies.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.

Tomorrow is good: 5 trends in consumer behavior that have a shadowy side

Consumers are the cornerstone of any organization’s existence. As an organization, you must work on devising solutions for issues that the consumers of tomorrow may run into in order to improve the lives of these future consumers. But what are these issues? I set off on a journey into the magical land of trend analysis and came across five trends in consumer behaviour that have a shadowy side. That shadowy side is something that we should shed a little light on. And when there is a shadowy side to something, then there’s something that needs to be polished up. As in, something can actually be done to make sure that tomorrow is good.

The addicted consumer

Whoa, we humans are slaves to addiction. Although some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, almost every person is sensitive to some form of addiction. For instance, we are sensitive to an addiction to media. Media outlets like Netflix are so quick in delivering the next episode, that it’s much more difficult for the average consumer to stop their media consumption than it is to maintain their media usage. You become addicted as a result.

Our social media consumption has often been associated with addiction in recent years. It has already been scientifically mapped out which personal characteristics fuel social media addiction. How social media addiction affects your satisfaction with your life. Or what the negative impact of social media addiction is on (school) performance. I could go on and on. Consequently, there are calls for us to regulate media consumption and to protect consumers from excessive media consumption.

The lonely consumer

Although our online world is characterized by words like ‘connection’ and ‘connectedness’, in reality we are gradually becoming more and more lonely. Instead of heading into town with your girlfriends to find a new dress, you simply browse through webshops on your own. You no longer venture out on a pub crawl anymore to find an exciting new love interest. You simply swipe through Tinder profiles. Loneliness caused by the impact of social media and the digital world is starting to surface to such an extent, that it is being referred to as a loneliness epidemic. There is an increasing need to ‘reconnect’ by seeking out actual physical and offline contact with each other again.

The minimalist consumer

Then there is one more trend that goes against our evolutionary roots as hunters and gatherers. While hunting and gathering may act as an impetus for more consumerism, we are now seeing more and more signs directed towards downsizing and minimalism. We build tiny houses, we reuse furniture and we hardly own any books, music albums or films. Minimalism has become a way of life for many.

Some minimalists not only filter their own consumer pattern in excessive ways, but also do that on behalf of others. And that’s where the shadowy side comes in. We are not talking about the minimalists who simply consider minimalism more aesthetically pleasing (e.g. fans of Scandinavian design). Nor the minimalists who for practical reasons aspire to a minimalist existence (e.g. which makes it easier for them to travel). But rather about the minimalists who aspire to nonconsumerism based on moral conviction with a focus on sustainability. Although, of course, there is nothing wrong with that moral conviction.

Many people share that conviction in principle. However, one may have some reservations about those minimalists who act as activists in their approach to others where flight shame, plastic shame or meat shame are concerned. There appears to be a razor-thin line between raising awareness or instilling feelings of shame on others. We should honestly ask ourselves whether we are making our society more appealing when we step over that line. Guilt and shame can certainly change behaviors. Nevertheless, the question remains whether there are not more charming roads to the Rome in question.

The nonmaterialistic consumer

A trend associated with that of minimalism is that of nonmaterialism. Nonmaterialistic consumers consume without any tangible consequence of that consumerism. On the one hand, nonmaterialism is the result of a changing pattern of consumerism. We prefer to spend our money on experiences and adventures rather than on products. On the other hand, we are replacing some products with subscriptions. We no longer buy a CD, but a subscription to Spotify instead.

Especially this second development is beginning to take on such significant proportions that we now speak of a ‘subscription economy’. Subscription models are penetrating markets, meaning that the relationship between provider and consumer is undergoing considerable change. Not only does this relationship become more long-term and stable, but is also characterized by a higher level of dependence. The more subscriptions, the less diversification in the consumer pattern and the greater the dependence on a number of behemoth corporations. From research carried out by McKinsey, it appears that consumers are indeed buying subscriptions en masse, yet only about 11% of them are fans of the subscription model.

The consumer robot

When it comes to consumers, we mean people. It’s almost time to change that mindset. As the consumer robot is gaining ground. For example, a study by Ericsson shows that 70% of consumers think that within three years virtual assistants will be making purchasing decisions for them. Some researchers have even gone a step further and claim that in a few years’ time, 85% of shopping behaviour will take place without human interaction. It is impossible to pin an exact number on this in the future, but the trend is very clear.

Personally I find this the one of most cool trends. I am a huge fan of a society where artificial intelligence provides human intelligence with support wherever possible. Of course, there is also a shadowy side to this trend. How do we integrate ethics into the purchasing decisions of a consumer robot? And how do we ensure that consumers are happy to entrust their wallets to a robot? Together with my research group, I’m working hard on designing solutions to these questions.

Tomorrow is good for our customers if we work on the shadowy side of these developments. When we brighten up something that is shadowy, turn negatives into positives and turn anything that’s a grey area into something that shines!

 

Tomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

The Netherlands is struggling with nitrogen emissions. Dutch lawmakers are trying to work their way towards compliance with the agreements made earlier in Paris. Nevertheless, they are still lagging behind on an international level.

In light of agriculture being one of the pillars for these emission measures, parliamentary plans to reduce their footprint has bumped up against fierce protests from farmers. There seems that there is no end in sight to this anytime soon.

Lowering the speed limit

One of the other key pillars concerns the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) emissions that are to be reduced by lowering the speed limit on highways from 130 to 100 km per hour according to a recently made decision.

For many, many years, Dutch lawmakers have been successfully promoting EV (Electric Vehicles) with tax incentives and campaigns to support electric transportation.

Rather curious

With that in mind, it is rather curious to me that the perspective absent in this 130>100km topic, is one which would allow EV cars to keep the 130km limit. Lowering the speed limit for these vehicles which have a lack of any actual NOx emissions, makes no sense. Although this may impact the number of accidents. Yet there is no significant gain for the emission footprint with the reduction of the speed limit for electric vehicles. On the other hand, maintaining the higher speed limit might even act as an incentive to drive electric vehicles.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

Tomorrow is Good: Go big or go home

Start-ups face challenges on many different levels and it’s the ultimate balancing game. You need to have a team in order to deliver your proposal. And in order to get a team, you need funding, and in order to get funding you need … well a team that is able to deliver your proof of concept. So it’s a vicious circle that’s got to give somewhere. In the early phases of a start-up, this cycle is often cut short by individuals that take a personal risk to make it work: angel investors. They believe in the team and the idea and are willing to make real commitments instead of merely offering support or mentorship.

At Lightyear we have been grateful to have received the support of these angels. We were able to build the company and form a fantastic team of highly skilled A-players that managed to deliver the first proof of our proposal last summer. They built our first motorized prototype, with a quality that led many industry veterans to compliment us on it. “Better quality than most prototypes I have seen from other car manufacturers”.

Next major challenge

Now the next major challenge is to go beyond a prototype to delivering our first cars to our customers. The time to market is one of the most important metrics for a start-up.

In order to really address climate change problems, we need to think big. By introducing a new system (solar cars) instead of optimizing old systems (hybrids) or only partially converting our old system (electrifying existing models), we will be able to achieve a much greater positive impact in the end.

Looking at the figures from Weterings et al you see where the challenges lie: it takes more time to do this. Generally, this is due to the parallel development that would be needed to design a new integrated, optimized system instead of merely optimizing some components of an old system.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: Go big or go home

Tomorrow is good: Is Germany lagging behind or clearly steering ahead?

By using a few clichés about Germany, I tried to explain in my very first column for IO that Germany could do so much better if it took a look in a more practical and creative way at how innovations are taken advantage of and at government intervention. This view has been bolstered by my own experiences and the countless moaning Germans around me. There is an enormous need for more momentum. And above all, for speedier government action where social innovation is concerned. The Dutch could certainly lend a helping hand with that.

My next column should have been about how the Dutch sometimes rush into things, act too often like merchants and can perhaps learn something from German solidity and desire for structure. It is very illuminating to work with Germans when it has to do with guaranteeing quality through structure and process. Then that’s it, as far as comparisons are concerned. Or so I thought.

But this was soon followed by a splendid response from Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet to my intentionally provocative stance in my introductory column. She now thinks I’m a bit of a know-it-all. I would like to respond to that in a somewhat provocative way yet again.

Classic German defense

Actually there are many things we agree on and Christiane is very good at describing what can be improved in Germany. In my first column, I touched on a number of things that I think Christiane generally acknowledges as well. But she also tends to go on the defensive. Which kind of confirms what I often see happening in Germany.

Let me start by saying that, as a resident of the German capital and a regular traveler in Germany, I am very familiar with the classic German defense.

  1. What can be done in your country in the Netherlands (or Denmark or Sweden) is out of the question here. We are so huge, we have states as big as the Netherlands – and mega-suburbs. That’s why it works differently (as in slower etc).
  2. Yet it’s not going badly at all, because we are basically an export success story export thanks to the quality of our products.

However, I am convinced that the first of these points is not true. Germany can really move faster and the government needs to be more agile and is quite capable of learning from other countries. I understand the second point and it rings true. But it does not detract from the first point. Society is not benefiting enough from the innovations that go overseas if Germany itself is still just now starting to slowly digitize. All in part due to an unwieldy government.

Hipsters in Kreuzberg

Christiane also mentions the Dutch D66 leader who recently presented Berlin as a shining example for the Netherlands. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was seeing when I read that sentiment. (I actually burst out laughing). Previously, liberals always looked to NYC – and all of a sudden it’s now Berlin? The Berlin that I think I know quite well, that I love. But would not consider a shining example for a successful model.

I know plenty of Dutch people who base their image of the German capital on their perceptions of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. However, you would expect that a liberal leader of a Dutch governing party would do a bit more research. A bunch of start-ups and a few hipsters in Mitte and Kreuzberg don’t necessarily turn Berlin into an innovative and open city. Berlin is much more than just the hip “core.” It is paradoxical and oftentimes very conservative. Munich is much more of a D66 city (- but that comparison should be made in another column ; ).

Go Germany!

For the record, I do feel positive about Germany. In the face of an impending crisis and with a budget surplus, a lot can be done. Moreover, Germany will really start shifting over the next few years. This will benefit innovation, even in cities and general society. At long last we are seeing some signs of change. For example, where electromobility is concerned.

The latest news this week is that Germany has turned a corner and is now fully committed to electromobility. After years of holding back, a master plan for electromobility is on its way. And 3.3 billion euros will be invested between now and 2023 (also some investment in hydrogen). There is talk of one million charging stations. 10 million electric cars should be driving on German streets by 2030. Volkswagen is going fully electric. They’ve started producing the ID.3, an affordable e-car for the masses. BMW is installing 4100 stations, although mainly for its own employees. Doesn’t this so-called German inertia eventually steer the country in a direction that ultimately leads to a competitive edge?

Risk of deferral

In the coming years, considerable investments will also be made in bicycles: transport minister Scheuer has promised an extra €900 million. Numerous cities are planning upgrades to their urban infrastructure. Yet the risk of deferral is always looming in Germany. Or as Raoul Schmidt-Lamontain, a governmental policy-maker from Dresden, recently said: “In the meantime, money has been made available for trams and cycle lanes from new subsidy programs. But if, for example, I want to convert an intersection into a bicycle-friendly one or extend a bridge for pedestrians, then I also have to invest in the roads at the same time. So, I always need money from several subsidy sources all at once. If one stimulus program fails, investments in the other areas can’t be carried out either. And that money will stay put.”

So, no jumping for joy quite yet. Let’s see the results first!

Incidentally, Christiane is right and we were in agreement on this too – collaboration is worthwhile as (international) solutions can be found together … but sometimes by looking in the mirror as well.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is Good: why German automobile club study is the anti-electric lobby at its finest

I make models for electric vehicles and the transition to renewable energy at the Eindhoven University of Technology and that means I follow electric vehicle developments closely. Recently, I took the ADAC (largest German automobile club with 18 million members) to task for using their new “expert tool” to paint an unrealistically negative picture of the electric vehicle (EV). (See here on Twitter and here for another blogpost on Innovation origins.)

ADAC defended itself by saying these were only the preliminary conclusions and the study that was still in the making would explain everything. Last week, the study was released and the bad news is: they didn’t react to the criticism in any substantial way and they didn’t change a thing. The good news is, we no longer have to second-guess the mistakes they have made because the firm that made the expert tool (Joanneum Research Life or JRL for short) spelled almost everything out in a background document.

In this blogpost I’ll point out what exactly they did wrong by using my tried and tested format of:

The Top-6 errors people make, when they trash talk electric vehicles

  • The new ADAC / JDL study helpfully lends itself to demonstrating this because they make 5 of the 6 errors.
  • Correcting these errors and showing the result in a graphical format looks like this:

As you can see, taking the original ADAC figures into account, choosing diesel over electric makes hardly any difference as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. If we correct some errors (I think that’s more accurate than saying ‘change some assumptions’), the electric vehicle emits less than 100 grams of CO2 per km on the German mix during its lifetime, while the diesel emits over 200 grams per km. Everything is explained in detail in the (English) report below, but let’s start with the management summary:

  • Error 1 is to exaggerate greenhouse gasses emitted during battery production. JDL estimates emissions based on one outdated source while acknowledging production in very large factories uses ten times less energy than they assume. This metric is expressed in kg carbon dioxide equivalent emitted per kWh of battery. JBL assumes 163 kg per kWh. I show why more current sources has led me to propose 65 kg per kWh.
  • Error 2 is to underestimate battery lifetime. JDL estimates that the battery needs to be replaced after 150 thousand kilometers. But stats from actual Tesla drivers show that the battery will last 500 to 800 thousand kilometers and new research shows that the lifetime of lithium batteries is still rapidly improving. Research also shows cars in Germany are in use for about 225 thousand kilometers. Let’s ignore for now that many cars get another lease on life in countries like Poland. Or that recycling and second life expectations for batteries as stated in their study are far beyond conservative.
  • Error 3 is to pretend the electricity will not get cleaner during the lifetime of the electric vehicle. ADAC assumes that the electric vehicle will drive on the same mix forever. This is simply a false assumption as is explained in the report below. They also use a very high figure. This means that the ADAC assumption of 608 grams of CO2 per kWh of electricity should be replaced by 295 grams of CO2 per kWh.
  • Error 4 is to use unrealistic tests for energy use. JRL assumes a diesel vehicle will use 4.7 liters per 100 km. Although this might be true in the brochure for some cars, using real world measurement takes you closer to 6.6 liters per 100 km for the average German diesel and 5.8 liters for the Golf diesel.
  • Error 6 is lack of system thinking. With diesel you might reduce emissions around 40% in a renewable future, but with electric you can achieve reductions of around 95%.

So, the ADAC study is the anti-electric vehicle lobby at its finest, using every trick in the book to make the combustion vehicle look good and the electric vehicle look bad.

Are you still reading? Interested in proof and details? Now I’ll dive into the sources and reasoning behind each correction in detail.

Update Auke Hoekstra on November 18, 2019: I reduced diesel emissions while driving from 235 gr/km to 212 gr for an average diesel and 187 gr for a Golf. A stupid error: I forgot to exclude heavy diesels in spritmonitor.de and the attentive reader @kasparthommen alerted me.  Which goes to show it’s important to make transparent calculations so others can correct you. Thanks Kaspar!

1. Exaggerate greenhouse gasses emitted during battery production

An electric vehicle has a battery, something combustion cars don’t have. To produce it you have to use energy, and this emits CO2. Every serious EV researcher agrees on that. The interesting bit is determining how much. The measurement used is mostly greenhouse gasses emitted per kWh of battery.
The problem in determining this is that manufacturers don’t want to tell this because they don’t want to tip off the competition while the scientific literature is usually far behind the facts. The ADAC (or rather Joanneum Research Life or JRL for short that provided them with the tool) said they used 11 literature sources. That seems to be mostly for show as most sources are not referenced in the text. (That’s a big no no in science by the way: it’s like padding your resume with jobs you did not do.)

But I tried to trace back the three sources that are referenced in the main text.

The first is Ellingsen et al 2014 who base themselves on Majeau-Bettez et al (2011) who in turn base themselves on Rhydh and Sanden (2005). So this line takes us back to a theoretical exercise from 2005 that was not even aimed at car batteries. I think it shows the approach of JRL takes them a couple of years behind the times.

The second is a what JRL calls a “meta study” from the ICCT (2018). I wonder if they did more than skim the summary for a number to use. Because firstly it is not a meta-study but a policy brief. Secondly, they claim this study points to emissions of 175 kg CO2-eq per kWh while in reality this study says the ICCT doesn’t know because estimates are all over the place and emissions are dropping rapidly as manufacturing scales up and electricity becomes greener. Thirdly, the only time the ICCT uses 175 kg CO2-eq per kWh, it calls this “the central estimate of Romare et al.” which is actually the third and last source Johanneum mention in the main text. So they present a brief as a study, say it concludes 175 kg when it doesn’t and claim this is an independent number when it isn’t. You can’t get it much more wrong than that.

The third and last source is Romare (2017). This is indeed a meta-study. Yet to choose this as a basis for the most important number in the whole tool is peculiar because this study has gotten a lot of push-back and the authors themselves warn against using it for large scale production. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and owner of the world’s largest lithium battery factory said “Calling this clueless would be generous. Much less energy required for lithium-ion batteries.”

Another EV CEO explains a lot is wrong with the study, one thing being outdated numbers. An article in Handelsblatt explains how unreliable these numbers are. I found the briefing of FFE called “Carbon footprint of electric vehicles – a plea for more objectivity” to be especially good. They explain (with support from the authors of the maligned study itself!) that this was just an overview of past studies and using this number as-is ignores the rapid pace of development that is bringing emissions down quickly as production scales up and electricity becomes greener.
So there you have it: everybody agrees the 175 kg CO2-eq is untrustworthy and outdated and that battery production emissions are dropping rapidly. You know what: even JRL seems to agree! But then they decide to ignore it. How do we know? In my criticism I introduced some new sources that JRL have now discussed in a separate chapter called “significant influences”. What do we find in that chapter (on page 192)?

I was flabbergasted when I read that. It’s like saying: “We now know our estimate of energy use for battery production is probably ten times too high. But we are going to use it anyway. Get over it.”

Now just to be clear: this approach by JRL is not unusual. Many large organizations (JRL mentioned the IEA) us it. But that does not make it right. It only shows many large institutions have trouble dealing with change.

So how do I determine emissions? I do not base myself on scientific publications with production numbers that go back more than 4 years because that’s simply irrelevant. So I certainly don’t use meta-studies. I either use recent studies containing original research or industry sources. In the article that I linked to previously this leads me to conclude 65 kg CO2-eq per kWh is currently a good average and it will drop further in the future. This is bolstered by new (June 27, 2019) market research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (publicly referenced in this podcast) that puts the emissions between 20 and 80 with the average around 40 kg CO2-eq per kWh. However, this is excluding mining so I think 65 is still a good estimate.

By the way: all this is excluding recycling and second life. JRL does include some assumptions but they are very pessimistic: recycling reduces emissions only 2% and second life reduces them a lot but is only assumed in 5% of cases. In effect the result is negligible. There is so much wrong with these assumptions that I will let them be for the moment, but I will just say that in 15-20 years’ time (when current car batteries are scrapped) it is ludicrous to assume the emissions needed for that will be almost the same as for producing new batteries.

2. Underestimate battery lifetime

Many studies limit the battery lifetime to 150 thousand kilometers. When the car drives more, the batteries have to be replaced. ADAC and JRL do this. However, my good friend prof. Maarten Steinbuch publishes a well known blog that shows the data that Merijn Coumans gathers from hundreds of Tesla drivers to see how their batteries are degrading. The numbers suggest that after 800 thousand kilometers you will still have 80% of range left. There are many other public sources that point towards batteries outlasting any realistic use of the electric vehicle. Since the electric motor is also good for such a long distance we might well see electric vehicles being used for more kilometers than currently with diesel vehicles.
I recently supervised a master study that did a deep dive into battery degradation for me and it turns out most research on batteries is from the last five years: research is booming and it’s paying off, especially with regard to lower degradation. It is now better understood how active cooling, smart charging and doping of the electrolyte can make the lithium battery last much longer so it will be easy to make batteries that last over one million kilometers within ten years. There’s literally hundreds of relevant papers but a good introduction is this lecture by leading professor Jeff Kahn.

Many people voice opinions about how long cars will last. Few have facts to back their opinions up. Gniewomir Fils was kind enough to look into this and concluded that 150 thousand kilometers was clearly not enough and 15 to 20 years was more realistic. In more affluent countries, cars are driven shorter but even so in Germany people drive for about 16 years and with 14 thousand km per year that means 225 thousand kilometers. But life for a car bought in Germany often doesn’t end in Germany. Many cars are exported to countries like Poland where cars are much older on average and where electric vehicles can continue to reduce CO2 emissions.

3. Assume electricity will not get cleaner during the lifetime of the electric vehicle

Imagine somebody gave you a loan for a house over a 15-year period. Imagine further that the costs started at 402 euro per month in the first year and 9 euro per month less every following year. See the table below. What would you say is the cost per month over this 15-year period?
Almost anybody would say: you take the average over 15 years. I calculated that at 321 euro. That is your average cost when you live in your house for 15 years. Right? Well not according to JRL and the ADAC.


These numbers are not random. They are the expected CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity in the EU. And what most studies of electric vehicles do wrong is that they calculate with the number in the first year. They pretend the coal fired power plants that are closed and the green energy that is added does not matter for the emissions of the electric vehicle. They pretend a vehicle bought in Germany in 2020 will drive on the energy mix of 520 grams of CO2 per kWh forever. But the average is 295. That’s 43% less!

I must say I could not find this piece of information in the background document but the graph in the press release gives us a clue. Eyeballing the graphic from the study/press release we can see that driving the electric vehicle on the German mix for 225 thousand km increases emissions from 12 to 37 tonnes. So, 25 tonnes for 225 thousand km gives 100 grams per km. The tool assumes the electric vehicle uses 0.19 kWh per km. That means they assume that producing 1 kWh of electricity produces 100/0.19=526 grams of CO2. So that is indeed the current German mix. Ergo they assume this dramatic situation will last for another 15 years.

Now maybe you will say: “They are just talking about how green electric vehicles are now and they acknowledge that electric vehicles will be greener in the future.” But that’s not how this works. All the emissions per kilometer numbers that ADAC and JRL are using are based on an evaluation of the car over its entire lifetime. So, they really take the high emissions in the first year and use that number every following year.

4. Use unrealistic tests for energy use

JRL and ADAC assume a diesel vehicle uses 0.52 kWh/km or 4.7 liter per 100 km based on “research by JRL” (page 62). However, if we look at users documenting their real energy use in Germany on spritmonitor.de and select diesel cars sold in the last 3 years the average is 6.6 liter per km. That’s 40% more. If we only compare a to a frugal Golf Diesel the realistic emission is still 5.8 liter per 100 km.

What often happens in Europe where politicians and automakers have long enjoyed a cozy relationship is that real numbers are replaced by very unrealistic tests so politicians and carmakers can say they reduced emissions while in effect they only cheated on the test. Under the NEDC, real emissions where 40% higher than in the test. The new WLTP is also problematic.

For electric vehicles, 0.19 kWh is assumed (page 64). This is about what the EPA (the best source for vehicle emissions including charging) estimates for a car like the Tesla Model 3, Volkswagen eGolf and Nissan Leaf so let’s go with that.

5. Exclude fuel production emissions

If we take diesel, JRL assumes that it will emit around 33 tonnes of CO2 over 225 thousand kilometers. That is 147 gram per kilometer. Taking into account their diesel consumption of 4.7 liters, that implies emissions of around 3120 grams per liter of diesel.

Here they have not made a material mistake. The direct emissions from diesel are around 2600 grams per liter (it differs a bit according to exact composition). Indirect emissions for things like refineries and transport adds around 620 grams in Europe (see e.g. here and here). That brings the emissions per liter to around 3220 grams which is pretty close to 3120 grams – so no complaints here.

You could argue about the exact height of the numbers. However, refining and transport alone added at least 18% in 2010 and this percentage has probably increased since oil takes more and more money in order to extract it.

Also, they could have included biofuels to get at the slightly reduced number. That’s a discussion for another time but modern scientific insights are that using agro-based biofuels causes more emissions than fossil fuels in most situations (waste and some double cropping and fallow grasslands excluded) and put enormous pressure on worldwide food systems and the natural environment. That is why I advise against it for regular cars and why I certainly don’t use it to reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuels.

 6. Lack of system thinking

By this I mean that most critics that claim electric vehicles are not much better than combustion cars seem to miss the “the big picture”. Let me take the table from my article to illustrate:

 

 

As you can see, in a Renewable Future scenario, the diesel car could achieve some improvements to total emissions but it’s very limited. The electric vehicle, on the other hand, can achieve a further tenfold reduction over the current twofold reduction compared to diesel vehicles. This last scenario is speculative, but these numbers are estimates that would result when recycling is done using current best practices and when production and operation only use low carbon sources.

Tomorrow is good: Sustainability – who else is all mouth and no trousers?

A year ago, many people in the Netherlands had never even heard of it. But right now, the nitrogen crisis is dominating the political and social agenda in the Netherlands. It is the topic of the day. As many as 18,000 projects have been put on hold because we already emit far too much nitrogen in the Netherlands, as in nitrogen oxide and ammonia to be specific. The Netherlands is even the European frontrunner as far as nitrogen emissions are concerned. We have plenty of it. In fact, way too much.

Nitrogen poses a problem for nature

Over the past few weeks, I have regularly heard people say that nitrogen isn’t an issue. Even those who have some gravitas have been saying that. They say that nitrogen would actually benefit nature. Some plants, such as grass, nettles and blackberries, are growing very fast indeed. They’re overrunning many other plants as a consequence. And that’s the core of the issue. At first glance, it’s all still very green, yet at the same time many plants and animals are disappearing.

The problem is that so many different plants are dying from too much nitrogen. Two concrete examples make this particularly clear. Take heather, for instance. Heather dies off because it becomes ‘lazy’ when exposed to too much nitrogen. The heather’s root system gradually shrinks in size if too much nitrogen is present. The plants can’t absorb enough moisture during dry periods and end up perishing. Or take oaks. Every tree has all kinds of fungi around its roots. Oak fungi cannot cope with nitrogen. Excess nitrogen in the soil triggers acidification. This in turn causes the fungi around the oak to die off. However, oak trees need these fungi in order to be able to absorb nutrients from the soil. Since the oak’s roots also die off together with the fungi, the tree also ends up dying.

When oak and heather plants die, different animals and plant species that live around them and which have benefited from these disappearing trees or plants also tend to disappear. I heard a forest ranger say last week: “Nature is dying. It has been getting quieter and quieter here in the countryside for years now. A statement that really makes you pause for a moment and reflect ……………….
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Over the centuries, increasingly more plant and animal species have become extinct. This is the epitome of evolution. That in itself is not a problem. The problem lies in the tremendous speed and scale which this is now happening at. Plenty of reasons to be worried.

Identifying the ones who are to blame

Meanwhile, our national hobby has started up again. We are searching for the ones who are to blame. The politicians, the government, the farmers, the aviation sector, the car industry, the banks and the supermarkets. Seeking answers as to who is to blame has not done us much good so far. Least of all provided a solution. Groups are at odds with each other. Everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else. Everyone is digging their heels in.

Seeking a solution

We are so busy hunting down the ones to blame, that attempts to find a solution seems to be slipping further and further out of sight. By the way, I am deliberately not talking about the solution. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that has emerged over the last 60 years.

In any event, the solution is not fewer and fewer nitrogen regulations. The path to a solution actually starts with much less nitrogen all-round. The Remkes Committee carried out research and drew the simple but clear conclusion that “not everything can be done.” That sounds very logical and quite reasonable, doesn’t it?

Be part of a solution yourself?

It is now abundantly clear that a lot needs to be done. In all the discussions, I notice that you and I, as citizens and consumers, have for the moment gotten off relatively scot-free. It seems that it will mainly be up to others to come up with the solution. Although we do have a lot of influence collectively as consumers and citizens. If we start to behave differently, then a lot (of change) is possible. It has just dawned on me in recent weeks that the Remkes Committee’s conclusion that ‘not everything can be done’ is also applicable to me personally. A bit late, I admit. Nonetheless, “not everything can be done” applies, of course, to all of us.

That’s why I no longer want to be all mouth and no trousers

To date, I buy my groceries at the supermarket once a week. I am easy-going and a bit lazy when it comes to grocery shopping. When I have a full schedule, I don’t spend time carefully considering what food I buy. Of course, I know that farmers are usually not getting a fair price for their produce in our supermarkets. There is definitely money to be made right throughout the food chain. Nevertheless, at the same time, many sustainable farmers are struggling to make ends meet. It is a race to the bottom. More and more large-scale production, more bulk goods; the cheaper, the better. The negative effects that this race has on soil (such as too much nitrogen) are also caused by my own consumer behaviour. High time for a change.

Where does your food come from?

I frequently buy organic food. At least I do that. But where does it all come from? Has it been transported all over the world? I have to admit that I don’t usually look at any of the labels. It’s small print and kind of difficult to understand. So where does my food come from? I often don’t know. Do you?

So I have resolved to apply “not everything can be done” to myself as well. And what does that mean in concrete terms? From now on, I have started to buy as much food as possible which is sustainable and locally produced. So I no longer have to load everything all at once into a supermarket trolley without taking a a closer look. I would like farmers to be paid a fair price for their sustainably produced food. That means looking for new places to shop. And I have to say – that’s not easy. It’s still quite difficult to find out precisely what the situation is. But if you invest a bit of time, you’ll come a long way. The same rule applies here as well. You won’t actually notice it until you’ve thought about it and figured it out.

So part of the solution will certainly not be found in fewer conscious consumers, but rather in many, many more. I’m up for it. Are you?

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

Tomorrow is good: Classification, identification, a search for true identity

Are you dead? Or are you a woman? Or are you a famous person off the radio or television? These are typical questions for ‘Who am I?’ – a popular quiz that is in essence based on classification processes. As in the classification of information into certain categories. The aim of the quiz is to create a category that is so small that there is only space for a single person in the end. The reason why the quiz is so popular is that the structure of questions and relevant follow-up questions are actually often too complex for most people. In other words, our own cluelessness make us laugh.

This reasoning method is easier for computers. The structuring of questions – and relevant follow-up questions – can be converted comparatively easily into an algorithm that is able to classify these. The answers to the questions posed lead to classifications of items that have certain characteristics in common.

Constitution

The right to privacy is considered so important in the Netherlands that it has been laid down in the Constitution. For example, there are rules for any data that might lead to the identification of a private individual. The term ‘identification’ in this context refers to a link with information related to identity, like a name, address, date of birth and social security number. Identification is as such intrinsically different from classification. Whereas the identification process leads to one (private) individual, the classification process leads to a category that may be small, except that in principle it does not name a specific person.

Nevertheless, in actual practice this distinction is vague. Most of us are willing to give up data that leads to our identity in exchange for the ease of convenience or forms of amusement. We provide messaging applications with real-time insight into our social network. We send our biometric data to hardware manufacturers in order to unlock our equipment. Nowadays, calendars, e-mails and documents are managed by service providers and private photos are placed in computer networks. Moreover, this data is increasingly becoming more of a valuable commodity which companies use to combine all kinds of data. And in that process, our true identities are revealed.

Numb fingers

As early as 2006, AOL (America Online) disclosed the key search terms used by some of its users. All of its users were given a unique number in order to safeguard their privacy. User 4417749 searched for ‘numb fingers’, ‘Single men 60’ and a ‘dog that urinates on everything’. It turned out to be fairly easy to create a category that was so small, only one person could fit into it. This was done based solely on the user’s key search terms. That’s when they came up with Mrs Thelma Arnold from Lilburn, Georgia.

Classification leads to categories, and identification leads to one private individual. Yet the combination of different types of data can reach an even deeper and more authentic level of identity, as in a ‘true identity’. A true identity has to do with the innermost essence of a human being. And with the social and cultural network wherein a person finds themselves, along with their profound underlying fears and aspirations. Mrs Arnold’s true identity is perhaps linked more to her key search terms than to her actual name.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

 

Tomorrow is good: Beware of the visionary

Research on artificial intelligence (AI) started in the years after the Second World War. John McCarthy, an American mathematician at Dartmouth College, coined the term in 1955 while he was working on a proposal for a summer school that he was seeking funding for. A group of AI pioneers met at that summer workshop in 1956 – the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence. The term AI may have been new, but academics such as British mathematician Alan Turing were already thinking for some time about ‘machine intelligence’ and a ‘thinking machine.’ The objective of the Dartmouth project was also along these lines: simulate intelligence in machines and have computers work out problems that until then had been the preserve of human beings. The summer project did not quite live up to its expectations. The participants were not all present at the same time and were primarily focused on their own projects. Moreover, there was no consensus on theories or methods. The only common vision they shared was that computers might be able to perform intelligent tasks.

AI in 2056

The surviving pioneers from the Dartmouth summer project met up again together for a conference in the summer of 2006. During this three-day conference, they asked what AI would look like in 2056. According to John McCarthy, powerful AI was ‘likely’, but ‘not certain’ by 2056. Oliver Selfridge thought that computers would have emotions by then, but not at a level comparable to that of humans. Marvin Minsky emphasized that the future of AI depended first and foremost on a number of brilliant researchers carrying out their own ideas rather than those of others. He lamented the fact that too few students came up with new ideas because they are too attracted to the idea of entrepreneurship. Trenchard More hoped that machines would always remain under human control and stated that it was highly unlikely that they would ever match the capabilities of the human imagination. Ray Solomonoff predicted that truly intelligent machines were not as far from reality as imagined. According to him, the greatest threat lies in political decision-making.

Who is right?

A wide range of opinions, so it seems. Who among them will be right? Predicting technological breakthroughs is difficult. In 1968, the year when 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick was released, Marvin Minsky stated that it would only take a generation before there would be intelligent computers like HAL. To date, they don’t exist. In 1950, Alan Turing thought that the computer could pass the Turing test by the year 2000, which turned out to be a miscalculation. Vernor Vinge predicted in 1993 that the technological means to create ‘superhuman intelligence’ would be in place within thirty years and that shortly after that year the human age would come to an end. There are still a few years left before it’s 2023, but even this prediction is excessively utopian.

Flip a coin

Making predictions for the future is problematic, as by definition the future is not determined. The role of chance is often greatly underestimated as well. Even experts are scarcely able to “predict the future any better than if you were to flip a coin.” Therefore, we should all be a bit wary.  Not in the least when it comes to visionaries and tech gurus with their exaggerated dystopian or utopian worldviews. So, don’t just believe anyone who claims that AI will definitely outstrip human intelligence within ten years.

Rules for Robots

The new book by Katleen Gabriels, Regels voor robots. Ethiek in tijden van AI (Rules for Robots; Ethics in times of AI) will be published next week. The English translation will be published in early 2020.

 

 

Tomorrow is good: How we fail and why it matters

I regularly speak at so-called FuckUp Nights, events where people talk about failed projects and companies. I like the format very much. To be able to talk about something implies that we have acknowledged and reflected on it. This kind of conversation has always been the best therapy for me. Because it obliges us to reflect on an experience, to structure it and to want to understand it. It’s about the following questions: What was my fuck-up? Why did it happen? What did I learn and what can others learn from this experience? All quite banal. And yet so difficult.

We live in a supposedly successful society that is focused on successful people. Failures are inevitably irrelevant. So we believe. In my world, success and failure are two sides of the same coin. When it comes to success, there is always the risk of failure.  And when it comes to failure, there is always a chance of success. This is not a theory, it’s just the way it should be. We basically learn in two different ways. Through experience (trial & error) and through imitation. We gain experience when we try something new or we imitate it. And if we succeed, then our brain releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine, etc. This in turn encourages us to repeat the experience that we had. If we fail, this is accompanied by emotions of disappointment, frustration and doubt. Which tends to make us want to avoid a similar situation.

Tales of failure

There are plenty of stories about failure. We often talk about companies or their products. Ultimately though, it is always people who go through failure. Over the next few months, I will be reporting here regularly on so-called fuck-ups – failed companies, athletes, products, politicians – and what we can learn from them. Because that’s what it’s really about. It shouldn’t be the mistake, the failure or the fuck-up that has to be highlighted, but the experiences and lessons we can gain from them.

Today I would like to begin with my own fuck-up. I had to file for bankruptcy for my company in 2011. Prior to this in 2009, our market had collapsed by 50% and the banks lost confidence in us. This was despite our successful restructuring. That’s what went down. It would be easy to say now that we or the banks were to blame for the financial crisis. And for a while that’s certainly what I believed and thought. There was only one problem: why did my rivals, (who were in the same industry and some of whom were even with the same bank), make it? They certainly weren’t the culprits. But who then? No matter where I looked, I kept coming back to myself. To the decisions that I hadn’t made, that I had mistakenly made, or that I made too late. The information and advice I ignored. The facts that I didn’t want to believe because they didn’t fit into the image I had of myself or my company. The overestimation of the time and financial resources available to me and my company. The misplaced priorities I set because I thought it would somehow all work out. And so much more.

Many minor and major mistakes

We don’t just fail from one day to the next. Of course, there are cases where a totally unexpected event suddenly shakes the very foundations of a company’s business. But these are the exception rather than the rule. It is the many minor and major mistakes, lack of trust and poor judgement that cause a project, a career or a company to fail. Or, as a friend of mine put it: “Bert, it is not about not making mistakes. All that matters is that you make fewer mistakes than your competitors.

Five reasons for failure

What have I learned? Well, that entrepreneurs fail due to five reasons:

The first reason is lying to yourself. When we pursue a career, take over a project or take over the succession of a company. Even though we basically know in our hearts that we don’t really want to do that. When our heart really beats for something else other than what we are currently doing. When we fool ourselves that way.

The second reason is when we overestimate ourselves. If we overestimate our resources, our financial leeway, time constraints, the goodwill of our customers or the motivation of our employees.

The third reason is doubt. The opposite of overconfidence. When we are unaware of our strengths and competencies which we need, especially during difficult times. Or if we don’t trust these for some reason. When we lack tried and tested experience in dealing with difficult situations.

The fourth reason is the lack of decisiveness, which means that we cannot concentrate and focus on what is most important ahead of us.

Last but not least, the fifth reason is simply the randomness of life. The so-called black swan events, the occurrences that we believe will never happen and that if they did, they would never happen to us. As in my case, a 50% drop in the market – overnight.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is good: By the time you get to the Moral Lab

I had no idea you could be anti time, but it is possible. In fact, that’s a reference to the Dutch title of a booklet about the Mastboomhuis museum. The Mastboomhuis is the only Dutch example of a historic house ‘suspended in time.’ A form of preservation where everything, including the neglected repairs and leftover piles of mail, remains exactly the same as it was left. It is an enchanting experience, wherein you physically step back in time. Back into the life of Henri Mastboom. As such, the rather ill-tempered Henri was quite averse to progress. He was literally anti time.

Whereas I am ahead of time as far as you can be ahead of time. As a sympathizer of the Design Thinking school of thought, my mission in life is to help design a brighter future. That’s why I’m so pleased that the Dutch Design Week is kicking off this weekend. A week in which the entire city of Eindhoven is dedicated to shaping the future. And this time the Dutch Design Week is all the more special for me because we are part of it ourselves.

The ethical conscience within my research group has joined forces with the designers collective We Are. This has led to a veritable moral laboratory. In this moral laboratory we examine how artificial intelligence should be programmed when it comes to making ethical decisions. In a time when chatbots and robot assistants give us solicited and unsolicited advice and when we no longer make our own choices – but choices are made for us – we have to make sure that the artificial intelligence that is advising us and that is making those choices for us, is doing so on the basis of our own ideology. Only then will we be able to fully embrace and trust artificial intelligence. That’s how we design a future that allows people to leave decisions up to technology without any misgivings.

Henri Mastboom would have found our exhibition ‘Moral Lab’ at the Dutch Design Week utterly appalling, and I think that’s the greatest compliment that you can give us.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is good: Innovation often skips the line

We’ve all been through this, cars waiting in line for a parking spot at a parking garage which is nearest to the location you want to be. Of course that one is (almost) full. Cars are waiting impatiently, honking their horns whenever someone does not move a couple of meters ahead.

Meanwhile, the parking garage that’s literally just 3 minutes away has heaps of available spots.

So you could go there instead. Yet some people not only skip the lines, but also decide to take the next logical step and try something else. A totally different approach, like public transport or stay the night over, for example. Or even park their car on the other side of the city for a far lower tariff.  Then take the tram or bus into the city center.

Burning issue

Healthcare needs an approach like that. We have created a system wherein we fix things when we know much of these problems could be prevented. Next to the human aspect of it, there is a real need for a change in approach. Actually I think it is a burning issue, one which up until now has been broadly neglected.

Healthcare will face a doubling of demand soon enough. It already has to deal with a staggering shortage of skilled personal and high burnout rates. While patients are demanding a different service model more and more, that all has to be done within the same budget constraints. Or even less. So I think it won’t be so long before the system implodes. Then there will be chaos. We’ve seen some of that in the UK, as fixing the NHS is way more expensive than avoiding the need for it. So, we’re talking about a twofold prevention plan which is needed right here: for the citizen/patient and for the system.

Every healthcare professional would say that the notion that up to 50% of medical conditions could be prevented has already been on the agenda for years. However, I do see some progression taking place at the moment.

Different models

Nowadays, patients are being ‘spoiled’ in their every day life as citizens by webshops delivering stuff the same day, some even within the hour. In the meantime, technology is coming into use that has proven to be effective based on evidence. Health insurance companies are starting to demand the use of different models. By a significant margin they are ordering complex, low risk routine procedures outside of hospitals. And new players are entering the arena. Sounds like a ‘perfect storm’ eh? Yes – and it should! There is NO way we can keep up with the current model, pace or price. In my opinion, the solution for (the challenges of) healthcare is HEALTH.

Combining technologies and incorporating other industries like:

  • food (offer more healthy food, perhaps even based on the condition you live with)
  • transportation (transport patients back and forth to outpatient clinics) and
  • banking (lower financial debts which correlate to healthcare usage)

To name but a few.  And go from the current model of continual step-by-step improvements (which are still badly needed) towards a model which skips the line.
We need to rethink and adapt to realistic possibilities anno 2019 and get in front of the line, as opposed to just keep on honking the horn.

 

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

 

Tomorrow is good: is Volkswagen going to follow in the footsteps of Kodak?

It is a bit of a golden rule that large industrial companies do not like transitions. Transitions cost money, are in principle not very profitable and it hurts to throw away cash cows. Moreover, familiarity with the existing technology is part of the (hidden) capital value of a company. In short, many find that these ‘old dinosaurs’ (as some of these companies are referred to) are doomed to die an inglorious death. According to a lot of people, Volkswagen has been asleep.  It has taken notice of the transition to electric vehicles far too late and it is turning into a Kodak.

History repeats itself

Many German car factories were destroyed at the end of the World War II. This included all the Daimler-Benz factories, the Ford factory in Berlin and the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. The allied forces struggled to decide what to do with the enormous Volkswagen factory where the VW Beetle was being manufactured. One year after the war, British automobile engineers advised the British government not to take over the VW factory. That’s because they thought the Beetle was too ugly, a bit bizarre and noisy. Two years later, Ford refused to buy the VW factory. Ford’s then president dismissed the Beetle as worthless. Since the French weren’t interested in the Beetle either, the allied forces appointed Heinz Nordhoff as head of VW in 1948. At the same time as this was done, the West German economy grew incredibly fast as all price and manufacturing restrictions were then lifted.

Immediately after the war the Beetle sold extremely well. This was due to it being the only affordable car on the market that could easily transport four people in a reliable manner. In 1951 the West German car industry achieved the same output as it had just before the war. In West Germany the number of cars per inhabitant rose by a factor of 4.4 in the period between 1955 and 1965. Because the West German population also grew, the number of cars subsequently increased by a factor of 5. In the 1950s Volkswagen was by far the largest player on the German car market. And by the sixties it owned about a third of the West-German market. Thanks in part to VW, West Germany became the fourth largest car producer in the world by 1954, even outperforming the British car industry two years later.

Ban on all developments

Until the death of Heinrich Nordhoff in 1968, all new designs were prohibited which did not use the 4-cylinder rear air-cooled boxer engine with its camshaft underneath as a basis. Also the Volkswagen buses and their obvious successors of the Beetle (VW 1500/1600 and VW 411/412) were manufactured in this configuration. At the end of the sixties Volkswagen started to fall far behind other European car manufacturers. At the same time the Beetle’ successors fell short in sales.

After Nordhoff’s death VW started thinking about a new policy for models, which resulted in an almost total replacement of the model range in the middle of the seventies. From that period Volkswagen would use the technology of Audi (Auto Union was taken over in 1964) and NSU. The VW Golf, Scirocco, Polo, Passat and the Audi’s 50 and 80 were a great success. This was only six years after everyone still looked down on the products that they designed and manufactured at the time.

The fully electric ID.3 will be launched on the market next year. Chances are that Volkswagen will use this to try and repeat the success of the seventies.

Sources::

Knie, A. (1994), Wankel-Mut in der Auto-Industrie: Aufstieg und Ende einer Antriebsalternative. Ed. Sigma, Berlin.

Laux, J. (1992), The European Automobile Industry, Twayne Publishers, New York

McShane, C. (1997), The Automobile: A chronology of its Antecedents, Development, and Impact, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago

Seherr-Thoss, H.C. Graf von. (1979), Die Deutsche Automobielindustrie: Eine Dokumentation von 1886 bis 1979. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart.

 

About this column

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

 

Tomorrow is good: from a C- for maths to driving a Lightyear to Palo Alto and back

At the end of high school I had to choose what and where I wanted to study. I had an answer to the question ‘where,’ but the ‘what’ was a bit more difficult to answer. In the end, I chose the bachelor’s degree in Technical Innovation Sciences in Eindhoven. In other words, at the Technical University of Eindhoven. I did have some misgivings, as I didn’t really have the best qualifications to do a technical study (I got a 5 for math on my final exams, after all). But I had enough motivation to give it a try.

I wanted to do something about the energy problem. Yet in my first year I was worried that I wouldn’t manage to make it through to the energy subjects in my studies. These were courses at the faculties of Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, which put me off a bit.

Unconscious progression

After a year of studying architecture, I realized that it didn’t excite me at all and in the end I did decide to go down the energy route. Despite the few doubts I still had. Nevertheless, I did eventually finish it off properly after a few delays here and there due to my sideline activities. Thanks to all that, I became more and more enthusiastic about delving more deeply into the subject. That’s why I made the switch to a Master of Electrical Engineering. That seemed a very logical decision at the time … It was only when I remembered the doubts I first had when I started studying, that I realized that I had unconsciously progressed to a level that I had never expected to reach.

The last year of the Master’s program coincided with a year on the Blue Jay student team. In retrospect, that was a tremendously formative year.

Do the impossible

When we started out, autonomous indoor drones had never been built at the university before. The first step was to ask a lot of people for advice. At the end of the year, I learned from a number of people who had helped back then that they had never really expected it to work in practice. And deep inside I often had that feeling too. You just don’t see it happening in the near future. It taught me that you can really do the impossible if you get a bunch of motivated and talented people behind the same goal.

I have that same feeling of amazement and insight when I look back at my time with Lightyear. I am typing this blog on the back seat of Lightyear One, which is parked outside the entrance of the Monaco Yacht Club. Less than half a year ago, despite all the 3D models, simulations and rendering, I couldn’t even imagine that there would ever be an actual car to sit in.

The author with Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot and Marc Tarpenning (right), one of the two founders of Tesla, whom we met 2 years ago in San Francisco.

Back to Palo Alto

If what you are telling us is true, then that is spectacular. But we just don’t believe you can make a nice looking, comfortable car so efficient“. Those were the words of a major U.S. venture capitalist when we were there in discussions two years ago. After the meeting Arjo, Lex and I promised each other that, as soon as the Lightyear One was up and running, we would go back to Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. And that is exactly what we will be doing at the end of October.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is good: Everything of value is … ageless

You probably didn’t miss it last week. There is a problem with too much nitrogen in the Netherlands. A lot of people will have thought “where did that come from all of a sudden?” Have never heard of it and then all of a sudden there’s an awful commotion. The newspaper headlines weren’t joking. The whole of the Netherlands was shocked and brought to a standstill. Housing plans, road construction, growth of airports, expansions in the agricultural sector; no less than 18,000 projects are on hold. A few politicians tried to come up with a ploy. Yet slowly but surely, it is starting to sink in that there is no avoiding it. Smart choices have to be made. “Decisions must be made, not everything is possible,” the governmental Remkes Committee said.

Fast food for nature

The ” European rules ” were blamed in many articles. But I am afraid that we ourselves are guilty this time around. We have lived for years on credit and used child-like terms. We have repeatedly postponed tough choices. As a consequence, more and more nitrogen crept in at the expense of our beautiful, unique nature reserves. The quality of nature is deteriorating here in our region as well. Nitrogen is actually a fast food for nature; consequently many plants and animal species do not survive years of exposure to fast food. High time for a nitrogen diet for nature.

The whole situation reminds me of one of Lucebert’s most famous lines of poetry (Amsterdam, 1924 – Alkmaar, 1994), namely ‘everything of value is defenseless‘ from the 1974 Dutch poem ‘De zeer oude zingt’ (The very old one sings ).

The very old one sings:

there is not more with so little
nor is there less
still unsure what was
what will be, will be will-less
firstly if it is, it is serious
it recollects itself desperate
and is kept in great haste

everything of value is defenseless
made rich by its tangibility
and equal to everything

like the heart of time
like the heart of time

 

For the past 45 years since the publication of this poem, that one iconic phrase ‘everything of value is defenseless‘ has proved to be topical over and over again. But in 2019, the Dutch Council of State finally corrected what should have happened long ago. At long last – an end to defenselessness. After all these years, a brief, but hopeful new sentence may tentatively be made: everything of value is ageless.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is good: C’mon Germany, dare to do something!

Two weeks ago, the IFA circus landed in Berlin once more. The largest consumer electronics fair in Europe. The major internationally operating companies are bringing their latest innovations to the capital of the world’s most innovative country – at least according to the WEF (October 2018). The e-scooters raced in, as the savvy and the not-so-savvy crowd marveled at drones, smartphones, headphones and smart homes.

It would seem that Germany is a paradise for developing and marketing innovations. Yes, major global players such as BMW, MHP, Bosch, Siemens and SAP are all hard at work doing their thing. It’s full of start-ups in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt. Zalando is a global player, autonomous driving is being further developed, e-sharing  is booming, but in the meantime …

Nothing is what it seems

As is almost always the case in Germany, nothing is what it seems. The government and society are cumbersome and slow. And Germany is lagging behind many global innovative developments. Take electric driving. Most European countries, e.g. Norway and the Netherlands, are well ahead of Germany. Digitizing the government is an enormous task. A new approach to urban space which would ease traffic issues? It’s all very complicated.

On one side you have a country and a capital like Berlin full of innovative start-ups, ShareNow and WeShare – or N26 for instance, the new Berlin Fintech bank that is going completely digital. On the other side, the cities are still geared towards cars, in many places you can only pay cash, you have to pay for your debit card transaction at another bank and then it turns out that they don’t work with Tikkie. Siemens can do almost anything, except that the traffic lights in German cities belong to them and are calibrated in the same way as they were 20 years ago. And where are all the charging stations?

Where it mainly goes wrong in Germany has to do with the lack of focus on the end user. Many things are being developed with an engineering mind, but the question of whether and in what ways the citizen really wants them is of secondary importance. Top-down development is the rule, user-friendliness is the exception. Procedures are tricky and the legal reality often takes precedence. Innovation is then difficult.

Intractable innovation engine

The Netherlands is “what you see is what you get.” (And occasionally less than that, we are … ahem … gifted marketeers after all). User friendliness is our top priority. In Germany, and especially in Berlin, where I live, there are often different realities that frequently coexist completely parallel to each other. The reality of the German Innovation Engine is intractable.

The cliché associated with Germany is that it’s an industrial nation with a powerful lobby that wants to milk its own business model for as long as possible, take the automobile industry and the combustion engine as examples. It has also been quite successful economically and has provided employment for so many people. Politicians allow themselves to be swayed by this and, often under pressure from the powerful lobbies, do not come up with the innovation that e.g. German cities are in need of. According to a lot of people, the new Klimatpaket (climate policy of the Federal Government) does not go far enough.

Courage and creativity

Obviously, a lot of it works quite well, but a lack of courage and a lack of creativity are hampering Germany when it comes to innovation. The will is there, but the question that is often asked is – how? This is exactly what Dutch people in Germany have to offer in terms of a successful collaboration: understanding German Angst, coming up with cross-over user-friendly solutions. Whether it’s within electromobility, government or healthcare. Far less bothered by ‘legalese,’ accustomed to the sheer success of a service-based society without any desire to return to the predominance of industry, the Dutch in Germany are able to come up with solutions that can actually help German society and the lives of its residents to move forward and flourish.

However, make no mistake, there are a lot of self-employed people, small businesses, designers, start-ups and especially residents in Germany who are eager for more of a Dutch mentality in their approach to social challenges. They really want to work with the Dutch.

World champions together

It is the government in particular who is in a position to take action if it doesn’t want Germany to fall behind. The Dutch can give them a few pushes in the right direction. Rutte and Merkel have indicated that both countries will work more closely together on sustainability. Let that be a good start towards becoming world champions together and consequently avoiding a crisis together as well.

 

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Tomorrow is good: never say that ethics is just a trend

The fastest way to get rid of a philosopher? Simple. Say that ethics is just a ‘trend .’ They will charge out of the room with such haste that the hyperloop will pale in comparison.

A while ago I heard a compliance manager talk about #metoo as an ‘ethical trend’. The #metoo movement created a culture of speaking out in the workplace more relevant and, as an employer, you have to take this into account. Research and consultancy from the Gartner company presented digital ethics and privacy as strategic ‘trends’ for 2019.

The benchmark Dutch dictionary Van Dale defines trend as ‘fashion’ amongst other things, in the sense of ‘the latest fashion’ or ‘setting a trend.’ This way, ethics is put on an equal footing with oversized shoulders, which incidentally will be completely on trend this autumn and winter.

At long last, widespread public concern

Who even actually thought up the term ‘ethical trends’? Take #metoo: at long last there is widespread public concern for structurally flawed and problematic situations that have been tolerated for far too long. If #metoo is just a trend, it will probably blow over at some point, just like skinny jeans are gradually disappearing from the streets in favor of flared trousers. Last season, sexually inappropriate behaviour at work was out of fashion. Yet come this autumn, sexism is back to square one.

In the book ‘How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life’, economist Robert Skidelsky and his son, philosopher Edward Skidelsky, are advocating the reintroduction of the moral dimension into current Western market thinking. As in, the loss of humanity is immense in a society that has an insatiable craving for profit at the expense of values, the common good and fundamental rights. Privacy is not a ‘strategic trend’, but a human right, as set out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Respect for human rights is not a fad.

The yearning for friendship

Ethics and the notion of what a good life is have been central to philosophy for centuries. “Of all the ways to achieve absolute happiness in life that wisdom provides us with, by far the most important one is to find friendship,” said ‘trendsetter’ Epicurus. And he was right: anyone who feels connected to family, friends, loved ones and a social network feels happier. The opposite of belonging – feeling lonely and cut off from others – makes us deeply unhappy and leads to poorer health. Having good relationships paves the way to a good life, which runs contrary to individualism and self-interest.

“A life that does not look critically at itself is not worth living,” says the other trendsetter named Socrates. In other words, “vindica te tibi”- “spend time with yourself”, according to the wise sentiments of Seneca the trend watcher. ” Take a look at yourself and examine yourself in various ways and keep an eye on yourself; have a closer look at whether you have made any progress in philosophy or in life itself.”

Whoever continues to inspire centuries later on, has not launched a trend, but rather an indispensable guide to a good life.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.

 

 

Tomorrow is good: Data, not words, if you really want to do something about subversive organized crime.

Recently the report De Achterkant van Amsterdam (The Other Side of Amsterdam) was presented. A report on the investigation carried out by Pieter Tops and Jan Tromp into drug-related financial transactions and how they take place in the main city. The report describes in no uncertain terms the destructive effect of subversive crime on our society.

More or less at the same time as the presentation of this report, Den Bosch wrapped up the project Weerbaar (the Resilience project). A project, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, which revealed that an effective way to combat subversive crime starts with data. Test data from the Oost-Brabant Police has been combined with that from the municipality of Den Bosch along with information from open sources. All of this data was brought together in a scenario-based model that recognizes patterns, identifies indicators of subversive crime and generates future scenarios. The outcomes, possibilities and risks of this model were assessed by scientists from the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science. I had the privilege of being involved in this research myself.

Pieces of the puzzle

When the knowledge and experiences from De Achterkant van Amsterdam, are combined with the lessons from Weerbaar, an effective approach to combating subversive crime comes to the fore. De Achterkant van Amsterdam, for example, shows that research has been done into associations (as in non-profit organizations) that own expensive cars or a lot of real estate (Amsterdam CID, 2017). It is also known how many applications for licenses for the catering industry are privately financed (Municipal study, 2019). The number of expensive properties sold in Amsterdam without a mortgage was investigated (DNB, 2017). And it is known how many people act as financiers for personal loans, who, according to the tax authorities, do not have the capital to do so (Report on Personal Loans, 2019).

The project Weerbaar shows that it is entirely possible to combine the above sources together with police data and to translate these into practical scenarios. Moreover, there is no doubt that the results of all this is much more than the sum of its parts and that valuable, previously unknown insights have emerged. What has become clear from both studies is that many parties hold pieces of the puzzle when it comes to subversive organized crime, but there’s no one who is overseeing the whole puzzle.

It is important in this context to stress that it is of course not illegal for an association to own expensive cars or expensive buildings. Nor is it illegal to issue personal loans, nor illegal to purchase real estate without a mortgage. But when this information is combined with other types of data, for example from the Chamber of Commerce, the Land Registry, the Inland Revenue Service, the Salvation Army, the shopkeeper’s association, the municipality and the police – a picture can be formed of a situation that points to less legal practices.

This investigative method is as old as the Methuselah. Every detective works like this. The big difference is that a detective brings together information on an incidental basis and is only able to investigate a very limited amount of data, while technology can bring together data in a structural way (and in real time), and moreover, do this with very large amounts of data.

Underlying problems

One of the conclusions of the Tops and Tromp report is that the competency of ‘cooperation’ is not particularly highly developed within the Amsterdam governmental agencies. This brings us to the actual and underlying problem. Now that it is clear that subversive organized crime can be tackled more efficiently than is currently the case, the following painful question must be answered: Do we really want that? Is the disruptive nature of subversive crime on our society large enough for us to genuinely want to work together and share data? And do we sincerely want to look for the scope that laws and regulations offer us for that?

Because if the answer to this is ‘yes’, then from now on the motto is: data, not words.

 

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

Tomorrow is good: a happier tomorrow

Jacinda Ardern has been getting my attention for some time now. Although I do follow global politics fairly closely, I would not be able to name any previous New Zealand Prime Ministers aside from the this current young female Prime Minister. She stands out. She is not only attracting my attention. In my opinion, never before has a prime minister of such a small country (New Zealand has less than 5 million inhabitants) been in the Dutch news so often with such positive news coverage.

Part of that coverage was concerned with her conduct in response to the attacks in Christchurch. Jacinda Ardern was praised in the media for her wonderful combination of warmth and decisiveness that she demonstrated. In her speech after the attack, she used an entirely different language than that of her international colleagues speeches after terrorist attacks. Post September 11th, George Bush talked about a ‘war on terror.’ Dutch premier Rutte spoke of ‘a war against IS’ after the attacks in Paris.  Whereas Jacinda Ardern used the words ‘As-salaam Alaikum’ – ‘peace be upon you’. She predicates peace and not war, yet she has also proven her decisiveness by amending the law on weapons and by banning semi-automatic weapons at a very fast pace. Something Americans did not do, and which Ardern openly expressed her astonishment about.

The New Zealand Prime Minister was recently in the news again when she announced her intention to invest heavily in the welfare of the New Zealand population. With a focus on happiness instead of economic growth. When you look at the rolling out of these plans, it seems to be mainly about fair play and anti-aggression measures. However, the tone has been set with the focus on happiness and well-being and the New Zealand budget reached the international press.

Newsworthy

Apparently a focus on happiness instead of economic growth is relatively newsworthy. Although this has been a trend for some time now. The King of Bhutan, for instance, had already focused on happiness back in the 1970s. He even introduced a novel measure for mapping out the state of a country: the Gross National Happiness index. Yet this standard did not come without criticism and the success of his politics is subject to considerable debate.

We also see examples within Western politics. One of the best-known of these is the role that Cass Sunstein played in American politics at the request of Barack Obama. As an advisor to Obama and an assessor of new legislation, Sunstein gained a strong position within the backdrop of Obama’s politics. Sunstein, together with Nobel Prize winner of the economy Richard Thaler, are considered to be ‘the godfathers of nudging‘. Nudging is all about giving a slight and friendly shove in the right direction so as to encourage others to behave in a way that is more conducive to their own personal well-being. The two men wrote the book “Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness.” The book received praise as well as criticism. There is a good deal of psychology behind the practice of nudging, and you may ask yourself whether the government might be assuming a role that is unduly paternalistic. Sunstein and Thaler fiercely rejected the criticism in a plea for a movement that they call ‘libertarian paternalism.’ A movement where citizens still maintain complete freedom of choice, but where they are gently steered in a direction that promotes their own well-being.

It’s just a tiny step from politics to science via Sunstein. We have also been seeing the emergence of disciplines within science which focus on happiness for many years now. This is how we see the trend in economics that is also referred to as the ‘economics of happiness’. Some of the big names here are Layard and Easterlin, of whom Easterlin is mainly known for his Easterlin paradox formulated in the 1970s: over time, incomes will rise in a country but the level of happiness will not. In the field of psychology spearheaded by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( who is responsible for ‘flow’), we see a school of thought that has also been termed ‘positive psychology’ wherein the focus is not on mental health problems, but on the possibilities for improving everyone’s state of mind, even when there are no apparent problems. We are also increasingly seeing an emphasis on happiness in the workplace with the advent of ‘Chief Happiness Officers’.

The key question underlying these trends is ‘how do we measure progress? When will things improve in the future? More conventional answers to these questions are: when there is more money and/or more opportunities. Progress then goes hand in hand with technological developments and with the economic strength of a society. More recently, the answer to this question appears to be gradually changing. Do things get better when they are fairer? Do things improve when everything is more sustainable? Or will things be better when everyone is happier? What does a better tomorrow mean? I agree with the New Zealand Prime Minister’s answer to the question ‘when will things be better?’ – whereby it is not technological progress or economic prosperity that is key, but the human dimension.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous columns.