Building Up Smart Machinery for Sustainable Development

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When
we think about futures challenges of the world, we can note that there are still
vital basic needs which should be met. The explosion in the world´s population
appears to be slowing down. Fifty years ago an average woman had between 5-6
children. Today global average is 2.6 children, while the replacement level is
2.3.  In European Union, U.S., China,
Japan and Russia, the population is shrinking. In many developing countries
population is increasing.

The overall world population continues to grow,
because many less developed and developing countries have relatively young
demographic profiles. This is also demographic situation in the Mekong-river countries.

Mahatma
Gandhi once said: “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve
its prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require?” This question
is very relevant today, when the BRICSA countries and other developing
countries are developing their economies. Today we can ask: “What if China
would aspire to the standards of living of the U.S.A.?” The hard truth is that
we already consuming more than one Earth can support. We have already
transgressed safe planetary boundaries in many respects. Biodiversity is
stressed to limits in many countries. We have surpassed the carrying capacity
of Earth´s climate with a factor of 1.5.
Key conclusion is: Our
planet needs much more smarter machinery for sustainable development.
We
shall need more food, water, and housing in the future. People have begun to
eat more meat, more dairy products, and consume more energy. All these issues
mean that we should produce commodities in a sustainable way. Already now China
and a number of Arab countries are already buying up huge areas of farmland in
Africa to secure their own food supplies.
Climate
change will make things more challenging in food and water management. The road
and vision to sustainable development will not be easy to reach.
What
sustainable development requires? It requires (1) more sustainable lifestyles,
(2) ecological land use, (3) eco-innovations and clean technologies and (4)
better resource productivity. We need this kind of smart machinery for
sustainable development.  Especially we
need to reduce the amount of waste in wealthy regions while simultaneously
securing food and water for those people who do not have no choice in the
matter.
Now
one of three people suffers from water shortages. More serious aspect of water
management is that no water also means no food available. The strong signal of
this emerging problem was the 1994 massacres in Rwanda were cause by a matter of food
shortages. After this serious water-based crisis we have been warned in many ways about the potential unsustainability
problems. There is strong stress to increase food production in the world,
because there will be more people on the Earth, about 180 million people more
every year.
Ecological
footprints of the nations are going to increase, when bigger populations live
on the Earth. The key challenge will keep the number of calories at a healthy
level while ensuring that we waste muck less. Eco-efficiency is a vital
question in this respect. Natural resource conflicts are going to be obvious
problems in the Earth, if we do not invest enough in the smart machinery for
sustainable development. For example, packing and storing our scarce food
supplies can provide promising opportunities to manage the global food supply
chains.
Ubiquitous
sustainability will be a key challenge when we develop smart machinery of
sustainable development. We have many good technical opportunities and tools to
use. Probably the problems we face in terms of food, water and other
commodities are mostly related to wrong political and economic attitudes rather
than overpopulation.
Ubiquitous
technologies provide a broad mix of solutions to sustainability challenges.
Critical fields of opportunity are: (1) product design, (2) production systems,
(3) home technologies, (4) monitoring technologies, (5) social monitoring
technologies, (6) persuasive technologies and (7) personal action home technologies.
Product
design provides a tool to designers better incorporate sustainable practices in
the design process. Especially Ubicomp solutions enable cradle-to-cradle design
of products.
Systemic
thinking in infrastructure planning is providing promising approaches to
maximise reusability and reducing energy requirements.  Ubicomp technologies can provide and serve as
a substitute for more energy-intensive alternatives. For example, when planners plan the urban ecology futures of Vientiane or Phnom Penh metropolitan regions, this kind of ubicomp ideas can be very interesting and useful.
Ubicomp
support issues such as monitoring, reconfiguration, and co-evolution of
residents and home technologies. In the field of home technologies there is
huge potential to save food, water and energy utilities. Especially monitoring
and sensor technologies can help people to understand the use energy and other
resources. Ubicomp technology can be used to help identify opportunities for
changing personal behavior related to energy consumption.
May
eco-hacking our homes and neighbourhoods be the next big thing?
Social
networking technologies can be used to motivate sustainable behaviour among
crowds and networks. People are once again thinking about how they can do more
with less. Especially persuasive technologies can be used to encourage more
sustainable behaviours. People can be also supported by ubiquitous technologies
in their efforts to change their daily practices and reduce resource
consumption. Personal action technologies can support personal actions such as
protest or subversive resistance to effect change. For example, Ubicomp sensor
networks or social sensing can be used to support the environmental justice
movement by documenting developing problems or potential misdeeds.
Thus,
referring to the potential of ubiquitous sustainability, there are very many possibilities
to develop new kinds of systems in urban and rural ecology. We have seen
already growing trend of robotics in agricultural production. In the field of
recycling new interesting applications of robotics are introduced. The role for
robotics in sustainable development is studied actively in sciences.
Of
course, industrial robotics is often associated with an unsustainable economic
model. However, robotics provides many qualitative benefits through its
precision, strength, sensing capabilities and computing power. Could robotics
help us to minimise our ecological footprint?
We probably need industrial
robotics, service robotics and personal robotics for assisting us towards
sustainability. New Ubicomp applications and deployment models can be devised
that improve ecological sustainability and quality of life.  These may require new approaches to the designs
of robots, robot-using systems and IT systems that employ methods of robotics
and AI.
Robotics
for sustainable development is an exciting new challenge where research,
education and industry in both developed and developing countries can equally
contribute and benefit. No wonder, there are many individuals who are
passionate about the interaction between UbiComp and environmental
sustainability.
The age of smart machines can mean many positive wild cards for
sustainable development. A denser network of communications could give people a
greater opportunity to participate in the global economy.
Let´s use this global
network for better and more sustainable world!

 

Jari Kaivo-oja
Research director, Adjunct professor,
FFRC, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku