I know it wasn’t really a hologram but the use of some old technology called Pepper’s Ghost, but that is a mere technicality I feel. This week, and not for the first time in his political career, French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon conducted 12 simultaneous political rallies using what the press describe as hologram technology.
Mélenchon employed an optical illusion known as “Pepper’s Ghost,” where a 2D image is projected onto a thin film or pane of glass to give the impression that the speaker is actually present, the same technology used when Tupac Shakur (who was already dead) joined Snoop Dogg on stage more than 10 years ago.
There have been lots of concerts since then, Roy Orbison, for the rock and rollers, Whitney Houston for pop lovers and Maria Calla touring with a full orchestra for the opera lover in you. But the use of this technology has also raised some questions. Although the owners of the estates of these dead stars might agree to allow such a concert, it remains impossible to ask the artist themselves if they agree with this form of exploitation.
Which brings me back into the political arena. A politician can conduct a rally in as many cities as they would like, projecting an image and sound and have an interactive event, but they could also host guest conversations if they liked. A conversation with Winston Churchill? A short scripted introduction from Gandhi? What other uses might come to mind? And what might the implications be for the democratic process?
The availability of new techniques easily makes (the illusion of) 3D possible, and readers might like to look up Cheoptics or Musion Eyeliner to get some ideas of what is commercially available today. Easily transportable systems designed for touring are available, so I am not suggesting something that would be logistically difficult to do.
It seems a small step to move from using your own candidate to introducing iconic historical political figures on stage, but not an unproblematic one.
This week the China Daily newspaper is carrying a story that has been picked up by many international news agencies. The paper states that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is ordering all newly built residences to install fiber optic connections in any city or county “where a public fiber optic telecom network is available.”
An ambitious project, particularly when put alongside the government’s hopes that 40 million families will be connected by fibre optic technology by 2015. These kinds of goals and regulations may seem impossible to those of us that live in the old world, but I would not be too sceptical about their interests and possibilities in China.
Here in the US we are a long long way from even getting broadband to large swathes of the country. The National Broadband map is a great source of information about how well connected we are, the maps are interactive and offer loads of information. Broadband coverage in general gets thinner on the ground as you move West, with much of the rural West and mid West still showing very little access. If you look at the map of fibre optic to home availability though you will see that we are talking about a very small number of providers and although it represents 17% of services it is extremely localized, with the vast majority of the country having no service.
3.7% of the population have no high speed service at all, and although this seems like a small percentage, in a country the size of the USA it represents (by my calculation) about 13 million people.
Some analysts here are asking if the China intervention might be another Sputnik moment. The launch of the Sputnik pushed the US into the space race, fuelling investment and technological breakthrough. The question is whether the same will happen here.
If you are interested in how the world is connected, this article in the Global Finance magazine offers a table that shows the percentages of internet users divided into different countries. Some show a recent explosion is use, Albania going from 1% to 50% in 10 years, some are at above 90%, and some show little growth and remain in the 20’s or 30’s.
Given the importance for business the upgrading of existing infrastructure is of political interest. Both the US and UK governments have made broadband speed and distribution improvement a named priority. The UK government is putting in 530 million Pounds to roll out high speed internet to rural areas and in the US government has a similar plan, once more fueled by recent bad press about the quality of services offered across the country.
The Indian government is also pushing broadband extension. In a recent report increase in GDP is directly linked to broadband access, with failures on the parts of telecom companies blamed for losses in earnings and growth. India is expected to be the largest internet base on the planet by 2015, moving to above 300 million users and overtaking the US. With an extremely technology savvy society and better and wider infrastructure this must represent a great opportunity to the country.
So politics plays an important role in creating infrastructure. In an article last year on the innovation Excellence blog I wrote about how the FIFA World Cup had lead to the introduction of fibre optic technology to Africa (with a few hiccups) so large international events also play a part in creating infrastructure and generating opportunities.
Yesterday the official data came out and the year 2012 was the hottest year the US has experienced since records began. Not only that, but it was the hottest by a long way.
The Hurricane Sandy experience, as well as a recent spate of wildfires and drought, has meant that the topic of climate change is firmly on the table, but the dissenting voice still carries political clout.
There are two polar positions here, with a large political lobby arguing that climate change has nothing to do with human actions, that either the Earth is warming naturally or that there is no proof that the world is warming at all. This goes against mainstream European thinking, and we can see many differences in approach between the two continents. In Europe we no longer use plastic bags on mass, they are now almost all biodegradable, and we can only buy low wattage compact fluorescent lamps as old style light bulbs have been fazed out.
Here the government is moving towards the same goal. In Massachusetts an organization called Mass Save subsidizes the cost of replacing old bulbs with new. The money comes from the user who has to pay a supplement on the electric bill to fund the scheme, but all is not without issue.
A traditional and new style lamp
These bulbs contain mercury, a naturally occurring but poisonous substance. This means that they have to be disposed of properly, as if they are just dumped into the ground they can poison the surrounding water ways, very much in the same way as batteries do. They are also much more complex than old style bulbs, they require assembly and raw materials for their components, and much of this work is carried out in China with the usual questions of human rights and exploitation that are associated with this type of process.
Some sections of the political world (the Tea Party for example) offer this as proof that the environmentalists are poisoning the Earth and that their arguments are based upon false suppositions. Statistics are produced that seemingly show that a few lamps may do a lot of damage, but they do cut down electricity consumption enormously, and here in the US a lot of electricity is still produced by burning coal, and that is an extremely dirty and polluting affair.
The amount of mercury is also disputed, bringing poison into the house, light that burns skill, all kinds of terrifying scenarios, and I am certain that these lamps do present a real issue of environmental threat, but it is not through such scaremongering that progress will be made.
For the lamps to be efficient and effective they must be disposed of properly. For this to happen the public must be informed and take action. These bulbs must be correctly packaged when they fail and taken to recycling hubs where skilled operators know how to dismantle them.
As many readers might know, the environment and all issues surrounding its protection are extremely politicized in the US. Research data is difficult to come by, and large sums of money are involved, particularly on the side of the sceptics. But cuts in electricity use must be a good thing, but only if the collateral effects of such a mass introduction of ever cheaper technology that purports to be wholly good are properly investigated and managed.
Low mercury lights are available too, but I would like to say that the amount of mercury present in even a non low mercury version is extremely small. You have a lot more in the fillings in your teeth for example, but you should still go to the dentist for a check up every now and again.
In practical terms, I recently changed 12 bulbs in my house and my monthly electricity bill dropped by about 20%, good for me, good for the planet, but let’s not see it out of context. The keys are nothing more than management however, good research that is available to all, education on the pros and cons of different possible solutions, and less political manipulation.