How similar are corporate and human life cycles?

In a September 30 Business Network topical meeting in London, participants explored the evolution of the modern corporation, the corporate life cycle, the impact of globalization, and the relationship between corporations and other major social institutions.

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Video: What Computers Teach Us About Being Human

In a February community lecture, Brian Christian shared his experiences as a "confederate" in an annual man vs. computer "Turing Test," offering insights on ways computers are reshaping what it means to be human. Watch his presentation here.

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"Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies"

Research conducted by Samuel Bowles, SFI Professor, and colleagues on small-scale societies, ranging from egalitarian hunter gatherers to hierarchical farmers and herders in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, concludes that the degree of wealth inequality in a society is based on inheritance. This variation in inequality is explained by a dynamic model in which a population’s long-run steady-state level of inequality depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. The passing on of material things such as farms, herds and other real property, or even knowledge, skills and other valuable resources plays a large role in whether the next generation will accumulate or maintain high wealth status.

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"Rethinking What Leads the Way: Science, or New Technology?"

Consider what the state of science would be without the microscope, the telescope, or a more recent technical advance like automated DNA sequencing. There would still be science, rooted in human perception and reason. But it would be far less potent than modern science, which has technologically expanded the senses, and with computers, the intellect, to explore and decipher reality, from the universe itself to the most elusive subatomic particle. The popular view is that technology is the handmaiden of science — less pure, more commercial. But in “The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves,” W. Brian Arthur, an economist, reframes the relationship between science and technology as part of an effort to come up with a comprehensive theory of innovation. In Dr. Arthur’s view, the relationship between science and technology is more symbiotic than is generally conceded. Science and technology move forward together in a kind of co-evolution. And science does not lead.

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Online Video from Multidisciplinary Workshop on Energy and Climate Change

A trove of material from the first SFI Global Sustainability Summer School is available for free to the public online. The scientists highlighted the following conclusions on climate and energy: Scientific evidence that our release of greenhouse gases risks dangerously warming the climate is incontrovertible. The technologies needed to start solving the problem exist today and many are ready for large-scale implementation, though a full solution will require a major commitment to further research and innovation. These low-carbon technologies represent a large economic opportunity, but the ordinary course of innovation and technological diffusion is too slow to meet the challenge of addressing climate change. Large-scale government intervention is therefore needed to accelerate this process.

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"Dialing for Answers Where Web Can’t Reach"

There is a new service helping people in Uganda, who don’t have access to computers, find answers to their questions. Question Box was started and has been successful. Workers use their cell phones to call the Question Box call center to ask a question for locals. The call center then gives them the answer. The worker is then given free minutes for their cell phone usage. SFI Omidyar Fellow Nathan Eagle has been doing research on cellphones and development in Africa. Eagle also runs a cellphone-based business in Kenya. Eagle states, “We can’t sit in our offices in America and decide what is useful to people and what is meaningful in their lives. The services only add value if they are open-ended.”

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"Minority Students Needed in Math and Science to Combat ‘Brain Drain,’ Professors Say"

SFI External Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez is one of a group of mathematics and science professors who have called on the United States government to support institutional programs that have been successful in attracting and retaining minority students. According to Castillo-Chavez, many of the Chinese and Indian scientists and mathematicians are returning to their home countries. In order to keep up with researching and learning, the US will need to step up mathematics scholarships to universities.
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"A safe operating space for humanity"

SFI External Professor Sander van der Leeuw and colleagues have released a study stating that identifying and quantifying planetary boundaries that must not be transgressed could help prevent human activities from causing unacceptable environmental change. Van der Leeuw and colleagues found that three of the Earth-system processes have already transgressed their boundaries. These include: climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle. The evidence suggests that as long as the thresholds are not crossed, humanity has the freedom to pursue long-term social and economic development.
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"Google works on a different web"

Researchers have adapted Google’s web-ranking system to help in food webs. This new system could predict which groups of species would crash their food web if they became extinct. SFI Professor Jennifer Dunne calls this a “novel, exciting contribution.” Dunne goes on to say, “The problem of how ecosystems are likely to respond to the loss of species is quite important, particularly in light of how many different ways human activities are resulting in the local extinctions of populations.”
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