The Environmental Innovation Fund – £125m

January 26, 2010

From here:

It’s taken only 7 months for UKIIF to launch the first of two funds, the Hermes Environmental Innovation Fund, which has already raised £125m and will continue to seek further funding from investors.

The Environmental Innovation Fund, managed by Hermes Private Equity, will now start investing in low carbon and clean technology funds and co-investing in companies, providing much needed venture capital to help these innovative businesses grow. The Hermes Fund will focus on investment opportunities aimed at increasing the efficient use of resources (both renewable and non renewable) at all stages of production and consumption.

Over the past decade, the UK has emerged as a European frontrunner in alternative energy investment and is well positioned to further develop a sustainable market competitive globally.  The Hermes Fund will look to benefit from this attractive market framework and expects to commit its capital over the next 2-3 years.


Emotional Connection And Spreadsheets

January 21, 2010

From Seth Godin:

Business plans with too much detail, books with too much proof, politicians with too much granularity… it seems as though more data is a good thing, because data proves the case.

In my experience, data crowds out faith. And without faith, it’s hard to believe in the data enough to make a leap. Big mergers, big VC investments, big political movements, large congregations… they don’t usually turn out for a spreadsheet.

The problem is this: no spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s one the rest of us don’t think is a good one. Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission–which is emotional connection.

Forecasting The Future And Lasers

January 20, 2010

Interesting article in The Observer on how difficult it is to make guesses for science areas that are likely to lead to high impact commercial success:

IF YOU’RE planning watch a DVD today, listen to a CD, play a computer game, go to a supermarket, browse the web, or do 100 other everyday tasks, spare a thought for the invention that has shaped our lives and revolutionised our manufacturing industries: the laser.

The name is an acronym for Light Amplification from the Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

The reason we’re celebrating the laser this year is that 50 years ago Theodore Maiman, a researcher at the Hughes Research Labs, built the first one, using a ruby crystal to produce a beam of red light.

Lasers are thus a critical part of our technological infrastructure, yet no one involved in the research that led to them had any inkling of what their investigations would produce. The original idea goes back to a paper Albert Einstein published in 1917 on “The Quantum Theory of Radiation” about the absorption, spontaneous emission and stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. For 40 years, stimulated emission was of absorbing interest to quantum physicists, but of little interest to anyone else – certainly to nobody in government.

Which brings us to Lord Mandelson, now in charge of all government funding of universities and academic research. He has no personal experience of research in science or technology, but, like many people whose minds are unclouded by knowledge, has strong views on these matters.

They are working on a “Research Excellence Framework” which will require applicants for funding to cite “demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life”. This bodes ill for any scientist or engineer interested in curiosity-driven research.

I’ve made related comments here and here.

Update: On reflection I changed the title and url of this post to the current one from the original ‘Predicting The Future With Lasers’. This may have caused unintended confusion or irritation – many apologies! See also comment below.

Picture credit here.

Keeping The Brain Fresh With Quirky Conversations

January 18, 2010

From The New York Times:

While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.

Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

Picture credit here.

Geek Shortage As Security Risk

January 17, 2010

DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) is worried about the declining numbers of ‘geeks’ (see Wired):

Sure, we’re all plugged in and online 24/7. But fewer American kids are growing up to be bona fide computer geeks. And that poses a serious security risk for the country, according to the Defense Department.

The Pentagon’s far-out research arm Darpa is soliciting proposals for initiatives that would attract teens to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with an emphasis on computing. According to the Computer Research Association, computer science enrollment dropped 43 percent between 2003 and 2006.


The agency doesn’t offer specifics on what kinds of activities might boost computing’s appeal to teens, but they want programs to include career days, mentoring, lab tours and counseling.

Of course, Darpa’s launched student-oriented publicity stunts before. But events like last year’s red balloon hunt were directed at pre-existing geeks — the balloon-finders were a team of MIT aces.

And from Fast Company:

But the big elephant in the room is the American culture of science education. How can you really get kids into these careers when most of America views evolution on par with intelligent design; when so many science teachers can barely communicate the lesson, much less the broader value of the disciplines they’re teaching; and science is still looked as the providers of grinders and dweebs?

There’s some more on the red balloon hunt here.

I’ve not heard of anything similar in the UK, in fact university budgets appear to be in for some serious slashing…

Picture credit here.

Welcome To The Decade Of Smart

January 14, 2010

Comments at Fast Company on IBM’s vision for the next decade:

Speaking in London at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Palmisano reflected on the first year of the campaign, in which IBM signed multi-year, multi-hundred million dollar contracts to manage London’s traffic-congestion system, integrate New York’s crime-data systems, and reduce Shenyang, China’s carbon emissions by 10%, among many others. IBM created 1,200 “smart solutions” for customers in all, he boasted, four times his original target.

IBM’s success has sparked a flurry of copycat efforts by rivals like HP, Autodesk, Oracle, and Cisco, filed under the headings of “Digital Cities,” “City 2.0,” “Intelligent Urbanisation,” and even a “Central Nervous System for the Earth.” Cisco’s audacious efforts to create “Smart+Connected Communities” from scratch across the Middle East, India, and East Asia are the subject of a feature in the February issue of Fast Company (available online next week) which took me to New Songdo, South Korea to witness the birth of a smart city the size of downtown Boston.

Here’s an interesting snippet from Palmisano’s talk:

As I said, all this data is far more real-time than ever before. Most of us today, as leaders and as individuals, make decisions based on information that is backward-looking and limited in scope. That’s the best we had, but that is quickly changing.

You may be thinking that the last thing we need is more information raining down on us, more noise. But we now have the capability, with advanced software analytic tools, to extract value from data—to see the patterns, the correlations and the outliers. Sophisticated mathematical models are helping us begin to anticipate, forecast and even predict changes in our systems. That’s the promise of a smarter planet.

But with that promise come some disquieting implications. That’s the final learning of the past year. Consider two of the more obvious ones: privacy and security.

I’m curious to find out how reliable or insightful these putative forecasting and predictive systems actually are…

Picture credit here.

Where The Paycheck Goes (In The US)

January 10, 2010

From VisualEconomics.