Stephen Emmott; Microsoft; Google; Computational Science; End of the World; Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey

Sorry about the boring title, but I’ve become an internet stalker. I’m after the hits which come when you put the important stuff in the title.

Last month Alex Cull and I wrote an article at 

http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/08/it’s-a-fct-we’re-fcked.html

about “Ten Billion” a stage show performed at the Royal Court  Theatre, London, and the Avignon Drama Festival this summer by Stephen Emmott, Microsoft Professor of Computational Science at the University of Cambridge, in which he summed up the future of mankind in the popular vulgar expression used in our title. British critics loved it (though not the French). Unlike other Royal Court plays, it wasn’t published, but Alex and I debunked all the claims we could find quoted by critics, using no more than Google and common sense.

What motivated me to follow up on this one-off showbiz success was Emmott’s stated intention of adapting his message of doom for a larger audience. He claimed to have received thousands of messages of support, recommendations that his message be adapted for showing in schools and to politicians, and offers to make a TV documentary. 

Like many of his claims, this claim seems to be exaggerated by a factor of a hundred or so. We counted several dozen comments to articles in the Observer and New Scientist, to which one must add the people he chatted to in the bar of the Royal Court after the show.

Frankly, I don’t see how he could get his views over unopposed on British television. It’s one thing to stand on stage in front of ninety people who’ve paid to hear your message and recite something daft about how many thousand litres of water it takes to make a bar of chocolate. But no TV science or current affairs editor could let such idiocy pass without seeking a second opinion – could they? And once you’d added the necessary caveats, you wouldn’t have a TV programme, you’d have a recitation of IPCC AR5 – hardly gripping viewing.

So I’ve been googling regularly to see how his plans are coming along. 

An article in Forbes, one on CNBC’s website, and a profile in the Financial Times weekend supplement suggest he’s going after business leaders. Another at Public Radio International

http://www.pri.org/stories/science/computer-scientist-stages-play-to-illustrate-risk-of-overpopulation-11377.html

 suggested he was hoping to get  ”a chance to take it to one of the most influential 21st century stages — a TED talk.” The German public broadcaster DeutscheWelle gave him several mentions on their English language site, and the Tehran Times reprinted a review from the Guardian. And that seemed to be it.  

Now Microsoft have put out a press release about Emmott’s work, which has been picked up by four Green sites so far, one Italian, one French, one Argentinian, and one American.

Here’s an extract from the October 4 article at

http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-applies-big-data-toward-cataloging-endangered-species-7000005265/

by Heather Clancy of GreenTech Pastures. According to her bio at zdnet, Heather “holds a B.A. in English literature from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and has a thing for Lewis Carroll”. (Don’t we all? A Green who’s been Through the Looking Glass – sounds like someone I could do business with):

Microsoft applies big data toward cataloging endangered species

Google won a lot of attention last week for going underwater with Google Maps to show off super awe-inspiring and highly endangered places like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering massive coral die-off  […] I had the privilege of visiting there 10 years ago, and the diversity of life there was unlike any place I have dived since then.

Microsoft got far less coverage of its own emerging effort to address species extinction – the developer has created a new application to help identify current and future threats, allowing scientists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to define conservation priorities on the Red List of Threatened Species […] The software was developed by Microsoft’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, England.

“This century will be defined, not least, by whether we are able to tackle unprecedented global ecological and environmental challenges,” said Stephen Emmott, head of Computational Science, Microsoft. “This will require non-governmental organizations, governments, universities and business to establish new kinds of partnerships, new kinds of science and scientists, and new kinds of technologies.

And Heather adds:

“I couldn’t agree more, since it’s harder for skeptics to argue against the objectivity of hard cold facts and data.”

And there’s a nice picture of the golden lion tamarin monkey (Image courtesy of Microsoft)

The French, Italian and Argentinian reports (which all appeared a month ago) added this:

“The fact of having a research lab combining world  class scientists with software developers makes Microsoft unique..” said Frank McCoster head of Global Strategic Accounts at Microsoft. “The software was developed by the Cambridge Microsoft Computational Science Lab, with the aid of graphic designers at the University of Arts, London..”

What can we learn from this?

1) That the team of forty top-class scientists working at the Cambridge University Lab financed by Microsoft (who all agree, according to Emmott, that we’re fucked and the only thing to do is to teach your children to use a gun) have (with the aid of some art students) … produced an app.

2) That it took a month before an English-language website picked up this important news.

3) That the journalist points out that not only Google, but Microsoft too, is doing its bit for endangered species.

4) That the journalist knows about endangered species, because she’s been scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and many other places too (presumably not  in swimming distance from her native Montreal?).

5) That when Stephen Emmott gives a press interview, he cites word-for-word the spiel on his Microsoft site.

6) That in August Professor Emmott was telling the paying audience at the Royal Court that the world was about to end, and in September he was publicising an app to help save the golden lion tamarin monkey.

Note 1) One of Emmott’s claims, repeated in an interview in New Scientist, was that a Google search used as much electricity as boiling a kettle. New Scientist printed a correction, quoting Google as claiming that Emmott’s estimate was out by a factor of a hundred. Google and Microsoft are business rivals.

Note 2) According to Wikipedia, the world population of  golden lion tamarin monkeys, estimated at 200 in 1981, is now about 2000, in three reserves in Brazil and 150 zoos worldwide.

 

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3 Responses to Stephen Emmott; Microsoft; Google; Computational Science; End of the World; Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey

  1. Mooloo says:

    Here’s some species that are endangered that I imagine Microsoft will not put on their app:
    – elephantitis, polio, plague, typhus (though sadly not typhoid fever) and anthrax.

    Let’s have more of those to follow smallpox and rinderpest to oblivion.

  2. I think you’re being horribly flippant about Professor Emmott – surely one of the twentieth century’s greatest technological visionaries.

    After all – how many of us could get through our mundane, everyday lives without the help of his ground-breaking web-surfing microwave oven?

    http://www.technologyreview.com/featured-story/400454/the-knowledge-lab/

    I’m sure, in his new role as saviour of the ecosphere – the bicycle-powered, auto-composting version must be just around the corner.

  3. Pingback: A Tale of Two Steves | Geoffchambers's Blog

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