pluto

The rabid reviewer

At first sight, Scaruffi.com looks like a time machine, a weird journey through the story of the Internet, and humanity in general. It’s a utopian dream of mapping the knowledge a person acquires during a lifetime, a modern, online version of the Library of Babel. It’s a difficult job, achievable by a compulsive and dedicated mind, working with patience and passion.

As a digital copy of an obsession, this massive catalog looks surprisingly the same as it did when it first launched in 1995, and navigating it is like going through the synapses of its creator, a freelance software consultant and university lecturer. Piero Scaruffi started the website that bears his name at the dawn of the Internet, for practical reasons: he’s always had a lousy memory and wanted to keep a record of all the things that he had watched, read, and listened to, as well as to have a place for his thoughts. “The goal is not to attract a lot of people or make a lot of money. The moment a website becomes very fancy, it dies.” Twenty-five years later, scaruffi.com is not only a vast knowledge base of science, art, history, philosophy, music, literature, politics, cinema, and travel — it’s also one of the longest-running, and most visited URLs on the Internet.

For an intellectual, Scaruffi’s site is a version of heaven — it’s easy to spend hours in the wormhole of his facts, dates, and opinions on nearly everything. You could peruse his review of a Brief History of Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian Literature, dating from the 1400s to 1998; read a philosophical essay about how speaking gave us a symbolic mind; get to know the history of rap music, or take a look at the rated filmography of Edward Yang. “I know it may not be the most pleasing-to-the-eye website,” Scaruffi said. “But the truth is, I’m more interested in the content than the appearance.” After all, it would be a nearly impossible feat to transfer all of its content to a new format. But the beauty of the website comes from its functionality: probably, that’s why its early-internet design is seen as a gem rather than a flaw by its visitors.

The act of archiving comes from the deeply human need to rationalize everything we see, giving it an order, a role within a context, a place to store it: it’s not by chance that the word “archiving” derives from the ancient Greek archo, “to begin, rule, govern.” To be in control of the world around us. But since archiving is an exercise that never ends, it is more a leap of faith than anything else. Said Scaruffi: “We can’t, no matter the effort, archive everything that exists, or whose existence we perceive. There will always be something waiting to be archived.”

As a testament to the site’s mass, Scaruffi confessed that he has more than 800 CDs at home waiting for his review — all sent to him by musicians. An expert in computers and artificial intelligence, who studied mathematics and physics at the University of Turin and moved to California in 1983 to work for Italian information technology company Olivetti, Scaruffi fell into this endless encyclopedic task of updating his website at first driven by his passion for music.

“I had no idea that this Silicon Valley would become so famous; my first project was to make two computers communicate through something that now is called the Internet,” he admitted. The main goal of being in California was just that it sounded fun, interesting. There was a lot of crazy music going on. I was much more interested in the music, honestly.”

Scaruffi, who has written nine books about cognitive science and artificial intelligence, in addition to more than a dozen music tomes, and half a dozen history titles, started using an old Apple program to record his writings about his interests when he was still in Italy. He later migrated his notes to Olivetti’s server and then created his site using basic HTML — the same code that he writes to update the site at least once a day. The fresh content might be notes about visiting Mali, one of the top jazz albums of 2019, or politics — like Sri Lanka’s presidential election. Scaruffi, who is a former visiting scholar at Harvard and Stanford, and lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, gets his information mainly from magazines, newspapers, and friends from all over the world, who are experts in science and politics, but he remains the music expert.

Illustration by Marta Signori

He has a particular way of summarizing facts based on historical context. For example, he notes that 1955 was the year that the terms rock and roll and artificial intelligence were born — the same one when Albert Einstein died. When he listens to something, or reads something, or watches a movie, he said that in the back of his mind, he is “influenced by, how does this thing fit into history? Do these things have anything in common? Is there a pattern?”

With his perspective — of seeing the birth of the Internet and the explosion of startups and ridiculous amounts of venture capital money in Silicon Valley less than 20 years later — from a time when having a website with your name on it was novel (even for companies), Scaruffi has strong views about what it means to be a startup in what seems to be a Californian utopia where anything is possible, where million-dollar homes are the norm, and Teslas are the most common vehicle you see cruising down scenic Highway 1.

“In the ‘80s, people with an idea were heroes, and now I see them more as just employees, following rules or regulations,” said Scaruffi. “I don’t believe in startups because you don’t have to sacrifice much. The risk was important; in the old days, if you were willing to take a risk it meant you really believed in what you were doing. Now, if you fail, you just start another one. People think that the Internet will give us immortality, what I’ve seen is the opposite — on the Internet things are very ephemeral.” Ephemeral, except for Scaruffi.com.

While startups in Silicon Valley are a dime a dozen, and automated tasks are moving toward replacing humans with machines, Scaruffi seems to be saying that there is still room for people like him, and computer pioneers like Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, who started creating because of a desire to invent and share a breakthrough with the world. As Scaruffi said: “I believe more in the people who write free software on Open source platforms because those people do it for a passion.”

Finding value in an economy of care

Thami Schweichler is a social designer, entrepreneur, founder, and director of Makers Unite — a social enterprise providing a platform for inclusion of refugees through events and creative design enterprises. He is currently using his background in product design to develop more ecological solutions for medical protection. We chatted with Thami about his current projects and how he and other social entrepreneurs are using this unique moment in history to enact positive change through their business ventures.

When you contributed to our Afterwords project, you talked about the ‘Economy of Care.’ What is the economy of care and how does it relate to how our world has changed because of Covid-19?

What I mean by ‘Economy of Care,’ is walking towards a means of exchange that is not financial anymore, but is about benefitting each other. During Covid-19, we came to understand that we could only survive by caring about each other. We could say this was an experiment in ‘Economy of Care.’

As a social entrepreneur, as a social enterprise, I deliberately choose to create a business to solve a social issue. We make clothing and textile garments and this is a means of revenue which allows me to pay for personnel who can facilitate programs that are given for free to refugees. The better my business, the more resources I have to enable my impact. If you look at a normal company, they’re going to have a market opportunity, go to market strategy, a product offering, and then they’re going to commercialize a product to solve a market issue. That’s an old economy. I dream of a world where the market is not a problem anymore but the planet and people are the problem to be solved and businesses are not competing against each other to grab a chunk of the market, but they are reinforcing each other to have a common, achievable role where people can benefit. If we look at this dream scenario we wouldn’t need capital to understand the benefits that our impact achieves. What is the value of happiness? What is the value of inclusivity? What is the value of pure air besides for our lungs. What are those intangible measured items?

Are you sensing a shift towards this collective change as a result of Covid-19? 

Social entrepreneurship tends to be reactive to social issues. A few months later, or a year later, a stream of social enterprises will come up to respond to a given social challenge. 2015, for instance, was the peak of the refugee crisis. And many apps were launched to respond to that crisis, to help refugees. Even if many of them didn’t remain as a viable product, this is something that I would imagine is going to appear now, for instance, how many apps are now helping governments to identify if people have been in contact with someone with Covid-19? From a social entrepreneurship perspective I believe that there’s a lot to come when we think about health and social distancing. The term social entrepreneurship is becoming just entrepreneurship. More and more people don’t see happiness as coming from financial gain. They see happiness coming from achieving a purpose or connecting to a purpose, having purposeful work. If you are connected to your purpose and that brings you happiness, the chain effect of this over time is that it creates a much more cohesive society because people are doing things they love to do. We may be leading to social entrepreneurship becoming the norm, as more people are starting to work on things that they believe in.

How does this relate to creativity and the arts? 

They say that the first changes in life are perceived by art and then art influences society as these new ideas are seen through designers and fashion shows, then at the end of the day, becoming the daily life of business. That change used to take 10 years before the Internet. Now, the cycles take maybe six months to a year. We are currently in discussions with the local municipality in Milan for the development of a program like Makers Unite, as supporting the entrepreneurial drive of the city is a focus point for the extension of our impact goals.

How did your business shift as a result of Covid-19? 

Most of our products are postponed as most of them are oriented toward cultural events which are all on hold, for example for Milan Design Week, the Olympic Games, and pride parades. In April, we started to make masks for homeless people, and others who could not afford masks and we created a fund-raising campaign to finance their production. Then we were asked to make protective vests for hospitals — in May and June we made 33,000 vests. This was when I discovered the huge amount of garbage that is made in the health sector — a small hospital in the Netherlands uses something like 3,000 vests a day and the city of Amsterdam uses six million vests per year. I worked with partners in sustainable textiles and said “can we come up with something different?” I am in contact with the economic board of Amsterdam to create a sustainable version of a protective vest. We are working with three options for sustainable vests. One is made of organic materials, to be compostable. Another option is to provide a service with clinically reusable vests, which are used, returned to us, treated, and then used again. And this all only became visible because of Covid-19, and that is quite positive. From a social entrepreneurship perspective I hope to have a solution before the next pandemic. There’s so much technology available today, but if no one starts, no one starts. I really hope that this moment of reflection turns into positive action.

Seeing unimaginable futures

American transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, deified the role of imagination for a generation of living experience. At odds with some scientists of his time who believed we might one day achieve full knowledge of the natural world, he asserted that our universe will ever-expand so long as human beings draw wider circles. This is the role of the visionary: to see futures others fail to imagine. Most die in obscurity. How can we better understand what lifts a vanishing few to greatness?

Understanding vision — what it is, how it operates for good and ill — will become ever more critical this century, as technology enables us to accomplish nearly any experience. Beyond the essential force of curiosity, the pursuit of science and technology has been to release us from given constraints by more deeply understanding them. As constraints succumb, we will require an enhanced vision for what to do with such newly acquired power.

Courtesy of Luca Marianaccio

Evolution has ill-prepared us for the tsunamic changes ahead, as we’ve evolved over millennia within contexts and constraints dictated by nature. While the operative laws of physics remain immutable, our engagement with these laws in theory and practice — both wittingly and not — has afforded us an intensifying capacity to instrumentalize resources and transform environments to suit our desires. Change we have wrought, with both intended and unintended consequences. Technology will enframe new, far wider opportunities and threats. It will be up to us to decide how we encounter and employ these intensifying resources at hand. We’ll require a vigilant, considered ethical life to offset our excesses of desires, flaws, and ignorance.

For the past few years, I’ve been exploring factors that conspire to advance or suppress vision and the visionaries who promulgate them. One agent of human reality looms above all others: Belief. How do vision and belief interact? How do they conspire to enable or thwart visionary ambitions?

Vision: more than sight

At its most prosaic, vision simply reviews that which lies before us. Pictures we draw of our world — past, present, and future — have as much or more to do with vistas within our heads and hearts, and especially between us as social beings.

Social interactions generate languages, and languages enable shared experience, even define our worlds. Philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas and Richard Rorty, assert that even truth is socially defined. As Rorty has quipped, “Truth is what you can get away with saying.” If such conceptions approximate reality, on what foundations might we be standing?

Our search for bedrock

It might be that there is no fundamental, inviolable foundation. While our physical environments operate based on the laws of physics, we nonetheless experience the world based on our interpretations. Deciphering the laws of physics helps us to understand what works and to more effectively materialize our intentions, but belief confounds a purely mechanical approach to life. Collective beliefs shape what we see, how we experience, what we envision to create.

Some beliefs better concur with laws of physics — presented to us via causal relationships — while other beliefs conflict or even contradict how this given universe operates. Nonetheless, individual and group beliefs define how humans experience the world.

Courtesy of Luca Marianaccio

For millennia, human beings have relied on faith in higher powers, gods, and worlds beyond direct experience. Our Modern Age is the first in history where societies-at-large proceed without widespread consensus beliefs about the world beyond, without anchors of shared religion. Some retain a belief in higher powers of various sorts. Others espouse faith in not believing. Still others wander through life avoiding the questions. We look to science for answers, and it provides many — but even science falls short. Science tells us what and how, but not why. Through science alone, we wander in cold, limitless space. Within a potentially limitless void, we construct our perceptions, our truths, our lives. This is both terrifying and exhilarating.

Unlimited power, freedom, and responsibility

Concurrent with this contemporary context of doubt (a condition French sociologist Émile Durkheim dubbed “anomie”) arises power beyond our most luxurious, even our most barbaric — imaginations. This is the power advanced to us by science and technology. As technology increasingly enables us to do anything — as this century it will — the question for each of us becomes: What should we do, and why? This is the most essential, wide-open question we each face, every moment of our lives.

Our near futures present us with the terrifying prospect of freedom. The latitude and liberty offered by the instrumental power of technology — the ability to exploit resources and the laws of nature to do things, to make things, to create and to destroy. To what visions will we apply such indifferent, monumental powers? To whose purposes? Purpose moves and motivates. But to accomplish significant, even monumental visions, purpose alone is not enough. Ambitious dreams require belief. Purpose without belief is thin, brittle, even cowardly. You and your compatriots will not suffer slings and arrows without authentic commitment. Sustaining, cajoling, shaming, inspiring us forward. Without belief, we might have methods, but neither means nor meaning. Perhaps it is even impossible to achieve an enormous purpose without belief. If you aspire to overcome extraordinary obstacles, to found and form new worlds, then the coin of this realm is belief.

It’s not really about solving problems, though doing so focuses our practical minds. Changing the world is also not simply comprised of facts or even the rigors of science. Witness this in fake news and irrational, destructive behaviors like the anti-vaccination movement. While facts get us closer to what actually might work, they aren’t what motivates and moves us. Too often, facts are what we seek to confirm what we already believe. Until we are shaken to the core and until the last bombs fall. Even then, belief overcomes facts and experience, for good and bad. Rising anti-Semitism i Europe and racist sentiments in the United States illustrate how quickly we forget. No, the coin of humanity is belief. Steve Jobs traded in belief. Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey trade in belief. Corrosive authoritarian leaders worldwide traffic in beliefs. Everyone who aspires beyond the status quo lives or dies by belief — their own, and that of others. The more you aspire to scale, the wider your circles of conviction must become.

Janus-faced belief

But this coin has two sides. That which generates and that which destroys — and they are of the same coin. No one illustrates conviction like the entrepreneur, though on the other side, so does the terrorist. We know they are wrong, yet they persist against all obstacles and adversity. The product of belief, regardless of fact or reason. Belief can be our salvation, or it can become the ring. Sauron’s Ring of power. The Rheingold Ring of the Nibelung. As history attests, it is as if humans require belief. Belief in something, for something, belief of some sort. It motivates and sustains us. The most outspoken atheists have in a sense converted their adamant atheism into a form of religious belief. Nihilists, conversely, arrive at their dark, resigned beliefs after earnestly seeking a bedrock of reality. Proof of life’s meaning. Via their stress and striving, they conclude they have discovered nothing. In any direction we survey, belief engenders commitment, amplifies our visions and their potential to manifest. Conviction can lead to darkness, as well as to light, transcendence, and tragedy.

Courtesy of Luca Marianaccio

The extinction of the Easter Island Rapa Nui culture appears to represent such a mismatch between culture and external, material realities. One must imagine the inhabitants of this small, isolated island striving with all their best devices to avoid what they must have experienced as slowly unfolding, impending destruction. Beliefs that supported their survival for centuries became counterproductive, then catastrophic, as the environment transformed.

Enlightenment and romanticism redux

Our present journey reveals and redirects the collisions of Enlightenment and Romantic ideals of the past two centuries. German philosopher and historian Rüdiger Safranski articulated the tensions underscored by the Romantic movement as: “the larger tension between what can be imagined and what can be lived.” A prosaic answer would be to “live in the real world.” The gamut of history and the powers on our horizons invalidate such a cowardly, simplistic solution. Safranski continues: “Life is impoverished when people no longer dare to imagine anything beyond what they think they can live. And it is devastated when people insist on living an idea at any cost, including destruction and self-destruction, simply because they have imagined it.”

While we continue to face this conflict between desire and reality, the increasing malleability of lived experience promises unprecedented paths. Our world unfolding — barring annihilation — offers opportunities to overcome this tension between vision and physical world constraints. The promise of generating any imaginable lived experience — begetting both intended and unintended consequences.

We face a new Romantic ferment, with all attendant promise and peril. Voices in the technology vanguard espouse the promise of abundance — better defined as anthropic abundance — and an expanding, intensifying power, even responsibility, to vanquish all limitations to thriving. Our recent centuries of generative yet upending revolutions, punctuated by nihilistic darkness, commend both boldness and caution.

To risk is to live

There is risk in this game, but to truly live is to risk. To envision and act with purpose. Like Sisyphus, to believe you can bear the boulder up the mountain every day anew — and that it is good. Aspiring visionaries will vie for the power to define your future. Mindfully assign that right. As technology allows each of us to do anything, we likewise acquire the responsibility to determine what sorts of lives and worlds we desire to create. Visions and beliefs define the worlds in which we live, our paths to the future, even our reality. To what visions do you aspire? To what beliefs do you adhere?

In Circles, Emerson advised each of us to find and follow our individual wills rather than simply conforming or relying on the universe as received. He wrote: “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second, and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.”

Envisioning more intelligent crowds

Francis Oyewole heads up Business Development at Aura Vision, a startup focused on integrating AI with retailers’ existing security cameras. We talked with Oyewole about how Covid-19 has changed the retail landscape and the role AI plays as more stores need to monitor customers’ actions.

How has Covid-19 changed the current retail landscape? And how does the possibility of another pandemic anticipate the future of retail? 

Covid-19 has really accelerated digital transformation. There were some retailers who were dragging their heels on becoming more digital within brick and mortar operations. Retailers are starting to inquire and explore the technologies that they possibly should have been using before Covid-19.

That’s a big shift towards taking more of the off-line world into a digital space. Data is absolutely massive during this time. And there are a lot of retailers who simply don’t have the historical data that they need to be able to predict how things could be going forward. So they’re scrambling to get into that position. Brick and mortar stores are disappearing in some sectors, but it seems like using AI and using data could help brick and mortar stores survive. But at the same time this crisis has really highlighted the importance of brick and mortar, not just from an economic standpoint, but also from a social standpoint. People may be in the position where they miss the opportunity to go into a store and buy something. A.I. has already impacted the online shopping experience, it only makes sense for that mindset to be taken into brick and mortar.

What has been the delay in brining AI into brick and mortar stores?

There is the adage, is something a vitamin pill, or a pain pill? A lot of retailers may not have seen that AI, and in particular, computer vision, is something that is more than just a vitamin pill—ultimately, it’s going to enhance many of the store’s tasks and functions. For example, a lot of retailers have some form of footfall counting. AI provides the opportunity to enhance footfall counts. It allows for a demographic analysis, seeing not only how many people come into the store, but the demographic makeup of the people coming into the store. It can quantify the time customers spent in the store, the products that people are engaging with, and the effectiveness of window displays. Most retailers have security cameras, there is a wealth of data within those security cameras, and unfortunately, most retailers are not making use of that data.

What is the role of AI in the current retail landscape, post Covid-19?

The role of AI and specifically, computer vision, in this new landscape is firstly to help retailers open up their stores safely for their customers and their staff. That might include store occupancy reporting in real time, looking at areas of a store that are passed by the most and may require extra sanitation. Or, looking at queue wait times and store capacity. Retailers are using security guards to stand at the entrance to count people coming in, and that has a significant financial implication across hundreds of stores, and instead, using cameras provides a cost efficient way of doing that in places where face mask compliance is mandated by law, because cameras can be trained to recognize staff uniforms. Cameras can also recognize whether someone is wearing a face mask. And beyond Covid-19, cameras can optimize the store from an operational standpoint, using demographics to understand customers. We’ve helped retailers improve their window display programs significantly just by helping them A-B test which ones convert the most traffic. We’ve helped retailers understand why customers went into a store for longer periods of time and which products are driving the most engagement and conversions in store. This is all data that is standard from an e-commerce point of view, and brick and mortar is trying to catch up to that.

Once we’ve gone past this pandemic and have returned to normalcy, retailers will focus on optimizing these operations rather than just stabilizing them.

What are the ethical implications of using computer vision technology? How do you balance that with providing useful data? 

The objective of computer vision is to understand and interpret images. What that means is training computers to recognize objects within an image. And then if there’s some analysis to be done on those objects in the image, then the computers do that as well. There are a variety of different use cases for computer vision within retail and there is a privacy issue that needs to be addressed. We have to balance the legitimate interests of businesses who want to improve the customer experience with providing a safe shopping environment, respecting, and protecting privacy. From our point of view, the technology that we’ve created is governed by the GDPR in Europe. This is something that we’ve had to build our solution to adhere to. No single shopper can be identified from the data that we collect and we have a number of measures that ensure that. This includes automatic face blur as soon as someone comes into frame. It also means that we focus on aggregated data. We’re not outputting individual shopping journeys. What we’re doing is collecting a mass of individual journeys and then aggregating them into one set that the retailer can then use to spot patterns and trends. Once a retailer gets access to this data, it’s been anonymized and stripped of anything that can be used to identify someone, they are just numbers on the dashboard, numbers that can be interpreted for many applications.

This crisis isn’t going to last forever and the Covid-19 solutions aren’t going to be necessary forever, but they can continue on to do some marvelous things.

The promised land is always promised

“We don’t want to live in Eden; there’s nothing more boring. The human story, from a mythic perspective, cannot unfold in Eden. There is no story in Eden until there is transgression — perfection is static, utopia is boring. The second we actually found utopia, we would leave because the desire for more, the yearning for the infinite defines our humanness, that’s what it means to be human and the desire to escape our humanness is both remarkably amazing, and has a dark side. There’s no escaping our humanity, but there is enlightening our humanity and creating a world in which we all can grow and matter. That’s a big enough utopian dream. But when we confuse the contemporary reality of our humanness with having accomplished a utopian dream, that turns into incredible toxicity and violence and danger.”

For Irwin Kula, a seventh-generation rabbi from New York City, the decision to become a spiritual leader was an intrinsic one. Kula is now president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where he works at the intersection of religion, innovation, and the public good, or as he says, the “sciences of human flourishing.” He is also a co-founder of the Disruptor Foundation. He sees the modern religious landscape as an emerging post-religion religion, where the fastest-growing faith demographic in the United States is None — the disaffiliated, or the deinstitutionalized.

maize: How are technology and innovation changing how people view and practice religion?

Rabbi Kula: There is always a gap between technological development and the access and power that technologies — in today’s case the fourth industrial age — are giving us and our psycho-spiritual, psycho-ethical advances. That just means that we evolve more slowly regarding consciousness than we do when we manipulate matter. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the major religions, which are essentially Axial age — founded somewhere between 700 BC and the first century — are showing weakening, especially in the West. The data is pretty clear: 10,000 churches a year have been going under in the United States over the last decade. In fact, a third of the entire religion sector is projected to go under in terms of institutional religion. The societal issue isn’t so much protecting and preserving the institutions and particular creeds, dogmas, practices of religion — which is what institutional leaders in any sector do in a moment of disruption — rather the issue is to lean in and understand the jobs that religion historically got done that are still central to flourishing human beings and healthy societies. For example, historically, religion helped us understand what it means to be an ethical, moral, conscious human being, one that loves, one that cares for others, one that has compassion, one whose virtues are developing — these jobs still need to get done. And the question is how are they going to get done? How will the existing religious sector reimagine itself? Can it? And is it possible that other sectors take on some of these jobs?

maize: In what other sectors will some of those jobs be taken on?

Rabbi Kula: I have no idea what the next iteration of Judaism or Christianity is going to look like. I’m pretty sure that literally thousands and thousands of religious institutions will not be here within the next decade. But this doesn’t mean that people won’t be having spiritual experiences, that people will not be arguing about and worrying about the ethics of the day, the expansion of the moral imagination, the development of character and community. All that stuff will continue to happen, but where it will happen, how it will happen, in which sectors will it happen, that’s under debate and everybody has to be involved in that. You have Fortune 500 companies that are hiring chief purpose officers, chief meaning officers, chief community officers — no Fortune 500 hired anybody like that even a decade ago. I was recently speaking to one of these chief purpose officers, of a Fortune 100 company, and she told me that from a very pragmatic level we have to reconnect purpose to work as a matter of retention of our best and brightest — millennials want work to be purposeful. Whereas we used to go to church once a week and connect our lives in general to some higher purpose, these days purpose and work need to be far more connected. In some ways, we are moving from the religious concern for the Meaning Of Life to the more embodied and daily concern for Meaning In Life.

maize: In your book, Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, you talk about how people’s longings are the gateway to self-discovery and how embracing taboos can help them live more fully. How could tapping into these realms lead someone to what they might call utopia?

Rabbi Kula: What we call the utopian dream to perfect everything, to have more knowledge, power, abundance, to have more health, wealth, and control over our circumstances, to have more peace and love — these desires are the animating energy of human life, these yearnings which we can reflect and act upon are what make us profoundly human. Utopia just becomes all the desires played out and realized to the Nth degree. Utopia is a ‘promised land’ fantasy. But it’s always important to remember that the ‘promised land’ is always promised, it’s not the ‘gotten land.’ And so utopia is an aspiration. You show me a person who doesn’t have any utopian aspirations or any sort of crazy wild fantasies about the perfection of the world, about a return to Eden, and I’ll show you a person who’s neither flourishing nor living to their fullest potential. Of course, the challenge is to understand that our utopian dreams are constantly changing as our moral imagination and possibilities expand. Utopia in the tenth century was different than today because our understanding of what perfection looks like is different. Our understanding of who is fully human was different. So we’re always expanding the very definition of the perfect world we’re yearning for, which means that desires change. Our desires, if we can become more aware of them and more conscious of them, are incredible sources of wisdom because they indicate what it is we lack and then examining that lack, we can determine whether it’s a lack that is worth moving on and fulfilling, or a lack that comes from a space that is sort of psychologically distorted. And right now, this issue of understanding our desires has never been more important because essentially the Internet and specifically the business models of social media platforms are completely dependent on stimulating desire and enabling us to get whatever we want, however we want it, as efficiently and with the least amount of friction as possible. We’ve walked out of the Garden of Eden, we’ve bitten from the apple and we have unleashed consumerism coupled with a sort of surveillance state and economy. Friction is actually important in helping us manage our desires. We’re not capable of managing the full range of desires that are being unleashed at this moment so we’re flipping between utopian fantasies and apocalyptic nightmares. There’s nothing wrong with utopian aspirations, but it’s really toxic to imagine that we ourselves will achieve utopia.

maize: How can taking a contemporary view of God and faith, either through a defined religion, prayer, or even someone’s undefined spirituality, give them access to infinite happiness?

Rabbi Kula: Infinite happiness is a utopian aspiration. It is a very dangerous thing to think you’re going to have it. Infinite happiness is a desire of finite beings. Happiness in general, let alone infinite happiness, is a strange quality as the second you think you actually are really happy, it begins to disappear. It’s sort of like being in the flow. One of the jobs that religion historically got done was to help expand our moral imagination by using the technology of parables, allegories, stories, rituals, and practices, and this is a pretty serious job that still needs to get done. Presently, it is not getting done in the religion sector for increasing numbers of people. We are going to need as much innovation in the moral imagination and expansion business as we have innovation in every other sector. We are going to need early moral adopters just like we have early technology adopters. It’s pretty clear we’re becoming the gods we imagined. For most of the last 3,000 years, there was an idea in the west that we were known completely — all our acts, thoughts, and secrets and being known we were also loved. We projected this sense of being known and loved on the cosmos, imagining a God who loved us, protected us, nurtured us, and knew us fully in our most hiddenness. And now, it turns out, if you imagine this for enough time, technology — like The Jetsons, the 1960s cartoon family of the future — catches up to science fiction in one way or another, and our projections become realities. When things work right, the gods you create you become. And then the challenge is twofold: We need to make our gods bigger and we have to act with immeasurably more responsibility.

maize: So, if we need sadness to find happiness, how does that relate to this idea of a utopia?

Rabbi Kula: Utopia is one side of a dualism. On the one hand, we generally think of utopia as good: It’s heaven, it’s Edenic. And the opposite of utopia is apocalyptic: it’s bad, it’s hell. So I appreciate the utopian aspiration, but it’s important to understand that you would never have that utopian aspiration if you didn’t feel the hellish problems of life. And living and navigating this duality is what it means to live as human beings. And you can’t escape duality because the ultimate duality is life and death. Now — this doesn’t mean that we can’t sometimes overcome that duality. That’s what different meditation techniques do. And you can feel this when you’re in the flow, like listening to a Grateful Dead concert as dual consciousness dissolves and there’s a sort of seamlessness with the person next to you who is no longer a stranger but someone you’re dancing with. But we come out of this state as we can’t inhabit that level of oneness. Instead, we live in dualities: Happiness and sadness. Pride and guilt. Certainty and doubt. Gratitude and anger. You can’t have one without the other. And desire-satisfaction is another one of these dualities. A serious challenge today is that of abundance and the ability we have, because of the Internet, to stimulate our desires and then satisfy those desires as quickly as they arise. This is problematic, because the ability to examine our desires — Do I really need this? Or do I simply want it? — and say no to ourselves, is central to human flourishing and happiness.

maize: Ernst Bloch (The Principle of Hope and The Spirit of Utopia) is one of the few Marxist thinkers who took religion and faith seriously in the attempt to find a common root within communism and spirituality. Bloch talks about the anticipatory consciousness of a different world. His central operator was the Not-Yet, meaning that the tendencies latent in human development cannot be fully realized under our current conditions. It is therefore the spirit that carries these latent tendencies. Is the Non-Yet a driving force in our daily lives?

Rabbi Kula: The Not-Yet is another way of articulating desire. So the question is, there’s always a Not-Yet, but on what plane of existence is the Not-Yet? So there’s a Not-Yet in the physical realm, there’s a Not-Yet in the psychological-emotional realm. There are Not-Yets in the intellectual-conceptual-philosophical realm. There are Not-Yets in the psycho-spiritual-ethical realm. Not-Yet is one of the driving forces of the human adventure. I worry about the people who actually believe that they have a handle and hold on God. They need a lot more Not-Yets. But I also believe that the people who think that technology is going to solve every human problem, they need a little Not-Yet, also. People can think anything they want about what defines utopia as long as they don’t think they’re there yet or that their path is the only way to get there. You want to call heaven utopia. You can call anything you want utopia, as long as you recognize that you can’t get there so easily and it’s never there fully, it’s always Not-Yet. Show me someone who doesn’t have any Not-Yets, and I’ll show you either a really dangerous person, or someone who has not discovered the particular capacities, skills, and abilities they have to bring to this world and to align with what the world needs to narrow that Not-Yet gap.

maize: Is a spiritual utopia possible? And, can utopia exist in religion?

Rabbi Kula: I’m all for aspiration. I think not having utopian aspirations diminishes the richness and potential of our humanness. Our ability as human beings to improve this world and to move ever closer to the kind of “peace on earth” imagined by the prophets and visionaries of every age depends on aspirations. And at the same time, we should never forget that the peace we aspire for, we never get more than a piece of. So I embrace the utopian dream and I recognize that it is “just” a dream. I yearn for the infinite and I celebrate my finitude. I embrace the utopian dream and celebrate its Not-Yetness.

maize.INSIGHTS: our methodology

maize.INSIGHTS is a strategic think tank, consisting of a multidisciplinary team with the research and know-how to answer contemporary and future challenges.

We provide organizations that are willing to be future-ready, with unique cross-industry perspectives on fast-changing human behaviors, markets, and technologies.

Our think tank leverages future design to equip organizations with the cultural understanding needed to read, deal with, and master future scenarios and their ever-changing nature.

Innovation is ongoing, constant, and global. It takes shape through what might seem to be randomness that drives changes in social, cultural, and technological realms, starting as weak—at times individual—signals and then erupts into observable phenomena, able to affect and alter our perspective of contemporaneity. 

Therefore, to understand the present and be able to seize the signs for future changes—whether they are upcoming or way off, evident or barely noticeable—it is essential to be capable to identify and decipher such phenomena.

Our strategists research and analyze these drivers of change to assess their future impact and help organizations fully envision future scenarios—thereby thriving in new opportunity gaps. 

Different kinds of future scenarios could be reached, all depending on the deepness at the time. The further we distance from the present and knowledge, the more we will have to cope with uncertainties. 

Through future design, we classify scenarios by the likelihood of their occurrence: 

  • Probable – a scenario that is likely to happen soon, due to small—possibly already observable—changes within the status quo. Under this scenario, organizations play a follower rather than an innovator role. The future resembles the present, even in its problems;
  • Possible – a far away possible scenario involving wide-scale changes to the economy, culture, and society. Organizations willing to follow this scenario partly embrace some phenomena, working vertically on those without broadening their horizons too much. The future will not be completely under control because some elements are missing;
  • Preferable – a desired future scenario, that takes place between knowledge of the insights and focus of the desires. Insights knowledge is crucial to define the path to be followed, while desires focus serves to identify how an organization could exploit insights to achieve its ideal future. In this case, organizations play an active part in the development of their desired future scenario. In-depth research of drivers of change and trends acknowledgment becomes part of their strategic plan. Organizations are innovators and not market followers.

Like what you read? Send us an email with your questions and proposal: we’re all ears!

maize.INSIGHTS: What we do

maize.INSIGHTS is a strategic think tank, consisting of a multidisciplinary team, with the research and know-how to answer contemporary and future challenges.

We provide organizations that are willing to be future-ready with unique cross-industry perspectives on fast-changing human behaviors, markets, and technologies.

Our think tank leverages future design to equip organizations with the cultural understanding needed to read, deal with, and master future scenarios and their ever-changing nature.

We therefore convey our research and analysis through:

Inspiration

We provide you with an array of insightful content, with an editorial cut, on main phenomena and trends that are shaping global markets, redrawing organizations, and defining major cultural shifts. Our experts’ speeches and reports are a boost for your organization to grasp new opportunities and address future challenges from a fresh and unique perspective.

Strategic activation

We exploit our multidisciplinarity to give you strategic cultural decoding that serves as your growth driver. We give you access to insights that allow understanding of modern consumers, with a keen analysis of their ever-changing needs, values, and habits

Through co-design moments—and with the right tools—we help you to harness those insights, blend it with your knowledge and needs, and build tailored innovation charts.

Like what you read? Send us an email with your questions and proposal: we’re all ears!

Design for people’s emerging expectations

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a business leader, a marketer, or a designer makes no difference: in our constantly evolving digital era, the deep purpose of your work is somehow connected to this question every day. The problem? The established way on how to answer it relies on creating something relevant for the present, a temporal space that has, however, become mutable, fluid, transformative.

Let’s try to explore some established approaches to get closer to the user and try to understand their desires, needs, points of view. One usual approach to collect information focuses on getting ever closer to users (or potential ones): spend time with them, create super detailed personas, drill down into their unique socio-cultural context, creating a deep observation process that reveals what they want. It’s undeniable that these kinds of ethnographic fieldwork can generate deep insights. But obtaining these insights is arduous, not to mention the fact that it’s highly time-consuming and expensive.

An alternative approach is to simply ask people what they’d like — which is what we can refer to as the traditional market research). But it is quite known that there is often a huge gap between what people say and how they behave and imagine. Furthermore, open questioning often strives to capture newly emerging expectations and points of tension that people might not even recognize yet. And the search for these implicit and not yet rationalized tensions are the ones that ignite creative thinking and experimentation.

Just to make an “original” quotation, this kind of thinking was at the basis of the process of creation of a certain gentleman called Steve Jobs:

“Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. . . People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” 

An approach that if some time ago could have been undertaken to excel as a business, today is a strategic trajectory for more or less technological or innovation-oriented companies. To put it bluntly, imagining what the future of mobility will look like has become a common activity for both Tesla and BMW.

There’s another approach connected to our tech-driven era which has gained great success: that is, analyzing what people actually do. The last decade has seen vast amounts of attention and investment flows to quantitative data-driven solutions. The aim is clear: collecting bigger/better/faster data allow businesses to uncover previously invisible or inaccessible insights about customers’ behavior.

Let’s be clear. Data is indeed incredibly valuable and it would be absurd to suggest otherwise. But often data-driven innovation (or more practically, solutions) is incremental in nature. Data is phenomenal at validation and optimization, but less strong at generating those radical and unconventional intuitions that characterize many truly novel and disruptive experiences, products, or services.

Returning to our initial question: how is it possible to detect what are users going to want next?

The recipe to answer this question is to combine the methods we have described above by adding another ingredient to the mix, a process finalized to make sense of the existing context and to capture those even weak and implicit signals of change that are forging new scenarios of opportunities. In other words, we are about to talk about trends!

Speaking about ‘trends’ often confuses people – are we talking about fashion? new technologies? what’s #trending? -. The word trend is also often used in the same way as descriptions of fads and hypes, but there is a difference. A HUGE one. A fad or a craze is created by advertisers or media to promote a specific idea and consists in a form of collective behavior that develops within a social group and is followed enthusiastically for a limited period. On the other side, the aim of trend research is based around a counterintuitive concept: in a business arena characterized by relentless change and hyper-competition, in order to anticipate what people will want next, the key is to stop asking what people want and start observing and analyzing signs of transformation in the broader context.

Specifically look at the brands, startups, or innovations that are setting people’s expectations around what is possible, desirable, or simply ‘normal’ and use these — and the signs of transformation you can draw from them — to anticipate what your users will want next.

This innovation-led approach generates compelling new answers to the ultimate business question by tapping into a new perspective to start a design process equipped for generating future-proof solutions.

At this point, you may ask which is the connection between trends related to people’s needs and expectations and the evolution of design. The connection lies in the fact that design disciplines have crossed their paths with the vast horizon of the new business practices oriented to redefine industries in our constantly evolving digital era. Design means often not only to create products, services, or experiences but draw new organizational structures, methods of work, strategies, and business models.

Areas where people as “users” are at the center of the design, which becomes a process not focused on pure innovation but human-centricity.

In the same way, inside the phenomena research, in the past the focus was to identify innovations and trends, while now it is about converting those trends into practical, relevant, and human-centric solutions. All this requires better and more efficient approaches to interrogating data, identifying opportunities, harnessing influence, and boot-camping innovation in short and easy-to-activate stages.

As designers of human-centric innovations, we have developed a set of tools, formats, and strategies that help companies confront changes and defining a new project approach to tackle strategic challenges. A process that starts for us in making sense of the present and leveraging heterogeneous capabilities to seize observation, intuition, and hard and soft data in future planning and strategy.

The experimentation of this design perspective has led us after several experiments to create a real tool dedicated to continuous exploration: maize.INSIGHTS is our think tank and its aim is to deliver organizations with relevant analysis to bolster the development of both strategic and actionable thoughts, leveraging on a unique perspective that is built upon:

  • privileged access to innovation topics
  • an ongoing dialogue with organizations from different industries
  • the agility of a startup within a complex reality

All this allows us to know, quickly and nimbly, how other players in the market are innovatively addressing humans’ deepest expectations and needs with new technologies and solutions. We are therefore committed to looking for customer-facing innovations that are (re)defining what people will want and even start to expect. Let’s get down to business: let’s talk a little bit about how we designed our methodology.

And our key point of view is of course as h-farmers The Human factor

Our entire society is based on people, therefore when it comes to analyzing the present to imagine the future, we always start from human understanding. Our think thank identifies and decodes humans’ patterns, inside four big lenses: technological, economic, social and behavioral.

The landscape analysis

The first step to begin our journey is to orient ourselves, to understand the context in which we are immersing. The landscape analysis is a photograph of the current context, fundamental to create an analytical basis to understand the actual scenario, the offer, the organizational structure, and contextualize the space of action in which the spectrum of analysis moves.

This activity is focused on different areas, such as business and technological solutions and involves:

  • the mapping of the most interesting players active in the reference industry
  • the gathering of best practices
  • a collection and reinterpretation of the market and consumer data and facts

The key rule in this phase is to be curious and be open-minded.

You have to ask yourself ‘why’ whenever you notice something new, instead of immediately looking for shortcomings. Also, realize that you are not necessarily your user: your professional interests should be broader than your personal interests. You may not be excited by something new, but others are. Ask yourself why they are excited, take notes, and create a picture of the developing context.

The Why: Drivers of Change

To build scenarios and spots for innovation, reading the contemporary is not enough: it is necessary to build a point of view and analysis of the impact of phenomena and trajectories of change that are already in action in the market or within organizations.

What we are looking for are phenomena already popular, present in the language, codified, that we analyze and explain to find those weaker signs of change that suggest future evolutions.

It is only by studying the weak that we understand how strong a change may become.

By ‘weak’, we mean faint voices or shifts in the culture that suggest a new movement is on the rise. A weak signal can be a peer-to-peer platform that creates direct retail models between consumers, a non-alcoholic beverage company that reinvents the rite of the aperitif, surveys that tell upsets notions of singledom or supply chain solutions that offer new ways to save on materials when shipping packaged goods.

The case research

Let’s clarify another concept: innovations are not trends. But without actual examples of how players are applying new solutions to tackle human needs, behaviors, and expectations a trend can’t be said to exist fully yet. Because of that, our research projects always include the spotting of case studies, which should support a vision, new business concepts, products, services or experiences, show marketing, and communication activities.

The scouting activity may include different objects that are interesting for a specific brief that includes a request that concerns a fairly defined area (e.g. what are other companies doing with VR? How are retail brands reacting to the surge of e-commerce?).

Final part: Human Trends and how to build them

So, trends are observable and evolving collective phenomena, which have a socio-economic, cultural, technological, and organizational impact and emerge from changes in people’s needs, expectations, and imagination.

To build a trend, it is necessary to interpret signals coming from different sources, sectors, markets, not always already consolidated; trends are analyses that are the result of an original and always human-centric thinking. They can describe both contemporaneity and more distant scenarios.

A key concept: Mass Adoption vs Nice Adoption

So…are trends the secret weapon for designing a product with a certain success factor?

If that would be the case, we would probably not be trend-researchers 🙂 A trend outcome could be contemporary and growing, but the most interesting trends are about undiscovered opportunities.

Some trends are developing photographs of future developments, but for this very reason, they are the most interesting for their ability to focus on still blurred opportunities. Showing us which direction people’s expectations and imaginations are headed to.

Last but not least: from here on it is all about to activate a trend

Trends are not an intellectual exercise. They are a lens to discover what the future may hold and the engine to accelerate change and imagination.

We use trends to understand and intercept people’s needs/expectations and outline strategies based on human centricity; to rethink intervention actions on one’s organizational structure, way of working, culture from an employee-centric perspective; to build human-centric products and services, finally long-lasting, valuable and relevant for people.

But how we do it actually? Let’s share a project example revealing how we use research and co-creative methodologies to design new product or service activations.

In 2019 Alessi, a world-renowned Italian manufacturer of household goods wanted to repurpose itself, to find the contemporary essence of its products. They turned to us to catch up on new opportunities and develop a strategic direction.

We decided not to jump headlong in creating new design thinking solutions, rather we focused our attention a step earlier, trying to create value through the innovation of meaning, designing a three-step itinerary.

As we were working on our phenomena analysis, we created a pre-workshop phase, which involved the participants in an ideation exercise. Each workshop member was asked to do a primary solo activity, called Imagination Module, which challenged attendees to make their first personal hypothesis of new meanings for their organization’s activity and products. Meanwhile, we explored several aspects of the actual scenario and phenomena and developed all of the activities, redesigning them and making them completely digitized.

The second phase consisted in a workshop. The first day, starting from the mapping of the Imagination Modules, the participants were divided into six “couples” that had to compare and merge similar hypotheses through criticism in order to reach a stronger common meaning. These activities were enhanced by an inspirational session built from a qualitative research path.

The research focused on covering the differences and similarities between Millennials and Gen Zers, and on understanding how scenarios are evolving throughout different contemporary phenomena.

A glimpse of the needs and behaviors of the youngsters, passing through lifestyle and the relationship with the brands, to end up in new digital realities. Signs of change, case studies, and trends were designed to invite participants to challenge possible evolutions and emerging contexts and build areas of action.

The purpose of the research report was to provide the ingredients to imagine the possible future and to design before the product itself the scenario of needs, expectations, and values of the people who would live the products and interact with the brand.

The second day, after a focused speech about compelling case studies, the “couples” were joined into three “radical circles” aimed at defining ultimate meanings.

Needless to say, our path could not stop at the level of co-creation and imagination. So, after the workshop, the team reanalyzed all the results that had emerged and created a map to present the newly developed meanings and the possible next steps to implement them within a design path aimed at realizing the scenarios in new product design projects.

So our message for this video is that we don’t predict the future, but we use trend research to contribute to design the future with our clients.

And if you want to know more about trend envisioning feel free to send us your thoughts and comments, and reach out on our Instagram page @maize.io or on our other channels here at H-FARM.

From linear to circular economy

Between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the Western world went through the so-called Second Industrial Revolution. Inventions, new discoveries, and the organization of factory labor allowed Europe and the United States to produce more goods at a lower cost. As living conditions also improved, the number of potential consumers grew exponentially, along with sales and subsequent requests to produce ever more products. This economic system has been defined as “linear” and has three phases: “take,” “make,” and “dispose.”

The linear model has been the primary one of advanced countries throughout the last century: a company’s value was based on how much it could produce and sell, and the higher its sales, the higher its profits. A UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) report predicts that, if the current rates of growth and consumption stay the same, the demand for natural resources will double by 2050. The problem is that, by then, those resources will not be available.

This path for economic growth and prosperity is depleting the earth’s ecosystems, which have been impacted substantially and irreversibly. It’s clear that a linear economy is no longer sustainable: the survival of our planet (and us) demands a radical shift. In this scenario, a circular economy can be the wave of the future. Circular economy is a system planned to reuse materials in subsequent production cycles, minimizing waste and the need for new materials, and its approach aims to change the roots of our production and consumption habits.

Following the three main principles of circular design, more durable products, and reuse and recovery, a circular economy provides a framework within which we can develop new business models for companies and governments, to increase the value of materials and products and eliminate waste during the production and use of goods.

Although this idea is not new, in the last few years it has gained momentum, moving from a niche topic to becoming more mainstream. This recent resurgence of interest is not only being encouraged by resource depletion, but also by technological development, urbanization, waste costs and inefficiencies, and business opportunities.

Yes, because “Circular economy” is called “economy” for a reason: according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, choosing a circular economy not only benefits the environment and society, but also companies and government. It is estimated that a global change in this direction could reach $ 4,5 trillion, offering major potential for innovation, jobs, and economic growth. It shall come as no surprise, then, that more and more companies are moving in the right direction to adopt circular business models.

This content is an excerpt from “Closing the circular economy loop,” a course on maize.PLUS. To learn more and request a free demo for your company, click here.

A brief history of AI

The idea of a machine performing human tasks has been fascinating humans since Ancient Greece, but it’s only during the twentieth century that, with the advancements of technologies, it migrates from the realm of philosophy to the real world.

In 1950, computer scientist Alan Turning proposes a test for machine intelligence: if a machine can trick humans into believing it is human, he thinks, then it has intelligence. The test, which is called after its inventor, was originally called the imitation game, and paved the way to the current notion of AI.

The term Artificial Intelligence, though, has not been coined yet: it would only five years later, in 1955, when computer scientist John McCarthy applied it to the science and engineering of making intelligent machines: “Intelligence exhibited by machines, through the form of mimicking or displaying ‘cognitive’ capacities or functions that humans associate with natural intelligence (such as using languages, form abstractions, solve problems and improve themselves).”

The ’60s were one of the most prolific decades when it came to the development of Artificial Intelligence: in 1962 the first industrial robot, Unimate, went to work at GM replacing humans on the assembly line, marking the beginning of a new way of working; in 1964, Eliza, a pioneering chatbot developed by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT, held conversations with humans; and, in 1966, Shakey, a general-purpose mobile robot from Stanford, reasoned about its own actions.

Everything seemed to point to a successful future, but two promising decades, many false starts, and dead-ends, left AI out in the cold; up until the late ’90s, the world didn’t hear much about Artificial Intelligence. This period of reduced funding on one side, and lack of interest on the other, is known as the “AI winter.”

Spring would eventually come back with a series of historical events: on May 11th 1997, Deep Blue, from IBM, defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and became the first computer to beat a human. One year later, Cynthia Breazeal at MIT introduced KISmet, an emotionally intelligent robot, which detected and responded to people’s feelings. In 1999, Sony launched AiBO, the first consumer robot pet dog. In 2002, the first mass-produced autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner from iRobot, Roomba, learned to navigate and clean homes.

The ’00s opened up a whole new industry, and made AI go mainstream: in 2011, Apple integrated Siri, an intelligent virtual assistant with a voice interface, into the iPhone 4s. The era of voice assistants officially began in 2014, with the launch of Alexa, an intelligent virtual assistant with a voice interface that completed shopping tasks.
In that very year, AI made history again: 59 years after the Turing Test was conceived, Eugene Goostman, a chatbot, finally passed it, with a third of judges believing it was human. The event was soon followed by another memorable moment: in 2017, Google’s A.I. AlphaGo beat world champion Ke Jie in the complex board game Go, notable for its vast number of possible position. What will come next? Only time will tell.
This content is an excerpt from “A close encounter with AI,” a course on maize.PLUS. To learn more and request a free demo for your company, click here.