Math et révolutions

Je savais que j’aurais dû plus bosser les maths à l’école : je verrais plus loin. Prévoir la meteo ou la bourse pourquoi pas, mais prévoir les révolutions, ça a plus de gueule

Aftermath of Ukraine’s uprising. Image: Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr

It’s happening in Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, and beyond. Revolutions, unrest, and riots are sweeping the globe. The near-simultaneous eruption of violent protest can seem random and chaotic; inevitable symptoms of an unstable world. But there’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices. 

Just over a year ago, complex systems theorists at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned us that if food prices continued to climb, so too would the likelihood that there would be riots across the globe. Sure enough, we’re seeing them now. The paper’s author, Yaneer Bar-Yam, charted the rise in the FAO food price index—a measure the UN uses to map the cost of food over time—and found that whenever it rose above 210, riots broke out worldwide. It happened in 2008 after the economic collapse, and again in 2011, when a Tunisian street vendor who could no longer feed his family set himself on fire in protest. 

Bar-Yam built a model with the data, which then predicted that something like the Arab Spring would ensue just weeks before it did. Four days before Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation helped ignite the revolution that would spread across the region, NECSI submitted a government report that highlighted the risk that rising food prices posed to global stability. Now, the model has once again proven prescient—2013 saw the third-highest food prices on record, and that’s when the seeds for the conflicts across the world were sewn.

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Here’s the list of the countries Bar-Yam has cited as suffering from unrest related to the rise in the cost of eating:

  • South Africa
  • Haiti
  • Argentina
  • Egypt
  • Tunisia
  • Brazil
  • Turkey
  • Colombia
  • Libya
  • Sweden (yes, Sweden
  • India
  • China
  • Bulgaria
  • Chile
  • Syria
  • Thailand
  • Bangladesh
  • Bahrain
  • Ukraine
  • Venezuela
  • Bosnia

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Cyberfleurs

L’Internet des objets, c’est ringard. Voici l’Internet des plantes.

The internet of things. Cybernetics. The quantified self. Brain-computer interfaces. We’re wiring more and more of the physical world and the human body. But should we really extend the technification of the 21st century to the Earth’s vegetation?

For better or worse, it’s happening. Italian researchers are building a network of connected "cyborg" plants (plantborgs? cyplants? cyberflora?) to use as organic biosensors. The plants are embedded with a tiny electronic device to monitor things like pollution levels, overuse of chemicals, temperature, parasites, acid rain, and communicate the data through a wireless network back to the lab.

The project is called PLEASED, for PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices. It’s slated to finish in May, and lead researcher Andrea Vitaletti, a computer engineer at W-LAB of the University of Rome, spoke to the EU media group youris.com about the process last week. (Hat tip to Wired for digging it up.)