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Somewhere in Siberia, a Soviet-era dam is generating energy for a remote mining operation. But nothing physical is coming out of the earth. Instead, the hydroelectric power plant fuels massive machines that churn out solutions to complicated mathematical problems. In other words, this renewable energy is being used to mine the cryptocurrency bitcoin. A Bitcoin analyst and self-professed “hippie miner,” Jason Deane uses computers that run exclusively on hydro power—though this eco-friendly setup is likely the exception, not the rule. 

Deane’s model of work might sound like the perfect antidote to Bitcoin’s environmental woes, but renewable energy isn’t a cure-all. Bitcoin’s annual energy use is currently estimated at 127.22 terawatt hours. For comparison, that’s just over 3 percent of the total terawatt hours consumed in the US in 2023. As this number continually grows, we will need to find solutions to reckon with this kind of consumption.

What is Bitcoin?

The allure of Bitcoin is that it’s a decentralized digital cryptocurrency system. Anyone can sell, buy, or exchange without middlemen or intermediaries like big banks. It also exists outside of any government’s control. Bitcoin was the first and is still the most prominent cryptocurrency, despite the rise of other coins like Ethereum, Cardano, and the joke currency Dogecoin.

Bitcoin uses blockchain technology to secure, validate, and document transactions. Blockchains, named rather intuitively, operate by storing transactions in “blocks” that are validated by the “nodes,” or computers, that make up the network. Once validated, that block is connected to the other blocks, and cannot be rolled back or reversed. This creates a chain of data blocks—hence the term “blockchain.”

You can also think of a blockchain as a digital ledger, documenting all the transactions that occur on it. The nodes that validate those outstanding transactions and lock them into a block are referred to as “miners,” who solve complex mathematical problems as part of Bitcoin’s code. For doing so they are rewarded with bitcoin. 

There are only a finite number of bitcoins in the system—21 million total, to be exact. So far over 18.5 million have been mined. To make sure they don’t exhaust the supply too quickly, the difficulty of the math problems miners have to complete continually increases in complexity. So much so, that the last bitcoin isn’t estimated to be mined till 2140. 

[Related: This is what determines the price of Bitcoin]

There are lots of miners trying to solve these math problems—all at the same time. But only the first miner to solve the math problem gets the bitcoin reward. This competition, along with the growing scale of the Bitcoin blockchain, means miners are upgrading and grouping computers to make them more powerful.

But this also means it requires increasingly more computing power—and electricity—to carry out the mining. Long gone are the days of personal computers and niche hobbies. Mining is an industrial operation.

To quantify Bitcoin’s energy use, follow the miners—if you can

All this computing requires energy. A lot of it. And people are starting to take issue with that.

On the day tech billionaire Elon Musk announced that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin as payment for its cars, the value of bitcoin dramatically plummeted, wiping away hundreds of billions of dollars in value. Musk justified his decision by citing concerns over Bitcoin’s increasing use of fossil fuels to power mining and transactions.

This is the crux of the current uproar: Is Bitcoin as green as mining enthusiasts claim? Or is the crypto ecosystem wreaking climate havoc on the physical world? 

It’s not a simple question to answer. Bitcoin’s energy consumption has been compared to the total consumption of many countries, from Sweden to Argentina to Pakistan. These energy consumption estimates—from sources like the widely quoted Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index and Alex de Vries’ Digiconomist—vary and are hard to conceptualize, as there is no centralized source of data for bitcoin mining, with most analysis based on models. 

[Related: NFTs are blowing up the digital art and collectibles worlds. Here’s how they work.]

Despite the difficulty of pinpointing Bitcoin’s exact energy use, these numbers are arguably easier to calculate for cryptocurrencies than for other high energy-consumption industries like banking or gold mining—although some estimates do put their consumption far higher than Bitcoin.

“Bitcoin uses a tiny amount of power compared to the banking sector or other systems along those lines,” says Deane. “It’s a tiny, tiny percentage, but people really go on about it because there’s this whole perception of ‘Well, but do we actually need Bitcoin?’”

Because Bitcoin consumes energy in a network of anonymity, analysts calculate the consumption through “hash rates,” or the amount of computing and processing power used in mining and transaction operations. Mining equipment uses electricity, and that electricity has to come from the grid.

Nearly two-thirds of all bitcoin mining happens in China (although authorities there have recently started to crack down on the practice). While tracking down exactly where Bitcoin’s energy is being supplied from is tricky, researchers can make approximations based on who is doing the mining and where their energy comes from. Approximations of the grid mix and energy use allow them to arrive at estimates.

“We don’t know where an individual miner is located,” says Benjamin Jones, an assistant professor of economics at the University of New Mexico. “This whole idea of decentralized currency is that these miners are anonymous, but in some cases, they will self-identify.”

When miners self-identify, it’s easier to locate “mining pools,” places where miners combine their resources together to scale up their operations. In the US for example, these pools are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, according to Jones. Still, the exact location of most bitcoin miners is unknown.

Without that information, researchers have to make certain assumptions to approximate how much energy bitcoin mining consumes—and whether that energy comes from renewable or non-renewable sources. 

One way to do this is by looking at the general electricity mix across a country to create an average electricity profile. For example, electricity yielded from coal accounts for around 20 percent of all electricity produced in the US. So if a miner is located here, then 20 percent of all output through mining would be produced using coal. But averages are just averages, and could be more or less accurate depending on the location of the miner, the time of year, and even the business model. 

What Bitcoin really does to the environment—and public health

Energy use, whether it’s renewable or fossil-fueled, always comes at a cost. Several studies have looked into quantifying Bitcoin’s carbon costs or pinning down its carbon footprint. But Jones wanted to calculate more of the downstream effects.

In a study published in 2023, Jones and other researchers sought to quantify how much air pollution mining camps generated in the surrounding communities, and what the impact on climate would be. They applied standard economic cost metrics to health and climate impacts. 

“We linked energy use to emissions at fossil fuel power plants, and then linked those emissions to things such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide,” says Jones. “And then linked those to human mortality.”

The researchers first calculated emissions profiles for the US and China. Then they used an air pollution mapping model developed by the Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions, a research center at Carnegie Mellon that was created in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“[The study is] saying for every dollar value created—and this is created to the miner, it’s like my personal value from mining this to society—[mining is] generating 49 cents in damages, and those damages are premature mortality and climate change effects associated with carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants,” says Jones. 

“So it’s basically a trade-off of a private value: $1 in private value, compared to a 49 cents in social costs that society faces through health and the environment.”

There are no excess renewables

The crypto miner Jason Deane argues that miners usually congregate at places with excess power—like surplus hydropower generated during a rainy season that would otherwise go to waste.

This excess power is what lures miners to places with cheap electricity and large profit margins. For proponents of green mining like Deane, this means using renewable energy. But right now, renewable energy only accounts for roughly 20 percent of the US electricity supply. 

“Maybe 30, 40 years from now, we will have a bunch of excess renewables. But right now, as we’re making the transition away from fossil fuels, the renewables are all being utilized for some purpose, and so if bitcoin miners or cryptocurrency miners are going to take that renewable, that means it’s not there for somebody else to use,” says Jones. For example, to power an electric car, your home, a business, or factory.

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Like many other industries, there are slow albeit palpable shifts toward using renewable resources. But until more capacity to produce electricity through renewables exists, there will always be an opportunity cost. 

“I do believe it is the absolute responsibility of all miners to run on renewable energy. There’s no question in my mind that it is collectively our responsibility to do so. But we make no apologies for the power that it consumes,” says Deane. “And that’s the difference, I think, because the network has to use that power. We’ve got to be responsible, how to source it and how it’s created.”

Pioneering greener consensus mechanisms

High electricity consumption is built into the very design of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum partly because they operate with “proof-of-work” consensus mechanisms. This “consensus” prevents digital currency from being spent twice when there’s no central entity in charge. 

As miners race to solve increasingly complex mathematical problems and validate transactions, proof-of-work demands more and more energy over time. This consensus mechanism helps secure the network against economic attacks, since there is only one validated ledger of transactions that has been agreed upon by every single participant in the network. It prevents data from being overwritten or altered, but this comes at an intensive energy cost. 

But what if there was another way?

Recently, Ethereum caused waves in the cryptosphere when co-founder Vitalik Buterin announced that its next iteration, Ethereum 2.0, would transition the virtual coin to a proof-of-stake model of operation. 

Proof-of-stake (PoS) is an alternative consensus mechanism where instead of every blockchain being sent to every computer in the system, it’s randomly sent to one miner who validates the transaction. To ensure security, miners are asked to stake coins as collateral. The energy consumption drops rather dramatically as miners aren’t racing to secure transitions in return for minted coins. 

The cost of transitioning to proof-of-stake is not cheap; Ethereum is currently investing millions of dollars into this pivot.

As Zaki Manian, a co-founder of various crypto projects like iqlusion and Sommelier, points out, nearly all of the new cryptocurrencies appearing on the market have already adopted the PoS model. They can be built greener by design because they have no legacy ecosystem like Bitcoin or Ethereum to uphold. 

“They can just create a de novo design for their cryptocurrency that you leverage as proof-of-stake and can leverage all of this existing software and technology that already exists,” says Manian. “Let’s say we wanted to move Dogecoin proof-of-stake? I don’t think I could do it for less than $10 million.”

“These modern consensus algorithms that we use for proof of stake took years, dozens of researchers, dozens of engineers, enormous expertise to work,” says Manian. “But now that these things are working and securing tens of billions of dollars of value, we have increasing confidence that they work.”

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Environmental Visionaries: The Nuclear Revivalist

It’s 2070. You’re on a train from New York to Boston. If you could see outside, it would be mostly open landscape. Maybe a nuclear plant or two, but otherwise green space—none of the urban sprawl, wind farms, solar arrays or biomass operations we’ve been taught to expect from an ecologically responsible future. But you can’t see outside, because you’re underground, traveling 300 miles an hour on a maglev train alongside superconducting pipes transporting the energy from those nuclear plants.

This is 2070 as Jesse Ausubel sees it, anyway, and his vision—a brazenly pragmatic one that puts land conservation and energy efficiency above all else—isn’t making him a lot of friends in the environmental movement. “Some of my colleagues have put forth what are called green or renewable solutions or technologies, and they’re OK at a boutique scale—single households,” says Ausubel, who is director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York City. “But when you look at two billion households, you find out that the solution isn’t green at all. Things that work on a boutique scale don’t necessarily work for billions of people and terawatts of power.”

Simultaneously a technology-loving futurist and an ardent naturalist, Ausubel points out that a wind farm delivering the same energy as a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant would cover 308 square miles; a solar plant, 58. Even organic farming, he suggests, is justifiable in the context of landscape preservation only if the per-acre yields equal those of conventional farming.

Dismissing moves toward renewable and organic initiatives as misguided flies in the face of green dogma. Papers and presentations with titles like “Fallout from Renewables and Consequent Directions for Energy Research” and “Does Climate Still Matter?” haven’t helped Ausubel’s standing in the mainstream green movement.

But although environmentalists may disagree with him, they can’t simply write him off. In addition to his role at Rockefeller, Ausubel is vice president of programs for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, where he oversees the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year, 80-plus-nation effort to catalog the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. As a fellow at the National Academy of Sciences in the late 1970s, he was, he says, “one of the first half dozen or so people to be paid full time to work on global warming.” He was also one of the organizers of the first U.N. World Climate Conference in 1979. The man has earned the right to have opinions.

Ausubel has spent most of his career modeling a future that assumes a population of about 10 billion—what many experts believe the world will bear over the next century—and reasoning backward from there to explain how such a world could be powered and fed, and how much land could be spared for nature.

Part of what alarms his critics is how un-alarmist his conclusions have turned out to be. For example, instead of using policy to change how people will behave in the future, Ausubel prefers exploring technological responses to what he believes people are going to do regardless. His favorite defense of this laissez-faire approach is to explain that, absent any policy dictating that it should happen, energy consumption over the past 100 years has steadily “decarbonized.” That is, humankind has moved to fuel sources with progressively better ratios of carbon atoms to hydrogen atoms—wood at 10:1, coal at 2:1, oil at 1:2, natural gas at 1:4 and, eventually (in the future Ausubel envisions) 100 percent hydrogen. He thinks technology inevitably improves things. “That’s not to say I don’t worry about the downsides of technology,” he says. “A lot of my work is about that. But my general interest is new and high-tech ways of dealing with problems.”

The high-tech world in 2070, as Ausubel sees it, will look something like this:

ENERGY: Within a few decades, after methane plants have replaced coal plants, according to Ausubel’s decarbonization model, the move is on to full nuclear. His plants would produce electricity during peak daytime hours and be used to dissociate water to make hydrogen by night. “With the nuclear industry making two products instead of just one,” he says, “the economics become more attractive.”

Where to get all the uranium for the hundreds of new nuclear plants that Ausubel’s world would require? Extracting it from oceans, he believes, could supply enough energy for 10,000 years or more. The low concentrations in seawater—about 3.3 parts per billion—make the extraction process difficult, but Japanese researchers have successfully mined uranium from ocean currents, although not yet at costs that would be economically feasible.

NUCLEAR WASTE: Ausubel cites Russian and British research into “self-sinking balls” of nuclear waste with shells most likely made of tungsten and heated by their radioactive contents to the point where, once disposed of in deep holes in the Earth’s crust, they would melt the surrounding lithosphere and bury themselves several miles deep. “Nuclear waste is hot and heavy,” he says. “The idea of self-sinking capsules takes the heat and gravity as positive attributes. The idea is quite straightforward.”

While the capsules remain theoretical for now, Michael Ojovan, an engineer at the University of Sheffield in England who has published extensively on the concept, says that in addition to removing waste, acoustic monitoring of the capsules could reveal data about the structure of the Earth’s interior. “The [scientific] importance of launching such a capsule is on the order of an expedition to Mars,” he says.

TRANSPORTATION: It’s all fuel-cell cars and planes (using hydrogen from the nuclear plants) and maglev trains. “Take the problem of airport congestion,” Ausubel says. “Having planes take off every 20 or 30 seconds is hard. But you could subtract all those shuttle flights from high-flux routes like New York–Boston by connecting them with maglevs. Put those shuttle routes underground with the maglevs, and save the runway slots for the routes where you can’t justify building expensive tunnels.”

Train tunnels, of course, are older than the New York subway. China’s commercial maglev train can zip passengers along at 300 miles an hour, and the U.S. Department of Energy is pouring millions of dollars of economic-stimulus funds into superconductor research. It all comes back to Ausubel’s core concepts: The best way to save nature is to stop extending into it. The best way to limit human encroachment on nature is through hyper-efficient land use. And the best route to maximum efficiency is through technology. “A lot of other people who come from strictly biological or ecological backgrounds just don’t like machines,” he says. “I do.”

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Using Pbl In Environmental Science Class

A few years ago, my students became bothered by the number of plastic bags showing up in the Guyandotte River, which winds behind our school and through our rural southern West Virginia towns. They believed that recycling and other waste management options would decrease littering, but we didn’t know where to start—our rural county had no recycling program.

As an AmeriCorps alumna, I was familiar with launching community programs without a budget. By merging apprenticeships and project-based learning (PBL) in my environmental science class, we were able to create our county’s first recycling program. 

The Setup

Our students initially started an after-school recycling program, which rapidly evolved into our county’s only recycling center within one year. We grew so quickly that we needed outside help, fast. PepsiCo Recycling Rally provides curriculum and equipment to jump-start recycling collection at your school, so we started to use those resources.

Merging PBL with the apprenticeship model provided a framework for designing units with learning outcomes that build critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Operating a recycling center does not work if our student body and community do not know our recycling procedures, what can be recycled, or how recycling can save our streams. Students share their knowledge by organizing schoolwide recycling pep rallies featuring recycling games they develop. They organize school assemblies and create videos, theatrical performances, and rap songs about recycling procedures.

To determine the effectiveness of our outreach programs within our school, we conduct waste audits, analyzing data to see the percentage of recyclables and trash in correct bins. My students design educational activities for local fairs and festivals, teaching students why it’s important to understand where our waste goes and how to best manage it. They work with our communities to assess microplastic levels along our riverbank and launched a Spotify podcast, Waste in Our Waters. They also create and deliver presentations to our town councils and county commission because our ultimate goal is to create a countywide recycling network.

Our program is unique because there are both curricular and extracurricular components. Plastic pollution and waste management are only two units in the environmental science curriculum, so it’s challenging to dedicate the time to complete all the tasks for running a recycling program and addressing plastic pollution within a classroom. If we don’t complete our weekly requirements of collecting and sorting recyclables during class, which happens frequently due to teaching other content standards, then the after-school program picks up the slack. It takes seven to 10 students to stay on top of the recycling demands.

Transforming students into environmental leaders does not happen overnight. It requires time and intentional planning, but the outcomes are what we hope for as teachers: confident, engaged, and civically minded students.

Growing Student Environmental Leaders

Here are eight steps for creating environmental change makers. Although some of these features are standard in PBL, there is much more of an emphasis on building community relationships when using the apprenticeship model.

Make observations: Instruct students to record observations about the environment while walking around campus. Are there invasive species, sources of pollution, or suitable habitats for specific species?

Find patterns: Discuss patterns that emerge from your students’ observations. Record these ideas, and let students prioritize topics.

Identify community experts: Specialists may be found at museums, parks, and/or natural resource and environmental agencies. National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom and Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants YouTube channels connect classrooms to experts across the globe. The expert’s role is to extend the students’ background knowledge about the selected environmental issue. Ask students how they felt and what interested them after a session with an expert. Are there additional questions or ideas for solving their environmental issue?

Determine the environmental project: Tell students that local problems are often global problems, and instruct them to research ways that other organizations, states, and countries solve related environmental problems. Ask students to share what they learned. Are there feasible projects for the students to modify or replicate? Is there a stand-out project that clearly fits your students’ interests?

Identify stakeholders: Instruct students to brainstorm individuals and organizations in your community that have a vested interest in helping fix this environmental problem. Reach out to these stakeholders for help.

Create a step-by-step plan: Guide students through enumerating all actions required to complete their project. What materials do they need? What is the time frame for completing the project? Who can complete each task? Allow students to express their interests and self-select tasks.

Work alongside community mentors: While meeting with an expert provides environmental content knowledge, the mentor guides the students through tasks to complete the project. Sending a survey home to see if guardians have related skill sets and are willing to help out is a way to build connections with your students’ families. 

Achieve goals: What are low-hanging fruits for the students to accomplish first to feel successful? Some projects take time, and their efforts may be the first steps toward a larger project. After a step from your plan is achieved, identify the next step, and create an associated goal within a realistic time frame. Celebrate your success as each goal is completed.

A Closer Look at Apprenticeships

The apprenticeship model helps intentionally build long-lasting mentorships with community partners and experts in the field in order to improve our program and student learning outcomes. In the beginning, our students secured community volunteers to help haul recyclables and worked alongside them to learn unloading procedures. My students began meeting with our neighboring county’s Solid Waste Authority’s director of education, taking tours of their large-scale recycling operations in order to learn the recycling ropes to create a sustainable operation in our county.

One of our students’ grandmothers became a board member of our county’s Solid Waste Authority, and she continues to work with our students biweekly to solve logistical problems and determine new outreach possibilities with our students. Other businesses, like Alpha Metallurgical Resources, reached out to us, and several students work directly with their environmental compliance manager to plan biannual Adopt-A-Highway litter clean-up events. Working alongside community members and experts in the field to solve a critical community issue nurtured my students’ leadership capabilities and confidence. 

Creating a Lasting Legacy

Middle and high school students can develop ingenious solutions to problems such as air and water pollution, threatened species, and the lack of green space. At the same time, taking students outdoors jump-starts learning by awakening the senses and increasing connectedness and happiness. Through goal setting, hard work, and problem-solving, our recycling program grew and now serves as the only plastic recycling location in our entire county. 

If a recycling program isn’t a good fit for your school, there are myriad other projects that students can pursue, such as doing a survey of microplastics or coming up with technological solutions to environmental challenges. Both the EPA’s Microplastic Beach Protocol for freshwater or marine waters and The Big Microplastic Survey provide citizen science opportunities for students to collect and report data, and Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow gives students a chance to win classroom technology.

Sph Professor Examines Nation’s Healthcare Woes

SPH Professor Examines Nation’s Healthcare Woes

Page Turners SPH Professor Examines Nation’s Health Woes Book excerpt: in Me vs. Us, Michael Stein outlines how the country’s focus on individual medicine endangers major public health issues

In his new book, Me vs. Us: A Health Divided, Michael Stein examines this question: why do we care so much about health care, yet so little about public health? Stein, a Boston University School of Public Health professor of health law, policy, and management and department chair, and a primary care physician, shows how over history, public health has repeatedly been overshadowed by individual medicine, which has led to less public health funding, fewer resources for issues like obesity and climate change, and misguided priorities. This excerpt from Me vs. Us (Oxford University Press, 2023) is published with the author’s permission.

Filmmakers understand the distinction between individuals and groups. When they shoot a character in a coma or re­ceiving a bone marrow transplant, they know the viewer is thinking: she could be me. When they sweep across the debris of a village where an earthquake has killed thousands, they know the viewer, thinking on a different scale, may be moved and disturbed, but without any route for self-identification, will be less riveted. For filmmakers, our collective reality is most comprehensible through individual life stories rather than large groups.

Similarly, our interest in health care, the medical care of individuals, supersedes our interest in public health, the well-being of collections of people. Medical care concerns itself with identifiable persons, whereas public health takes up statistical or anonymized lives, many lives seen through an extreme wide shot. Let me offer two scenarios that demonstrate these two divergent perspectives.

Scenario 1: You are the doctor seeing James, a 25-year-old man who rides a motorcycle and who has come to your medical office for a routine annual physical. At the end of his visit, you must make the choice between discussing organ dona­tion or not bringing up the subject at all. Which would you do with James?

When imagining yourself as the doctor in this scenario, I believe that you would choose not to discuss donation. You would avoid this troubling issue because to bring it up is to move the conversa­tion perhaps outside James’ personal concern—he merely wanted the rash on his hand checked and a flu vaccine—and to turn what might have been a perfectly smooth and upbeat medical visit into an awkward occasion that includes an imagined and fatal accident.

Scenario 2: Now approach the same question of organ donation imagining yourself as a regular, non–health care–employed cit­izen who lives in James’ hometown. Young men who ride motorcycles are sometimes seen in medical offices for routine annual physicals. At such visits, the choice must be made between discussing organ donation or not bringing up the subject at all. What do you think doctors should do in these situations?

I believe that you would recommend that doctors, as a group, should discuss donation with these young men.

The first scenario introduces a medical question: How do I care for this patient? The second introduces a public health ques­tion: What should we want for our town? Medical doctors deal with one motorcyclist at a time, whereas public health-ers con­sider aggregates of young motorcycle drivers. If you gave dis­crepant answers (I wouldn’t discuss donation in scenario 1, but every medical provider should discuss donation in scenario 2), it suggests that looking at a problem from different perspectives can change your judgment. The way you would treat the unique patient in front of you differs from the way you view a group of comparable patients. The physician is trained to be the perfect agent for each and every motorcycle rider. The public health practitioner, trying to come up with a policy, is trained to imagine herself as the pro­tector of society, and considers a single patient as simply part of a collection of motorcycle riders. Discrepant answers suggest there is a conflict between these two perspectives.

We might admit that the public health perspective has a gen­erous (though poignant) prospect—his donated organs could imaginably save the lives of others in his hometown if James has a fatal accident—but still, most of us would not insist that doctors and motorcycle-owning patients have this difficult conversation. We might agree with the group perspective and the public health interest in creating the largest possible base of transplantable organs, but we understand it is difficult to oblige doctors to follow in practice. And so, we would be hesitant to create and enforce a policy penalizing doctors if they did not discuss organ donation with motorcycle riders. Based on my informal surveys, persons who give discrepant answers to my two scenarios feel far more strongly about their “no” to the question in scenario 1 than about their “yes” to the question in scenario 2. We prefer and defer to the medical perspective; we naturally assume it.

Our fears about health have always been cleaved: Each of us worries about him- or herself (the Me perspective of medical health) and we worry about others (the Us perspective of public health). And yet, what is best for the individual may not be feasible for the group, and vice versa. Medical care and public health thus represent distinct dispositions and attitudes, competing views of health.

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Solar Energy Reaches A New Efficiency Record

Correction: As originally published, this story suggested that researchers had found a way to produce a solar cell that outputted more energy than it took in. Instead, researchers improved the external quantum efficiency of solar cells, which is essentially the rate of electrons flowing out of a solar cell divided by the rate of photons flowing in. It should not be confused with the “actual” efficiency rate–the laws of physics dictate that it can’t output more energy than it takes in. Also, it should be noted that this is “peak” quantum efficiency, as a reader has pointed out, not a sustained quantum efficiency level. We apologize for the confusion and regret the error. The corrected story follows below.

Just this past week, PhysOrg reported that researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had finally crafted a solar cell with a extetnal quantum efficiency (EQE) value of over 100 percent. Basically, EQE measures the rate of energy flowing out of a solar cell divided by the rate of light flowing into it.

This shouldn’t be confused with a solar cell putting out more energy than it takes in, as this would violate the Law of Conservation of Energy. But for non-phycists, the takeaway is that, with these new developments, solar cells should eventually be able to do their job a lot better.

Researchers achieved this thanks to some inventive applications of zinc oxide, lead selenide, and a touch of gold: This new type of solar cell achieves roughly “114 percent external quantum efficiency”, according to PhysOrg. Here are the bare details from PhysOrg, detailing what it means for green, naturally sustainable energy.

“The newly reported work marks a promising step toward developing Next Generation Solar Cells for both solar electricity and solar fuels that will be competitive with, or perhaps less costly than, energy from fossil or nuclear fuels.

“In a 2006 publication, NREL scientists Mark Hanna and Arthur J. Nozik showed that ideal MEG in solar cells based on quantum dots could increase the theoretical thermodynamic power conversion efficiency of solar cells by about 35 percent relative to today’s conventional solar cells. Furthermore, the fabrication of Quantum Dot Solar Cells is also amenable to inexpensive, high-throughput roll-to-roll manufacturing.”

Head on over to PhysOrg for more technical details if you want to learn more.

But even if solar energy becomes cheap enough for mass production, MIT’s Technology Review notes that trade tariffs could inflate the cost of the technology. In fact, it has already started, as China-based producers of solar cells and energy-collecting modules are selling their products at “unfairly low prices.” In retaliation, the U.S. Government has started playing political hardball.

“On October 18, the U.S. government was asked to impose tariffs on imports of Chinese solar cells and modules, based on the argument that China-based producers have been heavily subsidized and are selling solar products at unfairly low prices. Perhaps not surprisingly, some Chinese companies have now asked the Chinese government to impose tariffs on imports of American solar products, arguing that U.S.-based producers have been heavily subsidized, too. And just like that, the production of affordable and competitive solar products has become a political liability in the world’s two largest producers and consumers of energy.”

[MIT Technology Review, PhysOrg]

McKinley Noble is a former GamePro staff editor, current technology nerd and eternal mixed martial arts enthusiast. He also likes Japanese sports dramas and soap operas. Follow him on Twitter or just Google his name.

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Jobs That Ai Can’t Replace


Whether you are a cybernaut or not, the chances are that you have heard the ‘jobs AI can’t replace’’ debate. About 85 million jobs globally are grappling with the risk of becoming obsolete at the hands of automation by 2025. Artificial intelligence is making such headlines by serving a new invention every now and then, which — on a larger ground — could do most of the human work. A few sprints back into the past, we came across ChatGPT, daunting writers and content marketers. Sports industries are full-fledged, using AI to automate diet planning, prevent player injuries, and whatnot! Customer services are already setting up the chatbot-doing-it-easy environment. This scenario does make us wonder if there are actually any jobs that can’t be replaced by AI.

But going by what we discussed above, do you think that writers, dieticians, or customer service agents need to resort to another career path? Well, you can decide this for yourself once we reach the end of this article. For now, let’s talk about the jobs AI can’t replace.

But before that, we’d like to present you with an amazing opportunity to broaden your horizons and take your skills to the next level. Calling all data science and AI enthusiasts to join us at the highly anticipated DataHack Summit 2023. It’s all happening from 2nd to 5th August at the prestigious NIMHANS Convention Centre in Bangalore. This event is going to be a blast, filled with hands-on learning, invaluable industry insights, and unbeatable networking opportunities. Check out DataHack Summit 2023 Now!

Impact of AI on the Job Market

Source: Built In

The AI-driven change in the job market has become a significant topic of discussion due to many trends and buzz. While the technology has the potential to automate certain tasks and transform industries, it still poses a complex overall effect on employment, and AI cannot replace several jobs. But before we go there, here’s everything that has been happening ever since technology caught the attention of the world:

Automation is Replacing Jobs New Roles are Being Created

Source: The Enterprise Project

Upskilling is As Important As Developing Skills

The widespread adoption of artificial intelligence is likely to result in a shift in the skills demanded by the job market. Certain low-skilled and repetitive tasks may be automated, leading to a greater emphasis on skills that complement AI technologies. This includes skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and complex decision-making. Upskilling initiatives will be crucial for employees to acquire the necessary competencies to adapt to the changing job market.

Socio-Economic Considerations Are in the Spotlight

The impact of AI on the job market has broader socio-economic implications. It can contribute to income inequality if the benefits of AI are not equitably distributed. Certain communities or individuals with limited access to education or resources may face challenges in adapting to the changing job market. Policies and initiatives that address skill gaps, support lifelong learning, and promote inclusive access to AI technologies can help mitigate potential inequalities.

Overview of Jobs That AI Can’t Replace

Source: Analytics Vidhya 

AI has the potential to transform entire industries, leading to the emergence of new business models and opportunities. Industries such as healthcare, finance, retail, and agriculture can benefit from AI-driven innovations, creating new jobs and improving efficiency. For example, AI can support medical professionals in diagnosis and treatment decisions, enhance financial services through personalized recommendations, enable e-commerce platforms to provide targeted marketing and optimize agricultural practices for increased productivity.

Jobs Requiring Human Interaction and Empathy

We can talk to Alexa, check up on a data science course, and take up an AI job; We have, and we will continue to become acclimated to, an AI kind of lifestyle. But is there a replacement for roles that involve support, service, or comfort through a subjective experience or conversation? Here are such jobs that AI can’t replace:

Roles in Counseling and Therapy

Source: Technology Review

The counseling and therapy field has jobs that can’t be replaced by AI, for good reasons. Roles that involve providing mental health support, counseling, and therapy require empathy, active listening, and understanding of human emotions. The ability to establish a trusting relationship, adapt to individual needs, and offer personalized guidance makes these professions highly dependent on human interaction.

Customer Service and Support Positions

Source: eInfochips

Customer service representatives and support staff handle inquiries, complaints, and problem-solving for customers. Their role involves empathetic communication, active listening, and understanding nuanced customer needs. Human agents can adapt to unique situations and offer emotional support, which enhances customer satisfaction.

Social Work and Community Outreach Roles

Source: The New Social Worker

Social workers assist individuals and communities facing various challenges, such as poverty, abuse, or mental health issues. They provide emotional support, assess needs, and connect people with necessary resources. Social work involves deep empathy, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to navigate complex social dynamics, which AI struggles to replicate.

Creative and Artistic Professions

Art has been a porter of passion and pleasure. With time, it became a source of income, too. And in no time, there are several AI tools generating content, composing music, and creating images. However, art is a child of one’s imagination and experience, something which presents an outlook on different aspects of life. Here are creating jobs that can’t be replaced by AI:

Artists and Designers

Source: Mercedes Benz Group

Artistic expression through painting, designing, drawing, and other mediums requires a profound connection between the artist’s mind and a blank canvas. The human touch, the imperfections, countless thoughts, intricacies, and the unique perspective conveyed in each stroke cannot be replicated by AI. Art captures the essence of human experiences, imagination, and cultural identity, making it a deeply personal and irreplaceable form of expression.

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Writers and Content Creators


Content holds immense power and complexity. While AI can generate text based on patterns and data, it lacks the human touch and deep understanding of emotions, nuances, and cultural contexts that make writing truly impactful. Whether it’s crafting a compelling novel, thought-provoking journalism, or engaging copywriting, the art of storytelling and the ability to connect with readers on an emotional level remains a distinctively human trait.

Musicians and Performers

Source: AI World School

Music and other sorts of performing arts transcend boundaries and converse with the depths of our psyches. While AI can compose melodies and generate music based on algorithms, it struggles to replicate the emotional depth and artistic interpretation brought forth by human musicians. The ability to infuse personal experiences, emotions, and improvisation into performances, as well as the intuitive understanding of rhythm, dynamics, and expression, keeps human musicians at the heart of musical creation.

Complex Decision-Making and Critical Thinking Jobs

Business decisions are no joke. They require thorough analysis, understanding, and critical thinking. While AI can help analyze data, it cannot contest the way humans approach the decision-making process. Here are such jobs that AI can never replace:

High-Level Strategists and Analysts

Source: Capitalfm

AI has the prowess to process and analyze large volumes of data. It can also suggest ideas and give something to seek inspiration from. However, it still requires human expertise to interpret the results accurately. Analysts and scientists are jobs that AI can never replace as they require domain knowledge and critical thinking skills to derive insights and identify patterns. After a thorough understanding has been conducted, humans can make informed decisions based on the information as per the changing demands of the market, which AI is not capable of doing. 

Research Scientists and Engineers

Source: Allerin Tech

Scientists experiment. They analyze data and draw conclusions based on their knowledge and experience. While AI can help them with data processing and analysis, the creativity, intuition, and scientific judgment that are necessary for ground-breaking discoveries are uniquely human.

Legal Professionals and Judges

Source: Robotics Business Review

Lawyers, judges, and ethicists deal with complex legal and ethical frameworks, interpretation of laws, and consideration of moral dilemmas. These legal professions have jobs that can’t be replaced by AI as they require nuanced judgment, empathy, and the ability to weigh multiple factors, which AI currently lacks.

Jobs Requiring Emotional Intelligence and Intuition

Here are the jobs requiring emotional intelligence that AI can’t replace:

Leadership and Management Roles

Source: MIT Sloan

Managers and leaders in any organization assess market trends, competitive landscapes, and long-term business strategies. Their decisions involve weighing multiple factors, considering risks, and making choices that align with the organization’s goals and values. It calls for emotional intelligence, striking a perfect balance between unbiased decisions and the greater good of the company, which by all means is a role that cannot be left alone to AI.

Human Resources and Talent Acquisition Positions

Source: The Economics Times

Human resources are one of the jobs that AI can’t replace. HR professionals handle various aspects of employee management, including recruitment, training, conflict resolution, and employee well-being. Their role involves empathy, understanding human dynamics, and making subjective judgments based on individual circumstances.

Therapists and Counselors

Source: Charity Digital

Therapists and counselors are about emotional intelligence, above all, and thus make jobs that can’t be replaced by AI. The professionals work closely with individuals to address their emotional well-being. The ability to empathize, understand complex emotions, and establish trust with clients is essential in providing effective therapy, making it challenging for AI to replace human therapists.

Jobs with Physical Dexterity and Specialized Skills

From pottery to knitting, surgery to coaches, some practices are a matter of physical dexterity and skills that are typically not taught. Here are such jobs that AI can’t replace when it comes to the skills requiring physical or specialized skills:

Skilled Craftsmen and Artisans

Source: Makezine

Professions such as woodworking, pottery, glassblowing, and jewelry making involve intricate hand movements and a keen sense of touch. The tactile nature of these crafts, along with the need for creativity and attention to detail, makes them highly reliant on human dexterity. And thus, these are jobs that AI can’t replace. 

Surgeons and Healthcare Professionals

Source: Forbes

The impact of AI in healthcare is proliferating for good. However, as much as it helps assist in diagnosing certain conditions, medical professionals make complex decisions that involve empathy, patient interaction, and ethical considerations. Treating patients requires a holistic approach that combines medical knowledge with personal judgment. Thus, the medical industry still has a safe spot for jobs that can’t be replaced by AI. 

Athletes and Performers

Source: Sports Tomorrow 

Just like healthcare, the craze of AI in sports is booming. But athletics is one of the jobs AI can’t replace. Sports that demand physical agility, coordination, and precise movements, such as gymnastics, figure skating, and professional dance, require a level of skill and athleticism that goes beyond what AI can currently achieve.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Will AI overtake jobs?

A. Artificial intelligence will not completely take over human jobs but eliminate repetitive and mundane tasks by promoting automation in various functions of a business. This will help employees focus on more crucial and complex tasks that require human intervention.

Q2. What percentage of jobs can be replaced by generative AI?

A. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, 300 million jobs could vanish due to automation led by generative AI.

Q3. Will AI take over data analytics?

A. AI capabilities can collect, refine, and analyze data, which not only spares humans’ time but also generates outcomes in no time. The technology will eradicate the repetitive tasks involved in data analytics but will not replace the critical thinking and ethical and safety approaches that humans follow.

Q4. What is the future of AI?

A. Artificial intelligence will continue to be a bearer of mind-boggling inventions in the future. The global AI market will witness a boom at a CAGR of 37.3% between 2023 and 2030, reaching an estimated US $1,811.8 billion by 2030. The trends on which the world has its eyes set on, are augmented AI, computer vision, and natural language processing. 


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