Emojis Matter

Emojis and emoticons seem to have become increasingly widespread over the last few years. I have to admit – I’m not a huge fan myself. But I can 100% see why they’ve become so popular. After all, who within Bitcoin doesn’t like ToTheMoonGuy?

With access to technologies becoming increasingly commonplace (SMS, tweets, Facebook interactions), we’re communicating more frequently but using far fewer words in each exchange. And within these reduced mediums, one well-placed emoticon can easily convert a vicious personal attack into nothing more than comical banter between friends.

It’s interesting to watch how society is starting to deal with this evolution in language. Ignoring the cost implications of the technologies that have in some cases been misunderstood (a woman in Scotland racked up an extra £1,000 bill as a result of her emoticon addiction when she failed to realise that each emoticon message was being charged as a picture message by her mobile provider), they are now assuming more formal significance.

There are reports of juries being directed to focus on the use of emoticons in written evidence led in court. We saw it happen in the recent Silk Road trial of Ross W. Ulbricht for example. But the difficulty here is that there is no standardised usage yet for the symbols. Usage of emoji can vary between two individuals or within certain communities so it remains a challenge for outsiders to interpret at this stage.

I don’t really have any firm conclusions on this one way or the other to be honest. But I’m interested to see whether we will ever reach a stage where the meaning behind emoticons (or their descendents) become genuinely standardised. Or will the development follow that of the written word or currency, where to date the world has shown itself to contain enough niches to support entirely separate versions. My instinct is that we are a long way off a common language using symbols.


Farm2050 Collective & The Coming Global Food Shortage

Some predictions state that the world will have a global population of somewhere between 9.6 and 9.7 billion by 2050, with maybe 10 – 11 billion people on the planet by the end of the century. Any way you look at it, that’s a huge increase in the numbers of mouths to feed.

For some, the solution can partly be found in enforcing a move to vegetarianism. It is significantly less water-intensive to produce animal-based sustenance than a vegetarian diet and it’s the lack of water that even more serious. I didn’t choose to become a vegetarian because of this sort of data but I can honestly say that as I get older and learn more about the issues, it becomes an increasingly significant reason why I continue down that path.

When you actually sit down and think about population growth, it’s a huge challenge that we’re collectively facing in the future. It’s great fun to work out how many humans have walked the earth before the day you were born using the BBC interactive graph from a couple of years ago when we hit 7 billion on earth. But once you start to look at the population curve, the acceleration in population growth is staggering. To quote Wikipedia:-

“It is estimated that the population of the world reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It would be another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to rise by another billion people, reaching three billion in 1960. Thereafter, the global population reached four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, six billion in 1999 and, by some estimates, seven billion in October 2011 with other estimates being in March 2012. It is projected to reach eight billion by 2024–2030.”

It’s blindingly obvious we need both more food and water but also a rethink about the way that we’re currently producing and distributing natural resources. Some believe that food shortages could be the single most critical world issue by the middle of this century.

So it’s great to see the launch of Eric Schmidt’s Farm2050 Collective to focus on this global food challenge. In short, this group will support the development of agriculture startups, innovators and entrepreneurs that are seeking the answers to a question that’s only going to become more critical with every year that passes.

Whilst it may not be the sexiest part of the tech industry, AgTech involves a farming market that’s currently worth $120 billion a year. Whilst it may be an area that few of us think of regularly, there’s some fascinating innovations taking place in the industry, whereby farming is tapping into the true potential of big data and using a combination of robotics and artificial intelligence in order to make production far more efficient.

If you’re a young tech entrepreneur looking to get into a growth market, maybe that shiny high-grossing iPhone app isn’t the way forward. Maybe instead you need to be looking into ideas that also deal with those very real fundamental issues lurking at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that are crying out to be solved for the benefit of us all.

Food for thought indeed.