Technological advances enable robots and drones to pollinate plants — but what does this mean for insect biodiversity?

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Honeybee with pollen on Aloe arborescens flower

Insects, birds and even mammals help to pollinate plants, but their populations are declining rapidly. This has been attributed to various factors, including intensive farming practices, the use of agrochemicals, an increase in pests and pathogens, habitat loss and degradation, and higher temperatures associated with climate change.

Bees are the most common pollinators, and the annual rate of loss of bee colonies is estimated to have risen to as much as 40%.

Pollination is a critical element in agricultural production, with over 75% of the main global crop types requiring animal pollination.

There are several innovative alternatives that farmers and researchers are exploring using robots, drones and artificial intelligence. …


How distributed ledger technology helps the UN to provide quicker and safer options for refugees to obtain food

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Earlier this month, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its work in fighting hunger and improving conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas. One of the ways that the WFP provides aid for refugees is to enable them to buy food at local grocery stores using blockchain technology.

Organizations providing food assistance for refugees have faced several difficulties. To give recipients a choice of food or grocery items (rather than uniform food parcels), cash or vouchers need to be distributed — but there are often long queues for collection. Where bank transfers can be arranged, there are typically long waits and high transaction costs involved. …


Concerned about ethics? Ask yourself these questions when using consumer data to drive online purchases and views

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Should businesses take ethics into account when making online recommendations? (Photo © Sayuri Moodliar)

Take one worldwide pandemic, add social distancing and economic lockdown with restrictions on schools, restaurants, nightclubs and movies … and it seems inevitable that online activity and e-commerce transactions will increase drastically.

Sounds like the perfect time for businesses to take advantage of people’s boredom, insecurities, fears, or addictions … Right? Wrong!!!

At a time when the world is being rocked by economic uncertainty and a fight for physical and emotional survival, it is not appropriate to be encouraging unbridled spending, driving addictive consumer behaviour, or reinforcing stereotypes based on biases and prejudices.

Behaving in an ethical manner is part of every business’ social license to operate. Social license refers to stakeholders’ acceptance of the business’ practices and operating procedures. It is created and maintained over a period of time, through building trust between the business and the community in which it operates. …


Can the psychology behind recommendation engines and online purchases help us to build better models?

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What is the purpose of online recommendations? (Image © Sayuri Moodliar)

Recommendations while browsing or shopping on the Internet or using a mobile application have become so commonplace these days that many people don’t even give them a second thought.

Despite knowing how recommendation algorithms work, I often find myself asking, ‘What were they thinking?’ And I am sure that many other users are occasionally confused, irritated or even suspicious when some recommendations pop up on their screens.

Is the purpose of recommendation systems to help the user navigate an infinite amount of information, or is it to convert views to purchases, reads or subscriptions?

Most online and mobile apps and e-commerce websites tend to use a combination of content-based and collaborative filtering systems. …


3 lessons learned from creating chatbots for enhanced customer experience

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A bot has become somewhat of a mythical creature. In the early days of computing, we knew a robot when we saw one. We expected it to be a shiny chunk of metal that made cute electronic noises and spoke in stilted quaint English –like the droids R2D2 or C3PO. We fantasised about a future where robots would take over all the unpleasant tasks we didn’t like doing.

In the modern world, bots don’t always look or sound like twentieth century sci-fi movies. Not only do they predictably carry out routine and boring tasks that humans prefer to avoid, but they can also be programmed to do more complex work — faster and better than most humans. They have become so adept at imitating humans that creators give them names, companies give them employee numbers and some countries are willing to give them identity numbers too. …


Reflections on my evolution from international tax lawyer to environmental data scientist

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My earliest recollection of any career aspiration was that I wanted to become a scientist and an explorer. In my six-year old mind, I fantasised about a Darwin-like odyssey, journeying into unknown places, and accumulating specimens and experiences that would collectively help me to uncover the secrets of life on earth. A year later, I went on my first camping trip in the mountains, and that was the beginning of a life-long adventure of discovery and awe of the natural environment.

You can guess what happened when I grew up. …


Greenwashing your corporate behaviour may turn your sustainability narrative into a horror story

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“It was long past time for me to come to grips with the other elephant in the living room — the profit motive …. Billionaires, bankers, and corporations profit from it. [That is] the reason we’re not talking about [what] would be bad for business, especially the cancerous form of capitalism that rules the world — and now hiding under a cover of green.” — Jeff Gibb

Even if you think that Michael Moore’s ‘Planet of the Humans’ is an over-the-top way to gain publicity, the movie certainly has everyone talking about the very real problem of greenwashing.

Greenwashing may take many forms, ranging from exaggerations of environmental performance to outright lying and even fraud to cover up environmental harm. The continuum of what greenwashing encompasses is reflected in the variety of definitions provided by dictionaries like Cambridge and Oxford, which…


Using insights from data to craft impactful stories

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© Sayuri Moodliar

As researchers, we often report our findings in the form of a story. Our analysis and insights may be used for various outcomes: to convince investors to invest funds, to persuade boards to increase budgets or even to mobilise society to take action. An impactful way to achieve any or all of these results is to tell a compelling story that is also credible.

I have a strong research interest in how stories are told. My PhD thesis was a story about storytelling — I analysed how some corporations use scientific data to spin their own stories in ways that are ambiguous and even misleading, and the extent to which this has contributed to an ineffective global environmental governance system. The stories that individuals and organisations tell become the stories (or discourse) of society. …

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Writer, explorer and lifelong learner

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