Symbiotic squirrels

Is human ingenuity the key to a better tomorrow? Many of the things that are supposed to improve our standard of living are man-made,  whether it is genetic engineering, artificial intelligence or synthetic life. It’s as though we’ve resigned ourselves to believing that nature can’t be trusted. All it can offer us is climate change and mass extinctions, so humanity has to fix things itself.

What if Mother Nature could work with us for a better tomorrow? To take a simple example, think of city wildlife. Today, many of the wild animals living amongst humans are considered pests. They’re a nuisance, and not much else, because they destroy things. Racoons go through our garbage and squirrels chew through power lines. It’s why we don’t put out food or water for these animals – we don’t want them around.

Nothing to see here, just taking out the trash.

What if, through the process of evolution, today’s pests become tomorrow’s helpers? Squirrels and raccoons might evolve to perform useful household tasks. Raccoons would learn to pick up litter on the front lawn and squirrels would clean out the eavestroughs in return for food and shelter from grateful homeowners. Just as wild wolves evolved to become helpful dogs, maybe city wildlife will make itself useful.

Hurricane fights

Hurricane Sandy hit hard some time ago. DC was spared the worst of it, which was reserved for the unlucky NYC area. The current response to extreme weather seems to be evacuation: Get out or get hurt. It’s probably the only workable strategy when something as powerful as a hurricane hits. However, even if evacuation is successful (if there is sufficient notice of the threat), it can be very expensive and difficult to manage.

Perhaps the problem is that we have tried only one part of our primordial fear response. If we’re choosing between fight or flight, then evacuation is flight. But what about fight? Will we one day have a way to attack hurricanes?


Hurricane Sandy, meet Hurricane Sandy.

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Scientists have dabbled with weather generation already. In the future, maybe we’ll generate counter-weather systems that collide with hurricanes and siphon off their strength or at least push them off course.