Apples New Spaceship Campus Has One Flaw and It Hurts

The centerpiece of Apple Inc.’s new headquarters is a massive, ring-shaped office overflowing with panes of glass, a testament to the company’s famed design-obsessed aesthetic. 

There’s been one hiccup since it opened last year: Apple employees keep smacking into the glass.

Surrounding the building, located in Cupertino, California, are 45-foot tall curved panels of safety glass. Inside are work spaces, dubbed “pods,” also made with a lot of glass. Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents. 

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing anything related to Apple. Another person familiar with the situation said there are other markings to identify the glass. 

Apple’s latest campus has been lauded as an architectural marvel. The building, crafted by famed architect Norman Foster, immortalized a vision that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had years earlier. In 2011, Jobs reportedly described the building “a little like a spaceship landed.” Jobs has been credited for coming up with the glass pods, designed to mix solo office areas with more social spaces. 

Apple campus in Cupertino.
Photographer: Jim Wilson/New York Times via Redux

The building is designed to house some 13,000 employees. Wired magazine, first to pay a visit at its opening last year, described the structure as a “statement of openness, of free movement,” in contrast to Apple’s typically insular culture. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement,” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, told the magazine in May. “The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.”

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. It’s not clear how many incidents there have been. A Silicon Valley-based spokeswoman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration referred questions about Apple’s workplace safety record to the government agency’s website. A search on the site based on Apple’s name in California found no reports of injuries at the company’s new campus. 

It’s not the first time Apple’s penchant for glass in buildings has caused problems. In late 2011, 83-year-old Evelyn Paswall walked into the glass wall of an Apple store, breaking her nose. She sued the company, arguing it should have posted a warning on the glass. The suit was settled without any cost to Apple, according to a legal filing in early 2013. 

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/apple-s-new-spaceship-campus-has-one-flaw-and-it-hurts

    As Bitcoin Sinks, Crypto Bros Party Hard on a Blockchain Cruise

    When 600 cryptocurrency enthusiasts set sail from Singapore on Monday night for their second annual Blockchain Cruise, the price of Bitcoin was hovering comfortably above $13,500.

    By the time their 1,020-foot-long ship pulled into Thailand on Wednesday, for an afternoon of bottomless drinks and crypto-focused talks on a sun-soaked private beach, Bitcoin had cratered to $10,000.

    The group of mostly young men, many of whom became wildly rich — at least on paper — as Bitcoin and other digital tokens skyrocketed last year, had in all likelihood just lost millions.

    But if anyone was fazed, they didn’t show it. The party rolled on as the sangria and Red Bull flowed, Bitcoin-themed rap music blared and drones filmed it all from above.

    “Nothing goes up in a straight line,” explained Ronnie Moas, the founder of Miami Beach-based Standpoint Research, who was one of the event’s speakers on Wednesday. In a best-case scenario, he said, Bitcoin could jump to $300,000 in as little as seven years.

    For skeptics of the crypto craze, it’s hard not to see all this as another sign of runaway exuberance — a repeat of the boosterish Las Vegas securitization conference, immortalized in The Big Short, that preceded the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2007. But the steadfast optimism on display at this week’s Blockchain Cruise also carries a warning for anyone betting on a cryptocurrency crash: It’s going to take more than a 50 percent drop in Bitcoin from its Dec. 18 high to drive out the diehards.

    “This is something that you either believe in or not,” said Moas, who has become a crypto-celebrity after issuing stratospheric price forecasts for Bitcoin.

    The cruise’s eclectic list of speakers included Jose Gomez, a former aide to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; Kaspar Korjus, the head of Estonia’s e-residency program (which may issue its own cryptocurrency); and Jorg Molt, an early digital currency backer whose claim to hold 250,000 Bitcoins (worth $2.8 billion at the current price) couldn’t be verified.

    But perhaps the biggest draw was John McAfee, the anti-virus software pioneer with a checkered past. In 2012, while living in Belize, McAfee had run-ins with local police for alleged unlicensed drug manufacturing and weapons possession, but was released without charge. At one point, Belize police started a search for him as a person of interest in connection with the murder of his neighbor. McAfee said he was innocent and that he fled Belize because of persecution by corrupt officials.

    He now helps run MGT Capital Investments Inc., a small-cap tech company with a Bitcoin mining business. He has become a cryptocurrency evangelist on Twitter, touting the technology and various tokens to his more than 700,000 followers. Coinsbank, the digital currency exchange and wallet operator that organized the cruise, made him a headline speaker.

    On Wednesday, McAfee blamed the recent market slump on unfounded fear of government intervention. He urged cryptocurrency holders — one of whom sported a “Buy The Dip” t-shirt — to stick with their bets.

    Read more: Bitcoin Fall Extends to 25% as Fears of Crypto Crackdown Linger

    “You cannot force a ban on a distributed system,” McAfee said in an interview after his speech. “It’s like how do you ban smoking weed? You can’t ban it. People will come back.”

    Not every conversation on the Blockchain Cruise revolved around cryptocurrencies. Attendees, unsurprisingly, had plenty to say about blockchain — the distributed ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin — and its potential to improve industries from finance to health care.

    Charity was also a topic raised by speakers including Moas, who urged the audience to donate some of their newfound wealth and help reduce global inequality.

    Many attendees have far more than they need.

    Rowan Hill, a former coal miner in Australia, said he retired by 26 after getting in on the crypto boom early. After the cruise, he’s heading to Japan for a four-week snowboarding trip.

    “A lot of people can’t stand the price swings” in digital currencies, Hill said, donning a fedora and sunglasses as he lounged on the beach. “The average person just sells, and they lose out.”

    Joe Stone, an Australian who invests in digital assets, said market declines are easier to bear in the company of fellow enthusiasts. For many on the cruise, the next stop is another cryptocurrency conference in Bangkok.

    “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” said Stone, after a late night of mingling at the ship’s cigar bar over whiskeys. “Otherwise I’d just be at my computer.”

    For more on cryptocurrencies, check out the   podcast:

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-19/as-bitcoin-sinks-crypto-bros-party-hard-on-a-blockchain-cruise

      Phone-addicted teens arent as happy as those who play sports and hang out IRL, new study suggests

      To no parent’s surprise, too much smartphone use makes teens unhappy.

      So says a new study from San Diego State University, which pulled data from over one million 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the U.S. showing teens who spent more time on social media, gaming, texting and video-chatting on their phones were not as happy as those who played sports, went outside and interacted with real human beings.

      But is it the screen time bringing them down or are sadder teens more likely to insulate themselves in a virtual world? Lead author of the study and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge believes it’s the phone that contributes to making them unhappy, not the other way around.

      “Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” Twenge said.

      Though abstinence doesn’t seem to fix the problem, either, as noted in the study, there’s something to Twenge’s theory. Another recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also lead by Twenge, found a spike in depression and suicide among teen girls increased the more time they spent on their phones.

      That’s alarming, especially considering the age in which kids get smartphones has continued to climb lower — dropping from 12 in 2012 to 10.3 years in 2016.

      Twenge has been studying teen behavior since the early 90’s and has been on the forefront of research suggesting an abrupt change in behavior and emotional states of teenagers due to smartphone use. She says there’s been a dramatic shift starting in 2012 when younger and younger kids starting getting more screen time.

      Researchers found more of the same while sifting through the data for this study. Teenagers’ life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012.

      To back up that work, Twenge’s previous studies suggest kids who spend at least four or five hours on their phone increase their risk factor for suicide by a whopping 71 percent, regardless of whether it was cat videos or something else. It was the time spent on the device, not the content, that mattered most.

      “By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” Twenge said. “The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use.”

      She suggests teens aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, exercise more and try to hang out with friends face-to-face to increase happiness — all things adults could probably use more of as well.

      Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/23/phone-addicted-teens-arent-as-happy-as-those-who-play-sports-and-hang-out-irl-new-study-suggests/

      Cutting Down on Cow Burps to Ease Climate Change

      In a cream-colored metal barn two hours north of Wellington, New Zealand, a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.

      Livestock has directly caused about one-quarter of Earth’s warming in the industrial age, and scientists from the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy say bigger, more resource-heavy cattle are accelerating the problem. Contrary to popular belief, cows contribute to global warming mostly through their burps, not their flatulence. So about a dozen scientists here at AgResearch Grasslands, a government-owned facility, are trying to develop a vaccine to stop those burps. “This is not a standard vaccine,” says Peter Janssen, the anti-burp program’s principal research scientist. “It’s proving to be an elusive little genie to get out of the bottle.”

      The effort isn’t entirely altruistic. Grasslands is dedicated to boosting New Zealand’s dominant agriculture and biotech industries, and the country’s biggest company, Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd., a $14 billion dairy processor, has vowed to increase its milk exports without increasing carbon emissions. But 2017 is set to be the third-hottest year on record—the top two were 2016 and 2015—so the globe can use all the help it can get, business-minded or not. “It’s essential to reduce global livestock emissions in order to reduce climate change consistent with what countries signed up to under the Paris Agreement,” says Andy Reisinger, deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

      Janssen.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      Janssen and his team are trying to purge cow stomachs of methanogens, the microbes that convert hydrogen into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It’s an unexpectedly delicate and difficult task, because cows rely on a host of other bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in their guts to digest the grasses they eat. Researchers have tried feeding them oregano, tea extracts, probiotics, antibiotics, seaweed (too toxic), coconut oil (too expensive), chloroform (too carcinogenic), and even leftover grains from beer brewing (which made cows poop more nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas).

      So far no vaccine has progressed far enough to be given to the cows in the cubicles, where methane output can be measured. The vaccine must first be successfully tested in the lab and on sheep. Although the scientists have figured out how to produce the desired antibodies in the cows, the animals continue to merrily burp. Janssen’s team is looking for proteins they can use to concoct a stronger vaccine, one that will better prime the cows’ immune systems to attack methanogens. A single methanogen genome has 2,000 proteins, so they’ve narrowed their search to a handful of candidates, which they think could knock out the gassiest microbes.

      A cow is led into the methane measurement center.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      The hunt for a vaccine costs about $1.4 million a year, about two-thirds of which comes from the New Zealand government. Industry supplies the rest. The money is part of a $7.5 million pool for curbing farming gases meant to address New Zealand’s status as the world’s highest per capita methane emitter. Janssen says it may take five years or longer to create the right vaccine, but it will do much more to reduce bovine emissions than a treatment that Dutch company DSM is developing for bucket-fed cows. That’s because the vaccine will work just as well for grazers. “There aren’t too many ruminants in the world where the animals never get to eat grass,” he says, noting that even cows fattened with feed in a controlled environment typically start out in pastures.

      DSM used computers to create a methane-blocking molecule called 3-nitrooxypropanol, or 3-NOP, that appears to cut burped methane by about a third when sprinkled on a cow’s food. The company, whose annual research and development budget is $500 million, is waiting for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is likely to take at least two more years. “For developed countries, this is the most promising technology at this point,” says Alexander Hristov, a Penn State professor of dairy nutrition who’s tested 3-NOP for DSM. The New Zealanders are leading the vaccine hunt, he says, but they haven’t developed a proven product they can offer to farmers.

      Dairy cows at Massey University, which supplies cows for AgResearch.
      Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

      Janssen, a bespectacled man with the lanky limbs of a longtime mountain explorer, says his team is also working on substances similar to 3-NOP that could be given in pill form. A complicating factor: No one knows how low-methane a cow can go without hurting its health or productivity. Trials suggest cows that burp less seem to cope fine, but scientists want to make sure there are no unintended consequences, such as reduced milk quality or quantity. “We need to understand where that tipping point is,” Janssen says.

      Humans are the final hurdle. Canadian scientists created low-polluting pigs almost a decade ago, but people wouldn’t buy the genetically modified pork. “Farmers will produce what the consumer demands,” says Tim McAllister, who’s conducting trials of 3-NOP and other methane-reduction techniques for the Canadian government at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta. Soaring global demand for meat makes climate concerns pressing. North of Wellington, the cows seem content in their tanks, turning to watch as Janssen strides between their boxes. For now, their burps are packed with methane, but they may not have to be.

        BOTTOM LINE – Researchers are painstakingly hunting for compounds that can quell methane-packed cow burps but will still have to sell regulators and the public on the science.

        Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-29/cutting-down-on-cow-burps-to-ease-climate-change

        Apples Billion-Dollar Bet on Hollywood Is the Opposite of Edgy

        Days before Apple Inc. planned to celebrate the release of its first TV show last spring at a Hollywood hotel, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told his deputies the fun had to wait. Foul language and references to vaginal hygiene had to be cut from some episodes of , a show featuring celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Blake Shelton, and Chelsea Handler cracking jokes while driving around Los Angeles.

        While the delay of was widely reported last April, the reasons never were. Edits were made, additional episodes were shot, and Apple shifted resources to another show. When was released in August, it didn’t make much of a splash. The early stumbles highlight the challenges ahead as Apple mounts an ambitious foray into showbiz. The company plans to spend $1 billion on TV shows over the next year and has hired a team that’s already bidding for projects against the biggest media companies in the world.

        With $262 billion in cash and securities in its coffers, Apple has the money to make as much TV as anyone, but some in Hollywood are beginning to wonder whether it has a clear strategy. The most valuable company in the world, Apple is under the constant glare of regulators, reporters, and competitors. Furthermore, the people who use the hundreds of millions of Apple devices have pretty mainstream views about the brand’s appeal. Macs, iPhones, and iPads are also often in the hands of children—a group unsuited for much of the edgy programming that’s fueled the new golden age of television.

        The secretive company says little about its plans. No one in Hollywood knows where the shows will be available to watch, how much they’ll cost, or even how Apple will publicize them. But in recent weeks, a visit to Apple offices in the Culver City suburb of Los Angeles has become as much a rite of passage for Hollywood producers, agents, and filmmakers as dining at Spago. So clues are beginning to emerge, based on interviews with more than a dozen people who’ve met with Apple executives or work there.

        The company has had many fits and starts in Hollywood over the past two years, with as many as four different executives claiming to be responsible for its big move into Tinseltown. To lead the latest charge, Apple hired Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, former heads of Sony Corp.’s TV studio. The two men have sterling reputations as key members of the studio that produced . They’ve hired other industry veterans to oversee the development of new shows. They also plan to hire at least 70 staffers—including development executives, publicists, and marketers—to fill out their division. “They are professionals with deep relationships with many of the people who make some of the best shows on TV today,” says Jon Avnet, who directed 10 episodes of Sony’s TV show .

        Erlicht and Van Amburg have agreed to remake Steven Spielberg’s anthology series  with NBCUniversal and are in the bidding for another show, about morning TV show hosts played by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. Apple wants to have a small slate of shows ready for release in 2019. “I think for both NBC and Apple, it’s about finding that sweet spot with content that is creative and challenging but also allows as many people in the tent as possible,” says Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment.

        However, Apple isn’t interested in the types of shows that become hits on HBO or Netflix, like —at least not yet. The company plans to release the first few projects to everyone with an Apple device, potentially via its TV app, and top executives don’t want kids catching a stray nipple. Every show must be suitable for an Apple Store. Instead of the nudity, raw language, and violence that have become staples of many TV shows on cable or streaming services, Apple wants comedies and emotional dramas with broad appeal, such as the NBC hit , and family shows like . People pitching edgier fare, such as an eight-part program produced by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and starring Casey Affleck, have been told as much.

        Yet like Netflix Inc., Apple is thinking globally. The company hired Amazon.com Inc. executive Morgan Wandell to oversee its international division and is about to hire Jay Hunt to oversee development in Europe.

        All this has led many producers to label Apple as conservative and picky. Some potential partners say they walk into Apple’s offices expecting to be blown away by the most successful consumer technology company in the world only to run up against the reality of dealing with a giant, cautious corporation taking its first steps into a new industry.

        Apple isn’t the first tech company to underwhelm Hollywood. Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp. spent millions of dollars on TV shows before pulling back within a couple of years, frustrated by the slow pace of development and their inability to attract audiences. Even Amazon, at first considered a success story, is now drawing complaints from writers and producers over casting decisions and instances of buying scripts but not producing them. The online retailer also fired its studio chief in October over allegations of sexual harassment.

        Streaming video is just one of many fronts in the global battle between technology titans. After years of flirting with Hollywood, Silicon Valley companies are finally writing big checks, spurring a doubling of video production over the past decade. Amazon spent an estimated $4.5 billion this year on movies and TV shows, while Facebook and YouTube will spend more than $1 billion each. Netflix, which plans to spend $8 billion in 2018, dwarfs them all.

        Yet no one arouses more interest in Hollywood than Apple. One reason it quickly climbed the list of places to pitch new shows: the almost cult-like attachment many have for its phones. “Their brand is the most important thing,” says Avnet, who’s made shows for Snapchat and YouTube and is in the process of making one for Facebook.

        By funding original shows, the company also can remind customers to think of the Apple TV streaming device before the Roku or Amazon Fire TV Stick and to use Apple’s year-old TV app instead of Amazon Prime Video or YouTube. With iPhone growth slowing, the company is looking to other divisions to deliver sales. ITunes, Apple Music, and the TV app are part of its services business, where CEO Cook wants to double revenue by 2020, to about $50 billion.

        Yet Apple isn’t trying to compete with Walt Disney Co. or Netflix to become the biggest backer of TV shows and movies on the planet. Instead, the company wants its shows to complement those of other networks and streaming services that consumers already watch on Apple devices. Its new shows, however, will no longer be placed on Apple Music, which will limit its focus to music-related video.

        Whether Apple can channel consumer demand in TV as well as it does in smartphones remains to be seen. Around the time Apple delayed the release of , its top brass also decided the TV unit should move up the release of , a reality competition series in which entrepreneurs pitched celebrity investors on their idea for an app, so it would make its debut on Apple Music in time for the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Apple execs loved the show and thought it would endear the tech giant to software writers. The show wasn’t supposed to be released for a couple of months, and there was no marketing plan in place—a vital step in the age of too much TV. Apple pressed ahead, and the show came and went with little fanfare beyond a couple of savage reviews. The show is “a bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of ,” according to ’s Maureen Ryan. “There’s no reason” for Hollywood to lose sleep over it, she wrote. Apple is betting the same won’t be said about its broader TV strategy.

          BOTTOM LINE – Apple will spend $1 billion next year on programming for television. By sticking with mainstream shows, it could miss out on viewers who increasingly favor edgier fare.

          Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-25/apple-s-billion-dollar-bet-on-hollywood-is-the-opposite-of-edgy

          The 21st-century Hollywood: how Silicon Valley became the worlds trend capital

          Forget Los Angeles. If you want to get rich and famous fast, in anything from food to fashion, San Francisco is the place to be. But will handing that kind of power to a new global elite come at a price?

          The strangest thing about Bulletproof Coffee isnt stirring a pellet of grass-fed butter and a dollop of coconut oil into your morning cup and calling it breakfast, weird though that is to swallow. No, what makes Bulletproof really unusual is the trajectory the trend has followed. The craze started with the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Asprey, who turned the alleged weight-shedding, brainpower-enhancing benefits of caffeine turbocharged with fat into a mini-empire. He took the idea to Santa Monica, where he opened a cafe. David Beckham started dropping in.

          From there, it spread to fashion. Vogue has called it the new green juice; at the recent fashion shows, it was on the way to replacing espresso and egg-white omelette as the standard front-row breakfast. Dan Brown, whose novels surely give him zeitgeist bragging rights, has been telling interviewers how 4am writing sessions for his latest book, Origin, were fuelled by Bulletproof. Aspreys ready-made, cold-pressed Bulletproof products are about to go on sale in Whole Foods Market stores, at which point the journey from Silicon Valley quirk to bona fide hipster lifestyle trend will be complete.

          Bulletproof
          Bulletproof Coffee turbocharged. Photograph: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

          The direction of travel of trends outwards from Silicon Valley was visible when Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, warned of the perils of sitting at your desk all day and called for employers to introduce walking meetings to reduce stress and back pain among the workforce. The pioneer of the walking meeting was Steve Jobs and the habit is so deeply ingrained in Silicon Valley culture that the Frank Gehry-designed Facebook headquarters features four hectares of wifi-enabled wildflower meadows, with milkshake stands dotted along paths. On Prince Street in New Yorks Soho, the newest boutique to open alongside Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren is evidence of the first true fashion trend to originate in Silicon Valley. Allbirds, the woollen sneakers that are already de rigueur at Googleplex, are spreading to a creative class of people architects, interior designers, entertainers in music and acting, as the San Francisco-based cofounder Joey Zwillinger told the New York Observer.

          Free sushi, massage chairs, toilet seats that heat up employees at top companies here live like celebrities, says Ravi Belani, director of the Alchemist, a startup accelerator and lecturer in entrepreneurship at Stanford University. Two hundred miles from the Sierra Nevada, where gold-rush fortunes were made overnight in the 19th century, and 500 miles from the Los Angeles hills where stars were born in the 20th century, Silicon Valley has become the 21st-century Hollywood. If you want to get rich and famous fast, this is where you need to be. Its not like this place is full of beautiful people, says Bebe Chueh, the cofounder of the law firm Atrium, which specialises in helping startups, but you can accelerate your career here. You dont need to wade for years through a company structure. You can make it all happen when you are 22. Anjula Acharia, who, as a celebrity manager and a partner in Trinity Ventures, bestrides the worlds of Hollywood and tech, says that, in the tech sphere, people are still wearing anoraks. They do still look sort of geeky. This is definitely not New York or London in terms of style. But they have become the global elite. People see that, and they want to be part of that world.

          Twenty years ago, when we started lastminute.com, tech was totally weird and geeky, remembers the cross-bench peer and Twitter board member Martha Lane Fox. At that point, people were still wondering if the internet was really going to be a thing. As a relatively young woman wanting to be involved in it, I struck people as bizarre. And, although there are still not nearly enough women, that perception has changed. There has been a huge cultural shift.

          Cool,
          Cool, (in a sense) an Allbirds woollen shoe. Photograph: Allbirds/Scott Darling

          Revenge of the nerds is how Troy Carter the former manager of Lady Gaga and now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist describes this change. Last year, Carter told Time magazine about leaving a barbecue in Silicon Valley with a feeling that the power was shifting. The new stardust glinting from the glass offices of Silicon Valley has not gone unnoticed by the fashion world. Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White, a Kanye West collaborator and probably the hottest name in the fashion industry right now, attended Septembers iPhone X launch in the company of his friend Jony Ive, the chief design officer of Apple, and Angela Ahrendts, senior vice-president of retail at Apple, who was wearing a pink lace Burberry trench (Ahrendts was CEO of Burberry until 2014).

          In the same month, the San Francisco-born, New York-based fashion designer Alexander Wang who, until recently, liked to hold up Ralph Laurens empire as his aspiration began to talk about wanting to be more like Amazon. Obviously, the big opportunity is digital. I feel that today there is still not a single lifestyle brand that operates like a tech company, he said. Imagine a creative director today for a brand like Amazon. What would that look like? Karl Lagerfeld has built Chanel into a pop-cultural powerhouse on the back of his instinct for the modern and has made gorgeous, aspirational set design a fashion-week calling card a Paris street by night, the gardens of Versailles. Last October, he built a datacentre for his show, with the colours of tweed suits picked out in tangles of Ethernet cables.

          Silicon Valleys ascent to glamour can be crudely measured in the intermarriage with models (Snapchats Evan Spiegel to Victorias Secrets Miranda Kerr, in May), ostentatious parties (Sean Parkers fantasy-themed redwood forest wedding, reported to have cost $10m) and glossy magazine covers (Spiegel was called the first Silicon Valley sex symbol by GQ after landing the cover of Italian Vogue Uomo two years ago). Not to mention the films (The Social Network, 2010), the booming roll-call of bold-faced name investors (Jay-Z in Uber, Ashton Kutcher in Airbnb) and, er, interplanetary ambitions (Elon Musk is only dropping by on his way to Mars). At the core of all this, says Lane Fox, is the new reality that tech is at the centre of who we are and that is true for celebrities as well. Managing social media is a huge part of being a model or a pop star now, so, in a way, they are stars of tech.

          Snapchats
          Snapchats Evan Spiegel with Miranda Kerr. Photograph: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Baby2Baby

          The financial crisis played its part in Silicon Valleys Hollywood makeover. After 2008, a lot of the Ivy League grads who would have gone to Wall Street to make money started to come to Silicon Valley instead. There was a new sexiness about being an entrepreneur, says Belani. There have been negative imports that have come with that: a kind of bro culture, or fraternity culture, that arrived with that intake, he adds. Chueh has seen a physical and cultural migration since she moved to San Francisco in 2011. Gradually, the ecosystem has moved from Cupertino, where the culture was kind of hardcore geeky, to San Francisco, where it is more about web applications and tech-enabled ideas than it is about hardware and semiconductors. Chichi members clubs have sprung up in the city: the Battery in 2015, the Modernist this year. The size of Silicon Valley egos have been mapped, through the last decade, in the pages of the architecture journals that have tracked an arms race of starchitect-designed offices. The Airbnb headquarters features a replica of the war room from Dr Strangelove. The new Apple Park spaceship has grandeur on a scale to rival the pharaohs pyramids.

          Silicon Valley has shaped a new culture in which work looks like play (ping-pong tables in reception, bean bags in W1A), but in which being off duty is frowned upon, even at weekends. This is rooted in the brutal reality that, when you run a website, its always on, says Lane Fox. Its not like a shop. You dont get to close it. Combined with the sense of mission that is the Silicon Valley creation myth, this has bred a workaholic culture, which has become a badge of honour. The idea here is that work and play are one, says Chueh. Work isnt something you go to from nine to five to get a paycheck. Its an extension of your passion.

          The working hours take their toll, and while early startup culture was fuelled by pizzas laid on for team all-nighters, Silicon Valley has gradually absorbed the wellness fixation of its native California. Bowls of free M&Ms have been replaced by meditation pods. At Apple Park, fruit from the 9,000 drought-resistant trees will be harvested for use in the canteen, which will serve 14,000 lunches a day. In parallel with the keto-diet and Bulletproof enthusiasts, Silicon Valley is a driving force behind a boom in veganism, powered by enthusiasm for the new frontier of healthy, sustainable faux-meat products. Its cool now to be vegan, says Belani.

          In contrast to the enthusiasm for radical diets and alternative work spaces, fashion in Silicon Valley is noticeably low key. Time spent on sartorial decisions is time that could be better spent working. Form follows function. You have to look at the weather to understand the dress code here, says Chueh. It can be cold in the early morning and hot in the afternoon, so its all about layers: a T-shirt and a hoodie. On the other hand, there are no real seasons. So, unlike in, say, Boston, your wardrobe is pretty much the same all year round.

          I dress totally differently when I am in Silicon Valley as opposed to Hollywood, says Acharia-Bath. For instance, no one wears heels here, so, if you do, it becomes, like, a thing.

          The flat-shoe, jeans and backpack uniform, technically unisex, but with a masculine, grey-marl slant, holds up a mirror to a very male world. This is still an industry so dominated by men, especially at the top level, says Lane Fox. Which should be enough to give us pause as this culture grows in influence, setting the agenda in ever more arenas. And just as the maverick, anarchic mindset that can be exciting and progressive in startup culture becomes something more dangerous as the big beasts of tech control and shape every aspect of our lives, from the news we read on Facebook to the private thoughts that are open secrets thanks to Googles search history, Silicon Valleys radical attitude to nutrition has the potential to act as a gateway drug to more extreme versions of biohacking. Ambrosia is a San Francisco startup that offers transfusions of young peoples blood, for 6,200 a session, to a client list with a median age of 60. Better sleep and an improvement in some early indicators for cancer and Alzheimers are among the benefits Ambrosia claims from early research (although the scientific community has been cautious about the results to date).

          Yes, this sounds ridiculous. But then, there was a time not so long ago when you might have been sceptical about the prediction that, by 2015, the average British child would spend less time outdoors than a high-security prisoner (less than an hour on average, whereas a lifer should get 60 minutes, under UN guidelines). Or that one in three British preschool children would own their own iPad. But what came out of Cupertino changed all that. Silicon Valley is the new Hollywood in many ways, but with one crucial difference: this time, its not just make-believe.

          Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/23/the-21st-century-hollywood-how-silicon-valley-became-the-worlds-trend-capital

          The White House and Equifax Agree: Social Security Numbers Should Go

          The Trump administration is exploring ways to replace the use of Social Security numbers as the main method of assuring people’s identities in the wake of consumer credit agency Equifax Inc.’s massive data breach.

          The administration has called on federal departments and agencies to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system, according to Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator.

          “I feel very strongly that the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” Joyce said Tuesday at a cyber conference in Washington organized by the Washington Post. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

          Joyce’s comments came as former Equifax CEO Richard Smith testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the first of four hearings this week on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties expressed outrage over the size of the breach as well as the company’s response and grilled Smith on the timeline of the incident, including when top executives learned about it.

          Smith said the rising number of hacks involving Social Security numbers have eroded its security value.

          “The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure — I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith said. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth and a name.”

          Joyce said officials are looking into “what would be a better system” that utilizes the latest technologies, including a “modern cryptographic identifier,” such as public and private keys.

          Read more: Five Data-Security Ideas Brought Up During the Equifax Hearing

          ‘Flawed System’

          “It’s a flawed system that we can’t roll back that risk after we know we’ve had a compromise,” he said. “I personally know my Social Security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable.”

          Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said one possibility could be giving individuals a private key, essentially a long cryptographic number that’s embedded in a “physical token” that then requires users to verify that the number belongs to them. It could work like the chip in a credit card that requires the owner to enter a pin allowing use. He pointed to Estonia where they have deployed such cards that people use to validate their identity.

          “Your pin unlocks your ability to use that big number,” he said. The challenge is how to create the identifiers and how to distribute the keys. “It’s very promising” and “it’s possible to technically design something like this” but it could be expensive to design and disseminate such material to each American, he said. “This is a pretty big endeavor.”

          The administration is also participating in discussions Congress is having about the requirements of protecting personal data and breach notifications for companies.

          Avoiding Balkanization

          “It’s really clear, there needs to be a change, but we’ll have to look at the details of what’s being proposed,” Joyce said. In the response to the Equifax hack, though, he said, “we need to be careful of Balkanizing the regulations. It’s really hard on companies today” facing local, state and federal regulators as well as international rules, he added.

          The U.S. government began issuing Social Security numbers in 1936. Nearly 454 million different numbers have been issued, according to the Social Security Administration. Supplanting such an ingrained apparatus would not happen over night. The original intent was to track U.S. workers’ earning to determine their Social Security benefits. But the rise of computers, government agencies and companies found new uses for the number, which gradually grew into a national identifier.

          Over the decades, the Social Security number became valuable for what could be gained by stealing it, said Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It was the only number available to identify a person and became the standard used for everything from confirming someone at the doctor’s office to school.

          Akin to Infrastructure

          “They appeared at an age when we didn’t have other numbers,” Schneier said in an interview. “Think of this as part of our aging infrastructure” from roads and bridges to communications. “Sooner or later we as a society need to fix our aging infrastructure.” 

          He pointed to India’s wide-scale rollout of the Aadhaar card, a unique number provided to citizens after collecting their biometric information — fingerprints and an iris scan — along with demographic details, to almost 1.2 billion people. In the U.S., a more secure system could be designed, “but magic math costs money,” he said.

          Making any changes to the current system, including replacing numbers entirely or restricting who can use them, would likely require an act of Congress, according to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, which advocates for limiting the use of Social Security numbers. 

          Rewriting Laws

          “You’d need to change a lot of existing public law," Rotenberg said. “There would need to be extensive hearings and study about the consequences. It’s a complicated issue." 

          The government’s own record of protecting Social Security numbers has its blemishes. Medicare, the federal health-care program for senior citizens, has long used the numbers on identification cards recipients must carry. After years of criticism by the agency’s inspector general for the risks that creates, new cards with different numbers are currently being rolled out.

          The failure of the Social Security number is that there’s only one for each person, “once it’s compromised one time, you’re done,” Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center.

          Public and private keys — long strings of code — could help validate identities. For instance, the government could issue each person a public key and private key. If people were to open a bank account, for instance, they could provide their public key — instead of a Social Security number — and the bank would send a message that could only be decrypted using their private key. If the private key gets compromised, the government could easily issue another one.

          Saved by Math

          Stasio also cited emerging blockchain technology as another potential tool. It could create a kind of digital DNA fingerprint that’s “mathematically impossible” to duplicate. In place of a Social Security number, each person could receive a blockchain hash — a kind of algorithm unique to an individual — that is stamped on every digital transaction or action.

          That type of technology “could be used as a much more efficient and mathematically sound method of transaction, identification and validation,” Stasio said.

          While lawmakers were unanimous in criticizing Equifax’s response to a breach that compromised information on 145.5 million U.S. consumers, they were divided on how to fix the underlying issue. Democrats on the panel have reintroduced legislation imposing requirements for when companies have to report data breaches, while Oregon Republican Greg Walden noted the company’s human errors, saying “you can’t fix stupid.”

          Smith said the Equifax employee responsible for communicating that the vulnerable software needed to be patched didn’t do so. That failure was compounded when a scan of the company’s systems didn’t find that the vulnerability still existed, the former CEO said.

          Joyce’s comments helped take some of the focus off Equifax’s blunders, analysts at Cowen Inc. said in a note Tuesday.

          The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” they wrote. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”

            Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-03/white-house-and-equifax-agree-social-security-numbers-should-go

            Bill Gates and Richard Branson Back Startup That Grows Clean Meat

            Cargill Inc., one of the largest global agricultural companies, has joined Bill Gates and other business giants to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells amid rising consumer demand for protein that’s less reliant on feed, land and water.

            Memphis Meats, which produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website. The fundraising round was led by venture-capital firm DFJ, which has previously backed several social-minded retail startups.

            "I’m thrilled to have invested in Memphis Meats,” Branson said in an email in response to questions from Bloomberg News. “I believe that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone.”

            This is the latest move by an agricultural giant to respond to consumers, especially Millennials, who are rapidly leaving their mark on the U.S. food world. That’s happening through surging demand for organic products, increasing focus on food that’s considered sustainable and greater attention on animal treatment. Big poultry and livestock processors have started to take up alternatives to traditional meat.

            “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions,” Uma Valeti, co-founder and chief executive officer of Memphis Meats, said in the statement. “The way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health. These are problems that everyone wants to solve.”

            ‘Clean Meat’

            To date, Memphis Meats has raised $22 million, signaling a commitment to the “clean-meat movement,” the company said.

            Cargill has “taken an equity position in Memphis Meats’ first series of funding,” Sonya Roberts, the president of growth ventures at Cargill Protein, said in an email, without disclosing the investment amount.

            “Our equity position with Memphis Meats gives Cargill entry into the cultured protein market and allows us to work together to further innovate and commercialize,” Roberts said. “We believe that consumers will continue to crave meat, and we aim to bring it to the table, as sustainably and cost-effectively as we can. Cultured meats and conventionally produced meats will both play a role in meeting that demand.”

            The investment is just the most recent by traditional meat companies. Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, has created a venture capital fund focused on investing in companies “to sustainably feed” the world’s growing population and in December announced a stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat, which counts Gates among its early funders.

              Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-23/cargill-bill-gates-bet-on-startup-making-meat-without-slaughter

              Monsanto Was Its Own Ghostwriter for Some Safety Reviews

              Monsanto Co. started an agricultural revolution with its “Roundup Ready” seeds, genetically modified to resist the effects of its blockbuster herbicide called Roundup. That ability to kill weeds while leaving desirable crops intact helped the company turn Roundup’s active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate, into one of the world’s most-used crop chemicals. When that heavy use raised health concerns, Monsanto noted that the herbicide’s safety had repeatedly been vetted by outsiders. But now there’s new evidence that Monsanto’s claims of rigorous scientific review are suspect.

              Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal to publish a purported “independent” review of Roundup’s health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure.

              Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc’s consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled “An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate.” But that was the extent of Monsanto’s involvement, the main article said. “The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company,” according to the review’s Declaration of Interest statement. “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”

              Monsanto’s internal emails tell a different story. The correspondence shows the company’s chief of regulatory science, William Heydens, and other Monsanto scientists were heavily involved in organizing, reviewing, and editing drafts submitted by the outside experts. At one point, Heydens even vetoed explicit requests by some of the panelists to tone down what one of them wrote was the review’s “inflammatory” criticisms of IARC.

              “An extensive revision of the summary article is necessary,” wrote that panelist, John Acquavella, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, in a February 2016 email attached to his suggested edits of the draft. Alarmed, Ashley Roberts, the coordinator of the glyphosate papers for Intertek, forwarded Acquavella’s note and edits to Heydens at Monsanto, with the warning: “Please take a look at the latest from the epi(demiology) group!!!!”

              Heydens reedited Acquavella’s edits, arguing in six different notes in the draft’s margin that statements Acquavella had found inflammatory were not and should not be changed, despite the author’s requests. In the published article, Heydens’s edits prevailed. In an interview, Acquavella says that he was satisfied with the review’s final tone. According to an invoice he sent Monsanto, he billed the company $20,700 for a single month’s work on the review, which took nearly a year to complete.

              Monsanto defends the review’s independence. Monsanto did only “cosmetic editing” of the Intertek papers and nothing “substantive” to alter panelists’ conclusions, says Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president for global strategy. While the “choice of words” in the Declaration of Interest “was not ideal,” he says, “it didn’t change the science.”

              In July 2016, the journal’s editor, Roger McClellan, emailed his final instructions to Roberts at Intertek on what the paper’s Acknowledgment and Declaration of Interest statements should include. “I want them to be as clear and transparent as possible,” he wrote. “At the end of the day I want the most aggressive critics of Monsanto, your organization and each of the authors to read them and say—Damn, they covered all the points we intended to raise.”

              Specifically, McClellan told Roberts to make clear how the panelists were hired—“ie by Intertek,” McClellan wrote. “If you can say without consultation with Monsanto, that would be great. If there was any review of the reports by Monsanto or their legal representatives, that needs to be disclosed.”

              Roberts forwarded McClellan’s emails, along with a more technical question, to Heydens, who responded, “Good grief.” The Declaration of Interest statement was rewritten per McClellan’s instructions, despite being untrue. There was no mention of the company’s participation in the editing.

              Monsanto’s editorial involvement appears “in direct opposition to their disclosure,” says Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy. “It does seem pretty suspicious.”

              In response to questions, McClellan wrote in an email on Aug. 7 that he’d been unaware of the Monsanto documents and has forwarded the matter to the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, in Abingdon, England. “These are serious accusations relative to scientific publishing canons and deserve very careful investigation,” he wrote. “I can assure you that Taylor and Francis, as the publisher, and I, as the Scientific Editor of , will carefully investigate the matter and take appropriate action.” A Taylor & Francis spokeswoman says it has begun an investigation.

              The Monsanto documents, more than 70 in all, were obtained through pretrial discovery and posted online by some of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who claim Monsanto missed a 30-day window to object to their release. Monsanto says it was blindsided by the disclosures and has asked U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco to order the documents pulled from the web and to punish the attorneys for violating confidentiality orders. Says Monsanto’s Partridge: “It’s unfortunate these lawyers are grandstanding at the expense of their clients’ interests.”

              Other emails show that Monsanto’s lead toxicologist, Donna Farmer, was removed as a co-author of a 2011 study on glyphosate’s reproductive effects, but not before she made substantial changes and additions to the paper behind the scenes. The study, published in Taylor & Francis’s , served to counter findings that glyphosate hampers human reproduction and development. Partridge says Farmer’s contributions didn’t warrant authorship credit. While almost all of her revisions made it into the published paper, her name doesn’t even show up in the acknowledgments.

                BOTTOM LINE – Monsanto has long noted that independent scientists have vouched for the safety of its Roundup herbicide. Court data show its employees edited some of those reviews.

                Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-09/monsanto-was-its-own-ghostwriter-for-some-safety-reviews

                Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

                A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

                Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

                And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

                So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

                And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

                And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

                I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

                Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

                And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

                Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

                The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

                I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

                Enid
                No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

                Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

                Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

                We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

                And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

                Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

                Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

                The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

                I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

                Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

                Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

                And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

                If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

                As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

                Tolkien's
                Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

                Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

                They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

                But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

                I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

                I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

                In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

                A
                Photograph: Alamy

                Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

                I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

                A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

                Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

                Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

                According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

                Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

                Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

                I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

                I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

                We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

                We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

                We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

                We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

                We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

                We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

                Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

                We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

                We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

                Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

                This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

                Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming