New Batteries from Cotton and Seawater?

Anti-EV types frequently point to the materials that go into current battery technology and make dire claims about the environmental impacts of their sourcing (as if producing petroleum was a zero impact exercise). That is today. What if future batteries could be created from non-mined materials?

Mining the lithium and other minerals we need for batteries is taking an increasing toll on the environment. There are alternative materials all around us though.

Zip. The power’s out. But on a street in India, there’s a cash machine still happily dispensing banknotes. Thanks, in part, to burnt cotton. For this cash machine has a backup battery inside it – a battery that contains carbon from carefully combusted cotton.

“The exact process is secret, to be honest with you,” says Inketsu Okina, chief intelligence officer at PJP Eye, the Japanese firm that made the battery. He’s not joking, either. “The temperature is secret and atmosphere is secret. Pressure is secret,” he continues, cagily.

Okina does say that a high temperature is required, above 3,000C (5,432F). And that 1kg (2.2lbs) of cotton yields 200g (7oz) of carbon – with just 2g (0.07oz) needed for each battery cell. The firm bought a shipment of cotton in 2017 and still hasn’t used all of it, says Okina.

In the batteries developed by the company, together with researchers at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, carbon is used for the anode – one of the two electrodes between which flow ions, the charged particles in batteries. Ions move in one direction when the battery is charging and in the other direction when it releases energy to a device. The majority of batteries use graphite as an anode but PJP Eye argues their approach is more sustainable, since they can make anodes using waste cotton from the textile industry.

With huge demand for batteries expected in the coming years, propelled by the rise of electric vehicles and large energy storage systems, some researchers and businesses are frantically developing possible alternatives to the lithium ion and graphite batteries that are commonplace today. Like PJP Eye, they argue we could be using much more sustainable and widely available materials for battery production.

IEEE Ethical Design Initiative

A three-year effort by hundreds of engineers worldwide resulted in the publication in March of 2019 of Ethically Aligned Design (EAD) for Business, a guide for policymakers, engineers, designers, developers and corporations. The effort was headed by the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (A/IS), with John C. Havens as Executive Director, who spoke to AI Trends for an Executive Interview. We recently connected to ask how the effort has been going. Here is an update.

EAD First Edition, a 290-page document which Havens refers to as “applied ethics,” has seen some uptake, for example by IBM, which referred to the IEEE effort within their own resource called Everyday Ethics for AI  The IBM document is 26 pages, easy to digest, structured into five areas of focus, each with recommended action steps and an example. The example for Accountability involved an AI team developing applications for a hotel. Among the recommendations was: enable guests to turn the AI off, conduct face-to-face interviews to help develop requirements; and, institute a feedback learning loop.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) issued a paper after the release of an earlier version of EAD attesting to the close affinity between the IEEE’s work and the OECD Principles on AI. The OECD cited as shared values “the need for such systems to primarily serve human well-being through inclusive and sustainable growth; to respect human-centered values and fairness; and to be robust, safe and dependable, including through transparency, explainability and accountability.”

Trustworthy AI Framework

An interesting article on business challenges with artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds and is quickly becoming a potential disrupter and essential enabler for nearly every company in every industry. At this stage, one of the barriers to widespread AI deployment is no longer the technology itself; rather, it’s a set of challenges that ironically are far more human: ethics, governance, and human values.

As AI expands into almost every aspect of modern life, the risks of misbehaving AI increase exponentially—to a point where those risks can literally become a matter of life and death. Real-world examples of AI gone awry include systems that discriminate against people based on their race, age, or gender and social media systems that inadvertently spread rumors and disinformation and more.

Even worse, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. As AI is deployed on a larger scale, the associated risks will likely only increase—potentially having serious consequences for society at large, and even greater consequences for the companies responsible. From a business perspective, these potential consequences include everything from lawsuits, regulatory fines, and angry customers to embarrassment, reputation damage, and destruction of shareholder value.

Yet with AI now becoming a required business capability—not just a “nice to have”—companies no longer have the option to avoid AI’s unique risks simply by avoiding AI altogether. Instead, they must learn how to identify and manage AI risks effectively. In order to achieve the potential of human and machine collaboration, organizations need to communicate a plan for AI that is adopted and spoken from the mailroom to the boardroom. By having an ethical framework in place, organizations create a common language by which to articulate trust and help ensure integrity of data among all of their internal and external stakeholders. Having a common framework and lens to apply the governance and management of risks associated with AI consistently across the enterprise can enable faster, and more consistent adoption of AI.