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Bill Gates’ foundation helped invent $350 toilets powered by worms

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Bill Gates pooBill Gates held up a beaker of human feces at the reinvented toilet expo in Beijing on November 6, 2018 to prove a point: unsanitary conditions are dangerous for our health.Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Worm toilets require no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked up to a sewer system — instead, worms compost human waste.
  • More than 4,000 such “Tiger Toilets” have been installed to date across India, in homes of people who were previously defecating in the open.
  • The worm toilets smell a lot better than a pit latrine, and don’t breed mosquitoes either.
  • Here’s how a $350 toilet powered by worms could change the world and save lives. 

Worms may not have spines, but they’re doing some back-breaking sewer work in more than 4,000 toilets across India. 

Since 2015, a creative new type of toilet called the Tiger Toilet has been popping up outside homes and schools around the country. From the outside, this toilet looks like any other pit latrine. But it doesn’t smell like one. Instead, it comes with a built-in population of tiger worms. 

“Their natural breeding, natural habitat is in cow dung heaps, or horse sh*t heaps, that kind of thing,” Ajeet Oak, director of the Tiger Toilet company, told Business Insider. “Poop. That’s where they like to live.”

The toilets involve no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked up to a sewer system. Instead, the worms are contained in a container below the toilet, and they feast on feces. The creatures’ activity leaves behind a mix of water, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of wormy compost (that’s technically the worms’ poo, though it’s much less toxic and more nutrient-rich than ours).

The resulting water isn’t clean enough to drink, but it “can go into the ground and it sort of gets filtered naturally from there on,” Oak said. No wastewater treatment plant needed. 

To get the worm system to market, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded at least $4.8 million in grant money to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to perfect the technology. Tiger Toilets also received $170,000 for initial testing in India, Myanmar and Uganda from USAID. Now, after years of development and field testing around the world, the technology is finally reaching people who need it most.

“These are people who are getting toilets for the first time,” Oak said, adding that before getting a Tiger Toilet, “they would go out in the field.” 

Bill Gates recently told a crowd in Beijing that he’s ready to spend an additional $200 million developing technology for next-generation toilets like these that can operate without mainframe sewer systems. 

“We estimate that by 2030, the opportunity here is over $6 billion a year,” Gates said.

Read More: Bill Gates is so obsessed with redesigning the world’s toilets, he brought a jar of poop onstage in Beijing to prove it

How worms clean excrement

Tiger worms, or Eisenia fetida if you prefer the scientific term, are animals that love to eat waste. This makes them a perfect composting solution, and they especially love what falls into their Tiger Toilet compartment. 

“These worms, they won’t escape on their own, because they won’t survive in just soil,” Oak said. They need our human waste to live.

sprinkling the worms Tiger ToiletsThese worms love eating human waste. The byproduct they create is mostly just water.Courtesy of Bear Valley Ventures

The Tiger Toilet system costs about $350 USD to install and requires no connection to drainage pipes or a mainline sewer.

Once a person does their business in the toilet, they send their waste down into the worm-filled compartment below using a pour-flush system, usually with a little bucket of water. (There are no handles or automatic flushing devices in the Tiger Toilet.)

The toilet’s cleaning stats are impressive: they process feces, remove 99% of the pathogens, and leave behind no more than 15% of the waste by weight, in the form of compost material. The rest becomes water (around 60-70%) and carbon dioxide. That’s better performance than a septic tank.

Plus, the leftover byproduct makes for “excellent fertilizer,” Oak said, because its mix of nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon, and potassium is good for growing plants. 

Tiger Toilets (and Tiger worm-powered treatment plants, like the one pictured below) also don’t breed mosquitoes or attract other flying menaces.

Tiger toilet digestersTiger Toilets

“Users find the toilets preferable to traditional latrines,” USAID wrote of the toilets during field testing in 2015. “Because the worms break down the solid waste, the toilets emit fewer odors and attract fewer flies than traditional latrines.”

The earliest editions of Tiger Toilets are now more than five years old and their worm compartments haven’t needed any maintenance yet — the slimy creatures are still chomping away. Eventually, after about eight to 10 years, the company expects some toilet maintenance to be required. At that point, the worm bin, which isn’t visible to toilet users, must be emptied.

It’s not a terrible job — “you don’t have to handle sludge,” Oak said. 

Simply remove the lid of the toilet, exposing the top layer of worm castings — their leftovers from years of hard work. Then shovel it out and use it in a garden as fertilizer. Then the worm population will be ready to work again. 

Why people need worm toilets

Tiger Toilet of Thamaji Dhokal, in the village of Nayfad, Pune district, India.Rohit Joshi

The tiny worms that make their home in filth are performing a lifesaving task for humans. 

Across the developing world, people without a safe place to go to the bathroom can die because of unsanitary conditions. Diarrhea kills 525,000 children under five annually around the world “as a result of poor hygiene,” according to the World Health Organization

Improper hygiene also causes the global economy to miss out on an estimated $223 billion USD per year.

Additionally, open defecation can be a dangerous situation for women. A 2016 study in India found that women who defecate in the open are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted by a stranger as those who have a toilet in their house.

Tiger Toilet and Mangal Shirke in the village of Adachiwadi, Pune district, India.Mangal Shirke who lives in the village of Adachiwadi celebrates outside her first at-home toilet.Gouri Thakar

In India, millions of people relieve themselves outdoors on a daily basis — 40% of the country’s population, according to the World Bank’s estimate from 2015.

The country has set a “Swachh Bharat Mission” goal of becoming open-defecation free this year, but it’s unlikely to be fully successful, since even people who can access a toilet don’t always use it. A 2018 survey of more than 9,800 people and 150 local government officials across India found that one in four people in rural northern provinces have access to latrines but don’t use them. 

Some people choose to relieve themselves in the open for compelling reasons. An Indian woman identified only as “Veer” told Meenakshi Dalal, a program and communications specialist with USAID/India, that men block the way to her community toilet, taunting and harassing women.

“They dress up as women, they get in line with us, they might touch us,” Dalal recalled Veer telling her. “Every few days someone is raped. On one side of the toilet is where we live and on the other side it’s jungle. They can pull us there.”

Tiger toilets is testing out some options for crowded slums like Veer’s — a kind of downsized, city-friendly version of the worm toilet — but they’re not ready yet.

“The challenge is to have something for a family which can be put in a very small house,” Oak said. “We’re calling it the Urban Tiger Toilet.” 

India’s government has also started offering cash incentives to people who install toilets in their homes, which makes a Tiger Toilet even more affordable for families who are getting their first toilet. 

Bringing worm toilets to the world

Tiger Toilets Santosh Sathe, in the village of Bhalgudi, Pune district, India.Rohit Patankar

Lixil Group, the parent company that owns toilet-industry giants American Standard and Grohe, is also interested in Tiger Toilets. The company recently signed a letter of intent to bring Tiger Toilets to scale.

“Eventually we want to have something that’s really sleek and you can place anywhere,” Daigo Ishiyama, Lixil’s  marketing and technology director, told Business Insider.

But he said that will take some time: “We’re dealing with living creatures — you know, worms.”

Schoolkids and their Tiger Toilet in the village of Adachiwadi, Pune district, India.Rahul Aluri

Still, this kind of game-changing new invention — a toilet that requires no traditional sewer system — is an exciting prospect for Gates. He has even compared it to the invention of the personal computer. 

“A whole new product category is being introduced here,” he said.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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