Taking a step back from the technical posts, I recently had the opportunity to attend Alberta Innovates Summit 2012. This conference was focused on Environmental monitoring and Innovation in the province of Alberta, and garnered a collection of individuals from government, industry and academia. There were a variety of speakers from all walks of life, but one in particular caught my attention: Chris Trimble (expert on innovation in corporations) outlined a current shift from consumption to a conservation/quality-of-life based economy. This reminded me of an interesting TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk: “How economic inequality harms societies” given by Richard Wilkinson. [1] The major premise of this talk was that, in first-world countries, an individual’s well-being is no longer dependent on national income averages and economic growth. A more accurate description is a model that incorporates the effects of social gradients.

During a brain-storming session, the topic was centered on using the environmental data collected to assemble an optimal model. There was much discussion about data validity and the cost of data acquisition, but then the question was asked, what are we actually optimizing for? Lower contaminant levels? More wildlife? All of the above? I believe the answer is closely tied to quality-of-life; however you choose to define it.

Quote of the conference: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” – George E.P. Box

-Abeed Lalany (3rd year PhD. student, University of Alberta)

[1] (http://blog.ted.com/2011/10/24/how-economic-inequality-harms-societies-richard-wilkinson-on-ted-com/).