Mathur explains how he and his company, Yulex, hope to break the Asian rubber monopoly using gene sequencing and an unassuming desert plant. ... what he’s trying to do here in the desert, with a plant called guayule. ... Mathur tears a stem from one shrub and peels back the bark, pointing to a thin layer of, well, softness. This is called parenchyma. You can use it to make rubber, and that means you can make wetsuits, condoms, gloves, catheters, angioplasty balloons, and so many other medical devices. But most importantly, you can make tires. Car tires. Truck tires. Aircraft tires. In fact, this sort of natural rubber is essential to making tires. Yes, we now have synthetic rubber, but that isn’t as strong as the natural stuff. Our automobile tires contain about 50 percent natural rubber, and you simply can’t make a truck or aircraft tire without it. ... Today, almost all natural rubber comes from hevea rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia, and that hangs a nightmare scenario over US tire makers and the wider US economy. In the event of war or natural disaster, our supply could vanish, and rather quickly. But guayule can provide an alternative. Since the early 20th century, American researchers, entrepreneurs, and statesmen have eyed the plant as a way of freeing the U.S. economy from this deep dependence on Asia. Rubber trees don’t do well in the US, but guayule does. It’s indigenous to Mexico and the American southwest.
For years now, social media has been where people go to find out what’s happening during a crisis; even aid agencies and emergency managers have come to rely on hashtags and live video to form a picture of how an event is playing out on the ground. But the hail of updates can be rapid and incoherent. ... sometimes there’s no information coming out of a disaster zone—because the internet has gone down, as happened in large parts of New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy landed in 2012. This is another fundamental problem that Facebook is, almost by coincidence, working to solve. For the past two and a half years, the company has been developing a program to deliver the internet via drone to parts of the world that don’t have it. The business reason for this fanciful-sounding project is pretty straightforward: It will speed up Facebook’s efforts to expand globally and serve ads to even more people in what is already the world’s largest audience. But the team has always had the idea that the same technology could be vitally important in, say, an earthquake zone. ... This new incarnation of Safety Check begins with an algorithm that monitors an emergency newswire—a third-party program that aggregates information directly from police departments, weather services, and the like. Then another Safety Check algorithm begins looking for people in the area who are discussing the event on Facebook. If enough people are talking about the event, the system automatically sends those people messages inviting them to check in as safe—and asks them if they want to check the safety of other people as well.