By Dick Pelletier
Humans have always been fascinated by robots, a fascination
fueled in part by science-fiction renderings of such characters as
R2D2, C3PO, HAL, The Terminator,
However, a world run by robots is no longer
science-fiction. Today, robotic systems work on assembly lines;
clean floors; monitor kids; help the disabled; explore Mars; and
assist in our security.
Rodney Brooks says
the robotics industry is undergoing huge changes with major focus
now on personal robots. Industry consultant Dr. Joanne
Pransky agrees. In 10 years, Pransky expects to purchase a
robot that can clean house, prepare and serve meals, and help her
become more efficient with tomorrow’s technologies.
Much impetus for robot development comes from Japan, where
demographic trends and labor costs have created a growing market
for machines that replace humans. Hitachi’s EMIEW can perform any number of factory and
“Hold on”, say opponents. Though robots perform many mundane and
physical jobs that humans don’t want, the net result is that
millions become unemployed. Seegrid chief scientist,
Hans Moravec agrees
that future robotic development could be disruptive to the
By Dick Pelletier
In just ninety seconds, the Great Kanto
Earthquake destroyed Japan’s economy in 1923 throwing the
country into chaos. Instability opened the door for a military
government, which quickly led to war in Southeast Asia, then to
WWII, dishing out unimaginable horrors to
Could a 1923 disaster repeat itself? What if the Southern
California “Big One”, forecast for years by experts, actually
happened and 16 million people suddenly found their homes submerged
in the Pacific Ocean? Could an event like this destroy the American
economy, and how would that affect the rest of the world?
Property losses from violent weather are increasing. The recent
Myanmar cyclone and
China earthquake have both caused huge losses in lives,
weakened economies and devastated areas. Everyone enjoys nature’s
breathtaking beauty and we could not exist without its bounty, but
sometimes this Earth we call home can be harsh and unforgiving.
Forward-thinking scientists believe current knowledge of weather
modification, combined with our newest wonder science – molecular
nanotechnology – will one day provide an opportunity for humanity
to inoculate itself against natural disasters.
Geologists describe earth’s atmosphere as an envelope of air,
rotating with the continents and oceans; receiving enormous amounts
of energy from the Sun’s radiation, which powers weather events.
Typical energy expended in a tornado funnel is equal to about fifty
kilotons of explosives; a thunderstorm exchanges about ten times
this much during its lifetime; and a moderate size Atlantic
hurricane can build up to more than 1,000 megatons of energy.
By Dick Pelletier
A new higher-speed Internet2, now under development in labs
around the world, will one day offer holographic images
indiscernible from reality, providing an array of applications that
we can only dream of today.
With digital video resolution four times finer than today’s
HDTV, and haptic technologies that
provide a realistic sense of touch, researchers can create
holograph images of people filmed thousands of miles away enabling
lifelike virtual interaction indiscernible from reality. The system
uses cameras that capture live images of people from two or more
places, merges the data, and feeds it back to all locations.
We could organize a meeting with friends or relatives from
cities scattered around the world without anyone actually
traveling. People will kiss, hug and reminisce as if they were in
the same room. And our senses will convince us that they are there.
We could even meet with a simulation of a favorite celebrity.
By Dick Pelletier
An ulterior motive drives much of the optimism and positive take
that appears in ‘FutureTalk’ articles which describe how the future
There is an audacious thought roaming through my brain that the
“magical future” I describe so often actually includes me. With a
little luck, I believe that I can stay alive and reap all the
benefits this wonder time has to offer.
Though more than 50 million will die in 2008, I am convinced
that I will not be among them. In researching articles each week, I
discover facts that support the optimistic slant that each topic
seems to take.
Chronologically my body has reached seventy-seven years;
biologically it behaves as a mid-sixty-year-old, and emotionally it
sometimes acts like a ‘30 something. By continuing to believe
optimistically about the future, it’s easy for me to imagine myself
‘being there’. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
Imagine a future where there is no clear distinction between
real and simulated events. Welcome to the world of virtual reality.
In contrast to today’s crude videoconferencing methods, tomorrow’s
revolutionary “telepresence” systems expected by 2015 or before,
will look and sound like you are actually together in real reality.
You’ll establish eye contact, look around each other, and otherwise
have the sense of being together.
Tomorrow’s Internet will power this new system. Cameras will
transmit live two-way pictures over a terabyte-speed network
similar to today’s Internet2. With
sensors embedded in clothing to track movement, parties at both
ends can project themselves into a virtual reality 3-D simulation
of the event – everyone interacts with everyone with
“This new system marks the beginning of a revolution expected to
take us by storm in the next decade,” says Dr. Pierre Boulanger,
University of Alberta VR researcher. People separated by distance
can be together in this virtual world, to enjoy a living room chat,
share meals at the dinner table, or cozy up even more intimately.
Everyone feels hand shakes, hugs and kisses as if they were
In addition, say goodbye to confusing controls for home
entertainment systems and computers. Lifelike 3D avatars (virtual
assistants) which speak perfect “human” will become our primary
interface with all our technologies.
These amazing screen images will do just about everything for
us. They will answer questions; negotiate Internet transactions;
make it easy for us to operate computers and home entertainment
systems; and maintain household temperature, lighting and security.
These cute creatures, resembling favorite celebrities or loved
ones, will appear on our TV, cell phone screen, and car radio
display. Later, advances in holography will enable avatars to jump
off the screen and follow us around the house. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
In the future, your car will detect danger possibilities and
protect you as you encounter other cars on the road. It will
automatically display a happy, sad, or angry look to convey
appropriate feelings to other drivers in response to their action.
This is the vision of four Toyota Motor employees in Japan who
recently patented this creative technology.
Car modifications include a hood with slits and designs that
resemble eyebrows, eyelids and tears, which glow with different
light shades and colors to reflect desired moods; an antenna that
wags like a puppy dog’s tail to show happiness; and a body that can
crouch low on its wheelbase when timid, or stand tall to express
By 2015 or before, “cars with feelings” could be arriving at
dealer showrooms everywhere. These cars can display a wide range of
expressions to help us interact with other drivers on the road.
Today, we can only honk horns, tap brakes, flash headlights, or use
turn signals. It’s difficult to thank another driver for letting us
enter the lane, or to show disapproval at someone who cuts us
The intelligence system on these new cars with personalities
calculate road and vehicle conditions such as steering angle,
braking, and speed. It also correlates driver reactions, road and
car conditions, and automatically creates correct color and
position for the eyebrows, antenna, lights and vehicle height.
If a pre-set number of points indicate an approaching careless
or hostile driver, the system creates an anger reaction. The
headlights glow red, the eyebrows light up, but the antenna and
height remains in a standard “cool” position. A happy, satisfied
look is displayed to reward a courteous driver. A friendly “wink”
shows that you agree with a driver’s action, or it could also be an
attempt at flirting. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
As our “miracle” 21st century begins to unfold, a statement,
which has been an eternal truth for most of human history, is now
being seriously challenged: Humans will always be battling
sicknesses. Many scientists believe this statement could be
overturned within the next three decades, and most of the credit
for this feat would lie in our ability to increase computer power.
Today, medical researchers, in efforts to cure heart disease,
cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other human ills,
perform trial and error experiments in labs, and conduct human
clinical trials that yield excruciatingly slow results. Cancer
deaths are predicted to not end for another seven years, and cures
for other diseases are projected to be even more elusive.
But researchers say we could speed medical research progress by
first using Clinical Trial Simulations (CTS). If we preceded actual
human trials with high-speed computer simulations, the end results
would be reached much faster. Ronald Gieschke, of Hoffmann-La Roche
in Switzerland, claims CTS will have a
significant impact on the way in which drugs are developed in the
future. “Human clinical trials will still be necessary,” Gieschke
says, “but CTS will make them faster and
In addressing the need for increased computer power,
IBM’s new “Roadrunner,” built for the US
Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has achieved
performance of 1.026 petaflops (more than one quadrillion floating
point operations per second) and is now rated as the fastest
supercomputer in the world.
The DOE announced that this computer
will link its facilities to other government labs and major
research centers around the world. Scientists will find easy access
to this new supercomputer later this year, according to a
LANL spokesman. The new machine will
enable breakthrough discoveries in biology that will fundamentally
change medical science and its impact across society. (cont.)
Science and technology columnist Dick
Pelletier is very optimistic about what’s to come, especially
for someone born in 1931. He authors the blog, PositiveFuturist, which
serves as a central resource for anyone interested in how advancing
technologies are merging and amplifying each other to create what
he calls a “magical future”.
What some may consider a utopian dream – a world in which aging
has been eliminated, and physical and psychological capabilities
expanded – Pelletier sees as a very real possibility for the next
20-30 year period. In a recent MemeBox interview, Pelletier was
kind enough to share his views about the NBIC convergence he sees driving these breakthroughs,
offering a bright and exciting vision of the future to come.
“NBIC convergence refers to the interaction of advances in
nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and
cognitive sciences,” Pelletier explained.
As a fan of Ray Kurzweil’s theory of
accelerating change, he believes these technologies are
advancing exponentially as the rate of change gains momentum.
“As this phenomenon becomes more understood, the possibility
that we can enhance human performance and actually design our own
evolution will become clear. NBIC
convergence will impact dramatically with working habits and the
economy. Nanotech and infotech advances could, as early as the last
half of this century, turn Earth into a non-commerce scarcity-free
By Dick Pelletier
Today, we are entering the beginning stages of a society that
many futurists believe will not end until man and machine become
completely integrated into a single being – an enhanced human.
The biotech revolution, from 2010 to 2020, promises to correct
many of our biological flaws including vulnerability to disease and
telltale signs of aging. Doctors will re-grow cells, tissues and
organs to replace aging body parts; and by as early as mid-2020s,
most humans can look forward to an extended healthy lifespan of 200
years or more.
Molecular nanotech marks the next step in our march towards this
futuristic society. From about 2025, we will enjoy home-replicators
that provide food, clothing, and essentials at little cost; and
tiny nanobots that roam through arteries and veins keeping us
forever fit and healthy.
The final stage of achieving this remarkable future lies in
supercomputers and artificial intelligence; powerful robot-like
machines that many predict will outthink humans by 2030. These
silicon marvels will possess reasoning and logic similar to our
own, but can share data and knowledge millions of times faster than
we can with our slow human language; a desirable feature that many
humans will want to incorporate into their bodies, experts say.
By Dick Pelletier
Throw away the computer mouse, keyboard, and TV remote. A new
speaking machine, expected in the next decade, is about to become
your newest “electronic” friend. This new voice-interactive machine
will browse the Internet searching for information it thinks will
interest you, and will help unravel the maize of TV channels. The
machine will converse in a pleasant voice as it listens carefully
to your instructions, then offers suggestions on what Internet data
or TV programs it thinks you might enjoy.
This new voice-interactive machine will appear as an avatar – an
on-screen image resembling your favorite movie character, religious
icon, or loved one. On command, it will appear on the TV screen,
computer monitor, car radio or cell phone, addressing you by name,
and asking what you would like.
Most people think interactive systems like these are a long way
off, but two trends are quickening the pace. Improved
speech-recognition systems will soon enable people to converse with
computers in normal-spoken language, and entrepreneurs are rushing
to the Internet creating new business applications with software
“agents” that take advantage of speech recognition.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates claims that by 2012, voice-enabled
“smart” systems will allow us to converse naturally and
comfortably, directly with our display, reducing need for mouse and
keyboard. Avatars will help us shop, work, learn, and conduct
business and social relationships on the Internet. At home, they
will provide security, change lighting and temperature as needed,
and deliver news, sports, games, and entertainment anywhere in the
A glance at what life may be like ten millennia from now, by
Of course, nobody can predict exactly how the future will unfold
in 10,000 years, but by tracking technology advances expected in
the coming centuries, we see changes that will transform humanity
into super-intelligent beings focused on developing space,
exploring universes, and traveling through time.
Imagine if you could peek in on the dinosaurs’ first-hand, enjoy
an exotic vacation thousands of light years from Earth, or jump
into a parallel universe where another you is living a far more
exciting life than yours – and you could stay there if you
For years, scientists around the world have bandied about the
revolutionary idea that future humans could zip across the universe
using wormholes as high-speed portals enabling faster-than-light
travel to explore space, enter other universes, and witness the
past and future.
Wormholes enable travel between its two openings. One end of the
wormhole stays home while the other is carted away at sub-light
velocities to the destination, connecting the two locations through
a tunnel in warped space-time. A person enters the wormhole, and
depending on the connection, exits to a remote destination in
space, another time in the past or future, or into a parallel
Consensus among most scientists has been that wormholes are so
destructive; people would be torn to subatomic bits if they tried
such a thing. However, a new paper by University of Utah physicist
Lior Burko now raises the possibility that wormholes may not
annihilate all matter, and the potential for hyperspace travel
could one day be realized. (cont.)
By Dick Pelletier
Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Any sufficiently advanced
technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.” Enter
mankind’s newest plunge into the future – nanotechnology.
One day soon, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a
“nanofactory” will sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up
any product you want – plasma TV, clothes, an appliance, or whatever your
dreams desire – at little or no cost.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not.
According to AI entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil and nanotech author Eric
Drexler, this nanofactory will arrive by the 3rd decade of this
century – 2020-2030.
Here’s how nanotech replicators would work: microscopic-size
machines collect raw atoms from supplied chemicals, or from
something as inexpensive as seawater, and enable those atoms to
grow or “morph” into the final product: a sweater, refrigerator,
health medicine, or even a duplicate nanofactory.
Key technologies of the past half-century – transistors,
semiconductors, and genetic engineering – all focused on reducing
size, materials and costs, while increasing power and efficiency.
We now stand poised to continue this trend into a revolution that
offers the potential to rebuild the entire physical world – our
bodies and brains included – one atom at a time.
The National Institutes of Health states that someday implanted
nanotech materials will actually become part of the body – able to
search out and destroy cancer cells before they develop into a
tumor, or precisely direct drugs to heal damaged tissues – and when
no longer needed, dissolve and be absorbed or excreted. (cont.)