From a struggling past to a glowing future

August 29 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

By some fortuitous circumstance I was born on October 26, 1930, the day the government announced that world population had exceeded two billion people, so I figure that was me.

In the early 1930s, President Hoover announced that “Prosperity is just around the corner,” but he could not have been more wrong. One-eighth of the population owned seven-eighths of the nation’s wealth – a formula for disaster – and the “Great Depression” was on.

My five siblings and I were raised on a farm near Hermiston, Oregon. Our home had no electricity and few modern conveniences. We bathed in a small tub in the kitchen with little privacy, drank water from a hand pump in the back yard, and made bathroom trips to a two-seater outhouse.

In 1938 we finally connected to the electric grid and quickly replaced the outhouse with an indoor toilet, installed electric lights throughout the house, and built an indoor shower. Then in 1939, another miracle arrived – our first telephone was installed. The world was looking better.

Jet travel didn’t exist in the 1930s; a five-day ocean trip was the main way to go from America to Europe, and wireless meant the wood-paneled Zenith radio in the living room.

But America’s mastery of the physical and biological world would grow tremendously. Life expectancy soared from about 50 years in 1930 to nearly 80 today, and the Green Revolution transformed agriculture, which now provides food for a world population that exceeds 6.5 billion.

In late 1930s, President Roosevelt, emboldened by his “New Deal” legislation which ended the depression, authorized the “Manhattan Project”, an aggressive effort to build an atomic bomb and use it to hasten the end of World War II.

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New hyperspace engine could roundtrip Mars in 5 hours

August 29 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Mars Inter-Dimensional Express. In a few moments, our spacecraft will transfer into a parallel dimension where we will achieve greater than light-speed travel. As we get underway, be sure to glance out your window and watch the solar system flash by at dizzying speeds, truly, the most breathtaking views you will ever observe. Our expected arrival at Branson Colony is noon Martian time.”

This scenario may sound like fantasy, but physicists, encouraged by recent interest in the work of German scientist Burkhard Heim, believe his hyperspace propulsion idea could become a proven concept over the next two decades. Heim’s theory adds two forces to Einstein’s four-dimensional space-time: one, a repulsive anti-gravity force similar to dark energy that appears to expand the universe; the other force would accelerate spacecraft without using any fuel.

If the Heim idea works, it will radically change space travel. Forget spending six months or more crammed in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could take as little as five hours. Worries about astronauts’ muscles wasting away will disappear. What’s more, the device will put travel to the stars within reach for the first time.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards prizes for the best papers presented each year. Last year’s winner went to a paper authored by physicist Jochem Hauser, calling for experimental tests of Heim’s theory. “This hyperdrive motor,” Hauser said, “would propel a craft through another dimension at enormous speeds. It could reach a star eleven light years away in just eighty days.”

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Gene discovery could cure human diseases

August 27 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Mapping the human genome was a great accomplishment, but genes are little more than a list of chemicals – much like a parts list for a jumbo jet. The list isn’t much good unless you know what each part does and how it fits with other parts. Scientists are just now beginning to understand these inter-workings with our genes – how they keep our bodies young and fit, or allow aging and sickness to take over.

Recently, scientists at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have, for the first time, revealed the “controlling elements” of the yeast genome – findings that can immediately be used towards deciphering the human genome.

The key to understanding how genes are controlled lies in tiny bits of chemicals called regulators that intermittently land on a region of DNA and switch that cell’s genes on or off. This switching responds to temperature changes in the body, availability of certain nutrients, and outside chemical messengers. If switched the wrong way, genes can make diabetes, cancer, and other debilitating diseases begin their horrifying trip – if switched the right way, they protect us.

To date, very few regulators have been identified. Locating their landing sites is essential to identifying their function, and therein lays the rub – gene regulators are hard to find. They typically just land on a small stretch of DNA, do their job, and then take off again. And owing to the vastness of the genome, locating just one gene regulator with conventional lab tools can take many years.

But the MIT team developed a method for scanning an entire genome and quickly identifying the precise landing sites for its gene regulators. As a result, scientists now understand how genes and their regulators “talk” to each other. The next challenge is to scale the platform so it can tackle the human genome, something that the researchers are gearing up to do now.

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Our future brain: damage-resistant with unique new abilities

August 27 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Neurons made from exotic nanomaterials could one day enable humans to survive even the most horrendous accident, and as a bonus, provide amazing new capabilities.

Nanoengineer John Burch, co-designer of the nanofactory video, Productive Nanosystems from Molecules to Superproducts, predicts that by mid-2030s, we could be replacing brain cells with damage-resistant nanomaterials that process thoughts much faster than today’s biological brains.

“The new brain would include our same consciousness, memories and personality that existed before the conversion,” Burch says, “but it would run much faster and would increase our memory a thousand-fold.”

In addition, others experts say, this futuristic brain will allow us to control the speed of our thoughts; we could jump from 100 milliseconds, the response time of today’s brains, to 50 nanoseconds, millions of times faster.

Creating thoughts at this speed would, in our mind at least, slow everything down. Our perception would speed up, but activities would appear to slow down as our brain ran faster. Events that seem like minutes would actually be happening in seconds.

Burch describes how we would switch to the new brain. A daily pill would supply nanomaterials and instructions for nanobots to format new neurons and position them next to existing biological brain cells to be replaced. These changes would be unnoticeable to us, but within six months, we would be enjoying our new brain.

The new brain will allow wireless interface with computers and other digital technologies. We could access the Internet, control electronics, and make phone calls, with just our thoughts. Or we could understand complicated subjects – even speak a new language – without need for study.

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Most jobs could be lost to automation in near future

August 25 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Although it may sound puzzling, there is a logical reason for the economy to maintain a respectable national GDP, even though unemployment is on the rise – businesses are becoming more profitable by installing robotic and other automation equipment which performs work that eliminates many jobs.

The first automation systems that replaced jobs in a big way arrived about 30 years ago, when gas stations began using new electronic pumps that enabled drivers to dispense their own gas. Employees were no longer needed to “fill her up” and wash the windows. Those jobs had just been “outsourced” to the customer.

More customer-outsourcing was soon to follow. People began using the Internet to access account information from their banks, credit card companies, department stores, and other businesses. Thousands of customer service jobs were now “outsourced” to the customer. Unemployment was on the rise.

Although there are a multitude of nice grocery stores in Las Vegas, I shop mostly at Smith’s and Albertsons. Why? Well sure, they have an adequate selection and decent prices, but the main reason I prefer these stores is self-checkout. After gathering my groceries, I head to one of the self-checkout machines, which are almost always empty, and scan and punch my way quickly out the door. Several cashiers have been eliminated.

The next big wave of automation promises to come from radio frequency identification tags. RFID tags will soon be used in most stores at point-of-sale checkout replacing all cashiers. Sensors detect purchases and automatically charge your ATM or credit card – or direct you to a cash machine. Customers save time and merchants expand their price competitiveness by eliminating more employees.

Wall-Mart, Target, The Home Depot, Kroger, Safeway, and most other stores are expected to jump on the RFID bandwagon in the next decade.

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Nova Spivack on the Future of Twine and the Intelligent Web

August 25 2008 / by memebox / In association with Future
Category: Social Media   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

Twine creator and CEO Nova Spivack wants to change the world by enabling a much, much smarter Web. In the meantime, as Twine enters its public beta phase, he’s more than happy to help guide Web-based content through the baby-steps of back-end development, simultaneously allowing millions of users to “leverage collective intelligence to better share and discover information around their interests on the Web.” If indeed Spivack makes the right moves and successfully generates the requisite critical mass, his company Radar Networks could grow to a billion $+ valuation inside a few years, rising up to compete against the likes of Google in the contextual advertising market.

In this exclusive interview with Spivack (full transcript available at bottom) MemeBox’s Venessa Posavec asked some tough and comprehensive questions about Spivack’s vision of the semantic web, the near-term future of Twine, and the future of what Spivack calls the Intelligent web.

Some choice excerpts include:

On the future of the semantic web:

“It is about fundamentally upgrading the quality of the data on the Web.”

The Intelligent Web “is rather far off in the future still, in 2020 and beyond.”

On the trajectory of Twine:

“We’re seeing people spend extraordinary amounts of time on Twine, because interest networks are so sticky. When people can congregate efficiently and meaningfully around shared interests, amazing things can happen. This is what we are building, ultimately – a platform for networks that are about what you know – not who you know.”

“Our agenda for the next 12 months is to move from our present invite-only beta to an app that is ready for ‘prime-time’ use by mainstream consumers. This is mainly accomplished by working on usability. We need to make Twine easier for ordinary consumers to quickly understand and use. We also have a large number of improvements and new features to add. We hope to launch next major version in October 2008.”

“It is possible that Twine will become your primary touch-point for content on the Web, in part because of the intelligence that we can bring to the table. But we mostly think of Twine as a hub of collective intelligence, and Twine plays nice with e-mail, browsers, bookmarking tools, RSS, wiki-style editing, video, photographs, etc.”

On Twine as a potential Google killer:

“[B]ecause intelligent applications like Twine can understand context and even make inferences from that context, they can deliver a whole new kind of advertising that provides real value, in the context of what a given user is actually interested in.”

Here’s the full transcript of the fascinating and revelaing interview:

MemeBox: What is the macro significance of a semantically organized web?

Nova Spivack: The Semantic Web is essentially made up of a set of technologies designed to help the Web to become a place where information exists in a format that software applications can easily understand. By making information more accessible, software will in turn become increasingly able to understand and organize that information automatically and intelligently.

In other words, the Web, and the software that runs on top of it, will become smarter, and more intelligent. Not as smart as humans perhaps, but much smarter than, say, your word processor is today.

MemeBox: What are some potential applications of the semantic web?

Nova Spivack: I think that collective intelligence is the main thing that the Semantic Web is enabling, and Twine is a great example of a tool that is moving us towards a new paradigm that we’re calling “interest networking.”

Twine helps people keep up with what matters to them, by teaming up to organize, share, and track information with networks of people who share their interests. Twine is like a social network for sharing, organizing and finding knowledge. It helps individuals and groups achieve smarter, more productive, collective intelligence. This is interest networking. It is networking with other like-minded users around the topics that you care most about.

As background, a “Twine” is a place for your interests. It’s the next step beyond a file server, wiki, personal home page, or database. Users can create a Twine for any group, team or community. Twines can be private and personal, private for groups, or public for groups and communities.

The most popular Twines right now represent an array of interests, with names like Foodie Extraordinaire, Alternative Medicine, The Art of Filmmaking, Science Fiction Depot, Oddities Around The World, Sustainable Living, Humor and so on. The #1 most popular Twine is just called “Cool,” actually – it has 1,500 members who all contribute the coolest stuff they find around the Web. It’s easy to get lost in “Cool” for hours.

But that’s just the public Twines. There are private Twines for conferences, school groups, corporate teams, families, and much more. And there are thousands of Twines for more esoteric interests. In fact the smaller Twines are some of our more interesting use cases – there are only so many people in the world who are intensely interested in British cartoonists, but they are all finding each other using Twine.

The “intelligent” part of Twine is what it does under the hood, so to speak – automatically classifying and labeling documents, web pages, e-mails, photos, videos, etc. and connecting the relevant pieces to each other like a trail of breadcrumbs.

Twine also looks at individual users’ interests, understands their preferences without ever having to ask, and suggests new Twines to join, or other members of the community to connect with. Some of my favorite user stories are about two people connecting and forming a friendship about a shared interest that they never could have otherwise known they had in common.

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Avatars will soon be everywhere

August 25 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Communication   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Throw away the mouse and keyboard. New technologies are about to provide us with personal avatars – computerized images of our choice – connected to the Internet, and displayed on wall-size screens. Avatars will understand us, listen to our demands, and anticipate our needs.

Most people think interactive systems like these are a long ways off, but two trends are quickening the pace. Improved speech-recognition systems will soon enable people to converse with computers in normal-spoken English, and entrepreneurs are flooding to the Internet creating new business applications that take advantage of speech recognition.

IBM and Microsoft expect to soon eliminate all of the errors in today’s speech recognition software, and create systems that will mimic human speech perfectly without flaws. The MIT Project Oxygen new voice-machine interface can look you in the eye, let you ask questions in casual English, and answer them. Close your eyes and you think you’re talking with a human.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claims that by 2012, voice-enabled “smart” systems will allow us to converse naturally and comfortably, directly to flat panel displays. On command, our personal avatar will appear on the display. She (or he) will help us shop, work, learn, and conduct business and social relationships on the Internet. Computers will disappear and become part of the display.

Amtrak, Wells Fargo, and Land’s End are taking advantage of these new systems. They plan to replace keypad-menu call centers with speech-recognition systems to save money and improve customer relations. General Motors OnStar and Lexus DVD Nav systems are adding more than 1 million new subscribers each year. Analysts believe most businesses will convert to automatic speech systems as the technology matures.

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Robots: are we planting the seeds of our next evolutionary step?

August 22 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

While some scientists see danger with tomorrow’s super-intelligent robots, others say not to worry – our destiny is secure.

For years, entrepreneurs have been trying to create robots to perform life’s physical drudgeries. Building mechanical bodies has been easy, but creating artificial minds to control those bodies has been frustrating.

After countless commercial failures, things are beginning to change. Computer power has increased to 1,000 million impressions per second (MIPS), which provides enough thinking ability for today’s robots to become financially viable.

Lawrence Livermore National Labs robots will soon handle nuclear and hazardous waste. NASA Rovers explore Mars and send pictures back to us.

Sales of “Roomba” and “Karcher” robot vacuum cleaners are beating expectations. Thousands of Sony AIBO robot pets have sold for more than $1,000 each. Robots are now becoming main stream.

Research Professor Hans Moravec at Carnegie Mellon University says future robot development can be divided into four generations:

2010 – First generation robot will: pick up clutter; store; retrieve and deliver; take inventory; guard homes; open doors; mow lawns; and play games. Compare its 5,000 MIPS brain to a lizard.

2020 – Second generation robot will think before it acts and respond to dog-like training. “Good robot,” “bad robot.” Compare its 300,000 MIPS brain to a mouse.

2030 – Third generation robot will understand human moods. It knows if you are happy, angry, in a hurry, or tired. It handles limited conversations. Compare its 10 million MIPS brain to a monkey.

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Deadly Armies of Robotic Children

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 4

If there’s one thing a science fiction movie will guarantee you, it’s that friendly looking robots will be friendly, and evil looking robots will kill you. As we get closer and closer to an age where robots take a more important role in our lives in both the civilian and military sense, I somehow doubt the builders of military robots will follow the unspoken laws of mass storytelling. With international PR increasingly becoming more important, will military robots all be made to look like death-machines? Or will they take on a more harmless look of, let’s say, Pound Puppies?

Although the image of an army of killer puppy robots equipped with the latest artillery might cause one to smirk, it may not be too far off. Friendly-looking robots, much like friendly-looking humans, are more likely to be perceived as harmless than your standard military death-machine. WALL-E, armed with fifty pounds of C-4, can get places where the army’s latest killer robot couldn’t.

With robots continually achieving a more human look, it would make sense for the military to eventually design robots that like children instead of Terminator’s famed T-101 cyborg. And with robotics jumping in leaps and bounds all the time, suicide-ready humanoid robots are that much closer to reality.

Even if a rocket-laden robot tank could strike a lot of fear into an enemy, friendly looking robots have a greater chance of avoiding attacks as well as slipping into enemy lines. Face it, Skynet went wrong in making Arnold their model of robot — it should have been puppies.

Image: Kris Van de Vijver (Flickr,CC-Attribution)

Changes to expect by 2020

August 20 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 3

By Dick Pelletier

As our 21st century unfolds, revolutionary changes will appear at mind-boggling speeds. Most of these changes will be driven by major happenings – increases in computing speed, mapping the human genome, and nanotechnology development.

By 2020, computer power will have doubled several times, which will help researchers unravel many of our genetic mysteries – and nanotechnology, the science of building things atom by atom, will provide us with a host of new miracles making our lives more pleasurable.

Things that will change by 2020

• Cancer and heart disease deaths are expected to diminish or disappear completely according to the National Institutes of Health.

• Organ transplants won’t be needed. Doctors will grow new organs from a patient’s own tissues.

• Coronary bypass procedures will be passé as doctors use gene therapies to grow new blood vessels to replace those that are blocked.

• False teeth will be replaced by stem cell therapies that grow natural teeth. Clinical trials of this new procedure are underway in Europe now.

• Your signature on a legal document will be considered quaint because of biometric Identification – iris, facial print, and voice-recognition. You become your own secure ID.

• Film scores played by real orchestras will be replaced with computer-synthesized music.

• Nearly all movie stunt doubles will be replaced by computer-animation.

• Getting lost will be nearly impossible with GPS chips in cell-phones and watches – and implanted under the skin on children and older people.

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Civilization: from crude beginnings to a promising future

August 19 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 4

By Dick Pelletier

Humanity is facing what many see as the most important decision in its history – to move from nonrenewable fossil fuels as the primary source of energy to renewable sources that could, some believe, allow us to achieve Type 1 Civilization status.

In 1964, astronomer Nikolai Kardashev devised a method to categorize future civilizations based on energy consumption. Type-1 utilizes all solar energy striking its planet, Type-2 controls all the energy in its solar system; and Type-3 harnesses power from every star in its galaxy.

Today, physicists rate Earth at Type-0.7. In The Runaway Universe, astronomer Don Goldsmith reminds us that we receive only one billionth of the suns energy, and we utilize just one millionth of that; but with nanotech advances expected by mid-century, experts predict we could reach Type-1 by 2100.

In order to see a clearer picture of how we might advance in the future, Kardashev-type ratings have been assigned to past evolutionary events. We begin at the dawn of humanity:

400,000-to-250,000 years ago; Type-0.0 – Wikipedia identifies this period as the time when Homo sapiens split from the great apes and evolved as modern humans in Africa.

150,000 years ago; Type-0.1 – In Cooking and Cognition: How Humans Got So Smart evolutionary anthropologist Philipp Khaitovich explains how emergence of the hearth allowed humans to eat cooked food for the first time. This increased caloric intake enabling us to send more power to our brains, which resulted in huge intelligence boosts. Human brains require 20 percent of our calories, while other vertebrate brains use only 2 percent of their caloric intake.

100,000 years ago; Type-0.2 – A Sumatra volcano eruption caused a 1,400-yr freeze which nearly drove humans extinct, reducing populations to under 10,000. This prompted cooperation between tribes. Illinois anthropologist Stanley Ambrose calls this the “troop-to-tribe transition.”

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Future entertainment becomes simulated reality

August 18 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Entertainment   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

As the 21st century unfolds, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics will change our lives in many ways. We will enjoy better health, a longer lifespan, and new conveniences. But these developments pale in comparison to simulated reality systems projected for future entertainment.

Psychologists list our most enjoyable recreation activities as: visiting family and friends, watching TV, browsing the Internet, playing video games, making phone calls, shopping, eating out, and catching a flick.

U.S. Census reports 98% of American families own 2.4 TV sets per home and watch 32 hours of TV each week. 75% access the Internet from home, and nearly everyone uses the telephone.

Sales drive this multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. Consumer Electronics Association projects more than 18 million TV sets will be sold this year. New models are larger and thinner; some with fancy features such as live-show pause and smart program selection.

Experts believe future entertainment systems will satisfy much more of our recreational needs. In his web article, “Views of the Future,” British Telecom futurologist Ian Pearson predicts by:

2015 – TV, computer, and phone converge into a wall-size, interactive, 3D screen, delivering entertainment and information tailored to our wishes. When idle, it displays beach, forest, or other scenes so real, we think we are there.

2020 – Nano-size electronics inside “active contact lenses” receives TV, video games, Internet, and phone calls; and displays images directly onto the retina. Tune program with pocket keyboard initially; later with thought control. Watch TV; browse the web, or video-phone a friend; all with eyes open or closed.

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