Volume 10, Number 3
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
- India could overtake Britain and have the world’s fifth largest economy within a decade.
- Only 4% of the Universe is made up of ordinary, visible matter.
- The difference between a flu virus that kills millions and one that kills only a few comes down to just two amino acid changes.
- The US Air Force currently tracks more than 14,000 objects in orbit – an ever-growing collection of space junk.
Wonders of the World: The Buildings of 2006
Indian Economy to Overtake UK
Online Bank Heist Casts Light on Shady World of Hackers
Wonders of the World: The Buildings of 2006 — (Business Week — December 18, 2006)
Green architecture has become glamorous, and even economical. The cycle of innovation for sustainable building technologies is now staggeringly short, given how long it takes to complete a building. We are close to the tipping point at which green design becomes the default option for smart building.
Indian Economy to Overtake UK — (BBC — January 24, 2007)
Signs of an economic boom are everywhere in India’s cities. If trends continue, India’s economy may then surpass the US and be second only to China’s by mid-century. Within 15 years Indians should, on average, be four times richer than today, buying five times as many cars, and the country will burn three times as much crude oil to power its growth, putting yet more strain on the world’s resources.
Online Bank Heist Casts Light on Shady World of Hackers — (International Herald Tribune — January 24, 2007)
Computer experts have traced a $1 million online bank heist in Sweden to a Russian hacker known only by his colorful sobriquet – the Corpse – in one of the more brazen Internet banking crimes of recent memory. As the extent of the fraud became known this week at the Scandinavian bank involved, attention shifted to the Russian-made virus behind the crime and the darker world of Russian programming, where talented minds still struggle to find legitimate outlets for the computer skills.
Why Do Good? Brain Study Offers Clues
Satellite Prepares to Go Super-Cold
Theory Stretches the Limits of Composite Materials
Physicists Find Way to ‘See’ Extra Dimensions
No Big Bang? Endless Universe Made Possible by New Model
Why Do Good? Brain Study Offers Clues — (Forbes — January 22, 2007)
People may not perform selfless acts just for an emotional reward, a new brain study suggests. Instead, they may do good because they’re acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others. Scientists say a piece of the brain linked to perceiving others’ intentions shows more activity in unselfish vs. selfish types.
Satellite Prepares to Go Super-Cold — (BBC — February 4, 2007)
Only 4% of the Universe is made up of ordinary matter that we can see. The rest is dark energy (73%) and dark matter (23%). Their influence can be detected indirectly, but scientists do not understand their nature. Planck, a satellite due to be launched in 2008 could provide new information on dark energy, but it will depend on what this mysterious quantity is.
Theory Stretches the Limits of Composite Materials — (SPX — February 1, 2007)
In an advance that could lead to composite materials with virtually limitless performance capabilities, a scientist has dispelled a 50-year-old theoretical notion that composite materials must be made only of “stable” individual materials to be stable overall.
Physicists Find Way to ‘See’ Extra Dimensions — (Physorg — February 2, 2007)
Peering backward in time to an instant after the big bang, physicists have devised an approach that may help unlock the hidden shapes of alternate dimensions of the universe. A new study demonstrates that the shapes of extra dimensions can be “seen” by deciphering their influence on cosmic energy released by the violent birth of the universe 13 billion years ago.
No Big Bang? Endless Universe Made Possible by New Model — (Physorg — January 30, 2007)
A new cosmological model demonstrates the universe can endlessly expand and contract, providing a rival to Big Bang theories and solving a thorny modern physics problem.
Scientists Get Closer to Depression’s DNA
Anti-Cancer Chicken Eggs Produced
Scientists Reverse vCJD Signs
Deadly Super-Bugs are Talking about You
Cheap, Safe Drug Kills Most Cancers
Scientists Get Closer to Depression’s DNA — (Forbes — February 1, 2007)
Depression may spring, at least in part, from genes on a specific region of chromosome 15. According to new research, about 10 percent to 15 percent of people suffer from severe depression at some point in their lives, and 3 percent to 5 percent have recurrent episodes. Women are twice as likely as men to become depressed.
Anti-Cancer Chicken Eggs Produced — (BBC — January 14, 2007)
Scientists have developed genetically modified chickens capable of laying eggs containing proteins needed to make cancer-fighting drugs. Some of the birds have been engineered to lay eggs that contain miR24, a type of antibody with potential for treating malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Others produce human interferon b-1a, which can be used to stop viruses replicating in cells.
Scientists Reverse vCJD Signs — (BBC — February 1, 2007)
Symptoms of prion diseases, such as the human form of mad cow disease vCJD, can be reversed, a study of mice suggests. Experts found memory and behavior problems could be tackled by stopping production of the proteins corrupted in such diseases.
Deadly Super-Bugs are Talking about You — (AP — February 1, 2007)
Do germs communicate? Many scientists think so and are betting the chatter may hold the key to developing the next generation of drugs to fight killer superbugs. The conventional wisdom has long been that the carpet-bombing approach is the best way to fight infection. But as evidence of bacterial bonding has mounted in the past decade, researchers are now focusing on antibiotics that will break down the lines of communication.
Cheap, Safe Drug Kills Most Cancers — (New Scientist — January 20, 2007)
It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe. It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.
Fantastic Voyage: Departure 2009 — (Wired — January 18, 2007)
An international team of scientists is developing what they say will be the world’s first micro-robot – as wide as two human hairs – that can swim through the arteries and digestive system. The scientists are designing the 250-micron device to transmit images and deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the body outside the reach of existing catheter technology.
Pandemic Flu May be Only Two Mutations Away
Deadly H5N1 May be Brewing in Cats
World Braced for Huge Surge in Bird Flu Cases
Pandemic Flu May be Only Two Mutations Away — (New Scientist — February 1, 2007)
The difference between a flu virus that kills millions, and one that kills only a few comes down to just two amino acid changes, researchers say. The finding could allow scientists to stay one step ahead of an H5N1 flu pandemic by screening for the specific mutations that would enable it to spread.
Deadly H5N1 May be Brewing in Cats — (New Scientist — January 24, 2007)
Bird flu hasn’t gone away. The discovery, announced last week, that the H5N1 bird flu virus is widespread in cats in locations across Indonesia has refocused attention on the danger that the deadly virus could be mutating into a form that can infect humans far more easily. In the first survey of its kind, scientists have found that in areas where there have been outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and humans, 1 in 5 cats have been infected with the virus and survived.
World Braced for Huge Surge in Bird Flu Cases — (Guardian — February 4, 2007)
The number of cases of the deadly bird flu virus is increasing around the world as scientists struggle to combat the disease that is now threatening to jump species and infect humans. The news comes as Britain confirmed its first ever case of H5N1 in a farm in Suffolk. More than 160,000 birds will now be slaughtered as the country’s farming industry goes on high alert for more outbreaks.
Chips Push Through Nano-Barrier
Virtual Reality Spreading in Business World
Chips Push Through Nano-Barrier — (BBC — January 27, 2007)
The next milestone in the relentless pursuit of smaller, higher performance microchips has been unveiled. Chip-makers have announced that they will start producing processors using transistors with features just 45 nanometers wide. Shrinking the technology that underpins the basic building blocks of chips will make them faster and more efficient.
Virtual Reality Spreading in Business World — (AP — January 17, 2007)
Long a darling of the military, aviation and video-game industries, virtual reality is being embraced by more businesses as the falling cost of computer power makes it more affordable. Manufacturers of farm equipment, car seats, mufflers and other products have joined automakers and aircraft manufacturers in using the technology to speed up and improve product design, train workers and configure factories and stores.
Global Risks are Outpacing Ability to Mitigate Them
Sea Level Rise Outpacing Key Predictions
Experts Slam Upcoming Global Warming Report
Humans Blamed for Climate Change
Global Risks are Outpacing Ability to Mitigate Them — (GCC — January 13, 2007)
A new, major environmental report highlights a growing disconnect between the power of global risks to cause major systemic disruption and our ability to mitigate them. Many of the 23 core global risks explored in the report have worsened over the last 12 months, despite growing awareness of their potential impacts, according to the report. In addition to specific risk mitigation measures, institutional innovations may be needed to create effective responses to a complex risk landscape.
Sea Level Rise Outpacing Key Predictions — (New Scientist — February 1, 2007)
Predictions of how much sea-levels would rise due to climate change, made by a key UN report in 2001, were conservative, say researchers on the eve of the release of the new update of the report. Satellite data shows that levels have rose by an average of 3.3 millimeters per year between 1993 and 2006. The 2001 IPCC report, in contrast, projected a best-estimate rise of less than 2 mm per year.
Experts Slam Upcoming Global Warming Report — (AP — January 29, 2007)
Climate scientists have recently issued a grim forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures. But that may be the sugarcoated version. Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top scientists reject these rosier numbers.
Humans Blamed for Climate Change — (BBC — February 2, 2007)
Global climate change is “very likely” to have a human cause, an influential group of scientists has concluded. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said temperatures were probably going to increase by 3.2-7.2F by the end of the century. It also projected that sea levels were most likely to rise by 28-43cm, and that global warming was likely to influence the intensity of tropical storms.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Is It Anthrax or Just White Powder?
India in Aerospace Defense Plan
Street-Fighting Robot Challenge Announced
China Confirms Satellite Downed
Latest Revision Signed to Space Operations Doctrine
Russia’s Putin, India Call for Weapons Free Space
Is It Anthrax or Just White Powder? — (MIT Technology Review — January 29, 2007)
When a patient is admitted to the hospital with signs of a dangerous systemic bacterial infection, or when a post-office worker finds white powder in a suspicious-looking envelope, the ability to quickly identify potential pathogens is important. To accomplish that, a team of researchers is developing a microfluidic chip that performs fast DNA sequencing to rapidly identify bacteria. The goal is a device simple enough to use in airport and other security screening.
India in Aerospace Defense Plan — (BBC — January 28, 2007)
India says it plans to build an aerospace defense command aimed at preventing possible attacks from space. The head of India’s air force outlined the plans saying it would protect both Indian territory and assets, claiming that India was an aerospace power with “trans-oceanic reach” and it was vital that it should be able to exploit space.
Street-Fighting Robot Challenge Announced — (New Scientist — January 24, 2007)
A contest to build a robot that can operate autonomously in urban warfare conditions, moving in and out of buildings to search and destroy targets like a human soldier, was launched in Singapore recently. The country’s Defense Science and Technology Agency is offering $652,000 to whoever develops a robot that completes a stipulated set of tasks – yet to be revealed – in the fastest time possible.
China Confirms Satellite Downed — (BBC — January 23, 2007)
China has confirmed it carried out a test that destroyed a satellite, in a move that caused international alarm. It is the first known satellite intercept test for more than 20 years. Several countries, including Japan, Australia and the US, have expressed concern at the test, amid worries it could trigger a space arms race.
Latest Revision Signed to Space Operations Doctrine — (AFNS — February 2, 2007)
The Air Force chief of staff has approved the latest revision to Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2, Space Operations, outlining the operations of space power. This space operations doctrine has been updated significantly since the previous publication of AFDD 2-2 in 2001. It describes the integration of space power across the range of military operations. Specifically, it recommends a command and control construct for space operations found to be extremely effective in recent operations.
Russia’s Putin, India Call for Weapons Free Space — (AFP — January 25, 2007)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Thursday for a “weapons free outer space”, after China staged a satellite-destroying weapons test. China has confirmed that it recently tested a satellite-destroying weapon but insisted its space program posed no threat to the rest of the world.
AUGMENTED INTELLIGENCE AND ROBOTICS
A Prosthetic Arm That Acts like a Real One — (MIT Technology Review — February 2, 2007)
A new technique that capitalizes on remaining nerves allows amputees to intuitively control their prosthetic limb, providing them with a much better level of control than traditional prosthetics. One of the first patients to undergo the procedure was able to use her new arm within a few days of her operation, becoming four times as fast on movement tests as she was with her traditional prosthetic.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Moon Has Iron Core
Space Commercialization Contracts Signed
China’s Space-Weapon Test Could Endanger Astronauts and Satellites
Moon Has Iron Core — (National Geographic — January 11, 2007)
A new moon-rock study suggests the satellite has an iron core. The findings add weight to the theory that the moon formed from debris thrown off when a Mars-size object collided with a young Earth.
Space Commercialization Contracts Signed — (UPI — February 1, 2007)
NASA says it has signed a space commercialization contract with several US corporations. The agreements are designed to facilitate the commercialization of low-Earth orbit as capabilities are developed to transport goods and people to orbital destinations.
China’s Space-Weapon Test Could Endanger Astronauts and Satellites — (ABC — February 5, 2007)
When the Chinese government destroyed one of its weather satellites in a military test, it sent a chill through the U.S. military. And engineers say it had a serious side effect — it increased the amount of orbiting space junk by about 10 percent. That could mean danger – to other satellites, and even, possibly, to astronauts on the International Space Station and future space shuttle flights.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Homo Futurus: How Radically Should We Remake Ourselves? Or Our Children?
Why are There So Many Single Americans?
Polls: Wealth is a Top Priority for Today’s Youth
Does Evolution Select for Faster Evolvers?
Homo Futurus: How Radically Should We Remake Ourselves? Or Our Children? — (Huffington Post — January 30, 2007)
Intelligence? Physical appearance? And are these politically left/right questions? Futurists see a conflict forming over our dominion over the human body, and over the choices we make about our biological future – and that of our children. Some call it a clash between “bioliberals” and “bioconservatives,” and frame it as a debate over individual rights. When it comes to transforming one’s own body they may be right, but it gets thornier when children are involved.
Why are There So Many Single Americans? — (International Herald Tribune — January 21, 2007)
The news that 51% of all women live without a spouse might be enough to make you invest in cat futures. But consider, too, the flip side: about half of all men find themselves in the same situation. As the number of people marrying has dropped off in the last 45 years, the marriage rate has declined equally for men and for women.
Polls: Wealth is a Top Priority for Today’s Youth — (CNN — January 22, 2007)
New polls show that the obsession with material things is growing — and that being rich is more important to today’s young people than in the past. UCLA’s annual survey of college freshman, released last Friday, found that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in 2006 thought it was essential or very important to be “very well-off financially.” That compares with 62.5% who said the same in 1980 and 42% in 1966. Another recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that about 80% of 18- to 25-year-olds in this country see getting rich as a top life goal for their generation.
Does Evolution Select for Faster Evolvers? — (Physorg — January 29, 2007)
It’s a mystery why the speed and complexity of evolution appear to increase with time. For example, the fossil record indicates that single-celled life first appeared about 3.5 billion years ago, and it then took about 2.5 billion more years for multi-cellular life to evolve. That leaves just a billion years or so for the evolution of the diverse menagerie of plants, mammals, insects, birds and other species that populate the earth. New studies suggest a possible answer; the speed of evolution has increased over time because bacteria and viruses constantly exchange transposable chunks of DNA between species, thus making it possible for life forms to evolve faster than they would if they relied only on sexual selection or random genetic mutations.
We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. -Wernher von Braun
A special thanks to Bernard Calil, Ken Dabkowski, Neil Freer, Ursula Freer, Humera Khan, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane C. Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell and Matthew W. Sollenberger our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.