Volume 10, Number 8
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
ARLINGTON INSTITUTE HELPS SINGAPORE DEVELOP THREAT WARNING SYSTEM
The government of Singapore has developed a national security system called RAHS (Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning) to spot potential threats to national security while they’re still manageable. John L. Petersen, founder and president of the Virginia-based Arlington Institute, served as the concept architect for the system.
“One of the most remarkable aspects in human history is the continuity of strategic surprises and resulting shocks to nations,” says Petersen. “The cause of these shocks is almost always the inability of government to identify early indicators of change and share the information internally. Through collaboration, RAHS will be able to detect signals and analyze potential threat patterns which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.”
A working version of the RAHS system was unveiled to invited practitioners, academics, technologists, and futurists at the inaugural two-day International RAHS symposium in March in Singapore.
- Within three years, complete human hearts could be grown from stem cells.
- On average, summer temperatures are arriving in Lake Superior more than two weeks earlier than was the case just 3 decades ago.
- A manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries is in development.
- An ethical code to prevent humans abusing robots, and vice versa, is being drawn up by South Korea.
- Researchers have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any sugar source – from soft drinks to tree sap.
Biometric Cash Machines Bring Joy — (BBC — April 3, 2007)
India is using biometric cash machines, custom-made for people who cannot read or write. The machines use features like fingerprint verification and voice guided animated screens and easy navigation, in a unique attempt to improve the quality of life for millions of poor Indians.
Dazzling New Images Reveal the ‘Impossible’ on the Sun
Biologist Sees Human Morality Evolving from the Sociality of Primates
Dazzling New Images Reveal the ‘Impossible’ on the Sun — (New Scientist — March 21, 2007)
The restless bubbling and frothing of the Sun’s chaotic surface is astonishing astronomers who have been treated to detailed new images from a Japanese space telescope called Hinode, which has sent back startling images of the Sun’s outer limb. Where astronomers expected to see a calm region called the chromosphere, they saw a seething mass of swaying spikes
Biologist Sees Human Morality Evolving from the Sociality of Primates — (International Herald Tribune — March 21, 2007)
Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days. Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further suggest that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.
Doctors Fix Hearts with Stem Cell Injections
Human Heart Grown from Stem Cells
Alzheimer’s Vaccine Works on Mice
Enzymes Convert All Donor Blood to Group O
Light Therapy Spares the Scalpel and the Chemo
Genetic Studies Endow Mice with New Color Vision
Doctors Fix Hearts with Stem Cell Injections — (AFP — March 26, 2007)
Doctors have rejuvenated post-heart attack patients by injecting them with stem cells. The clinical trials delivered stem cells to hearts whose stiff, post-attack scar tissue kept them from pumping blood as they should. Over six months, the patients receiving the stem-cell treatment had better heart and lung function with fewer arrhythmias.
Human Heart Grown from Stem Cells — (Guardian – April 2, 2007)
A research team led by the world’s leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years.
Alzheimer’s Vaccine Works on Mice — (Guardian – March 29, 2007)
Scientists have developed an oral vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease that has proved effective in mice, raising hopes that an effective treatment for humans can be found. The vaccine reduced the amount of amyloid plaques – believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s – and improved brain function when administered to mice that had been genetically modified to develop the disease
Enzymes Convert All Donor Blood to Group O — (New Scientist – April 1, 2007)
You’re rushed into hospital and need a blood transfusion – but what is your blood group? In future, it may not matter, thanks to enzymes that scrub antigens from red blood cells, turning all donated blood into group O – which can be given safely to anyone.
Light Therapy Spares the Scalpel and the Chemo — (Wired – April 2, 2007)
Imagine you could treat cancer by taking a pill, then directing a laser light toward the location of the tumor. The growth would dissolve with no chemotherapy, and no harm to healthy tissue. It might sound futuristic, but a select number of cancer patients already benefit from the method, called photodynamic therapy. An upgrade for the procedure could save thousands more cancer patients from the horrors of chemotherapy.
Genetic Studies Endow Mice with New Color Vision — (Physorg – March 22, 2007)
Although mice, like most mammals, typically view the world with a limited color palette – similar to what some people with red-green color blindness see – scientists have now transformed their vision by introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. The human gene codes for a light sensor that mice do not normally possess, and its insertion allowed the mice to distinguish colors as never before.
Nano-propulsion Technology for Space Exploration
Scientists Create First Non-Carbon Material with Near-Diamond Hardness
Engineers Create ‘Optical Cloaking’ Design
Nano-propulsion Technology for Space Exploration — (Nanowerk — March 26, 2007)
A new electrostatic thruster technology is under development using nanoparticles as propellant with micro- and nano-electromechanical systems. Termed the nanoparticle field extraction thruster – nanoFET – this highly integrated propulsion concept is a high efficiency, variable specific impulse engine type that can be readily scalable for a large range of future space science and exploration missions.
Scientists Create First Non-Carbon Material with Near-Diamond Hardness — (Physorg — March 28, 2007)
Research scientists have created the first non-carbon-based material with a hardness approaching that of diamond. Their work could have a significant impact on technologies and industries that rely on diamond as a cutting and drilling tool and abrasive. The material is a boron nitride “nanocomposite.” This means that, rather than consisting of one large continuous crystal, it is made of crystalline boron-nitride grains that are each a few to several nanometers in size.
Engineers Create ‘Optical Cloaking’ Design — (Physorg — April 2, 2007)
Researchers using nanotechnology have taken a step toward creating an “optical cloaking” device that could render objects invisible by guiding light around anything placed inside this “cloak.” The current design does, however, have a major limitation: It works only for any single wavelength, and not for the entire frequency range of the visible spectrum.
Superlenses and Smaller Computer Chips
The Ultrafast Future of Wireless
Google Seeks World of Instant Translations
Chip-sized Lab — (NASA — April 6, 2007)
NASA recently unveiled a miniature biological laboratory just tested for the first time onboard the International Space Station. Called LOCAD-PTS (short for Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development–Portable Test System), the palm-sized mini-lab detects the presence of bacteria or fungi on the surfaces of a spacecraft far more rapidly than standard methods of culturing.
Superlenses and Smaller Computer Chips — (MIT Technology Review — March 23, 2007)
How small one can fabricate transistors, the detail that can be seen in an optical microscope, and the amount of data that can be squeezed onto a DVD? All these things are limited by the way light moves through materials. But several, recent, separate advances in technology describe new materials for manipulating light in exotic ways, potentially leading to vastly improved electronic circuitry, microscopy, and data storage.
The Ultrafast Future of Wireless — (MIT Technology Review — April 3 , 2007)
Researchers have found a way to control terahertz radiation with more precision than ever before, potentially laying the foundation for a new breed of wireless devices that can take advantage of the previously untapped frequencies. Although still years from commercialization, routers and receivers that use terahertz radiation – which technically ranges from about 100 gigahertz to 10 terahertz – could eventually pack more data onto airwaves, speeding up wireless Internet links a thousand times.
Google Seeks World of Instant Translations — (Reuters — March 28, 2007)
In Google Inc.’s vision of the future, people will be able to translate documents instantly into the world’s main languages, with machine logic, not expert linguists, leading the way. Google’s approach, called statistical machine translation, differs from past efforts in that it forgoes language experts who program grammatical rules and dictionaries into computers. Instead, they feed documents humans have already translated into two languages and then rely on computers to discern patterns for future translations.
Lake Superior Warming Quickly
Are GM Crops Killing Bees
Toxic Monsanto Genetically Modified Corn
Climate Change Set to Worsen Health Burden
The Increasing Hazards of Urban Air Pollution
Lake Superior Warming Quickly — (AP — April 6, 2007)
Lake Superior has been warming even faster than the climate around it since the late 1970s due to reduced ice cover, according to a study by professors at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Summer surface temperatures on the famously cold lake have increased about 4.5 degrees since 1979, compared with about a 2.7-degree increase in the region’s annual average air temperature, the researchers found. The lake’s “summer season” is now beginning about two weeks earlier than it did 27 years ago.
Are GM Crops Killing Bees — (Der Spiegel — March 22, 2007)
For unknown reasons, bee populations throughout Germany are disappearing – something that is so far only harming beekeepers. But the situation is different in the United States, where bees are dying in such dramatic numbers that the economic consequences could soon be dire. No one knows what is causing the bees to perish, but some experts believe that the large-scale use of genetically modified plants in the US could be a factor.
Toxic Monsanto Genetically Modified Corn — (Le Monde — March 13, 2007)
Allowed to go on the market in France and Europe, MON 863, a transgenic corn invented by Monsanto, has been at the center of a controversy over its innocuousness for over two years. These debates could resume after the publication f a study suggesting this genetically modified organism is toxic to the liver and kidneys.
Climate Change Set to Worsen Health Burden — (AFP — April 2, 2007)
Malaria, cholera, malnutrition, heatstroke and pollen allergies are just a few of the health problems set to worsen because of global warming, according to a report prepared by UN climate experts. Climate change has already extended the range of mosquitoes and ticks, helped spread diarrhoeal disease, boosted the length and location of pollen seasons and pumped up the intensity of dangerous heatwaves. In the coming decades, such problems are likely to become amplified.
The Increasing Hazards of Urban Air Pollution — (Guardian — April 3, 2007)
A new study suggests high levels of urban air pollution may cut short life expectancy more than the radiation exposure suffered by emergency workers who were sent into the 19-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl straight after the famous nuclear accident.
Boeing working on Fuel Cell Airplane
Engineering Bacteria to Harvest Light
BP’s Bet on Butanol
One Biofuel Fails
Sugar-Fueled Battery Could Power Portable Electronics
Boeing working on Fuel Cell Airplane — (Areo Gizmo — March 28, 2007)
Experimental flight tests are to begin this year, involving a manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries. The plane uses a fuel cell/lithium-ion battery hybrid system to power an electric motor, which is coupled to a conventional propeller. The fuel cell provides all power for the cruise phase of flight. During takeoff and climb, the system draws on lightweight lithium-ion batteries.
Engineering Bacteria to Harvest Light — (MIT Technology Review — March 26, 2007)
Commonly used lab bacteria called E. coli can be converted into light-harvesting organisms in a single genetic step, according to new research. The genetic enhancement allows microorganisms that normally derive their cellular energy from sugars to switch to a diet of sunlight. These findings could ultimately be used to genetically engineer bacteria that can more efficiently produce biofuels, drugs, and other chemicals.
BP’s Bet on Butanol — (MIT Technology Review — March 27, 2007)
Currently ethanol, a biofuel, makes up only a small fraction of fuel use it can’t be transported in the same pipelines used to distribute gasoline. What’s more, ethanol delivers far less energy than gasoline does on a gallon-for-gallon basis. However, butanol, another alternative fuel, can be made from corn starch or sugar beets, and it can be shipped in existing gasoline pipelines. It also contains more energy than ethanol, which will improve mileage per gallon.
One Biofuel Fails — (AP — April 2, 2007)
Palm oil derivatives caught on about five years ago as a source of renewable energy. It is relatively abundant, cheap at about $550 per ton, and requires few or no modifications to existing power stations. Unlike carbon-rich fossil fuels, palm oil is considered carbon-neutral, meaning the carbon emitted from burning it is the same as what is absorbed during growth. But the result of intensified farming has been to unleash far more greenhouse gases than will be saved at power stations.
Sugar-Fueled Battery Could Power Portable Electronics — (Physorg — March 25, 2007)
Juicing up your cell phone or iPod may take on a whole new meaning in the future. Researchers have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any sugar source – from soft drinks to tree sap – and has the potential to operate three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium ion batteries.
TERRORISM, SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Duke Patents Mind-Controlled Weapons
Fighter-Controlled Jet is Tested
US Air Force to Develop Revolutionary Engine
Duke Patents Mind-Controlled Weapons — (Wired — March 20, 2007)
Work on Brain-Machine Interface (think monkey controlling a joystick with its thoughts) is old news, but a patent granted earlier this month underscores researchers’ confidence that a broader set of military applications is possible: like controlling weapons with your mind.
Fighter-Controlled Jet is Tested — (BBC — April 2, 2007)
The US Air Force routinely uses remotely controlled aircraft for search and destroy missions. The advantage is that these planes can be sent into dangerous areas without risking a pilot’s life. The downside is that the controllers are remote from the battle area and so may not be able to respond to rapidly changing situations. In view of this shortcoming, the British Royal Air Force is testing a converted Tornado whose pilot is able to control four unmanned craft from the cockpit.
US Air Force to Develop Revolutionary Engine — (AFNS — April 2, 2007)
Air Force Research Laboratory engineers have outlined a five-year timeline for a new, adaptive engine that will enable pilots to switch from high speed combat maneuvers to long-range persistence mode as effortlessly as a bird in flight. The transformational engine will combine speed, maneuverability, range and persistence to transcend today’s fixed engines, which are constrained to provide either fuel efficiency or high performance.
AUGMENTED INTELLIGENCE AND ROBOTICS
Robotic Age Poses Ethical Dilemma
Building the Bionic Man
Robotic Age Poses Ethical Dilemma — (BBC — March 7, 2007)
An ethical code to prevent humans abusing robots, and vice versa, is being drawn up by South Korea. The Robot Ethics Charter will cover standards for users and manufacturers and will be released later in 2007. It is being put together by a five member team of experts that includes futurists and a science fiction writer. The South Korean government has identified robotics as a key economic driver and is pumping millions of dollars into research.
Building the Bionic Man — (Doctor’s Gadgets — March 27, 2007)
Advances in medical prostheses and computer technology are making the dream of building a bionic human a reality. An artificial hippocampus (part of the brain responsible for storing new memories) is being developed by scientists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The Argus II bionic eye is currently undergoing trials in 50-75 patients in the US. In July 2001, Robert Tools received the first completely self-contained artificial heart transplant. The implications are huge and far-reaching.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
China and Russia Plan Mars Mission
French Get a Look at Nation’s UFO Files
China and Russia Plan Mars Mission — (Physorg — March 28, 2007)
In a new show of space cooperation, a small satellite developed by China would be launched along with “Phobos Explorer,” a Russian spacecraft, probably in October 2009. After entering Mars’ orbit – 10 to 11 months later – the Chinese satellite would be detached from the spacecraft and probe the Martian space environment.
French Get a Look at Nation’s UFO Files — (AP — March 23, 2007)
The saucer-shaped object is said to have touched down in the south of France and then zoomed off. It left behind scorch marks and that haunting age-old question: Are we alone? This is just one of the cases from France’s secret “X-Files” – documents on supposed UFOs and sightings of other unexplained phenomena that the French space agency is publishing on the Internet. France is the first country to put its entire ‘weird’ sightings archive online
JUST FOR FUN
US Elections Could Cost More than $1bn
Humans Can See Race and Sex Even in Simple Outlines
US Elections Could Cost More than $1bn — (Times — April 3, 2007)
America is on course to stage the world’s first billion-dollar election with candidates already raising in excess of $100 million, fully 19 months before voters choose which one will be the next US president. In 2004 the US presidential election cost $769.5 million. Britain’s general election in 2005 cost £35 million.
Humans Can See Race and Sex Even in Simple Outlines — (Live Science — March 30, 2007)
Adult minds are so keen at spotting race, gender and age that we can correctly guess those features from nothing more than a black-and-white silhouette, new experiments show. The way that our brains process faces seems so flexible that our minds can even assign people to social and biological categories drawing only on views that occur less commonly in our daily lives.
If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions.
If you want to know your future, look into your present actions. -Buddhist saying
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.