Volume 8, Number 12
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
At The Arlington Institute, we believe that to understand the future, you need to have an open mind and cast a very wide net. To that end, FUTUREdition explores a cross-disciplinary palette of issues, from the frontiers of science and technology to major developments in mass media, geopolitics, the environment, and social perspectives.
John L. Petersen
The Food We Eat and the Health We Get
Here in Washington twenty-six years ago Nora Pouillon started what became the first certified organic restaurant in the U.S. Having eaten there on a number of occasions, I can tell you that it is particularly tasty as well as good food. Nora has thought a lot about food and farms and nutrition and is a very persuasive advocate for organic food. In the spring I heard her give a talk that was full of attention-getting facts and statistics about what we put in our mouths and where it comes from. You can find it here. Take a special look at the bullets on the second page.
Roberts v. The Future
In the case of Supreme Court nominees such as John Roberts, looking backwards may not be the most reliable way to predict the future. In the next 10 or 15 years, as technology and science continue to advance and as America’s demographic profile continues to change, the Supreme Court will, in all likelihood, be asked to decide an array of divisive issues that are now only dimly on the horizon. Rather than focusing on Roberts’s past, the senators questioning him might get a better sense of his performance on the Supreme Court by imagining the issues of the next generation.
- Placebos actually have a real physical, not imagined, effect activating the production of chemicals in the brain that relieve pain.
- Researchers at Harvard believe they have come closer to deciphering knotted string communications by the ancient Incas.
- It is now possible to control the speed of light using off-the-shelf instrumentation in normal environmental conditions
- Researchers are working to develop a “spatiotemporal” data mining system for finding and tracking toxic algae blighting North American waters
- An advance in nanotechnology may lead to the creation of artificial muscles, super strong electric cars and wallpaper-thin electronics
Look, Ma, No Schoolbooks!
Paper’s Natural Fingerprint Could Be Built-In Passport Protection
Look, Ma, No Schoolbooks! — (Wired News — August 18, 2005)
Students at Empire High School here started class this year with no textbooks — but it wasn’t because of a funding crisis. Instead, the school issued iBooks — laptop computers by Apple Computer — to each of its 340 students, becoming one of the first U.S. public schools to shun printed textbooks. School officials believe the electronic materials will get students more engaged in learning.
Paper’s Natural Fingerprint Could Be Built-In Passport Protection — (Scientific American — July 28, 2005)
With identity theft on the rise, there is more reason than ever to ensure the authenticity of important documents such as passports and birth certificates. Now physicists have discovered that many items, including paper documents, plastic cards and product packaging, have intrinsic patterns that can be used for identification purposes. And because the configurations are virtually impossible to modify in a controllable manner, they could form the basis of a new tool in the fight against fraud.
Experts Decipher Inca Strings
Light That Travels … Faster Than Light!
Experts Decipher Inca Strings — (BBC — August 24, 2005)
Researchers believe they have come closer to deciphering knotted string communications used by the ancient Incas. Harvard University researchers Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine used computers to analyze 21 khipu (coloured, knotted pieces of string) which are believed to have been used for accounting information. Experts say one bunch of knots appears to identify a city, marking the first intelligible word from the extinct South American civilization.
Light That Travels … Faster Than Light! — (Science Daily — August 22, 2005)
A team of researchers has successfully demonstrated, for the first time, that it is possible to control the speed of light both slowing it down and speeding it up in an optical fiber, using off-the-shelf instrumentation in normal environmental conditions. Their results could have implications that range from optical computing to the fiber-optic telecommunications industry.
Ocean Bug has Smallest Genome
Whew! Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny
Baltimore Patient Receives New Heart Pump
Cord Blood Yields Ethical Embryonic Stem Cells
Biological Bandage Heals Faster
Recipe for DNA Decoding Revealed
Placebos Trigger an Opioid Hit in the Brain
Ocean Bug has Smallest Genome — (BBC News — August 19, 2005)
Small but perfectly formed, ‘Pelagibacter ubique’ is a lean machine stripped down to the bare essentials for life. Humans have around 30,000 genes that determine everything from our eye color to our sex but Pelagibacter has just 1,354. What is more, Pelagibacter has none of the genetic clutter that most genomes have accumulated over time.
Whew! Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny — (Wired News — August 16, 2005)
As scientists discover more about the “epigenome,” a layer of biochemical reactions that turns genes on and off, they’re finding that it plays a big part in health and heredity. By mapping the epigenome and linking it with genomic and health information, scientists believe they can develop better ways to predict, diagnose and treat disease.
Baltimore Patient Receives New Heart Pump — (Newsday — August 19, 2005)
University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons say they’ve moved one step closer to developing the perfect heart pump after implanting the device into a 40-year-old Baltimore man. The pump is intended to help patients that need long-term heart assistance. Surgeons also hope the pump can be used as a “bridge” for patients awaiting transplants.
Cord Blood Yields Ethical Embryonic Stem Cells — (New Scientist — August 23, 2005)
Hopes for treating disease with stem cells from umbilical cord blood has received a major boost, following the discovery of primitive cells with clinical potential matching that of the far more controversial embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The latter are originally derived from human fetuses, which are then destroyed, and have become a major ethical issue.
Biological Bandage Heals Faster — (The Times of India — August 23, 2005)
Using human fetal cells, scientists have developed a new type of “biological bandage” for severe burns, a treatment that speeds and improves the healing process and may prove effective for other serious skin wounds.
Recipe for DNA Decoding Revealed — (Scientific American — August 5, 2005)
Scientists hope to soon add an individual’s genetic sequence to the commercial market. Full-genome DNA decoding, estimated to now cost $20 million, could soon be done for about $2.2 million, experts say, and will continue to drop in price as researchers develop new ways to conquer the task.
Placebos Trigger an Opioid Hit in the Brain — (New Scientist — August 24, 2005)
Placebos have a real physical, not imagined, effect activating the production of chemicals in the brain that relieve pain, a new study suggests. Placebos are treatments that use substances which have no active ingredient. But if people are told that what they are being given contains an active painkiller, for example, they often feel less pain, an effect that has normally been considered psychological. Now researchers have confirmed that placebos relieve pain by boosting the release of endorphins.
Nanotech Researchers Report Big Breakthrough
Nanotech Transistor Powers Up
Nanotech Researchers Report Big Breakthrough — (USA TODAY — August 23, 2005)
An advance in nanotechnology may lead to the creation of artificial muscles, super strong electric cars and wallpaper-thin electronics, researchers report. Self-supporting, transparent and stronger than steel or high-strength plastics, the sheets are flexible and can be heated to emit light. A square mile of the thinnest sheets, about 2-millionths-of-an-inch thick, would weigh only about 170 pounds.
Nanotech Transistor Powers Up — (Nature — August 14, 2005)
The first electrical switch made entirely from carbon nanotubes has been unveiled. Its inventors hope that it could help to replace silicon chips with faster, cheaper, smaller components. The device is a Y-shaped nanotube that behaves like a transistor, such as those found in every electronic device in your home. Current flowing from one branch to another can be switched on and off by applying a voltage to the third. The switching is perfect – the current is either on or off, with nothing in between.
Scientists Race to Head Off Lethal Potential of Avian Flu
Indonesian Polio Epidemic Poses Real Risk to Asia
Scientists Race to Head Off Lethal Potential of Avian Flu — (Washington Post — August 23, 2005)
Strains of influenza virus known as A/H5N1 have been spreading in wild and domestic birds across Southeast Asia and China since 1996. In recent weeks, the virus has apparently struck poultry in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Since late 2003, about 100 million domesticated birds — mostly chickens and ducks — either have died of the virus or have been intentionally killed to keep the viruses from spreading.
Indonesian Polio Epidemic Poses Real Risk to Asia — (New Scientist — August 19, 2005)
The ongoing and expanding polio epidemic in Indonesia poses a real risk of spreading the deadly disease to the rest of Asia, according to polio eradication experts. If polio does spread to nearby countries such as China, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines, it would be much harder to control than its recent onslaught through Africa and into the Middle East, says the coordinator of the World Health Organization’s Global Eradication Initiative.
IBM Brains Capture a PC’s Soul
Project Aims to Create 3D Television by 2020
Supercomputer’s Key to the Brain
Blu-Ray Ups Ante on Data Storage
Billboards Beam Adverts to Passing Cell Phones
IBM Brains Capture a PC’s Soul — (C|Net News — August 12, 2005)
Researchers at IBM are testing software that would let you tote your home or office desktop around on an iPod or similar portable device so that you could run it on any PC. The virtual computer user environment setup is called SoulPad. After the person disconnects the system, SoulPad saves all work to the device, including browser cookies or other digital signatures that a PC keeps in its short-term memory.
Project Aims to Create 3D Television by 2020 — (Reuters — August 19, 2005)
Imagine watching a football match on a TV that not only shows the players in three dimensions but also lets you experience the smells of the stadium and maybe even pat a goal scorer on the back. Japan plans to make this futuristic television a commercial reality by 2020. The targeted virtual reality television would allow people to view high-definition images in 3D from any angle, in addition to being able to touch and smell the objects being projected upwards from a screen parallel to the floor.
Pen Pal — (BBC News — August 15, 2005)
The idea of remembering word patterns and connecting the dots might not sound like an easy way to write an e-mail. But researchers are betting that tracing letters on a touch screen will become the way to write on a handheld device like a PDA or mobile phone. They have developed software that works by recognizing the patterns of words.
Supercomputer’s Key to the Brain — (BBC News — August 20, 2005)
The quest to simulate the mammalian brain on the world’s most powerful supercomputer is neuroscience’s most ambitious project yet. Recently advancements in this area of science have been limited by the power of computers. But in Switzerland, the Blue Brain Project aims to change this by simulating the structures and functions of the brain.
Blu-Ray Ups Ante on Data Storage — (Wired News — August 17, 2005)
Storage capacity is the key difference between a Blu-ray optical disc and a DVD. Standard DVD capacities peak at around 4.7 GB for DVD-Rs. With up to 50 GB of available storage space, the capacity of commercially available Blu-ray discs is comparable to that of many external PC hard drives used for backing up data.
Billboards Beam Adverts to Passing Cell Phones — (New Scientist — August 22, 2005)
Ignoring adverts is about to get a lot tougher with the development of billboards and advertising posters that use Bluetooth to beam video ads direct to passing cell phones. As people walk past the posters they receive a message on their phone asking them if they wish to accept the advert. If they do, they can receive movies, animations, music or still images further promoting the advertised product.
Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates
Field Tests Unite Weather And Climate Models
Tech to Thwart Food Poisoning, Bioterror
Food for Thought: Crop Diversity is Dying
Monsoons May Dry Up
Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates — (Live Science — August 24, 2005)
For years, skeptics of global warming have used satellite and weather balloon data to argue that climate models were wrong and that global warming isn’t really happening. It turns out those conclusions based on satellite and weather balloon data were derived from faulty analyses. The atmosphere is indeed warming, not cooling as the data previously showed.
Field Tests Unite Weather And Climate Models — (Science Daily — August 22, 2005)
Researchers from NASA and several other government and academic institutions have created four new supercomputer simulations that for the first time combine their mathematical computer models of the atmosphere, ocean, land surface and sea ice. These simulations are the first field tests of the new Earth System Modeling Framework (ESMF).
Tech to Thwart Food Poisoning, Bioterror — (C|Net News — August 16, 2005)
Scientists hope to use a new mathematical technique to detect red tides, or toxic algae in the ocean, before infected shellfish can make people green. Researchers are working with various government offices to develop a “spatiotemporal” data mining system for finding and tracking toxic algae blighting North American waters. The toxins not only kill marine life, but also cause many people to get ill upon eating tainted shellfish.
Food for Thought: Crop Diversity is Dying — (International Herald Tribune — August 23, 2005)
Historically, humans utilized more than 7,000 plant species to meet their basic food needs, says researchers. Today, due to the limitations of modern large-scale, mechanized farming, only 150 plant species are under cultivation, and the majority of humans live on only 12 plant species.
Monsoons May Dry Up — (Nature — August 15, 2005)
The Indian monsoon, which waters India’s agriculture, could run dry because of human impacts on the environment, a team of climate researchers has warned. Researchers say that the monsoon has two major settings: on, as at present, and off, when it produces very little rainfall. A switch-off would be catastrophic for India’s main crop, rice, which depends on heavy monsoon rains.
TERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
RFID to Track Army Supplies in Iraq
VR Goggles Heal Scars of War
Soviet Germ Factories Pose New Threat
War Plans Drafted to Counter Terror Attacks in U.S.
Project Lets Army Dig Deep into Underground Data
RFID to Track Army Supplies in Iraq — (C|Net News — August 19, 2005)
Australian troops in Iraq will use radio frequency identification tags to monitor the movement of their equipment. The Australian Defense Force wants to improve the monitoring and control of its critical distribution network, which provides items like rations and weapons to armed forces. In order to improve visibility of supplies in the network, pallets and containers in Iraq will be RFID-tagged starting in February.
VR Goggles Heal Scars of War — (Wired News — August 22, 2005)
I’m inside a virtual-reality simulation of a war zone in Iraq. High-resolution goggles cover my eyes and headphones cover my ears. Hollywood special-effects pros and game developers are coming together to develop new immersive simulation technologies for the military. Most are used as training tools, but this time, the goal is to help combatants cope with the personal psychological effects of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soviet Germ Factories Pose New Threat — (Washington Post — August 23, 2005)
Soviet labs today are seeking to fill a critical role in preventing epidemics in regions where medical services and sanitation have deteriorated since Soviet times. But an equally pressing challenge is security: How to prevent the germ collections and biological know-how from being sold or stolen. The potential is that terrorists and criminals would have little problem acquiring the resources that reside in these facilities.
War Plans Drafted to Counter Terror Attacks in U.S. — (Washington Post– August 23, 2005)
The U.S. military has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country, according to officers who drafted the plans.
Project Lets Army Dig Deep into Underground Data — (C|Net News — August 22, 2005)
Soldiers combing the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq for subterranean stashes of weapons of mass destruction–or even the elusive Osama bin Laden–may soon have help. Silicon Graphics Inc plans to collaborate with the U.S. Army over the next several months on what it has dubbed a Subterranean Target Identification program. The program would allow soldiers to use seismic data from the Earth to help them feel out the presence of underground bunkers.
Rock n Roll Robot Regains Its Feet
Thin Skin Will Help Robots Feel
Rock n Roll Robot Regains Its Feet — (New Scientist — August 19, 2005)
A humanoid robot with an exceptionally nimble knack for getting back on its feet after a fall has been developed by researchers in Japan. Named R Daneel, the robot kicks up its legs and rolls back onto its shoulders to gain the momentum it needs to rock up onto its feet and into a crouching position. This might be fairly easy for a human to do, but for the 60-kilogram bot, it requires a relaxed attitude to body control.
Thin Skin Will Help Robots Feel — (BBC — August 23, 2005)
Japanese researchers have developed a flexible artificial skin that could give robots a humanlike sense of touch. The team manufactured a type of “skin” capable of sensing pressure and another capable of sensing temperature. These are supple enough to wrap around robot fingers and relatively cheap to make, the researchers have claimed.
Orchestrating the World’s Most Powerful Laser
Coal-Powered Fuel Cell Aims for Efficiency
The Breaking Point
Start-Up Sees New Dawn for Old Solar Tech
World Running Out of Time for Oil Alternatives
Support Grows for Plug-In Hybrids
Orchestrating the World’s Most Powerful Laser — (Science and Technology Review — July 8, 2005)
When completed, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) will be, by far, the world’s largest and most energetic laser and a major international scientific resource. Designed to study the physics of matter at extreme densities, pressures, and temperatures, NIF will use 192 laser beams to compress fusion targets to conditions required for thermonuclear ignition and burn. In the process, more energy will be liberated than is used to initiate the fusion reactions.
Coal-Powered Fuel Cell Aims for Efficiency — (New Scientist — August 24, 2005)
A new coal-powered fuel cell may lead to a more efficient way of extracting energy from the fossil fuel than simply burning it. The idea was to look at a way of converting the chemical energy in coal directly into electrical energy, says researchers. A new design allows electricity to be generated at just 100 C, a temperature that is far easier to work with than in previous experiments.
The Breaking Point — (Energy Bulletin — August 23, 2005)
The Saudis say they can boost production to 12.5 million barrels a day, or 15 million, or more. But there is a limit to how much you can ask of the earth, and it is fast approaching. Some experts see an oil shortage looming, saying it is consumers, not producers, who are to blame.
Start-Up Sees New Dawn for Old Solar Tech — (C|Net News — August 14, 2005)
A Phoenix-based start-up has raised $20 million to parlay a quirky, early-19th-century engine design repeatedly discarded as antiquated into a multibillion-dollar solar energy company. The solar technology is about three times as efficient as silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells, which means it could be economically viable as an alternative energy source as traditional energy costs rise.
World Running Out of Time for Oil Alternatives — (Reuters (Science) — August 18, 2005)
The world could run out of time to develop cleaner alternatives to oil and other fossil fuels before depletion drives prices through the roof, a leading energy researcher predicted. It could take decades to make alternatives affordable to the point where they can be used widely, although high oil prices were already stimulating such research.
Support Grows for Plug-In Hybrids — (Wired News — August 16, 2005)
A car that can both reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on foreign oil is years or even decades away, yet one man says such a car is already parked in his garage. It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 80-miles-per-gallon secret: a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that boosts the car’s high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can burn even less fuel.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Copycat Chimps are Cultural Conformists
Today’s Baby Boomers Are Heavier And More Likely to Have Arthritis
Copycat Chimps are Cultural Conformists — (New Scientist — August 22, 2005)
Humans are not the only conformists in the animal kingdom. New research shows that chimpanzees also tend to imitate their peers, suggesting that the human penchant for follow-the-leader may be more deeply rooted than thought.
Silver Surfers — (BBC News — August 14, 2005)
Silver surfers are about to burst through the doors of the virtual shopping mall, so retailers be ready to cater to them. With the online shopping market set to grow to 60bn by 2010, retailers could be throwing away billions if they fail to invest in the older online shopper, says research by the Future Foundation. Already nearly one in every four adults in the UK has bought goods online in the past six months, double the amount three years ago.
Today’s Baby Boomers Are Heavier And More Likely to Have Arthritis — (Science Daily — August 23, 2005)
Baby-boomers have spent more years living with more obesity than the previous generation, researchers at have found. Although it may be too early to tell whether this will lead to a rise in arthritis rates, the study shows more obesity-related arthritis among baby boomers compared to the previous generation.
RAPID AFRICAN CHANGE
Food security has been on the decline since 1970 in sub-Sahara Africa, with the number of malnourished children and adults growing from 88 million to an estimated 200 million by 2010, according to a new report. If current trends continue, the most vulnerable population, kids under five, would be hit hardest.
“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.” —Charles F. Kettering
A special thanks to Bernard Calil, Humera Khan, Deanna Korda, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell, and Richard May, our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.