Volume 8, Number 14
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.
- Bomb-generated carbon isotopes trapped in tooth enamel from above ground nuclear tests that occurred between 1955 and 1963 may provide a more precise method for determining a deceased individual’s age than other forensic methods can.
- Researchers have created the world’s smallest untethered, controllable robot. The machine is about as wide as a strand of human hair, and half the length of the period at the end of this sentence.
- US surgeons are to interview a shortlist of patients hoping to be the first to receive a face transplant. The procedure would take about 10 hours.
- Researchers were able to take several 10-minute sound recordings of users typing at a keyboard, feed the audio into a computer, and use an algorithm to recover up to 96 percent of the characters entered.
How Far Should Fingerprints Be Trusted?
Dutch to Open Electronic Files on Children
Google Takes On Copyright Laws
Petitioning Parliament by Mouse
How Far Should Fingerprints Be Trusted? — (New Scientist — September 19, 2005)
A High-profile court case in Massachusetts is once again casting doubt on the claimed infallibility of fingerprint evidence. If the case succeeds it could open the door to numerous legal challenges. The doubts follow cases in which the testimony of fingerprint examiners has turned out to be unreliable.
Dutch to Open Electronic Files on Children — (Yahoo — September 22, 2005)
The Dutch government plans to open an electronic file on every child at birth as a tool to spot and protect the troubled kids of the future. Beginning Jan. 1, 2007, all citizens will be tracked from cradle to grave in a single database, including health, education, family and police records, the health ministry said.
Google Takes On Copyright Laws — (Wired — September 19, 2005)
With Google’s book-scanning program set to resume in earnest this fall, copyright laws that long preceded the internet look to be headed for a digital-age test. The outcome could determine how easy it will be for people with internet access to benefit from knowledge that’s now mostly locked up — in books sitting on dusty library shelves, many of them out of print.
Petitioning Parliament by Mouse — (BBC — September 19, 2005)
E-democracy projects are springing up all over the UK. Doing its bit for e-democracy is the Scottish parliament which has been running an e-petitioning system for a year now. While other e-democracy schemes tend to be initiated on an ad-hoc and temporary basis, the newly formed Scottish parliament is giving e-petitioning a solid two-year trial.
Legacy of Nuclear Tests May Provide New Forensic Tool
Titan’s Long-Sought Sea Revealed by Radar
Most Distant Cosmic Blast Sighted
Solar Minimum Explodes
Amazonian Ants Use Own Herbicide to Poison Unwanted Plants
Flying Reptiles Just Got Bigger
Legacy of Nuclear Tests May Provide New Forensic Tool — (Scientific American — September 15, 2005)
A legacy of atmospheric atomic bomb testing is present in an unlikely place: people’s teeth. Bomb-generated carbon isotopes trapped in tooth enamel may provide a more precise method for determining a deceased individual’s age than other forensic methods can.
Titan’s Long-Sought Sea Revealed by Radar — (New Scientist — September 22, 2005)
The first sea discovered on any surface other than Earth’s may have been found on Saturn’s moon Titan. New radar images from the Cassini spacecraft, which made its eighth close approach to the moon, have revealed what appears to be a very distinct shoreline, fed by meandering channels carved deeply in the surrounding terrain.
Most Distant Cosmic Blast Sighted — (BBC — September 13, 2005)
Astronomers have witnessed the most distant cosmic explosion on record: a gamma-ray burst that has come from the edge of the visible Universe. The gamma-ray burst probably marked the death of a massive star as it collapsed into a black hole.
Solar Minimum Explodes — (NASA — September 19, 2005)
On Sept. 7th, a huge sunspot rounded the sun’s eastern limb. As soon as it appeared, it exploded, producing one of the brightest x-ray solar flares of the Space Age. In the days that followed, the growing spot exploded eight more times. Each powerful “X-flare” caused a shortwave radio blackout on Earth and pumped new energy into a radiation storm around our planet. The blasts hurled magnetic clouds toward Earth, and when they hit, on Sept 10th and 11th, ruby-red auroras were seen as far south as Arizona.
Amazonian Ants Use Own Herbicide to Poison Unwanted Plants — (Scientific American — September 22, 2005)
A species of ants in the Amazon rainforest controls its environment by selectively killing off plants it doesn’t like, a new study reveals. The findings indicate that a formic acid herbicide produced and used by ants is responsible for single-species swatches of trees.
Flying Reptiles Just Got Bigger — (BBC — September 13, 2005)
Scientists are only now starting to recognize the astonishing size reached by pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. New discoveries in the Americas suggest some had wingspans of 18m (60ft).
Embryo With Two Mothers Approved
The Making of A Fat Cell
Stem Cells Help More Mice Walk
US Plans First Face Transplant
New Shades Battle Boiling Brains
Unusual Antibiotics Show Promise Against Deadly Superbugs
Companies to Develop Drug to Kill E.Coli
Embryo With Two Mothers Approved — (BBC — September 22, 2005)
UK scientists have won permission to create a human embryo that will have genetic material from two mothers. Researchers will transfer genetic material created when an egg and sperm fuse into another woman’s egg. The groundbreaking work aims to prevent mothers from passing on certain genetic diseases.
The Making of A Fat Cell — (Science Daily — September 15, 2005)
A new study reveals critical molecular events in the origin of fat cells. The findings are central to understanding chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, as fat cells produce hormones critical for metabolic control, the researchers predicted.
Stem Cells Help More Mice Walk — (Wired — September 22, 2005)
Injections of human stem cells seem to directly repair some of the damage caused by spinal cord injury, according to research that helped partially paralyzed mice walk again. The experiment isn’t the first to show that stem cells offer tantalizing hope for spinal cord injury — other scientists have helped mice recover, too. But the new work went an extra step, suggesting the connections that the stem cells form to help bridge the damaged spinal cord are key to recovery.
US Plans First Face Transplant — (BBC — September 19, 2005)
US surgeons are to interview a shortlist of patients hoping to be the first to receive a face transplant. Doctors in the US have already carried out the procedure on bodies donated for medical research. The chance it will work is around 50% and experts have expressed safety and ethical concerns about the procedure.
New Shades Battle Boiling Brains — (Wired — September 15, 2005)
An advanced sensor patch built into the nosepiece of GMI Medical Instrumentation’s new TechXtreme sunglasses monitors the wearer’s brain-temperature level, and the results are streamed wirelessly to a numerical display on a sports watch. The sunglasses could save the lives of athletes, construction workers and anyone else who faces the risk of heatstroke.
Unusual Antibiotics Show Promise Against Deadly Superbugs — (EurekAleft — September 15, 2005)
An unusual type of antibiotic being developed by chemists shows promise in defeating deadly superbugs – highly drug-resistant staph bacteria that are an increasing source of hospital-based infections. The drug gets inside bacteria by mimicking a component of their cell walls and then deactivates an enzyme that usually protects the microbes, triggering a deadly chain of events.
Companies to Develop Drug to Kill E.Coli — (Yahoo — September 15, 2005)
U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. plans to work with an Indian firm to develop a drug that uses benign viruses to kill the deadly E. coli bacteria in cattle, the Indian company said. The drug can help prevent the bacteria from spreading to humans through contaminated beef, which causes 70,000 infections and a few dozen deaths each year in the United States alone.
Researchers Build World’s Smallest Mobile Robot
Researchers Build World’s Smallest Mobile Robot — (Dartmouth — September 15, 2005)
Researchers have contributed to the miniaturizing trend by creating the world’s smallest untethered, controllable robot. Their extremely tiny machine is about as wide as a strand of human hair, and half the length of the period at the end of this sentence. About 200 of these could march in a line across the top of a plain M&M.
Common Flu Drugs Meet Growing Resistance
Pregnancy Test Link to Frog Fall
Hurricane Floods May Boost West Nile Virus
World Has Slim Chance to Stop Bird Flu Pandemic
BSE Blood Test Gives New Hope
Common Flu Drugs Meet Growing Resistance — (MedPage Today — September 22, 2005)
About 12% of influenza A strains worldwide have developed resistance to the most commonly used anti-flu drugs, including avian flu strains found in poultry and people in Asia. To make matters worse, researchers said that flu vaccines appear to work pretty well at protecting the elderly in long-term care facilities, but come up short when it comes to preventing the spread of influenza in the community.
Pregnancy Test Link to Frog Fall — (BBC — September 19, 2005)
A disease threatening amphibians worldwide may have spread because of the use of frogs in pregnancy tests. In the 1930s, African frogs were exported for use in human pregnancy tests and it is suggested they may have carried a fungal disease with them. The spread of chytridiomycosis is now a major cause of amphibian decline.
Hurricane Floods May Boost West Nile Virus — (New Scientist — September 15, 2005)
The threat to human health in Louisiana may continue in the following months if stagnant floodwaters from Katrina cause a rise in the number of mosquitoes that spread the potentially deadly West Nile virus, experts are warning.
World Has Slim Chance to Stop Bird Flu Pandemic — (Reuters — September 22, 2005)
The initial outbreak of a bird flu pandemic may not be very contagious, affecting only a few people, giving the world just weeks to contain the deadly virus before it spreads and kills millions. But the chance of containment is limited as the pandemic may not be detected until it has already spread to several countries, like the SARS virus in 2003, and avian flu vaccines developed in advance will have little impact on the pandemic virus.
BSE Blood Test Gives New Hope — (The Guardian — September 15, 2005)
A blood test for the rogue proteins that cause BSE, or mad cow disease, has been developed by US scientists, raising hopes that people could soon be screened for the human form of the condition, vCJD. The breakthrough could protect patients receiving blood transfusions and organ transplants, and help experts to predict the size of any future vCJD epidemic in Britain.
Shifting to Photonic Clocking
Camera Phones Will Be High-Precision Scanners
Airgo Raises Bar for Wireless-Network Speeds
Sound Advice for Balance Problems
Shifting to Photonic Clocking — (Electronic Engineering Times — September 19, 2005)
In the microprocessor industry, copper interconnects are finding limitations as data-transmission bandwidth and processor speed continue to rise. The recognized solution is to change from electronic to photonic interconnects for both data transport and clocking. Photonic clocking not only solves the limitations of electronic clocking, but also reduces jitter, skew, delay, crosstalk and power consumption while maintaining clock signal integrity for longer distances.
Camera Phones Will Be High-Precision Scanners — (New Scientist — September 15, 2005)
New software goes further than existing cellphone camera technology by allowing entire documents to be scanned simply by sweeping the phone across the page. As a page is being scanned the optical character recognition (OCR) software takes dozens of still images of the page and effectively merges them together using the outline of the page as a reference guide.
Airgo Raises Bar for Wireless-Network Speeds — (Yahoo — September 22, 2005)
A Wireless technology company has introduced the next generation of its multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) chipsets that the company said will leave Wi-Fi and Ethernet in the dust in terms of transmission speeds. The third-generation “True MIMO” chipset will deliver data rates of up to 240 Mbps, some three times faster than current wireless-network offerings.
Sound Advice for Balance Problems — (BBC — September 19, 2005)
A device worn like an iPod could help correct balance problems by signaling when the wearer starts to veer off course. Balance problems are common in the elderly and can also be caused by certain diseases and medications that weaken the sensory signals we use to stay upright. The new device uses different sounds that the wearer quickly learns to associate with different positions.
The Climax of Humanity
New Report on Mercury in Fish
NASA Satellite Data Provides Rapid Analysis of Amazon Deforestation
Ancient Humans Altered Climate
Climate Food Crisis to Deepen
The Climax of Humanity — (Scientific American — September 13, 2005)
Demographically and economically, our era is unique in human history. Depending on how we manage the next few decades, we could usher in environmental sustainability–or collapse. As humanity grows in size and wealth, it increasingly presses against the limits of the planet. Already we pump out carbon dioxide three times as fast as the oceans and land can absorb it; midcentury is when climatologists think global warming will really begin to bite. At the rate things are going, the world’s forests and fisheries will be exhausted even sooner.
New Report on Mercury in Fish — (Science Daily — September 19, 2005)
Americans are now eating more fish than ever — 16 pounds a year per capita in 2003, an increase on 2002 of 4 percent. And with more and more focus on healthy eating, the figure will only go up. But though we consider fish the healthiest food choice, they readily absorb the pollutants and toxins that flow into the oceans from land-based industries and common household products like lawn fertilizer.
NASA Satellite Data Provides Rapid Analysis of Amazon Deforestation — (Science Daily — September 15, 2005)
Scientists have used satellite imagery of the Amazon for more than 30 years to seek answers about this diverse ecosystem and the patterns and processes of land cover change. This technology continues to advance and a new study shows that NASA satellite images can allow scientists to more quickly and accurately assess deforestation in the Amazon.
Ancient Humans Altered Climate — (BBC — September 13, 2005)
Humans were influencing the climate long before the Industrial Revolution, new research suggests. Levels of methane rose steadily in the atmosphere in the first millennium, according to an analysis of gases trapped in ice beneath Antarctica.
Climate Food Crisis to Deepen — (BBC — September 13, 2005)
Climate change threatens to put far more people at risk of hunger over the next 50 years than previously thought, according to new research. Scientists say expected shifts in rain patterns and temperatures over that time could lead to an extra 50 million people struggling to get enough food.
TERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
The Military’s Walrus: An Unlikely Flying Machine
NASCAR Engineers Help Design New Combat Vehicle
Researchers Recover Typed Text Using Audio Recording of Keystrokes
The Military’s Walrus: An Unlikely Flying Machine — (Live Science — September 13, 2005)
The Walrus operational vehicle (OV) is envisioned to have the primary operational task of deploying composite loads of personnel and equipment (for example, the components of an Army Unit of Action) ready to fight within six hours after disembarking the aircraft. It is intended to carry a payload of more than 500 tons 12,000 nautical miles in less than seven days at a competitive cost.
NASCAR Engineers Help Design New Combat Vehicle — (Live Science — September 13, 2005)
Built on the skeleton of a Ford F-350 truck, the vehicle is called the ULTRA AP (Armored Patrol). Its builders melded some of the latest advancements in vehicle defense with the maneuverability and safety features of an “off-the-shelf” truck to develop a concept vehicle that may one day replace the familiar Humvee in the battlefield. The idea was to save money by marrying advanced armor materials and designs with proven safety designs from the automotive industry.
Researchers Recover Typed Text Using Audio Recording of Keystrokes — (Berkeley — September 15, 2005)
Researchers were able to take several 10-minute sound recordings of users typing at a keyboard, feed the audio into a computer, and use an algorithm to recover up to 96 percent of the characters entered. “It’s a form of acoustical spying that should raise red flags among computer security and privacy experts,” said one expert.
Mitsubishi Banking on Robot Companion’s Charm
Mitsubishi Banking on Robot Companion’s Charm — (Washington Post — September 15, 2005)
Mitsubishi says their new Internet-linked robot “Wakamaru” has a friendly personality that could make her a much-loved member of the family. Able to recognize up to 10 people and call them by name, the 40 inch tall Wakamaru will approach and greet family members in a gentle, feminine voice when they arrive home and offer to pass on telephone messages or read out any e-mails that may have arrived.
Pounding Pavement Generates Electricity When Wearing Novel Backpack
Pounding Pavement Generates Electricity When Wearing Novel Backpack — (Scientific American — September 15, 2005)
Scientists have developed a backpack that translates the regular up and down movement of a walker’s hips into electrical energy. The contraption could conceivably help provide power to soldiers, relief workers, scientists and others on remote trips.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Japan’s Population Starting to Decrease
Listen Up: Headphones and Earbuds May Cause Hearing Loss
Adult Use of ADHD Medicines Doubles
Men And Women Found More Similar Than Portrayed in Popular Media
Japan’s Population Starting to Decrease — (Newsdaily — September 13, 2005)
Japan’s population may start to decline in 2005, two years earlier than previously forecast.. The population fell by 31,034 people in the first half of 2005, the health ministry said in a preliminary report, which points to a contraction in the annual figure if the trend continues.
Listen Up: Headphones and Earbuds May Cause Hearing Loss — (Live Science — September 13, 2005)
Researchers have been randomly examining students and found a disturbing and growing incidence of what is known as noise-induced hearing loss. Usually, it means they’ve lost the ability to hear higher frequencies, evidenced at times by mild ear-ringing or trouble following conversations in noisy situations. Researchers fear that the growing popularity of portable music players and other items that attach directly to the ears — including cell phones — is the cause.
Adult Use of ADHD Medicines Doubles — (Yahoo — September 15, 2005)
Use of prescription drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is growing at a faster rate among adults than children, new research shows. Between 2000 and 2004, use of drugs that help keep ADHD patients focused doubled among adults aged 20 to 44, but rose only 56 percent among children.
Men And Women Found More Similar Than Portrayed in Popular Media — (Science Daily — September 19, 2005)
The popular media has portrayed men and women as psychologically different as two planets — Mars and Venus — but these differences are vastly overestimated and the two sexes are more similar in personality, communication, cognitive ability and leadership than realized, according to a review of 46 meta-analyses conducted over the last 20 years.
“Without expectations, there’s no future, only an endless present.” —François Jacob
A special thanks to Bernard Calil, Humera Khan, Deanna Korda, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell, Ken Dabkowski, Jin Zhu, and Richard May, our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.