Volume 8, Number 15
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.
Ray Kurzweil deciphers a brave new world
Ray Kurzweil was one of the most remarkable and prolific inventors of the late 20th century. Now Kurzweil, who can claim credit for developing the first text-to-speech synthesizer and the first CCD flat-bed scanner, is busy inventing a future in which humans merge with machines and the pace of technological development accelerates beyond recognition.
The concept is known by its proponents as the Singularity, and until recently it’s been the province of science fiction authors such as Vernor Vinge and Ken MacLeod.
Now Kurzweil, in a new book called “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” claims that the inexorable pace of technological development and its exponential growth will usher in the Singularity by 2045.
To appreciate the dizzying scope of Kurzweil’s predictions, read the book. But the condensed version goes like this: Thanks to Moore’s Law and other exponential growth rates, by 2030 a $1 computer will be as powerful as the human brain. Information technology’s exponential curve will fuel advances in biology, robotics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence- with world-shattering results including radical life extension and practically omniscient and omnipotent abilities for humans who elect self-augmentation.
- Physicists in Australia have slowed a speeding laser pulse and captured it in a crystal, a feat that could be instrumental in creating quantum computers.
- Scientists have developed miniature robots that can self-assemble using parts that float randomly in their environments.
- Using technologies developed for the space program, the U.S. Army is conducting an experiment that could convert the exhaust pipes of military vehicles into water fountains.
- Researchers have discovered a way to crack hydrogen from water using heat that takes about half the energy of the previous method.
- Scientists have discovered that a chemical in the skin of the red-eyed tree frogs, genreally found in Australia, can block infection by HIV by destroying the viral particles that lead to AIDS.
Students Prepare to Launch Home-Made Satellite
Korea’s High-Tech Utopia, Where Everything Is Observed
The Paperless Library
Bible Written for Cell Phones
Students Prepare to Launch Home-Made Satellite — (Space — September 29, 2005)
A micro-satellite built largely from donated parts in university workshops across Europe is just over one week from launch. It is the first in a trio of student-built spacecraft that will ultimately reach for the Moon. Student teams built it subsystem-by-subsystem and communicated primarily through the Internet, though weekly chat sessions and twice-yearly workshops helped keep everyone on the same page.
Korea’s High-Tech Utopia, Where Everything Is Observed — (New York Times — October 6, 2005)
A ubiquitous city is where all major information systems (residential, medical, business, governmental and the like) share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings. New Songdo, located on a man-made island of nearly 1,500 acres off the Incheon coast about 40 miles from Seoul, is rising from the ground up as a U-city.
The Paperless Library — (The Economist — October 11, 2005)
The internet (and pressure from funding agencies, who are questioning why commercial publishers are making money from government-funded research by restricting access to it) is making free access to scientific results a reality. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report describing the far-reaching consequences of this.
Bible Written for Cell Phones — (USA Today — October 6, 2005)
The Bible Society in Australia has just launched its translation of all 31,173 verses of the Bible in the modern, abbreviated language of text messages. The verses can be accessed over the Internet for free so that they can be spread by cell phone to family and friends. The society used the International Contemporary English Version of the Bible and remained faithful to the grammar, changing just the spelling of words.
Scientists Discover 10th Planet’s Moon
Gorillas Tool Up in the Wild
It’s a Bug’s Life: MIT Team Tells Moving Tale
Spider Is 20 Million Years Old
Cassini Spots Huge Spear on Saturn Moon
Gamma-Ray Burst Mystery Unraveled
Live Giant Squid Caught on Camera
Scientists Discover 10th Planet’s Moon — (Space — October 4, 2005))
The astronomers who claim to have discovered the 10th planet in the solar system have another intriguing announcement: It has a moon. While observing the new, so-called planet last month, a team of astronomers spotted a faint object trailing next to it. The moon discovery can allow scientists to determine the new planet’s mass.
Gorillas Tool Up in the Wild — (The Register — October 4, 2005)
Scientists working in the Republic of Congo have seen gorillas using tools in the wild for the first time. The scientists recorded two separate instances of tool use, including one gorilla using a stick to test the depth of a pool before wading across. Chimps and orangutans have been seen using tools in the wild, and even monkeys raised in captivity will do so, but this is the first time it has been seen in gorillas in the wild.
It’s a Bug’s Life: MIT Team Tells Moving Tale — (Science Daily — September 29, 2005)
MIT mathematicians have discovered how certain insects can climb what to them are steep, slippery slopes in the water’s surface without moving their limbs — and do it at high speed. Researchers took high-speed video of the creatures using a camera provided by MIT’s Edgerton Center, then digitized and analyzed the images.
Spider Is 20 Million Years Old — (BBC — October 4, 2005)
A scientist has described a spider that was trapped and preserved in amber 20 million years ago. Since the discovery two years ago, he has used droplets of blood in the amber to reveal the age of the specimen. It is thought to be the first time spider blood has been found in amber and scientists hope to extract its DNA.
Cassini Spots Huge Spear on Saturn Moon — (New Scientist — October 11, 2005)
The first close-up images of Saturn’s moon Tethys have been sent to Earth from the Cassini spacecraft, which flew past the moon on Saturday. As well as the expected craters and chasms, one image reveals a peculiar, spear-shaped feature.
Gamma-Ray Burst Mystery Unraveled — (Wired — October 4, 2005)
Astronomers have long theorized that merging neutron stars produce massive explosions capable of wiping out nearby solar systems for thousands of light-years around. Now a flurry of research is coming to a head that offers the first detailed view of the origin of so-called short gamma-ray bursts, revealing a picture that is consistent with the merging neutron star theory. That means the universe could be far more hazardous than previously thought, given the number of known and probable neutron star pairs in relative proximity to Earth.
Live Giant Squid Caught on Camera — (BBC — September 29, 2005)
A live, adult giant squid has been caught on camera in the wild for the very first time. Japanese researchers took pictures of the elusive creature hunting 900m down, enveloping its prey by coiling its tentacles into a ball. The images show giant squid, known as Architeuthis, are more vigorous hunters than has been supposed.
Frog Could Be AIDS Savior
Pill-Sized Camera Gets to Grips With Your Gut
Key Gene May Reverse Hair Loss
Frog Could Be AIDS Savior — (Hindustan Times — October 13, 2005)
A small red-eyed frog could be the key to getting rid of AIDS. Scientists have discovered that a chemical in the skin of the red-eyed tree frogs, generally found in Australia, can block infection by HIV by destroying the viral particles that lead to AIDS.
Pill-Sized Camera Gets to Grips With Your Gut — (New Scientist — October 4, 2005)
Researchers have developed a radio-controlled crawling camera capsule that can move and stop on command to give doctors greater control over the images it takes, unlike existing camera capsules. The radio-controlled crawling capsule has six legs, each with tiny hooks on the end. These help prevent the device slipping on mucus in the intestine as it moves along, but are too small to damage the soft tissues.
Key Gene May Reverse Hair Loss — (BBC — September 29, 2005)
Scientists believe manipulating genes within hair cells can reverse baldness. Researchers found it was possible to re-grow fur on bald mice by correcting a gene mutation. Mutations in the hairless gene in both humans and mice mean the natural process of hair growth, shedding and re-growth is disturbed.
Scientists Create PNA Molecule with Potential to Build Nanodevices
Nanotubes for Hydrogen Extraction
Scientists Create PNA Molecule with Potential to Build Nanodevices — (Carnegie Mellon — October 4, 2005)
Researchers have shown that the binding of metal ions can mediate the formation of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) duplexes from single strands of PNA that are only partly complementary. This result opens new opportunities to create functional, three-dimensional nanosize structures such as molecular-scale electronic circuits, which could reduce by thousands of times the size of today’s common electronic devices.
Nanotubes for Hydrogen Extraction — (World Changing — October 11, 2005)
Researchers have discovered a way to crack hydrogen from water using heat that takes about half the energy of the previous method. The team found that naturally-occurring defects in carbon nanotubes could increase the rate of certain chemical reactions because the atoms forming the tubes are essentially “incomplete,” making them more reactive.
Bush Wants Right to Use Military If Bird Flu Hits
A Billion Will Die from Smoking
Colorado Moose Tests for Chronic Wasting Disease
Using Old Flu Against New Flu
Bird Flu Resistant to Main Drug
Bush Wants Right to Use Military If Bird Flu Hits — (Boston Globe — October 11, 2005)
President Bush asked Congress to consider giving him powers to use the military to enforce quarantines in case of an avian influenza epidemic. He said the military, and perhaps the National Guard, might be needed to take such a role if the feared H5N1 bird flu virus changes enough to cause widespread human infection.
A Billion Will Die from Smoking — (BBC — October 4, 2005)
A billion people will die from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer this century unless more are encouraged to quit, an expert warns. In the last century the death toll was about 100m, including 7m in Britain. Many nations are cutting smoking, but rates are increasing in countries such as India and China. Smoking currently kills about five million adults a year globally.
Colorado Moose Tests for Chronic Wasting Disease — (Yahoo — October 4, 2005)
A moose killed by a hunter in northern Colorado has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the first time the deadly affliction has been found outside of wild elk and deer herds, state wildlife officials said. The fatal neurological disease eats away at the brains of infected animals and is similar to mad cow disease found in cattle.
Using Old Flu Against New Flu — (Wired — October 6, 2005)
Scientists have made from scratch the Spanish flu virus that killed as many as 50 million people in 1918, the first time an infectious agent behind a historic pandemic has ever been reconstructed. Researchers say it may help them better understand, and develop defenses against, the threat of a future worldwide epidemic from bird flu.
Bird Flu Resistant to Main Drug — (CNN — October 13, 2005)
A strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus that may unleash the next global flu pandemic is showing resistance to Tamiflu, the antiviral drug that countries around the world are now stockpiling to fend off the looming threat. Experts in Hong Kong said that the human H5N1 strain which surfaced in northern Vietnam this year had proved to be resistant to Tamiflu, a powerful antiviral drug which goes by the generic name, oseltamivir.
Katrina Aftermath Wireless Proving Ground
Hi-Tech Beermats for 21st Century
Devices Help the Blind Cross Tech Divide
Sub-$100 Laptop Design Unveiled
This Laser Trick’s a Quantum Leap
Katrina Aftermath Wireless Proving Ground — (CNN — October 6, 2005)
Just as Katrina proved the vulnerability of traditional telephone and cellular networks, it also showed how Internet-based technologies could be used to speedily re-establish links with the outside world. The spontaneous wireless projects by groups that simply wanted to help is spurring interest in how to deploy the latest in communications technology and expertise in a more organized fashion after future disasters.
Hi-Tech Beermats for 21st Century — (BBC — October 4, 2005)
An intelligent beermat that alerts the bartender that your glass is empty could feature in pubs of the future. Like an ordinary mat, it absorbs drips; but the gadget also has hidden sensors. The device will detect the weight of the drink above it, working out how much is left before sending a signal to the bar for a refill.
Devices Help the Blind Cross Tech Divide — (CNET — October 6, 2005)
More companies are making technology easier to use for people with disabilities. With baby boomers retiring, an already multibillion dollar industry is growing. People with visual, physical, hearing or learning disabilities now have plenty of products to choose from to help them interact with gadgets and the Internet.
Sub-$100 Laptop Design Unveiled — (BBC — September 29, 2005)
Nicholas Negroponte has been outlining designs for a sub-$100 PC which will be tough and foldable in different ways, with a hand crank for when there is no power supply. He came up with the idea for a cheap computer for all after visiting a Cambodian village. One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit group, plans to have up to 15 million machines in production within a year.
This Laser Trick’s a Quantum Leap — (Wired — October 4, 2005)
Physicists in Australia have slowed a speeding laser pulse and captured it in a crystal, a feat that could be instrumental in creating quantum computers. The scientists slowed the laser light pulse from 300,000 kilometers per second to just several hundred meters per second, allowing them to capture the pulse for about a second. The accomplishment marks a new world record, but the scientists are more thrilled that they were able to store and recall light, an important step toward quantum computing.
Satellite to Provide New Test of Global Warming Threat
Arctic Ice Disappearing Quickly
Millions Will Flee Degradation
Pheromones May Be Used to Herd Alien Fish
A Growing Regional Divide Over Species Act
Global Sea Levels Could Rise 30 cm by 2100
Satellite to Provide New Test of Global Warming Threat — (New Scientist — October 4, 2005)
A spacecraft that will reveal how rapidly Arctic sea ice may be thinning as a result of global warming is set to blast off. The European Space Agency (ESA) satellite CryoSat will provide scientists with the first detailed measurements of the depth of floating sea ice across the Arctic. Comparing monthly measurements will enable them to monitor any deterioration.
Arctic Ice Disappearing Quickly — (BBC — September 29, 2005)
The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk for a fourth consecutive year, according to new data released by US scientists. They say that this month sees the lowest extent of ice cover for more than a century. The Arctic climate varies naturally, but the researchers conclude that human-induced global warming is at least partially responsible.
Melting Planet — (Bella Ciao — October 6, 2005)
Species are dying out faster than we have dared recognize, scientists are warning. The erosion of polar ice is the first break in a fragile chain of life extending across the planet, from bears in the north to penguins in the far south.
Millions Will Flee Degradation — (BBC — October 11, 2005)
There will be as many as 50 million environmental refugees in the world in five years’ time. That is the conclusion of experts at the United Nations University, who say that a new definition of “environmental refugee” is urgently needed. They believe that already environmental degradation forces as many people away from their homes as political and social unrest.
Pheromones May Be Used to Herd Alien Fish — (New Scientist — October 11, 2005)
A primitive aquatic beast that has decimated fish stocks in the North American Great Lakes could soon be lured into traps using a migratory pheromone. “This is the first time that a vertebrate pheromone has ever been applied for control,” says one biologist.
A Growing Regional Divide Over Species Act — (Christian Science Monitor — October 6, 2005)
The Endangered Species Act – the nation’s premier environmental law affecting thousands of plants and animals and many times that many landowners – is poised to undergo its greatest shake-up since Richard Nixon signed it 32 years ago. The House has passed legislation that changes several fundamental elements of the law, including protection of critical wildlife habitat and the financial rights of property owners.
Global Sea Levels Could Rise 30 cm by 2100 — (Yahoo — October 4, 2005)
World sea levels could rise 30 centimeters (12 inches) by the end of the century and freak weather will become more common due to rapid global warming, according to a new study by a leading German research institute. Researchers said computer models it had created showed the average global temperature could rise by as much as 4.1 Celsius by 2100, melting sea-ice in the Arctic.
TERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Military to Fund Prosthetics Research
Army Tries Water from Vehicle Exhaust Fumes
Military to Fund Prosthetics Research — (USA Today — October 6, 2005)
The Defense Department is embarking on a multimillion-dollar research program to revolutionize upper-body prosthetics after a surge in troops who have lost hands and arms in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The technology for artificial hands and arms hasn’t improved much since World War II.
Army Tries Water from Vehicle Exhaust Fumes — (Military — October 6, 2005)
Keeping an army provisioned in the desert is a ballet of logistics, particularly when it comes to supplying two vital liquids: diesel fuel and water. Now, using technologies developed for the space program, the U.S. Army is conducting an experiment that could convert the exhaust pipes of military vehicles into water fountains.
Robotic Fish in Action at London Aquarium
New Biological Robots Build Themselves
Robotic Fish in Action at London Aquarium — (PhysOrg — October 11, 2005)
Three stunningly beautiful robotic fish have been created with jewel-bright scales and sinuous, astonishingly life-like movements. Researchers have been working with the London Aquarium for three years to develop a biologically inspired robotic fish which mimic the undulating movement of nature’s fish species. The robotic fish have sensor-based controls and autonomous navigation capabilities, they can find their own way around the tank safely, avoiding the objects, and react to their environment.
New Biological Robots Build Themselves — (Live Science — September 29, 2005)
Inspired by biological systems, scientists have developed miniature robots that can self-assemble using parts that float randomly in their environments. The robots also know when something is amiss and can correct their own mistakes.
Danish Researchers Reveal New Hydrogen Storage Technology
GM Plans Fuel-Cell Propulsion Vehicles
New Car Aimed at Drivers with Parking Woes
Danish Researchers Reveal New Hydrogen Storage Technology — (Science Daily — September 29, 2005)
Scientists have invented a technology which may be an important step towards the hydrogen economy: a hydrogen tablet that effectively stores hydrogen in an inexpensive and safe material. With the new hydrogen tablet, it becomes much simpler to use the environmentally-friendly energy of hydrogen. Hydrogen is a non-polluting fuel, but since it is a light gas it occupies too much volume, and it is flammable. Consequently, effective and safe storage of hydrogen has challenged researchers world-wide for almost three decades.
GM Plans Fuel-Cell Propulsion Vehicles — (Fuel Cell Works — October 6, 2005)
A future in which cars operate without using petroleum-based fuels, run hundreds of miles before refueling and emit only water is closer than you might think. GM discussed its progress toward producing a hydrogen-powered vehicle, and is standing by its previous stated goal of designing and validating a vehicle with a fuel-cell propulsion system that can compete with the traditional internal combustion engine by 2010.
New Car Aimed at Drivers with Parking Woes — (Dallas News — October 4, 2005)
For drivers who find backing out of tight parking spots a hassle, Nissan has an answer: An egg-shaped car whose body pivots 360 degrees so that its rear end becomes the front. Such moves are possible because Pivo’s steering, wheels and other parts are controlled electronically by wireless, or electronic signals, not mechanical links between the cabin and the vehicle’s chassis.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
90% of US Men Over 60 Now Overweight
TVs and PCs Take Over US Homes
Taller Women Are More Career-Driven
90% of US Men Over 60 Now Overweight — (New Scientist — October 4, 2005)
Nine out of 10 US men aged over 60 years are now overweight, according to the first study to assess the long-term risk of piling on the pounds. The study ran from 1971 to 2001 and involved people aged between 30 and 59 at the beginning. Furthermore, seven out of 10 women in the study were also overweight and at the end of the study one in three of both sexes was clinically obese.
TVs and PCs Take Over US Homes — (BBC — October 11, 2005)
The average American spends more time using media such as TV and the internet than sleeping, a study has found. US researchers found that Americans spend nine hours a day watching TV, using the web or talking on a mobile. One-third of that time is devoted to using two or more media at once, noted one researcher.
Taller Women Are More Career-Driven — (Scotsman — October 6, 2005)
Tall women are more ambitious in their careers and less inclined to start a family than shorter women, a study revealed yesterday. Academics questioned 1,220 women from the UK, United States, Canada and Australia and found the taller ones were less broody, had fewer children and were more ambitious. They were also likely to have their first child at a later age.
“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” —Eric Hoffer
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.