Volume 8, Number 2
January 31 , 2005
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.
Book review of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, reviewed by Malcom Gladwell and published on December 29, 2004 by New Yorker magazine.
In his previous best-seller Guns, Germs, and Steel, which won a Pulitzer Prize, Jared Diamond looked at environmental and structural factors to explain why Western societies came to dominate the world. In Collapse, he continues that approach, only this time he looks at history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans.
We live in an era preoccupied with the ways in which ideology, culture, politics and economics help shape the course of history. But Diamond isn’t particularly interested in any of those things—or, at least, he’s interested in them only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important question, which is a society’s relationship to its climate, geography, natural resources and neighbors. Collapse is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.
Diamond’s argument stands in sharp contrast to the conventional explanations for a society’s collapse. Usually, we look for some kind of cataclysmic event. But Diamond’s perspective and the lesson of Collapse is that societies, as often as not, aren’t “murdered”. They commit suicide: they slit their wrists and then, in the course of many decades, stand by passively and watch themselves bleed to death. However, Diamond quite convincingly defends himself against the charge of environmental determinism. His discussions are always nuanced, and he gives political and ideological factors their due.
- Two Australian scientists believe they have found evidence of a parallel universe of strange matter within our Solar System
- Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey believes the first person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already
- Evidence of shrinking glaciers can seen by looking at photos from 100 years ago
- All government departments, health services and education systems across the 25 countries of the EU are being linked to the internet, but there is a real danger that such massive interconnected systems will exhibit potentially disastrous “emergent behaviors”
- It’s time to start thinking about how we might grant legal rights to computers
When Technology Gets Personal
Cyber Detective Links up Crimes
Surgical Chip Shows Patient Info
Managing Care Through the Air
When Technology Gets Personal – (BBC News – December 6, 2004)
It’s all part of what’s known as a “pervasive ambient world”, where “chips are everywhere”. By 2020, inanimate objects will start to interact with us: we will be surrounded – on streets, in homes, in appliances, on our bodies and possibly in our heads – by things that “think”. Wearable technology could exploit body heat to charge it up, while “video tattoos”, or intelligent electronic contact lenses, might function as TV screens for those on the move. As always, there are questions of security: if you are wearing smart make-up, where electronics are controlling the appearance, you don’t want people hacking in and writing messages on your forehead.
Cyber Detective Links up Crimes – (New Scientist – December 5, 2004)
Many more crimes might be solved if detectives were able to compare the records for cases with all the files on past crimes. Now an artificial intelligence system has been designed to do precisely that. The system uses pattern-recognition software to link related crimes that may have taken place in widely separated areas whose police forces may rarely be in close contact. The system will not replace human detectives. It simply provides a starting point for detectives by flagging potentially related crimes. While detectives could probably identify the same patterns, the sheer mass of available data makes this too time-consuming.
Surgical Chip Shows Patient Info – (Mercury News – November 29, 2004)
Thinking there had to be something better than writing on the body part that was to be operated on, a surgeon has invented a computerized label designed to help prevent hospital errors. SurgiChip is the product of orthopedic surgeon Bruce Waxman, who devised a one-inch-square chip with embedded information that can be read by computers and hand-held devices so that hospital workers know that they have the right patient and the right procedure. `The device is the first such surgical marker to utilize radio frequency identification RFID technology to mark an anatomical site for surgery,` the FDA said in a press release on Friday when it announced the chip’s approval.
Managing Care Through the Air – (IEEE Spectrum – December 4, 2004)
Growing old in a wireless world will mean not just keeping your body healthy but keeping it online. The idea is to deduce the actions of older people in their homes through a network of wireless sensors and use that information to help patients comply with doctors’ orders, enable remote caregiving by family and friends, and detect early signs of disease and prevent its progression. The key technology will be tiny battery-powered sensors called motes. These sensors organize themselves into a wireless network, sharing data with one another and with computers. Currently, each mote is about as big as a matchbox, but engineers are working to make them small enough to be unobtrusively integrated into everything from sneakers to coffee cups.
Unknown Energy Surges Continue to Hit Planet
Giant Rats Invade Florida Keys
Mirror Matter Mystery
Solar Ultrasound – Bass Note In Music Of The Spheres
Singing Sand Dunes: The Mystery of Desert Music
Earth “Still Ringing” after Indian Ocean Earthquake
Asia Quake Impacts Virginia Well-Water Levels
How the Earthquake Affected Earth
Unknown Energy Surges Continue to Hit Planet – (Whatdoesitmean – December 22, 2004)
A global effort is now underway by the worlds top scientists to understand an unprecedented series of ‘blasts’, energy surges, which the planet has been taking from an unknown source which has been bombarding Antarctica with cosmic rays and disrupting Northern Hemisphere weather systems on a global scale. On December 1, 2004 the largest recorded blast sent not only shockwaves through the world scientific community: one of the largest weather events in recorded human history occurred when 86,800 square miles of China was shrouded in fog, bringing transportation systems (especially air travel) to a virtual standstill throughout the country.
Giant Rats Invade Florida Keys – (Local 6 News – December 28, 2004)
Conservationists say the African Gambian pouch rat needs to be eradicated before it starts to harm native species in the Keys. It’s unclear how the rat was released on Grassy Key, but scientists say the omnivores are a threat because they eat almost anything. The giant pouch rat can weigh up to 9 pounds. Biologists say it would compete for food with native species, carry diseases, and damage the bird population by eating eggs. The fear is if the animals make it as far as Key Largo, they could threaten the Everglades.
Mirror Matter Mystery – (BBC News – December 13, 2004)
Two Australian scientists believe they have found evidence of a parallel universe of strange matter within our Solar System. Dr Robert Foot and Dr Saibal Mitra report that close-up observations of the asteroid Eros by the Near-Shoemaker probe indicate it has been splattered by so-called “mirror matter”. Mirror matter is not anti-matter, it is altogether weirder. It is somehow a “reflection” of normal matter, a sort of parallel series of particles required to restore the balance of the Universe.
Solar Ultrasound – Bass Note In Music Of The Spheres – (Technovelgy – December 12, 2004
Ancient cosmology held that each of the planetary spheres corresponded to a different note in a universal musical scale. Now, in a letter published in “Astrophysical Journal Letters”, researchers report that the Sun’s atmosphere is filled with ultrasound-like waves at a frequency of about 100 millihertz. These ripples seem to be carrying about 1 kilowatt of power per square meter on the surface of the Sun, similar to the sonic energy you might find coming out of the speakers at a rock concert.
Singing Sand Dunes: The Mystery of Desert Music – (Live Science – January 11, 2005)
Certain sand dunes will occasionally let out a loud, low-pitch rumble that lasts up to 15 minutes and can be heard up to 6 miles away. Some dunes are known to do it regularly, even daily. But why? To try and uncover the underlying nature of these mysterious sounds, Bruno Andreotti from the University of Paris-7 took equipment out to the Atlantic Sahara in Morocco, one of only 35 known places where the mysterious natural music can be heard. By measuring vibrations in the sand and air, Andreotti was able to detect surface waves on the sand that emanated from a sand avalanche at a relatively slow speed of about 130 feet per second (40 meters per second). In this way, the face of the dune acts like a huge loudspeaker – with the waves on the surface producing the sound in the air.
Earth “Still Ringing” after Indian Ocean Earthquake – (Agence France Press – January 9, 2005)
Much of the Earth was still “ringing like a bell” two weeks after the December 26 earthquake that unleashed devastating tsunamis around the Indian Ocean, said Australian scientists. Australian National University scientists said hyper-sensitive gravity measuring equipment showed minute reverberations may continue for weeks.
Asia Quake Impacts Virginia Well-Water Levels – (Associated Press – January 8, 2005)
We are all connected. The South Asian earthquake that spawned deadly tsunami waves also shifted water levels by at least 3 feet in a geologically sensitive Virginia well some 9,600 miles away from the epicenter, researchers say. The well near Christiansburg, which started oscillating about an hour after the magnitude 9 quake near Sumatra on Dec. 26, is particularly sensitive to movements in the Earth and is monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Christiansburg well, in the western part of the state, also shows regular, but small, changes caused by tides.
How the Earthquake Affected Earth – (NASA – December 10, 2004)
NASA scientists studying the Indonesian earthquake of Dec. 26, 2004, have calculated that it slightly changed our planet’s shape and shaved almost 3 microseconds from the length of the day. It also shifted Earth’s “mean North Pole” by about 1 inch in the direction of 145 degrees east longitude, more or less toward Guam in the Pacific Ocean. This shift is continuing a long-term seismic trend identified in previous studies.
A Patch for Broken Hearts
Monkey Embryos Cloned for the First Time
We Will be Able to Live to 1,000
Not From a Stone But a Cell
Stem Cells Help Paralyzed Rats Walk
New Tests Identify Cancer “Ringleaders”
Mouse Brain Cells Rapidly Recover after Alzheimer’s Plaques Cleared
Booze Boosts Brainpower
A Patch for Broken Hearts – (Wired News – December 13, 2004)
MIT researchers started by attaching rat cardiac cells to a three-dimensional collagen scaffold, which acts as a frame for the cells to grow on and then dissolves. The scientists then used a pacemaker to produce electric signals that mimicked a heartbeat. The electrical stimulation was a key ingredient in growing the heart tissue quickly and getting all the cells to beat in unison, according to the researchers.
Monkey Embryos Cloned for the First Time – (New Scientist – December 6, 2004)
Ever since Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned mammal in 1996, researchers have tried to clone primates, but without success. Then, in February 2004, a South Korean team finally managed to clone human embryos. Now a team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Korean researchers, has successfully applied the Korean team’s technique to macaque monkeys. Of 49 cloned embryos, three developed to the blastocyst stage and yielded embryonic stem cells. No embryos survived to later stages, suggesting that production of a viable cloned offspring still faces significant technological hurdles.
We Will be Able to Live to 1,000 – (BBC News – December 6, 2004)
Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey believes the first person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already. SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) project to prevent and cure ageing
is a detailed plan to repair all the types of molecular and cellular damage that happen to us over time. And each method to do this is either already working in a preliminary form (in clinical trials) or is based on technologies that already exist and just need to be combined. This means that all parts of the project should be fully working in mice within just 10 years and we might take only another 10 years to get them all working in humans.
Not From a Stone But a Cell – (France Science – January 4, 2005)
A French research team has succeeded in producing massive quantities of red blood cells in vitro beginning with adult stem cells. With each stem cell yielding about two million young blood cells, the team is now focusing on industrializing the process, in hopes of meeting a variety of needs for which conventional donation/transfusion comes up short. First of all this discovery will likely expand the possibilities for autologous transfusion, that is transfusion using a patient’s own blood, by easily providing sufficient quantities of blood.
Stem Cells Help Paralyzed Rats Walk – (Associated Press – December 17, 2004)
So far, not a single person has been helped by human embryonic stem cells. But at UC Irvine, Hans Keirstead is getting tantalizingly close. He is making paralyzed rats walk again by injecting them with healthy brain cells sussed from a reddish soup of human embryonic stem cells he and his colleagues have created. Critics complain privately that Keirstead is beholden to Menlo Park-based Geron, which funds his research and claims a Microsoft-like grip on any commercial stem cell market that emerges. Keirstead doesn’t apologize for his funding source, which he said is more generous than he could have expected from the federal government and with fewer research restrictions.
New Tests Identify Cancer “Ringleaders” – (New Scientist – January 20, 2005)
Cancer treatments could improve by targeting cancer “stem cells” which give birth to all other cells in tumors, say researchers who have devised techniques for identifying and potentially killing two types of cancer stem cell. Killing the stem cells is vital because these cells avoid destruction and trigger regrowth of cancer even when all other cancer cells have been obliterated through standard drug or radiation therapy. By wiping out the stem cell “ringleaders” as well as the other cancer cells, doctors stand a much better chance of eradicating the cancer in a patient for good. Now, new techniques to do this developed at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Kumamoto University, Japan, have been licensed for commercialization to Stemline, a biotechnology company in New York.
Mouse Brain Cells Rapidly Recover after Alzheimer’s Plaques Cleared – (Washington University – January 20, 2005)
Researchers at Washington University injected mice with an antibody for a key component of brain plaques, the amyloid beta (Abeta) peptide. In areas of the brain where antibodies cleared plaques, many of the swellings previously observed on nerve cell branches rapidly disappeared. Prior to the experiment, some scientists had regarded plaque damage to nerve cells as a fait accompli — something that the plaques only needed to inflict on nerve cells once. The new results suggest that plaques might not just cause damage but also somehow actively maintain it.
Booze Boosts Brainpower – (Nature – January 20, 2005)
An investigation has revealed that the brain may benefit from consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol. Epidemiologist Francine Grodstein of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and her colleagues have carried out a study involving more than 12,000 women, aged between 70 and 81 years old. They found that the women who had the equivalent of one drink a day had a 23% lower risk of becoming mentally impaired during the two-year period, compared with non-drinkers. It made no significant difference whether they drank beer or wine.
Canada Confirms Second Case of Mad Cow
Inspectors’ Union: Meat Plants Violate Mad Cow Rules
The Greatest Catastrophe
Child Cancers Steadily Increasing
Girl Passed Bird Flu to Women
Canada Confirms Second Case of Mad Cow – (USA Today – January 2, 2005)
Canada confirmed its second case of mad cow disease, just days after the United States said it planned to reopen its border to Canadian beef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the border could be opened in March. Despite learning of the new suspected case, the Bush administration said the next day that it would stand by its decision to renew Canadian cattle imports, expressing confidence that public health measures in both countries will protect U.S. livestock and consumers.
Inspectors’ Union: Meat Plants Violate Mad Cow Rules – (MSNBC – December 20, 2004)
Parts of cattle supposedly banned under rules enacted after the nation’s first case of mad cow disease are making it into the human food chain, according to the union that represents federal inspectors in meat plants. The National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, which represents meat and poultry inspectors in federally regulated plants nationwide, told the U.S. Department of Agriculture that body parts known as “specified risk materials” were being allowed into the production chain. The parts include the brains, skulls, spinal cords and lower intestines of cattle older than 30 months. These body parts, thought to be most likely to transmit the malformed proteins that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, were banned from the human food supply by USDA officials last January. The union based its Dec. 8 complaint on reports from inspectors in several states, though it declined to say which ones.
The Greatest Catastrophe – (Guardian Unlimited – December 10, 2004)
The HIV/Aids pandemic is the worst catastrophe in history and is blighting childhood across the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN children’s agency, Unicef. In Unicef’s 150-page annual report, The State of the World’s Children 2005, the agency paints a bleak picture of sub-Saharan Africa slipping further behind other developing regions such as southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. On a slightly different note, Unicef reports that social indicators in many parts of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean showed improvement but almost half of the world’s 2.2 billion children lived in poverty.
Child Cancers Steadily Increasing – (BBC News – December 10, 2004)
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in France, examined data from 19 European countries. It found cancer rates increased by around 1% a year for children, and 1.5% a year for adolescents between the 1970s and 1990s. The scientists say no single factor can be held responsible for the rise, and the underlying causes are likely to be highly complex. But they suggest lack of exposure to infections and an increase in average birth weight may play a role, as may mixing of different populations.
Girl Passed Bird Flu to Women – (Associated Press – January 24, 2005)
Medical sleuths puzzling over three related bird flu cases in Thailand last fall now strongly believe that two women who cared for a sick child both caught the virus from the girl. This is not the first evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, which has killed more than three dozen people in Thailand and Vietnam since the outbreak last year. In 1997, scientists believe bird flu also spread between people in rare cases in Hong Kong. Also, last week, Vietnamese officials were investigating another suspected person-to-person bird flu case involving two brothers in Hanoi. International health experts are not worried especially about limited person-to-person transmission. Their biggest concern is a mutation of the virus into a form that passes easily between people, which could lead to a deadly flu pandemic. So far, there is no evidence the virus is changing into a more dangerous form.
Sprawling Systems Teeter on IT Chaos
Google and Yahoo Are Extending Search Ability to TV Programs
Information Wants to be Liquid
Activists Urge Open-Source
Computer Scientists Identify Future IT Challenges
Seeking Better Web Searches
Sprawling Systems Teeter on IT Chaos – (New Scientists – November 27, 2004)
The UK government is spearheading a £10 million program aimed at finding ways to avert catastrophic failures in large IT networks. Some systems are now so large they are untestable, making it impossible to predict how they will behave under all circumstances. Now all government departments, health services and education systems across the 25 countries of the European Union are being linked to the internet. And the UK government ultimately wants many departmental IT systems connected together in the name of “joined-up government”. But there is a real danger that such massive interconnected systems will exhibit potentially disastrous “emergent behaviors”, says David Cliff of Hewlett-Packard’s laboratory in Bristol, UK
Google and Yahoo Are Extending Search Ability to TV Programs – (New York Times – January 25, 2005)
Google and Yahoo are introducing services that will let users search through television programs based on words spoken on the air. The services will look for keywords in the closed captioning information that is encoded in many programs, mainly as an aid to deaf viewers. Google’s service does not actually permit people to watch the video on their computers. Instead, it presents them with short excerpts of program transcripts with text matching their search queries and a single image from the program. Google records TV programs for use in the service.
Information Wants to be Liquid – (Wired News – January 25, 2005)
Frode Hegland, a researcher at University College London, wants to change the basic structure of information on the net. Hegland’s project, “Liquid Information”, is something like Wikipedia meets hypertext. In Hegland’s web, all documents are editable, and every word is a potential hyperlink. When Tim Berners-Lee first developed the web at CERN, he intended it to be an interactive back-and-forth, akin to projects like the Wikipedia. But in the monolithic web of today, you’re either a consumer or a producer, never both at the same time. However, Hegland’s experimental system is geared toward allowing users – not just writers and editors – to make connections. Instead of just viewing websites, readers can change the way information is presented, or relate it to other information elsewhere on the web.
Activists Urge Open-Source – (Associated Press – January 29, 2005)
“Already, Brazil spends more in licensing fees on proprietary software than it spends on hunger,” said Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a cyberspace civil liberties group. Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration says the open-source policy makes sense for a developing country where a mere 10 percent of the 182 million people have computers at home, and where the debt-laden government is the nation’s biggest computer buyer. China, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea also are pursuing open-source alternatives. In a partial response to the open-source threat and to piracy, Microsoft last year launched stripped-down, inexpensive versions of Windows in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Similar products are on the way for India and Russia.
Computer Scientists Identify Future IT Challenges – (Info World – January 25, 2005)
A group of British computer scientists have proposed a number of “grand challenges” for IT that they hope will drive forward research, similar to the way the human genome project drove life sciences research through the 1990s. Ambitious goals include harnessing the power of quantum physics, building systems that can’t go wrong, and simulating living creatures in every detail. Some of the challenges identified by the academics are of commercial interest to the computer industry, most notably the development of dependable systems, and of systems that model or behave like living organisms. The seven challenges – quite detailed for the early years but vaguer and more conjectural as they look further ahead – are intended to provoke discussion of the long-term aspirations for computing research. The Grand Challenges report can be found on the BCS Web site at http://www.bcs.org/BCS/Awards/Events/GrandChallenges/conferencereport
Seeking Better Web Searches – (Scientific American – January 25, 2005)
Much of the digital content today remains inaccessible because many systems hosting that material do not store Web pages as users normally view them. These resources generate Web pages on demand as users interact with them. Typical crawlers are stumped by these resources and fail to retrieve any content. This keeps a huge amount of information–approximately 500 times the size of the conventional Web, according to some estimates–concealed from users. Efforts are under way to make it as easy to search the ” hidden Web” as the visible one. An example of a program that provides access to the hidden Web is Deep Query Manager from BrightPlanet. This wrapper-based query manager can provide customized portals and search interfaces to more than 70,000 hidden Web resources.
The Next Cartel May Export Drinking Water
Shrinking Glaciers Seen by Photos from 100 Years Ago
Dead in the Water: How We are Killing the Sea
Science Counts Species on Brink
Global Warming Approaching Point of No Return
Antarctica, Warming, Looks Ever More Vulnerable
The Next Cartel May Export Drinking Water – (Christian Science Monitor – December 30, 2004
Less than 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh. That vital resource is threatened by pollution, waterborne disease, and shifts in rain patterns caused by global warming, recent studies show. All of which, in some eyes, leaves the world on the verge of a scramble by private companies and countries vying for rights to available water. Signs of corporate interest are already popping up. Pipelines for bulk water shipments are reported under consideration between Scotland and water-short England. Similar plans exist for Turkey to pipe water to central Europe and markets in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and Malta.
Shrinking Glaciers Seen by Photos from 100 Years Ago – (San Francisco Chronicle – December 17, 2004)
Glaciers throughout Alaska are shrinking more and more rapidly, and scientists comparing old photos taken up to a century ago with digital images made during climbing expeditions today say the pictures provide the most dramatic evidence yet that global warming is real. See sample photos in the article. And it’s not only the glaciers reflecting the climate change. Everywhere on the treeless tundra north of the jagged slopes of Alaska’s Brooks Range, explosive bursts of vegetation — willows, alders, birch and many shrubs — are thriving where permafrost once kept the tundra surface frozen in winter.
Dead in the Water: How We are Killing the Sea – (The Observer – December 5, 2004)
A report prepared for the British government by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution found that, “Having emptied Britain’s shallow coastal strip of its once bountiful fish stocks, fishermen are now wrecking our last virgin territory: the sea bed. Our seas have been stripped of fish and now the seabed is reduced to a featureless desert of sand and mud by massive dredgers hunting a dwindling prey.” The Commission will demand that 30% of the waters around Britain be designated ‘marine national parks’. Only by preventing trawlers from entering thousands of square miles of sea by the introduction of ‘no-take zones’, where fishermen are banned from taking depleted stocks, can the trend be arrested, conclude experts.
Science Counts Species on Brink – (BBC News – November 17, 2004)
The scale of the extinction threat facing animals and plants is made clear in the latest Red List from the IUCN-The World Conservation Union. The leading environmental information network says 15,589 species are now known to be in a perilous position. Science has understood for some years that an eighth of all birds and a quarter of all mammals are in jeopardy. But the latest Red List shows a third of amphibians and almost 50% of turtles and tortoises are on the brink, too.
Global Warming Approaching Point of No Return – (Independent – January 23, 2005)
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told an international conference attended by 114 governments that he personally believes that the world has “already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” and called for immediate and “very deep” cuts in the pollution if humanity is to “survive”. His comments rocked the Bush administration not least because it put him in his post after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too “aggressive” on the issue.
Antarctica, Warming, Looks Ever More Vulnerable – (New York Times – January 25, 2005)
Huge glaciers in the Abbott Ice Shelf and other remote areas of Antarctica are thinning and ice shelves the size of American states are either disintegrating or retreating – all possible indications of global warming. Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey reported in December that in some parts of the Antarctic Peninsula hundreds of miles from here, large growths of grass are appearing in places that until recently were hidden under a frozen cloak.
Computation Embedded in a DNA Crystal
Small Science to Be Big in 2005
Computation Embedded in a DNA Crystal – (PhysOrg.com – December 7, 2004)
In a demonstration that holds promise for future advances in nanotechnology, California Institute of Technology computer scientists have succeeded in building a DNA crystal that computes as it grows. As the computation proceeds, it creates a triangular fractal pattern in the DNA crystal. This is the first time that a computation has been embedded in the growth of any crystal, and the first time that computation has been used to create a complex microscopic pattern.
Small Science to Be Big in 2005 – (BBC News – January 20, 2005)
Nanotechnology” will be a much more familiar word to everyone in 2005, not just scientists, say analysts. It has been slowly moving into sun creams, drug delivery and computer disk drives to improve storage. But it will soon be the cornerstone of every manufacturing industry says a Deloitte research trends report. But this year, people may start noticing its mundane uses, like making car paint shinier, windows that clean themselves and smaller and better mobile batteries.
Bipedal Robot Learns to Run
Robotic Instrument Network Covers Most Of World’s Oceans
Man and the Machines
Think, Think, Shoot, Score!
Biology Meets Microchips to Make Tiny Robots
Bipedal Robot Learns to Run – (New Scientist – December 16, 2004)
The latest version of Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo can perform several new tricks thanks to a hardware overhaul. In a demonstration in Japan, the robot impressed onlookers by showing off the ability to run for the first time. The robot can be said to be running because during each stride both its feet are in the air at the same time. Asimo would not be able to match a human in a sprint, however. The robot is only capable of a restrained 3 km per hour. Running on two legs is a substantial technical challenge for roboticists because rapidly moving each leg easily upsets a robot’s balance. To deal with this problem, Asimo’s designers installed two new joints with their own balance sensors in the robot’s hips.
Robotic Instrument Network Covers Most Of World’s Oceans – (UC San Diego, November 30, 2004)
Scientists have crossed an important threshold in an international effort to deploy a global network of robotic instruments to monitor and investigate important changes in the world’s oceans. Researchers with the international Argo program announced they have reached the point where 1,500 ocean-traveling float instruments—half the target number— are now operating. The Argo floats, which are robotically programmed to record and transmit data, are uniquely positioned to provide important information about climate and weather phenomena. Twelve ocean and climate/weather centers around the world use Argo data in regional analyses and forecasts.
Man and the Machines – (Legal Affairs – January/February, 2005)
At a mock trial held during the biennial convention of the International Bar Association in San Francisco, Martine Rothblatt argued an especially tough case. The plaintiff was a computer. In the hypothetical, Rothblatt’s firm had filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the company from disconnecting the plaintiff computer, BINA48. Spinning a web of legal precedents, invoking California laws governing the care of patients dependent on life support, as well as laws against animal cruelty, Rothblatt argued that a self-conscious computer facing the prospect of an imminent unplugging should have standing to bring a claim of battery. Ultimately, Rothblatt insisted, “An entity that is aware of life enough and its rights to protest their dissolution is certainly entitled to the protection of the law.”
Think, Think, Shoot, Score! – (Journal Sentinel – December 4, 2004)
With electrodes implanted directly on their brains, two patients were able to control a computer cursor and play a basic video game just by thinking about it. The accomplishment highlights an amazing new technology that in the last year has created the distinct possibility that severely disabled people may soon be able to communicate and even regain movement by tapping directly into the brain and training it to bypass damaged nerve cells. “It’s as if the first flight at Kitty Hawk has gone a few hundred feet,” said Joseph Pancrazio, program director of neural engineering at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Biology Meets Microchips to Make Tiny Robots – (Reuters – January 18, 2005)
Rat cells grown onto microscopic silicon chips worked as tiny robots, perhaps a first step towards a self-assembling device, according to researchers at UCLA. They described a new method for attaching living cells to silicon chips. They then got the combined entities to move like tiny, primitive legs. The researchers used rat heart cells in one experiment and created a tiny device that moved on its own as the cells contracted. A second device looked like a minuscule pair of frog legs.
Molecule Harvests Water’s Hydrogen
First U.S. Power Plant Fueled with Poultry Litter
Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough
Molecule Harvests Water’s Hydrogen – (December 6, 2004)
Researchers have been working for decades to develop catalysts that make it possible to use energy from sunlight to extract hydrogen from water. Such catalysts are commonly made from the semiconductor materials used to make computer chips. Virginia Polytechnic and State University researchers have developed a large molecule, or supramolecular complex, that combines sub-units that absorb light with sub-units that accept electrons. The complex could be used to produce hydrogen for clean-burning combustion engines and fuel cells.
First U.S. Power Plant Fueled with Poultry Litter – (US Dept. of Energy – January 5, 2005)
The first U.S. power plant to be fueled primarily with poultry litter is now under construction in Benson, Minnesota, about 125 miles west of Minneapolis. The plant will consume about 700,000 tons per year of biomass, of which about 90 percent will be poultry litter and 10 percent will be other agricultural biomass. Three similar plants have been built already in the United Kingdom. The plant is expected to start operating in early 2007.
Spray-On Solar-Power Cells Are True Breakthrough – (National Geographic – January 14, 2005)
Scientists have invented a plastic solar cell that can turn the sun’s power into electrical energy, even on a cloudy day. The plastic material uses nanotechnology and contains the first solar cells able to harness the sun’s invisible, infrared rays. The breakthrough has led theorists to predict that plastic solar cells could one day become five times more efficient than current solar cell technology. Like paint, the composite can be sprayed onto other materials and used as portable electricity. A sweater coated in the material could power a cell phone or other wireless devices.
ET Visitors: Scientists See High Likelihood – (Space.com – January 14, 2005)
A team of American scientists note that recent astrophysical discoveries suggest that we should find ourselves in the midst of one or more extraterrestrial civilizations. Moreover, they argue it is a mistake to reject all UFO reports since some evidence for the theoretically-predicted extraterrestrial visitors might just be found there. Extrasolar planetary detection is on the verge of becoming mundane. “We are in the curious situation today that our best modern physics and astrophysics theories predict that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation, yet any possible evidence of such lurking in the UFO phenomenon is scoffed at within our scientific community,” contends astrophysicist Bernard Haisch.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL CHANGE
No Drop in World Hunger Deaths
U.S. Throws Away Half Its Food
EU Translation Costs to Surpass $1B Mark
No Drop in World Hunger Deaths – (BBC News – December 8, 2004)
A child dies of hunger every five seconds, a United Nations agency has said. The annual UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report says present levels of hunger cause the death of more than five million children a year. The FAO argues that fighting hunger is a good investment. The “State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004” report says hunger and malnutrition cost about US$30 billion each year in direct medical expenses, with indirect costs costing billions more. The FAO estimates an annual funding increase of US$24 billion (estimated cost to halve the world’s hungry) would be repaid almost five-fold in increased productivity and income.
U.S. Throws Away Half Its Food – (Science a GoGo – November 24, 2004)
While America has been long badged the “throw-away society”, it’s only recently that researchers from the University of Arizona have quantified what gets thrown aways as a percentage of what is produced. Astonishingly, a new study measuring food loss, examining farms and orchards, warehouses, retail outlets, dining rooms and landfills has found that 40% -50% of all food ready for harvest is not eaten. For example, on average, households waste 14% of their food purchases. 15% of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened. An average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products. Nationwide, household food waste alone adds up to roughly $43 billion.
EU Translation Costs to Surpass $1B Mark – (Associated Press – January 15, 2005)
Translation costs at the European Union are set to pass a billion dollars a year as the economic bloc struggles to accommodate 10 new members after its expansion into Eastern Europe and the Baltics, officials said. Funding translation will take almost $2.62 out of the pocket of every EU citizen every year and many have balked at the cost and called for a drastic reduction in the number of languages used officially. The United Nations, with far more member nations, uses only six official languages, critics note. But Europe’s Tower of Babel is essential, said Ian Andersen, a department head at the Directorate General for Interpretation. “There is no way around it if you want to work in a community of law,” he told reporters. “When EU laws are binding on its citizens, they should be able to consult them in their own language.”
Now is the only time. How we relate to it creates the future. Pema Chodron
A special thanks to Don Beck, Bernard Calil, Helen Huang, Humera Khan, Robert Knight, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport and Joel Snell, our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.