Volume 8, Number 4
March 2, 2005
Edited by John L. Petersen
In This Issue:
TAICON 2005 – Tools for the Development of Humanity
Future Facts – from Think Links
Think Links – The Future in the News…Today
A Final Quote
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.
TAICON 2005 – Tools for the Development of Humanity
Don’t miss out on the early-bird savings at TAICON2005!
Our third annual conference, TAICON2005, is fast approaching and there aren’t many days left to save $100 on the registration. Be in Washington with some of the foremost thinkers in the world for two extraordinary days in April exploring big ideas of how to effect large-scale social change on this planet.
Here’s our guess: We are entering the final years before a big repositioning shift that will be shaped by the collision of major global driving forces punctuated by increasing numbers of big surprise events. It will be an extraordinary time of uncertainty and change and only by understanding the underlying dynamics of this epochal series of events will you be able to deal with the newly emerging future. TAICON2005 is the only place that we know of where you can quickly gain a unique theoretical and practical understanding of how you and your organization can effectively participate in one of the biggest transitions that humanity has ever experienced. We don’t know for sure what will happen, but it can be said with certainty that all of us will have to operate quite differently in whatever world evolves.
Join Gary Hart, Neale Donald Walsch, Sally Goerner, Marc Ian Barasch, Max Boisot and almost two dozen other thought leaders on April 25-26 in Washington, DC for an indepth exploration of “Tools for the Development of Humanity”. You’ll have sixteen sessions of solid suggestions of how the change might be influenced.
REGISTER SOON for one of the biggest idea conferences there is and save significantly on registration.
- A cordon-bleu chef, has modified an ink-jet printer to create dishes made of edible paper that can taste like anything
- A method to create genetically modified crops that does not infringe on patents has arrived
- The Kyoto accord to cut greenhouse emissions has come into force seven years after it was agreed
- A maverick inventor’s breakthrough electric motor uses permanent magnets to make power
- A recent court decision leaves a crucial question unanswered: At what point is something too human to patent?
Open-source Practices for Biotechnology
Parents Protest Student Computer ID Tags
Immortality Through Google
Augmented Reality: Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery
Forget Takeout, Eat a Print-out
Open-source Practices for Biotechnology – (Business Times – February 11, 2005)
Researchers in Australia have devised a method of creating genetically modified crops that does not infringe on patents held by big biotechnology companies. The technique will be made available free to others to use and improve, as long as any improvements are also available free. The people behind the research say that patents covering the basic tools for genetically engineering plants – which are controlled by companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience – have impeded the use of biotechnology in developing countries and also in smaller-acreage crops in the United States. The issue has become a larger one in recent years as agricultural research has increasingly shifted from a public-sector activity involving governments and universities to a private-sector one led by companies.
Parents Protest Student Computer ID Tags – (USA Today – February 10, 2005)
The only grade school in Sutter, California is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. The badges rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory. The RFID manufacturer, InCom, has paid the school several thousand dollars for agreeing to the use, and has promised a royalty from each sale if the system takes off, said the company’s co-founder, Michael Dobson, who works as a technology specialist in the town’s high school. InCom plans to promote it at a national convention of school administrators next month but some parents are not comfortable with the financial relationship between the school and the company.
Immortality Through Google – (Wired News – February 16, 2005)
Digital artist David Sullivan’s work, “Ego Machine”, is a project that uses Google to project Sullivan’s soul into the future and puts the “fun” back into funeral. Sullivan decided that his remains will be integrated into a computer processor. A virtual agent running on the computer that contains his ashes will scour the web for mentions of his name. As the mentions increase, an on-screen image of Sullivan will morph into an image of his younger self. But if the mentions decline, Sullivan’s image will age, deteriorate and eventually fade away.
Augmented Reality: Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery – (Technology Review – February 15, 2005)
Imagine wandering through a southern Victorian-era cemetery shaded by ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss, seeing images of the people who are buried under the crumbling stones appear and then listening as they tell you their stories. Georgia Institute of Technology’s Augmented Environments Lab has developed an “Augmented Reality” tour that allows visitors to do just that at Atlanta’s Oakland cemetery. During a recent trial run, users carried small laptops in backpacks and used game console controllers to navigate through the cemetery. As they approached specific graves they listened to the “voices” of the first person buried in Oakland, a child who lived through the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War, and a local historian who died in 2000. The audio, with information culled from personal documents, was piped in via a wireless network.
Forget Takeout, Eat a Print-out – (New Scientist – February 10, 2005)
The food coming out of Homaru Cantu’s kitchen is bizarre. Cantu, a cordon-bleu chef, has modified an ink-jet printer to create dishes made of edible paper that can taste like anything from birthday cake to sushi. “You can make an ink-jet printer do just about anything,” says Cantu, who is head chef at the Moto restaurant in Chicago, US, and a keen advocate of the high-tech kitchen. The printer’s cartridges are loaded with fruit and vegetable concoctions instead of ink, and the paper tray contains edible sheets of soybean and potato starch. Cantu then prints out tasty versions of images he has downloaded from the web.
Natural Selection Acts on the Quantum World
Can a ‘Distant’ Quasar Lie Within a Nearby Galaxy?
Celestial ‘Spring’ Pours Out Cosmic Rays
Age of Ancient Humans Reassessed
Blue Skies on Saturn
Huge Explosion Traced to Exotic Star
Natural Selection Acts on the Quantum World – (Nature – December 23, 2004)
A team of physicists has proved a theorem that explains how our objective, common reality emerges from the subtle and sensitive quantum world. If, as quantum mechanics says, observing the world tends to change it, why doesn’t each person leave a slightly different version of the world for the next person to find? Because, say the researchers, certain special states of a system are promoted above others by a quantum form of natural selection, which they call quantum darwinism. Information about these states proliferates and gets imprinted on the environment. Thus observers tend to see the same ‘preferred’ states.
Can a ‘Distant’ Quasar Lie Within a Nearby Galaxy? – (UCSD News – January 10, 2005)
An international team of astronomers has discovered within the heart of a nearby spiral galaxy a quasar whose light spectrum indicates that it is billions of light years away. The finding poses a cosmic puzzle: How could a galaxy 300 million light years away contain a stellar object several billion light years away? The team’s findings raise a fundamental problem for astronomers who had long assumed that the “high redshifts” in the light spectra of quasars meant these objects were among the fastest receding objects in the universe and, therefore, billions of light years away.
Celestial ‘Spring’ Pours Out Cosmic Rays – (New Scientist – January 13, 2005)
A celestial “spring” of mysterious particles that slam into Earth from all directions may have been discovered. The underlying source of the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECRs) remains one of the greatest puzzles in physics, but this new work suggests it arises in known phenomena rather than in exotic, hypothetical forms of matter. Just 100 of these charged particles have been observed in the last decade. Magnetic fields – with an unknown source – accelerate the particles to almost the speed of light. This makes UHECRs so energetic that some astronomers doubt that even the most extreme cosmic events, such as the explosive birth of a black hole, could account for their power.
Age of Ancient Humans Reassessed – (BBC News – February 16, 2005)
Two skulls originally found in 1967 have been shown to be about 195,000 years old, making them the oldest modern human remains known to science. The age estimate comes from a re-dating of Ethiopian rock layers close to those that yielded the remarkable fossils. It puts the specimens close to the time expected for the evolutionary emergence of our species. Genetic studies have indicated Homo sapiens arose in East Africa – possibly Ethiopia or Tanzania – just over 200,000 years ago.
Blue Skies on Saturn – (NASA – February 17, 2005)
Sunny blue skies … on Saturn? It’s true. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has just discovered them and the photograph is beautiful. However, there are still some major unknowns: for example, while Saturn’s northern hemisphere has blue skies, Saturn’s southern hemisphere does not. The south looks yellow. It could be that southern skies on Saturn are simply cloudier, yellow clouds making yellow skies.
Huge Explosion Traced to Exotic Star – (Nature – February 18, 2005)
A cataclysmic ‘starquake’ is thought to have caused a flare of radiation that ripped past the Earth on 27 December, battering instruments on satellites and lighting up our atmosphere. The object released more energy in a tenth of a second than the Sun emits in 100,000 years. Scientists say this is the biggest blast of gamma and X-rays they have ever observed in our corner of the Universe. They believe the flare came from a bizarre object just 20 kilometers wide on the other side of the Galaxy.
The Doctor Will See Your Prototype Now
Genetic Barcodes Will Identify World’s Species
Young Blood Makes Muscles Spry
US Denies Patent for Part-human Hybrid
The Doctor Will See Your Prototype Now – (Wired News – February, 2005)
Bioengineers working on the Physiome Project in Auckland, New Zealand are assembling digital models of every system and anatomical feature of the human body – from large organs to tiny cellular and molecular functions. They have already finished a draft of the skeletal system and recently built the first-ever digital human heart and lungs. Work is under way on a replica of the digestive system and a comprehensive database of cellular functions. When completed, the software will allow physicians to upload a patient’s specific data and then test various scenarios on a digital model – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy – and determine in advance how the patient would react to any given protocol.
Genetic Barcodes Will Identify World’s Species – (Reuters – February 10, 2005)
A team of international scientists launched an ambitious project to genetically identify, or provide a barcode for, every plant and animal species on the planet. By taking a snippet of DNA from all the known species on Earth and linking them to photographs, descriptions and scientific information, the researchers plan to build the largest database of its kind. Less than a fifth of the Earth’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals have been named. Researchers working on the Barcode of Life Initiative hope that genetically identifying all of them in a standardized way on a global scale will speed up the discovery of new ones.
Young Blood Makes Muscles Spry – (Wired News – February 16, 2005)
It’s not a figure of speech. Stanford scientists linked the blood supply of young mice to old mice, and what they found will have an impact on stem-cell research as well as the scientific study of aging: The young blood activated stem cells in the old muscles that allowed them to recover from injury like a spring chicken. The results are exciting for stem-cell researchers and tissue-regeneration scientists looking for therapies in everything from elderly care to spinal-cord injury. However, longevity enthusiasts shouldn’t get too excited just yet; the research has a ways to go. And if you’re thinking a blood transfusion will offer the same effects, think again. The old mice shared their younger counterparts’ blood supply for six weeks.
US Denies Patent for Part-human Hybrid – (Washington Post – February 13, 2005)
A New York scientist’s seven-year effort to win a patent on a laboratory-conceived creature that is part human and part animal has recently ended in failure. The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected the claim, saying the hybrid – designed for use in medical research but not yet created – would be too closely related to a human to be patentable. But in an age in which science is increasingly melding human and animal components for research – already the government has allowed many patents on “humanized” animals, including a mouse with a human immune system – the decision leaves a crucial question unanswered: At what point is something too human to patent?
Stockpile Bird Flu Vaccine Now – (New Scientist – February 17, 2005)
Governments should consider stockpiling vaccine against H5N1 bird flu now, before a pandemic starts, a World Health Organization report out next month will advise. The change in policy reflects growing fears that an H5 pandemic is likely, and that there will not be time to produce much vaccine once it starts. “When we realized H5N1 is not going to be eradicated in poultry in Asia for at least another couple of years, that made the risk of H5 much higher,” said Klaus Stöhr, head of the WHO’s influenza team. The US has already contracted manufacturers to make 4 million doses, while at a meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva last week Italy and France said they plan to stockpile 2 million doses each.
Intel Unveils Laser Breakthrough
Turn Phones into Mobile Jukeboxes
Chips That Thrive on Uncertainty
Intel Unveils Laser Breakthrough – (BBC News – February 16, 2005)
Scientists at Intel have overcome a fundamental problem that before now has prevented silicon being used to generate and amplify laser light. The breakthrough should make it easier to interconnect data networks with the chips that process the information. The Intel researchers said products exploiting the breakthrough should appear by the end of the decade.
Turn Phones into Mobile Jukeboxes – (New Scientist – February 15, 2005)
Cell phones could soon have yet another function – high-capacity portable music downloaders and players – following the announcement of two major deals between handset makers and music software companies. Several new cell phones featuring music playing software from Microsoft and arch rival Apple were revealed at 3GSM, the mobile industry’s conference in Cannes, France. Many phones can already store and play digital music files. But making handsets compatible with already ubiquitous music software and download services will allow users to retrieve tracks from online music stores to their handsets. It will also enable copyright holders to make sure music is downloaded to phones in a format that cannot be easily duplicated.
Chips That Thrive on Uncertainty – (Business Week – February 4, 2005)
As transistors get smaller and smaller, their variability is steadily increasing. In the future, two transistors sitting side by side, which you intended to make the same size, could look different electrically. Looking different electrically is much more serious than a cosmetic blemish. It means haphazard variations in performance. The solution? Turn uncertainty into an asset.
Earth Dries Up as Temperatures Rise
Soaring Global Warming Can’t Be Ruled Out
Why the Sun Seems to be Dimming
NASA: 2005 Could be Warmest Year Recorded
Kyoto Protocol Comes Into Force
New Data Point to Severe Climate Change
Greenhouse Gas Turning Oceans Acid
Earth Dries Up as Temperatures Rise – (New Scientist – January 22, 2005)
The fraction of the Earth’s land area suffering drought has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Rising temperatures caused by climate change are probably to blame. the proportion of land categorized as experiencing very dry conditions has risen from less than 15% in the early 1970s to about 30% in 2002. The water eventually condenses and returns to the surface as rain. But this redistribution is uneven, and the moisture does not necessarily return to the area it came from. While total precipitation in the US increased by 7% in the 20th century, the fraction classed as heavy precipitation increased by twice as much.
Soaring Global Warming Can’t Be Ruled Out – (New Scientist – January 26, 2005)
The Earth may be much more sensitive to global warming than previously thought. A research project tested thousands of climate models and found that some produced a world that warmed by a huge 11.5°C when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached the levels expected to be seen later this century. This extreme result is surprising because it lies far outside the 1.4°C to 4.5°C range predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the same CO2-level increase – a doubling of CO2 concentration from pre-industrial times. But the IPCC range estimate is based on just a handful of different computer models.
Why the Sun Seems to be Dimming – (BBC News – January 13, 2005)
The amount of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface has been gradually falling. Paradoxically, the decline in sunlight may mean that global warming is a far greater threat to society than previously thought. Although the effect varied greatly from place to place, overall the decline amounted to 1% to 2% globally every decade between the 1950s and the 1990s. Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution.
NASA: 2005 Could be Warmest Year Recorded – (Reuters – February 11, 2005)
A weak El Nino and human-made greenhouse gases could make 2005 the warmest year since records started being kept in the late 1800s, NASA scientists say. The warmest year on record was 1998, with 2002 and 2003 coming in second and third, respectively. Last year was the the fourth-warmest recorded, with a global mean temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius), which was about 1.5 degrees warmer than the middle of the century, NASA scientist Drew Shindell said.
Kyoto Protocol Comes Into Force – (BBC News – February 16, 2005)
The Kyoto accord, which aims to curb the air pollution blamed for global warming, has come into force seven years after it was agreed. Russia ratified the treaty in November 2004 – the crucial moment making the treaty legally binding. Russia’s entry was vital, because the protocol had to be ratified by nations accounting for at least 55% of greenhouse gas emissions to become valid. The US says the changes would be too costly to introduce and that the agreement is flawed because large developing countries including India, China and Brazil are not required to meet specific targets for now.
New Data Point to Severe Climate Change – (Knight Ridder – February 18, 2005)
Two different sets of ocean readings presented at the annual meeting of the prestigious American Association for the Advance of Science solidify the scientific underpinnings of global warming and point to an increased chance for a much-feared side effect that was popularized and fictionalized in last year’s movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” in which global warming triggers a new ice age in the Northern Hemisphere. “The debate is no longer whether there is a global warming signal,” Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who analyzed 9 million ocean-temperature and salinity readings. “The debate is what are we going to do about it.”
Greenhouse Gas Turning Oceans Acid – (New Zealand Herald – February 4, 2005)
Gigantic changes to the world’s oceans, leading to the complete disappearance of marine life from cod to coral reefs, are now threatened by the main greenhouse gas causing global warming, British scientists warn. Huge volumes of carbon dioxide, which is already known to be threatening the future of the planet by changing the climate, is also rapidly turning the world’s oceans acid as it is dissolved in sea water. This puts an enormous array of marine life at risk. Ocean acidification may wipe out much of the microscopic plankton at the base of the marine food web, and have a domino effect right up the chain, through shellfish to major human food species such as cod.
Nanotech Takes Aim at Transistors
Oscillating Nanomachine Holds Promise for Telecommunications
Nanotech Takes Aim at Transistors – (BBC News – February 1, 2005)
Transistors are the switches that make electronics work, and have always been considered the primary building blocks of computers. Today, the fine control of silicon allows millions of transistors to be fitted on to a chip no bigger than a fingernail – but this technology is reaching its limits. However, research at Hewlett Packard Labs’ Quantum Science Research (QSR) Unit is reinventing the computer at the molecular scale. The tiniest features of transistors that are based on silicon now are about 90 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in size. That is about 100,000 times smaller than the width of human hair. The new technology functions in a space of about two to three nanometers.
Oscillating Nanomachine Holds Promise for Telecommunications – (Boston University – (February 9, 2005)
Boston University physicists have developed a nanomechanical oscillator that oscillates at 1.49 gigahertz, making it the fastest moving nanostructure yet created. The technology could help further miniaturize wireless communication devices. It is also the largest structure (10.7 microns long and 400 nm wide) to monitor quantum mechanical movements.
TERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
What Exactly Is Under the Sea?
Robocopter Team Snaffles Defense Grant
What Exactly Is Under the Sea? – (Wired News – February 8, 2005)
The nuclear-powered submarine USS San Francisco was heading toward Australia on Jan. 8 when it hit an underwater mountain not marked on naval charts. Why was a state-of-the-art vessel in the world’s most powerful military effectively operating blind? The answer is that precision surveys exist for less than 10% of the world’s oceans. A new technology called the Echoscope is going to change that. Where conventional sonar uses one beam to build up a picture, Echoscope uses an array of more than 16,000 beams to create an instantaneous, real-time image.
Robocopter Team Snaffles Defense Grant – (Nature – February 17, 2005)
A computer-controlled helicopter could use acrobatic skills in urban combat. It’s small, learns new tricks as it flies, and can pull off moves that would tax the most dexterous of human pilots. Meet GTMax, the 70-kilogram helicopter that flies without human input. The craft’s creators have just won a grant from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop their system for a real combat environment.
Domo Arigato, Doctor Roboto
Robots Toddle Along With Human Efficiency
Towards a Truly Clever Artificial Intelligence
Implanting Hope – (Technology Review – March, 2005)
The next generation of neural prosthetics with be devices animated by human thought alone. Surgically implanted beneath Matthew Nagle’s skull, is an array of electrodes on a chip contiguous to the part of his brain that controls motor activity. The chip is the size of a baby aspirin: its 100 tiny hair-thin electrodes pick up the electrical signals transmitted by the brain, each electrode capturing signals from a few nearby neurons. When Nagle’s neurons fire, the impulses are read and decoded by software that can interpret the electrical pops of sets of neurons. The computer reads Nagle’s thoughts—or at least the pops recorded by the electrodes—and deciphers a few simple commands spoken in the electrical language of the brain.
Domo Arigato, Doctor Roboto – (Technology Review – February 14, 2005)
In a few US hospitals, patients are now coming face to face with the brave new world of “telerounding”. Hospitals are experimenting with these robots as a way to let doctors meet with patients more frequently, or conduct virtual visits at multiple hospitals from one location. The robo-docs looks – and move – approximately like an over-sized steam cleaner. The 5-foot, 200-pound robot is equipped with a screen, zoom video camera, microphone and speakers that allow a physician to speak with and examine their patient and review charts, all while being remotely steered by doctors using videoconferencing and movement controls run through a secure Internet connection that is dropped into a wireless network at the hospital site where the robot is working.
Robots Toddle Along With Human Efficiency – (Nature – February 17, 2005)
Three robots that walk with a human gait have been unveiled. They use a unique system that makes them far more efficient than previous walking machines, requiring only as much energy as a person does for a stroll. Robots such as Honda’s Asimo use about ten times as much energy as a walking human, because all the movement in the leg joints are powered by motors. But the new robots use a system called passive dynamics, which allows the robots’ lower legs to swing back into place after each step using gravity alone.
Towards a Truly Clever Artificial Intelligence – (Innovations Report – February 4, 2005)
A pioneering new way of creating computer programs could be used in the future to design and build robots with minds that function like that of a human being. Dr James Anderson, of the University of Reading Department of Computer Science, has developed for the first time the ‘perspective simplex’, or Perspex, which is a way of writing a computer program as a geometrical structure, rather than as a series of instructions. Not only does this make it theoretically possible to develop robots with minds that learn and develop, it also provides clues to answer the philosophical conundrum of how minds relate to bodies in living beings.
Techno Maestro’s Amazing Machine
Plutonium Books Don’t Balance at UK Plant
Techno Maestro’s Amazing Machine – (Japan, Inc. – March, 2005)
According to the laws of physics, you can’t get more out of a device than you put into it. Kohei Minato, maverick inventor, hasn’t transcended the laws of physics. The force supplying the unexplained extra power in his motor output is generated by the magnetic strength of the permanent magnets embedded in the rotor. Minato explains that he has fine-tuned the positioning of the magnets and the timing of pulses to the stators to the point where the repulsion between the rotor and the stator (the fixed outer magnetic ring) is transitory. This creates further motion — rather than a lockup.
Plutonium Books Don’t Balance at UK Plant – (Nature – February 17, 2005)
The Sellafield plant for reprocessing nuclear fuel in northwest England is unable to account for about 30 kilograms of the plutonium it handled in 2004. That amount would be enough to make seven nuclear bombs. Keeping track of the plutonium as it passes through the reprocessing system is challenging, because the spent fuel is so radioactive that its plutonium content cannot be measured directly. You have to rely on the reactor operators’ estimates. As a result, some accounting error is inevitable. Independent experts suggest the margin of error is 3-5%. There is no evidence that this material has been lost from the Sellafield site. But that is not the point, says British nuclear-weapons expert Frank Barnaby, formerly of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston, UK.
Morning comes whether you set the alarm or not. Ursula K. Le Guin
A special thanks to Don Beck, 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.