Volume 8, Number 7
May 16, 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.
- In the last fifteen years, the earth has become brighter – but no one knows exactly why.
- A number of animals now possess organs – livers, hearts, brains and other organs – that are partially human
- Environmental “externalities” are finally becoming soundly quantifiable
- A study of the Arctic has found that the ice cap is half the thickness it was 30 years ago
- Female millionaires in the United Kingdom will outnumber their male counterparts across all age groups within 20 years.
A Trail of DNA and Data
Corpses Frozen for Future Rebirth
Voters Empowered by Internet Swap Shop
A Trail of DNA and Data – (Washington Post – April 3, 2005)
If you’re worried about privacy and identity theft, imagine this. The scene: Somewhere in in Washington. The date: April 3, 2020. When the officer pulling you over walks up to your car, he knows your name; the intersection camera scanned your license plate and your guilty face, and matched both in the DMV database. But that’s just the beginning…
Corpses Frozen for Future Rebirth – (National Geographic – March 18, 2005)
In an office building in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation is selling a shot at immortality. 67 bodies—mostly just severed heads—lay cryogenically preserved in steel tanks filled with liquid nitrogen, waiting for the day when science can figure out a way to reanimate them. But is deathlessness really a scientific possibility? Joseph Waynick, Alcor’s president and chief executive, certainly thinks so. Many cryobiologists, however, scoff at the idea, contending that the practice is little more than a pipe dream and that current “patients” will never be successfully revived.
Voters Empowered by Internet Swap Shop – (New Scientist – April 30, 2005)
Vote-swapping sites are meant to answer the frustration created by the “first past the post” electoral system used in UK general elections and US presidential elections. Votes cast for a losing candidate have no further influence once the winner in a state or constituency is announced. This was the brainchild of law professor Jamin Raskin of the American University in Washington DC, who was troubled when independent left-wing candidate Ralph Nader threatened to draw votes away from the Democrat Al Gore. Raskin wrote an article in the October 2000 issue of the online magazine Slate suggesting people swap votes on the internet. “Vote swapping is a form of do-it-yourself proportional representation,” says Stephen Coleman, an expert on e-democracy at the Oxford Internet Institute. “It is a public strategy to outwit the voting system.”
Asteroid Belt Discovered Around Our Sun’s “Twin”
Jupiter Moon May Have Life
Swift Satellite Spies Cosmic Crash
Earth Has Become Brighter, But No One Is Sure Why
Asteroid Belt Discovered Around Our Sun’s “Twin” – (National Geographic – April 21, 2005)
NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope has found evidence of a massive asteroid belt around a “twin” of our own sun. The finding marks the first time that scientists have found evidence for a massive asteroid belt around a mature, sunlike star. The star, dubbed HD69830, is some 41 light-years away—which, in space terms, is practically our own backyard. The discovery may help reveal how other Earth-like planets could be formed and whether our own solar system is common or unique in space.
Jupiter Moon May Have Life – (National Geographic – March 23, 2005)
Scientists say Jupiter’s moon Europa rivals Mars as a potential refuge for life. Some of them are now urging NASA to explore the ice-covered satellite. Europa appears to contain likely key ingredients for life—water, an energy source, organic compounds, and billions of years of development. Taken together, these ingredients are sufficient to support life, scientists say. To answer the question of whether life actually exists on Europa, however, requires further exploration with orbiters and landers like those currently exploring Mars.
Swift Satellite Spies Cosmic Crash – (Nature – May 10, 2005)
A satellite that NASA sent to investigate mysterious energy bursts has succeeded in glimpsing its quarry. The data it is beaming to Earth support the leading theory that the bursts are generated by the dramatic collision of two neutron stars as they form a black hole. The blast is thought to come from two neutron stars colliding in a galaxy about 3 billion light years away.
Earth Has Become Brighter, But No One Is Sure Why – (New York Times – May 6, 2005)
Reversing a decades-long trend toward “global dimming,” Earth’s surface has become brighter since 1990, scientists are reporting. This means that more sunlight – and thus more heat – is reaching the ground. That could partly explain the record-high global temperatures reported in the late 1990’s, and it could accelerate the planet’s warming trend. From 1960 to 1990, the amount of sunshine reaching the ground decreased at a rate of 2% to 3% per decade. In some places, the brightening of the 1990’s has more than offset the dimming. In other places, like Hong Kong, which lost more than a third of its sunlight, the dimming has leveled off, but skies remain darker than in the past. In a few places, like India, the dimming trend continues.
Adult Stem Cells Cancer Threat
GM Industry Puts Human Gene into Rice
Scientists Create Animals That are Part-Human
Human Eggs Grown from Stem Cells
Adult Stem Cells Cancer Threat – (BBC News – April 20, 2005)
Experts have long known that stem cells harvested from embryos can turn cancerous. They have been linked to leukemias and breast cancer. A Spanish team at the Autonomous University of Madrid looked at human stem cells that had been extracted from fat tissue. When they were transplanted into animals, the oldest stem cells formed cancers. A team of Danish researchers believe the problem has to do with cells replicating too many times.
GM Industry Puts Human Gene into Rice – (The Independent – April 24, 2005)
Scientists have begun putting genes from human beings into food crops in a dramatic extension of genetic modification. In the first modification of its kind, Japanese researchers have inserted a gene from the human liver into rice to enable it to digest pesticides and industrial chemicals. The gene makes an enzyme, code-named CPY2B6, which is particularly good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body. Researchers have found that adding the human touch gave the rice immunity to 13 different herbicides. This would mean that weeds could be kept down by constantly changing the chemicals used. But scientists caution that if the gene were to escape to wild relatives of the rice it could create particularly vicious superweeds that were resistant to a wide range of herbicides.
Scientists Create Animals That are Part-Human – (Associated Press – April 29, 2005)
On a farm outside Reno, Nevada is a flock of about 50 sheep, many of them possessing partially human livers, hearts, brains and other organs. The biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species. In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk. Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?
Human Eggs Grown from Stem Cells – (This is London – May 5, 2005)
Human eggs which could grow into embryos have been created in a laboratory for the first time. The breakthrough suggests limitless supplies of eggs could be grown, solving the problem of the acute shortage of donor eggs for infertile women wanting IVF treatment. The procedure was tested by a University of Tennessee team, which took ovarian stem cells from five women aged 39 to 52. Cells which were treated with a type of oestrogen called phenol red grew into healthy eggs. Scientists say they could use the technique to ‘farm’ embryos for their research.
Mysterious Viruses As Bad as They Get
Bureaucracy Stymies Flu Tactics
A Parasite Devastates Bees, and Farmers Are Worried
Mysterious Viruses As Bad as They Get – (New York Times – April 26, 2005)
Traditional healers in Angola say their grandmothers knew of a bleeding disease similar to the current epidemic of hemorrhagic fever that has killed 244 of the 266 people who have contracted it. The grandmothers even had a treatment for the sickness but the remedy has been lost. The old disease was called kifumbe, the word in the Kikongo language for murder. It was probably not the same as Marburg virus which, in some ways, is equally mysterious.
Bureaucracy Stymies Flu Tactics – (Nature – may 5, 2005)
Cases of humans being infected with bird flu are rising in Asia, and there are worrying signs that the virus is mutating into a more transmissible form. But experts say bureaucratic delays will probably defeat attempts to stop a human pandemic in its tracks. In Asia, there are hints that the virus is indeed changing. Incomplete evidence suggests that there may be a shift in the epidemiology of the disease. More clusters are being seen than last year, older people are now coming down with the diseases, and more cases are milder. Taken together, these characteristics could indicate that the virus is becoming less virulent and more infectious.
A Parasite Devastates Bees, and Farmers Are Worried – (New York Times – May 2, 2005)
This spring, many US beekeepers have faced losses of 50% to 70% of their hives, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, with the West Coast hit the hardest. And while it is normal for a small number of bees to die over the winter, an Asian parasite, the Varroa mite, is blamed for much of the bee death. The problem is not just about honey. Bees are needed to pollinate $15 billion worth of agricultural products a year. Growers report increasing competition, and rising prices, for the hives that are moved around the country in the spring, from the almonds in California in February to the apples, blueberries and other fruits elsewhere later in the season. The Varroa mite came into the country in the early 1980’s. Now the mite – which is unusual among parasites because it kills its host – is developing resistance to the chemicals that beekeepers have been using against it.
Video Conferencing Gets Quantum Security
Western Europe Heads for 100% Cell Phone Penetration
Video Conferencing Gets Quantum Security – (Nature – April 28, 2005)
Quantum cryptography has been sped up to the point that it can be used to secure video conferencing. Scientists from Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Laboratory have developed a system capable of generating 100 quantum ‘keys’ every second. This is fast enough for every individual frame of video to be protected by its own encryption.
Western Europe Heads for 100% Cell Phone Penetration – (Reuters – May 5, 2005)
Cell phone penetration in western Europe will hit 100 percent by 2007 as mobile savvy customers continue to buy multiple phones or phone cards. There are already as many mobile phones as people in countries such as the UK, Italy and Sweden. Nonetheless, analysts expect mobile service revenue to grow at a robust 9 percent per year between now and 2007, helped by new third-generation (3G) video phones that can lure customers into digging deep for mobile data services such as quality picture, Internet and music services.
Are you being served?
Retreat of Antarctic Ice Gathers Pace
The Tragedy of the Commons
Scientists Find Climate Change ‘Smoking Gun’
Western Drought Shrinking Big Muddy
One Fifth World’s Reefs Destroyed
Are you being served? – (The Economist – April 21, 2005)
Putting a cash value on what are called variously “environmental”, “ecosystem” or “ecological” services has, historically, been a fraught process. Early attempts at such valuation resulted in impressive but unsound figures. Now, things have improved. Last month, for example, saw the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first global survey of ecological services. But the difficult part is providing a precise description of the links between the structures and functions of various bits of the environment, so that proper values can be calculated. Fortunately, according to two reports published by the World Bank at the end of 2004, significant progress has been made towards developing techniques for valuing environmental costs and benefits. There is, says one of these reports, no longer any excuse for considering them unquantifiable.
Retreat of Antarctic Ice Gathers Pace – (Financial Times – April 21, 2005)
A study of the Arctic last year found that the ice cap was half the thickness it was 30 years ago and a tenth smaller. Of the 244 glaciers surveyed in the Antarctic, 87 per cent had retreated, by an average of 600 meters. The rate of retreat accelerated to 50meters per year in the past five years, faster than at any other time in the past half century.
The Tragedy of the Commons – (The Economist – May 5, 2005)
Signs of growing scarcity are everywhere: fish are getting smaller, as are catches. Some fishing grounds, such as Canada’s Grand Banks and Europe’s North Sea, are so seriously depleted that they may never fully recover; North Sea stocks of cod have shrunk to about 10% of 1970 levels. Even the last of the world’s waters to be exploited—in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and round Antarctica—have succumbed to the rapaciousness of vast fishing fleets. All over the world, governments are wrestling with the problem, trying to balance what’s best for the sea against what’s best for their fishing industries. Only last week, Ireland introduced a scheme to reduce the number of fishing boats because of a shortage in marine stocks. The week before, Hong Kong’s quasi-parliament had debated similar measures.
Scientists Find Global Warming ‘Smoking Gun’ – (The Scotsman – April 29, 2005)
Scientists from NASA, Columbia University and the U.S. Department of Energy determined that precise, deep-ocean measurements showed a rise in temperature that matched their computer model predictions of what would happen in an increasingly polluted world. Although the planet is now soaking up more energy from sunlight than it is reflecting back to space in the form of heat radiation, much of the excess energy remains effectively hidden in the oceans, the study found. But the heat trapped in the oceans will eventually manifest itself, with significant consequences for the world’s climate, the scientists wrote.
Western Drought Shrinking Big Muddy – (USA Today – April 29, 2005)
The Corps of Engineers forecasts this year’s flow of the Missouri River at 16.7 million acre-feet of water, one-third less than normal. Storage behind the Missouri’s six dams is now almost 21 million acre-feet below normal. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, the amount used annually by two to three families. About 70% of the Missouri’s normal flow comes from melting snow in Montana, where state officials say it would take 350% of normal snowfall to mend the damage. This winter’s yield: about 65%. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has asked the Pentagon to rotate some of the state’s 1,500 National Guard troops home from Iraq this summer to help fight the wildfires expected because the state’s forests are so dry.
One Fifth World’s Reefs Destroyed – (CNN.com – April 25, 2005)
A fifth of the world’s reefs have been damaged beyond repair, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) said. Another 50 percent are under imminent or long-term threat because of rising sea levels most scientists blame on global warming. Many species of fish depend on coral reefs for their food or protection and the collapse of the reefs would lead to significant reduction in fish populations and the elevated costs of fish worldwide.
Cockroaches Inspire Robot Antenna Design
Mind-reading Machine Knows What You See
Robots Master Reproduction
Cockroaches Inspire Robot Antenna Design – (National Geographic – April 8, 2005)
When scientists set out to build an antenna for a robot, they turned to cockroach biology. The sensor-laden antenna they built resembles a cockroach’s navigational appendage. The antenna sends signals to the robot’s electronic brain, enabling the machine to scurry along walls, turn corners, and avoid obstacles, just like a cockroach. The technology could provide an important navigational alternative for robots that are dispatched into dangerous locations, such as collapsed buildings. Most robotic vehicles rely on artificial vision or sonar systems for navigation. However, robotic eyes don’t operate well in low light, and sonar systems can be confused by polished surfaces.
Mind-reading Machine Knows What You See – (New Scientist – April 25, 2005)
It is possible to read someone’s mind by remotely measuring their brain activity, researchers have shown. The technique can even extract information from subjects that they are not aware of themselves. So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person’s awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious.
Robots Master Reproduction – (Nature – May 11, 2005)
Humans do it, bacteria do it, even viruses do it: they make copies of themselves. Now US researchers have built a flexible robot that can perform the same trick. The robot consists of four cubes, each 10-cm to a side, which are sliced diagonally into halves that can rotate against each other. This allows the robot to change shape. Provided it is fed with cubes, the robot can create a copy of itself within a few minutes.
The End of Oil
Beams of Light Could Propel Cargo, Humans
The End of Oil – (Guardian – April 21, 2005)
“Don’t worry about oil running out; it won’t for very many years,” Colin Campbell, who helped to found the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre told a group of ultra-conservative Swiss financiers. “The issue is the long downward slope that opens on the other side of peak production possibly as early as next year. If he is correct, then global oil production can be expected to decline steadily at about 2-3% a year. The cost of everything rises. And the scramble to control oil resources intensifies.
Beams of Light Could Propel Cargo, Humans – (San Francisco Chronicle – April 25, 2005)
NASA has $400,000 in prize money riding on a competition to stimulate the innovative concept – no matter how weird – for sending people, spacecraft and robots directly out to Mars and the other planets of the solar system. So the day may not be all that far off when vehicles carrying cargo and humans will climb 62, 000 miles high into space on a ribbon of carbon thinner than paper, powered by beams of pure light aimed ever upward from Earth.
Women are Powering Ahead in the Race for Riches
Women are Powering Ahead in the Race for Riches – (News Telegraph – April 22, 2005)
Female millionaires in the UK will outnumber their male counterparts across all age groups within 20 years. A recent study predicts that women will own 60 per cent of the United Kingdom’s personal wealth by 2025, with many using their professional and personal skills to extraordinary financial effect. At present, women millionaires between the ages of 18-44, and over the age of 65, outnumber male millionaires, and currently own 48 per cent of the UK’s personal wealth.
The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create. – Leonard J. Sweet
A special thanks to Humera Khan, KurzweilAI, Sher Patterson-Black, Diane Petersen, John C. Petersen, the Schwartzreport, Joel Snell, and Rohit Talwar our contributors to this issue. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.