July 27, 2004

Frozen Ark

This is an excellent idea:

Britain's "Frozen Ark" project boarded its first endangered passengers on Monday: an Arabian oryx, a Socorro dove, a mountain chicken, a Banggai cardinal, a spotted sea horse, a British field cricket and Polynesian tree snails.

The "ark", a project by three British institutions, doesn't include any living animals, but hopes to collect frozen DNA and tissue specimens from thousands of endangered species.

Like Noah, the scientists harbour hopes of repopulating the Earth.

This approach is similar to cryonics, but the aim is to preserve whole species rather than individual organisms. In both cases, it is assumed that the future holds the key to restoring that which we have lost (or in this case, are losing.)

This project assumes that, in the future, we will have the technology to restore these lost species, and to generate new populations of them. It also assumes that we will have — or have the ability to create — a suitable habitat for them. To support a project such as this may involve believing that the present is not all it should be, but one could not possibly get behind such an endeavor without believing that a better future is possible.


Most of us reading this will live to see the restoration of at least one "extinct" species of animal.

(via Kurzweil AI)

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July 22, 2004

The Gift of Understatement

Paul Hsieh on the new version six of the Internet Protocol:

The new IPv6 internet naming and number protocol will make it possible for every person (or device) on Earth to have their own IP address.

Well, er, yeah...and then some. The linked article repeats the same modest claim before getting to heart of the matter:

Vinton Cerf of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said the next-generation protocol, IPv6, had been added to its root server systems, making it possible for every person or device to have an Internet protocol address.

Cerf said about two-thirds of the 4.3 billion Internet addresses currently available were used up, adding that IPv6 could magnify capacity by some "25,000 trillion trillion times."

I heard our friend Alex Lightman talking about this a while back. He estimates that IPv6 will provide enough IP addresses so that every atom in the known universe can have one.

Now that oughta hold us for a while.

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June 17, 2004

Love Makes You Stupid

It's not cynicism; it's science.

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May 10, 2004

Holodeck? Transporter!

The progress toward Star Trek technology continues.

As we have reported here in the past, Ray Kurzweil continues to "beam into" various meetings from remote locations. He uses simulated teleportation (transporter) technology that makes use of real holography (holodeck) technology.

But if, like me, you find "simulated" teleportation technology to be something of a cop-out, consider this:

Australian scientists claim breakthrough in teleportation

A more complex form of information teleportation involving multiple recipients has been developed by researchers at Canberra's Australian National University.

The researchers used crystals, lenses and mirrors to produce a pair of "entangled" laser beams that are then used to carry information in the form of quantum states. The encrypted message can only be decoded by a majority of recipients, allowing for greater security.

Right now, we're "only" able to teleport information. Hmm...I wonder which of the following will happen first:

1. Teleportation technology will advance to the point that we can send physical objects, including people.

2. Human uploading will be accomplished, redefining human beings as information which can be teleported using refinements of the technology described above.

Posted by Phil at 10:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 06, 2004

Making It So

The world may not revolve around Star Trek, but it can be inspired by it.

It's fitting that the world's first primitive holodeck (I assume there are no others) is being used to create a Star Trek experience – a Borg attack on a space ship you, the viewer, get to visit.
A digital effects company in Santa Monica, Calif., has created a 3-D movie that not only gives the illusion of a world in front of you, but all around…

The technique is being used in a seven-and-a-half-minute film that is part of "Star Trek: Borg Invasion 4D,'' a 22-minute attraction…

"It gets harder and harder to come up with something to encourage people to leave the house," said Larry Kasanoff, the chairman of Threshold. "We needed to create a film that would last for years and that people would fly in to see."

…To reduce eyestrain, the company shot each scene so that both the foreground and the background were in focus. The filmmakers could then create parallel planes of action, allowing viewers to scan the frame to discover unconnected activities going on throughout the ship.

To create the overhead action, Mr. Johnsen and his colleagues wrote an algorithm that would put the computer-generated animation in proper perspective. While the ceiling screen is at a 90-degree angle to the vertical wall, a spaceship passing overhead would need to appear to spread out as it passed above and then receded in the distance.

This visually rich environment required a lot of computer processing power to render…

To avoid getting stuck with a big hardware investment that could be obsolete in a matter of months, Threshold contracted out their rendering needs, leasing time from I.B.M.'s Deep Computing Capacity on Demand center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and sending files to it through high-speed T-1 lines.

[Via KurzweilAI]
Kasanoff is right about the increasing difficulty of luring people to Las Vegas. Imagine how hard this will be when holodeck technology comes home.

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March 31, 2004

Non Nano News

One of the "Drexlerian fantasies" that we who dwell in our parent's basements hold dear is the "nanofactory."

The nanofactory is imagined as an appliance, maybe as small as a Mr. Coffee, maybe as big as a refrigerator, that manufactures whatever is desired from individual molecules up. This has been called the ultimate technology. With the development of the nanofactory the only cost of material possessions would be the energy it takes to manufacture them and the information to build it (the cost of raw matter would be negligible). Presumably you would shop online, buy a design, download it, and then have your home factory make it for you. The energy cost would be reflected on your electric bill.

There are new developments constantly in the nanotech industry (here's a good source for staying current). But even we optimists understand that we are presently a long way from developing self-replicating nanoassemblers – the basic component of a nanofactory.

Personally I see no reason why automatic home factories need wait for the development of exotic nanotech.

Imagine a computer driven factory that uses raw materials (shredded plastic, wood pulp, various metals, silicon) to assemble whatever product you require using downloaded designs. The cost of the raw materials would be small. In fact, much of our trash could be recycled for these materials. The value of material possessions would be reduced to the cost of the raw materials, electricity, and the information to assemble it. In fact, you would have nearly all of the benefits of a nanofactory and few of the dangers. There would be no possibility of gray goo or homemade plagues with such a factory.

The technology I'm talking about is not decades away. Commercial forms of this technology are being tested now. On the large scale Engineer Behrokh Khoshnevis is perfecting his “Contour Crafting” process that will automatically construct an entire home directly from a computer plan.
Degussa AG, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials, will collaborate in the development of a USC computer-controlled system designed to automatically “print out” full-size houses in hours…

Khoshnevis believes his system will be able to construct a full-size, 2,000- square-foot house with utilities embedded in 24 hours. He now has a working machine that can build full-scale walls and is hoping to actually construct his first house in early 2005.

Contour Crafting uses crane- or gantry-mounted nozzles, from which building material - concrete, in the prototype now operating in his laboratory - comes out at a constant rate.

Moveable trowels surrounding the nozzle mold the concrete into the desired shape, as the nozzle moves over the work…

Khoshnevis is now perfecting a system to mix such materials continuously in industrial quantities right at the Contour Crafting nozzle, “the way a spider makes silk to build a web."
-Via Futurepundit.
NewScientist has more:
Khoshnevis's prototype robot hangs from a movable overhead gantry, like the cranes at ship container depots. Khoshnevis speculates that they could also be ground-based, running along rails and able to build several houses at one time. But it would be more difficult to create autonomous wheeled robots that have sufficient accuracy and precision.

The first house will be built in 2005. If the technology is successful the robot could enable new designs that cannot be built using conventional methods, for example involving complex curving walls.
On the small scale, engineers at the University of California in Berkeley are developing technology to "print" in one process an entire electronic application - external plastic case and moving parts included.
The trick is to print layer upon layer of conducting and semiconducting polymers in such a way that the circuitry the device requires is built up as part of the bodywork.

When the technique is perfected, devices such as light bulbs, radios, remote controls, mobile phones and toys will be spat out as individual fully functional systems without expensive and labour-intensive production on an assembly line.

Three-dimensional printers are already valuable tools for making prototypes of newly designed products. They deposit layers made from droplets of smart polymers, which gradually build up into 3D shapes. Such printing techniques have become so sophisticated it is now possible to print working prototypes with mechanical parts that move as they would in the final product.

But Berkeley's crucial addition to this art is to allow the electronics to be included in the printed device, rather than being added at great cost later on.
The first automatic factory in the home will probably be simple - it could assemble all-plastic goods. This would be sufficient for many toys and kitchen utensils. Similar devices have been in use commercially for some time now.
Three-dimensional printers are already valuable tools for making prototypes of newly designed products. They deposit layers made from droplets of smart polymers, which gradually build up into 3D shapes. Such printing techniques have become so sophisticated it is now possible to print working prototypes with mechanical parts that move as they would in the final product.
Automatic assemblers that could use different materials would follow. Assemblers for electronics would come later.

This development will bring vast new wealth to consumers and will present the patent holders for commodity goods with the same peer-to-peer challenges that the RIAA has faced.

Posted by Stephen Gordon at 10:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 05, 2004

Surf & Turf

If you've been popping fish oil capsules trying to up your Omega-3 fatty acid intake, you'll be happy to learn that a team from Harvard Medical School has figured out how to genetically alter mammals so that they produce Omega-3.
The researchers inserted a gene from a nematode worm into mice which enables the mammals to make the omega-3 fatty acids. If the same feat can be achieved in farm animals, meat, milk and eggs could all be directly enriched with the oils.
Via Kurzweil AI.
Coming soon to your supermarket: Omega-3 enriched mice.

Seriously this could be a big deal. For optimal heart health the Omega-3 to Omega-6 dietary ratio should be about 1:3. The average American ratio is 1:10.

UPDATE: Calfuturist writes:
[Quoting Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California] "Instead of eating fish, you could eat a hamburger and still have the beneficial effects of eating fish," she says.

It may also be safer. Many fish that contain significant amounts of omega-3 are contaminated with toxins such as mercury and cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, because of polluted water.
Posted by Stephen Gordon at 03:30 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

No Big Deal...

...just a new form of matter, if you happen to be interested in that sort of thing.

Q: How many forms of matter are there?

A: A couple more than I realized:

The new matter form is called a fermionic condensate and it is the sixth known form of matter -- after gases, solids, liquids, plasma and a Bose-Einstein condensate, created only in 1995.

Jin and her colleagues' cloud of supercooled potassium atoms is one step closer to an everyday, usable superconductor -- a material that conducts electricity without losing any of its energy.

"If you had a superconductor you could transmit electricity with no losses," Jin said. "Right now something like 10 percent of all electricity we produce in the United States is lost. It heats up wires. It doesn't do anybody any good."

Or superconductors could allow for the invention of magnetically levitated trains, she added. Free of friction they could glide along at high speeds using a fraction of the energy trains now use.

The first of my Seven Questions About the Future goes like this:

1. The present if the future relative to the past. What's the best thing about living here in the future?

And the answer is: stuff like this.

via KurzweilAI.net

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December 19, 2003

Beamed to Japan

Ray Kurzweil has done it again. You might recall a while back when we reported that the entrepreneur/visionary teleported himself to the World Economic Forum in London. Well now he's beamed himself to Tokyo for Sony Technology Week:

Kurzweil appeared via Teleportec's two-way "Teleportation Technology," which creates the appearance of a life-size, 3-D person at a remote location and gives the speaker telepresence to achieve two-way eye contact for real-time, two-way interaction.

Cool. That guy sure gets around, doesn't he?

On the other hand, I hate to think of what this technology is going to do to business travel. What about frequent flyer miles? Hotel points? Bar tabs? Padded expense reports? You can't get any of that stuff via teleportation.

But then on the other other hand, what about airport security? Delayed flights? Canceled flights? Surly airport personnel? Surlier airline personnel? Bad food? Constipation? Insomnia? Separation from family? Jet lag? Travel-induced exhaustion, depression, chemical dependency?

I guess it might take a bite out of those as well.

I reiterate: cool.

Posted by Phil at 08:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

100 Years Ago Today...

...in Kitty Hawk North Carolina, a couple of bicycle repairmen up and changed the world with their amazing Flying Machine. This is a day to celebrate, and remember.

Rand Simberg has some thoughts (including why I shouldn't refer to Orville and Wilbur as "bicycle repairmen"), and Professor Hall has a round-up of links (scroll down a little to find them).

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December 03, 2003

Biggest Prime

The biggest prime number yet has been found. It's 6,320,430 digits long.

One thing I'm unclear on from reading the article is whether the biggest one found means it's the next biggest one up from the previous biggest? Was this guy just looking for the next one, or was he looking for the biggest one he could find?

Posted by Phil at 06:02 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 25, 2003

Absolut Battery Life

One of my favorite disparaging descriptions of discarded technology (or technology that should be discarded) goes something like this:

Yeah, I was glad to get the new laptop. The old one was one of those steam-powered models.


But now check this out—a serious proposal for laptops (and other electronic devices) to be powered by methanol, what we use to describe in Kentucky as "wood alkeehol." Methanol fuel cells could provide considerably more lasting power to the average laptop. And if you start to run low on power, apparently you'll be able to just top her off with extra go juice.

Of course, there are obstacles::

Beyond the laws of chemistry, fuel cells face an even tougher obstacle: bureaucracy. Methanol is both toxic and flammable; the US government won't allow passengers to carry it on airplanes. It's also barred by international air travel regulations administered by the United Nations.

But then there are potential remedies:

At least there's been progress on the domestic front. The US Department of Transportation last year approved a portable fuel cell for air travel. Based on technology developed at PolyFuel Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., the cell uses a solution that contains mostly water, and just 24 percent methanol. But until there are industry-wide standards for methanol use on airplanes, small fuel cells probably won't catch on with the mass market.

Wait. Hold the phone. I just had an inspiration. Methanol, you say. Methanol? Hey, why not ethanol? If it's good enough to be added to gasoline in Colorado for six months out of the year for no apparent reason, it's got to be good enough to power a laptop or PDA. Maybe this would help us all feel better about those ethanol subsidies.

Plus, there would be no problem getting ethanol at the required strength onto an airplane. I'll leave it to the experts to check my math, here, but I think that 24 percent alochol is 48 proof. At that rate, you could just ask the flight attendant for one of those little bottles of Absolut if you started running low on power. I'm sure that Stephen Green would disapprove of this use of the precious fluid of life. But, hey, in a pinch...

One thing is for sure: the stark choice road warriors often face on their return flights — fire up the laptop and start on that status report or have another drink — will be clearer than ever.

via KurzweilAI.net

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November 19, 2003


And here I thought this was just a very dumb Travolta/Cage movie plot.

Face transplants feasible - but not yet

An influential report on the ethics and feasibility of face transplants has decided on a "wait and see" approach. The UK panel - the first to address the issue anywhere in the world - decided that the risks of the operation outweigh the potential benefits at present.

I know this is a potential breakthrough that will help a lot of people, but there's something very disturbing about this idea. It just gives me the creeps. Can you imagine wearing somebody else's face? It seems much more unnatural than an organ or limb transplant, but I'm not sure why.

Posted by Phil at 01:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2003

Racism Slows You Down

...mentally, that is. From NewScientist:

People with implicit racial prejudices are left mentally exhausted after interacting with someone from a different race, perhaps because they are trying to quell their feelings.

The new study, the first of its kind, shows that areas in the brain associated with self-control light up in white people with implicit racial biases when they are shown images of black people.

Furthermore, the study showed that the level of this brain activity correlated very closely with poor performance in a test of thinking ability given right after a face-to-face interview with a black person. The researchers believe this indicates that the subject's mental resources have been temporarily drained by their efforts to suppress their prejudices.

It turns out that prejudice is, quite literally, a waste of energy. People who use up their brain power on racial biases don't have enough left for higher functions.

"They are either trying to inhibit or control something - but we don't know what that something is," [one of the researchers] says. "It could be an emotional reaction, or thoughts that come to mind. Or it could be something as benign as simply trying not to make errors."

I'm a little disturbed by the methodology these researchers used to classify a subject as biased. The subjects (who were all white) were shown "white" and "black" names and asked whether they have positive or negative connotations. A subject taking too long to link a positive association with a "black" name would be considered biased. No overt hostility was required; the subject didn't have to link negative feelings to be considered biased. So the bias in question is not necessarily antagonism; any difficulty dealing with the "other" would apparently register as a bias. That's probably a more useful definition of racial bias than antagonism, anyway.

However, it seems kind of tautological to screen for bias by checking whether a subject slows down in making a decision when subjected to a particular stimulus, and then turn around and demonstrate that the subject is biased by the fact that the he or she slows down when subjected to a similar stimulus. Haven't we just proved that people who slow down under these circumstances...slow down under these circumstances? That's probably just my non-scientist reading of the article, which is written for a lay audience anyway. The rigor may be lost in translation. (Although the author of the NewScientist article does point out that this methodology is "controversial.")

Those reservations aside, I find the implications of this research quite compelling. If non-prejudiced people have more brain power left for other tasks, that should translate into a distinct competitive advantage. All things being equal, you're better off hiring a tolerant employee than a bigoted one, and not just for social or moral reasons. The tolerant employee will have more brain power available for doing work than the bigoted one. The less inhibited a group is by these kinds of biases, the more productive we can expect them to be. On a geopolitical scale, nations which have shed (or are shedding) these kinds of biases should get a tremendous economic boost. How many of the problems that haunt the Arab and Muslim world arise because so much mental energy is wasted on hating the enemy that there is little or none left for productive development?

Posted by Phil at 05:49 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 07, 2003

Thinking at Your Computer

Via KurzweilAI.net:

Cyberkinetics Inc. is about to ask federal regulators for permission to start testing its BrainGate device, which would enable paralyzed people to control computers directly with their brains or possibly help them move their limbs.

I hope they can pull this off. The quality-of-life implications for victims of paralysis are enormous.

Plus, this research on behalf of the paralyzed will eventually lead to major technological benefits for all. A direct brain-to-computer interface may sound a little scary, but it's coming. Once we have them, we won't be able to imagine how we ever got anything done with these clunky keyboard and mouse interfaces.

But this is probably a long way off. Currently, even speech-recognition technology is clunky. I would guess that thought-recognition will be quite a bit harder to get right.

Posted by Phil at 06:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2003

Talk to the Palm

Check it out. Voice Command for PDA's. This sounds cool, but I don't think I should get it. Imagine the compex my PocketPC would have if it could understand the things I typically say to it.

What? Your battery is dying again? How can you be so useless?

Where the hell am I? Why can't you have a normal operating system like a real computer?

See? I've lined up your little infrared deal with the laptop's little infrared deal. He sees you just fine. Why can't you be more like him?

Hello? I'm tapping the little pen thing on the little icon. See? Tap. Tap. Tap. Is anybody there?

If I had waited just three weeks, I could have bought one of those T Mobile phone PocketPCs. Now that would have been useful.

You're this close, mister. One more screwup and I'm dusting off the Palm.

Posted by Phil at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 31, 2003

Closer to Quantum Computing

A team working in Japan has developed one of two components essential for the development of a quantum computer:

The team has built a controlled NOT (CNOT) gate, a fundamental building block for quantum computing in the same way that a NAND gate is for classical computing.

By manipulating particles that exist in more than one state at a time, quantum computers will operate at speeds far greater than any existing computing technology. Here's why:

Among the startling properties of qubits is that they do not just hold either binary 1 or binary 0, but can hold a superposition of the two states simultaneously. As the number of qubits grows, so does the number of distinct states which can be represented by entangled qubits. Two qubits can hold four distinct states which can be processed simultaneously, three qubits can hold eight states, and so on in an exponential progression.

So a system with just 10 qubits could carry out 1,024 operations simultaneously as though it were a massively parallel processing system. A 40-qubit system could carry out one trillion simultaneous operations. A 100-qubit system could carry out one trillion trillion simultaneous operations.

That means calculations, such as working out the factors of prime numbers, which present problems for even the fastest supercomputers could be trivialized by a quantum computer. As an example Tsai estimated that using the Shor Algorithm to factor a 256-bit binary number, a task that would take 10 million years using something like IBM Corp.'s Blue Gene supercomputer, could be accomplished by a quantum computer in about 10 seconds.

The same team which has now developed the CNOT also developed the first qubit back in 1999. So they have both pieces of the puzzle now. It's just a matter of time before quantum computing becomes reality. Their estimate is 10 years.

via KurzweilAI.net

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October 24, 2003

Anti-Senility Gene

FuturePundit Randall Parker has the scoop on a single gene that influences the age at which both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's set in. Money quote:

It is worth noting that glutathione serves as an intracellular antioxidant that gets oxidized in order to reduce free radicals to less harmful forms. It is not at all surprising that a gene playing a role in antioxidant metabolism would turn out to influence age of onset for two different neurodegenerative diseases. A body that expresses a higher level of genes that detoxify free radicals is, all else equal, not going to age as rapidly as one that expresses those genes at a lower level.

So this is why a lot of people (myself included) take supplements that are supposed to be antioxidants. I wonder if they really are of some help in warding off these diseases?

Posted by Phil at 11:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Optimism Explained

People ask me why I'm so optimistic. How can I be so convinced that technology is going to provide the means to solve our problems and make this world a paradise?

Oh, I don't know. It's just little developments like this, I suppose.

Posted by Phil at 09:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Earthquake Prediction Update

Speculist reader Mona Toyama has provided a couple of updates on last month's entry on Yoshio Kushida, a Japanese astronomer who claims to be able to predict earthquakes by monitoring radio waves in the FM band. Mona sent this report last week:

Mr. Kushida predicted an earthquake in the Tokyo area for around September 20th, I believe. There was one at 4 in the morning. It wasn't as big as he had predicted but it shook our house up in Tokyo and knocked over a Chinese panel. He didn't predict the one off the coast of Hokkaido because the point of origin was too deep and if it's too deep he can't pick up any FM air waves. He has predicted a very big quake for the Tokyo area on October 16 or 17th plus or minus 2 days. That means from Tuesday, October 14 through Sunday the 19th. If it doesn't occur then, he believes a big one will occur at the end of October. He has been 80% correct in his quake predictions that were a magnitude of 5 or over.

And she has just provided this update:

Earthquake prediction correction We misread the dates for the earthquake prediction--it's not going on now. This is it: October 30 plus or minus 2 days for magnitude 7.2 plus or minus 0.2. Kushida has made this prediction based on measuring the FM waves in the atmosphere. He didn't predict the one that hit Hokkaido last month because according to him, the epicenter was too deep, and FM waves weren't registered/picked up by his equipment. Other scientists in Japan are poo-pooing his prediction, saying that you cannot predict earthquakes. He did predict the one in Tokyo last month, but it wasn't as big as he'd predicted. Hopefully there will be no big earthquake this month. That's all for now.

Kushida's technique for predicting earthquakes will be a major breakthrough if proved right, but I sure hope he's wrong that a 7.2 earthquake is about to hit Tokyo.

Thanks for the update, Mona. By all means, keep us posted.

Posted by Phil at 02:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 14, 2003

The Very Real Pain of Rejection

Randall Parker has some provocative thoughts on the implications of research showing that rejection has an effect on the human system similar to that of physical pain.

There is another ramification to this report: humans are wired to not want to be rejected by other humans. As the authors state, this is probably a consequence of human evolution. Well, suppose it becomes possible for people to modify their minds to reduce their need for acceptance by others. This would have all sorts of consequences for behavior. A great many human activities are performed (for both good and ill) in order to win acceptance from others. What would be the net effect of a reduced desire to be accepted? My guess is that among many other effects it would tend to reduce altruistic behavior and would reduce the incentive to avoid doing things that are inconsiderate of others.

The ability to edit memories, change one's personality, change very basic desires, and to change what causes pain or pleasure could provide us with many benefits. But it could also create changes in human nature that undermine civilization. When it becomes possible to reduce one's feeling of empathy or to stop oneself from feeling guilty over acts committed against others some malevolent and foolish people will choose to do so. This could be done out of a motive to reduce suffering. Some who feel very rejected and in pain from rejection will decide to eliminate the pain response that occurs when one is rejected. Imagine the consequences if more people became indifferent to the approval of others.

As I wrote over in the comments section on FuturePundit, I wonder whether the moral sense that drives altruism and the fear of rejection might originate in different places. To me, there is a rational component to moral action. The Golden Rule is almost a mathematical proposition -- I expect kindness from others because I extend kindness towards them. I do fear the rejection of my family and friends if I commit some egregious crime, but that isn't the primary thing stopping me from doing it. I don't seek to commit such acts covertly, for example. Even if my hard-wired inclinations against doing such things were to evaporate, I think I would still reject them on rational grounds. (Of course, it's hard to be sure of that. A lot of what I think of as rational behavior might just be hard wiring.)

In my own case, the fear of rejection seems far more likely to inhibit productive rather than destructive behaviors. I think that shyness must be one of the most common defensive postures that people assume against the fear of rejection. Shyness prevents us from forming friendships or even having pleasant, normal social interactions with casual acquaintances. In the business world, it can make us ineffective at selling ourselves or our ideas and products.

If I could access a treatment that would shut off my fear of rejection and therefore cure my shyness, I would jump on it.

Posted by Phil at 01:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Monkeys with Robot Arms

I don't know about you, but nothing perks up my Monday morning quite like reading about monkeys controlling robot arms with the power of their brains. And check out this neat animated illustration of what the experiment looked like.

This research has major implications for the development of brain-controlled prostheses and the treatment of victims of paralysis. And think of the implications for developing virtual reality environments. Now we have 3-D displays built into computers; soon we'll be able to navigate those displays with the power of thought (actually a combination of voluntary and involuntary virtual motor acitivity.)

Posted by Phil at 09:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

3-D Computing Arrives

Sharp has released a notebook computer with a built-in (no-glasses-required) 3-D display. According to WiredNews:

The computer, dubbed the Actius RD3D, also displays two-dimensional images. It's selling on the Sharp Systems of America website for $3,300, or about three times the sum for an entry-level laptop.

Industry analysts say Sharp's release could boost interest in 3-D imaging, which up to now has lured few viewers and required customers to use special aids. Sharp's offering is the first notebook computer in the United States that lets customers automatically view 3-D images without wearing special glasses or downloading software, analysts say.

So far, the Japanese have taken a lead in this technology. Japanese electronics maker NEC said it would release a 3-D-enabled notebook computer in Japan next year. Sharp already sells a cell phone that displays 3-D pictures in Japan. A year ago, 100 companies, including Sharp, Sony, Sanyo, Toshiba and the Japanese division of Microsoft, formed a coalition called the 3D Consortium to brainstorm ways to bring 3-D products to market. One goal: making sure the various companies' products work together.

Okay, 3-D display sounds pretty cool. But what's the point?

[I]n the future Web merchants could use 3-D graphics to show off their products, or gamers could play even more realistic first-person shooters.

Sharp also sees uses by the medical industry. A doctor who normally would wear 3-D goggles could view a patient's organs directly on the screen.

The medcal applications sound good, but I think I'm to old to enjoy 3-D gaming. I developed my computer gaming skills in the era of Galaxian and then Galaga; the closest to 3-D I ever got was Q*bert. The games today are already too 3-D if you ask me. My daughter won't even let my play with her any more; all I do is run into walls and go "Huh?"

Posted by Phil at 09:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 06, 2003

Nano Laser Surgery

Here's a development that I think will have major implications both for life extension and cryonics, not to mention its fairly staggering implications for conventional medicine.

With pulses of intense laser light a millionth of a billionth of a second long, US researchers are vaporizing tiny structures inside living cells without killing them. The technique could help probe how cells work, and perform super-precise surgery.

Physicist Eric Mazur of Harvard University and his colleagues have severed parts of cells' internal protein skeleton, have destroyed a single mitochondrion, the cell's powerhouse, leaving its hundreds of neighbours untouched, and have cut a nerve cell's connection without killing it. They christen their technique laser nanosurgery.

Seems like this ought to come in pretty handy when attempting to repair some of the different kinds of cell damage that contribute to aging or that might occur in the process of being placed in cryonic suspension.

Lasers are already used in eye surgery: in the future, laser scalpels could cut inside tissues without opening up the patient, says Mazur.

Or they could pick off cancerous cells, suggests Wiseman. At present, tumours are only found when they are too big for such treatment, but researchers are striving to improve detection. "If one could detect the rare cell in a mass of cells, one could intervene with targeted destruction," he says.

What we'll need long-term to exploit this capability is nano-machines capable of seeking out cancerous cells. I wouldn't mind hosting an army of such machines in my body, deployed for an ongoing search-and-destroy mission. No, I wouldn't mind at all.

via KurzweilAI.net

Posted by Phil at 06:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 02, 2003

Fast Talkers, Fast Listeners

The New York Times reports that time-compressed audio is making it possible to listen to an hour's worth of speaking in 30 minutes or so (depending on how fast you like to go.) The real surprise, here, is that listening comprehension seems to go up with the increase in speed:

Perhaps even more significant, the technology may have benefits beyond saving time and money. "People who are listening at accelerated speeds learn just as much, and there's some evidence they may learn even a bit more," said Kevin Harrigan, an associate professor at the Center for Learning and Teaching Through Technology of the University of Waterloo in Canada. The consensus is that the extra brainpower needed to follow speedy speech enhances comprehension. "If you're listening at accelerated speeds," said Joel Galbraith, a researcher in Penn State's instructional systems program, "it forces you to not do anything else, so you're more focused on it."

And this is interesting:

Synthesized accelerated has many other devotees. "When I listen to the newspaper, I tend to go as high as 650" words per minute, said Gregory Rosmaita, a Web designer based in Jersey City. Because Mr. Rosmaita is blind, his interface with computers is audio-based, in the form of a synthesized voice that reads text aloud. He prefers British English to American in this regard. "With the more clipped British speech," he said, "I can increase the rate even faster."

He said he had become so accustomed to accelerated speech that normal rates could sound unnatural. "It's actually difficult to comprehend the speech when it becomes that slow," he said. "It's sort of like watching a marquee scrolling one letter at a time rather than one word at a time."

We don't have to have wires plugged into the backs of our necks in order for technology to change us. Here's a guy who has grown so accustomed to getting his audio information in fastforward mode that he has a hard time processing it at standard speed. He's been machine augmented; it's now difficult for him to function in the strictly human world.

I wonder if this is the beginning of a trend. There's never been any question that we can think faster than we can talk or write. If we can bridge that gap on the receiving end, isn't it just a matter of time before we figure out a way to bridge it on the sending end? I love my IBM ViaVoice dictation interface. Using it certainly saves time over typing. But how much more quickly could I write if I didn't have to vocalize at all?

A number of years ago I read a book on composition called Writing is a Mode of Thinking. That may soon be true in a much more literal sense than the author intended.

via KurzweilAI.net

Posted by Phil at 06:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 30, 2003

More Good News

Via KurzweilAI.net, Fast Company has an encouraging article on five technologies that will transform the world.

[T]technology didn't stop evolving and maturing, no matter what the Nasdaq did. Imaginative researchers and engineers, by their nature, aren't very good at throttling back to a conservative idle.

So while shareholders nursed their battered portfolios and big companies chiseled away at their cost structures and employment rolls, these innovators kept working. They kept trying to develop technologies that would represent giant leaps forward, not just incremental baby steps.

The five technologies are:

  1. Three-D printing
  2. Biosimulation for drug development
  3. Self-configuring computers
  4. Distributed power generation
  5. Smart-tag inventory tracking

Read the whole thing. It's exciting stuff.

Posted by Phil at 06:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 29, 2003

RGTV Approaches

Next to the Flying Car itself, the technological development that I'm keenest on is probably the Really Good TV. I see HDTV and plasma screens, and I think, yes, we're getting there.

But now read this:

A prototype digital video system producing images of such high quality that the human eye struggles to distinguish them from reality has been developed by Japanese engineers.

The system, called ultra high definition video (UHDV), achieves image resolution 16 times greater than even the most advanced video broadcasting technologies now available.

Its developers at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) said the system could be used to provide an ultra realistic 'immersive' viewing experience when, for example, showing sporting events.

"Immersive." I like the sound of that.

Posted by Phil at 05:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

Earthquake Predicted?

Let's do a quick comparison of headlines.

From today:

Strong Quake Injures Hundreds in Japan

From last week (via Transterrestrial Musings):

Astronomer Predicts Major Earthquake for Japan, Other Experts Express Doubts

Here's some of the story:

TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese researcher is causing a stir in Tokyo with a prediction based on his study of radio waves that a major destructive earthquake is highly likely to hit the city this week.

Yoshio Kushida, a well-known self-taught astronomer who runs his own observatory just outside Tokyo, published on its Internet site his prediction that a quake with a magnitude of 7 or greater was likely to strike the metropolitan area on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Yukio Misumi, a spokesman for the Central Meteorological Agency, said he was familiar with Kushida's prediction but added that the agency was not doing anything in particular in response to it.

``Our stance is that we are prepared for a magnitude-8 quake in Japan,'' he said. ``But presently, there is no scientific method or technology that would allow us to predict where or when a magnitude-7 might occur. We can't predict earthquakes.''

Well obviously you can't.

Kushida, on the other hand, might be on to something. It could just be an odd coincidence, of course. But I bet the next time Kushida says there's going to be an earthquake, Japanese officials are going to pay more attention.

Posted by Phil at 07:22 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

Oh, No!

Do these people have any idea of what they've done?

If this new "cloning" technology is applied to rats, there will be more rats. There could be hundreds, thousands, millions of rats. Cities might be infested with them. They'll carry diseases. Eventually, the rats might come to outnumber the human population!

And all because of cloning.

Posted by Phil at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Beam Me Up, Kurzweil

This is pretty cool.

Remotely addressing the World Economic Forum in London yesterday, Ray Kurzweil said that in five to seven years, it will be "routine and ubiquitous to meet in full-immersion, totally realistic visual-auditory virtual-reality environments for get-togethers ranging from business meetings such as this to more intimate encounters."

As an early example of this, Kurzweil gave a keynote speech in the "Look into the Future" session before the London audience of chief strategy and business development heads from leading IT and telecommunications technology companies via a Teleportec system in his office near Boston.

Teleportec allows a speaker to appear live and life-sized within an apparent 3-D environment in a remote location and achieve eye-to-eye contact with participants. This was the first time a keynote speaker has addressed a World Economic Forum meeting remotely.

I recently said that futurists never like to go shorter than about a 10-year horizon when making predictions. Kurzweil is an obvious exception.

Posted by Phil at 12:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Enabling Universal Surveillance

Here's new technology that moves us in that direction.

Appropos to some of the comments to yesterday's posting on combating individual terrorists capable of unleashing mass destruction, my memory was jogged towards this little tidbit from a few weeks ago.


Posted by Phil at 07:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2003

The Eternal Question

"If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we do anything about these open-crotched baby pants that allow urine and feces to flow freely all over everything?"

Actually, to be fair, it turns out that the Chinese are now putting an innovative fix in place — diapers! Those baby pants are more proof that communism never had a chance. Any system that puts such "solutions" in place is doomed.

via Rand Simberg

Posted by Phil at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

Coolest Thing

I guess nominations are now open for the second coolest thing in the universe. Modesty prevents me from nominating my own blog.

If people count, then we would have to consider Jack Nicholson. Also, if they ever build it, this will be a strong contender.

via GeekPress

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