Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Top 10 Tech Trends 2006

Ten predictions on top tech trends of 2006 are available on Mercury News. It's interesting to read because you can definately tell the people who wrote this have done their research.

The 10 tech trends 2006:

  1. Video will come to the big screen in your living room and to the small screen on your cell phone.
  2. Cell phones do everything
  3. Internet phone calls become more popular
  4. The office moves to the web
  5. Stemcell research advances
  6. Biotech targets flu vaccines
  7. Small start-ups go global
  8. Video comes to the blog
  9. On-demand video everywhere
  10. Clean technology investment increase
For details, read the article.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

DNA Pill Solution To Obesity?

American and Dutch scientists have come up with the very first personalised medication for weightloss, that will soon be available in the mainstream.

We have yet to see whether this thing will actually do as promised, but we can safely say that the era of personalised medicine has begun. And that's a big deal!

(I for one wasn't expecting this until about 2010.)

The article is in Dutch, which is why I'm going to loosely translate it in this post:

The pill, named Genotrim, will be manufactured for individuals, based on 4 to 16 genes that are related to metabolism. Saliva is taken from the inner cheek, and having it analysed costs 325 euro's. After that, Salugen will fabricate you your personalised medication, which you'll be taking for 3 months and costs anywhere between 40 and 80 euro's.

It is claimed that any person who weighs 110 kilo's can go down to 85 kilo's in 3 months without having to go on any diet whatsoever. The pill does this by restoring your metabolism (apparently to what it used to be when you were young, the article doesn't say anything on this). The pill will initially be released in the US and in Holland.

Oprah Winfrey will talk about the pill on her new year's eve show, and she'll be testing it as well.

If I look at this objectively, I think there is reason for cautious optimism here. The people behind the Oprah Winfrey show have probably done their research, so they know what they'll be talking about. Would Oprah Winfrey really want to put her reputation on the line if this was a scam?

It might be big. Let's sit back and watch what happens next.


It looks like this whole thing is a scam. Read the comments under this post for more details.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Robots Demonstrates Self Awareness

Japan has come up with a robot that seems to demonstrate self awareness.

A new robot can recognize the difference between a mirror image of itself and another robot that looks just like it.

This so-called mirror image cognition is based on artificial nerve cell groups built into the robot's computer brain that give it the ability to recognize itself and acknowledge others.

The ground-breaking technology could eventually lead to robots able to express emotions.

Under development by Junichi Takeno and a team of researchers at Meiji University in Japan, the robot represents a big step toward developing self-aware robots and in understanding and modeling human self-consciousness.

"In humans, consciousness is basically a state in which the behavior of the self and another is understood," said Takeno.


In one experiment, a robot representing the "self" was paired with an identical robot representing the "other."

When the self robot moved forward, stopped or backed up, the other robot did the same. The pattern of neurons firing and the subsequent flashes of blue light indicated that the self robot understood that the other robot was imitating its behavior.

In another experiment, the researchers placed the self robot in front of a mirror.

In this case, the self robot and the reflection (something it could interpret as another robot) moved forward and back at the same time. Although the blue lights fired, they did so less frequently than in other experiments.

In fact, 70 percent of the time, the robot understood that the mirror image was itself. Takeno's goal is to reach 100 percent in the coming year.

I regard this as a big deal. Developments like this one are important steps towards a true Artificial Intelligence. One that is potentially smarter than us humans. AI is the only technology which can come up with more technology all by itself. Therefore, AI will likely be the last invention mankind need ever come up with.

Also have a look at the latest developments in Honda's Asimo to get an idea of where things are headed, and how fast it's going.

For more details on the implications of artificial intelligence, and the exponential acceleration thereof, read the Singularity FAQ.

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Hair Follicle Stem Cells Regenerate Nerves

Reason of the LongevityMeme reports on progress made in stem cell technology with the use of hair follicles.

Hair follicles turn out to be quite potent in their abilities, which is a good thing. It may turn out we won't be needing any embryonic stem cells at all, which is another controversy wiped off the table. This can only speed up stem cell research.

A quote from the site:

(Via Genetic Engineering News). Scientists discovered a population of multipotent stem cells in adult hair follicles back in 2004, and now these cells are bring put to work in regenerative medicine: researchers "have found that stem cells from hair follicles of mice can be used to rejoin severed nerves in mouse models. Easily accessible hair follicle stem cells, which normally function to form the hair follicle which in turn form the growing hair in all mammals including man, have been shown to have great potential to produce nerve cells and many other types of cells. The hair follicle stem cells were used by the AntiCancer researchers to rejoin nerves in the legs of mice that were experimentally severed. After injection of the hair follicle stem cells, the nerves were rejoined and were able to regain function, enabling the mice to walk normally again."

The original article can be found here.

For more info on what's going on in hair-related science, look here.

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Mass Production Quantum Chips Nearby

Researchers of the University of Michigan have succeeded in building a quantum chip that is believed to be scalable and mass-producable.

Using the same semiconductor fabrication technology that is used in everyday computer chips, researchers were able to trap a single atom within an integrated semiconductor chip and control it using electrical signals, said Christopher Monroe, U-M physics professor and the principal investigator and co-author of the paper, "Ion Trap in a Semiconductor Chip." The paper appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of Nature Physics.

Quantum computers are promising because they can solve certain problems much faster than any possible conventional computer, owing to the bizarre features of quantum mechanics. For instance, quantum computers can process multiple inputs at the same time in the same device, and quantum circuitry can be wired via the quantum feature of entanglement, dubbed by Einstein as "spooky action-at-a-distance."

One of the most favored candidate quantum computer architectures is the use of individual atoms to store quantum bits ( qubits) of information, where each qubit can hold the number 1 or 0, or even both 1 and 0 simultaneously, Monroe said. Electrically charged atoms (ions) for such quantum computers are stored in what are known as ion traps. Trapping is necessary in order to isolate the qubits from the rest of the world, which is absolutely essential for the system to behave quantum mechanically. It is well known how to program a quantum computer composed of any number of trapped ions; the problem is to get the ions trapped in the first place.

A quantum computer can look at the two sides of a coin at once. Conventional computers can only look at one side at a time.

This quantum property also scales up.

A quantum computer can store all values ranging from 0 to 255 in 8 qubits, where a conventional computer can only store one of the values in the range 0 to 255 in 8 bits.

What it comes down to: quantum computers can solve problems, that require exponentially more calculation as the input increases, in an acceptable amount of time, where a conventional computer would take an unacceptable amount of time.

For instance, there exist encryption algorithms so strong, that a conventional computer would take more time than the Universe is old to crack it. A quantum computer could do it in minutes.

I'm sure a quantum computer can also be applied on stuff that is more useful to society. I can imagine there are plenty of exponential algorithms in medical simulations, that could definately use quantum computation. Medical simulations are important and will be a huge part of tomorrow's healthcare. Imagine being able to perform huge calculations in a small amount of time. That would make medical simulations real fast and accurate. A true boon to medicine.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Honda Robots Grows Up

Honda's robot Asimo is growing up, and becoming more useful with each passing year. According to Honda, he is now ready for office jobs and will be taken in use in 2006.

Be sure to check out the movieclips of Asimo showing off his feats.

From the first article:

Only last year, Honda Motor Co.'s (7267.T) now-familiar humanoid robot, Asimo, was learning how to run and avoid tripping over obstacles. Now, the five-year-old droid is ready to take on simple office work, greeting visitors and fetching refreshments.


With more joints and flexibility of movement, Asimo can now also grip and carry a tray of drinks, placing it safely on a table.

Demonstrating its latest tricks through video footage, Honda showed the 130 cm-tall (4.25 feet) Asimo addressing a mock visitor by name and showing her to a conference room, all the while maintaining a steady and natural distance from the guest.

"Welcome, Sato-san," Asimo said, bowing deeply as per standard Japanese etiquette.

Also with each passing year, it becomes more clear that we are about to enter an era where robots will be mainstream, thus effectively entering robotic nation.

What will happen when robots become smarter and smarter, and gradually start taking over more and more jobs?

What will happen when chauffeurs and pilots become jobless?

Will we stand by and watch the economy take hits, or will we transform our economy in time in order to guarantee a guaranteed liveable income for those who lost their jobs to automization?

According to Marshall Brain's analysis in his robotic nation essay, the latter is the only option we'll have. So for more details, read his essay.

For more details on the implications of artificial intelligence, and the exponential acceleration thereof, read the Singularity FAQ.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mighty Mice Just Got Mightier

A good while ago, scientists made mice real muscular by modifying their genes. These same scientists have now developed an agent which does the job yet more effeciently:

The Johns Hopkins scientists who first created "mighty mice" have developed an agent that's even more effective at increasing muscle mass in mice, by knocking out the gene that codes for myostatin.

Just two weekly injections of the new ACVR2B agent triggered a 60 percent increase in muscle size.

The researchers' expectation is that blocking myostatin might help maintain critical muscle strength in people whose muscles are wasting due to diseases like muscular dystrophy or side effects from cancer treatment or AIDS.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out we'll be using it in the future to enhance the non-sick too. Maybe not with permanent genetic modifications right away. But that's okay, because genetic modifications can be mimicked with the use of drugs.

We're looking at a future here where everybody will be slim, muscular, hairy (on top), healthy and other things that we all crave for but can't have due to our birth-given genetics.

For example, take a look at what other type of benefits you can have with a little bit of genetic tweaking:
We have little software programs inside us called genes, about 23 thousand of them. They were designed or evolved tens of thousands of years ago when conditions were quite different. I'll give you just one example. The fat insulin receptor gene says, “Hold on to every calorie because the next hunting season may not work out so well.” And that’s a gene we'd like to reprogram. It made sense 20 thousand years ago when calories were few and far between. What would happen if we blocked that? We have a new technology that can turn genes off called RNA interference. So when that gene was turned off in mice, these mice ate ravenously and yet they remained slim. They got the health benefits of being slim. They didn't get diabetes, didn't get heart disease or cancer. They lived 20 to 25 percent longer while eating ravenously. There are several pharmaceutical companies who have noticed that might be a good human drug.

Earlier, Ellen Heber-Katz came up with super-regenerative mice, who can regrow limbs and organs.

Right now, these sort of things are research projects confined to laboratories.

We can expect these types of body upgrades to become mainstream in the biotech era, which is slated to be from 2010-2020.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Scientists Discover How Cancer Spreads

Scientists have discovered how cancer spreads.

LONDON - Scientists have discovered how cancer spreads from a primary site to other places in the body in a finding that could open doors for new ways of treating and preventing advanced disease.

Instead of a cell just breaking off from a tumor and traveling through the bloodstream to another organ where it forms a secondary tumour, or metastasis, researchers in the United States have shown that the cancer sends out envoys to prepare the new site.

Intercepting those envoys, or blocking their action with drugs, might help to prevent the spread of cancer or to treat it in patients in which it has already occurred.

"We are basically looking at all the earlier steps that are involved in metastasis that we weren't previously aware of. It is complex but we are opening the door to all these things that occur before the tumor cell implants itself," said Professor David Lyden, of Cornell University in New York.

"It is a map to where the metastasis will occur," he added in an interview.

What can I add?

It says a lot about the future of cancer, I think. Namely that there is none. That's right. Cancer has no future.

Science is going to kick cancer's butt, plain and simple.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

The American Association for Artificial Intelligence has a nice archive of AI-related webpostings all around the web.

Have a look at it here.

A few illustrative quotes:

Some AI systems are famous, such as Deep Blue, the computer that beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov, or Predators, the unmanned spy planes hovering over Afghanistan. But the machine intelligence that underlies most such systems is largely invisible, so people take their cleverness for granted. AI experts grouse that once one of their projects succeeds, people no longer consider it to be AI.
Until recently, progress in artificial intelligence lagged so far behind computing technology that some in the field talked about an 'A.I. winter,' after commercial and government funding evaporated in the mid-1980's. Now there is talk about an A.I. spring among researchers like Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford lab.
Many people think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a high-flying 1980s tech concept that crashed and burned back in the early 1990s after a good deal of hype. The fact is, AI technology has become pervasive in much of the software we use today.
To be sure, AI has its successes. Factory robots use machine vision to track parts. Automotive suspension systems and camcorders use fuzzy logic to smooth out jarring motions. Hospitals use large knowledge bases of drug effects and interactions to ensure that prescribed drugs don't conflict with one another. Computer programs now repeatedly beat the world's chess champions. Part of AI's image problem stems from the fact that whenever a development moves from lab to market, it's no longer artificial intelligence; it's just software.
There's a joke in the AI community that as soon as AI works, it is no longer called AI,' says Sara Hedberg, a spokeswoman for the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. Hedberg, who has written about AI for the past 20 years or so, has done her share of trying to enlighten reporters who are ready to declare AI dead. 'Once a technology leaves the research labs and gets proven, it becomes ubiquitous to the point where it is almost invisible,' she says.
Computers and software can now perform tasks that were impossible five years ago, so it pays to keep an open mind, according to Amreetha Vijayakumar, Frost & Sullivan Technical Insights research analyst. 'AI is slowly starting to propagate in the normal business case, especially in applications risk assessment, CRM, data mining, these applications are starting to reach users.' ... In some cases she says, AI goes unnoticed because developers don't accept that AI is used in their products.
Henry Lieberman and other artificial intelligence researchers say computers could become dramatically smarter and more humanlike in the future. The brain is just a physical machine, albeit a complicated one we don't yet understand, they argue. 'People have this illusion that what we do is magic and it will never be automated,' said University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Lyle Ungar. When he first started studying artificial intelligence, he said, no one thought a computer could play chess well enough to beat the masters. Today, computers can beat everyone at chess, he said, and we're no longer impressed.
Another reason for the apparent lack of machine intelligence is that, if you know how a computer does something, it no longer seems intelligent. ... An example of what might be regarded as intelligent behavior is automated translation of language. This is done by Google, for example.
Pattern recognition is linked to [artificial intelligence], which was very hyped in the '70s and '80s, and that was very detrimental,' said Sameer Samat, chief technology officer at Kofax Image Products Inc., which bought pattern-recognition software maker Mohomine Inc. last year. 'For a time, if you mentioned pattern recognition, people just hung up the phone.' But new interest, based on security necessities arising after the 2001 terrorist attacks, may bring more popularity to pattern recognition.
There's a cliché that as soon as something starts to work people no longer call it AI. There's some truth to that because once it starts to work then people can explain how it works. Once the mystery is no longer there, people say that's just an algorithm. There is a misconception that AI is only AI if it has a black box that produces intelligence in a mysterious way.
Michael Kearns said this latest advance represented just a small part of a burst of progress in recent years in artificial intelligence and robotics. People have begun to take it for granted that computers can recognize voices and faces, give directions, sift through information on the Web, and create complicated models to predict the weather. ... Kearns, of Penn, said: 'As soon as someone gets a computer to do it, people say: 'That's not what we meant by intelligence.' People subconsciously are trying to preserve for themselves some special role in the universe.
We're in an era of what I'd call 'narrow AI', where systems are performing intelligent functions that used to require human intelligence. Intelligent systems can fly and land airplanes or make financial investment decisions. These were research projects 10 years ago and are now in widespread practical application and have become integrated into our information infrastructure. Every time an application works, it's no longer called AI - it becomes a separate field. It's speech recognition, character recognition, robotics, machine vision, etc.
'People say that neural networks and AI were not successful because we don't have humanoid robots walking around, but they don't realize that there are hundreds of applications of this technology that we use every day without thinking,' [Ronald] Brachman said. 'Machine-learning techniques are now built into a variety of commercial systems, finding credit card fraud, evaluating mortgage applications, detecting illegal telephone calls and recognizing speech.' He maintained that 'AI planning algorithms were successful in Desert Storm and are being used every day by the military in complicated logistic situations.'
Many people only think of robots when artificial intelligence is brought up, he said, but most of the current software available today use artificial intelligence.
In his forthcoming book 'I'm Working on That: A Trek From Science Fiction to Science Fact,' William Shatner explores the reciprocity between Starship Enterprise fantasy and real-life scientific breakthroughs. 'What was suggested 30 years ago in 'Star Trek' is now old hat,' he said in a telephone interview. ... As a culture, we have become writers of our own fantasy saga in which pacemakers, cloning, the Internet, speech recognition software and the like are merely part of the scenery.
Quietly, though, AI researchers were making more than progress - they were making products. It's a trend that's been easy to miss, because once the technology is in use, nobody thinks of it as AI anymore. 'Every time we figure out a piece of it, it stops being magical; we say, 'Oh, that's just a computation,' laments Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. ... In truth, we may never chat up a computer at a cocktail party. But in smaller yet significant ways, artificial intelligence is already here: in the cruise control of cars... The future is all around us.
In fact, AI -- or what was once considered AI until it became commonplace -- is now almost everywhere.
'Software is just getting smarter and smarter and smarter.' [Carol] Brown agrees, saying that accounting firms have 'integrated AI into their normal software, so they don't think about it as AI anymore.'
According to the primary examiner for AI in the U.S. Patent Office, Robert Downs, a decade ago only about 100 patents mentioned AI specifically; last year, about 1700 mentioned artificial intelligence, with another 3900 or so mentioning related terms. About 2200 patents are specifically classified in the Patent Office's class for artificial intelligence, which means that the invention or technique is specifically directed to something new in knowledge-based systems, machine learning, fuzzy logic, or neural networks.
Successful applications of AI are part of, and buried in, larger systems that probably do not carry the label AI inside.

To sum it all up: Many people do not take AI seriously, but it's coming anyway and it will eventually have a huge impact on our lives.

It will probably happen a lot faster than you might think, because of a little thing called The Law Of Accelerating Returns.

For more information regarding the implications of artificial intelligence, read the Singularity FAQ.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Geneticists Claim Aging Breakthrough

This Guardian Unlimited article reports on the claim of researchers that they have achieved a breakthrough related to the aging process.

Summed up, it comes down to:

  • Organisms live six times longer in laboratory tests
  • Cells genetically 'tricked' into slow-ageing mode

The slow-aging mode is related to the mechanism that kicks in when our bodies are not getting the necessary amount of nutritions: the body thinks it is going through a period of food scarcity, and knows that it can't afford to age, because it still needs to reproduce. Therefore, aging is slowed down.

And yes, that mechanism does go back all the way to the caveman-era.

The most important thing to keep an eye on, is this part:
In the experiment, Dr Longo's team took yeast cells and knocked out two key genes, named Sir2 and SCH9. The latter governs the cells' ability to convert nutrients into energy. They found that instead of dying after a week, the cells lived for up to six weeks. Dr Longo said parallel experiments on human liver cells appeared to replicate the effect, but refused to elaborate until the results have been published.

The amazing thing here is... it only took minor genetic modifications to achieve a sixfold increase in lifespan.

Researchers are finding ways to modify our own genes permanently, and to produce drugs that will mimic genetic modifications by inhibiting the mRNA that our genes produce. The latter one will effectively tell a gene to shut up, which gives the same result as if you'd disabled the gene completely. This technique is called RNAi.

Some day in the not too distant future (2010-2020 is supposed to be the Biotech-Era), we will see humans having genetic modifications routinely, and we are likely to benefit greatly from them.

For another great example of how a few small genetic modifications can have a profound effect, read my post about super-regenerative mice.

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Kurzweil Touts Future Technology

Ray Kurzweil, well known inventor, futurologist and entrepreneur, touts the technologies of tomorrow in this CRN article:

The bulk of human intelligence is pattern recognition, which Kurzweil said is the quintessential example of a self-organizing system. This will be instrumental in the development of future Web-based applications, he added. For example, he said that Google has developed a speech tool for English-Arabic and Arabic-English translation, despite the fact that no one on the development team spoke Arabic. "I think this type of feature will be a standard feature on mobile phones by the next decade," he said, giving a demonstration of the tool.

As proof that these types of evolutions will take place, Kurzweil used the example of artificial intelligence that is embedded everywhere in today's society, from medical devices such as electrocardiogram machines and credit card fraud detection software. "If these narrow [artificial intelligence] programs suddenly stopped working, it would cripple the economic infrastructure," he said.

By 2010, Kurzweil said, computers will begin to disappear, instead becoming embedded in the environment and into materials such as clothing and eyeglasses. Images will be written directly on human retinas, said Kurzweil, adding that the military uses this technology today in modeling virtual reality environments. "Search engines of the near future won't wait to be asked for information," he said.

Hmmm... sorta sounds like what I've described in a few previous posts of mine.

See The Future Of Computers and The Future Of Internet for related information.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Nanotubes Make Supersprings

Betterhumans reports on an interesting find with regard to the physical characteristics of nanotubes.

Researchers of the University of Florida speculate on the types of products that could possibly be created with future nano-materials:

Carbon nanotubes have been found to act like super-compressible springs, which could allow the creation of foam-like materials for everything from disposable coffee cups to new space shuttle insulation.

Research reported in the journal Science shows that films of aligned multiwalled carbon nanotubes can act like a layer of mattress springs and rebound in response to force. Unlike a mattress, however, the foams retain resilience even after thousands of compression cycles—there is no tradeoff between strength and flexibility.

"Carbon nanotubes display an exceptional combination of strength, flexibility, and low density, making them attractive and interesting materials for producing strong, ultra-light foam-like structures," says Pulickel Ajayan, coauthor of the paper.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Future Of Internet

If you're familiar with the web, and you make sure you're up to date on the latest thing, then no doubt you have heard of the Web 2.0.

The Internet will not continue to exist in its current form. Right now, we run our textprocessors, music players and games on our own local machines, and access the Internet for news, email, blogposts, fora, and many other things.

All that's about to change.

The Internet of tomorrow is going to be a platform just like our current computers are now. It will no longer be a network that consists of many complex computer-system-nodes attached to it. It will be a complex computer system that serves web-services, that we will access through so-called thin clients.

Thin clients are client-computer-systems that do not have much application logic themselves, but rather depend on applications delivered to it from a remote source. In this case, that remote source will be Web 2.0.

As a result of this transformation, these are some of the advantages we'll get from Web 2.0, according to O'Reilly:

  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

(read O'Reilly's article if you want to gain a more detailed understanding)

I have three advantages of my own to add to the list:
  • Because of the simplicity of future thin clients, they're likely to be much smaller. Therefore, we are moving towards a truly mobile world.
  • You won't be storing your data locally anymore, but on the new Web 2.0 platform instead. Your data will always be available to you from anywhere.
  • Not only will your own data be accessible to you. Because of plans to mass-digitize the world's media, you'll likely be able to stream any piece of media to your thin client whenever you like. That means only one tv-channel will exist: your own.

The main idea is that Web 2.0 will be the new computing platform.

Web 1.0 was commerce. Web 2.0 is people.

How will all of this come to pass, you ask?

If it's up to Google, here's how:

The same follows for the rumor that Google, as a dark fiber buyer, will turn itself into some kind of super ISP. Won't happen. And WHY it won't happen is because ISPs are lousy businesses and building one as anything more than an experiment (as they are doing in San Francisco with wireless) would only hurt Google's earnings.

So why buy-up all that fiber, then?

The probable answer lies in one of Google's underground parking garages in Mountain View. There, in a secret area off-limits even to regular GoogleFolk, is a shipping container. But it isn't just any shipping container. This shipping container is a prototype data center. Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box. We're talking about 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage that can be dropped-off overnight by a tractor-trailer rig. The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.

Google has big plans, and is likely to become an even larger and influential player than it already is. Many speculate that Google will even deal out some big fat blows to the current Microsoft monopoly.

As can be read in The Future Of Computers, the future of computers is going to be interesting.

The future web will transform the way we look at computers. Computation and functionality (through web-served applications) will be everywhere. It will be as omnipresent as oxygen.

For more information on Web 2.0, look here, here and here.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

More On Solar Panels

My fellow-blogger JD, who runs the Peak Oil Debunked blogspot, has a very informative post on solar panels with plenty of links to follow for the curious.

From the post:

Traditional PV panels are highly efficient (at more than 20%), but they are very expensive and take a long time to pay for themselves, if ever. They're also bulky, inflexible and difficult to install. Fortunately, a new generation of solar cells will soon be on the market that will revolutionise the world of solar power by using either nano-crystals or special polymers.


Apart from their extremely low cost, the whole point about these new cells is that they are incredibly flexible and unbelievably strong. They could be woven into fabrics, such as curtains, tents or clothing, or printed onto a lightweight, flexible film that can be stretched over a roof. They could be painted directly onto walls and will eventually be so strong they can even be stretched over a road. In other words, almost every type of surface can be covered by solar cells at a fraction of the cost of today’s panels.


...it's entirely plausible that a 100% solar/hydrogen-powered lifestyle will be both affordable and cost-effective within a decade.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Disposable Solar Panel Now A Reality

A while ago, I posted Cheap Solar Power On The Way.

This article on disposable solar panels provides a nice follow-up.

From the article:

The voltage and power output of the solar cell is determined by the size of the poster. An A2-sized poster will deliver up to 100W of power, enough to charge a cellphone, power a radio or provide five hours of lighting, said Prof David Britton, a physicist specialising in nanotechnology.

“Many families cannot afford R1000 for a solar panel designed to last 30 years, but they can afford R10 every three to six months for a ‘disposable’ panel,” he said.

Shops could stock rolls of solar panel posters, and cut it to meet a customer’s needs. The poster could be mounted behind a window or attached to a cabinet.

Britton’s team has built a successful prototype and is seeking to commercialise the project.


While we're at it, have a look at this potential Energy Breakthrough.
A team of researchers at the university’s nanotechnology center have almost doubled the efficiency rate of converting solar energy to electricity, and have plans to triple it by October 2006, in collaboration with colleagues from New Mexico State University.

The team, which aims to develop flexible solar cells, hopes that solar cell technology will be implemented into military defense contracts and into the consumer market within a year.


The idea is to “extract energy from the sun so that we don’t have to use fossil fuels,” said David Carroll, director of the university’s center for nanotechnology and molecular materials.

The cells currently convert about 6 percent of the sun’s solar energy into electricity, but the team hopes the cells will generate the predicted maximum of 12 percent in less than a year.

Using plastic instead of the traditional, heavier silicon, the new solar panels are more flexible and lightweight. Carroll said he hopes that those properties will propel the cells beyond the academic world into commercial use.

Going from 6% to 12% ain't bad. However, solar panels with an efficiency of almost 40% already exist. I read about those a good while ago, but cannot find the link anymore.

If anybody of you faithful blogreaders have it... please let me know.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Artificial And Biological Intelligence

For those of you interested in reading up about artificial and biological intelligence, there is a nice article on ACM Ubiquity that talks about the past, present and possible future of AI, along with various insights on the matter.

Although it's a lengthy article, it's worth the read. Especially if you're not familiar with AI and its possible implications, it's guaranteed to force you to rethink your whole concept of AI.

Or it will give you some new insights at the very least...

From the article:

... First, if machines with consciousness are created, they would be living machines, that is, variations on life forms as we know them. Second, the material world is not causally closed, and consciousness influences its evolution. Matter and minds complement each other. At the level of the individual, even medical science that is strongly based on the machine paradigm has now acknowledged the influence of mind on body.

At a more abstract level, it is being argued that even if machines can be conscious, now that this property has emerged through increasing complexity of life-forms, humans will eventually create silicon machines with minds that will slowly spread all over the world, and the entire universe will eventually become a conscious machine.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Future Of Hair

Ananova reports on a new find with respect to the genetics of hair.

Since Ananova has the nasty habit of removing articles from links, I'll just copypaste the whole story here:

A pill to make your hair curl?

Scientists say they have identified the difference between straight and curly hair.

They believe it could lead to drugs that can make straight hair curly and vice versa, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Scientists also believe the discovery could lead to the death of hair dyes, as drugs could be used to restore colour in the prematurely grey.

In Clichy, Paris, a team from L'Oreal grew hair in the laboratory to get to the root of what makes hair curly or straight.

They found that the hair bulb, around four millimetres deep in the scalp, is hook-shaped in people with curly hair and straight in the case of European and Asian hair.

When it emerges from the scalp, the hair shaft retains the shape of the follicle.

"A curly follicle makes curly hair," said Bruno Bernard, head of hair biology at L'Oreal. "This is a breakthrough. For a very long time people did not understand how hair got curly."

Although the team has yet to find a "master switch" that controls follicle shape, Mr Bernard said it was now possible to think about how to change hair shape by using hormones or drugs.

"It is now possible to use biological methods to make curly hair straight and vice versa," he said.

This is not the only thing happening in the area of hairloss right now. Researchers worldwide are working hard to cure baldness by coming up with hair multiplication techniques:

And that's just four out of many players trying to find a cure for baldness. The hair multiplication techniques that these people are creating would obsolete old fashioned hair transplants, where a strip of hair is cut out of the back of the head.

The main drawbacks of hair transplants are the invasiveness of the prodedure and the limited amount of hair available from the back of the head. Also, only small amounts of hair can be transplanted at one time with hair transplants. It is labor intensive and therefore expensive.

Newer methods could allow for lots of hair follicles to be created/stimulated at one time, with one simple injection of a cell culture. Hair restoration could possibly become cheaper, and affordable for the masses in due time.

The future of hair sure looks good. ;)

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Automated Legal Council In 2015?

Legal Week reports on the fact that Professor Richard Susskind, who is in the legal business and has done work on AI expert systems in the past, is still sticking to a certain prediction that he has made 10 years ago in his book 'The Future Of Law':

Susskind predicts that by 2015 legal services will be largely commoditised and for most commercial purposes clients will get the bulk of their legal advice online from expert systems, maintained and honed to near-perfect reliability by teams of lawyers. In the corporate environment firms will sell their knowledge, first and fore-most, and the traditional hand-holding role played by lawyers will take a back seat. Solicitors at many firms would be faced with tough career choices: go into rainmaking and business development; focus on knowledge-building and support or quality-checking online services; stick to advocacy and representation; or re-train and find a different job.

Sounds like a scenario straight out of Marshall Brain's Robotic Nation.

Nobody ever gives this much thought... yet.

But what's going to happen when AI-systems and -robots start taking over jobs of which we first thought that they required so-called 'human creativity'? What happens when AI keeps nibbling at the bottom of the job-ladder, and makes its way up to where humans start having trouble keeping up?

This is exactly what's happening right now.

For example, have a look at these autonomous cars.

If I were a chauffeur, or a pilot for that matter, I'd definately be worried about being out of a job in the coming years.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nanotech To Cure Cancer By 2015?

Wired covers the National Cancer Institute's goal to cure cancer by 2015, with the use of nanotechnology.

"It's 21st-century medicine," said Vicki Colvin of Rice University's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. "It sits at the intersection of some of the greatest achievements in many different areas of science, from material science to cell biology to physics and advances in imaging."

Indeed, the National Cancer Institute, which recently announced two waves of funding for nanotech training and research, sees nanotechnology as vital to its stated goal of "eliminating suffering and death from cancer by 2015."

To anyone familiar with the long, often fruitless search for cancer's cure, or the unfulfilled promise of nanotechnology, this may seem far-fetched. But in recent years, scientists have learned more about how cancer works at the cellular level. They have also learned to build molecules that could detect and destroy cancer cells, making today's painful and often-ineffective treatments a thing of the past.

This is exactly what you'd expect from exponentially accelerating progress.

Many people assume that cancer won't be solved for another few centuries, simply because we haven't gotten very far yet in all these decades of research behind us. But that is incorrect. Because of the fact that progress is exponential, it is entirely possible to be very close to a complete solution for any given problem, while it seems you are still very far away in terms of 'actual-work-done-so-far'.

This basically means that you are at the knee of the exponential curve, where it's about to skyrocket into theoretical infinity.

You can compare it to solving a Rubik's cube. If you don't know any of the smart tricks available to solve one of those things quickly, it might take you years, if not decades, to solve one of those babies.

However, if you were familiar with some of the tricks to solve one, you can solve it in a few minutes.

No joke. I've actually seen a guy do this.

To sum it all up: science is starting to understand cancer's secrets. Their desire to solve it by 2015 is, in my opinion, realistic.

NCI itself also realizes the implications of exponential growth.

From their 2015 target-date page:
Why is this goal feasible?

Dr. von Eschenbach: This is feasible because the intersection of exponential growth in biomedical research and the explosion of enabling technologies has resulted in a "new science" of oncology. This goal is also feasible because the fruits of cancer research since the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971 have taught us a tremendous amount about cancer and brought us to a turning point.

We are now in the era of molecular oncology. We have more cancer researchers and more financial resources than ever before in the history of medical research. I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to align our resources, our enabling technologies and our knowledge of cancer to achieve this goal.

And cancer research is not progressing in a vacuum. It contributes to, and benefits from, progress in all of the life sciences.

For more information on NCI and its 2015 target-date, visit the NCI Challenge Goal 2015-page.

For some extra information on the implication of exponential growth, see the Singularity FAQ.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Robot That Thinks Like You

The original article with the same name really demonstrates how AI-researchers have moved away from simple, rule-based expert-systems, which were considered to be artificial intelligence a long, long time ago.

That was in the so-called AI-winter, when AI had not lived up to the early promises of true intelligence, and science had given up on it.

Luckily, AI has gone through revival-period and is now far from dead:

Scientists built a robot that thinks like we do and set it loose to explore the world.

The infant crawls across a floor strewn with blocks, grabbing and tasting as it goes, its malleable mind impressionable and hungry to learn. Before my eyes it is already adapting, discovering that the striped blocks are yummy and the spotted ones taste bad.

Its exploration is driven by instincts: an interest in bright objects, a predilection for tasting things, and an innate notion of what tastes good. This, after all, is how babies explore the world and discover that pink, perky objects exist, and that they produce milk. Hands-on exploration moulds their billions of untrained brain cells into a fully functioning brain.

The infant I am watching wander around its rather spartan playpen in the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in La Jolla, California, is a more limited creature. It is a trashcan-shaped robot called Darwin VII, and it has just 20,000 brain cells. Despite this, it has managed to master the ...

I sure wish I could see a picture of this thing. I also wish I had access to the full article. Unfortunately, I'd have to pay 5 bucks for it and I don't feel like going through the trouble of international payment, because I'm lazy.

Another recent breakthrough in AI was a few weeks back, when autonomous cars drove themselves 130 miles in 6.5 hours.

For details on the implications of AI, see the Singularity FAQ.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Nanotechnology Pushing The Boundaries

The US Department of State reports on how nanotechnology is about to push the boundaries of technology, like we've never seen before.

Nanotechnology has the capability to provide humanity with cheap, high-quality medical care and energy.

The lengthy article goes into:

  • The convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology, and the implications thereof
  • Mimicking nature's own nanomachines (ie. plants, animals, etc.), and why it's useful.
  • Molecular self-assembly.
  • Harnessing solar energy
and ends with a summary on what it is all likely to lead up to:
The continued development of nanobiotechnology materials and molecular machines will deepen our understanding of seemingly intractable phenomena. Nanoscale engineering through molecular design of self-assembling peptides is an enabling technology that will likely play an increasingly important role in the future of biotechnology and will change our lives in the coming decades. For example, aging and damaged tissues can be replaced with the scaffolds that stimulate cells to repair body parts or to rejuvenate the skin. We also might be able to swim and dive like dolphins or to climb mountains with a nanoscaffold lung device that can carry an extra supply of oxygen. It is not impossible to anticipate painting cars and houses with photosynthesis molecular machines that can harness the unlimited solar energy for all populations on every corner of the planet, not just for the wealthy few.

Just imagine that... living in a world where energy is collected constantly by our own, daily-used objects. Energy would be like oxygen: free, and always available.

Not to mention the possibility of replacing aging tissues...

I highly recommend reading this article if you want to get a good feel for some of the things nanotechnology can do, once it's advanced enough.

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The Near Future Of Medicine

The Newind Press reports on the current and near future state of medicine:

Not only in the medical industry but also in the world at large, two terms are already such buzzwords today that it is impossible to imagine that they will not play a massive, massive role in healthcare in the future. By 2010, both nanotechnology and stem cell research will have advanced to a point where they become integral, rather than radical, aspects of medicine and healing.

The vast potential of both is evident even today. Nanoparticles, being smaller even than human cells, can actually enter a human cell and make modifications - a prospect that is still remote today but that, once achieved, will revolutionise the way medical science and clinical research is performed. They can serve, for example, as little vehicles for customisable, targeted drug delivery, or as probes to understand cancer and carcinogenesis.


Many analysts also foresee a future of robotic surgery. Already one American clinic has performed the world's first robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery, and in one famous case, a doctor controlled a robotic surgery unit right across the Atlantic Ocean. The human element is still critical, for only human beings can assess the progress of a surgery and make ad hoc improvisations. But the precision and stability of robotic units, especially for routine and delicate surgeries, will be a big part of a hospital's array of services in the future.

Reason, of Longevity Meme sums it up neatly:
...hot new fields become just another tool in the toolkit, and what was once amazing and unheard of becomes commonplace and relied upon.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Robots Mainstream By 2006, 2007?

A good while ago, the UN's annual World Robotics report predicted that robots would enter mainstream use in 2007, much like computers and Internet have done years before.

These predictions are based on extrapolations of available data. Just as computer- and Internet-use has been doubling every year or so, so is robot-use doubling now.

Extrapolation is an extremely valueable technique for predicting the future, as can be read in the Singularity FAQ.

From the article:

Seven times more robots will helping us out with the cleaning, security and entertainment in three years' time, as their price falls and they get smarter.


Two-thirds of the 607,000 domestic robots in use were bought in 2003, says the UN's annual World Robotics report.

By the end of 2007, 4.1 million robots will be doing jobs in homes, says the report by the UN Economic Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics.

As well as the vacuuming, they will take over tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning pools, and washing windows.

Robots like Irobi, unveiled this week by Korean company Yujin Robotics, will be able to multiple tasks.

It is a net-based, all-in-one family robot complete with educational functions, home security, diary, entertainment, and message delivery capability.

Now, there is another point of view from the American-based robots are going to be big in 2006.

From the article:
But specialised robots are finding their way into homes, with robotic vacuums already doing the cleaning duties in half a million US homes.

This trend is set to continue, according to the CEA.

Domestic robots that can control home networks, sort laundry and scrub the kitchen floor are not far off and are likely to be sold in much the same way as other household appliances are.

They will not, however, become mass market until they have reached the prices of other labour saving appliances and are proved to be reliable and effective, said the CEA.

Marshall Brain, the founder of www.howstuffworks.com, maintains a blog about our future Robotic Nation, which is very interesting and worty of taking a look at. He has also written an essay entitled Robotic Nation, in which he writes about what he thinks will be the implications of the 'rise of the robots'.

Those implications are, in summary:
  • More and more automisation of jobs at the bottom of the ladder as robots get smarter and cheaper.
  • Vast unemployment as a direct consequence hereof, and possible economical devestation if no measures are taken in time.
  • A leisure society, as a result of modifying the economy such that everybody has a guaranteed liveable income. Robots do all the work.

Marshall has written a lot more on robots. For example, take a look at his book Manna. Or his Robotic Nation FAQ. Or his book The Day You Discard Your Body.

It's inspiring material. In fact, I thought that last one was so inspiring, that I wrote a blogpost on the Future Of Virtual Environments right after reading it.

Marshall has written so much on the topic... he actually seems to be quite obsessed with them. ;)

And justly so. Robots will transform our lives, just like computers and the Internet have done before.

For more info on robots, the latest robot news, and more links-in-general:

Just remember folks...

The Internet is not exactly the last revolution you'll have ever seen in your lifetime.

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Q&A With Jeff Hawkins, Intelligence Expert

There is a Q&A available with Jeff Hawkins, AI-expert and inventor of the Palm Pilot.

Jeff has been thinking about intelligence, and how it works, for many years now. He has a company named Numenta, which is aiming to understand intelligence, and then use it in commercial products.

It is this kind of work that will ultimately allow us to build intelligent machines, and initiate the Singularity.

Recently, Jeff has come up with a new theory of intelligence. He even thinks he's figured out how conscioussness works.

Jason Pontin interviews him. Here's a fragment of the interview.

JP: ... You are proposing that the neocortex is a "belief propagation network" -- a kind of machine that generates more or less accurate ideas about the world? How could such a thing evolve?

JH: It's not that difficult. Nothing in nature just springs into being. The neocortex evolved from structures that existed before. A reptile has a sophisticated brain. The neocortex added value to that brain. It allowed early mammals to see just a little bit into the future. The mammal could say, "I recognize this spot. I know there's food just around the corner." And it was so successful, so quickly, that the neocortex developed very fast. The brain just kept on adding circuits. But why is the neocortex a belief propagation network? I don't know! It just is.

JP: Is the higher consciousness -- what philosophers sometimes call "self-consciousness" -- a byproduct of HTM?

JH: Yes. I think I understand what consciousness is now. There are two elements to consciousness. First, there is the element of consciousness where we can say, "I am here now." This is akin to a declarative memory where you can actively recall doing something. Riding a bike cannot be recalled by declarative memory, because I can't remember how I balanced on a bike. But if I ask, "Am I talking to Jason?" I can answer "Yes." So I like to propose a thought experiment: if I erase declarative memory, what happens to consciousness?" I think it vanishes.

But there is another element to consciousness: what philosophers and neuroscientists call "qualia:" the feeling of being alive. Qualia mean different things to different people, but the way I like to think about them is to ask, "Why does anything feel like anything?" And I think I understand this a little, too. Qualia have to do with the world itself: I perceive the world in a certain way because that's the way the world really is.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cheap Solar Power On The Way

A team of UCLA scientists have cut down the cost of solar panels down by a factor of five to ten by using plastics.

The efficiency of solar panels is, at this point in time, pushing 40%.

I can't find the source of that anymore, but the article is posted somewhere on the Kurzweil site.

Solar panels are almost cost competative with conventional resources. Solar energy is only three to four times as expensive as conventional energy. It will only take a few more years before they'll start being taken into use.

These plastics, however, may bring us solar energy faster than most of us imagine.

In research published today in Nature Materials magazine, UCLA engineering professor Yang Yang, postdoctoral researcher Gang Li and graduate student Vishal Shrotriya showcase their work on an innovative new plastic (or polymer) solar cell they hope eventually can be produced at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent of the current cost of traditional cells, making the technology more widely available.


The price for quality traditional solar modules typically is around three to four times more expensive than fossil fuel. While prices have dropped since the early 1980s, the solar module itself still represents nearly half of the total installed cost of a traditional solar energy system.


The plastic solar cell is still a few years away from being available to consumers, but the UCLA team is working diligently to get it to market.

"We hope that ultimately solar energy can be extensively used in the commercial sector as well as the private sector. Imagine solar cells installed in cars to absorb solar energy to replace the traditional use of diesel and gas. People will vie to park their cars on the top level of parking garages so their cars can be charged under sunlight. Using the same principle, cell phones can also be charged by solar energy," Yang said. "There are such a wide variety of applications."

This world can definately do with a solution to our energy problem. Here in Holland, life has become really expensive since the Euro was introduced. Our real estate market is friggin' impossible, our groceries cost a small fortune, and our energy bills are over the top!

It would sure be nice to have a future in which solar energy becomes extremely cheap, so we can basically build small solar panels into just about anything (say: rooftiles, windows, clothing, traffic signs). That way, energy will become a little bit more like oxygen: completely free, and available everywhere.

And it would probably also shut up the peak oil doomers. ;)

What a relief that would be...

Doomer Type #1 - The Social Darwinist

Doomer Type #2 - The Survivor

Doomer Type #3 - The Partyer

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Tissue Engineering At Lightning Speed

I thought Ellen Heber-Katz's super-regenerative mice were already pretty impressive. But as it turns out, super-regeneration is only the beginning.

Scientists have managed to produce tissue in a matter of minutes, instead of days. They do this by simply removing water from the starting material.

This method has great potential for people who need tissue for surgery real fast. Normally, growing tissue takes multiple weeks. Using this new method, this time can be cut back a hundred-fold, all the way down to 35 minutes.

UK scientists say they can cut the time it takes to grow new tissue from days to minutes.


The next stage is to test whether this method could help repair injured tissues. Ultimately, the goal is to design a rapid, inexpensive, automatic process for creating strong tissues which could supply hospital surgical units with a tool kit of spare parts for reconstructive surgery. The speed and control it offers means that our method could one day be used to produce implant tissue at the bedside or in the operating theatre.

Original link: New Tissue Grown In Minutes

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Nano Silver Bullet Kills HIV

Nano Silver Bullet Kills HIV

In a groundbreaking study, the Journal of Nanotechnology has published a study that found silver nanoparticles kills HIV-1 and is likely to kill virtually any other virus. The study, which was conducted by the University of Texas and Mexico University, is the first medical study to ever explore the benefits of silver nanoparticles, according to Physorg.


After incubating the HIV-1 virus at 37 C, the silver particles killed 100% of the virus within 3 hours for all three methods.


Already used as a topical antibiotic in the medical industry, silver may now come under consideration as an alternative to drugs when it comes to fighting previously untreatable viruses such as the Tamiflu resistant avian flu.

Nanotech will allow us to solve problems that were previously not solvable, including curing HIV and cancer.

There's nothing else I can say to add anything to this.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nanobombs Blow Up Cancer

Everybody who is familiar with nanotechnology has probably heard of the scenario where we'll have advanced nanotechnology that will help us diagnose diseases before the symptoms even hit. This way, it will be easy to treat and prevent our diseases, and a life in good health will be a guarantee.

Well, we're not exactly there yet, but Balaji Panchapakesan of the University of Delaware is working to make this fictice scenario a reality.

Researchers have created "nanobombs" that can produce nanoscale explosions to blow up cancer.

Balaji Panchapakesan of the University of Delaware has reported on the nanobombs in both NanoBiotechnology and Oncology Issues.

Panchapakesan says the nanobombs are in the early stages of development, but that the goal is to use them in medical applications.

"Make no mistake, we are focused on eradicating cancer," he says.


The bombs are created through the bundling of carbon nanotubes. Nanotubes dissipate heat generated by the light into surrounding air. In bundles, they can't dissipate the heat as quickly and the result is "an explosion on the nanoscale," says Panchapakesan.


"The nanobomb is very selective, very localized and minimally invasive," Panchapakesan said. "It might cause what I would call nanopain, like a pin prick."


The nanobombs could also offer advantages over other nanotech treatments as they are destroyed along with cancer cells. Macrophages then clear cell debris and exploded nanotubes, preventing nanoparticles from jamming up in the body.

This stuff is all for real these days.

How lucky are we to be alive right now... come the next decade, we'll look back on cancer as we now do on poor hygene and all consequences thereof.
See also this related Wired article on nano-sensors.

The field of nanotechnology has been long on hype and short on real products -- with the possible exception of stain-free pants. Likewise, the emergence of personalized medicine -- that utopian vision of detecting a disease at the doctor's office before symptoms have hit, and then treating it at the molecular level -- has long been foretold, but still hasn't arrived.

But a product that should appear next year could fulfill both visions. Northbrook, Illinois-based Nanosphere is preparing to launch a diagnostic system that uses nanoparticles to detect various proteins at a level of sensitivity never before seen.


"[Nanospheres] could really be the breakthrough technology that revolutionizes the medical field," he said. "Often, discoveries lead to technologies in search of a use. But in this case, the need for this type of technology is so intense that if it works as advertised, it will be hugely popular."
And the nanotech revolution hasn't even started yet...


Here's an article that describes the professor and his nanobombs a little more elaborately.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Driverless Cars Race 130 Miles

Driverless robots reach milestone in DARPA race

Stanford University's Racing Team has accomplished a historic feat of robotics, finishing first in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a 131.6-mile driverless car race that no artificially intelligent machine has ever conquered before.
Some of the implications for our society, when driverless cars become the norm:
  • No more wasting time travelling to work by bus or a manually driven car. You can have cars drive you to your job, and you can work in the meantime. Traveltime will be worktime. You'll save a few hours per day.
  • Driving software could communicate wirelessly with other software in other cars, allowing for efficient use of the road. The capacity of our roads will suddenly increase by a certain factor x.
  • Assuming the software will be debugged properly before it is taken into use: no more accidents. Ever.
You think this is great? Just imagine having a system like this in a flying car.

Yes... they actually exist. And according to the creator, they'll be taken in mainstream use 15 years from now. Military, police, and rescueworkers will use them even sooner.

Be sure to watch the movieclips.

Will Our Cars Become Our Chauffeurs?

Self-Navigating Vehicle

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Future Of Computers (4)

I've spoken about this before in my Future Of Computers blogpost-series. Now it has actually come true.

I'm talking about nano-memory here, or NRAM, as it's officially called.

NRAM stands for Nano Random Access Memory, or NanoRAM. RAM is the stuff that computers of today use for working memory.

And this working memory is about to be revolutionized.

Nantero is gearing up to massproduce NRAM in the short term.

Will computers that require no time to boot up become a reality? One company thinks the answer is yes, thanks to its carbon nanotube memory chips.


Nantero calls its technology NRAM, which is loosely short for nanotube-based, non-volatile random access memory.

Non-volatile components, which by definition keep all data even when the power is turned off, are currently on the market in the form of flash memory cards. These hold electrons in insulated cells to act as ones and zeroes. They can be found in many portable gadgets, from MP3 players to digital camera memory cards.


Norman Armour, vice-president and general manager of the LSI factory in Gresham, Oregon, says developers are "working aggressively" to put the technology to use in electronic devices. He says they still have to check that the chips can be reliably produced on a large scale, but he expects prototypes of products with NRAM to be ready by the summer of 2006.

Sounds good to me.

Fortunately, RAM is not the only thing shrinking to ever smaller proportions. Take a look at these extremely thin color displays. Not only will these be extremely thin, but also extremely cheap. And extremely ubiquitous, ofcourse.

They'll be used on food cartons, informational brochures, medicinal packages, admission tickets, etc.

Oh, and they could also be used on business cards, I suppose...

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Artificial Kidney On The Way

Artificial Kidney On The Way

Using nanotechnology, researchers have taken the first steps towards creating a fully functioning, artificial kidneys.

As Nissenson told Reuters Health, "a connection to the bloodstream is necessary, which allows blood to flow into the device. In the device, it is filtered and processed by the membranes, with waste and water being discharged into a bag -- the external bladder -- to be discarded, and important substances like salt, calcium, and nutrients returned to the body." In its final form, the device would operate continuously, imitating natural kidneys. No dialysis solution is used.

Using computer modeling, the researchers found that the device, operating 12 hours per day, seven days per week, actually provides a greater filtering rate than conventional dialysis given three times a week.

That's damn good news for people with kidney problems.

Furthermore, this is actually quite a fascinating development.

Why, you ask?


First it's kidneys. What's next? If we can build artificial kidneys and wombs, why not build artificial replacements for the rest of our organs?

At first, these artificial organs will be used to replace our broken ones. But then... the artificial organs will start reaching a level of functionality that surpasses the functionality or our own organs.

The result...?

The birth of bionic man. Or Human Body Version 2.0 as Ray Kurzweil so eloquently puts it.

We will become cyborgs.

The possibilities include:

  • Replacement vascular system: programmable blood (respirocytes, read about them on the web), no more failure-prone heart necessary.
  • Upgraded digestive system: eat whatever you like, never get fat, stay healthier with less maintance (and by that I mean healthfood and exercise)
  • Stronger skeleton, allowing us to survive carcrashes and other accidents more easily.

And I'm sure there are lots more things to be upgraded about our bodies, but you get the picture.

Prepare for a wild ride.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Nanomachines Simulations

So, you've read some stuff about The Future Of Molecular Manufacturing, and you were impressed and fascinated with the prospect of molecular manufacturing providing us with any material needs cheaply and quickly.... but now you actually want to see some nanomachines in action?

Well, today's your lucky day, because you can take a look at some nanomachines over at the nanoENGINEER-1 website.

These machines are not exactly as sophisticated as the nanobots you've probably read something about by now. You know... the ones that can clean up our environment by disassembling (or otherwise neutralising) chemical crap, and that can keep our bodies in perfect health until the end of time.

But they're not just pretty pictures either. These machines have been simulated using the nanoENGINEER-1 simulation software, which is based on known physical laws.

This means that, if you'd have a bunch of atoms stuffed together as shown in the pictures, they would behave the same way in the real physical world as they do in the simulations shown.

A few days ago, these pictures were animated. Now they seem to be still pictures. Kind of a shame. But still cool to look at.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Molecule Walks Like Man

Molecule Walks Like Man

After a nano motor, a nano elevator, nano-capsules (and a whole bunch of other, simple machines at the nanoscale), there is now a nanomachine that walks like a human.

From the article:

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A research team, led by UC Riverside’s Ludwig Bartels, is the first to design a molecule that can move in a straight line on a flat surface. It achieves this by closely mimicking human walking. The “nano-walker” offers a new approach for storing large amounts of information on a tiny chip and demonstrates that concepts from the world we live in can be duplicated at the nanometer scale – the scale of atoms and molecules.


“Similar to a human walking, where one foot is kept on the ground while the other moves forward and propels the body, our molecule always has one linker on a flat surface, which prevents the molecule from stumbling to the side or veering off course,” said Bartels, assistant professor of chemistry and a member of UCR’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. “In tests, DTA took more than 10,000 steps without losing its balance once. Our work proves that molecules can be designed deliberately to perform certain dynamic tasks on surfaces.”

Even though this article stresses that this nano walker might be applied in storage technology, I think it's pretty safe to conclude that advances like these will also help out nicely with realizing The Future Of Molecular Computing.

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On Brain-Computer Interfaces

Here's an interesting one...

Computer users move themselves with the mind

This is an excellent example of where exactly brain-reverse engineering is at this point in time. It's much farther progressed than most people think. We actually know a whole lot about how our brain works.

Enough to have chimps move artificial arms, anyway...

From the article:

Computer scientists have created a hat that can read your thoughts. It allows you to stroll down a virtual street. All you have to do is think about walking.

Called a brain-computer interface, the device detects activity in certain brain areas linked to movement, and uses the signals to mimic that movement in a virtual world. The technology could one day help paralysed patients to move robotic arms, or help sufferers of motor neuron disease to type out words on a virtual keyboard.

"Just thinking about movement activates the same neurons as actually moving," explains Gert Pfurtscheller of Graz University of Technology in Austria, who has been working on the device for around four years. By picking up on these bursts of nerve activity, the computer can decide whether you are thinking about moving your hands or feet, and react accordingly.

Interfaces such as these will definately come in handy once computers will start to become ever more mobile.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

The Future Of Computers (3)

Sun President: PC's are so yesterday

I've written about this before, in my blogpost entitled The Future Of Computers. PC's aren't with us for many more years... at least not in their current form. In my blogpost I wrote about how computer systems are shrinking.

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz has something else to say about the fate of the PC that now clutters up your desktop:

"The majority of the applications that will drive the next wave of innovation will be services, not applications that run on the desktop. The real innovation is occurring in the network and the network services," Schwartz said.


Schwartz points to the increasing wealth and power of companies, like eBay, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com, that profit from free services available over the network. Among his audience, many more people said they'd rather have access to Internet services than their desktop computing applications.


The threat to PCs is twofold. Not only are services moving to the network, Schwartz said, but PCs won't be the way people use those services--particularly in poorer areas of the world that have risen higher up Sun's corporate priority list. Instead, that access will come through mobile phones.

"The majority of the world will first experience the Internet through their handset," Schwartz said.

Ayup... that's the future of computers for ya.

And by the time this scenario will come to pass, we'll be enjoying scandalously high definition videostreams over our wireless connections as well.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dermal Display

Gina - the nanorgirl - Miller and Robert Freitas have come up with an animation to design what a dermal display would look like.
Gina Miller is a strong nanotechnology advocate. Robert Freitas is well known for his Nanomedicine books.

A dermal display would basically allow our skins to function as displays. Pictures are included at the link, and since pictures say more than a thousand words, go and check'em out right now!

The technology presented here is something that could be realized by nanotechnology that is more advanced than we have now.

The possibilities include (but are not limited to):

  • Dynamic Tattoos: tattoos that can change, or disappear completely when you need'em to (like... when you're headed for a job interview).
  • Real-time health information: Imagine being able to check out your own health right off your own skin, whenever you like. Being able to do this is nothing to joke about. It has the capacity to turn your own healthcare from a reactive into a preventive healthcare. This basically means: not getting sick, but knowing you're about to get sick in advance, and then doing something about it before it actually happens.
  • Real-time mood information: will people be able to get along better with each other if they could read other people's mood right off their skin? Well... most likely, yeah.
  • Covering up of ugly skin blemishes, scartissue, etcetera.
  • Live videostreams, anytime, anywhere: speaks for itself. We will also need fast connections for this. But those will undoubtedly be there once the dermal display-technology can be realized.
The future looks pretty groovy. ;)

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University of Denmark Scientists Develop Hydrogen Tablet

University of Denmark Scientists Develop Hydrogen Tablet

Scientists have come up with a solution to one of the three major barriers that prevent the hydrogen economy from taking off right now. The three barriers are:

  • hydrogen production (is still expensive and mostly produced with fossil fuels, needs to become cheap and renewable)
  • hydrogen usage (this is what fuel cells do, and fuel cells are expected to become cost competative with internal combustion engines in the coming years)
  • hydrogen storage (hydrogen is a real bitch to store and transfer, and there needs to be an efficient way to do this)
The one barrier which now comes crumbling down because of this solution, is the last one.

Hydrogen is a dangerous material. In gasform, it occupies too much volume, and it is also highly flammable (Hindenburg, anyone?). Therefore, many a scientist has spent many an hour thinking of a solution around this.

These researchers have now managed to develop a hydrogen 'tablet', which basically stores hydrogen in a solid form.

From the article:

The hydrogen tablet is safe and inexpensive. In this respect it is different from most other hydrogen storage technologies. You can literally carry the material in your pocket without any kind of safety precaution.


“We have a new solution to one of the major obstacles to the use of hydrogen as a fuel. And we need new energy technologies – oil and gas will not last, and without energy, there is no modern society”, says Jens Nørskov.

Thanks to technological strides like these, a few years from now, we will be able to have a good laugh at the peak oil doomsday crowd, which seems to actually want peak oil to cause the collapse of civilization as we know it.

For more information on why the peak oil doomsday scenario is absolute, total, utter nonsense, see these links:

There are many more links to debunk peak oil. There are plenty of links to follow from the above links.

I just spotted this right after posting this post:

Shell CEO: Enough Oil To Last A Century

It's a Dutch article, so you'll have to run it through a page-translator if you want to actually read it.


At the moment, an oil well is dubbed 'empty' once 30% has been pumped from it. With better technology, it will become feasible to drill deeper.

Fuel might not become cheaper, so it is entirely possible that other fuel sources will become competative through normal market mechanisms.

This is exactly what Marshall Brain predicts in his peak-oil-non-event post (see link above).

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Singularity Is Near

A new book by Ray Kurzweil, the guy behind the legendary essay The Law Of Accelerating Returns, is coming out.

After The Age Of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, we can now look forward to The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

In this book, Ray writes some more about his already wellknown views about how humanity is about to merge with its own technology, thereby transcending our biological limits and launching ourselves into a transhuman / posthuman era.

Here's what Bill Gates has to say about Ray Kurzweil:

Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations--transforming our lives in ways we can't yet imagine.

- Bill Gates

I'm thinking about getting it. Even though Ray's views are, in my opinion, nowhere near as realistic as those of the Singularity Institute for AI (who predict the Singularity will occur way sooner than 2045), I still find his writings to be inspiring.

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Home DNA Tests Now Feasible

Home DNA Tests Now Feasible

Isn't that amazing? You can now do a simple DNA test at home for a few measly bucks.

As the cost of DNA sequencing is dropping like a brick (thanks to exponential increases in the technology to do it), we can be sure that humanity will achieve the 1000 dollar genome by 2010.

From then on, it will become standard to get a computer generated summary of your own cheaply-scanned DNA, which will tell you what your genetic predispositions are.

You'll be able to take measures to avoid diseases that you are prone to. And you'll know what your personal advantages are too, allowing you to exploit them without going through a long process of trial and error to find out exactly what your advantages are.

Personal genome-scans also open the door for personalized medicine. That is, medication that is suited to your personal genome, which will make it lots more efficient than today's "one size fits all"-drugs.

Because of the preventive power that technology like this will give us, your healthcare would have to be insane not to pay for your personal genome-scan. After all, it is likely to save many thousands of dollars in the long run.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Airgo Comes Up With 240Mbps Wireless Chip

From the press release:

Airgo Networks, Inc., pioneer and world leader in high performance wireless technology, today announced its third generation True MIMO chipset with support for data rates up to 240Mbps. For the first time consumers will be able to experience faster-than-wired speeds over a wireless network - and almost three times the speed of other premium wireless technologies on the market today.

This is much faster than most people have ever seen. My own connection is a lowly 4Mbps, sixty times lower than 240Mbps. And that's just the downstream. The upstream is even lower.

Technology like this can provide us with television on demand, which means that basically only one TV-channel will exist: yours.

Especially if the folks at Google get their way. They plan to scan all books and tv programs into digital media.

It could also provide us those really cool, live videostreams that we seen in Hollywood movies. And I'm not sure I even want to think about what this technology is going to do to the gaming industry (which is already struggling to keep its head above water), once warez can be distributed at rates like these.

Wirelessness is a very important enabling technology for The Future Of Computers. We can all rest assured that Airgo's chip will make it so that wirelessness won't be a problem in the near future.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Nanochip Emulates Human Brain

KurzweilAI.net reports the following: Nanochip Emulates Human Brain

Researchers are developing a new 3-D chip design using spintronics and a complex interconnected network of nanowires, with computing functions and decisions performed at the nodes where they meet -- an approach similar to neurons and axons in the brain.

It combines the storage capability of a hard drive with the low cost of memory cards, potentially increasing memory capacity by 200 times from an average of 500MB to around 100GB.

In my opinion, this is a pretty big deal. It is also a very good illustration of a certain scenario that I have written about in my Singularity FAQ.

In the FAQ, I describe the enabling technologies for a fullblown superior artificial intelligence. Two very important 'enablers' are nano-circuitry, and a thorough understanding of how the human brain's intelligence works.

A nanochip that emulates the human brain to store information efficiently, is an impressive feat. It not only shows that nanocircuits are possible (as if there was any doubt in these last few years), but it also (once again) shows that it is entirely possible to understand how our own brain works.

It is an impressive achievement. And yet this is only the beginning. We ain't seen nothin' yet. I expect that chips will slowly but surely take on more and more characterstics of brains that are based on the neural network paradigm. Such a chip could dynamically (re)configure itself to be faster at specific tasks. Standard CPU's, the ones we use today, can't do that. They need to be very general in design... being able to run any sort of application, to reflect the demands of users worldwide.

This makes them slower than, say, CPU's in game consoles, which are dedicated to run graphical applications. Games that run on game consoles require CPU's that have much less clockspeed than games that run on general-use PC's, due to the game-dedicated hardware of game consoles.

Nano-tsunami also reports on this: New Microchip Design Could Be The Key To Expanding Mobile Phone Memory.

Researchers from Imperial College London, Durham University and the University of Sheffield say their new computer chip design will enable large amounts of data to be stored in small volumes by using a complex interconnected network of nanowires, with computing functions and decisions performed at the nodes where they meet a similar approach to neurons and axons in the brain.

Large amounts of data in small volumes?

Sounds like a technology that could help out nicely with The Future Of Computers.

Another fine example of a respectable amount of data (4GB) in an extremely small volume, is the new iPod Nano. The Archos GMini 402 is not too shabby either: it has 20GB of space, it can play music, movies, videogames, and it functions as an external harddisk.

I'd say a true 'all-in-one' pocket-machine is just a few years away.

Back on topic. By reading the title of the article, you'd think that this is all about memory for mobile devices. But that's just one of many optional applications:

Lead researcher Russell Cowburn , Professor of Nanotechnology in Imperial's Department of Physics, explains: "The new video mobile phones are very popular, but they desperately need more memory so that people can take longer videos and store them. This technology has the potential to transform mobiles into fully functioning video cameras, in addition to a range of other applications."

I'd say we're headed for a very cool mobile and wireless world, where we take our computational power with us wherever we go.

Extrapolations show that, circa 2015/2020, we'll be able to record our entire lives at only a fraction of the storage space that will be cheaply available to us.

Think about that.

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