Thursday, August 24, 2006

Our Technological Future - Mixed Bag #1

Embryonic stem cells without embryo death.

You don’t have to destroy an embryo to create stem cells for medical research. An American biosciences company has succeeded in deriving the cells from embryos without killing them, raising hopes that President Bush will reconsider his veto on federal funding for such work.


Lanza hopes that because the method does not involve destroying embryos, it will lead to the lifting of the veto on federal funding for stem cell research. “We need to jump-start the field – it’s been crippled by a lack of funding,” he says. “This will hopefully solve the political impasse and bring the president on board, as no embryos will be harmed with this method.”

The Future of Robots.
Once we understand how the mind operates, we will be able to program detailed descriptions of these principles into inexpensive computers, which, by the late 2020s, will be thousands of times as powerful as the human brain—another consequence of the law of accelerating returns. So we will have both the hardware and software to achieve human-level intelligence in a machine by 2029. We will also by then be able to construct fully humanlike androids at exquisite levels of detail and send blood-cell-size robots into our bodies and brains to keep us healthy from inside and to augment our intellect. By the time we succeed in building such machines, we will have become part machine ourselves. We will, in other words, finally transcend what we have so long thought of as the ultimate limitations: our bodies and minds.

Nanosolar: Printing Solar Film Like Paper.
Nanosolar is a company based in Palo Alto, California, which uses an innovative technique to produce a kind of "solar film". To make the film, Nanosolar prints CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer using machines that look like printing presses. There is no costly silicon involved in the process, and, ultimately, a solar cell from Nanosolar will cost about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a standard silicon solar panel. Nanosolar is only a few years old, but it has laid plans to take on multinational corporations, such as BP and Sharp, in the solar industry.

Computers write news at Thomson.
First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

Chaos Computing.
Ditto's chip is like the microelectronic version of a stem cell: It's a device that can assume all sorts of different functions. But a chaotic chip goes one step further: It can morph over and over again. For computer design, this has huge implications. In a traditional chip, the basic elements, called logic gates, are hardwired to perform a single, specific task. In a chaotic chip, each logic gate can be converted on the fly to perform any function.

What this means is that computers will no longer need separate, costly chips for the CPU, memory, video RAM, graphics accelerators, arithmetic processing units, and so on. Instead, one chip will convert itself to whatever functions the software needs at a given moment.

3-D TV That Actually Works.
I entered a conference room in Manhattan and a woman on the TV tossed a handful of rose petals out of the screen, where they floated in the air before my eyes.

At least, that's what I saw. In truth, the image resided on a perfectly flat, 42-inch LCD screen. But the 3-D illusion was fully believable, and I didn't have to wear a dorky set of polarizing glasses.

A new line of 3-D televisions by Philips uses the familiar trick of sending slightly different images to the left and right eyes -- mimicking our stereoscopic view of the real world. But where old-fashioned 3-D movies rely on the special glasses to block images meant for the other eye, Philips' WOWvx technology places tiny lenses over each of the millions of red, green and blue sub pixels that make up an LCD or plasma screen. The lenses cause each sub pixel to project light at one of nine angles fanning out in front of the display.

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