Monday, December 31, 2012

Google and Ray Kurzweil into advanced trans-humanism?


Google’s New Director of Engineering Is Planning To Change The Future Of Humanity….Inventor Ray Kurzweil hopes to develop ways from humans to live forever, and while he’s at it, bring back his dead father. Behind him is the support of a tech giant…”

Ray Kurzweil, Google's Director Of Engineering, Wants To Bring The Dead Back To Life

Inventor Ray Kurzweil hopes to develop ways for humans to live forever, and while he’s at it, bring back his dead father.

Behind him is the support of a tech giant. This month, Kurzweil, a futurist, stepped into the role of Director of Engineering at Google, focusing on machine learning and language processing.

"There is a lot of suffering in the world," Kurzweil once said, according to Bloomberg. "Some of it can be overcome if we have the right solutions."

Since his father's death in 1970, Kurzweil has stored his keepsakes in hopes the data will one day be fed into a computer capable of creating a virtual version of him, Bloomberg reported. Interestingly, one of his novels lays out how humans might "transcend biology."

According to TechCrunch, his controversial theories are rooted in the idea of technological singularity, a time when humans and machines sync up to the point of nearly limitless advancement.

That idea, which interests Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, could happen as soon as 2030, Kurzweil says.

"We are a human machine civilization and we create these tools to make ourselves smarter," Kurzweil told Scientific American.

In his latest book, "How To Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed," he writes about wanting to engineer a computerized replica of the human brain. If we understand the brain well enough, he says, we would be better equipped to fix its problems, like mental and neurological illnesses.

He imagines a search engine capable of accessing a database of your thoughts, stored in the Cloud. It would anticipate what people are seeking before they even know.

Much of this may sound nearly impossible, but Kurzweil has been spot-on about technological forecasts in the past.

"In 1999, I said that in about a decade we would see technologies such as self-driving cars and mobile phones that could answer your questions, and people criticized these predictions as unrealistic," he said in a statement announcing his position at Google. "Fast forward a decade –- Google has demonstrated self-driving cars, and people are indeed asking questions of their Android phones."

Digital Trends places Kurzweil among the most-celebrated and recognized innovators of the last four decades. In 1976, several of his innovations converged into the first device that could read printed text out loud for the blind. He was 27 years old at the time.

Now, the next generation of inventors will learn from him. Google recently allotted more than $250,000 toward his graduate school, Singularity University, according to Bloomberg. After 10 weeks of a curriculum focusing on biotech, robots, and artificial intelligence, students -- forgoing a traditional degree -- create their own startups.

"I'm thrilled to be teaming up with Google to work on some of the hardest problems in computer science so we can turn the next decade's 'unrealistic' visions into reality," Kurzweil said in the statement.



Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


The robotic equivalent of a Swiss army knife

Reconfigurable robot a step toward something that can become almost anything.

The device doesn’t look like much: a caterpillar-sized assembly of metal rings and strips resembling something you might find buried in a home-workshop drawer. But the technology behind it, and the long-range possibilities it represents, are quite remarkable.

The little device is called a milli-motein — a name melding its millimeter-sized components and a motorized design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex shapes. This minuscule robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable.

The device was conceived by Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, visiting scientist Ara Knaian and postdoctoral associate Kenneth Cheung, and is described in a paper presented recently at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference. Its key feature, Gershenfeld says: “It’s effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes.”

To build the world’s smallest chain robot, the team had to invent an entirely new kind of motor: not only small and strong, but also able to hold its position firmly even with power switched off. The researchers met these needs with a new system called an electropermanent motor.

The motor is similar in principle to the giant electromagnets used in scrapyards to lift cars, in which a powerful permanent magnet (one that, like an ordinary bar magnet, requires no power) is paired with a weaker magnet (one whose magnetic field direction can be flipped by an electric current in a coil). The two magnets are designed so that their fields either add or cancel, depending on which way the switchable field points. Thus, the force of the powerful magnet can be turned off at will — such as to release a suspended car — without having to power an enormous electromagnet the whole time.

A four-segment milli-motein chain with a one-centimeter 
module size. 

In this new miniature version, a series of permanent magnets paired with electromagnets are arranged in a circle; they drive a steel ring that’s situated around them. The key innovation, Knaian explains, is that “they do not take power in either the on or the off state, but only use power in the changing state,” using minimal energy overall.

The milli-motein concept follows up on a paper, published last year, which examined the theoretical possibility of assembling any desired 3-D shape simply by folding a long string of identical subunits. That paper, co-authored by Cheung, MIT professor Erik Demaine, alumnus Saul Griffith, and former Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory research scientist Jonathan Bachrach, proved mathematically that it was possible for any 3-D shape to be reproduced by folding a sufficiently long string — and that it’s possible to figure out how to fold such a string, and the exact steps needed to successfully reach the desired endpoint.

“We showed that you could make such a universal system that’s very simple,” Cheung says. While he and his colleagues have not yet proved a way of always finding the optimal path to a given folded shape, they did find several useful strategies for arriving at practical folding sequences. 

Demaine points out that the folding of the shape doesn’t have to be sequential, moving along the string one joint at a time. “Ideally, you’d like to do it all at once,” he says, with each of the joints folding themselves to the desired configuration simultaneously so that the loads are distributed.

Other researchers, including some at MIT, have explored the idea of fashioning reconfigurable robots from a batch of separate pieces that could self-assemble into different configurations — an approach sometimes called “programmable pebbles.” But Gershenfeld’s team found that a string of subunits capable of folding itself into any shape could be simpler in terms of control, power and communications than using separate pieces that must find each other and assemble in the right order. “You can just pass signals down the chain,” Knaian says.

It’s part of an overall approach, Gershenfeld explains, to “turning data into things.” In an article in the current issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs, he describes a technology roadmap for accomplishing that, and its policy implications. He and his colleagues have established a global network of more than 100 “fab labs” that provide community access to computer-controlled fabrication tools. Today, the design information is contained in an external computer rather than in the materials being manufactured, but the research goal is to digitize the materials themselves so that they can ultimately change their own shape, as the milli-motein does.

Hod Lipson, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and computing and information science at Cornell University, says,  "This result brings us closer to the idea of programmable matter — where computer programs and materials merge to form a new kind of matter whose shape and function can be programmed — not unlike biology. Many people are excited today to learn about 3-D printing and its ability to fabricate any shape; Gershenfeld’s group is already thinking about the next episode, where we don’t just control the shape of objects, but also their behavior."

The milli-motein is part of a family of such devices being explored at size scales ranging from protein-based “nanoassemblers” to a version where the chain is as big as a person, Gershenfeld says. Ultimately, a reconfigurable robot should be “small, cheap, durable and strong,” Knaian says, adding that right now, “it’s not possible to get all of those.” Still, he points out, “Biology is the existence proof that it is possible.”

The MIT researchers’ work could lead to robotic systems that can be dynamically reconfigured to do many different jobs rather than repeating a fixed function, and that can be produced much more cheaply than conventional robotics.

The development of the milli-motein included recent graduate Maxim Lobovsky SM '11 and undergraduate students Asa Oines and Peter Schmidt-Neilsen (who worked on the project as visiting high-school students). The work was supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation and Programmable Matter projects.



Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com

License Plates, Cameras, and Our Vanishing Privacy

New license-plate video cameras are tracking millions of us as we drive around  

Last year we did several shows about GPS tracking of automobiles, that is, whether the police can attach a tracking device to a suspect’s car, and do they need a warrant for that. As it turns out, that question is almost irrelevant, quaint, even. Today the police have a wide variety of ways to track us, none of which involve actually touching your car.

The latest and most disturbing development is the way law enforcement officials can use license plate information culled from video cameras—a practice that turns out to be vastly more common than you might think, because there are way more video cameras photographing license plates than you probably thought. Besides fixed cameras, such as at traffic lights, cops themselves are wielding recording equipment optimized for reading license plates. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, a study by the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy found that “37 percent of large police departments were using [license] plate readers.”

At just one of them, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in California, 49 camera-equipped vehicles took 6 million scans, recording a total of 2 million unique license plates over a two-year period that ended this August.

And it’s not just the government. The Wall Street Journal article described vast databases of hundreds of millions of license plate scans by private companies. It cited a single auto repossession agency in Baltimore, whose agents—repo men, as they’re popularly called—scan over 10 million plates each year now.

There’s a wide variety of other technologies now being employed by law enforcement: radioactivity detectors, automotive black boxes, navigation systems, automated toll collection, the GPS in your cellphone, the traffic cameras I mentioned, civilian drones, facial recognition software, and more. And it can all be correlated with driver’s license databases, credit card information, national identity registries, cellular billing records, supermarket discount cards, and, again, more.

My guest today is Colonel Lisa Shay. She’s a professor of electrical engineering at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, that is, in New York State. She has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also in New York.

Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa Shay: Thank you very much, Steven.

Steven Cherry: So first tell us a little bit about the license plate readers. The technology has gotten a bit more common lately. Is that just Moore’s Law at work?

Lisa Shay: Well, absolutely, that’s a component of it. We have an increased capability to make sensors smaller and smaller, and because they’re smaller, they can physically be used in more places. As demand becomes higher, they become mass-produced, and the cost goes down, and so it’s sort of a version of Moore’s Law. It’s kind of a combination of Moore’s Law and mass production.

Steven Cherry: And they’ve gotten a lot more accurate lately?

Lisa Shay: Well, that is an interesting question. The cameras themselves are simply sensors, and so it’s not really accurate to say how accurate that is. When you talk about accuracy, you’re interpreting an image, doing some sort of optical character recognition on it, so there’s two parts to that: The sensors themselves are becoming better in that they have higher resolution, but the accuracy of the algorithm that does the optical character recognition is . . . it depends, and there’s not a lot of data on that that’s been published.

Steven Cherry: So how does this work? The video camera snaps the actual back of a car, let’s say, and the software focuses in on the license plate and tries to read it as numbers and letters?

Lisa Shay: Yes, that’s exactly what happens.

Steven Cherry: All right, so a cop can see someone speeding or driving recklessly, and they’re able to snap a picture instantly, and with improving, at least, accuracy. What’s wrong with that?

Lisa Shay: Well, potentially there’s not a whole lot wrong with that. If a policeman is using this system because they’ve identified that there is a crime being committed, and they’re using this as a way of enforcing a law that they’ve already determined has been broken, I think that’s fine. The question is really the broader topic that was brought out in your introduction, that there are many cameras that are set up all over the country that are photographing traffic. And the question then is, Where is that data being sent? Who is analyzing it? And what is being done with it? Is it being used for what purpose? Because traffic cameras that are just continuously on are recording data from people who are perfectly law abiding, who are simply driving to work on a public highway.

Steven Cherry: I said that the license plate data can be correlated with a lot of other databases. Are they, in fact, being correlated? And who’s doing that?

Lisa Shay: Well, there was just actually published in a conference in Boston in October a paper discussing exactly that by a group of investigators in the United Kingdom. They assert, in fact, that, yes, these license plate readers in the UK are being combined with the police, with other data from either cellphones or other location-based information, to identify criminals or to track criminal suspects. The technology certainly exists for police to, or other organizations to, do this because every cellphone nowadays just about has a GPS in it, and the cellphone companies know where each cellphone is, so that data is available to them. And license plate data is available to whatever entities operate these roadside traffic cameras, which are a variety of different entities that operate those systems. And, of course, there’s private companies that operate the cameras that do the repo men, as you mentioned.

So these datasets exist. They exist in digital form, and any dataset that exists in digital form can be easily transmitted somewhere else; it can be easily processed. And that can be done intentionally, because the companies that own these datasets desire to aggregate them, or it could be done unintentionally, because someone hacks into this database of this information and then correlates it. So there’s the privacy concern that’s twofold: One, that this information might be accessed illegally by hackers, or that the companies that collect this data could then sell it to each other for either market research or for some other purpose.

Steven Cherry: In the movies, we often see the government with a sort of perfect ability to track someone as they move around a city or across a country. They do this in the TV show Homeland all the time, for example. It’s completely unrealistic now, but I gather you fear it’s becoming quite realistic, and that this license plate technology could end up becoming a key part of that equation.

Lisa Shay: Well, that’s a concern. There’s two parts to that: One is, can someone be tracked perfectly? What are the limits to this system? Because every technological system, every tracking system, has false alarm rates. There’s false positives and there’s false negatives, and those are inherent to any system, and there’s not a lot of rigorous analysis being done on these systems to determine what are those false alarm rates. And so it is possible that you have this illusion of perfect tracking, but in fact you’re not tracking the right person.

And then on the flipside, even if you are tracking people, then at what point do we have a right to privacy? There’s certainly expectations of privacy in one’s own home that can be violated because your GPS signal is, in many cases, detectable outside of your home. So there’s strict privacy that’s clearly violated by some of these systems. But then there’s even a less-precise notion of privacy, that at any given moment in time that I’m walking down the street, I’m in public, and anyone, of course, can see me, but that’s a very transient phenomenon. The people who see me, 99 percent of them don’t know who I am. They don’t remember me more than three or four seconds after they’ve seen me, and unless I’m looking for somebody, I’m looking to meet a friend, say, at a restaurant, it’s almost an anonymous system. Yes, I’m in public, but my data isn’t persistent in any way.

That all changes when this data is stored electronically, because now a log, a record, is being kept of my whereabouts that could be viewed later. It is a persistent record. It can be viewed not just by the 10 people on the sidewalk that I happen to pass, but anybody anywhere in the world that has electronic access to this dataset.

Steven Cherry: And to connect it up with everything else you’re doing in your day . . .

Lisa Shay: Right. Yes, and then to note that I went to a grocery store, and then the data collected by my grocery loyalty card can be linked to the fact that I didn’t go to the gym that day and instead bought a package of cookies, and then that goes to my health insurance company that says, “Oh, you’re no longer exercising and your diet has gone downhill. Perhaps we need to relook at your insurance premiums.” This all becomes very dystopian.

Steven Cherry: Yeah, and I was going to ask you, Is it a bigger problem when the government is doing this, or private companies ?

Lisa Shay: It’s no longer just the government that we have to concern ourselves with. Back in the Cold War, we certainly thought of Big Brother as the government, because the organizations with the most resources to devote to this sort of issue tended to be governmental, but that’s no longer the case. And that’s an even bigger concern, because in countries like the United States, we have a Bill of Rights. We have laws that regulate governmental behavior that’s different from the laws that regulate corporate behavior, and the corporate law hasn’t necessarily caught up with these notions of privacy and sharing data and aggregating data.

Steven Cherry: In your writings you’ve used the phrase “police state.” You say we don’t have one, but we have the technology to have one. Actually, the problem in a way goes beyond that, right? It’s not just the police that can know everything about us, it’s Walmart, it’s our insurance company, it’s our bank, it’s everybody.

Lisa Shay: Yes. “Police state” is a turn of phrase that perhaps is a bit dated now. It’s designed to elicit . . . it’s a metaphor, and certainly in the ’50s and ’60s, we were most concerned with what governments were doing. And if you think about what life might have been like in Eastern Europe or in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, imagine what the KGB would have done with this kind of technology. But nowadays it’s not just the governments that we have to think about, it’s what happens when Walmart and my insurance company and my Visa card and my auto insurance company all are collecting data about where I am every minute of the day. Is my life really intended to be something that everybody can view at any given moment?

Steven Cherry: So the technology keeps getting better and cheaper and faster, and it seems that it is just going to become used more and more widely until we have no privacy at all. Do you see any way off of that roller coaster, which seems to be entirely downhill?

Lisa Shay: No future is inevitable. There are certainly courses of action that can be taken. My colleagues and I have analyzed this phenomenon from a couple of different perspectives. First, you look at who are the owners of these surveillance systems and what is their interest in setting these systems up. They typically have a legitimate interest in a very specific purpose, and then the people who make these systems should then target their applications to meet that single need—and either through voluntary standards and best practices of how these systems are designed from the ground up, or from regulations and laws bounding how these systems can be operated.

There are definitely ways to allow the owners of these systems to meet their immediate need for safety or security, or for monitoring employees’ behavior that are within the bounds of their employment contract, to meet those objectives in a way that doesn’t excessively violate our privacy. And we advocate designing systems with privacy built in from the ground up, so making these systems do their intended purpose but not more than that. But in many cases it may take government regulation or laws to limit how data is released. Something as simple as having individuals having opt-out or opt-in policies for surveillance would be a step in the right direction.

Steven Cherry: Well, we can hope that those laws come to exist or that those options come to exist. And let me thank you, Lisa, first of all for your service. . . . Your biography mentions that you were deployed as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

Lisa Shay: Oh, thank you.

Steven Cherry: And, of course, for your continued service at West Point. And let me thank you for joining us today.

Lisa Shay: Thank you very much for this opportunity.

Steven Cherry: We’ve been speaking with Colonel Lisa Shay of the U.S. Military Academy about our continually diminishing privacy, this time from portable license-plate-reading video cameras.



Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com
NYTimes: West Antarctica Warming Faster Than Thought, Study Finds http://nyti.ms/Veb3E2 

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

QUESTIONS: Is this Future an unfortunate train wreck waiting to happen? How many Sputnik moments do we really need? I hope not! At whatever rate, there is universal underestimation of the dynamics of change!



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Friday, November 2, 2012


NASA Preps Drone Hurricane Hunters, But Misses Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has slammed onto the eastern seaboard. There’s been widespread damage and flooding across more than six states. There’s been loss of life. But at NASA, researchers are developing a pair of experimental unmanned drones to track future storms in the hope of being better prepared for when they strike.

That would be the high-flying Global Hawk, used by the Air Force to spy on insurgents in Afghanistan. But it’s also able to double for hurricane-hunting missions. They can stay in the air for longer than manned flights — up to 30 hours — giving the drones a much larger “window of opportunity” to fly into a hurricane, and can travel much farther and at higher altitudes than manned planes. When NASA flew one of its Global Hawks toward Hurricane Nadine in September, it sent the drone all the way into the eastern Atlantic, much farther out than the NOAA’s WP-3D Orion planes can reach.

In September, NASA began the first test flights of a pair of Global Hawks in a five-year-mission to track hurricanes and tropical storms, called Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel. It’s the first time aerial storm-tracking has been carried out by the drone, which NASA hopes will one day augment manned flights and allow researchers to measure changes in hurricane intensity for much longer periods.

But the drones just missed Sandy.

“Despite the fact that it was an incredibly busy hurricane season, we happened to hit the lull of season,” says Scott Braun, a research meteorologist and mission director. After concluding tests over the Atlantic that began in September, NASA’s one working drone left its Wallops Island facility in Virginia for the Dryden Flight Research Center in California — for a new round of tests in the Pacific. The other drone never left Dryden due to avionics problems, and neither were in Virginia when Sandy unexpectedly arrived.

Still, the project has a lot of potential for tracking hurricanes, Braun says. One of the reasons Sandy is so big — and strengthened considerably overnight Sunday — is due to the storm’s warm air colliding with a northern cold front, referred to as baroclinic forcing in meteorological terms. “Imagine right now being able to do these flights over Sandy where you’re mapping out the surface wind field, particularly in areas north of the storm which has slammed into the areas of New Jersey and New York,” Braun says. “Measuring that surface wind field could prove critical for forecasting.”

The two drones are equipped with different sensors. The first packs sensors for sampling environmental conditions around hurricanes. The second is designed to fly up above storms with a variety of instruments to measure the storms themselves; including a Doppler radar, a microwave sounder for measuring temperature and humidity, and a microwave radiometer for measuring surface wind speeds and rainfall. In combination, flying one after the other, the pair of robot storm-sniffers can measure more accurately how hurricanes get stronger.

But the drones also have their limitations. Manned planes are quicker and easier to get back into the air afterward than the Global Hawk, partly due to manned flights having larger ground crews. This gives NOAA’s current fleet the ability to do “frequent but short hooks” toward the storms, Braun says. Sufficiently cloudy or foggy weather can also ground the Global Hawk, as a manned observer plane is required to be nearby any drone launches due to FAA regulations. If the spotter plane can’t track the drone, then it can’t take off.

More likely, Braun says, is flying a combination of manned and unmanned flights, with each swapping out depending on the environment and distance. It won’t make the storms any less devastating, but it could give a bit more warning.



Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 27, 2012

“...This is the first generation of people that work, play, think and learn differently than their parents .... They are the first generation to not be afraid of technology. It's like the air to them..." -Don Tapscott


Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com
“...These kids are 80 million alone in the U.S. They're like a tidal wave. And we've all been sitting on the beach wondering what kind of day it's going to be and no one noticed the tsunami just off the horizon, one hundred yards high, that's about to sweep us all away. We've got the first generation to grow up digital, and you know it..." -Don Tapscot


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“...These kids are different, and they're about to change the world..."  -Don Tapscott




Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com
“...Companies that don't understand that these kids are different as consumers, are going to be in deep trouble, too. I mean they have huge power as consumers, much bigger than the baby boom per capita. We really need to wake up and understand. Because it's going to affect the brand, it will affect everything that we know about marketing..." -Don Tapscot


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“...Kids are very savvy about the technology. But I'm not sure they totally understand the implications of a billion people being able to see them doing whatever is posted...” -Don Tapscott


Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: http://goo.gl/HKcYU ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! │ Futuretronium Supranational Initiative │ Futuretronium Book at http://goo.gl/JujXk ─ www.FUTURE-OBSERVATORY.blogspot.com
“...There is a fundamental change taking place in terms of how corporations create value and arguably, in terms of the core architecture of the corporation. I think it's the biggest change in a century in the ways that companies build relationships and interact with other entities, institutions in the economy and in society and arguably, the nature of the corporation itself...” -Don Tapscot


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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Roll-Royce’s Henry Royce observed, “…Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it…”
  

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Friday, August 31, 2012


“…A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards, as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push…” Ludwig Wittgenstein



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“…Where there is joy, there is creation…” The Upanishads



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Wednesday, August 22, 2012


FUTURE OWNERSHIP?

“…the future belongs not to those who possess a crystal ball, but to those willing to challenge the biases and prejudices of the 'establishment.’ The future belongs more to the unorthodox than it does to the prognosticators, more to the movement than to the starry-eyed…” Gary Hamel


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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “…There are always two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement...”



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CRAFTING THE FUTURE?

“…Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future…” Peter Drucker



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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“…A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance…” Gian Carlo Menotti


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“…Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything…” George Bernard Shaw



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“…My belief is that every good cause is worth some inefficiency…” Paul Samuelson


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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

NASA’s new Mars Rover sends higher-resolution image

About two hours after landing on Mars and beaming back its first image, NASA’s Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image of its new Martian home, Gale Crater.

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles (about five kilometers) tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles (nearly 155 kilometers) 7in diameter.

During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.


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Monday, August 6, 2012

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote on “The Roots of Violence”:

Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Knowledge without character.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Worship without sacrifice.
Politics without principles.


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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“…Technology and ideology are shaking the foundations of twenty-first-century capitalism. Technology is making skills and knowledge the only sources of sustainable strategic advantage…” ─Lester Thurow


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“…We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars…” ─Carl Sagan


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Why graphene may be the substrate for the next generation of computer chips

Sandwiching individual graphene sheets between insulating layers to produce electrical devices with unique new properties could open up a new dimension of physics research

Wonder material graphene is a two-dimensional material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb or chicken wire structure. It is the thinnest material in the world and yet is also one of the strongest. It conducts electricity as efficiently as copper and outperforms all other materials as a conductor of heat.

Now University of Manchester scientists have shown that a new side-view imaging technique can be used to visualize the individual atomic layers of graphene within the devices they have built. They found that the structures were almost perfect — even when more than 10 different layers were used to build the stack.

This surprising result indicates that the latest techniques of isolating graphene could be a huge leap forward for engineering at the atomic level, the scientists say, and gives more weight to graphene’s suitability as a major component in the next generation of computer chips.

The scientists note that the field has expanded beyond studying graphene as isolated 2D crystals. There is a rapidly growing interest in atomic-scale heterostructures made from a combination of alternating layers of graphene, hexagonal boron-nitride (hBN), MoS2, and so on. Such heterostructures provide a higher electronic quality for lateral graphene devices and also allow a conceptually new degree of flexibility in designing electronic, optoelectronic,  micromechanical and other devices..

Side-view imaging

The researchers’ side-view imaging approach works by first extracting a thin slice from the center of the device. This is similar to cutting through a rock to reveal the geological layers or slicing into a chocolate cake to reveal the individual layers of icing.

The scientists used a beam of ions to cut into the surface of the graphene and dig a trench on either side of the section they wanted to isolate. They then removed a thin slice of the device.

“The difference is that our slices are only around 100 atoms thick and this allows us to visualize the individual atomic layers of graphene in projection,” said Dr. Sarah Haigh from The University of Manchester’s School of Materials.

“We have found that the observed roughness of the graphene is correlated with their conductivity. Of course we have to make all our electrical measurements before cutting into the device. We were also able to observe that the layers were perfectly clean and that any debris left over from production segregated into isolated pockets and so did not affect device performance.

“We plan to use this new side view imaging approach to improve the performance of our graphene devices.”

Demonstrating its remarkable properties won Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. The University of Manchester is building a state-of-the-art National Graphene Institute to continue to lead the way in graphene research.




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 Chronic 2000-04 drought, worst in 800 years, may be the ‘new normal’

The chronic drought that hit western North America from 2000 to 2004 left dying forests and depleted river basins in its wake and was the strongest in 800 years, scientists have concluded, but they say those conditions will become the “new normal” for most of the coming century.

Such climatic extremes have increased as a result of global warming, a group of 10 researchers reported Sunday in Nature Geoscience. And as bad as conditions were during the 2000-04 drought, they may eventually be seen as the good old days.

Climate models and precipitation projections indicate this period will actually be closer to the “wet end” of a drier hydroclimate during the last half of the 21st century, scientists said.

Aside from its impact on forests, crops, rivers and water tables, the drought also cut carbon sequestration by an average of 51 percent in a massive region of the western United States, Canada and Mexico, although some areas were hit much harder than others. As vegetation withered, this released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with the effect of amplifying global warming.

“Climatic extremes such as this will cause more large-scale droughts and forest mortality, and the ability of vegetation to sequester carbon is going to decline,” said Beverly Law, a co-author of the study, professor of global change biology and terrestrial systems science at Oregon State University, and former science director of AmeriFlux, an ecosystem observation network.

“During this drought, carbon sequestration from this region was reduced by half,” Law said. “That’s a huge drop. And if global carbon emissions don’t come down, the future will be even worse.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, U.S. Department of Energy, and other agencies. The lead author was Christopher Schwalm at Northern Arizona University. Other collaborators were from the University of Colorado, University of California at Berkeley, University of British Columbia, San Diego State University, and other institutions.

It’s not clear whether or not the current drought in the Midwest, now being called one of the worst since the Dust Bowl, is related to these same forces, Law said. This study did not address that, and there are some climate mechanisms in western North America that affect that region more than other parts of the country.

But in the West, this multi-year drought was unlike anything seen in many centuries, based on tree ring data. The last two periods with drought events of similar severity were in the Middle Ages, from 977-981 and 1146-1151. The 2000-04 drought affected precipitation, soil moisture, river levels, crops, forests and grasslands.

Ordinarily, Law said, the land sink in North America is able to sequester the equivalent of about 30 percent of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere by the use of fossil fuels in the same region. However, based on projected changes in precipitation and drought severity, scientists said that this carbon sink, at least in western North America, could disappear by the end of the century.

“Areas that are already dry in the West are expected to get drier,” Law said. “We expect more extremes. And it’s these extreme periods that can really cause ecosystem damage, lead to climate-induced mortality of forests, and may cause some areas to convert from forest into shrublands or grassland.”

During the 2000-04 drought, runoff in the upper Colorado River basin was cut in half. Crop productivity in much of the West fell 5 percent. The productivity of forests and grasslands declined, along with snowpacks. Evapotranspiration decreased the most in evergreen needleleaf forests, about 33 percent.

The effects are driven by human-caused increases in temperature, with associated lower soil moisture and decreased runoff in all major water basins of the western U.S., researchers said in the study.

Although regional precipitations patterns are difficult to forecast, researchers in this report said that climate models are underestimating the extent and severity of drought, compared to actual observations. They say the situation will continue to worsen, and that 80 of the 95 years from 2006 to 2100 will have precipitation levels as low as, or lower than, this “turn of the century” drought from 2000-04.

“Towards the latter half of the 21st century the precipitation regime associated with the turn of the century drought will represent an outlier of extreme wetness,” the scientists wrote in this study.

These long-term trends are consistent with a 21st century “megadrought,” they said.



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Microsoft tech to control computers with a flex of a finger

In the future, Microsoft apparently believes, people may simply twitch their fingers or arms to control a computer, game console or mobile device, ReadWriteWeb reports.

Microsoft applied for a patent on electromyography (EMG) controlled computing on Thursday, suggesting that a future smart wristwatch or armband might simply detect a user’s muscle movements and interpret them as gestures or commands.

The “Wearable Electromyography-Based Controller” could also use a network of small sensors attached to the body, all communicating wirelessly with a central hub.

Microsoft also showed off a prototype of an EMG controller in 2010, and has filed complementary EMG controller patents as well as a patent covering the gestures used to control them.

But EMG-based computing does imply several interesting possibilities: the ability to type without a keyboard; wiggling a finger, rather than an arm, to provide fine-grained Kinect controls; or new ways to control “waldos” and other robotic appendages. Microsoft even suggests that a glove-based version of the EMG controller might be used to automatically translate American Sign Language into written or spoken English or other languages. That’s pretty cool.

Microsoft’s patent application claims that an EMG sensor is a “universal” method of controlling any computing device, such as a television or light sensor. That may be true, although something like voice commands could also control just about anything.


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A Casimir chip that exploits the vacuum energy

University of Florida researchers have have developed a way to keep objects flat enough to measure the strange Casimir force, which pushes two parallel conducting plates together when they are just a few dozen nanometers apart,  Technology Review Physics arXiv Blog reports.

They carved a single device out of silicon that is capable of measuring the Casimir force between a pair of parallel silicon beams, the first on-chip device capable of doing this.

The device consists of one fixed beam and another moveable one attached to an electromechanical actuator. Other shapes should be possible to manufacture too. “This scheme opens the possibility of tailoring the Casimir force using lithographically defined components of non-conventional shapes,” the researchers say.

So instead of being hindered by uncontrollable Casimir forces, the next generation of microelectromechanical devices should be able to  exploit them, perhaps to make stictionless bearings, springs and even actuators.

Microscopes for viewing nanoscale devices

Monitoring these kind of ultra-small nanoscale devices requires special microscopes, such as the scanning electron microscope (SEM), which images a sample by scanning it with a beam of electrons. (The Casimir device image above is an example of an SEM image).

An SEM can produce very high-resolution images of a sample surface, revealing details less than 1 nanometer in size (the size of small biomolecules).

FEI has just announced the new Verios XHR SEM, which provides the sub-nanometer resolution and enhanced contrast needed for precise measurements in materials science and advanced semiconductor manufacturing applications.

An even higher-resolution microscope is the transmission electron microscope (TEM), with a resolution of 0.5 Angstroms (.05 nm). An example of a TEM image is shown in this news item today on graphene layers.

Another type of nanoscale microscope is the atomic force microscope (AFM). It has several advantages over the 2D SEM; it provides a 3D surface profile, for example. It also has disadvantages: it doesn’t allow for large scanned images, and is very slow, for example.

Nonetheless, AFMs are vital tools in nanotechology, and nanoHUB.org has just announced a two-part, web-based course covering the principles and practice of  atomic force microscopy.


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FDA OK’s ingestible sensor chip

Chip tracks adherence to oral medications, can report to caregiver

Proteus Digital Health, Inc. announced Monday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared its ingestible sensor for marketing as a medical device.

The ingestible sensor (formally referred to as the Ingestion Event Marker or IEM) is part of the Proteus digital health feedback system, an integrated, end-to-end personal health management system designed to help improve patients’ health habits and connections to caregivers.

“The FDA validation represents a major milestone in digital medicine,” said Dr. Eric Topol, professor of genomics at The Scripps Research Institute and author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare. Directly digitizing pills, for the first time, in conjunction with our wireless infrastructure, may prove to be the new standard for influencing medication adherence and significantly aid chronic disease management,”

The Proteus ingestible sensor can be integrated into an inert pill or other ingested products, such as pharmaceuticals. Once the ingestible sensor reaches the stomach, it is powered by contact with stomach fluid and communicates a unique signal that determines identity and timing of ingestion.

This information is transferred through the user’s body tissue to a patch worn on the skin that detects the signal and marks the precise time an ingestible sensor has been taken. Additional physiologic and behavioral metrics collected by the patch include heart rate, body position and activity.

The patch relays information to a mobile phone application. With the patient’s consent, the information is accessible by caregivers and clinicians, helping individuals to develop and sustain healthy habits, families to make better health choices, and clinicians to provide more effective, data-driven care.


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