Recently in Technological Category

ETech 09: The Real Time City

Andrea Vaccari, from Senseable City Lab, MIT, late on Wednesday aftenroon at ETech 09.

Ben Cerveny, “The New ‘Situation’: Frameworks for Spatial Mediation” on Wednesday afternoon at ETech 09. There were various chunks of this that I failed to note, so these notes are a bit more broken than usual.

Tony Jebara from Columbia University and Sense Networks, “Mobile Phones Reveal the Behavior of Places and People” on Wednesday morning at ETech 09.

Aaron Koblin, “Making Art with Lasers, Sensors, and the Net” on Wednesday morning at ETech 09. A lot of this was just showing us cool stuff, so there’s not many notes to take, but still…

ETech 09: Siftables

Jeevan Kalanithi and David Merrill: “Cookie Scale Computing: Human-Computer Interfaces as Piles of Gesture Sensitive Displays” on Wednesday morning at ETech 09. A talk about Siftables. Probably best if you visit the site and watch the video there to get an idea of what these things actually are, as it probably won’t come across solely in text.

ETech 09: Explosives

Christa Hockensmith: “Jackhammers, Polymers, and Diamonds: New Applications in Explosives”, one of the early talks at ETech 09 on Wednesday morning. Hockensmith is from the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech. It was a really fun talk and the notes will miss out on a lot of the flavour. And some of them won’t make sense out of context but are possibly just for me to remember the fun:

ETech 09: New Materials

Andrew Dent from Material ConneXion, Inc. A talk from Tuesday afternoon at ETech 09. He was a great speaker: authorative, dapper in a three piece suit, sounding slightly and entertainingly exasperated.

ETech 09: Programmable Environments

Jennifer Magnolfi from Herman Miller: “Building the Programmable Environment: Co-Design and Physical/Digital”. A talk from Tuesday morning at ETech 09.

Mary Lou Jepsen, one of Tuesday’s first talks at ETech 09.

ETech 09: Ignite talks

The second and final event on the opening night of ETech 09 was a series of Ignite talks: very quick and brief talks.

ETech 09: Tim O'Reilly


I’m currently at ETech, the Emerging Technology Conference, in San Jose, California. I’m going to be posting my notes of some of the talks here as many of them seem relevant to futures folks. Although I’ll do some editing, these are quite hasty and I may have mis-heard a few things and, unless something’s in “quotes” it’s probably me paraphrasing the speaker. First up is Tim O’Reilly’s opening night keynote.

Practical City Magic

Designer Matt Jones, recently gave a presentation at the New Zealand conference Webstock called ‘The Demon Haunted World’. It’s a good read if you’re at all interested in “the rising urbanisation of the planet and the rapid digitalisation of that urban fabric”. The presentation covers three themes, to quote it:

Over at one of the Well’s public conference topics, Bruce Sterling is doing his annual discussion on the State of the World. It’s a long read — currently three very long tediously mono-spaced pages — but worth it if you have the time.

The Pro-Actionary Principle

Kevin Kelly has written about the ‘Pro-Actionary Principle’, the idea that, simply, new technologies should be used to find out if they cause harm. This contradicts the more common ‘Precautionary Principle’ that suggests “a technology must be shown to do no harm before it is embraced”.

10 things 3D printers can do now

Apologies for the recent silence; I was ill and then woefully distracted. Let’s catch up.

Google in ten years

To celebrate their tenth birthday Google’s official blog has asked ten of its “top experts” what’s going to happen in the next ten years. I must admit that the results are mostly underwhelming, as if these top experts find it difficult to look beyond their next quarter’s results and imagine what could possibly happen in ten years’ time. Brief summaries of each response below, with my thoughts in italics.

Central Nervous System for the Earth

HP Labs have a new(?) project, the Information and Quantum Systems Lab with an ambitious goal:

Growing up online

I will never fully understand how young people today, who have grown up with the internet and mobile phones being completely normal, must view the world. There are several demographic certainties of the future (eg, the percentage of a population who will be over 65 in 2070 is easy to be sure of because they’ve all been born) and one of these is that everyone currently in their teens and younger have barely known a world without the net, and one day they’ll be in charge.

No Space Elevator News

The Times has an article about “boffins” (quality journalism, eh?) from the Japanese Space Elevator Association (Google’s English translation) wanting to build a space elevator (a very long and strong cable tethered to Earth and stretching into the sky that would make it easier and cheaper to get things into space).

Gaming in 2043

Bruce Sterling recently gave the keynote address at the Game Developers Conference in Austin, Texas, on the subject of computer games thirty five years from now. It’s fairly long, and here’s a summary of a few of the more concrete bits:

Live gaming events

Here’s a report about a live broadcast of an event from the mulltiplayer online game World of Warcraft. 4,000 people are expected to watch a team of players perform a raid within the game world, an event that will take three to four hours.

Augmented reality

If, unlike me, you've been keeping up with this stuff, this probably isn't news. But if you're like me then this is quite "wow, this could be cool...": A demonstration of augmented reality computer graphics, laying computer-generated imagery over views of the real world. There's another demo available here. I didn't quite realise it had come so far. I can't wait to see what the games industry does with it in the real world. One day. (via Haddock I think.)

Internet predictions database

The Pew report on the Internet links to Imagining the Internet, an intriguing idea: a database of predictions about the net from the early 1990s. It would be nice if it was easier to browse the database, rather than have to think up search terms, but it's fascinating nevertheless and the search seems to work well: education, music, movies, terrorism, etc. There's a lot hidden away in there.

Disruptive technologies in home audio

Coming back much closer to home, Noise Between Stations has a good post describing the current and impending changes in the types of products available for home audio systems. Thankfully it goes beyond the usual hand-waving about "digital lifestyle media centres", or whatever the current buzzphrase is. Home audio technology appears to have been remarkably stable: components and all-in-one systems with compatible interfaces, and usable lives far longer than more complex computer technologies. It seems inevitable that computers will merge in some way with home audio/video, but I doubt anyone's sure exactly what form this will take in the mass market.

Materials and Processes weblog

Materials and Processes looks like an interesting not-too-high-traffic weblog focusing on, well, the latest materials and processes. I love that there are sites as focused as this. (via Boing Boing's link to this entry about plants that can detect land mines.)

The current state of computer displays

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Also via Blackbeltjones' links comes a post on Smart Mobs about future flexible computer displays. It links to a long Military & Aerospace Electronics article on the state of displays in the military: try to use off-the-shelf LCDs; cutting these to the required size is cheaper than having custom LCDs made; large organic LED (OLED) displays are a few years off.

DIY Biohacking

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools has a very brief review of three "Bio Hacking Resources": Creative Biotechnology, BiotechHobbyist magazine and the Modern Biology catalogue. Slowly, slowly, the future's coming...


Transmaterial is a book about (mostly) new materials and techniques, and a flick through the free downloadable PDF version sends you into a new world of science fiction phrases: Biosteel, light-transmitting concrete, pervious concrete, Superblack, corrugated glass, rubber pavements/sidewalks, strawboard, conductive plastic, plasphalt, light-emitting glass, regenerative plastic... It's like a 187 page compilation of all those little "look at this cool new thing" blurbs at the start of Wired, but with a thankfully less sassy and more down-to-earth style. (via Ben Hammersley)

SMS Guerilla Projector

I'm often sceptical about art using technology, having seen scarred by one too many ICA exhibitions in the mid-nineties, but some folk do interesting stuff with electronics. Josh Rubin's ever fascinating Cool Hunting points out a nifty device created by Troika Studio "a collective of designers and artists" (who make it impossible to link to pages of their Flash-based site). Josh: "The SMS Guerilla Projector is a high powered, home made projection device that can be used to project SMS messages on to buildings, signs or any other surface." Like many good things it combines simple, easily-obtainable components into a whole that can do something new and interesting. I can well imagine such devices being used by protestors and also being commercialised as a fun gadget.

Art robots

A while back Rod linked to Artbots, an annual competition where artists create robots. Interesting to see what artists do with the things for a change, rather than marvelling at the latest walking droid from Japanese corporations.

Life caching


has a piece on "life caching", poorly-naming the trend for collecting and displaying personal media items: blogging, photos from cameras, online photo albums, iPods. Matt "Brian Hacks" Webb disagrees that this is a trend, saying that we've always collected things and this current phase is just a temporary manifestation of the obsession.

Virtual goods returned in a real court

According to this Reuters story, a man in China went to court to force a company running an online game to return virtual goods that had been stolen from him, possibly by a hacker. Is this the first time online property has been dealt with by real-world law? (via Many-to-Many, more at Terra Nova)

The state of the nanotech industry

A report from the recent Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology that describes how the business world is gradually catching up with ideas that were once way "out there". (via Boing Boing)

Matt's 2013 snapshots

Matt Jones has written some mini scenarios for the BBC about technology in 2013 and put four of them online. They aren't full-fledged scenarios, attempting to describe the complete texture of life in ten years' time, but seem to be more about showing how people will regard technologies. Eavesdropping on someone's life for a few seconds while they contemplate a future gizmo. I like the writing too, without all the exposition that drains the life from too many scenarios.

More on online gaming economies

Another economics interview, this time with Edward Castronova, the economist who wrote a much discussed paper suggesting online game EverQuest contained the world's 77th richest country. He's currently looking at gender discrimination in online gaming which I've no doubt has been examined at exhaustive length already, but perhaps not from an economics perspective. Anyway, this is all interesting stuff, particularly next to the previous post about complementary currencies. There are plenty of links to follow in there too. (via Julian Dibbell)

Online gaming growth rates

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Welcome to another post on the Stalking Clay Shirky Weblog! A graph showing the growth over time of various multi-player online games, via Clay's commentary.

Making and sharing maps


Over at the wonderful Recomendo (the thinking person's Gizmodo), Kevin Kelly talks about the two main ways to choose and print your own customised maps of parts of the US: the proprietary National Geographic system and those licensed from the more open United States Geological Survey, such as Topozone. This all gets even more interesting when individuals can contribute:

Rem Koolhaas' future

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I finally got round to reading the June issue of Wired, a large chunk of which is edited by architect Rem Koolhaas. There are some interesting, but extremely short, articles about global trends, all shoehorned into the vague theme of "space."

Sim Mafia and other gaming news


This Mercury News article describes a mafia-like organisation emerging in one of the The Sims Online cities. Apparently, an attempt to create some order in the shape of a shadow government got out of hand and resulted in a rather less benevolent "family." I tried to find out more about this, but after a lot of digging I only turned up the website of Mia Wallace, the city's most popular character -- and capo di tutti capi -- referred to in the article. The only other online references to the affair appear to be dozens of weblogs linking to the Mercury News article.

An interesting paper about how Chinese DJs, musicians and music-lovers are using the internet to get hold of the latest music from around the world. Obviously, music-sharing is relatively old-hat to us but it's more interesting in the context of the Chinese authorities' attempts to control the population's access to foreign culture.

Two looks into the world of online games that are fascinating for those of us not immersed in them. First, an article about how designers of online multi-player games can combat the ingenious ways people try and cheat. It's nearly three years old, so may be well out of date for all I know, but it's still interesting to see how people try and get ahead in these non-existent worlds.

Josh Wolfe at lists ten people they think are the "movers and shakers" in the world of nanotech. For some reason the list is in an annoying pop-up "slideshow" rather than a good old-fashioned web page. The list is:

Six world-changing technologies

Business 2.0 has an article by David Pescovitz listing six technologies currently being worked on that will have big impacts. Quoting the article's blurbs, they are:

The future of computer displays

An article outlining the current state of display technology, including Organic LEDs, LEPs, flexible roll-up-able displays and 3D displays.

Blocking advertising everywhere

Techdirt links to a Reuters report about the proliferation of techniques for avoiding advertising online, on TV and over the phone. It's interesting as a counterpoint to Minority Report's forecast of a world filled with personalised advertising.

Tech Review on emerging technologies

Technology Review has an article entitled '10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change the World'. And they are: wireless sensor networks, injectable tissue engineering, nano solar cells, mechatronics, grid computing, molecular imaging, nanoimprint lithography, software assurance, glycomics and quantum cryptography. They sum up each trend with its current state, its potential effects and a short list of people and places working on it.

Location, location, location

NTK has a bit this week claiming "2003 will be the year of geospatial hype" concentrating on some sites and tools devoted to turning real-world co-ordinates into data available to everyone (rather than just data available to a single company). While you might have no need for the precise x and y of your current location, the chances are someone will build a tool using this information that you will find useful. Steven Johnson also has an article up at Discover about location-oriented technology and what people are doing with it.

Geocaching, the sport where participants search for "treasure" hidden by other players using GPS devices, should have been an early indicator of this kind of stuff; it's a classic innovator activity. While it doesn't mean Geocaching will be a mainstream pastime it does suggest a new leisuretime use for a technology. The coming 3G phones will, I understand, feature some kind of location-reporting technology which could bring new tools, behaviours and activities to the masses. But these mass-market devices shouldn't blind you to the fact there's still plenty of exciting stuff happening online... this could well look like gibberish to you, but it's where I live.

Technology off the radar

IDC Research have a new report called 'Beyond the Radar Screen: Technologies of the Future'. If you have the patience to register on the site, receive the confirmation email and log in, you then need the patience to view the PowerPoint presentation and listen to the Real Audio file (the poor audio quality does give the impression this is a view of the future from several decades ago). They pinpoint ten fledgling technologies they feel will be bigger in the future than their current limited reputation signifies (Yes/No in brackets indicates whether they think the technology will be in common usage (I guess) in our lifetimes):

From a cockroach with a backpack containing implanted sensors in 1999 to a rat in 2001 to Kevin Warwick's arm-implanted sensors in 2002. (Yes)
Smart Dust
Tiny intelligent sensors, MEMs, RFID. (Yes)
Tiny carbon tubes useful for smart materials, flat panel displays, MEMs, etc. (Yes)
Molecular level machines for drug delivery, probes, etc. Could become self-replicating. (No)
Quantum Computing
Computation taking advantage of quantum mechanics for cryptography, simulation, maths, etc. (No)
Plastic Transistors
Carbon-based semi-conducting materials for flexible displays. (Yes)
Semantic Web
Structured metadata to describe content, for web searching, rights management, collaboration, sharing data. (Yes)
Grid Computing
"Uses disparate independent resources across distances with a single system image." (Yes)
Lily Pads
Interlinked Wi-Fi networks allowing cheap and flexible broadband internet access. (Yes)
Pot Pourri
A selection of other technologies such as LED headlights, heads-up display on a motorcycle helmet and a micro fuel cell for cars.

A nice summary of some technologies. I always find it hard to judge how progressed a technology is, because if you're more involved in it it seems far more real and likely to happen than the perhaps more mysterious technology. (via the always excellent Techdirt)

Progress in fabbing

A couple of years back I posted about Napster Fabbing, the fabrication of 3D objects and transmitting the instructions for doing so across the Internet (the page I linked to is broken, but the Way Back Machine has a copy). New Scientist has an article about recent progress in fabbing technology. An object is created with its electronics embedded as part of the bodywork, a technology apparently known as "flexonics." However, this does mean that these objects are disposable, as it's practically impossible to fix any broken electronics. (via BoingBoing).

The years' technology

An article at News Observer looks at predictions for technology in the year ahead. Nothing earth shattering, but if nothing else it'll be good to look back at what was seen as the important tech trends of the time: fighting email spam, blogging, WiFi, online gaming, new mobile/cell phones, open source software. (Thanks Tom.)

Email's future: open or closed?

Kevin Werbach thinks that email spam will get so bad most people will resort to whitelists because spam filters won't be good enough. (A whitelist only accepts email from known parties and anyone else must perform some action that lets them contact you. Spam filters just block anything it "thinks" looks like spam.) Would this have a big effect on how people use email? Would it affect how the average user uses email? Even if spam filters don't filter everything, isn't filtering most things good enough not to have to resort to putting up barriers to communication? Will there be more effective governmental action on spammers as more of those in power get affected by spam, or is it out of legislative control? (via Techdirt)

Homes of the future

Red Herring has an article that briefly talks about the different studies electronics companies are doing to see how people use homes that are crammed with all the latest interconnected technological gizmos. One day, in a far-off future, project names like "Perceptive Home Environments," "EasyLiving," "Living Lab," "Aware Home Research Initiative" and "Cooltown" will sound naff and dated. Er... (via Techdirt)

The Telegraph has a story about how "an American team has used a pioneering genetic method to help convict an American doctor of deliberately infecting his former girlfriend with Aids." The story grabs one's attention by suggesting people could be open to legal claims for passing common colds to others but later suggests this may be completely impractical in practice; these kinds of air-transmitted virii would be difficult to trace. Nevertheless, this does open up the possibility. If nothing else it could lead to people staying at home when ill, rather than heroically staggering to work. Or there could be insurance against such lawsuits, cold-prone people confined to relative isolation, masks and gloves worn to prevent germs travelling... (via Metafilter)

Jon loves Lucy

I'm not doing very well at keeping this updated. Too much time writing code. However, here's a lovely article from yesterday's Guardian in which Jon Ronson visits a guy who's building an AI robot at home near Weston-Super-Mare, UK. I'm not saying it has any great insights, but it's a good read!

Flying cars!

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A California, USA, company has developed a flying car with vertical take-off. It's obviously still being tested but it looks like fun. Even if such vehicles are never used for commuting I could well imagine them being raced around aerial courses. The crashes would be even more spectacular than in Formula 1! (via Boing Boing)

Virtual worlds in the news

The computer game The Sims is in the news because the upcoming online version of the game is going to contain very interactive product placement. Users will be able to use Intel computers and work in a McDonald's outlet; "Eating that food will also improve their standing within the game."

A New York Times article reinforces what the complacent WFS old-timer in yesterday's post was saying: reality is struggling to keep ahead of science fiction ideas such as cloning, teleportation, miniaturisation, etc. Worth it if only for this ludicrous quote from William Shatner:

If you analyse the word "impossible," you break it down into "possible" and "I'm." If I'm possible, anything is possible.

This is the name of a report that suggests we should get the domains of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science working together to make the most of their possibilities and thus transform the human race's capabilities in the future. OK, it actually says "it is time to rekindle the spirit of the Renaissance, returning to the holistic perspective on a higher level, with a new set of principles and theories." This kind of talk always puts me off and although I've only had time to browse the overview rather than the full 400 page report, it's all rather hazily overly-optimisitc for my cynical tastes. But I guess someone has to be optimistic. (via Plausible Futures)

David Pogue has decided there is no point extrapolating future trends from present technology. His examples project progress to the point of ludicrousness: "Palmtops can't get much smaller without having smaller screens. ... How big would screens be by 2010 -- one inch diagonal?" So, it's largely an exercise in stating the obvious: immediate trends can continue, but they all have limits.

Nanotech now

Business 2.0 has a brief roundup of where nanotechnology stands now and in the immediate future. Nanotubes ("Mitsui alone says it will soon begin producing 120 tons of them a year"), drugs using nanoparticles and nanocapsules in clinical trials, computer components, etc. (via SciTech Daily)

A crisis of short-term thinking

In this Business Week interview Greg Blonder, ex AT&T Bell Labs boss turned venture capitalist sees a crisis of short-term thinking approaching in the world of American technological research. The dot com boom, he says, encouraged people to forget long term thinking which could lead to problems in the future ("The innovations making news today still stem from research that was done 15, 20, or 30 years ago"). He suggests encouraging foreign scientists and engineers to immigrate and reforming the patent laws, and expects increasing amounts of innovation to be dependent on computer simulation. (via Techdirt)

Phenomenal cell phone growth rates

Last week Clay Shirky produced an interesting essay on the well-used phrase "Half the world has never made a phone call." He reminds us that the rate at which increasing numbers are making their first phone call is the statistic we should be most interested in. Particularly astounding are the rates at which cell phone use is increasing. He draws on Interntaional Telecommunications Union statistics, which show there were 689 million land lines in 1995 and over 1 billion in 2001.

The Economist's recent 'Technology Quarterly' contains a useful round-up of wireless computer networking technologies that may threaten the coming 3G cellphone networks. Four technologies are discussed: smart antennas that effectively increase the capacity of an antenna site; "mesh networks" of users acting as signal relay points, around a central high-speed radio-based net access point; ad hoc systems of possibly mobile users who could act as a local communication network (for example, in remote areas); and ultra-wideband transmission that uses millions of bursts of information a second to send large amount of information over (currently) short distances.

"Princess Leia"-style holograms

I didn't realise how far holograms had come. Business 2.0 describes how Ford used holograms to create a prototype car that viewers could walk around. As the article and the Slashot thread say, the easiest way to imagine it is to think of the Princess Leia hologram in Star Wars rather than those glass "2D" holograms that used to be all the rage. Zebra Imaging is the company responsible for the technology and it sounds impressive (or use the Google cached version as their site is down right now).

Will the robots arrive at last?

According to this article a robot component manufacturer has announced that "the robot would emerge as the driving force of electronics this century, akin to computers and automobiles in the last century." Of course, they would say that, but it did make me think about how I view robots. We've been promised useful robots for so many decades that at the back of my mind I've almost dismissed them as something that will never materialise, overtaken in the I-want-it-now stakes by those trendy young upstarts genetics and nanotech. But maybe robots are almost here! At least they would be able to entertain us while we wait decades for our self-constructing home nano-gene-labs to ship. (via Generation5)

Battelle's technology top tens

Battelle, a US technology development company, has a collection of technology forecasts such as "Top Ten Breakthroughs for Household Products by 2007" and "Strategic Technologies by 2020." Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but a nice set of self-contained lists that could come in handy.

Customise your robot dog


A while ago I mentioned how it's becoming easier to re-program robots designed for consumer entertainment. Matt Jones went to see Natalie Jeremienko talking about her Feral Robotic Dogs project which is all about finding new uses for "toys" like Sony's AIBO, and how to go about customising them. Maybe customising robot dogs is just giving us practice for when we start fiddling with genes and customising living things. (An aside: why don't I have a job that involves going to see interesting people speak?)

Successful ground-up governance

We hear a lot about how the networked society will bring political decision making closer to individuals, but finding concrete examples of this trend in action is tough. However, a week ago, the British government backed down over a proposal to expand its internet monitoring programme to allow more agencies access to traffic data. The proposal was due to become law after a mere 90 minutes of debate, but the UK internet community began campaigning and soon the government's plans were postponed and, days later, shelved. The BBC has credited those behind Stand and FaxYourMP with making the difference (also on a TV report (Real file)) by alerting a wider audience and then giving people the means to quickly and simply contact their representatives. If a handful of people with some technical know-how can empower the public to achieve a government u-turn now, where will we be in 10 years? I hesitated in posting this as I have a vested interest (as Stand's hastily copied-and-pasted design testifies), and it's hard for me to be objective.

CIA's global technology revolution

Subtitled "Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015" this report contains two main chapters: first, a detailed look at the current state of the technologies and where they might progress to by 2015. Second, a discussion of what factors may cause them to either take off or stagnate, and the effects of both scenarios. While it acknowledges that trends of all kinds can have profound effects on each other, much of the report is written as if nothing outside technology exists -- necessary, given its purpose, but kind of odd. However, a couple of good quotes:

Big, cool, practical "robot"

Plustech have developed a large vehicle designed to walk through forest terrain with an operator in the cockpit controlling the attached tools. Watching the two videos of the robot-like machine in action it's hard to believe it's not a Star Wars special effect. (via Haddock)

Programming robots at home

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An article about Robot SDKs (Software Development Kits which allow developers to write code that controls robots) that are available for commercially available robots such as Lego Mindstorms and Sony's AIBO. The latter is most interesting given that in the psat Sony has been very restrictive with information that would allow people to program their robot dogs. Anyway, encouraging third-party developers like this can only be good as it tends to produce more innovative results than solely in-house development. (via Generation5 which has loads of robot stuff)

Quake in the real world


A team at the University of South Australia's Wearable Computing Laboratory is working on integrating the Quake computer game with the real world. The ARQuake Project allows the user to walk around the campus wearing goggles and see computer-generated monsters overlaid on the real-world view. Because the campus has been modelled in the computer the creatures appear to move around the buildings. Looks like a fun combination of "first person shooter" arcade games and live paintball/LaserQuest games. It would also be interesting if players could be represented to other participants using their own avatars rather than their real selves. (via Haddock)

Emerging Tech conference

Last week's conference in Santa Clara, California, USA, is now over and the geeks are back in their pens. It focussed on all the bits of networking technology that enable individuals (and organisations) to do interesting things and to share stuff quickly. It's hard to be more specific, but the conference's tagline puts it as "Peer2Peer, Web Services, Wireless, and Beyond." Worth looking at for what's currently stimulating people to do new things. Given the nature of those attending, the web is now bulging with on-the-spot reports and post-event reflection. Andy Oram gathers a load of reports from the sessions together and Matt Webb is in the process of synthesizing his whole experience into one document.

Three Australian artists are experimenting with xenotransplantation, the transplanting of non-human biological materials on/into humans. It's interesting to see people toying with this kind of thing for reasons that aren't purely medicinal. Wings made from pig tissue powered by rat muscle; steak grown from a still-living sheep; and more crazy antics. Lots of links.

DNA databanks without consent


The state government in South Carolina, USA, have been keeping DNA records of all babies since 1995 without the consent of parents. Some of this data has now been passed on to a genetics laboratory and the State Law Enforcement Division despite previous reassurances by state officials. There won't be much that's still private soon... (via Politech)

I love this, whether its statistics are meaningful or not. Players of Sony's online game EverQuest spend a lot of real world money on transactions such as selling game assets via eBay. Edward Castronova at Cal State Fullerton University, USA, has written a report on the value of this world, placing it somewhere around Bulgaria in the list of the world's rich list. (via FUTUREdition)

Mining asteroids

Sounds a bit cranky ("visionary" always reads like a polite synonym for "crank"), but Greg Nemitz wants to create a mining colony on 433 Eros, an asteroid, in order to get at a potential US$325 quadrillion worth of platinum.

A brief discussion of the potential effects on how building and city design might change following the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists. It would be interesting to read something more in depth on this (jump to the third and fourth pages for the looking ahead). (via Haddock)

New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program runs a class on scenario building and they put the resulting scenarios online. The site has material dating back to 1993. (via Haddock)

Napster fabbing

An interesting look at the future fusion of "fabbing" (using a machine to create an 3D object using digital instructions) and peer-to-peer concepts as popularised by Napster. (via Haddock)

A RAND report on the Net twenty years out, and particularly America's place within it: "American ideals, with modest refinements, would write the constitution of a global civil society, even as the American state itself would lose its primacy." (via Telecom-Cities)

What is IT?

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Everyone whose fingers have been near a keyboard this week seems to have asked this question, so I post this merely for the sake of completeness. IT is a mystery new invention that will apparently change the world, although no one but a select few knows what it is. Dean Kamen, the inventor, has previously designed a revolutionary wheelchair and has filed patents for personal vehicles.

Sony's two-legged robot

Another bipedal robot prototype, this time from Sony.

3D projection without the glasses

At Comdex, Dimensional Media demonstrate a system that projects a 3D image of an object into mid-air. Viewers do not need to wear any special equipment to view the image which they can walk around. (via Haddock)

Some are claiming that the concentration of gays in a city (or, more broadly perhaps, the level of acceptance of alternative cultures) could be a leading indicator of future economic booms. Cities with the highest concentrations of gays are currently experiencing tech booms. Tenuous, but possible. (via Telecom-Cities)

Hitchhikers Guide to the Future

A series on BBC Radio 4 in the UK, hosted by Douglas Adams, looking at the futures of music, broadcasting, publishing and the effects of technology on society. (via Gorjuss)

Wearable PCs going mainstream

A good roundup of current technologies, their uses and prototypes for future mainstream models. (via Slashdot)

Community Mobility System

A report on Frog Design's system based around a golf-cart-sized electric car. Talks about neighbourhood hubs for delivery and collection of goods ordered online and links to a number of international car-sharing schemes.

Robot protestors

The Institute for Applied Autonomy develops robots for use in various forms of protest that may cause human protagonists to be arrested. For example, the GraffitiWriter and Little Brother, an automated pamphleteer. (via Nettime)

Growing Plastic

A good discussion about different techniques of growing plastic in plants. The benefit is less of the traditional petrochemical processes. The downside that it can take more energy to extract this new biodegradable plastic from the plants than it does to make plastic the old-fashioned way. The article looks at these issues and more. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Worms' lifespan boosted by drugs

A team at the University of Manchester, UK, has boosted the lifespan of "microscopic worms" by 50% by using drugs. It's the first time any animal's life has been extended by the use of drugs.

The computer of 2010


Forbes ASAP teams up with frogdesign to look at how a computer might function and look in ten years. (via Slashdot)

Goats that can produce spider silk

Nexia Biotechnologies say they are on the verge of producing the protein that forms spiders' webs from the milk of specially bred goats. Spider silk is the strongest fibre known to man.

Remote-controlled shooting robot guard

One of five robots funded by the Thailand Research Fund "is armed with a pistol that can be programmed to shoot automatically or wait for a fire order delivered with a password from anywhere through the Internet." If it didn't have a pistol a robot controlled via the Net would not be news, but it will be interesting to see if the concept develops into anything more commercial. (via Slashdot)

Wearable tech is slowly going mainstream. We've already had clothes designed to incorporate gadgets, and watches incorporating more and more functions unrelated to their original function. Now Levi's and Philips plan to jointly sell jackets containing mobile phones and MP3 players. (via Robot Wisdom)

Demand for power has risen dramatically throughout the USA, leading some firms to source their own supplies. New electronic systems use a surprising amount of power, and according to this Risks List posting the costs of power are rising dramatically. (via Risks Digest)

Progressive Insurance is offering drivers in Texas, USA, lower insurance costs if they allow their driving habits to be monitored by GPS. If the car is used less often, and at quieter times of the day, the monthly insurance bill can be lower. This is interesting not so much for the technology but the fact people are willing to allow their everyday movements to be tracked in exchange for saving money.

Life in 2020


A report from a Next Twenty Years discussion, with Paul Saffo and others imagining what technology will be like in 2020 and how society will cope. (via Matt Jones)

Technology in 2010

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The New York Times has a large section on different technologies we can expect in the future: 'The Blind Date Who Is Your Destiny,' 'The Genetic Report Card That Will Tell You If Your Embryo Will Get Prostate Cancer,' 'The Mind That Moves Objects' and 29 more. From a quick glance there seems to be little about global issues of any kind, methods of environmental improvement being a noticeable omission. Maybe that's just not sexy. (via Slashdot)

The future of computers

A series of Technology Review articles about the possibilities for the future: molecular, quantum, biological and DNA computing and more. (via Slashdot)

Thoughts about the kinds of vehicles we might see in the future, and how usage patterns could change.

Future bar codes

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The Uniform Code Council (overseers of bar codes) is working out details of a new Electronic Product Code to replace the 25 year old technology. "while today's bar code can say only that it's affixed to a bar of Dial soap, the EPC will actually know which bar. Not to mention when and where the bar was manufactured, how many bars fit on a pallet for shipping, what to do if your kid eats a bar or two, how to best dispose of the packaging, and on and on."

Smart packages


International Paper Co. and Motorola Inc. agreed to a groundbreaking deal to put microchips in the packaging concern's boxes, a big step toward eliminating bar codes and ultimately bringing the entire manufacturing supply chain online.

DARPA looks for exoskeletons


The US' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is requesting proposals for the development of "Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation." (via Haddock)

The Japanese government is planning to ban research into human cloning, with offenders possibly facing jail time. A spokesman for its science and technology agency said "Human cloning may pose a threat to the maintenance of social order, the foundation of which is the family."

Personal tech in 2010

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The design firm Ideo have come up with their vision of consumer technologies in ten years' time. Lots of good mock-ups and visualisations of what phones, watches, displays, chairs and more might look like. (via Haddock)

1999 saw a large increase in the use of industrial robots around the world. The increase is attributed to the decreased cost of robots (40 per cent cheaper than 1990), and higher labour costs and labour shortages in the developed world. Significant automation of sectors other than the car industry (which was a major driver of the current increase) is expected. (via Moreover)

IBM have developed a method of transporting information around an integrated circuit using the wave nature of electrons rather than wires. This will allow smaller chips than conventional methods. (via Haddock)

China to attempt manned space flight?

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There are rumours China may launch men into space very soon, despite "western experts'" speculation that it would be years before the nation was ready.

Perhaps an oversimplistic comparison of the state of the Internet in the world's largest countries, but interesting nonetheless. The Chinese government has closed 127 Internet cafes in Shanghai, in the same week the Delhi government launches its first cybercafe, undercutting the prices of local private enterprises. (via Moreover)

Biotech beyond the Genome Project

Report on a talk by Eric Lander about four areas to be tackled in the near future. I think it's mainly focussing on projects his group at The Whitehead Institute are working on, but it's still a look beyond the Human Genome Project. (via Moreover)

Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games, on the development of computer programming languages, current trends, and the field's future, parametric polymorphism. (via Linkwatcher)

The future of the human brain

Raymond Kurzweil discusses the future of the brain and AI over the next century. By 2050 a $1,000 computer will equal the processing power of the world's human brains; nanobots in our brains will enable us to cut off real life and enter a perfect virtual world; can we call data scanned and stored from a human brain a human brain itself?; what if nanobots mutate, reproducing themselves far more than they should?; who will control the nanobots?; "Ultimately the earth's technology-creating species will merge with its own computational technology." (URL may break before long...) (via The Well's Future Conference)

Device that gives the feeling of motion

MotionWare is a device which alters the user's sense of balance. It's been used in the medical world for some time, but Virtual Motion plan to produce devices for home entertainment, syncing it with, for example, games so the user has the sensation of motion. Could make VR experiences more real without requiring real movement. (via Slashdot)

Nearly one third of 20-35 year old males in the UK are living with their parents, up from 25% in 1977/8. The later age of marriage and difficulties in entering the housing market are possible reasons. The article, citing a Social Trends survey, also mentions 62% of schools are online, up from 17% in 1999.

Genetic toggle switch developed

A study at Boston University, USA, have developed a technique for switching genes from one state to another. The next step is to create sensors which switch state once a certain threshold is reached. It could be used to alert diabetics when their blood glucose reaches a certain level by turning a patch of skin a different colour. Further ahead, possibilities involve 'programming' bacteria and nanotechnology. (via Slashdot)

Gemstar buys the leading e-book makers

NuvoMedia (makers of the RocketBook) and SoftBook Press have been acquired by Gemstar, the maker of Video Plus and electronic TV guides, and the owner of TV Guide magazine. A massive ad campaign is planned for later in 2000, using the company's experience of creating a market for Video Plus, a similar chicken and egg situation.

The total number of Internet users in China has grown from 2.1 million in December 1998 to 8.9 million in December 1999. On average they spend 17 hours a week online and 20 million are expected to be online by the end of 2000.

Strap-on flight

Solotrek hopes to demonstrate its personal Vertical Take Off and Landing device. The user straps himself into its exo-skeleton style device and its two large fans allow him to fly around up to 80mph. (via Memepool)

Computer-generated newsreader

A bit of a yawn, as it's been predicted for so long. But PA New Media plan to launch their female CGI newsreader later this year.

Man sees with artificial eye

A 62 year old blind man can see 100 specks of light thanks to a device wired into his skull - enough vision to allow him to walk around and identify simple objects. He had the device implanted in 1978 and scientists at the Dobelle Institute in New York, USA, have been improving the software ever since. (via Haddock)

DNA computing

Article about a development in using DNA as a computing tool although it's still "a long ways from challenging chip technology." One gram of DNA could hold more data than a trillion CDs.

Automated warships

A report on warships the US Navy hopes to have operational by 2010 which will require crews of half the current size. Automated features include the ability to switch electricity supplies around the ship to where they're most needed. (via EurekAlert)

Nanotech in medicine

Describing uses for nanotechnology in medicine, particularly in gene therapy where it could help avoid fatal immune system responses. (via Slashdot)

Stephen Hawking on the future

Much of the article is just about the man himself, but he answers some questions about the possibilities for computers and human brain power in the future, and space travel. (via Slashdot)

Calves cloned from stored cells

Scientists at the University of Connecticut, USA, have cloned four calves from cells taken from a bull's ear and then frozen for several months. Previously it was thought that cells were only useful for a short time after cultivation.

Mud as a building material

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The Welsh Centre for Alternative Technology is constructing a £630,000 information centre out of mud bricks to illustrate its potential as an ecologically sound building material.

Realistic nanotech

Lengthy article about people working on nanotech projects which are producing results. (via EurekAlert)

Shirt monitors vital signs

Lifeshirt plan on selling a shirt in September 2000 which monitors the wearer's vital signs and sends the data to a secure website. This can then be sent to the wearer's doctor. $250 for the shirt, $30 per day for monitoring costs. (via Slashdot)

The companies displayed a prototype that uses a head-mounted monocle to project a 10 inch display. The PC is controlled by a joystick-like device, no keyboard. They will decide next year when to launch it.

Thought-controlled computing

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Dr. Phillip Kennedy has developed a device which, once wired into the brain, lets a patient control a computer using thought alone.

Assembling molecules

Two physicists at Cornell University have used a modified scanning tunnelling microscope to pick up single carbon monoxide molecules and graft them onto iron atoms.

Tiny transistor

A team at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a transistor ten times shorter than those currently in use. 400 times more of them can be fit on a chip. (via Slashdot)

China launches its first spacecraft

Its first unmanned rocket, Shenzhou, was launched successfully, a test for future manned space travel.

2 Gbps network

Microsoft, the National Computational Science Alliance, the University of Washington and Sony demonstrated more than 2 Gbps throughput on a wide area network.

Net appliances at Comdex

Report on the variety of thin Net clients being displayed at the Comdex show in Las Vegas.

Molecular switch

Teams at Rice and Yale Universities have developed a molecular computer switch using chemical processes rather than photolithography. "'It really looks like we're going to have hybrid molecular- and silicon-based computers within five to 10 years,' Tour said."

Homeless going online

The homeless are taking advantage of Net connections in libraries and special cybercafes set up for them. Free email, classifieds, resum

Smallest transistor

A group at Bell Labs have developed a 50-nanometer transistor. It should overcome limits faced by conventional transistors.

Computer schools for Rio's poor

In 1995 Rodrigo Baggio started a computer school in a Rio de Janeiro favela with computers donated from C&A. Now his Committee to Democratise Information Technology has set up 107 schools in 13 states. A school was set up in Rio's maximum security prison where "demand was so great that the 25% illiteracy rate disappeared over the year as inmates prepared to do the course."

Longer life through a missing gene

A team at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan have found that mice live up to a third longer if they're missing a certain gene. "It's really the first time that anybody has intervened to extend the lifespan of a mammal without extracting some cost." Results are only confirmed on one strain of mouse.

Legoland in space

The creators of the UK's Legoland are working on a project to build a hotel in space and expect to have it running by 2017. It will be built mostly of scavenged orbiting rubbish, will offer spacewalking excursions to the moon and will cost a lot.

Complete genome by next year?

If the Human Genome Project and Celera join forces the genome could be complete as early as next year.

DNA velcro

A group at the Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany have used the two halves of DNA spirals like velcro to stick together tiny objects.

400 GB per square inch

Stephen Chou at Princeton University has a concept for high density storage using electrons to cut the tiny pits on his penny-sized CDs rather than light (whose wavelength is too long). These CDs can store about 180 GB.

Service industry robots

A look at how robots will become more common outside factories over the next 10+ years, in industries like meat packing (second highest accident rate after construction), shops, households.

Interplanetary Internet

Summary of the Interplanetary Internet and the problems surrounding it.

US astronomers have the first visual confirmation after watching a planet pass in front of a distant star. It confirms that calculations about such planets are correct.

Consumable computers


More from Nicholas Negroponte (and others). Electronic paper, consumable computers for health checks, computers with common sense, and other more down to earth stuff. Apparently the world's biggest producer of tyres is now Lego.

More than one billion online in one year

So says Nicholas Negroponte, who's described as an "internet guru" so it must be true. "Even more products than people will be connected to the web ... 'Think of Barbie dolls. There are likely to be more Barbie dolls connected to the internet in ten years than Americans,' he said."

Vat-grown meat

Three Dutch scientists are developing a method of mass producing meat without animal suffering. Samples of animal cells are cultivated on a matrix of collagen.

One pound satellites

In December the US Air Force will launch a fleet of small experimental satellites. Clusters of tiny satellites weighing as little as one pound are envisioned over the next twenty years.

Molecular memory

A team from Yale and Rice Universities have demonstrated computer memory with elements the size of single molecules.

Replaying arm movements

Kevin Warwick at the University of Reading, UK, will have a chip implanted in his arm in 2001. It will radio nerve impulses to a computer which will then be able to play them back, causing his arm to replay the movements.

Fly-sized robot in development

University of California at Berkeley researchers are building a fly-sized robot for surveillance. Made of stainless steel with Mylar wings its $2.5 million cost is being funded by the Office of Naval Research.

According to the GartnerGroup. Also that over 95 percent of mobile phones shipped in 2004 will be WAP-enabled and 75 per cent will have Bluetooth.

Telecoms holding European Internet back

Of European households with computers only 9 per cent are online (I think it's 25 per cent in the US?). In 1998 the average American user spent 32 hours per week online compared to 22 in Europe.

Slug Terminator

The Intelligent Autonomous Systems group at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, have developed a robot which kills slugs. It can identify the slugs and captures them at the rate of ten a minute. When it's full, or batteries run low, the robot returns to base, transferring the slugs to a chamber where they're converted to a gas used to produce electricity for the fuel cell.

General Motors' OnStar system will let you check stocks, weather, email by speaking to it. And hoot the horn when you say "horn".

Swedish Home Servers

Sweden's largest electric utility, Vattenfall AB, is going to install servers in over 400,000 homes over the next two years. The servers will be able to connect kitchen appliances, security systems, heating control systems and utility meters over phone lines or other networks.

Iowa, USA, to test Internet voting

Iowa is
testing voting over the Internet alongside its conventional election. Voters receive a unique ID number to enter, and their vote is encrypted and "read anonymously" at a computer clearinghouse. Washington and Virginia have already conducted successful and secure tests and California has commissioned a large study. The article mentions plenty of concerns about the possibilities of lack of technological access disenfranchising people.

A new estate in Hertfordshire, UK, will be "smart homes", with operations like adjusting heating, lights, alarm from any Net connection. Webcams point outside the house and videoconferencing facilities are built in. Being able to switch on the coffee machine in the kitchen from the bedroom is cited as a great benefit. The houses have all been sold, some before completion.

On the third page of this good report on the arrival of the next wave of games consoles it notes "Square, the publisher of the Final Fantasy game series, says it expects to spend $40 million on the next instalment -- the largest game development project in history." How long until an interactive "thing" beats the biggest movie production cost?

Cross-pollinating super trees

The World Wide Fund for Nature says 116 GM tree trials have taken place since 1988 and these trees can cross pollinate with native trees over a distance of 400 miles. "Other GM modifications under trial raise the prospect of silent forests, devoid of insects, flowers and birds. The idea is to create super-trees that grow rapidly, resist rot, and defy insect attack. The trees would be sprayed from planes to kill all life around them."

UN report says there are almost 400 million mobiles in use with 250,000 being added each day. Some countries already have more mobiles than land lines, like Finland (51% of the market), Cambodia (58%) and Rwanda (72%). Pre-paid phones are the big success, with 75% of cellular users in Italy on pre-pay, 60% in Mexico.

Seeing through a cat's eyes

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A group at University of California, Berkeley, have reconstructed what a cat sees by connecting electrodes to 177 cells in its brain directly to a computer.

The two companies have set up a joint venture which intends to sell Net-connectable household appliances within a year. Ericsson already have a head start with their Screenfridge.

UN says robots will be as common as PCs

Report on a survey by UN Economic Commission for Europe (co-authored by the International Federation of Robotics) which expects domestic robots to be taken up by the wealthy, to be integrated into their fully wired homes.

140 GB disk

US firm C3D has a working prototype of 140 GB CD-sized disk and 10 GB card (both read only). They're planning to start pilot production with the disks going by the un-catchy name of FMD-ROM disk (for Fluorescent Multi-layer Disk).

NASA is starting a $600,000 project to turn astronaut waste into a power source using pyrolysis - breaking matter down by heating it without oxygen. Pyrolysis can result in liquids or gases, depending on the temperature of burning and these can either be burnt to release energy or turned into other materials such as plastics. They suggest the process could be used on earth for recycling human waste, plastic bags, etc.

Withered brain cells restored to health

Researchers at University of California, San Diego managed to revive cells in monkey brains which had previously been thought dead due to age, using gene therapy. Although the cells appeared to be physically back to almost normal, they haven't tested to see if they actually work yet.

The perils of the biotech century

Jeremy Rifkin on how we should approach the use of biotech. "It needs to be stressed that it's not a matter of saying yes or no to the use of technology itself and never has been ... Rather, the question is: what kind of biotechnologies will we choose in the coming biotech century? Will we use our new insights into the workings of plant and animal genomes to create genetically engineered "super crops" and transgenic animals? Or will we use them to advance ecological agriculture and more humane animal husbandry practices?

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