Futurist Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute has posted a thought-provoking avatar roadmap detailing an increasingly critical and symbiotic relationship between man and this progeny of ours. Frey argues that this increasing reliance on avatar extensions will change our fundamental values, eventually leading to a great blur of humans and avatars.
Frey: With each generation of avatar, they will become more life-like, growing in realism, pressing the limits of autonomy as we become more and more reliant on them for experiencing the world. The avatar will become an extension of ourselves. The pain that we feel is the same pain that they feel, and vice versa. Like symbiotic twins separated only by a dimension or two, we are destined to become one with our avatars.
Is that a fair frame and likely prediction, or are we already indistinguishable from our technology and environment? Are we destined to merge with our avatars? Are we already avatars generated by Gaiia or the Great Simulator(s)?
With a pair of feature films due for release in 2009, Ray Kurzweil is poised to shotgun the Singularity mega-meme to the mainstrean.
But how will the message and messenger be received? And what effect will Kurzweil's rising star have on associated memes such as accelerating change, transhumanism, extropianism, futurism, AGI and other less extreme Singularity definitions?
If recent Newsweek ("is this the next great leap in human evolution, or just one man's midlife crisis writ large?") and slanted io9 ("the famous futurist's meat brain has made some ludicrously inaccurate predictions") coverage is any indicator, the seeds of a Kurzweil backlash are beginning to sprout -- a social dynamic that probably also extends to technology in general.
Though I'm no proponent of Kurzweil's Strong Singularity school of thought, relegating it to a low-probability event, I do think the man has contributed a great deal to the study of accelerating change and the human condition. I find the aforementioned criticism, and especially the voluminous associated comment threads, superficial and incendiary, not productive. And though I'm not all that surprised about the reaction, I'm a bit worried now that I'm actually witnessing the number of Singularity haters rise, especially because the mentality is likely to extend to the notion of the clearly palpable and verifiable accelerating change occuring in many human-related domains.
Now, if you're going to criticize Kurzweil -- and I think more people should do just that -- it makes more sense to carefully take a go at the definition of the Singularity itself rather than his, frankly, rather safe hardware and computing predictions. But that takes time, commitment to simulating multiple futures, and careful consideration, which means there will be many millions of emotionally anti-tech eager to pan Kurzweil's brand of techno-utopianism and accelerating change rather than engage in rigorous debate.
Like I said, it's not surprising, just scary.
Hopefully the story will end more positively than, say, the tale of Giordano Bruno, advocate of heliocentrism, one of my all-time faves. But alas, if things do turn nasty and all apocalyptic, neo-luddite versus transhuman, then perhaps we'll need Skynet to save us from ourselves after all, thus making Kurzweil's Singularity a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.
Say it won't be so Ray. Some of us will believe you!
The results could achieve the catalytic performance seen in rare and expensive metals such as platinum, and further humankind's ability to use nanostructured systems to elegantly manipulate the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, electrons, photons and metals to enable new forms of energy production, storage and conversion.
“Nature relies on a very elaborate architecture to support its own ‘hydrogen economy,’ ” said Chemistry Professor Thomas Rauchfuss, a professor of and corresponding author of the paper. “We cracked that design by generating mock-ups of the catalytic site to include the substrate hydrogen atom.”
Manipulating Natural Molecular Building Blocks Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions via catalysis. Today, human beings know very little about the molecular magic of hydrogen producing enzymes (known as 'hydrogenase') and the complex reactions that occur inside the core reaction sites.
Developing accurate models of these activation sites is the first step towards developing low cost synthetic catalysts that can break the bonds of oxygen and hydrogen or carbon and hydrogen. The Illinois team is the first to model a nickel-iron structure with the use of a key link or bridge (hydrideligand).
Hydrogen's Hype vs Profitable Role of Chemical Storage & Distributed Power Generation
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
The Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals. And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.
Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.
The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'
Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)
The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.
Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons? “Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”
The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.'
According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.' So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!
MIT's Biomolecular Materials Group has advanced a technique of using 'genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.'
This advanced 'bio-industrial' manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs).
Professors Angela Belcher and Michael Strano led the breakthrough bio-engineering work which can now use bacteriophage 'to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.' While the prototype was based on a typical 'coin cell battery', the team believes it can be adapted for 'thin film' organic electronic applications.
Energy = Interactions Energy and Materials Science is about manipulating the assembly and interaction of molecules like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.
Today we are at the beginning of new eras of nanoscale materials science and bio-industrial processes that are certain to change the cost and efficiency equations within alternative energy and biomaterials. And we have a lot to learn about molecular assembly from Mother Nature's genetically driven virus/bacteria and plants. After all, the energy released from breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal (ancient ferns) and oil (ancient diatoms) was originally assembled by biology (with some help from geological pressures!). So why not tap this bio-industrial potential for building future energy components?
General Motors and Segway unveiled a new type of small electric motor vehicle with advanced software that could shift how we look at mobility as a service.
In an effort to appeal to digitally connected urban audiences, GM describes Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) as a low-cost mobility platform that 'enables design creativity, fashion, fun and social networking.' This protoype model travels up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph), with a range up to 35 miles (56 km) between recharges (though it's not clear how urban residents will access wall sockets!)
Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication systems that relay alerts and information to drivers to reduce congestion and prevent collisions are already being integrated into luxury vehicles. But within a decade or two we can expect low cost vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ detection systems that make cars 'smarter' than drivers.
Access and Ownership (and Potential Chaos) A compelling vision of Personal Urban Vehicles is the emergence of personal 'mobility as service' companies that connect outer hubs with urban destination points (offices, retail, recreation, et al). In addition to owning personal vehicles, we can imagine paying for 'access' to fleets of vehicles that we don't have to park. (Of course, adding fleets of small vehicles could mean chaos in urban areas for pedestrians! Not to mention pushback from the Cabbies in New York!)
More Images and Related Posts on The Future of Auto Industry
GM & Segway are hoping to commercialize a new category of smart micro-vehicles for urban environments by 2012 (See previous post). I love the application of Segway software, but am skeptical of a 'plug in' battery version.
I'm not sure how many wall sockets are accessible to urban dwellers who don't have garages! So I love the idea, but think the real potential is the 'access' business model. Let's keep the PUMA owned and operated by mobility service companies, not urban dwellers themselves!
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a unique super-'hydrophobic' (water repelling) surface coating that 'boosts the light absorption of silicon photovoltaic cells both by trapping light in three-dimensional structures, and by making the surfaces self-cleaning allowing rain or dew to wash away the dust and dirt that can accumulate on photovoltaic arrays'.
The 'self cleaning' design mimics the water repelling surface of a lotus leaf, 'which uses surface roughness at two different size scales to create high contact angles that encourage water from rain or (desert dew) condensation to bead up and run off. As the water runs off, it carries with it any surface dust or dirt – which also doesn't adhere because of the unique surface properties'.
"The more sunlight that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the less that reflects back, the higher the efficiency can be," said C.P. Wong, Regents' professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our simulations show that we can potentially increase the final efficiency of the cells by as much as two percent with this surface structure."
"A normal silicon surface reflects a lot of the light that comes in, but by doing this texturing, the reflection is reduced to less than five percent," said Dennis Hess, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "As much as 10 percent of the light that hits the cells is scattered because of dust and dirt of the surface. If you can keep the cells clean, in principle you can increase the efficiency. Even if you only improve this by a few percent, that could make a big difference."
I recently blogged and vlogged about Medtronic starting a clinical trial where deep brain stimulation (DBS) would be applied to the ventral striatum (part of the human reward circuit) to treat depression in up to 200 patients. Then the article on CNNmoney that I was basing this on disappeared and I worried that the whole thing might have been a mistake or a hoax. But the article has resurfaced on the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, and I finally got around to digging up Medtronic's original press release from 19 Feb 2009, which confirms that they are conducting a clinical trial of DBS as a treatment for depression.
But more than that. It turns out that the entire implant procedure that they're using isn't new at all - it's the same procedure they use to treat OCD (recently FDA approved for up to 4000 patients). The implant is called Reclaim and (quoting the press release) "the anatomical target in the brain is the.. ventral striatum.. which is a central node in the neural circuits believed to regulate mood and anxiety". So it seems DBS implants have been placed in the human reward circuit since the OCD trials started, many years ago. This is good news because it means we're even better at putting DBS implants in the human reward circuit than I thought we were. Basically, DBS applied to the ventral striatum (VS) didn't just alleviate the behavioural tics of OCD patients but also improved their mood. Studies like Schlaepfer et al 2008 (3 patients) and Malone et al 2009 (15 patients), which I thought were ground-breaking, merely confirmed that DBS applied to the VS improves the mood of severely depressed patients as well.
The combined company will have ‘approximately 7.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of proved (developed and undeveloped) and probable reserves, on top of an estimated contingent resource base of approximately 19 billion boe.It will also have significant refining capacity of 433,000 barrels per day (b/d) and a strong Canadian retail brand in Suncor.'
Preempting the Inevitable Contraction of the Hydrocarbon Sector Energy analysts expect a wave of mergers as companies find it difficult to grow reserve assets through traditional exploration and development. Cash rich companies might find it easier to expand reserve totals by acquisition.
Future sucess might also be based on an ability to develop non-conventional resources like carbon-heavy 'tar sands' and deep water reserves. So for Canada's leading energy companies it was important to merge before being acquired.
According to Suncor CEO Rick George "The combined portfolio boasts the largest oil sands resource position, a strong Canadian downstream brand, solid conventional exploration and production assets, and low-cost production from Canada's east coast and internationally."