The Future is Now
Perhaps the coolest announcement at this year’s Consumer & Electronics Show (CES 2012): a $10 million prize to the first person who invents a Tricorder:
The rationale behind the latest X Prize, known as the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, which was announced at CES today, and which will award a $10 million bounty to the first team that can create “a mobile platform that most accurately diagnoses a set of 15 diseases across 30 [patients] in three days.”
It’s very cool, but they should have gone for a transporter – then more people would have attended next year’s show. ;-)
The 133-year tradition that is the phone book (a.k.a., the White Pages) is quietly coming to an end. According to the Associated Press, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania have all obtained approval this month to stop printing the paper-based phone book. Virginia residents have until November 19th to provide comments on a similar request.
The statistics are rather stark: only 11% of of households relied on the white pages in 2008 (down from 25% in 2005). Land line phones are being disconnected at a rate of 10% per year, as people make their cellphone, which is not listed in the white pages, their only phone. And in places where the phone companies have been allowed to offer a choice, only 2% of customers have asked for a phone book.
Technology is obviously the “killer app” here. Phone numbers are much more easily obtained via search engines, which are often available on the smart phones themselves. The smart phones also have Caller ID and electronic address books, so frequently (or even infrequently) called numbers are recorded and stored for later use, gradually creating a personalized phone book for each person. And for those Neanderthals who don’t have smart phones, the phone company can print a single, on-demand phone book just for that person, or even send them a CD-ROM. All of this, of course, leads to big cost savings for the phone company, who doesn’t have to print the (largely advertising-free) book. And, of course, there are environmental benefits as well – each book represents just over 3.5 pounds of paper.
So it seems like a win-win situation all around. The only thing left, as far as I can tell, is for Google to invent a way to prop up the leg of a wobbly table.
Also, when handling swords, stay away from the pointy end.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the part where a company called Wicked Lasers created a product called the S3 Spyder III Pro Arctic, which is a hand-held device that emits a blue laser beam powerful enough to “blind permanently and instantly and set fire quickly to skin and other body parts.” In other words, it’s a light saber. Retail price? $299.95 (includes laser, safety goggles and training lenses; lens cleaner and extra battery available for $10 each). Think I’m kidding? Think again:
So what’s more unbelievable than this? How about a sternly worded cease and desist letter from LucasFilms? Apparently, despite the fact that the company never used the term “light saber” and goes out of their way to warn people how dangerous the product is on their website (my favorite line: “the Spyder III Pro Arctic . . . is not a toy, it is a high power Class 4 1W laser. . . . this laser must NEVER be used to play with your pets.”), LucasFilms still feels it has the right to make them stop selling it.
Next up: the guy who first conceived of the Star Trek communicator attempts to stop production of all flip-top cellphones…
(hat tip: Speculist)
It seems that Dr. J. Craig Venter and his team in Rockville, MD have sequenced the genome of a particular bacterium and inserted that genome into another bacterium to create, well . . . . life:
“We’re basically getting new life out of the computer,” Venter says. “We started with a genetic code in the computer, wrote the ‘software,’ put it into the cell and transformed it biologically into a new species. We’re still stunned by it as a concept.”
With Venter’s breakthrough it’s now possible to splice and snap together genetic material to create a Legoland’s worth of new genetic combinations. Ideally, some of these would have robust industrial purposes, such as manufacturing bacteria that can churn out valuable vaccine components to shorten production times during an epidemic, or co-opting organisms such as algae to pump out new sources of biofuel-based energy. “Just imagine these cells where all we do is put in a new piece of chemical software and all the characteristics of the cell start changing to become what was dictated by the new software,” says Venter. “These are biological transformers.”
What the world needs is more science articles that contain the words “legoland” and “transformers,” I always say…
More to the point, after they’ve created new vaccines and energy sources, one wonders how long the scientists will wait until they attempt to create the perfect woman.
A hospital in Spain has completed the first ever full face transplant:
The patient now has a completely new face from his hairline down and only one visible scar, which looks like a wrinkle running across his neck, said Dr. Joan Pere Barret, the surgeon who led the team. “If you look him in the face, you see a normal person, like anyone else we have as a patient in the hospital,” Barret told The Associated Press on Friday.
He declined to name the patient or give details of the accident five years ago in which he lost his face, saying only that he was a Spaniard between the ages of 20 and 40 and is recovering well. He cannot yet speak, eat or smile, but can see and swallow saliva.
So here’s my question: now that he has a new face, does he look more like Nicholas Cage or John Travolta?
Scientists have unlocked the entire genetic code of two of the most common cancers – skin and lung – a move they say could revolutionise cancer care. Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumours far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets, says the Wellcome Trust team.
Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer. The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth. China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas.
Basically, this redefines cancer from a disease to a series of genetic mutations, each of which can be studied, prevented, treated, or cured. Skin cancer (melanoma) is a combination of 30,000 “errors” in the DNA of the cancerous cells which are not present in the healthy cells. Lung cancer is a series of 23,000 errors. So now, we not only know that sun exposure causes skin cancer and smoking causes lung cancer, but we know why and how they cause it.
I found this particularly eye-opening:
The experts estimate a typical smoker acquires one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes they smoke. Although many of these mutations will be harmless, some will trigger cancer.
Wellcome Trust researcher Dr Peter Campbell, who conducted this research, published in the journal Nature, said: “It’s like playing Russian roulette. Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer.”
By quitting smoking, people could reduce their cancer risk back down to “normal” with time, he said. The suspicion is lung cells containing mutations are eventually replaced with new ones free of genetic errors.
So, if you’re incredibly unlucky (meaning every genetic mutation you cause by smoking contributes to lung cancer), then you’ll have cancerous cells in your lungs after 1,534 cigarettes. Or, at a pack per day, in about 77 days. If only one mutation in ten hits the cancer jackpot, then you’ve got 767 days, or just over two years. After that, you’re counting on your body to produce healthy, “error-free” cells at an equal or faster rate than the cancer cells die. Too many cancer cells, and they’ll survive long enough to multiply faster than the healthy cells, at which point, you’ve got yourself a tumor.
Then again, now that we know which genetic defects are at fault, we could invent the medication that prevents the defect (or corrects it, or kills cells that contain it, etc.), effectively providing the “cigarette antidote.” Think of it – a pill that comes in every pack of cigarettes. When you finish the pack, swallow this. Problem solved.
The same applies, of course, to cancers that are contracted through less voluntary means. Targeted treatment against specific defects will redefine our definitions of treatment, side effects, and research priorities. Dr. Michael Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust team, calls it a “fundamental moment in cancer research:”
Business Insider has published a list of the twenty-one things that have become obsolete during the 00′s. Unfortunately, it’s one of those sites that tries to increase their ad revenue by making you click twenty-one times to see the whole list (like advertisers don’t understand that it’s not twenty-one people seeing their ad, but the same person ignoring it over & over again? But, I digress). Anyway, since I’m technologically opposed to that sort of thing, here’s the full list (with links back to their pages in case you want to read the text behind each one). You’ll note that this list of twenty-one things has twenty-two items on it (a bonus item? Seriously? Sheesh…)
- PDA’s: Specifically, PDA’s that need a stylus, like the old Palm Pilot
- E-mail accounts you have to pay for: as storage got cheaper, e-mail accounts became free
- Dial-Up: the sound of a modem connecting to another modem has become relegated to War Games and movies like it.
- Getting Film Developed: Remember the old Fotomat booths in the shopping center parking lots? No more…
- Movie Rental Stores: Say goodbye to your local Blockbuster’s, if you still can, and sign-up for your Netflix account (or just use your TV provider’s On-Demand channel). Also obsolete: late fees.
- Maps: With GPS devices and Google Maps-enabled phones, why figure out how to fold (and un-fold) a map?
- Newspaper Classified Ads: Thank you, Craig Newmark.
- Landline Phones: When your cellphone works anywhere, why have a phone that plugs into your house? I’m not sure this one is gone for good yet, but it’s certainly getting there.
- Per-Minute Long Distance Charges: like storage (above), this got cheaper and cheaper until it became free. Most people pay a flat rate per month now, and VOIP is chasing that into oblivion too…
- Public Pay Phones: This one’s for you, Bennion. Again, when your cellphone works anywhere, why have a phone that plugs into a closet on a street corner?
- VCR’s: Even DVD’s are going away, now that Blu-Ray has won the day. The VCR has officially gone the way of the Betamax machine.
- Fax Machines: If anyone’s even sending faxes anymore, they’re winding up in e-mail boxes, not paper trays.
- Phonebooks, Dictionaries & Encyclopedias: What used to take up shelves, now takes up hard drive space. And now it’s searchable! Also becoming obsolete: the need to remember the order of the letters in the alphabet.
- Calling 411 for Information: My kids don’t even know about this! Phone numbers come from Google or some more specific search engine now…
- Music CD’s: Gone are the days of buying eight songs you don’t like to hear the two that you do like…
- Backing Up Data to Floppies & CD’s: This one’s a bit unfair, since it was both created and obsolesced this decade, but it’s true – backups go on external hard drives or UBS thumbnail drives now. It doesn’t save as much shelf space as the encyclopedias, but it still helps…
- Getting Bills in the Mail: or, for that matter, sending checks back to pay them. I honestly don’t know how much a stamp costs these days.
- Buttons on Electronic Devices: Touchscreens have brought us into the Minority Report world.
- Losing Touch with People: Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, we’re in touch with everyone we ever knew. Or ever will know…
- Personal Boundaries: also gone, thanks to Facebook and Twitter. Of course, I think this is more about us learning how to better use these tools than anything else. No one’s forcing you to post that picture of yourself dancing on the tables at the bar last night, ya’ know…
- Paper: It’s true. While everyone’s screaming about saving the environment, we’ve managed to eliminate a great deal of the paper in our lives, and it’s becoming moreso every day….
- Record Stores: Like the movies, people no longer need to go somewhere else to get their music. It comes to them…
A pretty good list, I think. Your turn to chime in – what did they leave off the list?
Forty years ago, they went there to begin a “giant leap for mankind.” Seven months ago, my family and I went there to begin a “guided tour for a couple of hours.” Launchpad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center, roughly forty years apart:
Watching the launch today, I can’t help but marvel at what we accomplished, but also at how positively primitive the technology was at the time. I also marvel at how, now that we have people living and working in outer space for months at a time, a similar launch is nothing more than a brief story on the evening news.
One giant leap, indeed…
My friend Ilya turned me on to a blog called The Speculist, which I glance at periodically. Most of the time, it’s mildly interesting but nothing to blog home about. But this past weekend, it ran four stories that really caught my eye, so I figure I’ll
force them upon share them with you.
Not so much interesting (or even practical), just really cool. The robots not only lure the creatures and “digest” them, but they use the energy from the digestion process to power the robot for capturing more pests:
Stephen Hawking believes we’ve developed the ability to evolve as a species based on more than just genetics:
But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls “self designed evolution,” in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. “At first,” he continues “these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.”
Anyone want to tell Dr. Hawking he’s wrong? And remember, if this makes you angry, Dr. Hawking can rewire your brain to help with that…
Just a little something to make Jeff Porten’s head spin off…
The 55 mice used in the University of South Florida study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. First the researchers used behavioural tests to confirm the mice were exhibiting signs of memory impairment when they were aged 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70.
Then they gave half the mice caffeine in their drinking water. The rest were given plain water. The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day – about 500 milligrams of caffeine.
When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia. Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests.
In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.
(emphasis is mine)
Now how’s that for great news? Next up – the Starbucks Center for Memory Enhancement.
While the global media obsesses over a rash of celebrity deaths, I was pleased to find some good news in my newsfeed this morning.
June 29 (Bloomberg) — Iraqi government officials will mark tomorrow’s long-planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from their cities by taking the day off, decorating cars with flowers and broadcasting patriotic music.
U.S. officers say that the Iraqis will be in exclusive control of major combat in urban areas, including the flashpoints of Baghdad, Mosul and Baquba, for the first time since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. U.S. forces will ring volatile cities to prevent rebel infiltration, provide intelligence and fight if Iraqis request.
The urban pullout is part of an accord signed by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government in November, which called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011. President Barack Obama wants to pull out all but 35,000 to 50,000 soldiers by August 2010. About 131,000 American troops are now in Iraq, according to Pentagon figures.
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian scientists have developed a “trojan horse” therapy to combat cancer, using a bacterially-derived nano cell to penetrate and disarm the cancer cell before a second nano cell kills it with chemotherapy drugs.
Sydney scientists Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt, who formed EnGenelC Pty Ltd in 2001, said they had achieved 100 percent survival in mice with human cancer cells by using the “trojan horse” therapy in the past two years.
The first wave of mini-cells release ribonucleic acid molecules, called siRNA, which switch off the production of proteins that make the cancer cell resistant to chemotherapy. A second wave of EDV cells is then accepted by the cancer cell and releases chemotherapy drugs, killing the cancer cell.
“The beauty is that our EDVs operate like ‘Trojan Horses’ They arrive at the gates of the affected cells and are always allowed in,” said MacDiarmid. “We are playing the rogue cells at their own game. They switch-on the gene to produce the protein to resist drugs, and we are switching-off the gene which, in turn, enables the drugs to enter.”
So, major steps forward toward world peace and a cure for cancer? Not a bad day…