futuretalk's Blog Posts

Indefinite lifespan is within our grasp, scientists say

June 26 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Health & Medicine   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Scientist and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil claims that biotech and nanotech advances expected over the next two decades will be sufficient for humanity to slow down aging and make a realistic stab at ending death.

Kurzweil should not be taken lightly. Called “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes magazine, his enthusiastic fans range from Bill Gates to Bill Clinton, and a recent Time magazine article compared him with the genius of Thomas Edison.

Kurzweil believes that unraveling the human genome has enabled researchers to begin development of powerful technologies that promise to re-grow cells, tissues, and organs; reverse aging; correct bad genes; and build nanobots the size of blood cells that will roam through our bodies keeping us forever young and healthy.

In his bestselling book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, co-authored with Terry Grossman, M.D., Kurzweil says, “Whereas some of my contemporaries may be satisfied to embrace aging gracefully as part of the cycle of life; that is not my view. It may be ‘natural’, but I don’t see anything positive in losing my mental agility, sensory acuity, physical limberness, sexual desire, or any other human ability”.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield, Kurzweil revealed steps outlined in his book that bridge the gulf between today, when medical help focuses more on treating symptoms than cures; and tomorrow, when biotech and nanotech revolutions promise so many miracles. Kurzweil divides these steps, which he says anyone can take, into three bridges. (cont.)

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Energy: Can we break the tyranny of oil? Experts say we can

June 24 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Energy is the life-blood of America – it affects our economy, standard of living and national security. Our prime energy source, oil, is a product we can no longer afford. Four-to-five dollar per gallon gas prices, air pollution, and global warming has brought us to the point where we must find a better energy source.

Experts predict that by 2030, new energy technologies described below could drastically cut our oil consumption, and slash reliance on electricity-producing fossil fuels like coal and natural gas almost entirely. Added to our portfolio of existing nuclear and hydroelectric power, these new energy sources could virtually eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels to run our homes and economy.

Bio-fuels – in the nation’s heartland, scientists are working to turn agricultural waste or ‘biomass’ such as switchgrass, wheat straw, cornstalks and miscanthus into a fuel called cellulosic ethanol that could be produced commercially. Department of Energy (DOE) officials believe that by 2030, bio-fuels could meet 30 percent of our transportation fuel needs.

Hydrogen – this new technology stores energy more effectively than batteries, burns twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as gasoline does in an internal combustion engine and leaves only water. It’s plentiful, clean, and capable of powering cars, homes and factories. The DOE predicts an all-hydrogen vehicle could become price effective by 2020; and by 2030, this renewable non-polluting energy could power ten percent of our cars, homes and factories; by 2050, 50 percent. (cont.)

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Household robots: smart, loyal, humanoid 'bots here by 2020

June 24 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine a machine that sets the table, creates and serves dinner, cleans house, and never complains. This may sound like something out of The Jetsons, but in labs everywhere, scientists believe that one day, we will share our homes with loyal robot servants that enthusiastically tackle mundane chores, freeing us for more fulfilling activities.

Carnegie Mellon’s Hans Moravec believes that by 2020, we will create robots in humanoid form, able to express reasoning and emotion, and eager to perform household tasks. These “smart” machines will walk the dog, put groceries away, find and fetch things, mimic human feelings of compassion and love, and become friends with family members.

2020s robots will appear amazingly human-like. Moravec suggests they could be powered by fuel cells that are cooled by a squeeze pump which beats like a heart while circulating alcohol as a coolant. They would “drink wine” for fuel, and breathe air like humans.

Design tricks like these, along with soft “nanoskin” will make tomorrow’s ‘bots seem uncannily human, encouraging us to perceive them as friends. Author Ray Kurzweil says tomorrow’s ‘droids could quickly learn to flesh out positive feelings, which would provide an allure difficult for humans to resist.

How about robo-love? Jason Nemeth, in his essay, Should Robots Feel, believes love-companion robots will be practical in the future and could easily fill the role of a partner, satisfying our intimacy needs. Nemeth is not sure whether human/robot love would experience higher success rate than love between two humans; but he says technologies will unlock the possibilities, and human curiosity will make it happen. (cont.)

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How 'bout uploading memories, feelings into a perfect body

June 23 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

The World Health Organization describes good health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being”. This sounds like utopia, but what does it actually mean? Besides family, friends, a faithful pet, and plenty of clean air and sunshine, what else contributes to our well-being? We could add feeling happy, feeling smart, and being in control of our bodies.

According to a recent article in New Scientist Magazine, most people enjoy the conveniences in today’s modern homes – air conditioning, entertainment, appliances, etc. Cars also provide freedom and joy on the open road; and the Internet empowers us with easy access to information and new ways to communicate with friends.

Modern drugs prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, cancer, and mental disorders, which give us greater control over our bodies.

But life has not always been this good: 100 years ago, average lifespan was in the 40’s. Child mortality, malaria, TB, malnutrition, and warfare were the most common culprits that brought life to an end. Yet, in spite of living short, disease-ridden lives, our ancestors survived.

My great grandmother lived from 1855 to 1946. At a young age, she left her home in Indiana and headed west. She married, homesteaded a farm, and gave birth to 15 children. This would be difficult for many, but Grandma was tough. Fortunately for me, she survived and our lineage continued. (cont.)

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Physicist believes we will travel through time in this century

June 20 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

University of Connecticut’s Dr. Ronald Mallett thinks he has found a practical way to build a time machine using light. He hopes to verify the concept within 10 years, and expects a machine built this century. “No known laws of physics forbids time travel”, Mallett says, “and in theory, shunting matter back and forth through time shouldn’t be that difficult”. But what about wormholes, those clever little tunnels in spacetime that supposedly enables travel from one moment to another? Though wormholes seem a perfectly respectable way to travel through time on paper, developing them would require capturing energy from all 400 billion stars in our galaxy, a feat that for now remains far out of reach to say the least.

Mallett however, who is a theoretical physics professor believes he has found a route to the past that uses something much more down to earth: light. His team discovered that light beams can create a vortex that force the past, present and future to circle one another until the future precedes the past.

Their research suggests that tiny bits of matter can be moved from the present to the past. And if it works for matter, in theory, it can transport us.

As you enter Mallet’s futuristic time machine, your mind senses that you are moving forward, but because of the spacetime vortex, you are actually going backwards through time. You can exit the machine at a preset time and place yourself somewhere in your past.

But journeying to the past opens controversies. Say for example, we travel back in time and prevent our parents from getting together: this would prevent us from being born; therefore we would not exist and our journey in time couldn’t happen. This creates a paradox – a past different from one that already exists. (cont.)

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Supercomputer will speed breakthroughs in medical research

June 18 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

As our “miracle” 21st century begins to unfold, a statement, which has been an eternal truth for most of human history, is now being seriously challenged: Humans will always be battling sicknesses. Many scientists believe this statement could be overturned within the next three decades, and most of the credit for this feat would lie in our ability to increase computer power.

Today, medical researchers, in efforts to cure heart disease, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other human ills, perform trial and error experiments in labs, and conduct human clinical trials that yield excruciatingly slow results. Cancer deaths are predicted to not end for another seven years, and cures for other diseases are projected to be even more elusive.

But researchers say we could speed medical research progress by first using Clinical Trial Simulations (CTS). If we preceded actual human trials with high-speed computer simulations, the end results would be reached much faster. Ronald Gieschke, of Hoffmann-La Roche in Switzerland, claims CTS will have a significant impact on the way in which drugs are developed in the future. “Human clinical trials will still be necessary,” Gieschke says, “but CTS will make them faster and more accurate”.

In addressing the need for increased computer power, IBM’s new “Roadrunner,” built for the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has achieved performance of 1.026 petaflops (more than one quadrillion floating point operations per second) and is now rated as the fastest supercomputer in the world.

The DOE announced that this computer will link its facilities to other government labs and major research centers around the world. Scientists will find easy access to this new supercomputer later this year, according to a LANL spokesman. The new machine will enable breakthrough discoveries in biology that will fundamentally change medical science and its impact across society. (cont.)

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Experts offer solutions for jobs lost to automation

June 18 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

A recent World Future Society report states that technology is definitely a job killer. The whole idea of tools, machines, and systems is to do things easier, faster, or better than barehanded humans can. Industry, by its very nature, out-sources itself.

Businesses are quick to adopt new technologies that reduce operation costs. While this practice usually results in eliminating some jobs, it often creates new higher-paid opportunities that require new skills. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report predicted the highest employment demands between now and 2020 will be in healthcare, education, accounting, and computer services; and these jobs will require Internet-proficient employees skilled in computer security, databases, privacy, and new media.

Baby boomers held an average of 10 jobs between ages 18 and 38, according to government statistics. These career jumpers continue to take short-duration jobs even as they approach middle age: 70% of jobs started between ages 33 and 39 ended within five years. Most people will experience five or six careers during their lifetime, and many will study for their next occupation, while working their current job.

Career consultant Eileen Gunn, author of Your Career Is an Extreme Sport offers the following tips on how today’s workforce can stay competitive:

1) Become aware of popular technologies. Know the difference between instant messaging and text messaging; participate in blogs and read newsfeeds relevant to your field. Social networking websites can also help you land a new job or scope out potential customers. Your own website might be worth the trouble if there’s a lot of personal work for you to showcase. (cont.)

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Brain research promises smarter machines, healthier humans

June 16 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Cognitive computing (computers that process information the same way a brain does) has been a dream for 50 years. Artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, and neural networks have all experienced some success, but machines still cannot recognize pictures or understand languages as well as humans do.

Despite the many false starts however, forward-thinkers like Dr. James Albus, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, believe cognitive computing research is at the tipping point, similar to where nuclear physics was in 1905. The following projects underway now describe the progress of this new research:

‘Smart’ cars: Auto makers are now investing heavily in collision-warning systems and vehicles that drive themselves; DOT officials believe that robotic vehicles with safety warnings will likely save more lives than airbags and seatbelts combined.

Future military: DOD planners predict that by 2015, auto-fly drones and other computer-driven systems could remove most soldiers from battlefield dangers.

Modeling the brain: Scientists at the Blue Brain project, a collaboration of IBM and the Swiss government; can zoom inside a single cell and examine exactly how each neuron fires. This research will help repair damaged brains today, and in the future could allow robots to mimic human consciousness. (cont.)

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Coming soon: cars that wink, laugh, cry, and get angry

June 16 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

In the future, your car will detect danger possibilities and protect you as you encounter other cars on the road. It will automatically display a happy, sad, or angry look to convey appropriate feelings to other drivers in response to their action. This is the vision of four Toyota Motor employees in Japan who recently patented this creative technology.

Car modifications include a hood with slits and designs that resemble eyebrows, eyelids and tears, which glow with different light shades and colors to reflect desired moods; an antenna that wags like a puppy dog’s tail to show happiness; and a body that can crouch low on its wheelbase when timid, or stand tall to express displeasure.

By 2015 or before, “cars with feelings” could be arriving at dealer showrooms everywhere. These cars can display a wide range of expressions to help us interact with other drivers on the road. Today, we can only honk horns, tap brakes, flash headlights, or use turn signals. It’s difficult to thank another driver for letting us enter the lane, or to show disapproval at someone who cuts us off.

The intelligence system on these new cars with personalities calculate road and vehicle conditions such as steering angle, braking, and speed. It also correlates driver reactions, road and car conditions, and automatically creates correct color and position for the eyebrows, antenna, lights and vehicle height.

If a pre-set number of points indicate an approaching careless or hostile driver, the system creates an anger reaction. The headlights glow red, the eyebrows light up, but the antenna and height remains in a standard “cool” position. A happy, satisfied look is displayed to reward a courteous driver. A friendly “wink” shows that you agree with a driver’s action, or it could also be an attempt at flirting. (cont.)

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Earth 2200 -- life in a Star Trek world

June 12 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Space   Year: Beyond   Rating: 5

By Dick Pelletier

What will life be like in 2200? Of course, nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty that far ahead; however, by multi-tracking technology advances and mixing reality with a dash of imagination, we can create a plausible scenario of what life might be like 192 years from now.

2200 citizens enjoy intelligence-multiplied a trillion-fold over 2008 biological brains. During the last 150 years, no one has experienced aging, unwanted death, or poverty; and in 2200, more people make their homes in space than on Earth.

The world was astounded in 2050 when NASA/EU probes discovered life on a planet five light years away. Inhabitants of this faraway world were sending similar probes to Earth during this same time period; each planet detected the other’s signal and both civilizations experienced their first contact with intelligent alien life.

By 2075, utilizing newly-developed wormhole messaging systems, we had exchanged numerous communications with our new friends from planet “Darth”. We discovered many common interests as both worlds had recently experienced huge intelligence growth, which resulted in the transformation of their species into non-biological beings. It became obvious that cooperation would yield benefits to both worlds; thus Earth and Darth were first to join what would one day be known as “The Federation”.

As early as 2050, most humans sported non-biological bodies with powerful minds. Those who remained “biological” often found themselves struggling to find happiness and success; so by 2075, nearly everyone had switched to the stronger, but still considered to be human, non-biological body. The few conservatives who still resisted this technology eventually died out. (cont.)

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