juldrich's Blog Posts

Personalized Medicine's Accelerating Future

September 23 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 5

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

This past week I gave a presentation on “The Future of Genomics” to the Minnesota Hospital Association. In the course of my speech, I listed a variety of reasons why society is accelerating toward a future of more personalized medicine, including advances in DNA microarray technology; the growing wealth of genetic knowledge being facilitated by such tools as the “Wikipedia” for Genes and the new SNPedia;” private money (in the form of the Archon X Prize); the growing number of start-up companies who are making it more possible for people to have either a portion or their entire genome sequenced by companies such as 23andMe, DeCode, Navigenics and Knome); and the recent passage of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).

Alas, none of these things speak to the possibility like real results. To that end, I’d like to highlight just two articles I came across this morning. The first is from the Wall Street Journal and the article discusses how an old heart drug, bucindolol, has been found to reduce death for people who have a certain genetic mutuation by up to 38%. The second article, “Chemotherapy Get Personal,” reviews the findings of a recent study in the journal Genes and Development which explains how advanced computer algorithms are analyzing the activity of 20,000 genes to better match specific chemotherapy drugs with individual cancer patients.

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Businesses' Newest Tool: The Supercomputer

September 18 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Yesterday, Cray, the self-described “supercomputer company” officially moved into the personal computing realm when it announced it’s new personal supercomputer, the CX1.

For years, supercomputers have been considered indispensable for large corporations. For example, using supercomputers, Boeing was able to reduce by seven-fold (from 77 to 11) the number of aircraft wings it needed to physically construct for its new “787” Dreamliner before finding the right one. In much the same way, the automotive industry has used supercomputing to help it reduce from 5 years to 18 months the time it takes to move a new automobile design from the drawing board to the showroom floor.

The relevance of Cray’s news is that now a number small and medium-sized businesses will be able to similarly avail themselves of the power of supercomputers. And what might these supercomputers help businesses do? Excellent question.

The best way to answer that is by providing some recent examples of companies using supercomputing:

1. Pringle’s has used supercomputers to help redesign the shape of its iconic potato chip so that it flies off the assembly line and into the can in a faster and more efficient manner.

2. Proctor & Gamble used a supercomputer to redesign its Pamper’s diaper brand.

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A MAV-erick Defense Policy

September 18 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

At present, the United States government spends hundreds of billions of dollars in an effort to keep this country safe at home and defeat its enemies abroad. Much of the money is well spent but, often, I can’t help but feel we are wasting precious resources fighting “the last war.” As I argued in this piece a few weeks ago, we should instead bestudying the first six months of the next war.”

To end this end, I’d like to introduce you to a revolutionary new technology which could, in the words of the chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force, be a real “game-changer.” The Air Force calls the technology Micro Air Vehicles (or MAVs) and they are small, robotic drones (roughly the size of small birds) that could conceivably follow a terrorist back into a cave in Afghanistan and eliminate him.

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The Future of War

August 18 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from jumpthecurve.net and dotheimpossible08.com

In 2005, I wrote a book on General George C. Marshall entitled “Soldier, Statesman, Peacemaker: Leadership Lessons from George C. Marshall.” One of my favorite quotes of Marshall’s is the advice he pounded into the heads of his junior officers: “Study the first six months of the next war.”

It was great advice in the 1920s and 1930s (when Marshall trained over 200 officers who would later become generals during World War II), and it is still great advice today. To this end, I’d like to direct you to two news articles from today’s papers. The first is from The Guardian and it discusses how the brain will be the battlefield of the future. Among other things it discusses how drugs may soon be used as “pharmacological land mines,” and how the advances in neuroscience could alter our definition of torture.

The second article reviews how the U.S. may be vulnerable to Internet attacks such as those which Russia is currently employing in its war against Georgia.

Together, the two stories strongly suggest that military planners should be “studying the first six months of the next war” because the next war is likely to be radically different from that which they are currently planning today.

Keep Your Mind's Eye on Cybernetics

July 08 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2017   Rating: 3

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Imagine sitting in your home and being able to control a device in a different room, a different city or even a different country by thought alone. Sounds impossible doesn’t it? Well, accordingly to this fascinating article from Popular Mechanics, advances in the field of cybernetics are occurring so rapidly that such things may be possible in the not-too-distant future.

Consider this: a monkey in North Carolina can already send a signal to Japan (where it controls a robot) faster than it can send a message from its brain to its own muscles. One immediate practical application of this technology may occur in the field of surgery whereby a surgeon could control a small robotic device faster and more precisely than she could move her hand. In a field like brain surgery such a distinction could make a big difference.

It will be some time before other cybernetic devices move into the mainstream, but it is interesting to consider how such mind-machine devices may change how we perceive and interact with our environment in the future. For example, imagine being able to control a robot by thought alone. Forget to feed your dog this morning, just “think” your bot to do it. Forget to water the plants or turn off the iron? Not a problem. A solution is just a thought away. (cont.)

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Robots Advance

July 04 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Last week, I explained how humans might soon be learning things from robots. Today, I’d like to explain why robots might become a more integral part of our lives faster than most people expect.

Yesterday, Technology Review published an interesting article entitled: “Robots Learns to Use Tools.” What is really intriguing about the article, which describes a new robot called the UMass Mobile Manipulator or UMan for short, is that the robot is employing sophisticated algorithms to teach itself how to deal with unfamiliar objects.

One of the major barriers to date with robotics is that programmers have had to write complicated software code to help robots deal with almost every contingency that it might encounter. For example, for a household robot to be effective, it needs to recognize every item that might conceivably be in someone house – everything from a pair of scissors to a flower vase. This is no easy chore.

In the near future, however, robots need not necessarily know how to handle every object; they merely need to learn how to deal with that object in an appropriate fashion. Using the scissors as example, UMan can study the device and then can tinker with the blades until it understands how they are connected and how the object operates. Presumably, the robot will then know that it would be inappropriate to “run with scissors.” (cont.)

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A Trillion Reasons to Care About Genomics

July 02 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

I speak to a great many student groups and I am often struck by how few of them appreciate the difference between one million, one billion and one trillion. (In the name of fairness, the same is true of many adults). Perhaps, it is because the three figures are all large numbers that most people don’t think there is an appreciable difference. Perhaps, it is because the words – million, billion, and trillion – the rhyme; or maybe it’s just because they’re dumb—or have had poor teachers. I really don’t know.

One way I have tried to convey the difference between the numbers is by explaining the figures in a different way. To wit:

One million seconds was 12 days ago; One billion seconds was roughly 30 years ago; One trillion seconds was approximately 30,000 years ago – 28,000 B.C.!

My point with the analogy is that one trillion of anything is a really BIG number, and it is much, much different than one billion. This analogy is important because on January 17, 2006 the Wellcome Sanger Institute announced it had archived it’s one billionth DNA sequence. It was an impressive accomplishment.

Well, today, Wired magazine reported that the prominent genetics institute sequenced its trillionth base of DNA. This is a one thousand-fold improvement in just over two years. (cont.)

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15 Ways Nanotechnology is Making Life Better Today

June 30 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Nanotechnology is expected to be a $2.6 trillion market by 2015. At the heart of this big new sector is something very small – molecules. To understand how and why nanotechnology – which is defined as the manipulation of matter at the molecular level – matters, you can begin at home.

The Writing is Off-the-Wall

Behr and others are now using nanoparticles to produce anti-mildew paints and anti-graffiti paints. Another company is perfecting a nano-enhanced wall paint that blocks cellphone calls and, longer-term, researchers expect to create a nano-solar paint that can turn your wall and even your house into a giant solar cell.

Scratch-Free

BASF has developed a nanoceramic material that is three times more resistant to scratching. It is already being employed on kitchen tabletops and car exteriors. The company hopes to have self-healing materials on the market in the near future.

Wipe Away Your Worries

Pilkington’s “Activ” glass uses nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to create self-cleaning windows; while Eddie Bauer, Tommy Hilfiger and Brooks Brothers all sell clothes that contain tiny “nano-whiskers” and make pants, shirts and ties resistant to stains of every kind. Upholstery and carpet are up next.

Wrap Your Head Around This: The New Flat Will Be Round

Nanostructured polymer films are being used in next-generation OLED (organic light emitting diode) lights. The benefit is that the lights are ten times more energy-efficient than regular lightbulbs and can be wrapped around poles. Super-thin, flexible electronic television screens that can be curved to create a more immersive experience are on the drawing board. (cont.)

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Unlearning Death

June 27 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2020   Rating: 4

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.unlearning101.com

Degrey In 1899, just a few years before the Wright brothers achieved their historic accomplishment, Lord Kelvin – then one of the world’s brightest men and most accomplished scientists – declared heavier than air machines to be "impossible."

He was wrong. To add insult to injury, Lord Kelvin was proved wrong by a pair of bicycle repairmen from Dayton, Ohio.

A few years ago, a relatively unknown computer scientist, Aubrey de Grey, declared that aging should not be viewed as something which will necessarily ultimately result in death. Rather, he theorized that aging is a  disease and should be treated as such.

The outcry from the scientific community was similar to Lord Kelvin’s reaction to human flight. One group of scientists even declared that de Grey’s idea was "so far from plausible that it commands no respect at all within the informed scientific community."

Well, according to this article in Wired, the idea is now beginning to gain some acceptance within scientific circles. (cont.)

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Learning From Robots

June 26 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2020   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

When contemplating the future, people need to keep a very open mind about what might be possible. Consider this article which describes how researchers at UC San Diego are developing facial recognition technology that can recognize if a person is having trouble understanding an educational lesson – say in mathematics or biology.

As the technology continues to improve, one possible implication is that smart devices and robots will become better and more effective teachers because they will be able to pace lesson plans to an individual student’s ability to comprehend the information which is being presented.

Longer term, it is possible that robots and other smart devices will become more effective teachers than even human teachers because the machines will understand each student’s learning idiosyncrasies and then present material in a manner which is optimized for that individual student’s learning style.

Now, I understand how discomforting the idea that a robot might be a better teacher than your old favorite third grade teacher, Mrs. Hubbard, ever was; but, as that wise American philosopher Yoggi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” (cont.)

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