juldrich's Blog Posts

18 is Enough

May 29 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Culture   Year: Beyond   Rating: 14 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

An opinion piece.

When the next president of the United States is sworn into office on January 20, 2009, six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court will be over 70 years of age. The prospect that a majority of the members of the court could be selected by the next president — especially if he or she wins a second term — is very real.

Regardless of one’s political leanings this is a serious issue and it transcends the fear of a future court being packed by ideologues whose views counter to one’s own convictions.

Every day radical advances in medical technology bring society ever closer to new treatments and possible cures for cancer, heart disease and a host of other ailments. Among the many things that this implies is that society could soon be on the verge of achieving life expectancies of 100 years or higher.

Combined with the possibility of so many new and younger justices being appointed by the next president this means that there is a reasonable chance many of these justices could still be on the court in the year 2060 – 2060!

It is hard to imagine that the Founding Father’s—who were interested in insulating Supreme Court justices from the political pressures typically associated with legislative and executive branches of government—ever contemplated the prospect of wide-spread radical life extension when granting the justices life-time tenure.

One solution which has been proposed by law professors Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren of Northwestern University is to cap the justices’ terms at 18 years—or the equivalent of three U.S. Senate terms. (Under their plan a constitutional amendment would grandfather in all existing justices and then create staggered 18-year terms such that every president would be ensured of selecting a minimum of two justices.) (cont.)

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Why Mind Over Matter ... Matters

May 29 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2018   Rating: 7 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Yesterday, the journal Nature reported researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine had successfully tested a robotic arm which was controlled using only the signals from a monkey’s arm. (A good overview of the technology can be read in this article: “Mind over Matter: Monkey Feeds tself using its Brain”.)

The test was not the first such test but it does suggest that the technology is getting better and will likely someday soon be used to aide people with spinal cord injuries or other debilitating diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease or MS.

I would, however, encourage people to think beyond these immediate applcations. Michael Berger of Nanowerk recently had a very thoughtful – and thought-provoking – piece entitled Nanotechnology, transhumanism and the bionic man, in which he discusses how technologies which were initially created for the disabled could become a platform for “the acceptance of transhumanist ideas and products.”

He is right and the aforementioned brain-neural technology is a perfect case in point. In the beginning, it will be sold as a tool for the disabled but as the technology continues to improve it will eventually be viewed by some people (but not all) as a way to perform at a higher level—both mentally and physically. I discussed this idea briefly in this piece entitled “Pong and the President’s Brain” a few months ago, but the issue is worth thinking about in greater detail. (cont.)

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Get There Early: A Book Review

May 28 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Recently, I had some time to kill in an airport and as I am wont to do in such situations I strolled into the bookstore. It was my good fortune to stumble across the book, Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present by Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the future. Among some of the key points I took away from the book were:

1. Uncouple the art of forecasting from prediction. As I stated in this piece a few days ago the future is unknowable, but this doesn’t diminish the importance of forecasting. It does, however, suggest that all of us should take everyone’s predictions with a healthy dose of salt. As Voltaire said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” It is good advice to heed when contemplating the future. Far too many variables are at work to predict the future with much accuracy.

2. Don’t adopt a fixed mind-set. Related to this point was the author’s warning against adopting a fixed mind-set with regard to the future. Too often, people with a particular mind-set see only things that fit their pre-conceived worldview. For example, I tend to be very optimistic about the future. (A case-in-point is this piece I wrote on human longeveity.) Therefore, it is all that much more important for me to guard against fitting all future technological advances into this optimistic mind-set. (cont.)

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Think Outside the Box ... Way Outside

May 24 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

Personally, I despise the saying “Think outside the box.” Nevertheless, as a result of exponential advances in technology people will need to learn to “jump the curve” in order to envision how different the future will be. To this end, I’d refer you to the graph to the right. If you are inclined to “think outside the box,” please think way outside the box—because this is where we will be living in the future.

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It's a Bird, It's a Plane ... No, It's Super Robot

May 24 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2017   Rating: 3 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

There’s that old saying that if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. Well, in the future, things are going to get a little more confusing. Soon, devices will walk like humans; feel like humans and see like humans, but that won’t mean it is a human.

To this point, I simply refer you to a handful of articles that were published only this morning. The first explains how researchers at Delft University in the Netherlands have developed a robot that walks like a human. The next article documents how researchers have constructed a new pet robot that communicates with humans only by touch. Lastly, there was this report outlining how advances in image recognition technology is improving to the point where computers and robots will soon be as good (and eventually even better) than humans at recognizing the images around them.

If you consider how all of these advances are likely to converge with one another, it is easy to understand how robots might soon be seeing, feeling, walking and even jumping their way around us.

To this last point about jumping, check out this short video which demonstrates how a tiny robot can already leap – kind of like Superman – “taller than the tallest building” :

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Get the Skinny on the Future

May 22 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

This morning as my daughter was leaving for school she asked if she could watch the “fat, chunky” movie this weekend. I gave her a perplexed look and replied that I’d never heard of it. I probed a little further and although it took me a few moments to determine what she was talking about, I eventually understood that she wanted to know if she could watch a VHS-format movie.

This incident, along with another this past weekend where she gazed unknowingly at a record player that was for sale at a garage sale, has gotten me to thinking about what else might seem “fat and chunky” to her in the future.

Already televisions, phones and iPods are impressively thin and are likely to grow more so in the future. Alas, it won’t stop there.

A few months back, I wrote about solar energy’s long-term potential and one reason I’m so optimistic about its potential is that I believe thin-film photovoltaics are only going to grow more efficient and cost-effective over time. Among other things this implies that today’s bulky silicon solar cells are likely to fade away.

The field of nanotechnology is also leading to thinner and more effective materials. Therefore, walls made out of aerogels; car panels constructed of new nanocomposites; and automobile batteries (which utilize various nanomaterials) should also become thinner. As will lights, which will take advantage of advances in organic light emitting diodes. (cont.)

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Unlearning the Future

May 21 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

The future is unknowable. There are far too many variables for even the most foresighted individual or powerful supercomputer to accurately forecast what tomorrow – let alone next year or the next decade – will look like with precision. Nevertheless, this fact neither discounts the importance of forecasting, nor does it diminish the work that those individuals (myself included) try to do in discerning what the future might hold in store.

I would, however, like to submit that anyone inclined toward thinking about the future should be open to the idea of unlearning, which I define as “the unique skill of jettisoning old knowledge in order to accomodate newer and more relevant information.”

A case in point is this new study suggesting that global warming may not be worsening hurricanes. Now, before anyone gets too not and bothered by the real or perceived flaws in the study’s methodology, I’d like to make clear that it is not my contention that this study is the final word on the topic. Rather, I simply want to highlight it as an example of how continued advances in the development of better and more sophisticated supercomputers, algorithms and ubiqitous sensors are likely to lead to more situations in the future where scientists and researchers produce results that question and challenge conventional wisdom. (To this point, since Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans many people have come to believe that there is a direct connection between global climate change and the frequency and severity of hurricanes; and this belief, in turn, has lead them to predict that more hurricanes are in our future.) (cont.)

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Inflection Point: Tissue Regeneration

May 19 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Biotechnology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

One of my preferred methods for trying to understand where the future might be headed is to look for those areas where technology can address a compelling human need. To this point, this past weekend I read with great interest this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why We Need a Market for Human Organs.” It’s a well-reasoned piece and the sentiment appeals to my more libertarian and free market-oriented sensibilities. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that within the next 10-15 years advances in tissue and organ regeneration technology will render the need for “organ markets” obsolete.

I have written about this idea before, but I’d encourage you to read this new government report entitled “2020: A New Vision – A Future for Regenerative Medicine.” According to the report the current world market for replacement organ therapies is in excess of $350 billion. More disturbing, however, is the fact that there are currently over 100,000 patients are on a waiting list for an organ donation and an estimated 8,000 people on that list will die this year while waiting for a transplant. (cont.)

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In the Future, You'll Look and Feel Great in Genes

May 15 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Biotechnology   Year: 2012   Rating: 8 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve.net

A few months back, I wrote an article entitled “The Coming Health Care Revolution” in which I discussed the startling advances in the field of genomics. To provide readers a better sense of how fast things are happening, I’d like to highlight the news just from today.

I began my morning by reading this article discussing how researchers in Georgia believe they have identified a gene which plays a significant role in causing Alzheimer’s. Next, I stumbled across this BBC report reviewing how smoking causes genetic changes which limit the production of a protein believed to be helpful in preventing lung cancer. Finally, there was this report on Physorg discussing how the gene – GLUT2 – might be linked to obesity. (cont.)

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The Future of Health Care: Preventing Disease

May 15 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve

To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, it seems that for every 1000 people working to treat disease there is but one person working to prevent that disease from occuring in the first place. This, of course, is a slight exaggeration but it is safe to say that the preponderance of today’s health care expenditures are directed toward treatment, not preventation.

This is a costly way of doing business. Luckily, a fair number of scientists, researchers and savvy businesspeople are working hard to reverse this trend. The other day, Technology Review had an excellent article entitled “Next Generation Diagnostics” in which it highlighted a new start-up called Quanterix. Apparently, the company’s technology is so sophisicated that it can detect a single molecule. This feat is important because often tumors will release small trace amounts of a signature protein prior to turning into larger, more problematic tumors. Much the same is true with heart attacks. Often proteins indicative of a heart attack will be released prior to the attack actually occuring. The thinking goes that if these trace amounts can be detected early, the diseases can be prevented. (cont.)

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