Check out this stunning video of inventor JoAnn Kuchera-Morinis demonstrating the Allosphere at the last TED conference. The Allosphere is a 3 story high chamber that allows researchers to stand in the middle of incredible visual and sonic representations of their data. Complex algorithms are powered by a super-computer to bring data to life in breakthrough fashion.
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!
Wondering what all of the Alpha hype is about? Here's a dense 10-minute video snippet of the official Wolfram Alpha "computational knowledge engine" unveiling, presented by the mathematician himself, at Harvard's Berkman Center.
I found notable:
the label "computational knowledge engine" - reinfirces that we're moving from the information age to the knowledge age (and fairly quickly)
Alpha's ability to factor in the location of the user submitting the request into computation results
results that begin with a list of assumptions that essentially present your query back to you in more technical terms (an advanced "did you mean this?" feature) which seems to make a great deal of sense when relating to machine data/knowledge, it's like having a conversation about science and establishing basic consensus before venturing complex and potentially unrelated ideas
the program's seemingly robust ability to mix data from different sources to return logically related results
Conclusions: Upon launch, Wolfram Alpha will be a science researcher's dream if it can perform as effectively - for a wide range of queries - as it did in this demo. It'll also serve as a nice accelerative kick in the ass for Google. I can't wait to try this new quantification assistant.
Is IBM gearing up to compete with Wolfram Alpha in the computational search game? Maybe. Is IBM gearing to take on the top minds on popular TV game show Jeopardy? Definitely. Check out this video from Big Blue:
Developments such as this have got me thinking about not just the computational search just over the horizon, but also the rise of qualitative search that futurist Paul Saffo mysteriously alluded to in this MemeBox interview.
We've already seen thought-controlled avatars, so it comes as no surprise that robotics represents a new frontier for brain computer interfaces (BCIs). Still, the following video of a human controlling Honda's Asimo via BCI marks a profound socio-technological development, offering a glimpse into the future of work, entertainment and security:
Isn't it interesting that this didn't make its way through national media channels? Just a few years ago human-BCI-controlled robotics would have been perceived as revolutionary.
Revolutionary breakthroughs will make possible the elimination of the need for batteries of every variety. These generators are expected to replace the need to plug-in a plug-in hybrid. Two kW is all the power that can be taken from a typical wall socket. A 2 kW generator is on the horizon. It will eventually demonstrate a compact, inexpensive, capability to end the need to plug-in.
If the development of these generators is put on a 24/7 footing, it may be possible to provide 100 kW systems that will fit in the space of an engine and gas tank, on a prototype basis within two years. If that occurs, since no fuel or battery recharge is required, automobile manufacturers may conclude that engines are likely to become obsolete. Consumer purchasing patterns could begin to reflect a new reality, with the market deciding most future cars must be totally electric, since they will never need any variety of fuel.
The economics are likely to prove compelling. Until now, car ownership has been an expense. V2G has been explored in a modest way for hybrids. Plug-in hybrids, equipped with a two way plug, can feed power to the local utility while parked. This is 95% of the time for the average vehicle. Professor Willet Kempton, at the University of Delaware, has stated the car’s owner could earn up to $4,000 every year.
MagGen™ powered cars are expected to be capable of generating at least 75 kW and perhaps 100 kW in the volume of a typical fuel tank. In the case of luxury cars, trucks and buses, it seems 150 kW will prove practical. Technology already exists that can wirelessly couple up to 150 kW to the grid from parked vehicles. No plug connection will be required.
Today a large plug installed in a hybrid car can allow 240 volts to be accommodated. A 240 volt connection cord can probably provide a maximum of 19 kW to the utility. If that 19 kW can annually pay the vehicle owner $4,000, imagine what the income might be with a wirelessly coupled 75 kW or larger MagGen. If the price per kW is the same as that used in the University of Delaware analysis, we could be anticipating payments totaling $15,000, or more, per year.
When a substantial number of vehicles powered by magnetic generators fill a parking garage, it will have become a multi-megawatt power plant.
It's rare that a broadly disruptive, industry shattering/accelerating technology sneaks up on you, much less everyone else all at the same time. But according to Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat, a Gaming as a Service (GaaS) company called OnLive appears poised to launch services that will enable much more robust applications (the current focus is on video games) to be retrieved from the cloud in real-time.
The secret? A new form of robust digital compression that requires just one megabyte of additional software on the web client end.
For years, decades, data compression has formed a frustrating bottleneck for the development and diffusion of not only rich video games, but also more broadly important communication technologies such as virtual worlds (Second Life, Multiverse, VastPark), mirror worlds (Google Earth, Open Street Map) and high definition streaming Web TV (You Tube HD, Hulu) - just to name a few. A breakthrough in compresssion of this magnitutude (which Takahashi says owes its thanks to the discovery of smarter algorithms) is tantamount to throwing more broadband piping at the web and could result in 1) massive acceleration of VW, MW and WebTV adoption, 2) increases in the resolution of these Cloud-based systems.
Iow, it's a big freaking deal.
DISRUPTIVE POTENTIAL: Stated super-compression could/will quickly put a damper on industries such as thin client web browser development, used video game sales, and non-rich virtual worlds. It could/will quickly enbolden virtual video editing, online collaborative Photoshop, robust distance meetings/conferences/lectures, online video game sales (the main thrust of OnLive's efforts), graphically richer websites, and cloud computing efforts in general.
One of the most exciting areas of 'Nano-bio' research is the engineered integration of 'wet' and 'dry' nanoscale systems that might revolutionize research in genetics and proteomics (Study of Proteins). But how do you explain this breaking down the barriers of biological and human-made systems? Through 3D animation videos on YouTube, of course!
During the next decade we are likely to see commercial products that will start to define the 'Post PC' Era of smart, networked objects that follow a new path of product development. Users will interact with embedded devices beyond the keyboard and mouse. We know that OLEDs offer a clear path to flexible, transparent display screens, but what about the combination of sensors and low power chips that make the 'screen' irrelevant for new applications. If it is hard to imagine commercial Post PC applications for enterprise sectors, what about designs for education and entertainment markets based on visions like Impress project from Sillenet [via Vimeo]
The latest intriguing mini-projector to hit store shelves (in Japan) is a small cubic, 25 ANSI Lumen LED called the Miseal. Manufactured by little-know Japanese comapny Sanko, the device is just 2.7in. x 2.7in. x 2.8in. and weighs just over half a pound.
Sporting a 100:1 contrast ratio, 800x600 SVGA resolution and ability to cast an image up to 16ft. away at a diagonal width of 70in, the Miseal packs a serious punch for something of such wee size.