In one of those wonderful historical anomalies, February 12, 2009 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.
Lincoln is recognized as one of the greatest American presidents for helping end slavery. Darwin, of course, is the father of evolutionary biology.
It might appear these two historical giants have little else in common except the same birthday, but Darwin’s theory of evolution will soon call forth a new political debate which could, if not peacefully resolved, rip this country apart as surely as slavery did.
Late last week, it was announced that NASA had, pardon the pun, pissed away $154 million by creating a urinal/water fountain system that didn’t work. To witness how a more simple technology can have huge implications down here on this planet, watch this amazing video (Note: it is a little graphic, but it helps to remember that these are the real life conditions under which billions of people must actually get their water):
In my book, Jump the Curve, the final chapter is dedicated to the idea of “doing the impossible.” In short, it is my contention that unless you internalize the notion of accelerating change you will dismiss as “impossible” many things that will be imminently possible tomorrow due to the exponential nature of technological progress.
A wonderful case in point is this fascinating article from today’s New York Times claiming that it might soon be possible to regenerate a Wooly Mammoth for $10 million because DNA sequencing technology is continually getting more inexpensive.
Regardless of what one may think of the moral and ethical wisdom of recreating Wooly Mammoths, it is imprudent to dismiss the idea as impossible. Yet this is precisely what Rudolph Jaenisch, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute, has done by proclaiming the idea: “a wishful-thinking experiment with no realistic chance for success.”
Late yesterday, Google released a very cool new mobile application which employs voice recognition technology. The question is not so much what the technology can do today, the question is what will the technology be able to do in the near future – and how might it change education, health care, and a host of other daily activities?
I’d love to hear other “Future Bloggers” thoughts on how this technology could unfold and how it might alter people’s behavior. Below are my initial thoughts:
Our elected officials should spend less time promising that they will “deliver” change and more time helping society prepare for the change that is coming because it is going to be massive.
After almost two years of campaigning, it is finally here: Election Day! Change is in the air, but not for the reasons one might expect.
Regardless of a person’s preference for Obama, McCain, Nader or one of the other candidates, I don’t actually believe they (or any politician for that matter) will be the primary instrument of change in the near future. That mantle will instead belong to technology.
Let me just provide a quick glimpse from the world of technology through the lens of a single day—today.
I began my morning by reading this article on a “solar power game changer.” The piece describes how a new antireflective coating now allows for the “near perfect” absorption of sunlight. In other words, society is one step closer to solar technology replacing a number of conventional energy sources. Politicians can clamor all they want about “clean coal” and “more drilling” but my hunch is that technological advances will render their opinions and policy suggestions moot.
Next, I stumbled across this article discussing a new “heart-patching” technology. Combined with yesterday’s announcement by a Medtronic official that the “medical device industry is done,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that health care is quickly moving in the direction of preventative care.
One of the biggest and most exciting trends in technology is that of “convergence” – or how different technologies will combined with one another to create entirely new devices. These devices, in turn, will go on to change human behavior in unique and unexpected ways.
Convergence, as a trend, is nothing new. The printing press did not materialize out of thin air. First, paper, and then ink, and ultimately moveable type had to be created before Gutenberg could create his historic device. The radio, television, computer and Internet are also the result of a convergence of various technologies.
To this end, I recently came across three articles on three different technologies which, when they converge, could change everything from how we educate and entertain ourselves to how key aspects of our economy operate.
The first is virtual reality technology. This insightful article from TechCrunch discusses the new “RealityV experience” developed by Intelligence Gaming. It is part virtual reality and part video and it is now being used by the Army to help soldiers train for real-world situations – such as dealing with a hostile crowd in a foreign country.
The video below provides an excellent overview of the technology:
Toshiba has developed a new gesture-based interface for flat-panel displays. It is easy to see how the technology might someday be used to replace the remote control, and it is also easy to envision how the technology will make for more interactive video games. But how else might the technology take root in the workplace of the future?
I envision a couple of possibilities. For one, doctors and surgeons will be able to access medical information without needing to touch anything (and, thus, not risk picking up any germs); students will be able to access educational information in new and innovative ways (imagine spinning around a complex 3-D molecule or a strand of DNA); advertisers will engage potential customers in unique ways; architects and designers will be able to more quickly manipulate models; physical therapists will be able to design programs that patients can practice on their television; athletes will be able to hone their reflexes on custom-made programs; and, more innovatively, manufacturers should be able to use a reverse version of the technology to show customers how to repair and fix things.
I ask this question from neither a deep-seated fear of dying nor an egotistical desire to live forever. I simply ask it from the perspective of someone who is deeply interested in the accelerating pace of change and is concerned we are heading into a future for which few of us are really prepared.
Let me begin by sharing a couple of recent news items which speak to the astounding progress being made in the field of health care.
To begin, if I am in need of surgery sometime within the next few years, it is likely that that surgery will be conducted with the assistance of a robot. Given that these robots are already better than many human surgeons, this suggest I will not only get out of the hospital faster but that I will be in better condition when I do so. Continued advances in robotics will only improve surgical outcomes over the coming years.
Next, say, I am in an accident. There is now a very good chance – due to advances in the Nationwide Health Information Network, personal electronic records and the ever-improving capability of the Internet – that my providers will be able to rapidly access a growing wealth of medical knowledge in order to keep me alive.
Assuming then that I dodge some of these pesky middle-age risks, there is a very real chance, according to this article, that I’ll soon be able to “grow replacement body parts.” We can already replace our aging hips and knees, but what happens when I can replace my lungs and, eventually, my heart?
The question is a serious one because society is closer to this future than most people realize.
Alas, these advances – which I remind you are only from the past few days – are just the beginning. I am now 44 years and it is not unreasonable to think, given recent medical progress, that I will live to 100.
But even this is the wrong way to think about this issue. The question I – and all of us, really – need to ask is what further advances will be made in the next 56 years of my life and how might they extend my life past 100 years of age?
Last week, a colleague of mine at Future Blogger, Alvis Brigis, suggested that the coming reign of online video broadcasting as the "most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication" may be short-lived. In its stead, he suggested that brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) may replaced it.
To many people the idea of brain-to-computer or even brain-to-brain communication might seem a little "out there." I disagree and think that Alvis is on the right track. As evidence, I submit this recent article on the U.S. Army’s plans to invest in a "Thought Helmut" for voiceless communication. And lest anyone think that voiceless communication is some far-off, fuzzy, futuristic technology just check out this amazing video demonstrating an early prototype of this technology.
Until I can read your thoughts directly, I’d be interested in reading your reactions to this possibility and how you think it may necessitate that we unlearn some things—such as, perhaps, how we communicate in the future.