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
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.)
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!
The future of computing has many different aspects and it is not
my intention with this post to provide a detailed explanation of
each. Rather, I merely want to share with readers who are
interested in the future of computing some interesting and
For those looking for a broad-based overview of how computers
will change our lives, I highly recommend this detailed report by
Microsoft Research entitled “Being
Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the Year 2020.” The second
chapter, in particular, is very insightful and documents five major
transformations: 1) The End of Interface Stability; 2) The Growth
of Techno-Dependancy; 3) The Growth of Hyper-Connectivity; 4) The
End of Ephemeral; and 5) the Growth of Creative Engagement.
For readers seeking a slightly more technical understanding of
where computers are headed, I’d recommend this press release by
Gartner, Inc. It covers a number of “grand challenges” which will dramatically
alter how future computers operate and are used.
Succinctly, the major changes are:
1. Never having to manually recharge devices.
2. Parallel Programming.
3. Non-tactile, Natural Computing Interfaces. (This corresponds
with the Microsoft report.)
4. Automated Speech Translation
5. Persistent and Reliable Long-Term Storage; and
6. Increasing Programmer Productivity 100-fold.
In an interview with
the BBC, Gartner analyst Steve
Prentice predicts the demise of the mouse (the thing in your hand
right now, not actual mice – we need those for testing drugs on) in
the next three to five years. He remarks that although the mouse
works fine for desktops, for mobile devices like laptops, “it’s
over.” But how accurate is this belief? Is the mouse genuinely
on the edge of extinction?
It could be true. A laptop touchpad is hard to use, and carrying
around mice with all the other usual laptop baggage (power cords,
wireless internet cards, headphones) is impractical, and on top of
that, you need a flat surface. If there’s one thing the Nintendo
Wii has shown us, it’s that tracking technology is not only
available, but it’s cheap.
While there’s no denying that vocal and facial recognition
software has the potential to do away with the mouse, a majority of
users still believe that our little friend is a long way from
retirement. The reasoning? Well, for one thing, the mouse is
incredibly useful and quick. And, in the words of Adrian
Kingsly-Hughes at ZDNet, “Anything that replaces the mouse not
only has to be better than it, it’ll have to be a LOT better.” In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t
The mouse may well be discarded at some point in our near
future, but the odds of that happening in the next five years seem
like a pipe dream to me.
Men have a infamous tendency to let their phallic tendencies dictate what they create. It is perhaps why some of the most famous builds like the Great Pyramids, Taj Majal and the Washington monument were made.
So, it didn’t surprise me when I recently read about an effort to create the world’s first male organ controlled computer.
So now that men have brought the inevitable to the realm of technology, I wonder how else humans of the future might interact with their computers?
With the recent (or not so recent) popularity of Nintendo Wii and its gyroscopic features, the rest of the human-computer interface market seems to have entered an innovative period. It looks rather likely that we’ll soon be playing games through VR googles, gesturing in the air to perform fluid dynamics calculations and maybe even writing Dear-John letters by thought alone.
Best of all, we won’t have wait decades for many of these advances as some amazing new products are already in prototype and will be market-ready in the very near-term. Here are some of the particularly interesting interface candidates:
1. In 2004, four people, two of them partly paralyzed wheelchair users successfully moved a computer cursor with a sensor cap that reads your brain with electrodes. In late February, technology pioneer Emotiv Systems announced the EPOC neuroheadset, a light weight, inexpensive ($300 USD), wireless headset that detects conscious thoughts, expressions, and emotions. Emotiv’s aim is the video games market and could open up a whole new generation of emotional immersive-ness in games.”
2. A modern take on a classic: The Livescribe pulse Smartpen is a pen that doubles as a stereo voice recorder, a music player, and most unique of all, a tiny infrared camera that picks up commands from a specially designed notebook. The ‘Dot’ notebook has record, pause, stop, playback, and navigation ‘buttons’ that you can tap on the bottom of the page to control the pen.
3. How about turning ANY surface, wall, table, or floor into a primary input device that can read handwriting, act as a musical instrument, a touchpad, or even a keyboard if you’re so inclined. The technology is called Tangible Acoustic Interfaces for Computer-Human Interaction (TAI-CHI) and the power is in sound waves.
Here’s an interesting demo video depicting a vision of what the computer might look like in 2020. The reason for posting this is that it’s truly different than most of the other “computers of the future” videos I’ve seen on the web. Check it out:
The obvious problem with this theoretical computer is that it is in fact just a computer. Many people expect that in the future computers will be more than just computers. To appease the consumer, computers will need to play music, take photos, write papers, make phone calls, interface with your home, or even give back massages. This is just a small projector crammed into a small yet powerful computer. Not so exciting when you think about it, eh?
But there is something we can take out of a demo like this. If we view this as a possible guide for future development instead of an actual product then it immediately seems less ridiculous. There are indeed advancements being made in laser keyboards. Even storage space is becoming so cheap that we find ourselves asking if we really need a 500 Gigabyte hard drive, much less a two Terabyte hard drive. If we keep throwing out ideas, no matter how crazy, some of the good ones will stick and hopefully find their way into future products. Keep thinking, keep producing, you’re helping.
Human computation, the basis of which is discovering what tasks humans can do to make computers smarter, may someday be responsible for making computers not only smarter, but significantly smarter than humans.
Human computation has many applications. For example, computers aren’t very good at identifying what appears in an image, but humans are. To make online image searches more accurate, von Ahn developed the ESP game, which led to the creation of Google’s Image Labeler, and finally the compilation of five different games: Games With A Purpose (GWAP.com).
The model of game play works well. The games are fun, foster bonds and competition, and are free. These are all qualities that have attracted high numbers of players – thus, creating a strong effort to make not only image searches more durable, but also bring computers closer to thinking like humans.
The question is, when will all our game playing lead to a smarter computer that no longer needs our help?
In June 2006, von Ahn was invited to the Google campus to give a TechTalk lecture on human computation and brought up some interesting points about the bond and tension between humans and machines:
At one point von Ahn jokes that the interactions he’s created through GWAP could lead to a world similar to the one depicted in The Matrix; that is, one in which machines rule the universe and generate power from human brains.
Although his speculation appeared light-hearted, when I ask von Ahn what he thinks now, he asserts: “I completely believe computers will become every bit as intelligent as humans, possibly even more intelligent. I don’t see why not: the brain is a machine, we just don’t understand how it works yet.”
Using 160 white LEDs to backlight the LCD screen, Eizo Nanao Corp managed to cut power consumption by 72%.
When you consider that a simple 19-inch LCD screen uses about 34W in it’s average daily use, dropping it down to about 9.5 is an incredible step down. It’s like if next years model of your gas-guzzling SUV came out with a minor addition which made its MPG jump from 18 to 31. It also comes with another great energy-saver. “The monitor also features an “Auto EcoView” function that automatically adjusts the backlight’s luminance in accordance with the external brightness detected by the luminance sensor equipped on the bottom of the monitor.” This way the screen will always be bright enough to see, but not so bright that it will melt your eyeballs along with the polar ice caps.
Although it may be more difficult to position LEDs into big-screen LCD TVs (due to the increased area), I wouldn’t be surprised to see some hitting the market in the next year or so. Especially when you consider “a newer 20-cu.-ft refrigerator cost approximately $50 annually to run, and a 50-inch 1080p plasma set costs approximately $110 annually.” Our appliances need to reduce power consumption down just as much as our cars do.