Can the Kindle Knockout Textbooks?

July 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, because the bell is tolling for textbooks. Amazon has announced that it is releasing two new Kindle devices and in doing so, may have killed the college textbook.

Ah, the college textbook. So valuable, so hated, and yet, so loved. I remember my favorite textbook – a complete history of the making of the atomic bomb. It was red, had bent edges (from a previous owner, but I wasn’t jealous) and weighed enough to serve as a bludgeoning device. The idea that future generations might be missing out on such a wonderful experience, sniff, just breaks my heart.

But, despite our love of our hefty friends, time might be running out. What will the new Kindle mean for students?

Higher Prices, Not Lower - Contrary to popular sentiment, the annihilation of printed textbooks could actually mean increased expenses for students. After all, the actual textbook data will have to be encrypted better than most credit card transactions. What stops someone from getting the latest edition of Philosophy 101 off of uTorrent? Nothing.

It Must be Cheap - If there’s one thing to be learned from the music industry, it’s that the price of the data has to be low… or at least low enough so students won’t result to illegal means to get their materials. Even the most secure textbook will likely be pirated and made freely downloadable – an irresistible temptation for students staring at a $500 per-quarter textbook bill.

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Bucky Fuller Returns?

July 23 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Garry Golden

If curators at New York’s Whitney Museum are correct, the world might once again turn towards Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller for inspiration in addressing global challenges.

Bucky Fuller (1895-1983) is widely recognized as one of the world’s great modern visionaries of the 20th century. He was a natural Futurist, not because of his intellect, but his wisdom to challenge widely held assumptions from the world around him.

He blended his skills as a writer, thinker, and engineer into a concept he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.” Bucky believed that the essence of human life on the planet is to solve problems and continue expanding our awareness and views of what is possible.

New York’s Whitney Museum has re-opened the question of Bucky’s outlook towards the world with its latest exhibition Buckminster Fuller Starting with the Universe running through September 21, 2008.

Our best strategy for addressing problems of the 21st century might be to revisit the core principles of his philosophy related to design, shape and energy. If the Whitney curators, are correct, Bucky Fuller might turn out to be one of the most influential thinkers of not one, but two centuries.

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Alas, Poor Mouse, I Knew Him Well…

July 23 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5

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 fix it.

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.

What do you see happening with the mouse?

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Energy startups see plenty of room for innovation at the bottom

July 28 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

By Garry Golden

What makes QuantumSphere and A123Systems two of the most innovative energy companies in the world?

Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts! And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.

The Beginning of Nano

Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the ‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the fundamental molecules.

Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the energy industry from production, to storage to end use delivery.

What is disruptive about catalysts?

Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics, biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.

The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.

Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant, clean energy. (Continued)

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Get ready for big things from world of nanotech

July 20 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.” Enter mankind’s newest plunge into the future – nanotechnology.

One day soon, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a “nanofactory” will sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up any product you want – plasma TV, clothes, an appliance, or whatever your dreams desire – at little or no cost.

This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not. According to AI entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil and nanotech author Eric Drexler, this nanofactory will arrive by the 3rd decade of this century – 2020-2030.

Here’s how nanotech replicators would work: microscopic-size machines collect raw atoms from supplied chemicals, or from something as inexpensive as seawater, and enable those atoms to grow or “morph” into the final product: a sweater, refrigerator, health medicine, or even a duplicate nanofactory.

Key technologies of the past half-century – transistors, semiconductors, and genetic engineering – all focused on reducing size, materials and costs, while increasing power and efficiency. We now stand poised to continue this trend into a revolution that offers the potential to rebuild the entire physical world – our bodies and brains included – one atom at a time.

The National Institutes of Health states that someday implanted nanotech materials will actually become part of the body – able to search out and destroy cancer cells before they develop into a tumor, or precisely direct drugs to heal damaged tissues – and when no longer needed, dissolve and be absorbed or excreted. (cont.)

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Dear Al Gore, Did you forget about harvesting carbon for bioenergy?!

August 05 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 16 Hot

In his bold speech calling to transform the energy industry, Al Gore forgot to say one of the most important words of the 21st century – biology. He forgot to mention that if we wanted to ‘grow’ energy, carbon could become a profitable feedstock rather than an economic and environmental liability.

Gore is now calling on America to launch a major Apollo-style program to ‘decarbonize’ the electricity sector by 2018 using renewables, geothermal and carbon sequestration efforts. He imagines a world beyond ‘fossil fuels’, but might be overlooking our greatest potential investment in the energy sector – tapping biological systems that ‘eat’ carbon and ‘grow’ energy resources such as biofuels (for transportation) and hydrogen (for electricity generation).

What is possible by 2018? Within a decade we could transform the role of carbon into a profitable feedstock for clean, abundant energy by tapping the power of biology.

The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ is misleading. Coal and oil are not ancient bones or animal matter, rather they are ancient plant life and microorganisms that locked up hydrogen and carbon molecules using the power of the sun. Coal and oil are bioenergy resources. And rather than extract ancient bioenergy from the ground, we can grow the same hydrocarbon chains ourselves without adding new carbon to the atmosphere. (cont.)

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Best-Selling Futurist To Run For U.S. Senate

July 18 2008 / by Jeff Hilford / In association with Future
Category: Government   Year: 2008   Rating: 7 Hot

Professional futurist and Future Blogger regular Jack Uldrich has announced that he is running for United States Senator in the state of Minnesota as a candidate for the Minnesota Independence Party nomination. He will face off against a number of candidates in the Sept. 9th primary including Jesse Ventura mentor Dean Barkley and endorsed farmer Stephen Williams for the right to face incumbent Norm Coleman-R and Al Franken-D of SNL fame.

Jack served as Deputy Director of Strategic and Long Range Planning in Governor Jesse Ventura’s administration and was previously a Strategic Planner for the Defense Department.

In a conversation I had with Jack today he emphasized that he hoped to elevate the level of discourse as only an independent can and raise awareness of issues that our society will be facing in the years ahead as a result of rapid technological advancements. These include the impact of increased life expectancy, not only as it relates to the threat of social security bankruptcy and healthcare, but other socio-political ramifications as well.

As a bestselling author on nanotechnology he is sure to take on this and other hotbed issues too and will incorporate his study of new technologies into government. (cont.)

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Is HDR Imaging the Future of Photography?

July 17 2008 / by niksipolins / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

With all the technology growth in fields like space travel and gene mapping, isn’t it about time photography took a real step forward? HDR or High Dynamic Range Imaging promises to do exactly that quite literally democratizing the production of digital images.

High Dynamic Range Imaging, the practice of ‘bracketing’, or combining in Photoshop, a properly exposed image with both underexposed and overexposed versions of the same image, creates stunning, surreal photographs.

The above landscape shot of NYC’s skyline at night is perhaps the most well known example of HDR Imaging. Yes, it is NYC. No it is not a CG promotional image of Gotham City for The Dark Knight (though it certainly could be). It is merely 3 photographs, taken on a tripod at different exposures, and last year it won 2nd place in Wikimedia Commons’ Picture of the Year Competition.

I know that FutureBlogger isn’t exactly a photography site, but this imaging technique shows real promise in putting professional quality photography into the hands of the masses.

While this practice may seem daunting to all but a few highly experienced photogs, it is not as complicated as it looks. Many entry level Digital SLR’s already come equipped with automatic HDR modes (just look in your menus), and as shooting time lag (time between shots) continues to decrease, and on-board camera processors continue to speed up, HDR imaging could eventually become something your camera does for you automatically.

In-Camera HDR would eliminate underexposed shots by automatically taking the bracketing shots for you, and this could happen within a few micro-seconds of your initial shot, eliminating the need for a tripod. An on-board bracketing algorithm would eliminate the need for time-consuming manual bracketing in Photoshop. (cont.)

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Molecular Nanotech promises increased wealth, longer life

February 29 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 12

By Futuretalk

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.” Enter humanity’s newest plunge into magic – molecular nanotechnology.

Whether you fear it, welcome it, don’t understand it, or think it’s too crazy to be true, this most hyped science of all time promises a utopian future with no food shortages or disease, and a world of leisure and indefinite lifespan for everyone on Earth.

To achieve this remarkable future, researchers must first create a tiny microscopic-size robot assembler that can grab individual atoms and organize them into items. Futurists at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology predict that the first assembler will be developed between 2010 and 2020.

The next step, experts say, is to build a small countertop machine called a nano-replicator with billions of assemblers inside, which can be instructed to extract atoms from waste materials or something as plentiful as dirt or seawater, and reassemble those atoms into food, appliances, clothing, or other desired products. Positive futurists believe that nano-replicators could be working in U.S. homes by 2025.

In their book, Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler argue that we are on the verge of a post-scarcity time that will slash poverty around the world. Futurist Steve Burgess agrees. In an on-line essay, he predicts that nano-replicators will launch an era of abundance for everyone. (cont.)

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Low-Cost, Electric-Free Refrigeration Drops in Temperature and Price

July 10 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: 2008   Rating: 2

Empowered by computational fluid dynamics Adam Grosser of Foundation Capital has spearheaded an effort to build a refrigeration device for the billion+ people who currently have no access to electricity. The break-through approach combines water, ammonia, heat and a little bit of know-how to create a low-pressure, non-toxic refrigerator capable of cooling a 3 gallon container an entire day in temperatures up to 30C.

Here’s the video of his short and sweet TED presentation:

Grosser expects that such units can be manufactured “at high volumes for about $25”, a feat that would enable the better transport of sensitive medicines, foods and materials through developing regions to the people that desperately need them. Such a device could play an important role in the betterment of countless lives as it gives people some more low-cost control over their immediate environment… not to mention keeping beer cold on extended camping trips (a win-win proposition that will hopefully help foot the development bill)...

Will Twitter and Facebook Kill Email?

July 07 2008 / by jcchan / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 4

Email was introduced to the public in the mid 90’s, marking a big shift in communication efficiency and relegating snail mail to the handling of American Express ads, magazine subscriptions, and utility bills. Since then the corporate world has since embraced it, just as Hallmark cards have been replaced by e-birthday cards. But with times and the web changing so rapidly in the last decade email is now increasingly considered an ‘internet app classic’.

A recent article by Alex Iskold at ReadWriteWeb looks to challengers like Twitter and Facebook to dethrone email sooner than later. Iskold points out that over the last five years the shift away from email appears to have be in favor of simplicity. People who once used emails to keep up with family and friends now have moved on to IM. Similarly, bloggers use bridge apps like Twitter that combines the shortness of an IM, with the get-to-know-you personality of blogs. Even the face of email has transformed with gmail taking the lead in a jack-of-all-trades interface combining chat and a word processor. (I’m typing this post right into Google Docs.)

Looking at the trends of the past, I don’t think email will go in the way of the Dodo. I think of email’s relationship to its ‘successors’ as radio to television. TV didn’t kill radio, and the Internet definitely didn’t kill TV. They just did all of their respective jobs the best. Email is still the perferred way for corporate communication, and a good number of us still tune into our favorite radio stations on the freeway. Is email in danger then? Will savvy web users and bloggers one day ditch email in favor of Twitter and Gchat?

Only two things are certain. Apps will become more modular and specialized and there will be cross-platform competition. (cont.)

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Household robots: smart, loyal, humanoid 'bots here by 2020

June 24 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Imagine a machine that sets the table, creates and serves dinner, cleans house, and never complains. This may sound like something out of The Jetsons, but in labs everywhere, scientists believe that one day, we will share our homes with loyal robot servants that enthusiastically tackle mundane chores, freeing us for more fulfilling activities.

Carnegie Mellon’s Hans Moravec believes that by 2020, we will create robots in humanoid form, able to express reasoning and emotion, and eager to perform household tasks. These “smart” machines will walk the dog, put groceries away, find and fetch things, mimic human feelings of compassion and love, and become friends with family members.

2020s robots will appear amazingly human-like. Moravec suggests they could be powered by fuel cells that are cooled by a squeeze pump which beats like a heart while circulating alcohol as a coolant. They would “drink wine” for fuel, and breathe air like humans.

Design tricks like these, along with soft “nanoskin” will make tomorrow’s ‘bots seem uncannily human, encouraging us to perceive them as friends. Author Ray Kurzweil says tomorrow’s ‘droids could quickly learn to flesh out positive feelings, which would provide an allure difficult for humans to resist.

How about robo-love? Jason Nemeth, in his essay, Should Robots Feel, believes love-companion robots will be practical in the future and could easily fill the role of a partner, satisfying our intimacy needs. Nemeth is not sure whether human/robot love would experience higher success rate than love between two humans; but he says technologies will unlock the possibilities, and human curiosity will make it happen. (cont.)

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