Archive for December, 2011

GM Food, Human Enhancement, Materials Science, Solar Panels, and Human Genome Sequencing

December 31, 2011 16 comments

Some thoughts on genetically modified foods in the future, courtesy of Sentient Developments.  In the present, however, there seem to be plenty of problems with GM foods as developed by Monsanto,potentially resulting in suicides in India and a recent link to mammalian organ failure.

Ronald Bailey makes the Case For Enhancing People, an excellent article that I might have to post some more commentary on once the holidays have passed and I have a day or two to really think about everything he’s saying.

MIT has a nice summary of materials science advances in the past year, including much more efficient color-emitting technology, vastly more efficient batteries, and invisibility cloaks.

Care2 has a short piece on cheap solar panels; not very powerful, but enough to make a significant difference in the poorest of countries.

Finally, doctors are going to begin routinely screening human genomes in some hospitals to help cross reference (presumably anonymous) patient data in an effort to find commonalities between people with diseases. The information mined from this ought to help create more effective drug treatments, or even allow for the beginnings of customized medicine.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Year In Review, Mapping The Human Brain, Measuring Machine Intelligence, and Biopiracy

December 27, 2011 1 comment

NewScientist blogs a nice year in review; the top 10 tech stories of the year. Conspicuously absent is some of the work that’s been done on brain machine interfaces, driverless cars, prosthetic technology, and almost anything relating to human genomes or other medical technology. Still, it’s a nice list.

Also from Newscientist, a few quick thoughts on the Human Connectome Project. If you haven’t yet heard of it, the HCP aims to map the human brain. As the article states, the really interesting things will start happening once the data starts coming in around late-2012.

One last article from Newscientist quickly reviews the problems with using the Turing Test to measure machine IQ; the test is both too narrow (because it only tests linguistic aptitude) and too hard (because linguistics are difficult to begin with). Author Paul Marks links to a  couple alternatives to the Turing Test that might be more appropriate.

Finally, the Indian government is suing Monsanto for “biopiracy,” claiming that Monsanto is stealing local crops to produce genetically modified versions for sale in other areas of the world. In large part, I think genetically modified foods are going to be necessary in the not-too-distant future to continue to feed (or enable the feeding of) the world’s massive population, but the strong-arm tactics Monsanto seems to apply really turns people off of GM foods in general. Still, biopiracy is kind of an odd claim; aren’t these crops available at a local market, and if so, how could one patent a naturally occurring food? Without a patent, how could anyone, even Monsanto, pirate it? I’ll keep an eye on the story as it develops.

Some Quick Thoughts (And A New Format)

December 24, 2011 10 comments

After an extended absence, I’m pleased to bring boydfuturist back in a new format. Like many other bloggers, I struggle with finding a nice balance between content and regular publishing; the more in depth the post, the more time it takes to write something worth reading. The amount of time that it takes me to come up with a lengthy, thoughtful post would work great for adding to a technology site that has multiple contributors, but makes it difficult to sustain a regular publishing schedule when I’m the only author. Up until now I’ve had something of a dual online identity; here at boydfuturist I’d publish lengthy thoughts on technology, legal issues, and transhumanism generally and on my personal Facebook account I’d publish links or short comments to a handful of technology articles every day. Sometimes it feels like I’m spamming my friends with links and quick comments about tech articles.

It occurs to me that these two problems can solve each other. On on hand, I have too little content and on the other, too much. So, for the new year, I’m going to try posting multiple times per week in a digest format; the most interesting articles I’ve read during the last day or few days along with some short commentary. Since I push through boydfuturist updates to Facebook, this should reduce my Facebook posts to once per day (plus the non-tech stuff I post) and dramatically increase my posts here. When inspiration strikes me, I’ll post more lengthy updates on here as well. Best of all, this will give me (and my readers) a searchable index of articles for later access.

I was on the road for the holidays yesterday, so I didn’t get a chance to read many articles. Here’s a few from this morning:

TechEBlog has a great article about the world’s first gaming laptop. Of course, many of us have gamed on laptops before (I use my Gateway for small stuff right now) but the hardware packed by this little guy is truly impressive. It’s certainly not the cheapest option, but if you really must be the 1337est dude(ette) on the net, this laptop should provide a lag-free experience. People who really know their Hollywood geek roots might appreciate that this Razer Blade shares a name with two of the characters from Hackers, who undoubtedly would have loved to have this piece of equipment.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has demonstrated that it’s possible to genetically engineer mosquitoes such that they’re immune to malaria. As the article says, roughly 800,000 people per year, many of them children in Africa, die from malaria each year. This is another great example bleeding edge of technology helping to cure problems, and not just for the wealthy.

Finally, Gizmodo pushes through an article that I (as perpetually terrified dental patient) really appreciate: University of Missouri affiliated scientists have created a plasma toothbrush that is supposed to painlessly clean cavities in roughly 30 seconds, and improves the surface for the filling that goes in afterward. With some luck, by 2013 going to the dentist for routine cleanings and (the hopefully rarer) cavity fillings will be a much less traumatic experience.

Happy Holidays, everyone!