The Harrow Technology Report

  http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com

Insight, analysis, and commentary on the 
innovations and trends of contemporary computing, 
and on its growing number of related technologies.

An ongoing journey towards understanding, 
and profiting from, a world of exponential 
technological growth!

Copyright 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow.  All rights reserved.
Email: Jeff@TheHarrowGroup.com

 

The Fields of Convergence.
June 10, 2002

 

  • LISTEN To This Issue.
                Give your eyes a rest.

  • Quote of the Week.
                Who would have imagined this much Internet traffic?

  • "Knowledge" Convergence.
                The same old schooling and specialties may no longer yield "success."

  • "In Silico."
                Converging fields are changing this industry's rules.

  • Tidbits...
                Bend your display?

  • From Out of the Ether...
                The Dark Side of MMORPGs.

  • Going To The Dogs?
                "Translation" in a new direction..."

  • About "The Harrow Technology Report"


  • LISTEN To This Issue.

    Do you prefer to let your ears do the work of keeping you in-touch with, and thinking about where technology is taking us?  If so, "The Harrow Technology Report" is also available in an audio-on-demand, Web-based, MP3 version. 

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    So, if you wish, just click on the following link to listen to this issue!  http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20020610/20020610.mp3 .

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Quote of the Week.

     

    "Net use is showing explosive growth that will create a world online community of nearly 1 billion people in less than three years...

    Internet use will surpass voice traffic sometime this year and exceed it by more than eight times in 2005...

    Global Net traffic in 2005 will be 93 times the volume in 2000, fueled by a world Internet population of 941 million. [The Internet accounted for] 24,432 terabits [per day] at the end of 2000, [growing to] 2.3 million terabits per day by the end of 2005..., a compound annual growth rate of 147 percent."

    Quotes from the March 29 "R&D Newsflash,
    and from IDC,
    http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jhtml?containerId=pr2002_02_27_120039

     

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    "Knowledge" Convergence.

     

    The incredible changes that Moore's Law has wrought on semiconductors have already led to tremendous changes in how we work, live and play.  And the increasing rate of innovation, fueled by technologies that continually build on the shoulders of all of the knowledge and techniques already acquired, is hardly going to slow down; the advances yet in store for us will continue to be utterly fascinating and enabling. 

    But this isn't going to happen just because of advances is "computing" -- I believe it's how our "faster/better/cheaper" computing will be applied to and by OTHER disciplines, that holds the greatest potential for the truly revolutionary changes to come!

    Consider, for example, how computing and molecular biology are coming together in the "Smart Bandage."

    Brought to our attention by reader Dana Hoggart, a Nov. 1, 2001 news release from the University of Rochester (http://www.rochester.edu/pr/News/NewsReleases/scitech/millerbandage.html) paints the picture of the day when you wrap a bandage around a cut and it instantly analyzes if the cut contains "bad" bacteria.  If so, and if it requires an antibacterial ointment, the bandage will identify the correct treatment, or indicate that a trip to the doctor is in order.

    How could it do this?  Benjamin Miller and Philippe Farchet, professors of chemistry and computer engineering respectively, have created a device the size of a grain of sand that can determine if bacteria are Gram-positive or negative.  The results are then communicated to a silicon sensor that changes color on the bandage, indicating the result. 

    Looking forward, they are working on similar "grains" that can actually identify specific bacterial strains, and then determine if they're resistant to particular antibiotics!  Once they have an arsenal of these various "grains," they can paint a mixture of them onto a bandage yielding a very simple to use, frontline defense against infection.

    Or, imagine embedding similar tiny grains into the plastic wrap that covers ground beef in the grocery store -- if Botulism bacteria gains a foothold, the wrap could turn red! 

    Or, how about drinking cups that indicate if the water in them is polluted, or tainted by a chemical attack...? 

    As these examples demonstrate, the potential for a marriage between the medical, chemical, biological, and computing domains is unlimited. 

     

    Just The VERY Beginning...

    But this is just the very beginning of this type of Convergence, as explored in the June, 2002 issue of Business 2.0 (http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435,FF.html).  They examine how the converging of previously disparate fields will lead, in their words, to "Eight Technologies That Will Change The World," depicted by these diagrams:

    Image - Biointeractive Matarials.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435,FF.htmlImage - Biofuel Production Plants.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435,FF.html

    Image - Bionics.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435,FF.htmlImage - Cognitronics.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435|2,FF.html

    Image - Genotyping.   Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435|2,FF.htmlImage - Combinational Science.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435|2,FF.html

    Image - Molecular Manufacturing.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435|3,FF.htmlImage - Quantum Nucleonics.  Examples of converging industries, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435|3,FF.html

    As these examples of the coming together of different fields illustrate, I suspect that many of the most revolutionary things we're going to see will be the results of people working together in new and uncommon combinations; especially sparked by the rare individuals whose knowledge cuts across traditional boundaries. 

     

    Mixing And Matching.

    This "cross-technology," or "cross-discipline" knowledge will be such an incredible enabler both because individual sciences (as shown above) are coming together into new fields, and because these new fields themselves are synergizing with each other in the domains of Information Technology, Biosciences, Materials Sciences, and Energy, in ways depicted in this diagram by Paul Saffo, Director of the Institute of the Future (http://www.iftf.org/), in the June, 2002 Business 2.0 (http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40434,FF.html?ref=cnet):

    Cross-technology domains, from Business 2.0, June, 2002 - http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,40435,FF.html
    (Click on the image for a more detailed PDF version you can zoom into.)

    And that Convergence, according to Saffo, is likely to lead to some truly fascinating "future history," such as these predictions that result from extrapolating current research:

            In 2003, an "absolutely secure message" will be sent between the U.S. and Japan using Quantum Cryptography;

            In 2004, authentic wine of thousands of years ago will be produced from grapes that are genetically altered to be identical to those of that long-ago time;

            In 2005, the first petaflop computer will be built out of almost 1,000 commodity CPUs, using its quadrillion calculations per second to begin to unlock the secrets of how amino acids form proteins;

            In 2008, the first explicitly targeted nanomedicine will fight prostate cancer.  A firm will develop,

    "...a molecule that acts as a dispenser for prostate cancer medicine.  The drug is released only when the dispenser detects tumor-specific proteins.  The molecule also generates a blue signal pigment that appears in the urine.  Thousands of men now pay more attention while peeing."

    And much more. 

    For more detail on these, and on other potential results of this wonderful intermixing of technologies, explore Saffo's chart, below, in more detail:

    Image - Future History from converging fields - http://www.business2.com/images/mag/B2_Timeline.pdf

    (Click on the image for a more detailed PDF version you can zoom into.)

    As you do, note how so many of these potential (probable?) innovations are the direct result of sciences building upon each other's shoulders.  Then, consider if your business, or your educational institution, or your research lab, (or your career plans) are likely to produce the new type of "Renaissance Man" or "Renaissance Woman" that will be needed to excel in this creative maelstrom. 

    If not, you can be sure that your competition will be trying to do exactly that. 

    To new "intellectual diversity" winner, will surely go the spoils.

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    "In Silico."

     

    Continuing our exploration of the value of bringing traditionally-separate fields together, consider the phrase "in silico."  It's not the name of the newest "boy band," but it does represent an excellent example of the value of "crossing the domains," and how that leads to "Ah Ha" insights and opportunities and potentials that might well be missed by classically single-discipline scientists and engineers.

     

    The Story.

    As described in the April issue of the excellent Technology Review magazine (http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/taubes20402.asp), long-time Systems Engineer Harley McAdams was listening to a lecture by his wife (a biologist) on the complex biological processes that turn yeast genes on and off, when he realized that the details and feedback loops of this living process were very similar to the complex electronic and information systems that he worked with in "System Engineering." 

    Taking advantage of having a biologist and a systems engineer living under the same roof, they spent the next year cross-training each other in their respective fields. After which, McAdams realized that he could apply the computer modeling techniques that he used in his electrical engineering work to "model" the genetic processes of life in a way that went far beyond what biologists had previously accomplished!  He quit his day job, and he and his wife are pursuing their work at Stanford University under a new "Converged" job title -- "Biological Systems Engineer."  Using these techniques, their goal is to create computer-based simulations of living cells, whose:

    "... cellular systems are awe inspiring, if not mind boggling, in their complexity.  The flow chart of a relatively simple biological network, even when pared down to its most essential elements, looks like the wiring diagram for some demonic VCR. 

    Genes encode proteins that interact with other proteins and perhaps other genes, all activated and deactivated by copious other smaller molecules and strung together into pathways -- complete with various and sundry feedback mechanisms and redundancies. These networks then interact with each other in an equally bewildering, complex and interdependent manner."

    This level of complexity is why the convergence of biology and computing will give biologists, drug companies, and many others, the opportunity to do their initial research far faster than they could in a Petri dish -- doing it computationally -- "in silico!"

    In effect, this move to biological systems engineering "ratchets up" the level at which biologists can approach their work:

    "Forcing this in silico revolution are several inescapable facts: first is the sequencing of a host of complete genomes -- the human genome being the most mediagenic -- and the accompanying explosion in genomics technology.

    As a result, for the first time in history, researchers have what amounts to a genetic parts list for living organisms, from bacteria to humans. This in turn has produced a shift in emphasis from the traditional focus of biology -- 'on intensive analysis of the individual components of complex biological systems,' as Whitehead Institute biologists Eric Lander and Robert Weinberg recently described it in Science -- to a focus on how those components work together in networks and entire cellular systems."

    The Tech Review article goes into more detail, and it's worth reading by those of us in industry and education alike.  Because this is just one more example of how a multi-disciplinary education will position us to see the future.  And to then "change all the rules."

     

    Back to Table of Contents


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    Please send your comments to me at  Jeff@TheHarrowGroup.com  .

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    Back to Table of Contents


    Tidbits...

     

    Bend, Fold, Spindle ... But Please Don't Mutilate -- You're showing your age if you remember those draconian warnings not to "bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate" the punched cards that used to accompany monthly bills.  But if work from Toshiba continues to mature, we'll soon be able to "legally" commit those banned activities (to an extent) on color displays!

    Image - Toshiba's flexible display prototype - http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2002_05/imgdat/img2103.jpg

    Brought to our attention by reader Raoul Teeuwen, Toshiba has demonstrated (http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2002_05/pr2101.htm) an 8.4-inch active matrix LCD display that uses a very thin glass substrate bonded to a flexible plastic layer.  The result can be bent to as much as a 20 centimeter radius.

    This isn't the "roll it up in your pocket," or the "umbrella," or the "window-shade-as-display" device that some of us picture when we hear the term "flexible display," but this version, which is also more rugged than traditional brittle LCD displays, should open a new range of ways that we can "light up our lives."

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    From Out of the Ether...

     

    The Dark Side Of MMORPGs -- Commenting on last issue's exploration of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as EverQuest, Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call and others (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20020527/20020527.htm#_Toc10011765), reader Steve Zimmerman reminds us that the addictive nature of these games (and they CAN be addictive) can command a high price:

    "I found it surprising that you've put such a positive spin on the benefits of MMORPG's -- benefits that are only financially profitable.  In Ultima's Britannia the players ("users!") are playing an average of 13 hours per week. In a NY Times article I read that EverQuest's 450,000 users are playing an average of 20 hours a week.  That's 12 million man hours per week spent playing a game while not interacting with "real reality," which is a pretty cool place with amazing people. 

    12 million hours of peoples' time spent sitting down focused on an inanimate object.  It's horrible for adults, but an inexcusable use of time for children under the age of 18. 

    Marie Winn's "The Plug-In Drug" (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0142001082/
    qid=1023391473/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_2/002-8508819-0799223)
    speaks about the amount of time kids spend in front of televisions and how it relates to a decline in creativity, school performance, lower metabolism rates leading to obesity, higher rates of anger management issues, etc.  The average child spends less than 10 hours in front of the TV.  But 13 or 20 hours in front of a computer game certainly isn't positive.

    The "success" of MMORPGs is amazing, but also frightening.  When these get more and more "real", people will play less and less with each other.  How sad, for "civilized" societies."

    As Steve suggests, these "games" will get dramatically more real.  Although not a MMORPG, I've just seen samples of the new Doom III game that is due out perhaps later this year, and its techno-horror environment and demented denizens are so photo-realistic that this could be a seriously frightening game to play (I wonder if there are documented cases of video game fear-induced heart attacks...) This level of realism (and more) will certainly come to the worlds of MMORPGs. 

    As with all of our technologies, let's be sure that these virtual environments are implemented in ways that we can, quite literally, live with...

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Going To The Dogs?

     

    Finally, you can color me skeptical, but toymaker Takara has just demonstrated the $100 "Bowlingual" at the Tokyo Toy Show (http://news.com.com/2100-1040-908909.html?tag=dd.ne.dht.nl-hed.0)

    A microphone goes on your dog's collar, which wirelessly passes your dog's commentary to the main device attached to your PC.  Each "woof" is compared against a set of recorded, generalized "woofs," from which Takara says their software,

    "...detects feelings, including happiness, frustration and sadness--and displays the associated expressions on the terminal's screen. Bowlingual can also be used to record a dog's mood throughout the day when owners are away from home."

    Hummmm.  Dogs do have decidedly different barks for different things, but I wasn't aware that this was a species-wide language.  When do they learn it?  Do they have different accents, depending on where they spent their puppyhood?  Do poodles go to "diction classes"? 

    On a more serious note, if we COULD actually talk with our pets beyond the "baby talk" that many people use (http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/me/20020529.me.04.ram), I wonder how it would affect the bond between Man or Woman and Dog.

    My dog certainly does communicate his moods by the way he sounds and acts, but I'm not sure how much other "content" is in there to decode.  On the other hand, looking towards whales and dolphins and apes, a "grown-up" version of these toys may eventually result in some fascinating discourse.

    We shouldn't assume that we humans have all the answers...

     


    About "The Harrow Technology Report"

     

    "The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in the Knowledge Age. 

    "The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group. http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com .

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    Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All rights reserved.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used in the compilation of this publication.  However, he shall not be under any liability for loss or damage (including consequential loss) whatsoever or howsoever arising as a result of the use of this publication by the reader, his/her/its servants, agents or any third party.

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