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

 

Through the Lens of New Technologies.
July 1, 2002

  • LISTEN To This Issue.
                Give your eyes a rest.
  • Quote of the Week.
                Read'n & Write'n?
                What it means to be a disk drive head...
  • New Text-To-Speech -- Wow!
                Have you ever heard GOOD computer-generated speech? 
                I have now!
  • Storage Update.
                Back to the future.  And grain by grain...
  • One Atom At A Time.
                The single-atom transistor is (sort of) here!
  • Tidbits...
                Fifty-five percent efficiency improvements;
                The latest on "teleportation;" and
                What's Internet traffic up to?
  • From Out of the Ether...
                The cost of content...
  • Cyborg Update.
                My mom's a cyborg!  And you may know one as well.
  • 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. 

    If you have an MP3 player on your system (and most do, such as Window's Media Player, RealPlayer, etc.), clicking on the link below will either stream the file to you, or, depending on how your system is configured, it might download the file before playing it.  Alternatively, if you specifically want to download the file, simply right-click on the link, and choose "Save Target As..."

    Also, to learn how you can listen at whatever speed is most comfortable to you, check out the FAQ at http://www.theharrowgroup.com/help.htm .

    So, if you wish, just click on the following link to listen to this issue!  http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20020701/20020701.mp3 .

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Quote of the Week.

    Two very salient quotes, from Stavance's June 6 "R&D Newsflash":

    "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

    Alvin Toffler


    "The read head [of a hard disk drive] is like a jet flying at supersonic speeds a meter above a pasture, while counting the grass blades pointing in two different directions."

    Bill Butle,
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    New Text-To-Speech -- Wow!

     

    As you probably know, "The Harrow Technology Report" is always available as a spoken Web-based "radio program" at a link specified in the "Listen to This Issue" section.  Several times over the years I've experimented with the best "Text-to-Speech" conversion programs to see if my voice had become superfluous, but the robotic-sounding results always sent me scurrying back to my microphone.  I will probably still continue using my voice to record these shows, but for the first time I've heard an alternative that sounds so good that there is now an acceptable alternative.  It's called Loquendo, a spin-off of work done by the research folks at Telecom Italia Labs.

    Loquendo runs on a PC and, depending on the configuration, can speak a particular text file.  Or under program control, it can act as a text-to-speech server providing multiple simultaneous text-to-speech streams.  Loquendo also comes with quite a few voices, each one optimized for speaking the text of a particular language.

    If you're at all familiar with the many text-to-speech converters that have been available on the market, you haven't (yet) heard anything new. But when you actually hear the result, if you're half as impressed as I am, you'll agree that Loquendo will open up quite a few doors.

    This is not to say that Loquendo is perfect.  It's not.  It doesn't always get things exactly right, although there is an easy to use lexicon that let me tell it that www.TheHarrowGroup.com should have the middle part pronounced as "The Harrow Group," rather than as an understandably un-understandable mess.   But what Loquendo does that I have not heard before, is that without any special tuning of any sort, the resulting speech sounds vibrant, often quite natural, and -- well -- "human."  It's "expressive," in a way that I haven't previously heard from computers.

    But this isn't something that I can really explain -- it's something that you really have to hear, so you can form your own opinion.  And you have a couple of choices:

    First, I've taken the text of this issue and had Loquendo's "Susan (American English)" voice speak the issue into an MP3 file at this link: 

    http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20020701/20020701-Loquendo.mp3

    Although the good folks at Loquendo wanted to optimize the text to assure that my spacing and punctuation didn't mess things up (following a few rules, which I have not done, can improve things somewhat), I wanted us to hear the result of a "typical" document that hadn't been so-optimized, and that's what we have here.  The only significant thing I've done is remove most of the URLs from the text, so that you don't have to listen to lots of "double-you, double-you, double-yous..."  And to me, the result is even more impressive than if I'd let them further optimize it.

    Second, Loquendo offers a demo site where you can type in a couple of sentences in a language of your choice, pick the appropriate voice, and it will translate and play the result for you, at http://actor.loquendo.com/actordemo/default.asp?language=us .  You can then find out more about Loquendo at http://www.loquendo.com/en/demos/index.htm , or by contacting Gaea Vilage at Gaea.Vilage@LOQUENDO.COM .  (If you do, tell her where you heard about Loquendo.)

    As you can tell, I'm impressed with Loquendo, and this is (of course) just the beginning.  I can see the day when that old question, "Is it Memorex, or is it real?" will take on a new meaning; at least in certain contexts, we may have trouble deciding if we're listening to a computer, or to a person.  And won't THAT be interesting...

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Storage Update.

     

    Aren't we glad that, except perhaps in some voting booths, we've banished the "punched card" into obscurity?  After all, storing information in physical holes (or depressions -- remember the 'chads') on a flat medium is clearly something from the bygone era of computers. 

    Or is it...?

    Proving yet again that it's worth looking at old ideas through the lens of new technologies, IBM's Zurich Research Lab has announced more details on its Millipede data storage system, which works somewhat akin to punched cards, but on a rather different scale. (http://www.zurich.ibm.com/st/storage/millipede.html)

    Image - Millipede storing data - http://www.zurich.ibm.com/images/st/millipede/single_366.jpg

    Instead of punching paper chads however, the tip of a Millipede write-head uses heat to form a depression in a plastic sheet, with the spacing and pattern of depressions and flat areas representing the ones and zeros of data. 

    Similarly, a Millipede read-head can scan for the presence or absence of depressions, and so recover the data they represent.  Expanding this idea to read and write head "arrays" that each contain about 1,000 or more points, reading and writing can be done from many areas of the plastic at once, speeding data throughput through massive parallelism. 

    Image - Millipeed's massively-parallel read head - http://www.zurich.ibm.com/images/st/millipede/array_375.jpg

    The medium is also re-writable; heating an area adjacent to an existing depression allows the plastic to "flow," filling the depression back to its original "flat" state.

     

    Why Go 'Back To The Future?'

    The question, of course, is "WHY" return to those thrilling days of physical storage yesteryear?  The answers are "Nanotechnology" and MEMS (MicroElectrical Mechanical Systems). 

    You see, in this case, those tips that are forming and reading the depressions are very, very small.  Atomically small.  They're actually the tips of Atomic Force Microscopes, and they can form and read depressions so small (10 nanometers in diameter), and so close together, that this thermomechanical storage technique can store hundreds of gigabits/square inch -- perhaps as much as one terabit/square inch!  Which is well beyond the (currently) anticipated magnetic recording limit of perhaps 150 gigabits/square inch (see below).  Another way to look at this is that "about three billion of [these depressions] fit in a punch card hole." (http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=
    technologynews&StoryID=1072736)  
    According to an AP article brought to our attention by reader R. Gautier (http://apnews1.iwon.com/article/20020611/D7K2NC281.html), this prototype can already store the text of 25 million pages on the surface of a postage stamp!  That's 20-times the density of today's common disk drives.  And this is just the prototype...

    This isn't the death knell for traditional magnetic disk drives -- the read/write speed of Millipede appears (at this time) to be far slower, and so its initial implementation may be to vastly increase the amount of memory in portable devices.  Imagine, if you will, that if this technology increases its storage capacity at anything like the "Moore's Law-plus" rate of current storage increases, we could have portable digital devices that might NEVER run out of room for storing pictures, audio, video, and more.  Which would change a lot of rules.

    Millipede project leader Peter Vettiger expects that it will be at least two years before a Millipede chip is ready for production (http://www.eet.com/story/OEG20020611S0018), with CNN estimating that if IBM does decide to pursue this, it could be on the market by 2005 (http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/industry/06/11
    /ibm.storage.breakthrough.ap/index.html)
    .  Additional details on Millipede are at http://researchweb.watson.ibm.com/journal/rd/443/vettiger.html and http://domino.research.ibm.com/Comm/bios.nsf/pages/millipede.html , which also contains interesting pictures and animations.

     

    Bit By Bit.

    Of course there is more than one way for storage to continue its faster-than-Moore's-Law drive to higher density for lower cost; that old standby, "magnetics," still has a lot of life left.  Despite a succession of pronouncements that we're (always) about to reach the "limits" of magnetic storage, brilliant people who refuse to follow the rules just keep pushing magnetic storage forward. 

    Today, according to the July Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/innovation50702.asp), a bit of data has to be stored in several hundred "magnetic grains" to preserve a reliable state.  Make the grains too small or too densely packed together, and they randomize.  But IBM has now proven, and GE is attempting to commercialize, the ability to "pattern" a magnetic media so that individual magnetic grains form in the "islands" of the pattern, with each single grain storing one bit.   This could initially yield as much as 40 gigabits of storage per square inch, growing to 150 gigabits/square inch.  Which would give us terabyte notebooks, and far-larger desktops.  Prototypes are due in 2004, with commercial devices potentially hitting the market in 2008.

     

    It's Just A Matter Of Time...

    It's sure nice to know that such technologies are sitting in the wings, just waiting for our needs to catch up.  How would "limitless" storage change YOUR rules?

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Your Feedback is Important!

     

    I'd like to understand your interest in The Harrow Technology Report, how you make use of it, and the value you feel it provides to you, your career, and to your company.

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

    I look forward to hearing from you!

     

    And, if you know of other folks who might find value in "The Harrow Technology Report," I'd appreciate your letting them know that they can subscribe at http://www.theharrowgroup.com/signup.asp .

    Jeff Harrow

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    One Atom At A Time.

     

    We may think that our current transistors, such as each of the 42 million that sit inside our Pentium 4 chips, are small.  But in reality, each one of those transistors is still made up of millions or billions of atoms.  Imagine how much smaller our computing elements could be if each and every ATOM were ITSELF a transistor.  Now, realize that Cornell University researchers have done just that -- they've created a transistor in which the current of electrons flows through a single cobalt atom!

    Brought to our attention by reader Dana Hoggart, Cornell illustrates (http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/June02/McEuen.transistor.deb.html) how this molecule forces electrons to "hop on and off" the cobalt atom at the center of the ring, one by one, for the current to flow.

    Image - artist's conception of two single-atom transistors created at Cornell University - http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/June02/1atomtrans72.jpg

    In effect, they've created a "designer molecule" that channels the electron flow through just the central atom.

    This molecule doesn't yet perform all of the functions of a traditional transistor, such as amplification or controlled switching, but because the environment surrounding the molecule affects the current flow, even at this early stage it may prove useful as a chemical sensor.  Their next step is to add the structures to turn this into a controllable switch.

    Now don't get too excited: our next CPUs won't work on this atomic scale.  But I find a statement by one of the molecule's creators, Dr. Héctor Abruña, prophetic:

    "As chemists, we can deliberately design and manipulate molecules to achieve a specific function.  This is very important because we are now able to incorporate the properties of these molecules into electronic devices."

    They are, in effect, changing all the rules.

    On the other hand, even though we've now demonstrated what was "unthinkable" just a short time ago -- the beginnings of single-atom transistors -- it seems that some people still see limits to what we can do.  For example, the Cornell article begins by stating that they,

    "...have now reached the smallest possible limit: a transistor in which electrons flow through a single atom."

    But who says that we have to depend on electrons, which we've been harnessing in one way or another for the past century?  There's more to an atom than its electron shell... 

    As impressive as this achievement by Cornell is, I believe there's still plenty of room for innovative minds to change the rules again -- and again, and again, and again...

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Tidbits...

     

    ·        One 'Unintended Consequence' Of Nanotechnology -- Incandescent light bulbs are the world's most common method of generating light.  Although compact fluorescents are increasingly showing up in commercial and office settings, most homeowners still prefer the "warm" spectrum of the familiar light bulb.  The problem is that the light bulb, which works by heating a tungsten filament to incandescence, is very inefficient; something you know all too well if you try to unscrew a bulb while it's running -- you'll burn your fingers.  Incandescent light bulbs are only about 5% efficient in generating the light we want -- the other 95% of the energy that the bulb consumes goes out as infrared light, or waste heat. 

    Now though, it turns out that a series of experiments begun by Eli Yablonovitch at UCLA and continued at Sandia National Labs, have yielded a surprising and un-predicted consequence of building a tungsten "filament" as a three-dimensional array of nano-sized tungsten bars (a "tungsten photonic crystal"), using the same techniques that are used to build integrated circuits.  These tiny "Lincoln Log" structures keep the non-visible light from getting out, and then convert much of this trapped "waste" energy into the visible spectrum!  As described in the May 1 Sandia new release (http://www.sandia.gov/media/NewsRel/NR2002/tungsten.htm), this new type of emitter raises the efficiency of an incandescent bulb from today's 5%, to 60% or greater!  Which would mean a dramatic reduction in energy needs around the globe.

    There's no indication of when light bulbs using this new technique will reach the Home Depot near you, but this is an excellent example of how, fundamentally, we're going to be able to change the world around us as we increasingly work with building blocks of atoms, molecules, and purpose-designed crystal structures, in the same way that nature works with them.

    Again, Don't Blink!



     

    ·        Teleportation Update -- The wonderful unfolding sci-fi-to-reality story of teleportation is one of the better examples of the "totally impossible" moving into the scientific journals and the headlines.  You may recall that over the past couple of years, scientists at several independent labs have demonstrated that they can transfer the state of the spin of one, and later a cloud of photons, over distance instantaneously.  This is teleportation, if currently only of information, and not of reticent physicians (a la Star Trek's "Bones." - see http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20011008/20011008.htm#_Toc526918749 and http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20020218/20020218.htm#_Toc1472060
    ).  Unsurprisingly, this saga continues, this time in Australia.

    Brought to our attention by readers Raoul Teeuwen and others, the June 17 Australian IT (http://australianit.news.com.au/articles/0,7204,4523607%
    5E15306%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html)
    describes how a research team at the Australian National University led by Ping Koy Lam, has now "teleported a message-encoded laser beam" from here to there.  Specifically, they encoded a radio signal onto a laser beam at one end of a laboratory, and then quantum-entangled the beam, during which the laser beam was completely destroyed.

    However, the encoded radio signal survived, and was received three feet away, where it was used to recreate the original information-carrying laser beam a billionth of a second later!  The laser beam ceased to exist at one place, and was recreated at another place, without (traditionally, at least) spanning the distance.

    According to Dr. Lam,

    "What we have demonstrated here is that we can take billions of photons, destroy them simultaneously, and then recreate them in another place."

    Does this sound interesting?

    Initially, this research direction will likely have more to do with ultra-secure communications channels than with easing commuting; scientists still have no idea how to attempt to teleport the vast number of atoms that make up mice or humans.  But to me, this initial exploration into teleportation is like an inquisitive child exploring a new toy.  Sometimes, the application of enough "interest" can yield surprising results -- often quite different from what the parent (or the toy manufacturer) expected.  Now that we know that teleportation is "real," I expect that it will be "worried" into giving up some very surprising and interesting secrets.

    And yet once again, Don't Blink!




     

    ·        All Those Bits! -- Following up on our recent glimpse into the burgeoning amount of Internet traffic -- so much Internet traffic that it will exceed voice traffic this year (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20020610/20020610.htm#_Toc11220477)
    , reader John Ryan of RHK points us to another perspective.

    According to a recent RHK report (http://www.rhk.com/pressrelease.asp?id=157), they calculate that U.S. (only) Internet traffic now stands at 100 petabytes per month, which is "double the value from the entire nation's long-distance voice traffic," growing at an annual rate of 100% during last year.  This rate of growth was down, however, from 130% in 2000, and 160% in 1999. 

    It's interesting in the face of this rate of growth, however, that due to the glut of backbone bandwidth available, and because of consolidation, the carriers' revenue growth has only risen 17%, perhaps because the cost per bit has dropped 45%.  RHK sums up its picture of Internet traffic in the following illustration:

    Image - RHK - http://www.rhk.com/newspics/RHK200502.gif


     

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    From Out of the Ether...

     

    The Cost Of Content -- In a recent discussion regarding the tremendously increasing capacity of disk drives (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20020527/20020527.htm#_Toc10011767)
    , I posed the question,

    "How could you FILL UP 120 terabytes, considering that you could store seven years of 24/7 movies, or 80 years of music, or...?  The problem might not be how much we CAN store, but more practically "the cost of the content."  Want to buy 30,000 movies to transfer to your shiny new disk?"

    Reader Alex Shmelev did some 'out of the box' thinking of his own, and came up with the following response:

    "...I would think that the "cost of content" would shrink, and instead be converted into a "cost of consumption".  For example, why would music or film companies rely on broadband content delivery if they could, instead, install a significant portion of their catalog directly onto the hard drive of a new PC? 

    They could then sell a view or a listen, with the exchange of some payment and "key" information... (I know about the current limitation of key schemes like those on DVDs and "uncopyable" CDs, but eventually someone will make them reasonably secure...)  Perhaps these media mega-corporations would even subsidize the cost of the drive itself, making the "cost of content" near zero...

    What do you think??"

    I think that Alex has the right idea in extrapolating how technology will be marching forward, and in considering dramatically new ways to benefit from the changes.  For example, I could certainly imagine that Turner Networks or other holders of large media libraries might be very interested in storing encrypted copies of their huge stockpile of old movies, old TV programs (and series), and other entertainment on those disks.  And even new movies could be downloaded and stored on the disks during slack network time, a la Tivo, as pointed out to me in a conversation this morning with Roberto Saracco, Director of the Telecom Italia Labs' "Center of the Future."  (http://fc.telecomitalialab.com/english/index.htm)

    Assuming that the media companies decide to work WITH technology instead of trying to sue its use out of existence (a futile effort over time, I expect), then entertainment assets will remain highly valuable in these days of an increasingly broadband Internet -- they may just require imaginative new ways to wring that value out.  (Media companies were similarly frightened of the VCR, yet now they make more off of tapes and DVDs than they do from the box office...)

    Reader Ary Stuifbergen, however, thinks that we might be filling up all of this storage in a very different way:

    "I suddenly realize that in the future we will store personal information which we never stored before! Until now, we store information as a well-decided act of our own. Probably in the future, we will store information without actually knowing we are storing it. Some processes will decide what is worthwhile to store for personal use [again, like Tivo already does today].

    And then the stunning conclusion:

    Isn't this exactly what our brain does (and what we call our memory)?

    Thanks for your inspiring newsletters."

    As Ary so aptly points out, dramatic technology advances pave the way for some surprising, and certainly unplanned opportunities and changes! 

     

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Cyborg Update.

     

    Finally, my mother is the ultimate example of someone who is quite happy without having to deal with these "computer things," thank-you-very-much.  She can do all of the things she wants to do without having to learn about the cyberworld of CPUs and bits and bytes and modems and the Internet.  Which is why, after she recently received a pacemaker, I gleefully reminded her that she's now more intimate with the world of technology than am I, since she is now a very real cyborg! 

    ("A human being who has certain physiological processes aided or controlled by mechanical or electronic devices," according to Microsoft Bookshelf.) 

    Between pacemakers (http://heartdisease.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A
    %2F%2Fwww.heartpoint.com%2Fpacerintro.html
    )
    , cochlear implants (http://www.medoto.unimelb.edu.au/info/implant1.htm), artificial retinas (http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/
    GMA020508ArtificialRetina.html
    and other implanted devices, cyborgs are already rather common.  But although common, almost all of them are cyborgs because of "medical necessity." 

    So far.                                                     

    Because, as pointed out by readers Dave Meachin, Greg Thompson and others, two researchers at the European branch of the MIT Media Lab have now designed a "tooth implant" that will silently send sound directly to your ears.

    Image - Wireless receiver within a tooth - http://www.wired.com/news/images/thumbs/digitaltooth_t.jpg

    As described in the June 21 Wired News (http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,53302,00.html) and by ENN (http://www.electricnews.net/news.html?code=7858450), once implanted within a living tooth by normal dental surgery, this relatively low cost device will use your jawbone as an antenna to receive wireless digital signals from the sending unit in your pocket (which you can connect to a cell phone, CD player, or whatever).  The new tooth then "micro-vibrates" to send the sound directly into your ear.  According to developer Jimmy Loizeau, "The vibrations are on a molecular level, so the user only experiences pure sound streaming into their consciousness," with none of the sound detectable outside of your head.  You could even choose to implant two of these, for added volume and a "surround sound" effect!

    It's tempting to make light of such a device; to chalk it up as an example of scientists demonstrating what "can" be done, rather than what people "need" (with the obvious exception of the benefits that these devices might bring to traditional hearing aids and people with related disabilities).  But the tooth's other inventor, James Auger, offers another idea that I think we're going to be forced to address, as a growing number of "optional" implants begin to become available:

    "It, [the tooth], offers a 'Darwinian' advantage to the user, whereby they have an advantage over their competition.  [It's] not a random mutation but a chosen one.  We are very interested in the ethical debate surrounding bionics and post-human evolution."

    How often have you wished to have a knowledgeable person whispering in your ear as you take questions from your boss, or you stand in front of an auditorium full of people?  With such a device, your assistant, with a Web's worth of information at his fingertips, could be that "inside voice" with no one the wiser.  Or how about a soldier on a covert mission?  Totally silent, private information could easily make the difference between life and death.  Or how about a sports figure receiving guidance from the sidelines?  Or a student taking the SAT?

    Such an implant could well be used as a "competitive advantage," and if it proves significantly valuable in a particular field, it might become as widely "necessary" as a cell phone is today in some industries.  Those who choose not to use the technology might fall by the competitive wayside.

    If that comes to pass, then what about the NEXT "optional" implant that confers a similar competitive advantage?  And the next...?  This tooth implant has yet to reach the prototype stage, but it, or something like it, surely will...

    Auger used the term "post-human evolution."  Hummm.  My mother doesn't have a PC, but she is now a cyborg.  She didn't really have much of a choice, but an implanted computer is giving her a very real Darwinian advantage by extending her life.   Soon, as teeth and other implants do become available, what happens when we all get to pick from a Chinese menu of optional enhancements? 

    Especially -- what (competitively) happens to those of us who opt-out? 

     

    Oh -- and one other implication of this technology that you psychologists and psychiatrists might want to think about -- perhaps the next time a patient describes 'voices in his head,' he may just be right! 

    :-)

     


    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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