to this Issue.
An alternative way to get
your 'technology fix.'
Quote of the Week.
You MUST strive for the
Petabyte storage arrays, and
problems of so much data.
More on the 'Orange and the
There's MORE I Can Do For You!
Get a sense of other
services that I can
provide to your business!
The holidays, and life in
general, in 2020-2050.
Pennies From Heaven...?
Technology is getting
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scientific breakthroughs were scoffed at when they
To move forward, a scientist has to explore the
researcher at NASA's
Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project.
from the May
11 Wired News
brought to our attention by reader Paul Hoffman
Back to Table of Contents
Reader David Taylor brings our
attention to an interesting massive-storage-array
concept from IBM, called "IceCube." In essence,
IceCube plans to use compact "storage bricks," each
of which contains disk drives (or their future
equivalent) and a processor. Each brick
communicates with adjacent bricks on all six sides
through a capacitive (wireless) 1 gigabyte/second
data stream (a large "pile-of-bricks" will have a
throughput of potentially terabytes/second). The
system administrator simply stacks the bricks into
an ever-growing cube. Each brick then reaches out
and touches its neighbors, and indeed ALL of the
bricks within the storage array, through a "high
bandwidth, three-dimensional mesh connect..., making
the location of data within the cube nearly
The goal is "to build large assemblies of
simple components and distribute functions in such a
way that the failure of even a significant fraction
of the components does not destroy the functionality
of the overall system." In effect, the
IceCube's built-in software will manage the data
transparently to the "mere human administrator" [my
words] who oversees up to one petabyte of data
within the IceCube. Data will be automatically
replicated across other bricks so that's it's never
lost, and is always quickly available.
That certainly sounds like a good idea. And
conceptually, the idea of software managing our data
in ways that the average person would never want to
know about, much less understand, has been the case
for decades (only dedicated individuals understand
the ways in which Windows, for example, manages
low-level on-disk data).
Keeping Things Safe.
But one nagging concern did come to mind as I read
about this, although it's not specifically
related to IceCube: As society and businesses
continue to march forward from paper records unto
bits, the increasing complexity of how that data is
stored puts our records at increasing risk of a
As you probably know, most computer storage systems
don't store a given file sequentially on a disk
drive; instead, the sectors (think of them as
fixed-sized buckets) on the disk which contain all
of the bits of a file are scattered across the
surface like dandelions on the wind. A complex
multilayered "map" keeps track of where each piece
goes and reconstructs them all back into its
original form when you open the file.
When it works (which is almost always), this
approach to file management is very powerful and
beneficial to most computing tasks. But when it
fails, even a tiny little bit, the words of Robbie
the Robot come to mind: "Danger, Will Robinson!"
If the "map" gets corrupted, a new file might be
written over segments belonging to an existing file,
or existing files might find they're missing the
data from some sectors. Bad news. (This is why
it's rarely a good idea to stop ScanDisk or
equivalent low-level disk repair utilities that are
trying to find or repair such a glitch.)
This brings me to my generic concern, that our
storage systems are getting SO large and SO complex
that even today, it's a rare human who can untangle
and repair a corrupted disk drive if and when it
A Look Back.
At the dawn of microcomputers back in the early
1980s, I had a system that used 8-inch floppies
(which really were "floppy"), since hard disks were
virtually unattainable. At that time, all of the
sectors of a file had to be in-order, right next to
each other (contiguous), on the disk. Very simple,
but it meant that you always had to have enough
contiguous free space to hold the entire file you
wanted to store; if you'd already created and erased
or edited several files, your disk could easily be
fragmented enough that you couldn't save a new file,
even if the entire amount of free space on the disk
was sufficient (there was no single free area that
was large enough). So "defragmenting" these disks
was a necessary and constant task.
The only problem was that these
early defragmenting utilities were very stupid (and
resource-constrained), and defragmented in-place,
meaning that if the process was interrupted or
failed, the data on the disk was left as scrambled
eggs. Of course, that's exactly what happened to
one of my disks that contained a rather important
file. Gone. Zapped. Dead. (And now you know why
I've taken "backups" so seriously in subsequent
Happily, back then the on-disk structure was simple
enough that I could write a sector-level editor that
allowed me to read each sector of this hundred-or-so
page file, and manually reassemble them into the
original document. It took a week, but I
succeeded. (And since this was my wife's Thesis,
succeeding was a Very Good Thing.)
Today, even though it is
"possible" (and some businesses do this form of data
recovery -- for a price), the outcome could well be
Today's on-disk structures do contain more
redundancy, and use other tricks to make such
low-level recovery unnecessary most of the time.
But imagine if the IceCube (or similar) concept
moves forward: what happens when that one tiny,
miniscule, unanticipated event happens, and your
business' (or your government's, or your own)
petabyte of data becomes scrambled? No manual
process is likely to ever save such a situation, and
even the best disk-recovery software is only a tool
that may help. The integrity of mass storage
subsystems MUST be fail-proof.
Just a "failsafe" thought, for when you design or
purchase the increasingly business-critical mass
storage systems of today, and of tomorrow...
Back to Table of Contents
Orange & Floppy Redux -- Last
issue, we explored the improbable but
after-the-fact-obvious concept that there's little
different between an orange, and the software on a
Which caused reader Jeff Martin to direct us to a
quote from Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker"
supports this same concept in an intriguing way:
"It is raining instructions out there; it's
raining programs; it's raining tree-growing,
fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor,
it is the plain truth. It couldn't be any plainer if
it were raining floppy discs."
Amazingly, he first published this in 1986!
idea, of considering the code at the heart of DNA in
ways similar to the code at the heart of our
computers, is powerful. So powerful, that I expect
it will likely change our world FAR more than the
first generation of computer code. Dramatically.
And look how far just that FIRST generation
of code has taken us...
Higher, And Lower -- What's
higher than a cell phone tower but lower than a Low
Earth Orbit Satellite (LEOS), yet performs the same
function? In this case, it's the "Stratellite," a
262-foot diameter spherical airship that is intended
to float serenely at 62,000 feet in a mesh of
airborne telecommunications platforms.
According to the Dec. 16 Toronto Star
"21st Century Airships" of Newmarket, Ontario
has received a $36 million contract from U.S. firms
Telesphere Communications and Sanswire Technologies
2002/303/news5.html) to place ten of
these platforms in the air -- during 2004 -- to
provide cell phone and Internet coverage across the
U.S. and into both Mexico and Canada (instead of the
14,000 traditional cell phone towers, at a cost of
$123 million, that would be required for similar
[I'm more than a little skeptical of the first
article's implication that ten platforms, even at
62,000 feet, will provide full-continent coverage.
What could the footprint of a 62,000 foot "tower" be
-- perhaps several hundred miles? But perhaps they
meant these ten airships as only the first step
along that continent-wide road...]
Interestingly, because the helium keeps the airship
(and its 4,400 pound telecommunications payload)
aloft without expending energy, a VW diesel engine
plus solar cells provide all the motive power
needed, so it's anticipated that each airship can
remain on-station for about a year before coming
down for maintenance and refueling.
If their vision does work out, imagine how this will
change the rules on current telecom companies. And
also on our expectations of "anywhere, anywhen"
communications. This could be most interesting...
Back to Table of
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Back to Table of Contents
Having just experienced the
2002 holiday season where I spent some time mulling
over the (relative) simplicity of computing only 20
years ago, my mind then took the logical leap to
wonder how TWENTY MORE years of
technology's exponential growth might change the
holiday season of that year. Will ANYTHING
under the Christmas tree, and beyond, be the same?
Serendipitously, Ian Pearson of
BT Exact Technologies
whose extrapolations into future probabilities have
my greatest respect, has just addressed this very
topic in "The Future of Christmas, 2020-Style,"
. With his kind permission, this article is
reproduced below for your thought-provoking
The Future of
by Ian Pearson, BT Exact Technologies
Christmas is a Christian festival - a time of
celebration and merriment, a time for sharing with
family and friends, a time for giving and receiving
presents and a time of great excitement for millions
of children. It is unlikely that this will change.
What will change is the detail. Imagine Christmas
in the far future. Many of the things in this
article will be ready by 2020, and certainly all of
it will be feasible by 2050 at the very latest.
are having a turkey dinner, synthetic of course, as
most people will be vegetarians by 2020. We won't
need to eat real turkeys any more, we'll be able to
synthesise turkey meat by using genetically modified
bacteria, much more humane. Basically, we will just
put some ingredients into a machine and out comes
mass produced turkey at the other end.
Nanotechnology could do this too around then -
biotech and nanotech may use very similar
techniques. We will understand the molecular
processes needed to convert raw materials into
turkey sufficiently well to make a good replica by
then, with none of the ethical quibbles involved in
conventional turkey farming. The same goes for any
other ingredients that we need for the meal. For a
change, Dad has put the meal together instead of the
household robot, just for old time's sake. He did
have some assistance from the various information
systems, giving him real time instructions and
monitoring the cooking to make sure all goes well.
Reaching Out and Touching.
kitchen walls are screen lined, and to give a more
traditional Christmassy feel, the displays now make
the kitchen look like a setting from a Dickens
novel. The kids' grandparents are there too, on the
screen, with similar screens in their own houses.
Even though they live on a different continent, they
can all virtually share the same table for the
dinner, just as lifelike as if they were all
together. The traditional family arguments caused by
seeing too much of each other over Christmas are
missing though. With telepresence, you see just
enough of your family. Tomorrow will be a new day.
A Doll's Life (Really!)
kids have a great time with their presents after
dinner while mum and dad try to have a nap. The girl
got a Furby for Christmas, one of the latest genetic
engineering fashions. They have cute personalities,
never show aggression, and are easy to look after,
the ideal toy for a five-year old. It is already
getting on well with the red and yellow striped cat
they bought last year. She also got a new Barbie
doll. It walks around, behaves just like a miniature
human being, with all the intelligence and abilities
of a human blonde. She is already spending half her
time chatting to Ken from next door on her
doll's-house video-wall. Her invention was something
of a headache for the ethics committees, who
insisted on various rules that the manufacturers had
to conform to. Barbie thus sees being a doll as her
role in life, has no pain receptors, strictly
limited emotional capability, and has her mind
continuously backed up on the network so that she
can be repaired in case of abuse. Her 5-year-old
owner can watch the world through Barbie's video
camera eyes in a virtual environment, so the toy
overlaps both the physical and cyberspace worlds.
She and her friends have orchestrated an entire
virtual soap, with their dolls all having complex
pseudo-social lives that involve other dolls,
software entities, and real people. Few of the
parents understand what their kids are up to, they
are from a much simpler age when dolls were dolls
and people were people.
NBIC And 'The Interface.'
can interact with the entire smart environment in
the street through her arm interface. This uses the
latest active skin technology. It started years ago
with the first video tattoos, but quickly progressed
to active make-up, skin based consumer electronics,
and eventually nerve links. Plastic keyboards are
very passé; the combination of finger-top tracking
and inbuilt sensor pads now allows all the interface
to be either in the skin or floating in free space
on a virtual controller. When Barbie interacts with
her dolls house, the girl can feel Barbie's feelings
via the haptic sensory link.
One Toy, To Bind Them All...
older brother got Micro-Mechano, the latest
construction toy. This is a fractal metal toy, made
of cubes made of smaller cubes made of even smaller
cubes. They can all slide across each other,
rearranging to make any shape the boy can design,
all fully dynamic of course. Various chemical
cartridges are included and a micro-assembler allows
a wide range of other materials to be fabricated.
The Robodyne Nanotechnology Corporation that makes
it, is one of the largest on the planet. This year
their intelligence module is great! It is programmed
to extract whatever knowledge is necessary from the
superhighway to assist in the construction of almost
Matrix (the all-pervasive network intelligence)
ensures nothing illegal is constructed and
supervises the actions of the resultant
constructions so that no-one can come to any harm.
Its software is confined in a secure virtual machine
- earlier terrorist attempts to crash the networks
using peer to peer networks and evolution engines
made such precautions essential. Software can now
only be run within national boundaries of the
country of fabrication, unless it has passed strict
interactive quarantine sessions.
boy has already made two armies of tiny soldiers
that are slugging it out on the kitchen floor. One
follows the strategy he worked out; the other
follows his friend's strategy. With all the
miniature tanks, planes and missile launchers, it
looks very realistic. Just like his sister, he can
take part in these battles in a virtual environment.
an active skin implant a couple of years ago that
replaced the ancient active contact lenses his
parents still use. Images are written at high
resolution straight onto his retina via corneal
embedded surface-emitting lasers and micromirrors.
He can also record anything he sees continuously on
his memory belt, again through the corneal skin
implants. Next year he is hoping his parents will
let him have the full-body sensory collection
onplants, with carbon nanotube connections to his
nervous system collecting and recording every
sensation he feels, 24/7. His parents can't afford
Into New Realms.
and Dad are now well rested, thanks to their noise
cancellation and alpha-wave induction sets. Mum
tried out the interactive dreamer she just got. This
uses a combination of emotion detection and thought
recognition technology to figure out what she is
dreaming, and then uses active contact lenses and
earphones to put images and sounds into this
setting. It is like a cross between virtual reality
and lucid dreaming, and is superbly good fun. Her
dream knight has just rescued her on his white
charger. The main difference between this dreaming
and the more traditional variety is that the Knight
that just rescued her is in fact a guy from another
country, who is also plugged in and dreaming away.
Network based telepathy is commonplace in many areas
of life in 2050. This dream interaction feels quite
real, and is based on real human minds, not
synthetic, though they will probably never meet in
reality. Sadly, the charger was synthetic. These
mental-space relationships are much more fun than
the old-fashioned cyberspace variety!
just wants some good old-fashioned sleep.
Parties, The Easy Way.
they wake up, it is time to get ready for the party.
Almost all of the organising has been done by the
Matrix, so they ask it who is coming, what time the
food is arriving and when to expect the guests. The
public transportation systems have already scheduled
their collection. The pod will arrive any minute
now. About the only matter they have to worry about
is what to wear.
kids go out to their friends, Mum and Dad are quite
happy that they will be well supervised by the
Parties, (And You!), The Way
You Want It.
supposed to be an informal nostalgic do so Dad puts
on his old video T-shirt. But mum says he reminds
her of Tinky Winky, so he settles instead for the
new suit made of reactive fabric. This continuously
monitors the transmissions from emotion badges and
uses micro-actuators to stimulate his skin
accordingly. The old fashioned hug when someone has
come in the door takes rather too much effort but he
still feels it when one of the guests think a
pleasant thought about him. It all helps avoid the
embarrassment of actually being seen playing with
someone you shouldn't. The emotion badges all talk
to each other and pair people off with others that
are likely to be exciting companions for the
evening, making sure no-one is left out. The badges
pick up thoughts quite accurately most of the time.
This pairing off is greatly enhanced by the active
lenses that are able to overlay the real world with
synthetic images, so that the person you have been
paired with can look like whatever you want them to
people with full active skin enhancement don't
bother much with real relationships any more, they
live almost all the time in a totally synthetic
world where real relationships are too low quality
to be worth bothering with. When synthetic
personalities are based on AI with six figure IQs,
and are available as cosmetic personality surgery to
those with enough money, society has become a
two-tier affair, with the elite inhabiting an
enhanced world with better people, better bodies,
better friends, in better environments. There is no
going back. Only ordinary people still have to
bother with the limitations of the physical world,
with all the mental hang-ups and mess in the
un-enhanced human social world.
NBIC + Fashion.
has chosen a shimmering dress that constantly
changes colour, making beautifully designed
patterns, but he doesn’t dare suggest that she
resembles a cuttlefish. This provides a beautiful
background for her new active tattoo of a butterfly.
She finishes her outfit with multimedia jewellery
that changes colour, shape and sound according to
how she is feeling. She puts on her make-up using
the smart mirror that shows her a digitally enhanced
image of her face, showing her options until she
decides how she wants to look when finished. Having
selected one, it guides her through the make-up by
had decided to use this makeup only because it was a
nostalgia party. Her usual makeup is fully self-organising
and context sensitive. Chips in the environment and
on her person provide data on social context,
personality profile emotional state. Makeup uses the
latest nanosomes to create the correct appearance
according to where she is, who she is talking to,
how she feels, and what image she is hoping to
present. It is all electronically controlled. All
she has to do is apply it, the manufacturers sort
out the appearance remotely via the network.
like at dinner time, a few guests can only attend in
video form. Alongside them, a synthetic band plays
on a synthetic stage that is all just the video
wallpaper, but the music is composed in real time by
the Matrix. The mixture has been chosen according to
the tastes of the people present, so that all of
them like most of it, and it continuously adapts to
the mood throughout the party. The food was
negotiated by the guests' agents well in advance. It
is all a bit like Woody Allen's 'Sleeper', and yes,
the Orgasmatron is there too, directly stimulating
the septal area to create the ultimate pleasure.
Instant Replay. And To All
party goes well, everyone enjoys themselves, and
their experiences have all been recorded by the
Matrix, ready for enhancing their next interactive
dream. Time for bed!
----- End of
the Article -----
Now that you've read the Ian's
consider: Is this Science Fiction? Or does it
describe a virtual certainty, given the increasing
rate of innovation over the next twenty years?
If you can't imagine that these
changes could become real, try this experiment. Set
your personal WayBack machine to 1981, the year that
the IBM PC was introduced, and try to envision what
is commonplace today. Then, consider how the
growing convergence of Nanotechnology, Biology and
medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive
sciences (NBIC) is beginning to demonstrate the same
type of exponential growth, yet across a broad range
of fields that will intertwine and generate
unexpected solar prominences of innovation.
Now -- does "Christmas, 2020
Style" still seem that improbable...?
Back to Table of Contents
Finally, as described by this
excerpt from the Jan. 8 NewsScan Daily and a related
Reuters article (http://www.newsscan.com/cgi-bin/findit_view?
cell phone usage in Italy is now going, well, 'out
of this world...'
ITALY OPENS THE DOOR TO HIGH-TECH RELIGION
"Italians can now find spiritual advice and comfort
just by checking their cell phones several times a
day. The country's largest mobile phone operator,
TIM, has launched a service to offer customers SMS
(text messaging) services featuring "the prayer of
the day," "saint of the day" or "gospel of the day."
The service costs about 15 cents for each message --
a new twist on the concept of pennies from heaven.
In addition, a number of Italian Web sites offer
religious-oriented content, including "Angels
online," which explains everything you ever wanted
to know about the 72 angels and archangels, and
includes a section on "The contract with your
Meanwhile, the Vatican Web site, which made a splash
when it debuted in 1997, is powered by three host
computers named after angels -- Raphael, Michael and
I wonder if God has a cell
phone -- yet...
"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.
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