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

 

Just A Matter Of Perspective...

March 10, 2003
 

  • Listen to this Issue.
       You can give your eyes a rest.

  • Quote of the Week.
       Teleportation, now and then.

  • Future CPUs...
       CPUs of a very different kind.

  • There's MORE I Can Do For You!
       Check out these other service that I offer to your business!

  • From Out of the Ether...
       The world of 2020 - closing out our discussions.

  • Fight With Light?
       Light fights?  They're already real!

  • New USB Peripherals?
       The dramatic flexibility of the now-ubiquitous connectors.

  • A Bit Too Far?
       Powering-up homes within homes...

  • About "The Harrow Technology Report"


  • Listen to this Issue.

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    Back to Table of Contents


    Quote of the Week.

     

    "'With today's technology, only very elementary objects can be teleported,' said Gisin.  'Possibly, larger objects like a molecule will be teleported in my life-time, but really large objects are not teleportable using foreseeable technologies.'

    Scientists say there is simply too much information in a human that needs to be teleported to make this technology applicable.

    'The key thing for now is the sheer amount of information involved,' said Braunstein. 'Even with the best communication channels we could conceive of at the moment, transferring all that info would take the age of the universe.'"

    Nicholas Gisin, Physicist, Univ. of Geneva, and
    Samuel Braunstein, Professor of Infomatics, Univ. of Wales at Bangor.
    From the Jan. 29 National Geographic News
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/
    2003/01/0129_030129_teleport.html

    (Brought to our attention by reader Dana Hoggatt)

    We may see teleportation move to molecules, as predicted.  And the thought of transmitting the "data of a human" might well still seem "impossible" at that time.  Yet I remember all too well when the fastest that we could transmit data over a phone line was 10 characters per second, or 19,200 bits/second over a direct connection between two side-by-side computers.  The thought of transmitting a detailed color digital picture at that time was similarly "impossible," yet it's commonplace today.

    When I graphed the commonly-available end-user data rates from those days of 110 baud modems through today, I found (to my surprise) that the speed at which we can communicate has been growing at an exponential rate.  So long as that rate of growth continues, I can conceive that the day will come when transmitting the information of "a human" might have the negligible impact of Emailing a picture, today.

    This might not transpire, of course.  But I suggest that now that the idea of teleportation has been proven and demonstrated (if only for miniscule bits so far), the idea of Star Trek's Transporter has moved from the realm of "sci fi" into the realm of the "merely difficult." 

    I recall when, just after 9600 baud modems were introduced, a respected modem engineer advised me that "THIS was the time to buy," since he could mathematically prove that data could not be transmitted over the phone line any faster.  And he was right.  But he failed to take into account that human ingenuity would find ways to pack more than one bit of information into each bit actually transmitted.  It may sound like smoke and mirrors, but it works -- which is why modems are five-times faster today. 

    That's one example of why I believe so strongly that human innovation can do almost anything, given the desire, time, and resources (or sometimes just a lucky break.)

    I would not bet on anything being "impossible" -- as with the modem, it's sometimes just a matter of perspective.

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Future CPUs...

     

    There are many possibilities for our future CPU.  Some follow the route of ever-refined silicon.  Others plan to crunch numbers with light.  And still other techniques, as recently improved by Israeli scientists at the Weizmann Institute (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/
    2003/02/0224_030224_DNAcomputer.html)
    , plan to use the stuff of life itself -- DNA -- to provide massively parallel and powerful computing for tasks that lend themselves to this type of calculation.  (With thanks to readers Dana Hoggatt, Ken Lacrosse, Dave Hammond, and others.)

    But it's not just the incredibly small size of these DNA computing devices that's so fascinating (one-trillion of them can fit into a drop of water; a "spoonful" holds "15-thousand-trillion computers"); it's also that these scientists have arranged it so that the DNA actually provides the power to do the calculations!  (They do this by breaking the bonds between the two strands of the DNA helix, thereby releasing sufficient energy.)

    It's also a very different way of thinking about "computing:"

    "Think of DNA as software, and enzymes as hardware. Put them together in a test tube. The way in which these molecules undergo chemical reactions with each other allows simple operations to be performed as a byproduct of the reactions. The scientists tell the devices what to do by controlling the composition of the DNA software molecules. It's a completely different approach to pushing electrons around a dry circuit in a conventional computer."

    "Once the input, software, and hardware molecules are mixed in a solution, it operates to completion without intervention."

    There's hope and expectation that the day will come when our bodies will be "patrolled" by specialized DNA devices that monitor what's going on, and then resolve anything they find amiss.   After all -- the DNA would feel right at home...

    (You may also find another article about DNA, in the Feb. 25 New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/25/science/25HELI.html), of interest.)

    DNA computing is still very much in its infancy -- just as silicon computing was perhaps thirty-years ago.  Yet it represents a very good example of the things that lie ahead, driven by the ingenuity of the men and women who refuse to take "impossible" for an answer -- those who consistently explore the frontiers in so many odd and seemingly improbable directions, only to find ways to change almost everything...

    So again, Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


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    From Out of the Ether...

     

    Early this year we explored Ian Person's view of how technology may have changed the holiday season in 2020 (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20030120/20030120.htm#_Toc30679045)
    .  We followed this up with a selection of your comments on the subject (at http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20030202/20030202.htm#_Toc31869178)
    , and in this issue we finish this discussion with an alternate, articulate viewpoint from reader Mark Poole:

    Jeff,

    A few issues back, you asked for feedback about the 2020 Christmas. While some of those things are neat and probable, I don't know if all are desirable. In response I have created my own 2020 wish list for the world.

    Here is what I want from future-tech; most are about giving me back the major thing that has been taken away in our quest for better, cheaper, smaller:   Time.   Some are about removing the middleman. None of these are new, and some are here now or just about ready. I am simply telling you what would be tops on my list for development:

    1)  To be able to do work from anywhere on the surface of the planet and be connected in a wireless fashion for a flat fee. This means full videoconferencing with avatars in a virtual environment, or with full sensory telepresence in the real one (I could bulldoze a construction site in Minnesota while sailing on a catamaran in the Caribbean). Think of the reduction of pollutants and stress by not having our major highways clogged with traffic for the daily commute? The increase of "quality time" by removing that 1.5 hour round trip to the "office" for millions of people around the globe every working day would be incalculable.

    2)  To have domestic devices that clean the home. Start with floors & carpets. To extend this further I would love something that tidies up and dusts, washes windows, clears the dinner table, loads dishwasher and puts the dishes away. Paramount is a domestic robot that could wash clothes, then fold and hang them. And if it could clean out the cat litter box, mow the lawn, clean the pool and take out the garbage I would be ecstatic. I would pay in the neighborhood of $20 grand for such a thing, as long as it had at least a 5-year life that included maintenance. 

    The automatic clothes washers and dryers made a huge improvement in the daily lives of women (a fact of life from that era, no sexist branding please) when they were first developed. They reduced the time to do this domestic chore by a huge degree. Now dishwashers help, but I still want to remove all of the chores associated with keeping the domicile clean to automata. I know that some people do employ "domestics" -- people who perform these tasks today. But I do not want another human being to have to waste their potential in these mundane duties. The "food replicator" idea is nice, but if I could remove all the other chores then I would have the time to devote to cooking my own healthy meals with my family.

    3)  Children worldwide being taught via the same affordable immersive technology described in #1, above.  You have had articles describing disposable printed cell phones, I am sure that in two decades the technology to provide a realistic immersive experience will be so cheap it could be distributed to ALL children at a nominal cost. With school infrastructures being neglected in this and other countries, the return on this investment would far outweigh the initial expense. With the use of intelligent agents and electronic and human mentors, the quality of education should result in an exponential increase in the students' abilities.  They would still meet for sports & other "real life" social activities. 

    There will be obvious social, religious and despotic hurdles to overcome before this could be a reality for all children. But there are minor technological hurdles that stand in the way of making this a reality for those who are "allowed" to use it.

    4)  Transportation "pods."  The Family SUV needs to be rethought. Every day as my commuter bus zooms along, I look out at these 6 and 8 passenger vehicles with a single driver occupant and wonder "why?" I think a lot of it is because they need to ferry the kids about due to after-school actives, Bobby to French lessons and Susie to soccer. So the parents are now taxi-drivers; shuttling back and forth. There is a balancing act as to what the kids can take because of the limitations of how many activities the Dad can shuttle the kids about in an afternoon. The kids are 8 years old and can't drive themselves, and you are not going to call a taxi, plop your kid in the back seat, and wave goodbye for obvious security reasons.

    But with totally robot-controlled transportation pods that hold 1 - 2 passengers, the kids could zip off to their respective activities for a reasonable fee. The parent would schedule these activities and the pod would only deliver the kids to the destinations allowed, in safety and comfort.  Also, if a kid was off somewhere and got stranded, he/she could always summon one of these pods and be assured it would deliver them straight home. If the pod became disabled, it could summon another, or if it felt it was under threat, it could button-down and call the authorities, sending streaming video of the event.

    I know there are many technological and social hurdles to overcome, but having a secure method to transport our children to controlled destinations would be a huge timesaver for the parents, and a big benefit for the kids. They could go to a party at a friend's home while we can finish our painting or sculpture classes, instead of us polishing our taxi-driving skills.  Using the same technology, we could also increase the efficiency of our existing highway infrastructure by relinquishing driver control to machines. This will not be an easy sell. Probably my least acceptable proposal.

    5)  High-speed Mag-Lev passenger rail, using the existing rail corridors or the median between our interstate highways. Bullet trains are here now. We need to make the commitment to use them. Air travel should really be for international, overseas, or coast-to-coast travel.

    6)  Battery storage technology and solar power. If we had put just a fraction of the trillions of dollars pumped into nuclear energy programs into these two technologies, then most of us would be powering our individual homes with solar. We wouldn't have suffered the Enron price-fixing debacle or the scandal that California got hit with a few years ago.

    Today, a good chunk of the generated energy is lost in its creation and transmission; the waste is enormous, as is the volume of pollutants. We have dependence on fossil fuels and aging nuclear generators to satisfy the largest part or our energy diet. If we could get solar efficiencies up slightly and reduce the cost through mass production, we could create far more than we currently consume.

    If battery technology could be enhanced, we could store the excess for "rainy days."  No more news reports of thousands of homes darkened due to some weather event.  If the batteries are light and cheap enough, then electric cars could be a reality. Suddenly the power struggle and dependence on foreign sources of energy would be removed from the equation. Not just for the United States, but for all countries where there is a reasonable amount of average solar activity. Then, wind, hydro and tidal power generation could take up much of the slack, as geothermal does now in Iceland. Coal strip-mining and oil spills can be phased down.  (I am too much of a realist to say phased "out" in 20 or even 50 years, but it's possible.)

    Well, that is my short-list. Nothing earth-shattering.  Stuff we can almost do now, or know that we could do. Things that I know could be done in two to five decades if we really put some effort into it.

    Thanks for listening and for keeping me abreast of the latest developments. Your articles stimulate my thinking in so many ways. Keep them coming, please.


    Thank you, Mark.  I'd like to see much of that happen myself.

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Fight With Light?

     

    It may be called a "laser" rather than a "phaser," but as I read an article from MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.com/news/831012.asp), it certainly sounded like a baby version of the Enterprise's famous weapon. 

    The Army, it seems, has now used an experimental mobile laser to destroy a supersonic artillery shell in-flight, preventing any harm to the shell's target.  According to Lt. General Joseph Cosumano,

    "Tactical high-energy lasers have the capacity to change the face of the battlefield."

    Image - a laser that has destroyed a supersonic artilery shell in-flight -  http://a799.g.akamai.net/3/799/388/2b007a04bb9707/www.msnbc.com/news/1686054.jpg

    This weapon system is (apparently) still a long way from making it to the battlefield, yet scientists seem likely to keep extending its capabilities -- consider that they are already looking to extend a laser's ability to destroy ICBM warheads both outside of and within the atmosphere!

    Of course this, like so many promising ideas, may never make it, er, off the ground, but it does seem as if science fiction authors are going to have to come up with ideas newer than "phasers."  Which naturally will spark the NEXT scientists to tackle THOSE ideas -- and to "make them so!"

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    New USB Peripherals?

     

    It's taken several years, but it's now very hard to find a PC or notebook that does not have one or more USB connectors.  Especially with the upgraded "USB 2.0" now spreading (which raises USB's bandwidth from 12 megabits/second to 480 megabits/second), this interface lets most of us forget the not-very-long-ago horrors of adding peripherals to our systems. 

    (Note that an upgrade to "FireWire," also known by the user-friendly name "IEEE 1394b," is the other contender for your higher-speed peripheral connections (digital video, etc.), and it's now upping its speed from an original 480 megabits/second, to 800 megabits/second to remain the speed leader of the pack.)

    It's the ubiquity and the flexibility of such interfaces that makes them so useful.  But -- can flexibility go too far?

    Look carefully at this picture, brought to our attention by reader Richard Meyer: 

    Image - USB-powered toothbrush - http://www.watch.impress.co.jp/akiba/hotline/20030222/image/tooth1.jpg

    The site's in Japanese (http://www.watch.impress.co.jp/akiba/
    hotline/20030222/etc_habrashi.html)
    so I have to guess.  Let's see, a USB powered-toothbrush might be valuable when you're camping in the wilderness with only a notebook for power (but we won't go down that paradoxical and improbable trail.)  Or perhaps the computer will keep track of how well you actually brush each tooth, and then wirelessly advises your dentist.  Or...

    But why let it stand there?  How about, as pointed out by the Feb. 28 issue of "Mike's List" (http://www.mikeslist.com/57.htm), a USB-powered "hot mug" to keep your computer-side coffee warm?  (http://www.dct-net.co.jp/special/usb_hot.html)  Or perhaps a small USB-powered warming blanket, in case your feet or lap gets cold while computing through the night?  (http://www.mib.co.jp/products/ohizamoto.html)

    The fly in this ointment, however, is that a USB port can supply only a small amount, 2.5 watts, of power (500 milliamps at 5 volts according to http://computer.howstuffworks.com/usb.htm/printable), while FireWire provides a still relatively small 12 - 45 watts for comparison - http://www.circuitprotection.com/techpapers/1394Firewire.pdf).  So I do wonder just how warm your lap or coffee could be kept.  Nevertheless, they're novel and cute ideas, even if perhaps impractical.

    But you decide!  (Me?  I'll bring an antiquarian toothbrush of the un-powered kind...)

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    A Bit Too Far?

     

    Finally, television sets have certainly proliferated, often showing up in several rooms in each house.  But so far, they've been relegated to homes in PEOPLES' homes.

    But now, thanks to Sharp and Tokyo toy-maker Takara, DOLLS' HOMES are about to be furnished with 1.5-inch, fully-operating TVs, complete with adjustable volume and channels, and even "video recording capability," according to the Feb. 19 SiliconValley.com (http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/5214195.htm).  This tiny TV will cost the dolls who live there, or the doll's owner (or the doll's owner's parents) $166 each, and it looks like they'll (initially, at least) only be available in Japan.

    I hope the dolls enjoy their entertainment.  And I have to wonder if the doll's little owner will restrict what the doll can watch, based on any parental restrictions put on her. 

    (Or, if the doll's TV might give her a way around HER TV viewing restrictions!  I remember hearing about a young teenager who convinced her mother to let her sign up for one of the popular online services, even though the mother was skeptical about the "safety" and appropriateness of the material available.  So the teenager established the account with her mother's consent, and as agreed, the mother explored herself for the first week.  Finding nothing particularly offensive, the mother gave it a clean bill of health and let the teen have unfettered access.  At which point the teen disabled the "parental controls" she had set...)

    But back to dolls and their own TVs, this might well get out of hand -- could this set a foul precedent, that we're expected to provide our toys with toys?  What happens when we eventually have domestic robots -- will they demand similar accoutrements?   Might they unionize if we don't provide them?

    From such seemingly little acorns, huge (sometimes ugly) trees do sometimes grow...

     


    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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