The Harrow Technology Report

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.


NBIC Perspectives.

June 16, 2003

  • Listen to this Issue.
       Give your eyes a rest, with the Web's
        longest-running regular 'technology' "Radio" show.
  • Quote of the Week.
       What goes around, comes around.
  • A Different Kind of "Thinker."
       What it takes to get OUT of the 'box'!
  • Tag, You're It!
       It's far from just a kids' game, anymore!
  • There's MUCH More I Can Do For You!
       Presentations & consulting on what we discuss here, and more!
  • The Beginnings Of A New Type Of Computer?
       Just a hint of the changes ahead.
  • A Real Nano-Treat!
       What is all this "nano stuff"?  See for yourself!
  • Fifty-One Percent.
       You won't like it, and you already know this to be the case.
  • It's All In The Game.
       Some "games" have become bound by national "weapons" laws; here's why.
  • The Dangers Of Computer Viruses!
       Viruses are bad.  We all know this.  But THIS bad???
  • About "The Harrow Technology Report."

  • Listen to this Issue.

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    Quote of the Week.


    "Never let the future disturb you.

    You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons
     of reason which today arm you against the present."


    That sounds like reasonable advice, given the double-exponential growth of some of today's key technologies and the "hyper-change" that we all have to deal with in our personal and professional lives.  (Not only are these technologies improving exponentially, but the RATE of improvement is itself accelerating!)

    Someone recently asked me if we were getting to the point that future generations will be able to assimilate and benefit from the results of this ever-growing, ever-faster, technology base.  Or, if new technologies will come out SO fast, doing SO many new things SO much better every year, that many will be overlooked due to the technological noise. 

    If you have kids though, you know the answer. 

    Today's technology may be overwhelming to many of our parents, and the "VCR clock syndrome" even affects many of our generation.  But our kids easily, eagerly, take it all in stride. 

    They consume the technologies without the slightest surprise ("You mean you really had to go to the LIBRARY to do homework?  And had to WRITE LETTERS to people who moved away?"), and they're constantly pushing out and stretching the technologies ever-faster. 

    As will their kids.

    And theirs'.

    I rather expect that this cycle will continue unabated -- BECAUSE THIS QUESTION HAS ALREADY BEEN DEBATED FOR CENTURIES!  Today's quote at the beginning of this article, you see, came from Marcus Aurelius in "Meditations," written almost two thousand years ago when the Romans were suffering from their own burgeoning technologies -- not electronics, but military and civil engineering, and more.  (

    Don't Blink!


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    A Different Kind of "Thinker."


    Some people just "get it;" in this case it was Geoff Walton of Sun Life Financial (U.S.). 

    Following a presentation I recently gave to many Sun Life senior financial officers (see, Geoff, myself, and others were exploring some of the consequences of the new convergence of NBIC*, when someone in the group brought up how lawn mowers might "grow up" to become more automatic, or robotic. 

    We tossed around an increasingly complex set of requirements, such as how the mower would power itself, how it would navigate and remain bounded to the places we want mowed, and more.  We were just about to begin exploring the safety issue (a tendency towards gobbling up flowerbeds or pets or kids would limit their acceptance), when Geoff, who aside from working with computers also holds a degree in genetics, quietly asked these magic words:

    "Why don't we genetically engineer the grass so it doesn't NEED to be cut?"


    Changing The Question, And The Rules.

    We all froze, floored.  The rest of us had been diligently exploring this issue by thinking "WITHIN the box,"  while Geoff took a small step sideways that might ultimately move the noisy mechanical grass cutting contraptions of today into history's junk bin.  (While, incidentally, wiping out a non-trivial industry in the same way that the best buggy whip manufacturers disappeared with the adoption of the automobile, and London's famed "messenger boys" were marginalized by the telephone.)  

    Oh certainly, Geoff's isn't a new idea; seed companies have been trying for years using the refined learnings from Gregor Mendel and his experiments on peas (  But we're going to find out that compared to today's methods of selective breeding for specific traits, the genetic engineering techniques that we're beginning to learn from the convergence of the NBIC[*] fields will make today's methods seem like grossly carving designs into tree trunks with chain saws!!

    Geoff's question completely changed the rules of the discussion, and I suggest that it is JUST this type of "sideways," or "outside the box" thinking that will allow individuals and companies to bypass their competitors as ever-more powerful ideas, techniques, and tools emerge from NBIC* research. 


    Changing Education, To Facilitate The Changes.

    But it's particularly salient to note that of those of us taking part in this discussion, it took someone who happened to be versed in TWO of the elements of NBIC (Biology & medicine and Information Sciences) to make this (obvious to him!) connection! 

    Over the past twenty years, it was people (or companies) with expertise in two or more of the elements of the first Convergence (the coming together of Computing, Communications, Content, and Consumer Electronics) that demonstrated the greatest ability to make hidden connections across these previously separate fields, and so generate killer ideas and products.  (Check out the diverse areas of expertise in many successful startups). 

    Similarly, I believe that over the next years it's those with expertise ACROSS the previously disparate NBIC* fields that will be best able to see the possibilities, make the connections, and define the paths as every NBIC* component field bubbles up its own myriad new developments and opportunities! 

    I believe that people trained in this cross-field manner will be the "New Renaissance Men and Women" who will make the greatest difference -- who will see the veiled shortcuts that will enable them to more quickly reach valued destinations -- who will find "of course" ways to meld the results of NBIC* research in new ways that will change -- virtually everything. 

    Yet this isn't how we traditionally educate people; some would say that today's higher-educational methods, instead, foster deep and focused expertise at the expense of "breadth."  So I challenge our educators -- can you see the benefits of such "broad thinkers" in this age of NBIC* advances?  Can you begin turning out such thinkers by intent, rather then as a matter of "accident"?  And will Industry recognize, and appropriately compensate, such individuals?    

    Our collective future rests in your (our!) hands.  And the benefits to all of us, especially to the companies and nations that do this first and best, will be -- enormous.

    Again, Don't Blink!!


    Back to Table of Contents

    Tag, You're It!


    At least you may be "tagged" in Europe, if talks between Hitachi and the European Central Bank as reported in the May 23 Yahoo! Headlines ( prove true -- it seems that grain-of-sand sized RFID Tags (Radio Frequency IDentification) are under consideration for each and every Euro banknote!

    As with most forms of technology, this could be both a good and bad thing.  On the good side, this could help stem the tide of counterfeiting, and make it trivial for merchants to determine if a bill is authentic.  It would also make the automated counting of bills a snap. 

    According to the article, these read/write RFID tags can also retain a history of the details of each transaction that their host Euro bill passes through (there is conflicting information as to the ability to write to these RFID tags after production, so this claim is still suspect).  Nevertheless, even read-only tags that authenticate the bill's serial number, its value, and its place and date of production would play havoc with money laundering, and with being paid in cash for any illegal transaction, once most cash drawers contained readers that reported back to a central data collection facility. 

    Yet on the "bad" side of the fence, this could also be a further significant erosion of personal privacy.  Especially since technologies, such as the ability to create inexpensive organic plastic transistors far smaller than before (and hence potentially usable for more complex and capable RFID-type tags at far lower cost), are evolving through such improbable techniques as "embossing" (

    As always, I'm concerned about these privacy issues, yet I'm pragmatic enough to suspect that once the technology and cost issues are resolved (which Hitachi apparently believes to be the case), the use of such chips in everything from money to clothing to manufactured goods of all types (and to people?) will become as ubiquitous as today's bar codes.  For both good and for ill. 

    Indeed, according to the June 10 Yahoo! News (
    , Wal-Mart "told its top suppliers last week to have all their products "chipped" or tagged with RFID modules," and Microsoft is now working to RFID-enable its business software.

    Given these directions, remember that we will get exactly the type of society (Big Brother wise) that we allow ourselves to create.  The result is up to EACH of us.


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    The Beginnings Of A New Type Of Computer?


    When speaking of things tiny, we're certainly drawn to include the infamous Carbon Nanotubes (hollow, cylindrical, one billionth of a meter in diameter single-molecule tubes that are immensely strong and can act as superconductors or semiconductor, on demand.)  

    Now, according to the June 4 Technology Review (, we're offered some insight into how NBIC* (again, the coming together, or Convergence, of the previously disparate fields of Nanotechnology, Biology & medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences) is beginning to rewrite the rules at even this most fundamental of levels.

    In this case, scientists at Germany's Max Plank Institute have demonstrated through simulation that they can use the inter-atomic and inter-molecular, attractive, "Van Der Waals" force (the same force that allows Geckos to walk on perfectly smooth ceilings and the like, and may soon enable real-life "Spidermen") to cause strands of DNA to self-assemble themselves inside of carbon nanotubes!

    Image - Simulation of carbon nanotube that has "swallowed" a strand of DNA -
    (The carbon nanotube is the green, chicken wire like tube, with the multi-colored DNA strand within.)

    Why is this seemingly "lab-curiosity" significant?  Because these folks anticipate that this could mature into "DNA-modulated electronics in five to ten years."  Which of course would portray today's electronics to be as huge and crude as the mechanical "computers" that predated vacuum tubes!

    Imagine the possibilities.  Because your competition will certainly be doing so!

    Once again, Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents

    A Real Nano-Treat!


    Speaking of carbon nanotubes and other aspects of this emerging billionths-of-a-meter world that promises to change virtually everything, you may find it difficult to visualize how we can see, much less manipulate, things at this scale of atoms.

    Now, however, riding its white steed to the rescue, comes a film called "Nano: The Next Dimension," sponsored by the European Commission to highlight Europe's role in this burgeoning area.  It uses insightful commentary, images, animations, and other techniques to help us understand:

    • atomic visualization and sculpting;
    • molecular self-assembly;
    • the growing of carbon nanotubes (which are 100-times stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight and can conduct electric current with zero loss ("ballistic conduction"));
    • how nanoparticles can be used to detect viruses;
    • and more.

    Look at it this way:

    "The distance from the Earth to the Moon is on the order of a billion meters... The nanodimension is the same thing, but in the opposite direction, taking our immediate environment as the starting point."

    And happily, through one of the profound results of the "first Convergence" (the coming together of computing, communications, content, and consumer electronics) -- the Internet -- you can watch this 26-minute film at your convenience.  It's at , split into four segments in REAL video format (which can also be played back by the free JetAudio player at

    It really is worth watching this movie and gaining some visceral understanding and background of what all this "nano stuff" really means, because this is a major element for the NBIC advancements of the 21st century.  Becoming "nano-aware" today, is akin to becoming computer-savvy in the previous century -- even if it wasn't your specialty, such knowledge would dramatically help you to succeed in the coming world. 

    As is all too often the case, history is about to repeat itself.

    Again (OK, it is getting tiresome this issue, but it still does apply):

    Don't Blink!

    Back to Table of Contents

    Fifty-One Percent.


    Sadly, this statistic will not "shock and awe" any of us, although we "wish it weren't so." 

    According to the June 3 CNET ( and MessageLabs (
    , May of this year marked the first month when workers received more  S-P-A-M  than they did legitimate Email.  According to MessageLabs' CTO Mark Sunner,

    "The volume of s-p-a-m now facing computer users every day has far surpassed the point of being a nuisance and is now causing significant productivity losses and (information technology) costs at businesses across the world."

    According to Microsoft's head of anti-s-p-a-m technology, Ryan Hamlin,

    "... s-p-a-m will likely continue to outpace legitimate e-mail in 2003."

    I'm not one to favor legislation lightly, yet this would seem to be a good candidate.  Tools are helpful, yet they don't (can't?) go far enough without blocking many valid messages (blacklists, where a site gets added to the list and has no viable way of proving its legitimacy and getting off, represent just one example.) 

    Strong (rational!) laws that make it EASY and INEXPENSIVE for those who receive  S-P-A-M  to fight back where it hurts the most (financially), could be a big help in stemming this tide that now doesn't THREATEN to overwhelm the legitimate use of Email, but is actually doing so!  

    Legitimate, opt-in advertising can be welcomed by many people.  This may be naÔve, but why don't these advertisers attempt to 'delight,' rather than to 'harass?'


    Back to Table of Contents

    It's All In The Game.


    It is indeed all in the game, at least when we're talking about what may be the best price/performance hardware in the supercomputer world! 

    Brought to our attention by reader Prabhu Tyakal, a May 26 article in the New York Times (
    explains how the University of Illinois' famous National Center for Supercomputing Applications (they kick-started the Web with the free Mosaic browser) has combined 70 off-the-shelf, two-year-old Sony PlayStation 2s into a Linux-based supercomputer capable of delivering up to "a half-trillion operations per second" --  for a total cost of just $50,000!

    With no engineering modifications, and only physical alterations to the PS2s' cases to gain access to the needed elements and to facilitate rack-mounting and networking, these scientists are primarily tapping Sony's marvelous graphics chip, the "Emotion Engine" (that we began discussing almost four years ago - which delivers 6.5 billion operations per second (for a GAME!), and which now also makes possible this ad-hoc, already performing valuable scientific work, supercomputer.

    They make the point that,

    "While the most advanced computing technologies have historically been developed first for large corporate users and military contractors, increasingly the fastest computers are being developed for the consumer market and for products meant to be placed under Christmas trees."

    Which reminds me all too clearly of how, similarly, a great deal of computer power originally entered traditional businesses -- I recall the inimical stares I once received for daring to bring my personal notebook into meetings to take notes, long before even desktop PCs were common.  And this same "bottoms-up" approach has been used by PDAs.  And by cell phones.  And more.  Over the past two decades, for the first time in history, MIS departments had to react to USERS' demands to support THEIR devices, rather than the other way around.  It has often been a painful process for all concerned.

    But it's very likely to continue, as this games-become-supercomputer example demonstrates.  According to Dan Reed, NCSA's Director,

    "If you look at the economics of game platforms and the power of computing on toys, this is a long-term market trend and computing trend.  The economics are just amazing.  [These GAMES!] are going to drive the next big wave in high-performance computing."

    By way of example, Nvidia, a company that primarily produces chips for consumer video cards, is now selling a chip that can perform 51 billion operations per second!  That's 7.8-times faster than the PS2's chip.  In about two years.

    And we all know that the competition in this "graphics" space, very much driven by gamers, assures ever-more impressive chips to come on a continual basis.

    This example of innovation from consumer electronics (from "Christmas Presents," yet!) is not of course a panacea.  The PS2 has limited memory and input/output bandwidth compared to traditional purpose-built supercomputers.  Yet for specific tasks, this is the, er, only game in town, for such cost-effective computing power.

    "Consumers Rock!"  And they'll continue to rock businesses' "computing boat," forcing them to embrace the latest and greatest technology on a continual basis.  It's currently happening (yet again) with 802.11 (WiFi) wireless networks (for example, Verizon is now equipping as many as 1,000 phone booths in Manhattan as WiFi access points, and every Verizon broadband home subscriber will have automatic access -  And that's just THIS week.

    Which won't be the LAST week...

    (And dare I say this one last time this issue?  Yup, I must): 

    Donít' Blink!


     Back to Table of Contents

    The Dangers Of Computer Viruses!


    Finally, we all know just how dangerous and devastating a virus that attacks humans can be (ever had a good case of the flu, or far worse?)  And I just read that the "Monkey Pox" virus has just infected several people in Wisconsin, through Prairie Dogs (!  Go figure!

    These little bits of proto-life are immensely hardy, many able to travel through space and other nasty environments without harm until they contact a susceptible bio-form.  Similarly, their computer brethren have demonstrated their abilities to safely transit the electronic spaces of the Internet and do serious, very real damage to our data and the software integrity of our systems and business records.  In extreme cases, computer viruses have actually harmed hardware, such as through continuously exercising disk drives in inappropriate ways, taking over some computers cooling control and melting them down, etc.

    But who'd have imagined this?

    Image - Unattributed image of a mouse skeleton at the business end of a mouse cord, as if the mouse's flesh had been eaten away. 

    Practice safe computing.  And 'be careful out there!'



    (Let me set your mind at ease.  This IS a joke!  It's not April, but this unattributed image was just TOO good to pass up.  Especially since I do have the flu as I write this.  Perhaps this is my little way of getting back at those nasty viruses...)

    * NBIC - The coming together of Nanotechnology, Biology & medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences.


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    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. 

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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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