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"Never let the future disturb you.
You will meet it, if you have to, with the same
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
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
As will their kids.
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.
Back to Table of Contents
Some people just "get it;" in
this case it was Geoff Walton of Sun Life Financial
Following a presentation I
recently gave to many Sun Life senior financial
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
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
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
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*
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
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
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
At least you may be "tagged" in
Europe, if talks between Hitachi and the European
Central Bank as reported in the May 23 Yahoo!
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
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 (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=581&ncid=
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.
Back to Table of Contents
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Back to Table of Contents
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 (http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/rnb_060403.asp),
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
(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
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
atomic visualization and sculpting;
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;
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
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
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):
Back to Table of Contents
Sadly, this statistic will not
"shock and awe" any of us, although we "wish it
According to the June 3 CNET
and MessageLabs (http://www.messagelabs.com/news/
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 is indeed all in the game,
at least when we're talking about what may be the
best price/performance hardware in the supercomputer
Brought to our attention by
reader Prabhu Tyakal, a May 26 article in the New
York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/26/technology/
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
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
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):
to Table of Contents
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
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?
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...)
"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.
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