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.


 Of Games & Robots & Brains...

June 20, 2005

  • Listen to this Issue.
       Give those eyes a rest.
  • Quote of the Week.
       Big Kid on the block?
  • Transistors On A Chip.
       The numbers are simply staggering.
  • On Intelligent Computers...
       "Aware" computers?  Brain uploads? 
        Supercomputer games?  Hummm.
  • There's MUCH More I Can Do For You!
       Find out how I can help your business!
  • VERY Personal File Sharing...
       Into the frying "PAN."
  • New Knowledge: A Vast Enabler.
       Think basic research is too long term for your business?
  • May "The Farm" Be With You!
       An incredibly funny Star Wars parody.
  • About 'The Harrow Technology Report.'  

    Listen to this Issue.


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    Quote of the Week.


    "The nation which dominates the world economy may be the one which masters the nano world of atomic, and quantum computing.

    Then quantum events...will be the source of the world's wealth.

    The Silicon Age is coming to a close. Welcome to the Quantum Age, where even button-down bankers will have to learn the mysteries of the multiverse."

    Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at CUNY,
    co-founder of String Field Theory
    From Nanotech Insider, Nov. 19, 2004


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    Transistors On A Chip.


    In the last issue's article "Reinventing -- Again" (
    , I pointed out that some in-research chips contained "...near half a billion transistors."  But this number was incorrect -- it was not nearly large enough!

    As pointed out by reader David Schachter, the Feb. 7, 2005 ZDNetUK article "Dual-core Itanium chip gets airing" (
    indicates that Intel's 64-bit "Montecito," its first commercial dual-core Itanium-2 chip (two CPUs on a single chip) already contains 1.7-billion transistors!  (Additional details from Intel are at

    Image - Intel Itanium-2 dual-core processor with 1.7 billion transistors -

    But a "mere" 1.7 billion transistors per chip will be exceeded later this year -- new 4 gigabit NAND flash memory chips may contain as many as two billion transistors.  (


    Moving Forward.

    In 2002 Intel stated their goal of reaching 10-billion transistors on a chip by 2010.  (
    Given what we're already seeing, my guess is that, at least internally, they must be significantly raising their expectations.

    And here we're only talking about COMMERCIAL chips.  Specialized and laboratory chips are likely to already have far more transistors.

    Of course, as we know, It Certainly Won't Stop Here...


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    On Intelligent Computers...


    Ray Kurzweil is the National Medal of Science recipient who is well known for his views on the future of technology's double-exponential growth (; we've explored his thoughts many times in the past. (To read those discussions go to and type   Kurzweil   into the search field.)

    While I don't always agree with his end-assumptions, I'm always impressed with the way he supports his views with extrapolations of the very technology trends that are so clearly happening today, which are also often the subject of our discussions here.

    Now another "futurist" whose work I also respect, Ian Pearson, who is the head of British Telecom's "futurology" department, offers a strikingly similar analysis of how and when "aware computers" may come into our world.

    I'm going to reprint one take on his interview below because it is so chock-full of insights.  And then of course I'll follow with my commentary. 


    Brain downloads 'possible by 2050'

    Monday, May 23, 2005 Posted: 10:06 AM EDT

    London, England -- By the middle of the 21st century it will be possible to download your brain to a supercomputer, according to a leading thinker on the future.

    Ian Pearson, head of British Telecom's futurology unit, told the UK's Observer newspaper that the rapid advances in computing power would make cyber-immortality a reality within 50 years.

    Pearson said the launch last week of Sony's PlayStation 3, a machine 35 times more powerful than the model it replaced, was a sign of things to come.

    "The new PlayStation is one percent as powerful as the human brain," Pearson told the Observer. "It is into supercomputer status compared to 10 years ago. PlayStation 5 will probably be as powerful as the human brain."

    Pearson said that brain-downloading technology would initially be the preserve of the rich, but would become more available over subsequent decades.

    "If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine," he said.

    "We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT."

    Pearson also predicted that it would be possible to build a fully conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence as early as 2020.

    IBM's BlueGene computer can already perform 70.72 trillion calculations a second and Pearson said the next computing goal was to replicate consciousness.

    "We're already looking at how you might structure a computer that could become conscious. Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that's what we're trying to design in computer."

    Pearson said that computer consciousness would make feasible a whole new sphere of emotional machines, such as airplanes that are afraid of crashing.

    By 2020 Pearson also predicted the creation of a "virtual world" of immersive computer-generated environments in which we will spend increasing amounts of time, socializing and doing business.

    He said: "When technology gives you a life-size 3D image and the links to your nervous system allow you to shake hands, it's like being in the other person's office. It's impossible to believe that won't be the normal way of communicating."

    But Pearson admitted that the consequences of advancing technologies needed to be considered carefully.

    "You need a complete global debate," he said. "Whether we should be building machines as smart as people is a really big one."

    [Another take on this interview comes from the original article in the UK's Guardian Unlimited, at
    .  You can also find many more of Ian's insights at .]


    Game Power.

    Following up on Ian's reference to the new Playstation, it also includes a graphics processor, the Nvidia RSX, whose 300-million transistors power 48-billion(!) "shader" operations/second while it also calculates a half-billion triangles of video data each second.  Unsurprisingly with this kind of power, the Playstation 3 outputs its games in High Definition video.  And all of this performance comes from only the graphics processor!  Although we've come to expect this kind or progress, it's still mind-blowing that this consumer computing appliance rivals the supercomputers of only eight years ago -- IN A $300 (or so) GAME!!

    And that GAME is making non-trivial inroads towards the processing power of a human brain (at least as we can best measure the computing power of a brain, given that a brain's far different method of processing information (compared to a computer) may not, in my opinion, provide an 'apples to apples' comparison.)  It's also quite impressive (although again not too surprising) that this GAME represents the power of a vastly expensive supercomputer of just one decade ago!

    (By the way, there's growing evidence that we may, eventually, reach a "singularity" when machine intelligence rivals that of humans' -- check out "The Development Spiral" from Acceleration Watch (, brought to our attention by reader Kenneth LaCrosse.)


    My Buddy, The Computer?

    Interestingly, even our currently unintelligent computers and computerized devices are already being anthropomorphized.  We've all been known to "talk" to our computers (although this is usually in unprintable phrases when they're inimical to our work).  But this is just the beginning.  A May 27 Forbes Nanotech Insider interview with the CEO of iRobot, the creator of the autonomous floor-cleaning Roomba

    Image - iRobot's Roomba vaccuum clearner robot -                                                                    

    vacuum cleaner, illustrates how people are beginning to treat their computerized devices as pets!

    "[He] told me that more than a few customers have become emotionally attached to their robotic vacuum cleaners.

    When he personally offered to replace customers' broken down models with new ones --many refused, insisting the company fix the one they already owned.

    Why not take a new one?

    It seems that if technology moves like a pet, we’ve got a tendency to anthropomorphize it and treat it like a trusted friend. They grew emotionally attached -- to a robot! People don’t want a new model -- because they don’t know it as intimately."

    Sony's robotic dog Aibo similarly demonstrated this several years ago. 

    Robot pets are only the beginning as today's and tomorrow's rate of technological progress - its price-performance improvements -- makes Pearson's and Kurzweil's predictions ever-more feasible.  As I mentioned earlier, I'm not yet convinced that even the unimaginable commodity computing power of decades from now necessarily predicts an "awakening" of our silicon (or whatever may drive them by then) servants, but it's also something that we certainly should not dismiss out of hand, especially considering its myriad implications.

    Because if/when computers DO become aware, we may be quickly forced to redefine just WHO ARE THE "SERVANTS..."

    Don't Blink!                                                                                              


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    VERY Personal File Sharing...


    You may have heard the term PAN, or "Personal Area Network."  Although there's no hard and fast definition, a PAN is often thought of as a low power network that uses the human body to distribute data signals to devices on or very near the skin.

    Why would one want such a PAN when Bluetooth already seems to fill that niche quite nicely?  Security could be one reason, since Bluetooth's 30-foot range opens the very real possibility for someone else to receive the information traversing the Bluetooth link, or even to add their own. 

    Early PAN networks typically required that portable devices touch the skin to join the network, which imposes some interesting limitations.  I guess we could wear devices under our clothes, or perhaps change Fashion so that clothes have appropriate cutouts for each device so they could touch the skin (which could lead to some interesting fashions indeed), but this touchy limitation could realistically constrain the value of a PAN. 

    However a new PAN technology from NTT, brought to our attention by reader Fred Hugand and called "RedTaction" (, is different.  It uses weak electrical fields generated through the body to send and receive data to devices as far as eight inches from the skin.  Data rates can be up to standard Ethernet speeds of 10 megabits/second.

    One interesting aspect of this PAN's ability to reach a bit beyond the skin is that many everyday objects, such as chairs, tables, and the like can act as a PAN node as well.  So, imagine if you carried a PDA or notebook equipped with this PAN interface, and an office's desks, chair, conference tables, etc., were each connected to the building's normal data network through either hardwired or wireless (such as WiFi) connections.  Your portable devices would then have access to the Internet without using a far more battery-intensive WiFi connection.  RedTaction PAN nodes could also be placed into doorways, under specific floor tiles, etc. for in-building security applications such as location monitoring and access control.

    (Speaking of 'security,' perhaps this would be a good time to include viable encryption and other good privacy implementations from scratch, rather than as optional add-ons as with WiFi or Bluetooth.  We continually learn that many of "today's" encryption schemes are soon easily broken through ever-increasing computer power and innovative "crackers." 

    For example, brought to our attention by reader Dave Atkinson, the RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification Tags) that are used in applications such as "smart" car ignition keys and touchless entry systems have already fallen prey to easy compromise (
    .  Given the dramatically increasing use of these "radio" technologies that can be attacked from a distance, we leave ourselves increasingly open to information and economic and physical theft.)

    There are also other interesting advances being made in the area of portable electronic devices.  While we continue to wait for battery or other power technologies, such as tiny fuel cells, to advance as quickly as our portable power needs, a recent United States Patent, No.6,754,472, appears to define a method of not only carrying data through the body, but of also carrying POWER to portable devices (
    .  That could be a significant help for the armies of devices that we increasingly carry around.

    So -- networking continue to morph into many new forms, each with its advantages, disadvantages, and new security risks.  Some will "make it" only for specialized applications, while others could surprise everyone (as WiFi did) and mushroom into prominence in a very few years.

    This again demonstrates that if your great ideas seem stymied by a particular lack of technology, just wait -- often a relatively short while -- and the answer may appear out of thin air!


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    New Knowledge: A Vast Enabler.


    This is a slightly updated version of an article I recently wrote for Future Brief (  Future Brief is published by New Global Initiatives ( and offers brief summaries, commentaries, and other resources to help people, especially those on The Hill who form national policy, to keep up on technological innovations.  But Future Brief adds an important twist -- it "takes one step back and looks at the greater convergence of the accelerating changes in science and technology, with the equally rapidly accelerating changes in society and politics." (


    Many businesses don't believe in the economic value of obscure, esoteric, long-tem research.  Especially in today's business climate, longer-term research often isn't seen as a good investment, as was once the case. 

    That's one way to look at it, as a (parochially) sound economic decision.  But oh, the potential future cash streams that those businesses may miss!

    For example, let's explore just a few of the ways in which scientists are harnessing new-found knowledge as the basis for new products with extraordinary (and completely unanticipated!) capabilities.


    Towards The World Of Star Trek.

    If you've followed some of the early work on very real teleportation (
    20020701/20020701.htm#teleport and
    , you know that scientists can now repeatedly "entangle" some photons, then separate them by some distance, and then alter the state of one of the photons.  The magic is that instantly (perhaps in zero time!) the other separated photon demonstrates these same changes!  Clearly, although this is just the very beginning of our understanding of the potential for this effect, as we learn more about such teleportation it holds incredible potential for transmitting information with no time lag.  Along with many potential terrestrial applications, this could be a boon to interplanetary or even interstellar spacecraft! 

    "But the distances between the entangled photons are currently pretty short," you might be thinking.  And that's been true -- so far -- yet it's already getting better.  For example, the Aug. 19, 2004 Scientific American ( reports that scientists at Vienna's Institute for Experimental Physics have just teleported photons 600+ meters across the Danube river with 97% success during 28 hours of testing!  Just the very beginning of this journey...



    Forgers can be very good at their art given enough time and resources; it's a continuing game of technological escalatio between forgers and the new techniques that are constantly being developed to "indisputably" verify the authenticity of a document (paper currency, stock certificates, bonds, and the like).  But new research into the arcane world of quantum dots may break that cycle.  As described in the Aug. 11, 2004 Technology Research News (,

    "Researchers from the Canadian National Research Council have devised a way to use quantum dots to print invisible secret codes onto surfaces such as documents. The dots measure between 3 and 6 nanometers in diameter. The method could eventually be used to authenticate valuable documents such as passports and certificates, the researchers say.

    Quantum dots can be made to emit one wavelength of light when hit with a second wavelength of light. This method uses three quantum dots that emit three different colours of light. The intensity levels of the three lightwave peaks represent a three-digit code. The code can be kept secret because the intensity levels change depending on the colour of the light source. For example, three single-colour quantum dots can emit fluorescence corresponding to the code of 2-7-3 when hit with 470nm light waves, but the code changes to 3-5-3 when hit with 450nm light.

    The correct code can be read only by a person who knows the key, which is the correct wavelength of light for each set of three quantum dots contained in the cryptograph."

    Fascinating, and potentially quite useful.



    Speaking of forgeries, the ability to verify that signatures are authentic is a highly trained art form rather than a definitive science.  Experts analyze the sequence of marks by looking at the 2D signature.  But original handwriting is more than 2D, since the varying pressures of the pen cause constant changes in the depth of the strokes, as well as other alterations.  Now, Rome's Università degli Studi has created a 3D hologram of handwriting that exposes the 3D hills and valleys caused by the pressure and angle of the pen (  This enables handwriting experts to determine the 'stroke order' 90% of the time, which better enables them to decide if the handwriting matches an original specimen.

    Unintended consequences.


    SPAM Marries DNA?

    What could seem a less likely pair?  What could the majority of Email messages on the Internet (SPAM) have to do with the "stuff of life" that defines US?

    According to the Aug. 19, 2004 New Scientist (, scientists decided to treat SPAM messages as if they were DNA code, extracting patterns that identified the messages as SPAM.  They then did the same for known non-SPAM messages and deleted any patterns that occurred in both SPAM and legitimate messages.

    With this knowledge of which patterns identified what was, and what was not SPAM, the software chugged through almost 67,000 random messages using the Chung-Kwei algorithm (which is used to do DNA sequencing) to identify SPAM in new messages.  Which it did with an accuracy of 97% while only generating ten false-positives (non-SPAM messages incorrectly labeled as SPAM) out of those 67,000 messages!

    A very impressive achievement that I suspect will get better over time.  This is a great example of a VERY unintended consequence of software developed to decode US!

    Yet these are just a few of the fascinating, potentially useful, and potentially profitable results of seemingly esoteric research.  I believe that we must continue to expand our understanding of the core processes that drive our universe, such as the most basic structures of matter and antimatter, the "emptiness" of "outer space," and the spaces within molecules and atoms and even smaller particles.  And also of life itself, such as our DNA and genome and proteome (

    These insights will result in enormous payoffs, and will impact everything around and within us; this knowledge will rapidly make everything that we've learned throughout history (as well as the ways that most products and services are created) passé.  Just look at the results of our increased understandings over the past 100 or 50 or 25, or even 5 years.  And the RATE at which we gain better understandings of the things around us is increasing exponentially, just like a colony of rats. 


    The Big "E."

    For many people, exponential growth is VERY difficult to understand, accept, or plan for.  Josh Wolfe, in the Aug. 20, 2004 Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Weekly Insider (
    , offers a perspective as to what types of people can, and can not, easily embrace the all-too-real exponential growth of technology:

    (Paraphrase)  We all see the world through different lenses. How do YOU see things? Try answering this:

    It's 12:00pm and there are a few rats in a room. The population of rats doubles every minute. After one hour, at 1:00pm, the room is entirely filled up with rats.

    At what time was the room half-full?

    What is your answer? What time was the room half-filled with rats?

    Let's take an important diversion that, even though it talks of "investors," is relevant to our discussion:

    A wise mutual fund manager suggested there are three kinds of investors--and they look at the world in either "points", "lines" or "curves". The "point people" need well-defined starting points and don't deal well with abstract and dynamic concepts.  They'd say that the rat question was incomplete and they would ask for more information. As investors they look at a fixed point in time or a fixed point in a growth curve and make decisions based on that point. They're also very weak with forecasts.

    "Line people" are a little better. "Line people" are most likely to guess that the room of rats was filled at 12:30pm. They can make linear approximations and are good at situations where the past is a consistent predictor of the future. This is the majority of investors.

    But unfortunately, such linear progress represents only the minority of situations. The past is very rarely a good predictor of the future.  For example, in the case of our rats, remember that "the population of rats doubles every minute," which is far faster than merely linear growth.

    Which brings us to the "curve people". These are the rarities. These are the non-linear, out-of-the-box thinkers who understand exponential curves, compound growth rates, and why the king got suckered in the fictional legend of how Chess was invented (you remember: the inventor asked the king for a "simple" reward-- a mere grain of rice on the first square, two on the 2nd, four on the 3rd and so on, until he'd bankrupted the king -

    Back to the rats -- the correct answer to this riddle, that began at 12:00pm, is that the room was half full -- at 12:59pm.

    One minute before 1:00pm, there were half as many rats as there would be at 1:00pm. 

    It took 59 minutes to fill the FIRST half of the room, while the SECOND half of the room filled in just that one remaining minute. 


    The Bottom Line.

    Think about the similar growth of technology -- rather slow for most of our history (from the perspective of someone living through it), yet incredibly fast (and constantly faster) from the viewpoint of a person living during the past hundred years. This is a demonstration of why exponential growth is so incredibly powerful, and why it is so hard to grasp "from the inside" as it's happening to US.

    Consider how this applies to each of us, and to each of our businesses:  Where do you wish to position yourself along the incredibly important and well established exponential technology curve?

    Remember what happened to businesses that didn't rapidly embrace the telephone.  Or the automobile.  Or computers.  Or the Internet.  As history proves time and time again, a lack of cutting-edge research and understanding, and the foresight this can bring, can leave you building the perfect buggy whip as the automobile marginalizes whips out of the market. 

    Similarly, an unwillingness to rapidly embrace new technologies as a competitive advantage -- before your competitors do -- can lead to a downwards spiral that can pass the point of no return.

    The choice is yours, as you decide whether to allow at least part of your research organization to think far beyond the next quarter, year, or several years, and beyond the scope of your current business.  Similarly, will you hire one of those "curve people" and give him/her the freedom to understand and synergize and forecast the potential results?  Will you encourage him/her to communicate these insights across your organization so that all of your employees are constantly updated on the opportunities, and problems, that exponential technological growth may bring to your business? 

    Your competitors will...

    Again, Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents

    May "The Farm" Be With You!


    Finally, if you're a Star Wars fan, readers Nancy Rosen and Victor Panlilio have brought our attention to a WONDERFUL short film.  To put it mildly, this is GREAT, GREAT, GREAT!!  I laughed all the way through it.

    If you have Windows Media Player installed, this link will take you directly to the movie:

    Other viewing options are available, plus it's worth following the links to other sections such as Meet The Puppets" on this satire's home page at .

    I rarely chuckle so hard at anything (in fact I'm still chuckling as I write this), so "Store Wars" gets my best recommendation on how to spend your next 3.5 minutes.  (There's also a cool "movie poster" at .



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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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