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

 

 "Plugging-In."

Dec. 19, 2005
  

  • Listen to this Issue.

  •             Give those eyes a rest.

  • Quote of the Week.

  •             Twenty gigabyte credit cards?

  • Plugging-In.

  •             Can you REALLY "un-plug?"

  • I Spy.

  •             A new way of listening to computers...

  • There's MUCH More I Can Do For You!

  •             Check you my other services.

  • The Genetic Revolution Is Already Here!

  •             This is NOT "tomorrow's" problem...

  • "An Antiquated Notion?"

  •             An open book...

  • Remember "War of the Worlds?"

  •             The 'invaders' are WHO?

  • About 'The Harrow Technology Report.'

  •  


    Listen to this Issue.

     

    Do you prefer to let your ears do the work of keeping you in-touch with, and thinking about where technology is taking us?  If so, "The Harrow Technology Report" is also available in an audio-on-demand, MP3 version. 

    If you have an MP3 player on your system (and most do, such as Window's Media Player, RealPlayer, etc.), the link below will either stream the file to you, or, depending on how your system is configured, it might download the file before playing it.  Alternatively, if you specifically want to download the file, simply use the right-hand mouse button on the link, and choose "Save Target As..."

    Also, find out how you can listen at whatever speed is most comfortable for you through the FAQ at http://www.theharrowgroup.com/help.htm .

    Here's where to listen to this week's issue!
    http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20051219/20051219.mp3
       

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Quote of the Week.

     

    "Bayer MaterialScience has agreed to a joint development deal with InPhase [a Bell Labs spinout specializing in holographic storage].  Bayer MaterialScience, ... will invest $5 million in the startup.

    The two companies say that by 2006 they will introduce both a recording and reading device and a holographic data-storage medium, based on polymers made by Bayer MaterialScience, with a capacity of 300 gigabytes...

    Conventional optical storage devices, such as DVDs or CDs, record one bit of data at a time. But holographic drives can read or write a million bits at once, encoded as the interference pattern of two intersecting laser beams.

    InPhase promises two gigabytes of data on a chip the size of a postage stamp, or 20 gigabytes on one the size of a credit card.

    A 300-gigabyte [holographic] disc will offer 50 times the storage capacity of a common DVD and 460 times that of a CD.

    InPhase and Bayer MaterialScience say they are also cooperating to research new types of specialty polymers that will make possible discs with a capacity of up to 1.6 terabytes -- equivalent to the content of about four million books or about 1.6 million high-resolution photographs. Such discs could be available by 2009."

    "Funding of Innovative Startups"
    MIT Technology Review
    July, 2005
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/07/
    issue/dealflow.asp?trk=nl

    Let's see -- 20 gigabytes in a credit card that reads one-million bits in the same time that today's conventional disk drives can read one bit -- NEXT YEAR!  Fifty DVDs shrunk to one.  And 1.6 terabyte disks just four years from now.  Truly incredible, although not at all surprising given the established march of technology.

    This is one more excellent example of how brilliant people find ways around, or through, every "limit" that gets in their way.  And of course in a world of exponential technology growth, this is (always!) only the beginning...

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Plugging-In.

     

    Towards the end of the Editor's Corner of the Nov. 8, 2005 WXPnews E-Zine (http://www.wxpnews.com/?id=201), Deb Shinder was exploring some of her readers' comments on the subject of the growing lack of technological opting-out caused by the social acceptance of a myriad of advancing technologies.  The following response struck a chord with me:

    "Alan P. had perhaps the best answer to the question of whether technology is taking over our lives: "only if you let it." And many other readers chimed in on the same theme: we do, after all, have control over whether we choose to take our laptops (and work) with us everywhere, leave our cell phones turned on all the time, etc. Why do so many folks assume that if the phone rings, they're obligated to answer it? Especially in this day of voice mail, it's not as if that call will be lost forever if you decide to just let it ring."

    It's certainly true that we can choose to 'walk away' from any or all elements of technology.  The problem is -- at what price?

    In the business world, if you work at a "knowledge or information-driven job," the proliferation of PCs on every desk, notebooks in every briefcase, PDAs in every shirt pocket or purse, and cell phones in other pockets or on belts, certainly have a significant positive effect on productivity.  You can prepare a client presentation on the spur of the moment and generate a sales contract when it has its desired effect, then get his electronic signature and have the signed contract and its related order in your firm's order process before you ever reach the elevator.  This is often a Good Thing.

    There's a glaring problem, though, for the person who would prefer not to have all of that information at her fingertips; who would prefer to spend more time thoughtfully writing proposals and presenting them, and then exploring the nuances of sales contracts before they're signed -- the problem is that her competitor might have already closed the deal before she's prepared.  It's also possible that her competitor's automated order (and assumedly manufacturing) processes are more efficient and cost effective, and also give the business' managers a better real-time feel for how well (or not) their business is performing.

    Similarly, without a wireless PDA or cell phone, someone on the road may not get the word of a cancelled or rescheduled meeting until they arrive to find no one home.  There is any number of problems that the technology-un-enhanced person might suffer.

    The reality is that for many people in many jobs, this "anywhere/anywhen connectedness" has become the competitive norm, and anyone not "plugged in" may well find their numbers flagging.

    Similarly, when out of the office, a growing number of social events are created or changed on the spur of the moment through text messaging and phone calls.  If most of your friends are plugged in, and you are not, a social gap may widen.  Of course this also (perhaps even more so) applies to children (not just teenagers anymore) as parents often wish to have immediate access to their kids while leaving them with an always-available "panic button."  Many parents are even interested in keeping track of their teenagers.  As location-aware services become increasingly available, more than a few of those parents may pay for the ability to "spy" on their kids' whereabouts, or to have the system automatically alert them if the teen wanders out of a defined "safe area," or into an "unsafe" one.

    I'm not specifically saying that any of these implementations are "good or bad" -- each of them can and will fall into both categories depending on circumstances.  But I am suggesting that while you CAN choose not to participate in any technological area, there can be very real business and social consequences of not doing so.

    That is not necessarily a good thing.  But it is increasingly a very real thing.  And it's only going to get ever more good or bad (take your pick), ever-faster, as technology's double-exponential growth curve continues is accelerating climb.

    If you think that these are difficult and often complex choices to make today -- just wait (a short while).

    And,

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    I Spy.

     

    You might remember some of the brouhaha years ago when someone in the government/military realized that the enemy of the day had learned to remotely read the information displayed on PC monitors, not by furtively hiding tiny cameras in embassies (although that's happened too), and not by using telescopes to peer through windows at Windows (sorry), but by electronically listening in to the signals produced by PC monitors themselves as a side effect of displaying their data. 

    Hard as it may be to imagine, with the appropriate hardware and software this is possible and is one of the reasons that embassies and other sensitive buildings sheath themselves in copper mesh, known as a "Faraday Cage," to contain these and other signals that can be intercepted at a distance.  Their computers were also designed to minimize these and other potentially information-carrying emissions through a program called Tempest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TEMPEST).

    Well, the espionage game of technological escalatio has now taken another step up, according to the Sept. 21, 2005 CNN.com, thanks to researchers first at IBM and now at the University of California, Berkeley.  It seems that when we type, each keypress generates a unique sound based on the physical layout of the keyboard, the individual differences in each physical key, and the way we strike each key.  Using statistical techniques, these researchers, led by Doug Tygar, have developed a way to simply listen to the clack of the keyboard and, with 96% accuracy, reconstruct what was typed!

    This technique doesn't even require high quality audio - a $10 microphone was used for the research.  Which leads me to believe that this would also work using techniques that remotely pilfer audio, such as when a laser is pointed at a window of the target room and the sound vibrations from within the room, which subtly vibrate the window glass, are remotely "read" and converted back into sound for "bugging" conversations -- and now for bugging computer keyboards.

    I suspect that most sensitive government/military installations have for some time included noise generators near windows to render laser audio interceptions impossible (or difficult at best), but I'll bet that very few commercial building take the threat of this type of industrial espionage into account!  Imagine being privy to, say, internal meetings where the pricing for competitive bids is underway, or to any other information, verbal and now typed, that might give one party a competitive advantage over the eavesdropped one...

    Of course this is just one element of the continuing "Spy vs. Spy" game -- other techniques that we don't yet know about are surely in-play.  And as with this one, new techniques will constantly be developed by bright and innovative people (on all sides.)

    So,

    Don't Blink!

    (Because who knows -- might someone, someday, learn to glean information from how and when we DO blink?)

     

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    The Genetic Revolution Is Already Here!

     

    This is an updated version of an article I've written for Future Brief (http://www.futurebrief.com/).  Future Brief is published by New Global Initiatives (http://www.ngiweb.com/) 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." (http://www.futurebrief.com/about.asp)

     

    Let's face it: "genetic engineering" (our modifying a living organism's gene structure for specific goals) is showing up in the news on a regular basis -- Google serves up more than one million hits when asked.  But although there is a lot of early progress going on in labs, the average person has yet to directly benefit from genetically engineered drugs or other products, much less from one of the potentially logical outcomes of such research -- genetically engineered "design-your-own" kids. 

    But the genetic cat is now, quite literally as we'll soon see, out of the bag; the results of genetic engineering are already beginning to show up in some very surprising ways!

     

    Food.

    The European Union has now OKed the broad importation of Monsanto's "NK603" corn (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-EU-Biotech.html?oref=login).  This corn is designed to thwart a nasty parasite that attacks traditional corn, and so could bring a greater yield per acre.

    According to the EU, this Genetically Modified (GM) corn has been proven safe, and they have established stringent consumer packaging rules so that people can make informed decisions as to whether or not to consume GM foodstuffs.

    "To GM, or not to GM," is an interesting choice that we're going to have to increasingly make.  As genetic engineering continues to improve; the time may well come when we find that GM food is safer, more abundant, perhaps better tasting, and conceivably less costly (due to better yields, the need for less pesticides, etc.), even though the GM seed manufactures will surely charge more than for traditional seed.

    However, this isn't all a bed of (natural or GM) roses.  Some GM crops are explicitly designed to NOT naturally propagate, requiring that farmers purchase new GM seed each season.  But what would happen if a major GM seed supplier suddenly found a serious problem in its production capacity (think flu vaccine), or if it identified a serious problem with the widely-used product itself?  What if a major supplier went bankrupt?  Or, perhaps more chilling, what if it took years for long-term health issues related to these GM crops to come to light?  Would we even have sufficient stocks of "natural" seed left to feed a hungry world?

    I'm certainly not saying that genetically modified food is necessarily "bad;" the upside potentials for feeding the growing number of hungry humans could be high.   But I do wonder about possible long-term issues -- after all, we're really still babes-in-the-woods when it comes to genetic engineering.  And I do wonder about the potential danger of moving towards patented foodstuffs that can't reproduce in the "normal" way. 

    It could be a global calamity if we later find that there was a ticking time bomb that was unintentionally engineered into our food supply.  Or, consider if a political power block formed by the large GM companies were to exert undue influence on nations.  After all, having control over a significant portion of a nation's critical resource, such as food, would be a powerful position indeed.  Think gas prices...

     

    Tabby - Modified!

    But genetic engineering is NOT limited to plants, but also to animals.  And the average person may well see the first genetically engineered animals very close to home -- in fact IN the home -- in 2006! 

    Allerca (http://www.allerca.com/) is commercializing domestic CATS that are genetically engineered so that they don't release the dander to which many people are allergic!! 

    Using "gene silencing" techniques, Allerca suppresses the cat's production of the natural (human allergy-causing) protein that expresses in cat skin and saliva!  (Since the protein is so small, once released from the cat it tends to remain airborne for months.)  http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/10/27/biotechnology.cats/index.html

    Hypoallergenic cats!!  For $3,500 each.  (And each will be spayed or neutered so that you can't make more hypoallergenic cats.)

    By the way, this isn't the first genetically engineered pet.  A glowing zebra fish (thanks to the addition of a fluorescent sea anemone gene) became available in pet stores in early 2004.  (http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994411)

     

    Tabby - Xeroxed!

    Of course purpose-built genetically modified cats are only the very beginning.  For example, "Genetic Savings & Clone" (I love the name! - http://www.geneticsavingsandclone.com/) is already in the business of cloning your favorite aging cat!!

    The personality isn't cloned, of course; only the body.  But it should be a faithful copy of "your pet."  However you'll REALLY have to like your cat, since its clone will currently cost you $50,000... 

    I certainly expect that prices will decline over time, especially if/when competitors spring up.  But even now this type of cloning might be a viable expense for successful show cats.  And later, if/when such commercial capabilities migrate to other species, imagine the incentive to clone triple-crown winners like Secretariat and Seattle Slew!  Or a prize bull.  Or...

    Oh -- if you're a dog lover?  You'll have to wait longer since cloning a pooch seems more difficult.

     

    BioEthics.

    I suspect that not too many people will get upset about the commercial cloning of pets.  But as is so often the case, I also expect that this technology will move forward to the point where, eventually, humans can be cloned as well.  And that will (and should!) raise all sorts of ethical and societal questions. 

    (By the way, for good and for bad, and regardless of our beliefs and preferences, I DO expect that once human cloning becomes technically feasible, it WILL happen "somewhere," even if not in those countries that ban or very closely control the process.  Ethics are very different in different societies.)

    The issues and questions surrounding such capabilities are numerous, and tremendously significant.  Consider just a few examples:

    If you were to generate an "aware" clone of yourself while you were still alive, and if (as expected) it had identical DNA, then a "bad clone" (one whose personality evolved towards the dark side) might not be distinct from you for forensic purposes. 

    (A brief aside:  Interestingly, reader Henri Boucher points out that identical twins do not have identical fingerprints!  A PhysicsForums discussion (http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/t-30378_genetics_and_fingerprints.html) explores that these may differ because of environmental or 'chance' changes as each twin's fingerprints evolve from identical DNA. 

    Yet there may be other explanations:  as the discussion also suggests we currently believe that only 3% of the 3 billion DNA base pairs relate to the software that codes "us."  And although I am only a genetics neophyte, I do have to wonder if the other 97% of our DNA does indeed cause some (or many) effects that we just don't (yet) understand.  Remember how little we knew about that first 3% just a few years ago!!)

    Now back to our clone discussion:

    -          Come to think of it, if you DID generate a living and aware clone, would he/she/it be a legally independent being with all the rights and protections that a society confers on its citizens? 

    -          What would happen if someone killed that clone -- would this be murder? 

    -          If you died while you had an 'aware clone,' would it simply pick up your life, inherit all your assets, and perhaps even your family?  After all, DNA testing would "prove" that it is "you!"

    -          Would it be acceptable to grow and maintain a non-aware clone (perhaps by suppressing the genes that develop the higher brain functions) so that a critical organ transplant could be performed if needed?  

    -          And then there's that (seemingly) sci fi specter of cloned Schwarzeneggeresque armies (think Star Wars' Attack of the Clones, or Lord of the Rings)...

    Of course the list of questions and issues goes on.  But now that commercial pet genetic engineering and cloning are real, we need to extrapolate and explore and address these issues with the expectation (or at least the hypothesis) that somehow, somewhere, human variants too are going to become real -- whether we individually, or even nationally, think this is right or wrong. 

    In fact, given the double-exponential growth of biotechnology as it melds into the converging synergy of NBIC (the coming together of Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences), we may have to answer these questions far sooner than we might have imagined.

    Careful!

    I have no doubt that these scientific achievements will move forward -- knowledge is a VERY hard thing to suppress and, as we've learned historically, suppression attempts are rarely if ever successful.  So perhaps we should engage in these ethical and societal discussions in advance, so that we can move carefully -- very carefully -- and safely, as the technologies do move forward. 

    And as we do so, we should be sure to pay attention to very broad areas that reach far beyond the mere "technical" issues that genetic engineering and cloning will raise.  After all, the results of these sciences have the ability, quite literally, to alter "us" and the very world in which we live, work, and play.

    To put it mildly:

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    "An Antiquated Notion?"

     

    Over time we've explored several elements of how our expanding technological infrastructure (for examples http://www.futurebrief.com/jeffharrowtech012.asp and http://www.futurebrief.com/jeffharrowbuggy008.asp) is having a significant impact on the visibility of our "private" information, and on its easy instant accessibility.  While many of the results of the Information Age have great positive potential, the easy melding of this personal information from many once-disparate sources also brings the specter of being very bad.  So much so that if things continue unchecked, we may eventually have little choice but to accept the idea of "personal privacy" as an antiquated notion. 

    Credit agencies, insurance and medical information pools, credit card and banking transactions, telephone call records, location information from cell phones and toll booth transponders (and potentially from RFID tags), and a vast array of public records, are now for the first time but a click away from governmental agencies, interested businesses and their partners, and others (if not always directly to the general public).  And where you can click, you can combine.  Which makes most of us who participate in the electronic world an open book.

    How open?  Reader Victor Panlilio points us to a poignant look at how this could well develop, which you can view at the Web site below.  You probably won't like the result (or the virtually unlimited spectrum of related examples that will quickly come to mind.) 

    This 3-4 minute exploration of the logical extension of today's information assets should be chilling to any of us who value some shreds of remaining privacy, because all of the personal information behind the scenes of this pizza-ordering scenario is already quite available in electronic form (even if Social Security Numbers currently stand in for a "National ID Number.")  For example, if you've recently called one of the nationwide pizza chains for home delivery you may have already experienced a nascent form of what's depicted, and what lies ahead.

    I'm hardly an "activist," yet I strongly recommend the few minutes it will take to view this "movie" on the ACLU's Web site.  Then, if you don't like the results -- and we really are just one or two small steps away from making this (at least a technological) reality, then you may want to consider if this is a world in which you wish to live, or have your children inherit. 

    If not, it's up to each of us, through our elected representatives, to place controls on the use of personal information.  As we continuously leave more extensive electronic tracks behind as we move around and buy things and communicate, I can't see the closing of Pandora's "information-storage and sharing box."  But we do have a chance to limit how these amazingly accurate pictures of our lives can be used.

    It is up to us -- to each of us.  And there's little time.

    http://www.aclu.org/pizza/index.html

    Don't Blink!  (Or someone, somewhere, will know that you did.)

     

    Back to Table of Contents


     

    Remember "War of the Worlds?"

               

    Finally, I'm assuming that you must have seen Paramount Pictures' 1953 movie "The War of the Worlds," a classic sci fi story. That's the same H. G. Wells story that Orson Welles used to shake up the world on Halloween, 1938 -- it was widely mistaken for a real news broadcast (see http://history1900s.about.com/library/weekly/aa072701a.htm for a fascinating recount of how this was done, and why it had the impact it did). 

    The 1953 movie, as remembered in images at SciFlicks.com (http://www.sciflicks.com/the_war_of_the_worlds/), depicts the "invasion from Mars" as a swarm of seemingly robotic ships,

    Image - a 'robot' from the "War of the Worlds" 1953 movie - http://datacore.sciflicks.com/the_war_of_the_worlds/images/the_war_of_the_worlds_large_01.jpg

    that can hover and move at will as they blast things out of existence with energy beams from their "eyes,"

    Image - The 'eye' of the robots in "War of the Worlds" - http://datacore.sciflicks.com/the_war_of_the_worlds/images/the_war_of_the_worlds_large_05.jpg

    and from their "wingtips." 

    Image - Martian ships 'firing' in "War of the Worlds" - http://datacore.sciflicks.com/the_war_of_the_worlds/images/the_war_of_the_worlds_large_08.jpg

    Really quite beautifully rendered, especially for its day.

     

    Today's Reality.

    Well, Mars hasn't (so far) invaded us, and these ships remain fantasy. 

    But today's reality is that it's WE who have now invaded Mars with our own (small) swarm of (far less aesthetic) robots

    Image - a rendition of a Mars Rover - http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wallpaper/mer/images/MER-640.jpg

    that are even now traveling around on the surface of another planet!

    Image - Opportunity looking back at its lander - http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/status/opportunity/20040205a/020504z_1R129255699EFF0242P1211L0M1.jpg

    The NASA and JPL pictures are astounding, and for past weeks my desktop picture has varied across an assortment of beautiful snapshots from another planet (see http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wallpaper/mer for examples that have been rendered for desktop use, or explore the full set of NASA Mars photos and create your own, at http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/gallery/images.html).

     

    Food For Thought.

    As I looked at these fantasy vs. real pictures, especially the picture looking up at the rover robot in the same way that people looked up at the movie's robots, it struck me that IF there is intelligent life on Mars, they might be as justified in taking this as an invasion (which it technically is) as did those panicking humans listening to the radio in 1938. 

    At one point in its Martian travels the Sprit rover's computer crashed and it 'went off the air."  Before it was eventually resurrected, I did fleetingly wonder if Sprit, like the other robots that we sent to Mars earlier but which never reported back, might have been treated by a Martian population in the same way that we treated the "Mars robots" that made it to Earth in the movie -- destroyed by a scared, invaded, resident population.

    Well, if there IS "anyone" on Mars, it now seems clear that they didn't attack Sprit (unless, perhaps, they might have had some form of EMP (ElectroMagnetic Pulse) weapon that could have been responsible for scrambling Sprit's flash ROM <grin>). 

    But it is both fascinating, and just a little bit cautionary, to remember that we are indeed "invading" another planet where we only "assume" that there's no one there to object.  True, our Rovers lack "death rays," but some of their actions could be considered improper if any resident Martian population didn't approve of tracks on their pristine landscape, or of rocks being disturbed, drilled, and analyzed.  And it's not only Mars that we've "invaded" - earlier this year we dropped the Huygens probe onto Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons.

    And we've crashed the Deep Impact probe into comet Tempel 1.

    Image - Deep Impact hitting Tempel 1 comet - http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/deepimpact/main/index.html.

    And...

    But this is just the very beginning.  These fledgling baby steps are vital, but we still don't really know what's out there.  Which is why as the human race, we MUST continue reaching out to new worlds and beyond. 

    We should also, though, be cautious, and prepared to demonstrate our peaceful intentions.  Because someday, somewhere, "somebody" just might object for our various forms of invasion.  And I'd hate for us to trigger a real "War of the Worlds..."

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    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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