Your cell phone becomes a Tricorder!

See the heat. FLIR ONE, the first consumer-oriented thermal imaging system for a smartphone, displays a live thermal image on the phone’s screen, letting you see in complete darkness. A family can detect intruders in total darkness, find a lost pet, or see through smoke in an emergency.

seeing-detectingThis is just one element of the huge renaissance in detection and seeing which is about to proliferate into citizen hands. In this case though… it will also (let me predict here) let you see through skimpy clothing to the “warm” nudity beneath. (We went through all this 20 years ago with the SONY Handycam.)

A new laser rangefinding and volume and location analysis device attaches to the back of your smartphone. It contains patented laser, compass, and bluetooth technology that integrates with your phone’s camera and GPS.   Laser measurements are accurate to within +20 cm and correlates with GPS location within +1 meter.  Survey and map everything in front of you, outdoors, with a tool that fits in your pocket.

Next? You can expect localization features like iBeacon to tell stores that ping your device where you are, letting you have local, indoor mapping with varied degrees of info like store projections of what you might want or need.  Creepy factor aside – whether we finally reach a balance between Push and Pull – this will bring us augmented reality the way it must come.  Not with goggle-glasses (at first) but on carried screens.

Also, this year, Siri-style personal assistants will surge back.  Also on the horizon, tech-seer Mark Anderson predicts the under $100 smart phone and under $250 tablet. Low prices will be propelled by something very good… the arrival of two BILLION more consumers in the (lower) middle class, across Asia and the south.

That is, it will be good news if we can manage to provide them with that life style very very very efficiently. No tech will be more important than efficiency and sustainability tech. And those who obstruct such things are the purest villains ever produced.

Open-worm Oh but then there’s this! A major breakthrough! Creating a virtual C. elegans nematode in a computer by reverse-engineering its biology—  has now developed software — Open Worm — that replicates the worm’s muscle movement. The failure to model C elegans – with just 302 neurons – has long been a glaring rebuke to neuroscience. If they truly have a model now, then mazel tov! Now… on to ants!

==Colonizing the Galaxy==

In “Virulence as a model for interplanetary and interstellar colonization – parasitism or mutualism?”  Jonathan Starling and Duncan H. Forgan  model the relationship between an intelligent civilization and its host planet as symbiotic, where the relationship between the symbiont and the host species (the civilization and the planet’s ecology, respectively) determines the fitness and ultimate survival of both organisms. They perform a series of Monte Carlo Realization simulations, where civilizations pursue a variety of different relationships/strategies with their host planet, from mutualism to parasitism, and can consequently ‘infect’ other planets/hosts…..  As the colonization velocity is increased, the strategy of parasitism becomes more successful, until they dominate the ‘population’. This is in accordance with predictions based on island biogeography and r/K selection theory.

Of course this scientific model appears to coincide remarkably with the more speculative and dramatic version that I present in my recent novel Existence. Their conclusion suggests that the galaxy might pass through very difficult times – waves of virulence – that eventually settle down to a pattern that rewards symbiosis and health.

Want a cool synergy? This is exactly the perspective that China’s stunning new science fiction talent Liu Cixin developed for his amazing novel The Three Body Problem.  The galaxy may pass through very difficult phases, before growing up.

==A Rise in Infectious Disease?==

infectious-disease-riseBack in 1980 I was a graduate student in physics with medical school housemates.  One of them asked me my view on what specialty to choose.  Without pause I said “Infectious disease.”  He looked at me, puzzled and asked: “Isn’t that kind of… well… over?”

“Mark my words, I answered.  We are living in a fool’s paradise, a narrow window of time when infection only seems to have been conquered. Any time now, we’ll learn how flexible parasites are, as they come roaring back.”

My friend took my advice, and was at the Centers of Disease Control, in Atlanta, when AIDS struck society like a hammer blow. Since then, we’ve seen inanities like the addle-brained anti-vax movement, hospital generated diseases and countless other signs of resurgence by old and new enemies.  Read more about it here: Major Gaps in Country’s Ability to Counter Infectious Diseases. A majority of states reach half or fewer key indicators.

Interesting, if true.  Fungi found growing on the walls of the highly radioactive Chernobyl reactor core might — and let’s keep that contingent “might” — actually flourish on gamma radiation. Hmmmm

==Genetic Markers and Identity==

Male-female brain differences? This new result suggests that men have more connections forward and back… between sensing and action parts of the brain… and women have more lateral connections between left and right … logical and intuitive… portions.  This is consistent with known differences in spatial vs communication skills.

break-stereotypesBut… always remember that any such differences between classes of people only apply to averages.  The study found many exceptions.  And protecting an individual’s right to BE an exception to any class/gender/race generalization was one of the great breakthroughs of our civilization.

A truly excellent (long) article about a new theory of autism — that is is largely a problem of over-sensitivity and over-stimulation by an “intense world.” (Not at all inconsistent with my depiction in Existence.)

Scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.  This is getting complicated!  Nature had a long time to work this stuff out.

==The intersection of Bio and Tech==

Researchers have built a small vehicle whose flying motion resembles the movements of a jellyfish or moth — a new method of flight that could enable miniaturized future robots for surveillance, search-and-rescue.

biology-technologyWhile algae has long been considered a potential source of biofuel, and several companies have produced algae-based fuels on a research scale, the fuel has been projected to be expensive. Only now, Department of Energy researchers have found a new technology that harnesses algae’s energy potential efficiently and incorporates a number of methods to reduce the cost of producing algae fuel.  Add this to breakthroughs in continuously growing algae from CO2 from cement plants and agricultural runoff wastes, and you can see some of the promise that I describe (in passing) in Existence. The possibility of creating multi-path synergies .  This could be a large scale game-changer.

But this is the year for one medium scale game changer.  The year to start (if you haven’t already) swapping out the light bulbs in your home (starting with high traffic areas) for super-efficient LEDs. Prices have dropped and the economics are so good, it isn’t even “virtuous” anymore. Just practical.

IBM’s predictions for five years from now seem a bit better and more on target, this time.  Some will make you go huh!  These are all plausible near-future developments.  They only require one thing.  That we go back to being people who believe in a can-do, pragmatic approach to progress and making things better,

Digital communication via — aromas? Or pheromones or trace molecules?  In this research,  binary signals are “programmed” into pulses of evaporated alcohol molecules to demonstrate the potential of molecular communications. The first demonstration signal, performed in Canada, was “O Canada,” from the Canadian national anthem. It was sent several meters across open space before it was decoded by a receiver.

Message Passing Inference with Chemical Reaction Networks: In a related development, researchers showed that an important class of artificial intelligence algorithms could be implemented using chemical reactions. This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment. The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry. It also opens some sci-fi-ish possibilities for Chemical AI.

==Tech Run-down==

TechnologyNewsThree-D printing, using hot metals and other sophisticated techniques, has taken another step forward, making a complete, working loudspeaker.

Fascinating Infographic on temperature: a billion degrees of separation: from absolute zero to ‘absolute hot.’

And now a tech run-down from Brian Wang – starting with:

A SANDIA roadmap for making 10 MW supercritical turbines commercially ready by 2020, using highly compressed CO2 as the working fluid. Combine this with molten salt cooling systems and fission power systems might shrink by a factor of 100 in volume and mass.

A real-life Turing Machine that does the whole thing mechanicallyusing LEGO pieces. “A group of students at the computer science department at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon built a working replica of a Turing Machine out of Lego bricks, with 20,000 elements used including 32 pneumatic cylinders, 50 meters of pneumatic tubing, and over a thousand gears!” Maker culture does great things. (Remember this from Infinity’s Shore?)

The new “bushite” federal government of Canada appears to be bent on outdoing any US administration in its hatred of science. The latest example is egregious.  Seven of the nine world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed by autumn 2013, with spectacular haste and almost no effort to either digitize or find new homes for materials going back to 1803. “…precious collections were consigned to dumpsters, were burned or went to landfills.”

An astronomical object called SBW2007 – sometimes nicknamed SBW1 – is a nebula with a giant star at center twenty times more massive than our Sun. Within its late-evolution nebula, SBW1 shows similarities with a star that went supernova 26 years ago, the famous SN 1987A. Early Hubble images of SN 1987A show eerie similarities to SBW1. Both stars had identical rings of the same size and age, located in similar HII regions… This blogger says that … “At a distance of more than 20 000 light-years it will be safe to watch when the supernova goes off. If we are very lucky it may happen in our own lifetimes…”  Hm…. I agree it would be spectacular.  And maybe that distance truly is “just right.” Still. Let’s do more calculations before wishing…

This YouTube video describes fascinating work done recently on how the brain distributes work on visual objects according to their type: e.g. “mammal-> living” or mobile objects or immobile objects. The layout, on an unfolded surface of the cortex, is fascinating! In other words…

Some version of mind-reading will be here in ten years.


We need a decent, open accountable, calm and truly worthwhile civilization, by then!

It’s the one vital thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s