Thursday, January 31, 2008

Small is Beautiful Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the science of construction on scales of a billionth of a metre. It involves making things using beams, girders, pumps and wheels just one millionth of a millimetre long. Microelectromechanical machines with parts a thousandth of a millimetre across are now made by the million, and sold for use as sensors in such things as airbags, computer joysticks and inkjet printers - being so small makes them extraordinarily sensitive to movement. But compared to what's coming, this is crude. The future could be 1,000 times smaller and 1,000 times more unpredictable.

In 1959 the Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman proposed, almost jokingly, that there was "plenty of room at the bottom"; that things could be made very small, an atom at a time. K Eric Drexler, in a 1986 classic called Engines of Creation, mapped out the possibilities of a nanotechnological world describing self-replicating machines the size of molecules that could do whatever you want.

Realists point out that some of these things already exist anyway: the manufactured ones are called drugs and the self-replicating ones are called immune cells. But the implications of nonotechnology go further: little nanosubmarines that would roam around your body repairing tissues and preventing heart disease, or computers in your ballpoint pen that will blink when the ink gets low. The possibilities, like the tools themselves, are endless

Colin Humphreys, professor of materials science at Cambridge University, argues that one of the most interesting things about small lumps of matter is that their properties change dramatically as the samples shrink. "Silicon is a good example. Bulk silicon doesn't emit light. But if you make silicon very small, it emits light. It's a fundamental change in its properties that occurs when you get to 2-3 nanometers," he says.

Explanations for such phenomena lie in the realm of quantum physics, where matter in bulk can have hard, toe-stubbing solidity while the same substance on the atomic scale can seem so much empty space and random possibilities. Now physicists are creating semiconductor wafers only molecules thick to build what they call "quantum wells" and "quantum dots" for ever smaller, faster computers. Other potential payoffs light-emitting diodes so efficient and so durable that they could one day cut electric lighting costs by 80%, while nonotechnology will also have huge benefits in the area of keyhole surgery.

Douglas Philp, of Birmingham university, believes in looking at what nature does, and learning from it. He argues that replicating the way molecules work in life could be used to make things perfectly - no polluted reactions, no untidy catalysts, no faulty molecules. "The ultimate nanotechnologist is, in fact, life itself. We could spend hours discussing why life is very good at doing certain things on the nanometer scale," he says. "What we are saying is: okay, let's try and learn how nature does it, and apply that."

"You can apply the same Darwinian principles in chemistry that you can apply in biology," Philp says. "You could imagine a coffee cup that got better at keeping the coffee warm, because you are challenging it when you put the coffee in. As long as you have some selection criteria, the system will actually evolve."

What it will evolve into nobody knows: computers that will assemble themselves from buckets of goo as soon as you download the software; superweapons; the end of world hunger; the colonisation of the asteroids; extended lifetimes - anything you want. But Philp sounds a note of caution. "My personal view is that we are not, in the next 20 years, going to be carrying computers the size of cigarette lighters. There are some market issues here as well. How is it an advantage to have a computer that small? I don't know. My computer is quite small enough as it is. How fast is a computer? I mostly use mine to type papers."

Source: The Guardian

Nanotechnology: Why It Matters

Interest in nanotech is strong because standard silicon techniques have nearly reached their limit--CPUs and similar products can't get much smaller with current technology because makers can't keep stuffing more and more transistors in the same space. With nanotech, they can.

Materials shrunk to a few billionths of a meter go crazy. Magnets demagnetize, and conventional techniques of semiconductor information processing--used for everything from storing data to moving bits and bytes around your PC--don't work. But though the rules change, they can be exploited in ways that offer more, not less, functionality and speed. And it will all eventually cost less, too.

This is the world of nanotechnology, and you're already starting to live in it. "The whole trillion-dollar information technology industry is based on the continuing drive of miniaturization," says Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences at IBM's Watson Research Center. Imagine, he says, how big that economy can be when you can get a million times the complexity of today's information systems for the same dollars.

Nanotech research by government and private industry promises to create breakthroughs across information technology--creating dramatically faster, smaller, and cheaper devices that will permit ubiquitous computing, some forms of which we haven't conceived of yet--along with enhancing just about everything else humans make.

"We and others are using nanotechnology to create smaller and smaller chips that have more and more power and communicate with everything around them," comments Nantero CEO Greg Schmergel. "Everything in your home and office and car will have intelligence and the information you need."

How Robots Will Affect Future Generations by Brian Huse

What does the future hold for robot applications? How will robots affect society in five years; 10 years; 20? These are typical questions received by Robotic Industries Association. Following is a look forward based on a correspondence I recently sent to a student to address in a small way a very big question: ''How will robots affect future generations?''

Robots in Your Every Day Life
Let's start with life as we know it. Did you know that your life is affected virtually every day by robots?

If you ride in a car, an industrial robot helped build it. If you eat cookies, such as the Milano brand from Pepperidge Farm, there are robot assembly lines to help make and pack them. The computer you use to send e-mails and use for research almost certainly owes its existence, in part, to industrial robots. Industrial robots are even used in the medical field, from pharmaceuticals to surgery.

From the manufacturing of pagers and cell phones to space exploration, robots are part of the every day fabric of life.

Robots: Past and Present
Thirty years ago, a person who pondered robots would probably never have guessed that robot technology would be so pervasive, and yet so overlooked. A 19 year-old author named Isaac Asimov, who in 1939 started writing science fiction about humanoid robots, inspired some of the first popular notions about robots. Before him it was Karel Capek, a Czech playwright, who coined the word 'robot' in his 1921 play ''R.U.R.'' And even in millennia past, some folks conceived of artificial people built of wire and metal, even stone, known by some as ''automatons,'' or manlike machines.

Today, robots are doing human labor in all kinds of places. Best of all, they are doing the jobs that are unhealthy or impractical for people. This frees up workers to do the more skilled jobs, including the programming, maintenance and operation of robots.

A simplified definition of a robot is that it must be a device with three or more axis of motion (e.g. shoulder, elbow, wrist), an end effector (tool), and that it may be reprogrammed for different tasks. (This disqualifies most of the toy ''robots'' sold at stores.)

Robots that work on cars and trucks are welding and assembling parts, or lifting heavy parts --the types of jobs that involve risks like injury to your back and arm or wrist, or they work in environments filled with hazards like excessive heat, noise or fumes-dangerous places for people. Robots that assemble and pack cookies or other foodstuff do so without the risk of carpal tunnel injury, unlike their human counterparts. Robots that make computer chips are working in such tiny dimensions that a person couldn't even do some of the precision work required.

In the health industry, robots are helping to research and develop drugs, package them and even assist doctors in complicated surgery such as hip replacement and open heart procedures. And the main reason robots are used in any application is because they do the work so much better that there is a vast improvement in quality and/or production, or costs are brought down so that companies can be the best at what they do while keeping workers safe.

Robots Keep the Economy Rolling
High-quality products can lead to higher sales, which means the company that uses technology like robots is more likely to stay alive and vital, which is good for the economy. In addition to improving quality, robots improve productivity, another key element to economic health.

To think about how robots might affect future generations, consider what happened a few hundred years ago when the industrial revolution began. For instance, in 1794 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and later the concept of interchangeable parts for mass production of manufactured products. His inventions spurred growth in the United States, increased productivity in a variety of industries, and created more job opportunities as companies throughout the world adopted his technology and ideas.

In 1865 John Deere invented the cast steel plow blade, giving farmers a tool to greatly increase productivity. The light bulb came in 1880. The airplane appeared in 1906. Assembly lines, TVs, plastics, and many other inventions came in the decades to follow, further changing the face of the industrialized world.

In 1961, Joseph Engelberger sold the first industrial robot to General Motors Corporation, where it performed machine loading and unloading duties in an environment that was hot and dirty, and in fact dangerous to humans. That was 40 years ago...before personal computers and the Internet. A lot of technology evolved that helped make the industrial robot the affordable, successful machine it is today.

A Future in Service Robots?
Who knew all the effects the robot would have? Maybe Mr. Engelberger, often referred to as the ''Father of Robotics,'' could foresee much of what was to come. He eventually sold his company, called Unimation, and became a pioneer in service robots, a sector of robotics in its infancy, but which is predicted to eventually exceed the market for industrial robots. He lectures even today that service robots must have the following criteria to succeed:

Magnificent physical execution (they have to be really, really good at what they do);
Sensory perception (one or more of the five senses, like sight, touch, etc.);
A ''quasi-structured'' living environment (things have to be predictable)
Prior knowledge of their environment and duties (programmed with expert skills and knowledge);
A good cost/benefit standard (reasonable cost compared to expected duties).
These are high standards indeed! Most people can do service tasks very efficiently compared to any current robotic alternative. Most service robots would cost far more than human labor does at this time (although Mr. Engelberger did demonstrate a successful business model for a cost-effective system for hospital robot ''gofers'' when he created the HelpMate company).

The opportunity for robotics arises when you ask if there are enough skilled people to do certain tasks at a reasonable price, like elder care, an industry greatly lacking in skilled labor and laborers. Much thought has been put into development of robotic helpers for the infirmed and elderly.

Untapped Robot Applications Abound
According to the RIA, 90% of companies with robotic manufacturing applications have not installed their first robot. Yet more than 115,000 robots are installed in the U.S. today, making it second only to Japan. Material handling and assembly are among the leading applications poised for growth within the robotics industry.

The future for robots is bright. But, how will robots affect future generations? Sometimes you can get ideas for the future by looking into the past and thinking about the changes we've seen as a result of other great inventions, like the cotton gin, airplane or Internet. Perhaps one day we will have true robotic ''helpers'' that guide the blind, assist the elderly. Maybe they'll be modular devices that can switch from lawn mower to vacuum cleaner, to dish washer and window washer.

Maybe one day ''robots'' will be so small they will travel through your blood stream delivering life-saving drugs to eliminate disease. Perhaps they will have a major role in the educational and entertainment industries. Law enforcement and security may become major users of robotics. (Robots already have been deployed for such hazardous tasks as bomb disposal, hostage recovery, and search and rescue operations, including at the World Trade Center.)

Certainly, robots will always have a role in manufacturing. They are invaluable to the trend of product miniaturization, and they provide an economical solution for manufacturing the high-quality products mandated for success in a global economy.

Industrial robots are somewhat underrated in today's society, but the world owes much to the productivity and quality measures imparted by robotics. Their effect on future generations may well be the assistance they provide in manufacturing faster computers, more intelligent vehicles and better consumer and health products.

Donald A. Vincent, Executive Vice President, RIA, a 25-year veteran of the industry wrote this assessment about the future of robots in the Handbook of Industrial Robotics:

''After a quarter-century of being involved with robotics, I have concluded that the robotics industry is here to stay. And robotics does not stop here. Sojourner (was) the first, but certainly not the last, intelligent robot sent by humans to operate on another planet, Mars. Robotics, robots, and their peripheral equipment will respond well to the challenges of space construction, assembly, and communications; new applications in agriculture, agri-industries, and chemical industries; work in recycling, cleaning, and hazardous waste disposal to protect our environment and the quality of our air and water; safe, reliable and fast transportation relying on robotics in flight and on intelligent highways. Robotics prospered in the 1900s; it will thrive and proliferate in the twenty-first century.''

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Scientists at Ohio State University have taken a step toward the development of powerful new computers -- by making tiny holes that contain nothing at all.

The holes -- dark spots in an egg carton-shaped surface of laser light -- could one day cradle atoms for quantum computing.

Worldwide, scientists are racing to develop computers that exploit the quantum mechanical properties of atoms, explained Greg Lafyatis, associate professor of physics at Ohio State . These so-called quantum computers could enable much faster computing than is possible today. One strategy for making quantum computers involves packaging individual atoms on a chip so that laser beams can read quantum data.

Lafyatis and doctoral student Katharina Christandl recently designed a chip with a top surface of laser light that functions as an array of tiny traps, each of which could potentially hold a single atom. The design could enable quantum data to be read the same way CDs are read today.

They've been able to form about a billion gaseous rubidium atoms into a pea-sized cloud with magnetic fields. Now they are working to move that cloud into position above a chip supporting the optical lattice. Theoretically, if they release the atoms above the chip in just the right way, the atoms will fall into the traps.

They described their work in the journal Physical Review A.

Other research teams have created similar arrays, called optical lattices, but those designs present problems that could make them hard to use in practice. Other lattices lock atoms into a multi-layered cube floating in free space. But manipulating atoms in the center of the cube would be difficult.

The Ohio State lattice has a more practical design, with a single layer of atoms grounded just above a glass chip. Each atom could be manipulated directly with a single laser beam.

The lattice forms where two sets of laser beams cross inside a thin transparent coating on the chip. The beams interfere with each other to create a grid of peaks and valleys -- the egg carton-shaped pattern of light.

The physicists expected to see that much when they first modeled their lattice design on computer. But to their surprise, the simulations showed that each valley contained a dark spot, a tiny empty sphere surrounded by electric fields that seemed ideally suited for trapping single atoms and holding them in place, Lafyatis said.

In the laboratory, he and Christandl were able to create an optical lattice of light, though the traps are too tiny to see with the naked eye. The next step is to see if the traps actually work as the model predicts.

“We're pretty sure we can trap atoms -- the first step towards making a quantum memory chip,” Lafyatis said. A working computer based on the design is many years away, though, he cautioned.

In fact, Christandl suspects that they are at least two years away from being able to isolate one atom per trap -- the physical arrangement required for a true quantum memory device.

“Right now, we're just trying to get atoms into the traps, period,” she said.

So far, they've been able to form about a billion gaseous rubidium atoms into a pea-sized cloud with magnetic fields. Now they are working to move that cloud into position above a chip supporting the optical lattice.

Theoretically, if they release the atoms above the chip in just the right way, the atoms will fall into the traps. They hope to be able to perform that final test before Christandl graduates in August.

Should they succeed, the payoff is potentially huge.

Both the government and industry are interested in quantum computing because traditional chips are expected to reach a kind of technological speed limit in a decade or so. When that happens, faster, more powerful computers will require a new kind of hardware.

A “bit” in normal computer chips can only encode data as one of two possibilities: either a one or a zero -- the numbers that make up binary code. But if quantum theorists are correct, quantum bits, or qubits, will enable more efficient problem solving because a qubit can simultaneously encode both a zero and a one. This allows the quantum computer to efficiently carry out a large number of calculations simultaneously.

“In principle, quantum computers would need only 10,000 qubits to outperform today's state-of-the-art computers with billions and billions of regular bits,” Lafyatis said.

Scientists have speculated that qubits could enable long-distance communication and code breaking. But Christandl thinks that the technology could serve an even larger purpose for science in general, by powering computer simulations.

Quantum mechanics tries to explain how atoms and molecules behave at a fundamental level, so simulations of quantum systems could advance research in areas as diverse as astrophysics, genetics, and materials science.

“The quantum computer is the ideal tool for those simulations, because it is a quantum system itself,” Christandl said.

Are Wind-Assisted Ships in our Future?

Several companies around the world are experimenting with wind-assisted ships, which would reduce fuel consumption at a time where fuel can represent up to 60 percent of the running costs of operating a ship. But another goal is to reduce pollution: the toxic emission volume of the world trade fleet is roughly equivalent to the U.S. one today. In "The new age of sail," New Scientist describes a ship that will be partially pulled by a high-tech kite flying at an altitude of up to 500 meters where winds are more stable than at sea level. The German designers, who tested a prototype last year, estimate that such a hybrid sailing ship would see a 50 percent reduction of its fuel consumption. Danish and Japanese companies are also designing wind-assisted ships. Read more...

So let's look at this ship -- partially -- pulled by a kite.

For several weeks last summer, a team of German engineers sailed back and forth across the Baltic Sea playing with a large inflatable kite. The engineers, from the Hamburg company SkySails, were testing the potential of high-tech kites to pull a ship across the ocean by hitching a ride on winds high above the waves.

But will such a ship be more efficient than today's ships?

Last year's trials in the Baltic, aboard an 8-metre model of a cargo vessel, were mostly carried out in unfavourable conditions of weak and variable winds. Nevertheless, they showed that the SkySails kite can generate 1 to 1.15 kilowatts for every square metre of aerofoil. "In favourable winds it would generate a lot more thrust," says Stephan Wrage, founder of the company. The kite is designed to be retrofitted to ships of almost any size, but SkySail's largest version, with an area of 2000 to 5000 square metres, will generate propulsive power equivalent to a large ship's engine, he says.

And of course, this will contribute to reduce fuel operating costs.
The SkySails wind-assisted ship's technical advantages As shown in this chart, "cargo vessels can increase their speed by a minimum of 10% -- in the example given speed is increased yet by 2.25 bends, equaling 15%. Alternatively by using the SkySails propulsion fuel savings of up to 50% can be implemented." (Credit: SkySails GmbH).

For its part, the Danish company of naval architects Knud E. Hansen started another kind of wind-assisted ship back in 1995. You'll find more details by reading the "Modern Windship Phase II" section on this page.
The Windship proposed by Knud E. Hansen Here is a rendering of the proposed Windship (Credit: Knud E. Hansen).

The company confirms the SkySails's findings about fuel savings.

Where the weather/wind conditions are reasonable - e.g. on Atlantic routes - fuel savings of about 27% can be achieved. On routes where the superior internal volume capacity of the WindShip can be properly utilised, 50% fuel savings are possible.

And here is what New Scientist adds about the Danish effort.

Could this signal a sea change for sail? "It will now be profitable both environmentally and economically to build the windship," says Anders Carlberg of Knud E. Hansen. Other new sailing ship projects are already in the works, one in Germany and one in Japan. Carlberg and his team estimate that full-scale trials of their design will start within three years.

It is not just the oil price that has moved in the windships' favour. The Danish team is confident that it will be able to design a more efficient vessel. Jesper Kanstrup, Knud E. Hansen's senior naval architect, says that the original designs concentrated on minimising the amount of space the engine and sails took up to maximise cargo space. "They weren't designed for fuel economy."

Will these wind-assisted ships be part of the future of sea commerce? I really don't know. What do you think about these projects?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

UK report says robots will have rights

By Salamander Davoudi in London
Published: December 19 2006 22:01
The next time you beat your keyboard in frustration, think of a day when it may be able to sue you for assault. Within 50 years we might even find ourselves standing next to the next generation of vacuum cleaners in the voting booth.

Far from being extracts from the extreme end of science fiction, the idea that we may one day give sentient machines the kind of rights traditionally reserved for humans is raised in a British government-commissioned report which claims to be an extensive look into the future.

Visions of the status of robots around 2056 have emerged from one of 270 forward-looking papers sponsored by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientist. The paper covering robots’ rights was written by a UK partnership of Outsights, the management consultancy, and Ipsos Mori, the opinion research organisation.

“If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The idea will not surprise science fiction aficionados. It was widely explored by Dr Isaac Asimov, one of the foremost science fiction writers of the 20th century. He wrote of a society where robots were fully integrated and essential in day-to-day life.

In his system, the ‘three laws of robotics’ governed machine life. They decreed that robots could not injure humans, must obey orders and protect their own existence – in that order.

Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans’ rights to be extended to them.

It is also logical that such rights are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service.

Mr Christensen said: “Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn’t kick a normal one?

“There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner so we do not move our boundaries of what is acceptable.”

The Horizon Scan report argues that if ‘correctly managed’, this new world of robots’ rights could lead to increased labour output and greater prosperity.

“If granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time,” it says.

But it points out that the process has casualties and the first one may be the environment, especially in the areas of energy and waste.

Brian Wang predicts:

"There will be a quantum computer with over 100 qubits of processing capability sold either as a hardware system or whose use is made available as a commercial service by Dec 31, 2010"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Worldwide Online Population Forecast

In its "Worldwide Online Population Forecast, 2006 to 2011, Jupiter Research anticipates that a 38 percent increase in the number of people with online access will mean that, by 2011, 22 percent of the Earth's population will surf the Internet regularly.
Jupiter Research says the worldwide online population will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6 percent during the next five years, far outpacing the 1.1 percent compound annual growth rate for the planet's population as a whole. The report says 1.1 billion people currently enjoy regular access to the Web.
North America will remain on top in terms of the number of people with online access. According to Jupiter Research, online penetration rates on the continent will increase from the current 70 percent of the overall North American population to 76 percent by 2011. However, Internet adoption has "matured," and its adoption pace has slowed, in more developed countries including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of Western Europe, notes the report.
As the online population of the United States and Canada grows by about only 3 percent, explosive adoption rates in China and India will take place, says Jupiter Research. The report says China should reach an online penetration rate of 17 percent by 2011 and India should hit 7 percent during the same time frame. This growth is directly related to infrastructure development and increased consumer purchasing power, notes Jupiter Research.
By 2011, Asians will make up about 42 percent of the world's population with regular Internet access, 5 percent more than today, says the study.
Penetration levels similar to North America's are found in Scandinavia and bigger Western European nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany, but Jupiter Research says that a number of Central European countries "are relative Internet laggards."
Brazil "with its soaring economy," is predicted by Jupiter Research to experience a 9 percent compound annual growth rate, the fastest in Latin America, but China and India are likely to do the most to boost the world's online penetration in the near future.
For the study, Jupiter Research defined "online users" as people who regularly access the Internet by "dedicated Internet access" devices. Those devices do not include cell phones.

The Future of Leisure That Never Arrived

Published: March 8, 2007
In 1930 the British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the biggest problem facing future generations would be what to do with all their leisure time.

Well, here we are in Keynes’s future: Where is that leisure we were promised?

Though the average hours at work have certainly decreased in the last century, it doesn’t necessarily follow that leisure has increased, since nonlabor time is not necessarily leisure. Any attempt to compare changes in leisure over long periods of time has to confront some tricky issues of definition.

The most recent attempt to examine long-term trends in leisure is by two economists, Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, and Neville Francis of the University of North Carolina. Next time you get a chance, you can download the paper from if you never find the time, it’s no wonder. According to Ms. Ramey and Mr. Francis, the amount of leisure time per capita hasn’t changed much in the last 105 years.

Since this view is at odds with a number of other studies, it is worth going over their analysis to see how they reach this somewhat surprising conclusion.

Many other studies have looked at leisure of the “working-age population.” The trouble with this approach is that the definition of “working age” has changed substantially in the last 100 years. According to the 1910 census, 25 percent of male children 10 to 15 years old were full-time workers. That fraction is considerably smaller today.

But if we include children and teenagers when we compute per capita leisure, how should we count time spent in school? In 1910, only 10 percent of children 14 to 17 years old were enrolled in high school while by 2003, 95 percent of this age group were in school. In the same period, the number of school days increased to more than 160 a year from fewer than 100.

A result is that children’s leisure time has gone up, but not by much. According to Ms. Ramey and Mr. Francis, 70 percent of the reduction in work hours has been offset by increased hours in school.

But are band practice and gym classes labor or leisure? What is leisure anyway?

The economists offer an interesting answer to this almost metaphysical question. According to them, leisure activities are those that give direct enjoyment. So all we have to do is to figure out what sorts of activities people enjoy.

Luckily, the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland conducted a survey in 1985 in which people were asked to rate how much they enjoyed various activities on a scale of 1 to 10. “Sex” came in first, with a score of 9.3, followed by “sports” at 9.2. “Housecleaning” is near the bottom of the list, with a score of 4.9.

Child care is an interesting category in that “play with kids” ranked near the top at 8.8, but “taking kids to the doctor or dentist” is near the bottom at 4.7. Hence, the economists count child care as partly leisure and partly labor.

What about housework? Given its 4.9 rating, it can’t really be considered leisure time. Advances in technology have made housework much less onerous and time-consuming than it once was: a century ago it took four hours to do a load of laundry and 4.5 hours to iron it. Today it takes 41 minutes to wash a load of laundry, and modern fabrics need much less ironing.

But since the time necessary to do a given amount of housework has gone down, people have chosen to do more of it. One hundred years ago, it was a luxury to have clean clothes, a tidy house and a cooked meal. Today these things are viewed as necessities of life.

Based on available evidence, it seems that housekeeping involved about 56 hours a week in 1912. This fell to 52 hours a week by 1920 and stayed constant until 1965; it then declined again, dropping to 45 hours a week by 1975, and has been relatively constant since.

If we were willing to settle for the standards of nutrition, health and cleanliness that prevailed in 1900, much less labor would be required. But, as Betty Friedan has said in “The Feminine Mystique,” “housewifery expands to fill the time available.”

When you account for the much longer time in school, the more or less constant amount of time spent on housework, and make a few other adjustments, hours spent on purely enjoyable activities haven’t changed that much in the last century. Keynes may have been right that future generations will have a lot of time on their hands, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening anytime soon.

By the way, reading the newspaper seems to be a mildly pleasurable activity, with a score of 7.8. This puts it just behind “lunch break” and slightly ahead of “knitting and sewing.” Of course, different parts of the paper may be more enjoyable than others. Reading Economic Scene may never be as good as “sex,” but perhaps we can aspire someday to beating out “lunch break.”

The Truth ( From The Algebraist By Iain M Banks)

I recently read a fantastically well-written book, written by Iain M. Banks and published in 2004 by Orbit. The book is titled, ‘The Algebraist’.
Set more than two thousand years in the future it is a gripping and complicated tale. One of the sub plots that winds gently through the book is a fictional religion that has become the established religion of the period called ‘The Truth’.

This religion is more or less accepted as the most popular religion, with adherents through out this future galaxy. The simple premise of ‘The Truth’ is that their entire reality is held within a huge computer simulation. Ridiculous, I know, but it made me think. Computers are getting insanely powerful. Our entire lifestyle is possible only because of our reliance on our computer power.

It is certain that we will continue with our progress in making more and more powerful computers? Is it possible that we will create a computer program that gives its creations (characters) a sentience that we can only try to imagine? I am not talking about the Turing Test. I am postulating that the characters will be alive in a sense we can fully understand. We have all read books and had the characters come alive. This would be so much more within a huge supercomputer.

To these guys locked in our computers of the future, their reality would be ‘The Truth’. Has Iain Banks stumbled upon a religion that will be needed in the future? Has Mr. Banks given our simulation characters a religion that will give them comfort?
Every society has religion of some sort, why would a society created within a computer simulation not have a religion? These creations would actually have a creation story that could be confirmed, which is a lot more than other religions.

It might be that as our computers start to compile code for themselves that this decision will be taken out of our hands.

You can discuss topics like this at

What is your opinion?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The future of computing

Brain prosthetics. Telepathy. Punctual flights. A futurist's vision of where quantum computers will take us.
FORTUNE Magazine
By Peter Schwartz, Chris Taylor and Rita Koselka
August 2 2006:

(FORTUNE Magazine) -- She awakes early on the morning of April 10, 2030, in the capable hands of her suburban Chicago apartment. All night, microscopic sensors in her bedside tables have monitored her breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.

The tiny blood sample she gave her bathroom sink last night has been analyzed for free radicals and precancerous cells; the appropriate preventative drugs will be delivered to her hotel in Atlanta this evening. It's an expensive service, but as a gene therapist, Sharon Oja knows it's worth it.

University of Virginia physicist Stuart Wolf has an out-there vision: No laptop. No cellphone. Just a headband - with direct coupling into the right side of the brain.

She steps into the shower. The tiles inside detect her presence and start displaying the day's top headlines. The manned mission to Mars is going to launch ahead of schedule. U.S. military drones have destroyed another terrorist training camp using smart dust. A top Manhattan banker has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 10 years of low tech.

And today is the 20th anniversary of the very first quantum computer.

Sharon laughs. It is her 24th birthday, and she has little idea what the world was like before the qubits - the smallest pieces of quantum information - took over.

She dresses and picks out a stylish straw fedora. Quantum computing has brought an unexpected revival in haberdashery: Inside the hatband is Sharon's communication center and intelligent assistant, which has scanned and sorted the 500,000 e-mails she received overnight. By the time she reaches the car, it has beamed the 10 most urgent ones and her travel schedule to her visual cortex. The text scrolls down in the bottom of her field of vision.

The Hydrogen Honda knows it is going to be an unseasonably warm day - indeed, thanks to quantum computer simulations it has known today's temperature for five years - and rolls the top down for her. Sharon drives to the freeway, steers into the Smart Lane, then relinquishes the wheel. The hatband screens a birthday video from her parents and a super-encrypted memo from her boss.

At the airport there is no ticket check-in or security line. Sharon simply walks through the revolving door, which scans her for dangerous items, picks up her identity, confirms her reservation, and delivers her gate number, all in the space of a second. She doesn't even bother to check whether the plane is on time - since flight patterns are as computable as the weather, O'Hare hasn't had a late departure in five years.

At the bag drop-off, she sees a familiar man in a yarmulke-like brain cap. The hatband is already on the case and flashes his virtual business card alongside his top 10 Google results. "Dr. Horton," she calls out. "So nice to see you again. How was the diabetes conference?" Only the slightest flicker of Horton's eyes betrays that he is Googling her details too. "Hello, Ms. Oja," he says. "Many happy returns of the day." Sharon grins and gives silent thanks to the quantum computer's creators.
Closer than you think

Science fiction, right? Sure - just like satellites, moon shots, and the original microprocessor once were. To scientists on the quantum computing frontier, this scenario is conservative.

"The age of computing has not even begun," says Stan Williams, a research scientist at Hewlett-Packard. "What we have today are tiny toys not much better than an abacus. The challenge is to approach the fundamental laws of physics as closely as we can."

Traditional computing, with its ever more microscopic circuitry etched in silicon, can take us only so far: Moore's law, which dictates that the amount of computing power you can squeeze into the same space will double every 18 months, is set to run into a silicon wall by 2015. (The chief culprit is overheating, caused by electrical charges running through ever more tightly packed circuits.)

If we want to keep computer progress on track after that and be able to do all the amazing things in Sharon's life, we have to figure out how to manipulate the brain-bending rules of the quantum realm - an Alice in Wonderland world of subatomic particles that can be in two places at once.

Luckily some of the world's leading research agencies and technology companies are on the case. Single electrons have been made to adjust their spin. Subatomic circuitry is within our grasp. But because the breakthroughs are hidden in esoteric journals and described in language that can give even today's savviest computer users headaches, it is easy to miss the significance of what is going on.

Tangible evidence of the quantum revolution hit the market in July, when Freescale Semiconductor (Charts), a Motorola spinoff, began commercial shipments of magnetic random-access memory (MRAM) chips. You'll probably notice MRAM first when you buy a digital camera that doesn't take any time to store a picture. Within a matter of years, your new laptop will switch on like a light.

MRAM gets its speed from something called the giant magnetoresistive effect, or GMR. Although it sounds like something out of an X-Men film, GMR has to do with the fact that if you place layers of ultrathin magnetic film on top of one another and alternate their polarity, you get resistance. That is, the electrons can be spun in one direction or the other. Electrons spin like a top or a billiard ball in some direction relative to a magnetic field. Flip the direction of the field, and the electron flips the direction of its spin. This very basic quantum effect can be used like a binary bit, its direction labeled "0" or "1" and employed to store digital information.

In conventional computing these zeroes and ones are created by switching an electric current on and off. Spins are less affected by the environment than electric charges and take longer to decay. Also, keeping an electric charge in position requires continuous power; when computers lose power, the charge goes away. With a magnetic device the memory stays put when the power shuts off.

As a bonus - and it's a fairly major bonus - if you take electricity out of the equation, you get rid of the overheating problem that is undercutting Moore's law.

This memory breakthrough was in large part the doing of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - the same Pentagon gang that gave us the Internet. In particular, it's due to a 62-year-old physicist named Stuart Wolf, who recently left DARPA for the University of Virginia. Since 1993 the agency has invested more than $200 million in Wolf-created quantum research programs.

While MRAM is just about memory, the ability to control spin in a computational device - "spintronics" is the word Wolf has coined to describe this work - has huge implications.

The next step: putting spin to work in actual computation. A team at the University of California at Santa Barbara, led by David Awschalom, has made big progress in this direction by controlling electron spins in semiconductors and other materials a few nanometers in size. This could mean not just an end to overheating worries but the possibility of moving computer technology into the molecular realm. With molecular-level chips, a laptop could have more computing power than trillions of today's supercomputers.

And even molecular-level computers could soon be outmoded behemoths. In 2004, Dan Rugar of IBM performed what the American Institute of Physics dubbed the most important experiment of the year by using a magnet to control the spin of a single electron. In theory, that means we could have subatomic-scale circuitry. At that level the behavior of particles is more complicated and can - again, in theory - do even more powerful things.

Down in the subatomic world, the same magnetic spin can be up and down and everything in between - all at the same time. It's a strange piece of quantum mechanics known as superposition, made possible because electrons sometimes behave more like waves than particles.

Try picturing a piece of string, fixed at both ends and vibrating. If you get the vibration right, the string will be moving up at one end and down at the other. And as a wave, it will have every value in between.

In the binary math of today's computers, each bit is either a zero or a one. But if each electron in a row of atoms can be in two or more places at once, and we can use these positions for computing, the power of exponential math kicks in.

Consider a quantum bit, or qubit, that can represent two values simultaneously. Two qubits linked together could represent four values at once, three could represent eight, and so on. Twenty qubits could represent almost a million numbers (two to the power of 20) simultaneously.

Harnessing the power of this exponential growth means you can tackle any problem that gets exponentially larger, and there are lots of important ones. We can't reliably predict weather or traffic or the mutation of viruses today because the number of variables and possible interactions is too massive for current computers. Qubits would change that.

Another potential advance involves something called entanglement - what Einstein famously described as "spooky action at a distance." It is a sort of particle love: Once they have become entangled, two subatomic particles move in lockstep, even at a distance.

Harnessing this capability could enable completely secure communications, because tampering with one particle will destroy the communications value of its partner. This is crucial, since quantum computers would be capable of breaking any cryptological code now used.
Bold predictions

Granted, changing the spin of an electron is a long way from building a circuit out of the same, and history is littered with promising technologies that didn't pan out. Intel CEO Paul Otellini is one major quantum skeptic, increasingly reluctant to fund R&D for it. Reports of the death of silicon have been greatly exaggerated, he says.

But quantum computing scientists are surprisingly bullish, for scientists. "This is the most exciting time of my life, and I'm not young," says Eli Yablonovitch, professor of electrical engineering at UCLA. "We're looking forward to a direct impact on everybody in the world."

Quantum computing "is tantalizingly possible, just on the edge of being too difficult, with remarkable progress every year," says Harvard's Charles Marcus. "As time goes by we'll be saying to ourselves, 'I can't believe this was so hard.' We'll have undergraduates doing it. That's just the nature of science."

Ask scientists to predict how quantum technology will change the world over the next 20 years or so, and their imaginations go wild.

Computers everywhere Their most common prediction is that we will see - or rather, we won't see - computers everywhere, painted onto walls, in chairs, in your body, communicating with one another constantly and requiring no more power than that which they can glean from radio frequencies in the air.

'I won't have to remember anything' Exponentially smarter computers also raise the possibility of achieving a couple of computer science's long-held goals: a human-brain-imitating neural network and true (or near-true) artificial intelligence. "This is going to be my mental prosthesis," says UCLA's Yablonovitch. "Everything I want to know, I can look up. Everything I can forget, I can find. I'm going to get old, but it won't matter. I won't have to remember anything."

Computers in your headband Of all the scientists' visions of the quantum future, Wolf's may be the most out-there. "The vision is that we don't have a laptop anymore," Wolf says. "We don't have a cellphone. We wear it. It's a headband. And instead of having a screen, we have direct coupling into the right side of the brain."

Recent experiments suggest it's actually quite easy to send information to the brain in a precisely targeted manner using ultrasound. Sony filed a patent earlier this year for ultrasonic technology that will beam videogames into our brains.

But these won't be like any videogames we know today. Having your brain surrounded by a thin band of ultrasonic transducers controlled by hypersmart quantum computers, all linked up to a global network with infinite bandwidth, means that any sense can be stimulated in any way. You can be made to see, hear, touch, taste, or smell anything.

Getting instructions back from the brain - mind-reading computers, in other words - is harder but not impossible (neuroscientists have already developed communication devices for the disabled that read brain waves).

Wolf anticipates that within 20 years, instead of cellphone conversations we will have "network-enabled telepathy." Imagine you're on a busy street, and a small percentage of the people in the crowd around you have decided to let their headbands transmit their field of vision - you could literally see around corners. A vehicle could be driven by thought. Dreams could be recorded and passed around online as easily as we share photos on Flickr.
A creepy future?

Yes, some people will find it unsettling, which happens with almost every new technology. But while the contours of how quantum computing will apply to society are unclear, the map for how we get there isn't.

"The amazing thing is there's nothing I can see as a big roadblock to this," says Wolf. It's a question of when, not if; exactly when (and where) will be determined by the amount of research dollars available. The U.S. certainly isn't alone in this race; the Europeans and Japanese are funding huge research efforts. India and China are getting onboard as well.

Beyond the actual creation of a quantum computer, our chief limitations are the imaginations of software engineers. This will be the major challenge of the Google geniuses of tomorrow: to take computing and networking power that is effectively infinite and create interfaces that are simple enough for mere mortals to understand.

But what about that headband? Won't it creep us out? "What people will not like is having it implanted," Wolf believes. "But if you're just wearing it and it's ultrasonically connected, I mean, you could always take it off."

As with all previous disruptive technologies - radio, television, the Internet - it will probably take a new generation raised to think of quantum headbands as normal for its potential to be truly realized. Sharon Oja, born in 2006, will barely realize the good fortune she, and the world, have inherited.

Future Travel 2004

Future travel:
By Duncan Walker

Nasa's scramjet powered plane could change flying
The prospect of a revolution in air travel has been raised by Nasa's successful test of a 5,000mph plane. But are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport?
The way we get about has a profound impact on the way we live - affecting where we set up home, work and holiday.

Nasa scientists say their experimental X-43A jet has the potential to make the world a much smaller place. It has already led to predictions that passenger planes will one day fly from the UK to Australia in two hours.
But apart from the huge cost implications, governments are increasingly sensitive to environmental concerns and may resist the use of technology that could harm the planet.
So, dusting off the crystal ball, what changes might come in the way we get around? What big ideas are out there, and do they have any chance of seeing the light of day?

The idea: Flying cars
Developments in microlight technology will make it possible for everyone to own what are, in effect, flying cars. They will have closed cabins, heating, stereos and room for two people.
Microlight wings could be removed, to make them like cars
You will take off from a field or runway near your home and fly to towns and cities across the UK, or mainland Europe.
After landing, you will detach the fixed wing from your vehicle and continue your journey by road - right up to your final destination - just as if you were travelling by car.
Fuel efficient engines and the advantage of being able to travel as the crow flies - rather than by winding roads - will keep costs and the environmental impact down.

Will it happen?

It's not that far fetched. Microlight firm Pegasus is already building closed cabin vehicles, while some aircraft can travel at speeds of up to 130mph and fly for up to four hours.
Pegasus boss Bill Brooks says a combined three wheel car and microlight could cost about £30,000.
The downsides

The prospect of horrific crashes and air rage spring to mind.
The British weather often prevents microlight flying, and you can only travel during daylight hours. You need an airfield and learning to fly isn't easy.
There is also the question of developing propellers that can safely power cars.
"Whilst taxiing up the road under propeller power, I met a group of cycling proficiency children who I thought I'd chop up, so stopped and pushed the rest of the way," says Bill Brooks of an early test run.

The idea: Jet Packs
James Bond used a jet pack to escape a French chateau after killing his enemy Jacques Boiter in Thunderball.

The idea of jet packs has been around for years
The idea was also a hit when a stuntman flew around on one during the opening ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
You will be able to use the device - roughly the size of two scuba tanks strapped to your back - on short journeys. Perhaps for going to the shops.
They will be handy for retrieving cats from trees, cleaning hard-to-reach windows and arriving in style at a party.

Will it happen?
It's looking increasingly unlikely - despite the fact we have already seen early prototypes in action.
It remains difficult to build a cheap, reliable version which has a practical use.

The downsides
"Lots of people set their pants on fire and went off in funny directions when they tried them out," says Austin Williams of the independent Transport Research Group.
And there's always the issue of whether you really need one.

The idea: Driverless cabs

These computer-controlled pods will take you wherever you want along a fixed route, whenever you want to go.
Computer-controlled driverless cabs could soon be in Cardiff
For the price of one person's bus fare, several people can ride at speeds of up to 25mph, with fences and elevated sections used to guard against accidents.
There will be little, if any, wait for use of the cabs, which will leave from stations and will be accessed by pre-paid smartcards.
The cabs, which will travel on a 1.5m-wide track, will use 75% less energy per passenger than a car and 50% less than a bus.

Will it happen?
There's a good chance it will. Testing has taken place in Cardiff, where developers hope to have 160 driverless cabs running by 2006.
"We have had a lot of interest from elsewhere in the country," says ULTra chief executive Martin Lowson. He says Corby and Daventry are both looking at the idea, as are Heathrow and East Midlands airports.

The downsides

Persuading investors and politicians to back the scheme. The possibility of vandalism against the cabs.
There's also the visual impact of elevated sections and possible disruption installing the tracks.

The idea: Safe, environmentally friendly cars
Cars of the future will do far less damage to the environment and will be equipped with futuristic safety devices to minimise the number of accidents and deaths.
With hydrogen power, nothing comes from the tailpipe but water
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders
Engines could be powered by a rubbish-fuelled reactor - to make use of all the waste we produce. Alternatively, petrol may be replaced by fuel cells which separate hydrogen from oxygen in water.
Rounder and softer vehicles will appear as safety laws shape vehicle design. They will have sensors to detect pedestrians and other cars and will have air cushions inside and out.
They may also run along invisible tracks, via satellite technology. Traffic flow could even be controlled with vehicles "talking" to each other to regulate flow - meaning the end of traffic jams.

Will it happen?
Cars powered by fuel cells are already being developed, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
"Twenty years from now expect to see examples on our roads," it predicts. "With hydrogen power, nothing comes from the tailpipe but water."

The downsides
So many millions of people own cars that it will be years before environmental and safety improvements become commonplace.

The technology is still experimental and it remains to be seen whether car firms have the ability and commitment necessary.

The idea: Magnetically levitated trains
Maglev trains already run in China
Trains using "Maglev" technology will zip between cities at 260mph - twice the maximum speed British passengers are accustomed to.
The system uses a combination of magnetic attraction and repulsion for lift and forward movement on specially built tracks.
In effect the trains float on an electromagnetic cushion, which minimises friction.
Because journey times are significantly shorter, people will be encouraged to leave their cars at home.

Will it happen?
The first commercial Maglev train line is already in operation between Shanghai city centre and Pudong airport.
The technology was invented in Britain and a Maglev shuttle was actually built between Birmingham International Airport and the nearby railway terminal.
But it was abandoned in 1995 because it was unreliable.

The downsides

The costs. Chinese authorities were forced to abandon a Maglev line between Shanghai and Beijing because of the phenomenal price tag attached to the project.
High-speed trains already in use in Japan and Europe can travel nearly as fast as maglev trains, but on standard tracks.

Future Foods? American Fitness, Nov-Dec, 1991 by Mary Hubbard

Pfizer, Inc. has submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the approval of its sweetener called alatame. It is 2,000 times sweeter than sugar and is formed from two amino acids (the building blocks of protein) just as is aspartame (the chemical name of NutraSweet). It is reportedly more stable than aspartame and may thus be used in baked goods as well as beverages.


A subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, McNeil Specialy Products Company, has submitted a petition to the FDA for approval of a sweetener which is made from sugar, but is 600 times sweeter. Because it is made from sugar it has excellent stability even at high temperatures so it is suitable for use in a broad range of foods including beverages, baked goods, chewing gum, dairy products (like ice cream), syrups and even tabletop sweeteners you use to sweeten your coffee or cereal.

Left-Handed Sugar

The perfect sugar substitute probably doesn't exist, but left-handed sugar (L-sugar for short) sounds very close. This is a substance with its molecules arranged in the mirror image (much as your left hand is the mirror image of your right hand) of regular sugar. The big difference is it can't be digested and absorbed by your body because our digestive systems only "fit" the regular sugar arrangement. It would be like trying to put your left hand into your right glove. And if it can't be digested and absorbed it will pass right through the body so it can't supply any calories. L-sugar supposedly looks like, cooks like, and most importantly, tastes like regular sugar.

Now the artificial fats enter into the picture. Fat of all kinds (solid, liquid, saturated or unsaturated) is a concentrated form of calories. Fat provides nine calories in only one gram (about the weight of a small paper clip), whereas protein or carbohydrate each provide four calories per gram. And evidence is building dietary fat is more easily converted to body fat than are either carbohydrate or protein. So if we could find a way to decrease the fat in our diets (without making any sacrifices, of course), then we could reduce our calories even more drastically than by using sugar substitutes. Imagine fat-free french fries and rich ice cream with less than half the calories.


This artificial fat is claimed by the NutraSweet Company to be the first and only all-natural fat substitute. Simplesse is made by cooking and blending milk and/or egg white protein to make a creamy fluid with a texture so like fat it fools the tongue. It is completely digestible, but substitutes one or two calories of protein for nine calories of fat. Total calorie savings in products will range from 20 to 80%. However, Simplesse has some limitations. Frying or banking will cause Simplesse to gel and lose its creaminess which limits its uses. Simplesse will probably not be sold for home use, but will be sold to food manufacturers as an ingredient in sour cream, cream cheese, margarine, yogurt and ice cream. Simplesse has already received approval by the FDA. In fact, Simple Pleasures[TM] ice cream, which utilizes Simplesse, is currently making its way across America. Its level of acceptance will determine if more products using Simplesse are in our futures. One attractive possibility is the combination of Simplesse and NutraSweet in the same product, a creamy sweet frosting, perhaps? After all, the NutraSweet Company owns the patent on them both.


Proctor & Gamble has been researching "olestra," on a fat-sbustitute made from sugar and vegetable oil. This substance is calorie-free-because it is not digested or absorbed by the body. Research shows olestra may lower the absorption of cholesterol from food in our digestive systems. This is a definite health bonus, but one that has caused the FDA to demand even more intensive research on its safety be conducted before it can be approved. Fat using 100% olestra for a cooking oil is not feasible as it causes diarrhea, so it is blended about 50-50 with regular cooking oil. It is said to look, cook and taste like regular oils. It is not broken down by cooking temperatures and can be used in baked goods, fried snacks and frozen desserts.

As revolutionary as these new products are, we need to put these possibilities into perspective. Studies have shown even with the availability of artificial sweeteners (and Americans are guzzling millions of cans of sugar-free soft drinks each year), we have not really reduced our overall calorie intake. It seems we just eat more of other things to make up for the ones we have given up. So remember, a healthy, nutritious and yes, delicious, diet is not a function of any individual food or product like artificial sweetener or artificial fat. It is determined by a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

Where do all your texts go?

By JEFF KAROUB, AP Business Writer
Sat Jan 26, 8:32 AM ET
DETROIT - Millions of fingers scurrying over mobile electronic devices probably paused this week as news emerged of a trove of text messages containing flirty and sexually explicit chat between Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a top aide. Even those engaging in more wholesome dialogue would be wise to wonder: Do text messages disappear — like oral conversations — or are they permanently logged somewhere for potential retrieval — like e-mail usually is?

For standard consumer text-messaging technology, the answer is largely that they disappear. But Kilpatrick's and Chief of Staff Christine Beatty's devices employ less-fleeting technology.

"I think people can feel comfortable we're not storing information that can later be used against them," Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Erica Sevilla said. "Unless you have something stored on your phone or on a recipients' phone, it does not stay on our network for a long period."

AT&T Inc. keeps text messages for up to 72 hours until delivery is successful, spokesman Howard Riefs said. If a message can't be delivered, it is removed from the system and can't be retrieved.

Kilpatrick and Beatty testified last summer in a whistleblower trial that arose from a lawsuit filed by two police officers alleging they were fired for investigating claims Kilpatrick used his security unit to cover his extramarital affairs.

Kilpatrick and Beatty denied any sexual or romantic ties in 2002 and 2003. But the Detroit Free Press said in a story published Thursday that it examined 14,000 text messages on Beatty's city-issued pager from those years and found many examples.

The city's text messaging service is provided by Mississippi-based wireless company SkyTel.

Roger Pondel, a spokesman for SkyTel's parent company Bell Industries Inc., declined comment Friday.

SkyTel's devices employ a technology called Narrowband PCS, including two-way paging, that "rose and fell" in the mid-1990s, according to David Chamberlain, a wireless analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat.

Chamberlain said SkyTel's device is more akin to e-mail than to text-messaging, and messages are stored. While mainstream technology has since moved to SMS or Short Message Service technology, some corporations and governments have stayed with wireless services like SkyTel.

"It was going to put mobile messaging in the hands of lots of people," Chamberlain said. "(But) it was so poorly differentiated from text messaging. It required people essentially to have a second, very expensive message-only account."

SkyTel's contracts with corporations and governments say communications will be stored for legal reasons. And Chamberlain said users of any technology should know that when using any device issued by an employer.

"There's absolutely no expectation of privacy with phones, e-mails, text messages or computers," he said.

While people may feel comfort knowing their text messages aren't permanently stored, that doesn't mean they should let their guards down when it comes to electronic communications, said a spokeswoman for an online privacy advocacy organization.

"The whole concept of data retention by third parties ... is going to be the big privacy question over the next couple of decades," Rebecca Jeschke of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"We trust so much of our communications and thoughts, even, to these third parties who are capturing this information and storing it in various ways. It's time for us to think about it."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Is This The Beginnings Of Artificial Life?

In what many believe to be a case of creating artificial life, American scientists have found a way of replication a bacterium's 582,970 base pair genome which should allow for the creation of biofuel-manufacturing bacteria - in other words, building bacteria from scratch that might produce fuel for things like cars. It is the largest man-made DNA structure ever made. The previous largest one contained only 32,000 base pairs.

You can read about this in Science magazine.

Dr. Hamilton Smith, J Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, USA, and sixteen others built a bacterium's genome by chemically synthesizing DNA blocks. These blocks were then weaved together to create bigger DNA pieces - these can be formed to create a synthetic version of Mycoplasma genitalium. The scientists say these tailor-made micro-organisms can be designed to produce hydrogen, or tweaked to absorb surplus carbon dioxide in the air.

The team is not using the term artificial life; they prefer to call it synthetic life. Dr. Smith, in a BBC interview, said "We like to distinguish synthetic life from artificial life. It sets the stage for what we hope is going to be a new approach to engineering organisms."

The J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) says this is the second of three key steps towards the team's aim of creating a fully synthetic organism. They are currently trying to create a living bacterial cell, based completely on the synthetically made genome.

J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., President and Founder of JCVI, said "This extraordinary accomplishment is a technological marvel that was only made possible because of the unique and accomplished JCVI team. Ham Smith, Clyde Hutchison, Dan Gibson, Gwyn Benders, and the others on this team dedicated the last several years to designing and perfecting new methods and techniques that we believe will become widely used to advance the field of synthetic genomics."

The scientists explain that building blocks of DNA - adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T) are tremendously tricky chemicals to artificially synthesize into chromosomes. The longer the strands become the more brittle they are, making it very hard to work with them. Making the genome of the M. genitalium bacteria with over 580,000 base pairs was an enormous challenge.

Hamilton Smith said "When we started this work several years ago, we knew it was going to be difficult because we were treading into unknown territory. Through dedicated teamwork we have shown that building large genomes is now feasible and scalable so that important applications such as biofuels can be developed."


Ever since the beginning of this project, the team has been concerned with the ethical issues related to their work. The creation of life by humankind is bound to trigger controversy.

About the J. Craig Venter Institute

The JCVI is a not-for-profit research institute dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics; the understanding of its implications for society; and communication of those results to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. Founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., the JCVI is home to approximately 400 scientists and staff with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/informatics, information technology, high-throughput DNA sequencing, genomic and environmental policy research, and public education in science and science policy. The legacy organizations of the JCVI are: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), The Center for the Advancement of Genomics (TCAG), the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA), the Joint Technology Center (JTC), and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation. The JCVI is a 501 (c)(3) organization. For additional information, please visit

Bionic lenses

SUPERHUMAN eyesight has come a step closer to reality, after engineers successfully built the first contact lenses equipped with microscopic built-in electronics.

The prototype lenses, revealed by Washington University scientists, should enable wearers to see visual displays projected into the world in front of them.

Professor Babak Parviz, one of the developers, says the displays could have many uses: drivers or pilots could see their vehicles’ speed projected on the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion.

And for communications, people on the go could surf the internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see.

A fully functioning lens is some years off, cautions Parviz, but already laboratory tests have shown that the electric lenses can be worn without serious irritation, he told the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Home Robots Grow In Popularity

Joel Garreau says people are falling in love with their Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners.

This week, women all over America -- and not a few men -- are cooing and doting over their surprise hit Christmas present. They swoon when it hides under the couch and plays peekaboo. When it gets tired and finds its way back to its nest, sings a little song and then settles into a nap, its little power button pulsing like a beating heart, on, off, on, off, they swear they can hear it breathe.

It's as cute as E.T., as devoted as R2D2, more practical than a robotic dog and cheaper than some iPods.

iRobot's Roomba is a big seller.

More than 2 million of the machines, which range in price from about $150 to $330, have been sold. The day after Christmas, a Roomba was among the top 20 items in's vast home-and-garden section, ahead of the top-selling iron, the top-selling blender, the top-selling coffeemaker and the top-selling George Foreman grill. In Housewares, different models were Nos. 1, 6 and 8, ahead of all the other vacuum cleaners, including the DustBusters.

Automation of boring house work is a wonderful thing. I especially want full automation of food preparation. Picture a bunch of bins that you'd load with noodles, rice, and other basic dried goods. Plus, imagine a bunch of small spice bins. Then an automated system like an miniaturized warehouse robot would take small amounts from each bin and put the ingredients into a pot which would first be removed from a standard position on a rack and placed on a stove. If the automated system needed to, say, take an unopened bottle of ketchup from a shelf it would put an RFID tag on the bottle and put the bottle in the refrigerator after removing some ketchup. So when will we get the kitchen cook robot? 10 years? 20 years?

An MIT Technology Review article on the future of robots reports home robots surpassed industrial robots in number in 2005.

Domestics. If the latest figures are to be believed, 2007 will be the year of the robotic revolution. According to the latest Robotics Survey, published in October by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, domestic robots now outstrip their industrial cousins. In 2005, the number of domestic droids exceeded the one million milestone, a figure that is now expected to rise into the several millions over the next few years. Christensen believes that next year South Korea will likely come out with the first truly multifunctional home robot. The South Korean government is committed to becoming a leader in robotics and has announced a plan to have a robot in every home by 2013.

The industrial robots cost more and deliver more economic value. But the trend is clear. Home robotics has started to become a part of the present and not just a science fiction dream about the future.

While the term "Roomba" has achieved popularity in the mainstream culture iRobot also makes some less well known mass market floor cleaning robots. The Scooba cleans hard floors such as found in kitchens and bathrooms. The Dirt Dog cleans nails, bolts, and other small debris from shop floors. Scooba can clean just about any floor that a mop can clean.

Scooba is designed to safely clean all sealed hard floor surfaces, including tile, linoleum, marble and sealed hardwood—wherever you would typically use a standard mop. Scooba uses water and a specially designed Clorox® cleaning solution that is safe and effective on all sealed hard floor surfaces.

I can see one problem with these devices: Pets! My late great Australian Shepherd thought all wheeled devices were things to bite at. If I was pushing along a lawn mower that was not running he'd try to bite the wheels. So if you have a dog at home with access to the insides of the house and you set the Roomba or Scooba to do cleaning while you are at work what is Fido or Fluffy going to do when one of these devices starts cruising around? Maybe the simple solution is to start it running as one goes out the door to walk the dog.

How quickly will we get a taller device that'll vacuum couches and chairs or dust window sills and other ledges? The liability risk would be much higher for such a device. Plus, it would be a tougher problem to solve since the device would more in more dimensions with more axes of motion. The same difficulties hold for something tall enough to clear the dishes from the table and put them into the dish washer with the table scraps removed.

Spiralling costs and an aging population make health an area that cries out for robotic automation. Another Technology Review article reports on efforts to provide better physical feedback from robots to surgeons.

Robotic surgical systems have become a staple in operating rooms, advancing the field of minimally invasive surgery. These computer-assisted tools help surgeons conduct more-precise in-depth procedures. The robots are often praised for their dexterity, advanced visualization technologies, and mechanical stamina. But there is one important aspect the robots are missing: a sense of touch, also known as haptics.

A Johns Hopkins team is working on the haptics problem.

To develop such technology, Okamura and her team are working with the da Vinci surgical system made by Intuitive Surgical; it's the only robot approved by the FDA for conducting surgical procedures. The da Vinci is particularly useful in laparoscopic surgical procedures, such as the removal of the gallbladder or prostate. It also makes it possible to perform minimally invasive procedures for general noncardiac surgical procedures inside the chest.

Surgical robots will serve as aides to human surgeons in much the same way that automatic pilots do work for real pilots. Surgical robots will eventually do subsets of steps within longer surgical procedures. For example a surgical robot could probably be designed to show graphically what they plan to do for a sequence by overlaying an animation over an already sliced open area of the body. Then a surgeon could approve of that sequence and the robot could perform the sequence more rapidly and accurately than a human could.

We are moving beyond the stage where robots were used only in controlled and therefore relatively simple factory environments. The home and the surgical operating table are both much more complicated environments with more unplanned and unexpected elements that can show up. Recent advances in robotic vehicles demonstrate the potential for robotic systems to handle complex environments outside of factories. The success of robots in the mass market will provide revenue flows to fund the development of more robotic products. We should expect the introductions of new kinds of home and workplace robots in the next few year. Robots are a growing part of our everyday lives.

Synthetic life

By Helen Briggs
Science reporter, BBC News

The bacterium has one of the smallest known genomes
An important step has been taken in the quest to create a synthetic lifeform.

A US team reports in Science magazine how it replicated the entire DNA code from a common bacterium in the laboratory.

The group hopes eventually to use engineered genomes to make organisms that can produce clean fuels and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Publication of the research gives others the chance to scrutinise it. Some have ethical concerns.

It sets the stage for what we hope is going to be a new approach to engineering organisms
Dr Hamilton Smith, Nobel Prize winner

Creating life in the lab
These critics have been calling for several years now for a debate on the risks of creating "artificial life" in a test tube.

But Dr Hamilton Smith, who was part of the Science study, said the team regarded its lab-made genome - a laboratory copy of the DNA used by the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium - as a step towards synthetic, rather than artificial, life.

He told BBC News: "We like to distinguish synthetic life from artificial life.

"With synthetic life, we're re-designing the cell chromosomes; we're not creating a whole new artificial life system."

Gene cassettes

The team of 17 scientists constructed the bacterial genome by chemically synthesising small blocks of DNA.

Ever-bigger chunks of DNA are being assembled
These were grown up in a bacterium, and knitted together into bigger pieces, so-called "cassettes" of genes.

The researchers ended up with several large chunks of DNA that were joined to make the circular genome of a synthetic version of Mycoplasma genitalium.

They have named it Mycoplasma JCVI-1.0, after their research centre, the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD, US.

Dr Craig Venter, who was involved in the race to decode the human genome, believes tailor-made micro-organisms can become efficient producers of non-polluting fuels such as hydrogen. Other synthetic bacteria could be made to take up greenhouse gases, he believes.

"It sets the stage for what we hope is going to be a new approach to engineering organisms," said co-researcher Dr Smith.

Operating systems

To achieve this goal, the researchers must overcome a crucial, and tricky, obstacle.

They must transplant the synthetic genome into another cell so that it can use the existing machinery to "boot up" and start growing and reproducing.

2002: synthetic virus created - a lab version of polio
2007: a genome from one cell is placed in another
2008: publication of synthetic genome study
"It's installing the software - basically we have to boot up the genome, get it operating," said Dr Smith, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978.

"We're simply re-writing the operating software for cells - we're not designing a genome from the bottom up - you can't drop a genome into a test tube and expect it to come to life," he added.

This is the stage which raises the most concern among critics, and where a new lifeform could be said to be truly created. How precisely will it behave? What will its impact be on other organisms and the environment? Some say it is a step too far, but others argue that the new field of synthetic biology is an important science.

Even bigger

The UK's Royal Society is seeking views from the public on the issue.

Adviser on synthetic biology, Dr Jason Chin, said the increasing ability to design and construct DNA sequences would, in principle, allow the construction of organisms for particular purposes, such as biofuels production.

He added: "Understanding how you construct organisms artificially is an important first step. But scientists still need to understand what effect altering the DNA sequence of an organism - such as bacteria - will have upon their behaviour."

Dr Drew Endy of the Department of Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, said that re-constructing a natural bacterial genome from scratch was a great technical feat.

He said genomes 10 times larger than Mycoplasma JCVI-1.0 had already been assembled from existing DNA fragments by a Japanese group.

Dr Endy added: "Given the work already done in Japan, building genomes almost 10 million base-pairs long - I would be surprised if by 2012 it were not technically possible to routinely design and construct the genomes of any bacteria or single celled eukaryote, which also means that it will be possible to construct some mammalian chromosomes."

Dr Simon Woods, a bio-ethicist at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, UK, said scientists were acting in a regulatory vacuum.

"On the one hand it's an amazing piece of science but the real concern is that it's another example of science delving into matters that have potentially dangerous consequences," he said.

"It's not necessarily going to stay in the hands of well-intentioned scientists."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Future Space Flight?

Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson, unveiled the new spaceflight system, composed of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane and the SpaceShipTwo spacecrafts.

“2008 really will be the year of the spaceship,” said Branson when he unveiled the 1/16th-scale model spacecraft at the American Museum of Natural History. “We’re truly excited about our new system and what our new system will be able to do.”

Both crafts were designed and built by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites. The first spaceflights are star-dated for 2009, tickets aboard the SpaceShipTwo space liners are available from Virgin Galactic for an initial price of about $200,000.

Based on Rutan's SpaceShipOne, a piloted and reusable spacecraft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for suborbital spaceflight in 2004, SpaceShipTwo is an air-launched vehicle designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to suborbital space and back. But unlike SpaceShipOne, which launched from beneath its single-cabin WhiteKnight carrier, the new craft will drop from a twin-cabin high-altitude jet that can double as a space tourist training craft. WhiteKnightTwo carries four engines and a wingspan of about 140 feet (42 meters), rivaling a B-29 bomber, and is built to handle unmanned rockets capable of launching small satellites into orbit, Virgin Galactic officials said.

Scientist unveils man-made genome, key to creating life from scratch

More Health and Science news
Gene pioneer Craig Venter has unveiled the world's first man-made genome, setting the stage for a profound milestone: the creation of life from scratch.
The feat, described online Thursday in the journal Science, was accomplished by making DNA fragments from lab chemicals and then assembling them inside a cell.
The synthetic genome contains all the instructions that an organism - in this case, a tiny bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium - needs to live and reproduce.
The ability to synthesize life, such as biofuels, could help solve one of mankind's biggest problems: a sustainable energy supply. But it could also be used to construct bioweapons, such as smallpox.
"The science can be used to do practical things - and it also can be used to do dangerous and nefarious things," said anthropologist Paul Rabinow of the University of California-Berkeley.
It is impossible to completely regulate such inventions, he said, urging the public to start discussing the science's ethical ramifications.
"What it might mean for the future is incredible," said David C. Magnus, director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics, who in the late 1990s helped draft the first guidelines to govern such research. "The whole field has moved so far, so quickly.
"It shouldn't be discarded because of the pitfalls. We just need to make sure we stay on top of the pitfalls," Magnus said. "As a society, we're taking a gamble that we can put enough protections in

place so that my the time it is widespread, the damage can be mitigated."
Scientists are now working on the next step at the Maryland and La Jolla labs of the J. Craig Venter Institute. They will strive to "boot up" the inserted genome and watch it give the cell marching orders.
Just as technicians can now assemble standardized, off-the-shelf electronic components to build computers, synthetic biologists foresee a day when engineers will assemble biological parts to create desired organisms.
In this experience, the team started with four jars of the basic chemical ingredients of DNA. The chemicals were strung together in the correct sequence, then assembled into small pieces called cassettes. Inside a yeast cell, the cassettes were linked to create a single large and looping chromosome.
This is the latest exploit for Venter, whose company Synthetic Genomics Inc. has already filed patents on synthetic bugs. He was the first person to sequence the genome of a living organism and the first to publish the genome of a specific human being - himself. He has applied for a patent on the synthetic bacterium.
"We're not shaking together chemicals and striking them with a lightening bolt," Venter said at a Thursday teleconference from Davos, Switzerland. "It is a new design phase of biology - constructing chromosomes of a specific nature for specific purposes."
California has also jumped into the field of so-called "synthetic biology" at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC, a multi-institution research effort that includes University of California campuses at Santa Cruz, Berkeley and San Francisco, as well as private biotech companies and venture capital firms.
UC-Berkeley researcher Chris Anderson is building tumor-killing bacteria. In Emeryville, Amyris Biotechnologies adds genes to yeast or bacteria to make an anti-malaria drug and novel biofuels. The company LS9 of San Carlos is engineering bacteria that can make hydrocarbons for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Dozens of so-called "gene foundries" have sprung up to sell synthetic strands of DNA and other products.
"It is the first step in a platform for an organic robot," said UC-Berkeley's Rabinow, a member of SynBERC.

Daniel Burrus wrote

Keeping Up Is A Fools Game
Keeping up—with technology, with competitors, with anything in business or life—is a fool’s game. Think about it… When you’re keeping up, what’s the advantage? In reality, there is no advantage to keeping up, because all you’re doing is making yourself just like everyone else. You’re finding out who the best is and then you’re copying the best. But by the time you get as good as the best, the best has already moved on to something better, and you’re still far behind.

Realize that “benchmarking” is just a fancy way of saying “keeping up.” When you benchmark you’re simply identifying the best practices of what others do well and then striving to imitate them. Again, once you reach the benchmarked standards, the company or person that set the benchmark has already moved on to achieve higher standards.

So how do you gain advantage and truly stand out from the crowd? The key is to forget about keeping up and set a new standard for yourself and your company. Consider the following suggestions.

Rather than keeping up, smart business people benchmark in a way that looks to the future. When they plan their future growth, they ask themselves three key questions: 1) Where are the successful companies evolving to? 2) What path are my competitors on right now? 3) What’s the logical progression of the industry?

Asking these questions enables you to go beyond your competition and get off the treadmill of keeping up. It opens your eyes to future possibilities—to stay ahead of the pack instead of side-by-side with them. Remember: Only when you go beyond your competition will you find advantage—and the financial rewards competitive advantage brings.

Most businesses do exactly the same thing as their competitors and then wonder why they don’t have the upper hand. For example, determine if there’s a better customer you can go after—one that’s better and different than what everyone else is going after. Can you customize your product or service for the better customer so that the better customer would want what you offer and not what the competitor offers? A process of constant innovation and differentiation provides you with new levels of advantage on an on-going basis.

Perhaps there was a time when it made sense to play the one-upmanship game of keeping up with the competition. But the dramatic changes spawned by science and technology has made that a perilous game for the present and a formula for disaster for the future. Those who merely “keep up” are usually so caught up in meeting their day-to-day challenges that they can only worry about the future, while the real business innovators see the present as a stepping stone they can use to get to a bigger and better future.

A new world is taking shape before our eyes, and no company can afford to hide out in the old familiar places. While it’s important to stay abreast of changes and update your company as new technologies and developments unfold, it’s just as crucial to distance yourself from the competition and embrace a forward thinking mindset that will enable you to turn tomorrow’s opportunities into today’s profits.

Michael Calore interviews Paul Saffo

I just got off the phone with Paul Saffo, one of Silicon Valley's leading technology forecasters.
I presented to Paul the same premise that I discussed with Opera's Jon von Tetzchner earlier today: Apple's iPhone as the first shot in the "invisible computer" revolution.
Wired News: The iPhone has the potential to run real applications, and it has a browser that can run web-based software. In a few years, it's likely you'll be able to just carry one of these around as a replacement for the traditional PC. When you sit at your desk, it will connect wirelessly to your keyboard, mouse, display and speakers. All of your data and files will be stored within a web service, retrievable from everywhere. At that point, who needs the computer?
Paul Saffo: I think this is a very big deal. Cyberspace was a wonderful thing, but the only place you could enter cyberspace from was your desktop. We've had some brain damaged ways of accessing it from the places that we actually live our lives, but until now, they've all been compromised. If the iPhone works as advertised, it's a no compromises node, and that's a huge deal.
It not only means that we get to do more on the web while moving around, but it means that the nature of the web is going to change because of what people can do when they're not at their desks.
With his usual élan, Jobs is breaking the tyranny of the keyboard and trying to break the tyranny of the cursor as well. We've been able to get computers into our pockets for a very long time, but the issue has always been, 'what do you do with it?' You don't have a keyboard, you don't have a stylus and your thumbs are too big to type. This is the first serious attempt to break the tyranny of input. Until now, everybody's always focused on output -- is the screen big enough or sharp enough -- and the screens are high-resolution and bright. We've conquered that. Now the limiting factor is input.
Over time, what has been the limiting piece that has kept us from doing this? It used to be processor speeds and energy demands, then it was screens. Now, the only limitation on the size of the computer is the input device.
WN: Still, there are some significant limitations we still need to overcome before this becomes reality. Namely, bandwidth and processing power.
PS: Yeah, well those are constants -- You can never be too thin or too rich. But they're more of a soft wall than a barrier in the sense that they're always getting better. Our expectations are always one step ahead.
Apple's sister product may actually play a key role here. I thought it was no coincidence that three things happened at the same time: The iPhone was announced, Apple TV was released and Apple changed its name. Apple started as a really good computer company, then it was a really good computer company that also made really neat consumer electronics. They dropped "Computer" from the name and the timing's perfect, because now they're a consumer electronics company that also makes killer computers.
The scale of the market in consumer electronics dwarfs the computer market, and not just in the number of potential customers. The essence of consumer electronics is not devices, it's fashion.
One major consumer electronics company I know very well has over 300 engineers whose full-time job is to sit around and figure out new kinds of material science to get a new kind of finish on cell phone skins. That's fashion! They're as much of a fashion house as Pierre Cardin, or who ever the hot fashion designer is these days.
WN: I think that was also reflected on the Macworld Expo floor. It seemed like every other booth this year was selling a skin or a case or some sort of accessory for your iPod. Accessories for your accessories.
PS: Yeah, and in that sense, this isn't the next computer. This is the next home for the mind. Computers have had a nice long run, and laptops will always play at least some role. But the center of gravity is now slowly shifting from the desk to the device in your pocket.
WN: Today we got confirmation that Apple is not allowing third-party developers to build software for the device. Any software that appears on the iPhone that wasn't created by Apple is only going to be the result of a partnership. There's some heavy criticism here, and some are even saying that closing the device will kill it. Do you agree?
PS: Absolutely not. They have no choice. When you constrain things in one dimension, you get freedom in another. The freedom the iPhone gets from that relationship is the freedom from crashes. Let's face it: Microsoft can't solve its Windows problem. There are too many third parties. Apple can solve it by keeping tight control.
The difference between the device that sits on your desk and the device that sits in your pocket is your expectation of reliability. If the computer on your desk crashes, you roll your eyes and go, "Goddamn it," and you try to solve it or call tech support or take it down to the Genius Bar. If your phone crashes, you're going to be ripping mad. You're going to throw it out of a window. That's another reason why that thing in your pocket isn't quite the next computer, because our expectations of our computers are too low to put them in our pockets.
The moment a device goes in your pocket, connectivity is like oxygen. After 30 seconds without it, you're feeling dizzy. After 60 seconds you're unconscious and after 2 and a half minutes, you're brain dead.
WN: So if the iPhone is not the next computer, what is it?
PS: Well, your premise is still absolutely right. This really is the next computer in that it's the next home for our minds. It's the next indispensable tool.
I'm old enough to remember when personal computers were a revolution. Suddenly, the fact that processors were so cheap we could put one on everyone's desk was a sign of abundance. Today, that desktop machine is a hangover from the days when computers were so scarce, you could only have them on your desk. Now, computers are so abundant that they are absolutely everywhere.
So the iPhone... this is your device in the age of computing abundance. It's your personal diplomat into cyberspace, it's all the things that your desktop computer wished it could be. But since your desktop could never leave the desk, it just couldn't do it.