Monthly Archives: October 2005

Robots Mainstream By 2006, 2007?

A good while ago, the UN’s annual World Robotics report predicted that robots would enter mainstream use in 2007, much like computers and Internet have done years before.

These predictions are based on extrapolations of available data. Just as computer- and Internet-use has been doubling every year or so, so is robot-use doubling now.

Extrapolation is an extremely valueable technique for predicting the future, as can be read in the Singularity FAQ.

From the article:

Seven times more robots will helping us out with the cleaning, security and entertainment in three years’ time, as their price falls and they get smarter.

Two-thirds of the 607,000 domestic robots in use were bought in 2003, says the UN’s annual World Robotics report.

By the end of 2007, 4.1 million robots will be doing jobs in homes, says the report by the UN Economic Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics.

As well as the vacuuming, they will take over tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning pools, and washing windows.

Robots like Irobi, unveiled this week by Korean company Yujin Robotics, will be able to multiple tasks.

It is a net-based, all-in-one family robot complete with educational functions, home security, diary, entertainment, and message delivery capability.

Now, there is another point of view from the American-based robots are going to be big in 2006.

From the article:

But specialised robots are finding their way into homes, with robotic vacuums already doing the cleaning duties in half a million US homes.

This trend is set to continue, according to the CEA.

Domestic robots that can control home networks, sort laundry and scrub the kitchen floor are not far off and are likely to be sold in much the same way as other household appliances are.

They will not, however, become mass market until they have reached the prices of other labour saving appliances and are proved to be reliable and effective, said the CEA.

Marshall Brain, the founder of www.howstuffworks.com, maintains a blog about our future Robotic Nation, which is very interesting and worty of taking a look at. He has also written an essay entitled Robotic Nation, in which he writes about what he thinks will be the implications of the ‘rise of the robots’.

Those implications are, in summary:

  • More and more automisation of jobs at the bottom of the ladder as robots get smarter and cheaper.
  • Vast unemployment as a direct consequence hereof, and possible economical devestation if no measures are taken in time.
  • A leisure society, as a result of modifying the economy such that everybody has a guaranteed liveable income. Robots do all the work.

Marshall has written a lot more on robots. For example, take a look at his book Manna. Or his Robotic Nation FAQ. Or his book The Day You Discard Your Body.

It’s inspiring material. In fact, I thought that last one was so inspiring, that I wrote a blogpost on the Future Of Virtual Environments right after reading it.

Marshall has written so much on the topic… he actually seems to be quite obsessed with them. 😉

And justly so. Robots will transform our lives, just like computers and the Internet have done before.

For more info on robots, the latest robot news, and more links-in-general:

Just remember folks…

The Internet is not exactly the last revolution you’ll have ever seen in your lifetime.

Q&A With Jeff Hawkins, Intelligence Expert

There is a Q&A available with Jeff Hawkins, AI-expert and inventor of the Palm Pilot.

Jeff has been thinking about intelligence, and how it works, for many years now. He has a company named Numenta, which is aiming to understand intelligence, and then use it in commercial products.

It is this kind of work that will ultimately allow us to build intelligent machines, and initiate the Singularity.

Recently, Jeff has come up with a new theory of intelligence. He even thinks he’s figured out how conscioussness works.

Jason Pontin interviews him. Here’s a fragment of the interview.

JP: … You are proposing that the neocortex is a “belief propagation network” — a kind of machine that generates more or less accurate ideas about the world? How could such a thing evolve?

JH: It’s not that difficult. Nothing in nature just springs into being. The neocortex evolved from structures that existed before. A reptile has a sophisticated brain. The neocortex added value to that brain. It allowed early mammals to see just a little bit into the future. The mammal could say, “I recognize this spot. I know there’s food just around the corner.” And it was so successful, so quickly, that the neocortex developed very fast. The brain just kept on adding circuits. But why is the neocortex a belief propagation network? I don’t know! It just is.

JP: Is the higher consciousness — what philosophers sometimes call “self-consciousness” — a byproduct of HTM?

JH: Yes. I think I understand what consciousness is now. There are two elements to consciousness. First, there is the element of consciousness where we can say, “I am here now.” This is akin to a declarative memory where you can actively recall doing something. Riding a bike cannot be recalled by declarative memory, because I can’t remember how I balanced on a bike. But if I ask, “Am I talking to Jason?” I can answer “Yes.” So I like to propose a thought experiment: if I erase declarative memory, what happens to consciousness?” I think it vanishes.

But there is another element to consciousness: what philosophers and neuroscientists call “qualia:” the feeling of being alive. Qualia mean different things to different people, but the way I like to think about them is to ask, “Why does anything feel like anything?” And I think I understand this a little, too. Qualia have to do with the world itself: I perceive the world in a certain way because that’s the way the world really is.

Cheap Solar Power On The Way

A team of UCLA scientists have cut down the cost of solar panels down by a factor of five to ten by using plastics.

The efficiency of solar panels is, at this point in time, pushing 40%.

I can’t find the source of that anymore, but the article is posted somewhere on the Kurzweil site.

Solar panels are almost cost competative with conventional resources. Solar energy is only three to four times as expensive as conventional energy. It will only take a few more years before they’ll start being taken into use.

These plastics, however, may bring us solar energy faster than most of us imagine.

In research published today in Nature Materials magazine, UCLA engineering professor Yang Yang, postdoctoral researcher Gang Li and graduate student Vishal Shrotriya showcase their work on an innovative new plastic (or polymer) solar cell they hope eventually can be produced at a mere 10 percent to 20 percent of the current cost of traditional cells, making the technology more widely available.

The price for quality traditional solar modules typically is around three to four times more expensive than fossil fuel. While prices have dropped since the early 1980s, the solar module itself still represents nearly half of the total installed cost of a traditional solar energy system.

The plastic solar cell is still a few years away from being available to consumers, but the UCLA team is working diligently to get it to market.

“We hope that ultimately solar energy can be extensively used in the commercial sector as well as the private sector. Imagine solar cells installed in cars to absorb solar energy to replace the traditional use of diesel and gas. People will vie to park their cars on the top level of parking garages so their cars can be charged under sunlight. Using the same principle, cell phones can also be charged by solar energy,” Yang said. “There are such a wide variety of applications.”

This world can definately do with a solution to our energy problem. Here in Holland, life has become really expensive since the Euro was introduced. Our real estate market is friggin’ impossible, our groceries cost a small fortune, and our energy bills are over the top!

It would sure be nice to have a future in which solar energy becomes extremely cheap, so we can basically build small solar panels into just about anything (say: rooftiles, windows, clothing, traffic signs). That way, energy will become a little bit more like oxygen: completely free, and available everywhere.

And it would probably also shut up the peak oil doomers. 😉

What a relief that would be…

Doomer Type #1 – The Social Darwinist

Doomer Type #2 – The Survivor

Doomer Type #3 – The Partyer

Tissue Engineering At Lightning Speed

I thought Ellen Heber-Katz’s super-regenerative mice were already pretty impressive. But as it turns out, super-regeneration is only the beginning.

Scientists have managed to produce tissue in a matter of minutes, instead of days. They do this by simply removing water from the starting material.

This method has great potential for people who need tissue for surgery real fast. Normally, growing tissue takes multiple weeks. Using this new method, this time can be cut back a hundred-fold, all the way down to 35 minutes.

UK scientists say they can cut the time it takes to grow new tissue from days to minutes.

The next stage is to test whether this method could help repair injured tissues. Ultimately, the goal is to design a rapid, inexpensive, automatic process for creating strong tissues which could supply hospital surgical units with a tool kit of spare parts for reconstructive surgery. The speed and control it offers means that our method could one day be used to produce implant tissue at the bedside or in the operating theatre.

Original link: New Tissue Grown In Minutes

Nano Silver Bullet Kills HIV

Nano Silver Bullet Kills HIV

In a groundbreaking study, the Journal of Nanotechnology has published a study that found silver nanoparticles kills HIV-1 and is likely to kill virtually any other virus. The study, which was conducted by the University of Texas and Mexico University, is the first medical study to ever explore the benefits of silver nanoparticles, according to Physorg.

After incubating the HIV-1 virus at 37 C, the silver particles killed 100% of the virus within 3 hours for all three methods.

Already used as a topical antibiotic in the medical industry, silver may now come under consideration as an alternative to drugs when it comes to fighting previously untreatable viruses such as the Tamiflu resistant avian flu.

Nanotech will allow us to solve problems that were previously not solvable, including curing HIV and cancer.

There’s nothing else I can say to add anything to this.

Nanobombs Blow Up Cancer

Everybody who is familiar with nanotechnology has probably heard of the scenario where we’ll have advanced nanotechnology that will help us diagnose diseases before the symptoms even hit. This way, it will be easy to treat and prevent our diseases, and a life in good health will be a guarantee.

Well, we’re not exactly there yet, but Balaji Panchapakesan of the University of Delaware is working to make this fictice scenario a reality.

Researchers have created “nanobombs” that can produce nanoscale explosions to blow up cancer.

Balaji Panchapakesan of the University of Delaware has reported on the nanobombs in both NanoBiotechnology and Oncology Issues.

Panchapakesan says the nanobombs are in the early stages of development, but that the goal is to use them in medical applications.

“Make no mistake, we are focused on eradicating cancer,” he says.

The bombs are created through the bundling of carbon nanotubes. Nanotubes dissipate heat generated by the light into surrounding air. In bundles, they can’t dissipate the heat as quickly and the result is “an explosion on the nanoscale,” says Panchapakesan.

“The nanobomb is very selective, very localized and minimally invasive,” Panchapakesan said. “It might cause what I would call nanopain, like a pin prick.”

The nanobombs could also offer advantages over other nanotech treatments as they are destroyed along with cancer cells. Macrophages then clear cell debris and exploded nanotubes, preventing nanoparticles from jamming up in the body.

This stuff is all for real these days.

How lucky are we to be alive right now… come the next decade, we’ll look back on cancer as we now do on poor hygene and all consequences thereof.
See also this related Wired article on nano-sensors.

The field of nanotechnology has been long on hype and short on real products — with the possible exception of stain-free pants. Likewise, the emergence of personalized medicine — that utopian vision of detecting a disease at the doctor’s office before symptoms have hit, and then treating it at the molecular level — has long been foretold, but still hasn’t arrived.

But a product that should appear next year could fulfill both visions. Northbrook, Illinois-based Nanosphere is preparing to launch a diagnostic system that uses nanoparticles to detect various proteins at a level of sensitivity never before seen.

“[Nanospheres] could really be the breakthrough technology that revolutionizes the medical field,” he said. “Often, discoveries lead to technologies in search of a use. But in this case, the need for this type of technology is so intense that if it works as advertised, it will be hugely popular.”

And the nanotech revolution hasn’t even started yet…

[update]

Here‘s an article that describes the professor and his nanobombs a little more elaborately.

Driverless Cars Race 130 Miles

Driverless robots reach milestone in DARPA race

Stanford University’s Racing Team has accomplished a historic feat of robotics, finishing first in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a 131.6-mile driverless car race that no artificially intelligent machine has ever conquered before.

Some of the implications for our society, when driverless cars become the norm:

  • No more wasting time travelling to work by bus or a manually driven car. You can have cars drive you to your job, and you can work in the meantime. Traveltime will be worktime. You’ll save a few hours per day.
  • Driving software could communicate wirelessly with other software in other cars, allowing for efficient use of the road. The capacity of our roads will suddenly increase by a certain factor x.
  • Assuming the software will be debugged properly before it is taken into use: no more accidents. Ever.

You think this is great? Just imagine having a system like this in a flying car.

Yes… they actually exist. And according to the creator, they’ll be taken in mainstream use 15 years from now. Military, police, and rescueworkers will use them even sooner.

Be sure to watch the movieclips.

[update]
Will Our Cars Become Our Chauffeurs?

Self-Navigating Vehicle

The Future Of Computers (4)

I’ve spoken about this before in my Future Of Computers blogpost-series. Now it has actually come true.

I’m talking about nano-memory here, or NRAM, as it’s officially called.

NRAM stands for Nano Random Access Memory, or NanoRAM. RAM is the stuff that computers of today use for working memory.

And this working memory is about to be revolutionized.

Nantero is gearing up to massproduce NRAM in the short term.

Will computers that require no time to boot up become a reality? One company thinks the answer is yes, thanks to its carbon nanotube memory chips.

Nantero calls its technology NRAM, which is loosely short for nanotube-based, non-volatile random access memory.

Non-volatile components, which by definition keep all data even when the power is turned off, are currently on the market in the form of flash memory cards. These hold electrons in insulated cells to act as ones and zeroes. They can be found in many portable gadgets, from MP3 players to digital camera memory cards.

Norman Armour, vice-president and general manager of the LSI factory in Gresham, Oregon, says developers are “working aggressively” to put the technology to use in electronic devices. He says they still have to check that the chips can be reliably produced on a large scale, but he expects prototypes of products with NRAM to be ready by the summer of 2006.

Sounds good to me.

Fortunately, RAM is not the only thing shrinking to ever smaller proportions. Take a look at these extremely thin color displays. Not only will these be extremely thin, but also extremely cheap. And extremely ubiquitous, ofcourse.

They’ll be used on food cartons, informational brochures, medicinal packages, admission tickets, etc.

Oh, and they could also be used on business cards, I suppose…

Artificial Kidney On The Way

Artificial Kidney On The Way

Using nanotechnology, researchers have taken the first steps towards creating a fully functioning, artificial kidneys.

As Nissenson told Reuters Health, “a connection to the bloodstream is necessary, which allows blood to flow into the device. In the device, it is filtered and processed by the membranes, with waste and water being discharged into a bag — the external bladder — to be discarded, and important substances like salt, calcium, and nutrients returned to the body.” In its final form, the device would operate continuously, imitating natural kidneys. No dialysis solution is used.

Using computer modeling, the researchers found that the device, operating 12 hours per day, seven days per week, actually provides a greater filtering rate than conventional dialysis given three times a week.

That’s damn good news for people with kidney problems.

Furthermore, this is actually quite a fascinating development.

Why, you ask?

Extrapolate…

First it’s kidneys. What’s next? If we can build artificial kidneys and wombs, why not build artificial replacements for the rest of our organs?

At first, these artificial organs will be used to replace our broken ones. But then… the artificial organs will start reaching a level of functionality that surpasses the functionality or our own organs.

The result…?

The birth of bionic man. Or Human Body Version 2.0 as Ray Kurzweil so eloquently puts it.

We will become cyborgs.

The possibilities include:

  • Replacement vascular system: programmable blood (respirocytes, read about them on the web), no more failure-prone heart necessary.
  • Upgraded digestive system: eat whatever you like, never get fat, stay healthier with less maintance (and by that I mean healthfood and exercise)
  • Stronger skeleton, allowing us to survive carcrashes and other accidents more easily.

And I’m sure there are lots more things to be upgraded about our bodies, but you get the picture.

Prepare for a wild ride.

Nanomachines Simulations

So, you’ve read some stuff about The Future Of Molecular Manufacturing, and you were impressed and fascinated with the prospect of molecular manufacturing providing us with any material needs cheaply and quickly…. but now you actually want to see some nanomachines in action?

Well, today’s your lucky day, because you can take a look at some nanomachines over at the nanoENGINEER-1 website.

These machines are not exactly as sophisticated as the nanobots you’ve probably read something about by now. You know… the ones that can clean up our environment by disassembling (or otherwise neutralising) chemical crap, and that can keep our bodies in perfect health until the end of time.

But they’re not just pretty pictures either. These machines have been simulated using the nanoENGINEER-1 simulation software, which is based on known physical laws.

This means that, if you’d have a bunch of atoms stuffed together as shown in the pictures, they would behave the same way in the real physical world as they do in the simulations shown.

A few days ago, these pictures were animated. Now they seem to be still pictures. Kind of a shame. But still cool to look at.