Monthly Archives: December 2005

Top 10 Tech Trends 2006

Ten predictions on top tech trends of 2006 are available on Mercury News. It’s interesting to read because you can definately tell the people who wrote this have done their research.

The 10 tech trends 2006:

  1. Video will come to the big screen in your living room and to the small screen on your cell phone.
  2. Cell phones do everything
  3. Internet phone calls become more popular
  4. The office moves to the web
  5. Stemcell research advances
  6. Biotech targets flu vaccines
  7. Small start-ups go global
  8. Video comes to the blog
  9. On-demand video everywhere
  10. Clean technology investment increase

For details, read the article.

DNA Pill Solution To Obesity?

American and Dutch scientists have come up with the very first personalised medication for weightloss, that will soon be available in the mainstream.

We have yet to see whether this thing will actually do as promised, but we can safely say that the era of personalised medicine has begun. And that’s a big deal!

(I for one wasn’t expecting this until about 2010.)

The article is in Dutch, which is why I’m going to loosely translate it in this post:

The pill, named Genotrim, will be manufactured for individuals, based on 4 to 16 genes that are related to metabolism. Saliva is taken from the inner cheek, and having it analysed costs 325 euro’s. After that, Salugen will fabricate you your personalised medication, which you’ll be taking for 3 months and costs anywhere between 40 and 80 euro’s.

It is claimed that any person who weighs 110 kilo’s can go down to 85 kilo’s in 3 months without having to go on any diet whatsoever. The pill does this by restoring your metabolism (apparently to what it used to be when you were young, the article doesn’t say anything on this). The pill will initially be released in the US and in Holland.

Oprah Winfrey will talk about the pill on her new year’s eve show, and she’ll be testing it as well.

If I look at this objectively, I think there is reason for cautious optimism here. The people behind the Oprah Winfrey show have probably done their research, so they know what they’ll be talking about. Would Oprah Winfrey really want to put her reputation on the line if this was a scam?

It might be big. Let’s sit back and watch what happens next.

[update]

It looks like this whole thing is a scam. Read the comments under this post for more details.

Robots Demonstrates Self Awareness

Japan has come up with a robot that seems to demonstrate self awareness.

A new robot can recognize the difference between a mirror image of itself and another robot that looks just like it.

This so-called mirror image cognition is based on artificial nerve cell groups built into the robot’s computer brain that give it the ability to recognize itself and acknowledge others.

The ground-breaking technology could eventually lead to robots able to express emotions.

Under development by Junichi Takeno and a team of researchers at Meiji University in Japan, the robot represents a big step toward developing self-aware robots and in understanding and modeling human self-consciousness.

“In humans, consciousness is basically a state in which the behavior of the self and another is understood,” said Takeno.

In one experiment, a robot representing the “self” was paired with an identical robot representing the “other.”

When the self robot moved forward, stopped or backed up, the other robot did the same. The pattern of neurons firing and the subsequent flashes of blue light indicated that the self robot understood that the other robot was imitating its behavior.

In another experiment, the researchers placed the self robot in front of a mirror.

In this case, the self robot and the reflection (something it could interpret as another robot) moved forward and back at the same time. Although the blue lights fired, they did so less frequently than in other experiments.

In fact, 70 percent of the time, the robot understood that the mirror image was itself. Takeno’s goal is to reach 100 percent in the coming year.

I regard this as a big deal. Developments like this one are important steps towards a true Artificial Intelligence. One that is potentially smarter than us humans. AI is the only technology which can come up with more technology all by itself. Therefore, AI will likely be the last invention mankind need ever come up with.

Also have a look at the latest developments in Honda’s Asimo to get an idea of where things are headed, and how fast it’s going.

For more details on the implications of artificial intelligence, and the exponential acceleration thereof, read the Singularity FAQ.

Hair Follicle Stem Cells Regenerate Nerves

Reason of the LongevityMeme reports on progress made in stem cell technology with the use of hair follicles.

Hair follicles turn out to be quite potent in their abilities, which is a good thing. It may turn out we won’t be needing any embryonic stem cells at all, which is another controversy wiped off the table. This can only speed up stem cell research.

A quote from the site:

(Via Genetic Engineering News). Scientists discovered a population of multipotent stem cells in adult hair follicles back in 2004, and now these cells are bring put to work in regenerative medicine: researchers “have found that stem cells from hair follicles of mice can be used to rejoin severed nerves in mouse models. Easily accessible hair follicle stem cells, which normally function to form the hair follicle which in turn form the growing hair in all mammals including man, have been shown to have great potential to produce nerve cells and many other types of cells. The hair follicle stem cells were used by the AntiCancer researchers to rejoin nerves in the legs of mice that were experimentally severed. After injection of the hair follicle stem cells, the nerves were rejoined and were able to regain function, enabling the mice to walk normally again.”

The original article can be found here.

For more info on what’s going on in hair-related science, look here.

Mass Production Quantum Chips Nearby

Researchers of the University of Michigan have succeeded in building a quantum chip that is believed to be scalable and mass-producable.

Using the same semiconductor fabrication technology that is used in everyday computer chips, researchers were able to trap a single atom within an integrated semiconductor chip and control it using electrical signals, said Christopher Monroe, U-M physics professor and the principal investigator and co-author of the paper, “Ion Trap in a Semiconductor Chip.” The paper appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of Nature Physics.

Quantum computers are promising because they can solve certain problems much faster than any possible conventional computer, owing to the bizarre features of quantum mechanics. For instance, quantum computers can process multiple inputs at the same time in the same device, and quantum circuitry can be wired via the quantum feature of entanglement, dubbed by Einstein as “spooky action-at-a-distance.”

One of the most favored candidate quantum computer architectures is the use of individual atoms to store quantum bits ( qubits) of information, where each qubit can hold the number 1 or 0, or even both 1 and 0 simultaneously, Monroe said. Electrically charged atoms (ions) for such quantum computers are stored in what are known as ion traps. Trapping is necessary in order to isolate the qubits from the rest of the world, which is absolutely essential for the system to behave quantum mechanically. It is well known how to program a quantum computer composed of any number of trapped ions; the problem is to get the ions trapped in the first place.

A quantum computer can look at the two sides of a coin at once. Conventional computers can only look at one side at a time.

This quantum property also scales up.

A quantum computer can store all values ranging from 0 to 255 in 8 qubits, where a conventional computer can only store one of the values in the range 0 to 255 in 8 bits.

What it comes down to: quantum computers can solve problems, that require exponentially more calculation as the input increases, in an acceptable amount of time, where a conventional computer would take an unacceptable amount of time.

For instance, there exist encryption algorithms so strong, that a conventional computer would take more time than the Universe is old to crack it. A quantum computer could do it in minutes.

I’m sure a quantum computer can also be applied on stuff that is more useful to society. I can imagine there are plenty of exponential algorithms in medical simulations, that could definately use quantum computation. Medical simulations are important and will be a huge part of tomorrow’s healthcare. Imagine being able to perform huge calculations in a small amount of time. That would make medical simulations real fast and accurate. A true boon to medicine.

Honda Robots Grows Up

Honda’s robot Asimo is growing up, and becoming more useful with each passing year. According to Honda, he is now ready for office jobs and will be taken in use in 2006.

Be sure to check out the movieclips of Asimo showing off his feats.

From the first article:

Only last year, Honda Motor Co.’s (7267.T) now-familiar humanoid robot, Asimo, was learning how to run and avoid tripping over obstacles. Now, the five-year-old droid is ready to take on simple office work, greeting visitors and fetching refreshments.

With more joints and flexibility of movement, Asimo can now also grip and carry a tray of drinks, placing it safely on a table.

Demonstrating its latest tricks through video footage, Honda showed the 130 cm-tall (4.25 feet) Asimo addressing a mock visitor by name and showing her to a conference room, all the while maintaining a steady and natural distance from the guest.

“Welcome, Sato-san,” Asimo said, bowing deeply as per standard Japanese etiquette.

Also with each passing year, it becomes more clear that we are about to enter an era where robots will be mainstream, thus effectively entering robotic nation.

What will happen when robots become smarter and smarter, and gradually start taking over more and more jobs?

What will happen when chauffeurs and pilots become jobless?

Will we stand by and watch the economy take hits, or will we transform our economy in time in order to guarantee a guaranteed liveable income for those who lost their jobs to automization?

According to Marshall Brain’s analysis in his robotic nation essay, the latter is the only option we’ll have. So for more details, read his essay.

For more details on the implications of artificial intelligence, and the exponential acceleration thereof, read the Singularity FAQ.

Mighty Mice Just Got Mightier

A good while ago, scientists made mice real muscular by modifying their genes. These same scientists have now developed an agent which does the job yet more effeciently:

The Johns Hopkins scientists who first created “mighty mice” have developed an agent that’s even more effective at increasing muscle mass in mice, by knocking out the gene that codes for myostatin.

Just two weekly injections of the new ACVR2B agent triggered a 60 percent increase in muscle size.

The researchers’ expectation is that blocking myostatin might help maintain critical muscle strength in people whose muscles are wasting due to diseases like muscular dystrophy or side effects from cancer treatment or AIDS.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out we’ll be using it in the future to enhance the non-sick too. Maybe not with permanent genetic modifications right away. But that’s okay, because genetic modifications can be mimicked with the use of drugs.

We’re looking at a future here where everybody will be slim, muscular, hairy (on top), healthy and other things that we all crave for but can’t have due to our birth-given genetics.

For example, take a look at what other type of benefits you can have with a little bit of genetic tweaking:

We have little software programs inside us called genes, about 23 thousand of them. They were designed or evolved tens of thousands of years ago when conditions were quite different. I’ll give you just one example. The fat insulin receptor gene says, “Hold on to every calorie because the next hunting season may not work out so well.” And that’s a gene we’d like to reprogram. It made sense 20 thousand years ago when calories were few and far between. What would happen if we blocked that? We have a new technology that can turn genes off called RNA interference. So when that gene was turned off in mice, these mice ate ravenously and yet they remained slim. They got the health benefits of being slim. They didn’t get diabetes, didn’t get heart disease or cancer. They lived 20 to 25 percent longer while eating ravenously. There are several pharmaceutical companies who have noticed that might be a good human drug.

Earlier, Ellen Heber-Katz came up with super-regenerative mice, who can regrow limbs and organs.

Right now, these sort of things are research projects confined to laboratories.

We can expect these types of body upgrades to become mainstream in the biotech era, which is slated to be from 2010-2020.

Scientists Discover How Cancer Spreads

Scientists have discovered how cancer spreads.

LONDON – Scientists have discovered how cancer spreads from a primary site to other places in the body in a finding that could open doors for new ways of treating and preventing advanced disease.

Instead of a cell just breaking off from a tumor and traveling through the bloodstream to another organ where it forms a secondary tumour, or metastasis, researchers in the United States have shown that the cancer sends out envoys to prepare the new site.

Intercepting those envoys, or blocking their action with drugs, might help to prevent the spread of cancer or to treat it in patients in which it has already occurred.

“We are basically looking at all the earlier steps that are involved in metastasis that we weren’t previously aware of. It is complex but we are opening the door to all these things that occur before the tumor cell implants itself,” said Professor David Lyden, of Cornell University in New York.

“It is a map to where the metastasis will occur,” he added in an interview.

What can I add?

It says a lot about the future of cancer, I think. Namely that there is none. That’s right. Cancer has no future.

Science is going to kick cancer’s butt, plain and simple.

The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

The American Association for Artificial Intelligence has a nice archive of AI-related webpostings all around the web.

Have a look at it here.

A few illustrative quotes:

Some AI systems are famous, such as Deep Blue, the computer that beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov, or Predators, the unmanned spy planes hovering over Afghanistan. But the machine intelligence that underlies most such systems is largely invisible, so people take their cleverness for granted. AI experts grouse that once one of their projects succeeds, people no longer consider it to be AI.


Until recently, progress in artificial intelligence lagged so far behind computing technology that some in the field talked about an ‘A.I. winter,’ after commercial and government funding evaporated in the mid-1980’s. Now there is talk about an A.I. spring among researchers like Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford lab.


Many people think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a high-flying 1980s tech concept that crashed and burned back in the early 1990s after a good deal of hype. The fact is, AI technology has become pervasive in much of the software we use today.


To be sure, AI has its successes. Factory robots use machine vision to track parts. Automotive suspension systems and camcorders use fuzzy logic to smooth out jarring motions. Hospitals use large knowledge bases of drug effects and interactions to ensure that prescribed drugs don’t conflict with one another. Computer programs now repeatedly beat the world’s chess champions. Part of AI’s image problem stems from the fact that whenever a development moves from lab to market, it’s no longer artificial intelligence; it’s just software.


There’s a joke in the AI community that as soon as AI works, it is no longer called AI,’ says Sara Hedberg, a spokeswoman for the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. Hedberg, who has written about AI for the past 20 years or so, has done her share of trying to enlighten reporters who are ready to declare AI dead. ‘Once a technology leaves the research labs and gets proven, it becomes ubiquitous to the point where it is almost invisible,’ she says.


Computers and software can now perform tasks that were impossible five years ago, so it pays to keep an open mind, according to Amreetha Vijayakumar, Frost & Sullivan Technical Insights research analyst. ‘AI is slowly starting to propagate in the normal business case, especially in applications risk assessment, CRM, data mining, these applications are starting to reach users.’ … In some cases she says, AI goes unnoticed because developers don’t accept that AI is used in their products.


Henry Lieberman and other artificial intelligence researchers say computers could become dramatically smarter and more humanlike in the future. The brain is just a physical machine, albeit a complicated one we don’t yet understand, they argue. ‘People have this illusion that what we do is magic and it will never be automated,’ said University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Lyle Ungar. When he first started studying artificial intelligence, he said, no one thought a computer could play chess well enough to beat the masters. Today, computers can beat everyone at chess, he said, and we’re no longer impressed.


Another reason for the apparent lack of machine intelligence is that, if you know how a computer does something, it no longer seems intelligent. … An example of what might be regarded as intelligent behavior is automated translation of language. This is done by Google, for example.


Pattern recognition is linked to [artificial intelligence], which was very hyped in the ’70s and ’80s, and that was very detrimental,’ said Sameer Samat, chief technology officer at Kofax Image Products Inc., which bought pattern-recognition software maker Mohomine Inc. last year. ‘For a time, if you mentioned pattern recognition, people just hung up the phone.’ But new interest, based on security necessities arising after the 2001 terrorist attacks, may bring more popularity to pattern recognition.


There’s a cliché that as soon as something starts to work people no longer call it AI. There’s some truth to that because once it starts to work then people can explain how it works. Once the mystery is no longer there, people say that’s just an algorithm. There is a misconception that AI is only AI if it has a black box that produces intelligence in a mysterious way.


Michael Kearns said this latest advance represented just a small part of a burst of progress in recent years in artificial intelligence and robotics. People have begun to take it for granted that computers can recognize voices and faces, give directions, sift through information on the Web, and create complicated models to predict the weather. … Kearns, of Penn, said: ‘As soon as someone gets a computer to do it, people say: ‘That’s not what we meant by intelligence.’ People subconsciously are trying to preserve for themselves some special role in the universe.


We’re in an era of what I’d call ‘narrow AI’, where systems are performing intelligent functions that used to require human intelligence. Intelligent systems can fly and land airplanes or make financial investment decisions. These were research projects 10 years ago and are now in widespread practical application and have become integrated into our information infrastructure. Every time an application works, it’s no longer called AI – it becomes a separate field. It’s speech recognition, character recognition, robotics, machine vision, etc.


‘People say that neural networks and AI were not successful because we don’t have humanoid robots walking around, but they don’t realize that there are hundreds of applications of this technology that we use every day without thinking,’ [Ronald] Brachman said. ‘Machine-learning techniques are now built into a variety of commercial systems, finding credit card fraud, evaluating mortgage applications, detecting illegal telephone calls and recognizing speech.’ He maintained that ‘AI planning algorithms were successful in Desert Storm and are being used every day by the military in complicated logistic situations.’


Many people only think of robots when artificial intelligence is brought up, he said, but most of the current software available today use artificial intelligence.


In his forthcoming book ‘I’m Working on That: A Trek From Science Fiction to Science Fact,’ William Shatner explores the reciprocity between Starship Enterprise fantasy and real-life scientific breakthroughs. ‘What was suggested 30 years ago in ‘Star Trek’ is now old hat,’ he said in a telephone interview. … As a culture, we have become writers of our own fantasy saga in which pacemakers, cloning, the Internet, speech recognition software and the like are merely part of the scenery.


Quietly, though, AI researchers were making more than progress – they were making products. It’s a trend that’s been easy to miss, because once the technology is in use, nobody thinks of it as AI anymore. ‘Every time we figure out a piece of it, it stops being magical; we say, ‘Oh, that’s just a computation,’ laments Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. … In truth, we may never chat up a computer at a cocktail party. But in smaller yet significant ways, artificial intelligence is already here: in the cruise control of cars… The future is all around us.


In fact, AI — or what was once considered AI until it became commonplace — is now almost everywhere.–
‘Software is just getting smarter and smarter and smarter.’ [Carol] Brown agrees, saying that accounting firms have ‘integrated AI into their normal software, so they don’t think about it as AI anymore.’


According to the primary examiner for AI in the U.S. Patent Office, Robert Downs, a decade ago only about 100 patents mentioned AI specifically; last year, about 1700 mentioned artificial intelligence, with another 3900 or so mentioning related terms. About 2200 patents are specifically classified in the Patent Office’s class for artificial intelligence, which means that the invention or technique is specifically directed to something new in knowledge-based systems, machine learning, fuzzy logic, or neural networks.


Successful applications of AI are part of, and buried in, larger systems that probably do not carry the label AI inside.

To sum it all up: Many people do not take AI seriously, but it’s coming anyway and it will eventually have a huge impact on our lives.

It will probably happen a lot faster than you might think, because of a little thing called The Law Of Accelerating Returns.

For more information regarding the implications of artificial intelligence, read the Singularity FAQ.