Monthly Archives: August 2006

Enzymes Make Use of Quantum Effects

Upcoming drug revolution takes a quantum leap.

British scientists have found that enzymes cheat time and space by quantum tunnelling – a much faster way of travelling than the classical way – but whether or not perplexing quantum theories can be applied to the biological world is still hotly debated.

Until now, no one knew just how the enzymes speed up the reactions, which in some cases are up to a staggering million times faster.

“Our research has shown at an atomic level how enzymes act as catalysts,” said Nigel Scrutton, lead researcher at the University of Manchester, whose team published their work in the U.S. journal, Science, on April 14.

Just how these enzymes speed up reaction rates compared with uncatalysed reactions remain controversial among scientists, but such insights of the underpinnings of enzyme behaviour have begun.

“Enzymes are central to the existence of life because most chemical reactions in our cells would take place too slowly or produce a difference outcome without their involvement,” he said.

Without enzymes, we’d wither away or be riddled with disease.

As biological molecules, the enzymes work to lower the energy needed for a reaction to occur. Although enzymes act as catalysts, they are often affected by other molecules. Therefore, when drugs are made, they are designed to act as enzymes inhibitors to stop the reactions from occurring.

“The findings are a radical departure from the traditional view of how they work and might explain why attempts to make artificial enzymes have so far been disappointing,” he said.

But now that researchers know enzymes can quantum tunnel, better drugs can be designed leveraging this knowledge.

Our Technological Future – Mixed Bag #1

Embryonic stem cells without embryo death.

You don’t have to destroy an embryo to create stem cells for medical research. An American biosciences company has succeeded in deriving the cells from embryos without killing them, raising hopes that President Bush will reconsider his veto on federal funding for such work….

Lanza hopes that because the method does not involve destroying embryos, it will lead to the lifting of the veto on federal funding for stem cell research. “We need to jump-start the field – it’s been crippled by a lack of funding,” he says. “This will hopefully solve the political impasse and bring the president on board, as no embryos will be harmed with this method.”

The Future of Robots.

Once we understand how the mind operates, we will be able to program detailed descriptions of these principles into inexpensive computers, which, by the late 2020s, will be thousands of times as powerful as the human brain—another consequence of the law of accelerating returns. So we will have both the hardware and software to achieve human-level intelligence in a machine by 2029. We will also by then be able to construct fully humanlike androids at exquisite levels of detail and send blood-cell-size robots into our bodies and brains to keep us healthy from inside and to augment our intellect. By the time we succeed in building such machines, we will have become part machine ourselves. We will, in other words, finally transcend what we have so long thought of as the ultimate limitations: our bodies and minds.

Nanosolar: Printing Solar Film Like Paper.

Nanosolar is a company based in Palo Alto, California, which uses an innovative technique to produce a kind of “solar film”. To make the film, Nanosolar prints CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer using machines that look like printing presses. There is no costly silicon involved in the process, and, ultimately, a solar cell from Nanosolar will cost about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a standard silicon solar panel. Nanosolar is only a few years old, but it has laid plans to take on multinational corporations, such as BP and Sharp, in the solar industry.

Computers write news at Thomson.

First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

Chaos Computing.

Ditto’s chip is like the microelectronic version of a stem cell: It’s a device that can assume all sorts of different functions. But a chaotic chip goes one step further: It can morph over and over again. For computer design, this has huge implications. In a traditional chip, the basic elements, called logic gates, are hardwired to perform a single, specific task. In a chaotic chip, each logic gate can be converted on the fly to perform any function.What this means is that computers will no longer need separate, costly chips for the CPU, memory, video RAM, graphics accelerators, arithmetic processing units, and so on. Instead, one chip will convert itself to whatever functions the software needs at a given moment.

3-D TV That Actually Works.

I entered a conference room in Manhattan and a woman on the TV tossed a handful of rose petals out of the screen, where they floated in the air before my eyes.At least, that’s what I saw. In truth, the image resided on a perfectly flat, 42-inch LCD screen. But the 3-D illusion was fully believable, and I didn’t have to wear a dorky set of polarizing glasses.

A new line of 3-D televisions by Philips uses the familiar trick of sending slightly different images to the left and right eyes — mimicking our stereoscopic view of the real world. But where old-fashioned 3-D movies rely on the special glasses to block images meant for the other eye, Philips’ WOWvx technology places tiny lenses over each of the millions of red, green and blue sub pixels that make up an LCD or plasma screen. The lenses cause each sub pixel to project light at one of nine angles fanning out in front of the display.

Government Backs Intelligent Robot Development

Govt to back intelligence robot development.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to begin assisting the development of next-generation intelligence robots in fiscal 2007 with the aim of commercializing them in 2015, Jiji Press learned Thursday.

The ministry is set to seek 2.1 billion yen in related funds as part of its budget request for the fiscal year that starts next April, and will assist the development of basic technologies in the next five years, informed sources said.

Intelligence robots are capable of recognizing sounds and images through sensors and of automatically analyzing the obtained information to determine their actions. Conventional industrial robots require input work patterns before they can operate.

For the government-funded development project, the ministry will seek the participation of universities and manufacturers that conduct research into artificial intelligence and sound and image recognition technologies, the sources said.

It hopes to commercialize the newly developed robots by 2015. The robots will include “cleaning robots” that, equipped with the plan of a building, will be able to choose the most appropriate routes to reach areas that need cleaning, and “guide robots” capable of communicating with humans through advanced voice and image processing technologies.

Reflecting a surge in the number of industrial robots in the past 10 years, there are some 840,000 robots operating at present across the globe.

In Japan, the market for industrial robots is expected to expand to around 3 trillion yen over the next decade.

Against this backdrop, the government acknowledges that intelligence robots constitute one of its core strategies for economic growth.

Single Molecule Stores Data

Single molecule stores data.

IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland, have demonstrated a single-molecule device capable of repeatedly storing and retrieving data.

Described in the Aug. 4 issue of nanotech journal Small Times, the device is a surprisingly simple organic compound that can be set to high or low resistance through electrical pulses. In the lab, it reliably retained its ability to change states over many hours and more than 500 tests, which the researchers described in the paper as “a remarkable result for a single-molecule system.”

“Right now, we are concentrating on understanding the relationship between the design of the molecular system and the electrical properties measured,” researcher Heike Riel told ZDNet UK. “Our next steps are to investigate the mechanism responsible for switching.”

The molecule at the heart of the system, BPDN-DT, was designed by professor James Tour and co-workers at Rice University in Houston and is one of a class of compounds called Tour wires. Although it was specifically synthesized to operate in this and other devices–it has also been used in a single molecule transistor–there is still considerable debate as to how it works and what characteristics any potential commercial application may have.

At about 1.5 nanometers long, the molecule is less than a hundredth of the size of current silicon memory elements. It is widely accepted in the industry that current progress in silicon will become economically more difficult below 20nm, with fundamental physical limits being reached below 10nm. IBM says it sees molecular computing as one way of pushing past this barrier, as well as semiconducting wires, carbon nanotubes and spintronics.

Shorter, 4-6 Hour Workdays Would Benefit Us All

Call for six-hour work day.

Working four to six hours a day is the key to happiness, according to a new report.

In the quest for money and status, Australians are among the hardest workers in the world.

But Sydney University academic Dr Caroline West says while work delivers self-esteem, income and social ties, more than four to six hours a day will bring anxiety, exhaustion and a poor quality of life.

“We’ve structured our lives so the majority of our waking life is devoted to work, which might bring us more money but doesn’t make us more fulfilled,” Dr West said.

“So long as there’s a trend to work these really long hours you’ll continue to see the plateauing and decline of people’s wellbeing.”

Dr West said almost a third of Australian full-time workers worked more than 48 hours a week and 30 per cent worked 50 hours or more.

After analysing a range of studies over the past few years, Dr West, who has published her findings in the Australian Law Reform Commission Journal, says the idea of a six-hour day is not a fantasy.

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t realistically happen,” she said.

“It’s going to require a lot of structural reform, but I think the time is ripe for addressing it as an issue.”

She said the concept of the four- to six-hour working day – originally flagged by economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s – would even help productivity.

But with competitiveness and the quest to “outdo one another” ingrained in society, most people weren’t convinced that working less would make them happier, she said.

Dr West’s research shows most people would rather work longer hours and have more money than have extra leisure and family time.

She said people who don’t have money and who don’t value work as their number one priority often risked being ostracised, or dubbed as lazy.

“It’s difficult to be someone who places priority on leisure if you’re surrounded by people who just care about money, or care about it more than other things,” Dr West said.

For now, only a select privileged group with alternatives such as job sharing arrangements could afford the shorter hours, she said.

It’s quite a pathetic situation. The article actually says people would rather work long and hard than be with their families and friends.

Well, not me. I’ve had exactly one year of working experience and I’ve watched it steadily suck the soul right out of me without being able to do anything about it. Up till now, that is. My contract allows for me to switch back to 4 days a week, which is exactly what I’ll be doing a few weeks from now. The arrangements are being made right now at my company.

You may be wondering why I am posting this, as it has nothing to do with technology at first sight.

Here’s why:

Technology is what is responsible for industrial revolutions which have great impact on our society. With every industrial revolution, the quality of our lives has increased by lessening our workload.

Think about it:

We started out as cavemen, running around in the jungle for about 25 years fighting off sabretooth tigers and grizzly bears.

Then we built societies for ourselves and we started working on the land. Work was still physical and hard, but at least we had the protection of the village or town.

Then we built machines. Still lots of physical work, but the workday eventually decreased to 10 hours. Henry Ford later decreased the workday further to 8 hours.

Welcome to today. We’re still working 8 hours, but most of it is intellectual now. Light-load office jobs.

The first reports of people wanting more free time (as opposed to what the article states) are already coming in. Also, research has showed that a 4 day workweek makes people more productive, provided the work is properly planned. I heard this on the radio while plowing away at my lame 5 days / 8 hours job. And yet we all kept going at it as if we didn’t hear it.

After all those industrial revolutions, life is still crap. We sleep one third of our time, work one third of our time and a great deal of the other third is spent doing things that are absolutely necessary, such as travelling (to work, blegh), bathing, shopping, preparing food, eating, etc. We are rewarded only with much too short weekends and too few days off, in which nobody has any time for anybody because we’re too busy doing other things that need to be done.

Virtually no time is left for personal development. And somehow we are expected to maintain our social contacts and find girlfriends in this little bit of time as well. Some people are really good at accepting this situation. They apparently have no problem shoving their own desires aside and are happily grinding away, fulfilling their role as a miniscule gear in our beautiful system.

They’re lying to themselves. Would they really spend 8 hours a day doing their current job if they were free to decice what to do? Have these people been brainwashed to such a degree that they cannot function without the system holding a double-barreled shotgun to the back of their heads?

Slaving away your entire life just to buy a pile of bricks and rooftiles seems like a poor man’s life to me. But who the hell am I. Just some nutcase who manages a techblog in his spare minutes, I recon.

But there is hope.

Thanks to exponential acceleration in our technological progression, we are seeing industrial revolutions following up much faster. Soon, we can expect one every few years. And with every revolution, life gets better.

The first revolution we will see in about ten years, is that of nanotechnology which has the potential to make products extremely cheap and outperform our current products by about a factor of thousand. Recent developments suggest robots will soon be entering the mainstream and they will be taking plenty of our jobs away. You’d think this would cause huge economic depression. But keep in mind that if our economy is entirely automized, robots will be doing all the work and we’d be free to party all day singing yippee yippee.

So it seems to me we’ve all got something to look forward too.

It sure is a shame I was born in 1978, though. I’d rather be born in 2000.

Then again… having gone (and still going) through this barbaric society, I might actually not take all of tomorrow’s technology for granted.

Because that’s exactly what young people growing up right now will be doing.

But me… I’ve gone through the cesspit of the backwards eighties and nineties…

Tomorrow’s technology might actually make me happy.

All I have to do is hang in there…

Hybrid Full-Sized Trucks Debut in 2007

GM To Debut Hybrid Full-Sized Trucks in Fall ’07.

General Motors is planning a fall 2007 launch for its highly anticipated so-called “dual-mode” or two-mode gas/electric hybrid version of the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks.

Company insiders tell Inside Line the hybrid version of the trucks will see a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy over the conventional trucks, with a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 25 mpg. The hybrid trucks will also be outfitted with a new V8 engine with an unspecified displacement that makes approximately 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.

Both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are capable of using the new hybrid system. It is unclear which truck will be the first to get the hybrid system — or whether both will get it at the same time. However, because of the hybrid’s anticipated expense — at least $3,000 more than the gas-powered versions of the trucks — GM may be leaning toward introducing it first in the GMC-brand trucks, which are aimed at a more affluent audience.

GM’s dual-mode hybrid trucks will be equipped with the new V8 and two electric motors that control two planetary gearsets. Another key piece of equipment will be a fuel-optimization computer. “Dual mode” refers to the hybrid’s transmission setup, which allows the truck to shift between a conventional 4-speed automatic transmission and a continuously variable transmission. The shifting between transmission modes is done with the help of the onboard fuel-optimization computer, which makes split-second calculations as to which transmission mode will be the best for conserving fuel. The work is done automatically, with no buttons to push by the driver.

Pictures.

This is the future of cars unfolding before our very eyes. Future cars will be more fuel-efficient and more automised.

Eventually, cars will do a great deal of driving for us.

Intelligence Amplification Pill Invented

“Anti-stupid” pill tested on mice.

A German scientist has been testing an “anti-stupidity” pill with encouraging results on mice and fruit flies, Bild newspaper reported on Saturday.

It said Hans-Hilger Ropers, director at Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, has tested a pill thwarting hyperactivity in certain brain nerve cells, helping stabilise short-term memory and improve attentiveness.

“With mice and fruit flies we were able to eliminate the loss of short-term memory,” Ropers, 62, is quoted saying in the German newspaper, which has dubbed it the “world’s first anti-stupidity pill.”

I’m sure the researcher is a brilliant researcher… but if he’d known anything about marketing strategies he would have called it an intelligence amplification-pill or a smart-pill.

Anyway… we can expect this kind of stuff to enter the mainstream sometime in the coming biotech era.

MIT Researchers Watch Brain In Action

MIT researchers watch brain in action.

For the first time, scientists have been able to watch neurons within the brain of a living animal change in response to experience.

Thanks to a new imaging system, researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have gotten an unprecedented look into how genes shape the brain in response to the environment. Their work is reported in the July 28 issue of Cell.

“This work represents a technological breakthrough,” said first author Kuan Hong Wang, a research scientist at the Picower Institute who will launch his own laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health in the fall. “This is the first study that demonstrates the ability to directly visualize the molecular activity of individual neurons in the brain of live animals at a single-cell resolution, and to observe the changes in the activity in the same neurons in response to the changes of the environment on a daily basis for a week.”

This advance, coupled with other brain disease models, could “offer unparalleled advantages in understanding pathological processes in real time, leading to potential new drugs and treatments for a host of neurological diseases and mental disorders,” said Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, a co-author of the study.

This is pretty big. Being able to watch a brain learn is a tremendous boon to research aimed at reverse-engineering the (human) brain.

Reverse-engineering the brain will eventually enable science to build superior artificial intelligence.

Superior AI will in turn likely lead to a Singularity.

Solar Power Tower To Be Built In Australia

How Australia got hot for solar power.

It’s a dead-calm antipodean winter’s day, the silence of this vast ranch called Tapio Station broken only by the cry of a currawong bird. Davey, chief executive of Melbourne renewable-energy company EnviroMission, aims to break ground here early next year on the world’s first commercial “solar tower” power station.

“The tower will be over there,” Davey says, pointing to a spot a mile distant where a 1,600-foot structure will rise from the ocher-colored earth. Picture a 260-foot-diameter cylinder taller than the Sears Tower encircled by a two-mile-diameter transparent canopy at ground level. About 8 feet tall at the perimeter, where Davey has his feet planted, the solar collector will gradually slope up to a height of 50 to 60 feet at the tower’s base.

Acting as a giant greenhouse, the solar collector will superheat the air with radiation from the sun. Hot air rises, naturally, and the tower will operate as a giant vacuum. As the air is sucked into the tower, it will produce wind to power an array of turbine generators clustered around the structure.

The result: enough clean, green electricity to power some 100,000 homes without producing a particle of pollution or a wisp of planet-warming gases.

“We’re aiming to be competitive with the coal people,” says Davey, 60. “We’re filling a gap in the renewable-energy market that has never been able to be filled before.”

With a solar tower, there’s no fuel to dig out of the ground, transport, or dispose of, no smog, no scarred landscapes from open-pit mining. The sun rises every day and is not subject to embargoes, geopolitics, or commodity markets.

And once the solar tower’s capital costs are paid off, the price of producing electricity should drop dramatically, as operating and maintenance costs are expected to be minimal. Despite its monolithic scale, the technology behind the tower is based on an elemental scientific truth: Hot air rises. The solar tower’s only moving parts are its turbines.

But out at Tapio Station, Davey insists that the solar tower will be built whether or not the government gives EnviroMission $75 million. “This used to be a dream,” he says, staring out at the horizon where the tower will rise. “Then it became a concept. Now it’s becoming reality.”