The renewable energy revolution President Obama wants to jump-start with stimulus money might be coming. But it’s going to take a while.
While Congress and Obama moved quickly to pass the stimulus legislation, corporate planning for the future is more measured. Any increase in green energy must overcome business and regulatory obstacles.
And businesses dominating the renewable energy arena are based outside the United States. Those companies will need to add or expand U.S. manufacturing before incentives in the stimulus package result in jobs for American workers.
“How real are the green jobs? Of course they’ll be some, but how real are they?” said David Garman, President George W. Bush’s Energy Department undersecretary from 2004 to 2007 and before that assistant secretary for renewables and energy efficiency. “It’s something that we’re just going to have to learn by doing.”
Scientists have taken another important step toward using ordinary skin cells that are made to behave like embryonic stem cells to find treatments for conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts removed a stumbling block in using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, by taking out potentially cancer-causing genes.
Writing in the journal Cell on Thursday, the scientists said they then turned these iPS cells into brain cells involved in Parkinson’s disease.
The iPS stem cells could be made from a patient’s own skin cells, reducing the chances that the body’s immune system might reject the cells as it sometimes does with organ transplants.
Transplanting healthy cells made from iPS cells to replace cells damaged by disease or injury may be possible in the future. But a more immediate use for these cells may be in lab dishes testing the effects of new drugs, according to Dirk Hockemeyer, one of the Whitehead Institute researchers.
Meet Laura, the virtual personal assistant for those of us who cannot afford a human one.
Built by researchers at Microsoft, Laura appears as a talking head on a screen. You can speak to her and ask her to handle basic tasks like booking appointments for meetings or scheduling a flight.
More compelling, however, is Laura’s ability to make sophisticated decisions about the people in front of her, judging things like their attire, whether they seem impatient, their importance and their preferred times for appointments.
Instead of being a relatively dumb terminal, Laura represents a nuanced attempt to recreate the finer aspects of a relationship that can develop between an executive and an assistant over the course of many years.
“What we’re after is common sense about etiquette and what people want,” said Eric Horvitz, a researcher at Microsoft who specializes in machine learning.
Microsoft wants to put a Laura on the desk of every person who has ever dreamed of having a personal aide. Laura and other devices like her stand as Microsoft’s potential path for diversifying beyond the personal computer, sales of which are stagnating.
The tendency in electronic devices is all about getting smaller and smaller and smaller. It’s just the way these things need to be. However, they also have to be very efficient and we have nanotechnology and carbon nanotubes to make them like this. In order to develop smaller and more efficient electronics, scientists want to develop the next generation of devices based on carbon nanotubes using a technique called “chemical vapor deposition”, but it’s very hard to manipulate these structures and to bring them to a useful state.
A new vision is needed to complete the next-gen electronics and thanks to a breakthrough from scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, our future devices could be built from carbon nanotubes. The team of scientists led by professor Yongfeng Lu and postdoctoral researcher Yunshen Zhou, used a technique based on the so-called “optical near-field effects” and they managed to control the growth of carbon nanotubes. The researchers linked individually self-aligned carbon nanotubes with sharp-tipped electrodes, a process which is very different from previous techniques where the carbon nanotubes were manipulated after growth.
“With our method, there’s no requirement for expensive instrumentation and no requirement for tedious processes. It’s a one-step process. We call it ’self-aligning growth.’ The carbon nanotubes ‘know’ where to start growth. In previous efforts, they could only manipulate carbon nanotubes one piece at a time, so they had to align the carbon nanotubes one by one. For our approach using optical near-field effects, all locations with sharp tips can accommodate carbon nanotube growth. That means we can make multiple carbon nanotubes at a time and all of them will be self-aligned,” said professor Lu.
A computerized kiosk under development at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) can take a patient’s medical history, weight, pulse, blood pressure, and other vital signs, and even perform simple blood tests for glucose and cholesterol. Physicians hope that the device, slated to begin field testing in the United Kingdom in June, will one day bring relief to the overburdened healthcare system, and allow doctors to intervene earlier in chronic disease.
Doctors’ appointments in the United States often feel like more of an inconvenience than a help, both for patients, who can spend hours in waiting rooms, and doctors, who spend hours filling in charts and organizing patient information. Ronald Dixon, director of the Virtual Practice Project, imagines that his kiosk–a small, Windows-based desktop computer with just a few peripherals–could one day revolutionize doctors’ visits just as ATMs transformed banking. By removing the tellers from the interactions that could be easily automated, banks saved face-to-face contact for more complex transactions. Dixon, who’s also a primary-care physician at MGH, believes that the same could be done for doctors.
The kiosk consists of a tabletop computer and a number of peripherals–a blood-pressure cuff, a scale, a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen levels, and a peak-flow meter to determine whether someone’s airways are constricted–as well as a blood-testing device commonly used in emergency rooms that can measure cholesterol and glucose levels. (The current version requires a trained assistant to do the finger stick for blood collection, although future versions will be automated.)
What if your computer had a brain, one that worked like our very own grey matter?
It sounds like science fiction, but with incredible advancements in the fields of neuroscience, nanotechnology and supercomputing technology, the time is right for computer scientists to begin trying to create computers that are able to approach the brain’s abilities.
So what would that mean for tomorrow’s computers? It’s a tantalising question that scientists working in the field of cognitive computing are striving to answer. And, if they’re successful in their goal of ousting silicon from the PC and inserting a brain, we could witness a revolution in computing power and potential. Tomorrow’s computers may be able to think rather than just follow programs.