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The RoBlog
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Nanobot Shampoo
A while back I had a truly useful idea for nanotech: Create a shampoo filled with nanobots that would keep your hair the same length as it was when you first applied the shampoo.

The basic idea is that the nanobots would climb to the top of an individual hair, then measure the distance to its root. It would then measure the distance back up to the top, and if the hair had grown, would cut it back to the originally measured length. Lather, rinse, repeat (actually, the lather and rinse portion would be optional).

For added interest, imagine that you could deactivate them all remotely, or remotely program a haircut in. You tell it what you want, and it cuts those hairs that are too long, and waits for the rest to grow. Heck, you could even create a transition plan that makes sure you don't look too much like a freak (unless that was your goal) in the transition period. Of course managing a haircut would require each nanobot to know which hair it was on so it could be cut appropriately, and each nanobot would have to report its position back to the controller so that the controller would know how many hairs to model and where.

Interesting concept nonetheless, eh? Since the Patent Office just started issuing patents for nanotech, maybe I should hop on this right away! Anyone want to help front the legal cost in order to get a strangle hold on the hair products market? Sassoon, I'm looking at you (ok, maybe I'm looking at Selsun Blue, now stop snickering)!
Allerca | The Hypo-Allergenic Cat
You can now pre-order (for $3500, and for delivery in 2007) a genetically engineered hypo-allergenic cat for those people (like myself) who are allergic to cats and want (unlike myself) to have a cuddly ball of warmth and love that pees in your shoes when its mad (I have a daughter for this purpose already).

Now if they could only engineer commitment-free women for my friends who are allergic to the commitment-filled type (actually, that wouldn't be that high on my list of things I'd have done if women could be genetically modified to spec, but this one sounds the least creepy).

Allerca | The Hypo-Allergenic Cat
Electric currents boost brain power
Finally that stockpile of hats I own with battery powered fans in them has a use. The fact that they short out after 5 minutes is now a feature, not a bug.

news @ nature.com´┐Ż-´┐ŻElectric currents boost brain powerbreaking science news headlines
Saturday, October 23, 2004
SkyWeb Express Personal Rapid Transit
One of the most interesting things I've seen in a while is Taxi2000's SkyWeb Express concept. The basic idea is that instead of busses or commuter trains, there are little single to triple passenger vehicles that run on an elevated track (track is a bad description of it, they call it a Guideway, but once you see it, you'll understand what it is).

You get in and tell the vehicle which stop you want, and it leaves the station and goes directly to your destination station without stopping at any other station. To stop at a station, the vehicle essentially pulls off of the main line, and since only those vehicles stopping at a station have to pull over, everyone else continues right along.

Frankly, I'm surprised this hasn't come into existence yet. Apparently it's been around in some form since at least the '60s.

Below is the link to the videos section where the most bang for the buck can be had. It is worth exploring the rest of the site as well, as the writing is clear and the site structure makes for sensible, easy reading.

SkyWeb Express Personal Rapid Transit - A revolution in urban transportation: SkyWeb Express & PRT Videos

Below is some spewed notes I took as I wandered through the site. You may see these more in future entries. I'll try to keep the interesting (and coherent) things above any links to a site, and my ramblings below it so you can ignore them if you like.

Nice attempt to tackle some of the major complaints about mass transit:

What if someone in the car ahead of you in the station is taking a long time or breaks down in the station?
There could be docking bays where a car separates from the main station track into a Y shaped section. For example, they come in on the right leg of the Y, and pull into the base. People get off in one direction and board from the opposite side. Once the new passengers are aboard, the door closes, and the car essentially drives in reverse down the left leg of the Y, rejoining traffic. The portion of the car above the rail could rotate during merge so passengers are always facing front. This assumes that the car's motor can travel equally well both forward and backward. If this was not the case, but the car could still travel backwards to some degree, you could eliminate the left leg of the Y and have the car reverse back down the right leg of the Y (the central system slowing or stopping oncoming cars as necessary) and then go forward again on the main line. In either case, people that take a long time to load (elderly or handicapped, people carrying bags or packages, or the like) will not adversely effect the ability of other passengers to arrive and depart.

What if the car in front of you breaks down both in the station or on the track?
For people not already on the same segment of track, cars could be routed around the breakdown (assuming there are other routes to all destinations). Similarly (again, assuming alternate routes to all destinations), cars behind the breakdown might be backed up and switched to another section of track. If the system is centrally controlled, oncoming traffic could be slowed or halted to allow for a back-up entry.

Could long lines leading into a station lead to backups on the main track?
Seems like you'd just try to plan for as long a queuing line as is needed.

So, what are the downsides of the system?

Why do they not talk about longer-haul trips? At 40MPH, trips of many miles are possible (e.g. Vancouver, WA to downtown PDX), yet they talk only of downtown and feeder coverage.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Bridgestone Invents new ultra-thin Displays
More craziness from a tire manufacturer. This time from Bridgestone who's getting into the monitor business. Very thin (.25 millimeter) monitors.

Apparently the future of the tire market isn't looking so good.

I4U News - Bridgestone Invents new ultra-thin Displays
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Scientists gingerly tap into brain's power
A company called Cyberkinetics has placed an implant into a quadriplegic's brain and has gotten him to control a cursor with a good degree of success (70%) in a game of Pong.

While this is certainly interesting in-and-of itself, what is equally interesting is the fact that this happens by doing complex analysis of 100 neurons in near-real-time. Assuming, as stated in the article, that more neurons means more accuracy, but more computation power required, it shows that by the time we're supposed to have computers with the same computing capacity as the brain (around 2020 by some estimates), we may just get to the point where we have enough computational power to create a reasonably sophisticated brain-computer interface.

Note that doing anything more complicated than moving a cursor around the screen (such as generalized communications) will probably require many orders of magnitude more processing and understanding than is currently available.

Also nice to see my alma mater getting a brief mention near the bottom.

Yahoo! News - Scientists gingerly tap into brain's power
Michelin puts it all on the road
Tire maker Michelin unveils a pair of concept cars that have the suspension entirely contained within the cars wheels. One of the concepts also puts motors in the wheels as well.

Michelin pushes tech envelope - 10/19/04
Friday, October 15, 2004
Consumer RAID?
This may already be out there, but if it does, I haven't run across it yet.

Last night I was thinking that we needed a new hard drive at home for our pictures and home movies. I was thinking of getting a hundred Gig or two, but was concerned that if we just used one drive for everything (as we currently do) then we leave ourselves open for having one disaster wiping out all of our history.

Of course we could archive to CD or DVD, but the regular maintenance is more work than I care to do over the long run.

Then it occurred to me that what is needed is a consumer oriented RAID device. With simple mirroring, all of your data would be backed up constantly. If one drive went out, you could replace it without losing everything, and without having to copy things around.

It wouldn't have to be a high-performance setup, or, for me anyway, necessarily a high capacity set up, so the cost of this security of mind would be a bit of extra hardware and another drive. Probably less that $100 all in for a new-to-market product.

Seems like a good idea for all the reasons it's a good idea in server environments; especially when home computers have moved to being a media hub for the house and are always on.


Update: Here's an article from earlier this month from the Register talking about pretty much the same thing. Apparently it's in the air.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
2154: The Future of Time Design Competition
Core77 and Timex sponsored a design competition to see what the future of timekeeping might be 150 years from now.

There are some very wonderful and insightful designs, but I couldn't help but wonder if they were too near-sighted. Most seem possible within half that time.

Also, while elegance, simplicity, and cool will no doubt keep time pieces around in some form or another I wonder if the progress towards heads up displays, and augmented reality might obviate the need for a separate piece altogether, with time information just being part of what is always available to you.

Finally, I feel like pretty much all of the concepts ignore the personal systems you might have in place. Aside from already providing you the time as mentioned above, these systems will likely centrally coordinate other devices (including nano-devices, should they exist) so that there would be no need for ways of "setting" the time on a device (many of the time pieces were temporary and would need initial setting) as many of the entries went out of their way to describe how to do.

All in all, these entries provide a nice way of thinking differently about basic concepts.

Core77 and Timex present 2154: The Future of Time Design Competition
Sunday, October 10, 2004
Gizmodo : Sony VAIO Type X "Super TiVo" Launches
Ooo, pretty. And it purports to launch with one terabyte of hard drive space. That's 1,000 GB.

Gizmodo : Sony VAIO Type X "Super TiVo" Launches
Saturday, October 09, 2004
AI vs Chess

The last one from Moravec's paper, this is to support his argument that researchers have been stuck with a particular amount of processing power from the 60s through the 90s when that processing power finally fell into the consumer arena. Only then, he claims did researches begin to have access to any growth at all in processing power (he cites a number of reasons for this that I won't repeat here).

He has also charted one of the few places he claims that AI has still had access to high-end processing power: chess.
Processing Power Curve

Here's the second image from Moravec's paper. This one appears to be the basis for (or at least is extremely similar to) a graph is a paper on accelerating change by Ray Kurzweil (which I'll be posting a full comment on, and on the idea of accelerating change in general, sometime soon).

This graph shows how processing power has increased over the last century, and where various milestones are relative to the assumed capabilities of various life forms. Of particular interest in the extrapolations as calculated from various points in history. This graph (which is also a log graph) appears to be showing that our ability to create more processing power is a double exponential, indicating that not only are we creating exponentially more processing power, but that the time between leaps in power is shrinking.
All Things Great and Small

Here's the first of three images from Moravec's paper. This one shows, on a log graph, the approximated processing capabilities on one axis of various living and non-living things, and their approximated storage capability on the other axis.
When will computer hardware match the human brain?
I ran across Hans Moravec's paper about when computer hardware may match the processing power of the human brain. It is written in a nicely understandable format and well worth a look.

It predicts that, by 2020, personal computers costing about $1000 should have the processing power equivalent of the human brain.

He goes on to argue that computing power is the primary limitation being experienced by AI researchers today.

I have no doubt that more computing power leads to better AI, but I am deeply skeptical that this is the primary limiting function. My guess is that the methodology for creating human-like thinking is the primary bottleneck at this point, and merely the fact of having a computer of equivalent power will by no means guarantee human-like thinking (and, for the record, I don't believe that Moravec is asserting this particular relation).

What is worth thinking more deeply about is the time beyond when, assuming that Moravec's calculations are valid, a $1000 personal computer has the power of the human brain.

As I stated, I think more than computing power is required, but I would say that vast amounts of computing power allow us to do things terribly less efficiently than they might have evolved and still get to the same solution. Said another way, once we have computing power several orders of magnitude greater than humans, we can use programs that may simulate brain functions very inefficiently, but due to the much greater power at their command, still approximate human thought.

Another interesting way to think about this is that a few years after the computing power of the brain is readily available for consumption by Windows 2018, the same computing power will be available in a much smaller package. Therefore, if Moore's Law continues apace (and, though I have my reservations, there seems to be plenty of possibilities to keep it going for 20 more years) we will have surpassed evolution's ability to manufacture a general purpose thinking device efficiently. Certainly there are a number of reasons why evolution isn't particularly concerned with more power and smaller space, but it's an interesting thing to think of nonetheless.

Extended further, at some point, an area smaller than that of one of the keys I'm typing on now will contain more intelligence than all of existing humanity. It is when we start thinking about these kinds of extrapolations that my doubts on the continuation of Moore's Law grow very deep indeed.

Two additional things of interest. First, there are a couple of neat graphs included in Moravec's paper. I have added them to my Flickr account, and will link them in here as soon as I get a chance.

Second is that the Comments on the paper are an interesting read in their own right. I was surprised to find Robin Hanson commenting here only because I'd just been reading some of his work about betting on science as I had come around to a similar conclusion relating to the future (more later).

When will computer hardware match the human brain? by Hans Moravec
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Kurzweil's "Age of Intelligent Machines"
Originally released in 1987, Ray Kruzweil explores the cutting edge of machine intelligence, and the problems it was being used to solve. Funny thing is, if you replace the old computer dispays, and expired companies (Wang) with fresh ones, this video would seem just as future leaning as I'm sure it did back then. Where are our doctor expert systems? Our high-tech assistance for disabled people? Our ubiquitous speech recognition and learning computers?

Back in 1987, there was a sense of being almost there...and it is still with us today.
Monday, October 04, 2004
Higher Purpose: Space Elevator
Here's an article on space elevators on Futurist.com.

I have been somewhat skeptical of the idea of a space elevator - for some reason it just doesn't ring true. In this article, I think the official death knell has been sounded by the sureity of the following quote:

"Futurist.com friend and writer David Brin was recently quoted as saying that our grandchildren will certainly ride elevators to space..."

A corollary to any law of predicting the future is that as soon as a supposed expert claims that an exotic vision will positively come to fruition, that idea is positively dead.

Higher Purpose: Space Elevator
MIT's Technology Review mailing had this quick article about iSee (click on the button next to the questionmark), a project by the Institue for Applied Autonomy. iSee is a map of Manhattan, with all known surveillance cameras mapped on it. If you click on the map, you can set start and end points, and iSee will provide you with a path to take to avoid these cameras.

iSee purports to be a project that enables the discussion about how surveillance networks are being grown and used, and who owns them.

While I think this might be a fine discussion for conversation, I'm guessing that most of us have come to grips with the idea that we will end up on someone's surveillance camera a few or more times a day. The big question, and perhaps the one that the Institute of Applied Autonomy is interested in talking about, is what happens if/when these cameras get all connected together along with technology that can identify you as you go from one camera to the next.

All this being said, my personal interest is in what happens when we are all enabled with cameras all the time. Then you will pretty much not be able to go anywhere without being recorded, and projects like iSee will be useless. As I've mentioned before, certain government agencies will have valid reasons (at least on the surface of it) to want to tap your personal data stream. So the conversation I'd rather have, is about how we might deal with this proactively.

Technology Review: 77 Mass Ave.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Human Power Harvesting
Speaking of harvesting power from a shoe, I've just run across another interesting project at the National University of Singapore, human power harvesting. Included are a couple of shoe-based power harvesting options, one using piezoelectricity, and the other using mechanical power capturing (spring charging and release).

Also there is a device that captures vibrational movement and turns that into power as well.

Finally, there is a description of a Personal Area Network (PAN) whereby, presumedly, multiple on-person devices could communicate with each other using skin contact for message transmission. In the examples shown on the site, they use the PAN only for person-to-person communications (i.e. exchanging information on a handshake). This kind of thing has been in the news recently and I think Microsoft has patented something very much like this.

One thing that occurred to me while reading the PAN section is that you could provide a combination biometric/digital key for unlocking a door or a computer by pressing your thumbprint on a pad that scanned the image of your thumb for a match, and at the same time received an encrypted key from you through the PAN. Only when both were correct and in sync would access be provided.

If I haven't already mentioned it, all of the cool stuff from the University of Singapore comes from their Mixed Reality Lab, and a link to the current projects can be found here.

MXR Lab_research_HE
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Human Pacman
From the Universiy of Singapore's Mixed Reality lab comes Human Pacman.

This is very similar to regular Pacman, except that the players don portable computers and run through an Augmented Reality space.

Very much worth checking out. If you're going to look at the video section, the video entitled Human Pacman - Introduction, is probably the only one worth checking out.

MXR Lab_research_HP
MXR Lab_research_3dLive
More great Augmented Reality video. Check out the video labeled CSCW3DLive on the page linked below. It's large, but worth it. Especially interesting, I think, is the live interaction between two remote people where a 3D view of the remote person is provided in real time, allowing you to move around and have the scene change accordingly.

Much like the Redundant Array of Inexpensive Projectors I mentioned previously, a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Cameras placed all around a conference room might allow a more intuitive interaction between remote conferencers as this technology matures.

MXR Lab_research_3dLive
The DaVinci Institute - Smart Shoes
Another article from Thomas Frey of the daVinci institute. This one talks about the future technology of the shoe. (It's interesting to note, by the way, that the adidas T-Mac 4 has a "foot gripping" technology very similar to that mentioned by Frey.)

Frey's ideas are interesting, and I have no doubt that some of them will come into being fairly soon (though tread-changing soles may be a ways off yet).

I'd like to add that shoes of the future will probably communicate with whatever portable computing device you are wearing to provide information on steps taken, forces experienced including your weight and the weight of anything you may be carrying, and other useful bits of information. Blood pressure, pulse (and to a lesser extent, persipration) might be better suited to other garments like undershirts.

An obvious, much-discussed technology of the future for shoes is power generation. As we pound out our steps daily, it would be nice to capture that power and feed it into other systems that we carry around with us (whatever they may be).

The DaVinci Institute - Smart Shoes
The DaVinci Institute - Interview with Gavalord
The DaVinci Institute has an interview with someone calling himself Gavalord. It's a good deal of crazy talk (communicating with the past - not that it definitely can't be done, but if it can, my guess is that it will be extremely hard to perform any successful experiments on it, much less the kinds of communication mentioned in this article), and fairy tales (I don't think this Gavalord person has done any of the things he says he's done), but it's interesting to see others thinking about the ability to reveal the past, like I have mentioned previously (note that this interview preceeds my thinking by a few years).

A couple things of note. First, the downside of using this technology could very well kill it outright. People are already protective of their privacy. They will not want the ability for someone to come along and discover everything they have said and done. This paranoia will kick in long before it is discovered that the weird, freaky, kinky things that people are interested in protecting are extremely common among human beings (something that will become common knowledge 20 or more years from know due to other events such as the pervasiveness of micro-survalliance technology).

The second note is that Gavalord indicates that, in the near future, the ability to coax out the last hour or so of a person's interactions from the walls, and other objects (such as clothes) around the person, will be the limit. I'm guessing that before this kind of technology is ever available even in proto-type, the fact that we are always recording eachother, coupled with advanced search capabilities developed for this recording, will mean that we have gotten to this point, effectively, in an entirely different, more straightforward way. This does not mean that the technology for peering into the past will not be developed due to lack of application, just that the particular application (law enforcement) mentioned by Gravalord is unlikely.

The DaVinci Institute - Interview with Gavalord
Space Elevator Video
Ok, this video is a little cheesy, but it's informative and short and should give you the general idea of what the space elevator (mentioned in a previous entry) is all about.

Space Elevator Video (WMV format)
Another quickie.

A friend of mine has proposed allowing web surfers to get paid for ads they see. An idea that was wide spread a few years ago, but is actually possible both technically, and from the point of view of a financial model today (I can provide more details if anyone is interested).

I was thinking about the fact that certain institutions would love to have some aggregate information about you and the various populations that you belong to, but that you probably can't trust these organizations directly. It occurred to me that if an organization could be constructed that was trusted by the population at large, you could release information about yourself (this information would preferably be auto-collected and updated, potentially by a different system I have in mind) in a way that was scrubbed for any personally identifiable information.

Then, when other organizations want particular profiles of a population, they could pay the trusted entity for this information, and the trusted entity might (depending on the type of use that was being made of your information - e.g. for university medical research vs. for refining marketing models) pay you a small amount when your information is used.

This would allow, for example, a good idea of how many people who were very obese (as calculated by some component of height and weight, and maybe bodyfat) with Adult Onset Diabetes that live in a particular zipcode, or how many single women between 21 and 40 recently purchased a DVD player on the East Coast.
Augmented Reality and Location-Based Services
Quick thought.

Local camera reads an AR marker which encodes an IP address. Contact a designated webservice at that IP address (probably encoded in the marker as well) to return the VR model (if any), object type (from a standard heirarchy of types), it's geocode, and it's methods and properties.

Local computing displays the model, and is responsible for updating it's display model and state changes.

This ties in objects (e.g. road signage) that can't have an IP address, or that are variable in space with no computing power to be interacted with as if you used a location based service to look it up.

Interesting possibilities abound, such as getting more information from road signs indicating food (e.g. getting geocoordinates for all restaraunts) to allowing a car to be interacted with without having to communicate with it directly.
Black Magic - Americas Cup 2003
Black Magic is an implementation of the Augmented Reality Toolkit that shows VR models ontop of books. The really cool think is that, if you have a decent web cam, you can download their software, print out their test pages, and expericence Augmented Reality for yourself directly.

I tried this yesterday, and had to show everyone I could lay my hands on. Very cool stuff.

Black Magic - Americas Cup 2003
Handheld Augmented Reality
While I think that some sort of heads up display will be how Augmented Reality will unfold in the medium term 10-20 years, I think that some form of portable screen based technology will be required in the near term (5-10 years) for AR to really take off.

I found the Handheld Augmented Reality site (linked below) very exciting in this sense. They appear to be tackling the problems of offsetting AR processing where server resources are available, and have a number of apps (with pictures and a smaller number of videos) that give you some idea of what might be possible in the near future.

Handheld Augmented Reality

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