New advances in Nanotechnology, should we be excited or scared?

I have been interested nanotechnology, or nanoscience as this video refers to it, for a very long time. If you have heard about nanotech, but haven’t seen any visuals, I highly recommend this video. It touches on properties at the nano scale both in nature and how we are developing our own new materials. They also touch on the development of nano machines. What worries me is for nanotech to become useful, they will probably have to develop self-replicating machines.

In one of my reviews a few years ago for The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, he writes about Matter Compilers, usually referred to as an M.C. for short. That’s great right? We can just make whatever we want, any time we want! There are also little battles between autonomous nanobots called mites that break out. If I remember correctly, these massive battles on the nano scale result in a type of dust that pollutes the air and causes respiratory problems. That’s no good! There is a little excerpt on Google books that doesn’t really have any spoilers. It begins on the end of page 59 through page 61. Click through this link for the full text.

I can certainly see something like what Stephenson describes happening within our lifetimes. What do you think?

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You can also learn more at the Entertainment Consumers Association website here. Through the ECA website, you can provide your information and it will generate form letters for your local representatives in Congress, the President of the United States, and the FCC.

Happy Birthday Isaac Asimov – plus predictions for 2014Happy Birthday Isaac Asimov – plus predictions for 2014

I just ran across an article on Isaac Asimov’s predictions for 2014 from 50 years ago. I was thinking of a blog post to start out the year, and this popped out as a good opportunity. As anyone that reads this blog should know, Isaac Asimov is my favorite writer. His birthday is unknown for certain, but he chose to celebrate it on January 2nd. More information here. Anyway, back in 1964 at The World’s Fair, he made a few predictions. Some of the more accurate ones are below describing video phones, Robots, vehicular robots (Google car?), “Wall Screens” (not quite yet but very close), and a eerily accurate population estimate.

“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”

“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

“Vehicles with ‘Robot-brains’ … can be set for particular destinations … that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”

“Wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible.”

“The world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000.”

Some of the more comical misses are below:

“Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014.”

“The most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!”

I also have a prediction for today, the birth of a friend’s baby that is now one week overdue. It would be awesome to share a birthday with Isaac Asimov, right?

For the complete list and link to the original article, click the links below.

Via Open Culture

New York Times

Blue Brain project combines neuroscience with computers to simulate brain activityBlue Brain project combines neuroscience with computers to simulate brain activity

Ever since I first read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov I have been interested in robotics and AI. Back in 1996 or so I had no idea that simulation of a brain might be possible in my lifetime. John Lehrer with Seed Magazine has written a very interesting article, “Out of the Blue“, which covers the Blue Brain project led by Henry Markram. One of the biggest challenges was determining how exactly a neuron is supposed to behave. Without that information, it would be impossible to simulate it. One of the freaky things about this project is that they have a robot conducting experiments and recording data 24/7. This robot is more efficient than 10 experienced lab technicians combined. I would assume that this robot only has enough programming to complete these experiments, but what if robots become sentient? What would keep them from creating other more capable robots? The current project aims to first simulate the brain of a 2 week old rat, which would then be transferred to a robot body to see how it develops.

With the current progression of technology, Markram suggests, “In ten years, this computer will be talking to us.” That seem a bit crazy, but who would have thought 10 years ago that there would technology capable of simulating 10,000 neurons and 30 million synaptic connections? That currently only represents a small slice of a 2 week old rat brain, but given how fast computing power is growing, I can’t see why Markram’s prediction would be impossible. If not 10 years from now, why not 20, or 30? I think that it is just a matter of time. I highly recommend reading the full article, especially if you have any interest in robotics or AI.