Thursday, August 04, 2005

Misc news about tech advances

We mustn't let people assume that this site is solely gloomy and fixated on antimodernist conspiracies (of both right and left). How dreary and depressing (and boring) THAT would be!

So let me post (now and then) some GOOD news. Links and other items suggesting that a brash and bold modernist agenda is still underway, based upon science, engineering and goal-oriented futurism, applied to improve both human society and human life.

No, I will NOT be gushing with optimism. For that, turn to Ray Kurzweil's Singularity is Near! materials, promising immortality and omniscience for everybody within a few short years. Actually, I believe talk like this may be helping to drive the anti-modernist movement into its recent frantic fury and rejection of the future. I doubt that it helps very much to tell average folk "we're a-gonna make gods of ya, whether you like it or don't!"

Such talk is guaranteed to provoke a backlash, and not only among middle americans. It underlies the passionate nostalgia and dread of change that we see expressed cogently by Bill Joy, perniciously by Francis Fukayama, and lividly in the purple novels of Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood. The politically-correct Left and the apocalypt-klepto Right are fast becoming as fixated against tomorrow as any Islamist sheik.

Still, there is some cause to believe and hope that technological innovations - moderated by vigorous skeptical criticism - will continue to advance Western Civilization in dramatic and positive ways, despite every deliberate roadblock thrown in our path by those yearning for a "better" past. Here are a few examples cited recently by the nanotech-focused Foresight Institute. (I'll give the full citation for examples 1 & 2... then capsules for the rest:

1. Meeting global energy needs with clean solutions

Headline: Smog fight aided by self-cleaning materials News source: The Washington Post by Karl Ritter, UPI . In a test in 2003, the company coated 75,000 square feet of road surface on the outskirts of Milan with photocatalytic cement. It found nitrogen oxide levels were reduced by up to 60 percent, depending on weather conditions.

A similar experiment in France found nitrogen oxide levels were 20 percent to 80 percent lower in a wall plastered with photocatalytic cement than one with regular cement. Encouraged by such results, the European Union last year earmarked $2.27 billion for a project to develop "smart" construction materials that would break down nitrogen oxides and other toxic substances, such as benzene.


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2. Providing abundant clean water globally

Headline: Bacteria drive biochip sensor News source: Technology Research News
Researchers are working to connect living cells to computer chips to gain the best of both worlds. Living cells are terrific sensors, and can also be used to evaluate and emulate biological behavior, while electronics are exemplary at serving up data.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have built an electrochemical nano-biochip that detects toxic water.


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3. Increasing the health and longevity of human life

Headline: Nanotech used to target, kill cancer cells News source: San Jose Mercury News by Lisa M. Krieger


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4. Maximizing the productivity of agriculture


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5. Making powerful information technology available everywhere

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6. Enabling the development of space

Headline: The Next Giant Leap in Space Exploration The science of nanotechnology could lead to radical improvements for space exploration.

==> more soon...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

A good place to keep up on advances like these:

http://www.worldchanging.com/

It covers an amazing variety of subjects, from space travel to terraforming to technologies for enabling Third World nations to "leap frog" to high-tech prosperity.

The weekly report on alternative-fuel vehicles alone is worth the visit.

Stefan

Steve said...

For some other advances that could benefit humanity:

Device that condenses water from air - a clean source for poor countries?

Carbon nanotubes kill cancer in vitro

Mark said...

David,

Great links, great blog, and so on, but you really need to learn how to create links you can actually click on. Just use href in the a tag.

Anonymous said...

Show, don't just tell, Mark!

A clickable link looks like this, only with angle brackets ("greater than / less than") rather than square brackers:

[A Href="http://www.worldchanging.com"]Text you want clickable[/A].

The gadget Steve links lead to a hot discussion on World Changing and was followed by this story: A really cheap no-power required water filter for poor countries

fpoole said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fpoole said...

Anonymous, you can use (& sign)lt; for the brackets and they won't be embedded by the SGML parser. ;)

example:
<a href="http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/" title="Contrary Brin - Index">Visit Contrary Brin</a>

will print as...

Visit Contrary Brin

Anonymous said...

Thanks fpoole, I knew there was a way to display those w/o processing but I wrote that post while taking a break from . . . well, writing code in an iffy port of Perl that made calls to a nonstandard shell, and took the easy way out rather than strain my brain further with another context switch. :-)

* * *

It is very interesting reading presidential science advisor John Marburger spin and weave around Bush's pronouncement about Intelligent Design. He bluntly declared that "intelligent design is not a scientific concept" and that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."

Marburger was the president of my undergrad school. He was a supporter of the school SF convention and I met him a couple of times. He was hired in summer 2001 in an attempt to balance the cabinet politically. After 9/11 he essentially disappeared from public view. I'm astonished that he's hung around so long. I'd really thought around the time of the election that he would Decide to Spend More Time With His Family to be replaced by, I dunno, the Dean of Phlogistonics from Bob Jones University, or Exxon-Mobil's chief geologist.

Stefan

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links and all...'good stuff.
Aside from the technological side, there is hope to be found, I believe, in some pop culture outlets. The one that popped in my mind while reading the above, is the Daily Show with John Stewart on Comedy Central. Granted the show goes all out for the joke, but many of the ideas expressed by not only John, but the talented posse of senior news specialists that back him up, are progresive, modernist, and are deliciously subervisive towards authority, in the captial and in the media.

The enlightment has a strong tool for reaching the masses through entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, I'm watching Stewart right now criticize the media's egregious use of "miracle" when describing the evacuation of that French jet liner. Wonderfully pointed.

Stefan

Tony Fisk said...

6. Enabling the development of space

... another link of note is the LiftPort Group, who appear to be seriously intent on getting a space elevator operating by April 12, 2018(!)

(This one's also courtesy of Worldchanging)

Mason Rourman said...

And yet another advancement, as can be seen in Brin's "Earth" and other conceptual near-future writings, is the "street-corner" Point-of-View, allowing everyone (not just the scary government) to keep a wary or interested eye on their local hometown (and any other hometown they wish to see...). Some people are scared of this, but since we can all see it - equally uncencored and unmodified - it puts the power in all of our hands. There are already a few webcams sitting in some Internet-Advertised places, but there is now a new development, getting closer to the prediction...
http://maps.a9.com/
check out some street-corner first-person Points-of-View of some bigger cities...

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