America's big names in engineering, as well as millions of Internet users around the world, are being asked to weigh in with their picks for the greatest technological challenges of the next century — a nine-month process that could give birth to new research initiatives. The project, called the "Grand Challenges for Engineering" program, is aimed at gathering up all those ideas and distilling them into a list of 20 puzzles for engineers to solve — in fields ranging from energy to communications to aerospace to advanced materials. The National Academy of Engineering, an arm of the Washington-based National Academies, is supervising the project, armed with a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The academy is a congressionally chartered, nonprofit organization that provides the U.S. government with expert advice on engineering issues.
More important and closer to the heart of CITOKATE...
Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.1 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.”
I have long pushed for something like this, hoping that some billionaire like George Soros would fund it well enough to truly draw forth whistleblowers from the top tiers of the kleptocracy. But even without help from a billionaire, the tools and hard work seem to be falling into place for anti-corruption transparency to start flowing at the lower end, where it may be needed even more. (Of course, we always need to stay 1% paranoid that things like this are fronts, suborned or co-opted by the very same elites that should fear them. Such things have happened often enough to keep the tickle of doubt always there, in deep background.)
Project Witness tries to use transparency against corruption in the 3rd world by providing video cams to local activist groups. But Witness's standard approach may be about to be put out of business in the best possible way, by the stunningly rapid proliferation of cheap cell phones in developing regions. When these have cameras and audio recording ability, they will empower common citizens with powerful anti-corruption accountability tools. In fact, I have suggested that Witness re-allocate effort to leverage this phenomenon in ways that interact well with endeavors like Wikileaks.
Now (breaking news) I now find that Witness is trying to take steps in that direction, developing a participatory website - the Video Hub, where anyone with human rights related footage can upload video that can be used to create change. Using technologies such as cell phones and other mobile devices, web-based video upload and content distribution, online community building, advocacy and organizational tools, the Video Hub will provide new opportunities to feed the populist shift toward user-generated content with media in the service of global human rights advocacy.
Lacking a billionaire sponsor, let me ask that you folks at least spread the word to people who you think may have the skills to help this worthy effort.
... And added late note. Apparently Witness has some transparency related JOBS posted at their web site! Witness.org. If you (or somebody you know) have skills related to the program, I can think of few kinds of work that are more relevant to saving the world...
And meanwhile, innovation continues. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will launch Wikiasari, a search engine to compete with Google, Yahoo, Ask and others early this year. Wikiasari would apply the "wisdom of the crowd" to judging the value of a Web page.
----- WHAT'S SIMILAR IN SCIENCE FICTION? -----
See a “literature map” that shows “what else readers of David Brin read.” Some expected results... but also several different misspellings of Michael Crichton, including one that’s closest in! For many years O.S. Card and I have been “irked” by the massive overlap in our readership... though my own “irk” is with a wry smile. All told? I am rather pleased by the company I keep.
------ AND NOW SOME MISC ITEMS! ----
(...many of them with a nod of thanks to Ray Kurzweil, a modernist who makes me look quite pallid-grumpy, by comparison...)
-- Google, HP Labs, Yahoo, and Microsoft are among companies using "prediction markets" to improve forecasts. The technique rewards employees for success in making predictions....
A device the size of a sugar cube will be able to record and store high resolution video footage of every second of a human life within two decades, according to speakers at the Memories for Life conference at the British Library. Also see: Memories for life: a review of the science and technology, J. R. Soc. Interface (2006) 3, 351-365...
IBM has created 12 islands in the popular virtual world Second Life, where employees and customers can hold meetings, take orientation and training sessions and discuss projects. Too bad the interface limits discourse to one sentence at a time! If that’s IBM’s notion of “discussing projects”... well... I am buying competitor stock.
DARPA's Urban Challenge, safety issues, artificial muscles, a multifunctional home robot, and Microsoft involvement will be the five key developments in robots
Chinese astronauts walk on the moon, the world has splintered into currency blocs after an international exchange rate shock, and even robots have the vote. It sounds like the exaggerated vision - utopian or distopian according to taste - of a parlour futurologist. But these scenarios of what life might be like around the middle of the century have emerged from 270 rigorously researched papers commissioned by the government that together purport to be the world's most extensive look into the future. The Horizon Scan covers a vast range of science and technology, politics, economics and society - from internet crime to robotics, banking to the computer-brain interface, stem cell research to "grey power" in an ageing population. While still in the development stage, the horizon scans have already started to influence policy-making. Ahem... there are two criteria needed for a successful horizon scanning program that they seem to be missing (1) metrics for tracking credibility/success... and (2) getting the right scie fi guys involved...
A glass microscope slide covered with bits and pieces of genetic information from nearly 30,000 different viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites can quickly tell disease hunters whether a patient has malaria, influenza or myriad other diseases, researchers say.
In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. In contrast, in an efficient "electron economy" most energy would be distributed with highest efficiency by electricity and the shortest route in an existing infrastructure.
Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution New York Times December 10, 2006 . A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago
Web 3.0, expected to debut in 2007, will be more connected, open, and intelligent, with semantic Web technologies, distributed databases, natural language processing, machine learning, machine reasoning, and autonomous agents. Wait a minute! What ever happened to Web 2.0?
A new concept, "vehicle-to-grid," would allow plug-in hybrids to help stabilize the power grid. Millions of cars, each with several kilowatt hours of storage capacity, would act as an enormous buffer, taking on charge when the system temporarily generates too much power, and giving it back when there are short peaks in demand.
New recordings of electrical activity in the brain may explain a major part of its function, including how it consolidates daily memories, why it needs to dream and how it constructs models of the world to guide behavior. The recordings capture dialogue between the hippocampus, where initial memories of the day’s events are formed, and the neocortex, the sheet of neurons on the outer surface of the brain that mediates conscious thought and contains long-term memories. Such a dialogue had been thought to exist, but no one had been able to eavesdrop on it successfully.