Let me start with a reminder that my latest involvement in a TV show, a 2 hour special for The History Channel, is: LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, which premieres Monday, January 21st at 9pm/8pm central. Yes, I am just one of many talking heads in this one. But they give me first and last word.
(Actually, the producers seem to have chosen a particular frame of reference. for example, that humans didn’t make artifacts deliberately durable for extended time. A few such monuments already exist, however. And more are planned. Nevertheless, the show is way fun/cool. Tell your friends.)
(Want more depth on this topic? In his recent book, The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers a pretty thorough look at how our civilization’s traces would erode and finally vanish, once no one is around to perform maintenance, by doing all those “dirty jobs.”)
More Scientific and Technological Wonders
See an amazing and cogent review of our energy and climate situation, by Dr. Steven Koonin, chief scientist of BP and my former Caltech classmate. I cannot over-emphasize how useful and important Koonin is! Here you have one of the smartest guys anywhwere, chief scientist for a major oil company, laying it all out and demolishing the "let's ignore climate change" mantra of the right. Perfect "ostrich ammo." He's done an even better presentation that I'll link-to, when it's available online.
Stefan Jones cited a recent article by Steven Pinker in the New York Times Magazine, about “The Moral Instinct” which covers much of the same area of interest as my longtime speculation about addictive indignation. As usual, Pinker is a compelling and informative read.
Bandit suggests: “A lot has changed since PC Magazine launched in 1982; after all, 25 years is an eternity in the tech world. With that in mind, here's what 14 industry leaders and PC Mag staffers see in store for the next 25.”
The past year has seen plenty of new technologies and inventions unveiled, some to make life easier, some with the potential to save lives, and some that might even help rescue the planet. Then there were a few odd ones as well, for example a new mechanical nose that used a healthy helping of artificial snot to sniff out odors and a leech-like robot crawled around the chest cavities of live pigs to perform surgery.... see especially the cool three-legged walker! ... See an interesting debate over whether we should continue efforts in manned spaceflight.
Predictions registry alert! Somebody put this on that Brin Predictions wiki!! Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes -- visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go. The device to make this happen may be familiar. Engineers at the UW have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.
As 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere. U.S. weather stations broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. weather data. England had the warmest April in 348 years of record-keeping there, shattering the record set in 1865 by more than 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn't just the temperature. There were other oddball weather events. A tornado struck New York City in August, inspiring the tabloid headline: "This ain't Kansas!" Meanwhile, the insurance industry faced $75 billion of losses from natural catastrophes during 2007, up 50% from last year despite a lack of "megacatastrophes,"
Solar cells, LCDs, and some other devices, must have transparent electrodes in parts of their designs to let light in or out. These electrodes are usually made from indium tin oxide (ITO) but experts calculate that there is only 10 years' worth of indium left on the planet, with LCD panels consuming the majority of existing stocks. Transparent electrodes created from atom-thick carbon sheets could make solar cells and LCDs without depleting precious mineral resources, say researchers in Germany.
The recent boom in video monitoring—by both the state and businesses—means we're all being watched. It's like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Except that, unlike Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith, we can watch back—and plenty of people are doing just that. Which makes a difference. However, government officials and big corporations often want to watch us, but they don't want to be watched in return. Shopping malls are full of security cameras, but many have signs at the entrance telling customers that no photography or video recording is allowed. Police cars have dashboard cameras, cities and counties are posting red-light and speed-limit cameras. But try shooting photos or video of police or other public officials as they go about their business and you might find yourself in wrist restraints. In recent months such cases have been piling up.
Of course, this is the "privacy war" I've long forecaste, from EARTH to The Transparent Society.
For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure. That's the message directed at Fort Jackson soldiers, some of whom appear in photographs in government issued fatigues, holding rifles in one hand, and Bibles in their other hand. Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has been telling soldiers at Fort Jackson that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers." Military Ministry says its staffers are responsible for "working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as Government paid missionaries" - which appears to be a clear-cut violation of federal law governing the separation of church and state.
In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned. The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency's food price index rose by more than 40% this year, compared with 9% the year before. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25%, to $107 million, in 2007.
A look into the future that never was. This is a delightful website that will let you browse through future predictions of the past. Pick a decade in the late nineteenth or twentieth century, click on it and read what someone thought the future would be. Some predictions are spot on: in 1910, Thomas Edison predicted, "The clothes of the future will be so cheap that every young woman will be able to follow the fashions promptly, and there will be plenty of fashions.” Some predictions are way off. And some are hilarious.
Signing off. In a week I’ll be in Liechtenstein. Store word-usage cues and other before-after comparisons, in case I am pod-personed. Meanwhile, tune in to “Life After People” and watch that Koonin video!