Battling the Future — Big Business Weighs In

September 25 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 3

Comcast has been showing up rather frequently in the news as of late due to the issues they are having with users hogging large amounts of bandwidth.

Just recently, the FCC laid down a ruling against Comcast’s practice of limiting the speed of certain websites (torrent sites in particular). “The FCC voted 3-2 in early August that treating certain types of Web traffic differently violated its “net neutrality” principles, which state that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.” Of course Comcast is appealing the decision, saying they should be able to regulate their own business.

Comcast is just trying to stop progress. At some point, another company will come up with unlimited usage which will either force Comcast to take the caps off their connection or chance falling into obscurity.

John Smart, President of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, put it this way, “It is very profitable for large companies to limit innovation and sit on their IP as much as they can. Big cable companies and their lobbies have greatly slowed down the arrival of internet TV, and will continue to do so.”

Stringing out technology is the best way to insure profits long-term, but companies may soon find themselves by-passed by competitors.

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How Non-Lethal Weapons Will Kill Public Protest

September 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

Authority figures sure have gotten a lot smarter in dealing with public protests. In the 60’s and 70’s, public protests were greeted with iconic backlash from police and national guard alike. With the television and camera able to record these protests, they became icons for whatever movement they were fighting for.

There was the Kent State shootings immortalized by the picture of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of slain protester Jeffrey Miller. Or the famous video of police blasting protesters with fire hoses as well as sicking their dogs on high school students in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

It was due to these images that the traditional way of dealing with protesters had to change radically. In his paper titled “From Escalated Force to Disruption Control: The Evolution of Protest Policing,” Alex Vitale, a former consultant to the ACLU and Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, states the following:

“Prior to the 1970’s police relied on a doctrine of “Escalated Force” in responding to demonstrations. Following numerous reports, civil law suits, and media coverage criticizing the violence that often resulted form this approach, many departments developed a doctrine of “Negotiated Management,” which attempted to minimize violence through improved communication with demonstrators and greater tolerance of disruptive activity.” -Alex Vitale.

Tactics had to change — police could no longer use any force necessary in order to quell a public protest. It’s especially true in this day and age when even videos of earthquakes are posted on the internet within minutes of their occurrence.

A great report by the ACLU (co-authored by Alex Vitale) on the protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention detail how police used mass arrests, detentions, cheap zip-ties, horse charges, intense surveillance and limited access to combat the possible threat from protesters (no one wanted a repeat of the infamous Battle of Seattle of 1999). Tactics have changed, and as a result the voice of the protester is getting fainter and fainter.

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Pre-Crime Detection, Brain-controlled Mobile Apps & Big Tech Lay-offs Ahead

September 25 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 2

The Future Scanner Daily Top 5 highlights some of the best scans submitted to the Future Scanner over the last 24 hours.

Non-Lethal Weapons Currently in Use or Development

September 24 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 2

Here are some nifty gadgets people are working on in order to limit casualties in war and even at home. Check out my article on how these devices are killing the art of protesting here.

The StunRay™: Coming in a hand held device (range about 100 meters) or vehicle/ship mounted (range about 500 meters), this device delivers a blinding light that incapacitates a person anywhere from five seconds to three minutes. “Application of the 2-second or less stun beam causes a photo-chemical reaction resulting in temporary loss of sight and neural signal overload of the optic nerves.” The best thing about it? Full recovery takes 15-20 minutes, it only requires a battery, and it allows someone to use it from a great distance, keeping them from the threat.

The Dazzler: Another light weapon, it was used in the British and Argentinian war over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas for you Argentinians, sorry you lost) against low-level flying aircraft. The devices temporarily blind and disorient those targeted. Although hated by many advocacy groups due to it’s potential to cause permanent damage, they have even been issued in Iraq to soldiers at checkpoints in order to find a less lethal way of stopping cars that fail to follow directions.

The Vortex Ring Gun: Basically, an explosion is made in a barrel which accelerates air through the barrel towards whatever you’re pointing it at (kinda like in kung-fu movies where a guy stops his punch a few inches from the victim but the air from his fist still knocks the victim down). “The weapon has demonstrated its capability to knock-down a 75kg man-sized mannequin from a distance of 10 meters.” This allows people to get mowed down by air (a modern day fire hose?). And while injuries will probably occur, it’s still fairly non-lethal.

Long Range Acoustic Device: Developed by NORUS Crisis Assessment and Intervention (NORUSCAI) in the UK, you may have heard them in the news a few years back when the ship Seabourn Spirit beat off Somali pirates with their own LRAD. “After dragging his injured colleague Som Bahadur Gurung to safety, he saw off the heavily armed mercenaries by hitting them with a hi-tech sonic cannon.” The device has the ability to rupture ear drums of those it’s directed at. If it can beat away pirates, that is one tough machine.

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Let's use rewarding deep brain stimulation to help the baby boomers exercise

September 24 2008 / by iPlant / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 3

The baby boomers are getting older. Their pensions and healthcare will exert an enormous strain on European, north American, East Asian and Australian economies over the next few decades. Advances in medicine and medical technology continue to reduce blood-pressures, patch up hearts, extract cancers and extend life expectancy worldwide, but the brain, it turns out, does not yield to traditional methods, and effective treatments for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s remain elusive. In the US, the annual cost of care for sufferers of Alzheimer’s is expected to exceed the total current healthcare budget ($1 trillion) as 10 million baby boomers develop the disease (Nixon et al, 2008 , Alzheimer’s Association, 2008).

There is, however, one highly effective preventive treatment: heavy physical exercise cuts one’s risk of stroke and neurodegenerative disease in half (Medina, 2008). Heavy, regular physical exercise improves blood supply to the brain, eliminates free radicals and stimulates the generation of new neurons. In the coming decades, 500 billion dollars or more could thus be saved each year in the US alone if every baby boomer exercised daily. The problem of course is that exercise is difficult and people are sedentary, so sedentary in fact that we are faced with a looming obesity epidemic that compounds the problem of age-related cognitive decline. And there’s no way of using modern medicine to improve people’s motivation to engage in physical exercise, right?

Wrong. A technique called rewarding brain stimulation has for decades allowed researchers to motivate rats to run (Burgess et al, 1991), lift weights (Garner et al, 1991) and learn other behaviours (Hermer-Vasquez et al, 2005).

Here’s how it might work in people: A person needing help to exercise would go to a hospital or a private clinic to be fitted with a deep brain stimulation implant capable of activating his reward system (the dopamine system).

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A Penny for Your Thoughts

September 23 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Communication   Year: General   Rating: 3

Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

ThoughthelmetLast week, a colleague of mine at Future Blogger, Alvis Brigis, suggested that the coming reign of online video broadcasting as the "most ubiquitous and accessible form of communication" may be short-lived. In its stead, he suggested that brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) may replaced it.

To many people the idea of brain-to-computer or even brain-to-brain communication might seem a little "out there." I disagree and think that Alvis is on the right track. As evidence, I submit this recent article on the U.S. Army’s plans to invest in a "Thought Helmut" for voiceless communication. And lest anyone think that voiceless communication is some far-off, fuzzy, futuristic technology just check out this amazing video demonstrating an early prototype of this technology.

Until I can read your thoughts directly, I’d be interested in reading your reactions to this possibility and how you think it may necessitate that we unlearn some things—such as, perhaps, how we communicate in the future.

Bionic Contact Lenses, Underwater Power Generating Anacondas & New Planetary Ice Core Theory

September 24 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 1

The Future Scanner Daily Top 5 serves to highlight 5 of the best scans submitted to the Future Scanner during the last 24 hours.

8 Useful Creatures that Military Robots Could Mimic to Devastating Effect

September 23 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 3

We’ve seen some amazing robots recently. There’s the robotic tuna fish that will hopefully revolutionize the submarine world, there’s the super-realistic cod developed in Japan which still creeps me out, and of course let’s not forget the giant robotic spider that made Liverpool it’s home until it was herded into a tunnel by flamethrowers, hopefully never to be seen again (that thing still gives me nightmares).

The idea that these robots could be used by the military is very realistic. And while robotic fish are a great choice (imagine thousands of silent torpedoes, swimming around the ocean, looking for enemy ships), a giant spider might not be such a great choice. It’s an easy target, doesn’t hide very well, and despite the terror of facing one, you could outrun it easily.

So what things in the world should the military imitate in their desire for the perfect robotic weapon?

Children: My personal favorite. The idea that a simple child could be a deadly robot just makes so much sense to me. I mean, why would you think that five year old huddled in the corner in fear is actually programmed to rip your throat out?

Hornets: Already feared by all, the technology involved in making a hornet capable of delivering a poison sting, or possibly performing recon on enemy sites is too great to pass up. You could let a million of them loose on the countryside, spanning entire continents, looking for any sign of enemy activity (or even spying on other countries in peacetime).

Bats: It’s been tried before in World War II with live bats strapped to bombs (it didn’t work, go figure), but robotic bats would be stealthy and unnoticed. Their primary use would be night surveillance since any other creature flying around at night would be incredibly suspicious. On top of that, they could roost during the day, recharging their batteries with the Sun.

Snakes: Snakes are stealthy, can move efficiently on the ground, and have incredible senses. Now this could mean you could use it for surveillance, crossing a mine field,even silently taking out guards. Don’t forget there are sea snakes too. The only problem you’d run into is if you tried to invade Ireland, whoops.

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Looking for a powerful future economy? Look no further than the Land of the Rising Sun.

September 22 2008 / by TonyManfredi / In association with Future
Category: Economics   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

As global economies are shaken by the US financial disaster and rising stars digest their growth, Japan continues to be the world leader in innovation. Could massive investments in areas such as robotics make it the envy of the world?

In the midst of our current economic storm it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Leading financial experts are talking about a twenty year stagnation. In the face of this cold economic reality some are calling for the wholesale abandonment of the consumption based economy in order to embrace a system more focused on innovation and quality of life. Thanks to their own stark lack of native resources, the Japanese have been embracing this model for some time, intensely focused on education, infrastructure, and innovation.

For the past ten years the United States has replaced one outlandish bull market with another, allowing itself to become drunk with complacency as the tech bubble and housing bubble each provided false buoyancy to a badly misguided set of principles, or lack thereof. During this time countries such as China became the envy of the world, supplying the seemingly insatiable American appetite for stuff. Now even China, despite its still strong GDP growth numbers, is being forced to deal with the weaknesses offered by an economy devoted to manufacturing. Competition from the likes of Vietnam, Laos, and Bangladesh, environmental degradation, and the rust-belt principle are all slowly chipping away at what were once stellar growth numbers.

During this time Japan has emerged from its own bubble, and has been slowly and steadily rebuilding for over a decade. While all of the media attention has been focused on China due in large part to its incredible growth, Japan has been out of the limelight.

Could it be possible that Japan is quietly poised to be the leading economy of the future? By looking at some interesting factoids on economics and technology, it seems not so far fetched. While most would agree Japans GDP growth rate likely won’t exceed 2%-3% in the coming years, raw growth has proven that it will never replace a stable and innovative economy. Maybe there are other metrics that are more important.

Japan already possesses a manufacturing base that in recent years was larger than that of the United States. For such a geographically small country that is innovation in and of itself. It also is the largest creditor nation in the world, meaning more countries owe it money than any other country in the world. Many of its corporate titans, such as Toyota, are the number one companies in their respective fields. It also has a technological sophistication that few countries can match, producing more patents than any other country.

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Personalized Medicine's Accelerating Future

September 23 2008 / by juldrich / In association with Future
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 5

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

This past week I gave a presentation on “The Future of Genomics” to the Minnesota Hospital Association. In the course of my speech, I listed a variety of reasons why society is accelerating toward a future of more personalized medicine, including advances in DNA microarray technology; the growing wealth of genetic knowledge being facilitated by such tools as the “Wikipedia” for Genes and the new SNPedia;” private money (in the form of the Archon X Prize); the growing number of start-up companies who are making it more possible for people to have either a portion or their entire genome sequenced by companies such as 23andMe, DeCode, Navigenics and Knome); and the recent passage of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).

Alas, none of these things speak to the possibility like real results. To that end, I’d like to highlight just two articles I came across this morning. The first is from the Wall Street Journal and the article discusses how an old heart drug, bucindolol, has been found to reduce death for people who have a certain genetic mutuation by up to 38%. The second article, “Chemotherapy Get Personal,” reviews the findings of a recent study in the journal Genes and Development which explains how advanced computer algorithms are analyzing the activity of 20,000 genes to better match specific chemotherapy drugs with individual cancer patients.

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Nova Spivack's "Web as World" Observation Leads Us Further Down the Rabbit Hole

September 23 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: The Web   Year: General   Rating: 4

Summary: Spivack’s observation that the web is saturating the world (rather than just enabling a super fast web that the world and humans can enter) reinforces the idea that our system as a whole is amplifying its total intelligence and capabilities, rather than just supporting the digitization and “upload” of everything. It’s a basic, yet profound distinction that fundamentally changes how we expect the future to unfold.

Nova Spivack has posted some interesting thoughts up on his personal Twine, noting that “The Web is starting to spread outside of what we think of as ‘the Web’ and into ‘the World.’” He points out that “the digital world is going physical”, an idea that opens up an array of new futures previously not imagined by thinkers who’ve largely focused on digitization and inner space as the inevitable human destiny. Spivack concludes that “Beyond just a Global Brain, we are really building a Global Body.”

This thinking resonates with me because it moves away from a human-centric view of the future (digitization is good because we can live forever) in favor of a more systems-centric explanation (the system as a whole is getting smarter for its own reasons). It also makes sense in the context of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with good friend and EvoDevo systems thinker John Smart about the direct relationship between A) our collective drive to tunnel toward Inner Space (nanotech, chemistry, energy efficiency, etc.) and B) our drive to expand into Outer Space (exploration, space travel, universe mapping, manufacturing, resource discovery).

An increasingly intelligent, self-orgainzing web that furthers growth of both the Global Brain, a concept originally advanced by Francis Heylighen in 1995, and what Spivack calls the Global Body, seems like the necessary tissue connecting our Inner Space and Outer Space focused appendages. In other words, the web that Spivack observes is not only concerned with creating better simulations, but also with expanding reach and bettering physical capabilities.

This jives with the idea that the point of the game of life, including the human-created web, is to ensure the survival of our global system via knowledge gathering and expansion, and less with the species-centric view that the future is solely about digitizing ourselves and escaping our biological chains. If in fact we are living in a system that purposely or automagically (to borrow a term from another futurist colleague, Jerry Paffendorf) seeks to increase control over its perceived environment (COPE) in order to ensure survival and expansion, then the creation of a web that serves this system, rather than just its human components, seems perfectly rational.

From this perspective, a merger between the web and physical world makes a lot of sense as it accelerates the input, sorting and output of information, resulting in increased system quantification and knowledge generation. In other words, a world-as-web + web-as-world boosts both our collective intelligence and capabilities.

Of course, this sort of thinking steadily pulls us down the rabbit hole to a place where the physical world can be viewed as web and the web as increasingly physical. But, then again, we’re due for some serious paradigm shifts, aren’t we?

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Decentralization Trends, Nanotube Supercapacitors & Ads Via Facial Recognition

September 23 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 1

The Future Scanner Daily Top 5 serves to highlight 5 of the best scans submitted to the Future Scanner during the last 24 hours.