Losing Patience With Tech Progress

losing-patience

We’re so close yet so far…that’s my feeling as I grow ever impatient with the pace of technological progress. 


We have cloud computing, but still everyone has their own private computing setups everywhere. 


We have mobile computing, but still can’t get get reliable service in the Metro and all the other “dead zones.”


We have social computing, but still people are so cliquey and nasty and troll and bully each other online and off. 


We have the Internet of Things, but still things don’t really talk to each other regularly (except our smart meters).


We have robots, but still they’re relegated to factory assembly lines. 


We have natural language processing, but still can’t get a meaningful conversation going with Siri.


We have 3-D printing, but still can’t get dinner or a pair of Nikes to appear from the Star Trek like “Replicator.”


We have augmented and virtual reality headsets, but still can’t go anywhere with them without getting motion sickness.


We have biometrics, but still have to sign the check.


We have driverless cars, but still there is a driver inside. 


We have networks of information, but still it’s subject to hacking, malware, identity and data theft, and even big time EMP knockouts. 


We have immunotherapy, but still haven’t beaten cancer. 


We have nanotechnology, but still we travel through life loaded down with material possessions.


We have food and biotechnology, but still one in eight people are going hungry. 


We have space shuttles and stations, but still can’t get a colony going on Mars.


We have big data, but still information is corrupted by personal biases and politics. 


We have knowledge management, but still more than 780 million adults are illiterate. 


We have artificial intelligence, but still it’s devoid of emotional intelligence. 


We have bigger, deadlier, and more sophisticated weapons systems and smart bombs to “protect us”, but still are no closer to living in peace and brotherhood. 


All this technology and advancement is great, except that we’re left hungrier than ever for the realization of the promised technology land, and are really only halfway there, maybe. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Amazing Advancements In Prosthetics


Watch this video…



Where a man who lost both arms over 40 years ago is fitted with these amazing dual prosthetics that he is able to control with his mind and muscle movements. 



Made with financing from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).



John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab shows the possibilities for the future for helping everyone from Wounded Warriors to those disabled from accidents and disease. 



G-d creates and we imitate and together we make an incredible flourishing world. 😉



(Note: My gratitude to Rebecca Blumenthal for sharing this video with me.)

Restoring Hearing Using Bionics

Restoring Hearing Using Bionics

A mother wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the miracle of Cochlear Implants.

Lydia Denworth described when her 2-year old son, who is deaf, got these implants and how now he is now able to attend 5th grade in a “mainstream school” and is “nearly indistinguishable from the other children.”

These implants allow her son, Alex, to have a conversation with another child about the hearing device that “can open up the world of sound and spoken language.”

Denworth states at the end of the editorial, “Moments like that make me deeply grateful for the technology.”

For me, reading this was an opportunity to go learn about the amazing bionics that has already restored hearing to 320,000 people!

While hearing aids amplify sounds and make them louder, they don’t resolve permanent damage to the inner ear.

A cochlear implant bypasses the damage by receiving sounds in a microphone, digitizing them, and converting them to electrical impulses that are sent directly via implant to the auditory nerves– bypassing damaged or missing sensory cells in the ear–in a way that the brain can understand.

I am in awe of the inventors–Graeme Clark, Ingeborg Hochmair, and Blake Wilson–who are being recognized for their pioneering research leading to the development of Cochlear Implants.

Hopefully, soon we can do for sight, smell, taste, and touch what we can do for hearing and restore the impaired to fully functioning again.

We are living in a time of great miracles–thank you G-d!

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Bjorn Knetsch)

The Five Phases Of Medicine

The Five Phases Of Medicine

In many respects, medicine has come a really long way, and yet in other ways it seems like it still has so far to go.

For example, while antibiotics are used to routinely treat many bacterial infections, there are few antiviral treatments currently available–and we are left with the proverbial, “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

Similarly, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and so many other ailments still take their victims and leave the bereaving family asking why?

In thinking about medicine, there are five major historical phases:

1. Do nothing: Get hurt or ill, and you’re as good as dead. You shudder at the words “There is nothing we can do for you.” Average lifespan for folks, 30s. If you’re lucky (or wealthy), you may make it into your 40s or even reach 50.

2. Cut it: Diseased or damaged limb or body part, chop it off or cut it out surgically. I still remember when the people in my grandparents generation called doctors, butchers.

3. Replace it: When something is kaput, you replace it–using regenerative medicine, such as stem cell therapy (e.g. for bone marrow transplants or even for growing new tissue for teeth) and bio printers (like a 3-D printer) to make new ones.

4. Heat it: Envision a future with self-healing microbes (based on nanotechnology) in the blood and tissues that detect when a body part is dangerously ill and deploys repair drones to fix them. There is no need to cut it off or replace it, you just fix it. And perhaps with DNA “profiling”(don’t like that word), we’ll be able to tell what a person is predisposed to and provide proactive treatments.

5. Eliminate it: Ok, this is way out there, but could there come a time, when with technology (and of course, G-d’s guiding hand) that we can eradicate most disease. Yes, hard to imagine, and with diseases that adapt and morph into other strains, it would be hard to do–but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I still am shocked in the 21st century with all the medical advances and technology that we have that the doctors still say for everything from routine colds, to viruses, sores, growths, and more–“Oh, there’s nothing we can do for that.”

Yet, there is what to look forward to for future generations in terms of better medicine and perhaps with longer and better quality of life.

My grandfather used to say, “No one gets old without suffering”–let’s hope and pray for less and less suffering with future medical technology advances. 😉

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

Biowarfare, A Means To Our End

Biowarfare, A Means To Our End

The Wall Street Journal (1 February 2013) has an interesting book review on “The Soviet Biological Weapons Program.”

Although 85 nations, including the Soviet Union, in 1975 signed the “Biological Weapons Convention” (BWC) pledging not to develop, produce, acquire or stockpile bioweapons or toxins for hostile purposes, the Soviet regime was “covertly expanding them.”

In the following years, the Soviets “built the most extensive facilities for the weaponization of bacteria and viruses in history” with “tens of thousands of scientists and support personnel and guarded by hundreds of Ministry of Interior troops.”

Both civilian and military laboratories were used under the guise of biotechnology, and factories that produce flu vaccines and pesticides for crops could relatively easily be converted to mass-produce deadly bioweapons to use against the West.

Apparently, motivating the Red Army were there own horrible experiences in the early 20th century when disease such as typhus and lice killed millions “mowing down our troops.”

“Fighting disease became a priority…and such efforts morphed easily into weapons research.”

While the Soviets could not financially keep pace with the U.S. and eventually lost the Cold War, they continued to funnel their military dollars into nuclear and bioweapons, where they could literally get the most bang for the buck!

Often I think that despite the safety we generally feel in this country surrounded on both sides by large expanses of Ocean and the freedoms that protect us within, we are really only a nuclear suitcase or bio epidemic away from great catastrophe and chaos.

In such an event, would we know who to retaliate against, would we have time, and even if we do, what good does it do us with mass casualties and disruptions?

Make no mistake; being able to retaliate against the perpetrators is critical to bring justice and respite to the nation, to prevent the potential for national annihilation, and to deter other maniacal acts.

However, it is vital as well to protect us from ever getting hit by weapons of mass destruction in the first place and depending on treaties alone cannot be enough.

Rather, excellent intelligence, early warning systems, antimissile defense, stockpiles of antidotes and countermeasures, premier medical facilities, superbly trained first responders, a high state military readiness, and refined continuity plans are all necessary to keep us from a premature and horrible end–and ultimately to preserve the peace. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Pere Ubu)

Biowarfare: A Fight At The Molecular Level

Roman_soldiers_guards

There is a fascinating article in The Atlantic (November 2012) on an emerging bioweapons storm that is brewing that could be used in a decapitation strike to harm anyone, even the President of the United States. 

Advances in genetic engineering, biotechnology, and synthetic biology (Synbio) has been seen from decoding human DNA to the development of “magic bullets”, personalized viral therapies that can target and destroy cancer cells.

However, just as most things can be used for good or evil–so too, can this biotechnology be used to target and destroy cancerous cells or perversely to attack healthy ones.

Bioweapons could be targeted to various parts of the body or brain to cause blindness, memory loss, or death itself. More subtly, it can be used to “fabricate evidence” of affairs, crimes, “cast doubt” as to birthplace or heritage, or as supposed markers for genetic diseases, and even mental disability. 

Moreover, while bioweapons of mass destruction can destroy virtually entire civilizations, personalized bioweapons can be engineered based on the manipulation of a specific person’s DNA to attack that person–then just like a sniper, it becomes one shot, one (targeted) kill. 

Personalized bioweapons can be silent and deadly, difficult to detect, hard to pin on a source, and may even be confused with death by natural causes. 

And the cost is coming down…cell-culturing gear “can be had on eBay for as little as $10,000” or “cobbled together for less than $1,000.”

Even non-weaponized use of this technology, can be extremely dangerous. For example, Synbio, can be used to “cut and paste” genetic code from one species to another, can be mixed from multiple species, and new creatures can be created altogether–all this potentially leading to frightening scenarios of “undesired cross-breeding with other organisms, uncontrolled proliferation, crowding out existing species, and threats to biodiversity.” 

Already, “forty nations now host synbio research” and “The Beijing Genomics Institute…is the largest genomic research organization in the world.”

The article speaks to various approaches to counter the personalized bioweapons threat including scientific task forces, bio-detectors, “Clean DNA” (as biological backup system), conducting biological war games, and open/crowdsourcing for solutions. 

It seems clear that the answers of how to defend against these emerging threats are not as good as the questions raised by them–and we will need to be vigilant and fast-track R&D in these areas, as we are still vulnerable. 

Further, I see some similarities between bioweapons, cyberweapons, and even legions of attack drones/droids, as all areas that are non-conventional and developing quickly and quite lethally. 

Unfortunately, we can’t just put on a coat of armor and be safe from attacks at the molecular level, or from malicious code seeking to cripple our national critical infrastructure, or from robots that can stream across a battlespace attacking without fear, pain, or tiring. 

There is no simple paradigm for killing anymore and we better let our imaginations run wild, so we can figure out new ways to protect everyone–from the President and on down to us all.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

How Good Is Our DNA

Dna

Where do we store the vast and expanding information in our universe?

These days it’s typically in 0 and 1s–binary code–on computer chips.

But according to the Wall Street Journal(18 August 2012), in the future, it could be encoded in the genetic molecules of DNA.

DNA has “vastly more capacity for their size then today’s computer chips and drives”–where a thumb size amount could store the entire Internet–or “1.5 milligrams, about half the weight of a house ant could hold 1 petabyte of data, which equals to 1,000 1-terabyte hard drives.”

As opposed to binary code, DNA will store information as strands made up of four base chemicals: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).

Just like letters in the alphabet make up words, sequencing of these 4 base chemicals can store biological instructions (e.g. 3 billion for a person) or any other information.

Using DNA for storage involves 4 key steps:

1) Encoding information into binary code

2) Synthesizing the chemical molecules

3) Sequencing them in a string to hold the information

4) Decoding the molecules back into information

Overall, DNA is seen as a “stable, long-term archive for ordinary information”–such as books, files, records, photos, and more.

Researchers have actually been able to store an entire book of genetic engineering–with 53,426 words–into actual DNA, and “if you wanted to have your library encoded in DNA, you could probably do that now.”

With the cost declining for synthesizing and sequencing DNA, this type of data storage may become commercially practical in the future.

And with the amount of information roughly doubling every 2 years, large amounts of reliable and cost-effective memory remains an important foundation for the future of computing.

Frankly, when we talk about storing so much information in these minute areas, it is completely mind-boggling–really no different than the corollary of imaging all the stars in vastness of sky.

It is almost incredible to me that we have people that can not only understand these things, but make them work for us.

With NASA’s Curiosity Rover exploring Mars over 34 million miles away, and geneticists storing libraries of information in test tubes of DNA coding, we are truly expanding our knowledge at the edges of the great and small in our Universe.

How far can we continue to go before we discover the limitations to our quest or the underlying mysteries of life itself?

What is also curious to me is how on one hand, we are advancing our scientific and technological knowledge as a society, yet on the other, as individuals, we seem to be losing our knowledge for even basic human survival.

How many people these days, are proficient on the computer in an office setting, but couldn’t survive in the wilderness for even a few days.

Our skills sets are changing drastically–this is the age of the microwave, but knowing how to cook is a lost art to many.

So are we really getting smarter or just engaging our minds in a new direction–I hope we have the DNA to do more than just one! 😉

(Source Photo: adapted from here with attribution to Allen Gathmen)