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The joy of tech in iceless surroundings

The day started happy. Our iced-over UK had thawed. And in its place was – if not spring – then definitely the promise of warmer, sunnier days ahead.

So any significant new Edge Tech was always going to become a major mood enhancer. It did not disappoint.

Because we always suspected it. And now we now. Technology IS adding to humanity’s stock of happiness.

Which kind of justified that feeling of warmth we had while watching the birth of Vine – the 6 second video loop site. With few commercial interests cluttering its airwaves, it feels as fresh as the breeze whisking in that seasonal change. Providing you skip the rather controversial editors picks of porn, of course. And you can still download it from the app store. But what’s not to like about a perfect storm?

But then ‘Pow!’. A treasure trove of discovery. Forbes rounded-up the US military’s most science-fictional projects. A strange thing to get excited about until you flick through the gallery and drink in the planes that don’t need to land;  tiny disappearing sensors; the shape-shifting robots;  and a human exoskeleton.

So now in raptures, we nearly wet ourselves over the beauty of generic equations of change that can predict climate catastrophe, epilepsy and financial crises.  Which then made news of a model of all global ecosystems and their interdependence somehow even more phenomenal.

By now there was no pause for breath. We hatched plans to build a supersonic ping-pong gun,  on top of our new coffee table made from an actual chunk of the Large Hadron Collider while installing our server that would survive, should we accidentally drop it out of an aircraft over the Arctic at -40˚c.

And we won’t even complain about the illogical nature of the placebo effect any more. Because we know how it works.  Meanwhile if driverless cars do earn a few large auto companies literally trillions of dollars? Well – we guess that’ll make someone very happy.

Because we’ve started to crowdsource the bacteria in our guts. How nu-economics is that?

And it’s not as if there’s nothing to look forward to. If you’re hankering after some purulence later in the week, it’s going to start oozing nicely. Hacking collective Anonymous is promising to release a tonne or two of secret documents.

We know that shouldn’t make us happy. But somehow it really does. Providing no one gets hurt.

So the plan was to get down the pub, calm down and bring ourselves back to earth discussing global iPhone fatigue.

But with pinball being back with a vengeance, there’s little chance of our excitement abating.  Looks like another sleepless night hunched over the screen.


Ever theorised that Zaphod Beeblebrox would make a better innovator than Brian Cox?

Zaphod_BeeblebroxWhen science goes wrong, horrid consequences can follow.

Last October contaminated steroids, meant to treat backache, sparked an outbreak of fungal meningitis. Forty people have now died. Forty families are without forty family members. And, as we have been reminded, this is just the tip of science’s misdeeds.

Which is why, here at Life on the Edge, we’d be a purely theoretical group of scientists. If we were to follow such a calling. Because you can make massive, startling, stomach-churning, career-questioning errors. And no one gets hurt.

This week, for instance, theoretical science chalked up its biggest-ever mistake – if you measure mistakes as a volume of space. And yet…hardly anyone raised an eyebrow.

It was thought that quasar clusters could weigh-in at a maximum of 1.2 billion light years. Turns out some scientists discovered there’s a 4 billion light year monster in our skies. Which gives them two choices – ditch Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Or revise how big we think the universe is. By an infeasibly large amount.

Guess which they chose? Seemingly without much thought.

So now we’re sitting in a universe that’s one hell of a lot bigger than the one we lived in last week. Does this not strike anyone else as slightly disconcerting? Especially if one remembers what the previous size of the universe was used for in a locked room with Zaphod Beeblebrox.

But actually, the mistake speaks of the fragility of theory. Which, of course, is a good thing. It’s how science works.

But out there in the world of business, where we’re slogging it out, slapping each other round the face with metaphorical wet kippers, we rather suspect that fragility of theory is exactly the opposite of what you need. Innovators become innovators because they’re driven to win at all costs. You have to be so self-possessed with your self-righteousness that you think selling that spare grandmother is entirely justified. Which is exactly why Zaphod survived that locked room.

And which might explain why everyone’s feeling that The Future no longer belongs to Apple. Sure, Steve Jobs was kinda hip, cool and a bit of a father figure to us tech-heads. But we knew of his inner steel, perfectionism and bullying tendencies. Clearly he loved to win. He’d have survived the room, convinced of his significance in a might-as-well-be-infinite universe.

But Jobs is no longer at the helm. And we’re feeling that Google doesn’t really have the chops either – now it’s big and bloated. So it was weird to see them top the list of the world’s most innovative companies. That report’s definitely based on the rusty rearview mirror rather than Brian Cox’s radio telescope of future-gazing. Although perhaps Apple And Google disprove the winning-at-all costs theory?

Because if Dell can start to convince people that they’ll be a radical innovator again, then who knows? Perhaps we can all read this and create the Next Big Thing (NBT).

But what, exactly, is that going to be? Machines adopting human emotions are clearly on the way. But they’re far too far down the line for them to be ‘next’.

At the other extreme, Facebook has tried to position it’s new social search (powered by Bing) as the NBT. Lots of mutters that it was not. Some support for it being so. Yet given we now know that genetics can create social behaviours – in ants at least – perhaps we’re hardwired to start using it in our hundreds of millions?

And as behaviours can be socially infectious as well as inbred, it should be no surprise that environmental movement is finally gathering pace. From a practical, rather than activist, point of view at least. For it has been declared that the clean energy industry is now officially a ‘thing’. Quite a large $1billion thing, in fact.

So maybe saving ourselves is the next NBT. Or maybe it’s liquid metal, the type of which Arnie was made of in Terminator 2. Or maybe it’s libraries without books, the fabric that conducts power like wire and is 100 times stronger than steel or making petrol out of fresh air. Although perhaps not.

A bit further out we’ll certainly start to see NBT technology based on detectors so sensitive you can pick out a single molecule among billions. As well as nanotech that can manipulate heat as easily as light. And then create its own production lines.

But where’s this all heading? Faster-than-light travel turns out to have nothing visually worth looking at and we’re not certain we’d want to visit Nasa’s bouncy castle in space.

So maybe we need to look at the app that might rid teenagers of all that angst or the jeans that’ll moisturise your crotch (if you go commando). We wonder if IBM’s predicted that as a fashion trend yet? And if you make fireflies wear them around their nether-regions will they be able to give further assistance to the future of LED’s?

But if these are imponderables, then a question clearly in need of an urgent answer is this:

Who built the spyware targeting global governments on both sides of the culture divide?

Obviously we won’t be surprised when we find out. Because improbable in the new normal. But it still feels important to unravel – and best not left to the conspiracy theorists.

So with Jobs and Beeblebrox both out of the frame, perhaps we should ask British celebrity physicist Brain Cox.

He might know. Theoretically.

The buzz before Christmas.

smileySo after the excitement of working out that we’re reaching the most significant-ever epoch in human history, how much residual buzz was left to draw from the news?

Quite a lot, surprisingly – given the proximity to Christmas.

Our second biggest endorphin-rush came from the insight that capitalism never fails to surprise with its inefficiency. Due to the trend of Angel investors gold-rushing in to support start-ups, around $1billion is about to be lost. An estimated 1,000 ventures will crash as they fail to find further support.

Doesn’t this highlight how the market needs much better information before making it’s (let’s be honest) collective decisions? Another blow for the institutions which reckon capital markets are anything close to efficient?

And while that lesson should make us wiser, we’re not sure that this look-forward to tech trends in 2013 added much to our collective knowledge. It seemed to be saying that tomorrow’s like today. But different. In unexpected ways. That we’re now expecting.

Confused? We were.

But what we do know is that we want to flush our toilets with a smartphone – which would make up for the fact we weren’t given free iPads whilst at university – and that wires which stretch up to eight times their original length are going to make awesome power-leads and headphone cords.

So! Who cares if 007’s mate ‘Q ‘ is slashing the budget because spy drones can be made out of Lego? And we seriously doubt that older people slowing the pace of innovation for everyone else, even if their rates of adoption are lower.

We just hope we’re not subject to the ‘pain rays’ the US is considering for crowd control and that hackathons for sustainable meat-lovers are a total triumph. Prime beef with less guilt. What’s not to love?

Right – that’s it. We’re utterly buzzed-up and off for a burger. And then we’re going for a drink to make friends with the Dark Side (of Saturn).

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Triple-dip recession? It’s the merest of nano-blips.

There was something that fundamentally augmented our worldview today. And for anyone still concerned about the current state of the economy, this is essential reading to restore your Festive Optimism Quotient. Or Reasons to be Cheerful in plain English.

In fact, the exposition of Robin Hanson’s Big History theories over at The Advanced Apes gives reason to strike joy into the heart of all humanity.

With more than a nod to Alvin Tofler, Hanson has noted that the economy goes through periods of exponential growth when there is a fundamental shift in technology. We’ve moved from hunting to agriculture, from agriculture to manufacture. The interesting thing is not that these shifts are happening more quickly – we knew that already.

What’s interesting is that we’re in the death-throes of the manufacturing economy and are about to enter the age of connected machine-based intelligence – or Strong-AI.

What’s even more interesting is that the size of the economy doubles-up every time.

And while the politicians and economists can’t feel the groundswell of that coming yet (they should read more Life on the Edge), we sure as hell can.

In fact, we’d go as far as saying that Hanson has utterly under-estimated the impact of moving from the narrow-AI of today to the strong-AI of tomorrow. What this shift could bring is a qualitative change to his exponential pattern of growth. The timeframe between the doubling-ups will not only shrink further but contract to such a tiny focus that they are blurred to the point of becoming indistinguishable.

With our own deep nod of debt in the direction of Richard Seymour, we would argue we’re already at a point where we are more limited by our imagination of how to use technology than we are by the technological possibilities themselves.

And as intelligent machines begin to extend our own capability to imagine the new, the rate we can create and assimilate novel technologies will maintain the rate of exponential advance.

The end-rate of the humanity’s ability to innovate and assimilate change is not yet knowable. But once we can’t cope it seems likely that the AI we spawn will continue up the exponential curve unabated.

What such a society would be like to live in, we can only speculate. It would be one where we can’t directly assimilate (perhaps even comprehend) the technological change around us. Perhaps we’d have to live separately, advancing at our own end-rate but falling rapidly out of relevance in terms of our ability to impact the AI-driven world.

But if this is scary, fret not. We’re a long way off that point. And back in the now, you can see the immediate implications.

Whatever the future, our current economic situation is not never-ending. Technology and its accompanying economics will see to that.

Happy Christmas.

What’s less likely – Super-Advanced Aliens, full teleportation or marketers arriving on time?

Istar-trek-teleport-1966s it us? Or did the rest of the world not react to the really, really big news of the day?

Scientists have managed to teleport a proper solid object – not just a lone photon or two. Sure, its only 1mm in size. And yes, the experiment hasn’t been replicated. But the paper’s in a peer-reviewed journal. So why’s no one else shouting about it?

But if teleportation does turn out to be fantasy, it won’t be alone. We now know there’s a planet 12 light-years away that’s similar to earth and twice as old. But suddenly – and in a complete reversal of the above – everyone’s talking about the Super-Advanced Beings that live there. Really? In the incredibly unlikely event they do exist we wonder whether they too contrive to read their greatest dreams into every piece of data they create?

Maybe Denmark can help out. A homemade spaceship could make it only the fourth country to send a rocket into space. Surely they could investigate?

Anyways, back on Planet Normal the unseasonal crop of dire warnings of imminent bad stuff continued. HACKERS CAN PENETRATE YOUR TV, screamed The Daily Mail. Inspector Knacker’s going to come calling if you download illegally, chastised the Guardian. And Nokia might be preparing for its death throes, reported CNet.

Meanwhile the somewhat unfortunate Instagram situation continued. The photo-sharing giant insisted it’s not seizing ownership of users’ snaps. Despite the new Ts&Cs appearing to do just that. The riot will rage on, we’re sure.

Luckily UK users – some well acquainted with a good old riot – could be particularly aggressive towards Instagram. The British legal system has now enshrined a difference between criminal offences and merely offensive tweets.

A clarification we expect to be  useful for those saving choice words to rage against Kickstarter-funded businesses. A new report shows the vast majority are late to deliver their products. So let’s hope most people understand the difference between investing in a company and going shopping. Not least as it seems crowdfunding may be increasingly popular. Venture capitalists are warning 2013’s not going to be a vintage year for Edge Tech start-ups.

However, marketers seem to be looking forward to the future with a healthy appetite. At least some of them now realise we live in a Post-Digital Universe.

Didn’t take long for them to catch on, did it?

But those among us proud enough to call ourselves Geeks have already moved beyond. We’re considering what it’ll be like to become a node in the mobile network of 2020.

All we know for sure is this – it’s gonna be superdense!

Spare a thought for the stress of leadership

David+Cameron+2012+and+London+Mayor+Boris+Johnson+(right)With all the Budget fuss still raging did anyone notice the Edge Tech announcement today? David Cameron and Boris Johnson want to spruce up Silicon Roundabout (Old Street). But KPMG seemed to be saying that much more needs to be done – the UK isn’t exactly a tech hotspot.

A view most of us here agree with?

So perhaps the Government needs to take some advice from innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips. He pointed out that if you don’t spot big gaps, you won’t make big innovations. Might the gaps be bigger than Cameron and Johnson realise?

Maybe they just have information overload. Trusty future-gazer Ray Kurzweil reminded us that the rate of change is such that: “A kid in Africa with a cell phone has access to more intelligence than President Clinton did 15 years ago.”

If the sheer volume of stuff they have to understand is inducing stress, at least they can now monitor anxiety levels with a thumb pressed against their mobiles. Meanwhile, research is ongoing using real beating hearts grown in the lab. And doubtless it’ll result in wonderful treatments for stress-related conditions. But surely it’s better not to do the damage in the first place?

And if they’re dodging that bullet while relaxing with their Kindles, they might still feel a little lonely – current predictions are for tablets to slay eReaders.

Better to try the new Apple TV which – contrary to our scepticism of last week – may actually be close at hand. We’re sure it’ll be outrageously popular if it does reinvent the category. Maybe that’ll just stress Dave and Boris more through jealousy?

Anyways, after all that anxiety-ridden politicking, how about some lighter relief? Happily suck on these until we resume our – hopefully less politics-influenced – observations tomorrow:

Tech is born. Tech dies. Noel Gallager launches postal supernova.

What a lot of negativity there was today.

Allegedly ‘evil’ canine clones are running rampant in New York. And there were mutterings about the potential death of two of our most trusted technologies – paper and phone numbers.

So it was great to balance that with celebrating the 20th birthday of texting, being uplifted by news that we’re building farms in city skies and that there’s now a simpler way to address every letter you send. That’s endorsed by Noel Gallager. A bonus no one could have predicted.

And the transforming matter that can turn into anything certainly sounds like it could lead yet another revolution. Imagine if you could make that on a 3D printer.

But there are other items on which the jury’s still out.

Do we really think we need a volunteer army of geeks to protect us from cyber threats? The MoD seems to think so but can’t quite tell us why or how this would work.

Perhaps more troubling we can’t seem to make our minds up about whether we still care about the brands of tech behemoths like Apple, Google and Microsoft. The point being that all we want is stuff that works seamlessly. And who cares who makes it?

If you want our opinion, we’ll only get passionate again when the stuff we use makes another big leap forward. And, as we blogged last week, that seems to put Google, via Android, firmly in the driving seat. But perhaps we’ll never return to the level of brand devotion we’ve seen in recent years?

And surely the report that Bigfoot DNA has been found and sequenced is a whimsical hoax? We’ll let you know the moment we know for sure.

In the meantime we shall retire, sipping our champagne supernova in the sky.