The light, froth and soft soap (powder) of Vegas

washingmachine2 copyAnd so it all began.

The bluster and general irrelevance of another Consumer Entertainment Show (CES) is upon us.

It’s hard to ignore the shiny baubles of mobile gaming devices from unexpected sources. And see-through, neon washing machines are definitely a source of amusement. Although nowhere near as useful as a complete range of home appliances that can be controlled from your phone.

And we completely forgot about the prospect of bendy mobiles in the wake of paper-thin bendy computers. Especially after getting breathless at thought of never losing a bag again.

But the constant screams of higher clock speeds and better screens flashing before our eyes soon became a little like a cheese-grater on the brain. At least Forbes recognised CES’s unnecessary irrelevance this year.

Fortunately, there was plenty of news from outside the crazed circus in Vegas, where light was definitely the topic of the day.

Roads are going to glow in the dark. And in the snow. Meanwhile we discovered you can make a 55-watt bulb from bleach, water and a plastic bottle.

But for those addicted to electricity it appears coal might again be the future. We can now make it from plant matter overnight, rather than waiting for nature to take millions of years. And this new stuff is carbon-neutral.

Mobile phone addicts also got a dose of good news. It’s reckoned clinics to treat their addiction will be up and running this year.

Maybe they’ll be decorated with a soothing flavour of LED wallpaper. Maybe the all-robot rock band will make a guest appearance.

But nothing would be as intellectually satisfying as this:

A young geek claimed to have written a programming language that would delete code that contained mistakes. Best of all, some people took him seriously.

Now that really put a smile on our faces.


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!

A day for the angry, aggressive, paranoid, depressed and guilt-ridden.

man in trashcanWhere did all the Christmas cheer go?

Everyone we’re meeting is rather enjoying the Festive Season. But that conviviality and air of expectant relaxation was not reflected in the news today. No sir. Not at all.

First-up for the suspicious minds among us was the Twitter lie detector. Trustworthy updates are, apparently, longer, include links, have a more negative tone and feature swearing more prominently. So that was hardly happy news either. Those long aggressive tweets may be depressing. But they’re truthful.

If that doesn’t give you enough re-assurance, the truly paranoid can now pack a bug detector without fear of making a social faux pas. They’ve made one thin enough to slip into your wallet or purse. No more unseemly wires.

But if guilt’s more your thing then try this one for size. Cloud computing is now consuming a not-inconsiderable percentage of the world’s energy output. And that means we’re all due a cross ticking off.

Then anger was properly roused over Instagram. The new Ts&Cs mean it can sell your pics – in return for no cash. And you can’t opt out from this state of affairs. Your face might even appear in their advertising. We predict a riot. Others felt it was tantamount to Facebook’s newest acquisition committing suicide, all rather publicly. And Starbucks knows how quickly big corporates need to fall in to popular opinion these days. So perhaps more to come?

With that prospect in mind it was hardly cheering to learn that a single microbe might have been responsible for the greatest mass extinction event in Earth’s history, killing 90% of all living things. ‘Could history repeat?’ we heard a depressed someone shout from the back.

So thank goodness there was some respite.

Allergy sufferers can now test what’s in their food using a new smartphone widget-and-app combo. While cutting-edge marketers have been re-designated ‘media hackers’. But in a good way.

The Twitter lie detector was also balanced by discovering the micro-blogging service now feeds into TV ratings – on the same day it announced 200million active users-a-month.

And finally, more medical innovation. Scorpion venom is to light-up brain cancer during tumor ops. And a hardy perennial of 3D design is being pressed into creating human tissue and organs.

So not all bad after all. Where there was dark, there was also light. Where there was yang there was also ying.

Maybe it’s just us not feeling the Christmas cheer?

Homemade silicon, man-made tornadoes and a future made by Google.

LHC2‘Man-made’ and ‘homemade’ were definitely the buzwords of the day.

We’ll be watching the man-made moon collisions, as two gravity-mapping satellites make their crash landings 10pm UK time.

On a more positive note tornadoes of human creation are being touted as the latest clean power-source. Which seems far more palatable – and effective – than the wee-power of a couple of weeks ago.

And if you want to make a microchip in the comfort of your own home, that now seems feasible too. Although no-one’s yet suggesting that you can create God Particles at home.

Not least because there seems to be some confusion at CERN over exactly how many types of those pesky Higgs Boson they’ve found. Would one of those touch-feely-smelly computers predicted by IBM help the world’s brightest physicists read the data? Or perhaps we should set the artificial intelligences building video games of their own devising on the problem?

But all of this ignores the really big news of the day, at least from an Edge Tech perspective. Redoubtable futurologist Ray Kurzweil has just been given the top engineering job at Google. This seems to suggest the search behemoth fully intends to keep inventing the future.

That’s exactly the statement of intent we like to see but let’s just hope this holy alliance remembers the Prime Directive of ‘Don’t be evil’.

And if all these ideas has delayed your progress and you’re now running late, there’s an app for that too. It can’t teleport you to where you need to be instantly. But it will tell you when you’ll arrive – and help make your excuses to those left waiting.

Maybe you know someone who could use a copy for Christmas?


Can we solve the financial crisis by adopting electronic money?

Chancellor+George+OsborneWe definitely can, says Miles Kimball over on Quartz. And the American professor reckons the UK could lead the way.

His thesis works something like this: the switch to electronic money could allow the government to set negative interest rates, incentivising us all to spend rather than save. This additional demand would pick the economy up a treat.

We say the unintended consequences of this policy might be utterly disastrous. And whether the potential triple-dip recession is bad enough to warrant such a risk is arguable. But hell yes! What an idea.

So it has to be worthy of urgent, serious study. Because, as the founder of Netscape commented earlier, we’re certainly in a tech – as well as a general – depression. And who doesn’t want electronic money?

Although, as NASA pointed out, the world is not about to end. So perhaps it is an over-reaction.

That said, we’re going to need some pretty strong medicine to make the nasty economic-monsters go away. And we doubt that building ‘Digital Layers’ in our homes for Minority-Report type control in every room is going to be enough. Not least because our money’s on voice-control. Do you want to waving your arms around the whole time? It’s just going to make you tired.

Meanwhile, free electricity from underwater turbines in rivers sounds like a great idea. But hardly sufficient. And don’t get us started on those Pepsi-flavoured crisps. Apple’s Siri doesn’t look like (s)he’ll be making much of a contribution either. Not while being out-fashioned by Android, whose users can now shop-by-voice.

And don’t look to those pixels on your screen either. The Geeks have declared that the vector graphic shall inherit whatever’s left of the earth once the economy finally recovers.

So maybe it’s down to the auto-makers. They’ve got some pretty nifty ideas about what cars will do and look like in 2020.

But who wants to wait that long? So let’s all urge UK Chancellor George Osborne to take a risk on Mr Kimball’s gamble.

But if Osborne’s not listening, perhaps our new favourite economist can petition his own President. The campaign? Please, Mr President, will you make  a New Year’s resolution not to start a war? And then you might not need to invest in the rather-icky injectable battle wound foam.

Maybe Obama could concentrate instead on funding research into those gushing rivers of water found on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Now there’s a policy we could all support?