Tagged: science

Coming soon: voice-control, holodecks and The Borg

What a week for Star Trek fans. Was the universe conspiring to bring their favourite technologies closer to reality?

First Intel predicted voice-control would be as big as touch within the ‘next few years’. Those of us who have fallen out of love with Siri might find that difficult to believe. But Mooly Elen reckons the world is close to cracking a computer that can be told to drop out of Warp.

Not that this feat would be unique, according to another report. Based on the latest estimates that there are 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there, Gizmodo crunched the numbers down to ‘reveal’ that 79.9 million alien civilisations might have developed Warp Capability. Science? Hardly. Fiction? Definitely. But thought-provoking nevertheless.

But if we do get meet Warp-Capable-Aliens, it seems we’ll be more Borg than human by that time. As Ramez Naam points out, we’re already a good way down the line with neurotech implants. Next stop, brain-to-brain communication.

We always suspected the Borg were really us, just with funny lumps on the side of the face.

And as we cruise along in our starship, the crew’s entertainment needs will almost certainly be met in a holodeck. Whilst not actually at CES, Microsoft still used the platform to reveal its IllumiRooom, a Kinect-plus-projector combination that turns an entire room into a screen.

Not impressed? Then consider the possibilities for nanoscale antennas that are able to control light. Lifelike holograms suddenly seem achievable.

As does interstellar space travel, once you find out we’re starting to get to grips with Dark Matter. Because we may have even found a new force that affects it. That’s truly significant, given we’d only found four Fundamental Forces in the universe previously. And that’d be a fifth – the only one to interact with the Dark Stuff.

But if that’s too speculative and theoretical for you, you’ll be pleased to know that booking a hotel room in space for 2016 is a practical possibility right now. Sure, it’ll cost close to a million bucks all-in for five nights. But the living quarters are a lot more spacious than you might imagine. Astronauts on the ISS will be looking on in envy.

And even the less well-off will continue to experience new realities.

With all our devices perpetually connected they’re going to start learning what we like. Then they’ll co-operate to predict what we need. Before giving us access to it in the most cost-effective manner. All before we realised something new was available.

And maybe that something will be the latest mobile, controlled by gestures as well as voice. Or some new pharmaceuticals, made effective by a perfect, man-made type of glass. Or a self-adjusting pillow, a ‘Twitter Holiday Butler‘, a screen made of mist, a microwave zapper for garden weeds or a TV that’ll change channels when you give it that special look.

But consider the downsides too. With everything connected your data exhaust fumes will make you as identifiable as your (newly discovered) linguistic fingerprint. So you’ll be pleased to know there’s now a reason for demanding online privacy.

Once-upon a time there was no easy comeback to the assertion that: ‘If you’re doing nothing wrong, there’s nothing to be afraid of. So why would you want privacy?’

TechDirt retorted with the best answer yet:

Everyone has something to hide and usually no one cares. By surveilling everyone, you catch the benign breaches of law and taboo. If the public are all guilty, the executive part of the government can selectively enforce laws, essentially giving them both judicial and legislative power, which defeats the whole point of separation of powers.

Which also means the police will have time to catch the real cyber-criminals. Like the hacker who created a virus and started taunting the Japanese police with a series of riddles in their effort to catch him. His latest was strapped to a cat. The detail of this story reads like a particularly over-the-top Scandinavian crime novel. Perhaps he’s watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a few too many times.

Next, he’ll be hiding messages in Skype packets.

Or perhaps his schadenfreude is driven by a messy break-up. Looks like the science of not being dumped came a few weeks too late for him.

Or perhaps he’s a gadget freak and couldn’t afford to check-out the best of the latest at CES.

But all his posturings could be even more futile than they first seem. Seas may rise a lot higher, a lot quicker – up to 3ft by 2100. And higher seas mean angrier volcanoes.

So let’s hope, in the words of IBM’s free-thinking supercomputer, it’s all ‘bullshit’.

Because recharging batteries as you walk isn’t going to damp down the next Vesuvius.

And if we don’t solve that crisis then the rate at which we get hold of that lovely Star Trek tech might just slow to something less than exponential.

A possibility we’d rather not have to consider.

Star Wars, self-repairing Flash drives and TVs that watch you.

death-star-2What’s more kinds of wrong? That Americans are signing a petition for Obama to start building their very Death Star? Or that, as The Register reported, BHP Bilton – the world’s largest mining company – is having to modify a coal terminal because of rising sea levels?

Given America’s coining of the term ‘Axis of Evil’ both stories could be termed ‘ironic’. In fact, as The Register noted, they kinda skip past delicious, pay a passing nod to schadenfraude and land somewhere between “you’re kidding” and “too good to be true”.

But, apparently, neither were. Nor were the reports that some water-based batteries might help provide cleaner power. While self-repairing flash drives sound like they may lead to less waste as well.

But in a test of how hardy life on earth truly is, a group of scientists will be looking for life 3km below the surface of the Antarctic. Chances are any living thing won’t have encountered outside species for millions of years.

But given the guilt’s not gotten to you and you’re still driving a fossil fuel-burner, you can at least console yourself that you’ll save petrol with an app that finds a parking space.

Which might be handy when you pop down the road to pick up that 3D-printed item Staples might be selling you, from your own design, next year.

And you can also smile yourself to sleep knowing that we’re about to get real web TV – via the BBC merging iPlayer with the Red Button.

But then again, we’ve learned your TV might start watching you as you’re watching it. Will that keep you awake? Some already sound a bit queasy.

Well, there’s a social network perfect for them. While other networks were confirmed as the most popular thing to do on the web, Patients Like Me is helping the sick pool their experiences. Sounds like Hypochondriacs Anonymous to us.  Or at least the only social network no one wants to join.

But then again, we’ve been wrong before.

Daily Life #3

Much science in this issue – physicists discover things they never knew existed while others search for alien hairspray, advise us to swallow microchips and use DNA to store our favourite videos.

It’s all in a day’s work here at Life on the Edge.

Remember the Large Hadron Collider?
It may have produced ‘new’ matter.

DNA as hard drives?
Why we might swap disks for strings.

‏Keep forgetting those drugs?
Swallow a microchip to remind you.

Your brain, Twitter, Facebook and the Universe.
Is there a unifying theory for their development?

You couldn’t make it up.
Serious scientists are searching for alien hairspray.

Machines need ethics too.
How to evaluate the lesser of two evils?

Data, mobile, Asia, platforms and maths.
Are they defining our future?

Turns out water and electricity do mix.
Cities can generate power from plumbing.