FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The 36-Hour Day

Between radio, television, phones, movies, video games and the Internet, we are consuming more media than ever before... often all at once. While multitasking is hardly a new phenomenon, recognition is growing that the amount of time we spend immersed in one or more media is steadily increasing -- in effect, lengthening our days.

A survey by Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) has found that the average American will spend 3,518 hours consuming some kind of media in 2007, up from 3,333 hours in 2000. Predictably, Internet, video games and premium cable TV drove most of that growth; network TV viewing actually declined, while theatre movies and print media remained flat.

According to a study by eMarketer, new media are not necessarily killing old. "Study after study confirms it. People are consuming more media than ever, but they are not dropping one in favor of another," says eMarketer's Debra Aho Williamson. "They are juggling, multitasking and figuring out ways to use a number of media channels at the same time."

Teens are champion multitaskers, even doing homework while online or watching TV. Of course, this level of attention division has all sorts of implications, from possible increased stress levels to less attention given to any one medium. Says Williamson, "With the amount of data building up on the amount of multitasking that is going on, the best strategy may be to assume that attention waxes and wanes during media usage and that full engagement is no longer a realistic expectation."

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Battery Technology Could Revolutionize Electric Vehicles

EEStor, a Texas-based startup, claims to have developed a battery that's 10 times more powerful than conventional electrochemical batteries, as well as less costly, safer, faster to charge and more environmentally friendly. The battery has the potential to be used in everything from electronic devices to electric cars to weapons systems to massive utility storage.

The battery, called an Electrical Energy Storage Unit (EESU), uses barium-titanate powders instead of lithium-ion, as well as ultracapacitor technology that permits large bursts of energy, up to 3,500 volts. This combination, say observers, could be the key to making electric vehicles truly practical. An EESU-powered vehicle could theoretically travel 500 miles on $9 worth of electricity, as opposed to an equivalent combistion-engine vehicle requiring $60 in gas to go the same distance.

EEStor has reportedly started production of EESUs. Although the technology has skeptics, the startup has some big-name backers, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm that has invested in Google, Amazon.com and other highly successful tech firms.

Source: MIT Technology Review

As Mobile Devices Pass One Billion Mark, Disruption Continues

The number of mobile handsets worldwide passed the one billion mark in 2006, continuing the wave of disruption that they have been generating for the past decade. Among the more significant development, shipments to developing economies in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are overtaking those to the more mature markets -- promising change in social and business patterns in those areas of the world.

In developed markets, multimedia phones that allow users to listen to music and watch video are gaining market share as costs fall and exciting new models such as Apple's iPhone hit the shelves. These, of course, offer disruptive properties of their own -- especially to the entertainment industry -- as communities of users connected via Bluetooth have the potential to download and swap music and other files.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Will Employers Insist on Healthy Workers?

Faced with skyrocketing healthcare costs, US employers have begun worrying about their employees' lifestyles. Their concerns are bolstered by studies that directly link obesity, high cholesterol and tobacco use with higher health insurance claims. With that in mind, employers may demand that workers adopt certain lifestyle choices... and employees may push back against such dictates.

Recently, some businesses have caused controversy by forbidding smoking, both at and away from the workplace. Some believe that this might be a growing trend, as well as employers "encouraging" their workers to "maintain a healthy weight."

Source: Herman Group

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Smoking Gun" Report on Global Warming to be Released

A report that could silence any remaining doubts about the existence of global warming caused by humans is scheduled to be released next week. The report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was written by more than 600 scientists and edited by representatives of 154 countries, and includes "an explosion of new data" on current and future global warming trends.

Among other things, the report is said to pin blame for global warming on human activity, and features computer projections for future weather patterns that show significant warming in the years ahead.

Source: AP (Yahoo)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Did Viking Probes Find Life on Mars?

A geology professor argues that the Viking landers dispatched to Mars 30 years ago might have found life on that planet, contrary to reports at the time... but that we didn't recognize it for what it was.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University has presented a theory that when the Viking landers tested for signs of life on Mars in the 1970s, they were searching for salt-water-based life, when in fact life on Mars was more likely to be based on hydrogen peroxide. Moreover, the experiments Viking performed would have likely killed any life forms that they encountered.

The theory is currently unprovable, but it points to a persistent problem we face as we search for life on other worlds -- that is, using our Earth-bound assumptions to identify alien life forms.

Source: CNN.com

Energy 2020

A nonprofit technology think tank called the Lifeboat Foundation has issued a energy futures report, "Energy 2020: A Vision of the Future." It's a scenario of the state of global energy 13 years from now, in which "world population has grown to 7.5 billion people, the global economy is approaching $80 trillion, and the wireless Internet 4.0 is now connecting almost half of humanity."

The scenario is optimistic, citing new technologies that will provide sustainable, clean energy from a variety of sources, including solar, wind, clean-burning coal, biodiesel, hydrogen fuel cells, giant satellites that beam solar energy back to Earth, and ethanol from plant waste and genetically engineered bacteria, with their share overtaking conventional fossil fuels and nuclear power. In 2020, technology also supports conservation, allowing more power to be derived from less fuel, and ensuring a steady supply through a global energy consortium.

RFID "Tagged" Neighborhood Piloted in Tokyo

In what could be a model for RFID and ubiquitous computing, a network of 10,000 RFID tags is being piloted in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, allowing shoppers with prototype readers to get information about stores and restaurants electronically.

The network will aid in navigation, locating establishments and getting details about them (for instance, being able to see a menu and daily specials of a restaurant one is walking past). The system will provide information in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.

The pilot will run from late January through March, and is sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Source: Computerworld

Friday, January 05, 2007

Giving Brains to the Boob Tube

With the advent of devices that allow PCs to converge with televisions, TV watching is taking on a whole new dimension. Connecting PCs to TV sets is nothing new, but so-called "media adapters" will allow TVs to network wirelessly to PCs or laptops, so a viewer can easily access video, music or photos stored on the computer. The adapters, many of which are debuting at this month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will retail for between $200 and $300, and can transmit data at speeds up to 100 megabits per second.

Even when they reach electronics stores, many media adapters will appeal primarily to early adopters who have the very latest in broadband networking in their home. Some models are designed to operate on "powerline networks," which use a building's existing electrical wiring for data transmission.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Bill Gates Predicts a Robotic Explosion

The world is on the verge of an explosion in robot innovation, says Microsoft's Bill Gates. In an essay in Scientific American, he compares the robotics industry to the state of the personal computer industry in the mid-1970s, when he co-founded his landmark software company.

In Gates' vision, common household tasks will one day all be performed robotically, and controllable remotely via the Web, so a homeowner can complete chores while at work. "Companionbots" will help care for the elderly and disabled, monitoring their health and administering medicine.

Despite problems in getting robots to perform tasks that humans take for granted, Gates can "envision a future in which robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day-to-day lives." He cites recent advances in robotics, lowered costs of sensors and memory, as well as the need for standardized development tools (which Microsoft is beginning to develop).

Source: The Guardian International

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2006 Another Weak Year for Albums, Movie Theatres

The migration of music fans from "hard" media to cyberspace continued in 2006, in which, according to the RIAA, only 406 albums were certified gold, platinum or multiplatinum -- the lowest number since 1990 (the number of hit albums selling 500,000 or more copies peaked in 1999). Additionally, Nielsen states that while sales of online digital music rose by 65% in 2006, sales of albums fell 5% overall, and sales of new releases fell by 9%.

Surprisingly, Nielsen also reveals that the fastest growing music category is classical. Chris Anderson theorizes that this reflects pent-up demand from a traditionally underserved audience.

Theatrical releases of movies fared somewhat better in '06, but not much. Despite several blockbuster movie releases, the number of tickets sold rose only 1% over 2005, and revenue was up only 4%. According to the Hollywood Reporter, average opening-weekend grosses fell in 2006 by $700,000. Anderson notes that movie ticket sales have been declining more or less steadily since 2002-2004, which were "the last good years before the DVD/home theater boom fragmented the audience even more than VHS had before."

Source: The Long Tail

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Toyota Models to Detect, Thwart Drunk Drivers

Toyota is developing a system for its cars that will allow them to shut down if they detect signs of excessive alcohol consumption by drivers. The system includes sweat sensors in the steering wheel, a camera that checks pupil focus, and a mechanism that detects unsteady steering.

Toyota hopes to offer these features in its 2009 or 2010 models. Another Japanese automaker, Nissan, is also developing anti-drunk-driver devices.

Source: New York Times

Majority of Humans Living in Cities

Historically, humans have been country-dwellers, with the vast majority living in rural areas. But now, according to the UN Population Fund, half of all humans live in cities and towns. Within 25 years, that number will rise to 60%, with most of this shift occurring in developing countries -- posing an assortment of sanitation, transportation and other problems.

Source: The Independent