Science, technology & design

Carpe diem?

Time perspective is a really interesting concept developed by Philip Zimbardo (Stamford). The idea is that we all need a balance between the past, the present and the future. Too little (or too much) of any one type of thinking and we fall prey to conditions like depression. To illustrate the theory Zimbardo has developed five new personality types: Past- Negative, Past-Positive, Present-Hedonistic, Present-Fatalistic and Future-Perspective.

Source: The Times (UK).

The next big thing

What's the next big thing in technology? According to Hermann Hauser (Europe's answer to Steve Jobs), it will be hand-held or mobile devices (which sooner or later will replace PCs for Gen Y).

Source: Newsweek (US).

Ashes to ashes, sludge to sludge

A Swedish company has developed an 'organic' alternative to cremation. The problem with burning bodies is that the process releases toxins into the atmosphere. Freezing bodies to -196C and then shattering them into very small pieces (and then removing the water and metal content) is deemed a safer alternative.

Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK).

Stamps get licked

The Royal Mail (UK) has launched an on-line stamps service. 'Smart Stamps' can be ordered over the Internet and printed directly on to envelopes with an ordinary printer (adding your company logo if desired).

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS).

Outsourcing ideas

Wipro, an Indian company, employs 6,500 people (in India) to do the R&D for other companies in other countries.
Their clients include 9 out of 10 of the world's top telecom equipment suppliers.

Source: The Economist (UK).

Viagra for the mind?

This sounds like science fiction but a company called Memory Pharmaceuticals is seeking to create various memory enhancing drugs. The market? - older people who lose their memory and those with Alzheimer's.

Source: The Atlantic Monthly (US).

New idea takes root

A genetically modified plant has been created which turns red when growing near landmines or other buried explosives. The crop is sown and later observed by aircraft thereby reducing the risk of  human casualties. The company behind the invention is Danish based Aresa Biodetection.

Source: The Observer (UK).

Consumer technology trends

Convergence is so last year. The next big thing in gadgets will be mobility and time shifting. Having said that, convergence is really having an impact with TVs turning into colour printers and phones turning into storage devices (especially music). However, the really cool stuff is in the area of cross-fertilisation with car companies teaming up with computer companies to create entertainment or directional devices. The result is a world in which every big technology company wants their products in your lounge room.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS).

Human enhancement

A recent essay in The Atlantic Monthly speculated about enhancement technologies and genetic engineering, both of which are linked to a trend called hyperparenting. The idea is that parents want the best for their children and, in the future (where they can afford it), this could include everything from brain enhancement to muscle augmentation. Some parents already seek to control sex selection (notably in China), and in the US it’s estimated that 6% of kids are on Ritalin (often to increase concentration at exam time), so the idea isn’t that far fetched. Indeed, in societies where pressure to look good and succeed are the dominant themes, it’s probably just around the corner. All of which leads to some interesting questions; like what is the ethical status of enhancement? and could such ‘improvements’ be passed on to future generations creating two species of human – the natural and the enhanced?

Source: The Atlantic Monthly (US).

Things that remain to be discovered

The idea of ‘designer babies’ is still a very long way off according to Dr Ewan Birney (European Bioinformatics Institute). There is progress in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), but this is limited to screening for diseases like cystic fibrosis and Huntingdon’s disease. Screening for inherited diseases like diabetes is still impossible as are things like hair colour or intelligence.

Source: The Times (UK).

Out of sight, out of mind

Researchers have found that humans have very limited short term visual memories. In an experiment that is certain to become a classic students were asked to count the number of passes made by a team in a basketball game. The students were fairly accurate at counting the passes but failed to see a player dressed as a gorilla. In another experiment students were stopped and asked for directions. In the middle of the conversation a man carrying a door passed between the two subjects. Not only did half of the students fail to remember the door, they didn’t realise that the man asking for directions had changed. The studies have serious implications for traffic accident research.

Source: Nature (US).

Heads could roll

Building a better mousetrap doesn’t always work (unless you’ve got distribution with Mousetraps R Us). A British inventor, Dr Kenneth Philips, has created a better crash helmet but has so far been unable to find anyone willing to sell it. The new crash hat gives 60% more protection than traditional helmets because it addresses the problem of brain rotation. Conventional helmets protect against linear acceleration but do nothing to stop the rotational forces that tear blood vessels and membranes.

Source: The Economist (UK).

Out of the box thinking

Haven’t got the time to attend countless tradeshows? Then you might need Design Aid from Sign up and every few months you’ll receive a samples box containing various new materials together with technical details and possible uses.

Source: What's Next.

Jobs of the future #2 - Information designer

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s a sad fact of life for wordsmiths that the new century will be dominated by images not words. As recently as 1981 when IBM launched it’s PC it had no graphic capability whatsoever. These days it’s clear that we all relate best to visual representations of data and the future will belong to those information architects that can present complex information and arguments like maps.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS).

The next big thing (very small stuff)

Nanoscaffolds (a bit like self-assembly furniture but used to build medical or electronic devices), Nanomotors (tiny energy sources that might one-day power tiny medical devices), Nanothermometers (just like ordinary thermometers but really tiny), Nanofibres (very strong materials made from spinning nanotubes).

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS).