Thursday, May 25, 2006

The world at our feet: This week in technology

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortal man that you have taken note of him? That you have made him little less then divine, and adorned him with glory and majesty; You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet.”

That verse comes from Psalms 8:5-7, and I am often reminded of it when I read about the amazing new technologies and innovations that spark my imagination as if I were 5 years old. No matter how old I get, science and technology will never cease to amaze me. Even such day-to-day devices as the telephone and light-bulb contain a genius I would still be unable to reproduce in a pre-industrial society, despite their relatively simple designs. So I am always curious as to what new technologies and discoveries lay ahead.

The latest wonders in human achievement all occurred just within the past week alone!:

  • Invisibility: According to researchers, “new materials that can change the way light and other forms of radiation bend around an object may provide a way to make objects invisible… Their work suggests that science-fiction portrayals of invisibility, such as the cloaking devices used to hide space ships in Star Trek, might be truly possible.”
  • Cloning: Next month in Nevada, a very unusual race will take place involving “two cloned mules named Idaho Star and Idaho Gem,” who “will compete in a professional mule race.” According to this AP story, both mules “were born three years ago and carry identical DNA taken from a fetus produced by the same parents that sired a champion mule racer named Taz. Because Gem and Star have been separated for two years and trained separately, watching how they perform against each other will offer insight into the role played by environmental variables, such diet and training regimens, in developing racing mules.”
  • Mind Control: “In a step toward linking a person's thoughts to machines, Japanese automaker Honda said it has developed a technology that uses brain signals to control a robot's very simple moves.” The hope, according to the article, is that “in the future, the technology that Honda Motor Co. developed with ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories could be used to replace keyboards or cell phones, researchers said Wednesday. It also could have applications in helping people with spinal cord injuries, they said.”
  • Internet: In only the latest technological advance whose implications are incredible, Amazon, has introduced a new AJAX-powered Online Reader for previewing books. According to the technology magazine Lifehacker, “after purchasing an Amazon Upgrade on eligible books, you can read, highlight, bookmark, tag, and print the book from any computer as soon as you purchase it.” I only recently discovered Google Book search, which allows you to not only look up certain words and phrases across thousands of books, but even lets you search for specific items within the books themselves! If you are not familiar with this, its free so give it a try.

There is so much more out there, like the new running shoes that are imbedded with technology that transmits time, distance, calories burned, and pace data to runners' iPods, or the new FDA approved vaccine for the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. Then there is the newest satellite NASA sent into space that “carried instruments to transmit high-resolution images, infrared data, and temperature and moisture profiles of the atmosphere. The instruments would allow meteorologists on the ground to take images of weather problem spots and improve short-term forecasts locally.” Then there is an article I found titled simply: The Ethical Dilemmas of Immortality.

I wonder what new news next week will bring?


montana urban legend said...

This is disappointing Cram. Not one of the achievements you reference even attempted to incorporate the incredibly useful and self-evidently important principle of intelligent design in its scientific rationale.


Seriously, if Ray Kurzweil is right, the accelerated pace of human discovery should make things look pretty interesting in the not-too-distant future.

A caveat - he does make some leaps that may seem insufficiently restrained, but as predicting the future is a difficult if not impossible venture, one can take comfort in the number of times this inventor of speech recognition software has been right regarding technological advances in the face of some common and faulty assumptions that are addressed early in the book.

Cram said...

I don't know if I necessarily buy the whole "post-human" thing, not yet anyway, although it is an interesting theory. After all, despite all of our technology, we still need to eat, crap, and have carnal desires not so different than we did 10,000 years ago. Although the rapid rate of robotic technology is truly impressive, I don’t know if we will ever reach Kurzweil’s “singularity,” nor am I convinced that it is desirable (although in fairness, this is the first I have heard of this so I really should let Kurzweil make his case before I am too firm on that).

Personally, I prefer Khan's law of human development, which states that one day, the survivor of a future Eugenics war will eventually force Mr. Spoke to give up his own life.

dcat said...

Invisibility, mind control -- very col and all. But until I have my flying car and hovercrafts, I am going to feel as if technology has done nothing but let me down. We were promised! As far as I am concerned, the jetsons was as good as a promissory note.


montana urban legend said...

Looks like these guys are on it.