Sunday, December 28, 2008

Status of life sciences

Right now is an exciting time in life sciences. The field is advancing, growing and changing in nearly every dimension, not just content-wise but also structure-wise. Tremendous content is coming forth in the form of key research findings, affordable new technologies and simultaneous holistic and reductionist expansions via systems biology approaches and new sub-field branching. Structure-wise, life science is changing in three important ways: the concept of life science, how science is conducted and the models by which health and health care are understood and realized.

Conceptually over time, life sciences have transitioned from being an art to a science to an information technology problem to now, an engineering problem. The way science is conducted is also shifting. Science 1.0 was investigating and enumerating physical phenomenon and doing hypothesis-driven trial and error experimentation. Science 2.0 adds two additional steps to the traditional enumeration and experimentation to create a virtuous feedback loop: mathematical modeling and software simulation, and building actual samples in the lab using synthetic biology and other techniques.

A second aspect of Science 2.0 is the notion of being in a post-scientific society, where innovation is occurring in more venues, not just government and industrial research labs but increasingly at technology companies, startups, small-team academic labs and in the minds of creative individual entrepreneurs.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top 10 Computing Trends for 2009

Here is a quick list of my top computing and communications predictions for 2009 ranging from smartphones to supercomputers.

1. Smartphone AppMania continues
The explosion of application development on smartphone platforms like the iPhone and G1 continues, particularly in location-based services, social interaction and gaming. More computer science departments offer smartphone application development classes. There is more standardization of USB, earphone and other ports. U.S. ARPU is over $100/month.

2. Twitter is the platform
Despite renowned technical glitches, thousands more flock to messaging-leader Twitter and the fastest-growing user group of the microblogging notification system is non-human tweeters using the service as a data platform, example: Kickbee. Web 2.0 continues to bring back network computing, turning the web into the computer and human and object-based messaging becomes the new RSS.

3. Minis go mainstream
Mini PCs such as the Asus Eee PC, MSI Wind and Dell Inspiron continue to proliferate. Minis are fingertip candy; a travel machine for the on-the-go tech-savvy and too cheap to not be affordable for others at $200-$400.

4. Supercomputers achieve 8% human capacity
With IBM’s RoadRunner and Cray’s Jaguar running at just over 1 petaflop/s currently, the world’s fastest supercomputers could reach 1.5 petaflop/s in 2009 (unconfirmed results here), about 8% of the total processing capacity of the average human.

5. Chips: 32nm node rolls out amidst sales declines
Intel rolls out its 32nm node 1.9 billion transistor chip despite worldwide industry sales declines. Gartner forecasts a 4% decrease in chip sales in 2008 vs. 2007 and a 16% decrease in chip sales in 2009 vs. 2008. The biggest speedups continue to come from hardware, not software, and there could be additional breakthroughs in memory (flash, NRAM), magnetic disk storage, batteries and processor technology.

6. iWorld persists
The 200 millionth iProduct is sold before Apple’s CEO succession plan is in place.

7. WiMAX roll-out still stalled
WiMAX services could roll-out to 1-2 cities beyond Baltimore by year-end if Sprint and Clearwire’s operational and legal challenges are resolved. WiMAX would help to stratify connectivity offerings with a recession-attractive price point and bandwidth package (2-4 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload speed; 6 month introductory price of $25/month, then $35/month).

8. More flexible media consumption models
More models for flexible on-demand pay/free video content viewing are launched for Tivo, Netflix, DVR, media PC and Internet consumers.

9. Video gaming grows
Video game titles, types and hours growth continues as escapism and low-cost entertainment options flourish.

10. Extended use of virtual worlds
Virtual world penetration and proliferation continues (Sony’s recent launch: PlayStation Home) at a slow and steady pace for both entertainment and serious use. The largest platform, Second Life, saw a 50% year-over-year increase in total hours and a 100% year-over-year increase in land ownership (much less exposure to virtual subprimes), and this rate of growth could easily continue in 2009. In the natural evolution of the Internet, virtual worlds continue expanding from the 3 Cs (communication, collaboration and commerce) to more advanced rapid prototyping, simulation and data visualization.

Other advances that could be around the corner:

Still waiting, a few other (non-comprehensive) opportunities:

  • Semantic web
  • Natural language processing
  • VLT (very long-term) laptop batteries
  • Wireless power
  • Ubiquitous free Wi-Fi
  • Paper-thin reader for newspapers, eBooks and any printed content
  • Cognition valet and other AI services

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Future of physical proximity

Where will you live? How would concepts and norms of physical proximity evolve if cars were no longer the dominant form of transportation? How would residential areas self-organize if not laid out around the needs of cars and roads? Imagine gardens replacing driveways and roadways. What if people just walked outside of their houses or onto their apartment rooftops to alight via jetpack, smartpod or small foldable, perhaps future versions of the MIT car. At present, cities, suburbs and whole countries are structured per the space dictates of motor vehicular transportation systems.

Nanoreality or rackspace reality
There are two obvious future scenarios. There may either be a radical mastery and use of the physical world through nanomanufacturing or a quasi-obsolescence of the physical world as people upload to digital mindfile racks and live in virtual reality. The only future demand for the physical world might be for vacationing and novelty (‘hey, let’s download into a corporeal form this weekend and check out Real Nature, even though Real Nature is sensorially dull compared to Virtual Nature’).

Work 2.0
The degree of simultaneous advances is relevant for evaluating which scenario may arise. For example, economically, must people work? What is the nature of future work? Creative and productive activity (Work 2.0) might all take place in virtual reality. Smart robots may have taken over many physical services and artificial intelligences may have taken over most knowledge work. Would people be able to do whatever work they need to from home or would there be physical proximity and transportation proximity requirements as there are now?

Portable housing and airsteading
Next-level mastery of the physical world could mean that people stay incorporeal and live in portable residential pods. Airsteading (a more flexible version of seasteading) could be the norm; docking on-demand as boats or RVs do, in different airspaces for a night or a year. Docking fees could include nanofeedstock streams and higher bandwidth more secure wifi and datastorage than that ubiquitously available on the worldnets. Mobile housing and airsteading could help fulfill the ‘warmth of the herd’ need and facilitate the intellectual capital congregation possibilities that cities have afforded since the early days of human civilization.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Brain-computer interfacing and the cognition valet

One dream of the future is to augment the human brain via direct linkage to electronics. Brain-computer interfaces could provide two levels of capability, first, by allowing machines to be controlled directly by the brain. This has already been demonstrated in invasive implants for motor sensing and vision systems and non-invasive EEG-based helmets for basic game play, but has been elusive in avatar control (the Emotiv Systems helmet is not quite working yet). The second level of capability is in augmenting more complex cognitive processes such as learning and memory as is the goal of the Innerspace Foundation.

On-board processing
The broader objective is bringing information, processing, connectivity and communication on-board [the human]. Some of this is ‘on-board’ right now, in the sense that mobile phones, PDAs, books, notebooks, and other small handheld peripherals are carried with or clipped to people.

There are many forms of non-invasive wearable computing that could advance. Information recording and retrieval could be improved with better consumer product lifecamming rigs to capture and archive audio and video life streams. Other applications are underway in smart clothing, wifi-connected processing-enabled contact lenses, cell phones miniaturized as jewelry (the communications, GPS, etc. functions not requiring display), EEG helmets with greater functionality and an aesthetic redesign from Apple, and hair gel nanobots. A slightly more invasive idea is using the human bactierial biome as an augmentation substrate and there are a host of more invasive ideas in body computing, implantable devices, evolved and then reconnected neural cell colonies and other areas.

Cognition Valet
After information recording and retrieval, the next key stage of on-board computing is real-time or FTR (faster than real-time) processing, particularly automated processing. Killer apps include facial recognition, perceptual-environment adjustments (e.g.; brighter, louder), action simulators and social cognition recommendations (algorithms making speech and behavior recommendations). Ultimately, a full cognition valet would be available, modeling the reasoning, planning, motivation, introspection and probabilistic behavioral simulation of the self and others.

Protocols and Etiquette of the future: “my people talk to your people” becomes “my cognition valet interface messages or tweets with your cognition valet interface.”

Distributed human processing
Augmenting the brain could eventually lead to distributed personal intelligence. As in, reminiscent of David Brin’s “Kiln People,” I use a copy of my digital mindfile backup to run some Internet searches and work on a research project while my attention is not focused on online computer activities, simultaneously a neural cell culture from my physical brain focuses on a specific task, and the original me is off pursuing its usual goals.