Sunday, March 28, 2010

Future of Crisis Management

At the CMU-hosted Silicon Valley Crisis Camp, March 26-28, 2010, there was a lively brainstorming session about the longer-term future of disaster management. In the much farther future, crisis response could disappear since disasters might be prevented through weather management, sensor-equipped smartbuildings, and floating movable cities. When disasters do occur, they could be regarded as an annoyance rather than a catastrophic loss of human lives and property through the 3-D printing of physical bodies imprinted with recent mindfile backups, and robot-aided damage clearing and structure rebuilding.

In the medium term, advanced technology could transform crisis response in several ways:

  • Robotic first responders: Autonomous or remote-piloted robots could be used as a substitute to humans for assessing damage, scouting terrain, finding victims, and providing aid.
  • Super-smartphone: Super-smartphones could be messaged or would automatically sense disaster occurrence and switch into crisis mode, making disaster applications easily accessible, for example mapping software layers indicating relief shelters, and automatic status updates from personal social networks. Smartphones could track health status, vital signs, psychological state, and be used for telediagnosis and even possibly DIY surgery or other medical treatment. The user could run a virtual world app on the smartphone integrated with augmented reality to send their avatar out to inspect the local environment for self-rescue and peer-rescue.
  • Building codes 3.0: smart sensors could capture a variety of data about a building’s status and its occupants, for example knowing who or at least how many people are inside a building at any time (with regular data purges to protect privacy).
  • Gaming: An augmented reality (AR) game immediately begins when a crisis occurs. Participants earn points for crowdsourcing/reporting information, uploading video footage documenting damage, and accepting challenges (disaster management-related tasks). There could be many layers to the AR interface, heatmaps showing the injured and dead, building damage, resource availability, shelters and health clinic locations. Gaming could be used to pass time, distract, improve psychological state, and connect those in physical proximity.
  • Market principals: Technology tools could be used to create markets, to facilitate the discovery and exchange of different types of supply and demand: information, labor, time, relief resource availability, and distribution.
  • 3-D printing of relief materials: blankets, food, shelter, medical supplies, and clinics could be printed with 3-D printers and online sharable CAD designs in urgent disaster response. Over time, smart infrastructure printing could be used to reconstruct buildings. Rubble could be recycled into building materials.
  • RFID-tagged resources: all aid resources and donations could be RFID-tagged for inventory management and delivery, including real-time updates of what is still available and functional from local stores; markets could develop to allocate resources.
  • Personal biosensors and bioactuators: personal biosensors are seamlessly incorporated into clothing to provide a personal data climate including both biophysical and environmental data. Biosensors can identify an approaching bioplague, download antibody plans from the internet, manufacture, and administer them. Similarly, radiation-resistant genes found in extremophiles could be downloaded and applied in the case of nuclear incidents.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Semiconductor roadmap updates

The working group documents and presentations are now available from the most recent International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) 2009 Winter Conference held December 16, 2009 in Hsinchu City, Taiwan.

One of the most important updates from the ITRS 2009 meeting is a shift out in the time scale for the next expected computing nodes. There is a focus on both FLASH memory ½ pitches and the usual DRAM ½ pitches as smaller nodes are expected to be achieved with FLASH before DRAM. Specifically for FLASH, 22 nm is estimated for 2013, 16 nm in 2016 and 11 nm in 2019. For DRAM, 32 nm is estimated for 2013, 22 nm in 2016, and 16 nm in 2019.

An important architectural shift is underway for packing more transistors onto chips: moving from planar to multidimensional architectures. Another big industry focus is in implementing 450 mm wafers for chip manufacturing, up from the 300 mm current standard. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: One of the world's first 450 mm wafers

In lithography, a key bottleneck area, the two main technologies that will probably be in use for the current and next few nodes are Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV) and 193 nm immersion half pitch Double Patterning. EUV is less expensive. For later nodes (22 nm, 16 nm, and 11 nm), EUV and double patterning, together with ML2 (maskless lithography), imprinting, directed self-assembly, and interference lithography may be used.

An important challenge is the top-down (traditional engineered electronics) meets bottom-up (evolved molecular electronics) issue of how nodes 15 nm and smaller will be designed given quantum mechanics. The Emerging Research Devices (ERD) and Emerging Research Materials (ERM) working groups presented some innovative solutions, however the majority of the roadmap focus is on the nearer term, the next couple of nodes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neurotechnology taboos

There is a claim that the magnitude of change that could eventually be possible with neurotechnology makes it different from other technologies. Those who choose not to buy cell phones may not be able to communicate in certain situations, but those who choose not to adopt cognitive enhancement may not be able to participate meaningfully in society.

This claim has already arisen with regard to smart drugs, that school and work environments have become so competitive, that it is not possible to compete effectively on an unenhanced basis. Professional baseball has been a prominent example of the enhancement issue, where enhancement is illegal, yet widespread. Like many other technology rollouts, and particularly given the sensitivities regarding neurotechnology, it could be that incremental tiers of pathology cures become well-grounded before being extended slowly for enhancement purposes. Legally, in certain nation-states, that is.

Philosophically, it could be queried whether mental health is any different than physical health. Humans and societies may not be able to think objectively about mental enhancement given taboos.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Genomics: progress in exomes and structural variance

The fast rate of progress in many areas of genomics was the most salient dynamic of the Future of Genomic Medicine III conference at Scripps in San Diego CA, March 5-6, 2010. Cancer genomics and pharmacogenomics continue to blossom as wide-ranging fields of applied genomics. Aging and genomics, and the role of genetics in studying disease and the microbiome are nascent and growing. Importantly coming to the forefront for the first time is structural analysis and exome analysis.

Structural analysis of genomes concerns copy number variation (multiple copies of genes), inserted genes, deleted genes, inverted genes and other structural changes, and is found in all classes of traits and disease. There is thought to be 12% structural variation between humans as opposed to 0.1% SNP variation between humans. SNP variation is the 'typos' at specific genetic locations where the normal nucleotide combination is 'AA' and some people have the risk alleles 'AT' or 'TT.”

Using exomes (the 1-2% of the genome that contains protein coding regions) as a cheaper alternative to whole human genome sequencing, and conducting basic SNP analysis together with more complex structural variation analysis, and possibly methylation analysis (which genes are blocked from expression), and RNA transcriptome analysis (levels of DNA expression), could bring more sophistication to DNA analysis for myriad purposes including pharmacogenomics and disease analysis.

Some interesting startup companies are starting to realize these new aspects of genomic medicine: