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Please note, this blog has now been integrated into the main website of FutureTimeline. You can find us here –
Interesting talk by Gwynne Dyer, author of Climate Wars:
Technological advancement, economic development, population increase – are they signs of a thriving society? Or too much of a good thing? Based on the best-selling book A Short History of Progress, this provocative documentary explores the concept of progress in our modern world, guiding us through a sweeping but detailed survey of the major “progress traps” facing our civilization in the arenas of technology, economics, consumption, and the environment.
Featuring powerful arguments from such visionaries as Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Craig Venter, Robert Wright, Michael Hudson, and Ronald Wright, this enlightening and visually spectacular film invites us to contemplate the progress traps that destroyed past civilizations and that lie treacherously embedded in our own. Leading critics of Wall Street, cognitive psychologists, and ecologists lay bare the consequences of progress-as-usual as the film travels around the world – from a burgeoning China to the disappearing rainforests of Brazil to a chimp research lab in New Iberia, Louisiana – to construct a shocking overview of the way our global economic system is eating away at our planet’s resources and shackling entire populations with poverty.
Providing an honest look at the risks and pitfalls of running 21st Century “software” (our accumulated knowledge) on 50,000-year-old “hardware” (our primate brains), Surviving Progress offers a challenge: to prove making apes smarter was not an evolutionary dead end.
The use of ground robots in bomb disposal missions already saves many lives and prevents thousands of other casualties. If the current limitations on mobility and manipulation can be overcome, robots could far more effectively assist the military across a greater range of missions. DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program seeks to create and demonstrate major scientific and engineering advances that could achieve this goal.
The video below shows a demonstration of the “Cheetah” robot galloping at speeds of up to 18 mph (29 km/h), setting a new land speed record for legged robots. The previous record was 13.1 mph (21 km/h), set in 1989.
The robot’s movements are modelled on those of fast-running animals in nature. The machine increases its stride and speed by flexing and un-flexing its back on each step, much as an actual cheetah does.
The current version runs on a laboratory treadmill where it is powered by an off-board hydraulic pump, and uses a boom-like device to keep it running in the centre of the treadmill. Testing of a free-running prototype is planned for later this year.
While the M3 program conducts basic research and is not focused on specific military missions, the technology it aims to develop could have a wide range of potential military applications.
The contractor for DARPA is Boston Dynamics, who also designed the “BigDog” and “PETMAN”.
Have we used up all our resources? Have we filled up all the livable space on Earth? Paul Gilding suggests we have, and the possibility of devastating consequences, in a talk that’s equal parts terrifying and, oddly, hopeful.
Paul is an independent writer, activist, and adviser on a sustainable economy. Full bio >>
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), together with Washington-based Innovega, is reported to be developing contact lenses that enhance normal vision, by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus. Instead of using oversized helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-colour displays that are very near the eye. These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away.
In other words, this could enable the use of tiny portable displays while still interacting with the surrounding environment. Developed as part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, the objective is to give wearers better situational awareness in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities – greatly enhancing their security and survivability. Innovega plans to begin low-volume production for the defence community in 2014.
Consumer versions may become available later this decade. Imagine the number of applications you’d get from such a device – especially when utilising the vast power of cloud computing. Terminator-style vision would give you access to a wealth of information about your surrounding environment. It would also enhance gaming and movie experiences.
Home & Leisure
2011 saw countless innovations in the home and leisure markets. Among them was Android@Home, announced by Google. This offers a new way of controlling home appliances, lights and other utilities, via smartphones and tablet devices.
There was also Nest, a new “learning” thermostat by Nest Labs. This remembers temperature adjustments entered over time, creating the most efficient schedule possible. It eliminates the hassle of changing the temperature settings manually, as well as conserving energy and saving money. It can also be controlled remotely using a smartphone.
LG launched a new 12kg washing machine, the largest ever capacity in a standard size machine. In addition to its huge size, this also features smart technology allowing you to remotely control functions through your smartphone.
In an effort to appeal to environmentally-conscious users, Samsung promoted its Eco Bubble series of washing machines. These use a whopping 70% less energy than standard machines. Beko’s new dishwasher, the DFN 71046 X30 beat the world record for energy efficiency, with 194kWh/year of consumption.
Beko also launched its quietest ever “Silent Tech” washing machine – which claimed to be five times quieter than comparable models – and Bosch released its Pro Silence Plus vacuum cleaner – with a noise output of just 71 decibels.
Philips unveiled its Perfect Care steam generator iron. This has one “perfect” setting for all fabric types, and its base will never burn. Philips also launched the Sonicare AirFloss, which offers a new way of flossing and removes up to 99% more plaque.
Self-cleaning fabrics were developed by Chinese scientists, while fragranced clothing triggered by exposure to light was described in a thesis written by scientist Dr. Olga Hinze of Cologne University.
3D printing continued to gain in prominence during 2011 – but has yet to become a widespread consumer product. It will likely be a few more years before it’s considered mainstream.
Lighting technology saw development, with a concept LED bulb featuring vastly improved efficiency, and an LED bulb with a filament bulb appearance. A report by the UK’s Energy Saving Trust showed that LED technology could be widespread by 2015 and will greatly improve the brightness, colour and distribution of lighting in housing communal areas.
Military & War
In April 2011, WikiLeaks, along with independent news agencies, began publishing hundreds of formerly secret documents relating to detainees at the Guantánamo Bay camp. These documents consisted of classified assessments, interviews and internal memos, written by The Pentagon’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo, headquartered at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. They revealed that over 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis – including farmers, chefs and drivers – were held for years without charge. It was also revealed that some of the prison’s youngest and oldest detainees suffered from fragile mental and physical conditions. They also contained statements from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessing to interrogators that Al-Qaeda possessed nuclear capacity.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report showing that China is now on track to forge a modern military by 2020, a rapid buildup that could be potentially destabilising to the Asia-Pacific region. This comes at a time when the US military itself is being downsized due to the spiralling national debt. The Chengdu J-20 – China’s first high-tech stealth fighter – had its first test flight in January 2011.
Among the other countries with military budget problems is Britain. The nation could lack a fully operational aircraft carrier until 2030, according to a report published by a spending watchdog.
Military technology saw many developments in 2011. A report released by the JASON defense science advisory panel highlighted the plunging cost of genome sequencing and its potential applications for the military. Among the suggestions was the mapping of military personnel’s genomes – to pinpoint the genetic traits best suited to handling battlefield stress, sleep deprivation, prolonged bleeding and other conditions. This could help in selecting better personnel for specific missions.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers developed a radar system allowing soldiers to see through walls from over 60ft away.
At the University of Pittsburgh, scientists used pig cells to regrow soldiers’ destroyed muscles, including the nerves and tendons necessary to restore function. This form of regenerative medicine is seeing rapid development and may soon be “a standard of care for orthopedists and trauma surgeons.” Entire limbs could one day be fully replaceable. Soldiers with horrific injuries from IED blasts, for example, could have their lives returned to normal.
In August, the US Office of Naval Research successfully tested a revolutionary new type of explosive material. Damage is caused to the target not only by a high speed collision with dense material, but by further energy as chemicals react in the material. Known as “High-Density Reactive Material” (HDRM), it will replace steel in warhead casings and could dramatically increase weapons’ impacts. As a result, less ordnance and fewer sorties will be needed to get the same result. Because the material only reacts when involved in a high energy collision, there will be less collateral damage to innocent bystanders, too.
A German defence manufacturer demonstrated a new laser gun that could be fitted to vehicles – blasting everything from incoming mortar shells to roadside bombs.
In November, the Department of Defense announced the successful test of a hypersonic missile. Travelling at five times the speed of sound, this new weapon system is capable of striking targets 2,300 miles (3,700 km) away in less than 30 minutes. It is being developed as part of the Prompt Global Strike program.
Meanwhile, the US Air Force took delivery of the first GBU-57A/B (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) – a 30,000-pound (13,608 kg), precision-guided “super bunker buster”. This monstrous weapon can penetrate 200ft of reinforced concrete before it goes off, and is substantially larger than the deepest penetrating bomb previously available, the 5,000-pound (2,268 kg) GBU-28. It will be the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal.
As mentioned in part 1, 2011 also witnessed the Arab Spring, the Libyan civil war and overthrow of Gaddafi, the death of bin Laden and the end of the Iraq War. Additionally, the Basque terrorist organisation, ETA, declared a “definitive cessation of its armed activity”, after 43 years of political violence which had killed over 800 people since 1968.