Stories tagged the future

Jan
29
2009

I didn't have access to the original schematics: so I drew some of my own. That's me up there.
I didn't have access to the original schematics: so I drew some of my own. That's me up there.Courtesy JGordon
I don't know about this... if God had meant for man to fly, He would have created us with high-power hoses attached to our butts. So unless this guy was born this way, I think he might be committing a crime against nature.

This seems kind of fakey, but also kind of totally awesome. And here's a year and a half old post from Wired.com that seems to be the patent for this very same water jet-powered recreational vehicle.

The future is shaping up to be pretty cool, my friends. Pretty cool.

Dec
23
2008

Prejudice against the rural poor: Well, sure, but a fictional rural poor. This gentleman is an urban musician who shops at trendy surplus stores, and it's too difficult to tell if his parents are closely related.
Prejudice against the rural poor: Well, sure, but a fictional rural poor. This gentleman is an urban musician who shops at trendy surplus stores, and it's too difficult to tell if his parents are closely related.Courtesy Poodleface
Well, Buzzketeers, we’re in the thick of the holiday season now—wading through that sticky caramel center of winter festivities, thigh-deep in a swamp of sweater clad relatives, up to our necks in mixed metaphors…

And, you know what? I hope you dig it. That’s my gift to y’all: the honest wish that you are all enjoying your elbow to elbow time with your closest kin. There’s your non-denominational seasonal gift, everyone, I hope you like it. (Personally I celebrate “Wintermania,” during which my family falls into a Wham!-induced frenzy, and then sacrifices anything to our winter deities. We come out of it with a lot fewer pets and household appliances, but it’s an exciting and high-spirited occasion. But I won’t force my beliefs on you.)

There’s some extra thought behind my gift, though. I mean, I know you’ll like it anyway, but it’s practical too! See, it just might happen that, someday, you’ll be bumping more than elbows with your cousins, and working your way up to that may start with the holiday conviviality. So you’re welcome for my making your life easier.

“What?” you say. “I’m not doing… that… with my cousin!”

Nor should you, sensitive Buzzketeer, nor should you. Necessarily.

But you could. Generally not legally, of course. But it turns out that, genetically, the whole “kissin’ cousins” thing might not be as problematic as you have been lead to believe. So says a new article on population genetics in the journal PLoS Biology.

See, the thing about serious inbreeding with close relatives is that it drains your gene pool—it reduces the variety of genes in your offspring. There are a couple reasons to have a nice assortment of genetic traits in a population. If everyone is the same genetically, then they all have the same genetic vulnerabilities, and something like a specialized disease or an abrupt change in the environment could wipe out the whole group. Also, and here’s the kissin’ cousins problem, a lot of genetic disorders result from having two recessive genes matched up in your DNA. If you just have one recessive gene for a disorder, you won’t develop the disorder, but you could pass that gene on to your kid, and if the kid got another copy of that recessive gene from his or her other parent, the kid would develop the disorder. People get disorders caused by matched recessive genes even when their parents aren’t related at all, but if a recessive gene for a particular disorder runs in a family, the chances that a kid in that family will get the gene from both parents is greatly increased if those parents are related.

That’s the idea, anyway. The folks who published this new article, however, say that, in reality, the chances that the offspring of two cousins will have birth defects (caused by recessive genes pairing up) really isn’t as great as most of us think. Specifically, the odds that two cousins would produce a child with congenital defects are only 1-2% greater than those for the rest of the un-related, child-producing population. Women over 40 have a similar risk of having children with congenital defects, the researchers point out, and there are no laws prohibiting them from having kids, whereas 31 states have laws against cousins being married. Laws like these, they say, aren’t based in solid science and reflect “outmoded prejudices about immigrants and the rural poor.”

So there. Do with your present what you will. Try it on for size, or give it to someone else—you won’t hurt my feelings. Merry Wintermania!

Oct
08
2008

A bin of spares: for future-babies.
A bin of spares: for future-babies.Courtesy Max Sparber
In many respects, the people of my country—we call it “Futureland” or “Futureworld,” depending on the state—are much like Lego men (minifigs). We have round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. And the women… oh, the women of Futureland are the most beautiful in the world, with their round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. Some might argue that they’re only distinguishable from us men by painted on lipstick and eyelashes… but I don’t see why that has to be a bad thing.

And, like Lego people, our arms are removable and replaceable. We can mix and match! Unfortunately, the process of arm removal is often extremely painful and bloody, and arm replacement involves extensive surgery, an anti-rejection drug regimen, and years of physical therapy. Still… replaceable arms! Yes, life in the future is fine indeed.

Oh? You don’t believe me? Well, put on your chronohats and futurnaut undies and join me up here for a moment, so that we might consider the case of one Karl Merk.

Karl was a German dairy farmer until six years ago, when he elected to have his arms removed. Although… Maybe “elected” isn’t totally accurate. Mr. Merk’s arms were detached just below the shoulders by a combine harvester, and he was screaming “Kill me, kill me!” when he was later discovered by a colleague. So it seems possible that the arm-removal could have been an accident.

Regardless, it wasn’t until just recently that a suitable set of new arms could be found to click back into Karl’s shoulders.

It took a team of 40 surgeons, specialists, and support staff 15 hours to reattach the arms of a donor who had died only hours earlier. The arms were filled with “a cooled preservation solution,” and then detached from the donor’s shoulders at the exact point Mr. Merk’s arms were severed. Merk’s arm stumps were then cut open to expose the bone, muscle, nerve tissue, and blood vessels.

The bones were joined first, followed quickly by arteries and veins, to ensure blood flow. Muscles and tendons were then attached, followed by the nerves, and then the skin was finally sewn together.

Click. Click.

I recommend checking out the video in the page linked to above (under “the case of one Karl Merk”). It has a video of Karl with his new arms. The arms are paler than the rest of Karl, and they look kind of muscley. They’re also kind of wet and shiny looking, which is gross. But they work, and over the next couple years Karl should be able to regain full use of the hands and everything. Because so much of his arms were cut off in the accident, there’s a greater risk that Karl’s body won’t accept the new limbs, but so far there doesn’t signs of rejection.

And that’s life in the future. Tons of painful surgery. And maybe some slightly disproportionally large arms.

Buzz has plenty on organ transplants and the like. Check in out here.

Sep
18
2008

Sorry, sir: You may not understand it, but it understands you.
Sorry, sir: You may not understand it, but it understands you.Courtesy aNantaB
I think there’s a pretty good chance that the robots that control the Internet will censor this, so read fast, Buzzketeers.

Web 3.0, or as I like to call it, “Skynet,” is looming closer than ever today. It’s like a big old thunderhead, gray-black, full of lightning, and bearing down on us from above. Except when Skynet 3.0 gets here we aren’t getting wet, we’re getting turned into the freakin’ Borg. (Although we might also get wet, if there are real clouds around too.) And as cool as it would be to have a drill hand and a laser pointer taped to my head, I don’t think I could stand being any more pale. And so we must fight. For my sake.

This week the blossoming threat is taking the form of cleverer computers. Computers with huge, muscular, brick-breaking vocabularies. Computers that don’t just know all the words—they know what all the words mean. Computers like robotic English majors, except they can also do math and get jobs.

See, a “semantic map” has been developed for computers—a program that would allow a computer to “understand” words based on their tenses and contexts. A direct application of this technology would be in search engines; instead of being limited to searching for exact word matches, the program could look for something based on the meaning of your words. For instance, if I were to type “The terminator learns some bodacious new phrases” into Google’s search engine right now, I’d get a bunch of worthless nonsense returned to me. But with an engine that used a semantic map, I like to think that such a search would return to me with some clips from Terminator 2, in which John Connor is teaching the T101 some useful new phrases like “Hasta la vista,” and “hands off the merch, bro,” and “Cheese it! It’s the fuzz!” I could then post these clips on a science blog.

And that, incidentally, is the only positive scenario I could imagine coming from this technology. If I’m searching for, say, “sexy Easter bunny,” I just wants me some pictures of the Easter bunny in a speedo—I don’t want my computer to actually understand what’s wrong with me. And there’ll be no escaping their powerful understanding. Even this early semantic map is said to have a vocabulary 10 times the size of the average college graduate. That’s, like, super… not good.

There is still hope, however, so relax your little fret glands for a moment. I have a plan, and you already know my plan if you read the heading of this post: invent new words. But keep them to yourself—I wouldn’t underestimate Web 3.0 so much to think that it couldn’t figure out what was going on after a while. Also, be sure to change the definitions of already existing words, and change them often. It will be like linguistic guerilla warfare; a definition could pop up in one spot (word) fire off a couple shots, and then it would be gone, already looking for a new hiding place. Web 3.0 might send an air strike against this whole paragraph, but it won’t matter—by the time the missiles get here, the passage will mean something else entirely. My meaning will be setting up a new camp, hopefully in a stand of old swear words.

Are you with me, folks? I knew I could count on you! Progress won’t get us that easily!

Aug
19
2008

A motorcycle race...: In the future!
A motorcycle race...: In the future!Courtesy Private Custard
A student in the transportation program of the < a href=http://www.artcenter.edu/>Art Center College of Design has invented a brand new paradox: a concept-motorcycle that is somehow simultaneously totally awesome and utterly, hopelessly dorky.

It’s a mega future tri-moto electro cyber transporto THX laser blade runner terminatrix rideable machine.

I guess they call it the conceptual exoskeleton motorcycle, Deus Ex Machina. But I think my name for it is still less dorky.

What? You want an actual description of the vehicle? Well, you could just click on the long link above, and leave Science Buzz forever, but we like you here. So at least read the rest of the post before you go.

The Deus Ex Machina is sort of a wheeled tripod, with straps and an integrated helmet to secure the rider. It parks in an upright position, but once it starts moving, the “arms” of the tripod extend forward, so the rider is in a sort of superman position. The motorcycle steers according to the rider’s body position, translating movement to 36 pneumatic muscles. Like, um, Robocop, I think.

The whole vehicle is powered with electricity, using fancy lithium ion batteries and ultracapacitors (check out ARTiFactor’s post for more on ultracapacitors), and is capable of reaching speeds of around 75 mph.

The Ultra Deus Mega Electromachina motorcycle is still very much conceptual, however. That is to say, while all the technological components exist (in some form) the vehicle itself only exists as a computer rendering at the moment. So it’s probably not very fun to ride. The designer maintains that it’s not a fantasy: “It’s a green vehicle,” he says, “and all of the numbers are based in the real world.”

The design itself seems more based in the Minority Report world, but whatev.

There’s a video here, too.

Jul
09
2008

The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.

Jun
27
2008

Like this: But bigger, colder, and almost certainly further north.
Like this: But bigger, colder, and almost certainly further north.Courtesy lildude
Put on your party belts and wow-socks: some scientists think that this summer will be the first time in recorded history that there’s no ice over the North Pole! Yowza!

Plans as to just what to do with the newly open water are being hotly debated: Russia was quick to suggest waterslides, but there’s some thought that all the crying polar bears would be a major downer, and no one would really want to use the slides. Also, the Arctic Ocean remains fairly chilly.

The entire polar icecap, it should be said, is not expected to melt—just the area above the North Pole itself, a region covered in ice for the length of human memory.

Jun
25
2008

Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0
Night vision eyeballs: one of the many new features of Pets 2.0Courtesy *robert
You know, I’ve said it before, but it’s about time we get rid of some of our old pets to make way for the new generation.

Think about it: your old pets—they stink, nobody’s impressed by them anymore, they’re always coming home drunk or not at all, they’ve got bad attitudes and ridiculous sense of entitlement. Why keep them around? Especially when there’s a whole new brand of pet on the horizon: cyberpooches*.

When a cooler new cell phone comes out, you don’t think much of discarding your old one for it, do you? And your pets can’t play streaming video, or mp3s, or send emails. Your pets can’t even make calls, can they?

Not…not really. Not as such. So dump the suckers and upgrade. Invest in a little rollermutt, like Hope McRollydog here.

Hope is a Maltese puppy. The Maltese is a toy/poodle breed, puffy, white, and weighing about as much as my phone, stapler, and mug put together. So they’ve already got some problems. This particular Maltese has the additional challenge of being born with no front legs.

Well, that’s not totally fair—I guess she had two wiggly little nubs, but not full legs by most standards.

Anyway, little Rollerderby Von Madmax has gotten pretty good at squirming around, and even at hopping around on her hind legs, but apparently that’s no good for dog backs—the backs of dogs—so someone had the clever idea of creating little wheely arms for her. Now Robo del Driver has a custom-cast body harness with two independent legs ending in model airplane wheels.

At first the pooch had a little trouble with the contraption, and kept falling over sideways (unfortunately, no video exists of this that I’m aware of), but now she’s zooming around at a “surprisingly break-neck pace.”

So that’s a happy story. Maybe not for you old pets, V1.0, but whatev.

Oh, a little genetic side note—sometimes when you boil down a gene pool to get certain traits to consistently express themselves, like you might when breeding, say, tiny show dogs, you end up running a risk of cultivating other, less cute traits. Like if you keep breeding little doggies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair together, you’d probably get some puppies with the puffiest, fluffiest white hair. But if some of those very puffy, fluffy haired dogs happen to have a recessive gene for something like bad hips (which won’t affect the beautiful hair, and so is never bred out) eventually those recessive genes are going to meet, and you’re going to get a puffy, fluffy puppy with bad hips. Look at monarchies around the world—blood lines get twisted enough, and kings have royal relatives all over the place, but the also have hemophilia and sailboat ears.

This isn’t to say that little Dunebuggy Fuzzybutt’s condition came from irresponsible breeding. Even if it did, I’d say breed that little sucker again. The more Universal Soldier dogs, the better.

*I’m in the process of trademarking “cyberpooch,” “cyberpooches,” and “cyberpoochz,” so hands off, greedyguts.

May
22
2008

I don't see any spikes at all: Wait...is that a tiny flamethrower? Oh, no, it's just its little tummy.
I don't see any spikes at all: Wait...is that a tiny flamethrower? Oh, no, it's just its little tummy.Courtesy rcoder
Well, I think robots should be scarier, anyway. And I mean classically, empirically scarier. A robot shouldn’t get a press release unless it could be nicknamed “crusher,” or “mecha-death,” or “slaughterbot.” Some crap like that, anyway. Even if a robot’s sole purpose is to, say, drop eggs into a carton, it should still have a buzz saw arm installed on it. For the sake of appearances.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t scary robots out there. There are scary robots out there, very scary robots, but they’re full of the wrong kind of scary. Check out this little dude. For those of you who can’t access links, or something, here’s the dope: we’ve got a horrible little robo-creature that makes me think Casper the friendly ghost has been having sex with Volkswagen Beetles. iCub is what they call it, which is short for “iCub is designed to lay eggs in your mouth and burst out of your chest. iCub!” Ostensibly it’s designed to learn human language from the ground up, like a human baby, but look at the thing: those big eyes already have language, and they’re saying “I can’t wait to get my ovipositor down your esophagus.” Brrr.

No, I’ll take the T1000 over that any day.

Or, here, we have a little robot that was clearly designed to relate to its human coworkers. How can you look at a face like that and not think, “Oh, here’s something I can talk to.”? You can’t. But this robot will keep staring at you long after the interaction becomes uncomfortable, and then it will whisper things to you, like how it knows where you sleep, and how sad you’d be if something happened to your dog. Don’t argue—I’ve seen the schematics.

Now, with the new generation of walking robots we’re just starting to move in the right direction. Not this little guy, obviously. Robots that are just learning to walk should try to take attention away from the fact that they can barely do something that I’ve been able to do by myself for, like, ten years. The little MIT robot (linked to above), however, looks like something I might “accidentally” back over with my car. Whoops! Back to the drawing board.

A new robot out of the Netherlands seems to be stumbling towards where I want my robots. The name, “Flame,” needs some focus grouping, but it has potential, despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, there is no actual flame involved in the machine. It’s head looks sort of flamey, but they again so do teardrops. : (

Flame is upright, however, and approaching human size, both good signs. Again, though, its sole purpose is learning how to walk smoothly, which isn’t super scary. Unlike the stumpy shamble of man y other walking robots, Flame employs the human walking style of “falling forward in a controlled fashion” (how’s that for a metaphor for life). The hope is that Flame will provide insight on the mechanics of human walking; that it might aid in treatment and rehabilitation in people who already have leg injuries. Ironic, really. Not because humans should be teaching robots to walk, but because robots should be crushing their human creators, not teaching them how to walk. What a funny world.

Still, we can always dream.