Pages

January 04, 2007

Interesting ethical dilemma

Child with mind frozen by disease at 3 months of development has body growth halted at age 7 and 65 pounds Case for halting growth made to save child discomfort of menstruation and to enable easier care by care-givers.

These kinds of things I view practically and pragmatically. If those who object were willing to raise the funds to enable superior care without the treatment, then they might have the right to intervene and offer that option. But if the caregivers are on their own then they have the right to make what seems like one of a few ethical choices.

DNA so dangerous it does not exist

New Scientist reports on research into dangerous DNA The theory is that some DNA sequences may be lethal. Hampikian's team is deliberately searching for the shortest absent sequences in order to minimise the possibility that absent sequences are missing simply due to chance. So far they have found 86 sequences of 11 nucleotides long that have never been reported in humans.

They have also identified more than 60,000 primes of 15 nucleotides in length and 746 protein "peptoprime" strings of five amino acids that have never been reported in any species.

Detail and evidence focused transhumanist

In regards to transhumanism and certain future technology and applications. I think certain things will happen because I try to analyze in detail what the existing technological situation and infrastructure is and the economic and social advantages of adopters and developers of particular technologies, methods and strategies. All though this site I try to focus on what should have impact and the details of it.

Looking back historically, those who accessed and controlled the seas had an advantage over those who only were on land. Those who accessed the air had an advantage over those who did not. Those who have satellite (LEO) orbit control and access have an advantage over those who do not. Those who access space resources will have an advantage and gain benefits over those who do not.

Those with better computers and software and use them more creatively can gain economic advantages. Those who can effectively use AI (identify trading patterns, automate services) can gain economic advantages.

Enhancing human capabilities is happening now. Creatine, growth hormone, steroids, blood doping for strength and endurance. Cosmetic surgery for appearance. Millions do it. Smart drugs to help gain advantage on intellectual endeavors.

Technologies and methods that make people and groups and nations more productive or powerful have social and historical trends that indicate that they will likely be fairly strongly adopted.

The details of a technology to know what is the most productive way to adopt and what it impacts really are is important. The economics of the deployment and rollout also need to make sense. Space access has proved harder to "deploy" over the last few decades. However, trends indicate that barriers are coming down. Wider availability of superior materials (which is happening for other economic reasons) and better computers will lower the barriers to making radically better space access.

Productivity, more resources, economic advantage, competitive advantages are reasons why certain choices will be made.

China destroyed its ocean going fleet a few hundred years ago and paid for that error when several nations forced China to give up HK and Macau for 99 years and accept trade terms. So bad technology choices can be made but if that choice results in military and economic weakness or social degradation then the bad chooser will lose eventually.

Many things that are dismissed as science fiction or fantasy are happening now. Molecular Nanotechnology is often dismissed because applications such as nanobots in the bloodstream strikes some as fantasistical. Yet we already are or about to send devices into the bloodstream. MEMS capsules, 100 nanometer nanospheres etc... Many of the "fantastical applications" are being enabled with pre-molecular nanotechnology technology. But molecular nanotechnology still will provide superior control and benefits. The fantastical that is already becoming mundane will be exceeded. Problems that seemed intractable are falling and will fall. It is like we are getting physically stronger and we cannot lift some weight (a problem) but then finally our strength is enough and we can lift it.

Some future applications will probably not happen because disadvantages were ignored or the advantages were over-estimated. Example, flying cars. They do not provide as much advantage as people think and have more downsides. Home based nanofactories provide less advantages over semi-centralized industrial nanofactories combined with advanced product distribution. Cybernetics may have limited advantages over less invasive coupling with technology/robotics/exoskeletons. But cybernetics may still happen for a fraction of the population who choose to get closer to the tech. It could be like some people choose to have Lasik eye surgery and others choose to use contact lens. Both provide a means to better vision. Genetic modification has advantages which are not easily replicated with other means. Tougher to get regeneration and some methods of life extension without it.

Are there easier ways to do things?
What are the other systems or options?
what are the real advantages and disadvantages?
Are there relevant and applicable historical or global parallels? Many things have happened before somewhere and sometime. 10-50 year variance in lifespan between current populations. Doubling of life expectency over the 20th century.
Will multiple things happen for the same purpose because different groups choosing different ways to do a particular benefit.
Wealth is increasing especially for the top few percent. It is a spreading of those who reach financial escape velocity who are able to fund and enable new technology. Another way that bottlenecks are falling and technological competition is improving. It will allow better ideas and approaches to more rapidly filter to the top. The rise of China and India is also creating a larger pool of technology developers. India's president Kalam's support of Thorium, nanotechnology and biofuels is encouraging to me.

I would categorize myself as a detail-oriented evidence focused transhumanist/ futurist.

India making better technological choices

India will start building a 300MW thorium based advanced heavy water nuclear reactor this year IT will take about five to six years to complete.

Another article talks about the advantages for India in using a Thorium fuel cycle

India's president Kalam talks about developing 50% efficient solar cells, Thorium reactors and biofuels to make India energy independent by 2030 Recent research has shown that the alignment of the CNT with the polymer composites substrate is the key issue and this aligned CNT-based PV cells would give very high efficiency in photovoltaic conversion. In this process, researchers could achieve an efficiency of about 50% at the laboratory scale. Our scientists have to take up this challenge and come up with the development of CNT-based PV cell with an efficiency of at least 50% within the next three years so that it can go into commercial production within five years. Solar power generation using high efficiency CNT based solar power photovoltaic cells will be highly competitive, compared to other forms of energy generation systems.

India rise as an economic and technological power with a technological visionary President could boost better energy and nanotechnological solutions for the whole world. If India is successful in starting down this path over the next 5-10 years then other nations will have to respond and adopt better practices and choices. I think India is making superior technological choices.

Maybe Advanced Coal energy for China

MIT technology review discusses prospects for advanced coal energy plants in China Pollution is the leading cause of death in China, killing more than a million people a year. And the primary cause of pollution is also the source of the energy propelling Shanghai's magnetically levitating train: coal. China's is building on average one coal-fired power plant per week.

The good news is that ­China's leaders saw the coal rush coming in the 1990s and began exploring a range of advanced technologies. Chief among them is coal gasification.

Gasification transforms coal's complex mix of hydrocarbons into a hydrogen-rich gas known as synthesis gas, or "syngas." Power plants can burn syngas as cleanly as they can natural gas. In addition, with the right catalysts and under the right conditions, the basic chemical building blocks in syngas combine to form the hydrocarbon ingredients of gasoline and diesel fuel. As a result, coal gasification has the potential both to squelch power plants' emission of soot and smog and to decrease China's growing dependence on imported oil. It could even help control emissions of carbon dioxide, which is more easily captured from syngas plants than from conventional coal-fired plants.

Despite China's early anticipation of the need for coal gasification, however, its implementation of the technology in power plants has lagged. The country's electricity producers lack the economic and political incentives to break from their traditional practices.

China's largest coal firm, Shenhua Group, plans to start up the country's first coal-to-fuels plant in 2007 or early 2008, in the world's most ambitious application of coal liquefaction since World War II. Shenhua plans to operate eight liquefaction plants by 2020, producing, in total, more than 30 million tons of synthetic oil annually--enough to displace more than 10 percent of China's projected oil imports. China is using a direct liquefaction produces more fuel per ton of coal than Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Experts at the Chinese Coal Research Institute in Beijing estimate that the process captures 55 to 56 percent of the energy in coal, compared to just 45 percent for Fischer-Tropsch.

If the new plant works, Shenhua stands to earn a substantial profit. The company predicts that its synthetic oil will turn a profit at roughly $30 a barrel, though many analysts say $45 is more realistic. (The U.S. Department of Energy's most recent price forecast predicts that crude oil will dip to $47 a barrel in 2014, then climb steadily to $57 a barrel in 2030.) Hedging its bets, Shenhua has also entered a preliminary agreement with partners Shell and Sasol concerning several similar-sized or bigger Fischer-Tropsch fuel plants in Northern China, which would start up in 2012.

Beyond the risks inherent in the large-scale deployment of unproven technology, the gasification building boom also is an environmental gamble. Indeed, what may ultimately check China's coal-to-oil ambitions is water. China's Coal Research Institute estimates that Shenhua's plant will consume 10 tons of water for every ton of synthetic oil produced (360 gallons of water per barrel of oil), and the ratio is even worse for Fischer-Tropsch plants.


It seems like even advanced coal is still a bad environmental bet. Mass produced nuclear power plants that power plug in hybrids would be a better way to go in the near and midterm.

Better optical films for solar cells and optical chips

Better optical films which could lead to better solar cells and optical chips are reported at eetimes.com Chromophores have been prime candidates for organic dye-sensitized solar cells, since they emit electrons when light is shone on them. But the new chromophore molecular configuration incorporates quantum confinement into each cell, greatly increasing chromophore efficiency. The current design has just one quantum confinement cell within the chromophore molecule, but Kuzyk claims his group's theoretical models predict that more quantum confinement areas would result in even greater efficiency. Consequently, next the researchers plan to cascade quantum-confinement cells back-to-back.

The ability to hyperpolarize the new material, according to Kuzyk, enables its molecules to deform as they mediate the merger of two photons into one, opening the door to all-optical switches. Thus the researchers are working to embed the chromophore material into an optically clear polymer that could be formed into a thin film for making and testing optical-chip designs.

January 03, 2007

Space articles roundup

An article discussing evidence for and against ice on the moon I agree that we should continue with sending the robotic probes necessary to be absolutely certain about what ice is or is not there and what can be used.

An article that discusses getting energy from space or deflecting sunlight to counter global warming. I have written about both before. I think that we can get energy from space. Energy from space would be more useful for powering space based projects. Gigawatts for orbiting and lunar bases.

An article that examines an alternative next step in space instead of going to the moon. Going to the L2 (Sun-Earth L2 (SEL2)) point. The Lagrangian points are the five positions in interplanetary space where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects (such as a satellite with respect to the Earth and Moon).

L2 is a destination for many astronomical missions.

L2 can be used to stage missions to near earth asteroids. It requires far less delta-v than carrying out the same mission from low Earth orbit. As an example, a hypothetical 2025 mission to the near Earth asteroid 1999 AO10, a five-month round-trip that includes a 30-day stay at the asteroid. Staging the mission from SEL2 would require less than half of the total delta-v than if the mission flew from LEO. The total energy requirements for a mission to Phobos would not be much higher although the trip time would be much longer.

further reading:
A 124 page pdf 2004 study of next steps for space The IAA is now engaged in a follow-on to the “Next Steps” study intended to provide a distinct alternative to NASA’s current exploration architecture.

This article discusses the need for less dissent and arguments about how to do things in space will help more dollars to flow to funding the space industry

The message was that if there is a clear choice in the market, “money flows,” but “confusion” causes the money to “stop flowing.” ... The rule at [an IBM invention team] meeting was that we could never say an invention was bad, wouldn’t work or had already been invented. The only way to get the floor was to offer a new, better invention.

This advice could be useful if applied to nanotechnology as well.

Futurehype is an interesting book

Futurehype by Bob Seidensticker is an interesting book and there are excerpts at his website

He does point out some problems that make technology and societal predictions hard. However, I believe it is possible to be quite accurate.

I agree with him that understanding the past and the past of technology matters.
I agree with him that details and downsides of products and technology matters.
I agree with him that we cannot ignore the infrastructure that exists and how quickly it might be improved or how much investment is needed to keep infrastructure from degrading.

However, I do clearly see technology that is being worked on and developed and which will have a more profound impact on society than Bob believes will happen.

NTT Docomo will launch 100mbps mobile service in 2010

The Super 3G (third generation) service will only require upgrades to the existing network, keeping down necessary investment to between 100 billion and 200 billion yen (840 million to 1.68 billion dollars), the Nikkei newspaper reported.

With a speed of roughly 100 megabits per second, Super 3G will be some 260 times faster as the existing 3G service of DoCoMo, which tops out at 384 kilobits per second, the business daily said without citing sources.

If the costs are similar for the USA and other locations then high speed mobile could become the dominant form of broadband communication unless the cable and fixed line services upgrade to faster than 100 mbps or a lot cheaper. Why would I keep using fixed line if mobile is as fast or faster and as cheap or cheaper?

2007 may be important year for nanotube commericalization

Rocky Rawstern has been investigating carbon nanotubes and interviewing researchers...The visionary closed our conversation with “We can't talk publicly about what we are doing yet but, yes, 2007 will be an interesting year.” When their news hits the streets, expect big, bold headlines.

This makes sense since there has been a lot of news about breakthroughs that will make almost totally pure carbon nanotubes of different types and longer nanotubes and various cheaper production processes. The steady progress should be coming together in interesting ways this year and the coming years with growing impact.

Superscale pyrosequencer for 2009/2010 full genome sequencing

Mostafa Ronaghi, one of the inventors of this sequencing chemistry, group at Stanford is working on an inexpensive superscaler pyrosequencer. It would use $10 CMOS imaging instead of $100,000 CCDs. The objective is to run 400 million sequencing reactions in parallel that can produce between 60 and 100 gigabases of data per run with 200-base reads with all inefficiencies included. With that, you could basically sequence one human genome in a single run with 20x coverage. The researchers are optimizing the current system and hope to achieve this goal within three years.

In the next two years they plan to reduce the size of the beads used in the sequencing reactions from 30 microns to 10 microns, and use them with a 20-megapixel sensor they want to develop. After that, they want to put 20 of these chips side-by-side to develop the superscaler pyrosequencer.

Ronaghi is collaborating with an undisclosed California-based startup company to automate the upfront sample preparation of the device. “Sample preparation is probably one of the main bottlenecks for emerging technologies [like this],” he said.

World Future Society predictions are wrong

The World Future Society makes forecasts which show that the forecasters do not seem to really understand some of the technology that they are forecasting.

Forecast #2: The era of the Cyborg is at hand. Researchers in Israel have fashioned a "bio-computer" using the DNA of living cells instead of silicon chips. This development may soon allow a computer to connect directly with a human brain.

Note: brain interfacing is happening but not with the DNA computer technology that they are referring to.

It is mixing sections of input, program DNA that then combine to combine to generate answers. It takes a week to prepare the strands. The main innovation was being able to use the energy from the DNA input strands to drive the process.

It's not like we're going to save the energy store of the world with this,'' said Ehud Shapiro, a computer scientist and the lead researcher of the Weizmann project. ''But lo and behold, we have been able to compute without using [additional] energy.''

From the nytimes
Like all current DNA computers, Dr. Shapiro's frugal model is mostly a laboratory curiosity. And there is skepticism, even from some DNA computer researchers, that today's demonstrations can be transformed into practical tools. But if that happens, Dr. Shapiro isn't hoping to create a rival to electronic computers. Instead he foresees new biological devices, including what he calls ''a doctor in the cell.''

Dr. Shapiro said it might be possible to program a DNA computer with medical knowledge and insert it into cells. Once there, it could track its host's condition and synthesize molecules to create drugs. ''But this is the ultimate vision,'' he added. ''The 50-year vision.
all the energy needed to push the process forward comes from a small amount of heat released from the input DNA after it is snipped by the reading and cutting enzyme. ''It provides both information and fuel,'' Dr. Shapiro said.

Of course, no DNA computer produces its results on a conventional monitor. Instead, results must be divined by using a electrophoretic gel to create the kind of black-and-white DNA charts that are displayed by expert witnesses at criminal trials.

The lack of an easy method for displaying DNA computing results is one reason that they are better suited to performing biological tasks rather than being developed as a rival to electronic computers, Dr. Shapiro said. While he acknowledged that his ''doctor in a cell'' scenario is a distant dream, he said it might be possible to develop some way to use the process for DNA sequencing.

From cnet
The designer molecule begins to sense ribonucleic acid (RNA), a similar molecule crucial to the replilcation of DNA, the chemical building block of genes. In particular, it is attracted to abnormal forms of RNA that are associated with lung or other types of cancer. The attraction occurs, because the sequence of the enzymes on the DNA strand corresponds to complementary sequences found on RNA from malignant cells.

Once detected, the designer molecule can then release chemicals to inhibit growth of malignant cells or even kill them.

They have not figured out how to make it work in the body. Let alone interface it with human brain cells


Forecast #3: By 2015, New York, Tokyo and Frankfurt may emerge as hubs for high-speed, large-capacity supersonic planes. NASA's X-43A Scramjet recently flew at 7,000 mph (nearly ten times the speed of sound). These hyperspeed planes will whisk passengers across continents in the time it takes most people to drive to the airport.

The military will be fortunate to get hypersonic missiles working in that time frame. Probably another ten years to get fighter jets and bombers and then another ten before civilian aircraft might go hypersonic

In the linked to PDF, the project milestones are to try to put test vehicles together by about 2014. They have to work out materials and structures that go beyond a design that is strapped onto rocket and then lit up. they have to make something that can fly by itself. Integrating the different kinds of engines that work at different speeds. Hypersonic engines do not work at lower than 5 times of the speed of sound. what other engines are being integrated to get something that can fly repeatedly by itself ?
So first you get a missile that is self contained and only needs to fly once. then you get a fighter where it can fly repeatedly but where risk of failure is more ok Or maybe some kind of better space launch system. Then down the road you figure how to make it safe and efficient enough for commercial flight. Can you get one that can fly out of commericial airports? How about environmental , sound and all the other certifications? Those will take a decade or more especially on a new plane.

A crude hypersonic missile might be tested in 2008. carried aloft by plane and then started off by rocket before the hypersonic engine kicks in

Walmart will push Compact fluorescent bulbs

Walmart targets selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs each year by 2008

If it succeeds in selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year by 2008, total sales of the bulbs in the United States would increase by 50 percent, saving Americans $3 billion in electricity costs and 3 million tons of greenhouse gas per year. A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb.

The compact florescent bulbs are eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance. As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today. During an extraordinary meeting in Las Vegas in early October, competing bulb makers, academics, environmentalists and government officials met to ponder, at times uncomfortably, how Wal-Mart could sell more of the fluorescent lights.


The proposals discussed at what Wal-Mart dubbed the “light bulb summit” ranged from the practical (advertise the bulbs on the back of a Coke 12-pack) to the quixotic (create a tax on incandescent bulbs to make them more expensive). At the same time that it pressured suppliers, Wal-Mart began testing ways to better market the bulbs. In the past, Wal-Mart had sold them on the bottom shelf of the lighting aisle, so that shoppers had to bend down. In tests that started in February, it gave the lights prime real estate at eye level. Sales soared.

To show customers how versatile the bulbs could be, Wal-Mart began displaying them inside the lamps and hanging fans for sale in its stores. Sales nudged up further.

To explain the benefits of the energy-efficient bulbs, the retailer placed an education display case at the end of the aisle, where it occupied four feet of valuable selling space — an extravagance at Wal-Mart. Sales climbed even higher.

In August 2006, the chain sold 3.94 million, nearly twice the 1.65 million it sold in August 2005, according to a person briefed on the numbers.


This is a step in the right direction but even with 100 such projects there is still the need to clean up energy sources. Coal got 50% cleaner in 1960s and 1970s and we got twice as efficient with the use of energy but coal is still a big problem that kills over 1000 people per day.

January 02, 2007

Clinical trials in 2007 for nanoparticle cancer treatment

The first in a new generation of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments will likely begin clinical trials in 2007, and if the promise of animal trials carries through to human trials, these treatments will transform cancer therapy. One of these new approaches places gold-coated nanoparticles, called nanoshells, inside tumors and then heats them with infrared light until the cancer cells die. Because the nanoparticles also scatter light, they could be used to image tumors as well. The spheres are small enough (about 100 nanometers in diameter) to slip through gaps in blood vessels that feed tumors. So as they circulate in the bloodstream, they gradually accumulate at tumor sites.

"We shine light through the skin, and in just a few minutes, the tumor is heated up," Halas says. "In the studies that were initially reported--and this has been repeated now more than 20 times in at least three different animal models--we have seen essentially 100 percent tumor remission." The tests also suggest the nanoshells are nontoxic. Halas says they are eliminated from the body through the liver over several weeks. The technology was developed at Rice in collaboration with Jennifer West, a professor of bioengineering. It has been licensed by Nanospectra Biosciences, a startup based in Houston, TX, that is beginning the process of getting FDA approval for clinical trials for treating head and neck cancer. In the future, the technology could be used for a wide variety of cancers.

"There is a potential for this to bring a profound change in cancer treatment," Halas says. "For the case of someone discovering a lump in their breast, this would mean that a very simple procedure could be performed that would induce remission." She says that "for many, many cases of cancer, rather than the lengthy chemotherapy or radiation therapy," an individual would have "one simple treatment and very little side effects."

Halas anticipates that approval for the method will come quickly, in part because the nanotechnology is not a drug but a device, for which the approval process is simpler. Also, she expects it will perform the same in humans as in animal models, "because heat and light work in exactly the same way whether you're in a pig, a dog, [or] a human being."

Since their initial experiments, the researchers have been further developing the technology. They've demonstrated the ability to coat the nanoshells with antibodies that latch on to breast-cancer cells, further improving the selectivity of the treatment. They've also attached molecules that make the nanoshells into pH sensors that would be useful for both imaging tumors and as an "optical biopsy" for identifying cancers, Halas says.

The clinical trials this year will not take advantage of these advances. But eventually the antibody targeting could make preventative cancer treatments possible.


Beating cancer would of course be a huge deal. If we had a lock on fighting cancer we could also more aggessively try regenerative medicine that could regrow parts of the body but which might increase cancer risk. We could get the benefits without concern about the cancer if we could handle the cancer easily.

An analysis of the current state of cancer treatment

Lifeboat Foundation has view of energy in 2020

Lifeboat has published an interesting view of what the world energy situation could look like in 2020 It was written by Jose Luis Cordeiro, M.Sc., MBA

Some main things envisions being developed:

Cars with electrical engines with nanobatteries for hybrid cars with flexi-fuel engines. (EFH electric-flex-hybrid" cars)

Synthetic bacteria that efficiently produced hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide and water under controlled lighting.

Chicken meat grown from chicken stem cells and beef grown in factories. They hold the potential to be cheaper to produce and more environmentally and health friendly.

Robotic "spiders" to build large-scale structures in space such as solar power satellites.


I agree with most the general themes of the paper except I think that nuclear fission will and should be a larger part of the near and mid-term energy solution. Thorium reactors and massed produced fission reactors

Within ten years we will have various ways to get environmentally benign cars and transportation. We can revolutionize food production efficiency and healthiness with factory produced meat including fish. I think space power can be done better with magnetically inflated structures along with robotic and magnetic construction.

Better nanostructured ceramic armor soon

New lighter ceramic armor with some nanotechnology material aspects may appear in Iraq in 2007

They intend to mimic sea snail shells. By alternating very thin layers of a hard chalk-like material with layers of its own sticky proteins (snail spittle, if you will), sea snails create shells that are tough, light and durable.

"We're taking state-of-the-art material and making it better," Rice said. "Our No. 1 need is to reduce the weight. Also, we're looking at fire retardency. Composites can burn. We're trying to formulate material that doesn't burn as readily."

In the longer term, Rice said, UDRI also will explore more exotic and costly nanotechnologies for improving armor, such as the use of carbon nanofibers — microscopic strands of carbon material that can be aligned and stacked to create exceptional strength with limited bulk and weight.

Hydrocarbon gases, such as those produced by burning coal, are used to "grow" carbon nanofibers. That's why UDRI is part of a plan to create a $280 million "mega-plant" in Lima that would turn Ohio coal into synthetic natural gas and jet fuel.


The U.S. Army awarded a $15 million contract for the development of a new type of lightweight composite armor based on nanotechnology.

The pact awarded to the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) this week will lead to new materials that can be used in vehicles and body armor.

"This is not a ground-level academic study project," UDRI engineer Brian Rice said. "We are actually working with two Ohio companies to create a product that, if it tests out well, could show up in Iraq next year."

The research would also likely lead to advances in protective materials for police and firefighters as well as other civilian applications such as vehicles, rail cars and wind-turbine blades.

Leading DNA sequencing scientist predicts 2007 as year of personal genomics

George Church predicts 2007 as the year of personal genomics The price to sequence the 1% of the genome that differentiates people will drop to a street price of $3000 in 2007.

Momentum is thus building for millions of people to volunteer to have their genome data correlated with their physical-traits to benefit the billions who will hang back

Open to public brainstorming on software control of matter

The EPSRC Ideas Factory has opened up a public blog to accept ideas for software control of matter

Chris Phoenix has contributed Silica-nucleating proteins (e.g. silicatein) might be used to make silica structures. Chris points out mechanosynthesis of [molecularly precise] structures is much broader than diamondoid or Drexler, and blends into approaches that don’t even require covalent chemistry.

Robert freitas contributed his ideas on diamond mechanosynthesis

January 01, 2007

Molecular motion machine survey

A link from CrNano, a paper called Making molecular machines work which surveys recent advances in the achievement of control of motion at the molecular level including solid-state and surface-mounted rotors, and its natural progression to the development of synthetic molecular machines.

NASA plans: why the indifference?

CNN discusses a survey of 18-25 year olds by Dittmar Associates and finds them indifferent to NASA's plans for a return to the moon.

My opinion on why NASA's plans inspired in the 1960's but meets with indifference now.

1. NASA is no longer seen as leading the way to the future. In the 1960's, it looked like NASA would be the organization that would lead the world into an exciting future. The lunar landings would be the first step. But then we had the lack of follow up in the 1970's. The decades of failure and waste from the space shuttle.

2. Weak funding and weak plans. Back then NASA was given a mandate, had credible plans and was funded to achieve it. Since then presidents have talked about the moon and Mars but have not followed through with proper funding. The plans do not look like credible for achieving ambitious goals.

3. Good programs not being strongly expanded and rapidly pursued. This results inability to develop momentum. The only inspiring programs that NASA has now are not getting enough and follow through. There are several interesting opportunities coming from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts but they are not being promptly pursued with strong funding. The Plasma magnet, World Imagers and magnetically inflated large structures in space.

4. Lack of strongly articulated and strongly
supported purpose in space.
Just going back to the moon with a plan for 4 man crews by 2017 and calling it the development of a permanent moon presence reeks of the weak and stumbling efforts for a space station. A decade or more of redesigns and cutbacks and over a decade of uninspiring execution.

5. NASA cannot deliver the future when it is mainly anchored to the failed past. Change the way things are done which have not worked and which have delivered uninspiring results. The bureaucratic funding and carrying forward of clearly failed technology and programs saps the ability to deliver radical progress. NASA has made a start with some prize based funding approaches.

To do really big things we need to move beyond chemical rocket propulsion.

I think the purpose should be: The development, exploration and colonization of space.

To really make something happen it will take more than NASA (unless got 10 to 100 times the budget it has). Colonization friendly policies and laws need to be created to involve strong commercial interest. Laws that will allow and encourage private enterprise to actively drive development and colonization.
Firstly, create something like a Homestead act for space

The Homestead Act of 1862 has been called one the most important pieces of Legislation in the history of the United States. Signed into law in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln after the secession of southern states, this Act turned over vast amounts of the public domain to private citizens. 270 millions acres, or 10% of the area of the United States was claimed and settled under this act.

A homesteader had only to be the head of a household and at least 21 years of age to claim a 160 acre parcel of land. Settlers from all walks of life including newly arrived immigrants, farmers without land of their own from the East, single women and former slaves came to meet the challenge of "proving up" and keeping this "free land". Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to "prove up". A total filing fee of $18 was the only money required, but sacrifice and hard work exacted a different price from the hopeful settlers.
The act was later copied with some modifications by Canada in the form of the Dominion Lands Act. Similar acts—usually termed the Selection Acts—were passed in the various Australian colonies in the 1860s, beginning in 1861 in New South Wales.

Others have also thought that US public land policy and applications for the Moon and Mars should be adopted and others think there should be a Homestead Act for Orbital space. The National Space Society had some interesting and detailed ideas for laws favorable to space development.

I think initially the Homestead Act should allow for robotic development of space properties. The Homestead Act required the Homesteader to build a house and improve the land and live on it for 5 years and then prove the work was done at the end of 5 years. A space Homestead Act should also require significant development and progress over fixed time frames.

1. Returning minerals or energy to the earth from the space property.
2. Creation of a colony or settlement.
3. Creation of a temporary lodging or entertainment facility
4. Other significant and measurable activity that leads to
rapidly developing and accessing space resources and being able to return wealth and value to earth. Energy, raw materials, knowledge and entertainment should be obtained and tourism developed. In the early stages reaching significant milestones towards those goals should be rewarded with property rights. It is not just land in space but slots in orbits, various communication spectrum etc...

To the original point: NASA needs to be changed to be a significant part of making an inspiring future happen. For space to be part of an inspiring future, the biggest bang would be to change the rules to reward those who contribute to making it happen.

Remembering the past and envisioning the future involve similar brain regions and activity

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have used advanced brain imaging techniques to show that remembering the past and envisioning the future may go hand-in-hand, with each process sparking strikingly similar patterns of activity within precisely the same broad network of brain regions.

First, the study clearly demonstrates that the neural network underlying future thought is not isolated in the brain's frontal cortex, as some have speculated. Although the frontal lobes play a well-documented role in carrying out future-oriented executive operations, such as anticipation, planning and monitoring, the spark for these activities may well be the very process of envisioning oneself in a specific future event, an activity based within and reliant upon the same neurally distributed network used to retrieve autobiographical memories.

Second, within this neural network, patterns of activity suggest that the visual and spatial context for our imagined future often is pieced together using our past experiences, including memories of specific body movements and visual perspective changes data stored as we navigated through similar settings in the past.

These findings, McDermott suggests, offer strong support for a relatively recent theory of memory, which posits that remembering the past and envisioning the future draw upon many of the same neural mechanisms.

New analysis of invisibility cloaking

From physorg.com and the university of Rochester, the theorists who first created the mathematics that describe the behavior of the recently announced "invisibility cloak" have revealed a new analysis that may extend the current cloak's powers, enabling it to hide even actively radiating objects like a flashlight or cell phone.

Greenleaf and his collaborators used sophisticated mathematics to understand what must be happening inside the cloaked region. Everything seemed fine when they applied the Helmholtz equation, an equation widely used to solve problems involving the propagation of light. But when they used Maxwell's equations, which take the polarization of electromagnetic waves into account, difficulties came to light.

Maxwell's equations said that a simple copper disk like the one Smith used could be cloaked without a problem, but anything that emitted electromagnetic waves--a cell phone, a digital watch, or even a simple electric device like a flashlight--caused the behavior of the cloaking device to go seriously awry. The mathematics predicts that the size of the electromagnetic fields go to infinity at the surface of the cloaked region, possibly wrecking the invisibility.

Their analysis also revealed another surprise: a person trying to look out of the cloak would effectively be faced with a mirror in every direction. If you can imagine Harry Potter's own invisibility cloak working this way, and Harry turning on his flashlight to see, its light would shine right back at him, no matter where he pointed it.

Greenleaf's team determined that a more complicated phenomenon arises when using Maxwell's equations, leading to a "blow up" (an unexpected infinite behavior) of the electromagnetic fields. They determined that by inserting conductive linings, whose properties depend on the specific geometry of the cloak, this problem can be resolved. Alternatively, covering both the inside and outside surfaces of the cloaked region with carefully matched materials can also be used to bypass this problem.

December 31, 2006

DNA computers will not be used

DNA computers are likely more than a decade away so they will not be used and minimally useful. The performance will probably not be more than traditional computers of that time and for massively parallel comparison searches it will be faster to use quantum computers. Analog Quantum computers should start to see introduction in 2007 from Dwave Systems. In ten years, we should have quantum computers with multiple thousands to millions of qubits.