February 2011, Vol. 12, No. 2

In this issue:

  • Soundless Submarines
  • Interactive Window Shopping
  • Faster Battery Recharging
  • MIT Report Calls for More Interdisciplinary Research
  • Energy Demand Could Skyrocket by 2050
  • New Year’s Prediction Roundup 2011
  • What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Public)
    • State of the World Dispatch
    • Dangerous Times: The Futurist Interviews Christopher Fettweis
    • Your Spring 2011 Futurist Reading List
  • What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Members Only)
    • A Convenient Truth About Clean Energy
    • Pleasure, Beauty, and Wonder: Educating for the Knowledge Age
    • The Coming of the Terabyters: Lifelogging for a Living

Soundless Submarines Are Closing In

A cloaking technology that bends sound waves could render submarines and other underwater objects undetectable to sonar or ultrasound sensors. The technique, developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, employs a highly engineered “metamaterial” to bend the waves around an object, much as light is bent to make objects invisible.

Stealth submarines are an obvious potential military application for acoustic cloaking, but the researchers also see possible medical applications, since many medical scans rely on sound waves. The metamaterial could theoretically be used in a bandage that would curb disruption or interference from other body parts that sometimes interfere with ultrasound scanning, thus making these scans more accurate.

Source: University of Illinois http://engineering.illinois.edu/news/2011/01/05/newly-developed-cloak-hides-underwater-objects-sonar

Interactive Store Windows Watch You Watching Them

A new interactive store window will allow passersby to shop even after store hours. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have developed a system using a series of cameras to take detailed pictures of potential customers as they approach the store window. A software program then transforms the shoppers’ hand and eye movements and facial expressions into commands.

For instance, if a woman points to a designer handbag in the window, an image of it will appear on a display behind the shop window. When she points to a button, the handbag rotates on the screen to give the shopper the full view.

The system is still in prototype phase, but the Fraunhofer researchers will be demonstrating it at the CeBit Fair in Hannover, Germany, March 1–5, 2011.

Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology, http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2010-2011/13/interactive-window-shopping.jsp

New Material Could Reduce Charge-Time for Batteries by a Factor of 40

Lithium-ion batteries can charge far faster than they do in most laptops, but rapid charging exposes these batteries to premature failure. Now, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new nanomaterial that could allow lithium-ion batteries to charge 40 times faster.

Dubbed a “nanoscoop” because of the distinctly ice cream cone-like shape of the particles, the material absorbs the stress that occurs when battery anodes are charged rapidly.

“Charging my laptop or cell phone in a few minutes, rather than an hour, sounds pretty good to me,” says engineering professor Nikhil Koratkar. Electric automobiles may also one day benefit from the breakthrough.

Results of the project will be published in the journal Nano Letters.

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute http://news.rpi.edu/update.do

Download the paper: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl102981d

MIT Report Calls for More Interdisciplinary Research

The ongoing merger of life, physical, and engineering sciences could revolutionize biomedicine, MIT researchers claim in a new white paper. The report authors call this fusing of disciplines convergence.

Successful examples of convergence in the fields of medicine, engineering, and computer science include brain grafts for treating cerebral disorders and injury, computational biology for immune response, and imaging technology to prevent blindness.

The report says that, in order for convergence to meet its fullest potential, the National Institutes of Health should encourage investigation that crosses research disciplines. The agency should also reform the peer-review process for interdisciplinary grants, the researchers contend.

Source: MIT http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/convergence-0104.html

More-Populous World May Demand 16 Times More Energy by 2050

If the global population rises to 9.5 billion by 2050, and every one of those people adopts the American standard of living, global energy demand could increase by a factor of 16 according to a recent paper by a team of University of New Mexico biologists and other researchers.

The article published in the journal BioScience finds that that low infant mortality, electronics consumption per person, and various other high-standard-of-living variables are closely correlated with energy consumption per person.

“The vast majority of nations we analyzed (74%) increased both energy use and GDP from 1980 to 2003 and exhibited positive correlations [in standard of living] across the 24 years. For example, from 1850 to 2000, while the global human population grew fivefold, world energy use increased 20-fold and fossil fuel-use rose more than 150-fold,” the authors write.

Correlation is not the same as causation. The researchers acknowledge the possibility that future technologies may make the U.S. standard of living less energy intensive. Regardless, the correlations they point out are compelling in the light of continued global dependence on fossil fuels.

Sources: http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/110107_study_finds_energy_limits_global_economic_growth.html

Download the full paper: http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/Davidson.pdf

New Year’s Prediction Roundup 2011

The beginning of a new year always brings with it a flood of predictions appearing in various media outlets. This year was no exception.

IBM announced its annual list of Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in the Next Five years. This year’s list included 3-D telepresence, transistors that will improve the storage capacity of batteries by a factor of 10, the sensor-smart grid, predictive analytics for personalized commutes, and temperature efficient data-storage centers. (IBM is in the process of developing products along all these lines, of course.)

The site Ilookforwardto.com ran a list of 10 diseases that will find cures 2020, including Alzheimer’s.

Journalist and tech-watcher Galen Gruman, writing for InfoWorld, added a list of technology predictions for the next decade. Among his forecasts: iPhones and tablet PC sales will surpass laptop sales by 2014. By 2020, says Gruman, “miniaturization and image-projection technologies, coupled with previous 3D gesture technologies, allow mobile devices to be wearable components that combine wirelessly with each other and other nearby devices to provide a less obtrusive mobile computing environment.”

The dawn of 2011 also saw a number of stories taking a more reflective approach to the perennial look ahead.

The New York Times ran a series in its Opinion section under the topic heading: “Why Do We Need Predictions?” Contributing authors included inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Stacy Schiff, and Harvard psychologist David Ropeik, the later of which predicted a “bright future for futurism.”

Chris Morris, writing for the Web site Bankrate.com, put together a list of five banking predictions that missed the mark, which included the demise of the credit card.

ABC World News ran a year-end report on predictions made by top thinkers back 1931 and sought out World Future Society president Tim Mack for comment. They were “people who were in business, people who were prominent because of one expertise and they were asked to suddenly assume an expertise in an area they hadn't thought much about,” Mack said on behalf of his forecasting predecessors, whose rather fanciful forecasts included such things as an air-car hangar in every home.

Mack was also featured on a Voice of America broadcast that aired internationally, where he shared some recent forecasts from THE FUTURIST magazine.


What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Public)

A selection of articles, special reports, and other future-focused material on our Web site that you might have missed. Members may sign in to read and comment. Not a member? Join now at http://www.wfs.org/renew.

State of the World Dispatch

Web Exclusive

Major changes are under way in developing-world agriculture, said presenters at the Worldwatch Institute’s 15th annual State of the World Symposium. The event’s presenters discussed many new techniques that African farmers are adopting and never-before-seen partnerships that they are forming with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies to increase crop yields and relieve world hunger while simultaneously battling climate change and environmental degradation. Rick Docksai reports. Read more.

Dangerous Times: The Futurist Interviews Christopher Fettweis

Web Exclusive

The twenty-first century will probably be the most peaceful hundred years in human history, according to Christopher Fettweis, Tulane University political scientist and author of Dangerous Times? The International Politics of Great Power Peace. In this interview with WFS editor Rick Docksai, Fettweis considers ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other global hotspots as exceptions to—rather than rules of—modern geopolitics. Read more

Your Spring 2011 Futurist Reading List

Michael Marien presents this list of more than 114 forthcoming books of relevance to futurists ... and anyone else looking to make a brighter tomorrow for themselves, their organization, or the planet in 2011. The list includes titles on medicine, economics, the environment, government, education, business, and technology. Read more

Take our poll! What does it take to be a futurist?


What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Members Only)

A Convenient Truth About Clean Energy

THE FUTURIST — January-February 2011

The Earth is awash in energy; we just need new infrastructure to tap it. A chemical engineer shows how we could break free of fossil fuels by deploying the power of ammonia and hydrogen. Read more

Pleasure, Beauty, and Wonder: Educating for the Knowledge Age

THE FUTURIST — January-February 2011

The future workforce will need to be more innovative, argues a communications and public policy scholar. While math and science are important, they need to be infused with the creative spark that comes from the arts. Read more

The Coming of the Terabyters: Lifelogging for a Living

THE FUTURIST — January-February 2011

A new breed of workers, equipped with über-geek data-capturing tools, are about to usher in a whole new information era. Read more