Futurist Update

August 2011, Vol. 12, No. 8

In this issue:

  • Gene Mutations and Flu, New Breakthroughs in Prediction and Detection
  • Harvesting Wasted “Junk” Energy
  • Tracing the Tsunami’s Glow
  • What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Public)
    • News and Events from the Futurist Community
    • The Futurist Interviews Longevity Expert Sonia Arrison
    • Hands-Free Headset Computer Declared “Best in Show” at Futurist Conference
    • Escaping the Filter Bubble
  • What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Members Only)
    • The Coming Robot Evolution Race
    • Exploring New Energy Alternatives
    • The Accelerating Techno-Human Future

Gene Mutations and Flu: New Breakthroughs in Prediction and Detection

Researchers have discovered a method to predict how a particular gene will spread through a population, providing insight into how animals evolved and will continue to evolve in the future. The method could show which mutations are beneficial to the organism and which are not, under various types of migration. The findings, published in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, could also help doctors understand how viruses spread among people.

“Suppose we are speaking of the spread of epidemics. A virus can jump from one individual to another during a single encounter. The migration pattern in this case is then the network of people meeting each other.… An epidemiologist could use our formulas to compute the best way to limit encounters between individuals and therefore slow the spread of epidemics,” says Professor Bharum Houchmandzadeh, lead author on the study.

On a related note, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and Syft Technologies have developed an easy breath test that can detect the presence of H1N1, specifically peak levels of nitric oxide (NO), roughly three days after exposure to the H1N1 vaccine. Increased nitric oxide levels are a typical biological reaction to influenza.

The breakthrough could help health workers avoid unnecessary vaccinations and thus better manage vaccination stockpiles in the event of an outbreak.(It could also ruin the upcoming movie Contagion.)

Sources: Download the paper on predicting mutation survival here: http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/13/7/073020

Syft Technologies: http://www.syft.com/images/Documents/MediaReleases/h1n1_vacine_medrel.pdf

Harvesting Wasted “Junk” Energy

From the vibrations filling the air when jets take off to the waves generated by radio and television transmitters, our environment is full of largely wasted energy. Now, researchers are seeking ways to capture that energy and turn it into useful sources of electricity.

At Georgia Tech, a rectifying antenna used to convert ambient microwave energy to DC power was developed by a team led by electrical and computer engineering professor Manos Tentzeris. The gathered power could be used for wireless sensors, RFID tags, and other monitoring tasks.

“There is a large amount of electromagnetic energy all around us, but nobody has been able to tap into it,” says Tentzeris. “We are using an ultra-wideband antenna that lets us exploit a variety of signals in different frequency ranges, giving us greatly increased power-gathering capability.”

Researchers are also targeting the “junk” energy from road and airport runway vibrations. At the University of Buffalo, physicist Surajit Sen and his colleagues have taken a mathematical approach to studying energy exchange between particles. They discovered that altering the surface area of adjacent particles can change the way energy moves, thus making it possible to control the energy channeled.

“We could have chips that take energy from road vibrations, runway noise from airports—energy that we are not able to make use of very well—and convert it into pulses, packets of electrical energy, that become useful power,” says Sen. “You give me noise, I give you organized bundles.”

Sources: Georgia Tech http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/device-captures-ambient-energy/

University of Buffalo http://www.buffalo.edu/news/12733

Tracing the Tsunami’s Glow

The March 11 tsunami that hit off the coast of Japan has given one researcher a unique glimpse into how these massive waves form and move—information that could save lives the next time a tsunami strikes.

Researcher Jonathan Makela of the University of Illinois and his fellow authors discovered that tsunamis have particular visual signatures which, when viewed from a high enough altitude using special lenses, gives the tsunami a type of low-red glow. This enabled them to essentially forecast when and how the waves from the March 11 tsunami would hit the island of Hawaii. The finding could help emergency workers in locations that were vulnerable to tsunamis better prepare for destructive waves.

“What we show in the paper, in addition to the first optical images of this signature, is the advantage of using a camera system with a wide field of view as compared to other observing methods that have been used in the past—namely, GPS receivers. The network of GPS receivers are not terribly dense on Hawaii and so one cannot get a sense of what the wave structure looks like. From the single imaging system, we can observe a 106 km2 area of the upper atmosphere and see the waves encroach on Hawaii from the northwest. This is the ‘forecasting’ capability (vs. ‘prediction’) that this technique would present. … Essentially, we observed the waves in the atmosphere an hour ahead of when the [March 11] tsunami reached [Hawaii]. An imaging system on a GEO satellite would enable observations over the open ocean,” according to Makela.

Source: “Imaging and modeling the ionospheric airglow response over Hawaii to the tsunami generated by the Tohoku earthquake of 11 March 2011,” in Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 38, L00g02, 5 Pp., 2011. http://europa.agu.org/?view=article&uri=/journals/gl/gl1113/2011GL047860/2011GL047860.xml&t=2011,makela


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.

News and Events from the Futurist Community

  • Upcoming Event: Robots Invade Washington, D.C.
  • Upcoming Event: DaVinci Inventor Showcase
  • Hudson Institute Book Forum on the History of the Future
  • WorldFuture 2011 Wraps Up
  • New Series of Multimedia Reports Showcases Potential Engineering Breakthroughs
  • Singularity University and Expo 2015 Announce Partnership

The Futurist Interviews Longevity Expert Sonia Arrison

In her book 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith (Basic Books, 2011), Sonia Arrison tracks the advancements of “life-extension” medical techniques, which undo the damage that our bodies incur over time. She spoke to FUTURIST assistant editor Rick Docksai. Read more

Hands-Free Headset Computer Declared “Best in Show” at Futurist Conference

Futurists got up close and personal with ten novel ideas and inventions at Futurists:BetaLaunch (F:BL), the World Future Society’s first idea and solution expo and competition. F:BL was moderated by event partner Disruptathon and held in Vancouver July 8-10 during WorldFuture 2011: Moving from Vision to Action, the Society’s annual conference.

Disruptathon has announced that the Golden-i headset computer, a collaboration between technology firm Kopin and phone maker Motorola, was voted “Best in Show” and “most buyable” of the inventions showcased at F:BL. Golden-i was also voted the entry that most “makes me feel like I’m in the future, now!” by WorldFuture 2011 attendees. Read more

Escaping the Filter Bubble

The board president of MoveOn.org warns that more-personalized Internet searching may have hidden side effects. Read more


What’s Hot @WFS.ORG (Members Only)

The Coming Robot Evolution Race

Homo sapiens may have “won” the evolutionary race to perfect humankind, but artificial intelligence and robotics will evolve faster and farther. Rather than compete with them, we may do well to make them our allies and co-evolve, suggests a technology trend analyst. Read more

Exploring New Energy Alternatives

What is most likely to satisfy our energy needs in the future—wind farms and photovoltaic arrays, or something yet to be invented? Options for the world’s energy future may include surprises, thanks to innovative research under way around the world. Read more

The Accelerating Techno-Human Future

Technology and humanity are co-evolving in ways that past generations had never imagined possible, according to the authors of The Techno-Human Condition. This is not necessarily a good thing, they warn. With unprecedented levels of innovation come new societal tensions and cultural clashes. People everywhere are challenged to adapt to accelerating change. Read more