Futurist Update

January 2012, Vol. 13, No. 1

In this issue:

  • CES: The Future is Now-ish
  • MIT Scientists Discover Memory Gene
  • January 2012 Prediction List Roundup
  • Disease Hunters Follow the Night Lights
  • Better Nanotubes for Better Electronics
  • Inventors Wanted
  • What’s in THE FUTURIST magazine

CES: The Future Is Now-ish

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) storms Las Vegas this week. THE FUTURIST magazine and other members of the media received a special preview access to the more than 20,000 new products expected to launch at the event this year.

Previous CES shows saw the launch of the VCR and DVD players. According to Shawn Dubravac of the Consumer Electronics Association, more than 90% of U.S. households own a product that debuted at the world’s biggest tech show. Dubravac called 2012 the year of the interface and stressed that some of the inventions and prototypes on display won’t be commercially viable “for years.” Read more of THE FUTURIST magazine’s on-site coverage at wfs.org.

Also download a copy of Dubravac's presentation here.

MIT Scientists Discover Memory Gene

Our memories give birth to our expectations of the future; but what gives birth to memory? A group of MIT scientists led by Yingxi Lin claim to have discovered a master gene for memory encoding. The Npas4 gene is responsible for activating the genes that make memories stronger and more permanent (both synapse strength and connections between neurons). “This is a gene that can connect from experience to the eventual changing of the circuit,” says Lin.

The team found that Npas4 is heavily present in the CA3 region of the hippocampus in mice when they wandered to a part of a maze where they received a mild electric shock. The gene helped them remember to avoid that area. When the researchers removed the gene from that area of the hippocampus, the mice forgot which part of the maze was dangerous.

The ability to produce Npas4 in sufficient volume may have an effect on the study of learning and education in the future.

Source: MIT

January 2012 Prediction List Roundup

The beginning of 2012 saw the usual burst of predictions from media, industry, tech watchers, and futurists.

Declan McCullagh of the popular blog CNET forecast that “If 2011 was the Year of the hackers, 2012 may be the Year the Hackers Upset the Political Establishment.” Read more.

Daryl Lang of the Web site Breaking Copy published a self-deprecatingly titled list of “Ten Foolishly Specific Predictions for 2012,” among them: “An angry online mob forces the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to resign.” Read more.

John Brandon of Inc. magazine predicted that, by 2025, augmented reality and instantaneous language translation will be common.“ Read more.

Lance Ulanoff of Mashable announced “6 Crazy Tech Predictions for 2012,” among them: “Scientists will partner with Hollywood studios to unveil a new technology known as ‘Fresh Ends.’ Using CGI, Hollywood script writers, voice and context recognition and logic algorithms, Fresh Ends technology will generate new endings for some of the world’s most popular films. These slightly rewritten movies will be re-released to theaters—just like the 3D rereleases—and are expected to add 15- to 20% additional box office returns to each film. For now, Fresh Ends only works with movies shot digitally.“ Read more.

IBM published five predictions based on current IBM projects; they included telepathetic control of computers, the end of the digital divide, multifactor biometrics, and predictive analytics ending the days of junk mail. Read more.

Finally, social networking guru Brian Solis joined with Awareness Networks and other futurists in the release of the 2012 Social Marketing and New Media Report, packed with predictions about the future of social networks. The bottom line: “Engage or Die.” Read more (PDF).

Disease Hunters Follow the Night Lights

Public-health officials may have a new tool for fighting epidemics in developing countries, thanks to satellite images of nighttime light patterns in cities.

Researchers led by Nita Bharti of Princeton University have correlated the onset of communicable diseases such as measles with the population growth that occurs seasonally as people move from rural areas into cities. Comparing NASA night-light data with health records from Niger between 2000 and 2004, the researchers found that measles cases were more prevalent in cities’ brightest spots.

Monitoring changes in nighttime lighting will help identify hotspots for epidemics and enable public-health workers to inoculate the most vulnerable populations, the researchers believe. The night-light pattern tracking could also be used to monitor population movements during wars and natural disasters.

Source: Princeton University. The research was published in the December 9, 2011, edition of the journal Science.

Better Nanotubes for Better Electronics

A range of electronic products and solar cell technologies could become more affordable, thanks to a new manufacturing technique that expedites the production of carbon nanotubes.

These molecule-sized tube structures, which are now added to many structural materials, come in two varieties: semiconducting nanotubes, the active material in transistors and solar cells, and conducting nanotubes, used in batteries.

The current carbon nanotube manufacturing process creates conducting and semiconducting nanotubes in the same batch. They have to be separated, and this has presented a longtime “production bottleneck,” according to Stanford University chemical-engineering associate professor Zhenan Bao.

Bao has co-developed, with colleagues at the University of California–Davis and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, the use of a polymer that latches onto semiconducting nanotubes but not the conducting ones.

The final polymer-fused semiconducting nanotubes are themselves useful for making lower-cost solar cells; “bendable display screens,” now increasingly featured in portable electronic devices; “stretchable electronics,” which feature in some components for advanced robots; and “circuits printed on plastics,” applications of which include transistors for flexible/foldable displays, transistors for flexible sensors and electronic skin, and circuits for printed price tags or RFIDs.

“Our simple process allows us to build useful devices very easily,” says Bao.

Source: Stanford University

Inventors Wanted

Do you have an invention or start-up that will change the world? The World Future Society has issued a call for inventions and innovations from breakthrough start-ups, who will compete in the second annual Futurists:BetaLaunch expo in Toronto next July.

Futurists:BetaLaunch (F:BL) serves as a technology expo where engineers, designers, and others can present their inventions to the 1,000 futurists expected to gather for the Society’s annual conference. Also in attendance will be venture capitalists such as Moon Express founder Naveen Jain, Netopia founder Reese Jones, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

All inventors selected to present their inventions at F:BL will receive a complimentary registration to the WorldFuture 2012 conference ($750 value). The deadline for entry is March 15, 2012.

What’s in THE FUTURIST magazine? (Members Only)

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.

Crossing the Species Boundary: Genetic Engineering as Conscious Evolution

Genetic engineering is actually as natural as any process on Earth, and mastering it would enable us to do what microbes do trillions of times every day, but purposefully and with better results. Read more.

Outlook 2012

Environmental threats and energy source opportunities; in vivo organ and tissue printing and buildings that self-adapt to weather fluctuations. These forecasts and more appear in THE FUTURIST’s annual roundup of thought-provoking ideas. Read more.

Purchase a PDF download. Members: Login for free access. Check out Cynthia G. Wagner’s video of our the Top 10 Forecasts.

What’s in THE FUTURIST magazine? (Public)

The Best Predictions of 2011

Drawing from a variety of sources throughout the past year, the editors of THE FUTURIST take a look at some of the best predictions for the world’s future. Read more.

Innovating the Future: From Ideas to Adoption

Futurists and innovators can teach each other lessons to help their ideas succeed.

Visualizing Human Intention

Neuroscientists may predict what you will do before you do it. Read more.

Tomorrow in Brief

  • iGrammar: Mobile Language Lessons
  • Robotic Aides for Children with Autism
  • Glass as Waste Cleaner
  • Building Stronger Skyscrapers, Faster
  • Remote-Controlled Telescopes for Citizen Astronomers