Tomorrow in Brief
Metal Theft on the Rise?
As the value of metals increases, so does the likelihood of theft. But it isn’t just the local thugs ripping gold chains off our necks that we’ll have to worry about.
Metal theft may become one of the biggest criminal activities of the twenty-first century, warns University of Indianapolis criminologist Kevin Whiteacre. Targets may include construction sites, vehicle parts, plumbing and electrical equipment, and public infrastructure, where thieves see value not just in the manufactured goods themselves but also in their component metals.
“This has redefined theft to me,” says Whiteacre. “You’re no longer stealing a specific item for its value as an item. You’re stealing it for its constituent parts.” Whiteacre has created a Web site, Metaltheft.net, as a repository of news and research on the phenomenon.
Source: University of Indianapolis, www.uindy.edu.
Virtual Lab Rats
The use of laboratory animals has long helped researchers study complex systems, such as the interplay of genetics and environmental factors in disease formation. But these animals need to be fed and housed.
Now, researchers may use computer models with integrated data sets to simulate animal physiology. A project to create a “virtual physiological rat” is under way at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The project will allow computational biologist Daniel Beard and his team to predict the interaction of a variety of factors within an entire physiological system.
While it won’t eliminate the need for laboratory animals entirely, the project aims to make more efficient use of animal research, to improve understanding of disease, and to advance the goal of creating a virtual physiological human.
Source: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health, www.nigms.nih.gov.
Solar Ivy for Walls
The ivy-covered walls adorning university buildings may soon be powering those buildings as well.
Solar Ivy, developed by Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology in New York, is made of small photovoltaic panels that can be created in different shapes and colors to suit the architecture.
Pioneering the application of Solar Ivy is the University of Utah, which used funds raised by students to install the panels in late 2011. The goal is to generate enough electricity for the ivy-covered building to offset the amount of power it buys from the utility company.
Sources: University of Utah, www.utah.edu.
Solar Ivy, www.solarivy.com.
Need a lift up from bed to chair? The task is awkward and difficult for most humans, and sometimes results in caregivers wrenching their backs. Not so for robots.
As the population of older people needing nursing care begins to soar in Japan and other graying societies, robots are being developed to provide more of the necessary physical support. This may be as many as 40 lifts a day for individual patients.
Japan’s latest RIBA II (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), developed by researchers at RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries, has improved functionality, more power, and greater sensitivity. Sheets of sensors lining the robot’s arms and chest allow it to detect a patient’s weight accurately, and thus provide gentler and safer lifts.
Source: RIKEN, www.riken.jp.
Aquariums as Farms
Future homeowners, college campuses, and other nontraditional “farmers” may soon be growing their own fish and vegetables while recycling waste.
An experimental food production system is being tested by SUNY ecological engineering graduate student Michael Amadori. The system is a variation on aquaponics (combining traditional aquaculture and hydroponic farming) that incorporates the use of post-consumer food waste.
Instead of being composted (or thrown out), the wasted food is fed to the fish. Then, the fish waste is used for growing vegetables. The goal is to reduce the amount of food waste and lower the cost of raising fish.
Source: State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, www.esf.edu.
Free Email Newsletter
To sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter, enter your email in the box below and click Save.
Dutch government council wants to hear from futurists.
Self driving cars, 3D printing, robotics, these are just a few of the major technologies that are likely to bring massive disruptions in about every aspect of life. What do we eat? What would our work be like in the future? How do we travel? Where does our energy come from? The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure, the primary strategic advisory board for the Dutch government and parliament in matters relating to the physical environment and infrastructure, has initiated a foresight study to stimulate the public debate about the impact of disruptive technologies. It is not a traditional research project, but includes future imagery, crowd sourcing and technology assessment. Read here about the foresight study and initial ideas regarding the future of healthy nutrition, efficient mobility and smart buildings.
What is harder than finding the right answers? Asking the right questions.
In Zen Buddhism, a koan is a short story or question that is simply worth meditating on. There might not necessarily be a single good answer, but the process of contemplating the question itself is a worthwhile pursuit that may lead to sudden insights or enlightenment.
About a dozen years ago, we asked members of the World Future Society what they thought was the most valuable return for investing in the serious study of trends. We included a summary of their responses in our special report, The Future: An Owner's Manual (September-October 2002, adapted from March-April 2002 FUTURIST). The reasons are still apt today:
Who has better stories to tell than retired CIA officers who were not able to speak before? After over three decades in the CIA, Jack Devine, currently working in corporate intelligence with The Arkin Group (TAG), is now able to share his experiences and wisdom with the public.
Do you control your screens or do they control you? In tomorrow’s digital world you’ll decide what’s on your screens. With a personal paywall you will be paid for your attention. You’ll be able to sell your mind as often as you like.
Bacteria are being genetically modified for a range of roles, including conversion for easier extraction (e.g. coal to gas, or concentrating elements in landfill sites to make extraction easier), making new food sources, carbon fixation, pollutant detection and other sensory roles, clothing and cosmetics, special surface treatments, biodegradable construction or packing materials, self-organizing printing, and more.
As big data have shown their advantages in commerce, governance, surveillance and many other areas, now is the time to explore how to put them to use for humanity. Data generated by people, unstructured texts, digital traces and everything else could be used for agile responses to changes regionally. There is great potential to use data for well being and doing good. Leiden University's Peace Informatics Lab has hosted a high-level panel session on Big Data for Humanity. The discussion focused on meaningful ways to capture the world of data for designing deescalation programs and support systems for peace building and humanity.
WFS’s professional journal, World Future Review, seeks committed readers—both specialists and generalists—to join us as peer reviewers. Peer reviewers serve as volunteer referees for manuscripts submitted to the journal, so applicants should include a CV explaining their qualifications.