Category Archives: Future Tech

Can DNA Nanobots Successfully Treat Cancer Patient? First Human Trial Soon

From Singularity Hub:

““No, no it’s not science fiction; it’s already happening,” said Ido Bachelet to a somewhat incredulous audience member at a London event late last year. Bachelet, previously of Harvard’s Wyss Institute and faculty member at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, is a leading figure in the field of DNA nanotechnology.

In a brief talk, Bachelet said DNA nanobots will soon be tried in a critically ill leukemia patient. The patient, who has been given roughly six months to live, will receive an injection of DNA nanobots designed to interact with and destroy leukemia cells—while causing virtually zero collateral damage in healthy tissue.

According to Bachelet, his team have successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and written two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.”

Health care worker of the future in developing countries

This is an amazing article about (70 year old!) Harvard Professor George Whitesides. He’s working to create cheap diagnostics for developing countries and he tells the reporter this:

My view of the health care worker of the future is not a doctor, but an 18-year-old, otherwise unemployed, who has two things. He has a backpack full of these tests, and a lancet to occasionally take a blood sample, and an AK-47. And these are the things that get him through his day.

Wow. (HT to Bryan for re-posting this article to the DIY Bio list).

Found: Methuselah genes. Drugs to target them are next?

According to the UK Times: “Scientists have discovered the “Methuselah” genes whose lucky carriers have a much improved chance of living to 100 even if they indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle. The genes appear to protect people against the effects of smoking and bad diet and can also delay the onset of age-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease by up to three decades.” Thae article also quoted Dr. David Gems saying that “If we know which genes control longevity then we can find out what proteins they make and then target them with drugs. That makes it possible to slow down ageing. We need to reclassify it as a disease rather than as a benign, natural process.”

Interestingly, the article also mentioned that Prof Nir Barzilai was involved. He is the scientist who predicted a longevity drug ready for testing in two years.

DIY genetic engineering

Great article on the topic from the NYT. This sentence is of interest:

Ideally you wouldn’t even need to know anything about DNA to
manipulate it, just as a 5-year-old doesn’t need to understand the
chemical composition of the plastic in his Legos to build a fortress
on the living-room carpet.

We will soon be living in a much different world.

Skin patches could deliver genes

NewScientist reports that Jon Vogel and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland have come up with a procedure that creates “patches of synthetic skin could deliver gene therapies to patients without the need for injections.”

As someone who doesn’t really love needles, this is a good sign for the future. Read the full story here. Thanks to Elissa for sending this story to me.

Stephen Hawking on humans redesigning themselves

The below text is from a speech given by Hawking at TED in 2008. He expects that humans will be able to repair and alter themselves, which will create new political issues. That just happens to be the topic of a book I am working on at the moment, so nice to see Hawking bringing it up. Thanks to my fellow H+ board member James Hughes for posting this on the WTA mailing list.

Link to TED talk and transcript.

Life in the Universe by Prof. Stephen Hawking

…I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to
modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.

Laws will be passed, against genetic engineering with humans. But some
people won’t be able to resist the temptation, to improve human
characteristics, such as size of memory, resistance to disease, and
length of life. Once such super humans appear, there are going to be
major political problems, with the unimproved humans, who won’t be able
to compete. Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant.
Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings, who are
improving themselves at an ever-increasing rate.

If this race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk
of self-destruction, it will probably spread out, and colonise other
planets and stars. However, long distance space travel, will be
difficult for chemically based life forms, like DNA. The natural
lifetime for such beings is short, compared to the travel time.
According to the theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than
light. So the round trip to the nearest star would take at least 8
years, and to the centre of the galaxy, about a hundred thousand years.
In science fiction, they overcome this difficulty, by space warps, or
travel through extra dimensions. But I don’t think these will ever be
possible, no matter how intelligent life becomes. In the theory of
relativity, if one can travel faster than light, one can also travel
back in time. This would lead to problems with people going back, and
changing the past. One would also expect to have seen large numbers of
tourists from the future, curious to look at our quaint, old-fashioned

It might be possible to use genetic engineering, to make DNA based life
survive indefinitely, or at least for a hundred thousand years. But an
easier way, which is almost within our capabilities already, would be to
send machines. These could be designed to last long enough for
interstellar travel. When they arrived at a new star, they could land on
a suitable planet, and mine material to produce more machines, which
could be sent on to yet more stars. These machines would be a new form
of life, based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than
macromolecules. They could eventually replace DNA based life, just as
DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

This mechanical life could also be self-designing. Thus it seems that
the external transmission period of evolution, will have been just a
very short interlude, between the Darwinian phase, and a biological, or
mechanical, self design phase. This is shown on this next diagram, which
is not to scale, because there’s no way one can show a period of ten
thousand years, on the same scale as billions of years. How long the
self-design phase will last is open to question. It may be unstable, and
life may destroy itself, or get into a dead end. If it does not, it
should be able to survive the death of the Sun, in about 5 billion
years, by moving to planets around other stars. Most stars will have
burnt out in another 15 billion years or so, and the universe will be
approaching a state of complete disorder, according to the Second Law of
Thermodynamics. But Freeman Dyson has shown that, despite this, life
could adapt to the ever-decreasing supply of ordered energy, and
therefore could, in principle, continue forever….

Growing new teeth in a lab may be possible

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered a gene responsible for the growth of tooth enamel. Lead researcher Dr. Chrissa Kioussi told the BBC: “A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work. It could be really cool, a whole new approach to dental health.”

Nice. One day people won’t know what dentures were.

Technological Singularity: Utopia or Annihilation?

It’s been called the “rapture of the nerds,” but such derision didn’t stop an estimated 500 enthusiasts from showing up to the Singularity Institute’s conference in San Jose, Calif., last weekend to discuss the possibility of artificial intelligence overtaking that of humans.

That’s the concept of technological singularity, popularized by author and inventor Ray Kurzweil. Talking about something that might happen, will be world-changing and can’t be predicted is quite the task. Yet some speakers gladly took it on.

“It’s hard to understand why a rational singularist would come to this conference,” economist James Miller told the crowd. “You don’t want to die [en route to the conference] and miss out on utopia.”

From an economist’s point of view, Miller said, people who believe in the singularity will save less because they will expect computers eventually to fix everything, including financial problems. Of course, that assumes one lives long enough to see the singularity, and one might need to save in order to live long enough to make it there. Such radically futuristic conversations brought up questions of a religious nature.

When asked how a belief in the singularity differs from a belief in the end of time for Christians, Miller said they were essentially the same. “A singularist shouldn’t drive to conferences, and a Christian shouldn’t commit adultery,” he said.

Yet not all the speakers were so off the cuff in dealing with the core issue of accelerating change.

Intel CTO Justin Rattner, obviously trying to distance himself from whipped-up ideas of utopia, said he felt a bit “like an accidental tourist” at the conference. He then proceeded to give one of the best talks of the day, showcasing technology that might actually lead to the place many singularists want to go.

Read more here.

Tech Market of the Future: The Brain

The Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that one out of eight baby boomers is expected to get Alzheimer’s disease, creating a total of 10 million victims. This staggering prediction underscores the need for brain health and augmentation, a new market that tech players are fortunately beginning to enter.

Just as it is possible to go to work out one’s body in the gym, it is also possible to buy computer software to work out one’s brain. Software programs now on the market include Nintendo’s “Brain Age” and Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Programs. Indeed, consulting firm Sharpbrains reports that the market for these products more than doubled between 2005 and 2007 to US$225 million, and health insurers like Humana are offering brain fitness programs to Medicare members at a discounted price.

Such programs won’t cure Alzheimer’s, of course, but other members of the tech community are working on projects that might help scientists beat the disease. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Allen Institute for Brain Science mapped an entire mouse brain in 2006, detailing more than 21,000 genes at the cellular level. This provided scientists — free of charge — with a level of data previously unavailable. Allen researchers will conduct additional work charting gene activity in the developing mouse brain, and last week the company announced that they are working on mapping the human brain.

“This new atlas holds promise for furthering understanding of human developmental disorders such as autism and other age-associated conditions including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, it is likely to uncover new opportunities for therapeutic intervention, as genes that are important for healthy brain development and maintenance may be helpful in slowing progress of degenerative diseases … and repairing brain tissue already damaged by injury or disease,” according to the Institute.

A leader from the tech community is driving the brain mapping project, and that should come as no surprise. It’s taken for granted in computer science that if you want to learn how something operates, mapping and reverse engineering is helpful. Allen’s brain project is looking to apply those methods to the human operating system. However, not all brain-driven tech is looking to fix a disease. Some are striving to make it easier to cope with disability.

For instance, Michael Callahan of Ambient recently demonstrated a device called “Audeo” that allows voiceless telephone calls. Although originally designed to allow people with disabilities to express their thoughts, someday soon everyone could have the ability to chat on the phone using a device that turns one’s thoughts into speech. This would be a blessing for those assailed by other people’s conversations, but it may bring up new privacy issues that make today’s battles look like child’s play. And the advances don’t end with speech.


Read more here.

Paul Allen’s next step — Mapping Genes in the Brain

The Allen Institute for Brain Science is launching a four-year, $55 million project to build an atlas of genes’ activity in the brain. From the WSJ:

“Jones and his colleagues will take about a half dozen brains from recently dead people who were neurologically and psychiatrically healthy. Then they’ll divide each brain into somewhere between 500 and 2000 regions, and look at what genes were turned on in each region. (Geeky bonus: They’ll do this by looking for mRNA, the genetic material that turns genes into proteins.) About 100,000 different proteins are expressed in the brain, Allen said.”

Sea cucumbers and human brains

What do these two things have in common? According to MIT’s Technology review, a new material inspired by sea cucumbers “switches rapidly between rigid and flexible states.” This is important because “such a material may be useful in the design of implantable electrodes able to record brain activity over long stretches of time, with minimal scarring compared with conventional electrodes.” This is a cool advance.

An equally cool new tech is electronic skin. Also from MIT’s Review:

A postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, “fabricated thin gold strips on elastic rubber substrates that could be stretched like a rubber band without losing electrical conductivity. The Princeton group, led by electrical-engineering professor Sigurd Wagner, then used these strips as the foundation of the first stretchable integrated circuit.

Life: A Tech-Centric View

At this week’s Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in Germany, renowned scientists Craig Venter, Ph.D., and Richard Dawkins wowed the audience with a conversation about genes and information technology. They discussed how evolution is becoming man-made, which brings up a number of interesting issues.

“Genetics has become a branch of information technology,” Dawkins opined. There’s a good deal of evidence for his statement, including the announcement that Google-funded firm 23andMe launched its Web-based DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) testing services in Europe this week. 23andMe is one of a number of firms that sample an individual’s DNA in order to offer clues to their genetically-driven future.

Increasingly, life is being translated into bits of code to be manipulated in the laboratory. Last year, for instance, Venter’s team transplanted the entire genome from one species of Mycoplasma bacteria into another. A few days later, the DNA from the first bacterium completely took over the second and became indistinguishable from the donating bacterium.

Read more here.

Command College links

I spoke at Command College today on future tech issues. Below is a list of links for the people in the room who want to read more on the issue areas.

Command College Links 2008

Virtual Reality and Intellectual property

Club Penguin:


Second life (trailer):

How something is built in Second Life:


Not just a game – exchanges with the USD:

Economic stats – a real economy. (Dec 2007 transactions = over 16 million; Nov 06 that number was 20 million):

Lest you think it’s all games, know that companies including IBM, Cisco and Amazon are now using Second Life as a corporate collaboration space– check out this conference from TechCrunch:

Second Life’s first millionaire:

How does she make money – it’s not just inside Second Life. There’s also markets on eBay etc.

Her website (she has her own currency exchange) Her real name is Ailin Graef & she lives in China.

Government reaction so far:

Do Second life issues ever spill into the real world?

Here’s one interesting news story:

Last May, in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, a visiting avatar entered the Ohio University’s Second Life campus and fired at other avatars.

Rules of Second Life:


-What new police issues could come up in SL?

-Could SL issues spill into the real world?

-How does one deal with violence in a virtual space?

-How does one build reputation/trust?

-Could police track an offline criminal online and get data from him there? Would that be submissable? Are the worlds entangled enough?

-Do these people really own their property? What is property?

Enhancing machines

3 Categories:

A) Tech that acts like eyes – watching, labeling, recognizing

B) Tech that makes tasks less error prone

C) Tech to Mimic human (or animal) behavior – Robots!

Recognition (eyes)

Smart cameras (like face recognition tech)



RFID implementation, Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, California:

160 Mexican officials get chipped for secure areas and locating:


Darwinian police sketch:


Voice analysis:

For consumers:

Lie detecting brain scans:

Selling truth – the companies:

Brain fingerprint — has been used in court cases (didn’t help Jimmy Ray Slaughter):

Paul Allen Brain mapping project:

Document fingerprint (unique laser speckle pattern):

Reducing Error

Safety system for Fed Ex drivers etc:

Car Rental Company Acme took on a police role?

Car called Stanley that can drive itself (AI prof Sebastian Thrun at Stanford):

On June 6th 2005, DaimlerChrysler gave a public demonstration of their Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) technology. This technology makes real-time communication possible between a vehicle and roadside stations and from one vehicle to another.

GM commits to driverless cars by 2018:

Robotic Exoskeleton (help with walking):


Predator Drone:

Tiny Drone:

Guardrobo D1:

198-pound robot that guards against intruders, fires and water leaks. It is approximately 3 feet 6 inches tall. Uses Shopping malls, banks and office buildings.

NUVO walking humanoid robot (


Asimo doing useful things:

Asimo falls:

Competitors to Asimo:

Toyota vs Honda:

Toyota (violin and mobility):

Toyota’s Robina:

Fujitsu’s HOAP, Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform:


Pleo specs

Wowee robot – Femi Sapien

How all these robots will be powered in the future:

Robot skin:

Human looking robot, repliee q1Expo.

Saya (scroll down):

Uncanny Valley:

Polar Express:

Robots Evolve to Deceive:

Three Laws of robotics:

Questions? — Help me come up with them.

What tech is most/least appealing?

The role of robots going forward.

How dangerous is it that tech made for one purpose can be used for another?

“A robot is a computer with arms, and Fujitsu is a computer company,” says Fumio Nagashima of the robotics group at Fujitsu Laboratories. – what do we think of this statement?

Enhancing Humans


Altering/enhancing the mind:

Liquid trust?

Studies behind it:

‘Improving’ the brain with drugs and

Getting smarter with electrical waves (power smaller than a watch battery):

Center for cognitive liberty (regulating/forcing mind-altering drugs):

Software for curing dyslexia:

Other brain-enhancing techniques (repository):

How to erase a memory:

Telekenetic Monkey & its implications: (good article — gone!)

Woman who thinks about moving her arm:

Remote controlled human (galvanic vestibular stimulation – electrodes behind ears. Commercial app is video games): (see video)

Replacing/enhancing humans

Robotic ankle:

Artificial knee cartilage w/o surgery:

3D printers: (nice graphic – scroll down a bit)

Printing circuits:

Cat heart tissue (printed with cells):,aid,117318,00.asp

Organ printing advances (how it works)

Schwarzenegger mice (muscle strength increased 27% in elderly mice – gene for growth hormone):

Resveratrol: (protects mice from the metabolic effects of a high calorie diet. Activate enzymes that protect against aging and significantly prolong life – Dr. David Sinclair)

Stem Cell research (West – how to learn from our immortal germ line)

Germline cells are immortal, in the sense that they can reproduce indefinitely.

Nanotechnology/nanomedicine: (smart bombs):

Nanotech restores vision in hamsters:

Life lengthing gene (C.elegans healthy life span 6 times longer than usual)

Personalized medicine:

Craig Venter:

Making new organisms:


Why do we age?

-Rusting from oxidative free radical damage through production of mitochondria in cells

-Inflammatory response is slowly killing us

-Because our bodies are saving all our energy for reproduction

How to Fix?


-Fish oils & anti-inflamatories:

-Starve ourselves so reproduction takes second place (caloric restriction 20 percent to 30 percent less calories)

Aubrey de Grey (Computer engineer meets biology)

Seven reasons for aging:



What if we could live an extra 100 years? Break into groups and discuss this question. What issues would come up?

How ill new technologies be managed?

Older criminal population?

Older employment population

What about withholding life-extension tech for criminals?

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 image:

Features of Web 2.0:


-My main blog:

-Started same day as Michael Powell:

(July 2004)

-My other blogs:

-One of my favorite blogs (anyone else have one):

-Blog search engine:

-Blog Stats (April 2007)


-Military blogging:

-At the beginning of 2006, only 200 military blogs existed. Now, currently has 1,827 military blogs in 32 countries with 3,948 registered members.

-Army Specialist Colby Buzzell’s blog (originally blogged as an anonymous soldier, after which he was confined to the base and forced to submit his entries to a platoon sergeant for review.)

-Spouce blogs:

-Police Blogs:


-Police monitoring blogs:

-Political advocacy:

-Employers not happy with blogs:

-List of fired bloggers:

-How to create a blog:



– EFF put together some rules for “safe” blogging:

-Logo Maker:

Questions: (What questions does this raise for them?)

-How does the proliferation of blogs affect police work and/or public safety?

-To what extend does the decrease in public reliance mainstream media affect police work? i.e., Technorati’s data showed that a growing percent of the web audience is less and less likely to distinguish a blog from, say,

-How does this new ease of professionalism affect police work? Are there any historical precedents? Lamination maybe?

-What about the continuing globalization of the Net (other languages becoming popular like Japanese etc)? Steganography as a way to hide messages.

Steganography site:

Social Networking:

How it grew further from blogs into newsfeeds:

-How to manage all the data from so many sources (RSS feeds, Atom, etc)

-Bookmark favorite pages (“social bookmarking”):

-Share web surfing real-time:


Other kinds of Social Networking:

For Jobs:

For Dating: (people’s friends help) (for AIDS)

For Families:

For over 50’s:

For cats and dogs:

Two leading all Purpose:



Cultural difference:

Facebook is the only one with an open platform for outside developers:

YouTube videos:


More on lonelygirl:


Photos used in commercial applications without permission:

Face recognition technology:

Social networking safety tips


Parry Aftab:

Community group helping police catch pedophiles (230 convictions so far):

Increase in health-related social networking sites:

For people with MS:

For all sorts of problems, including sexual abuse:

Police asking community for help in identifying dead bodies:

Dead white woman:

Use Facebook; go to jail?

Cannibalism example (meeting through and Internet Ad)?


-What are the ramifications about so much personal information being publicly available? How does it help? How does it hurt?

-The Internet has a long memory. What are the things people should think about before posting data?

-How does this long memory hurt or help police work?

-Who should be responsible for protecting people online? Example – a distraught person with cancer could be taken advantage of. Should government have rules; should the companies themselves do something?

-Can and should police be proactive? How to reach the right audience – what is the right audience?

-To what extend should people (including police agencies) be allowed to post whatever they want on the Net? What about suicide networking sites?

-To what extent does online community weaken meetspace community?

I’m speaking on longevity issues at the Foresight Vision Weekend today

The Foresight Institute is holding its Vision 2007 “unconference” this weekend. I was there yesterday and will be speaking today. So far, the conference has been amazing — talks I attended yesterday included the latest on nanotech and stem cell research, as well as a fascinating discussion on risk and longevity.

Thank Boomers for Buffing Up Brain Market

America’s first baby boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, recently signed up for the Social Security benefits that she will start to collect in January. The new phase of life that she and her generation are entering is creating demand for new industries that affect everyone, one of which involves “brain fitness.”

Brain fitness is exactly what it sounds like — a workout program for your mind beyond simple activities like crossword puzzles or sudoku. The brain buffing scene doesn’t seem to feature a character like fitness legend Jack LaLanne just yet, but many companies, particularly in the tech sector, vie for the title. MindFit, Happy Neuron and Lumosity all offer programs designed to “pump up” brain power.

Yet with so many anti-aging products flooding the market these days, some might question whether brain fitness is a true concept or just another snake-oil marketing plan. While some programs on the market are more entertainment than science, like Nintendo’s “Brain Age,” scientific studies show that when properly targeted,computer programs can have a dramatic impact on brain health.

Short-term studies show that after four to six weeks of using structured brain workout programs like MindFit or Posit Science‘s Brain Fitness Program 2.0, users see marked improvement in areas like auditory processing or short-term memory, according to Alvaro Fernandez, CEO and cofounder of San Francisco-based SharpBrains. This could be helpful in the long term because results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that benefits from well-designed cognitive training programs can last for five years even after the training is finished.


Read more here.