Monthly Archives: March 2012

Teleportation in the News

Yesterday was an interesting anniversary. Wired News reports:

March 29, 1993: Teleportation Beams From Sci-Fi to Real Science

1993: Scientists show teleportation is possible, at least theoretically. The downsides: The original teleported object must be destroyed, and it can’t happen instantaneously.

The story goes on to flesh out some of the milestones that have occurred in the teleportation arena in the interrum, including teleporting photons a few meters and teleporting information up to 10 miles.

Gizmodo marked the anniversary by sharing this story with us:

Beam Me Up, Scotty: Scientists Transport a Hunk of Matter 18 Inches

Scientists in Copenhagen took one more step toward the Star Trek transporter, figuring out how to teleport groups of billions of atoms from one place to another using light, quantum mechanics, magnetism and a concept they call “entanglement.” Professor Eugene Polzik and his team managed to move an object about 18 inches, using an excruciatingly complicated process that amounts to some serious magic. Says the Prof:

“Creating entanglement is a very important step, but there are two more steps at least to perform teleportation. We have succeeded in making all three steps — that is entanglement, quantum measurement and quantum feedback.”

Somebody on Facebook said this story was actually six years old. Probably so, as the Reuters story linked in the Gizmodo article isn’t there any more. Still very cool.

Star Trek references aside, this method of teleportation sounds somewhat different from the Star Trek models of teleportation which breaks you down into bits and either beams 1) you or 2) your pattern to the other location where it is reconstituted either 1) from your original matter or 2) locally available materials. (For the record, 1) is the original series and 2) is Next Generation and beyond.) I’m not sure if I would ever want to do 1), but 2) is a big no way. The guy who lands on the other side isn’t me — he just thinks he is. I’m dead.

But THIS approach, from the sketchy details provided, might move the whole person intact, irrespective of what the Wired article says about the original having to be destroyed. As I understand it, if you recreate my quantum states, you recreate me. You don’t just have a copy in that case, you have the original. Would the subjective me-ness that is me come along for the ride? Theoretically, yes.

Still, come to think of it, I think I would have to pass. Not that it looks like anyone is going to be offering free teleportation rides any time soon.

I’m just sayin’.

The Shores of Possibility

We stand on the shoreline.  A vast sea of possibility spreads out endlessly before us. The waters are beautiful beyond description and powerful beyond imagination. The sea is in constant motion, ready to carry us to limitless fortune or sudden ruin. The sand is wet beneath our feet and the waves lap at our shoes. The future calls to us, beckons us, and we must answer.

Hosts Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon discuss

Mars on the Cheap

Instant Genius

A Back Step Forward with Stem Cells

…and other items that have washed up on shore this week.

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Source: Shoreline Image

Disbelieving Our Own Narratives

I got to participate in a live online event yesterday talking with Abundance authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. What a treat. I put myself in the queue for questions and asked the authors the following: now that the book has been out for a few weeks, how has it been going dealing with the media?

Owing to the fierce devotion the media has to painting a bleak picture of what’s occurring in the world today and to drawing up even grimmer scenarios for the future, you would think that the constant media exposure of a book tour would generate a lot of friction, or at least tension. But no. Both authors report that they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well everyone, or at least most everyone, is taking the news that the world is not going to hell in a handbasket.

Why is that? I think it’s because most of them, deep down, don’t really believe their own narrative. Now don’t take that as an all-out slam on the media. I know it sounds pretty bad, but the mitigating factor (if this is a mitigating factor) is that most of us don’t believe our own narrative about the future.

Research shows that most people have a positive expectation for their own future. In fact, most people have an unrealistically positive expectation for their own future. And that’s okay. Apparently there are evolutionary advantages to this sort of optimism. Over the long haul, optimists — at least this particular variety of optimists — have done a better job than pessimists of living long enough to reproduce. (This is a vast oversimplification, of course. Sometimes it’s advantageous to be a pessimist, and sometimes being an optimist will get you killed. But statistically, over the long haul, optimism appears to provide a greater survival advantage than pessimism.)

Interestingly, that set of expectations doesn’t necessarily get applied to others. If anything, we tend to underestimate their future happiness. But I think the’re’s an important difference. The notion that we are each going to have an extraordinary future is an ingrained belief. It’s the way we think when we’re not thinking about how or what we’re thinking.

Our views about the future of humanity, on the other hand, are more just a position that we have assumed. And if you’re going to pick an outlook on humanity, optimism has never been all that socially acceptable. The cool kids are mostly cynics, resigned to the inevitable decline and downfall that their species. It’s an insult to call somebody a Pollyanna. But what’s the opposite of that? A cynic? (That sounds way better than Pollyanna.) A Gloomy Gus?

Nobody says that.

Plus, a generally pessimistic outlook is increasingly built into our political discourse. If things don’t change soon…you can pretty much  insert your favorite doom scenario. Environmental, social, economic — take your pick. The world is divided between US, the people who genuinely want things to be good, and THEM, the ones who are carelessly or perhaps even deliberately leading us to our doom. The more precarious things sound, the more urgently we need people to sign onto our side — and possibly make a donation. Go to just about any political blog and that’s the basic narrative you’ll find. The ideology doesn’t matter, although (not surprisingly) the farther you are to either the left or right, the greater the evil of the other side and the greater the danger they represent.

I think what happens is that when people, even media people, hear something like what Diamandis and Kotler have to say,  it reminds us of what our true disposition towards the future is. Deep down, we believe that things can work out, and that we’re going to find a way to make that happen. Of course, I doubt that  many (or, sadly, any) of the media folks the authors have spoken to over the last month have undergone a permanent change in outward position towards the future.

If it bleeds, chances are it’s still going to lead.

Still, I find great encouragement in the fact that Diamandis and Kotler have been (mostly) warmly received so far. It tells me that cynicism and pessimism need not be permanent. If they can be set aside for a few moments, they can be set aside.

Anyway, here’s Peter Diamandis telling us what (deep down) we all suspected might be true: that the future might not be so bleak after all; that the world may, in fact, be getting better all the time.

Cross-posted from Better All the Time.

Abundance, Dematerialization, and Newt — FastForward Radio

Phil and Stephen welcome presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to FFR to discuss how energy and space policy factor into our national dialog about the future.

Plus, we continue our discussion of  Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s new book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than Yout Think, which argues that we are much closer than most people think to solving some of the oldest and most intractable problems we have faced — including poverty, hunger, disease, and violence.

We explore the role that dematerialization plays in bringing those changes about. Dematerialization is a powerful force and maybe something of a double-edged sword. What challenges and risks do we face in making the move from a scarcity-based to an abudance-based world?

About Our Guest:

Newt Gingrich is a  politician, author, and political consultant. He represented Georgia’s 6th congressional district as a Republican from 1979 until his resignation in 1999, and served as the 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Gingrich is a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination.

In the 1970s, Gingrich taught history and geography at the University of West Georgia. During this period he ran twice (1974 and 1976) for the United States House of Representatives before winning in November 1978. He served as House Minority Whip from 1989 to 1995.

A co-author and architect of the “Contract with America”, Gingrich was a major leader in the Republican victory in the 1994 congressional election. In 1995, Time named him “Man of the Year” for “his role in ending the four-decades-long Democratic majority in the House”. While he was House speaker, the House enacted welfare reform, passed a capital gains tax cut in 1997, and in 1998 passed the first balanced budget since 1969. The poor showing by Republicans in the 1998 Congressional election and pressure from Republican colleagues caused Gingrich’s resignation from the speakership on November 5, 1998, and then the House on January 3, 1999.

Since leaving the House, Gingrich has remained active in public policy debates and worked as a political consultant. He founded and chaired several policy think tanks, including American Solutions for Winning the Future and the Center for Health Transformation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has written or co-authored 27 books.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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The Upgrade Conundrum

Earlier this week on Better All the Time I took a look at the tremendous progress that is being made in producing artificial limbs, concluding with this cheerful prediction:

How progress will play out in the realm of artificial limbs is not difficult to imagine. Before long, Matthew and others will have access to replacement limbs that look exactly like the real thing, but that are stronger, more durable, and more sensitive than the original equipment. If that sounds far-fetched to you, just imagine how the video above would have sounded 20 years ago.

So far it’s all good news, right? Well here’s a potentially disturbing scenario: what if somebody decides to replace a living limb with a better-functioning artificial version. If your hand offends you (or simply doesn’t work), can you cut it off?

Nicola Wilding, 35, lost the use of her right arm in a car crash 12 years ago.

Nerve transplants have returned some movement to her upper arm, but she’s been told she’ll never be able to use her hand again.

Now, having seen a Newsnight film on the work of Austrian surgeon Oskar Aszmann, she is actively considering having her hand cut off and replaced with a bionic prosthesis.

Here’s a clip from the film that inspired her:

Is this controversial? How controversial does this need to be?

The only argument I can think of against elective amputation is the possibility that new treatments might restore function to her hand. These aren’t available now, and apparently their possibility isn’t even something that her current doctors are dangling in front of her. But 10 years from now, there may be a way to recover use of her hand that currently doesn’t exist. Should that occur, would she be sorry she let her hand go, or glad that she has enjoyed a decade of being able to use her new hand?

And, of course, 10 years from now such a treatment might not exist. And it might not exist 20 years from now. Or ever. Should she be forced to wait?

Okay, one other argument: slippery slope. Let people remove living limbs because they don’t work at all and pretty soon we’ll be cutting them off because they don’t work very well or because they could work better. You know, that’s a risk we face anyway as technologies move in the direction I described above. I don’t think that argument holds up.

Meet the Kindle…

…or Nook, as pictured in 1935.

More details here.

Well, they certainly went to a lot of trouble. It’s too bad they attempted only to capture the book-reading capability. Imagine what a 1935-version of a Kindle Fire would look like — even a scaled-down one that could simply show movies and play music in addition to enabling you to read books. The thing would have taken up a whole room. (Or possibly house.)

Abundance! FastForward Radio

Hosts Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon discuss Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s amazing new book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than Yout Think. How close are we to solving some of the oldest and most intractable problems we have faced — including poverty, hunger, disease, and violence?

We might be closer than you think. Tune in and find out.

About the Book

“Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closing—fast.In Abundance, space entrepreneur turned innovation pioneer Peter H. Diamandis and award-winning science writer Steven Kotler document how progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nanomaterials, synthetic biology, and many other exponentially growing technologies will enable us to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have in the previous two hundred years. We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.”

Join us

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Incentive Prizes for Business

The book Abundance talks about the important leverage that incentive prizes can provide. Describing the prize that inspired Charles Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic, Kotke and Diamandis write:

Nine teams cumulatively spent $400,000 to try to win Orteig’s $25,000 purse. That’s sixteenfold leverage.

Now some businesses are getting in on the act. Shopify used a $100,000 prize to generate $12,000,000 in sales. Look for incentive prizes to become one of the major drivers of start-up growth in the years to come. If done correctly, they provide a return that no other approach can touch.

The biggest challenge appears to be the legal hoops that one needs to jump through in order to validly offer a contest across multiple jurisdictions. I wonder if the problem emerges from the fact that Shopify promoted their competition as a “contest?”

Most incentive prizes are set up as very straightforward offers. Ortieg’s competition amounted to the following:

I’ll give $25,000 to the first pilot who flies from New York to Paris or vice versa.

The X prizes are similarly fairly simple offers to pay upon being first to achieve a certain outcome. I wonder if the X Prize foundation deals with legal issues surrounding running a contest in multiple jurisdictions?

John Carter Inspires

Last night I returned to a place I haven’t visited in many years — Barsoom. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ colorful and stylized Mars is wonderfully brought to life in Disney’s John Carter. I saw it with my Dad, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The film is faithful to the spirit of the Burroughs’ novels (while making a mash of many of the details), capturing most importantly their sense of fun and wonder. It has a terrific look — a comic book or Frazetta cover come to life.  I didn’t even mind the 3D, although I don’t think it added that much.

It has been noted that the character John Carter is a precursor to (and likely one of the inspirations of) Superman. The Earth man on Mars gets the same benefit of a body designed for more powerful gravity as a Kryptonian gets on Earth. He’s super-strong, super-fast, and able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  Of course, whatever gravitational benefit a human would actually get on Mars in grossly exaggerated in the novels, preposterously so in this movie. But so what? This Mars has almost nothing to do with the real Mars, anyway.

Just as John Carter is an iconic and inspirational character, I believe the movie John Carter can serve as an inspiration in its own right. Unfortunately, it comes too late to inspire the individuals I would most like to see inspired by it. For example, it’s too bad that James Cameron didn’t see John Carter before making Avatar. He might have had an epiphany about how complex and conflicted alien societies might be. And instead of a heavy-handed story about evil white men coming to rape the noble savages who live in perfect harmony with nature, he might have entertained the idea that people on other planets could have environmental problems of their own — and that a cautionary tale about neglect of what’s important (which John Carter allows itself to be in the most subtle of ways)  makes for a good back story to an otherwise compelling and engaging story.

But the real shame is that George Lucas wasn’t able to watch John Carter before making the Star Wars prequels. Here’s a film that lays out special effects and action sequences no more lavishly than Lucas did in any of those three movies (perhaps even a bit more sparsely), and yet is an order of magnitude more entertaining than any of them. Why? Let’s look at a few important reasons:

1. A recognizable protagonist whom we’re rooting for. In the prequels, who is that, exactly?

2. Interesting characters at every level. The characters who are portrayed primarily as visual effects — the Tharks — are interesting people in their own right. In the prequels, even the characters portrayed by human actors — some really good ones! — are wooden and dull.

3. A story that goes someplace and that affirms humanity — by way of one human and a bunch of Martians. The Star Wars prequels have no place to take us but downfall and despair. That’s the corner that Lucas needlessly painted himself into by making the bad guy the center of the story. (Oh, and James Cameron would have benefited from the “affirming humanity” part, too.)

In fact, John Carter is a lot like Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (a movie I till think of as just plain Star Wars.)

Lucas once knew how to tell a story like that, and he lost it. Here’s hoping that the example of John Carter can help keep the next would-be Lucas or Cameron on track.

300 Miles on One Charge

Sounds great! But there is a little bit of a catch…

Startup announces big breakthrough for electric vehicle batteries

For years, the electric vehicle industry has been eager to build a better electric car battery: one that extends range while having a longer overall life, is affordable, quick-charging and safe.

Now Envia Systems, a start-up based in Newark, Calif., has announced it has achieved a critical milestone: a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an “energy density” of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, the highest energy density known to be recorded.

When commercialized, Envia says the 400 wh/kg battery, with a range of 300 miles and a cost of about $25,000, will slash the price of electric vehicles and make them more affordable for mainstream consumers.

To be viable, fully electric cars will have to have something like this kind of range. And recharge will have to be fast — roughly as long as it takes to fill a gas tank (whether this means actually charging the battery or simply swapping it for a charged battery.)

Still, I’m feeling a bit of sticker-shock on the $25K. That’s going to slash the cost of electric cars? Really?