It used to be that computers were huge monstrosities that took up entire rooms.  Now they fit in our pockets in the form of cell phones while room sized supercomputers are today’s monstrosities.  But soon those will fit in our pockets too.  At least that’s what my expectation is after news of a breakthrough that shrinks down a supercomputer to the size of a laptop! Proving that once again there really is no stopping Moore’s Law.

According to Futurism, “Nanotechnologists at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a way to miniaturize the processing power that is found today only in the largest and most unwieldy of supercomputers. Their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point the way to a future when our laptops and other personal, handheld computing devices pack the computational heft of a Cray Titan or IBM Blue Gene/Q.

But the solution may be a little surprising.

These computers will not be like our familiar, electronic variety—they’ll be ‘biological computers,’ machines that rely on the molecular activities of nature’s true nanomachines: cellular organelles.”

Taking advantage of nature’s designs makes a lot of sense but what about Quantum computers?  Won’t they make biological computer technology obsolete in the long run? Perhaps not.

As Futurism puts it, “Of course, quantum computers, with their bizarre, non-binary ‘qubits,’ are favored contenders to tackle this new frontier of computing; but they’ve proven devilishly hard to build, require technology that’s still in many ways embryonic, and are probably many years, if not decades, away from being brought online.

Not so with biological computing. They are, as the Lund team has shown, easier and less expensive to build (after all, they utilize a technology evolution has already conveniently provided us), and are likely only a decade away from production.”

So, how exactly would a biological computer work?

Futurism explains:

“When your computer stores data, it has to pause while the information moves from one piece of hardware to another. But that may soon stop being the case, as scientists from MIT and the Singapore University of Technology and Design uncovered a new manufacturing trick that should let them build computers that don’t have those annoying delays.

The key is to sit back and let a virus — the biological kind — handle the assembly work. Using a virus called a M13 bacteriophage to manufacture a specific component may unlock phase-change memory systems, a type of digital storage that would speed up any computer using it, according to research published last month in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.

These breakthroughs may seem far-fetched, making it hard to believe that they really could just be a decade away, but that’s the beauty of Moore’s Law.  Just when you think processing power can’t possibly continue to double every 18 months there are unforeseen breakthroughs that allow for exponential growth.  Indicating that when it comes to computing the best has yet to come.

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Is a desktop supercomputer the Greatest Idea Ever?

The next time you’re relaxing at the beach or strolling through a park and you see someone flying a kite you might want to have a new-found appreciation for the beauty and majesty with which they fly.  For we may soon be relying on them to generate electricity.

As Quartz puts it, “The physics of wind power favor two things: turbine size and wind strength. The bigger the turbine, and the stronger the wind, the more energy that can be harvested. Yet bigger is more expensive, and most of the priciest bits merely support the energy-generating blades themselves: the towers, nacelles, central hub, and the foundation. Given 80% of the energy comes from the outermost 30% of a blade, why not dispense with the most expensive parts?  If you did, you’d end up with something that looks like a kite.”

So how did Benjamin Franklin’s favorite experiment prop go from taking to the skies to swimming with the sharks?

Minesto, the company behind the technology, explains how it works on their website.

“Imagine that you are standing on a beach, flying a kite in the wind. You feel the strong lift force from the kite in the rope as the wind tries to carry the kite away. As you move the kite sideways, you notice that it flies fast – way faster than the wind is blowing.If you would attach a turbine to the kite and put it in the ocean, where a water current flows instead of the wind blowing, you would have the concept of Deep Green…”

Personally, I find it fascinating that we may go from Benjamin Franklin using a kite in his famous thunderstorm experiment, which lead to the creation of the lightning rod, to now being able to harvest energy in the ocean by using underwater kites.  When it comes to electricity we may have finally come full circle.

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Is an underwater kite the Greatest Idea Ever?


I’ve always suspected that the future of architecture and design will be unimaginably different from today’s techniques.  Figuring that it was only a matter of time before we 3D printed entire buildings or used breakthroughs in materials science to develop entirely new ways of constructing homes and businesses.  And as time has gone on we’ve seen several examples of how this evolution in construction may play out.  There’s been super wood, thirsty concrete, and even the implementation of living houses made of biological materials thanks to DARPA.  But this latest innovation takes the cake.

As Futurism reports, “Forget scarves and mittens. Soon, we might be able to knit entire buildings.  A team from the Swiss university ETH Zurich has developed a technique that allows them to knit textiles that can then form the scaffolds for large concrete structures. As a proof of concept, they created a 13-foot-tall architectural structure that’s now on display in Mexico City.”

As the technique improves and technology advances it will be interesting to see just how far we can take this architectural approach.  Is there a limit to how tall the structures get?  Could we use it produce buildings with complex designs ranging from flying buttresses to elegant domes?  Or would it only work for mass producing cookie cutter structures of a limited size?  Perhaps making it ideal for mass-producing low-income housing projects.

I’m not sure.  But either way it may be time to stop making fun of those ugly sweaters that your grandmother knitted for you for Christmas.  For the time may have finally come to give knitting its proper due.  Crochet it isn’t so.

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Is knitting buildings the Greatest Idea Ever?

#1,410 – Replika

It may not seem like it on the surface but we all have shit that we have to deal with.  Personal issues, bouts of depression, struggles with inner demons.  Whatever the case may be.  Life isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.  It’s a daily reevaluation of who we are and who we want to be.  That’s why it’s important to have some perspective.  To never get too high or too low.  To never give into your doubts.  To never cast aspersions onto another person.

And yet we’re all guilty of it.  Judging others while acting hypocritically as we ignore our own problems.  That’s why therapy is so important.  Having someone to talk to, someone that you can open up to, confide in – that can be the difference between living a healthy life or one in which you bottle up your emotions until they boil up to the surface.

Unfortunately, therapy is a taboo topic.  One that most people go to great lengths to avoid.  Whether its couples therapy or personal maintenance doesn’t matter.  All types of therapy are looked down upon.  Just ask Tony Soprano.  Instead what most people do is burden their friends with their problems.  A great approach for the person struggling to cope with a particular issue.  Not so great for the friend who has to put on a brave face and pretend to give a shit about your office politics.

Thankfully, there’s now a better way.  An AI chat bot app capable of carrying on a full conversation with you about any topic.  Giving you someone to dump your problems on or just correspond with to pass the time.  To some this may seem a little bit creepy.  Having to rely on an AI chat bot for self-esteem boasts is a sad sign of our times.  But it also could be a sign of things to come.

Right now these chat bots are here for moral support but in the near future the technology might go one step further.  Possibly allowing us to live on posthumously in the form of a personalized chat bot that would mimic our own unique communication style.  Instead of Augmented Reality this would be Augmented Eternity.  And by analyzing our entire digital footprint i.e. all of our text messages, emails, blog posts, etc. this may soon be possible.  In fact, the conversations you’re having with your chat bot today could go a long way towards honing what your future digital self may sound like.

As Digital Trends reports:

“Researchers Shriya Devadiga and Bhakthi Shetty have been investigating how a chat bot could be made to duplicate a person’s personality digitally, granting users the ability to chat with an A.I. approximation of an individual, such as a family member, who is no longer around.

For their study, the researchers used Replika A.I., an app created by Russian coder Euginia Kuyda. Replika trains a chatbot designed to replicate an individual’s communication patterns by using their digital conversations as training data. Through pattern matching, the more you chat to your Replika A.I. chatbot, the more its sentences sound like something that you would say. Or, in the case of Devadiga and Shetty’s proposal, something that your deceased relative, loved one or friend might say.”

Is this a future that you would look forward to?  Or one that you would shy away from?  Considering the seriousness of mental health issues, especially when it comes to dealing with loss and mourning a loved one, I say bring it on our chat bot infused future.  Making the world better one conversation at a time.

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Is Replika the Greatest Idea Ever?


The pressure to constantly and consistently create, produce, and deliver exceptional content is so great that most people can’t handle it.  Psychological burnouts, mental breakdowns, and bouts with depression soon ensue.  No, I’m not talking about the demands of running a Fortune 500 company.  I’m not talking about being a social media star.

Fame and fortune seem great on the surface.  Getting paid thousands of dollars to make funny videos or hawk products doesn’t even seem like real work.  If given the chance to quit my job right now and start a YouTube channel I would do it in a heartbeat even knowing about all of the pitfalls.  But at the same time the glory doesn’t come without a high price – one that is often paid in blood, sweat, and tears.  Literally.

Fortunately, there are some forward thinking individuals who work at a Swiss hotel chain who want to make life easier for social media savvy individuals who are victims of their own success.  By babysitting their Instagram accounts for them while they relax on vacation.

As The Next Web puts it, “Details are slim, but so far we know that Ibis Hotels plans to allow any guest at its Geneva or Zurich locations, to book weekend appointments with local influencers, or social media sitters. The sitter would be responsible for social media upkeep, leaving you to pound mojitos and throw up in the elevator like the glamorous bastard you were born to be.”

This is a great idea.  One that I think could be expanded to create an entire cottage industry around supporting YouTube stars, Instagram influencers, and verified Twitter users.

What I’m imagining then is the creation of a company that would manage a user’s feed for them populating it with the kind of content that they would normally produce on their own.  With enough lead time to study a user’s account and their posting history an account babysitter may even be able to create content that mirrors a user’s exact style as well.  Take my own Twitter feed for example where I usually post a few different articles every day about the latest technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries.  If someone was to know which sources I frequent (Futurism, Wired, Fast Company, etc.) they could very easily just post interesting articles in my stead.  Worse-case scenario I could always just go in and delete anything I didn’t like after the fact.

In essence this concept isn’t any different from when an influencer gets to take over a brand’s feed for the day or when a celebrity gets to guest edit a popular magazine.  There’s nothing wrong or taboo about handing over the keys to your social media kingdom for a small period of time if that person you are trusting your prized possession to shares your same taste and sensibilities.  How many verified accounts are even 100% controlled by just one person anyway? Someone like Taylor Swift probably already pays an army of people to post content for her.

But at the same time there are some logistical issues to work out.  For instance, what happens if your account babysitter goes off the rails and posts something inappropriate, thereby derailing your career or ruining your personal relationships?  Or what happens if they use access to your account (and to your password) to gleam personal information from you that can be used against you further down the road.  There would obviously need to be safeguards in place to ensure the credibility and reliability of such a service.  But at the very least such a service should probably exist.  Because if it doesn’t and the stresses and demands of posting content continues on unimpeded then an entire generation is going to grow up in an ulcer inducing environment that wrecks their sense of self.  No amount of fame is worth that cost.  Having the ability to unplug is something that everyone needs to take advantage of on a regular basis.  Perhaps we should make it easier for people to do just that.

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Is a social media sitter the Greatest Idea Ever?

Just like Battlestar Galactica’s cybernetic Cylon Raiders that were made from both biological and inorganic matter we too may one day be able to create hybrids that are a mix of nanomaterials and microorganisms.  In fact, early research suggests that we may one day have bionic mushrooms capable of generating and storing energy.

As Futurism explains, “Researchers looking for new forms of renewable energy have long been interested in cyanobacteria, which are tiny microorganisms that naturally transform sunlight into electricity.

The problem has been keeping cyanobacteria alive long enough to do something with the electricity they produce — they tend to die quickly on artificial surfaces.

In the hunt for a better hosting surface for cyanobacteria, researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) landed on mushrooms — after all, they’re home to other types of microorganisms — plus 3Dprinted nanomaterials. The result: ‘bionic mushrooms.’”

Right now only minimal amounts of electricity can be captured so it’ll be interesting to see just how far this technology can be taken.  But what’s even more interesting are all of the other kinds of hybrids that we could one day have as we continue to experiment with a mix of technologies and materials.

For instance I was at CES a few years ago when I saw an interesting new invention that could make our lives easier.  Known as Kanopy it was a way to automatically water your plants at set intervals.  Making it so that you would never again have to see a beloved houseplant suffer on account of your neglect and forgetfulness. But watering plants is only half the battle.  A healthy plant also needs its fair share of sunlight.  Thankfully, MIT researchers have taken Kanopy’s approach to the next level.  Creating a cyborg plant capable of driving itself towards sunlight.

As Futurism reports, “researchers from the MIT Media Lab [have] unveiled Elowan, a hybrid between a plant and a robot. Thanks to a system of electrodes and a robotic base with wheels, Elowan can detect light sources — and then drive itself toward them, using the plant’s own electrochemical signals.”

This is a great use of modern technology and serves as a gentle reminder that humans aren’t the only ones who can benefit from technological advances.  Perhaps plants, animals, and the environment in general can as well.  Which begs the question: what other hybrids can we create?  How far can we go?  Considering that materials science is likely going to be one of the most pivotal scientific fields of the next century it’s likely that the sky’s the limited.  Perhaps the only limit we will encounter will be the boundary of our own imaginations.

Case in point: solar thermal fuel.

As Science Alert explains, “Scientists in Sweden have developed a specialized fluid, called a solar thermal fuel, that can store energy from the sun for well over a decade.

‘A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand,’ Jeffrey Grossman, an engineer [who] works with these materials at MIT explained to NBC News.”

So, how exactly does this incredible breakthrough work?!

According to Science Alert:

“This molecule is composed of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, and when it is hit by sunlight, it does something unusual: the bonds between its atoms are rearranged and it turns into an energized new version of itself, called an isomer.

Like prey caught in a trap, energy from the sun is thus captured between the isomer’s strong chemical bonds, and it stays there even when the molecule cools down to room temperature.”

All in all, it’s clear that whether we’re talking about Bionic Mushrooms, Cyborg Plants, or Solar Fuels that the future is going to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, filled with creations that aren’t found naturally that make our lives easier and better.  Welcome to the Information Age’s successor.  Welcome to the Materials Age.

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Is a bionic mushroom the Greatest Idea Ever?

Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week:

Alexa Grows Up

Thinking about getting someone an Echo speaker for the holidays?  Well, they may be in a for a treat as Alexa is suddenly gaining the ability to change how she speaks.  This may, for instance, give her the ability to read the latest headlines like a real newscaster by making use of various voice inflections.

As the Verge explains, “Amazon says the new speaking style is enabled by the company’s development of “neural text-to-speech” technology or NTTS. This is the next generation of speech synthesis, that use machine learning to generate expressive voices more quickly. Currently, Alexa uses concatenative speech synthesis, a method that’s been around for decades. This involves breaking up speech samples into distinct sounds (known as phonemes) and then stitching them back together to form new words and sentences.”

It’ll be interesting to continue to track Alexa going forward to see what other new tricks she picks up along the way.

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Flammable Ice

The future of energy consumption continues to get more and more interesting.  Just days after writing about energy being harvested from rippling sheets of graphene we now have yet another potential source of energy on our hands in the form of flammable ice.

According to BGR, “As noted by the BBC, the government in Japan is currently exploring the feasibility of using flammable ice as a common energy source. As the name alludes to, flammable ice is essentially a deposit of methane and frozen water. At a quick glance, the substance certainly looks like ice, but because of its chemical make-up, it will catch on fire if you take a match to it.”

Considering all of the methane deposits that we have hidden underneath the Earth’s surface flammable ice could very well become a viable energy source in the near future.

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AI Computer Chips

A new AI infused computer chip plugs directly into your existing computer via a USB plug in.

As CNET puts it, “It’s not the kind of thing most of us need, but it’s good for prototype creators who want to see what the brainlike neural network technology can do with a hardware boost. AI is good for tasks like speech recognition, photography and spam filtering, but Intel’s Movidius chips are geared specifically for processing visual information.

AI chips are a hot area in Silicon Valley, with companies like Apple and Google working on projects to speed up devices. AI not only opens up new abilities for computers, it also helps compensate for the faltering speed improvements from many general-purpose processors.”

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The Faucet of the Future

The days of guessing what your water temperature is are now numbered.

As BGR puts it, “Sometimes the simplest little gadgets can be so cool, and that’s exactly the case with the DLAND RC-F03 Colorful LED Water Faucet Attachment. This little device screws into any standard tap in your sink and water flows through it normally. But here’s the cool part: it has different color LEDs inside that automatically turn on when water flows through it! Red means hot, blue means cold, and green means just right.”

Perhaps this technology could one day extend to shower heads and bath tubs as well.

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The Halo Shirt

A new shirt design could help limit serious brain injuries in athletes by changing its shape in real-time.

According to Inc., “Halo’s collar, made from a ‘smart’ polymer, is soft but instantly stiffens when met with an accelerating force. That should help immobilize the neck when an athlete is hit in the head–in theory, limiting brain jostling, and helping to prevent whiplash, too.”

Such technology could be a real game-changer for athletes in contact sports like football and hockey.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?