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Archive for June, 2017

Thanks to Elon Musk’s proposed high speed travel concept, the Hyperloop, it may one day be possible to work in Los Angeles and live in San Francisco.  And now, thanks to a new hotel concept, it may be possible to take the idea of multi-city living one step further to include multi-city vacationing.

As the Points Guy puts it, “A new concept hotel would allow guests to travel between 13 properties throughout the United States in a matter of hours — without ever leaving their room. Brandon Siebrecht, a student at the University of Nevada, drew up the winning concept for the 2017 Radical Innovation Award, which encourages participants to come up with disruptive ideas that cater to the hospitality industry.  The idea? Rather than hopping on a train or sitting in basic economy, the futuristic ‘Hyperloop Hotel’ would link modular hotel rooms in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Nashville, Austin, Chicago, Santa Fe, Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle via the hyperloop transportation system.”

The rooms would be made from modified shipping containers and would contain a bedroom, bathroom, and living room.  In theory, your entire room would be transported along the Hyperloop network as you traversed from city to city, allowing you to dock at the corresponding hotel of your choice.

It’s a cool concept but I’m not sure if it would work out logistically.  If everyone in the network wanted to be in the same city at the same time wouldn’t they run into a situation where there was no room for a pod to dock?  Or would every location have enough space to accommodate every available at pod at all times?

Even if the Hyperloop Hotel doesn’t work out it’s clear that the Hyperloop itself is an inevitability at this point.  Something that could start to revolutionize the way we live, work, and travel as soon as 2020.

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Is the Hyperloop Hotel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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To some people the future will always be out of our reach; impossible to predict despite the best efforts of today’s leading futurists and science fiction authors.  To others, we’re already living in it.  There are plenty of examples that could be used to help support either argument but one idea happens to work as an example for both: synthetic biology.  On the one hand, we’re starting to scratch the surface of what is possible so you could argue that the technology has already arrived.  On the other hand, the science is so new to use that we probably can’t even imagine how it will play out.

One person who may have a good idea of what is possible though is maverick pioneer Craig Venter.  Already one of the world’s leading synthetic biologists, Venter has now, for the first time, invented a machine capable of turning his own wild science fiction fantasies into a reality.

The machine is known as a DBC, a Digital to Biological Converter, and it sounds like something straight out of Star Trek.  The machine, once further refined, and shrunken down to a more manageable size so as to be commercially viable, would be capable of completing some pretty mind blowing tasks.  A homeowner could have one to print out the medications that they need to take or to create a sudden vaccine during a disease outbreak.  An astronaut could use one to print out life on another planet, thereby eliminating the need to transport already existing people across the vastness of space.  The machine could even be used to terraform a planet or to send unique alien lifeforms back to Earth from another world.  The possibilities are truly endless.

The Singularity Hub explains how it works:

“While automated DNA printers have already hit the market, the DBC takes it one step further. The machine is capable of building proteins from the genetic code (printing biological hardware, so to speak), bringing it one step closer to building living cells from scratch.

At the heart of the system is Archetype, proprietary software that optimally breaks down the input DNA sequence into more manageable short sequences to synthesize in parallel. This massively increases efficiency and reduces sequencing errors that increase with longer DNA strands.

Once assembled, the machine scans the strands for any errors before ‘pasting’ the bits back into complete DNA assembles. From there, a series of robotic arms transfer the DNA from module to module, automatically adding reagents that turn the synthetic genes into functional proteins.”

Obviously there is still a lot more work that needs to be done before we start seeing DBC’s on every street corner.  And if the struggles of the 3-D printing industry have taught us anything it’s that printing on demand isn’t as widely a sought after convenience as one might have imagined.  But then again, having the ability to print out your own medicine and vaccines could change that.  As could its ability to help us colonize space.

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Is the DBC the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I can only imagine how incredible it must have been to be alive when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon.  My generation hasn’t had that one singular moment where the entire world stood together in awe and marveled at a feat of modern ingenuity.  But just because we’re no longer paying attention that doesn’t mean the innovation has stopped.  It’s just shifted, from NASA and government sponsorship, to Space X and the private sector.  And based on Space X’s progress of late, that’s a good thing.

That’s because this past week they successfully launched reusable rockets on successive days for the first time.  Overall this marks their 13th successful launch, their 8th at sea, and their 9th in a row.  But the biggest news of all, was not just that Space X completed two successful launches within 48 hours.  It’s how they did it.

As the Verge reported:

“Today’s Falcon 9 was a new one sporting larger, upgraded titanium hypersonic grid fins. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that these are made out of a single piece of cast and cut titanium, and that they can withstand the heat of reentry without shielding. After the launch, Musk tweeted: ‘New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service.’”

Musk is known for making bold statements but he’s also known for backing them up.  If he’s claiming that it’s now possible to have an indefinite number of flights with no service we’d have to take that statement at face value.  And if that’s true that’s a pretty remarkable feat of engineering, one that should drastically reduce the cost of flying to space even further.

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Is Space X’s reusable rocket the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,098 – Twitch

The other day I witnessed something truly remarkable: a grown man, okay, well more of a man-child, playing with Legos while struggling to stay awake for over 24 hours.  This incredible feat of will power was live streamed to my living room thanks to the creative genius of my friend Aaron Lassner and the live streaming service Twitch.

Twitch started out innocently enough, as a way to watch people play video games, which somehow turned into a multi-million dollar industry.  Now it’s owned by Amazon and is completely blowing up as a home broadcasting company, a genuine YouTube and Facebook Live competitor.  And as my friend’s weekend shenanigans proved, it’s got staying power.

It may not seem like it, but there’s something oddly fascinating about watching somebody else create something.  Maybe it’s just the voyeuristic appeal of watching someone do something or maybe there’s actual talent involved in making what you’re doing seem interesting.  But either way, there’s no denying that I was hooked as my friend sketched, created art, and thumbed through the instruction manual for assembling a Star Wars snow speeder all while listening to music, chatting with friends, and aimlessly talking to himself in a sleep deprived stupor.

Watching his multi-camera setup, complete with boom mic and disembodied finger pencil, I got the idea that I should create my own Twitch studio as well.  A way for me to connect with my fans, to interact with other futurists, while I thumb through old back issues of Popular Science or write a list of futuristic technologies that could exist in 2050.

Regardless of what I choose to present it’s clear that I should be presenting something.  Twitch in its present format feels like this generation’s version of Ham radios.  A still nascent technology that could be an entry point into something greater the way that people who grew up tinkering with Ham radios went on to become the first computer programmers.  Perhaps the first Twitch users will have a similar leg up on understanding the nuances of the communications network that’s going to replace the Internet.

If not, and it winds up just being a time-suck then that’s okay too.  There are a lot of people out there with something to say.  Twitch gives them a platform to say it on.  And that’s worth celebrating.  Even if all we ever use it for is watching man-childs play with Legos.

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Is Twitch the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Amazon’s been creating a lot of buzz lately.  First, came their acquisition of Whole Foods.  Then their announcement of Amazon Prime Wardrobe which would allow people to try on up to fifteen items at a time.  Now, comes talk of a new delivery method that could revolutionize their supply chain logistics and allow them to reach consumers even quicker than they do now, possibly even within minutes of an order being placed.  Going forward, it’s clear that whether we’re talking about food or clothing, Amazon’s going to have a big say in how these retail necessities are delivered.  And drone technology is going to have a big say in how they go about doing that.

So what is this mysterious new innovation that is going to revolutionize retail?

As Fast Company puts it, “Amazon’s fulfillment centers are gargantuan facilities. They’re sprawling, 1 million-square-foot buildings that make Super Walmarts look like tiny houses, which means they’re not exactly suitable for neighborhoods that are close to customers in dense urban areas. Since they’re so far from most of Amazon’s customers, these buildings pose a real logistical challenge for the company’s plans to deliver packages via autonomous drones with a short range.  But while 1 million square feet is a lot when it’s laid out in a single story, it’s only about a 30-story skyscraper. Which brings us to Amazon’s latest filed patent: A ‘multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned vehicles.’ That’s right, it’s a drone tower.”

The tower would be filled with open windows that drones could fly in and out of, dropping off packages, or picking them up.  Security measures would be put in place to ensure that only Amazon’s drones could enter.  Robots are likely to be found inside the tower as well, handling the loading and off loading of the drones.  In theory, this could be a completely autonomous building.

As crazy as a beehive for drones sounds it’s surprisingly not the only outlandish drone idea that Amazon is working on.

According to Recode, “While the beehive tower idea is certainly inventive, in the past year Amazon has shared a string of outlandish patent ideas for how the company might revolutionize the way it ships goods to customers and use drones.  Those ideas include a design for a floating warehouse parked 45,000 feet in the air for its drones to dock and collect packages to deliver to people on the ground below, as well as a pocket-sized voice-controlled drone that’s small enough to perch on someone’s shoulder.”

And I highly doubt that these are the only ideas that Amazon will come up with.  At their current pace of innovation and acquisition they are likely to come up with something even more outlandish than a drone beehive.  A true pie in the sky idea.  I guess you could say that things are looking up for Amazon.  Drone tower or not.

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Is Amazon’s drone beehive the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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In the book the Filter Bubble, author Eli Pariser described how we’ve undergone a subtle cultural shift as today’s tech giants like Facebook and Google shape the way we think.  It used to be that you got your news from the newspaper.  Reputable sources that went to great lengths to cover facts and reports the news as fairly as possible.  Now you get your news from Facebook, and thanks to a filter bubble that insulates you from opposing viewpoints, the news that you’re getting is likely to come from your friends or sources that you already find agreeable.  The same holds true for Google search results.  Depending on who you are and what Google already knows about you, the places you shop, the items you buy, the websites you visit, your search results, could be vastly different from your neighbors.

Pariser made the point, that whether the Filter Bubble was a by product of the system or a malicious undertaking by the tech companies, didn’t matter.  Since it’s now the reality that we live in, affecting society in a very real and tangible way, as the debate over the healthcare bill proves, it’s imperative that the tech companies behind the filter bubble step up and take some responsibility over their actions.  Self-editing themselves the way that newspaper used to by hiring ombudsmen.

Well, the other day Facebook took a step in that direction when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was changing its mission statement.  No longer would Facebook just be about connecting people throughout the world.  What would really matter going forward was meaningful connections.  Building communities not echo chambers.

In remarks at the Facebook Communities Summit Zuckerberg summed up the effort:

“For the last decade or so we’ve been focusing on making the world more open and connected. But I used to think that if we just give people a voice and help some people connect that that would make the world a whole lot better by itself…Look around and our society is still so divided. We have a responsibility to do more, not just to connect the world but to bring the world closer together.”

It’s a change that’s been a long time coming.  As the Verge puts it, “it was last year’s contentious US election — and the scary but real possibility that Facebook had a hand in influencing its outcome — that forced the company’s hand and pushed Zuckerberg to rethink what happens next, after the world is more open and connected than ever before. Facebook could no longer ignore the proliferation of fake news stories; the presence of bad actors, both independent and state-sponsored; and the ramifications of a live video platform that could be used to broadcast suicide and murder.”

So, how will Facebook execute its new mission statement?

According to the Verge:

“Facebook is now turning to its Groups feature as the next step in fostering positive community-building…Facebook will give group admins more direct access to metrics like growth and engagement, and allow them to more easily and efficiently filter through membership requests, schedule posts, and remove trollish or abusive users and all posts and comments from those users with a single action. Facebook also highlighted its idea of a quintessential and productive group with some examples like Lady Bikers of California, for female motorcycle riders to meet up in person, and an addiction support group started to offer support to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.”

Sounds to me like Facebook is turning into Meetup.com, encroaching on their territory by trying to facilitate the fostering of real-world communities.  But it also sounds to me like Facebook finally gets it. Finally realizes the negative impact that the filter bubble that they created has had on the world.  If they’re willing to finally take responsibility for their actions and become a force for social change and community building that’s a good thing.  Now we just have to hope that Google and all of the other companies that contribute to the filter bubble follow their lead.

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Is Facebook’s new mission the Greatest Idea Ever?

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For a while it was getting harder and harder for advertisers to reach consumers.  It used to be that you could run an advertisement in the newspaper and reach a ton of people but that stopped being the case when people stopped reading the newspaper.  The ability to record TV shows and fast forward through the commercials was a near fatal blow to the advertising industry as well.

So what happened next?  Marketers got smarter.  Figuring out ways to specifically target individual people with ads that follow them around the web.  Search for a new garden hose on Amazon and the next thing you know you’re seeing ads for garden hoses on Facebook.

But that’s just the start.  In the near future online marketing may become so sophisticated that website morphing, the ability of a webpage to change its look and feel depending on who is visiting, could become a real thing.  That’s right, in the future websites may eschew the standard, one size fits all approach to website design in favor of dynamic web pages that physically change their design on the fly.

This approach makes sense.  Research has already proven that certain people respond better to certain types of online advertising whether that’s a certain color, font, font size, or layout design.  If you’re running a shoe website and you know that I’m more likely to make a purchase when seeing advertising that’s written in Comic Sans instead of Times New Roman then why wouldn’t you pull out all the stops to make sure that I’m always seeing Comic Sans?  It may just be enough to get me to pull the trigger on that new pair of sandals that I’ve been eyeing.

Mighty morphing websites don’t have to be limited to advertising campaigns either.  This same approach could work to provide a general personalized approach to surfing the web.  If I like a certain font or layout design then I’d be more likely to visit websites that share that same design ethos.  Whether I’m shopping, reading articles, or participating in social media discussions doesn’t really matter.  Tailor your material to my personal design sensibilities and I’m more likely to stick around.

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Is a morphing website the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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