3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

Robots to learn human emotions


At the University of Hertfordshire they have been working on a model of children’s early attachment behavior for robots. Their goal is to apply nature and nurture with artificial intelligence so that robots can become caregivers for children in hospital.

“What the Hal?” I thought when I read about this in The Futurist. If you follow my blog, you will have read previous posts such as the one I wrote about Singularity. AI is obviously going to come, but the concept of nurture applied to a robot is something I struggle with, especially with children and even more so sick children who are in pain or stressed.

In principle the idea of a robot that can play games with children, have unlimited patience and intelligence, makes total sense and is a great idea. But when it comes to EQ, I’m not sure how it would interpret immature and potentially irrational behavior.

There have been a number of studies suggesting that children and even teenagers are often unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Many people argue that risk taking is a natural growth path in the development from children to adults. This makes me wonder what would happen if robots learn from children and interpret their behavior as normal. Imagine for example if a robot goes from learning paper, rock scissors, as in this video and then learns to pillow fight or throw objects, from the children.

I’m not being a Luddite, I love new technology, but I do have some concerns about singularity and whilst I would love a robot to vacuum, mow the lawns, cook and do other chores for me, I would prefer them without the emotional senses.

I’ll leave the last word to HAL 9000

Would you like HAL looking after your sick child?

Brain Controlled Prosthetics


As you do, conversation at the dinner table last night went to prosthetics. It started with her school planning assignments on innovation and her plan to get her class thinking about how people could cope without the use of their hands.

She mentioned the story of Mariatu Kamara who had both her hands hacked off in Sierra Leone, which is the subject of her book Bite of the Mango. She decided that she would get her kids to spend a day not being able to use their hands and then get them to think about how they could cope with this. The next step would be how to use innovation to come up with a solution to this problem.

I told her about the Kiwi company Rex Bionics who are helping people who are wheelchair bound and thought they would never walk again, to get on their feet with an exoskeleton. This is a topic I have covered on a number of occasions including my recent blog on Singularity.

Anyway, this is an area that is being well researched and just to prove that learning to control a prosthesis via the brain, check out this video where a University of Pittsburgh team trained a monkey to feed itself using a prosthetic arm controlled via a brain implant.

Now I do have to warn you not to try this at home folks. Implants produce scarring and scarring inhibits conductivity. Now of course the problem is how to produce this technology at a price that is affordable. Probably decades away, but pretty exciting, don’t you think?

Is Kiwi Ingenuity a Thing of the Past


OK, apologies for the blogfade. My father in law has gone to rest 3 months after being told he had 3 days to 2 weeks left after a second long battle with cancer. I’ve had lots of things I wanted to blog about, but haven’t had the time or state of mind. But I’m back with bells on.

Lots of things coming up, so please keep an eye out. What’s coming up?

I want to talk some more about health technology and ask why we aren’t using it in our hospitals to the degree that we should even though it can save time, money and most of all, lives.

I also want to explore in depth the Number 8 Fencing Wire way of life in New Zealand and whether it still exists. I want to explore why, when we have so many brilliant minds in New Zealand, it doesn’t result in increased GDP and why the little guy stays little.

I discussed this with a colleague a few days ago and he postulated that we are still celebrating Ernest Rutherford, the Hamilton Jet, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, AJ Hackett and Number 8 fencing wire and some guy who rode an Indian motorcycle faster than it was designed to go and that they are all in the past. He seemed to think we weren’t so smart any more.

So I asked him, what about the Rex, 3D Printing, the Martin Jet Pack or Mark Rocket’s Rocket? He hadn’t heard of any of those and I suspect very few Kiwi’s have.

I have long bemoaned that New Zealand doesn’t take advantage of a fairly unique mindset that makes up many Kiwis. There are so many opportunities, so many capable people, but we seem to be unable to capitalise on them. Yes there are grants, there are incubators, there are clusters, but most good ideas either go by the wayside or fly overseas where investors recognise an opportunity when they see one.

So I’m going to do some digging and some talking and maybe even have the opportunity to help a few people on the way. New Zealand has the potential to be an innovation and center of excellence capital of the world. Whether it is a gadget that stops the paint tin falling off a ladder or nanotechnology, we are great problem solvers.

More people, businesses and government need to recognize and harness our ability and we need to do it differently if we want to get a different result. Our smarts are everywhere but they are disorganized and rudderless. I say we wake up and smell the coffee.

Let’s go Kiwis! Come along for the ride. Don’t just listen, come and join the conversation. Have you got some good ideas? What’s holding you back?

On Human Singularity, IQ and EQ


Barton Kunstler wrote an enlightening article in The Futurist entitled The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario, where amongst other insightful information, he pondered the question of how technologically enhanced people in a workplace environment would interact with ‘normal individuals’. It gave me a number of EUREKA moments that I may or may not get into in this blog.

In the latest copy of IT Brief a publication of Action Media, the editorial by Clare Coulson talked about IQ and EQ and how they often don’t come together. This is very true, but there is a tension that Barton Kunstler picked up on wasn’t so much the problem for people with high IQ, but with their ‘peers’ acceptance or intimidation, intolerance by people who might feel threatened by their enhanced capabilities.

He postulated that management in a traditional environment, which evolved as an “efficient survival and social-enhancement mechanism. He suggested that human beings who  had enhanced mental, perceptual and physiological capability would totally disrupt the status quo.

My take from this was that the lack of EQ in the average manager would consider these people known as ESI’s or enhanced singular individuals as a threat, which from an instinctive perspective, in the evolved human brain could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and the ‘superior’ position of today’s ‘Manager’, which could be in fact any person in an authority position.

This could be a fatal flaw and will be a major problem faced in all areas where people are bred or enhanced to have a higher intellect. This could be simply a greater ability to use their natural intelligence, or a connection to external intelligence such as a computer. I don’t want to go into the feasibility of this in this blog, because I have already covered this to some degree in my previous blog, Singularity and ESI’s, which talked about people who have lost limbs and can control prosthesis’ with their brains, which is already relatively common place.

So if we assume this is possible and perhaps already taking place in the labs at DARPA and other well financed institutions, then how can we deal with this problem? The first aspect of this is defining the problem. Is the problem that people with high IQ’s, don’t have high EQ, or is it that the people who don’t have a high IQ don’t have high EQ either?

A progressive manager in today’s world, will employ best of breed staff on the basis that the better the people in his employ, the more successful the business will be and the more that will reflect on him or her. The traditional manager will not want people smarter than they are and will feel threatened by them. I believe the latter is more prevalent, certainly from my personal experience.

An argument that many people put forward is that people with high IQ’s don’t have high EQ (required for rational human type problem solving). In some cases that is true. There are many case studies of people who were encouraged at an early age to study hard, be it music, maths, linguistics, what they studied doesn’t really matter, it was their inherent ability to study and I suspect that those people would have been good at what ever discipline they chose. So we see students going to university at the age of 13 or 14.

Many of these kids have degrees before their age group peers finish high school. In many cases they are poorly tolerated by their fellow university students, who can’t relate to them and drift into a lonely life. The relating makes sense, the social life of an average aged university student is very different to a pubescent teenager. They are barely emotionally compatible and some parents do their best to ensure that young gifted children in this situation still get to play sport and enjoy their childhood, which in some cases is very successful, but those children often find that they are intellectually so far ahead of the others, that they find the chatter childish and can no longer relate, so they are left in limbo.

Most public education systems lack support for gifted children and a common thread is that gifted children suffer from asynchronous development and that they need to stay within their own age group in order to develop social behaviors, physical coordination and dexterity and emotional maturity. They may lift them a level above their age group, but little more is done for them. Many gifted children are home schooled where they come from parents who were also intellectually gifted and learned from the lack of support they grew up with.

A serious problem I see for the future is intolerance of gifted people, or holding them back, limiting their independence and controlling what they can and can’t do.

For example, in the military, they are looking at developing combat personnel with extreme strength, fast reactions and reasoning. But what traditional military leader who has worked their way up the ranks is going to accept a junior ESI telling them what to do? This is highly unlikely and will cause all sorts of stress.

I can see more success in the fields of science, but if and when ESI’s are developed, however that takes place, there is going to be a serious ‘Us and Them’ situation taking place and this will lead to workforce and community problems between the enhanced humans and as Kunstler calls them, the ‘Norms’.

Living in New Zealand, we have an endemic Tall Poppy Syndrome attitude towards people who appear to be brighter than others, or more likely to over achieve. It is interesting that Wikipedia singles out the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being countries that particularly single out overachievers, unless it is in the area of sport.

Kiwis will celebrate intelligence after the event, but often it takes a little help along the way. Ernest Rutherford was credited with having a gifted teacher, who helped him on his way to splitting the atom.

Other Kiwi children with high intelligence have had different experiences. For example a child who was exhaustively tested for 2 weeks by the Psychology Department of Auckland University and told he had an IQ of in excess of 165, was frequently bullied by a teacher who was incensed with being corrected by a child of 11. According to one web site, Einstein’s IQ was 160 as was Bill Gates. Charles Darwin apparently ranked 165. This student, as a result of school zoning was sent to a school with a brilliant history of rugby success, but a very poor academic record and certainly no support for a child who was reading and understanding Kafka and cosmic string theory.

Another common experience in New Zealand colleges is where children have been  threatened by their lesser performing peers that they will be beaten up if their exam results are significantly higher. In many Kiwi schools, getting on the 1st 15 in rugby is a far more highly praised achievement, yet those with intellectual prowess could well be the ones to combine Kiwi ingenuity with intelligence to build the country up as a knowledge society.

I want to ponder this some more, because ESI’s are being ‘created’ as I write this and the problem is, as Kunstler identified: How can ESI’s and Norms coexist? It doesn’t take a super brain to known that human’s are damaging our planet. Humans are a wonder of nature and their ascendancy to governing and damaging the planet is perhaps a result of their poor EQ. Logic might suggest that humans are bad for the longevity of life on earth. An ESI might decide that the best way to deal with this situation is to control the norms or eliminate them.

Note to self, read Vernor Vinge and see what he has to say, because the common thread that comes to me so often is Science Fiction becoming reality.

Perhaps what we need is another disruption to deal with the disruption. In effect take away the threat of human singularity, while embracing it’s ability to do good, rather than making better combat warriors.

The last word today goes to the many New Zealand Members of Parliament who abused their privileges and ministerial credit cards in droves. It appears that they have been rorting the system for years, but over the last year, have been getting caught out on everything from $1,000 lunches to buying themselves things like a new set of golf clubs. Add that to listening to them on radio or watching them on Parliament TV, you would have to wonder if EQ is on their qualification set.

Singularity and ESI’s


I always thought of singularity as being when supercomputers end up being able to match human intelligence. One of the early science fiction films that influenced me in my youth was 2001 A Space Odyssey. I loved all of Arthur C Clarke’s books,but HAL 9000 was my first introduction to the concept of a computer that thinks, reasons and has emotions. I’ve often thought  that if a computer reached that level, it would consider humans to be animals to be eradicated as quickly as possible. The way we humans behave is often totally irrational and inappropriate, we are actively destroying our planet and instead of working together to fix it.

So I was somewhat surprised to read of research by organisations such as DARPA working on the concept of singularity as being a combination of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. I don’t know why I was surprised. First, the concept of Ubermensch probably goes way back before Nietzsche, perhaps even to da Vinci. Some people consider Nietzsche to be the inspiration for Hitler’s concept of the Aryan master-race.

Over the years we have seen many films such as The Terminator, TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and it is only logical that for many reasons, the military, NASA and others need to be able to modify humans to be more powerful. The military can use people who have super vision, night vision, extreme strength and resilience and of course if we are going to send people into space for long periods of time, wouldn’t it be easier if they were able to withstand low or no gravity for long periods of time, perhaps very high gravity, be able to thrive on different diets, different atmosphere etc. Just adding a little justification here.

One of the first areas that the concept of enhanced human beings is a result of the medical world finding ways to aide humans who have had injuries or other conditions, for example having lost an arm or a hand. It is now only mildly surprising to see people with a stump, manipulating a prosthetic hand and managing complex tasks.

The BeBionic Hand in the video above is due for release in June of this year and will make a huge difference to many people. Of course the military and those who can afford it, can add this type of enhancement technology to the able bodied. Imagine having an exoskeleton that would allow you to lift a 200 pound weight 500 times in a row. With millions of dollars of funding from DARPA, Sarcos, a recently purchased subsidiary of Raytheon has built the XOS Exoskeleton which can do that, it’s real technology, not something out of a Marvel comic or a SciFi movie. It’s very real.

They call this a Combat Robot, but imagine the other uses. For example imagine the uses of a suit like this for civil defence emergencies, after an earthquake, or rescuing people from a major motor accident. I’ve said it many times before: Science Fiction is becoming fact at a pace that is mind boggling.

I’ll finish for now with eyesight. Imagine being able to see and focus way beyond what humans can normally do. Did you know that Tiger Woods used to have -11 eyesight, which is about as short sighted as you can get. According to TLC Eye Centres, he wouldn’t have been able to see the ball without glasses until he had Lasik treatment. They say that he now has eyesight significantly better than the average person and that this contributed to his golfing success. According to a story on the Slate website, many athletes are being targeted by marketing offering them an advantage by enhancing their eyesight when there is nothing wrong with it. Last year I wrote about Tanya Vlach who was trying to get someone to provide her with a bionic eye. Checking out her blog, she hasn’t achieved her goal yet, but I suspect she will.

If you’d like to know more about enhanced humans and DARPA, I’ll leave the last word to Wired Magazine who have an excellent article (already 3 years old) about some of the amazing developments that have probably already been dramatically improved on and we haven’t even started on nanotechnology.

What the HAL?


I love the way Japan and Korea are developing robotics. I used to say that the Japanese were great engineers but not that great at innovating, I think that perhaps those thoughts should be banished to the dim past.

I’ve written a few blogs on robotics, such as about the plans in Korea to have a domestic robot in every household between 2015 and 2020, ironically I mentioned HAL9000 from 2001 A Space Oddysey in that blog.

The latest innovation greeting the media this week has been the new Japanese Robot suit from Cyberdine, also called HAL, but this one is a robotic prosthesis. HAL stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb and uses the faint nerve impulses when your brain tries to control weak or damaged limbs.

This technology has been under development for several years, but it looks like it is ready or the market, as demonstrated in this video taken recently in a Japanese hospital.

What seems remarkable to me is that this robot will soon be available for purchase in Japan for a little over US$4,000! This means that these devices will be accessible for less than the cost of an average surgery and could perhaps be of major assistance to people on waiting lists for hip replacement or other limb operations.

One of the great features is that the exosceleton, if I can call it that, supports its own weight, so isn’t an extra burden on the person wearing it. This offers people with disabilities an amazing opportunty to live and do ordinary, but also extraodinary things. For example during testing 2 years ago, Seiji Uchida, a quadraplegic was able was able to climb a mountain on the back of a climber using a HAL suit.

Of course this brings in the Six Million Dollar Man question. If this is what disabled people can do, what could able bodied people achieve with one of these?

Of course the military have been working on projects like these for a long time. DARPA have for several years been working on exoskeletons that can help people carry more weight, run faster and of course have much more strength when needed.

Other scenarios where these could be used would be in civil emergencies such as earthquake rescue, where immediate strength could speed the release of people trapped under rubble.

The immediate opportunity is to alleviate suffering of people with injuries or issues such as arthritis, but there are likely to be lots of people queuing up for the opportunity to become super people, or perhaps super heroes, or of course super criminals, but I don’t want to go there.

Day to day operations of emergency services could also benefit from this technology. In the hands of fire services, police, paramedics and others, this technology could be brilliant.

I want a domestic Robot


I’m not into singularity, I reckon if we built a robot that has the ability to think in similar ways to humans, they will see us as illogical and like HAL 9000, will consider that it knows better than us what is good for us. But the idea of robots that can take away some of the drudgery of domestic chores, makes a lot of sense. 

In previous blogs I’ve written about the stories we were told in Tomorrow’s Schools when I was a junior futurist, where technology would do all the work and leave us to worry about what to do with our leisure time. This of course didn’t happen, so now I find myself working no less than 50 hours a week and begruding having to spend a lot of my weekends doing chores around the house. 

So the concept of having a robot that vaccuums my house, mows the lawn, washes windows and genrally keeps my home looking spotless, makes a lot of sense. New Zealand isn’t one of those countries where professionals employ housekeepers, most of us have to fend for ourselves. I have many interests including walking, skiing, writing songs, going to concerts, playing poker etc. In my ideal world, there would be no house work, unless it was because it is what I really want to do, although I can’t imagine why, unless it was a green moment in my rock garden.

Korea has been looking at the area of robotics and particularly for domestic use, although defense and medicine are other major opportunities for them and I guess military and surgical robots combined with nanotechnology do offer hugely attractive revenue potential. Korea has been very innovative and when it comes to high tech electronics is right up there with the leaders.

A few years ago the Korean Government made a commitment to have a domestic robot in every home between 2015 and 2020. 

Domestic robots have now come under the term of Personal Robots. Personal robots have been conceived to do everything from bring you a beer, to teaching children to learn languages and help with their homework. There is even an Institute for Personal Robots in Education! 

MIT has a Personal Robots Group, which is exploring many aspects of technology and also human – robot interaction. As well as exploring the many technologies that are involved in developing this technology, they are focussing on what sort of things people would want them to be able to do and ensuring that they can adapt to new tasks, not considered in the initial design.

If you think that buying a domestic robot is over the top and frivolous, maybe security is a good opportunity for you. Imagine your robot, with wireless communications and the ability to transmit  what is going on anywhere in your home, controlled via your mobile. You could see if you left the stove on, whether Johnny is doing his homework, or check the house if the alarm goes off. If it went off because you left your cat inside, it could herd it towards the cat door. It wouldn’t get frustrated and impatient.

While this may all seem very futuristic, as I said at the beginning of this blog, Korea is planning for a domestic robot in every home within the next 9 years, Honda, who gave us Asimo (named after Isaac Asimov who invented the 3 Laws of Robotics) have now come up with a new version, which can be successfully controlled by human thought!  

 

The new Asimo from Honda

The new Asimo from Honda

Given that one of the biggest spends for robots is for military use, which I will explore in a future blog, and an expectation that singularity will happen in the next 20 years, I’ll leave the last word to Hal 9000:

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

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