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?

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.

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 https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

And please leave a comment, and tell someone else about this blog if you think they will find it interesting:)

Is there a global water shortage?


While on a trip last week I bought a copy of Futurist Magazine, which I accidetally left at the airport but that’s another story. Anyway, it had a number of articles about major drought issues which seem to be a result of climate change. It blew me away. Next I saw a new release book ‘Blue Covenant’ by Maude Barlow about water shortages around the world and it struck me that there is something serious going on and while we are worrying about oil and petrol prices, there may be something far more troublesome happening.

“Desalination plants will ring the world’s oceans, many of them run by nuclear power; corporate nanotechnology will clean up sewage water and sell it to private utilities who will sell it back to us at a huge profit; the rich will drink only bottled water found in the few remote parts of the world left or sucked from the clouds by machines, while the poor die in increasing numbers. This is not science fiction. This is where the world is headed unless we change course.”

— Maude Barlow

I live in Auckland, New Zealand and while I was away, there was a pretty major storm that blew over part of my fence and left my swimming pool overflowing. At the same time that this was happening, the lakes in the South Island which are used for generation of Hydro Electric Power are running close to critically low levels. The latest news is that they have risen to 58% of normal levels.

Many towns around New Zealand are facing potential drought conditions which has major significance for agriculture and these changes seem to be long term. I suspect that most people like me have been blissfully unaware of it. Sure I knew there were problems in Australia including rice crops being down by 90% and parts of Africa, but I had no idea how serious it is.

In China, there are water crises in many locations such as the Shandong Province where people are only allowed access to water for 7 hours a day, and people around Beijing will have limited access to water during the period of the Olympic Games to ensure that visitors do not go thirsty.

The Worldwide Fund For Nature WFF is not only concerned about lack of water for much of Europe and Great Britain, but also that dams and solutions designed to collect and manage water for some areas may harm water retention and the ecology for other areas. According to the UN “climate change means that creeping deserts may eventually drive 135 million people off their land.

The USA doesn’t get let off either. Sure America has endured many droughts over the centuries, but they were just rare events. Now in California there are battles over whether water should be used for the needs of the city or for crops and many farms are struggling for their survival.

While we have grown used to conflict in the Middle East over oil, could the future conflicts be focussed on something far more critical for human survival?

So what should we be doing about it? I don’t know, I guess the first thing is to take notice. You could invest in water companies to hedge your bets, you should be more aware of what is going on around you. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in solar desalination products and buy one for yourself. Whilst they may be designed for purifying salt water, you could use them on any water source. Several recent inventions look like a great device for areas where water is scarce or contaminated by chemicals, bug larvae etc.

With 97% of the planet’s water being salty, I hope this planet doesn’t become a case of ‘water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’ This is not science fiction folks, it is fact. My thoughts:

  • It will effect you in your lifetime.
  • Find out if the water from your roof is suitable for drinking, or at least your garden.
  • Invest in water collection for your garden and other uses.
  • Make sure your local council is investing in sustainable, good quality water for the future.
  • An investment in a water production/bottling company would make good business sense.
  • Places that are likely to suffer water shortages might not be the best places to live in the future, property values will reduce and eventually collapse.
  • Property values in areas such as West Auckland will increase in the long term, although some areas also risk sliding down the bank as the ground gets waterlogged.
  • Water ownership should stay in the public domain.
  • PPP (Public Private Partnership) companies will end up owning and controlling a lot of water production and supply around the world.

As a footnote, ancient pure water that has been under the ground for centuries must be a finite resource, just as are fossil fuels. Have you ever wondered what will happen to the planet when we have brought it all to the surface? Does the mass of the water help hold the superstructure of our planet together? We are sucking thousands of cubic kilometers of liquid out of the planet every year. Are there concequences we have yet to face along with global warming?

As I have pointed out before, our generation is one of major change. Science Fiction is becoming reality at a pace far greater than we expected and the authors are proving to have been prophetic. We haven’t seen any aliens that I’m aware of, but the dust bowls of Mad Max and the desserts of Dune could become reality on Earth, or at least of sorts. At the rate we are going our descendants could be wearing the stillsuits that Frank Herbert wrote about. I don’t think I’m being over the top here. I still feel grateful to live in this era of rapid change and exciting technology and to live in a country of relative peace, a friendly climate and low poverty, but I am starting to wonder what sort of a world my grand children will live in and asking whether they will pay in the future for the excesses of today.

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 https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)