JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 160 : 2 August 2004

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Sensors everywhere, computers invisible

According to recent Gartner analysis, the digital information and services once delivered via conventional computers will, within the next decade or so, be available in everything, everywhere. Sensors will be embedded in every object, monitoring temperature, vibration, moisture, radiation and every conceivable object, including humans. Pervasive sensor networks will transform businesses and supply chains, and provide measurement & control in everyday life.

The amount of information, delivered by billions and even trillions of sensors, functioning as self-organizing and managed networks, will explode. Gartner calls this a "tera" architecture - a system capable of processing terabytes of data every second.

Managing a world with sensors scattered about like dust requires a new class of operating system that discovers new sensors as they come on line, and self-organizes the networks. TinyOS is one example, designed for tiny networked sensors running low power CPUs with a few kilobytes of RAM.

The tipping point for the intelligent networks will be the availability of smaller, cheaper sensors, as well as breakthrough networking technologies: ultrawideband and WiMax (802.16). Ultrawideband creates fast wireless connections that consumes a tiny fraction of the power of a cell phone. WiMax promises 70 megabps across a 30-mile range.

Gartner predict that by 2015, most computers will be invisible. Passive tags (like RFID) will be in every meaningful object. Everyone and everything will feed data into pervasive measurement & control systems.

Of course, the challenge will be in turning all that data into useful information. Plus, the serious privacy issues that accompany pervasive computing will need to be resolved.

Click In 2015 - sensors everywhere, computers invisible

Click Forbes - Sensors gone wild

Click The Pervasive Internet & its effect on industrial automation

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Nanotech manufacturing is coming

In his now famous/infamous article, "Why the future doesn't need us" Bill Joy worried the dangers of self-replicating nanotechnology.

Dr. Eric Drexler, author of the ground-breaking nanotechnology book "Engines of Creation" has co-authored an Institute of Physics paper: "Safe Exponential Manufacturing" which addresses the fear of out-of-control nano-replicators. The paper analyzes risks, concerns, progress, misperceptions, and safety guidelines for future molecular nanotechnology development.

The simpler, more efficient, and safer approach is to make nanoscale tools and put them together in factories only big enough to make what's needed. The focus for Drexler and his colleagues has been on desktop- scale manufacturing devices. This nano-factory is based on the convergent assembly architecture, where small parts are put together to form larger parts, starting with nanoscale blocks. The machines in this work like conveyor belts and assembly robots in a factory.

Molecular nanotechnology will introduce a clean, large-scale manufacturing capacity that will impact humanity on a global level. These systems will affect all areas of society including medicine, the environment, national security, space development, economics.

Eric Drexler has launched a new website. It includes tutorial material, new results, annotated bibliographies and links to external web resources.

Click Foresight Guidelines for Molecular Manufacturing

Click Visit Eric Drexler's new website

Click Read Eric Drexler's book "Engines of Creation":

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Reviews of the latest robot movies

People have always been intrigued with stories of synthetic beings - intelligent machines, robots. The little wooden doll Pinocchio and the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" longed to become human. David, the synthetic boy in movie Artificial Intelligence was programmed to love forever, and he couldn't get over it.

But the more intriguing story is when machines recognize human fallibility and begin to control, or turn hostile. Stanley Kubrick's "Space Odyssey" gave a HAL 9000 a soothing human voice. The computer helped until human imperfections became a problem. The Matrix" movies show an alternative universe where humans are enslaved by machines and are only used as a biological power source.

But these were machines that look like machines. Much more intriguing, and more dangerous, are robots that appear to be human. In the remake of the old sci-fi book and film "The Stepford Wives", robot wives never nag, and perform kitchen and bedroom chores with consistent enthusiasm.

The new movie "I Robot" is also about people living with intelligent machines. It broke Spiderman's record during its opening weekend.

"I Robot" plays with the possibilities of truly intelligent machines, and their potential to be friend or foe to humanity. It's based on Isaac Asimov's short stories from his book by that name. Asimov invented his famous "Three Laws of Robotics" as a simple, but immutable moral code for robots:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.
"I Robot" shows a major US city of the mid-21st century. People move about everywhere with robot servants, believing that they will never harm humans. The movie opens with a violation of the three laws - a man is murdered and a robot is suspected. A cynical human detective (played by Will Smith) is on the case. It raises the frightening possibility that synthetic humans could evolve into freethinking, independent-minded beings.

The special effects and computer graphics are awesome! My son Chris Pinto works in computer graphics at Escape (the Matrix people) where they just completed "Catwoman". He puts up with my incessant questioning about computers and graphic-generation software. Just when you think you've seen everything computer graphics can bring to the screen, "I, Robot" offers more - from the expressive emotions in Sonny (the robot hero), to an amazing sequence in which a robot horde attacks Smith in his fast-moving 2034 model Audi. It's all superb entertainment!

Asimov's 3 laws stem from early thinking that intelligence was something that could be programmed. Most AI developers now recognize that they are much too simplistic. Even if we are ever able to build robots with enough intelligence to comprehend Asimov's laws, it is very unlikely that they really will be implemented.

"The Stepford Wives" and "I, Robot" are both cautionary tales of the perils of replacing emotional humans with thinking, but unfeeling, machines.

Ray Kurzweil's book "The Age of Spiritual Machines" (weblink below) deals with this possibility which is getting ever closer. Until it happens (Ray Kurzweil estimates a couple of decades, and certainly within this century), people play with the possibilities through stories, which soon become movies.

With all these warnings of the danger of putting our trust in machines, we still persist. In daily life we have many examples of being let down by computers, or "immobile robots" as Asimov called them. Still, we still faith in machines, because we desire the order and leisure they offer us.

And so, real life steadily converges on futuristic fiction....

Click "I, Robot" tests Asimov's moral code for robots

Click Wired magazine - Rise of the Machines

Click Ray Kurzweil's book - "The age of spiritual machines":

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The neoconservative agenda

In the Iraqi war, more 1,000 US soldiers have been killed, plus an estimated 37,000 Iraqis. And it has cost America several hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Bush administration has finally admitted that the intelligence that sparked the war was flawed, though they still insist it was a good step. Surely, this war could not have been just to remove Saddam. So, what were the real reasons?

Many people think that President Bush has been a pawn for what is termed the "neo-conservative" agenda. But, few can really explain what that really means. Many "neocons" think it is too scary to be explained truthfully to the American people - that they wouldn't really "understand".

Really? Let me try. My summary is distilled from several links (see below) - read them for yourself. I'm trying to provide a fair and balanced view.

Strange as this may seem to many people, the neoconservative agenda advocates world domination, economic and military hegemony, the establishment of a new world order subservient to American interests.

The 2003 book "An End to Evil: What's Next in the War on Terrorism" is considered to be the latest neoconservative manifesto. The authors are David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush and Richard Perle, the former assistant secretary of defense.

The neoconservative agenda involves using Iraq as a platform for transformation of the troubled and dangerous Middle East. Neocons believe that success in Iraq would put countries like Iran and Syria on notice that challenges to American interests would invite swift and certain punishment. They advocate the use military power to police the globe and remake the world in America's image.

Several key policy advisors to President Bush served in the Nixon, Ford and Bush (Sr.) administrations, with a decades old cold-war view. With the election of GW Bush, the Neo-conservatives were returned to power. The best known are Dick Cheney as vice president, Donald Rumsfled as Secretary of Defense, and Paul Wolfowitz in the number two spot at the Pentagon.

The neoconservative plan advocates "preemptive" attacks. The US must be ready to invade any country which is considered a possible threat to its economic interests.

For neoconservatives, oil is a strategic resource which holds a key to military, economic, and political dominance. The neocons are determined to be pro-active about the "oil weapon". Iraq, with the second largest oil reserves in the world, is crucial to American interests. The alleged WMD, unproven ties to Al Qaeda, or importance to the war on terror, were largely convenient pretexts. The determination to invade and occupy Iraq was made even before September 11. It reflects a major shift in America's character and role in the world.

The neoconservatives agenda supports strong American support for Israel. They promote the view that Israel is America's strongest ally in the Middle East, and the sole Western-style democracy in the region. They argue that, to combat terrorism, the US should emulate Israel's tactics of unilateral pre-emptive attacks. They insist that the US, like Israel, can counter terrorism only by acting in its own national interests, regardless of international law.

So, is President Bush a neocon, or just a tool being used to further their agenda? While the President has never explicitly committed to being a neocon, many seem to think he fits the profile through his words and actions. After 9/11, his National Security Strategy sounds as if it could have come direct from the pages of "Commentary" magazine, the neocon bible.

Most people now recognize that the neocon strategy did not make America safer and more secure. Invading Iraq as part of the "war on terror" was a huge mistake. The Iraqi's did not welcome Americans with garlands, and the occupied country has become a new center of terrorism, an Al Qaeda recruitment catalyst, the fuel for new anti-American sentiments.

It will be a long time before America can repair the moral authority that has been sacrificed to the pursuit of raw power.

Click Wikipedia - Neoconservatism - (Good informative website)

Click The Neocon Con

Click The Neoconservative Plan for Global Dominance

Click The Neconservative "Commentary" magazine

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Editorial - the looming problems of electronic voting

The battle over new electronic voting technology is raging all over the country. With the presidential election only about 3 months away, this issue remains disturbingly unresolved.

Voting fraud has always been a problem, albeit relatively minor. Now electronic voting escalates the magnitude and scope of deliberate manipulation. Many voting precincts have already reported touch-screen voting fraud in recent elections. I have received feedback from several election judges in many states, reporting tampering with electronic vote counts. In many cases state and local officials simply drag their feet, pretending that nothing has happened.

Some states, worried about potential abuse with electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail, have banned their use this November. But many states have not. The officials in those states simply keep insisting that they have "every confidence" in election officials. Yet those same officials have a history of slipshod performance and errors.

More "mistakes" could bring more suspected results in the presidential election, just 90 days away . Without any means of counting paper "chads", there will be no way to audit the results. Then, will the Supreme Court intervene again? Many Americans, and most of the world, will believe the worst.

This is NOT a partisan issue. Think about what a tainted election would do to American democracy, and America's role in the world.

Click Get involved NOW - visit The Verified Voting Foundation

Click Electronic Voting Outcome: Too Close to Call

Click Voter fraud a real threat to democracy

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I had a lotttt of feedback on Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" - some from people who saw the movie and loved it. Others were put off by Moore's offbeat style. Most negative comments came from people who had NOT actually seen the movie, but merely read the right-wing reviews. I ignore those. Sharie Nelson [sharie.nelson@invensys.com] thinks that everyone should see Fahrenheit 9/11:
    "Deeply disturbing and thought-provoking, I believe the most powerful thing this documentary has accomplished is reinvigorating Americans' interest in, and discourse about, politics.

    "Hopefully this interest and discussion will progress to action. It has for me. For the first time in my 48 years, I contributed to a political campaign. I could do nothing else after experiencing Fahrenheit 9/11 and living through these past three and a half years.

    "I can no longer restrain myself from commenting when acquaintances merely mimic the views and positions promoted by this administration and the media as if they were the only accurate and patriotic viewpoints and policies.

    "I believe it is very patriotic to want your country to be the best it can be and that entails (as Michael Moore has done with his film) questioning and, if necessary, humiliating our elected officials when their policies have become so drastically contrary to the nation's best interest. Left unchecked (and mostly supported and unquestioned by our "mainstream" media) this administration has lead the country down a path that embarrasses, humiliates and angers me. Simultaneously they have alienated our friends throughout the world. In the very global environment in which we live these days, how can this country survive by standing alone? And then to further complicate matters, our president serves to further antagonize our attackers by saying "Bring it on!"?

    "The insanity of the past three and a half years must stop. Americans must stop it on November 2nd."

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Chuck Dowling [Chuck.Dowling@JohnHCarter.com] wonders how best to proceed with the development of alternatives energy sources:
    "Regarding diminishing oil reserves and growing world energy appetite (just wait till China and India get in high gear), I am all for alternate energy sources such as fuel cells, etc. I would love to see you open a discussion on how to best proceed, whether it is government funded R&D, private sector incentives, whatever, to motivate people to pursue such technology.

    "In my opinion, we are in Iraq because of our energy insecurity here in the US. We went to Kuwait in Gulf War I to defend some of the world's largest oil reserves. Notice we don't invade sub-Saharan Africa where there are civil wars and possible genocide - they don't have oil, or enough to matter.

    "I think US energy independence is necessary for peace and prosperity at home and abroad. I hope I don't sound crass or cold, just my opinion."

Click For good information on various alternative energy topics
visit the AmericanEnergyIndendence website

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Larry Lawver [ScienceOfficer@compuserve.com] provides a Floridian's view of the 2000 presidential election:
    "I actually live in Florida and had to live through the craziness of Election 2000. It cost us a lot of money and ridicule, and most of what people remember is wrong and getting wronger. I didn't care about the Supreme Court outcome, then or now, so I think I provide unbiased observation...

    "The 2000 presidential race in Florida was astoundingly close. Some say the measurement accuracy needed was impossible given the measurement instruments available. Every one of our 67 counties was independently responsible for reporting its count. On Election Day, Bush won by a few hundred votes. A recount was appropriate and called for. There were procedures for this, but no experience.

    "As the recount dragged on, with every county dealing with unique issues, Secretary of State Katherine Harris made it clear to the county Supervisors of Elections that they were duty bound to meet their deadlines. Suddenly, the Florida Supreme Court, packed with Democrats put there by former Governor Lawton Chiles, stepped forward and took control. They took it upon themselves to allow continued Gore vote mining in Democratic counties while freezing the results from the rest of Florida.

    "The Supreme Court of the United States simply told the Florida Supreme Court that they couldn't pick and choose which counties got to continue manufacturing votes for their candidate. If the Florida Supreme Court had required all counties to take whatever time they needed to follow the instructions from the Department of Elections, there would not have been a case before the US Supreme Court. The actual history is that the Supreme Court of the United States told the Supreme Court of Florida that they had to ply uniform standards under the rules that prevailed on Election Day. As the Justice Breyer dissent details, they had that option, but failed to pursue it in their zeal to elect Gore.

    "Meanwhile, back here in Florida, every recount showed the election going narrowly to Bush. Trial lawyers rose up to sue everything in sight.

    Here in Seminole County, a Democrat ambulance chaser sued our Supervisor of Elections, claiming that she showed favoritism toward her fellow Republicans. That case lost decisively at trial, but we taxpayers had to cover the half-million dollars it took to defend the case. Similar stories played out across Florida.

    "We have a government of laws, not of men, and the laws in place on Election Day 2000 had Bush winning that day, and after the recounts, and in the Electoral College, and in every recount by every news organization since. Bush was not selected by the Supreme Court, he was elected under the laws of the US as they existed in 2000. If you want different rules, work to change them. That's what I do."

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