JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 67 : November 6, 2001

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

  • Anti-terrorist technology - 7
    • Distributed vs. central technologies
  • Virtual visiting for the holidays
  • Trans-Atlantic remote surgery
  • The century of soft things
  • Talking to your PDA
  • eFeedback:
    • Stupidity of a Hierarchy
    • Rise of the Heterarchy
    • Sept. '01 ISA show Houston

Anti-terrorist technology - 7

Distributed vs. Centralized technologies

Ray Kurzweil, technology futurist, talked recently with the NY Times on the technological implications of the 9/11 disasters. His comments are summarized here.

The attack of 9/11 will accelerate a trend away from centralized technologies to distributed ones, and from the real world to the virtual world.

Centralized technologies involve an aggregation of resources such as people (e.g., cities, buildings), energy (nuclear power plants, liquid natural gas, oil tankers, energy pipelines), transportation (airplanes, trains), and other resources. Centralized technologies are subject to disruption and disaster. They also tend to be inefficient, wasteful, and harmful to the environment.

Distributed technologies tend to be flexible, efficient, and relatively benign in their environment effects. The quintessential distributed technology is the Internet. Despite concerns about viruses (information-based nuisances) the Internet is essentially indestructible. If any hub or channel goes down, the information simply routes around it. The Internet is remarkably resilient, a quality that continues to grow with its continued exponential growth.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 crisis, we are already seeing a dramatic movement away from physical meetings and conferences to web-based meetings, videoconferencing and other examples of virtual "meetings". This is obviously safer and ultimately more convenient. Bandwidth will continue to expand exponentially, to improve the resolution and sense of realism in the virtual world. New innovations will quickly overcome current limitations.

Many of today's energy technologies represent vulnerabilities far more grave than what we have just witnessed. We will soon move away from the extremely concentrated energy installations we now depend on. For example, microscopic MEMS-based fuel cell batteries with energy to size ratio far exceeding conventional technology will become more common. Ultimately this type of technology could power everything from cell phones to cars and homes. This type of technology would not be subject to disaster or disruption.

As these technologies develop, our need for aggregating people in large buildings and cities will diminish and people will spread out, living where they want and gathering together in virtual reality. This is a positive trend that will ultimately enhance the quality of life.

Click Ray Kurzweil's dialog with NY Times:

Virtual visiting for the holidays

The holiday season is just around the corner. But, recent events make the coming holidays totally different. Somehow, the usual holiday spirit seems frivolous and un-necessary. We struggle bravely to defeat the very fear terrorists hope to instill in a free society. But, uneasiness still lurks and cannot simply be turned off.

In the past, friends and family traveled from afar to share the holiday spirit. But, this year, with the terrorist scare and all, one wonders how many people will be traveling by air to participate in a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. There'd be the worry of their flying to arrive, and the equal anxiety about them returning home again safely after the holiday. Is the turkey dinner worth the risk?

In my view, inexpensive air travel is no longer an incentive. Friends and family won't fly from afar to fiddle around frivolously. Soon, traditional holiday get-togethers will become virtual visits. Big-screen TVs will be placed right next to the dinner table for all the loved ones to sit down together at the same virtual dinner to eat, drink and be merry. The settings will be virtually the same though the ambience will adapt.

Click See my recent article - Virtual visiting for the holidays:

Technology isn't changing only our societies - it is fundamentally changing us. The webzine Spark-online explores "electronic consciousness" - the new world of high technology and a new understanding of self. Spark-online is at the vanguard of recognizing, and attempting to understand this change. Read my Virtual Visiting article in the latest issue, plus several other interesting and challenging ideas and topic.

Click Visit Spark-online

Trans-Altantic remote surgery

So, to avoid un-necessary travel, video conferencing will soon be commonplace. But, how about having to travel somewhere far away to see medical specialists? Or, having them travel?

Just recently (September '01) surgeons in New York performed a 45-minute gallbladder operation on a 68-year-old woman in Strasbourg, France using high-speed telecommunications and sophisticated surgical robotics. The "telesurgery" was done by remote control, sending high-speed signals to robotic surgical tools.

This is the first complete surgery done with a robot controlled by doctors thousands of miles away. Previously, doctors at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore had done part of a kidney operation on a patient in Rome.

Robotic surgery holds the promise of letting doctors operate remotely, on soldiers on battlefields or even astronauts in space. It means that patients will eventually have access to top surgeons without having to travel.

Click NY Times: Remote Gallbladder operation spans 3,800 miles

Click Computer Motion Inc - the leader in medical robotics

Click High-speed telecom services make trans-Atlantic surgery possible

The century of soft things

In a recent Seattle meeting which covered new century topics such as "surviving recession & downsizing" and "where new ideas come from", Walt Boyes [wboyes@ix.netcom.com] of Marketing Practice Consultants came up with this motivating and thoughtful comment :
    "The 20th century was the century of technology. The 21st century will be the century of soft things: personal responsibility, the responsibility of an individual to a group, and the responsibility of a group to an individual. We are the corporation. We have met the economy, and it is us."
Walt's insightful comment has set me off on a whole new path of thinking! Several things have gone awry as the past century faded into history; this new century is beset by an array of seemingly insoluble problems:
  • Capitalism is still the best way to make money, but does not generate value beyond self enrichment for a few.
  • Corporations crumble easily under even short-term stress - layoffs and golden-handshakes can occur simultaneously.
  • Technology is accelerating, but is widening the gap between haves and have-nots and further fragmenting a divided world.
  • Science-based society is highly vulnerable to destruction by high-concept-low-tech terrorism with opposing values.
  • The global village exacerbates and amplifies the gap; vast populations view our pornography and excesses while they subsist.
  • We espouse democracy - but, if the world was truly democratic (beyond artificial boundaries) things would be very different.
Each of these problems have no conventional solutions within our present societal paradigms. These are "hard" problems, which cannot be tackled by "hard" solutions. The tragic events of 9/11 signal the need for new thinking. Capitalism cannot succeed through ME-ism; hierarchical organizations must inevitably splinter; technology cannot continue to expand the digital divide; terrorism cannot be defeated by focused firepower; democracy cannot simply mean agreement by a privileged few.

During the course of the next few weeks/months, I will be working on this new theme: "Soft Solutions for Hard Problems". Your inputs, ideas, feedback, commentary, suggestions and encouragement will be much appreciated!

Click RedHerring (Oct.15 '01) Market Values - The Virtue of Capitalism

Click Walt Boyes' Seattle discussion on FastCompany website

Talking with your PDA

Soon people will be having conversations with their laptops and palm-tops. Processing and memory expansion, plus advances in speech recognition make systems small enough to reside on hand-held computers. Soon you will be able to simply ask your PDA for the time, and it will respond. You might ask, "How do you feel?" and the PDA will respond, "My battery power is low and I'll need charging in about a half-hour."

Five years ago, hand-held devices with speech interfaces were futuristic visions; soon they will be common. Many users are fed up with tapping on tiny keyboards and would prefer to talk to their devices instead, provided the input was reliable. Some people find small screens a strain and will prefer to have their hand-held computers read their notes aloud, particularly while they were driving.

But getting speech systems into small devices means overcoming size and power constraints. Until recently, hand-held computers were equipped with processors with only limited power to avoid draining the batteries too rapidly. Soon this will become practical.

Click Researchers Bring Voice Recognition to Palmtops

Click Voice Mate Organizer - Voice Recognition PDA


Regarding our discussion on Stupidity is more destructive than Malevolence! Jake Brodsky has previously pointed out that stupidity may simply be a lack of "bandwidth".

Don Carlson [carlsond88@hotmail.com] summarized succinctly:

    "Good managers need to have theoretical, practical & social IQ. They need "laser" focus mindset to solve complex problems, "floodlight" awareness to get the overview of the situation and warmth of the "fire" to inspire other. Sounds like entrepreneurial stuff."
Walt Boyes [wboyes@ix.netcom.com] suggests that this is a powerful argument for an entirely new business organization - a "heterarchy" (as opposed to the hierarchy of large organizations). He points out:
    "If each node is small, and in control of its activities in coordination with other nodes, the transformation of fertilizer to bullshit down the management chain is not likely to happen. Nodal organization works great for large entities (the World Wide Web); perhaps it is time to see if it works on other large entities."
Jim Pinto [Jimpinto@aol.com] (yes, there is another Jim Pinto and we are good friends) wrote about the September ISA show in Houston, TX.:
    "I have attended trade shows around the world for over 20 years. Even before the tragic events of 9/11, the atmosphere that surrounded the September ISA show was one of preconceived notions about how bad the show was going to be! This negative attitude spilled on to the show floor, bringing a total lack of enthusiasm. Some of this negativity is a direct result of all the mega mergers, buyouts etc. The major companies were loaded with corporate brass hanging out at the show like call girls working a hotel. They worried more about the show traffic than development of a show strategy.

    "There were several young sales people who have taken the place of the seasoned veterans who were displaced by the buyouts. When you asked one of the new arrivals: 'Could you give compelling reasons for buying your product?' they looked at you with a blank face!

    "ISA has too many seminars with changes of schedule; this is very confusing and it is almost impossible to plan your events in advance. I have spoken to many of the business people in the instrumentation and industrial automation companies and they say ISA is more dedicated to educating people that helping them producing bottom line results.

    "In today's challenging environment businesses continue to struggle to extract the expected value from their investments in these shows. The ISA is a great organization that is failing to see the changes in the business environment. By the time they have the next big ISA show there may not be 5 companies."

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