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Strategic Insights in Accelerating Technological Change

1 February, 2005
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Name and Organizational Changes
Good news! The ISAC has become a foundation. We are in the process of putting together an initial endowment, and will have more to tell you about that exciting development in a coming newsletter.

As a result, we have changed our name from Institute for the Study of Accelerating Change to the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), a briefer title that still communicates our mission: improving collective understanding and management of accelerating technological change.

We have also renamed our e-newsletter from Tech Tidbits to Accelerating Times (or ATimes), as the latter more accurately represents our unique voice. This new ATimes takes the place of our annual multi-page, multidisciplinary newsletter of the same name.

New AC2005 Date: September 16-18, 2005
We have shifted the date for Accelerating Change 2005: Intelligence Amplification and Artificial Intelligence, to September 16-18. This end-of-summer date will allow us to secure classrooms on the Stanford campus for our optional Thursday and Friday tutorials, September 15-16. Hope you can join us!

Science, Technology, and the Matrix
If you have $60 to spring for the new Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD set, one of the nice features is the "Roots of the Matrix" disc, with two freewheeling 60-minute documentaries discussing philosophy (Return to Source: Philosophy and the Matrix) and science and technology futures (The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction). I am on the second, along with Cynthia Breazeal, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, Esther Dyson, George Gilder, Stephen Johnson, Kevin Kelly, Cristof Koch, Ray Kurzweil, Karl Sims, Bruce Sterling, Sherry Turkle, Ken Wilber, and a number of other fascinating futurists, scientists, and systems thinkers, about 30 in all. These are worth watching if you are going to own your own copy of the Matrix movies, the most popular cultural meme for the rapid convergence of simulation and reality.

New AC2004 Audio

Shai Agassi, Board Member, SAP, has an excellent AC2004 talk on "Achieving Enterprise Agility," now available as a podcast (streaming or download) at our media partner, IT Conversations. A Panel Discussion on Challenges of Persistent Distributed IT with Dana Blankenhorn, Joachim Schaper, and Andreas Olligschlaeger is also new this month. Click and listen at your computer or download to your iPod Mini and get mobile enlightenment!

You can regularly check the free AC2004 audio archive at IT Conversations, or register for email notification of new postings.

Telling the Acceleration Story... in Five Spaces

ATimes covers world news and insight in five "spaces." We've chosen these five because the story of accelerating change, the most fascinating story of our time, appears to be a story of movement from outer, to human, to inner, to cyber, and perhaps ultimately, to hyper space. Each of these spaces deserves deeper understanding by those who seek a multidisciplinary perspective on the future:

Outer Space (science, environment, universal systems theory)
Human Space (bodies, behavior, minds, human systems theory)
Inner Space (energy, small tech, computer "bodies", inner systems theory)
Cyber Space (computer "behavior", computer "minds", cyber systems theory)
Hyper Space (hyperphysics (black holes, multiverse), hyper systems theory)

Each Tidbits showcases one to three interesting stories in each space. Stories that don't make the newsletter are posted to Accelaware, our new discussion forum (to be announced soon). If you have important stories to share with our 3,100 acceleration-aware readers, we'd love to hear from you.

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being." – Goethe
"Nature is clearly intent on making humans successful." – Buckminster Fuller

Outer Space
science (biology, chemistry, geology, physics, research), environment, universal systems theory (developmental physics, evolutionary development, hierarchical substrates)

Environmental Mapping
Boomerang: Acoustic Sniper Detection for Moving Vehicles
[Commentary by John Smart] BBN Technologies, one of the leading contract innovators for government and industry security and one of the original developers of the internet (ARPAnet) has developed a mobile system to localize sniper fire for vehicles in Iraq. BBN responded to a crash development request by Tony Tether of DARPA, delivering the first working model early last year in two months.

Called Boomerang, it consists of a seven microphone array that sits on top of Hummers (see picture left). By analyzing both shock and sound waves, the system can tell the soldier in seconds exactly where (direction, distance, elevation) a sniper shot came from. It is still software-based as it continues its trials; a hardware-based system would deliver this info in milliseconds. The early version was twice as large as the current one in the picture, and was occasionally confused by radio interference. The new one solves those problems, and is being deployed on hundreds of test vehicles. Expect these to get even smaller, better, cheaper, and faster in coming months.

BBN used genetic algorithms (the software approach pioneered by John Koza, an AC2003 speaker) to "evolve" the detection software, running the antenna design through thousands of iterations in simulation space until it came up with a robust solution that would work even on rapidly moving and bouncing vehicles. The Navy and Marines are developing a more controversial system (Gunslinger) that allows automatic return of fire in hostile environments.

Think about what this means for the long range future: a transparent, sensor-rich world where gunshots are instantly identified, the shooters are photographed, and in war zones, automatically targeted for return fire. The remaining years of human-led combat are numbered indeed.

SWORDS, Telepresence and the Future of Conflict
Armed/Weaponized Infantry Robots for Urban Warfare and Counterinsurgency Ops,, David Crane, 12.13.2004
[JS] SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconaissance Detection Systems) are examples of the remote controlled future of conflict. Built by military contractor Foster-Miller, SWORDS are 3 foot tall remotely piloted vehicles, with tank tracks, night vision, and automatic weapons that can be operated by solders in bunkers a few thousand feet away. The speed and precision of these systems is becoming amazing. In one recent test a SWORDS bot equipped with a precision fire system scored 70 out of 70 bulls-eyes on a nickel-sized target 300 yards away. As with other telepresent warfare systems, at least two people watching the system's video have to sign off on any use of force by the bot. Vision systems are one of the weak links at present. As long as computer vision remains lower resolution than human eyesight, the opportunity for error is multiplied.

The Army will deploy 18 SWORDS units to Iraq in Spring, a historic first in the nature of global combat. Imagine the day these systems have human-superior vision, can do nonlethal incapacitation at a distance (for example, using chemical shield in rubber projectiles) and can be teleoperated for miles, rather than a few thousand feet. They will become the first choice for defusing any hostile situation, military or civil.

Human Space
bodies (biology, health, neuroscience), behavior (business, education, foresight, governance, innovation, pre-digital technology, society), minds (psychology, spirituality), human systems theory (ecological psychology, memetics)

Standard and Poor's "Dividend Aristocrats" (Click on "S&P 500 Dividends" in Index Highlights box)
[JS] Want to put some of your savings in well-run, investor-oriented companies? 58 companies from S&P500's Large Cap Index have increased their dividends for 25 consecutive years. Another 27 from S&P's MidCap400 and SmallCap600 also make this cut. History is often a good indicator of future performance in this regard. What are current high end yields available in Large Caps? Companies like Consolidated Edison (utilities, symbol: ED) with 5.2%, and Altria (consumer staples, symbol: MO) with 4.8% top the list. This sure beats leaving your depreciating dollars sitting in that bank account!

Benefits Found in Long-Distance Psychotherapy,, 1.5.2005
[Commentary by Iveta Brigis] A number of recent scientific studies have shown that therapy can be just as, and in some cases, more effective when the therapist is not in the same room as the patient. The implications for telemedicine and virtual reality therapy are impressive.

The more effective teletherapy becomes, the more the access to mental health care will increase, and the more the cost for any fixed level of service will decrease, once a virtuous cycle is established for the first effective distance psychotherapy programs.

Inner Space
energy, small tech (nanoengineering, miniaturization), computer "bodies" (automation, computer hardware, nanotech, robotics), inner systems theory (acceleration, efficiency, miniaturization, reductionism)

The Tremendous Promise of Synthetic Biology
Life, Reinvented, Wired, Oliver Morton, Jan 2005
[JS] Synthetic biology (SB) may be the most important new innovation in nanotechnology most people have never heard of. It involves modifying or integrating well-characterized biological components (i.e. genes, promoters) into higher order genetic networks using mathematical modeling to direct the construction towards the desired end product. Circuit theory is a very important part of the subject, but in this case it's biological, not technological circuits that are being discovered, characterized, and manipulated.

MIT, Berkeley/LBNL, Duke, and Boston U all have small SB labs now, but the field remains an obscure and underfunded subject. This excellent Wired article discusses MIT's egalitarian approach. Drew Endy, working under computer science guru Tom Knight, has undergraduate students tinkering in the bio lab to create new cellular functionality in independent study projects. Functions like counters, toggles, oscillators, and other electro-mechanical behaviors are being built in living cells, and engineers model how the cell produces these features in computer simulations. The very forward-looking Gates Foundation has just given a huge boost to SB in December by awarding $42M to Berkeley and some Bay Area biotech groups for synthetic production of antimalarial drugs.

What are some of SB's long -term potentials? One obvious application is cheaper synthesis of new drugs, as in the Gates Foundation's initiative. Another is creating genetically modified bacteria that can efficiently manufacture methane or other fossil fuels. This latter speculative idea is championed by Steven Chu, Nobel laureate and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Yet another is the possibility of pulling greenhouse C02 out of the atmosphere and storing it in corals (as calcium carbonate) that are used as building materials.

Nanotechnology has long had dreams of a "molecular assembler." Synthetic biology has, in just the last few years, shown how we may turn those dreams into reality sooner than we think. But synthetic biology's greatest promise may be in its ability to usher in the first truly autonomous electronic computing systems, what we might call the "technocellular substrate," as we discuss in Hyper Space below. Thanks to Patrick Lincoln for the tip.

Alternative Energies are Looking Good Again,, Michael Kanellos, 7.12.2004
[JS] Very nice piece on advances in alternative energy. The U.S. imported 46% of its oil in 1990, and 57% in 2000. National Geographic estimates that global peak oil production will occur anywhere from 2016 to 2040. The energy market still dwarfs the computing market, so even in Silicon Valley venture capital is now flowing into alternative energy R&D. Thin film solar technologies (Konarka Technologies, Nanosys) look particularly good, as they will likely drop an order of magnitude in price in coming years (from $300 to $30 per square meter).

Cyber Space
computer "behavior" (co-evolution, automation, symbiosis), computer "minds" (computer software, simulation), cyber systems theory (holism, information, intelligence, interdependence, immunity)

IT Tools
Search Engines Make Big Strides
Yahoo, Google Expand Searches, Los Angeles Times, Chris Gaither, 1.25.2005 [registration required]
Amazon Decides to Become a Bricks-and-Mortar Booster, Los Angeles Times, Chris Gaither, 1.27.2004
Microsoft Joins Search Race, Los Angeles Times, Chris Gaither, 2.1.2005
[JS] Very exciting things are happening in search these days. Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and Microsoft have all launched major initiatives, and the Linguistic User Interface moves closer every day. Google Video has been recording thousands of hours of TV programming of a growing number of TV partners using Google's massively distributed storage system, archiving the close-captionng text. The system returns still images of the program associated with that phrase, and tells you when it will next be on, and perhaps eventually, how to order it on demand. Not only is this a new way to find and view TV programming, but such a user-driven interface may one day create niche markets for educational video of all types, made by small producers. Also check out Google Scholar, Google's new free search engine for online academic research, launched in Dec. Expect more free search tools for special constituencies (lawyers, doctors, etc.) down the road.

Amazon's search engine just introduced Block View for their Yellow Pages, a tool to drive people into brick-and-mortar businesses, and to increase business use of Amazon's online stores. They sent a fleet of GPS and camera equipped cars to ten cities so far (including Los Angeles and San Francisco) to snap 20 million street-level photographs. Now you can stroll down virtual streets using Block View, and post reviews and read recommendations on each store that you might want to patronize. As you'll see if you enter a street and city, the pictures don't always directly show you the business (especially if it is not close to the curb), but this is obviously just the first generation. In-Store Pickup is another nice advance. Beginning with Circuit City, you can pay online then drive to a local participating retailer and your order will be ready at the front for pickup when you arrive. This might be a hit with time-pressed shoppers. How long before we see drive-thru pickup windows?

Perhaps coolest of all is a button on each yellow page, Click-to-Call Business. Give your phone number once to, hit the button, and the software calls you and the business simultaneously! Read Rael Dornfest's article for more.

Automation at a Crossroads, Manufacturing Automation, Oct 2004
[JS] In a recent insightful cover story on the future of automation, Manufacturing Automation magazine interviewed five industry leaders, including Joel Orr and Jim Pinto, both futurist friends of the ASF.

As several of these experts point out, manufacturing automation has presently reached a plateau, as equipment is increasingly sophisticated, expensive, and difficult to service, and automation software is yielding declining returns. This reinforces a situation with fewer suppliers, more expensive service contracts, and less ability to upgrade or reconfigure a production line on the fly.

This seems like a recapitulation of the mainframe computing industry in the 1960's, just before it was revitalized by minicomputers in the 1970's, and then again by personal computers in the 1980's.

The experts talk about important advances we can expect in sensors, wireless, machine to machine communication, MEMS/nano, and other areas, but it seems to me that the next truly major revolution in industrial automation will have to be cheaper, smarter, safer, and more modular, "plug and play" components for the manufacturing line.

Significantly less expensive, smaller, and more rapidly reconfigurable modules, with ability to interoperate regardless of manufacturer, would massively grow the current market for manufacturing systems, making automated production more affordable to small businesses around the planet.

That we are still years away from this happening makes it clear how difficult this transition will be. Fortunately, as Bill Swanton of AMR Research notes:

"a trend to more modular manufacturing lines that can be deployed quickly, similar to what you see in packaging technology today. These lines will be more standardized across a corporation and will include built-in capabilities for performance management and process monitoring. The information capabilities of the automation will support higher-level software, such as EMI and MES more easily, and become more like commercial IT equipment following standard device-management and security protocols."

This is encouraging, as it suggests early signs of a coming "mini" revolution in automated manufacturing. That should pave the way for a "micro" revolution, truly small scale manufacturing, perhaps a decade or two later. Who will lead the next modular manufacturing revolution? Let us know your thoughts

Hyper Space
hyperphysics (black holes, multiverse, string theory, supersymmetry), hyper systems theory (computational limits, technological singularity hypothesis, developmental singularity hypothesis, emergence, phase transitions)

The Technological Singularity
Synthetic Biology and the Technocellular Substrate
[JS] As discussed in Inner Space above, synthetic biology looks very promising as a powerful platform for molecular manufacturing, or advanced nanotechnology. Yet perhaps the most important and underappreciated benefit of this new field may be its ability to help us develop a whole new kind of evolutionary developmental (evo-devo) computation, one capable of ushering in the first "artificial life" worthy of the term, the first computer systems capable of autonomously directing their own self-improvement on a continuing basis.

At the very least, synthetic biology's successes will lead to dramatic improvement in our molecular and cellular computational biology. Specifically, this means more predictive computer simulations of low-level biological systems, and better medicine and pharmaceuticals. But there are even bigger rewards possible. The better we understand the way cells and gene networks work as "digitally controlled analog" devices, the sooner we'll be able to build deeply biologically-inspired computers that can both evolve and develop over time. These will be computers capable of healing themselves and of perennially increasing their own adaptive complexity in the proper environments.

When the first truly autonomous biology-inspired systems and evolutionary developmental environments are implemented in fast silicon rather than slow wetware, what I call the "technocellular substrate" will emerge. Agents in computer networks will have the achieved the level of autonomy and sophistication of living cells, and an ability to recapitulate the kind of evolutionary development that created us. Yet they will be able to do this on a multimillionfold faster timescale in the new, more STEM-efficient electronic simulation environment. What took millions of years for genetic evolutionary development may take only years, or less, for "technetic" systems. If it took us 500 million years to go from complex cells to talking hominids, it may take only fifty years, or less, to go from complex autonomous technocells to human-surpassing AI and the technological singularity. How soon before the first technocells emerge? Inquiring minds want to know!

For more on the promise and current shortcomings of artificial life, see any of the publications edited by Mark Bedau, Editor-in-Chief of the MIT Press journal Artificial Life. In particular, Collective Intelligence of the Artificial Life Commmunity, on its own Successes, Failures, and Future, Spring 2003, is a recent helpful overview of the field.

We all deserve a little fun every day. Send your entries for the next ATimes!

Future Man (Vogue, 1939)
"Man of the next century will revolt against shaving and wear a beautiful beard ... his hat will be an antenna ... his socks - disposable. His suit minus tie, collar, buttons."
[Future Fashion by Gilbert Rohde (1894-1944), designer.
Anton Bruehl photograph for Vogue, February 1939.]

Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted thirty years ago that people would be wearing lots of recyclable paper unisuits by now. These do exist for industrial use, but they haven't yet made it to Vogue. If anything, most of our clothing has trended in Future Man's direction, becoming more computerized, flashier, and more personally unique. Thanks to Marlon Rojas.

Funny Tech Forecasts
"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." -- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

See Aaron's Collection for a few more humorously bad tech forecasts.

Call for Submissions
ASF is seeking submissions for our Accelerating Times (AT) web-based publication. AT is a "free and priceless" monthly to bimonthly newsletter covering scientific, technological, business, and social dialogs in accelerating change. Anyone may submit reader feedback, scan hits, article links, original papers, questions, and artwork to mail(at) Accepted work will appear, fully credited, in future issues.


Name and Org Changes

New AC2005 Date

Science, Technology, and the Matrix

New AC2004 Audio

Telling the Acceleration Story... in Five Spaces



Boomerang: Acoustic Sniper Detection for Moving Vehicles

SWORDS, Telepresence and the Future of Conflict

Standard and Poor's "Dividend Aristocrats"

Benefits Found in Long-Distance Psychotherapy

The Tremendous Promise of Synthetic Biology

Alternative Energies are Looking Good Again

Search Engines Make Big Strides

Automation at a Crossroads

Synthetic Biology and the Technocellular Substrate



Gold Sponsor

Thanks to DFJ for early sponsorship of AC2005!


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February 14-17
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