Saturday Topsight, April 21, 2007
CardioBot: The Heartlander is an inch-long robot designed to crawl across the surface of a living, beating heart, in order to carry out various medical tasks. Inserting the Heartlander requires minimally-invasive surgery, potentially under local anesthetic (i.e., out-patient heart surgery!), as opposed to the current heart surgery paradigm, which relies on massive chest openings, lung deflation, and usually the stoppage of the heart. In pig tests, the Heartlander proved able to crawl across a living heart, delivering dye injections and inserting pacemaker leads at designated targets. Other potential uses include removing dead tissue and applying stem cell therapies.
It's not autonomous, and it's still fairly large, so science fiction musings about medical nanobots remain purely conjectural, but still: a crawling heart surgery robot!
Open Source Success: Charles Babcock, in Information Week, offers up a nine-point checklist for the characteristics of a successful open source project. I've seen most of these before, in different fora, but this is a handy summation, and perfect for use as a filter for non-software open source concepts.
A thriving community -- A handful of lead developers, a large body of contributors, and a substantial--or at least motivated--user group offering ideas. Disruptive goals -- Does something notably better than commercial code. Free isn't enough. A benevolent dictator -- Leader who can inspire and guide developers, asking the right questions and letting only the right code in. Transparency -- Decisions are made openly, with threads of discussion, active mailing list, and negative and positive comments aired. Civility -- Strong forums police against personal attacks or niggling issues, focus on big goals. Documentation -- What good's a project that can't be implemented by those outside its development? Employed developers -- The key developers need to work on it full time. A clear license -- Some are very business friendly, others clear as mud. Commercial support -- Companies need more than e-mail support from volunteers. Is there a solid company employing people you can call?
It wouldn't be hard to apply this list to non-software open source products, such as a potential open source nanotechnology scheme. The application to more abstract concepts, like IFTF favorite "The Open Economy," is less straightforward, and would likely require the rewriting of the final three elements. Say...
- Dedicated Participants -- Leading developers/creators/citizens need to be fully-engaged with the open endeavor, not just part-timers.
- Clear Connections -- The points of connection to systems and institutions outside of the open system should be transparently demarcated, so that all participants are aware of the implications of the interaction.
- Persistent Reliability Matters -- Reputations are built on successful relationships, not just successful one-off encounters; participants engaged with the open system need to be confident that there are reliable resources to help them with problems they might encounter.
A Killer Deal: Concept of the week: Assassination Markets, a prediction market wherein profits are made by knowing the date of a particular negative event, possibly (but not always) by being the entity that makes said negative event happen. The canonical example is a bet made on the date of the assassination of a given political figure by a person who then carries out that assassination as described; the possible real world example is the conjecture that a variety of short-sell orders on airline stocks made just before 9/11 originated from terrorist groups that knew of the upcoming attack.
A Singular Sensation: I was asked awhile ago, but now it's public: I'm on the speaker list for the upcoming Singularity Summit II, taking place in San Francisco in early September. The ostensible topic of the event is the emergence of powerful artificial intelligence, but I'm not sure yet what I'd like to talk about regarding that subject. Perhaps different scenarios of emergence; perhaps something about responsibility; perhaps something about AI as a cultural augmentation.