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Thursday Topsight, June 21, 2007

sun_erupts.jpgSummer Solstice: the longest day of the year!

• Imagine This: "Imagining the Internet" is a part of the Pew Internet Project, run out of Elon University in North Carolina. For the past several years, they've been asking experts and citizens alike to imagine the future evolution of the Internet. In May of 2006, the Project hit the Metaverse Roadmap event, and videotaped a couple dozen attendees waxing philosophical about the net's future. These video conversations, along with transcripts, are now available online.

You'll recognize some of the featured names:
zuck_iti.jpg Ethan Zuckerman, engle-iti.jpg Doug Englebart,

mike_iti.jpg Mike Liebhold, and cascio_iti.jpg me.

The interviews were done in a room away from the main session, and couldn't readily be overheard by other attendees. With that in mind, take note of how many people give essentially the same answer for the first question.

• Sticky Nano-Fingers: Geckos are able to perform amazing feats of adhesion due to the presence of nano-scale hairs and tips known as stetae and spatulae respectively. Geckos can hold onto glass, but their adhesion leaves no residue, can easily be lifted when desired, and actually get cleaner in use. Figuring out how to make nanomaterials with properties approaching the capabilities of Gecko feet would be both useful and important.

So how about something better than Gecko feet?

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers have developed artificial Gecko adhesive tape that's actually stronger than the real thing.

For the first time, the team has developed a prototype flexible patch that can stick and unstick repeatedly with properties better than the natural gecko foot. They fashioned their material into an adhesive tape that can be used on a wide variety of surfaces, including Teflon. [...] The material could have a number of applications, including feet for wall-climbing robots; a dry, reversible adhesive in electronic devices; and outer space, where most adhesives don’t work because of the vacuum.

One of the unmentioned possibilities is the use of Geckomimetic tape as a medical adhesive: able to tightly close wounds, but removable without leaving any residue or pulling up hairs. This stuff could do away with sutures entirely.

• CyberMothra: A Times of London article about robotics researchers implanting a control chip inside a moth pupa and controlling the adult form has gotten a bit of blog play, and for good reason: who can resist talking about cyborg moths, especially when they're being made for the military to use as surreptitious observers? The article is actually somewhat ambiguous about whether the project has been completed, is underway, or is simply being contemplated. It's worth noting that there's nothing at Rodney Brooks' site at MIT about the cyber-moth project; DARPA, the funding agency, is similarly -- and unsurprisingly -- mum on the subject, as well.

Whether cyber-moths currently exist or not is beside the point -- they're certainly within the realm of near-term possibility. And they raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Just how complex can the control get? How long until the same kind of technology is available for mammals, even humans? What does this do to the health of the cybernetic creature? Is this the real future of cyborgism?

My colleague at the Institute for the Future, Jessica Margolin, made this further observation: this is the kind of technology that demands that we get full Constitutional protections back in order, Guantanamo closed down, and a recognition of the inherent limits of government agencies to spy upon citizens. Just like decades of training practices have made US military officers allergic to the very idea of launching a military coup, we need to institute deep training of all intelligence and law enforcement personnel that makes them reluctant to the point of horror to engage in violations of citizen rights.

• The Answering Machine Footprint: Consider this possible, but as yet unverified. According to the Green LA Girl, The Green Book claims that eliminating the answering machine nationwide, and relying on phone company voice mail, would reduce the national carbon footprint an amount equivalent to removing 250,000 cars from the road. As I note in the comments there, given what I learned about cheeseburgers, I wouldn't be shocked if this was true -- but I also know just how easily these kinds of estimates can go horribly awry.

• The New Web: It turns out that there are Google hits for every ordinal number of "Web n.0" all the way up to Web 62.0. Prior to this post, the first ordinal number without a Google hit for "n.0" was "Web 63.0" -- now the next one in line is the first one without a Google hit (I'll leave it to one of you to grab it.)


It's not a bug. It's a feature!


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