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Quest for the Holy Grail

Witchfinder General (and frequent WorldChanging comment participant) "smerkin" let us know about the current edition of IEEE Spectrum, the house journal for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In it, scientists and science writers provide reports about developments in six different technological realms: Communications, Electric Power, Semiconducturs, Transportation, Computers, and Bioengineering. The Spectrum editors chose three reports for each category; one was deemed a "winner," one a "loser," and one a "grail" -- a development so significant that, if/when it comes about, our daily lives will be changed. (As the introductory essay notes, "loser" doesn't mean that the idea is bad, just that, for a variety of technical and social reasons, the editors deemed the idea to be unlikely to bear fruit in the near future, if ever.) All of the developments featured in these articles are in progress, and while some are further along than others, none of them are "blue sky" speculation.

The "winner" articles read like a week's worth of solid "Unlocking the Code" postings on WorldChanging. They include: "analysis engines" able to figure out the meaning of search terms (and, perhaps, provide a way out of the information overload we are now buried in); "smart hybrid" vehicles combining pure-electric motors with hybrid-electric internal combustion engines (making it possible to drive electric-only for short runs, but switching seamlessly to "normal" hybrid-electric for longer trips, with reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions more than twice that of a current-model Prius); and the Alberta Supernet, a model for extending high-speed broadband throughout public facilities and remote communities.

The "loser" articles range from projects with fatal flaws, such as Microsoft SPOT to good-but-insufficient responses to big problems, such as carbon sequestration.

The "grail" essays focus on projects with longer timelines, but massive payoffs. Digital long-term preservation of knowledge, self-sustaining fusion, and fiber to the home are each given some attention. These are ideas which may have significant flaws, but their potential is so vast if they are successful that investment (in time, in money, in knowledge) is more than warranted.

If you're interested in what may lie ahead technologically, this is a good place to start.

Comments (4)


hey just saw this other "holy grail" at z+blog! (what i consider to be worldchanging's sister site :)


"A 'Google for Lifeforms': Biological Taxonomy in the 21st Century -- Thanks to advances in genomics and taxonomy, the system of identifying and classifying species of living things is about to undergo a fundamental transformation that may remake the way we perceive and organize the living world around us."

gattaca! but for animals :D and plants too! well, and like life :D [ http://www.all-species.org/ ]

All-Species Foundation is very cool. Alex wrote a bit about it here:



yeah, but it's a "linnaean enterprise," which zolli argues "isn't up to the needs of modern biological science."

Probably true. But (as with many efforts) better than nothing.


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