Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

Image: Squidish, Flickr.

  1. An effort by ExxonMobil and Craig Ventner’s Synthetic Genomics to develop algae based biofuels is heading back to the drafting board. As a general rule, alternative biofuel technologies that look promising in the laboratory tend to fail when scaled up to industrially scaled fuel production.
  2. Researchers have developed a new one-step process for inserting multiple genes into bacteria. The process, dubbed “clonetegration,” could dramatically reduce the time and effort required to engineer genetically modified bacteria.
  3. A Chilean research team has created the first 3D printed object based on the thoughts of the user. The team linked a brain computer interface to as 3D printer, and the wearer was able to control the production of a simple object using thoughts picked up by the interface. This could lead to a more simple “think it, print it” version of 3D printing.
  4. A “bookless” library is set to open in a rural Texas county. The BiblioTech will have hundreds of e-readers to loan out, as well as screens on site for users to read on. The library is seen as a test in how to provide library services to communities, that can’t afford the cost of buying printed books.
  5. A futurist offers a positive long-term scenario for Africa, in which issues of infrastructure and agriculture have been overcome.

Image: GoXunuReviews, Flickr.

Amazon sent out a news release this morning announcing that sales of digital books for their Kindle digital book format/reader had eclipsed sales of printed books. All printed books, not just hardbacks. (That milestone was reached in July 2010.) This news about digital book sales edging printed sales is apparently a big deal as many of the people on my Twitter feed have sent around the link to the news release.

But what does it mean? There are those who decry the rise of the e-book, claiming it is the end of books. But this is not the case. It may be the winding down of printed books, but the healthy growth of e-book sales does not indicate books are going away. In fact, in the news release, Amazon states that 2011’s strong digital copy sales, along with growth in printed book sales, has “resulted in the fastest year-over-year growth rate for Amazon’s U.S. books business.” Clearly the book is not going away. Had there been mass communication tools 500 years ago, no doubt there would have been hue-and-cry over printed books edging out hand-copied versions. (“What are the monks to do?” “Is this the end of scribes?”) But books flourished because of the printing press, and they will continue to flourish as e-books.

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