Image: Squidish, Flickr.

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

A new Pew poll finds that Americans are skeptical of extending the lifespan through artificial means — though it is unclear if they were being asked about extension of a healthy lifespan.

IBM unveils today a new computer architecture designed to work more like the human brain.

Researchers at a technology institute in South Korea have constructed a seven and a half mile prototype of a roadway that can wirelessly charge moving electric vehicles.

The Washington Post reports that social media are giving the Chinese government new ways to understand what Chinese are thinking about issues.

According to research firm Gartner, smartphone sales have now topped feature phone sales globally. Gartner states that in Q2 2013, smartphones were 51.8% of all mobiles sold.

Back from a summer break, here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. The head of the Federal Trade Commission has called for an investigation of the impact of “patent trolling” activities because there is little hard data about the costs and benefits of such activities, including their impact on business innovation.
  2. Patrick Tucker writes about probabilistic mapping.
  3. Recent research suggests that memories are re-shaped every time they are recalled; it may be possible to change the emotional impact of a memory by adding to it or recalling it in a different context. This is a radical notion that might offer, for example, new PTSD treatments that don’t involve drugs.
  4. Guardian piece on how algorithms shape our lives; the concept of emergent discrimination is one we’ve thought about a bit at FA.
  5. Data traffic to mobile handsets is expected triple by 2017, reaching 21 exabytes annually, driven by increased video watching and web browsing, according to analysts from Strategy Analytics.

    Image: Chintermeyer, Flickr.

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

Image: Jellaluna, Flickr.

  1. Mining mobile phone data enabled researchers to draw more efficient bus routes in Abidjan, the largest city of Ivory Coast.
  2. When maternal rats are fed a high fat, high sugar diet during pregnancy and lactation their offspring have a higher preference for junk food. A recent study in The FASEB Journal describes a possible mechanism underlying the observation, which suggests that poor diet in one generation can predispose the next generation to  similar dietary choices.
  3. Results from a multi-year study by the State of Oregon hints that expansion of health insurance may not improve health care outcomes. According to the study, giving Medicaid to the uninusured reduced the financial impacts of sickness, but had no effect on improving measures of health and wellness.
  4. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have found that a  region of the hypothalamus appears to control aging throughout the body. Their work showed that they could speed up or slow down aging in mice. If it works the same in humans, it could be a way to treat age-related diseases in people.
  5. Researchers from MIT’s Media Lab have developed a process that allows physical objects to be programmed and controlled via a graphical user interface. The work uses a simple processor and WiFi chip mounted on the device and links the object to an augmented reality app on a tablet computer. The work demonstrates the potential deeper integration of digital and analog functions and devices.


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

Image: Squidish, Flickr.

  1. In 2011, federal health officials and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended cholesterol screening for children between 9 and 11 years of age, concerned about development of heart disease risk factors early in life. Now a new study has identified a simple measure that may indicate hardening of the arteries in children; doctors believe that exercise and a healthy diet can reverse the problem in young patients.
  2. University of Wyoming researchers have discovered a lithium deposit in Wyoming that could potentially meet all US lithium demand. Lithium is a critical ingredient in high capacity batteries, and the US currently imports 80% of its annual demand for this strategic mineral.
  3. Telefonica, Samsung, and Intel have invested in Expect Labs, a startup developing software that can listen in on telephone calls, determine topics being discussed, and offer up relevant information. (A simple example might be to offer the location of nearby restaurants if the conversation is about going out for Chinese.) Telefonica says it could introduce the technology as early as next year and will also explore using it to serve up targeted advertising.
  4. Matternet is a startup founded by four graduates of Singularity University to develop a vision of the “next paradigm for transportation”: a global network of UAVs that transport goods–including food, medicines, products, etc.–to developing regions, allowing them to leapfrog over conventional transportation networks.
  5. According to the US Census Bureau, 36% of all births in the US in 2011 (latest year data was analyzed) were to unmarried women. In addition, six out of 10 women in their 20s who had children were unmarried. The birthrate of children to unwed mothers in the US has risen by 80% in the past 30 years. As expected, single motherhood is lower among college educated or higher-income earning women.


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

Image: Bill Selak, Flickr.

  1. A slew of new “Big Mother” apps and devices are coming online to nudge people into better behavior. These include cameras that watch posture, forks that alert a user if she is eating too quickly, and fitness devices that remind consumers to get out of their chairs/off their couches.
  2. In The Anatomy of Violence, Adrian Raine makes the case that there is strong evidence that biological and neurological traits are the foundation for criminal behavior. According to Raine, even a simple indicator like a low resting heart rate has a higher correlation to criminality than smoking has for lung cancer.
  3. Michael Lind argues that, despite recent events, decreasing political violence of all kinds is a long-term global trend.
  4. Airspace and drones constitute the “next great platform for innovation,” with outcomes and benefits as revolutionary as those of the Internet itself, argues Eli Dourado in this thoughtful piece for Wired.
  5. Continuing the momentum of mobile devices, Swipe launches into beta as a Web app to create and share presentations to anyone on any device.

Image: Steve Jurvetson, Flickr.

In the wake of World Water Day, there has been a meme floating around social media stating that “More people have access to mobile phones than toilets.” The statistic behind this (which is not usually cited on social media) comes from a UN report on access to toilet sanitation which states 6 billion people have access to mobiles, while only 4.5 billion have access to toilets. It is a terrible situation and one that continually needs to be addressed. And encouragingly, there are innovative efforts at work to help resolve this: in India, the No Toilet, No Bride campaign is ensuring women have access to sanitation by requiring men to guarantee a toilet before a marriage can take place.

What I really wanted to address is the rather glib and dismissive way mobile phones are treated by this message. There is an implicit dismissal of mobiles, with the implication being that society has focused on the unimportant (mobiles) while neglecting the needed (toilets.) This ignores entirely the benefits mobiles have provided, particularly to residents of less developed countries where sanitation is still an issue.

The reason why mobiles have spread farther than toilets is easy to see. It is cheaper and quicker to set up a mobile phone network and system than it is to dig sewers and lay pipe for indoor plumbing. And the device cost to the user is lower. Even in the developing world you can get a mobile phone for less than the cost of a new toilet.

But what about the benefits? What have mobiles done for under-served consumers?

  • Made communication easier. In countries where it is difficult to travel due to poor infrastructure, lack of vehicles, or civil unrest, mobiles have allowed friends and families to easily and safely stay in touch.
  • Banked the unbanked. Mobiles have allowed millions of people without bank accounts to participate in formal financial systems and begin to save money. Mobile banking and m-money services allow users to pay bills, transfer money to other users, send remittances, and even make in-store purchases. The most successful, Kenya’s M-pesa mobile banking system launched by Safaricom in 2007, now has 15 million users, who , since M-pesa opened, have used the system to transfer money equal to 20 % of Kenya’s GDP.
  • Fostered small business. In cities and villages around the world, mobiles have led entrepreneurial consumers to go into business for themselves. Often this has meant offering phones for rent or re-selling air time. But as feature phones and smartphones spread, so too do opportunities, for example, one man began selling his services as a tutor, teaching people how to access the Internet and use apps on phones.
  • Enabled political activism. The events of the Arab Spring have most recently demonstrated the role mobile phones with Internet and social media access can play in politics. In Kenya, efforts to  gather information on election-related violence led to the creation of the Ushahidi crowdsourced, mobile-driven reporting platform.

All of this is not to say that lack of toilets is not an issue, but rather to highlight the fact that helping people lead safer, better lives is not a zero-sum game. Yes, it is terrible that 2.5 billion people don’t have access to toilet sanitation, but that is not because 6 billion people have mobile phones.

Image: Jason Wilson, Flickr

My 2.5 year-old daughter has developed an interesting new behavior: The beeping of the coffee pot, the chirp of the microwave, the bloop-bloop of the TiVo causes her to ask, “What does that noise mean?” Rather than focus on the source of the sound (“What was that noise?”) she is trying to understand and parse the information carried by the sound: That three loud, long beeps means the coffee is ready, that two short, and one long beep means the microwave is done, the whoop-whoop-whoop means someone just bumped into an alarmed car.

Increasingly, wordless sounds are carrying information we can interpret. James Poniewozik, TV critic for Time Magazine, recently Tweeted: “Occupational hazard: need to change all my iPhone alert tones to sounds that are never used in TV episodes.” In a home in which various members are all part of the same technology ecosystem, the new message received tone often has two people scrambling for their phones. And as a user can set different sounds and tones to represent specific functions or people, the ambient sound information can start to get dense and complicated.

Adding to this complication is new start up called Chirp is an app for the iPhone that encodes data—photos, contact lists, documents, web pages—as a two-second, multi-note tone that can be shared. Chirp works as a broadcast, rather than point-to-point, so anyone in listening distance would be able to receive whatever it is being shared. The broadcast aspect is touted as one of Chirp’s key features as a way to cut out the hassle of having to assign a specific address: If a friend (or anyone) nearby is running Chirp, they will get your message. Soon the air may be filled with the sound of a million chirping phones, making my daughters question of “What does that noise mean?” a lot harder to answer.

Egyptian with mobile phoneThe raid that killed Osama bin Laden yesterday has to have been one of the most secret operations in the world — and yet it was live-blogged by an inadvertent witness.

Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant trying to get away from it all in the small Pakistani city of Abbottabad , was so irritated by the low-flying helicopters that he began tweeting about them as they were overhead, not realizing that they were American machines carrying out the operation that would end bin Laden’s life.  After Obama’s announcement, Athar added, “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.” (He now has 65,000 followers on Twitter.)

Was he the only person on social media in Abbottabad?  No, he explained, but others in the area tend to be on Facebook instead.

Pakistan is not even very wired, with 94% of the population not using the Internet.  But even in that very poor country 38% of the population had mobile phones in 2010, and that number has surely risen.

This is another moment that tells us what a transparent world will be like: an ever-smaller percentage of newsworthy events will occur without witnesses able to record and broadcast what they see.  This may already seem ubiquitous — from NATO plane spotting to Syrians reporting demonstrations — but it has only just begun.


Image courtesy Sierragoddess (Flickr)

© 2012 Foresight Alliance Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha