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False Dawns in the Brave World of New Genetics

December 21, 2002

Gene science has the potential to transform the course of our lives, from “designer babies” to slowing the aging process. But how far advanced is it — and exactly where is it going? Scientists at its cutting edge separate the hype from the reality.

The end of history, tech version?

December 20, 2002

Do you think machines will become more intelligent than people in the next 100 years? Won’t that present a danger to humankind? What can be done to keep that from happening?

These are among the questions in a survey pitting views of the future by Bill Joy against those of Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec.

Small RNAs Make Big Splash

December 19, 2002

Recent discoveries indicate that a class of RNA molecules called small RNAs operate many of the cell’s controls. They can shut down genes or alter their levels of expression.

In some species, truncated RNA molecules literally shape genomes, carving out chunks to keep and discarding others. There are even hints that certain small RNAs might help chart a cell’s destiny by directing genes to turn on or off during… read more

Rat-Brained Robot

December 19, 2002

Rat neuron cells on silicon are the brains behind a new robot—a breakthrough that may lead to better computer chips. The “hybrot” is in essence a rat-controlled robot, and marks the first instance in which cultured neurons have been used to control a robotic mechanism.

The device contains thousands of rat neuron cells on a silicon chip that’s embedded with 60 electrodes connected to an amplifier. The electrical signals… read more

Lasers reveal rewiring of the living brain

December 19, 2002

A new technique for imaging the brains of living animals known as “two photon microscopy” represents a breakthrough in understanding rewiring of the brain that will have far-reaching implications for neurobiology, researchers say. It involves shining laser light into the brains of living animals and picking up the “returning light” produced by neurons engineered to express fluorescent proteins.

Web Searches Take Cultural Pulse

December 19, 2002

Google, Lycos and other search sites have unleashed lists of the year’s top search terms, which many say are an accurate barometer of cultural fads, fears and obsessions.

Fractal Magnets May Fracture Old Technologies

December 18, 2002

Plastic magnets with fractal magnetic field may one day be the heart of computer hard drives small enough to power nanotechnology-based devices.

Plastics with fractal magnetic fields “may provide ways to store a high density of information” in a very small space because of their intensely ordered structure, says Arthur Epstein, director of the Center for Materials Research at Ohio State University.

News tip: Walter Purvis

Building the sensitive robot

December 17, 2002

Vanderbilt researchers are working on a robot that can sense human emotion, using measures of human heart rate, skin conductance, and facial muscle activity.

Airships tested as telecom beacons

December 17, 2002

“Stratellites,” spherical airships at 19,000 meters in altitude, will be used as high-flying telecommunications platforms to supply two-way Internet access across the United States and into Mexico and Canada ihin 2004. They offer the advantages of satellites without the launch costs and transmission latency.

Review: ‘Minority’ tech mostly on target

December 17, 2002

The seeds already have been planted for much of the technology portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” including biometrics, ads that call you by name, holographic displays, motion capture, and swarm robotics.

Virtual world will run on real cash

December 17, 2002

Project Entropia, a 3D futuristic role-playing game set in a virtual online world in which players can earn and spend real money, will launch on January 30.

A Supercomputer to Save Earth?

December 17, 2002

“Running 35.6 trillion calculations per second, the Earth Simulator is the fastest supercomputer in the world…According to the Department of Energy, the Earth Simulator has put American scientists at a 10- to 100- fold disadvantage in weather studies. And there are much deeper implications….”

The Dream of Mechanical Life

December 17, 2002

“A spate of new books addresses eighteenth-century automata, ventriloquists’ dummies, and puppets– together with more recent avatars of chess computers, artificial intelligence, androids, robots, and cyborgs. Does ‘computerization’ challenge human identity as ominously as ‘mechanization’ previously seemed to?”

Scientists Ask: What Is A Gene, Anyway?

December 17, 2002

Two years after the human genome was mapped, scientists are drawing a stunning insight by comparing human genes with those of mice. Researchers now agree human genes are definitely missing something; they’re just not entirely sure what. Figuring it out could involve arguments about the very definition of the word “gene.”

Be Afraid

December 13, 2002

Prey, Michael Crichton’s latest techno-thriller, fictionalizes Bill Joy’s notorious Wired article, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” which warned, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech — are threatening to make humans an endangered species.”

The technophobic novel (and coming film version) is based on the “gray goo” scenario (nanoparticles out of control).

“Crichton’s new novel further solidifies his position as our generation’s bush-league… read more

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