Home > Alex, Healthcare, Innovation > Baby Techs with Muscle

Baby Techs with Muscle

The world changes rapidly. A few years ago online newspapers and tablet computers were not a big deal, today they are nearly as important as breathing. But technological progress does not stop here, it keeps moving, quickly and  unrelentlessly, pushing forward to new and fascinating destinations. Here are my five favorite baby techs that could have a world changing impact:

1) Raspberry Pi
Status: Small scale industrial production (10,000+ units)
‘Raspberry Pi’ is a $25/$35 programmable computer. The vision that drove this product is allowing kids to learn real programming on their own (not just making of web pages as most kids may try now) and at a reasonable price. The result is ‘Raspberry Pi’ a small computer, capable of quite some muscle. The $35-version has an ethernet port, HDMI Video, RCA Video, USB 2.0. It runs at 700Mhz and has 256MB memory. Sure these stats are not as impressive if we consider that most of our phones run 800Mhz+ (for example Apple A5), but at $35 Raspberry certainly looks like a yummy hobby.

2) MakerBot Industries
Status: Medium Scale Production (>100 Units)
MakerBot is an affordable 3D printer. Well it still costs $1,200 and the more advanced 2 color model is $1,700, but this is well below the tens of thousands of dollars industrial 3D printers cost. What can it make? Well almost anything. It uses a plastic filament that is heated up and moulded into your 3D design. The result is a plastic figure the size of a large coffee mug. These guys also run a website called Thingiverse, where users can share their 3D designs.

3) Numenta
Status: Limited Scale Application
Numenta is a company started by Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky. It aims to develop machine intelligence. But wait! It is AI; but this term has been sooo overused that it lost all of its meaning. We are not talking about evil or friendly robots, nor we are talking about self-aware machines, instead we are talking about computer programs that can do human tasks, lets say hmmm… distinguish between a cat and a dog in a picture? This task takes a human less than a second to do perfectly, but for current computers it may take hours and they might not succeed at all. Is it because they are not fast enough? No, Jeff Hawkins, argues that it is because we are not using the right approach. Current AI uses calculation as means of achieving its objective. Humans  however, don’t calculate, they predict and approximate, and this is what Numenta is trying to create with the help of Temporal Hierarchical Memory. More can be read in Jeff’s book On Intelligence.

4) Focus Fusion – Lawrenceville Plasma Physics
Status: Experimental
Fusion is the process of combining atoms under tremendous heat and pressure forcing them to fuse. Some of the matter in the process is converted strait into a large amount of energy. In contrast, atomic bomb works by splitting large atoms (namely Uranium) into less massive atoms, releasing a bit (compared to fusion) of the energy. Humans are already doing quite well in terms of nuclear fission. We have many nuclear power plants around the world, but they are problematic due to the production of nuclear waste and radiation. Fusion can be the answer, since this reaction produces more energy, no waste, and only tiny bits of radiation. The hindrance to developing this approach is in the fact that you need to heat up your material to millions of degrees and once it becomes plasma, there really is no way to keep this super hot material contained and still hot (magnetic fields can keep material contained in all but one direction). The beauty of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is that they exploit plasma instabilities, instead of trying to contain them. As such, their machine costs $150,000 – $300,000 to make, instead of millions required for a tokamak reactor. Why Focus Fusion approach is not developed more and millions are pumped into tokamak? Beats me!

5) New Organ Mprize
Status: Theoretical
Methuselah Foundation aims to advance medical technology and eliminate or even reverse age related degeneration. It does so by creating prizes awarded for milestone achievements in medical technology. One of such prizes is the New Organ Mprize awarded to a team of researchers who can either store an organ for 30 days or create a synthetic organ from persons cells. Since reprogramming adult cells into stem cells and creating a particular kind of tissue is quite easy nowadays, the next step would be creating a whole organ with multiple types of tissue and blood vessels interconnected. This is what Mprize hopes to achieve. Is it possible? Certainly! The real question is “How soon?”

Categories: Alex, Healthcare, Innovation
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