Category Archives: Technology and Society

Advances In Nanotech

Things are progressing nicely:

“We have demonstrated the controlled synthesis of nanostructures at levels of complexity significantly beyond any work yet reported. What we have done is the most challenging synthetic problem in these structures, and one with huge potential payoffs from both the standpoint of fundamental scientific impact and producing novel de-vices and applications.”

Uh Oh…

A robot that is self aware. Is it too early to form PETR (People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots)?

I’ll personally be interested to see if it starts touching itself improperly.

Seriously, I’ve done this experiment myself with both of my cats. They clearly recognize themselves in the mirror, because they don’t get upset (as they generally would) at the sight of another cat.

Video Conferencing Soon Ready for Prime Time

Economist reports that video conferencing kinks are being worked out of both the experience and the business model. Corporations are getting on board. $1.75/minute on peak, $0.25 off peak? If it is being used “around the clock” as they say, average price would be only $0.50/minute or if only during business hours 40 hours/wk at $2/minute. Paying $3000 hard costs for four hours ($12.5/minute) of on site business meetings the past two days myself, I sure would like it if I could cut travel by 75%. The calculation is more extreme if you assign labor cost to travel. If you throw in my 16 hours of travel at $2/minute you get up to over $20/minute for these face-to-face meetings.

Positive Feedback Loop

Control engineers would call this a runaway controller.

When the response to a change is to increase the change, rather than decrease it (which is what, for example, thermostats normally do), change happens very quickly, and uncontrollably. One of the issues with global warming is whether or not the feedback is positive, or negative. That is, does the warming result in even more warming, resulting in…or do things happen at higher temperatures that result in cooling?

One potential positive feedback might be that if glaciers and ice caps melt, the albedo of the planet decreases, which means that less energy is reflected back into space, which could result in further warming. In the other direction, if we are headed into a new glacial period despite the greenhouse effects (perhaps because solar activity dominates all else), then increasing snow cover makes things colder because more solar energy is rereflected, thus causing more cooling, and an accelerating glacial advance.

On the negative feedback side, though, it could be that more warming results in more clouds, which might in turn have the effect of cooling things off.

I suspect that the reality will be a combination of positive and negative feedback mechanisms, and it’s hard to know what the overall effect will be, though ultimately, it will be negative, but perhaps at a significantly higher (or lower) temperature. I’d be very surprised if the seas end up either boiling, or freezing solid.