Category Archives: Technology and Society

Oh, Am I Annoying You?

As Paul Hsieh says, you don’t necessarily have to be autistic to find this device useful:

A device that can pick up on people’s emotions is being developed to help people with autism relate to those around them. It will alert its autistic user if the person they are talking to starts showing signs of getting bored or annoyed.

Or maybe cluelessness on this front is one of the defining characteristics of autism.


OK, my question is, will vegetarians be willing to eat this?

“I don’t find it hard to believe that in vitro meat can be produced that tastes like hamburger or chicken nuggets,” said Jason Matheny, one of the founders of Vive Research, a U.S. form working on growing meat for the global market. Most of the flavour in burgers and nuggets now sold in grocery stores or restaurants comes from seasoning or filler, he said.

Researchers have succeeded in growing bits of meat, the type that could be used in burgers or spaghetti sauce.

I mean vegetarians who are for ethical reasons, not because they don’t like the taste of meat.

And speaking of ethics, here’s a conundrum:

One group, which he would not name, did offer him money, but they wanted him to grow meat from human cells, so they could grow pieces of themselves to eat.

“I don’t want to participate in high-tech human cannibalism,” he said he told them.

Theoretically, he said, it would be possible. Researchers have harvested human myoblasts, cells that can grow into muscle fibre.

OK, so what would be wrong with that (ignoring the “yuck” factor)?

It kind of depends on why you think that cannibalism is wrong. In fact, it’s akin to the dilemma of child p0rn that is produced without harming (or even utilizing) children. Is it wrong because someone else is hurt in the production of it, or is there something intrinsically wrong with it? In the case of the latter, the Supreme Court has ruled (at least it’s my understanding) that the purpose of child-p0rn laws is to protect children from being molested in the production of the product, not (just) because the existence of child p0rn is perceived to be opposed to the best interests of society.

This seems similar to me. People will argue (as they do with synthetic p0rn) that having ready access to long pork may cause some people to want to experience the more gourmet version–the real thing, perhaps with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti, and should thus be made illegal, even though no persons are harmed in the manufacture of it.

I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s an interesting debate.


IBM has made an integrated circuit from carbon nanotubes:

With an 18-micron long carbon nanotube, the scientists built a 10-transistor ring oscillator, a device typically constructed to test new manufacturing technologies or materials. Using one instead of many carbon nanotubes to build an IC reduces the manufacturing steps and therefore cost…

…Electrical current moves more freely and faster through carbon nanotube than silicon, making carbon nanotube a more energy-efficient material for a speedier chip. It also is super small. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and a carbon nanotube is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.

All these properties make carbon nanotube an appealing candidate for improving performance by piling on more and smaller transistors on a chip without causing overheating.

Moore’s Law marches on.

Getting From Here To There

Stephen Gordon has some interesting thoughts about the transition generation (of which I’m probably part) for life extension:

Here’s the point. This woman’s years in serious decline are lengthened by life extension treatment. Instead of being disabled five years followed by death, she is disabled about 12 years followed by indefinite youth. Which is best?

In the history of the world, this is not a decision that many will face. Obviously those who are already dead never had a choice. And hopefully people who are young today will get stage three care when they need it. This is one generation’s dilemma.

How About Monkeys?

Microsoft says that Vista isn’t “People Ready” yet:

Microsoft execs also talked about “Impacting People,” then they dragged out fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who seemed very “impacted” as he sang praise for Microsoft programs. Actually, he was reading meaningless statements from a TelePrompTer. Here is one of his quotes, verbatim: “When you combine people and technology, you have a very powerful combination.” Think about that. Just let it sink in for a minute…

…No one mentioned the fact that in 1997, Microsoft held a similar event in New York City to declare that IBM’s “big iron” was dead, because Windows NT–remember Windows NT?–was going to “scale up” and replace the mainframe. I wonder if Ballmer ever feels like the guy in Groundhog Day, reliving the same press conference, over and over. I know I do.