GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE
A monthly digest of technologies, developments and trends that will shape our lives. (If you would prefer not to receive these digests, flip back 'NO THANKS' and you will be removed from the list).

Will We Transfer Our 'Selves' To Machines?

Swedish neuroscientists are now claiming that the human brain can add outside objects such as a third arm to its physical sense of self, and that people can even mentally project their 'self' out of their own body and into someone else's. If these findings are confirmed, the implications for virtual reality, robotics and prostheses could be substantial.

Experiments were performed at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute medical university, in which a highly-realistic prosthetic right arm was placed on a table beside human subjects' own arms, so they could see all three. Scientists then simultaneously touched both the prosthetic arm and the subjects' own right arms with a small brush, at the same location on both arms.

'What happens then is that a conflict arises in the brain concerning which of the right hands belongs to the participant's body,' said Arvid Guterstam, one of the scientists conducting the research. 'What one could expect is that only one of the hands is experienced as one's own, presumably the real arm. But what we found, surprisingly, is that the brain solves this conflict by accepting both right hands as part of the body image, and the subjects experience having an extra third arm.'

A related study at Karolinska is said to have resulted in people perceiving that their physical selves were located not in their own bodies, but in those of other test subjects.

Software Develops Faster Than Computer Hardware

It's an old saw that while computer processor speeds are increasing all the time, software is much slower to develop, which holds the whole process up.

But a report by an independent group of science and technology advisers to the White House, published last December, cited research showing that performance gains in doing computing tasks that result from improvements in software algorithms often far outpace the gains attributable to faster processors.

The White House advisory report cited research, including a study of progress over a 15-year span on a benchmark production-planning task. Over that time, the speed of completing the calculations improved by a factor of 43 million. Of the total, a factor of roughly 1,000 was attributable to faster processor speeds, according to the research by Martin Grotschel, a German scientist and mathematician. Yet a factor of 43,000 was due to improvements in the efficiency of software algorithms.

Disposable Endoscopic Camera Is The Size Of A Grain Of Salt

A newly-developed endoscope is claimed to be so inexpensive to produce that it can be thrown away after each use. Not only that, but it also features what is likely the world's smallest complete video camera, which is just one cubic millimetre in size.

The prototype endoscope was designed at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, in collaboration with Awaiba GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering.

Ordinarily, digital video cameras consist of a lens, a sensor, and electrical contacts that relay the data from the sensor. Up to 28,000 sensors are cut out from a silicon disc known as a wafer, after which each one must be individually wired up with contacts and mounted to a lens.

In Fraunhofer's system, contacts are added to one side of the sensor wafer while it's still all in one piece. That wafer can then be joined face-to-face with a lens wafer, after which complete grain-of-salt-sized cameras can be cut out from the two joined wafers.

Breaking News: Love IS A Drug!

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that intense feelings of love are as effective at relieving pain as painkillers or even illicit drugs.

The last few decades have shown us that pain is not simply a symptom of trauma, but is a discreet disease entity in its own right that can affect the entire nervous system. Advances in neuro-imaging have allowed scientists a look more closely at the areas in which pain is processed, how the brain is affected and how it changes our thoughts and emotions, in an effort to create a multi-disciplinary treatment for pain.

Neuroimaging was able to link the activation of reward systems in the brain with the feelings of euphoria and contentment that are often distinguished by the early stages of a relationship. With Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) they found that the area of the brain that processes pain and the area of the brain that is involved in reward-processing are situated close together. Close neurological ties between the two areas meant activation of the reward-processing area could affect the pain-processing area.

 

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Nano-electrodes May Speed Up Battery Charging

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a three-dimensional nanostructure for battery cathodes that allows for dramatically faster charging and discharging without sacrificing energy storage capacity.

Using self-assembly, a team led by Professor Paul Braun wrap a thin film of active material onto a lattice of tiny spheres, achieving both high active volume (high capacity) and large current. They have demonstrated lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery electrodes that can charge or discharge in a few seconds, 10 to 100 times faster than equivalent bulk electrodes, yet perform normally in existing devices.

The technology could lead to phones that charge in seconds or laptops that charge in minutes, high-power lasers and defibrillators that don’t need time to power up before or between pulses, and electric cars that charge in the time it takes to fill a tank of gas, claims Braun.

Human Muscle Grown From Sea 'Squirts'

Researchers at the University of Manchester, U.K.have developed a process of creating working human muscle tissue from sea squirts. The research holds promise for the engineering of muscles, ligaments and nerves from cellulose which is usually found in plants and is the main component of paper and plant based textiles such as cotton and linen. The creation of muscle from scratch along with the ability to repair existing muscle has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

Tunicates (commonly known as sea squirts) are small rounded or cylindrical animals with a hollow body and an outer shell of cellulose – long chains of sugars joined together. The researchers extract this cellulose in the form of nanowhiskers just 10 nanometers wide (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter) These are thinner than a human hair and smaller than muscle cells. Once aligned and parallel to each other, the nanowhiskers influence the behaviour of skeletal muscle cells causing rapid muscle cell alignment and fusion. Alignment is important as it gives muscle tissue its strength and stiffness.

Progress Towards Better Memory Chips

Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to improve the performance of ferroelectric materials, which have the potential to make memory devices with more storage capacity than magnetic hard drives and faster write speed and longer lifetimes than flash memory.

In ferroelectric memory the direction of molecules' electrical polarization serves as a 0 or a 1 bit. An electric field is used to flip the polarization, which is how data is stored.

A team led by a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has designed a material system that spontaneously forms small nano-size spirals of the electric polarization at controllable intervals, which could provide natural budding sites for the polarization switching and thus reduce the power needed to flip each bit.

Banana Peel Can Purify Water

Banana peels can be used to purify drinking water contaminated with toxic heavy metals such as copper and lead, according to a study.

Researchers from the Bioscience Institute at Botucatu, Brazil, said that the skins can outperform even conventional purifiers such as aluminium oxide, cellulose and silica. These have potentially toxic side effects and are expensive.

The team's method follows previous work that showed that plant parts, such as apple and sugar cane wastes, coconut fibres and peanut shells, can remove toxins from water.

These natural materials contain chemicals that have an affinity for metals.

Banks And Competitors Fight Over Mobile Payments

Just as disputes between rival credit card franchises delayed the arrived of micro payments on the Internet for a decade (until Apple's iTunes finally forced a deal), disputes and rivalry between banks, finance houses, software companies and mobile phone operators are holding up the progress of mobile payment implementation.

While mobile payments technology is already being installed in millions of phones - and is used in Japan and a few other countries - wide adoption of the so-called mobile wallets is being slowed by a major behind-the-scenes battle among corporate giants.

Mobile phone carriers, banks, credit card issuers, payment networks and technology companies are all vying to control these wallets. But first, they need to sort out what role each will play and how each will get paid.

The stakes are enormous because small, hidden fees that are generated every time consumers swipe their cards will add up to tens of billions of dollars annually.

www.rayhammond.com

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