World Technology Summit Highlights

1 Nov 2011: Last week I attended the World Technology Summit and Awards conference in New York (#WTN20110), sponsored by World Technology Network (wtn.net). Since last Saturday, I have been suffering through a power outage for both my home and office, now going into the fourth day. Thus, the delay in reporting. Even now, I am using my iPad with no wireless signal. Not only that, but is is the second time in less than six months I am without power for more than 2 days. Ahh, the beauties of high technology at exactly the same time as not being able to power any of my fancy electronics at all. Maybe its time to bury all the power lines underground in our area so we are no longer suspect to such weather vagaries. I wonder who determines the order of power line restoral — it seems so arbitrary, and one that the power companies are loath to describe.

Anyway, back to new technology. Of this two day conference I was only able to attend the first day. Here are some the highlights of that day.

James Gleick, author of the book “Chaos: Making a New Science,” discussed his latest work about the flood of information happening today (around.com). Gleick noted that information has never been so accessible, but we don’t feel any wiser! We need to devise strategies to gather the meaning of this massive information flow.

Albert Teich, Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, spoke on the current Washington scene and its effect on Science policy. The first thing that struck me was when he said that in over 30 years in Washington he had never see such acrimony as there is today. He attributed a large part of the perceived stalemate of our legislature to two primary causes. In the last election there was a huge swing in the House, with Republicans gaining 62 net seats, and the loos of an absolute majority of the Democrats in the Senate. Many of the new Congressmen are Tea Party reps and their unwillingness to compromise seems to have highjacked the Republican Party, causing effective gridlock. Meanwhile in the Senate, the Democrats have a 51-47 majority with 2 independents. The Senate rules defy logic because 60 votes are needed to invoke cloture on a filibuster. With the current focus on reducing the deficit, Teich believes that the deficit reduction Super-committee, because of its even split among the two parties, will not be able to submit a workable plan. He is positive on continuing Congressional support for R&D, but less so on climate change and energy research. [Ed: Where did the debate on global warming go?]

Next Island (nextisland.com): I have to admit I don’t get gaming sites and that’s what this is — a massive multi-player online game. But one with aspirations of getting users to spend real dollars. You check it out and let me know what you gamers think.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have perfect fitting ear buds at a modest price. Sculpted Eers can do just that (and eers is not misspelled). Not only that but its available today. A specialized fitting headset with a rubberized membrane sits inside the ear. Pushing a button on the headset squirts liquid silicon into the membrane which expands into a tight fit along with the earphone electronics for a completely custom earpiece. Estimated street price is $200 versus a custom filling by a professional at a cost estimated at $400. Sculpted Eers (www.sculptedeers.com)

Motivating more people to recycle. RecycleBank (recyclebank.com) rewards people for taking everyday green actions. Its main concept is to actually measure recycled materials and base the rewards on the amounts collected. Ian Yolles, the CSO of the company spoke about the need to solve this 21st century problem; a problem that needs intervention. Not sure what the business model is here, but I am individually highly motivated already without any compensation. Maybe a large majority is not?

Dr. Steven Howe, Director, Center for Space Nuclear Research, of the Idaho National Lab (www.inl.gov), spoke about his organizations focus on revolutionizing planetary exploration. Today it is expensive, provides limited science results, con only explore very limited areas, and requires safe landing sites. A proposed Mars hopper powered by U238, can change sites every 7 days by powered “hopping” to the next site, will accrue samples, and possibly return with up to 1 Kg of samples. The basis for their involvement is the development of a Nuclear Thermal Rocket. [Ed: High energy per unit of mass, but ongoing concern about launching nuclear material into Earth orbit.]

Want to get a really good handle on what might happen 10 years from now? Art Kleiner, Scenario Planner and Strategist and the editor-in-chief of strategy+business, took the audience through a series of exercises that examined possible scenarios for the year 2021. His approach used postulations about what might occur by then. What made the discussion really lively was not only postulating the question, but also writing down what would need to happen between now and 2012 to make that scenario take place. His independence and approach seemed to make this a terrific long term planning tool.

How about a battery that is 10X the life and 1/10th the sixe of the most effiicent batteries of today? Universal Nanotech (uNanotech.com): Michael Haag, CTO discussed his exploratory work with a new technology called a QED – Quantum Energy Device. As yet unproven, his company has managed to create a new type of battery that outlasts and outpowers existing alternative batteries. Not only that but is is almost 10X smaller and can be built using flexible plastics as a substrate. Imagine wearing a sleeve that powers your iPhone for days! One would think that battery manufacturers would beat a path to his door. What about Apple?

Tired of WiFi, how about LiFi, a network powered by LED lighting? It turns out that LED lights have the unique ability to turn on and off very fast. Special circuits could be added to LED lights that would enable them to transmit at very high bandwidth, at high levels of efficiency, and also be very secure (needing no radio frequencies). Presented by Prof. Harald Haas, Univ. of Edinburgh. It was unclear to me as to the exact nature of this research and the state of its commercialization.

Thinking about how to understand the future of new technologies? It turns out that Michell Zappa, Designer and Technologist has developed a visual analysis using his technology map of innovations. See more at envisioningtech.com and twitter:@mz

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