Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Recent Reasons for Optimism IV: A New Hope

1. Robin Hanson tackles general pessimism about the future with a comparison to modern high-rise apartments.

2. The New York Times (ht MR) has a list of 32 innovations, some minor, some major, that could change the world in the near future. The innovations range from better-tasting coffee to biosensors in your underwear and on your teeth to synthetic, hangover-free alcohol.

3. The New York Times also examines the "commercial ecosystem" created by the Kinect and Kinect hackers. As I've mentioned before, the Kinect is one of the best recent examples of the Matt Ridley quote on the sidebar here: "The more we prosper, the more we can prosper. The more we invent, the more inventions become possible. The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not."

4. We keep inching closer to a cure for cancer. Some new treatments are able to target cancer cells more directly, while others encourage the immune system to attack the cancer itself.

5. We're also inching closer to driverless cars and the benefits they would bring. A Korean company, Chumdancha, has released several videos of their car driving down a busy highway with the human in the backseat, although it doesn't seem to be as advanced as Google's yet. Also check out this video (ht Driverless Car HQ) from the University of Texas at Austin illustrating "autonomous intersection management." When crossing an intersection no longer relies on human reaction times, we'll never have to wait at traffic lights again. Starting at about 0:51 in the embedded video, you can see their simulation of what that might look like. (I hope driverless cars come with tinted windows!)

6. Moore's Law is a little more secure now. With electronic computers projected to hit up against hard physical limitations within a decade or so, quantum computers have taken a step closer to replacing electronics. A collaboration including Simon Fraser University was able to keep qubits embedded in silicon stable for over three minutes. That shatters the previous record of just a few seconds and opens the door to hybrid electronic-quantum computers.

7. Those with leprosy will be cured, but also, burn victims. A three-year-old South African girl is recovering from severe burns to more than 80% of her body thanks to new skin grafts cloned from her own skin in Boston, then flown to her hospital in Johannesburg. This story highlights not only the great potential of cloning technologies for medical use, but the increasingly globalized scope of medical care.

8. Need even more optimism? Joshua at PostLibertarian has five more reasons for optimism.

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