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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Are we entering a technological singularity?

by Mark Ollig     
We need only to go back to yesterday to see technology once considered science fiction now becoming science fact.

In the 1960s television series “Star Trek” a powerful light called a “tractor beam” was used to hold onto or bring an object closer to the USS Enterprise.

I recently read, scientists have created a working, smaller version of a tractor beam; it’s called a microscopic beam.

It uses a beam of light which attracts microscopic particles toward it.

This new light beam technology will be first used for medical purposes.

Regularly, we hear about technologies once thought of as “futuristic” being created into present-day working devices to be used for the betterment of us all.

I recall one device which attracted much anticipation six years ago.

There was wonderment and awe on the faces of the many people watching as the first iPhone was presented by Steve Jobs.

It was Jan. 9, 2007 when Jobs walked out on stage, and delivered the keynote address during the MacWorld Conference and Expo.

“Every once and a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Jobs said in his opening statement.

He then spoke about a revolutionary new device.

You could feel the excitement being given off from the audience, as they would applaud and cheer every time Jobs disclosed another morsel of magical “futuristic technology” featured on the iPhone, which had not been seen on any other mobile phone of the time.

A video of this presentation is at

In speculating what the future of technology will be, sometimes, we need to look to the past.

Of course, you knew I would bring up “Star Trek,” and, hopefully, we can agree the series came up with some amazing futuristic devices.

One person’s unnerving essay (in my humble opinion) on the future impact of artificially created “superhuman intelligence” and its impact on humans has been the subject of many discussions during the last 20 years.

Vernor Vinge, a San Diego State University professor of mathematics, computer scientist, and author, wrote an essay titled “The Coming Technological Singularity.”

His essay was presented during the NASA-sponsored VISION-21 Symposium in March 1993.

“We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater-than-human intelligence,” Vinge wrote.

A few of the future events Vinge foresaw:

• Computers become “awake” and contain superhuman intelligence.

• Computer networks may also “wake up” as superhumanly intelligent entities.

• Computer/human interfaces become so entwined, they may be considered superhumanly intelligent.

This link, contains the complete essay.

Vinge stated he felt these events would happen before 2030.

Results of these events by 2030, according to Vinge, would cause developments previously thought to take place maybe in a million years, likely happening in the next hundred years.

I listened to a recent audio cast on the Internet where Vernor Vinge talked about technological singularity.

In it, he gave this description of technological singularity; “In the relatively near future . . . human-kind will, using technology, either create or become, creatures of super-human intelligence.”

Vinge reasoned the word “singularity” is a good metaphor in this instance, because it involves a technological change that is qualitatively different from the changes we have achieved in the past.

He gave an example.

Say a journalist from today could, by some magical way, interview the famous author Mark Twain.

The journalist would describe to him what our era is like, and what was happening in our time.

Vinge said Mr. Twain would understand what was being said, and might even be very enthusiastic about it.

He said you could discuss our present era with another person even further back in time, and they would understand what was being said – as a commonly understood language was being spoken.

The person from the past might not believe what they were being told about the future, because the changes would be considered so great, so fantastic, and so unpredictable, Vinge added.

Vinge emphasized future events could be explained to a person from the past, because the person would be able to understand what was being said to them.

“If you tried to do the same explanatory exercise with a goldfish, you probably would not be successful,” he explained.

“That is the difference, in terms of talking about and explaining things post-singularity compared to now,” Vinge said.

“Thinking about things [computers] that might be smarter than us is a topic you can get nervous about if you expect it is to happen soon. It is also, overall, an optimistic view of progress,” he said.

I, too, would become a bit nervous thinking about computers that are awake, self-aware, and considerably more intelligent than the rest of us.

In the early 1960s, Irving John Good, a British mathematician who worked with Alan Turning deciphering German code during WWII, wrote “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine.”

In it, Good made this wise statement, “Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

Stanley Kubrick, director of the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” consulted Good about the movie’s supercomputer named H.A.L. 9000, which contains intelligence, along with emotions – and ends up turning against the human astronauts it accompanies to Jupiter.

“The Ultimate Computer” was a “Star Trek” episode broadcast in 1968. In it, Mr. Spock says, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

DLD 2013: Cyber warfare and content distribution

by Mark Ollig     

Over 150 speakers and 800 attendees were present at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) 2013 technology conference recently which took place in Munich, Germany.

DLD brings together influential people who are knowledgeable about how digital technology, social culture, and science can be merged to create innovation on a global level.

One panel discussion addressed computer cyber warfare issues facing countries and governments.

“When we started in the late 1980s, early 1990s, the enemy was very simple . . . the kids and teenagers, happy hackers writing viruses and trojans for fun; they had no real motive to do their attacks at all,” stated Mikko Hypponen.

Hypponen is the chief research officer for F-Secure, a company providing Internet security solutions.

He also assisted law enforcement in the US, Europe and Asia on cybercrime cases.

“Today, all the attackers have motives for their actions,” Hypponen said.

He went on to say the “happy hackers” have disappeared, and that today, we have criminals who try to make money with their cyber-attacks, and the “hacktivists” who try to protest with their cyber-attacks.

Hypponen then talked about cyber-attacks via “governmental activity,” which includes “government’s attacking against their own citizens with malware, and governments attacking against other governments for espionage purposes.”

He said the “real offensive cyber action” is cyber warfare.

Computer scientists, according to Hypponen, lost their innocence in 2009, when the dangerous computer Stuxnet virus was used in a cyber-attack for the first time.

He also brought up the more recent cyber warfare virus, called Flame.

It is not known which country created Flame; however, it is known that Flame is considered the most complex cyber weapon of all time.

Flame is a sophisticated “attack toolkit” containing 20 times as much software programming code as Stuxnet.

The virus is capable of harvesting data files, and can remotely change settings on a computer.

It can turn on a computer’s microphone to record room conversations.

This virus can capture “screen shots” of what is being displayed on a computer. It can record and log instant messaging chats, and more.

Flame is said to be 100 times as complex as a normal computer virus.

The Flame virus was discovered by Eugene Kaspersky’s lab in 2012.

“It’s not cyber war, it’s cyber terrorism,” said Eugene Kaspersky, chairman and CEO of Kaspersky Lab.

“It’s just a matter of time when we have the next very serious incident . . . my question is, are we ready for that?” Kaspersky asked.

Kaspersky is a Russian specialist with 25 years of experience in the information technology security field.

“We should insist on global cooperation between countries and governments when fighting crime – however, we should not expect any cooperation between governments and countries when it comes to cyber espionage and cyber warfare, because countries and governments are doing it themselves,” Hypponen explained.

The DLD cyber warfare video can be seen at

Another DLD panel consisted of journalists, whose discussion was titled “Future of Authority.”

The “authority” is the publisher or journalist who reports and brings news and content to the people.

The panel talked about the shifting changes in how current events are being distributed.

Just 20 years ago, when we sought current events happening within our state, or around the world, we looked to standard mainstream media platforms, such as newsprint, radio, and television.

The panel noted how the control of information and its content from these platforms has drastically changed.

Today, we are learning firsthand about the latest breaking-news stories happening throughout the world, by the very people directly affected.

These people are telling the stories in their own words, via video and text, over multiple online social media platforms.

Social media venues such as, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and others are now being used as the launching platforms for breaking-news headlines – many times being reported there first before mainstream media outlets obtain the information.

People are now directly sharing information with each other without it first being collected via traditional reporters and journalists, who customarily obtain, write, and edit the content before it is distributed to the mainstream media platforms.

These people are the new citizen journalists.

“There’s a flow of information that communities can now have among themselves that no longer needs the mediator – us – to make it happen,” said Jeff Jarvis, who is, himself, a journalist, and is currently director of interactive journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Jarvis went on to say, traditional journalists need to become “platform builders” to enable communities to share information among themselves however they wish, adding that the journalist needs to add value on top of this.

Jarvis said journalists need “to rethink where we are - not as factories that make content and sell content, but instead as services that accomplish things.”

Another journalist, Katharina Borchert, who writes for the German Spiegel online magazine, noted the many bloggers and others who use Facebook, for example, are now producing new content, whereas before, they (the traditional journalists) were providing it.

She used one example of people looking for content about cars.

Borchert described how some users still use traditional news websites to check out an advertiser, like a car dealership. She emphasized these websites work hard in order to keep users there.

However, she acknowledged many users will now go directly to a car manufacturer’s website because “they have brilliant, high quality, beautiful content out there. The scope of content is also much bigger nowadays than it used to be.”

Jarvis brought up new content distribution models and how one website, can be used to make articles able to be embedded anywhere on the Internet, just like a YouTube video.

He also stated article content can now be sent over the Internet with brand, advertising, analytics, and links attached to it.

To watch the complete 35- minute video, “Future of Authority,” go to

A series of DLD videos from the 2013 conference are available at

Thursday, January 17, 2013

CES 2013: Technology for entertainment and health

by Mark Ollig     

The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has ended, and all the exhibitors have torn down their booths.

Looking back, CES 2013 did introduce us to some remarkable new gadgets and technology.

Social media buzzed about the new Ultra-HD, OLED, and OLED Ultra-HD TV’s, computing tablets, self-driving cars, and futuristic healthcare technology.

Last week, yours truly mentioned the hashtags being used on Twitter to communicate user and company messages during CES 2013.

The CES website reported the online analytics company, Simply Measured had tracked the total tweet messages during the four day CES using hashtags #CES, #2013CES, #CES2013, and #CES13.

One percent of the total shares of CES tweets over the four-day event referenced 10 companies, including: Google, Sharp, Apple, and Ford.

The four companies with 2 percent of the total were: LG, Qualcomm, Panasonic, and Audi.

Intel Corp, was alone at 3 percent.

Coming in with 4 percent of the total CES tweets were HP, and Sony.

The number-one-tweeted- about company during CES 2013 – with 7 percent of the total– was Samsung, which had 351,355 CES hashtagged tweet messages.

Even though CES is looked to as the major consumer technology showcase of the year, for some folks, it has lacked a bit of its luster since tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft stopped using it as the venue for making their major product announcements.

Instead, they have opted to hold their own special conferences with invited members of the press and special guests.

CES is also no longer used as the sole location for new cellphone product announcements. Other events, like the World Mobile Congress, have been used as the stage to make such announcements.

By the way, the World Mobile Congress will take place Feb 25 – 28 in Barcelona.

Apple holds its own special event press conferences whenever a new iPhone or iPad is introduced, as does Microsoft, when announcing a new operating system, or computing tablet.

CES is still, however, the place to be for seeing what is next in televisions.

During this year’s CES, the announcement for the new OLED television by LG was made, and the combo Ultra-HD OLED televisions showcased by Panasonic and Sony were presented.

Also seen at CES was the 110-inch Ultra-HD television by Samsung, which has four times the resolution of currently available HD televisions.

“If you make the pixels that much smaller, then you can sit that much closer to the TV and still get that really sharp picture,” said Ryan Chicoine, who is with Samsung.

Chicoine’s statement caused me to remember something my mother told me as a child, “Don’t sit so close to the television.”

Verizon’s CEO, Lowell McAdam delivered one of the CES keynote addresses.

He spoke about when they launched their 4G LTE (fourth-generation long-term evolution) wireless technology product during CES 2011.

In 2011, the average speed of wireless networks in the US was less than 1Mbps, said McAdam.

He continued by saying today’s wireless speeds over LTE are now in the 10 – 12 Mbps range.

A digital health summit was also held at this year’s CES.

Digital sensors, mobile devices, and access to the information cloud, were discussed.

Doctors, healthcare and technology professionals, addressed a number of medical, personal healthcare, and technology topics.

One healthcare item discussed – which I found very interesting – was about a futuristic-looking healthcare robot called the RP-Vita (Remote Presence Virtual and Independent Telemedicine Assistant).

This robot is about the size of a person, and it has the mobility to travel through the halls of a hospital or healthcare center.

RP-Vita can check in on patients, obtain their medical vital signs, and provide other services.

RP-Vita has a built-in stethoscope, and additional medical equipment which can be operated by a remotely-located healthcare provider for obtaining live medical readings.

This healthcare robot allows for a direct one-on-one “telepresence-communication” between the patient, and healthcare provider.

A display screen and video camera sits atop the robot and is used by a doctor or other healthcare professionals, in order to have face-to-face conversations with the patient.

This visual two-way communication uses videoconferencing technology.

RP-Vita is available from InTouch Health, which develops and manufactures telemedicine remote presence medical devices.

I made a picture of the front, side, and back of RP-Vita you can see at

Detailed information (including three short videos), about the RP-Vita healthcare robot, can be seen on the InTouch Health website at

To learn more about the CES healthcare summit on Facebook, login and go to and on Twitter visit

One CES 2013 YouTube video said the one word which best described this year’s show was “innovation.”

CES 2014 will take place next Jan. 7 to 10.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 CES showcase basks in technology

by Mark Ollig     

Technology and gadgets were featured during the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which took place recently in Las Vegas.

CES has come a long way since its first show in 1967.

Called “a week-long exhibit of home-entertainment equipment,” the first CES took place in New York City from June 25 through 29.

Exhibits from the 1967 CES featured pocket radios using “solid-state” electronics, high-fidelity phonograph stereos with built-in cassette players, console televisions, eight-track “cartridge-tape machines,” citizens band (CB) radios, and other electronic devices.

Since 1967, CES has grown to be one of the world’s most anticipated yearly technology showcase events.

In 1967, approximately 200 exhibitors displayed electronic products to nearly 17,500 people who attended the event.

This year, over 150,000 people from 150 countries attended CES and viewed the technology booths and events presented by some 3,250 exhibitors spread over 1.9 million square feet.

CES said over 20,000 new products would be launched.

Social media played a large part at CES, as Twitter hashtags #2013CES and #CES were used to convey information from those attending CES, and others commenting on CES.

YouTube was being repeatedly uploaded with videos from CES during the week.

LG, a South Korean technology company, showed off their 55-inch organic light-emitting diode high-definition (OLED HD) TV at CES.

This TV weighs 22 pounds and is just 4 millimeters (.16-inches) thick.

The OLED display contains an organic, carbon-based substance, and has a unique light-emitting diode structure using an electroluminescent layer.

Each OLED emits its own light when excited by an electric current. A thin-film transistor (TFT) display backplane switches particular pixels on and off.

Exceptional picture quality and clarity is why the world’s first big-screen OLED HD TV is priced at about $12,000 according to James Fishler, LG’s US marketing chief, who spoke at CES.

LG’s 55-inch OLED HD TV model LG 55EM9700 will begin shipping in March.

During the presentation by Sharp Electronics, my attention was focused on the company’s description of IGZO, which is an Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide compound used in combination with display screens.

Sharp said IGZO display screens are paper-thin, use much less power, and will have four times the resolution of today’s HD LCD screens. This will dramatically improve the clarity and detail of medical images, for example.

Corning Incorporated is providing the glass used with the IGZO.

Panasonic demonstrated an interesting way of listening to music or television without disturbing others by using its new wireless “bone conduction headphone.”

A person wearing this device over their head will hear audio from a TV or music source via amplified sound-wave vibrations through their skull, specifically from the cheekbone, instead of from their ear.

An illustration of a user wearing a bone conduction headphone, revealed the path the sound would take through the skull, ossicles, cochlea, and auditory nerve.

One advantage of using bone conduction headphones is that it allows a person to hear surrounding ambient sounds using their ears, versus not being able to hear them when using earbuds, or over-the-ear headphones.

Panasonic’s bone conduction headphone model, RP-BTGS10, will be available this fall. No price was disclosed.

Intel presented “Haswell,” which is the code-name for its next generation of core processors, which will succeed its current Ivy Bridge processor.

New computing devices using the Haswell processor will experience longer battery run-time: a reported 13 hours.

Look for Haswell processors inside Intel’s new Ultrabooks, and in other laptops, later this year.

A company called GlobaTrac has an innovative gadget that will tell you where your lost luggage is.

It’s called the Trakdot Luggage Tracker.

This small, battery-powered (two AA batteries) device rests inside your checked-in luggage suitcase.

It has a built-in Global System Mobile (GSM) chip, and sends real-time messages (saying where it is located) to your mobile device, iPhone, Android, or any Short Messaging Service (SMS) device capable of receiving GSM signaling.

Electronic devices like Trakdot are not allowed to use satellite Global Positioning System (GPS) signaling per Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) rules.

The FAA does, however, approve the Trakdot for airline travel.

Trakdot constantly monitors the cellular network to determine which city it is located in.

So, say you arrived at John Wayne airport in Orange County, CA, and your luggage didn’t. Now, you will know where it ended up, perhaps at LAX (as mine did), by the alert message you see on your cellphone sent from the Trakdot device inside the suitcase.

Trakdot is not only for finding lost luggage.

You can also use it when you arrive at your destination and are standing at the luggage carrousel waiting for your suitcase (containing a Trakdot) to drop down.

Bluetooth technology inside Trakdot will begin alerting your cellphone as it gets closer to it.

A traveler can also securely log into Trakdot’s website at to locate where an individual suitcase is located.

The thoughtful folks at GlobaTrac even provide an old-fashioned, brightly-colored, yellow luggage tag with every Trakdot.

Is there a demand for a gadget like Trakdot? Well, according to GlobaTrac, they certainly think so. GlobaTrac said based on statistics from the FAA, each year over 26 million bags of airline luggage go missing around the world.

The Trakdot Luggage Tracker will become available in March, and is priced at $49.99. The messaging alert service costs $13 per year.

The CES website is at