Looking at the huge number of apps developed in such a short time one has to recognize that opening up their development to the world has unleashed a tremendous wealth. Some of these apps are quite useless, some are ugly but a few are intriguing to the point that several people, including your truly, have become addicted.
The possibility is the result of the substantial reduction in cost of bio-engineering.
According to Cathal Garvey, a PhD student that decided to ride the wave of open bio-engineering, you can set up a bio engineering lab in your garage for about 4,000$. That is well within the reach of many pockets, and this is the reason stated by George Church, a genetic professor at the Harward Medical School: the cost of decoding the genome is decreasing five times faster than the cost of chips (Moore’s law). In other words every 4 months the cost halves.
There have been amazing progress in speed and cost (cost decrease of course). Whilst the Human Genome Project had a cost of 10 dollars per base pair (there are about 1 billion of them in the human genome) by 2010 this cost has dropped to 1 dollar per million of base pair, a factor of 10 million over a period of 10 years! By comparison the Moore’s law result in a factor of 1 thousand over that same period.
So far the progress is the result of several techniques and standardization (wiring with building blocks). The next step is expected by opening up the bio-engineering to crowd sourcing. Whereas so far the focus has been on improving one process now the focus becomes in making parallel and cross correcting processes possible (similar to what happens in Wikipedia).
Clearly the stakes, and risk, are potentially greater and I am no expert in evaluating them. What impresses me is the approach being taken, moving from what may be considered a step by step value chain to an ecosystem.
A chip controlled by radio signal delivers the drug at the right time
Implantable chips are becoming more and more common and are slowly transforming the health care paradigm.
It is now several years that miniaturized drug dispensers can be implanted under the skin. At MIT, researchers have been at the forefront of this approach and now they have announced, in conjunction with MicroCHIPS Inc, the availability of a chip that can be controller by a radio signal to release daily doses of an osteoporosis drug that would normally require daily injections.
The chip is actually programmed to deliver specific quantity of medication at specific times. This programming takes place using radio signals sent at a frequency reserved for this kind of application.
Known as MICS, Medical Implant Communication Service, this communication is active for a few inches, so it is easy to control and to avoid “interference”…. In practice you go to your doctor and she will implant the chip under your skin and then will program it to deliver the medicine at the appropriate dosage at specific times using a radio link to her computer.
The chip can be reprogrammed as many times as required based on your reaction to the cure. It supports a much better drug delivery since the delivery can be finely tuned.
According to MIT researchers, in the future they see this kind of chips being implanted in most people, like having a pharmacy always available. Sensors will provide information on your condition and a doctor with a few clicks (assuming clicks will still be needed in the next decade) will be able to start the cure and modify it in real time depending on the data provided by the sensors.
And this, obviously, is just a starting step. It won’t take long before someone may start to embed the doctor under our skin, in form of a smart chip…that will be getting smarter by receiving information on specific health risk in a certain area and taking action knowing about you….
We have really just began. Nanotech, bioengineering, electronics, communications and big data converge in reshaping our world.
Computing is becoming low cost and pervasive, embedded in any node, Users’ device, everyday object and in the physical environment (sensors, actuators, etc) as well. An open and dynamic networked world will be the arena of next services and applications. Traditional control and management approaches will be ill-suited to face such environments: the question is how effectively exploiting coordination in huge ensembles of distributed autonomous entities (against strict requirements such as dynamism and complexity). Forget also traditional middleware: communication and computation costs would be too high, and solutions brittle and fragile. Feasible approaches to control and manage myriad of interacting nodes and devices are still unknown…but do we really need them? Let’s change the perspective: did Nature invent a way to control the behavior of any single neuron ? Not indeed! Part 1 of this post (drawing inspiration from neurotransmitter functioning in neuron networks) has proposed a vision of future networks where each node, device, machine, smart object (like a neuron) is capable of autonomous local self-adaptation reactions to the context (through neurons’ interconnections) and where a global harmonization is made through viral propagation of coordination and context information (as neurotransmitters do). This Part 2 is proposing a simple proof-of-concept aiming at demonstrating that this is feasible even today.
Imagine Users (cars, kiosks, lamp streets…) having a sort of communication halo around them: Edge Networks (see a previous post) will emerge spontaneously (as flocks of birds flying around) through these halos overlapping cross-interactions. Imagine each node having perception of its local context, the environment inside its halo. Each node diffuses its context information hop-by-hop accordingly to certain propagation rules. Any context can be accessed locally but at the same time it takes account of the influences of the context and coordination information propagated from other nodes (also the fixed ones). We’ll have a sort of global coordination field, injected by nodes in the network and autonomously propagating … like neutransmitters. In other words, nodes are interacting with each other and with the environment by simply generating, receiving and propagating distributed data structures abstracting context information. This field is providing nodes with a global representation of the situation of the overall network, which is immediately usable, like an object moving in a “gravitational” field. Environmental dynamics and nodes local decisions will determine changes in the field closing a feedback cycle. This is enabling a distributed the overall self-organization.
In real proof-of-concept nodes’ halos can be easily implemented with a smart phone (acting as Wi-Fi Hot Spot), one (or more) cheap, tiny PC (e.g. a Raspberry Pi for $ 25) and one (or more) microcontroller (e.g. based on Arduino). Coordination field can be made of “tuples” of data which can be injected and diffused by each node. Local reading of these “tuples of data” (e.g. through pattern matching) can trigger local self-adaptation behaviors. Plenty of open source applications are available on the web to implement nodes primitives and local autonomic behaviors. It’s simpler than expected.
Future Networks: local reactions and global self-organization
Surprisingly, if we look at the network dynamics as a “many body problem” we can even define the Hamiltonian (a sort of energy function describing the state) of the network. Just following Nature.
The chip is expected to power the camcorder used to produce the videos we will be enjoying in 2020 on the new generation of UHDTV.
Now, look at the specs: 33 Mpixels and 120 FPS. That is over 30 times as much data to be transmitted per second than the ones needed for the HD television of today (the number of frames per second varies in today HD television but is lower than 50 FPS).
Today, carrying an HD television signal requires a bandwidth of the order of 10 Mbps (lower bandwidth are also used with some loss of quality and higher bandwidth, up to 16 Mbps would be better; we can use 10 Mbps as an average). Carrying 30 times as much would require a bandwidth in the order of 300 Mbps (but here again we can imagine that a bandwidth in the order of 100-150 Mbps may be sufficient in most situations).
Well this kind of bandwidth is way too costly if you want to use the cellular radio spectrum (by 2020 you can have those kind of capacity over the air spectrum so cost is the limiting factor).
Optical fiber is the appropriate infrastructure for carrying this amount of data. Of course the debate is open in terms of people really appreciating the better quality delivered by a 8k television and their willingness to pay for it.
The very last meter, the one in the home, may use radio waves since we can have 2Gbps bandwidth in the home. It might even use optical modulation using the lamps (LED ones) you will have in your living room! The real issue is how to deliver this massive amount of data to the home and for that fibre seems to be the way to go (and even lower capacity architectures like GPON, today used in most fiber deployment) will be more than enough).
Most of us remember the movie “Fantastic Voyage”, a science fiction story of a miniaturized submarine (and crew) injected in the blood stream of a patient to perform an otherwise impossible surgery.
The “submarine” to navigate our blood vessels
Now research has made possible to miniaturize probes and surgical instruments so that endoscopic procedures are now commonplace.
Creating a submarine like device that can roam in our blood vessels, as it was the case in the science fiction movie, presented the challenge of miniaturization as well as the one of powering it. The first one has been solved but the second has remained open. Till now.
The whole system is based on a radio transmitting device located outside of the body sending the electromagnetic field to the miniature device placed in the blood vessels, providing power and steerage.
The transmission of energy through radio waves is already common but this has not been applied to micro devices inside our body because high frequencies are soon absorbed by flesh and bones and low frequencies would require a big antenna. What Poon discovered is that the body can be treated as a dielectric, actually a low loss dielectric where a polarized signal can actually travel pretty far and be captured by an antenna 100 times smaller than usual.
This has opened the way to the creation of the first “submarine” able to travel the body blood vessels. Take a look at the simulation:
This result opens up the way for micro surgery performed in places that are today “off limits” as well as to the delivery of targeted drugs.
More than that. It opens the way to placing (and moving around) tiny sensors that will be able to communicate, through a telecommunication network, of course, the insurgence of any problem. And, although it may seem a bit far fetched, it also opens the way to some sort of periodical check up performed by inserting some of these robots “to take a look around” and report back…
According to Peter, traffic will be smoother and quicker if cars are driven by computers, and more important, it will be safer. A computer does not get distracted and is not in a “hurry”.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of his algorithm he has produced a simulation, shown in the video clip below. Well looking at it I am reminded of the approach to intersection of motorbikes in Hanoi and Saigon, and that doesn’t give me a good feeling.
Looking at the clip I feel very much uneasy at the idea of sitting in the back seat and let the computer take over the wheel. No relaxation at all. But this is today. May be, just may be, in the future I would go along with it.
The widespread use of digital camera, now most everyone has a digital camera in her cell phone…, is changing the way we record our memories, and the availability of miniaturized camcorder is leading to a massive amount of digital recording of our life moments. Goggles with embedded cameras are becoming a common sight on ski slopes or trekking adventures.
Look at the camcorder inserted in the glasses frame....
Now, Taser International is selling its Taser Axon camcorder to police forces to be worn as a standard equipment, letting them to record their actions continuously. Interestingly, the recording is being stored “in the cloud”, with the devices able to store locally up to two hours. This local recording is transmitted and stored in the cloud as soon as a wireless connection becomes available.
It is easy to imagine that what is now a specialized application will become widespread in just a few years. Are we going to be haunted by our images?
Clearly, the Big Brother is looming, but is not the one imagined by Orwell. The Big Brother is me, it i you!
We are the ones that capture our life moments and share them. Whereas capturing a snapshot with a camera may form time to time become embarrassing, capturing a whole life (or significant portions of it) is almost sure to become a source of embarrassment.
I guess this is another area where technology is moving faster than our understanding of its effect and our capability to cope with it.
It is another example of the need for a sort of “tutor” to manage our data, letting us the option of backtracking. It has been often said that what you post on the web is there forever and forever beyond your control. It does not have to remain like that, and I think we will see a tremendous business opportunity in the management of data, beyond any concern about privacy since, as I suggested the Big Brother is “us”.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 by Antonio Manzalini
Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by the nervous systems in order to relay a nerve impulse from one cell to another cell. In the brain, neurotransmitters have a central role in shaping memory, learning, mood, behaviors, sleep, pain perception, etc. Basically they operate at the junctions between neurons, allowing communications: when an impulse arrives at the end of an axon, neurotransmitters are released, diffusing across a gap to the next neuron; each neurotransmitter binds only to specific receptors on the postsynaptic membrane.
There are many types of chemicals that act as neurotransmitters. For example, serotonin plays a major role in emotions and judgment, and also sleep. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that relieve pain and induce euphoria.
Neurons interconnections and Neurotransmitters
So brain self-organization is determined basically by two main phenomena: local reactions (firing) of neurons, due to the exchange of electrical signals through neurons’ interconnections, and the global influence of the neurotransmitters.
Imagine taking this picture for managing future networks. As it made no sense in Nature managing or controlling the behavior of a neuron, in the same way we should not expect a centralized management in charge of the hundreds of billions of electronic devices, machines, smart things connected with each other and to the Internet (but on the other hand, we dream to have the Net well self-organized as a … brain).
Therefore, learning from Nature, let’s imagine future network nodes capable of local reactions to the context (as neurons do through their interconnections) and then a global harmonization (as neurotransmitters do) of all these local reactions through the viral propagation of context information (a sort of reaction-diffusion process). Can you see it ?
In a next post, I’ll make a proposal for a concrete proof-of-concept with today technologies.
Let’s look at networks with different eyes to “simplify” the future !
Every now and then there is someone voicing that the end of the applicability of Moore’s law is in sight. This is again the case now as a paper on Nature Nanotechnology is reporting the success of a team of researchers to build a transistor mane by a single atom…
A rendering of the so called one atom transistor: the one atom that is used as a gate is the one in the middle of the image
Clearly, one cannot imagine anything smaller than that. As a matter of fact, if you really look at the paper, and study the physics of computation, you see that one the one hand the transistor created by this team is made up of more atoms than your whole laptop has, and on the other hand the physics of computation extends to sub atomic particles, hence even if a one atom transistor would have been made we would still be quite afar from the ultimate limits of computation.
What is new, in the article published by Purdue and University of Melbourne, Australia, researchers, is the process for controlling the atom of phosphorus.
Having an atom doing the job of controlling the flow of electrons is not exactly the same as having a transistor. As it can be seen in the figure, the single atom is in the middle of the sort of gate through which electrons flow but you need plenty of other atoms to create the gate. In this particular case, you also need plenty of machinery to keep the transistor at minus 196 degree Celsius.
We have now reached 2.3 billion transistor in a chip (the Intel Sandy Bridge Chip), each one taking about 32 nanometre. A single atom takes about 0.1 nanometre so in principle you get a 300 fold higher density. But that is just in principle since, as I have noticed, the current device consists of many more atoms. Secondly, the Moore’s law is about the number of transistor on a chip, and you can get, up to a certain point, more transistor in the chip by shrining their size or by increasing the size of the chip!
The limiting factor, beyond technology, is “cost”. Increasing the chip surface means decreasing the yield per wafer, thus increasing the cost of the single chip. That is why decreasing the transistor (or the etching) size is so important: it keeps the cost stable.
I guess the press got very excited with this news since it seems so easy to understand: we got down to one atom, nothing smaller can exist! Great result, end of the line. As I said it is not true, and it is not true in many ways.
Of the several “ways” it is not true I just want to highlight one (in addition to the two already mentioned): the Moore’s law has subtly changed over the past ten years. We no longer measure the processing power by the number of transistor on a chip, nor by the “clock” of the chip. Practical limitations like power dissipation and cost, have pushed the researchers to create new forms of computation architectures, where the words pervasive and disseminated are taking the upper hand. The overall computation capability is now becoming a property of a system, no longer the one of a chip. And it also goes beyond the multicore structures since these have shown several bottleneck. Probably, the future computation architectures will resemble much more our brain and body where processing is happening every where and although the single processing unit is pretty slow (the neuron and the sensory cells), the whole is capable of amazing processing, not of amazing processing speed! Even if you multiply the number of neurons in your brain (100 billion) for the speed of the single neuron (in the range of 0.1-1 Hz) you get very little processing power (100 GFLOPS … if you can ever measure in GFLOPS…). That is so much less than the chip inside the laptop I am using right now!
The truth is that as we move to pervasive processing (and the associated networking) the definition of computation change dramatically. And we are now moving in that direction.
No end of the line for the conceptual Moore’s law in sight.
Anyhow, take a look a the clip on the one atom transistor, but I hope you will look at it with different “eyes” now.
Users’ devices (e.g. smart phones, with ever growing storage and processing capabilities, acting as hot-spots), and a multitudes of smart objects and things (e.g. from Consumers’ Electronics) with embedded communications, will create new challenges and opportunities at the edge of the network. It is estimated that, in less than ten years, there will be a few hundreds of billions of electronic devices (including machines, sensors, actuators, etc) connected with each other and to the Internet. A wave, innovating networks, starting at the edge.
At the edge (in the last few meters) there will (soon) be a growing number of such communicating entities, with powerful storage and processing capabilities, interacting one each other locally. Imagine cars or Users having a sort of communication halo around them (i.e. a range of connection, interaction). Imagine also kiosks and lamp streets having their own halos. Overlapping halos will allow networks to emerge spontaneously (as flocks of birds flying around). Short-middle range connectivity will be covered by local device-to-device communications, whilst long range interactions will be enabled by hopping into the big Net. Services and data will be virally delivered through multiple devices, machines, objects mostly by using local resources.
Is this scenario so far away in the future ? Not really: some military solutions (almost ready for civilian needs) are already available.
Today, creating – your own “halo” – by yourself would cost you less than one or two hundred euros (obviously depending on what and how many devices you wish to have). You may like to include, for example, an Android smart phone (which can act also as Wi-Fi Hot Spot), one (or more) cheap, tiny PC (e.g. a Raspberry Pi for $ 25) and one (or more) microcontroller (e.g. based on Arduino) for controlling any sensor, actuator or electronic gadget.
Raspberry Pi: a cheap, tiny PC for $ 25
It will be like a fully fledged wireless personal area network (with thousands of free applications available on the web). Once equipped with autonomic features it will be ready to interact spontaneously with other people’s halos to create dynamic local networks. Welcome to Edge Networks.
This scenario raises important issues for Stakeholders to consider. Are we ready?