Friday, February 13, 2015

February is a month of holidays for those of us in the U.S., starting with Lincoln’s actual birthday, yesterday. He wrote the TTI/Vanguard mission statement, by the way: “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”

Lincoln didn’t allow anyone to remain neutral in the Civil War, but he probably would have been in favor of net neutrality. We’re less sure, though, what he would think of FCC Chair Tom Wheeler's proposed redefinition of the Internet as a public utility.  Our members are well equipped to take sides, though, after a number of talks on the subject, notably David Clark's Application Design, Trust, and the End-to-End Arguments (September 2007, Boston) and Advisory Board Member David Reed’s A Tubeless Internet (also September, 2007, Boston).

Lincoln also said, "When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.” Maybe they’re fighting because they have to wear RFID backpacks, which Paulo de Souza described for us a couple of months ago (San Francisco, Dec 2014). Now researchers from Queen Mary University in London and Macquarie University in Sydney, who have affixed RFID trackers on bees to observe their behavior, have discovered that stressed colonies propel their youngest members out of hive at an unusually early age, compounding the hive's poor health and contributing to colony collapse disorder. 

Maybe those bees will someday run Linux. Canonical and BQ's upcoming  European release of the Ubuntu edition of the Aquaris E4.5 smartphone confirms Jim Zemlin's 2010 (San Francisco, Feb 2010) assertion that Linux is truly everywhere.

The other president whose birthday is honored by President’s Day is George Washington, who once said, "Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” We have to wonder what he would have said about robotic company, assuming one will ever pass a rigorous Turing Test, which is something Advisory Board Member Doug Lenat has thought a lot about:

We have some thoughts about good company, though. This Robots for Good project warmed our hearts and reminded us of Dean Kamen's stair-climbing wheelchair (the more sophisticated precursor of the Segway); his passion for robots and motivating kids toward STEM through the FIRST Robotics competition (Jersey City, Oct 2009); and Jon Schull’s 3-D printed hands for children (Boston, April 2013).

Service and specialty robots have been making waves in the hospital sector (Catherine Mohr, Boston, Apr 2014; Steve Cousins, Boston, Apr 2014; Henrik Christensen, Atlanta, Feb 2014; Peter Schulam, Santa Monica, Dec 2007; Yulun Wang, Atlanta, Dec 2004), and now they’re infiltrating the hospitality sector, with the soon-to-open Hen-na Hotel near Nagasaki. Female humanoid robots -- whose nearly life-like appearance threatens to place them squarely in the uncanny valley -- will staff the reception desk and porter robots will tote luggage to guests' rooms; others will staff the cloakroom, perform cleaning duties, and serve diners in the hotel's restaurant.

And robots, or at least satellites, are continuing their infiltration of distant space. Although technical and weather issues delayed the launch of the DSCOVR satellite by a few days, it is now on its way toward the first Lagrangian point to study solar weather, moving forward with the mission goals of the ISEE-3 spacecraft (Dennis Wingo, San Francisco, Dec 2014). Unfortunately, rough seas caused the Falcon 9 rocket used during launch to remain unrecovered, but not for lack of precision.

Opportunity, the Mars Rover that began its intended 90-day mission on the red planet in January 2004 (Daniel Clancy, Phoenix, Dec 2003), is still in forward motion and has traveled nearly the distance of a marathon (26.2 miles). Talk about persistence! Its pace, at 20,074 minutes/mile, is a mite slow, however. It must be dallying at the water stops.

The holiday nearest and dearest to our hearts, is of course also in February. But sometimes we need to talk about hearts literally. Amanda Randles will do just that at our Biotech conference later this month. Her research combines massive computation and fluid dynamics to model and simulate blood flow, the circulatory system, and the heart itself. Have a happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

The TTI/Vanguard Team

Author: Steven Cherry

Director of TTI/Vanguard, “a unique forum for senior-level executives that links strategic technology planning to business success. In private conferences that are part classroom, part think-tank, and part laboratory, its members—corporate and government leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and academics—explore emerging and potentially disruptive technologies.”

Twenty years experience as a technology journalist and editor, at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Founded the award-winning podcast series, Techwise Conversations covering tech news, tech careers and education, and the engineering lifestyle. Teaches an intensive writing class as an adjunct instructor at NYU. Previously taught essay writing and creative writing at The College of New Rochelle.