David Kirkpatrick

July 15, 2010

Start cowering under your afghans …

… the robots are coming. (Just to let you know, the title refers to an old Saturday Night Live short selling insurance to the elderly for protection from robots.)

The Conference on Artificial Intelligence is making the case for robotics as a major growth industry in the very near future.

From the link:

“Early on there was this dream that robots could be generally intelligent; that they would rival and surpass humans in their abilities to do things,” Leslie Kaelbling, a professor of computer science and engineering at MIT, said at the conference. “The current commercial reality is pretty different.”

A lot of AI research fragmented in directions away from robotics, creating algorithms that underpin business intelligence, finance, Web and other uses. AI got separated from robotics because the machines are a pain: physical and unreliable. However, “They are getting better,” Kaelbling said.

Today, robotics researchers have computers that are faster, machinery that is more reliable, and many of the algorithms used in routine robotic tasks have already been built, said Kaelbling, who asked this research community whether it was time to give robotics another try.

September 2, 2009

Blame quantum amnesia for lack of time travel

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:54 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — And if quantum amnesia is a real phenomena without a solution time travel would be a one-way affair. I’m not sure if anyone would sign up for a one=way ticket to an uncertain future.

Quantum amnesia gives time its arrow

NewScientist Physics & Math, Aug. 26, 2009

The forward-only direction of time is the result of quantum-mechanical amnesia that erases any trace thattime has moved backwards, says Lorenzo Maccone of MIT.

Read Original Article>>

April 6, 2009

April 2009 media tips from Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The latest story ideas coming out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The release:

April 2009 Story Tips

Story ideas from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Sensors—Math to the rescue . . .

Making sense of the enormous amounts of information delivered by all types of sensors is an incredible challenge, but it’s being met head on with knowledge discovery techniques developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Some of the strategies and approaches are outlined in a recently published book, “Knowledge Discovery from Sensor Data,” (http://books.google.com/books?id=dq7uAA3ssPcC) edited by a team led by Auroop Ganguly of ORNL’s Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. The book is specifically aimed at analyzing dynamic data streams from sensors that are geographically distributed. “We are especially interested in looking for changes – even ones that are very gradual — and anomalies,” Ganguly said. This work helps to validate and assign uncertainties to models developed to understand issues related to climate, transportation and biomass. Co-authors include Olufemi Omitaomu and Ranga Raju Vatsavai of ORNL. This research was originally funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. 

Cyber Security—Meeting of minds . . .

Dozens of the nation’s authorities on cyber security will be participating in the Fifth Cyber Security and Information Intelligence Research Workshop April 13-15 (http://www.ioc.ornl.gov/csiirw). The focus of this event, which is open to the public, is to discuss novel theoretical and empirical research to advance the field. “We aim to challenge, establish and debate a far-reaching agenda that broadly and comprehensively outlines a strategy for cyber security and information intelligence that is founded on sound principles and technologies,” said Frederick Sheldon, general chair and a member of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, a sponsor of the workshop. Other sponsors are the University of Tennessee and the Federal Business Council. The workshop, hosted by ORNL, is being held in cooperation with the Association for Computing Machinery. 

Material—Graphene cleanup . . .

Graphene, a single-layer sheet of graphite, has potential as a remarkable material, particularly for electronics and composite applications. However, working with the material leaves molecular-scale rough edges, which can spoil its properties. Researchers at MIT and the Laboratory for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research (LINAN) and Advanced Materials Department in San Luis Potosi, Mexico have been working with graphitic nanoribbons. Separate research performed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed theory-based computer simulations with quantum mechanical calculations that explain how a process called Joule heating cleans up graphene as the rough carbon edges vaporize and then reconstruct at higher, voltage-induced temperatures. The collaborative project was recently described in Science magazine. 

Energy—Tighten up . . .

An effort to gather environmental data related to the energy efficiency of buildings through weatherization technologies will be conducted in a joint project that includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Building Technologies, Research and Integration Center. ORNL engineer Andre Desjarlais says his group’s research will focus on the study of a building’s air tightness by monitoring unintended air movement – air leakage – between outdoors and indoors. In heating climates, up to 30 percent of the energy used in a building can be attributed to air leakage. The tests will be conducted at Syracuse University, which is also a partner. Other partners are the Air Barrier Association of America and it members, along with the New York State Energy Office. The DOE funding source is the Office of Building Technologies.

December 8, 2008

Thin-film solar

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about a solar breakthrough. Not sure if the spate earlier this year came on the heels of a lot of concurrent research, or if everyone was just trying to announce early-versions of coming tech because oil was so high priced.

If it was the latter expect little alternative fuel news since the market pressure won’t be there until oil heads back toward three figures a barrel. That might be a while.

At any rate efficient thin-film solar sounds like a promising tech.

From the link:

Researchers at MIT have unveiled a new type of silicon solar cell that could be much more efficient and cost less than currently used solar cells. Materials science and engineering professor Lionel Kimerling and his colleagues presented results of the first device prototype at a recent meeting of the Materials Research Society in Boston.

The design combines a highly effective reflector on the back of a solar cell with an antireflective coating on the front. This helps trap red and near-infrared light, which can be used to make electricity, in the silicon. The research team is licensing similar technology to StarSolar, a startup in Cambridge, MA.

The researchers applied their light-trapping scheme on thin silicon cells that are about five micrometers thick. Their prototype solar cell is 15 percent more efficient at converting light into electricity than commercial thin-film solar cells. Project leader Peter Bermel, who is StarSolar’s chief technology officer, says that sophisticated computer simulations suggest that much greater gains in efficiency are possible.

Lirong Zeng

Light trapper: A transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image shows the back surface of a five-micrometer-thick silicon solar cell. The alternating layers of silicon and silicon dioxide form an excellent light reflector. The crests and troughs send the reflected light into the silicon at a low angle that keeps it trapped inside the silicon for a long time, increasing the efficiency of the cell. Credit: Lirong Zeng

September 20, 2008

Maybe markets need the human touch

Here’s a Technology Review blog post on quantitative analysis and its role in the ongoing financial meltdowns.

From the link:

Much of what’s happening currently connects back to this: the application of incredibly complex mathematical and statistical techniques to financial markets. An article in yesterday’s Financial Times highlights how the failure of mathematical modeling to accurately foresee market behavior is now exposing even seemingly safe institutions such as AIG to the wider credit mess:

On a wider level, AIG failed to see how the fate of supersenior [pools of debt previously considered safe] could be linked to behaviour in other parts of the financial world. For what has made the price falls so vicious this year is that all the institutions that had previously piled this “boring” supersenior on their books have needed to sell at once. Hence the development of a vicious, downward spiral.

These institutions can hardly be blamed. This morning I spoke with Jiang Wang, a professor at the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He says that the models used by big financial institutions simply aren’t engineered to cope with the kind of severe conditions we are now seeing:

“Quantitative models/tools have served finance well at the micro level, such as valuation techniques, trading strategies, and specific risk analysis and product design. However, they are not at the level of capturing system wide risks and dynamics, and not intended to be. Much more work and data are needed here.”

Unfortunately, as the situation worsens, it becomes even harder to predict what will happen next.

August 13, 2008

A123 Systems announces IPO

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:37 am

A start-up with a battery to challenge lithium-ions has announced its initial public offering. A123 Systems has commercialized materials developed at MIT.

From the link:

A123’s success so far is due to its ability to develop ways to manufacture its nanostructured materials. The company’s competitors might solve similar problems themselves and produce batteries that could outperform A123’s. A123 has responded by investing heavily in research and development.

Here is the company’s release on the IPO news:

 A123 Systems, Inc.

A123 Systems Files Registration Statement for Initial Public Offering

WATERTOWN, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A123 Systems, Inc. announced today that it has filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock.

The joint book-running managers of the proposed offering will be Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated and Goldman Sachs & Co. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated will serve as co-lead manager, and Broadpoint Capital, Inc. and Lazard Capital Markets LLC will serve as co-managers.

A registration statement relating to these securities has been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission but has not yet become effective. These securities may not be sold, nor may offers to buy be accepted prior to the time the registration statement becomes effective. This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy, nor shall there be any sale of these securities in any state or jurisdiction in which such an offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such state or jurisdiction.

Once available, a preliminary prospectus relating to these securities may be obtained from Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated, Prospectus Department, 180 Varick Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10014, telephone: 866-718-1649 or by emailing prospectus@morganstanley.com and from Goldman Sachs & Co., Prospectus Department, 100 Burma Road, Jersey City, NJ 07035, telephone: 212-902-1171, facsimile: 212-902-9316 or by emailing prospectus-ny@ny.email.gs.com

About A123 Systems

A123 Systems develops and manufactures advanced lithium-ion batteries and battery systems for the transportation, electric grid services and portable power markets. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Massachusetts, A123 Systems patented Nanophosphate technology includes nanoscale materials initially developed at and exclusively licensed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

August 1, 2008

Solar energy storage breakthrough

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:50 am

This is a major breakthrough in solar power in terms of being able to store and use the energy collected. There seems to be a lot of different areas of solar power being worked on and pushed right now.

I’d love to be able to cover 40% of my roof with panels and actually sell back to the grid every once in a while. Developments like these make that idea that much closer to reality.

From the link:

Researchers have made a major advance in inorganic chemistry that could lead to a cheap way to store energy from the sun. In so doing, they have solved one of the key problems in making solar energy a dominant source of electricity.

Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at MIT, has developed a catalyst that can generate oxygen from a glass of water by splitting water molecules. The reaction frees hydrogen ions to make hydrogen gas. The catalyst, which is easy and cheap to make, could be used to generate vast amounts of hydrogen using sunlight to power the reactions. The hydrogen can then be burned or run through a fuel cell to generate electricity whenever it’s needed, including when the sun isn’t shining.

Solar power is ultimately limited by the fact that the solar cells only produce their peak output for a few hours each day. The proposed solution of using sunlight to split water, storing solar energy in the form of hydrogen, hasn’t been practical because the reaction required too much energy, and suitable catalysts were too expensive or used extremely rare materials. Nocera’s catalyst clears the way for cheap and abundant water-splitting technologies.

July 15, 2008

Creating “living legos”

From KurzweilAI.net — bioenginerrs at MIT and Harvard have created self-assembling tissues.

Self-Assembling Tissues
Technology Review, July 15, 2008

MIT and Harvard Medical School bioengineers have created “living Legos” — building blocks of biofriendly gels of various shapes studded with cells that can self-assemble into complex structures resembling those found in tissues.

(Ali Khademhosseini)

They are currently working on making more-complex self-assembling structures that resemble the repeating units of the liver, the pancreas, and heart muscle.

Read Original Article>>


This is a real breakthrough in terms of custom growing organs for patients needing a new liver, or lung or other body part. As this science becomes practical and commonplace it will completely change the nature of the transplant/organ donor world. Replacement organs grown from your own cells will be much safer and less likely to result in complications or rejection of the new part.

From the original Technology Review article (same link as “Read Original Article” above):

Tissue engineers are ambitious. If they had their way, a dialysis patient could receive a new kidney made in the lab from his own cells, instead of waiting for a donor organ that his immune system might reject. Likewise, a diabetic could, with grafts of lab-made pancreatic tissue, be given the ability to make insulin again. But tissue engineering has stalled in part because bioengineers haven’t been able to replicate the structural complexity of human tissues. Now researchers have taken an important first step toward building complex tissues from the bottom up by creating what they call living Legos. These building blocks, biofriendly gels of various shapes studded with cells, can self-assemble into complex structures resembling those found in tissues.

June 23, 2008

A couple of solar breaktroughs

From KurzweilAI.net — MIT students create a low-cost, low-tech solar dish, and carbon nanotubes may lower the cost and improve the performance of solar cells.

MIT team plays with fire to create cheap energy
Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2008

A simple new low-cost solar dish developed by MIT students produces steam heat for less than the cost of heat from oil or natural gas, according to the MIT team.

The steam heat can be used cost effectively for manufacturing, food pasteurization, and heating buildings.
Read Original Article>>


Perfecting a solar cell by adding imperfections
PhysOrg.com, June 16, 2008

New research at Santa Fe Institute, Michigan State University, and Columbia University shows that a film of carbon nanotubes may be able to replace two of the layers normally used in a solar cell, with improved performance at lower cost.

Exposing the carbon nanotubes to ozone made the carbon nanotubes better catalysts, with more than a ten-fold improvement, and replaced expensive platinum. And making them longer improved both conductivity and transparency.

The carbonnanotube films might also be used in fuel cells and batteries.

Read Original Article>>

May 30, 2008

Gold nanoparticles safely penetrate cells

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:19 pm

From KurzweilAI.net:

Nanoparticles of a Different Stripe
Technology Review, May 30, 2008

Gold nanoparticles coated with alternating stripes of hydrophobic and hydrophilic molecules can penetrate cells without killing them, MIT researchers have found.

Such materials could offer a more effective way to deliver drugs or imaging agents to the interior of a cell.

Read Original Article>>

May 8, 2008

Science fiction in the real world

From KurzweilAI.net — a city of the future is going up in Abu Dhabi, and “Fantastic Voyage” gets one step closer to reality.

Building the Zero-Emissions City
Technology Review, May 8, 2008

Construction has started on a city in Abu Dhabi that will house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses but use extremely little energy, and what it does use will come from renewable sources.

The city, which is expected to cost $22 billion, will implement an array of technologies, including thin-film solar panels that serve as the facades and roofing materials for buildings, ubiquitous sensors for monitoring energyuse, and driverless vehicles powered by batteries that make cars unnecessary. The city’s founders hope that it will serve as a test bed for a myriad of new technologies being proposed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Read Original Article>>

Nanoworms target tumors
KurzweilAI.net, May 8, 2008

Scientists at UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT have developed nanometer-sized “nanoworms” that can cruise through the bloodstream without significant interference from the body’s immune defense system and home in on tumors, reminiscent of the science fiction movie, Fantastic Voyage.

The scientists constructed their nanoworms from spherical iron oxide nanoparticles that join together, like segments of an earthworm, to produce tiny gummy worm-like structures about 30 nanometers long. Their iron-oxide composition allows the nanoworms to show up brightly in MRI diagnostic devices.

Using nanoworms, doctors should eventually be able to target and reveal the location of developing tumors that are too small to detect by conventional methods. Carrying payloads targeted to specific features on tumors, these microscopic vehicles could also one day provide the means to more effectively deliver toxic anti-cancer drugs to specific tumors, organs and other sites in the body, in high concentrations without negatively impacting other parts of the body.

University of California, San Diego news release

April 25, 2008

Supercomputing and nanotech products in the news

Today’s KurzweilAI.net news includes a quantum computer breakthrough and news on the ubiquity of nanotech products:

Riding D-Wave
Technology Review, May/June 2008

In November of last year, with $60 million in funding, D-Wave demonstrated what it claimed was a 28-qubit adiabatic quantum computer, based on a design by MIT quantum computing scientist Seth Lloyd.

Now, the company’s scientists are attempting to demonstrate the fundamentally quantum-mechanical nature of their device.

Read Original Article>>

New nanotech products hitting the market at the rate of 3 to 4 per week
PhysOrg.com, April 24, 2008

New nanotechnology consumer products are coming on the market at the rate of 3 to 4 per week, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) Project Director David Rejeski said in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday.

The number of consumer products using nanotechnology has grown from 212 to 609 since PEN launched the world’s first online inventory of manufacturer-identified nanotech goods in March 2006. Health and fitness items, which includes cosmetics and sunscreens, represent 60 percent of inventory products. The list of products is available free at www.nanotechproject.org/consumerproducts.
Read Original Article>>

March 6, 2008

3D image of live virus captured

From KurzweilAI.net, the captured 3D image of a live virus.

New technique takes a big step in examination of small structures
KurzweilAI.net, March 6, 2008Researchers from Purdue University, Baylor College of Medicine, and MIT captured a three-dimensional image of a live virus at a resolution of 4.5 angstroms, tracing for the first time the polypeptide chain structure of a live virus.

bacteriophage Epsilon15

The technique used, single-particle electron cryomicroscopy, maintains the sample in a natural state. X-ray crystallography, for example, requires the sample to be crystallized.

Purdue University News Release

February 24, 2008

Would you put your privacy on the open market?

Filed under: Business, et.al., Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:31 pm

Hear, hear. As a libertarian, I love the idea of being able to turn your personal data into a commodity.

Money is being made on our personal information. The creator of that data ought to be recognized as the “owner” and compensated in any transaction involving the information. And the “owner” should be able to keep that info off the market if so desired.

Here’s this entire Daily Dish post:

The Market for Privacy

24 Feb 2008 12:29 am

<!– –>[Jim Manzi]

MIT’s flagship magazine, Technology Review, produces a an annual list of the year’s 10 most exciting technologies (as with any of these lists, of course it is really more like “the 10 most exciting technologies developed by researchers who are one degree of separation from the editors, are quotable and are, ideally, photogenic”).  Nonetheless, one striking aspect of this year’s list is that two ofthe ten technologies are algorithmic methods of using the large datasets created by digital transaction records to generate economically valuable insights.

The erosion of historical notions of privacy at the hands of commerce is almost inexorable, ultimately because of Moore’s Law.  You don’t need eavesdropping or other surveillance techniques when the infrastructure by which you communicate, travel, and buy things generates data as a by-product of each of these activities.  This, much more than government spies, is the primary driver of lack of privacy.

It seems to me that the logical method to protect such information is to codify and create a tangible property right in it.  When the choices are (1) opt out of modern life, or (2) implicitly surrender all of this info, pretty much everybody picks door #2.  But what if I had the practical ability to charge commercial entities for access to or use of information of this sort?  It would, first, go from a free good to a scarcer resource, and second, I could protect those parts of my transaction history that I feel to be most sensitive.  In effect, we need a functioning market into which I can sell my transaction history.

January 25, 2008

80 million nouns as a mosaic

Filed under: Arts, Science — Tags: , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:02 pm

This is simply cool.

(Hat tip: the Daily Dish)