Honeybees, which are of the greatest commercial interest, pollinate about a third of what we eat, including fruits, nuts and vegetables. Thirty-one percent of US bee colonies were lost in the winter of 2013 alone. Then, as the future of the honeybees seems dire indeed, the cavalry of the robots rushes to the rescue of the flowering plants and trees. Although they are not yet deployed into the waiting blossoms, they already have a name: robobees.
The current leader in robobees technology is a team at Harvard University. In May 2013, their School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced that an experimental prototype of the robobee made its first controlled flight. Half the size of a paperclip, weighing less than a tenth of a gram, it powered upward, hovered on its delicate flapping wings, and flew away.
Writing in the Scientific American, the team leaders said, “In 2009 the three of us began to seriously consider what it would take to create a robotic bee colony. We wondered if mechanical bees could replicate not just an individual’s behavior but the unique behavior that emerges out of interactions among thousands of bees. We have now created the first RoboBees—flying bee-size robots—and are working on methods to make thousands of them cooperate like a real hive.”
A major engineering breakthrough was finding a way to power the high speed flapping of the 3 cm wings. The solution was piezoelectric effect actuators. Electric fields applied to tiny ceramic strips cause them to flap the bee’s wings at 120 times per second.
Read more at the Winter of the Genomes website. It can be ordered on Amazon.
There is already a race to find lithium for smart phone batteries. Almost all new technology has a major electronics component somewhere. Increasingly, the new designs require rare earth elements which are being gobbled up. Even copper, used in almost all circuits, has a foreseeable limit to low cost supplies.
Therefore, the idea that in technology lies the solutions to all of humankind's problems must increasingly be questioned.
A paradigm shift of our time is that nobody's mind is a mind by itself. Everyone's mind is connected to the computer clouds and to the collective intelligence of similar minds. This creates a super intelligence not anticipated in the slowly evolving mind scheme. However intelligent a dog or chimpanzee may be, their minds are still the essentially independent entities that they have always been, and the minds of prehistoric men were also essentially independent of some greater intelligence. Evolving DNA changed the design of the human brains, and some of the prebirth packaged intelligence in the human genome changed behavior, but these genetic changes have been and will be comparatively slow. We are finally understanding consciousness, imagination and self and how these relate to all other forms of intelligence with which they react.
Especially due to massive low-cost computer clouds and nearly limitless communications networks connecting them and us, evolution has taken a fundamental step that will change the ecology of the earth. The brain that made man special over all the other creatures has created a network brain about whose magnitude and consequences we can only speculate.
Let us dispel the startling statements and popular movie themes telling us that artificial intelligence will greatly exceed human intelligence in just a few decades. There have been startling statements and popular movies telling us that artificial intelligence will greatly exceed human intelligence in just a few decades. There may be little doubt that this will be the case for applications mostly requiring massive and repetitive computing, but is not so certain for projects requiring significant imagination and creativity. In any case, it is highly unlikely that androids will be running around conquering the world.
AI Computers can access very large databases. They can be used in detailed multidimensional design. They can manage vast projects. There is talk of computer-like nanorobots that can circulate around in your body. There are even computer programs to invent new devices. However, as far as I am aware, no computer independently came up with the general theory of relativity.
Timothy Lee summarized the AI and robots limitations nicely in his story in Vox. See the the story here.
I write about this in detail in my new book,Winter of the Genomes available at Amazon.
To be creative, you must unleash your curiosity, quest for knowledge, and propensity for noticing things. No lesser minds than Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein were noted for being passionately curious, using their imagination as their prime lens to see ahead and their creativity to solve problems. Einstein wrote: "The important thing is not to stop questioning." You should also notice all kinds of things, however unrelated to your quest they may seem. When Will Carrier noticed the apparently odd behavior of water droplets in fog, he had stumbled into the basics of air conditioning, the ground-breaking technology of his Carrier Corporation.
Recently I was eating a sandwich in the food court of a shopping center. A homeless man settled near me, squatted down, and started rummaging through his collection of things—assorted rags, plastic bottles, scraps of paper—and a smartphone. Ignoring me, he started tapping its screen. Startled, and intrigued by where his cyber journey might be taking him, I asked, “Who are you contacting?” and he answered, “I use it for everything.” It was his entire life.
Social media apparently is the most popular use of smartphones with Facebook installed in 70% of them. Google and other search engines, the portals to the world’s knowledge, are installed in fewer smartphones—about 58% in early 2015. This ranking may increase now that search engines can be queried by voice. The average user checks their smart phone more than 100 times a day.
The situation gets worse with children and teens. They look first to smartphone sources for advice and guidance, and, if time permits, their parents and teachers. They may be bright, but they are self-absorbed to the exclusion of everything else.
What is going on? Are we falling into an inescapable black hole? This is a key discussion in my new book , The Digital Rabbit Hole.
Let us imagine today’s version of a classic story…
Alice was so excited about visiting Europe for the first time, but she quickly became tired of sitting by her sister on the flight to London. Her sister was absorbed in a boring book with no pictures or music. “I don’t know why people read books,” thought Alice, “when they can see everything in color and sound on their smartphone.”
She snuggled down in her seat, grasping her glowing smartphone and began listening to it through her tiny earphones. She glanced now and then at the distant clouds to see if she could see one that looked like a sheep or a giraffe. Suddenly a white rabbit appeared on the windowsill.
He took a smartphone out of his vest, glanced at it attentively, and said, “Be quick, follow me, or we will miss the tea.” Alice jumped up, and excited for a little adventure, ran after him. The rabbit tapped his smartphone screen, and Alice’s smartphone screen came to life with a live video of some people and creatures sitting around a picnic table having tea.
“Hurry up,” he said, as he disappeared down a hole under a hedge. Alice followed and found herself falling weightlessly, with the wall of the tunnel fading out of view. “Is there a bottom?” she wondered. She was so absorbed by it all that she forgot to be afraid.
In this new world, Cyberland, Alice could find no places to eat, no malls, only some strangers sitting around a picnic table having tea. Then, boom! Alice hit the ground. She struggled to her wobbly feet and scraped her head on the roof of a space with no walls in any direction.
A button appeared on her smartphone labeled “click here.” Alice clicked without thinking about what could happen next and found herself shrinking. The rabbit appeared again. “You are as tall as me!” Alice cried. “So?” he said. “Hurry, we’re late!”
This Alice in Cyberland scenario is no longer fantasy. More and more people—almost all of the younger generations—are falling down digital rabbit holes. We all make forays into digital places where our friends can be found, or information can be gathered, or adventures and discovery awaits.
For centuries, social groups, books, libraries, songs, movies, and other media fulfilled those functions, but they were optional behavior. Now we have the Internet, which is not optional. It is a digital rabbit hole we fall into and cannot escape. The doors and windows to this infinite cyberland is the smartphone.
There are two basic reasons why this trend is happening and will become pervasive and controlling:
1- Technology – Perpetual digital connection to everything and too easy to get an apparent answer rather than devise one of our own.
2- Human nature – least action, convenience, good enough, alive enough, irrelevance, distractions.
See more at the Rabbit Hole page.
Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and other big thinkers have expressed concerns that AI could bring an end to our civilization. I think Pogo said something relevant here: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We could give up to the machines by default. We are so bound to our computers and their access device, the smart phone, that every advance in information technology is geared to reducing our work and lessen our apparent need for thinking. As we carry on our social media chatting, and the more “likes” our declarations produce, the less the apparent need to pursue the truth. The robots don’t weary. They relentlessly press forward.
I have just finished a great new book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life by Dr. Craig Venter. It is about using DNA engineering to achieve synthetic biology. He first became well known when his Institute for Genomic Research completed the first genome sequence of a free-living organism, the bacteriumHaemophilus influenzae. In 1998, he incorporated Celera Genomics to beat the government-funded effort to sequence the human genome, which has three billion chemical units and about 20,500 genes. Both teams jointly announced complete mapping of the genome in 2000 with the final sequence mapped in 2003. In that same year, Venter made the virus phi X 174 synthetically, and in 2010, he made the first synthetic bacterial cell, Mycoplasma mycoides. Synthetic Genomics is his latest company.
Venter has concluded that life is a DNA software system. This software creates and directs the construction of proteins and cells. Venter explains we can read the “software of life” by sequencing DNA. He says that if you have rewritten the software of a genome, you have changed life itself. The “DNA software” is analogous to computer software because it includes stored information and instructions to be used in a process. Information can be used, for example, to synthesize proteins, and the DNA software has the mechanisms, including the accompanying messenger RNA, to transport the information where needed. This is very similar to the early digital computers, which used punched paper tape or cards to reference and deliver information according to a program in the computer.
Venter writes in his book, “Now we can go the other direction by starting with the computerized digital code, designing a new life form, chemically synthesizing its DNA, and then booting it up to produce the actual organism. And because the information is now digital, we can send it anywhere at the speed of light and re-create the DNA and life at the other end.”
I will talk more about the implications of this in my new book, Winter of the Genomes.It can be ordered on Amazon.
Could robots be the fourth great socioeconomic revolution in modern American Life? First, automobiles replaced horses, enabling suburbia. Then along came television which brought the world into our living room. What sneaked up later was television's child, the video camera, which became the all-seeing eye, following us everywhere. Then there were smartphones which serve as our portal to the Web and to our friends.
If we combine the mechanical genius of the automobile with the sentience of television and the connectedness provided by the smartphone, we find ourselves among the robots. They can be alive enough so we can love them, and they can revolutionize our economy.
Like cars, television and smartphones, mass adoption of robots will depend on mass production to reduce their cost, and people-oriented packaging so that they can be be as attractive and simple to operate as smartphones.
See more in my new book, Winter of the Genomes which can be purchased at Amazon.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).