Recent Royal College of Art graduate Po-Chih Lai has designed a skateboard that can cruise down stairs without a second thought. Called the Stair Rover, it’s the semi of skateboards, an 8-wheeled beast that’s quite literally “rocking” an aluminum Y-frame to transform stairs into a passive-propelling landscape.
Is this really depressing or is it just that I’m reading it on my smartphone, alone in a crowded cafe?
ADDICTED TO INTERNETS, Y’ALL!
(But srsly, think this whole thing is making us a little nutso? That’s our cover this week: How ‘connection addiction’ is re-wiring our brains.)
Questions about the Internet’s deleterious effects on the mind are at least as old as hyperlinks. But even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel—let alone contribute to a great American crack-up—was considered silly and naive, like waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days. Instead, the Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof otherwise?
Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
Want more? Read: Is the Web Driving Us Mad?
Today we stand at the Information Age’s frontier: the Hybrid Age. The Hybrid Age is a new sociotechnical era that is unfolding as technologies merge with each other and humans merge with technology ⎯ both at the same time. Information technology’s exponentially increasing power is propelling other fields forward at accelerating rates, allowing them to transcend their individual limitations in scale and speed. This applies to DNA sequencing, 3-D printing and manufacturing, and almost every other technological sphere. Other fields are also helping IT to accelerate, even potentially overcoming Moore’s Law, which predicted that integrated-circuit capacity doubles approximately every two years. Microprocessors are now reaching the physical limitation of two-dimensional silicon chips as transistors reach atomic size. Computer scientists are teaming up with physicists to explore subatomic quantum computing, in which electrons could become conduits of unique data; biologists have made breakthroughs in molecular computing, which uses enzymes and DNA strands to replace silicon chips altogether. Silicon Valley might soon be something of a misnomer as ever more companies and universities start investing in research on oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.The cross-pollination of leading-edge sectors such as information technology, biotechnology, pervasive computing, robotics, neuroscience and nanotechnology spells the end of certain turf wars over nomenclature.
It is neither the “Bio Age” nor the “Nano Age” nor the “Neuro Age,” but the hybrid of all of these at the same time. At the same time, our own relationship to technology is moving beyond the instrumental to the existential. There is an accelerating centripetal dance between what technologies are doing outside us and inside us. Externally, technology no longer simply processes our instructions on a one-way street. Instead, it increasingly provides intelligent feedback. Internally, we are moving beyond using technology only to dominate nature toward making ourselves the template for technology, integrating technologies within ourselves physically. We don’t just use technology; we absorb it.
YOU’RE NUMBER TWO Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci, top, reacted as Spanish players celebrated after winning the Euro 2012 soccer championship match on Sunday at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. Spain won 4-0. (Photo: Jeff Pachouda / AFP-Getty via The Wall Street Journal)
The productivity puzzle
More work, less stuff
Britain’s strange, weak, job-rich economic recovery
THE economy is in a bad way. Exports are sinking, the cost of bank credit is rising, the state is cutting back and businesses anxious…
Interesting how countries approach the economic downturn in different ways. The long term answer to the economic squeeze and increasing talent wars sooner or later have to result in lowered expectations which UK businesses seems to have acknowledged already.
Image: This illustration of the nuclear landscape shows atomic isotopes arranged by an increasing number of protons (up) and neutrons (right). The dark blue blocks represent stable isotopes, while the lighter blue blocks are unstable isotopes that have been observed. The gray blocks are possible isotopes that have not yet been observed. The yellow clouds represent the drip lines that bound the possible nuclides. A June 2012 study estimated total of roughly 7,000 nuclides are possible. Credit: Andy Sproles, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Scientists have long wondered whether there is a limit to the number of protons and neutrons that can be clustered together to form the nucleus of an atom. A new study comes closer than ever to finding the answer by estimating the total number of nucleus variations that can exist.
The periodic table of elements includes 118 known species of atoms, and each of these exists (either naturally or synthetically) in several versions with differing numbers of neutrons, giving rise to a total of about 3,000 different atomic nuclei. As technology has improved over the years, physicists have been building heavier and heavier atoms — element 117 was created only last year, and researchers are hot on the trail of 119. New projects are in the works to add and subtract neutrons to known elements to create ever more exotic variations, known as isotopes.
But where does it end?
When does a minute last 61 seconds?
On this coming Sunday June 30, intrepid horologists from around the world will daringly attempt to hold back the relentless onslaught of time. Well, to be fair it won’t actually be that difficult. July 1st is scheduled to start an entire second later than it should, a feat of temporal distortion that will be accomplished by making the final minute of the month last 61 seconds.
And should you feel put out by this, you can take it up with the Earth and its wobbly spin.
2012 features a leap second — that ever so important added slice of time that compensates for inconsistencies in the Earth’s rotation. It takes our planet just over 86,400 seconds to make its 360-degree rotation. But because the Earth is affected by the gravitational pull of the Sun and Moon, along with the rolling of the tides, our planet’s rotation is slightly slowed down.
These rotational mis-steps cause the Earth to get out of synch with International Atomic Time (IAT), which uses the pulsation of atoms to measure time to an accuracy of several billionths of a second. In order to resynchronize solar time with IAT time, the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is adjusted every few years to give us the odd 86,401 second day.
Now, while this might seem like much ado about nothing, a recent article by Laurent Banguet in Cosmos Magazine noted that it’s not without controversy:
The leap second has long caused debate among member countries of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), with some arguing for it to be abolished in favour of the exclusive use of atomic time.
Every time a second is added, the world’s computers need to be manually adjusted, a costly practice that also boosts the risk of error.
High-precision systems such as satellites and some data networks will have to factor in the leap second or risk provoking a calculation catastrophe.
It’s for this reason, notes Banguet, that rocket launches are never scheduled for leap-second dates.
This will be the 25th intervention, with the last three leap seconds happening in 2008, 2005, and 1998. Back in 1972, the year they started the practice, they had to add an excruciating two seconds to the clock.
So, what are you going to do with that extra second on June 30?