Monthly Archives: July 2009

Replacing Asimov’s Laws of Responsible Robotics?; more thoughts on innovation in Canada

David Woods, professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University, and Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University propose three new robot laws in the current issue of IEEE Intelligent Systems in the media release on Science Daily. According to Woods,

“When you think about it, our cultural view of robots has always been anti-people, pro-robot,” … “The philosophy has been, ‘sure, people make mistakes, but robots will be better — a perfect version of ourselves.’ We wanted to write three new laws to get people thinking about the human-robot relationship in more realistic, grounded ways.”

This view contrasts somewhat with Mary King’s work on the differences between Japanese and Western perspectives on robots. She acknowledges the fascination and anti-people perspectives in the West but notes pervasive fears while contrasting them with Japanese perspectives on robots where they are viewed in a more purely beneficial way and as being related to nature. You can read her work here or you can check out my previous posts about Mary King’s work in my series on robots and human enhancement, July 22 and 23 2009 are particularly relevant.

Before looking at the new laws, here’s a refresher of Asimov’s three:

  • A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Woods points out that Asimov was a writer and his laws were developed as a literary device. Woods’ and Murpy’s proposed laws are these,

  • A human may not deploy a robot without the human-robot work system meeting the highest legal and professional standards of safety and ethics.
  • A robot must respond to humans as appropriate for their roles.
  • A robot must be endowed with sufficient situated autonomy to protect its own existence as long as such protection provides smooth transfer of control which does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

I see Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind has written some more on innovation in Canada. He highlights a couple of articles in MacLean’s magazine, one focusing on John Manley, former Liberal deputy Prime Minister in Jean Chretien’s cabinet, and a two-part series on Canada’s big five universities. Manley who’s in the process of becoming president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives has some rather pithy (compared to the usual) things to say about innovation and Canadian business. What makes this interesting is the group he will be leading has 150 members, the chief executives of Canada’s biggest corporations, who claim $3.5 trillion in assets and $800 billion in revenues.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Canada’s big five universities point out that Canadian business does not develop and promote its own research and development labs relying instead on university research. Do read Rob’s blog for more discussion about this.

And since it’s Friday, I’m going to mention Raincoaster’s upcoming 3-day novel workshop on Bowen Island (Vancouver, Canada) which will be held on the Labour Day Weekend. I don’t have any details but will post them as soon as I get them. If you’re curious about Raincoaster, you can check out the regular blog here or the blog that has information about other courses here.

More titanium dioxide news; the 5th anniversary of the Royal Society’s Report on Nanotechnology; Copyright in Canada

While titanium dioxide particles in sunscreens are considered safe (see my blog posting here), there is a new study which suggests concerns. A study was done in Japan on pregnant mice who were injected with titanium dioxide nanoparticles. The results suggest that the particles affected brain development in the foetuses. (The media release is located at Nanowerk News here.) My questions since I haven’t looked at the study are this:  Where was the injection site? What was the concentration of  titanium dioxide nanoparticles in the solution? Where several concentrations used or only one? (After all, a lot of medicines are poison if taken in the wrong dosage or misapplied [taken internally instead of externally].)

Still on the titanium dioxide trail, there’s a study by researchers in Switzerland which suggests that nanowires and nanotubes made of titanium dixoide are toxic. There’s an article by Miichael Berger here on Nanowerks. From Berger’s article,

One of the complications of nanotoxicology is that the toxicity of a specific nanomaterial cannot be predicted from the toxicity of the same material in a different form.

“TiO2 nanoparticles are widely used as UV blockers in sunscreens” says Arnaud Magrez [researcher]. “Their cytotoxicity has been tested before and they were found to be rather non-toxic. Our new study shows that TiO2 based nanofilaments, however, can be quite toxic. The geometry of nanoparticles appears to play a crucial role in cytotoxicity. Furthermore, the toxicity can be enhanced by the presence of defects on the nanofilament surface, resulting from chemical treatment.”

Both of these studies highlight why more research needs to be done. A comment which is made in an entirely different context by Dr. Andrew Maynard in his essay commemorating the anniversary of the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering 2004 report on nanotechnologies. Maynard’s essay is the foreword to a report, 5 years on – a beacon or just a landmark? Reflections on the 2004  Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report into nanotechnologies – what was its impact and what is its legacy? published by the Responsible Nano Forum. Maynard’s essay can be read here on his 2020 Science blog and the report can be found here. From Maynard’s essay,

At the time, concerns were mounting over possible new risks associated with creating materials and devices at the nanoscale, and how these would affect the technology’s development.  The previous year, Michael Crichton’s book Prey had sent the nanotech community into a tizzy over a speculative public backlash against the emerging science and technology.  And researchers were beginning to reveal hints that novel nanoscale materials could also affect humans and the environment in unconventional ways—getting to places and causing harm on a scale that belied their small size.

Do read it if you have the time. Maynard’s perspective is both historical and contemporary.

And now for something which concerns me when writing this blog, copyright. Since this blog isn’t profitmaking and I give attribution and encourage people to visit the sites and blogs I quote from, I’ve considered what I do ‘fair use’. If you’ve been following the copyright discussion, you know ‘fair use’ is being debated fiercely as is intellectual property law which includes copyright, patents, and trademarks.

After a rather disastrous attempt to introduce new copyright legislation (last fall I think), the Canadian government has launched a public consultation process. (I too was surprised to find out about it.) The roundtable meeting in Vancouver took place about 10 days ago. There will be roundtable meetings  elsewhere and two town hall meetings (where the public will be invited). If you’re a member of the public who’s lucky enough to live in either Toronto or Montreal, you can have your say in real time. The rest of us can participate online here at the Copyright Counsultations website. You do have to register to participate. The Vancouver roundtable meeting has been transcribed and is available online here and the trasncript for the Calgary roundtable is here.

Teaching nano the haptic way; Brownian motion ain’t what we thought; EPA issues final new rules for carbon nanotubes

In keeping with my interest in the multimodal communication of science, I have found a slide show about teaching nanotechnology using haptics here. The technique is intended for the visually impaired but as the authors point out visual contact at the nano scale is impossible. So, everyone, visually impaired or not, makes haptic contact with material at the nano scale with the consequence that the teaching technique is suitable for everybody.

As suggested in my July 27, 2009 blog posting (part 4 of the robots and human enhancement series), developments such as these suggest that the notion of physical impairment may change significantly or disappear.

In a media release, on the Azonano site, detailing new revelations about Brownian motion,  Steve Granick, Founder Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois, describes how many of us are taught about Brownian motion,

“In high school science classes, students are often assigned the task of using a microscope to watch a particle of dust sitting in a drop of water,” Granick said. “The dust particle seems alive, moving back and forth, never in the same way. The motion of the dust particle is caused by the random ‘kicks’ of surrounding water molecules.”

Granick goes on to describe what he and his researchers have observed,

“Like Einstein, we used to think we could describe Brownian motion with a standard bell-shaped curve,” Granick said. “But now, with the ability to measure very small distances much more precisely than was possible 100 years ago, we have found that we can have extremes much farther than previously imagined.”

Please do take a look at the story on the Azonano site for more about the significance of this discovery.

Nanowerk News has posted a media release from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about new rules which allow for commercialization of carbon nanotubes under limited conditions.  The EPA document is here and pages 9 (multi-walled carbon nanotubes) and 10 (single-walled nanotubes) are the relevant pages.

Viruses mine for copper at the University of BC; microscopy at the University of Victoria; the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair, human nature, & human enhancement

Professor Scott Dunbar at the University of British Columbia’s (Canada) Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering needed to partner with colleagues Sue Curtis and Ross MacGillivray from the Centre for Blood Research and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology after (from the media release on Nanowerk News),

“I read an article about bacteriophage – viruses that infect bacteria – being used to create nanodevices in which proteins on the phage surface are engineered to bind to gold and zinc sulfide,” says Dunbar. “And it struck me: if zinc sulfide, why not copper sulfide? And if so, then it might be possible to use these bio-engineered proteins to separate common economic sulfide minerals from waste during mineral extraction.”

Together the researchers have developed a procedure called “biopanning.” It’s a kind of genetic engineering which could lead to some useful applications.

It turns out that the phage that bind to a mineral do affect the mineral surfaces, causing them to have a different electrical charge than other minerals. The proteins on the phage also form links to each other leading to aggregation of the specific sulfide particles. “The physical and chemical changes caused by phage may be the basis for a highly selective method of mineral separation with better recovery. Another possible application is bioremediation, where metals are removed from contaminated water” says Dunbar.

In other BC news, the University of Victoria (Canada) will be getting a new microscope which senses at subatomic levels. (From the media release on Azonano),

The new microscope-called a Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM) — will use an electron beam and holography techniques to observe the inside of materials and their surfaces to an expected resolution as small as one-fiftieth the size of an atom.

This is being done in collaboration with Hitachi High-Technologies which is building the microscope in Japan and installing it at U Vic in late 2010. The microscope will be located in a specially adapted room where work to prepare and calibrate it will continue until it becomes operational sometime in 2011.

After my recent series on robots and human enhancement, I feel moved to comment on the situation in the US vis a vis Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his arrest by the police officer, James Crowley. It’s reported here and elsewhere that neither the recording of the 911 call nor the concerned neighbour who made the call support Sergeant Crowley’s contention that the two men allegedly breaking into the house were described as ‘black’.

Only the participants know what happened and I don’t fully understand the nuances of race, class, and cultural differences that exist in the US so I can’t comment on anything other than this. It is human to hear what we expect to hear and I have an example from a much less charged situation.

Many years ago, I was transcribing notes from a taped interview (one of my first) for an article that I was writing for a newsletter. As I was transcribing, I noticed that I kept changing words so that the interview subject sounded more like me. They were synonyms but they were my words not his. Over the years I’ve gotten much better at being more exact but I’ve never forgotten how easy it is to insert your pet words (biased or not) when you’re remembering what someone said. Note: I was not in a stressful situation and I could rewind and listen again at my leisure.

I hope that Crowley and Gates, Jr. are able to work this out in some fashion and I really hope that it is done in a way that is respectful to both men and not a rush to a false resolution for the benefit of the cameras. For a more informed discussion of the situation, you may find this essay by Richard Thompson Ford  in Slate helpful. It was written before the recording of the 911 call was made public but I think it still stands.

My reason for mentioning this incident is that human nature tends to assert itself in all kinds of situations including the building of robots and the debates on human enhancement, something I did not mention in my series posted (July 22 – 24, 27, 2009).

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 4

In Tracy Picha’s Future of Your Body Flare magazine article (August 2009) , she finishes her anecdote about the paralympian, Aimee Mullins (mentioned in my posting of July24, 2009), with a discussion of her racing prosthetics which were designed to resemble a cheetah’s hind legs.

And they not only propelled sprinters like Mullins to smoke the competition but they began to make their wearers look like threats to other “able”-bodied athletes.

Picha goes on to mention the controversy over Oscar Pistorius another paralympian  who has recently been allowed to compete in the Olympics despite the debate over whether or not his carbon fibre cheetah-shaped racing prosthetics give him an advantage over athletes using their own human legs. If you’re interested in the controversy, you can check it out in this Wired article. Picha’s article is only available in the print version of Flare magazine’s August 2009 issue.

I think the distinctions in the  study I mentioned on Friday (July 24, 2009) between restorative/preventive but non-enhancing interventions, therapeutic enhancements, and non-therapeutic enhancements are very useful for understanding the issues. (Note: I mistakenly identified it as a UK study, in fact, it is a European Parliament study titled, Human Enhancement.) The study also makes distinctions between visions for the future and current scientific development, which given the hype surrounding human enhancement is important. The study also takes into account the political and social impacts of these developments. If you’re interested in the 200 page report, it can be downloaded from here. There’s a summary of the study by Michael Berger on Nanowerk Spotlight here.

So, are robots going to become more like people or are people going to fuse themselves with equipment and/or enhance themselves with chemicals (augmenting intelligence mentioned in my June 19, 2009 posting here) or ???  Actually, people have already started fusing themselves with equipment and enhancing their intelligence with chemicals. I guess the real question is: how far are we prepared to go not only with ourselves but with other species too?

You may want to check out Andy Miah’s (professor Andy Miah that is) website for some more thinking on this topic. He specializes in the topic of human enhancement and he follows the Olympics movement closely. His site is here and he has some slide presentations available at Slideshare and most relevant one to this series is: Bioethics and the Olympic Games: Human Enhancement here.

As for nanotechnology’s role in all of this. It is, as Victor Jones noted, an enabling technology. If those cheetah legs aren’t being made with carbon nanostructures of one type or another, they will be. There’s nanotechnology work being done on making the covering for an android more skinlike.

One last thing, I’ve concentrated on people but animals are also being augmented. There was an opinion piece by Geoff Olson (July 24, 2009) in the Vancouver Courier, a community paper, about robotic insects. According to Olson’s research (and I don’t doubt it), scientists are fusing insects with machines so they can be used to sniff out drugs, find survivors after disasters,  and perform surveillance.

That’s as much as I care to explore the topic for now. For tomorrow, I swing back to my usual beat.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 3

There’s another way of looking at the robot situation. Instead of making machines more like people, why not make people more like machines? That seems to be the subtext when you read about human enhancement and, like yesterday’s discussion about robots, you find yourself talking to a transhumanist or two.

Tracy Picha writing in Flare magazine’s August 2009 issue (The Future of Our Body) starts her article with an anecdote about Aimee Mullins, a record-breaking paralympian (and double amputee), wearing prosthetic legs to an event that boosted her standard height from 5’8″ to 6’1″.

As the story goes, Mullins reconnected with an old friend who had known her only at her shorter height. “Her mouth dropped when she saw me,” recalls Mullins, “and she said, ‘But you’re so tall!'”

“I know, isn’t it fun?” was Mullins’ reply.

“But, Aimee, that’s not fair.”

Picha finishes off the anecdote after a discussion of augmentation and enhancement that includes the story of a guy in Finland needing a prosthetic to replace part of a severed finger and choosing one that has a USB port in its tip. She goes on to discuss a subculture of people who embed magnetic chips into their bodies so they can sense magnetic and electromagnetic fields thereby giving themselves a sixth sense. There’s also a discussion with a transhumanist and a contrasting view from Susie Orbach, author of Bodies. Orbach has this to say,

… the body has become a casing for fantasy rather than a place from which to live.

It’s all becoming a metaphysical question. What is it to be human? I have misgivings about all this talk about enhancement and, as mentioned yesterday, improving the human genome.

Meanwhile, Picha’s article is thought-provoking and it’s in a fashion magazine, which bears out my belief that a lot science communication takes place outside its usual channels.  In one of my papers, I likened science communication to a conversation with several threads taking place.

Government studies such as the one from the UK (July 27, 2009 ETA this should read European Parliament not UK) that Michael Berger on Nanowerk Spotlight recently featured are definitely part of this conversation. From Berger’s article,

The authors of the study do not rely on the still widespread conceptual distinction between “therapy” and “enhancement”, but instead, in line with recent political statements on the issue, adopt a notion of human enhancement that includes non-therapeutic as well as some therapeutic measures.
Defining human enhancement as any “modification aimed at improving individual human performance and brought about by science-based or technology-based interventions in the human body”, they distinguish between
1) restorative or preventive, non-enhancing interventions,

2) therapeutic enhancements, and

3) non-therapeutic enhancements.

Faced with the often highly visionary and strongly ideological character of the debate on human enhancement, one must strive for a balance between advancing a rational discussion through critical analysis of the relevant visions and normative stances, and taking a close look at the diversity of HE technology and their actual social, technological and political significance

Berger’s article is well worth reading and  links to the report itself and other articles that he’s written on the topic. Monday, July 27, 2009, I should be wrapping up this series.

In keeping with today’s ‘fashionable theme, I leave you with something musical from Manolo’s Shoe Blog. The writer who is not The Manolo, recently posted on one of his favourite rock songs (and one I’ve always loved), Runaway by Del Shannon. The posting is poignant and touching. Manolo has included two versions of the song, one sung by Shannon in the 1960s and again in the 1980s (this one includes part of an interview about the song Shannon wrote so many years before). Both are well worth checking out as you can see how an artist matures and develops over time. Seeing both enhances the experience of listening to each one. Go here.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 2

Mary King’s project on Robots and AI, the one I mentioned yesterday, was written in 2007 so there have been some changes since then but her focus is largely cultural and that doesn’t change so quickly. The bird’s eye view she provides of the situation in Japan and other parts of Asia contrasts with the information and ideas that are common currency in North America and, I suspect, Europe too. (As for other geographic regions, I don’t venture any comments as I’m not sufficiently familiar with the thinking in those regions.)  Take for example this,

South Korea, meanwhile, has not only announced that by 2010 it expects to have robo-cops patrolling the streets alongside its police force and army, but that its “Robot Ethics Charter” will take effect later this year. The charter includes Asimov-like laws for the robots, as well as guidelines to protect robots from abuse by humans. South Korea is concerned that some people will become addicted to robots, may want to marry their android or will use robots for illegal activities. The charter demands full human control over the robots, an idea that is likely to be popular with Japanese too. But a number of organizations and individuals in the West are bound to criticize laws that do not grant equal “human” rights to robots.

Mary goes on to cite some of the work on roboethics and robo-rights being done in the West and gives a brief discussion of some of the more apocalyptic possibilities. I think the latest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica anchored its mythology in many of the “Western” fears associated with the arrival of intelligent robots. She also mentions this,

Beyond robots becoming more ubiquitous in our lives, a vanguard of Western scientists asserts that humans will merge with the machine. Brooks says “… it is clear that robotic technology will merge with biotechnology in the first half of this century,” and he therefore concludes that “the distinction between us and robots is going to disappear.

Leading proponents of Strong AI state that humans will transcend biology and evolve to a higher level by merging with robot technology. Ray Kurzweil, a renowned inventor, transhumanist and the author of several books on “spiritual machines,” claims that immortality lies within the grasp of many of us alive today.

The concept of transhumanism does not accord well with the Japanese perspective,

Japan’s fondness for humanoid robots highlights the high regard Japanese share for the role of humans within nature. Humans are viewed as not being above nature, but a part of it.

This reminds me of the discussion taking place on the topic of synthetic biology (blog posting here) where the synthetic biologists are going to reconfigure the human genome to make it better. According to Denise Caruso (executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute), many of the synthetic biologists have backgrounds in IT not biology. I highly recommend Mary’s essay. It’s a longish read (5000 words) but well worth it for the insights it provides.

In Canada, we are experiencing robotic surveillance at the border with the US. The CBC reported in June that the US was launching a drone plane in the Great Lakes region of the border. It was the 2nd drone, the 1st being deplored over the Manitoba border and there is talk that a drone will be used on the BC border in the future. For details, go here. More tomorrow.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 1

I’m doing something a little different as I’m going to be exploring some ideas about robots and AI today and human enhancement technologies over the next day or so. I have never been particularly interested in these topics but after studying and thinking about nanotechnology I have found that I can’t ignore them since nanotech is being used to enable these, for want of a better word, innovations. I have deep reservations about these areas of research, especially human enhancement, but I imagine I would have had deep reservations about electricity had I been around in the days when it was first being commercialized.

This item, Our Metallic Reflection: Considering Future Human-android Interactions, in Science Daily is what set me off,

Everyday human interaction is not what you would call perfect, so what if there was a third party added to the mix – like a metallic version of us? In a new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologist Neal J. Roese and computer scientist Eyal Amir from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign investigate what human-android interactions may be like 50 years into the future.

As I understand the rough classifications, there are robots (machines that look like machines), androids (machines that look like and act like humans), and cyborgs (part human/part machine). By the way, my mother can be designated as a cyborg since she had her hip replacement a few years ago. It’s a pretty broad designation including people with pacemakers, joint replacements, as well as any other implanted object not native to a human body.

The rest of the Science Daily article goes on to state that by 2060 androids will be able to answer in human-like voices, answer questions and more. The scientists studying the potential interactions are trying to understand how people will react psychologically to these androids of 2060.

For an alternative discussion about robots, AI, etc. you can take a look at a project where Mary King, a collegue and fellow classmate (we completed an MA programme at De Montfort University), compares Western and Japanese responses to them.

This research project explores the theories and work of Japanese and Western scientists in the field of robotics and AI. I ask what differences exist in the approach and expectations of Japanese and Western AI scientists, and I show how these variances came about.

Because the Western media often cites Shinto as the reason for the Japanese affinity for robots, I ask what else has shaped Japan’s harmonious feelings for intelligent machines. Why is Japan eager to develop robots, and particularly humanoid ones? I also aim to discover if religion plays a role in shaping AI scientists’ research styles and perspectives. In addition, I ask how Western and Japanese scientists envision robots/AI playing a role in our lives. Finally, I enquire how the issues of roboethics and rights for robots are perceived in Japan and the West.

You can go here for more.  Amongst other gems, you’ll find this,

Since 1993 Robo-Priest has been on call 24-hours a day at Yokohama Central Cemetery. The bearded robot is programmed to perform funerary rites for several Buddhist sects, as well as for Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Robo-Monk chants sutras, beats a religious drum and welcomes the faithful to Hotoku-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kakogawa city, Hyogo Prefecture. More recently, in 2005, a robot dressed in full samurai armour received blessings at a Shinto shrine on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Kiyomori, named after a famous 12th-century military general, prayed for the souls of all robots in the world before walking quietly out of Munakata Shrine.

It seems our androids are here already despite what the article in Science Daily indicates. More tomorrow.

Book launch announcement:  Susan Baxter, guest blogger here and lead author of The Estrogen Errors: Why Progesterone is Better for Women’s Health, is having a book launch tomorrow, Thursday, July 23, 2009 from 6 – 8 pm, at Strands Hair and Skin Treatment Centre, #203 – 131 Water St. (in the same complex as the kite store), Vancouver.

Visualizing innovation and the ACS’s second nanotube contest

I’ve found more material on visualizing data, this time the data is about innovation. An article by Cliff Kuang in Fast Company comments on the WAINOVA (World Alliance for Innovation) and its interactive atlas of innovation. From the article,

Bestario, a Spanish infographics firm, designs Web sites that attempt to find new relationships in a teeming mass of data. Sometimes, the results are interesting, as examples, if nothing else, of data porn; other times, it’s merely confounding. Its new project is a great deal easier to explain: The Wainova World Atlas of Innovation attempts to map the world’s major science and business incubators, as well as the professional associations linking them.

Kuang goes on to point out some of the difficulties associated with visualizing data when you get beyond using bar graphs and pie charts. The atlas can be found here on the WAINOVA site. If you’re interested in looking at more data visualization projects, you can check out the infosthetics site mentioned in Kuang’s article.

Rob Annan at the Don’t leave Canada behind blog has picked up on an article in the Financial Post which, based on an American Express survey, states that Canadian business is being very innovative despite the economic downturn. You can read Annan’s comments and get a link to the Financial Post article here. As for my take on it all, I concede that it takes nerve to keep investing in your business when everything is so uncertain but I agree with Annan (if I may take the liberty of rephrasing his comment slightly) there’s no real innovation in the examples  given in the Financial Post article.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has announced its second nano video contest. From the announcement on Azonano,

In our last video contest “What is Nano?”, you showed us that nano is a way of making things smaller, lighter and more efficient, making it possible to build better machines, solar cells, materials and radios. But another question remains: how exactly is “nano” going to impact both us and the world? We want you to think big about nano and show us how nano will address the challenges we face today.

The contest is being run by ACS Nanotation NanoTube. There’s a cash prize of $500USD and submissions must be made between July 6, 2009 and August 9, 2009.  (Sorry, I kept forgetting to put this up.) You must be a registered user to make a submission but registration is free here. The Nano Song (complete with puppets!) that was making the rounds a few months ago was a video submission for the first contest.

Elsevier has announced a new project, the Article of the Future. The beta site is here. From the announcement on Nanowerk News,

Elsevier, a leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, today announces the ‘Article of the Future’ project, an ongoing collaboration with the scientific community to redefine how a scientific article is presented online. The project takes full advantage of online capabilities, allowing readers individualized entry points and routes through content, while exploiting the latest advances in visualization techniques.

Yes, it’s back to visualization and, eventually, multimodal discourse analysis and one of the big questions (for me) how is all this visualizing of data going to affect our knowledge? More tomorrow.

Alberta welcomes a new nanotechnology product and research centre plus some news on a kissing phone

The new facility will be called the Hitachi Electron Microscopy Products Development Centre (HEMiC) at Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. From the media release (on Azonano),

“Alberta’s strength in nanotechnologies, and the province’s coordinated strategy for nanotechnology made our decision to seek a partnership here easy,” said John Cole, President of Hitachi High-Technologies Canada, Inc. “This initiative engages Hitachi with Alberta’s nanotechnology community at the leading edge of research while contributing to commercial opportunities.”

The Centre will house three new electron microscopes valued at $7 million, including the first-ever Hitachi environmental transmission electron microscope Model H-9500 in operation outside of Japan.

There are many quotes in the media release, surprisingly, none from Dr. Nils Petersen, NINT’s  Director General.

Fast Company is featuring an article by Kit Eaton about phones that won’t require buttons for control (more touch screen-type technology but introducing a new level of innovation). As it turns out, these phones will be coming from Nokia. Kissing the phone as a gesture that you want to contact a loved is just one of the ideas being explored. More here including a Nokia video about the project. The product designers are looking at how people gesture and, depending on your culture, the meaning behind gestures can vary greatly as the Nokia designer notes in the video. Anyway, this type of project relates to my interest in multimodal discourse and my suspicion that we won’t be writing (or for the matter reading) as much as we do now.

Rob Annan over at Don’t leave Canada behind has picked up on my series of last week’s about innovation in Canada, in his posting Canada not simply hewers and drawers.