Hyperdense terabit storage medium

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2009

computer rendering of a carbon nanotubeAt this point, the human species has more information stored and archived than ever before, and there’s more by the hour. The problem is that our storage media, while increasingly high-capacity, is increasingly frangible: CDRs and hard drives just don’t last long, and we’re in a largely unnoticed race between the growth of our body of knowledge and our ability to store it permanently.

Enter Alex Zettl and friends from the University of Berkeley, who’ve developed a storage medium based on carbon nanotubes that isn’t just extremely capacious but exceptionally durable and resistant to the ravages of time:

The system consists of a minuscule particle of iron encased in a carbon nanotube and represents information in binary notation—the zeroes and ones of “bits.” Using an electric current, information can be written into the system by shuttling the iron particle back and forth inside the nanotube like a bead on an abacus—the left half of the nanotube corresponds to zero, the right half corresponds to one. The encoded information can then be read by measuring the nanotube’s electrical resistance, which changes according to the iron particle’s position.

Because of their very small size, a square-inch array of these nanotube memory systems could store at least one terabit—a trillion bits—of information, approximately five times more than can be packed into a square inch of a state-of-the-art magnetic hard drive. But Zettl believes the technology could be pushed to much higher information densities.

“We can manipulate this particle and read out its position so accurately, we could divide the nanotube’s length into 10 or even 100 units instead of just two,” Zettl says. “Whether this is worthwhile to implement right away, I’m not sure, because it adds complexity, but it could immediately give us 10 or 100 times the information density with the same device.”

I’m immediately reminded of Charlie Stross’s thoughts about bit-per-atom data storage, and how it will enable us to record everything we do – literally everything. Bandwidth, processing power and storage are the pillar commodities of the information economy, and all three of them are still racing toward an omega-point of virtual zero cost; what happens when they’re all as ubiquitous as air itself? [image by ghutchis]

Would you sign up for direct-to-brain broadband?

Paul Raven @ 30-04-2009

In a “twenty-questions” style interview with author Michael Grant over at The Guardian, I was struck by his answer to the final question:

What piece of technology would you most like to own?

I want a Google chip implanted in my brain. Wire up my cerebrum. I’m perfectly serious. I want all access, all the time.

Now, despite his protestations of seriousness, I rather suspect he’s exaggerating for effect. But even so, I found myself wondering whether I’d go for such a connection myself, if the opportunity arose. Let’s assume for a moment (and not too hypothetically) that such an always-on link could be achieved without surgical intervention – high-powered wearable computing, wireless broadband link, some sort of cyberpunk data-shades assemblage for interface, all that jazz. Is it still as transgressive and extreme an idea if you could just take it all off when ever you chose to? After all, I already spend upwards of ten hours a day connected to the internet*; the technological leap to being able to do so without having to be here at my desk seems like a small skip of convenience from where I’m sitting right now.

Now, imagine that Grant’s implants actually existed – how differently would a person with such capabilities interact with the world, and with other people? Would they have something of the autist or savant about them, or would instantaneous access to the knowledge and conversation of the web enhance their abilities to socialise? What work would they do (or want to do), and what jobs would they be denied?

Sure, these are all established questions that arise from reading cyberpunk literature – but to be kicked into that mode of thinking by a throwaway line in an interview with a YA author? It’s a weird wired world, and no mistake.

[ * – Yes, I know it shows. Be nice. ]

Wearable projector augments your reality and makes every surface an interface

Paul Raven @ 12-03-2009

This one’s doing the rounds everywhere, and with some justification. I try to steer away from pure OMG TECH! posts here at Futurismic, but if this doesn’t kick you right in the cyberpunk-sensawunda gland with a big pair of hob-nailed boots… well, you’re obviously not as massive an unreconstructed nerd as I am, basically.

See what I mean? As I remarked to a fried on Twitter last night, I’ll cheerfully trade my mortal soul to the first cellphone provider that offers me something that can do all that. Awesome. [via Hack-a-Day and many others]

Living la vida geo-loca

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2009

iPhone geo-locational software screenshotOver at Wired last week, they ran a piece by Matthew Honan about his experiences with the new wave of geolocational software for the iPhone and Google’s G1. He starts off by asking fellow users in his locality what they use the systems for:

My first response came from someone named Bridget, who, according to her profile, at least, was a 25 year-old woman with a proclivity for scarves. “To find sex, asshole,” she wrote.

“I’m sorry? You mean it’s for finding people to have sex with?” I zapped back.

“Yes, I use it for that,” she wrote. “It’s my birthday,” she added.

“Happy birthday,” I offered.

“Send me a nude pic for my birthday,” she replied.

A friendly offer, but I demurred. Anonymous geoshagging is not what I had in mind when I imagined what the GPS revolution could mean to me.

I don’t think anyone who has looked at the adoption curve for new networking technology will be particularly surprised by Bridget’s response… [image by zanaca]

Honan goes on to look at the pros and cons of what is admittedly still a technology in its applicational infancy, which he finds fun and intriguing at the same time that it seems creepy and intrusive – the latter response being one that I’d attribute to his age. When these apps have matured in a few years, however, the Facebook generation will have no qualms or fears about them whatsoever.

Whether they should have qualms is another question, of course. If nothing else, geolocational apps are a reminder that the tin-foil hat brigade’s warnings about The Feds being able to follow your cell phone weren’t entirely fictional; the potential for stalking someone is obvious.

But would stalking be as big a risk in a society where many people’s locations were public knowledge? If lifelogging catches on at the same time, we might all become one big happy globally geolocative panopticon…

Billboards to make advertising more personally touching

Paul Raven @ 14-10-2008

I imagine most of you have heard of Body Area Networks by now – the theoretical layer of communications protocols and devices that will surround your person as portable computing devices become more ubiquitous. And I imagine none of you will be surprised to hear that plenty of folk are working on ways to use BAN to advertise to you more effectively.

A South Korean research institution has come up with an idea that is meant to circumvent the perennial problem of the billboard – namely, that a goodly percentage of the people viewing it will have no interest in the product currently being advertised. The solution?

The Korean patent gets around this problem by suggesting that people using a body area network could touch an electronic poster to tune it to their interests. The display would download details about that person’s interests and recent activities, and display a relevant advert. Downloads like detailed product brochures could also be offered.

If you’ve spotted the obvious flaw there, don’t worry, so has New Scientist – and the researchers have, too:

Whether people would want to interact with ads in this way is another matter. To address this, the patent suggests goodies could be offered too – for example special-offer coupons, or even music and films. Billboards in places where people wait for buses or trains would be ideal spots to get people interacting, suggest the team.

Hmm. I might tentatively predict a new sport among the young and anarchic that involves developing a false personal profile that triggers, ah, rather specialist products and services from such devices… [image by numberstumper]

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