Category » Advancements in Science & Technology « @ Weiner Edrich Brown

Future of Aerospace

In the November issue of Professional Pilot Magazine, I wrote an op/ed on what I see as one potential future for the aerospace industry:

The movement of people and goods is increasingly showing the impacts of technological developments.  At a time when the costs associated with travel, transportation and shipping will increasingly matter to the bottom line, it will be imperative to rethink the way in which we view transportation in the coming years.  Some factors – energy concerns, environmental issues, terrorism and crime, etc. – are significantly affecting all aspects of travel and transportation. Other changes are incremental; some are revolutionary, in some ways bringing to reality what were formerly the fantasies of science fiction writers.  In the face of concerns about the environment and negative impacts of travel, the Internet (and virtual reality) will significantly reinvent the way in which we traditionally viewed transportation, and more specifically, aviation.

In our shop, we define virtual reality as tricking the brain into being somewhere else, doing something else, in real time.  By 2011, four out of every five people who use the Internet will actively participate in some sort of virtual environment.  This means that 1.6 billion out of a total 2 billion Internet users will have found new lives online. The virtual economy is growing at an exponential rate, and environments such as Second Life have morphed from a virtual playground into a force for change in the real world. As virtual objects and services gain real world value, a flourishing internal economy has emerged.  And today’s virtual worlds are primitive compared to what they will evolve into in the next few decades, as virtual reality comes closer to “real” reality.  As virtual travel becomes billed more and more as an environmentally-friendly alternative to real world travel, companies in the aviation industry may become more involved in this space by setting up profitable businesses there, information centers, experiential learning centers, etc.  It will also mitigate the need for excess baggage, passports and costly flights!

Airlines could use virtual environments to prototype new planes, terminals or airport lounges, thereby allowing consumers to test-drive features in virtual space before they are introduced in the real world. At a time when financial difficulties and ecological worries may limit actual tourism, a cheaper climate-stable virtual world can enable the aviation industry to navigate the future effectively.

‘Hacking’ Memories & Manipulating Behaviors

In our shop, rather than always dismissing science-”fiction” as just that — fiction, we look at how it may be informed by current technology that can profoundly impact the future. Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek was always to introduce both sociopolitical themes that were metaphors for current reality and technologies that represented a feasible vision of tomorrow based on the trajectory of modern innovation.

We’ve seen many popular contemporary films like ‘Terminator 2,’ ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Surrogates’ showcase technologies that seem radical at the time of release, but that are already becoming feasible. Along the same lines, techniques related to those used to manipulate dreams in the recent film ‘Inception’ may be coming to a social networking site near you soon…in the form of subconscious product preference manipulation.

Using a strategy of visual trickery and psychological manipulation, consumer products companies may soon begin to carefully insert product placement into people’s personal pictures stored on social networking sites like Facebook. Because of the complex interrelationship between pictures and memories, the photo alteration may effectively place advertisements into people’s subconscious, waking minds. By taking advantage of implanted memories, product placement in photos on social networking sites could profoundly affect brand loyalty. Experiments have already proven that targeted false memories can alter shopping patterns.

This has the potential to become a very effective advertising strategy for consumer products companies — and thus a very attractive revenue stream for social media platforms that serve as the gatekeepers. However, as with any emerging technology/strategy like this — we have to be mindful of potential obstacles, including the myriad ethical considerations that are sure to arise. Consider the following scenario: Since both the user and their contacts view their social networking photos, altered photos could, in fact, manipulate the memory of all viewers — with or without their consent.

At this point, no company has implemented this type of social networking-based strategy for profit. However, once this process mainstreams, it could spread beyond advertising applications, and into many other areas. What will people think about this? Does it represent exciting possibilities? Will knowledge of these processes scare consumers away from certain social media outlets and brands, or will ambivalence take hold? Regardless of the the general public’s perception, this is an area that companies will undoubtedly seek to monetize, and where serious dollars likely will be made in coming years.

The Science of Spirituality

As the world enters the next stages of technological revolution, what we are beginning to unravel about the universe is rapidly propelling us to the frontiers of the unknown.  Now, and in the years to come, all of our bodies of understanding will be profoundly changed.  What we did, what we made, what we believed and what we valued are all undergoing fundamental transformation.  What we measure, still, is what we can see, what we can touch, and what we can replicate.  These measurements are no longer appropriate and effective for the world into which we are moving.  We are only beginning to realize that we need to learn how to measure different things differently if we are to thrive as people and as institutions.

Recently, we have heard a lot come through the pipeline as it relates to the Theory of Everything, String Theory and the Akashic Field.  All, in essence, claim that every point in space is connected with every other point; and every thing with every other thing. Other theories are gaining more mainstream traction, too.  The growing field of Evolutionary Panpsychism, for instance, posits that consciousness is universal and applies to all things.  This thinking represents a revaluation of the natural world in which human and non-human are one.  If our thinking shifts to view the world so holistically – with no duality between humans and nature – what are the ethical consequences? Will this eventually serve as a source for more compassionate and ecological values?

Many believe human communication and interaction is limited to our sensory channels.  Our views and experiences are restricted by our own senses.  The human, for instance, only sees within a small portion of the light spectrum.  The five senses are the key instruments that we have in life to perceive the world and make our way within it.  We are just beginning to learn how to unleash our higher – or heightened – forms of seeing and hearing that could link us to the greater universe of consciousness, just as our outer senses connect us to the external world.

We are learning that we are linked by more subtle and encompassing connections as well.  For all of human history, the wider universe of waves, frequencies and vibrations was virtually unexplored…until now.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • In the laboratory, modern people display a capacity for spontaneous transference of impressions and images, especially when they are emotionally close to each other.
  • Reliable evidence is becoming available that the conscious mind of one person can produce repeatable and measurable effects on the body of another.
  • Intercessory prayer and spiritual healing, together with other mind- and intention-based experiments and practices, yield impressive evidence regarding the effectiveness of telepathic and telesomatic information- and energy-transmission.
  • The chanting of monks and the sounds absorbed in the womb from the mother have long been known to affect the physical being, but imaging research is now confirming the effects on the brain and development.
  • Questions about what is happening to bee populations around the world – populations vital to the food chain – often center around the effects of confusing signals in the environment, disorienting them.
  • New forms of therapy are emerging which are being used as personal tools for growth, transformation and healing: sound healing, consciousness healing, transcendental meditation, magnet therapy, chakra clearing and balancing, out-of-body experiences, clairvoyance and ascension, pranic healing and seichim (learning how to harness personal energy systems and living light energy).

The fusion of cosmology, quantum physics, quantum biology, neuroscience and parapsychology (among many other factors) are now beginning to reveal that our bodies and minds are not just biochemical systems. This convergence of seemingly disparate fields of study may in fact provide a physical-scientific basis for universal consciousness. Further, it demonstrates that certain spiritual or transcendental states of collective consciousness could have a valid basis within scientific circles. This delicate interplay is also dramatically altering our traditional notions of time and space.

What we are seeing is that a new form of spirituality is arising, not out of ideology, but out of scientific hypotheses and applications, especially as science gives more nods to the non-linear, non-rational and non-tangible.  Concepts like virtual, interconnected or appropriate (appropriate technology (AT) is designed with particular consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for) could likely gain a new significance. The “science of spirituality” will continue to evolve, especially as the lines between the two become increasingly blurred.

“Tank U” Very Much: The Growth of Unified Technologies

At this quarter’s STEP meeting, we presented a working paper on how networks are becoming more intricate and pervasive, and systems more interconnected and embedded.  This includes the interconnection between RFID and smartphone technology. I recently came across an example of how this integration is being applied in new and innovative ways.  DOK, a cutting-edge library center in Delft, the Netherlands, has been finding new ways to use RFID, smart and wireless technology as a way to inspire and connect its patrons through a variety of concepts:

DOK Agora: DOK Agora is a multimedia center featuring several “tell-­stories” stations, a video recording station, and a video wall. By scanning library passes on a screen with a built-in RFID reader, visitors can upload a chosen story, take it to the “tell-stories” tables, and attach their own content-photos, text, audio, and video. A built-in camera takes a visitor’s photo and adds it to his or her story. The stories are then visible on the DOK Agora screens for all to see. The exhibitions are based on themes that are relevant to a large number of people in the Netherlands, i.e. the drastic renovation of the downtown railroad zone.

Delft Heritage Browser: Users can dig into the Delft city archive using membership cards, which contain their age and locations. The system shows visitors images relevant to their lives, displayed as a “pile” on the screen. By touching the screen, visitors can browse images dating from when they were born, or depicting the street where they live. DOK is also working with multiple libraries and museums to create applications to access their collections.

Tank U: Tank U is a stand-alone, public download unit, at which people stop to “tank up” their mobile device via a Bluetooth or wireless connection.  It is being deployed in locations beyond the library proper, such as railway stations or supermarkets, where people can receive sophisticated and surprising content. The fuel in Tank U includes text, audio, and video from a number of sources.

Technology can now fuse many different types of systems into a unified platform, and examples such as this are just the beginning. The marriage of technologies could deliver many benefits to companies as it begins to be implemented in practical ways that provide clear benefits to businesses and consumers.

Redefining the Shopping Experience

As technology has advanced, so has the experience of shopping.  New distribution channels have provided new opportunities for consumers.  People no longer shop only in stores, out of catalogs and from websites.  Thanks to virtual reality, people can now shop in an entirely new dimension, and it is helping enhance the experience by making it more personal and realistic.  At the same time, avatars are also beginning to populate the virtual landscape and are becoming powerful economic consumers.

If most people today were to walk into a typical clothing store, what would they find?  They would find the fitting rooms to be little closets in the back, with no technology in the service of the customer.  This is largely because the store designers themselves are stuck in the world they knew before new distribution channels became popular.  But things are beginning to change.

A couple years ago, we saw Accenture come out with the Online Wardrobe, a smart closet which uses sensors, tagging and tracking technologies to keep track of the clothing you already own, and helps you buy coordinating items, either online or in physical stores. This way a new way of connecting the real/physical and virtual worlds.

I recently came across a fantastic video that Adam Gordon posted on his  blog The Future Cafe that changes the way we look at the concept of the retail fitting room:

An extraordinary revolution is taking place on the front end of retailing.  Now, time and digital technology are combining to alter the entire pre-purchase and purchase process.  The payment process is also being revolutionized.  People can “bump” their mobiles and transfer money, and swipe their mobiles and purchase products.  Social media and networks pass along recommendations and tweet product experience and preferences.  Advertising avenues and messaging are multiplying rapidly, and and the disintermediation of traditional channels is rampant.

However, as technology rapidly advances, it will be increasingly important to pay particular attention to the experience of the purchase (and not just the technology), since it is the experience, after all, that seems to generate the long-term satisfaction.

Sensory Overload

This is a test for all of you…Which sense is most closely tied to memory?  The answer? Smell.  A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling, smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.

Marketers and advertisers are catching onto this.  A number of brands and social initiatives are now experimenting with sensory memory, looking to wield their own indelible stamp on consumers’ subconscious.  Here are some examples:

Meaty Billboards: Salisbury, N.C.-based Bloom grocery stores made history by erecting the first-ever scent-emitting billboard which sprays a charbroiled smell over a highway via a giant fan.  The billboard features a giant fork-stabbed bite, and emits a charcoal- and black pepper-scented oil to passing cars.

Toothsome Greeting Cards: American Greetings is introducing a new Tasties collection. Each card contains a dissolvable flavor strip that corresponds to the occasion it marks. A birthday card emblazoned with an image of a cupcake tastes like vanilla. Other reported flavors include “donut” and “margarita.”

Fresh Air Fund Fragrances: MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Majora Carter, founder and executive director of community organization Sustainable South Bronx, together with French perfumers Bruno Jovanovic and Pascal Gaurin, Carter created L’Eau Verte du Bronx du Sud (“Green Water of the South Bronx”), a scent containing essences of rain, grass and citrus fruit, with which to infuse the common areas inside an entire low-income apartment complex in the South Bronx. Carter believes that the Sister Thomas Apartments, located a little too close for comfort to a sewage treatment plant and a trash transfer station, will benefit tremendously from a real breath of fresh air.

Scenting an entire building is the latest ambition in a growing business that has, for years, gone unnoticed by most consumers.  There are now ~20 companies worldwide specializing in ambient scent-marketing and dispersion technology. Industry executives value the business at roughly between $80 million and $100 million.

According to a recent article in Business Week:

Scent branding is becoming just as prevalent in retail. Researchers believe that ambient scenting allows consumers to make a deeper brand connection, and data has led many other non-scent-related companies to join the fray. Recently, Gaurin helped create a fragrance for Samsung’s stores, which has been cited throughout the industry as a milestone in scent as design. He claims the research showed that not only did customers spend an average of 20 to 30 percent more time mingling among the electronics, but they also identified the scent—and by extension, the brand—with characteristics such as innovation and excellence. Credit Suisse, De Beers, and Sony have all been experimenting with ambient scenting in their retail spaces, too.

And starting this fall, you can even get a master’s degree in scent design at Parsons New School for Design in New York. As part of a “Scent as Design” seminar, organizers enlisted luminaries from various fields to collaborate with fragrance experts.

‘Big Brother’…in Reverse

In his book 1984 (published in 1949), George Orwell depicted a future where civilians were subject to the surveillance of a ‘Big Brother’ society. Orwell may have been very prescient with his predictions of the future, but his writings may have actually served as a self-defeating prophecy. In raising public awareness about the possibilities of government surveillance, Orwell may have actually spurred the development of eventual protections and legislation that would limit this sort of dynamic.

Let’s fast forward to today, where we see a fascinating reversal of this principle. Civilians are now leveraging the myriad technologies at their disposal to assume the role of ‘Big Brother.’ In doing so, they often serve as watchdog to government and law enforcement officials.

The issue has come to light recently, due to civilian-taken cell phone video footage of an incident involving a Seattle police officer. That particular footage is the latest in a series of incidents catching public figures in questionable, and at times legally suspect, conduct.

This is somewhat related to the trend of civilian as “reporter” (e.g., when civilians using mobile devices are best able to report on and give alert to crimes, riots, natural disasters, etc.). However, civilian as “watchdog” may truly shift the balance of perceived power in society. Few things are left to “he said – she said” anymore — particularly in developed societies, as almost everything is technologically captured from someone’s vantage point. This will undoubtedly have profound implications for the increased monitoring and accountability of elected public officials, law enforcement officers and other public servants — including teachers.

Rare Earths: Strategically Critical & Often Overlooked

More often than not, the conversation about natural resources of strategic, economic and geopolitical importance revolves around oil — and to a lesser extent, clean water. Often overlooked, but of growing strategic value as we look into the future are rare earth minerals. China supplies most of the rare earth minerals found in technologies such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, computer hard drives and cell phones, but the U.S. has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation.

Those reserves include deposits of both “light” and “heavy” rare earths — minerals that are in everything from TV displays to magnets in hybrid electric motors, and from wind turbines to cell phones. Rare earth minerals play a major role in advanced technology, and they could be key for future clean energy. However, congress is worried about the fact that almost all of these materials come from China, and could be subject to tight export controls by the Chinese government.

Experts are calling on the U.S. government to take steps not only to promote domestic production of these materials, but to fund research to find ways to recycle them, to use less of them, and to potentially do without them altogether.

Light rare earths include the minerals ranging from lanthanum to gadolinium on the periodic table of elements, while heavy rare earths range from terbium to lutetium. If developed, such deposits could help the U.S. avoid a possibly crippling rare earth shortage in the next decade. China has warned that its own industrial demands could compel it to stop exporting rare earths within the next five or 10 years.

This issue has gone largely under the radar. While Congress is now looking at this issue, it is neither near the top of the agenda nor has it been given its just due in mainstream media. Considering the ongoing struggle for all nations to establish energy independence and access to clean water, the identification of of other potentially valuable natural resources that can be highly monetized and leveraged in the global marketplace is critical. China already has control of the rare earth market — a dangerous proposition for much of the rest of the world. Consider a possible short-term future scenario where China is to rare earth mining (and subsequent technology production) what the Arab Middle East has become to the world’s oil supply.

If the U.S. wants to remain economically competitive, protect itself from Chinese monopolization and also increase it’s ability to barter in global trade markets, it needs to put a sharper lens on rare earths as a potential growth engine of critical strategic importance in the future.

The New GOP: The Genetics of Politics

Even though public opinion polls show a general distaste for partisan divisions, a rising tide of political partisanship is sweeping into many aspects of American public life.  Witness the several recent examples of how partisanship and ideology have replaced civil discussion and pragmatism.  How many times have players from both sides of the political aisle tried to persuade the other side to think a certain way? And how many times does this actually work?  Both sides continually struggle to understand where the other is coming from…oftentimes with very little to no success.

Theorists have long speculated on how factors such as age, gender, race, marital status, education, income, home ownership, political knowledgeability and church attendance affect and influence political leanings.  But we are learning that these external factors do not play as much of a role as we once thought.

Increasingly, political positions are seen to be largely determined by biological factors.  According to John Alford (political scientist, Rice University, Houston), “Political tendencies are like being left-handed or right-handed — you’re born feeling more natural using one hand or the other.  It doesn’t mean you can’t switch — for many years lefties were taught to be righties.  But it’s not easy.”

Based on a 2008 article in the New Scientist called “Born That Way,” opinions on a long list of issues from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights were found to have a substantial genetic component.  Liberals and conservatives even have different patterns of brain activity.

Two groups pulling in different directions will always characterize politics.  However, if these groups are genetically hard-wired to disagree, what does this mean for the future of debate and policy analysis?