Supercomputing

The New York Times writes about a new machine being introduced by Andy Bechtolsteim of Sun:

At a high-performance computing conference in Dresden, Germany, he plans to introduce his newest machine: a supercomputer to be named the Sun Constellation System that will compete for the title as the worlds fastest when installation is complete this year.

A lot of these high-end systems are superego machines, he said, referring to the industry practice of competing for the ranking of the worlds fastest computing mcahine based on a single type of mathematical calculation. Indeed, some of the fastest supercomputers slow to a crawl when they are given types of problems that require the movement of significant amounts of data between processors.

Mr. Bechtolsheim thought he had found a solution to that problem by modifying an industry standard data switch, making it possible for any of the 13,000-plus Advanced Micro Devices Barcelona microprocessors to communicate with each other more than 10 times as fast as with existing switches.

Next-Generation Storage

The Economist writes:

A new storage technology, which will go on sale in the next few weeks after years of development, can squeeze more onto a small disc or cartridge than ever before. With the potential to store hundreds of times more data on a disc than today’s DVDs or even the latest high-capacity Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs, holographic storage is about to hit the market.

Unlike DVDs, which store data in thin layers just beneath the surface of the disc, holographic storage encodes information in three dimensions, within the volume of the disc. This will enable the first holographic discs to store a colossal 300 gigabytes of data12 times more than the latest Blu-ray discs and 60 times more than a standard DVD. And within a few years this capacity is expected to increase more than fivefold to 1.6 terabytes (1,600 gigabytes) of dataenough to store five seasons of a television drama, in high-definition video, on one disc. But as is so often the case with new storage formats, rival standards are under development.

Vinod Khosla’s Energy Portfolio

Suhit Anantula lists out the companies and writes: “The best part of the above list is not even the sheer scale of his investments. It is his understanding of the big picture in energy options and dividing all his investments based on specific area including energy efficiency. He is betting wide in this area which may suggest that one, he is not yet decided on the best combination of alternative energy options that will be needed or two, we can interpret that it is a combination of sources combined with energy efficiency measures that will make the difference.”

Internet Radio

WSJ writes:

Internet radio, which can draw on vast troves of music from around the world and customize them to a listener’s personal tastes, is growing. While ratings for traditional radio broadcasters have been lackluster, Internet radio listenership in the U.S. has risen to 29 million a week, up from 20 million three years ago, according to Arbitron Inc. and Edison Media Research.

Even so, the nascent industry has yet to capture the biggest prize — portability. Some halfway solutions exist, such as music devices that allow people to stream Internet radio on speakers, or software that allows technology buffs to access Internet radio from their phones. But results can be glitchy, expensive and technically against the terms of contracts with mobile-phone service providers. Now, start-ups and giants are jockeying for position in mobile Internet radio, in a race that could rearrange the business model of music and broadcasting.

Biology

The Economist writes: “What physics was to the 20th century, biology will be to the 21stand RNA will be a vital part of it.”

t is too early to be sure if the distinguishing feature of the 21st century will be biological technology, but there is a good chance that it will be. Simple genetic engineering is now routine; indeed, the first patent application for an artificial living organism has recently been filed. Both the idea of such an organism and the idea that someone might own the rights to it would have been science fiction even a decade ago. And it is not merely that such things are now possible. The other driving force of technological changenecessityis also there. Many of the big problems facing humanity are biological, or are susceptible to biological intervention. The question of how to deal with an ageing population is one example. Climate change, too, is intimately bound up with biology since it is the result of carbon dioxide going into the air faster than plants can remove it. And the risk of a new, lethal infection suddenly becoming pandemic as a result of modern transport links is as biological as it gets. Even the fact that such an infection might itself be the result of synthetic biology only emphasises the biological nature of future risks.

Solar Panels

WSJ writes:

Hampered by its high cost, solar power accounts for less than 1% of world-wide electricity generation. It costs 35 to 45 cents to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity from solar panels, compared with about three to five cents burning coal, according to the International Energy Agency. A different approach, known as concentrating solar power, uses huge arrays of mirrors or solar dishes to track the sun and collect its heat to make electricity. Yet even that costs nine to 12 cents to generate one kilowatt hour.

SolFocus is one of nearly a dozen start-ups competing alongside established solar giants like Japan’s Sharp Corp. to develop a solar panel that is both cheap and efficient. Well-known tech venture capitalists like Apax Partners, Benchmark Capital and US Venture Partners, as well as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have poured cash into solar start-ups in recent years. Meanwhile, established leaders in conventional solar panels like Sharp, the U.K.’s BP PLC and Germany’s Q-Cells AG have well-funded research labs working on their own technology.

Shaping the Future

[via Anish Sankhalia] From Charlie’s Diary:

Let’s look at our notional end-point where the bandwidth and information processing revolutions are taking us as far ahead as we can see without positing real breakthroughs and new technologies, such as cheap quantum computing, pocket fusion reactors, and an artificial intelligence that is as flexible and unpredictable as ourselves. It’s about 25-50 years away.

Firstly, storage. I like to look at the trailing edge; how much non-volatile solid-state storage can you buy for, say, ten euros? (I don’t like rotating media; they tend to be fragile, slow, and subject to amnesia after a few years. So this isn’t the cheapest storage you can buy just the cheapest reasonably robust solid-state storage.)

Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money. fast-forward a decade and that’ll be 100Gb. Two decades and we’ll be up to 10Tb.

10Tb is an interesting number. That’s a megabit for every second in a year there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That’s enough to store a live DivX video stream compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution of everything I look at for a year.

Clean Technology

VentureBeat writes about a talk given by Vinod Khosla:

Speaking at the Cleantech 2007 conference in Santa Clara, Khosla targeted the two primary carbon-emitting culprits oil and coal which he said collectively account for 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

He believes biomass and solar thermal offer the greatest potential to signifantly reduce the worlds dependence on fossil fuels.

Hosted Lifebits

Jon Udell envisions life in the future:

Grade 3

Your teacher assigns a report that will be published in your e-portfolio, which is a website managed by the school. Your parents tell you to write the report, and publish it into your space. Then they release it to the schools content management system. A couple of years later the school switches to a new system and breaks all the old URLs. But the original version remains accessible throughout your parents lives, and yours, and even your kids.

Telepresence

John Battelle writes about HP’s Halo: “Telepresence for me was some kind of Jetsonian fantasy, a silly, far off concept that I understood intellectually, but discounted entirely because it struck me as unrealistic and impractical. But after experiencing it first hand, it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.”

Home Servers

Popular Mechanics writes: “The technorati among you may protest: Why do we need home servers when everything is migrating online? Google has a full suite of productivity software available that works through a Web browser, and services like .Mac function as an online virtual server for home and small business users without bringing IT problems home. Combine that with a general trend toward higher bandwidth, and the distinction between your network and the Internet becomes almost academic. Nevertheless, the end result is the same: a server — massive, networked, securely backed up and well-managed storage that is accessible from anywhere. Without it, the era of movie downloads and the networked home will never evolve beyond an early adopter novelty.”

Digital Public Space

David Beisel writes:

Much of the technology press attention on the digital media space (both mainstream and blog) has covered consumers consumption inside the home (web, digital audio and video) or on their own devices when they leave the home. Yet the availability of digital media has the opportunity to spread to the entire real estate of public life.

Is there a day in the future when property owners with public space, like shopping malls, become media companies focusing on selling not just physical store inventory but also ad inventory?

Five Future Innovations

IBM writes about five innovations that will change our lives over the next five years:

# We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world
# Real-time speech translation-once a vision only in science fiction-will become the norm
# There will be a 3-D Internet
# Technologies the size of a few atoms will address areas of environmental importance
# Our mobile phones will come close to reading our minds

Fortune on Ray Kurzweil

Fortune calls him the “smartest (or the nuttiest) futurist on Earth.”

Kurzweil, however, has something bigger on his mind than just making money – after half a lifetime studying trends in technological change, he believes he’s found a pattern that allows him to see into the future with a high degree of accuracy.

The secret is something he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, and the basic idea is that the power of technology is expanding at an exponential rate. Mankind is on the cusp of a radically accelerating era of change unlike anything we have ever seen, he says, and almost more extreme than we can imagine.

A Smarter Web

Technology Review writes:

Six months after the launch of his own Zepheira, a consulting company that helps businesses link fragmented data sources into easily searched wholes, Eric Miller’s beachside decision seems increasingly prescient. The Semantic Web community’s grandest visions, of data-surfing computer servants that automatically reason their way through problems, have yet to be fulfilled. But the basic technologies that Miller shepherded through research labs and standards committees are joining the everyday Web. They can be found everywhere–on entertainment and travel sites, in business and scientific databases–and are forming the core of what some promoters call a nascent “Web 3.0.”

Already, these techniques are helping developers stitch together complex applications or bring once-inaccessible data sources online. Semantic Web tools now in use improve and automate database searches, helping people choose vacation destinations or sort through complicated financial data more efficiently. It may be years before the Web is populated by truly intelligent software agents automatically doing our bidding, but their precursors are helping people find better answers to questions today.

Intel’s New Markets

WSJ writes:

[Intel] told analysts that it will develop semiconductors for new varieties of hand-held gadgets, consumer-electronics products and portable computers for emerging economies. Each of the chip markets has total potential revenue of $10 billion a year, estimated Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive officer.

Defining characteristics of the new devices include broadband Internet access and low power consumption, Mr. Otellini said during the company’s annual analyst meeting in New York. The gadgets and the chips in them will command lower prices than Intel is accustomed to — requiring improved operating efficiency and advantages of a new manufacturing technology to keep the company’s profit margins up, he said.

Venture Capital’s Next Bets

Knowledge@Wharton writes about the new areas where VCs are investing:

The Internet, though not the darling it was a few years ago, still gets attention, thanks to the advances in online video that, for example, powered YouTube. “Video is a key driver right now,” said Roland Van der Meer, co-founder of ComVentures in Palo Alto, Calif. “There is amazing technology coming out of MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech addressing problems like, ‘How do you render video differently and how do you insert ads in real time?'”

Clean tech, for its part, represents a host of technologies and has been propelled by widespread public concern over carbon emissions and global warming. Given the scientific consensus that human-produced pollution has heated the world, established companies are seeking ways to reduce its impact and startups are offering up all kinds of environmentally friendly alternatives.

Inside-Out Web

Forbes has an essay by David Gelernter:

The next Web–the Worldbeam, we call it–will resemble today’s Web imploded or, if you prefer, turned inside out. It will be a single global “information beam.” Every Web page ever posted is in this beam. Whenever someone updates a page or designs a new one, it is added to the end. The Worldbeam is a stream of many separate documents–or a beam with many documents dissolved in it, held in suspension. Both metaphors are useful.

The Worldbeam is a constantly growing journal or time line of electronic documents. Its storage is dispersed over many machines for reliability and safety, but to users the Beam looks like one structure. Like so much contemporary software, it is created by two programs working together, one on a server (or many servers) and another on your own machine; these programs allow your machine to be an “empty” computer most of the time. Information is downloaded automatically and fast when you need it, and erased when you don’t.

Tech Revolution Continues

Forbes has a column by Cisco’s John Chambers:

What began as a technical innovation has become a cultural, political and business revolution. Bits and bytes change the ways we live, work, learn and play. In its infancy 14 years ago, the Internet drove advances in the ways in which we interact and communicate. Today we are seeing a new Internet-driven revolution, an entirely new level of instant, complex collaboration across the global human network.

This global collaboration has begun, and will continue, to fundamentally change business models, relationships, political networks, innovation, learning. Consider just one application: high-definition videoconferencing. With this, people as far away from each other as Singapore and Cincinnati can sit across the virtual table from one another. You hear the faraway voice as if it were in the same room. You see the other person’s pupils dilate, forehead sweat and fingers tap from thousands of miles away.