Tech roundup 01/22/11
Bitcoin, an implementation of the bit gold idea (and another example of where the order of events is important), continues to be popular.
It is finally being increasingly realized that there are many "squishy" areas where scientific methods don't work as well as they do in hard sciences like physics and chemistry. Including psychology, significant portions of medicine, ecology, and I'd add the social sciences, climate, and nutrition. These areas are often hopelessly infected with subjective judgments about results, so it's not too surprising that when the the collective judgments change about what constitutes, for example, the "health" of a mind, body, society, or ecosystem, that the "results" of experiments as defined in terms of these judgments change as well. See also "The Trouble With Science".
Flat sats (as I like to call them) may help expand our mobility in the decades ahead. Keith Lofstrom proposes fabricating an entire portion of a phased array communications satellite -- solar cells, radios, electronics, computation, etc. -- on a single silicon wafer. Tens of thousands or more of these, each nearly a foot wide, may be launched on a single small rocket. If they're thin enough, orientation and orbit can be maintained using light pressure (like a solar sail). Medium-term application: phased array broadcast of TV or data allows much smaller ground antennas, perhaps even satellite TV and (mostly downlink) Internet in your phone, iPad, or laptop. Long-term: lack of need for structure to hold together an array of flat sats may bring down the cost of solar power in space to the point that we can put the power-hungry server farms of Internet companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. in orbit. Biggest potential problem: large numbers of these satellites may both create and be vulnerable to micrometeors and other space debris.
Introduction to genetic programming, a powerful evolutionary machine learning technique that can invent new electronic circuits, rediscover Kepler's laws from orbital data in seconds, and much more, as long as it has fairly complete and efficient simulations of the environment it is inventing or discovering in.
Exploration for underwater gold mining is underway. See also "Mining the Vast Deep."