Tag: future

2012 will be the first year after the International Year of Chemistry

Indeed: 2011 was the International Year of Chemistry (IYC). But why IUPAC and UNESCO dedicated a year to that basic science? It was for two reasons: one looking at the past and one looking at the future.

Looking at the past, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie‘s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. And her discovery was very important for both the science in itself and its applications to health. Radium’s radioactivity seemed to contradict the principle of the conservation of energy. The discovery of radium allowed other great names in chemistry and physics like Rutherford to study the atom and radioactivity decay. In medicine, the radioactivity of radium allowed the development of radiation therapies, used to control or kill malignant cells in cancer treatment.

But 2011 was also the 100th anniversary of the first Solvay conference which subject was “Radiation and the Quanta”. Marie Curie was obviously present, along with Henri Poincaré, Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford and Albert Einstein among others. It was held at the Hotel Metropole, in Brussels (yes, in Belgium 🙂 ). Solvay conferences in physics and chemistry still continue now.

1911 Solvay conference
1911 Solvay conference

So IUPAC and UNESCO wanted to commemorate the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind in general. And 2011 was full of activities all over the world (there was probably one near your place and there are still plenty of activities prepared for 2012!).

One of these activities was the creation of a team of young people/scientists who debated and introduced their ideas and expectations from life sciences and chemistry, industry and governments to build a better world in 2050. I am grateful to my company to have chosen me to represent it in this “Young Leader” team: it really was a great experience!

International Year of Chemistry - Young Leader Team at the Brussels Closing Ceremony; December 1st 2011

Every member of the team came from different horizons (Europe, Asia, America, Africa) with different backgrounds all related in a way or another to chemistry (but it’s true that we were mostly chemists and engineers). We started by the simple statement that “chemistry is everywhere and for everyone“. It’s quite obvious but if we are often reminded of the negative impacts of chemical products and chemical reactions, chemistry also enabled billions of applications and made possible to feed more people, give them shelters and potentially a better health. It’s not roses all the way ; mankind has lots of efforts and progress to make. But if you think of the computer you are using to read this post, for instance: it’s working thanks to thousands of chemical compounds and chemical reactions. And on top of that, chemistry is also a natural process (well, first, it’s a natural process). When you eat your breakfast, when you listen to a lecture, when you attend a meeting, when you practice some sport, when you meet friends, when you sleep, you are full of chemical reactions, using thousand different chemical elements.

But as the world is facing important challenges like overpopulation, energy depletion, pollution, etc. or simply because people want to make their lives better it’s also true that chemistry is our future and will play a role in tackling these issues. But instead of depicting a sad, pessimistic view of these issues and just enumerating technical solution chemistry is or will be designing, the team decided to work on a vision for 2050 and ways towards this vision:

By 2050 we must all have access to healthy, safe and fulfilled lives in symbiosis with our planet

With concrete examples of existing or budding chemical technologies and solutions allowed by the development of chemistry, we wrote three concrete stories of people who would have made a change in the future. Most megatrends were debated, lots of research was done to find scientific evidences of change or application. Better water distribution and usage, smarter housing, increased yields for locally produced food, more efficient energy production and storage mechanisms were among the topics we discussed. Health was also present as education, biotechnologies (like new delivery and detection methods), collaborations and policies also play a key role, with chemistry as a pervasive partner.

International Year of Chemistry - Closing ceremony presentation

A milestone for the group was the Closing Ceremony of the IYC that was held in Brussels, on December 1st, 2011. We had to transmit that vision, the way we think it can be achieved to students and members of the chemistry community. It was a great pleasure to see the high level of interest and, for most of them, of passion the young students have towards Chemistry. Their questions, their curiosity about the future, their questioning of the implementation of our vision as well and their thirst of knowledge were amazing. It was also very, very interesting to listen to Ada Yonath’s talk about ribosomes but also science, curiosity and her passion. Professor Jean-Luc Brédas, Francqui Prize in 1997, also gave a very interesting talk about new and more efficient energy sources. Finally, the debate, the round table between main actors in the world of chemistry, the ideas, comments, discussions that followed were all very instructive and enlightening.

Fortunately this is not the end. All these ideas and discussions will definitely feed discussions and our efforts to maintain a platform for chemistry and its ways to help for a better future. We already started with a Facebook group. Central science created special topics about IYC activities. Nature created an IYC website with dozens of articles about everything from research to careers. And I hope to be able to write again about other initiative and, of course, about the fulfillment of our vision in 2050 (or even before!).

Photo credits: Marie Curie, from Scientific American by Wyoming_Jackrabbit (CC-by-nc-sa on Flickr). The photo of the Solvay conference was taken by Benjamin Couprie and from wikipedia. Photos of the YL group and the closing ceremony are from Vivian Hertz.

TEDxBrussels in tweets and videos

TEDxBrussels is a local, self-organized event that brings a TED-like experience to Brussels. I already often mentioned videos and presentations from TED (for instance here, here or here). When I read that it will again be organized in Brussels in 2011 I decided to attend this edition. Here is a short summary of this intense day with my tweets and the just-released videos. It would be very time consuming to write about each and every talk. Here I will just highlight speakers I like the most (you can have a look at TEDxBrussels website for the complete list of speakers).

22.11.11-09.09: Tell people you work in a #pharma company and you immediately get questions on #ethics. Yes it’s an ethical business!

One of the nice thing about a TED event is that you get to see many new people, most of them very interesting with cool background, strange or simply something nice to say. And, yes, when you tell people you are working in the pharmaceutical industry, questions on ethics immediately pop up 🙂

22.11.11-09.40: Nice sweet talk from Cuartielles at #tedxbrussels #arduino. Learn by doing.

One of the first talks was from David Cuartielles on the Arduino project. His talk was like a reminder that life is still very physical and the Arduino project is a good example of “open source hardware” and of “leaning by doing”. It reminded me that when I will have time, I would really like to play with the Arduino!

Also embedded in physical life were talks by Henrik Scharfe (F-Geminoid) and Ken Haase (E Pluribus Unum). Hasan Elahi (Hiding in plain sight) and Kaliya Hamlin (Identity) introduced concepts of radical transparency and participatory totalitarianism (respectively). And during that time, many people were logged in Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks, updating their status, giving everybody parts of their lives and, for most of them, using their unique identity given at birth.

22.11.11-10.28: #eyeborg Spence at #tedxbrussels: I’m not an expert but I have a camera in my eye

Then we went back to hardware with Rob Spence talking about the camera he used to have in place of his eye. It was also interesting to discover how people improved a lot prosthetic arms, legs (and eye thus). I found also cool the augmented reality that was displayed in the fireman mask as well as the simple way a fireman can change this display.

22.11.11-11.16: #smartcars are not just cool tech projects, they can solve some current issues. Waiting for #collaboration between them. #tedxbrussels

Raul Rojas presented his team’s “car that think”. Again, it was very interesting to see how technology evolved: this VW can drive all alone in the traffic in Berlin! It seems that cars are becoming “smarter”. But I thought he would touch the fact these smart cars can autonomously collaborate between themselves (once they are more than one). Then these smartcars could one day outperform human drivers in heavy traffic.

22.11.11-11.27: High concentration of #apple products at #tedxbrussels. Feeling a bit lonely with my #moleskine and #pen 🙂

And if we stay in hardware, there was an awful lot of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, IObjects in the audience. And even some speakers brought Apple products on stage. I just had a moleskine and a pen to take some notes. My Android phone was way enough to update Twitter 🙂 (but it was definitely not good at taking pictures in the feeble light during talks).

22.11.11-13.16: Great talks from Ashdown, Meyer (entrepreneurship), Hypponen, Janah (microwork) & Chakrabarti (education+) this morning at #tedxbrussels 🙂

The end of the morning was filled with interesting presentations from Paddy Ashdown (Why the world will never be the same …),  Mikko H. Hypponen  (Definding the net), Julie Meyer, Leila Janah  (see below for the previous 2 people’s videos) and Kushal Chakrabarti (What does education mean to you?). While both have their own qualities and bring work to the world, it was interesting to compare the personnalities of Julie Meyer (more formal, on the financial side, “money follows ideas”, presentation with the logo of her company on top right, helping individual entrepreneurs) …

and Leila Janah’s (less formal, playing more with emotions, “technology must serve humanity”, more “web 2.0” presentation, being an entrepreneur and helping individuals getting jobs in the same company (hers)).

22.11.11-07: Wonderful and breathtaking para-music #tedxbrussels

The afternoon indeed started with a beautiful concert by disabled people with Charles Hazlewood as conductor. It was then followed by a serie of science-fuction authors where they explained to us a part of life (and its adaptability to a changing world): David Brin (Target 2061), John Shriley (False singularities …), Rudy Rucker (Beyond machines …), Jacques Vallée (Theory of everything else), …

22.11.11-15.41: Strange talk about death bed visitors by Fenwick #tedxbrussels

And it continued with a very strange presentation (imho, ymmv) about dying well by Peter Fenwick!

22.11.11-16.45: I should have danced my PhD 🙂 #tedxbrussels

Then we saw an effective way to present what Ph.D. students are doing: dance (John Bohannon and the Black Label Movement)!

22.11.11-16:57: From Oxford or not, a video link is unfortunately still less powerful than a live talk #tedxbrussels

The Science section started with a video conference from David Deutsch (The Unknowable …). His talk was very interesting but nothing will beat a real, live talk, especially if the professor on the other side of the video link is … well, teaching like a professor.

22.11.11-18.31: @xprize I would prize simple delivery system and tech that drastically improve basic sanitation+health issues for 10mio people #tedxbrussels

Deutsch was followed by a presentation of what does the XPrize Foundation by Eileen Bartholomew. In the end, she asked for feedback and what we would like the XPrize Foundation to support. I think that tackling basic health issues will not be very difficult; getting money for less developed countries can be the problem and that’s where the Foundation can help. Solutions submitted to this hypothetical prize won’t necessarily be using the latest, cool hi-tech of the moment but I’m sure they can be very effective. Leveraging power, they said.

22.11.11-17.16: Interesting futuristic story from Marc Millis #tedxbrussels

And after these two high-level talks we went back to science fiction with Marc Millis telling his story going to other planets (“colonies”) in space. That was relaxing (btw, he was sitting on a sofa).

22.11.11-17.39: Great session on the future of biology and health – at least for a biologist #tedxbrussels

22.11.11-18.35: Intetesting perspectives on bioengineering (Hessel), fut medicine (Tuszynski) and ageing (Duncan) #tedxbrussels

Then, as a finale, 3 talks on biology and health! Yippee! Andrew Hessel started by talking about synthetic biology, biotechnologies and his participation in the open source biology movement. One day, there will be an org (organism) for the things you want to do. Jack Tiszynski followed with the drastic idea of replacing doctors by software for diagnostics and brought the idea that we will have a “virtual double” in our future smartphones. This double will know our predisposition to diseases and suggest prevention methods and cures. Finally David Duncan talked about extreme ageing and some of the important issues brought by prolonging life and being healthy for a longer period of time than before. (I wish the videos were already on the website!)

22.11.11-18.37: Overall, loved this first #tedxbrussels experience! 🙂

I unfortunately didn’t have time to attend the last part of the session (damn!). But anyway, thanks to the organizers for this edition of TEDxBrussels! Even if all of them are not relevant to your job or will not be applicable before a long time, it gives you lots of ideas and it will take me some time to explore more in details some (many) of them. I started by collecting direct links to presentations above on Pinboard. Feel free to use them as starting point too!

Wearable electronics/communication

I became recently interested in wearable electronics and wearable communication. I think we usually don’t need a computer at home. But I also think that electronics, sensory / storage / communication / helper devices will invade our world (privacy) at one point.

A few months ago, I liked Phillip Torrone’s retrospective collection of wearable electronic devices (for Make:). It will be quite fun to wear some of the stuff he showed. However most of the current applications shown are mostly designed to collect information from the body they are attached to or to communicate with this body. This is very much self-centered.

Recently (tonight), I watched Kate Hartman’s TED talk: The art of wearable communication. As the title implies, Kate Hartman goes one step further and designs wearable communication devices. I must admit I’m not sure I would want to wear the devices she designed. But I admire how simple these devices can be and yet some of them create an effective embryo of communication with others.

Kate Hartman and her wearable communication devices
Kate Hartman and her wearable communication devices

The full video is just below:

We don’t need a computer at home

Historically, computers were invented to solve issues in the factory or the office (university office or company office) but recently invaded home and are becoming ubiquitous.

IBM System/370 Model 145

At the beginning of this invasion, computers for home were (and are still) very similar to the ones for the industry/office: a CPU, a keyboard to enter data or commands and a screen to see what was happening. Artifacts to be attached to the computer were first invented for the corporate world and then progressively entered into homes. I still remember the first mouse we had at home: it was like a mini-revolution. After years there were still some software that could not take advantage of it or its usage was implemented but in a rudimentary way. Idem for the first webcam we acquired: only the provided software was able to use it. Now it comes embedded in most computer screen and can be used for various purposes (video chat, take pictures, read bar codes, art, …).

More and more, computers are now declined its various avatars like calculators, mobile phones, game consoles, car dashboards, ATMs, cashiers, … All of them affect our daily lives in a way or another. But in my opinion the computer shouldn’t have left the corporate world. Its home avatars should have directly been via adapted technologies. Because Mr. and Mrs. Everyone don’t need any computer at home.

Although some bosses want their employees to behave differently, the factory/office is were we work and home is were we don’t work. At home, we read, eat, sleep, play, interact with other family members and neighbors, perform personal care, watch the television, etc. None of these activities requires a computer as we know it (CPU, keyboard, mouse and screen). However some of them can be enhanced or at least affected by it.

Whatever how it is materialized, a “computer” can enhance your reading experience. It can monitor your sleep while you snore or, more broadly, it can monitor your health while performing your daily activities. Computers can enhance your movie experience (by linking to related content, e.g.). They can help you improve your cooking skills and watch your savings.

Without pretending to know the future, I think miniaturization is and will put thing back “in order”: you will no longer have a computer on your desk but a bunch of small devices, each of them responsible for a small part of your daily life activities. You probably already have a mobile phone or a smartphone, i.e. a mini portable computer allowing us to phone. You probably already used a calculator, i.e. a mini portable computer specialized for calculus. Computer-like devices are becoming more and more small and powerful. They are also doing more than one simple thing at a time.

Another interesting trend is that computer-like devices are becoming more and more transparent, i.e. becoming more and more hidden or at least embedded in our daily lives. This is obviously allowed by miniaturization. The soda distributor contains a small computer-like device. Your electronic watch contains more electronics than ever. Your television screen is flat and is more capable but takes less space than your grandma’s television (relatively to the size of the screen of course).

To go beyond that, people started to experiment with wearable devices and electronics. These devices are part of your daily clothes. Currently these artifacts are merely gadgets and most of them are monitoring devices, just collecting and sometimes displaying information to the outside world. But other applications can be found like being able to carry your electronic documents (without the need for a USB key or CDs) or actually being your receiver/transmitter (“phone” without the actual plastic object we always lose somewhere when we need it). Without becoming cyborgs these guys below won’t soon need cellphones anymore:

Suits & Cells

Now is this an praise of closed platforms like the iPad, the iPod, etc.? No. I don’t say that no computer should be allowed at home: some people are working from home and they obviously need a computer. On top of that, in order to become part of our everyday habits, these devices would need to be transparent, open: people should be aware of what these devices are doing, what are their benefits and potentially what are the drawbacks of using / wearing them. One of the main concerns about these closed platforms and future platforms is privacy: how much of you do you agree to reveal “in exchange” of being empowered by these devices? I think people should be able to refuse to reveal anything and still be able to use these devices.

Photo credits: IBM System/370 Model 145 by John Keogh (CC-by-nc) and Suits & Cells by Alexa Clark (CC-by-nc), both on Flickr.