Futurist Update: New Camera Makes the Invisible Visible

Jay Owen Trendspotting, Information Technology Issues



July 2014 • Volume 15, No. 7

In this issue:

New Camera Makes the Invisible Visible

We can’t see something behind a wall unless there is a mirror nearby that can capture the object’s reflection. But a new camera developed by researchers from the universities of British Columbia and Bonn has no such limitations. The camera reconstructs scattered rays of light to accurately depict images of objects that are completely outside its immediate field of view.

The camera measures incoming light rays and records not only the direction that each one comes from, but also how long it took the light to travel from its source to the camera. From these time-of-flight measurements, it is able to fully reconstruct an image of the object.


Computer science professor Matthias Hullin of the Institute of Computer Science II, University of Bonn, poses with camera that can peer around corners. Credit: Matthias Hullin

“In principle, we are measuring nothing other than the sum of numerous light reflections which reached the camera through many different paths and which are superimposed on each other on the image sensor,” says Mattias Hullin, University of Bonn computer-science professor and one of the camera’s engineers.

In a recent demo, the researchers positioned the camera on one side of a partition. On the other side, completely concealed from the camera, were a canvas and a laser beam shining onto the canvas’s center. The camera portrayed the canvas and laser beam on its video screen.

Currently, the camera’s image reconstructions are very low-resolution, but Hullin hopes that higher precision will be achievable as the technical components and mathematical models improve. The camera could have many applications in telecommunications, remote sensing, and medical imaging, he adds. —Rick Docksai ?

Sources: University of Bonn.

“Diffuse Mirrors: 3D Reconstruction from Diffuse Indirect Illumination Using Inexpensive Time-of-Flight Sensors,” by Felix Heide, Lei Xiao, Wolfgang Heidrich, and Matthias B. Hullin.

Salamanders Demonstrate Possibilities for Human Cell Regrowth

It’s no big deal if a salamander loses a leg—its body simply responds by growing a new one. Researchers from University College London are examining how salamanders regenerate body parts in the hopes that this information could be used to grow human cells in the future.

The secret, the researchers found, is in a cellular protein chain known as the ERK pathway, which allows proteins to deliver signals from the cell’s surface to its nucleus. When a body part is severed, activated ERK proteins trigger the remaining cells to reprogram and multiply. Salamanders’ ERK pathways are constantly active, which explains their ability to regrow lost tails, legs, and even hearts.


Salamander muscle cells reentering the cell division cycle. Credit: University College London

Humans and other mammals can’t regrow limbs because their ERK pathways aren’t fully active. But, when artificially activated, mammalian cells show greater potential for reprogramming and regrowth. Future research focusing on regulating ERK pathways could lead to better medical technology for humans.

“This mechanism could contribute to therapies directed at enhancing regenerative potential of human cells,” explains molecular biologist Max Yun, lead author of the study. —Keturah Hetrick ?

Source: “Sustained ERK Activation Underlies Reprogramming in Regeneration-Competent Salamander Cells and Distinguishes Them from Their Mammalian Counterparts,” by Maxima H. Yun, Phillip B. Gates, and Jeremy P. Brockes, was published in Stem Cell Reports (June 2014).

Renewable-Energy Solution to Tanzania’s Water Troubles

Water-challenged communities in Tanzania can channel sun or wind power to generate whole new reservoirs of safe drinking water, thanks to a water-filtration system developed by engineers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), a public corporation in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The engineers field-tested their system in several rural Tanzanian communities in February and March this year, and they found that it successfully cleared water of microbes and harmful pollutants at each.


Villagers in Mdori, Tanzania, taste freshly filtered water. Credit: Andrea Schäfer

KIT hydraulic engineer Andrea Schäfer and photovoltaics expert Bryce Richards, the system’s co-developers, call their creation the Reverse Osmosis Water Installation (ROTI). The design combines one set of membranes that has pores measuring 50 nanometers wide (small enough to sequester pollutants, bacteria, and viruses) with another set of membranes whose pores are only a single nanometer wide and filter out individual dissolved molecules of those pollutants.

ROTI is designed to run on either solar power, wind power, or both. And it is easily transportable from one community to another. One system can supply enough drinking water for 50 people.

The system is now undergoing further testing back home in KIT’s lab. If the test results are satisfactory, KIT will return to the Tanzanian field-test sites to install new ROTIs for residents’ permanent use. —Rick Docksai ?

Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

The Annual Conference of the world future society

July 11-13, 2014 * Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.

News from the World Future Society’s Annual Meeting

WorldFuture 2014: What If opens next week (July 11-13 in Orlando), but there is still time to participate in this outstanding event.

To help prepare yourself for the exciting events, you can read preview articles in the July-August 2014 issue of THE FUTURIST, plus these Web-exclusive white papers:

Start planning your WorldFuture 2014: What If journey now, using the scheduling tool at wfs2014.shdlr.com.

And there is still time to register for Master Courses and Keynote Luncheons!

Download a PDF of the program now! Register?

China’s Gender Imbalance Could Lead to More Social Problems

With nearly 118 boys born for every 100 girls, China has the world’s greatest gender imbalance. While China’s preference for sons stretches back hundreds of years, some of the country’s current gender imbalance can be attributed to the government’s one-child policy, as well as better health care and food for infant males. However, the greatest cause of the disparity is sex-selective abortion—a practice that’s been prevalent since the 1980s, when ultrasounds became commonplace.

The gender gap affects many areas of society, leading to high competition among men seeking girlfriends and wives, a stunted population growth rate, and even greater criminal activity. From 1988 to 2004, growing numbers of unskilled, unmarried men coincided with a 3% increase in violent crimes and property crimes across the country, according to a study published in Asian Population Studies. And crime will likely continue to increase along with the growth in “surplus men”: By 2030, the researchers estimate, the number of unskilled, unmarried men will grow to between 27 million and 50 million.

The Chinese government is seeking to regulate the growing sex-at-birth ratio. While there are many policies the country could pursue, the researchers note that changes wouldn’t have an immediate effect and could negatively impact parts of the economy. —Keturah Hetrick ?

Source: “Gender ‘Rebalancing’ in China,” by Jane Golley and Rod Tyers, was published in Asian Population Studies.

In Memoriam: Arnold Brown

We were saddened to learn recently of the death of longtime world future society supporter Arnold Brown, chairman of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc. (WEB).


Arnold served as chairman of the World Future Society’s board of directors (2006-2007) and participated in WFS activities as recently as the 2013 annual conference in Chicago. He was also a prolific business trends analyst, researcher, and writer, contributing numerous articles and book reviews to THE FUTURIST magazine.

“Arnold was an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man, who was passionate about his work and studying the future,” said Jared Weiner, vice president of WEB. “His integrity, his generosity and his commitment made an indelible impact on us personally, on our business, on the World Future Society and on the futures field in general. He was a true pioneer, visionary, and all-around wonderful man. He will be deeply missed.”

In lieu of flowers or cards, the family suggests that gifts in Arnold’s memory be made to the Visual Arts Foundation for the Pamela Roberts Memorial Scholarship at the School of Visual Arts, 220 E. 23rd Street, Suite 609, New York, New York 10010.

For more information, visit Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc. See also “Change Masters” by Edward Cornish, THE FUTURIST (July-August 2012). ?

The Future in the News

What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine

If you’re only receiving Futurist Update, you’re missing out on the wealth of information you’d be receiving each year as a FUTURIST magazine reader. Subscription is free with World Future Society membership. Join Now!

Here is what’s in the July-August 2014 issue:

What Does Moore’s Law Mean For the Rest of Society?

By Clay Rawlings and Rob Bencini

Technology is advancing exponentially. Beware the disruptions to legal systems, society, and the economy, warn the authors of Pardon the Disruption. Read more.

Backing Into Eden, Gardening the World: A Parable

By Brenda Cooper

The story of humanity’s domination over nature has reached a critical turning point. As we increasingly recognize the perils ahead, we must also understand the opportunities (and risks) of intervening with nature. Read more.

Looking at the Future through a Cartoonist’s Eyes

By Steven M. Johnson

Capturing inspiration from “what if,” an artist turned his imagination into a lifetime of serious futuring. Here’s how he does it. Read more.

Technolife of Romeo and Juliet in 2035

By Elina Hiltunen and Kari Hiltunen

Rather than attempting to predict future technologies—which will emerge (or not) amid myriad unforeseeable social, environmental, and other forces—futurists can offer stories that dramatize the possibilities ahead. Read more.

Visualizing the Future

By Gray Scott

From printable foods to rights for robots, science fiction and science fact are becoming harder to distinguish. Both begin with pictures in the mind’s eye. Read more.

Deconstructing the Future: Seeing Beyond “Magic Wand” Predictions

By Karl Albrecht

Whether it’s “rocket mail” or self-driving cars, predictions about the future need to be built on a deep understanding of context and consequences in order to inspire confidence. A business futurist offers insights on how to put wishful thinking, whims, and fads aside in favor of a process of structured inquiry. Read more.

Forest Futures in the Anthropocene: Can Trees and Humans Survive Together?

By David Bengston and Michael J. Dockry

Threats to forests range from mega-fires to urban encroachment. Two futurists for the U.S. National Forest Service provide insights on the major issues and potential game changers for the world’s woodlands. Read more.

Terra Nova: The Religious Quest for Tomorrow

By Jay Gary

Religious imagination first reframed our quest toward tomorrow. Can it still move us in the twenty-first century to recreate our worlds? Read more.

Future View: Abandoning Ship Titanistad

By Jim Tull

Picture the Titanic, grafted on top of the slave ship Amistad—the powerful and wealthy sailing on the backs of the miserable. Once this unwieldy ship falters, all will suffer. Can a vision of paradise, a message of hope, provide a lifeboat for all? Read more.

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Recent Blog Standouts from THE FUTURIST Magazine

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Pacemakers Without Batteries? The Technology Is Coming Soon

By Len Rosen

How do they get energy? They use electromagnetic waves, the same waves used by radios and microwaves. It is a form of electromagnetism. In the case of the pacemaker the technology is neither the one used by radios or microwaves but something in between. Called mid-field wireless transfer, the technology blends the two types of electromagnetic waves currently in use. Read more.

You and the fYOUture

By Verne Wheelwright

As futurists or as individuals, we all read about how current research and development will change our world and our lives. Yet much that is written focuses on things and research, and not much on how our lives may or will be changed. But how does future change affect YOU? Let’s start with an easy one, self-driving cars. Sounds easy, but reality may be more complex, so here are some possibilities. Read more.

To Program This Robot, Just Speak to It

By Keturah Hetrick

Brewing a cup of tea seems simple enough. But to a robot, seemingly straightforward tasks can actually be pretty complicated and ambiguous. Researchers at Cornell University have developed a robot that learns information about your speech and its environment and uses that information to carry out commands. And programming the robot is easy—It learns from spoken instructions. Read more.

What Kind of Futurist Conference-Goer Are You?

By Cynthia G. Wagner

We’ve all seen those personality quizzes on BuzzFeed and places like that (What kind of gemstone are you? Which Disney princess?). They’re fun, but obviously don’t tell much about you or how to improve yourself. Read more.

Disrupting Government: Why Countries Will Soon Have to Compete for their Citizens

By Thomas Frey

With transportation systems growing more efficient, and intrusive technologies leaving many feeling hyper-exposed and alienated by their government, conditions are now ripe for a massive wave of governmental disruption where wealthy individuals choose to “vote with their feet,” and abandon their home country. Here’s why a massive shift is about to occur. Read more.

The Future of Companies: Operate without Limits

By Dan Abelow

Continuous communications across demand and supply chains will be used by consumers, vendors, suppliers and logistics to produce a radically more efficient and effective economy. Read more.

Discarding the “Too Old” Myth

By Karen Sands

I doubt that anyone is surprised that the GOP is preemptively attacking Hillary Clinton based on her age. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Karl Rove, Republican strategist, have both been busy in the media casting doubts on whether Ms. Clinton is fit to run for office based on age and health. Read more.

Growing Old Together

By James Lee

Instead of boring everyone with pictures of demographic pyramids turned upside-down, let’s look at some of the unintended consequences of aging populations worldwide. Read more.

Can We Beat the Surveillance State? My Keynote at CFP 2014

By Ramez Naam

My talk gave an overview of the surveillance state we’re building today, and then used lessons from the past to show how incredibly dangerous that can be, before launching into the steps we must take – and are taking – to roll back that surveillance state and strike a more reasonable balance. You can watch it below. Read more.

The Limits of ISIS Terrorism in the UK

By Ian Pearson

This is the 3rd article in my short series trying to figure out the level of terrorist danger ISIS poses in the UK, again comparing them with the IRA in the Northern Ireland “troubles.” I don’t predict the level it will actually get to, which depends on too many factors, only the limits if everything goes their way. Read more.

Replacing the Organizational Operating System: A New Paradigm Structure for Governance

By John Renesch

The other day I was talking with a colleague who had recently accepted a partnership position at HolacracyOne, LLC. I have heard about Holacracy as an alternative governing system for organizations, particularly corporations, but was not intimately knowledgeable about the specific roles, responsibilities, culture and other details of the system. Read more.

RoboFuture? Ten Questions about Machine Intelligence: A Common-Sense Perspective on the Singularity

By Michael Lee

I have several philosophical, logical, ethical, historical, and futurological problems with the concept of the Singularity, but today I simply want to adopt a common-sense approach. I want to ask 10 questions about machine intelligence to highlight the nature of machine intelligence compared to human consciousness. Read more.

Could Bitcoin Become “Financial English” in Supermoney Web?

By Richard Samson

The future of bitcoin, the new cyber currency, could be tiny or titanic depending on how it’s promoted from here on out. If backers try to make it the universal currency of a new era, bypassing banks and governments, it could end up as “financial Esperanto.” If, however, backers lower their sights and shoot for “financial English,” Bitcoin could surge as never before. Read more.

From THE FUTURIST Archives

Futurists and Their Ideas—Change Masters: Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc.

By Edward Cornish

July-August 2012

Pioneering business futurists explain how they have developed the art and science of trend analysis. Read more.

FUTURIST UPDATE: News & Previews from the World Future Society is an e-mail newsletter published monthly as a supplement to THE FUTURIST magazine.

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