FUTURIST UPDATE: The Fungus That Captured the Gold

Jay Owen Trendspotting


May 2014 • Volume 15, No. 5

In this issue:

To Spot Trends before They’re Trends, Follow the Friends

What will we care about two months from now, and why does it matter now? Early warnings of coming trends are vital for a variety of purposes, from making better purchasing decisions to stocking medical supplies ahead of an epidemic.

Social-media users provide one source for these early clues, but which ones? Since Twitter users get enormous amounts of information from their contacts, one international team of scientists chose to focus on the role of Twitter users’ personal contacts. The researchers credit their method with the potential to predict budding social movements, consumer trends, or even disease outbreaks.

The researchers randomly selected 50,000 Twitter users, then selected 50,000 of these users’ contacts. By monitoring and comparing the users and their contacts, the researchers hypothesized that they could determine which hashtags were spreading “virally” and track their viral spread.

The contacts proved to be even more important than expected. Tracking them enabled the scientists to predict, for example, the viral rise of the hashtag “#Obamacare” two months before it peaked on Twitter and three months before it reached the highest number of Google searches with that name.

The sensor method cannot accurately predict how or if a breaking news story is going to go viral, according to the study, but it does appear to be highly reliable for predicting social movements and the spread of new ideas. —Rick Docksai ?

Sources: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. The paper, “Using Friends as Sensors to Detect Global-Scale Contagious Outbreaks,” by Manuel Garcia-Herranz et al., was published by PLOS ONE (April 9, 2014).

The Fungus That Captured the Gold

A mushroom-based material used as a filter could help remove gold, copper, and other precious metals from old computers, cell phones, and other e-waste.


Bioabsorbent filter from fungi or algae biomass could help recover precious metals from mobile phone and other electronic scrap. Credit: Antonin Halas, courtesy of VTT.

A biological filter made of mushroom mycelium mats recovered as much as 80% of gold remaining in discarded mobile phones, according to researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT’s work is part of Europe’s Value from Waste project.

The bioabsorbent approach to filtering the metals and other impurities uses algae biomass as well as fungi. The metals (in this case gold) adhere to the biomass far more effectively than processes that use harmful chemicals, according to the researchers.

Another method that VTT is developing for recovering precious metals from circuit boards and other electronic materials is liquid-liquid extraction using environmentally friendly extraction reagents. And still another new process uses flotation to collect the metals, which proved especially effective for extracting copper from circuit-board waste. —Cynthia G. Wagner ?

Source: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.


Opportunity to Lead TechCast Global

The award-winning TechCast project, founded at George Washington University by Prof. William Halal, is looking for an experienced manager with good marketing skills. This is an opportunity to possibly become president of our exciting new company, TechCast Global. Contact Bill at [email protected] for details.

Of Mice and Men and Women: Gender Bias among Lab Rats?

Because of their low cost, ease of availability, and genetic similarities to humans, mice and rats are commonly used in preclinical studies, a phase of medical research that precedes testing on humans. But the results of preclinical trials can be hard to replicate. A new study from McGill University may help to explain why.

Exposure to male researchers triggers a stress response in rats and mice not seen when the rodents are handled by female researchers. The reason: Men secrete more pheromones, which trigger stress in the lab animals. The increased stress levels, the study found, were equivalent to those induced by forcing the animal to swim for three minutes or by restraining them in a tube for 15 minutes. Heightened stress levels translate to decreased sensitivity to pain, potentially skewing a study’s results.

The study could cast doubt on decades of research, thanks to mice and rats’ ubiquitous use in psychological and medical studies. Fortunately, there are several simple ways that studies can adjust for these effects in the future.

“For example, since the effect of males’ presence diminishes over time, the male experimenter can stay in the room with the animals before starting testing,” says the paper’s lead author, McGill psychology professor Jeffrey Mogil. “At the very least, published papers should state the gender of the experimenter who performed the behavior testing.” —Keturah Hetrick ?

Sources: McGill University. The paper, “Olfactory exposure to males, including men, causes stress and related analgesia in rodents” by Robert E. Sorge et al., was published in Nature Methods, April 28, 2014.

WorldFuture 2014 ConferenceThe 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

As the finishing touches are put on the program for this year’s “Intellectual World’s Fair,” we want to make sure you’re also aware of some outstanding preconference learning opportunities.

AFPBumper Autos: Making personal transportation safe and fun. Credit: Steven M. Johnson

The full-day Master Courses offer an indispensable set of futuring skills to add to your professional portfolio, with options for both newcomers and experienced futurists.

In addition, cartoonist-inventor Steven M. Johnson will lead a special half-day workshop, How to Invent the Future. It’s sure to get your creative juices flowing!

Johnson will also be the keynote luncheon speaker on Sunday.

Download a PDF of the preliminary program now! Register by June 20 and save $100 off the onsite registration fee.

Highlights from the WorldFuture 2014 Speakers Bookshelf

Many of the speakers participating at WorldFuture 2014: What If (July 11-13 in Orlando) are also authors. We’ll be featuring selected titles in the next few issues of FUTURIST UPDATE. To view the list, visit our conference bookstore.

  • The Company Town (Angry Robot, 2014), by Madeline Ashby, science-fiction author and strategic-foresight consultant: Hwa is one of the few residents of Company Town, a city-sized oil rig, not to have undergone bioengineered enhancements. She’s also an expert in self-defense, which is why she’s just been assigned to train a high-profile family’s child who has been receiving death threats from another timeline. Hwa’s defense—and survival—skills face the ultimate test, however, as a series of interconnected murders threatens to throw the city into anarchy.
    Ashby’s Master Course, “C-8 How to Stratify Your Scenario,” will share secrets for making your scenarios maximally nuanced, versatile, and attuned to the unexpected. Ashby will also be participating in the Science Fiction Symposium on July 12.
  • Foresight and Innovation: How Companies Are Coping with the Future (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) by Elina Hiltunen, founder of What’s Next Consulting and Aalto University visiting professor in design thinking and open innovation: Hiltunen shares numerous examples of how organizations work with scenarios to plan for the future. Readers will find practical ideas for how to prepare for, and communicate to others, what may lie ahead.
    Hiltunen will share her insights in person at a WorldFuture conference session, “The Technolife of Romeo and Juliet, in the Year 2035,” co-hosted by her husband, novelist Kari Hiltunen. Their session will explore the potential challenges and opportunities posed by emerging technologies, and ways to communicate possible futures through story telling.
  • The Transhumanist Wager (Futurity Imagine Media, 2013) by Zoltan Istvan: In this transhumanist novel, protagonist Jethro Knights seeks immortality despite opposition from religious groups and national governments, not to mention the counsel of Zoe Bach, the love of his love and a firm believer in spirituality and an afterlife. When the united states exiles Knights, he leads a mass of like-minded scientists to sea to found a seastead city, Transhumania, where they will conduct their research in peace—until, that is, the world declares war on them.
    Istvan will participate in the Science Fiction Symposium and will make the case for immortality in his session, “Everyone Faces a Transhumanist Wager.” ?

What Future Do You Favor? A LinkedIn Discussion

Business futurist and consultant Karl Albrecht recently posted a fascinating discussion-starter on the World Future Society’s LinkedIn Group page:

“Please complete this sentence: ‘I favor a future in which. . . . I’m curious to know the ideological orientations (or biases) held by futurists.” —Karl Albrecht, http://www.KarlAlbrecht.com


  • “… religion is no more a topic of discussion than whether you like to play golf on the weekends. I favor a future where color or race or orientation is no more a topic than whether you are left handed or have fallen arches. There is so much more in this world to talk/fight about and die over than these.” —Kate Stewart, manager/supervisory development
  • “… humanity is in sustainable harmony with the planet. You asked about orientation. I’m a humanist.” —Len Rosen, principal author at 21st Century Tech Blog
  • “… the flow of information to everyone is unimpeded.” —David Pearce Snyder, consulting futurist at The Snyder Family Enterprise
  • “… humanity has built many scattered structures which are sustainable and can support, say, 500 people each for several years in the event that something really bad happens somewhere on Earth (e.g., supervolcano erupts, space rock impacts Earth, or some sort of disease becomes an epidemic). Each structure should also be a truly great library of the Earth’s technical knowledge, have seeds for many sorts of plants, and perhaps a variety of domesticated animals.” —Michael Hertel, inventor at M Hertel and sons Inc.
  • “… the human race takes on a more optimal symbiotic and holistic role in sustaining life on the planet.” —Frank Sowa, founder/CEO -The Xavier Group, Ltd.

Keep this discussion going, or start a new one at the World Future Society’s LinkedIn Group. ?

In Memoriam: Ian Wilson

Noted business futurist Ian Wilson, author of The New Rules of Corporate Conduct (Quorum Books, 2000) and other works, died on Monday, April 28. He was 88 years old.

Born in England on June 16, 1925, Wilson was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford University, where he received an MA degree in classics and philosophy. Before establishing his own consultancy, Wolf Enterprises, in 1993, he was a staff executive at General Electric Co. (1954-1980) and senior management consultant at SRI International (1980-1993).

Wilson took a particular interest in the concept of institutional values, and in how businesses and other organizations needed to be more aware of social change. He wrote articles on this subject for THE FUTURIST magazine: “The New Reformation: Changing Values and Institutional Goals” (June 1971) and “How Our Values Are Changing” (February 1970).

“Ian was one of the giants of the field,” said WFS President Timothy Mack.

Ian Wilson [was] one of the truly great pioneers in business futurism,” said Arnold Brown, chairman of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc. “He was always one of the best and most interesting people I had ever known, and I valued him highly. … A great loss.”

Read obituary at Westport Now. ?

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 May-June 2014 issue:

Where Will the Century of Biology Lead Us?

By Randall Mayes

A technology trend analyst offers an overview of synthetic biology, its potential applications, obstacles to its development, and prospects for public approval. Read more.

Mission for Worldwide Innovation: An Interview with Eric Dyson

By Rick Docksai

In order to maximize innovation, the public and the private sectors need to cooperate. In order for innovation to grow around the world, developed and developing nations need to cooperate. To meet both of these challenges is the mission of CRDF Global, a foundation based in the united states with innovation-building projects around the world. Read more.

Rx Disruption: Technology Trends in Medicine and Health Care

By Bertalan Meskó

Doctors and patients alike are navigating wave after wave of new technologies that promise to alter how we manage our health. Digital technologies also offer opportunities for doctors and patients to become better strategic partners in medical decisions. Read more.

Euphoric, Harmless, and Affordable: A Trend Analysis of Sex

By Karen Moloney

A psychologist examines several technological developments affecting sex, assessing their potential to deliver safe, affordable, and fulfilling experiences, as well as the economic, social, and legal questions that they raise. Read more.

Sniffing Out the Future of Medicine

By Peter W. Huber

Labs on chips and low-cost genetic sequencing could vastly improve medicine in the coming decade, if we allow it. An expert in technology, science, and law argues that the next big revolution in medicine fits on a chip—and in patients’ hands. Read more.

Adventures in Personal Genomics

By Verne Wheelwright

The public may demand a right to know their own genetic information, but interpreting their medical destinies without professional guidance might be off-limits. Read more.

Extending Pet Longevity: Our Companions in Sickness and in Health

By Rick Docksai

Pet owners everywhere would like for their companion animals to live longer, and veterinary medicine is finally making that possible. Emerging developments in gene therapy, cancer treatments, surgery, and nutrition have the potential to give our four-legged friends many more years of life. Read more.

World Trends & Forecasts

Plus: Tomorrow in Brief, Reviews, and more!

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In the Future, Insects Will Wear 3D Glasses

By Gabriel Sistare

Humans are not the only animals able to wear 3D glasses. Insects like the praying mantis can get their own pair. 3D blockbusters like Avatar might be lost on the insect community, but researchers at Newcastle University are curious about the relationship between mantis vision and human vision. Read more.

Drones, Balloons, and High-Speed Banking

By Ian Pearson

Now that trading computers execute many billions of instructions per second, even tiny extra transmission times can make a significant difference in the precise time at which data that will influence a trade instruction is received by a bank computer, and a consequent trade initiated. That can make a big difference in price and, hence, profits. Read more.

Breaking the Future Barrier

By Michael Lee

Barriers to progress may be physical, psychological, social, conceptual, and technological or a combination of any of these limits. Read more.

Will Improved “Vision” Make Us Even Better Than We Are?

By David Brin

Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus company shows that big players are starting to take Augmented Reality (AR) glasses seriously—leading the 22-year-old daughter of a friend to comment “that stuff looks really lame.” But the question of whether something “looks lame” is partly a matter of implementation. Read more.

Two Approaches to Printing Houses in the Age of 3D

By Len Rosen

In China they just announced the successful 3D printing of 10 detached, single family homes. While in the Netherlands, a Dutch canal house uses 3D printed bricks and assemblies produced on site and locked together like LEGO ™ blocks. Read more.

What Should the Robots of the Future Look Like?

By Keturah Hetrick

Hyper-realistic-looking robots are creepy looking. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve long believed. According to a study from Georgia Institute of Technology, many people are actually pretty open to human-looking robots. Read more.

Disposable Houses

By Thomas Frey

The most important feature, at least in my mind, is that these houses can just as easily be ground up a second, third, or fourth time, and be reprinted as an entirely new home. They are, in fact, disposable houses that will fit very well with the nomadic lifestyles of future generations. Read more.

When and How Will You Win? When Tech Upgrades the Economy

By Dan Abelow

You’ll rule tomorrow’s digital world. If a company fails to please you, you can wipe it off all your screens. With your finger on the kill switch, businesses will dedicate themselves to you. Routine identification will transform customer relationships and commerce. You will be known and treated personally. The most successful businesses will please everyone all the time. New tech will usher in a world where everyone wins. Read more.

AI and James Barrat’s Trilemma: A Review of “Our Final Invention”

By Randall Mayes

In Our Final Invention (St. Martin’s Press 2013), documentary filmmaker James Barrat presents three scenarios for the long-term future of Artificial Intelligence. Unfortunately, as a skeptic he provides no preferred scenarios. Read more.

Spectacular “Supersociety” Possible Thanks to Highly-Human Shift?

By Richard Samson

An unprecedented global “supersociety” may be emerging — in spite of resource depletion, pollution and conflict that seem to be driving us to dystopia. This surprisingly positive prospect is the fruition of key developments that are now germinating and sending out their first tentative shoots. They all engage a vastly underutilized resource: the best that is in people. 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.
©2014 world future society • 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20814 • Voice: 301-656-8274 • Fax: 301-951-0394 • Email: [email protected] • Web site: www.wfs.org • Contributing Editors: Cynthia G. Wagner, Rick Docksai, and Keturah Hetrick • Publisher: Jeff Cornish

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