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12/23/2014
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8 Quiet Firsts In Tech In 2014

Maybe you didn't hear about these science and technology breakthroughs, from robots to space exploration. But they will be remembered 20 years from now.
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India's Mars Orbiter Mission (artist's rendering)
India's Mars Orbiter Mission (artist's rendering)

Every year has its firsts and lasts. Many of the firsts are significant to only a few (say, the first world champion in a minor sport); others are trumpeted as big events (a tsunami wiping out a heavily populated area).

But there's a category in between "first-ever international competition for mixed-doubles curling" and "first black person elected president of the United States" (both of which happened in 2008): things that aren't trivial but receive much less attention than they deserve.

I like to call these "quiet firsts": events that might not have made a splash or that might have slipped by you in the news, but are nevertheless harbingers of important things to come.

Here are eight quiet firsts that you may or may not have noticed -- things that happened for the first time in 2014 that led to the world becoming a different place. If there are trends to be spotted among these eight, they're probably my personal biases: I tend to think of science and technology, and particularly space, as where the future of humanity lies. But I would also note that the world is becoming more inclusive: Several of the stories are about people from poorer nations breaking into global prominence with world-class accomplishments. The old easy dominance and hegemony by the usual forces seems to be over -- and good riddance.

In science and technology, small steps can enable great things. Might a better understanding of the math of dynamic systems lead to an evolutionary process -- operated remotely in labs throughout the planet via the cloud -- that makes lighter, stronger materials that enable more responsive robotic legs?

Or if you like, choose a dark path: The knowledge is turned to making weapons, the human connectedness into envy and anger, and we drift back into the old bad habits of our species, made worse by more potent weapons and more knowledge of exactly what it is about each other that we don't like.

What you'll see in these stories is probably not exactly what I see. But they are worth your attention because they are, quietly and unobtrusively, turning the world into something new.

Where else was the world quietly changing while I was distracted with mathematics, space travel, robotics, cloud computing, and the revolutions in chemistry and nanotech? Think small but important -- there were big and loud events, but this slideshow is not about bigger and louder, but rather the small events that mean so much. Where else should we have looked? Tell us in the comments.

John Barnes has 31 commercially published and 2 self-published novels,  along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts, and encyclopedia articles.  Most of his life he has written professionally; his day jobs have included teaching at every ... View Full Bio

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Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 1:39:16 AM
Re: Indian space program ...
Nasimson,

Have you ever been to Mumbai?

I was there on Business this past Summer and believe me its a City which will stun&Surprise you with its many Flavors and Contrasts.

I also shared many of your misconceptions regarding Mumbai before I reached there;So let me share my Experience with you.

I flew in from JFK(New York) into Mumbai and the Moment I landed at the Airport I was blown away by the Airport.

Its not just Ultra-Modern(compared to all our Prehistoric Airports in NYC) but gives you an Amaaazing Experience.

You feel like you are in some sort of a 5 Star Hotel/High-end Shopping Mall.

Wow! The Airport is in itself a Highly Recommended Destination[You can find images of the Brand-New Airport Online so I won't spend anytime sharing links with you].

The Mueseum and Art Gallery inside the Airport will itself blow your mind!

Anyways,coming to the City -The Energy,Pace,Traffic,Noise and Vitality of the City (not to mention the Cost of Living-LOL!!!)reminded me of my own Home-NYC.

As it should,Mumbai is the Financial and Commerical Capital of India and so the parrallels with NYC are immense.

They recently opened a Brand New Ultra-Modern Metro as well a Monorail(and they have plans in place to expand both these networks tremendously in the next 3-5 years).

I was very curious to see both these Networks in action[You can find Videos of them on Youtube easily];so I took a ride on them and coming from NYCs Prehistoric MTA Network I felt tremendously Jealous of Mumbai's New Monorail and Metro.

The Air Conditioning Works,The Trains are on Time,The Stations are clean and All the Stations have Elevators !

Can we boast of that in NYC?

No we can't.

So many really-really important Stations on both the Red and Blue Lines in NYC lack such basic Facilities for the Elderly  as well as Physically Challenged Individuals that one felt tremendously jealous of Mumbai's upcoming Public Transportation Networks.

Admittedly,you may say but how does all this World-Class Infrastructure benefit the really poor People who live in the Slums of Mumbai?

I had the very same doubts in my mind;till I attended a party at a friends place where I met a French Lady who works for an NGO specializing in Women's Health there.

I shared this very same doubt with her.

She Looked at me and Laughed.

Then she took me along(the next day)to Dharavi(which is supposed to be Asia's Largest Slum) and that experience was an eye-opener for me.

Every Second Home(in Asia's Largest Slum) had Air Conditioning,Almost Every home had a Referigerator and Color TVs(some even had Flat Screen TVs to boot!!!!).Every 4th or 5th Home had a Car as well!!!

This apart from the Standard Cellphones and other Gizmos to boot!

This lady (after seeing my eyes wideopen) shared this piece of Information with me-Mumbai is India's Richest City.

So even the Slum Residents there are amongst the Richest in India!

LOL!!!

Also,do you know why most of these people stay in Slums?

Its because of the lack of Low-cost Housing in Mumbai.

Land//Apartments,etc cost 5 times as Much in Mumbai as in NYC!!!

This is before accounting for the fact that Incomes in Mumbai are just a fifth of what they are in NYC!

Consequently,this makes Typical Housing unaffordable for the vast majority[95% of all Mumbai Residents] and forces them to live in Slums.

Admittedly,this is an area where their Government has Failed-Lack of Sufficient Low-cost Housing Options[But their New Prime Minister is working aggressively on this area].

So this brings me back to my Original Question-Do you think these folks are interested (or will see any benefit from Subsidized Food)???

Not really,Atleast not Mumbai Slum Residents.

My NGO Friend told me sure there are parts of India where people still struggle to make Ends meet but Mumbai clearly is'nt one of them!

Then coming to the question of Spending Priorities,etc.

Are you aware of how much the Indian Government spends on Food Subsidies today?

Every Year,The Government Spends $20 Billion on Food Subsidies.

Apart form this they also spend $15 Billion on Subsidizing Fertilizers for Farmers and another $20 Billion on Subsidizing Electricity for Farmers(largely for free).

Apart form this the Government Spends another $13 Billion on Subsidizing Petroeum products to boot!

[My NGO Friend tells me about Half of this  subsidy spending -Close to $30 Billion is pure Waste and reaches folks who don't really need it].

Even this problem is being tackled on a war-footing by the New Prime Minister who's trying to make Government Subsidy spending more efficent today.

Compared to all this the Mars Mission cost them hardly $65 Million !!!

The problem in India is'nt lack of Spending but rather lack of Efficency in the Spending that they do.

Its a Problem that even America shares today.

Think about it for a moment;Why do folks like you& me (American Taxpayers) spend $2Billion/Year for Aid to hostile Countries like Pakistan,etc[Where the vast majority of Folks hate us-I quote Pew Research here).

Would'nt American needs be better served by putting all that money to use Domestically?

Heck,my New York City metro could easily use those funds for a much-needed Upgrade.

2 Billion Bucks would be more than sufficent to fix the Air Conditioning in the entire Network(apart from Cleaning it thoroughly).

I could cite many such Examples domestically within America itself today.

We need to stop preaching to other countries(with a holier than thou attitude and rather focus on cleaning our House first).

That will serve us Americans (& The world at large better).

 

 
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 11:19:05 AM
Re: Indian space program ...

"If you ask slum dwellers of Mumbai, they'll rather prefer a food subsidy over space research."

Just a brief note here on space research. Getting to space is such a huge deal in designing things so we can get to and survive in space while we research that as a basis, it requires us to research how to deal with survivability issues such as energy, food, water and shelter. Without the space program we would be years behind in global communications, food preservation techniques such as mylar bags would not have been invented, and hundreds of other products that help in the basic needs for living for a large segment of the population would not exist. Money put into far reaching projects have far reaching results including basic needs in a growing world.

mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 3:07:28 AM
Re: Did you realize?
John Barnes
"...it's like the Olympic relay: the purpose of receiving the torch, as the US did, is to have the opportunity to pass it."
I like that. Nice way to put it.
But the way, I lived in Argentina for many years, I'm very happy for them and wish them a great success in the launching of the Tronador II rocket next year.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/28/2014 | 11:59:42 PM
Re: Indian space program ...
nasimson, the advancement of humanity would not happen if we only keep our eyes set on the day to day demands. Whether that advancement happens in space or in a orchesta hall, it's a sad necessity that it happens despite the want we see all around us.
John Barnes
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John Barnes,
User Rank: Moderator
12/28/2014 | 11:16:50 PM
Re: Indian space program ...
>>>>Music, Art, Literature and philosophy does not get generated from public money, except for some spent on public universities.

Humbug.  These are all occupations of leisure, either diverting the people who have leisure or pursued by people who have it or both.  The many hours spent making an accomplished musician are hours that don't go into producing food or weaving cloth, and yet the musician eats and wears clothes; someone else does it for him, and that someone is paid either out of taxes or profits: i.e. some part of the fruit of another's labor, confiscated from the other and used for purposes not his.  The person who has time to read and think is not using that time to work -- because she doesn't have to, and yet, again, she lives, with enough comfort to concentrate; someone else does the work that she doesn't do, and again, that is paid for with taxes or profits.

A space probe is a larger line in the budget, perhaps, than a microbiology lab.  The Taj Mahal undoubtedly cost more to build than the Mahabarata did to write.  But big or small, they all draw from resources that could have been spent on the poor, and were not. If you prefer a world where nothing else can be done until the least among us is comfortable, I can grasp that; it's just my conviction that a world like that would contain very little reason for living and not much to be remembered for.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
12/28/2014 | 11:04:01 PM
Re: Indian space program ...
@ John:

> The silver miners of Athens, the peasants of medieval France, and the
> coal miners of Appalachia would have been no better or worse off without
> Euclid and Aristotle, or without the great cathedrals and the troubador literature,
> or without jazz and the moon landings. But the world would have been infinitely poorer.

Music, Art, Literature and philosophy does not get generated from public money, except for some spent on public universities. The the monuments, and the space program does cost billions to build and to maintain. If you ask slum dwellers of Mumbai, they'll rather prefer a food subsidy over space research.
John Barnes
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John Barnes,
User Rank: Moderator
12/28/2014 | 10:55:20 PM
Re: Indian space program ...
If India prioritizes the admittedly terrible lot of its poor, in decades to come, many of them, and their descendants, will still be poor.  It is a serious mistake to phrase the choice as if it were between comfort for all on one hand and poverty for some with accomplishment for a tiny minority on the other.  In fact, it is simply a question of what India will be besides poor.

If, centuries or millennia ago, India had devoted itself to the care of the poor by casting aside every other advance, there would still be poverty in abundance today—but none of the great literature, art, architecture, music, performance, science, philosophy, or mathematics that has come to the rest of the world from India.

For most of recorded history most people have been poor and have suffered greatly; it is possible we are entering the era in which we escape from this via science and technology.  But until we do, it is a choice between poor with accomplishments and just plain poor. The silver miners of Athens, the peasants of medieval France, and the coal miners of Appalachia would have been no better or worse off without Euclid and Aristotle, or without the great cathedrals and the troubador literature, or without jazz and the moon landings. But the world would have been infinitely poorer.
John Barnes
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John Barnes,
User Rank: Moderator
12/28/2014 | 10:43:09 PM
Re: Meh
May I ask what alternate reality you've wandered in from? Einstein turned 40 in 1919.  By that time he'd formulated special relativity, worked out the quantum physics of the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize), demonstrated the statistical mechanics of Brownian motion (in a paper which went very far toward confirming the atomic theory of matter), linked quantum mechanics to the classical problem of specific heats, formulated the idea that led to wave-particle duality, proposed stimulated emission (the basis of the laser) and put together several versions of the theory of general relativity, which he successfully demonstrated could connect general relativity to cosmology.  

Not bad for a guy who wasn't worth a damn.

As for your apparent concern about the fairness of the Fields Medal, it's simply not an "award" in the way that a Nobel, or a Pulitzer, or the blue ribbon for prize hogs at the county fair is. It's a recognition that a mathematician who is still active, alive, and part of the community of mathematicians, and can be expected to remain so for some decades, has produced superb work that is central to the further development of mathematics. Its purpose is not to honor the recipient as much as it's to focus attention on the recipient's work and ensure its deeper and more complete exploration.  That purpose is best accomplished by selecting an active participant, not an admirable monument.  It's not a race for a prize; it's a designation of promise.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
12/28/2014 | 10:42:12 PM
Indian space program ...
The achievements of Indian Space Research agency are brilliant given the low-cost mission. There are no thoughts about that.

However, as a nation should India prioritize space programs over the pro-poor stuff like low-cost housing, environment, green energy etc. is the real question for policy makers.
John Barnes
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John Barnes,
User Rank: Moderator
12/28/2014 | 10:15:40 PM
Re: Did you realize?
mak63: I am inclined to say it's like the Olympic relay: the purpose of receiving the torch, as the US did, is to have the opportunity to pass it.
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