The Asia Institute recently held a round-table discussion on the topic of technology convergence. The discussion was led by Dr. Emanuel Pastreich, Professor of Humanities at the Humanitas College of Kyung Hee University. Also in attendance were Charlie Wolf, Director at the Social Impact Assessment Center in the Greater New York City Area; Paul Callomon, Collections Manager at the Academy of Natural Sciences in the Greater Philadelphia Area; Stephanie Wan, the YGNSS Project Co-Lead and the North, Central America & Caribbean regional Coordinator of the Space Generation Advisory Council; Daniel Lafontaine, Business Coach and Consultant at AMA Korea; Alan Engel, President at Paterra, Inc. in Japan; Matthew Weigand, founder of Responsiv.asia and former editor of the Korea IT Times; Tahir Hameed, Research Fellow and PhD Candidate at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; and Vince Rubino, Global Team Leader of Business Development and AQ at the Korea Institute of Toxicology. In this fourth part of a five-part series, the experts discuss their hopes and dreams that the convergence industry may be able to fulfill.
Daniel Lafontaine: Another quite intriguing convergence is technology, biology, and averting the effects of aging. It is man's most sought after goal - the fountain of youth. In Emanuel's model mentioned previously, #2, 3 and 4 seem to be directly relevant to this scenario:
- IT-Nano, Bio-IT, IT-Nano Convergence: the combination of technologies from these three large fields that generate a wide range of technologies.
- Spill-over from one industry into another: technology from aerospace introduced into construction; technology from defense introduced into medicine. The point in Korea is to increase awareness for such potential.
- overlap between discourses: humanities, music and design evolving with IT. Or such innovations as social networking.
In a story I recently read, it talks about how scientists developed a method to turn on telomerases. This in turn allowed many things to happen within a month, all reversing the age of mice that were engineered to be old:
“After four weeks, the scientists observed remarkable signs of rejuvenation in the treated mice. Overall, the mice exhibited increased levels of telomerase and lengthened telomeres, biological changes indicative of cells returning to a growth state with reversal of tissue degeneration, and increase in size of the spleen, testes, and brain. “It was akin to a Ponce de León effect,” noted DePinho, referring to the Spanish explorer who sought the mythical Fountain of Youth.
“When we flipped the telomerase switch on and looked a month later, the brains had largely returned to normal,” said DePinho. More newborn nerve cells were observed, and the fatty myelin sheaths around nerve cells — which had become thinned in the aged animals — increased in diameter. In addition, the increase in telomerase revitalized slumbering brain stem cells so they could produce new neurons.”
Now, we aren't at the fountain of youth quite yet since there are many other things to overcome. Here are three major ones:
- Cancer-causing nuclear mutations/epimutations. These are changes to the nuclear DNA (nDNA), the molecule that contains our genetic information, or to proteins which bind to the nDNA. Certain mutations can lead to cancer, and, non-cancerous mutations and epimutations do not contribute to aging within a normal lifespan, so cancer is the only endpoint of these types of damage that must be addressed.
- Mitochondrial mutations: Mitochondria are components in our cells that are important for energy production. They contain their own genetic material, and mutations to their DNA can affect a cell’s ability to function properly. Indirectly, these mutations may accelerate many aspects of aging.
- Intracellular aggregates: Our cells are constantly breaking down proteins and other molecules that are no longer useful or which can be harmful. Those molecules which can’t be digested simply accumulate as junk inside our cells. Atherosclerosis, macular degeneration and all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's disease) are associated with this problem.
But, the technology is there. We just need to focus on getting some funding. Convergence and singularity are fast approaching. For Korea, this is all too much. They haven't been able to wrap their brains around this, yet!
Emanuel Pastreich: "If not for Moore's Law, and the unprecedented convergence of institutions and networks globally, the world would most likely have followed the traditional path towards world war from 2001. But the last ten years has demonstrated that we are in completely uncharted territory as a result of technological change."
Vince Rubino: I agree that technology innovation is always uncharted territory. One humbling example of a place where we see the limitations of new technology to spark growth is in new drug development. Even with the genomics revolution, personalized medicine capabilities and a host of other cutting edge laboratory-based technologies, the number of innovative new drugs making it to the market is decreasing. And the cost of those that do make it is increasing each year. The why of this is complex and the result is something to ponder.
Perhaps the significance of Convergence in technology and the most important revolution that is happening is within society rather than within the lab. Figuring out how to integrate new technology into the existing social structure, including government regulations, may be where the real breakthroughs in convergence need to happen. More and more, the constraints may be cultural instead of technological.
Daniel Lafontaine: Vince, while I totally agree with your statement about "the most important revolution that is happening is within society rather than within the lab," I would be scared to look at it this way since throughout history, when there has been major technological advancements, war has surfaced to relieve the pressures inherent to newness. I'm thinking printing press, guns, etc. A basic example to illustrate the point. All through the past, there have been people who have asked the question, "What is history" Now, we could look at the different answers that came forth. Or, to better understand the language we are in, we should disregard this stupid and artificially-construed question and search out a much more important point of view by understanding that nothing "ever occurs except within the contextualized framework of a communication system," and that these "queries have arisen out of and integrated into some specific pattern of activities."
I would argue that all people of all the different cultures of the world need to look at their own languages to better understand where they came from and see the limitations that their language keeps them from pursuing - the different avenues other than war. We need to fully understand ourselves and others so as to start on the path to mutual respect. Our knowledge of language and how it is intrinsically a part our world needs to be looked at with a huge emphasis.
Vince Rubino: Daniel, if the Internet is an example of a successful convergence technology, take a look at the history associated with it. From what I see, by 1995 all the fundamentals were in place and e-commerce was born. Since then it's not clear to me that there has been some great technological leap that has propelled the Internet forward. It has simply scaled upward, and with this, great innovation in terms of culture and the way people use the Internet: social networking, WikiLeaks, blogging and what-not. There are patents and technology behind innovations that allow point and click website creation or a protocol to like an article in the NYT but I don't think these are the drivers in the convergence. The driver is the confluence of people using the system for new and overlapping purposes.
An Internet innovation such as VoIP: has Skype fundamentally changed the nature of the phone call by adding the convergent ability to send files, web links and run a web cam during the conversation Maybe but I'm not sure it really does. When someone develops a new way to use these tools to create value, and this creates a new delivery approach for interaction, then the advancement is complete. More and more, its the tool user, not the tool, that is driving the convergence.
Vince Rubino: I recently looked at a partial list of inventions expected in 2010-2014 compiled from worldwide sci-tech reports in 2005. It had 94 different ideas which were predicted to show up around this time, including Artificial Intelligence units used as classroom assistants, the first bacterium assembled from scratch, bacteria in toothpaste to attack plaque, and virtual windows that open on new worlds. How many of these have emerged as products in society, and if they do will they create cultural changes or simply replace existing spots for other technology in the techno-social ecosystem For example, does the first divorce due to an addictive, virtual affair with a game console really change the nature of divorce Or does watching soccer in a pub change fundamentally if the players are virtual Will parents approve more of video tattoos instead of a static one
I believe some of the items on the list are potential game changers. How many of these are examples of convergence