It will be interesting to see how versatile and inexpensive the materials mentioned in your article “Solar-Cell Rollout” (TR July/August 2004) can become. Assuming that the technology seamlessly replaces outdated and less valuable building materials, anybody could be a power-generating entity. The social implications are huge. Energy would be cheap. However, if this technology were to find its niche quickly, it could raise other problems. Given the potential toxicity of fullerenes and other nanoparticles to animals and humans, will these new solar cells be another environmental pollutantthe asbestos of the future? Once again, technology enables, but what exactly it enables is the million-dollar question.
Some months, Technology Review seems like its still 1999, in the heart of the technohypebubble. Like this month, when were told that breakthroughs in nanotech will let our cell phones be powered by the sun. It is unfortunate that most people keep their phones in their pockets, in buildings, where the sun is somewhat dimmed.
Your article “A Remote Control for Your Life” (TR July/August 2004) shows that DoCoMo is indeed ahead of other companies. Its approach toward ubiquitous computing with a phone as a personal controller to all computers is a good step toward digital convergence. The privacy issue can be addressed by some further improvement. Then we will have a people-oriented universal communication system, and we will see the real big bang, or rather, big boom.
Turning the cell phone into a universal remote, as DoCoMo is attempting to do, is a fascinating concept. There seem to be so many applications that would change how people function every day. But what if you lose your device? Not only are you without an imperative tool, you are also at risk for identity theft on a whole new level. What kind of systems are in place to react when a loss occurs?
New York, NY
Charles Mann responds: The basic answer is that you call DoCoMo and it instantly suspends your phone service. This also cuts off all other services in the phone, because everything is channeled through DoCoMo. DoCoMo claims that it has done studies that show people are far more likely to call the phone company to cancel their service when they lose their phones than they are to call all their credit card issuers when they lose their wallets. What DoCoMo would really like to have is a system wherein people charged their cards with, say, $40 and then spent it like cash, but company officials thought customers would want transaction records. They are currently trying out various combinations to see what people will accept.
Your article “The Worlds Tallest Building (for Now)” (TR July/August 2004) was very interesting. I live in Dubai and am not sure about the height of the Burj Dubai building, reported in the article as between 560 and 600 meters. Just last week, I read in a local newspaper that the true height of this building is between 750 and 800 meters. That article quoted companies that had access to the proposals submitted for the project. Clearly, Dubai is very keen to acquire the title of having the worlds tallest building. That may be why it wants to keep the true height of the building a secret.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Michael Schrages column “Prepared Minds Favor Chance” (TR July/August 2004) spotlights the competitive advantage that economies of scale afford large corporations in search of disruptive innovations. Unfortunately, we dont all work for a Merck. Luckily, Schrage has touched upon an important principle that anyone can use in search of new ideas. New ideas can best be generated through a systematic exposure to a broad, albeit shallow, range of information. The prepared mind takes specific steps to make this happen, one of which is likely to be skimming Technology Review each month to see what ideas are in various embryonic forms of development. Schrage has reminded us, yet again, of Linus Paulings great dictum: the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
Eric A. Sohn