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Q&A WITH MIKE LIEBHOLD
Mapping “Deep Place”
By Spencer Reiss

Wireless networks can flesh out the physical world, says Institute for the Future senior researcher Mike Liebhold, author of the white paper “Infrastructure for the New Geography.”

What’s the “new geography”?

We’ve got huge amounts of data about the planet, but most stays walled off in proprietary databases or people’s heads. Wireless networks let us make that information not just visible, but visible in place. It’s first-person geography.

You talk about “deep place.”

Coding data by location gives you an overlay of everything known about a particular spot on the earth. Imagine you can flip open a device, and there’s a menu that has cultural information, social information, restaurants. Actuarial information about the probability of a car wreck at this corner. Or maybe just a red light to say that you’re in a crime zone.

So how do we get there?

The Open Geospatial Consortium, the World Wide Web Consortium, and other standards and hacker groups are converging on software mechanisms to bring geodata of all kinds online. But coming up with a user interface for receiving the deep information of place is not trivial. A lot of people have trouble just finding the Pacific Ocean on a map. We can’t fix that, but I’d be happy if they could find out a little more about where they are right now. With the World Wide Web, we’ve built the encyclopedia. Now it’s time to do the atlas.

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METRICS
New Drugs Work

Health economists long thought that advances in medicine have modest effects on life expectancy. But a study of longevity in 52 countries found that new drugs (not including reformulations of drugs already on the market) accounted for 40 percent of the almost two-year increase in average life expectancy between 1986 and 2000. Though circulatory diseases accounted for half of disease-related deaths, drugs targeting the cardiovascular system made up only 14 percent of new drug launches.

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FACTS MACHINE
Cord Blood Makes the Cut

5,000 to 6,000 patients have received transplants of stem cell-rich blood harvested from newborn babies’ umbilical cords.An estimated 2,000 cord-blood transplants took place in 2004 alone, with 600 in the United States and 800 in Japan.About two-thirds of cord-blood transplants treat patients with leukemia. One-quarter treat patients suffering from genetic diseases. In the United States, more than 40,000 mothers have donated blood from their newborns’ umbilical cords to the National Marrow Donor Program’s cord-blood banks. Another 27,000 have donated to the New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program.Congress appropriated a total of $20 million for 2004 and 2005 to subsidize collection and research on cord blood with the aim of creating a bank of 150,000 donors, enough to provide a match for 80 to 90 percent of Americans.The United States has some 20 private cord-blood banks, which typically charge $1,000 to $1,500 to collect the blood and approximately $100 per year to store it for the exclusive use of the family. One such private facility, Cord Blood Registry in San Bruno, CA, reports that it has collected cord-blood samples from some 80,000 clients.In its position paper recommending against commercial cord-blood banking, the American Academy of Pediatrics cites estimates of the chance of a child ever needing to use his stored cord blood that range between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 200,000.

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PROTOTYPE
Digital “Clones” Customize Cancer Treatmentf

If each one of us is biologically unique, why are our ailments so often treated with one-size-fits-all drug regimens? Optimata, an Israeli company based in Ramat Gan, aims to help doctors customize cancer treatments by building a software “clone” of each patient. The company’s system starts with a mathematical model that incorporates several hundred equations representing different bodily processes. Doctors then plug in data specific to the patient and his or her disease – the growth rates of the tumor and blood vessels, for example. The software allows the doctor to try out in the digital realm various combinations of drugs and dosing schedules in order to find the treatment regimen that will do the best job of fighting the cancer with the fewest side effects. Researchers are currently testing the system on breast cancer patients at the UK’s Nottingham City Hospital. If those trials are successful, Optimata could begin marketing the software as a workstation tool for physicians by 2007. The company is also developing digital treatment-optimization tools for diseases other than cancer.

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PROTOTYPE
Alternative Solar

Solar cells promise clean and unlimited energy, but they’re notoriously inefficient at converting the sun’s rays into electricity. Phoenix’s Stirling Energy Systems and Sandia National Laboratories have teamed up to field-test an alternative solar technology that promises twice the efficiency of conventional silicon solar cells. (Efficiency is defined in this case as electricity produced per watts of sunlight falling on a given area.) The researchers have built a prototype power plant using six solar-powered engines. Each engine consists of a large dish, 11.6 meters in diameter, made up of 82 mirrors. The mirrors focus the sun’s rays onto a receiver containing a bundle of small hydrogen-filled metal tubes. The gas expands when it’s heated by the solar rays and cools as it passes through heat exchangers. This expansion and contraction drives pistons, which in turn drive a generator. Though individual solar-dish engines have already been tested as a way to provide on-the-spot power for remote locations, this is the first time anybody has used them to build a power plant. Stirling Energy Systems’ aim is to build plants with thousands of engines and sell the power – enough for tens of thousands of homes – to utility companies. The company is in discussions with utility companies in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico and hopes to have its first commercial plant running by 2007.

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METRICS
IPod Impact

A look at the performance of the top 20 consumer electronics stocks shows just how far the iPod apparently pulled Apple Computer away from the pack. Apple registered a 201 percent appreciation in share price in 2004, on top of a 49 percent appreciation in 2003. (Microsoft’s stock was flat in both years.) Sales of 4.6 million iPods during the last three months of 2004 helped drive Apple to $3.5 billion in quarterly revenue – the highest ever recorded by the company.

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Sanitarium for oxygen treatment built in Cleveland by H. H. Timkin, after successful experiments by Dr. O. J. Cunningham of the University of Kansas. Patients live in the sphere under a pressure of five to thirty pounds above normal. (March 1930, p. 237)

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