Today was Day 2 of the Foresight 2013 conference. As I mentioned in my Day 1 post, Foresight has a strict media ban in place because a lot of pre-publication findings are being discussed. So I must restrict my comments to publicly available information. For those that don’t know what Foresight is, let’s just call it a nano-tech organization inspired by Feynman and Drexler. This is the most technical conference I have attended recently and is really more academic than Futurist. Few people I talked to were into the Singularity or other Futurist topics. This is a very condensed crowd of what I understand to be the top scientists in their field or something like that.
One of my favorite speakers today was Northwestern researcher, Bartosz Grzybowski. He was a pragmatic and plain spoken presenter. I can’t discuss his presentation, so I will just link to his team page for now. I chatted with him briefly and we agreed that the current quality of science journalism leaves something to be desired. It seems to me that there is constant pressure on both news services and academics to promote new findings. I would further suggest that many of these findings are being oversold by academics and under scrutinized by journalists. Grzybowski referred me to a blogger that he likes named Philip Ball and Ball’s article on the hype around graphene offers a good example of critical science journalism. So we just need to make sure the rest of our science writers get Royal Society Fellowships before we pay attention to them.
I was also impressed by the “Self Organizing and Adaptive Systems” session chair Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow. Cronin was an outspoken critic of the poorly defined buzz words and jargon being generated in his field. He also gave a presentation of his own which will not be blogged about by me here and now. But his lab does appear to be employing some advanced automation as evidenced by their Network Flow Systems and their interest in commodity 3d printers. I am always excited whenever I see commodity stuff like the hackerspace prereq 3D printers opening up new applications due to reduced cost. The SingInst folks also have a cool page on automated science, and I must say that it’s reassuring to see that scientists face the same threat of obsolescence as retail clerks and -err- Motorhead cover band members. Ha, just kidding, we all know that the true skill of any scientist lies in their mastery of the black art of grant writing and we don’t have good enough NLP to replace that yet.
George Church closed out today’s session with a bunch of mind blowing collection of DNA breakthroughs. Douglas and Bachelet’s DNA nanorobot can carry a therapeutic payload which is only unlocked by a target such as a cancer cell. (Already published so free for me to discuss.) Nanopore sequencing has apparently been dubbed the winning DNA sequence technology and has put Halcyon off their feed. But I am sure those Halcyon guys have more tricks up their sleeves. DNA is also good for data storage apparently. This CRISPR gene editing technique looks promising. Wait, gene editing? When did this happen? Oh sure, zinc fingers have been around for a while. I have to admit this stuff has the SciFi writer in me coming up with conspiracy theories.
Overall, Foresight is an amazing experience. Now I shall sweep up the scraps of my mind and get to sleep so that I can try to face another day of scientific onslaught.