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Our own attempts to design centrally planned economies yielded only brittle, crushingly totalitarian states, Stalinist nightmares of fiat rule, corruption, and dehumanization. Yet the dream persists: a planned, smoothly-functioning world, responding rationally to evolving conditions, shepherding resources for the benefit of humanity.
Can engineers do better? As it turns out, we can – and almost did, 40 years ago.
The Foundation and the Culture
Many science fiction fans advance Star Trek as an example of such a planned, internally harmonious society. While Trek is many things, it’s not the best example of a cashless utopia – money, graft, and greed rear their heads the moment our crew leaves the ship.
Star Trek Utopia
Star Trek’s crew was not quite a Cybernetic Society.
Better representations can be found in the works of Isaac Asimov and Iain Banks.
Tag Archives | Engineering
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University of Manchester mathematicians have developed the theory for a Harry Potter style ‘cloaking’ device which could protect buildings from earthquakes.
Dr William Parnell’s team in the University’s School of Mathematics have been working on the theory of invisibility cloaks which, until recently, have been merely the subject of science fiction.
In recent times, however, scientists have been getting close to achieving ‘cloaking’ in a variety of contexts. The work from the team at Manchester focuses on the theory of cloaking devices which could eventually help to protect buildings and structures from vibrations and natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Dr Parnell has shown that by cloaking components of structures with pressurised rubber, powerful waves such as those produced by an earthquake would not ‘see’ the building — they would simply pass around the structure and thus prevent serious damage or destruction.
Thomas Edison had notoriously bad judgment about the viability of his many inventions. He once embarked on an expensive scheme to construct entire houses, including furniture, out of cast concrete. This via IEEE Global History Network:
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Edison’s concrete housing effort began around 1908. Portland cement (which Edison did not invent) was coming into fashion as a construction material. Edison and his team worked on perfecting a formula for mixing concrete (a mixture of cement and filler materials such as sand or gravel) and building re-usable steel molds to cast the walls of houses. By 1910, he had cast two experimental buildings — a gardener’s cottage and a garage — at his New Jersey mansion Glenmont. He announced in the press that he did not intend to profit from the venture, but would instead give away the patented information to qualified builders.
The publicity generated by this announcement attracted the attention of philanthropist Henry Phipps who proposed using the concrete houses to solve New York City’s housing problems.
Lost a limb, but dissatisfied with the normal prosthetic options? Recent University of Washington industrial design graduate Kaylene Kau built a functioning prosthetic tentacle. Powered by an internal motor with control buttons, it allows the disabled, or anyone fed up with being “too humanoid,” to live a more serpentine existence.
The age of robots being used in everyday homes has come a step nearer with the development of a new humanoid. And once they've done the dishes, they can join you in bop round the living room. For the catchily named HRP-4C, dubbed Divabot, which has a realistic face and moveable features, can sing too. And yesterday she showed off her neatest dance steps at an exhibition in Tokyo.