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Show Some Respect For The Innovating Women Reshaping Technology And Entrepreneurship

XPRIZE   |   June 3, 2013    7:20 PM ET

2012-08-23-Farai_Chideya.jpg By Farai Chideya
Farai has covered Presidential elections, natural disasters, and dictatorships -- as well as the arts and technology -- in a two-decade journalism career that spans print, radio, digital, and televised media. She is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

What's happening with women in technology entrepreneurship reminds me of two classic song lyrics. James Brown sang, "It's a Man's World." But Aretha Franklin responded, "They say that it's a man's world/Well you can't prove that by me..../Show some respect for me."

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Aretha's lyrics could be the refrain for an entire generation of innovating women. Did you know that venture-backed firms led by women are less likely to fail and produce higher returns than ones run by men? Or that technology companies with women on their boards also outperform those with all-male board rosters? Given those facts, it's downright pitiful that only three percent of technology firms are founded by women.

Pioneering entrepreneur, author and educator Vivek Wadhwa outlined these statistics for me. He's been charting the fortunes of women in technology and STEM fields, as well as entrepreneurs of color. Vivek invited me to co-author a book-in-progress, Innovating Women, drawing on the stories and experiences of hundreds of women who are taking the lead in reshaping our technological future. Women from around the world are participating on an online platform, as a part of the InnovatingWomen.org project.  All the proceeds from the book will sponsor women leaning about advancing technologies. We are raising funds through an Indiegogo campaign with a $50,000 match from Google for Entrepreneurs.

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has topped bestseller lists and made headlines with her call to "Lean In." It takes nothing away from her work to note that she writes from a rare position of privilege, with power and resources most women don't have. With Innovating Women, we're taking a broader look at how women entered science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (I.e. STEM) and other innovative fields; how they fare as employees; and how well they are supported in raising capital and as entrepreneurs. We're also empowering women to tell the world their own stories about issues like work/family balance. For example, Alice Rathjen,  the CEO and Founder of DNA Guide told us:

"I'm single parent with a ten year old boy.  The secret to survival for me was to find a core group of parents to help each other out.    One of the big advantages of giving and asking for help with daycare is you get to really bond with more kids than your own and share with other's the joy of watching the whole group grow up together."

And  Feben Yohannes, Co-Founder at GlobalStudent Social added, "The never ending juggling act that we do as mothers, is overwhelming at times but that process, if channeled properly, is what makes us a creative, resourceful and dynamic bunch."

Tel Aviv-based tech entrepreneur Hamutal Meridor points out that "A career in high-tech can free women from a life of financial dependency." But getting into the field has proven tough from the start -- not just in the workplace, but in STEM education as well.  Emily Fowler, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Business Development at Fix, went to a summer computer camp in tenth grade at the urging of her father. She told us:

"When I chose to attend the camp, I was teased by kids from school upon my return. It didn't help that the local newspaper had featured a story about me attending the camp - they were trying to highlight and encourage more girls to attend tech-oriented camps. The stereotypes were your traditional comments like 'nerd', 'dork', 'loser'. Oh, and my personal favorite was 'lesbian'..... I would just retort with, 'First of all, being a lesbian is not an insult. Secondly, being smart or curious doesn't make me a lesbian. What did you learn at football camp?' Girls teased me as well and that was a bit hurtful. I wasn't interested in impressing a guy who didn't think I was cool just the way I was. I knew from a young age that I wanted to attract people who were like me."

Unfortunately, it requires immense personal strength and maturity for women to learn the skills they need to succeed as entrepreneurs, and to fight bias as they form their companies.

Hearing and reading the stories of women like Emily Fowler makes me appreciate the foresight of my own mother. When my sister and I were young, she bought us a Texas Instruments computer and books to help us learn BASIC. It was a significant investment for a woman who, after the end of her marriage, never received child support. But my mother spared nothing when it came to educational enrichment. By high school, I was taking computer coding classes at the local community college. I too got my share of teasing for being a nerd. Years later, this early training helped me when I decided to start the blog Pop and Politics in 1995, and learned HTML. Back then, blogs were so unusual that my effort was written up in the New Yorker.

Although my path has taken me to broadcasting and writing, the reality is that media is a technology-laden field these days. Almost every job, every opportunity, and certainly every individual and family is touched by STEM technologies and the innovators who craft them. The world needs women's talent. Why we should we limit ourselves to a gender-segregated innovation field?

As Anne Hartley, who began as a programmer in 1976 and is now Principal Consultant at her firm AH Consulting puts it, "In my first job out of college, I was typically the only woman at the table (as well as the youngest) and never thought about 'leaning back'.  I was always 'in'. Where else would you want to be?"

Where else would we want to be as a society other than a space where we harness all the talent we can to solve global problems of health, hunger, connectivity, and poverty? Don't you want to see a world where women succeed in innovation and entrepreneurship, not just on behalf of other women but on behalf of the entire planet? Well, join us. Support the Indiegogo campaign by pre-ordering an e-book. Tell us your stories at www.InnovatingWomen.org.  And help innovating women achieve their potential  for the good of the world.

Innovating Women Video

 

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Your Next Doctor Could Save Your Life From Hundreds Of Miles Away

XPRIZE   |   May 28, 2013    1:47 PM ET

2013-05-20-Peter_Murray.jpgBy Peter Murray
Contributor, Singularity University.

Collaborating with colleagues through a telepresence robot, taking notes while the teacher lectures to your avatar while you remain comfortably at home, and receiving a prescription from a doctor you've only met on a video screen are all realities today. But certainly caring for the critically ill and their need for immediate attention still requires face-to-face, hands on interaction, right?

Wrong. Right now about 10 percent of ICU beds in the US are monitored in part from an off-hospital site. And the number of sites using remote monitoring are on the rise, increasing exponentially over the past 5 to 7 years. Tele-ICU monitoring involves satellite-linked video and communications links to electronic records so that the distant intensivists - doctors that specialize in intensive care - can watch over the patient in real-time, 24 hours a day. A video camera operates on-demand to observe the patient and communicate with them via a microphone and speakers. Through this two-way communication tele-intensivists can aid local intensivists by helping to enforce the patient's daily goals, review their performance with them and respond to alarms if the local doctor has been called away.

Special medical devices such as tele-stethoscopes and tele-otoscopes allow for heartbeat and ear exam data to be transmitted simultaneously over the internet, and intensivists can enter orders for diagnostics, medications and other procedures into a computer which are then sent to the hospital. Some systems even have setups that allow family members patients speak with intensivists. The appeal of tele-ICUs is their potential to, through a more efficient, centralized system, improve patient care and reduce costs.

Tele-ICUs are staffed with intensive care doctors, called intensivists, nurses and other support staff to monitor and communicate with patients 24/7. [Source: Philips Healthcare]

One example of a tele-ICU is the monitoring center atop a New York skyscraper not far from Grand Central Station. From there doctors monitor patients in intensive care units from New Jersey to Florida. The center, run by the Netherlands-based Philips Philips Electronics, developed software for the system that has since been adopted by other tele-ICUs. In addition to continuously monitoring patient data, the software, called eICU, purportedly detects problems even before they occur.

But not all ICUs are suited to remote monitoring. Kaleida Health, a hospital system based in Buffalo, and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital both shut down their tele-ICU systems after two year trials. Other hospitals in Kentucky, Texas and Michigan similarly abandoned attempts to tele-monitor ICU patients, eventually reverting back to conventional bedside monitoring.

While there is some data that shows tele-ICUs do work - one study cites a 40 percent decrease in mortality - the bulk of these studies, the New York Times reports, are carried out by the very hospitals that are using and trying to promote the service. Studies conducted by independent parties within the past five years, however, do not support an improvement of survival rate, length of stay or complications. Moreover, these studies show that tele-ICUs increase costs to the hospitals they're supposed to be helping.

Tele-ICU advocates argue that lack of success is due more to poor implementation and the unwillingness of ICU doctors at bedside to yield control to intensivists at the monitoring center. Doctors, understandably, are hesitant to put their trust in other doctors they know little about.

As a 2011 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association makes clear, we're far from a consensus as to whether or not tele-ICUs are good for hospitals or not. Which makes perfect sense - not all hospitals are run the same way or have the same needs. And as the technology evolves, and acceptance of telemedicine as a whole spreads, more hospitals will continue to give tele-ICUs a chance. And being the healthcare professionals they are, they'll only keep it if it's good for them.


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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Beyond STEM: A New "STEAM" Challenge for Teens

XPRIZE   |   May 21, 2013    2:10 PM ET

2012-08-14-ChandaGonzales.jpgBy Chanda Gonzales
Chanda is a Director of Education at XPRIZE.

There is a lot of discussion in the education arena around STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Technology is advancing at a rapid speed and we know that STEM plays a crucial role in a student's education. The challenge is that many students who don't particularly like the subject of math or have difficulty understanding technical language can be apprehensive about getting involved in a project that is labeled as STEM. This notion is critical in how we as teachers, business leaders, and non-profit educators develop projects in which young people can get involved. I believe it is not STEM, but rather "STEAM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), that will move us forward. We have to create projects that involve the arts so that students will be inspired to work on technical projects because it also makes use of their imaginations.

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The XPRIZE After Earth Challenge embraces this very notion, offering a fun, engaging way for kids to exercise their creative and technical skills in a team environment. In Phase One of the Challenge, teens (13-17 years old) work with their friends and make a short YouTube video about promoting environmental sustainability in their community.

Ten teams will move onto Phase Two of the Challenge, where they will work over their summer break on creating a unique playfield environment based on the film After Earth. Teams will be provided with a robotics kit that they will use to build and program a rover to move around their playfield as part of the competition. At the culmination, the teams will send in a video showing what they have learned, what they have created and most of all... the FUN that they had. The grand prize winner will have their experience documented on the After Earth DVD.

The contest is free to enter and open to 13-17 year olds from around the world, and is accepting submissions until June 7th. Hopefully, all of the students who are a part of this one-of-a-kind challenge will fall in love with STEAM projects, be inspired and encourage other students in their communities to make more sustainable life choices.


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New Device Keeps Liver Alive Outside Body

XPRIZE   |   May 20, 2013    4:41 PM ET

2013-05-20-Peter_Murray.jpgBy Peter Murray
Contributor, Singularity University.


In what's being called a medical first, doctors were able to keep a liver functioning outside the body and then transplant it into a patient. The device is much better at preservation than the current method, cooling livers with ice. By extending the health of donated livers, the new device could not only increase the chances those who desperately need the organs will receive them, it could also improve the outcome of recipients.

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OrganOx was developed by Peter Friend, director of Oxford Transplant Centre, and Constantin Coussios, biomedical engineering professor at Oxford University. It keeps livers alive by keeping them at body temperature and circulating red blood cells through them that deliver nutrients and oxygen. The functioning liver breaks down sugar for energy and produces bile, a fluid released into the digestive tract that aids in digestion, as a normal liver does.

Right now preserving livers for transplant involves cooling them with an ice cold liquid, which slows cell metabolism and minimizes decay. It's a technique that has worked for decades, but even so, the liver only lasts up to about 20 hours on ice, and complications often occur if it is kept for more than 14. OrganOx can keep a liver healthy outside the body for up to 24 hours.

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Cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C or long-term alcohol abuse are the most common reasons for needing a liver transplant. About 13,000 liver transplants are performed each year in the US and Europe. Unfortunately, that means less than half of the 30,000 from the two regions who needs a liver receives one. About a quarter of these patients will die while they wait. Part of the problem is the inability of ice to preserve the health of the livers - about 2,000 are disposed of each year because of damage due to insufficient oxygen and other cell death.

But OrganOx has had a promising start - it's two for two. Last month such a liver was transplanted into a patient at London's King's College Hospital. The 62-year-old patient, Ian Christie, had cirrhosis of the liver and doctors told him last year that he had only 12 to 18 months to live. Although he's still recovering from the surgery, Christie says he hasn't felt this good in the last 10 to 15 years, "even allowing for the pain and wound that's got to heal." And another patient who received a liver preserved by OrganOx is also doing well.

"For the first time, we now have a device that is designed specifically to give us extra time to test the liver to help maximize the chances of the recipient having a successful outcome," Wayel Jassem, Consultant Liver Transplant Surgeon at King's College London who was involved in both surgeries, said in a press release.

Regenerative medicine continues to make strides. Recently scientists were able to regrow a rat kidney - a complex organ with many specialized structures - and transplant it into a rat where it functioned nearly as well as a donor kidney. And while the 3D printing of organs is still a long way off, inspired scientists are working hard to make it a reality. The King's College surgeons said the OrganOx preservation technique could be used by hospitals around the world in just a few years. By extending the health of the livers to 24 hours, they estimate that twice as many could be available for transplants. The intersection of organ manufacturing and preservation has already begun saving and improving lives, and the future only promises to bring more of the same.

[image: BBC News, OrganOx]

This story produced in cooperation with SU partner site Singularity Hub.

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Innovating Women Leaning In to Tell Their Own Stories

XPRIZE   |   May 10, 2013    6:00 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

The technology industry has a gender problem. The vast majority of its Venture Capitalists are male as are the founders of its startups and its technology heads. Even the boards of its public companies are dominated by males.

It isn't that women are not up to the job. The problem is that they are discouraged and left out. During childhood, girls are often sent the wrong signals by their parents. When they go to school, girls with an interest in engineering and science are called "tomboys". When they defy the odds and become scientists or engineers, women are often treated as inferior and passed over for promotion.

Sadly, the deck has always been stacked against women--right through the ages. For example, in the 1730s, a brilliant woman mathematician, Emilie du Châtelet, translated and popularized Sir Isaac Newton's arcane Principia Mathematica, and created a foundation for Einstein to develop his theories. She inspired Voltaire's writings. But she received almost no recognition and few have ever heard of her. Similarly, a century later, Marie Curie, performed pioneering research on radioactivity for which she received two Nobel prizes, yet she is less of a household name as Kim Kardashian.

But things are changing. Women are achieving greater success as Google and Makers.comhave documented. They becoming more confident, assertive, and are helping each other as my research has shown. And women are speaking up.

Sheryl Sandberg told her amazing story in a best-selling book, Lean In. The book was powerful but subjected to intense criticism because this is her story--a privileged woman in Silicon Valley. Many women said that they could not relate to this.

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To bring to life the stories of average women all over the world, I am working with journalist Farai Chideya to crowd-create a new book. This will put the role of women in innovation into a historic perspective and then look forward. The book will discuss the challenges women have faced in different fields of innovation; how they achieved success as entrepreneurs and in the workplace; and strategies companies have employed to diversify their pool of talent and support women moving up the ladder.

Our goal is to provide a resource for women to learn from each other. We are crowdsourcing everything--including the funding of the project on Indiegogo. Our hope is that hundreds of women participate in this project. We will post detailed essays that women write on our website www.InnovatingWomen.org, and Farai will summarize their stories and distill their knowledge in the book. All of the proceeds from the book and whatever we raise on Indiegogo in excess of our costs will be used to support women to learn about advancing technologies at Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program and to fund their startups.

As I have often said, this is the most innovative time in human history--when entrepreneurs anywhere can solve big problems. Many technologies such as robotics, AI, 3D printing, nanomaterials, medicine, and synthetic biology are now advancing exponentially. This is making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve humanity's grand challenges. These challenges include the shortages of food, clean water, and energy and the problems of disease and health. Women will undoubtedly play a very important role in this new era of innovation. But we must level the playing field for them.

With crowd-sourcing of insights and funding, we can now more than ever enable women to solve our grand challenges.


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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Mobile Health - The Revolution Will be Measurable

XPRIZE   |   May 10, 2013    3:13 PM ET

2013-05-10-DavidSchafran.JPGBy David Schafran
David Schafran is co-founder and CEO of EyeNetra, Inc. He mixes entrepreneurship, technology, and humanism to super-humanize the world.


Billions of people worldwide are walking around with sophisticated scientific measurement instruments in their pockets ― although they may not realize it. It's their mobile devices, and they have the potential to dramatically change health care economics by performing high-quality biometric testing without trained personnel or bulky, expensive equipment.

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Closing the Testing Gap

Testing is the first step in diagnosing and treating health problems. And, in enhancing ourselves to "super-you" levels (the promise of the Quantified Self movement). But, because of various barriers, it often doesn't happen.

Consider eye care, for example. The barriers in the US are mostly regulatory or bureaucratic: you must get a new prescription every one to two years depending on the state, take the time to get to an optometrist, and pay at least $100 for an eye exam if you're like the two-thirds of Americans without vision insurance. In the developing world, the barriers are more fundamental: lack of access to trained eye care professionals, costly and immobile testing equipment, and disorganized and disconnected fulfillment chains. As a result, an estimated 2.4 billion people in the developing world who need glasses don't have them.

By replacing the over-engineered solutions of yesterday with simplified, user-oriented devices that run on or with consumer mobile devices, we can create diagnostics that empower patients to administer high-precision tests for eye care and many other conditions ― just as easily as they can use a thermometer or glucometer today.

A New Era of Direct-to-Consumer Testing

This opens up the promise of a new era of direct-to-consumer testing. Imagine the ability to take an ECG using a small device attached to your smartphone. Or to take an eye test at home or at the local pharmacy. Or to continually monitor blood chemistry for a diabetic condition or response to chemotherapy without going to the doctor's office.

3D printing and other technology advancements are dramatically improving hardware economics, enabling inventors to quickly design, test, refine and manufacture innovative scientific measurement devices that run on or with consumer mobile devices. Even more important: cloud computing, advanced analytics and software are enabling entrepreneurs to build new back-end ecosystems for these devices.

Linking tests with solutions ― with help from doctors ― will reduce costs and enable patients to access more solutions, less-expensive solutions and more personalized solutions. Doctors - in person or via telemedicine - will interpret the results of tests and help steer patients to the right solutions. Data that's collected can be analyzed to provide more customized care. Far from being replaced by mobile-based diagnostics, doctors will become more like coaches and less like technicians.

When applied to traditional health care delivery models, these new ecosystems could revolutionize the delivery of everything from primary care to chronic care.

For example: today eyeglass vendors go direct-to-consumer with eyeglasses; in the future, eyeglass vendors will be able to go direct-to-consumer with testing for precision measurements. When the two steps ― testing and fulfillment ― are linked, the direct-to-consumer health care transaction is completed. And the whole system has become a lot less costly because it no longer depends on sophisticated training and expensive equipment to administer testing.

Better Living Through Continual Testing

But the big win is not cost savings ― it's personalized medicine. Consumer-facing testing devices are the gateway to personalized medicine, because they can accrue data in a continual, contextual manner. We can aggregate data over the cloud to a supercomputer like IBM Watson to provide insights into not just your health but also your personal potential ― with the doctors of the near-future helping you reach that potential.

Initially, mobile-based devices will bring testing to the home or close to it (e.g., pharmacies, health clubs or grocery stores). Future devices will be designed with human behavior in mind, creating a simple experience that removes complications while engaging consumers more fully in the process of quantifying themselves. Most of the heavy lifting will be done in the background by software. For example, eye doctors will be able to track your eye health over your lifetime ― efficiently and economically. The eye exam ― which today takes place once or twice a year in your doctor's exam room under one unique visual environment ― will be replaced by an ongoing series of mobile-device-based tests taken as you go about your daily business. With precise, more-frequent data, your doctor will be able to deliver better solutions for you throughout your lifetime.

Direct-to-consumer testing with mobile consumer devices will eventually be the de facto way that we test. Everywhere. The impetus for change is clearly there ― and it's already being championed by the consumer.


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(Nearly) Unlimited Water

XPRIZE   |   May 7, 2013    5:51 PM ET

2013-04-25-rameznaam.jpgBy Ramez Naam
This is Part Three of a five-part series by Ramez Naam, Singularity University Adjunct Faculty, exploring the power of innovation to boost our access to energy, food, water, raw materials, and human population. All are based on his new book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.

In Part One and Two of this series I showed that we have access to a huge amount of potentially available energy and food on the earth, both stemming from the tremendous input of solar energy to the planet.  We have very serious energy and food challenges, which cannot be dismissed. But the challenges are not in the form of a hard limit - they're in the form of a race between innovation and consumption.  Victory in this race is certainly not guaranteed.  But the most important variable - how quickly we innovate - is one we can affect through our policies.  That's a topic we'll return to at the end of this series.

Now let's turn to water.

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We live on a water world, yet only a tiny fraction of our precious h2o is fresh water.  And around the world, the easy supplies of fresh water are being rapidly depleted.

The Aral Sea, once the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world, is now little more than a dry lake bed.  The Ogallala aquifer under the great plains of the United States - an underground body of 'fossil water' deposited during the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago - is seeing its water level drop by three feet a year in some regions.  Water tables in Mexico, in Iran, in India, and in China are dropping at rates of 6, 10, or even 20 feet per year.

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Rivers that were once mighty are increasingly being overpumped as well.  The great Colorado river - which now provides fresh water for 30 million people - runs 130 feet lower than it once did in some areas.  And while, for millions of years, the Colorado poured its water into the Gulf of California, those days are passed.  Since 1998, the Colorado - like hundreds of rivers around the world now - has simply dwindled into a trickle of water and then nothing but dry caked earth that was once a river bed.


Fresh water depletion may be the most overlooked environmental and natural resource challenge the planet faces.  70% of fresh water is used to grow food.  Without that water, agriculture simply doesn't happen.


Yet there may be solutions.  While we're exhausting the easily available fresh water in lakes, rivers, and aquifers, there's a far vaster reservoir of water all around us - the salt water in the oceans.  The water in those oceans is thousands of times more than humanity uses in a given year.  For all effects and purposes, ocean water is a nearly unlimited supply, if we're clever enough and innovate enough to make use of it efficiently.


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Desalinating salt water has historically been an environmental nightmare of its own.  The process dates back to the ancient Greeks and was largely unchanged from their time until the 1960s: boil water, capture the steam, and let it condense once again into fresh water.  That process is incredibly energy intensive, making it both expensive and - since most energy has come from fossil fuels - a source of carbon dioxide emissions.


But that has changed.  In the 1970s, researchers took a new approach.  In an act of biomimicry, they designed desalination systems modeled after the membranes that surround all living cells.  Those membranes can allow water through while stopping salt.  The new technique - desalination through semi-permeable membranes - has been improved upon now for decades, and every improvement has increased the ease of desalinating water. A kilowatt hour of electricity can now desalinate around 150 gallons of water, roughly 10 times as much as it could in 1970.  And the improvements are continuing.


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Even at today's efficiency, desalinated water is still significantly more expensive than water pumped from rivers and aquifers.  But if progress in desalination technology can be maintained, that will change over the next few decades.  Of course, while most of humanity lives near a body of water, not all of us do.  For areas that are deeply inland, desalination may not be an effective option.  That said, the same technologies that can efficiently desalinate salt water can also be used to filter and purify waste water, making it much easier to re-use water.


Fresh water access is a very real problem today.  But the limit isn't the amount of water on the planet.  It's our intelligence.  The planet is capable of providing tremendously more water than we need, if we're clever enough.  The potential is out there. If we can innovate fast enough in desalination technology, we can tap into it.


Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

(Nearly) Unlimited Food

XPRIZE   |   May 2, 2013    6:14 PM ET

2013-04-25-rameznaam.jpgBy Ramez Naam
This is Part Two of a five-part series by Ramez Naam, Singularity University Adjunct Faculty, exploring the power of innovation to boost our access to energy, food, water, raw materials, and human population. All are based on his new book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.

In Part One of this series I showed that we have access to a huge amount of energy from the sun, and that every passing year is allowing us to harness exponential more of that energy for the same cost.

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Now let's turn to food.

Food is arguably the most critical resource a society has.  Past civilizational collapses, like those of the Maya, almost inevitably come back to a failure of food production.

Humanity produces more food today than ever before, but in recent years demand has risen faster than supply.  As a result, food prices have soared over the last 5 years to more than double their previous levels. This is even more worrisome because the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that we'll need to grow 70% more food by 2050 to keep up with demand.

Can we do it?

Yes. IF we innovate in food production fast enough.

Our Rising Food Production

We haven't been standing still in food production.  Over the last half century, the world has roughly tripled its food production.  Looking at grains, we've gone from less than 900 million tons of grain produced per year to more than 2.6 billion tons.

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Figure 1 - The world has roughly tripled total food grown since 1961.

While pessimists in the 1960s (and far earlier) projected that food production couldn't possibly keep up with population growth, in fact, it has.  Food production has grown faster than population, so that we now produce around 25% more calories per person alive on the Earth than we did in the 1960s.

Yet we need to keep moving.   With population rising (more importantly) with people around the world shifting to less efficient meat- and dairy- heavy diets, we need to hit that 70% growth target by 2050.  Ideally we'd go beyond that level, creating a surplus and bringing good prices down.

The Limits of Food Production on Earth

How much food can the planet grow?  Farms are essentially solar power collectors, capturing the sun's energy in a chemical form, which we can then consume.  A typical acre of corn field in the US will produce perhaps 150 bushels of corn each year - quite a bit.  The calories in all that grain, however, represent less than 1/1000th of the sunlight that falls on a typical acre of land in a year.   Farms are incredibly inefficient.  That's good news. It tells us that there's tremendous headroom to grow food production per acre before we're running into limits of available energy.

There are other limits, of course - water, nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients in the soil all place limits on the amount of food that can be grown on an acre.  Looking at all of these, an International Food Policy Institute study (pdf link) concluded that the maximum practical amount of grain the world could grow on current farmland was 72 billion tons.

Given that today we grow only 2.6 billion tons, that suggests that the headroom is a factor of 27 times more food than the planet grows today - not a factor of 1000, by any means, but a number so large that it places no effective limit on our ability to feed the planet's population over the coming century.

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Figure 2 - Total Total possible food production on current farmland is estimated at 72 billion tons, or roughly 27 times current global production of 2.6 billion tons.

Tapping Into the Potential

As with energy, the limit on our access to food is the not the true size of the natural resource.  The limit is our ingenuity. Can we be clever enough to continue to increase the amount of food the world grows?  Can we accelerate that pace to stay ahead of rising global demand?

There are no guarantees, but I believe we can.  Today, crop yields per acre in the US and Europe are already double the yields of the world as a whole. Put another way: we already know we can double total world food production by applying rich-country methods - mechanized farm equipment, irrigation, and synthetic fertilizer.  That takes capital.  Yet as the developing world grows richer, those funds become more and more available.

There are also developments in biotechnology on the horizon that look extremely promising as ways to increase yields even where heavy investments in farm equipment, fertilizer, and irrigation aren't possible.  One of the most exciting is the C4 rice project.  Rice (and wheat and most other grains) use a type of photosynthesis called C3 to turn water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide into sugars we can eat. Corn and sugarcane use a more recently evolved type of photosynthesis called C4.  As a result, corn fields yield around 70% more calories than comparably sized rice and wheat fields.  They also need less water and less fertilizer.  The C4 rice project aims to create an upgraded form of rice that uses C4 photosynthesis, and thus grows more food, with less water and fertilizer. A similar project is doing the same for wheat.

Yet another project is taking the ability of legumes (peas and soy, for example) to fertilize themselves by extracting nitrogen from the air, and attempting to engineer that capability into cereal crops such as corn, wheat, and rice. As with the C4 project, that would be a tremendous boon to poor farmers in the developing world who can't easily afford fertilizer, and would raise crop yields in the poorest parts of the world especially.

The planet is capable of growing tremendously more food than we need.  The potential is out there. If we can raise global wealth fast enough, and if we can innovate fast enough in food biotechnology, we can tap into it.

 

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

The Long-Awaited Revolution: Digital Health Innovation

XPRIZE   |   April 30, 2013    3:17 PM ET

2013-04-30-Paul_Sonnier.jpgBy Paul Sonnier
Paul is Head of Digital Health Strategy at specialty consulting firm Popper and Company, Founder of the 16,000+ member Digital Health group on LinkedIn, a Mentor at digital health startup accelerator Blueprint Health, and a Judge for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.

Over the past several years I've witnessed the digital revolution's long overdue transformation of health and medicine. During this time, the emergence of many innovative sensor-based health solutions has been particularly noteworthy: from iPhone-connected glucose meters and wireless ECG heart monitors, to fertility prediction solutions, to wearable fitness activity trackers, to mobile eye exams using a smartphone's camera. Surprisingly, while many of these innovations are unique and will have a positive impact on our health and the delivery of healthcare, most are not based on new sensor technologies, but leverage existing sensors in novel new ways. Yet, there are certain moon-shots that exist as amazing opportunities in the health sensing realm. For example, a non-invasive glucose monitor would allow diabetics to continuously track their blood sugar levels as opposed to doing sporadic blood tests or, as opposed to what is now possible but more invasive, doing so continuously via the use of a subcutaneous needle-based sensor.

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All of this progress is sorely needed, no pun intended, as we see the imperatives of ever-rising healthcare costs and more chronic disease in the United States and abroad. Innovative sensors and devices will enable the transformation of our healthcare systems to a more consumer-centric model, where medicine moves away from episodic treatment delivered in centralized hospitals, to a patient-centered medical home where prevention, early intervention, and better chronic disease and acute medical condition management are the norm, not the exceptions. This new paradigm is reliant upon the ability to monitor and measure biometric data using sensors and devices that provide individuals with information on their own health status as well as feeding this important health data to their care delivery team.

A scenario that comes to mind is one where a person at elevated risk of heart disease (determined by genomic profile and/or physical and lifestyle condition) has a sensor implanted in the tip of their finger. This sensor would detect biomarkers that presage an impending heart attack. A sensor on the skin could pick up this signal and send it to the patient's smartphone, which will have an app that alerts them and others to the situation. They might then be additionally monitored in real-time for a heart attack while concomitantly modifying behaviors to lessen the risk. If they then have a heart attack, this might be detected in real time so that assistance can be dispatched immediately. Upon release from the hospital, the patient would continue to be monitored with sensors and, ideally, undertake additional behavioral and lifestyle modifications to prevent recurrence.

It's within this amazing new medical and consumer digital health context, and in light of the magnitude of the healthcare problems to be solved and the challenges faced in developing and bringing new sensor technologies to market, that I was delighted to be present when the XPRIZE's Peter Diamandis and Nokia's chief technology officer, Henry Tirri, announced the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE at the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance's 2012 Convergence Summit in San Diego, CA. The overarching goal of the competition is to transform personal health with sensing.

Fast forward to the present day, and I find myself as one of the judges for the competition. This is incredibly exciting, as my hope is to add to the efforts of my fellow judges, XPRIZE, and Nokia in achieving the objectives of the Challenge. I can't overstate the importance to all of us in accelerating the availability of hardware sensors and software sensing technology that individuals and healthcare providers alike can use to access, understand, and improve our health and well-being.

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

(Nearly) Unlimited Energy

XPRIZE   |   April 25, 2013    2:37 PM ET

2013-04-25-rameznaam.jpgBy Ramez Naam
This is Part One of a five-part series by Ramez Naam, Singularity University Adjunct Faculty, exploring the power of innovation to boost our access to energy, food, water, raw materials, and human population. All are based on his new book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet.

We have access to nearly unlimited energy, food, water, and raw materials. Over the next 5 days, I'll demonstrate that with numbers.

This is not to say that we don't have problems or threats ahead. We live on a finite planet with real problems facing it. Over the last few years, the prices of oil, food, metals, and raw materials of all sorts have shot up. Fresh water aquifers and rivers are being drained at a ferocious rate. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from our use of energy are heating up the planet. Over the next few decades human population will rise by another 2 billion and demand for water, food, and energy will rise by 50%, 70%, and 100%, respectively. Some look at these numbers and conclude that we're headed for a sharp crash, or at least that we're at the limits of the human population and human prosperity that the planet can bear.

But the planetary limits aren't even close. The only real limit, indeed, is the speed with which we can innovate. That is the critical variable to our future prosperity.

Energy

 

Humanity consumes energy at a rate of roughly 17 Terawatts - that is to say, 17 trillion joules per second, every second of every day. That's a huge number. But the sun hits the planet with nearly 90,000 Terawatts of power - 90 quadrillion joules per second - or more than 5,000 times as much energy as we use from all current sources of energy combined.

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So energy on this planet is abundant. The primary problem isn't a limit on the amount of energy we can tap into. It's that we're primarily tapped into the far smaller far dirtier supply of energy from fossil fuels.

Much of that is because solar energy, until recently, has been prohibitively expensive. But that's changed rapidly through exponential improvements in solar photovoltaics. I've written before on the exponentially dropping price of solar power(as have many others). But let's look at this another way. For $100, how much solar power generating capacity can you buy?

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The change is stunning. In 1980, $100 would buy you 5 watts of solar generating capacity. At the end of 2012, the same amount of money would buy you 100 watts of solar generating capacity, or 20 times as much.

Solar is now at the price where in sunny areas it is roughly the same price as grid electricity from coal or natural gas. If this pace continues, in the very near future solar will be far cheaper than any other sort of energy, allowing individuals and businesses to tap into many times more energy than they do today, at a lower cost, with no greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, we also need to store energy for use at night time. That also shows an exponential trend. Looking at just one technology - lithium-ion batteries - we see that the amount of energy that could be stored for $100 went up by a factor of 10 in just 15 years, from 1991 to 2005.

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In short, the planet provides us with a tremendous amount of energy - far more than we will need for centuries to come. IF we can maintain - or even accelerate - our pace of innovation in energy technology, we'll be able to tap into this wealth of energy.

The challenge isn't the limit of energy - it's a race between the rate at which we damage our climate and the rate at which we can innovate.

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Steve Forbes' Advice on Innovation and Corporate Mindset

Peter Diamandis   |   April 25, 2013    2:20 PM ET

This is the first part of my two-part blog about my conversation with Steve Forbes, chairman and CEO of Forbes Media, speaking about free markets, bold innovations and how he embraces change.

Steve Forbes is a friend who helped me launch my book, Abundance, holding my first-ever launch party at the Forbes headquarters in New York. He's a man whose mindset and brand shouts abundance.

One of my objectives in this BOLD blog is to interview some of today's most successful CEOs and billionaires, and to share with you how they think and how they make critical decisions. This is one of those interviews with the man who knows more successful CEOs and billionaires than almost anyone else, and he shared with me some of what he learned in his encounters with them. The "Forbes List of Billionaires" is most definitely the who's-who of today's most successful entrepreneurs.

During our conversation, I asked Steve to share his thoughts on entrepreneurship, the future of large corporations and his own experience with transforming Forbes.

1. Steve on the "explosion of an entrepreneurial class around the world": "I think characteristics among entrepreneurs around the world are pretty much the same. You have the vision, you have the drive and the desire and obliviousness to the clock, you work till you get it done. That doesn't change. What has changed is that, thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall, thanks to the success of the U.S. coming out of the malaise in the 1980s, suddenly, what you might call the entrepreneurial class has exploded around the world -- India, China, central and eastern Europe, the Baltic States."

"I mean, who ever thought Skype would be developed in Estonia? So, it's not so much the characteristics of entrepreneurship as much as the opportunity to practice entrepreneurship that has grown exponentially," Steve added.

2. Steve on the "bloated large-size corporations": "It is human nature that organizations inevitably become inward-looking," Steve said. "You lose sight of the reason the organization was created, and you become all about the organization. British historian C. Northcote Parkinson did a history of the British navy, and wrote about this phenomenon. After World War I, when Britain won the war, it didn't need a big navy anymore, so it sharply downsized the number of ships, sailors, dockworkers and the like during the 1920s. Even though the Navy was drastically shrinking in the '20s, the bureaucracy called the Admiralty, which ran the Navy, actually was getting bigger. Parkinson observed that the amount of work or size of an organization has nothing to do with the work really at hand."

"Every organization eventually becomes inward looking, bloated and loses sight and becomes pretty much useless," Steve explained. "The virtue of free markets is if you do that, you get tossed aside. One of the dangers in free markets is if you focus on trying to do what you're doing better, sometimes that may be obsolete. IBM got into personal computers but still had the mainframe mindset, so even though it started to make drastic changes in the 80s, by the early 90s it nearly went down for the count. You saw it in the steel industry, too. The idea of making steel out of scrap was something that traditional steel mills said no to. So they all fell by the wayside or drastically shrank, while new companies like Nucor came in and for a while did very well," he said.

"This gets us to our business today: media. We have the mindset of 150 years ago," Steve said. "You create content, you hope to attract an audience with that content, and then you deliver that audience to an advertiser. That's the mindset you see today -- one based mostly on advertising revenue."

"We have to find new sources of revenue," he explained. "The web is knocking out what we call middlemen. What this means for journalists is that you don't make your living as a pure journalist anymore. You have to have a portfolio of jobs as a consultant doing a variety of things. But trying to get traditional media people to wrap their minds around this change is very, very tough."

"So, when you focus on being the best at what you have traditionally done, you might lose sight of the fact that what you still doing may not be in demand in the marketplace anymore," he said. "That's what is so humbling. You're trying to do your best and the market may just pass you by. What you're doing just isn't needed anymore."

3. Steve on "transforming Forbes.com": "You may do something right but it doesn't mean it's always going to be the right thing to do," Steve said, speaking about his business. "In the mid-'90s, like everyone else we went into the electronic world. We started Forbes.com. Most publishers made the mistake of thinking that if you took the printed page and threw it on the screen, voila! You're in a brand-new world, sort of the equivalent of when Edison and others invented movies over 120 years ago. Initially," he explained, "it was thought that feature films would be like filming a stage play. But no: It's an entirely different medium, film."

"So, we did that," said Steve. "We went through the horrors of the early part of the last decade when everyone was telling us we're pouring tens of millions of dollars in information on the website, we're idiots. The bubble burst all of that kind of thing, and then it all came together. And from 2002 to about 2006 or 2007, by golly, our website was booming."

"What we didn't notice was that even though we caught the first wave right, the Web was relentlessly commoditizing marketing. So the market no longer took for granted that because you had a great audience and a great brand name you should be paid a premium for reaching that audience. Ultimately we ended up having to do a mad scramble and make drastic changes," he said.

"I think we did it well," said Steve. "Today we get over 30 million unique visitors a month to our website and it's been doubling over the last year or so. That doesn't mean we're going to be doing that tomorrow. Again, the Web is drastically changing things, and even if you get one part of it right, our traditional competition is no longer the same, it's a whole new world. So, while we got the first wave of change right, we didn't see the other wave as quickly. No one did, but we should have and didn't."

In my next blog, Steve Forbes will share his top 10 recommendations for success. Great stuff.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

Visioneering the Future

Peter Diamandis   |   April 23, 2013    1:52 PM ET

This week at XPRIZE's Visioneering 2013, 120 of the world's visionary thinkers will gather for three days to discuss the world's grand challenges, and how we might solve them using incentive competitions. The event itself is extremely inspiring and a lot of fun, attracting an incredible 'who's who' from the philanthropic, corporate and entrepreneurial world. Past attendees range from Larry Page and Sir Richard Branson to James Cameron, Quincy Jones, and Paul Allen.

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Visioneering is a standard format. We typically pick five to ten "themed grand challenge areas," and our group of attending philanthropists, CEOs and government leaders focus on discussing the associated problems and market failures and then design Prizes to try and address them. Over the three-day Visioneering weekend the participants will develop dozens of Prize concepts, and then in a competitive head-to-head showdown that resembles a cross between TED and American Idol, the prize concepts are winnowed down to five finalists. In 2012, these are the five ideas that made it to the finals:

  1. Empowering the Unpowered (affordable, on-demand rural energy)
  2. Sydney By Lunch (high-speed, low-carbon travel from New York to Sydney in less than two hours)
  3. Brain Dashboard (non-invasive, affordable brain health monitor)
  4. Ed-U-Phone (achieving literacy on a mass scale, sustainably, by tapping into the universal desire for mobile technology)
  5. Motion of the Ocean (portable, affordable desalination device powered by wave and tidal energy)

Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision, and his team received the top honors for "Ed-U-Phone." That prize idea ultimately led to the creation of the Global Literacy XPRIZE, which is currently in development, and which we hope will revolutionize global literacy and change what people think is possible regarding the means and methods used to learn.

A number of today's funded and launched XPRIZEs were born from past Visioneering sessions. Two concepts, AI Physician and Lab-on-a-Chip, conceived during a session in 2010, led to the funding and launch of the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.

For Visioneering 2013 we have chosen eight topics that go beyond the XPRIZE's established interests in space, oceans and health. The critically-important new subjects we will tackle are:

  1. Aging: How do we prepare for an expanding older population?
  2. Behavior: How can we incentivize people to stop doing things that are bad for them or for society?
  3. Happiness: How can we live happier, safer lives?
  4. Infrastructure: How can we rebuild strong, innovative, resilient public and private infrastructure, physical and virtual?
  5. Learning: How can we educate and train students of all ages to prepare them for 21st century jobs?
  6. Mobility: How will we move ourselves and our information in the future?
  7. Security: How can we protect our communities, our businesses, and our nations?
  8. Women: How do we engage the power of women and girls in communities around the world?

What idea will win this year? Be sure to follow the action on Twitter at #Visioneering starting around April 25 on through the weekend, and visit xprize.org/visioneering to learn the results of the competition. Together with a clear vision of the future, we can solve the world's grand challenges and create a world of abundance.

Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

Ingestible, Implantable, or Intimate Contact; How Will You Take Your Micro-Scale Body Sensors

XPRIZE   |   April 18, 2013    5:02 PM ET

2013-03-28-george_skidmore.pngBy George Skidmore, Ph.D.
George Skidmore, Ph.D. is a physicist working in micro machines and nanotechnology. He is Principal Scientist at DRS Technologies. He is also Nanotechnology Track Faculty at Singularity University.

Computer chips and silicon micromachines are ready for your body. It's time to decide how you'll take them: implantable, ingestible, or intimate contact. Every flavor now exists. Some have FDA approval and some are seeking it. Others are moving quickly out of the research lab stage. With the round one Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE entries due in one year, we're soon to see a heavy dose of sensors tied to the mobile wireless health revolution. With these sensors comes a heavy dose of information about your health, data about what medication you are taking and when you took it. The sensors are available to protect your health, but choosing how to use them and how to protect the privacy of your data will be a matter of personal responsibility.

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Implantable sensors exist for a number of applications, having been used in animals for pet identification for many years. Other examples under development or seeking FDA approval are glucose detection for control of diabetes, blood pressure monitoring in people with recent cardiac arrest or risk of heart disease, and blood health. The most recently announced is implanted into animal brains with the long-term goal of enabling humans with paralysis to control machines with their minds. These implantable sensors have this in common: they self-contain what is needed to transmit information from inside your body without batteries and without wires. These are already shown to work; several are now seeking FDA approval. From the perspective of a patient, this is a Tricorder device, albeit one centered on an implantable micromachine sensor. If you or your doctor feel your health is at risk, I suspect you'd accept these inside your body. If your health feels not at risk however, this could be too invasive for your liking, and we'll offer you something one level easier to accept.

Ingestible sensor chips are an idea a little easier for most people to swallow. Here are three examples. Camera pills, which pass through your digestive tract taking pictures and transmitting them out are available from Given Imaging. Available to your doctor, that is. You may have seen the commercials. But two other swallowable sensors are now on the scene. You can find the Internet movies of Lance Armstrong downing the CorTemp thermometer pill from HQInc. This pill travels through your digestive tract wirelessly transmitting your core body temperature. Useful for athletes today, and for those with occupational exposure to high temperatures. Again, this mimics a singly-capable Tricorder device where hand-held electronics receive wireless signals about the temperature inside your body. A third ingestible, a wireless sensor pill from Proteus Digital Health does something simple, but vitally important: it reports that you've swallowed it. This first offering from Proteus is a placebo, with silicon computer chip attached. This pill, coupled to a wearable patch, which is coupled to a smart phone has been discussed in an article here at Forbes/Singularity previously. When the pill hits your stomach, it transmits to your phone that you took the pill. Your phone then does whatever you would like with the data; informs your doctor, or informs a trustworthy caregiver. If Proteus is right, and these sensors become commonplace, exponential growth in digital medicine for compliance monitoring will require as much silicon wafer manufacturing as all computer chips use today. And your phone will be filled with information about when you took your medication.

Many others are fortunate to be on no medication, don't feel their health is at risk, and have little need for the wireless health options mentioned so far. And many remain leery of what appears invasive, hackable, and scary about implantables and ingestibles. Our next level of comfort comes with intimate contact sensors, a wireless health option which will soon break out of the research labs. Two scientific papers of note showed the possibility of stick-on tattoo devices: John Rogers and colleagues at Illinois show several demonstration videos of these epidermal electronics; followed by UC San Diego's sweat pH (acidity) measurement geared towards athletes. The idea of sensors which simply contact the body is too good not to grow exponentially, and to be the leading path to winning the QTXP (acronym for Qualcomm Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize). After all, the Tricorder doesn't require micromachine implants or digital pills (as far as we know). Traditional medical apparatus which contacts the skin are accepted by most people without question. Two companies pursuing the QTXP, Scanadu and Medsensation, are publicly showing their approaches based on body contact. With over 200 competitors, expect to see many variants of wireless implantables, ingestibles, and intimate body contact sensor ideas introduced in the coming year.


Visit XPRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Kevin Mitnick: The Hacking Hamburglar

XPRIZE   |   April 15, 2013    1:50 PM ET

<2013-04-15-timcoleman.jpgBy Timothy W. Coleman
Timothy W. Coleman is a DC-based writer and security analyst who has co-founded two technology startup firms. He attended Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program at NASA Ames Research Center and has a Masters of Public and International Affairs in Security and Intelligence Studies and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance.

Kevin Mitnick was once known as the 'World's Most Wanted' social engineer and computer hacker. One doesn't acquire a title like that - nor an accompanying prison sentence - for vanilla exploits. While in Federal custody, authorities even placed Mitnick in solitary confinement; reportedly, he was deemed so dangerous that if allowed access to a telephone he could start a nuclear war by just whistling into it.

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From the 1970s up until his last arrest in 1995 Kevin Mitnick skillfully eluded and bypassed corporate security safeguards, penetrating some of the most well-guarded systems, including, amongst countless others, the likes of Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corporation, Motorola, Netcom, and Nokia. He has even had to go on record and deny hacking into the Department of Defense's North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and wiretapping the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At a recent app-enabled cloud network performance and security briefing hosted by Citrix and Palo Alto Networks in Washington, DC, Mitnick opened up about his former life and introduced himself to the Washington crowd accordingly.

"I assume there are a lot of Federal agencies here so we may know each other from a past life," Mitnick said in a devious, yet still tempered tone.

With the bylines of "Most Wanted" and "Infamous" and a laundry list of corporate names etched onto his belt of exploits, it'd be fair to assume that Mitnick's hacking masterpiece evolved from one of his more high profile penetrations. That assumption, however, couldn't be further from the truth.

Actually, the seminal stunt of his hacking career is much more puerile but nonetheless humorous. As Mitnick explained, "My favorite hack was actually when I was a kid."

Mitnick hacked the frequency of a local McDonald's drive-through ordering system and took control over the drive-through speaker, relishing the consequential bewilderment of unsuspecting McDonald's employees.

"I would sit across the street from McDonald's and I would take their order and tell them they were the 50th customer so your order is free. Please drive through your order is free," Mitnick reminisced. "People would drive up to the window and I would say, 'Our weight detection system detected your car is a little heavy so we recommend the salad instead of the Big Mac'."

"It got to the point that the manager of the McDonald's was wondering what the heck was going on and he walked outside and looked in the cars and around the parking lot, but he could not see anything because I was across the street. He even walked up to the drive-through speaker and looked at it and then stuck his head inside to see if there was actually someone inside and I yelled, 'What are you looking at?!'"

Mitnick didn't only revel in the joy of trolling individual customer orders, though. He went on to explain, "But my favorite was when the police drove up and I would say, 'Hide the cocaine, hide the cocaine!'" Alas, the theater of the ensuing build-up and moment when the unsuspecting employee met the suspicious glances of the police would befit any comedic late night show.

McDonald's, when reached for comment, was less than amused by Mitnick's claims. As all Fortune 500 companies take hacking very seriously, Danya Proud, Director of Media Relations, McDonald's USA stated, "We are not aware of this matter; however, security of our business, information and systems remains a top priority."

No word yet if McDonald's plans to hire Mitnick to consult on the protection of the integrity of their drive-through ordering process. One can only hope that measures to counter such nefarious hacks have been implemented.

At any length, look across the street if you ever encounter a problem during a wee-hours drive-thru run to Mickey D's. The world's once most wanted and infamous Mitnick may be enjoying a little bit of reflective levity at your expense, especially if you're the 50th customer.

Visit X PRIZE at xprize.org, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.