Home' Technology Review : August 2005 Contents 18 README
Continuous computing now
makes it easy to share your life.
An unexpected con uence in information technology could be
the best news for computer users since the invention of the
graphical user interface. Thanks to advances in wireless net-
working, Web programming, and microchips for mobile de-
vices, consumers have access (anytime and anywhere) to a world
of fundamentally social applications. Instant messaging and
Web logs (blogs) were among the rst pure social-computing
technologies, but things have gone much further.
Members of Flickr.com document their lives through photog-
raphy, often uploading several pictures a day from their digital or
phone-based cameras. They can annotate photos with pop-up
notes, play games such as "Guess Where?"
, and contribute to
group albums. Meanwhile, Delicious, Rojo, Furl, and several
other cutely named sites let surfers share commentary on the
Web pages they ve bookmarked. Then there s Dodgeball, a
friend- nding service recently acquired by Google. People text-
message their locations to Dodgeball s servers, which relay the
information to the phones of friends.
The key ingredients in this new wave of computer-mediated
communication: cell phones, laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots, cellular
networks, and easy-to-use websites backed by powerful data-
bases. So many people now car ry Internet-enabled mobile de-
vices that we need never be disconnected from our friends and
colleagues or from the Web. That s why TR senior editor Wade
Roush suggests, on page 44, giving the phenomenon a new
name: "continuous computing."
We ve known for a while that computers can make us more
e cient. Now they re giving global reach to individual voices
and killing once and for all the idea that togetherness requires
physical proximity. Those screens we stare at all day? They
aren t taking us away from our real lives. They re nally becom-
ing part of them. ■
Nutritional genomics is promising,
but not yet enlightening.
One of the promises of the Human Genome Project has been
that it will usher in an age of personalized medicine, in which
drugs will be prescribed---or avoided---based on an individual s
genetic pro le. Now research groups, led by labs at the Univer-
sity of California, Davis, and Tufts University, are pursuing a re-
lated strategy for improving health: trying to optimize diets
based on knowledge of an individual s genome.
Should who you are (genetically speaking) determine what
you eat? To lear n more, we sent Corby Kummer, one of the na-
tion s top food writers, to sample the current research. In "Your
Genomic Diet" (p. 54), Kummer gives a mixed review of the
emerging eld. On one hand, he found that scientists such as
Raymond Rodriguez, director of the Center of Excellence for Nu-
tritional Genomics at Davis, are doing exciting, albeit prelimi-
nary, work on the complex interactions between nutrients and
the genetic variants common in di erent population groups.
On the other hand, Kummer suggests, the dietary advice
dictated by nutritional genomics is mostly common sense: lots
of soy, plenty of green vegetables, perhaps some sardines. The
eld is still hampered by its practitioners inability to cheaply
and easily determine relevant genetic variants. That will change
as genetic tools improve, but even so, the ability of genomic in-
sights to change individual eating habits may be limited. Kum-
mer, for one, concludes that he is not about to give up sweets. ■
Is a Trip
Don t forget the radical lessons
from the 1960s.
This month, Bill Joy, the architect of Berkeley Unix and a co-
founder of Sun Microsystems, reviews John Marko s book What
the Dormouse Said...: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Per-
sonal Computer Industry (see "The Dream of a Lifetime," p. 76).
Joy was there for many of computing s formative years, but in the
course of his review, he talks as much about the future of comput-
ing as he does about its past. Not only does he enlighten readers
about what it was like to help make computers more personal, but
he reminds us that the computer isn t done. Joy argues that what is
needed to bring about the next advances in computing is for those
investing in computer research to " nd and fund the dreamers."
Joy makes a persuasive argument. Doug Engelbart, whose
groundbreaking work in the 1960s at the Stanford Research In-
stitute helped pave the way for the PC, depended on large grants
from the federal government. And just as important as the money
Engelbart received was the freedom he enjoyed: the gover nment
knew it was funding speculative work. Today, funding both in in-
dustry and from the federal government tends to be focused on
speci c, short-term problems.
We can t turn the clock back, of course. Engelbart and his col-
leagues had the good fortune to work at a time when America
felt fresh wonder at the possibilities of technology---and had a
strong faith in the productivity of brilliant scientists. But as Joy
contends, we may be able to rekindle the spirit of the 60s by
imagining computers that are in nitely smarter, more respon-
sive, and more immersive than anything we have today. By all
means, let s nd and fund the dreamers. ■
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