In my nearly two years of writing for The Motley Fool, I have never submitted a by-the-numbers article reporting on a company's quarterly earnings. It is not that I don't think these articles have great value. They do. It's just that that isn't where my own investing instincts tell me to focus. I am more of a long-term guy, and as such, I tend to look a little further out.
But lately, that job has been growing more difficult. To demonstrate, let me take you on a short walk back through the past week.
Computers get more powerful
Not to be outdone, IBM
Health care opens up
On Feb. 12, Novartis
The company's rationale was simple: It figured that progress toward solving diabetes could improve by having the whole world interpret the data rather than keeping it confined to its own scientific research team. Unleashing the power of the open-source movement could have significant implications for all companies, such as Amylin Pharmaceuticals, that are working to provide better solutions for diabetics.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Kaiser Permanente announced that it's launching an ambitious multiyear study into the genetics and lifestyle factors that give rise to a host of common diseases. It is the largest study of its kind and hopes to draw information from more than 500,000 individuals.
All of this information, which will be collected over a number of years, will be stored in a massive database, crunched with complex algorithms, and run through wickedly powerful computers. The hoped-for end result is that we will learn much more about how individuals' genes interact with diet, exercise, and other environmental factors to affect health. The impact on the insurance industry alone could be enormous.
A better brain
The news was no less impressive on the neuroscience front. On Tuesday, medical-device giant Medtronic
Both of those advances might benefit from the work of Kwabena Boahen, a neuroengineer at Stanford University, who announced last week that he is planning on creating a silicon model of the cortex. Once constructed, this man-made brain could help scientists better understand how our brains operate and how they do everything from performing complex computations and recognizing faces to understanding language.
Manufacturing gets a new feel
The progress on the manufacturing side of things was no less impressive. In Europe, researchers announced two separate programs. The first involves a project combining 3-D imagery with hand-tracking and speech recognition that could soon allow computer users to manipulate 3-D images in real time. If you've seen the movie Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise's character was whipping around images and files on a holographic readout in the year 2054, you'll get the gist of this technology.
In the movie, Cruise was wearing haptic gloves, which just happened to make up the second half of last week's European research efforts. This particular project, dubbed HAPTEX -- for haptic sensing of virtual textiles -- is working to create a glove that would allow users to "virtually" feel different textiles. The technology is expected to be available in a prototype form by the end of 2007. One of its potential applications could be among doctors, who could gain better control over robotic surgical devices such as Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci surgical system.
And over in Japan, Hitachi
Welcome to the quantum economy
Of course, haptic and RFID technology, brain research, and computers will all only continue to get better. How am I so sure? Well, because on Feb. 13, 2007, out in Mountain View, Calif., a small Canadian company called D-Wave provided the first-ever demonstration of a quantum computer.
It was only a 16-qubit computer -- a "qubit" referring to a quantum bit, or a unit of quantum information -- but it was able to solve a Sudoku puzzle and, more impressively, search for a molecule that was similar to one used in the drug Prilosec. This latter performance suggests that the quantum computer could be used to radically speed up the drug-discovery process.
Beyond that, however, company officials said they believe quantum computing will follow a trajectory similar to Moore's Law -- which is to say it will be exponential in nature. As proof, D-Wave said it will have a 32-qubit computer ready by the middle of 2007, a 512-qubit computer by early 2008, and a 1,024-qubit computer toward the end of 2008.
Among the many other things that such a computer will be able to do is help design the next-generation chip that Intel or IBM builds, or the next RFID tag that Hitachi manufactures. These devices, in turn, will be used to manufacture better haptic technology as well as create a faster-performing machine brain.
The technology can, of course, be used to design an even faster quantum computer. But then that's a story for next week.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, and he recently completed his latest book, which deals with the exponential growth of a number of technologies. He owns stock in Intuitive Surgical, Intel, IBM, and Harris & Harris. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.