Digital Amnesia

digital amnesia figures

Digital Amnesia

When someone asks me for my mobile number, I take one of my business cards out of my wallet so I can read it to them. Now I have only had this number for a year, but I haven’t learnt it yet. I don’t know my wife’s phone number either. I just look her up in the contacts of my phone by name. I can however remember my first girlfiend’s mum’s home number, going back to about 1982.

Of course in those days we did not have machines that remembered your life for you. I remember having to arrange to meet someone at a certain time and in a certain place before leaving the house, oh how quaint. And believe it or not, not only did our brains keep in all that extra information (which seems to have made them work better I might add), but we were also freeer.

Free because once you were out of the house you were in effect offline. No calls from work, no-one asking you why you are late, or more to the point where you are. “Where were you? I tried calling but you did not answer!” Oh so now I am obliged to both carry my phone and answer it otherwise moral judgements will be made about me, where is the freedom in that?

And these developments have lead to parents and friends worrying more. Now I have a phone so if you start thinking about me you can send a text. In the past you couldn’t do that, so you worried less. There was no point in worrying because you could do nothing about it. And what happens if your phone runs out of charge? Then you really are in trouble, it is almost as bad as your life support system breaking down.


But where is the evidence I hear you ask, for these glory days when people could remember where they were supposed to be, had diaries and used pens to make appointments.

Here. Read it and weep.

The BBC is reporting a UK study carried out through Kaspersky (see the stats above in the picture), that seems to demonstrate that reliance on digital technology is causing a loss of memory capacity. The belief that we can just access information whenever we need it has brought us to this point. But the limitations are obvious. When I lose my phone I cannot even phone home on somebody else’s. I don’t know the number.

Maybe the brain needs exercise too. Stretching is always good, and I must say that this is probably true of brain use. As I have once before mentioned, learning a language is great for your brain function, but many might not bother now we have real time translation tools. But I should say that I am not against these things, my life would be much more complicated without the famous online translation tool that I use every day.

I remember an article on this blog about the power of the human brain, it is incompably good to digital technology, let’s exercise it and keep it fit.


3D Printing Developments


3D Printing

3D printing is great, but it does have its downsides. Take a look at this article for example, it gives some idea of possible applications and uses for the technology.My colleague Christopher wrote that one, and it is a joy to see some young and optimistic blood writing about technology. As an old pessimistic dog however, I cannot overcome my cynical streak. Check out this article that I wrote about possible negative effects upon health related to 3D printing.

Anyway, on a blog with the grandeur of this one there is room for everything, and today I am going to dive into the abyss of optimism!

Now when we think of 3D printing we often think of small plastic models, and we all know that plastic is a problem for the world. It is cheap, does not degrade, you cannot get rid of it, it washes into plastic floating islands and it’s made from oil. But 3D printing offers much more than plastic models today.

Alternative Materials

A Dutch design company plans to use special robots to 3D-print a steel bridge across the Amsterdam Canal. A company called MX3D, which specializes in using robotics to 3D print, and Dutch designer Joris Laaram are behind the project. You see these kids can print with metal, as can the people who supply parts for Boeing, and use is far more common that we might imagine.

But MX3D go one better. They can print metals in position, so not in a lab or workshop but wherever they want, outside, in the open air, or over a canal. So they have robots that can build a bridge on site using 3D printing technology, as they sit on the half constructed bridge.

But that is not the end of it, of course. Printers can also use recycled products to produce artifacts. Plastic is a simple idea, but what about other materials? What about food waste? Well obviously you can.

Food Waste

Italy-based designer Marina Ceccolini is doing some experimenting in the field. Inspired by the rigidness of a dehydrated tangerine peel, the designer began creating her own potential 3D printing material called AgriDust. Ceccolini’s AgriDust is made from foods found in her local landfill: everything from coffee grounds to peanut shells, orange and lemon peels, tomato skins, and bean pods. Held together with potato starch Ceccolini believes that using a paste extruder, the material could be 3D printed into new objects. The 64.5% waste/35.5% binder composition could, the designer proposes, limit the plastic waste generated by 3D printers.

Now Check out this article, it describes everything and includes an interview with the designer.

One thing that comes to mind however is the problem of allergies. Can you make something that contains nuts? I doubt it. But the idea sounds really promising to me. And I certainly look forward to watching the bridge go up, it’s just down the road (or canal) from here.

A Drinkable Book

drinkable book


Water Filters in a Book

Dr Teri Dankovich, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh USA has developed and tested a book whose pages can be torn out and used to filter drinking water. Trails are impressive, with the process bringing the water up to US drinking water standards.

The book’s pages contain nanoparticles of silver or copper, which kill bacteria in the water as it passes through. Some of the particles do remain in the water however, but they remain within the legal limits.


Now here I have to add my own input to the debate. As readers might know I have written several posts about nanomaterials and it is one of the fields that I work in, and I would question how legal limits are defined.

Nanoparticles are treated like any other particles, and their scale is not taken in account, but this seems to raise some questions. The fact that they are so small means that they can pass easily into the blood stream, so their effects may not be the same as larger particles of the same materials.

So I have to leave an open question mark over the legal issue, but the fact that the water is drinkable is a great advantage. And this leads me to ponder the fact that innovation, and its level of responsibility and ethical justification, must be local. An invention or innovation that brings drinkable water to millions, is portable and cheap and could save many lives, must be seen within its context. Nanoparticles in the water in this situation, may not be same an nano particles found in water because of factory pollution or deliberate addition when other processes might be readily available.

An article on the BBC explains that “All you need to do is tear out a paper, put it in a simple filter holder and pour water into it from rivers, streams, wells etc and out comes clean water – and dead bacteria as well”. And one page can clean up to 100 litres of water. A book could filter one person’s water supply for four years.

The project is looking for funding, so if you are interested and have some money to spare click on the link at the start of the post and pass them over your pocket money.

As a final thought, nanotechnology has come in for criticism from the academic community for its lack of regulation, and rightly so. But it also brings a world of possibilities, many of which like the story above that could transform people’s lives. This is the fine line that interests me in my work, how to make the most of scientific developments at the least environmental and social costs, and for the highest number of people.

Responsible innovation, a call for your opinions


Responsible Innovation

Some of my reader(s) might know that I work in the field of Responsible Innovation. This is a growing area within Science and Technology studies, but also plays a part in EU legislation and funding as well as working practices in general.

To be perfectly honest, one of the problems we have in the field is defining and explaining what we work on. I would say in general terms that we are interested in making innovation processes more democratic and transparent, while aiming scientific and technological development towards improvements for society. So possibly make the development of things that might be advantageous for society a priority, even if they might not be so profitable.

If you would like more information before I give you your homework for this week, check out this article in the Spectrum Engineering blog (I wrote it). Take a look at the MATTER website, or the Bassetti Foundation who I collaborate with in my work, or you could even download my $1.17 book from Amazon.

Or none of the above, just use a general sense of what it might look like in your own imagination.

So here we come to the homework part.

Your opinions and Ideas

As part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe, Hilary Sutcliffe of the UK based think-tank MATTER (linked above) has launched the New Principles for Responsible Innovation document. Hilary is the plainest speaker of the community, and she wants to know what the general public think about developments. So her document is an open call for comments, with particular interest and questions about the following aspects of RI:

1. Purpose – is it realistic to think that such a voluntary initiative will have a useful role as we have envisaged it?  If yes or no, it would be helpful to know why. (My interpretation of this question, can we improve society through voluntary action within innovation?)

2. Content – Are there gaps or duplications or structures which you think are unhelpful?  Do you have suggestions on how that could be improved? (If so, how could we do it, which structures might be useful, and where are the obstacles?)

3.Effectiveness – How do you think this would be best implemented?  Do you agree with our concept of Radical Transparency being the tool for all stakeholders to access the information of their choice in place of armies of verifiers, or is this just unrealistic? (Could it all be done through transparency, and without rules from above?)

The main aims of the project are to generate positive momentum for transformative innovation for social good and create shared expectations to help build trustworthiness & confidence, and there are several ways in which any interested parties can contribute, with comments from yourselves at number 1.

The document is available here, and I would urge everyone to have their say by replying to Hilary in person through the email link contained within it.

Tell her Jonny sent you.