Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Ideas of 2010

For the last 10 years the New York Times has created it's annual year in ideas. Here are my favorites from this year:

The 2000s Were a Great Decade:
Two recessions. 9/11. Iraq. Afghanistan. You might think the last decade was among the worst in modern history. But according to the economist Charles Kenny, author of “Getting Better,” a forthcoming book on global development, you’d be wrong. Average worldwide income, at $10,600, is 25 percent higher than it was a decade ago. Thanks to increases in agriculture efficiency, cereal production grew at double the rate of population in the developing world. Vaccine initiatives have helped cut the death rate from common diseases like measles by 60 percent. Child mortality is down 17 percent.
After an earthquake, changes to the earth increase the likelihood of aftershocks occurring in a particular place and time — something that seismologists have become good at forecasting. This year, the mathematician George Mohler showed that what holds for earthquakes also holds true for crime: not only does an initial crime beget future offenses, but these “aftercrimes” also tend to occur according to a predictable distribution in time and space. The idea of follow-on crimes is nothing new — once a house is burglarized, police know that criminals are likely to return to the same house or others nearby — but Mohler showed that the timing and location of the crimes can be statistically predicted with a high degree of accuracy. Using L.A.P.D. burglary data to identify a series of random, initial offenses in a sector of the city and adapting algorithms used to forecast aftershocks, he predicted that 17 percent of the city’s burglaries would occur in a 5-percent area of the city over the next year.
Turbine-Free Wind Power:
Conservationists argue that wind turbines pose a risk to birds, bats and sensitive habitats like shorelines. People living close to wind farms, meanwhile, complain of constant noise and vibration. This year, engineers responded with a new way to draw electricity from the wind: oscillating wind panels.

The Real-time Inflation Calculator:
Measuring inflation is a time-consuming business: at the beginning of each month, government researchers across the country amass troves of data on prices for everything from shoes to milk to phones. Two weeks after the end of the month, the government releases gauges of inflation like the Consumer Price Index. But inflation hunters may now get an advance glimpse of the data, thanks to a real-time inflation calculator devised by two economists at M.I.T., Alberto Cavallo and Roberto Rigobon.

Cavallo and Rigobon devised software that scans Web sites for prices, using a method similar to the one that Google uses to index Web pages.
Human Milk for Sale:
Wet nurses have been profiting from the sale of human milk since the dawn of civilization. Why not the nutrition and biotech industries? This year, Abbott (makers of Similac) began selling a new line of "immunonutrition" made entirely from purified, concentrated and pasteurized human milk. The product, called Prolact + H²MF and manufactured by Prolacta Bioscience, is considered a human-milk fortifier, designed to be added to breast milk for premature babies weighing less than 2.75 pounds.
The Train That Never Stops:

D.I.Y. Macroeconomics:
The democratization of economics owes much to the financial crisis that first hit in 2007. That ongoing catastrophe, which few economists predicted, tarnished the profession’s reputation, prompting some to look elsewhere for answers. They turned to — where else? — the Internet, where vast amounts of economic data that had once been hidden from public view were now online. Sites like FRED, maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, enabled anyone with a connection to the Web to download data on everything from local home-price indexes to credit-card balances to weekly fluctuations in diesel prices.

At the same time, a growing army of knowledgeable “econo-bloggers” began analyzing the data available online.
Social Media as Social Index:
Even as several social networks have surpassed the populations of most nations — more than 500 million people are now signed up for Facebook and 175 million for Twitter — we still tend to regard these sites in terms of their value to us as individual users. In the past year, however, social scientists have begun looking more broadly at the aggregate value of social media. According to a number of recent studies, it now seems possible that the networks’ millions of posts and status updates are adding up to something culturally and financially priceless.

This past April, for instance, Sitaram Asur and Bernardo Huberman at HP Labs demonstrated that by analyzing the positive or negative sentiments expressed in 2.8 million Twitter messages about 24 movies, they could predict how the films would perform at the box office. Their methodology — an algorithm, actually, that their company is now in the process of patenting — worked significantly better than the Hollywood Stock Exchange, another popular tool for predicting box-office success.

In October, a team led by Johan Bollen at Indiana University reported that by classifying 9.7 million Twitter posts as falling into one of six mood categories (happiness, kindness, alertness, sureness, vitality and calmness) they could predict changes in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. As Bollen explains, when he began his study, he expected that the mood on Twitter would be a reflection of up and down movements in the stock market. He never imagined it would be a precursor.
Here are the ones that didn't make my cut: Relaxation Drinks, The Youth Condom,Cybercom, Literary Near Futurism, The Bra Mask, The Megalobster, Doping Bicycles, The Armored T-Shirt, The Long-Life-Span Smartphone, The Guitar That Stays in Tune, Biocouture, Emotional Spell-Check, Perfect Parallel Parking, More Club Teammates, More World Cup Success, Performance Enhancing Basketball Shoes, The Meat Dress, End-of-Men Fashion, The Ginger-Ale Celebration, The Comeback Album as Testimonial, LeBron James's 'Decision', Taking Your Pulse by Webcam.

To get an idea on the accuracy of these, here are the best of the best ideas of the last 10 years:
2001: “Populist Editing.” Wikipedia has since eclipsed the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Microsoft’s Encarta project, and many of us use it almost every day.

2002: “Early-Detection Revisionism.” We often find extra medical treatment hard toturn down, yet frequently it does us little good or even harm, so sometimes it’s better not to know your condition at all. Prostatecancer is one area in which this idea is having an impact.

2003: “Social Networks.” The New York Times has a Facebook page, a Facebook application and a New York Times News Quiz on Facebook; then there are Facebook’s 500 million users.

2004: “Dumb Robots Are Better.” The days of the Jetsons, and housecleaning robots, are not upon us, so settle for less. Be happy if your robot does anything useful at all.

2005: “Touch Screens That Touch Back.” This pick was ahead of its time, as few people realized that this technology, as seen in the2002 Steven Spielberg movie “Minority Report,” would show up so quickly in the iPhone and the iPad.

2006: “Walk-In Health Care.” We’ll need more of this, as general practitioners are harder to see and emergency-room waits get longer.

2007: “The Best Way to Deflect an Asteroid.” Send satellites with mirrors to reflect the sun, vaporizing one spot on the asteroid, releasing gases and changing its course. If this ever comes in handy, it will be the biggest idea of them all.

2008: “Carbon Penance.” “ . . . a translucent leg band . . . keeps track of your electricity consumption. When it detects, via aspecial power monitor, that electric current levels have exceeded a certain threshold, the wireless device slowly drives six stainless-steel thorns intothe flesh of your leg.” Satire is an idea, too. The slightly more practical anti-global-warming idea from 2008 was to eat kangaroos,since they, unlike cows, do not produce methane gas.

2009: “Music for Monkeys.” We still don’t know which of the ideas from last year will pay off, but the idea of generating music that monkeys enjoy (and humans don’t) was the most fun of the bunch.

1 comment:

  1. I still remember my physics prof gave us the assignment to design The train that never stops at station...burned midnight oil to design one with no success :(


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