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Looming disasters, and other tech predictions, for 2014 and beyond

December 24, 2013 06:42 AM ET

Thomas Edison figured out how to live a long life well before Google. In a 1914 interview with The Day Book, Edison outlined a disciplined lifestyle.

Edison, then 67, said he slept about five and half hours a night, though for years he had only slept four. Mrs. Edison, he explained, wouldn't permit him to work all night any more. His daily diet didn't exceed a pound and a half of food. He smoked cigars and chewed tobacco, but avoided cigarettes. He read 118 scientific and trade periodicals and five daily newspapers.

"I read four lines at once," said Edison. "They should teach that kind of reading in the public schools."

Edison lived until the age of 84. The life expectancy for a man in 1914 was 52.

Too fast and too big for humans?

There have been ongoing warnings that machine-to-machine trading could one day disrupt financial markets.

A recent paper published in Nature, "Abrupt rise of new machine ecology beyond human response time," argued that humans are losing the ability to intervene in machine actions in real time. New systems, it said, are reducing "communication and computational operating times down to several orders of magnitude below human response times - toward the physical limits of the speed of light."

The paper also pointed out that a new dedicated transatlantic cable is being built "just to shave 5 milliseconds off transatlantic communications times between U.S. and U.K traders."

"Speed may exacerbate problems, but there is no definitive evidence that it is the problem," said Michael Piwowar, a U.S. Securities and Exchange commissioner this month in a speech in London. "Moreover, we should not reject the possibility that speed may actually help mitigate problems once they begin."

Abrupt climate change warnings

In May of 2013 "the average daily level of carbon dioxide in the air had reached a concentration above 400 parts per million--a level that hasn't been seen since around 3 to 5 million years ago, well before humans roamed the Earth," reported NASA.

Scientist say that the climate record shows evidence of abrupt climate change, measured in a period of years to decades. In a National Academies report this year, "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises," scientists recommend creation of a global early warning system to alert mankind to changes.

The loss of sea ice, species, changes in climate and other climate change outcomes "present substantial risks to society and nature," this report argued.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter@DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His email address is

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