And another thing...

SMELL TEST. Every technological innovation has at least two sides: the good and the bad. The advent of cellular phones was a great thing for people in emergencies, for instance, but it also gave you the person in the next seat on the train whose conversation is surpassed in inanity only by its volume.

With the Internet, the bad side of its many worthy innovations usually is security. Make a purchase online, risk the theft of your identity. Click on a harmless-looking link, and your hard drive might now belong to someone else. Go to one of the popular social networking sites such as MySpace, and you're a phishing target.

The benefits in those examples outdistance the drawbacks, making it fairly easy to take the good with the bad. But is that always the case?

Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology are working on a device that uses sensors to record any smell in digital format, and then recreate it by mixing its store of 96 chemicals.

Such a device could have commercial applications for florists and perfume makers, for instance, and likely could come in handy at security checkpoints'if it can detect drugs or chemicals likely to be used in explosives. It also dovetails with another Japanese effort to add scene-specific smells to theaters during movies (which also could be good or bad, depending on the movie).

But it doesn't take long to think of potential downsides. What if the machine can recreate fragrances well enough to steal the secret recipes in popular perfumes? (OK, we don't care either.) And what about really bad smells? The number of potential pranks is unlimited.

Because the odors are digitally recorded, you could send them to friends, or enemies, via e-mail or text message. Of course, the recipient would need the machine to reproduce the odor, which at the moment is unlikely'it's 3 feet by 2 feet and isn't commercially available. But sooner or later, just about everything becomes a commodity. So don't hold your breath, but be ready, eventually, to hold your nose.

Send us a whiff of something new at [email protected].


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