Wednesday, October 15. 2014
Via NBC News
Two Silicon Valley giants now offer women a game-changing perk: Apple and Facebook will pay for employees to freeze their eggs.
Facebook recently began covering egg freezing, and Apple will start in January, spokespeople for the companies told NBC News. The firms appear to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons.
“Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do,” said Brigitte Adams, an egg-freezing advocate and founder of the patient forum Eggsurance.com. By offering this benefit, companies are investing in women, she said, and supporting them in carving out the lives they want.
When successful, egg freezing allows women to put their fertility on ice, so to speak, until they’re ready to become parents. But the procedure comes at a steep price: Costs typically add up to at least $10,000 for every round, plus $500 or more annually for storage.
With notoriously male-dominated Silicon Valley firms competing to attract top female talent, the coverage may give Apple and Facebook a leg up among the many women who devote key childbearing years to building careers. Covering egg freezing can be viewed as a type of “payback” for women’s commitment, said Philip Chenette, a fertility specialist in San Francisco.
The companies offer egg-freezing coverage under slightly different terms: Apple covers costs under its fertility benefit, and Facebook under its surrogacy benefit, both up to $20,000. Women at Facebook began taking advantage of the coverage this year.
While techniques and success rates are improving, there's no guarantee the procedure will lead to a baby down the road. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine doesn’t keep comprehensive stats on babies born from frozen eggs – in fact, the group cautions against relying on egg freezing to extend fertility – though experts say the earlier a woman freezes her eggs, the greater her chances of success. Doctors often recommend women freeze at least 20 eggs, which can require two costly rounds.
But in the two years since the ASRM lifted the “experimental” label from egg freezing, experts say they’ve seen a surge in women seeking out the procedure. Fertility doctors in New York and San Francisco report that egg-freezing cases have nearly doubled over the past year.
For many women, taking the step to boost their chances of having kids in the future is worth the uncertainty. A majority of patients who froze their eggs reported feeling “empowered” in a 2013 survey published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Women who know they want kids someday “can go on with their lives and know that they've done everything that they can,” said Chenette.
Egg freezing has even been described as a key to “leveling the playing field” between men and women: Without the crushing pressure of a ticking biological clock, women have more freedom in making life choices, say advocates. A Bloomberg Businessweek magazine cover story earlier this year asked: Will freezing your eggs free your career? “Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning,” wrote author Emma Rosenblum.
News of the firms’ egg-freezing coverage comes in the midst of what’s been described as a Silicon Valley “perks arms race.” It’s only the latest in a generous list of family and wellness-oriented health benefits from Apple and Facebook (whose COO, of course, is feminist change agent and “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg). Both companies offer benefits for fertility treatment and adoption. Facebook famously gives new parents $4,000 in so-called “baby cash” to use however they’d like.
Silicon Valley firms are hardly alone in offering generous benefits to attract and keep talent, but they appear to be leading the way with egg freezing. Advocates say they’ve heard murmurs of large law, consulting, and finance firms helping to cover the costs, but no companies are broadcasting this support. “It’s very forward-looking,” said Eggsurance’s Adams.
Companies may be concerned about the public relations implications of the benefit – in the most cynical light, egg-freezing coverage could be viewed as a ploy to entice women to sell their souls to their employer, sacrificing childbearing years for the promise of promotion.
“Would potential female associates welcome this option knowing that they can work hard early on and still reproduce, if they so desire, later on?” asked Glenn Cohen, co-director of Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, in a blog post last year. “Or would they take this as a signal that the firm thinks that working there as an associate and pregnancy are incompatible?”
But the more likely explanation for lack of coverage is simply that egg freezing is still new, and conversation around the procedure has only recently gone mainstream. “I think we've reached a tipping point,” said Adams. “When I used to say ‘egg freezing,’ people would stare at me with their mouths open.” Now? Most people know someone who’s done or considered it.
Many large companies adopt new benefits in response to employee demand – firms have recently started to offer benefits for transgender employees, for example. As women’s awareness of egg freezing grows, more employers may jump on the band wagon.
“The attitude toward egg freezing is very different,” and more positive, than just a few years ago, said Christy Jones, founder of Extend Fertility, a company that offers and promotes egg freezing across the country. Women are making the proactive decision to freeze their eggs at a younger age, and the choice is "more one of empowerment than 'this is my last chance.'"
EggBanxx, the first service to help women finance egg freezing, has recently begun to capitalize on this shift by hosting “egg-freezing parties,” where experts educate guests. “Maybe you haven’t found Mr. Right just yet or perhaps you would like more time to focus on your education or career,” the company website says. “Whatever the reasons, freezing your eggs now will allow you to tackle conception later.”
‘Back to work the next day’
Women generally need about two weeks of flexibility for one cycle of egg freezing. After about ten days of fertility drug injections, patients undergo a relatively short outpatient procedure – and they’re “back to work the next day,” said Lynn Westphal, Associate Professor Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University Medical Center. From there, eggs are frozen and stored until a woman is ready to use them, at which point she’ll begin the process of in vitro fertilization.
Once a woman freezes her eggs, she may never return to use them, fertility doctors report. Some women get pregnant the old-fashioned way, others make different life plans. Westphal compares egg freezing to car insurance: You hope you don’t have to use what you’ve put away, but if you find yourself in a situation where you need to, you’re glad to have the protection.
Will the perk pay off for companies? The benefit will likely encourage women to stay with their employer longer, cutting down on recruiting and hiring costs. And practically speaking, when women freeze their eggs early, firms may save on pregnancy costs in the long run, said Westphal. A woman could avoid paying to use a donor egg down the road, for example, or undergoing more intensive fertility treatments when she’s ready to have a baby.
But the emotional and cultural payoff may be more valuable, said Jones: Offering this benefit “can help women be more productive human beings.”
Friday, October 10. 2014
Gartner sees things like robots and drones replacing a third of all workers by 2025, and whether you want to believe it or not, is entirely your business.
This is Gartner being provocative, as it typically is, at the start of its major U.S. conference, the Symposium/ITxpo.
Take drones, for instance.
"One day, a drone may be your eyes and ears," said Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's research director. In five years, drones will be a standard part of operations in many industries, used in agriculture, geographical surveys and oil and gas pipeline inspections.
"Drones are just one of many kinds of emerging technologies that extend well beyond the traditional information technology world -- these are smart machines," said Sondergaard.
Smart machines are an emerging "super class" of technologies that perform a wide variety of work, both the physical and the intellectual kind, said Sondergaard. Machines, for instance, have been grading multiple choice for years, but now they are grading essays and unstructured text.
This cognitive capability in software will extend to other areas, including financial analysis, medical diagnostics and data analytic jobs of all sorts, says Gartner.
"Knowledge work will be automated," said Sondergaard, as will physical jobs with the arrival of smart robots.
"Gartner predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025," said Sondergaard. "New digital businesses require less labor; machines will be make sense of data faster than humans can."
Among those listening in this audience was Lawrence Strohmaier, the CIO of Nuverra Environmental Solutions, who said Gartner's prediction is similar to what happened in other eras of technological advance.
"The shift is from doing to implementing, so the doers go away but someone still has to implement," said Strohmaier. IT is a shift, although a slow one, to new types of jobs, no different than what happened in the machine age, he said.
The forecast of the impact of technology on jobs was also a warning to the CIOs and IT managers at this conference to consider how they will adapt.
"The door is open for the CIO and the IT organization to be a major player in digital leadership," said David Aron, a Gartner analyst.
CIOs have been steadily gaining authority, and 41% of CIOs now report to the CEO, a record level, said Aron. That's based on data from 2,810 CIOs globally.
To be effective leaders, Gartner argues that CIOs have shifted from being focused on measuring things like cost to being able to lead with vision and describe what their business or government agency must do to take advantage of smarter technologies.
Wednesday, September 10. 2014
Project «SurPRISE – Surveillance, Privacy and Security: A large scale participatory assessment of criteria and factors determining acceptability and acceptance of security technologies in Europe»
About the Project
SurPRISE re-examines the relationship between security and privacy, which is commonly positioned as a ‘trade-off’. Where security measures and technologies involve the collection of information about citizens, questions arise as to whether and to what extent their privacy has been infringed. This infringement of individual privacy is sometimes seen as an acceptable cost of enhanced security. Similarly, it is assumed that citizens are willing to trade off their privacy for enhanced personal security in different settings. This common understanding of the security-privacy relationship, both at state and citizen level, has informed policymakers, legislative developments and best practice guidelines concerning security developments across the EU.
However, an emergent body of work questions the validity of the security-privacy trade-off. This work suggests that it has over-simplified how the impact of security measures on citizens is considered in current security policies and practices. Thus, the more complex issues underlying privacy concerns and public skepticism towards surveillance-oriented security technologies may not be apparent to legal and technological experts. In response to these developments, this project will consult with citizens from several EU member and associated states on the question of the security-privacy trade-off as they evaluate different security technologies and measures.
Friday, September 05. 2014
The Internet of Things is still too hard. Even some of its biggest backers say so.
For all the long-term optimism at the M2M Evolution conference this week in Las Vegas, many vendors and analysts are starkly realistic about how far the vaunted set of technologies for connected objects still has to go. IoT is already saving money for some enterprises and boosting revenue for others, but it hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. That’s partly because it’s too complicated to deploy, some say.
For now, implementations, market growth and standards are mostly concentrated in specific sectors, according to several participants at the conference who would love to see IoT span the world.
Cisco Systems has estimated IoT will generate $14.4 trillion in economic value between last year and 2022. But Kevin Shatzkamer, a distinguished systems architect at Cisco, called IoT a misnomer, for now.
“I think we’re pretty far from envisioning this as an Internet,” Shatzkamer said. “Today, what we have is lots of sets of intranets.” Within enterprises, it’s mostly individual business units deploying IoT, in a pattern that echoes the adoption of cloud computing, he said.
In the past, most of the networked machines in factories, energy grids and other settings have been linked using custom-built, often local networks based on proprietary technologies. IoT links those connected machines to the Internet and lets organizations combine those data streams with others. It’s also expected to foster an industry that’s more like the Internet, with horizontal layers of technology and multivendor ecosystems of products.
What’s holding back the Internet of Things
The good news is that cities, utilities, and companies are getting more familiar with IoT and looking to use it. The less good news is that they’re talking about limited IoT rollouts for specific purposes.
“You can’t sell a platform, because a platform doesn’t solve a problem. A vertical solution solves a problem,” Shatzkamer said. “We’re stuck at this impasse of working toward the horizontal while building the vertical.”
“We’re no longer able to just go in and sort of bluff our way through a technology discussion of what’s possible,” said Rick Lisa, Intel’s group sales director for Global M2M. “They want to know what you can do for me today that solves a problem.”
One of the most cited examples of IoT’s potential is the so-called connected city, where myriad sensors and cameras will track the movement of people and resources and generate data to make everything run more efficiently and openly. But now, the key is to get one municipal project up and running to prove it can be done, Lisa said.
The conference drew stories of many successful projects: A system for tracking construction gear has caught numerous workers on camera walking off with equipment and led to prosecutions. Sensors in taxis detect unsafe driving maneuvers and alert the driver with a tone and a seat vibration, then report it to the taxi company. Major League Baseball is collecting gigabytes of data about every moment in a game, providing more information for fans and teams.
But for the mass market of small and medium-size enterprises that don’t have the resources to do a lot of custom development, even targeted IoT rollouts are too daunting, said analyst James Brehm, founder of James Brehm & Associates.
There are software platforms that pave over some of the complexity of making various devices and applications talk to each other, such as the Omega DevCloud, which RacoWireless introduced on Tuesday. The DevCloud lets developers write applications in the language they know and make those apps work on almost any type of device in the field, RacoWireless said. Thingworx, Xively and Gemalto also offer software platforms that do some of the work for users. But the various platforms on offer from IoT specialist companies are still too fragmented for most customers, Brehm said. There are too many types of platforms—for device activation, device management, application development, and more. “The solutions are too complex.”
He thinks that’s holding back the industry’s growth. Though the past few years have seen rapid adoption in certain industries in certain countries, sometimes promoted by governments—energy in the U.K., transportation in Brazil, security cameras in China—the IoT industry as a whole is only growing by about 35 percent per year, Brehm estimates. That’s a healthy pace, but not the steep “hockey stick” growth that has made other Internet-driven technologies ubiquitous, he said.
What lies ahead
Brehm thinks IoT is in a period where customers are waiting for more complete toolkits to implement it—essentially off-the-shelf products—and the industry hasn’t consolidated enough to deliver them. More companies have to merge, and it’s not clear when that will happen, he said.
“I thought we’d be out of it by now,” Brehm said. What’s hard about consolidation is partly what’s hard about adoption, in that IoT is a complex set of technologies, he said.
And don’t count on industry standards to simplify everything. IoT’s scope is so broad that there’s no way one standard could define any part of it, analysts said. The industry is evolving too quickly for traditional standards processes, which are often mired in industry politics, to keep up, according to Andy Castonguay, an analyst at IoT research firm Machina.
Instead, individual industries will set their own standards while software platforms such as Omega DevCloud help to solve the broader fragmentation, Castonguay believes. Even the Industrial Internet Consortium, formed earlier this year to bring some coherence to IoT for conservative industries such as energy and aviation, plans to work with existing standards from specific industries rather than write its own.
Ryan Martin, an analyst at 451 Research, compared IoT standards to human languages.
“I’d be hard pressed to say we are going to have one universal language that everyone in the world can speak,” and even if there were one, most people would also speak a more local language, Martin said.
Thursday, June 26. 2014
NASA officially granted permission to a group of scientists and enthusiasts who want to do what NASA can't afford: Make contact with a 36-year-old satellite called ISEE-3 that's still capable of taking directions for a new mission. It's the first agreement of its kind—and it could hint at where the space industry is going.
So, a little back story. As our sister site io9 explained last month, ISEE-3 was launched back in 1978 to study the relationship between the Sun and Earth. It enjoyed many more missions over the next three decades, but NASA officially cut the cord in 1997. Still, ISEE-3 kept on trucking.
It wasn't until a decade later that NASA discovered she was still at it, despite the lack of commands from her benefactors at NASA. Why not send her on a new mission? Well, that's the trouble: We have no way of communicating. The antenna used to contact ISEE-3 had been removed.
Enter the group of scientists including SkyCorp, SpaceRef, Space College Foundation, and others. They want to use a different antenna, at Morehead State University, to contact ISEE-3. "Our plan is simple: we intend to contact the ISEE-3 spacecraft, command it to fire its engines and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission," said Keith Cowing, a former Nasa engineer and owner of Nasa Watch, told the Guardian.
The ISEE-3, (later ICE), undergoing testing and evaluation.
Sounds good, right? Well, it's not so simple. The group, which calls itself ISEE-3 Reboot, needs to essentially rebuild the entire software used to communicate with ISEE-3 back in the 70s. That means digging through archives to find the original commands, then recreating them. With zero funding available from NASA and only a month or two until the little satellite makes a close pass in mid-June. The technical challenges are huge:
But, the creators of the project explained in their pitch letter on Rockethub, "if we are successful it may also still be able to chase yet another comet."
If there was any doubt about whether modern Americans were still enamored with space, the results of their crowdfunding campaign squash it. The group blew through their $100,000 goal, and are currently getting close to a $150,000 stretch goal. There are only two days left to donate—and you should—but the fact that they've raised so much money in so short a time is remarkable.
The ISEE-3 Reboot mission patch.
NASA announced it has signed an agreement with the group called a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA), which is a contract it signs with its external partners to describe a collaboration. It gives the group the green light to go ahead and make its attempt at taking control of ISEE-3—it essence, it gives Skycorp the right to take over the operation of a satellite that NASA built almost 40 years ago.
Here's what astronaut John Grunsfeld had to say about the agreement:
It's an incredible development—and it tells us something about where space travel and research is going. NASA and other state-funded research entities are being strangled by downsized budgets, but the push into space amongst independent scientists, engineers, and citizens is booming. As Elon Musk sues to let commercial space companies compete for government contracts, students and scientists are launching their own satellites.
Over the next few decades, plenty of other NASA-built spacecraft will begin to age—just like ISEE-3. And unless something drastic changes about NASA's budget, it may not have the cash to keep them up. Imagine a future in which craft built by NASA in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, are inherited by independent groups of scientists and space companies who take over operations, just like Skycorp is. The privatization of space might not be so far away—and NASA might play a heavy role in its creation.
Wednesday, June 25. 2014
Early rumors may have hinted that Apple had a fully integrated smart home up its sleeve. But after today's WWDC, we know that's not the case. And it's unclear what developers are going to do with Apple's HomeKit, a piecemeal tease that implies you'll soon be able to control your smart toaster with your iPhone. But in the meantime, we have this Microsoft concept video from circa 1999, showing the amazing interconnected smart home of tomorrow.
The video shows things like the ability to scan a carton of eggs to automatically add them to a shopping list. Even throwing away an item allows your smart trash can to remind your home computer system that you may need to order that item soon. Many of these technologies actually have come to pass, in one way or another, like Amazon's trial of their Dash magic wand.
But again, it's a far cry from the fully integrated smart home INTERNET OF THINGS OMG THIS IS THE FUTURE OF THE HOUSE we've been promised for so very long.
Image: Screenshot from the circa 1999 concept video by Microsoft
Monday, June 23. 2014
Wednesday, June 18. 2014
Via The Verge
Next week at the World Cup, a paralyzed volunteer from the Association for Assistance to Disabled Children will walk onto the field and open the tournament with a ceremonial kick. This modern miracle is made possible by a robotic exoskeleton that will move the user's limbs, taking commands directly from his or her thoughts.
This demonstration is the debut of the Walk Again Project, a consortium of more than 150 scientists and engineers from around the globe who have come together to show off recent advances in the field of brain machine interfaces, or BMI. The paralyzed person inside will be wearing an electroencephalographic (EEG) headset that records brainwave activity. A backpack computer will translate those electrical signals into commands the exoskeleton can understand. As the robotic frame moves, it also sends its own signals back to the body, restoring not just the ability to walk, but the sensation as well.
Just how well the wearer will walk and kick are uncertain. The project has been criticized by other neuroscientists as an exploitative spectacle that uses the disabled to promote research which may not be the best path for restoring health to paralyzed patients. And just weeks before the project is set to debut on television to hundreds of millions of fans, it still hasn’t been tested outdoors and awaits some final pieces and construction. It's not even clear which of the eight people from the study will be the one inside the suit.
The point of the project is not to show finished research, however, or sell a particular technology. The Walk Again Project is meant primarily to inspire. It's a demonstration that we’re on the threshold of achieving science fiction: technologies that will allow humans to truly step into the cyborg era.
It’s only taken a little over two centuries to get there.
Scientists have been studying the way electricity interacts with our biology since 1780, when Luigi Galvani made the legs of a dead frog dance by zapping them with a spark, but the modern history behind the technology that allows our brains to talk directly to machines goes back to the 1950s and John Lilly. He implanted several hundred electrodes into different parts of a monkey’s brain and used these implants to apply shocks, causing different body parts to move. A decade later in 1963, professor Jose Delgado of Yale tested this theory again like a true Spaniard, stepping into the ring to face a charging bull, which he stopped in its tracks with a zap to the brain.
In 1969, professor Eberhard Fetz was able to isolate and record the
firing of a single neuron onto a microelectrode he had implanted into
the brain of a monkey. Fetz learned that primates could actually tune
their brain activity to better interact with the implanted machine. He
rewarded them with banana pellets every time they triggered the
microelectrode, and the primates quickly improved in their ability to
activate this specific section of their brain. This was a critical
observation, demonstrating brain’s unique plasticity, its ability to
create fresh pathways to fit a new language.
Today, BMI research has advanced to not only record the neurons firing in primates’ brains, but to understand what actions the firing of those neurons represent. "I spend my life chasing the storms that emanate from the hundreds of billions of cells that inhabit our brains," explained Miguel Nicolelis, PhD, one of the founders of Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University and the driving force behind the Walk Again Project. "What we want to do is listen to these brain symphonies and try to extract them from the messages they carry."
Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke were able to record brain activity and match it to actions. From there they could translate that brain activity into instructions a computer could understand. Beginning in the year 2000, Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke made a series of breakthroughs. In the most well known, they implanted a monkey with an array of microelectrodes that could record the firing of clusters of neurons in different parts of the brain. The monkey stood on a treadmill and began to walk. On the other side of the planet, a robot in Japan received the signal emanating from the primate’s brain and began to walk.
Primates in the Duke lab learned to control robotic arms using only their thoughts. And like in the early experiments done by Fetz, the primates showed a striking ability to improve the control of these new limbs. "The brain is a remarkable instrument," says professor Craig Henriquez, who helped to found the Duke lab. "It has the ability to rewire itself, to create new connections. That’s what gives the BMI paradigm its power. You are not limited just by what you can physically engineer, because the brain evolves to better suit the interface."
After his success with primates, Nicolelis was eager to apply the advances in BMI to people. But there were some big challenges in the transition from lab animals to human patients, namely that many people weren’t willing to undergo invasive brain surgery for the purposes of clinical research. "There is an open question of whether you need to have implants to get really fine grained control," says Henriquez. The Walk Again Project hopes to answer that question, at least partially. While it is based on research in animals that required surgery, it will be using only external EEG headsets to gather brain activity.
The fact that these patients were paralyzed presented another challenge. Unlike the lab monkeys, who could move their own arms and observe how the robot arm moved in response, these participants can’t move their legs, or for many, really remember the subconscious thought process that takes place when you want to travel by putting one foot in front of the other. The first step was building up the pathways in the brain that would send mental commands to the BMI to restore locomotion.
To train the patients in this new way of thinking about movement, researchers turned to virtual reality. Each subject was given an EEG headset and an Oculus Rift. Inside the head-mounted display, the subjects saw a virtual avatar of themselves from the waist down. When they thought about walking, the avatar legs walked, and this helped the brain to build new connections geared towards controlling the exoskeleton. "We also simulate the stadium, and the roar of the crowd," says Regis Kopper, who runs Duke’s VR lab. "To help them prepare for the stress of the big day."
Once the VR training had established a baseline for sending commands to the legs, there was a second hurdle. Much of walking happens at the level of reflex, and without the peripheral nervous system that helps people balance, coordinate, and adjust to the terrain, walking can be a very challenging task. That’s why even the most advanced robots have trouble navigating stairs or narrow hallways that would seem simple to humans. If the patients were going to successfully walk or kick a ball, it wasn’t enough that they be able to move the exoskeleton’s legs — they had to feel them as well.
The breakthrough was a special shirt with vibrating pads on its forearm. As the robot walked, the contact of its heel and toe on the ground made corresponding sensations occur along parts of the right and left arms. "The brain essentially remapped one part of the body onto another," says Henriquez. "This restored what we call proprioception, the spacial awareness humans need for walking."
In recent weeks all eight of the test subjects have successfully walked using the exoskeleton, with one completing an astonishing 132 steps. The plan is to have the volunteer who works best with the exoskeleton perform the opening kick. But the success of the very public demonstration is still up in the air. The suit hasn’t been completely finished and it has yet to be tested in an outdoor environment. The group won't confirm who exactly will be wearing the suit. Nicolelis, for his part, isn’t worried. Asked when he thought the entire apparatus would be ready, he replied: "Thirty minutes before."
The Walk Again project may be the most high-profile example of BMI, but there have been a string of breakthrough applications in recent years. A patient at the University of Pittsburgh achieved unprecedented levels of fine motor control with a robotic arm controlled by brain activity. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago introduced the world’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg. For now the use of advanced BMI technologies is largely confined to academic and medical research, but some projects, like DARPA’s Deka arm, have received FDA approval and are beginning to move into the real world. As it improves in capability and comes down in cost, BMI may open the door to a world of human enhancement that would see people merging with machines, not to restore lost capabilities, but to augment their own abilities with cyborg power-ups.
"From the standpoint of defense, we have a lot of good reasons to do it," says Alan Rudolph, a former DARPA scientist and Walk Again Project member. Rudolph, for example, worked on the Big Dog, and says BMI may allow human pilots to control mechanical units with their minds, giving them the ability to navigate uncertain or dynamic terrain in a way that has so far been impossible while keeping soldiers out of harms way. Our thoughts might control a robot on the surface of Mars or a microsurgical bot navigating the inside of the human body.
There is a subculture of DIY biohackers and grinders who are eager to begin adopting cyborg technology and who are willing, at least in theory, to amputate functional limbs if it’s possible to replace them with stronger, more functional, mechanical ones. "I know what the limits of the human body are like," says Tim Sarver, a member of the Pittsburgh biohacker collective Grindhouse Wetwares. "Once you’ve seen the capabilities of a 5000psi hydraulic system, it’s no comparison."
For now, this sci-fi vision all starts with a single kick on the World Cup pitch, but our inevitable cyborg future is indeed coming. A recent demonstration at the University of Washington enabled one person’s thoughts to control the movements of another person’s body — a brain-to-brain interface — and it holds the key to BMI’s most promising potential application. "In this futuristic scenario, voluntary electrical brain waves, the biological alphabet that underlies human thinking, will maneuver large and small robots, control airships from afar," wrote Nicolelis. "And perhaps even allow for the sharing of thoughts and sensations with one individual to another."
Now, the kick-off video:
Saturday, June 14. 2014
The revisions more explicitly spell out the manner in which Google software scans users' emails, both when messages are stored on Google's servers and when they are in transit, a controversial practice that has been at the heart of litigation.
Last month, a U.S. judge decided not to combine several lawsuits that accused Google of violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of email users into a single class action.
Users of Google's Gmail email service have accused the company of violating federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws by scanning their messages so it could compile secret profiles and target advertising. Google has argued that users implicitly consented to its activity, recognizing it as part of the email delivery process.
Google's updated terms of service added a paragraph stating that "our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
Friday, June 13. 2014
There is no point in kidding ourselves, now, about Who Has the Power.
The Internet wasn’t supposed to be so…Machiavellian.
In 1963, Stewart Brand and his wife set out on a landmark road trip, the goal of which was to educate and enliven the people they encountered with tools for modern living. The word “tools” was taken liberally. Brand wrote that “a realm of intimate, personal power is developing.” Any tool that created or channeled such power was useful. Tools meant books, maps, professional journals, courses, classes, and more.
In 1968, Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog (WEC), an underground magazine of sorts that would scale in a way no road-weary Dodge ever could. The first issue was 64 pages and cost $5. It opened with the phrase: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”
A year after WEC’s start, on October 29, 1969, the first packet of data was sent from UCLA to SRI International. It was called ARPAnet at the time, but with it the Internet was born. Brand and others would come to see the Internet as the essential, defining “tool” of their generation. Until its final issue in 1994, the WEC’s 32 editions provide as good a chronicle of the emergence of cyberculture (as it was then called) as you can find.
Cyberculture. It’s a curious and complicated term in today’s society, isn’t it? Cyberculture is at once completely outdated and awfully relevant.
As Fred Turner has argued, Brand is a key figure in the weaving together of two major cultural fabrics that have since split — counterculture and cyberculture. Brand is also immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. And Brand famously assisted researcher Doug Engelbart with the “Mother of all Demos,” the outline of a vision for technology prosthetics that improve human life; it would define computing for decades to come.
Brand attended Phillips Exeter Academy — an elite East Coast high school, and an institution of traditional power if there ever was one. He was a parachutist in the U.S. Army. He graduated with a degree in biology from Stanford, studied design at San Francisco Art Institute and photography at San Francisco State. He also participated in legal studies of LSD and its effects with Timothy Leary.
That’s hardly the typical resume of a technologist or an entrepreneur or an investor. But it should be. The business of making culture has been for too long now controlled by people who live outside it.
It is my opinion that the Internet of today can and must be countercultural again, that cyberculture should — needs to be — countercultural.
That word, countercultural, carries with it the connotation of liberal idealism and societal marginalia. Yet, the new countercultures we’re seeing online today are profoundly mainstream, and drawn along wholly different political lines. The Internet is its own party. The Internet has its own set of beliefs. Springs have sprung the world over and this isn’t simply a nerd thing anymore. We all care passionately about Internet life and Internet liberty and the continual pursuit of happiness both online and off.
Yet if the Internet is a measure of our culture, our zeitgeist, then what does it tell us about the spirit of this age? Our zeitgeist certainly isn’t what’s trending; it’s not another quiz of which TV character you are; it’s not another listicle. I changed the global power structure and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. And Facebook. And Twitter.
What is this generation’s Rolling Stone? What is our Whole Earth Catalog? It’s an important question because if the Internet is defining our culture, and our use of it defines our society, then we have a responsibility to ensure and propel its transformative impact, to understand the ways cyberculture can and should be the counterculture driving change rather than just distracting us from it.
The Daily Dot, a publication I co-founded, documents today’s cyberculture through the lens of online communities — virtual locales in which we arguably “reside” more deliberately than any geography. You should also be reading Edge, N+1, and Dangerous Minds. Even Vanity Fair has turned its eye to this theme, successfully I think, with articles like this. Rolling Stone is doing a pretty good job of being Rolling Stone these days, too.
I’m terminally optimistic, and I believe that counter-cyber-culture is inherently optimistic, as well. Even despite the U.S. government’s overreaching on privacy and “protecting” us from data about our own bodies, despite Silicon Valley’s mad rush to cash in on apps rather than substantial technology, despite most online media’s drastic descent to the lowest common denominator and even lower standards of journalism, I remain…optimistic.
We have found a courage in our growing numbers online. People old and young can be be bold and defining on the Internet, underwritten by the emotional support of peers everywhere. We’re voting for what we want the world to be, and how we want it to be. Why do you think Kickstarter works so well? We fund things that without our help are unlikely to exist, but ought to nonetheless. Our “likes” and “shares” are ultimately becoming votes for the kind of future we want to live in, and I’m optimistic that we will ultimately wield that responsibility with meaning and thoughtfully.
Tumblr. 4chan. Etsy. YouTube. We have emigrated to these outlying territories seeking religious freedoms, cultural freedoms, and personal freedoms alike. We colonized, and are still colonizing, new environs each day and every week. We claim and reclaim the Internet like so many tribal boundaries.
We’re winning more often than not, thank goodness. Aaron Swartz heroically beat SOPA and PIPA against all odds. Yahoo won against PRISM. The Internet won against cancer…with pizza. My godmother knows what Tor is.
The virtual reality community rebelled when princely Oculus sold to Facebook, for the reason that VR is a new superpower and a new countercultural medium that we’re afraid might have fallen into the wrong hands (I don’t believe that’s actually the case, but that’s grounds for another post altogether).
So, yes. A countercultural moment all our own stares us in the face. Like Brand, I hope we can manage to be politically aware and socially responsible in a way that technology begs us to be, without giving ground to the idea that the Internet is anything but ours.
Civil disobedience is a different game when the means of production and dissemination have been fully democratized. We seek differentiated high ground from which to defend our values. We build new back channels to communicate unencumbered. Instead of making catalogues, we make new categories. We wield technology, perhaps unaware on whose shoulders we stand, but at the same time free from the anxiety of influence.
We aspire to be more pure in that sense. We want and we give and we need and we will have…pure Internet.
Editor’s note: Josh Jones-Dilworth is a co-founder of the Daily Dot; founder and CEO of Jones-Dilworth, Inc., an early-stage technology marketing consultancy; and co-founder of Totem, a startup changing PR for the better. Follow his blog here.
(Page 1 of 17, totaling 167 entries) » next page
Show tagged entries