Tuesday, December 16. 2014
If the brain is a collection of electrical signals, then, if you could catalog all those those signals digitally, you might be able upload your brain into a computer, thus achieving digital immortality.
While the plausibility—and ethics—of this upload for humans can be debated, some people are forging ahead in the field of whole-brain emulation. There are massive efforts to map the connectome—all the connections in the brain—and to understand how we think. Simulating brains could lead us to better robots and artificial intelligence, but the first steps need to be simple.
So, one group of scientists started with the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, a critter whose genes and simple nervous system we know intimately.
The OpenWorm project has mapped the connections between the worm’s 302 neurons and simulated them in software. (The project’s ultimate goal is to completely simulate C. elegans as a virtual organism.) Recently, they put that software program in a simple Lego robot.
The worm’s body parts and neural networks now have LegoBot equivalents: The worm’s nose neurons were replaced by a sonar sensor on the robot. The motor neurons running down both sides of the worm now correspond to motors on the left and right of the robot, explains Lucy Black for I Programmer. She writes:
Timothy Busbice, a founder for the OpenWorm project, posted a video of the Lego-Worm-Bot stopping and backing:
The simulation isn’t exact—the program has some simplifications on the thresholds needed to trigger a "neuron" firing, for example. But the behavior is impressive considering that no instructions were programmed into this robot. All it has is a network of connections mimicking those in the brain of a worm.
Of course, the goal of uploading our brains assumes that we aren’t already living in a computer simulation. Hear out the logic: Technologically advanced civilizations will eventually make simulations that are indistinguishable from reality. If that can happen, odds are it has. And if it has, there are probably billions of simulations making their own simulations. Work out that math, and "the odds are nearly infinity to one that we are all living in a computer simulation," writes Ed Grabianowski for io9.
Is your mind spinning yet?
Thursday, December 11. 2014
Google's moonshot group Google X is working on a pill that, when swallowed, will seek out cancer cells in your body. It'll seek out all sorts of diseases, in fact, pushing the envelope when it comes to finding and destroying diseases at their earliest stages of development. This system would face "a much higher regulatory bar than conventional diagnostic tools," so says Chad A. Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University.
Word comes from the Wall Street Journal where they've got Andrew Conrad, head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab speaking during their WSDJ Live conference. This system is called "The Nano Particle Platform," and it aims to "functionalize Nano Particles, to make them do what we want."
According to Conrad, Google X is working on two separate devices, more than likely. The first is the pill which contains their smart nanoparticles. The second is a wearable device that attracts the particles so that they might be counted.
"Our dream" said Conrad, is that "every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system."
Sound like a good idea to you?
Monday, October 27. 2014
The study defined three age groups: Millennials (ages 18-25), Generation X (ages 26-35), and Baby Boomers (over age 45). (I guess that group between age 36 and 45 just isn’t very interesting). Overall, Acquity Group found that younger consumers are most likely to adopt connected technologies in the long run, but older consumers are more likely to own certain products already.
For example, 53 percent of Millennials plan to buy some sort of in-home IoT technology in the next five years, compared to only 32 percent of Baby Boomers. When it comes to wearable tech, 36 percent of Millennials plan to adopt wearable tech gadgets in the next five years, while only 25 percent of Baby Boomers indicated as such.
When the focus goes from the general wearable tech to wearable fitness tech, however, 59 percent of the Generation X crowd said they'll adopt it within five years, but only 47 percent of Millennials agreed. This seems to reflect the differences in the stages of life. Millennials are still in the immortality phase, while the Generation X group is starting to feel its age and recognize that fitness requires some conscious effort.
Another interesting tidbit from the survey is that 45 percent of Baby Boomers plan to adopt a smart thermostat in the next five years, but only 35 percent of Millennials do. Again, this seems to reflect the differences in maturity and responsibility between the two groups. Baby Boomers are much more likely to have families, and own homes, so they stand to benefit more from IoT technology that can simplify home management.
The upside for wearable tech and IoT manufacturers is that the potential is almost limitless, but the cautionary lesson from the survey is that vendors need to make sure they target the right market in order to maximize the odds of success.
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
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