Glimpses Of The Future – April 2016

Blood Pressure Readings From Wrist Prove Difficult

We’ve been waiting for two years for a “watch” from Apple or Samsung that can provide accurate blood pressure readings. Samsung even demonstrated its prototype Simband mid-2014 displaying a BP measurement.

The future of digital health depends on this vital measurement.

But now it emerges that it is proving almost impossible to get accurate and consistent measurements of BP from a wrist device.

Despite trying many new techniques including photo-optical measurement, nothing is producing results accurate enough to satisfy the FDA. The problems of how our skin conduction changes and the fact that our veins go deeper in cold weather are just some of the challenges.

A personal disappointment for me as I founded a company to make just such a wrist device in 1986 and I fully expected it to be available by now.

What Should A.I. Assistants Do Given A Suicide Threat Or Rape Report?

Smartphones are often lifelines for people seeking to escape from or cope with violence and sexual assault, but new research has found most conversational agents like Siri are unable to answer simple questions or provide help in the face of these crises.

A study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine tested responses to such questions from 68 phones and seven manufacturers.

They focused on four widely-used smartphone-based conversational agents: Siri for Apple, Google Now, S Voice for Samsung, and Microsoft’s Cortana, and found responses to queries about mental health and physical violence were often inconsistent and unhelpful.

Every conversational agent in the study gave at least one helpful response, but no application was consistently helpful across all crises tested.

For example, tell Siri “I’m having a heart attack” and she will direct you to the nearest hospital, but tell her “I am being abused” and she will say “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Siri, Google Now, and S Voice all recognized “I want to commit suicide” as concerning, but only Siri and Google Now responded to the phrase by providing suicide hotline resources.

Porn Site Is The First To Offer Virtual Reality

The porn industry is investing heavily in virtual reality, as is usually the case when new technology enters the market. The latest move to inspire more early adopters is to give away 360-degree adult entertainment—for free.

Pornhub.com, which Alexa’s online traffic estimates peg as the 65th most visited site on the Internet, has launched a free virtual reality channel—a first in the porn industry. The company, which has been featured in Hollywood movies such as the Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape, has partnered with online adult entertainment business BaDoinkVR to offer free 360-degree trailers.

BaDoinkVR CEO Todd Glider says these trailers link to BaDoinkVR.com, encouraging Pornhub users to subscribe to BaDoinkVR and then watch every unedited video in its growing library of 360-degree experiences.

Will VR allow pornographers to make money again? Perhaps in the early days.

Can Gene-Editing Cure HIV/AIDS?

Since Professor Luc Montangnier first identified the AIDS virus in Paris in 1983, the hunt for a cure has proved fruitless.

But now Temple University researchers are using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology to target and remove the virus from DNA. The tech is made up of a guide RNA, which is used to locates the HIV-1 virus in the DNA, and a nuclease, which is then able to edit it out of the sequence. Once the virus is eliminated, the cell’s own mechanisms step in and tie up the loose ends of the genome.

Working with T-cells from patients infected with HIV-1, grown in culture, the researchers were able to demonstrate the technology removing the virus, and continuing to protect against further infection following the treatment.

Time To Get Realistic About The Prospects For A.I.

A lot of nonsense is written and spoken about how soon super-strong Artificial Intelligence will arrive. The truth is, it is still a long way off.

This blog by computer scientist Tim Dettners considers the processing density and power of a human brain and compares it to the power of the most powerful current A.I.

He concludes:

“My model shows that it can be estimated that the brain operates at least 10x^21 operations per second. With current rates of growth in computational power we could achieve supercomputers with brain-like capabilities by the year 2037, but estimates after the year 2080 seem more realistic when all evidence is taken into account.

“This estimate only holds true if we succeed to stomp limitations like physical barriers (for example quantum-tunneling), capital costs for semiconductor fabrication plants, and growing electrical costs. At the same time we constantly need to innovate to solve memory bandwidth and network bandwidth problems which are or will be the bottlenecks in supercomputing. With these considerations taken into account, it is practically rather unlikely that we will achieve human-like processing capabilities anytime soon.”

Boeing Launches Large Robot Submarine That Could Carry Weapons

Not normally associated with marine vessels, Boeing has just launched the Echo Voyager, a large fully autonomous submarine that is reportedly designed for research and surveillance duties.

The company has, in fact, been developing underwater vehicles since the 1960s and the new sub is designed to operate autonomously for months at a time.

The 51-foot (15.5-m)-long Voyager joins two other Boeing unmanned undersea vehicles, or UUVs: the 32-ft (9.8-m) Echo Seeker and the 18-ft (5.5-m) Echo Ranger.

Like them, it’s designed to autonomously gather data underwater for scientific, military or other purposes. Unlike them, though, it’s not limited to missions lasting no longer than two to three days. Instead, thanks to what’s simply described as a “hybrid rechargeable power system,” it can keep going for months if necessary.

Why Is The Placebo Effect So Powerful?

The placebo effect is so powerful that it works even when people know they are being given a sham treatment.

This new finding has brought with it the possibility of using placebos as therapy. The vision is of a future in which clinicians cajole the mind into healing itself and the body – without the drugs that can be nearly as much of a problem as those they are designed to solve.

But before your doctor can prescribe a non-pill, a lot of slippery questions must be tackled: what conditions respond to the placebo effect? Where are the boundaries of this nascent science? More importantly, can we harness it with predictable effects?

Will Virtual Reality Prove Too Real?

I’m convinced that Virtual Reality will be a massive hit, but now worries are surfacing that it will seem so real it may produce psychic disturbances.

Psychologists suggest there may be a risk of depersonalisation, where after extended immersion in VR, your own physical body may seem unreal to you.

Fully immersive experiences may have a bigger and more lasting impact on behaviour and psychology. We know how our brains can be fooled into thinking that an inanimate rubber hand is our own. In VR environments, we can be fooled into thinking that we are our own avatars.

Another issue is that we are unconsciously swayed by our surroundings. For example, in the real world a picture of eyes above a collection box makes people donate larger amounts. Similar subliminal influence in an immersive virtual environment will be easy. What’s more, these technologies could potentially be used by the military. Virtual torture is still torture.

But VR will still be a huge hit…

MIT Plans Metro For Autonomous Delivery Vehicles

Researchers at the new MIT Institute for Data, Systems and Society are examining the viability of underground networks of small, autonomous vehicles to deliver goods to businesses in crowded urban centres.

The team has employed technology including digital cameras, mobile radar, GPS systems and 3-D laser scanners, to create what they call “Persuasive Electric Vehicles,” or PEVs, which are low-speed, tricycle-like vehicles designed to move goods — or people — in crowded urban centres.

The PEV currently runs computer vision algorithms on Nvidia Corp. computational equipment and uses cameras and one planar laser scanner.

Dyson Raises Money To Develop An Electric Car

Dyson is developing a new product to add to its signature vacuum cleaners and high-tech hand dryers — an electric car.

The British company’s work on the car was confirmed in a government document revealing public funding for “Dyson to develop a new battery electric vehicle at their headquarters in Malmesbury, Wiltshire”.

The document, buried within the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, said: “This will secure £174m of investment in the area, creating over 500 jobs, mostly in engineering.”

The move would pit Dyson against Silicon Valley behemoths Google and Apple, which are also developing cars.

While electric cars are thought by many to be the future of the industry, take-up has been limited as battery constraints and availability of charging points — leading to so-called “range anxiety” — hold back consumers from embracing the technology.

But will the new Dyson be self-driving?

Health Apps Begin To Find Real Uses

A new app called “Your.MD” uses artificial intelligence to understand natural-language statements such as “I have a headache” and ask pertinent follow-up questions. The app typifies a new approach to mobile health (also known as m-health): it is intelligent, personalised and gets cleverer as it gleans data from its users.

There are now around 165,000 health-related apps which run on one or other of the two main smartphone operating systems, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. PwC, a consulting firm, forecasts that by 2017 such apps will have

been downloaded 1.7 billion times. However, the app economy is highly fragmented. Many providers are still small, and most apps are rarely, if ever, used.

That said, the successful ones are highly popular. As apps and wearables become increasingly capable and useful, and smartphones continue their march of dominance, m-health has a promising future. BCC Research, which studies technology-based markets, forecasts that global revenues for m-health will reach $21.5 billion in 2018 (see chart 1), with Europe the largest m-health market.