Sep 29, 2014

Computer >> Brain-computer Interfaces

The ability to control a computer using only the power of the mind is closer than one might think. Brain-computer interfaces, where computers can read and interpret signals directly from the brain, have already achieved clinical success in allowing quadriplegics, those suffering “locked-in syndrome” or people who have had a stroke to move their own wheelchairs or even drink coffee from a cup by controlling the action of a robotic arm with their brain waves. In addition, direct brain implants have helped restore partial vision to people who have lost their sight.

Recent research has focused on the possibility of using brain-computer interfaces to connect different brains together directly. Researchers at Duke University last year reported successfully connecting the brains of two mice over the Internet (into what was termed a “brain net”) where mice in different countries were able to cooperate to perform simple tasks to generate a reward. Also in 2013, scientists at Harvard University reported that they were able to establish a functional link between the brains of a rat and a human with a non-invasive, computer-to-brain interface.

Other research projects have focused on manipulating or directly implanting memories from a computer into the brain. In mid-2013, MIT researchers reported having successfully implanted a false memory into the brain of a mouse. In humans, the ability to directly manipulate memories might have an application in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, while in the longer term, information may be uploaded into human brains in the manner of a computer file. Of course, numerous ethical issues are also clearly raised by this rapidly advancing field.

This list was compiled by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies. Noubar Afeyan, Managing Partner, Flagship Ventures is the Council’s Chair, as well as a Mentor for the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2014. Mark Lynas, Freelance Writer on Science, Technology and Climate Change, and Sir David King, Special Representative for Climate Change, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, are its Vice-chairs. For a full list of the Council’s members, see here.

Sep 28, 2014

Predictive Analytics

The quantified-self movement has existed for many years as a collaboration of people collecting continual data on their everyday activities in order to make better choices about their health and behaviour. But, with today’s Internet of Things, the movement has begun to come into its own and have a wider impact.

Smartphones contain a rich record of people’s activities, including who they know (contact lists, social networking apps), who they talk to (call logs, text logs, e-mails), where they go (GPS, Wi-Fi, and geotagged photos) and what they do (apps we use, accelerometer data). Using this data, and specialized machine-learning algorithms, detailed and predictive models about people and their behaviours can be built to help with urban planning, personalized medicine, sustainability and medical diagnosis.

For example, a team at Carnegie Mellon University has been looking at how to use smartphone data to predict the onset of depression by modelling changes in sleep behaviours and social relationships over time. In another example, the Livehoods project, large quantities of geotagged data created by people’s smartphones (using software such as Instagram and Foursquare) and crawled from the Web have allowed researchers to understand the patterns of movement through urban spaces.

In recent years, sensors have become cheap and increasingly ubiquitous as more manufacturers include them in their products to understand consumer behaviour and avoid the need for expensive market research. For example, cars can record every aspect of a person’s driving habits, and this information can be shown in smartphone apps or used as big data in urban planning or traffic management. As the trend continues towards extensive data gathering to track every aspect of people’s lives, the challenge becomes how to use this information optimally, and how to reconcile it with privacy and other social concerns.

Sep 27, 2014

2nd Best Apps for Business Travelers

While your company may not be willing to shell out the funds for car services to and from your hotel, conference, etc., you can still travel in style with mobile limo service app, Uber. Uber allows you to signal your need for a ride, prompting an out-of-service town car to pick you up.

Using the map on your phone's GPS, the app will tell the driver exactly where you are and send the nearest available car. When you download the app, you can insert your company or personal card, which will automatically charge you for the cost of the ride as well as the tip.

While this app is still growing and is only available in certain cities throughout the U.S. and internationally, it makes the hassle of company travel easy and seamless, with a record of all transportation costs recorded in the app. The app is free and available on both iOS and Android.