Month: May 2018

31 May 2018

We’ve Reached A New Level In Bionics: Artificial Limbs We Forget Are Artificial

Improved amputation techniques are giving amputees with advanced prosthetic limbs a feeling of control comparable to that of their original arms and legs, according to new research out of MIT.

A team of biophysicists and engineers was able to create a natural-feeling prosthetic by taking a smarter approach to amputation. In this new approach, the scientists carefully rebuilt the relationship between opposing muscles (like how your bicep and tricep pull your forearm in opposite directions) and integrated a prosthetic limb with that muscular relationship. When they did so, patients felt a restored sense of proprioception – the ability to discern the location and movement of your limbs without looking at them.

Shriya Srinivasan, one of the researchers on the MIT team, realized that amputation techniques had barely progressed since the American Civil War. Thus, she was inspired to see if there was a better way to do things that might give rise to a better integration of person and machine, she explained to Popular Mechanics.

MIT’s Tyler Clites, who led the research, and his team conducted tests on seven people who received the improved amputations. In those tests, the individuals were able to wiggle robotic feet, climb steps, and do other tasks that many take for granted – but pose challenges for people with prosthetic limbs – without any major delays as their bionic legs interpreted the brain’s instructions.

Work like this marks a major step forward in prosthetics research, as it approaches its ultimate goal of restoring total autonomy to people’s lives. This focus on the biological side of the interface of biology and engineering could lead to a future where amputation isn’t necessarily a last-ditch medical effort, but one where people can walk away and still do many (if not all) of the things they could do with their original limbs.

Source: Futurism


30 May 2018

Scientists Invented A Real-Life Flux Capacitor

Great Scott! A team of physicists just figured out how to make a flux capacitor.

No, it’s not a real-life version of what was in the “Back to the Future” franchise (reminder: in the movies, the flux capacitor is the plutonium-powered device that makes time travel possible). While the version proposed by these scientists won’t let you traipse through time, it could do something almost as cool: help usher in the quantum computing era.

The Australian and Swiss physicists behind the invention published their research Monday in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Ironically, while Doc and Marty didn’t need roads where they were going, the best analogy for how the researchers’ flux capacitor would work does involve traffic. The device forces microwaves to flow in just one direction around a center area, just like cars in a roundabout. This is pretty remarkable because it breaks something called time-reversal symmetry — a theoretical law of physics that states that, if you reversed time, you’d see whatever just happened, happen exactly in reverse, like a mirror image.

In this analogy, the cars represent the microwave signals and the land they circle is the capacitor. Credit: PINAVIA

The researchers propose two designs for their flux capacitor. One does resemble the Y-shaped device used in the movies but is much more complicated than “Back to the Future” made it seem.

“In it, quantum ‘tubes’ of magnetic flux can move around a central capacitor by a process known as quantum tunneling, where they overcome classically insurmountable obstacles,” theoretical physicist Jared Cole, one of the researchers behind the proposal, said in a news release.

We’ll take your word for it.

The flux capacitor itself may be complex, but it’s applications are clear. As the paper’s lead author, Clemens Mueller, noted in the news release, the device could help researchers precisely control signals, necessary to advance quantum computing. It could also help us improve the electronics we use today, everything from smartphones to radar systems.

So, sorry, this flux capacitor won’t give you the ability to travel back in time to bungle how your parents met, but did you really want to do that anyway? You could straight up erase yourself from existence! Much safer to leave the time travel to sci-fi and keep our eyes on the future.

Source: Futurism


29 May 2018

New Facial Recognition Software Tracks and Protects Endangered Primates

Facial recognition tech doesn’t have to be creepy or dystopian. We can actually use it for good.

Case in point: Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) developed a facial recognition software program that could help save the lives of endangered primates. They published their research via arXiv.

Tracking is an essential part of wildlife conservation efforts. Traditionally, conservationists capture and tag animals with tracking devices in order to keep tabs on them. This approach can be costly — devices range in price from $400 to $4,000, according to the MSU researchers. They say it can also harm the animals, causing stress, physical injuries, or even death.

Image Credit: MSU

To create PrimNet, the researchers started by generating an image dataset for three species of primate — golden monkeys, lemurs, and chimpanzees — taking thousands of photos of the animals in the wild. Next, they used this dataset to train a neural network to recognize the individual animals.

The researchers built a corresponding app, PrimID, to make their PrimNet system easy to use. Wildlife researchers or conservationists simply snap a photo of an animal and drop it into the app. Then, the system either produces a match — which the MSU team claim is 90 percent accurate — or, if it can’t find an exact match, it narrows the field down to five likely candidates.

The MSU team is already looking toward the future of PrimNet. “Moving forward, we plan to enlarge our primate datasets, develop a primate face detector, and share our efforts through open-source websites,” Anil Jain, senior author on the study, said in a press release.

Source: Futurism
28 May 2018

Police Surveillance Is Getting a Helping Hand from…Amazon!

Amazon! They market things they want you to buy, like books, Prime subscriptions, and sauté pans. They do this well, because you probably buy things from Amazon, or know someone who does. They also now actively market their artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition software, Rekognition, for use in police surveillance. And yes, they also this well, too.

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Amazon has been working with governments and police departments to build up advanced surveillance systems in a number of counties and states.

While Rekognition has been used by police in Washington County, Oregon to search for suspects for the past year and a half, according to Amazon, the newly-released documents reveal the extent to which mass surveillance programs are being developed with Amazon’s cooperation.

Amazon Rekognition is capable of scanning video feeds and images for up to a hundred faces at once. Rekognition can find, identify, and track people in real time, and was recently used for a cute-yet-ethically-dubious “who’s who?” broadcast of the recent royal wedding.

As the ACLU argued today in their letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who touts his company as being exceptionally “customer-centric,” encouraging and even allowing police to use such advanced surveillance technology undermines people’s rights and primes police-work for abuse. In particular, the ACLU is concerned that police would use these tools to target political groups or people who are otherwise vulnerable.

Some of the documents obtained by the ACLU show the user interface for the facial recognition software. Police will be able to upload any headshot and quickly receive likely matches along with biographic information including the person’s name, race, date of birth, and information on their criminal record.

Credit: ACLU

Amazon brags that Rekognition’s facial database includes tens of millions of faces, though it remains unclear how that came to be the case. Whatever the reason may be, the result translates to police, using Amazon’s AI-powered facial recognition system, to potentially track anyone — not just the suspects in a particular criminal case.

Source: Futurism


27 May 2018

Personalized, Brainwave-Guided Movies Are Cool, As Long As You’re The One Steering

In the near future, there will be a global network of brain-computer interfaces that allow for a total distribution of information in addition to the pervasive surveillance of our every thought. This is the premise of a (fictional) film called The Momentthat’s set to debut at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in June. And just as the film explores a future where mind-reading technology dictates our society, the film’s music and pacing will be dictated in real time by reading an audience member’s brainwaves.

Richard Ramchurn, the film’s director, recently started screening the film for small groups. In each group, one person wore a headset that allegedly records their brainwaves. While the science surrounding the meanings of different brainwaves is somewhat dubious, different people created different versions of the film when it was tuned to their brain. When the readings indicated that the person was losing interest, the film’s music would change, jump to a new scene centered around a different character, or other real-time edits based on brain activity, as reported by MIT Technology Review.

Based on when the person whose brain is guiding the film, the audience may see different scenes and transition among them at different points in time. The central story is the same, but Ramchurn needed to film far more material than would be needed for a typical half-hour film in order to build up enough potential varieties.

For now this type of film shares a similar problem with virtual reality films — you need to watch it on your own then chat with friends about it later on. And once the gimmick wears off, people might remember why the film industry spends a great deal of money on proper mixing and editing.

Outside of films though, this mind reading technology has been used in some games, and can also help make neuroscience research more portable and applicable to the real world. For instance the same company that sells the headset also sells apps that neuroscientists can use to collect and analyze the brain signals that they record. Again, some of the science behind brainwaves isn’t fully established (one part of the app can boil a brain’s readings down to levels of “attention” and “meditation.”) But new, diverse applications for neuroscience-based technology could help us enhance our understanding of the brain. Not just to create personalized film experiences, but to give us more ways of reading, analyzing, and immediately creating a tangible effect of our neural activity.

Source: Futurism


26 May 2018

These Hyper-Sensitive Fibers Might Stand In As Robot Nerves

Sure, some robots may run better than us, and they can dive deep underwater without ever needing to come up for air. But they don’t have our sense of touch—at least, for now. Engineers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland recently published in Advanced Materials on their ultra-thin, flexible cables embedded with electrodes.

The inserted conductors mean the plastic can send electronic signals in response to touch. That sure sounds like a human nerve, and the engineers thought so too – which is why the 10-person engineering team, headed by assistant professor Fabien Sorin, thinks their device is an ideal candidate for robotic nerves.

Basically, this “nerve” is a skinny fiber optic cable full of electrodes. To pull this off, the team started with a dense block of plastic, which they heated up and pulled out to get tiny, flexible cords. Most draw-out techniques like this rely on plastic that stiffens up, so the team worked with a different material that kept its elasticity. Before pulling the cord, the engineers placed the electrodes exactly where they wanted them. As the plastic lengthened, the fibers enveloped the conductors.

For the most part, other engineering forays into robotic touch are bulkier or rely on larger fluid reservoirs than EPFL’s cord does. Plus, if robots are ever going to get close to the tactility their human counterparts have, they’re going to need more than a fingertip’s worth of material. This cording can be made in bulk—it just depends on how much plastic the engineers start with and how long they feel like drawing it out for.

There’s no word yet on what the Swiss team plans to do with their tech. They do know it has value, though – they’ve already filed patents. Even if it’s not in robotics for a long time, who knows, the faux nerves could end up in smart fabrics for us, too. We’ve been looking for tech clothing that we actually want to wear—and these cords might be a solution.

Source: Futurism


24 May 2018

Cute, Brainless, Self-Propelled Robots Could Someday Move Around Inside Animals

It’s a classic thought experiment: If you put a bunch of tiny little jumping bean-like robots in a room together, will they just run into each other? Or will they figure out how to organize? By classic, of course, we mean something that a bunch of French physicists decided to try out because hey, science should be fun.

Researchers put a whole bunch of tiny, pill-shaped toy robots in a circular pen and let them mindlessly zip around. The resulting behavior, which looked somewhat organized, could give scientists insight into how microbes like bacteria move around. It could also give rise to better swarm robotics of little (smaller than the toys used in this study, for sure) pill-bots that can move around inside of an organism, perhaps to deliver a medication.

When the bots were switched on, they started to act like gas particles, as described by That is to say, moved around in what’s called a “random walk,” a type of model used by biological and medical physicists to describe a mindless entity (like these very simple bots) that’s just as likely to move in one direction as it is another.

But then the bots began to cluster in two groups on opposite sides of their pen, pushing against the outer boundary. When the pen was replaced with a mobile, flexible one that the bots would be able to push around with collective movement, they managed to squeeze the entire thing in between the small opening in a nearby wall.

Any direct applications of these cute little bean-bots are still pretty speculative, as this is some early work, it’s possible that models based on their behavior and pathways could result in a better understanding of microbial biology. In particular, how bacteria navigate and invade cells or how to better control a robotic collective in a coordinated fashion.

Source: Futurism


23 May 2018

Smartphone Tech Can Help Stop Food Poisoning Before It Happens

Thirty-five people got sick from E. coli-infected romaine lettuce this past month before the Center for Disease Control (CDC) knew where the greens were from. In total, 75 individuals were hospitalized and one death was recorded in connection with the outbreak. Now, the CDC is advising the public avoid lettuce from Yuma, Arizona.

It’s somewhat simple to avoid an outbreak once the source has been identified. However, what if the farmers never sent out infected produce to begin with? A new foodborne-illness detection technology out of Purdue University is looking to help with just that. The device hooks up to smart phones and lets growers test their foods for bacteria in a matter of minutes.

So how exactly does Purdue’s preventative detection process work? First, the produce is sloshed around in solution full of phages, a virus for bacteria. An extra chemical in the water lights up infected e. Coli, and a phone’s camera can pick up on the glowing bacteria if it’s present. This sounds complex, but the system is actually faster than current testing procedures, which can take days.

Purdue and OwlTing can help producers and buyers make better-informed decisions. But when it comes to public health agencies confirming outbreaks, even they admit that better communication is key. After a 2013 salmonella incident, the CDC said their federal and state agencies could have shared their research with one another more efficiently. Further, not all their staff was trained on the laws surrounding informing the public.

If we don’t get better at that last key step, we’ll always have that one friend who didn’t learn about a food recall until it was too late. But hopefully, with this new tech at our fingertips, we can avoid foodborne illness before it reaches our plates.

Source: Futurism


22 May 2018

AI 101, Because We Can’t Escape the Inevitable (It’s Free Too)

Artificial intelligence plays a role in nearly everyone’s life now, so it only seems fair that everyone should also have the opportunity to learn exactly what it is and how it functions. At least, that’s what Helsinki University in Finland thinks. The school is offering the world’s first online artificial intelligence course geared towards beginners, as Engadget reports.

Not only can anyone with web access enroll, but it’s also free. Because the course only takes about 30 hours to complete, it’s possible it might help people get to know—and form opinions on—artificial intelligence. And that knowledge will be useful, since the technology is becoming more increasingly widespread.

Heslinki’s AI class is different from the program Carnegie Mellon University announced they’d be offering a few weeks ago. The Pennsylvania-based school, which already hosts one of the premiere robotics labs in the nation, will gear their program towards students who want to make a career out of AI development and research. The program will only accept four percent of newly-enrolled students, and will involve four years of challenging AI-based classes.

While students enrolling in Carnegie Mellon’s program will likely already have a decent grasp of AI’s founding principles, most lay-people do not. In March 2017, a worldwide survey of internet users found that three out of 10 people polled had heard of AI, but didn’t know much about it. With so few people understanding the tech, it make sense that they’re also wary of it: 41 percent of respondents in a 2017 Forbes poll said they couldn’t cite an example of AI that they trust.

As people enroll in Helsinki’s course, or courses like it, artificial intelligence can lose some of that ambiguity. And that’s a good thing because, as the technology develops, regulators are going to decide what practices will and won’t be allowed. Congress introduced a bipartisan bill for putting parameters on AI in December of last year, and based on what those two surveys show, not many Americans understood what their representatives were proposing.

Just like taxes and international affairs, governments are going to be responsible for making choices about AI regulation. And, in order to have a meaningful say in any debate, Americans have to learn the basic concepts behind the tech. What better way to do it than through a free internet portal? Sure beats dragging yourself to an eight a.m. lecture.

Source: Futurism


21 May 2018

A Crypto-Trading, Floating Island Nation Promises Utopia, If It Happens

Imagine a world where millions of people abandon the land to live on the sea. On their floating habitats, and free from governmental overreach, people can dine on sustainable algae and live in harmony. They can sail from their own artificial island micro-nation to whatever country they’d like to be part of for a day. Plus, the people would trade exclusively using the cryptocurrency Varyon.

But this isn’t just a strange thought experiment. The Floating Island Project is a very real collaboration between the Seasteading Institute and Blue Frontiers. The latter intends to build floating island habitats after selling enough of the cryptocurrency Varyon to fund the ambitious endeavor. The team hopes to launch the first settlement by 2020, as Futurism previously reported.

In an interview with CNBC, Nathalie Mezza-Garcia –researcher for the Floating Island Project – spoke about the project’s goals to create hundreds of floating island-nations, where people could live by whatever rules they so please. Other goals include: housing refugees who are displaced as climate change gives rise to higher sea levels, enriching the poor, curing the sick, feeding the hungry, living in balance with nature, and powering the world.

But ultimately, it does seem like a daydream. Advanced, sustainable island technology is flashy, downright awesome, and makes for an invigorating experiment on how future societies could interact with the world. But thus far, it seems little thought has been given to how all of this will work.

It may be difficult to convince the various nations of the world to interact or trade with these floating libertarian utopias, especially if the seasteaders intend to float in and out of sovereign waters as they so please while basing their entire economy on a cryptocurrency. One can tell from the history of the Principality of Sealand that it’s no small task for new, small, seafaring nations to be recognized by their neighbors.

And all this leaves out that the Floating Island Project’s original goal is to help people — like the indigenous and other marginalized people who are displaced by climate change. So far, it’s unclear how they’re supposed to buy into these high-tech, floating vessels. Rather, we may have just found the next great plaything for the rich.

Source: Futurism