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Year: 2020

11 Oct 2020
Protecting our environment: The role technology can play

Protecting our environment: The role technology can play

There are many different approaches to lead a sustainable lifestyle and simultaneously protect nature with technology.

Extreme poverty, rapid deforestation, melting ice, and an impending novel coronavirus disaster are only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussing world’s most pressing problems. While economists and environmentalists are busy understanding the impact of the world’s population; scientists and engineers across the world are busy finding out ways to reduce carbon footprints and the amount of greenhouse gases in the air.

Technological advances have helped several industries recover from recession, reduce disguised unemployment, improve quality of life and what not. If applied in the fight against climatic change, technology can help us help our future generations by:

Artificial Intelligence: AI is having an impact on agricultural practices and will soon transform how farming is done in industrialized nations, reducing our reliance on pesticides and drastically lowering water consumption. AI will make autonomous vehicles more navigate more efficiently, lowering air pollution. AI is being deployed by material scientists to develop biodegradable replacements to plastics and develop strategies to clean our oceans, which receive some eight million metric tons of plastics annually.

Eliminating waste: Today, innovation is helping eliminate food wastage, attempting to keep it out of landfills by monitoring it at all levels, from the farmland to the table. With up to 33% of the world’s food resources depleting, data analysis can significantly diminish to help reduce that figure. Data collection and analysis can assist this noble cause by connecting with supermarkets and cafés to guide surplus food items to individuals who need them the most. Advancements in biofuel digesters are putting food waste to use in producing energy. Inside our homes, smart refrigeration is helping families monitor their food wastage, including reminding them of expiry dates, some even offering ways to utilize food that is going to be expired.

Sensors: Distributed sensors as little as a dime are now observing air and water quality, distinguishing toxins, following fermentation, and catching constant information on things that are vital to our social and economic success. Wearable air quality sensors are on their way, and restricted sensor networks observing energy and water utilization in buildings help in eliminating waste. Further expansion of these sensors will drastically affect the way we live.

If we keep on producing unsustainable foods, expanding land structures and carry on with the way we do presently, our resources will breakdown. Unsustainable farming, fisheries, land projects, mining and energy are prompting remarkable biodiversity misfortune and living space debasement, misuse, contamination and environmental change. From food and water shortage to the nature of the air we inhale, the proof has never been clearer. We are, in many ways, neglecting to make the connection with nature.

There are many different approaches to lead a sustainable lifestyle and simultaneously protect nature with technology. Most of these applications are broadly utilized and have achieved critical results in the past. However, this impact could be deeper and more profitable if more people are aware of its utility, power, and impact.

Source: https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/science/protecting-our-environment-the-role-can-technology-play/2102418/

08 Oct 2020
Future reality: Triad of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence & Blockchain in action

Future reality: Triad of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence & Blockchain in action

The big questions that need solutions are with respect to quality, credibility, genuineness, safety, increase in efficiency and warranting correct distribution of revenue.

Blockchain, with promise of immutability, transparency, security, interoperability, etc., allows us to exploit otherwise unused resources, trade the un-tradable, and allow new ecosystems that were not possible before.

Blockchain today is still in its infancy, and its mainstream value is yet to be realised. While, it’s for sure that blockchain will disrupt the existing solutions, not only in industry and commerce but in almost all aspects of our day-to-day lives, it cannot do so just by itself. Same holds true for Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The underlying fact is that to get the real value new-age emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT have to work in tandem. As we begin to understand the new normal in the midst of the corona pandemic, it will be important to draw value from any digital transformation that firms undertake. Businesses will have to think beyond their domain and scope to provide services which are of actual value to consumers.

How can this happen? IoT has brought new and cheaper ways to communicate with ‘things’ which was not fathomable in the past. Blockchain, with promise of immutability, transparency, security, interoperability, etc., allows us to exploit otherwise unused resources, trade the un-tradable, and allow new ecosystems that were not possible before. The new entrant AI (inclusive of machine/deep learning, vision, NLP, robots or autonomous machines etc.) has already started to deliver great value to many industries, so much so as to reduce or even replace the human element. Further advancement in 5G communication is a positive catalyst to this ecosystem.

However, these technologies, with a disjointed ecosystem or industries’ siloed approach towards them, may not reach their full potential. In the above combination, ‘data’ becomes the common driving factor. While IoT is producing data from new sources and sensors, blockchain is safeguarding and ensuring immutability, and the AI layer on top is helping deliver new business meanings and outcomes in almost real-time. In summary, data value chain comes from new technologies enabling collection, sharing, security, immutability, analysis, and automation of decisions with minimal human involvement.

Let’s run this model on a practical consumer problem of provenance – the classic ‘Farm to Table’ use case. The big questions that need solutions are with respect to quality, credibility, genuineness, safety, increase in efficiency and warranting correct distribution of revenue. IoT takes care of conditions maintained in farms with respect to temperature, humidity, soil nutrients and growth progress, and also conditions at processing centres and logistics. All this information can be stored on blockchain-based smart contracts. AI-based engine on top of this, with feeds from weather systems, etc., can trigger and automatically execute smart contracts and take required action based on pre-agreed rules, including payments, etc. In an adverse event like an outbreak at any stage, the source could be easily traced and isolated. Next, this can be extended to insurance and forward commodity trading using a trade setup, thus bringing real value from agriculture, supply chain, financial services, insurance and other industries combined.

IoT has come a long way in improving the type of sensors, size and cost and even their usage in some industries; the real consumer centric benefits can be manifold. AI faces the challenge of accuracy, trust and confidence over replacement by the human cognitive mind. Building such ecosystems without regulatory pressure, is not easy if not impossible. This is one of the primary factors for blockchain and other similar transformative technologies not gaining mainstream acceptance or adoption.

Let’s also keep an eye on ‘Quantum Computing’ breakthroughs, as this not only threatens the key features of these emerging technologies, but will severely impact best of encryption, security and cryptography that exists today. Which means any industry, digital ecosystems, IT infrastructure will have to evolve at a rapid pace before they get negatively impacted.

Source: https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/future-reality-triad-of-internet-of-things-artificial-intelligence-blockchain-in-action/2100218/

07 Oct 2020
MIT Researchers Say Their Fusion Reactor Is “Very Likely to Work”

MIT Researchers Say Their Fusion Reactor Is “Very Likely to Work”

Is fusion energy finally no longer “decades away?”

A team of researchers at MIT and other institutions say their “SPARC” compact fusion reactor should actually work — at least in theory, as they argue in a series of recently released research papers.

In a total of seven papers penned by 47 researchers from 12 institutions, the team argues that no unexpected impediments or surprises have shown up during the planning stages.

In other words, the research “confirms that the design we’re working on is very likely to work,” Martin Greenwald, deputy director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and project lead, told The New York Times.

Fusion power remains elusive, but the tech promises to one day become a safe and clean way of producing energy by fusing atomic nuclei together like the Sun. Despite almost a century of research, though, nobody has managed to pull it off yet.

SPARC, one of the largest privately funded project of its kind in the field, would be a first of its kind: a “burning plasma” reactor that fuses hydrogen isotopes to form helium, with no other input of energy needed.

Thanks to progress in the field of superconducting magnets, the team hopes to achieve the same performance as far larger reactors, such as the gigantic ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) reactor, which started assembly in July.

The magnets are used to contain the extremely hot and high pressure reactions going on inside the reactor, one of fusion’s greatest challenges.

According to the team’s calculations, SPARC should be able to produce twice as much fusion energy compared to the amount needed to generate the reaction. That would be a massive jump, since no researchers have managed to break even yet.

In fact, in the papers, the researchers note it could be theoretically possible to generate ten times the amount — though there’s plenty of work ahead before they could say that for sure.

The MIT team is hoping to construct its compact reactor over the next three to four years, with the eventual goal of generating electricity starting in 2035, the Times reports.

“What we’re trying to do is put the project on the firmest possible physics basis, so that we’re confident about how it’s going to perform, and then to provide guidance and answer questions for the engineering design as it proceeds,” Greenwald said in an official statement.

Source: https://futurism.com/strange-research-paper-black-hole-center-earth

06 Oct 2020
Blockchain: The Next Great Transformational Technology Platform

Blockchain: The Next Great Transformational Technology Platform

Little did I know when I woke up on October 4, 1980, how important that day would become in my life — in more ways than one.

I was just a wide-eyed four-year-old full of excitement as my family and I prepared for game one of the World Series between my beloved Philadelphia Phillies and the Kansas City Royals. The Phillies won the Series and their first championship, and I’ve been thinking back on that memory as this year’s playoffs got underway.

Another historic event also took place 40 years ago tomorrow, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

About 100 miles north of me in New York City, Genentech was becoming the first biotechnology company to trade on a public stock exchange. Shares of the company, which traded under the symbol “GENE,” opened at $35. They quickly shot up to $88 before closing the wild first session at $71.25.

A double on the first day.

It was such a historic and crazy day that The Los Angeles Times referred to it as “a frenzy the likes of which hasn’t been seen on Wall Street since the go-go days of the 1960s.”

If you invested in Genentech on its opening day and held until the company was sold in 2009, you would have earned 157X your money. But those gains are nothing compared to some of the early stage biotech companies of the 1980s.

Amgen went public on June 17, 1983, for $18 per share. The stock has since gone through five stock splits and started paying dividends in 2011. Taking all that into consideration, an initial $1,000 investment into Amgen would be worth about $711,000.

That’s right, 711X your money! That turns a $10,000 investment into $7.1 million.

Today, I’m focused on another new industry that is on that same launching pad of hypergrowth and massive profits that early stage biotechs were in the 1980s. Gigantic profits have already been made, and the best is yet to come …

In some ways, this new industry could be even bigger because it’s going to affect everyone.

The way you buy everyday goods and services … buy a home … pay your taxes … even how we vote in the future.

This transformation is already underway, but the truly seismic shift — when the massive profits are made — comes as businesses, consumers, and big-money investors realize what’s going on.

Charlie Shrem and I call this “The Awakening.”

It won’t just be the biggest thing to happen to cryptocurrencies since the creation of bitcoin itself, which is the first and biggest cryptocurrency.

It will be the biggest thing since the mass adoption of the internet.

I’ve said this before but it’s critical to understanding the opportunity: Cryptocurrencies, especially altcoins, are not fantasy internet money. They are revolutionary software programs.

Over the last 10 years, the cryptocurrency industry has been defined by bitcoin. And the revolutionary technology its built on – the blockchain – has also been mostly tied to the success of bitcoin.

But people are starting to wake up to its true potential: Blockchain is the next great transformational technology platform.

Transformational technology platforms bring about a wholesale change … like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly … or when a toddler become a teenager.

Electricity is a great example. The harnessing of electric power in the early 1900s transformed the world. It gave birth to our use of light bulbs, refrigerators, radios, televisions, telephones, air conditioners … the list goes on.

Electric power was the “platform” from which all those incredible innovations sprang to life. The world after we harnessed electricity looked totally different than the one before it.

These revolutions are rare. We saw the emergence of probably just a handful in the 20th century — electric power, the internet, even smartphones.

Each one presented colossal wealth-building opportunities.

The MORE a technology changes the world for the better, the MORE revenue it will generate, and the BIGGER the gains will be for investors.

That’s why blockchain is going to be so huge. It’s why some high-profile insiders are saying it will be bigger than the internet. It’s going to touch virtually every industry on planet Earth.

Put simply, blockchain is an ultra-safe and secure way to store information. It’s the safest way to store and transfer information ever created.

I’m talking about your financial and banking information… your personal health care information … proprietary business information … contracts … tax information … credit card payments … real estate transactions … even energy … and on and on.

All this disruption and change creates a once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunity for anyone who acts today.

Source: https://investorplace.com/2020/10/blockchain-next-great-transformational-technology-platform/

05 Oct 2020
DRIVING INNOVATION IN STARTUPS WITH DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

DRIVING INNOVATION IN STARTUPS WITH DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Thriving and sustaining in today’s digital age requires a startup to focus on business values of both customers’ and employees’ along with their expectations. Large, successful companies already realize their core competencies and services, establishing themselves as the go-to-market place for a particular outcome. But the startup ecosystem across the world is in its infancy, requiring to be more agile and nimble in the modern competitive business landscape. With that being said, disruptive technologies can be a key enabler for companies seeking to drive innovation and efficiency.

Not every technology may revolutionize the business functions but some truly do have the potential to disrupt the status quo and pave the way for new revenue streams. Though more and more organizations look to deliver innovative products and services to their customers and thrive in the complex and changing environment, they must explore disruptive technologies that are continuously advancing at a rapid pace and set to transform life, business, as well as the global economy.

Reconceptualizing Your Business with Disruptive Technologies

It is no wonder that technology is rapidly becoming an inextricable part of human life and business alike. Indeed, reports show that technology will have a significant prominence over the next coming years, and this is where startups must embrace it to become innovative and productive. Let’s go through some disruptive technologies that are already impacting the business world and how startups can leverage it for their betterment.

Artificial Intelligence

AI has the potential to process troves of data and come up with actionable insights in order to assist in the decision-making process within an organization. It can enhance decision-makers’ forecasting ability to improve business operations. AI can also be used to transform marketing from the roots. Leveraging AI-driven tools to improve different aspects of marketing, manage digital campaigns and automate other business processes can be advantageous for startups. Business leaders can also use AI as a reliable alternative to traditional data security solutions, and identify distrustful behavior on their company websites.

Robotic Process Automation

Moving great ideas from blueprint to reality in today’s business arena can be a daunting task. But once prepared to drive that level of innovation, companies require much effort and a shift towards advanced technologies. That is where RPA can help. It simply automates menial tasks, without any need for human intervention. While businesses have to deal with a voluminous amount of data but don’t have the means to fully capitalize on it, RPA can help them through understanding all the data mining processes and provide meaningful insight to reap much value.

Big Data and Analytics

Large enterprises have long been taking advantage of data analytics. However, for startups and SMEs, it is a whole different story. Small companies need to whetstone in on data streams that will help them reach their goals and meet their business objectives. Already, big data and analytics has had a deep impact on organizations’ ability to better advance their decision making, identifying areas to cut costs and allowing for massive economic gains. Startups can use this technology to unearth concealed opportunities, recognize trends and patterns, problem areas and strengths.

The potential benefits of such and other technologies are incredible, but they also draw a set of challenges that businesses need to be prepared for their impact. If business leaders think and move strategically in the face of continually evolving technology landscape, they can get the most out of their technology implementations and respond effectively to uncertain consequences.

Technology Can Move Startups Beyond Conventional Tactics

Today, the rate at which businesses are adopting new technologies is tremendous. Moreover, the time it takes for a new technology to reach mainstream business is expediting exponentially. The time has changed now when one would have to quote oneself as an innovator. With the evolution of new-age technologies, companies just need to realize their potentials along with business objectives and move ahead by integrating them accordingly. They must determine which technology is best suited for their business requirements and help propel business excellence.

If implemented appropriately, disruptive technologies can introduce an entirely new business model and a new growth market. They can also bring new opportunities for startups and help address unrealized needs. Embracing such technologies can also help in bolstering businesses’ visibility, their reach to the target audience, and offering a highly personalized approach.

Source: https://www.analyticsinsight.net/driving-innovation-in-startups-with-disruptive-technologies/

04 Oct 2020
Balancing The Priorities Of National Security And A Digital Economy

Balancing The Priorities Of National Security And A Digital Economy

Today, just about every consumer product contains a computer or a service that uses a computer. As a result, increasing perceived cybersecurity threats.

Speaking at the launch of his new book, the Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar shared his views on India’s place in a dynamic world. Importantly, the Minister spoke about the change in the nature of power, which now lies in trade and technology. This shift is illustrated by the digitalization of the global economy. According to the United Nations, e-commerce sales reached 25 trillion dollars in 2018, making it equivalent to 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year. 

That said, cross-border e-commerce, or digital trade, has also engendered national security risks and threat perceptions. These are exemplified in concerns of surveillance by bad actors in telecom, which led to limitations or bans on Chinese companies that provide 5G equipment in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.   

The datafication of the global and Indian economy has exacerbated these concerns. Today, just about every consumer product contains a computer or a service that uses a computer. As a result, increasing perceived cybersecurity threats. A lot of data in digital markets is personal, linked to individuals and their identities, and protected in several countries by privacy laws. 

The Supreme Court of India has also recognized privacy, including information or data privacy, as a fundamental right. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 therefore seeks to provide a statutory framework for the same. This includes rules on cross-border transfers of data. Similarly, privacy is now an important part of international discussions on commerce, between advanced jurisdictions in particular. For instance, the EU-US Privacy Shield is a framework which regulates exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes between the two. This Shield was recently declared invalid by the European Court of Justice in July 2020. The Court made this decision on the basis that the Privacy Shield did not adequately safeguard EU citizens from US surveillance, in an illustration of the growing links between national security assessments and privacy. The future of digital trade will therefore rest on nations’ ability to agree on common frameworks for national security. 

Digital trade will grow only if national security concerns don’t stymie markets. As per a study by the Harvard Business Review, in the past 20 years, more than 31 countries have taken regulatory actions over perceived security concerns. A significant portion of such action has occurred in the past five years. Such events risk creating an uncertain business environment for Indian and global players alike. More importantly, they create a domino effect and evoke retaliation by trading partners. 

India can leverage its soft power to drive global consensus on the ways and means to address national security concerns in the digital economy.  For instance, the country recently banned close to 200 Chinese applications based on national security concerns. While there is no denying the potential security threats from Chinese applications, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) may have to devise a nuanced, interoperable and graded framework to foster digital trade in the future. 

A framework based on common standards can enhance security by facilitating interoperability and systems integration, and simultaneously improve cyber-defense. While the existing Sensitive Personal Data (SPD) Rules under India’s two-decade-old Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 recognize an international standard (IS/ISO/IEC 27001) for data security, compliance rates are sub-optimal. India can consider adopting ISO/IEC 27701, a recent international standard that deals with the glaring problem of data privacy. It helps an organization in establishing a framework for the protection of privacy, provides guidance on how institutions should handle sensitive personal data, and also helps in demonstrating compliance with different privacy regulations across the world. It also specifies a Privacy Information Management System (PIMS) and provides a framework for managing Personally Identifiable Information (PII). 

The use of the Common Criteria Certification Scheme is another alternative, widely adopted in jurisdictions such as the US, Singapore, and the EU. The Common Criteria for Technology Security Evaluation is based on an international standard (ISO/IEC 15408), providing a holistic framework for testing and evaluation of common IT systems. Participating organizations can specify functional and assurance requirements, businesses can develop and claim specific product qualities, and testing facilities can examine products to determine whether they meet those claims. 

There is a need for a renewed vigor towards the adoption and enforcement of international standards. Domestic regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India have already embraced the Common Criteria Scheme, and it’s time for the MeitY to consider a similar approach for public-facing common IT systems such as mobile apps. An advantage of mandating Common Criteria or other international Certifications in the event of a national security linked threat perception is the relative ease in rolling out such obligations. This is because the MeitY has already established the Indian Common Criteria Certification Scheme (IC3S). The Scheme evaluates and certifies IT Security Products and Protection Profiles against the requirements of Common Criteria Standards. 

Organizations can simply get their IT systems evaluated and certified either by government-owned Standardisation Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) labs or private labs across India and the world. Since India is already a member of a mutual recognition arrangement for this certification, of which over 30 countries are apart, the certification will be mutually recognized globally. The country is taking the right steps towards ensuring data privacy through the Personal Data Protection legislation. It’s time to ensure that associated national security considerations are comprehensively addressed in an internationally acceptable transparent and standardized manner, to foster digital trade and mutual trust among nations. 

Source: http://www.businessworld.in/article/Balancing-The-Priorities-Of-National-Security-And-A-Digital-Economy/04-10-2020-327126/

03 Oct 2020
How to Innovate Securely with Emerging IT

How to Innovate Securely with Emerging IT

Future growth depends on continuous innovation with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, quantum computing and extended reality (XR). But how can organizations adopt these technologies securely and reduce risk?

Accenture’s Security Technology Vision 2020, “Innovating at Speed and Scale with Implicit Security,” provides important answers. The cybersecurity study spanned 500 business and security executives at companies across multiple industries with $5 billion+ in revenues.

Based on Accenture’s pioneering cyber research, the report identifies an elite set of global enterprises—what we call the “alpha innovators”—and the differentiating actions they’re taking to achieve continuous innovation securely.

How the alpha innovators differentiate
First and foremost, the report provides data-driven insights into how these alpha innovators are differentiating for competitive advantage. Their approach and security acumen to do innovation in a risk-managed way takes deep preparation, bold action and ongoing commitment.

Specifically, we looked at how the alpha innovators:

Bring innovation into their lifecycle to drive business growth and scale their approaches
Engage across the organization to innovate and behave collaboratively
Demonstrate agility and apply Security practices to de-risk adoption
Build trust in the process with customers, employees, ecosystem partners and governments.
Two overarching data points resonate loud and clear:

1) Alpha innovators are investing heavily and simultaneously in three or more emerging technologies—AI, 5G, Quantum and XR.

2) At the same time, they are collaborating with security executives from Day 1 and throughout the journey for secure innovation.

In fact, this theme of collaboration runs through many of the data results.

Not only are the alpha innovators integrating multiple emerging technologies across the enterprise, but they also have more maturity and a better understanding of how to secure these technologies. This is not a fluke. It takes regular engagement and collaboration between business and security executives to achieve their innovation objectives.

To help users better understand the alpha innovators’ differentiating actions, we condensed them into five power plays—multi-pronged strategy, risk mindset, borderless collaboration, culture of innovation and defense in depth. You can learn more about how to apply these traits into your organization by downloading the report.

Why it’s critical to secure emerging tech now

There is a second core theme revealed by the data that is concerning: underestimation. It’s no secret that AI, 5G, quantum and XR pose a major paradigm shift in security challenges. Even though most C-suite executives are assessing the security risk of these new technologies, they are underestimating the challenges they pose.

The data shows that as companies get further along in the adoption journey, CISOs have a better risk IQ around what it takes to protect the organization; for example, across the expanded attack surface introduced by AI. In time, we would expect this better understanding of the risks to continue across 5G, quantum and XR.

But continuous innovation does not wait for bystanders. Underestimating what it takes to secure these technologies could have profound effects on both the initiative’s success and business growth potential.

That is why you are encouraged to jumpstart your understanding now of the power plays and of the emerging technologies, themselves. To help make sure your security approach is future-ready, we dedicated four sections of the report to Accenture viewpoints on the challenges to securing these technologies. Highlights include:

  • AI: Learn how to defend the new attack surface that AI presents, including expanded approaches for making machine learning models resilient to attacks.
  • 5G: Security challenges are escalated by 5G features such as virtualization, hyper-accurate location tracking and increased volume and speed of the network.
  • Quantum: This new computing paradigm presents numerous threats to organizations and data. Discover ways to safeguard against novel attack vectors, secure “transpilers” and prepare now for post-quantum cryptography.
  • XR: A variety of XR modalities present related vulnerabilities, especially when XR content is transferred over the cloud and AI recognition capabilities are on the cloud-as-a-service as well.

These emerging technology viewpoints are based on the combined knowledge and experience of our Security R&D group at Accenture Labs and experts across Accenture.

Source: https://www.eweek.com/innovation/how-to-innovate-securely-with-emerging-it

01 Oct 2020
Are You Ready for Tech That Connects to Your Brain?

Are You Ready for Tech That Connects to Your Brain?

People are investing more time and money in personal technology, such as smart speakers, smart watches, wearables, and VR headsets. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our adoption of new technology and increased our reliance on it for social connection, entertainment, and educational experiences. As we spend more time at home, many of us are turning to technology to augment our reality. Wearables — such as smart earbuds, lenses, watches, rings, bracelets, and even fabrics — layer biometric data, audio interaction, and visual information over our lived experiences. As wearable technology becomes commonplace in our daily lives, there’s an even more intimate connection on the horizon with the rise of the brain-computer interface (BCI).

BCIs can connect to a human’s brain either internally or externally. They read the brain activity and process the activity into information, and can also communicate information back to the brain. BCIs have the potential to amplify human intelligence to superhuman levels, which is exciting for technologists and entrepreneurs, but begs the question: Are we, our businesses, and our technological systems ready for this change?

How do BCIs benefit us?

BCIs fall into two categories: invasive and non-invasive. Invasive BCIs are implanted into the brain and connect tiny electrodes to neurons to measure their activity. Invasive BCIs, like Neuralink, require brain surgery — doctors drilling into the skull to implant the device and high-precision surgery robots to correctly attach the microscopic electrodes to neurons. Invasive BCIs capture better data and can be implanted in various regions of the brain. Invasive BCIs have been effective in treating spinal cord injuries, controlling prosthetic limbs, and treating depression. Non-invasive BCIs require no surgery, but depend on noisier signals from electroencephalogram (EEG) and infrared devices worn on the head. AI is used to isolate the brain signals that the BCI devices capture, as well as synthesize signals back into the brain.

Examining the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

BCIs have brought about incredible advancements in the medical field, and have been largely funded by the Department of Defense through DARPA. DARPA’s Brain Initiative is working on an impressive breadth of BCI projects that aim to help the body heal itself, restore sensory deficits caused by injury, and augment military service members by allowing them to operate drones, silently communicate, and integrate into defense systems. Companies like Kernel, Qneuro, NeuroSky and EMOTIV are rapidly moving toward widely-available devices and less-invasive BCI methods. These companies are working to measure and assess brain activity for a variety of uses, from playing games and stress reduction to typing out words by thinking them. Muse is a commercially available device that uses EEG to record and display brain data as a meditation aid. Even Facebook has been developing a BCI implant that reads brain activity, and is able to decipher a basic set of words.

Recently, there’s been a lot of hype around Neuralink, Elon Musk’s BCI startup. Neuralink demonstrated their implanted brain device reading and writing information to pigs’ brains in late August. Many neurologists downplayed the company’s demonstration in the context of advancing neuroscience. While the electrode technology displayed was advanced, there was little discussion of how the company would make sense of brain activity. One of the main goals of the demonstration was to attract talent to Neuralink and increase interest in BCIs to advance neurology and hardware. Musk has promised that Neuralink would start human trials by the end of 2020 with the aim of treating people who have severe neurological disorders.

How might BCIs evolve?

In the distant future, if BCIs are successful at reading and writing information to the brain, and if humans adapt to the technology, we could experience some pretty amazing scenarios. Imagine having telepathic conversations with loved ones, instantaneously accessing superhuman computational power, playing back memories and dreams, or immersing yourself and every sense you possess into a virtual entertainment experience. These scenarios are currently influencing the work of researchers, technologists, and futurists. In her book Artificial You, researcher and futurist Susan Schneider imagines a “Center for Mind Design” as follows:

“Hive Mind” is a brain chip allowing you to experience the innermost thoughts of your loved ones. “Zen Garden” is a microchip for Zen master-level meditative states. “Human Calculator” gives you savant-level mathematical abilities. What would you select, if anything? Enhanced attention? Mozart-level musical abilities? You can order a single enhancement, or a bundle of several.”

In a recent episode of The Artificial Podcast, futurist and technologist Brian Rommele described his vision for “The Intelligence Amplifier”:

“Let’s call it a holographic crystal memory that can hold petabytes of data, meaning maybe three lifetimes worth of video. That’s what petabytes of data means — live video of your entire life. Not so somebody can see it, but so it can be interpreted by your intelligence amplifier. So, it can build context so that you can now be a stronger you, a smarter you, from the moment you’re born.“

These are optimistic visions of the future of BCIs where users are in control of their BCIs and any applications installed on them. But, there are many outstanding questions for how we could ensure a bright future: Who will own the data generated by our brains? Will brain data be bought and sold by data brokers like other personal information today? Will people be forced to use certain BCIs that surveil their brain activity (for example, to make sure you’re paying attention at work and school)? Will BCIs put peoples’ brains at risk of being hacked? As with all new technology, more of these philosophical questions will need to be investigated and answered before there is widespread adoption and use of BCIs in the future.

How can we prepare for the future of BCIs?

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the future. As is the case today with modern technology, we can be sure we’ll continue to grapple with philosophical questions as BCIs and humanity evolve. Those currently working in the space already have discussions about BCIs’ impact and how they can help and hinder humans. The more intimate the technology becomes, the more magnified unresolved issues like privacy, security, and closed ecosystems become.

Reduce AI Bias

Wearables and BCIs provide users access to a wealth of information, but simultaneously gather an abundance of biometric and personal data about those users. The same artificial intelligence (AI) these devices use to amplify human intelligence is being leveraged by companies to make sense of all of the data captured. AI bias will become an even bigger problem as companies use this technology to automate more decision-making.

Companies developing AI strategies should seek talent from marginalized groups to develop data management processes and attempt to remove AI bias. For companies not currently developing an AI strategy, it’s important to begin thinking about how AI impacts your industry. Today, most AI is fairly invisible and many people are surprised to learn the extent to which AI is used for things like choosing mortgage borrowers, regulating traffic flow, and trading stocks. Imagine a future where we are aware of and have control of the decisions AI makes for us so we can understand why those decisions are made.

Promote Digital Security and Privacy

If our personal technology continues to require an internet connection, we’ll face significant security tradeoffs as any networked device poses a vulnerability for hackers to exploit. Companies need to radically rethink their approach to digital security as an exploited BCI could cost someone their life. Users want more transparency and control — personal AIs can be employed to help users monitor and manage their own security.

The large corporations that create and operate AI platforms and devices already gather, analyze, and sell our personal data. Will these corporations continue to have unfettered access to our data and how will we be further exploited if BCIs are realized and the data captured is increasingly more intimate? Our society is becoming increasingly aware of and vigilant about privacy overreach.

Companies should develop stringent digital security measures and evaluate their privacy practices with the future in mind. We all should push for stricter privacy regulations — especially since technology giants are already brokering our personal data for advertising and profit. It is up to us to imagine a future in which widespread use of BCIs is a reality and put practices in place now that ensure the security and privacy of our minds.

Look to the Humanities

There is an increasing technological wealth gap that divides the haves and the have-nots. As wearables and BCIs become more common in the workforce, schools, and our daily lives, they could widen the gap further by creating large technologically poor populations. As Stanford’s Sebastian Thrun has said: “Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.”

We need to take a deeper look at the future of personal computing to imagine how humans and machines will merge and the effects it will have on society. Companies should focus more on the so-called “soft skills” of psychology, sociology, and anthropology to understand the impact technology has on users. Technologists must move from the “move fast and break things” mentality towards a more thoughtful approach, researching how the technology created impacts users and society. It is up to us to shape a future in which humanity is a priority and not an afterthought.

We are on the precipice of major societal changes fueled by issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and a stressed global economy. Many people are looking to technology like wearables and BCIs as a beacon of hope in these uncertain times. While it’s nice to imagine a future where a lot of society’s current problems are resolved using advancements in technology, it is up to us to ensure that we’re prepared. Let’s approach our future and new technology with both hope and thoughtfulness.

Source: https://hbr.org/2020/09/are-you-ready-for-tech-that-connects-to-your-brain

30 Sep 2020
Elon Musk: Neuralink brain implant will improve 'bandwidth' of human communication

Elon Musk: Neuralink brain implant will improve ‘bandwidth’ of human communication

We’re “already part electronic” due to our dependence on tech, the SpaceX and Tesla boss says in an interview with The New York Times.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain implant is currently being tested in pigs, but the SpaceX and Tesla CEO wants the brain-computer link device to supercharge human communication, he said in an interview with The New York Times published Monday. 

“We’re a 300 baud modem. Very slowly outputting information into our phone or maybe a little bit faster into a computer if you’re using 10 fingers,” he said on the Times’ Sway podcast. “And it’s just very hard to communicate. AI will diverge from us just because it can’t talk to us.”

Since we’re already so attached to our phones, computers and social media accounts, he reasons, putting a Neuralink chip in our brains wouldn’t be a huge change for humanity.

“It’s like you’re already part electronic, if you think about it. When somebody dies they still have their — these days, their electronic ghost is left around,” he said. “You know, their Instagram, Twitter or whatever. Facebook, their emails, their website — it’s all still there.”

Before it can improve the “bandwidth of our communication,” the device’s initial value will be in treating brain injuries, Musk said. But he noted that the project is still at “a very, very primitive stage.” Before it gets FDA approval, it’ll require intense examination to make sure it doesn’t have any adverse effects and is removable, he said.

During an event in August, Musk showed off Neuralink’s technology, which aims to build a digital link between brains and computers. A wireless link from the Neuralink computing device, which was surgically implanted into the skull of a pig named Gertrude, showed the animal’s brain activity as it snuffled around a pen. Neuralink has a medical focus for now, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries, but Musk’s long-term vision is more radical. He’s suggested Neuralink could be used for things like “conceptual telepathy” or people connecting to their own digital AI incarnations.

Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/elon-musk-neuralink-brain-implant-will-improve-bandwidth-of-human-communication/

29 Sep 2020
This study finds that those who retired early lost brain power

This study finds that those who retired early lost brain power

People who retire early suffer from accelerated cognitive decline and may even encounter early onset of dementia, according to a new economic study I conducted with my doctoral student Alan Adelman.

To establish that finding, we examined the effects of a rural pension program China introduced in 2009 that provided people who participated with a stable income if they stopped working after the official retirement age of 60.

We found that people who participated in the program and retired within one or two years experienced a cognitive decline equivalent to a drop in general intelligence of 1.7% relative to the general population. This drop is equivalent to about three IQ points and could make it harder for someone to adhere to a medication schedule or conduct financial planning.

The largest negative effect was in what is called “delayed recall,” which measures a person’s ability to remember something mentioned several minutes ago. Neurological research links problems in this area to an early onset of dementia.

Why it matters
Cognitive decline refers to when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Although some cognitive decline appears to be an inevitable byproduct of aging, faster decline can have profound adverse consequences on one’s life.

Better understanding of the causes of this has powerful financial consequences. Cognitive skills – the mental processes of gathering and processing information to solve problems, adapt to situations and learn from experiences – are crucial for decision-making. They influence an individual’s ability to process information and are connected to higher earnings and a better quality of life.

Retiring early and working less or not at all can generate large benefits, such as reduced stress, better diets and more sleep. But as we found, it also has unintended adverse effects, like fewer social activities and less time spent challenging the mind, that far outweighed the positives.

While retirement schemes like the 401(k) and similar programs in other countries are typically introduced to ensure the welfare of aging adults, our research suggests they need to be designed carefully to avoid unintended and significant adverse consequences. When people consider retirement, they should weigh the benefits with the significant downsides of a sudden lack of mental activity. A good way to ameliorate these effects is to stay engaged in social activities and continue to use your brains in the same way you did when you were working.

In short, we show that if you rest, you rust.

What still isn’t known
Because we are using data and a program in China, the mechanisms of how retirement induces cognitive decline could be context-specific and may not necessarily apply to people in other countries. For example, cultural differences or other policies that can provide support to individuals in old age can buffer some of the negative effects that we see in rural China due to the increase in social isolation and reduced mental activities.

Therefore, we can not definitively say that the findings will extrapolate to other countries. We are looking for data from other countries’ retirement programs, such as India’s, to see if the effects are similar or how they are different.

How I do my research
A big focus of the economics research lab I run is to better understand the causes and consequences of changes in what economists call “human capital” – especially cognitive skills – in the context of developing countries.

Our lab’s mission is to generate research to inform economic policies and empower individuals in low-income countries to rise out of poverty. One of the main ways we do this is through the use of randomized controlled trials to measure the impact of a particular intervention, such as retiring early or access to microcredit, on education outcomes, productivity and health decisions.

Plamen Nikolov is an assistant professor of rconomics at Binghamton University, State University of New York. This was first published by The Conversation — “Retiring early can be bad for the brain“.

Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-study-finds-that-those-who-retired-early-lost-brain-power-11600790404