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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

For years we’ve been hearing about how the Internet of Things is going to change the way we live.  Providing us with smart homes filled with smart appliances that work in concert with one another, monitoring our supplies and maintaining optimal living conditions, in order to provide us with a minimally evasive lifestyle of utmost convenience.

The Amazon Echo speaker was the first widely popular smart home device, a gateway drug of sorts that could lead us to buying coffee pots that turn on as soon as we wake up and refrigerators that automatically order milk for us when we are running low.  But if that vision of the future is coming to come to fruition we’re going to need to reconcile a lot of issues.  Such as the fact that most smart devices use different protocols, can’t talk to one another, contain potentially obtrusive cameras and sensors, and generally cost more than their offline counterparts.

Thankfully there may soon be a workaround on the way.  That’s because Gierad Laput, a graduate student from Carnegie Mellon, has created a relatively low-cost device the size of a game boy cartridge that can plug into a wall socket and turn an entire room into a smart room in one fell swoop.

As Wired puts it, “If you want to set up a connected home, you’ve got two options. You can buy a bunch of smart gadgets that may or may not communicate with other smart gadgets. Or you can retrofit all of your appliances with sensor tags, creating a slapdash network. The first is expensive. The second is a hassle. Before long, though, you might have a third choice: One simple device that plugs into an electrical outlet and connects everything in the room.”

Once “connected” you’ll have a command center of sorts at your disposal; one that is able to surmise what is happening or has happened in your home.

Wired explains how it works:

“Plug the module into an electrical outlet and it becomes the eyes and ears of the room, its 10 embedded sensors logging information like sound, humidity, electromagnetic noise, motion, and light (the researchers excluded a camera for privacy reasons). Machine learning algorithms translate that data into context-specific information about what’s happening in the room. Synthetic Sensors can tell you, for example, if you forgot to turn off the oven, how much water your leaky faucet is wasting, or whether your roommate is swiping your snacks.”

In my estimation this invention won’t solve all of our connected home problems.  It’ll still makes sense to go out and buy a bunch of smart home devices if you want the added convenience.  However, where Synthetic Sensors could thrive is when it’s used in conjunction with a smart home, as a way of monitoring what’s happening, figuring out where you could save money, and just generally serving as an extra pair of eyes and ears around your home.

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Is Synthetic Sensor the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The Echo speaker, powered by Alexa, helped Amazon jump out to the surprise early lead in the race against Apple and Google for control of our living rooms.  At CES earlier this year, Alexa’s influence was everywhere with the technology showing up in everything from internet connected refrigerators to smart home control hubs.  It was Amazon’s subtle way of announcing to the world: Like it or not, Alexa is here to stay.

Now, just five months later, Amazon has announced two new products, the Echo Look and Echo Show, that take that line of thinking a step further: Since Alexa is here to stay we’re going to double down and dress her up with fancy new features to make her even more appealing.

First up is the Echo Look.  For an additional $20 you can get an Echo with a camera on it that will enable you to say things like, “Alexa, take a picture” or “Alexa, shoot a video”.  The basic premise here is that you’ll be able to take a picture of yourself wearing various outfits in order to receive advice on your style and look.  Sure beats the always impossible to answer inquiry: “honey, do these jeans make me look fat?”

The Echo Look is likely to solicit eye rolling from people who were already weary of the Echo’s always-on ability to listen to and record our every word.  By adding a camera, the thinking goes, now Amazon can see everything we do too Big Brother style.  Thankfully, that’s not going to be the case as the Echo Look comes with an off switch so that you can switch off the camera when you’re not ready to use it.

The Echo Show on the other hand isn’t as gimmicky as the Echo Look.  Rather, it’s basically the Echo 2.0, a more advanced version of the original that lets you see, not just hear, the information that Alexa has curated for you.

As Wired puts it, “That’s what makes Amazon’s newest Echo, the $229 Echo Show, a smart move. It’s an Echo … with a screen. The Chumby lookalike exists mostly to talk and listen, but glance at the screen and you’ll notice that as it reads your calendar events, it displays them, too. When it announces that the Warriors won, it shows you the box score. It lets you interact with almost everything by touch or by voice, using whichever one you find most convenient.”

Having the ability to see the information that Alexa has selected for you is a real game changer.  Not just in an aesthetically pleasing way but rather in a practical sense.  For instance, now when you ask, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?” instead of a monotonous response about the latest world news you’ll instead be shown the latest video clips.  This is a much more efficient way of communicating the information in question.

Better yet, the screen can easily be used as a teleconference monitor in lieu of Skype.  So now if you want to have a video chat with your mom or children you won’t have to whip out your iPad, open up the Skype app, search your contacts, and then place the call.  All you’d have to do is say, “Alexa, call mom.”

Examples like that highlight just how convenient the Echo Show can be.  And that’s just scratching the surface.  Once developers get their hands on the Echo Show all bets are off.  So, if you’ve ever thought about getting an Echo the addition of a screen, and a touch screen at that, essentially makes it a no brainer.  Just be sure to leave room in your budget for whatever else Amazon has in store for Alexa.

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Is the Echo Show the Greatest Idea Ever?

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If learning a new skill was as quick and easy as downloading an app what would you want to add?  Would you download the ability to play the piano or violin?  Would you learn CRP or self-defense moves? Acquire the ability to cook a seven course meal or recite the constellations in the Western Hemisphere?

While it sounds far-fetched, in the future it may be possible to do just that; to download skills to the brain ala Trinity and Neo in the Matrix.

According to Futurism, “In March 2016, DARPA — the U.S. military’s ‘mad science’ branch — announced their Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program. The TNT program aims to explore various safe neurostimulation methods for activating synaptic plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to alter the connecting points between neurons — a requirement for learning. DARPA hopes that building up that ability by subjecting the nervous system to a kind of workout regimen will enable the brain to learn more quickly.”

If this program is proven successfully it would obviously be a boon to the military who might be able to use it to quickly train soldiers to learn new languages or pick up how to use new weapons system.  It would also greatly reduce the length of time it takes to train new soldiers.  Say goodbye to boot camp!

As the DARPA website puts it, “The TNT program seeks to advance the pace and effectiveness of cognitive skills training through the precise activation of peripheral nerves that can in turn promote and strengthen neuronal connections in the brain. TNT will pursue development of a platform technology to enhance learning of a wide range of cognitive skills, with a goal of reducing the cost and duration of the Defense Department’s extensive training regimen, while improving outcomes.”

Like most military technology this research might also wind up one day making its way to civilian life as well.  Enabling us to live the dream of getting smarter without having to actually put the work in.

It’s ironic really, if you think about it.  This whole time we’ve been complaining about technology, about how offloading our memory to Google is actually making us dumber.  But here’s a new technology that would literally make us smarter!

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Is DARPA’s plan the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Have you ever had one of those Jimmy Stewart moments where you wondered how differently your life could have turned out if you had done something differently. Made a different choice. Met different people. Taken up a different interest. I do. All the time. But I don’t lament giving up on my dream of becoming general manager of the New York Yankees. Nor do I regret changing my major in college or dropping out of the Army R.O.T.C. Rather, what I wish I had done differently was learn to code.

If I did I could be at Google [X] right now, making six figures, while working on the Next Big Thing. Or I could be at Tesla, rubbing elbows with Elon Musk while working on driverless car tech. Or better yet, I could be independently wealthy, sitting next to a gaggle of supermodels on some tropical beach while pondering what my next killer app was going to be. Instead, all of my best app ideas are locked away inside of my cherished Book of Ideas while I’m left wondering if I could have been as prolific a coder as Felicity Smoak or Lucas Wolenczak.

Of course it’s not too late for me to learn to code. And, in fact, I did try CodeAcademy a few years ago. But, ultimately I couldn’t commit enough time to the project and realized that coding wasn’t really for me. For while I’m introverted and like to solve puzzles I also like to go outside every once in a while.

Fortunately, Microsoft is working on new technology that could solve my problem by allowing me to code apps without actually having to know anything about coding. All I’d have to do is explain to their AI system, known as DeepCoder, what I was trying to accomplish and it would then code it for me.

As Digital Trends explains, “DeepCoder uses program synthesis, the process of combining existing code to create new applications, to search and integrate the best source code in the best combinations to solve problems. Once the system knows what a human programmer wants it to accomplish, along with the available inputs, the system can then search more quickly and more completely than any human coder to create a new application.”

On the one hand you can read that and assume the worst. Assume that DeepCoder is going to take jobs away from human coders or go rogue and figure out a way to code our own demise. But when I read that I see something else. I see a total game-changer. The democratization of coding.

Thanks to DeepCoder the American dream is alive and well as anyone with an idea can now make it big in the blink of an eye. The barrier to entry has been lowered all the way down. Not since the invention of the Gutenberg Press, the start of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of the World Wide Web have we been on the precipice of such a game-changing technology.  Hopefully, everyone else will see it that way too.

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Is DeepCoder the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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The other day I heard something truly startling: Hollywood is actually contemplating a reboot of the Matrix franchise, not even twenty years after the cult hit emerged into the zeitgeist.  Then I learned about something even more shocking: it may soon be possible to actually create the Matrix.  Sort of.

Improbable is a UK based startup that has pioneered a way to create vast virtual simulations at a level of scale and detail that has never been attempted before.  It’s not the Matrix per say.  But it is the next best thing: virtual worlds so complex that they actually mirror the way the real world works.

Why is this important? As their website puts it:

“Imagine simulations of the human body used to help fight disease. Virtual worlds with millions of people interacting to create incredible new entertainment experiences. Companies basing decisions on detailed simulations of entire markets, or governments modelling whole nations.  This would transform how we see the world and help us solve immense problems that need us to be able to understand the emergent complexity of real world systems.”

Economists from Oxford are already using Improbable to run models of the U.K. housing market, Google is using it to build VR experiences, and Samsung is interested in using it to run simulations for its Internet of Things connected devices. And that’s just the start.  The World Health Organization might want to use it to track a potential outbreak and video game developers might want to use it to test their software.  With technology this transformative the potential use cases are truly endless.

So while we may not know how Improbable will be used and who will want to use it one thing is for sure: Hollywood definitely didn’t use it when deciding whether or not to reboot the Matrix.  Because if they did they would have known that this is one reboot that no one was asking for.

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Improbable can create simulations on a grand scale just like in the Matrix.  Does this make it the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

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Virtual Reality gets all of the buzz and attention but in actuality it’s probably going to be Augmented Reality (digital information overlayed onto the real world) that will wind up affecting our daily lives more.  But that’s a story for another day.  For today, I want to talk about something else.  Something far more interesting than turn by turn directions and Wikipedia entries that pop up in your peripheral version.  Allow me to introduce to you Augmented Eternity, a useful albeit somewhat creepy way to communicate with those that we just lost.

Currently being pioneered by Dr. Hossein Rahnana of the M.I.T. Media Lab, Augmented Eternity is a way for us to talk to people from beyond the grave, thanks to the ability of a chat bot to analyze their digital footprint and realistically mimic the nuances of their speech as well as their distinct patterns of thought.

Now, here’s where things get interesting.  In addition to letting us speak to our friends and relatives who just recently passed like we saw on an episode of Black Mirror, this technology could also be used to allow us to speak to the luminaries we lost long ago.

Imagine if you will, being able to summon Steve Jobs for tech advice or Albert Einstein for help with a physics question.  Eventually we could get to the point where the thoughts and though processes of our best minds and greatest leaders get saved for use by future generations.

Accord to Quartz, “Rahnama’s vision for augmented eternity’s educational application focuses on ‘swappable identities,’ where the same question can be addressed to AI personas with drastically different backgrounds. Being able to directly speak to different primary sources on historical issues could be an invaluable, perspective-enhancing tool for students. ‘The future is about being able to switch your lens and see the world from someone else’s view,’ he says. ‘Issues such as gun control, liberalism, genetic cloning, and legal disputes can all be seen from different political, scientific, academic, and statistical angles.'”

Obviously it’s going to be harder to replicate the personality of someone from a generation ago since we don’t have much in the way of usable data to analyze for them.  But modern celebrities with all of their tweets, Facebook posts, emails, and texts would have a treasure trove of information for the AI to cull through.

Suddenly, my 1,000 blog posts don’t seem like such a waste of time anymore.  Maybe in the future students will be chatting with me about ideas, inventions, and innovation.  In a way, this means that our impact on the world is no longer going to be bound by the constraints of our physical bodies.  For some of us, this may mean that we now have a way to live forever.

Image result for albert einstein quotes imagination is more important than knowledge

In the future you may be able to chat with Albert Einstein directly.

 

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#1,036 – Eye

Breaking news!!!  The time has finally come for me to get a new phone!  The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 that I’ve been rocking for the last two years can barely function anymore on account of the fact that my 7,000 (and counting) sunset pictures are overloading the system.  The question is: do I get an iPhone or an Android?  An existential question if there ever was one.

I happen to prefer Android to Apple so the obvious answer is to get another Samsung phone.  But there is the slight issue of their tendency to explode.  You would think that it would be a no brainer then I get the latest iteration of the iPhone.  But I didn’t like the last iPhone I had which is why I opted for the Galaxy Note and its stylus in the first place.  Hmm.  So what’s a guy to do?

I suppose we may be in need of a tie breaker then.  Perhaps we should go with functionality.  Apple would figure to take the lead thanks to their advanced camera, live photos and low light photography mode, all of which could provide a nice boost to my burgeoning Instagram account.  Then again the next Samsung phone is allegedly going to feature Bixby, formally known as Viv, an advanced, always learning Artificial Intelligence that blows Siri out of the water.  This is not going to be an easy choice.

So what do you do when you can’t make a decision?  You compromise and get both! And thanks to a new phone case known as Eye that may soon be possible.  That’s right.  Eye is a phone case that turns your iPhone into a dual screen Franken-phone with both iOS and Android capabilities!  On one side you’ll have your regular iPhone.  On the other side you’ll have a second screen baked into your case that would offer you features only found on Android phones.  Including the beloved headphone jack that Apple decided to get rid of.

As the Verge explains, “Eye shares the speaker, microphone, and cameras of Apple’s device, but otherwise the case is a fully functional standalone device. It’s got two SIM card slots, is expandable by microSD cards, has a 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster, and contains its own separate battery and NFC chip. Oh, and it’s got its own screen, a 5-inch AMOLED display. And if this is starting to sound like a spec sheet for an actual Android phone, that’s because it basically is an Android phone.  This isn’t running Android on an iPhone. This is duct-taping an Android phone to the back of your iPhone.”

Well, maybe not literally duct-taping two phones together, but you get the point.  It’s worth nothing though that this case isn’t the first attempt at a dual screen phone.  The Yotaphone already features an e-ink screen on the back so that you can conserve battery life by using the second screen when you want to read something.  But where Eye stands out is in its ability to give users iOS and Android at the same time without them having to illegally hack their way to that same outcome.

Considering that you can buy a standalone android phone for less than the cost of this case it’s probably a totally ridiculous concept that might not catch on.  But then again, we are talking about having a device that’s both an iPhone and an android phone at the same time.  A concept so crazy that it might just work.

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Is Eye the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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