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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

How do you watch TV? As it airs while live-tweeting your every waking thought and opinion? Via your DVR, at your convenience, so that you can catch up when you feel like it, and fast forward through the commercials as you please?  Or on Netflix years later, so that you can binge watch an entire series all at once and never have to go through the torment of waiting for new episodes to air?

Regardless of how you watch TV currently, the way in which you watch TV in the future may be drastically different.  In fact, it could be drastically different right now if you’re willing to roll the dice on a new Choose Your Own Adventure style app from director Steven Soderbergh known as Mosaic that puts you in control of a character’s destiny and the pace at which you watch it all unfold.

As Wired puts it:

“After watching each segment—some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode—viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also be enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed.”

The idea of interactive storytelling isn’t new.  Netflix is working on similar technology, starting with children’s programming, and of course the iconic Choose Your Own Adventure books started it all.  But Mosaic feels different.  Especially since it’s designed with smartphone using millennials in mind, not couch potatoes watching through a traditional set top box in their living room.  But if you are a traditional consumer of television programming don’t fret.  The murder mystery storyline fueling Mosaic’s app will also be airing on HBO in January as a mini-series.

So will Mosaic be the future of television programming?  Only time will tell.  For now, it’s just another source competing for our undivided attention in an age of distraction.

Image result for mosaic app tv

Is Mosaic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,201 – Flow Battery

As much as I’d like to hope that we can get our act together and stop climate change before it gets any worse, the chances of that happening are decreasing by the day, especially in today’s highly charged political climate.  So, if we have any hope at all, we’re going to need to invent our way out of this mess by figuring out a way to get rid of all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Thankfully, Penn State researchers may have a way to do just that thanks to a new flow battery that converts carbon dioxide into energy.

So how does this amazing new technology work?!!?

According to Futurism:

“Flow batteries normally contain two channels of liquid divided by a membrane that prevents them from mixing. In this recent discovery, the scientists placed a sodium bicarbonate and water solution with air on one side, and dissolved CO2 in between manganese oxide electrons on the other. This resulted in a higher concentration of protons on the latter side. The varying concentrations of the positively charged protons, called pH, is what creates the current and generates electricity.  Once the flow cell is discharged, it will recharge by switching each channel’s solution flow. Tests show that this can be done 50 times before with consistent results.”

Better yet, “In this new study, the battery produced two hundred times more power per unit of size than any of the previous experiments. This most recent model also works at room temperature and uses inexpensive materials.”

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before this battery produces enough energy to be commercially viable.  This is, however, a positive step in the right direction.

Image result for flow battery

Is this new flow battery the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Over the last two years I’ve uncovered a hidden skill that I had: capturing nature’s beauty as a photographer.  In a short period of time my art has captivated audiences and earned me critical acclaim.  Especially, when I tell people that all I use is my phone’s camera.  This usually shocks people.  If I like photography so much, they tell me, I should invest in a better camera.  And they’re right.  Even though a true artist isn’t limited by his tools, there’s no denying that in the long run better tools would equal a better work product.

I had been hesitant to do so because I didn’t want to spend the money on a real camera and didn’t want to have a second piece of equipment to lug around.  Luckily, it now looks like my laziness and cheapness might finally be paying off thanks to a new trick that could enable our phones to take DSLR quality pics on their own.

According to Engadget, “They’ve developed a neural network system that’s focused solely on giving your photos a ‘DSLR-quality’ look. It’s not flawless, but its novel approach points to a future where your phone knows what photos should look like and tweaks shots to match.

The researchers started out by training a deep learning system using photos taken of the same scene using a phone and a DSLR. It’s effective, but it can only improve the quality for the smartphone in question. That led to a more sophisticated system, however: the new network only needs to see two sets of images from different cameras to understand how to apply the image quality from one to the other. In other words, you can feed it any photo and expect results that are more comparable to a target camera.

The results aren’t always ideal…While the colors and exposure in the ‘after’ shot are noticeably better than the dull reference image, there’s also a greenish tint. Other samples will occasionally lose a bit of detail, even if they’re overall more vibrant. The tool nonetheless appears to achieve its overall goal, especially when it’s used with older or low-end phones that tend to take lifeless shots as a matter of course. About the only thing it can’t do is add details that weren’t already there. If your phone is terrible at low-light shots, you’re not going to recover the missing info.”

Hopefully this research will continue to develop and this technology will soon become a standard feature of all camera phones.  Especially since I really, really, really don’t want to have to lug around a separate camera when I go hiking.

Is having DSLR quality pictures on your smart phone the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve never bought into the doomsday hysteria surrounding Artificial Intelligence.  Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking may fear it, but I don’t.  Rogue AI? A real-life Skynet? Please.  It’s foolish to think that AI will turn on us just because that’s what science fiction has trained us to think.  Besides, even if they did, we have Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics to protect us.

Instead I choose to believe that developing superior artificial intelligence is in our best interest as we could use this advanced intelligence to augment our own, allowing us to improve our way of life and figure out how the Universe works.  Eventually, after using AI to eradicate diseases and solve all of our terrestrial problems, we could make our way across the cosmos, colonizing space along the way to ensure the long-term survival of our species.

There’s just one problem with that plan.  The doomsday declaring chicken littles may have been on to something.  For Google’s Go playing AI, AlphaGo Zero, is now smart enough to learn on its own, signaling the start of an advanced intelligence similar to early man developing mathematics for the first time.

As Science Alert puts it, “Zero’s predecessor, dubbed simply AlphaGo, was described as ‘Godlike’ by one of the crestfallen human champions it bested at the ancient Chinese board game, Go, but the new evolution has refined its training arsenal by eradicating human teachings from its schooling entirely.

The AlphaGo versions that kicked our butts at Go in a series of contests this year and last year first learned to play the game by analyzing thousands of human amateur and professional games, but AlphaGo Zero is entirely self-taught, learning by 100 percent independent experimentation.”

Does this mean that we should immediately retreat to an underground bunker and wait out Armageddon?  Of course not.  AI still has a long way to go before they declare war on us.  The Singularity is not near.

But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore this news either.  In fact, we probably should start loading up on supplies for our bunker.  For this is a tremendous breakthrough signaling the dawn of a new era for Artificial Intelligence and for mankind.  How it all plays out, nobody knows.  But when in doubt, it’s always best to air on the side of caution.  Even if that fear is irrational at the moment.  If Science Fiction has taught us anything, it’s that.

Image result for alpha go zero

Is AlphaGo Zero the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,194 – Oculus Go

Virtual Reality has actually been around since the 1970’s but it didn’t really breakthrough into our collective consciousness until a few years ago, when Facebook bought Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift for $2 billion.  Ever since then, VR has become a sort of personal pet project for Mark Zuckerberg with his hope that we could become more interconnected as we use VR for shared experiences, allowing us to attend classes, tour famous landmarks, or go to concerts with our friends, no matter where in the world they may be located.

Zuckerberg was making headway on that vision but it was a slow go considering how expensive the Oculus Rift was and how it was a tethered experience that also required a high-end gaming computer to operate. But now, thanks to the Oculus Go, a $200 untethered, stand-alone headset that doesn’t even require a smart phone to operate, all that’s about to change.

As Ars Technica explains, “The announcement followed Zuckerberg’s statement that Oculus wants to get one billion people using its virtual reality products. (Yes, that was a B, as in boy.) He admitted how lofty that goal is, saying, ‘If we’re going to get a billion people in VR, we have to work on both affordability and quality. We have to find the sweet spot in the middle. The high quality experience that doesn’t tether anybody to a PC.’”

With the Oculus Go, that sweet spot may have finally been reached.

Especially when you consider that the Oculus Go was designed with developers in mind, allowing for a seamless transition for those who were already developing content for Gear VR.  That means that there will be a ton of content available, even from day one.  Throw in a decent price point and the Oculus Go could wind up bringing VR to the masses.

Once and for all.

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Is Oculus Go the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy over the past week:

Eggcelent News

If you thought trying to figure out which came first between the chicken and the egg was hard, imagine trying to figure out which came first between a boiled and un-boiled egg now that the process of boiling an egg can be reversed.

According to CNBC:

“As anyone who has ever cooked an egg knows, egg ‘whites’ are clear until they are cooked. Egg whites are high in protein, and when they cook, the proteins start to unfold, and then fold back up in a tighter, more tangled structure. This is why they go from being clear and mucus-like to white and rubbery.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and Flinders University in Australia have figured out a process that can pull apart the tangled proteins, allowing them to refold and return to their original structure.

It may seem like a mere parlor trick, but it is an achievement that could ‘dramatically’ cut costs for cancer treatments, food production and other research in the $160 billion global biotechnology industry…”

Image result for reverse egg yolk

Untangling a Solution to Noise Pollution

In yet another example of how humans can benefit from nature’s designs, spider webs could one day be used to help in the fight against noise pollution.

According to Phys.org, “Researchers have demonstrated that the geometry of a natural spider web can be used to design new structures that address one of the biggest challenges in sound control: reducing low-frequency noise, which is the second most widespread environmental problem in Europe after air pollution.”

This discovery is also note-worthy in that it marks the first time that I don’t mind that spiders exist.

Image result for spider web noise pollution

Striking It Rich

Frozen oil, of all things, has proven to have bizarre new properties, ones that could lead to flexible electronics or other adaptive materials.

According to Engadget, “British and Bulgarian scientists have discovered that oil droplets will form octagons, triangles and other not-so-natural shapes if you slowly freeze them while they’re in a soapy solution. On top of that, they’ll revert to their original states if you warm them back up. The results are more than a little odd, as you can see here — they’re non-living chemicals taking on artificial shapes in a lifelike way.

It’s still early going, but the implications are huge. If researchers can find a way to produce specific shapes and make them stick, they could have shape-shifting materials whose properties change on the fly. In that sense, flexible devices could be just the first step toward gadgets whose very nature adapts to your needs.”

Image result for oil droplets changing shape

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’m a notoriously picky eater who hates to try new things that I know I don’t like.  But in the future I may finally be willing to try something new.  Just on account of how cool it is.  That’s because in the future we all may be digesting edible gelatin robots that could heal our bodies from within.

According to TechCrunch there are a number of potential applications for such edible robots, “including food that can walk itself to hotter or colder locations or inch its way toward the human or animal it’s looking to feed. What’s more immediately compelling, however, is the possibility of delivering automated medication, as touched upon in a recent Recode article that helped bring the EPFL study to wider attention. ‘That’s definitely a very interesting application,’ says [Dario] Floreano, ‘because you may carry pharmaceutical components to a location where you want them to have an effect.’”

While targeted medication would certainly have a major medical impact the aspect of this innovation that I’m most drawn to is the ability of this robotic food to move itself.  In theory, could a bed ridden patient who is recovering from a broken leg or difficult pregnancy have food march itself from the refrigerator directly to them so that they wouldn’t have to get up to retrieve it?  Would this mean that our futuristic restaurants could operate entirely without waiters as we order robotic food that drives itself to our tables?

There could be other uses as well.  According to Fortune, “’Fully edible robots would help to study how wild animals collectively behave. The robots could also take a role of animals prey to observe their hunting behaviors, or to train protected animals to do predation,’ the researchers write.”

Either way, it’s clear that an edible robot in some form or another may soon become a part of our lives.  Hopefully, they won’t taste half bad.

Image result for edible gelatin robots

Are edible robots the Greatest Idea Ever?

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