Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CNET's 5 Technology Predictions For 2009

CNET's top 5 predictions for the new year include:

5  The decline of portable GPS
4  Mind control video games go commercial!!
3  Devices with Google's Android operating system will outsell the iphone
2  Bandwidth riots 
1  Biggest security breach ever

Check out the video explanations here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Typealyzer Analyzes Blog Personality

The Typealyzer applies the Meyers-Briggs personality test to blogs.  Try it here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Big Business Of Memory and Cognitive Enhancement

An aging population, an economy built on ideas, increasing competition at top high schools and universities…there’s no shortage of explanations for why cognitive and memory enhancement is poised to grow into a massive industry. Who wouldn’t want to feel smarter, sharper, and more on the ball? As an already medicated society, we’re collectively making as shift from “making the sick healthy” to “protecting and enhancing the already healthy.”
Today you can look treat yourself to various natural enhancement options. Start with a nice cup of tea, as the University of Newcastle Plant Research Center has found that both black and green tea can improve memory and prevent Alzheimer’s. Still thirsty? Try a Brainiac, the hip, functional beverage enhanced with “soy phosphatidylserine (PS), ginkgo biloba, and other powerful antioxidants at the forefront of brain science.”
Once you’re thoroughly hydrated the Brain Fitness Program DVD by PBS offers a “scientifically-based set of brain exercises” to improve memory and a range of cognitive functions.
If all else fails, just go for a run or play a game of football. Among neuroscientists, physical exercise is viewed as the ultimate cognitive enhancer (certainly the most effective): “fitness training slows the age-related shrinkage of the frontal cortex, which is important for executive function. In rodents, exercise increases the number of capillaries in the brain, which should improve blood flow, and therefore the availability of energy, to neurons. Exercise may also help the brain by improving cardiovascular health, preventing heart attacks and strokes that can cause brain damage. Finally, exercise causes the release of growth factors, proteins that increase the number of connections between neurons, and the birth of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory" (from the NYtimes).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Love, Sex, And Robots

Ever since David Levy's book hit the shelves last year, robot love (perhaps more specifically robot sex) has been a hot topic (call it the "sexy singularity"). Levy's prediction that by mid century these robot-human relationships will become commonplace, has been met with skeptical excitement and artistic reaction. Consider the current "Sex Lives of Robots" at the Museum of Sex in NYC.

From all the hoopla an obvious question has arisen: "Is it cheating to have sex with a robot?" And what if that robot is equipped with AI emotion technology (apparently some sex dolls already come with a heartbeat that accelerates throughout the sex act)? One wonders if it will be this question of sexual fidelity, ahead of all others, that will force humanity to legally consider the rights of robotic entities.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scientists Extract Images Directly From Brain

Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed a breakthrough process of analyzing changes in a participants cerebral blood flow to reconstruct and display viewed images. This breakthrough process of extracting images directly from the brain has so far been used only with black letters on a white background. However, researchers say that as the technology improves and the computer program learns to associate nuanced cerebral states with complex mental images, we could, within, the decade learn to extract these complex images directly from patients' brains. Full story at the pink tentacle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free Associating With The Superbrain And The Problem Of Context Switching

Often, the most fascinating online discoveries come from meandering through the internet’s “series of tubes” without a set agenda or ultimate goal. This is web-surfing at it’s best. It’s like linking up with a massive mind and free associating until you discover something that’s worth a closer look. It was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon the Monkey No-Climb and thought, I wish that a web browser would, like wikipedia, include a series of related links at the bottom of the page; as in: “users who viewed this page also viewed this one.” This would enable a new level of free association, leading to a higher frequency of wild, unexpected discoveries.

It’s worth noting however, that these content excursions, while stimulating, lack the feeling of enrichment that comes from thoroughly absorbing information. Something is lost in the cavalcade of media.

Edward R. Tufte, the Yale design and statistics legend and author of several superb books on information design, discusses this issue in his book, Envisioning Information. He says:

“In user interfaces for computers, a problem undermining information exchange between human and software is ‘constant context switches. By this we mean that the user is not presented with one basic display format and one uniform style of interaction, but instead, with frequent changes: a scatterplot is present; it goes away, and is replaced by a menu; the menu goes away, ,and is replaced by the scatterplot; and so on…users constantly have to adjust to a changing visual environment rather than focusing on the data. The user is also forced to remember things seen in one view so that he or she can use the other view effectively. This means that the users short-term memory is occupied with the incidentals rather than the significant issues of analysis.’

Although this explanation might not resonant as well with the younger, hyper media literate generations, it's conclusions, to the extend that they comment of human facilities of sight, hearing, and information processing, seem universal and timeless. It explains why consistent web design interfaces, like the pages of wikipedia, are so valuable.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Mouse Celebrates 40-yr Anniversary

On this day in 1968, visionary computer scientist Douglas Engelbart used a mouse to demonstrate the potential of computer programs. Forty years later the mouse looks sleeker but exists in essentially the same form. Read about the demonstration (and how the mouse helped launch the computer revolution) here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

H.M., Famous Amnesia Patient, Dies At 82

The story of H.M. has been indispensable for psychology and neuroscience researchers, and undeniably fascinating to the public at large and the many students who read about him in textbooks.

Lacking the ability to make new memories after a operation to ameliorate epileptic seizures, H.M. (or Henry Gustav Molaison) left a massive legacy in brain science not only because of his physical condition, but also because of the kindness and incredible cooperation he showed to the researchers whom became his friend. Although he could only retain new memories for 20 seconds, his willingness to share all we could remember helped scientists uncover the integral role of the hippocampos and the important disctinction between implicit and explicit memory.

Full story here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Eyeborg Man" Plans To Replace Eye With Video Camera

Wired reports today that Rob Spence, a 36 year old Canadian filmmaker who lost his eye in a childhood shooting accident, plans to replace his current prosthetic eye with an ocular video camera. The original cyborg man, Steve Mann, help Spence on his quest to become the Eyeborg man. Spence will literally have the potential to film everything he sees (except for his dreams), making him a superb candidate for personality capture. The trick, once again, is going to be organizing the bountiful video footage. A feat that becomes possible with the arrival of the semantic web in all its multimedia-savvy, search engine glory.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Good Is Memorization In The Age Of Google?

The younger sister of a good friend of mine recently enrolled at Princeton. She has said that "in the future knowledge won't be valued as much as the ability to access information." So what role does memorization play today? Should students still have to memorize dates and poetic passages? Not according to writer and businessman Don Tapscott. In the Telegraph, Tapscott opines that in the age of wikipedia and google, schoolteachers must adjust their to curricula to teach concepts and methods of thinking. Sounds good, but what exactly is lost when we outsource memorization? Are we loosing a necessary developmental brain process? Could the ability to retain information, somehow improve our ability to have creative thought or fruitful analysis? Does the brain exercise of memorization improve other aspects of cognition? Or, does outsourcing laborious memorization free up our cognitive load and allow us to dedicate more brain power to the really exciting conceptual, technological, and creative breakthroughs?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Robot Invented To Explore Other Planets Ends Up On Kanye West's Blog

The GroundBot! A Swedish designed spherical robot designed to roll 6 mph over any terrain. So stylish, so design-conscious that it ended up of Kanye West's popular blog of MP3's, swimsuit models, concept cellphones, and of course, uncomfortable, avant-guard chairs. Check out the link for video footage of the GroundBot in action.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The State Of The Household Robot

Natalie Angier, in her recent NYtimes Science article discusses the dream that is (and has been) the household robot. It seems, that like flying cars, the prerequisite technological breakthroughs have not yet occurred to make the dream a reality.
In the short but interesting article Angier discusses: the etymology of the word robot (the Czech word "robota" meaning slave), the striking specificity that restricts many of our robots in the field (a welding robot transfered from an assembly line to an auto shop would likely kill someone within seconds), and the how the boundaries between ourselves and our "robotas" blurs, as we walk around linked to and loving our iphones, bluetooth headsets, and blackberrys.