Monday, September 8, 2014

Uncertainty: Technology's Secret Weapon in Encouraging Us to Explore


Uncertainty is a healthy state that encourages liberalism, toleration and fairness by inviting us to explore and ask questions, argues philosopher Luciano Floridi


There are many things in life that we value, but uncertainty is not one of them.


At first sight, this may seem to be uncontroversial. What we actually value is information, understandable as the appropriate combination of relevant questions and correct answers, the Qs and the As. We value information because it is power: power to understand what happened, forecast what will happen, and hence choose among the things that could happen.


Chinese Scientists Create Robot Arm Powered by Thought That Can Play Rock-Paper-Scissors

South China Morning Post

Zhejiang University researchers have equipped a patient with a special robotic arm that she can control with the power of her thoughts. The researchers started the project in 2006, and by 2012 had demonstrated that a monkey could command a robotic arm to pinch or grasp. Now the technology has been adapted for human use. "Compared to [previous] robotic hands controlled by monkeys, this technology is tailored for human use, [and] thus is more challenging," says Zhejiang professor Zheng Xiaoxiang. The researchers found the patient could control the robotic hand with her mind with about 80-percent accuracy. Although the researchers used a previously-developed brain-wave-reading implant, they were able to eavesdrop on the electric signals passing between the implant and medical equipment without affecting the treatment for the first time. "The implant was buried in the [patient's] cerebral cortex with minimum damage by surgery, so it can read more sophisticated and various brain waves," Zheng says. The robotic hand reads the patient's brainwaves through the implant and translates them into actions. Zhejiang professor Zhang Jianmin says the latest experiment showed Chinese progress in brain-machine interface research, bringing new hope to patients afflicted with motor dysfunctions in their limbs.


Time Travel Simulation Resolves "Grandfather Paradox

Scientific American and Huffington Post

On June 28, 2009, the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking threw a party at the University of Cambridge, complete with balloons, hors d'oeuvres and iced champagne. Everyone was invited but no one showed up. Hawking had expected as much, because he only sent out invitations after his party had concluded. It was, he said, "a welcome reception for future time travelers," a tongue-in-cheek experiment to reinforce his 1992 conjecture that travel into the past is effectively impossible.

But Hawking may be on the wrong side of history. Recent experiments offer tentative support for time travel's feasibility—at least from a mathematical perspective. The study cuts to the core of our understanding of the universe, and the resolution of the possibility of time travel, far from being a topic worthy only of science fiction, would have profound implications for fundamental physics as well as for practical applications such as quantum cryptography and computing.


Skype's Real-Time Translator Learns How to Speak From Social Media


Microsoft's upcoming Skype Translator app translates multilingual conversations in real time through a combination of speech recognition, machine translation, and speech synthesis technologies. A key element of the app is a software system Microsoft Research developed to translate social media musings. An essential component to enable translation is the syntactically informed phrasal statistical machine translation (syntactic SMT) system, which builds on the phrasal SMT platform but comprehends syntax as well. Syntactical SMT does not simply match common phrases, but deconstructs a phrase into individual words and then maps each word over to the other language. Microsoft researchers then started studying Facebook, Short Message Service, and Twitter communications to determine the best technique for managing conversational text. To account for the characteristic differences of each social media platform, the researchers developed software capable of automatically adapting to these distinctions to generate something that syntactic SMT can process. The addition of this normalization system to the translator's protocol improved the quality of translations by boosting their accuracy 6 percent, says Microsoft's Vikram Dendi. "There's still a lot of work to do, but when we did this, it really did move the needle on understanding and translating that type of data better," he says.


The Case For Intelligent Failure To Invent The Future


The world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. In the past, experts with spreadsheets and econometric models or social scientists with subscale studies and linear models may have been useful. These so-called experts extrapolated from what came before, but as the rate of change has increased, looking to the past often is no longer meaningful – especially in a world driven by new technology.

Today, the means of production and distribution are being democratized and technology's ability to enable creative uses and business models is quickly evolving. One person can spread an idea to billions. One person can build a product used by billions. The future will not be like the past. The future will be built by those who will take risks and action to invent the world they want.

Our civilization's needs are expanding rapidly, as seven billion people reach for the lifestyle of the 700 million most well off while our physical resources cannot keep pace.


The Innovation Dead End

When I was a fresh graduate getting my start in the tech industry, I figured big companies were where innovation went to die.


In my mind, the cause-and-effect ran something like this: startups have innovative people; big companies don't (and can't attract them). I thought by sticking with small companies and avoiding big companies with their bureaucrats and overhead, I could stay innovative in my own career.


Reality busted a hole in my illusions. Plenty of small companies fail to innovate — we only hear about the ones that succeed. While there was some truth to my observations about big companies slowing down, the more I learned about why, the more I learned useful lessons for companies of all sizes.


It all stems from one basic problem, which is that innovative ideas are roughly indistinguishable from dumb ideas.


Let that sink in. Innovative ideas look just like dumb ideas.


How To Waste Time Properly

Ever since Frederick Winslow Taylor timed the exact number of seconds that Bethlehem Steel workers took to push shovels into a load of iron ore and then draw them out, maximizing time efficiency has been a holy grail of the American workplace. But psychologists and neuroscientists are showing us the limits of this attitude: Wasting time, they say, can make you more creative. Even seemingly meaningless activities such as watching cat videos on YouTube may help you solve math problems.


Brent Coker, who studies online behavior at the University of Melbourne in Australia, found that people who engage in "workplace Internet leisure browsing" are about 9 percent more productive than those who don't. Last year, Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara published with his doctoral student Benjamin Baird a study called Inspired by Distraction. It concluded that "engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving."  


Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book: Grown-up Advice on Modern Life from Vintage Children's Books


link  As an enormous lover of vintage children's books, I was instantly smitten with Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book (public library) — a semi-serious, playful and practical guide to life culling wisdom for modern grown-ups from the iconic Little Golden Books series of mid-century children's books. From mental and physical health to money to relationships, this charming compendium captions and reframes vibrant vintage illustrations — many by artists whose talent was cultivated under legendary children's book champion Ursula Nordstrom's magnanimous wing — as little reminders about what it takes to live a happy and fulfilling life today.

The project is in many ways an organic extension of the Little Golden Book ethos, which has sustained generations through troubled times with creative nourishment for young souls. This compendium offers heartening solace for those weary of the hardships our world is currently facing.


Corporations as a Force for Good

Royal Society of Arts

Watch organisational change expert Professor Lynda Gratton as she shows that it is now critical that corporations step up to play their role in the world by building inner resilience, actively anchoring themselves in their communities and supply chains, and leveraging their unique capabilities to address complex global challenges.


Using Games for Learning: Practical Steps to Get Started


By now, you've probably read enough to be convinced that it's worth trying games in your classroom. You understand that games are not meant to be robot teachers, replacing the human-to-human relationship. Games are a tool that teachers can use to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. Games provide a different approach to developing metacognitive skills through persistent self-reflection and iteration of particular skill sets. Games offer experiential contextualized learning through virtual simulation. Games can also offer an especially engaging interdisciplinary learning space.


Though every educator can find her own way, here are ideas for the first four steps to getting started with digital games in the classroom.


Step 1: Assess Your Resources

Step 2: Find Games

Step 3: Play Games

Step 4: See How Others Do It


Pitfalls Emerge in the Analysis of Mobile Phone Datasets

Technology Review

Mobile phone data in the form of call and text logs that track the time of day, duration, and cell tower location are being used by researchers in numerous fields to gain insights into the way people move, communicate, and interact. However, many of the methods used to determine a person's mobility by analyzing this data have serious flaws, as described in a recent paper by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle. Mobility is often determined based on the number of different cell towers a person's phone contacts over a given time period, but relying solely on this measure can obscure how mobile a person is because of the uneven way towers are distributed throughout a given region. For example, depending on how rich, urban, and geographically flat an area is, a person moving between several cell towers could be going a few blocks or driving several miles in a rural area. The frequency with which a person uses their phone also changes the number of towers they contact. The researchers propose laying out a grid system and only counting as movement when a phone moves between towers in different cells. They also suggest assuming people use established roadways rather than traveling in a straight line.


IEEE Predicts Top Technologies for 2022


A new Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) report describes 23 technologies that it says could change the world by 2022. The report, which aims to predict the future of disruptive technologies, says multicore will enable smartphone users to recharge their devices once a year, and the Internet of Things will enable people to dress in clothes that monitor all their activities. Nanotechnology will enable the development of digestible cameras and machines made from particles 50,000 times as small as a human hair, which will help save lives. Big data will grow exponentially, but there will be concerns about balancing convenience and privacy. The report also recognizes the importance of quantum computing and indicates universal memory replacements for DRAM will result in a tectonic shift in hardware architectures and software. In addition, the report says machine learning increasingly will impact people's lives, while advancements in medical robotics will lead to life-saving technologies. "These technologies, tied into what we call seamless intelligence, present a view of the future," says IEEE Computer Society president Dejan Milojicic. "Technology is the enabler. What humanity takes out of it really depends on human society."


Study: Adult Women Gamers Outnumber Teenage Boys

US News and World Report

Women now represent 48 percent of the average video game players in the U.S., up from 40 percent in 2010 – and one gaming company is ready to capitalize.

The player data showing the increase in female gamers was recently published in a survey by the Entertainment Software Association, an industry association which represents dozens of gaming companies.

Women over 18 represent 36 percent of people who play video games on regular basis, outnumbering even boys under the age of 18, who make up 17 percent of gamers, the survey shows.