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Why Zapping the Brain Helps Parkinson's Patients

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 14:00

Deep brain stimulation could lead to a more effective, self-tuning device for Parkinson’s.

Sending pulses of electricity through the brain via implanted electrodes—a procedure known as deep brain stimulation—can relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

IBM’s Watson Could Make a Knowledgeable Tour Guide

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:45

IBM researchers are exploring Watson’s abilities to answer museumgoers’ questions.

IBM’s Watson, the machine-learning computer that won Jeopardy! in 2011 and has found work searching medical and scientific data for insights, could soon have yet another job: museum tour guide.

Paralyzed Again

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 00:00

We have the technology to dramatically increase the independence of people with spinal-cord injuries. The problem is bringing it to market and keeping it there.

One night in 1982, John Mumford was working on an avalanche patrol on an icy Colorado mountain pass when the van carrying him and two other men slid off the road and plunged over a cliff. The other guys were able to walk away, but Mumford had broken his neck. The lower half of his body was paralyzed, and though he could bend his arms at the elbows, he could no longer grasp things in his hands.

AI Doomsayer Says His Ideas Are Catching On

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 00:00

Philosopher Nick Bostrom says major tech companies are listening to his warnings about investing in “AI safety” research.

Over the past year, Oxford University philosophy professor Nick Bostrom has gained visibility for warning about the potential risks posed by more advanced forms of artificial intelligence. He now says that his warnings are earning the attention of companies pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence research.

A Startup’s Plans for a New Social Reality

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 00:00

AltspaceVR is building virtual hangouts that it hopes you’ll use to watch a movie with friends or play a game of life-size chess.

We know what social networks are like on the Web and in apps, but what will they be like in virtual reality? While Facebook, the owner of Oculus VR, is surely pondering this behind the scenes, a startup called AltspaceVR is already offering a few clues about how we may connect with each other in a simulated world.

Work Begins on Brain Stimulator to Correct Memory

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 13:30

Can deep brain stimulation affect how well and what we remember?

For some of the approximately 10 million people worldwide with traumatic brain injury (TBI), forming and holding onto new memories can be one of the hardest things they’ll do in a day. Now imagine a device implanted in the brain that can help them encode memories by means of small electric shocks.

Toolkits for the Mind

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 00:00

Programming languages shape the way their users think—which helps explain how tech startups work and why they are able to reinvent themselves.

When the Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro Matsumoto decided to create Ruby, a programming language that has helped build Twitter, Hulu, and much of the modern Web, he was chasing an idea from a 1966 science fiction novel called Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. At the book’s heart is an invented language of the same name that upgrades the minds of all those who speak it. “Babel-17 is such an exact analytical language, it almost assures you technical mastery of any situation you look at,” the protagonist says at one point. With Ruby, Matsumoto wanted the same thing: to reprogram and improve the way programmers think.

Adding Greater Realism to Virtual Worlds

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:00

A startup is borrowing techniques used in high-frequency trading to enable more realistic simulated worlds.

What new possibilities might open up in video game design—and beyond—when an unlimited number of people can inhabit a truly realistic virtual world simultaneously? This is just one of several questions that Improbable, a company that’s developing a new environment for building virtual worlds of unprecedented scale and complexity, hopes to answer.

The Problem with Fake Meat

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 00:00

It might be possible to create a burger that helps the environment and improves your health. But will it taste good enough to win over the masses?

People want burgers. It seems hardwired. You can read Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire to learn how man evolved into a thinking primate by learning to cook the animals he killed. You can talk to the stylish proprietor of a leading cooking school in Japan, who co-owns an artful Manhattan sushi restaurant. What does he find the most efficient fuel for his triathlon training? A couple of McDonald’s quarter-pounders a day.

Broadcast Every Little Drama

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:26

Meerkat and Periscope show how simple, fun, and weird live-streaming can be.

Like the frequent posture of its cute, furry namesake, a live-streaming video app called Meerkat recently got people to stand up and take notice.

Single-Dose Cures for Malaria, Other Diseases

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 14:00

A leading researcher issues a call for pills that deliver a full course of treatment in one swallow.

One of the world’s preëminent biomedical researchers is calling for a concerted effort by scientists to develop pills that would stay in the stomach or gut for weeks or months once swallowed, delivering one or more drugs continuously or over set intervals.

Amazon Robot Contest May Accelerate Warehouse Automation

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 00:00

Robots will use the latest computer-vision and machine-learning algorithms to try to perform the work done by humans in vast fulfillment centers.

Packets of Oreos, boxes of crayons, and squeaky dog toys will test the limits of robot vision and manipulation in a competition this May. Amazon is organizing the event to spur the development of more nimble-fingered product-packing machines.

Survival in the Age of Spotify

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 00:00

Two rock musicians find flaws—and hope—in a book that suggests how artists can earn a decent living even after free online access to music has ravaged the business.

Mann: Ted, we are both intimately affected by the issues discussed in Cory Doctorow’s book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. I was very apprehensive about how to approach it. I thought, “If I’m going to be reading a bunch of suggestions about how I can tweet for couches to sleep on after shows, I’m going to be really depressed.” And in fact, in the beginning of the book there’s a lot of that language we’re familiar with that comes across as: “Those artists out there who were doing okay by the old systems and now are flailing—too bad! Sorry, lamplighters! Too bad you couldn’t keep up, buggy-whip makers!”

Technology and Persuasion

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 00:00

Persuasive technologies surround us, and they’re growing smarter. How do these technologies work? And why?


GSN Games, which designs mobile games like poker and bingo, collects billions of signals every day from the phones and tablets its players are using—revealing everything from the time of day they play to the types of game they prefer to how they deal with failure. If two people were to download a game onto the same type of phone simultaneously, in as little as five minutes their games would begin to diverge—each one automatically tailored to its user’s style of play.

Compulsive Behavior Sells

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 00:00

Nir Eyal is showing software designers how to hook users in four easy steps. Welcome to the new era of habit-forming technology.


A middle-aged woman sits before a computer screen on the 11th floor of Expedia’s glass-clad headquarters in Seattle. Two electrodes are taped to her brow just above her left eye, two more on her left cheek. A one-way mirror reflects her face as she responds to requests issuing from a speaker mounted in the ceiling.

Reality Check: Comparing HoloLens and Magic Leap

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 00:00

After trying demos of Magic Leap and HoloLens, it’s clear that commercializing augmented reality technology will be difficult.

I’ve seen two competing visions for a future in which virtual objects are merged seamlessly with the real world. Both were impressive in part, but they also made me wonder whether augmented reality will become a successful commercial reality anytime soon.

High-Resolution 3-D Scans Built from Drone Photos

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 00:00

A drone spent hours swarming around Rio’s iconic Christ statue to show a cheap way to capture highly accurate 3-D scans.

The 30-meter tall statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro from a nearby mountain was under construction for nine years before its opening in 1931. It took just hours to build the first detailed 3-D scan of the monument late last year, using more than 2,000 photos captured by a small drone that buzzed all around it with an ordinary digital camera. The statue’s digital double was unveiled last month, and is accurate to between two and five centimeters, enough to capture individual mosaic tiles.

Virtual Reality Advertisements Get in Your Face

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 00:00

Some companies see virtual and augmented reality as a way to make money from a new type of ads.

I’m sitting in a desk chair in an office in Mountain View, California. But with a virtual-reality headset strapped to my head and headphones over my ears, it looks and sounds like I’m standing in the belly of a blimp, flying high above silent city blocks dotted with billboards for a Despicable Me theme-park ride.

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