Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Web Secret 430: you read it here first

Any Matrix fans in the audience?

There is a scene at the beginning of the movie where agents hold Neo down and forcefully insert an insectlike device into his stomach.

Later the bloody wriggling insect is removed from Neo. Is it a machine? Is it an organism? Something in between?


That movie was made 17 years ago.

That creature immediately came to mind when I read "Stingray Robot Powered by Light, and Living Rat Cells," an article by Steph Yin published in a July 2016 issue of the New York Times:

"If a robot is made of living cells, can respond to external stimuli and has the ability to compute and coordinate movement, is it alive?

This question can be posed of a new, tiny stingray-inspired robot that is able to follow pulses of light to swim through an obstacle course.

'It’s not an organism per se, but it’s certainly alive,' said Kevin Kit Parker, a professor of bioengineering at Harvard University and one of the authors of a paper detailing the robot, published in Science on Thursday.

To create the robot, which measures 16 millimeters in length, Dr. Parker’s team layered heart cells from rats onto a gold and silicone scaffold that they designed to resemble a stingray. They then injected a gene into the cells that caused them to contract when exposed to blue light...

The new artificial stingray advances the nascent field of 'biohybrid' robotics, which integrates mechanical engineering with genetic and tissue engineering..."

I encourage you to go to the url, and look at the photos that accompany the article. This man made stingray looks so lifelike that it blows my mind.

What will this technology do for us in the future?

Something amazing.

You read it here first.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Web Secret 429: Janusian thinking

Albert Rothenberg MD is an American psychiatrist who has carried out long term research on the creative process in literature, art, science and psychotherapy.

Albert was especially interested in cognitive processes that disrupt the past and the usual and lead to creation.

He identified a process he termed “Janusian thinking,” named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction. Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images, existing simultaneously. It is a thought experiment.

And we care about this because....

...More and more experts in diverse fields believe that the 21st century requires non linear problem solving.

For example, in a 2002 article in Military Review, two military strategists wrote "that the current U.S. approach to military operations ... is too linear for today’s contemporary operating environment. They argue that future war fighters must move beyond linear thought and action to a realm of thinking and acting that recognizes and accepts paired yet opposite ideas and actions: 'Look before you leap' and at the same time understand that 'he who hesitates is lost.'"

Think about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Web Secret 428: the Bechdel Test for computer technology

The Bechdel test is a well-known measurement of gender bias in movies that originated in 1985 in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For."

To pass the test, a movie must have three things:
  1. Two female characters (preferably named),
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.
Almost half of 2015’s top movies failed the Bechdel test.

Think that's disturbing?

Now think about computer technology, anything having to do with computer technology, such as social media, the algorithms underlying all the electronic devices we use on a daily basis, and AI.


Before you do that, let me tell you about the first social media conference I attended in 2008. Facebook was 4 years old. There were hundreds of attendees at the Javitz Center - Manhattan's cavernous convention hall.

I counted exactly 5 women attendees.


It's gotten a bit better since then.

But overwhelmingly - computer tech is a male dominated field.

And as I waded through the crowd of 25 year old men, I thought to myself, "Wow - I have a feeling this is going to be a problem - what is the world missing out on because the female perspective is absent?"

That question is being answered every day since then:

1. no women, no color. Overwhelmingly, computers, smartphones and gizmos of every kind are grey, grey, grey. As a basis of comparison, Urban Decay's Vice Lipstick collection comes in 100 different shades.

2. Okay, that was a little sarcastic. How about most gaming consoles feature first person shooters hunting monsters and overly voluptuous women in scanty outfits?

3. Still sarcastic. Let's get serious. How about a June 2016 New York Times editorial "Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem" ? I quote:

"...the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems [is that] sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many 'intelligent' systems that shape [who we are.]"

The article continues:

"We need to be vigilant about how we design and train these machine-learning systems, or we will see ingrained forms of bias built into the artificial intelligence of the future.

Like all technologies before it, artificial intelligence will reflect the values of its creators. So inclusivity matters... Otherwise, we risk constructing machine intelligence that mirrors a narrow and privileged vision of society, with its old, familiar biases and stereotypes."

How to get more women, more minorities, older people and other constituencies involved in computer tech? It's not going to be easy.

But it has to happen.

And soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Web Secret 427: Utomic smartphone case

My twin children destroy cell phones.

Over the course of the ten or so years they have owned such devices, their phones have been:
  • immersed in a swimming pool
  • swept away at sea
  • left outside in a downpour
  • dropped on concrete
and more.

When one of them cracked her phone for the 5th time, I knew it was time for something different. I read about a new, very minimal case system that combines 4 rubber bumpers and state of the art tempered glass cover that offers unparalleled drop protection. It's called Utomic.

OK, so the system doesn't make the phone waterproof. But the phone no longer breaks when dropped.

And for now, that will have to do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Web Secret 426: Google Arts and Culture

I recently came back from visiting Florence and Venice.

I went to numerous museums and looked at incredible paintings, sculptures and architectural masterpieces until my head exploded.

I am an art junkie who enjoys experiencing the world's cultural buffet.

But what if I told you that anyone with an Internet connection could see these treasures - passport and plane ticket not required?

That would be the Google Arts and Culture Project.

I have no idea why Google decided to approach hundreds of museums and cultural institutions, scan thousands of works using state of the art high resolution technology, and then organize the scans in dozens of different funky ways. Was it out of the goodness of their heart? For a tax break? To monetize it in some murky fashion?

I don't care.

I care that I can see:
How about curated collections about the wonders of Indonesia, street art, 360 degree performing arts shows?

It feels limitless.

Take a trip.

On me.