Grow your mobile in a pot? Maybe someday, say Nokia researchers

July 22, 2008


The worlds leading mobile phone maker Nokia has worked for years with top experts to determine the needs and wants of tomorrows customers in order to stay ahead of aggressive new competitors.

The world’s leading mobile phone maker Nokia has worked for years with top experts to determine the needs and wants of tomorrow’s customers in order to stay ahead of aggressive new competitors

With a mobile phone you can make calls on the go, shoot photos and pinpoint your position on a map. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to grow your phone in a pot, if the futuristic ideas of technology researchers come true.

The world’s leading mobile phone maker Nokia has worked for years with top experts to determine the needs and wants of tomorrow’s customers in order to stay ahead of aggressive new competitors Google and Apple as well as the more traditional device makers Samsung, LG and Motorola.

In 2007, the Finnish company spent some 5.6 billion euros (8.9 billion dollars), or about 11 percent of its 51-billion-euro net sales, on research and development.

About 27 percent of its employees, or more than 30,000 people, work on research and development, 700 of whom are part of Nokia’s long-term research unit.

“Right now we are looking for things that could be relevant for Nokia in 2015. It might be that the patent for a product is relevant in 2015 but that the actual product is further away,” Leo Kaerkkaeinen, a chief visionary at the Nokia Research Centre, told AFP.

But what makes companies want to invest vast amounts of money in experiments that will only bear fruit many years down the road, if at all, at a time when investors are increasingly focused on quarterly profits?

“Futures research can help companies evaluate coming risks and possibilities, while giving them time to react and a competitive edge over their competitors,” Sirkka Heinonen, a professor at Finland Futures Research Centre at the Turku School of Economics, told AFP.

She noted the three main principles of futures studies — the future cannot be precisely predicted, it is not predestined and people can have an impact on it. “Today’s choices and decisions make the future.

“The future is like a landscape that we try to see more clearly and to which we will draw road maps,” Heinonen explained.

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Keeping up with your peers, securely

July 22, 2008

Mobile peer-to-peer (P2P) applications allow a team or group to create new levels of ad hoc co-operation and collaboration around a specific, real-time goal. But developing compelling and secure applications is a challenge. Now a platform developed by European researchers rises to that challenge.

Many business sectors could benefit enormously from secure P2P mobile communications, but developing applications tailored to specific needs is expensive, time-consuming and not necessarily reliable. Security, in particular, is a difficult issue to resolve.

But now researchers at the EU-funded PEPERS project are putting the final touches to a mobile P2P development platform for secure applications. The platform could mean a rapid rise in the number of secure, industry specific P2P mobile applications, helping to increase the competitiveness of European business.

P2P applications allow decentralised companies to more effectively manage a dispersed and highly mobile workforce. Journalists will be able to work more collaboratively on breaking news, and security guards will coordinate responses to situations, increasing security and personal safety.

P2P applications are a powerful innovation enabled by the Internet. Essentially, P2P allows individuals to connect and work together, rather than having to go through a central communications unit first.

P2P can allow thousands of people to collaborate around a specific long-term or ad hoc goal. The technology gave rise to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers. It enabled the creation of Digg, Stumble-Upon and, all phenomenally successful bookmarking services.

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A virtual toothache helps student dentists

July 21, 2008


Masha is a dental patient. Her oral health problems continue to change as she meets new Case Western Reserve University student dentists in Second Life’s virtual dental office.

The middle-aged avatar is an integral part of a new research project of the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences department of communication sciences to teach and give students practice time to communicate with mock patients.

Not only do findings from the study have potential to revolutionize dental education but also to change the way national testing is done for patient-side communication skills.

Kristin Z. Victoroff from the dental medicine’s department of community dentistry will direct the three-year Innovative Dental Assessment Research and Development (IDEA) Grant project from the American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. She will develop patient communication scenarios for simulated education and test their effectiveness in preclinical training for students.

“More dental schools are experimenting with simulation as a way to teach,” said Victoroff. She is joined in the research project by Roma Jasinevicius and Catherine Demko from the dental school faculty in testing and implementing simulations in dental education at the university.

Since 2001, the Case Western Reserve dental school has been on the forefront in using simulations in teaching the physical dexterity skills by using a technology called DentSim ( DentSim is a simulated and computerized training system that uses a simulated dental patient. The school’s use of the technology in dental education was spearheaded by Jasinevicius.

From that technology, the attention turned to developing what Victoroff’s describes simulated experiences for the “softer” skills of dental medicine—communicating with patients.

Victoroff enlisted virtual reality experts and Art and Sciences’ communication disorder scientists Stacy Williams, who directs the Virtual Immersion Center for Simulation Research (VICSR), and Kyra Rothenberg, director of the health communications minor.

They will take three approaches to simulated communications training—live actors, the immersion theatre where students interact with a virtual patient in a 180-degree surround theatre and with avatars, like Masha, in Second Life.

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Emotional robot has empathy

July 18, 2008

Emotional robot has empathy, understands your frustration.

The Feelix Growing project uses software that allows robots to adjust to how a person is feeling based on feedback from cameras and sensors.

The bots look at a human’s facial expression and key in on their voice and proximity to determine what kind of mood they’re in.

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Videogames are getting smarter

July 18, 2008


Videogames are getting smarter with virtual enemies improvising during battles, storylines shifting based on moral choices and in-game characters sending players text messages for help.

Titles unveiled at the just-concluded Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles feature artificial intelligence (AI), making in-game worlds more realistic and less predictable.

“There was a lot we had to do,” Peter Hines of Bethesda Softworks said as AFP tried the studio’s eagerly-awaited “Fallout 3” shooter game, set in a post nuclear war Washington, DC.

AI software in “Fallout 3” lets enemies change tactics depending on what players do.

“They are being smart about being in a combat situation,” Hines said.

The game is also designed so that players’ choices effect which computer-controlled factions become their allies or enemies.

A “Project Origin” action horror game built by Monolith Productions for Warner Interactive Studios boasts “vastly enhanced” AI that makes enemies act realistically and use environments to their advantage.

“See, he threw the car door open because it was the smartest way to take cover,” a Monolith developer said of an on-screen adversary while showing AFP the game.
“That isn’t scripted. He is figuring it out as he goes.”

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Brand names subconsciously affect people’s shopping goals

July 17, 2008

Even 60 milliseconds of exposure to a brand name such as Wal-Mart or Tiffany can alter consumers’ subconscious goals, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Tanya L. Chartrand, Joel Huber (both Duke University), Baba Shiv (Stanford University), and Robin J. Tanner (University of Wisconsin) examined goals that are triggered when consumers shop.

“Results suggest that simple exposure to brand names has the potential to activate goals which then influence choices,” write the authors. “This data thus opens the door to an intriguing new way to think about the role and power of brands.”

The research suggests that goals can be triggered without consciousness. In other words, passing a discount store on the way to the sporting good store might affect an eventual purchase.

In a series of four studies, the researchers had participants complete scrambled sentence tasks designed to subconsciously activate either “thrift” or “prestige” goals. In subsequent studies, participants completed those tasks and were then asked to make choices among various product brands. In the authors’ final study, participants viewed numbers on a computer screen while U.S. retail brand names flashed on the edge of their field of vision. Those brand names were associated with prestige (Tiffany, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom) or thrift (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Dollar Store). Those 60-millisecond flashes influenced the participants’ choices of socks or microwaves.

“To the best of our knowledge, this provides the first evidence that such brands can automatically activate purchase goals in individuals and that these goals can influence consumers’ product preferences without their awareness or conscious intent,” the authors conclude.

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For your eyes only: Custom interfaces make computer clicking faster, easier

July 15, 2008

Three versions of the same interface optimized to suit different users needs. The middle panel is the default. The panel on the left was optimized for a person with cerebral palsy who makes large spastic movements. The panel on the right is optimized ...

Three versions of the same interface, optimised to suit different users’ needs. The middle panel is the default. The panel on the left was optimised for a person with cerebral palsy who makes large, spastic movements. The panel on the right is optimised for someone with muscular dystrophy who has difficulty moving the mouse quickly or over long distances. Image: University of Washington

Insert your key in the ignition of a luxury car and the seat and steering wheel will automatically adjust to preprogrammed body proportions. Stroll through the rooms of Bill Gates’ mansion and each room will adjust its lighting, temperature and music to accommodate your personal preference. But open any computer program and you’re largely subject to a design team’s ideas about button sizes, fonts and layouts.

Off-the-shelf designs are especially frustrating for the disabled, the elderly and anybody who has trouble controlling a mouse. A new approach to design, developed at the University of Washington, would put each person through a brief skills test and then generate a mathematically-based version of the user interface optimised for his or her vision and motor abilities. A paper describing the system, which for the first time offers an instantly customisable approach to user interfaces, was presented today in Chicago at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

“Assistive technologies are built on the assumption that it’s the people who have to adapt to the technology. We tried to reverse this assumption, and make the software adapt to people,” said lead author Krzysztof Gajos, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering. Co-authors are Dan Weld, a UW professor of computer science and engineering, and Jacob Wobbrock, an assistant professor in the UW’s Information School.

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Paper magazines are dinosaurs

July 3, 2008

Time Inc is going to use the Netflix rental model and apply it to magazines. Starting in September, magazine subscribers will be able to pick and choose which magazines they get each month.

Time Inc’s Maghound online service will allow members to receive up to 3 magazines a month for $3.95 per month, five titles for $7.95, seven titles for $9.95, and $1 per title for eight titles or more.

They hope to have more than 300 magazines available by the time they launch.

15 human genomes each week

July 2, 2008


The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has sequenced the equivalent of 300 human genomes in just over six months. The Institute has just reached the staggering total of 1,000,000,000,000 letters of genetic code that will be read by researchers worldwide, helping them to understand the role of genes in health and disease. Scientists will be able to answer questions unthinkable even a few years ago and human medical genetics will be transformed.

The amount of data is remarkable: every two minutes, the Institute produces as much sequence as was deposited in the first five years of the international DNA sequence databases, which started in 1982. It is a global milestone.

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New map IDs the core of the human brain

July 1, 2008


An international team of researchers has created the first complete high-resolution map of how millions of neural fibres in the human cerebral cortex — the outer layer of the brain responsible for higher level thinking — connect and communicate. Their groundbreaking work identified a single network core, or hub, that may be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.

The work by the researchers from Indiana University, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, and Harvard Medical School marks a major step in understanding the most complicated and mysterious organ in the human body.

It not only provides a comprehensive map of brain connections (the brain “connectome”), but also describes a novel application of a non-invasive technique that can be used by other scientists to continue mapping the trillions of neural connections in the brain at even greater resolution, which is becoming a new field of science termed “connectomics.”
“This is one of the first steps necessary for building large-scale computational models of the human brain to help us understand processes that are difficult to observe, such as disease states and recovery processes to injuries,” said Olaf Sporns, co-author of the study and neuroscientist at Indiana University.

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Morris thoughts:

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

This is one of the first articles for what will become an avalanche of articles and findings on how the brain works; culminating somewhere around 2019 with the equivalent of a DNA map for the brain giving us a complete picture of how the brain functions and opening the door for some impressive work on brain functions.

Incidentally around the same time we have finished mapping the brain, computer processing power should have progressed enough to mimic the brain.

Put these two incredible milestones together and the future has just begun.