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From the real world into the virtual one

Teja Palko

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The concept of virtual reality (VR) means using computer technology to create a simulated, three dimensional world. User can manipulate, interact and explore computer generated environment using different motions, particularly head or eye movements.

With Oculus Rift, a head-mounted virtual-reality display, virtual reality is not fiction anymore. It gives a user 360-degree view of the virtual world. It was founded by Palmer Luckey, self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek. It all started with Kickstarter campaign to help fund development of their first product. With the support of top video game companies the Kickstarter was an enormous success. They raised over 2.4 million dollars in funding from project backers and supporters around the world. Facebook bought Oculus a year and a half later for 2 billion dollars in cash and stock. Currently there is possibility of purchase oculus rift Development Kit (DK) 2 and with it the taste of virtual realityfor 350 dollars. DK is not a consumer product yet, it is a developer version of the head mounted display meant for developers to develop content for the future version cv1 – consumer version.

If you are questioning what it is like to use it, I can say it is very interesting if not fascinating. Imagine yourself being in a live show that is happening on the other side of globe. Imagine you can experience every concert of your best group or singer, or football game from the first person perspective. Imagine yourself in universe. Imagine diving in the most beautiful seas around the world. Imagine driving a formula, tank, plane or helicopter. Imagine you can go wherever you want. With Oculus Rift everything is possible. All you need to do is put the HMD-head mounted display on and pair it with headphones to make events even more real. Within seconds your brain flips and it feels like that what you are watching at is a reality. You do not know you are looking into the screen. If you want to change your point of view you just need to turn your head. Manipulation of our mind is fascinating. It offers first person point of view and personal experience. Even not a fan of games or video games will be very impressed. It did however make me a little sick but eventually sickness passes. I was dropped into a room with roller coaster. When I got to the top of the roller coaster the feeling was very realistic. It was like I was in the real park.

In some way the available version is still very clumsy with cables and the quality of display is not good enough yet, but that will be better in the consumer version. Currently there are no special input controllers for Oculus Rift, and it is kind of clumsy to use keyboard and mouse when the device is on your face, since you cannot see anything else. You can be dropped into a movie theater, complete with rows of seats and a flickering projector behind you. Or you can drive a car or Cockpit and with some gadget it appears you can learn to drive in your apartment. Headset was basically designed for entertainment but it can be much more than just a toy.

Now virtual reality has the potential to profoundly alter our lives. There are limitless educational possibilities. Breathtaking advantages can be seen in fields of architecture and medicine. Architects may be using it to check their designs before starting to build. You will be able to walk through the buildings, new kitchen, house or landscape and experience the designs before they are even made. In medicine doctors can get a first-person view of an actual surgery. It can help learn new techniques by stepping into the virtual shoes of another surgeon. There are also some reports of using the Oculus Rift to help treat vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and help them confront traumatic memories. There is potential to reinvent the online shopping experience with 3d models. It can go further and with help of cameras around the world virtual tourism can happen. New possibilities and changes are on horizon and you can reach them without even leaving your seat. We are bringing the real world into virtual one. There is nothing left but wait for the year 2016 and the date when updated, advanced and more user friendly Oculus Rift will be available for consumers.

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

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Your new digital rights across Europe during summer holidays

MD Staff

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This summer, European citizens will enjoy more digital rights than ever before. Following the end of roaming charges across the European Union last year, holidaymakers can now travel with their online TV, film, sports, music or e-book subscriptions at no extra cost. In addition, everyone across Europe can enjoy world-class data protection rules that ensure all Europeans have better control over their personal data.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market said: “Europeans are already starting to feel the benefits of the Digital Single Market. This summer you will be able to bring your favourite TV programmes and sports matches with you wherever you travel in the EU. By the end of this year, you will also be able to buy festival tickets or rent cars online from all over the EU without being geo-blocked or re-routed.”

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality added: “The digital world offers tremendous opportunities, but also challenges; for example, our personal data is a useful asset for many companies. With the modern data protection rules we have put in place, Europeans have gained control over their data whenever they shop, book their holidays online or just surf the internet.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society said: “We are improving the daily life of our citizens, be it end of roaming charges or safer online environment. By completing all our digital initiatives we will bring even more positive change to consumers and businesses alike.

Digital rights already in daily use

Since June 2017, people have been able use their mobile phones while travelling in the EU just like they would at home, without paying extra charges. Since the EU abolished roaming charges, more than five times the amount of data has been consumed and almost two and a half times more phone calls have been made in the EU and the European Economic Area.

Since April 2018, consumers can access online content services they have subscribed to in their home country also when travelling across the EU, including among other films, series and sports broadcasts (see examples in factsheet).

Under the new data protection rules which have been in place across the EU since 25 May 2018, Europeans can safely transfer personal data between service providers such as the cloud or email; everyone now has the right to know if their data has been leaked or hacked, or how their personal data is being collected. Furthermore, with the ‘right to be forgotten’, personal data has to be deleted upon request, if there are no legitimate reasons for a company to keep it.

Finally, with the net neutrality rules applying since spring 2016, every European has access to open internet, guaranteeing their freedom without discrimination when choosing content, applications, services and information of their choice.

Coming soon

With some digital rights already in place, there is more to come in the upcoming months. From September, Europeans will have increasingly the right to use their national electronic identification (eID) across the whole EU to access public services.

As of December, everyone will benefit from the free flow of non-personal data, as they will have access to better and more competitive data storage and processing services in the EU, thus complementing the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Entrepreneurs meanwhile will have the right to decide where in the EU they store and process all types of data.

As of 3 December, Europeans will be able to shop online without unjustified discrimination wherever they are in the EU. They will not have to worry about a website blocking or re-routing them just because they – or their credit card – come from a different country.

As of next year, citizens will be able to compare parcel delivery costs more easily and benefit from more affordable prices for cross-border parcel delivery.

Agreed rules on value added tax for e-commerce will allow entrepreneurs to take care of their cross-border VAT needs in one online portal and in their own language.

With the recently agreed European Electronic Communications Code, Europeans will have the right to switch internet services and telecoms providers in a simpler way. They will also have the right to receive public alerts on mobile phones in case of an emergency. The new rules will also guarantee a better and more affordable connectivity across the EU.

With the updated rules for audiovisual media, Europeans will have the right to a safe online environment that protects them from incitement to violence, hatred, terrorism, child pornography, racism and xenophobia.

Background

The Digital Single Market strategy was proposed by the Commission in May 2015 to make the EU’s single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one. This has the potential to contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Three years later, the strategy is well on its way: 17 legislative proposals have been agreed on, while 12 proposals are still on the table. There is a strong need to complete our regulatory framework for creating the Digital Single Market. Thanks to this the value of Europe’s data economy has the potential to top €700 billion by 2020, representing 4% of the EU’s economy.

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Artificial intelligence: Between myth and reality

Jean-Gabriel Ganascia

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Are machines likely to become smarter than humans? No, says Jean-Gabriel Ganascia: this is a myth inspired by science fiction. The computer scientist walks us through the major milestones in artificial intelligence (AI), reviews the most recent technical advances, and discusses the ethical questions that require increasingly urgent answers.

A scientific discipline, AI officially began in 1956, during a summer workshop organized by four American researchers – John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester and Claude Shannon – at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, United States. Since then, the term “artificial intelligence”, probably first coined to create a striking impact, has become so popular that today everyone has heard of it. This application of computer science has continued to expand over the years, and the technologies it has spawned have contributed greatly to changing the world over the past sixty years.

However, the success of the term AI is sometimes based on a misunderstanding, when it is used to refer to an artificial entity endowed with intelligence and which, as a result, would compete with human beings. This idea, which refers to ancient myths and legends, like that of the golem [from Jewish folklore, an image endowed with life], have recently been revived by contemporary personalities including the British physicist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), American entrepreneur Elon Musk, American futurist Ray Kurzweil, and  proponents of what we now call Strong AI or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). We will not discuss this second meaning here, because at least for now, it can only be ascribed to a fertile imagination, inspired more by science fiction than by any tangible scientific reality confirmed by experiments and empirical observations.

For McCarthy, Minsky, and the other researchers of the Dartmouth Summer Research Project (link is external)on Artificial Intelligence, AI was initially intended to simulate each of the different faculties of intelligence – human, animal, plant, social or phylogenetic – using machines. More precisely, this scientific discipline was based on the conjecture that all cognitive functions – especially learning, reasoning, computation, perception, memorization, and even scientific discovery or artistic creativity – can be described with such precision that it would be possible to programme a computer to reproduce them. In the more than sixty years that AI has existed, there has been nothing to disprove or irrefutably prove this conjecture, which remains both open and full of potential.

Uneven progress

In the course of its short existence, AI has undergone many changes. These can be summarized in six stages.

The time of the prophets

First of all, in the euphoria of AI’s origins and early successes, the researchers had given free range to their imagination, indulging in certain reckless pronouncements for which they were heavily criticized later. For instance, in 1958, American  political scientist and economist Herbert A. Simon – who received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1978 – had declared that, within ten years, machines would become world chess champions if they were not barred from international competitions.

The dark years

By the mid-1960s, progress seemed to be slow in coming. A 10-year-old child beat a computer at a chess game in 1965, and a report commissioned by the US Senate in 1966 described the intrinsic limitations of machine translation. AI got bad press for about a decade.

Semantic AI

The work went on nevertheless, but the research was given new direction. It focused on the psychology of memory and the mechanisms of understanding – with attempts to simulate these on computers – and on the role of knowledge in reasoning. This gave rise to techniques for the semantic representation of knowledge, which developed considerably in the mid-1970s, and also led to the development of expert systems, so called because they use the knowledge of skilled specialists to reproduce their thought processes. Expert systems raised enormous hopes in the early 1980s with a whole range of applications, including medical diagnosis.

Neo-connectionism and machine learning

Technical improvements led to the development of machine learning algorithms, which allowed  computers to accumulate knowledge and to automatically reprogramme themselves, using their own experiences.

This led to the development of industrial applications (fingerprint identification, speech recognition, etc.), where techniques from AI, computer science, artificial life and other disciplines were combined to produce hybrid systems.

From AI to human-machine interfaces

Starting in the late 1990s, AI was coupled with robotics and human-machine interfaces to produce intelligent agents that suggested the presence of feelings and emotions. This gave rise, among other things, to the calculation of emotions (affective computing), which evaluates the reactions of a subject feeling emotions and reproduces them on a machine, and especially to the development of conversational agents (chatbots).

Renaissance of AI

Since 2010, the power of machines has made it possible to exploit  enormous quantities of data (big data) with deep learning techniques, based on the use of formal neural networks. A range of very successful applications in several areas – including speech and image recognition, natural language comprehension and autonomous cars – are leading to an AI renaissance.

Applications

Many achievements using AI techniques surpass human capabilities – in 1997, a computer programme defeated the reigning world chess champion, and more recently, in 2016, other computer programmes have beaten the world’s best Go [an ancient Chinese board game] players and some top poker players. Computers are proving, or helping to prove, mathematical theorems; knowledge is being automatically constructed from huge masses of data, in terabytes (1012 bytes), or even petabytes (1015 bytes), using machine learning techniques.

As a result, machines can recognize speech and transcribe it – just like typists did in the past. Computers can accurately identify faces or fingerprints from among tens of millions, or understand texts written in natural languages. Using machine learning techniques, cars drive themselves; machines are better than dermatologists at diagnosing melanomas using photographs of skin moles  taken with mobile phone cameras; robots are fighting wars instead of humans; and factory production lines are becoming increasingly automated.

Scientists are also using AI techniques to determine the function of certain biological macromolecules, especially proteins and genomes, from the sequences of their constituents ‒ amino acids for proteins, bases for genomes. More generally, all the sciences are undergoing a major epistemological rupture with in silico experiments – named so because they are carried out by computers from massive quantities of data, using powerful processors whose cores are made of silicon. In this way, they differ from in vivo experiments, performed on living matter, and above all, from in vitro experiments, carried out in glass test-tubes.

Today, AI applications affect almost all fields of activity – particularly in the industry, banking, insurance, health and defence sectors. Several routine tasks are now automated, transforming many trades and eventually eliminating some.

What are the ethical risks?

With AI, most dimensions of intelligence ‒ except perhaps humour ‒ are subject to rational analysis and reconstruction, using computers. Moreover, machines are exceeding our cognitive faculties in most fields, raising fears of ethical risks. These risks fall into three categories – the scarcity of work, because it can be carried out by machines instead of humans; the consequences for the autonomy of the individual, particularly in terms of freedom and security; and the overtaking of humanity, which would be replaced by more “intelligent” machines.

However, if we examine the reality, we see that work (done by humans) is not disappearing – quite the contrary – but it is changing and calling for new skills. Similarly, an individual’s autonomy and  freedom are not inevitably undermined by the development of AI – so long as we remain vigilant in the face of technological intrusions into our private lives.

Finally, contrary to what some people claim, machines pose no existential threat to humanity. Their autonomy is purely technological, in that it corresponds only to material chains of causality that go from the taking of information to decision-making. On the other hand, machines have no moral autonomy, because even if they do confuse and mislead us in the process of making decisions, they do not have a will of their own and remain subjugated to the objectives that we have assigned to them.

Source: UNESCO

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13 Health Tech Innovators Changing the World

MD Staff

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Thirteen early career scientists from across the Asia-Pacific who are revolutionizing healthcare technology have been named finalists for the 2018 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education.

From new preventative treatments to enhanced threat detection to rapid recovery solutions, the cross-border research breakthroughs developed by these innovators under 40 years of age were recognized in accordance with this year’s ASPIRE Prize theme: Smart Technologies for Healthy Societies.

The winner will be announced by science and technology officials and industry representatives from the APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Innovation and Technology when they convene in Port Moresby in August. The winner will also receive USD 25,000 in prize money sponsored by Wiley and Elsevier, publishers of scholarly scientific knowledge.

Meet the 2018 ASPIRE Prize Finalists:

Australia

Dr Madhu Bhaskaran

Associate Professor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Field of research: Electronic materials engineering

Dr Bhaskaran’s work transforms the way we imagine, use and interact with electronic devices and sensors. She has developed ways to combine functional oxide materials processed at high temperatures with elastic and plastic materials. Her work has led to the development of wearable elastic electronics and sensors including gas and UV sensors and flat optical devices—all of which are stretchable, optically transparent and as thin as a nicotine patch. An example of an application includes the development of devices to detect amount of exposure to UV rays which contribute to skin cancer.

Canada

Dr Daniel Fuller

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Field of research: Human kinetics and public health

Dr Fuller’s research involves designing healthier cities by using mobile health technologies like wearable devices, mobile phones, machine learning and geographic information science to increase physical activity. He works closely with cities and local community organizations to evaluate the impact of existing interventions such as bicycle share programs, bridge construction and snow clearing on physical activity.

Chile

Dr Pablo González Muñoz

Assistant Professor, Pontificia Universidad Catolica De Chile

Field of research: Host-pathogen interactions, human viruses, immunology, microbiology and immune evasion

Dr  González studies the virus herpes simplex-2 (HSV-2), a virus that currently affects about 500 million people for which a vaccine is not available. Dr González has worked with at least five human pathogens. Through his research, he has developed a fast, affordable and easy-to-use diagnostic kit to detect viral infections for different tissues that can be used in rural areas.

China

Dr Liu Guanghui

Professor, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Field of research: Stem cells and healthy aging

Dr Liu researches aging, organ and tissue homeostasis, and aging-associated diseases.  Through his work, he has discovered therapeutic interventions to allow for the “healthy aging” of human stem cells. Dr Liu’s work continues to enhance the study and treatment of disorders related to aging.

Indonesia

Dr Chairul Hudaya

Assistant Professor, University of Indonesia

Field of research: Electrical power and energy materials

Dr Hudaya researches affordable smart energy storage technology for healthy societies, especially those living in remote and isolated areas. His two main projects include: 1) a portable energy storage device used with an infant incubator, serving premature infants; and 2) a smart monitoring system installed in a laptop enabling nurses to communicate in remote, off-grid areas.

Korea

Dr Choongik Kim

Associate Professor, Sogang University

Field of research: Wearable/flexible electronics, organic/polymeric materials, semiconductors

Dr Kim researches and develops novel electric materials for use in wearable devices, including activity monitoring bracelets, smart watches and GPS enabled shoes. In 2007, as published in Science, he was the first to expand upon the relationship between electric materials and electronic device performance. Dr Kim’s research is used to develop the core technology for new wearable technologies, leading to more real-time applications that can support meaningful improvements in health outcomes.

Malaysia

Dr Siti Hamidah Mohd Setapar

Associate Professor, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

Field of research: Micellar nanotechnology, extraction of national products, product development from natural ingredients, cosmetic formulation and separation processes

Dr Mohd Setapar’s research focuses on micellar nanotechnology, a cutting-edge technology used in skincare and cosmetics to improve the effectiveness of the skin cleansing process and enhance the absorption capacity of cosmetic ingredients into the skin. She has commercialized a range of cosmetic and skincare products through her university spin-off company. Dr Mohd Setapar’s mission is to empower Malaysian women with safer, high-quality cosmetic products and to make available high-value cosmetics combining micellar nanotechnology with local natural extracts at lower prices.

The Philippines

Dr Mario Antonio Jiz II

Research Institute for Tropical Medicine

Field of research: Immunology

Dr Jiz researches schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms that is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. Dr Jiz develops vaccines for schistosomiasis and has patented a large scale production of a solution for the body to induce immunity against the disease.

Russia

Dr Vladislav Voitenkov

Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation

Field of research: Clinical neurophysiology, infections of the nervous system, encephalitis, meningitis, myelitis and inflammatory polyneuropathy (Guillain-Barré syndrome)

Dr Voitenkov’s work focuses on understanding neurology and functional diagnostics, especially in the aging process. He studies the rare disease, inflammatory polyneuropathy (Guillain-Barré syndrome), where the body’s immune system attacks your nerves, paralyzing a person’s entire body.

Singapore

Dr Daniel Shu Wei Ting

Assistant Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School, NUS

Field of research: Artificial intelligence using deep learning in screening for diabetes eye screening

Dr Daniel Shu Wei Ting’s work focuses on screening techniques for diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease for people with diabetes, which can lead to loss of vision. He has led a large research team in building the world’s first artificial intelligence system using deep learning to detect three potentially blinding conditions.

Chinese Taipei

Dr Ming-Kai Pan

Physician Principle Investigator, NTUH

Field of research: Neurology—movement disorders

Dr Pan specializes in human physiology and mouse models of neurological disorders. His work is focused on discovering novel ways to measure brain physiology for movements which have implications for Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors and cerebellar ataxic disorders. Dr Pan has also invented smart technology to identify the most common movement disorders affecting 20 per cent of the elderly population.

Thailand

Dr Wanpracha Art Chaovalitwongse

Professor, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Field of research: Data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, health informatics, medical imaging analysis and medical decision making

Dr Chaovalitwongse’s research focuses on data analytics in medical and healthcare applications, especially in analyzing brain activity to predict and monitor epilepsy. Through his work, he has developed solutions for problems caused by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, non-small cell lung cancer, sarcoma and esophageal cancer.

United States

Dr Kara Spiller

Assistant Professor, Drexel University

Field of research: Biomedical engineering

Dr Spiller focuses her research on the design of “smart” biomaterials that can control the behavior of immune cells to promote tissue repair and wound healing. She has developed a point-of-care diagnostic to tailor optimal treatment for patients based on the state of their immune system according to factors such as age, genetics and nutrition.

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