Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Post by Justin Breaux

In the future, medical technologies will be seamlessly integrated with our bodies.  Not unlike the recent movie Repo Men, we will be able to have these implanted and increase our mobility and ability.   Though, hopefully no one will be coming to re-collect your new cybernetic heart.

But what types of technologies are available now, that can help us lead richer lives if we’re missing a limb or encountering a body part that’s not working the way it’s supposed to?

Here are just a few examples of our cybernetic future.  Watch, and imagine.

Prosthetic Arms:

Robot-Assisted Walkers:

Minimally Invasive Surgery Robots (you’ll never think about grapes the same way):

Power Knees:

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We so far have seen how the technology that we created influences our daily life. Applied science has brought in revolution in electronic industry. The electronic appliances that we stumble upon everyday has seen significant reduction in physical size. We like everything to be small, compact and lightweight so that it is portable.  It is also interesting to learn how the technology impacts the life of scientists who invented and developed it.

Scientists use a variety of instruments in the laboratory for their experiments. The life of a scientist to a large extent is dependent on the working condition of the instruments in his laboratory. Oftentimes there are multiple users for the same instrument. As the components are delicate, the instruments must be well protected, should be long lasting and should be unaffected by mechanical force. So, the instruments started coming in smaller sizes to reduce lab space and in enclosed boxes to reduce damage caused by mishandlings or mishap.

Spectrometers are type of instruments that are widely used to analyze for example, amount of protein in meat, water in grain and iron in blood. What is all needed to learn about the sample is that the collected sample must be inserted into the enclosed instrument and the measurement is made without touching any its components while any control in parameters are achieved by the computer interface. This is all nice as long as the spectrometers work. But what if any of the components fail? The most affected are the research students who are supposed to be learning their instruments . But when the students have not seen the instruments inside out how are the problems going to be solved? Science is learnt through our senses by touching, feeling, smelling and seeing. Students fail to learn the analytical principles as they can’t understand the context or think critically if the components are hidden. My research life also is entirely dependent on the instruments. If any of the components in my instruments failed, my former supervisor used to say, this would the perfect opportunity to see how the component looks like inside.

Considering the shortcomings that the technology posed, Professor Scheeline at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed a spectrometer few months ago using cellphones reports Sciencedaily. In an optical spectrometer, white light shines on the sample solution. The sample absorbs certain wavelength and the remaining light is passed through a diffraction grating to spread out the light into different colors like a prism. The missing wavelengths are the ones absorbed by the sample and the sample properties can then be interpreted.

Prof. Scheeline used a LED operated by a 3V battery, the kind used by key fobes to remotely unlock a car as the light source. Diffraction gratings, cuvettes and sample repositories to hold the samples can be obtained from suppliers for a few cents each. The best part is that the cellphone camera that almost everystudent has, serves the purpose of detector to capture the image. The whole set up cost only about $3 if you already own a cellphone with a camera. He also wrote a program to transfer the images to a computer.

Now, the cellphones are not just meant for texting, talking and browsing but also to learn basic science. When the technology poses limitations we need to work back and use it to our advantage.



– Vijayalakshmi Kalyanaraman 

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As we continue our focus on new technologies this week, it’s hard to overlook IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that stepped into the spotlight last week when it (or he?) defeated two of Jeopardy’s all-time winners (Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter) in a three-day battle.

Not surprisingly, Watson’s feat has stirred up a storm of emotions and strong opinions – while many people seem to be excited about the possibilities, others are still unimpressed or skeptical, or even terrified by false implications that machines are taking over (a la Skynet).

While having Watson compete on Jeopardy did serve as a great way to demonstrate his ability to comprehend natural human speech and word play, quickly search for and retrieve information, and make correct decisions based on confidence levels, the participation of a machine on a traditionally very human game show does make the whole thing a little creepy.  By giving a supercomputer a name such as “Watson,” an almost-human voice, and an avatar that constantly changes in a way analogous to human body language, IBM has forced us to pit man vs. machine.  In reality, shouldn’t we be thinking man plus machine?

Maybe this was his way of coming to terms with competing with a computer, but Brad Rutter seems to have the right mentality.  According to ABC News, Rutter’s view was that “Ken and I are representing humanity in this thing but, at the same time, Watson was developed, built, programmed by human beings.  So I think humanity wins no matter what happens.”

Jennings takes a slightly different approach, according to the Washington Post:  “Even when machines are doing more of our thinking and remembering for us, it’ll be more useful to have the wealth of information,” he said.  “To make informed decisions about anything in life, you need to have knowledge.  If you need a Google search, you’re still at a disadvantage.”

Although I think that Jennings may just have been a little bitter (he also expressed concern at having his “one real talent” stolen away by a machine), his comment makes some good sense.  I remember reading an article a few months ago about the dangers of externalizing knowledge, and how it’s becoming easier and easier to acquire knowledge these days, but at the expense of insight.  Might be something to think about.

My hope for Watson is that his “skills” are kept in the correct context.  Arguments such as “he has an advantage because he can buzz in faster” are really absurd, considering that the point is not the fact that Watson won on Jeopardy – it’s the fact that he could compete at a human level at all.  (I definitely missed this point at first – thanks to Alan Maas for that insight, among others!)

Let’s just think of this as an exhibition match for Watson and move on – I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in real applications, such as medicine, for example.  Jeopardy’s fun and all, but I think I’d rather watch humans compete – the thought of three spinning avatars wagering $1,246 on daily doubles is just weird.

And speaking of trivia, did you know that Sherlock Holmes never actually says “Elementary, my dear Watson” in Arthur Conan Doyle’s books?

– Minna Krejci

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With the recent unrest in the Middle East, it’s important to recognize the role of social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Still in their relative infancy, these two networks allow you to catch up with old friends and create new ones.  They also allow people the world over a way to communicate in ways previously unimaginable.  Individuals and governments realize the importance of staying connected through these networks.  Having these networks open is tantamount to an open and free society.

Facebook and Twitter feeds, constantly updated, were the reason that so many were able to quickly organize and demonstrate in Tarir Square.

And this is just the beginning.  As we learn more about the media that connects us, we will be able to use them in ever more meaningful ways.

What are the most effective or impressive ways that you’ve seen social media used in recent years?  What have we done, politically, scientifically, or creatively, that we could not have done without these new technologies?

On the other hand, as many of you will be checking your facebook messages  and tweeting almost every 10 minutes, do you think that the social media websites are using up a lot of your precious time? How do they affect your daily routine and worklife?

– Justin H.S. Breaux

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