The New Apple Watch Transforms What a “Medical Device” Can Look Like

We all heard the highlights: iPhones are about to be a little better, iPads will come with more efficient batteries and computers’ more spacious hard drives won’t fill up so quickly. In fact, Wednesday’s #AppleEvent was a three-hour walkthrough of pretty incremental advances in already-ubiquitous devices. It was kind of ho-hum — except for one standout announcement.

The Apple Watch Series 4 comes with an app and a built-in heart rate monitor, making it the first ever over-the-counter electrocardiogram (EKG), according to STAT. This gives the gadget, which will cost $399, the potential to radically redefine how we all think about consumer medical devices.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the first ever over-the-counter EKG, which gives the device the potential to radically redefine how we all think about consumer medical devices.

The device can’t replace to a trip to the doctor, but it might help more people realize they need to see a doctor in the first place — perhaps before they encounter heart trouble. Between three and six million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — a number that’s expected to rise in the coming decades. And as Slate reported, people with atrial fibrillation have a much higher chance of having a stroke.

Apple has reported that the app will only provide accurate readings for people older than 22 who haven’t already been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. That’s one of several limitations to what the new Apple Watch EKG tech will be able to do, as The Verge pointed out — it may also cost too much for those who face the highest risk of heart disease and requires that people actually wear the watch at all times.

But if you’re in the Apple Watch’s primary demographic (read: young, trendy, healthy, rich), the device could be of use if you suspect something’s off with your heart. The new device could help those people visit to their doctors equipped with relevant data about their hearts that they captured in real time. If they weren’t wearing the device, then the doctor might just be guessing at whether or not there’s cause for concern.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared — not approved — the Apple Watch’s EKG capabilities. That may sound like a troublesome distinction, but it just means that the FDA deemed the device similar enough to existing EKGs to not warrant additional testing. This is the same approach taken by standalone EKG apps and sensors that were available on previous iterations of the Apple Watch — because there’s no radically-new technology in the heart rate monitor, there’s no legal requirement to subject it to more rigorous testing.

And because the Apple Watch has now made consumer medical devices as discrete as, well, a watch, people can keep an eye on their vitals without facing any of the stigma or discomfort that may come from carrying around a more obvious gadget.

It’s too soon to say whether or not the Apple Watch’s built-in EKG capabilities will deliver on these lofty promises — the heart rate monitor app announced Wednesday won’t be available until well after the Apple Watch Series 4 launches. But if it does, it could be the first step towards an era of accessible, wearable medical devices keeping an eye on us.

More on medical uses for the Apple Watch: The Next Version of the Apple Watch Will Be Able to Track Your Blood Sugar

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Elon Musk Is Digging a Tunnel in a Residential Garage and Nobody Knows Exactly Why

GOING DOWN

If all goes according to plan, workers will soon start to dig an elevator shaft into the garage floor of a Los Angeles County home on behalf of Elon Musk. When completed, the hole will carry automobiles under a nearby street and into a tunnel that connects to the Boring Company headquarters.

The local city council this week approved the project, which will be carried out by Elon Musk’s Boring Company. The only wrinkle: nobody seems to know exactly why.

A SERIES OF TUBES

This morning, the SpaceX founder tweeted a link to coverage of the project, writing that the Boring Company “will transport your car all the way into your garage.”

That’s a promise that raises more questions than answers, though: does the company plan to dig tunnels to the homes of all its future customers? What would the elevators need to cost to finance all that digging, from the main tunnel to the person’s home? And once the cars are in customers’ garages, how are they supposed to get back out again?

A Boring Company spokesperson was equally enigmatic, telling local Southern California newspaper the Beach Reporter only that the dig was “an important part of the longer-term vision the company is trying to build.”

One thing the garage will definitely not do: allow Boring Company employees to pull in off the street and cruise to work underground. As part of the approval, the company agreed not to allow cars to enter from the road. Though that seems like something the system would have to do eventually if the Boring Company wanted to make it really usable for customers.

EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION

Since Musk first tweeted about the Boring Company in 2016, the company’s focus has zigged and zagged all over the place. Potential plans that have included supporting the Hyperloop, transporting individual cars, serving as a new form of public transportation and even digging tunnels on Mars (yes, really).

Will these garage elevators end up being a major part of the Boring Company’s future operations (and how that would work logistically? Anybody’s guess. For now, the company seems content to throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks. Given the way Musk uses his Twitter feed, that makes a lot of sense.

READ MORE: Elon Musk’s Boring Company earns approval for futuristic garage that would connect to underground commuter tunnel [The Beach Reporter]

More on the Boring Company: Elon Musk Says Hyperloop Will Put Pedestrians, Mass Transit First

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It’s This Woman’s Job To Dream Up Hollywood’s Sci-Fi Future

FUTURE VISION

The post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland of “Mad Max.” The wholesome space utopia of “Star Trek.” The eugenicist, gene-hacking society of “Gattaca.”

When film and television creators envision future worlds, it’s not just an exercise in special effects. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the futures to which our present moment could lead. That was one challenge that the creators of Hulu’s upcoming sci-fi series “The First,” which dramatizes a human mission to Mars in the 2030s, had to deal with — they didn’t just want to depict an accurate Red Planet. They also wanted to show the life on that future Earth that the protagonists were leaving behind.

For that task, they consulted with New York University business professor and noted futurist Amy Webb. In a new interview with Marketplace, Webb described how she anticipated what life in the show’s future might look like: she took a hard look at the present.

DUMB PHONE

Webb’s primary directive, she said, is to dream up technology that allows us to understand how characters in the future live their lives, but that doesn’t take center stage. In “The First,” that meant that smart phones have become passé, replaced by ubiquitous smart glasses and earpieces that facilitate communication.

“[I]f anything the technology shouldn’t be something that people are focusing on as they’re watching the show,” Webb told interviewer Molly Wood. “It should be more like, ‘Oh, ok. That makes sense.’ And then they go back to the stories of the characters.”

TOMORROW, TODAY

Webb doesn’t believe it’s possible to predict exactly what the future will hold. Instead, she envisions ways that the present could lead to different futures. That’s a compelling way to look not just at TV, but also many of our policy and business decisions that will inform the role today’s technologies, from social media to killer robots, will play in our own future.

“The goal is to make connections,” she said. “So given what we know to be true in the year 2018, what does the year 2031 look like?”

READ MOREWhen Hollywood producers need to get the future right, they call a futurist [WIRED]

More on Mars: It’s Official. Humans Are Going to Mars. NASA Has Unveiled Their Mission.

 

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The New Render of Elon Musk’s BFR Means It Might Have Some Dope Features

Last night, SpaceX tweeted something we already knew: the company has signed the first private passenger to fly around the Moon. More new information is on the horizon — we’ll get to find out who that passenger is on Monday — but until then, the tweet included something pretty exciting for the more detail-oriented among us: a brand new rendering of the Big Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

SpaceX has signed the world’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle—an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space. Find out who’s flying and why on Monday, September 17. pic.twitter.com/64z4rygYhk

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 14, 2018

Musk did indeed confirm that the rendering is new. It’s the first update on the design since the BFR was announced in 2017. And the tweet also notes that the BFR is going to be the craft to fly that passenger to infinity and beyond, instead of the Falcon Heavy as was originally planned. The mission itself, so far, is the same: take a loop around the Moon before returning to Earth.

The BFR consists of a rocket and spaceship (the Big Falcon Spaceship). But the rendering shows a number of features that we didn’t know anything about. Reddit sleuths spent the night enhancing, cropping, and investigating. Here’s some of what they came up with.

Editor’s Note: Reddit comments have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

The Wings

Reddit user rustybeancake:

If you zoom in on the two delta wings / fins at the rear, it appears they can rotate up and down. There’s sort of a hinge against the body. Wonder if they will be flat against the body at launch, Dream Chaser style? Or just for use as control surfaces? Maybe they will just rotate up slightly for reentry. Edit: another option could be that they move during final landing approach (in atmosphere) for precision landing control – sort of like the lower fins on the New Glenn booster.

Reddit user CX-OO1:

Its not a control surface style hinge. Looks more like in vertical mode the three fins are symmetrical, 120 degrees. In landing mode I guess, two fins on the bottom flatten out or go dihedral for a classic plane config.

Reddit user han_ay:

I did a quick edit and increased the exposure and it definitely looks like the closest wing is hinged while the top wing is fixed. Here’s a crop of just the wings.

Elon Must BFR Zoomed In
han_ay | https://imgur.com/g4JSNx0

Reddit user antimatter_beam_core:

The new radial fin design is surprising, because most reentry vehicles have flat or convex bottoms, whereas those fines are going to make the heat shield concave. I’m no expert, but that seems like it might cause some problems.

The Engines

Reddit user antimatter_beam_core:

The engine configuration is also radically different. They’ve gone from four vacuum engines and two (later changed to three iIRC) surface level engines, two seven engines which look pretty much identical, which suggests they must all be optimized for the same pressure (closer to surface level it would seem from a quick comparison to the old design). That seems really odd given the second stage mostly does its burns in near vacuum.

Reddit user LivingOnCentauri:

Maybe they implemented the concept of retractable nozzles? They could use this only for departing to Mars and the other BFS ships won’t have it.

Reddit user zekromNLR

I saw someone on /r/SpaceXMasterrace speculate that the sort of tiled skirt thing around the engines might be some form of extendible “secondary nozzle,” which could allow the Rvacs to be used even down to sea level with more or less the same Isp as the sea-level raptor.

Reddit user zolartan:

Yes, and additionally, the engine nozzles seem to have been moved deeper into the spaceship. In the first version they were protruding, now, they are inside some kind of dish lined probably with heat shields. My guess would be that this is perhaps to better protect the engines during landings from flying debris? Or does it perhaps act as a better heat shield when entering the atmosphere?

So when will a passenger actually board this spectacular craft for a Moon loop? In short, it’ll be a while. The BFR still hasn’t undergone all of the necessary testing, so The Wall Street Journal reports the spacecraft might still be at least a year or two from an initial test flight. Ars Technica speculates we’re look at a date closer to late 2023 at the very earliest.

But there’s a good chance we’ll find out sooner if these redditors are right. Perhaps even on Monday when SpaceX will make its announcement noted in the tweet (check its livestream here).

More on the BFR: Elon Musk Has a Plan to Get You Anywhere on Earth in An Hour

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Rappers Are Making Tesla Sexy, Which Might Be Good For the Planet

FUTURE YE

“I really love my Tesla. I’m in the future. Thank you Elon.”

In one tweet, Kanye pretty much summed up the A-list hip-hop community’s growing affinity for Teslas. As Pitchfork meticulously documented, artists from Big Sean to Juicy J have mentioned it in their rhymes; Jaden Smith moonwalks in front of one in the video for “ICON.”

Why has the hip-hop world, long impressed by Benzes and ‘Raris, now embraced a car that’s intended to be affordable and attainable for the masses? There are tax cuts for these things — plus you have to plug them in. How unsexy is that?

The reason, according to Pitchfork, has something to do with Musk himself:

Rapper interest in Tesla is twofold: They love any implication of innovation or any association with the cutting edge, and they are amused by the supercar’s toys and gadgets. Elon Musk is viewed by rappers as a futurist, a mega-genius of limitless potential and possibility, and so the Tesla is perceived as the vehicle of tomorrow.

EVS WITH CACHE

Among the haute, pricey brands often name-checked in rap songs, Tesla stands alone in its potential to actually have an effect on global warming.

The average consumer vehicle produces 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. At the rate we’re dumping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re not likely to limit our warming to the semi-non-disastrous 2 degrees Celsius. For now, experts are predicting the effects of warming — more intense storms, rising seas, expanding deserts — could get much worse.

Widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could put a pretty serious dent in our emissions.

GAS IN THE VIP

We’re not there yet — gas guzzlers are still the norm. So anyone who can get more people to buy EVs is helping the planet, whether they’re standing in front of the United Nations or the DJ while drinking Hennessey.

It’s not clear whether rapper mentions have led to increased Tesla sales. But there’s no doubt it’s good PR. And since Musk can arguably be a liability to his companies (Tesla in particular), a little extra positive marketing certainly wouldn’t hurt.

READ MORE: Objectified: Why Tesla Is Hip-Hop’s New Car of Choice [Pitchfork]

More on Tesla: Tesla’s Staying Public. Now The Stakes Are Even Higher.

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Researchers Just Got Funding to Grow a Neural Network in a Petri Dish

BRAIN IN A DISH

Will the computers of the future be built in factories as they are today, or will they be grown in labs like cell cultures?

That’s the question posed by an interdisciplinary team of biologists and computer engineers who won a $500,000 grant this week from the National Science Foundation. The researchers’ plan: to develop a computer made out of living cells and program it to perform computational tasks.

NEURAL NETWORK

Details about the upcoming project are scant. The grant winners say they will use living cells (they haven’t said what type) to construct a neural network. They say they’ll use optogenetics, a biological technique that uses light to control cells, to train the system to recognize handwritten digits. They say the hybrid project could lead to better understandings of both computers and organic brains. How all these pieces will fit together is really anyone’s guess at this point.

“We hope that neuron scientists will be able to use this technology as a testbed for studying the human brain,” said Yevgeny Berdichevsky, a professor of bioengineering at Lehigh University who’s working on the project, in a press release.

I HAVE NO MOUTH, AND I MUST SCREAM

When scientists at the University of Pennsylvania unveiled lab-grown globules of human brain tissue, it prompted an outcry from ethicists who worried that the “minibrains” could experience consciousness as they became more complex. It’s not yet clear whether this project will raise similar concerns.

But the work does suggest a radically different vision of future computing technology in which everything from buildings to computers could be grown from seeds, like flowers.

READ MORE: Growing computers in petri dishes [Lehigh University]

More on lab-grown brains: A Brain in a Dish: 3D Mini-Brains Prove to Be Remarkably Accurate

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Flying Cars May Work Best When Tethered to Power Lines

LET’S GO FLY A KITE

Flying cars always work perfectly in the movies. But now that we’re close to actually building some, we’re finding they come with all sorts of problems. Perhaps the most prominent technological hurdle: striking the delicate balance between equipping the vehicles with a battery powerful enough to actually do anything useful, and not having a battery so heavy that it weighs down the entire vehicle.

One California start-up came up with a new solution that involves keeping so-called flying cars on a pretty short leash. Karman Electric proposes tethering flying cars to a crisscrossed network of power lines. As WIRED reported, they already began testing the concept with quadcopter drones.

TRAFFIC JAM

Tethering a flying car to the ground may avoid the big battery problem, but it introduces a whole slew of other logistical problems.

In order to prevent bird strikes and collisions with primitive, terrestrial commuters, Karman envisions flying cars that use this upside-down trolley system in less populated areas (another problem: who’s gonna pay for that?). As they approach cities and towns, pilots would be able to detach from their earthly bonds and use stored-up battery power to elevate above those land-bound suckers.

HEY HERE’S A THOUGHT

If the most energy-efficient way to use a flying car is to tether it to the ground on a specific, pre-defined pathway, why not just take a train? We already have those, and they work pretty well.

READ MORE: To Solve Flying Cars’ Biggest Problem, Tie Them to Power Lines [WIRED]

More on the challenges of flying cars: Uber Plans To Launch Flying Taxis With Technology That Doesn’t Exist

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A New Contest Is Looking For AI That Can Fix How We Get Our News

FIXING THE NEWS CYCLE

Digital media has seen better days. Russian bots run free while overtly-biased and misleading news drowns out real journalism on social media. Some believe artificial intelligence might be able fix it.

The problem? They’re not quite sure howA new contest is looking for submissions from engineers, scientists, journalists, and the like to submit their ideas.

CATEGORICALLY SPEAKING

The AI Ethics Initiative, a research organization dedicated to developing AI that helps people, launched an open challenge for new ways that AI might be able to improve media.

The contest will select four winners (one per category) who will receive a cut of the $750,000 of prize money (about $75,000 to $200,000 each).

One category: new ways to govern the platforms on which we all get our news. Social media giants have struggled to protect their audiences from misinformation without censoring them. Maybe an algorithm could do a better job.

The other categories involve developing AI systems that could stop propagandists and other bad actors, help journalists better communicate complex technological concepts, and redesign digital platforms so they better serve the public.

THIS SOUNDS SO EASY!

 

The problems in the way we generate, share, and consume our news are probably too complex for single AI tools (or even four of them) to fully address. So the contest winners are unlikely to provide the panacea the AI Ethics Initiative might be going for. But the conversation the contest generates is still valuable: it’ll bring more diverse and groundbreaking ideas to the table. Crowdsourcing ways to fix these issues might actually help us do it.

The contest is open for submissions until October 12. Semifinalists will be announced in mid-November, and finalists in March 2019.

READ MORE: AI and the News: An Open Challenge [AI Ethics Initiative]

More on improving digital platforms: Explaining Its Decisions Isn’t Going To Make Twitter Better

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Behold: A Robot That Can Do Improv Comedy Just as Badly as a Human

AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS

If you think human improv comedy is insufferable, wait until you see a show that can’t pass the Turing Test.

Kory Mathewson, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, created an algorithm designed to riff with him onstage. He trained it to create lines of dialogue to be used in an improv performance by feeding it subtitles from hundreds of thousands of movies.

Then, according to a new paper uploaded to the preprint server arXiv, Mathewson used the AI to perform a mind-bending experiment to test if a live audience could differentiate it from a human performer.

TALKING HEAD

In the experiment, three human performers took the stage. One improvised dialogue in response to audience cues. Another repeated dialogue fed by an offstage human through an earpiece. And a third said lines provided by the AI, read to them by an offstage human via earpiece.

After the performance, audience members guessed which performer had been reciting the AI’s lines. Most of them correctly identified the AI — but a handful of viewers were fooled.

CONVERSATION STARTER

It’s an intriguing experiment, but watching the AI spit out stilted dialogue with Mathewson, it’s hard to imagine the routine becoming a comedy classic.

“Blueberry, I created you,” Mathewson tells a robot programmed with the improv AI during a performance earlier this year, in a video by Bloomberg Businessweek. “I downloaded a voice into your brain so that you could perform in front of these people.”

“So they do not know what I am going to say?” the robot asks.

“I don’t know what you’re going to say either,” Mathewson says, laughing. Good stuff.

READ MORE: AI tries bad improv comedy to trick people into thinking it is human [New Scientist]

More on AI performers: A Robot Will Become A Real-Life Movie Star

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Oregon Breweries Now Sell Beer In Reusable Bottles

CRACK A BOTTLE

Recycling a glass bottle means it’ll probably be taken to a facility where it will be sorted, crushed, melted and ultimately molded into new glassware. That’s better than just throwing it into a landfill, but the process is also inefficient and does little to mitigate the the impact of the resources used to first make it.

Now, NPR reports that the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, a “member-owned, cooperative corporation in charge of picking up and processing nearly 100 percent of all containers redeemed in Oregon,” is debuting a thick, durable beer bottle that it says can be cleaned, refilled, and resold without being broken down. It’s the first such system in the country, according to the report, and could vastly decrease the environmental impact of beverage sales.

“Every time that bottle gets reused, you’re cutting the carbon footprint of that bottle in half,” Joel Schoening, a spokesperson for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, told NPR. “It’s the most sustainable choice in the beer aisle.”

MILK DUDS

Long before the modern era of recycling, milkmen who delivered fresh dairy to residential homes in reusable glass bottles were a staple of the local food systems in the United States and Europe. But they faded away after the 1960s, because milk had a longer shelf life that made it more practical to sell in grocery stores.

In Oregon, state officials say that reviving reusable beverage containers is an easy way to decrease waste without impacting consumers, who can collect a 10 cent deposit for the new bottles, just like old ones — plus an extra 12 cents each if they bring back 20.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

To kickstart the program, the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative is partnering with seven breweries in the state. If all goes to plan, cider and winemakers will come next, Schoening told NPR.

When the effort was first announced in May, Oregon Public Broadcasting noted that the bottles would be taken to a facility in Montana to be washed, but it’ll still emit less carbon than making a whole new bottle or recycling one.

The project represents an optimistic vision of the environmental future: one that turns to old-fashioned approaches, in addition to high-tech solutions, to help solve some of our biggest sustainability challenges.

READ MORE: Oregon Launches First Statewide Refillable Bottle System In U.S. [NPR]

More on sustainability: Norway Plans a Sustainable “City of the Future”

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CBD Oil is a Multibillion-Dollar Industry. But is the Supplement Right For You?

Just three months ago, and for the first time ever, the FDA approved the sale of a cannabidiol(CBD)-based medicine. Researchers and recreational users alike considered this approval to be a big step. CBD is one of the main compounds found in cannabis – unlike THC, however, it doesn’t cause psychoactive effects. Even so, CBD is still technically classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 substance (i.e. one with no currently accepted medical use), even if marijuana is legal in your state.

However, based on the FDA’s new approval, it’s possible this classification could change. Which could mean opportunities for even more research. Already, some studies suggest CBD could lessen anxiety, help with painreduce the proliferation of breast cancer cells, or even – as was seen in a recent study from King’s College London – reduce abnormal brain function in people with psychosis.

A quick Google search yields nearly 97 million results touting the advantages of CBD. Youtube has hundreds of thousands of videos of people sharing stories about how this versatile compound has supposedly altered their lives for the better. Despite what might seem like compelling anecdotal and research-based evidence, scientists are still divided when it comes to CBD, its legal classification, and its potential benefits.

Many of these studies on the benefits of CBD are somewhat short-term human studies, or derived from animal research (which doesn’t always mean the same results will be seen in humans), according to NPR. Dr. Esther Blessing, for example, a psychiatrist and researcher at New York University, tells NPR that more clinical trials are needed with CBD to draw firm conclusions about it’s effectiveness. This is especially true since supplements aren’t regulated in the same was as pharmaceuticalswhich means that quality and consistency vary across CBD products.

To address this concern, CBD provider Mellowment has become a standard in the industry by using natural, ethically-sourced ingredients that serve its broad customer base. Taken daily, “Mellowment packs a multitude of benefits (in addition to anxiety and pain relief) including anti-seizure properties, and relief from inflammation, pain, anxiety, migraines, and irregular sleep” according to the Mellowment site.

Mellowment offers top-quality supplements that range from low to high impact which allows consumers to manage their stress or pain accordingly. If, for example, a consumer is having a busy or stressful work week, (s)he might opt to take the “low-impact” nootropic: a non-drowsy formula that may positively affect with cognitive function and anxiety. If a consumer is recovering from an injury, on the other hand, (s)he could be better served by the “high impact” pill that could help relieve severe pain and inflammation.

With the rise of personal, online testimony, cannabis is quickly gaining traction. 30 states have already legalized medical marijuana. It is estimated that CBD oil is a $1-2 billion industry already, and growing fast. Perhaps CBD’s impassioned adoption will lay the groundwork for future research.


A non-editorial team at Futurism has partnered with Mellowment to create this article, and we may receive a percentage of sales from this post. Mellowment is owned in part by an employee of Futurism. This supplement has not been evaluated by the FDA, and is not intended to cure or treat any ailments. Do not take CBD products if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the product you are consuming. Tell your doctor about all medicines you may be on before consuming CBD to avoid negative reactions. Tell your doctor about all medical conditions. Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins and herbal products. Other side effects of CBD include: dry mouth, cloudy thoughts, and wakefulness. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of any drugs to the FDA. Visit http://www.fda.gov/medwatch, or call 1-800-FDA-1088. 

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Lawmakers: Deepfakes Could “Undermine Public Trust” in “Objective Depictions of Reality”

FAKE NEWS

In the early, optimistic days of the internet, we thought it would be a repository of high-quality information. Instead, it’s starting to feel like a bottomless ocean of lies that rewards attention-grabbing disinformation and pollutes the political process.

That’s the note of alarm that three members of Congress sounded in a letter this week to Daniel Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence. In it, the lawmakers warned specifically about the technology called deepfake, which lets computer users with little tech savvy create convincing footage of people doing and saying things that they never actually did.

“Hyper-realistic digital forgeries — popularly referred to as ‘deep fakes’ [sic] — use sophisticated machine learning techniques to produce convincing depictions of individuals doing or saying things they never did, without their consent or knowledge,” read the letter. “By blurring the line between fact and fiction, deep fake technology could undermine public trust in recorded images and videos as objective depictions of reality.”

MISINFO

Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) signed the letter to Coats. In it, they requested that the heads of the intelligence community prepare a report that would tell Congress what steps it has planned to fight the dissemination of faked clips.

“Forged videos, images or audio could be used to target individuals for blackmail or for other nefarious purposes,” they wrote. “Of greater concern for national security, they could also be used by foreign or domestic actors to spread misinformation.”

INFOCALYPSE

Deepfakes rose to prominence early this year on Reddit, where posters started using it to splice the likenesses of celebrities into pornographic films and the visage of Nicolas Cage into movies he never appeared in. Soon afterward, experts at a DARPA meeting of media forensics experts became concerned about it the technology. One expert told the Outline that doctored footage of a world leader declaring war could spark a “full-blown nuclear holocaust.”

A deepfake hoax of a world leader hasn’t viral — yet. If it does, it will be a test of our collective skepticism — in an age when even genuine information is swiftly politicized online.

READ MORE: Deep Fakes Letter [Adam Schiff]

More on information warfare: If DARPA Wants To Stop Deepfakes, They Should Talk To Facebook And Google

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MIT’s New Robot Can Visually Understand Objects It’s Never Seen Before

A FIRST LOOK.

Computer vision — a machine’s ability to “see” objects or images and understand something about them — can already help you unlock your fancy new iPhone just by looking at it. The thing is, it has to have seen that information before to know what it’s looking at.

Now, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a computer vision system that can identify objects it has never seen before. Not to mention it’s an important step towards getting robots to move and think the way humans do.

They published their research on Monday and plan to present it at the Conference on Robot Learning in Zürich, Switzerland, in October.

A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE.

The MIT team calls its system “Dense Object Nets” (DON). DON can “see” because it looks at objects as a collection of points that the robot processes to form a three-dimensional “visual roadmap.” That means scientists don’t have to sit there and tediously label the massive datasets that most computer vision systems require.

FAMILIAR BUT NOT IDENTICAL.

When DON sees an object that looks like one it’s already familiar with, it can identify the various parts of that new object. For example, after researchers showed DON a shoe and taught it to pick the shoe up by its tongue, the system could then pick other shoes up by their tongues, even if it hadn’t seen the shoes previously or they were in different positions than the original.

“Many approaches to manipulation can’t identify specific parts of an object across the many orientations that object may encounter,” researcher Lucas Manuelli said in a press release. “For example, existing algorithms would be unable to grasp a mug by its handle, especially if the mug could be in multiple orientations, like upright, or on its side.”

TOMORROW’S ROBOTS.

This advanced form of computer vision could do a lot that robots can’t do now. We could someday get a robot equipped with the system to sort items in a recycling center as they move down a conveyor belt without needing to train it on huge datasets. Or maybe we could even show one of these “self-supervised” robots an image of a tidy desk and have it organize our own.

Ultimately, this is another step forward on the path to machines that are as capable as humans. After that, we’ll just have to see how much more capable than us they can get.

READ MORERobot Can Pick up Any Object After Inspecting It [EurekAlert]

More on smarter bots: DARPA Is Funding Research Into AI That Can Explain What It’s “Thinking”

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MIT’s New Robot Can Visually Understand Objects It’s Never Seen Before

Diabetes Patients Are Hacking Together the Tech They Need. Doctors Are Just Tuning In.

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR GOOD

Twitter is good for more than spreading conspiracy theories — it can also help improve the quality of life of people with health conditions like diabetes.

In a study published on Monday in The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, researchers at University of Utah Health examine how the diabetes community uses Twitter to share information on open source artificial pancreas (OpenAPS) technology, a DIY hack of two diabetes management devices.

The social media platform also provides healthcare providers and regulators with a birds-eye view of the wants and needs of patients, according to the researchers, which could prove invaluable as they look to better serve the diabetic community in the future.

HACKING DIABETES

Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) are devices that do pretty much what you’d expect: they continuously monitor the glucose levels of people with diabetes. Insulin pumps, meanwhile, are computerized devices that automatically inject insulin into the body, either as a steady stream or at predetermined times of the day.

OpenAPS is an off-label combination of these two devices. People in the diabetic community figured out a way to hack CGMs and insulin pumps to get them to “talk” to one another, essentially producing a self-regulating artificial pancreas. The CGM notes when a person’s glucose levels are high and instructs the pump to deliver insulin.

THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN

For their study, the researchers looked at more than 3,000 tweets containing the hashtag #OpenAPS posted between January 2016 and January 2018. From this, they identified five themes on which the diabetic community focused, including a reduction in daily stress and the perception that OpenAPS is safe.

This is all information that providers and regulators in the healthcare industry should consider when anticipating the wants and needs of people with diabetes, the study’s first author, Michelle Litchman, noted in a press release. And now, thanks to the University of Utah Health team’s research, it’s readily available to them.

READ MORE: Following Twitter Conversations Around Hacked Diabetes Tools to Manage Blood Sugar [EurekAlert]

More on diabetes: A Cyborg Society: The FDA Has Approved the First Artificial Pancreas

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Diabetes Patients Are Hacking Together the Tech They Need. Doctors Are Just Tuning In.

Op-Ed: We Gave Corporations Our Data. Now They’re Deciding How AI Will Affect Our Future.

In 2016, some Google employees shared a video that was both inspiring and unsettling. In the nine-minute film dubbed “The Selfish Ledger,” a narrator calmly, compelling presents the idea that a ledger of data generated by human users could be used to achieve a larger societal goal.

“What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information?” the narrator posits. “What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as transient carriers, or caretakers?”

In other words, it imagines a future of total data collection in which a company such as Google can subtly nudge users into alignment with objectives that improve their own lives, via environmental sustainability or improved health, for example, and that align with Google’s view of the world also. Eventually the company can custom-print personalized devices to collect more and different types of data, gaining a more detailed picture for each user. The net result: the company guides the behavior of entire populations to help solve global challenges such as poverty and disease.

This vision of the future is, in a sense, inspiring — who wouldn’t want a world without pandemic disease and poverty? — but there’s also something deeply unsettling about it. The video envisions a future in which goal-driven automated ledgers become widely accepted; it is the ledger, rather than end user, that makes decisions about what might be good for individuals and society at large, seeking to fill gaps in its knowledge with a cold precision that seems as if it were ripped from an episode of Black Mirror.

This vision of the future is, in a sense, inspiring — who wouldn’t want a world without pandemic disease and poverty? — but there’s also something deeply unsettling about it.

Like other firms spearheading the development of artificial intelligence (AI), Google wants more out of its users. The company is increasingly inquisitive about who they are, assertive in how it wishes to interact with them, and pushes limits about what they consider to be acceptable intrusions into their lives. Instead of unleashing a robust negative reaction, many users appear to be welcoming the invasion. We have already been “programmed” to accept Google’s (and other companies’) unsolicited overtures, such as when Google Maps plans routes for us to travel in our daily routine or when Facebook puts together photo albums for us without being asked to do so. We already consider them normal and acceptable.

The ethical use of AI is a matter of public discourse but Google (and others) seem unfazed by the potential dark side of their products and practices. We know this because they keep pressing forward to implement their visions of the future – visions they may not necessarily see a need to reveal to the public. Google wants to understand and control the future before it occurs by, in essence, creating it. And it’s using AI and machine learning (ML) to help interpret and manage it.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock/Victor Tangermann

Our collective technological future is unfolding so quickly that no single government or company will be able to control it. On one hand that is good, because, from an ethical perspective, no single entity should be able to control it. On the other hand, if there is no real or realizable oversight over the use of AI, there may be little to reason to believe that an AI-dominated future will result in being a net positive for humanity.

So, is Google to be commended for attempting to contain and craft the future, or should it be feared and resisted at every turn? Is there a middle ground? Most consumers do not know the difference between a reality they control or a reality that is gradually being controlled for them (nor will many people necessarily care) — will that enable organizations like Google to basically do whatever they want? Should we think of the seamless way we’re embracing AI as a way to bring about a better future, or should we be cautious and approach it with care?

The truth is, there is no single answer to these questions, nor is there one that is necessarily a right or wrong answer. But we need to be asking them, thinking critically about each technological advance and how it will affect us.

A perfect storm of simultaneous technological innovation — the use of graphics cards, creation of custom hardware, the rise of cloud computing, and the growth in computing capabilities — has already made AI one of the most powerful forces in the world. The widespread use of open source Internet-based tools, the explosive growth in data generation, and that ability to rent cloud space or outsource computational resources means that relative costs have come down to earth, have given more people access to AI and ML.

So much data is now generated on a daily basis globally that only gigantic infusions of data that alter AI’s effect on society in general are likely to make a difference in the growth of AI going forward. That implies that only the largest, most technically sophisticated firms with the capability to consume and process such volumes of data will benefit from it in a meaningful way in the future.

Enlightened corporations, governments, or, one day, multilateral institutions, will try to govern AI in their particular domains, and it will not be a straightforward process. AI is starting to careen out of control,. .even though some sectors in which AI has the most impact, such as financial services, are already being regulated.

It will take a long time for organizations, governments, and NGOs to work through these questions. Many are straightforward questions about technology, but many others are about what kind of societies we want to live in and what type of values we wish to adopt in the future.

If AI forces us to look ourselves in the mirror and tackle such questions with vigor, transparency, and honesty, then its rise will be doing us a great favor. We would like to believe that the future development of AI will proceed in an orderly and wholly positive fashion, but the race to achieve AI supremacy won’t happen that way. Instead, it is more akin to elbowing one’s way to the front of the line to grab a piece of the pie. Certainly, that is how the leaders in the race (China, the U.S., and their top technology companies being at the top of the list) are already approaching it.


Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions. Keith Furst is Managing Director of Data Derivatives. They are the co-authors of the new book “AI Supremacy.” 

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Op-Ed: We Gave Corporations Our Data. Now They’re Deciding How AI Will Affect Our Future.