Glimpses of the Future April 2018

DNA Data Is Now Becoming Much More Predictive of Health

After the human genome was first analysed in 2001, doctors expected to rapidly discover which genes caused which diseases and which genes could predict specific illnesses.  That didn’t happen.

It turned out that most diseases and conditions had multiple genetic factors involved.  Researchers were downhearted and until very recently most doctors have proclaimed that data from DNA tests is almost worthless as a predictor of future health.

But suddenly this prospect is changing.  There’s never been data available on as many people’s genes as there is today. And that wealth of information is allowing researchers to guess at any person’s chance of getting common diseases like diabetes, arthritis, clogged arteries, and depression.

Comprehensive report cards aren’t being given out to individual patients yet, but the science to create them is here. Delving into giant databases like the UK Biobank, which collects the DNA and holds the medical records of some 500,000 Britons, geneticists are peering into the lives of more people and extracting correlations between their genomes and their diseases, personalities, even habits. The latest gene hunt, for the causes of insomnia, involved a record 1,310,010 people.

Such predictions, at first hit-or-miss, are becoming more accurate. One test described last year can guess a person’s height to within four centimetres, on the basis of 20,000 distinct DNA letters in a genome. As the prediction technology improves, a flood of tests is expected to reach the market.

Smart City Blocks to Be Built On Toronto Waterside

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs wants to transform Toronto’s eastern waterside into one of the world’s most innovative city neighbourhoods.

It will, in the company’s vision, be a place where driverless shuttle buses replace private cars; traffic lights track the flow of pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles; robots transport mail and garbage via underground tunnels; and modular buildings can be expanded to accommodate growing companies and families.

The neighbourhood, called Quayside (above), is Sidewalk’s first big project. It will start life on a 12-acre plot mostly owned by Waterfront Toronto—a local development agency founded by Canada’s federal, provincial, and municipal governments—and is expected to house an estimated 5,000 people.

Later development could expand to a neighbouring 700-plus-acre parcel of industrial waterfront and involve tens of thousands of residents. “All of our thinking and decisions on Quayside are shaped by the question ‘What do 21st-century technologies enable us to do better?’” says Alphabet.

AI Assistant Can Help Journalists “Develop” Stories

Reuters is building an AI tool to help journalists analyse data, suggest story ideas, and even write some sentences, aiming not to replace reporters but instead augment them with a digital data scientist-cum-copywriting assistant.

Called Lynx Insight, it has been trialled by dozens of journalists since the summer, and will now be rolled out across Reuters newsrooms.

Reg Chua, executive editor of editorial operations, data and innovation at Reuters, says the aim is to divvy up editorial work into what machines do best (such as chew through data and spot patterns), and what human editorial staff excel at (such as asking questions, judging importance, understanding context and — presumably — drinking excessive amounts of coffee).

AI Drones Now Controlling Self-Driving Diggers On Japanese Building Sites

There’s a revolution under way at building sites across Japan. Drones soar in the skies while scanning the ground. In the dirt below, huge diggers are working semi-autonomously, levelling land and digging ditches.

Californian firm Skycatch has supplied its quadcopter drones to more than 5000 building sites in Japan over the past three years. The sites are mostly in and around the Tokyo area and are run by Komatsu, the world’s second-largest building firm, as part of its Smart Construction project.

Now Skycatch is adding artificial intelligence to the mix, automating the process further and taking humans almost completely out of the loop. Soon it will hand over control of construction sites to smart, autonomous machines. “We’re looking at the vision of the automated job site,” says Skycatch’s Angela Sy.

Until Skycatch came on board, Komatsu was using human surveyors to map sites, a process that typically occupies a small team for a few days. With drones, it takes just 15 minutes to scan and create an accurate 3D map of the terrain.

The maps are then sent directly to Komatsu’s range of bulldozers and diggers, which proceed semi-autonomously with simple tasks, such as digging, levelling and piling up dirt. The machines have stereo cameras and GPS, and stay in contact with the drones so they know where they are on the site.

Uber Launches “Ambulance” Service In USA

Uber has launched a new service that will allow hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other health care organizations to order and schedule car rides for patients. Uber is not charging a fee to use the service. The health care providers only have to pay for the ride.

Hospitals, doctors and other providers could be eager to pay for those rides if it means more on-time appointments and fewer no-shows — which translates into more revenue in their pockets.

Flying Taxis Have Taken to The Air!

Kitty Hawk, the same group of California dreamers who introduced the leisure-focused Flyer last year, has revealed an all-electric, self-piloted air taxi in New Zealand.

The company, which is backed by Alphabet’s Larry Page, has been working on “an aircraft so personal it could weave the freedom of flight into our daily lives” since 2010.

Cora is the result – a two-seater short hop aircraft that can lift off and land like a helicopter and flies forward like an airplane.

The first self-piloted hover of Kitty Hawk’s flying taxi prototype took place at the end of 2011, but it didn’t graduate to vertical take-off and forward flight until February 2014. A human test pilot took control of the proof of concept flyer last August and, after reaching agreements for the development and testing of the project with the government of New Zealand in October 2017, the first self-flying air taxi has now taken to the air.

Why Blockchain Will Survive Crypto Hype

All the hype about Bitcoin and other crypto currencies has obscured the bona fide efforts involving the underlying technology, blockchain. Of all the manifestations of crypto, it’s the most seemingly mundane applications of blockchain that could lead to the biggest and most concrete changes in all of our lives.

IBM is now tracking world diamond sales with Blockchain technology.

These applications can’t be found on a coin exchange, and they aren’t going to turn anyone into an overnight billionaire. But they could bring much-needed change to some of the world’s most critical, if unsexy, industries.

This means new ways of transferring real estate titles, managing cargo on shipping vessels, mapping the origins of conflict materials, guaranteeing the safety of the food we eat and more. Using blockchain, you could prove that a particular diamond on sale in a Milan boutique came from a particular mine in Russia.

What is blockchain? It’s essentially a secure database, or ledger, spread across multiple computers. Everybody has the same record of all transactions, so tampering with one instance of it is pointless. “Crypto” describes the cryptography that underlies it, which allows agents to securely interact—transfer assets, for example—while also guaranteeing that once a transaction has been made, the blockchain remains an immutable record of it.

A Working Stethoscope For $3

A clinical-grade stethoscope costs about £180 in the UK.  Now a Palestinian doctor and a Canadian university have designed a plastic stethoscope that can be made anywhere, using a 3D printer and which costs around $3.

Known as the Glia model, the stethoscope consists of just a few parts printed out of ABS plastic, along with inexpensive rubber tubing that is widely used in Coca Cola machines. It can be printed in three hours, and costs just three dollars to make – of course, access to a 3D printer is required.

Upon being clinically tested, it was found that Loubani’s stethoscope has the same acoustic quality as premium brand models.  The team utilized free open-source software for the design, in the hope that doctors from war-torn and low-income regions throughout the world will easily be able to access it, and print stethoscopes for themselves.

New Crypto Currency Offers Accountability and Transparency

Some of the world’s best-known economists have announced plans to create what could be described as the thinking person’s cryptocurrency.

Saga aims to address many of the criticisms frequently thrown at bitcoin, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency, to position itself as an alternative digital currency that is more acceptable to the financial and political establishment.

It is being launched by a Swiss foundation with an advisory board featuring Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and former governor of the Bank of Israel; Myron Scholes, the Nobel Prize-winning economist; and Dan Galai, co-creator of the Vix volatility index.

The Saga token aims to avoid the wild price swings of many cryptocurrencies by tethering itself to reserves deposited in a basket of fiat currencies at commercial banks. Holders of Saga will be able to claim their money back by cashing in the cryptocurrency.

Your “Digital Footprint” Can Predict Your Health

Your digital footprint — how often you post on social media, how quickly you scroll through your contacts, how frequently you check your phone late at night — could hold clues to your physical and mental health.

That at least is the theory behind an emerging field, digital phenotyping, that is trying to assess people’s well-being based on their interactions with digital devices. Researchers and technology companies are tracking users’ social media posts, calls, scrolls and clicks in search of behaviour changes that could correlate with disease symptoms. Some of these services are opt-in. At least one is not.

People typically touch their phones 2,617 per day, according to one study — leaving a particularly enticing trail of data to mine.

“Our interactions with the digital world could actually unlock secrets of disease,” said Dr. Sachin H. Jain, chief executive of CareMore Health, a health system, who has helped study Twitter posts for signs of sleep problems. Similar approaches, he said, might someday help gauge whether patients’ medicines are working.

AI Is Learning How To Read Your Emotions During Job Interviews

AI algorithms are not only learning to recognise who we are, but also what we feel. So-called emotion recognition technology is in its infancy. But artificial intelligence companies claim it has the power to transform recruitment.

Their algorithms, they say, can decipher how enthusiastic, bored or honest a job applicant may be — and help employers weed out candidates with undesirable characteristics. Employers, including Unilever, are already beginning to use the technology.

London-based Human, founded in 2016, is a start-up that analyses video-based job applications. The company claims it can spot the emotional expressions of prospective candidates and match them with personality traits — information its algorithms collect by deciphering subliminal facial expressions when the applicant answers questions.

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