The Future is Creepy: Reading Consumer’s Brainwaves

brainscansProduct marketing has always been a high stakes game, where companies rely on psychology, competitive strategies, and well-honed ad campaigns to appeal to consumer’s instincts. This has never been an exact science, but it may soon be possible for advertisers to simply read your brainwaves to determine what you’re thinking and how much you’re willing to pay.

This past October, the German news site Spiegel Online profiled the provocative work of a Swiss neuroscientist and former sales consultant who is working on a method of measuring brain waves to determine how much a person would be willing to pay for a good or service. Known as “feel-good pricing” to marketing critics, the idea is already inspiring horror and intrigue.

brainwavesThe neuroscientist in question is Kai-Markus Müller, the head of Neuromarketing Labs who has over 10 years of experience in neuroscience research. According to his test, Starbucks is not actually charging enough for its expensive coffee. In fact, it’s probably leaving profits on the table because people would probably still buy it if they charged more.

To conduct this test, Müller targeting an area in the brain that lights up when things don’t really make sense. When test subjects were presented with the idea of paying 10 cents for coffee, their brain reacted unconsciously because the price seemed too cheap. A coffee for $8, on other hand, produced a similar reaction since the price seemed too high.

brain-activityOne would think that this method would help to determine optimum pricing. However, Müller then set up a coffee vending machine where people were allowed to set their own price. The two methods then matched up and revealed that people were willing to pay a higher price than what Starbucks actually charges. Somehow, paying less made people think they were selecting an inferior grade of product.

Naturally, there are those who would be horrified by this idea, feeling that it represents the worst combination of Big Brother surveillance and invasive marketing. This is to be expecting when any talk of “reading brainwaves” is concerned, dredging up images of a rampant-consumer society where absolutely no privacy exists, even within the space of your own head.

neuromarketOn the other hand, Müller himself takes issue with the notion of the “transparent consumer”, claiming that “Everyone wins with this method”. As proof, he cited the numerous flops in the consumer economy in the Spiegel Online article. Apparently, roughly 80 percent of all new products disappear from shelves after a short time, mainly because the producers have misjudged the markets desire for them or what they are willing to pay.

It’s all part of a nascent concept known as Neuromarketing, and it is set to take to the market in the coming years. One can expect that consumers will have things to say about it, and no doubt those feelings will come through whenever and wherever producers try to sell you something. Personally, I am reminded of what Orwell wrote in 1984:

“Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed — no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

futurama_lightspeedbriefsAnd perhaps more appropriately, I’m also reminded of what Fry said about advertising in the Season 1 episode of Futurama entitled “A Fistfull of Dollars”:

“Leela: Didn’t you have ads in the 21st century?

Fry: Well sure, but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio, and in magazines, and movies, and at ball games… and on buses and milk cartons and t-shirts, and bananas and written on the sky. But not in dreams, no siree.”

Somehow, truth is always stranger than fiction!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, spiegel.de, neuromarketing-labs.com

More News in Quantum Computing!

quantum-computers-The-Next-GenerationRecently, a team of researchers at the University of Rochester conducted an experiment where they managed to suspend a nano-sized diamond in free space with a laser. The purpose of the experiment was to measure the amount of light emitted from the diamond, but had the added bonus of demonstrating applications that could be useful in the field of quantum computing.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, quantum computing differs from conventional computing since it does not rely on sending information via a series of particles (electrons) through one-way channels. Instead, quantum computing relies on the process of beaming the states of particles (i.e. a photons quantum properties) from one location to the next.

nanodiamondSince this process occurs faster than the speed of light (as no movement takes place) and qubits (quantum bits) have the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously, computations done using this model would be exponentially faster. But despite many advancements made in recent years, the field remains largely theoretical and elusive.

To conduct their experiment, the researchers focused a laser into a 25 cm (10 inch) chamber and then sprayed an aerosol containing dissolved nanodiamonds inside. These nanodiamonds were attracted to the laser in a technique known as “laser trapping”, until a single particle was isolated and made to levitate. Once the tiny gem was levitating in free space, the researchers used another laser to make defects within the diamond emit light at given frequencies.

nanodiamond1This process is known as photoluminescence – a form light emission that is caused by defects in the tiny diamond that allows for the absorptions of photons. When the system is excited, it changes the spin; and when the it relaxes after the change, other photons are emitted. This occurs because nitrogen atoms replace some of the carbon atoms in the diamond. Once the nitrogen is nested in the diamond’s atomic structure, it is possible to excite electrons with a laser.

According to the researchers, this photoluminescence process has the potential to excite the system and cause what is known as Bohr spin quantum jumps, which are changes in spin configuration of the internal defect. This occurs because nitrogen atoms replace some of the carbon atoms in the diamond. Once the nitrogen is nested in the diamond’s atomic structure, it is possible to excite electrons with a laser.

????????????????????In addition, the potential also exists to turn the nanodiamond into an optomechanical resonator. According to Nick Vamivakas, an assistant professor of optics at the University of Rochester, these are structures in which the vibrations of the system can be controlled by light. Optomechanical resonators have the potential to be used as incredibly precise sensors, which could lead to uses in microchips.

In addition, these resonator systems have the potential to create Schrödinger Cat states, which are typically not found in microscopic objects. As anyone who’ familiar with Futurama or Big Bang Theory may recall, this refers to the thought experiment where a cat is inside a box with poison, and until someone opens the box and determines its whereabouts, the cat could be considered simultaneously both alive and dead.

^Being able to stimulate matter so that it can exist in more than one state at any given time is not only revolutionary, it is a clear step towards the creation of machines that exploit this principle to perform computations. According to Nick Vamivakas, an assistant professor of optics at the University of Rochester, explained:

Cat or cat-like states contradict our everyday experiences since we do not see common things in quantum states. The question is: where is this boundary between microscopic and macroscopic? By generating quantum states of larger and larger objects, we can hone in on a boundary … if there is one.

Naturally, the Rochester team is still a long way from achieving their big breakthrough, and Vamivakas himself admits that he does not know how far away a quantum computing truly is. In terms of this latest experiment, the team still needs to cool the crystal better, which they are hoping can be achieved with a few technical improvements. And then they hope to find a better way of running the experiment than spraying nanodiamond dust into a tube.

In the meantime, check out this video of the experiment. It promises to be “illuminating” (sorry!):


Source:
gizmag.com

Goodbye Futurama… Again!

futuramaI’m sure many of us recall what it was like saying goodbye to Futurama for the first time back in 2003. The final episode opened with its usual title shot and upbeat music, and the caption down at the bottom read “See you on some other channel”. And after six years of reruns on Adult Swim and four direct-to-video movies, that prediction came true.

In 2009, Comedy Central picked up the show and began running new episodes, and all the fans started thumbing their noses at Fox. Once again, the big bad network lost as a show it had canned for unclear reasons (some believed it had to do with Groening being “too liberal” for Fox’s taste) was brought back from exile. And for the next four years, we the fans got treated to new episodes of a favorite series.

Futurama_BillionBacksAnd now, for the second time, we say goodbye to Futurama, which aired its last episode less than a week ago on Tuesday, Sept 4th, 2013. Naturally, I’ve been wanting to say something about it, but thought I would hold off until I finished watching the last episode. And now that that’s done, and my feelings are raw, I am free to spit some hot fire!

According to the industry buzz, the decision to discontinue the show was made exclusively by Comedy Central, which announced that it was finished with the series and would not be renewing for an eight season. Meanwhile, Matt Groening has said that he intends to continue with the series and get it picked up by another network, so fans can rest easy in the knowledge that the talent isn’t quitting, it’s was just some dumbass execs that decided to pull the plug!

bender_killallhumansAnd I for one have to wonder what the hell they are thinking. Who do they think they are, the Fox Network? Do they not recall the lashing those guys got from Groening after they axed his show? In any case, the cast and crew once again chose to go out with a cheeky bang. This time around, the caption words “Avenge Us” appeared at the bottom of the screen as the opening scene began to roll!

Oh, we will, Mr. Groening! We will! In addition, this final episode chose to once again focus on the love story between Fry and Leila. You might recall how last time, the show ended with “The Devils Hands are Idle Playthings”, where Fry composes for Leila a holophoner song and the episode ends with an image of them kissing, holding hands and walking into the distance. Well to up the ante, this episode ended with Fry and Leila spending a lifetime together, and then going around for another pass! (sniff, sniff)

Futurama_FryandLeela'sweddingAnd in the meantime, I want to do a tribute piece for this awesome series and I’d like people’s help to make it happen. Since we collectively make up the fan community , I’d like to know from all of you what you thought was great about this show. What were the best episodes? What were the funniest moments? What were the saddest moments? Who were the greatest characters? And who do you think will pick it up for its third run?

Drop me a line and let me know what you think. And I think I speak for us all when I “say goodbye for now” to Futurama for the second time! Perhaps it’s denial, or just confidence in the show itself, but I got a feeling we’ll be seeing it again soon! 🙂

futurama_finale

The Future of Transit: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

hyperloopThe high-speed transit tube. It’s been a staple of science fiction for many years. Remember the tubes cars in Logan’s Run, the elevators in the Jetsons, or the tubes that shoot people around New New York in Futurama? Much like flying cars, they are a feature of a futuristic society that people have been waiting on. And thanks to Elon Musk, it might finally be coming true.

Yes, the same man that brought us the Tesla electric car, PayPal, and SpaceX is now working on a design for a high-speed transit system that works the same way as the pneumatic tube. In a series of statements and documents released yesterday, the billionaire entrepreneur unveiled his concept for a tube that could whisk passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in just 30 minutes – half the time it takes an airplane.

hyperloop1In the newly released documents, Musk outlined the basic design, which would consist of a low-pressure steel tube that houses capsules which move back and forth. The aluminum capsules (or pods) would have skis on the bottom containing holes that pump out air, creating an air cushion. They would be propelled forward with magnets found on the skis as well as an electromagnetic pulse generated by a series of electric motors.

Linear electric motors placed at each destination would slow the pods down by absorbing their kinetic energy. That energy would then be put back into battery packs and used to accelerate the next pods, or stored for future use. Solar panels on top of the tubes would also provide energy. The pods, which have room for 28 people each, could leave every 30 seconds – transporting up to 7.4 million people on each route (SF to LA or vice versa).

hyperloop2At 1290 kilometers per hour (800 mph) the above ground Hyperloop system would be dramatically faster than a bullet train or even an airplane. Alongside boats, planes, trains and automobiles, Musk claims that the train would constitute a “fifth form” of transportation. And of course, safety would be paramount, with each pod being spaced apart by 8 km (5 miles), and the system would have an emergency brake.

The system would also be designed to deal with seismic shifts, which are common in California. In order to mitigate earthquake risk, the system would be built on pylons (the tube wouldn’t be rigidly fixed at any point). Adjustable lateral and vertical dampers would be placed inside the pylons to “absorb the small length changes between pylons due to thermal changes, as well as long form subtle height changes.”

hyperloop3What’s more, Musk was sure to play up the comfort value of the ride:

Once you’re traveling the speed you wouldn’t notice the speed at all. It would be really smooth, like you’re riding on a cushion of air. Maximum G-force of about half a G, comparable to what you might feel in an airplane but far less than what you would feel in a rollercoaster. Really quiet.

Musk estimates that price tag per ride would be $20 per person, making the Hyperloop more reasonably priced than train, plane, or automobile. The whole project would cost an estimated $6 billion if it contained “people-only pods,” but would be priced at $10 billion if it had pods for both people and cars.

As it stands, its not entirely clear when the Hyperloop would be up and running. What’s more, its unclear what tole Musk would play in its creation. Since he is currently occupied with developing things like a nationwide Supercharger network for Tesla and launching satellites with SpaceX, he thinks it could be three to four years before a demo could be finished. As for a full system that would run from LA to San Francisco, that could take between seven to ten.

hyperloop4In any event, the concept is open-source, and Musk is calling on inventors, engineers and investors to get involved. Given that it is a rather elegant solution to the problem of transit, such an idea is not likely to remain idle for too long. Originally inspired by the sad state of $70 billion California’s high-speed rail initiative, the Hyperloop could easily prove to be another transportation initiative that is never completed. At the same time, it might prove to be a “leapfrog maneuver”, bypassing lightrail completely and ushering in something better.

It might sound like a fantasy, but Musk has a reputation for making the impossible a reality. What’s more, engineers from both Tesla and SpaceX have been working on the concept for close to a year and some are now dedicated to it full-time. And given that nations like China, India, Russia and the EU are in need of expanded transit systems, don’t be surprised if we see something similar emerging overseas.

And be sure to enjoy this video of the concept, courtesy of Elon Musk and CBC news:


Sources: cbc.ca, fastcoexist.com

Futurama does 3D Printing!

benderIt’s a good day when a show like Futurama begins turning out new episodes. This past week’s featured a story where Bender began taking advantage of 3D printing to create a famous folk singer’s one-of-a-kind guitar. Naturally, things got out of control, and the story was chock full of social commentary and the concept that the printing revolution might actually be ushering an age where artificial replicas could infringe on the real thing.

For the life of me, I can’t find clips of this episode anywhere. Guess it’s too soon to expect anyone to upload it to Youtube, lazy piraters! But I found the next best thing: a time-lapse video of a Bender figurine being printed out on a Maker Bot. It’s set to the extended cut of Futurama’s theme, and the result is a pretty cool replica of the jive-talking, amoral alcoholic robot himself!

Futurama Season 7B, Coming Soon!

futuramaThanks to IO9 and Raven Lunatick for turning me onto this! For fans of Futurama, the long wait for the second half of season 7 will finally be coming out this summer. And the buzz is pretty interesting, and promises to broach one of the saddest moments in the series. Yes, it seems that they hope to once again revisit the issue of Fry and Seymour – who’s relationship was cut tragically short when he was frozen. Good thing too, I don’t like how they ended that. You talk about a baller moment, and I aint talking basketball!

Other promises include a nod to the Planet of the Apes franchise, a Thing parody, Leela as a tentacle-monster (possibly a further mutation), a war with a Cobra-esque evil organization, and some more appearances from Robot Satan. And of course, we can all count on the return of our favorite characters and their trademark antics, which would include some smack-talk from Bender, some mild senility from the Professor, some incompetence and impoverished references from Zoidberg, and some limboing and thinly-veiled ganja jokes from Hermes.

Enjoy the preview and join me in counting the days!

Batman – Under the Red Hood

Hey all. My apologies for not cluttering you’re inbox’s lately with my usual slew of posts. But I’ve been away for the weekend and beyond the reach of a keyboard and/or PDA with internet access. But I’m back now, and back to my usual, manic output! And in honor of that, here’s a clip from an animated movie I saw awhile back and think is deserving of a review.

Entitled Batman: Under the Red Hood, this animated movie adapts some key material from the Batman comics, specifically the death and resurrection of Jason Todd, the second Robin to ever serve as sidekick to the Dark Knight. After being murdered by the Joker, he returns a few years later in the form of a vigilante who seems intent of killing criminals and getting under the skin of Gotham’s “Caped Crusader”. His disguised is especially significant because it used to be the very thing that the Joker wore before the accident that left him a scarred and brutalized freak.

The clip here is of the reunion between Todd, the Joker and Batman once the Red Hood’s true identity has been revealed. I picked it because it’s just so damn well scripted and chock full of classic Batmanesque themes. And check it out, the Joker is voiced by John Di Maggio, the voice actor who does Bender on Futurama. I look forward to reviewing it in full, as it was pretty badass!