The Future of Medicine: Improved Malaria Vaccine

flu_vaccineOf the many advances made by medical science in the past century, vaccinations are arguably the greatest. With the ability to inoculate people against infection, diseases like yellow fever, measles, rubella, mumps, typhoid, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, and even the common flu have become controllable – if not eliminated. Nevertheless, medical researchers agree that there are still some things that can be improved upon when it comes to vaccinations.

Beyond the controversies surrounding a supposed link between vaccinations and autism, there is the simple fact that the current method of inoculating people is rather invasive. Basically, it requires people to sit through the rather uncomfortable process of being stuck with a needle, oftentimes in an uncomfortable place (like the shoulder). Luckily, many researchers are working on a way to immunize people using gentler methods.

malaria_vaccineAt the University College Cork in Ireland, for example, scientists have just finished pre-clinical testing on an experimental malaria vaccine that is delivered through the skin. To deliver the vaccine into the body, the researchers used a skin patch with arrays of tiny silicon microneedles that painlessly create temporary pores. These pores provide an entry point for the vaccine to flow into the skin, as the patch dissolves and releases the drug.

To make the vaccine, the team used a live adenovirus similar to the virus that causes the common cold, but which they engineered to be safer and produce the same protein as the parasite that causes malaria. Adenoviruses are one of the most powerful vaccine platforms scientists have tested, and the one they used produced strong immunity responses to the malaria antigen with lower doses of the vaccine.

TB_microneedlesThe research showed that the administration of the vaccine with the microneedle patch solves a shortcoming related to this type of vaccine, which is inducing immunity to the viral vector – that is, to the vaccine itself. By overcoming this obstacle, the logistics and costs of vaccination could be simpler and cheaper as it would not require boosters to be made with different strains. Besides, with no needles or pain involved, there’s bigger potential to reach more people requiring inoculation.

This is similar to the array used by researchers at King’s College in London, who are also developing a patch for possible HIV vaccine delivery. Researchers at University of Washington used a similar method last year to deliver the tuberculosis vaccine. The method is an improvement on this type of vaccine delivery since it is painless and non-invasive. It’s use is also being researched in relation to other infections, including Ebola and HIV.

The details of the research appeared in the journal Nature. Lead researcher, Dr. Anne Moore, is set to negotiate with Silicon Valley investors and technology companies to commercialize the vaccine.

Sources: gizmag.com, (2), ucc.ie, nature.com

Encoding Equality: Girl Geek Academy

girlgeekWhen it comes to the gaming industry, there appears to be something of a glass ceiling. According to a developer satisfaction survey that was released last month from the International Game Developers Association, only 22 percent of people working in the gaming industry are women. And while this presents a twofold increase from five years ago (11.5%), it’s proportionally low considering that women make up some 48% of the gaming community.

This disparity is pretty common across software, app development, and tech startups (even though startups led by women produce 12 per cent higher returns). The logical next step would be to encourage more women to enter these fields. This is where Girl Geek Academy comes in, an initiative aimed at teaching women the skills they need to start their own ventures – everything from coding classes to mentoring programs from successful start-ups.

girlgeek_dinnerAnd there’s definitely demand for it, according to co-founder, programmer and senior digital strategist Tammy Butow:

We have seen over the years that female-focused groups have helped increase the number of women attending technology events and learning technology skills. Over the last few years I have run Girl Geek Dinners Melbourne – in January 2013 we had 350 members – and we then ran a series of tech workshops to teach skills such as HTML, CSS and JS…

Girl Geek Dinners Melbourne now has over 1000 members. [Fellow co-founder] April [Staines] and I also ran Australia’s first all-female hackathon She Hacks in Melbourne. She Hacks sold out in one week, a few weeks later we also ran Australia’s first Startup Weekend Women event and that sold out too.

After running these workshops and discovering just how many women were interested in learning these skills, Butow and her associates decided to widen their scope. This they did by opening up a series of classes and programs for women of all ages (above the age of 18) and skill levels with a target of achieving a total of one million women building apps and learning to create startups by the year 2025.

girlgeek_acadAs Butow explained, it’s all about taking the next step in the development of the internet as we know it:

The internet we know now was primarily built by men. We are interested in finding out what women would like to create. At the Startup Weekend Women event we recently ran, there were several teams that created apps focusing on flexible work opportunities for women. This was a very clear theme for the weekend. We had several women in attendance who were expecting children or had small children; they are interested in using technology to solve the problems they are experiencing.

Partnered with Google, Aduro and 99Designs, the Academy offers a number of classes – either as face-to-face workshops, or via Google Hangouts and Aduro. The two-hour classes include learning different programming languages, such as JavaScript and Ruby, down to the basics of founding a startup, such as a public speaking class and how to manage your finances.

https://i2.wp.com/klausandfritz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/GGAcademyLaunch-19.jpgMore experienced women are encouraged to teach classes, and the Academy already boasts a variety of events, ranging from hackathons, makerfests, code getaways and study tours. The team is already organising the very first study tour, hoping to take Australian women to visit global startup hotspots such as Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. And though women are the focus, men are welcome too, as long as they attend with a girl geek and are willing to lend a helping hand.

The first class took place on July 15th in Richmond, Victoria. For the price of AU$35, people got a healthy dinner and a seminar that focused on the very first issue relating to development: how to pitch an idea. For an additional AU$10, people were able to get tickets for the Google Hangout. For those interested in getting in on events held in the next 12 months, they can look them up on the Girl Geek Academy website.

Personally, I think this is a great initiative with a noble purpose. Despite great strides being made by women in all walks of professional life, certain industries remain tougher than others to crack. By creating an organization and atmosphere that fosters support, guidance and welcomes contribution, the gaming industry is likely to see a lot more women on the supply side in coming years.

the_evolution_by_pedro_croft-d5qxi09-600x259Perhaps then we can look forward to more positive representations of women in games, yes?

Sources: cnet.com, girlgeekacademy.com

The Internet of Everything

PrintAll of my recent interesting in the concept known as the “internet of things” has been turning up some interesting results. And it’s not hard to see why really, given all the research, innovation and commercial applications dedicated to making it a reality. And yet, a surprising amount of people seem to be in the dark about what this term means.

Again, not surprising, as high-tech trends tend to be somewhat esoteric, understood by only a select few at first and gradually trickling its way into public consciousness. To break it down, the Internet of Things is a concept where the real world will come to resemble the internet, where digital markers and wireless internet will make reality incredibly accessible and connected.

The-Internet-Of-Things-Smart-WorldThink of it this way: you wake up in the morning and receive instant updates from all of your household devices. You’re fridge tells you how close your food is to its expiration dates, and your thermostat sets itself based on the weather, season, and your habits. On your way to work, you are able to access emails and memos from your office server, and when you’re driving home, you are able to tell the house to warm up and turn the lights on.

All day long, you are able to monitor all of your gadgets and devices because they are all “tagged”, feeding you information on their locations and anything else you need to know in real-time. If you lose something, it alerts you to this fact and tells you where to find it. And if you’re out and about without your vehicle, you can summon it and get it to find its way to you.

InternetOfThings_1024x1448That’s the general idea, creating a “smart world” through the use of networking technology. Now here are some videos too that demonstrate the concept in action. All are from Cisco, the networking IT giant located in San Jose (capitol of Silicon Valley) and are promotional videos, basically showing what the company’s vision is and how they intend to bring it about.

“Circle Story”:
This video, perhaps more than anything, demonstrates how the world of the near future will be interconnected. As the name would suggest, it follows a day in the life of regular folks as they start their day, go to their various jobs, do their shopping, and how the entire process is all part of the same dance. And of course, Cisco showcases how its technology is helping to make it happen.

Curiously though, the people do look kind of bored, don’t they? Subtle social commentary, or were they just being realistic? You decide!


Barcelona Embraces IoE to Create a Smart City:
In this promotional video, we see how the city of Barcelona, Spain is using the concept of the Internet of Everything (IoE) to address the ongoing challenge of urbanization and growth. By embracing the latest in smart technology, Barcelona is becoming a shining example of what Cisco refers to as a “smart city”, much to the company’s delight!

What this consists of is Barcelona connecting its citizens, remote sensors, and all devices contained within to a city-wide WiFi. This in turn is offering people new services, facilitating energy-efficient reforms, and establishing new economic opportunities for the city’s companies and partners, not playing to the city’s reputation for social interaction and connectivity. Check out this video for the details:


The Road to the Internet of Everything:
Last, but not least, is Cisco’s promotional video of what the Internet of Everything is really all about. Intrinsic to the IoE is the fact that by 2020, the physical and digital world will be connected by 50 billion devices and 1 trillion sensors. Meanwhile, billions of electronic embedded devices will transmit terabytes of data, communicating everything from health information to updates at the speed of light.

The result of all this, according to the video, will be an “electronic skin” built on the internet, one which will overlay the world’s existing surface and communicate everything across its vast, virtual space. As we know, this skin is already being laid, but what is still to come is going to be pretty impressive and game-changing. The bottom line being that those that are in the know will be able to reap the benefits more quickly.


You may think these videos are little more than corporate promotion of company services. But if the “internet revolution” has taught us anything, it’s that the current range of technological change is here to stay, and is only going to be getting more pronounced as time goes on. And when it comes to predicting how these things will shape the world of tomorrow, those deeply involved in the development process are certainly worth listening to!

After all, they are helping to build that world, and are doing so because we’re letting them. Best to know what’s coming if you want to know how it’s going to effect you, and if you want to have anything to say about it, right?

Judgement Day Update: The Robotic Security Gaurd

knightscope-1It’s quite the interesting premise isn’t it? And one that might make an interesting movie! It’s known as the Knightscope, an “autonomous data machine” currently in development by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope Inc. Ultimately, the purpose of this new breed of robot will be to conduct the important and often monotonous task of keeping watch over property more cost effectively and comprehensively than a human security guard.

Earlier this month, Knightscope revealed that they had secured beta customers for the first two models – the K5 and K10. The robots, which share a passing resemblance to R2-D2, collect real-time data via a network of sensors. These would range from 360-degree HD video camera, microphones, thermal imaging sensors, infrared sensors, radar, lidar, ultrasonic speed and distance sensors, air quality sensors, and optical character recognition technology for scanning things like license plates.

knightscopeDepending on the sensor loadout, the units can be used to monitor differences in temperature, calculate the traveling speed and distance of surrounding objects/people, observe night time activity using infrared technology, and provide precision 3D mapping of an area. There are also plans to include facial recognition technology to help recognize an offender or wanted persons once the technology has been perfected.

This data would then be fed into a centralized data center that law enforcement agencies would be able to access data in real time, giving them a unique vantage point to assess the situation before arrival. As well as providing real time alerts, Knightscope says companies will be able to analyze historical data collected over time to help predict crime and allow companies to make better business decisions.

knightscope-2According to William Santana Li, Chairman and CEO of Knightscope, the inspiration behind these security robots came from the terrible tragedy that occurred over a year ago in a Connecticut school:

We founded Knightscope in response to the President and Sandy Hook’s calls to action and with the ultimate goal of providing an avenue for all Americans to join the fight against crime.

The company also says that the K10 model is intended for vast open areas and on private roads, while the K5 robot is better suited to more space-constrained environments. In essence, the K10 would be well suited to things like detailed traffic analysis while the K5 would be capable of handling indoor tasks, everything ranging from security to factory inspections.

knightscope-3Personally, I think a fleet of robotic surveillance and security robots is an cost-effective and sensible alternative to bulletproofing classrooms or arming teachers. So far, no options have been made for arming the robots, but that’s probably for the be best. No sense in arming the machines before they are intelligent enough to turn them on their masters with hostile intent!

The K5 Beta prototype was featured at the Plug and Play Winter Expo in Sunnyvale, California and beta testing is due to commence at the end of this year. And be sure to enjoy the following video, courtesy of the Knightscope company


Source:
gizmag.com

The Future is Here: Carbon Nanotube Computers

carbon-nanotubeSilicon Valley is undergoing a major shift, one which may require it to rethink its name. This is thanks in no small part to the efforts of a team based at Stanford that is seeking to create the first basic computer built around carbon nanotubes rather than silicon chips. In addition to changing how computers are built, this is likely to extend the efficiency and performance.

What’s more, this change may deal a serious blow to the law of computing known as Moore’s Law. For decades now, the exponential acceleration of technology – which has taken us from room-size computers run by punched paper cards to handheld devices with far more computing power – has depended the ability to place more and more transistors onto an individual chip.

PPTMooresLawaiThe result of this ongoing trend in miniaturization has been devices that are becoming smaller, more powerful, and cheaper. The law used to describe this – though “basic rule” would be a more apt description – states that the number of transistors on a chip has been doubling every 18 months or so since the dawn of the information age. This is what is known as “Moore’s Law.”

However, this trend could be coming to an end, mainly because its becoming increasingly difficult, expensive and inefficient to keep jamming more tiny transistors on a chip. In addition, there are the inevitable physical limitations involved, as miniaturization can only go on for so long before its becomes unfeasible.

carbon_nanotubecomputerCarbon nanotubes, which are long chains of carbon atoms thousands of times thinner than a human hair, have the potential to be more energy-efficient and outperform computers made with silicon components. Using a technique that involved “burning” off and weeding out imperfections with an algorithm from the nanotube matrix, the team built a very basic computer with 178 transistors that can do tasks like counting and number sorting.

In a recent release from the university, Stanford professor Subhasish Mitra said:

People have been talking about a new era of carbon nanotube electronics moving beyond silicon. But there have been few demonstrations of complete digital systems using this exciting technology. Here is the proof.

Naturally, this computer is more of a proof of concept than a working prototype. There are still a number of problems with the idea, such as the fact that nanotubes don’t always grow in straight lines and cannot always “switch off” like a regular transistor. The Stanford team’s computer’s also has limited power due to the limited facilities they had to work with, which did not have access to industrial fabrication tools.

carbon_nanotube2All told, their computer is only about as powerful as an Intel 4004, the first single-chip silicon microprocessor that was released in 1971. But given time, we can expect more sophisticated designs to emerge, especially if design teams have access to top of the line facilities to build prototypes.

And this research team is hardly alone in this regard. Last year, Silicon Valley giant IBM managed to create their own transistors using carbon nanotubes and also found that they outperformed the transistors made of silicon. What’s more, these transistors measured less than ten nanometers across, and were able to operated using very low voltage.

carbon_nanotube_transistorSimilarly, a research team from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois managed to create something very similar. In their case, this consisted of a logic gate – the fundamental circuit that all integrated circuits are based on – using carbon nanotubes to create transistors that operate in a CMOS-like architecture. And much like IBM and the Standford team’s transistors, it functioned at very low power levels.

What this demonstrated is that carbon nanotube transistors and other computer components are not only feasible, but are able to outperform transistors many times their size while using a fraction of the power. Hence, it is probably only a matter of time before a fully-functional computer is built – using carbon nanotube components – that will supersede silicon systems and throw Moore’s Law out the window.

Sources: news.cnet.com, (2), fastcolabs.com

A Kinder, Gentler Internet: California’s “Erase Button”

cyber bullyingIn the early nineties, the internet was greeted with immense optimism and anticipation. Scarcely a week went by without some major personality – Al Gore and Bill Gates come to mind – championing its development, saying it would bring the world together and lead to “the information age”. After just a few years, these predictions were being mocked by just about everyone on the planet who had access.

Rehtaeh_ParsonsYes, despite all that has been made possible by the internet, the heady optimism that was present in those early days seem horribly naive by today’s standards. In addition to making virtually any database accessible to anyone, the world wide web has also enabled child pornographers, hate speech, conspiracy theorists and misinformation like never before.

What’s more, a person’s online presence opens them to new means of identity theft, cyberbullying, and all kinds of trolling and harassment. Who can forget the cases of Amanda Todd or Rethaeh (Heather) Parsons? Two young women who committed suicide due to relentless and disgusting bullying that was able to take place because there simply was no way to stop it all.

amanda_toddsuicide.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxAnd with the ever expanding online presence of children and youths on the internet, and little to no controls to monitor their behavior, there are many campaigns out there that hope to reign in the offenders and protect the users. But there are those who have gone a step further, seeking to put in place comprehensive safeguards so that trollish behavior and hurtful comments can be stopped before it becomes a permanent part of the digital stream.

One such person is California Governor Jerry Brown, who recently signed a bill into law that requires all websites to provide an online “erase button” for anyone under 18 years of age. The stated purpose of the law is to help protect teens from bullying, embarrassment and harm to job and college applications from online posts they later regret. The law, which is designated SB568, was officially passed on Sept. 23rd and will go into effect Jan 1st, 2015.

kid-laptop-156577609_610x406Common Sense Media, a San Francisco based non-profit organization that advocates child safety and family issues, was a major supporter of the bill. In a recent interview, CEO James Steyer explained the logic behind it and how it will benefit youths:

Kids and teens frequently self-reveal before they self-reflect. In today’s digital age, mistakes can stay with and haunt kids for their entire life. This bill is a big step forward for privacy rights, especially since California has more tech companies than any other state.

The law is not without merit, as a 2012 Kaplan survey conducted on college admissions counselors shows. In that study, nearly a quarter of the counselors interviewed said they checked applicants’ social profiles as part of the admission process. Of those counselors, 35% said what they found – i.e. vulgarities, alcohol consumption, “illegal activities” – negatively affected their applicants’ admissions chances.

smartphoneteensBut of course, the bill has its share of opponents as well. Of those who voted against it, concerns that the law will burden websites with developing policies for different states appeared to be paramount. Naturally, those who support the bill hope it will spread, thus creating a uniform law that will remove the need to monitor the internet on a state-by-state basis.

At present, major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine already allow users of any age to delete their posts, photos and comments. California’s “eraser button” law requires that all websites with users in the state follow this policy from now on. And given the presence of Silicon Valley and the fact that California has one of the highest per capita usages of the internet in the country, other states are sure to follow.

facebook-privacyThe new law also prohibits youth-oriented websites or those that know they have users who are minors from advertising products that are illegal to underage kids, such as guns, alcohol and tobacco. Little wonder then why it was also supported by organizations like Children NOW, Crime Victims United, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

In addition to being a legal precedent, this new law represents a culmination of special interests and concerns that have been growing in size and intensity since the internet was first unveiled. And given the recent rise in parental concerns over cyberbullying and teen suicides connected to online harassment, its hardly surprising that something of this nature was passed.

Sources: news.cnet.com, cbc.ca, huffingtonpost.com

Cyberwars: Massive Government Surveillance Uncovered!

wire_tappingOn Friday, Washington DC found itself embroiled in controversy as revelations were made about the extent to which US authorities have been spying on Americans in the last six years. This news came on the heels of the announcement that the federal government had been secretly cataloging all of Verizon’s phone records. No sooner had the dust settled on that revelation that it became known that the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance programs was far greater than anyone had imagined.

According to updated information on the matter, it is now known that The National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have been tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting everything from audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that would enable their analysts to track foreign targets.

prism3This information was revealed thanks to a secret document that was leaked to the Washington Post, which shows for the first time that under the Obama administration, the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing. Equally distressing is the names being named: U.S. Service Providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.

The document further indicates that all of this has been taking place since 2007, when news disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced then-president George W. Bush to look for new authority to justify his program warrantless domestic surveillance. It’s continuance and expansion under Obama has created a great deal of understandable intrigue, and not only because of promises made that “illegal wiretapping” would not take place under his watch.

prism1The joint FBI-NSA program responsible for mining all the data is known as PRISM, and it may very well be the first of its kind. While the NSA and FBI have a long history of monitoring suspects via phone records and computer activity, and are both accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers, such a vast program has never before been possible. In the current information age, there is an immense wealth of information out there, and where better to access all of this than in Silicon Valley?

Not long after the news broke in Washington, London’s Guardian reported that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA. According to the same leaked information, PRISM appears to allow the GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.

prism2But perhaps worst of all is the fact that this process is entirely above board, at least for the companies involved. Back in 2007, Congress passed the Protect America Act, and then in 2008 followed it up with the FISA Amendments Act, both of which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection against prosecution. And late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

An anticipated, a bi-partisan amalgam of Senators came out to defend the initial reports of phone record monitoring shortly after it was announced. In a rare display of solidarity that cut across party lines, Democrats and Republicans from both the Senate and House came forward to say that the program was justified, only spied on terrorists, and that law-abiding citizens need not worry.

National Security Agency - aerial view
National Security Agency – aerial view

Once again, the argument “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” finds itself employed by people who do not want to voice criticisms about a government spying program. Echoes of the Bush administration and McCarthy era all over again. Needless to say, all of this has many people worried, not the least of which are people opposed to government intrusion and the protection of privacy for the past decade.

Ever since it became possible to “mine data”  from numerous online digital sources, there has been fear that corporations or governments might try to ascertain the habits and comings and goings of regular people in order to effectively monitor them. For some time now, this sort of monitoring has been somewhat benign, in the form of anticipating their spending habits and using targeted advertising. But always, the fear that something more sinister and totalitarian might emerge.

government-surveillanceAnd with the “War on Terror”, the Patriot Act, domestic warrantless wiretapping, the legitimization of torture, and a slew of other crimes the Bush administration was indicted in, people all over the world have become convinced that “Big Brother” government is just around the corner, if indeed it is not already here.

The fact that such processes have continued and even expanded under Obama, a man who originally pledged not to engage in such behavior, has made a bad situation worse. In many ways, it demonstrates that fears that he too would succumb to internal pressure were justified. Much as he was won over by the Pentagon and CIA to continue the war in Afghanistan and UAV programs, it seems that the constellation of FBI and NSA specialists advising him on domestic surveillance has managed to sway him here as well.

Stealth-Wear1One can only hope that this revelation causes the federal government and the Obama administration to reconsider their stances. After all, these are the same people who were convinced to stand down on the use of UAVs in oversees operations and to take measures that would ensure transparency in the future. We can also hope that the NSA and FBI will be required to once again have to rely on the court system and demonstrate “just cause” before initiating any domestic surveillance in the future.

Otherwise, we might all need to consider getting our hands on some stealth wear and personal cameras, to shield ourselves and create an environment of “sousveillance” so we can spy on everything the government does. Might not hurt to start monitoring the comings and goings of every telecommunications and Silicon Valley CEO while were at it! For as the saying goes, “who watches the watchers?” I’ll give you a hint: we do!

Also, be sure to check out the gallery of artist Adam Harvey, the man who pioneered “stealth wear” as a protest against the use of drones and domestic surveillance. To learn more about sousveillance, the concept of a society monitored by common people, check out Steve Mann’s (inventor of the EyeTap) blog.

Sources: washingtonpost.com, guardian.co.uk, policymic.com, ahprojects.com, eyetap.blogspot.ca