Editor’s note: Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.
(CNN) — Ever since two men first laid a bet on two flies climbing up a cave wall, gambling has struck at the core of the human condition: the future is uncertain.
And while games of chance like dice and cards have been with us for centuries, bar room wagers on matters of abstract speculation have often been lost to history, disappearing as fast as the hot air that produced them.
Until now, that is.
In the case of Longbets.org, they are the source of heated debate about the shape of the future.
“These bets become an interesting tool to understand how we think about the future and even if we are really arguing about the right things,” said Alexander Rose, director of the Long Now Foundation, which backs the Long Bets project.
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Betting exchanges that take novelty bets are nothing new — Paddy Power has a long-running book on whether it will snow on Christmas Day and the next pope — but what makes Long Bets different is that it will only accept bets that advance our understanding of science and the future.
The winner also must donate their winnings to a charity of his choice.
Predicting the future
“People need to have an opposing argument and come to an agreement about the terms which actually turns out to be quite tricky,” Rose told CNN.
“Someone will make a bet, for instance, that we will find extraterrestrial intelligence in the next 50 years, then there’s often a long philosophical discussion about what constitutes extraterrestrial intelligence or even life.
“If we are talking about something as strange as that, we don’t know even if we’d recognize it.”
Often, he said, the parties have already bashed out the terms before they come to Long Bets.
Buffett’s million dollar gamble
In the case of its current highest profile bet — a million dollar bet between billionaire investor Warren Buffett and alternative investment group Protégé Partners, LLC – the two parties had already agreed the terms and had come to Long Bets to find a platform for the wager.
For a simple $ 50 fee, anyone can make a prediction, which then becomes a bet when someone takes up the challenge. Nothing is too outlandish, said Rose, as long as it is well argued.
Often the results can be surprising.
“We had one bet on the cost of energy five years into the future and the parties had used a very good source which was the report of the US Department of Energy,” he said.
However, when it came time to adjudicate that bet it was found the government had pulled its report in the wake of the $ 74 billion Enron scandal in 2001.
“Enron had sufficiently skewed the energy market that the government had to unwind all the Enron trades out of its report to know the true cost of energy,” Rose said. “It was enough to flip the results of the bet.”
Often the future is so unpredictable that the parameters of the debate change entirely. Once such argument over whether the top 10 news stories would come from a blog or the Wall Street Journal was, at the time, surprisingly eclipsed by Wikipedia which was little known in 2002.
“We often find that it’s not so much whether someone was right or wrong, but that what was being argued about was not even relevant,” Rose said. “Our main goal is that they create an interesting discussion about the future. And we try to keep them away from celebrities and sports and more on arguments about the world.
“We’ve taken a few bets on sports but only when they’ve been arguments about globalization.”
Some have time scales so long, that no one will ever collect on them.
A bet on whether the universe will keep expanding is unlikely ever to see a winner, but a $ 20,000 bet between Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil and Lotus Development founder Mitchell Kapor on artificial intelligence passing the Turing test comes up in 2029. To pass the test, a machine or computer program must convince a human judge that it has a level of intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human being.
For mainstream punters, meanwhile, betting exchanges like Paddy Power have been taking novelty bets on everything from the next pope – more than £300,000 ($ 450,000) was placed after Pope Benedict’s resignation — to parents betting on their sons becoming soccer World Cup football captains.
“For us it’s really a fraction of our business, less than 1%, but it’s very good for our profile and we like doing it,” Paddy Power told CNN. “And anyway who knows? One day we’ll all be caught with our pants down when Elvis comes back into town.”
Read more from Tomorrow Transformed:
(CNN) — For the past 25 years, the Web has opened up unprecedented possibilities for human communication. But it has a dark side too — sometimes, a very dark one.
Four out of 10 of Web users have been harassed online, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. And about 73% of the Web users surveyed said they’ve witnessed someone being harassed online.
The harshest forms of abuse — physical threats, stalking and sexual harassment — are often reserved for women.
With responses from 2,849 Web users, the Pew study appears to be the most detailed of its kind looking at abusive behavior on the Web. And it comes at a time when high profile cases of online abuse, many of them targeting women, have bubbled up from the Web’s darker corners into the full light of public scrutiny.
“There’s a pretty broad spectrum of these actions,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, Science and Technology research at the center. “And some of it is quite severe.”
Online harassment breaks down into two categories, according to Pew. One is minor and one more severe.
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The first includes things like name-calling and humiliation. The second category targets a smaller segment of Web users, and includes actions like stalking, harassment over a long period of time and violent threats.
It’s that sort of abuse that has made headlines in recent months.
Most prevalent has been GamerGate, a movement that purports to be about defending video-gaming culture and demanding responsible journalism from gaming websites. But it quickly turned into a wave of vicious online attacks on journalists, game developers and others — almost all of them women.
Several women have been subjected to violent rape threats, detailed death threats, hacking and “doxxing,” in which documents with personal information are stolen and posted online. At least two women have been forced to leave their homes after receiving specific threats of violence as a result of GamerGate.
In other high-profile incidents, actor Zelda Williams left social media for several weeks in August after she received graphic, abusive messages on Instagram and Twitter about the death of her father, comedy legend Robin Williams.
And, earlier this month, actor Milla Jovovich announced on Twitter that she’d stopped interacting with fans because she and her family had been threatened by a stalker from the site.
“After contacting authorities, I was told to absolutely stop talking to people I don’t know on social forums,” she wrote. “Now that sucks for all the cool people I got to know on here, but my family comes first and I cannot take any chances when it comes to them.”
It’s that sort of intense abuse that concerns Sara Baker, coordinator of Take Back the Tech, a campaign aimed at ending online violence against women.
“In our work, we see how the effects of online violence play out in the physical world all the time,” she said. “Whether or not such abuse results in physical violence — and it sometimes does — it always results in real harm.”
According to the Pew study, women experience the more severe types of abuse at disproportionately high levels when compared to men. Among women age 18-24, 26% said they’d been stalked online and 25% said they’d been sexually harassed online.
Sponsored by members of women’s groups from around the world, Baker’s organization recently gave a failing grade to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a report saying the Web’s largest social-media sites don’t do enough to prevent abuse of women on their networks.
The Pew report suggests that social media is, in fact, where a lot of online harassment takes place.
Two out of three respondents who said they’d been harassed online said the most recent incident happened on a social-media website or app.
Other sites where people said they encountered harassment included the comments section of websites (22%), online gaming (16%), in email (16%), on a discussion site such as Reddit (10%) and on online dating sites or apps (6%).
Part of what makes online abuse so rampant is the anonymous nature of some Web forums. Half the people who said they’ve been harassed online said they didn’t know their attacker.
But there’s good news: Just as the Web can be used to harass people, it can be used to rally people against hurtful speech as well.
“The Internet has expanded our ability to respond to such violence by finding community, exchanging knowledge and building solidarity,” Baker said.
(CNN) — The technology sounds simultaneously fake and dangerous: Strap on a headset and send targeted electrical currents into your brain for about 15 minutes to get more energy, improve your focus or calm down.
Brain stimulation is a very real but still unproven area of technology for tinkering with the human brain. For decades, scientists have experimented with sending electrical currents through subjects’ skulls to their brains to do everything from treating serious mental disorders like depression to improving memory and learning.
Now Silicon Valley is hoping it can turn brain stimulation tech into sleek wearable devices for consumers. Is it really possible to make the jump from the lab to Best Buy shelves?
The latest company to attempt to create a consumer brain stimulation product is Thync, a start-up with a serious pedigree. Founded by entrepreneur Isy Goldwasser and neuroscientist Jamie Tyler, who has a PhD in psychology and behavioral neuroscience, Thync has been working on its device secretly for the past three years. It’s a portable headset that will offer three settings to start: energy, relaxation and focus.
“For some people it would be their third cup of coffee, for some people it would be their afternoon nap,” said Goldwasser.
One of the primary technologies Thync is based on is transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, which uses a weak electrical current to change the sensitivity of neurons in the brain. Neurons are cells in the brain that send electrical signals to each other, resulting in the release of chemicals that impact what a person is thinking or feeling. When targeted to the right area, the tDCS currents can create changes in how a person’s brain is functioning.
With the potential to replace everything including a soda habit, yoga class or pharmaceuticals for mental disorders, the market for brain stimulation devices that are proven to work is potentially huge. The U.S. military has even experimented with it as a way to improve pilot training. Thync is focusing on small improvements for already healthy minds.
“The users are going to be people who really have busy lives and really need tools besides chemicals, drugs or alcohol,” said Goldwasser. “They’d like another approach to change their mental state.”
It’s not the first commercial product to use tDCS. Foc.us is a $ 250 headset that uses tDCS to help gamers increase focus and performance while playing video games. There is an expansive community of people who experiment with do-it-yourself tDCS headsets they make using tutorials found online and equipment found at a local Radio Shack.
Even with a number of respected studies on brain stimulation, it’s still not clear if these techniques have an impact.
“I think most people would agree that the jury is still out about whether tDCS … has any proven therapeutic or cognitive enhancement effects,” said Charan Ranganath, a professor at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis.
Research into the effectiveness of tDCS and other brain stimulation methods is still considered to be in the early stages, and there are doubts in the neuroscience community about early results.
“Some of the published studies have small sample sizes, don’t adequately address placebo effects, and they often use weird measures of memory or cognition that can be hard to interpret,” said Ranganath. There is also a tendency to only publish studies that have positive results while ignoring the ones with negative results.
If tDSC does work, creating the same desired effect in different people is difficult, even in tightly controlled laboratory studies where the equipment is set up and handled by experts. To make tDCS work, the currents must hit specific target areas in the brain which vary greatly for each person. Everyone’s head is shaped differently and if it’s off by a small amount, a tDCS device could have a drastically different impact.
Even if it does hit the right spot, there’s no guarantee a signal will impact people the same way. For example, some people function really well after a morning cup of coffee while others have the opposite reaction to caffeine.
“The idea that the same method will achieve enhancing effects on everyone is probably over simplistic,” said Ranganath.
To counter those concerns, Thync is taking its science, safety and testing seriously. In addition to tDCS, it is using an emerging new technique called transcranial pulsed ultrasound, along with custom algorithms and “proprietary neurosignaling waveforms.”
“It took us years to find these effects,” said Thync’s Tyler. “You can’t just slap it on your head and jolt your brain .. there is real science.”
Thync has already tested its product on more than 2,000 people in as many trials. After using Thync, the subjects answer questions about how they feel and the researchers measure their vitals. If it wants FDA approval down the line, Thync will need to go through extensive clinical trials. Thync plans on having its first product ready by 2015. The California-based company recently secured $ 13 million in venture capital funding.
It’s still too early to know how effective Thync or other future brain stimulation devices will be when they are released. But supporters of the technology think we’re just at the beginning of a consumer neurotechnology revolution. Tyler thinks soon these products will be commonplace:
“It is inevitable.”
(CNN) — Remember in the late ’90s when you would kill time in AOL and IRC chatrooms or post on Usenet? You’d strike up conversations with strangers about subjects you were all interested in, say “The X-Files,” container gardening or The Fugees.
Facebook wants to bring some of that community back with a fun new iOS app called Rooms. The free app, released on Thursday, lets you create or join chatrooms based on shared interests.
Start a “room” for “Law & Order” fan fiction writers, toss up a background photo of Olivia Benson and customize your name or like button with gun or knife emojis. People who join the room can post photos, text and videos. You can share the invite wide or keep the guest list short, though the posts are public.
The social media giant is 10 years old.
That’s solidly middle-age in Internet years, as evidenced by the number of parents and grandparents who have successfully colonized Facebook. To avoid obsolescence, the company has been quick to jump on any new messaging trends that are hip with the kids. It bought Instagram and WhatsApp. It made a Snapchap clone called Poke in 2012, and another called Slingshot earlier this year.
Recently, anonymity has been a hot topic embraced by standalone apps such as Whisper and Secret, and cherished by people whose online personas are entirely pseudonymous. Facebook saw first-hand how much people value being able to communicate under their chosen identities. The company started cracking down on members who weren’t adhering to its “real-name” policy and incurred the wrath of activists and drag queens.
Rooms takes the opposite stance. It doesn’t require people to use their real name, and encourages chatters to use as many “nicknames” as they like for different rooms. In the blog post announcing the app, Facebook’s Josh Miller trumpets the key feature.
“In Rooms, you can be ‘Wonder Woman’ — or whatever name makes you feel most comfortable and proud. You can even create different identities for different contexts.”
Though the app is showing up in the Apple App Store and many people have successfully downloaded it, some users have reported difficulty downloading Rooms.
Orange, California (CNN) — Gigi the robot looks like a skinny, harmless cousin of R2-D2, but the machine is a cold-blooded killer for hire, a germ zapper that could become an important weapon in the fight against Ebola.
After being wheeled into patient rooms at St. Joseph Hospital, humans clear out, and Gigi begins popping and blasting ultraviolet light that’s 25,000 times more powerful than sunlight in killing contagion.
More effective than using cleansing bleach by hand, the UV light touches and cleans all surfaces, including under the bed or between folds on curtains. After five or 10 minutes, the germs’ DNA are so badly damaged that they can’t replicate and they die.
Girly name aside, the robot is an efficient killer.
“We can clean and disinfect a room (by hand) to an 85% level, but when we use the ultraviolet light we can clean that room to 99.9%,” said Dr. Ray Casciari, a pulmonary disease specialist at the hospital. “This is the future of hospitals because 85% is not enough.”
Two robots at Dallas hospital
Priced at $ 104,000 each, the robot is one futuristic answer to help kill an Ebola virus that made U.S. history in September when it was diagnosed for the first time on American soil, according to its manufacturer, Xenex Disinfection Services of San Antonio, Texas.
In fact, that first U.S. Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, eventually died in the same Dallas, Texas, hospital where two Xenex robots are now in use, said Mark Stibich, the firm’s co-founder and chief scientific officer. Duncan was a Liberian national visiting Dallas.
Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, nurses who cared for Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, have since been infected with Ebola and are now receiving treatment.
The robot wasn’t used during the direct care of Duncan, but it was later used in cleanup of the patient’s treatment area, which helped keep Ebola from spreading within the hospital and helped make it a safer workplace, Stibich said.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Interest in disinfection rises
A sterile hospital is no small matter for patients and health care professionals.
“They’re here 24-7. Their exposure to all this is really very intense,” Casciari said. “When we use the machine, the nurses feel a little bit better about the room and the doctors feel a little bit better about the room.”
The Ebola cases in the United States and the virus’ unprecedented outbreak in West Africa have brought new attention to disinfection and its technologies, including the robots, Xenex says. Such interest was evident in Thursday’s congressional hearings into the U.S. government’s domestic response to Ebola.
“We’ve definitely had an increase in interest in our technology. Ebola has generated a lot of interest in the threat of infectious disease — and what can be done to stop the spread of deadly infections,” said Xenex spokeswoman Melinda Hart.
Fighting hospital infections
Ultraviolet light has been used for decades for air and water disinfection, but the Xenex robot uses environmentally friendly xenon light instead of bulbs with mercury, which is toxic, Hart said.
Xenex says it’s the only firm that uses xenon in its robots, which also allows for faster disinfection. A xenon robot can clean a room in a matter of minutes, whereas robots that uses mercury-vapor lamp need at least an hour to warm up and carry out their disinfection, Hart said.
The importance of disinfection in the wake of the Ebola cases has also brought attention to the general problem of hospital-associated infections, such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Hart said.
One in 25 U.S. patients has at least one infection contracted during their hospital visit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. That totaled 722,000 infections in 2011.
Moreover, hundreds of Americans with such infections die every day, the CDC says.
“Although there has been some progress, today and every day, more than 200 Americans with health care-associated infections will die during their hospital stay,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement last March.
Thirty of Xenex’s customers using the robots have reported a decrease in those hospital-associated infections, according to research that the firm publishes on its website. A handful of those medical centers report reductions of C. diff., MRSA and other hospital-associated infections by a range of 20% to 53%, the firm said.
Some hospitals slow to adopt
So far, 250 hospitals in the United States use the Xenex robots, the firm says. The facilities often name their robots, as St. Joseph Hospital did.
When asked why more hospitals weren’t using the technology, Hart said that “it was only a couple of years ago that hospitals began understanding the role of the environment in the spread of infections.”
“Some hospitals are innovative and adopted the technology immediately, while others have been much slower to adopt,” Hart said.
The company’s technology was featured by CNN Money in 2012, when a CDC official said he saw little downside to the venture as long as the technology is cost effective.
“It already has an advantage in the marketplace because it doesn’t require doctors or nurses to change their behavior or do more,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington D.C.
So far, however, the firm hasn’t sent any robots to West Africa, which is experiencing the deadliest outbreak of Ebola on record, Hart said.
The company is now in discussions with the U.S. Department of Defense and relief organization to determine how to deploy the robots and ensure training that the machines are used properly, Hart said.
The firm is also trying to sell its robots to airlines, especially in the wake of how nurse Vinson flew halfway across the country on a Frontier Airlines flight with 132 people the day before she went to a hospital with Ebola symptoms.
“We’re talking to several major airlines right now about how we could go in and disinfect their planes — to protect the airline employees as well as customers,” Hart said.
(CNN) — It may have more than a half-billion dollars in the bank and the backing of tech titans like Google, as well as the investors with some of Silicon Valley’s deepest pockets.
You’ve probably never heard of Magic Leap, a startup so secretive they’re not even telling the public who is on their team. But they’re promising to change the world — or at least how we experience it.
What’s clear is that Magic Leap is working on augmented-reality technology. And they’re claiming that the product they’re keeping tightly under wraps will trump anything that’s been offered by existing companies like Oculus, the virtual-reality company Facebook bought this year for $ 2 billion.
Magic Leap is making “what we believe will be the most natural and human-friendly wearable computing interface in the world,” said CEO Rony Abovitz in a written release from February, when the company secured $ 50 million in investments.
Now, Google and other major tech investors are preparing to pour $ 500 million into the Florida-based company, according to tech blog Recode.
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“What is remarkable is how well the human body and mind respond when technology respects biology, so truly magical experiences become possible,” Abovitz said. “Our technology exists to unlock the creative spark found in all of us.”
Not surprisingly, a company spokesman declined the opportunity to comment for this story.
Abovitz was the co-founder of MAKO Surgical, a company that made a robotic arm that can be used to perform orthopedic surgery. That company sold for a cool $ 1.65 billion in December.
But, as staffing at Magic Leap goes, we don’t know much more.
On the website’s “Team” page, where most startups brag about the experience and talent of their employees, Magic Leap lists no names, just offbeat titles like “artificial intelligence gurus,” “software ninjas” and “computing hobbits.”
Those who have gotten a peak behind the curtain, though, are impressed.
“What Rony and the Magic Leap team have created is nothing short of remarkable and will forever change the way we interact with images and information,” a member of the startup’s board of directors and co-founder of special-effects and props company Weta Workshop.
Visitors to Magic Leap’s website are greeted by a high-definition, point-of-view video that shows a tiny elephant appear to stand in the user’s hand before leaping into the air and floating.
In July, the New York Times reported that one tool Magic Leap is using is called a “digital light field.” The technology is more complex than existing augmented-reality tools and would create, in effect, 3D light sculptures before the user’s eyes.
Based on its website, Magic Leap appears to have trademarked the term “Cinematic Reality” for its technology.
With Google reportedly investing so heavily, it’s not hard to imagine Magic Leap being paired with Google Glass, the tech giant’s entry in the wearable tech field that could hit the market as early as this year.
(CNN) — It’s no surprise that some folks fudge their ages to get on Facebook. Anna Stoehr did. But she’s no preteen trying to sign up before the network’s minimum age of 13.
She cleared that mark more than a century ago.
Now 114 and reportedly Minnesota’s oldest resident, Stoehr is a lifelong fan of learning new things. With the help of a friend, she went to sign up for Facebook this month.
According to CNN affiliate KARE-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul, when she found the earliest birth year Facebook’s sign-up page provides is 1905, she claimed to be a spry 99 years old.
“You betcha,” she told the station.
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Stoehr, who lives in a retirement community and was born before her family had a telephone, car or electricity, has gotten more plugged in since striking up a friendship with a Verizon salesman.
Joseph Ramireza was selling an iPhone to Stoehr’s 85-year-old son, who started talking about his mother. Ramireza said he had to meet her.
“She’s become something of a kindred spirit,” Ramireza told KARE.
He’s helped her use FaceTime to video chat with friends on an iPad and has been teaching her to use email and Google search.
When Facebook didn’t have her birth year as an option, Ramireza helped Stoehr write a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg — on a typewriter.
“I’m still here,” she said in the letter.
While Facebook might not provide turn-of-the-20th century age options, the network has publicly celebrated its oldest users in the past.
In 2012, then-101-year-old Florence Detlor got a tour of Facebook’s headquarters and a meeting with Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. She was believed to be the oldest Facebook user at the time, though an older user was later identified.
According to her Facebook page, Stoehr now has 31 friends on the site and has activated Facebook Mobile.
Facebook did not respond immediately to a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
(CNN) — People using Google to search for information about their medical problems may soon get another source of information: a real-time chat with a doctor.
The search giant has confirmed to tech blog Engadget that it is testing a system that would offer video chats with doctors to people whose search terms involve medical symptoms.
Google told the site that the company is paying for the feature while it’s in the testing phase. But it’s likely that it would be a paid feature if it is rolled out to the public at large.
Google did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment for this story.
Doctors are famously frustrated by patients who search for symptoms online. While there are quality sites out there, such open-ended searches can convince people they’re sicker than they really are, and more dubious sites can offer sketchy advice about how to treat the symptoms.
For patients, a paid, online visit with a doctor could still be cheaper, and more convenient than an actual visit.
In an image on photo site Imgur, a screen capture presumably from someone testing the feature shows a video link with the words “Talk to a doctor now.”
The feature’s information box reads, “Based on your search query, we think you are trying to understand a medical condition. Here you can find health care providers who you can visit with over video chat. All visit costs are covered by Google during this limited trial.”
(CNN) — Even before the examination begins, it’s clear Ann Martinez isn’t well.
Her breathing is labored. You can tell by the raspy sounds and jerky rise and fall of her chest. Clad in her underwear, she waits quietly for the doctor, letting out the occasional cough.
The physician starts by going over her history, asking a few questions and taking her vitals. Martinez, a smoker with a family history of heart disease, recently had knee-replacement surgery. She confirms she’s having trouble breathing and complains of some chest pain. While checking her pulse, the doctor notices that her heartbeat is faster than normal.
On their own, the symptoms are too common to reach any immediate conclusion. It’s possible she has a simple chest cold, but the signs could indicate something more dangerous, even fatal. More tests are needed.
There’s no risk of Martinez dying, however, because she isn’t real. She is a naturalistic, interactive virtual patient that lives on a computer screen. The simulation is part of i-Human Patients, one of a new generation of computer programs used by medical schools to train students and other professionals.
Like a flight simulator for doctors, i-Human presents cases as complicated, hands-on puzzles that require real medical skills to figure out. There is minimal guidance or hand-holding, leaving students to make hundreds of little decisions and conduct tests as they would when diagnosing a real sick person.
“A patient shows up in your office, and that’s it. That’s real life. You need to start asking questions,” said Norm Wu, CEO of i-Human.
I-Human says its program is an evolution of the popular first-generation virtual patients like InTime’s MedU, which are still used in most medical schools. Those programs and documents also ask medical students to make a diagnosis but typically with text, multimedia prompts and multiple choice options.
Medical schools also rely on a combination of actors and mannequins to help train doctors. Both have their advantages; working with an actor is great for bedside manner and interpersonal skills. But they can be expensive, and taking them home to practice isn’t really an option. With a cloud-based computer program, a medical student can practice his or her diagnoses anywhere there’s Wi-Fi. Data can be collected to let professors know how students are progressing, highlighting areas where they need improvement.
“If you’re a medical school professor, it’s very easy to test for fact-based recall,” Wu said. “How do you tell if somebody has figured out how to appropriately assess and diagnosis a patient with minimum error?”
Realistic high-tech training programs like i-Human aren’t just another helpful tool. They have the potential to address a shortage of trained doctors and nurses. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts a shortage of more than 20,000 primary care physicians by 2020, driven largely by the aging of baby boomers.
The issue is more severe in developing countries like India, where there is an average of one doctor per 10,000 people — and some rural areas are far worse. Over the next 16 years, India’s government wants to train 1.6 million new physicians. Technology could play a huge role in the country, where doctors and brick-and-mortar med schools aren’t plentiful.
I-Human is working with 20 educators in India to localize the program, customizing patients and illnesses for the target market. (It has added an option for more conservative gowned avatars.)
More accessible diagnostic training for medical schools could also have an impact on the misdiagnosis rate. One out of every 20 outpatients is misdiagnosed in the U.S., according to an April study by BMJ Quality and Safety Journal — that’s 12 million cases a year.
Craig and Anne Knoche think that more realistic training could dramatically lower that number. The pair of Silicon Valley veterans launched i-Human in 2012 after creating standalone medical simulators for years.
Currently at use in 14 medical schools, the virtual patients are diagnosed as homework, group projects and tests and as a teaching tool in front of a class. The program has optional coaching tools like prompts, lessons and quizzes to keep beginning students on the right track, a common issue when there are thousands of possible questions to ask and hundreds of labs and tests to order.
Practicing on an avatar, no matter how realistic their gout or pneumonia, is obviously not the same as treating a real human. But a team of graphic artists has worked to make the avatars mimic real illness as much as possible. The team designs five or six new “patients” a week.
Each virtual patient has a name, a medical history, symptoms and an illness. They are a diverse selection of 3-D illustrations, with realistically rendered bodies, which makes it possible to see problems like jaundiced skin at a glance. Audio and animations tip students off to key details, like the sound of wheezing or the way a patient blinks.
Schools and other third parties can build their own cases using i-Human and share them with other customers, similar to selling apps in Apple’s App Store. The cases are peer-reviewed and subject to a review by i-Human’s two full-time staff physicians.
The virtual physical exams simulates, as much as possible on a screen, the tactical skills needed for things like measuring blood pressure and testing pupil reactions. To hear Ann Martinez’s heart, the student must know where exactly to put the stethoscope.
Eventually, if they’re on the right track, Martinez’s doctor will order a battery of tests that include a CT pulmonary angiogram. The result, a black and white image of real arteries, shows a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are frequently misdiagnosed and are the third most common cause of death in hospitalized patients.
If the medical student orders the correct course of treatment, Martinez will live another day and train more future doctors.
Editor’s note: Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal Online and can be heard frequently on radio as a contributor to shows such as PRI’s “The Takeaway” and WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” He is the author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and editor of the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) — The massive protests in Hong Kong took an ugly turn on Friday when students pressing for representative democracy clashed with opponents, prompting a breakdown of talks aimed at defusing the crisis.
This negativity followed a week of remarkably peaceful civil disobedience in what has been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution,” after the widely shared image of a man defiantly holding up an umbrella in a haze of police tear gas fired to disperse the tens of thousands of activists crowding the city’s main government and business thoroughfare, the region referred to as Central.
But protesters shrugged off the gas assault as if it had never happened. Behind the barricades, they studied for exams, coordinated the cleanup and recycling of trash generated by the crowd, and jerry-rigged guerrilla charging stations for the voluminous array of devices the demonstrators are using as part of the sophisticated war they’re waging on the virtual front, wielding the digital-age weapons of image feeds, live streaming video and ceaseless social media updates.
The Umbrella Revolution is hardly the first protest to harness the power of technology to coordinate activities and broadcast messages, but it’s almost certainly the most sophisticated.
Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at American University, discussed the infrastructure the activists have adopted in an article for Quartz, a system that incorporates fast wireless broadband, multimedia smartphones, aerial drones and mobile video projectors, cobbled together by pro-democracy geektivists like the ad-hoc hacker coalition Code4HK.
Hong Kong clashes continue in Mong Kok
Hong Kong police push through barricade
Given this remarkable show of force by the crowd under the Umbrella, it’s not surprising that Beijing has moved quickly to prevent transmissions from reaching the mainland, blocking Chinese access to Instagram, where images and videos from the demonstrations and police crackdowns are regularly being posted, and banning all posts on popular messaging sites like Weibo and WeChat carrying keywords that refer to the protests.
Activists have fought back by downloading the peer-to-peer “mesh messaging” app FireChat — which allows communication among nearby users even when centralized mobile services are unavailable by linking smartphones directly to one another via Bluetooth and wifi — in the hundreds of thousands, and by creating an elaborate system of numerical hashtags to stand in for forbidden terms.
For example, #689 is the codename for Hong Kong chief executive C.Y. Leung, referring to the number of votes he received in his selection as the region’s highest government representative, a scant majority of the 1,200 members of the the Communist Party-approved nominating committee. #8964 references Beijing’s brutal June 4, 1989, crackdown on student democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, which casts a looming shadow over the Occupy Central demonstrations.
These strategies seem to have prompted the Chinese authorities to resort to new and more insidious tactics. Links — seemingly posted by Code4HK — have begun popping up on social media, inviting users to download a new app that allows for secure coordination of protest activities.
Instead, clicking the link downloads a Trojan horse that gives its developers — presumed by some security experts to be “red hat’ hackers working with support from the Chinese government — open access to the messages, calls, contacts, location and even the bank information and passwords of those naive enough to download it.
That’s a harsh lesson not just for those living under authoritarian regimes, but for us citizens of nominally free and democratic societies as well.
The smartphone is by far the most formidable tool for populist empowerment ever invented, turning individual human beings into mobile broadcast platforms and decentralized mobs into self-organizing bodies. But it’s also jarringly easy for these devices to be used against us.
Here in the United States, revelations of the existence of massive government surveillance programs like the NSA’s PRISM have caused an uproar among digital libertarians. Likewise, criminal smartphone hacking and cloud cracking has led to the release of celebrity nude photos and sex videos, to the humiliation of those who thought them private.
The response from leading smartphone developers like Apple and Google has been to announce new methods of locking and encrypting information to make it harder for individuals, businesses or governments to gain access to our personal information.
But even as they add these fresh layers of security, they continue to extend the reach of these devices into our lives, with services that integrate frictionless financial transactions and home systems management into our smartphones, and wearable accessories that capture and transmit our very heartbeats.
Imagine how much control commercial exploiters, criminals — or overreaching law enforcement — might have if it gained access to all these features. The upshot is that we increasingly have to take matters into our own hands (and handsets), policing our online behavior and resisting the temptation to click on risky links.
It may be worth exploring innovative new tools that offer unblockable or truly secure alternatives to traditional communications, like the free VPN browser extension Hola, which evades global digital boundaries to Web access; open-source projects like Serval and Commotion, which are attempting to develop standards for mesh connectivity that route around the need for commercial mobile phone networks; and apps like RedPhone and Signal, which offer free, worldwide end-to-end encrypted voice conversations.
Most of these are works in progress. But as technology becomes ever more deeply embedded into our lifestyles, keeping our digital identities secure and private is becoming increasingly critical. And as the protests in Hong Kong have shown, the only solution may be to use technology to defend against technology — in other words, to fight fire with FireChat.