Emerging Tech Trends:
Step one: Drill holes in the skull. Step two: Implant “threads” into the brain.
Neuralink, one of Musk’s secretive companies, revealed the advance at a San Francisco event Tuesday, giving the public its first real peek at what the startup’s been up to since its launch two years ago. Neuralink has also created a neurosurgical robot reminiscent of a sewing machine, which can embed the threads — each much thinner than a human hair — in the brain.
So far, the threads have only been tested in animals, but Musk said he hopes to start testing in humans “by the end of next year,” a timeline that seems unrealistically ambitious. He’ll need to get the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first, which promises to be a complicated feat: The current procedure for implanting the threads requires drilling holes in the skull.
If he succeeds in getting FDA approval, it’ll likely be because he’s pitching the advance as a technology meant to address a medical condition: paralysis. The idea is that the threads will read neuronal signals from a paralyzed patient’s brain and transmit that data to a machine — say, an iPhone — enabling the patient to control it without having to tap or type or swipe.
Neuralink’s trials so far have been conducted on rats, and, it seems, monkeys. In a telling moment during the Q&A portion of the event, Musk veered off-script, saying, “A monkey has been able to control the computer with its brain. Just FYI.” (We don’t yet have evidence to that effect.) Neuralink president Max Hodak’s response: “I didn’t realize we were running that result today, but there it goes.”
If this technology is functional in human patients — and we should always be careful not to extrapolate too much from early animal studies to humans, particularly when dealing with complex brain systems — it could significantly improve quality of life for millions of people. Approximately 5.4 million people are living with paralysis in the US alone, according to a Reeve Foundation study.
As if to underscore Neuralink’s medicinal ambitions, the company’s head surgeon, Matthew MacDougall, spoke onstage dressed in blue scrubs. He emphasized that Neuralink’s main concern is patient safety, adding that eventually the company wants its brain implant procedure to be as non-invasive as Lasik eye surgery. He also said it’s “only intended for patients with serious unmet medical diseases,” like people who’ve been completely paralyzed as the result of a spinal cord injury.
But helping people with paralysis is not, it seems, Musk’s end goal — the futurist made clear he has much grander ambitions. Ultimately, he said, he aims “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” The goal is to develop a technology that enables humans “merging with AI” so that we won’t be “left behind” as AI systems become more and more advanced.
This fantastical vision is not the sort of thing for which the FDA greenlights human trials. But a study on helping people with paralysis? That may get a warmer reception.
Neuralink is arguably one of the foremost startups dedicated to biohacking, the quest to augment human beings’ physical and cognitive performance, often by performing radical experiments on ourselves. It’s now facing a problem common to many biohackers: The medical system, they complain, holds back progress.
“If you were to come up with a compound right now that literally cures aging, you couldn’t get it approved,” Oliver Medvedik, a biohacking advocate who directs the Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering at Cooper Union, recently told me. “By the definition we’ve set up, aging isn’t a disease, and if you want to get it approved by the FDA you have to target a certain disease. That just seems very strange and antiquated and broken.”
Musk said that the event, which was live-streamed, was not about showing off. “The main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting,” he said. He wants more people to apply to Neuralink’s open positions. The company currently has about 90 employees and $158 million in funding, $100 million of which reportedly came from Musk himself.
But Hodak described the purpose of the presentation differently in an interview with the New York Times. “We want this burden of stealth mode off of us so that we can keep building and do things like normal people, such as publish papers,” he said. (The company recently released a white paper explaining its new technology.)
Neuralink isn’t the first to explore brain-machine interfaces. Other companies like Kernel and Paradromics are also working in this space, as is the US military. Some scientists are currently working on brain implants that would translate paralyzed people’s thoughts into speech.
In other words, if Neuralink really has achieved what it says it’s achieved, this could be a major advance with promising applications for people down the road.
Just don’t expect those applications too soon: The company still has to prove that its system can work in human brains, and that the threads, once implanted, can survive in our brains for years without deteriorating — or causing our brains themselves to deteriorate.
Evelyn Namara Founder, Vouch Digital | Uganda
Evelyn is the Founder and CEO of Vouch Digital Limited, a technology startup that is championing the development of digital solutions in the distribution sector. Their award-winning flagship product, M-Voucher, has been used by different development agencies to distribute seed crops, post-harvest and farming equipment. Evelyn has been widely recognized for her role as a champion for women in tech, including being named the Anita Borg ABIE Change Agent Award winner in 2012. In this interview she shares her journey of building a successful career in tech before going on to launch her business.
Excerpts below are from her interview with Eunice Baguma Ball, author of the book, Founding Women.
Invest time and energy into the process of
finding the right people because it will save you a
lot of trouble in the future.
When did you develop an interest in science and technology? I became interested in computer science around the age of eighteen when I was exposed to computers for the first time. But even long before that my father had always encouraged to me to study sciences. His dream was for me to become a doctor, but I hated chemistry and anything to do with blood so that just wasn’t going to happen! The two subjects I loved were physics and mathematics, so I focused on those. After secondary school, while waiting to decide what I would study at university, I worked at a university library which had a computer lab. This was where I got the opportunity to sit in front of a computer for the very first time.
I was fascinated from day one and I remember asking the lady in charge so many questions to try and understand how computers worked. Every single evening after that, I found an excuse to go to the lab, sometimes not leaving until very late. I researched what career opportunities existed within this new world of computers that I had discovered and went on to opt for computer science at university.
What led you to leave employment and pursue entrepreneurship?
During my career I realized I loved the process of setting up new systems. For a while I worked for a large corporation in the telecommunications sector. I joined them at a time when they were doing a lot of setup work which I really enjoyed. Later, when it became much more about maintenance, I grew bored. Having previously been with a small IT support company, I also found that I missed being on the front line, working directly with clients and making things happen. So, I moved on to join a startup called Solar Sister which distributes solar solutions and empowers rural women to better their livelihoods. This was a perfect fit because I loved the idea of using technology to make a difference in the lives of everyday people. I was also their first hire in Uganda and was entrusted with setting up their operations here. This experience made me fall in love with entrepreneurship and gave me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of setting up a small organization from scratch. After that I knew I wanted to start my own organization.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I didn’t actually have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do exactly What I knew for sure was that I wanted to do something that involved using technology for development and I kept my mind open to opportunities as I worked with different organizations. One day I had a conversation with someone who told me about an organization they were involved with which was facing a particular challenge.They needed to make micro payments in order to provide agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers, and their current system of using paper vouchers was a nightmare. I immediately saw this as a problem that could be solved using technology and was excited by the prospect of developing the solution. I reached out to the organization and started working with them to develop the concept for a solution – a mobile-based voucher system. Things progressed very quickly and when I proposed building a prototype, they gave me only three weeks to deliver! At that point I knew there was no turning back and my business was born.
Are there any mistakes you made or something you wish you could have done differently?
I made some bad hiring decisions at the start which proved very costly. You need to be very careful to vet people before bringing them into your team. It can be difficult to identify the right people because they may have the technical skills but not the right work ethic. You have to invest time and energy into the process of finding the right people because it will save you a lot of trouble in the future. Now when recruiting, I try to create an environment where I can observe how the potential hire does things. For example,
instead of a typical interview, I will take them out for lunch and observe small things, like if they keep time or how they speak to the waiter. Eventually, I learnt what to look out for in someone who is a good fit for my organization. I’m now very happy with the team I have built. I’m proud to say it’s mostly women and they do an amazing job.
What would be your main piece of advice for young women just starting out on their entrepreneurship journey?
I would say preparation is key. Before you take that next step, be sure that this is something that you definitely want to do and if you are not sure, then invest time in finding out. Entrepreneurship is a challenge every single day, so prepare as much as you can to make it easier for yourself. Understanding the industry you want to get into is key. Develop relationships with people who are within that sector. Use LinkedIn; many people don’t realize what a great resource LinkedIn is. You can find people on there who understand how the industry works and you never know when those connections will come in handy. There are times I’ve been stuck and I’ve seen how those relationships you build over time can prove to be key when you encounter obstacles.
source – Africa
The Chinese kindergarten children giggled as they worked to solve puzzles assigned by their new teaching assistant: a roundish, short educator with a screen for a face.
Just under 60 centimetres high, the autonomous robot named Keeko has been a hit in several kindergartens, telling stories and challenging children with logic problems.
Round and white with a tubby body, the armless robot zips around on tiny wheels, its inbuilt cameras doubling up both as navigational sensors and a front-facing camera allowing users to record video journals.
In China, robots are being developed to deliver groceries, provide companionship to the elderly, dispense legal advice and now, as Keeko’s creators hope, join the ranks of educators.
At the Yiswind Institute of Multicultural Education on the outskirts of Beijing, the children have been tasked to help a prince find his way through a desert – by putting together square mats that represent a path taken by the robot – part storytelling and part problem-solving.
Each time they get an answer right, the device reacts with delight, its face flashing heart-shaped eyes.
Educator Candy Xiong introducing a Keeko robot to children at the Yiswind Institute of Multicultural Education in Beijing. PHOTO | GREG BAKER | AFP
“Education today is no longer a one-way street, where the teacher teaches and students just learn,” said Candy Xiong, a teacher trained in early childhood education who now works with Keeko Robot Xiamen Technology as a trainer.
“When children see Keeko with its round head and body, it looks adorable and children love it. So when they see Keeko, they almost instantly take to it,” she added.
Keeko robots have entered more than 600 kindergartens across the country with its makers hoping to expand into Greater China and Southeast Asia.
Beijing has invested money and manpower in developing artificial intelligence as part of its “Made in China 2025” plan, with a Chinese firm last year unveiling the country’s first human-like robot that can hold simple conversations and make facial expressions.
According to the International Federation of Robots, China has the world’s top industrial robot stock, with some 340,000 units in factories across the country engaged in manufacturing and the automotive industry.
The service robot market — which includes devices ranging from specialised medical equipment to automated vacuum cleaners — is estimated to be worth $1.32 billion last year.
It is expected to grow to $4.9 billion by 2022, said market research firm Research In China.
Last week, Beijing hosted the World Robot Conference, featuring machines that can diagnose diseases, play badminton and wow audiences with their musical skills.
Children playing with a Keeko robot after a class at the Yiswind Institute of Multicultural Education in Beijing. PHOTO | GREG BAKER | AFP
Last year, a group of monks in Beijing created a two-foot-high robot monk dispensing mantras and advice to attaining nirvana.
The iPal — a companion of sorts for children — is the latest humanoid robot to be marketed for family use, following in the footsteps of the diminutive, wisecracking “Pepper” companion released by Japan’s SoftBank in 2015.
But Xie Yi, principal of the kindergarten where Keeko has been put on trial, believes that it will be a long while before robots can completely replace humans in the classroom.
“To teach you must be able to interact, have a human touch, eye contact and facial expressions. These are the things that make an education,” Xie said.
“It’s not just the language or the content, it’s everything.”
She said the Keeko robots, which cost about 10,000 yuan ($1,500), or about the monthly salary of a kindergarten teacher, may have some advantages over a flesh-and-blood educator.
“The best thing about robots? They’re more stable (than humans),” she said with a laugh.
Apple is widely expected to unveil three new iPhones at its September event this Wednesday, and a new report says the company could name its iPhone X successors the “Xs,” “Xs Max,” and “Xr.”
- Apple will likely unveil three new iPhones at its September event on Wednesday.
- A new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple could name its new iPhones “Xs,” “Xs Max,” and “Xr.”
- Gurman has a solid track record with reporting Apple news before it’s officially announced.
Apple is widely expected to unveil three new iPhones at its September event this Wednesday, and a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple could name its iPhone X successors the iPhone “Xs,” “Xs Max,” and “Xr.”
Gurman has a good track record with reporting Apple news before it’s officially announced by the company. He’s broken lots of Apple news while at Bloomberg, and previously at the Apple blog 9to5Mac.
According to Gurman, Apple’s sequel to the iPhone X will be called “iPhone Xs,” which lines up with 9to5Mac’s report from August 30 that claims the same name.
The name iPhone Xs would line up with Apple’s traditional naming conventions for iPhones, where a refined “S” model would look identical to the prior-year phone, but include new internals and other features to set it apart.
The second phone Apple will unveil will be a larger version of the iPhone Xs — but unlike past years, where Apple named the bigger phone model “Plus,” Gurman says the large-screened iPhone X successor will be called “iPhone Xs Max.” Compared to the 5.8-inch display on the iPhone X and the rumored Xs, this phone would feature a massive OLED display that measures nearly 6.5 inches.
Apple will also reportedly unveil a third phone at its event this month: an iPhone sized between the two Xs models, but with a less-expensive LCD screen instead of OLED, that comes in several new colors. Gurman says this iPhone could be called “iPhone Xr,” according to one of his sources, though the reason for the name is unclear and it sounds like Apple could still change its mind. Another report from this week floated the possibility of the third iPhone variant being called the iPhone Xc.
We’ll know the names of these new iPhones, as well as their standout features, this Wednesday. Business Insider will be in attendance and live blogging the event, which begins at 1 p.m. ET. In the meantime, you can learn more about everything we’re expecting from Apple’s event right here.