Monthly Archives: July 2017

Biometric Technology

It’s already tough to get a decent job in the Obama economy, but increasingly, technology is making it even tougher. That’s because more and more functions of society are becoming automated that is, machines are taking over duties that humans once performed.

What happens to the data, though? 
Security officials are using more machines that employ biometrics which can verify a person’s identity through various physical traits and that has raised questions and concerns about the advantages and strengths of humans versus machines in being able to detect would-be terrorists. Industry officials told the paper, however, that the advantages of biometrics and computers outweigh any inherent risks, and as such they are promoting more automation as a way to make air travel more efficient and less frustrating.

Eventually, experts say, technology could “get rid of the boarding pass completely,” with air travelers’ faces serving as their ticket and pass, Michael Ibbitson, chief information officer of London Gatwick Airport, told WSJ.
He said he performed a trial last year in which 3,000 travelers on board British Airways flights were processed without boarding passes. The travelers had their irises scanned when they checked in, which enabled cameras at security checkpoints and boarding gates to recognize them automatically. “We’re only just beginning to see what biometrics can do,” said Gatwick. Proponents including government and industry officials – and, most likely, scores of Americans who are fed up with being felt up, groped and humiliated by aggressive Transportation Security Administration screeners – say automating airport security procedures will free human screeners up to focus more specifically on suspicious behavior among travelers. Also, for some aspects of security, they note that computers can be much more thorough and efficient, as well as less error-prone, than humans. But critics rightfully worry about as usual stored data being hacked or stolen, and that too much automation will dull human screeners’ senses and intuition, thereby causing them to miss detecting something when it is just doesn’t feel right.

‘Smart Security’ initiative
“If you’re sweating profusely, for example, the person checking your ID would notice. But that computer taking an iris scan wouldn’t,” said aviation-security expert Arnold Barnett, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He adds that a key part of airport security is “looking at all kinds of things that can’t be captured by an algorithm.” Currently about 28 percent of the world’s airports use some form of biometric technology. That’s up from 18 percent in 2008, a survey by SITA, an airline information technology provider, says.

Technology to Allow Parents to Pick ‘Smartest’ Embryos

Eugenics is quickly becoming big business in China, where at least one genomics company is attempting to pave the way for parents to literally pick and choose the “best” embryos to obtain the smartest possible children. Quartz reports that the cognitive genomics (CG) division at the Shenzhen-based genomics company BGI is currently working on the controversial project, which could one day allow for pregnancies with “designer” babies.

Like the plot of a bizarre sci-fi flick, the goal is to create detailed maps of the genes of smart individuals for the purpose of identifying and selecting those genes in the embryos used for in vitro fertilization. Since as much as 80 percent of what determines IQ level is believed to be inherited, researchers believe that it may be possible to identify certain “smart” genes in human embryos that could be used to predict intelligence later in life. In this case, the BGI team is looking for genes directly associated with intelligence. Once identified, these genes could potentially be used as markers for choosing only those embryos that possess them in the proper sequence. Embryos that do not meet the intelligence threshold, on the other hand, could simply be discarded as “defective,” a controversial proposition that stands to open up a Pandora’s box of both ethical and moral dilemmas.

“Imagine what a couple might pay to ensure that they get the best out of 10 or 50 possible offspring, optimizing over their choice of heritable attributes,” writes Stephen Hsu, a CG lab member currently working on the project, on his blog. Chinese government funding ‘designer’ baby technology What BGI is proposing, however, is far different from, say, screening embryos for known genetic diseases before implanting them. The latter might be seen as simply reprieving an individual from a life of disease, while the former resembles some kind of genetic cleansing endeavor the devalues human life. Do we really want to create a world where only the smartest individuals are considered to have any value or worth, while those less fortunate from an intelligence standpoint are considered unworthy of existing?

“Sparing a baby from disease is different from picking Einsteins out of petri dishes so you can scrimp on Harvard tuition,” writes Gwynn Guilford for Quartz, illustrating this point. At the same time, consumer demand is not necessarily the driving force behind the initiative. According to reports, major funding for the project is coming from the China Development Bank, a state-owned bank that specifically lends money to government “pet” projects. In other words, the Chinese government, building upon its one-child eugenics policy, apparently now wants Chinese families to have only one smart child.

“China Development Bank, a state bank that lends to government pet projects, has given BGI $1.5 billion” for the project, adds Guilford about the setup. Other countries, like the U.K., are also showing interest in the technology, which could help it advance even more quickly if the governments of these countries decide to lend their support. In the eyes of BGI’s Chris Chang, who recently told The New Yorker that it is only a matter of time before “designer” baby technology becomes the ntiorm, embryo discriminaon has the potential to become national policy for many countries.

Israeli Missile Weapons Technology

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new method for inspecting the large intestine, also known as a colonoscopy, a procedure so unpleasant, and arguably painful, that many skip it, despite its high recommendation for those over 50 years old. While the new, less invasive method is not a substitute but an alternative, it includes the patient swallowing a bite-sized camera that travels throughout the intestine, snapping internal photographs, which are then sent to a device worn around the patient’s waist and later reviewed by a physician.

Company background
The device, known as PillCam, has been around since 2001 but was unable to compete directly with a regular colonoscopy because of the photographs’ lack of clarity. The FDA’s recent approval allows the device to be used as a substitute for those who cannot undergo a regular colonoscopy procedure, a demographic of nearly 750,000 U.S. patients annually.  PillCam was developed from missile defense systems by an Israel-based company called Given Imaging (GI) and is available in 80 countries including Japan and countries in Europe and Latin America In addition to its Israel-based headquarters, GI maintains several operating subsidiaries in the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Inconsistency in FDA approval process
Recent reports revealed that the FDA’s method for approving medical devices and prescription drugs is anything but consistent; however, PillCam underwent testing that included 884 patients at 16 sites. Clinical trial results showed the “sensitivity for PillCam COLON was 88% and specificity was 82% in detecting adenomas at least 6 millimeters in size.”
Although there are likely important benefits associated with this new imaging device, because of ulterior financial motives behind most FDA approvals, one has to wonder what side effects, if any, exist. Douglas Rex, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Chancellor’s Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, says the polyp-detecting device is a “minimally invasive, radiation-free option that provides endoscopic images of the same basic type that has made colonoscopy so useful.”
GI claims that the PillCam has a “low to moderate risk that has no predicate on the market.”

Financial incentives 
Colon imaging has a global market of 3 million procedures a year, creating opportunity for a tremendous profit. Analysts estimate PillCam sales to reach over $60 million in North America alone by 2019. Debbie Wang, an analyst with MorningStar, said using the PillCam for colon imaging is extremely competitive financially in that it costs roughly $500 in comparison to a $4,000 colonoscopy.

Smart pills
The PillCam technology is similar to that of the “smart pill,” or the “Helius system,” a pill developed by California-based company Proteus Biomedical, Inc. The smart pill, a tiny digestible, silicon-based chip, has the capability of notifying your physician once a prescription drug has been ingested. Upon digestion, the pill’s trace amounts of magnesium and copper mix with your stomach acid resulting in an electrical charge that’s sent to an external skin patch. The patch transmits the data to your iPhone or computer, from where it is then sent directly to your doctor.  In addition to notifying your doctor that the pill has been taken, it’s also capable of providing a full-body analysis, including heart rate, body temperature, exercise levels and sleep patterns, and can even inform you of your next scheduled dosage. Reports confirm that the leading developer of technology imaging, GI, is to be purchased by medical device manufacturer Covidien PLC. The $860 million deal is to be completed by March 2014.

New light technology

New research on mice has shown that blue light stimulation of brain cells can recover memories in mice with Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, they found that artificial reactivation of positive memories through light could suppress the effects of stress-induced depression. A team led by RIKEN Brain Science Institute center director, Susumu Tonegawa, identified a population of brain cells that can be altered with light so that memories, emotions and even thoughts can be manipulated through a unique technique called optogenetics. Optogenetics integrates genetic and optical methods to control the mind. Its key molecule is a light-sensitive protein extracted from green algae, called channelrhodopsin. This particular protein can be inserted into memory cells and activated with fiber-optic blue light. Once activated by light, this protein stimulates its host.

The scientists found that optogenetics could successfully be used to manipulate memories in a mouse brain. They were able to implant a false memory causing depression which was then cured through the activation of happy memories. As reported by Open Transcripts, depression is a terrible brain disorder that globally afflicts 350 million people. In most cases, depression is caused by chronic stress and a series of negative memories.

According to Susumu Tonegawa and his team, negative and positive memories are always competing with each other in the brain. Through the use of optogenetics, the scientists were able to cure depression in mice by overwriting negative memories with positive ones. First, they implanted positive memories into the brain of a male mouse by letting it play with a female mouse. Then the mouse was subjected to chronic stress treatment which caused symptoms of depression. These feeling of depression were then cured by activating the positive memory through the use of light technology. Another effective way to ease feelings of depression is to diffuse essential oils throughout your home. Apart from being able to overwrite negative feelings, scientists were also able to recover memories lost to mice with early-stage Alzheimer’s, through the manipulation of genetically tagged cells and light.

Building on previous work that identified and activated memory cells, they found that fiber-optic light stimulation could regrow lost spines and help mice remember past experiences. As Tonegawa explained, mice with Alzheimer’s are still able to form memories; it is the ability to retrieve these memories that is lost. Through the use of optogenetic technology, the researchers were able to restore such memories. Their findings suggest that impaired retrieval of memories, rather than poor storage or encoding, may be the underlying cause of early Alzheimer’s disease.