Tag Archives: technology

Technology to smooth today’s travel turbulence

From CNET Magazine: Smartphones, online services and biometric scanners are already easing the way for travelers. Expect even more tech to transform your journeys in the not-too-distant future.

Andy Abramson spends more than 200 days a year traversing the globe. It can be a gruel­ing combination of international flights, airport layovers and rush-hour traffic.

While that kind of life on the road can bring strong men to their knees, Abramson eases through it with apps on his Apple iPhone and MacBook Air, including Uber for hailing rides, Airbnb for booking lodging, and Skype and GoToMeeting for video chatting.

“I pretty much live using my technology,” says Abramson, CEO of Comunicano, a public relations and marketing consultancy in Del Mar, California.

Though few of us will travel a fraction as much as Abramson, getting around is certainly easier now than a decade ago. Online booking has replaced trips to travel agents. Digital bar codes are supplanting boarding passes. Google Maps keeps us from getting lost. Apps from United and other airlines stream movies to our tablets while we’re in the air.

The next decade promises even more innovation. Touchscreens, wireless networks, sensors and software will escort you from home to hotel, and all points in between. Online services will handle the grunt work of finding hotels, booking flights and figuring out transportation. Biometric readers will scan your fingerprints, face or eyes to speed you through security and passport lines. Smart luggage won’t get lost. Hotel Wi-Fi will automatically sync up with your devices. And smartphones will let doctors remotely diagnose ailments.

Here’s how technology will change our journeys in the not-too-distant future.

At your service

Looking for a flight from San Francisco to Rome? Today, you could spend hours comparing flight times, connecting flights and prices.

“We are going to move toward self-boarding of airlines,” says Terry Hartmann, vice president for Unisys security solutions, which makes biometric authentication systems.

Security checks will also get faster and less intrusive (no more TSA agents rummaging through your gear) with new scanners from companies like startup Qylur Security Systems. Its five-cubbyhole baggage scanner, tested in Brazil during last year’s World Cup, takes 30 seconds compared with 2 minutes for today’s X-ray conveyor belt systems, says CEO Lisa Dolev. And it’s smart enough to let you leave water or laptops packed in your bag.

You’ll also spend less time getting through customs when you land. The Vancouver Airport Authority’s face-detection technology cut peak waiting times from 90 minutes to less than 15, says Paul Mewett, a VAA director. Fingerprint and facial scanners at South Korea’s Incheon Airport get travelers through customs in about 12 minutes, compared with 45 minutes worldwide.

About 14 percent of the world’s airports plan to use biometric technology of some sort within the next couple of years, according to a survey by SITA, which provides technology to airports and airlines.

When you’re there

Hilton’s smartphone app already lets you check in and pick a room before you arrive. Later this year, you’ll be able to bypass the front desk altogether by unlocking your room with your smartphone.

And in a few years, today’s flaky hotel Wi-Fi will be an unpleasant memory. It’ll accommodate multiple devices and heavier traffic — and it won’t cost extra.

“Wi-Fi is the new hot water. It’s something you absolutely expect,” says Umar Riaz, a travel services consultant at Accenture.

Tomorrow’s travel tech, today

Don’t want to wait for the future? Try today’s gadgets and services.

Phablets like the iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Google Nexus 6 improve productivity when your laptop’s packed. Their bigger screens ease thumb typing and make mobile document editing more practical. Phablets’ batteries last longer, too. Make sure you get a fast-charging model.

Google Translate serves as a language middleman, enabling a two-way conversation. Its Word Lens feature isn’t perfect, but it helps translate signs and menus.

Portable Wi-Fi hotspots for rent from companies like XCom Global cut roaming charges and hotel network fees. Their Wi-Fi networks link your phone, PC and tablet to wireless data networks in other countries.

TripIt minimizes travel chaos. Using your booking emails from hotels, flights and rental cars, it creates a tidy itinerary linked to your online calendar. The $49-per-year Pro version adds alerts, locates alternate flights and strips out ads.

Google’s $35 Chromecast plugs into your hotel’s TV to bypass pay-per-view videos in favor of streaming video. You can hold videoconferences on the big screen, too.

Profound changes

Transportation itself may also change.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants to revolutionize travel with a Hyperloop transportation system. Solar-powered electromagnetic pulses would propel pressurized passenger cabins through tubes on a cushion of air. Speeds could theoretically approach 800 mph.

Others think high-speed rail will be the mainstream transportation of the future. Passengers already use it widely throughout Asia and Europe. And California broke ground this year for its own $68 billion bullet service.

Then there are remote-controlled telepresence robots from iRobot and others. These wheeled machines bring your face, eyes and voice to another location so your virtual self can roam the corridors and chat with co-workers. “We’re in the early stages of a massive opportunity to reduce the need for business travel,” says Double Robotics CEO David Cann.

Maybe the ultimate future of travel is none at all.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Asynchronous compute, AMD, Nvidia, and DX12: What we know so far

Ever since DirectX 12 was announced, AMD and Nvidia have jockeyed for position regarding which of them would offer better support for the new API and its various features. One capability that AMD has talked up extensively is GCN’s support for asynchronous compute. Asynchronous compute allows all GPUs based on AMD’s GCN architecture to perform graphics and compute workloads simultaneously. Last week, an Oxide Games employee reported that contrary to general belief, Nvidia hardware couldn’t perform asynchronous computing and that the performance impact of attempting to do so was disastrous on the company’s hardware.

This announcement kicked off a flurry of research into what Nvidia hardware did and did not support, as well as anecdotal claims that people would (or already did) return their GTX 980 Ti’s based on Ashes of the Singularity performance. We’ve spent the last few days in conversation with various sources working on the problem, including Mahigan and CrazyElf at Overclock.net, as well as parsing through various data sets and performance reports. Nvidia has not responded to our request for clarification as of yet, but here’s the situation as we currently understand it.

Nvidia, AMD, and asynchronous compute

When AMD and Nvidia talk about supporting asynchronous compute, they aren’t talking about the same hardware capability. The Asynchronous Command Engines in AMD’s GPUs (between 2-8 depending on which card you own) are capable of executing new workloads at latencies as low as a single cycle. A high-end AMD card has eight ACEs and each ACE has eight queues. Maxwell, in contrast, has two pipelines, one of which is a high-priority graphics pipeline. The other has a a queue depth of 31 — but Nvidia can’t switch contexts anywhere near as quickly as AMD can.

NV-Preemption

According to a talk given at GDC 2015, there are restrictions on Nvidia’s preeemption capabilities. Additional text below the slide explains that “the GPU can only switch contexts at draw call boundaries” and “On future GPUs, we’re working to enable finer-grained preemption, but that’s still a long way off.” To explore the various capabilities of Maxwell and GCN, users at Beyond3D and Overclock.net have used an asynchronous compute tests that evaluated the capability on both AMD and Nvidia hardware. The benchmark has been revised multiple times over the week, so early results aren’t comparable to the data we’ve seen in later runs.

Note that this is a test of asynchronous compute latency, not performance. This doesn’t test overall throughput — in other words, just how long it takes to execute — and the test is designed to demonstrate if asynchronous compute is occurring or not. Because this is a latency test, lower numbers (closer to the yellow “1” line) mean the results are closer to ideal.

Radeon R9 290

Here’s the R9 290’s performance. The yellow line is perfection — that’s what we’d get if the GPU switched and executed instantaneously. The y-axis of the graph shows normalized performance to 1x, which is where we’d expect perfect asynchronous latency to be. The red line is what we are most interested in. It shows GCN performing nearly ideally in the majority of cases, holding performance steady even as thread counts rise. Now, compare this to Nvidia’s GTX 980 Ti.

vevF50L

Attempting to execute graphics and compute concurrently on the GTX 980 Ti causes dips and spikes in performance and little in the way of gains. Right now, there are only a few thread counts where Nvidia matches ideal performance (latency, in this case) and many cases where it doesn’t. Further investigation has indicated that Nvidia’s asynch pipeline appears to lean on the CPU for some of its initial steps, whereas AMD’s GCN handles the job in hardware.

Right now, the best available evidence suggests that when AMD and Nvidia talk about asynchronous compute, they are talking about two very different capabilities. “Asynchronous compute,” in fact, isn’t necessarily the best name for what’s happening here. The question is whether or not Nvidia GPUs can run graphics and compute workloads concurrently. AMD can, courtesy of its ACE units.

It’s been suggested that AMD’s approach is more like Hyper-Threading, which allows the GPU to work on disparate compute and graphics workloads simultaneously without a loss of performance, whereas Nvidia may be leaning on the CPU for some of its initial setup steps and attempting to schedule simultaneous compute + graphics workload for ideal execution. Obviously that process isn’t working well yet. Since our initial article, Oxide has since stated the following:

“We actually just chatted with Nvidia about Async Compute, indeed the driver hasn’t fully implemented it yet, but it appeared like it was. We are working closely with them as they fully implement Async Compute.”

Here’s what that likely means, given Nvidia’s own presentations at GDC and the various test benchmarks that have been assembled over the past week. Maxwell does not have a GCN-style configuration of asynchronous compute engines and it cannot switch between graphics and compute workloads as quickly as GCN. According to Beyond3D user Ext3h:

“There were claims originally, that Nvidia GPUs wouldn’t even be able to execute async compute shaders in an async fashion at all, this myth was quickly debunked. What become clear, however, is that Nvidia GPUs preferred a much lighter load than AMD cards. At small loads, Nvidia GPUs would run circles around AMD cards. At high load, well, quite the opposite, up to the point where Nvidia GPUs took such a long time to process the workload that they triggered safeguards in Windows. Which caused Windows to pull the trigger and kill the driver, assuming that it got stuck.

“Final result (for now): AMD GPUs are capable of handling a much higher load. About 10x times what Nvidia GPUs can handle. But they also need also about 4x the pressure applied before they get to play out there capabilities.”

Ext3h goes on to say that preemption in Nvidia’s case is only used when switching between graphics contexts (1x graphics + 31 compute mode) and “pure compute context,” but claims that this functionality is “utterly broken” on Nvidia cards at present. He also states that while Maxwell 2 (GTX 900 family) is capable of parallel execution, “The hardware doesn’t profit from it much though, since it has only little ‘gaps’ in the shader utilization either way. So in the end, it’s still just sequential execution for most workload, even though if you did manage to stall the pipeline in some way by constructing an unfortunate workload, you could still profit from it.”

Nvidia, meanwhile, has represented to Oxide that it can implement asynchronous compute, however, and that this capability was not fully enabled in drivers. Like Oxide, we’re going to wait and see how the situation develops. The analysis thread at Beyond3D makes it very clear that this is an incredibly complex question, and much of what Nvidia and Maxwell may or may not be doing is unclear.

Earlier, we mentioned that AMD’s approach to asynchronous computing superficially resembled Hyper-Threading. There’s another way in which that analogy may prove accurate: When Hyper-Threading debuted, many AMD fans asked why Team Red hadn’t copied the feature to boost performance on K7 and K8. AMD’s response at the time was that the K7 and K8 processors had much shorter pipelines and very different architectures, and were intrinsically less likely to benefit from Hyper-Threading as a result. The P4, in contrast, had a long pipeline and a relatively high stall rate. If one thread stalled, HT allowed another thread to continue executing, which boosted the chip’s overall performance.

GCN-style asynchronous computing is unlikely to boost Maxwell performance, in other words, because Maxwell isn’t really designed for these kinds of workloads. Whether Nvidia can work around that limitation (or implement something even faster) remains to be seen.

What does this mean for gamers and DX12?

There’s been a significant amount of confusion over what this difference in asynchronous compute means for gamers and DirectX 12 support. Despite what some sites have implied, DirectX 12 does not require any specific implementation of asynchronous compute. That aside, it currently seems that AMD’s ACE’s could give the company a leg up in future DX12 performance. Whether Nvidia can perform a different type of optimization and gain similar benefits for itself is still unknown. Regarding the usefulness of asynchronous computing (AMD’s definition) itself, Kollock notes:

“First, though we are the first D3D12 title, I wouldn’t hold us up as the prime example of this feature. There are probably better demonstrations of it. This is a pretty complex topic and to fully understand it will require significant understanding of the particular GPU in question that only an IHV can provide. I certainly wouldn’t hold Ashes up as the premier example of this feature.”

Given that AMD hardware powers both the Xbox and PS4 (and possibly the upcoming Nintendo NX), it’s absolutely reasonable to think that AMD’s version of asynchronous compute could be important to the future of the DX12 standard. Talk of returning already-purchased NV cards in favor of AMD hardware, however, is rather extreme. Game developers optimize for both architectures and we expect that most will take the route that Oxide did with Ashes — if they can’t get acceptable performance from using asynchronous compute on Nvidia hardware, they simply won’t use it. Game developers are not going to throw Nvidia gamers under a bus and simply stop supporting Maxwell or Kepler GPUs.

Right now, the smart thing to do is wait and see how this plays out. I stand by Ashes of the Singularity as a solid early look at DX12 performance, but it’s one game, on early drivers, in a just-released OS. Its developers readily acknowledge that it should not be treated as the be-all, end-all of DX12 performance, and I agree with them. If you’re this concerned about how DX12 will evolve, wait another 6-12 months for more games, as well as AMD and Nvidia’s next-generation cards on 14/16nm before making a major purchase.

If AMD cards have an advantage in both hardware and upcoming title collaboration, as a recent post from AMD’s Robert Hallock stated, then we’ll find that out in the not-too-distant future. If Nvidia is able to introduce a type of asynchronous computing for its own hardware and largely match AMD’s advantage, we’ll see evidence of that, too. Either way, leaping to conclusions about which company will “win” the DX12 era is extremely premature. Those looking for additional details on the differences between asynchronous compute between AMD and Nvidia may find this post from Mahigan useful as well.  If you’re fundamentally confused about what we’re talking about, this B3D post sums up the problem with a very useful analogy.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Silicon Valley, Seeking Diversity, Focuses on Blacks

More than a decade before diversity became a hot issue in Silicon Valley, Jason Young came home on winter break from Harvard to discover that his family was being evicted.

Having grown up in a single-parent home with an absent father who was frequently incarcerated, Mr. Young, 33, can identify with other young black men he now calls “hidden geniuses” — the promising male teenagers who grow up in challenging circumstances mere miles away, but light-years apart, from Silicon Valley’s tech money machine.

That experience led Mr. Young to found theHidden Genius Project two years ago. The program immerses high school men of color in coding, web and app design, team building and other skills intended to give them a leg up in the tech economy. Mr. Young says he focused on young men because similar groups existed for young women, and because young males face particular challenges in school and their communities.

His project is one of a multitude of grass-roots efforts that have sprung up recently to address one of Silicon Valley’s most acute diversity problems: the scarcity of African-Americans in the tech industry.

Photo

Akeem Brown, standing, a program director at the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland, Calif., working with Mohammed Abdulla, left, Zebreon Wallace, center, and Matthew Jones.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

“We are helping these young men to understand who they are and what they’re capable of,” said Mr. Young, who runs his education technology start-up, MindBlown Labs, in the same Oakland building as Hidden Genius Project. “We’re giving them a pathway and putting them on it.”

Silicon Valley has been engulfed in a diversity debate for more than a year, in part because data released by giant tech companies like Google, Facebook and others showed how overwhelmingly tilted the population of tech workers is to white males. The data highlighted that the low number of African-American tech workers is particularly acute, worse than even the dearth of women and Hispanics in the industry.

Google revealed that its tech work force was 1 percent black, compared with 60 percent white. Yahoo disclosed in July that African-Americans made up 1 percent of its tech workers while Hispanics were 3 percent. In areport last month, Apple said it had made progress increasing diversity in hiring in the last year, though African-Americans remained the smallest fraction of its tech work force at 7 percent, compared with 53 percent white, 25 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic; the rest were undeclared, multiple or other.

According to the United States Census Bureau, African-Americans and Hispanics have been consistently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. In 2011, blacks represented 11 percent of the total work force but only 6 percent of STEM workers. Hispanics were 15 percent of the total work force and 7 percent of STEM workers.

The figures released by the tech companies have led to a flurry of initiatives to address the issue. Spurred by advocates like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who runs the nonprofit Rainbow PUSH Coalition, there are now “black tech” summit meetings and efforts by historically black colleges and universities to produce more science, technology, math and engineering graduates. These have been joined by a growing number of professional networks, including a new Black Tech Employees Resource Group, and nonprofit groups like Black Girls Code and Code2040, which are bushwhacking the professional trail.

Photo

Participants at the Push Tech 2020 meeting in San Francisco in May, which focused on increasing the participation of minorities in the technology sector.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

“A lot of African-Americans want to grow up to be LeBron James, Jay Z or Barack Obama,” said Van Jones, the CNN political commentator and founder of #YesWeCode, a year-old program that has raised $3 million to connect young adults in Oakland to apprenticeships in tech companies. “They don’t hear about David Drummond at Google, who is at the center of one of the biggest companies in the world.” (Mr. Drummond is a senior vice president and Google’s chief legal officer.)

The idea with all of the new efforts, Mr. Jones said, is to create a generation of black entrepreneurial “uploaders” — those who create profit-making apps instead of simply downloading them.

How effective some of these initiatives will be remains unclear. “No one new idea will drive systemic change,” said Rosalind L. Hudnell, the chief diversity officer at Intel, which has pledged $425 million over the last few years to diversity efforts. “There is no quick fix.”

At the heart of the issue, underrepresented minorities “are up against a series of barriers and obstacles that their Caucasian and Asian counterparts don’t have,” said Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute in Oakland, which sponsors programs to increase diversity in technology. “The farther outside the tech ecosystem they are, the harder it is.”

And entry into the tech firmament remains challenging, even for African-Americans with engineering degrees. Consider Erin Teague, 33, director of product management at Yahoo, who grew up in a predominantly black suburb of Detroit and later became the only black woman among 1,200 students at the University of Michigan’s engineering department.

Photo

“Everyone around me believed in me and saw me as smart,” she said. “But there was an exposure and access gap. I didn’t know what to dream for.” Eventually she received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and became one of the first 500 employees at Twitter.

With only 1 percent of venture-capital-backed start-ups led by African-Americans, access to capital is also being viewed as a civil rights issue.

“If you’re a 20-something in Atlanta or Oakland, you might not have the familial wealth or the network you need to raise seed-stage funding from angel investors, who are mostly white men of a certain age,” said Monique N. Woodard, the founder and executive director of Black Founders, a group dedicated to increasing the number of black tech entrepreneurs.

Now new networking groups, both formal and informal, are trying to shift that equation. At a “blacks in tech” gathering in Oakland in May, nearly 100 African-American entrepreneurs and diversity advocates brainstormed about Oakland as “the soul city of tech.” A new Bay Area Blacks in Tech organization also met in July at the San Francisco offices of Pinterest, the online scrapbooking start-up.

“Seeing almost 200 black engineers gathered together isn’t a common sight,” said Makinde Adeagbo, 29, a Pinterest engineer and one of the organizers. “We heard about what awesome things black engineers were working on at all these different companies. Events like these remind you that you aren’t alone.”

Photo

Ken Coleman, who is African-American and chairman of the data analytics firm Saama Technologies, started a “More Diverse Silicon Valley” event in 2013 at the exclusive Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif. — the Main Street of venture capital — with the goal of enhancing upward mobility and access to capital for blacks and others.

“The most important ingredient for a tech company is talent,” Mr. Coleman said. “It’s shortsighted to overlook talent anywhere.”

Promoting entrepreneurship and increasing the numbers of math, science and engineering graduates has also become an imperative for historically black colleges and universities. About 28 percent of all math and tech-related degrees awarded to African-Americans are from those institutions.

Two years ago, the United Negro College Fund collaborated with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and others to hold an “innovation summit” at Stanford University, which was attended by provosts, deans and faculty members of some of these colleges and universities and intended to forge closer relationships with tech companies.

“It was a very powerful event,” said Chad Womack, a director at the United Negro College Fund, who added that the group visited Facebook and was greeted by Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer.

Still, the hope that a consortium of tech companies would get together after the event to collectively invest in pipeline issues has yet to materialize. “If you look at the scale and speed with which the Valley moves, if they wanted to solve this problem, they could,” Dr. Womack said.

At the still-fledgling Hidden Genius Project, progress has been incremental, but there is traction. In total, 33 young men have completed the program or are in it, including 19 who just started. Mr. Young said the project had improved the academic performance of young people like Matthew Jones, 18, a student from East Oakland who described himself as a onetime “knucklehead.”

Because of Hidden Genius Project, Mr. Jones said he went from being a C student to graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. He starts college at California State University, East Bay this month, with plans to major in computer science and the goal of becoming a software engineer.

“It’s taught me critical thinking skills and made me a better person,” Mr. Jones said. “I want to keep going.”

Tagged , , , , ,

Startup in biotech adds two base pairs to genetic code — and life on earth may never be the same

Amidst the staggering diversity that is life on earth, there is a surprising thread of commonality. That shared ground is the language of genetics. Prior to the discovery of DNA, few suspected that a single molecular code could underpin such a panoply of biological forms – everything from viruses to talking apes. Even more startling was the discovery that this code consisted of a molecular language only four base pairs in length. It took evolution a billion years to devise this four-letter chemical code. Now for the first time in recorded history, organisms with a new, expanded, genetic code are taking shape in the laboratory. It’s no exaggeration to say that life on earth will never be the same.

While the playboy of biology, Craig Venter, has stolen many of the recent headlines in regards to synthetic biology, the more interesting advances in the field are occurring with surprisingly little fanfare. And not without good reason: many of the corporate labs pursuing synthetic biology have little cause to draw excess attention to themselves. They’ve learned all too well from the disastrous backlash against genetically modified foods that the public is not necessarily the wisest arbiter of scientific advancement. If we were to ban GMO crops tomorrow, half the population of the world would starve in short order. Yet this seems to be precisely what a large percentage of the “well-fed” in places like the United States are angling for. But I digress.

In a development sure to have far reaching repercussions, scientists working at the drug discovery company called Synthorx quietly announced that it is using an expanded version of the genetic alphabet, one that includes two novel base pairs dubbed X and Y, to create a type of E. coli bacteria never before seen on the face of the earth. While the potential for using these new, hybrid life forms to create wonder drugs is indeed enormous, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. The addition of two base pairs to the four letter DNA code effectively raises the number of possible amino acids an organism could use to build proteins from 20 to 172.

Scientists at Synthorx, where synthetic biology is being employed for drug discovery

To gain an appreciation for the scope of this difference, just imagine that the entire array of life on the planet was increased eightfold. If you thought those freakish-looking deep sea fish dredged up by ocean vessels looked alien, those are practically our brothers and sisters compared with an organism that would employ a six-letter DNA code.

While the potential benefits to humanity and indeed the earth’s ecosystem are enormous, the dangers are equally staggering. On one hand, earth is flirting with its sixth extinction event, and an expanded genetic code has the potential to greatly revitalize the store of diversity found across on the globe. On the other side of the equation, these new hybrid species could have the effect that many non-native organisms often do when introduced to a new eco-system, obliterating the indigenous life forms.

While the scientists involved promise they are taking adequate measures to ensure these new organisms don’t break out of the lab and run amok, it’s always possible they will evolve some means for escaping their environmental confines and colonize new and uncharted territory. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened, just look at the emergence of one biped ape out of Africa.

Tagged , , , ,

When Apple met the enterprise

Apple’s days as a corporate outsider selling premium kit to the cognoscenti are long behind it. Nowadays the company is targeting its iPhones and iPads at enterprises, with the help of one-time arch-enemy IBM.

Apple isn’t the first company that springs to mind when the word ‘enterprise’ comes up. Of course, the company itself is a massive enterprise, regularly posting record quarterly sales figures and boasting an unprecedented market capitalisation of $758 billion at the time of writing. But as a quintessential 1970s Silicon Valley ‘garage startup’, Apple — particularly under co-founder and arch ‘hippie capitalist‘ Steve Jobs — always cultivated a renegade/outsider image, seemingly more comfortable selling its designer products to the cognoscenti rather than slugging it out in the mass-market.

Nowhere was this self-image so evident as in the famous Macintosh-introducing 1984 commercial, in which a sportingly-clad female rebel gatecrashes an assembly where an on-screen Big Brother-like figure is addressing serried ranks of grey workers. In his 1983 keynote introducing the ad, Steve Jobs articulated the contrast between outsider Apple and corporate behemoth IBM, saying:

“IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will ‘Big Blue’ dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

So it’s ironic that, three decades later, Apple’s market cap is nearly 4.5 times that of IBM, and that the two companies last year formed a partnership to develop and deliver business appsfor the iOS platform (more on this later). Who’s the Big Brother now?

APPLE TODAY

In its latest quarterly financial results (for fiscal Q2 2015, ending 28 March) Apple reported revenue of $58 billion and net profit of $13.6 billion. The company sold 61.2 million iPhones (down from an all-time record 74.5 million in Q1 2015), 12.6 million iPads and 4.6 million Macs. Here are the unit sales and revenue figures for the last 14 quarters, showing a distinctly iPhone-dominated picture, particularly after the iPhone 6/6 Plus-boosted 2014/15 holiday season:

apple-sales-sf.jpg
Data source: Apple

If the iPhone is the product sales story of recent quarters, then China is the story as far as geography is concerned, the region’s contribution to the Cupertino coffers jumping from 18 percent of revenue in 2014 to 29 percent in Q2 2015:

apple-sales-territory-2.jpg
Data source: Apple

In a recent (10 February 2015) on-stage conference interview with Gary Cohn, president and COO at Goldman Sachs, Apple CEO Tim Cook had this to say about China:

“We’ve invested in a ton of people there. We’ve invested in stores there, in flagship stores. We’re rolling out more stores. We’re now at 19 in Greater China. We’re going to be at 40 by mid next year…We’ve brought on 40,000 point of sales at our indirect channel partners. We’ve partnered with top Chinese companies, like China Mobile and China Unicom and China Telecom, and great services companies like Baidu on search and Tencent and Yoku. And so, we’ve done things with people that really understood China and had desire of services there. Maybe more than anything, we’ve put our personal energy into it and tried to deeply understand the market and respect it. And it — over time, it began to work. Five years ago, we were at less than $1 billion of revenue. In the last 12 months, we were at $38 billion.”

China, and in due course territories with similar potential such as India, may be the focus of Apple’s geographical ambitions, but as consumer markets saturate in mature territories, the enterprise also looms increasingly large in the company’s plans.

HOW ENTERPRISES SEE APPLE

VMware: The Apple Enterprise Invasion
In June last year, VMware published the results of a survey of 376 IT professionals, entitledThe Apple Enterprise Invasion. The study found that two-thirds (66%) of the businesses surveyed were using Macs in the workplace (how many was not revealed), with a 70/30 percent split between official and unofficial (BYOD) support. The main reason given for the presence of Macs in these companies was ‘user preference’:

vmware-mac-reasons.jpg
Data source: VMware

Only a quarter (25%) of the IT professionals surveyed by VMware considered Macs easier to support than Windows systems, with 36 percent regarding the support effort as about equal. That leaves 39 percent of the opinion that Macs are harder to support than PCs:

vmware-support-sf.jpg
Data source: VMware

When it comes to business-critical applications, only 8 percent of VMware’s IT professionals reported that all of their enterprise applications were ready to run on Macs, although 24 percent felt that most were Mac-friendly. That leaves 47 percent with some Mac-compliant enterprise apps and 17 percent with none:

vmware-enterprise-apps.jpg
Data source: VMware

Although the increasing use of browser-interfaced SaaS applications and other cloud-based services is likely to level this playing field in the future, the top three Mac capabilities valued by IT professionals in VMware’s 2014 survey were basically about application compatibility: the ability to run Microsoft Office (59 percent); the ability to enable secure access to enterprise applications (59 percent); and the ability to run Windows (41 percent) — the latter presumably to access legacy business-critical apps that don’t run natively. (On that note, VMware naturally asked its survey respondents about the value of virtual desktops such asFusion Professional, receiving the following replies: 45 percent deemed them ‘very valuable’, 46 percent ‘somewhat valuable’ and 9 percent ‘not valuable’.)

Although many employees apparently prefer to use Macs, there clearly remain some challenges for IT professionals charged with managing them in Windows-dominated enterprises. However, the picture is significantly different when we look at mobile devices.

Good Technology: Mobility Index Report
Leading enterprise mobility management provider Good Technology publishes a quarterly Mobility Index Report (MIR), the latest being for Q1 2015. Metrics cited in the reports are generated from Good’s internal data, aggregated from the company’s worldwide customer base. The headline metric is the number of new device activations among customers with at least five mobile devices. For the last couple of years, Apple iOS smartphones and tablets have consistently outperformed Android devices, with Windows making a negligible impression (BES-managed BlackBerry devices are not counted, but would undoubtedly feature among the also-rans if they were):

good-mir-devices.jpg
Data source: Good Technology

In Q1 2015, the iPhone 6 accounted for 26 percent of all activations logged by Good Technology, while the most popular Android device was Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone. Between them, Apple and Samsung clocked up no less than 28 of the top 30 mobile devices. According to Good Technology’s figures, Apple is strongest in the education sector, with iOS devices accounting for 83 percent of activations in Q1 2015, followed by public sector (80%) and financial services (76%). Android, meanwhile, is strongest in unregulated industries such as high tech (47%) and energy (44%).

Taking smartphones out of the picture and looking just at tablets, we find Apple well on top again, with iPads accounting for 81 percent of activations compared to Android’s 15 percent in Q1 2015. However, the tablet trend is one of increasing diversity, with Apple’s share declining from a high of 92 percent and Android increasing from a low of 8 percent in Q1 2014. Windows tablets have also made an impression in the last two quarters, accounting for 4 percent of activations in Good Technology’s most recent MIR:

good-mir-tablets.jpg
Data source: Good Technology

As far as app usage on mobile devices is concerned, the Q1 2015 MIR shows secure browsing leading the way with 21 percent of all app deployments, followed by secure IM, custom apps, document access and document editing — the latter two categories showing growth rates of 68% and 51% respectively (mostly on tablets).

Recent enterprise trends towards cloud-based applications and services, mobility and BYOD have all helped create a more favourable climate for Apple devices in businesses. Now let’s examine what Apple itself has been doing to increase its enterprise footprint.

HOW APPLE IS APPROACHING THE ENTERPRISE

IBM MobileFirst for iOS
In June last year Apple and IBM announced a wide-ranging MobileFirst for iOS partnership, with four main strands: 100-plus industry-specific native iOS apps; iOS-optimised IBM cloud services (including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration); AppleCare for Enterprise service and support; and packaged IBM offerings for device activation, supply and management.

The first wave of 10 MobileFirst for iOS apps, which appeared in December 2014, addressed six vertical markets: Travel & Transportation (Plan Flight, Passenger+); Banking & Financial Markets (Advise & Grow, Trusted Advice); Insurance (Retention); Government (Case Advice, Incident Aware); Retail (Sales Assist, Pick & Pack); and Telecommunications (Expert Tech).

So far in 2015, a further 12 apps have been unveiled, six of which address new vertical markets: Healthcare (Hospital RN, Hospital Lead, Hospital Tech, Home RN); Energy & Utilities (Field Connect); and Industrial Products (Rapid Handover). The remaining six new apps are in Travel & Transportation (Passenger Care, Ancillary Sale), Banking & Finance (Advisor Alerts), Insurance (Risk Inspect) and Retail (Dynamic Buy, Order Commit).

mobilefirst-growth.jpg
Apple has said that 100 MobileFirst iOS apps will be available for different vertical markets by the end of 2015.

For the very latest developments, which include the addition of Apple Watch and Apple Pay support for some apps, check IBM’s MobileFirst for iOS website.

Here’s Apple CEO Tim Cook on the IBM partnership, speaking at the recent Goldman Sachs Technology & Internet conference:

“When we started thinking about, how do we do this, how do we really do this, we came to the realization that we didn’t know enough about any number of verticals. And we didn’t have all these people on the street. And we didn’t have huge numbers of engineers that could write apps that were unique to these. But, we knew that we had to have apps that were at the job level within the enterprise — not just productivity apps, like a presentation app, which is very important in enterprise…But, when you start talking about the tool for the nurse, the tool for the pilot, the tool for the flight attendant, the tool for the salesperson, when you’re — the banker. When you’re down at that level, you need unique apps. And so, we knew we needed to partner with someone, and we looked around. And it became clear to us that IBM was the — was an outstanding partner.”

It’s interesting to consider the respective benefits Apple and IBM are likely to reap from this partnership. Apple will sell more iPhones and iPads into enterprises on the back of the vertical iOS apps, and will support them with help from IBM (see below). For its part, IBM stands to gain from its extensive portfolio of back-end services. As Sriram Ramanathan, CTO at mobile app development platform provider Kony, put it in a recent conversation with ZDNet: “The whole thing, for IBM, is to find a vehicle to sell you services…they’ve got this thin veneer of native apps, and they’ll walk in and say ‘we’ll build you something like this’ — and it might be seven thousand hours of services, two million dollars, custom integration.”

AppleCare for Enterprise
A major component of the Apple-IBM partnership is AppleCare for Enterprise, which combines assistance from Apple’s customer service group with next-business-day on-site service (for one, two or three years) from IBM’s GTS (Global Technology Services) group. Given that, as VMware’s survey quoted above shows, IT professionals still have some issues with Mac support, the ability to have an AppleCare Account Manager on tap — offering ‘IT-department-level’ support for up to six designated technical contacts on issues ranging from mobile device management to Active Directory integration — should prove attractive. After reviewing the customer’s IT infrastructure, the account manager will provide monthly activity reports for support calls and repairs. Support is available 24/7, with one-hour response times for priority issues.

Support is also available for IBM’s MobileFirst iOS apps (described above) and you can combine AppleCare for Enterprise with Apple’s existing AppleCare iOS Direct Service Programme, to cater for rapid hardware replacement.

AppleCare for Enterprise was unveiled in November 2014, but as yet there’s no word either on pricing or on how the service is working out in practice. However, if it performs as advertised, it should make IT managers a lot more comfortable about deploying iPhones, iPads and Macs in their organisations.

Business Development Executives
Earlier this year, reports emerged that Apple was hiring IBM Business Development Executives tasked with “developing a community of Apple and IBM field based sales and technical roles who strive to collectively transform how business is done with iOS (namely iPad and iPhone) and mobility at the center”. These region-based posts are targeted at the vertical industries addressed by the MobileFirst apps (the description quoted comes from a New York-based post covering Financial Services & Retail). The idea seems to be to persuade enterprises that already use iPhones and iPads to deploy many more of them — something that might help to address this worrying (for Apple) trend in iPad sales:

ipad-growth.jpg
Data source: Apple

OUTLOOK

Apple has come a long way since its IBM-baiting days of the early 1980s, and so, thanks to cloud computing, mobility and BYOD, has the enterprise. Mutual self-interest has now brought Apple and IBM together in a partnership designed to populate enterprises with more Apple client devices and deliver more opportunities for IBM to sell its back-end services.

It’s still early days, though, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the relationship plays out over the coming months and years.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How technology is turning jealous spouses into private detectives

As millions of Ashley Madison users’ details are leaked online, one private investigator tells Sophie Curtis how technology is helping people catch out their errant partners

Have you ever felt like you’re being watched? In the past, spying on someone meant lingering outside their home or following their car, but these days technology does most of the heavy lifting, so spies and private investigators can just tap in and watch events unfold.

It emerged on Tuesday that millions using cheating website Ashley Madison had had their personal details exposed online, but the incident is far from the only way that straying spouses are being exposed.

As TV programmes like HBO’s The Wire and NBC’s The Blacklist show, people’s personal gadgets can quickly become the source of their own downfall. Mobile phones in particular can easily be turned into spying devices, thanks to their built-in cameras, microphones and GPS chips.

According to private investigator Richard Martinez, a simple piece of software installed on a mobile phone can allow a jealous spouse to monitor all their partner’s movements, texts, emails and calls.

“If you can provide us with the IMEI number from his mobile, that’s all you need. Every time he sends or receives an email or a text, your mobile phone will get a copy, as well as the number it’s come from and gone to,” said Mr Martinez.

“Your mobile phone will also have the GPS location of his mobile phone 24/7, and you get surround sound as well, so you can then listen in on his mobile phone without him knowing.”

Smartphone software lets suspicious partners tap into their partners’ phones

Mr Martinez said that, over the last few years, people have increasingly been becoming their own private investigators, either by physically following the person they want to know more about or discreetly carrying out their own digital surveillance.

While both methods might achieve the same results, there is a much lower risk of being caught using technology. The fact that everyone carries around connected devices with them all day long makes monitoring their movements almost absurdly easy.

Mr Martinez described how one of his clients used spy-phone software to intercept texts sent by her husband to another woman arranging to meet her at a restaurant, trace his location using GPS, and access the audio on the phone to eavesdrop on him and his lover talking over the restaurant table.

“That one item has given so much control and power to customers to monitor their partners,” he said. “To me, it helps society in a way, because it hopefully discourages adultery, and it can also prevent the stress on children if their parents are going through a separation.”

However, it is not always possible for people to carry out their own surveillance. Often, if a partner has been particularly careful to cover his or her tracks, or the client is too busy or simply doesn’t want to know all the gory details, a private investigator can step in to carry out the surveillance.

Private invstigators carry out surveillance on targets

In these cases, as well as using spy-phone software, private investigators will also carry out physical surveillance using hidden cameras concealed in their glasses, buttons or even Bluetooth earpieces to collect photographic evidence, as well as location trackers attached to the underside of vehicles.

This evidence could be collected either through passive surveillance or by setting up a “honeytrap”, whereby the private investigator sends in a member of the opposite sex to meet the target in a wine bar or club, and captures their interaction on video.

Mr Martinez said he is able to get around entrapment laws by making sure the target is not under the influence of alcohol and that the honeytrapper (what Mr Martinez describes as an “integrity tester”) behaves reactively, not proactively.

“We carry out the test early in the evening, we don’t touch, so there is no physical action, only verbal, and the responses are purely reactive and not proactive, so we won’t ask them for their number or a date, we’ll just see what they do,” he said.

“The integrity tester will be of equivalent attractiveness, so we won’t put a model with a minger. We try and keep it as fair as possible. But more often than not, if a customer is paying us to test their integrity, they’ve got good grounds to believe they’re going to fall for it.”

Bryony Gordon and her husband drink wine at a barSome private detectives set up honeytraps for their targets

This may sound highly unethical, or even illegal. A 2012 Radio 4 documentary called Crouching Low, Hidden Camera claimed that there isno regulatory system for private detectives in the UK, and that bugging, phone hacking and bribery take place as a matter of course.

However, Mr Martinez, who runs the private detective agency Expedite, claims that everything he does is above board. After spending some time as an officer in the RAF Reserves, he gained a diploma in private investigations, which covered espionage, surveillance, counter-surveillance, tracing, debt recovery, process serving, commercial and domestic investigations.

He is also well versed in regulations like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which advises on what kinds of surveillance you can carry out before it is considered intrusive.

Mr Martinez claims that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act allows you to infringe on somebody’s privacy, as long as it’s not for financial gain, but for “emotional wellbeing and safeguard”.

Tapping a phone is considered acceptable as long as two out of three parties on the call are aware that the conversation is being recorded, and a vehicle can be tracked as long as the tracker is not inside the car and does not affect its performance.

Cybersecurity has become a serious challenge with the ceaseless emergence of internet criminal actsMost online activity leaves a paper trail  Photo: Alamy

Mr Martinez also said that many judges will choose to overlook how evidence was obtained “for the greater good and in the interests of justice” – as long as there was no damage to property or injury to anyone, and as long as the information gathered was relevant to the case.

It is not only cheating partners that private detectives collect evidence on. Mr Martinez said he also frequently tracks down people evading debt recovery and payment, and also carries out surveillance on teenagers on behalf of their worried parents.

He said that some parents in high-profile positions, like celebrities or judges, don’t want the negative attention that an errant teenage child might bring, so they hire an extra pair of eyes and ears to discreetly monitor their child.

If the teenager is caught shoplifting, or hanging out with a particular gang, the parents can then take action to bring them back on the straight and narrow. Mr Martinez said that he is now getting more work from Muslim parents, concerned that their children could be becoming involved in extremist activity.

However, there are some lines that Mr Martinez refuses to cross. For example, he said that recording inside private properties is “an absolute no-go for us”. He also tries to avoid accidental intrusive surveillance – like if there is a house in the background with a child playing in the garden.

Secret cameras 'could make care homes like prisons'Surveillance inside homes is a no-go for private detectives  Photo: ALAMY

He also doesn’t get involved in obtaining information from one company to benefit another company. Mr Martinez carries out due diligence on all his clients, and if there is any hint that an investigation may be financially motivated, or have violent implications, he will turn it down.

“Apart from following the law, we do have moral guidelines,” he said. “If somebody phoned me up and said they wanted your address details, I would always be checking, asking due diligence questions like what would be the reason? What yould you do with that information?”

One of the services that Mr Martinez offers is lie detector tests. He has a lie detector machine that measures breathing, heart rate and voice, and claims to have a 90 per cent accuracy rate.

Mr Martinez said there are methods that people use to try and cheat lie detectors, such as digging their nail into their finger, biting their tongue or clenching their buttocks to increase their stress levels when they are telling the truth, so there is less variation when they are lying.

Could you pass a lie detector test?Could you pass a lie detector test?

However, Mr Martinez says he monitors for these things during tests, and even has a seat pad that can register if you are clenching your buttocks.

He added that, today, technology makes it very difficult for a person to fall off the grid because any online interaction leaves a paper trail.

“If you ever fill in an online form or an election questionnaire or get a cold call or anything like that, quite often your information will go onto a database,” he said.

“We have a PI database, and we can also purchase databases from debt recovery and credit search agencies, and then we can find that person from that point, or if that’s a little bit out of date, we can use it as a lead to them make discreet enquiries.”

He added: “When we make door-to-door enquiries, it’s amazing how helpful neighbours will be when it comes to giving information.”

The Blacklist is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Tagged , , ,

The emotional moment a colourblind man sees his first real sunset

A video of a man watching a stunning sunset wearing a pair of special glasses for colourblind people has gone viral online

Have you seen a magificent sunset recently? Chances are the answer is yes. In fact, we see them all the time. But for people who suffer from colourblindness the range of vivid colours in a typical sunset appear much more muted than for the rest of the population.

Colourblindness, or colour vision deficiency, affects around one in 12 men, and about one in 200 women (it is more common in men because the most common inherited gene for colourblindness is found on the X chromosome; females have two X chromosomes, and a functional gene on one of the X chromosomes is enough to cancel out a defective gene on the other). For those individuals the colours red and green appear muted, or black or the same as each other.

Although there is no cure for colourblindness, certain lenses are available which allow users to experience colours in the way that the rest of the world does. And their effects can be dramatic, powerful and in the video above, emotionally charged.

YouTube user Aaron Williams-Mele was recently filmed trying out a pair of EnChroma Color For The Colorblind glasses. To get the full effect of the glasses’ capabilities, he wore them for the first time while watching a stunning sunset in Norfolk, Virginia. Williams-Mele published the footage on YouTube on August 15, and it has since been viewed over 1.6 million times. As he himself describes it, “it was a pretty emotional experience”.

The benefits of the EnChroma glasses were discovered by accident in 2005 when materials scientist Don McPherson, who created eyewear for doctors to use during laser surgery, was playing frisbee with a friend. McPherson was wearing a pair of his special spectacles as sunglasses when his friend, who was colourblind, asked to borrow them. He discovered that the world was suddenly much more vibrant, with oranges and reds significantly more visible, and soon after McPherson set to work on what would become EnChroma’s life-changing glasses.

Tagged , , ,

Google is launching Sunroof for solar skeptics

In the wake of Google’s enormous corporate restructuring under theAlphabet label, Google has announced its latest non-search-related venture: Google Sunroof. Rather than a direct hardware rollout like the Fiber internet startup, Sunroof is purely about outreach: if you don’t believe that solar power could improve your life, sunroof could show you the light. Currently only available in Boston, Silicon Valley, and the Fresno area, it could soon analyze the solar potential of every home in the country.

What sets solar power apart from other next-gen power offerings is that there will not be any one particular Eureka! moment, before which the human race had Bad Power, and after which it had Good Power. Such a hypothetical moment exists for fusion power, and geothermal, and even truly next-next-gen nuclear — but solar power wants to make ever-more-efficient use of a supply of energy that’s already abundant and available. The challenge isn’t so much inventing the perfect solar cell, as distributing a large enough number of good-enough cells, then slowly upgrading that infrastructure over time.

Google, Elon Musk’s Solar City, and others have found that while solar is making huge strides in some parts of the country, it still runs up against skepticism and ignorance from those it could most benefit. They don’t appreciate just how much money they could save over the long term, or perhaps just the volume of solar power that is currently bouncing from their roofs, unused.Google’s Sunroof is an attempt to address this, encouraging homeowners to invest now to save later by making their own power from sunlight.

This photo shows Sunroof's savings projections for Google's own Mountain View campus.

Sunroof works by taking your address (in participating cities), and calculating the average hours-per-year of sunlight for a particular rooftop, along with the amount of energy this likely represents, the maximum annual savings that could result, and even local installers to make getting the panels themselves as painless as possible. Help with installation will probably end up being one of the more successful and impactful aspects of Sunroof; Google Flights has a fantastic price-compare feature that absolutely obliterates all other wide-ranging flight search programs, and the solar panel market is far less complex and artificially protected.

This initiative builds off of earlier work from MIT, in which a researcher attempted to achieve the same thing in a less-branded platform. With Google’s marketing power and brand recognition to help, however, the public might actually use this service to make financial decisions going forward. Solar power is a fundamentally different sort of energy, not one we receive through a hole in the wall, but one we make for ourselves.

Rooftop solar.

What’s interesting about solar power is that it could be thought of as a feature of the property — one house might have a nicer view, but the other gets no shade during the majority of the day, and that’s just money in the bank. Could you sue a company for erecting a skyscraper and plunging your home into powerlessness? If the government has verbally and financially encouraged you invest in solar power, does solar power become part of the property value? Sunroof is the sort of initiative that could make solar power popular enough to make those sorts of questions pressing.

Myself, I’ve never understood why solar focuses on home-owners, rather than the real-estate business. Getting people to invest $10,000 now, and make it back over several years, is a tough sell. But getting people to invest $10,000 now for an extra $15,000 or $20,000 when you sell in six months? Historically, that’s been a much more successful model. Smart real-estate agents will be looking to Sunroof as a means to prove extra value to potential buyers — and a possible place for value-added renovation.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Health tech is going to save your life (for real)

From 3D-printed organs to cancer-fighting nanotech, the most important branch of technology right now is the one that will keep you living longer and stronger.

We are nothing without good health. It’s a cliche. It’s cheesy. And I believe it passionately.

Health is one of the most important fields in technology — and the most exciting. Why? Because of life’s frailty. Because anything that can possibly hurt us has, or will. And because life is our single most valuable possession.

Every advance is a victory, from cheap delivery systems forotherwise expensive vaccines to a complex brain implant-plus-eyeball-prosthetic that gives people with certain types of blindness newfound ability to see their loved ones in shadows, if not defined in full living color (also see my story in CNET Magazine, Summer 2015 issue).

These kinds of technological advances in medicine are important because they benefit the ailing, but they’re also thrilling for the science alone. On TV, on the Web, in the pages of my monthly Scientific American magazine, each new solution seems more amazing than the last.

Tech that heals and wows

How about the scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne who are experimenting with crazy-thin, pliable electronic sheets of silicone (10 nanometers thick, about one-one hundredth the width of a cotton fiber!) that safely bend around organs inside the body, or could one day balloon inside veins, carrying smart sensors that transfer all sorts of internal data? Amazing, right? Somebody thought of doing that.

Or how about this? Researchers at MIT are working on a “living” nylon bandage that contains nanoengineered organic materials — like therapeutic drugs or essential proteins — that release over time. Smart bandages like this can help target-heal wounds and treat problem areas (sort of like this).

A different smart bandage is in the works at a nearby lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Treated with dye, this traffic-light bandage reacts with oxygen in a visual litmus test that colors the bandage green if the wound is healing well, yellow if it’s worrisome, and red if the skin isn’t getting enough oxygen — all without disturbing the fragile, still-knitting tissue underneath.

That’s miles more advanced than the typical way healthcare professionals check on how well a wound, like a skin graft for burn victims, heals. “You know the state-of-the-art test is for wound-healing now?,” Conor Evans, one of the lead chemists of the traffic-light bandage asked me. “You smell it.” I mean, wow, right?

Elegantly ingenious ideas like these abound. A lot of researchers are experimenting with 3D-printed organs, stuff that at least one cardiovascular researcher, Stuart Williams of the University of Louisville, calls “bioficial” — printing cells into living tissue. (If you’ve seen Marvel’s “Age of Ultron”, you’ll get the gist. Dr. Helen Cho’s Cradle machine, which helps rebuild superheroes’ damaged tissue, is a similar idea.)

But here’s another use in the same vein: Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center are implanting specialized proteins onto a 3D-printed plastic meniscus to spur stem cells into rebuilding that knee cartilage on their own (the polymer part eventually disintegrates). Right now it’s been tested on sheep, but results are promising.

Love, not money

I’m wonderstruck by these life-prolonging, life-saving discoveries that make me shake my head with awe and admiration for the mechanical engineers, medical researchers and assistants who continue trial after trial, year after year.

I can’t imagine it’s always glamorous work, and more than one researcher has told me that out-of-the-box approaches can be hard to fund. For every doctor, scientist or engineer who ever won a once-in-a-lifetime award or scored a national magazine cover for his or her medicine-altering achievement, how many more spend their days struggling for answers or devising cures that never seem to catch hold?

Some of these researchers are people who could have, if they had chosen a slightly different track, taken jobs with high-paying tech firms, thinking up new ways to shrink silicon wafers into ever-smaller packages, or more efficiently collect data about people’s lives. I’m glad they didn’t.

“In a university, you’re doing it for the love of science, not for the pay,” said my aunt, Barbara Truitt, a scientist and technician with Case Western Reserve University’s genomics lab, which deals with DNA sequencing.

With 40 years of experience under her belt, my aunt designs research experiments and analyzes results. “If I were a legal secretary,” she told me over the phone, “I might be paid more.”

Truitt spent eight years in college and graduate school combined to train for her field, which constantly changes as new methods and discoveries develop.

“You have to keep, keep, keep up,” Truitt said. “You can’t stop.”

A few more good years

We’re lucky that they haven’t stopped, these scientists and mechanical engineers searching to extend life through tech.

I mean, can you remember the last time you felt your absolute worst? Maybe it was the flu, perhaps it was a more serious, lingering condition. For me, a few hours of terrible headache or stomach pain are all it takes to forget what it feels like to feel good, to slap my brain into gratitude at the sense of normalcy I experience most days.

Death will claim us all one way or another: the seizing up, the breaking down, that final heartbeat. And along life’s path — hopefully long, hopefully smooth — there will be inevitable moments of plummeting health.

I don’t want to live forever, and that’s not what life-prolonging technologies are about. They’re about easing pain and recovering ability, staving off an eternity of lost moments, bringing families and friends together for a few more good years.

If there’s nothing more precious than life, then there’s no branch of technology more urgent than this.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Obama pushes for more diversity in tech

At the first-ever White House Demo Day, President Obama announces a series of initiatives to bring more women and minorities into the tech sector and urges the industry to “not leave half the team on the bench.”

President Barack Obama wants to help close the diversity gap in the technology industry, and he’s marshaled support from the private sector to do it.

On Tuesday, the White House announced it has brokered a number of new initiatives involving major tech companies, such as Amazon and Microsoft; well-known venture capital firms; and engineering departments at large universities committing to concrete plans to foster diversity within their organizations. The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s first-ever Demo Day, an event where startup founders from diverse walks of life and various parts of the country came to the White House on Tuesday to showcase their innovations.

Unlike a traditional demo day, where startups pitch prospective funders, entrepreneurs at the White House Demo Day pitched Obama their ideas to highlight their innovations and bring more awareness to the struggles that underrepresented minorities in tech, such as women and people of color, face in starting a company. Today only 1 percent of venture-capital backed startups are led by an African-American, and only 3 percent of startups are founded by women. Obama said at a press conference from the White House Demo Day that these statistics must change to ensure the US remains a driver of innovation throughout the world.

He acknowledged that finding capital is tough for any entrepreneur starting a company, but it can be “harder if you’re a woman or an underrepresented minority who all too often have to fight just to get a seat at the table.”

“Today America is home to more high-tech companies than anyplace else in the world,” Obama said. “But we’ve got to make sure that we’re taking full advantage of this moment by tapping all the talent America has to offer, no matter who they are or where they set up shop.”

The president applauded the efforts of major companies, such as Intel and Pinterest, that have recently pushed their own diversity initiatives. But he said more needs to be done. With that he announced commitments from 40 venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, as well as more than a dozen companies, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Xerox that have committed to take new actions to ensure diverse recruitment in hiring. These companies will adopt variations of the so-called “Rooney Rule,” adopted by the National Football League, which requires companies to consider at least one diverse candidate for every senior executive position. Facebook and Pinterest have recently adopted similar policies.

Additionally, the administration secured commitments from institutional investors, such as the California Public Employees Retirement System and the New York city pension funds, to commit more than $11 billion to increase the diversity of its managers. And more than 100 engineering deans have promised to take steps to attract and retain a diverse student body.

The initiative has spurred companies to make their own announcements in an effort to increase diversity among their ranks. Facebook is launching a new Supplier Diversity program, which is meant to increase the number of women and minority-owned businesses in Facebook’s supply chain. Google announced it will host its first-ever Women’s Demo Day. IBM said it will expand its relationship with Girls Who Code to ensure more young women are exposed to cloud computing innovation.

The announcements come at a time when the technology industry has beenscrutinized for its lack of diversity. On average, 30 percent of the tech industry workforce is women, even though women make up 59 percent of the total workforce and 51 percent of the population, according to US Census Bureau data. As for the most-coveted spots at the top, only 14.3 percent of board seats at the top 100 companies by revenue in June 2013 were held by women, according to a survey by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry. Ten of those boards had no women directors in December of that year.

The numbers are even more bleak when considering the participation of women in venture capital firms, which command the currency the industry needs to thrive. An overwhelming 93 percent of top investing partners at VCs are men, according to Pitchbook Data, which analyzes the private investment industry.

The exclusion of women and minorities in the board room and among the biggest venture firms doesn’t make sense from a business perspective, said Megan Smith, the US CTO of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Hiring women isn’t just the right thing for companies to do — it’s more profitable,” she said.

Smith pointed to a McKinsey and Co. study that shows companies that are more gender- and ethnically diverse perform better financially.

It’s unclear at this point what effect if any these new initiatives will have in helping women and underrepresented minorities actually influence product development or business strategy. Companies have made promises in the past to little effect. But with the urging from the president himself, these initiatives might hold more weight.

“We’ve got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot,” Obama said. “The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban. They might never set foot in Silicon Valley. We’ve got to unleash the full potential of every American — not leave more than half the team on the bench.”

Tagged , , ,