3 things direct from the future

Edition 63

Once every 2 weeks I will deliver “3 things direct from the future”. A 2 minute read that will always give you:

  • one thing that can help,
  • one thing to be wary of, and
  • one thing to amaze.

If this sounds interesting to you then please subscribe.


1. One thing that helps

Spy Device Tracking

Do you want to know what is tracking you? What data they are collecting? What they do with that data? Maybe you don’t, is it all too much?

With the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices out in the wild increasing at a rapid rate, I believe the manufacturers of these devices should be transparent about what they are used for. The IoT Assistant app, developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, serves two purposes. It gives manufacturers a framework for transparency, and enables you and I to see exactly what devices are out there and what they are doing.

It houses a database of known surveillance devices in a particular area so you can find a device near you and learn about what it does. It includes information about the data such devices collect, who collects it, who it is shared with, and if there are privacy controls available. I learnt that the security camera outside a bank on Phillip Street in Sydney collects data that can identify me – this is for security reasons, and the device owner and the service provider can access this data. 

The app already has 200,000 IoT devices registered in North America, Europe and Australia.  Whilst this is a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of IoT devices out there it is rapidly growing its database.  


2. One to be wary of

AI Diagnosis

We love it when AI is deployed in medical fields. Holograms that upgrade surgeons’ skills and AI that comes up with new antibiotics to keep us ahead are just two of many we’ve covered so far. But sometimes AI can get so good at its job that it may have unexpected consequences. Doctors are now worried about AI that is accurately determining a patient’s race based on medical images.

Most worrisome is the fact that researchers have absolutely no clue as to how the AI can make such an accurate prediction. They have tried to isolate which features of the images lead to this highly-accurate identification of race – but have had no success. The main concern is the well known fact that AI systems can be inherently bias, based on the datasets they were trained on, and they can deliver different (usually worse) outcomes if they believe the patient is black.

The study’s author writes “…AI models can not only predict the patients’ race from their medical images, but appear to make use of this capability to produce different health outcomes for members of different racial groups.”

The good news is that the topic of racism and bias in AI is one of the most prominent concerns in the industry and is receiving a lot of attention and research.  Here’s hoping that progress can be made.

3. One to amaze

The Mummy Unwrapped

I’ve seen the movies – don’t unwrap the mummy you’ll definitely cop a curse!

However there is so much to learn about mummies that we need to take a peek inside. This presents a challenge, as removing the wrappings could expose the mummy to contaminants. But proving that no wrap is too thick for archaeologists, they used high energy X-ray diffraction techniques that can be used to penetrate large samples, to unwrap a mummy without touching it. 

First, they used a CT scan to get a bird’s eye view of the mummy. This allowed the researchers to pinpoint their X-rays to points of interest. Using X-rays, the team was able to discover so much about the mummy. They confirmed that the body is that of a five year old child and was buried with an amulet made of calcite. The child probably died due to disease because the skeleton is intact. They also discovered small pins made out of modern metals! But before any conspiracy theory gets out there, these pins were most probably added 20 years ago to hold the wraps in place as a part of an exhibit. All of this and more were uncovered without disturbing nor damaging the mummy itself. 

The co-director of the centre Marc Walton says, “Not only does this work provide historians with data on the composition of the mummy, its burial conditions and, therefore, its biography, but the complexity of the composite object pushed the authors to innovate new methods of synchrotron-based X-ray diffraction. Such synergy between high technology and archaeology highlights what is possible when typical research boundaries are crossed.”

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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