November 2014

Technology and Health

healthtechTechnology is helping make advancements in every front in the medical sector. From prosthetics to robot assisted surgery to new measurement devices, tech is revolutionizing the way medicine is practiced and administered. Anything from mobile phones to contact lenses can be used to monitor health conditions (more on that in a minute). Minimally invasive surgeries can be performed thanks to increases in accuracy by robots. There’s a lot going on, so if this is something you’re interested in, read on.

The first area of tech and health that I think is amazing, and getting better each day is the prosthetics field. Prosthetics are becoming increasingly more realistic. Not only in appearance, but also in function. For instance, there are some prosthetics that can now detect impulses in the limbs they are attached to that can provide some basic function. Someone with a prosthetic arm, for example, may be able to open and close his hand, or turn the wrist to maneuver objects more easily. In experimental psychology and bioengineering, scientists are currently working on a way to transmit tactile input via prosthetics, with prosthetics being connected to the brain regions that process touch. This could then give the wearer simulated sensations of their environment. More complex prosthetics, in terms of movement, are also letting amputees move with more freedom, similar to as though they had never lost a limb.

With healthcare, an important tool in making sure patients are treated correctly is the array of diagnostic tools a doctor may use. Think of heart rate monitors or blood pressure cuffs. Some really cool new tech is being made right now with the explicit purpose of providing more accurate, comprehensive data to doctors. For example, Google’s experimental project team, Google [X], announced that they were developing a contact lens that could help measure glucose levels for diabetic patients. A tiny wireless chip would transfer the data collected from the lens to another device, presumably a phone or computer. In this case, tech is helping improve the quality of life for patients by changing the way they measure their glucose; instead of a finger prick, they just put in a contact lens, no invasiveness involved. In a mobile era, there’s also a big push to use mobile phones to collect data and diagnose patients, especially in countries where mobile phones are prevalent, but good health care is not. Doctors could text in serious cases in rural areas to larger hospitals, so that patients may get the best care. Or adaptive devices that can be connected to phones, such as an oximeter that measures blood oxygen levels and pulse, can be utilized to gather more comprehensive cases, potentially even letting doctors remotely diagnose patients. That’s a pretty powerful future, if you ask me.

If you want to get involved in medical technology, there are easy and intensive way to join the field. While many jobs need formal education, if you have some good ideas or research, consider making an app that health providers can use. Ways to visualize data or make use of different measurement adapters are easy and much needed apps to make. Or you can cooperate with non-profits or NGOs to do anything from web development to business administration to actual volunteering. Health and tech is an exciting place to be right now. Whether you read about it or get involved on a technical level, keep an eye out on the intersection of health and technology.

Technology and English

ebooksKindles and Nooks are pretty common these days. eReaders are one of the latest advancements technology is making in a rather old school field: English. For hundreds of years books have been printed. And yet with the development of screens and mobile technology, in addition to increased memory storage devices, we can now carry virtual books with us wherever we go. eReaders give us a new way to interact with books. You can adjust the font size, screen brightness or contrast to your liking. Taking notes or bookmarking pages, without leaving a mark in your pristine novel, is easier than ever. You can search the text automatically, instead of by hand, if you’re looking for a particular word or a scene where a minor character might appear. You can share your books with friends or even rent books from your local library via your eReader. The way we read and share novels is rapidly changing. Not to mention that printing less is also more environmentally friendly for the planet.

In terms of sharing the way we read, a great site spurred by the digital book revolution is Goodreads. On Goodreads, you can search, review and favorite thousands of books. It’s my go to place when I want to figure out what to read next. I just look at my “to-read” list and see if any of the books I’ve chosen seem to stand out at me. You can also find new books based on your past reviews or favorites. And it’s a pretty great platform for authors to interact with readers as well. Several of my favorite authors post updates on their Goodreads page or announce contest drawings. They answer fan questions and share book recommendations. Goodreads is a great way to organize and add to your digital library.

In a rather standard approach, there are also many games designed to teach English (and other languages) to kids and adults alike. Rosetta Stone, Duolingo and many other games have been rising in the app and software market for some time. Interactive games with sounds and animation are engaging and help people learn something new in a fun format. Additionally, for some time there have been games designed to teach students how to type. Typing games were a staple of my childhood computer classes, and I hear they’re still pretty popular. With more research and different platforms, English games will add to the plethora of resources to help educate children in this very necessary subject, and perhaps even teach them a new skill, as with learning new languages.

In an entirely different realm of English and technology, there are some pretty unique projects coming out of the woodwork. One of these projects I personally know about involves creating a crowd-sourced, create your own adventure of Pride and Prejudice. This is happening at Stanford University, and while it doesn’t have a name yet, my friends assure me the project is still legitimate.

While this project is still in its early stages, it sounds very promising. Essentially, students from across campus will write their own work inspired and modelled after Pride and Prejudice. Submissions can range from pages to chapters long, and eventually the whole story will be re-written with original content. Then, the student group plans to organize the book in a digital format, so that users may read and click around to different “adventures” within the novel. It’s a create concept that is very effectively taking technology and utilizing it to make something innovate. Especially with books, other than changing the format they are in, unique projects like this are rather hard to come by. In the future, I think technology could really facilitate more inventive collaboration and production in the English sector. Who knows what sort of cool projects can be created among hundreds or thousands of people? Technology makes it possible.

Technology and Politics

flagTechnology has been a huge factor in transforming politics. From TV ads to social media, political candidates are using tech in full force to reach voters. If you’re interested in understanding how technology intersects with politics, read on. The U.S. Government has a huge number of positions for computer science majors and those in related technical fields. Positions with huge responsibilities, like those in the FBI and CIA, are responsible for homeland security and internet moderation. They look for online terrorists, sure, but the government also keeps an eye out for violators of privacy and copyright laws, also known as engaging in piracy. Many people don’t believe they can or will get caught for piracy, but there are cases all the time that get picked up because of this very issue. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Besides, piracy really hurts your favorite film and TV makers. And if you want those directors to keep producing content, it’s really best to support them monetarily.

In another aspect of politics, technology is being used to help the polling process. Digital polls are becoming more prevalent as a way to save paper and go green. However, much progress needs to be made in the software of polling machine, as they are often blamed for malfunctions or inaccurate counting. There is very much a mistrust against digital machines, when in fact they may be more accurate than humans counting hundreds of thousands of votes. Some voters complain that the user interface of these machines is also not very friendly; an interface should not interfere with one’s voting experience. Thus both of these areas could still be vastly improved, and is a definite area where software designers and engineers can consider working on. Voting in the future may also be expanded to include personal voting from machines you can access on the go, such as smartphones and tablets. Soon voters might not need to go into voting centers at all. It could all be digital.

Finally, statistical technology has been blossoming. Humans love knowing all the details about a given situations; we are information based creatures. Analytical programs that can handle big data related to politics and polls are a large area of research right now. Many people are just understanding how to handle big data and process it. If computer scientists, economists and politicians can come together to process, manipulate and understand this data, the landscape of politics could be greatly changed. Politicians may change their entire PR strategy if data reveals that different elements relating to voters and the candidate are correlated. So even if you don’t want to be the one writing the code for programs that do the processing of big data, plenty of researchers and scientists will be needed to interpret the information and translate it into a strategy for politicians to utilize.

This piece has focused mostly on the technical aspects (software) of politics and technology, but really society will need people who can translate the results from any given machine into something usable for other people. Additionally, the general public can help give feedback about certain aspects of their political engagements, such as polling machines. There are many more opportunities to explore within politics, and when looked at through a technological lens, the insights derived may be quite powerful.