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Microsoft patents mind control for your technologies

(TECH NEWS) New patent lets Microsoft give users mind control powers to operate apps with just their brains, no movement required.

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Microsoft’s new patent gives users the ability to control apps with their minds. This month, Microsoft was granted a patent for a device that decodes electroencephalogram (EEG) readings to launch and operate compatible apps.

EEGs are typically used to diagnose epilepsy and other brain disorders by applying small electrodes sensors to the scalp and detecting electrical activity in the brain. Your brain cells use electrical impulses to communicate, and these show up as way lines on the EEG recording.

Using sensor-equipped headbands, Microsoft’s device could ideally interpret neurological data to have users open and use apps with thoughts instead of gestures.

Just like when an EEG is done, the device would read neurological signals through sensors. However, in this case, users could “train” the device to recognize which signals should apply to intended app behavior.

Algorithms would learn the brain behavior and use neuron fluctuation to draw or move objects at the user’s will based on detected patterns.

Some operative gestures include intention to swipe, finger pinch, mouse clicks, and button pushes.

According to the patent, “Neurological user intention data corresponding to a physical gesture is generated when a user thinks about and/or focuses on a movement, in the same way an amputee might think about moving an amputated limb.”

Once the user thinks or focuses on a movement, the data is communicated to the computer system that runs the app.

Theoretically, any kind of app could be used. The patent mentions video games, AR and VR simulators, 3D modeling software, web browsers, and even word processors. Apps controlling mechanical tools and machinery like robotic arms could also be used with Microsoft’s new patent technology.

So basically, some day you could control your Word documents with your mind, including copy pasting with or without formatting.

Understanding intention based on neurological data is the focus of many brain-machine computing studies and research initiatives. Scientists and researchers can investigate the connection between intention and “free will” actions, like moving your arm.

Studying if these actions originate at a neurological level will shed light on how people predict or modify their own decisions.

Sure, there’s horrifying implications about mind control apps. If we can train machines to essentially read our minds, what’s stopping a Minority Report-like future? Regulations, hopefully.

But this patent also opens up the possibility for less dystopic things, like controlling prosthetic limbs and giving differently abled individuals the ability to control apps and devices even if they are not able to physically move.

So let’s cross our fingers we don’t end up in the evil scientist implication timeline of this patent, and look forward to a future where we can type documents without lifting a finger.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Tech News

Extend your smart home to the mailbox with the Ring Mailbox Sensor

(TECH NEWS) With the rise of the smart home and mail theft, Amazon’s new Ring product is the perfect addition to protect your letters and packages.

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Ring Mailbox Sensor on the inside of a mailbox door with hand delivering letters.

Smart home enthusiasts worried about the increasing problem of mail theft are getting a new piece of security technology: The new Ring Mailbox Sensor.

Pop the wireless, battery-powered motion sensor in your mailbox, and it will alert you when someone opens the lid or door. You can get a notification in the Ring app on your smartphone and, because Ring is an Amazon company, through any Alexa-enabled device. (So your Ecobee thermostat can tell you you’ve got mail. Cool.)

The sensor’s biggest benefit: You can immediately collect your mail when you get an alert that it’s been delivered. If you’re home.

There’s no camera with live view or speaker for yelling at the thief to drop your stuff, although you can do that with any microphone-enabled cameras near your mailbox.

But if you’ve ringed your home with Ring products, you can set the sensor to turn on Smart Lights or to make the video doorbell or security cameras start recording. If your mailbox is near your front door, however, that will probably already be happening after those devices detect motion. The sensor could be very useful for mailboxes at the end of a long driveway and out of sight of any cameras.

You can preorder the Mailbox Sensor ($29.99) at Ring.com and Amazon.com starting on Oct. 8. To connect the sensor with the doorbell, smart lights, and Alexa devices, you’ll need the Ring Bridge ($49.99).

You may want to keep an eye on Amazon’s new Sidewalk technology, however. Sidewalk is designed to extend the range of your Wi-Fi network. It siphons off a small part of your bandwidth, and that of your neighbors with Amazon-related devices, to create a crowd-sourced neighborhood network.

Amazon has released a list of devices – mostly Echoes and cameras – that will act as bridges themselves, and it’s not yet clear how the Mailbox Sensor will interact with all of that in the future. By the way, if privacy concerns were the first thing that popped into your head when you read that, check out Amazon’s Sidewalk white paper on privacy.

FYI: If your mail is stolen, You should report to the USPS, using their online form. You could report to the police via 311 but know that it’s unlikely officers will pursue the crime.

The best defense against thieves is still a locked mailbox. It’s not fool-proof, of course, but it can make thieves take longer to get at your mail. But if they take the sensor with your mail, or even your whole mailbox, Ring will replace the Mailbox Sensor for free.

You can find out more about the Mailbox Sensor in Ring’s support FAQ.

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Degree holders are shifting tech hubs and affordability

(TECH NEWS) Tech hubs are shifting as degree holders move, but it’s causing some other issues and raising some interesting questions about the future of jobs.

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Bloomberg recently announced their annual “Brain” Indexes. The indexes are an annual reckoning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and degree holders. The “Brain Concentration Index” approximates the number of people working full time in computer, engineering, and science jobs (including math and architecture.) It measures the median earnings for people in those jobs. It also counts how many people have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, or an advanced degree of any kind. It blends those things together to determine how “brainy” a city is.

Since they started in 2016, Boulder, CO has been at the top of the list. This year it’s followed by San Jose, CA, which many people might expect to be at the top. Many of the more surprising cities, like Ann Arbor, MI, Ithaca, NY, and even Lawrence, KS, are bolstered by the presence of a strong university.

It’s an interesting methodology. It’s worth noting that anyone with an advanced degree, whether it’s an MBA, a law degree, or a Ph.D. in literature, contributes to which city is a “tech hub.” It’s also worth noting how expensive many of these places are to live.

If you follow this kind of national data collection at all, you may also know that Boulder is one of the least-affordable cities in the country. So is the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area, with a median home price of 1.25 million dollars and a median household income of $117,474. (That means that the average mortgage is more than half of the average paycheck). However many people tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco attract, they’re also hemorrhaging talent. Every day, 8 Californians move to Austin. Of the people who stay, more than half are thinking of moving.

They aren’t doing that for fun. As much flak as Californians get for gentrifying places like Austin, they’re being megagentrified out of their own homes. As salaries rise and CEO gigs attract the wealthy (and turn them into the Uberwealthy), the people who wait on tables or teach their children can’t afford to stay there anymore.

Speaking of people leaving, Bloomberg also measured what they call “brain drain,” the flow of advanced degree holders out of cities. They pair that with a decline in white-collar jobs and a decline in STEM pay to come up with their annual list. It includes places like Lebanon, PA and Kahului, HI.

All in all, it’s interesting information. But there are other factors at work that it can’t speak to. What does wage stagnation in the U.S. mean for the flow of education workers? If San Jose and San Francisco can be tech hubs based on the number of people with degrees, but people are still fleeing, what does that say about rankings like these? What human stories get lost in the shuffle? And is “tech hub” even something a city wants to be if that means running out of teachers (or making them sleep in garages)? Where does the next generation of tech hub workers come from?

Knowing the people behind the numbers makes it clear just what a mixed bag this is. Maybe we need more tech hubs like Lawrence, Kansas. Or maybe we need rent control. Or maybe we need to embrace remote work. Maybe there are no answers. As interesting as data like this is, there’s something sort of wistful about it, too.

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New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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