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Virtual reality breakthroughs that could save lives

(TECH NEWS) Virtual reality is making waves in the tech and business world, and healthcare is adopting VR at a rapid clip.

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Virtual reality is booming

It’s a good year for virtual reality, especially in the wake of the most recent Electronic Entertainment Expo. Thanks to VR, users will soon be able to take down villains as the Caped Crusader and even fulfill lifelong Trekkie dreams of touring the USS Enterprise.

It’s no secret that VR is a gamer’s dream come true, but what of applications outside the entertainment world? Most media outlets prioritize the seemingly constant stream of VR gaming updates (and it’s admittedly hard to talk about anything else when there’s a Fallout 4 game to hype). However, a little digging turns up quite a few VR advances in the medical world—breakthroughs that could very well end up saving lives.

VR in medicine isn’t new, but is rapidly evolving

Of course, implementing virtual reality tools in a medical context is not a new concept. The first Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference happened in 1992 and has come a long way since, with tech and medical professionals joining together for talks like HTC Vive and Oculus in Neurosurgery and The Evolution of Medical Training Simulation in the U.S. Military.

Thanks to the release of the Oculus Rift system, developers now have the option of creating apps that can be marketed to the mainstream consumer. VR is no longer limited to million-dollar corporations and expensive medical research facilities. If this budget-friendly trend continues, medical applications for VR could be implemented on a truly widespread scale.

Surgery isn’t new, but long-distance care is

Just a few months ago, UK organization Medical Realities made history by livestreaming a surgery in 360-degree VR, accessible to anyone with a compatible headset. Surgical training and simulation is one of the more obvious medical applications of VR, as such tools would make it infinitely easier for students to learn necessary techniques in a safely simulated manner.

VR also offers the benefit of personal long-distance care, as apps like USC’s Virtual Care Clinic provides patients with anytime access to a “customizable virtual physician, tailored to their personal health challenges.”

Pediatric care and pain management

VR has also been used in pediatric care, which makes sense when one considers children’s oft-turbulent relationship with the doctor’s office. Applications range from physical therapy exercises reminiscent of video games to social cognition training that assists autistic users in adapting to real-world scenarios.

There are even a variety of pain management tools featuring game-like interfaces that could benefit children and adults alike. VR games like SnowWorld have shown success in relieving burn pain as well as discomfort resulting from unpleasant hospital procedures.

Various therapies are ripe for VR

Therapy is another sector that’s highly compatible with VR, particularly when it comes to phobias. Patients interested in treating their panic and anxiety disorders with exposure therapy can find a convenient solution in the technological updates VR brings to the table. The Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego employs headsets in order to “[place] the client in a computer-generated world where they ‘experience’ the various stimuli related to the phobia.”

The Center uses this method to treat everything from fear of flight to fear of public speaking. Similar treatments have been employed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

Not so fast…

Despite proven benefits, the majority of these tools still seem to be limited to certain centers and clinics. Only time and demand will tell whether these VR applications are eventually offered on a broader scale.

But with the advent of the budget-friendly headset, perhaps that reality will come rather sooner than later.

#VRmedicine

Leo Welder is the founder of ChooseWhat.com, which guides entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business. Using How-To's, Comparisons, "STARTicles," and a community forum, the site gives people a detailed road map to support them through their entrepreneurial journeys.

Tech News

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Internet of Things and deep learning: How your devices are getting smarter

(TECH NEWS) The latest neural network from Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows a great bound forward for deep learning and the “Internet of Things.”

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Woman using smart phone to control other devices in home, connected to deep learning networks

The deep learning that modifies your social media and gives you Google search results is coming to your thermostat.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a deep learning system of neural networks that can be used in the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Named MCUNet, the system designs small neural networks that allow for previously unseen speed and accuracy for deep learning on IoT devices. Benefits of the system include energy savings and improved data security for devices.

Created in the early 1980s, the IoT is essentially a large group of everyday household objects that have become increasingly connected through the internet. They include smart fridges, wearable heart monitors, thermostats, and other “smart” devices. These gadgets run on microcontrollers, or computer chips with no processing system, that have very little processing power and memory. This has traditionally made it hard for deep learning to occur on IoT devices.

“How do we deploy neural nets directly on these tiny devices? It’s a new research area that’s getting very hot,” said Song Han, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT who is a part of the project, “Companies like Google and ARM are all working in this direction.”

In order to achieve deep learning for IoT connected machines, Han’s group designed two specific components. The first is TinyEngine, an inference engine that directs resource management similar to an operating system would. The other is Tiny NAS, a neural architecture search algorithm. For those not well-versed in such technical terms, think of these things like a mini Windows 10 and machine learning for that smart fridge you own.

The results of these new components are promising. According to Han, MCUNet could become the new industry standard, stating that “It has huge potential.” He envisions the system has one that could help smartwatches not just monitor heartbeat and blood pressure but help analyze and explain to users what that means. It could also lead to making IoT devices far more secure than they are currently.

“A key advantage is preserving privacy,” says Han. “You don’t need to transmit the data to the cloud.”

It will still be a while until we see smart devices with deep learning capabilities, but it is all but inevitable at this point—the future we’ve all heard about is definitely on the horizon.

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Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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