This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
 

Monthly Archives: June 2017

Game You Can Control Mind

Designed by Neurable, a small start-up founded by Ramses Alcaide, an electrical engineer and neuroscientist, the game offers what you might call a computer mouse for the mind, a way of selecting items in a virtual world with your thoughts.

Incorporating a headset with virtual reality goggles and sensors that can read your brain waves, this prototype is a few years from the market. And it is limited in what it can do. You cannot select an object with your mind unless you first look in its general direction, narrowing the number of items you may be considering.

But it works. I recently played the game, which has the working title Awakening, when Mr. Alcaide and two Neurable employees passed through San Francisco, and a few hundred others tried it this month at the Siggraph computer graphics conference in Los Angeles.

The prototype is among the earliest fruits of a widespread effort to embrace technology that was once science fiction — and in some ways still is. Driven by recent investments from the United States government and by the herd mentality that so often characterizes the tech world, a number of a start-ups and bigger companies like Facebook are working on ways to mentally control machines. They are also looking for smoother ways to use virtual reality technology.

“Neurotechnology has become cool,” said Ed Boyden, a professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the M.I.T. Media Lab who advises one of those start-ups.

 The increased interest in neurotechnology is partly a result of an effort the Obama administration started in 2013. The initiative helped create significant government financing for brain-interface companies and related work in academia. Then Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, began promoting the idea and his latest company, Neuralink. That combination has attracted the interest of private venture capital firms.

“With the smartphone, we’re starting to reach the limits of what we can do,” said Doug Clinton, the founder of Loup Ventures, a new venture capital firm that has invested in Neurable. “These companies are the next step.”

The Neurable prototype shows what is possible today. Using electroencephalography, or EEG — a means of measuring electrical brain activity that has been around for decades — the company can provide simple ways of mentally interacting with a game. Some companies hope to go much further, and want to build ways of performing nearly any computing task with the mind. Imagine a brain interface for rapidly typing on a smartphone.

Even for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Mr. Musk, setting that goal pushes technological optimism to new heights. Some efforts seem particularly quixotic. Mr. Musk said in one interview that Neuralink planned to develop ways of implanting hardware in the skulls of completely healthy people.

At Neurable, which is based in Boston, Mr. Alcaide and the members of his team are pushing the limits of EEG headsets. Although sensors can read electrical brain activity from outside the skull, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Using computer algorithms based on research that Mr. Alcaide originally published as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Neurable works to read activity with a speed and accuracy that is not usually possible.

The algorithms learn from your behavior. Before playing the game, you train them to recognize when you are focusing your attention on an object. A pulse of light bounces around the virtual room, and each time it hits a small colored ball in front of you, you think about the ball. At that moment, when you focus on the light and it stimulates your brain, the system reads the electrical spikes of your brain activity.

After you do this for a few minutes, the game learns to recognize when you are concentrating on an item. “We look at specific brain signals,” Mr. Alcaide said, “and once we understand them, we can use them.”

When you play the game, the same light bounces around the virtual room. When it hits the item you are thinking about, the system can identify the increase in brain activity.

The technique works with equipment that already exists. Neurable’s prototype uses virtual reality goggles from HTC, a consumer electronics company, and seven EEG sensors placed at specific spots around your head. But given the physical limits of what these sensors can read, an EEG-based game is unlikely to do more than slowly and simply select digital objects

Some companies are working to move beyond that. Facebook, for example, is exploring methods for optically reading brain activity from outside the skull. Such a system would shine light into the brain to directly read chemical changes.

That is well beyond the realm of current research, and a number of neuroscientists question whether it will ever be possible, arguing that such speed will only come with devices planted inside the skull.

Several start-ups are now working to do just that. But some, including a Silicon Valley start-up called Paradromics, hope to do this as a way of treating people with medical conditions like blindness, deafness and paralysis.

Implanting hardware in the brain is dangerous, but the reward for patients could outweigh the risks. For companies like Paradromics, the goal is to significantly refine and expand the current methods, providing a faster and more complete way for patients to operate machines with their thoughts.

Mr. Musk’s Neuralink is moving in a similar direction, but the company’s ambitions appear to stretch much further, to eventually implanting chips in healthy people’s brains

Protect Information Online

How do I know if my personal information has been taken?

Unfortunately, you may want to assume that it was. Cyberattacks happen all the time.

As for this most recent Equifax breach, the company is directing consumers to its website to see whether their information had been stolen, though as of Thursday night, Equifax declined to comment beyond what it had already posted on its website.

What if I’m certain my data has been stolen from Equifax?

Set yourself up with fraud alerts in case someone tries to apply for credit in your name. To be safe, do this at all three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Then, consider spending a few dollars to set up security freezes at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will lock down your credit files permanently, so that only companies that you currently do business with can see them. That way, if a thief applies for credit in your name, the company getting the application will not be able to access your credit file. No file means no new account. You will be able to temporarily open them each time you want to apply for new credit.

Should I change my passwords?

Regardless of the type of breach or the company involved, it’s always a safe bet to change passwords for sites that contain sensitive information like financial, health or credit card data. Do not use the same password across multiple sites and do not use your Social Security number as a username or password, especially in the wake of the recent Equifax breach.

And if you were not doing so already, you will have to treat everything you receive online with an abundance of suspicion, in case hackers are trying to trick you out of even more information.

How do I create stronger passwords?

Try a password manager like 1Password or LastPass.

These sites create a unique password for each website you visit and store them in a database protected by a master password that you create. Password managers reduce the risk of reused passwords or those that are easy to decode.

The Wirecutter, a product recommendations site owned by The New York Times, provides a helpful explanation of why password managers are so essential. They also maintain an updated guide to what it considers to be the best password managers.

If you must create your own passwords, try creating long, complex passwords consisting of nonsensical phrases or one-sentence summaries of strange life events and add numbers and special characters.

 Are passwords enough?

Passwords are not enough. If a site offers additional security features, like secondary or two-factor authentication, enable them. Then, when you enter your password, you will receive a message (usually a text) with a one-time code that you must enter before you can log in.

(Here’s a link to turn on two-factor authentication for Gmail accounts. Here’s one for Yahoo accounts, and here’s one for Outlook accounts.)

Many bank sites and major sites like Google and Apple offer two-factor authentication. In some cases, the second authentication is required only if you are logging in from a new computer.

Won’t security questions protect my data?

Sites will often use common security questions to recover a user’s account if the password is forgotten.

These questions are problematic because the internet has made public record searches simple and the answers are usually easy to guess.

In a study, security researchers at Google found that with a single guess, an attacker would have a 19.7 percent chance of duplicating an English-speaking user’s answer to the question, “What is your favorite food?” (It was pizza.)

IPhone X and 8 Models as It Upgrades TV Set-Top Box

Apple unveiled iPhone X, its first premium-tier phone, at an event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday. Here’s what else the company had to say.

• iPhone X is priced at $999, the most expensive ever for a new iPhone model. It will ship on Nov. 3. (Pro tip: The X is pronounced 10, and not “ex.”)

• The phone has a newer screen technology known as OLED, a type of display that can be made thinner, lighter and brighter with better color accuracy and contrast than its predecessor, LCD.

• The screen on the X has a so-called edge-to-edge display that takes up the entire face by eliminating the borders around the screen. Apple also eliminated the physical home button that has been a signature feature of the iPhone for a decade.

• iPhone 8 is also here, as well as its bigger sibling, the iPhone 8 Plus. The models include a glass body and a faster chip.• Apple TV, the company’s set-top box that has never been a blockbuster hit, got an upgrade. The device will now be able to stream so-called 4K resolution, which refers to screens with two times the vertical resolution and twice the horizontal resolution of older high-definition TVs.

• Apple took the wraps off a new Apple Watch. Called Apple Watch Series 3, it has cellular capabilities. There’s also a new Watch OS.

iPhone X Pushes Apple Into New Territory on Price

With the $999 iPhone X, Apple moved to a new premium level of pricing. The smartphone will cost $300 more than the iPhone 8 and $200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus.

While that will be too expensive for many people, the company said it saw the iPhone X defining a new era for the smartphone, much like the original iPhone did 10 years ago. Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said the device would “set the path for the next decade.” That’s because Apple will likely build on some of the iPhone X’s most notable features, including infrared facial recognition, wireless battery charging and sophisticated camera effects.

Consumer reaction to the new phone will have a big impact on the company’s revenue and stock price. Right now, analysts are betting on a slow uptake of the top-end phone, both because of production delays and the high price. But if it turns out to be an unexpected hit, like the iPhone 6 Plus and 7 Plus, the company’s sales — and stock price — could surge.

Wall Street wasn’t immediately dazzled by Apple’s presentation, however, with the stock price down more than 1 percent by the end of the event.

The iPhone X is the first redesigned iPhone in three years, and Apple says it is the blueprint for “the future of the smartphone.” Many of the design details had leaked to the press before today’s unveiling — we’d heard that it would have a new display that stretched across much more of the phone’s front, and that it would do away with the trademark home button.

Much of that turned out to be true. The iPhone X is essentially the same size and overall shape as the iPhone 7, but because the screen occupies all of the front of the phone, it is far larger than that of older models. The screen uses a technology new for Apple (which many competitors already use), called OLED. It produces better image quality than Apple’s older LCD screens.

What we didn’t quite know was how Apple would integrate the new button-free design with the operating system — how would you navigate the phone without a physical button?

It’s quite simple: You swipe. To go home, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. To see other apps, swipe up from the bottom and pause — now you see the multitasking pane. And to unlock your phone, you look at it. The iPhone X eliminates Apple’s Touch ID, and replaces it with a facial-recognition system that Apple calls Face ID.

Whether people will adjust to the button-free system remains to be seen. For better or worse, Apple has used essentially the same interface for the iPhone for the last decade. Swiping is easy, but it isn’t as easy as hitting a button, and it may throw some people off at first. The learning curve will be interesting to watch

The brand-new feature in the iPhone X that has never existed on any other iPhone is infrared face scanning.

The technology, called Face ID, uses an infrared camera system on the front of the phone to scan the contours and shape of a person’s head to unlock the phone and authorize mobile payments. The technology works by spraying an object with infrared dots to gather information about the depth of an object based on the size and the contortion of the dots. The imaging system can then stitch the patterns into a detailed 3-D image of your face to determine if you are indeed the owner of your smartphone before unlocking it.

For Apple, Face ID has been years in the making. In 2013, the iPhone maker acquired PrimeSense, a company that developed sensors for Microsoft’s Kinect, a camera system that scanned people’s bodies so people could play Xbox games using body movements.

Face ID is a direct response to the face-recognition feature in smartphones offered by Samsung, Apple’s fiercest rival. Experts have criticized Samsung’s face-recognition feature, which could be tricked by holding a photo of the smartphone owner’s face in front of the camera.

The phones include a six-core processor that will handle more complex tasks and 3D games more quickly and efficiently than previous iPhones. The phones generally look the same as their predecessors, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, with the exception of glass bodies, as opposed to aluminum.

Apple improved the phones’ cameras with new sensors and added new motion sensors to better support applications made for augmented reality, which use data to digitally manipulate the physical world when people look through a smartphone lens.

In particular, the dual cameras in the iPhone 8 Plus take photos with sharp details in low light. Apple also added a new portrait mode to improve the lighting on faces regardless of the background.

Another notable new feature is the introduction of magnetic induction to the iPhones. Similar to Apple Watch, the iPhones can now be charged by being placed on a charging pad as opposed to being plugged in with a cable.

The new iPhone 8 line will be one of the most important for Apple. Wall Street analysts have estimated that more than half of iPhone buyers will buy the 8 and 8 Plus over the next year. The models have a slightly higher starting price than their predecessors: The iPhone 8 starts at $699, up from $650 for older iPhone models.

Apple unveiled an upgrade for Apple TV, its set-top box. While Mr. Jobs referred to Apple TV as a “hobby” because it was not a hot seller compared to the company’s smartphones, computers and tablets, the product is becoming increasingly important to Apple as it, along with other tech giants like Facebook and Google, moves into creating original video content.

The new Apple TV, called Apple TV 4K, it is an iteration of the last model, which introduced a touch pad remote control. The new box will now be able to stream so-called 4K resolution, which refers to screens with two times the vertical resolution and twice the horizontal resolution of older high-definition TVs. Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of internet software and services, added that 4K titles would cost the same to purchase as traditional high-definition titles, and those who previously bought high-definition titles would be upgraded to 4K at no additional cost.

Apple said the new Apple TV 4K is also two times faster than the last one and includes support for a new color technology called H.D.R., or high dynamic range. This software feature enhances the contrast and color profile of a picture. In bright colors, you will see brighter highlights; in dark colors, you will see more details.

Explore a City Like Using Your Smartphone

Sure, you can still ask a stranger where to find some good sushi, but there is no guarantee they will be interested in, or qualified to, help you.

Thankfully, there are several smartphone apps that cut out those potentially awkward moments but still provide valuable recommendations from those in the know.

The three I tested out recently while roaming the streets of New York all had something to offer — though some were more useful than others.

Like all of these apps, Spotted by Locals provides recommendations submitted by actual local residents on where to eat, shop, be entertained and more. The idea is to keep you away from tourist traps and steer you toward hidden gems.

I used it to explore a neighborhood where I used to be a local (Astoria, Queens) to see if it could deliver. The fact that it included a wide assortment of suggestions in a borough not named Manhattan was impressive enough, compared to the other apps I tested, but the recommendations themselves were also spot on.

For example, Astoria’s popular Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden was rightfully featured, but so was SingleCut Brewery, a lesser-known, but worthwhile, beer spot.

The advice for each location is the perfect length — detailed but not overwhelming, and the “Nearby” tab on the map makes it easy to scope out places wherever you are.

The app seems geared toward younger travelers — it feels like a cross between Facebook, Tinder and Foursquare — and most of the cousins themselves have an appropriately hipster look. For New York, this leads to a higher concentration of recommendations below 14th Street in Manhattan and several in Brooklyn (very few in Queens), and heavy in the food and night life areas.

But the app itself is easy to figure out, and the map includes the option to download and use offline (for free). No matter where you are, just hit the location arrow to see what’s nearby.

The recommendations themselves are solid and are written casually — think Yelp, minus the negativity. I added 26 of 55 available cousins in New York and was impressed with what was revealed, including free public gardens and lesser-known art galleries, as well as a wide variety of intriguing bars and restaurants.

Your new cousins will even message you through the app to say hello, and you have the option of writing them back to ask for more tips. You will also get a push notification every time you receive a new message, which you can turn off by adjusting your settings. After asking two of my paired cousins, I received additional restaurant recommendations.

Like a Local

Well-designed and easy to navigate, Like a Local has fewer contributors than the other apps (28, providing 197 tips for New York at the time of writing) but it is in more cities than the others (over 300) and best functions as a complementary tool.

The recommendations are detailed yet concise, giving an excellent general overview and a “special tip” for each location. For example, at the Brazilian restaurant Beco in Brooklyn, Kelly advises: “Come early because the restaurant’s seating space is limited. CA$H ONLY.”