EmoBracelet to remind traders not to be dicks

Paul Raven @ 19-10-2009

The *other* sort of emo braceletsBoy, those stock market trader guys sure can get the rest of us into a mess with their crazy high-jinks. But it’s not entirely their fault, you know – they just get a bit carried away in the heat of the moment. C’mon, we’ve all been there – emotions run high, you have to make a snap decision, and sometimes you get it wrong. Granted, for most of us there’s little chance of shafting the entire planet in the process…

But wouldn’t it be good if we could keep those traders calm? If we could lay a metaphorical cool hand of reason on their shoulders every once in a while and say “hey, maybe you’re thinking with your heart (or your dick) rather than your head”? Electronics giant Philips and financial behemoth ABN Ambro seem to think it’s a great idea, and have hence teamed up to develop a conceptual device called the EmoBracelet, which should achieve the same effect:

The gadget […]measures electrical signals from users’ skin to assess their emotional state. The technology is similar to a lie detector recognising the nervousness behind a fib.

The announcement by the two companies said online traders had nearly double the number of deals as those who traded through a broker and that online traders earned lower returns because of poor decisions.

”Driven by fear, they may sell too hastily when share prices drop. Driven by greed, they may be overenthusiastic,” the announcement said.

The EmoBracelet and another device, an EmoBowl, use electrical displays to show a person’s emotional intensity. The two items were designed to warn traders to step back and take a breather by alerting them to their heightened emotional state.

As a wearer’s emotions grow more intense, lights flicker faster on the bracelet and the colours inside the bowl change from a soft yellow to orange to a deep cautionary red.

Nice idea, guys, but I have to say that I’m not sure the EmoBracelet is going to prevent traders doing dumb things. After all, most of the folk I’ve worked with who were prone to agitation or emotional overinvolvement with their work would react rather badly to having their “heightened mental state” pointed out… and some of them would probably carry on pushing the envelope just to prove how on top of things they really were (in their minds, at least).

A version of the EmoBracelet that injected the trader with a hugely powerful soporific at the pertinent moment might be a little more useful, however… [story via Technovelgy; image by McWilliams Graphics]


Keep your doctor close to your heart: the wi-fi pacemaker

Paul Raven @ 21-08-2009

diagram of the heartEarlier this year I mentioned round-the-clock in-body medical monitoring as an imminent transhuman reality, but I didn’t think it’d be quite so fast.

OK, so it’s not a full suite of biomonitors, but a new design of pacemaker talks wirelessly to an internet-connected basestation in the home, sending all the data it gathers directly to the outpatient’s doctor:

So, basically, this patient can provide a full report on the condition of her heart without even leaving home – without doing anything, actually, since the pacemaker reports automatically – and the doctor is able to perform regular check-ups without seeing the patient at all. In fact, since routine pacemaker checks are typically done every six months, the wireless device offers a much greater level of monitoring and care than ever before.

The logical next step here is to make the basestation into some kind of expert system that can deal with routine changes of circumstance without having to involve a busy meat-doctor. Perhaps next time there’s a global epidemic we’ll just be able to breathe into a little device and have it tell us whether we have swine flu or a bit of a cold, followed by advice on how to respond to it. [image found via koreana]


Joe Robot vs. the Volcano: the spiderbots of Mount St Helens

Paul Raven @ 12-08-2009

Mount St Helens shrouded in cloudIn order to keep a close eye on Mount St. Helens, the NASA JPL people have built and deployed a bunch of networked “spiderbots” which negotiate a peer-to-peer network between each other in order to pass data back to base.

Fifteen spiderbots, so-named because of the three spindly arms protruding from their suitcase-sized steel bodies, were lowered from a helicopter to spots inside the crater and around the rim of Mount St Helens, an active volcano in the US state of Washington, in July.

Each has a seismometer for detecting earthquakes, an infrared sensor to detect heat from volcanic explosions, a sensor to detect ash clouds, and a global positioning system to sense the ground bulging and pinpoint the exact location of seismic activity.

Once in place, the bots reached out to each other to form what is known as a mesh network. “It’s similar to the internet,” says Steve Chien, the principal scientist for autonomous systems at JPL. “You just lay them out, and they figure out the best way to route the data.”

Smart idea: install a remote monitoring system and instruct it to drop you a line with any problems… up to and including any problems with the system itself as well as the volcano, one assumes.

Obviously the expense means that this sort of system is currently only of use in high-risk and high-budget applications, but it’s no great mental stretch – given the rapid advances of networking technology – to imagine entire states or countries blanketed with similar monitoring frameworks.

Then make the data public, bolt on an API and distribute something like the SETI@home software, and everyone with some spare processor cycles can help keep an eye on geological instabilities. Similar systems (or perhaps even the same devices) could be used to provide communications infrastructure in the aftermath of a disaster, too. [image by christmaswithak]


Ubiquitous urinary analysis?

Paul Raven @ 18-05-2009

toilet bowl with mobile phoneIf you want futurist thinking that looks at the little things rather than the large, you can’t do much better than to follow Jan Chipchase as he bounces around the world researching how people use things… and how things use people.

Here’s a prime example of science fictional thinking processes applied to that most everyday of objects, the toilet.

… the light blue rinse that you see above is an indicator of what is, ahem, yet to pass. The colour of the liquid in the toilet bowl will be the most commonly used mechanism to feedback relatively minor but good-to-know status updates about the state of your body, a simply chemical adaptation of what many of you already do today. (The critical stuff will sent directly to your doctor/insurance company, so that they can break the news to you gently, unless of course you think you can handle staring down at a blood red toilet bowl).

Given human limitations – whether its remembering which colours are associated with what, to our ability to effectively distinguish between colours, what are the other parameters can will be put into play by tomorrows porcelain experience designers?

Where does this lead to in the future perfect? Lower insurance premiums for your employer when they install (and allow the remote monitoring of) your [insurance company] sponsored washroom. Automated devices travelling the sewage systems monitoring dye pigmentation by sewage outlets of the stars? That you are willing to walk an extra three blocks to use a unmonitored public toilet.

Given the UK government’s seemingly unstoppable obsession with monitoring its citizens and telling them how to live, it’s almost depressing how plausible Chipchase’s speculation seems from where I’m sat right now – even though I suspect it’s meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Insert your own joke about “the power behind the throne” here…

Though it should be noted that science fiction pipped Chipchase to the post on this one; “Alone With an Inconvenient Companion” by Jack Skillingstead (as anthologised in Fast Forward 2) features hotel urinals that provide the protagonist with a ‘complementary urinalysis’. Or at least he thinks they do. [image by jurvetson]


Your transhuman future: 24/7 body monitoring

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2009

medical monitoring tagsCutting-edge medical hardware can scan and analyse our bodies with incredible accuracy, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat many of the illnesses that come as part of our mortal meatware. But these things can only be seen if we’re looking for them; we’d catch many more diseases and defects if we could be monitored constantly, rather than just when we visit a doctor or clinic.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) we’re a long way off from having nanotech swarming through our bloodstreams, but there are companies and research groups working to build realtime medical monitoring systems for the human body. SingularityHub rounds up a handful of them and takes a look at their current projects; here’s a description of one from Proteus Biomedical:

Proteus ingestible event markers (IEMs) are tiny, digestible sensors… Once activated, the IEM sends an ultra low-power, private, digital signal through the body to a microelectronic receiver that is either a small bandage style skin patch or a tiny device insert under the skin. The receiver date- and time-stamps, decodes, and records information such as the type of drug, the dose, and the place of manufacture, as well as measures and reports physiologic measures such as heart rate, activity, and respiratory rate.

So, till pretty crude by science fictional standards, but surely an improvement on being wired up to a room-full of medical monitors to record the same data. As nanotech and molecular genetic engineering converge, we’ll doubtless see systems like this become more powerful and more prevalent, at least in the richer countries.

SingularityHub points out one of the big benefits of this sort of monitoring, namely the vast tranches of data it would supply to medical researchers. But there’s a flip-side that need to be considered, namely privacy. Futurismic‘s own Sven Johnson reported back earlier this month from a possible future where biometric body scans of millions of US citizens was leaked to the public; think of the repurcussions of even more intimate data being exposed. [image by HouseOfSims]

And how about insurance? Once this sort of detailed medical data is available, it’ll become a mandatory part of your application for health coverage, and you can bet your boots that the insurance houses will use every little warning indicator as an excuse to bump up your premium… or deny you a policy completely.


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