Monday, October 22, 2012

Tomorrow's reality

"Never" does not exist for the human mind... only "Not yet".
Source: NASA
This is the opening intertitle of Fritz Lang's 1929 science fiction movie Woman in the Moon. Just because we do not know how to do something today does not mean we cannot do it ever. Jules Verne in his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon gave a pretty detailed account of space travel. His story served as an inspiration to many scientists later on, and they made it a reality about 100 years later. History has repeatedly proved that ambitious imaginations and grand visions of a few people inspired what mankind has achieved today. It is for this very reason Intel has started The Tomorrow Project

This project tries to imagine tomorrow's reality by bringing together science fiction authors, experts and everyday users. The project starts by asking two simple questions:
  • What kind of future does man want to live in? Remember the Holodeck from Star Trek. Something like that will be cool, isn't it? With the increase in computing devices (how many devices do you own?), the data we are generating everyday is increasing multifold. To be able to process it and make use of it would be a huge thing.
  • What kind of future do we want to avoid? Definitely not something where mankind is ruled by Martians, or sentient machines!
As they say, science fiction is the prototype of future's technological advancements. The more feedback we get on prototypes, the better the design of the end product becomes. Join the conversation and be part of the future.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That time of the year

A casual conversation when a student at University of Minnesota encounters another on his/her way will definitely have winter as one of their major topics of discussion. Not any winter, but spine chilling Minnesotan winter. And now, it is that time of the year. We have had our first snow fall during the weekend, the lakes and water bodies around started to freeze and mercury dropped below the 0 level. Well the scale is only Centigrade yet, but soon the mercury will fall below 0 Fahrenheit as well. And this means dressing in layers, searching for reasons not to go outdoors, coming up with justifications how winter has advantages (which is really hard) so as to not hate ourselves, and not to mention gaining weight due to decrease in physical activity! I think I will need some of these to remind me of summer! Didn't I say gaining weight? 

And its Thanksgiving time too, here in the US. Really looking forward to the four day break. Its fun killing time by checking out all the Black Friday deals on the internet, even if you don't want to buy anything. Its a little more fun if you do that in office, by occasionally taking a peak to make sure the boss is not around. And, it is even more fun if the boss happens to be not in office, which is the case today! How productive are you, when you do not have any urgent issues and you know your manager is not around?

Now that I'm home let me go do some more - err, do we have a term for window shopping online - e-window shopping. Until then, help yourself by looping Why this Kolaveri di! Wondering what it is, then you definitely are in pattar yug. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mouse and Keyboard Without Boundaries

At office, I used to work on a laptop until my request for a Desktop was approved recently. The day I received my desktop I felt my desk was a little cluttered with two monitors, a CPU, a docking pad for laptop, two mice, two keyboards and all the cables that are part of the package. Not to mention those sticky notes, notepads and printouts of random documents haphazardly scattered around. In order to make some room on my desk, I decided to figure out a way to control both my machines with a single mouse and keyboard. All I want is an application or a tool that lets me navigate from one computer from another, in an intuitive way, as we do in the case where multiple monitors are connected to the same machine.

On doing a simple Google search, I came across Synergy. Synergy is a simple yet great tool, which does the job perfectly. Using a single pair of mouse and keyboard, multiple computers can be controlled over the network. The best part is there is no restriction on the operating system of your computers, it can support connecting a Mac with a PC or a Linux box. All it requires is to install their application on all the machines you want to operate with your mouse and keyboard and configure the computer to which they are connected as Server, and all others as clients. I could intimate the software tool by letting it know how my computers are positioned. And yes, you can copy text from your Windows and paste it in your Mac. For me this is definitely better than the j5 Create's Wormhole Switch, I do not have to shell out money as this is an open source software. 

Despite Synergy being free to use I was not completely satisfied with the way it was working on Windows machines. Whenever there was a User Access Control pop-up on the Client Windows machine, I had trouble transferring the control to Client machine. And, on hitting 'Ctrl + L' I was expecting Synergy to lock all the machines, but only the server gets locked. And, I could not intuitively drag and drop files between computers sharing the resources. 

Incidentally about the same time I was frantically searching for a good solution for this, Truong Do - a software developer at Microsoft - unveiled the project Mouse Without Borders he worked during his spare time. It takes care of all the issues I was complaining while using Synergy. I could drag and drop files between my computers, and it works exactly the way I want. Although Synergy could connect far more number of computers using a single pair of mouse and keyboard, Mouse Without Borders can support only four computer at the maximum. I do not have any complaints on this, since there is no way I can get one more extra computer for what I do at office. However, Synergy is the best option if you have to work on multiple operating systems. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Movies of my mind

Exactly 4 years and 4 months ago, I was writing about capturing dreams. I started by calling it a weird thought, but looks like it is no longer weird anymore given that bright minds have started to think alike and work in this direction. Today, we have neuroscientists from University of California, Berkeley working on this idea made  some initial progress. An initial progress that would very well become an important breakthrough one day.

Shinji Nishimoto and his team are working on a project that would attempt to reconstruct a video by scanning a person's brain while that person is watching a movie. From their results, they show the similarities between reconstructed images and the original movie clips the person is watching. The subjects are made to watch movie trailers, and fMRI technique is used to measure the brain's activity by keeping track of the flow of blood through visual cortex. The cool part is, they have used Youtube videos to reconstruct thoughts of the subjects they were experimenting with.

Out of my curiosity to learn about research related to dreams, or thoughts - anything to do with capturing cognitive capabilities in visual form - I have tried to understand the procedure further. A two step process this is, where in the first step scientific data related to brain's activity is captured when a subject watches a movie clip. In the second step, this scientific data is fed into the computer, and the computer based on experimental results tries to make a  movie by making a fusion of sample clips available from video pool (in this case Youtube). Lo and behold! We now have a output video with hazy shapes and blurry figures which are quite similar to what the subject was watching while brain's activity is captured.

According to the Professor Gallant who headed Shinji in this project, practical applications of such a project in the long term can be to communicate and understand what is running in the minds of people suffering from Cerebral Palsy, where the patients cannot communicate verbally (A few years ago I have written another post about the feelings of a person suffering from such a case, although I really don't know what runs through their mind). Who knows, this might altogether make the research of interacting and interfacing with human brain popular!

Atleast for now I can say, we are one tiny step closer in understanding how our human mind works. Here is a short video demonstrating the results of their experiment, watch it out for yourself: