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A great technical future ahead

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

When every day seems the same, it is because we have stopped noticing the good things that appear in our lives, Paulo Coelho

Recently I hear almost everyday that technical progress goes very slow, no fresh news. Today I ‘m going to find few cool things that can change our lives in near future to prove once again quote of Paulo Coelho.

Self-driving cars

The project is being guided by the artificial-intelligence researcher Sebastian Thrun, who as a Stanford professor in 2005 led a team of students and engineers that designed robot car, winning the second Grand Challenge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a $2 million Pentagon prize for driving autonomously over 132 miles in the desert.

Since then, Dr. Thrun has focused more of his activities at Google, giving up tenure at Stanford and hiring a growing array of experts to help with the development project.

In frequent public statements, he has said robotic vehicles would increase energy efficiency while reducing road injuries and deaths. And he has called for sophisticated systems for car sharing that could cut the number of cars in the United States in half.

“What if I could take out my phone and say, ‘Zipcar’, come here, and a moment later the Zipcar came around the corner?”, he asked an industry conference in 2010.
In 2010 Google said it had test-driven robotic hybrid vehicles more than 140,000 miles on California roads — including Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. More than 1,000 miles had been driven entirely autonomously.

And in 2011 Google lobbies US state Nevada to allow self-driving cars. Today cars based on artificial intelligence raise questions about safety and liability but it seems in few years we will be able to ask our cars to drive us home.

Computer diagnoses

In the beginning of year 2011 IBM supercomputer Watson Wins Jeopardy game show’s against former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
Watson is a significant leap a machine’s ability to understand context in human language. As IBM has said on several occasions, the goal was not to create a self-aware super computer that can run amok such as HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Skynet from The Terminator. But a question and answer machine like the ship computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In May 2011 Watson is a second-year med student. For 40 years, clinical decision support systems (CDSS) have promised to revolutionize healthcare. In fact, when the US government recently mandated electronic health record (EHR) systems in all healthcare facilities, one of the key objectives is to promote better and cheaper healthcare using CDSS based on the patient data collected from the EHRs. With the large amount of new data collected by the newly installed EHR systems, computers like the Watson will be able to find optimal answers to clinical questions much more efficiently than the human mind.

IBM’s collaborator on this project is Dr. Eliot Siegal, a senior radiologist and vice chair of informatics at the University of Maryland. Siegel’s team in Maryland helped IBM identify which medical journals and textbooks were best to feed into the computer and which questions to start asking it. Watson read all of Medline, PubMed, dozens of textbooks and asked and answered every question on board exams. “It’s all the information you’d need to be as good as the smartest second year med student,” says Siegel.

The next, more difficult phase of the project is to load Watson up with anonymized patient records so it can marry what it knows about diagnostics with the procedures, treatments and outcomes that follow. Then doctors can query Watson and get an assist in figuring out what to do next. Siegel says “Wouldn’t it be great to distribute sub-specialty expertise to the hinterlands where remote medical practices may lack the experience of seeing thousands of patients?” .

Siegel says widespread use of Watson as a diagnosis tool is more like 8 to 10 years out.

More information about IBM Watson: http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/what-is-watson/index.html

Faster web browsing

As part of the “Let’s make the web faster” initiative Google is experimenting with alternative protocols to help reduce the latency of web pages. One of these experiments is SPDY, an application-layer protocol for transporting content over the web, designed specifically for minimal latency.

In lab tests, Google compared the performance of these applications over HTTP and SPDY, and have observed up to 64% reductions in page load times in SPDY. And the pretty thing is SPDY uses TCP as the underlying transport layer, so requires no changes to existing networking infrastructure. The only changes required to support SPDY are in the client user agent and web server applications.

As client user agent we can use Google chrome browser that already has build-in support of SPDY. Google also use it for its services, such as Google Search, Gmail, Chrome sync and when serving Google’s ads. And people can start using it with web server applications as today we have some first implementation for Apache HTTPD server, Ruby and Java platforms. Google hopes to engage the open source community to contribute ideas, feedback, code, and test results, to make SPDY available everywhere in just few years.

More information about SPPY protocol: http://www.chromium.org/spdy/spdy-whitepaper

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