Friday, May 29, 2015

Gaming for flaw detection

 Editorial note by me: I had an idea like this during college for medical research or other abstract problems.

Slashdot summary:

Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) think online gamers can perform the tedious software verification work typically done by professional coding experts. They were so impressed with their first crowdsourced flaw-detecting games, they announced an new round of five games this week designed for improved playability as well as increased software verification effectiveness. “These games translated players’ actions into program annotations and assisted formal verification experts in generating mathematical proofs to verify the absence of important classes of flaws in software written in the C and Java programming languages. An initial analysis indicates that non-experts playing CSFV games generated hundreds of thousands of annotations,” DARPA stated.

Can online gamers perform the sometimes tedious software verification work typically done by professional coding experts?
Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) think so and were so impressed with their first crowdsourced flaw-detecting games, they announced an new round of five games this week designed for improved playability as well as increased software verification effectiveness.
ted talks logo

DARPA began the program known as Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) in December 2013 and opened the Verigames web portal (, which offered five free online formal verification games.

“These games translated players’ actions into program annotations and assisted formal verification experts in generating mathematical proofs to verify the absence of important classes of flaws in software written in the “C” and “Java” programming languages. An initial analysis indicates that non-experts playing CSFV games generated hundreds of thousands of annotations,” DARPA stated.
According to DARPA, gameplay generates mathematical proofs that can verify the absence of certain software flaws or bugs in common open source software. “If gameplay reveals potentially harmful code, DARPA will implement approved notification and mitigation procedures, including notifying the organization responsible for the affected software. Because CSFV verifies open source software that commercial, government and/or Department of Defense systems may use, prompt notification is essential to correct the software rapidly and mitigate risk of functional or security breakdowns,” DARPA stated.

The new crowdsourced verification games include:
  • Dynamakr: Asks players to energize mysterious patterns in a cosmic puzzle machine
  • Paradox: Asks players to use an array of tools to optimize vast networks
  • Ghost Map Hyperspace: Asks players to battle alien invaders and seal off their hyperspace rifts
  • Monster Proof: Asks players to explore a kingdom of monsters and solve puzzles to get rich
  • Binary Fission: An atom-splitting game that asks players to mix and match quarks in the name of cybersecurity
Verigames offers other games including:
  • CircuitBot: Link up a team of robots to carry out a mission.
  • Flow Jam: Analyze and adjust a cable network to maximize its flow.
  • StormBound: Unweave the windstorm into patterns of streaming symbols.
  • Xylem: Catalog species of plants using mathematical formulas.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

lung cancer vaccine

Cuba's Had A Lung Cancer Vaccine For Years, And Now It's Coming To The U.S.


When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) headed to Havana on a historic trade mission in April, he returned with the promise of an important commodity: a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine.

The vaccine, called CimaVax, has been researched in Cuba for 25 years and became available for free to the Cuban public in 2011. The country's Center for Molecular Immunology signed an agreement last month with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York to import CimaVax and begin clinical trials in the United States.

"We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine, but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking," Dr. Kelvin Lee, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park, told The Huffington Post.

When President Obama loosened the United State's 55-year long trade embargo against the island nation in December, he allowed for such joint research deals to be finalized. Similar programs might have been impossible just a few years ago.

Cuba has long been known for its high-quality cigars, and lung cancer is a major public health problem and the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. A 2007 study of patients with stages IIIB and IV lung cancer, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, confirmed the safety of the CimaVax and showed an increase in tumor-reducing antibody production in more than half of cases. It proved particularly effective for increased survival if the study participant was younger than 60.

So far, 5,000 patients worldwide have been treated with CimaVax, including 1,000 patients in Cuba. Lee said the latest Cuban study of 405 patients, which has not yet been published, confirms earlier findings about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. What's more, the shot is cheap -- it costs the Cuban government just $1, Wired reported. And studies have found there are no significant side effects.

"We think it may be an effective way to prevent cancer from developing or recurring, so that’s where a lot of our team’s excitement comes in," Lee said. "There’s good reason to believe that this vaccine may be effective in both treating and preventing several types of cancer, including not only lung but breast, colorectal, head-and-neck, prostate and ovarian cancers, so the potential positive impact of this approach could be enormous."

Preclinical investigations of CimaVax at Roswell Park and the unpublished findings of the 405-patient Cuban study are promising, according to Lee. CimaVax works by blocking a hormone that causes lung cancer tumors to grow, a method which has also been shown to be effective in treating colon cancer. That fuels researchers' hope that the vaccine will be an effective treatment for other types of cancer as well.

Still, he acknowledged that the vaccine needs rigorous testing in each of these different disease areas to know whether or not the drug will work as well as the scientists at Roswell Park hope. To be clear, the CimaVax doesn't cure cancer. It's a therapeutic vaccine that works by targeting the tumor itself, specifically going after the proteins that allow a tumor to keep growing. (And as PBS points out, a person can't just take a shot of CimaVax and continue to smoke without fear of lung cancer.)

"We hope to determine in the next few years whether giving CimaVax to patients who’ve had a lung cancer removed, or maybe even to people at high risk of developing lung or head-and-neck cancers because of a history of heavy smoking, may be beneficial and may spare those people from having a cancer diagnosis or recurrence," Lee said.

The United States is currently at work developing two lung cancer vaccines of its own, GVAX and BLP 25, though neither has been studied for as long as CimaVax.

How does a tiny island nation with limited economic resources pioneer a powerhouse cancer vaccine? “They’ve had to do more with less,” Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park, told Wired. "So they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

Despite decades of economic problems and the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba has been a model of public health. According the New York Times, life expectancy for Cubans is 79 years, on par with the United States, despite the fact that its economy per person is eight times smaller. While many drugs and even anesthesia have been hard to come by over the years, Cuba has one of the best doctor to patient ratios in the world. Moreover, the Cuban government's investment in primary care for residents and preventative health measures like public education, housing and nutrition have paid huge dividends in the health of citizens, especially relative to similarly poor countries.

Looking forward, ongoing research collaborations between the two nations are almost certainly on the horizon as relations between Cuba and the U.S. continue to thaw. For now, Lee says the researchers at Roswell Park have their eyes trained on about 20 cancer treatment and prevention technologies in Cuba -- including another lung cancer vaccine called racotumomab that the group hopes to study in clinical trials at Roswell.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the Center for Molecular Immunology signed a research agreement with Roswell Park Cancer Institute this week. The agreement was actually signed in April.

Elon Musk's private school


Elon Musk has established "Ad Astra," a small, private school for grade-school-age kids. His goal for the school is to eliminate actual differences between the grades. The school had only 14 students for the past year, but will likely expand to 20 next September. Musk says, "It's important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools." As an example, he says teaching kids about tools should be more about taking an engine apart and learning about neccessary tools as the need arises, rather than just dumping information on them about a bunch of tools in an abstract way. "Musk's approach to delete grade level numbers and focus on aptitude may take the pressure off non-linear students and creates a more balanced assessment of ingenuity."

Oculus + Surreal Vision

Oculus focuses on British VR startup 

Facebook buys Surreal Vision, founded by three Imperial College students, to bolster Oculus’s virtual reality development

A virtual reality company founded by three PhD students at Imperial College London has been bought by Facebook to combine with Oculus.

Surreal Vision specialises in real-time 3D scene reconstruction to create accurate representations of the real world and allow users to interact with real-world objects from within VR.

The company was founded by Richard Newcombe, Renato Salas-Moreno and Steven Lovegrove.
The technology being developed by Surreal Vision will lead to VR and augmented reality systems that can be used day or night and either indoors or outdoors. “They will open the door to true telepresence, where people can visit anyone, anywhere,” the founders said.

Their techniques promise a model of reality that “feels real, creating a new, mixed reality that brings together the virtual and real worlds”.

The founders say that significant challenges remain, as the accuracy and quality of the continuously updating 3D reconstruction must be almost perfect: “When we cross these seminal thresholds, users will perceive the virtual world as truly real – and that is the experience we’re driving toward.”
Newcombe, Salas-Moreno and Lovegrove will join the Oculus Research team in Redmond, Washington.

Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2bn in March 2014 after the company had built a solid following among game developers. The social network said it recognised that VR would have far wider applications in fields ranging from communications and entertainment to education and media.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the time: “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

Oculus was founded by 21-year-old college drop-out Palmer Luckey and made headlines in 2012 when the company raised more than $2m on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to manufacture the Oculus Rift VR headset.

The first commercial model of Facebook’s much anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will go on sale in the first quarter of 2016, the company said earlier this month. Prices are yet to be announced.

Oculus VR’s technology is already available in the Gear VR, a smartphone-powered headset launched by Samsung and Oculus. Meanwhile, games firm Valve is making a VR headset with HTC called the Vive VR, which will launch later this year.
Sony also plans to launch its Morpheus VR headset for PlayStation 4 in the first half of next year, having recently shown off a prototype that is close to a final consumer version.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Brainwave tech patents

More developers are creating commercial applications that use brainwave-reading technology that was previously found only in the medical field.

The idea of controlling physical objects with thoughts conjures up images of Darth Vader. And Jim McKeeth's talk on building thought-controlled drones at the recent Wearable Tech Conference did exactly that. But it also explained the spike in brain-reading technology patents.
McKeeth built his thought-controlled drone using Parrot's AR Drone 2 and the Emotiv Epoc EEG headset. Both the drone and the headset operate over Wi-Fi and have multi-platform software development kits (SDK.)
050815 emotiv headset Emotiv
Developers can write software using an SDK to control the drone's height and flight direction over a Wi-Fi link. Brainwaves or EEG can be read over a Wi-Fi link using the Emotiv headset. Emotive's SDK lets developers build apps that read brainwave activity programmatically on a PC or mobile device. With a few hundred lines of Pascal code on a PC, McKeeth wove the drone's programmatic control functions together with the headset's brainwave readings. He converted the headset into a thought-controlled drone joy stick.
To eliminating any disbelief during the demonstration, McKeeth chose a volunteer from the audience. After a short explanation about how to think a unique thought for rotating the drone in the left direction, he gave control of the drone to the volunteer. McKeeth cautioned the volunteer that negation, such as thinking "do not rotate left" won't work to control the drone. Negation requires a separate unique thought, such as "rotate right."
The thought-controlled drone makes an important point. What would have taken millions of dollars of equipment and years of development not long ago now cost less than $1,000 and a weekend of an experienced developer's time to build.

Last year, brainwave-reading patents quadrupled compared to 2010 and doubled over 2012, according to SharpBrains, a market researcher focused on this type of technology. Sharpbrains CEO Alvara Fernandez said "[the] expansion into non-medical use shows that we are at the dawn of the pervasive non-medical neuro-technology age," explaining the spike in patents.

Brainwave-reading technologies called electroencephalogram (EEG) were previously restricted to expensive medical devices used to diagnose conditions, such as epilepsy, dementia, and narcolepsy. Now the technologies are being applied to non-medical neuro-monitoring to evaluate mental states in real-time.

Reuters reported that consumer market researcher Nielsen leads the pack, with patents describing ways to detect brain activity with EEG and translate it into what someone truly thinks about, say, a new product, advertising, or packaging.

Reuters also reported that Microsoft Corp. holds patents that assess mental states, with the goal of determining the most effective way to present information. If software knows a user's attention is wandering, it could hold back complicated material. Another Microsoft patent describes a neuro-system that claims to discern whether a computer user is amenable to receiving advertisements.
One interesting patent example the SharpBrains cited (without revealing the patent holder's identity) measures a subject's threshold concentration to determine the appropriate time to allow a notification interruption.

Emotiv's support forums make many references to potential applications, and the company responds enthusiastically with regular warnings that its EEG headset is a consumer device and not a medical device, putting the onus for safety on the application developer. In between the disclaimers, Emotiv mentioned thought-controlled typing, wheelchairs, and game controllers.
SmartBrain ranks brainwave-reading companies based on a patent strength index. Along with Microsoft and Nielsen, the list of top 25 companies include BodyMedia (JawBone), Accenture, and IBM. All of this interest suggests that EEG sensors will appear more frequently in wearable consumer devices.

Consumer-level pricing of EEG devices of increasing sophistication will lead to more experimentation and innovation deriving from the apps that can accurately convert thoughts into something actionable.

Sunday, May 3, 2015