How Alexa could save the business meeting

Get ready to make room for Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or Google at your conference room table. AI is about to head to the office. Already these “voice assistants” are learning to recognize different voices within one conversation and respond accordingly. When you ask Google Home about your calendar it will know to reply with the events on your calendar and not your wife’s calendar. Likewise, when your wife queries Google home, it will respond using her data. Imagine what this could mean in the office. If you could include a voice assistant in your videoconferences and meetings, then each participant…

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A new polymer could make phone screen repairs a thing of the past

If you've ever had to deal with a cracked smartphone screen, you know what a hassle it can be. Slapping a screen protector on it is only a stopgap until you have to have the screen replaced, which comes with a decent price tag. Now, researchers in To…
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Newly discovered polymer could make shattered screens a thing of the past

A team of researchers of Japanese researchers say they’ve discovered the holy grail of mobile computing: a new type of glass that can heal itself from cracks. Published in the journal Science, a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo believe they’ve found a hard glass-like polymer called “polyetherthioureas” that can heal itself with mild heat and hand pressure. According to the researchers: High mechanical robustness and healing ability tend to be mutually exclusive. In most cases, heating to high temperatures, on the order of 120 degrees Celsius or more, to reorganize their cross-linked networks is necessary for the…

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Portugal Hints at What the American Internet Could Eventually Look Like Without Net Neutrality

On Thursday, the US Federal Communications Commission officially voted to roll back Obama-era rules governing net neutrality.

Simply put, net neutrality means that all data on the internet is treated equally. An internet service provider can’t prioritize certain companies or types of data, charge users more to access certain websites and apps, or charge businesses for preferential access.

Advocates of net neutrality argue that it ensures a level playing field for everyone on the internet. Telecoms firms, however, are largely against it because of the additional restrictions it places on them.

Pro-net neutrality advocates have vowed to fight the FCC in the courts — but what might the American internet look like without net neutrality?

Take a look at Portugal. The country is bound by the European Union’s net-neutrality rules, but it allows for certain kinds of pricing schemes that hint at what a net neutality-less internet might look like.

The country’s wireless carrier Meo offers a package where users pay for traditional “data” for their smartphones — and on top of that, they can pay for additional packages based on the kind of data and apps they want to use, “zero-rating” those services.

Net neutrality being voted down could result in internet packages like this.
English translation via Google Translate. Image Credit: MEO

Really into messaging? Then pay €4.99 ($ 5.86 or £4.43) a month and get more data for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime. Prefer social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and so on? That’ll be another €4.99 a month.

Zero-rating for video apps like Netflix and YouTube are available as another add-on, while music (Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Play Music, etc.) is another, as is email and cloud (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, iCloud, etc.).

Net-neutrality advocates argue that this kind of model is dangerous because it risks creating a two-tier system that harms competition — people will just use the big-name apps included in the bundles they pay for, while upstart challengers will be left out in the cold.

For example: If you love watching videos, and Netflix is included in the video bundle but Hulu isn’t, you’re likely to try to save money by using only Netflix, making it harder for its competitors. (Note: Hulu isn’t available in Portugal, but you get the idea.)

And without net neutrality, big-name apps could theoretically even pay telecoms firms for preferential access, offering them money — and smaller companies just couldn’t compete with that. (It’s not clear whether any of the companies named above have paid for preferential access.)

An ISP could even refuse to grant customers access to an app at all unless they (or the app company) paid up.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California originally shared the Meo example on Twitter in October, though he mischaracterised Portugal’s net neutrality laws.

“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages,” he wrote. “A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what’s at stake, and that’s why we have to save net neutrality.”

Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee, recently retweeted Khanna’s tweet, adding: “This isn’t even the worst part of ending net neutrality. The worst part happens when ISPs say ‘we don’t like this site’s politics,’ or ‘this site competes with us,’ and block or throttle it.”

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The First CRISPR Clinical Trial Could Begin in 2018

CRISPR Clinical Trial

In a monumental development for the field of gene-editing, a pharmaceutical company has applied to run the first CRISPR clinical trial. CRISPR Therapeutics hopes to begin industry-sponsored, clinical human trials with a CRISPR therapy in 2018.

Officially submitted to European regulatory authorities, the application outlines a test of CTX001, a CRISPR treatment designed for patients with sickle cell disease and β-thalassemia. In an interview with Wired, Samarth Kulkarni, CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, said, “I think it’s a momentous occasion for us, but also for the field in general. Just three years ago we were talking about CRISPR-based treatments as sci-fi fantasy, but here we are.”

How CRISPR Works: The Future of Genetic Engineering and Designer Humans
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CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a relatively new gene-editing technique based off of a bacteria defense system. Generally speaking, it is a “programmable” system that targets and edits specific pieces of DNA. This technique can also be used as a diagnostic tool.

At first, the concept of “gene-editing” could seem like part of a dystopian sci-fi nightmare in which we have an ethically murky amount of control over our biology. But as the technology has progressed and the incredible potential of gene-editing has been further explored, CRISPR is seen much more as an innovative tool that has the potential to save lives.

This is apparent in this clinical trial, as both patients with sickle cell disease or β-thalassemia have specific genetic mutations that adversely affect a subunit of hemoglobin, which is integral to the red blood cell’s ability to carry oxygen to the body. The mutations can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue to jaundice, severe pain, and potentially death.

Advancing Gene Editing

The treatment that will be tested in these trials, CTX001, works by cutting out a gene that represses the production of fetal hemoglobin. This fetal form of hemoglobin gets switched off when a baby begins making the adult form, but since the adult form is mutated in patients with sickle cell disease or β-thalassemia, turning fetal hemoglobin back on could allow the red blood cells to carry oxygen efficiently again.

According to data collected through cell and animal experiments, as presented by the company at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Atlanta, CTX001 is highly efficient in editing these genes and so far shows no signs of affecting other genes.

However,  Stuart Orkin, a hematologist-oncologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said to Chemical & Engineering News, “It is important that they do this very carefully. Because if there is a mistake or bad effect [from CRISPR], it will have repercussions beyond a single patient.”

Orkin is right. If there are any ill-effects of this treatment, not only could it be potentially disastrous for the patient receiving treatment, it could be a major detriment to the future of CRISPR-based therapies. If this CRISPR clinical trial goes badly in any way, not only could other companies be put off from starting other clinical trials, but governing organizations might not approve future testing.

However, if this clinical trial proves to be a success, or at least does not produce any harmful complications, it could spell a long future of innovative and boundary-pushing CRISPR treatments. From antibiotic resistance to disease reversal and eradication, gene-editing could become a new staple in the medicine of tomorrow.

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