Light Friday: IBM’s Watson is Getting Smarter
Credit: IMB.
Credit: IMB.

Helmet Monitors Your Vitals While You Ride
Can You Really Get a Cold from Being Cold?
The Science of Parallel Universes

Two years ago, IBM software Watson beat two of the world’s best Jeopardy players. Now researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y. are working with the program to enhance its cognitive reasoning skills and experiment with applications in a variety of fields.

Steven Cherry of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) interviewed one of the lead researchers, Professor Jim Hendler, about the next evolution of Watson for a Techwise Conversations podcast.

Hendler said one of the problems they are trying to tackle with Watson is getting the program to work with a large number of open data sets. Watson can already understand semantic information, as evidenced by its quiz show victory. RPI’s research aims to teach Watson to assemble descriptive information to such data sets, such as “what the data set does, the metadata — so the data about the data set — when it was released, by who, and for what purpose,” Hendler said.

But the most exciting part of the research, according to Hendler, is exploring how humans and Watson can work together for mutual benefit. He explained, using medical applications as an example, “[Y]ou want to use the computer for the thing that would be very hard for you to do, or ‘I’m wondering why this patient seems to have some symptom,’ and the computer can tell me there’s been a recent research paper that says that symptom often correlates with some separate medication that you wouldn’t have known to look for, so ask that patient if they have that medication.”

You can hear the full podcast below.

Helmet Monitors Your Vitals While You Ride

Cyclists looking to maximize their workout will soon have a new high-tech tool to help monitor their vitals while also protecting them.

Israeli tech company LifeBEAM is using aerospace technology to develop a cycling helmet that monitors the cyclist’s heart rate with a small sensor located at the forehead. The sensor sends information to a small processor located at the back of the helmet, which can wirelessly transmit the real time data to any cell phone or small computer. This way, cyclists can monitor their heart rate, blood pressure, and other information without strapping on an uncomfortable monitor or taking a break from their ride.

LifeBEAM co-founder and CTO Zvika Orron told Scientific American that the sensors are comfortable and accurate, similar to what fighter pilots wear in the cockpit. “You don’t need anything else. You just need to put on your helmet, wear it, and ride away. The sensing technology is very accurate… and compared to the main gold standards in the field, they were proven to be very accurate.”

The technology was funded through an IndieGoGo campaign that ended in March, taking in $64,676 of its stated $50,000 goal. If you would like to be contacted when the Smart Helmet goes on sale, you can contact LifeBEAM here.

Can You Really Get a Cold from Being Cold?

Before you turn up the AC a few notches this season, consider a new study that links cooler climates with a greater chance of catching a cold. The findings were released this month by a team of researchers from Yale University, who found that human airway cells infected with a rhinovirus fought off infection better when subjected to warmer climates.

Dr. Ellen Foxman, who led the research team, revealed the findings this month at a conference of the American Society for Microbiology. Her team first turned to mice for their subjects, and found that rodents infected with a mouse-specific rhinovirus created stronger antiviral immune signals in warmer temperatures than they did when subjected to colder conditions, explains. In other words, warmer climate conditions were better for fighting off virus and infection.

Using the mice findings, the researchers attempted to find a connection between colder conditions and human colds, and found that lab-grown human airway cells infected with the rhinovirus were able to ward off the virus better (and kill infected cells) in warmer temperatures than in cold ones.

For decades, scientists have invested time and studies that looked into the correlation between colder weather and catching colds, and some findings, such as those from Dr. Gwaltney, an expert in infectious diseases, who did extensive research  in the 1970’s, supported the theory that people are more susceptible to colds in the colder seasons because they are in closer contact with each other, and more likely to pass on a virus.

Aren’t you glad summer is around the corner?

The Science of Parallel Universes

A parallel universe is an often-vaguely discussed concept. The most common understanding — and the one most frequently used in science fiction stories — is that a parallel universe is one in which many things are similar to the known world but certain outcomes are different.

But if the “universe” refers to everything that exists in the world, how can there be more than one? Minute Physics explains the three basic mathematical models behind parallel universes (none of which have been tested or confirmed by experiment):

  1. The Bubble Universe Model;
  2. The Membrane Model; and
  3. The Many Worlds Model.

The video below explains each in detail.


Have a great weekend, folks!


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