with David Brancaccio
Hosted by David Brancaccio, this daily "journal of the Digital Age" airs during broadcasts of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition.
South Korea is in the midst of a culture war over video game addiction. The South Korean Parliament is considering legislation that would put limits on video game advertising and also tax the industry's revenue to help fight addiction. The country's commitment to high speed internet infrastructure has helped to create a boom in gaming and young gamers. The BBC's Mark Gregory tells Marketplace Tech the latest on the story.(12/11/2013)
Today, the World Health Organization releases its annual report on malaria. The disease kills some 600,000 people every year -- most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Part of fighting any disease is understanding how populations move. And now, there's a tech device now being used to tackle this challenge. It's called... a cell phone.
An epidemiologist at Harvard named Caroline Buckee has been looking at massive amounts of cell phone data. Think the phone calls and texts of 15 million cell phone users in Kenya, for instance, with their locations triangulated by the phone company.
"So we combine that human mobility model with clinical information about the malaria parasite, and we use mathematical models to predict how people are going to spread it when they travel," Buckee says.
Think of plotting Malaria cases on a map and then overlaying data showing where people are moving, which helps make better predictions about where the disease might go next. Dr. Buckee points out that this data is thoroughly anonymous – they just see a bunch of dots. Still there are challenges.
"The challenges are the very poorest populations, and that the density of cell towers determines how high a resolution you can get your estimates," Buckee says. "So, in some of the most rural and underserved populations, we have the hardest time."
Buckee hopes those phones could someday warn people of an outbreak.(12/11/2013)
If there is one vehicular tech promise that has captured our imagination for decades but never quite been delivered, it's the jetpack. From Jules Verne to James Bond in "Thunderball" to "The Rocketeer," we've pretended these things are just around the corner for a very long time. But for some reason, we don't have them yet. Well, not quite yet. The BBC's Jack Stewart headed to New Zealand recently to look at a company which hopes to again kindle our interest and bring us closer to our dreams with something called a Martin Jetpack.
We've been talking about the internet of things for a long time. And though your TV may not yet talk to your refrigerator, your car, and your phone, but there are a growing number of companies working on that.
Today, a development in how this idea might actually happen: Wireless technology company Qualcomm has been building a new way for all our devices to communicate, and it just made the source code of this new protocol public. Which means lots of different companies could potentially use it instead of building their own. Stacey Higginbotham has been writing about this for the website GigaOm, and tells Marketplace Tech about Qualcomm's AllJoyn.(12/10/2013)
This week marks the start of Computer Science Education Week, and part of that is a campaign called an "Hour of Code," where everyone from President Obama to Angela Bassett is urging kids to try computer coding for just an hour. Some in the tech world say it's about time.
After all, they say, to be a savvy consumer of technology, you have to understand how it works. That means knowing how to write programming code, says Douglas Rushkoff, an author and digital literacy advocate.
"In a course where kids are learning critical thinking and critical studies, they can be looking at and analyzing the biases of different media like websites, like social networks," he says.
Rushkoff says knowing how to build websites and applications will help kids understand that Facebook, for instance, isn't about making friends, but about data mining. He says it's important to know how digital programs work from the ground up.
Dan Hoffman, who teaches education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says some fear more computer education means less time for curriculum staples like english and science.
"There's always a battle being an educator as there's kind of that 'one more thing' phenomenon," he says. That is, another thing stacked onto an already full curriculum plate.
But he says if that one more thing is tech instruction, most teachers are all about it. So this semester he's teaching a brand new course: "Computer Programming in the K-8 Classroom."(12/10/2013)
Today, eight large tech companies sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting the government put new limits on its surveillance practices. The companies have been asking the government for months to allow more transparency regarding regarding requests. This time, they're also offering a proposal for how to restrict or regulate government surveillance on citizens' data. Ed Wyatt reported this story for The New York Times, and tells Marketplace Tech what the tech companies are asking proposing.(12/09/2013)
Today, the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee will meet to discuss what's next for human space exploration. Right now the answer seems to be Mars, but the first step in getting to the red planet is heading back toward the Moon on the Orion Space craft for a planned practice run.
Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, says the exercise will involve capturing an asteroid. If that sounds reminiscent of a certain late 90s Michael Bay blockbuster that spawned many a wedding dance to a certain terrible Aerosmith song, it gets better. Dumbacher describes the way NASA will capture the asteroid in the same way dog owners might describe picking up after their pooches.
"You could think of putting a baggie around it -- a large baggie -- and cinching that together, and that's one option," Dumbacher says. "Once we capture the asteroid, then the plan is to use what we call solar-electric propulsion to bring that asteroid back to the stable orbit around the moon where we'll meet up with the crew."
Dumbacher says that though NASA proved it could go to the Moon back when Richard Nixon was president, returning there will provide crucial training for a Mars expedition that would carry astronauts far from Earth.
"Up til now, we have been really working and living in space, but we are close to Earth -- what I would call Earth-reliant," he says. "And, we have this big proving ground between Earth and Mars, and the asteroid is the first one we're going to do some of that learning on, to learn how to live and work in that environment, and learn to be more Earth-independent and less reliant."(12/09/2013)
This week President Obama revealed a small tech revelation. He's not permitted to get an iPhone for "security reasons." He still rocks a BlackBerry, apparently. The struggling Canadian company's most famous customer remains so in part because BlackBerry is considered more aggressive about encrypting its user data. And then there's the comfort factor. Slate tech blogger Will Oremus explains.(12/06/2013)
Marketplace Tech concludes our Mind Games series this week with another look at the intersection of video games and mental health. You may remember yesterday we went to University of Southern California, where they're building virtual reality programs for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today we're going to a VA hospital in New York City where these programs are being administered.
Dr. Michael Kramer tries to help his patients by recreating their own traumatic experiences. He brings host Ben Johnson into a windowless room with a computer control center and a swiveling chair that sits on a platform. Click the audio player above to hear Dr. Kramer give Ben a tour of his facility and tell him about how the virtual reality therapy works.(12/06/2013)
A new report from The Washington Post says that the National Security Agency is collecting almost 5 billion cellphone records daily from around the world -- meaning the NSA is tracking individuals movements in ways previously unknown. And unlike online activity, which can be encrypted, cell location data is harder to hide. Security researcher Ashkan Soltani co-wrote the story, and tells Marketplace Tech about this latest disclosure from the Edward Snowden documents.(12/05/2013)
It's no secret that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have played video games during down time on bases. But for a number of soldiers, the gaming may continue at home, long after their tours of duty are over -- and not for recreational purposes.
With record numbers of soldiers committing suicide and suffering from a host of mental health issues after returning from the battlefield, the military has been investing in all sorts of ways to help veterans with mental illness. As part of our series Mind Games: Mental Health and Virtual Technology, Marketplace Tech looks at how virtual reality simulations are being used to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Skip Rizzo of the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies has been working on a 3-D virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. Soldiers put on the Oculus Rift and go through a kind of therapy called prolonged exposure that predates the invention of video games.
"What we do with virtual reality is instead of relying exclusively on the hidden world of the imagination, we put people in virtual reality simulations of combat environments, and the clinician is actually the 'gamemaster,' if you will -- they control all the settings," says Dr. Rizzo, describing the experience a soldier has wearing the Oculus Rift. "A person is driving in a Humvee and it go hit by an IED, well they might start having that person drive down a roadway 5 or 10 times without the IED going off, but then the clinician will say, 'Okay, I'm going to introduce the IED and I want you to keep narrating what was happening right before.' And then they hit a button -- boom! The IED goes off, and the user goes through the thing that they've been avoiding."
If that sounds like "Call of Duty," or most other war RPGs, Rizzo admits to the influence.
"The original version of the virtual Iraq or Afghanistan exposure therapy system was derived from the game 'Full Spectrum Warrior.' We had access to the archive content and were able to extract a street out of the game, and were leveraging game technology."
But, Rizzo says, the therapy patients wearing his virtual reality headset are hardly playing a game.
"But, in the end, it's no longer a game, because in a game you have unlimited lives, your mission is to kill things. In this environment, it's about exposure to the things that you've been haunted by," he says. "This is a tool to extend the skills of a well trained clinician that understands how to deliver prolonged exposure, and over time, people start to go through scenarios that they never thought they could get through, and they start to feel a sense of empowerment. And, you see the reduction in PTSD symptoms in the other treatment, but then once someone has gotten over the hurdle there, all the sudden, you check on them one month, six months later, you see a continued drop in the symptoms, because they're basically continuing to heal."
If you or someone you know would like more information about where to seek Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for PTSD can be found online for locations in New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.(12/05/2013)
Yale University is out with a study this week that finds many of the elements on the periodic table that help power everything from smart phones to flat screen televisions are irreplaceable, which could pose problems for the tech industry.
Devices like tablets -- even cars -- are powered by a complex web of metals that are totally unique in their functions.
Barbara Reck, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and co-author of the study, says that means elements can’t be substituted.
“Let’s take flat screen displays for TVs or on the smartphones," Reck says. "For each of the different colors you need a specific element. There’s no other (way) to get a beautiful, really nice red except that you have europium, which is one of the rare earth metals.”
If there’s a shortage in one or several of these elements, it could pose problems for manufacturers, she says.
“If there’s an issue, the answers may not be as straightforward as one may think by just taking another metal," Reck says.
The more tech products, the more demand for these metals.
And for now, says Gareth Hatch, principal of Technology Metals Research, "there’s no substitute for new production or accessing new material that comes out of the ground.”
Hatch says more needs to be done to recycle and conserve the metals already being used. Which means one day, your old broken cell phone might actually be worth something.(12/05/2013)
After some false starts, private rocket maker SpaceX launched a rocket carrying a large commercial satellite into outer space yesterday. The company had planned to send the telecom satellite into orbit last week, but technical issues got in the way. This successful launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral could make a big impact on the space industry. Professor John Logsdon, of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, tells Marketplace Tech why.(12/04/2013)
While the advent of eye-tracking technology may be exciting for Google Glass wearers and Microsoft Xbox Kinect enthusaists, the innovation is also potentially electrifying for the autism community. Yesterday, as part of Marketplace Tech's week long series Mind Games: Mental Health and Virtual Reality, host Ben Johnson looked at how video games are being used as a therapy for people on the autism spectrum. Today, Marketplace Tech talks with child psychologist Dr. Micah Mazurek, assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri, about how games might impact autistic people's social interactions in the near future.
"Because we now know that children are fascinated by this technology, and that children with autism may be especially motivated by it, I think it really leads us to think about innovative technologies that might capitalize on that," Mazurek says. "So maybe developing games or virtual reality systems that can help to teach social communication skills for children with autism in this technology based way."
Mazurek says autistic children could potentially benefit from games that incorporate eye tracking technology, such as the kind found in Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor.
"One example might be developing a game-based or virtual reality-based system that can monitor virtual social behaviors," she says. "Some of these systems are even being developed to be sensitive to eye gaze, so they can track where the participant is looking on the screen. And if they're making eye contact with the avatar, then they're going to be rewarded within that game system. And then we would hope that those skills would then generalize out into the real world."
But Mazurek says the results are far from proven yet. At this time, she wouldn't recommend autistic children work with an avatar over a real therapist.
"I think one of the messages that our lab would like to get out there is that we need to proceed with caution, because we don't yet know if those technologies are going to be effective in a meaningful way. So we don't want to set up a situation where even the interventions we are delivering are technology based, then limiting their potential social interactions outside of that."(12/04/2013)
The more technology kids interact with, the more adults want to set some controls on that interaction. New options do abound. One of the latest from a company called FiLIP: a smartwatch that lets parents control who the kid calls, among other things. Ben Johnson talks to Lindsey Turrentine, editor in chief for reviews at CNET.(12/04/2013)
Electronic cigarettes are getting more popular all the time. Which may be why more places are starting to put more restrictions on the technology. Today in New York, the City Council is considering whether to restrict e-cigarettes just like regular cigarettes -- banning their use in offices, in restaurants, and on beaches. Supporters of e-cigs argue that goes too far. And tech critic Molly Wood might agree.(12/04/2013)
This week we're looking at the relationship between video games and mental health. We're talking to game designers, researchers and occupational therapists.
Amanda Foran is an occupational therapist who works with children and adults who are on the autism spectrum. Foran, at Motion Therapy in Rockville, Maryland, has found that video games can be a meaningful physical activity for people on the autism spectrum, and can help them engage socially:
"To start out, look for games that have simple rules. Games like tennis and boxing tend to be very easy for everyone to learn quickly and they also tend to be highly interactive. Games that offer the motion capture technology, that shows the individual on the screen instead of an abstract character."
Foran favors the Xbox Kinect because it encourages full body motion and eliminates the need for a controller, which can be inhibiting for people with autism who may have more difficulty with fine motor skills or button sequence memorization. She also recommends playing with a partner:
"Since many individuals on the spectrum are already skilled at playing video games, families can encourage them to play with siblings or neighborhood peers, and it really might give them the opportunity to act in the expert role."
Kara Stone is an artist living in Canada. She recently built her first video game. But instead of a battlefield or a fantasy world, the game's landscape is built around the experience of mental illness.
Like many people in North America, Stone suffers from depression and anxiety. Her game, "Medication Meditation," was inspired by her struggles with depression. She describes it as "a series of five little exercise based around daily living with mental illness."
"All of these exercises come from my own experiences with trying to deal with living with mental illness -- or emotional disregulation," Stone says. "All of these lifestyle changes that I've had to make have filtered into this game."
The first exercise is called "Talk," where the gamer simulates the experience of a visit to a therapist's office. But, as anyone who has seen a therapist will find, there are a few quirky differences between the game and the real thing.
"The therapist is a disembodied ear, and you are a disembodied mouth," Stone says. "She takes you through a set of questions. The first one is 'How are you feeling?' And, you get to type in however you are feeling at the moment. It's nothing like a real therapist, obviously. It is an attempt to look at it in a funny way."
Stone believes that mental health issues could be a growing area for video games can be used. But, she says, "Medication Meditation" isn't supposed to be one of those games.
"There's a lot of room for experimentation within video games to kind of grow and serve different purposes. I don't think my game... No, it's not a self-help game. It's not really trying to help people. It's more just about a different way of using video games."
There is no way to win "Medication Meditation," but not because Stone wanted to frustrate the gamer. She's more interested in commenting on a widely-held societal belief about overcoming mental illness that isn't always true.
"There's a lot of rhetoric in dealing with mental illness that is like, 'let's overcome this, let's beat this,' but for me, dealing with my own mental illness, I can't really view it as, 'Oh, I'm going to beat this. I'm going to win. I'm going to kick this mental illness to the curb.' I just have to concentrate on the daily things, and making those ordinary experiences a little bit better."(12/02/2013)
Cyber Monday means lots of good deals online for holiday shoppers, but what if you’re back at work today? Turns out a growing number of companies don’t mind if employees try to bag some bargains from behind their desks.
The retail holiday got its name in 2005 from Shop.org (the online arm of the National Retail Federation) when retailers noticed a bump in online sales the Monday after Thanksgiving. At first a lot of companies blocked employees’ access to shopping sites that day. Now, 54 percent of firms allow workers to shop on the clock with IT teams watching for excessive use. That’s up 20 percent from three years ago according to an annual survey.
"Companies have really smartly said it’s okay to get a little personal business done as long as you are still productive on the job," says Kathy Northamer with Robert Half Technology, the IT staffing company that does the survey. "Companies have realized it’s helped them let their workers be more productive because they’re not taking off a whole day to cybershop."
At the Maryland web-consulting firm HindSite Interactive, company president Payman Taei doesn’t mind if staffers shop on Cyber Monday. "It’s one day a year, and you know this is not something that goes on on a daily basis, so why not take advantage of it and let everybody be happy," Taei says. He even tells his staff to tip him off to good deals. Last year he shopped for the company and saved 25 percent on an external hard drive.(12/02/2013)