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8 Ways AI Will Profoundly Change City Life by 2030



How will AI shape the average North American city by 2030? A panel of experts assembled as part of a century-long study into the impact of AI thinks its effects will be profound.

The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence is the brainchild of Eric Horvitz, a computer scientist, former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and managing director of Microsoft Research’s main Redmond lab.

Every five years a panel of experts will assess the current state of AI and its future directions. The first panel, comprised of experts in AI, law, political science, policy, and economics, was launched last fall and decided to frame their report around the impact AI will have on the average American city. Here’s how they think it will affect eight key domains of city life in the next fifteen years.



1. Transportation

The speed of the transition to AI-guided transport may catch the public by surprise. Self-driving vehicles will be widely adopted by 2020, and it won’t just be cars — driverless delivery trucks, autonomous delivery drones, and personal robots will also be commonplace.

Uber-style “cars as a service” are likely to replace car ownership, which may displace public transport or see it transition towards similar on-demand approaches. Commutes will become a time to relax or work productively, encouraging people to live further from home, which could combine with reduced need for parking to drastically change the face of modern cities.

Mountains of data from increasing numbers of sensors will allow administrators to model individuals’ movements, preferences, and goals, which could have major impact on the design city infrastructure.

Humans won’t be out of the loop, though. Algorithms that allow machines to learn from human input and coordinate with them will be crucial to ensuring autonomous transport operates smoothly. Getting this right will be key as this will be the public’s first experience with physically embodied AI systems and will strongly influence public perception.


2. Home and Service Robots

Robots that do things like deliver packages and clean offices will become much more common in the next 15 years. Mobile chipmakers are already squeezing the power of last century’s supercomputers into systems-on-a-chip, drastically boosting robots’ on-board computing capacity.

Cloud-connected robots will be able to share data to accelerate learning. Low-cost 3D sensors like Microsoft’s Kinect will speed the development of perceptual technology, while advances in speech comprehension will enhance robots’ interactions with humans. Robot arms in research labs today are likely to evolve into consumer devices around 2025.

But the cost and complexity of reliable hardware and the difficulty of implementing perceptual algorithms in the real world mean general-purpose robots are still some way off. Robots are likely to remain constrained to narrow commercial applications for the foreseeable future.




3. Healthcare

AI’s impact on healthcare in the next 15 years will depend more on regulation than technology. The most transformative possibilities of AI in healthcare require access to data, but the FDA has failed to find solutions to the difficult problem of balancing privacy and access to data. Implementation of electronic health records has also been poor.

If these hurdles can be cleared, AI could automate the legwork of diagnostics by mining patient records and the scientific literature. This kind of digital assistant could allow doctors to focus on the human dimensions of care while using their intuition and experience to guide the process.

At the population level, data from patient records, wearables, mobile apps, and personal genome sequencing will make personalized medicine a reality. While fully automated radiology is unlikely, access to huge datasets of medical imaging will enable training of machine learning algorithms that can “triage” or check scans, reducing the workload of doctors.

Intelligent walkers, wheelchairs, and exoskeletons will help keep the elderly active while smart home technology will be able to support and monitor them to keep them independent. Robots may begin to enter hospitals carrying out simple tasks like delivering goods to the right room or doing sutures once the needle is correctly placed, but these tasks will only be semi-automated and will require collaboration between humans and robots.




4. Education

The line between the classroom and individual learning will be blurred by 2030. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) will interact with intelligent tutors and other AI technologies to allow personalized education at scale. Computer-based learning won’t replace the classroom, but online tools will help students learn at their own pace using techniques that work for them.

AI-enabled education systems will learn individuals’ preferences, but by aggregating this data they’ll also accelerate education research and the development of new tools. Online teaching will increasingly widen educational access, making learning lifelong, enabling people to retrain, and increasing access to top-quality education in developing countries.

Sophisticated virtual reality will allow students to immerse themselves in historical and fictional worlds or explore environments and scientific objects difficult to engage with in the real world. Digital reading devices will become much smarter too, linking to supplementary information and translating between languages.


5. Low-Resource Communities

In contrast to the dystopian visions of sci-fi, by 2030 AI will help improve life for the poorest members of society. Predictive analytics will let government agencies better allocate limited resources by helping them forecast environmental hazards or building code violations. AI planning could help distribute excess food from restaurants to food banks and shelters before it spoils.

Investment in these areas is under-funded though, so how quickly these capabilities will appear is uncertain. There are fears valueless machine learning could inadvertently discriminate by correlating things with race or gender, or surrogate factors like zip codes. But AI programs are easier to hold accountable than humans, so they’re more likely to help weed out discrimination.


6. Public Safety and Security

By 2030 cities are likely to rely heavily on AI technologies to detect and predict crime. Automatic processing of CCTV and drone footage will make it possible to rapidly spot anomalous behavior. This will not only allow law enforcement to react quickly but also forecast when and where crimes will be committed. Fears that bias and error could lead to people being unduly targeted are justified, but well-thought-out systems could actually counteract human bias and highlight police malpractice.

Techniques like speech and gait analysis could help interrogators and security guards detect suspicious behavior. Contrary to concerns about overly pervasive law enforcement, AI is likely to make policing more targeted and therefore less overbearing.




7. Employment and Workplace

The effects of AI will be felt most profoundly in the workplace. By 2030 AI will be encroaching on skilled professionals like lawyers, financial advisers, and radiologists. As it becomes capable of taking on more roles, organizations will be able to scale rapidly with relatively small workforces.

AI is more likely to replace tasks rather than jobs in the near term, and it will also create new jobs and markets, even if it’s hard to imagine what those will be right now. While it may reduce incomes and job prospects, increasing automation will also lower the cost of goods and services, effectively making everyone richer.

These structural shifts in the economy will require political rather than purely economic responses to ensure these riches are shared. In the short run, this may include resources being pumped into education and re-training, but longer term may require a far more comprehensive social safety net or radical approaches like a guaranteed basic income.


8. Entertainment

Entertainment in 2030 will be interactive, personalized, and immeasurably more engaging than today. Breakthroughs in sensors and hardware will see virtual reality, haptics and companion robots increasingly enter the home. Users will be able to interact with entertainment systems conversationally, and they will show emotion, empathy, and the ability to adapt to environmental cues like the time of day.

Social networks already allow personalized entertainment channels, but the reams of data being collected on usage patterns and preferences will allow media providers to personalize entertainment to unprecedented levels. There are concerns this could endow media conglomerates with unprecedented control over people’s online experiences and the ideas to which they are exposed.

But advances in AI will also make creating your own entertainment far easier and more engaging, whether by helping to compose music or choreograph dances using an avatar. Democratizing the production of high-quality entertainment makes it nearly impossible to predict how highly fluid human tastes for entertainment will develop. [SingularityHub]

October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
This Amazing Robotic Glove Lets You Touch the Virtual World


“Seeing is believing.”

While there may be some truth in the old adage, it forgets a crucial component of how we interact with the world: touch.

Touch makes things real. Imagine reaching out to grab your coffee mug, and instead of feeling the smooth ceramic surface pressing against your fingertips, you get…nothing. It’s jarring.

Virtual reality has a touch problem.

The release of Oculus Rift and Gear VR to consumers earlier this year clearly shows us graphics and sound are no longer the bottleneck in an immersive experience. The issue — a big one — is how to interact with the world we’re seeing on screen, with all the dexterity our fingers allow in the real world.

According to Dexta Robotics, a US-registered startup operating in China, the solution is an exoskeleton for your hands: a sleek, gorgeous mechanical glove that captures the full range of hand motions and provides real-time tactile feedback to let you touch and feel the digital world.

“It’s the difference between gazing at the moon and setting foot on it for the first time,” said Aler Gu, CEO of Dexta Robotics, in a press release. The glove, Dexmo, “is a leap forward that will inspire worlds of new content and new experiences,” he said.


Dexta Robotics is far from the only company offering a solution to the VR interaction problem.

The half-moon shaped Oculus Touch, for example, curls the hand naturally in a grasping motion around the trackable accessory. Vibrations provide tactile feedback, and users can grasp virtual objects by pressing buttons on the controller.

While easy to use, the Touch isn’t exactly an ideal extension of our hands — the feedback doesn’t match up with what we normally expect, and button pressing is a sad substitution for the myriad of ways our fingers can reach out and explore.

“Vibration alone isn’t enough to fool the brain,” Gu told MIT Technology Review. “The moment you detect anomalies in how objects feel, your sense of immersion is broken.”

Another approach is to track the user’s eye or finger movements and use those inputs to directly control the digital space. It makes intuitive sense: after all, we’re always looking at or touching something, and VR headsets are already optimally placed in front of our eyes.

Companies like Eyefluence, Leap Motion and Gest are all betting on this approach.

Despite initial excitement, without tactile feedback this method falls solidly into the uncanny valley of motion control — sure, the interaction looks strikingly real to your eyes, but your body definitively knows you’re grasping at nothing but air.

exoskeleton-glove-touch-virtual-world-32Dexmo is inherently different.

Shaped like a pterodactyl claw, the wearable tracks the full range of hand motions — up to an impressive eleven degrees of freedom — as you reach, touch, grasp and feel objects in the virtual world. The glove wirelessly sends the data to a VR avatar, prompting the avatar to mimic your movements.

Say you’re reaching for a digital rubber ducky. As soon as the avatar’s fingertips touch the toy, Dexmo’s software computes the direction and amplitude of the force applied to each individual fingertip. This information is passed on to the five custom-built force-feedback units embedded in the glove, which then dynamically apply a counterforce to the user’s hand. This way, you can feel the virtual object “push back” against your fingers, just like a real one would in our physical world.

Dexmo’s variable force feedback system allows each motor to simulate the force coming from different points on the virtual object, thus translating more subtle physical properties. This way, the motors may lightly press against your fingertips when you pick up a soft slice of cake or offer heavy resistance to your palm when you grab a brick. With Dexmo, you can feel the squishiness of a rubber ducky, the solidity of a big rock, or the jagged edges of a table leg, all inside the virtual world.

And the forces are strong with this one: the glove’s powerful resistance prevents your fingers from passing through an object like a phantom, adding to the quality of immersion.

Dexmo also boosts user-friendly specs to round out the experience.

The exoskeleton weighs around 170 grams, just a tad more than an iPhone 6 Plus, but with the weight distributed across each hand. It runs on battery power, and a full charge is estimated to support over four hours of game play. It uses NRF for wireless communication, averaging between 25 and 50ms of overall latency.

“Wifi and Bluetooth [were] too slow for our applications,” explains Gu.

Since conception, Dexmo has already gone through over 20 iterations, and initial user testing with prototypes has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We conducted many studies where test subjects performed tasks using Vive controller or Dexmo. Tasks such as turning a knob, grasping an odd-shaped object, playing piano, pressing buttons, and throwing a ball. As expected, no contest! Users preferred Dexmo, and reportedly enjoyed a much higher level of immersion,” says Gu.

exoskeleton-glove-touch-virtual-world-1-1The utility of Dexmo goes far beyond the gamer crowd.

The company envisions trainee surgeons using the glove to learn complex surgical procedures in VR while receiving realistic feedback. The system could also be developed for military clients or bomb disposal experts, giving trainees the opportunity to feel and tinker with the intricate mechanical parts in their hands in a safe setting. It would also cut down on cost by reducing the need for procuring actual parts for training or otherwise.

Dexmo could even be used to control physical robots or robotic arms and allow the user to gain a better sense of presence of the robot’s movement in space.

According to Gu, the company is working with VR firms to develop and deliver the “best immersive experience possible.” Currently, the glove works in any 3D simulated environment and is compatible with the majority of VR headsets, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Hololens, to name a few. The company is also planning to release a devkit for developers.

Dexta has not yet set a release date or price for the futuristic controller, although Gu believes that it’ll be something that “eventually everybody should be able to afford.”

Haptics interaction in VR is only just beginning to take off.

Whether we’ll finally be able to get a satisfying grip in VR with Dexmo remains to be seen. The glove likely represents the first generation of VR controllers that bring real-world tactile sensations into the digital universe.

The end goal is to reach across the digital divide, says Gu.

After all, “there’s no better feeling than feeling.”

October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Bootstrapping 101: 4 Things to Remember as You Grow Your Startup

getty_471021507_115201 CREDIT: Getty Images


Instead of raising a round, bootstrapping may just be the answer for accumulating funds for your startup.



“Do I really need funding?” Many entrepreneurs — both young and experienced — ask themselves this question when starting any business. Though many push to secure funding from angel investors, venture capitalists or partners, funding yourself (bootstrapping) is more often than not the best solution. This is especially true today: It may take additional time to save funds and get running, but this provides more time to produce and polish your business agenda.

Self-funding may lengthen the time to grow organically, but the advantages are numerous, from both a financial and growth perspective. Here are four things to consider as you’re bootstrapping:

Don’t Waste Time Pursuing Funding

Chasing down VCs and angel investors takes much energy and effort, and this energy and effort is often better focused on the business itself. I’ve observed many friends in the funding chase; I’ve also been part of the rat race in raising millions for my various startups.

However, too often days turn to months; months turn to years, and suddenly the scope of the business is lost, along with that initial enthusiasm of starting a new company. Though I personally invest in other businesses, I raised $0 in outside funding in the process of building a digital marketing and affiliate network, which eventually I sold to eBay in 2009.

I’ve also completely bootstrapped my newest business without using outside capital. Both ran operations based on small personal loans, and eventually produced positive cash flow and strong profit.

Focus on Revenue

Bootstrapping forces you to focus on revenue: something many startups fail to do when they have major backing from investors. For a startup to survive and actually pay employees and marketing initiatives, revenue must be present.

This isn’t always the case when funding is secured, as many startups lose sight of actually generating revenue. The earlier revenue exists, the faster a company can turn a profit. Through the latest growth spurt at my company, we ran purely on positive cash flow.

This put additional pressure on us, but as a byproduct, it forced me and my team leaders to focus on existing customers and marketing initiatives to garner new customers. By focusing on building revenue, the customer becomes the true beneficiary.

Connect to the Roots of the Business

Just as bootstrapping forces a focus on revenue, it also sheds light on the roots of the business, such as the product/services, customers and the internal team. Without investors tracking your every movement, you have more time to focus on what truly matters for success. We were forced to constantly revisit our digital marketing product suite, something that wouldn’t have garnered as much attention if we had funding.

If the big budget is not there, you are forced to polish your current offerings. This, in turn, benefits your customers, who should always be No. 1. When you don’t have to worry about pleasing investors, you open additional bandwidth, allowing you to work closer with your internal team.

Constantly reminding team members that the company is self-funded can help produce a sense of overwhelming achievement as the business garners traction. This helps smooth the flow of ideas and promotes work productivity. It also opens up more respect for you as a leader and what you are achieving.

Answer to Only Yourself

When bootstrapping, you only have to answer to yourself. Investors are always looking to maximize their return on investment, and some go as far as demanding weekly business reports. This can cause unneeded amounts of stress and, again, take the focus off the business.

Bootstrapping allows you to prioritize the core principles of your business, whether that’s a marketing push through social media, reducing costs or analyzing the true fitness of operations.

When people ask me about good investments, I always say the best one a person can make is investing in themselves. If you’re passionate and driven for success, bootstrapping a business is the ultimate way to do this.

Startups without funding can achieve smoother transitions to growth, which not only increases business morale, but also the bottom line: the true sign of a successful business. [Inc]

October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Can DNA Hard Drives Solve Our Looming Data Storage Crisis?



The idea of storing digital data in DNA seems like science fiction. At first glance, it might not seem obvious that a molecule can store data. The term “data storage” conjures up images of physical artifacts like CDs and data centers, not a microscopic molecule like DNA. But there are a number of reasons why DNA is an exciting option for information storage.


The status quo

We’re in the midst of a data explosion. We create vast amounts of information via our estimated 17 billion internet-connected devices: smartphones, cars, health trackers, and all other devices. As we continue to add sensors and network connectivity to physical devices we will produce more and more data. Similarly, as we bring online the 4.2 billion people who are currently offline, we will produce more and more data.

Oftentimes we also want to store data for longer-term purposes. These timeframes might exceed the capabilities of current storage technology. For example, we might want to store family photos and videos such that our descendants 100 years from now might be able to view and interact with them. We might want to pass down cultural relics, family recipes, or technical know-how to future generations.

Our current data storage methods are struggling to keep pace with our demand for storage capabilities. A data storage crisis would be incredibly stifling for human development. So, we need new robust and sustainable solutions for both short-term and long-term data storage.

A panel at SynBioBeta SF 2016 with representatives from Intel, Gen9 and Semiconductor Research Corporation discussed the current state of DNA data storage. One major takeaway from the discussion is the fact that the long-term data storage market is the fastest growing segment of the data storage market. Moreover, all panelists seemed to agree that demand for DNA data storage will be driven primarily by the need for a better solution that transcends the limits of silicon-based storage systems.


Why would we store digital data in DNA?

DNA is nature’s information medium. In fact, we call DNA the “blueprint of life” precisely because it contains the recipes that guide cells in making proteins. These proteins enable all aspects of life, from digestion to movement and from growth to fighting diseases.

So, DNA already encodes information — “biological recipes,” if you will. Thus, the idea with DNA data storage is to repurpose that information storage capacity so that we can store our digital data — our selfies, movies, and documents — in DNA. To do this, it is necessary to first translate digital info into biological info.

The major reasons for using DNA are:

1. Eternal relevance: As long as there is DNA-based life on Earth, DNA will be relevant. Conventional methods of data storage will always be superseded by new technology, so if we use conventional data storage, we will always need to transfer data to the new, better systems.

2. Stability: DNA seems able to withstand some degree of environmental stresses. In 2013, scientists read the DNA derived from a 700,000-year-old horse fossil. This suggests that a DNA-based storage system will last longer than hard disks and tapes.

3. High storage capacity: The storage potential for DNA vastly exceeds that of all other media. Some experts estimate that all the world’s data could be stored in one kilogram of DNA — an incredible proposition.


Where are we today?

Earlier this year researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington broke the record for storing digital data in DNA. They managed to store and retrieve 200 megabytes of information (including high-definition video, multiple books and articles as well as a database) using DNA provided by Twist Bioscience.

Storing 200 MB represents a huge leap from the previous record of 0.74 MB achieved in 2013. This is great progress, and it highlights the fact that more interest is being devoted to this endeavor. However, the current cost of DNA data storage is not attractive.

Storing digital data in DNA involves both reading and writing DNA. While the price of reading DNA (DNA sequencing) has fallen sharply, the price of writing DNA (DNA synthesis) currently remains prohibitively high for data storage. New companies like Gen 9 and Twist Bioscience have emerged with new methods that allow for cheaper, faster DNA synthesis.

However, greater cost reductions are needed in this regard in order to accelerate DNA data storage.


What needs to be done?

To make DNA data storage a commercial reality, we need to:

  • Develop new and better ways of translating digital information into biological information; ways that enable fast, accurate and cost-efficient retrieval of information.
  • Invent and advance new chemistries to enable cheap DNA synthesis.
  • Incorporate more automation in production workflows to achieve cost reductions.

Open questions

Because this field is very young, there are several open questions that have yet to be answered:

1. How do we design for security? Today, very little will stop a skilled, dedicated, and patient hacker from accessing and stealing confidential information. If we are going to design a new data storage system, it should be more secure than the current paradigm. We need to think seriously about designing for security from the outset.

2. What will the user interface look like? The user interface of a new technology often influences whether or not that technology will be adopted en masse. How we will interact with DNA data storage technology remains unanswered. In the future, will we all have DNA sequencers, DNA synthesizers, and algorithms that translate digital data into biological data in our phones, our homes, or our local community biohacker spaces? Or will these capacities be restricted to companies? In either scenario, how easily we can interact with DNA data storage technology might affect how quickly we adopt this technology.

3. How will the world receive this? Today, there are pressing debates about consumer privacy and biotechnology. In the wake of the Snowden revelations, many are paranoid our data is accessible without our permission. In addition, many are generally apathetic towards biotechnology. Perhaps there is an opportunity to create a world in which consumers can store some of their own data via DNA instead of using centralized data centers.

While some will welcome the transition from magnetic storage to DNA data storage, it is likely that others will be uneasy with this, citing their distrust of biotechnology as a reason. Considering many are unaware of the processes that currently store their information, should future consumers even be told that their information is stored in synthetic DNA? Or will consumers be indifferent about the storage medium?

People’s answers to these questions are likely to vary with their location in the world.

4. What kind of information do we want to store using DNA? Archival data that we would want to access less frequently, like messages we may want to pass to future generations of humans, or more frequently-accessed data like our selfies and Netflix movies?

The DNA-for-data-storage scene is quite nascent. Earlier this year, Helixworks announced a DNA data storage system that can be bought off Amazon. Their system can store up to 512 kB, which according to Helixworks is enough to “store a small photograph, a poem, a love-letter, a eulogy or a bitcoin wallet.” A number of groups have recently formed to attempt new solutions: Edinburgh’s 2016 Undergraduate iGEM team as well as Catalog, a new entrant in IndieBio’s fourth cohort of biotech startups in San Francisco.

As these groups continue to develop their technologies, we will start to get a clearer picture of their implementation strategies. Until then, it is too early to make predictions with certainty. [SingularityHub]

October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,
There’s Nothing Small About Small Businesses in the U.S. (Infographic)

20161018150356-gettyimages-508065449 Image credit: Hero Images | Getty Images



Since 2000, small businesses have been on the rise. But the space still has some catching up to do. 


Today, there are nearly 28.4 million small businesses in the U.S.

Accompanying this increasing number is their impact on the U.S. economy. In fact, small businesses account for nearly half of private-sector employment in the U.S. The small-business sector in America occupies 30 to 50 percent of all commercial space in the U.S. and accounts for more than half of U.S. sales.

Unfortunately, the small-business sector still has some catching up to do. Nearly two-thirds of small-business owners are men with average receipts of $570,000. The remaining female small-business owners have an average of $130,000 in receipts. Half of small-business owners are between the ages of 50 to 88.

To learn more about American small-business owners, check out Bryant Surety Bonds’ infographic below.




October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
5 Rules for Hiring Engineers



Great engineers are not a dime a dozen, and you can expect to dedicate plenty of time and resources into finding the right match for your company. In fact, one firm estimates that it takes upwards of 80 hours of recruiting time just to land one quality engineer for their business.

As the success of your business likely depends on these positions to execute critical ideas, here are five rules for interviewing and hiring top engineers.


1) Test for competencies vs. IQ

Few engineers make it into a top school if they don’t have the intelligence and talent for the work. Unfortunately, these aren’t necessarily indicators of success in the workplace.

In fact, one seven-year study on interviewing engineers confirms that the best predictors of on-the-job productivity for engineers lie in a set of nine core competencies.

These can be screened through behavior-based interviewing and include leadership, taking initiative, self-management, perspective, networking, teamwork, organizational savvy, followership, and show-and-tell.


2) Diversity in thought is overrated

Sometimes involving your current top engineers in the hiring process creates a winning formula. This was the overriding experience at PayPal, and with the extraordinary teams that Max Levchin, co-founder and CTO, was able to assemble.

In their process, hiring decisions had to be unanimous, and they had a unique philosophy on teamwork. While collaboration in small teams was considered important, Levchin wanted engineers with similar backgrounds and training to minimize disputes about minutiae and product vision.

While Levchin saw diversity in thought as valuable at later stages in a company’s life, speed and cohesiveness are much more important for startups.


3) Look outside the box for talent

Finding a quality engineer may involve much more than just placing an online ad for the position. In many areas, there is a shortage of engineers and one of your top sources of new leads may come from referrals.

Referrals could be external from platforms like LinkedIn or GitHub, or they may be internal from your existing employees.  Set up an easy to use system that makes talent referrals both simple and rewarding.


4) Cultivate a reputation for exclusivity

Whether you are a startup or an established firm, you’re likely competing with a host of other companies just like your own for top engineering talent.

The best engineers want to be challenged and feel as if they are battling for a place within a top company. One way to achieve this is by making your interviews and engineering positions as exclusive as possible.

Make it known that it is incredibly difficult to get hired by your company, with only the best coders being offered spots on a unique team. If engineers view you as a challenge, you’ll have more who are vying for positions in your company.


5) Talent and knowledge have their place

While we discussed the importance of competencies and behavior-based interviewing, it’s still pretty important that your engineers demonstrate that they can get the job done.

For example, when an engineer interviews at Google, they may have a unique and fun interview experience but, in the end, there will be a set of three coding questions that must be answered within 45 minutes.

Hiring the best engineers requires a time and resource commitment because landing top talent is more than just gaining a competitive advantage. In the end, the quality of your team will determine the ultimate success and survival of your company. [Alltopstartups]

October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
(When) Do Startups Need Lawyers?



I recently did an “Ask Me Anything” event here in Hong Kong with startups and portfolio companies at the invitation of Cocoon Ignite Ventures. We asked those attending to provide questions in advance. There was a strong theme in the responses. Here are some samples. Do startups need lawyers? Why do startups need lawyers? How can startups afford lawyers?


Do Startups Need Lawyers?

Sometimes. And I am not sitting on the fence. Let me explain.

Engaging a lawyer is a choice. There are few occasions when a company absolutely must engage a lawyer…and those probably involve a crime! Any other occasion is a choice made by the startup.

Startups do need legal support. But startups don’t necessarily need to engage lawyers for all the legal support they need. There are alternatives – self-help, hiring a lawyer to join the founder team, engaging alternative legal service providers, doing nothing. Startups need to understand the available choices, and make a risk and value based judgement. What is the best choice for the business at that stage? Can private practice lawyers service all the legal needs a startup has? Absolutely. Does a startup have an unlimited legal budget? Absolutely not. So where is the compromise?


When Do Startups Need Lawyers?

Startups need lawyers when lawyers provide the best, value-driven solution for specific problems the startup is facing. This will change from one startup to another. Here are some variables:

Company formation: In most cases, you don’t need a lawyer to set up a company, and it will be overkill to use one. One exception might be where founders and investors come together right at the start, and equity rights need to be sorted there and then. Another could be where advice is needed on the corporate structure or the place of incorporation. Even here, the advice can be separated from the execution of the task. A lawyer can advise on the corporate structure, and another (cheaper) service provider can set up the company.

IP creation: A startup must deal with IP. Whether a startup needs to engage a lawyer depends on two key questions. Is IP at the core of the business? Is that IP unique to the business? If the answer is yes to both, then engage a lawyer. If the answer is yes to one, then think very seriously about engaging a lawyer. Otherwise, it may not be necessary so long as the startup chooses one of the other alternatives for legal support.

Staff: This comes down to a value judgement. An employment agreement is hard to change, once agreed. But it’s not a difficult document. So is there value in having a good standard employment agreement? Yes. Is that the value a lawyer will charge? Debate. Here’s one situation where advice is useful. Most startups sensibly start with contractors, and not employees. Less admin and more flexibility. The agreement for a contractor is very different to an agreement with an employee. Getting it wrong will cause the startup problems later.

Founders: Do founders need lawyers to regulate how they operate among themselves? Not always, but sometimes. If one of the founders has the majority of the shares, then he has the control. The other founders might benefit from legal advice. It may not make too much difference … except to clarify and alleviate where the power lies. If the founders hold shares equally, then it comes down to trust. Can this wait for a first financing round? What if one of the founders leaves/stops contributing/dies/is a troublemaker before then? Can the founders, as a group of mature human beings, agree how to deal with these (and other) situations without something in black and white? If there is a moment’s hesitation on that, the founders should at least have a discussion with a lawyer, and then make a risk-based value judgement.

Regulation: What if the startup is a fintech startup disrupting business lines that are presently regulated? Then, run to lawyers, embrace them and pay them well.

Angel/seed funding: This is the first time when there is no doubt that startups need lawyers. Investors have a different agenda. Investment documents are technical. Lawyers understand them. Lawyers see a lot of them.


October 24, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
The next big renewable energy source could be at our feet
Flooring can be made from any number of sustainable materials, making it, generally, an eco-friendly feature in homes and businesses alike.

Now, flooring could be even more “green,” thanks to an inexpensive, simple method developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers that allows them to convert footsteps into usable electricity.

Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, his graduate student Chunhua Yao, and their collaborators published details of the advance in the journal Nano Energy.

The method puts to good use a common waste material: wood pulp. The pulp, which is already a common component of flooring, is partly made of cellulose nanofibers. They’re tiny fibers that, when chemically treated, produce an electrical charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers.

When the nanofibers are embedded within flooring, they’re able to produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries. And because wood pulp is a cheap, abundant and renewable waste product of several industries, flooring that incorporates the new technology could be as affordable as conventional materials.

While there are existing similar materials for harnessing footstep energy, they’re costly, nonrecyclable, and impractical at a large scale.

Wang’s research centers around using vibration to generate electricity. For years, he has been testing different materials in an effort to maximize the merits of a technology called a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG). Triboelectricity is the same phenomenon that produces static electricity on clothing. Chemically treated cellulose nanofibers are a simple, low-cost and effective alternative for harnessing this broadly existing mechanical energy source, Wang says.

The UW-Madison team’s advance is the latest in a green energy research field called “roadside energy harvesting” that could, in some settings, rival solar power – and it doesn’t depend on fair weather. Researchers like Wang who study roadside energy harvesting methods see the ground as holding great renewable energy potential well beyond its limited fossil fuel reserves.

“Roadside energy harvesting requires thinking about the places where there is abundant energy we could be harvesting,” Wang says. “We’ve been working a lot on harvesting energy from human activities. One way is to build something to put on people, and another way is to build something that has constant access to people. The ground is the most-used place.”

Heavy traffic floors in hallways and places like stadiums and malls that incorporate the technology could produce significant amounts of energy, Wang says. Each functional portion inside such flooring has two differently charged materials – including the cellulose nanofibers, and would be a millimeter or less thick. The floor could include several layers of the functional unit for higher energy output.

“So once we put these two materials together, electrons move from one to another based on their different electron affinity,” Wang says.

The electron transfer creates a charge imbalance that naturally wants to right itself but as the electrons return, they pass through an external circuit. The energy that process creates is the end result of TENGs.

Wang says the TENG technology could be easily incorporated into all kinds of flooring once it’s ready for the market. Wang is now optimizing the technology, and he hopes to build an educational prototype in a high-profile spot on the UW-Madison campus where he can demonstrate the concept. He already knows it would be cheap and durable.

“Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem,” Wang says. “We haven’t converted those numbers into year of life for a floor yet, but I think with appropriate design it can definitely outlast the floor itself.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

October 23, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,
WSU portable smartphone laboratory detects cancer


spectometer-device-webPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have developed a low-cost, portable laboratory on a smartphone that can analyze several samples at once to catch a cancer biomarker, producing lab quality results.

The research team, led by Lei Li, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, recently published the work in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics (

At a time when patients and medical professionals expect always faster results, researchers are trying to translate biodetection technologies used in laboratories to the field and clinic, so patients can get nearly instant diagnoses in a physician’s office, an ambulance or the emergency room.

Drawing of smartphone spectrometer device.

The WSU research team created an eight channel smartphone spectrometer that can detect human interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known biomarker for lung, prostate, liver, breast and epithelial cancers. A spectrometer analyzes the amount and type of chemicals in a sample by measuring the light spectrum.

Although smartphone spectrometers exist, they only monitor or measure a single sample at a time, making them inefficient for real world applications. Li’s multichannel spectrometer can measure up to eight different samples at once using a common test called ELISA, or colorimetric test enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, that identifies antibodies and color change as disease markers.

Although Li’s group has only used the smartphone spectrometer with standard lab-controlled samples, their device has been up to 99 percent accurate. The researchers are now applying their portable spectrometer in real world situations.

“With our eight channel spectrometer, we can put eight different samples to do the same test, or one sample in eight different wells to do eight different tests. This increases our device’s efficiency,” said Li, who has filed a provisional patent for the work.

“The spectrometer would be especially useful in clinics and hospitals that have a large number of samples without on-site labs, or for doctors who practice abroad or in remote areas,” he said. “They can’t carry a whole lab with them. They need a portable and efficient device.”

Li’s design works with an iPhone 5. He is creating an adjustable design that will be compatible with any smartphone.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and a WSU startup fund. It is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of sustaining health and its themes of healthy communities.

[Washington State University]

October 23, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Howard Rheingold: The new power of collaboration


Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.


Writer, artist and designer, theorist and community builder, Howard Rheingold is one of the driving minds behind our net-enabled, open, collaborative life.


Why you should listen

As Howard Rheingold himself puts it, “I fell into the computer realm from the typewriter dimension, then plugged my computer into my telephone and got sucked into the net.” A writer and designer, he was among the first wave of creative thinkers who saw, in computers and then in the Internet, a way to form powerful new communities.

His 2002 book Smart Mobs, which presaged Web 2.0 in predicting collaborative ventures like Wikipedia, was the outgrowth of decades spent studying and living life online. An early and active member of the Well (he wrote about it in The Virtual Community), he went on to cofound HotWired and Electric Minds, two groundbreaking web communities, in the mid-1990s. Now active in Second Life, he teaches, writes and consults on social networking. His latest passion: teaching and workshopping participatory media literacy, to make sure we all know how to read and make the new media that we’re all creating together.

October 23, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
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