In rDigital News: Google Now, smart thermometres, and cyborg cockroaches?

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This week, a variety of innovations both promised new possibilities and simultaneously raised new concerns. We’re increasingly capable of self-diagnosing medical problems, having useful information presented quickly by intelligent computer platforms like Google Now and…remote-controlling cockroaches?

Here is our weekly rDigital News roundup of this week’s highlights:

Google Now expands to iOS 

Tired of having to actually type in your search requests? Well, Apple users, Google Now is here to ease your burden.

google now on nexus 7
Google Now running on a Nexus 7 (Photo by Wikimedia user “Logan”)

By identifying your location, scanning your emails, and accumulating information through your Google Account, the service offers “cards” underneath the traditional search bar offering information on local restaurants and attractions, the weather, directions to your next meeting, scores for your favourite sports teams, stock updates and more.

But how much should our computers be holding our hands? Shouldn’t we still have some agency over the information we need and acquire? Is it really best that we have to put in as little effort as possible?

Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer talked to rdigitaLIFE about her theory of mindfulness, and the importance of being engaged for one’s overall well-being. She talks about how “people who are used to taking direction without thinking” stay mindless through the use of mobile technology.

At the same time, how much information are we willing to give up about ourselves in the pursuit of extreme convenience? Should a major multinational company like Google really know where we are, what we’re doing, and even what we want?

Avner Levin of Ryerson University’s Privacy & Cyber Crime Institute says that offering up this information is rapidly deteriorating our privacy and the concept of private space. If we’re constantly being watched by companies like Google, then “the big fear is… that there isn’t going to be any kind of private space that I can say, ‘That’s my personal space that nobody can intrude on,'” as he told Ramona Pringle in his interview.

So while Google Now certainly offers even greater convenience than traditional searches, it’s worth questioning how much we allow our devices to do all the work for us.

The Kinsa Smart Thermometer
The Kinsa Smart Thermometer

Playing doctor with the Kinsa Smart Thermometer

Until recently, when a child became sick, all a parent could do was take their temperature, and if it was high, drag them, kicking and screaming, to the doctor. But with increasingly accurate self-diagnosis tools online and at home, the burden of frequent visits to the clinic is reduced.

The Kinsa Smart Thermometer, recently launched by a New York-based health tech start-up, is an attachment that plugs into the headphone jack of an iPhone and displays temperature. Beyond that, however, it can offer advice for treatment, call and book doctor’s appointments, and help track health trends of patients.

It’s another step towards making health care easier and more accessible through modern technology.

Peter Adams, a Toronto-based executive in health technology, told rdigitaLIFE that self-diagnosis encourages people to take their health into their own hands. “That takes away the stigma of being frightened of going to the doctor or even frightened of the results,” he says.

So apparently we’re building cyborg cockroaches now.

As if we didn’t already have enough problems, robot cockroaches are now a thing. Oh, science, you just don’t know when to say when, do you?

All kidding aside, the roaches are a product of North Carolina State’s iBionics Laboratory, and the researchers behind the project believe the robo-bugs could be used to search for survivors of collapsed buildings and other disasters.

The tough, quick insects can be outfitted with small cameras – much like “Eyeborg” Rob Spence‘s prosthetic eye – and controlled using electrodes attached to their antennae. While it’s hard to know whether the cybugs will ever be more than an interesting experiment, they’re certainly an interesting example of the merging of technology with organic life, something explored in rdigitaLIFE’s Robot Evolution.

 

By Andrew Evans

 

 

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