August 19, 2016

Tech Advances from Artificial Neurons to Self-Driving Ubers

By Chelsea Follett
DNA Database Offers Disease Insights  

A giant DNA database that pulled data from over 60,000 people from diverse parts of the world is helping scientists pinpoint the causes of disease. Analyzing the huge amount of DNA allowed an international team of researchers to newly identify 3,000 genes that may cause disease. They were also able to conclude that 160 genetic mutations previously thought to be connected to disease are in fact harmless. The researchers focused on a number of different diseases ranging from muscular dystrophy  and cystic fibrosis to some types of heart disease.  

Self-Driving Uber Fleet Arriving in Pittsburgh  

This month, the ride-sharing company Uber will unleash a new fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To persuade customers to give the new service a try, whenever a passenger opts for a self-driving vehicle using the Uber smart-phone app, the ride will be free. All of the self-driving vehicles will have human back-up drivers present behind the wheel just in case they are needed. If all goes well in Pittsburgh, Uber hopes to one day extend the new self-driving car service to other parts of the country.  

Manmade Neurons Bring Artificial Intelligence Closer  

Tech company IBM made a breakthrough earlier this month in Zurich: a complete, fully functional, artificial neuron. Neurons are the cells responsible for much of the action in the human brain. They recognize patterns, send electric signals to other neurons and form connections. They are not perfectly predictable, and that slight degree of randomness actually makes them better at some tasks than computers. The researchers plan to link up a bunch of artificial neurons into a network like the one in the human brain. Studying artificial neurons could help researchers gain a fuller understanding of how the brain works. Artificial neurons could also help researchers one day develop human-like artificial intelligence.

Biometric Payments Could Be the Future

Everything you ever wanted to buy could soon be a literal finger’s tap away. A Japanese biometric startup, Liquid Inc. is introducing a mobile fingerprint-payment system. This would allow businesses to use fingerprints to both authorize and access customers’ financial data without the need of a credit card. A few businesses in Japan have already implemented Liquid Inc.’s system. Skeptics of the new system doubt that it can match the speed and accuracy of credit cards or other mobile payments, however others hope it will be common by the 2020 Olympic games.