Target Health Inc. makes software used in clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry. Because we’re keenly aware of the time saved, of fewer mistakes made when data is collected electronically and of the cost effectiveness (ROI) of electronic solutions…because of all this, we watch and read about computerized systems and how they are taking over much of the work formerly done by humans  around the world, and we wonder what the outcome will be.  At the rate things are going, by the end of this century, life as humans have known it for thousands of years, will be hard to recognize.

First, IBM’s Big Blue beat the world’s best human chess player.  Just last Spring, IBM’s robot Watson beat the world’s two best Jeopardy players.  And, now IBM has created a physician’s assistant bot. And, this past weekend, your Target Health bloggers viewed at PILOBOLUS, fascinating choreography of a dancer interacting with two MIT Media Lab robots. Again, you could say that Robots Stole the Show.  Sorry that the following video is not better quality.  The two posted here, are all we could find.






What can they not do?  Robots have insinuated themselves into human culture seemingly effortlessly but humans cannot remain passive or our species could be overshadowed.

Humans are going to have to make a great effort to understand, jump ahead of and stay well informed of electronic systems and robotic science, through better, more and advanced education.   For sure, education must become an ongoing way of life like breathing and sleeping.  Never again, will one’s formal education be over.  Learning will be a continual process throughout life.  We also anticipate that humans will enhance their brainpower through genomics, through approved drugs and devices (think micro-biochips), through exercise and meditation.  We see a new world where humans and robots are as symbiotic as flowers and bees.  Each needs the other to survive.  And, btw, the real outsourcing of cheap labor is not to other ethnic groups, wake up, it’s to computerized systems………to robots..

Target Health Inc. participates in TED events and in particular, TEDMED.  One of these days, we’ll tell you about our evening at the awesome library of TEDMED owner, and prolific inventor, Jay Walker, also the creator of PriceLine.  We told Jay that the only thing not present in his three-tier library was a life-size hologram.  We’re looking forward to the day, Jay will inject one of his TEDMED events with a life-size hologram.

Take a look below, as a Robotic Bird Wows one of the TED audiences. By Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.



TED Talk Audience Wowed as Robotic Bird Takes Flight
 Plenty of robots can fly — but none can fly like a real bird. That is, until Markus Fischer and his team at Festo built SmartBird, a large, lightweight robot, modeled on a seagull, that flies by flapping its wings. A soaring demo fresh from TEDGlobal 2011.

It was one of those TED talks that the audience is sure to remember – except, it’s not the talk that they’ll remember. In another testament to better engineering through mimicking biology, Festo’s SmartBird looked like the real thing as it flew above the upturned and amazed faces of the TED audience.

The SmartBird is part of the Bionic Learning Network, a collaboration between Festo, academic institutions and companies to incorporate biological principles into technology. Inspired by the seagull, the SmartBird’s lightweight wings twist as they beat up and down, maximizing efficiency of the simple drive system that powers the wings. And its automated guidance – random but avoiding collisions – makes the SmartBird seem as though it’s really got a mind of its own. You almost want to toss it a French fry.

Festo has wowed us before with robotics inspired by the animal kingdom. They’re elephant trunk-like grasping arm, flying penguins, and floating jellyfish bots are all sights to behold. Like the SmartBird, the likeness to nature is both impressive and beautiful. It’s only a matter of time before the technology behind Festo’s robotic zoo will be put to more practical uses than just jaw-dropping demonstrations. But for the time being, shows like the flight of the SmartBird will do just fine.

video: Festo



Kevin Slavin argues that we’re living in a world designed for — and increasingly controlled by — algorithms. In this riveting talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how these complex computer programs determine: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture. And he warns that we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control.


Kevin Slavin

Chairman and co-Founder



Kevin Slavin is the Chairman and co-Founder of Area/Code. Founded in 2005, Area/Code creates cross-media games and entertainment for clients including Nokia, CBS, Disney Imagineering, MTV, Discovery Networks, A&E Networks, Nike, Puma, EA, the UK’s Department for Transport, and Busch Entertainment.

Area/Code builds on the landscape of pervasive technologies and overlapping media to create new kinds of entertainment. They have built mobile games with invisible characters that move through real-world spaces, online games synchronized to live television broadcasts, and videogames in which virtual sharks are controlled by real-world sharks with GPS receivers stapled to their fins. Their Facebook game “Parking Wars” served over 1 billion pages in 2008.

Before founding Area/Code, Slavin spent over 10 years in ad agencies including DDB, TBWA\Chiat\Day and SS+K, focused primarily on technology, networks, and community. His work has been recognized through many industry awards and press.

Area/Code’s work has received awards from the Clios, the One Club, Creativity, and many others, and the co-founders were recently named to the Creativity 50 and the Gamasutra 20. Slavin has spoken at the BBC, Ad Age, 5D, MoMA, the Van Alen Institute, the Guardian, DLD, the Cooper Union, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and NBC, and together with Adam Greenfield he teaches Urban Computing at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. His work has been exhibited internationally, including the Design Museum of London and the Frankfurt Museum fuer Moderne Kunst., August 1, 2011, by Aaron Saenz  —  PayPal’s Scott Thompson caused a bit of stir earlier this month by predicting the death of his competitors. Well, sort of. Thompson, both in a blog post and a video to his employees (see below), said that PayPal believes wallets will no longer be needed in the US by 2015. The prediction followed on the heels of an announcement that the alternative payment company had reached more than 10 million active accounts. PayPal’s users currently complete up to $10 million in transactions each day, with more than $300 billion expected to travel through their hands in 2011. They’re hoping to reach $7.5 billion via mobile apps by the end of 2013. Along with competition from Google, major credit card companies, and independent smart phone apps, PayPal’s growth is a sure sign that digital payments are going to play a major role in the future of money, but will we really ditch our wallets by 2015?

“…We believe that by 2015 digital currency will be accepted everywhere in the U.S. – from your local corner store to Walmart. We will no longer need to carry a wallet.”
—Scott Thompson on the PayPal Blog

Can you really live on digital payments alone? Five San Francisco Bay Area PayPal employees are already giving it a try this summer, looking to buy everything with only PayPal for a solid week. At a recent event in San Jose, Thompson sent the following video discussing the prediction of a wallet-less America in 2015, and the five employee test trial. I’m sure we’ll hear more, and probably see a few more videos in the near future:



Okay, in the Bay Area it may be possible to live without a wallet, but that’s definitely not the case elsewhere in the US and the world. Even if it were, would we want to give up on plastic credit cards and cash? If we’re talking about online sales, the answer is a firm ‘maybe’. A recent report from Javelin highlighted some of the trends in digital payments. Online alternative transactions (those not using credit card numbers) rose from approximately $34 billion in 2009 to almost $43 billion in 2010, and is predicted to reach $86.6 billion by 2015. 46% of online consumers have used an alternative payment within the past year, with 36% giving “greater protection from fraud or other misuse of my information” as a primary reason. Most telling for PayPal, 91% of online consumers have used their service, while just 24% have used Checkout by Amazon and 9% Google Checkout. There’s little doubt that PayPal has made massive inroads for online purchases and is a force to be reckoned with.

The real issue isn’t online, however, it’s the real world. There, the battle is likely to focus around mobile phones. Current mobile payment platforms are limited, and sometimes awkward to use correctly, but they are still gaining in popularity (for instance, StarBucks will take mobile payments via a barcode on your smart phone at nearly 7000 of their locations). PayPal mobile (see the video below) is already aimed to improve the methods for transactions, with similar competition coming from Google Wallet, Visa, and a few others.




The big innovation is likely to be NFC. Near field communication will allow you to send information quickly to any reading device simply by tapping your phone against it. This could turn your mobile into a one-touch payment center. While NFC tech is still very limited in the US, it’s big in Europe, and we’ve seen it successfully used in a range of applications, including replacing hotel keys. As NFC filters into the US, digital payments will undoubtedly follow, and there’s bound to be tons of money to be made. The following amazing infographic from gives some of the key figures in the discussion on NFC transactions, predicting that 2015 will see $670 billion in mobile payments:






I’ve little doubt that online and mobile payments are eventually going to claim a majority of transactions in the US, and probably the world. What I doubt about Thompson’s prediction, however, is that such digital currency will be universally accepted. Credit card companies, PayPal, and everyone else that facilitates transactions, charge fees for their service. Often that fee is imposed on the vendor, who inevitably has to pass the cost on to the consumer. I live in the Bay Area, Thompson’s digital payment utopia, and I go to many venues that hate receiving credit card payments. Most will have minimum purchases or a transaction fee to help offset the money they have to share with credit card companies. Some businesses will give consumers a discount when they pay in cash. The next time you buy something from a small vendor, ask about their fees, I’m sure they’ll share their woes about digital payments. These transactions may make life quicker and easier for consumers, and in extension, better for some retailers, but the associated costs will always guarantee that there will be some people who simply don’t want to have to deal with them. We are not going to be able to drop our wallets by 2015.

The true future of money is going to be mixed, and thankfully so. Cash perhaps will never die, there’s simply too many people that enjoy the ease (and discretion) of a physical currency. Plastic credit cards may be passé, but they work well, are relatively quick to use, and give us a physical object to associate with our wealth (don’t ignore the psychological importance of being able to hold your money.) New companies like Square are breathing new life into plastic credit cards by allowing them to be used almost anywhere (Square is currently valued around $1.6 billion, btw). NFC and mobile may push these traditional forms of payments down to lower levels than they’ve ever been before, but they’ll still be around. Just ask checks – they account for a very small number of transactions these days, but billions of dollars still passes around via these hand written notes on paper.

What’s more exciting than predicting the death of physical currency is contemplating what changes may arise with the prominence of digital payments. Visa, Amex, and Mastercard all charge varying rates with their vendors, but I know that Square has a flat level of 2.75%. That’s pretty high. What happens when PayPal, Google Wallet, and other digital pioneers come in and offer vendors a discount to switch to their payment method? Hopefully much lower rates across the board. More money may stay in the hands of retailers (and thus their consumers) and many more small companies will be able to handle the lower overhead of digital payments, helping them sell their wares more easily (and perhaps globally as well).

Another big possible innovation that is already upon us is non-government currency. I mean, if the majority of your transactions are just ones and zeros, does it matter if you call the money ‘dollars’ or ‘Euros’ or something else entirely? Video games have been doing this for a while – Second Life has its Lindens, Entropia has PED, and World of Warcraft has gold and numerous other commodities. Facebook has a point system that can translate into goods, and I’m sure we’ll see the same in other social networks. Now, with the rise of digital payments we could see some of the disasters and lessons learned from video game currencies make an impact on the true global economy. We’ve discussed Bitcoin, which is an entirely new digital currency that can be exchanged into other traditional government backed currencies. As we move more of our payments out of the physical world it may allow us to experiment with who ‘prints’ money, and that’s an exciting (if risky) prospect.

When 2015 comes around, I’m still going to be holding on to my wallet, but I do think Scott Thompson got something right: money is evolving, and digital payments are going to speed up that process. Four years is too soon for us to give up on cash, credit cards, and the rest, but it may happen farther down the line. In the meantime, as new forms of payments arise their advantages will change the way we spend money. It might improve our lives…or who knows, maybe even save them:



Pool makes chess and Jeopardy look like child’s play. All the more reason to develop new technologies — and further humiliate the human race — by tackling this unique computational challenge

MIT Technology Review, July/August 2011, by Christopher Mims  —  Once a year, at the International Computer Olympiad, teams pit their AI software against others’ in a variety of nerd-appropriate sports: chess, go, backgammon, etc. Since 2005, however, the ICO has also included computer simulations of billiards.

Pool is a hard game for computers to play because it’s not just about sinking balls — it’s also about setting up the table to your opponent’s disadvantage. Throw in opportunities to sink more than one ball at a time and the literally infinite number of shots that can be taken in every turn, and you’ve got a gigantic parameter space for a computer to chew on.

And that’s before you get to the problem of translating the computer simulations of pool to the real world. Right now there are a handful of robots capable of playing the game, most notably Deep Green of Queen’s University, which is an industrial robot.

Warning, the following video has unnecessarily loud, pounding music:




But back to the world of virtual pool: in this realm, advances are being made all the time, in hopes of creating a pool AI so powerful that it can some day be paired with a physics simulator and robot capable of beating the world’s best human players.

The latest development, while modest, allows a pool-playing AI to better optimize its shots for both pocketing extra balls and breaking clusters of them. Researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke, in Quebec, are tuning their AI’s decision-making model to take multiple factors into account when planning its shots, since pool is about strategy as much as skill.

Part of the value of attacking this problem is that it’s so distinct from other models problems in computer science and artificial intelligence, such as Chess. In Chess, all the options available to a player are discrete — there are only so many pieces that can be moved, in a prescribed number of ways, at any given moment.

Pool, on the other hand “features a unique combination of properties that distinguish it from others such games, including continuous action and state spaces, uncertainty in execution, a unique turn-taking structure, and of course an adversarial nature.” That’s a quote from Computational Pool: A new challenge for game theory pragmatics (pdf), which announces the next tournament for virtual pool, to be held in August 2011.

Interestingly, this competition will attempt to simulate what it would be like for these virtual pool players to have their models translated into real-world pool by robots: “The championships will feature separate competitions at different noise levels, allowing for innovation and new ideas, since new strategies may be most effective at the new noise levels.”



Students who program robots are more likely to stick with their computer science curriculum


MIT Technology Review, by Christopher Mims  —  The long-term trend for interest in computer science at the university level is relatively bleak. As the graph above makes apparent, interest has declined precipitously since the 2001 bursting of the dot-com bubble, leading to something of an existential crisis in the field of computer science instruction.

The latest survey on the subject, which charts 2007-08 data, showed a widely-reported up-tick in enrollment of 8 percent, which is great for a year-on-year change, but neglects the long-term trend.

One has to wonder whether it’s the very ubiquity of computers that has made them uninteresting to students–note the spike of interest in the early 80’s, when the advent of personal computers slaked a pent-up demand for access to the instruments that everyone believed would define the future.

Robots, in contrast, are still rare in our everyday lives–plus, they’re the furthest thing from remote and abstract. So goes the reasoning behind a new effort to get them into classrooms, described earlier this month in a paper by Tom Lauwers and Illah Nourbakhsh, in which they unveiled the Finch.




The Finch is cheap, simple and avoids the major complexifying factor most previous efforts to add robots to computer science have encountered: namely, robots break, and debugging physical objects is a headache students don’t need.

The results were profound: retention rates for the 2009 computer science classes in which the Finch was used (shown below, in red) increased by 25 percent.




And why not? The Finch sounds like exactly the kind of Maker project everyone’s inner geek cries out for:

The Finch can express motion through a differential drive system, light through a color- programmable LED, and sound through a beeper and using computer speakers. Similarly, it can sense light levels through two photoresistors, temperature through a thermistor, distance traveled through two wheel encoders, obstacles placed in front of it, and its orientation in three dimensional space through an accelerometer […] In addition to these hardware-based capabilities, the accompanying software allows students to easily have the Finch speak or play songs over computer speakers, read real-time data from internet RSS feeds, and react to video from computer webcams.