AI Talk: Invisibility cloak, virtual visits and elder care, Google launchpad

May 31st, 2019 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…

Alexa, remote monitoring and virtual visits

This Fortune article is about new trends in health care—remote monitoring and virtual visits. Alexa can now transmit patient data! Using this new skill, thanks to a company called Livongo, diabetes patients can query for their blood sugar readings and receive “nudges” to help them stay on track with their diet and exercise. This kind of remote monitoring is garnering a whole lot of investor interest. Virtual visits are becoming increasingly common. However, the author notes that when a 10-minute telephone call to clarify whether her son had some infection resulted in a $235 bill, the writing on the wall is clear. Tele-visits and remote monitoring can be a force for good, or a force for investor greed. Let’s hope it is the former and not the latter!

Focus on elderly and disabled

This article in AI in Healthcare magazine is a summary of a workshop which focused on AI applications for older adults and people with disabilities. One of the topics discussed is “mobility and aging in place.” Virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home can control lighting and heating, but what about helping people who have hearing and visual impairments? Multi-modal interfaces are needed for them. Laws and policies are another area of discussion. Google Glass raised a lot of privacy concerns when introduced, however, it can serve a useful purpose guiding the visually impaired. This article goes on to explore an interesting range of topics from supporting autonomy at home and managing chronic conditions to social interactions in virtual communities leading to physical social isolation. Technology literacy is also a major concern in this community. Turns out there is a company focused on identifying technologies for the elderly—LeadingAge.

Google outreach

This Google blog post caught my attention, as it happens to be about an Indian company, Wadhwani AI, where my friend and classmate is the CEO, and I used to work for the founder a long time ago. Wadhwani AI has the laudable goal of applying AI for Social Good. Where does the Google outreach come in? This company has won funding from Google’s Launchpad Accelerator program which also includes access to specialized expertise in machine learning (ML). With this funding, researchers in Wadhwani AI are rolling out an ML app on smartphones which helps farmers assess the status of pest infestation on their crops. This is a problem not just for farmers in India, but in practically all agricultural belts across the world!

Invisibility Cloak

Invisibility cloak? Yes, that is the topic of an article in MIT Technology Review (9). The article is about the shape of Roman amphitheaters which, even after a few thousand years, have survived largely intact despite being in earthquake zones! Apparently, this is due to their shape. Researchers in Aix-Marseille University in Southern France have been studying structure survivability in seismic events. They have found that certain structures have a property of deflecting seismic waves around them instead of through them. Circular structures like amphitheaters deflect the waves, giving those structures an invisible cloak – it is as though they did not exist to the seismic waves! Obviously, this discovery will impact the design of structures in earthquake zones – particularly skyscrapers.

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Vice President of Research for M*Modal, with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.