Data-driven neuroscience

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Bradley Voytek on data's role in neuroscience, the brain scanner, and zombie brains in STEM.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Bradley Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science and neuroscience at UC San Diego. Voytek talks about using data-driven approaches in his neuroscience work, the brain scanner project, and applying cognitive neuroscience to the zombie brain.

Here are a few snippets from their chat:

In the neurosciences, we’ve got something like three million peer reviewed publications to go through. When I was working on my Ph.D., I was very interested, in particular, in two brain regions. I wanted to know how these two brain regions connect, what are the inputs to them and where do they output to. In my naivety as a Ph.D. student, I had assumed there would be some sort of nice 3D visualization, where I could click on a brain region and see all of its inputs and outputs. Such a thing did not exist — still doesn’t, really. So instead, I ended up spending three or four months of my Ph.D. combing through papers written in the 1970s … and I kept thinking to myself, this is ridiculous, and this just stewed in the back of my mind for a really long time.

Sitting at home [with my wife], I said, I think I’ve figured out how to address this problem I’m working on, which is basically very simple text mining. Lets just scrape the text of these three million papers, or at least the titles and abstracts, and see what words co-occur frequently together. It was very rudimentary text mining, with the idea that if words co-occur frequently … this might give us an index of how related things are, and she challenged me to a code-off.

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Design is how users feel when experiencing products

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Cindy Alvarez on emotion, user research, and why Craigslist is great design.

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Oberon,_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786In this week’s Design Podcast episode, I sit down with Cindy Alvarez, a designer at Microsoft, author of Lean Customer Development, and member of our program committee for O’Reilly’s first design conference.

Alvarez talks about how design is changing, how the approach to design at Microsoft is changing, and user research misperceptions and challenges. She also offers advice to those who are insisting all designers should code.

Here are a few highlights from our chat:

Steve Jobs has said that, “Design is not how it looks, it’s how it works.” I would go one step further and say, “Design is how you work.” When you’re using something, how do you feel … How are you feeling more capable — do you feel smarter? Do you feel stronger? Do you feel stupider? Design is how you feel when you are using things or having experiences.

The ‘butt-brush’ effect comes from the wonderful Paco Underhill book Why We Buy. … Specifically, the butt-brush phenomenon is people looking at products that they really wanted to buy, but the store layout made it so people were bumping into them. That was such a strong push to get them to abandon what they were doing … that they’d just get up and walk away. He theorized about people feeling vulnerable, and undoubtedly there’s some sort of evolutionary thing about woolly mammoths sneaking up on us or something. I think it’s just, on a more base level, people feel clumsy. They feel fat, they feel clumsy and awkward, and we don’t like that at all.

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Cultivate in Portland: Leadership, values, diversity

Building the next generation of leaders, for any size organization.

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Register now for Cultivate NY, which will be co-located with Strata + Hadoop World NY, September 28 and 29, 2015.

At our recent Cultivate event in Portland, O’Reilly and our partnering sponsor New Relic brought together 10 speakers and more than 100 attendees to learn about corporate culture and leadership. Three themes emerged: diversity, values, and leading through humility.

Almost every speaker talked about the importance of diversity in the workplace. That’s important at a time when “maintaining corporate culture” often means building a group that’s reminiscent of a college frat house. It’s well established that diverse groups, groups that include different kinds of people, different experiences, and different ways of thinking, perform better. As Michael Lopp said at the event, “Diversity is a no-brainer.” We’re not aiming for tribal uniformity, but as Mary Yoko Brannen noted at the outset, sharing knowledge across different groups with different expectations. No organization can afford to remain monochromatic, but in a diverse organization, you have to be aware of how others differ. In particular, Karla Monterroso showed us that you need to realize when — and why — others feel threatened. When you do, you are in a much better position to build better products, to respond to changes in your market, and to use the talent in your organization effectively. Read more…

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Harmonizing the four factors that regulate our society

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Cory Doctorow on his work with the EFF, reforming the DMCA, and better IoT business models.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast, I sit down with science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger, Cory Doctorow. We talk about pitfalls in the Internet of Things and his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), including work to reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — the source of many of those IoT pitfalls. Doctorow also talks about why we should treat human beings as things that are good at sensing as opposed to things that need to be sensed.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation:

In the absence of any other confounding factors, obnoxious stuff that vendors do tends to self-correct, but there’s an important confounding factor, which is that in 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In order to try and contain unauthorized copying, they made it a felony to break a lock that protects access to a copyrighted work or to tell people information that they could use to break that lock.

I’m way more worried about the fact that the [DMCA] law also criminalizes disclosing information about vulnerabilities in these systems.

Lawrence Lessig, who was on our board for many years and is a great friend and fellow of Electronic Frontier Foundation, talks about how there are four factors that regulate our society. There’s code, what’s technologically possible. There is law, what’s allowed. There’s norms, what’s socially acceptable. And then there are markets, what’s profitable. In many cases, the right thing is profitable and also socially acceptable and legal and also technologically possible. Every now and again you run up against areas where one or more of those factors just aren’t in harmony.

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Pattern recognition and sports data

The O'Reilly Data Show Podcast: Award-winning journalist David Epstein on the (data) science of sports.

Sign-up now to receive a free download of the new O’Reilly report “Data Analytics in Sports: How Playing with Data Transforms the Game” when it publishes this fall.

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Julien Vervaecke and Maurice Geldhof smoking a cigarette at the 1927 Tour de France. Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite books from the last few years is David Epstein’s engaging tour through sports science using examples and stories from a wide variety of athletic endeavors. Epstein draws on examples from individual sports (including track and field, winter sports) and major U.S. team sports (baseball, basketball, and American football), and uses the latest research to explain how data and science are being used to improve athletic performance.

In a recent episode of the O’Reilly Data Show Podcast, I spoke with Epstein about his book, data science and sports, and his recent series of articles detailing suspicious practices at one of the world’s premier track and field training programs (the Oregon Project).

Nature/nurture and hardware/software

Epstein’s book contains examples of sports where athletes with certain physical attributes start off with an advantage. In relation to that, we discussed feature selection and feature engineering — the relative importance of factors like training methods, technique, genes, equipment, and diet — topics which Epstein has written about and studied extensively:

One of the most important findings in sports genetics is that your ability to improve with respect to a certain training program is mediated by your genes, so it’s really important to find the kind of training program that’s best tailored to your physiology. … The skills it takes for team sports, these perceptual skills, nobody is born with those. Those are completely software, to use the computer analogy. But it turns out that once the software is downloaded, it’s like a computer. While your hardware doesn’t do anything alone without software, once you’ve got the software, the hardware actually makes a lot of a difference in how good of an operating machine you have. It can be obscured when people don’t study it correctly, which is why I took on some of the 10,000 hours stuff. Read more…

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Designing beyond screens to augment the full human sensorium

A new reality is coming that will forever change the way we engage with our surroundings.

Register now for Solid Amsterdam, our conference exploring the intersections of manufacturing, design, hardware, software, and business strategy. The event will take place in Amsterdam on October 28, 2015.

640px-Medieval_bakerVirtual Reality (VR) strives to recreate the physical world in a virtual one. Augmented Reality (AR), on the other hand, can bring the digital into the physical world to create a hybrid reality. AR offers new ways of applying technology to immerse ourselves in our physical reality (rather than being removed from it), and even enhance it.

Interacting with screens is a big part of our everyday modern reality. We spend a great amount of time engaging with our world and each other through two-dimensional screens, whether via a smartphone, tablet, or computer. The world we live in, however, is three-dimensional and not flat: it is physical and involves the use of multiple senses. AR presents the opportunity to design beyond the screens we use today and create new experiences that better embody the full human sensorium.

In my last Radar article, I looked at how AR, wearable tech, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are augmenting the human experience. I highlighted how computer vision and new types of sensors are being combined to change the way we interact with and understand our surroundings. Here, I’ll look at how this can be extended by integrating the human senses beyond the visual — such as touch, taste, and smell — to further augment our reality. Read more…

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