TIME Innovation

Why Liberal Arts Majors Could Make Better Doctors

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. One medical school believes liberal arts majors — not pre-med students — can make better doctors.

By Julie Rovner in Kaiser Health News

2. Can we finally treat food workers fairly?

By Mark Bittman in the New York Times

3. There’s a way to stop data breaches before millions of records are compromised.

By Robert Lemos in MIT Technology Review

4. Let’s start an all-girl maker movement.

By Angi Chau at EdSurge

5. Skip the air conditioner and cool your house with a self-chilling roof.

By Mary Beth Griggs in Popular Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Meet the Chatty Robot Who Wants to Outsmart Every Other Toy

Musio, a $599 prototype, is only the latest contender for smartest toy in the playpen

Musio the talking robot was standing on a lunch table at Manhattan’s original Shake Shack, unable to talk. The toy robot needs a Wi-Fi connection to access its language cortex. But even in this muted state, the stubby-legged robot with animated eyes drew curious glances from passersby. “I think it’s because Musio’s eyes blink,” says Celina Lee, a business development director for Musio’s manufacturer. “People definitely know it’s not a random toy.”

Musio is a prototype from a Santa Monica-based startup called AKA. Its roughly 37 employees, split between the U.S. and South Korea, are rushing to bring what the company calls the first “truly” intelligent toy to market within the next year. To that end, AKA has launched a $50,000 crowdsourcing campaign, a modest addition to the $5 million AKA has already secured from venture capital firms. The fact is, with or without your crowdsourced support, Musio is destined to launch into a booming market for smart toys.

An estimated 72 million children worldwide want their toys electronically enhanced, according to industry research from Interpret. When a toy maker hits that perfect blend of cute and smarts, demand can flare out to even greater numbers. The smash success of Tamagotchi pets in the mid-90’s led to sales of more than 76 million devices worldwide. To this day, the phrase “Tamagotchi effect” is used to describe the unusually strong brew of emotions that a “smart” toy can stir up in its owner.

At the bleeding edge of this trend are toys that can hold a true conversation. Breakthroughs in speech recognition and machine learning, first popularized by Apple’s Siri, are now being recast into the cutest possible packaging.

Musio isn’t the first modern talking toy on the block. Mattel debuted the first chat-friendly Barbie at the New York Toy Fair last February. Google recently filed a patent on a teddy bear that trains its plastic eyes and furry ears on its owner. And IBM’s Watson supercomputer has just been transplanted into a talking plastic dinosaur. In short, Musio will face stiff competition for smartest toy in the playpen.

Last week, Musio embarked on a 15 hour flight from Seoul to New York to perform its first public demonstrations to the press. “We’re worried that Musio is a little bit tired because he’s excited to meet you and didn’t get much sleep,” said Lee, as her colleagues unboxed Musio on a nearby conference table. Musio’s animated eyelids flicked open. Jacob Bradsher, AKA’s resident linguist, asked, “How are you?”

“Okay, Jacob,” Musio responded, recognizing Bradsher’s voice. That personal touch is Musio’s hallmark. Its built-in memory bank can store up to 64GB of personal information about its owner.

“My Musio will get to know me better, because it will remember some of the prior conversations that we had,” says Lee. As a result, she explains, no two Musio’s are alike. “Your Musio can become your friend. My Musio can become my friend.”

Key words trigger a memory, of sorts. Bradsher’s Musio, for instance, seized on the phrase “I’m hungry” to give a personalized restaurant recommendation. “Let’s go to Shake Shack,” Musio said, “You said you want to try it in New York.”

It was an intriguing demonstration of how Musio can simulate intimacy by tracing connections to previous conversations. “Siri is only able to answer the two previous sentences,” says Dr. Junho Shin, AKA’s machine learning specialist. “But we try to implement technologies that can understand the whole context of conversation, not just based on the previous questions.”

Musio was not yet up to the task of taking questions from a reporter, however, indicating that its language engine still has a ways to go. Musio was originally conceived as an English language tutor for students in Asia, where rigorous examination systems have spawned a lucrative industry for private tutors. Musio, with a starting price of $159 for the “simple” model and topping out at $599 for a “genius” version, would offer lessons at a steep discount, and the toy still has big implications for classroom learning.

But as Musio developed a gift for gab, it dawned on the AKA team that the robot could have wider applications beyond stressed students. “We didn’t think that the market should just be restricted to Asia,” says Lee. “We thought, ‘Oh, there’s a market for people who want a friend, right?”

To carry on a friendly chat, Musio taps into a distant stack of servers, where a technology known as “deep neural networks” scans sentences by the tens of thousands, teasing out relationships between words. AKA’s Bradsher was pulled from his job as an English teacher in South Korea to train the system.

“We’re literally endlessly breaking down the same paragraphs over and over again: This is a verb gerund. This is an introduction. Typically it would go here,” says Bradsher.

And when the language engine sputters, Musio can always rely on a joke to keep the conversation flowing. “Initially our goal should be maybe to give them fun, rather than just complete sentences and the perfect response,” Shin says.

True to form, Musio introduces himself with a crowdpleaser. “I can talk, tell a joke and communicate with other things,” Musio says, pausing with a comic’s timing before adding, “Wait I can do this too.” He then lets out a flatulent sound for a solid 2 seconds, because kids may want a “smart” toy, but never at the expense of fun.

TIME Innovation

Why Google’s New Unlimited Photo Storage Is Free

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Use Google’s new unlimited photo storage and you — and your data — are the real product.

By Natasha Lomas in TechCrunch

2. Truancy can cost schools millions. Here’s how San Antonio cut it in half.

By Jyoti Thottam in Al Jazeera America

3. Want to contain Putin? Help Russians get real news.

By Kaj Leers in Real Clear World

4. Make the SAT fair by letting everyone prep for free.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

5. Facebook is now America’s top news network — for millennials.

By Amy Mitchell, Jeffrey Gottfried and Katerina Eva Matsa at the Pew Research Center

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space travel

NASA Prepares ‘Flying Saucer’ for Take Off

NASA flying saucer
NASA/JPL-Caltech

The disc-shaped spacecraft was designed for more spacious flights to Mars

NASA will launch a disc-shaped vehicle into space on Wednesday, in order to test a roomier spacecraft designed for long-haul missions to Mars.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator will lift off from a launchpad off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, carried into the stratosphere by a massive high-altitude weather balloon. The vehicle will detach from the balloon at 120,000 feet and blast off at four times the speed of the sound, soaring to a peak altitude of 20 miles above the Earth.

MORE: 20 Breathtaking Photos of the Earth From Space

“As NASA plans ambitious robotic science missions to Mars, laying the groundwork for even more complex human expeditions to come, the spacecraft needed to land safely on the Red Planet’s surface will become larger and heavier in order to accommodate explorers’ extended stays on the Martian surface,” read a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

TIME Innovation

The High Cost of the American Dream

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. We’re pricing the American Dream out of existence.

By Mechele Dickerson in the Conversation

2. Syria’s future might be like Somalia’s: Permanent anarchy.

By Aron Lund at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

3. The UN wants to share its sustainability goals with the world, so it’s turning to comics.

By Chris Arrant in Newsarama

4. Museums are doing a pretty bad job of connecting people to art.

By Michael O’Hare for Democracy Journal

5. Most kids with mental illness aren’t receiving treatment.

By Arielle Duhaime-Ross in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How We’re Teaching Robots to Heal Themselves

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. We’re teaching robots to heal themselves.

By Charles Q. Choi in Mashable

2. What if your clothes could charge your phone?

By the New Scientist

3. If the NSA gets the encryption backdoors it wants, abusive governments will use them too.

By Andrea Peterson in the Washington Post

4. The next political ad battleground is in your pocket.

By Tanzina Vega at CNN

5. Can a doll help girls of color see themselves as pretty?

By Teresa Jusino in the Mary Sue

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Google Wants to Put a Touch Sensor on Your Pants

In this March 23, 2010 file photo, the Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels.
Virginia Mayo—AP In this March 23, 2010 file photo, the Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels.

Get ready for smart clothing

Soon your clothes may be able to communicate with your phone. At its annual I/O developers conference, Google is demoing a new smart fabric that it calls Project Jacquard, made by its experimental Advanced Technologies and Projects group. The fabric is made using conductive thread and works similarly to a touchpad, using low-power Wi-Fi to interact with other devices. Jacquard can sense multiple finger presses and even varying amounts of pressure. In the demo, Google showed the fabric being used to change the brightness and color of smart light bulbs as well as to control a media player.

The company said a primary initial use case for the technology would be to control a smartphone. So get ready to use your pants to fiddle with the smartphone that’s already sitting right in your pocket.

[Gizmodo]

 

TIME Innovation

Google’s Ultra-Cheap Virtual Reality Now Works With iPhones

Google Cardboard iPhone VR
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee inspects Google Cardboard during the 2015 Google I/O conference on May 28, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

The headset costs around $20

Google released Cardboard for iOS to the App Store on Friday, officially bringing the company’s ultra-cheap virtual reality to iPhones.

The free app, which works in conjunction with a DIY mount costing about $20, is available for the iPhone 5 and above, and early reviews report a smooth experience. Google also unveiled at the annual I/O 2015 developer’s conference this week several other new changes to Cardboard, including supporting phones sized up to six inches.

Cardboard, unveiled last year at I/O 2014, was originally designed for Android phones and available on only Google Play — though that didn’t stop iPhone users from coming up with creative ways to use Cardboard with their iPhones.

TIME Innovation

Why We Need More Nurses

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. We need more nurses.

By Alexandra Robbins in the New York Times

2. Is containing China more important than discouraging modern slavery?

By Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Ryan Grim and Laura Barron-Lopez in the Huffington Post

3. This is how you fix a space robot 140 million miles away from the nearest mechanic.

By the Los Alamos National Laboratory

4. A robot might not take your job, but self-driving trucks will take the jobs of three million truckers.

By Scott Santens in Basic Income on Medium

5. A special bacteria in your yogurt could diagnose liver cancer.

By Vijee Venkatraman in Beta Boston

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How the Food We Waste Could Feed Millions

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. The food we waste could feed millions.

By Lizzie Dearden in the Independent

2. How a genetically-modified herpes virus ‘cures’ skin cancer.

By Sarah Knapton in the Telegraph

3. Who provides most of America’s mental health care? Our prisons.

By Newt Gingrich and Van Jones in CNN

4. This ‘smart apartment’ will monitor the activity, mobility and even blood pressure of its residents.

By Traci Peterson in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

5. Movies make the best journalism.

By Richard Gehr in the Columbia Journalism Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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