The dream of the medical tricorder

The Economist:

WHEN aliens seize and torture Dr McCoy in “The Empath”, an episode of the science-fiction series “Star Trek”, Captain Kirk and Mr Spock rush to his aid. They are able to assess his condition in seconds with the help of a medical tricorder—a hand-held computer with a detachable sensor that is normally used by Dr McCoy himself to diagnose others. A quick scan with the tricorder indicates that he suffers from “severe heart damage; signs of congestion in both lungs; evidence of massive circulatory collapse”.

Along with teleportation, speech-driven computers and hand-held wireless communicators that flip open, the medical tricorder was one of many imaginary future technologies featured in “Star Trek”. Ever since, researchers have dreamed of developing a hand-held medical scanner that can take readings from a patient and then diagnose various conditions. Now, nearly five decades after “Star Trek” made its debut in 1966, the dream is finally edging closer to reality.

March of the Lettuce Bot

The Economist:

LETTUCE is California’s main vegetable crop. The state grew $1.6 billion-worth of the leafy plant in 2010 and accounts for more than 70% of all lettuce grown in America—itself the world’s second-biggest exporter of the stuff. It is a fiddly business. As well as having to be fertilised and weeded, lettuce must also be “thinned” so that good plants do not grow too close to each other, inhibiting growth. Much of this is still done by hand. Labourers, who tend to be paid per acre, not per hour, have little incentive to pay close attention to what they pull from the ground, often leading to unnecessary waste.

Enter Lettuce Bot, the brainchild of two Stanford-trained engineers, Jorge Heraud and Lee Redden. Their diligent robotic labourer, pulled behind a tractor, starts by taking pictures of passing plants. Computer-vision algorithms devised by Mr Redden compare these to a database of more than a million images, taken from different angles against different backdrops of soil and other plants, that he and Mr Heraud have amassed from their visits to lettuce farms. A simple shield blocks out the Californian sun to prevent odd shading from confounding the software.

How Fed Policy Distorts Home Prices

Tim Iacono:

I’ve about had it with how giddy a large portion of the U.S. population has become about rising home prices.

Don’t get me wrong, when first thinking about this, I was about as happy as anyone else to learn that property values are now rising sharply again since, after renting for six years, my wife and I finally bought a house about two years ago. So, we stand to benefit as much as anyone else.

But, when you look at what’s driving home prices higher and how unnatural and unsustainable those factors are, suddenly the headlines sound more ominous than optimistic.

A Porsche Cayenne for Diesel Fetishists Only

Dan Neil:

IN MY CONTINUING war on U.S. customary units of weights and measures, I would like to point out that, on Porsche’s U.S. website, the fuel-injection pressure of the Cayenne Diesel is listed as 29,007 pounds per square inch.

The Porsche Cayenne Diesel SUV is incredibly tight and well-balanced. But should you buy one? Dan Neil give us his answer on The News Hub. Photo: Porsche.

Really? Is that the number the people at Robert Bosch had in mind when they were modeling the V6’s common-rail, direct-injection fuel system? Yah, neunundzwanzig tausend…und sieben! Why don’t we join the civilized world and call that 200 megapascals, or the elegantly convertible 2,000 bar? What’s with the drams per hectare?

Metric, people. Get with the program.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The future will not be cool

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

Close your eyes and try to imagine your future surroundings in, say, five, 10 or 25 years. Odds are your imagination will produce new things in it, things we call innovation, improvements, killer technologies and other inelegant and hackneyed words from the business jargon. These common concepts concerning innovation, we will see, are not just offensive aesthetically, but they are nonsense both empirically and philosophically.

Why? Odds are that your imagination will be adding things to the present world. I am sorry, but this approach is exactly backward: the way to do it rigorously is to take away from the future, reduce from it, simply, things that do not belong to the coming times.

I am not saying that new technologies will not emerge — something new will rule its day, for a while. What is currently fragile will be replaced by something else, of course. But this “something else” is unpredictable. In all likelihood, the technologies you have in your mind are not the ones that will make it, no matter your perception of their fitness and applicability — with all due respect to your imagination.