Thursday, 4 February 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

How Your Biometrics Can Make Super Bowl Ads Better

Posted: 03 Feb 2010 04:57 PM PST


Brian Levine is going to tell me what commercials I like without asking my opinion. He doesn't have to ask. With the biometric toolkit developed by his company, he says that my own subconscious impulses will give it away. My heart rate, the sweatiness of my hands, and how I'm sitting in my seat will give me away.

While he set up an eye-tracker in Wired's offices, I changed into the vest and T-shirt he gave me. I attached two sticky electrodes attached to my breast bone and one beneath my rib cage on the left side of my body. The T-shirt had special holes cut into it, so that the wires could poke through from the electrodes, and plug intothe vest.A small monitor was strapped onto my finger.



We're bringing Innerscope into Wired's offices for a biometric Super Bowl party.During last year's Super Bowl, Innerscope found that's advertisement scored the highest for its engagement rating. PC World later found that the same ad had created the most online buzz. This time around, Innerscope will be measuring ourlocal readers, who'll be strapped up withthe newest version of the firm's biometric tools.We want to see how our readers' biometric responses match up with the commercials they think they liked best and what the world-at-large deems successful.

There are still a few slots open for the Super Bowl party. If you'd like to bring yourself and a friend to Wired HQ to watch the game, drink some beer with Beer Robot, eat some pizza with staffers and have your skin conductance measured, just fill out this form:Wired Biometric Super Bowl Party.

Levine plugged all the wires nowrunning out from my body into a fanny pack with a little PDA in it, which transmitted wirelessly to a laptop. After a little tinkering, my body's basic data appeared on the screen in an endlessly scrolling set of scribbly lines.

Then I sat down in front of a computer screen and watched a series of video clips of cute little babies, Dexter,a video of myself (!), andrandom people dancing at a wedding. The whole time, Ihoped Levine couldn't somehow read an undiagnosed pathology from the the lines on his screen or figure out exactly the sort of advertising that would press my buy button — fears shared by neuroethicists.

The premise of Levine's company, Innerscope, is that running this data through algorithms can tell advertisers which commercials work and which don't. They can quantify your subconscious responses to advertisements without resorting to the messiness of human language.

"We really look at unconscious measures compared to conscious measures," said Innerscope co-founder Carl Marci, director of the Social Neuroscience for the Psychotherapy Research Program atMassachusettsGeneral Hospital. "We know that5 to 25 percent of brain processing is dedicated to conscious processing. The rest is unconscious, and about half of that is emotional processing. You're talking about a massive amount of brain processing."

Some companies in the new neuromarketing field have tried to peer directly into the brain looking for clues to how consumers work. They use fMRI and EEG brain scans and other measures of what's happening in your gray matter.

The field remains "in its infancy," though, according to a 2008 Journal of Consumer Behavior review. It's hard to know how well data captured inside an fMRI machine at a laboratory relates to how your brain wouldfunction at a sports bar, for example.

Innerscope relies on less-fancy techniques, ones that have been proven to correlate with emotional response, but that technological advances have made much easier to deploy on, say, 50 people watching a football game.

What they're looking for is the magnitude of increase in the biomeasurements and how synchronized a bunch of study participants are in experiencing that response.

So, while my test setup was realtively true to reality, it was just a demonstration. Normally, Innerscope uses only aggregate data from a group, not an individual, and the situation is much more tightly circumscribed. (My co-workers wandered in to peer at me in the funny vest and laugh at my fanny pack.)

It's the aggregated reactions that allows Innerscope to separate spikes in biometric response that are positive from those that are negative.

When people love an ad, their biomeasurements go up — and they sustain their attention to it. When people hate an ad, or find it disgusting, Innerscope has found that some of them stop watching or turn away.

What advertisers are afterare the moments that command a coherent positive reaction from the group.

Cassini Gets Life Extension to Explore Saturn Until 2017

Posted: 03 Feb 2010 02:14 PM PST


NASA gave its Cassini spacecraftmission a 6.5-year life extension to continue exploring Saturn and its moons.

Cassini launched in 1997 and first arrived at Saturn in 2004 after flying by Earth, Venus and Jupiter. It carried the Huygens probe on board, which it sent to the surface of the moon Titan in December 2004. The mission was originally slated to end in 2008, but got its first reprieve with 27 months of additional fundingto study the planet during itsequinox, whenthe sun is directly above the planet's equator, which happens once every 15 Earth years.

The spacecraft has captured some of the most stunning images ever seen of the solar system, and space enthusiasts everywhere, including here at Wired Sciencewere dreading the mission's end. With the Cassini's new lease, those images will continue wowing us into Saturn's summer solstice.

"Cassini has been an adventure of a lifetime, an extraordinary exploration of the most enchanting place in all the solar system," said Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini Imaging Team. "It is a very happy day for us, knowing that Cassini lives and the adventure continues."

Cassini has already travelled 2.6 billion miles, and captured 210,000 images, but is in remarkably good shape. In the next seven years, it orbit the planet 155 more times and complete 54 flybys of Titan and 11 flybys of our favorite moon, Enceladus. It will dive between Saturn and its iconic rings, gathering more data onthe planet's magnetosphere.

enceladus_jets"The extension presents a unique opportunity to follow seasonal changes of an outer planet system all the way from its winter to its summer," Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at JPL, said in a press release. "Some of Cassini's most exciting discoveries still lie ahead."

One of the mysteries Cassini could help solve is the source of the jets emanating from Enceladus. Scientists suspect they are fed by a subsurface ocean that could possibly be a haven for life.

"This extension is important because there is so much still to be learned at Saturn," Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL, said in a press release. "The planet is full of secrets, and it doesn't give them up easily."


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Everywhere in a Flash: The Quantum Physics of Photosynthesis

Posted: 03 Feb 2010 11:40 AM PST


By hitting single molecules with quadrillionth-of-a-second laser pulses, scientists have revealed the quantum physics underlying photosynthesis, the process used by plants and bacteria to convert light into energy, at efficiencies unapproached by human engineers.

The quantum wizardry appears to occur in each of a photosynthetic cell's millions of antenna proteins. These route energy from electrons spinning in photon-sensitive molecules to nearby reaction-center proteins, which convert it to cell-driving charges.

Almost no energy is lost in between. That's because it exists in multiple places at once, and always finds the shortest path.

pc645-view4"The analogy I like is if you have three ways of driving home through rush hour traffic. On any given day, you take only one. You don't know if the other routes would be quicker or slower. But in quantum mechanics, you can take all three of these routes simultaneously. You don't specify where you are until you arrive, so you always choose the quickest route," said Greg Scholes, a University of Toronto biophysicist.

Scholes' findings, published Wednesday in Nature, are the strongest evidence yet for coherence — the technical name for multiple-state existence —in photosynthesis.

Two years ago, researchers led by then-University of California at Berkeley chemist Greg Engel found coherence in the antenna proteins of green sulfur bacteria. But their observations were made at temperatures below minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit, useful for slowing ultrafast quantum activities but leaving open the question of whether coherence operates in everyday conditions.

The Nature findings, made at room temperature in common marine algae, show that it does. Moreover, similar results from an experiment on another, simpler light-harvesting structure, announced by Engels' group last Thursday on the pre-publication online arXiv, suggest that photosynthetic coherence is routine.

The findings are wondrous in themselves, adding a new dimension to something taught — incompletely, it now seems — to every high school biology student. They also have important implications for designers of solar cells and computers, who could benefit from quantum physics conducted in nonfrigid conditions.

"There's every reason to believe this is a general phenomenon," said Engel, now at the University of Chicago. He called Scholes' finding "an extraordinary result" that "shows us a new way to use quantum effects at high temperatures."

Scholes' team experimented on an antenna protein called PC645, already imaged at the atomic scale in earlier studies. That precise characterization allowed them to target molecules with laser pulses lasting for one-quadrillionth of a second, or just long enough to set single electrons spinning.

quantumphotographBy analyzing changes to a laser beam sent through the protein immediately afterwards, the researchers were able to extrapolate what was happening inside — an ultra-high-tech version of shadows on a screen. They found that energy patterns in distant molecules fluctuated in ways that betrayed a connection to each other, something only possible through quantum coherence.

"It's the same as when you hit two tuning forks at the same time, and hear a low-pitched oscillation in the background. That's the interference of sound waves from the forks. That's exactly what we see," said Scholes.

According to Scholes, the physics of photosynthetic proteins will be further studied and used to improve solar cell design. Engels suggested their use in long-promised but still-unworkable quantum computing. "This allows us to think about photosynthesis as non-unitary quantum computation," he said.

Quantum-physical processes have been observed elsewhere in the biological realm, most notably in compass cells that allow birds to navigateby Earth's geomagnetic fields. Researchers have also proposed roles for quantum physics in the animal sense of smell and even in the brain. Engels predicts the emergence of an entire field of quantum biology.

"There are going to be some surprises," said Scholes. "Who knows what else there is to discover?"

Images: 1. Bùi Linh Ngân/Flickr
2. Antenna protein: Light-harvesting molecules are red./Greg Scholes
3. Graph of energy wave interference inside the antenna protein/

See Also:

Citations: "Coherently wired light-harvesting in photosynthetic marine algae at ambient temperature." By Elisabetta Collini, Cathy Y. Wong, Krystyna E. Wilk, Paul M. G. Curmi, Paul Brumer & Gregory D. Scholes. Nature, Vol. 463 No. 7281, Feb. 4, 2010.

"Long-lived quantum coherence in photosynthetic complexes at physiological temperature." By Gitt Panitchayangkoon, Dugan Hayes, Kelly A. Fransted, Justin R. Caram, Elad Harel, Jianzhong Wen, Robert E. Blankenship, Gregory S. Engel. arXiv, Jan. 28, 2010.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecological tipping points.