• By Sin Mei C
  • June 27, 2014

Ethics for algorithms, Google I/O, contagious emotions and Argus Labs abroad (#WIC)

This week in context I have for you a look at our views on empathic tech and context-awareness as brain for hardware, teaching algorithms about ethics, our takeaways from Google I/O and some insights into how the Rhythm platform measures music’s mood.

This Week in Context

Your Bi-Weekly* Update on All Things Context, June 27 2014

* Bi-weekly this once, as it have been a busy but exciting few weeks here at the office, and abroad. Our CEO travelled to France to talk about context as ‘brain’ for connected devices. Roel in the meanwhile, represented Argus Labs at the Re.Work Technology Summit, from which he returned with a win for our context and mood-aware technology and lots of mind-blowing science innovations to tell us about.

Connected Conference - The Brain Behind the Hardware, Why Contex

Head of Machine Learning Vincent presented The Era of Empathic Devices (slide deck available here) to an enthusiastic audience at Mobile World 2014. Also check out George Zhujin Lin ‘s excellent writeup on his tech blog here.


“Today, computing mainly automates things for you, but when we connect all these things, you can truly start assisting people in a more meaningful way.”

“If I go and pick up my kids, it would be good for my car to be aware that my kids have entered the car and change the music to something that’s appropriate for them.”

– Sundar Pichai, Google
Google’s Many Arms, NY Times State of the Art by Farhad Manjoo

Ethics for Algorithms

How do you design ‘ethical algorithms’? A team from Imperial College is working on translating Ostrom’s eight principles for resource management to formal rules that can then be used for ‘fair play’ in computerised decision-making. (More on ethical considerations for intelligent things.)

Google I/O

At the I/O keynote, Google announced it will take its mobile OS to your car (AndroidAuto), your body and wrist (Google Fit & Google Wear), your laptop (Google Chrome), your television (Android TV), and even to your reality (Cardboard VR). 

It also announced that with Android L, would come ‘universal data controls’. The ameliorated controls remain a bullet point on the slide for now, but are likely to be a single place in the settings where adjustments can be made to ‘privacy settings’ for all apps inside Android. They should appear later this year. Hopefully, we’ll get more granular permission management on top of this dedicated area. Taking Google Fit and the Nest APIs into account, data privacy management should go beyond data produced by your phone (such as location), and also include wearable & home connections.

In the mean while, updates for Android KitKat are being pushed to most Nexus devices. Amongst many improvements, it has now built-in step counting: when you use fitness apps like Moves on Nexus 5, the phone acts as a pedometer to count steps. Android 4.4 and updated hardware make this a more battery friendly way to measure your activity.

Music, Emotion & Measuring Mood

In the future, flexible and wearable sensors that detect goose bumps will help with measuring and quantifying human emotions.

Ever wondered how music is matched to your mood? Fast.co looks at at the mood and emotion categorisations of the Gracenote Rhythm platform, and the upcoming launch of music-focused mobile carrier Rok Mobile.

Emotion is contagious, no doubt, but how does that work online? “A massive Facebook study recently published in PNAS found solid evidence of so-called emotional contagion—emotional states spreading socially, like a virus made of emoji—on the social network. So rather than basing your worldview on a small circle of friends you interact with on a more personal level, your mental state ends up being affected by the random blathering of whatever portion of your social world Facebook decides to show you.” Vice on emotional filter bubbles.

Wearables for Dogs, and for Insurance Discounts

Wearables is becoming a crowded space, so some start-ups are branching out to a different audience: they are building sensor-filled activity monitors for our beloved dogs. I guess, just as us humans, many of these could do with some more exercise. There’s MyFitDogFitBarkVoyce, and No More Woof. The latter is working towards inter-species translation; turning EEG signals and barks into information about what your dog wants.   My best guess? Eat, sleep, fetch ball. Repeat.

For humans with wearables, there’s now the possibility to get a discount on your health insurance bill, if you track your steps. Withings and insurance company Axa announced a partnership which offers offers AXA customers a free Withings Pulse as well as the possibility of getting up to 100€ off of their insurance, if they walk 7,000+ or 10,000+ steps per day for a period of one month.
(For comparison, two days of Connected Conference + travel averaged out at 9600 steps a day according to my Basis watch. An average working day for me is 3900 steps.)

Aviate, Quantum GPS, and Connected Roads

Yahoo has finally launched Aviata, the location-sensitive, intelligent Android homescreen, as Yahoo Aviate. It comes with app prioritisation, calendar and meeting entries with conference call capabilities (ex-Donna), custom weather and news alerts, and – as 40% of app opens were related to communications – new ways to quickly call or text friends.

Labs in the US & UK are working on Quantum GPS systems that take their location cues from subatomic variations in the earth’s magnetic field: Indoor GPS is the Final Frontier of Personalized Navigation.  Combine these with Google’s Project Tango, and you’ll never have to worry about the (unknown) location of your car keys ever again.

Roads in the future will need uniform data standards as well as signs. Computerworld has a short overview of some of the ‘connected road infrastructure’ systems in the works.

US intelligence agency wants human-like machine intelligence

Whilst IBM is looking into ways to make transistors that can be formed into virtual circuitry that mimics human brain functions, the US intelligence agency is working on brain-like algorithms for complex information processing as well. Next month there’s a Proposal Day for Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS), a project that could revolutionize machine intelligence by constructing algorithms that utilize the same data representations, transformations, and learning rules as those employed and implemented by the brain.

Personal Data & Privacy

The Open Humans project attempts to break down data silos and tackle privacy-based barriers for health research. Through an online portal, it connects participants willing to share data about themselves publicly with researchers who are interested in using that public data and contributing their analyses and insight to it.

Steve Lohr has a look at the pro’s and cons of workplace surveillance and the increasing quantified world of work for the NY Times: Unblinking Eyes Track Employees.

The German Data Protection Authorities have published guidance for mobile apps “due to app developers’ and application providers’ perceived lack of privacy knowledge, as demonstrated by their product and services.”  The guidelines comment on the legal and technical framework, in particular the German Telecommunications Act, but also the Federal Data Protection Act. (Via Bavo Van Den Heuvel)

Papers, Talks & Research

  • Sentiment Analysis: The Opportunity of Accuracy, a talk by Lexalytics’ Seth Remore (video)
  • Bootstrapped Learning of Emotion Hashtags #hashtags4you (paper)
  • Empathic Things: Intimate Computing from Wearables to Biohacking (research paper VINTlabs)

Argus in the News

Make sure to check out the ‘Age of Empathic devices’ slide deck here, share it with those people you know love to learn about the future of ‘feeling technology’ (retweet works wonders).  And then, knowing you have our thanks, go enjoy your weekend as much as we enjoyed the last few weeks! 😉


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