Computer Scientist built a watch that calmed her Graphic Designer friend’s Parkinson’s tremors

Microsoft has invented a wristband that could help stem the tremors caused by Parkinson’s Disease. The Emma Watch sends small vibrations through a wearer’s wrist that can stop the shaking experienced by those with the neurological disease. It vibrates with a distinctive pattern that has been designed to “disrupt the feedback loop between the brain and hand”, Microsoft said. Uncontrollable shaking is one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, which affects around 127,000 people in the UK. It can prevent sufferers from conducting routine tasks such as getting dressed, writing things down or using a computer.

Currently a prototype, the Emma Watch was created by Microsoft developer Haiyan Zhang for her friend Emma Lawton, a 32-year-old graphic designer diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. Microsoft unveiled the device at its annual developer’s conference in a video that shows Lawton regaining the ability to draw, a passion she has struggled with since her diagnosis. With the Emma on her wrist Lawton is able to write legibly and draw straight lines, something she struggles with on her own. “The technology has the potential to help Parkinson’s patients manage symptoms that impede regular functions,” said Microsoft. The Emma Watch is currently a prototype designed specifically for Lawton and a BBC documentary called The Big Life Fix. It is not clear if it will be released widely, but Microsoft said it plans to conduct further work in the area. “The goal of further research is to determine whether Emma Watch could help other people with similar Parkinson’s symptoms,” it said. It is fitted with sensors and software that could monitor other patients’ symptoms including tremors and stiffness to  create further products. “Once these symptoms can be identified and measured, its possible to develop technology and devices that help humans manage their symptoms,” said Microsoft. “AI is used to classify the sensor information and elicit real-time responses on small devices like wearables.” Zhang has previously designed cutlery that can react to people’s movement to prevent them from spilling food. Read more at the source

STARCRAFT Source Code Discovered, Fan Rewarded for Returning It To Blizzard

Blizzard has showered a fan in rewards after the return of a lost gold master source code disc for the original 1998 StarCraft. As spotted by Kotaku, Reddit user Khemist49 had purchased a “Box of Blizzard stuff” off eBay which happened to contain a disc marked “StarCraft Gold Master Source Code”. Unsure what to do with the seemingly valuable object, he turned to Reddit for answers and, after having some users request the code be made freely available or to sell it, was contacted by Blizzard’s legal team.

Blizzard naturally requested that he return the disc due to the “intellectual property and trade secrets” that it contained and once again Khemist49 turned to Reddit to express his confusion after seeking legal advice. Torn between having paid for and done nothing wrong in acquiring the disc and his potential legal obligations, he decided to send the disc back to Blizzard, just in case. The multi-billion dollar game company decided to reward Khemist49 by sending him a free copy of its popular FPS Overwatch, and $250 USD in Blizzard store credit. Khemist49 assumed that this was the end of this unusual event – until a week later he received a phone call from a Blizzard employee.  “He wanted to thank me for returning their disc (which was in fact stolen).” Khemist49 explains in his follow up Reddit post “He then asked me if i have ever heard of BlizzCon. I said well, yeah of course but it’s impossible for me to go, i live in the east coast, and the badges are always sold out before you can refresh the page lol. He said well, the reason we are calling you is to invite you to Blizzcon, all expenses paid, and we would love to take you out for drinks.” To top it all off, two days later he also received a box of Diablo and Overwatch themed merchandise for his troubles. Blizzard has confirmed the events and stated that it “wanted to show an appropriate level of appreciation to the player for doing the right thing, not just from Blizzard, but on behalf of the large and active community of players who still enjoy StarCraft today”. The recovery of the StarCraft source code comes at an interesting time for Blizzard, with the original StarCraft and its expansion not only made free to download last month but also being remastered later this year. 

What Sorts Of Problems Are Quantum Computers Good For?

A couple of weeks ago, the APS’s Physics ran a piece titled Traveling with a Quantum Salesman, about a quantum computing approach to the famous “Traveling Salesman” problem. I saw the headline, and immediately thought “Oh, yeah, of course that would be a good problem for a quantum computer…” The paper in question is far enough from my core expertise that I can’t really do better than the original Physics piece in terms of explaining what the researchers did and why it matters. My reaction to it, though, seems like a useful jumping-off point for a post correcting some misconceptions about how quantum computers really work, and what they’re good for. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, gestures as he speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg. The most common non-technical way to explain quantum computers is to talk in terms of added power from having the ability to put bits in superposition states. Or, as the Prime Minister of Canada famously put it:

Normal computers work, either there’s power going through a wire or not. It’s 1 or a 0. They’re binary systems. What quantum states allow for is much more complex information to be encoded into a single bit. A regular computer bit is either a 1 or 0—on or off. A quantum state can be much more complex than that because as we know, things can be both particle and wave at the same time and the uncertainty around quantum states allows us to encode more information into a much smaller computer. That’s what exciting about quantum computing.

That’s not a terrible explanation, and even experts in the field, asked to match Trudeau’s explanation mostly resort to variations of this: a classical bit is either “0” or “1,” but a qubit can be an arbitrary superposition of “0” and “1,” which dramatically increases your options when calculating stuff. It’s not the whole story, though, and leaves many people with the impression that quantum computers are a logical means of extending “Moore’s Law” to continue making more powerful computers once we hit physical limits on classical chips. In fact, even when quantum computers are finally built, they’re likely to remain highly specialized instruments, for the simple reason that they really only offer an advantage for certain special kinds of problems. Why is that? Well, you can get some sense of the reason from one of the answers in that Maclean’s piece, from quantum computing theorist (and physics blogger) Scott Aaronson:

A quantum computer is a proposed device that exploits quantum mechanics to solve certain specific problems like factoring huge numbers much faster than we know how to solve them with any existing computer. Quantum mechanics has been the basic framework of physics since the 1920s. It’s a generalization of the rules of probability themselves. From day to day life, you’d never talk about a minus-20 per cent chance of something happening, but quantum mechanics is based on numbers called amplitudes, which can be positive or negative or even complex numbers. The goal in quantum computing is to choreograph things so that some paths leading to a wrong answer have positive amplitudes and others have negative amplitudes, so on the whole they cancel out and the wrong answer is not observed.

That’s maybe not as smooth as Trudeau’s explanation– it introduces some jargon terms, and seems to take a weird turn halfway through (though it makes sense by the end)– but it’s a more correct and complete explanation. And, more importantly, it points to why quantum computers are definitively better than classical computers for only a limited set of problems. Waves coming together in complicated ways. The key fact that Aaronson brings out, that’s often hidden by talk about qubits in superposition states, is that quantum computers are all about waves and probability. That’s fundamentally what lets your qubits be in a superposition in the first place– what you can predict is a probability of finding a particular outcome, and that probability comes from amplitudes that have wave-like properties and aren’t confined to a single state. So, in a sense, quantum computing is properly understood as a process of engineering the pattern of a complex set of waves, in hopes of channeling the flow toward the correct answer. Of course, this is vastly complicated by the fact that we generally don’t know what the answer is in advance, so it’s not just a simple matter of laying out a single channel, but trying to stir up a set of waves in the open ocean that somehow all come together to make one big splash. See the original article here