November 30th, 2012
11:24 AM ET

How math can detect Parkinson’s disease

Editor’s Note: Max Little is an applied mathematician and founder of the Parkinson's Voice Initiative. Watch a 30-min profile of Little on CNN Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Little's research suggests voice algorithms can be used to detect Parkinson’s disease.

By Max Little, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The most mysterious and wonderful thing that science has discovered is that reality can be understood mathematically. Just a few simple mathematical concepts, simple enough to teach to children - such as sets, calculus and symmetry - suffice to describe most of the world around us, from the flow of water to the fundamental particles of nature and the nuclear turmoil at the heart of stars, hundreds of light-years away.

There's a beauty to mathematics. Mathematics is the language of reality.

Take sound, for example. Just two simple mathematical concepts together mean that, over a short period of time, all sounds can be broken down into waves of different frequencies. So the different textures or timbres of different sounds emerge as simple consequences of the mathematical patterns of nature. FULL POST

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Filed under: Science • The Next List
November 27th, 2012
10:40 AM ET

Max Little: Detecting Parkinson's by the sound of a voice

Editor’s Note: Watch a 30-minute profile of Max Little Sunday at 2 p.m. on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By The Next List Staff, CNN

Who: Max Little, applied mathematician and project director of the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative.

Why you might know him: You probably don't, but you should. Little's bold idea is this: What if doctors could detect Parkinson’s Disease simply by the sound of your voice? He’s close to proving just that.

How the sound of your voice could be a test for Parkinsons: The idea sounds wild, but Little says he can determine if a person has Parkinson's simply if a person says "ahhhhhh" into a phone for 10 seconds. You don't have to have symptoms for it to work. Maybe the craziest part: Max isn’t a doctor; he’s a mathematician. The magic of the diagnosis is in the algorithms.

How well this sound-based Parkinson's test works: Right now Max is fine-tuning his algorithms with the “Parkinson’s Voice Initiative." He’s collected over 17,000 voices from all over the world that he’s using to test his algorithms. In a lab, Max can predict Parkinson’s disease 99% of the time. If he can get his technology predict with the same accuracy for cell phone calls, it could revolutionize the way neurologists diagnose and treat Parkinson’s. “A practical future use of this technology could be that a neurologist has a number set up, a person can call into that number," he said. “They leave a voice recording. The algorithms would analyze that voice recording and then a neurologist can get an indication about whether or not they have Parkinson’s and the probability associated with that. And then, of course, they can get back to the patient and follow-up.”

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Filed under: Science • The Next List
November 21st, 2012
01:09 PM ET

Need a stiff, cold drink? Try liquid nitrogen

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - This week, CNN's "The Next List" delves into the world of culinary science and gadgets as we introduce you to Dave Arnold, director of technology at the International Culinary Center. Arnold is one of the leaders of a "modernist" group of cutting-edge instructors, chefs and bartenders using science and high-tech tools to up-end traditional cooking methods.

Tune in Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to see a 30-min profile of Arnold on CNN.

Here's a primer on why he's fascinating enough to make "The Next List."

Why you've heard of him: You might have seen him cooling glasses with liquid nitrogen on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” making drinks for Martha Stewart, or maybe you might have read about him in Popular Science, Food & Wine, or the New York Times. Arnold definitely isn't camera-shy. He has lots of video demonstrations circulating online. (See one such video below). FULL POST

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Filed under: Food • Innovation • The Next List
November 17th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

Scientist aims to connect the public with nature's 'last biotic frontier'

Editor’s Note: Nalini Nadkarni is a professor, a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Watch a 30-minute profile of her on CNN's "The Next List," Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Nalini Nadkarni, Special to CNN

“Trees are the earth’s endless efforts to speak to the listening sky.”
- Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet

Hanging by a rope no thicker than my pinkie finger in a giant spruce tree 150 feet above the ground, I survey the view of the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula below me. Although perching in this treetop may seem more like a dream for a combination rock-climber and wilderness adventurer, the forest canopy has been my arena for a lifetime of scientific research.

The forest canopy – the part of the forest high above the forest floor – has been an area of burgeoning scientific interest for the last three decades. I was among the first forest canopy pioneers who thought that climbing vertically to explore the treetops would yield scientific paydirt. The thrill of the climb drew us to develop methods of canopy access - modified mountain-climbing techniques, construction cranes, hot-air balloons.

Those early experiences were exploratory forays into an unknown scientific world, termed “the last biotic frontier." We observed new interactions. Arboreal mice pollinate flowers in the nocturnal canopy. Roots grow from the branches of trees to draw nutrients from canopy-held soils. Canopy-dwelling mosses sieve nutrients from rain that passes through canopies. Once, when I spent the night in a Costa Rican forest canopy, a nocturnal anteater walked right by my suspended cot, searching out columns of arboreal leaf-cutting ants. The ants carried leaf bits they had harvested to their subterranean nests, connecting treetops to root tips. FULL POST

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Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • The Next List
3-D photo booth makes a miniature you
November 15th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

3-D photo booth makes a miniature you

By Heather Kelly, CNN

If you've always wanted a smaller replica of yourself, but are hesitant to commit to the cost and stress of parenthood, there is now an alternative. If you're in Tokyo, you can sit for a 3-D portrait.

Omote 3D Shashin Kan is a pop-up portrait studio that uses a handheld scanner to create a three-dimensional model of your entire body.  A 3-D printer then makes a small, intricately detailed plastic figurine. The final, full-color models look exactly like the larger you, down to the wrinkles on the clothes and part in the hair.

The 3D photo-booth project is part of a photography exhibition at the Eye of Gyre gallery in Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood. It's the brainchild of PARTY, a young ad, branding and entertainment company based in New York and Tokyo. FULL POST

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Filed under: Art • Design • Innovation • Tech • The Next List
DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone
November 14th, 2012
08:36 AM ET

DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone

Editor's note: David Sengeh is a doctoral student working at MIT’s Media Lab.

By David Sengeh, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When Kelvin Doe, a then-13-year-old from Sierra Leone, saw that off-the-shelf batteries were too expensive for the inventions he was working on, he made his own at home. Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems. Kelvin combined acid, soda, and metal, dumped those ingredients in a tin cup, waited for the mixture to dry and wrapped tape around the cup to make his first battery. He failed several times before completing a final, working prototype. He hasn’t purchased a battery since.

Next up: A generator. Kelvin made one of those by hacking an old rusty voltage stabilizer he found in a dustbin. The generator’s motor, plug, and other components are either homemade or picked from the garbage. In addition to providing electricity to his home, where neighbors come to charge their mobile phone batteries, the generator powers Kelvin’s homemade FM radio station, fully equipped with a custom music mixer, recycled CD player and antenna that allow his whole neighborhood to tune in. Now 16, Kelvin has expanded operations: he employs his friends as reporters and station managers, tasking them to interview spectators at local soccer games and keep the calendar of requests for his DJ services at parties and events. The average age of his crew is 12.

I am a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab working on developing the next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces. I am motivated to do this work by the needs I have seen in my country, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. At the MIT Media Lab, I have access to immense resources and expertise. But it has become apparent to me that when I take the prostheses back to Sierra Leone, the machines and technologies needed to maintain them will be left at my lab. And, as important, the recipients of the technology will not have participated in finding solutions to their problems nor shared in the joy of creation. FULL POST

Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Robots • Social change • The Next List • World
Student turns table into an iPhone keyboard
November 13th, 2012
02:54 PM ET

Student turns table into an iPhone keyboard

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Here's a new stab at a solution for that old fat-thumbs, small-phone problem: Turn your desk - or table or whatever - into a keyboard.

That's what Florian Kräutli demonstrates in a video called "Vibrative Virtual Keyboard," posted on Vimeo about a month ago. His unreleased virtual-keyboard software, which is making the rounds on design blogs like Fast Company's Co.DESIGN and designboom, lets him place his iPhone on a flat surface and then use the area in front of it to type.

"Touch screen devices, such as smartphones, lack a suitable method for text input which can compete with mechanical keyboards," Krautli is quoted as saying in a press release from Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is studying cognitive computing. "The Vibrative Virtual Keyboard aims to appease the frustration felt by smartphone users when faced with drafting lengthy e-mails or notes on a small onscreen keyboard." FULL POST

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Filed under: Design • Future • Innovation • Smartphones
November 13th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

Nalini Nadkarni: The tree-climbing scientist who brings plants to prison

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - Nalini Nadkarni is a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which aims to teach inmates about ecology. Watch a 30-minute profile of  on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List."

Here's a primer on why she is fascinating enough to make The Next List.

Why you've heard of her: You probably haven't. Unless you're a tree climbing scientist or an inmate in Washington state (more on that soon). Oh - or you may have seen "Heroes of the High Frontiers," an Emmy-winning National Geographic film. She's in that. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the "Tree Top Barbie Doll" she developed. FULL POST

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Filed under: Education • Environment • Innovation • Science • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
Microsoft computer speaks Chinese for you - in your own voice
November 9th, 2012
03:58 PM ET

Microsoft computer speaks Chinese for you - in your own voice

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - By now, everyone knows computers can talk.

There's Hal. There's Watson. And, of course, there's Siri.

But never before have computers been able to talk for you, in your voice, and in a foreign language.

That's the technology - or a precursor to it - that Microsoft Research recently demonstrated at an event in China. The company's research arm on Thursday posted a video of the talk and a blog post about the technology behind it. FULL POST

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Language • Tech