Connect with us


Brain-computer interfaces are making big progress this year



Brain-computer interfaces are making big progress this year

The Transform Technology Summits start October 13th with Low-Code/No Code: Enabling Enterprise Agility. Register now!

Eight months in, 2021 has already become a record year in brain-computer interface (BCI) funding, tripling the $97 million raised in 2019. BCIs translate human brainwaves into machine-understandable commands, allowing people to operate a computer, for example, with their mind. Just during the last couple of weeks, Elon Musk’s BCI company, Neuralink, announced a $205 million in Series C funding, with Paradromics, another BCI firm, announcing a $20 million Seed round a few days earlier.

Almost at the same time, Neuralink competitor Synchron announced it has received the groundbreaking go-ahead from the FDA to run clinical trials for its flagship product, the Stentrode, with human patients. Even before this approval, Synchron’s Stentrode was already undergoing clinical trials in Australia, with four patients having received the implant.

(Above: Synchron’s Stentrode at work.)

(Above: Neurlink demo, April 2021.)

Yet, many are skeptical of Neuralink’s progress and the claim that BCI is just around the corner. And though the definition of BCI and its applications can be ambiguous, I’d suggest a different perspective explaining how breakthroughs in another field are making the promise of BCI a lot more tangible than before.

BCI at its core is about extending our human capabilities or compensating for lost ones, such as with paralyzed individuals.

Companies in this space achieve that with two forms of BCI — invasive and non-invasive. In both cases, brain activity is being recorded to translate neural signals into commands such as moving items with a robotic arm, mind-typing, or speaking through thought. The engine behind these powerful translations is machine learning, which recognizes patterns from brain data and is able to generalize those patterns across many human brains.

Pattern recognition and transfer learning

The ability to translate brain activity into actions was achieved decades ago. The main challenge for private companies today is building commercial products for the masses that can find common signals across different brains that translate to similar actions, such as a brain wave pattern that means “move my right arm.”

This doesn’t mean the engine should be able to do so without any fine tuning. In Neuralink’s MindPong demo above, the rhesus monkey went through a few minutes of calibration before the model was fine-tuned to his brain’s neural activity patterns. We can expect this routine to happen with other tasks as well, though at some point the engine might be powerful enough to predict the right command without any fine-tuning, which is then called zero-shot learning.

Fortunately, AI research in pattern detection has made huge strides, specifically in the domains of vision, audio, and text, generating more robust techniques and architectures to enable AI applications to generalize.

The groundbreaking paper Attention is all you need inspired many other exciting papers with its suggested ‘Transformer’ architecture. Its release in late 2017 has led to multiple breakthroughs across domains and modalities, such as with Google’s ViT, DeepMind’s multimodal Perceiver, and Facebook’s wav2vec 2.0. Each one has achieved state-of-the-art results in its respective benchmark, beating previous techniques for solving the task at hand.

One key trait of the Transformer architecture is its zero- and few-shot learning capabilities, which make it possible for AI models to generalize.

Abundance of data

State-of-the-art deep learning models such as the ones highlighted above from Google, DeepMind, and Facebook, require massive amounts of data. As a reference, OpenAI’s well-known GPT-3 model, a Transformer able to generate human-like language, was trained using 45GB of text, including the Common Crawl, WebText2, and Wikipedia datasets.

Online data is one of the major catalysts fueling the recent explosion in computer-generated natural-language applications. Of course, EEG (electroencephalography) data is not as readily available as Wikipedia pages, but this is starting to change.

Research institutions worldwide are publishing more and more BCI-related datasets, allowing researchers to build on one another’s learnings. For example, researchers from the University of Toronto used the Temple University Hospital EEG Corpus (TUEG) dataset, consisting of clinical recordings of over 10,000 people. In their research, they used a training approach inspired by Google’s BERT natural-language Transformer to develop a pretrained model that can model raw EEG sequences recorded with various hardware and across various subjects and downstream tasks. They then show how such an approach can produce representations suited to massive amounts of unlabelled EEF data and downstream BCI applications.

Data collected in research labs is a great start but might fall short for real-world applications. If BCI is to accelerate, we will need to see commercial products emerge that people can use in their daily lives. With projects such as OpenBCI making affordable hardware available, and other commercial companies now launching their non-invasive products to the public, data might soon become more accessible. Two examples include NextMind, which launched a developer kit last year for developers who want to write their code on top of NextMind’s hardware and APIs, and Kernel, which plans to release its non-invasive brain recording helmet Flow soon.

(Above: Kernel’s Flow device.)

Hardware and edge computing

BCI applications have the constraint of operating in real-time, as with typing or playing a game. Having more than one-second latency from thought to action would create an unacceptable user experience since the interaction would be laggy and inconsistent (think about playing a first-person shooter game with a one-second latency).

Sending raw EEG data to a remote inference server to then decode it into a concrete action and return the response to the BCI device would introduce such latency. Furthermore, sending sensitive data such as your brain activity introduces privacy concerns.

Recent progress in AI chips development can solve these problems. Giants such as Nvidia and Google are betting big on building smaller and more powerful chips that are optimized for inference at the edge. This in turn can enable BCI devices to run offline and avoid the need to send data, eliminating the latency issues associated with it.

Final thoughts

The human brain hasn’t evolved much for thousands of years, while the world around us has changed massively in just the last decade. Humanity has reached an inflection point where it must enhance its brain capabilities to keep up with the technological innovation surrounding us.

It’s possible that the current approach of reducing brain activity to electrical signals is the wrong one and that we might experience a BCI winter if the likes of Kernel and NextMind don’t produce promising commercial applications. But the potential upside is too consequential to ignore — from helping paralyzed people who have already given up on the idea of living a normal life, to enhancing our everyday experiences.

BCI is still in its early days, with many challenges to be solved and hurdles to overcome. Yet for some, that should already be exciting enough to drop everything and start building.

Sahar Mor has 13 years of engineering and product management experience focused on AI products. He is the founder of AirPaper, a document intelligence API powered by GPT-3. Previously, he was founding Product Manager at Zeitgold, a B2B AI accounting software company, and Levity.ai, a no-code AutoML platform. He also worked as an engineering manager in early-stage startups and at the elite Israeli intelligence unit, 8200.


VentureBeat’s mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative technology and transact.

Our site delivers essential information on data technologies and strategies to guide you as you lead your organizations. We invite you to become a member of our community, to access:

  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
  • networking features, and more

Become a member

Go to Source

Click to comment

Leave a Reply


Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance



Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

Today’s Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld’s Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect’s Editors

Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

Go to Source

Continue Reading


The best Windows backup software



The best Windows backup software


The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

Today’s Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld’s Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect’s Editors

Table of Contents

Show More

We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

Go to Source

Continue Reading


Razer just made gamer thimbles



Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

Today’s Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld’s Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect’s Editors

Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Go to Source

Continue Reading
Home | Latest News | Tech | Brain-computer interfaces are making big progress this year