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Using digital twins in health care to stave off the grim reaper

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VentureBeat caught up with NTT Research Medical & Health Informatics Lab director Dr. Joe Alexander, who elaborated on his view of the future of “bio digital twins,” which promise to improve precision medicine and bring digital transformation to the health care industry.

Japanese telecom giant NTT has launched a major initiative to improve digital health through precision medicine using digital twin technology. This project is part of NTT Research, a new R&D hub focused on basic research. The goal is to address long-term technological challenges with solutions that, once achieved, can positively impact wider ranges of businesses and many parts of our lives. These projects are not tied to specific product roll-out plans but could lead to much more significant long-term improvements than conventional incremental research conducted by enterprises.

The why behind the digital twin application

VentureBeat: What exactly is medical and health informatics — where does it fit into the landscape of other enterprise medical software like EHRs, diagnostics, telemedicine, and research?

Dr. Joe Alexander: Medical informatics is the sub-discipline of health informatics that directly impacts the patient-physician relationship. It focuses on the information technology that enables the effective collection of data using technology tools to develop medical knowledge and to facilitate the delivery of patient medical care. The goal of medical informatics is to ensure access to critical patient medical information at the precise time and place it is needed to make medical decisions. Medical informatics also focuses on the management of medical data for research and education.

The acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of health care information to foster better collaboration among a patient’s various health care providers is the study of health informatics. It plays a critical role in the push toward health care reform. Health informatics is an evolving specialization that links information technology, communications, and health care to improve the quality and safety of patient care. EHRs help providers better manage care for patients and are an important part of health informatics.

Telemedicine has more to do with the access and sharing of medical information for the purpose of treating patients remotely. The term “diagnostics” can be applied to any process or device that involves techniques for (medical) diagnoses.

One current area of research that is of particular interest to our team is precision cardiology. This includes the cardiovascular bio digital twin as well as heart-on-a-chip technologies.

Research at MEI Labs does not currently target EHR software development or telemedicine per se. Our work does support remote monitoring, diagnostics, and advanced therapeutics.

VentureBeat: What is the bio digital twin initiative, and how do you plan to advance it?

Alexander: A bio digital twin is an up-to-date virtual representation (an electronic replica) which provides real-time insights into the status of a real-world asset to enable better management and to inform decision-making. This concept has been applied to the preventive maintenance of jet engines and may be applied as well to the predictive maintenance of health.

The Bio Digital Twin (BioDT) initiative aims to individualize and revolutionize health care by use of BioDT technologies. We will first realize precision cardiology on multiple scales through development of a cardiovascular BioDT (CV BioDT) and heart-on-a-chip platforms. The CV BioDT is at the whole organ physiological system level, whereas the heart-on-a-chip is at a microfluidics level, making use of an individual’s stem cells to make in vitro organs.

For the CV BioDT, we will begin with acute conditions (acute myocardial infarction and acute heart failure) and progress to chronic cardiovascular conditions and their co-morbidities and complications. The latter requires heavy dependence on organ systems other than the heart. Ultimately, based on our accumulating knowledge of underlying physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms (together with advanced sensing technologies), we will be able to move into wellness and prevention.

Can digital twins in health care save a life?

VentureBeat: What is the value of a digital twin, and how does it build upon other technologies for capturing and managing medical data or simulating things?

Alexander: We expect that our bio digital twin will best enable individualized care. By reproducing an individual’s entire physiology based on causal mechanisms, we should be able to predict health issues as well as provide recommendations for therapies in complex patients through “what if” scenario testing.

Autonomous therapies — delivered by the bio digital twin — become possible, where the physician would simply monitor autonomous devices. Virtual clinical trials in populations of bio digital twins also become feasible and would dramatically accelerate drug (or vaccine) development.

What we are proposing is not evolutionary, but revolutionary. An ambitious project of this scope and scale will take time. We will certainly need continuously to inventory the evolving trajectories of clinical and technology landscapes for facilitatory impact points.

VentureBeat: Why did you decide to start with the heart, and how will this complement other, similar efforts?

Alexander: We started with cardiovascular disease because it is the global leading cause of death. One of the principal missions of NTT Research is to provide long-term benefits to humanity; this is fundamental to deciding what projects to pursue.

Our immediate cardiovascular disease targets will be acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and acute heart failure (acute HF). We will pursue chronic heart failure and other conditions afterwards.

VentureBeat: What’s next in digital twins and why?

Alexander: Following development of the CV BioDT, our next pursuit will be neurodegenerative diseases, e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Our reasoning here is similar: neurodegenerative diseases are the 2nd leading cause of death, at least in the U.S.

Organs on a chip

VentureBeat: What kinds of things are you working on with nano and microscale sensors and electrodes?

Alexander: MEI Lab is developing “organ-on-a-chip” microfluidics platforms as well as three-dimensionally transformable and implantable electrodes. This work involves the exploration and examination of new materials that include nanofibers and nanofiber-based paper electrodes.

VentureBeat: Which ones show the most promise in the short term and possibility in the long term?

Alexander: This is a difficult question for me to answer since I am not directly involved in the research. However, all our targets tend to be long term. Based on current progress, microscale three-dimensionally transformable electrodes for sensing are more promising in the shorter term, followed by similar types of electrodes for both stimulating and sensing. Organ-on-a-chip platforms will likely mature in the longer term.

VentureBeat: What are some of the key developments in digital biomarkers, wearable technologies, and remote sensing you are exploring?

Alexander: While we are in an ongoing background process of doing a clinical and technical landscape inventory of such devices, we have not yet developed a strategy within the MEI Lab to point us in any particular directions. Our focus right now is on acute conditions where patients are hospitalized and well-instrumented for access to the directly observable data necessary for early model building, verification, and validation.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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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

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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.

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

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

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

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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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]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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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

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