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On the Horizon Futures Report

Posted in On the Horizon

Curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group,

Forget Passwords; The Future is ‘Passthoughts’

securityIf these researchers are correct, there may finally be hope for those of us who routinely forget our passwords for email accounts, online banking, subscribed content and social networking sites. It’s brainwave-based computer authentication to the rescue. Since the 1980s, computer scientists have proposed using biometrics as computer authentication in an effort to make computer and online access more secure than using passwords. These systems required scans of fingerprints or retinas, or facial or voice recognition, but were too slow, intrusive and expensive for most applications.

Recent developments in biosensor technologies, however, and experiments by the School of Information appear to have paved the way for a different approach to this concept using electroencephalograms (EEGs), or brainwave measurements, for computer authentication. The I School researchers presented its findings recently at the 2013 Workshop on Usable Security at the Seventeenth International Conference on Financial Cryptography and Data Security in Okinawa, Japan. The research team used a consumer-grade headset on test subjects (the Neurosky MindSet) with just a single dry-contact sensor resting against the user’s forehead, providing a single-channel EEG signal from the brain’s left frontal lobe. The headset connects to a computer wirelessly using Bluetooth and can be purchased for approximately $100. “Other than the EEG sensor, the headset is indistinguishable from a conventional Bluetooth headset for use with mobile phones, music players, and other computing devices,” according to the researchers.

The scientists measured participants’ brainwaves while they performed several different mental tasks, ultimately providing enough information to successfully authenticate themselves to computers. “We find that brainwave signals, even those collected using low-cost non-intrusive EEG sensors in everyday settings, can be used to authenticate users with high degrees of accuracy,” the researchers concluded. (

Want to Live and Die on Mars? Apply Here

mars_2445397bIf the principals of the Dutch nonprofit organization Mars One have their way, the first mission from planet Earth to Mars will be a reality TV show funded by advertising and donations. And they have just officially launched a global search for astronauts who will fly to Mars in 2023 and never return. They are looking for 24 to 40 candidates who will travel to Mars in groups of four — two men and two women, ideally from four different continents. Other groups will follow one at a time, every two years. Mars One plans to televise the final rounds of the search in 2014 and hope to complete the pool of candidates by 2015.

The organization is asking the public to rate the application videos to help narrow the field. According to Norbert Kraft, the chief medical officer and head of astronaut selection for Mars One, aspiring wanna-be-Martians should posses these five qualities: resilience, adaptability, curiosity, empathy and creativity. Applicants must create a 30- to 70-second video explaining why they want to go to Mars, and why they’re the best candidate. An application fee of $38 (U.S.) is required and was designed to filter out spam and frivolous entries. Once selected, each candidate will move to the United States to spend the next seven years as a full-time, salaried employee of Mars One. Nine months of each year will be spent learning dentistry, emergency medicine, general medicine, engineering, biology, mechanics, etc. The other three months will be spent in a habitat mock-up, complete with a 40-minute communication delay to the outside and simulated emergencies.

It will cost about $6 billion to get the first group of four to the Red Planet. The company plans to use SpaceX spacecraft to send rovers and supplies ahead of the astronauts. Then, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy will get the crew to Mars, where they will assemble their habitat and begin growing their own food. Once on Mars, the crew can do what they want, said organizers; they won’t be taking orders from Mars One or anyone else back on Earth. “They will make a new civilization,” Kraft says. “They will make their own holidays, their own laws. We need to send mature people, because we won’t be telling them what to do.”

Application videos close August 31, 2013. (

Will “Personalized or Precision Medicine” Pay Off?

precision medicineCalled “an arms race within the war on cancer,” major academic medical centers in New York and across the U.S. are investing and recruiting heavily toward the routine sequencing of every patient’s genome. The goal: “precision or personalized medicine” for cancer prevention and treatment based on the special, even unique characteristics of patients’ genes. Many institutions are constructing medical facilities to house genomic sequencing programs of all kinds.

Sequencing an entire genome costs between $5,000 and $10,000, not including the interpretation of the information. Mount Sinai has collected what it calls an electronic “biobank” of information on 24,000 patients using a $3 million supercomputer. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center sequenced 16,000 tumors in 2012. Talk about Big Data! And storing all that data is a challenge since one genome is 300 gigabytes of raw data per patient sample. Scientists have only imperfect understanding of how genetic information can determine a patient’s chance of getting diseases. Many predict that there will come a time when whole genome sequencing will become ubiquitous throughout health care; then, presumably they will be able to take steps to help prevent disease as well as treat it more effectively. (

Curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group,


  • From GPS to IPS. The popular Global Positioning System (GPS) many of us use routinely to map our routes has been in broad use only a few short years. Well, we could soon be using similar technology to map interior spaces on our smart phones in much the same way if Google, Nokia and/or Broadcom succeed in current development efforts. GPS has changed almost every aspect of society, from hardware hacking to farming, to cartography to finding friends. Many technology companies are testing a variety of Indoor Positioning System (IPS) technologies that analyze and track Wi-Fi hotspots, Bluetooth, infrared and acoustics inside buildings, that may eventually give us details on all our indoor movements by using gyroscopes, magnetometers, accelerometers and altimeters in smartphones and other mobile devices. (
  • Eat this wall! Inspired by studies conducted by NASA in the 1980s, a group of Finnish designers created a vertical garden system they claim can clean indoor air up to 100 times more efficiently than a standard pot of ivy, and even produce edible herbs and veggies. Called FreshWall, the structure holds plants that grow in a special medium the designers say contains millions of microbes which amplify each plant’s ability to clean the air. Studies have shown that certain plants are especially good at absorbing chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. While the leaves do some of the work, microbes in the root system do the rest. No green thumbs are required since the units are self-watering and easy to maintain. Fans help circulate air through each plant’s root system, boosting the vertical garden’s natural air filtering capability. (
  • Don’t get stuck on big data; think long data. Big data is here, admits Samuel Arbesman, mathematician, scientist and fellow at the Institute for Qualitative Social Science at Harvard University — “but no matter what insights we glean from it, it is still just a snapshot — a moment in time.” Arbesman believes we need to think about datasets that have massive historical sweep, that take us from the dawn of civilization until the present day. He believes such context can help us understand how the population of cities has changed, calculate the costs of carbon-centric energy such as coal, and find out how knowledge is preserved, for example. Long data can humble us, inspire wonder, yet also hold tremendous potential for learning about ourselves, he says. “We’re a species that evolves over ages — not just short hype cycles — so we cannot ignore datasets of long timescale…lifetimes, generations and eons. Long data not only helps us understand how the world is changing, but how we, as humans are changing it.” Even fast changes can benefit from the context of long data, Arbesman explains. “Big data may tell us what we need to know for hype cycles today…but long data can reach into our past…and help us lay a path to our future.” (


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