Biohacking introduces data ownership and ethical issues

This is a cross-post of a guest blog I wrote for recently. 

Recap: The Age of Human Augmentation with Tim Cannon

Tim-Cannon-300x200While most of us are excited about wearables, biohackers and grinders are already taking the next step – human augmentation. Tim Cannon, a software engineer whose passion has always been to be a cyborg, is Co-Founder of Grindhouse Wetware, a research and development group dedicated to creating open source human augmentation devices. Tim brought us into this world of experimenters and world changers who are more curious than risk-averse, and committed to ensuring that human augmentation is not the sole domain of large corporations.


So what the heck is biohacking? In simplest terms, biohackers use the human body the way hackers use computers. For example, Tim was inspired by another grinder, Lepht Anonym, to implant a magnet in his finger.


When he found that he could feel magnetic forces as a sort of buzzing sensation, he realized he now had an additional “sense” that most of us don’t have. Then Cannon went further and built a device to use that data for a range finder that allowed him to navigate blindfolded, and implanted devices in his arm and hand with other capabilities. He is working on commercializing an implanted device he calls Northstar that triggers actions based on hand movements much like leading edge wearables are just beginning to do today. (He called it Northstar because it glows brighter the hand gets closer to the north, allowing the user to see or feel directions.)


Biohackers face challenges finding safe components to implant, and they turn to body modification artists for help because doctors won’t assist, presumably due to fear of liability and professional or legal sanctions. That means no anesthesia to reduce the pain, and no medical advice to reduce the risk. That’s how committed they are to the cause and to satisfying their curiosity.


But it’s not all fun and profit for Cannon and his colleagues. They are delving into serious issues of privacy, and ownership over the data produced by our bodies, whether through external devices or implants.


Cannon told us about a friend who has a cochlear implant, a medical device that allows profoundly deaf people to hear. His friend was angered to learn that the device’s capabilities had been deliberately limited to what natural human ears can perceive, depriving him of a sense that would be possible without the filters. He was further angered to find that access to the data from the device is restricted to doctors and technicians. Cannon makes the point that once a device is in our body, it is part of us so why don’t we own the data?


Then there is cost and equal access to consider. Many people cannot afford $100,000 heart surgery but if low tech solutions can be built and brought to market, more people can be helped. Business doesn’t always prioritize open access to innovations, but open source innovations, says Cannon, can help make sure longer, better lives aren’t the sole domain of the rich.


To learn more about the work Tim Cannon and his colleagues are doing to augment humanity using safe, affordable, open source technology, check out Grindhouse Wetware or the forums.

Technology-enabled marketing talk at Girl Geeks Toronto

This is a cross-post of  a guest blog I wrote for Girl Geeks Toronto. You can find the original here. Girl Geeks Toronto runs monthly tech talks in a friendly social environment. Their talks are accessible to both techs and non-techs, and men are welcome.

Recap: Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map

This month’s event brought together two topics that showed how technology is enabling marketers to be more relevant to our audiences.  Asif Khan from the Location Based Marketing Association talked about how marketers are using Location Based Marketing (LBM) and Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey from True Impact Marketing introduced us to neuromarketing, which measures brain responses to really understand how users are truly responding to marketing messages. Through these two lenses we can begin to see the depth and breadth of marketing tools technology has enabled.

Location Based Marketing – Asif Khan

One of Asif’s core messages was that “location” doesn’t mean “mobile” and LBM isn’t just about checking in on Foursquare. Asif described it as “the intersection of people, places and media.” Wherever we are, and whatever device or app we choose, that’s a location.

Asif showed us a lot of intriguing examples. Some showed marketers offering services where the customer is, such as digital walls in airports where travellers returning home can order the groceries they’ll need to restock their fridges, and pizza ordering stations in transit shelters so riders could order dinner while they wait for the bus and have it arrive soon after they get home.

Others showed we can push offers to individuals based on where they are,  like a coupon to a customer when they are standing in front of the display deciding between brands. Starhub in Singapore chose fitting room music based on what clothes customers were trying on and pushed targeted download offers to their phones on the spot. (See how they did it here.)

Asif Khan speaking at a Girl Geeks Toronto event

Asif also shared examples of marketers increasing relevance based on real-time LBM data, like digital signage on a NYC bus allowing ads to be selected for each intersection based who has checked in to services like Foursquare instead of a static ad based on the bus route’s demographics.

Some examples used onsite-only offers to draw customers to the advertiser’s location. For instance, few users pay for advanced Angry Birds levels, but many choose to shop or eat at advertiser locations (e.g. McDonalds in China) where they can unlock new levels for free.

Asif’s many examples all result in making the content hyper-relevant to the user.  He reminded us that if we’re going to use LBM we need to first understand who we are targeting so we can choose tools that will reach them, and I think his overall message could be summed up with one of his comments:

Content is king but context is the advisor

Neuromarketing – Diana Lucaci and Katerina Juskey

If LBM is about getting the right message to the right people at the right time and place, neuromarketing (NM) is about determining what the right message IS.

Diana Lucaci from True Impact brings science into the boardroom, using tools that measure brain response to show marketers how users respond to their content. She was quick to remind us that neuromarketing is not about manipulating the subject’s brain, just reading its response, and introduced us to three NM technologies:

  1. EEG – Electroencephalography records electrical impulses produced by the brain’s activity to see whether a subject is engaged or not, or has positive or negative emotional engagement
  2. fMRI – Functional MRI machines measure the blood-flow to areas of the brain that are responsible for decision making and gives even more insight into how the subject is reacting to content
  3. Eye Tracking – helps correlate the emotional, attention or memory activity with the visual focus on the advertisement

Diana Lucaci presents on Neuromarketing

One of the big ideas behind these tools is that what people say they think and feel doesn’t always match what they really do, so focus groups and surveys can’t always give an accurate insight. Diana also pointed out that what questions we ask, how we ask them, and who else is in the room can affect subjects’ responses in traditional market research but by measuring the brain’s response neuromarketing can cut through some of that and tell us what people are really responding to. Used in conjunction with traditional research, NM can fine tune our understanding of the results.

Diana also showed us how we make decisions, with the part of our brains that handles emotions causing us to respond – mentally and even physically – before we even begin to think about a decision, and urged us to keep that in mind when we’re making decisions. Even when we don’t think we’re being affected, we are, and the fMRI can measure that.

One of Diana’s intriguing use cases involved three stop-smoking ads being shown to a focus group, which chose ad “B” as the most effective, while fMRI scans showed people really preferred ad “C” and in the real world, ad “C” drove 3 times as many calls as the others. Ads “A” and “B” were both based on rational arguments against smoking, the reasons we all want to believe we make decisions, while ad “C” tugged the heartstrings, addressing how hard it is to quit and how smoking affects our families. The fMRI was able to show that despite what the focus group respondents told marketers (and themselves!) the emotional appeal is the one that really worked.

Katerina Juskey presents at Girl Geeks

While the fMRI gives the deepest insights, EEG is a very effective tool because it provides immediate readings and it’s more portable and easy to use. Katerina told us about EEG’s and how they can show negative and positive responses and whether the subject is really engaged or tuned out. They also showed us a great example of how eye tracking can help us improve campaigns. Eye tracking on an ad showed most time spent looking at the headline, a little at the model, and almost none at the product. By changing the ad so that the model was looking at the bottle, viewers’ behaviour was changed and they spent more time looking at the product. Eye tracking identified what was happening, cueing marketers to make changes, and then measured the result to show that the change worked.

Diana acknowledged that neuromarketing is quite new and there is controversy around its effectiveness, but she likened selling it to selling some of the earliest websites. Many of us can remember when businesses were skeptical about whether a website would really drive business, but now there’s no question about it. Similarly, Diana expects neuromarketing to become more mainstream as marketers gain more experience using it.

Relevance, relevance, relevance!

So we covered a lot of territory in a single session, but it all comes back to one of our core challenges as marketers – how to be as relevant as possible to our audience. Location Based Marketing and neuromarketing are two great examples of how technology gives use new and exciting ways to make our content relevant.

Did you attend the Technology and Marketing: From Mind to Map event? What was your biggest takeaway?

Mark Zimmerman from MaRS Discovery District sheds light on Toronto and the Startup Ecosystem Report

A recent report from Startup Genome showed Toronto tied for 10th place on their list of the world’s top ecosystems for startups. Mark Zimmerman, an advisor in the MaRS information technology, communications and entertainment practice, delves into Toronto’s scorecard to look at the good, the average, and the bad. You can read Mark’s post here.

The report rings true to me, and Mark’s commentary helps explain why. Toronto is young, as startup cities go, and because the report split Toronto and Waterloo (while considering San Francisco and Palo Alto a single ecosystem) I think some of the strength of our close ties to the Waterloo community might be lost, but we are definitely playing in the big leagues and if we continue as we have been evolving, Toronto will move up higher on the list over time.

Who’s lying to you?

Lie spotting expert Pamela Meyer gave a great Ted Talk on “How to spot a liar” where she opens by mentioning that lies are a cooperative act. The lie gets power when someone agrees to believe it. She mentions this only briefly before focusing on how to spot lies but it was enough to get me thinking.

Sure, we knowingly agree to go with the lies sometimes. “You’re the best kisser I’ve ever known!” But what about when we don’t recognize that we’re being lied to? Maybe the liar is just that good. But how often is that?

How often, instead, does something subtle tell us we’re being lied to but we choose to ignore it? We don’t want to believe we’re being lied to. The lie is telling us what we wanted to hear. Or maybe we just don’t want to deal with the implications the person lying.

Meyer’s brief comment at the beginning of her talk is food for thought.

When we go along with lies, we’re not really being honest with ourselves. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Illegal file sharing increases content revenue?

Conventional wisdom tells us that illegal file sharing reduces revenue to the content producers (films, music, etc.). This study suggests that might not be the case. It suggests that illegal file sharers promote the content they like, causing more people to actually pay for it.