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Columnist: Emerging technology looks into emotions, through clothing

A few years ago, when my grandmother lived with my family, my mother would often set her up on Skype to talk to her grandchildren.

I’ve never seen her beautiful eyes get so big.

“Erin, I see you on the screen!” she’d exclaim with unfeigned excitement, as if she had just witnessed Jesus turn water into wine.

“Can you see me? Can you see me waving at you?”

I’d laugh. “I see you Grammy; you’re looking lovely today!”

Born in 1920, my grandmother witnessed endless technological advancements that continued to astound her in myriad ways.

Even at my age, I find myself recalling past technologies I grew up with, assuming her similar state of awe in regard to where our world is today.

I already live with the fact that I will be explaining VHS tapes and Walkmans to my children, which will surely elicit an expression of bewilderment in conjunction with the “Woah, you’re old” look I used to give my grandmother when I was a child.

“You mean, you didn’t play Oregon Trail, Grammy?”

I never had the heart to tell her that her character usually came down with cholera on the grueling westward journeys anyway.

Oregon Trail, meet smartphones that can see through walls. Meet automobiles whose customized safety electronic systems respond according to your mood.

The time for hunting buffalo — only to settle for the squirrels sporadically jolting across the screen — has long since passed.

As reported by RedOrbit, scientists and engineers from the University of Texas at Dallas have developed new smart phone technology, allowing users to literally see through walls — an advancement they expect to be available for the consumer over the next three to four years.

How exactly does this Clark Kent technology work, one may ask?

Well, envision the electromagnetic spectrum — from radio waves, with the lowest frequency, all the way to gamma rays, with the highest frequency. Nestled in between microwaves and infrared rays is a part of the spectrum called the terahertz band, and researchers have developed a way to transform the electromagnetic waves emitted from this band into actual images. No LSD needed.

The result? Smartphones with an X-ray-like vision. Brick, concrete, clothing, wood, paper and, yes, even those fluffy-white formations of water droplets floating above one’s head are among some of the materials the technology would see through.

Dr. Kenneth O, one of the researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas, told RedOrbit: “By far, the medical imaging for cancerous cells will be the most important application.”

One of its many benefits is that terahertz radiation results in significantly less damage to cell DNA and tissues in comparison to X-ray radiation, which is used universally for medical imaging.

Of course, with any new technology, there is a risk of its abuse.

Seeing through clothes? Cancer cells won’t be the only thing getting a thorough examination — not to mention the numerous other privacy concerns that may arise. Although, Dr. O and his colleagues have said their aim is to allow the technology only to work at a distance no greater than 4 inches.

Regardless, my personal space bubble just inflated itself.

Also launching technology into a new age, Toyota Motor Corporation is in the process of developing cutting-edge safety advancements for their cars in the form of a camera that interprets readings from 238 points on a driver’s face to determine their mood.

Research done by the Japanese automaker found that angry or sad drivers are more likely to be distracted while driving, resulting in slower response times to external factors such as crossing pedestrians or a sudden change of lanes by a neighboring car.

Toyota’s system would issue an alert to the driver more rapidly if their expression was identified as angry or sad than it would if their expression was identified as neutral.

This technology may be available to the consumer in as little as six years.

I’m OK with that, as I need sufficient time to digest the fact that my Prius may one day have more insight into my emotions than I do.

It proves horrifying and diametrically extraordinary to contemplate what the technological state of the world will be when I have grandchildren.

Although rapidly advancing technology is not devoid of shortcomings and does indeed necessitate an examination of its ethical implications, the modern Luddites who habitually decry the nature of such advancements neglect the remarkable improvements these technologies offer the fields of health and human safety.

Unequivocally, it proves a tragedy that humans will never cease to find unique and innovative ways to abuse and destroy — and, yes, technology can certainly be the vector. But too often our ability and drive to improve aspects of human life are minimized or overlooked, and that, too, is a tragedy symmetrically unfortunate.

 

 Erin McCann is a fourth-year biology student. Her columns appeared every Monday.