SIUConference Oxford: Neurotechnology and Applied Neuroscience

Author: Ruth Sang Jones Edited by: Burcu Anil Kirmizitas

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Our first speaker on the evening of November 23, Carlos Velasco, is an Assistant Professor at the BI Norwegian Business School and a member of Crossmodal Research Lab at University of Oxford, where he completed his DPhil in Experimental Psychology. Since his undergraduate days, Carlos was interested in doing research and continued this passion after he completed his degree in Colombia. His drive led him to search for entrepreneurial avenues that combined both a funding source and research direction and things came to fruition in the niche Colombian fruit market (pun intended), where local farmers were trying to describe the appeal of their fruits to foreign buyers. But how can one fully describe the experience of eating a fruit- it is a multi-sensory experience after all- with colours and shapes besides just the taste? And thus began the study into leveraging the human senses and their interactions for multi-sensory marketing to the consumer. As an example, Carlos showed that people often associated jarring shapes as sour, whilst more rounded shapes were interpreted as sweet. His research led to Carlos co-founding Neurosketch and Flying Fish Research, both firms that use experimental data of emotion and sensory science to consult in the design of consumer products and user experiences.

Logan Graham, our second speaker, is currently a DPhil student of Machine Learning and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Out of a desire to use Machine Learning for social impact, he developed the idea for a student action lab whilst on an evening stroll with a friend. This was to challenge the status quo that Logan summarised in one of his favourite quotes:

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

— Jeff Hammerbacher, Founder of Cloudera

Rhodes Artificial Intelligence Lab (RAIL) brings together teams of machine learning engineers and strategists from the Rhodes Scholar community to solve a challenging social problem with artificial intelligence. To date, they have worked with many partners to tackle issues including predicting diabetes diagnosis, heart attacks and renewable energy market prices; triaging of patients online in Kenya; applying AI to antibiotic drug discovery, and more. Logan is very optimistic that artificial intelligence has the power to do a lot more good than bad, the latter opinion which has become popularised in the media lately.

Our final speaker, Matt Scott-Slade is the co-founder of game studio GLITCHERS, which aims to tap into the human and time resource of the vast gaming community for purposeful gaming. His team has created Sea Hero Quest, which is the first ever mobile app that uses gamer navigational skills input as data for dementia and Alzheimer’s research. He stated the game is a platform that connects researchers and gamers through play. Unlike other games that might appeal to the emotional philanthropist only, Sea Hero Quest is intended to reach the wider gaming community. It has also been designed through on-going collaboration with scientific experts. All of this culminates in raising awareness of dementia. Since launching, Sea Hero Quest has garnered 3.5 million participants, which has created the equivalent of 13,000 years worth of data. This can be analysed for statistical significance amongst countries, genders, age groups and other potential categories. Matt believes that the collaborations with scientists and industrial partners such as Deutsche Telekom has contributed to the success of the project. Moving forward, there is an intention to develop a diagnostic tool.

Our event concluded with a brief panel discussion. Questions raised included advice on setting up a start-up. The speakers agreed that one should not shy away from the start-up scene during university in fear of risks, as the university environment itself should be recognised as having high risk tolerance. It was also a unanimous opinion that collaboration between academia and industry, or as Carlos put it ‘bidirectional academia-industry feedback’ will serve out many benefits. Other topics touched on included cyber-security, regulation of online marketing, the academic organisation model and local entrepreneurship ecosystems. Interestingly, the subject of educating the next generation of scientists also surfaced, with suggestions that reforms were necessary beyond just teaching kids how to code, but also equipping them with more emotional intelligence.  This was to address the elephant in the room with special regard to artificial intelligence, which is job resilience or lack thereof to AI.