wireless implants that will be appli-cation-agnostic. A multidisciplinary
group at Brown University, for example, is building a high-throughput device that could potentially work with
any type of sensor.
The neural dust group has taken a
similar approach, but Maharbiz says
it is also moving closer to its original
goal of building devices that continually read neuronal activity in key parts
of the brain, and allow subjects to
control their prosthetics as if they are
their own limbs. Indeed, the group has
published a proof-of-concept study
showing the motes could be shrunk
to half the width of an average human
hair, which would open up a whole new
realm of possibilities.
“If I think forward and dream a little
bit,” says Maharbiz, “I really do think
the amount of integration between
what we today consider synthetic and
what we consider organismal or biological is going to be extremely high.”
Carmena, J.M., Maharbiz, M.M., et. al.
Wireless Recording in the Peripheral
Nervous System with Ultrasonic Neural
Dust. Neuron 91, 529-539, 2016.
Yin, M., Borton, D.A., et. al.
Wireless Neurosensor for Full-Spectrum
Electrophysiology Recordings during Free
Behavior. Neuron 84, 1170-1182, 2014.
Rogers, J., et. al.
Bioresorbable Silicon Electronic Sensors
for the Brain. Nature 530, 4 February, 2016.
Baranowski, J., Delshad, B., Ahn, H.C.
An Implantable Pressure Sensor for
Long-term Wireless Monitoring of Cardiac
Function – First Study in Man. Journal of
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Gregory Mone is a Boston, MA-based writer and the
author of the novel Dangerous Waters.
© 2017 ACM 0001-0782/17/4 $15.00
wand-like telemetry device that transmits information to a patient database. A rapid rise in filling pressure,
for example, could be a warning sign
for an arrhythmia, but if a healthcare
professional were alerted in real time,
he or she could proactively adjust the
patient’s medicine or schedule an
appointment. “If patients have to be
monitored by a specialist every day,
that’s not practical,” Najafi says. “This
way, you can look at the data over the
last two weeks, and based on that, you
can adjust the medications.”
The timeline for when these sensors
become a regular part of patient care
is unclear, but the researchers paint
a fascinating picture of their potential. Najafi hopes he and his group will
be able to build devices that could be
safely implanted in children with severe heart problems and last 30 to 50
years. Other scientists are designing
Algorithms, the set of instructions
computers employ to carry out
a task, influence almost every
aspect of society. The explosive
growth of data collection, coupled
with increasingly sophisticated
algorithms, has yielded a
significant increase in automated
decision making, as well as a
greater reliance on algorithms
in human decision making.
Industry forecasters believe
software programs incorporating
automated decision making will
only increase in the coming years
as artificial intelligence becomes
One of the major challenges of
this emerging reality is to ensure
that algorithms do not reinforce
harmful and/or unfair biases.
Examples of potential
algorithmic bias include:
1. Job web sites: Do these sites
send more listings of high-paying
jobs to men than to women?
2. Credit reporting bureaus:
Does the dataset that algorithms
weigh in determining credit
scores contain prejudicial information?
3. Social media sites: What
factors determine the news items
that are served up to users?
4. The criminal justice
system: Are computer-generated
reports that influence sentenc-
ing and parole decisions biased
against African Americans?
Recognizing the ubiquity
of algorithms in our daily lives,
as well as their far-reaching
impact, the ACM U.S. Public
Policy Council (USACM) has
issued a statement and a list
of seven principles designed
to address potential harmful
bias. The goals of the statement
include providing context for
what algorithms are, how they
make decisions, and the technical
challenges and opportunities to
prevent and mitigate potential
USACM is the focal point
for ACM’s interaction with U.S.
government organizations, the
computing community, and the
public in matters of U. S. public
policy related to computing and
The USACM statement
(available in full at http://www.
that these principles should guide
every phase of software system
development and deployment.
“Algorithmic bias can occur even
with the best of intentions,” said
USACM Chair Stuart Shapiro.
“This is, in part, due to the fact
that both software development
and its products can be complex
and produce unanticipated
results. Following these principles
cannot guarantee that there will
be no biased algorithms or biased
outputs. But they will serve to
keep computing professionals on
the lookout for ways biases could
creep into systems and provide
guidelines on how to minimize the
potential for harm.”
The Statement on Algorithmic
Transparency and Accountability
was designed to be consistent
with ACM’s Code of Ethics. The
effort was initiated by USACM’s
USACM is organized around
a committee structure. Each
member of USACM serves on
at least one committee. Policy
statements originate at the
committee level before being
approved by the full USACM
Council. USACM’s seven
committee areas are: Privacy,
Security, Intellectual Property,
Law, Accessibility, Digital
Governance, and Voting. In
June, the Council approved
the addition of three new
working groups to reflect the
continuing rapid evolution of the
technology landscape: Internet
of Things (Io T), Big Data, and AI/
ACM TO CELEBRATE 50
YEARS OF TURING AWARD
During the next several months,
ACM will celebrate 50 years of the
ACM A.M. Turing Award and the
visionaries who have received it.
The aim is to highlight
the significant impact of the
contributions of the Turing
Laureates on computing and
society, to look ahead to the future
of technology and innovation, and
to help inspire the next generation
of computer scientists to invent
The celebration will culminate
with a conference on June 23–24
at the Westin St. Francis in San
Francisco, with moderated
discussions (streamed in real
time) exploring how computing
has evolved and where the field is
More information and
registration for this event is
available on the Turing Award
50 website, http://www.acm.org/
USACM on Algorithmic Bias, Accountability