Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Wearable health trackers: a revolution in cancer care

Activity trackers, wearable electronics that collect data passively and can be worn on the body, infiltrated the world’s fitness market in the last decade. Those devices allowed consumers to track steps and heart rate. Next, wearable devices overtook the chronic illness market, giving patients the power to track health behavior and adherence to medication, which could be easily reported back to doctors.

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Is privacy the price of precision medicine?

New initiatives aim to harness technology and genomics to create bespoke medicine, customizing your healthcare like your Facebook profile. Instead of relying on generic practice guidelines, your doctors may one day use these new analytic tools to find the ideal treatment for you. Big data will make this precision possible: patterns that emerge from the DNA and medical records of millions can predict which treatments work best for which patients.

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The historian and the longitude

If a social conversation turns to the history of navigation – a turn that is not so unusual as once it was – the most likely episode to be mentioned is the search for a longitude method in the 18th century and the story of John Harrison. The extraordinary success of the book by Dava Sobel has popularised a view of Harrison as a doughty and virtuous fighter, unfairly disadvantaged by the scientific establishment.

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Facts about sanitation and wastewater management

After oxygen, fresh, clean water is the most basic requirement for the majority of life on Earth in order to survive. However, this is a true luxury that isn’t accessible for many millions of people around the world. Today hundreds of thousands of people die every year from these types of waterborne diseases, and even though these numbers are declining there is still work to be done.

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How brain scans reveal what really goes on in our minds [excerpt]

Every year in March, Brain Awareness Week champions the global campaign to celebrate and publicise the progress and benefits of brain research. Are you lying? Do you have a racial bias? Is your moral compass intact? To find out what you think or feel, we usually have to take your word for it. But questionnaires and other explicit measures to reveal what’s on your mind are imperfect: you may choose to hide your true beliefs or you may not even be aware of them.

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What is artificial intelligence?

There are many proposed definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), each with its own slant, but most are roughly aligned around the concept of creating computer programs or machines capable of behavior we would regard as intelligent if exhibited by humans. John McCarthy, a founding father of the discipline, described the process in 1955 as “that of making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.”

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Do you need to “unplug” from social media? [quiz]

“Unplugging” from social media does not necessarily equate to quitting. As The Happiness Effect author Donna Freitas found out, the decision to temporarily quit social media is a common among university students. Some students quit because they feel “too obsessed” or “addicted,” while others cite online drama as their reason to take a break.

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Isolation driven by technological progress – does anyone care?

The hype of technological progress is that it will change the world and make life better for everyone. For young technologists, this may be true, but their blinkered vision does not recognise that, not just the elderly, but many others, cannot cope with electronic communications and the benefits of on-line shopping or banking, etc. In many developed nations 25% of adults are of retirement age.

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How dangerous is technology?

Technological advances have provided immense improvements in our lives, but often with a hidden cost. Even the historic skills of bronze and iron working were driven by a desire not only for ploughs and tools, but for better weapons of war. This is still the case for much of modern science. Technical knowledge has helped to combat diseases, improve health, provide more food, offer faster travel, or ease hardship, and this is progress.

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The impact of cybersecurity on international relations

The hack of the Democratic National Committee by the Russian government and the subsequent publication of confidential emails during the 2016 US presidential election elevated cyber security in the context of international affairs to an unprecedented level in the public’s consciousness, not only in the United States but around the world.

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India: a work in progress

Every country that is on the ascendant feels the need for a “coming out” party. In the last half century, that need has been met most often by hosting the Olympic Games. Japan did it in 1964, South Korea followed in 1988, and China in 2008. The Olympic itch seems to come in the wake of economic growth that takes per capita income to the vicinity of $6,000

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Looking at the stars

The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars were mathematically perfect orbs, made from unearthly materials. These bodies were believed to move on perfectly symmetric celestial spheres, through which a backdrop of fixed stars could be seen, rotating majestically every 24 hours. At the centre was the motionless Earth. For the Greeks, the power of reason was more important than observation.

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Networks of desire: how technology increases our passion to consume

When we walk into a restaurant, we are often confronted by the sight of people taking pictures of their food with their smartphones. Online, our Facebook feeds seem dominated by pictures of people’s hamburgers and desserts. What is going on with food porn? How is consumer desire itself transformed by contemporary technology?

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Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication

The Internet never forgets, unless the law forces it to

The ultimate fate of the right to be forgotten remains to be seen. Although Europe has temporarily resolved this question in favor of the right by adopting its General Data Protection Regulation, many questions surrounding the issue still must be answered. It’s unclear whether other parts of the world will follow Europe’s lead. Internationally, writers are exploring some of these matters.

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Reflections on ‘chatbot’

A chatbot, or chatterbot, is computer program designed to engage in conversation through written or spoken text. It was one of the words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 shortlist. The idea of a chatbot originates with Alan Turing’s mid twentieth century aspiration to build a thinking computer. Turing proposed a test to determine what might count as success in this venture.

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Computational Theories and their Implementation in the Brain

How does the brain work?

The media is full of stories about how this or that area of the brain has been shown to be active when people are scanned while doing some task. The images are alluring and it is tempting to use them to support this or that just-so story. However, they are limited in that the majority of the studies simply tell us where in the brain things are happening. But the aim of neuroscience is to discover how the brain works.

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