The future of surgery: AR, VR, and virtual learning will upend modern medicine / Humans + Tech - #72

+ Inside Israel’s lucrative — and secretive —cybersurveillance industry + A mother created ‘deepfake’ videos to harass rivals on her daughter’s cheerleading squad + Other interesting articles


I hope you had a great week. I found some fascinating articles this week. Read on.

The future of surgery: AR, VR, and virtual learning will upend modern medicine

Using Microsoft’s Hololens technology, a surgeon in France could perform surgery on a patient with help from three colleagues in Brazil, Belgium, and South Africa [Jeremy Kaplan, Digital Trends].

The case was complicated: Shoulder arthroplasty, to deal with an advanced case of arthritis affecting the patient’s glenoid — the ball part of the ball-and-socket joint in the shoulder. To handle the case most effectively, the surgeon wanted assistance from the best. But the best was physically half a world away. What to do?

From his operating theater in France, orthopedic surgeon Thomas Gregory slipped on a Microsoft Hololens 2 headset and dialed up three colleagues in Brazil, Belgium, and South Africa. They walked through holograms of the patient and collectively talked through the surgery; peering along as Gregory opened the patient’s shoulder joint, Stephen Roche, Bruno Gobbato, and Jean Florin Ciornohac suggested different clamps and alternate pathways and observed Gregory’s technique. Together, they turned a bit of surgery into a technology showcase.

This surgery wasn’t some science fiction film, however, nor was it the dream of a PR spinmaster. It actually took place just a few weeks ago, in Avicenne AP-HP Hospital in Bobigny, France — and it’s only the beginning.

Technologies like this that enable humanity to progress while helping each other are the best uses of technology. It’s so incredible how the top surgeons from three different continents were able to collaborate on a complicated surgery in realtime using holographic technology.

And this is not all.

New technologies on the horizon include augmented reality (AR), in which information can be overlaid directly into the field of view while surgeons are operating, virtual reality (VR), in which students can study surgeries in a 3D recreation of the operating theatre, and practising surgery in VR with haptic feedback to get real-life experience without any risk to patients. It’s definitely a very exciting time for technology in medicine.

Inside Israel’s lucrative — and secretive —cybersurveillance industry

This is an in-depth and absorbing read. 8200 is Israel’s version of the NSA in the United States. The graduates of 8200 are some of the most coveted in the technology industry. After their five years of service in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), most of them go on to launch successful startups and work dream jobs. Most of them use their knowledge and skills to found cybersecurity companies that export their cyber weaponry worldwide [Amos Barshad, Rest of World].

Many Israelis find ways to use their IDF skills in the private market. Israeli journalists often get their start at the IDF’s popular radio station, Galatz. For graduates of 8200, though, the post-army opportunities come in cybersurveillance.

A 2018 study cited by Haaretz estimated that 80% of the 2,300 people who founded Israel’s 700 cybersecurity companies had come through IDF intelligence. Private Israeli companies have sold surveillance technology to Malaysia, Botswana, Azerbaijan, Angola, Honduras, Peru, Nigeria, Ecuador, Mexico, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Uganda, and the United Arab Emirates. The industry’s collective sales are near $1 billion annually. 

Israel’s cyberintelligence community is met with global prestige. But international human rights organizations and lone activists are pushing against the ease and secrecy with which homegrown companies export their cyberweaponry all around the world. 

Meanwhile, a generation of brilliant young people is being funneled from a resource-rich government spy agency into an unchecked cyber-surveillance industry. Can anything stop this pipeline?

The article goes into the scale of Israel’s cyber-surveillance. It is absolutely mind-boggling.

Within the Israeli cyberweapons industry, the totemic name is NSO Group. Its Pegasus technology can purportedly hack a phone without the target even clicking a link. It’s been used to track dissidents, activists, and journalists from Mexico to Morocco. Most infamously, according to a 2018 lawsuit, the Saudi government is alleged to have used Pegasus to hack the phone of a friend of Jamal Khashoggi’s in order to monitor the journalist before his murder.

Behind NSO Group, there are many more. Cellebrite offers services to reconstruct data deleted from devices. The company gained renown after it was suggested that they cracked the iPhone of the 2015 San Bernardino shooters for the FBI. NSO’s sister company Circles sells the ability to locate a person’s physical location using only their phone number. Candiru goes after servers; it’s named after the Amazonian fish famed for “parasitizing the human urethra.” 

Barshad interviews many graduates of 8200 in this article, some of whom are questioning the morality of the IDF, and some of whom are absolutely convinced that 8200 is only there to do good. Barshad also speaks to an activist campaigning against Israel’s arms sales. It’s a must-read.

A mother created ‘deepfake’ videos to harass rivals on her daughter’s cheerleading squad

A woman in Pennsylvania created fake photos and videos of her daughter’s rivals on the cheerleading team and sent them to their coaches in an effort to drive them out of the team. The photos and videos showed the girls naked, drinking, and smoking [Vinny Vella, The Philadelphia Inquirer]. She also sent the manipulated images via anonymous messages to the girls.

Police in Hilltown Township were contacted by one of the victim’s parents in July, when that girl began receiving harassing text messages from an anonymous number, the affidavit said. The girl and her coaches at Victory Vipers were also sent photos that appeared to depict her naked, drinking, and smoking a vape. Her parents were concerned, they told police, because the videos could have caused their daughter to be removed from the team.

As police investigated, two more families came forward to say their daughters had been receiving similar messages from an unknown number, the affidavit said. The other victims were sent photos of themselves in bikinis, with accompanying text saying the subjects were “drinking at the shore.”

After analyzing the videos, detectives determined they were “deepfakes” — digitally altered but realistic looking images — created by mapping the girls’ social media photos onto other images.

This is not the last we are going to hear about deepfakes. As the technology to make them gets simpler and cheaper, these types of incidences will increase. The worst part of all this is that once these pictures are on the internet, they are almost impossible to remove and will continue to affect the victims for the remainder of their lives.

Some serious investments need to be made in creating deepfake detection tools. All media uploaded to social media sites and other public websites need to be run through these tools first. Legitimate deepfakes should have a separate process to be allowed to be uploaded. It may not solve the issue completely, but even if it stops some of these from getting on the public internet, it could make a big difference in the lives of victims.

+ Algorithm detects deepfakes by analyzing reflections in eyes [Tony Tran, Futurism] - Here’s one option for detecting deepfakes. Although I think this one will be easily bypassed by deepfake software shortly.

Other articles from around the web

👟 Gucci designed virtual sneakers for hypebeasts in Roblox and VRChat [Ian Carlos Campbell, The Verge]

Gucci is selling exclusive sneakers for $12.99. The catch? They are virtual sneakers that you can only buy in Roblox or view yourself wearing them in augmented reality using an app like VRChat.

🎩 Hat tip to Shraddha for sending this article in. Shraddha is part of the research team from Kings College London, which conducted the first real-world study into how cancer patients are much less protected against Covid-19 than other people after one dose of the Pfizer vaccine [Philippa Roxby, BBC].

👸🏼 I asked an AI to tell me how beautiful I am [Tate Ryan-Mosley, MIT Technolgy Review]

Tate Ryan-Mosley reports on the companies using AI to rate people’s looks, and how they use that to influence what we do, what we think, and control the media we are exposed to. And most of these algorithms contain elements of bias, ageism, and racism.

🕵️‍♂️ The UK is secretly testing a controversial web snooping tool [Matt Burgess, WIRED]

For the last two years police and internet companies across the UK have been quietly building and testing surveillance technology that could log and store the web browsing of every single person in the country.

The tests, which are being run by two unnamed internet service providers, the Home Office and the National Crime Agency, are being conducted under controversial surveillance laws introduced at the end of 2016. If successful, data collection systems could be rolled out nationally, creating one of the most powerful and controversial surveillance tools used by any democratic nation.

Scary and shocking.

A bunch of US states are now using weather modification technology [Victor Tangermann, Futurism]

Eight US states are now using a technique called “cloud seeding” to encourage clouds to form and provide drought-stricken regions with some much needed water, Scientific American reports.

The technique involves releasing silver iodide particles, which have very similar structures to ice, in the air, often from planes. Once they reach the inside of clouds, they attract droplets, which then cluster and freeze as they gather. The result, in theory: more fresh water reaching the ground.

Nothing bad can come of this. Right?

Quote of the week

“Surgeons speak a different language, a true 3D language, because they’re used to working with 3D structures. But I’m a cardiologist. I was trained as a 2D cardiologist, then I became a 3D interventionist.”

—Massimo Chessa, cardiologist interventionist with San Donato Hospital in Italy, from the article, “The future of surgery: AR, VR, and virtual learning will upend modern medicine[Digital Trends], explaining how Mixed reality allows him to better communicate with surgeons, thereby improving patient care.

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)