Friday Five: brain hacking and AI art

Zone’s Matt Blackwell handpicks and shares the five best stories on new digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Be the best version of yourself

Remember the film Limitless, where Bradley Cooper discovers a way to utilise his brain’s full capacity? Well it’s kind of becoming a reality — minus the questionable substances and adverse side effects — thanks to brain optimisation start-up Field.

Using a combination of biofeedback, neuroenhancement technology and life coaching, Field aims to hack your brain and rewire it to boost desired traits such as productivity, athletic prowess and even sex drive. Biohacking doesn’t come cheap though — to become a member of this exclusive club you’ll need to stump up £850 per session. Oh, and it generally takes around 20–30 sessions to see results. Yikes.

2. When words fail, emojis speak

Emojis are one of the fastest growing languages in history, and new app YOBO could deliver another nail in the written word’s coffin. Performing a similar role to Yelp and TripAdvisor, YOBO offers crowd-sourced recommendations for local bars and restaurants, except instead of words, ratings are given through emojis and photos.

The app’s creators want to make it quick and easy for users to express their emotions and the long-term aim is to use machine learning to recognise habits and provide personalised recommendations based on location. Call me old-fashioned, but while avoiding crowds at popular spots is an attractive prospect, I can’t quite get on board with ditching words altogether to achieve it.

3. Teaching tech takes off in China

Recent studies have shown that robots have the ability to significantly influence children’s opinions and behaviours, and more than 600 schools in China have pounced on this revelation by introducing a robotic teacher called Keeko to kindergarten classes.

Standing a mighty 60 centimetres tall, the tiny titans of tech have proven popular with kids, setting problem-solving challenges and reacting to correct answers with heart-shaped flashing eyes. China is blazing a trail in robotics, using them as companions for the elderly as well as sources of legal advice, but for now Keeko strikes me as an augmenter of education as opposed to sole provider.

4. AI gets artistic

What is art? That’s a pretty deep topic for a Friday morning, but you could say Beethoven crafting his nine symphonies or Van Gogh putting the finishing touches to a masterpiece. Either way, it’s a question that became more difficult to answer when it was announced that Christie’s will soon auction its first AI painting.

After analysing 15,000 portraits spanning the 14th to the 20th century, an AI created by art collective Obvious produced a painting that references the past with a modern spin. Although ‘artist’ is unlikely to be next on the list of jobs threatened by AI, this is still an impressive display of the diversity and strength of algorithms.

5. What would you do for a free coffee?

OK, don’t answer that. But Japanese coffee chain Shiru Cafe is offering customers at one of its US branches the chance to pay for products by providing personal data. A flat white? That’ll set you back your name and address. A skinny latte? Fill in your work history here, please.

Before you recoil in disgust, it’s worth highlighting that many companies will nab this data from you sneakily; Shiru is just being upfront about it and offering something in return. I don’t know what happens when you run out of data and are desperately trying to flog your children’s/wife’s/dog’s particulars in return for a caffeine fix, but I’m sure Shiru’s business model accounts for this. Hopefully.