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Tech Companies Mull Storing Data in DNA

As conventional storage technologies struggle to keep up with big data, interest grows in a biological alternative

4 min read
Tech Companies Mull Storing Data in DNA
Test Tube Bits: Biology’s data-storage method, DNA, might work for our data, too.
Photo: Getty Images

It was the looming senseof crisis that brought them together. In late April, technologists from IBM, Intel, and Microsoft joined an intimate gathering of computer scientists and geneticists to discuss the big problem with big data: Our data storage requirements are rapidly exceeding the capacity of today’s best storage technologies: magnetic tape, disk drives, and flash memory.

The closed-door meeting in Arlington, Va., was convened to explore the potential of a new storage technology that is actually as old as life itself. The experts came together to weigh the merits of DNA data storage, which makes use of the marvelously compact and durable DNA molecules that encode genetic information inside living things. By converting digital files into biological material, warehouse-size storage facilities could theoretically be replaced by diminutive test tubes.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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