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March 2020

Dear ComputingEdge reader:

Virtual and Augmented Reality in Healthcare: Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are entering the healthcare sphere. From training surgeons to motivating patients during physical rehabilitation, VR and AR have the potential to help improve the treatment of diverse medical conditions. VR has already been used to treat pain, anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder by providing distraction, relaxing environments, and safe exposure scenarios. Two articles in this issue of ComputingEdge describe VR and AR systems that aim to help people with certain disabilities improve their social interactions.

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Fast Feedback

If I would like to identify the one element of computing that has altered our consciousness—altered the way we think—I would go with the instantaneous feedback loop, i.e. quick assessment and correction of our thoughts and actions. Humans have given feedback for all of history (parents to children (and vice versa), one spouse to another, and bosses to workers (and the reverse)). But human feedback involves a delay, and that delay allows us to forget our reasoning, disown a bad choice, or even learn the lesson without correction. Computing can give us corrective information while we are still thinking about what we did and, perhaps, still believing that we did the right thing.

If the instantaneous feedback loop is indeed all that I claim for it, it is not surprising that it is featured so prominently in the current issue of ComputingEdge. In “Designing Systems to Augment Social Interactions,” Ionut Damian and Elisabeth André set forth the requirements for systems that give us instantaneous feedback in social situations, such as those that involve public speaking. Diego Rojo and his colleagues deploy the ideas of immediate feedback in “A Virtual-Reality Training Application for Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.” Finally, Ayten Ozge Akmandor and Niraj K. Jha merge the benefits of immediate feedback with machine learning in “Detecting and Alleviating Stress with SoDA,” a stress detection and alleviation program. Such an approach improves “system accuracy by employing unsupervised dimensionality reduction in conjunction with supervised feature selection.”

Now, at ComputingEdge, we would not give you just one side of the story. Our goal is to make you better-informed, help you understand new technologies, and make you think—think deeply. To aid your thinking process, we have an article by Daniel E. Geer called “Unknowable Unknowns.” Dan is a software engineer who is deeply concerned about risk. He points out that we should not take computerized feedback blindly. “In human society,” he writes, “it is natural for the occasional interrogator who asks ‘Why did you do that?’ to demand an action reversal based on the answer to the question.” Can intelligent machines explain the feedback that they give? “One hopes that this will soon be true,” he says, “but as of now, it is not.”

What does instantaneous feedback do for you and your life? That’s for you to decide. But we give you the articles to help you understand all the implications in ComputingEdge.

—David Alan Grier for ComputingEdge


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