FS Fives: Thursday, June 9

Welcome to the latest FS Fives – FutureScot’s lunchtime round-up of Scottish digital news.

First up, scientists at Microsoft have shown that by analysing large samples of search engine queries they may be able to identify Internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before people have received a diagnosis of the disease. “We asked ourselves, ‘If we heard the whispers of people online, would it provide strong evidence or a clue that something’s going on’,” said one of the researchers. The team was able to accurately distinguish between web searches that were casual and those that were genuine searches for specific medical symptoms by people who were experiencing them. They focused on anonymised searches conducted on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, that indicated someone had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From there, they worked backward, looking for earlier queries that could have shown that the user was experiencing symptoms before the diagnosis. Those early searches, they believe, could be used as warning flags. A next step, they said, would be some sort of health service where users could allow their searches to be collected, and scientists would monitor for questions that indicated valid symptoms. Their study was published in The Journal of Oncology Practice.

Is it a shame that the Edinburgh-based founders of Two Big Ears might end up relocating to Facebook’s Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Menlo Park, California, before the year is out? On one hand, writes Nick Freer, yes of course, as we want to be able to scale technology businesses from a base in Scotland. “On the other hand, it’s hard not to simply stand up and cheer – one big, old cheer for Two Big Ears.”

This probably doesn’t surprise you, but relying on GPS for navigation is not always a safe bet. That becomes all the more critical when mountaineering. According to Heather Morning, safety adviser for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, studies from around the world have indicated that using GPS for navigation – even when it’s done properly – can leave us with less knowledge of where we are, not more. It seems that by using a map, the brain builds a mental map of its surroundings, but not when using GPS. “That means if the technology fails for whatever reason, you are going to be a lot more lost,” says Morning.

“If I could roll back the clock four or five years, I’d do things differently,” laments Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff. “In lieu of that, I want to help those of you out there with babies, toddlers and school-age children. Now is your moment to take control and there’s no better time to start than the summer.” Ulanoff has suggestions for five things that will get your kids’ digital use under control.

And finally…an interior monologue from someone whose phone was dead for 24 minutes on the bus ride home.