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8 Exciting Ways Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Help People With Disabilities – ReadWrite

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8 Exciting Ways Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Help People With Disabilities - ReadWrite


When people think of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), they usually focus on gaming equipment like the Oculus Rift or enhanced reality games like Pokemon Go. But VR and AR technology does so much more. This advanced tech is already changing healthcare, real estate sales, vacation planning, and scientific exploration.

Both technologies are also assisting people with disabilities in their everyday lives. Today, we’re going to explore eight of the most exciting examples of this in action.

8 VR and AR Applications for People With Disabilities

1. Leading the Blind

You may be familiar with the blind superhero Daredevil, who uses small audio cues to move, run, and even fight. The same basic concept applies to new programs using guided audio to help blind people move through museums, college campuses, and entire cities.

At its most basic, these programs provide a guided audio tour with location finders to walk somebody through a description and essential safety advisories as they experience a museum. This concept can expand into larger areas with the installation of more location finders and visual cues. As the smart city movement gains traction, it’s not difficult to imagine an entire metropolis outfitted with VR and AR applications to help blind people navigate safely and with greater independence.

This technology can also help people who aren’t blind but wear eyeglasses. VR goggles enhance vision similar to the way corrective lenses do. At the same time, AR assistance can call attention to hazards with bright highlights or other cues visible to those with severe vision visual impairment.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

We all know accomplishing difficult tasks is easier with practice. For people with anxiety, depression, autism, or other disabilities that impact how they engage with the world, social interaction can be overwhelming.

A team at the University of Haifa is developing a program that allows autistic children to practice everything from communicating with others to crossing the street. Within the VR interface, they’re free to experiment, make mistakes, and learn without the social and physical risks found in the real world.

This concept is part of learning almost all tasks: You practice first with low stakes and consequences for error, then gradually increase those stakes as your competence improves. VR and AR have simply opened the model to a broader spectrum of people.

3. Assisting Communication

Communication is a fundamental aspect of being human. Being cut off from communicating can be one of the most crushing burdens of a speech, hearing, or language disorder.

The beginnings of these solutions are already part of popular culture, with examples including Stephen Hawking’s speech hardware to new real-time translation apps for our phones. VR and AR add new levels to this, potentially increasing connectedness and independence for millions.

One striking example of this is an augmented reality system linking a pair of gloves with a speaker system. Haptics in the gloves translates sign language in real-time, speaking the signed words audibly for those around and instantly increasing the number of people who can understand the wearer. Developers also see this as a potential tool for teaching sign language by giving learners immediate feedback to refine their signing skills.

4. Accessing Out-of-Reach Experiences

The VR application here is almost identical to how the abled use VR and AR in their lives: to experience things they couldn’t otherwise. For people without disabilities, this ranges from visiting alien planets to exotic travel on earth to epic gun battles and sports competitions beyond the constraints of their regular lives.

For the disabled, there are many apps and hardware suites that allow them to virtually experience activities like climbing mountains, skiing, walking upstairs, or ballroom dancing. Unlike other items on this list, these don’t require new concepts or technologies. They apply what we’ve been doing for fun to the needs of those living with disabilities.

For example, a Dutch nonprofit has created a program using waterproof VR glasses that allow somebody to drift in a pool and interact with virtual bottlenose and spinner dolphins. It’s been used like psychological therapy to help relax and treat trauma. But it can be tweaked to let people experience a swim with dolphins who could never travel to do so physically.

5. Checking for Accessibility

Think of the last time you planned a vacation. Chances are you looked at a map or checked Google Earth to look at the destinations’ street-level images.

For anybody with a mobility-limiting disability, part of this planning includes assessing a location’s general accessibility. What might be trivial for the abled could be taxing somebody in a wheelchair or with a balance-impacting disability.

Taking a VR or AR tour of a destination can let somebody with a disability virtually walk their route, checking for potential issues with accessibility. They can plan routes, finding the most accessible options and gaining greater mobility and independence.

This application can go beyond those with mobility disabilities. Taking a dry run of an errand or journey can help reduce stress for those suffering from crippling anxiety, allowing them to enter the world sooner and more frequently.

6. Augmenting the Senses

By now, you’ve likely already seen the YouTube videos of babies fitted with hearing aids for the first time or an adult viewing the world through reality-augmenting glasses that canceled his colorblindness. These are impressive, but they’re just the beginning of the possibilities.

Only a tiny fraction of people with visual or hearing impairments suffer a total loss of that sense. The overwhelming majority can benefit from VR or AR applications that amplify or refine the input from these senses. For example, a VR program that magnifies objects on-demand can overcome severe visual impairments. An AR filter that cancels background noise can drive the next generation of hearing aids.

For those with a total loss of one sense, the same practices can enhance the other senses to help overcome that disability or potentially reroute information from one sense to another — for example, haptic feedback that uses touch to help steer a blind person on an augmented reality tour

7. Helping Recovery From Strokes and Other Injuries

Visualizing an activity helps athletes improve their performance and people suffering from anxiety have difficult conversations. The Duke University Walk Again Project applies this concept to help people walk again after suffering a stroke or injury.

Combining the dynamic visualization of guided meditation with a videogame’s fun and motivation, this VR-based brain app interfaces with devices that help move the arms and legs as the user visualizes them moving. As the neural pathways regrow, the assist gradually reduces until the patient moves under their power alone. Walk Again has worked in pilot programs, restoring movement to patients who previously would never recover.

8. Getting Hired

Many people with disabilities can’t work in various industries or perform specific tasks. This includes being unable to do the work physically and or reach critical areas in the workplace because of limited mobility.

VR and AR can help to solve these problems in a variety of ways:

  • Direct assistance technology that helps a disabled employee perform physical tasks
  • Sensory adaptation to augment the senses or mitigate the issues associated with a sensory processing disorder
  • Various forms of augmentation for remote work, allowing somebody to do fulfilling and meaningful work without leaving home
  • Wearable technology that helps a disabled person reach work and perform in the work environment
  • Training tools to help somebody with a learning or sensory disability gain the skills needed to do a job

Accessibility in the workplace is nothing new. As a society, we’ve made advances in law, medicine, and technology to make meaningful work a possibility for more and more people. Adding VR and AR to this suite of solutions is the next step.

Final Thoughts

The virtual/augmented shoe can also go on the other foot, helping increase understanding and empathy in the general public for people with disabilities.

For example, Alzheimer’s Research UK released a virtual reality app (called, “A Walk Through Dementia”), that simulates the experience of living with dementia. Similar applications could simulate living with ADHD, autism, and other disabilities.

It’s not hard to imagine how spending even an hour using such an app would improve how well we understand the hardships and challenges of those with disabilities.

Image Credit: eren li; pexels; thank you!

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How Blockchain Is Being Used With Smart Buildings – ReadWrite

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Saul Bowden


Whether you realize it or not, many of us live in buildings with some smart capacity. You probably have at least one smart device in your home.

With the smart device industry set to grow by $65 billion by 2024, the odds are, you’ll add more of these devices. The true potential of smart homes lies in the ability of smart devices to communicate together — and that’s where blockchain technology comes in.

How Blockchain is Being Used With Smart Buildings

On the surface, smart technologies make individual tasks easier, but the potential is much larger than that. A smart device is effectively a sensor able to collect significant amounts of data about everything, from your energy use to how well-stocked your fridge is.

Smart Technology Works Better in Swarms

On its own, this data is valuable; when combined with data from other devices, its usability becomes game-changing. A properly connected smart home would be able to automatically adjust the heating to your preferences while minimizing bills, ordering your favorite groceries, monitoring and adjusting energy usage, sending repair notifications if something breaks, and much more.

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are already used extensively in supply chain management. They help efficiently manage products passed through multiple stakeholders and verify that products are what the label says they are.

Catching Slave Labor in Fishing Supply Chains

One example where smart technology has been useful is in tracking fishing supply chains. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has used IoT to track sustainable tuna fishing.

The Western and Central Pacific tuna trade is rife with illegal fisheries — and, in some cases, slave labor — because tracking is either done via an easily-forged paper trail or not at all. However, savvy consumers and brands are demanding more accountability from the tuna industry.

The WWF’s branches in New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji have combined forces with blockchain software studio ConsenSys to implement secure traceability and track to address the problem.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) or QR codes capture information as a fish moves through the supply chain from the boat to grocers. Tracking information is automatically saved in blockchain, making it nearly impossible to forge.

Privacy and Compatibility Remain a Concern

Although smart technology has many uses in enterprise settings, it becomes a thornier prospect for individuals. IoT devices collect huge amounts of data which can reveal a lot about their owners. Additionally, they are often poorly secured, creating significant security challenges.

Most smart devices must run on centralized platforms controlled by major tech companies, notably Amazon and Google.

There have been significant privacy concerns about both companies due to their access to an extraordinary amount of personal data.

Amazon Alexa’s Vulnerabilities

Setting aside concerns about microphones, Amazon’s voice-activated assistant Alexa also presents other significant security concerns.

Although Amazon provides some privacy protections, with 100 – 200 million Alexa devices and over 100,000 skills already deployed, there is a significant concern about malicious developers taking advantage of security holes.

For example, developer names aren’t verified, allowing a malicious developer to stage a phishing attack posing as a different company. This risk is especially high with some skills that link to email, banking, or social media accounts.

After a skill has been approved and added to the marketplace, a malicious developer can change its coding without getting Amazon’s approval or notifying the customer. Many developers also have misleading privacy policies — or none at all, meaning that customers will have no idea how their personally identifiable information will be used.

Lack of Device Compatibility

The second challenge is compatibility. Early adopters are painfully familiar with the concept of device divorce, where two smart devices cannot speak with another. Part of the problem is that Amazon and Google are used as primary smart home controllers, and there isn’t a platform-agnostic solution widely available to most consumers.

Blockchain Technology is the Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Blockchain technologies are working to provide the solution to these challenges and others since they can enable P2P connections without the need for a centralized validator.

With blockchain, it would be possible to connect numerous smart devices without being forced to hand that data directly over to the device manufacturer, mitigating privacy and security concerns. It can also provide increased transparency over how data is used, helping users understand what data their smart home is collecting and what it’s used for.

Blockchain technology is also hardware agnostic. Thus, it would be possible for users to pair together devices from different manufacturers without worrying about compatibility.

IOTA’s Tangle vs. Traditional Blockchain

One of the best examples of this vision is the IoT-focused blockchain IOTA.

It is important to understand that we are not talking about financial blockchain technology like Bitcoin. Blockchains based on traditional Proof of Work (PoW), like Bitcoin, lack the speed and scalability necessary to process the millions of data points produced by smart devices.

Instead, we are looking at smart device-focused technologies, most notably IOTA. IOTA uses a Tangle specifically designed for data and value transfer.

Blockchains like Bitcoin are essentially long chains of blocks containing transactions. The Tangle, on the other hand, is constructed as a directed acyclic graph (DAG), which is a collection of vertices connected by edges.

Eliminating Validators

IOTA’s implementation is designed in such a way that each new transaction (vertice) must approve two previous transactions when it enters the Tangle. This eliminates the need for Proof of Stake (PoS) or PoW consensus methods.

Because these transactions don’t require always-online validators, they are feeless and contain metadata that makes them suitable for micropayments and data transfer.

IOTA’s Partnerships

IOTA is interesting because the technology is more mature than many other IoT-focused blockchain solutions. The project has experienced past problems, but the roll-out of its improved Tangle has allowed it to secure some important partnerships, primarily in areas designed to improve transparency.

Properly Validating Smart Device Data Is The First Step

IOTA’s most important partnership for smart homes is undoubtedly Project Alvarium. The biggest challenge posed by IoT — and smart devices in general — is the sheer volume of data collected. The vastness of information makes assessing what data is trustworthy and useful difficult, especially in an automated environment.

To solve this problem, Dell and IOTA teamed up to create Project Alvarium, designed to provide a simple way to assess the trustworthiness of data gathered.

Project Alvarium’s system logs every datapoint as it travels across the system. Each interaction is given a trust rating, which is logged on the IOTA Tangle to prevent tampering. This provides a simple way to find problems or deliberate tampering within a network of data.

Blockchain Can Help Resolve Security Concerns About Smart Security

When smart home users are certain that they can trust the data being generated by their devices, it opens up a world of opportunities that could transform our daily lives.

The most immediate use of blockchain technology is in improving building security. The most high-profile problem is undoubtedly Amazon’s Ring. In late 2020, dozens of people sued Amazon over accusations that their Ring doorbells had been breached.

The breach enabled hackers to watch people inside their homes and talk to individuals in the house over the Ring speakers.

Additionally, the product’s privacy policy is porous and allows Amazon to share video and microphone data with numerous third parties, removing any expectation of privacy.

The Blockchain Difference

Blockchain has been shown to resolve both the problem of data breaches as well as hacking takeovers. Capturing a blockchain-powered device would require compromising the entire blockchain itself compromised.

But proper validation, such as that proposed by IOTA, allows malicious devices to be pruned from the network, significantly improving security.

Additionally, blockchain could enable consumers to understand how their data is being used, helping to make smart devices more privacy-focused.

Smart Building Management Solutions are Already Being Tested

The value of blockchain technology becomes even bigger at scale. One of the most impactful uses of IoT and blockchain technology is in building management. Whether for an apartment building or an office building, it’s often difficult to effectively manage a building’s heating, lighting, and security in a way that minimizes waste.

Example: How Blockchain Could Manage Heating Bills

In a traditional setting, most buildings are managed centrally. If there is a unified heating system, it is often controlled by the local administration. Although this system is more efficient than individually-heated buildings, there is significant room for human error. That’s because the system is not optimized to account for more efficient heating higher up in the building as heat rises.

A network of heating sensors could be used to automatically measure the temperature in each apartment or office in a building. If the different thermostats could communicate with each other, it should be possible to input all the data into a blockchain solution.

A scheme like this would allow the building operators to create a proper heat map of the building and understand the most efficient usage of energy. It would also enable residents to access the data and understand why the system works the way it does.

Theoretically, it could also enable a user to select a target temperature for their apartment by leveraging rising heat from lower apartments.

Solutions on the Horizon

This kind of project is already being tested. For example, Brickschain offers several products that minimize difficulties with building management and handover on sale. There are also an increasing number of studies looking at how blockchain can be positively implemented into the building management process.

The Future of IoT: Many-to-Many Marketplaces

When buildings are utilizing IoT devices and blockchains, a bigger opportunity opens up: decentralized marketplaces.

Currently, it can be difficult to get the best deal on energy or heating bills because it is a marketplace with many customers but only a few providers. Switching providers can be difficult and doesn’t guarantee a competitive rate.

However, with blockchain, it would be possible to change providers based on real-time pricing data. This setup would create a competitive many-to-many environment where many providers are looking to sell energy to many customers. The competition among providers would drive down energy prices and improve overall efficiency in energy markets.

Swedish District Heating Study

Sweden has conducted studies to investigate the utility of blockchain for a district heating market. The setup allows apartment blocks already utilizing blockchain to automatically select the most affordable provider at any given moment, minimizing bills without requiring micromanagement.

The same concept could be applied to many aspects of building management.

Decentralized Governance

One interesting idea is the concept of decentralized governance. This type of network could empower tenants and apartment owners to vote on changes to their apartment block’s management proceedings.

For example, renters could vote in favor of using only green energy sources or for changes to living space regulations. Building administrators could then better understand their occupants’ needs and create a better living environment for all involved.

Blockchain Will be Needed to do IoT Correctly

Adoption of IoT and smart technologies will likely increase. Governments like the UK are already pushing hard on smart meters and many of us have already adopted some form of smart technology in our homes.

This rush to adopt new technology will undoubtedly come with significant scaling problems as well as security concerns and significant privacy issues.

Additionally, a market dominated by a handful of major tech companies like Amazon and Google could prove damaging to the consumer in the long term.

To counter these eventualities, we’ll need a platform-agnostic solution that allows a more diverse field of producers to create new IoT devices.

Blockchain technology still represents the best way to utilize IoT for everyone’s benefit. If solutions like IOTA are implemented into existing smart homes, then we could build a new decentralized marketplace that will give us better control of our data, while improving the efficiency of our homes.

Image Credit: pixabay; thank you!

Saul Bowden

Saul writes about tech & business, he’s covered everything from cryptocurrency to the oil & gas industry. He spends time working with start-ups and writes for commodity.com.

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Social Sign-on: Sure, it’s convenient. But is it really safe? – ReadWrite

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Remembering passwords is always a hassle, especially when you have innumerable websites that require logging in to view or interact with their content. To make the process simpler (as little as a couple of clicks), webmasters worldwide have accepted and implemented social logins on their websites.

Social Sign-on: Sure, it’s convenient. But is it really safe?

So, what exactly is social login? How different is it compared to the traditional method of inputting your credentials such as username, email address and password manually? More importantly, is it safe enough for use on all kinds of browsing activities?

Disadvantages of Social Sign-On

In this article, we answer all the above questions and more, helping you understand what social sign-on is, and what the disadvantages of this convenient method are.

The history of social logins

Social sign-on as a method of hassle-free authentication has been around for over a decade now. Back in the nascent days of the modern internet in 2008, Facebook launched Facebook Connect, a service aimed at simplifying registrations on websites.

Once webmasters enabled FB Connect on their websites, visitors to the site would no longer need to fill up lengthy registration forms to sign up for the website’s offerings.

All they needed to do was connect their existing Facebook account to the website, enabling direct access to the site with a click of a button.

In 2009 and 2010, Twitter and LinkedIn respectively enabled their users to socially login to other sites using their existing social network credentials.

Google+ followed suit in 2011, and although no longer active as Google+, it still supports social sign-on using a Google account.

While it all sounds very convenient, social sign-on has many drawbacks and challenges that impact both website visitors and website owners.

Social Sign-on: The challenges and disadvantages

The Trust Factor

Most internet users do not trust the websites they browse to store and utilize their personal information safely and responsibly. Often, website visitors are concerned about how the information they have shared will be used.

In a June 2020 survey conducted by Insider Intelligence, 32% of US Facebook users felt that they somewhat disagreed that the platform could keep their data and privacy secure.

Not everyone has the time or patience to read the data handling and privacy policy put forth by a website, so they simply choose to be cynical of the data they share on such sites.

Data Accuracy

People tend to be wary of the private information they share online; they often resort to uploading falsified or inaccurate information about themselves on social media.

Considering that these social media sites do not verify or vouch for the authenticity of their user’s information, this could be less than ideal for a website looking for accurate data while accepting new user registrations.

In 2019, Facebook released data that said that 16% of the accounts on its platform are fake/duplicate accounts created by individuals or companies. What’s more worrisome are the findings of the research team at NATO StratCom that suggest 95% of the reported fake accounts still continued to remain active, with no action taken by the social media website.

With no checks on the actual profile that’s being used to socially sign-on to your website, you could soon have an imposter, Donald Trump or Joe Biden signing up for your global warming newsletter or purchasing a bag of your freshly powdered Mexican coffee.

Not everyone’s social — nor on social

While we talk about social media, we need to understand that although it is a global phenomenon with an insanely large number (read 3.6 billion) of people using it, there is still a sizeable chunk (>50%) of the population that is not on social media.

Using a restrictive method, you risk alienating a section of society that could be your potential target audience.

Transfer of Power

Enabling social sign-on seems pretty enticing at first, considering it would cut down your authentication work significantly. But this very ‘benefit’ could end up costing you dearly, as you lose control over your visitors’ data to a third-party service provider, i.e., the social media network.

Should there be any downtime at the social media service’s end, your website visitors would be stranded, unable to login to your site or access their data?

Access Control Issues

Many internet access places tend to have controls in place when it comes to accessing social media. For example, corporate and educational networks generally block access to social websites. Certain countries like Iran, China, Syria, and North Korea have blanket bans on the most popular social websites.

Social sign-on still depends on an API call-back to the social networking site to authenticate the user. Thus, by having social sign-on set up on your website, visitors authenticating on your site through these networks would end up facing a website with broken functionality.

Security concerns

Social media accounts are often the target of several hacking and phishing attempts. Thus, if your user’s social media account is hacked, it could lead to their account on your site being compromised as a result.

A University of Maryland study revealed a hacking attempt every 39 seconds on average, affecting a third of Americans every year.

Hacked social accounts could have an adverse impact on your website as well, by performing activities that might eat up your server resources or corrupt your files, if your security is not up to the mark. Secure authentication is the need of the hour, and knowledge of the security practices will help solve these concerns.

Too much to choose

People use many social media websites, so keeping a single social login can be counterproductive. However, providing multiple methods to login could likely confuse or overwhelm your visitor, leading to lower conversion or sign-up rates.

Lesser data to work with

Using a social sign-on for your website would mean limited access to user data, especially email. Not every social media network allows websites to access the customer’s email address. For businesses that rely on customer information for lead generation, this would be a major deal-breaker.

Awareness of all the security practices and malpractices (sawolabs dotcom) will help educate users as well as the website owners.

If not social sign-on, then what?

All the above drawbacks would make webmasters question the efficacy of social sign-on. But then, is there a better alternative that does not include such shortcomings?

Say hello to passwordless authentication powered by SAWO Labs. A new-age solution designed to address all concerns of security, compatibility and functionality.

Image Credit: yellow graphic — from author; thank you!

 Top Image Credit: karolina grabowska; pexels; thank you!

Akshay Shetye

Akshay Shetye

“SAWO – Secure Authentication Without OTP – is a B2B2C service-based company whose API Integration enables one-tap authentication on your app (Android, iOS) and web to provide a passwordless and OTP-less authentication experience. We are a secure, sustainable, and cost-effective solution to making a business passwordless and OTP-less.”

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3 Ways Companies Can Be More Sustainable – ReadWrite

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Eric Lander


I’m thinking about our planet today — I think about our planet every day. Our planet is hurting, and many businesses are encouraging their employees to live more sustainably. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry and agriculture account for approximately 32 percent of direct emissions.

3 Ways Companies Can Be More Sustainable

Here are a few ways companies can encourage sustainability in their employees and work to lower the remaining 68 percent.

Employ a hybrid work model

With so many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve inadvertently been doing Earth a huge favor. The EPA shows that transportation is responsible for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with about half of that coming from personal vehicles that burn gasoline and diesel. Because many companies instituted a work from home policy, there were fewer cars on the road and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Companies can continue this progress by instituting a hybrid work model once the pandemic is finally over.

Reduce waste in the office

One big way to reduce waste in the office is by offering snack and drink options that eliminate single-use plastic. For example, TechnologyAdvice uses a Bevi machine in the office, offering still, sparkling, and flavored water without single-use plastic. You might also consider snacks that don’t need to be individually packaged, like fruits or nuts.

While you may not be able to completely eliminate office waste, you can work to offset the waste you do generate. Make it easy for employees to recycle and encourage them to do so. You can create an employee-led recycling program, keep an “I don’t know” bin for those items that don’t always fall into the normal categories, and create challenges around recycling goals.

Continual education about climate change

However you decide to encourage sustainability in your office, it’s important that both you and your employees engage in continual education about climate change. Thanks to the different forms of media available today, educating yourself about climate change has never been easier.

For podcast listeners, consider checking out How To Save A Planet. It’s a Spotify original podcast hosted by scientist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and journalist Alex Blumberg, and it is the exact opposite of what people think when they hear “climate change resource:” it’s inspiring instead of depressing, entertaining, so accessible, and has great intro music.

Another Earth-friendly podcast you should listen to is Stories for Earth, which examines how climate change is discussed in pop culture.

If you like documentaries, check out Before the Flood, which was made by Leonardo Di Caprio and National Geographic. If you are a reader, consider these three: No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg, All We Can Save edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine Hayhoe, and The Future Earth by Eric Holthaus.

Image Credit: karolina grabowska; pexels; thank you!

Eric Lander

Content Writer

Eric Lander serves as the Director of Audience Development for TechnologyAdvice, a full-service B2B media company that engages technology buyers through websites, email newsletters, and phone conversations. Lander, a father of children with speech and language impairments, currently resides in Topsail, North Carolina.

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