Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited
Keywords Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments
Abstract Reports and surveys are given of selected current research and development in systems and cybernetics. They include: RSI and the brain, Innovations, Biocybernetics, Mathematics and cybernetics, Molecular devices, Devices controlled by thought, Automation and cybernetics, VDU radiation.
Radiation and the brain
A researcher from Reading University, UK, Dr Derek Clements-Croome, who is involved in VDU studies, reports that:
Normal brain rhythms during the working day functioned at between 7 and 14 hertz which is similar to the range of the electro-magnetic waves coming from a VDU. This means that the VDU waves interact with the brain rhythms, causing it to work too hard and triggering different symptoms in the body.
Other experts, for example, John Jules of the UK’s Optimum Workplace Environments ,who is also involved in VDU studies, believes that:
there was no longer any doubt that magnetic fields affected the way the human body and the brain functioned.
There is, however, another point of view which was given recently in the UK by the National Radiological Protection Board which has the responsibility in the UK to set standards for microwave emissions. It has said:
there is no danger from the radiation if they are not strong enough to heat the body.
A great controversy has therefore emerged in the UK over these differing opinions particularly when they come at a time when mobile phones are receiving an unprecedented boost in their sales. Consequently any studies involving radiation will be of particular importance to the debate.
New UK study
A new study in this field suggests that neutralising low-level radiation from office VDU screens cuts symptoms of illness as well as improving productivity. This is a UK study that has involved the 100 staff at the Southampton Area Health Authority head office. A report of the project says that:
Before the start of the month-long trial, each person suffered from about seven of 19 different symptoms. They ranged from runny noses, itchy eyes and tiredness to back pain, short-term memory loss and depression. Between them, the symptoms make up what has been described as sick-building syndrome.
The study project was then arranged most carefully so that the VDUs of half the staff were fitted with a device made up of two nine-inch aluminium tubes with crystals inside. These were produced by the commercial company TecnoAo of Swindon, Wiltshire, UK, who have claimed that they provide protection against low-level radiation. The other half of the staff were provided with the placebo – the dummy lookalike devices. It is important, the project monitors say, to note that nobody, even the researchers themselves, knew who had which device.
Results of the study
After one month of the project the 100 participating staff were interviewed about the recorded 19 symptoms. There was no significant difference among those who had the dummy devices. The number of symptoms, however, reported by those with the real ones were found to have fallen from 27 per cent to 44 per cent. These figures showed that the biggest fall was in back and neck ache symptoms. This is the part sponsoring company TecnoAo said, was:
Probably because aches and pains of this sort are caused by the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and low-level radiation fields interfere with the body’s ability to rectify the situation.
Most computer users work in an environment that will contain not only VDUs but other devices that emit waves up to, perhaps, some two metres away. What the company TecnoAo believe is that their device resonates when the crystals are struck by the low frequency radiation and send out their own signal. This, the manufacturers say, increases the brain’s resistance, preventing it from being over-activated. Worldwide and certainly in the UK and in the European Community there is mounting evidence of the effects of radiation. Recent studies have been concerned not only with VDUs but also with mobile telephones. The demand that all VDUs are safe is an obvious requirement for those who work in environments where so much radiation is present. Individual users with home computers could be at similar risk if the findings of the various investigating bodies back up the results of studies such as the Southampton radiation project has produced. Already devices such as radiation screen masks are being marketed for mobile phones and remote use of the hand held sets encouraged. Similar devices will have to be considered for VDUs. If, however, the new TecnoAo device is proved to be effective it would not only neutralise low-level radiation from VDUs but also raise the morale of computer users and improve their confidence and consequently their productivity.
B.H. RudallNorbert Wiener Institute and University of Wales, UK