📱 Screen Addiction = Less Grey Matter / Humans + Tech - #19

+ Beware online “filter bubbles” + Machine learning improves prosthetics + Online medical consultations boosted by COVID-19


I hope you had a good week.

I’ve been thinking of the TED talk about online filter bubbles linked in #4 further below. I’ve never really thought of it from Eli’s perspective that our media consumption is being filtered by the gatekeepers and publishers of the internet through personalization algorithms. The choice of what we consume is no longer really up to us - we watch or read what the algorithms recommend to us. The more aware we are of this, the easier it is to change our habits to get a balanced information diet.

Onto this week’s articles:

1. 💪 An implant uses machine learning to give amputees control over prosthetic hands

In a proof of concept study [MIT Technology Review], researchers have created a new implant that uses machine learning to amplify the nerve signals from an amputees hand and translate them into movements of a bionic hand. There is virtually no lag between thought and movement. Prior to this technique, it was difficult to get a strong enough nerve signal to translate them into movements.

Four amputees tested these over a year and they were able to control each individual finger and swivel their thumbs, regardless of how recently they had lost their limb. The prosthetics allowed them to pick up miniature play bricks, grasp items like soda cans, and even play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Technology that helps humans live better lives is my favourite type of technology.

2. 🩺 Online medical consultations boosted by COVID-19

In 2003, when people were stuck at home due to SARS, it boosted the use of social media and e-commerce in China. In 2020, COVID-19 is boosting the use of online hospitals and doctors.

Xin Lijun, boss of JD Health, says that his platform’s monthly consultations have grown tenfold since the outbreak, to 2m. Some 1.6m tuned in to a talk by a top cardiologist that the JD.com subsidiary live-streamed. Without the outbreak, such a shift in consumer behaviour would have taken perhaps five years, reckons Mr Xin. Chen Qiaoshan of Analysys, a consultancy, thinks China’s online health-care market may near 200bn yuan ($29bn) this year, up from her pre-outbreak estimate of 158bn yuan.

The Chinese government, initially against online hospitals and online doctor consultations, as recently as 2017, has started lifting restrictions. Read the full article [The Economist].

Related Articles

+ Coronavirus on the Latin Bridge [Exponential View] - A detailed post by Azeem Azhar, who believes that this coronavirus will be a catalyst to significant changes in our world. A must-read.

+ China is using mass surveillance to try and contain the coronavirus [The New York Times] - This doesn’t bode well for the future. History of other monitoring tools launched by China during major events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2020 Shanghai World Expo show that these tools remain in use long after the events are over.

+ South Korea is watching quarantined citizens with a smartphone app [MIT Technology Review] - The South Korean government is using GPS via the app to ensure those who have been ordered to stay at home do not break quarantine.

+ 'More scary than coronavirus': South Korea's health alerts expose private lives [The Guardian] - South Korea is also sending “safety guidance texts” throughout the day, reminding people to wash their hands, etc. When a new person is discovered to be infected, the texts provide a link to see the locations that the person visited before being diagnosed. This is fuelling accusations of extra-marital affairs and other personal and private issues are being exposed 🤦‍♂️.

+ Dictatorships are Making the Coronavirus Outbreak Worse [WIRED] - The focus on controlling the narratives on national issues through censorship and surveillance is helping to spread the coronavirus.

3. 📱 Screen Addiction = Less Grey Matter

German researchers from Heidelberg University recently published a study [Collective Evolution] that shows significantly lower grey matter in the brains of people with smartphone addition, compared to people without it. Grey matter is responsible for controlling muscle movement, senses, emotions, memory, and decision-making.

In China, some teenagers, hooked on video games, play for hours at a time without breaks to eat, sleep, or even use the bathroom. Some even wear diapers to avoid breaking their play. Many come to view the real world as fake. You can watch a 7-minute documentary on these children, termed Web Junkies [YouTube].

China recognizes internet addiction as a clinical disorder and there are rehabilitation centres available to treat people. Their studies show that people who spend more than 6 hours on the internet for something other than work or study are likely to get addicted.

However, in many other countries, this is still not recognized as a disorder. A 2015 report in The New York Times states,

“While Internet addiction is not yet considered a clinical diagnosis here, there’s no question that American youths are plugged in and tuned out of ‘live’ action for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy for normal development. And it starts early, often with preverbal toddlers handed their parents’ cellphones and tablets to entertain themselves when they should be observing the world around them and interacting with their caregivers.” 

Parents should be more mindful of these side effects and control their children’s screen time as well as spend more time with them. Loneliness and depression are the primary causes of internet addiction - video games and the internet are used as a coping mechanism. Many parents give children devices as a way to keep them occupied so that they can focus on their own work without disturbance, leading to a vicious cycle. This is turning out to be detrimental to kids in the long-term, physically, mentally, and socially.

Related Articles

+ Inside the Indonesian Hospital Treating Gaming Addiction [Vice] - This article lists multiple reasons children develop gadget and gaming addictions—depression, bullying in school, lack of self-esteem, traumatic experiences, parents who give in to each and every demand, and poor parent-child communication, among others.

4. 💬 Beware online “filter bubbles”

In this TED talk, Eli Pariser explains how internet companies like Facebook and Google are personalizing what we consume so much, that the choice of the information we consume is no longer ours. From customized search results to the posts that appear in our news feeds and recommendations of what to consume next, they control what information we are exposed to.

Even news websites like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and media companies like Netflix, all use some form of personalization. The algorithms primarily look at your first click to determine what information to present to you to promote further clicks. Their goal is not to provide you with a balanced worldview, it’s to keep you on their websites longer. Because of this, we are surrounded by information junk food instead of getting a balanced information diet. It’s well worth a watch and only about 9 minutes long.

Quote of the week

“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. [Steve] Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
(From the article, Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent, The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014)”
― Nick Bilton

Have a brilliant day ahead :)