‘Couple Simulation’ better models mate selection / Humans + Tech - #68

+ Magnetic tech developed to better diagnose malaria + Video games can lead to better mental health + Other interesting articles from around the web


If a computer model could predict the success of a new romantic relationship, would you consult it? Personally, I wouldn’t. Find out why below.

‘Couple Simulation’ better models mate selection

Mate selection is one of humanity’s biggest mystery. Dan Conroy-Beam, an assistant professor at the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has developed a novel approach to solve this mystery called “couple simulation.” [Sonia Fernandez, Futurity]

It’s a system that creates avatars that model real-life people and runs simulations using different algorithms to determine which ones predict the correct choice made in real life.

“The real advantage that we have here is that we’re going away from just these verbal models and into explicit computational models,” he says. “We’re directly simulating people’s real choices; we’re removing the limits of doing this in our own heads because we have computers that can keep track of all the very complicated interactions that are going on.”

The process begins by measuring the traits and preferences of a population of a few hundred couples—real people who have made real-life mate choices. That data is crunched into simulated copies of each person—”avatar agents” that have the same attributes and desires as their human counterparts, except in the simulated world they’re single.

“We break them up and throw all these little agents into the market,” says Conroy-Beam. “Then we run various algorithms and see which ones do the best job at putting them back together with the agent representing their real-world partner.”

Various algorithms based on different models of mate selection have been tested. The best result so far is 45% accuracy in prediction. Conroy-Beam and his team are working on improving its accuracy and intend to extend this study across different cultures as well as same-sex couples. Eventually, they want to use this to predict the future relationships of single people.

I can see the reasoning for learning how we make choices when it comes to our mates. But I don’t think that using this to eventually predict a future relationship is the right way to go.

Sure, in some cases, it may save people a lot of time and emotional energy, but there is always the possibility it may be wrong. In that case, it may prevent two people who may have made it together from getting together.

And even if they still decide to pursue a relationship after a wrong prediction, will they use the algorithm's prediction as an excuse to avoid going through a rough patch in their relationship, thinking that the algorithm was right after all?

Even if the model is completely accurate, some things should just be left to chance, in my opinion. The uncertainty is a big part of the excitement in relationships. And there is a lot to learn from failed relationships too. We may miss all that learning and growth if we only pursue relationships predicted to be successful.

Magnetic tech developed to diagnose malaria better

Scientists at Australia’s James Cook University have developed a new, much cheaper method to diagnose malaria. Diagnosing malaria is difficult and leads to people being treated for it even if they don’t have it. The technique they have developed can make diagnosis easier and more reliable [Ben Coxworth, New Atlas].

When present in a patient's bloodstream, malaria parasites break down the person's blood in such a way that its heme molecules reassemble themselves into organic crystallites. Those crystallites contain magnetic iron, which can be detected in blood samples via the new process.

Known as rotating-crystal magneto-optical detection (RMOD), the technique was developed by an international team of scientists led by Dr. Stephan Karl from Australia's James Cook University. When recently tested in Papua New Guinea – on approximately 1,000 patients who were suspected of having malaria – RMOD was shown to perform well as compared the most reliable existing method.

Unlike many traditional diagnostic techniques, however, RMOD could likely soon be performed utilizing portable, inexpensive, easy-to-use devices.

Having a cheaper and more reliable diagnosis method will be particularly beneficial for African regions where malaria is particularly prevalent and incomes are relatively lower.

Video games can lead to better mental health

Two recent studies show that playing video games can increase well-being and reduce the risk of depression.

One study conducted by the University College London and published in Psychological Medicine found that boys who play video games regularly at age 11 are 24% less likely to develop symptoms of depression 3 years later [Science Daily]. Surprisingly, this effect was only found in boys with low activity levels and not found in girls at all. However, they did find that girls who used social media more often at age 11 had 13% more symptoms of depression 3 years later.

While their study cannot confirm if the relationship is causal, the researchers say there are some positive aspects of video games which could support mental health, such as problem-solving, and social, cooperative and engaging elements.

There may also be other explanations for the link between video games and depression, such as differences in social contact or parenting styles, which the researchers did not have data for. They also did not have data on hours of screen time per day, so they cannot confirm whether multiple hours of screen time each day could impact depression risks.

The researchers found that girls (but not boys) who used social media most days at age 11 had 13% more depressive symptoms three years later than those who used social media less than once a month, although they did not find an association for more moderate use of social media. Other studies have previously found similar trends, and researchers have suggested that frequent social media use could increase feelings of social isolation.

Screen use patterns between boys and girls may have influenced the findings, as boys in the study played video games more often than girls and used social media less frequently.

The researchers did not find clear associations between general internet use and depressive symptoms in either gender.

Another study conducted by Oxford University used industry data from two popular video games to investigate the relationship between well-being and time spent playing video games [Rich Haridy, New Atlas]. The study found a small correlation between longer play-times and positive well-being.

Using anonymized telemetry data supplied by Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America the research ultimately looked at two games: Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Players were invited to opt-in to the research, and alongside objective telemetry data they completed surveys asking about emotional well-being and motivations for gaming.

Over 3,000 players ultimately contributed to the study and the results surprised the Oxford team. A small but significant correlation between time spent playing and positive well-being was detected.

Other interesting articles from around the web

👨🏾‍🎓 The student and the algorithm: how the exam results fiasco threatened one pupil’s future [Tom Lamont, The Guardian]

The two-year saga of Elleston-Burrell’s fight to secure a placement in university, battling both dyslexia and algorithms.

Those exams never took place. Schools were shut in March 2020, the announcement made hours before Elleston-Burrell’s 19th birthday. It was a crappy gift, because he’d been flying through practice papers and was relishing the prospect of another shot at his maths and his Mandarin. Again, in 2020, he had an offer of a place at UCL. Again it was conditional on him getting at least three Bs. Elleston-Burrell presumed that whatever had been rigged up in replacement for 2020’s exams – people were talking about an algorithm – would see the specifics of his case, register his efforts and sacrifices, judge him as a capable young man and an architect-to-be.

😴 Scientists found a way to communicate with people who are asleep and dreaming [David Nield, Science Alert]

The research could help us train our dreams to help us reach a goal or treat mental health problems.

"We found that individuals in REM sleep can interact with an experimenter and engage in real-time communication," says psychologist Ken Paller from Northwestern University. "We also showed that dreamers are capable of comprehending questions, engaging in working-memory operations, and producing answers.

🥩 An Israeli startup is 3D printing cultured ribeye steaks [Edd Gent, Singularity Hub]

Companies are racing to slaughter-free meat that’s grown in a lab. Aleph Farms in Israel is using 3D printing to create meats that can replicate the complex networks of muscle, fat, and connective tissue that give whole cuts of meat their distinctive texture and flavour.

The technology, developed in tandem with Israel’s Technion University, is similar to that being used in medical research to print “organoids” for drug testing, which one day could let us regrow entire organs from human cells. Using a device similar to an inkjet printer, the company lays down layers of support cells, fat cells, blood cells, and muscle cells that are then placed in an incubator to grow into the finished steak.

📡 New AI detects your emotions by scanning you with radio signals [Dan Robitzski, Futurism]

Engineers at the Queen May University of London have developed a neural network to automatically interpret certain human emotions — by blasting people with radio waves and picking up on emotional cues like changes in their heartbeat. 

The algorithm can detect feelings including fear, disgust, joy, and relaxation with 71 percent accuracy, according to research published earlier this month in the journal PLOS One. That’s far from perfect, but impressive enough that it could find some real-world use in our lives.

Quote of the week

“We’re directly simulating people’s real choices; we’re removing the limits of doing this in our own heads because we have computers that can keep track of all the very complicated interactions that are going on.”

—Dan Conroy-Beam, Assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara from the article ‘Couple Simulation’ better models mate selection [Futurity]

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)