Digital apartheid deprives Kashmiri children of basic rights / Humans + Tech - #89

+ A paralyzed man's brain waves converted to speech in a world-first breakthrough + The 3D technology that could revolutionise the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee + Other interesting articles


I hope you had a fruitful week. Let’s dive into this week’s articles.

Digital apartheid deprives Kashmiri children of basic rights

The Indian government imposed a military lockdown in Kashmir on August 5, 2019, when they unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the constitution, which had guaranteed autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. A communication blackout was imposed with the Internet, landline, and mobile phone connectivity suspended to preempt coordinated protests. Schools and universities were closed for six months.

Only in March 2020 were military lockdowns were lifted, and schools were allowed to reopen. The government restored partial internet access after pressure from rights organisations like Amnesty International and the Internet Freedom Foundation. Then two weeks later, the Indian government announced a country-wide lockdown due to the pandemic. While children in the rest of the nation attended school online, the children in Kashmir continued to suffer as the government refused to restore full internet access [Majid Maqbool, The Conversationalist].

The two million children of Kashmir missed nearly two years of formal schooling. Meanwhile, those from disadvantaged backgrounds had no means of accessing the internet even when the government restored access. The pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide between India’s rich and poor, since very few parents of children who attend public schools can afford smartphones to access online classes.

For those who live in remote areas that lack infrastructure, internet and mobile connectivity are poor even under normal circumstances. Now, with the pandemic keeping the schools closed, a recent BBC News report shows children in rural villages walking miles and even traversing mountains for an internet signal that might allow them to access their online schoolwork. But the signal is so weak that downloading tutorials can take hours. At that speed, online video classes are impossible.

In addition to the loss in education, the military's lockdowns and the aggression and abuse perpetrated by the military on civilians have significantly affected children's mental health.

Mental health experts and teachers report that the lockdowns have also exacerbated pre-existing physical and mental health problems, causing trauma that could take generations to heal.

Dr. Majid Shafi, a clinical psychiatrist who treats children and adolescents in the central and southern districts of Kashmir said restrictions on children, who are confined to their homes for long periods during extended lockdowns, has adversely affected their physical, emotional, and cognitive health.

The 18-month internet shutdown in Kashmir has been the longest ever in a democracy. The fact that the children are suffering the most, with an impact that could last several generations, is extremely sad and disheartening. More reason to declare internet access a fundamental human right [Humans + Tech - Issue #3].

A paralysed man's brain waves converted to speech in a world-first breakthrough

In what is being hailed as “a feat of neuroengineering,” researchers in the US have demonstrated the ability to read the brainwaves of a paralysed patient and translate those signals to text with an accuracy of 75%. The patient, whom they refer to as BRAVO1, is a 36-year old man paralysed by a stroke at 20. Although he was unable to speak, his cognitive abilities were intact [ScienceAlert].

The researchers worked with BRAVO1 to develop a 50-word vocabulary with words essential to his daily life like "water," "family," and "good," then surgically implanted a high-density electrode over his speech motor cortex.

Over the next several months, the team recorded his neural activity as he attempted to say the 50 words, and used artificial intelligence to distinguish subtle patterns in the data and tie them to words.


They then prompted him with questions like "How are you today?" and "Would you like some water?" which he was able to answer with responses like, "I am very good," and "No, I am not thirsty."

The system decoded up to 18 words per minute with a median accuracy of 75 percent. An "auto-correct" function, similar to that used in phones, contributed to its success.

Decoding thought signals from the brain to speech is a phenomenal achievement, especially for the ability to allow speech-impaired people like BRAVO1 to communicate again in an effective manner.

The 3D technology that could revolutionise the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee

Osteoarthritis of the knee affects many over the age of 60. Some are also affected by osteoarthritis in their 40s and 50s. And women are more prone than men. Diagnosis up to now has depended on X-rays, combined with questionnaires and clinical observations of the knee. But these methods are subjective and doesn’t allow doctors to take measurements. A new technique called Knee kinesiography developed by researchers in Canada uses 3D analysis of the motion in the knee, providing doctors with a complete movement analysis to assess the joint with precision and accuracy [Nicola Hagemeister, Nathalie J Bureau, Neila Mezghani, The Conversation].

Because this technology measures three-dimensional movement of the knee in real time, as well as rotations that are not visible to the naked eye, it enables health professionals to assess the joint with precision and accuracy. By providing motion analysis that detects deviations from what is considered normal movement, the technology allows health professionals to understand the source of the stresses on the cartilage.


According to results of our clinical study, conducted on 515 patients, this technology shows great promise. Patients who received knee kinesiography and an individualized care plan were able to correct several measured biomechanical dysfunctions. Nearly nine out of 10 (88 per cent) of those who participated in the clinical study reported doing their exercises for at least three months, which demonstrated that they were committed to their treatment. Exercise adherence is a major issue in studies that analyze the effect of an exercise program.

More than 100 clinics and hospitals in eight countries now offer knee kinesiology.

Other interesting articles from around the web

🧬 WHO says gene hacking superhumans should be illegal [Dan Robitzski, Futurism]

A special World Health Organization advisory panel issued two reports with recommendations and ethical guidelines for the international research community around genetics ethics questions.

Alongside gene editing meant to augment human performance, the reports also urged against germline edits, or any genetic alteration that a patient would pass along to their future children. Instead, ethicists generally agree — and the committee recommended — that it’s best to focus on edits intended to treat or reverse diseases.

The report also sought to make sure that gene therapies would be distributed equitably throughout the world. Too commonly, its authors said, clinical trials will be conducted in poorer countries while the resulting therapies end up in wealthier nations, with high price tags attached.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how they will or can be enforced other than voluntary compliance.

😡 Black teen misidentified by facial recognition sparks fears of machine-driven segregation [Thomas Macaulay, The Next Web]

14-year old Lamya Robinson was kicked out of a skating rink after being mistaken for someone else by a facial recognition system.

When Robinson tried to enter the roller skating rink, staff stopped her because, they said, she had previously been involved in a fight at the venue. But the teenager had never even been there before.

The facial recognition system had incorrectly matched her face to another person.

“To me, it’s basically racial profiling,” her mother, Juliea Robinson, told Fox 2 Detroit. “You’re just saying every young Black, brown girl with glasses fits the profile and that’s not right.”

With all the racial and gender bias by facial recognition systems, they continue to be deployed everywhere. In many cases, humans are not questioning the decisions made by these systems.


+ From Macy’s to Ace Hardware, facial recognition is already everywhere [Rebecca Heilweil, Recode]

Most customers are unaware that facial recognition systems track and collect data on their employees and customers to boost their profits.

While you may not have heard of it before, stores using facial recognition isn’t a new practice. Last year, Reuters reported that the drug chain Rite Aid had deployed facial recognition in at least 200 stores over nearly a decade (before the company suddenly committed to ditching the software). In fact, facial recognition is just one of several technologies store chains are deploying to enhance their security systems, or to otherwise surveil customers. Some retailers, for instance, have used apps and in-store wifi to track users while they move around physical stores and later target them with online ads.

🤖 Trust me, I'm a chatbot [Science Daily]

As more and more companies are employing chatbots as part of their customer services solutions, researchers at the University of Göttingen investigated whether companies should reveal to their customers that they are communicating with machines rather than humans.

The result: most noticeably, if service issues are perceived as particularly important or critical, there is a negative reaction when it is revealed that the conversation partner is a chatbot. This scenario weakens customer trust. Interestingly, however, the results also show that disclosing that the contact was a chatbot leads to positive customer reactions in cases where the chatbot cannot resolve the customer's issue. "If their issue isn't resolved, disclosing that they were talking with a chatbot, makes it easier for the consumer to understand the root cause of the error," says first author Nika Mozafari from the University of Göttingen. "A chatbot is more likely to be forgiven for making a mistake than a human." In this scenario, customer loyalty can even improve.

Quote of the week

"To our knowledge, this is the first successful demonstration of direct decoding of full words from the brain activity of someone who is paralyzed and cannot speak. It shows strong promise to restore communication by tapping into the brain's natural speech machinery."

—BRAVO1's neurosurgeon Edward Chang, from the article, “A paralyzed man's brain waves converted to speech in a world-first breakthrough” [ScienceAlert]

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)