Whales a solution to climate change?, Female perspectives needed for safer AI / Humans + Tech - Issue #5

+ Parkinson's patients lose the ability to swim after treatment, AI to combat bee population declines, Go champion retires claiming AI cannot be defeated and video game addiction is a reality.


I’m trying out a new format for the subject lines and including a list of articles at the beginning. Let me know if you like it better. Here are the articles linked to in this issue:

  1. 🎮Video game addiction is now being recognized—what happens next? [MIT Technology Review]

  2. 🐳Report: Whales are “Nature's Solution to Climate Change” [Futurism]

  3. ⚫️⚪️Go champion retires after realizing AI is ‘an entity that cannot be defeated’ [Gizmodo]

  4. 🏊‍♂️Parkinson's patients are mysteriously losing the ability to swim after treatment [Discover Magazine]

  5. 🐝Buzzworthy AI: Startup’s Robo-Hives counter bee population declines [NVIDIA]

  6. 🙋‍♀️To secure a safer future for AI, we need the benefit of a female perspective [The Guardian]

1. Video game addiction is now being recognized—what happens next?

Douglas Heaven, writing for MIT Technology Review

He started playing video games again. At first it was just now and then. But when he went through a tough patch, he found that games helped him deal with stress and anxiety. He was terrified of falling back into addiction. “I didn’t want to touch alcohol. I knew what a disaster it would be if I started drinking again,” he says. “So I used games to cope.”

The warning signs were all there. Behaviors from his drinking days were back. He grew obsessive, thinking about games all the time. He played when he should have been sleeping. He’d intend a five-minute break from work and play for two hours.

He knew he was gaming too much and hid it. If people asked him what he’d done that day, he would make something up rather than admit that he’d played four or five hours straight. “So yeah, I was seeing the red flags,” he says. “But I wasn’t that worried about it.”

This is Scott Jennings who knew about symptoms of addiction from his prior addiction to alcohol and noticed the warning signs as he became addicted to gaming. Scott felt he had to quit completely to deal with it.

Alok Kanojia, however, did not feel he had to quit completely.

Alok Kanojia nearly had to drop out of the University of Texas at Austin because he was playing video games through the night and sleeping through classes in the day. After two years of college, his time with Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda had left him with a GPA of less than 2.0. “A big part of my memory of that time was that I would play to the point of exhaustion,” he says. “I had some vague idea that I wanted to be a doctor but knew that that future was slipping away.”

In 2003, aged 21, he decided to become a monk and went to live in India. For the next six years he moved back and forth between the US and India, spending summers studying meditation and yoga, which he says gave him the self-awareness and self-control he needed to get his career back on track.

Kanojia never quit playing video games—he continued to spend lots of time on massive multiplayer online games like StarCraft, Diablo, and World of Warcraft. He managed to balance his gaming with a rising career. But he realized that many of his gaming playmates were still stuck—now in their 30s but living with their parents and earning no money. He started chatting with them and other players he met online, using his psychiatry skills to help them out. He talked to people not only from all over the US and Europe but from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, East Asia. “I would talk to one gamer and then they would send me someone else,” he says.

Both Jennings and Kanojia found it difficult to find professional help for their gaming addictions. Both started their own organizations to help others battling gaming addictions. Jennings started Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA) while Kanojia started Healthy Gamer with his wife who runs it. There are also other sites like GameQuitters to help with gaming addiction.

This is going to be a rising problem. Apple recently launched its Apple Arcade gaming platform. Google recently launched its gaming platform called Stadia. This is in addition to all the existing popular gaming platforms like Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, as well as other popular online games. The upcoming virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are also heavily focused around gaming.

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2. Report: Whales are “Nature's Solution to Climate Change”

Kristin Houser, writing for Futurism

For a new International Monetary Fund report titled “Nature’s Solution to Climate Change,” researchers did the math and found that a single whale absorbs an average of 33 tons of carbon dioxide over the course of its lifetime, trapping that carbon far away from Earth’s atmosphere when it dies and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

“Nature has had millions of years to perfect her whale-based carbon sink technology,” the authors wrote. “All we need to do is let the whales live.”

They found that a tree can only absorb upwards of 48 pounds of CO2 per year, meaning even if a tree lives to be a hundred years old, it’d still absorb just 2.4 tons of carbon compared to a whale’s 33 tons.

If only saving whales was as easy as planting trees.

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3. Go champion retires after realizing AI is ‘an entity that cannot be defeated’

Jennings Brown, writing for Gizmodo

South Korean Go player Lee Sedol gained international notoriety in March 2016 when he took on Google Deepmind’s artificial intelligence AlphaGo. The machine won four out of five matches against Sedol, proving that AI is advanced enough to beat humanity at one of its most complex abstract strategy games. 

Sedol did not hide his sense of failure after his losses. “I don’t know how to start or what to say today, but I think I would have to express my apologies first,” he said after the third match. “I do apologize for not being able to satisfy a lot of people’s expectations. I kind of felt powerless.”

Sedol said he retired from playing because he has accepted he can never beat AI. “With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” Lee told Yonhap. “Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.”

This makes me feel sad. It feels like a part of humanity has been lost.

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4. Parkinson's patients are mysteriously losing the ability to swim after treatment

Jennifer Walter, writing for Discover Magazine

For Parkinson’s patients, deep brain stimulation (DBS) can help control a number of neurological symptoms, like muscle spasms and stiffness. But one weird side effect has surfaced in a string of case studies: Some patients, no matter how good their motor skills, lose their ability to swim after the procedure.

Researchers from the University of Zürich in Switzerlandpublished a report today in Neurology identifying nine cases where patients couldn’t stay afloat after DBS. And these people weren’t water-shy, first time doggie paddlers — two of the cases involved former competitive swimmers.

And, researchers report, the entire cohort had had no trouble swimming even after their Parkinson’s diagnosis. Rather, it seems that the invasive procedure — which involves implanting electrodes around the brain and heart to intercept erratic electrical signals — is what triggered the patients’ lack of buoyancy.

This is so bizarre and goes to show how little we know about how the brain functions.

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5. Buzzworthy AI: Startup’s Robo-Hives counter bee population declines

Scott Martin, writing for NVIDIA

Honeybee colonies worldwide are under siege by parasites, but they now have a white knight: a band of Israeli entrepreneurs bearing AI.

Beewise, an Israel-based startup, is using AI in its small northern community on the border of Lebanon to monitor honeybee colonies. It’s secured seed funding of more than $3 million and launched its robo-hive sporting image recognition to support bee populations.

In the U.S., honeybee colonies have collapsed by 40 percent in the past year, according to a recent report. The culprit is widely viewed to be varroa mites, which feed off the liver-like organs of honeybees and larvae, causing weakness as well as greater susceptibility to diseases and viruses.

Bee population declines are a problem, worldwide. This is an impressive use of AI-based image recognition to combat one known cause.

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6. To secure a safer future for AI, we need the benefit of a female perspective

John Naughton, writing for The Guardian:

Last week, the New York Times had the idea of asking three prominent experts in the field to talk about the bias problem, in particular the ways that social bias can be reflected and amplified in dangerous ways by the technology to discriminate against, or otherwise damage, certain social groups.

At first sight, the resulting article looked like a run-of-the-mill review of what has become a common topic – except for one thing: the three experts were all women. One, Daphne Koller, is a co-founder of the online education company Coursera; another, Olga Russakovsky, is a Princeton professor who is working to reduce bias in ImageNet, the data set that powered the current machine-learning boom; the third, Timnit Gebru, is a research scientist at Google in the company’s ethical AI team.

Reading the observations of these three women brought to the surface a thought that’s been lurking at the back of my mind for years. It is that the most trenchant and perceptive critiques of digital technology – and particularly of the ways in which it has been exploited by tech companies – have come from female commentators. 

I posted two articles recently about how we are teaching AI Systems our biases, and ways to address gender bias in AI. Bias is one of the critical issues to address and solve in AI.

The best way to combat bias is through diversity. Technology and AI fields are predominantly male-dominated. It is therefore unavoidable for gender bias to be introduced into these systems. The only way to prevent this is by involving more females in the development of AI systems. Not only to reduce gender bias but other biases as well, like ethical biases.

The female perspective is important for reasons other than reducing bias. They can provide value through different viewpoints on the reasons, features, and functionality of these systems that males may miss or not even consider.

It is certain that AI systems will be an integral part of our lives in the near future. It is our responsibility to do our best to make sure the decision making of these systems is as inclusive and impartial as possible.

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I hope you found an article that you enjoyed and learned something from.

Here’s a quote I found this week:

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. —Gertrude Stein

The quote doesn’t apply to this newsletter of course. 😛

Wish you a brilliant day ahead,


PS: Share some love and hit the ♥️ below :)