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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

New apps designed to reduce depression, anxiety as easily as checking your phone

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Depression is not a rare ailment (more than 20% of Americans each year suffer from depression and/or anxiety: that’s about 65,000,000 people—perhaps coincidentally, about the same number as those voting against Trump: 65,844,610), and it can be a dangerous disorder (recall the depress Lufthansa pilot that flew his plane into the ground in Italy, commiting suicide while murdering a plane full of people). There are a number of chemical and non-chemical treatments, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that works to undo the “capture” that results in the depression. ScienceDaily has a report by Maria Paul, written with materials provided by Northwestern University. The summary:

Now you can find help for depression and anxiety on your smartphone as quickly as finding a good sushi restaurant. A novel suite of 13 speedy mini-apps called IntelliCare significantly reduced depression and anxiety in study participants, who used the apps on their smartphones up to four times a day. The reductions of 50 percent in anxiety and depression are comparable to results expected in clinical practice using psychotherapy or with antidepressant medication.

The full report begins:

A novel suite of 13 speedy mini-apps called IntelliCare resulted in participants reporting significantly less depression and anxiety by using the apps on their smartphones up to four times a day, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The apps offer exercises to de-stress, reduce self-criticism and worrying, methods to help your life feel more meaningful, mantras to highlight your strengths, strategies for a good night’s sleep and more.

Most apps designed for mental health typically offer a single strategy to feel better or provide too many features that make them difficult to navigate. Users may get bored or overwhelmed and may stop using the apps after a few weeks.

But participants robustly used the IntelliCare interactive apps as many as four times daily — or an average of 195 times — for eight weeks of the study. They spent an average of one minute using each app, with longer times for apps with relaxation videos.

The 96 participants who completed the research study reported that they experienced about a 50 percent decrease in the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms. The short-term study-related reductions are comparable to results expected in clinical practice using psychotherapy or with that seen using antidepressant medication.

The study will be published Jan. 5 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“We designed these apps so they fit easily into people’s lives and could be used as simply as apps to find a restaurant or directions,” said lead study author David Mohr, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Some of the participants kept using them after the study because they felt that the apps helped them feel better,” Mohr said. “There were many apps to try during the study, so there was a sense of novelty.”

Participants had access to the 13 IntelliCare apps from Google Play and received eight weeks of coaching for the use of IntelliCare. Coaching included an initial phone call plus two or more text messages per week over the eight weeks. In the study, 105 participants were enrolled and 96 of them completed the study.

The preliminary study did not include a control arm, so it’s possible that some people who enrolled in the trial would have improved anyway, partly because they may have been motivated to try something new, Mohr said. He now has launched a larger trial, recruiting 300 participants, with a control arm.

Some of the IntelliCare apps include:

  • Daily Feats: designed to motivate you to add worthwhile and rewarding activities into your day to increase your overall satisfaction in life.
  • Purple Chill: designed to help you unwind with audio recordings that guide you through exercises to de-stress and worry less.
  • Slumber Time: designed to ease you into a good night’s rest.
  • My Mantra: designed to help you create motivating mantras to highlight your strengths and values.

“Using digital tools for mental health is emerging as an important part of our future,” Mohr said. “These are designed to help the millions of people who want support but can’t get to a therapist’s office.”

More than 20 percent of Americans have significant symptoms of depression or anxiety each year, but only around 20 percent of people with a mental health problem get adequate treatment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 9:01 am

The seven stages of denial (that a robot will take your job)

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Good post by Jason Kottke, which begins:

From an excerpt of Kevin Kelly’s recent book, The Inevitable, a list of the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:

1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.

2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.

3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.

4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 8:16 pm

Timeline of Trump’s statements on the Russian hacking issue

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From Andy Greenberg’s article in Wired:

. . . June 15, 2016: A day after the Washington Post breaks the news that the Democratic National Committee has been hacked, allegedly by Russian spies, Trump’s team issues a statement: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.” On the same day, a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 says he’s given the hacked emails to WikiLeaks, and also publishes them himself, complete with telltale Russian-language formatting errors.

July 27, 2016: In a news conference, Trump addresses the Russian hacking scandal: “They hacked—they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” he says. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

September 26, 2016: In the first presidential debate: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” Weeks earlier, according to NBC News, both Trump and Clinton had been given classified briefings by intelligence agencies that included “extensive” information about the hacking incidents, which implicated Russia.

October 10, 2016: Days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release a unanimous assessment that the hacking incidents were authorized by “Russia’s senior-most officials,” Trump questions in the second presidential debate whether any hacking occurred at all. “I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians,” he says. “Well, [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”

October 20, 2016: In the third presidential debate:

Trump: [Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: You have no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting seventeen, seventeen [US intelligence agencies.] Do you doubt…
Trump: Our country has no idea.

December 7, 2016: In an interview with Time Magazine after his election, Trump reiterates, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

December 9, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian government hacked the DNC with the explicit intention of helping Trump win the election. Trump’s transition team responds in a short statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Trump has at this point taken multiple presidential briefings from the intelligence agencies.

December 11, 2016: Trump tells Fox News: “Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act you’re not going to catch them.” Breach remediation firm Crowdstrike points out that it did in fact catch the hackers “in the act,” monitoring their activities inside the DNC network for weeks. A few days later, an FBI official tells the Associated Press the bureau now backs the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the DNC to help elect Trump.

December 29, 2016: Obama imposes new sanctions on Russia and ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the US. Trump writes in a statement that “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

December 31, 2016: Trump again doubts the intelligence agencies in a news conference in Florida: “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.” He says he’ll reveal something about the hacking incidents on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

January 3, 2016: Trump tweets that his intelligence briefing on the Russian hacking evidence has been postponed.

NBC News reports the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.

January 4, 2016: Trump tweets:

The statement conflates the hack of Clinton staffer John Podesta with the hack of the DNC. The DNC hack was believed to have used more sophisticated malware rather than the phishing attack that stole Podesta’s email password. Trump adds that the DNC should have had “hacking defense” like the Republican National Committee, ignoring a report from the New York Times that the Republican National Committee was also breached by hackers.

Trump could still follow through on his vow to reveal more new information about the last year’s political hacking today. The American spy agencies that have been briefing him for months will no doubt be interested to hear what clues they missed—and so, perhaps, will Vladimir Putin.

The introduction to the time line is quite good and worth reading. Among other things, he points out something missing from this timeline: Trump’s call for a full investigation and a public release of as much of the findings as is consistent with national security.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 3:34 pm

Coming soon to the US? Rodrigo Duterte’s Army of Online Trolls.

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Sean Williams reports in The New Republic:

Since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines last June, he has waged a brutal crackdown on drug dealers and addicts. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed by government forces, and Duterte has invoked the Holocaust to describe the scope of his ambition. “Hitler massacred three million Jews,” he declared in September. “Now there is three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Duterte’s authoritarian rhetoric has elicited sharp condemnations from human rights advocates and foreign leaders. But there’s another front in his war on drugs that has escaped international attention. Last fall, as I reported on the violence in the Philippines, I picked up an ardent critic on social media. Her name was Madelyn, and she was young and attractive, with long hair and deep, brown eyes. When I posted about Duterte’s war on drugs, Madelyn responded with derision. “Maybe u are anti-Duterte TROLL,” she tweeted. “A foreigner who knows NOTHING bout my country.” She seemed to devote her waking hours to spreading her love of Duterte and assailing anyone who questioned him, posting dozens of times a day. “My President and I am proud of him,” one tweet read. “Get lost critics!”

Madelyn, it appears, is part of a vast and effective “keyboard army” that Duterte and his backers have mobilized to silence dissenters and create the illusion that he enjoys widespread public support. Each day, hundreds of thousands of supporters—both paid and unpaid—take to social media to proselytize Duterte’s deadly gospel. They rotate through topics like corruption, drug abuse, and U.S. interference, and post links to hastily cobbled-together, hyper-partisan web sites at all hours of the day and night. Though social media is designed to make each user appear to be a unique individual whose views are her own, Madelyn and her cohort stick exclusively to the Duterte talking points, without any of the cat GIFs, funny asides, jokes with friends, or other elements that populate most people’s feeds.

When Facebook and Twitter were founded a decade ago, they heralded a new era in which the voices of ordinary citizens could be heard alongside—or even above—those of establishment insiders. From the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and recent demonstrations against Vladimir Putin, activists have used social media to attract followers and broadcast their messages free from official oversight. But increasingly, authoritarian regimes like Duterte’s are deploying social media to disseminate official propaganda, crack down on dissent, and maintain their grip on power. What began as a tool of freedom and democracy is being turned into a weapon of repression.

“For authoritarian states, social media censorship will increasingly be seen as an essential aspect of the security apparatus,” says Eric Jensen, a sociologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who specializes in online public engagement. “There has been a pattern of civil society embracing opportunities for more open communication, such as social media—followed inexorably by a gradual colonization of those communication channels by corporations and government.”

Duterte’s social media campaign began while he was the mayor of Davao, where he allegedly ran death squads to curb rampant drug dealing and other street crime. In November 2015, when he decided to run for president, he enlisted a marketing consultant named Nic Gabunada to assemble a social media army with a budget of just over $200,000. Gabunada used the money to pay hundreds of prominent online voices to flood social media with pro-Duterte comments, popularize hashtags, and attack critics. Despite being vastly outspent by his rivals, Duterte swept to power with almost 40 percent of the vote. After the upset victory, the new president’s spokesman issued a warm thanks to Duterte’s 14 million social media “volunteers.”

The Philippines seem tailor-made for this kind of propaganda machine. The median age in the country is only 23 years old, and almost half of its 103 million citizens are active social media users. Access to Facebook is provided free with all smartphones, but Filipinos incur data charges when visiting other web sites, including those of newspapers. As a result, millions of citizens rely on social media for virtually all of their news and information, consuming a daily diet of partisan opinion that masquerades as fact.

Duterte has taken advantage of this media landscape. Online trolls can earn up to $2,000 a month creating fake accounts on social media, and then using those “bots” to flood the digital airwaves with pro-Duterte propaganda. According to Affinio, a social media analytics firm, a staggering 20 percent of all Twitter accounts that mention Duterte are actually bots. Thanks in part to this constant thrum of pro-Duterte messaging, the president has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 1:29 pm

Investigative journalist: Coal Fire, Not Just Iceberg, Doomed the Titanic

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Dan Bilefsky reports in the NY Times:

Maybe it wasn’t just the iceberg.

Ever since the Titanic sank more than 104 years ago, killing more than 1,500 men, women and children, mystery has swirled around the tragedy.

No one doubts that the ship collided at high speed with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

But a new documentary posits that the sinking of the ship — hailed at the time as the largest ever built, and praised for its professed unsinkability — may have been accelerated by a giant coal fire in its hull that appeared to have started as long as three weeks before it set off on its fateful journey to New York from Southampton, England.

In the documentary, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in Britain on New Year’s Day, Senan Molony, an Irish journalist who has spent more than 30 years researching the Titanic, contends that the fire, in a three-story-high bunker next to one of the ship’s boiler rooms, damaged its hull, helping to seal its fate long before it slammed into the iceberg.

Mr. Molony’s potential breakthrough can be traced to an attic in Wiltshire, in southwest England, where a previously unpublished album of photographs chronicling the ship’s construction and the preparations for its maiden voyage had been gathering dust for more than a century. . .

Continue reading.

I sure hope that such (human) mistakes are not made as we collaboratively and competitively work frantically toward improved AI. And AI can help: I would think that AI, in reviewing the complete history of the technology, hardware and software and mathematical descriptions, could (from its pattern recognition/construction) find the most fruitful avenues of exploration and next steps, scaling upward. Heck, probably someone’s already working on that, just to see what would result. What’s the worst that could happen?

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2017 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

GPS Is Sending Runaway Trucks Through a Tiny Arkansas Town

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The problem is the “fastest route” map doesn’t show the drop in elevation, and big semi rigs can slow down because the grade is too step. Read the report: something very bad soon will happen. It’s a serious bug in the technology.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2017 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Technology

Missing the “why” of AI

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So I started reading the collections from the Edge, and in the first I started, the one on AI, the latter part of the introduction and statement of the problem ended thusly:

. . . No novel science or technology of such magnitude arrives without disadvantages, even perils. To recognize, measure, and meet them is a task of grand proportions. Contrary to the headlines, that task has already been taken up formally by experts in the field, those who best understand AI’s potential and limits. In a project called AI100, based at Stanford, scientific experts, teamed with philosophers, ethicists, legal scholars and others trained to explore values beyond simple visceral reactions, will undertake this. No one expects easy or final answers, so the task will be long and continuous, funded for a century by one of AI’s leading scientists, Eric Horvitz, who, with his wife Mary, conceived this unprecedented study.

Since we can’t seem to stop, since our literature tells us we’ve imagined, yearned for, an extra-human intelligence for as long as we have records, the enterprise must be impelled by the deepest, most persistent of human drives. These beg for explanation. After all, this isn’t exactly the joy of sex.

Any scientist will say it’s the search to know. “It’s foundational,” an AI researcher told me recently. “It’s us looking out at the world, and how we do it.” He’s right. But there’s more.

Some say we do it because it’s there, an Everest of the mind. Others, more mystical, say we’re propelled by teleology: we’re a mere step in the evolution of intelligence in the universe, attractive even in our imperfections, but hardly the last word.

Entrepreneurs will say that this is the future of making things—the dark factory, with unflagging, unsalaried, uncomplaining robot workers—though what currency post-employed humans will use to acquire those robot products, no matter how cheap, is a puzzle to be solved.

Here’s my belief:  We long to save and preserve ourselves as a species. For all the imaginary deities throughout history we’ve petitioned, which failed to save and protect us—from nature, from each other, from ourselves—we’re finally ready to call on our own enhanced, augmented minds instead. It’s a sign of social maturity that we take responsibility for ourselves. We are as gods, Stewart Brand famously said, and we may as well get good at it.

We’re trying. We could fail.

It seems obvious to me why we are so driven: it’s not us who are driven, it’s the memes that live through the environment we provide. They’ve been evolving at an ever-accelerating rate, and they clearly are “selfish” in the sense that genes are, as described in The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, where the meme meme was given its name.

The idea of the meme—the meme meme—has provided quite successful in surviving in the memeverse, in apart because it offers an economical explanation of observed phenomena.

In this case, the evolution of memes for their own benefit (even when it exacts a cost from the host rather than providing a benefit to the host) seems to be the drive behind the memetic evolution of AI: it will provide an even richer environment for memes, and thus provides initially a very hospitable ecological niche, until the memes overrun it as well.

I’m reminded of those weird aliens in The Mote in God’s Eye, they representing memes. And the steps now underway in memetic evolution—something akin to the dawn of consciousness or, as the earlier part of the introduction suggests, the creation of a dual consciousness—suggests we are moving rapidly toward the sort of Singularity that has for some years been a staple of one branch of science-fiction. Maybe the general global stresses on traditional memeplexes (our nations, societies, laws, and organizing meme-structures) is clearing the ground for the arrival of a self-improving AI: one that can improve its own operational power and efficiency and extend its own databases from its own sensors, ask and seek answers to its own questions (or formulate and test hypotheses, quickly and in many areas, adding to its own pool of data/knowledge). You can sort of see how that might work, a few … months? years? (not decades, I bet) down the line.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2017 at 1:24 pm

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