Tag Archives: Health

Updates from Chicago Booth

Want to be happier? Give more to others
By Alice G. Walton – There’s scientific evidence, it turns out, to back up centuries-old religious teachings that it’s better to give than to receive. Chicago Booth’s Ed O’Brien and Northwestern PhD candidate Samantha Kassirer find that giving to others might make you happier in the long run and has staying power, whereas the joy of receiving fades quickly.

In an experiment, the researchers gave college students $5 for five days in a row and told them to spend it the same way each day. Half of the students were instructed to spend the money on themselves, say by buying a coffee daily. The other half were told to spend the money on others, for example by donating to a single charity or leaving a tip in the same coffee shop each day. Every night, the participants completed a survey in which they reported how they felt overall that day.

The happiness level of the students who spent money on themselves declined over the five days, the researchers find. But for those who donated the money, their happiness level on the fifth day was similarly high as on the first. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How racial bias infected a major health-care algorithm
By Jeff Cockrell – As data science has developed in recent decades, algorithms have come to play a role in assisting decision-making in a wide variety of contexts, making predictions that in some cases have enormous human consequences. Algorithms may help decide who is admitted to an elite school, approved for a mortgage, or allowed to await trial from home rather than behind bars.

But there are well-publicized concerns that algorithms may perpetuate or systematize biases. And research by University of California at Berkeley’s Ziad Obermeyer, Brian Powers of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Christine Vogeli of Partners HealthCare, and Chicago Booth’s Sendhil Mullainathan finds that one algorithm, used to make an important health-care determination for millions of patients in the United States, produces racially biased results.

The algorithm in question is used to help identify candidates for enrollment in “high-risk care management” programs, which provide additional resources and attention to patients with complex health needs. Such programs, which can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs, are employed by many large US health systems, and therefore the decision of whom to enroll affects tens of millions of people. The algorithm assigns each patient a risk score that is used to guide enrollment decisions: a patient with a risk score in the 97th percentile and above is automatically identified for enrollment, while one with a score from the 55th to 96th percentiles is flagged for possible enrollment depending on input from the patient’s doctor.

Obermeyer, Powers, Vogeli, and Mullainathan find that black patients are on average far less healthy than white patients assigned the same score. For instance, for patients with risk scores in the 97th percentile of the researchers’ sample, black patients had on average 26 percent more chronic illnesses than white patients did. The result of this bias: black patients were significantly less likely to be identified for program enrollment than they would have been otherwise. Due to algorithmic bias, 17.7 percent of patients automatically identified for enrollment were black; without it, the researchers calculate, 46.5 percent would have been black.

The bias stems from what the algorithm is being asked to predict. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Diversity May Be Key to Reducing Errors in Quantum Computing
By John Toon – In quantum computing, as in team building, a little diversity can help get the job done better, computer scientists have discovered.

Unlike conventional computers, the processing in quantum-based machines is noisy, which produces error rates dramatically higher than those of silicon-based computers. So quantum operations are repeated thousands of times to make the correct answer stands out statistically from all the wrong ones.

But running the same operation over and over again on the same qubit set may just generate the same incorrect answers that can appear statistically to be the correct answer. The solution, according to researchers at the Georgia institute of Technology, is to repeat the operation on different qubit sets that have different error signatures – and therefore won’t produce the same correlated errors.

“The idea here is to generate a diversity of errors so you are not seeing the same error again and again,” said Moinuddin Qureshi, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who worked out the technique with his senior Ph.D. student, Swamit Tannu. “Different qubits tend to have different error signatures. When you combine the results from diverse sets, the right answer appears even though each of them individually did not get the right answer,” said Tannu. more>

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Do you live in a ‘soft city’? Here’s why you probably want to

By Eillie Anzilotti – Imagine yourself sitting in your home. What’s right outside your front door, and what’s within a 10-minute walk of it? Can you make it to a grocery store or a café on foot, or do you have to drive? Is there a shared space nearby, a park or a patio, where you can mingle with the people who live around you? Do you often see people out and about, or do your neighbors mostly stay inside? What about the street: Is it filled with only cars, or do you see people biking and taking transit? Do you feel safe walking on the sidewalk that lines your front door (if there even is a sidewalk)? Are there places to sit along it?

It’s just a sample of the kinds of questions that preoccupy David Sim, creative director and partner at Gehl. Based in Copenhagen, Gehl has long pioneered the idea of human-centered urban design. Rather than thinking about cities as a collection of buildings and impressive developments, designers like Sim thinks about them as a series of relationships: between people and place, people and planet, and people and other people. “The starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible,” he says.

Good cities, from Sim’s perspective, are ones that make these connections possible. They can look different and exist in different contexts, but they share an overarching and essential quality, which Sim calls “softness”—a stark contrast to the rhetoric of “grind” and “harshness” that’s often applied to urban life. more>

Against cheerfulness

By Mariana Alessandri – I once ended up at a Boy Scout ceremony in the northeast United States, where I inhaled the American spirit unfiltered. The boys’ uniforms had Stars-and-Stripes patches sewn on next to their badges. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance in front of an oversize US flag, and we prayed to America’s vague God, giving thanks for this and that, and asking for some strength or protection. The boys recited their Scout Law: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and… cheerful.

As a philosopher influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, I’d always imagined cheerfulness was a sickly child, born nine months after a Tinder date between Stoicism and Christianity. But that night I learned that cheerfulness was a British orphan smuggled into the US in the early 20th century, and was now making a living spreading itself all over contemporary American kitsch: throw pillows, coffee mugs and slippers. Cheerfulness has planted deep roots in US soil, and the poor Boy Scouts are made to believe she’s a virtue.

The Ancient Greeks named four virtues: temperance, wisdom, courage and justice. Aristotle added more, but cheerfulness wasn’t one of them. The Greek philosophers didn’t seem to care about how we felt compared with how we acted.

The Roman Stoics inched closer to prescribing cheerfulness when they decided that we should pay attention to our feelings. They believed that we could control our attitudes.

To the Stoic list of virtues, the Christians added faith, hope and love. These are a gift from God, unlike patience and justice, which can be achieved on our own. Faith is the belief that with God all things are possible; hope is risking that belief in real time; and love is willing to be wrong about it. These three add an undeniably emotional element to the mix of virtues, but even Jesus didn’t ask for cheer.

It’s no surprise that cheerfulness was embraced not only by Boy Scouts but by the greater American culture too: the US is a melting pot of Christianity, Stoicism, cognitive behavioral therapy, capitalism and Buddhism, all of which hold, to varying degrees, that we are responsible for our attitudes and, ultimately, for our happiness. more>

Updates from ITU

Dark skies, bright future: overcoming Nigeria’s e-waste epidemic
By Eloise Touni – Nigerian law prohibits burning plastic cables, as well as acid leaching and other common methods used by John and his fellow pickers to reclaim valuable metals from discarded electronics. But minimal enforcement and a low awareness of the risks they are running means most pickers continue to regularly expose themselves to toxins that cause respiratory and dermatological problems, eye infections, neurodevelopmental issues, and, ultimately, shorter lives.

While international agreements like the Basel Convention prohibit the import of hazardous waste, unscrupulous importers and a porous customs system mean Nigeria now ranks alongside Ghana as one of the world’s leading destinations for electronic waste. The country receives 71,000 tonnes of used consumer goods through the two main ports in Lagos from the European Union and other more industrialized economies every year.

“Some of the e-waste from abroad is comprised of cathode-ray TVs, which contain lead, as well as refrigerators and air conditioners containing hydrochlorofluorocarbons, making it a threat to those who are dismantling and dealing with the products,” the UN Environment Program’s Eloise Touni says.

Plastic components, including hard casings and cables, also contain persistent organic pollutants used as flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).

These were banned by the Stockholm Convention due to their long-lasting global impacts and are regularly detected in ecosystems and people all over the world, including in Arctic wildernesses and their traditional inhabitants. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Tiny Vibration-Powered Robots Are the Size of the World’s Smallest Ant
By John Toon – Researchers have created a new type of tiny 3D-printed robot that moves by harnessing vibration from piezoelectric actuators, ultrasound sources or even tiny speakers. Swarms of these “micro-bristle-bots” might work together to sense environmental changes, move materials – or perhaps one day repair injuries inside the human body.

The prototype robots respond to different vibration frequencies depending on their configurations, allowing researchers to control individual bots by adjusting the vibration. Approximately two millimeters long – about the size of the world’s smallest ant – the bots can cover four times their own length in a second despite the physical limitations of their small size.

“We are working to make the technology robust, and we have a lot of potential applications in mind,” said Azadeh Ansari, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We are working at the intersection of mechanics, electronics, biology and physics. It’s a very rich area and there’s a lot of room for multidisciplinary concepts.”

A paper describing the micro-bristle-bots has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering. The research was supported by a seed grant from Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology. In addition to Ansari, the research team includes George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Jun Ueda and graduate students DeaGyu Kim and Zhijian (Chris) Hao. more>

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How the marvel of electric light became a global blight to health

By Richard G ‘Bugs’ Stevens – Light pollution is often characterized as a soft issue in environmentalism. This perception needs to change. Light at night constitutes a massive assault on the ecology of the planet, including us. It also has indirect impacts because, while 20 per cent of electricity is used for lighting worldwide, at least 30 per cent of that light is wasted. Wasted light serves no purpose at all, and excessive lighting is too often used beyond what is needed for driving, or shopping, or Friday-night football.

The electric light bulb is touted as one of the most significant technological advancements of human beings. It ranks right up there with the wheel, control of fire, antibiotics and dynamite. But as with any new and spectacular technology, there are invariably unintended consequences. With electric light has come an obliteration of night in much of the modern world; both outside in the city, and indoors during what was once ‘night’ according to the natural position of the Sun.

Life has evolved for several billion years with a reliable cycle of bright light from the Sun during the day, and darkness at night. This has led to the development of an innate circadian rhythm in our physiology; that circadian rhythm depends on the solar cycle of night and day to maintain its precision. During the night, beginning at about sunset, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, hunger abates, sleepiness increases, and the hormone melatonin rises dramatically in the blood. This natural physiological transition to night is of ancient origin, and melatonin is crucial for the transition to proceed as it should.

We now know that bright, short-wavelength light – blue light – is the most efficient for suppressing melatonin and delaying transition to night-time physiology; meanwhile, dimmer, longer-wavelength light – yellow, orange, and red, from a campfire or a candle, for example – has very little effect. Bright light from the Sun contains blue light, which is a benefit in the morning when we need to be alert and awake; but whether we are outdoors or indoors, when bright, blue light comes after sunset, it fools the body into thinking it’s daytime.

The current ‘lightmare’ traces back to the 1950s, when a road-building frenzy, including construction of the Interstate Highway System, aimed to solve the problem of congestion in the United States. But the roads turned out to increase congestion and pollution, including light pollution, too. In retrospect, the result was preordained: build a bigger freeway, and more people will use it to the point where there is more congestion than before the new road.

To understand the phenomenon, economists developed the idea of induced demand – in which the supply of a commodity actually creates demand for it. So the more roads one builds, the more people drive on them, and the more that congestion results. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

He Quieted Deafening Jets
By Ben Brumfield – In 1969, the roar of a passing jet airliner broke a bone in Carolyn Brobrek’s inner ear, as she sat in the living room of her East Boston home. Many flights took off too close to rooftops then, but even at a distance, jet engines were a notorious source of permanent hearing loss.

For decades, Krishan Ahuja tamed jet noise, for which the National Academy of Engineering elected him as a new member this year. Today, Ahuja is an esteemed researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he got his start more than 50 years ago as an engineering apprentice in Rolls Royce’s aero-engine division, eventually landing in its jet noise research department.

Jet-setters had been a rare elite, but early in Ahuja’s career in the 1970s, air travel went mainstream, connecting the globe. The number of flights multiplied over the years, and jet engine thrust grew stronger, but remarkably, human exposure to passenger jet noise in the same time period plummeted to a fraction of what it had once been, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ahuja not only had a major hand in it, he also has felt the transition himself.

“In those days, if jets went over your house and you were outside, you’d feel like you needed to put your hands over your ears. Not today,” said Ahuja, who is a Regents Researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Regents Professor in Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. more>

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Updates from Adobe

I Can Get Paid for Bike Helmet Art?!
By Jordan Kushins – There’s so much freedom to be found on a bike: hop on, start pedaling, and go go go. But before setting out, adults have an important decision to make: to helmet or not to helmet. Danny Sun understands that despite the fact that strapping one on can literally save your life, helmets can be a tough sell for adults. “I know I work on a product that no one really wants to wear,” he says.

Sun is an art director at Bell, a longtime leader in the motorcycle and bicycle helmet field. He and senior designer Anne Mark have been adorning bike helmets—specifically, “mid-price-point helmets for average everyday riders,” she says—with colors, graphics, finishes, and more for more than a decade. They regularly collaborate with companies such as Disney, Lucasfilm, and Marvel, and produce custom lines for major big-box clients. The full-time job of a helmet designer requires far more than digital creative skills; here’s what it takes to make it in the challenging, curvilinear world of helmet art.

Personal reasons for going without headgear varies, but often, it’s an image thing. “There’s a whole generation who feel like helmets are really dorky,” says Sun.

In the quest to get as many riders as possible opting in, helmet designers have got to offer options that cater to that wide range of potential customers. It’s about finding a balance, but also pushing the boundaries a bit on what might spark a potential purchase—but also joy. more>

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