Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

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Old human skeleton in ancient tomb at archaeological excavation

Human Brain Shape Hardly Changed in 160,000 Years

Faces changed, yes, and researchers think diet may have played a role

The changes in human heads over the past 160,000 years were not driven by a changing brain, researchers say. It was the human face that changed, according to a recent article at New Scientist: Comparing the braincases of early modern human children with adults for the first time allowed the researchers to isolate the brain’s role in the evolution of the skull. The team was surprised to find that while the size and proportions of the skulls of H. sapiens children from 160,000 years ago were largely comparable to children today, the adults looked remarkably different to those of modern adults, with much longer faces and more pronounced features. Human faces continue to grow until the age of around 20,…

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Close-up of a woman's ear and hand through a torn hole in the paper. Yellow background, copy space. The concept of eavesdropping, espionage, gossip and tabloids.

Now the Deaf Can See the Words They Can’t Hear

Speech-to-text technology via cell phone networks and special glasses allow people with hearing loss to see conversations they cannot hear — displayed as subtitles

Dan Scarfe says he first got the idea for eyeglasses that display subtitles (XRAI Glasses) when he watched his 97-year-old grandfather struggle to understand conversations at Christmas last year. For TV, Grandpa had subtitles. The Toronto-based tech entrepreneur realized that speech-to-text and cell phone technology would let him to subtitle everyday conversations and display them on glasses. Here’s how it works: The deaf woman wearing the glasses is reading the subtitles: The AR glasses are connected to a mobile phone which handles the processing and graphics generation. “What our software effectively does is it takes an audio feed from the microphone on these glasses [and] sends it down to the phone,” said Scarfe. “On the phone we are effectively turning…

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Chef cook food with fire at kitchen restaurant. Cook with wok at kitchen.

If AI Is Like Fire, Let’s Not Get Left With Its Ashes

In a new book, Georgetown University researchers examine what can go right and wrong with adapting our culture to artificial intelligence

Ben Buchanan and Andrew Imbrie, Georgetown University researchers on loan to the U.S. government, think that the invention of artificial intelligence is like the invention of fire. It can bring great benefits — but comes with unavoidable great risks that are equally a consequence of its power to help us. They are honest about AI’s failures, left unattended. As authors of The New Fire: War, Peace, and Democracy in the Age of AI (MIT Press, 2022), they offer some examples from everyday life that certainly give pause for thought: Despite its extraordinary power, AI is far from perfect. Bias insidiously sneaks into AI systems, especially when they learn from data sets of human decisions. The real-world consequences can be severe.…

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Pileated woodpecker nest in Florida

Woodpeckers: There Are Advantages to Having a Small Brain

Woodpeckers absorb 1200 to 1400 g shock driving their beaks into wood — but a shock absorbing skull doesn’t explain the absence of damage

How do woodpeckers absorb a remarkable amount of shock to the head — 1200 to 1400 g — for each hit on a tree? A football player might absorb 120 g — without damaging their brains? The answers could help minimize brain damage in humans and suggested explanations include a surplus of tau proteins (2017), an unusual bone in the tongue, and head movements that minimize brain damage. A new research team challenges such explanations saying that their data show that woodpecker heads” act more like stiff hammers” and that “any shock absorbance would hinder the woodpeckers’ pecking abilities.” But then what about the bird’s brain? While the deceleration shock with each peck exceeds the known threshold for a concussion…

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Hand holding mobile smart phone, with notification icons and city background

Facebook Blinks: No Longer Wants to Censor COVID “Misinformation”

Global Affairs President Nick Clegg has revealed that Facebook is seeking the guidance of its Oversight Board about removing “false claims”

Citing the view that the COVID-19 pandemic has “evolved,” Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is deciding whether to continue removing “misinformation” about the pandemic from the platform: Meta has asked the company’s Oversight Board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, to decide whether removing “false claims about masks, social distancing and vaccines” on Facebook is still appropriate as “countries around the world seek to return to more normal life,” Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said Tuesday in a blog post. Sherri Walsh, “Facebook parent Meta to reconsider removing COVID-19 misinformation” at UPI (July 26, 2022) The U.S. government had put a lot of pressure on Meta, as UPI notes, and Facebook removed 25 million items of information.…

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cyber bullying concept. people using notebook computer laptop for social media interactions with notification icons of hate speech and mean comment in social network

Social Media Can Literally Kill. It Killed Cheslie Chryst

Chryst’s suicide — and Constant Wu’s thwarted attempt — spotlight the toxic cyberbullying that is intrinsic to Big Tech’s formula for success

[This article is republished with permission from the New York Post (July 23, 2022) where it appeared under the title “Constance Wu’s suicide tweet proves social media can mean life or death.”] “Looking back, it’s surreal that a few DMs convinced me to end my own life, but that’s what happened.”  Last week, actress Constance Wu confessed on Twitter that she had tried to take her own life after she made “careless tweets” about the renewal of her TV show, ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” in May 2019. “So upset right now that I’m literally crying,” she had posted about the show’s renewal, which had forced her to give up another project she was passionate about. As would be expected on a public…

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Senior active couple practicing trekking in park among green trees on summer weekend

Can Tracking Daily Activity Patterns Help Predict Dementia?

It’s hardly a glamorous use for fit bit-type technology. But it could help with critical health and lifestyle decisions

We all make mistakes and our minds wander. With seniors, the question naturally arises, “Am I developing dementia?” If so, identifying and addressing the problem early might stop it or slow it down. Not all dementias are irreversible. For example, some dementias are caused by medication or infection, and thus treatable. Even dementias that are not treatable now might become so later. One Johns Hopkins research team recently reported “significant differences in movement patterns between participants with normal cognition and those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.” Using activity trackers, the team was following 585 participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), of whom 36 participants had either mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s diagnoses: Adjusting for differences…

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Neuroscientists: We hear when we are asleep — but we don’t listen

The new finding may help determine whether an apparently unconscious or demented person can actually understand what is said to him

Earlier this week, we talked about the fact that the human nose is much more sensitive than we sometimes think. Our sense of smell gets ignored in favor of visual, auditory, or symbolic information — but it’s still there. The same goes with our hearing when we are asleep, researchers say: The researchers were surprised to discover that the brain’s response to sound remains powerful during sleep in all parameters but one: the level of alpha-beta waves associated with attention to the auditory input and related expectations. This means that during sleep, the brain analyzes the auditory input but is unable to focus on the sound or identify it, and therefore no conscious awareness ensues. Tel-Aviv University, “During sleep the…

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Brain stroke concept. Migraine and headache conceptual image, 3D illustration

Thrones Star Can Speak While Lacking “Quite a Bit” of Brain. How?

Yes, Emilia Clarke is lucky her aneurysms weren’t worse but, given our brains’ complexity, how do our mental abilities survive?

Game of Thrones (2011–2019) star Emilia Clarke, who suffered two aneurysms in her twenties, told BBC News that “‘quite a bit’ of her brain no longer functions” after the extensive bleeding and surgeries: “There’s quite a bit missing, which always makes me laugh,” Clarke said, speaking about her brain. “Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone. So, the blood finds a different route to get around, but then whatever bit is missing is therefore gone.” … Clarke said at the time that the surgery left her with “a deep paranoia” over whether it would prevent her from continuing a career as an actor. But she went on to star…

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Square letters with text DOUBT and TRUST

Researchers: If We Tell Folks More About Science, They Trust Less

Part 3: The researchers argue that doubts about science arise from conflict with beliefs. The many COVID-19 debacles suggest other causes…

We’ve been looking (here and here) at a summary at a science news site of a paper that bemoans the decline of trust in science. The author did a good job and doubtless means well. But the outcome — unintentionally — typifies the reasons so many people distrust claims made on behalf of science. For example, the third factor for distrust that we are asked to consider is that information we learn from science sources can go against our personal beliefs: “Scientific information can be difficult to swallow, and many individuals would sooner reject the evidence than accept information that suggests they might have been wrong,” the team wrote in their paper. “This inclination is wholly understandable, and scientists should…

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Young amateur football fan supporters cheering with confetti watching local soccer cup match at stadium - Friends people group on green t shirts having excited fun on sport world championship final

Researchers: Distrust of Science Is Due to Tribal Loyalty

In Part 2 of 4, we look at a claim arising from a recent study: We blindly believe those we identify with, ignoring the wisdom of science

Recently, a paper lamenting the decline of trust in science was discussed at ScienceAlert, a science news site. In representing the paper—doubtless accurately — for a lay audience, the write-up embodies the causes of legitimate public distrust. That is worth dissecting in more detail. Yesterday, we looked at the write-up in light of the government responses to COVID, which were all too often panicked reactions rather than trustworthy guidance. Then, in the wake of the debacle, the White House chose to set up a Disinformation Board to target non-government sources of alleged disinformation — which could only deepen existing distrust. We press on. The second point of four raised at ScienceAlert is that tribal loyalty is thought to create distrust…

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総務省 検察庁 国家公安委員会

Why Many Now Reject Science… Do You Really Want To Know? Part 1

COVID demonstrated — as nothing else could — that the “science” was all over the map and didn’t help people avoid panic

A recent science news media release is an excellent and mercifully short illustration of what’s wrong with science today. That can’t have been what the study authors were trying to do but never mind. From ScienceAlert, we learn that distrust in science is a “massive problem” and that it has four sources. Here, let’s deal with their first source: First, they say, we have grown to distrust the information source: “Pro-science messages can acknowledge that there are valid concerns on the other side, but explain why the scientific position is preferable,” says Philipp-Muller. Tessa Koumondoros, “These 4 Factors Can Explain Why So Many People Are Rejecting Science” at ScienceAlert (July 16, 2022) The paper requires a fee or subscription. What?…

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Joyful little girl smelling self made croissants with mom

The Nose Really Does Know, It Turns Out…

But we usually don’t notice. Our sense of smell may have declined in recent millennia but it is sharper than we think

Anthropologist Sarah Ives reflects on the experiences of people whose sense of smell fell victim to COVID-19: Melissa, a New York–based podcaster, realized how crucial scent is for safety when she lost her sense of smell. “I kept burning stuff on the stove,” she says. “I’ve sent rotten turkey to school with my kid. I have thought, What if I end up dying because I can’t smell something dangerous, like knowing whether you are going to burn the house down? I’ve literally almost done it three times. There are flames, and I’m just sitting in the other room.” Sarah Ives, “What the Anthropology of Smell Reveals About Humanity” at Sapiens (June 30, 2022) Anosmia, the loss of a sense of…

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Young woman having knee pain

Study: Brain Scans Show That Mindfulness Reduces Acute Pain

The volunteers who meditated during a controlled pain experiment reported a 32% reduction in severity

Recently, neuroscientists at the University of California – San Diego studied whether mindfulness meditation can reduce the perception of pain. That, of course, meant actually causing the volunteers to experience pain. What’s at stake is a central claim of mindfulness meditation: “One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences,” said senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain.” University of California – San Diego, “Mindfulness meditation reduces pain…

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Happy pregnant woman visit gynecologist doctor at hospital or medical clinic for pregnancy consultant. Doctor examine pregnant belly for baby and mother healthcare check up. Gynecology concept.

Activists to Google Maps: Crack Down on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Overall, the U.S. abortion rate has been in decline for about thirty years, for a variety of reasons, including available alternatives

When the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision (June 24, 2022) that “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion” (SCOTUSblog) returned the abortion issue to the state legislatures, a number crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that do not offer abortion have been attacked by abortion militants. One source the militants appear to be using is an online map of such centers created by University of Georgia biostatisticians Andrea Swartzendruber and Danielle Lambert, who call them “fake women’s health centers.” For example: Puget Sound Anarchists posted a link to the map in a post made about a vandalism at a Vancouver, Washington pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy center Options 360 was vandalized with red paint, and the phrase “Jane’s Revenge.” The…

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Old lonely woman sitting near the window in his house.

Is a Robot Pal Really a Solution to Old Age Loneliness?

New York State is buying a companion bot called ElliQ in a pilot project that is likely among the first of a trend

New York State is buying 800 ElliQ robots from Israeli firm Intuition Robotics to help seniors cope with the familiar problem of loneliness — which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic: ElliQ, a tabletop device that resembles a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri, can make small talk, answer questions, remind users to take medication, help contact friends and family, initiate conversation and help with other daily activities. Users interact with the robot an average of 20 times per day, according to the company. Margaret Osborne, “New York State Purchases Robot Companions for the Elderly” at Smithsonian Magazine (June 22, 2022) Greg Olsen, director of the state’s Office for the Aging, says that seniors accept new technology like the ElliQ model…

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Photo captured during office hours of a company in Brazil.

A Third of Top US Hospitals Have Sent Patient Data to Facebook

The hospitals do not seem anxious to discuss the matter and it is not clear what Facebook did with the information

The Markup, a non-profit newsroom, published information earlier this month that should concern U.S. hospital patients: A tracking tool installed on many hospitals’ websites has been collecting patients’ sensitive health information—including details about their medical conditions, prescriptions, and doctor’s appointments—and sending it to Facebook. The Markup tested the websites of Newsweek’s top 100 hospitals in America. On 33 of them we found the tracker, called the Meta Pixel, sending Facebook a packet of data whenever a person clicked a button to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The data is connected to an IP address—an identifier that’s like a computer’s mailing address and can generally be linked to a specific individual or household—creating an intimate receipt of the appointment request for Facebook……

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Healthy lifestyle choice. Fresh vegetables and fruit shaped as human head

Yes, Our Brains — Like Computers — Have a Low-Power Mode

Sure they do. It makes a lot of sense to conserve power when food supplies are low

Neuroscientists have often wondered if the high-metabolism human brain had a power conservation mode and a recent open-access paper in Neuron finds that brains use an energy-saving strategy to cope with shortages. Cognitive neuroscientist Allison Whitten explains: Now, in a paper published in Neuron in January, neuroscientists in Nathalie Rochefort’s lab at the University of Edinburgh have revealed an energy-saving strategy in the visual systems of mice. They found that when mice were deprived of sufficient food for weeks at a time — long enough for them to lose 15%-20% of their typical healthy weight — neurons in the visual cortex reduced the amount of ATP used at their synapses by a sizable 29%. But the new mode of processing…

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Office syndrome, Backache and Lower Back Pain Concept. a man touching his lower back at pain point

The Challenges of Medical Care When Insurance Algorithms Rule

Pain management physician Richard Hurley is a veteran of many successful appeals to insurance companies that have refused to pay for treatments

In the first portion of Episode 187, “Good and bad algorithms in the practice of medicine” (May 19, 2022), Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and anesthetist Dr. Richard Hurley discussed where algorithms help in medicine… and where they don’t. In this portion, they turn to how to get good medical care when you are dealing with an insurance company as well as medical staff and institutions. The two types of institution are, as we will see, very different. Before we get started: Robert J. Marks, a Distinguished Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering, Engineering at Baylor University, has a new book, coming out Non-Computable You (June, 2022), on the need for realism in another area as well —…

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Health insurance, tax concept on blue background

Algorithms in Medicine: Where They Help … and Where They Don’t

Removing creativity, nuance, and insight from medicine may result in cheaper care but not better care

Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks continued his podcast discussion with anesthesiologist Richard Hurley in “Good and bad algorithms in the practice of medicine” (May 19, 2022). An algorithm is “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation.” (Merriam–Webster) We most commonly think of algorithms in connection with computers because that is how programmers instruct them. Algorithms, Dr. Marks points out, can either sharpen or derail services, depending on their content. Before we get started: Note: Robert J. Marks, a Distinguished Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering, Engineering at Baylor University, has a new book, coming out Non-Computable You (June,…