Tag Archives: United Nations

Media registration is open for the 2018 ITU ( International Telecommunication Union) Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-18) being held 29 October – 16 November 2018 in Dubai

I’m a little late with this but there’s still time to register should you happen to be in or able to get to Dubai easily. From an October 18, 2018 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Media Advisory (received via email),

Media registration is open for the 2018 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-18) – the highest policy-making body of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technology. This will be closing soon, so all media intending to attend the event MUST register as soon as possible here.

Held every four years, it is the key event at which ITU’s 193 Member States decide on the future role of the organization, thereby determining ITU’s ability to influence and affect the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) worldwide. It is expected to attract around 3,000 participants, including Heads of State and an estimated 130 VIPs from more than 193 Member States and more than 800 private companies, academic institutions and national, regional and international bodies.

ITU plays an integral role in enabling the development and implementation of ICTs worldwide through its mandate to: coordinate the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promote international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, work to improve communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establish worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems.

Delegates will tackle a number of pressing issues, from strategies to promote digital inclusion and bridge the digital divide, to ways to leverage such emerging technologies as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, and others, to improve the way all of us, everywhere, live and work.

The conference also sets ITU’s Financial Plan and elects its five top executives – Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, and the Directors of the Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization and Telecommunication Development Bureaux – who will guide its work over the next four years.

What: ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 (PP-18) sets the next four-year strategy, budget and leadership of ITU.

Why: Finance, Business, Tech, Development and Foreign Affairs reporters will find PP-18 relevant to their newsgathering. Decisions made at PP-18 are designed to create an enabling ICT environment where the benefits of digital connectivity can reach all people and economies, everywhere. As such, these decisions can have an impact on the telecommunication and technology sectors as well as developed and developing countries alike.

When: 29 October – 16 November 2018: With several Press Conferences planned during the event.

* Historically the Opening, Closing and Plenary sessions of this conference are open to media. Confirmation of those sessions open to media, and Press Conference times, will be made closer to the event date.

Where: Dubai World Trade Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

More Information:

REGISTER FOR ACCREDITATION

I visited the ‘ITU Events Registration and Accreditation Process for Media‘ webpage and foudn these tidbits,

Accreditation eligibility & credentials 

1. Journalists* should provide an official letter of assignment from the Editor-in-Chief (or the News Editor for radio/TV). One letter per crew/editorial team will suffice. Editors-in-Chief and Bureau Chiefs should submit a letter from their Director. Please email this to pressreg@itu.int, along with the required supporting credentials below:​

    • ​​​​​print and online publications should be available to the general public and published at least 6 times a year by an organization whose principle business activity is publishing and which generally carries paid advertising;

      o 2 copies of recent byline articles published within the last 4 months.
    • news wire services should provide news coverage to subscribers, including newspapers, periodicals and/or television networks;

      o 2 copies of recent byline articles or broadcasting material published within the last 4 months.
    • broadcast should provide news and information programmes to the general public. Independent film and video production companies can only be accredited if officially mandated by a broadcast station via a letter of assignment;

      o broadcasting material published within the last 4 months.
    • freelance journalists including photographers, must provide clear documentation that they are on assignment from a specific news organization or publication. Evidence that they regularly supply journalistic content to recognized media may be acceptable in the absence of an assignment letter at the discretion of the ITU Media Relations Service.

      o a valid assignment letter from the news organization or publication.

 2. Bloggers may be granted accreditation if blog content is deemed relevant to the industry, contains news commentary, is regularly updated and made publicly available. Corporate bloggers are invited to register as participants. Please see Guidelines for Blogger Accreditation below for more details.

Guidelines for Blogger Accreditation

ITU is committed to working with independent ‘new media’ reporters and columnists who reach their audiences via blogs, podcasts, video blogs and other online media. These are the guidelines we use to determine whether to issue official media accreditation to independent online media representatives: 

ITU reserves the right to request traffic data from a third party (Sitemeter, Technorati, Feedburner, iTunes or equivalent) when considering your application. While the decision to grant access is not based solely on traffic/subscriber data, we ask that applicants provide sufficient transparency into their operations to help us make a fair and timely decision. 

Obtaining media accreditation for ITU events is an opportunity to meet and interact with key industry and political figures. While continued accreditation for ITU events is not directly contingent on producing coverage, owing to space limitations we may take this into consideration when processing future accreditation requests. Following any ITU event for which you are accredited, we therefore kindly request that you forward a link to your post/podcast/video blog to pressreg@itu.int. 

Bloggers who are granted access to ITU events are expected to act professionally. Those who do not maintain the standards expected of professional media representatives run the risk of having their accreditation withdrawn. 

If you can’t find answers to your questions on the ‘ITU Events Registration and Accreditation Process for Media‘ webpage, you can contact,

For media accreditation inquiries:


Rita Soraya Abino-Quintana
Media Accreditation Officer
ITU Corporate Communications

Tel: +41 22 730 5424

For anything else, contact,

For general media inquiries:


Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell
Senior Media and Communications Officer
ITU Corporate Communications

Tel: +41 22 730 5469

Mobile: +41 79 337 4615

There you have it.

A potpourri of robot/AI stories: killers , kindergarten teachers, a Balenciaga-inspired AI fashion designer, a conversational android, and more

Following on my August 29, 2018 post (Sexbots, sexbot ethics, families, and marriage), I’m following up with a more general piece.

Robots, AI (artificial intelligence), and androids (humanoid robots), the terms can be confusing since there’s a tendency to use them interchangeably. Confession: I do it too, but, not this time. That said, I have multiple news bits.

Killer ‘bots and ethics

The U.S. military is already testing a Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. Credit: Lance Cpl. Julien Rodarte, U.S. Marine Corps

That is a robot.

For the purposes of this posting, a robot is a piece of hardware which may or may not include an AI system and does not mimic a human or other biological organism such that you might, under circumstances, mistake the robot for a biological organism.

As for what precipitated this feature (in part), it seems there’s been a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland held from August 27 – 31, 2018 about war and the use of autonomous robots, i.e., robots equipped with AI systems and designed for independent action. BTW, it’s the not first meeting the UN has held on this topic.

Bonnie Docherty, lecturer on law and associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection, international human rights clinic, Harvard Law School, has written an August 21, 2018 essay on The Conversation (also on phys.org) describing the history and the current rules around the conduct of war, as well as, outlining the issues with the military use of autonomous robots (Note: Links have been removed),

When drafting a treaty on the laws of war at the end of the 19th century, diplomats could not foresee the future of weapons development. But they did adopt a legal and moral standard for judging new technology not covered by existing treaty language.

This standard, known as the Martens Clause, has survived generations of international humanitarian law and gained renewed relevance in a world where autonomous weapons are on the brink of making their own determinations about whom to shoot and when. The Martens Clause calls on countries not to use weapons that depart “from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.”

I was the lead author of a new report by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic that explains why fully autonomous weapons would run counter to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience. We found that to comply with the Martens Clause, countries should adopt a treaty banning the development, production and use of these weapons.

Representatives of more than 70 nations will gather from August 27 to 31 [2018] at the United Nations in Geneva to debate how to address the problems with what they call lethal autonomous weapon systems. These countries, which are parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, have discussed the issue for five years. My co-authors and I believe it is time they took action and agreed to start negotiating a ban next year.

Docherty elaborates on her points (Note: A link has been removed),

The Martens Clause provides a baseline of protection for civilians and soldiers in the absence of specific treaty law. The clause also sets out a standard for evaluating new situations and technologies that were not previously envisioned.

Fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would select and engage targets without meaningful human control. They would be a dangerous step beyond current armed drones because there would be no human in the loop to determine when to fire and at what target. Although fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States are all working to develop them. They argue that the technology would process information faster and keep soldiers off the battlefield.

The possibility that fully autonomous weapons could soon become a reality makes it imperative for those and other countries to apply the Martens Clause and assess whether the technology would offend basic humanity and the public conscience. Our analysis finds that fully autonomous weapons would fail the test on both counts.

I encourage you to read the essay in its entirety and for anyone who thinks the discussion about ethics and killer ‘bots is new or limited to military use, there’s my July 25, 2016 posting about police use of a robot in Dallas, Texas. (I imagine the discussion predates 2016 but that’s the earliest instance I have here.)

Teacher bots

Robots come in many forms and this one is on the humanoid end of the spectum,

Children watch a Keeko robot at the Yiswind Institute of Multicultural Education in Beijing, where the intelligent machines are telling stories and challenging kids with logic problems  [donwloaded from https://phys.org/news/2018-08-robot-teachers-invade-chinese-kindergartens.html]

Don’t those ‘eyes’ look almost heart-shaped? No wonder the kids love these robots, if an August  29, 2018 news item on phys.org can be believed,

The Chinese kindergarten children giggled as they worked to solve puzzles assigned by their new teaching assistant: a roundish, short educator with a screen for a face.

Just under 60 centimetres (two feet) high, the autonomous robot named Keeko has been a hit in several kindergartens, telling stories and challenging children with logic problems.

Round and white with a tubby body, the armless robot zips around on tiny wheels, its inbuilt cameras doubling up both as navigational sensors and a front-facing camera allowing users to record video journals.

In China, robots are being developed to deliver groceries, provide companionship to the elderly, dispense legal advice and now, as Keeko’s creators hope, join the ranks of educators.

At the Yiswind Institute of Multicultural Education on the outskirts of Beijing, the children have been tasked to help a prince find his way through a desert—by putting together square mats that represent a path taken by the robot—part storytelling and part problem-solving.

Each time they get an answer right, the device reacts with delight, its face flashing heart-shaped eyes.

“Education today is no longer a one-way street, where the teacher teaches and students just learn,” said Candy Xiong, a teacher trained in early childhood education who now works with Keeko Robot Xiamen Technology as a trainer.

“When children see Keeko with its round head and body, it looks adorable and children love it. So when they see Keeko, they almost instantly take to it,” she added.

Keeko robots have entered more than 600 kindergartens across the country with its makers hoping to expand into Greater China and Southeast Asia.

Beijing has invested money and manpower in developing artificial intelligence as part of its “Made in China 2025” plan, with a Chinese firm last year unveiling the country’s first human-like robot that can hold simple conversations and make facial expressions.

According to the International Federation of Robots, China has the world’s top industrial robot stock, with some 340,000 units in factories across the country engaged in manufacturing and the automotive industry.

Moving on from hardware/software to a software only story.

AI fashion designer better than Balenciaga?

Despite the title for Katharine Schwab’s August 22, 2018 article for Fast Company, I don’t think this AI designer is better than Balenciaga but from the pictures I’ve seen the designs are as good and it does present some intriguing possibilities courtesy of its neural network (Note: Links have been removed),

The AI, created by researcher Robbie Barat, has created an entire collection based on Balenciaga’s previous styles. There’s a fabulous pink and red gradient jumpsuit that wraps all the way around the model’s feet–like a onesie for fashionistas–paired with a dark slouchy coat. There’s a textural color-blocked dress, paired with aqua-green tights. And for menswear, there’s a multi-colored, shimmery button-up with skinny jeans and mismatched shoes. None of these looks would be out of place on the runway.

To create the styles, Barat collected images of Balenciaga’s designs via the designer’s lookbooks, ad campaigns, runway shows, and online catalog over the last two months, and then used them to train the pix2pix neural net. While some of the images closely resemble humans wearing fashionable clothes, many others are a bit off–some models are missing distinct limbs, and don’t get me started on how creepy [emphasis mine] their faces are. Even if the outfits aren’t quite ready to be fabricated, Barat thinks that designers could potentially use a tool like this to find inspiration. Because it’s not constrained by human taste, style, and history, the AI comes up with designs that may never occur to a person. “I love how the network doesn’t really understand or care about symmetry,” Barat writes on Twitter.

You can see the ‘creepy’ faces and some of the designs here,

Image: Robbie Barat

In contrast to the previous two stories, this all about algorithms, no machinery with independent movement (robot hardware) needed.

Conversational android: Erica

Hiroshi Ishiguro and his lifelike (definitely humanoid) robots have featured here many, many times before. The most recent posting is a March 27, 2017 posting about his and his android’s participation at the 2017 SXSW festival.

His latest work is featured in an August 21, 2018 news news item on ScienceDaily,

We’ve all tried talking with devices, and in some cases they talk back. But, it’s a far cry from having a conversation with a real person.

Now a research team from Kyoto University, Osaka University, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute, or ATR, have significantly upgraded the interaction system for conversational android ERICA, giving her even greater dialog skills.

ERICA is an android created by Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University and ATR, specifically designed for natural conversation through incorporation of human-like facial expressions and gestures. The research team demonstrated the updates during a symposium at the National Museum of Emerging Science in Tokyo.

Here’s the latest conversational android, Erica

Caption: The experimental set up when the subject (left) talks with ERICA (right) Credit: Kyoto University / Kawahara lab

An August 20, 2018 Kyoto University press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, offers more details,

When we talk to one another, it’s never a simple back and forward progression of information,” states Tatsuya Kawahara of Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Informatics, and an expert in speech and audio processing.

“Listening is active. We express agreement by nodding or saying ‘uh-huh’ to maintain the momentum of conversation. This is called ‘backchanneling’, and is something we wanted to implement with ERICA.”

The team also focused on developing a system for ‘attentive listening’. This is when a listener asks elaborating questions, or repeats the last word of the speaker’s sentence, allowing for more engaging dialogue.

Deploying a series of distance sensors, facial recognition cameras, and microphone arrays, the team began collecting data on parameters necessary for a fluid dialog between ERICA and a human subject.

“We looked at three qualities when studying backchanneling,” continues Kawahara. “These were: timing — when a response happens; lexical form — what is being said; and prosody, or how the response happens.”

Responses were generated through machine learning using a counseling dialogue corpus, resulting in dramatically improved dialog engagement. Testing in five-minute sessions with a human subject, ERICA demonstrated significantly more dynamic speaking skill, including the use of backchanneling, partial repeats, and statement assessments.

“Making a human-like conversational robot is a major challenge,” states Kawahara. “This project reveals how much complexity there is in listening, which we might consider mundane. We are getting closer to a day where a robot can pass a Total Turing Test.”

Erica seems to have been first introduced publicly in Spring 2017, from an April 2017 Erica: Man Made webpage on The Guardian website,

Erica is 23. She has a beautiful, neutral face and speaks with a synthesised voice. She has a degree of autonomy – but can’t move her hands yet. Hiroshi Ishiguro is her ‘father’ and the bad boy of Japanese robotics. Together they will redefine what it means to be human and reveal that the future is closer than we might think.

Hiroshi Ishiguro and his colleague Dylan Glas are interested in what makes a human. Erica is their latest creation – a semi-autonomous android, the product of the most funded scientific project in Japan. But these men regard themselves as artists more than scientists, and the Erica project – the result of a collaboration between Osaka and Kyoto universities and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International – is a philosophical one as much as technological one.

Erica is interviewed about her hope and dreams – to be able to leave her room and to be able to move her arms and legs. She likes to chat with visitors and has one of the most advanced speech synthesis systems yet developed. Can she be regarded as being alive or as a comparable being to ourselves? Will she help us to understand ourselves and our interactions as humans better?

Erica and her creators are interviewed in the science fiction atmosphere of Ishiguro’s laboratory, and this film asks how we might form close relationships with robots in the future. Ishiguro thinks that for Japanese people especially, everything has a soul, whether human or not. If we don’t understand how human hearts, minds and personalities work, can we truly claim that humans have authenticity that machines don’t?

Ishiguro and Glas want to release Erica and her fellow robots into human society. Soon, Erica may be an essential part of our everyday life, as one of the new children of humanity.

Key credits

  • Director/Editor: Ilinca Calugareanu
  • Producer: Mara Adina
  • Executive producers for the Guardian: Charlie Phillips and Laurence Topham
  • This video is produced in collaboration with the Sundance Institute Short Documentary Fund supported by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

You can also view the 14 min. film here.

Artworks generated by an AI system are to be sold at Christie’s auction house

KC Ifeanyi’s August 22, 2018 article for Fast Company may send a chill down some artists’ spines,

For the first time in its 252-year history, Christie’s will auction artwork generated by artificial intelligence.

Created by the French art collective Obvious, “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” is part of a series of paintings of the fictional Belamy family that was created using a two-part algorithm. …

The portrait is estimated to sell anywhere between $7,000-$10,000, and Obvious says the proceeds will go toward furthering its algorithm.

… Famed collector Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre bought one of Obvious’s Belamy works in February, which could’ve been written off as a novel purchase where the story behind it is worth more than the piece itself. However, with validation from a storied auction house like Christie’s, AI art could shake the contemporary art scene.

“Edmond de Belamy” goes up for auction from October 23-25 [2018].

Jobs safe from automation? Are there any?

Michael Grothaus expresses more optimism about future job markets than I’m feeling in an August 30, 2018 article for Fast Company,

A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute study of 800 occupations across 46 countries found that by 2030, 800 million people will lose their jobs to automation. That’s one-fifth of the global workforce. A further one-third of the global workforce will need to retrain if they want to keep their current jobs as well. And looking at the effects of automation on American jobs alone, researchers from Oxford University found that “47 percent of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years.”

The good news is that while the above stats are rightly cause for concern, they also reveal that 53% of American jobs and four-fifths of global jobs are unlikely to be affected by advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. But just what are those fields? I spoke to three experts in artificial intelligence, robotics, and human productivity to get their automation-proof career advice.

Creatives

“Although I believe every single job can, and will, benefit from a level of AI or robotic influence, there are some roles that, in my view, will never be replaced by technology,” says Tom Pickersgill, …

Maintenance foreman

When running a production line, problems and bottlenecks are inevitable–and usually that’s a bad thing. But in this case, those unavoidable issues will save human jobs because their solutions will require human ingenuity, says Mark Williams, head of product at People First, …

Hairdressers

Mat Hunter, director of the Central Research Laboratory, a tech-focused co-working space and accelerator for tech startups, have seen startups trying to create all kinds of new technologies, which has given him insight into just what machines can and can’t pull off. It’s lead him to believe that jobs like the humble hairdresser are safer from automation than those of, says, accountancy.

Therapists and social workers

Another automation-proof career is likely to be one involved in helping people heal the mind, says Pickersgill. “People visit therapists because there is a need for emotional support and guidance. This can only be provided through real human interaction–by someone who can empathize and understand, and who can offer advice based on shared experiences, rather than just data-driven logic.”

Teachers

Teachers are so often the unsung heroes of our society. They are overworked and underpaid–yet charged with one of the most important tasks anyone can have: nurturing the growth of young people. The good news for teachers is that their jobs won’t be going anywhere.

Healthcare workers

Doctors and nurses will also likely never see their jobs taken by automation, says Williams. While automation will no doubt better enhance the treatments provided by doctors and nurses the fact of the matter is that robots aren’t going to outdo healthcare workers’ ability to connect with patients and make them feel understood the way a human can.

Caretakers

While humans might be fine with robots flipping their burgers and artificial intelligence managing their finances, being comfortable with a robot nannying your children or looking after your elderly mother is a much bigger ask. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that even today’s most advanced robots don’t have the physical dexterity to perform the movements and actions carers do every day.

Grothaus does offer a proviso in his conclusion: certain types of jobs are relatively safe until developers learn to replicate qualities such as empathy in robots/AI.

It’s very confusing

There’s so much news about robots, artificial intelligence, androids, and cyborgs that it’s hard to keep up with it let alone attempt to get a feeling for where all this might be headed. When you add the fact that the term robots/artificial inteligence are often used interchangeably and that the distinction between robots/androids/cyborgs is not always clear any attempts to peer into the future become even more challenging.

At this point I content myself with tracking the situation and finding definitions so I can better understand what I’m tracking. Carmen Wong’s August 23, 2018 posting on the Signals blog published by Canada’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) offers some useful definitions in the context of an article about the use of artificial intelligence in the life sciences, particularly in Canada (Note: Links have been removed),

Artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning. To most people, these are just buzzwords and synonymous. Whether or not we fully understand what both are, they are slowly integrating into our everyday lives. Virtual assistants such as Siri? AI is at work. The personalized ads you see when you are browsing on the web or movie recommendations provided on Netflix? Thank AI for that too.

AI is defined as machines having intelligence that imitates human behaviour such as learning, planning and problem solving. A process used to achieve AI is called machine learning, where a computer uses lots of data to “train” or “teach” itself, without human intervention, to accomplish a pre-determined task. Essentially, the computer keeps on modifying its algorithm based on the information provided to get to the desired goal.

Another term you may have heard of is deep learning. Deep learning is a particular type of machine learning where algorithms are set up like the structure and function of human brains. It is similar to a network of brain cells interconnecting with each other.

Toronto has seen its fair share of media-worthy AI activity. The Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, industry and multiple universities came together in March 2018 to launch the Vector Institute, with the goal of using AI to promote economic growth and improve the lives of Canadians. In May, Samsung opened its AI Centre in the MaRS Discovery District, joining a network of Samsung centres located in California, United Kingdom and Russia.

There has been a boom in AI companies over the past few years, which span a variety of industries. This year’s ranking of the top 100 most promising private AI companies covers 25 fields with cybersecurity, enterprise and robotics being the hot focus areas.

Wong goes on to explore AI deployment in the life sciences and concludes that human scientists and doctors will still be needed although she does note this in closing (Note: A link has been removed),

More importantly, empathy and support from a fellow human being could never be fully replaced by a machine (could it?), but maybe this will change in the future. We will just have to wait and see.

Artificial empathy is the term used in Lisa Morgan’s April 25, 2018 article for Information Week which unfortunately does not include any links to actual projects or researchers working on artificial empathy. Instead, the article is focused on how business interests and marketers would like to see it employed. FWIW, I have found a few references: (1) Artificial empathy Wikipedia essay (look for the references at the end of the essay for more) and (2) this open access article: Towards Artificial Empathy; How Can Artificial Empathy Follow the Developmental Pathway of Natural Empathy? by Minoru Asada.

Please let me know in the comments if you should have an insights on the matter in the comments section of this blog.

AI (artificial intelligence) for Good Global Summit from May 15 – 17, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland: details and an interview with Frederic Werner

With all the talk about artificial intelligence (AI), a lot more attention seems to be paid to apocalyptic scenarios: loss of jobs, financial hardship, loss of personal agency and privacy, and more with all of these impacts being described as global. Still, there are some folks who are considering and working on ‘AI for good’.

If you’d asked me, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) would not have been my first guess (my choice would have been United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]) as an agency likely to host the 2018 AI for Good Global Summit. But, it turns out the ITU is a UN (United Nations agency) and, according to its Wikipedia entry, it’s an intergovernmental public-private partnership, which may explain the nature of the participants in the upcoming summit.

The news

First, there’s a May 4, 2018 ITU media advisory (received via email or you can find the full media advisory here) about the upcoming summit,

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely identified as being able to address the greatest challenges facing humanity – supporting innovation in fields ranging from crisis management and healthcare to smart cities and communications networking.

The second annual ‘AI for Good Global Summit’ will take place 15-17 May [2018] in Geneva, and seeks to leverage AI to accelerate progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately benefit humanity.

WHAT: Global event to advance ‘AI for Good’ with the participation of internationally recognized AI experts. The programme will include interactive high-level panels, while ‘AI Breakthrough Teams’ will propose AI strategies able to create impact in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society – through interactive sessions. The summit will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.

A special demo & exhibit track will feature innovative applications of AI designed to: protect women from sexual violence, avoid infant crib deaths, end child abuse, predict oral cancer, and improve mental health treatments for depression – as well as interactive robots including: Alice, a Dutch invention designed to support the aged; iCub, an open-source robot; and Sophia, the humanoid AI robot.

WHEN: 15-17 May 2018, beginning daily at 9 AM

WHERE: ITU Headquarters, 2 Rue de Varembé, Geneva, Switzerland (Please note: entrance to ITU is now limited for all visitors to the Montbrillant building entrance only on rue Varembé).

WHO: Confirmed participants to date include expert representatives from: Association for Computing Machinery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Consumer Trade Association, Facebook, Fraunhofer, Google, Harvard University, IBM Watson, IEEE, Intellectual Ventures, ITU, Microsoft, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Partnership on AI, Planet Labs, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, University of California at Berkeley, University of Tokyo, XPRIZE Foundation, Yale University – and the participation of “Sophia” the humanoid robot and “iCub” the EU open source robotcub.

The interview

Frederic Werner, Senior Communications Officer at the International Telecommunication Union and** one of the organizers of the AI for Good Global Summit 2018 kindly took the time to speak to me and provide a few more details about the upcoming event.

Werner noted that the 2018 event grew out of a much smaller 2017 ‘workshop’ and first of its kind, about beneficial AI which this year has ballooned in size to 91 countries (about 15 participants are expected from Canada), 32 UN agencies, and substantive representation from the private sector. The 2017 event featured Dr. Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal  (Université de Montréal) was a featured speaker.

“This year, we’re focused on action-oriented projects that will help us reach our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We’re looking at near-term practical AI applications,” says Werner. “We’re matchmaking problem-owners and solution-owners.”

Academics, industry professionals, government officials, and representatives from UN agencies are gathering  to work on four tracks/themes:

In advance of this meeting, the group launched an AI repository (an action item from the 2017 meeting) on April 25, 2018 inviting people to list their AI projects (from the ITU’s April 25, 2018? AI repository news announcement),

ITU has just launched an AI Repository where anyone working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute key information about how to leverage AI to help solve humanity’s greatest challenges.

This is the only global repository that identifies AI-related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks and organizations that aim to accelerate progress on the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To submit a project, just press ‘Submit’ on the AI Repository site and fill in the online questionnaire, providing all relevant details of your project. You will also be asked to map your project to the relevant World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines and the SDGs. Approved projects will be officially registered in the repository database.

Benefits of participation on the AI Repository include:

WSIS Prizes recognize individuals, governments, civil society, local, regional and international agencies, research institutions and private-sector companies for outstanding success in implementing development oriented strategies that leverage the power of AI and ICTs.

Creating the AI Repository was one of the action items of last year’s AI for Good Global Summit.

We are looking forward to your submissions.

If you have any questions, please send an email to: ai@itu.int

“Your project won’t be visible immediately as we have to vet the submissions to weed out spam-type material and projects that are not in line with our goals,” says Werner. That said, there are already 29 projects in the repository. As you might expect, the UK, China, and US are in the repository but also represented are Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Serbia, Peru, Italy, and other countries not commonly cited when discussing AI research.

Werner also pointed out in response to my surprise over the ITU’s role with regard to this AI initiative that the ITU is the only UN agency which has 192* member states (countries), 150 universities, and over 700 industry members as well as other member entities, which gives them tremendous breadth of reach. As well, the organization, founded originally in 1865 as the International Telegraph Convention, has extensive experience with global standardization in the information technology and telecommunications industries. (See more in their Wikipedia entry.)

Finally

There is a bit more about the summit on the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage,

The 2nd edition of the AI for Good Global Summit will be organized by ITU in Geneva on 15-17 May 2018, in partnership with XPRIZE Foundation, the global leader in incentivized prize competitions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and sister United Nations agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, UNCTAD, UNIDO, Global Pulse, UNICRI, UNODA, UNIDIR, UNODC, WFP, IFAD, UNAIDS, WIPO, ILO, UNITAR, UNOPS, OHCHR, UN UniversityWHO, UNEP, ICAO, UNDP, The World Bank, UN DESA, CTBTOUNISDRUNOG, UNOOSAUNFPAUNECE, UNDPA, and UNHCR.

The AI for Good series is the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on AI. The action​​-oriented 2018 summit will identify practical applications of AI and supporting strategies to improve the quality and sustainability of life on our planet. The summit will continue to formulate strategies to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits.

While the 2017 summit sparked the first ever inclusive global dialogue on beneficial AI, the action-oriented 2018 summit will focus on impactful AI solutions able to yield long-term benefits and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘Breakthrough teams’ will demonstrate the potential of AI to map poverty and aid with natural disasters using satellite imagery, how AI could assist the delivery of citizen-centric services in smart cities, and new opportunities for AI to help achieve Universal Health Coverage, and finally to help achieve transparency and explainability in AI algorithms.

Teams will propose impactful AI strategies able to be enacted in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society. Strategies will be evaluated by the mentors according to their feasibility and scalability, potential to address truly global challenges, degree of supporting advocacy, and applicability to market failures beyond the scope of government and industry. The exercise will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.

“As the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ITU is well placed to guide AI innovation towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development ​Goals. We are providing a neutral close quotation markplatform for international dialogue aimed at ​building a ​common understanding of the capabilities of emerging AI technologies.​​” Houlin Zhao, Secretary General ​of ITU​

Should you be close to Geneva, it seems that registration is still open. Just go to the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage, scroll the page down to ‘Documentation’ and you will find a link to the invitation and a link to online registration. Participation is free but I expect that you are responsible for your travel and accommodation costs.

For anyone unable to attend in person, the summit will be livestreamed (webcast in real time) and you can watch the sessions by following the link below,

https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/AI/2018/Pages/webcast.aspx

For those of us on the West Coast of Canada and other parts distant to Geneva, you will want to take the nine hour difference between Geneva (Switzerland) and here into account when viewing the proceedings. If you can’t manage the time difference, the sessions are being recorded and will be posted at a later date.

*’132 member states’ corrected to ‘192 member states’ on May 11, 2018 at 1500 hours PDT.

*Redundant ‘and’ removed on July 19, 2018.

International Women’s Day March 8, 2017 and UNESCO/L’Oréal’s For Women in Science (Rising Talents)

Before getting to the science, here’s a little music in honour of March 8, 2017 International Women’s Day,

There is is a Wikipedia entry devoted to Rise Up (Parachute Club song), Note: Links have been removed<

“Rise Up” is a pop song recorded by the Canadian group Parachute Club on their self-titled 1983 album. It was produced and engineered by Daniel Lanois, and written by Parachute Club members Billy Bryans, Lauri Conger, Lorraine Segato and Steve Webster with lyrics contributed by filmmaker Lynne Fernie.

An upbeat call for peace, celebration, and “freedom / to love who we please,” the song was a national hit in Canada, and was hailed as a unique achievement in Canadian pop music:

“ Rarely does one experience a piece of music in white North America where the barrier between participant and observer breaks down. Rise Up rises right up and breaks down the wall.[1] ”

According to Segato, the song was not written with any one individual group in mind, but as a universal anthem of freedom and equality;[2] Fernie described the song’s lyrics as having been inspired in part by West Coast First Nations rituals in which young girls would “rise up” at dawn to adopt their adult names as a rite of passage.[3]

It remains the band’s most famous song, and has been adopted as an activist anthem for causes as diverse as gay rights, feminism, anti-racism and the New Democratic Party.[4] As well, the song’s reggae and soca-influenced rhythms made it the first significant commercial breakthrough for Caribbean music in Canada.

L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science

From a March 8, 2017 UNESCO press release (received via email),

Fifteen outstanding young women researchers, selected
among more than 250 candidates in the framework of the 19th edition of
the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science awards, will receive the
International Rising Talent fellowship during a gala on 21 March at the
hotel Pullman Tour Eiffel de Paris. By recognizing their achievements at
a key moment in their careers, the _For Women in Science programme aims
to help them pursue their research.

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO _For Women in Science programme [1]
has highlighted the achievements of outstanding women scientists and
supported promising younger women who are in the early stages of their
scientific careers. Selected among the best national and regional
L’Oréal-UNESCO fellows, the International Rising Talents come from
all regions of the world (Africa and Arab States, Asia-Pacific, Europe,
Latin America and North America).

Together with the five laureates of the 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women
in Science awards [2], they will participate in a week of events,
training and exchanges that will culminate with the award ceremony on 23
March 2017 at the Mutualité in Paris.

The 2017 International Rising Talent are recognized for their work in
the following five categories:

WATCHING THE BRAIN AT WORK

* DOCTOR LORINA NACI, Canada
Fundamental medicine
In a coma: is the patient conscious or unconscious?     * ASSOCIATE
PROFESSOR MUIREANN IRISH, Australia

Clinical medicine
Recognizing Alzheimer’s before the first signs appear.

ON THE ROAD TO CONCEIVING NEW MEDICAL TREATMENTS

* DOCTOR HYUN LEE, Germany
Biological Sciences
Neurodegenerative diseases: untangling aggregated proteins.
* DOCTOR NAM-KYUNG YU, Republic of Korea
Biological Sciences
Rett syndrome: neuronal cells come under fire
* DOCTOR STEPHANIE FANUCCHI, South Africa
Biological Sciences
Better understanding the immune system.
* DOCTOR JULIA ETULAIN, Argentina
Biological Sciences
Better tissue healing.

Finding potential new sources of drugs

* DOCTOR RYM BEN SALLEM, Tunisia
Biological Sciences
New antibiotics are right under our feet.
* DOCTOR HAB JOANNA SULKOWSKA, Poland
Biological Sciences
Unraveling the secrets of entangled proteins.

GETTING TO THE HEART OF MATTER

* MS NAZEK EL-ATAB, United Arab Emirates
Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering
Miniaturizing electronics without losing memory.
* DOCTOR BILGE DEMIRKOZ, Turkey
Physics
Piercing the secrets of cosmic radiation.
* DOCTOR TAMARA ELZEIN, Lebanon
Material Sciences
Trapping radioactivity.
* DOCTOR RAN LONG, China
Chemistry
Unlocking the potential of energy resources with nanochemistry.

EXAMINING THE PAST TO SHED LIGHT ON THE FUTURE – OR VICE VERSA

* DOCTOR FERNANDA WERNECK, Brazil
Biological Sciences
Predicting how animal biodiversity will evolve.
* DOCTOR SAM GILES, United Kingdom
Biological Sciences
Taking another look at the evolution of vertebrates thanks to their
braincases.
* DOCTOR ÁGNES KÓSPÁL, Hungary
Astronomy and Space Sciences
Looking at the birth of distant suns and planets to better understand
the solar system.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

You can find out more about these awards and others on the 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards webpage or on the For Women In Science website. (Again in honour of the 2017 International Women’s Day, I was the 92758th signer of the For Women in Science Manifesto.)

International Women’s Day origins

Thank you to Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

International Women’s Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8 every year.[2] It commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York and organized by the Socialist Party of America.[3] On March 8, 1917, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, a demonstration of women textile workers began, covering the whole city. This was the beginning of the Russian Revolution.[4] Seven days later, the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.[3] March 8 was declared a national holiday in Soviet Russia in 1917. The day was predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

It seems only fitting to bookend this post with another song (Happy International Women’s Day March 8, 2017),

While the lyrics are unabashedly romantic, the video is surprisingly moody with a bit of a ‘stalker vive’ although it does end up with her holding centre stage while singing and bouncing around in time to Walking on Sunshine.

Coat fruit with silk to keep it fresh

A May 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily describes a way to keep fruit fresh without refrigeration,

Half of the world’s fruit and vegetable crops are lost during the food supply chain, due mostly to premature deterioration of these perishable foods, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Tufts University biomedical engineers have demonstrated that fruits can stay fresh for more than a week without refrigeration if they are coated in an odorless, biocompatible silk solution so thin as to be virtually invisible. The approach is a promising alternative for preservation of delicate foods using a naturally derived material and a water-based manufacturing process.

A May 6, 2016 Tufts University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work,

Silk’s unique crystalline structure makes it one of nature’s toughest materials. Fibroin, an insoluble protein found in silk, has a remarkable ability to stabilize and protect other materials while being fully biocompatible and biodegradable.

For the study, researchers dipped freshly picked strawberries in a solution of 1 percent silk fibroin protein; the coating process was repeated up to four times.  The silk fibroin-coated fruits were then treated for varying amounts of time with water vapor under vacuum (water annealed) to create varying percentages of crystalline beta-sheets in the coating. The longer the exposure, the higher the percentage of beta-sheets and the more robust the fibroin coating. The coating was 27 to 35 microns thick.

The strawberries were then stored at room temperature. Uncoated berries were compared over time with berries dipped in varying numbers of coats of silk that had been annealed for different periods of time. At seven days, the berries coated with the higher beta-sheet silk were still juicy and firm while the uncoated berries were dehydrated and discolored.

Tests showed that the silk coating prolonged the freshness of the fruits by slowing fruit respiration, extending fruit firmness and preventing decay.

“The beta-sheet content of the edible silk fibroin coatings made the strawberries less permeable to carbon dioxide and oxygen. We saw a statistically significant delay in the decay of the fruit,” said senior and corresponding study author Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Ph.D. Omenetto is the Frank C. Doble Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and also has appointments in the Department of Electrical Engineering and in the Department of Physics in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Similar experiments were performed on bananas, which, unlike strawberries, are able to ripen after they are harvested. The silk coating decreased the bananas’ ripening rate compared with uncoated controls and added firmness to the fruit by preventing softening of the peel.

The thin, odorless silk coating did not affect fruit texture.  Taste was not studied.

“Various therapeutic agents could be easily added to the water-based silk solution used for the coatings, so we could potentially both preserve and add therapeutic function to consumable goods without the need for complex chemistries,” said the study’s first author, Benedetto Marelli, Ph.D., formerly a post-doctoral associate in the Omenetto laboratory and now at MIT.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Silk Fibroin as Edible Coating for Perishable Food Preservation by B. Marelli, M. A. Brenckle, D. L. Kaplan & F. G. Omenetto. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 25263 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep25263 Published online: 06 May 2016

This is an open access paper.

3D print the city of Palmyra (Syria)?

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Palmyra dates back to Second Century BCE (before the common era) as UNESCO’s Site of Palmyra webpage indicates,

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria.  It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world. A grand, colonnaded street of 1100 metres’ length forms the monumental axis of the city, which together with secondary colonnaded cross streets links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style. Outside the city’s walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises.

Discovery of the ruined city by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in its subsequent influence on architectural styles.

Until recently Palmyra was occupied by ISIS or ISIL or IS (depending on what the group is being called today). A March 31, 2016 news item on phys.org presents a perspective on the city and cultural heritage in a time of strife,

The destruction at the ancient city of Palmyra symbolises the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of the terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS). Palmyra was a largely Roman city located at a desert oasis on a vital crossroad, and “one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world”. Its remarkable preservation highlighted an intermingling of cultures that today, as then, came to stand for the tolerance and multiculturalism that pre-conflict Syria was renowned for -– tolerance that IS seeks to eradicate.

A March 31, 2016 essay by Emma Cunliffe (University of Oxford) for The Conversation, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Early in the conflict, the area was heavily fortified. Roads and embankments were dug through the necropolises and the Roman walls, and the historic citadel defences were upgraded. Yet the terrorists occupied and desecrated the city from May 2015, systematically destroying monuments such as the Temple of Baalshamin, the Temple of Bel, seven tower tombs, a large Lion goddess statue and two Islamic shrines. They ransacked the museum, tortured and executing the former site director Khaled al-Asaad in search of treasure to sell. According to satellite imagery analysis the site was heavily looted throughout it all.

Now the city has been recaptured, the first damage assessments are underway, and Syrian – and international – attention is already turning to restoration. This work will be greatly aided by the Syrians who risked their lives to transport the contents of the Palmyra museum to safety. The last truck pulled out as IS arrived, with bullets whizzing past.

There is a contrasting view as to how much destruction occurred from a March 29, 2016 essay by Paul Rogers (University of Bradford) for The Conversation,

Syrian Army units have taken back the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State. The units are now also trying to extend their control to include al-Qaryatain, to the south west of Palmyra, and Sukhnah, to the north east.

There are indications that the damage done to the ancient world heritage site which lies just outside Palmyra has been much less than feared. It may even have been limited to the destruction of two or three individual ruins – certainly important in their own right but just a small part of a huge complex that stretches over scores of hectares.

Written before some of the latest events, Rogers’ perspective is one of military tactics and strategy which contrasts with Cunliffe’s cultural heritage perspective. Like the answers to the classic question ‘Is the glass is half empty or is the glass is half full?’, both are correct, in their way.

Getting back to the cultural heritage aspect, Cunliffe outlines how Syrians and others in the international community are attempting to restore Palmyra, from her March 31, 2016 essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Even as they were displaced, Syrians have worked to keep a detailed memory of the city alive. Syrian artists created artworks depicting the destruction. In a Jordanian camp, refugees made miniature models of the city and other cultural sites, even measuring out the number and position of Palmyra’s columns from photographs.

The international community is also playing its part. Groups like UNOSAT [UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme], the UN’s satellite imagery analysts have used satellite imagery to monitor the damage. On the ground, Syrian-founded NGOs like APSA [Association for the Protection Syrian Archaeology] have linked with universities to assess the site. Groups such as NewPalmyra and Palmyra 3D Model are using the latest technology to create open-access 3D computer models from photographs.

Others have gone even further. The Million Image Database Project at the Oxford Institute for Digital Archaeology distributed cameras to volunteers across the Middle East to collect 3D photos of sites. As well as creating 3D models, they will recreate full-scale artefacts, sites, and architectural features using their own cement-based 3D printing techniques. This will start with a recreation of the arch from Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, due to be unveiled in London in April 2016.

Here’s an artistic representation of the destruction,

A depiction of the destruction. Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos

A depiction of the destruction. Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos

Of course, there are some ethical issues about the restoration being raised, from Cunliffe’s March 31, 2016 essay (Note: Links have been removed),

It wouldn’t be the first time such large-scale restoration has been undertaken. Historic central Warsaw, for example, was destroyed during World War II, and was almost completely reconstructed and is now a World Heritage site. Reconstruction is costly, but might be accomplished more quickly and cheaply using new digital techniques, showing the world that Syria values its cultural heritage.

But many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage. They also point out that the fighting is still ongoing: 370,000 Syrians are dead, millions are displaced, and perhaps 50%-70% of the nearby town has been destroyed. Given the pressing humanitarian needs, stabilisation alone should be the priority for now.

Rebuilding also fails to redress the loss caused by the extensive looting of the site, focusing only on the dramatically destroyed monuments. Perhaps most importantly, its worth asking whether returning Palmyra exactly to its pre-conflict state denies a major chapter of its history? There needs to be a wide-ranging discussion on the priorities for the immediate future and the nature of any future reconstruction.

While I grasp most of the arguments I’m not sure why 3D printing raises a greater ethical issue, “… many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage … .” Couldn’t you say that about any form of restoration? Certainly, I was disconcerted when I saw the Sphinx in Cairo in real life where the restoration is quite obvious from angles not usually seen in tourist pictures.

More tangentially, how big is the 3D printer? If memory serves, building materials from ancient times were often large blocks of stone.

Getting back to the point, both Cunliffe’s and Rogers’ essays are worth reading in their entirety if you have the time. And since those essays have been written there has been an update for Associated Press in an April 1, 2016 article by Albert Aji on phys.org. Apparently, the IS retreat included time to plant thousands of mines throughout Palmyra with trees, doors, animals and more being booby-trapped and, now, being detonated by the Syrian army.

One final comment, The booby-trapping reminded me of a scene in the English Patient (movie) when the allies have won the war, the Germans have withdrawn and British and Canadian soldiers have liberated a town in Italy. They celebrate that night and one exuberant Brit soldier climbs a flagpole (I think) and is killed because the Germans had booby-trapped the top of the flagpole. Some years ago, a friend of mine was peacekeeper in Croatia and he said that everything was booby-trapped, flagpoles, mailboxes, cemetery markers, etc. He never said anything much more about but I have the impression it was demoralizing and stressful. I think the discussion about restoration and the artwork produced by Syrians in response to the happenings in Palmyra are an important way to counteract demoralization and stress. Whether money should be spent on restoration or all of it dedicated to pressing humanitarian needs is a question for other people to answer but a society without art and culture is one that is dying so it is heartening to note the vibrancy in Syria.

ETA April 19, 2016: Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph has been successfully replicated and is standing in London, UK according to an April 19, 2016 news item on phys.org. The replica is about 2/3 the size of the original. No reason for the size change is given in the Associated Press article. The arch scheduled to remain in London for a few more days before moving to New York, Dubai, and other destinations before arriving in Palmyra.

Happy International Women’s Day March 8, 2016!

The UK’s Medical Research Council’s Clinical Science Centre and  Imperial College have found an interesting way to celebrate   International Women’s Day 2016 according to a March 8, 2016 posting by Stuart Clark for the Guardian (Note: Links have been removed),

Tonight [March 8, 2016] at the Royal Society, London, around a dozen women will be presented with Suffrage Science awards. Organised by the Medical Research Council’s Clinical Science Centre, Imperial College, they honour women’s contributions to science and are timing to coincide with International Women’s Day.

One of today’s awardees is Pippa Goldschmidt. She is being honoured for her work in science communication. With a PhD in astronomy, …

Her latest project is editing the short story collection I Am Because You Are. These stories all take their inspiration from Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.

What can fiction bring to science?

Science is too often a closed book for many people, they study it at school and are bored by it, or find it difficult or irrelevant to their lives. But fiction has this incredible ability to reflect and examine all aspects of the real world, and writing fiction about science is a great way of opening it up to new audiences, and helping to demystify it.

Science is also heavily reliant on literary concepts, such as metaphors, to get its points across; we often hear the phrases ‘the Universe is like an expanding balloon’, or ‘DNA is like an alphabet’. So I think fiction and science have more in common with each other than may first appear.

Should you be able to attend, I’d be delighted to hear more about the event.

Next, I have a March 8, 2016 article by Lauren J. Young on Inverse.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Women have achieved a lot throughout history. That’s why today, on March 8, thousands of events are taking place in more than 40 countries across the world to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality, alluding to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — a 15-year plan for growth and development in all countries including gender equality and education for all.

International Women’s Day dates back to February 28, 1909, when the Socialist Party of America observed it for the first time in the United States, and two years later, the leader of the Women’s Office for Germany’s Social Democratic Party, Clara Zetkin, expanded the idea internationally. It gained support by the United Nations in 1975, which strengthened the movement.

International Women’s Day is also a day to celebrate science: The United Nations created an interactive timeline documenting some of the most significant contributions made by women. Here are the three:

In Ancient Greece, Agnodice was one of the first female gynecologists. She risked her life to practice medicine even though women who were caught were sentenced to death.

You can find the UN timeline here.

Finally, the UN has a separate International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrated on Feb. 11 (presumably of each year).

United Nations’ Scientific Advisory Board recommends scientific investment of up to 3.5% of GDP (gross domestic product)

Somehow, it’s no surprise that the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s (SG) Scientific Advisory Board has recommended that more money is needed for science and more science advice is necessary, too. Does anyone expect a group scientists to come to another conclusion regarding the money? Admittedly, the science advice is a little more controversial.

A July 9, 2015 UN SG’s Scientific Advisory Board news release on EurekAlert provides details,

Investing up to 3.5% of a nation’s GDP in science, technology and innovation – including basic science and education – is a key benchmark for advancing sustainable development effectively, leading experts say.

In papers released July 9 [2015] in New York, international scientists advising UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon say closing the gap between developed and developing countries depends on first closing international science, technology and innovation (STI) investment gaps.

According to the UN SG’s 26-member Scientific Advisory Board: “While a target of 1% of (Gross Domestic Product) for (research and development) is perceived high by many governments, countries with strong and effective STI systems invest up to 3.5% of their GPD in R&D.”

“If countries wish to break the poverty cycle and achieve (post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals), they will have to set up ambitious national minimum target investments for STI, including special allotments for the promotion of basic science and science education and literacy.”

The Board also recommends specific investment areas, including “novel alternative energy solutions, water filters that remove pathogens at the point-of-use, new robust building materials from locally available materials, nanotechnology for health and agriculture, and biological approaches to industrial production, environmental remediation and management.”

Instituted by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on behalf of the Secretary-General, the Board is comprised of experts from a range of scientific disciplines relevant to sustainable development, including its social and ethical dimensions.

The Board contributes to a process concluding this fall to replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, agreed by nations in 2000 for achievement in 2015, with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through which progress in improving quality of life around the world will be tracked through 2030.

Among other highlights of the papers presented at UN Headquarters:

The Board recommends a dedicated seat for science at an influential new world leaders’ forum created to promote and monitor sustainable development – the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – saying science needs to be engaged “formally in the HLPF as an advisor rather than an observer.”

“This could be accomplished by creating a formal seat for science on the HLPF, and/or by involving the UNSG’s Scientific Advisory Board and organizations such as the National Academies of Sciences, UNESCO, ICSU, Future Earth, regional scientific bodies, and others.”

The High-level Political Forum meets every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the General Assembly, and annually under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council. The Forum adopts negotiated declarations.

The Board also suggests engaging scientific bodies in reviews of pending policy decisions against scientific evidence.

“The UN Scientific Advisory Board, ICSU (the International Council for Science), National Academies of Science, and other bodies and networks, in collaboration with UNESCO and the UN system, would run a rigorous process of scientific review and assessment identifying possible risks and opportunities related to key political decisions.”

In addition, the Board calls for an annual Global Sustainable Development Report – a flagship UN publication like the Human Development Report – that monitors progress, identifies critical issues and root causes of challenges, and offers potential ways forward.

The report would synthesize and integrate findings from a wide range of scientific fields and institutions, developed with strong inter-agency support involving a suggested consortium of UN agencies working on sustainable development.

Needed to support long-term thinking: A better educated, informed world

Creating and engaging a better informed and educated public, it adds, would help establish policies that serve humanity’s long-term wellbeing over decisions that favour short-term economic and political interests.

The success of STI “will depend on the efficiency of the science-policy-society interface,” involving stakeholders from governments, civil society, indigenous peoples and local communities, industry and business, academia and research organizations.

“Such an active cooperation of multiple stakeholders will need more than the occasional by-chance interaction of different groups of society. It will require institutionalized architecture that brings together all affected actors to ensure linking scientific information and data as well as findings, scientific assessments and evidence-based advice with both policy and society.”

“Broader societal understanding and support of key scientific findings would make it more likely for science-based actions and evidence-based solutions to also be supported and promoted by decision-makers at all levels.”

The Board underlines that science, technology and innovation can be “the game changer” for the future development efforts.

“It can contribute to alleviating poverty, creating jobs, reducing inequalities, increasing income and enhancing health and well-being. It can assist in solving critical problems such as access to energy, food and water security, climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Not everyone is entirely supportive of this recommendation as Stuart Freedman notes in his July 2015 article (Developing nations urged to spend big on science) for SciDev.net,

Only a handful of countries have reached this figure (3.5%), including Finland and South Korea.

Zakri Abdul Hamid, a board member, gives the examples of Germany, Japan and South Korea, which, he says, upped their science investment to boost economic recovery after the devastation of the Second World War.

But Rafael Palacios Bustamante, a Venezuelan sociologist who specialises in science and innovation policy in Latin America, says this comparison is inappropriate.

“The gap between developing and industrialised countries is much bigger now and our dependence on technology has become more radical,” he says. …

Investing more money is a gamble but the opposite (not investing) is also a gamble and I think there’s the will to invest. From the materials I stumble across, it seems there’s an appetite at the grassroots level for more science as a means towards self-sustaining economies whether the scope is village, city, regional, or national.

For anyone curious about the UN’s Scientific Advisory Board, I wrote an Oct. 24, 2013 posting which listed the members whose two-year terms of appointment are almost complete.

For anyone interested in the two reports which form the bases for the recommendations,

Science, Technology and Innovation: Critical Means of Implementation for the SDGs (report)

Strengthening the High-Level Political Forum and the UN
Global Sustainable Development Report

December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite (from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features last day (Dec. 1, 2014) to apply for NanoDays 2015 physical kit and a bit about a medieval cleric who* ‘unwove’ light

Depending on your timezone, there are still a few hours left to submit an online application for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit. From a Sept. 15, 2014 posting by Catherine McCarthy for NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network),

Apply now for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit!
NanoDays 2015 will be held from March 28 through April 5, 2015. NanoDays is a week of community-based educational outreach events to raise public awareness of nanoscale science, technology and engineering throughout the United States. NanoDays kits are currently in production and will be ready for distribution in early 2015. We invite you to fill out an online application for a physical kit containing all of the materials and resources you need to start planning your community events; applications are due December 1, 2014.

 

We’re in Year 10 of funding for NISE Net, what’s going to happen to NanoDays?

This is the final NanoDays physical kit that will be funded through the current NISE Net award. Beyond 2015, we encourage you to continue to host NanoDays and strengthen local partnerships by using this kit (and any previous kits you have). We’ve set dates for the next five years to promote national participation in NanoDays in the years to come.

Future NanoDays will be held:

  • 2016: March 26-April 3
  • 2017: March 25-April 2
  • 2018: March 31-April 8
  • 2019: March 30-April 7
  • 2020: March 28-April 5

The NISE Network leadership is seeking opportunities to continue NanoDays after 2015, so stay tuned for further information!

Who can participate in NanoDays?
NanoDays kits are intended for use in public events; most host organizations are informal science education institutions and public outreach programs of nanoscience research centers. We invite you and your organization to participate in NanoDays 2015, whether or not you have previous experience with nano-related public outreach activities.

For anyone unfamiliar with the NanoDays programs, the post goes on to provide more details.

Here’s more about the upcoming International Year of Light (IYL)  mentioned in my Nov. 7, 2014 post,

What’s Nano about Light?
The United Nations has declared that 2015 is the International Year of Light (IYL) and light-based technologies. This global initiative helps to highlight for the public the importance of light and optical technologies in ones’ everyday life and it’s role in the development of society and the future. Endorsed by the International Council of Science, the International Year of Light 2015 has more than 100 partners from more than 85 countries!

Are you looking for ways to get involved?

There’s this tidbit about a special event featuring the University of Vermont physics department, light, and a local watershed (from the newsletter),

A Bi-Polar Affair Captivates Visitors with EnLIGHTening Nanoscale Science

By Luke Donforth, The University of Vermont

The University of Vermont (UVM) Physics Department and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center have a long collaborative relationship, through which the NISE Network has provided an excellent framework to help strengthen and deepen. Although an institution of formal learning, UVM values and contributes to informal education in the surrounding community.

Recently, the UVM Physics Department and ECHO received a NISE Net mini-grant to develop a daylong event outside the purview of NanoDays. ECHO focuses on the Lake Champlain watershed, and the Physics Department wanted to show how basic science is a useful tool for investigating, understanding, and caring for the lake and world around us. Light, and specifically polarization, gave us a unifying theme to bring a number of activities and concepts to ECHO. Visible light, something most museum visitors have experience with, has wavelengths in the hundreds of nanometers. This provides a comfortable entry point to familiarize visitors with “nano,” and from there we can highlight how interacting with light at the length scale of its wavelength allows us to investigate both light and the world around us.

….

Polarization, the orientation of components of light, provides a tool with uses ranging from telling the time of day to monitoring invasive species in Lake Champlain. As an example of the later, Professor J. Ellen Marsden (an ichthyologist with UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and long-time ECHO collaborator) supplied samples of larval zebra mussels from Lake Champlain. Zebra mussels, an invasive species actively monitored in the lake, are more easily distinguished and detected earlier with the thoughtful application polarized light.

We’re going to be hearing a lot more about light as we gear up for 2015. Meanwhile, you can read the entire December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite here.

In keeping with my previous comment, there’s this bit about a medieval cleric who helped us to understand light and optics. From a Nov. 27, 2014 posting by Michael Brooks, on the Guardian science blog, concerning his recent participation in a Festival of Humanities event held at the medieval Durham Cathedral,

Robert Grosseteste was a medieval pioneer of science. And, despite having died in 1253, the good bishop is up for an award on Thursday night [Nov. 27, 2014]. The shortlist for the Times Higher Education’s 2014 Research Project of the Year includes the researchers from Durham University who laid on last week’s activities in the cathedral’s Chapter House and Deanery, and they openly describe Grosseteste as one of their collaborators.

They made this clear in a paper they published in the prestigious journal Nature Physics in July. The scientists are re-examining Grosseteste’s work, and finding he made contributions to the field of optics that have yet to be assimilated into the canon of science. So they’ve come on board to help complete the record.

Grosseteste’s insight into the physics of rainbows has, for instance, enabled the researchers in the Ordered Universe collaboration to create a new co-ordinate system for colour. Anyone who has tried to calibrate a computer monitor knows that we now talk in terms of hue (a particular ratio of red, green and blue), saturation and brightness. Examination of Grosseteste’s writings has inspired an equally valid rainbow-based colour system.

It is based on the angle through which sunlight is scattered by the water drops, the “purity” of the medium – related to the size of the water drops – and the distance of the sun above the horizon. Grosseteste’s three-dimensional scheme outlines what Durham physicist Tom McLeish calls “the space of all possible rainbows”.

Here’s an image of a rainbow over Durham Cathedral,

 Rainbow over Durham Cathedral by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]


Rainbow over Durham Cathedral
by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]

Here’s where you can find more of StephieBee‘s work.

Sadly, GrosseTeste did not win top prize but I’m sure if he were still around, he’d say something like, “It was an honour to be nominated and I thank God.” As for the Festival of Humanities (Being Human), there’s more here about its 2014 inaugural year.

*Changed ‘on’ to ‘who’ in headline on Dec. 2, 2014.