Public relations practitioners and artificial intelligence (AI)

A December 2, 2021 news item on phys.org sheds light on an AI topic new to me,

A new research report from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ AIinPR Panel, which has been co-authored by the University’s [of Huddersfield] Emeritus Professor of Corporate Communication Anne Gregory, has found that practitioners see the huge potential that artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data offers the profession but possess limited knowledge on technical aspects of both.

A December ?, 2021 University of Huddersfield press release (also on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations [CIPR] website but dated November 23, 2021), which originated the news item, offers a summary of the report’s results,

The ‘AI and Big Data Readiness Report – Assessing the Public Relations Profession’s Preparedness for an AI Future’ research provides an overview of current AI understanding and preparedness within public relations and outlines how the profession should equip itself to exploit the potential and guard against the possible dangers of AI. 

“We need to get a strategic grip and determine for ourselves what our enhanced role and contribution can be in the organisations we serve. Otherwise, others will make the decision for us and it won’t be in our favour. This Report serves as the wake-up call.” [said] Professor Anne Gregory

It finds a significant number of PR practitioners have limited knowledge of AI and lack confidence in using it (43.2%), compared with only a small number who feel “very comfortable” (13.9%). However, practitioners are optimistic and have an eagerness to learn. Their challenge is they do not know what they need to know and they don’t know where to start. 

The report finds: 

41.5% of respondents claim to understand what AI as a technology means but do not consider themselves technical

Over one in three (38.9%) PR practitioners feel ‘excited’ about AI compared to just 3.9% who feel ‘overwhelmed’

30% of practitioners are familiar with AI technology but don’t feel confident to apply their knowledge to their role

One in five practitioners (20.7%) feel very comfortable using data and analytics in their role compared to just 8.2% of those who feel the same about AI

Around one in five practitioners are familiar with the relevance of both AI and Big Data on the communication profession

It would have been nice if the authors had included a little more detail about the previous research so as to better understand this report’s results.

As for the ‘AI and Big Data Readiness Report – Assessing the Public Relations Profession’s Preparedness for an AI Future’ report itself, I wish the authors had delved further into what the “41.5% of respondents claim to understand …” actually do understand about AI technology.

One last note, I was glad to see that the topic of ethics was also included in the survey.

Beer and wine reviews, the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) AI editors, and the Turing Test

The Turing test first known as the ‘Imitation Game’, was designed by scientist Alan Turing in 1950 to see if a machine’s behaviour (in this case, a ‘conversation’) could fool someone into believing it was human. It’s a basic test to help determine true artificial intelligence.

These days ‘artificial intelligence’ seems to be everywhere, although I’m not sure that all these algorithms would pass the Turing test. Some of the latest material I’ve seen suggests that writers and editors may have to rethink their roles in future. Let’s start with the beer and wine reviews.

Writing

An April 25, 2022 Dartmouth College news release by David Hirsch announces the AI reviewer, Note: Links have been removed,

In mid-2020, the computer science team of Keith Carlson, Allen Riddell and Dan Rockmore was stuck on a problem. It wasn’t a technical challenge. The computer code they had developed to write product reviews was working beautifully. But they were struggling with a practical question.

“Getting the code to write reviews was only the first part of the challenge,” says Carlson, Guarini ’21, a doctoral research fellow at the Tuck School of Business, “The remaining challenge was figuring out how and where it could be used.”

The original study took on two challenges: to design code that could write original, human-quality product reviews using a small set of product features and to see if the algorithm could be adapted to write “synthesis reviews” for products from a large number of existing reviews.

Review writing can be challenging because of the overwhelming number of products available. The team wanted to see if artificial intelligence was up to the task of writing opinionated text about vast product classes.

They focused on wine and beer reviews because of the extensive availability of material to train the algorithm. The relatively narrow vocabularies used to describe the products also makes it open to the techniques of AI systems and natural language processing tools.

The project was kickstarted by Riddell, a former fellow at the Neukom Institute for Computational Science, and developed with Carlson under the guidance of Rockmore, the William H. Neukom 1964 Distinguished Professor of Computational Science.

The code couldn’t taste the products, but it did ingest reams of written material. After training the algorithm on hundreds of thousands of published wine and beer reviews, the team found that the code could complete both tasks.

One result read: “This is a sound Cabernet. It’s very dry and a little thin in blackberry fruit, which accentuates the acidity and tannins. Drink up.”

Another read: “Pretty dark for a rosé, and full-bodied, with cherry, raspberry, vanilla and spice flavors. It’s dry with good acidity.”

“But now what?” Carlson explains as a question that often gnaws at scientists. The team wondered, “Who else would care?”

“I didn’t want to quit there,” says Rockmore. “I was sure that this work could be interesting to a wider audience.”

Sensing that the paper could have relevance in marketing, the team walked the study to Tuck Drive to see what others would think.

“Brilliant,” Praveen Kopalle, the Signal Companies’ Professor of Management at Tuck School of Business, recalls thinking when first reviewing the technical study.

Kopalle knew that the research was important. It could even “disrupt” the online review industry, a huge marketplace of goods and services.

“The paper has a lot of marketing applications, particularly in the context of online reviews where we can create reviews or descriptions of products when they may not already exist,” adds Kopalle. “In fact, we can even think about summarizing reviews for products and services as well.”

With the addition of Prasad Vana, assistant professor of business administration at Tuck, the team was complete. Vana reframed the technical feat of creating review-writing code into that of a market-friendly tool that can assist consumers, marketers, and professional reviewers.

“This is a sound Cabernet. It’s very dry and a little thin in blackberry fruit, which accentuates the acidity and tannins. Drink up.” Attribution: Artificial Intelligence review from Dartmouth project

The resulting research, published in International Journal of Research in Marketing, surveyed independent participants to confirm that the AI system wrote human-like reviews in both challenges.

“Using artificial intelligence to write and synthesize reviews can create efficiencies on both sides of the marketplace,” said Vana. “The hope is that AI can benefit reviewers facing larger writing workloads and consumers who have to sort through so much content about products.”

The paper also dwells on the ethical concerns raised by computer-generated content. It notes that marketers could get better acceptance by falsely attributing the reviews to humans. To address this, the team advocates for transparency when computer-generated text is used.

They also address the issue of computers taking human jobs. Code should not replace professional product reviewers, the team insists in the paper. The technology is meant to make the tasks of producing and reading the material more efficient. [emphasis mine]

“It’s interesting to imagine how this could benefit restaurants that cannot afford sommeliers or independent sellers on online platforms who may sell hundreds of products,” says Vana.

According to Carlson, the paper’s first author, the project demonstrates the potential of AI, the power of innovative thinking, and the promise of cross-campus collaboration.

“It was wonderful to work with colleagues with different expertise to take a theoretical idea and bring it closer to the marketplace,” says Carlson. “Together we showed how our work could change marketing and how people could use it. That could only happen with collaboration.”

A revised April 29, 2022 version was published on EurekAlert and some of the differences are interesting (to me, if no one else). As you see, there’s a less ‘friendly’ style and the ‘jobs’ issue has been approached differently. Note: Links have been removed,

Artificial intelligence systems can be trained to write human-like product reviews that assist consumers, marketers and professional reviewers, according to a study from Dartmouth College, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and Indiana University.

The research, published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, also identifies ethical challenges raised by the use of the computer-generated content.

“Review writing is challenging for humans and computers, in part, because of the overwhelming number of distinct products,” said Keith Carlson, a doctoral research fellow at the Tuck School of Business. “We wanted to see how artificial intelligence can be used to help people that produce and use these reviews.”

For the research, the Dartmouth team set two challenges. The first was to determine whether a machine can be taught to write original, human-quality reviews using only a small number of product features after being trained on a set of existing content. Secondly, the team set out to see if machine learning algorithms can be used to write syntheses of reviews of products for which many reviews already exist.

“Using artificial intelligence to write and synthesize reviews can create efficiencies on both sides of the marketplace,” said Prasad Vana, assistant professor of business administration at Tuck School of Business. “The hope is that AI can benefit reviewers facing larger writing workloads and consumers that have to sort through so much content about products.”

The researchers focused on wine and beer reviews because of the extensive availability of material to train the computer algorithms. Write-ups of these products also feature relatively focused vocabularies, an advantage when working with AI systems.

To determine whether a machine could write useful reviews from scratch, the researchers trained an algorithm on about 180,000 existing wine reviews. Metadata tags for factors such as product origin, grape variety, rating, and price were also used to train the machine-learning system.

When comparing the machine-generated reviews against human reviews for the same wines, the research team found agreement between the two versions. The results remained consistent even as the team challenged the algorithms by changing the amount of input data that was available for reference.

The machine-written material was then assessed by non-expert study participants to test if they could determine whether the reviews were written by humans or a machine. According to the research paper, the participants were unable to distinguish between the human and AI-generated reviews with any statistical significance. Furthermore, their intent to purchase a wine was similar across human versus machine generated reviews of the wine. 

Having found that artificial intelligence can write credible wine reviews, the research team turned to beer reviews to determine the effectiveness of using AI to write “review syntheses.” Rather than being trained to write new reviews, the algorithm was tasked with aggregating elements from existing reviews of the same product. This tested AI’s ability to identify and provide limited but relevant information about products based on a large volume of varying opinions.

“Writing an original review tests the computer’s expressive ability based on a relatively narrow set of data. Writing a synthesis review is a related but distinct task where the system is expected to produce a review that captures some of the key ideas present in an existing set of reviews for a product,” said Carlson, who conducted the research while a PhD candidate in computer science at Dartmouth.

To test the algorithm’s ability to write review syntheses, researchers trained it on 143,000 existing reviews of over 14,000 beers. As with the wine dataset, the text of each review was paired with metadata including the product name, alcohol content, style, and scores given by the original reviewers.

As with the wine reviews, the research used independent study participants to judge whether the machine-written summaries captured and summarized the opinions of numerous reviews in a useful, human-like manner.

According to the paper, the model was successful at taking the reviews of a product as input and generating a synthesis review for that product as output.

“Our modeling framework could be useful in any situation where detailed attributes of a product are available and a written summary of the product is required,” said Vana. “It’s interesting to imagine how this could benefit restaurants that cannot afford sommeliers or independent sellers on online platforms who may sell hundreds of products.”

Both challenges used a deep learning neural net based on transformer architecture to ingest, process and output review language.

According to the research team, the computer systems are not intended to replace professional writers and marketers, but rather to assist them in their work. A machine-written review, for instance, could serve as a time-saving first draft of a review that a human reviewer could then revise. [emphasis mine]

The research can also help consumers. Syntheses reviews—like those on beer in the study—can be expanded to the constellation of products and services in online marketplaces to assist people who have limited time to read through many product reviews.

In addition to the benefits of machine-written reviews, the research team highlights some of the ethical challenges presented by using computer algorithms to influence human consumer behavior.

Noting that marketers could get better acceptance of machine-generated reviews by falsely attributing them to humans, the team advocates for transparency when computer-generated reviews are offered.

“As with other technology, we have to be cautious about how this advancement is used,” said Carlson. “If used responsibly, AI-generated reviews can be both a productivity tool and can support the availability of useful consumer information.”

Researchers contributing to the study include Praveen Kopalle, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business; Allen Riddell, Indiana University, and Daniel Rockmore, Dartmouth College.

I wonder if the second news release was written by an AI agent.

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

Complementing human effort in online reviews: A deep learning approach to automatic content generation and review synthesis by Keith Carlson, Praveen K.Kopal, Allen Ridd, Daniel Rockmore, Prasad Vana. International Journal of Research in Marketing DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijresmar.2022.02.004 Available online 12 February 2022 In Press, Corrected Proof

This paper is behind a paywall.

Daniel (Dan) Rockmore was mentioned here in a May 6, 2016 posting about a competition he’d set up through Dartmouth College,’s Neukom Institute. The competition, which doesn’t seem to have been run since 2018, was called Turing Tests in Creative Arts.

Editing

It seems the American Chemical Society (ACS) has decided to further automate some of its editing. From an April 28, 2022 Digital Science business announcement (also on EurekAlert) by David Ellis,

Writefull’s world-leading AI-based language services have been integrated into the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Publications workflow.

In a partnership that began almost two years ago, ACS has now progressed to a full integration of Writefull’s application programming interfaces (APIs) for three key uses.

One of the world’s largest scientific societies, ACS publishes more than 300,000 research manuscripts in more than 60 scholarly journals per year.

Writefull’s proprietary AI technology is trained on millions of scientific papers using Deep Learning. It identifies potential language issues with written texts, offers solutions to those issues, and automatically assesses texts’ language quality. Thanks to Writefull’s APIs, its tech can be applied at all key points in the editorial workflows.

Writefull’s Manuscript Categorization API is now used by ACS before copyediting to automatically classify all accepted manuscripts by their language quality. Using ACS’s own classification criteria, the API assigns a level-of-edit grade to manuscripts at scale without editors having to open documents and review the text. After thorough benchmarking alongside human editors, Writefull reached more than 95% alignment in grading texts, significantly reducing the time ACS spends on manuscript evaluation.

The same Manuscript Categorization API is now part of ACS’s quality control program, to evaluate the language in manuscripts after copyediting.

Writefull’s Metadata API is also being used to automate aspects of manuscript review, ensuring that all elements of an article are complete prior to publication. The same API is used by Open Access publisher Hindawi as a pre-submission structural checks tool for authors.

Juan Castro, co-founder and CEO of Writefull, says: “Our partnership with the American Chemical Society over the past two years has been aimed at thoroughly vetting and shaping our services to meet ACS’s needs. Writefull’s AI-based language services empower publishers to increase their workflow efficiency and positively impact production costs, while also maintaining the quality and integrity of the manuscript.”

Digital Science is a technology company working to make research more efficient. We invest in, nurture and support innovative businesses and technologies that make all parts of the research process more open and effective. Our portfolio includes admired brands including Altmetric, Dimensions, Figshare, ReadCube, Symplectic, IFI CLAIMS, GRID, Overleaf, Ripeta and Writefull. We believe that together, we can help researchers make a difference. Visit www.digital-science.com and follow @digitalsci on Twitter.

Writefull is a technology startup that creates tools to help researchers improve their writing in English. The first version of the Writefull product allowed researchers to discover patterns in academic language, such as frequent word combinations and synonyms in context. The new version utilises Natural Language Processing and Deep Learning algorithms that will give researchers feedback on their full texts. Visit writefull.com and follow @writefullapp on Twitter.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. Visit www.acs.org and follow @AmerChemSociety on Twitter.

So what?

An artificial intelligence (AI) agent being used for writing assignments is not new (see my July 16, 2014 posting titled, “Writing and AI or is a robot writing this blog?“). The argument that these agents will assist rather than replace (pick an occupation: e.g., writers, doctors, programmers, scientists, etc) is almost always used as scientists explain that AI agents will take over the boring work giving you (the human) more opportunities to do interesting work. The AI-written beer and wine reviews described here support at least part of the argument—for the time being.

It’s true that an AI agent can’t taste beer or wine but that can change as this August 8, 2019 article by Alice Johnston for CNN hints (Note: Links have been removed),

An artificial “tongue” that can taste minute differences between varieties of Scotch whisky could be the key to identifying counterfeit alcohol, scientists say.

Engineers from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde in Scotland created a device made of gold and aluminum and measured how it absorbed light when submerged in different kinds of whisky.

Analysis of the results allowed the scientists to identify the samples from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig with more than 99% accuracy

BTW, my earliest piece on artificial tongues is a July 28, 2011 posting, “Bio-inspired electronic tongue replaces sommelier?,” about research in Spain.

For a contrast, this is the first time I can recall seeing anything about an artificial intelligence agent that edits and Writefall’s use at the ACS falls into the ‘doing all the boring work’ category and narrative quite neatly.

Having looked at a definition of the various forms of editing and core skills, I”m guessing that AI will take over every aspect (from the Editors’ Association of Canada, Definitions of Editorial Skills webpage),

CORE SKILLS

Structural Editing

Assessing and shaping draft material to improve its organization and content. Changes may be suggested to or drafted for the writer. Structural editing may include:

revising, reordering, cutting, or expanding material

writing original material

determining whether permissions are necessary for third-party material

recasting material that would be better presented in another form, or revising material for a different medium (such as revising print copy for web copy)

clarifying plot, characterization, or thematic elements

Also known as substantive editing, manuscript editing, content editing, or developmental editing.

Stylistic Editing

Editing to clarify meaning, ensure coherence and flow, and refine the language. It includes:

eliminating jargon, clichés, and euphemisms

establishing or maintaining the language level appropriate for the intended audience, medium, and purpose

adjusting the length and structure of sentences and paragraphs

establishing or maintaining tone, mood, style, and authorial voice or level of formality

Also known as line editing (which may also include copy editing).

Copy Editing

Editing to ensure correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness. It includes:

editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage

checking for consistency and continuity of mechanics and facts, including anachronisms, character names, and relationships

editing tables, figures, and lists

notifying designers of any unusual production requirements

developing a style sheet or following one that is provided

correcting or querying general information that should be checked for accuracy 

It may also include:

marking levels of headings and the approximate placement of art

Canadianizing or other localizing

converting measurements

providing or changing the system of citations

editing indexes

obtaining or listing permissions needed

checking front matter, back matter, and cover copy

checking web links

Note that “copy editing” is often loosely used to include stylistic editing, structural editing, fact checking, or proofreading. Editors Canada uses it only as defined above.

Proofreading

Examining material after layout or in its final format to correct errors in textual and visual elements. The material may be read in isolation or against a previous version. It includes checking for:

adherence to design

minor mechanical errors (such as spelling mistakes or deviations from style sheet)

consistency and accuracy of elements in the material (such as cross-references, running heads, captions, web page heading tags, hyperlinks, and metadata)

It may also include:

distinguishing between printer’s, designer’s, or programmer’s errors and writer’s or editor’s alterations

copyfitting

flagging or checking locations of art

inserting page numbers or checking them against content and page references

Note that proofreading is checking a work after editing; it is not a substitute for editing.

I’m just as happy to get rid of ‘boring’ parts of my work as anyone else but that’s how I learned in the first place and I haven’t seen any discussion about the importance of boring, repetitive tasks for learning.

Organic neuromorphic electronics

A December 13, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily describes some research from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research,

The human brain works differently from a computer – while the brain works with biological cells and electrical impulses, a computer uses silicon-based transistors. Scientists have equipped a toy robot with a smart and adaptive electrical circuit made of soft organic materials, similarly to the biological matter. With this bio-inspired approach, they were able to teach the robot to navigate independently through a maze using visual signs for guidance.

A December 13, 2021 Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, fills in a few details,

The processor is the brain of a computer – an often-quoted phrase. But processors work fundamentally differently than the human brain. Transistors perform logic operations by means of electronic signals. In contrast, the brain works with nerve cells, so-called neurons, which are connected via biological conductive paths, so-called synapses. At a higher level, this signaling is used by the brain to control the body and perceive the surrounding environment. The reaction of the body/brain system when certain stimuli are perceived – for example, via the eyes, ears or sense of touch – is triggered through a learning process. For example, children learn not to reach twice for a hot stove: one input stimulus leads to a learning process with a clear behavioral outcome.

Scientists working with Paschalis Gkoupidenis, group leader in Paul Blom’s department at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, have now applied this basic principle of learning through experience in a simplified form and steered a robot through a maze using a so-called organic neuromorphic circuit. The work was an extensive collaboration between the Universities of Eindhoven [Eindhoven University of Technology; Netherlands], Stanford [University; California, US], Brescia [University; Italy], Oxford [UK] and KAUST [King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia].

“We wanted to use this simple setup to show how powerful such ‘organic neuromorphic devices’ can be in real-world conditions,” says Imke Krauhausen, a doctoral student in Gkoupidenis’ group and at TU Eindhoven (van de Burgt group), and first author of the scientific paper.

To achieve the navigation of the robot inside the maze, the researchers fed the smart adaptive circuit with sensory signals coming from the environment. The path of maze towards the exit is indicated visually at each maze intersects. Initially, the robot often misinterprets the visual signs, thus it makes the wrong “turning” decisions at the maze intersects and loses the way out. When the robot takes these decisions and follows wrong dead-end paths, it is being discouraged to take these wrong decisions by receiving corrective stimuli. The corrective stimuli, for example when the robot hits a wall, are directly applied at the organic circuit via electrical signals induced by a touch sensor attached to the robot. With each subsequent execution of the experiment, the robot gradually learns to make the right “turning” decisions at the intersects, i. e. to avoid receiving corrective stimuli, and after a few trials it finds the way out of the maze. This learning process happens exclusively on the organic adaptive circuit. 

“We were really glad to see that the robot can pass through the maze after some runs by learning on a simple organic circuit. We have shown here a first, very simple setup. In the distant future, however, we hope that organic neuromorphic devices could also be used for local and distributed computing/learning. This will open up entirely new possibilities for applications in real-world robotics, human-machine interfaces and point-of-care diagnostics. Novel platforms for rapid prototyping and education, at the intersection of materials science and robotics, are also expected to emerge.” Gkoupidenis says.

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

Organic neuromorphic electronics for sensorimotor integration and learning in robotics by Imke Krauhausen, Dimitrios A. Koutsouras, Armantas Melianas, Scott T. Keene, Katharina Lieberth, Hadrien Ledanseur, Rajendar Sheelamanthula, Alexander Giovannitti, Fabrizio Torricelli, Iain Mcculloch, Paul W. M. Blom, Alberto Salleo, Yoeri van de Burgt and Paschalis Gkoupidenis. Science Advances • 10 Dec 2021 • Vol 7, Issue 50 • DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl5068

This paper is open access.

Neuromorphic (brainlike) computing inspired by sea slugs

The sea slug has taught neuroscientists the intelligence features that any creature in the animal kingdom needs to survive. Now, the sea slug is teaching artificial intelligence how to use those strategies. Pictured: Aplysia californica. (Image by NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary/Chad King.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of a sea slug before. Its appearance reminds me of its terrestrial cousin.

As for some of the latest news on brainlike computing, a December 7, 2021 news item on Nanowerk makes an announcement from the Argonne National Laboratory (a US Department of Energy laboratory; Note: Links have been removed),

A team of scientists has discovered a new material that points the way toward more efficient artificial intelligence hardware for everything from self-driving cars to surgical robots.

For artificial intelligence (AI) to get any smarter, it needs first to be as intelligent as one of the simplest creatures in the animal kingdom: the sea slug.

A new study has found that a material can mimic the sea slug’s most essential intelligence features. The discovery is a step toward building hardware that could help make AI more efficient and reliable for technology ranging from self-driving cars and surgical robots to social media algorithms.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] (“Neuromorphic learning with Mott insulator NiO”), was conducted by a team of researchers from Purdue University, Rutgers University, the University of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. The team used the resources of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne.

A December 6, 2021 Argonne National Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert) by Kayla Wiles and Andre Salles, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Through studying sea slugs, neuroscientists discovered the hallmarks of intelligence that are fundamental to any organism’s survival,” said Shriram Ramanathan, a Purdue professor of Materials Engineering. ​“We want to take advantage of that mature intelligence in animals to accelerate the development of AI.”

Two main signs of intelligence that neuroscientists have learned from sea slugs are habituation and sensitization. Habituation is getting used to a stimulus over time, such as tuning out noises when driving the same route to work every day. Sensitization is the opposite — it’s reacting strongly to a new stimulus, like avoiding bad food from a restaurant.

AI has a really hard time learning and storing new information without overwriting information it has already learned and stored, a problem that researchers studying brain-inspired computing call the ​“stability-plasticity dilemma.” Habituation would allow AI to ​“forget” unneeded information (achieving more stability) while sensitization could help with retaining new and important information (enabling plasticity).

In this study, the researchers found a way to demonstrate both habituation and sensitization in nickel oxide, a quantum material. Quantum materials are engineered to take advantage of features available only at nature’s smallest scales, and useful for information processing. If a quantum material could reliably mimic these forms of learning, then it may be possible to build AI directly into hardware. And if AI could operate both through hardware and software, it might be able to perform more complex tasks using less energy.

“We basically emulated experiments done on sea slugs in quantum materials toward understanding how these materials can be of interest for AI,” Ramanathan said.

Neuroscience studies have shown that the sea slug demonstrates habituation when it stops withdrawing its gill as much in response to tapping. But an electric shock to its tail causes its gill to withdraw much more dramatically, showing sensitization.

For nickel oxide, the equivalent of a ​“gill withdrawal” is an increased change in electrical resistance. The researchers found that repeatedly exposing the material to hydrogen gas causes nickel oxide’s change in electrical resistance to decrease over time, but introducing a new stimulus like ozone greatly increases the change in electrical resistance.

Ramanathan and his colleagues used two experimental stations at the APS to test this theory, using X-ray absorption spectroscopy. A sample of nickel oxide was exposed to hydrogen and oxygen, and the ultrabright X-rays of the APS were used to see changes in the material at the atomic level over time.

“Nickel oxide is a relatively simple material,” said Argonne physicist Hua Zhou, a co-author on the paper who worked with the team at beamline 33-ID. ​“The goal was to use something easy to manufacture, and see if it would mimic this behavior. We looked at whether the material gained or lost a single electron after exposure to the gas.”

The research team also conducted scans at beamline 29-ID, which uses softer X-rays to probe different energy ranges. While the harder X-rays of 33-ID are more sensitive to the ​“core” electrons, those closer to the nucleus of the nickel oxide’s atoms, the softer X-rays can more readily observe the electrons on the outer shell. These are the electrons that define whether a material is conductive or resistive to electricity.

“We’re very sensitive to the change of resistivity in these samples,” said Argonne physicist Fanny Rodolakis, a co-author on the paper who led the work at beamline 29-ID. ​“We can directly probe how the electronic states of oxygen and nickel evolve under different treatments.”

Physicist Zhan Zhang and postdoctoral researcher Hui Cao, both of Argonne, contributed to the work, and are listed as co-authors on the paper. Zhang said the APS is well suited for research like this, due to its bright beam that can be tuned over different energy ranges.

For practical use of quantum materials as AI hardware, researchers will need to figure out how to apply habituation and sensitization in large-scale systems. They also would have to determine how a material could respond to stimuli while integrated into a computer chip.

This study is a starting place for guiding those next steps, the researchers said. Meanwhile, the APS is undergoing a massive upgrade that will not only increase the brightness of its beams by up to 500 times, but will allow for those beams to be focused much smaller than they are today. And this, Zhou said, will prove useful once this technology does find its way into electronic devices.

“If we want to test the properties of microelectronics,” he said, ​“the smaller beam that the upgraded APS will give us will be essential.”

In addition to the experiments performed at Purdue and Argonne, a team at Rutgers University performed detailed theory calculations to understand what was happening within nickel oxide at a microscopic level to mimic the sea slug’s intelligence features. The University of Georgia measured conductivity to further analyze the material’s behavior.

A version of this story was originally published by Purdue University

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

You can find the September 24, 2021 Purdue University story, Taking lessons from a sea slug, study points to better hardware for artificial intelligence here.

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

Neuromorphic learning with Mott insulator NiO by Zhen Zhang, Sandip Mondal, Subhasish Mandal, Jason M. Allred, Neda Alsadat Aghamiri, Alireza Fali, Zhan Zhang, Hua Zhou, Hui Cao, Fanny Rodolakis, Jessica L. McChesney, Qi Wang, Yifei Sun, Yohannes Abate, Kaushik Roy, Karin M. Rabe, and Shriram Ramanathan. PNAS September 28, 2021 118 (39) e2017239118 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2017239118

This paper is behind a paywall.

Memristive spintronic neurons

A December 6, 2021 news item on Nanowerk on memristive spintronic neurons (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers at Tohoku University and the University of Gothenburg have established a new spintronic technology for brain-inspired computing.

Their achievement was published in the journal Nature Materials (“Memristive control of mutual SHNO synchronization for neuromorphic computing”).

Sophisticated cognitive tasks, such as image and speech recognition, have seen recent breakthroughs thanks to deep learning. Even so, the human brain still executes these tasks without exerting much energy and with greater efficiency than any computer. The development of energy-efficient artificial neurons capable of emulating brain-inspired processes has therefore been a major research goal for decades.

A November 29, 2021 Tohoku University press release (also on EurekAlert but published November 30, 2021), which originated the news release, provides more technical detail,

Researchers demonstrated the first integration of a cognitive computing nano-element – the memristor – into another – a spintronic oscillator. Arrays of these memristor-controlled oscillators combine the non-volatile local storage of the memristor function with the microwave frequency computation of the nano-oscillator networks and can closely imitate the non-linear oscillatory neural networks of the human brain.

Resistance of the memristor changed with the voltage hysteresis applied to the top Ti/Cu electrode. Upon voltage application to the electrode, an electric field was applied at the high-resistance state, compared to electric current flows for the low-resistance state. The effects of electric field and current on the oscillator differed from each other, offering various controls of oscillation and synchronization properties.

Professor Johan Åkerman of the University of Gothenburg and leader of the study expressed his hopes for the future and the significance of the finding. “We are particularly interested in emerging quantum-inspired computing schemes, such as Ising Machines. The results also highlight the productive collaboration that we have established in neuromorphic spintronics between the University of Gothenburg and Tohoku University, something that is also part of the Sweden-Japan collaborative network MIRAI 2.0.”

“So far, artificial neurons and synapses have been developed separately in many fields; this work marks an important milestone: two functional elements have been combined into one,” said professor Shunsuke Fukami, who led the project on the Tohoku University side. Dr. Mohammad Zahedinejad of the University of Gothenburg and first author of the study adds, “Using the memristor-controlled spintronic oscillator arrays, we could tune the synaptic interactions between adjacent neurons and program them into mutually different and partially synchronized states.”

To put into practice their discovery, the researchers examined the operation of a test device comprising one oscillator and one memristor. The constricted region of W/CoFeB stack served as an oscillator, i.e., the neuron, whereas the MgO/AlOx/SiNx stack acted as a memristor, i.e., the synapse.

Resistance of the memristor changed with the voltage hysteresis applied to the top Ti/Cu electrode. Upon voltage application to the electrode, an electric field was applied at the high-resistance state, compared to electric current flows for the low-resistance state. The effects of electric field and current on the oscillator differed from each other, offering various controls of oscillation and synchronization properties.

Professor Johan Åkerman of the University of Gothenburg and leader of the study expressed his hopes for the future and the significance of the finding. “We are particularly interested in emerging quantum-inspired computing schemes, such as Ising Machines. The results also highlight the productive collaboration that we have established in neuromorphic spintronics between the University of Gothenburg and Tohoku University, something that is also part of the Sweden-Japan collaborative network MIRAI 2.0.” [sic]

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

Memristive control of mutual spin Hall nano-oscillator synchronization for neuromorphic computing by Mohammad Zahedinejad, Himanshu Fulara, Roman Khymyn, Afshin Houshang, Mykola Dvornik, Shunsuke Fukami, Shun Kanai, Hideo Ohno & Johan Åkerman. Nature Materials (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-021-01153-6 Published 29 November 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Wound healing without sutures

Whoever wrote this Technion-Israel Institute of Technology November 28, 2021 press release (also on EurekAlert) they seem to have had a lot of fun doing it,

“Sutures? That’s practically medieval!”

It is a staple of science fiction to mock sutures as outdated. The technique has, after all, been in use for at least 5,000 years. Surely medicine should have advanced since ancient Egypt. Professor Hossam Haick from the Wolfson Department of Chemical Engineering at the Technion has finally turned science fiction into reality. His lab succeeded in creating a smart sutureless dressing that binds the wound together, wards off infection, and reports on the wound’s condition directly to the doctors’ computers. Their study was published in Advanced Materials.

Current surgical procedures entail the surgeon cutting the human body, doing what needs to be done, and sewing the wound shut – an invasive procedure that damages surrounding healthy tissue. Some sutures degrade by themselves – or should degrade – as the wound heals. Others need to be manually removed. Dressing is then applied over the wound and medical personnel monitor the wound by removing the dressing to allow observation for signs of infection like swelling, redness, and heat. This procedure is painful to the patient, and disruptive to healing, but it is unavoidable. Working with these methods also mean that infection is often discovered late, since it takes time for visible signs to appear, and more time for the inspection to come round and see them. In developed countries, with good sanitation available, about 20% of patients develop infections post-surgery, necessitating additional treatment and extending the time to recovery. The figure and consequences are much worse in developing countries.

How will it work with Prof. Haick’s new dressing?

Prior to beginning a procedure, the dressing – which is very much like a smart band-aid – developed by Prof. Haick’s lab will be applied to the site of the planned incision. The incision will then be made through it. Following the surgery, the two ends of the wound will be brought together, and within three seconds the dressing will bind itself together, holding the wound closed, similarly to sutures. From then, the dressing will be continuously monitoring the wound, tracking the healing process, checking for signs of infection like changes in temperature, pH, and glucose levels, and report to the medical personnel’s smartphones or other devices. The dressing will also itself release antibiotics onto the wound area, preventing infection.

“I was watching a movie on futuristic robotics with my kids late one night,” said Prof. Haick, “and I thought, what if we could really make self-repairing sensors?”

Most people discard their late-night cinema-inspired ideas. Not Prof. Haick, who, the very next day after his Eureka moment, was researching and making plans. The first publication about a self-healing sensor came in 2015 (read more about it on the Technion website here). At that time, the sensor needed almost 24 hours to repair itself. By 2020, sensors were healing in under a minute (read about the study by Muhammad Khatib, a student in Prof. Haick’s lab here), but while it had multiple applications, it was not yet biocompatible, that is, not usable in contact with skin and blood. Creating a polymer that would be both biocompatible and self-healing was the next step, and one that was achieved by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ning Tang.

The new polymer is structured like a molecular zipper, made from sulfur and nitrogen: the surgeon’s scalpel opens it; then pressed together, it closes and holds fast. Integrated carbon nanotubes provide electric conductivity and the integration of the sensor array. In experiments, wounds closed with the smart dressing healed as fast as those closed with sutures and showed reduced rates of infection.

“It’s a new approach to wound treatment,” said Prof. Haick. “We introduce the advances of the fourth industrial revolution – smart interconnected devices, into the day-to-day treatment of patients.”

Prof. Haick is the head of the Laboratory for Nanomaterial-based Devices (LNBD) and the Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the Technion. Dr. Ning Tang was a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Haick’s laboratory and conducted this study as part of his fellowship. He has now been appointed an associate professor in Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

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

Highly Efficient Self-Healing Multifunctional Dressing with Antibacterial Activity for Sutureless Wound Closure and Infected Wound Monitoring by Ning Tang, Rongjun Zhang, Youbin Zheng, Jing Wang, Muhammad Khatib, Xue Jiang, Cheng Zhou, Rawan Omar, Walaa Saliba, Weiwei Wu, Miaomiao Yuan, Daxiang Cui, Hossam Haick. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202106842 First published: 05 November 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

I usually like to have three links to a news/press release and in my searches for a third source for this press release, I stumbled onto the technioncanada.org website. They seemed to have scooped everyone including Technion as they have a November 25, 2021posting of the press release.

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

Now the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has announced its expert panel for the “International Science and Technology Partnership Opportunities” project, I offer my usual guess analysis of the connections between the members of the panle.

This project first was mentioned in my March 2, 2022 posting, scroll down to the “Council of Canadian Academies launches four projects” subhead. One comment before launching into the expert panel, the word innovation, which you’ll see in the announcement, is almost always code for commercialization, business and/or entrepreneurship.

A May 9, 2022 CCA news release (received via email) announced the members of expert panel,

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

May 9, 2022 – Ottawa, ON

Canada has numerous opportunities to pursue beneficial international partnerships focused on science, technology, and innovation (STI), but finite resources to support them. At the request of Global Affairs Canada, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine best practices and identify key elements of a rigorous, data-enabled approach to selecting international STI partnership opportunities. Monica Gattinger, Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“International STI partnerships can be crucial to advancing Canada’s interests, from economic growth to public health, sustainability, and security,” said Dr. Gattinger. “I look forward to leading this important assessment and working with panel members to develop clear, comprehensive and coherent approaches for evaluating partnership opportunities.”

As Chair, Dr. Gattinger will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in science diplomacy, global security, economics and trade, international research collaboration, and program evaluation. The Panel will answer the following question:

In a post-COVID world, how can Canadian public, private and academic organizations evaluate and prioritize STI partnership opportunities with foreign countries to achieve key national objectives, using indicators supported by objective data where possible?

“I’m delighted that an expert of Dr. Gattinger’s experience and knowledge has agreed to chair this panel,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I look forward to the report’s findings for informing the use of international partnerships in science, technology, and innovation.”

More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships:

Monica Gattinger (Chair), Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa

David Audretsch, Distinguished Professor; Ameritech Chair of Economic Development; Director, Institute for Development Strategies, Indiana University

Stewart Beck, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

Paul Arthur Berkman, Faculty Associate, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, and Associate Director, Science Diplomacy Centre, Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program, Harvard University; Associated Fellow, United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Karen Croteau, Partner, Goss Gilroy

Paul Dufour, Principal, PaulicyWorks

Meredith Lilly, Associate Professor, Simon Reisman Chair in International Economic Policy, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University [located in Ottawa]

David Perry, President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Peggy Van de Plassche, Managing Partner, Roar Growth

Caroline S. Wagner, Professor, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University

Jennifer M. Welsh, Professor; Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security; Director, Centre for International Peace and Security Studies, McGill University

Given the discussion of pronouns and identification, I note that the panel of 11 experts includes six names commonly associated with women and five names commonly associated with men, which suggests some of the gender imbalance (male/female) I’ve noticed in the past is not present in the makeup of this panel.

There are three ‘international’ members and all are from the US. Based on past panels, international members tend to be from the US or the UK or, occasionally, from Australia or Europe.

Geographically, we have extraordinarily high representation (Monica Gattinger, David Perry, Meredith Lilly, Paul Dufour, and Karen Croteau) from people who are linked to Ottawa, Ontario, either educated or working at the University of Ottawa or Carleton University. (Thank goodness; it’s not as if the nation’s capital dominates almost every discussion about Canada. Ottawa, represent!)

As usual, there is no Canadian representing the North. This seems a bit odd given the very high international interest in the Arctic regions.

Ottawa connections

Here are some of the links (that I’ve been able to find) to Ottawa,

Monica Gattinger (from her Institute of Governance profile page),

Dr. Gattinger is an award-winning researcher and highly sought-after speaker, adviser and media commentator in the energy and arts/cultural [emphasis mine] policy sectors….

Gattinger is Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, … She holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Carleton University. [emphases mine]

You’ll note David Perry is president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Meredith Lilly is currently at Carleton University.

Perry is a professor at the University of Calgary where the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is headquartered (and it has offices in Ottawa). Here’s more from Perry’s institute profile page,

… He received his PhD in political science from Carleton University [emphasis mine] where his dissertation examined the link between defence budgeting and defence procurement. He is an adjunct professor at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and a research fellow of the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. …

Paul Dufour also has an Ottawa connection, from his 2017 CCA profile page,

Paul Dufour is a Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy in the University of Ottawa [emphasis mine] and science policy Principal with PaulicyWorks in Gatineau, Québec. He is on the Board of Directors of the graduate student led Science Policy Exchange based in Montréal [emphasis mine], and is [a] member of the Investment Committee for Grand Challenges Canada.

Paul Dufour has been senior advisor in science policy with several Canadian agencies and organizations over the course of the past 30 years. Among these: Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre, and interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor to the Canadian Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D policy directions for the country.

Born in Montréal, Mr. Dufour was educated at McGill University [emphasis mine], the Université de Montréal, and Concordia University in the history of science and science policy, …

Role: Steering Committee Member

Report: Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments (April 2017)

Finally, there’s Karen Croteau a partner at Goss Gilroy. Here’s more from her LinkedIn profile page,

A seasoned management consultant professional and Credentialed Evaluator with more than 18 years experience in a variety of areas including: program evaluation, performance measurement, organizational/ resource review, benefit/cost analysis, reviews of regulatory management programs, organizational benchmarking, business case development, business process improvement, risk management, change management and project/ program management.

Experience

Partner

Goss Gilroy Inc

Jul 2019 – Present 2 years 11 months

Ottawa, Ontario [emphasis mine]

Education

Carleton University [emphasis mine]

Carleton University [emphasis mine]
Master’s Diploma Public Policy and Program Evaluation

The east coast

I think of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal as a kind of East Coast triangle.

Interestingly, Jennifer M. Welsh is at McGill University in Montréal where Paul Dufour was educated.

Representing the third point, Toronto, is Peggy Van de Plassche (judging by her accent in her YouTube videos, she’s from France), from her LinkedIn profile page,

I am a financial services and technology expert, corporate director, business advisor, investor, entrepreneur, and public speaker, fluent in French and English.

Prior to starting Roar Growth, I led innovation for CIBC [Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce], allocated several billions of capital to technology projects on behalf of CGI and BMO [Bank of Montreal], managed a European family office, and started 2 Fintechs.

Education

Harvard Business School [emphasis mine]

Executive Education – Investment

IÉSEG School of Management [France]

Master of Science (MSc) – Business Administration and Management, General

IÉSEG School of Management

Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) – Accounting and Finance

I didn’t find any connections to the Ottawa or Montréal panel members but I was mildly interested to see that one of the US members Paul Arthur Berkman is from Harvard University. Otherwise, Van de Plassche stands mostly alone.

The last of my geographical comments

David Perry manages to connect Alberta via his adjunct professorship at the University of Calgary, Ottawa (as noted previously) and Nova Scotia via his fellowship at Dalhousie University.

In addition to Montréal and the ever important Québec connection, Jennifer M. Welsh could be said to connect another prairie province while adding a little more international flair to this panel (from her McGill University profile page,

Professor Jennifer M. Welsh is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She was previously Professor and Chair in International Relations at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) [emphasis mine] and Professor in International Relations at the University of Oxford, [emphasis mine] where she co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. From 2013-2016, she served as the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, on the Responsibility to Protect.

… She has a BA from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada),[emphasis mine] and a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Oxford (where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar).

Stewart Beck seems to be located in Vancouver, Canada which gives the panel one West Coast connection, here’s more from his LinkedIn profile page,

As a diplomat, a trade commissioner, and a policy expert, I’ve spent the last 40 years as one of the foremost advocates of Canada’s interests in the U.S. and Asia. From 2014 to 2021 (August), I was the President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada [APF] [emphasis mine], Canada’s leading research institution on Asia. Under my leadership, the organization added stakeholder value through applied research and as a principal convener on Asia topics, a builder of enviable networks of public and private sector stakeholders, and a leader of conversations on crucial regional issues. Before joining APF Canada, I led a distinguished 30+ year career with Canada’s diplomatic corps. With postings in the U.S. and Asia, culminating with an assignment as Canada’s High Commissioner to India (Ambassador) [emphasis mine], I gained the knowledge and experience to be one of Canada’s recognized experts on Asia and innovation policy. Along the way, I also served in many senior foreign policy and trade positions, including as Canada’s most senior trade and investment development official, Consul General to Shanghai [emphasis mine]and Consul General to San Francisco. Today, Asia is vitally critical to Canada’s economic security, both financially and technologically. Applying my understanding and navigating the challenging geopolitical, economic, and trade environment is the value I bring to strategic conversations on the region. An established network of senior private and public sector officials in Canada and Asia complements the experience I’ve gained over the many years living and working in Asia.

He completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Queen’s University in Ontario and, given his career in diplomacy, I expect there are many Ottawa connections.

David Audretsch and Caroline S. Wagner of Indiana University and Ohio State University, respectively, are a little unusual. Most of the time, US members are from the East Coast or the West Coast not from one of the Midwest states.

One last comment about Paul Arthur Berkman, his profile page on the Harvard University website reveals unexpected polar connections,

Fulbright Arctic Chair [emphasis mine] 2021-2022, United States Department of State and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Paul Arthur Berkman is science diplomat, polar explorer and global thought leader applying international, interdisciplinary and inclusive processes with informed decisionmaking to balance national interests and common interests for the benefit of all on Earth across generations. Paul wintered in Antarctica [emphasis mine] when he was twenty-two, SCUBA diving throughout the year under the ice, and then taught a course on science into policy as a Visiting Professor at the University of California Los Angeles the following year, visiting all seven continents before the age of thirty.

Hidden diversity

While the panel is somewhat Ottawa-centric with a strong bias towards the US and Europe, there are some encouraging signs.

Beck’s experience in Asia and Berkman’s in the polar regions is good to see. Dufour has written the Canada chapter in two (2015 and 2021) UNESCO Science Reports and offers an excellent overview of the Canadian situation within a global context in the 2021 edition (I haven’t had the time to view the 2015 report).

Economist Audretsch and FinTech entrepreneur Van de Plassche, offer academic and practical perspectives for ‘innovation’ while Perry and Welsh both offer badly needed (Canada has been especially poor in this area; see below) security perspectives.

The rest of the panel offers what you’d expect, extensive science policy experience. I hope Gattinger’s experience with arts/cultural policy will enhance this project.

This CCA project comes at a time when Canada is looking at establishing closer links to the European Union’s science programmes as per my May 11, 2022 posting: Canada’s exploratory talks about joining the European Union’s science funding programme (Horizon Europe).

This project also comes at about the same time the Canadian federal government announced in its 2022 federal budget (covered in my April 19, 2022 posting, scroll down about 25% of the way; you’ll recognize the subhead) a new Canadian investment and Innovation Agency.

Notes on security

Canada has stumbled more than once in this area.The current war waged by Russia in Ukraine offers one of the latest examples of how state actors can wage damage not just in the obvious physical sense but also with cyberattacks. The US suffered a notable attack in May 2021 which forced the shutdown of a major gas pipeline (May 9, 2021 NBC news report).

As for Canada, there is a July 9, 2014 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news report about a cyberattack on the National Research Council (NRC),

A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.

For its part, the NRC says in a statement released Tuesday morning that it is now attempting to rebuild its computer infrastructure and this could take as much a year.

The NRC works with private businesses to advance and develop technological innovations through science and research.

This is not the first time the Canadian government has fallen victim to a cyberattack that seems to have originated in China — but it is the first time the Canadian government has unequivocally blamed China for the attack.

In September 2021 an announcement was made about a new security alliance where Canada was not included (from my September 17, 2021 posting),

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

I mention other security breaches such as the Cameron Ortis situation and the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML), the only level 4 lab in Canada in the September 17, 2021 posting under the ‘What is public safety?’ subheading.

It seems like there might be some federal movement on the issues assuming funding for “Securing Canada’s Research from Foreign Threats” in the 2022 federal budget actually appears. It’s in my April 19, 2022 posting about 45% of the way down under the subheading Research security.

I wish the panel good luck.

Canada’s exploratory talks about joining the European Union’s science funding programme (Horizon Europe)

Thanks to Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, for the update (via an April 21, 2022 tweet) on the talks concerning Canada’s possible association with the European Union’s Horizon Europe science funding programme.

I’ve done some digging and found this February 6, 2019 article by Michael Rogers for mairecuriealumni.eu which describes the first expressions of interest,

The EU’s biggest ever R&D programme, which will run for seven years from 2021, will offer “more flexible” entry terms for foreign countries, the European Commission’s director-general for research and innovation said Tuesday [February 5, 2019].

Successive EU R&D programmes have welcomed outside participation, but the offer of association membership to Horizon Europe, a status that allows countries to participate in EU research under the same conditions as member states, will be much wider than in the past, said Jean-Eric Paquet.

“Our goal for association is very ambitious and aimed at making it much more agile and palatable for a broader range of partners,” Paquet told a Science|Business conference in Brussels.

Already, there is interest. “I want us to be an associate member,” said Rémi Quirion, chief scientist of Québec. He was speaking for his own province but said he believes the Canadian federal government shares this ambition.

“What’s happening in the US with the current president is an opportunity for us. We need new friends,” Quirion said. “Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, ‘Canada is back on the global scene’, and we want to play with you.”

Negotiations to associate with Horizon Europe, which will be one of the largest funding initiatives in the world for scientific research with a proposed budget of €94.1 billion, haven’t yet begun, though there have been some preliminary discussions.

Then, there was this June 15, 2021 article by Goda Naujokaitytė for Science Business,

Canada: doors open to Horizon Europe association

The EU is making moves to welcome Canada as an associated country in the new €95.5 billion R&D programme, Horizon Europe, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement following the EU-Canada summit in Brussels on Monday [June 14, 2021].

“We invited Canadian researchers to participate in our programmes. We want them with us to intensify the exchanges between our innovators, for example in bioeconomy, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, digital technologies, you just name it,” said von der Leyen. “And our Canadian friends were happy about this invitation.”

Following the summit “exploratory discussions” towards “a possible association of Canada” to Horizon Europe will begin. There will be a particular focus on supporting the green and digital transitions, including green hydrogen, artificial intelligence and quantum cooperation.

The Commission has been sounding out to Canada about possible membership for a while, but serious talks on an enhanced level of cooperation with Canada as an associated country under Horizon Europe stalled as EU officials focused on tying up loose ends with Brexit.

Following this, the row on the terms of associated country participation in sensitive quantum and space research projects led to further delays.

Beyond Horizon Europe, the Commission hopes to strengthen cooperation with Canada in a number of other areas.

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the two sides hope to ensure uninterrupted vaccine flows between the countries and intensify cooperation in health.

One initiative will be a new health alliance. Details are yet to be revealed, but the alliance will have a global dimension, working to ensure that new technologies, such as mRNA, can reach other parts of the world, like Africa and Latin America. “We will share expertise; we will share lessons learnt and best practices to be better prepared and work closely together on these issues,” said von der Leyen.

Another area of cooperation will be in raw materials. Guaranteed supplies of certain minerals and metals [emphasis mine] are essential to the European economy and currently the EU is too dependent on China.

“We, as Europeans, want to diversify our imports away from producers like China. Because we want more sustainability, we want less environmental damage and we want transparency on labour conditions,” von der Leyen said.

It’s not unusual to see raw materials, such as minerals, prove to be one of Canada’s substantive attractions. Interestingly, critical minerals played a starring role in our latest federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting and scroll down about 50% of the way to the ‘Mining’ subhead).

Here’s the latest news from an April 21, 2022 news update (titled: Conclusion of exploratory talks on the association of New Zealand and Canada to Horizon Europe: towards formal negotiations) on the European Commission website (as mentioned on Dr. Nemer’s April 21, 2022 tweet),

The informal exploratory talks launched on 10 February 2022 between the European Commission, DG Research and Innovation, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and on 15 July 2021 between DG Research and Innovation and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), have reached a conclusion.

These exploratory talks have paved the way to move towards the next stage of the process, the formal negotiation of the association agreement. They provided all parties with the opportunity to discuss the technical aspects of the envisaged association, including the prospective terms and conditions for participation in Horizon Europe actions and in the Programme’s governance.

The Commission will now prepare recommendations to the Council to launch the two negotiation processes and seek negotiating directives. Once the Council adopts such directives, the formal negotiations could commence upon readiness of New Zealand and of Canada. All parties expressed the hope that New Zealand and Canada could be associated to Horizon Europe as from 2023.

Although it’s dated December 21, 2021 this news update from the European Commission (titled: Updates on the association of third countries to Horizon Europe) is being continuously updated with the latest being dated April 25, 2022,

As of 25 April 2022, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey have applicable association agreements in place. Association agreements have also been signed with Albania, Tunisia, Ukraine. They are currently undergoing national ratification procedures and are expected to enter into force shortly.

It gives you an idea of the international scope.

Getting the dirt on dirt: a podcast interview with soil biogeochemist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

The podcast People I (Mostly) Admire isn’t technically speaking a science podcast but its host Steven Levitt, University of Chicago economist and co-author of the “Freakonomics” books, features quite a few scientists in his podcast series on the Freakonomics Radio Network.

One of Levitt’s latest episodes, No. 74 Getting our Hands Dirty on May 6, 2022 features,

Soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe could soon hold one of the most important jobs in science. She explains why the ground beneath our feet is one of our greatest resources — and, possibly, one of our deadliest threats.

Episode Transcript

My guest today Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a leading soil scientist and President Biden’s nominee to be the director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. If confirmed, she will manage a $7 billion research budget.

ASEFAW BERHE: If you were to think about where the large global reservoirs of carbon are — beyond fossil fuel deposits, and the ocean — the next largest reservoir of carbon on the earth system is in soil.

Welcome to People I (Mostly) Admire, with Steve Levitt.

I got interested in soil science a few weeks back and I started doing a little bit of reading. And I stumbled onto Asmeret and her amazing story. Born and raised in civil-war ravaged Eritrea, she became a leading scientist and is poised to take over one of the most important jobs in science. I knew right away I needed to have her on this show.

LEVITT: Have you heard of a man named Sadhguru? He’s an Indian guru who’s currently riding a motorcycle across Europe and the Middle East to bring attention to soil degradation.

ASEFAW BERHE: I’ve seen some social media posts, and I also saw recently the interview he did with Trevor Noah.

LEVITT: Believe it or not, the idea for having you on this podcast came because his publicist somehow got in my inbox of my email. At first, I thought it was a joke, but then he was on Trevor Noah and I said, “Whoa, he must be doing something serious, but it’s not very scientific. I better learn something about the science.” And then I found you because you’re the first name that comes up if you look into soil science.

Here’s a selection of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) episodes (from a May 9, 2022 announcement received via email about the People I [Mostly] Admire podcast series),

While People I (Mostly) Admire hosts guests from all walks of life, Levitt’s conversations with scientists have been some of the most illuminating episodes. If you’re not familiar with the show, here’s a short guide to some of the STEM episodes:

  • We Can Play God Now (Ep. 67, 3/18/22) Gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna worries that humanity might not be ready for the technology she helped develop.
  • The Professor Who Said “No” to Tenure (Ep. 66, 3/11/22) Columbia astrophysicist David Helfand is an academic who does things his own way — from turning down job security to helping found a radically unconventional university.
  • A Rockstar Chemist and Her Cancer-Attacking “Lawn Mower” (Ep. 65, 3/4/22) Stanford professor Carolyn Bertozzi’s imaginative ideas for treating disease have led to ten start-ups. She talks with Steve about the new generation of immune therapy she’s created, and why she might rather be a musician.
  • Cassandra Quave Thinks the Way Antibiotics Are Developed Might Kill Us (Ep. 60, 1/28/22) By mid-century, 10 million people a year are projected to die from untreatable infections. Can Cassandra, an ethnobotanist at Emory University convince Steve that herbs and ancient healing are key to our medical future?
  • Why Aren’t All Drugs Legal? (Ep. 28, Replay 1/14/22) The Columbia neuroscientist and psychology professor Carl Hart believes that recreational drug use, even heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine, is an inalienable right. Can he convince Steve?
  • Max Tegmark on Why Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Won’t be Our Slave (Part 2) (Ep. 52, 11/19/21) He’s an M.I.T. cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert, and once upon a time, almost an economist. Max and Steve continue their conversation about the existential threats facing humanity, and what Max is doing to mitigate our risk. The co-founder of the Future of Life Institute thinks that artificial intelligence can be the greatest thing to ever happen to humanity — if we don’t screw it up.
  • Max Tegmark on Why Treating Humanity Like a Child Will Save Us All (Ep. 51, 11/5/21) How likely is it that this conversation is happening in more than one universe? Should we worry more about Covid or about nuclear war? Is economics a form of “intellectual prostitution?” Steve discusses these questions, and more, with Max, an M.I.T cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert — who was once almost an economist. He also tells Steve why we should be optimistic about the future of humanity (assuming we move Earth to a larger orbit before the sun evaporates our oceans).
  • Mathematician Sarah Hart on Why Numbers are Music to Our Ears (Ep. 49, 10/29/21) Playing notes on her piano, she demonstrates for Steve why whole numbers sound pleasing, why octaves are mathematically imperfect, and how math underlies musical composition. Sarah, a professor at the University of London and Gresham College, also talks with Steve about the gender gap in mathematics and why being interested in everything can be a problem.

While I’m at it, here’s a couple of my postings on soil,

There’s a lot more should you choose to search ‘soil’.

Getting back to Freakonomics, it’s been quite a while since I’ve come across that term. You can find out more about the community from the freakonomics.com About page,

Freakonomics began as a book, which led to a blog, a documentary film, more books, a pair of pants, and in 2010, a podcast called Freakonomics Radio. Hosted by Stephen J. Dubner,it became and remains one of the most popular podcasts in the world, with a reputation for storytelling that is both rigorous and entertaining. Its archive of more than 400 episodes is available, for free, on any podcast app, and the show airs weekly on NPR stations. Freakonomics Radio is now the flagship show of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which includes the podcasts No Stupid Questions (est. 2020), People I (Mostly) Admire (2020), Freakonomics, M.D. (2021), and a variety of special series. To keep up with everything, you can get our newsletter, read the FAQs, or send inquiries to radio@freakonomics.com.

Oddly, I too have heard from Sadhguru (mentioned early in the interview with Asmeret Asefaw Berhe).

Nanotechnology-enabled pain relief for tooth sensitivity

A November 23, 2021 news item on phys.org announces research from Australia that may lead to pain relief for anyone with sensitive teeth,

In an Australian first, researchers from the University of Queensland have used nanotechnology to develop effective ways to manage tooth sensitivity.

Dr. Chun Xu from UQ’s [University of Queensland] School of Dentistry said the approach might provide more effective long-term pain relief for people with sensitive teeth, compared to current options.

A November 23, 2021 University of Queensland press release, which originated the news item, describes the condition leading to tooth sensitivity and how the proposed solution works (Note: Links have been removed),

“Dentin tubules are located in the dentin, one of the layers below the enamel surface of your teeth,” Dr Xu said.

“When tooth enamel has been worn down, and the dentin are exposed, eating or drinking something cold or hot can cause a sudden sharp flash of pain.

“The nanomaterials used in this preclinical study can rapidly block the exposed dentin tubules and prevent the unpleasant pain.

“Our approach acts faster and lasts longer than current treatment options.

“The materials could be developed into a paste, so people who have sensitive teeth could simply apply this paste to the tooth and massage for one to three minutes.

“The next step is clinical trials.”

Tooth sensitivity affects up to 74 per cent of the population, at times severely impacting quality of life and requiring expensive treatment.

“If clinical trials are successful people will benefit from this new method that can be used at home, without the need to go to a dentist in the near future,” Dr Xu said.

“We hope this study encourages more research using nanotechnology to address dental problems.”

The team also included researchers from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN.

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

Calcium-Doped Silica Nanoparticles Mixed with Phosphate-Doped Silica Nanoparticles for Rapid and Stable Occlusion of Dentin Tubules by Yuxue Cao, Chun Xu, Patricia P. Wright, Jingyu Liu, Yueqi Kong, Yue Wang, Xiaodan Huang, Hao Song, Jianye Fu, Fang Gao, Yang Liu, Laurence J. Walsh, and Chang Lei. ACS Appl. Nano Mater. 2021, 4, 9, 8761–8769 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsanm.1c01365 Publication Date:August 25, 2021 Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.