Topic: An evening salon and reading of specially commissioned pieces of fiction on AI futures
Description: Artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies permeate all aspects of our lives. Their proliferation increasingly leads to encounters with ‘mutant algorithms’, ‘biased machine learning’, and ‘racist AIs’ that sometimes make familiar forms of near-future fiction pale in comparison.
In these examples, AI and machine learning tools inscribe a certain future based on predictions from past observations and they foreclose a multitude of other possible futures.
Faced with this potential to limit and constrain what might be, can fiction and narrative offer alternatives for how AI could and should be?
This evening salon will present near-future fiction pieces commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Institute’s JUST AI project to inspire and expand our thinking about our possible relationship to AI and data.
Join the event to listen to the first reading of two commissioned pieces and to discuss with the authors and invited experts.
Live (real-time) captioning will be provided for this event, if you have questions or request for access, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair: – Alison Powell, Associate Professor, London School of Economics
Speakers: – Adam Marek – writer of futuristic and fantastical short stories – Squirrel Nation – reimagining and designing how to live in a warming world – Tania Hershman – poet, writer, teacher and editor – Yasemin J. Erden, Assistant Professor in Philosophy, University of Twente
Time: Mar 3, 2021 06:30 PM – 8 PM [GMT]
This artwork accompanying the Almost future AI announcement reminds me of a circuit board. In any event, I found this image and a bit more information about the Just AI programme/network and about their event on this Almost future AI webpage,
The JUST AI (Joining Up Society and Technology in AI) programme is an independent network of researchers and practitioners, led by Dr Alison Powell from LSE [London School of Economics], supported by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The humanities-led network is committed to understanding the social and ethical value of data-driven technologies, artificial intelligence, and automated systems. The network will build on research in AI ethics, orienting it around practical issues of social justice, distribution, governance and design, and seek to inform the development of policy and practice.
We are using Zoom for virtual events open to more than 40 attendees. Although there are issues with Zoom’s privacy controls, when reviewing available solutions we found that there isn’t a perfect product and we have chosen Zoom for its usability and accessibility. Find out more here.
I’m glad to see they’ve taken privacy concerns seriously enough to explain why they’re using Zoom. I wish more organizations took the time to inform participants in virtual and online events which technology is being used and to include a reference to or comment on privacy issues.
it’s a relief to see this level of congruence between Just AI’s and the Ada Lovelace Institute’s stated principles and its preliminary actions.
Before moving onto the next item and due to a very confused approach to naming (Ada Lovelace Day being both a ‘day’ and an organization), it seems like a good idea to mention that the Ada Lovelace Institute is not associated with the Ada Lovelace Day organization as per the Ada Lovelace Institute’s About webpage,
The Ada Lovelace Institute was established by the Nuffield Foundation in early 2018, in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Statistical Society, the Wellcome Trust, Luminate, techUK and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
One more March 2021 event
Staying on the Ada Lovelace theme, there’s an event on March 8, 2021 International Women’s Day being hosted by the organization called Ada Lovelace Day (there’s more confusion to come). Here’s more about the upcoming March 2021 event from the 2021 International Women’s Day event webpage,
Monday 8 March 2021 [1900 GMT]
We are celebrating International Women’s Day with an hour long live-streamed panel discussion titled Comedy and Communication, looking at how we can all use comedy techniques in our STEM communications and teaching.
The Ada Lovelace Day organization is at findingada.com, which is also the name for one of the organization’s initiatives, the ‘Finding Ada Network’. I find the naming conventions confusing, especially since there is an Ada Lovelace Day celebrated internationally and hosted by this organization (whatever it’s called) each year. In 2021, Ada Lovelace Day will be celebrated on Tuesday, October 12.
Intelligence Squared (IQ2US) was featured here in a January 18, 2019 posting when the organization hosted a ‘de-extinction’ (or ‘resurrection’) biology debate. I was quite impressed with the quality of the arguments, pro and con (for and against) and the civility with which the participants conducted themselves. Fingers crossed their upcoming Nov. 6, 2020 debate proves as satisfying.
It should be noted that Bloomberg TV is co-hosting this event with Intelligence Squared (IQ2US) and IBM is sponsoring it.
Here’s more about the debate on the motion: A U.S.-China Space Race Is Good for Humanity, from an Oct. 26, 2020 Shore Fire announcement (received via email),
Next Friday evening [Nov. 6, 2020] at 7:00 pm ET, the nonprofit debate series Intelligence Squared U.S. will hold a live debate on the motion “A U.S.-China Space Race Is Good for Humanity.”
Two of their debaters have released statements commenting on today’s news [emphasis mine; I have included information about the Oct. 26, 2020 news after this event information] out of NASA. One, Bidushi Bhattacharya, is a twenty-year veteran of NASA. The other, Avi Loeb, is one of the most prominent scientists working on space today.
… they will be debating for the motion “A U.S.-China Space Race Is Good for Humanity” with Intelligence Squared U.S. … . The debate will be viewable on Bloomberg TV’s new show ‘That’s Debatable’. Their opponents are Michio Kaku and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan.
AVI LOEB STATEMENT:
“It was already known from previous studies that there is water ice on the lunar surface. But the new study identified that it is more abundant and exists all over the Moon. Interestingly, a month ago we published a paper with my former postdoc, Manasvi Lingam, arguing that liquid water may exist deep under the surface of the Moon and support sub-surface life.
“The existence of significant amounts of water on the lunar surface can be helpful for establishing a sustainable base there in the context of NASA’s Artemis program with its international partners. This will be the first step in advancing humanity to more distant destinations, such as Mars and beyond. There is no doubt that our future lies in space, not only for national security and commercial benefits but mainly for scientific exploration aimed at opening new horizons to our civilization. Earlier in October , eight countries signed the Artemis Accords , a set of international agreements drawn up by the US concerning future exploration of the Moon and the use of its resources. The Accords recognize that exploration of the Moon should be for peaceful purposes.
“In analogy with the scientific exploration conducted in the South Pole, it would be particularly interesting to search for life under the surface of the Moon once we establish a scientific base there.”
BIDUSHI BHATTACHARYA STATEMENT
“Today’s [Oct. 26, 2020] announcement has huge implications for the commercial development space sector. Private companies and startups now have a new product development opportunity. I can see a path for leveraging today’s off-planet capabilities to develop AI-based robotics to provide water extraction services for NASA, so that the agency can continue to focus on R&D.”
Theoretical Physicist & Professor
Abraham (Avi) Loeb is a theoretical physicist, author, and Harvard professor. He was the longest-serving chair of Harvard’s astronomy department (for nine years) and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the International Academy of Astronautics. Loeb is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology at the White House and, in 2012, TIME magazine selected Loeb as one of the 25 most influential people in space.
Bidushi Bhattacharya: Rocket Scientist & Space Entrepreneur
Bidushi Bhattacharya is a rocket scientist and entrepreneur. After two decades with NASA working on projects including the Hubble Space Telescope and Galileo probe to Jupiter, Bhattacharya founded Astropreneurs HUB, Southeast Asias first space technology incubator. She currently serves on the Global Entrepreneurship Network Space Advisory Board and is the CEO of Bhattacharya Space Enterprises, a Singaporean startup dedicated to space-related education and training.
They found water (rather than the ice they had found before) on the moon and announced it on Oct. 26, 2020. To be more specific, they found the water in a crater named after a Jesuit priest, Christopher Clavius, who was also an astronomer and a mathematician. Given that piece of information it’s perhaps not that surprising that my cursory search yielded (near the top of the list) an Oct. 26, 2020 article about the discovery, Clavius, and the Jesuits’ interest in the stars by Molly Cahill for America Magazine The Jesuit Review (Note: Links have been removed),
On Oct. 26 , NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, announced the discovery of water on the moon. The water was discovered on the moon’s sunlit surface, which “indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places,” according to a press release.
His [Christopher Clavius] observance in 1560 of a total solar eclipse as a student inspired his life’s work: astronomy. Clavius is known for his work on refining and modifying the modern Gregorian calendar, and as Billy Critchley-Menor, S.J., wrote in America, Clavius was even called the “Euclid of the 16th century” before his death in 1612. He was one of the first mathematicians in the West to popularize the use of the decimal point, and his contributions to astronomy influenced Galileo, even though Clavius himself assented to a geocentric solar system, believing the heavens rotated around the Earth.
On Friday, November 6  at 7:00 PM ET Bloomberg Television will present the second episode of the new limited series “That’s Debatable,” presented in partnership with Intelligence Squared U.S. and sponsored exclusively by IBM, with an episode debating the motion “A U.S.-China Space Race Is Good for Humanity.” China is ramping up its national space industry with huge investments in next-generation technologies that promise to transform military, economic, and political realities. Could the U.S.-China space race drive innovation, rally public support for science and discovery, and launch humans into the next generation? Or would this competition catalyze an expensive global arms race, militarize space for decades to come, and destroy any hope of international peace and cohesion in the future?
Arguing in favor of the motion “A U.S.-China Space Race Is Good for Humanity” are Harvard physicist and member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology at the White House Avi Loeb and rocket scientist Bidushi Bhattacharya, who spent two decades with NASA working on the Hubble Space Telescope and Galileo probe. Arguing against the motion are theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, a co-founder of String Field Theory, and nuclear weapons and space policy expert Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan.
Filmed in front of a live virtual audience, “That’s Debatable” will be conducted in the traditional Oxford-style format with two teams of two subject matter experts debating over four rounds, moderated by veteran Intelligence Squared U.S. moderator John Donvan. The live virtual audience will vote via mobile for or against the motion to determine the winner, to be announced at the conclusion of the program.
“That’s Debatable” also presents some of the first AI-aided debates, designed to demonstrate how AI can be used to bring a larger, more diverse range of voices and opinions to the public square. …
During the debate, IBM Watson plans to use Key Point Analysis, a new capability in Natural Language Processing (NLP) developed by the same IBM Research team that created Project Debater, which is designed to analyze viewer submitted arguments [deadline was Oct. 18, 2020] and provide insight into the global public opinion on each episode’s debate topic.
… [Note: The BIOS for those ‘arguing for the motion’ is in the Oct. 26, 2020 announcement excerpted near the beginning of this post]
Michio Kaku is one of the most widely recognized figures in science. He is a theoretical physicist, international bestselling author, and co-founder of String Field Theory. His most recent book, “Future of Humanity,” projects the future of the space program centuries into the future. Kaku is a professor at the City University of New York.
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan: Nuclear Weapons & Space Policy Expert
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a distinguished fellow and head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, one of India’s leading think tanks. Rajagopalan also recently served as a technical advisor to the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space. She is the author of “The Dragon’s Fire: Chinese Military Strategy and Its Implications for Asia.”
About Bloomberg Media:
Bloomberg Media is a leading, global, multi-platform brand that provides decision-makers with timely news, analysis and intelligence on business, finance, technology, climate change, politics and more. Powered by a newsroom of over 2,700 journalists and analysts, it reaches influential audiences worldwide across every platform including digital, social, TV, radio, print and live events. Bloomberg Media is a division of Bloomberg LP. Visit BloombergMedia.com for more information.
About Intelligence Squared U.S.:
A non-partisan, non-profit organization, Intelligence Squared U.S. was founded to address a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics. Their mission is to restore critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse. The award-winning debate series reaches millions of viewers and listeners through multi-platform distribution, including public radio, podcasts, live streaming, newsletters, interactive digital content, and on-demand apps including Roku and Apple TV. With over 180 debates and counting, Intelligence Squared U.S. has encouraged the public to “think twice” on a wide range of provocative topics. Author and ABC News correspondent John Donvan has moderated IQ2US since 2008.
About IBM Watson:
Watson is IBM’s AI technology for business, helping organizations to better predict and shape future outcomes, automate complex processes, and optimize employees’ time. Watson has evolved from an IBM Research project, to experimentation, to a scaled set of products that run anywhere. With more than 30,000 client engagements, Watson is being applied by leading global brands across a variety of industries to transform how people work. To learn more, visit: https://www.ibm.com/watson.
To learn more about Natural Language Processing and how new capabilities like Key Point Analysis are designed to analyze and generate insights from thousands of arguments on any topic, visit: https://www.ibm.com/watson/natural-language-processing.
Robot comedian is not my first thought on seeing that image; ventriloquist’s dummy is what came to mind. However, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong about something. A May 19, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily reveals the truth about Jon, a comedian in robot form,
Standup comedian Jon the Robot likes to tell his audiences that he does lots of auditions but has a hard time getting bookings.
“They always think I’m too robotic,” he deadpans.
If raucous laughter follows, he comes back with, “Please tell the booking agents how funny that joke was.”
If it doesn’t, he follows up with, “Sorry about that. I think I got caught in a loop. Please tell the booking agents that you like me … that you like me … that you like me … that you like me.”
Jon the Robot, with assistance from Oregon State University researcher Naomi Fitter, recently wrapped up a 32-show tour of comedy clubs in greater Los Angeles and in Oregon, generating guffaws and more importantly data that scientists and engineers can use to help robots and people relate more effectively with one another via humor.
“Social robots and autonomous social agents are becoming more and more ingrained in our everyday lives,” said Fitter, assistant professor of robotics in the OSU College of Engineering. “Lots of them tell jokes to engage users – most people understand that humor, especially nuanced humor, is essential to relationship building. But it’s challenging to develop entertaining jokes for robots that are funny beyond the novelty level.”
Live comedy performances are a way for robots to learn “in the wild” which jokes and which deliveries work and which ones don’t, Fitter said, just like human comedians do.
Two studies comprised the comedy tour, which included assistance from a team of Southern California comedians in coming up with material true to, and appropriate for, a robot comedian.
The first study, consisting of 22 performances in the Los Angeles area, demonstrated that audiences found a robot comic with good timing – giving the audience the right amounts of time to react, etc. – to be significantly more funny than one without good timing.
The second study, based on 10 routines in Oregon, determined that an “adaptive performance” – delivering post-joke “tags” that acknowledge an audience’s reaction to the joke – wasn’t necessarily funnier overall, but the adaptations almost always improved the audience’s perception of individual jokes. In the second study, all performances featured appropriate timing.
“In bad-timing mode, the robot always waited a full five seconds after each joke, regardless of audience response,” Fitter said. “In appropriate-timing mode, the robot used timing strategies to pause for laughter and continue when it subsided, just like an effective human comedian would. Overall, joke response ratings were higher when the jokes were delivered with appropriate timing.”
The number of performances, given to audiences of 10 to 20, provide enough data to identify significant differences between distinct modes of robot comedy performance, and the research helped to answer key questions about comedic social interaction, Fitter said.
“Audience size, social context, cultural context, the microphone-holding human presence and the novelty of a robot comedian may have influenced crowd responses,” Fitter said. “The current software does not account for differences in laughter profiles, but future work can account for these differences using a baseline response measurement. The only sensing we used to evaluate joke success was audio readings. Future work might benefit from incorporating additional types of sensing.”
Still, the studies have key implications for artificial intelligence efforts to understand group responses to dynamic, entertaining social robots in real-world environments, she said.
“Also, possible advances in comedy from this work could include improved techniques for isolating and studying the effects of comedic techniques and better strategies to help comedians assess the success of a joke or routine,” she said. “The findings will guide our next steps toward giving autonomous social agents improved humor capabilities.”
The studies were published by the Association for Computing Machinery [ACM]/Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering’s [IEEE] International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction [HRI].
Here’s another link to the two studies published in a single paper, which were first presented at the 2020 International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction [HRI]. along with a citation for the title of the published presentation,
More and more, this resembles a public relations campaign. First, CRISPR (clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats) gene editing is going to be helpful with COVID-19 and now it can help us to deal with conservation issues. (See my May 26, 2020 posting about the latest CRISPR doings as of May 7, 2020; included is a brief description of the patent dispute between Broad Institute and UC Berkeley and musings about a public relations campaign.)
The gene-editing technology CRISPR has been used for a variety of agricultural and public health purposes — from growing disease-resistant crops to, more recently, a diagnostic test for the virus that causes COVID-19. Now a study involving fish that look nearly identical to the endangered Delta smelt finds that CRISPR can be a conservation and resource management tool, as well. The researchers think its ability to rapidly detect and differentiate among species could revolutionize environmental monitoring.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources, was led by scientists at the University of California, Davis, and the California Department of Water Resources in collaboration with MIT Broad Institute [emphasis mine].
As a proof of concept, it found that the CRISPR-based detection platform SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter Unlocking) [emphasis mine] was able to genetically distinguish threatened fish species from similar-looking nonnative species in nearly real time, with no need to extract DNA.
“CRISPR can do a lot more than edit genomes,” said co-author Andrea Schreier, an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Davis animal science department. “It can be used for some really cool ecological applications, and we’re just now exploring that.”
WHEN GETTING IT WRONG IS A BIG DEAL
The scientists focused on three fish species of management concern in the San Francisco Estuary: the U.S. threatened and California endangered Delta smelt, the California threatened longfin smelt and the nonnative wakasagi. These three species are notoriously difficult to visually identify, particularly in their younger stages.
Hundreds of thousands of Delta smelt once lived in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta before the population crashed in the 1980s. Only a few thousand are estimated to remain in the wild.
“When you’re trying to identify an endangered species, getting it wrong is a big deal,” said lead author Melinda Baerwald, a project scientist at UC Davis at the time the study was conceived and currently an environmental program manager with California Department of Water Resources.
For example, state and federal water pumping projects have to reduce water exports if enough endangered species, like Delta smelt or winter-run chinook salmon, get sucked into the pumps. Rapid identification makes real-time decision making about water operations feasible.
FROM HOURS TO MINUTES
Typically to accurately identify the species, researchers rub a swab over the fish to collect a mucus sample or take a fin clip for a tissue sample. Then they drive or ship it to a lab for a genetic identification test and await the results. Not counting travel time, that can take, at best, about four hours.
SHERLOCK shortens this process from hours to minutes. Researchers can identify the species within about 20 minutes, at remote locations, noninvasively, with no specialized lab equipment. Instead, they use either a handheld fluorescence reader or a flow strip that works much like a pregnancy test — a band on the strip shows if the target species is present.
“Anyone working anywhere could use this tool to quickly come up with a species identification,” Schreier said.
OTHER CRYPTIC CRITTERS
While the three fish species were the only animals tested for this study, the researchers expect the method could be used for other species, though more research is needed to confirm. If so, this sort of onsite, real-time capability may be useful for confirming species at crime scenes, in the animal trade at border crossings, for monitoring poaching, and for other animal and human health applications.
“There are a lot of cryptic species we can’t accurately identify with our naked eye,” Baerwald said. “Our partners at MIT are really interested in pathogen detection for humans. We’re interested in pathogen detection for animals as well as using the tool for other conservation issues.”
SHERLOCK is an evolution of CRISPR technology, which others use to make precise edits in genetic code. SHERLOCK can detect the unique genetic fingerprints of virtually any DNA or RNA sequence in any organism or pathogen. Developed by our founders and licensed exclusively from the Broad Institute, SHERLOCK is a method for single molecule detection of nucleic acid targets and stands for Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing. It works by amplifying genetic sequences and programming a CRISPR molecule to detect the presence of a specific genetic signature in a sample, which can also be quantified. When it finds those signatures, the CRISPR enzyme is activated and releases a robust signal. This signal can be adapted to work on a simple paper strip test, in laboratory equipment, or to provide an electrochemical readout that can be read with a mobile phone.
Ensuring the SHERLOCK diagnostic platform is easily accessible, especially in the developing world, where the need for inexpensive, reliable, field-based diagnostics is the most urgent
SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing) is a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool that is rapid, inexpensive, and highly sensitive, with the potential to have a transformative effect on research and global public health. The SHERLOCK platform can detect viruses, bacteria, or other targets in clinical samples such as urine or blood, and reveal results on a paper strip — without the need for extensive specialized equipment. This technology could potentially be used to aid the response to infectious disease outbreaks, monitor antibiotic resistance, detect cancer, and more. SHERLOCK tools are freely available [emphasis mine] for academic research worldwide, and the Broad Institute’s licensing framework [emphasis mine] ensures that the SHERLOCK diagnostic platform is easily accessible in the developing world, where inexpensive, reliable, field-based diagnostics are urgently needed.
Here’s what I suspect. as stated, the Broad Institute has free SHERLOCK licenses for academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations but Sherlock Biosciences, a Broad Institute spinoff company, is for-profit and has trademarked SHERLOCK for commercial purposes.
This looks like a relatively subtle campaign to influence public perceptions. Genetic modification or genetic engineering as exemplified by the CRISPR gene editing technique is a force for the good of all. It will help us in our hour of need (COVID-19 pandemic) and it can help us save various species and better manage our resources.
This contrasts greatly with the publicity generated by the CRISPR twins situation where a scientist claimed to have successfully edited the germline for twins, Lulu and Nana. This was done despite a voluntary, worldwide moratorium on germline editing of viable embryos. (Search the terms [either here or on a standard search engine] ‘CRISPR twins’, ‘Lulu and Nana’, and/or ‘He Jiankui’ for details about the scandal.
In addition to presenting CRISPR as beneficial in the short term rather than the distant future, this publicity also subtly positions the Broad Institute as CRISPR’s owner.
Clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) gene editing has been largely confined to laboratory use or tested in agricultural trials. I believe that is true worldwide excepting the CRISPR twin scandal. (There are numerous postings about the CRISPR twins here including a Nov. 28, 2018 post, a May 17, 2019 post, and a June 20, 2019 post. Update: It was reported (3rd. para.) in December 2019 that He had been sentenced to three years jail time.)
Connie Lin in a May 7, 2020 article for Fast Company reports on this surprising decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Note: A link has been removed),
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization to a COVID-19 test that uses controversial gene-editing technology CRISPR.
This marks the first time CRISPR has been authorized by the FDA, although only for the purpose of detecting the coronavirus, and not for its far more contentious applications. The new test kit, developed by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sherlock Biosciences, will be deployed in laboratories certified to carry out high-complexity procedures and is “rapid,” returning results in about an hour as opposed to those that rely on the standard polymerase chain reaction method, which typically requires six hours.
The announcement was made in the FDA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: May 7, 2020 Daily Roundup (4th item in the bulleted list), Or, you can read the May 6, 2020 letter (PDF) sent to John Vozella of Sherlock Biosciences by the FDA.
Sherlock Biosciences, an Engineering Biology company dedicated to making diagnostic testing better, faster and more affordable, today announced the company has received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit for the detection of the virus that causes COVID-19, providing results in approximately one hour.
“While it has only been a little over a year since the launch of Sherlock Biosciences, today we have made history with the very first FDA-authorized use of CRISPR technology, which will be used to rapidly identify the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Rahul Dhanda, co-founder, president and CEO of Sherlock Biosciences. “We are committed to providing this initial wave of testing kits to physicians, laboratory experts and researchers worldwide to enable them to assist frontline workers leading the charge against this pandemic.”
The Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 test kit is designed for use in laboratories certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), 42 U.S.C. §263a, to perform high complexity tests. Based on the SHERLOCK method, which stands for Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing, the kit works by programming a CRISPR molecule to detect the presence of a specific genetic signature – in this case, the genetic signature for SARS-CoV-2 – in a nasal swab, nasopharyngeal swab, oropharyngeal swab or bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) specimen. When the signature is found, the CRISPR enzyme is activated and releases a detectable signal. In addition to SHERLOCK, the company is also developing its INSPECTR™ platform to create an instrument-free, handheld test – similar to that of an at-home pregnancy test – that utilizes Sherlock Biosciences’ Synthetic Biology platform to provide rapid detection of a genetic match of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“When our lab collaborated with Dr. Feng Zhang’s team to develop SHERLOCK, we believed that this CRISPR-based diagnostic method would have a significant impact on global health,” said James J. Collins, co-founder and board member of Sherlock Biosciences and Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science for MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering. “During what is a major healthcare crisis across the globe, we are heartened that the first FDA-authorized use of CRISPR will aid in the fight against this global COVID-19 pandemic.”
Access to rapid diagnostics is critical for combating this pandemic and is a primary focus for Sherlock Biosciences co-founder and board member, David R. Walt, Ph.D., who co-leads the Mass [Massachusetts] General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation.
“SHERLOCK enables rapid identification of a single alteration in a DNA or RNA sequence in a single molecule,” said Dr. Walt. “That precision, coupled with its capability to be deployed to multiplex over 100 targets or as a simple point-of-care system, will make it a critical addition to the arsenal of rapid diagnostics already being used to detect COVID-19.”
This development is particularly interesting since there was a major intellectual property dispute over CRISPR between the Broad Institute (a Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] joint initiative), and the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley). The Broad Institute mostly won in the first round of the patent fight, as I noted in a March 15, 2017 post but, as far as I’m aware, UC Berkeley is still disputing that decision.
In the period before receiving authorization, it appears that Sherlock Biosciences was doing a little public relations and ‘consciousness raising’ work. Here’s a sample from a May 5, 2020 article by Sharon Begley for STAT (Note: Links have been removed),
The revolutionary genetic technique better known for its potential to cure thousands of inherited diseases could also solve the challenge of Covid-19 diagnostic testing, scientists announced on Tuesday. A team headed by biologist Feng Zhang of the McGovern Institute at MIT and the Broad Institute has repurposed the genome-editing tool CRISPR into a test able to quickly detect as few as 100 coronavirus particles in a swab or saliva sample.
Crucially, the technique, dubbed a “one pot” protocol, works in a single test tube and does not require the many specialty chemicals, or reagents, whose shortage has hampered the rollout of widespread Covid-19 testing in the U.S. It takes about an hour to get results, requires minimal handling, and in preliminary studies has been highly accurate, Zhang told STAT. He and his colleagues, led by the McGovern’s Jonathan Gootenberg and Omar Abudayyeh, released the protocol on their STOPCovid.science website.
Because the test has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it is only for research purposes for now. But minutes before speaking to STAT on Monday, Zhang and his colleagues were on a conference call with FDA officials about what they needed to do to receive an “emergency use authorization” that would allow clinical use of the test. The FDA has used EUAs to fast-track Covid-19 diagnostics as well as experimental therapies, including remdesivir, after less extensive testing than usually required.
For an EUA, the agency will require the scientists to validate the test, which they call STOPCovid, on dozens to hundreds of samples. Although “it is still early in the process,” Zhang said, he and his colleagues are confident enough in its accuracy that they are conferring with potential commercial partners who could turn the test into a cartridge-like device, similar to a pregnancy test, enabling Covid-19 testing at doctor offices and other point-of-care sites.
“It could potentially even be used at home or at workplaces,” Zhang said. “It’s inexpensive, does not require a lab, and can return results within an hour using a paper strip, not unlike a pregnancy test. This helps address the urgent need for widespread, accurate, inexpensive, and accessible Covid-19 testing.” Public health experts say the availability of such a test is one of the keys to safely reopening society, which will require widespread testing, and then tracing and possibly isolating the contacts of those who test positive.
Points to anyone who recognized the Cher reference and, for those who don’t, (from the Believe [Cher song] Wikipedia entry),
“Believe” is a song recorded by American singer Cher for her twenty-second album, Believe (1998), …
“Believe” departed from Cher’s pop rock style of the time for an upbeat dance-pop style. It featured a pioneering use of the audio processing software Auto-Tune to create a deliberate vocal distortion, which became known as the “Cher effect”. The lyrics describe empowerment and self-sufficiency after a painful breakup.
“Believe” reached number one in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, Poland and the Netherlands. It earned Cher a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest female solo artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and became the highest-selling single by a solo female artist in the United Kingdom. It is one of the bestselling singles, with sales of over 11 million copies worldwide. Reviewers praised its production and catchiness and named it one of Cher’s most important releases. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and won Best Dance Recording.
… Scholars and academics noted the way in which Cher was able to re-invent herself and remain fresh and contemporary amidst the more teen pop-based music of the period. They also credited “Believe” for restoring Cher’s popularity and cementing her position as a pop culture icon.
At the end of this posting you’ll find a video of Adam Lambert transforming the song into a ballad and, in the process, moving Cher to tears as she sits in the group of recipients wearing their 2018 Kennedy Center Honors medal.
As for believing in science
A September 26, 2019 Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania news release (received via email) announces some research into science, communication, belief, and trust,
Public confidence in science has remained high and stable for years. But recent decades have seen incidents of scientific fraud and misconduct, failure to replicate key findings, and growth in the number of retractions – all of which may affect trust in science.
In an article published this week in PNAS, a group of leaders in science research, scholarship, and communication propose that to sustain a high level of trust in science, scientists must more effectively signal to each other and to the public that their work respects the norms of science.
The authors offer a variety of ways in which researchers and journals can communicate this – among them, greater transparency regarding data and methods; ways to certify the integrity of evidence; the disclosure of competing or relevant interests by authors; and wider adoption of tools such as checklists and badges to signal that studies have met accepted scientific standards.
“This absence [of clear signals] is problematic,” write the researchers, including Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “Without clear signals, other scientists have difficulties ascertaining confidence in the work, and the press, policy makers, and the public at large may base trust decisions on inappropriate grounds, such as deeply held and irrational biases, nonscientific beliefs, and misdirection by conflicted stakeholders or malicious actors.”
In addition to Jamieson, “Signaling the trustworthiness of science,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, was written by Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences; Veronique Kiermer, executive editor, Public Library of Science (PLOS); and Richard Sever, assistant director, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and co-founder, bioRxiv. The order of authorship was determined by a coin toss.
The American public and trust in science
The authors write that “science is trustworthy in part because it honors its norms.” These norms include a reliance on statistics; having conclusions that are supported by data; disinterestedness, as seen through the disclosure of potential competing interests; validation by peer review; and ethical treatment of research subjects and animals. Adherence to these norms increases not just the reliability of the scientific findings, but the likelihood that the public will perceive science itself as reliable. The article cites a 2019 survey of 1,253 U.S. adults conducted by APPC, which found that in deciding whether to believe a scientific finding, 68% of those surveyed said it matters whether the scientists make their data and methods available and are completely transparent about their methods. In addition, 63% said it matters whether the scientists involved in the study disclose the individuals and organizations that funded their work, and 55% said it mattered whether the study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal (Fig. 1). For further details, see the article.
To support trust in science, the authors suggest that scientists need to communicate practices that reinforce the norms, among them:
Have scientists explain the evidence and process by which they came to reconsider and change their views on a scientific issue;
Have journals add links back and forward to retractions and expressions of editorial concern to more clearly indicate unreliability, and to studies that replicate findings to emphasize reliability;
Adopt nuanced signaling language that more clearly explains the process now often called “retraction,” using terms such as “voluntary withdrawal” and “withdrawal for cause” or “editorial withdrawal.” Similarly, replace “conflict of interest” with a more neutral, broadened term such as “relevant interest.”
The authors also call for steps to show that individual studies adhere to these norms, such as:
A more refined and standardized series of checklists should be used by journals to show how they protect evidence-gathering and -reporting, including more detailed information about each author’s contributions to a manuscript;
Badges such as those used by the Center for Open Science should be more widely adopted to show, for instance, whether scientists on a study have preregistered their hypothesis and met standards for open data and open materials.
The recommendations were developed following an April 2018 conference called “Signals of Trust in Science Communication” which was convened by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory at the Banbury Center and organized by McNutt, Sever, and Jamieson.
“Science enjoys a relatively high level of public trust,” the authors write. “To sustain this valued commodity, in our increasingly polarized age, scientists and the custodians of science would do well to signal to other researchers and to the public and policy makers the ways in which they are safeguarding science’s norms and improving the practices that protect its integrity as a way of knowing.
“Embedding signals of trust in the reporting of individual studies can help researchers build their peers’ confidence in their work,” they continue. “Publishing platforms that rigorously apply these signals of trust can increase their standing as trustworthy vehicles. But beyond this peer-to-peer communication, the research community and its institutions also can signal to the public and policy makers that the scientific community itself actively protects the trustworthiness of its work.”
Comments about confidence and trust
I like the recommendations about more openness and clarity in science communication.
Here are my caveats. (1) This research and the recommendations seem more oriented to the science community and very serious science hobbyists. Most people (regardless of that survey, which I’d like to look at) outside the range I’ve described are unlikely to hear of these changes let alone express any interest or appreciation. (2) It’s also a little difficult to identify which sciences are included. E.g., what about the social sciences? (3) I don’t like this recommendation: ” replace ‘conflict of interest’ with a more neutral, broadened term such as ‘relevant interest’.” An author who is being funded by a pharmaceutical company doesn’t have just a ‘relevant interest’.
Interestingly, there’s a May 24, 2019 paper (link and citation to follow), ‘Health Misinformation and the Power of Narrative Messaging in the Public Sphere‘ covering some of the same ground about science, trust, and communication but with a primary focus on misinformation, health, narrative, and social media. The folks being considered here are the ‘general public’ not the specialized audiences envisioned by the authors of the first paer,
… The power of social media and the impact of narrative are prevalent and strong, so there is an imperative to strategically draw on their advantages to counter some of their more problematic applications. For example, research has shown that narratives presenting the ramifications of not vaccinating – specifically children’s suffering from preventable illness – can have a real impact on intention to vaccinate [Shelby and Ernst, 2013; Capurro, Greenberg, Dubé and Driedger, 2018]. Additionally, clear and definitive statements with a narrative component, made by respected and trusted voices will prove highly useful, and also provide dependable resources upon which journalists can rely.
Opinion editorials offer another useful pathway for narrative communication – indeed, recent research has found them to have an influence on public perception [Coppock, Ekins, and Kirby, 2018]. That said, science writing could also benefit from narrative style, if applied in a manner that does not compromise the truthfulness and comprehensiveness of the content [Perrault, 2013]. We shouldn’t use narratives to fight anecdote with anecdote. Rather, narratives can serve as a vehicle to communicate science and relevant science-informed policy in a more engaging and digestible manner. The spread of misinformation causes real harm. Unfortunately, countering this noise is growing increasingly more complex and challenging. It will require the use of a host of science communication tools and strategies, including the creative use of narratives.
This paper appears to be a roundup of documents supporting the authors’ perspectives with no critique of their own ideas/perspectives offered. The journal has placed the paper is a section known as ‘Critical Commentaries’.
The approaches offered by the authors of these two papers are compatible with each other. As in all aspects of communication, much depends on your audience. And, a member of an expert audience can be a member of the general public in an area where (s)he has no particular expertise.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the first paper mentioned here,
Signaling the trustworthiness of science by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Marcia McNutt, Veronique Kiermer, and Richard Sever. PNAS September 24, 2019 116 (39) 19231-19236; First published online: September 23, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1913039116
Here’s a link and a citation for the second paper mentioned here,
Health Misinformation and the Power of Narrative Messaging in the Public Sphere by Timothy Caulfield, Alessandro R. Marcon, Blake Murdoch, Jasmine M. Brown, Sarah Tinker Perrault, Jonathan Jerry, Jeremy Snyder, Samantha J. Anthony, Stephanie Brooks, Zubin Master, Ubaka Ogbogu, Joshua Greenberg, Amy Zarzeczny, Robyn Hyde-Lay. Canadian Journal of Bioethics, Vol 2 No 2 (2019): Open Issue Published May 24, 2019 DOI: https://doi.org/10.7202/1060911ar
The first article appears to be open access while the second is definitely open access.
Quite the performance, eh? Adam Lambert turned the song into a ballad and even brought Cher to tears. I wonder what it would be like to hear it with the lyric changed to, ‘Do you believe in science?’
I imagine that at some point the Washington State University’s (WSU) ‘elder care’ robot will be tested by senior citizens as opposed to the students described in a January 14, 2019 WSU news release (also on EurekAlert) by Will Ferguson,
A robot created by Washington State University scientists could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in their own homes.
The Robot Activity Support System, or RAS, uses sensors embedded in a WSU smart home to determine where its residents are, what they are doing and when they need assistance with daily activities.
It navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provides video instructions on how to do simple tasks and can even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.
“RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected,” said Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Minor works in the lab of Diane Cook, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the WSU Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems.
For the last decade, Cook and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a WSU professor of psychology, have led CASAS researchers in the development of smart home technologies that could enable elderly adults with memory problems and other impairments to live independently.
Currently, an estimated 50 percent of adults over the age of 85 need assistance with every day activities such as preparing meals and taking medication and the annual cost for this assistance in the US is nearly $2 trillion.
With the number of adults over 85 expected to triple by 2050, Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe hope that technologies like RAS and the WSU smart home will alleviate some of the financial strain on the healthcare system by making it easier for older adults to live alone.
“Upwards of 90 percent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home,” Cook said. “We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own.”
RAS is the first robot CASAS researchers have tried to incorporate into their smart home environment. They recently published a study in the journal Cognitive Systems Research that demonstrates how RAS could make life easier for older adults struggling to live independently
In the study CASAS researchers recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students [emphasis mine] to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant.
The activities were getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering household plants.
When the smart home sensors detected a human failed to initiate or was struggling with one of the tasks, RAS received a message to help.
The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance.
The person could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog’s leash or a granola bar from the kitchen.
Afterwards the study participants were asked to rate the robot’s performance. Most of the participants rated RAS’ performance favorably and found the robot’s tablet interface to be easy to use. They also reported the next step video as being the most useful of the prompts.
“While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising,” Minor said. “The next step in the research will be to test RAS’ performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot.”
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Robot-enabled support of daily activities in smart home environment by Garrett Wilson, Christopher Pereyda, Nisha Raghunath, Gabriel de la Cruz, Shivam Goel, Sepehr Nesaei, Bryan Minor, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Matthew E.Taylor, Diane J.Cook. Cognitive Systems Research Volume 54, May 2019, Pages 258-272 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsys.2018.10.032
This paper is behind a paywall.
Other ‘caring’ robots
Dutch filmmaker, Sander Burger, directed a documentary about ‘caredroids’ for seniors titled ‘Alice Cares’ or ‘Ik ben Alice’ in Dutch. It premiered at the 2015 Vancouver (Canada) International Film Festival and was featured in a January 22, 2015 article by Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter,
The benign side of artificial intelligence enjoys a rare cinematic showcase in Sander Burger‘s Alice Cares (Ik ben Alice), a small-scale Dutch documentary that reinvents no wheels but proves as unassumingly delightful as its eponymous, diminutive “care-robot.” Touching lightly on social and technological themes that are increasingly relevant to nearly all industrialized societies, this quiet charmer bowed at Rotterdam ahead of its local release and deserves wider exposure via festivals and small-screen outlets.
… Developed by the US firm Hanson Robotics, “Alice”— has the stature and face of a girl of eight, but an adult female’s voice—is primarily intended to provide company for lonely seniors.
Burger shows Alice “visiting” the apartments of three octogenarian Dutch ladies, the contraption overcoming their hosts’ initial wariness and quickly forming chatty bonds. This prototype “care-droid” represents the technology at a relatively early stage, with Alice unable to move anything apart from her head, eyes (which incorporate tiny cameras) and mouth. Her body is made much more obviously robotic in appearance than the face, to minimize the chances of her interlocutors mistaking her for an actual human. Such design-touches are discussed by Alice’s programmer in meetings with social-workers, which Burger and his editor Manuel Rombley intersperses between the domestic exchanges that provide the bulk of the running-time.
‘Alice’ was also featured in the Lancet’s (a general medical journal) July 18, 2015 article by Natalie Harrison,
“I’m going to ask you some questions about your life. Do you live independently? Are you lonely?” If you close your eyes and start listening to the film Alice Cares, you would think you were overhearing a routine conversation between an older woman and a health-care worker. It’s only when the woman, Martha Remkes, ends the conversation with “I don’t feel like having a robot in my home, I prefer a human being” that you realise something is amiss. In the Dutch documentary Alice Cares, Alice Robokind, a prototype caredroid developed in a laboratory in Amsterdam, is sent to live with three women who require care and company, with rather surprising results
Although the idea of health robots has been around for a couple of decades, research into the use of robots with older adults is a fairly new area. Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab [University of Toronto] in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers complete common tasks such as moving a person in and out of bed”. Although Japan and Korea are regarded as the world leaders in this research, the European Union and the USA are also making progress. At the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, for example, researchers are working to develop more complex sensor and navigation technology for robots that work alongside people and on assisted living prosthetics technologies. This research is part of a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University that was awarded £6 million in funding as part of a wider £85 million investment into industrial technology in the UK Government’s Eight Great Technologies initiative. Robotics research is clearly flourishing and the global market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach almost US$60 billion by 2020.
The idea for Alice Cares came to director Sander Burger after he read about a group of scientists at the VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands who were about to test a health-care robot on older people. “The first thing I felt was some resentment against the idea—I was curious why I was so offended by the whole idea and just called the scientists to see if I could come by to see what they were doing. …
… With software to generate and regulate Alice’s emotions, an artificial moral reasoner, a computational model of creativity, and full access to the internet, the investigators hoped to create a robotic care provider that was intelligent, sensitive, creative, and entertaining. “The robot was specially developed for social skills, in short, she was programmed to make the elderly women feel less lonely”, explains Burger.
Both the Young and Harrison articles are well worth the time, should you have enough to read them. Also, there’s an Ik ben Alice website (it’s in Dutch only).
Earlier this year, a special new caregiver joined the Child Life team at the Humber River Hospital. Pepper, the humanoid robot, helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients and their families. Pepper embodies perfectly the intersection of compassion and advanced technology for which Humber River is renowned.
Pepper helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients.
Humber River Hospital is committed to making the hospital experience a better one for our patients and their families from the moment they arrive and Pepper the robot helps us do that! Pepper is child-sized with large, expressive eyes and a sweet voice. It greets visitors, provides directions, plays games, does yoga and even dances. Using facial recognition to detect human emotions, it adapts its behaviour according to the mood of the person with whom it’s interacting. Pepper makes the Hospital an even more welcoming place for everyone it encounters.
Humber currently has two Peppers on staff: one is used exclusively by the Child Life Program to help young patients feel at ease and a second to greet patients and their families in the Hospital’s main entrance.
While Pepper robots are used around the world in such industries as retail and hospitality, Humber River is the first hospital in Canada to use Pepper in a healthcare setting. Using dedicated applications built specifically for the Hospital, Pepper’s interactive touch-screen display helps visitors find specific departments, washrooms, exits and more. In addition to answering questions and sharing information, Pepper entertains, plays games and is always available for a selfie.
Pepper® can greet visitors, provide directions, play games, do yoga and even dance
Humber River Hospital has joined forces with SoftBank Robotics America (SBRA) to launch a new pilot program with Pepper the humanoid robot. Beginning this week, Pepper will greet, help guide, engage and entertain patients and visitors who enter the hospital’s main entrance hall.
“While the healthcare sector has talked about this technology for some time now, we are ambitious and confident at Humber River Hospital to make the move and become the first hospital in Canada to pilot this technology,” states Barbara Collins, President and CEO, Humber River Hospital.
Pepper by the numbers: Stands 1.2 m (4ft) tall and weighs 29 kg (62lb) Features three cameras – two 2 HD cameras and one 3D depth sensor – to “see” and interact with people 20 engines in Pepper’s head, arms and back control its precise movements A 10-inch chest-mounted touchscreen tablet that Pepper uses to convey information and encourage input
Finally, there’s a 2012 movie, Robot & Frank (mentioned here before in this Oct. 13, 2017 posting; scroll down to Robots and pop culture subsection) which provides an intriguing example of how ‘carebots’ might present unexpected ethical challenges. Hint: Frank is a senior citizen and former jewel thief who decides to pass on some skills.
It’s fascinating to me that every time I’ve looked at articles about robots being used for tasks usually performed by humans that some expert or other sweetly notes that robots will be used to help humans with tasks that are ‘boring’ or ‘physical’ with the implication that humans will focus on more rewarding work, from Harrison’s Lancet article (in a previous excerpt),
… Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers …
For all the emphasis on robots as taking over burdensome physical tasks, Burger’s documentary makes it clear that these early versions are being used primarily to provide companionship. Yes, HHR’s Pepper® is taking over some repetitive tasks, such as giving directions, but it’s also playing and providing companionship.
As for what it will mean ultimately, that’s something we, as a society, need to consider.
They’re usually called apostates; those people who switch from one belief to its opposite. In this case, an advocate who opposed genetically modified foods switched sides as a January 17, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily explains,
What happens when a strong advocate for one side of a controversial issue in science publicly announces that he or she now believes the opposite? Does the message affect the views of those who witness it — and if so, how?
Although past research suggests that such “conversion messages” may be an effective persuasion technique, the actual effect of such messages has been unknown.
Now, a new study from researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that such a conversion message can influence public attitudes toward genetically modified (GM) foods.
Using video of a talk by the British environmentalist Mark Lynas about his transformation from an opponent of GM crops to an advocate, researchers found that Lynas’ conversion narrative had a greater impact on the attitudes of people who viewed it than a direct advocacy message.
“People exposed to the conversion message rather than a simple pro-GM message had a more favorable attitude toward GM foods,” said Benjamin A. Lyons, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. “The two-sided nature of the conversion message – presenting old beliefs and then refuting them – was more effective than a straightforward argument in favor of GM crops.”
“Conversion messages and attitude change: Strong arguments, not costly signals” was published in January 2019 in the journal Public Understanding of Science. The study was done by Lyons, now a research fellow at the University of Exeter, U.K., with two other former APPC postdoctoral fellows – Ariel Hasell, a research fellow at the University of Michigan, and Meghnaa Tallapragada, an assistant professor of strategic communication at Clemson University – and APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
How the study worked In 2013, Lynas, a journalist and activist who had opposed GM crops, spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference about his change of belief. In the current experiment, APPC researchers used video excerpts from Lynas’ talk to more than 650 U.S. adult participants, who competed a survey about it.
The respondents each were shown one of three video clips: 1) Lynas explaining the benefits of GM crops; 2) Lynas discussing his prior beliefs and changing his mind about GM crops; and 3) Lynas explaining why his beliefs changed, including the realization that the anti-GM movement he helped to lead was a form of anti-science environmentalism.
The researchers found that both forms of the conversion message (2 and 3) were more influential than the simple advocacy message. There was no difference in impact between the basic conversion message and the more elaborate one.
Measuring how the conversion narrative worked, the researchers found that it enhanced Lynas’ “perceived argument strength,” rather than bolstering his personal credibility, which they found an important distinction. The fact that argument strength served as a mediator on GM attitudes supports the idea that “the unexpected shift in the position of the speaker … prompted central or systematic processing of the argument,” which, in turn, implies a more durable change in attitudes.
GM foods: A low-profile issue on which minds may be changed? Unlike other controversial issues in science such as evolution or climate change, Americans’ views on GM crops do not seem to be related to political ideology or religious beliefs. Nor are Americans especially knowledgeable about GM foods – one prior study found that only 43 percent of Americans know that GM foods are available for human consumption and only 26 percent believe that they have eaten food that was genetically modified. In another earlier study, 71 percent of Americans say they have heard little or nothing about GM foods – yet 39 percent think GM foods present a risk to human health.
Given that many Americans’ views on genetically modified foods aren’t yet fixed by group values and motivated reasoning [emphasis mine], their minds may be more easily changeable on this issue. Lyons said it may be possible to present scientific evidence through a conversion narrative to people on such low-knowledge, lower-profile issues and affect their views.
“After completing this study, I’m more optimistic about our ability to change minds on the issues that haven’t been totally polluted by ideology,” Lyons said.
The researchers cautioned that the findings may not extend beyond an American audience, and said that their audience included many who did not have strong pro- or anti-GM attitudes. They said conversion messaging should be tested with people who do have strong pre-existing views on GM foods. They also noted that this research tested a conversion in only one direction – from anti-GM to pro-GM foods – and said it would be valuable to explore the opposite case.
Why isn’t the S.NET abbreviation SSNET? That’s what it should be, given the organization’s full name: Society for the Study of New and Emerging Technologies. S.NET smacks of a compromise or consensus decision of some kind. Also, the ‘New’ in its name was ‘Nanoscience’ at one time (see my Oct. 22, 2013 posting).
Now onto 2019 and the conference, which, for the first time ever, is being held in Latin America. Here’s more from a February 4, 2019 S.Net email about the call for abstracts,
2019 Annual S.NET Meeting Contrasting Visions of Technological Change
The 11th Annual S.NET meeting will take place November 18-20, 2019, at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, Ecuador.
This year’s meeting will provide rich opportunities to reflect on technological change by establishing a dialogue between contrasting visions on how technology becomes closely intertwined with social orders. We aim to open the black box of technological change by exploring the sociotechnical agreements that help to explain why societies follow certain technological trajectories. Contributors are invited to explore the ramifications of technological change, reflect on the policy process of technology, and debate whether or why technological innovation is a matter for democracy.
Following the transnational nature of S.NET, the meeting will highlight the diverse geographical and cultural approaches to technological innovation, the forces driving sociotechnical change, and social innovation. It is of paramount importance to question the role of technology in the shaping of society and the outcomes of these configurations. What happens when these arrangements come into being, are transformed or fall apart? Does technology create contestation? Why and how should we engage with contested visions of technology change?
This is the first time that the S.NET Meeting will take place in Latin America and we encourage panels and presentations with contrasting voices from both the Global North and the Global South.
Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
Sociotechnical imaginaries of innovation The role of technology on shaping nationhood and nation identities Decision-making processes on science and technology public policies Co-creation approaches to promote public innovation Grassroots innovation, sustainability and democracy Visions and cultural imaginaries Role of social sciences and humanities in processes technological change In addition, we welcome contributions on: Research dynamics and organization Innovation and use Governance and regulation Politics and ethics Roles of publics and stakeholders
Deadlines & Submission Instructions The program committee invites contributions from scholars, technology developers and practitioners, and welcome presentations from a range of disciplines spanning the humanities, social and natural sciences. We invite individual paper submissions, open panel and closed session proposals, student posters, and special format sessions, including events that are innovative in form and content.
The deadline for abstract submissions is *April 18, 2019* [extended to May 12, 2019]. Abstracts should be approximately 250 words in length, emailed in PDF format to email@example.com. Notifications of acceptance can be expected by May 30, 2019.
Junior scholars and those with limited resources are strongly encouraged to apply, as the organizing committee is actively investigating potential sources of financial support.
Local Organizing Committee María Belén Albornoz, Isarelis Pérez, Javier Jiménez, Mónica Bustamante, Jorge Núñez, Maka Suárez.
Venue FLACSO Ecuador is located in the heart of Quito. Most hotels, museums, shopping centers and other cultural hotspots in the city are located near the campus and are easily accessible by public or private transportation. Due to its proximity and easy access, Meeting participants would be able to enjoy Quito’s rich cultural life during their stay.
About S.NET S.NET is an international association that promotes intellectual exchange and critical inquiry about the advancement of new and emerging technologies in society. The aim of the association is to advance critical reflection from various perspectives on developments in a broad range of new and emerging fields, including, but not limited to, nanoscale science and engineering, biotechnology, synthetic biology, cognitive science, ICT and Big Data, and geo-engineering. Current S.NET board members are: Michael Bennett (President), Maria Belen Albornoz, Claire Shelley-Egan, Ana Delgado, Ana Viseu, Nora Vaage, Chris Toumey, Poonam Pandey, Sylvester Johnson, Lotte Krabbenborg, and Maria Joao Ferreira Maia.
Don’t forget, the deadline for your abstract is *April 18, 2019* [extended to May 12, 2019].
Studies of New and Emerging Technologies Editor-in-Chief: Christopher Coenen ISSN: 1871-4757 (print version) ISSN: 1871-4765 (electronic version) Journal no. 11569
Provides a needed forum for informed discussion of ethical and social concerns related to nanotechnology
Counterbalances fragmented, opinionated public discussion
Discussion is informed by the physical, biological and social sciences and the law
Nanoscale technologies are surrounded by both hype and fear. Optimists suggest they are desperately needed to solve problems of terrorism, global warming, clean water, land degradation and public health. Pessimists fear the loss of privacy and autonomy, “grey goo” and weapons of mass destruction, and unforeseen environmental and health risks. Concern over fair distribution of the costs and benefits of nanotechnology is also rising
Introduced in 2007, [emphasis mine] NanoEthics: Ethics for Technologies that Converge at the Nanoscale provides a needed forum for informed discussion of ethical and social concerns related to nanotechnology, and a counterbalance to fragmented popular discussion.
While the central focus of the journal is on ethical issues, discussion extends to the physical, biological and social sciences and the law. NanoEthics provides a philosophically and scientifically rigorous examination of ethical and societal considerations and policy concerns raised by nanotechnology.
Science Citation Index Expanded (SciSearch), Journal Citation Reports/Science Edition, Social Science Citation Index, Journal Citation Reports/Social Sciences Edition, SCOPUS, INSPEC, Google Scholar, AGRICOLA, Current Contents / Social & Behavioral Sciences, EBSCO Academic Search, EBSCO Book Review Digest Plus (H.W. Wilson) , EBSCO Discovery Service, EBSCO Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCO Humanities International, EBSCO Humanities Source, EBSCO Nanotechnology Collection: India , EBSCO OmniFile Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCO STM Source, EBSCO TOC Premier, ERIH PLUS, Ethicsweb, Expanded Academic, Gale, Gale Academic OneFile, Humanities Abstracts, Humanities Index, Materials Business File-Steels Alerts, Mechanical and Transportation Engineering Abstracts, OCLC WorldCat Discovery Service, ProQuest ABI/INFORM, ProQuest Advanced Technologies & Aerospace Database, ProQuest Business Premium Collection, ProQuest Central, ProQuest Health & Medical Collection, ProQuest Health Research Premium Collection, ProQuest Materials Science & Engineering Database, ProQuest Philosophy Database, ProQuest Science Database, ProQuest SciTech Premium Collection, ProQuest Technology Collection, ProQuest-ExLibris Primo, ProQuest-ExLibris Summon, Solid State and Superconductivity Abstracts, The Philosopher’s Index
Here’s the text from the April 16, 2019 email announcement,
We invite papers for a special issue in the journal “NanoEthics: Studies of New and Emerging Technologies”.
AFTER THE HYPE IS BEFORE THE HYPE – FROM BIO TO NANO TO AI: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN NANOSCIENCES AND NANOTECHNOLOGIES?
Since the early 2000’s, Nanosciences and nanotechnologies (NST) have been massively promoted in many parts of the world. Two things were striking about these policies: first, the hype surrounding NST; second, the prominence of public engagement–citizen dialogue, deliberation and participation–in NST discourse and policy. Nanotechnology became a laboratory for the programmatic and practical development of a range of forms of public engagement such as “upstream” and “midstream engagement”, or policy approaches that prominently integrate public engagement such as “anticipatory governance”, “real-time technology assessment”, or “responsible research and innovation”.
From bio to nano: A major reason for this noticeable rise of public engagement in NST are the food scandals and technology controversies in the late 1990’s, in particular the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These controversies came to be seen as the result of elites’ reductionist and arrogant approach to the public. To avoid a similar public backlash against NST authorities and decision-makers in science and politics should open doors for public engagement and humble dialogue. Obviously, the public crisis around GMOs had triggered a learning process.
From nano to AI: Today, the hype surrounding NST has waned and so have concerns that nanotechnology might fall prey to a public backlash. Nothing comparable to the public backlash against GMOs ever happened to Nano. In fact, NST hardly became controversial. Meanwhile, new technology hypes pervade the public discourse. Synthetic biology, genetic editing or Artificial Intelligence (AI) are recent examples. In each case, we observe parallels to the discourses on public engagement in NST. In the case of AI, for example, prominent researchers and think tanks warn against a public backlash if policy makers and funders fail to foster public support through public engagement.
From bio to nano to AI: We suggest that social learning processes intertwined with technology hypes pervade these and other arenas of technology governance. While the GM controversy had a visible (albeit not yet fully understood) effect on the NST field, today, we ask which lessons can be drawn – and have been drawn by science policy actors – from the NST field? Where do we stand today after 20 years of public engagement in nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, and what is there to learn for the “new governance” of most recently hyped technologies such as AI?
POSSIBLE TOPICS INCLUDE:
Societal effects and social learnings of Public Engagement (PE)
– How can we conceptualize the social learning processes which seem to manifest in technology governance over the past twenty years? Have new patterns of interpretation been established regarding the nature of a successful or failed technology governance? If so, how can they be described and distinguished from the “old” patterns of interpretation?
– Does the fact that NST mostly remained uncontroversial mean that the early emphasis on public engagement in the NST field made it more “socially robust”, “democratic” and “reflexive”? Have the right “lessons” been drawn (from the past for the future)?
– Why and how does the trend toward public engagement manifest itself in different national political cultures? How did certain public engagement formats travel across national borders in the NST policy field?
PE between hype and reflexivity
– What happens after the hype? With enthusiastic/dystopian discourse subsiding, do public engagement activities also vane? What happened to the engagement hype and to ambitious policy metaphors such as “upstream engagement”? Have they been forgotten? Will they reappear, or be reinvented, with the next big techno hype?
– For the social sciences nanotechnology has provided an opportunity to step up research and policy intervention. How can the role/agency of the social sciences in public engagement processes be conceptualized? In which way has this role changed in the past 20 years? Which role conflicts or normative dilemmas arise from it?
PE between strategic and transformative uses
– Did public engagement (ever) make a difference in the governance of NST or other emerging technologies? How have public engagement initiatives been integrated (or ignored) in the governance of NST and other emerging technologies?
– Has public engagement had identifiable impacts on policies or institutions related to NST or other fields of technoscientific discourse and policy? Did public engagement have the effect of problematizing, shifting or even reshaping epistemic and political demarcation lines between the public, scientific expertise and policy subsystems? What can we expect for the future?
Several formats are available. We specifically invite original research papers. In addition, contributions can come in the form of shorter discussion notes, communications and responses, letters, art-science interactions, interviews or anecdotes, and book reviews.
Not being familiar with either of the organizers, I also searched for them online.
Franz Seifert has been an independent social scientist since 2000 according to his CV (on academia.edu). At a guess, he’s based in Austria. I found his CV quite interesting, both it and his list of publications is extensive, all of it related to the topic of the special issue.
Camilo Fautz is a member of the scientific staff at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) and a PhD student, if his profile page is up-to-date. He too has a number of papers on ‘relevant to the special issue’ topics listed on his profile page.