Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Computer applications can drive cars, fly planes, play chess and even make music.

But can an app tell a story?

Chicago-based company Narrative Science has set out to prove that computers can tell stories good enough for a fickle human audience. It has created a program that takes raw data and turns it into a story, a system that’s worked well enough for the company to earn its own byline on Forbes.com.

Kristian Hammond, Narrative Science’s chief technology officer, said his team started the program by taking baseball box scores and turning them into game summaries.

“We did college baseball,” Hammond recalled. “And we built out a system that would take box scores and historical information, and we would write a game recap after a game. And we really liked it.”

Narrative Science then began branching out into finance and other topics that are driven heavily by data. Soon, Hammond says, large companies came looking for help sorting huge amounts of data themselves.

“I think the place where this technology is absolutely essential is the area that’s loosely referred to as big data,” Hammond said. “So almost every company in the world has decided at one point that in order to do a really good job, they need to meter and monitor everything.”

Narrative Science hasn’t disclosed how much money is being made or whether a profit is being turned with the app. The firm employs about 30 people. At least one other company, based in North Carolina, is working on similar technology.

Meanwhile, Hammond says Narrative Science is looking to eventually expand into long form news stories.

That’s an idea that’s unsettling to some journalism experts.

Kevin Smith, head of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, says he laughed when he heard about the program.

“I can remember sitting there doing high school football games on a Friday night and using three-paragraph formulas,” Smith said. “So it made me laugh, thinking they have made a computer that can do that work.”

Smith says that, ultimately, it’s going to be hard for people to share the uniquely human custom of story telling with a machine.

“I can’t imagine that a machine is going to tell a story and present it in a way that other human beings are going to accept it,” he said. “At least not at this time. I don’t see that happening. And the fact that we’re even attempting to do it — we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Other experts are not as concerned. Greg Bowers, who teaches at the Missouri School of Journalism, says computers don’t have the same capacity for pitch, emotion and story structure.

“I’m not alarmed about it as some people are,” Bowers said. “If you’re writing briefs that can be easily replicated by a computer, then you’re not trying hard enough.”

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/11/tech/innovation/computer-assisted-writing/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

Japanese scientists at Osaka University have created a robot hand so people can shake hands with someone remotely. The robot hand communicates grip force, body temperature and touch. The creators are considering building telepresence robots with the robot hand so they can shake hands with people.
The creators of the robot hand say, “People have the preconceived notion that a robot hand will feel cold, so we give it a temperature slightly higher than skin temperature.”

http://www.sciencespacerobots.com/blog/32820121

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Dan the baboon sits in front of a computer screen. The letters BRRU pop up.  With a quick and almost dismissive tap, the monkey signals it’s not a word. Correct. Next comes, ITCS. Again, not a word. Finally KITE comes up.

He pauses and hits a green oval to show it’s a word. In the space of just a few seconds, Dan has demonstrated a mastery of what some experts say is a form of pre-reading and walks away rewarded with a treat of dried wheat.

Dan is part of new research that shows baboons are able to pick up the first step in reading – identifying recurring patterns and determining which four-letter combinations are words and which are just gobbledygook.

The study shows that reading’s early steps are far more instinctive than scientists first thought and it also indicates that non-human primates may be smarter than we give them credit for.

“They’ve got the hang of this thing,” said Jonathan Grainger, a French scientist and lead author of the research.

Baboons and other monkeys are good pattern finders and what they are doing may be what we first do in recognizing words.

It’s still a far cry from real reading. They don’t understand what these words mean, and are just breaking them down into parts, said Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at the Aix-Marseille University in France.

In 300,000 tests, the six baboons distinguished between real and fake words about three-out-of-four times, according to the study published in Thursday’s journal Science.

The 4-year-old Dan, the star of the bunch and about the equivalent age of a human teenager, got 80 percent of the words right and learned 308 four-letter words.

The baboons are rewarded with food when they press the right spot on the screen: A blue plus sign for bogus combos or a green oval for real words.

Even though the experiments were done in France, the researchers used English words because it is the language of science, Grainger said.

The key is that these animals not only learned by trial and error which letter combinations were correct, but they also noticed which letters tend to go together to form real words, such as SH but not FX, said Grainger. So even when new words were sprung on them, they did a better job at figuring out which were real.

Grainger said a pre-existing capacity in the brain may allow them to recognize patterns and objects, and perhaps that’s how we humans also first learn to read.

The study’s results were called “extraordinarily exciting” by another language researcher, psychology professor Stanislas Dehaene at the College of France, who wasn’t part of this study. He said Grainger’s finding makes sense. Dehaene’s earlier work says a distinct part of the brain visually recognizes the forms of words. The new work indicates this is also likely in a non-human primate.

This new study also tells us a lot about our distant primate relatives.

“They have shown repeatedly amazing cognitive abilities,” said study co-author Joel Fagot, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research.

Bill Hopkins, a professor of psychology at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, isn’t surprised.

“We tend to underestimate what their capacities are,” said Hopkins, who wasn’t part of the French research team. “Non-human primates are really specialized in the visual domain and this is an example of that.”

This raises interesting questions about how the complex primate mind works without language or what we think of as language, Hopkins said. While we use language to solve problems in our heads, such as deciphering words, it seems that baboons use a “remarkably sophisticated” method to attack problems without language, he said.

Key to the success of the experiment was a change in the testing technique, the researchers said. The baboons weren’t put in the computer stations and forced to take the test. Instead, they could choose when they wanted to work, going to one of the 10 computer booths at any time, even in the middle of the night.

The most ambitious baboons test 3,000 times a day; the laziest only 400.

The advantage of this type of experiment setup, which can be considered more humane, is that researchers get far more trials in a shorter time period, he said.

“They come because they want to,” Fagot said. “What do they want? They want some food. They want to solve some task.”

 

 

 

Imagine sitting around a conference table with several of your colleagues as you hold an important meeting. Now imagine your boss pulling out what looks like a radar gun for catching speeding motorists and aiming at any of you that speak to long, very nearly instantly causing whoever is speaking to start stuttering then mumbling and then to stop speaking at all. That’s the idea behind the SpeechJammer, a gun that can be fired at people to force them to stop speaking. It’s the brainchild of Koji Tsukada and Kazutaka Kurihara, science and technology researchers in Japan. They’ve published a paper describing how it works on the preprint server arXiv.

The idea is based on the fact that to speak properly, we humans need to hear what we’re saying so that we can constantly adjust how we go about it, scientists call it delayed auditory feedback. It’s partly why singers are able to sing better when they wear headphones that allow them to hear their own voice as they sing with music, or use feedback monitors when onstage. Trouble comes though when there is a slight delay between the time the words are spoken and the time they are heard. If that happens, people tend to get discombobulated and stop speaking, and that’s the whole idea behind the SpeechJammer. It’s basically just a gun that causes someone speaking to hear their own words delayed by 0.2 seconds.

To make that happen, the two attached a directional microphone and speaker to a box that also holds a laser pointer and distance sensor and of course a computer board to compute the delay time based on distance from the speaker. To make it work, the person using it points the gun at the person talking, using the laser pointer as a guide, then pulls the trigger. It works for distances up to a hundred feet.

The two say they have no plans to market the device, but because the technology is so simple, it’s doubtful they could patent it anyway.

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-speechjammer-gun-quash-human-utterances.html

 

According to recent research sponsored by SecurEnvoy, an internet security firm, more people feel anxious and tense when they are out of reach of their phone — and the younger they are, the more likely the stress.

Known as “nomophobia,” or “no mobile-phone phobia,” a recent online survey of 1,000 people in the UK found that almost two thirds (66%) of respondents were afflicted, a rise of 11% when compared to a similar study four years ago.

“Some people get panic attacks when they are not with their phones,” said Michael Carr-Gregg, an adolescent psychologist working in Melbourne.

“Others become very anxious and make all endeavors to locate the mobile phone. I have clients who abstain from school or their part-time jobs to look for their phones when they cannot find them in the morning.”

CNN Photos: De-Vice: Our mobile addiction

According to the survey, the younger you are, the more prone you are to nomophobia. The youngest age group (18 -24) tops the nomophobic list at 77%, which is 11% more than that of the next group — those aged 25-34.

“This is the most tribal generation of young people,” said Carr-Gregg. “Adolescents want to be with their friends on a 24-hour basis.”

Women are also more likely to be unnerved by cell phone separation, with 70% of respondents reporting the malady compared to 61% of men. Andy Kemshall, the CTO and co founder of secure Envoy, believes that may be because men are more likely to have two phones and are less likely to misplace both — 47% of men carry two phones, compared to only 33% of women.

Major drivers of nomophobia include boredom, loneliness, and insecurity, said Carr-Gregg, while some young nomophobes cannot bear solitude. “Many of my clients go to bed with their mobile phones while sleeping just like how one will have the teddy bear in the old days,” he said.

“While teddy doesn’t communicate, the phone does,” said Carr-Gregg, adding insomnia to the list of potential problems.

“This reduced the amount of time to reflect,” he said. “Some kids cannot entertain themselves. The phone has become our digital security blanket.”

As smartphone penetration spreads across the globe, so does nomophobia. On a visit to Singapore in February this year, Carr-Gregg spoke to students from a peer support group at the United World College and identified similar problems.

“There is no doubt that nomophobia is international,” he said. “[But] without phones, there will not be nomophobia.”

Meanwhile, Indian researchers have also evaluated mobile phone dependence among students at M.G.M. Medical College and the associated hospital of central India. India, after China, is the second largest mobile phone market in the world. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reported that there were 884.37 million mobile connections in India as of November, while China had 963.68 million.

The cross-sectional study, published by the Indian Journal of Community Medicine three years ago, recruited 200 medical students and scholars. About one in five students were nomophobic, results showed. The study claimed that the mobile phone has become “a necessity because of the countless perks that a mobile phone provides like personal diary, email dispatcher, calculator, video game player, camera and music player.”

“There is an increase in the nomophobic population in India because the number of mobile phone users has increased,” said Dr. Sanjay Dixit, one the researchers and the head of the Indian Journal of Community Medicine. “We are currently doing another research on mobile phone dependency, it’s not published yet, but analysis shows that about 45% of the Indian population, not just medical students, is nomophobic.”

With the augmented ownership and usage of smartphones among adolescents, Dixit says the young population is more at risk, partly because they can access the Internet through phones more easily, increasing the time spent on phones.

“We found out that people who use mobile phones for more than three hours a day have a higher chance of getting nomophobia,” he said, warning this can pose potential dangers.

Accidents lurk while nomophobes fix their attention on phones. According to Dixit, up to 25% nomophobes reported accidents while messaging or talking on the phone, which includes minor road accidents, falling while going upstairs or downstairs and stumbling while walking. More than 20% also reported pain in the thumbs due to excessive texting.

“One could look at this as a form of addiction to the phone,” said Eric Yu Hai Chen, a psychiatrist and professor at The University of Hong Kong. “The fear is part of the addiction. The use of hand phone has some features that predispose this activity to addiction, similar to video games, naming, easy access.”

To tackle anxiety and accidents induced by phones, Dixit suggests switching off the phone, especially while driving. “People can also carry a charger all the time,” he said. “Our study shows that the no-battery-situation upsets nomophobes the most.

“People can also prepay phone cards for emergency calls and credit balance in phones to ensure a constant and functioning network,” he said. Other solutions include supplying friends with an alternate contact number and storing important phone numbers somewhere else as backups.

“Enforcing a period when handset is turned off can help loosen its hold over everyday life,” said Dixit. Sometimes, the problem can even be the cure.

“One of my clients actually makes use mobile phone apps to deal with anxiety,” said Carr-Gregg. “It’s called iCounselor Anxiety.”

The launch of the app presents users with a scale to rate their anxiety levels from 1 to 10, where 10 is “panicked.” After choosing the level, ten recommendations of calming activities will be suggested, followed by instructions to change the user’s thoughts, so to change subsequent feelings.

“It is almost like having a psychologist in your phone,” said Carr-Gregg.

Prevalent it may be, nomophobia, however, is not yet a qualified phobia.

“Nomophobia is not included in the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] yet,” said Dixit. “But it is an up coming problem. For the first time on this continent [India], we are trying to make it more scientific,” he added, referring to his undergoing research on nomophobic India.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/06/tech/mobile/nomophobia-mobile-addiction/index.html?hpt=hp_c4

 

Police in Wisconsin’s capital city barely had to try to catch a pair of unlucky suspected thieves.

Madison police say two men in their late 20s stole DVDs and computer games from a Target store Tuesday and discussed their plans to fence the goods while driving away.

Investigators say the duo didn’t realize one of them had accidentally pocket-dialed 911. A dispatcher listened in for nearly an hour as they discussed what they had stolen and where they might sell it. Police say they even described their vehicle.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain says the pair decided to sell their goods at a video store. When they pulled into the store’s parking lot, officers surrounded their vehicle with guns drawn.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/thieves-pocket-dial-911_n_1152885.html?ir=Weird+News

 

 

Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don’t watch any news, according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The poll surveyed New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East, and where they get their news sources. The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that “people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government” and “6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government” compared to those who watch no news.

Overall, 53% of all respondents knew that Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak and 48% knew that Syrians have yet to overthrow their government.

Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson, explained in a statement, “Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News. Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.”

This isn’t the first study that has found that Fox News viewers more misinformed in comparison to others. Last year, a study from the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/21/fox-news-viewers-less-informed-people-fairleigh-dickinson_n_1106305.html

Infants’ sleep patterns can be disrupted if their parents are constantly arguing, a new study finds.

Infants who heard regular blow-ups between parents when they were 9 months old continued to have troubled sleep patterns — marked by problems getting to sleep and staying asleep — even when they were 18-month-old toddlers.

More than 300 U.S. children and parents were stuydies, and all of the children were adopted at birth in order to control for any influence of genetics.

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/sleep/articles/2011/05/11/parents-fighting-can-even-affect-infants-study

 

Google has announced plans to introduce a mobile application that would allow users to snap pictures of people’s faces in order to access their personal information.

In order to be identified by the software, people would have to check a box agreeing to give Google permission to access their pictures and profile information.

Google has had the technical capabilities to implement this type of search engine for years, but has delayed its release due to concerns about how privacy advocates might receive the product.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/03/31/google.face/index.html?hpt=C2