Yes, tech companies may listen when you talk to your virtual assistant. Here’s why that’s not likely to stop

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alexa machine sitting on a counter

Big tech companies don’t like to talk about it. And when users find out it’s happening, they’re often surprised — and disturbed. Yes, if you talk to a virtual assistant, such as Amazon’s Alexa, a human may listen to a recording of your chatter.

Recent reports have highlighted what is actually a longstanding practice meant largely to improve the artificial intelligence that underpins the virtual assistant-powered gadgets and services that are popping up throughout people’s homes and lives.

The practice raises privacy concerns for smart-speaker users in particular, who might have known that Amazon, Google, and Apple create recordings each time you speak to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, respectively, but not that people might review them.

The companies have said only a small percentage of recordings are listened to by humans. Still, Google and Apple have temporarily halted human reviews of their recordings, while Amazon recently changed its settings to make it easier for people to avoid such review at all.

Last week, Facebook said it, too, had paused human review of some users’ audio clips, such as those sent as audio messages via the social network’s Messenger app. Facebook had been using humans to listen in, as part of an AI-transcription feature.

Lost in the shuffle of these revelations is whether people are truly needed to make these AI-dependent systems work, and how much companies should tell users about this process.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Rapper Residente partners with scientists to create music with brain patterns

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Rapper Residente sitting on couch dresed in black and baseball cap

Grammy-winning rapper Residente has some new collaborators on his upcoming album: scientists. The Puerto Rican performer said he studied intensely with professors at Yale University and New York University to read brain patterns in worms, mice, monkeys, fruit flies and even hitmaker Bad Bunny to create his second solo project.

“(The album is) going to be about everything that I have inside of my head … because of that I kept brainstorming and I said, ‘Oh I have to study my brain, and then I have to study other people’s brains, and then I have to study animals’ brains,'” he said.

Daniel Alfonso Colón-Ramos, an associate professor of neuroscience at Yale, said Residente spent days at the school doing research.

“We were joking that we should give him a diploma,” said Colón-Ramos.

On campus, they used electroencephalogram (EEG) tests on worms to track and record brain wave patterns.

“Without harming the animals we can actually see as the animal is thinking, as it’s moving, as it’s exploring its environment, we can see individual cells talking into each other. It turns out when these cells, when these neurons talk to each other they’re using rhythms to communicate — we call it rhythms of activity. But, at the end of the day, those rhythms can be turned into music,” Colón-Ramos said.

The untitled album will be released in November. Residente, born René Juan Pérez Joglar, worked with Suzanne Dikker, a senior research scientist in NYU’s Department of Psychology, to use EEG tests on himself and Bad Bunny to produce the album’s first single, “Bellacoso.”

Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.

CBS Saturday Morning Debuts “Mission Unstoppable,” a New Weekly Series Executive Produced by Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove Who Also Serves as Host

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Miranda Cosgrove poses for Mission Unstoppable poster

CBS announced today that new series Mission Unstoppable, featuring female STEM superstars, is joining the Saturday morning block “The CBS Dream Team, It’s Epic!,” which returns for its seventh season Saturday, Sept. 28th (9:00-12:00 ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Each week, host and Executive Producer Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly) and an all-female leadership team showcase women on the cutting edge of science – including zoologists, engineers, astronauts, codebreakers, and oceanographers. Viewers will be inspired by female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) superstars in leading fields including social media, entertainment, animals, design, and the internet – all categories key to the teen experience.

“Girls need to see themselves on and off the screen as STEM professionals, and as I always say, ‘If they can see it, they can be it.’ This new series strives to empower young women and showcase the many ways they can impact the world through careers in STEM.”

Academy-Award winning actor and advocate Geena Davis serves as co-executive producer of the series, bringing her passion for creating change in the portrayal of strong female characters in entertainment and media that positively influences young viewers.

“Strong female role models are essential to breaking down barriers and educating the next generation of leaders about gender equality,” said Geena Davis, Executive Producer, Mission Unstoppable. “Girls need to see themselves on and off the screen as STEM professionals, and as I always say, ‘If they can see it, they can be it.’ This new series strives to empower young women and showcase the many ways they can impact the world through careers in STEM.”

Serving as Showrunner is Anna Wenger, four-time Emmy-nominated producer for Billy on The Street, Between Two Ferns, and Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Wenger’s expertise in narrative television and sketch comedy television series will provide Mission Unstoppable with its core intent to bring fun and science to life for young viewers.

Continue on to Businesswire to read the complete article.

Mexican Scientist Creates Biodegradable Plastic Straw From Cactus

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Sandra Ortiz stands in kitchen behind table filled with vaiations of her new plastic

Researchers from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico have created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus.

The new material begins to break down after sitting in the soil for a month and when left in water, it breaks down in a matter of days. Plus, it doesn’t require crude oil like traditional plastics.

“There were some publications that spoke of different materials with which biodegradable plastics could be made, including some plants,” Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, the research professor who developed the material, told Forbes.

“In this case the nopal cactus has certain chemical characteristics with which I thought it could be feasible to obtain a polymer, that if it was combined with some other substances, all of them natural, a non-toxic biodegradable plastic would be obtained. The process is a mixture of compounds whose base is the nopal. It’s totally non-toxic, all the materials we use could be ingested both by animals or humans and they wouldn’t cause any harm.”

This means that even if any of this material made its way into the ocean, it will safely dissolve. It’s estimated that between 1.15 million to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers. Last month, divers found a plastic KFC bag from the 1970s during an ocean clean-up off the waters off Bulcock Beach in Queensland, Australia and earlier this year, during a dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the ocean – a plastic bag was found.

According to Ortiz, the project was born in a science Fair of the The nopal cactus sitting on table with blender in the backgroundDepartment of Exact Sciences and Engineering, in the chemistry class with industrial engineering students of the career. They began to make some attempts to obtain a plastic using cactus as raw material.

“From that I decided to start a research project in a formal way. Currently in the project collaborate researchers from the University of Guadalajara in conjunction with the University of Valle de Atemajac.”

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) Conference

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Great Minds in STEM Flyer with details for the event

Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) invites you to the 31st Annual Conference taking place September 25-29, 2019 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

The GMiS Conference is the nation’s most prestigious stage for building and reinforcing networks and honoring excellence. The place where top executives, innovative professionals, and the brightest STEM students convene.

GMiS draws thousands of diverse high caliber STEM students from a broad array of institutions, including top‐ranked U.S. News & World Report Institutions, Research I Institutions, and Minority‐Serving Institutions.

Network with over 3000 STEM executives, college students and recruiters from all major industries and sectors. Secure an internship, fellowship or full time career!

Click here for a full flyer view.

For more information,  visit  greatmindsinstem.org .

Apply For The Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) Fellowship Sponsored by ADP

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The Reaching Out LGBTQ MBA Fellowship (ROMBA) was created as a joint effort between top business school programs and Reaching Out to demonstrate that business schools are the top destination to develop the out LGBTQ and active ally business leaders of tomorrow.

​The LGBTQ MBA Fellowship recipients each receive a minimum of $10,000 scholarship per academic year or $20,000 total scholarship, and also receive access to exclusive mentorship and leadership development programming through Reaching Out. 55 members of The Class of 2019 will collectively receive over $1,300,000 for each year of their MBA experience!

Click here for full view of flyer

Learn more about the fellowship at reachingoutmba.org

Not Only Does This New Clothing Charge Your Phone, It Can Protect You From Viruses and Bacteria

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man wearin suit being splashed with water

A new addition to your wardrobe may soon help you turn on the lights and music—all while also keeping you dry, clean, and safe from the latest virus that’s going around.

That’s because Purdue University researchers have developed a new fabric innovation that allows wearers to control electronic devices through their clothing.

Purdue University researchers have developed a new fabric innovation that allows wearers to control electronic devices through clothing.

“It is the first time there is a technique capable to transform any existing cloth item or textile into a self-powered e-textile containing sensors, music players or simple illumination displays using simple embroidery without the need for expensive fabrication processes requiring complex steps or expensive equipment,” said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering.

The technology is featured in the July 25 edition of Advanced Functional Materials.

“For the first time, it is possible to fabricate textiles that can protect you from rain, stains, and bacteria while they harvest the energy of the user to power textile-based electronics,” Martinez said. “These self-powered e-textiles also constitute an important advancement in the development of wearable machine-human interfaces, which now can be washed many times in a conventional washing machine without apparent degradation.”

Martinez said the Purdue waterproof, breathable and antibacterial self-powered clothing is based on omniphobic triboelectric nanogenerators (RF-TENGs) – which use simple embroidery and fluorinated molecules to embed small electronic components and turn a piece of clothing into a mechanism for powering devices. The Purdue team says the RF-TENG technology is like having a wearable remote control that also keeps odors, rain, stains and bacteria away from the user.

“While fashion has evolved significantly during the last centuries and has easily adopted recently developed high-performance materials, there are very few examples of clothes on the market that interact with the user,” Martinez said. “Having an interface with a machine that we are constantly wearing sounds like the most convenient approach for a seamless communication with machines and the Internet of Things.”

The technology is being patented through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. The researchers are looking for partners to test and commercialize their technology.

Continue on to Purdue University to read the complete article.

Rosa Parks and Sally Ride get their very own Barbie dolls

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Barbies Sally Ride and Rosa Parks

Children everywhere are going to get the chance to have two historical female role models as part of their play sets.

Mattel is honoring Rosa Parks and Sally Ride with their very own Barbie dolls. Rosa Parks was an American activist known as the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement and Sally Ride was the first American woman — and youngest American — to fly in space.

“Both Sally Ride and Rosa Parks made the world better for future generations of girls,” a Mattel spokesperson told CNN. “By celebrating their achievements with dolls made in their likeness, we hope girls will be inspired to pursue their dreams.”

It’s only fitting that these two new Barbies debuted on Women’s Equality Day.

“Women’s Equality Day celebrates the hard-won achievement of Rosa Parks and Sally Ride Barbie dollswomen’s suffrage and pays tribute to the trailblazers who paved the way for future generations,” the Mattel spokesperson said.

According to Mattel, research has shown that starting at the age of five, many girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as smart and begin to lose confidence in their own competence — this is coined the “Dream Gap.” Showing girls more role models, historical and present, and telling their stories can help close that gap.

Both dolls are available for purchase.

Continue on to CNN News to read the complete article.

Luis “Danny” Bathen of HENAAC: Becoming a Successful Engineer

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Luis "Danny" Bathen headshot

Being an engineer is like being that curious cat. The curious cat knows his or her curiosity may be the end of him or her, but he or she still needs to know how something works.

Without knowing how something works, we may not be able fix it, improve it, or simply innovate a new solution that makes that thing we think is cool obsolete.

Engineers built irrigation systems, engineers built castles, engineers got man to space, engineers built the world-wide web. Engineers are the reason we can see our loved ones across the sea in real time.

Engineers are the reason we can take selfies on a plane—flying across the sea, sharing them with millions of people while sipping our favorite drink thousands of feet up in the sky.

I became an engineer because I am a curious cat—I need to know how something works. I need to know how to build things from scratch. I need to know how to build more efficient things that will make my life and the life of people I care for easier. Being an engineer is rewarding, and also demanding.

It requires a lot of hard work. The cliché of “hard work pays” is indeed true, but to be a good engineer, you need to not only “work hard” but also “work smart.” Working smarter and more efficiently will help you complete tasks much faster. If I can write a computer program to automate a task that will help me work faster, I will. If I can build an Artificial Intelligence system that can automate most of my tasks, it will free my time to do more pressing matters. Artificial Intelligence is a hot and controversial topic today; there is a lot of excitement and fear. I am personally excited about it, because Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, it is in our future, and my job as an engineer is to make sure I help engineers and Artificial Intelligence, which will be good for me, my kids, and humanity.

In short, being an engineer is like being a curious cat who will work hard and work smart to make sure the next innovation he or she builds is an innovation for good rather than an innovation that may cause his or her doom.

How do we become good and successful engineers? Well, for starters, we must persevere.

Perseverance is perhaps one of the best traits to have. As engineers, we will fail—we will fail many times. It is not about failing—failure is inevitable—it is about how we deal with failure. The old “fail fast, recover fast” saying is true. We want to be able to fail, learn, and resume our work. Some days will feel like there is no solution, so we need to take a breather, sleep on it, and get back at it the next day. When we try different approaches and learn from our failures, we are bound to find a solution, or at least a partial solution that will help us move along.

Complacency is our enemy. As an engineer, we cannot, and should not, fall into the trap of complacency with our everyday tasks. As an engineer, if you reach a point where you stop trying to improve things, you are not being a good engineer. A good and successful engineer will look at better ways of doing things, improving on existing processes, and innovating.

Finally, to become a successful engineer, you must have a strong and positive attitude. You must not keep quiet when you see something is not quite right, when you feel something will not work, or something may endanger yourself or others. You must be strong and accept criticism— take it as an opportunity to learn rather than take it personally. We have all been criticized at some point in our lives for our work. Criticism is an opportunity to come back stronger and show that we can improve our work. However, do not let criticism get you down. And always give good feedback and positive criticism, because like you, others will also need that opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Be proactive, help when you can, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people say to let our work speak for us, this is true, but you must also be your own marketing department. Good engineers will do great work, as good or better than yours. It is your responsibility to showcase your work, push your work, and market your work, so that others appreciate it and it does not fall on deaf ears. Yes, good work speaks volumes, but there is nothing wrong with adding amplifiers.

So, be a curious cat, be an innovator, be a creator, persevere, never be complacent, and have a great attitude. Don’t just be an engineer, be an awesome engineer!

Luis “Danny” Bathen was awarded HENAAC’s 2018 Most Promising Engineer Advanced Degree – Ph.D.

Race car driver Jessi Combs, known as the ‘fastest woman on four wheels,’ dies while trying to beat record

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Jessie Combs seated in race car before a race

Race car driver Jessi Combs, who earned the title of the “fastest woman on four wheels” after she set a record with a jet-powered car, died Tuesday while trying to beat a land speed record, officials said.

Combs died Tuesday in Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office said. She was 39.

“She was a brilliant & to[p]-notch builder, engineer, driver, fabricator, and science communicator, & strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example,” said Adam Savage, former co-host of the TV show “Mythbusters.”

Combs appeared in multiple episodes of the show, while host Kari Byron was on maternity leave. She also appeared as a host in shows such as “All Girls Garage” and “Overhaulin’.”

Combs became the fastest woman on four wheels in 2013 at the North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger, when she set a record of 398 mph.

In October, Combs set a new top speed of 483.2 mph in a shakedown run.

On Tuesday, she was attempting to go faster when she crashed.

“On August 27, 2019 at approximately 4:00PM the Harney County 911 Center received a call reporting that a jet car attempting to break a land speed record on the Alvord Desert had crashed leading to one fatality,” the sheriff’s office said.

Her resume was full of firsts: the first woman to place at any Ultra4 event; the first woman to compete in The Race of Gentlemen event.

Savage also tweeted “I’m so so sad, Jessi Combs has been killed in a crash. She was a brilliant & too-notch builder, engineer, driver, fabricator, and science communicator, & strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example. She was also a colleague, and we are lesser for her absence.”

Her dedication to women’s empowerment in the automotive industry was also significant. She has a line of women’s welding gear with Lincoln Electric, as well as an online collaborative dedicated to empowering and educating women through industrial skills, called the RealDeal.

Continue on to CNN News to read the complete article.

Associating colors with vowels? Almost all of us do!

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man thinking about colors

Does [a:] as in ‘baa’ sound more green or more red? And is [i:] as in ‘beet’ light or dark in colour? Even though we perceive speech and colour are perceived with different sensory organs, nearly everyone has an idea about what colours and vowels fit with each other. And a large number of us have a particular system for doing so. This is shown in research by linguists from Radboud University and the University of Edinburgh on similarities in the vowel-colour associations perceived by over 1,000 people.

For the writer Vladimir Nabokov, “aa” was the colour of polished ebony and “ee” was yellow. Nabokov had synaesthesia: his sensory perceptions mingled with one another. In his case, he saw colours when hearing certain vowels, but many forms of synaesthesia are possible. Only 1 in 25 people have synaesthesia, but this new research shows that certain intuitions about “sound colours” shared by many more people than this.

“Aa” is more red than green

In this study, over 1,000 people took part in an online test where they chose colours for 16 spoken vowels. A large majority felt that “aa” was more red than green, and “ee” more light than dark, whether they had synaesthesia or not. According to Mark Dingemanse, one of the researchers, “There seems to be a logic to how we link sound and colour, and the structure of language has an important role in this process.”

Vowel space

Sixteen vowels sounds like a lot, but it works like this. When you say “aa,” then move to “oo” as in boot and then to “ee” as in beet, Dingemanse explains, you have visited the three outer points of what linguists call the vowel space. The 16 spoken sounds in our study were evenly distributed over this space.

Vowel system dictates colour associations

Earlier studies have found that colour associations are linked to the pitch of the sounds: the higher the pitch, the lighter the colour. But the new study shows that colour associations are driven to a greater degree by the vowel system of a language. For example, many participants described sounds that were close to the Dutch vowel “ee” as light green, while nearby sounds resembling “ay” as in say were assigned a different colour. The associations are shaped according to how our language carves up the vowel space.

Dingemanse says, “If colour associations were purely dependent on acoustical factors, the colours would neatly run into one another like in a rainbow. Instead, we see that sounds are grouped according to the way that our language carves up the vowel space: a few blue spots and then suddenly a red one, with no transition of blue-purple-red. You could say that the vowels have to pass through the sorting machine that is our language before we can link colours to them, even in synaesthetes, for whom associations like these are involuntary.”

Synaesthesia

The researchers used a new method to dig deeper into the structure of the colour associations. For each participant, they compared the chosen vowel-colour associations with a random sample of 10,000 random associations. They used this to measure how systematic the chosen associations were.

“Synaesthetes’ associations were more systematic than those of non-synaesthetes,” says Christine Cuskley of Edinburgh University. “But some patterns occur everywhere: people seem to align the vowel space and colour space with each other and connect the dots from one space to the other.” For instance, colours chosen for “ee” and “ay” tend to be quite close to each other, while those for “aa” and “oo” are further apart. Automatic associations like those of synaesthetes therefore rely on some of the same principles that non-synaesthetes use to link vowels and colours.

The study took place as part of the so-called Great National Research Project (GNO), a collaborative venture of Radboud University, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and NTR Broadcasting.

Continue on to Science Daily to read the complete article.