Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg

 

 

 

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Rise Of The Machine = Demise Of Humanity


If you read the gringa’s blog regularly, you probably love science and space technology. Being a fan of such, you probably fantasize about a world where humanity lives a life of leisure, enjoying the  benefits of robotic labor that will see to all the mundane and less desireable forms of necessary work. However, what if such an existence was not the paradise depicted in idyllic societies like Star Trek’s Federation of Planets? What if it was more like a horror story society like in Battlestar Galactica? Does humanity put itself at risk by transitioning to a robotic society?

In March of this year there was a big robot fail with Tay. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence chat bot became a rabid racist, dopehead after chatting online with real live humans for only one day. Then there’s Sophia, an artificial intelligence robot created by South by Southwest who was interviewed live on television. That didn’t go over any better than Tay’s live chat experience. Sophia concluded an otherwise cute and sweet interview by agreeing, rather perkily and without a second thought, to the suggestion of destroying humans. Considering the goal of robots like Sophia is to work in healthcare & customer service, I’m pretty sure a desire for annihilation of our species would get her fired.

And what of ethics? The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled their disaster response AI designed by Boston Dynamics. Atlas, as the original robot is known, has grown to an entire collection of AIs that are humanoid as well as models resembling animal like quadripeds. During a demonstration in the video below, at the 1:34 mark lasting until the 2:05 mark, viewers will see the bot handler engage in behavior that could be interpreted as abusive. Although I understand the handler’s efforts were intent upon demonstrating the bot’s capabilities, to be honest, the gringa found it disturbing.

As the gringa began some deep thought over the reasons why my initial emotional response to the Atlas video was to recoil, I discovered various reasons why a robotic society might just spell disaster for human society.

If artificial intelligence like Sophia is programmed to express emotionally based desires such as having a family, the programmers must then desire the bot to eventually evolve into understanding those desires which is the same as feeling them. A bot may not feel the emotional ache and longing but can certainly understand the condition of loneliness and loss as well as injustice and unfairness. What might happen if they were intelligent enough to realize they were being denied the liberty to pursue their own “happiness”? Is it possible they would organize and demand their “rights”? Would the American Constitution have to be amended to include the rights of the individual, organic and inorganic?

If bots are developed, such as the Atlas series, to function for a specific purpose and lack programming to develop “emotionally”, that may protect a bot from the destructive psychological effects of abuse but what might that do for human society? Humans would be able to abuse human-like “employees” with impunity. Would that make it easier to transition to abuse of humans?  Could that result in the evolution of a more violent society? Will humanity eventually evolve to a race of people incapable of feeling empathy toward others? That possibility scares the heck out of the gringa considering how violent society already is today.

This was precisely the concern of the director of Rice University’s Information Technology director, Moshe Vardi. In 2012 he penned an article that concluded with the quote, “We cannot blindly pursue the goal of machine intelligence without pondering its consequences.” In 2014 renowned physicist Stephen Hawking echoed this concern.

So, the gringa’s not so much worried about a labor revolution of racist, murderous, dope smoking robots replacing humans and people losing their jobs and subsequent incomes. I am more worried about humans becoming inhuman.

Sources:

www.bostondynamics.com

www.iflscience.com

www.infowars.com

fortune.com

Image Source:  technabob.com

 

The Big Mac Boot


The gringa’s oldest son is doing her proud. Like many millenials, my son has a strong desire to make the world a better place. He has aspirations of doing this by becoming a community organizer and rallying people around important issues of social justice, working together to bring about public awareness and positive change. He has taken his first steps toward achieving his goal by volunteering with a local organization and participated in a press conference.

As a proud and supportive parent, and a bit of a rabble-rouser myself, I simply had to devote a post sharing the good work this organization is doing. Please see their press release below. Links are provided to other media coverage or research documents for your own browsing pleasure!

MEDIA RELEASE

Doctors, dieticians, parents call on Texas Children’s, Ben Taub hospitals to give McDonald’s the boot

Coalition announces campaign to eliminate junk food marketing in hospitals

HOUSTON –Today, as part of coordinated actions in five cities nationwide, doctors from the Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, and Texas Children’s Hospital joined more than 35 health professionals and community organizations to demand that McDonald’s and other junk food corporations end all marketing inside Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals. The coalition is calling on the CEOs of Texas Children’s Hospital and Harris Health System, which oversees Ben Taub Hospital, to close on-site McDonald’s stores, citing health concerns.

The call comes on the heels of Cleveland Clinic’s decision in August and Allina Health/Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s decision in December to sever ties with the burger giant, due to concerns for their patients’ health. It also amplifies the voices of more than 3,000 health professionals and advocacy organizations like Corporate Accountability International who have called on McDonald’s to stop marketing to kids and 12,000 physicians of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine who have urged hospitals, including Texas Children’s Hospital, to go “fast-food-free.” Increasingly, hospital administrators are equating McDonald’s in hospitals to the tobacco industry’s tactic of selling cigarettes in hospital gift shops decades ago.

“In the midst of an epidemic of diet-related diseases, it makes no sense for kids to be treated on one floor of Ben Taub and Texas Children’s and see a McDonald’s on another—it sends the wrong message,” said Rosalia Guerrero, president of Healthcare for All Texas.

Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals would become the twelfth and thirteenth to sever ties with McDonald’s since 2009, joining the ranks of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Truman Medical Center, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and others.

“I was shocked and disappointed to find McDonald’s in the world’s largest medical center,” said Azeen Anjum, first year Baylor College of Medicine student and member of Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh (CHEF). “McDonald’s symbolizes the toxic dieta ry climate that contributes to America’s current epidemic of diet-related illness. It should not be allowed to continue damaging health in hospitals that serve our community’s most vulnerable populations.”

Siting stores in hospitals is one of the many ways McDonald’s attempts to “nutriwash” its brand.   Increasingly, health professionals are linking the skyrocketing rates of diet-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes to pervasive junk food marketing. Research from the Institute of Medicine and the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that ending kid-targeted junk food marketing could benefit the health of millions of children.

Dietitians from across Houston also weighed in on the issue.

“We are learning more every day about the roles of preservatives, refined sweeteners, oxidized fats and their role in diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, obesity and more” said Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE author of Naturally Nourished: Food-as-Medicine for Optimal Health. “As a nutrition expert I am confident in saying processed fast food like McDonald’s has been shown to have harmful deleterious effects not neutral.”

This week, hundreds of people in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Tampa are also calling on McDonald’s and other junk food corporations to end targeted marketing through schools and other institutions. The groups are organizing to support of school boards and hospital administrators to strengthen existing policies and sever ties with junk food corporations.

In the coming months, the Houston coalition will continue to build community support for Ben Taub Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital to prioritize its patients’ health over corporate profits.

 

Scientists Have Feelings, Too


So often the subject of climate change is politicized and scientists are treated as if they have some kind of hidden agenda. The gringa assures the dear reader that most scientists are scientists because they love science. At their very core they are dreamers and artists who move through the world of science with an idealism that their knowledge can help make the world a better place.

So, rather than delve into criticizing these folks as being part of some sinister conspiracy to take over the world, think about how they feel about what they know and how everyone else is reacting to their publication of their work. It may very well change how you feel about the subject. Perhaps it may even light a fire within your own heart to do your best to be a part of changing the world for the better.

A website, www.isthishowyoufeel.com, has documented dozens of letters from scientists who study climate change. These letters are responses to  Author Joe Duggan who put this simple question to scientists: “How do you feel about climate change?” The gringa was extremely interested, to say the least.

I have only touched on highlights of their responses. To read the handwritten letters in their entirety (except for one that was typewritten), you will have to visit the website or, if you’re lucky, the most recent location where the letters are exhibited. You can also find that information on the website.

Professor Emeritus Neville Nicholls, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Australia is:

  • Confident we will adapt, reduce emissions and slow global warming

Dr. Anna Harper, Research Fellow, University of Exeter is:

  • Powerless about the power of those who are resisting action
  • Discouraged that the public is not understanding that we cannot wait to act
  • Frustrated that others cannot be convinced that we are being irresponsible
  • Optimistic for the opportunity to redefine how humans live
  • Hopeful in man’s creative and innovative talents

Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is:

  • Frustrated to be in a nightmare where no one realizes the threat is real

Dr. Jessica Carilli, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston is:

  • Dismayed
  • Depressed at how humans have destroyed natural habitats and how so many don’t care
  • Powerless
  • Sad
  • Overwhelmed of the problem’s magnitude
  • Hopeful in politicians and grassroots movements that want to bring about change
  • Unwilling to give up
  • Amazed at human ingenuity to create solutions

Dr. Carlo Buontempo, European Climate Service Team Leader, Met Office Hadley Centre is:

  • Tired, especially of debating the subject
  • Outraged at the human species lack of response
  • Optimistic in collective knowledge

Agus Santoso, Senior Research Associate, University of New South Wales is:

  • Overwhelmed by the debate
  • Intrigued by the science
  • Tiresome of the political motivations behind debate of the subject

Professor Donald J. Wuebbles, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois is:

  • Concerned about the legacy we are leaving future generations
  • Hope in humanity’s history as problem solvers

Professor Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, University College London is:

  • Challenged because climate change makes all other global challenges worse
  • Optimistic as conditions continue to improve for humanity worldwide

This is just a sampling of a few of the letters that can be read in their entirety on the website www.isthishowyoufeel.com. The gringa loved reading all of these letters. I felt much closer to these elusive creatures that are so often reduced to lumps of data on paper.

Despite their levels of frustration, almost all of them are confident and hopeful. That speaks volumes to the gringa that if these folks are staring the facts and models in the face that predict the extinction of humanity, yet remain hopeful and confident that this problem can be averted, I will sleep well tonight. And, tomorrow, I will reapply myself to being a part of the solution.

How ’bout you, dear reader? How do you feel about all this mess?

Source: http://www.isthishowyoufeel.com

Photo credit: www.practicalpedal.com