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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers February 25 – March 3, 2017 and includes articles about an effort to publish open data in psychology and a new technique for storing data in DNA.

1. Protecting Rhinos with Connected Sensors

The Sigfox Foundation and Zimbabwean conservation organization Lowveld Rhino Trust are using GPS sensors to track and protect endangered black and white rhinoceroses in southern Africa as part of an initiative called Now Rhinos Speak. The first phase of the project, which ran from July 2016 to February 2017, relied on low-power GPS sensors embedded in 10 rhinos’ horns that could regularly transmit data about a rhino’s location to conservationists. Now, Sigfox Foundation plans to apply the sensors to a much larger number of wild rhinos to protect them from poaching, with the ultimate goal of tracking each of the 29,000 remaining rhinos in the world.

2. Sharing Wearables Data with Doctors

Nokia has announced that its Withings connected devices, which include devices such as smart scales and wearable fitness trackers, will soon be able to share users’ biometric data with their doctors. This service, called the Patient Care Platform, is compliant with the data protection rules in the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Devices using this service will launch in summer 2017.

3. Fighting for Open Data in Psychology

A group of psychologists have launched the Peer Reviewers’ Openness Initiative to use open data to increase transparency and reduce fraud in the field of psychology research. Though the American Psychological Association (APA) has long encouraged authors to make their data available after publication, as of 2012 only 38 percent of researchers in four APA journals shared their data. Gert Storms for example, a psychologist and editor of APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, has recently been asked to step down for insisting that authors publish their data to demonstrate that their research is sound, though he has refused.

4. Using AI to Measure Screen-Time Bias

Researchers at Google and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media used AI to analyze the top 100 grossing films in the United States from 2014 to 2016, finding that when humans are on screen, women are only shown 36 percent of the time and only have 35 percent of the speaking time, on average. The AI system used a series of algorithms to identify and track faces during the movie, to determine the gender of each face, and to determine whether a voice belongs to a man or a woman. In Academy Award-winning films, women received even less airtime, receiving just 32 percent of screen-time and 27 percent of speaking time.

5. Supporting Suicide Prevention with AI

Facebook has launched an AI tool that can analyze similarities between content flagged by users concerned that the poster may be suicidal or likely to harm themselves. If a user reports that another user is demonstrating behavior suggesting he or she is suicidal in a livestream video, Facebook, in conjunction with the national Suicide Prevention Line and other advocacy groups, will prompt an intervention if necessary. As more users report such content, the AI tool will identify patterns between these kind of posts to help Facebook improve its interventions.

6. Helping Smart Homes Check Up On You

A company called Elliptic Labs has developed ultrasound technology that can work with smart home devices such as the Amazon Echo to sense the presence of people. The technology uses a smart home device’s speaker to produce a high-frequency sound and its microphone can analyze the resulting audio waves to determine if they bounced off of a person. Elliptic Labs hopes to use its software to help the elderly and people in assisted living by automatically notifying a caretaker if it does not detect movement for an abnormal amount of time.

7. Storing Data in DNA

Researchers at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have successfully written a large amount of data into synthesized strands of DNA substantially more efficiently than previous efforts to do so. Scientists have been able to store data as DNA since 2012, but could only store a very small amount of data per nucleotide. Using an algorithm to make assembling DNA more efficient, the researchers were able to store 1.6 bits of data per nucleotide, which is 85 percent of the theoretical limit DNA could hold.

8. Investing in AI in the UK

The British government published its Digital Strategy, its plan for improving the country’s digital future. The strategy features a strong emphasis on building digital skills and funding research in artificial intelligence. With the country due to leave both the European Union and the European single market in 2019, retaining London’s vibrant tech sector will be an important priority for the UK.

9. Sensing Someone’s Poor Communication Skills

Researchers from Drexel University and Princeton University have developed a wearable headband that uses a technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy to sense changes in blood oxygenation levels in the brain, which can reveal how well a person is engaged in an activity. Unlike traditional brain-scanning equipment such as an MRI, the headband allows researchers to gather this data while subjects are interacting with each other. In a test, the researchers were able to observe when subjects lost interest in a story another person was telling them if they could not understand the story. This approach creates new opportunities to increase how people understand each other, such as tracking how well students understand new subject matter or evaluating one’s own communication skills.

10. Giving Wearables to Elephants

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, conservation nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, and the university of California, have attached wearable movement sensors to elephants in Chobe National Park in Botswana to study elephant sleep patterns in the wild. The researchers affixed fitness-tracking style device to the elephants’ trunks and gyroscopic sensors to the elephants’ necks to monitor when they stop moving and whether they are standing or lying down at the time, which indicates whether or not they are asleep. Unlike previous research on elephants conducted in zoos which showed elephants sleeping four to six hours a night, the researchers found that in the wild elephants sleep less each day and only get deep sleep every three to four days, suggesting that while humans require deep sleep to consolidate memories, elephants, with their famous long-term memories, do not.

Image: Mitzy123

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