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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Aswin Prabhakar

This week’s list of top data news highlights covers March 2, 2024 to March 8, 2024 and includes articles on using virtual reality to help students learn languages and using AI to create scents that are at risk of being lost.

1. Learning Languages

York County School Division in Virginia has partnered with Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center to create virtual reality experiences that help students navigate real-world scenarios in the language they are learning. The modules allow students to role-play, collaborate, and think critically while practicing their language skills in an immersive environment.

2. Recording Pregnancy Information

Oxford University Hospitals has launched a new app called Badger Notes in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, allowing expectant mothers to view and update their pregnancy notes digitally. The app replaces the traditional paper-based maternity notes folder, providing women with a more secure and accessible way to store information and access resources provided by midwives.

3. Enhancing Access to Files

Microsoft has started rolling out a new feature for its Copilot AI assistant in Windows that allows the bot to directly read files on a user’s PC, summarize the content, locate specific data, and search the Internet for additional information. Users can manually drag and drop files into Copilot, ensuring control over the AI system’s access to personal files.

4. Replicating Scents

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have trained a neural network to generate molecules that match the odor scores for specific scent families of sample fragrances. This AI-driven approach could help reproduce rare smells at risk of being lost, such as incense from culturally specific rituals or the smell of a forest affected by climate change.

5. Reducing Spam

Google is tweaking its search algorithms to better identify and remove spammy or automated content, particularly targeting AI-generated content that’s harder to spot. The ranking updates, arriving in May, are expected to reduce spammy, unoriginal search results by 40 percent and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites.

6. Finding Parking Garages

Google’s Waze navigation app is adding new features to help users find nearby parking garages, including prices, accessibility options, and EV charging stations. The app will also provide alerts about upcoming speed limit drops, guide users through roundabouts, and notify them of stopped emergency vehicles ahead.

7. Diagnosing Ear Infections

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh have developed a smartphone app that uses AI to accurately diagnose ear infections in children. The app analyzes short videos of the eardrum captured by a smartphone-connected otoscope, achieving 94 percent accuracy, outperforming most physicians. By improving the accuracy of diagnoses, the app aims to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and enhance the quality of care for children.

8. Analyzing Enterprise Data Through Chat

Numbers Station, a startup based in California that uses large language models for data analytics, has launched Numbers Station Cloud, a service that allows users to analyze their internal data using a chat interface. The platform’s semantic catalog ensures the model’s understanding aligns with the company’s specific data structures and terminology.

9. Clearing Food Stamp Backlogs

To tackle the growing backlog of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications caused by workforce shortages and outdated technology, several states are seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service to expand their use of AI and automation. States are now looking to implement more advanced AI technologies, in addition to the chatbots, robotic process automation, and optical character recognition they are already using, to further streamline SNAP administration and improve processing times for this critical food assistance program.

10. Avoiding Motion Sickness 

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder are using virtual reality (VR) goggles to help astronauts combat motion sickness when returning to Earth after space missions. By simulating the disorientation experienced during the transition from microgravity to Earth’s gravity, the VR system aims to prepare astronauts and reduce the impact of motion sickness during splashdown and recovery.

Image credits: John Matychuk

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