People often divide the world into "us" and "them" then forget about everybody else.
- A new study shows that our polarized "us" vs. "them" view of the world can be modeled mathematically.
- Those who don't fit easily into either group tend to be disliked.
- The model is not limited to politics and could be used to explain many aspects of society.
In most of the great debates, many possible stances get reduced to two options in a hurry. In American politics, we often frame all debates as "Democrats versus Republicans" and proceed to label every policy or action as belonging to one of those factions. Anybody else, particularly those in the middle, are quickly swept aside and forgotten.
According to a new study, this tendency is not only common but is so ingrained in our thinking that you can make a formula to describe it.
"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down." — Aneurin Bevan
A team of researchers at the Santa Fe Institute studied the system using a commonly applied model to try to "solve" for where social boundaries appear on a political scale. The researchers added cognitive and social components -- which often drive people into an "us vs. them" style of thinking -- to the model's equations. They hypothesized that people would devise measurable camps of "us" and "them" which would appear in the models. Those who don't fit cleanly into these roles would tend to be overlooked.
The results of the model were compared to data from surveys in the 1980s, which included questions about how respondents felt about members of other political groups, to check for accuracy. Importantly, during that decade, many people were asked about political independents in the center, deemed "inbetweeners" by the researchers, as well as about their stance on members of other parties.
Though one might suspect that people viewed those in the middle as potential allies, the tendency to divide the world into two buckets simply excludes those in the middle. The model predicted, and the survey's from the 80s confirmed, that both those on the left and right viewed centrists unfavorably.
Lead author Vicky Chuqiao Yang explained the unfortunate situation of these centrists:
"By being 'inbetweeners,' independents are viewed as unfavorably as the other party by both sides, and left out. So Independents get the worst of both worlds, and there are downstream consequences."
Graph showing how members of both major American parties viewed fellow party members, those of the other party, and independents. The values came from the American National Election Studies surveys. Credit: Yang et al.
The authors speculate that this phenomenon could cause those in the middle to drift towards the extremes in hopes of avoiding the ills of being in the middle. Over time, this could lead to a highly polarized society, as nobody is left in the middle at all.
These findings are not necessarily limited to politics. The model could be applied to how society views people of indeterminate race or who do not fit cleanly into categories of sexuality, for example. Additionally, because group labels evolve over time, we should see the formation of entirely new groups and inbetweeners. In the study, the authors note that the model was limited for exactly this reason and hope that future studies will expand on the concept.
Could we have predicted COVID-19 through social media trends?
- The first human cases of COVID-19 (subsequently named SARS-Cov-2) were first reported by officials in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019. The first cases of the virus in Europe were discovered at the end of January 2020.
- Although there were really no preventative measures that could have completely stopped the pandemic, a new study takes a retrospective look at the months preceding the rapid spread of this virus.
- Researchers suggest that, in a successive phase of the pandemic (or any pandemic), monitoring social media could help public health authorities mitigate the risks of a contagion resurgence.
Although there were really no preventative measures that could have completely stopped the pandemic, a new study takes a retrospective look at the months preceding the rapid spread of this virus. Specifically, this study focused on Twitter to decide if there were 'warning signs' of the upcoming pandemic on social media.
Could social media have predicted the pandemic?
Geo-localization of pneumonia-related tweets posted across Europe since December 2019.
(A) Number of users discussing pneumonia between 15 December 2019 and 21 January 2020, after filtering out press releases and news accounts. (B) Relative variation in number of users discussing pneumonia between winter seasons 2019 and 2020.
Since January 2020, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2) began to spread from China to Europe and the United States, criticism has intensified over the ways public health authorities across the globe could have better managed the threat.
Throughout this pandemic, different surveillance strategies have been used to monitor the spread of the virus, including sentinel surveillance systems, household surveys, lab-based surveys, community-based surveys, and the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) framework. More recently, social media outlets have been used for monitoring epidemics and informing the judgments and decisions of public health officials and experts.
A new study conducted by researchers at IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca analyzed data from Twitter to uncover early warning signs of COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe during the winter season of 2019-2020. On December 31, 2019, WHO (World Health Organization) was informed of the first "cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology." Tracking spikes in pneumonia trends was a big part of this study.
Why focus on pneumonia?
Pneumonia is the most severe condition induced by COVID-19. Additionally, the flu season in 2020 was milder than in previous years, which means there were fewer cases of flu-induced pneumonia.
The study used "pneumonia" as a keyword to track potential COVID-19 induced cases.
The study created a unique database including all public messages posted on Twitter between December 1, 2014 and March 1, 2020. This search included the seven most commonly spoken languages: English, Germany, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Dutch.
There were several adjustments made to avoid overestimations on the number of tweets mentioning cases of pneumonia during this time. Most notably, the study removed the effects on posting activity of COVID-19 related news that appeared up to January 21, 2020 (the day this virus was recognized as a serious transmissible disease), due to the fact that most tweets after this date mentioning pneumonia would be related to the COVID-19 outbreak even if they did not use the word COVID in the tweet.
The analysis shows an increase in tweets mentioning the keyword "pneumonia" in most of the European countries included in the study as early as January 2020.
In Italy, for example, where the first lock-down measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 were introduced on February 22, 2020 - the increase rate in mentions of the keyword during the first weeks of 2020 differs substantially from the rate observed in the same weeks of the previous years.
This could indicate that potentially hidden infection hotspots were identifiable several weeks before the announcement of the first local source of the virus in Italy (which happened on February 20, 2020, in Codogno, Italy.) France exhibited a similar pattern, whereas Spain, Poland, and the U.K. witnessed a delay of two weeks.
The analysis of tweets was then correlated to the regions where the first cases of infections were later reported.
The authors discovered through geo-localization that over 13,000 tweets in this same period came from the regions where the first cases of COVID-19 were later reported.
"Our study adds on to the existing evidence that social media can be a useful tool of epidemiological surveillance. They can help intercept the first signs of a new disease, before it proliferates undetected, and also track its spread," explains Massimo Riccaboni, full professor of Economics at the IMT School, to Eurekalert. Massimo coordinated the large-scale research effort.
How could this help in the future?
Researchers suggest that, in a successive phase of the pandemic (or any pandemic), monitoring social media could help public health authorities mitigate the risks of a contagion resurgence. For example, by adopting stricter measures of social distancing where the infections appear to be increasing. The researchers of the study suggest that these tools could also be a way forward to an integrated epidemiological surveillance system that is globally managed by international health organizations.
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot
"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."
A Bustle article published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, Dame Products (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand Unbound reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.
While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.
Something similar happened in 2008, during the recession: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer.
The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.
The history of sex toys is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.
Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.
- The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).
- The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)
- The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)
- The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.
- 1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.
- The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City").
- The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it.
- The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.
In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock
In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. YouGov conducted a study in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.
According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.
YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.
"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"
The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.
Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
According to YouGov, "a Bloomberg report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future."
Study finds quantum entanglement could, in principle, give a slight advantage in the game of blackjack.
With that knowledge, they can then estimate the cards still in the deck, and those most likely to be dealt out next, all to help each player decide how to place their bets, and as a team, gain an advantage over the dealer.
This calculating strategy, known as card-counting, was made famous by the MIT Blackjack Team, a group of students from MIT, Harvard University, and Caltech, who for several decades starting in 1979, optimized card-counting and other techniques to successfully beat casinos at blackjack around the world — a story that later inspired the book "Bringing Down the House."
Now researchers at MIT and Caltech have shown that the weird, quantum effects of entanglement could theoretically give blackjack players even more of an edge, albeit a small one, when playing against the house.
In a paper published this week in the journal Physical Review A, the researchers lay out a theoretical scenario in which two players, playing cooperatively against the dealer, can better coordinate their strategies using a quantumly entangled pair of systems. Such systems exist now in the laboratory, although not in forms convenient for any practical use in casinos. In their study, the authors nevertheless explore the theoretical possibilities for how a quantum system might influence outcomes in blackjack.
They found that such quantum communication would give the players a slight advantage compared to classical card-counting strategies, though in limited situations where the number of cards left in the dealer's deck is low.
"It's pretty small in terms of the actual magnitude of the expected quantum advantage," says first author Joseph Lin, a former graduate student at MIT. "But if you imagine the players are extremely rich, and the deck is really low in number, so that every card counts, these small advantages can be big. The exciting result is that there's some advantage to quantum communication, regardless of how small it is."
Lin's MIT co-authors on the paper are professor of physics Joseph Formaggio, associate professor of physics Aram Harrow, and Anand Natarajan of Caltech, who will start at MIT in September as assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
Entanglement is a phenomenon described by the rules of quantum mechanics, which states that two physically separate objects can be "entangled," or correlated with each other, in such a way that the correlations between them are stronger than what would be predicted by the classical laws of physics and probability.
In 1964, physicist John Bell proved mathematically that quantum entanglement could exist, and also devised a test — known a Bell test — that scientists have since applied to many scenarios to ascertain if certain spatially remote particles or systems behave according to classical, real-world physics, or whether they may exhibit some quantum, entangled states.
"One motivation for this work was as a concrete realization of the Bell test," says Harrow of the team's new paper. "People wrote the rules of blackjack not thinking of entanglement. But the players are dealt cards, and there are some correlations between the cards they get. So does entanglement work here? The answer to the question was not obvious going into it."
After casually entertaining the idea during a regular poker night with friends, Formaggio decided to explore the possibility of quantum blackjack more formally with his MIT colleagues.
"I was grateful to them for not laughing and closing the door on me when I brought up the idea," Formaggio recalls.
In blackjack, the dealer deals herself and each player a face-up card that is public to all, and a face-down card. With this information, each player decides whether to "hit," and be dealt another card, or "stand," and stay with the cards they have. The goal after one round is to have a hand with a total that is closer to 21, without going over, than the dealer and the other players at the table.
In their paper, the researchers simulated a simple blackjack setup involving two players, Alice and Bob, playing cooperatively against the dealer. They programmed Alice to consistently bet low, with the main objective of helping Bob, who could hit or stand based on any information he gained from Alice.
The researchers considered how three different scenarios might help the players win over the dealer: a classical card-counting scenario without communication; a best-case scenario in which Alice simply shows Bob her face-down card, demonstrating the best that a team can do in playing against the dealer; and lastly, a quantum entanglement scenario.
In the quantum scenario, the researchers formulated a mathematical model to represent a quantum system, which can be thought of abstractedly as a box with many "buttons," or measurement choices, that is shared between Alice and Bob.
For instance, if Alice's face-down card is a 5, she can push a particular button on the quantum box and use its output to inform her usual choice of whether to hit or stand. Bob, in turn, looks at his face-down card when deciding which button to push on his quantum box, as well as whether to use the box at all. In the cases where Bob uses his quantum box, he can combine its output with his observation of Alice's strategy to decide his own move. This extra information — not exactly the value of Alice's card, but more information than a random guess — can help Bob decide whether to hit or stand.
The researchers ran all three scenarios, with many combinations of cards between each player and the dealer, and with increasing number of cards left in the dealer's deck, to see how often Alice and Bob could win against the dealer.
After running thousands of rounds for each of the three scenarios, they found that the players had a slight advantage over the dealer in the quantum entanglement scenario, compared with the classical card-counting strategy, though only when a handful of cards were left in the dealer's deck.
"As you increase the deck and therefore increase all the possibilities of different cards coming to you, the fact that you know a little bit more through this quantum process actually gets diluted," Formaggio explains.
Nevertheless, Harrow notes that "it was surprising that these problems even matched, that it even made sense to consider entangled strategy in blackjack."
Do these results mean that future blackjack teams might use quantum strategies to their advantage?
"It would require a very large investor, and my guess is, carrying a quantum computer in your backpack will probably tip the house," Formaggio says. "We think casinos are safe right now from this particular threat."
This research was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
New research shows how Americans feel about genetic engineering, human enhancement and automation.
- A review of Pew Research studies reveals the views of Americans on the role of science in society.
- 4 key questions were asked to gauge feelings on genetic engineering, automation and human enhancement.
- Americans are split in how they view technology and many worry about its growing role.
The Pew Research Center published a fascinating roundup of studies that revealed the opinions of the U.S. public on a number of key science-related issues. The researchers wanted to find out what people thought overall about the role of science and scientists in society, but also to see more specifically how far modern humans are willing to go with genetic engineering and automation.
The responses show that people are generally not as worried as you'd think about messing with human genetics but when it comes to implanting technology to enhance bodies, doubts proliferate. A strong uneasiness also pervades responses dealing with robots in workplaces.
Before you know the details of what others thought, however, you have a chance to take the quiz yourself to test your own points of view on these matters.
These first two questions relate to your stance on genetic engineering. With the advent of CRISPR gene editing techniques, it now seems possible to edit out mutations and create babies without disease. Wouldn't you want to do it? Or do you see the potential for horrendous accidents, genetic deformities, creation of second-class citizens and forever changing what it means to be human?
1. Changing a baby's genetic characteristics to reduce the risk of a serious illness that could occur over their lifetime is:
- An appropriate use of medical technology
- Taking medical technology too far
Another key question concerns growing human organs in other animals. Obviously, we have used animals for testing to develop new treatments already amid changing public attitudes about the cruelty involved, so how ethical is it to use animals simply as incubators of spare body parts?
2. Genetic engineering of animals to grow organs / tissues for humans needing a transplant is:
- An appropriate use of medical technology
- Taking medical technology too far
This next question pertains to human enhancement. How comfortable would you be outfitting yourself with digital chips or other prosthetics and modifications? Famously, Elon Musk is spearheading the development of Neuralink technology that would allow human brains to control machines. In a 2019 presentation, he described the possibility that such devices would be made to work by first making holes in people's skulls with lasers, followed by feeding flexible electrode threads into the brain. He previously promised that such devices would not only give people additional abilities but can also cure brain illnesses like schizophrenia. Recently, he tweeted an "awesome" update to the tech is coming, sharing also that it might be implanted in humans as early as this year.
Would you put one of these things on? See how you would answer this:
3. I am ____________________ about the possibility of a brain chip implant for a much improved ability to concentrate and process information.
- Very/somewhat worried
- Not too / not at all worried
Watch Elon Musk’s presentation on Neuralink here:
And now for your thoughts on automation. Numerous studies have found that not only is automation coming faster than you think, it's bound to replace the vast majority of human occupations in the next 10-30 years. And it sounds like there's still time left, a 2020 study by the research company Forrester shows that job loss due to automation is already very much here. They predict that more than 1 million "knowledge-work jobs" will be taken over in 2020 by software robotics, virtual agents, chatbots and decisions based on machine-learning. On the other hand, the firm estimates that 331,500 net jobs will be added this year to the American workforce alone that are "human-touch jobs" utilizing such human qualities as intuition, empathy, and both physical and mental agility. So there's hope humans can adapt and find new things to do once technology takes over.
Here's your chance to answer for yourself:
4. The automation of jobs through new technology in the workplace has ___________ American workers.
- Mostly helped
- Mostly hurt
- Neither helped nor hurt.
If you're interested what the participants in the Pew Research polls thought, here is the breakdown:
The Pew Research Center, which carried out the study, pinpointed a specific theme in the findings, citing "the loss of human control, especially if such developments would be at odds with personal, religious and ethical values" as the key source of hesitancy when people think about future technologies. Proposals that give people more control over tech met with more positive response.