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An Interest in Literature

Question: Why do you like Dr. Who?

Shelley des Etages: He was a scientist who's traveling through space and time without limits.  And he is problem-solving as he goes through the universe.  So he's really a physicist, if you want to try to pick a science.  But it was a television show that I loved as a child growing up, and they've resurrected it now.  And so there's a new version.  They're on the third Dr. Who.  And the ideas and the concepts that it introduces in terms of what are all the possibilities out there?  We always hear about the possibilities.  I like sci-fi in general.  I have seen every episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation.  But it's all about possibilities.  What are all these enormous possibilities out there?  And what are all these questions we can try to solve, whether it's a social question, and ethical question, a scientific question.  These shows pose these problems before you and say, "Hey, how are you going to work your way through this?  How does this society work?  How does this concept work?"  That's the part that I love about them.

Question What would your Dr. Who episode be like?

Shelley des Etages: I would want him to come find me in the lab, because I would want his input on some of my experiments.  But what would it look like if Dr. Who came along on an episode and followed me for a couple of weeks?  They'd see me coming in to work. They'd see me trying to figure out what can we extract as possible targets from some of my data sets?  And he'd comment on whether or not he thought what I was doing was a good idea or a bad idea.  He might drop me a hint now and then.  And then he'd follow me as I headed off home.  He might catch me working with some kids in the community on poetry.  He might catch me at the dojo meditating and hang out and see if he got anything out of the meditation practice.

Question: What is Writer’s Block, Ink?

Shelley des Etages: Writer's Block, Inc. is a local group that works on using performing arts to help kids to be able to react to their society and be proactive about the change they want to bring about in society.  So they write poetry.  They choreograph dances.  They sing.  My connection to the organization, the two reasons, when I was in high school I was in a performing group.  And I enjoy writing poetry, so it's a way to help some other kids get a little bit of experience with something that I experienced when I was growing up that I found very helpful.  So every year the kids come up with an idea for a show.  What's it going to be?  Last year's show, we did two shows last year.  The summer show was called "The Road to Home."  And the whole concept was that you had a group of kids who were relocated from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina.  And so they were living in Connecticut, and while here living in Connecticut they heard about the refugees in Darfur and wanted to have a benefit to try to benefit the kids in
Darfur.

Recorded on: 06/25/2008

 

Dr. Des Etages works at the cutting-edge of science, and science fiction gives her a glimpse of what might be on the other side.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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