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Could Twitter Spark a Revolution?

Question: How is technology changing the way social movements operate?

Tim McCarthy: The best-selling autobiographies of the 19th century were slave narratives, were narratives were written by or written for fugitive slaves, telling their stories of their escape from slavery to freedom.  And so this book looks at all these different  this print culture and these different technologies and media, to look at how they constituted an alternative political space where people  blacks and women and radicals and people who would never be elected, or could be elected, to public office had a political voice, and that they shaped the politics of the culture within which they lived.  And this social movement, I argue, was engineered by this print culture in a way that preserved the radicalism, that preserved the democratic and multiracial spirit, that ultimately gave the country its flavor after the formal abolition of slavery during the Civil War and the aftermath of the Civil War.

And, you know, you can extend that all the way to today, right?  You know, the radio profoundly shaped the way that people related to, for instance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He was literally, through his fireside chats on the radio, in their rooms.  I remember my grandparents, who were very poor recent immigrants who came to this country and who would tell stories about what it was like to have him in their living room through these chats on the radio.  So that transformed, very, very radically I would argue, the relationship between citizens and their president and their elected officials, particularly Roosevelt.

And then obviously TV and cable news and the advent of photographs in journalism, which goes back to the 19th century  all of these technologies have shaped our culture and our politics and also have in many ways driven our social movements.  And that continues to be true of the new media today: the netroots movement, the twittering, the Twitter revolution and other things.  I think that, you know, blogs as places for a much more vibrant and diverse form of political expression is also really important.

 

Question: What is the downside of these new ways of communicating?

Tim McCarthy: The one thing that I would say as a word of caution. Media drives politics  and I think that there's a more complicated and symbiotic relationship, obviously.  The one thing that I would sort of caution is that I do think that the new online or virtual kind of political culture does have its limitations.  Certainly the swiftness with which we understand and have information and share information is a great advantage, that we just know more and we know it quicker.  We see more and we see it quicker.  We're able to document our own witness.  But the other thing that it does, and I think that this is crucial, is that it takes away, or it robs us in some sense, of the space that we share physically, right?  If we imagine ourselves as part of a community, that's powerful and that's important to have those kinds of virtual or imagined connections to other people.

But it's also important to be in the basement of a church, working out what you're going to do at the protest, to see each other, to hug each other, to hold hands and sing songs like they did in the civil rights movement, right?  To be physically in the same space like those young queer activists were at Stonewall in June of 1969, right?  The gathering of physical momentum as an engine for protest I think is very important, to be face to face with somebody.  You can only do so much virtually and online.  You can do a lot, and I think it's certainly given us advances that we have to take into consideration.

I think one of the reasons why  you know, to bring it back into the realm of mainstream politics  one of the reasons why Barack Obama was so successful was because he  like Howard Dean but to a much greater and more sophisticated effect  marshaled and mastered the new media technologies as a way to generate political momentum and political interest. 

And the same is true of social movements as well.  But I do worry, though  and the Obama campaign's a perfect example  you know, there were people that I worked with for over a year in the Obama campaign that I didn't meet until the inauguration, or that I didn't meet until the election.  Well, David Plouffe, who I met at Harvard this spring.  But, you know, obviously David Plouffe was someone who was in my world, and I in his, for many -- much more him in mine than I in his  but we were part of each other's worlds virtually for two years or a year and half.  And that was great, but I met him for the first time in April, which was fine.  He's a good guy.  I like spending time with him, and I do think that there's something about this kind of new media technology that robs us of that.

And when we think about the great successes of the civil rights movement and of the labor movement and of the women's movement and the abolitionist movement and all the great social movements that have transformed this nation and other nations, a lot of them were the results of meetings, of coming together in common spaces and organizing together, of having fights face to face, of holding one another accountable by saying "are you going to be there?"  And you saw this in the campaign.  And as much as, you know, a lot of it took place virtually, you know, we also went up to New Hampshire every weekend and we knocked on doors, and we stood in the middle of intersections with Obama signs, and we called people, right?  And we used a lot of the old-fashioned tools of community and political organizing that had worked for many, many years.  And so I think we need to not just in our rush to the future, in our sort of exuberance about all of this new media in the 21st century, I hope that we don't forget that there are some good old-fashioned community organizing strategies that got Barack Obama to a place that he could even think about running for president and having the kind of online campaign that was so, so successful and that has, quite frankly, redefined politics.

Recorded on: July 1, 2009

Historian Tim McCarthy argues that new media isn’t necessarily the best method for organizing the next great social movement.

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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