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After a Governor Betrayed the Gay Community, George Takei Knew He Had to Come Out

For most of his adult life, George Takei had to hide his sexuality to protect his career as an actor. He came out when he was 68 years old and, contrary to his fears, his work and his life have since blossomed.

George Takei: I was closeted for most of my life, my adult life. I wanted to be an actor, which alone, just that alone was, some people thought, a crazy aspiration to have because I am Asian and Asians, first of all, don't have many opportunities to get cast. Plus the fact that there were stereotypes that we were saddled with: Either the cold, heartless killer; the inscrutable person that's got something always going on in the back of his mind leading to suspicion that we could be spies; or the servile; the client obsequious; or the buffoon — all very unattractive stereotypes. So why I would go into acting was something that — well, I'm the black sheep of the family. My parents thought it was absolutely crazy, but they knew how passionate I was. And to get cast with, first, this ethnic barrier, hurdle for me to cross, I didn't want to add another one of being gay. Gay people were not cast, or if they were exposed as gay, their careers faded. I remember when I was a teenager there was a very good-looking, handsome actor named Tab Hunter who was a contract actor with Warner Bros. and almost every other movie coming from Warner Bros. starred Tab Hunter. He was the heartthrob of America until Confidential exposed him as being gay and eventually he disappeared. That was an object lesson for me. And so I was closeted. And my career was making progress and so I did everything to protect my career, which meant having my guard up all the time. Being careful about the pronouns I used. Denying a good portion of who I was. It was a very uncomfortable way to live, except that when you're doing it, it becomes a part of your normal existence. I lived that uncomfortable existence as what I thought was going to be my life.

I used to go to gay bars in Los Angeles back then and it was a wonderful place where that guard can come down. I could make friends as who I am and to really relax and enjoy friendship, camaraderie, and a wonderful evening or an afternoon. But one of the older people told me that periodically the police would raid gay bars and they would march the clients out, put them on a patty wagon, drive them to the police station, fingerprint them, photograph them, and their names would be put on a list. It was terrifying. Their lives could be destroyed. They could lose their jobs, perhaps their families. It was a horrible thing. And what were they doing? A criminal activity according to the law at that time. Being gay was criminalized. We were marched out, put into paddy wagons and registered. And I thought, "That's no different than what happened to me when I was a child." Because of this face, because we looked like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor, we were put into prison camps guarded over by soldiers with machine guns pointed down at us from sentry towers. It was the same thing, and I thought that was horrible; it was wrong, unjust, and yet that was the way we had to live, those few isolated moments when we could be ourselves. And then Stonewall happened when the people there resisted. They decided they had had enough. They're not going to take it anymore. And that was the galvanizing event and society began to change. And by the 21st century things were really starting to change. Massachusetts, the State Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that marriage equality was constitutional. So that was the first state. Two years later on the other coast in California, the people's representatives this time, through the legislative route, both houses of the California Legislature, the Assembly and the Senate passed the Marriage Equality Bill. All that bill needed was a signature of the governor to become the law of the state. It would have been two states bookending America with marriage equality. The governor at that time happen to be a movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he campaigned for that office he told the public, "I'm from Hollywood. I've worked with gays and lesbians; some of my best friends are gays and lesbians."

And persuaded by that, a couple of my gay friends did vote for him, yet when that bill landed on his desk he acted as the representative of his base, the right wing of the Republican Party, and he vetoed it. I was raging, but I had trained my body muscularly to hold in that rage. And that night Brad and I were watching the late night news and I saw all these young people pouring out onto Santa Monica Boulevard. venting their rage on Arnold Schwarzenegger. And we felt the same way. And it got us to thinking and talking and Brad and I discussed it. I was 68 years old by that time and I thought, "Well, I want my life to have some meaning. I want the time that I have left to do something about that aspect of who we are." And so I spoke to the press for the first time as a gay man and I blasted Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto. And what I thought of my career, I thought it was going to go on the downhill side; the opposite happened. It just blossomed and I've been working more since coming out than I'd been when I was closeted."

The story of George Takei's coming out is an epic unto itself. For most of his adult life, during which time homosexuality was considered a crime, he had to hide his true self to protect his career as an actor. When he broached the topic with Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, even the progressive Roddenberry balked, convinced that his show would be shut down if it featured a gay character. After decades of quiet humility, Takei broke his silence and spoke out when Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor of California, vetoed a gay-marriage bill. While he fully expected his career to decline as a result, the opposite happened. You can catch his live-action show, Allegiance, currently running on Broadway.

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.

  • 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.