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P.W. Singer on Video Games and War

Question: How has a gaming culture affected the rules of war?

Singer:    One of the retired military officers said to this to me that was very telling.  He said, “I worry when you take a generation that grew up playing “Grand Theft Auto” and put them into the space where they’re controlling machines with the very same video controllers, what are the implications of that?”  And there’s another scene in the book where Air Force Predators Quarter commander talked about the challenges of how his people under his command, you know, they are engaged in war, but they’re de-linked and that sometimes it can get in his words pretty bloody minded.  And that you have people saying, you know, just like sitting around playing videogames, you know, take that one or hit that one, and, you know, even cheers would happen when you take out a site.  And so you constantly have to remind people that, you know, look, this is a mission.  This is lives are at stake.  And it’s very difficult because you have a balancing act going on there.  One of the things that’s fascinating is that the military has tried to free ride off of the videogame culture.  There are videogames that are used for recruitment.  “America’s Army” is a videogame that’s incredibly popular and it was basically started up by the US Military to help persuade people to join.  But then, also, the very controllers themselves are videogame controllers.  They’re just like the ones that you would have with an X-Box or a Playstation.  And the reason the military does this is twofold.  One, the companies behind them, you know, the Sony’s and Microsoft’s of the world have spent millions of dollars figuring out the exact right way for the little device to sit in your hand, where should you position your fingers, etc., so why not take advantage of that research.  But the other part of it is that you have a generation coming in that’s already been trained in their use so they learn very quickly.  And, the result is that you’re seeing younger soldiers proved to be more talented at certain roles than much more experienced soldiers.  There’s one soldier that I interviewed was a 19-year-old drone pilot.  He was a high school dropout, Army enlisted man, but he turned out to be so good at it that he became actually one of the best drone pilots in the entire force, served in Iraq and then they brought him back to become an instructor at the training academy.   Not an officer, not a college graduate, but an instructor.  And so you tell that story and go, wow, this is really reshaping the demographics of war.  But then you say that story to Air Force audience and they get really freaked out, you know, that 15 pilots says, “I spent years and years of training, college education, I’m an officer, and you’re telling me that this 19-year-old is not only doing more in war today, but may even be more talented because of his videogame skills?”  That’s an interesting trend.

P.W. Singer on the problem of war as entertainment.

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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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.

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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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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