Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 7, 2018

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Issue 7, 2018

This week's headlines:

'News' spreads faster and more widely when it's false
March 08, 2018

Untrue 'news' is as old as gossip, but its proliferation has become particularly troubling in the era of social media. False stories amplified on Facebook and Twitter have been implicated in tilting election outcomes. Moreover, fake news spreads faster and more widely than true news, according to a new study from MIT.

The researchers classified news spread on Twitter as 'true' or 'false', according to cross-checks using information from six established fact-checking sources. In this way, they investigated the dissemination of 126,000 news items among 3 million Twitter users between 2006 and 2017, using data supplied by the company.

Their analysis showed that news stories deemed to be true spread more slowly than false stories, and reached fewer people. Even the most popular true news stories rarely reached more than 1,000 people, whereas the top 1% of false news stories reached between 1,000 and 100,000 people. False news that reached 1,500 people did so six times faster than did true stories. And falsities were 70% more likely to be retweeted than truths, according to a model of the data.

The team used software to spot automated 'bot' accounts on Twitter, which have been suspected of distorting the way in which news travels. But even with those data removed, fake news generated by people rather than bots still spread faster than truth, showing that this property stems from human behaviour.

To understand why, the researchers quantified the 'novelty' of tweets and found that false news items stood out among a random corpus of tweets. An analysis of the words in the tweets suggested that false news instilled fear, disgust and surprise, whereas true news was more likely to arouse feelings including sadness, joy and trust. These features, especially the greater 'novelty', might be expected to draw more attention to false news, the researchers say.

Full story: Nature Back to top

China tests giant air cleaner to combat smog
March 06, 2018

A 60-metre-high chimney stands among a sea of high-rise buildings in one of China?s most polluted cities. But instead of adding to Xian?s smog, this chimney is helping to clear the air.

The outdoor air-purifying system, powered by the Sun, filters out noxious particles and billows clean air into the skies. Chinese scientists who designed the prototype say that the system could significantly cut pollution in urban areas in China and elsewhere.

The technology has excited and intrigued researchers ? especially in China, where air pollution is a daily challenge. Early results, which are yet to be published, are promising, according to researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Key Laboratory of Aerosol Chemistry and Physics in Xian in central China.

The concrete chimney sits atop a large open structure with a glass roof. Solar radiation hitting the glass heats the air, causing it to rise towards the base of the tower. The air then passes through a wall of industrial filters before billowing out the chimney.

The Global Burden of Disease Study for 2015, a comprehensive effort to map the world's diseases, found that pollution contributed to 1.1 million premature deaths in China in that year alone.

Full story: Nature Back to top

Modified smartphone measures blood pressure directly from your finger
March 07, 2018

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke, but it often goes undetected and untreated. A new technology could change that by putting a simple blood pressure monitor in everyone?s pockets.

Normally, blood pressure is measured using an inflatable cuff that presses down on an artery in the arm while a device records the effect on blood flow. Now, US scientists have created a smartphone attachment that measures blood pressure directly from the finger, removing the need for any specialized equipment.

The user places their finger on a pressure sensor and is guided by a chart displayed on the phone to gradually increase the applied force. Meanwhile, another sensor measures blood volume by illuminating the finger and detecting changes in how light is absorbed. Software on the phone then uses this information to determine blood pressure.

The researchers tested their prototype on 30 people, and found that most quickly learned how to use it. Although the device was not quite as precise as an arm monitor, the scientists say its accuracy could be improved by taking multiple measurements over time.

Modern smartphones already contain most of the hardware needed to transform them into portable blood pressure monitors, which would be particularly useful in developing countries where access to cuff-based devices is limited, but where smartphones are becoming commonplace.

Full story: Science Mag / Science Translational Medicine Back to top

Test spots malaria in two minutes, without blood
March 05, 2018

Magnetism and light have been combined in a test that can diagnose malaria in under two minutes without the need to take blood. The new test, which has yet to undergo clinical trials, won a prize for entrepreneurs hosted by Britain?s Prince Andrew last month.

Shafik Sekitto, an engineer from Uganda, developed the winning innovation, Matibabu, to make malaria diagnosis easier. He worked on the device with six friends from Makerere University in Uganda. They built a prototype by combining their skills in research, engineering, computer science and business ? and backed by advisors with expertise in parasitology and physics.

Matibabu uses light and magnetism to differentiate between the blood of an infected and a healthy person. Unlike 'gold standard? tests that work by detecting molecules produced by the malaria parasite, it deploys polarised light to detect hemozoin crystals, which are by-products excreted by the parasite.

It does this in less than two minutes? four times the speed of the fastest among current tests on the market, according to Sekitto. The results are sent from the device, which clips onto a patient?s finger, to a mobile phone.

Pitch@Palace Africa 2.0, an event hosted by The Duke of York in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, was launched in 2014 to help connect entrepreneurs who use technology and engineering with potential supporters such as CEOs, mentors and business partners. All 15 start-ups who took part in the event have received guidance and are to be entered into the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize with a winner due to be announced in Spring.

Full story: SciDev Back to top

China's Baidu can clone voice within seconds of hearing it
March 03, 2018

The Google of China, Baidu, has just released a white paper showing its latest development in artificial intelligence: a program that can clone voices after analysing even a seconds-long clip, using a neural network. Not only can the software mimic an input voice, but it can also change it to reflect another gender or even a different accent.

The technology could be used to create personalised digital assistants and more natural-sounding speech translation services. You can also imagine your child being read to in your voice when you're far away, or having a duplicate voice created for a person who has lost the ability to talk.

However, voice cloning also comes with the risk of being abused. New Scientist reports that the program was able to produce one voice that fooled voice recognition software with greater than 95% accuracy in tests. Humans even rated the cloned voice a score of 3.16 out of 4. This could open up the possibility of AI-assisted fraud.

Programs exist that can use AI to replace or alter - and even generate from scratch - the faces of individuals in videos. But coupled with tech that can clone voices, we soon could be bombarded with more 'fake news' of politicians doing uncharacteristic actions or saying things they wouldn't.

Full story: Science Alert Back to top

Satellite links to optimise European airspace
March 06, 2018

The European Space Agency and London's Inmarsat company are moving to the next phase of their project to improve the efficiency of European airspace. The pair's Iris programme would see air traffic controllers route planes via robust and secure satellite data links.

At the moment, this management involves VHF radio voice messages - a system that will soon likely reach capacity. Additional technologies are therefore needed to cope with the expected growth in air traffic over the coming decades. Passenger demand is currently increasing by more than 5% a year globally with the European market among the busiest.

Iris, which will now see a large-scale demonstration over the next 36 months, should help speed up the transmission of messages between controllers and cockpits; and ultimately aims to make full 4D trajectory management possible.

Iris has been in an R&D phase for a number of years, with demonstrations restricted to some small experimental flights. This next phase will see the technology prepared and proven on a larger number of aircraft fitted with the necessary communications equipment. The messages will be sent over Inmarsat's L-band network of telecommunications spacecraft that sit high above the Earth. If all goes well, Iris would then be available for wide-scale adoption in the 2020s.

Iris is a key element of the European Commission's Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research programme, also known as Sesar. This is developing a number of technologies to streamline the coordination of flights.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

Having a Voodoo Doll of your boss is great for team morale
March 08, 2018

There are a lot of things your boss can do to improve morale around the office, but if they really want to give the team a feel-good boost, there's one more solution to consider. It turns out keeping a voodoo doll of your boss in the office is great for keeping team spirits high.

A new international study led by researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, found acts of 'symbolic retaliation' against bosses after perceived mistreatment were an effective means of soothing aggrieved employees.

In the first experiment, the team took over 195 full-time employees and asked them to recall and visualise a workplace interaction from their past where their supervisor had treated them with hostile behaviour, such as being rude, making negative comments, or failing to acknowledge their hard work. Then it was payback time.

After the flashback, some of the participants were encouraged to take out their frustrations on a virtual voodoo doll that represented their supervisor, using an arsenal of punishment tools ? such as pins, pliers, fire ? to exact their revenge for a delicious, vindictive minute. Those that did this reported experiencing significantly reduced perceptions of injustice after the voodoo doll session, compared to other participants who didn't get a chance to symbolically retaliate against their manager.

A follow-up experiment involving 206 business school students with work experience produced similar results, and the researchers think these morale boost effects probably aren't restricted to sticking pins into a boss-shaped pin cushion. Theoretically anything that serves as a symbolic act of retaliation, like throwing darts at a picture of your boss, might work.

Full story: ScienceAlert / The Leadership Quarterly Back to top