Summary of “‘Data is a fingerprint’: why you aren’t as anonymous as you think online”

In August 2016, the Australian government released an “Anonymised” data set comprising the medical billing records, including every prescription and surgery, of 2.9 million people.
“It’s convenient to pretend it’s hard to re-identify people, but it’s easy. The kinds of things we did are the kinds of things that any first year data science student could do,” said Vanessa Teague, one of the University of Melbourne researchers to reveal the flaws in the open health data.
“The point is that data that may look anonymous is not necessarily anonymous,” she said in testimony to a Department of Homeland Security privacy committee.
More recently, Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a computational privacy researcher, showed how the vast majority of the population can be identified from the behavioural patterns revealed by location data from mobile phones.
“Location data is a fingerprint. It’s a piece of information that’s likely to exist across a broad range of data sets and could potentially be used as a global identifier,” de Montjoye said.
Even if location data doesn’t reveal an individual’s identity, it can still put groups of people at risk, she explained.
Montjoye and others have shown time and time again that it’s simply not possible to anonymise unit record level data – data relating to individuals – no matter how stripped down that data is.
“There are firms that specialise in combining data about us from different sources to create virtual dossiers and applying data mining to influence us in various ways.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “Yet More Evidence that Viruses May Cause Alzheimer’s Disease”

For decades, the idea that a bacteria or virus could help cause Alzheimer’s disease was dismissed as a fringe theory.
In a separate experiment involving a 3D model of the human brain grown in a dish, they also studied human herpesvirus 6, the germ responsible for causing the childhood skin disease roseola.
These viruses are usually caught early on in life and stay dormant somewhere in the body, but as we age, they almost always migrate up to the brain.
The mice’s brains grew new deposits of amyloid-β plaques practically “Overnight,” according to senior author Rudy Tanzi, a geneticist specializing in the brain at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as Harvard Medical School.
The study is the second in recent weeks to support the role of viruses in Alzheimer’s disease.
That first study, also published in Neuron and led by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found evidence that certain herpesviruses are more abundantly present in the brains of people who died with Alzheimer’s; it also suggested that genes belonging to these viruses directly interact with human genes that raise the risk of the disease.
From there, Tanzi’s work has shown, the plaques trigger the production of tangles-clumps of another brain protein called tau seen in the later stages of Alzheimer’s-which together then trigger chronic inflammation.
Genetics might help explain why only some people’s infections cause the brain to start producing amyloid-β en masse.

The orginal article.

Summary of “To Make Sense of the Present, Brains May Predict the Future”

Enter predictive coding theory, which offers specific formulations of how brains can be Bayesian.
These prediction errors, researchers say, help animals update their future expectations and drive decision-making.
If the brain were simply representing its perceptual experience, the strongest signal should have corresponded to “Ick” instead. But efforts are also ongoing to widen predictive coding’s relevance beyond perception and motion – to establish it as the common currency of everything going on in the brain.
Some researchers theorize that emotions and moods can be formulated in predictive coding terms: Emotions could be states the brain represents to minimize prediction error about internal signals such as body temperature, heart rate or blood pressure.
Not everyone agrees that the case for predictive coding in the brain is strengthening.
To David Heeger, a professor of psychology at New York University, it’s important to make a distinction between “Predictive coding,” which he says is about transmitting information efficiently, and “Predictive processing,” which he defines as prediction-making over time.
Last year, researchers at the University of Sussex even used virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies that included predictive coding features to create what they called the “Hallucination Machine,” a tool that was able to mimic the altered hallucinatory states typically caused by psychedelic drugs.
Machine learning advances could be used to provide new insights into what’s happening in the brain by comparing how well predictive coding models perform against other techniques.

The orginal article.

Summary of “At any point in life, people spend their time in 25 places”

At any given time, people regularly return to a maximum of 25 places.
“We first analysed the traces of about 1000 university students. The dataset showed that the students returned to a limited number of places, even though the places changed over time. I expected to see a difference in the behavior of students and a wide section of the population. But that was not the case. The result was the same when we scaled up the project to 40,000 people of different habits and gender from all over the world. It was not expected in advance. It came as a surprise,” says Dr. Alessandretti.
The study showed that people are constantly exploring new places.
The number of regularly visited places is constantly 25 in a given period.
If a new place is added to the list, one of the places disappears.
“People are constantly balancing their curiosity and laziness. We want to explore new places but also want to exploit old ones that we like. Think of a restaurant or a gym. In doing so we adopt and abandon places all the time. We found that this dynamic yields an unexpected result: We visit a constant, fixed number of places-and it’s not due to lack of time. We found evidence that this may be connected to other limits to our life, such as the number of active social interactions we can maintain in our life, but more research is in order to clarify this point,” says Dr. Baronchelli.
The work of Dr. Baronchelli and colleagues shows that those who have a tendency to visit many places are also likely to have many friends.
Explore further: Many people feel lonely in the city, but perhaps ‘third places’ can help with that.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why ‘Find your passion!’ may be bad advice”

The adage so commonly advised by graduation speakers might undermine how interests actually develop, according to Stanford researchers in an upcoming paper for Psychological Science.
In a series of laboratory studies, former postdoctoral fellow Paul O’Keefe, along with Stanford psychologists Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton, examined beliefs that may lead people to succeed or fail at developing their interests.
The research found that when people encounter inevitable challenges, that mindset makes it more likely people will surrender their newfound interest.
To test how these different belief systems influence the way people hone their interests, O’Keefe, Dweck and Walton conducted a series of five experiments involving 470 participants.
In the first set of experiments, the researchers recruited a group of students who identified either as “Techie” or a “Fuzzy” – Stanford vernacular to describe students interested in STEM topics versus the arts and humanities.
In another experiment, the researchers piqued students’ interest by showing them an engaging video about black holes and the origin of the universe.
The researchers found that the drop was greatest for students with a fixed mindset about interests.
“Difficulty may have signaled that it was not their interest after all,” the researchers wrote.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Is there any truth to anti-aging schemes?”

“We were promoting all kinds of ways to slow aging that nowadays are recognized but hadn’t made it into the mainstream yet,” Faloon says.
Barzilai is director of the Institute for Aging Research at New York’s Albert ­Einstein College of Medicine, the lead sponsor of the five-year TAME trial that will soon enroll 3,000 ­participants between ages 65 and 80.
The Cell paper highlighted other ways to disrupt the aging process.
Hariri is a co-founder of Human Longevity Inc., a ­Silicon Valley venture using supercomputers to search for genes related to human aging.
A team at the Mayo Clinic’s Kogod Center on Aging recently managed to destroy senescent cells in mice using a new class of medications called senolytic agents.
Most recently, Faloon underwent a series of infusions of NAD+ molecules, which David Sinclair, co-director of the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, has called “The closest we’ve gotten to a fountain of youth.” The molecules help regulate cellular aging but diminish over time.
“People look at aging as something that is very simple,” says Michael Fossel, a former professor of the biology of aging at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
Aging research can’t promise them-or Bill ­Faloon-​anything.

The orginal article.

Summary of “China Is Genetically Engineering Monkeys With Brain Disorders”

The breeding facility does not itself genetically engineer monkeys, but Feng realized that its huge number of monkeys made it an ideal proving ground for new genetic-engineering technologies.
How could things in the brain go so horribly awry? This basic question had animated his research into brain disorders for three decades, and he thought monkeys might finally unlock some of the answers.
The process of genetically engineering a macaque is not trivial, even with the advanced tools of CRISPR. Researchers begin by dosing female monkeys with the same hormones used in human in vitro fertilization.
In the past few years, China has seen a miniature explosion of genetic engineering in monkeys.
Such was their national importance that the two cloned monkeys were named Zhongzhong and Huahua after zhonghua, which translates to “Chinese nation” or “Chinese people.” Poo was giddy about the breakthrough: With cloning, he said, researchers could more quickly create a colony of identical genetically engineered monkeys instead of engineering one animal at a time.
The lives of monkeys in captivity suddenly seemed very sad. When I mentioned my reaction to both Feng and Desimone, separately, they gave me the same response: The monkeys in labs are well cared for, and what’s more, I shouldn’t idealize monkeys in the wild.
An ethics panel will take up some of the same questions Feng and other researchers are asking themselves: Which diseases are okay to engineer in monkeys? Should monkeys used in research projects be genetically altered to be more humanlike?
Poo, a key figure in the China Brain Project, told me, “There’s no ethical issues … I don’t think there’s any hesitation or problem using monkeys as disease models in preclinical trials.” As long as the monkeys are well cared for, he said it was no different from the current use of neurotoxins to induce Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys and enable the testing of new treatments.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Deep in the Pentagon, a secret AI program to find hidden nuclear missiles”

Washington is increasingly concerned about Pyongyang’s development of mobile missiles that can be hidden in tunnels, forests and caves.
The Pentagon research on using AI to identify potential missile threats and track mobile launchers is in its infancy and is just one part of that overall effort.
Budget documents reviewed by Reuters noted plans to expand the focus of the mobile missile launcher program to “The remainder of the 4+1 problem sets.” The Pentagon typically uses the 4+1 terminology to refer to China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups.
TURNING TURTLES INTO RIFLES. Both supporters and critics of using AI to hunt missiles agree that it carries major risks.
U.S. Air Force General John Hyten, the top commander of U.S. nuclear forces, said once AI-driven systems become fully operational, the Pentagon will need to think about creating safeguards to ensure humans – not machines – control the pace of nuclear decision-making, the “Escalation ladder” in Pentagon speak.
Experts at the Rand Corporation, a public policy research body, and elsewhere say there is a high probability that countries like China and Russia could try to trick an AI missile-hunting system, learning to hide their missiles from identification.
Dr. Steven Walker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a pioneer in AI that initially funded what became the Internet, said the Pentagon still needs humans to review AI systems’ conclusions.
Although some officials believe elements of the AI missile program could become viable in the early 2020s, others in the U.S. government and the U.S. Congress fear research efforts are too limited.

The orginal article.

Summary of “China increasingly challenges American dominance of science”

The Spanish geneticist struggled to renew his visa and was even detained for two hours of questioning at a New York City airport after he returned from a trip abroad. In 2012, he made the surprising decision to leave his Ivy League research position and move to China.
The United States spends half a trillion dollars a year on scientific research – more than any other nation on Earth – but China has pulled into second place, with the European Union third and Japan a distant fourth.
China is on track to surpass the United States by the end of this year, according to the National Science Board.
Recent restrictions on H-1B visas sent a message to Chinese graduate students that “It’s time to go home when you finish your degree.” Since 1979, China and the United States have maintained a bilateral agreement, the Cooperation in Science and Technology, to jointly study fields like biomedicine and high-energy physics.
“At this rate, China may soon eclipse the U.S.,” Sen. Bill Nelson warned at a January congressional hearing on the state of American science, “And we will lose the competitive advantage that has made us the most powerful economy in the world.”
“When the program came out in 2008, it was almost perfect timing because of the global economic crisis,” said Cong Cao, who studies Chinese science policy at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China.
According to National Science Foundation statistics, China has almost caught up to the United States in its annual number of doctoral degrees in science and engineering, with 34,000 vs. the United States’ 40,000.
While China recently surpassed the United States in sheer volume of scientific papers published, U.S. papers were cited by other researchers more often.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What’s the best way to avoid regrets?”

How should you spend your life if you don’t want to end up filled with regret? The standard modern answer to this ancient question, often based on research by the psychologist Thomas Gilovich, is that we regret inaction more than action: not things we do, but things we fail to do.
Their new series of studies, which I found via the Research Digest blog, hinges on a distinction between what they call the “Ideal self”, the person you’d be if you fulfilled all your goals and ambitions, and the “Ought self”, the person you’d be if you met your obligations to others, and lived a morally upright life.
That’s not merely because everyone’s incredibly selfish, the researchers argue; it’s that we’re more likely to take action to repair ought-self failures, perhaps because they seem more urgent or shameful.
Gilovich and Davidai are appropriately reticent about deriving life advice from their research, but I’m not: these findings are a powerful argument for figuring out what you truly want from life and giving it a shot, even at the risk of others’ negative judgments.
That’s why I like the trick, with its roots in the work of Carl Jung, of flipping the question and asking not what you want from life, but what life wants from you.
When faced with a big life choice, just asking the question that way can be enough to cut through the noise, to the quiet place where you already know what to do.
Read this: contrary to stereotype, philosophers these days tend to avoid pondering the meaning of life.
In his 2015 book A Significant Life, Todd May bucks the trend.

The orginal article.