Self-Driving Cars And Racist Technology

Like many I’m waiting for self-driving cars, but I’m also increasingly concerned about how safe they will be. Now there’s another issue. The technology working on those safety issues looks to be programmed to be racist. It identifies white faces but the darker someone is the harder it is for the machine to identify it as a person, in the case of self-driving cars, pedestrians. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that machines consistently failed at recognizing darker skin tones. It’s actually not only self-driving cars, AI in Google image recognition system couldn’t recognize black people, and couldn’t tell the difference between them and an a dark ape. The researchers called such finding alarming, as I hope you will too. There are apparently radars which can better differentiate skin tones, but these are very expensive and to include them in cars would make them very expensive.

It seems to me that since the machines were once programmed by humans and that since the algorithm they function on were devised by humans that the time has come to change the algorithm. That should be the responsibility of the researchers who erred in the first place by revealing their own view of race. So my message to the companies developing AI for self-driving cars is, correct the AI race biases the original engineers programmed in before you even think of cost.

Biosolids Into Bricks

Biosolids are the disinfected remains from the water treatment process once we’ve flushed. It’s a good fertilizer but now it can be made into bricks, the bricks used in construction. Civil engineers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia developed the process. They look the same as fired bricks and when processed locally can save land, energy and reduce carbon emissions, thus becoming a green alternative.  Daily, for example, New York City has 1200 tons or 50 truckloads of what would become biosolids. As it is, what’s not used as fertilizer goes into the sea or landfills. Since population is growing and human waste grows with it, there is pressure to find alternatives. Although biosolids bricks meet industry requirements, they may not be as durable. A proposed usage would be for biosolids to be mixed with soil in some proportion. And given that we make a trillion bricks a year incorporating some biosolids into them would not be a small contribution to the environment.  As they decompose biosolids emit carbon dioxide, so the advantages of turning them into a green alternative become clearer and more compelling.

I may have a soft spot for viable green alternatives, but what impresses me about this one is that somewhere people had to overcome our usual reaction to human waste. They saw beyond!

Threats to Global Health

WHO, the World Health Organization, has issued its annual report of health threats around the world and you’d think it would be dull reading—I suppose it would for those who don’t care what happens in the world. I found it instructive, scary, helpful, and informing about what our priorities ought to be. It is also a reminder that no country is an island. What happens far away affects us eventually. Here is the list. Please note the first threat, due to air pollution and climate change, and note too the threat coming from what they term here vaccine hesitancy. While it is true that some have the right to not be vaccinated, we must now ask when does that right contribute to a public health threat?

  • Air Pollution and Climate Change (yes!!!)
  • Non Communicable Diseases (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, diet)
  • Global Influenza Pandemic (will come but don’t know when and how strong)
  • Fragile and Vulnerable Settings (drought, displacements)
  • Anti-Microbial Resistance (including diseases like TB)
  • Ebola and Other High Threat Pathogens (we already know what happens)
  • Weak Primary Health Care (lack, access and cost)
  • Vaccine Hesitancy (something that is growing in the US)
  • Dengue (390 million infections a year)
  • HIV (still affecting many millions)

Resolutions Beyond Ourselves

Every January we make resolutions. It’s a ritual usually focused on ourselves, our health, how to better our lives. And usually those very resolutions require more effort than we may be willing to exert and so we let them slowly or not so slowly fade into the realm of what could have been. I wonder if we would be more willing to sustain the needed effort if the cause was something we believed in, a cause outside ourselves, something where we could contribute and where the very fact of our contribution would make the needed difference.  Here are examples. Please add yours and let us all work toward a cause–or causes to make this world a bit better.

Continue reading “Resolutions Beyond Ourselves”