Links – May 10, 2018

Occasionally, I’ll post an eclectic assortment of links (new and old) to worthwhile material that you may have missed (i.e. content not likely to be widely covered in popular news media).

º Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone
The most impressive version of task-oriented, naturalistic human speech I’ve heard (because the scope of the conversation is necessarily so narrow, it’s easier to assume that the AI is just a person speaking naturally). It’s already difficult to judge whether or not you’re talking to a real person in some instances. In the near future, it will be even harder. It will be interesting to see how such technology unfolds in the coming decades. The future of robocalls?

º Twitter: via Julia Galef

º Physicians Experience Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession
Results of a systematic review recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

º Getting some air, Atlas?
The humanoid robot Atlas (Boston Dynamics) can already hop on obstacles and do back-flips; now it can jog. Contrary to the tiresome dystopian snark that reliably accompanies the release of such videos, I think this is just plain awesome.

…Arguably more impressive is this video Boston Dynamics released the same day.

“SpotMini autonomously navigates a specified route through an office and lab facility. Before the test, the robot is manually driven through the space so it can build a map of the space using visual data from cameras mounted on the front, back and sides of the robot. During the autonomous run, SpotMini uses data from the cameras to localize itself in the map and to detect and avoid obstacles. Once the operator presses ‘GO’ at the beginning of the video, the robot is on its own. Total walk time for this route is just over 6 minutes. (The QR codes visible in the video are used to measure performance, not for navigation.)”

º Youtube: Sights and Sounds of New York City: 1928
Deeply fascinating scenes of life in New York City circa 1928 (with real sound, recorded using the Movietone sound system).

º How Medicare Subsidizes Doctor Training
Catherine Rampell writing for NYT in 2013.

º Dietary Salt–Not Just Hypertension–May Affect Brain
Paywalled here: “We report that, in mice, excess dietary salt suppresses resting cerebral blood flow and endothelial function, leading to cognitive impairment. …The findings reveal a new gut–brain axis linking dietary habits to cognitive impairment through a gut-initiated adaptive immune response compromising brain function via circulating interleukin-17 (IL-17).”

º Wikipedia: The Martians
“A group of prominent Hungarian scientists of Jewish descent (mostly, but not exclusively, physicists and mathematicians) who emigrated to the United States in the early half of the 20th century.”

º Seriously. What’s the Point of Marriage?
Happiness is fundamentally ephemeral; assuming that it can be a permanent state, and using it to anchor yourself to another human being, is not necessarily going to lead to true fulfillment. I’m a great fan of Eli Finkel, and his work is heavily cited in this refreshing take on marriage.

º Who are you gonna marry? That one big assumption marriage promotion gets totally wrong
“One critique of the marriage promotion movement is that it ignores the problem of available spouses, especially for Black women. …it’s increasingly the most well off who are getting and staying married, and those who aren’t marrying may not have the assets that lead to marriage benefits: skills, wealth, social networks…”

º Twitter: via @ Carl Schmertmann

Speaking of marriage and fertility; while the very wealthy and very poor have similar fertility rates, the wealthy are much more likely to be raising those children within the context of a marriage…

º Socioeconomic Patterns of Marriage and Divorce
A worthwhile primer on the growing class divide in marriage courtesy of Penn Wharton Budget Model. Marriage is increasingly becoming a “luxury good,” and “more intensely assortative — the inclination to marry a similar partner — especially with respect to those with college degrees and high education levels,” a trend undoubtedly facilitated by modern dating (via platforms such as OKCupid). Which provides a good segue to…

º Americans Are A Lonely Lot, And Young People Bear The Heaviest Burden
Contra Steven Pinker, there most definitely is a “loneliness epidemic” (Japan provides an instructive, though hopefully not prophetic, example). I will have much more to say about this in a future blog post. As a preview,

º Commentary: Should We View Obesity as Normal and Okay?
Perspective from bioethicist Arthur Caplan.

º Rhesus macaques form preferences for brand logos through sex and social status based advertising
“Like humans, monkeys value information about sex and status, inviting the hypothesis that our susceptibility to these factors in advertising arises from shared, ancestral biological mechanisms that prioritize social information. To test this idea, we asked whether rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) show choice behavior that is similar to humans in response to sex and social status in advertising. Our results show that monkeys form preferences for brand logos repeatedly paired with images of macaque genitals and high status monkeys. Moreover, monkeys sustain preferences for these brand logos even though choosing them provided no tangible rewards, a finding that cannot be explained by a decision mechanism operating solely on material outcomes. Together, our results endorse the hypothesis that the power of sex and status in advertising emerges from the spontaneous engagement of shared, ancestral neural circuits that prioritize information useful for navigating the social environment. Finally, our results show that simple associative conditioning is sufficient to explain the formation of preferences for brand logos paired with sexual or status-based images.”