Data Digest #7: Mind Readers And Extinct Actors

Data Digest #7: Mind Readers And Extinct Actors

June 27, 2023

The cogs of the data world are perpetually turning. Data never sleeps. Brace yourself for an exciting overview into some of the top data news stories that have been gracing our screens over the past month. 

BBC: Using brain data to watch workers

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant past, the concept of being able to read somebody’s mind was nothing more than the plot of some cheesy dystopian movie; An entertaining prospect insofar as it remained ludicrously unrealistic. However, believe it or not, it seems to be veering closer and closer towards the realm of possibility.

According to the first ever ICO report on “neurodata”, workplaces could be monitoring employees’ brains in the next four to five years for “safety, productivity and recruitment” purposes. Scary as it sounds, what would this actually look like in practice, you may ask? Well, it’s probably not as invasive as you think. It would most likely involve using helmets or safety equipment worn by employees in high-risk environments to measure their attention and focus levels while on the job, in order to ensure optimal safety.

This report comes in the wake of the news that Elon Musk’s “neuralink” has won permission for human trials of its human brain computer implant, which is already worth £4 billion.

The report also suggests that schools could end up using wearable devices to track the brain activity of students, measuring their stress and concentration levels in the process. While some may welcome this development, others among us (mainly the ones who spent their chemistry lesson daydreaming and drooling over the Bunsen Burner) are simply relieved that we finished school as long ago as we did.

BBC: Warning firms may use brain data to watch workers

Sky News: AI could render actors obsolete

No industry is immune to the power of AI, and the acting world is no exception. Computer technology is already playing a significant role in Hollywood blockbusters: The Fast and Furious franchise spent an extra $50 million on CGI so that Paul Walker’s character could be included in their latest release, while Joe Russo, director of many a Marvel movie including Avengers: Infinity War, has stated that AI is democratising filmmaking, saying that it’s now possible to “have a rom-com starring you that’s 90 minutes long”.

Unsurprisingly, many professional actors aren’t exactly welcoming this development with open arms. Among sceptics is Laurence Bouvard, a smaller-scale voice actor who laments the fact that many actors end up in contracts that restrict the authority they have over their own work; Once their performances are out there, where they end up is out of their hands.

Bouvard explained to Sky News that certain technology companies have the power to use the work of actors without any repercussions. Her acting colleagues will frequently submit audio for auditions and later discover that very same audio being sampled in a different context. The legal framework surrounding acting performances and AI tech is not built to handle this issue; There’s a grey area that tech companies are exploiting to use the work of jobbing actors without their permission. AI is developing at a rapid rate and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon, so it’s inevitable that technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in the acting world, for better or for worse.

Sky News: AI could make actors in TV shows and blockbusters unnecessary, experts fear

BBC: AI helping to spot breast cancer

It’s no news to any of us that the NHS is weighed down by immense pressure at the moment. Now more than ever, exceedingly long waiting lists and staff shortages are crippling the NHS and holding health workers back from providing the immediate attention that many patients need. Particularly when it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment, many patients are experiencing delays in receiving vital care.

In Scotland, one such dilemma is that more and more women are attending routine breast screenings, but the number of radiologists who can examine the results of those mammograms is dwindling. It goes without saying that this massively slows down the process of providing many patients with a diagnosis, and when it comes to disease discovery, time really is of the essence.

Well, it turns out that AI might just have the potential to come to the rescue. A trial is currently taking place at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to establish whether or not AI can work alongside radiologists to examine the results of mammograms and streamline the diagnostic process.

Now, it’s important to note that the company behind the AI model being used in the trial – Kheiron Medical Technologies – has firmly underlined that it would by no means be seeking to replace radiologists, but rather assist practitioners in examining results. This AI model would be used not as a substitute for human review, but rather as a final check at the end of the reviewing process for a faster outcome.

If successful, this trial could transform the breast screening process in more than 30 NHS trusts across the UK. It would be a godsend for overworked doctors, and improve the outlook for millions of breast cancer patients across the country.

BBC: Aberdeen AI trial helps doctors spot breast cancer

New York Times: Wellness chatbot shut down after problematic weight loss advice

For anyone struggling with an eating disorder, speaking to a specialist psychologist should be a first port of call. But as of late, artificial intelligence has started to play a limited role for a number of people struggling with eating disorders. One such tool is Tessa, a chatbot funded by the National Eating Disorders Association in the US which was designed to help people discover coping skills. The information used to build the chatbot had been provided by eating disorder experts to ensure that people were receiving the right kind of guidance.

However, a major issue surfaced when Alexis Conason, herself an eating disorder specialist psychologist, decided to put the chatbot to the test. She discovered that, when prompted, the tool ended up providing some extremely problematic advice.

Dr Conason shared her findings on social media. She had told Tessa that she had an eating disorder, had gained weight and hated her body, and the chatbot’s response was deeply worrying. The chatbot advised tracking calories in order to stay in a deficit, and as anyone with experience of an eating disorder knows, mentioning calories and weight loss can be a trigger for many people. Upon hearing about this incident, the AI-generated helpline was shutdown with immediate effect and is now under investigation.

The National Eating Disorders Association has specified that Tessa was never meant to function as a substitute for psychological help from a trained professional, but rather as a support for those at risk of developing an eating disorder. It comes at a time where there is an increased demand for mental health services relating to eating disorders, and too few providers to meet it.

NY Times: A wellness chatbot is offline after its ‘harmful’ focus on weight loss


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