More than half of Aussie men report experiencing sexual difficulties

Many men were concerned about climaxing too quickly or lacking interest in sex.Krista MangulsoneOne in two Australian men aged 18 to 55 have experienced sexual difficulty in the past 12 months, accord...

Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University - avatar Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

Sanders, Harris, Biden... can anyone beat Donald Trump to become the next US president?

No sooner had the US midterm elections for Congress concluded than jockeying began for the presidential elections in 2020. Barring either impeachment, which seems unlikely, or a health crisis, Donald ...

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University - avatar Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

As many Muslims return to mosques today, they will need ongoing support

A worshipper lights candles at a makeshift memorial at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch.AAP/Mick Tsikas, CC BY-SAToday, many Muslims in New Zealand will be returning for Friday prayers. Some might f...

Fatima Junaid, Lecturer, Massey University - avatar Fatima Junaid, Lecturer, Massey University

'It's real to them, so adults should listen': what children want you to know to help them feel safe

Children and young people told us they were often overwhelmed by the risks that surrounded them.from shutterstock.comIn recent months, we have been confronted by events that make the world seem unsafe...

Tim Moore, Associate Professor and  Deputy Director, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia - avatar Tim Moore, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia

A brief history of science writing shows the rise of the female voice

Women played a role as both readers and authors in the history of science writing.Shutterstock/Africa StudioThree centuries ago, when modern science was in its infancy, the gender disparity in educati...

Robyn Arianrhod, Adjunct Associate , School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University - avatar Robyn Arianrhod, Adjunct Associate , School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University

Cannibalism helps fire ants invade new territory

Fire ant stings can be deadly to people who have an allergic reaction to their venom.Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr, CC BY-SATropical fire ants (Solenopsis geminata), originally from central and South Am...

Pauline Lenancker, PhD student in biology and ecology, James Cook University - avatar Pauline Lenancker, PhD student in biology and ecology, James Cook University

We've let wage exploitation become the default experience of migrant workers

Australia’s Fairwork Commission has so far this year examined more than a dozen cases of wage theft. Those cases involve hundred of workers and millions of dollars in underpayments.And it’...

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne - avatar Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

Jobs but not enough work. How power keeps workers anxious and wages low

The unemployment rate is 4.9%, but the underemployment rate is 8.1%ShutterstockThis is the third in a three-part mini-symposium on Wages, Unemployment and Underemployment presented by The Conversation...

Barbara Pocock, Emeritus Professor University of South Australia, University of South Australia - avatar Barbara Pocock, Emeritus Professor University of South Australia, University of South Australia

What Parkland's experience tells us about the limits of a 'security' response to Christchurch

In the days before the mass shootings in Christchurch I was visiting Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018. I was recording a story about ho...

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney - avatar Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

Friday essay: images of mourning and the power of acknowledging grief

These images of Cherine Fahd's grandfather's funeral were tucked away in a brown paper envelope for decades. As a society, we too often keep grief hidden from view. Author providedBefore her death in...

Cherine Fahd, Director Photography, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Cherine Fahd, Director Photography, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney

Local Māori urge government to address long-running dispute over rare cultural heritage landscape

Supporters of the campaign to stop commercial development at Ihumaatao.Qiane Matata-Sipu , CC BY-SAAn escalating crisis at Ihumaatao, near Auckland’s airport, is challenging the commercial devel...

Tim McCreanor, Professor Race Relations, Health and Wellbeing, Massey University - avatar Tim McCreanor, Professor Race Relations, Health and Wellbeing, Massey University

Grattan on Friday: Shorten's not getting ahead of himself, but the tape measure is out

With the election likely to be called in about a fortnight – the weekend after the April 2 budget - behind the scenes Labor is “measuring the curtains” of government.Any sign of hubr...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on certain military-style weapons.AAP/David AlexanderAs she foreshadowed in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre last Friday, New Ze...

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia - avatar Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

NSW election: where do the parties stand on brumby culling?

Feral horses have severely damaged the landscape in Kosciuszko National Park.Travelstine, CC BY-SAThe future management of New South Wales’s national parks is one of the issues on the line in Sa...

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University - avatar Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University

Confused about aged care in the home? These 10 charts explain how it works

Home care providers' profits are growing but many older Australians are missing out on quality care.The Conversation / ShutterstockThis week, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety hea...

Fron Jackson-Webb, Deputy Editor/Senior Health + Medicine Editor - avatar Fron Jackson-Webb, Deputy Editor/Senior Health + Medicine Editor

Jobs but not enough work. How power keeps workers anxious and wages low

The unemployment rate is 4.9%, but the underemployment rate is 8.1%ShutterstockThis is the third in a three-part mini-symposium on Wages, Unemployment and Underemployment presented by The Conversation...

The Conversation - avatar The Conversation

We've let wage exploitation become the default experience of migrant workers

Australia’s Fairwork Commission has so far this year examined more than a dozen cases of wage theft. Those cases involve hundred of workers and millions of dollars in underpayments.And it’...

The Conversation - avatar The Conversation

A new procedure may preserve fertility in kids with cancer after chemo or radiation

A 12-week-old baby female macaque, named Grady, was born from frozen testicular tissue. Oregon Health and Science University, CC BY-SACancer in children was often a death sentence in decades past, but...

Kyle Orwig, Professor of OB/GYN and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh - avatar Kyle Orwig, Professor of OB/GYN and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh

March Madness: With gambling legal in eight states, who really wins?

The odds of more legal betting are good. AP Photo/John LocherMarch means springtime, but also breathless headlines of Cinderellas, busted brackets and buzzer beaters. This year, it’ll also inclu...

John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society, Pennsylvania State University - avatar John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society, Pennsylvania State University

Will more genetically engineered foods be approved under the FDA's new leadership?

Will food laws change as more GM foods are created?Zerbor/Shutterstock.comThe world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug...

Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University - avatar Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University

We need more teachers of color, so why do we use tests that keep them out of the classroom?

Teacher license exams often fail to predict which teachers will be the best, research shows.michaeljung from shutterstock.comStudents of color seldom see teachers who look like them. This is because m...

Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor, Michigan State University - avatar Emery Petchauer, Associate Professor, Michigan State University

Niger has the world's highest birth rate – and that may be a recipe for unrest

While fertility levels have declined rapidly in most parts of the world, many countries in the sub-Saharan African region of the Sahel have seen their reproductive rates go down very slowly, and only ...

John F. May, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University - avatar John F. May, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University

Nuns were secluded to avoid scandals in early Christian monastic communities

Margareta, head of the women's community at Lippoldsberg (in modern-day Germany) clasps hands with an Augustinian monk as he hands her a book.Lippoldsberg Evangeliary. Kassel, Landesbibliothek, MS the...

Alison I. Beach, Associate Professor of History, The Ohio State University - avatar Alison I. Beach, Associate Professor of History, The Ohio State University

The idea seems wonderful - a phone app that allows you to take a photo of a plant or animal and receive immediate species identification and other information about it. A “Shazam for nature” so to speak.

We are building huge repositories of data related to our natural environments, making this idea a reality.

But there are ethical concerns that should be addressed: about how data is collected and shared, who has the right to share it and how we use public data for machine learning.

And there’s a bigger concern – whether such apps change what it means to be human.

Read more Can machines really tell us if we’re sick?

Encounters with dandelions

Oliver Sacks, the brilliant neurologist and author, once arranged to take a group of his patients on a field trip to the New York Botanic Garden. One of his patients, a severely autistic young man named Steve, hadn’t stepped outside the facility for years. He never spoke; indeed, the doctors believed him incapable of speech.

In the gardens with Sacks, however, the invigorated Steve plucked a flower, and to the surprise of everyone, uttered the word “dandelion.”

Over the last decade, this affinity so many of us feel for nature – what the famed biologist Edward Wilson termed “biophilia” – has resulted in an explosion of big data. In the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF, an online database run out of Copenhagen) there are 682,447 records of human encounters with dandelions. Overall, the database holds more than 850 million observations of over a million different species of flora and fauna.

image The whale shark is the world’s largest fish species. from www.shutterstock.com

It’s an impressive achievement, a gestating, global catalogue of life. It allows us to see the world in new ways. For example just this year, thanks to the more than 42,000 recorded sightings from more than 5,000 participants using WhaleShark.org, we’ve gained unprecedented insight into the behaviour of the world’s largest fish species. Or on an bigger scale, the millions of bird observations generated through an app called eBird have allowed us to visualise the precise migratory routes of over a hundred different bird species.

At the same time, in an outcome largely unforeseen by its early collectors, info-engineers are using the data to train artificial intelligence (AI), particularly computer vision apps to help us interpret the plants and animals we see around us. And these tools are raising some interesting, sometimes troubling questions.

Joseph Banks in your pocket

In one sense, of course, such tools are magical. The fictional tricorder of Star Trek is a magnificent device, scanning alien life forms, making them familiar. If we had a version on Earth, it’d be the equivalent of a pocket-sized Joseph Banks, a trusty sidekick of discovery, filling us with a sense of confidence and control.

In China the latest version of the Baidu browser (a so-called Chinese Google) comes with a plant recognition feature built into it. Point your camera at a dandelion and you’ll see the Chinese name for it - 蒲公英. Such apps are triggering a new wave of botanical interest among the general population in China.

But there are also questions about these AI tools interfering with our ability - perhaps a human need - to easily transfer our unique nature expertise to, or gain expertise from, other people. Is the amount of resources going into developing AI matched by what we invest in developing ecological literacy within the billions of supercomputers in peoples’ skulls?

Read more: How do you know that what you know is true? That’s epistemology

There are questions about data bias. A disproportionate number of data collectors - often called “citizen scientists” - are first world hobbyists, birdwatchers, camera geeks. Typically then, the data comes from a relatively non-diverse sector of society.

There are questions about ownership, data appropriation, human agency. Who’s going to own and control the AI? Will the people whose expertise has trained the AI be fairly acknowledged, respected, rewarded?

image What plant is that? from www.shutterstock.com

Or is all that data, as the US economist Philip Mirowski recently argued, nothing more than “the donation of unpaid work to privately owned entities” - entities who will digest and then regurgitate the information into yet another online product we can’t live without? If you search the terms of popular citizen science apps, you’re unlikely to find any mention of how your data might be used to train AI systems.

Empire building

There’s a sense of déjà vu here. The botanical classification conducted by such scientific luminaries as Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks – the book Systema Naturae was a sort of GBIF of its day – is often associated with the big data activity of empire building. As explained by the essayist Anne Fadiman in Collecting Nature, botanists would travel to remote parts of the world, find a species which had been known by a local name for centuries:

[…] rechristen it with a Latin binomial, and presto! It became a tiny British colony.

Subsequent generations, meanwhile, would grow up in a world where the only meaningful descriptions of nature existed in empire-approved systems of classified truth: museums, libraries, the biology labs of universities.

Read more: From Joseph Banks to big data, herbaria bring centuries-old science into the digital age

“The real danger [of AI],” writes the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, “is that we will overestimate the comprehension of our latest thinking tools, prematurely ceding authority to them far beyond their competence”.

Perhaps we’ll cede control; perhaps we’ll have it wrested away. For the developer of nature identification apps, what incentive exists to disabuse us of the Star Trek Tricorder illusion?

The Colorado-based PlantSnap, for example, claims to be training its AI on “50,000 new species per month, and will have every species on Earth covered by the end of 2017”. You could argue this is not just misleading, it’s impossible. A significant portion of plants are yet to be discovered, and far more have yet to be photographed in the wild.

What is human perception?

According to a developer of the Merlin BirdID app, a computer vision tool trained on eBird’s collection of more than 70 million bird photos,

the state-of-the-art in computer vision is rapidly approaching that of human perception.

But what is human perception? It’s easy to forget that each record in all that training data represents - like Sack’s autistic patient in New York - a special act of observation, a sudden spark of curiosity, a unique moment of seeing that belongs to the individual.

Read more: Three visual illusions that reveal the hidden workings of the brain

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to developing AI, there’s an urgent need for more thinking, more consideration, a broader diversity of viewpoints. In developing AI tools, can we program them to value the creative act of human perception - the authentic, the spontaneous, the unpredictable?

Or maybe as Amy Webb, a tech futurist at New York University, has recently proposed, we should establish data sanctuaries. Here, like in nature reserves, our data could roam wild and free, forever untouched by AI, governments, corporate interests. Perhaps a similar space - or a duration of time between data input and response - is needed to protect our unique relationship with the natural world.

image The scent of violet ‘makes you want everything’ but ‘makes you sick of things a minute later.’ from www.shutterstock.com

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the lovelorn bachelor Orsino, makes an interesting observation of violets. Their scent, he declares, is like romantic love, it

makes you want everything, but it makes you sick of things a minute later, no matter how good they are.

It’s an astonishing insight, and four centuries later, this insight was scientifically confirmed: the beta-ionone in violets, researchers discovered, produces an anosmic affect in the human olfactory system, allowing you to perceive the scent one moment, only for it to vanish (like romantic love) the next.

This exploration of the natural world - this observing, comparing, playing, discovering, loving - is an impulse that’s core to our humanity, and one, I’d suggest, we should be careful not to lose.

Read more http://theconversation.com/ai-is-learning-from-our-encounters-with-nature-and-thats-a-concern-88484