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San Francisco Is Using AI to Try to Make Courts Less Racist

Color Blind

We already knew an artificial intelligence could reflect the racial bias of its creator.

But San Francisco thinks the tech could potentially do the opposite as well, by identifying and counteracting racial prejudice — and it plans to put the theory to the test in a way that could change the legal system forever.

Redacting Race

On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced that city prosecutors will begin using an AI-powered “bias-mitigation tool” created by Stanford University researchers on July 1.

The tool analyzes police reports and automatically redacts any information that may allude to an individual’s race. This could include their last name, eye color, hair color, or location.

It also removes any information that might identify the law enforcement involved in the case, such as their badge number, a DA spokesperson told The Verge.

Take Two

Prosecutors will look at these redacted reports, record their decision on whether to charge a suspect, and then see the unredacted report before making their final charging decision.

According to Gascon, tracking changes between the first and final decisions could help the DA suss out any racial bias in the charging process.

“This technology will reduce the threat that implicit bias poses to the purity of decisions which have serious ramifications for the accused,” Gascon said in a statement, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “That will help make our system of justice more fair and just.”

READ MORE: San Francisco says it will use AI to reduce bias when charging people with crimes [The Verge]

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Science & Technology

Relativistic Speeds Could be Reached With ‘Helical engine’

NASA engineer David Burns has developed a concept for a new drive capable of reaching distant solar systems.

Traversing the vast distances between stars is undoubtedly a major problem – even reaching our nearest neighbor with today’s technology would take thousands of years.

But what if it was possible to travel such distances in a fraction of the time ?

Enter David Burns – a NASA engineer with a concept for a new type of propulsion system that can theoretically reach 99% of the speed of light without needing any sort of propellant.

Known as the ‘helical engine’, this exotic drive works by exploiting the change in mass that occurs at relativistic speeds as described in Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

The idea has drawn comparisons to aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer’s controversial EmDrive.

“The engine accelerates ions confined in a loop to moderate relativistic speeds, and then varies their velocity to make slight changes to their mass,” Burns writes. “The engine then moves ions back and forth along the direction of travel to produce thrust.”

“The engine has no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields.”

While the drive only exists on paper at the moment, the idea behind it is certainly interesting.

Whether it will actually work in practice however remains to be seen.

Source: Science Alert

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Brain Size May Increase with Exercise, According to Study

Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new Australian-led study has found.

In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent.

The researchers systematically reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions.

The participants included a mix of healthy adults, people with mild cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness including depression and schizophrenia. Ages ranged from 24 to 76 years with an average age of 66.

The researchers examined effects of aerobic exercise, including stationary cycling, walking, and treadmill running. The length of the interventions ranged from three to 24 months with a range of 2-5 sessions per week.

Overall, the results – published in the journal NeuroImage – showed that, while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it did significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

Lead author, NICM postdoctoral research fellow, Joseph Firth said the study provides some of the most definitive evidence to date on the benefits of exercise for brain health.

“When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain,” Mr. Firth said.

“Our data showed that, rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main ‘brain benefits’ are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size. In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”

Mr. Firth said along with improving regular ‘healthy’ aging, the results have implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia – however further research is needed to establish this.

Interestingly, physical exercise is one of the very few ‘proven’ methods for maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.

The paper, “Effects of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: a systematic review and meta-analysis” is available online here.

NICM

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Watch the First Video of a Virus Growing in Real-Time

For the first time, researchers have captured the formation of individual viruses on camera in real-time — and the footage could yield new insights into how best to fight the bugs.

In a paper published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences details how it obtained the footage using a highly specialized microscope and a technique called “interferometric scattering microscopy.”

“Our technique gives the first window into how viruses assemble,” researcher Vinothan Manoharan said in a press release, “and reveals the kinetics and pathways in quantitative detail.”

The team focused its study on the RNA virus, the most common type of virus on Earth and the kind responsible for the common cold, polio, and a host of other diseases.

The dark spots in the video are, in fact, soccer-ball type structures of hexagonal and pentagonal rings of proteins that encase the RNA virus. The resulting shell around the virus is called a “capsid.”

According to Manoharan, the pattern in which these spots appear as the virus assembles is already uncovering clues as to how to fight some types of viruses.

“If nuclei form too quickly, complete capsids can’t grow,” he said in the press release. “That observation might give us some insights into how to derail the assembly of pathogenic viruses.”

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