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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

Close to Home: Algorithms Work to Uncover When Children are in Domestic Danger

Posted April 23, 2018 11:37 AM by IronWoman

In this digital age of humans and computers working side by side, it’s refreshing to hear of an application that is making moral advancements for the benefit of humanity. In Dan Hurley’s NY Times article Can an Algorithm Tell When Kids are in Danger?, readers are given a first-hand look into real-life scenarios faced by the social services department in Allegheny County, Penn. Hurley goes on to explain, discussed below, the incorporation of an algorithm earlier this year that helps to detect the likelihood of child abuse cases. Moreover, we’ll discuss how this change in the system has affected Pennsylvania’s success in scoping out problem homes and saving lives.

Written January 2nd, 2018, Hurley’s article delves deep into the heartbreaking challenges faced by Allegheny County’s social services department and families throughout the town. According to Hurley, “Nationally, 42% of 4 million allegations (2015) with 7.2 million children were screened out…because of judgment calls, opinions, biases and beliefs.” The piece goes on to explain “and yet more U.S. children died in 2015 as a result of abuse and neglect…than died of cancer.” Since discovering that over half of around 14,000 child abuse allegations per year in the county are deemed unsubstantial, Allegheny has incorporated a predictive-analytics algorithm to offer a second opinion on each case and call that comes in.

The way it works is this: the screening tool, once prompted by a representative, displays a vertical color bar from GREEN 1B (low) to RED 20T (high). The color bar revealed is then compared with 4 years of similar stored data from jails, psychiatric services, public-welfare benefits, drug and alcohol treatment centers and more. The algorithm also takes into account each family’s drug and abuse history as well as their mental and developmental health. From there, the hotline operator can more accurately determine whether the children involved are in severe and urgent danger.

This AI process came about in 2012, when social scientists Emily Putnam-Hornstein (University of Southern California) and Rhema Vaithianathan (professor at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology) began working with algorithms. In 2015, they turned their focus to the call-screening process. Regarding predictive analytics, both researchers wanted to discover how they could improve upon handling maltreatment allegations, specifically in Allegheny County.

In the time that followed, Hornstein and Vaithianathan linked several dozen data points from past family services cases to predict how children would fare afterward. They believed this was a good idea because a computer with analytics can comprehend extensive data, unlike a screener’s human brain. What Hornstein and Vaithianathan found in their search was astonishing: 48% of the lowest-risk families were screened into the system while only 27% of the households deemed high-risk were screened out. Hurley goes on to say that “of 18 calls to C.Y.F. (Office of Children, Youth, & Families) between 2010 and 2014 in which a child was later killed or gravely injured as a result of paternal maltreatment, 8 cases (44%) had been screened out as not worth investigation.”

After the results came in, both researchers set out on a mission to bring predictive analytics permanently into Allegheny County. The Allegheny Family Screening Tool, unlike those before it, is owned strictly by the county. It has public workings with criteria described in academic publications and, upon its arrival, has since been picked apart by local officials. As determined after an independent ethics review of the predictive-analytics program, however, “by adding objective risk measures into the screening process, the screening tool is seen by many officials in Allegheny County as a way to limit the effects of bias,” again looking more uniformly and evenly at all of the variables regarding abuse cases.

A few months later, come December, Marc Cherna – director of Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services – and his team found that families were being treated more consistently based on risk scores. The percentage of low-risk cases being recommended for investigation had lowered from half to one-third while high-risk calls were now screened in more often by a few percentage points. With this positive news, “having demonstrated in its first year of operation that more high-risk cases are now being flagged for investigation, Allegheny’s Family Screening Tool is drawing interest from child-protection agencies around the country.” In fact, Professor Brett Drake from Brown School of Social Work at Washington University claims Hornstein and Vaithianathan’s tool is one of the most exciting child protection innovations in the last twenty years.

In the last year that it has been established and utilized, deputy director of human services and leader of data analysis department Erin Dalton and Marc Cherna have raised Allegheny Family Screening Tool’s accuracy from 78% to over 90%. Dalton admits that the biggest challenge has been getting the employees on board: “getting them to trust that a score on a computer screen is telling them something real is in process.”

What do you as the reader think of this technology?

References

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/magazine/can-an-algorithm-tell-when-kids-are-in-danger.html

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/can-big-data-save-these-children (picture)

https://www.aisp.upenn.edu/network-site/allegheny-county-pa/ (picture)

1 comments; last comment on 04/23/2018
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Using AI, Sensors to "Read" Minds

Posted April 21, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: artificial intelligence sensors

Have a person in your life that you just can’t seem to read? Audio tech company Dolby Laboratories may have a solution in the form of new technology that can be used to “uncover” that person’s thoughts and feelings.

Using a combination of artificial intelligence and sensors, Dolby has developed new technology that can determine a person’s thoughts and feelings based on the micro-movements of that person’s face.

Tracking such subtle changes as eye dilation and increased temp can be cues to suggest whether a person is lying or feeling violent. In some cases, these micro-movements can also reveal when one person has a crush on another person.

"We broadcast our emotions. We will know more about each other than we ever have," said Dolby Laboratories chief scientist, Poppy Crum.

A combination of these micro-movements and the chemicals released in a person’s breathing can reveal, according to researchers, these “hidden” feelings. The sensors combined with AI work together to read those cues and analyzes patterns in the context of feelings.

While such technology might present a number of privacy issues, the idea of reading a person’s mind is somewhat appealing, unless of course your particular brand on nonsense might inspire violent, potentially homicidal rage in others.

Best let that feeling remain a secret.

Would you like to be privy to what goes on in the minds of friends and family?

7 comments; last comment on 04/22/2018
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Authors Offer Advice for Treating Potentially Life-Threatening Snake Bites

Posted April 14, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Outdoors Snake Bite wildlife

When you consider how cold this spring has been so far here in the northeast, it’s difficult to imagine that we will one day be spending time outside again (well, not me. I’ll be at Target).

After such a long period spent indoors, we might have forgotten some rules critical to exploring the outdoors. Certain things should be obvious such as picking up after yourself and maybe avoid feeding anything bigger than a rabbit.

But what do you do if you experience the wrath of nature in the form of an aggressive snake? Once struck, would you know what to do?

If you are like me, you might scream and scream until someone better equipped to handle such an emergency hears your cries for help. In some circles, this would be considered wrong.

In fact, one such circle offers detailed advice for treating a snake bite that doesn’t include any of the aforementioned steps.

Instead, the authors offer advice for treating bites received from specific snakes that goes beyond rushing to the hospital and receiving an antidote (which, let’s face it, should be an obvious first choice).

“We describe a treatment method for each type of snake that is classified as dangerous to people. So doctors can look up and see what they can do in the cases that they encounter. In this way, the book should improve treatment options," says co-author and biologist Arne Redsted Rasmussen from the School of Conservation, Denmark.

When a hospital is nowhere to be found and you haven’t any antidote or you are hoarse from your cries for help, the authors offer the following advice for treating a potentially poisonous snake bite:

The ‘pressure immobilization method’ calls for two bandages and a stick. First, the victim should wrap one bandage around the bite (treating it like a sprain) as this will restrict blood flow.

“This significantly restricts blood flow so that the venom does not reach the heart or lung muscles so quickly," says Rasmussen.

Second, take the stick and push it up through the bandage, securing it to the arm using the second bandage, thereby immobilizing your arm.

“This stops you using the muscles, and thus reduces the flow of blood, which would send the venom into your system, such as the kidneys and the muscles you use to breathe," he says.

“You often see that people do not exhibit symptoms of poisoning when they have strapped up the injury in this way, and when they come into the hospital and take it off, the symptoms begin to appear. It's a very effective way to delay the process," he says, and adds that many cases do not require such extreme treatment.

A common misconception about venomous snake bites is that they are instantly fatal. However, the author’s note that venom from a snake bite can take between 20 minutes and 72 hours to kick in; certainly more than enough time to attempt the author’s salve and even more time for a quick stop off at Target, which, let’s face it, is where you probably should have gone in the first place.

12 comments; last comment on 04/17/2018
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Calming the Nervous Flyer with Color

Posted April 07, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD

If you have ever flown with a nervous flyer, you are probably aware of the tell-tale signs that said flyer is about to get…well…nervous.

Sometimes it begins with a steady stream of pre-flight drinks. Or maybe it is a prescription. Many things exist to take the edge off of something that can be quite traumatic.

According to a recent report, however, soothing a nervous flyer isn’t merely a matter of self-medicating. Airlines have been helping to keep nervous flyers calm using some not-so-obvious strategies. The most unorthodox of which has to do with the color scheme of the airplane’s interior.

Have you ever noticed — regardless of what airline you fly and its brand colors — that the color blue dominates the interior of most airplanes, whether it is the color of the seats or the hints of blue in everything from the flight attendants’ uniforms to the magazine covers on display?

This is not just a happy accident, but a deliberate decision on the part of most airliners hoping to keep nervous flyers calmer. Subscribing to the school of thought that color can influence our emotions, blue in particular is often selected for its calming effect.

Consequently, popular airliner Boeing insists that blue is the most popular color on the majority of planes because it helps fight the fear of flying. And while the color likely hasn’t had such an obvious impact on flyers considering that we have all witnessed a nervous flyer or two before on at least one of our flights, psychologists suggest that without the color, the mood of the airplane would be entirely different.

Which makes me wonder about the nervous flyer in my life. I can’t imagine anything short of a tranquilizer gun and possibly a mallet that would calm this particular person once inside an airplane, never mind blue decor.

5 comments; last comment on 04/11/2018
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"Mad" Mike Hughes

Posted March 31, 2018 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: Flat Earth rocket

With a name like “Mad” Mike Hughes, one might expect that the person to which the name refers is likely…unorthodox. While I pictured some middle-aged gentleman who likely made friends and family “lol” with his peculiar brand of hijinks, I hadn’t necessarily pictured a man so determined to disprove science that he would be willing to risk life and limb.

And yet that is what this particular “mad” man recently set out to do. Flat-earther Hughes, bent on proving that the earth is a flat, Frisbee-shape, built a rocket to launch him into space so that he could take pictures to back up his theory.

Using the homemade rocket, Hughes was propelled nearly 1,900 feet into the sky before landing in the Mojave Desert. In all, the flight lasted somewhere between three and four minutes, landing Hughes roughly half a mile from where the rocket took off.

When asked about his failed attempts, Hughes responded: "Am I glad I did it? Yeah, I guess. I'll feel it in the morning. I won't be able to get out of bed. At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight."

The 61-year-old limo driver has been building rockets for years and has spent the last two in service of this particular rocket.

Undaunted by the failure, Hughes announced to his Facebook followers (yes, he has them) that he intends to build a Rockoon (a rocket carried by a balloon) in yet another bid to capture images of his flat earth.

An expensive lesson (costing Hughes $20,000) to discount all things scientific, experts (and just about everyone else) are concerned for Hughes’ safety.

"I hope he doesn't blow something up," retired NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger said in an interview.

As Hughes licks his wounds, argues with “round earthers” and gets in some quality time with his cats, he admits that despite all of his attempts he still isn’t 100 percent sure.

"Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is," he said. "Do I know for sure? No. That's why I want to go up in space."

Thoughts?

Source: "Mad" Mike Hughes via Facebook

24 comments; last comment on 04/03/2018
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