Algorithm can identify suicidal people using brain scans

1st Nov 2017

Scientists have trained a computer program to identify people with suicidal thoughts based on their brain scans. The study is small, but the method could one day be used for diagnosing mental health conditions, researchers say.

Nearly a million people worldwide die by suicide every year, and predicting suicide remains difficult, especially because many people feel uncomfortable talking about the issue. In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, researchers observed the brain activity of two groups of adults — one who had suicidal thoughts and one who didn’t — while they thought about words such as “evil” or “praise.” They fed this data to an algorithm that learned to predict who had suicidal thoughts with 91 percent accuracy. It also predicted whether someone had attempted suicide before with 94 percent accuracy.

The algorithm isn’t perfect — and a medical test would have to be. It may also not become widely used since brain scans are expensive. But “it’d be nice to have this additional method,” says study author Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thirty-four volunteers participated in the study: 17 with suicidal thoughts and 17 without. The volunteers read 30 words that were either positive (“bliss”), negative (“cruelty”), or related to death (“suicide”) and thought about the meanings while undergoing a type of brain scan called fMRI.

Whenever we think about a given subject, our neurons fire in a specific way, says Just. Your neurons might fire in one pattern for the word “hammer,” for example, and in another pattern for “dog.” Measuring patterns like this is more accurate than other brain studies that only look at the general brain region that is activated.

Researchers found that the responses to six words — “death,” “trouble,” “carefree,” “good,” “praise,” and “cruelty” — showed the biggest differences between the two groups of participants. So, they gave a machine-learning algorithm these results for every person except one. For any given word, they told the program which neural activation patterns came from which group. Then, they gave them the missing person’s results and asked the algorithm to predict which group the person belonged to. The machine got it right 91 percent of the time. In a second experiment, scientists used the same methods to teach an algorithm to distinguish people who had attempted suicide from those who hadn’t, this time with 94 percent accuracy.

Blake Richards, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, says the results are interesting, but may not be strong enough to make the test useful for diagnosis. And the activity patterns are still correlation, not causation. “There is undoubtedly a biological basis for whether someone is going to commit suicide,” he says. “There’s a biological basis for every aspect of our mental lives, but the question is whether the biological basis for these things are sufficiently accessible by fMRI to really develop a reliable test that you could use in a clinical setting.” The accuracy of the results may be high, but in order for the program to be useful in a clinical setting, and to justify any type of medical intervention, it would need to be basically perfect, he says.





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Email Facebook denies spying on conversations to better target advertisements

29th oct 2017

Facebook’s vice-president of advertising, Rob Goldman, has denied claims the social media network uses microphones on users’ devices to eavesdrop on conversations so it can better target advertisements.

“I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t — and have never — used your microphone for ads,” Mr Goldman said.

“Just not true.”

He was responding to a tweet by internet podcast Reply All’s host PJ Vogt asking for people’s stories if they “believe that Facebook [or Instagram] uses your mic to spy on you for ad reasons”.

The post attracted hundreds of responses, with people claiming it had happened to them.

But others rejected the idea that people’s in-person conversations were to blame for related ads showing up.

“Couldn’t it also be that you are in the demographic who would be interested?” Twitter user George Peterson posted.

Facebook corporate communications director Adam Isserlis also posted in the thread, linking to a 2016 statement.

“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” it said.





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Over 30,000 Published Studies Could Be Wrong Due to Contaminated Cells

18th Oct 2017

Researchers warn that large parts of biomedical science could be invalid due to a cascading history of flawed data in a systemic failure going back decades.

A new investigation reveals more than 30,000 published scientific studies could be compromised by their use of misidentified cell lines, owing to so-called immortal cells contaminating other research cultures in the lab.

The problem is as serious as it is simple: researchers studying lung cancer publish a new paper, only it turns out the tissue they were actually using in the lab were liver cells. Or what they thought were human cells were mice cells, or vice versa, or something else entirely.

If you think that sounds bad, you’re right, as it means the findings of each piece of affected research may be flawed, and could even be completely unreliable.

“Most scientists don’t intentionally publish findings on the wrong cells,” explains one of the researchers, Serge Horbach from Radboud University in the Netherlands.

“It’s an honest mistake. The more concerning problem is that the research data is potentially invalid and impossible to reproduce.”

Horback and fellow researcher Willem Halffman wanted to know how extensive the phenomenon of misidentified cell lines really was, so they searched for evidence of what they call “contaminated” scientific literature.

Using the research database Web of Science, they looked for scientific articles based on any of the known misidentified cell lines as listed by the International Cell Line Authentication Committee’s (ICLAC) Register of Misidentified Cell Lines.

There are currently 451 cell lines on this list, and they’re not what you think they are – having been contaminated by other kinds of cells at some point in scientific history. Worse still, they’ve been unwittingly used in published laboratory research going as far back as the 1950s.

“After an extensive literary study, we believe this involves some 33,000 publications,” Halffman explains.

“That means there are more than 30,000 scientific articles online that are reporting on the wrong cells.”

9325 cells 2Radboud University

Of the 451 cell lines known to be compromised, the most famous contaminating source is what’s known as HeLa cells, named after their source, Henrietta Lacks.

In 1951, this 31-year-old mother of five from Virginia died from cervical cancer. But during treatment before her death, cells were taken from Lacks’ cervix in a biopsy without her consent.

Later, cell biologist George Otto Gey discovered these cells could be kept alive and grow indefinitely in a lab – as such, HeLa cells became the first immortalised cell line, meaning they didn’t eventually die due to cellular senescence.

That everlasting quality made them a valuable research specimen that was distributed across the world, ultimately contributing to the development of cell cloning, the polio vaccine and many other firsts.

It’s estimated as many as 20 tonnes of HeLa cells were ultimately grown, with the discovery featuring in a stunning 11,000 patents, but the cells’ undying nature came with a hidden cost.

Not only do the cells proliferate, they can also contaminate other exposed cell cultures in laboratory setting, and due to decades of use and misuse in the lab, HeLa cells and other contaminating and immortal cells have been estimated to have tainted up to 36 percent of cell lines scientists use in research.

“It’s astonishingly easy for cell lines to become contaminated,” ICLAC chair Amanda Capes-Davis explained in 2015 at Retraction Watch.

“When cells are first placed into culture, they usually pass through a period of time when there is little or no growth, before a cell line emerges. A single cell introduced from elsewhere during that time can outgrow the original culture without anyone being aware of the change in identity.”

Over decades, these cases of mistaken identity have in turn contaminated some 33,000 scientific papers by Horback and Halffman’s count, and it’s something that not enough in the research community know about.



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Mozilla gave $100,000 to secure email platform harnessed by Antifa groups

13th oct 2017

Mozilla has awarded $100,000 to RiseUp, a secure communication platform widely used by Antifa groups.

The open source group, creator of the popular Firefox browser, said that the award “will advance a free and healthy Internet.” In a blog post earlier this month, Mozilla described RiseUp as “a coordination platform used by activists across the political spectrum, to improve the security of their email service.”

RiseUp is a tech collective devoted to the creation of a free society based on principles such as democracy, equality, diversity, ecology and security, according to its website. “Riseup provides online communication tools for people and groups working on liberatory social change,” its website says. “We are a project to create democratic alternatives and practice self-determination by controlling our own secure means of communication.”



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Security Breach Sees Secrets Stolen From International, $1.1 Trillion Joint Strike Fighter Project

12th oct 2017

A mystery hacker codenamed after a larrikin Australian soap opera character has been revealed as stealing sensitive, high-level information about a $1.1 trillion defence project created by an alliance including Australia, the U.S, UK and Canada.

The data about Australia’s warplanes and navy ships was stolen from an Adelaide Defence subcontractor which had one I.T. specialist and used extremely easy passwords.

Given the name “ATP ALF” — in reference to a +30 year character from the long-running Australian beachside TV program, “Home and Away” — the hacker had managed to sit inside the system of the contractor for months before detection in November 2016, and stole information about programs such as the $17 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, the C-130 Hercules transport plane and the $4 billion P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft project.

A state actor has not been ruled out and it has been reported that a hacking tool, known as the Chinese Chopper, was used. The stolen data was not classified military information, but it was described as “commercially sensitive”.

The hack was discovered by a major Defence contractor.

A hacker a government agency has named ‘Alf’ (after the Home and Away character) has stolen sensitive Defence info
— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) October 11, 2017

Intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) revealed details of the hack, through the technology news website ZDNet, on Wednesday, after it was flagged on Tuesday by the minister for cyber security, Dan Tehan.

According to Mitchell Clarke, an ASD incident response manager, the stolen documents for a Navy ship could let a viewer, “zoom in down to the captain’s chair and see that it’s, you know, one metre away from nav chair”.

The subcontractor was revealed as using software that hadn’t been updated for 12 months as well as username-password combinations, “admin-admin” and “guest-guest”.

The many months between where the hacker was left to his own devices was referred to ‘Alf’s Mystery Happy Fun Time’.

Not an SME – a defence supply chain. Vendors are threat vectors.
— Tim Watts MP (@TimWattsMP) October 11, 2017

Defence industry minister Christopher Pyne told the ABC on Thursday he does not know who the hacker is and indicated he would not tell if he knew, “It could be a state actor, a non-state actor. It could somebody working for another company”. He described the contractor as a small enterprise and rejected any implication that the Turnbull Government was to blame for the hack.



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Smartphone Apps to Track ‘Loyalty’ to Communism (China)

8th Oct 2017

The Communist Party of China (CPC) is boasting of over 100 smartphone applications designed to allow senior party members to more accurately track their underlings’ loyalty, based in part on how much communist propaganda the individual consumes on the app.

The Chinese state newspaper Global Times notes that these apps “place additional pressure on members to properly and timely show their loyalty and enthusiasm for the Party.” Party members can be reprimanded if their superior notices they have not been interacting with other party members, reading speeches by president Xi Jinping, or taking online communism classes often enough through the app. The article notes that those who excel and indoctrinate themselves with the apps may be eligible for prizes such as pens and notebooks.

The apps offer a variety of indoctrination media aside from Xi’s speeches, according to the Global Times—among these quizzes to hone knowledge of Maoist thought and broader classes on communist philosophy with required homework.

“The apps not only provide online classes to learn Party doctrines, but also enable users to pay their CPC membership fees or socialize with each other,” the Times adds. “More importantly, the apps will help the CPC evaluate the performance of their nearly 90 million members in a visible, traceable and interactive manner.”

The article provides a number of reasons for there being so many apps, including the use of separate apps for different regional Communist Party structures, different features—like paying Communist Party dues—and different developers. They are all being organized under an umbrella project called “China’s Good Party Member.”

The Chinese government has taken significant technological liberties in the quest to promote communism. Last year, Beijing banned anonymous use of the internet, as well as the publication of any statements that offend “national honor” or suggest an overthrow of the “socialist system.” That law built upon a ban on the publication of blogs or internet comments anonymously passed in 2015.

The CPC regulation apps are part of a greater party organization overhaul in anticipation of the CPC National Congress, beginning October 18. The event, which typically occurs every five years, will give the party an opportunity to elect, re-elect, and promote leaders within the CPC. Local officials told the Global Times in a separate article that they have already been using technology to communicate regarding recommendations for appointments and recruitment of candidates.

“We solicited the opinions of 130 Party members outside the area via telephone and WeChat, an instant messaging service. We visited the homes of elderly members, taking recommendation forms and explaining the policy face to face,” local official Yan Weiping said. Without meeting personally with officials, getting on a CPC ballot is nearly impossible.

In July, communist officials told the Global Times they had organized historical indoctrination tours to generate enthusiasm for the Party Congress. That month, “more than 760 Party members from the State-owned China Construction First Building Corporation Limited took a tour to trace the Party’s footprints from its birth to today.” The tour reportedly took 50 days and included “Chairman Mao’s hometown of Shaoshan, Hunan Province and even Moscow.”

The Chinese state outlet Xinhua states in a report published Friday that the CPC Congress will seek to promote China as “champion of the open world economy” against “protectionism and isolation,” as well as promote a climate change agenda and combat a “Cold War mentality.” Delegates are also expected to vote on amendments to the CPC constitution which would “promote the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics and Party building,” according to Xinhua.


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The Future the US Military is Constructing: a Giant, Armed Nervous System

28th Sept 2017

Service chiefs are converging on a single strategy for military dominance: connect everything to everything.

Leaders of the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines are converging on a vision of the future military: connecting every asset on the global battlefield.

That means everything from F-35 jets overhead to the destroyers on the sea to the armor of the tanks crawling over the land to the multiplying devices in every troops’ pockets. Every weapon, vehicle, and device connected, sharing data, constantly aware of the presence and state of every other node in a truly global network. The effect: an unimaginably large cephapoloidal nervous system armed with the world’s most sophisticated weaponry.

In recent months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff put together the newest version of their National Military Strategy. Unlike previous ones, it is classified. But executing a strategy requiring buy-in and collaboration across the services. In recent months, at least two of the service chiefs talked openly about the strikingly similar direction that they are taking their forces. Standing before a sea of dark- blue uniforms at a September Air Force Association event in Maryland, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said he had “refined” his plans for the Air Force after discussions with the Joint Chiefs “as part of the creation of the classified military strategy.”

The future for the Air Force? The service needed to be more like a certain electric-car manufacturer.

“Every Tesla car is connected to every other Tesla car,” said Goldfein, referring to a presentation by Elon Musk about the ways his firm’s vehicles learn from their collective experience. “If a Tesla is headed down the road and hits a pothole, every Tesla that’s behind it that’s self-driving, it will avoid the pothole, immediately. If you’re driving the car, it automatically adjusts your shocks in case you hit it, too.”
What would the world look like… If we looked at the world through a lens of a network as opposed to individual platforms?
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein

Goldfein waxed enthusiastically about how Tesla was able to remotely increase the battery capacity of cars in the U.S. Southeast to facilitate evacuation before the recent hurricanes.

“What would the world look like if we connected what we have in that way? If we looked at the world through a lens of a network as opposed to individual platforms, electronic jamming shared immediately, avoided automatically? Every three minutes, a mobility aircraft takes off somewhere on the planet. Platforms are nodes in a network,” the Air Force chief said.

The idea borrows from the  “network centric warfare” concept that seized the military imagination more than a decade ago. But what leaders are today describing is larger by orders of magnitude. It’s less a strategy for integrating multiple networks into operations more efficiently than a plan to stitch everything, networks within networks, into a single web. The purpose: better coordinated, faster, and more lethal operations in air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.

So the Air Force is making broad investments in data sharing. Maj. Gen. Kimberly A. Crider, the service’s first data officer, is setting up a series of experimental tests in the Nevada desert at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, seeking to better understand “what happens when we actually connect into this resilient and agile network” said Goldfein. The Air Force’s current experimentation with next-generation light tactical attack aircraft are as much about hardware as networks, he said. “Not only what can I buy and what can they do, but more importantly, can they connect? Can they actually share? And can we tie it to a new network that’s based on sharable information that gets me beyond the challenges I have right now in terms of security?”
The Air Force is also fielding new connected devices. The handheld “Android Tactical Assault kit” or ATAK, designed with special operations forces, provides a common operational picture of everything going on — basically, doing what a huge command-and-control station used to do a few years ago. “What we determined was that there were so many devices on the battlefield that had information that we weren’t collecting. Rather than build a system to pull that in, we actually went to a commercial entity and they created an algorithm. It’s user-defined and it pulls in whatever data you need and puts it on Google Maps,” said Goldfein.

The Air Force used the device during this year’s hurricane relief efforts, sending rescue teams to people reaching out for help on social media, Goldfein said.

The Air Force Science Board is also launching a study into how to control a constellation of objects, some in the air, some in the sea, some on land, some piloted by humans and others more autonomous. James Chow, the board’s new head, said the study would also consider how to connect to other services.

Importantly, although the study would come out of the Air Force, it wouldn’t stop at just Air Force equipment but would extend to other weapons and vehicles in the battlespace, like Navy destroyers, said Chow.

“Our scope would be in helping the Air Force to think about operations they would be conducting that would incorporate joint sensors and platforms, like destroyers, I think that has to be part of it. And that is within the charter of the study,” Chow  said, adding that the study has “the highest priority level for Air Force leadership.”




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Government announces creation of national space agency

25th Sept 2017

The federal government has announced that it will establish a new national agency to grow Australia’s domestic space industry.

Senator Michaelia Cash, the acting Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science, announced the initiative on Monday morning ahead of her keynote address at the International Astronomical Congress in Adelaide.

The federal government has announced the creation of a National Space Agency.

“The global space industry is growing rapidly and it’s crucial that Australia is part of this growth,” she said.

“A national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry.
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“The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement.”

The Australian National University in Canberra was quick to signal its interest in playing a “key role” in the proposed agency.

“ANU is a national resource with leading facilities which drive Australia’s research, as well as space industry and technology,” vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said.
“ANU global research and industry collaborations are helping to make space safer for space travel and satellites, and driving new technologies to develop the communications, instruments and space plasma thrusters for future space missions.”

The government made its announcement on the same day the Labor party outlined its own plans to boost Australia’s space industry through the establishment of a space science and industry agency from 2020.



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New details on what befell US diplomats

17th Sept 2017
THE bizarre attacks come out of nowhere and leave victims with lasting injuries. But no-one can explain what’s going on or why the victims are being hit.

US President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Cuba in 88 years when he arrived in Havana on Sunday, March 20. Obama emerged from the plane with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia following behind them.

The Obamas were greeted by a small Cuban delegation before climbing into their car that would take them to their next event. The president is scheduled to attend a meet and greet at the US Embassy before a sightseeing tour in Old Havana, which will include a visit to Cathedral de San Cristobal de la Habana. Obama is to visit the Palace of the Revolution and meet Raul Castro on Monday, and a state dinner is scheduled for the evening.

Obama will visit dissident leaders on Tuesday before taking in an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. He then leaves for Argentina in the evening. One thing Obama will not do during his visit is see Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former leader for many years since the 1959 revolution. The Obama trip to Cuba is the latest step in normalization of relations between the two countries since December 2014. Among the changes are that the US re-established its embassy in Havana and opened travel for Americans to Cuba. Mail was also re-established between the US and Cuba this week. Credit: YouTube/Cuban Foreign Ministry

UNITED States diplomats are sustaining curious brain injuries while posted in Cuba and the US government can’t figure out exactly what’s behind the astonishing international mystery.

The attacks allegedly began in late 2016 and were initially thought to perhaps be inflicted by some sort of unknown targeted sonic weapon.

The affected diplomats have sustained permanent damage to their hearing, mild traumatic brain injuries, and possibly even damage to their central nervous system.

The mystery over the bizarre situation only continues to deepen with baffled US officials claiming the facts and the physics don’t add up.

This week, the Associated Press spoke with a number of US and Cuba personnel with insight into the investigation around the alleged attacks and the revelations only make everything seem weirder.

At least some of the curious incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, the report said, detailing the experience of one US diplomat who was targeted by the unknown weapon.

“The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonising sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room,” the AP reported.

Pretty soon, the diplomat was exhibiting speech problems and hearing loss. So far there have been 21 further victims reporting similar symptoms, including problems concentrating and recalling certain words.

The attacks seem to come at night and are delivered in short bursts.

The lobby of the Hotel Capri in Havana, Cuba. Picture: Desmond BoylanSource:AP


Cuba has a storeyed history with its powerful neighbour to the North. Cuba’s capital city Havana lies just 144 kilometres south of Florida’s island city of Key West.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July 2015, which had been severed in 1961 during the height of the Cold War. However the US continues to maintain its commercial, economic, and financial embargo with the country which makes it illegal for US corporations to do business with Cuba.

Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America reopened an embassy there is mystified by the spate of curious ailments befalling US diplomats in the country.

“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” he said. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon however the diagnosis of mild brain injury is considered unlikely to result from sound.

The Trump administration still hasn’t identified a culprit or a device to explain the injuries. So far it continues to confound the FBI, the State Department and US intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.

Muddying the waters further is the fact that a handful of Canadian diplomatic houses in Cuba were also affected and unlike the US, Canada has maintained friendly relations with the island state for decades.

The US investigators have explored a range of theories around who’s behind the whole thing. They range from attacks perpetrated by a rogue faction of Cuba’s intelligence services, or with the help of a third party country like Russia, to far less nefarious explanations such as the possibility of an advanced espionage operation gone horribly wrong.


The personal accounts of victims, as well as their resulting injuries, vary.

Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims woke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds, the AP reported.

Yet others heard nothing, and felt nothing only to have symptoms appear later.

Sound and health experts are just as baffled as investigators. Targeted, localised beams of sound are possible, but the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would probably be quite large and not easily concealed. And no single, sonic gadget seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent array of physical responses.

“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”



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