AI can predict whether your relationship will last based on how you speak to your partner


File 20170829 10424 1u8w6jm.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
I’m TALKING.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Ian McLoughlin, University of Kent

Any child (or spouse) who has been scolded for their tone of voice – such as shouting or being sarcastic – knows that the way you speak to someone can be just as important as the words that you use. Voice artists and actors make great use of this – they are skilled at imparting meaning in the way that they speak, sometimes much more than the words alone would merit.

But just how much information is carried in our tone of voice and conversation patterns and how does that impact our relationships with others? Computational systems can already establish who people are from their voices, so could they also tell us anything about our love life? Amazingly, it seems like it.

New research, just published in the journal PLOS-ONE, has analysed the vocal characteristics of 134 couples undergoing therapy. Researchers from the University of Southern California used computers to extract standard speech analysis features from recordings of therapy session participants over two years. The features – including pitch, variation in pitch and intonation – all relate to voice aspects like tone and intensity.

A machine-learning algorithm was then trained to learn a relationship between those vocal features and the eventual outcome of therapy. This wasn’t as simple as detecting shouting or raised voices – it included the interplay of conversation, who spoke when and for how long as well as the sound of the voices. It turned out that ignoring what was being said and considering only these patterns of speaking was sufficient to predict whether or not couples would stay together. This was purely data driven, so it didn’t relate outcomes to specific voice attributes.

How a tone of voice can change the meaning of a few words.

Interestingly, the full video recordings of the therapy session were then given to experts to classify. Unlike the AI, they made their predictions using psychological assessment based on the vocal (and other) attributes – including the words spoken and body language. Surprisingly, their prediction of the eventual outcome (they were correct in 75.6% of the cases) was inferior to predictions made by the AI based only on vocal characteristics (79.3%). Clearly there are elements encoded in the way we speak that not even experts are aware of. But the best results came from combining the automated assessment with the experts’ assessment (79.6% correct).

The significance of this is not so much about involving AI in marriage counselling or getting couples to speak more nicely to each other (however meritorious that would be). The significance is revealing how much information about our underlying feelings is encoded in the way we speak – some of it completely unknown to us.

Words written on a page or a screen have lexical meanings derived from their dictionary definitions. These are modified by the context of surrounding words. There can be great complexity in writing. But when words are read aloud, it is true that they take on additional meanings that are conveyed by word stress, volume, speaking rate and tone of voice. In a typical conversation there is also meaning in how long each speaker talks for, and how quickly one or other might interject.

Consider the simple question “Who are you?”. Try speaking this with stress on different words; “Who are you?”, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?”. Listen to these – the semantic meaning can change with how we read even when the words stay the same.

Computers reading ‘leaking senses’?

It is unsurprising that words convey different meanings depending on how they are spoken. It is also unsurprising that computers can interpret some of the meaning behind how we choose to speak (maybe one day they will even be able to understand irony).

But this research takes matters further than just looking at the meaning conveyed by a sentence. It seems to reveal underlying attitudes and thoughts that lie behind the sentences. This is a much deeper level of understanding.

The therapy participants were not reading words like actors. They were just talking naturally – or as naturally as they could in a therapist’s office. And yet the analysis revealed information about their mutual feelings that they were “leaking” inadvertently into their speech. This may be one of the first steps in using computers to determine what we are really thinking or feeling. Imagine for a moment conversing with future smartphones – will we “leak” information that they can pick up? How will they respond?

Congratulations. Changes in your voice, pulse and pupil size all indicate you’ve found a romantic match.
Astarot/Shutterstock

Could they advise us about potential partners by listening to us talking together? Could they detect a propensity towards antisocial behaviour, violence, depression or other conditions? It would not be a leap of imagination to imagine the devices themselves as future therapists – interacting with us in various ways to track the effectiveness of interventions that they are delivering.

Don’t worry just yet because we are years away from such a future, but it does raise privacy issues, especially as we interact more deeply with computers at the same time as they are becoming more powerful at analysing the world around them.

The ConversationWhen we pause also to consider the other human senses apart from sound (speech); perhaps we also leak information through sight (such as body language, blushing), touch (temperature and movement) or even smell (pheromones). If smart devices can learn so much by listening to how we speak, one wonders how much more could they glean from the other senses.

Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing, Head of School (Medway), University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Investing in people’s futures

“IMF research has shown that excessive inequality hinders growth and hollows out the country’s economic foundation. It erodes trust within society and fuels political tensions.”

In the past three decades, economic inequality between countries has declined sharply, said Christine Lagarde at her recent public speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“But if we look at inequality within countries, especially some advanced economies, we see widening gaps and an increased concentration of wealth among the top earners.”

There are no lesser human beings and higher human beings. That idea is a fallacy. Greater equality brings greater happiness, particularly if it lifts everyone who is in deep poverty out of it, and even benefits those at the top.

In 1981, the average top marginal tax rate in advanced economies was 62%. In 2015, it was 35%. New IMF research (which will be published next week) suggests that some advanced economies could raise their top tax rates without slowing growth. “Worth considering.”

“What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

Foie gras

It was a woman in Sarasota who e-mailed me a few years ago at the recommendation of someone else in Florida who made me aware of the problem with foie gras.

Essentially, it is the product of disease and torture, which is why its sale as well as its production is against the law in many countries. The disease is called hepatic lipidosis. Fatty liver disease. It is deliberately inflicted on geese and duck for the production of foie gras.

Many celebrities have spoken out against it and actively campaigned against it. The woman in Sarasota – not a celebrity – was campaigning to stop its use in local restaurants.

I made a (semi-mock) campaign for a course I was taking in 2010, and I also boycotted Amazon until Amazon banned its sales.

Since then, I’ve been boycotting eBay UK. Ebay is stubborn and still allows its sales, although it depends on the country. I’ve never seen foie gras offered from the Netherlands, but eBay.nl does accept offers from the UK, France and Germany.

Occasionally, sellers still try to sneak it in on Amazon by calling it a book, when they sell tins of the stuff packaged in cardboard, I later saw. When I spot it, I report it.

In Britain, Viva! is a very active campaigner against foie gras.

How to tackle bullying

In January, a 12-year-old British boy called Louie Tom Fenton killed himself after prolonged bullying because he was vegan. Among other things, kids threw meat at him at school. “He loved the sea and was deeply committed to conservation, the environment and sea life.”

Adults and kids bully. There are cultural differences, but the essence of bullying seems to be the same. Why do bullies bully? In many cases, to gain significance that they apparently lack.

The significance derived from bullying has two components and here is where culture may make a bigger difference.

  • Being applauded by one’s surroundings for being a bully.
  • The power – physical and psychological – that comes from bullying.

If you want to change anything in society, starting with young people is often best and as bullying particularly affects children…

On Twitter, someone pointed out to me that it used to be okay for drunk people to get into their cars and drive and that this has changed. Society’s views on the acceptability of drunk driving have changed.

Now people look after each other and stop each other from getting behind the wheel when drunk. We also have designated drivers.

I was thinking that stopping bullying should begin with the parents of bullies and the staff at their schools, but if bullies bully to gain significance, chances are that the lack of significance they are feeling is connected to those parents or the school staff. (Or that their parents one way or another are teaching the bullies that bullying and ridiculing others is the only way to gain significance, for instance during their dinner table conversations, in which they talk about relatives, neighbours and colleagues.)

Focusing energy in that direction has a low chance of success.

So why don’t classes start anti-bullying teams of five or more kids who sign up to the responsibility of preventing bullying? They can function like the people who stop the drunk from getting into his or her car.

Because let’s face it, adults don’t understand much about the kind of bullying that goes on among kids and are often completely unaware of what happens in digital media. Peers have much better access to that, and a much greater understanding, both of how it works and what the effects can be.

Depending on the culture the bullying occurs in, there can be a strong tendency to blame the targets of bullying for what is being done to them. The bullies are usually ignored, tolerated, respected or applauded. But it is the bullies who have the problem. It is the bullies who need to be stopped. (I am not sure that admonishing bullies or punishing them would solve the problem. Maybe some of them feel frustrated because of, say, undiagnosed dyslexia.)

Getting bullied is not really any different than being hit in traffic by a drunk driver. If you aren’t in a certain place at a certain time, you won’t get hit. It is the thing that sets you apart – being in a location at certain time, or being vegan – that makes you a target and that thing that sets you apart is essentially no more than the mere fact that you exist.

There is nothing wrong with existing. But there is something wrong with bullying.

So, schools, let’s get those anti-bulling teams started, shall we?

In fact, that too may give the bullies the significance they crave. Early intervention makes it possible to teach bullies that there are other, better ways to gain significance.

Of course, we only hear about the schools that are not able to get a grip on bullying. Sometimes they are hampered by the law. How do schools address bullying?

https://www.inlander.com/Bloglander/archives/2013/12/05/an-inlander-cover-story-changed-the-way-central-valley-high-school-addressed-bullying

https://www.inlander.com/spokane/it-gets-worse/Content?oid=2154821

https://www.myhorrynews.com/news/local/loris/daisy-elementary-participates-in-anti-bullying-campaign/article_4c86a13c-6397-11e4-aad4-0017a43b2370.html

http://www.communitynews.com.au/joondalup-times/news/beat-beats-bullying/

http://www.familylives.org.uk/about/press/bullying-continues-to-impact-on-wellbeing-of-pupils-parents-and-professionals/

http://lanetwork.facinghistory.org/one-school-addresses-bullying/

https://changingfaces.org.uk/adviceandsupport/anti-bullying-info/anti-bullying-policy-guidelines

Why (ex)Hurricane Ophelia took a wrong turn towards Ireland and Britain – and carried all that dust

File 20171017 30390 5euzt5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Met Office

Alexander Roberts, University of Leeds

Hurricane Ophelia, by then downgraded to Storm Ophelia, reached Ireland on Monday October 16. At the time of writing there had already been three deaths and countless reports of severe damage to buildings and fallen trees. Unlike other severe storms to reach Ireland and Britain, such as the 1987 Great Storm, Ophelia was in many ways a typical tropical cyclone with a tight spiral of cloud, powerfully strong winds, and a cloud-free eye.

But what set it apart from other Atlantic hurricanes was its direct route to Europe. While hurricanes do sometimes take a circuitous route westward across the ocean and loop back again towards Europe, this one took a short cut.

Ophelia began as a rather innocuous looking group of clouds in the Atlantic Ocean, several hundred miles south-west of the Azores and roughly on the same latitude as Morocco or northern Florida. Yet even at this stage it was unusual. Most named storms in the Atlantic are generated in warmer waters much further south and, as such, they are generally driven across the ocean by the easterly (blowing westwards) trade winds. They eventually dissipate as they curve north into the Atlantic or make landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico or the US.

Tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 to 2012.
Nilfanion / US National Hurricane Centre, CC BY-SA

In Ophelia’s case, moderate atmospheric shear (changes in direction and strength of wind with height) and relatively cool sea surface temperatures meant it took several days to develop the well-defined low pressure centre, strong winds and spiral clouds of a hurricane. Then, instead of travelling west, like most Atlantic hurricanes, Ophelia began to head north-east.

This can be explained by the position and strength of the mid-latitude jet stream, an atmospheric feature that plays a major role in determining the weather over Western Europe. When its path loops north over the UK it can produce stable warm conditions in the summer (as in the record-breaking heatwave of July 2015), and bright cold days in the winter. When its path west to east is more direct, it guides low pressure storm systems across the UK and Ireland and can be responsible for the rapid strengthening of storms in a short period of time (described colloquially by forecasters as a “weather bomb”).

https://giphy.com/embed/uDOWJ8J8zD1fy
A northwards loop of the jet stream (far right) guided Ophelia from the Azores to Ireland.

It is this that produced such a rapid change in direction for Ophelia. Such waves on the mid-latitude jet stream are not unusual, however, the combination of both the jet’s and Ophelia’s position produced the conditions to guide the ex-hurricane toward the British Isles.

Adrift in the Azores

Tropical cyclones that form in or travel to the region near the Azores can become trapped. Stronger vertical wind shear to the north and south as well as colder sea surface temperatures in the surroundings can lead to storms that travel very slowly and eventually dissipate due to unfavourable conditions.

If there is no external force that can help to steer the storm, but conditions remain favourable, then tropical cyclones can persist for a long time. An example of this was Hurricane Nadine which circled the same part of the ocean where Ophelia formed for almost a month in 2012, the fourth longest-lived Atlantic hurricane on record.

First part of Ophelia’s journey. Compare to the map above – very few hurricanes take this route.
US National Hurricane Centre

That may have been Ophelia’s fate too, had it not been for the mid-latitude jet stream which instead guided the hurricane directly toward Ireland. It is partly due to this behaviour that the forecasts have been so accurate. Jet streams are generally well represented in numerical weather models, and so their influence on a storm’s path can be well predicted.

Ahead of Ophelia’s arrival the UK had a weekend of unseasonably balmy temperatures thanks to warm tropical air driven northwards. This is partly due to the winds circulating around the Ophelia low pressure centre, but also the positioning of the jet stream helping to draw air up from the tropics.

What about that dust?

On Monday much of the UK looked far less like a hurricane had arrived, and much more like the whole country had been put through a rosy Instagram filter. The sun was particularly red at dawn and throughout much of the day the whole sky glowed a yellowy-orange.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

This effect was partly thanks to the southerly winds on Ophelia’s eastern side, which transported Saharan dust and smoke from Iberian forest fires. In fact several flights over the UK were forced to make emergency landings when smoke could be smelt in the cabin. Increased number of particles in the atmosphere then scattered light preferentially from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving the more orange and red colours to reach our eyes.

The ConversationBut Ophelia also produced a layer of upper level clouds, thick enough to block out much of the sun’s rays directly but thin enough to allow a large amount of diffuse, scattered light to pass through. On a day when the sky was not full of smoke and dust particles, this would have appeared like a run-of-the-mill white skied, overcast day. However, on Monday it led to Facebook feeds being filled with photos of a bright orange sun at midday and yellow clouds.

Alexander Roberts, Researcher, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (ICAS), University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This Too Shall Pass

Eclipsed Words By Aishwarya Shah

“And this, too, shall pass.”

This is a proverb indicating that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary and time solves all problems.

I once read that the great Abraham Lincoln used to have a grand affinity for this proverb. On September 30, 1859, Abraham Lincoln included a similar story in an address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in Milwaukee. This is what he said;
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.”

How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

When we are in trouble, we feel that we are the only person who is facing these mountains full of doubts…

View original post 397 more words

Deadly explosion in Somali capital Mogadishu brings shock, outrage, and resilience

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

More than 300 people were killed and at least 500 injured on October 14 when a truck bomb exploded in a crowded intersection in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The attack is being called the worst in the history of the city, a particularly alarming statistic considering that the capital has regularly been the scene of violent conflict since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.

No one has yet officially claimed responsibility for the attack, although the Guardian reported that a man, detained when he tried to drive a second vehicle loaded with explosives into the capital, told security officials that the rebel group Al-Shabaab was responsible.

Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that has been fighting against the federal government of Somalia since late 2006. It is an extremist Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda, working to include Somalia in an international jihad. Its strength has waxed and waned in the intervening decade. Since 2011, when it staged what it called a “tactical withdrawal” from Mogadishu, its activities in the capital have mainly consisted of suicide bombings, detonations of improvised explosive devices and targeted assassinations of political figures.

Its capabilities in Mogadishu, as in nearly all Somali cities, are held in check by the combined forces of the African Union-backed AMISOM peacekeeping force and the Somali Federal Security Forces. But Somalia’s military is notoriously weak, hampered by the fact that it is made up of a collection of clan militias seconded to the national authorities by their leaders, with often weak allegiance to the national project.

Al-Shabaab continues to control large swathes of the Somali countryside, and retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks. It is playing a long game. In the short term the group is working to thwart the Somali government’s efforts to consolidate its power, but it does not have enough power to defeat the government or to drive it from the capital. In the longer term, Al-Shabaab professes to be working to expel foreign – Western – influence in Somalia and to establish a state based on an extreme reading of sharia law.

The recent explosion was significant for the scale of its devastation and the size of the arsenal contained in the truck. Details of where the explosives for the attack were obtained are yet to emerge, but it’s clear that the operation must have been planned and carried out by a group with considerable organisational power.

Crisis mode

The attack couldn’t have come at a worse time for the federal government of Somalia. A week before, both Somalia’s minister of defence and military chief resigned for reasons that remain unclear. The suspicions are that the two were rivals, but were also frustrated at a lack of support coming from the months-old administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.

The government is trying to put in place a new Security Pact, agreed in May 2017 at an international conference held at London’s Lancaster House. That plan, which was to see the first of AMISOM’s troops withdrawing in 2018, is very likely to be stalled as a result of the attack.

The attack is also likely to put a damper on the rhetoric rising out of the city in recent years that Mogadishu was becoming safer. With so many innocent civilians affected, the notion that only high-profile politicians or security personnel are at risk is now seriously challenged. This is likely to deter many Somalis from the diaspora as well as those living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, from returning.

If Al-Shabaab is responsible for the dreadful loss of life, its official silence in the aftermath may be due to the very high number of civilian casualties. One theory is that the truck had been intended to explode outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but was detonated prematurely by the driver when it was stopped by security officials after getting stuck in traffic. The explosion then ignited a nearby fuel tanker, causing a fireball that destroyed buildings over several hundred metres in the centre of the city. Causing so many civilian casualties is likely to lead to serious and widespread backlash against Al-Shabaab – not the kind of PR they are looking for in their battle to bring down the government.

Resilience and solidarity

Yet amid the horror stories of suffering and loss, small glimmers of hope and resilience have emerged. One of the strongest and most immediate sources of support has been the Somali diaspora. Within hours it mobilised to raise money for Aamin Ambulance, the only free ambulance service in the city, to be able to take the wounded to hospital.

Daallo Airlines, a Somali-owned business, announced that it would transport all relief supplies into the country for free. Other crowdfunded efforts were started to provide support to the families of those affected. These efforts have raised thousands of dollars in just a few days.

International support is coming in many forms too. Djibouti responded by sending its minister of health and 30 doctors to help treat the wounded. Turkey evacuated 35 of the injured to be treated in Ankara, and sent ten tons of medical supplies to Mogadishu. Paris extinguished the lights on the Eiffel Tower on October 16 at midnight, and Toronto’s iconic name sign was illuminated in blue and white to pay respect to those affected.

The ConversationOnce the dust has settled, the fires are extinguished and the loved ones laid to rest, maybe – just maybe – this resilience will be able to grow to ensure that the peace that Somali so desperately needs will come at last.

Laura Hammond, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ivory is out in the UK, as government moves to shutter legal trade

Why blaming ivory poaching on Boko Haram isn’t helpful


File 20171008 3228 10lazn2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for terror groups.
Author supplied

Mark Moritz, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, and Paul Scholte, The Ohio State University

In 2016, as part of a ceremony in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé, 2 000 elephant tusks were burned to demonstrate the country’s commitment to fight poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power gave a speech at the event linking poaching to terrorism.

The idea that terror groups like Boko Haram fund their activities through ivory poaching in Africa is a simple and compelling narrative. It has been adopted by governments, NGOs and media alike. But it is undermining wildlife conservation and human rights.

The problem is that such claims hinge on a single document which uses only one, unnamed source to estimate terrorist profits from ivory. The study hasn’t been backed up elsewhere.

Similarly, there is little evidence that terrorist activities are funded by wildlife poaching in Cameroon. We have studied wildlife conservation and pastoralism in the Far North Region of Cameroon in the last two decades. We have found that it is highly unlikely that Boko Haram is using ivory to survive financially. The elephant populations in the areas where Boko Haram operates are so low that this would be a faulty business plan to say the least. Only 246 elephants were counted in Waza Park in 2007.

Talking about ivory-funded terrorism overlooks the real sources of income for these groups. In Cameroon and Nigeria evidence shows that Boko Haram is using profits from cattle raids to support its activities. Boko Haram’s plunder of the countryside leaves cattle herders destitute.

The dangers of militarisation

The wrong focus has implications for conservation and human rights. Linking poachers and terrorists has led to a further militarisation of conservation areas in Africa. More guns and guards have been sent into parks to stop poachers.

The military approach has also led to serious human rights violations. These take the form of shoot-on-sight policies and other violent tactics carried out against local populations. Law enforcement in protected areas is important for controlling poaching and terrorism alike but it is not a perfect solution.

And wildlife conservation can suffer if well armed but underpaid park guards turn to poaching themselves.

It would be more helpful if properly paid and trained people provided security across the region rather than just in protected areas.

Consequences of the wrong connection

Ignoring the fact that cattle, not ivory, may be fuelling terrorism in places like Cameroon does a disservice to pastoralists. While livestock may compete with wildlife when pastoralists take refuge inside better-protected areas like parks, they do so only because their livelihoods are at risk.

Mistaking the true source of income for terrorist groups also means that their violent activities continue.

Finally, it diverts attention from corrupt conservation and government officials who may be complicit in poaching.

Of course, this is not to say that poaching is not happening. The dramatic declines in elephant populations in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa indicate otherwise. The question is who is doing the poaching and why.

We challenge governments and organisations interested in wildlife, security and human rights to take a closer look at the evidence. Instead of sharing simple claims about terrorism and poaching, they should consider all the forms of economic support to terrorist organisations.

The ConversationIn Cameroon, this would mean offering better security for pastoralists and their cattle. Protecting cattle does not have the same appeal for Western audiences as protecting elephants. But it could be a way to conserve wildlife, protect human rights and stop funding for terrorism.

Mark Moritz, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University; Alice B. Kelly Pennaz, Researcher, University of California, Berkeley; Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Lecturer in Visual Anthropology, and Paul Scholte, Ecologist leading programs and organizations in conservation, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.