أرشيف الوسم: Media

Can AI flag disease outbreaks faster than humans? Not quite

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BOSTON —
Did an artificial-intelligence system beat human doctors in warning the world of a severe coronavirus outbreak in China?

In a narrow sense, yes. But what the humans lacked in sheer speed, they more than made up in finesse.

Early warnings of disease outbreaks can help people and governments save lives. In the final days of 2019, an AI system in Boston sent out the first global alert about a new viral outbreak in China. But it took human intelligence to recognize the significance of the outbreak and then awaken response from the public health community.

What’s more, the mere mortals produced a similar alert only a half-hour behind the AI systems.

For now, AI-powered disease-alert systems can still resemble car alarms — easily triggered and sometimes ignored. A network of medical experts and sleuths must still do the hard work of sifting through rumors to piece together the fuller picture. It’s difficult to say what future AI systems, powered by ever larger datasets on outbreaks, may be able to accomplish.

The first public alert outside China about the novel coronavirus came on Dec. 30 from the automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital. At 11:12 p.m. local time, HealthMap sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The system, which scans online news and social media reports, ranked the alert’s seriousness as only 3 out of 5. It took days for HealthMap researchers to recognize its importance.

Four hours before the HealthMap notice, New York epidemiologist Marjorie Pollack had already started working on her own public alert, spurred by a growing sense of dread after reading a personal email she received that evening.

“This is being passed around the internet here,” wrote her contact, who linked to a post on the Chinese social media forum Pincong. The post discussed a Wuhan health agency notice and read in part: “Unexplained pneumonia???”

Pollack, deputy editor of the volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, known as ProMed, quickly mobilized a team to look into it. ProMed’s more detailed report went out about 30 minutes after the terse HealthMap alert.

Early warning systems that scan social media, online news articles and government reports for signs of infectious disease outbreaks help inform global agencies such as the World Health Organization — giving international experts a head start when local bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers might otherwise get in the way.

Some systems, including ProMed, rely on human expertise. Others are partly or completely automated.

“These tools can help hold feet to the fire for government agencies,” said John Brownstein, who runs the HealthMap system as chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It forces people to be more open.”

The last 48 hours of 2019 were a critical time for understanding the new virus and its significance. Earlier on Dec. 30, Wuhan Central Hospital doctor Li Wenliang warned his former classmates about the virus in a social media group — a move that led local authorities to summon him for questioning several hours later.

Li, who died Feb. 7 after contracting the virus, told The New York Times that it would have been better if officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier. “There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.

ProMed reports are often incorporated into other outbreak warning systems. including those run by the World Health Organization, the Canadian government and the Toronto startup BlueDot. WHO also pools data from HealthMap and other sources.

Computer systems that scan online reports for information about disease outbreaks rely on natural language processing, the same branch of artificial intelligence that helps answer questions posed to a search engine or digital voice assistant.

But the algorithms can only be as effective as the data they are scouring, said Nita Madhav, CEO of San Francisco-based disease monitoring firm Metabiota, which first notified its clients about the outbreak in early January.

Madhav said that inconsistency in how different agencies report medical data can stymie algorithms. The text-scanning programs extract keywords from online text, but may fumble when organizations variously report new virus cases, cumulative virus cases, or new cases in a given time interval. The potential for confusion means there’s almost always still a person involved in reviewing the data.

“There’s still a bit of human in the loop,” Madhav said.

Andrew Beam, a Harvard University epidemiologist, said that scanning online reports for key words can help reveal trends, but the accuracy depends on the quality of the data. He also notes that these techniques aren’t so novel.

“There is an art to intelligently scraping web sites,” Beam said. “But it’s also Google’s core technology since the 1990s.”

Google itself started its own Flu Trends service to detect outbreaks in 2008 by looking for patterns in search queries about flu symptoms. Experts criticized it for overestimating flu prevalence. Google shut down the website in 2015 and handed its technology to nonprofit organizations such as HealthMap to use Google data to build their own models.

Google is now working with Brownstein’s team on a similar web-based approach for tracking the geographical spread of tick-borne Lyme disease.

Scientists are also using big data to model possible routes of early disease transmission.

In early January, Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and researcher at Toronto General Hospital, analyzed commercial flight data with BlueDot founder Kamran Khan to see which cities outside mainland China were most connected to Wuhan.

Wuhan stopped outbound commercial air travel in late January — but not before an estimated 5 million people had fled the city, as the Wuhan mayor later told reporters.

“We showed that the highest volume of flights from Wuhan were to Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong,” Bogoch said. “Lo and behold, a few days later we started to see cases pop up in these places.”

In 2016, the researchers used a similar approach to predict the spread of the Zika virus from Brazil to southern Florida.

Now that many governments have launched aggressive measures to curb disease transmission, it’s harder to build algorithms to predict what’s next, Bogoch said.

Artificial intelligence systems depend on vast amounts of prior data to train computers how to interpret new facts. But there are no close parallels to the way China is enforcing quarantine zones that impact hundreds of millions of people.

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Larson reported from Washington.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Insider Q&A: Facebook VP of Messenger discusses privacy

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Government officials worry about Facebook’s plans to extend end-to-end encryption to Messenger

SAN FRANCISCO —
At Facebook, Stan Chudnovsky oversees the Messenger chat app that’s used by well over 1 billion people each month. He’s playing a key role in helping Facebook integrate that app with its other chat tools, WhatsApp and Instagram Direct.

The massive project has already gotten pushback from regulators worried about Facebook’s size and power. Government officials also worry about Facebook’s plans to extend end-to-end encryption to Messenger. Once that happens, Facebook wouldn’t be able to respond to law enforcement subpoenas because it wouldn’t have a way to unscramble messages.

Chudnovsky, who moved to the U.S. from Russia in 1994, joined Facebook in 2015. He spoke with The Associated Press recently about his work and views on privacy. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the biggest roadblocks in bringing end-to-end encryption?

A: It’s technologically hard to move from the system that is alive and functioning and has billions of messages being sent every day to where it’s done completely differently architecturally. We also need to figure out how to do as much as we can on safety, while being the leaders on privacy. We are trying to go through that process slowly and very responsibly while talking to everyone.

Most messages in the U.S., where (Apple’s) iMessage is leading, are already end-to-end encrypted. We want to make sure that we get to the point when we lead very strongly and we do as much on safety as we possibly can given the constraints of end-to-end encryption.

Q: How do you ensure that people are safe when you can’t see bad things people are doing?

A: We are going to continue to work very closely with law enforcement on whatever we can provide. We also have connectivity to social networks. Whoever is a bad player on social networks, we will be able to see if those bad players exist on messaging services.

I don’t want to go into details on how we are thinking about approaching that stuff. But we’re just going to invest heavily in identifying threats earlier,

Q: You can send things in a private message that you can’t post on Facebook, right?

A: Definitely. You should be able to send whatever you want to send in a private message.

Q: What if it’s illegal or hurting someone?

A: Generally we believe that conversation between people should be private. We don’t make a difference between the conversations that are happening in the living room or on the phone and conversations that are happening in a private chat.

Q: What if you try to sell a gun, despite Facebook’s ban?

A: If you’re trying to sell a gun, you are probably trying to sell a gun to many people. When someone reports that and someone provides the messages that from the point of that person are illegal, then definitely we will be able to look at that.

Q: What are the biggest things that you have to figure out before interoperability becomes reality?

A: Generally, just a features compatibility in the sense that, if I “like” some message on one app, how does it manifest itself in another? Or will I be able to also call people, not only send messages?

Q: Do you think scrutiny of Facebook will ease any time soon?

A: We have a lot of responsibility. And the criticism, sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s not accurate. At the end of the day, what it means if everyone’s talking about you positively or negatively or both, is that you’re important. We just need to continue to deliver value to people. And as long as we are building products that people like. I think it’s going to be fine.

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Nigerian Elections & Other Topics – Daily Briefing (15 February 2019)



Noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General.

Daily Noon Briefing:
– Nigeria
– South Sudan
– Palestinian People
– Syria
– Yemen
– Rohingya Appeal
– Philippines
– Senior Personnel Appointment
– Honour Roll

NIGERIA
On the eve of presidential and parliamentary elections in Nairobi tomorrow, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is encouraging all Nigerians to continue to maintain calm and to exercise patience and restraint throughout the voting process and the announcement of the final results. 
He also calls on Nigerians to firmly reject all undemocratic and negative voices that may seek to disrupt the elections and promote conflict between Nigerians. He encourages Nigerians to come out in their numbers and cast their vote peacefully in exercise of their civic responsibility. 
Mr. Chambas hopes that the successful conduct of peaceful, free, fair, transparent, inclusive and credible elections will set another example for the elections coming up in West Africa and Africa, and underscore Nigeria’s leadership in the region.

SOUTH SUDAN
A joint report released today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) warns that although attacks against civilians have decreased significantly since the peace agreement was signed in September 2018, endemic conflict-related sexual violence continues in the northern Unity region. 
According to the report, at least 134 women and girls were raped in northern Unity between September and December 2018, while another 41 suffered other forms of sexual and physical violence. It adds that the ruthlessness of the attackers appears to be a consistent feature of the documented sexual violence.
In a press release, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urges the Government of South Sudan to take adequate measures – including those laid out in the peace agreement – to protect women and girls, to promptly and thoroughly investigate all allegations of sexual violence and to hold the perpetrators accountable through fair trials.

PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
The Secretary-General spoke at the meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and he said that Israelis and Palestinians continue to suffer from deadly cycles of violence. He said that the leaders have a responsibility to their populations, not least the youth, to reverse this negative trajectory and pave the way toward peace, stability and reconciliation. 
The Secretary-General affirmed the need to keep the focus on a just and peaceful solution with two States coexisting in peace and security. This is the only way, he said, to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and there is no Plan B. 

Full Highlights:

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National Black News Channel makes debut

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The nation’s only black news network is on the air

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. —
Former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts was beaming like a proud parent as he talked about the launch of Black News Channel — a project he’s worked on for years to create what’s now the nation’s only 24-hour news network aimed at African Americans.

He was sitting at the network’s Tallahassee studio with Gary Wordlaw, head of news and programming, watching a countdown clock as the network prepared to go live.

“I was sitting there leaning forward looking at the screen, and Gary goes, ‘OK, in about two minutes we’re going to see if this baby comes out.’ And sure enough it did,” Watts said in an interview at the studio. “We birthed a child on Feb. 10 at 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time — a healthy child — and now we have to nurture it on to adulthood.”

The goal of the network is to reach black audiences with stories that give a broader perspective about their community than what other networks provide. That could include health issues unique to African Americans, discussions about historically black colleges and universities, how federal housing policy proposal could affect them or just simply making people aware of positive accomplishments African-Americans are achieving, Watt said.

“We are more than athletes and entertainers, and on the hard news side, we’re more than crime,” said Watts, who was a star quarterback at the University of Oklahoma in the 1980s and later played in the Canadian Football League. “For every 17-year-old African American male that you show me that’s being carted off in handcuffs on the 10 o’clock news … I can show you 50 17-year-old African American males that get up every morning trying to figure out, ‘How am I going to make my mother proud of me.’ That’s the story doesn’t get told enough.”

Other channels focused on African American audiences, such as BET and TVOne, have had news programming but haven’t concentrated solely on news.

Watts serves as chairman of the network, and it’s a project that he’s worked on for years. It received a lift when billionaire businessman and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan provided the capital to get the channel on air. While Khan hasn’t disclosed how large a check he’s writing, he has said it’s enough support to keep it alive for years.

While there were some glitches that kept the network from being seen in all the markets it was hoping to reach during the first week launch, Watts said those problems will be resolved. The network has or is working on agreements with cable, satellite and television streaming companies and expects to soon be available in more than 100 million households.

Watts said he hopes that it isn’t just African-Americans that tune in.

“For anyone who wants to have a deeper relationship, a deeper understanding of the African-American community, I think we can be helpful,” Watts said.

The network has about 60 employees at its home in Florida’s capital city, and has bureaus around the country with plans to have a staff of about 100 nationally.

A recent look at the network showed stories ranging from an investigative piece on whether a major credit reporting company has an algorithm that gives blacks lower credit scores, to a look at privacy concerns on dating apps. And like other networks, it covers weather, sports and entertainment.

And Watts, a father of six, smiled when asked what the viewers saw when his new baby was born.

“Later in the day I went around to staff saying, ‘This will be a trivia question: What’s the first story ever aired on the Black News Channel?”

There’s a two part answer. The first image was a photo of the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Watts, a Republican, teamed up with civil rights leader and Democratic Rep. John Lewis to pass legislation to create the museum.

The first story was about the Academy Awards the night before.

“The first thing out of the box was the picture of the African-American Museum, and 15 seconds later it was programming —the Oscars,” Watts said.

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