The Daily Dose: Coronavirus concerns mount; Dangers of AI face recognition

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The global coronavirus outbreak continues to spread around the world. Italy experienced 50% increases over the weekend while South Korean cemented itself as the country with the largest epidemic outside of China. However, Iran’s situation is unique. Somehow, its political class has suffered numerous infections and now, fatalities. As per Caixin Global, “Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, who sat on the Expediency Discernment Council that advises Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, died at a hospital in the capital, Tehran. A number of high-level officials have contracted Covid-19 in Iran, which has logged the most virus-related deaths of any country outside China.” How that will pan-out will be interesting as members of the government have unknowingly held closed-quarter meetings with contagious politicians.

By now, it’s old news that the United States and the CDC did some serious mismanagement with regards to the appearance of SARS-CoV-2 on American shores. An article in Science explains exactly what went wrong and provides some sobering perspective. “The problems have led many to doubt that the official tally of 60 confirmed cases in the United States is accurate. ‘There have been blunders, and there could be an underlying catastrophe that we don’t know about,’ says epidemiologist Michael Mina, who helps run a microbiology testing lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. ‘It’s been very complicated and confusing for everyone with almost no clarity being provided by the CDC.’” We’re beginning to get an idea of how much government authorities missed.

“The total number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States jumped by two dozen over the weekend, as the first two deaths from the outbreak were confirmed…. New cases of the virus were announced in Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, New York and Florida on Sunday, bringing the US total to 89 as of Monday morning, up from 65 on Friday night…. The new cases prompted emergency declarations in at least two states and sparked new warnings. Schools in the Seattle area, Portland area, and Rhode Island all announced closures for cleaning this week after presumptive positive cases linked to either students or staff.”

It’s an odd quirk in modern science that more is known about planets such as Mars than is known about portions of the deep seas here on Earth. Perhaps some of that is about to change because scientists are about to explore the area of the ocean ocean layer 200 to 1,000 metres deep. As per Nature, “As part of a US$25-million mission, NASA will travel to the north Atlantic in April to study the movement of carbon between the atmosphere and the deep ocean. Others will join in the expedition thanks to a collaborative venture unveiled at the American Geophysical Union’s ocean-science meeting in San Diego, California, last week.”

Reading the human face for emotions and insights into personality has been a controversial practice for some time now. It also leaves much to be desired in terms of minimizing bias. There’s just too much subjectivity in a process that is often tinged with racism and other a priori assumptions. Just don’t tell tech firms any of that. As per Nature, “Such concerns haven’t stopped leading tech companies running with the idea that emotions can be detected readily, and some firms have created software to do just that. The systems are being trialled or marketed for assessing the suitability of job candidates, detecting lies, making adverts more alluring and diagnosing disorders from dementia to depression. Estimates place the industry’s value at tens of billions of dollars. Tech giants including Microsoft, IBM and Amazon, as well as more specialist companies such as Affectiva in Boston, Massachusetts, and NeuroData Lab in Miami, Florida, all offer algorithms designed to detect a person’s emotions from their face.”

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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