Summary of the Bitcoin Seminar Held at Kaye Scholer in New York on October 15, 2015

"Bitcoin", Image by Tiger Pixel

“Bitcoin”, Image by Tiger Pixel

The market quote for Bitcoin on October 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm EST was $255.64 US according to CoinDesk.com on the site’s Price & Data page. At that same moment, I was very fortunate to have been attending a presentation entitled the Bitcoin Seminar that was just starting at the law firm of Kaye Scholer in midtown Manhattan. Coincidentally, the firm’s address is numerically just 5.64, well, whatevers¹ away at 250 West 55th Street.

Many thanks to Kaye Scholer and the members of the expert panel for putting together this outstanding presentation. My appreciation and admiration as well for the informative content and smart formatting in the accompanying booklet they provided to the audience.

Based upon the depth and dimensions of all that was learned from the speakers, everyone attending gained a great deal of knowledge and insight on the Bitcoin phenomenon. The speakers clearly and concisely surveyed its essential technologies, operations, markets, regulations and trends.

This was the first of a two-part program the firm is hosting. The second half, covering the blockchain, is scheduled on Thursday, November 5, 2015.

The panelists included:

The following are my notes from this 90-minute session:

1.  What is a “Virtual Currency” and the Infrastructure Supporting It?

  • Bitcoin is neither legal tender nor tied to a particular nation.
  • Bitcoin is the first means available to move value online without third-party trusted intermediaries.
  • Bitcoin involves a series of decentralized protocols, consisting entirely of software, for the transfer of value between parties.
  • Only 21 million Bitcoins will ever be created but they are highly divisible into much smaller units unit called “satoshis” (named after the mysterious and still anonymous creator of Bitcoin who goes by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto).
  • The network structure for these transfers is peer-to-peer, as well as transparent and secure.
  • Bitcoin is a genuine form of “cryptocurrency”, also termed “digital currency”²
  • The networks use strong encryption to secure the value and information being transferred.
  • The parties engaged in a Bitcoin transaction often intend for their virtual currency to be converted into actual fiat currency.

2.  Benefits of Bitcoin

  • Payments can be sent anywhere including internationally.
  • Transactions are borderless and can operate on a 24/7 basis.
  • Just like email, the network operates all the time.

3.  Bitcoin Mining and Bitcoin Miners

  • This is the process by which, and the people by whom, bitcoins are extracted and placed into circulation online.
  • “Miners” are those who use vast amounts of computing power to solve complex mathematical equations that, once resolved, produce new Bitcoins.
  • The miners’ motivations include:
    • the introduction of new Bitcoins
    • their roles as transaction validators and maintainers of the blockchain
  • All newly mined bitcoins need to be validated.
  • Minors are rewarded for their efforts with the bitcoins they extract and any additional fees that were volunteered along with pending transactions.
  • Miners must obey the network’s protocols during the course of their work.

4.  Security

  • Security is the central concern of all participants in Bitcoin operations.
  • Notwithstanding recent bad publicity concerning incidents and indictments for fraud (such as Mt. Gox), the vast majority of bitcoin transactions do not involve illegal activity.
  • The Bitcoin protocols prevent Bitcoins from being spent twice.
  • Measures are in place to avoid cryptography keys from being stolen or misused.
  • There is a common misconception that Bitcoin activity is anonymous. This is indeed not the case, as all transactions are recorded on the blockchain thus enabling anyone to look up the data.
  • Bitcoin operations and markets are becoming more mature and, in turn, relatively more resistant to potential threats.

5.  Using Bitcoins

  • Bitcoin is secured by individual crypto-keys which are required for “signing” in a transaction or exchange.
  • This system is distributed and individual keys are kept in different locations.
  • Once a transaction is “signed” it then goes online into the blockchain ledger³.
  • The crypto keys are highly secure to avoid tampering or interception by unintended parties.
  • Bitcoin can be structured so that either:
    • multiple keys are required to be turned at the same time on both sides of the transaction, or
    • only a single key is required to execute a transaction.
  • By definition, there are no traditional intermediaries (such as banks).

6.  Asset Custody and Valuation

  • Financial regulators see Bitcoin as being a money transmission.
  • Currently, the law says nothing about multi-keys (above).
  • Work is being done on drafting new model legislation in an attempt to define “custody” of Bitcoin as an asset.
  • Bitcoin services in the future will be programmatic and will not require the trusted third parties. For example, in a real estate transaction, if the parties agree to terms then the keys are signed. If not, an arbitrator can be used to turn the keys for the parties and complete the transaction. Thus, this method can be a means to perform settlements in the real world.
  • Auditing this process involves public keys with custodial ownership. In determining valuation, the question is whether “fair value” has been reached and agreed upon.
  • From an asset allocation perspective, it is instructive to compare Bitcoin to gold insofar as there is no fixed amount of gold in the world, but Bitcoin will always be limited to 21 million Bitcoins (see 1. above).

7.  US Regulatory Environment

  • Because of the Bitcoin market’s rapid growth in the past few years, US federal and state regulators have become interested and involved.
  • Bitcoin itself is not regulated. Rather, the key lies at the “chokepoints” in the system where Bitcoin is turned into fiat currency.
  • US states regulate the money transfer business. Thus, compliance is also regulated by state laws. For example, New York State’s Department of Financial Services issues a license for certain service companies in the Bitcoin market operating within the state called a BitLicense. California is currently considering similar legislation.
  • Federal money laundering laws must always be obeyed in Bitcoin transactions.
  • The panelists agreed that it is important for Bitcoin legislation is to protect innovation in this marketplace.
  • The Internal Revenue Service has determined Bitcoin to be a tangible personal asset. As a result, Bitcoin is an investment subject to capital gains. As well, it will be taxed if used to pay for goods and services

8.  Future Prospects and Predictions

  • Current compelling use cases for Bitcoin include high volume of cross-border transactions and areas of the world without stable governments.
  • Bitcoin’s success is not now a matter of if, but rather, when. It could eventually take the emergence of some form of Bitcoin 2.0 to ultimately succeed.
  • Currency is now online and is leading to innovations such as:
    • Programmable money and other new formats of digital currency.
    • Rights management for music services where royalties are sent directly to the artists. (See Footnote 3 below.)

9.  Ten Key Takeaway Points:

  • Bitcoin is a virtual currency but it is not anonymous.
  • The key legal consideration is that it involves a stateless but trusted exchange of value.
  • Bitcoin “miners” are creating the value and increasing in their computing sophistication to locate and solve equations to extract Bitcoins.
  • Security is the foremost concern of everyone involved with Bitcoin.
  • Because Bitcoin exchanges of value occur and settle quickly and transparently (on the blockchain ledger), there are major implications for online commerce and the securities markets.
  • Government regulators are now significantly involved and there are important distinctions between what the states and federal government can regulate.
  • The IRS has made a determination about the nature of Bitcoin as an asset, and its taxable status in paying for goods and services.
  • The crypto-keys and “multi-signing” process are essential to making Bitcoin work securely, with neither borders nor third-party intermediaries.
  • Real estate transactions seem to be well-suited for the blochchain (for example, recording mortgages).
  • Comparing Bitcoin to gold (as a commodity), can be instructive in understanding the nature of Bitcoin.

 


1.   Is there a conversion formula, equivalency or terminology for the transposition of address numerals into Bitcoin? If one soon emerges, it will add a whole new meaning to the notion of “street value”.

2See also this May 8, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Book Review of “The Age of Cryptocurrency”.

3.  For two examples of other non-Bitcoin adaptations of blockchain technology (among numerous other currently taking place), see the August 21, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Two Startups’ Note-Worthy Efforts to Adapt Blockchain Technology for the Music Industry and the September 10, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Vermont’s Legislature is Considering Support for Blockchain Technology and Smart Contracts.

Musical “Omnivores” Proliferate as Tastes in Tunes are Becoming More Diversified

"2015 CMU Music Marathon- Webster Hall", Image by Feast of Music

“2015 CMU Music Marathon- Webster Hall”, Image by Feast of Music

Back when such things actually existed in the analog world, I worked in a large music store in the middle of Times Square in New York. There was an unofficial policy there that the music played throughout each day in the store was to always be a wide mix of musical genres and sub-genres, often including some very exotic sounds.

Having grown up with my radio perpetually tuned to what was then WNEW-FM 102.7,¹ all I ever knew about was rock and roll. However, because I had daily exposure in this music store to all of these other types of music such as jazz, classical, folk and international, it opened up a whole new world for me. To this day, I remain very grateful for this experience because it greatly expanded my appreciation and enjoyment of the endless diversity and talent of music, musicians and songwriters.

The other great thing about the store was that many of the people on the sales staff were, in their own way, experts in many different genres. Some of them were also aspiring musicians². Not only were they there to help sell music, but they readily provided deep and wide perspectives and histories about artists, performances and recordings. Regular customers shopped there principally because of this (way-before-the-web) access to this trove of knowledge.

This enduring memory for me is why a fascinating post on Phys.org on September 15, 2015, entitled The Rise of the Musical Omnivore (no author is credited), immediately captured my attention. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. I will summarize and an-note-ate it, and pose some of my own, well, key questions.

New Study Re-examines Musical Preferences

Tastes in music have always been perceived as related to the listener’s societal “class”. However, recent research findings indicated that the “upper” classes are adding those types of music often associated with the “middle” and “lower” classes (although these terms are not specifically defined in the article). As well, “musical taste can become more independent” of class through “an intensive engagement with music”. (A Subway Fold post on August 11, 2015 entitled Rock It Science: New Study Equates Musical Tastes to Personality Traits, looked at this from another perspective.)

These findings and much more were published by a team of academic staff members from the Max Plank Institute (MPI) for Empirical Aesthetics and the University of Vienna online in Frontiers in Psychology  on August 20, 2015 in an article entitled Exploring the Musical Taste of Expert Listeners: Musicology Students Reveal Tendency Toward Omnivorous Taste. The authors are Paul Elvers, Diana Omigie, Wolfgang Fuhrmann and Timo Fischinger. I also recommend reading this full report.

These new types of more receptive listeners are termed ominvores whose musical preferences include a mix of styles, despite their original inclinations towards classical and jazz. This phenomenon is now being seen more commonly in music students, whereas previously it was limited to listeners in “higher social classes”. Among such students, half are them are such omnivores. A quarter of them will also listen to different genres “depending on their mood and the occasion”.

The researchers’ study focused upon the preferences of “expert listeners” such as music students as well as “average listeners”. The focus on the former group was to determine whether their “musical training and knowledge” led them to develop different tastes than those in the populations without this education. The study’s sample included 1,000 students from Germany and Austria who were either majoring or minoring (no pun intended), in music. They were queried on how frequently they listed to any musical genres including “rock, pop and classical music to punk, heavy metal, emo/screamo³, gospel, reggae and world music”.

Results and Analysis

Among the study’s findings were that:

  • Rock listeners listen to their music more often but rarely hear other genres.
  • Conventional listeners of classical, house and pop listeners listen to their music “moderately often”.
  • Engaged listeners listen “substantially more frequently” than the other two groups and, while most often listening to classical and jazz, are also more likely to regularly include folk and rock. Thus, this group is more likely to include the omnivores and exhibit a “generally higher intensity of music listening”.

According to Paul Elvers from the Max Plank Institute and one of the co-authors of the study, they critical issue here is how these groups are distributed within the musical expert and control groups.  His team found that:

  • 50% of music students were engaged listeners.
  • 36% of music students were conventional listeners
  • 13% of music students were rock listeners
  • 25% of the control group were engaged listeners
  • 50% of the control group were conventional listeners
  • 25% of the control group were rock listeners4

Mr. Elvers further believes that the findings about music students not showing a preference for classical is due to a change in their contemporary education where pop and rock have entered their curriculum at Humboldt University of Berlin. This is where most of the study’s participants originated.

Additional findings concluded:

  • Rock music listeners “form their own cluster”, while classic listeners showed the most receptiveness to other genres and thus the omnivores were more among them.
  • There was no meaningful correlation between “social origin and musical taste”.
  • Instead of “social origins”, knowledge of, and education in, music was much more determinative of the survey’s subjects’ receptiveness to “a broad musical repertoire”.

According to Melanie Wald-Furhmann, the Director of the Music Department at MPI for Empirical Aesthetics, because the students who were surveyed for the study are young, this may indicate a trend.  She further believes that this potential movement away from the connection between social identification and musical preferences could turn out to be an interesting development.

The researchers were aware of their study’s limits regarding the age and education levels of their sample students as not being representative of the entire population. They have begun a follow-up survey to “gain broader and more detailed findings”.

My Questions

  • Are the findings just as applicable to listeners in other countries, or are there differences from nation to nation and perhaps among geographic areas within each nation?
  • Are the definitions and recordings of what constitutes rock, jazz, folk, metal, classical and other genres also universal across nations and cultures, or do they varying at different locations around the world? If so, would further studies need to be taken to fully map out and understand these differences?
  • Has the universal availability of nearly all the world’s music throughout all sorts of online distribution channels also become a variable to be considered for further studies like this one?
  • How are the results of this study helpful to the marketers, media planners and executives of music companies and artists’ talent managers?
  • How might educators at the university level and earlier make use of this study in planning their curricula?

 


1.  For an excellent history of this once influential and popular station and rock radio during its heyday, I highly recommend a book entitled FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio, by Richard Neer (2002). The author was a DJ on WNEW-FM during most of the station’s existence. For many years since then he has been a sports radio talk show host on WFAN in New York.

2.  One of my co-workers there once went for an audition when some group called Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was looking for a new drummer. He did not get the gig. I wonder what ever happened to that Springsteen guy.

3.  This also perfectly described the collective response in New York on Wednesday night, October 22, 2015, when our  beloved New York Mets won the National League pennant. On to the World Series! GO METS!!!

4I suggest that everyone in all of these groups put aside their differences and watch the absolutely hilarious School of Rock starring Jack Black.

 

Printable, Temporary Tattoo-like Medical Sensors are Under Development

pulse-trace-163708_640There is a new high-energy action and suspense drama on NBC this year called Blindspot. The first episode began when a woman in left in a luggage bag in the middle of Times Square in New York with tattoos completely covering her and absolutely no memory of who she is or how she got there. She is taken in by the FBI who starts to analyze her tattoos and see if they can figure out who she was before her memory was intentionally destroyed. It turns out that the tattoos are puzzles that, once solved, start to lead a team of agents assigned to her to a series of dangerous criminal operations.

“Jane” as they call her, is quickly made a part of this FBI team because, without knowing why, she immediately exhibits professional level fighting and weapons skills. She is also highly motivated to find out her real identity and is starting to experience brief memory flashbacks. All sorts of subplots and machinations have begun to sprout up regarding her true identity and how she ended up in this dilemma.

So far, the show is doing well in the ratings. Imho, after four episodes it’s off to a compelling and creative start. I plan to keep watching it. (The only minor thing I don’t like about it is the way the production team is using the shaky cam so much it’s making me feel a bit seasick at times.)

The lead actress, Jamie Alexander, who plays Jane, is actually wearing just temporary tattoos on the show. While these cryptic designs are the main device to propel the fictional plots forward in each episode, back in the non-fictional real world temporary tattoo-like devices are also currently being tested by researchers as medical sensors to gather patients’ biological data. This news adds a whole new meaning to the notion of medical application.

This advancement was reported in a most interesting article on Smithsonian.com, posted on October 8, 2015 entitled Tiny, Tattoo-Like Wearables Could Monitor Your Health, by Heather Hansman. I will summarize and annotate it in an effort to provide a, well, ink-ling about this story, and then pose some of my own questions.

Research and Development

This project, in a field called bio-integrated electronics, is being conducted at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. The research team is being led by Professor Nanshu Lu (who received her Ph.D. from Harvard).  Her team’s experimental patch is currently being applied to test heart rates and blood oxygen levels.

When Dr. Lu and her team were investigating the possibility of creating these “tattoo-like wearables”, their main concern was the manufacturing process, not the sensors themselves because there were many already available. Instead, they focused upon creating these devices to be both disposable and inexpensive. Prior attempts elsewhere had proven to be more “expensive and time-consuming”.

This led them to pursue the use of  3D printing . (These four Subway Fold posts cover other applications of this technology.) They devised a means to print out “patterns on a sheet of metal instead of forming the electronics in a mold”. They easily found the type of metal material for this purpose in a hardware store. Essentially, the patterns were cut into it rather than removed from it. Next, this electronic component was “transfer printed onto medical tape or tattoo adhesive”. Altogether, it is about the size of a credit card. (There is a picture of one at the top of the article on Smithsonian.com linked above.)

The entire printing process takes about 20 minutes and can be done without the use of a dedicated lab. Dr. Lu is working to get the cost of each patch down to around $1.

Current Objectives

The teams further objective is to “integrate multiple sensors and antenna” into the patches in order to capture vital signs and wirelessly transmit them to doctors’ and patient’s computing devices.  They can be used to measure a patient’s:

One of the remaining issues to mass producing the patches is making them wireless using Bluetooth or near field communication (NFC) technology. At this point, chip producers have not made any commitments to make such chips small enough. Nonetheless, Dr. Lu and her team are working on creating their own chip which they expect will be about the size of a coin.

My Questions

  • Could this sensor be adapted to measure blood glucose levels? (See a similar line of research and development covered in the June 27, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Medical Researchers are Developing a “Smart Insulin Patch”.)
  • Could this sensor be adapted to improve upon the traditional patch test for allergies?
  • Could this sensor be adapted for usage in non-vital sign data for biofeedback therapies?
  • Would adding some artwork to these patches make them aesthetically more pleasing and thus perhaps more acceptable to patients?
  • Could this sensor be further developed to capture multiple types of medical data?
  • Are these sensors being secured in such a manner to protect the patients’ privacy and from any possible tampering?
  • Could the production team of Blindspot please take it easy already with the shaky cam?

Visionary Developments: Bionic Eyes and Mechanized Rides Derived from Dragonflies

"Transparency and Colors", Image by coniferconifer

“Transparency and Colors”, Image by coniferconifer

All manner of software and hardware development projects strive to diligently take out every single bug that can be identified¹. However, a team of researchers who is currently working on a fascinating and potentially valuable project is doing everything possible to, at least figuratively, leave their bugs in.

This involves a team of Australian researchers who are working on modeling the vision of dragonflies. If they are successful, there could be some very helpful implications for applying their work to the advancement of bionic eyes and driverless cars.

When the design and operation of biological systems in nature are adapted to improve man-made technologies as they are being here, such developments are often referred to as being biomimetic².

The very interesting story of this, well, visionary work was reported in an article in the October 6, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled Scientists Tap Dragonfly Vision to Build a Better Bionic Eye by Rachel Pannett. I will summarize and annotate it, and pose some bug-free questions of my own. Let’s have a look and see what all of this organic and electronic buzz is really about.

Bionic Eyes

A research team from the University of Adelaide has recently developed this system modeled upon a dragonfly’s vision. It is built upon a foundation that also uses artificial intelligence (AI)³. Their findings appeared in an article entitled Properties of Neuronal Facilitation that Improve Target Tracking in Natural Pursuit Simulations that was published in the June 6, 2015 edition of The Royal Society Interface (access credentials required). The authors include Zahra M. Bagheri, Steven D. Wiederman, Benjamin S. Cazzolato, Steven Grainger, and David C. O’Carroll. The funding grant for their project was provided by the Australian Research Council.

While the vision of dragonflies “cannot distinguish details and shapes of objects” as well as humans, it does possess a “wide field of vision and ability to detect fast movements”. Thus, they can readily track of targets even within an insect swarm.

The researchers, including Dr. Steven Wiederman, the leader of the University of Adelaide team, believe their work could be helpful to the development work on bionic eyes. These devices consist of an  artificial implant placed in a person’s retina that, in turn, is connected to a video camera. What a visually impaired person “sees” while wearing this system is converted into electrical signals that are communicated to the brain. By adding the software model of the dragonfly’s 360-degree field of vision, this will add the capability for the people using it to more readily detect, among other things, “when someone unexpectedly veers into their path”.

Another member of the research team and one of the co-authors of their research paper, a Ph.D. candidate named Zahra Bageri, said that dragonflies are able to fly so quickly and be so accurate “despite their visual acuity and a tiny brain around the size of a grain of rice”4 In other areas of advanced robotics development, this type of “sight and dexterity” needed to avoid humans and objects has proven quite challenging to express in computer code.

One commercial company working on bionic eye systems is Second Sight Medical Products Inc., located in California. They have received US regulatory approval to sell their retinal prosthesis.

Driverless Cars

In the next stage of their work, the research team is currently studying “the motion-detecting neurons in insect optic lobes”, in an effort to build a system that can predict and react to moving objects. They believe this might one day be integrated into driverless cars in order to avoid pedestrians and other cars5. Dr. Wiederman foresees the possible commercialization of their work within the next five to ten years.

However, obstacles remain in getting this to market. Any integration into a test robot would require a “processor big enough to simulate a biological brain”. The research team believes that is can be scaled down since the “insect-based algorithms are much more efficient”.

Ms. Bagheri noted that “detecting and tracking small objects against complex backgrounds” is quite a technical challenge. She gave as an example of this a  baseball outfielder who has only seconds to spot, track and predict where a ball hit will fall in the field in the midst of a colorful stadium and enthusiastic fans6.

My Questions

  • As suggested in the article, might this vision model be applicable in sports to enhancing live broadcasts of games, helping teams review their game day videos afterwards by improving their overall play, and assisting individual players to analyze how they react during key plays?
  • Is the vision model applicable in other potential safety systems for mass transportation such as planes, trains, boats and bicycles?
  • Could this vision model be added to enhance the accuracy, resolution and interactivity of virtual reality and augmented reality systems? (These 11 Subway Fold posts appearing in the category of Virtual and Augmented Reality cover a range of interesting developments in this field.)

 


1.  See this Wikipedia page for a summary of the extraordinary career Admiral Grace Hopper. Among her many technological accomplishments, she was a pioneer in developing modern computer programming. She was also the originator of the term computer “bug”.

2For an earlier example of this, see the August 18, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled IBM’s New TrueNorth Chip Mimics Brain Functions.

3The Subway Fold category of Smart Systems contains 10 posts on AI.

4Speaking of rice-sized technology, see also the April 14, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Smart Dust: Specialized Computers Fabricated to Be Smaller Than a Single Grain of Rice.

5While the University of Adelaide research team is not working with Google, nonetheless the company has been a leader in the development of autonomous cars with their Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.

6New York’s beloved @Mets might also prove to be worthwhile subjects to model because of their stellar play in the 2015 playoffs. Let’s vanquish those dastardly LA Dodgers on Thursday night. GO METS!

NASA is Providing Support for Musical and Humanitarian Projects

"NASA - Endeavor 2", Image by NASA

“NASA – Endeavor 2”, Image by NASA

In two recent news stories, NASA has generated a world of good will and positive publicity about itself and its space exploration program. It would be an understatement to say their results have been both well-grounded and out of this world.

First, NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield created a vast following for himself online when he uploaded a video onto YouTube of him singing David Bowie’s classic Space Oddity while on a mission on the International Space Station (ISS).¹ As reported on the October 7, 2015 CBS Evening News broadcast, Hadfield will be releasing an album of 12 songs he wrote and performed in space, today on October 9. 2015. He also previously wrote a best-selling book entitled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). I highly recommend checking out his video, book and Twitter account @Cmdr_Hadfield.

What a remarkably accomplished career in addition to his becoming an unofficial good will ambassador for NASA.

The second story, further enhancing the agency’s reputation, concerns a very positive program affecting many lives that was reported in a most interesting article on Wired.com on September 28, 2015 entitled How NASA Data Can Save Lives From Space by Issie Lapowsky. I will summarize and annotate it, and then pose some my own terrestrial questions.

Agencies’ Partnership

According to a NASA administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts frequently look down at the Earth from space and realize that borders across the world are subjectively imposed by warfare or wealth. These dividing lines between nations seem to become less meaningful to them while they are in flight. Instead, the astronauts tend to look at the Earth and have a greater awareness everyone’s responsibilities to each other. Moreover, they wonder what they can possibly do when they return to make some sort of meaningful difference on the ground.

Bolden recently shared this experience with an audience at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, DC, to explain the reasoning behind a decade-long partnership between NASA and USAID. (This latter is the US government agency responsible for the administration of US foreign aid.) At first, this would seem to be an unlikely joint operation between two government agencies that do not seem to have that much in common.

In fact, this combination provides “a unique perspective on the grave need that exists in so many places around the world”, and a special case where one agency sees it from space and the other one sees it on the ground.

They are joined together into a partnership known as SERVIR where NASA supplies “imagery, data, and analysis” to assist developing nations.  They help these countries with forecasting and dealing “with natural disasters and the effects of climate change”.

Partnership’s Results

Among others, SERVIR’s tools have produced the following representative results:

  • Predicting floods in Bangladesh that gives citizens a total of eight days notice in order to make preparations that will save lives. This reduced the number to 17 during the last year’s monsoon season whereas previously it had been in the thousands.
  • Predicting forest fires in the Himalayas.
  • For central America, NASA created  a map of ocean chlorophyll concentration that assisted public officials in identifying and improving shellfish testing in order to deal with “micro-algae outbreaks” responsible for causing significant health issues.

SERVIR currently operates in 30 countries. As a part of their network, there are regional hubs working with “local partners to implement the tools”. Last week it opened such a hub in Asia’s Mekong region. Both NASA and USAID are hopeful that the number of such hubs will continue to grow.

Google is also assisting with “life saving information from satellite imagery”. They are doing this by applying artificial intelligence (AI)² capabilities to Google Earth. This project is still in its preliminary stages.

My Questions

  • Should SERVIR reach out to the space agencies and humanitarian organizations of other countries to explore similar types of humanitarian joint ventures?
  • Do the space agencies of other countries have similar partnerships with their own aid agencies?
  • Would SERVIR benefit from partnerships with other US government agencies? Similarly, would it benefit from partnering with other humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO)?
  • Would SERVIR be the correct organization to provide assistance in global environmental issues? Take for example the report on the October 8, 2015 CBS Evening News network broadcast of the story about the bleaching of coral reefs around the world.

 


1.  While Hatfield’s cover and Bowie’s original version of Space Oddity are most often associated in pop culture with space exploration, I would like to suggest another song that also captures this spirit and then truly electrifies it: Space Truckin’ by Deep Purple. This appeared on their Machine Head album which will be remembered for all eternity because it included the iconic Smoke on the Water. Nonetheless, Space Truckin‘ is, in my humble opinion, a far more propulsive tune than Space Oddity. Its infectious opening riff will instantly grab your attention while the rest of the song races away like a Saturn Rocket reaching for escape velocity. Furthermore, the musicianship on this recording is extraordinary. Pay close attention to Richie Blackmore’s scorching lead guitar and Ian Paice’s thundering drums. Come on, let’s go space truckin’!

2. These eight Subway Fold posts cover AI from a number of different perspectives involving a series of different applications and markets.

Can Scientists Correlate the Language Used in Tweets with Twitter Users’ Incomes?

Tweet100515

In the centuries since William Shakespeare wrote one of Juliet’s most enduring lines in Romeo and Juliet that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, it has been almost always been interpreted as meaning that the mere names of people, by themselves, have no real effect upon who and what they are in this world.

This past week, the following trio of related articles was published that brought this to mind, specifically about the modern meanings, values and analytics of words as they appear online:

All of these are highly recommended and worth reading in their entirety for their informative and thought-provoking reports containing so many words about, well, so many words.

Then to reframe and update the original quote above to serve as a starting point here, I would like to ask whether a post by any other name in Twitter’s domain would smell as [s/t]weet? To try to answer this, I will focus on the first of these articles in order to summarize and annotate it, and then ask some of my own non-theatrical questions.

According to the Phys.org article, which nicely summarizes the study of a team of US and UK university scientists that was published on PLOS|ONE.org entitled Studying User Income through Language, Behaviour and Affect in Social Media by Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro, Svitlana Volkova, Vasileios Lampos, Yoram Bachrach and Nikolaos Aletras, a link exists between the language used in tweets and the authors’ income. (These additional ten Subway Fold posts covered other applications of demographic analyses of Twitter traffic.)

Methodology

Using only the actual tweets of Twitter users, that often contain “intimate details” despite the lack of privacy on this social media platform, the two researchers on the team from the University of Pennsylvania’s World Well-Being Project are actively investigating whether social media can be used as a “research tool” to replace more expensive surveys that can be “limited and potentially biased”.  (The work of the World Well-Being Project, among others, was first covered in a closely related Subway Fold post on March 20, 2015 entitled Studies Link Social Media Data with Personality and Health Indicators.)

The full research team began this study by examining “Twitter users’ self-described occupations”. Then they gathered a “representative sampling”  of 10 million tweets from 5,191 users spanning each of the nine distinct groups classified in the UK’s official Standard Occupational Classification guide and calculated the average income for each group. Using this data, they built an algorithm upon “words that people in each code use distinctly”.  That is, the algorithm parsed what words had the highest predictive value for determining which of the classification groups the users were in the sample were likely fall within.

Results

Some of the team’s results “validated what’s already known”, such as a user’s words can indicate “age and gender” which, in turn, are linked to income. The leader of the researchers, Daniel Preoţiuc-Pietro, also cited the following unexpected results:

  • Higher earners on Twitter tend to:
    • write with “more fear and anger”
    • more often discussed “politics, corporations and the nonprofit world”
    • use it to distribute news
    • use it more for professional than personal purposes, while
  • Lower earners on Twitter tend to:
    • be optimists
    • swear more in their tweets
    • use it more for personal communication

This study will be used as the basis for future efforts to evaluate the correlations between user incomes with other data from the real world. (Please see also these eight Subway Fold posts on the distinctions between correlation and causation.)

My Questions

  • Might the inverse of these findings, that certain language could draw users with certain income levels, be used by online marketers, advertisers and content specialists to attract their desired demographic group(s)?
  • How could anyone concerned with search engine optimization (SEO) policies and results make use if this study in their content creation and meta-tagging strategies?
  • Does this type of data on the particularly sensitive subject of income, risk segmenting users in some form of de facto discriminatory manner? If this possibility exists, how can researchers avoid this in the future?
  • Would a follow-up study perhaps find that certain words used in tweets by authors who aspire to move up from one income level to the next one? If so, how can this data be used by the same specialists mentioned in the first two questions above?