Tag Archives: Journalism; medicine; law

Science communication in the “alternative facts” era

Panel members (left-right): Ketan Joshi,  Heather Catchpole, Lucinda Beaman and Amy Coopes,

From climate change to vaccination and alternative medicine, researchers face problems when they seek to turn evidence into actions through science communication. On the 1st June, 2017, Macquarie University held a public workshop called “Science, Misinformation, and Alternative Facts”.

The interdisciplinary workshop brought together a diverse group of panelists to discuss science and media in our “post-truth” era. Panelists included Ketan Joshi, a communications consultant specialising in clean energy technologies; Heather Catchpole, founder of STEM content producer Refraction Media; Lucinda Beaman, editor of FactCheck at the Conversation and Amy Coopes, journalist turned medical student and cancer researcher.

The panelists discussed the challenges of science communication and potential strategies for closing the gap between evidence and public opinion.

They described how the emergence of anxiety-inducing terms such as “post-truth” and “fake news” have influenced how the general public perceive scientific information, as well as the increasingly curated nature of news by social media. Further challenges discussed included the use of facts out of context and the increasingly politicised nature of science, particularly in climate change and health.

One of the most important takeaways was the emphasis on building relationships between scientists, academics and journalists in order to make the best decisions on how to assess and report scientific information. The panel members also recommended that teachers focus on helping students understand the scientific process so that the next generation is equipped with critical thinking skills.

The recording of the workshop by Jon Brock is now available via the link here. The workshop was coordinated by the Macquarie Research Enrichment Program and co-sponsored by the Faculty of Human Sciences, the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders.

Read more about the workshop at Inspiring Australia.

AI transforms work as we know it

Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to disrupt industry and experts say that we need to focus on unique human skills.

A recent report by economics and strategy consulting firm AlphaBeta predicts that AI could replace 3 million Australian workers by 2030, based on the growing rate of job automation. They report that one third of the entire Australian workforce reportedly spent 70% of their time on automatable tasks, putting them most at risk of redundancy.

Professor Toby Walsh, a leading researcher in AI at UNSW and author of Android Dreams: The Past, Present and Future of AI, says that the consequences will be significant. “If we do nothing… a lot of people will be put out of work, and won’t have the skills for any of the new jobs that are created by technology.”

He says that as AI become more prevalent across all industries, we need to make significant societal changes to education, employment and taxation: “If we do, then the machines can take the sweat and we can focus on the finer things in life.”

AI is proving to be excellent in performing repetitive tasks which many of us find tiresome. Some of the innovations are particularly surprising. Lawyers are employing AI-assistants which laboriously scan legislation and case law for them. Doctors are digitising paperwork with data-processing tools, freeing up their time for patients. Even journalists could soon be using AI-driven fake news detectors to ensure accurate reporting.

Here are just a selection of the latest AI tools which are causing an industry upheaval in medicine, law and journalism.

Medicine: superhuman therapists to the rescue

New Scientist recently published an article declaring that AI will soon be a standard part of your medical care, heralding “the rise of the superhuman doctor”. According to Isaac Kohane, head of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School, AI is poised to change the very delivery of healthcare by equipping medical professionals with enhanced abilities.

IBM estimate that medical images currently account for at least 90% of human data. To save radiologists from repetitively viewing thousands of medical images, deep learning algorithms are being optimised for healthcare by companies such as IBM (Watson), the Fraunhofer Institute for Medical Image Computing (MEVIS) and GE Healthcare (Arterys). These tools carry out tasks such as detecting and tracking the progression of tumours, detecting diabetic retinopathy and diagnosing cardiovascular disease.

AI-based diagnostic and treatment-recommendation tools have attracted their fair share of controversy, with critics stating that they are expensive and time consuming to link with patient medical records. But AI developers are confident that AI is highly capable of improving health care. AI has the potential to ease the burden of administrative tasks, such as the digital form-filing of patient data. This frees up doctors to take more detailed patient histories and keep on top of the latest research.

Law: AI smooths out divorce and fights your parking fines for you

File this under one of the most unexpected automation processes you’ve ever heard of: www.wevorce.com is a self-guided divorce solution which has been developed to handle divorces more efficiently. After clients provide their information, it uses an algorithm to predict how the divorce will progress and then provides services based on the predictions. It’s just one example of the ways in which legal services are being disrupted by AI.

The world’s first AI lawyer, ROSS, is being used by US bankruptcy law firm BakerHostetler to digest thousands of pages of legal research. The Chief information officer, Bob Craig, refutes concerns that legal jobs will be taken over by AI. “ROSS is not a way to replace our attorneys – it is a supplemental tool to help them move faster”, he says. With AI capable of combing through hundreds of pages of case law, lawyers can then focus on tailoring legal solutions to their clients.

As AI increasingly spreads its roots in the legal sphere, there is a huge opening in the market for legal tech, according to Australian online legal publication BucketOrange.  Stanford Uni student Joshua Browder has created a “DoNotPay” chatbot which has successfully appealed thousands of parking tickets. As the potential for technologically advanced legal services grows, tech-minded law graduates will only find their career opportunities expanding.

Journalism: rise of the robot reporters

AI-driven tools could soon be assisting journalists with video production, compiling poll information (particularly during elections) and collecting information from on-the-ground sources at news events. Reporters are excited that AI could take over journalistic “grunt work”, freeing up journalists for more creative and complex assignments.

AI could also help fight “churnalism” (stories which are not properly fact-checked or researched). AI can already recognise basic storylines using natural language programming (NLP) techniques. The next step would be to sample a range of versions of a story from various sources, says Kurt Barling, Professor of Journalism at Middlesex University. Algorithms could then identify bias, which could be flagged by statements such as “you couldn’t make it up”. These tools could help journalists gauge the integrity of tweets and news alerts to nip the spread of fake news in the bud.

The Australian developed ClaimBuster uses NLP to identify factual claims within text, but is so far only used as a fact-checking tool by (human) journalists. Completely automated fact checkers, such as  Factmata, are still in development.

Nevertheless, the complete replacement of journalists by “robot reporters” remains highly unlikely, according to an Oxford University study. In a recent opinion piece for The Japan Times, the editor of Kyodo News wrote that although AI could take over simple announcements, it could never replace investigative reporting, provide deep analysis or produce emotional profile pieces.

The human advantage

Amongst all of these new innovations, it’s worth remembering that there are aspects of every job that AI will never be able replace. Walsh believes that “to stay ahead of the machines, we need to focus on areas where humans have an edge”. This includes creativity, emotional intelligence and the ability to make the right judgment under pressure: human capacities which will remain valued in every role.

– Larissa Fedunik