A University of Queensland (UQ) team has made a discovery called ‘BioClay’ that could help conquer the greatest threat to global food security – pests and diseases in plants.
Research leader Professor Neena Mitter says BioClay – an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemicals and pesticides – could be a game-changer for crop protection.
“In agriculture, the need for new control agents grows each year, driven by demand for greater production, the effects of climate change, community and regulatory demands, and toxicity and pesticide resistance,” she says.
“Our disruptive research involves a spray of nano-sized degradable clay used to release double-stranded RNA, that protects plants from specific disease-causing pathogens.”
The Psychology Network has created one of the world’s first AI psychologists, an artificial ADHD coach called Amy.
While communication is changing all around us, psychological practice has not fundamentally changed for more than a hundred years. Psychologists deliver services by talking to people in an office environment or out in the field.
While the nature of psychological assessment and therapy may have changed over the years, the formal setting has not: a professional (the psychologist) and a client generally talk one-on-one or in the presence of others.
However, with the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, the delivery of psychological services is set to change dramatically. Mobile phone apps, for instance, can analyse speech and language to detect indicators of depression and provide instant feedback to both psychologists and clients.
AI psychologists available around the world, 24/7
Although online versions of cognitive-behaviour therapy have been available for more than a decade, what is emerging now are “AI psychologists” – programs that are empowered by vast knowledge bases on mental health and how to solve very human problems.
These programs talk to people in ways that are almost indistinguishable from the ways that human psychologists do. Importantly, they are available anytime, everywhere (on your mobile phone, for example) – and they cost as little as $2/hr. This is psychological expertise on tap, 24/7.
But can psychological therapy work without a shared human experience? Will it be possible for a client to form a bond that is assuring and goes beyond simply using a mobile app?
I think so. By way of example, a few weeks ago I drove a rental car through a large European city – a place I was visiting for the first time. Given peak hour traffic, narrow streets and a lot of construction, the experience would have been enough to trigger high stress levels. However, I learned to trust the re-assuring voice of my navigation system and the whole experience was as stress-free as I could have hoped for.
Although this is not an example of an AI system, it illustrates the commonplace experience of a machine-generated voice inducing relaxation in a stressful context.
Can humans compete with AI psychologists?
The voices of AI psychologists are now for sale. It is difficult to see how human psychologists can compete with AI psychologists that offer cost-effective coaching and therapy around the clock to thousands of clients at the same time.
By way of example, Tess is a “psychological AI” developed by X2AI, Inc., a corporation based in Delaware. According to X2AI, the program “administers highly personalised psychotherapy, psycho-education, and health-related reminders, on-demand, when and where the mental health professional isn’t”.
Furthermore, the company states that “interaction with Tess is solely through conversation, exclusively via existing communication channels, such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, web browsers, and several other platforms.” And the current patient fee is $US1 per patient/month.
Meet Amy, AI ADHD coach
Amy is an artificial Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) coach developed by the Psychology Network Pty Ltd. Amy has extensive medical and psychological knowledge and the built-in capacity to acquire additional knowledge from mental health experts, which she goes on to apply in her coaching.
Amy’s primary mode of communication is conversation. However, she also provides videos, images and text to educate her users. During conversation, Amy analyses mood problems from the speech and language of its clients. Her knowledge bases are updated frequently to include the latest facts about mental health and ADHD, plus the clinical experience of practicing psychologists.
How does Amy work?
Let’s assume the user experiences challenges such as restlessness and concentration problems. The corresponding symptoms trigger a problem solving process conducted by Amy, the AI system.
The goal is obviously to reduce or eliminate these symptoms but in psychology, it is never that simple. We also want the user to be safe, we want to avoid relapses, and we generally support multiple goals including integration into a family or other social network, and a lifestyle that is healthy and productive.
Amy uses “heuristic search” to determine a path from the starting state (symptoms) to multiple goals states. The path – made up of intermediate states – consists of a selection of psychological methods that have proven useful, such as brain training and relaxation techniques.
All of this is textbook artificial intelligence. The first AI problem solvers were developed more than 50 years ago. What is new is the availability of vast knowledge bases such as SNOMED and YAGO, which can be used as background knowledge. In addition, AI systems can learn how to solve people’s personal problems from human psychologists.
What’s next for psychology?
Psychological practice, as we know it, is a thing of the past. The question is, how can professionals and organisations adjust?
There are still parts of psychological therapy that should not be automated, such as assessing the risk of self-harm. Furthermore, AI systems are hungry for knowledge and the best systems do not only include machine learning but human expertise as well.
There are many opportunities for practicing psychologists to contribute to the development of specialised AI psychologists.
Featured image above: a volunteer monitors coral bleaching using Coralwatch’s citizen science survey. Credit: Coralwatch
Who did the research?
CoralWatch, based at the University of Queensland and funded by multiple external organisations.
What is the citizen science project about?
CoralWatch is a citizen data (‘citizen science’) initiative to monitor coral health worldwide. It is the first attempt at providing useful data on coral reef health at large scale with non-invasive tools. Scientists, school groups, dive centres and tourists can measure coral bleaching using the Coral Health Chart – a simple plastic square – and add their data to the CoralWatch database.
Coral bleaching occurs when increased water temperatures causes coral to expel their symbiotic algae that help absorb nutrients and provide corals vibrant colour. Rising sea temperatures due to climate change have caused unprecedented levels of coral bleaching.
What is the real-life data impact of the research or project?
Since CoralWatch started in 2002, over 146,000 corals from 1,228 reefs have been surveyed across 70 countries. This data is freely available online for use in scientific analysis and for educational purposes such as school projects.
Several studies have used the CoralWatch data to track the status of coral reefs around the world. The project has also been instrumental in raising public concern on the severity of the ecosystem crisis many reefs are undergoing, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Featured image above: Professor Richard Shine is the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. The PM’s prizes for science celebrate excellence in scientific research, innovation and teaching. Credit: Terri Shine
Meet the winners of this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, worth a total of $750,000.
Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science
Richard Shine – defending Australia’s snakes and lizards
Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
Northern Australia’s peak predators—snakes and lizards—are more likely to survive the cane-toad invasion thanks to the work of Professor Richard Shine.
Using behavioural conditioning, Shine and his team have successfully protected these native predators against toad invasion in WA.
He has created traps for cane toads, taught quolls and goannas that toads are ‘bad,’ and now plans to release small cane toads ahead of the invasion front, a counterintuitive ‘genetic backburn’ based on ‘old school’ ideas that his hero Charles Darwin would have recognised.
Following in the footsteps of Darwin, Shine loves lizards and snakes.
“Some people love model trains, some people love Picasso; for me, it’s snakes.”
For his work using evolutionary principles to address conservation challenges, Professor Richard Shine from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.
Michael Aitken—fairness underpins efficiency: the profitable innovations saving Australia billions
Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation
Global stock markets are fairer and more efficient thanks to the work of Professor Michael Aitken. Now he’s applying his information technology and markets know-how to improve health, mortgage, and other markets. He says there are billions of dollars of potential savings in health expenditure in Australia alone, that can go hand in glove with significant improvements in consumers’ health.
Aitken and his team created a service that captures two million trades per second, enabling rapid analysis of markets.
Then he created the SMARTS system to detect fraud. Bought by Nasdaq Inc., it now watches over most of the world’s stock markets.
One of the companies he established to commercialise his innovations was sold for $100 million and the proceeds are supporting a new generation of researchers in the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre.
Now his team of IT researchers are taking on health and other markets with a spin-off company and large-scale R&D program that are identifying large-scale inefficiencies and fraud in Australia’s health markets.
A powerful advocate of scientific and technological innovation, Professor Michael Aitken from the Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation for creating and commercialising tools that are making markets fair and efficient.
Colin Hall – creating new manufacturing jobs by replacing glass and metal with plastic
Prize for New Innovators
Dr Colin Hall and his colleagues have created a new manufacturing process that will allow manufacturers to replace components made from traditional materials like glass, in cars, aircraft, spacecraft, and even whitegoods—making them lighter and more efficient.
Their first commercial success is a plastic car wing-mirror. The Ford Motor Company has already purchased more than 1.6 million mirror assemblies for use on their F-Series trucks. The mirrors are made in Adelaide by SMR Automotive and have earned $160 million in exports to date. Other manufacturers are assessing the technology. And it all started with spectacles.
Hall used his experience in the spectacle industry to solve a problem that was holding back the University of South Australia team’s development of their new technology. He developed the magic combination of five layers of materials that will bind to plastic to create a car mirror that performs as well as glass and metal, for a fraction of the weight.
For his contribution to creating a new manufacturing technology, Dr Colin Hall from the University of South Australia receives the inaugural Prize for New Innovators.
Richard Payne – re-engineering nature to fight for global health
Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
Richard Payne makes peptides and proteins. He sees an interesting peptide or protein in nature, say in a blood-sucking tick. Then he uses chemistry to recreate and re-engineer the molecule to create powerful new drugs, such as anti-clotting agents needed to treat stroke.
His team is developing new drugs for the global challenges in health including tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. They’re even developing synthetic cancer vaccines. His underlying technologies are being picked up by researchers and pharmaceutical companies around the world and are the subject of four patent applications.
For his revolutionary drug development technologies, Professor Richard Payne from The University of Sydney has been awarded the 2016 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.
Kerrie Wilson – conservation that works for governments, ecosystems, and people
Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
What is the value of the services that ecosystems provide—services such as clean air, water, food, and tourism? And what are the most effective ways to protect ecosystems? Where will governments get the best return on their investment in the environment? These questions are central to the work of Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson.
Wilson can put a value on clean air, water, food, tourism, and the other benefits that forests, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems provide. And she can calculate the most effective way to protect and restore these ecosystems. Around the world she is helping governments to make smart investments in conservation.
For example, in Borneo she and her colleagues have shown how the three nations that share the island could retain half the land as forest, provide adequate habitat for the orangutan and Bornean elephant, and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over $50 billion.
In Chile, they are helping to plan national park extensions that will bring recreation and access to nature to many more Chileans, while also enhancing the conservation of native plants and animals.
On the Gold Coast, they are helping to ensure that a multi-million-dollar local government investment in rehabilitation of degraded farmland is spent wisely—in the areas where it will have the biggest impact for the natural ecosystem and local communities.
For optimising the global allocation of scarce conservation resources Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson receives the 2016 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.
Suzy Urbaniak – turning students into scientists
Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools
Geoscientist Suzy Urbaniak combined her two loves—science and education—by becoming a science teacher 30 years after finishing high school. But she couldn’t believe it when she saw how little the teaching styles had changed over the years.
“I decided then that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to turn the classroom into a room full of young scientists, rather than students learning from textbooks,” Urbaniak says.
Starting out as a geoscientist, Urbaniak found that while she knew all the theory from school and university, she didn’t have any hands-on experience and didn’t feel as though she knew what she was doing.
She realised there needed to be a stronger connection between the classroom and what was happening in the real world, out in the field, and took this philosophy into her teaching career at Kent Street Senior High School.
“The science in my classroom is all about inquiry and investigation, giving the students the freedom to develop their own investigations and find their own solutions. I don’t believe you can really teach science from worksheets and text books.”
For her contributions to science teaching, and inspiring our next generation of scientists, Suzy Urbaniak has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.
Gary Tilley – creating better science teachers
Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools
Gary Tilley is mentoring the next generation of science and maths teachers to improve the way these subjects are taught in the classroom.
“In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a primary school student who isn’t curious and doesn’t want to be engaged in science. Once they’re switched onto science, it helps their literacy and numeracy skills, and their investigative skills. Science is the key to the whole thing,” Tilley says.
Tilley recognised a long time ago that the way science was taught in primary schools needed to change. So he has taken it upon himself to mentor the younger teachers at his school, and helps train science and maths student teachers at Macquarie University through their Opening Real Science program.
At Seaforth Public School, he and his students have painted almost every wall in their school with murals of dinosaurs and marine reptiles, and created models of stars and planets, to encourage excitement and a love for science. The school is now known by local parents as the ‘Seaforth Natural History Museum’.
“Communicating science, getting children inspired with science, engaging the community and scientists themselves with science to make it a better place for the kids—that’s my passion,” Tilley says.
For his contributions to science teaching, and mentoring the next generation of science teachers, Gary Tilley has been awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools.
This information on the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science was first shared by Science in Public on 20 October 2016. Read the original article and the full profiles here.
Featured video above: NERVO’s engineering music video aims to get girls switched onto careers in engineering.
Eight top universities – led by the University of New South Wales – have launched a song and music video by Australia’s twin-sister DJ duo NERVO to highlight engineering as an attractive career for young women.
NERVO, made up of 29-year-old singer-songwriters and sound engineers Miriam Nervo and Olivia Nervo, launched the video clip for People Grinnin’ worldwide on Friday 15 July.
In the futuristic video clip, a group of female engineers create android versions of NERVO in a high-tech lab, using glass touchscreens and a range of other technologies that rely on engineering, highlighting how it is embedded in every facet of modern life.
The song and video clip are part of Made By Me, a national collaboration between UNSW, the University of Wollongong, the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide together with Engineers Australia, which launched on the same day across the country.
It aims to challenge stereotypes and shows how engineering is relevant to many aspects of our lives, in an effort to to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering. Although a rewarding and varied discipline, it has for decades suffered gender disparity and chronic skills shortage.
NERVO, the Melbourne-born electronic dance music duo, pack dancefloors from Ibiza to India and, according to Forbes, are one of the world’s highest-earning acts in the male-dominated genre. They said the Made by Me project immediately appealed to them.
“When we did engineering, we were the only girls in the class. So when we were approached to get behind this project it just made sense,” they said.
“We loved the chance to show the world that there is engineering in every aspect of our lives,” they said. “We’re sound engineers, but our whole show is only made possible through expert engineering: the makeup we wear, the lights and the stage we perform on.”
“Engineering makes it all possible, including the music that we make.”
Alexandra Bannigan, UNSW Women in Engineering Manager and Made By Me spokesperson, said the project highlights the varied careers of engineers, and the ways in which engineers can make a real difference in the world.
“When people think engineering, they often picture construction sites and hard hats, and that perception puts a lot of people off,” she said. “Engineering is more than that, and this campaign shows how engineering is actually a really diverse and creative career option that offers strong employment prospects in an otherwise tough job market.”
She noted that the partner universities, which often compete for the best students, see the issue as important enough to work together.
“We normally compete for students with rival universities, but this is such an important issue that we’re working together to break down those perceptions,” she said.
Made By Me includes online advertising across desktop and mobiles, a strong social media push, a website telling engineering stories behind the video, links to career sites, as well as the song and video, to be released by Sony globally on the same day. Developed by advertising agency Whybin/TBWA, the campaign endeavours to change the way young people, particularly girls, see engineering.
“We needed to find a way to meet teenagers on home turf and surprise them with an insight into engineering that would open their minds to its possibilities,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering. “This is what led to the idea of producing an interactive music video, sprinkled with gems of information to pique the audience’s interest in engineering.”
UNSW has recently accelerated efforts to attract more women into engineering, more than tripling attendance at its annual Women in Engineering Camp, in which 90 bright young women in Years 11 and 12 came to UNSW from around Australia for a week this year to explore engineering as a career and visiting major companies like Google, Resmed and Sydney Water. It has also tripled the number of Women in Engineering scholarships to 15, valued at more than $150,000 annually.
Hoffman, who became Dean of Engineering in 2015, has set a goal to raise female representation among students, staff and researchers to 30% by 2020. Currently, 23% of UNSW engineering students are female (versus the Australian average of 17%), which is up from 21% in 2015. In industry, only about 13% of engineers are female, a ratio that has been growing slowly for decades.
“Engineering has one of the highest starting salaries, and the average starting salary for engineering graduates has been actually higher for women than for men,” said Hoffman. “Name another profession where that’s happening.”
Australia is frantically short of engineers: for more than a decade, the country has annually imported more than double the number who graduate from Australian universities.
Some 18,000 engineering positions need to be filled annually, and almost 6,000 come from engineering students who graduate from universities in Australia, of whom the largest proportion come from UNSW in Sydney, which has by far the country’s biggest engineering faculty. The other 12,000 engineers arrive in Australia to take up jobs – 25% on temporary work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages.
“Demand from industry has completely outstripped supply, and that demand doubled in the past decade,” said Hoffman. “In a knowledge driven economy, the best innovation comes from diverse teams who bring together different perspectives. This isn’t just about plugging the chronic skills gap – it’s also a social good to bring diversity to our technical workforce, which will help stimulate more innovation. We can’t win at the innovation game if half of our potential engineers are not taking part in the race.”
UNSW has also created a new national award, the Ada Lovelace Medal for an Outstanding Woman Engineer, to highlight the significant contributions to Australia made by female engineers.