Archive for the ‘B is for Behave’ Category

Cultural Research: SAIC

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Photo via flickr by harrymoon

SAIC, a company of people dedicated to delivering best-value services and solutions based on innovative applications of science and technology, provides a variety of consulting capabilities to defense and intelligence consumers including defense analysis, wargaming and simulations, cultural assessments and analysis, homeland security and national security strategy.

The Cultural Research program at SAIC is designed to assist government clients in acquiring the cultural intelligence and contextual knowledge needed to design and execute successful programs, operations, and communication strategies in diverse areas around the world.

Using a social constructivist approach, SAIC views cultural identity as a dynamic construct, formed through reiterative social interaction. The program uses historical, sociological, and ethnographic research methods and a wide variety of data sources. These methods include interviews with subject matter experts from the academic, policy, and government arenas, as well as ethnographic interviews and focus groups of cultural group participants. Primary and secondary research is used to identify the meaningful cultural elements in a society, including the most salient identities, the seminal events in a cultural group’s collective experience, and a group’s key narratives and world view.

Based on research, SAIC develops products that can answer questions such as how a specific cultural group ascribes meaning to operationally significant concepts such as the nation-state, authority, legitimacy, religion, security, and warfare. This research is used to produce a wide variety of tools for clients such as culture “smart cards,” cultural field guides, military culture guides, cultural intelligence studies, and analytic documentaries using video ethnography. In addition, SAIC offers such services as training and methodological consulting, and provide guidance on norms, customs and behavior for those interacting with local populations.

via SAIC

Last Performance: Kings of New York

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Rocking, House, Poppin’ and Breakin’ Battles. The last Kings of New York is happening on Sunday, November 7th at St. Mark’s Church at East 10th Street and Second Avenue. Doors open at 7pm. Battles Start at 9 pm SHARP. Admissions $15, and if you have a camera, $20. View a trailer of Kings of New York 7 on YouTube.

From Team KNY: “We thank you for all the support you’ve given us through out the years. We are taking a break for now. Please join us on Facebook or email us at Peace, Team KNY.”

Are Our Emotions Designed to Manipulate Others?

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Photo via flickr by corresponding shapes

A controversial new theory states that our emotions may have evolved as tools to manipulate others into cooperating with us.

Certain emotions have traditionally been viewed by psychologists as short-term reactions to an immediate benefit or cost. For example, gratitude has been seen as a signal of pleasure when someone does you a favor and anger as a way to signal your displeasure when another person does you harm. However, John Tooby, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his colleagues think that our anger or gratitude reflect our judgement of how much the other person is sacrificing enough for us— and whether they will continue to do so in future. In other words, anger has as much to do with cooperation as with conflict, and emotions are used to coerce others into cooperating in the long term.

For example, an unpublished study by Tooby’s colleague Julian Lim found that 296 student volunteers were more willing to cooperate with an unseen partner when that partner had forgone a profit to give them money. This gratitude was absent when the partner gave them the same amount of money not as a favor but to avoid paying a penalty.

This suggests that anger and gratitude—and perhaps other emotions, too—may be tools for turning up a partner’s mental cooperation control dial says Tooby’s colleague Aaron Sell. You get angry not when someone hurts you, but when their actions betray a setting of their cooperation dial that is lower than you expect, and your anger is both a threat to turn down your own dial and an inducement to them to turn theirs up. You show gratitude not when someone benefits you, but when their dial is set higher than you expect, and this signals that you plan to turn yours up in response.

Drawing from evidence presented at the meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society in Eugene, Oregon, and some still unpublished, Tooby suggests that the cooperation control dial, or ‘welfare trade-off ratio,’ is a real part of our mental make-up.

via New Scientist

Shapeshifting Materials

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Lapsed video photography of shapeshifting material via ZDNet

Scientists at Harvard University and M.I.T. have invented self-folding sheets of fiberglass that can flex themselves origami-like into shapes of airplanes and boats.

Less than a half-millimeter thick and connected by elastic silicone rubber creases, the self-folding sheets are one step closer to “programmable matter” that could one day serve to bend and crease into any three-dimensional shape.

To make the sheets self-folding, computer scientist Daniela Rus at MIT and her colleagues embedded strips just 100 microns thick — as wide as a human hair — made of a “shape-memory” nickel-titanium alloy that changes shape when heated or cooled. They also included flexible, stretchable copper-laminated plastic mesh ribbons on the sheets that served as wires.

The sheets shift from flat to bent when electricity is applied to heat the shape memory alloy strips, causing the entire sheet to fold with them.

“The underlying theme here is to have a structure that can choose different shapes on demand for whatever you might use them for,” said researcher Robert Wood, a roboticist at Harvard University.

To program each crease to fold in the right direction and order, the researchers are developing stickers that contain all the circuits needed to connect and trigger the correct actuators for making specific complex three-dimensional shapes.

The researchers foresee a number of potential applications:

* Measuring cups that fold to hold anywhere from a quarter teaspoon to multiple cups.

* Shelves that fold into as many divisions as required.

* A puckering sheet that can display information for the blind or people in the dark.

* A Swiss army knife of sorts able to form a tripod, wrench, antenna, or splint.

Currently the researchers power the sheets by wiring them to external controllers. Wood suggests that future sheets could include energy storage or energy harvesting layers, such as solar panels, and could also be wirelessly powered.

Instead of employing shape memory alloy strips, the actuators could be made of a number of other materials as well, such as artificial muscles.

via ZDNet and LiveScience

Video of programmable sheet self-folding into a boat and airplane from Harvard Microrobotics Lab

Wash Your Hands, Wash Away Your Doubts

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Wonderlane

A new study shows that hand-washing does more than remove the guilt of past misdeeds—it also “wipes the slate clean,” removing doubts about recent choices.

According to University of Michigan psychologist Spike W. S. Lee, “It’s not just that washing your hands contributes to moral cleanliness as well as physical cleanliness, as seen in earlier research. Our studies show that washing also reduces the influence of past behaviors and decisions that have no moral implications whatsoever.”

For the study, Lee, a doctoral candidate in social psychology and his colleague Norbert Schwarz, who is affiliated with the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the Ross School of Business in addition to the Department of Psychology, asked undergraduate students to browse through 30 CD covers as part of an alleged consumer survey. Participants picked 10 CDs they would like to own, ranking them by preference. Later, the experimenter offered them a choice between their 5th and 6th ranked CDs as a token of appreciation. Following that choice, participants completed an ostensibly unrelated product survey — of liquid soap. Half merely examined the bottle before answering while the others tested the soap by washing their hands. After completing a filler task, participants were asked to rank the 10 CDs again.

“People who merely examined the soap bottle dealt with their doubts about their decision by changing how they saw the CDs: As in hundreds of earlier studies, once they had made a choice, they saw the chosen CD as much more attractive than before and the rejected CD as much less attractive. But hand-washing eliminated this classic effect. Once participants had washed their hands, they no longer needed to justify their choice when they ranked the CDs the second time around,” Schwarz said.

The researchers replicated the findings in a study using a different task — taste expectations of jars of fruit jams and ostensibly unrelated surveys of antiseptic wipes. “Participants who merely examined an antiseptic wipe after choosing a jar of fruit jam expected the taste of the chosen jam to far exceed the taste of the rejected one. This difference was eliminated when participants tested the antiseptic wipe by cleaning their hands,” said Lee.

According to the authors, the results show that as much as washing can cleanse us from traces of past immoral behavior, it can also cleanse us from traces of past decisions, reducing the need to justify them.

This “clean slate” effect may be relevant to many choices in life. Does washing away the urge to justify one’s choice of one car over another, or even one partner over another, result in less rosy evaluations of them in the long run? If so, does this increase buyer’s remorse because buyers are less likely to convince themselves that they made the best choice possible?

via University of Michigan News Service

Moral Judgments Can Be Altered By Magnets

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Photo via flickr by tdietmut

MIT neuroscientists have shown they can can sway people’s views of moral situation by disrupting brain activity in a particular region.

Previous studies have shown that a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) is highly active when we think about other people’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs. In this new study, researchers disrupted activity in the right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp. They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions — for example, a failed murder attempt — was impaired.

The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding for the research came from The National Center for Research Resources, the MIND Institute, the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, the Simons Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.

The study offers “striking evidence” that the right TPJ, located at the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear, is critical for making moral judgments, says Liane Young, lead author of the paper.

“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior,” she says. “To be able to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”

In one experiment, volunteers were exposed to TMS for 25 minutes before taking a test in which they read a series of scenarios and made moral judgments of characters’ actions on a scale of one (absolutely forbidden) to seven (absolutely permissible).

In a second experiment, TMS was applied in 500-milisecond bursts at the moment when the subject was asked to make a moral judgment. For example, subjects were asked to judge how permissible it is for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knows to be unsafe, even if she ends up making it across safely. In such cases, a judgment based solely on the outcome would hold the perpetrator morally blameless, even though it appears he intended to do harm.

In both experiments, the researchers found that when the right TPJ was disrupted, subjects were more likely to judge failed attempts to harm as morally permissible. Therefore, the researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

via MIT News

Plant Rhythms Model for Computing

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Martin_Heigan

A newfound ability to model the complex feedback loops that control plant clocks could have important implications for computing.

One of the limitations of conventional thinking in computation is that computable functions proceed in a sequential manner, one independent step after another. In the biological world, things are more complex because steps in biological computations may not be independent—for example, the circadian rhythm in plants, the 24 hour cycle of biochemical processes that govern behavior. The cycle has various important features such as the ability to synchronize with an external periodic light source and to continue to oscillate even in the absence of variations in illumination.

Biochemists have long known that these cycles are the result of various biochemical feedback loops in which the transcription of genes is boosted and damped. Of course, plant clocks have been studied for hundreds of years and a huge amount is known about how they work, particularly about Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant that is the standard object of study for plant biologists. The trouble is that nobody has been able to accurately model the behavior of these rhythms from first principles. That’s because these processes do not involve independent sequential steps, so conventional computational methods are just not up to the job. Biochemists need some other way of thinking about their problem.

As luck would have it, just such a system has been waiting in the wings. Process algebra is a form of computation that can handle multiple simultaneous interdependent steps and this makes it perfect for modeling these tricky biochemical networks and the feedback loops that drive them. Ozgur Akman, Andrew Millar and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh used this approach to model the circadian rhythm of the green alga Ostreococcus tauri, which has the honor of possessing the simplest planet clock yet discovered.

They co-created a model of the various feedback loops in the Ostreococcus clock using a process algebra known as Bio-PEPA. This allowed them to explore how the clock responds to factors such as changes in illumination patterns and to genetic mutations, a factor that effects how the clock might change over evolutionary time scales.

While the outcome will help make predictions for plant biology, the real importance may be more subtle. An often overlooked property of process algebra is that it is not equivalent to a standard sequential Turing machine. Because process algebra encompasses concurrent processes and the communication between them, it is subtly different and potentially more powerful.

via The Physics arXiv Blog

Commission of Presidential Debates

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Barack Obama

The mission of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (the “CPD”) is to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates are held every four years between the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.

To meet its ongoing goal of educating voters, the CPD is engaged in various activities beyond producing and sponsoring the presidential debates. Its staff prepares educational materials and conducts research to improve the quality of debates.

Further, the CPD provides technical assistance to emerging democracies and others interested in establishing debate traditions in their countries. In recent years, the staff worked with groups from Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan and the Ukraine, among others. Finally, the CPD coordinates post-debate symposia and research after many of its presidential forums (1996 Post-Debate Symposium, 1992 Post-Debate Research, 1988 Post-Debate Symposium).

Co-Chariman: Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr; Michael D. McCurry; Honorary Co-Chairmen: Jimmy Carter, William Clinton.

Board of Directors:  Howard Buffett; John C. Danforth; Antonia Hernandez; Caroline Kennedy; Newton N. Minow; Dorthothy Ridings; Alan K. Simpson; H, Patirck Swygert.

Executive Director: Janet H. Brown.

B is for Behave

Saturday, May 9th, 2009


Behave? Tell that to the strange, the freaks, the weirdos, the atypical. These are the people who live futures that others will later have. The people who imagine new possibilities, and empower people with the power of their imaginings. These are the people who, says science writer Howard Bloom, turn science fiction into science future, inventing novel devices like cell phones. Although large scale human behavior is fairly predictable, and there’s a reasonable chance, according to mathematician Ian Stewart, that over the next century mathematics will reach a point where it can make real predictions about the future and the way people behave, what it can’t provide, is a good prediction of what a particular person will do. The problem with free will is not that we behave in completely random ways, it’s that we behave in coherent ways, but we strongly feel we have a choice. The inherent behavior of pine cones, on the other hand, even though considered dead as they no longer have a metabolism, can still open and close in response to humidity changes in the environment, and is currently seen as an inspiration for designers, according to architect Michael Hensel, for the development of highly, sophisticated performative architectures that won’t require the standard plethora of mechanical and electrical devices. And while we find that molecular, self-assembly is revolutionizing material science, due to the pioneering research of chemist George Whitesides, aiding the development of rapid, inexpensive fabrications of ultra-small devices, C5 Corporation, a data research group, says that in the future we will find that not only does all “data behave” according to 4 types of characteristics: “fold, spread, blossom and loner,” but there will be a 7-11 for algorithms, because algorithms will become the fabric of every transaction, every device, every single appliance, even clothing. In fact, Alisa Andrasek, in her fashion project, Genware, has already developed an algorithm, or what she calls, “bodyscapes,” which allows customers, after scanning their bodies, to pick different patterns that will “grow” on their physical geometry, adjusting to their various, specific body behaviors. As we move forward into an era where our objects and technology behaves, computer scientist Vernor Vinge remarks: “Humankind has thousands of years of experiences with biological systems in life-critical situations. For instance, a horse rider going through the desert. He’s depending upon that horse. The fact that the horse is biological and sort of a flaky system, that’s too bad. Do we really want technology based upon biological systems that are notoriously fickle and irresponsible?” Oh, behave!