Monday, May 20, 2013

Article: Imaginary Prizes Take Aim at Real Problems

Published: November 8, 2012 New York Times

IMAGINE putting up a prize of $20 million to inspire others to solve a particular problem. What would your challenge be?

Some of the world’s leading companies, including Google, Qualcomm and Nokia, have sponsored big-money contests challenging competitors around the world to design a host of wonders, including robots that can explore the moon, superefficient electric vehiclesand more accurate methods for sequencing the human genome. The online movie streaming company Netflix awarded $1 million to a winning team of outsiders that helped it develop better ways to predict which films its customers would like.

Carol Padden, 2010 Fellow

CHALLENGE Use crowdsourcing to help the hearing-impaired
The paradox of America’s economy is that while it is hard for many people to find one paying job, almost everybody has several they do free. We are bank tellers when we use the A.T.M., airline employees when we check ourselves in for flights and cashiers when we scan our items at the supermarket.

And we work on the cutting edge of technology, helping Google and Apple refine their voice recognition software each time we ask our phones to name the capital of Burkina Faso (it’s Ouagadougou) and follow up by asking, “How the heck do you pronounce that?”

Carol Padden, who is deaf and teaches communication at the University of California, San Diego, said she wanted to enlist volunteers to crowdsource a labor-intensive service: captioning video for the deaf and hard of hearing. Her $20 million prize would reward the person or team who devised an effective method to tap the power of the Internet to caption videos. She said this could involve “breaking down a video segment into very short one-minute clips which are sent out in the universe to be captioned by anyone. The short clips would be recombined to produce a captioned version of the original segment.”

Like many efforts initially aimed at helping those with disabilities, Ms. Padden noted that the project would almost certainly have broader benefits. Parents pushing strollers, she noted, are grateful for the curb cuts created for people in wheelchairs, just as patrons watching “Monday Night Football” in noisy bars count on closed captions to see what the announcers are saying.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Article: Road Traffic Noise and Diabetes: Long-Term Exposure May Increase Disease Risk

Cars driving through traffic
Noise from honking cars and police sirens can disrupt sleep, but it also may increase the chance of developing diabetes, according to a large study from Denmark.

The researchers compared noise levels from road traffic to the incidence of diabetes in 57,000 people. As the noise levels increased so did the risk for developing the disease. The risk increased by 8 - 11 percent for every 10-decibel (dB) increase in road noise. A decibel is a measure of loudness and intensity of sound.

The results suggest that living near heavily traveled roads may increase the risk of developing diabetes. To make sure they were measuring effects from noise, the researchers adjusted for several other variables associated with diabetes, including body mass index, education, lifestyle characteristics and nitrogen oxides, which are formed from vehicle exhaust and are known to increase the risk of the disease.

The results have important implications for urban planning. As major cities attempt to increase urban density, more people may live closer to heavier traffic and noisier roads. Further, people with low incomes typically live closer to major roads and highways, putting them at greater risk.

More here.