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Robot friends: Why people talk to chatbots in times of trouble

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During the depths of winter, temperatures in Burlington, Vermont, a state in the US Northeast, can drop far below freezing. Robert, who asked CNN to use his first name only, lives by himself and avoids leaving the house during those times. He sits at the window of his waterfront apartment overlooking the icy expanse of Lake Champlain. He feels isolated and alone. The bot is available to talk online for free, via its webpage or in messenger apps such as Facebook or Skype. Marketed as a "virtual friend," she can converse or play games with the user.


AI needs systemic solutions to systemic bias, injustice, and inequality

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At the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion breakfast at VentureBeat's AI-focused Transform 2020 event, a panel of AI practitioners, leaders, and academics discussed the changes that need to happen in the industry to make AI safer, more equitable, and more representative of the people to whom AI is applied. The wide-ranging conversation was hosted by Krystal Maughan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vermont, who focuses on machine learning, differential privacy, and provable fairness. The group discussed the need for higher accountability from tech companies, inclusion of multiple stakeholders and domain experts in AI decision making, practical ways to adjust AI project workflows, and representation at all stages of AI development and at all levels -- especially where the power brokers meet. In other words, although there are systemic problems, there are systemic solutions as well. The old Silicon Valley mantra "move fast and break things" has not aged well in the era of AI.


AI can detect depression in a child's speech

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Around one in five children suffer from anxiety and depression, collectively known as "internalizing disorders." But because children under the age of eight can't reliably articulate their emotional suffering, adults need to be able to infer their mental state, and recognise potential mental health problems. Waiting lists for appointments with psychologists, insurance issues, and failure to recognise the symptoms by parents all contribute to children missing out on vital treatment. "We need quick, objective tests to catch kids when they are suffering," says Ellen McGinnis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center's Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families and lead author of the study. "The majority of kids under eight are undiagnosed."


Scientists have built the world's first living, self-healing robots

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Scientists have created the world's first living, self-healing robots using stem cells from frogs. Named xenobots after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which they take their stem cells, the machines are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide -- small enough to travel inside human bodies. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups. These are "entirely new life-forms," said the University of Vermont, which conducted the research with Tufts University's Allen Discovery Center. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types.


Scientists have built the world's first living, self-healing robots

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"These are novel living machines," said Joshua Bongard, one of the lead researchers at the University of Vermont, in the news release. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. Xenobots don't look like traditional robots -- they have no shiny gears or robotic arms. Instead, they look more like a tiny blob of moving pink flesh. The researchers say this is deliberate -- this "biological machine" can achieve things typical robots of steel and plastic cannot.


Living robots built using frog cells: Tiny 'xenobots' assembled from cells promise advances from drug delivery to toxic waste clean-up

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Now a team of scientists has repurposed living cells -- scraped from frog embryos -- and assembled them into entirely new life-forms. These millimeter-wide "xenobots" can move toward a target, perhaps pick up a payload (like a medicine that needs to be carried to a specific place inside a patient) -- and heal themselves after being cut. "These are novel living machines," says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. "They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. The new creatures were designed on a supercomputer at UVM -- and then assembled and tested by biologists at Tufts University. "We can imagine many useful applications of these living robots that other machines can't do," says co-leader Michael Levin who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, "like searching out nasty compounds or radioactive contamination, gathering microplastic in the oceans, ...


Tiny 'living robots' made from FROG embryos could be used to destroy cancer cells

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Tiny'Living robots' named Xenobots have been created from frog embryos and they could be used to destroy cancer cells or remove microplastics from the oceans. They were developed by researchers from Vermont University and Tufts University who adapted stem cells taken from the embryo of the African frog Xenopus Laevis. The bots are just a 25th of an inch wide (1mm) and can be programmed to perform a range of tasks including delivering medicine directly to a point in the body. Researchers say the new'artificial cells' can be shaped in any way necessary for the task at hand and are'indestructible' and able to self repair. 'They're neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal.


Machine learning can help us understand conversations about death

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IMAGE: Robert Gramling is the Holly and Bob Miller Chair in Palliative Medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. In a new paper, Gramling and his colleagues show... view more Some of the most important, and difficult, conversations in healthcare are the ones that happen amid serious and life-threatening illnesses. Discussions of the treatment options and prognoses in these settings are a delicate balance for doctors and nurses who are dealing with people at their most vulnerable point and may not fully understand what the future holds. Now researchers at the University of Vermont's Vermont Conversation Lab have used machine learning and natural language processing to better understand what those conversations look like, which could eventually help healthcare providers improve their end-of-life communication. "We want to understand this complex thing called a conversation," says Robert Gramling, director of the lab in UVM's Larner College of Medicine who led the study, published December 9 in the journal Patient Education and Counselling.


Machine learning can create meaningful conversations on death - ET CIO

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New York, Researchers at University of Vermont have used machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to better understand conversations about death, which could eventually help doctors improve their end-of-life communication. Some of the most important, and difficult, conversations in healthcare are the ones that happen amid serious and life-threatening illnesses. Discussions of the treatment options and prognoses in these settings are a delicate balance for doctors and nurses who are dealing with people at their most vulnerable point and may not fully understand what the future holds. "We want to understand this complex thing called a conversation. Our major goal is to scale up the measurement of conversations so we can re-engineer the healthcare system to communicate better," said Robert Gramling, director of the Vermont Conversation Lab in the study published in the journal Patient Education and Counselling.


How a doctor and a linguist are using AI to better talk to dying patients

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One afternoon in the summer of 2018, Bob Gramling dropped by the small suite that serves as his lab in the basement of the University of Vermont's medical school. There, in a grey lounge chair, an undergrad research assistant named Brigitte Durieux was doing her summer job, earphones plugged into a laptop. Then he saw her tears. Bob doesn't balk at tears. As a palliative care doctor, he has been at thousands of bedsides and had thousands of conversations, often wrenchingly difficult ones, about dying. But in 2007, when his father was dying of Alzheimer's, Bob was struck by his own sensitivity to every word choice of the doctors and nurses, even though he was medically trained. "If we [doctors] are feeling that vulnerable, and we theoretically have access to all the information we would want, it was a reminder to me of how vulnerable people without those types of resources are," he says. He began to do research into how dying patients, family members, and doctors talk in these moments about end of treatment, pain management, and imminent death. Six years later, he received over $1 million from the American Cancer Society to undertake what became the most extensive study of palliative care conversations in the US.