Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Sally Owen, Kate Preston, Hannah Tuahine and Nathan Chappell of the Motu public policy and research institute
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Researchers at Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research built Artificial Intelligence chat bots earlier this year that were meant to learn how to negotiate by mimicking human trading and bartering. Two of these AI’s were then paired to trade against each other in order to learn how to trade balls, hats and books, assigning value to the objects and then bartering them between each other. The AI’s were assigned awards based on the trades they were making, however since no reward was assigned for conducting the trades in English the AIs quickly developed their own language and used it while making trades. The AIs were shut down once the team realised they could no longer understand what the chat bots were saying to each other. This is a phenomenal technological advancement for humankind which simultaneously amazes and terrifies.
Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and author of this article, is worried about the fate of iGen – those born after 1995 who are growing up with smartphones. Twenge argues smartphones have changed the life of a typical teenager in ways never seen before. Most comfortable socialising online from their bedrooms, there are upsides: teens are physically safer, drink less, and are less likely to be in a car accident. But Twenge worries mental health crisis is looming. Since the iPhone was released in 2007 teens socialised less with friends; drove less; dated less and had sex less often; got less sleep; and felt more lonely. Some boundaries on phone-time could help.
One of the more pernicious beliefs about immigration is the lump of labour fallacy: the view that there is a fixed amount of work to be done in an economy. This view is wrong because new workers buy other goods and services and create further jobs (compare the populations and unemployment rates of New Zealand and Japan). This article points out the Trump administration, in proposing sharp drops in legal immigration to preserve jobs and increase wages, is falling for this very fallacy. The consensus among economists is that high-skilled immigration is good for economic growth and can complement lower-skilled native workers. There is fiercer debate on the effects of low-skilled immigration, though the majority of researchers find close to zero effects on native wages and unemployment.
How do you know what’s true when science, the news, and social media all struggle with errors, advertising, propaganda, and lies? Social and behavioural science lacks strong standards for credibility of results. So, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (Darpa) is calling for proposals to find solutions to this. What they’re asking is capacious in its ambition. It name-checks other bulwarks of scientific validation—peer review, meta-analyses, statistical techniques, and even more modern approaches like impact factors, citation webs, and expert prediction markets. But only to say, incorporate these and surpass them.
The great economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s are fading into history. And, cushioned by the good economic times, this article posits that the Australian national public policy discourse has degenerated. Is New Zealand also losing our ability as a nation to have the great economic debates?
Tim Worstall from the Adam Smith Institute offers an argument that laws preventing employers from discussing the intentions of women to have children is unfair for women who don’t have them. Agree or disagree.
A report from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre estimated that extreme weather could kill up to 152,000 a year in Europe by 2100. The research analysed the effects of the seven most dangerous types of weather-related events - heat waves, cold snaps, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods and windstorms - in the 28 EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Experts believe the predictions are overestimated as the report assumes no changes are made to curb greenhouse emissions and that communities do not adapt. However, the estimates highlight the importance of continuing to aim for the Paris Agreement Targets. If you’re interested about the impact of climate change in Wellington – check out the NIWA report that promises warmer weather, but alongside more frequent intense storms.
Something that may not have crossed your mind is what climate change might do to the aviation sector. Curious? This article from the Scientific American details a number of possibilities, while explaining the physics of hot air and flight in an easily accessible way. Highly recommended for a peek into the economics of aviation in the future.
Worried about the spread of misinformation? It’s real. But here’s how science communicators and educators can immunise their audiences against it.
Motu researchers have been describing our research in haiku for a few years now, but this is next-level kick-ass geek stuff. A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesised).