Human Eye Beats Machine in Archaeological Color Identification Test
“A ruler and scale can tell archaeologists the size and weight of a fragment of pottery – but identifying its precise color can depend on individual perception. So, when a handheld color-matching gadget came on the market, scientists hoped it offered a consistent way of determining color, free of human bias.
But a new study by archaeologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History found that the tool, known as the X-Rite Capsure, often misread colors readily distinguished by the human eye.
When tested against a book of color chips, the machine failed to produce correct color scores in 37.5% of cases, even though its software system included the same set of chips. In an analysis of fired clay bricks, the Capsure matched archaeologists’ color scores only 35% of the time, dropping to about 5% matching scores when reading sediment colors in the field. Researchers also found the machine was prone to reading color chips as more yellow than they were and sediment and clay as too red.
“I think that we were surprised by how much we disagreed with the instrument. We had the expectation that it would kind of act as the moderator and resolve conflicts,” said Lindsay Bloch, collection manager of the Florida Museum’s Ceramic Technology Lab and lead study author. “Instead, the device would often have an entirely different answer that we all agreed was wrong.”
Identifying subtle differences in color can help archaeologists compare the composition of soil and the origins of artifacts, such as pottery and beads, to understand how people lived and interacted in the past. Color can also reveal whether materials have been exposed to fire, indicating how communities used surrounding natural resources.
Today, the Munsell color system, created by Albert Munsell in 1905 and later adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for soil research, is the archaeological standard for identifying colors. Researchers use a binder of 436 unique color chips to determine a Munsell color score for artifacts, sediment and objects such as bones, shell and rocks. These scores enable archaeologists around the world to compare colors across sites and time periods. But the process of assigning scores can vary based on lighting conditions, the quality of a sample and the perspective of the researcher.
This study is the first to test and record the accuracy of the X-Rite Capsure, a device made by the same company that owns the color authority Pantone. Although marketed to archaeologists, the device was originally designed for interior designers and cosmetologists, not research, Bloch said.
“I think the main takeaway was just sort of surprise that it’s something that is marketed for our field, specifically for archaeologists, but hasn’t been made for us and the kind of data we need to collect,” she added. “When you read the manual, it says you should always verify that the color the machine tells you looks right with your eyes, which seems to negate the use of the instrument.”
In an experiment designed with the help of University of Florida undergraduate researchers Claudette Lopez and Emily Kracht, the team tested the Capsure’s readings of the three elements of Munsell’s system: a color’s general family, or hue; intensity, also known as chroma; and lightness, also called value.
The team first tested the Capsure on all 436 Munsell soil color chips, rating its reading as correct if it matched the exact score on a chip three out of five times. It correctly scored 274 chips. Of its errant readings, about 75% were misidentifications of hue. The Capsure was consistent, though often wrong, producing the same reading five times for 89% of the chips.
To determine how well the machine performed in a typical laboratory setting, the team tested its color readings of 140 pottery briquettes that had been assigned Munsell scores by Lopez. The Capsure matched the archaeologist’s scores in 35% of cases, again tending to misread hue. It proved consistent in this second test as well, yielding the same score across all trials of more than 70% of the briquettes.
In the most challenging of color-identification conditions – outdoors, where lighting and texture can vary – the machine only matched archaeologists’ scores of sediment samples about 5% of the time, often rating a shade darker or lighter. For one sample, the Capsure reported colors from five different families, even though archaeologists agreed the sediment was a single hue. Bloch said the discrepancy was likely due to moisture, sand and shells, which don’t usually interfere with human observations.
Unlike some other methods of identifying color, the Capsure is a remote control-sized device that can provide a reading in seconds. Bloch said the tool’s simple design and accessibility lend it to other scientific applications, but that the team’s results point to a need for further scrutiny of how archaeologists record color.
This new tool has really forced us to see that color is subjective and that, even with a supposedly objective instrument, it may be much more complicated than we’ve been led to believe,” she said. “We need to pay really close attention and record how we’re describing color in order to make good data. Ultimately, if we’re putting bad color data in, we’re going to get bad data out.”
Bloch said she would give the Capsure three out of five stars for being easy to use and offering helpful ways to store data.
“The ding is for the quality of data because it’s still kind of unknown. At this point, I think that our team would say the subjective eye is better.” Neuroscience Journal
Recognizing Liars From the Sound of Their Voice?
“Faster speech rate, greater intensity in the middle of the word, and falling pitch at the end of the word: that is the prosody to adopt if one wants to come across as reliable and honest to one’s listeners.
Scientists from the Science and Technology for Music and Sound laboratory (CNRS/Ircam/Sorbonne Université/Ministère de la Culture) and the Perceptual Systems Laboratory (CNRS/ENS PSL) have conducted a series of experiments to understand how we decide, based on the voice, whether a speaker is honest and confident, or on the contrary dishonest and uncertain.
They have also shown that this signature was perceived similarly in a number of languages (French, English, Spanish), and that it is registered “automatically” by the brain: even when participants were not judging the speaker’s certainty or honesty, this characteristic sound impacted how they memorized the words.
Prosody consequently conveys information on the truth-value or certainty of a proposition.
Scientists are now trying to understand how speakers produce such prosody based on their intentions.” Neuroscience Journal
Why Facebook and Apple are fighting over your privacy
“Facebook and Apple’s fight over your data is heating up. Apple’s tracking-optional mobile operation system update is coming to iPhones this spring, and the new privacy-preserving features will give users the ability to opt out of being followed around the internet via trackers in their apps. Facebook — which makes the vast majority of its money from data collected through those trackers — really doesn’t like Apple’s new features. Now Facebook is considering suing Apple, and Apple is digging in its heels.
This week saw the latest exchange of words between the two companies in a standoff that’s been going on for months. On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a quarterly earnings call that “we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors,” accusing Apple of using its “dominant platform position” to push its own apps while interfering with Facebook’s. Zuck added that Apple may frame this as a privacy service to its customers, but it’s really only in Apple’s own best anti-competitive interests. The next morning, the information reported that Facebook was preparing an antitrust suit against Apple over its App Store rules.
Apple is not backing down. On Thursday, CEO Tim Cook spoke at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference. In his keynote address, Cook never mentioned Facebook by name, but the target of his pointed remarks about data and advertising was obvious.
“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook said. “Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom. If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”
The reform Cook is talking about would look like a mobile operating system that prevents companies from accumulating said vast troves of personal data, and Apple’s latest efforts bring its own mobile operating system, iOS, pretty close to that ideal. The iPhone maker has incorporated several privacy protections into its products and services over the years. In iOS 14, apps will have to tell users what information they collect and get their permission to do it. Some of these features are already live, including the so-called privacy nutrition labels, which are supposed to tell users if their data is being collected, how, and why.
A potentially bigger deal, for users and developers alike, is the upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, which will require apps to get users’ permission to track them across other apps and websites. If users say no — and it’s likely that most of them will, given that people generally don’t like being tracked — companies that use targeted advertising will lose a major source of data, and, therefore, revenue. So Apple’s move could significantly harm the very mobile app ecosystem its iPhone helped to create.
Facebook, a company that has not historically been a major proponent of user privacy, is one of the biggest data collectors of all. Its trackers are buried in tons of mobile apps and on websites and Facebook uses the data they collect for ads on its platforms and its Audience Network mobile app ad service. So you can imagine that the social media giant/data vacuum was somehow alarmed to find out that potentially millions of iPhones would soon have a way to cut off some of those data streams. Facebook certainly isn’t the only company to balk at Apple’s new rules, but it is one of the biggest.
This is good for both companies because Apple’s users want Facebook’s apps (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) on their iPhones, and Facebook wants their apps in front of as many people as possible. They may be feuding publicly — as they’ve done for years- but their mutually beneficial relationship is still very much intact.” Vox
Bee Extinction Worries Grow as Species Numbers Drop
The number of reported bee species has dropped 25% from the 1990s
“Fewer bee species have been recorded since the 1990s, raising concerns that rare species might be extinct.
About 25% fewer species were found between 2006 and 2015, compared to records prior to the 1990s, according to a study published on Friday in the One Earth Journal. The authors are researchers at Argentina’s Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET).
Something is happening to the bees,” said biologist Eduardo Zattara, the report’s first author. “It’s not a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving.”
Wild and managed bees are essential pollinators that ensure the reproduction of thousands of wild plant species and 85% of all cultivated crops. Mounting reports show that the decline in wild bee populations might follow, or even be more pronounced, than declines in insect populations. Many animal populations are decreasing drastically, scientists have already warned.
Sightings of rarer types of bees have fallen more sharply than those of more common families, researchers found. Records of Melittidae, a bee family found in Africa, have gone down by as much as 41% since the 1990s, while Halictid bees, the second-most common family, have declined by 17% during the same period.
Most bee studies focus on declining populations focus on a specific area, or on a particular type of bee. Instead, CONICET researchers examined the number of species recorded around the world over more than a century.
To do that, they used the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network of databases that contains over three centuries of records from museum specimens, universities and geotagged smartphone photos shared by amateur naturalists in recent weeks. The network accounts for over 20,000 known bee species all over the world.
The results are subject to some uncertainty mainly because of the variety of data sources, making it impossible to reach definitive conclusions on individual species, researchers said. Technology has allowed for the recording of higher numbers of bees, but fewer species are being seen. Even accounting for possible distortions on the data, the trend is clear and matches that of previous, narrower reports. Given the current outlook of global biodiversity, it is more likely that these trends reflect existing scenarios of declining bee diversity,” the report said. “In the best scenario, this can indicate that thousands of bee species have become too rare; under the worst scenario, they may have already gone locally or globally extinct.”
Researchers conducted similar analysis on other insects to see if variations in bee species numbers were mirrored elsewhere, which would have been an indication that the changes had to do more with data collection and sources than with actual trends.
The populations of two wasp families also appear to be declining, but presented different patterns than bees’. Ant species, in contrast, have increased over the same period of time.
“We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in natural sciences,” Zattara said. “The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.” Bloomberg
How Amazon Sidewalk Works—and Why You May Want to Turn It Off Because of Privacy Issues
“IF YOU HAVE Amazon devices as part of your smart home, there’s a new service on the block you should be aware of—and as usual, there are both potential benefits and potential privacy implications to think about as you consider whether you want to be a part of it.
The technology in question is Amazon Sidewalk, which Amazon itself bills as “a new way to stay connected.” Simply put, it uses Amazon smart-home gear to create a series of mini mesh networks, meaning your devices can stay connected further away from your router, and even stay online when your Wi-Fi goes down.
This is made possible through Bluetooth and unused slices of the wireless spectrum, with Ring cameras and Echo speakers acting as the main bridges (actually called Sidewalk Bridges) to keep everything hooked up. For something to work with the network, it’s going to need to be compatible with the Sidewalk standard.
Even if your Ring camera is down at the end of the garden, out of reach of your main router, Sidewalk might be able to reach it through a device that’s closer. The network can’t carry much data at once, but these smart home gadgets don’t necessarily need much bandwidth to stay online.
The potential range of the network is decent—up to half a mile depending on the setup—and Sidewalk is free for Amazon customers to use once they’ve bought the hardware. As an added bonus, it’ll speed up the process of adding new Amazon devices to your smart home, as your existing hardware will be able to lend a hand with Wi-Fi connections and so on.
So far so tempting, but the more controversial part of Amazon Sidewalk is the way it shares some of your internet bandwidth with your neighbors (and gets some back in return), creating a much wider network of devices that can operate independently. If your internet goes down, your Ring camera can connect to the internet next door to keep sending you alerts, assuming both of you are set up with Sidewalk.
Likewise, if your neighbor’s internet goes down, their smart devices can temporarily connect to your router and the Sidewalk network you’ve created. If Amazon has its way, entire blocks will become Sidewalk networks, improving reliability and stability for all the smart devices contained inside them.
Tile trackers are also Sidewalk compatible, which means that they can report their location when they’re in range of any of these bespoke networks, not just your own—potentially very useful if your dog or your laptop goes missing outside of your own Wi-Fi network, but has a Tile tracker attached and can be located by one of the Sidewalk networks you’re connected to.
Amazon says that bandwidth usage by each Sidewalk network is capped at 80Kbps, or around 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream a high definition video—the network won’t take up any more of your internet connection than that. What’s more, Amazon promises never to use more than 500MB of data in a month, which is the same as streaming about 10 minutes of high definition data.
Amazon has published a white paper on the privacy and security surrounding Sidewalk, perhaps to head off any uneasiness about sharing even a small sliver of your Wi-Fi with the people living around you. The system will “minimize data tied to customers” across Sidewalk, with neither Amazon nor your neighbors able to snoop on what’s happening on your network or the devices you’ve got.
All that said, it really comes down to how much you trust Amazon—the company that seems keen to collect as much data as possible about you, shares Ring camera information with law enforcement agencies and which hasn’t always protected sensitive user data quite as robustly as it might have done. The company has also said it might share Sidewalk data with third-party developers further down the line, and you know where that kind of data sharing tends to lead.
If you end up deciding that Amazon Sidewalk isn’t for you, you need to take action: It’s on by default, once the software update has hit your devices (it’s also on by default for users setting up an Amazon-powered smart home for the first time.) If you want to turn it off, you need to open up the Alexa app on your phone, and go to More, Settings, Account Settings, and Amazon Sidewalk and turn it off.” Wired
How COVID-19 Is Likely to Impact the Brain
“An article published Jan. 5 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association cites decades of published scientific evidence to make a compelling case for SARS-CoV-2’s expected long-term effects on the brain and nervous system.
Dementia researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) are the first and senior authors of the report and are joined by coauthors from the Alzheimer’s Association and Nottingham and Leicester universities in England.
“Since the flu pandemic of 1917 and 1918, many of the flulike diseases have been associated with brain disorders,” said lead author Gabriel A. de Erausquin, MD, PhD, Msc, professor of neurology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. “Those respiratory viruses included H1N1 and SARS-CoV. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is also known to impact the brain and nervous system.”
Dr. de Erausquin, an investigator with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, said it is becoming clear that the damage done by the pandemic will not be limited to acute effects, such as delirium in the hospital, but will have chronic consequences that impact many individuals’ quality of life and independence.
The question is to what degree and under what form. Even mild COVID-19 infections may have negative effects on the brain long term, Dr. de Erausquin said.
The basic idea of our study is that some of the respiratory viruses have affinity for nervous system cells,” said senior author Sudha Seshadri, MD, professor of neurology in the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and director of the Glenn Biggs Institute. “Olfactory cells are very susceptible to viral invasion and are particularly targeted by SARS-CoV-2, and that’s why one of the prominent symptoms of COVID-19 is loss of smell.”
The olfactory bulb connects with the hippocampus, a brain structure primarily responsible for short-term memory.
“The trail of the virus, when it invades the brain, leads almost straight to the hippocampus,” Dr. de Erausquin said. “That is believed to be one of the sources of the cognitive impairment observed in COVID-19 patients. We suspect it may also be part of the reason why there will be an accelerated cognitive decline over time in susceptible individuals.”
The authors point out that:
- Intranasal administration of SARS-CoV-2 in mice results in rapid invasion of the brain.
- Headache, hypogeusia (reduced ability to taste) and anosmia (loss of smell) appear to precede the onset of respiratory symptoms in the majority of affected patients.
- SARS-CoV-2 can be found in the brain post-mortem.
- Abnormal brain imaging that may be characterized by the appearance of lesions in different brain regions – and the appearance of other abnormal brain changes that may influence clinical presentation – has emerged as a major feature of COVID-19 from all parts of the world.
- Abnormal imaging was seen in an individual whose only symptom was loss of smell.” Neuroscience Journal
Italy’s Uffizi opens Dante anniversary with virtual exhibit
“Florence’s Uffizi Gallery has made available for viewing online 88 rarely displayed drawings of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to mark the 700th anniversary in 2021 of the Italian poet’s death.
The virtual show of high-resolution images of works by the 16th-Century Renaissance artist Federico Zuccari is for free, any hour of the day, for everyone,’’ said Uffizi director Eike Schmidt.
The drawings illustrate Dante’s masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy,” an epic poem in three parts recounting a pilgrim’s travels through hell, purgatory and heaven.
Dante Alighieri is revered as the father of the Italian language. A Tuscan by birth, he died and was buried in the city of Ravenna, a three-time ancient capital located in the region of Emilia-Romagna.
The pencil-and-ink drawings are in contrasting shades of black and brown. They were completed during Zuccari’s stay in Spain from 1586 to 1588, and became part of the Uffizi collection in 1738.
The drawings have only been publicly displayed twice previously, and then only a selection, owing to their fragility: in Florence in 1865 to mark the 600th anniversary of Dante’s birth and coinciding with Italy’s unification as a nation, and for a specialized exhibit about Dante in Abruzzo in 1993.
The drawings were originally bound in a volume, with each illustration opposite the corresponding verse in Dante’s epic poem. The texts and scholarly comment will also be included in the virtual show, titled “A riveder le stelle,” (to see the stars again), a reference to the celebrated last line of Dante’s “Inferno.”
Schmidt said the drawings are a “great resource” for Dante scholars and students, as well as “anyone who likes to be inspired by Dante’s pursuit of knowledge and virtue.”
The Internet of Senses: Your Brain Is the User Interface
By 2030, we will all experience The Internet of Senses (IoS), enabled by AI, VR, AR, 5G, and automation.
“The term Internet of Things (IoT) was coined by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton. The innovator and consumer sensor expert, defined the IoT back in the year 1999. He used the Internet of Things term to describe the network connecting objects in the physical world to the Internet during his work at Procter & Gamble.
Ashton, who was working in supply chain optimization, wanted to attract senior management’s attention to a new technology called Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID).
Radio-frequency identification technology uses electromagnetic fields in order to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. An RFID tag consists of a tiny radio transponder; a radio receiver, and a transmitter. And Ashton was working on this field when he came up with the Internet of Things to explain his work.
It took a while until the general public began to understand what The Internet of Things was all about and how this early trend was going to grow strong during the next couple of decades. It was only during the last few years that people began to fully understand the Internet of Things.
From that first use of the term Internet of Things, fast-forward 20 years, and humanity contemplates the birth of The Internet of Senses, one of the emerging consumer technology trends for 2021 toward 2030.
Exploring the future from an early adopter user perspective
Ericsson Consumer Lab predicts that by 2030, we will all experience The Internet of Senses (IoS). ConsumerLab found that consumers expect an array of beneficial services from connected technology interacting with our senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch to be a reality by 2030.
Today, we are exploring what the first trend, the brain as the user interface, is all about.
The Internet of Senses will be enabled by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), 5G, and automation. The main drivers for the Internet of Senses include immersive entertainment and online shopping, the climate crisis and the corresponding need to minimize climate impact.
Many predict that by 2030, the lines between thinking and doing will blur. Fifty-nine percent of consumers believe that we will be able to see map routes on VR glasses by simply thinking of a destination
By 2030, technology is set to respond to our thoughts, and even share them with others. Think what that will mean; think, and that will mean.
Using the brain as an interface could mean the end of keyboards, mice, game controllers, and ultimately user interfaces for any digital device. The user needs to only think about the commands, and they will just happen. Smartphones could even function without touch screens.
According to the report, this opens up new device categories with entirely new interaction paradigms. Among those, the highest consumer expectations are on Augmented Reality (AR) glasses.
Six in 10 early adopters respondents are expecting that thinking show map would display a map right before their eyes. They also expect to be able to search for routes simply by thinking of the destination.
With these AR capabilities available, many other applications that are almost unimaginable today suddenly become quite straightforward. Have you ever met someone who seemingly knows you, and yet you cannot place them, or even remember their name?
This problem will be eliminated by 2030 as — according to 54 percent of consumers — in response to thought requests, AR glasses will show them information about people they meet, such as their name, or where they met before.
How would you like your thoughts to become fully accessible by technology? According to the report, that would be the implication this technology would bring. In other words, it can be cool if you are playing a video game, or try to find your way in a new destination. But what happens when you want to keep your thoughts to yourself? Is that going to be possible, or will become a thing of the past?
Forty percent even believe they will have the ability to directly share thoughts with their friends and loved ones. But then again, what about those thoughts you do not want to share with anyone?
Consumers have shown interest in thought communication before: In the Ericsson ConsumerLab 2015 trend report, more than two-thirds believed this would be commonplace by 2020.
With this technology, it is clear that the concepts of integrity and privacy will take on new meanings.
However, people do not want advertisers to access their minds: Well above 50 percent say data will be private for any thought service concept we asked about, with seven in ten saying that thought data for locking and unlocking their front doors needs to be private. Today, advertising revenue powers many, if not all, application categories.
So, what will be the new business model in 2030?” Int Engineering