Think Inc. Thursdays #018

While most major Australian cities are in lockdown, we hope to bring you some interesting brain fuel to keep you occupied. If you're not from down under, you're going to learn a lot about our incredible, and at times, very strange country. Some say we are known as an over-regulated nation, and our recent Online Safety Bill 2021 and the proliferation of facial-recognition systems in retail stores could be seen as evidence of that.

But for what we lack, we make up for it in incredible scientists. Take, for example, our evolutionary psychologists at Macquarie Uni doing some sexy science using facial morphology, and David Sinclair doing the math on ageing.

Non-Aussies are also given a fair go: we bring you some delicious French cuisine, dementia-drug news from the US, and an article that somehow manages to contain links to Sean Carroll, Kendrick Lamar and… mockingbirds? 🤔

As always, let us know about any interesting news you come across – we love to hear from you!

Warm regards,
Suzi

What is 'Offensive Content'?

We think this is pretty massive news, but not many news sites are reporting on it.

The Australian government has passed the Online Safety Bill 2021, which allows them to fine social media platforms hundreds of thousands of dollars if they don't remove harmful or offensive material within 24 hours. The Bill was introduced to protect users against cyber abuse, revenge porn and terrorist content, which is great.

But many are concerned that it gives one person, the eSafety Commissioner (Julie Inman Grant) the power to determine what is offensive and what isn’t based on whether “an ordinary reasonable person” would find it offensive.

Grant says that with her current powers, she is unable to resolve the majority of cyber abuse complaints she receives. But in a climate where some people believe in microaggressions and that “words are violence”, and others don’t, it may be difficult to gauge what an “ordinary reasonable person” would be offended by.

Is this a necessary move or just a further way to censor freedom of expression online?

→ Click here to learn more.

Spying while Buying

Speaking of technology encroaching on freedom, did you know that many retail stores now use facial recognition technology? This tech can scan the faces of customers and employees, and is usually used to prevent shoplifting.

But some stores also want to use it to identify loyalty club members, to track foot traffic or to check on an employee’s productivity. Australia’s outgoing Human Rights Commissioner, Edward Santow, said that we may be “sliding into mass surveillance” if we continue to embrace this technology which is currently being used in 7-Eleven, for example.

The US is running into big issues with this tech – only last week a young black girl was refused entry to a skating rink due to the scanner identifying her as someone who was banned from the venue. The technology just doesn’t work as well on female faces and on people who aren’t white.

→ Click here to learn more.

How to Spot a Player

Evolutionary psychologists at Macquarie University have found that women can predict whether a man is into casual hookups or a committed relationship, just by looking at his face.

They took photos of 103 people (in this case, just white folk) and asked them about their sociosexuality, which is their openness to casual, uncommitted sexual relationships. They found that the guys more willing to engage in these trysts had longer faces, higher foreheads, longer noses and bigger eyes… (Is that you, Adrien Brody?)

In another study, they took 65 participants and worked out that the women could recognise which men self-described themselves as “players”. Interestingly, the men couldn’t do the same for women’s faces. We do like to keep some sort of veil of mystery 😉

→ Click here to learn more.

New Dementia Drug Gives Hopes

The US has approved a new, first-of-its-kind treatment for early-stage dementia. Some of you may be surprised to learn that dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia. Currently, 250 people a day get diagnosed with it in Australia, and with our aging population, it will soon be much more.

Previously we only had medications to treat the symptoms, not the underlying disease process of Alzheimer’s. This drug, Aduhelm, works by reducing amyloid-beta plaques in the brain. However, some studies have shown it’s didn’t have any impact, so until more research is done, Australia’s TGA is unlikely to approve it.

Nonetheless, ageing experts like David Sinclair must be pretty happy, as this treatment would extend the health span, not just the lifespan of so many people. At the moment, high-income nations have a lot of elderly people with healthy hearts, but brains that are wasting away.

Not only is this a sad predicament for those affected, but those years spent in poor health is also a massive cost to a country’s economy. David has co-written an article called The Economic Value of Targeting Ageing, which shows that a slowdown in aging that increases life expectancy by 1 year is worth $38 trillion USD, and by 10 years, $367 trillion.

→ Click here to learn more.

Faux Foie Gras

Some young French entrepreneurs have grown foie gras in a lab, and it doesn’t actually look too bad!

One of the main challenges in creating lab-grown meat is emulating the texture of the muscle, but if you’ve ever tried foie gras, you’ll know it’s got this smooth, fatty texture that’s more like butter that’s much easier to recreate in the lab.

The French company, Gourmey engineers faux meat by taking cells out of a freshly laid duck egg and placing them into a cultivator. The cells are then fed with proteins, amino acids and sugar, similar to the nutrients a duck would get on a farm. The cells are then harvested and transformed into foie gras in a process that uses significantly less land and water than traditional methods, and best of all, no ducks are force-fed or slaughtered in the process.

If the French approve it, it must be pretty good because those people have bloody high standards when it comes to food. What about you, would you give this foie gras a go?

→ Click here to learn more.

Kendrick Lamar and Mockingbirds

Check out this incredible article written by Jennifer Ouellette. Her hubby was the last incredible scientist Think Inc. toured before borders closed: Professor Sean Carroll.

Sean sent me the article because he knows how much I love hip-hop! The article is all about a recent paper that shows that the mockingbird follows similar musical rules to humans when it composes its songs. Researchers found that the birds used timbre change, pitch change, stretching the transition and squeezing the transition.

Squeeze morphing is when one phrase is followed by a similar phrase performed much faster while maintaining the same timbre and pitch. Kendrick Lamar (who I’m a massive fan of) does this best in his song Duckworth from the album DAMN, which won him the Pulitzer Prize for music composition. Which, by the way, was the first non-jazz or classical album to win the prize. Mockingbirds and Kendrick Lamar have a lot in common, who would have thunk it? 🤔

→ Click here to learn more.

Photo of the week

Traditionally it’s been pretty challenging to observe the life cycles of any galaxies beyond our own. So we’re pretty amazed by these fresh mages of galaxies just next door to the Milky Way.

Captured by an international team of astronomers, we can now see how stars are born! The orange tones represent clouds of molecular gas (the birthplace of the stars), while the dark brown spots show interstellar dust. When the stars are born they heat up the surrounding cold gas, which you can see in the bright gold flecks. The bluish tones are signs of stars that have already formed.

→ Click here to learn more.

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