October 12, 2018

Weekend reads: Amazon's Alexa might soon be able to tell when you're sick—and when you're sad

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    Helpful? Or creepy? Amazon has filed a patent for a new version of its virtual assistant Alexa that would potentially tell when you're sick—just by analyzing your speech patterns. The patent presents a scenario in which a coughing and sniffling woman talks to her Alexa, which responds with a chicken soup recipe and offers to order cough drops on Amazon. The patent also offers a scenario in which Alexa plays advertisements for sore throat products for a patient who sounds as if he or she has a sore throat. But Amazon may go a step further: The patent also mentions potential ways of targeting people with advertisements based on their moods. For example, a future version of Alexa could listen to hear if users are crying and log them as experiencing an "emotional abnormality."

    Vitamin D supplements don't make your bones stronger. Vitamin D supplements don't prevent fractures or increase bone density, according to a study in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. The study analyzed data from 81 randomized controlled trials that involved over 53,000 patients and found no clinically significant differences for fractures, falls, or bone density between those who took a dosage of more than 800 units a day and those who took less. Mark Bolland, lead author on the study and an associate professor at the University of Auckland, said, "if your levels [of vitamin D] are normal or slightly low, there is no evidence that you get any benefit from taking vitamin D."

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    Gecko butt-dials marine veterinarians. When veterinarian and monk seal expert Claire Simeone received nine phone calls in 15 minutes from the Marine Mammal Center in Hawaii—where she works—she assumed a colleague was calling about one of the endangered seals. But, when she picked up, she was met with complete silence. After she rushed to the office to confront what she thought was an the emergency, employees revealed that someone had been calling them "incessantly" from inside the office. The culprit, they found, was a tiny, green gecko that happened to be heavy enough to work the landline phone.

    I spy, with my little eye Researchers from Johns Hopkins University on Thursday published a critical discovery about the origins of human color vision. Here's what they did: The researchers studied hundreds of retinal organoids they developed in a lab. After adding a thyroid hormone to the retinas, the researchers found that the hormone triggered the development of red-green cones in the eyes, which might indicate how color vision develops in the womb. The findings could lead to treatments for colorblindness and vision loss.

    Jackie Kimmell's reads

    Bernie Sanders: Trump lies about 'Medicare for All' and he's made health care worse. Bernie Sanders wrote his own op-ed in USA Today in response to President Trump's attack on "Medicare-for-All." Trump's op-ed, published on Wednesday, argued that expanding the Medicare program to everyone would harm seniors and "end Medicare as we know it." In response, Sanders hit back that, "Given the president's propensity to lie about almost everything, it is not surprising that Trump is grossly distorting what the Medicare for All legislation does." He claimed that his proposal would actually expand coverage for seniors by providing dental and vision care. The issue is likely to remain divisive as the 2020 election grows nearer. 

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