How artificial intelligence may be making you buy things

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If you are getting told off for spending too much on wine, maybe you can blame it on artificial intelligence

The shopping lists we used to scribble on the back of an envelope are increasingly already known by the supermarkets we frequent.

Firstly via the loyalty cards we scan at checkouts, and more and more so from our online baskets, our shopping habits are no longer a secret.

But now more retailers are using AI (artificial intelligence) – software systems that can learn for themselves – to try to automatically predict and encourage our very specific preferences and purchases like never before.

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‘I wanted to meet a mate and have a baby without wasting time’: the rise of platonic co-parenting

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Jenica Anderson and Stephan DuVal, with their daughter.

They’re ready to start a family, but can’t wait for The One. As ‘mating’ sites boom under lockdown, we meet those hoping for a better way to raise a child

When Jenica Anderson and Stephan DuVal clicked on one another’s online profile on Modamily.com – tagline “A new way to family” – neither was looking for romance. They were both in their late 30s, and their short bios indicated that they shared similar views on health and education, had solid incomes and were searching for the same thing: a non-romantic partner to have – and raise – a child with. A co-parent.

Anderson, 38, a geologist from Montana, US, had matched with and spoken to 10 different men, mostly via so-called mating sites – matchmaking sites for people who want a baby without a romantic relationship – when she had her first phone call with DuVal, from Vancouver, Canada, in spring 2019. Their conversations quickly started to run into the night and, that June, she flew out to spend the weekend with him. They talked, went hiking and jumped into a lake together. “It felt like a date,” says DuVal, 37, a camera operator. “Except we could be totally honest about wanting to have a kid soon, without the goofiness and flirting of a first date. You’re looking to achieve a common goal.”

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Whole Foods predicts top food trends for 2021

John Mackey discusses how supermarket chain has adjusted amid the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Expect veggie jerky, probiotic-packed sauerkraut and chickpea tofu in snack food aisles.

The future of snacking will be packed with immunity-boosting ingredients, like mushroom broth, fruit and veggie jerky and probiotic-fueled packs of roasted garlic sauerkraut.

More Americans are apparently looking to incorporate healthy supplements into their snacking habits, according to Whole Foods Market’s list of “Top 10 Food Trends for 2021,” released Monday.

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Harnessing deep neural networks to predict future self-harm based on clinical notes

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According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 1.4 million suicide attempts recorded in 2018. Although effective treatments are available for those at risk, clinicians do not have a reliable way of predicting which patients are likely to make a suicide attempt.

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and University of South Florida report in JMIR Medical Informatics that they have taken important steps toward addressing the problem by creating an artificial intelligence algorithm that can automatically identify patients at high risk of intentional self-harm, based on the information in the clinical notes in the electronic health record.

The study was led by Jihad Obeid, M.D., co-director of the MUSC Biomedical Informatics Center, and Brian Bunnell, Ph.D., formerly at MUSC and currently an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the University of South Florida.

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The US should brace itself for a “national wave of fertility fraud”

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A new field of litigation has evolved in the United State: denouncing fertility fraud. In the latest episode, a nation-wide firm, Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway, announced that it was pursuing two fertility doctors who allegedly used their own sperm a generation ago to get women pregnant and without informing them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Adam Wolf, the lawyer handling the cases. He claims that hundreds of fertility fraud cases will emerge across the US as people begin to investigate their geneology using home DNA testing kits.

In the first case, a San Francisco woman discovered that both of her children were the offspring of her fertility doctor, Dr Michael S. Kiken. Furthermore, through Kiken, the children are carriers of Tay Sachs disease.

In the second case a San Diego woman sought the help of Dr Philip Milgram in 1988 for artificial insemination, which resulted in the birth of their son. Milgram told her that he had used the sperm of a healthy and anonymous sperm donor — but he allegedly used his own instead.

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Will we ever trust crowds again?

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If socializing makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Scientists say the pandemic is re-shaping our senses of fear and disgust, and it’s unclear how long the change will last.

WATCHING A RERUN of the 1990s sitcom Seinfeld gave me the first inkling that COVID-19 might be rearranging my mind for the long term. On the screen, the characters sat across the table from each other at Monk’s Café. Kramer flopped into the frame, draping his arm around another occupied chair. As his arm touched another person, I physically recoiled.

By then, my hometown of New Orleans was a few weeks into the pandemic, and I was already stepping off the curb whenever a stranger approached. If someone slipped by my paranoia and caught me unaware on the sidewalk, I held my breath and rolled my eyes as they barged past. Those behaviors felt natural, even though by mid-March, scientists were already pointing out the low risk of coronavirus transmission in the outdoors. All of my friends reported feeling something similar, and one told me that she had to turn off the TV if a subway scene came on. We’re not alone. Even as some states begin to reopen, most Americans—regardless of political affiliation—say that they’re uncomfortable going into crowded situations, indoors and out, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.

Neuroscientists and psychologists propose that people aren’t cringing around strangers and crowds because of pre-existing senses of fear or disgust. Instead, many in society are simultaneously learning a new emotional experience.

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The rise of the 3-parent family

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The typical path to parenthood didn’t work for David Jay, a founder of the asexual movement. So he designed his own household—and is trying to show others what is possible.

David Jay is the oldest of 12 cousins on one side of his family and the third-oldest of 24 cousins on the other. As a kid, family to Jay meant having a lot of people around, a feeling of community, and crucially, a sense of permanence, that these people would always be in his life. Later, as an adult living in collective housing, he could access the feeling of family with those around him, but the permanence was gone. His roommates started finding romantic partners, having children, and dispersing. Jay had always wanted his own family with kids—and had known, for almost as long, that he wouldn’t be able to build one the usual way.

Jay is the founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network and one of the most prominent people in the asexual movement. (Asexual people, or aces, don’t experience sexual attraction, though many do have sex and form romantic relationships.) After starting AVEN as a freshman at Wesleyan University in 2001, Jay spent years explaining asexuality to the public, speaking at events and talking to the press. As he grew older, the questions on his mind moved beyond identity and attraction to issues of parenting and family life.

The problem for Jay was never how babies are made, and fostering and adoption were options. The problem was that he wanted kids and also wanted a co-parent to help him raise kids, but wasn’t interested in romantic partnership. Before exploring single parenthood, he was curious whether there might be another way to form the family he wanted.

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Cigarette smoking makes comeback during Coronavirus Pandemic

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Marlboro maker Altria says stimulus checks and e-cigarette restrictions are driving sales of traditional cigarettes

 Americans are smoking more during the coronavirus pandemic because they are spending less on travel and entertainment and have more opportunities to light up. They are also switching back to traditional cigarettes from vaping devices in the wake of federal restrictions on e-cigarette flavors.

Executives at Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. pointed to the trends Tuesday and said they have been significant enough to slow the yearslong decline in U.S. cigarette sales. Altria now expects U.S. cigarette unit sales to fall by 2% to 3.5% this year compared with its previous projection of a 4%-to-6% decline.

Pandemic lockdowns have meant fewer social outings and more time to smoke at home, Altria Chief Executive Billy Gifford said. Though unemployment rates are high, stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits have helped ease the financial hardship for low- and middle-income cigarette smokers, he added. Adult cigarette smokers are making fewer trips to the store, but they are stocking up on packs when they do go.

“Fewer social engagements allow for more tobacco-use occasions,” Mr. Gifford told analysts on an earnings call Tuesday. The company’s Marlboro brand accounts for 43% of all cigarettes sold in the U.S.

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Meet the teenage ‘beauty boys’ coming for the cosmetics industry

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Gen-Z boys online are chipping away at the taboo against men wearing makeup – with or without the makeup industry’s help

In March of 2019, 17-year-old Elliot Ceretti walked into his local convenience store with a couple of friends. He had been re-watching the 10th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and one of the show’s drag queens, Aquaria, had inspired an unfamiliar but exciting longing in Ceretti.

He loaded his basket with the cheapest makeup products he could find, and a glue stick to glue down his brows. When he got home that night, he waited until his mother and sister were asleep and locked himself in the bathroom, applying makeup like he had seen on the show. That night, he brought Ella Souflee, his drag persona, to life for the first time.

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The role of cognitive dissonance in the pandemic

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The minute we make any decision—I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative.

Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.

Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.

Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, describes the discomfort people feel when two cognitions, or a cognition and a behavior, contradict each other. I smoke is dissonant with the knowledge that Smoking can kill me. To reduce that dissonance, the smoker must either quit—or justify smoking (“It keeps me thin, and being overweight is a health risk too, you know”). At its core, Festinger’s theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.

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When we’ll return to these ‘normal’ activities, according to experts

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Eating this close to a person outside your COVID bubble could be a long way offWictor Karkocha/Unsplash

Epidemiologists answer your burning questions.

Many Americans are clamoring to get back to normal life, whether the novel coronavirus is gone or not (and it most certainly is not). The banal hallmarks of everyday life—hair cuts! restaurants! physical human contact!—seem pretty tempting after more than three months of varying degrees of isolation.

Now is, unfortunately, not the time to get back to all of that, at least in the US. We haven’t yet gotten COVID under control. Cases are surging yet again in many states, and some places are now reversing some of their reopening steps in an effort to curb the growth. So, more people than ever are probably wondering: when the heck am I going to be able to live my normal life again?

For those of us who don’t know any epidemiologists to ask personally, the New York Times questioned 511 of them about when they would consider returning to a slate of normal activities. Some were extremely cautious (a few said they may never shake another person’s hand again) and others were cautiously optimistic (one epidemiologist told the Times that they were looking forward to dating again). Together, their responses can give us some guidance about when we might expect to have some semblance of normality again.

Here’s what they said:

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Send your ashes into orbit for a funeral in space

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Services such as Celestis and Aura Flights send remains to the skies in an epic final journey.

Even in the freezing cold, Steven Schnider would often drag his wife Christine outside to look up at the night sky. He’d point out everything from planets to comets to satellites he’d tracked down using an app called Heavens Above.

“He’d say, ‘Do you see it?’ It’s right there. And it would be the faintest little piece of light going across the sky,” Christine recalls. “He was just so excited about it.”

When Steven was close to death in 2017, there was a consensus among family members that a space burial would be the best way to send him off. Their daughter took out her phone, did a quick search and pulled up a company called Celestis.

Last June, a portion of Steven’s ashes — along with cremated remains from over 150 other Celestis clients — were flown into Earth’s orbit aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Another portion of his ashes will fly aboard the Luna 02 mission, which is slated for takeoff in 2022.

“He’d be so excited that he was in space,” Christine says.

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