Category Archives: GRIT Talks

The Future of our Oceans

Ours is a water planet. Technology is shaping our uses, both as foe and ally. It has made humans the dominant predator and provides us food, gives us half the oxygen we breathe and created many maritime jobs. But technology has also raised CO2 levels, caused acidic oceans, threatened ocean biodiversity and created grand climate challenges.

Marine biologists like Doug McCauley at UC Santa Barbara are also using technology to promote ocean health and provide a balance. In this talk, McCauley describes examples of technology used to help the oceans and marine biodiversity. He shows systems that track whale activity and communicate it to ships so they know where to slow down to avoid collisions. He describes technology to monitor marine protected areas, image recognition techniques to study the endangered giant sea bass and electronic tags to follow sharks.

McCauley began his career as a fisherman in the Port of Los Angeles. Eventually he migrated to marine science and UC Santa Barbara. McCauley has degrees in political science and biology from the UC Berkeley. His PhD research was done at Stanford University where he studied the ecology of sharks, giant parrotfish, and coral reef ecosystems. McCauley’s science is motivated by the belief that we must better understand how complex ocean ecosystems work if we want to better protect them from threats like overfishing, climate change, and pollution.

Watch — Technology: Friend or Foe for the Future of our Oceans

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Cancer from an Evolutionary Perspective

Humans have a relatively high risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes. But cancer is not unique to humans. Across the tree of life, we can trace cancer vulnerabilities back to the origins of multicellularity. Cancer is observed in almost all multicellular phyla, including lineages leading to plants, fungi, and animals.

However, species vary remarkably in their susceptibility to cancer. And some organisms are much better at killing problem cells. Amy Boddy discusses how this variation is characterized by life history trade-offs, especially longevity. Interestingly, different species have evolved different ways to fight cell mutations that cause cancer. This may lead to a better understanding of cancer susceptibility across human populations.

Amy Boddy is an Assistant Professor in the Integrated Anthropological Sciences Unit and a Research Associate in the Broom Center for Demography at UC Santa Barbara. Boddy completed her PhD in molecular biology and genetics at the Wayne State University – School of Medicine in 2013. Her work uses applications from evolution and ecology to understand human health and disease. She uses a combination of genomics, computational biology and evolutionary theory to understand life history trade-offs between survival and reproduction across different levels of biological organization. One component of her research program examines how environmental cues, such as high extrinsic mortality, may guide resource allocations to cancer defenses and reproduction. Current cancer research topics include comparative oncology, intragenomic conflict, cellular life history trade-offs, and early life adversity and cancer outcomes later in life. In addition to her cancer research, she studies maternal/fetal conflict theory and the consequences of fetal microchimeric cells in maternal health and disease.

Watch Cancer Across the Tree of Life: New Insights into an Ancient Disease

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Talking with Machines – Artificial Intelligence

With the vast amount of data available in digital form, the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly.

If you’ve even been caught on a phone tree with a computer that doesn’t understand what you are saying, you’ll appreciate that scientists are trying to figure out how to teach machines to understand, to communicate and even be empathetic.

William Wang, Director of the Natural Language Processing Group at UCSB, summarizes the stunning achievements of Artificial Intelligence for the past decade and talks about the intersection of AI and language. He’s trying to build an empathetic conversational agent that can understand and generate human sentences with rich emotions.

Wang also looks at the challenges facing AI in the future and the work ahead of these researchers as they strive to keep improving AI and making it better for everyone.

William Wang is the Director of UCSB’s Natural Language Processing Group, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at UCSB. He received his PhD from School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. He has broad interests in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing. He is the recipient of a DARPA Young Faculty Award, an IBM Faculty Award, a Facebook Research Award, and an Adobe Research Award. He is an alumnus of Columbia University, and he also worked at Yahoo! Labs, Microsoft Research Redmond, and University of Southern California. His work and opinions appear at major tech media outlets such as Wired, VICE, Fast Company, The Next Web, and Mental Floss.

Watch Artificial Intelligence: What’s Next?

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