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Tom Malone refused to believe that watercooler conversations were dead just because so many people were suddenly working from home during the pandemic. He knew that random workplace chatter can help people build trust and form bonds. And as a researcher who studies technology and organizational design, he says, “it seemed obvious to me that there should be ways to support informal interactions” at virtual conferences and in online workspaces.

So Malone, who teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, worked with a graduate student to develop Minglr, open-source software that anyone can download and use to meet with people who indicate they’re free to chat. The interface is like AIM and Zoom rolled into one: the left panel shows who’s free, along with an avatar and relevant information such as title and conversational interests; a middle panel lists a queue of people who want to talk with you now; the right panel shows another list of people who want to talk in the future.

Malone tested Minglr at a virtual conference in June and wrote a paper describing the response. About a third of attendees used the software, and they had two conversations apiece on average. He acknowledges that tools like Minglr and Zoom don’t perfectly replicate the feeling of being around the watercooler or coffee machine. But he doesn’t think impromptu conversations must be lost to the pandemic.

screenshot of Minglr service
How Minglr looks on a desktop. Courtesy Prof. Thomas MaloneMINGLR

Malone isn’t the only one who thinks this type of spontaneous casual interaction can be saved. As the pandemic turns traditional office culture upside down, workers are finding creative ways to seek such connection. And these changes will likely linger after a coronavirus vaccine makes it safe for many to return to work. With offices already reconfiguring open plans, and the possibility that common spaces like snack bars and conference rooms will be off-limits, the literal watercooler conversation could be an artifact of a bygone era.

If that’s the case, replacing it is important. Experts suggest that at best, a workplace with no interaction between siloed groups—creative with finance, for example—can make people feel more like worker bees. At worst, it can stifle creativity and collaboration. Deborah

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By: Tanya Basu
Title: Remote workers want to recreate those watercooler moments, virtually
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/17/1006604/remote-workers-want-to-recreate-those-watercooler-moments-virtually/
Published Date: Mon, 17 Aug 2020 17:45:20 +0000

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Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers

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The other day some preschoolers were pretending to be one of their favorite Sesame Street characters, a baby goat named Ma’zooza who likes round things. They played with tomatoes—counting up to five, hiding one, and putting it back.

A totally ordinary moment exploring shapes, numbers, and imagination. Except this version of Sesame Street—called Ahlan SimsimWelcome Sesame)—was custom made for children like these: Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon who otherwise don’t have access to preschool or, often, enough to eat.

Educational interruptions due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war have affected nearly every child on Earth since 2020. A record 43.3 million children have been driven from their homes by conflict and disasters, according to UNICEF—a number that doubled over the past decade.

And yet, points out Sherrie Westin, the head of the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street, “less than 2% of humanitarian aid worldwide goes to the early years”—that is, specifically supporting care and education, not just food and medicine.

two children sitting close together holding a tablet
Sesame Workshop created the TV show Ahlan Simsim (seen on screen) for children who have been displaced from their homes or experienced conflict.RYAN HEFFERNAN/SESAME WORKSHOP

That may be about to change. The Ahlan Simsim program is the largest-ever humanitarian intervention specifically intended for small children’s development. The Sesame Workshop partnered with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian-aid nonprofit, to win a $100 million grant competition administered by the MacArthur Foundation. The results, released in May 2023 but not yet peer reviewed, have been startling: they have provided the first evidence that 100% remote learning can help young children in crisis situations. And the format has already been successfully copied and used in other crises.

The program combines video content produced by Sesame with services from the IRC, which employs a combination of volunteers from the affected community and professional teachers and parent educators to work locally with families. Over the past few years, 2 million children and their caregivers watched Ahlan Simsim and received coordinated services, some of which were provided entirely over mobile phones. Another 25 million simply watched the show.

In 2023, Hiro Yoshikawa and his team of researchers at New York University showed in a randomized controlled trial that Syrian refugee children taking part in an 11-week, fully remote learning program, combining Ahlan Simsim videos with live support from local preschool teachers over cell phones, showed progress in learning that was comparable to the results from a year of standard in-person preschool.

And the learning they measured wasn’t just academic. Children made progress in overall development, emerging literacy, emerging numeracy, motor skills, social-emotional skills, and even the quality of play—like pretending to be Ma’zooza the goat.

“I’m pretty impressed,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an expert in early child development at Temple University, who was not involved with the research. Compared with in-person preschool, “this is probably not the full nutritional value,” she cautions. “But nicely done—to even bring them anything in this setting is kind of amazing.”

Sesame and IRC hope that holistic intervention can help the world’s most vulnerable kids cope with toxic stress—the kind that can, if unchecked, change the architecture of a developing brain. “We see so many children that just because of the circumstances of their birth—born into crisis, into conflict—the odds of them achieving their full potential are reduced,” says Katie Murphy, the director of early-­childhood development and strategic initiatives at the IRC, who was closely involved with the project. “Our work tries to reduce that gap.”

With the right support from caregivers and communities, Murphy and her colleagues believe, more children around the world can grow up resilient amid crisis, displacement, and war.

Coping with discrimination, conflict, and hunger

At a refugee camp in the agricultural Beqaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Amal, Hana, and Mariam, three Syrian refugee mothers who participated in the

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By: Anya Kamenetz
Title: Yes, remote learning can work for preschoolers
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1088127/remote-learning-preschoolers-early-childhood-education-teaching/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/tackling-long-haul-diseases/

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Tackling long-haul diseases

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MIT immunoengineer Michal “Mikki” Tal remembers the exact moment she had an insight that would change the trajectory of her research, getting her hooked on studying a long-neglected disease that leaves millions of Americans suffering without treatment.

It was 2017, and she was a Stanford postdoc exploring connections between her immune regulation research and immuno-
oncology, which harnesses the body’s immune system to combat cancer. Her work focused on how healthy cells broadcast “Don’t eat me” messages while cells that are cancerous or infected with a pathogen send self-sacrificing “Eat me” messages. Immune cells, in turn, receive these missives in pocket-like receptors. The receptor that receives the healthy cells’ signal, Tal read as she was poring over the literature that day, is the third most diverse protein in the human population, meaning that it varies a lot from one person to the next. It was a fact that struck her as “very odd.”

Tal, who has been obsessed with infectious disease since losing an uncle to HIV/AIDS and a cousin to meningococcal meningitis, wondered what this striking diversity could reveal about our immune response to infection. According to one hypothesis, the wide array of these receptors is the result of an evolutionary arms race between disease-causing microbes and the immune system. Think of the receptor as a lock, and the “Nothing to see here” message as a key. Pathogens might evolve to produce their own chemical mimics of this key, effectively hiding from the immune system in plain sight. In response, the human population has developed a wide range of locks to frustrate any given impostor key.

Wanting to test this hypothesis, Tal found herself walking the halls of Stanford, asking colleagues, “Who’s got a cool bug?” Someone gave her Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Previous research from Tal’s collaborator Jenifer Coburn, a microbiologist now at the Medical College of Wisconsin, had established that Lyme bacteria sport a special protein crucial for establishing a lasting infection. Knock this protein out, and the immune system swiftly overwhelms the bugs. The big question, however, was what made this protein so essential. So Tal used what’s known as a high-affinity probe as bait—and caught the Borrelia’s mimic of our “Don’t eat me” signal binding to it. In other words, she confirmed that the bacteria’s sneakyprotein was, as predicted, a close match for a healthy cell’s signal.

Sex differences in Lyme infection

Until then, Tal says, she had never given Lyme disease much thought. But the more she learned, the more disturbed she grew. Even after timely antibiotic treatment, roughly 10% of all Lyme patients go on to develop chronic symptoms that can include crushing pain, debilitating fatigue, and cognitive changes that make basic tasks a struggle.

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This confocal micrograph depicts Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which cause Lyme disease when transmitted to humans by ticks. These Borrelia were genetically engineered to produce a green fluorescent protein.COURTESY OF THE TAL RESEARCH GROUP

Perhaps even more alarming than the disease has been the medical community’s response to it. “I realized that there’s this public health debacle around Lyme, and it’s, for lack of a better word, obscene,” Tal says. Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, clinicians have dismissed their symptoms as signs of mental illness. The medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.”

Today, there is no objective way to diagnose chronic Lyme, and no medically accepted therapy. For some patients, lengthy treatments with high doses of antibiotics can ease symptoms, but these come with their own serious risks. (They can, for example, damage the microbiome, leading to significant negative effects on health.) And because the antibiotic used currently only prevents bacteria from replicating, Tal notes, it’s up to the immune system to actually kill off the invaders. If immune cells can’t tell friend from foe, the utility of antibiotics may be limited.

Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, the medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just

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By: Allison Guy, SM ’23
Title: Tackling long-haul diseases
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1087617/tackling-long-haul-diseases/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 17:05:11 +0000

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https://mansbrand.com/the-download-alabamas-embryo-ruling-impact-and-remote-learning-for-pre-schoolers/

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The Download: Alabama’s embryo ruling impact, and remote learning for pre-schoolers

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This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The weird way Alabama’s embryo ruling takes on artificial wombs

A ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last week that frozen embryos count as children is sending “shock waves” through the fertility industry and stoking fears that in vitro fertilization is getting swept up into the abortion debate.

The Alabama legal ruling is clearly animated by religion. But what hasn’t gotten much notice is the court’s specific argument that an embryo is a child “regardless of its location.” This could have implications for future technologies in development, such as artificial wombs or synthetic embryos made from stem cells. Read the full story. 

—Antonio Regalado

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things health and biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Remote learning can work for preschoolers

Educational interruptions due to the pandemic, climate disasters, and war have affected nearly every child on Earth since 2020. A record 43.3 million children have been driven from their homes by conflict and disasters, according to UNICEF—a number that doubled over the past decade. Despite that, less than 2% of humanitarian aid worldwide goes to supporting young kids’ care and education.

That may be about to change, thanks to a program called Ahlan Simsin, a special version of Sesame Street that has been custom-made for Syrian refugee children. It’s the largest-ever humanitarian intervention intended for small children’s development, with remote learning a core part of it. And it’s already yielding promising early evidence that remote learning can help young children in crisis situations. Read the full story.

—Anya Kamenetz 

This story is from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, all about hidden worlds. It’s set to go live next Wednesday—subscribe now so you don’t miss out when it lands!

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The first privately-built spacecraft has touched down on the moon
The Odysseus lunar lander has already started to send back data, according to its developer, Intuitive Machines. (CNN) 
There are more private landers headed there too. (NYT $)

2 Five charts that show how Nvidia took over the world 
📈
It added more than $276 billion in market value yesterday, more than any other company in a single day. (WSJ $)
Its chips underpin advanced AI systems, giving it a market share estimated at over 80%. (WSJ $)

3 Mothers are selling photos of their kids to pedophiles online
This is a very important, but also very disturbing, read. (NYT $)
Five crucial takeaways from the investigation. (NYT $)

4 What it’s like to cry while wearing an Apple Vision Pro 
Kinda lonely, from the sounds of it. (Wired $)
What would wearing the Vision Pro all day do to our brains? (Scientific American $)
+ These minuscule pixels are poised to take augmented reality by storm. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Who actually wants an AI search engine?
It still looks a bit like a solution searching for a problem. (Fast Company)
+ Chrome has added an AI feature that helps you to write. (The Verge)
Chatbots could one day replace search engines. Here’s why that’s a terrible idea. (MIT Technology Review)
 AI-generated videos are here to awe and mislead. (Vox)

6 A GPT-4 developer tool can hack websites autonomously
Not good. (New Scientist $)
Three ways AI chatbots are a security disaster. (MIT Technology Review)
AI could help defend against security threats too though, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (CNBC)

7 What it’s like to hang out with the 46-year-old ‘anti-aging’ millionaire
At a rave, no less. (The Atlantic $)
Longevity enthusiasts want to create their own independent state. They’re eyeing Rhode Island. (MIT Technology Review)

8 X is becoming a bit of a hellscape
Especially for famous women, as Bobbi Althoff has unfortunately found in recent days. (WP $)
Three ways we can fight deepfake porn. (MIT Technology Review)
X has been removing accounts and posts critical of the Indian government. (Reuters $)

9 Humane’s AI Pin has been delayed
The vibes are getting pretty inauspicious for this product, frankly. (The Verge)

10 A startup wants to turn the sugar we eat into fiber
Pretty neat—if it works as promised. (Wired $)

Quote of the day

“The balance of power has shifted back to employers.”

—Laszlo Bock, an adviser at the venture capital firm General Catalyst, tells

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: Alabama’s embryo ruling impact, and remote learning for pre-schoolers
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/23/1088870/the-download-alabamas-embryo-ruling-impact-and-remote-learning-for-pre-schoolers/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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