Researchers from the University of Cambridge are worried that the “overwhelming whiteness” of artificial intelligence may remove people of color from humanity’s vision of the future. Teens and young adults who vape are at higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19. Restaurants that created new outdoor dining areas in parking lots and next to streets are playing host to some unexpected guests.


The ‘whiteness’ of AI erases people of color.

The “overwhelming whiteness” of artificial intelligence removes people of color from humanity’s vision of the future and will further exacerbate racial inequality, warn researchers from the University of Cambridge.

The researchers studied depictions of AI systems in stock images, movies, TV, search results and robots, finding nearly all of them were portrayed as white. The researchers worry these depictions risk creating a “racially homogenous” tech workforce who bake racial bias into their algorithms.

“People trust AI to make decisions. Cultural depictions foster the idea that AI is less fallible than humans. In cases where these systems are racialized as white, that could have dangerous consequences for humans that are not,” said Dr. Kanta Dihal, who leads the ‘Decolonising AI’ initiative at Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI).

“One of the most common interactions with AI technology is through virtual assistants in devices such as smartphones, which talk in standard white middle-class English,” said Dihal. “Ideas of adding Black dialects have been dismissed as too controversial or outside the target market.”

Source: “Whiteness of AI erases people of colour from our ‘imagined futures’, researchers argue,” University of Cambridge, Aug. 4, 2020


Vaping linked to higher COVID-19 risk.

Teens and young adults who use e-cigarettes are at much higher risk of testing positive for coronavirus, according to a new report published in The Journal of Adolescent Health.

Researchers from Stanford University found that teenagers and young adults ages 13-24 who use e-cigarettes are five times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than their non-vaping peers. Those who are dual users—smoking both traditional and electronic cigarettes—are seven times more likely to test positive for the virus.

In fact, the researchers discovered that dual users who said they had smoked in the last 30 days were not only more likely to test positive, they were also nine times more likely to get tested in the first place.

The researchers are not sure why this overlap exists, though they have some theories—for instance, lung damage from smoking may make vapers and smokers more susceptible to the virus; or they might be touching their hand to their mouths more frequently; or the virus could be spread through the aerosols vapers exhale.

Evidence has already shown that e-cigarettes suppress respiratory immune responses and make the lungs more vulnerable to a variety of different infections.

Source:A New Survey Links Vaping to Higher Covid-19 Risk,” Wired, Aug. 11, 2020; “Association Between Youth Smoking, Electronic Cigarette Use, and Coronavirus Disease 2019,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Aug. 11, 2020


Outdoor dining areas are becoming unintended drive-throughs.

Many restaurants that transformed outdoor spaces into dining areas are finding themselves playing host to some unexpected guests—in the form of tropical storms, rodents and out-of-control vehicles.

COVID-19 has decimated restaurants across the U.S. Restaurateurs who want to stay in business have been forced to set up outdoor seating areas in states that have blocked or limited indoor service, such as California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, New Mexico, Washington, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan. Many restaurant owners have purchased patio furniture, tents and safety barriers in an effort to turn outdoor spaces like parking lots, sidewalks and even the street into suitable dining areas to tempt the summer crowds.

But this transformation could be putting patrons at risk. Storefront Safety Council, a group that informally tracks incidents of vehicles crashing into buildings or crowds based on media or police reports, has already counted about 20 instances of cars or trucks crashing into outdoor dining areas since restaurants reopened, according to a USA Today report. That compares to about four a year over the past eight years.

Nature also poses a risk to these new outdoor venues. Tropical Storm Isaias recently made its way up the East Coast, ripping up trees, causing massive power outages and damaging the outdoor seating areas that many restaurants are counting on to survive the pandemic. And the 2020 hurricane season, which runs through November, is forecast to be busy.

Rodents are also taking advantage of the new outdoor spaces, becoming aggressive as they hunt for food after months of scarce waste-bin scraps, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source:Cars Are Uninvited Guests When Americans Dine in Parking Lots,” Bloomberg, Aug. 5, 2020; “Outdoor dining may save restaurants during COVID-19. But are diners at risk from cars plowing into them?” USA Today, Aug. 11, 2020; “Rodent Control|COVID-19,” U.S. CDC website, Updated May 21, 2020