People Should Find A Safe Storm Shelter During Thunderstorm

Storm Shelters in OKC

Tuesday June 5, 2001 marked the start of an extremely fascinating time in the annals of my cherished Houston. Tropical storm Allison, that early summer daytime came to see. The thunderstorm went rapidly, although there was Tuesday. Friday, afterward arrived, and Allison returned. This time going slowly, this time in the north. The thunderstorm became still. Thousands of people driven from their houses. Only when they might be desired most, several leading hospitals shut. Dozens of important surface roads, and every important highway covered in water that was high.

Yet even prior to the rain stopped, service to others, and narratives of Christian compassion started to be composed. For a couples class, about 75 people had assembled at Lakewood Church among the greatest nondenominational churches in The United States. From time they got ready to depart the waters had climbed so high they were stranded. The facility of Lakewood stayed dry and high at the center of among the hardest hit parts of town. Refugees in the powerful thunderstorm started arriving at their doorstep. Without no advance preparation, and demand of official sanction, those 75 classmates started a calamity shelter that grew to hold over 3,000 customers. The greatest of over 30 refuges that could be established in the height of the thunderstorm.

Where help was doled out to those who’d suffered losses after Lakewood functioned as a Red Cross Service Center. When it became clear that FEMA aid, and Red Cross wouldn’t bring aid enough, Lakewood and Second Baptist joined -Houston to produce an adopt a family plan to greatly help get folks on their feet quicker. In the occasions that followed militaries of Christians arrived in both churches. From all over town, people of economical standing, race, and each and every denomination collected. Wet rotted carpeting were pulled up, sheet stone removed. Piles of clothes donated food and bed clothes were doled out. Elbow grease and cleaning equipment were used to start eliminating traces of the damage.

It would have been an excellent example of practical ministry in a period of disaster, in the event the story stopped here, but it continues. A great many other churches functioned as shelters as well as in the occasions that followed Red Cross Service Centers. Tons of new volunteers, a lot of them Christians put to work, and were put through accelerated training. That Saturday, I used to be trapped in my own, personal subdivision. Particular that my family was safe because I worked in Storm Shelters OKC that was near where I used to live. What they wouldn’t permit the storm to do, is take their demand to give their religion, or their self respect. I saw so a lot of people as they brought gifts of food, clothes and bedclothes, praising the Lord. I saw young kids coming making use of their parents to not give new, rarely used toys to kids who had none.

Leaning On God Through Hard Times

Unity Church of Christianity from a location across town impacted by the storm sent a sizable way to obtain bedding as well as other supplies. A tiny troupe of musicians and Christian clowns requested to be permitted to amuse the kids in the shelter where I served and arrived. We of course promptly taken their offer. The kids were collected by them in a sizable empty space of flooring. They sang, they told stories, balloon animals were made by them. The kids, frightened, at least briefly displaced laughed.

When not occupied elsewhere I did lots of listening. I listened to survivors that were disappointed, and frustrated relief workers. I listened to kids make an effort to take advantage of a scenario they could not comprehend. All these are only the stories I have heard or seen. I am aware that spiritual groups, Churches, and lots of other individual Christians functioned admirably. I do need to thank them for the attempts in disaster. I thank The Lord for supplying them to serve.

I didn’t write its individuals, or this which means you’d feel sorry for Houston. As this disaster unfolded yet what I saw encouraged my beliefs the Lord will provide through our brothers and sisters in religion for us. Regardless how awful your community hits, you the individual Christian can be a part of the remedy. Those blankets you can probably never use, and have stored away mean much to people who have none. You are able to help in the event that you can drive. You are able to help if you’re able to create a cot. It is possible to help in the event that you can scrub a wall. It is possible to help if all you are able to do is sit and listen. Large catastrophes like Allison get lots of focus. However a disaster can come in virtually any size. That is a serious disaster to your family that called it home in case a single household burns. It is going to be generations prior to the folks here forget Allison.

United States Oil and Gas Exploration Opportunities

Firms investing in this sector can research, develop and create, as well as appreciate the edges of a global gas and oil portfolio with no political and economical disadvantages. Allowing regime and the US financial conditions is rated amongst the world and the petroleum made in US is sold at costs that were international. The firms will likely gain as US also has a national market that is booming. Where 500 exploration wells are drilled most of the petroleum exploration in US continues to be concentrated around the Taranaki Basin. On the other hand, the US sedimentary basins still remain unexplored and many show existence of petroleum seeps and arrangements were also unveiled by the investigation data with high hydrocarbon potential. There have already been onshore gas discoveries before including Great south river basins, East Coast Basin and offshore Canterbury.

As interest in petroleum is expected to grow strongly during this interval but this doesn’t automatically dim the bright future expectations in this sector. The interest in petroleum is anticipated to reach 338 PJ per annum. The US government is eager to augment the gas and oil supply. As new discoveries in this sector are required to carry through the national demand at the same time as raise the amount of self reliance and minimize the cost on imports of petroleum the Gas and Oil exploration sector is thought to be among the dawn sectors. The US government has invented a distinctive approach to reach its petroleum and gas exploration targets. It’s developed a “Benefit For Attempt” model for Petroleum and Gas exploration tasks in US.

The “Benefit For Attempt” in today’s analytic thinking is defined as oil reserves found per kilometer drilled. It will help in deriving the estimate of reservations drilled for dollar and each kilometer spent for each investigation. The authorities of US has revealed considerable signs that it’ll bring positive effects of change which will favor investigation of new oil reserves since the price of investigation has adverse effects on investigation task. The Authorities of US has made the information accessible about the oil potential in its study report. Foil of advice in royalty and allocation regimes, and simplicity of processes have enhanced the attractiveness of Petroleum and Natural Gas Sector in the United States.

Petroleum was the third biggest export earner in 2008 for US and the chance to to keep up the growth of the sector is broadly accessible by manners of investigation endeavors that are new. The government is poised to keep the impetus in this sector. Now many firms are active with new exploration jobs in the Challenger Plateau of the United States, Northland East Slope Basin region, outer Taranaki Basin, and Bellona Trough region. The 89 Energy oil and gas sector guarantees foreign investors as government to high increase has declared a five year continuance of an exemption for offshore petroleum and gas exploration in its 2009 budget. The authorities provide nonresident rig operators with tax breaks.

Modern Robot Duct Cleaning Uses

AC systems, and heat, venting collect pollutants and contaminants like mold, debris, dust and bacteria that can have an adverse impact on indoor air quality. Most folks are at present aware that indoor air pollution could be a health concern and increased visibility has been thus gained by the area. Studies have also suggested cleaning their efficacy enhances and is contributory to a longer operating life, along with maintenance and energy cost savings. The cleaning of the parts of forced air systems of heat, venting and cooling system is what’s called duct cleaning. Robots are an advantageous tool raising the price and efficacy facets of the procedure. Therefore, using modern robot duct isn’t any longer a new practice.

A cleaner, healthier indoor environment is created by a clean air duct system which lowers energy prices and increases efficiency. As we spend more hours inside air duct cleaning has become an important variable in the cleaning sector. Indoor pollutant levels can increase. Health effects can show years or up immediately after repeated or long exposure. These effects range from some respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and cancer that can be deadly or debilitating. Therefore, it’s wise to ensure indoor air quality isn’t endangered inside buildings. Dangerous pollutants that can found in inside can transcend outdoor air pollutants in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Duct cleaning from Air Duct Cleaning Edmond professionals removes microbial contaminants, that might not be visible to the naked eye together with both observable contaminants. Indoor air quality cans impact and present a health hazard. Air ducts can be host to a number of health hazard microbial agents. Legionnaires Disease is one malaise that’s got public notice as our modern surroundings supports the development of the bacteria that has the potential to cause outbreaks and causes the affliction. Typical disorder-causing surroundings contain wetness producing gear such as those in air conditioned buildings with cooling towers that are badly maintained. In summary, in building and designing systems to control our surroundings, we’ve created conditions that were perfect . Those systems must be correctly tracked and preserved. That’s the secret to controlling this disorder.

Robots allow for the occupation while saving workers from exposure to be done faster. Signs of the technological progress in the duct cleaning business is apparent in the variety of gear now available for example, array of robotic gear, to be used in air duct cleaning. Robots are priceless in hard to reach places. Robots used to see states inside the duct, now may be used for spraying, cleaning and sampling procedures. The remote controlled robotic gear can be fitted with practical and fastener characteristics to reach many different use functions.

Video recorders and a closed circuit television camera system can be attached to the robotic gear to view states and operations and for documentation purposes. Inside ducts are inspected by review apparatus in the robot. Robots traveling to particular sections of the system and can move around barriers. Some join functions that empower cleaning operation and instruction manual and fit into little ducts. An useful view range can be delivered by them with models delivering disinfection, cleaning, review, coating and sealing abilities economically.

The remote controlled robotic gear comes in various sizes and shapes for different uses. Of robotic video cameras the first use was in the 80s to record states inside the duct. Robotic cleaning systems have a lot more uses. These devices provide improved accessibility for better cleaning and reduce labor costs. Lately, functions have been expanded by areas for the use of small mobile robots in the service industries, including uses for review and duct cleaning.

More improvements are being considered to make a tool that was productive even more effective. If you determine to have your ventilation, heat and cooling system cleaned, it’s important to make sure all parts of the system clean and is qualified to achieve this. Failure to clean one part of a contaminated system can lead to re-contamination of the entire system.

When To Call A DWI Attorney

Charges or fees against a DWI offender need a legal Sugar Land criminal defense attorney that is qualified dismiss or so that you can reduce charges or the fees. So, undoubtedly a DWI attorney is needed by everyone. Even if it’s a first-time violation the penalties can be severe being represented by a DWI attorney that is qualified is vitally significant. If you’re facing following charges for DWI subsequently the punishments can contain felony charges and be severe. Locating an excellent attorney is thus a job you should approach when possible.

So you must bear in mind that you just should hire a DWI attorney who practices within the state where the violation occurred every state within America will make its laws and legislation regarding DWI violations. It is because they are going to have the knowledge and expertise of state law that is relevant to sufficiently defend you and will be knowledgeable about the processes and evaluations performed to establish your guilt.

As your attorney they are going to look to the evaluations that have been completed at the time of your arrest and the authorities evidence that is accompanying to assess whether or not these evaluations were accurately performed, carried out by competent staff and if the right processes where followed. It isn’t often that a police testimony is asserted against, although authorities testimony also can be challenged in court.

You should attempt to locate someone who specializes in these kind of cases when you start trying to find a DWI attorney. Whilst many attorneys may be willing to consider on your case, a lawyer who specializes in these cases is required by the skilled knowledge needed to interpret the scientific and medical evaluations ran when you had been detained. The first consultation is free and provides you with the chance to to inquire further about their experience in fees and these cases.

Many attorneys will work according into a fee that is hourly or on a set fee basis determined by the kind of case. You may find how they have been paid to satisfy your financial situation and you will have the capacity to negotiate the conditions of their fee. If you are unable to afford to hire an attorney that is private you then can request a court-appointed attorney paid for by the state. Before you hire a DWI attorney you should make sure when you might be expected to appear in court and you understand the precise charges imposed against you.

How Credit Card Works

The credit card is making your life more easy, supplying an amazing set of options. The credit card is a retail trade settlement; a credit system worked through the little plastic card which bears its name. Regulated by ISO 7810 defines credit cards the actual card itself consistently chooses the same structure, size and contour. A strip of a special stuff on the card (the substance resembles the floppy disk or a magnetic group) is saving all the necessary data. This magnetic strip enables the credit card’s validation. The layout has become an important variable; an enticing credit card layout is essential in ensuring advice and its dependability keeping properties.

A credit card is supplied to the user just after a bank approves an account, estimating a varied variety of variables to ascertain fiscal dependability. This bank is the credit supplier. When a purchase is being made by an individual, he must sign a receipt to verify the trade. There are the card details, and the amount of cash to be paid. You can find many shops that take electronic authority for the credit cards and use cloud tokenization for authorization. Nearly all verification are made using a digital verification system; it enables assessing the card is not invalid. If the customer has enough cash to insure the purchase he could be attempting to make staying on his credit limit any retailer may also check.

As the credit supplier, it is as much as the banks to keep the user informed of his statement. They typically send monthly statements detailing each trade procedures through the outstanding fees, the card and the sums owed. This enables the cardholder to ensure all the payments are right, and to discover mistakes or fraudulent action to dispute. Interest is typically charging and establishes a minimal repayment amount by the end of the following billing cycle.

The precise way the interest is charged is normally set within an initial understanding. On the rear of the credit card statement these elements are specified by the supplier. Generally, the credit card is an easy type of revolving credit from one month to another. It can also be a classy financial instrument, having many balance sections to afford a greater extent for credit management. Interest rates may also be not the same as one card to another. The credit card promotion services are using some appealing incentives find some new ones along the way and to keep their customers.

Why Get Help From A Property Management?

One solution while removing much of the anxiety, to have the revenue of your rental home would be to engage and contact property management in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. If you wish to know more and are considering the product please browse the remainder of the post. Leasing out your bit of real property may be real cash-cow as many landlords understand, but that cash flow usually includes a tremendous concern. Night phones from tenants that have the trouble of marketing the house if you own an emptiness just take out lots of the pleasure of earning money off of leases, overdue lease payments which you must chase down, as well as over-flowing lavatories. One solution while removing much of the anxiety, to have the earnings would be to engage a property management organization.

These businesses perform as the go between for the tenant as well as you. The tenant will not actually need to understand who you’re when you hire a property management company. The company manages the day to day while you still possess the ability to help make the final judgements in regards to the home relationships using the tenant. The company may manage the marketing for you personally, for those who are in possession of a unit that is vacant. Since the company is going to have more connections in a bigger market than you’ve got along with the industry than you are doing, you’ll discover your device gets stuffed a whole lot more quickly making use of their aid. In addition, the property management company may care for testing prospective tenants. With regards to the arrangement you’ve got, you might nevertheless not be unable to get the last say regarding if a tenant is qualified for the the system, but of locating a suitable tenant, the day-to-day difficulty is not any longer your problem. They’ll also manage the before-move-in the reviews as well as reviews required following a tenant moves away.

It is possible to step back watching the profits, after the the system is stuffed. Communicating will be handled by the company with all the tenant if you have an issue. You won’t be telephoned if this pipe explosions at the center of the night time. Your consultant is called by the tenant in the company, who then makes the preparations that are required to get the issue repaired with a care supplier. You get a phone call a day later or may not know there was an issue before you register using the business. The property management organization may also make your leasing obligations to to get. The company will do what’s required to accumulate if your tenant is making a payment. In certain arrangements, the organization is going to also take-over paying taxation, insurance, and the mortgage on the portion of property. You actually need to do-nothing but appreciate after after all the the invoices are paid, the revenue which is sent your way.

With all the advantages, you’re probably questioning exactly what to employing a property management organization, the downside should be. From hiring one the primary variable that stops some landlords is the price. All these providers will be paid for by you. The price must be weighed by you from the time frame you’ll save time that you may subsequently use to follow additional revenue-producing efforts or just take pleasure in the fruits of your expense work.

Benifits From An Orthodontic Care

Orthodontics is the specialty of dentistry centered on the identification and treatment of dental and related facial problems. The outcomes of Norman Orthodontist OKC treatment could be dramatic — an advanced quality of life for a lot of individuals of ages and lovely grins, improved oral health health, aesthetics and increased cosmetic tranquility. Whether into a look dentistry attention is needed or not is an individual’s own choice. Situations are tolerated by most folks like totally various kinds of bite issues or over bites and don’t get treated. Nevertheless, a number people sense guaranteed with teeth that are correctly aligned, appealing and simpler. Dentistry attention may enhance construct and appearance power. It jointly might work with you consult with clearness or to gnaw on greater.

Orthodontic attention isn’t only decorative in character. It might also gain long term oral health health. Right, correctly aligned teeth is not more difficult to floss and clean. This may ease and decrease the risk of rot. It may also quit periodontists irritation that problems gums. Periodontists might finish in disease, that occurs once micro-organism bunch round your house where the teeth and the gums meet. Periodontists can be ended in by untreated periodontists. Such an unhealthiness result in enamel reduction and may ruin bone that surrounds the teeth. Less may be chewed by people who have stings that are harmful with efficacy. A few of us using a serious bite down side might have difficulties obtaining enough nutrients. Once the teeth aren’t aimed correctly, this somewhat might happen. Morsel issues that are repairing may allow it to be more easy to chew and digest meals.

One may also have language problems, when the top and lower front teeth do not arrange right. All these are fixed through therapy, occasionally combined with medical help. Eventually, remedy may ease to avoid early use of rear areas. Your teeth grow to an unlikely quantity of pressure, as you chew down. In case your top teeth do not match it’ll trigger your teeth that are back to degrade. The most frequently encountered type of therapy is the braces (or retainer) and head-gear. But, a lot people complain about suffering with this technique that, unfortunately, is also unavoidable. Sport braces damages, as well as additional individuals have problem in talking. Dental practitioners, though, state several days can be normally disappeared throughout by the hurting. Occasionally annoyance is caused by them. In the event that you’d like to to quit more unpleasant senses, fresh, soft and tedious food must be avoided by you. In addition, tend not to take your braces away unless the medical professional claims so.

It is advised which you just observe your medical professional often for medical examinations to prevent choice possible problems that may appear while getting therapy. You are going to be approved using a specific dental hygiene, if necessary. Dental specialist may look-out of managing and id malocclusion now. Orthodontia – the main specialization of medication – mainly targets repairing chin problems and teeth, your grin as well as thus your sting. Dentist, however, won’t only do chin remedies and crisis teeth. They also handle tender to severe dental circumstances which may grow to states that are risky. You actually have not got to quantify throughout a predicament your life all. See dental specialist San – Direction Posts, and you’ll notice only but of stunning your smile plenty will soon be.

Low-cost “smart” diaper can notify caregiver when it’s wet

For some infants, a wet diaper is cause for an instant, vociferous demand to be changed, while other babies may be unfazed and happy to haul around the damp cargo for lengthy periods without complaint. But if worn too long, a wet diaper can cause painful rashes, and miserable babies — and parents.

Now MIT researchers have developed a “smart” diaper embedded with a moisture sensor that can alert a caregiver when a diaper is wet. When the sensor detects dampness in the diaper, it sends a signal to a nearby receiver, which in turn can send a notification to a smartphone or computer.

The sensor consists of a passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, that is placed below a layer of super absorbent polymer, a type of hydrogel that is typically used in diapers to soak up moisture. When the hydrogel is wet, the material expands and becomes slightly conductive — enough to trigger the RFID tag to send a radio signal to an RFID reader up to 1 meter away.

The researchers say the design is the first demonstration of hydrogel as a functional antenna element for moisture sensing in diapers using RFID. They estimate that the sensor costs less than 2 cents to manufacture, making it a low-cost, disposable alternative to other smart diaper technology.

Over time, smart diapers may help record and identify certain health problems, such as signs of constipation or incontinence. The new sensor may be especially useful for nurses working in neonatal units and caring for multiple babies at a time.

Pankhuri Sen, a research assistant in MIT’s AutoID Laboratory, envisions that the sensor could also be integrated into adult diapers, for patients who might be unaware or too embarrassed to report themselves that a change is needed.

“Diapers are used not just for babies, but for aging populations, or patients who are bedridden and unable to take care of themselves,” Sen says. “It would be convenient in these cases for a caregiver to be notified that a patient, particularly in a multibed hospital, needs changing.”

“This could prevent rashes and some infections like urinary tract infections, in both aging and infant populations,” adds collaborator Sai Nithin R. Kantareddy, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Sen, Kantareddy, and their colleagues at MIT, including Rahul Bhattacharryya and Sanjay Sarma, along with Joshua Siegel at Michigan State University, have published their results today in the journal IEEE Sensors. Sarma is MIT’s vice president  for open learning and the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Sticker sense

Many off-the-shelf diapers incorporate wetness indicators in the form of strips, printed along the outside of a diaper, that change color when wet — a design that usually requires removing multiple layers of clothing to be able to see the actual diaper.

Companies looking into smart diaper technology are considering wetness sensors that are wireless or Bluetooth-enabled, with devices that attach to a diaper’s exterior, along with bulky batteries to power long-range connections to the internet. These sensors are designed to be reusable, requiring a caregiver to remove and clean the sensor before attaching it to each new diaper. Current sensors being explored for smart diapers, Sen estimates, retail for over $40.

RFID tags in contrast are low-cost and disposable, and can be printed in rolls of individual stickers, similar to barcode tags. MIT’s AutoID Laboratory, founded by Sarma, has been at the forefront of RFID tag development, with the goal of using them to connect our physical world with the internet.

A typical RFID tag has two elements: an antenna for backscattering radio frequency signals, and an RFID chip that stores the tag’s information, such as the specific product that the tag is affixed to. RFID tags don’t require batteries; they receive energy in the form of radio waves emitted by an RFID reader. When an RFID tag picks up this energy, its antenna activates the RFID chip, which tweaks the radio waves and sends a signal back to the reader, with its information encoded within the waves. This is how, for instance, products labeled with RFID tags can be identified and tracked.

Sarma’s group has been enabling RFID tags to work not just as wireless trackers, but also as sensors. Most recently, as part of MIT’s Industrial Liason Program, the team started up a collaboration with Softys, a diaper manufacturer based in South America, to see how RFID tags could be configured as low-cost, disposable wetness detectors in diapers. The researchers visited one of the company’s factories to get a sense of the machinery and assembly involved in diaper manufacturing, then came back to MIT to design a RFID sensor that might reasonably be integrated within the diaper manufacturing process.

Tag, you’re it

The design they came up with can be incorporated in the bottom layer of a typical diaper. The sensor itself resembles a bow tie, the middle of which consists of a typical RFID chip connecting the bow tie’s two triangles, each made from the hydrogel super absorbent polymer, or SAP.

Normally, SAP is an insulating material, meaning that it doesn’t conduct current. But when the hydrogel becomes wet, the researchers found that the material properties change and the hydrogel becomes conductive. The conductivity is very weak, but it’s enough to react to any radio signals in the environment, such as those emitted by an RFID reader. This interaction generates a small current that turns on the sensor’s chip, which then acts as a typical RFID tag, tweaking and sending the radio signal back to the reader with information — in this case, that the diaper is wet.

The researchers found that by adding a small amount of copper to the sensor, they could boost the sensor’s conductivity and therefore the range at which the tag can communicate to a reader, reaching more than 1 meter away.

To test the sensor’s performance, they placed a tag within the bottom layers of newborn-sized diapers and wrapped each diaper around a life-sized baby doll, which they filled with saltwater whose conductive properties were similar to human bodily fluids. They placed the dolls at various distances from an RFID reader, at various orientations, such as lying flat versus sitting upright. They found that the particular sensor they designed to fit into newborn-sized diapers was able to activate and communicate to a reader up to 1 meter away when the diaper was fully wet.

Sen envisions that an RFID reader connected to the internet could be placed in a baby’s room to detect wet diapers, at which point it could send a notification to a caregiver’s phone or computer that a change is needed. For geriatric patients who might also benefit from smart diapers, she says small RFID readers may even be attached to assistive devices, such as canes and wheelchairs to pick up a tag’s signals.

This research was supported in part by Softys under the MIT Industry Liason Program.

MIT researchers identify security vulnerabilities in voting app

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using internet and mobile technology to increase access to the voting process. At the same time, computer security experts caution that paper ballots are the only secure means of voting.

Now, MIT researchers are raising another concern: They say they have uncovered security vulnerabilities in a mobile voting application that was used during the 2018 midterm elections in West Virginia. Their security analysis of the application, called Voatz, pinpoints a number of weaknesses, including the opportunity for hackers to alter, stop, or expose how an individual user has voted. Additionally, the researchers found that Voatz’s use of a third-party vendor for voter identification and verification poses potential privacy issues for users.

The findings are described in a new technical paper by Michael Specter, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a member of MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative, and James Koppel, also a graduate student in EECS. The research was conducted under the guidance of Daniel Weitzner, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and founding director of the Internet Policy Research Initiative.

After uncovering these security vulnerabilities, the researchers disclosed their findings to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). The researchers, along with the Boston University/MIT Technology Law Clinic, worked in close coordination with election security officials within CISA to ensure that impacted elections officials and the vendor were aware of the findings before the research was made public. This included preparing written summaries of the findings with proof-of-concept code, and direct discussions with affected elections officials on calls arranged by CISA.

In addition to its use in the 2018 West Virginia elections, the app was deployed in elections in Denver, Oregon, and Utah, as well as at the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention and the 2016 Utah Republican Convention. Voatz was not used during the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

The findings underscore the need for transparency in the design of voting systems, according to the researchers.

“We all have an interest in increasing access to the ballot, but in order to maintain trust in our elections system, we must assure that voting systems meet the high technical and operation security standards before they are put in the field,” says Weitzner. “We cannot experiment on our democracy.”     

“The consensus of security experts is that running a secure election over the internet is not possible today,” adds Koppel. “The reasoning is that weaknesses anywhere in a large chain can give an adversary undue influence over an election, and today’s software is shaky enough that the existence of unknown exploitable flaws is too great a risk to take.”

Breaking down the results

The researchers were initially inspired to perform a security analysis of Voatz based on Specter’s research with Ronald Rivest, Institute Professor at MIT; Neha Narula, director of the MIT Digital Currency Initiative; and Sunoo Park SM ’15, PhD ’18 , exploring the feasibility of using blockchain systems in elections. According to the researchers, Voatz claims to use a permissioned blockchain to ensure security, but has not released any source code or public documentation for how their system operates.

Specter, who co-teaches an MIT Independent Activities Period course founded by Koppel that is focused on reverse engineering software, broached the idea of reverse engineering Voatz’s application, in an effort to better understand how its system worked. To ensure that they did not interfere with any ongoing elections or expose user records, Specter and Koppel reverse-engineered the application and then created a model of Voatz’s server.

They found that an adversary with remote access to the device can alter or discover a user’s vote, and that the server, if hacked, could easily change those votes. “It does not appear that the app’s protocol attempts to verify [genuine votes] with the back-end blockchain,” Specter explains.

“Perhaps most alarmingly, we found that a passive network adversary, like your internet service provider, or someone nearby you if you’re on unencrypted Wi-Fi, could detect which way you voted in some configurations of the election. Worse, more aggressive attackers could potentially detect which way you’re going to vote and then stop the connection based on that alone.”

In addition to detecting vulnerabilities with Voatz’s voting process, Specter and Koppel found that the app poses privacy issues for users. As the app uses an external vendor for voter ID verification, a third party could potentially access a voter’s photo, driver’s license data, or other forms of identification, if that vendor’s platform isn’t also secure.      

“Though Voatz’s privacy policy does talk about sending some information to third parties, as far as we can tell the fact that any third party is getting the voter’s driver’s license and selfie isn’t explicitly mentioned,” Specter notes.

Calls for increased openness

Specter and Koppel say that their findings point to the need for openness when it comes to election administration, in order to ensure the integrity of the election process. Currently, they note, the election process in states that use paper ballots is designed to be transparent, and citizens and political party representatives are given opportunities to observe the voting process.

In contrast, Koppel notes, “Voatz’s app and infrastructure were completely closed-source; we were only able to get access to the app itself.     

“I think this type of analysis is extremely important. Right now, there’s a drive to make voting more accessible, by using internet and mobile-based voting systems. The problem here is that sometimes those systems aren’t made by people who have expertise in keeping voting systems secure, and they’re deployed before they can get proper review,” says Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. In the case of Voatz, he adds, “It looks like there were many good intentions here, but the result lacks key features that would protect a voter and protect the integrity of elections.”

Going forward, the researchers caution that software developers should prove their systems are as secure as paper ballots.

“The biggest issue is transparency,” says Specter. “When you have part of the election that is opaque, that is not viewable, that is not public, that has some sort of proprietary component, that part of the system is inherently suspect and needs to be put under a lot of scrutiny.”

Automated system can rewrite outdated sentences in Wikipedia articles

A system created by MIT researchers could be used to automatically update factual inconsistencies in Wikipedia articles, reducing time and effort spent by human editors who now do the task manually.

Wikipedia comprises millions of articles that are in constant need of edits to reflect new information. That can involve article expansions, major rewrites, or more routine modifications such as updating numbers, dates, names, and locations. Currently, humans across the globe volunteer their time to make these edits.  

In a paper being presented at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the researchers describe a text-generating system that pinpoints and replaces specific information in relevant Wikipedia sentences, while keeping the language similar to how humans write and edit.

The idea is that humans would type into an interface an unstructured sentence with updated information, without needing to worry about style or grammar. The system would then search Wikipedia, locate the appropriate page and outdated sentence, and rewrite it in a humanlike fashion. In the future, the researchers say, there’s potential to build a fully automated system that identifies and uses the latest information from around the web to produce rewritten sentences in corresponding Wikipedia articles that reflect updated information.

“There are so many updates constantly needed to Wikipedia articles. It would be beneficial to automatically modify exact portions of the articles, with little to no human intervention,” says Darsh Shah, a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and one of the lead authors. “Instead of hundreds of people working on modifying each Wikipedia article, then you’ll only need a few, because the model is helping or doing it automatically. That offers dramatic improvements in efficiency.”

Many other bots exist that make automatic Wikipedia edits. Typically, those work on mitigating vandalism or dropping some narrowly defined information into predefined templates, Shah says. The researchers’ model, he says, solves a harder artificial intelligence problem: Given a new piece of unstructured information, the model automatically modifies the sentence in a humanlike fashion. “The other [bot] tasks are more rule-based, while this is a task requiring reasoning over contradictory parts in two sentences and generating a coherent piece of text,” he says.

The system can be used for other text-generating applications as well, says co-lead author and CSAIL graduate student Tal Schuster. In their paper, the researchers also used it to automatically synthesize sentences in a popular fact-checking dataset that helped reduce bias, without manually collecting additional data. “This way, the performance improves for automatic fact-verification models that train on the dataset for, say, fake news detection,” Schuster says.

Shah and Schuster worked on the paper with their academic advisor Regina Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a professor in CSAIL.

Neutrality masking and fusing

Behind the system is a fair bit of text-generating ingenuity in identifying contradictory information between, and then fusing together, two separate sentences. It takes as input an “outdated” sentence from a Wikipedia article, plus a separate “claim” sentence that contains the updated and conflicting information. The system must automatically delete and keep specific words in the outdated sentence, based on information in the claim, to update facts but maintain style and grammar. That’s an easy task for humans, but a novel one in machine learning.

For example, say there’s a required update to this sentence (in bold): “Fund A considers 28 of their 42 minority stakeholdings in operationally active companies to be of particular significance to the group.” The claim sentence with updated information may read: “Fund A considers 23 of 43 minority stakeholdings significant.” The system would locate the relevant Wikipedia text for “Fund A,” based on the claim. It then automatically strips out the outdated numbers (28 and 42) and replaces them with the new numbers (23 and 43), while keeping the sentence exactly the same and grammatically correct. (In their work, the researchers ran the system on a dataset of specific Wikipedia sentences, not on all Wikipedia pages.)

The system was trained on a popular dataset that contains pairs of sentences, in which one sentence is a claim and the other is a relevant Wikipedia sentence. Each pair is labeled in one of three ways: “agree,” meaning the sentences contain matching factual information; “disagree,” meaning they contain contradictory information; or “neutral,” where there’s not enough information for either label. The system must make all disagreeing pairs agree, by modifying the outdated sentence to match the claim. That requires using two separate models to produce the desired output.

The first model is a fact-checking classifier — pretrained to label each sentence pair as “agree,” “disagree,” or “neutral” — that focuses on disagreeing pairs. Running in conjunction with the classifier is a custom “neutrality masker” module that identifies which words in the outdated sentence contradict the claim. The module removes the minimal number of words required to “maximize neutrality” — meaning the pair can be labeled as neutral. That’s the starting point: While the sentences don’t agree, they no longer contain obviously contradictory information. The module creates a binary “mask” over the outdated sentence, where a 0 gets placed over words that most likely require deleting, while a 1 goes on top of keepers.

After masking, a novel two-encoder-decoder framework is used to generate the final output sentence. This model learns compressed representations of the claim and the outdated sentence. Working in conjunction, the two encoder-decoders fuse the dissimilar words from the claim, by sliding them into the spots left vacant by the deleted words (the ones covered with 0s) in the outdated sentence.

In one test, the model scored higher than all traditional methods, using a technique called “SARI” that measures how well machines delete, add, and keep words compared to the way humans modify sentences. They used a dataset with manually edited Wikipedia sentences, which the model hadn’t seen before. Compared to several traditional text-generating methods, the new model was more accurate in making factual updates and its output more closely resembled human writing. In another test, crowdsourced humans scored the model (on a scale of 1 to 5) based on how well its output sentences contained factual updates and matched human grammar. The model achieved average scores of 4 in factual updates and 3.85 in matching grammar.

Removing bias

The study also showed that the system can be used to augment datasets to eliminate bias when training detectors of “fake news,” a form of propaganda containing disinformation created to mislead readers in order to generate website views or steer public opinion. Some of these detectors train on datasets of agree-disagree sentence pairs to “learn” to verify a claim by matching it to given evidence.

In these pairs, the claim will either match certain information with a supporting “evidence” sentence from Wikipedia (agree) or it will be modified by humans to include information contradictory to the evidence sentence (disagree). The models are trained to flag claims with refuting evidence as “false,” which can be used to help identify fake news.

Unfortunately, such datasets currently come with unintended biases, Shah says: “During training, models use some language of the human written claims as “give-away” phrases to mark them as false, without relying much on the corresponding evidence sentence. This reduces the model’s accuracy when evaluating real-world examples, as it does not perform fact-checking.”

The researchers used the same deletion and fusion techniques from their Wikipedia project to balance the disagree-agree pairs in the dataset and help mitigate the bias. For some “disagree” pairs, they used the modified sentence’s false information to regenerate a fake “evidence” supporting sentence. Some of the give-away phrases then exist in both the “agree” and “disagree” sentences, which forces models to analyze more features. Using their augmented dataset, the researchers reduced the error rate of a popular fake-news detector by 13 percent.

“If you have a bias in your dataset, and you’re fooling your model into just looking at one sentence in a disagree pair to make predictions, your model will not survive the real world,” Shah says. “We make models look at both sentences in all agree-disagree pairs.”

Hey Alexa! Sorry I fooled you …

A human can likely tell the difference between a turtle and a rifle. Two years ago, Google’s AI wasn’t so sure. For quite some time, a subset of computer science research has been dedicated to better understanding how machine-learning models handle these “adversarial” attacks, which are inputs deliberately created to trick or fool machine-learning algorithms. 

While much of this work has focused on speech and images, recently, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) tested the boundaries of text. They came up with “TextFooler,” a general framework that can successfully attack natural language processing (NLP) systems — the types of systems that let us interact with our Siri and Alexa voice assistants — and “fool” them into making the wrong predictions. 

One could imagine using TextFooler for many applications related to internet safety, such as email spam filtering, hate speech flagging, or “sensitive” political speech text detection — which are all based on text classification models. 

“If those tools are vulnerable to purposeful adversarial attacking, then the consequences may be disastrous,” says Di Jin, MIT PhD student and lead author on a new paper about TextFooler. “These tools need to have effective defense approaches to protect themselves, and in order to make such a safe defense system, we need to first examine the adversarial methods.” 

TextFooler works in two parts: altering a given text, and then using that text to test two different language tasks to see if the system can successfully trick machine-learning models.  

The system first identifies the most important words that will influence the target model’s prediction, and then selects the synonyms that fit contextually. This is all while maintaining grammar and the original meaning to look “human” enough, until the prediction is altered. 

Then, the framework is applied to two different tasks — text classification, and entailment (which is the relationship between text fragments in a sentence), with the goal of changing the classification or invalidating the entailment judgment of the original models. 

In one example, TextFooler’s input and output were:

“The characters, cast in impossibly contrived situations, are totally estranged from reality.” 

“The characters, cast in impossibly engineered circumstances, are fully estranged from reality.” 

In this case, when testing on an NLP model, it gets the example input right, but then gets the modified input wrong. 

In total, TextFooler successfully attacked three target models, including “BERT,” the popular open-source NLP model. It fooled the target models with an accuracy of over 90 percent to under 20 percent, by changing only 10 percent of the words in a given text. The team evaluated success on three criteria: changing the model’s prediction for classification or entailment; whether it looked similar in meaning to a human reader, compared with the original example; and whether the text looked natural enough. 

The researchers note that while attacking existing models is not the end goal, they hope that this work will help more abstract models generalize to new, unseen data. 

“The system can be used or extended to attack any classification-based NLP models to test their robustness,” says Jin. “On the other hand, the generated adversaries can be used to improve the robustness and generalization of deep-learning models via adversarial training, which is a critical direction of this work.” 

Jin wrote the paper alongside MIT Professor Peter Szolovits, Zhijing Jin of the University of Hong Kong, and Joey Tianyi Zhou of A*STAR, Singapore. They will present the paper at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence in New York. 

How to tackle depression in Japan?

The health care sector is at an important crossroads. With new diseases emerging and endemic diseases becoming more widespread, the industry is having to explore new ways to face such challenges.

One key concern is depression, which impacts the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide and costs society hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It was this challenge that recently brought together MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) and pharmaceutical company Takeda, headquartered in Japan, to explore new ways to approach complex problems.

Takeda’s Center for Scientific Leadership and Innovation (CSLI) identified a specific and particularly difficult health care challenge — depression in Japan — to test-drive new ways of improving health care and of building capabilities in its leadership ranks. The collaboration between Takeda and CCI, which included over 30 Takeda executives from throughout the world and the company, centered around a process of ideation called “supermind design.” This process helps innovators “think in systems” and inspires them to tackle problems in a completely unique way. The approach included virtual and in-person sessions to leverage a diverse ecosystem of people, including MIT faculty, students, and affiliates that added new perspectives to the solution.

After a six-month process, CCI and Takeda synthesized all of the ideas generated by the participants and used them to develop a theoretical technology-enabled platform called CareNet. The platform harnesses the ability of groups and increasingly artificially intelligent machines to both detect depression’s signals as soon as possible and also provide the right support to the individuals who are affected by the disease — namely, patients, caregivers, doctors, and others. The technology is unique because it is composed of superminds, or networks of people and machines, that support the user every step of their journey from diagnosis to management of the condition. 

The overall collaboration resulted in report that outlines the process and new technology, and is a coalescence of the perspectives of over 60 people who participated in the project from Takeda, CCI, and the wider biomedical community.

Key to the CareNet user experience are networks of people and machines that support users every step of the way across diagnosis and management of the condition. These superminds can help fight depression in Japan by collectively creating options for people, sensing the environment, remembering what has worked, helping people decide, and learning together as a networked group. An important characteristic of this solution is that it focuses on depression but deals with it in an inclusive, stigma-avoiding way that enables a broader set of people to be part of it.

“Human-machine networks,” the report concludes “can be sources of systemic resilience in a society where individuals and institutions are left fighting their respective battles individually or through traditional, linear processes.”

Experts join J-PAL North America in advancing conversation on the work of the future

On Jan. 14, J-PAL North America’s Work of the Future Initiative hosted an afternoon of conversation on how to address the changing nature of work while advancing equity and opportunity. The event, entitled Building A Future That Works For All, was attended by 35 leaders from nonprofits, academia, government, philanthropy, and advocacy organizations. 

“The assumption that we can solve these problems without workers in the conversation is one that we need to leave behind,” said Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, as she kicked off the first panel of the day. This theme was echoed throughout the day’s conversations, which were hosted by the Gerri and Rich Wong family at the Accel office in Palo Alto, California. Rich Wong is an alumnus of MIT engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

The event sought to continue J-PAL North America and the Work of the Future Initiative’s efforts to shift the conversations surrounding the future of work to focus on working people and collaborative research partnerships. As J-PAL North America Executive Director Mary Ann Bates stated in her introductory remarks: “We’re here to talk about the work of the future, which is about many big ideas — automation, artificial intelligence, and more — but we care about this work because of the people.” 

J-PAL North America launched the Work of the Future Initiative in April 2019 to identify effective, evidence-based strategies to increase opportunities, reduce disparities, and help all workers navigate and thrive in the labor markets of the future. 

Research partnerships are vital to generating the rigorous evidence necessary to identify these effective strategies. The recent event’s conversations sought to provide attendees with a chance to forge new partnerships and discuss innovative ideas for new programs and evaluations. 

The first panel discussed the role of rigorous research to inform worker-centered policies. Ai-jen Poo focused her discussion on the care sector — a workforce that will grow at five times the rate of any other sector in the coming years. Specifically, Poo noted the creative and innovative measures that the National Domestic Workers Alliance is taking to ensure that care work is dignified and that domestic workers are protected, including turning to technology: “What we’re trying to do is deploy technology to solve for dignity and equity.” 

Harvard professor and J-PAL North America Co-Scientific Director Lawrence Katz followed Poo’s remarks by discussing the growing divergence between real wages and worker productivity. Katz cited rising inequality as a primary driver of the decline in upward mobility and the stagnation of wages; more so than slow economic growth. 

Lastly, Aneesh Raman, senior advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom, closed the conversation with a discussion on why collaboration across sectors and a willingness to innovate is crucial to progress: “We live in a world where politicians have very little opportunity to fail, which makes it very hard to innovate. We need to create a shared ownership of risk. Philanthropy, government, the private sector, and the nonprofit community need to come together to innovate and make a difference.” 

Other highlights of the day included a discussion of an ongoing research partnership between MIT Professor and Work of the Future Initiative Co-Chair David Autor, Rutgers University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Amanda Agan, and Irene Liu and Jen Yeh of Checkr

Checkr is a selected partner through the Work of the Future Initiative’s inaugural innovation competition. The company partnered with Autor and Agan to evaluate whether their Positive Adjudication Matrix (PAM) can reduce bias in the background-check and hiring process. PAM allows employers to deem certain types of offenses irrelevant to the roles for which they’re hiring. Companies can then choose to either filter out or de-emphasize these criminal records. 

The candid conversation addressed the challenging aspects of partnering to design an evaluation and discussed what conditions must hold for more productive research partnerships to form in the future. Autor discussed the need for a champion within a partner organization, stating, “Data is threatening in the sense that it can produce results that you’re not looking for. You need a champion within your organization to move this forward.” 

The Checkr team expressed their hope that the evaluation of their product can inform policy decisions in the future: “There are states that have laws dictating who can and cannot apply to these companies. If we have evidence there, that can be really helpful.”

Other panelists, such as Katy Hamilton of the Center for Work Education and Employment and Jukay Hsu of Pursuit, run organizations that provide direct support to workers seeking quality jobs. Hamilton and Hsu discussed the programs that they hope to evaluate and turned to the audience for advice and constructive questions to inform their evaluation design processes. 

To wrap up the day, representatives from academia, philanthropy, the private sector, and government offered a call to action to other leaders within their sectors. Themes included centering workers’ voices and collaborating across sectors.  

Katy Knight of the Siegel Family Endowment discussed the steps that philanthropic organizations should take to promote people-centered practices: “We need to bring other people into the conversation and listen to their personal expertise to make sure we really understand the work we’re doing.” Mark Gorenberg of Zetta Venture Partners echoed these statements, stressing the private sector’s obligation to invest responsibly in programs that promote dignity. 

José Cisneros, elected treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco, discussed how collaboration is crucial for innovation: “The government is ready to be creative and work in partnership with philanthropy and the private sector to see if we can do things differently.” Columbia University professor and J-PAL-affiliated researcher Peter Bergman advocated for a similar type of collaboration within the academic community, calling for larger and more diverse research teams to conduct both quantitative and qualitative analyses of programs. 

The Work of the Future Initiative will continue to shape the dialogue surrounding the future of work by bringing together leaders and innovators across sectors to engage in conversations and research partnerships that center worker voices and concerns. By generating research on strategies to help workers thrive in today’s labor market, the initiative seeks to shape a more equitable future of work.

Giving cryptocurrency users more bang for their buck

A new cryptocurrency-routing scheme co-invented by MIT researchers can boost the efficiency — and, ultimately, profits — of certain networks designed to speed up notoriously slow blockchain transactions.  

Cryptocurrencies hold promise for peer-to-peer financial transactions, potentially making banks and credit cards obsolete. But there’s a scalability issue: Bitcoin, for instance, processes only a handful of transactions per second, while major credit cards process hundreds or thousands. That’s because the blockchain — the digital ledger cryptocurrencies are built on — takes a really long time to process transactions. 

A new solution is “payment channel networks” (PCNs), where transactions are completed with minimal involvement from the blockchain. Pairs of PCN users form off-blockchain escrow accounts with a dedicated amount of money, forming a large, interconnected network of joint accounts. Users route payments through these  accounts, only pinging the blockchain to establish and close the accounts, which speeds things up dramatically. Accounts can also collect a tiny fee when transactions get routed through them.

Inefficient routing schemes, however, slow down even these fast solutions. They deplete users’ balances in these accounts frequently, forcing them to invest a lot of money in each account or frequently rebalance their accounts on the blockchain. In a paper being presented next month at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, the researchers introduce “Spider,” a more efficient routing scheme that lets users invest only a fraction of funds in each account and process roughly four times more transactions before rebalancing on the blockchain.

“It’s important to have balanced, high-throughput routing in PCNs to ensure the money that users put into joint accounts is used efficiently,” says first author Vibhaalakshmi Sivaraman, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “This should be efficient and a lucrative business. That means routing as many transactions as possible, with as little funds as possible, to give PCNs the best bang for their buck.”

Joining Sivaraman on the paper are former postdoc Shaileshh Bojja Venkatakrishnan, CSAIL graduate students Parimarjan Negi and Lei Yang, and Mohammad Alizadeh, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and a CSAIL researcher; Radhika Mittal of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kathleen Ruan and Giulia Fanti of Carnegie Mellon University.

Packet payments

PCNs rely heavily on bidirectional joint accounts — where both parties can receive and send money — so money can be routed between any users. User B can have a joint account with user A, while also linking separately to user C. Users A and C are not directly connected, but user A can send money to user C via the A-B and B-C joint accounts.

To exchange funds, each party must approve and update the balances in their joint accounts. Payments can only be routed on channels with sufficient funds to handle the transactions, causing major issues.

Traditional schemes send transactions along the shortest path possible, without being aware of any given user’s balance or the rate of sending on that account. This can cause one of the users in the joint account to handle too many transactions and drop to a zero balance, making it unable to route further transactions. What’s more, users can only send a payment in full. If a user wants to send, say, 10 bitcoins, current schemes try to push the full amount on the shortest path possible. If that path can’t support all 10 bitcoins at once, they’ll search for the next shortest path, and so on — which can slow down or completely fail the transaction.

Inspired by a technique for internet communications called packet switching, Spider splits each full transaction into smaller “packets” that are sent across different channels at different rates. This lets the scheme route chunks of these large payments through potentially low-funded accounts. Each packet is then far more likely to reach its destination without slowing down the network or being rejected in any given account for its size.

“Shortest-path routing can cause imbalances between accounts that deplete key payment channels and paralyze the system,” Sivaraman says. “Routing money in a way that the funds of both users in each joint account are balanced allows us to reuse the same initial funds to support as many transactions as possible.”

All queued up

Another innovation was creating queues at congested accounts. If an account can’t handle incoming transactions that require it to send money, instead of rejecting them, it queues them up. Then, it waits for any transactions that will replenish its funds — within a reasonable time frame — to be able to process those transactions.

“If you’re waiting on a queue, but I send you funds within the next second, you can then use any of those funds to send your waiting transactions,” Sivaraman says.

The researchers also adopted an algorithm — built by Alizadeh and other researchers — that monitors data center congestion to identify queueing delays at congested accounts. This helps control the rate of transactions. Say user A sends funds to user C through user B, which has a long queue. The receiver C sends the sender A, along with the payment confirmation, one bit of information representing the transaction’s wait time at user B. If it’s too long, user A routes fewer transactions through user B. As the queueing time decreases, account A routes more transactions through B. In this manner, by monitoring the queues alone, Spider is able to ensure that the rate of transactions is both balanced and as high as possible.

Ultimately, the more balanced the routing of PCNs, the smaller the capacity required — meaning, overall funds across all joint accounts — for high transaction throughput. In PCN simulations, Spider processed 95 percent of all transactions using only 25 percent of the capacity needed in traditional schemes.

The researchers also ran tests on tricky transactions called “DAGs,” which are one-directional payments where one user inevitably runs out of funds and needs to rebalance on the blockchain. A key metric for the performance of PCNs on DAG transactions is the number of off-chain transactions enabled for each transaction on the blockchain. In this regard, Spider is able to process eight times as many off-chain transactions for each transaction on-chain. In contrast, traditional schemes only support twice as many off-chain transactions.

“Even with extremely frequent rebalancing, traditional schemes can’t process all DAG transactions. But with very low-frequency rebalancing, Spider can complete them all,” Sivaraman says.

Next, the researchers are making Spider more robust to DAG transactions, which can cause bottlenecks. They’re also exploring data privacy issues and ways to incentivize users to use Spider.

Demystifying artificial intelligence

Natalie Lao was set on becoming an electrical engineer, like her parents, until she stumbled on course 6.S192 (Making Mobile Apps), taught by Professor Hal Abelson. Here was a blueprint for turning a smartphone into a tool for finding clean drinking water, or sorting pictures of faces, or doing just about anything. “I thought, I wish people knew building tech could be like this,” she said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from writing her dissertation.

After shifting her focus as an MIT undergraduate to computer science, Lao joined Abelson’s lab, which was busy spreading its App Inventor platform and do-it-yourself philosophy to high school students around the world. App Inventor set Lao on her path to making it easy for anyone, from farmers to factory workers, to understand AI, and use it to improve their lives. Now in the third and final year of her PhD at MIT, Lao is also the co-founder of an AI startup to fight fake news, and the co-producer of a series of machine learning tutorials. It’s all part of her mission to help people find the creator and free thinker within. 

“She just radiates optimism and enthusiasm,” says Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). “She’s a natural leader who knows how to get people excited and organized.” 

Lao was immersed in App Inventor, building modules to teach students to build face recognition models and store data in the cloud. Then, in 2016, the surprise election of Donald Trump to U.S. president forced her to think more critically about technology. She was less upset by Trump the politician as by revelations that social media-fueled propaganda and misinformation had tilted the race in Trump’s favor.

When a friend, Elan Pavlov, a then-EECS postdoc, approached Lao about an idea he had for building a platform to combat fake news she was ready to dive in. Having grown up in rural, urban, and suburban parts of Tennessee and Ohio, Lao was used to hearing a range of political views. But now, social platforms were filtering those voices, and amplifying polarizing, often inaccurate, content. Pavlov’s idea stood out for its focus on identifying the people (and bots) spreading misinformation and disinformation, rather than the content itself. 

Lao recruited two friends, Andrew Tsai and Keertan Kini, to help build out the platform. They would later name it HINTS, or Human Interaction News Trustworthiness System, after an early page-ranking algorithm called HITS. 

In a demo last fall, Lao and Tsai highlighted a network of Twitter accounts that had shared conspiracy theories tied to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi under the hashtag #khashoggi. When they looked at what else those accounts had shared, they found streams of other false and misleading news. Topping the list was the incorrect claim that then-U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke had funded a caravan of migrants headed for the U.S. border.

The HINTS team hopes that by flagging the networks that spread fake news, social platforms will move faster to remove fake accounts and contain the propagation of misinformation.

“Fake news doesn’t have any impact in a vacuum — real people have to read it and share it,” says Lao. “No matter what your political views, we’re concerned about facts and democracy. There’s fake news being pushed on both sides and it’s making the political divide even worse.”

The HINTS team is now working with its first client, a media analytics firm based in Virginia. As CEO, Lao has called on her experience as a project manager from internships at GE, Google, and Apple, where, most recently, she led the rollout of the iPhone XR display screen. “I’ve never met anyone as good at managing people and tech,” says Tsai, an EECS master’s student who met Lao as a lab assistant for Abelson’s course 6.S198 (Deep Learning Practicum), and is now CTO of HINTS.

As HINTS was getting off the ground, Lao co-founded a second startup, ML Tidbits, with EECS graduate student Harini Suresh. While learning to build AI models, both women grew frustrated by the tutorials on YouTube. “They were full of formulas, with very few pictures,” she says. “Even if the material isn’t that hard, it looks hard!” 

Convinced they could do better, Lao and Suresh reimagined a menu of intimidating topics like unsupervised learning and model-fitting as a set of inviting side dishes. Sitting cross-legged on a table, as if by a cozy fire, Lao and Suresh put viewers at ease with real-world anecdotes, playful drawings, and an engaging tone. Six more videos, funded by MIT Sandbox and the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, are planned for release this spring. 

If her audience learns one thing from ML Tidbits, Lao says, she hopes it’s that anyone can learn the basic underpinnings of AI. “I want them to think, ‘Oh, this technology isn’t just something that professional computer scientists or mathematicians can touch. I can learn it too. I can form educated opinions and join discussions about how it should be used and regulated.’ ”

Bradford Parkinson SM ’61 awarded Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Bradford Parkinson SM ’61, who received his master of science degree in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro), was honored last month with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering along with three colleagues responsible for creating the first truly global, satellite-based positioning system (GPS).

The Queen Elizabeth Prize is the world’s most prestigious engineering accolade, a £1 million (about $1.3 million) award that celebrates the global impact of engineering innovation on humanity. Parkinson was honored along with Hugo Fruehauf, Richard Schwartz, and James Spilker Jr., whose widow received the award, at Buckingham Palace in December from the Prince of Wales.

“This recognition reflects the responsibility incumbent upon those developing technology today to strive to do so for the good of humanity,” said Parkinson. “Day after day, we are astounded at the new ways in which people across the world use GPS. It is a ‘System for Humanity’ in each and every sense.”

The global positioning system represents a pioneering innovation which, for the first time, enabled free, immediate access to accurate position and timing information around the world. An estimated 4 billion people use GPS, and its applications range from navigation and disaster relief to climate monitoring systems, banking systems, and the foundation of tomorrow’s transport, agriculture, and industry.

Parkinson, often called the “father of GPS,” successfully built upon several separate systems to create the current GPS design. He directed the program and led the development, design, and testing of its key components, insisting that GPS needed to be intuitive and inexpensive, which is why it is accessible worldwide today. Leading the original advocacy for the system in 1973 as a U.S. Air Force colonel, he became the first director of the GPS Joint Program Office and led the original development of spacecraft, Master Control Station, and eight types of user equipment. He guided the program through the extensive test validation process, including being launch commander for the first GPS satellite launches.

“One of the most important things we had when the project started was a vision of world impact,” said Parkinson. “Without that inspiration, it would have been difficult for us to weather the storms of doing something for the first time. Back in 1978, I made a few drawings that depicted GPS applications that I could personally foresee; they included an automobile navigation system, semi-automatic air traffic control, and wide-area vehicle monitoring, that seem to be rather accurate 41 years later.”

GPS combines a constellation of at least 24 orbiting satellites with ground stations and receiving devices. Each satellite contains a set of atomic clocks that keep ultra-precise time down to a billionth of a second. The satellite broadcasts its time as well as a radio signal containing its location to GPS receivers on Earth, which require signals from at least four satellites to determine their position. GPS receivers measure the time delay in each signal to calculate the distance to each satellite, then use that information to pinpoint the receiver’s location on earth.

Using GPS technology, simple smartphone apps can track disease outbreaks, self-driving tractors can optimize crop harvests, and sports teams can improve team performance. New applications for GPS continue to revolutionize entire industries, and its annual economic value has been estimated to be $80 billion for the United States alone.

“This year’s laureates have demonstrated that engineering makes things happen. With the first global, satellite-based positioning system, they created an engineered system which provides free, immediate and accurate information about position and time, anywhere around the globe,” said Lord Browne of Madingley, chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. “The world now depends on GPS completely and without exception. In honoring the 2019 prize winners, we hope to inspire the next generation of engineers to continue to push back the frontiers of the possible.”

A professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, Parkinson received his undergraduate degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, his master’s degree at MIT, and his doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford in 1966. During his military career, he served 21 years in the Air Force and five years In the U.S. Navy, retiring as a full colonel in 1978. At Stanford University, he led the development of many innovative applications of GPS, including: commercial aircraft (Boeing 737) blind landing using GPS alone, fully automatic GPS control of farm tractors on a rough field to an accuracy of two inches, and pioneering the augmentation to GPS (WAAS) that allows any user to achieve accuracies of two feet and very high levels of integrity assurance.

Blood and politics in India

Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.

In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.

Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”

If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.

The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.

For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”

But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.

“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.

That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism. 

“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”

Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.

The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.

Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.

“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.

While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.

“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”

“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.” 

Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.

Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.

“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”

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