A Stakeholder Debate: Do Robots Improve Society?

With the evolution of technology, what was once deemed as impossible can now become the possible; this can be seen with the advancement of robots. Often when people think about robots, the first image that pops into their minds are of R2D2 and C-3P0 from Star Wars. While these two robots played pivotal roles in the Star Wars series, they were initially created to serve humans. Even animated movies, such as WALL-E, featured robots that were responsible for all activities that took place on the spacecraft, while humans enjoyed their leisure time.

While robots today may not be as sophisticated as R2D2 or C-3PO, there have been advancements in the field. Robots can now accomplish tasks that can be done by humans such as microwaving a meal. Professionals in the robotics field say that eventually robots will be so advanced that they will be able to replace humans in some jobs. This will drastically shift how society functions and soon robots will become a fixture in our world.

Adventure Time Dichotomous Key

This lesson teaches students how to use a dichotomous key and understand how it allows individuals to find the name of a species based on certain defining physical characteristics. To achieve these learning objectives, students construct a dichotomous key using the characters of the popular show Adventure Time.

The Physics of the Dunk

Students learn about the physics and mathematics behind dunking a basketball using ESPN Sport Science‘s feature on Blake Griffin.

The Neuroscience of Pop Songs

In this lesson, students familiarize themselves with the chemicals and hormones responsible for our emotions. They then use this knowledge to provide a scientific analysis of a pop song of their choice.

Is The Snooze Button Bad For Your Health? Understanding the science of sleep

There are very few things in life that feel better than those 10 extra minutes of sleep after pressing the snooze button on your alarm in morning. Unfortunately, hitting the snooze button to get a few more precious moments of sleep can potentially do more damage than good.

The reason sleep feels so good, and bonus sleep feels even better, has a lot to do with chemicals being released in our bodies. Whoever said sleep is like a drug wasn’t lying. As you fall asleep, your body releases a chemical called serotonin into your bloodstream. (Also, see our post Dubstep on the brain for other examples of serotonin’s effects on the human body). Serotonin is a chemical that tells the brain to soothe the body and creates a calm, peaceful feeling of well-being and happiness. Hitting the snooze button is literally like taking another hit of serotonin to the brain. So why is this bad for us again? Don’t worry I’m getting there…

During a normal 8 hour sleep cycle, your body releases serotonin to send you to dreamland and then slowly brings you back by lowering the levels of serotonin and shooting you with a dose of dopamine, another chemical known for energizing the body, giving you that feeling of alertness and motivation. As your body naturally lowers your serotonin and increases your dopamine levels, every time you hit the snooze button you are re-injecting yourself with serotonin mixed with high levels of dopamine. This chemical high leaves you feeling good in the moment but you eventually crash from the chemical imbalance and may lead to waking up feeling disoriented and drained of energy for the rest of the day.

While I enjoy those extra minutes of sleep just as much as the next guy, there are some studies that show snooze sleep may cause a decline in brain function that lead to loss of memory, slowed reaction time and lack of focus and concentration.

We each have our own unique sleep/wake cycles. If you’re having trouble sleeping and you wake up every morning feeling unrested and drained of energy you can analyze your own sleep cycle by journaling the rhythmic pattern of your sleep schedule throughout the week. Keeping a sleep diary and doing some simple data analysis can help figure out the root of insomnia, and other problems related to mood and fatigue. After a few days of collecting data you will notice a pattern start to emerge from your sleep schedule. You may discover daily habits or changes in mood that affect your sleep. Once you have this data you can make some slight changes to your daily habits and routine or even diet. Visit your doctor and bring your notes with you to come up with a plan together.

science of auto-tune

The Science of Auto-Tune: How WWII Spy Tech is Making a lot of Pop Stars Rich

Auto tune science

How does your voice sound? Can you rock a karoke mic or are you somebody who just lip-syncs while the crowd around you sings on? Now anyone can be a star performer with a little digital audio assistance from the Auto-Tune effect.

Ever since Cher released the song Believe way back in 1998, radio stations have been stacking their playlists with Auto-Tune tracks. Originally, Antares, the company that developed the audio effect, intended it to be used as a tool to make musicians sound like they have pitch-perfect voices. In the beginning, that’s how it was used, as a type of airbrush to hide the imperfections of a musician’s voice. Since then, it has evolved into an effect that distorts a vocal track instead of giving it a glossy perfectness. Auto-Tune has been used by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Celine Dion. T-Pain even went on to create a mobile app called I am T-Pain so you could Auto-Tune your own voice with the T-Pain Effect while singing along to his songs.

Auto-Tune has faced a lot of criticism since it was first released, yet Auto-Tuned songs are crowding the airwaves more than ever. It seems like it is a technology that is here to stay.

Basically, auto-tune is a type of vocoder, short for voice encoder, a technology developed in the late 1920′s by Bell Labs and used for encrypted high-level voice communications during World War IIAccording to Innovative Synthesis, a vocoder needs two inputs to function properly. A ‘carrier’ wave, and a ‘modulator’ input. The carrier is the sound you want to vocode through, and the modulator is your voice. The modulator takes your voice’s frequencies and converts them into levels of amplitude on a series of band pass filters (this is why some vocoders have different numbers of bands) – in general, the more bands available the more understandable your speech will be. These band pass filter signals are then passed onto the carrier wave where your final sound is created. In music, the classic vocoder was used in 70′s funk music to create a robot effect, influences that later inspired songs by Snoop Dogg, Daft Punk and of course T-Pain.

science of auto-tune

A vocoder was used to create the voice for Soundwave in the 80′s hit cartoon Transformers.

Auto-Tune science is slightly different, in that it measures and alters pitch in vocals and instrumental music, allowing pop stars who can’t sing for their life (not naming names) and making them perfectly tuned even though they’re completely off-key. The software shifts pitches to the nearest true semitone, to the exact pitch of the nearest tone (via Wikipedia). The future of music ladies and gentlemen…

Read the lesson below to take a deeper look at the science behind Auto-Tune and learn some tricks to produce similar effects. Get your hands on some free digital audio editing software similar to what is used in the industry and try making your own effect heavy beats. Can you create something that can one-up the next Kanye West track?

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The Science of Binge Watching

The Instant Gratification of Binge Watching Television:
You watch an episode of your favorite TV series, it’s a cliffhanger!  You see the credits, and feel the pangs of sadness because you will have to wait another week to find out what happens next.  Ten years ago, this was the normal way to watch a television series.  Today, technology allows you to push a button (or just sit back and wait) and your next episode can be viewed right away.  Its a beautiful advancement in these modern times.

Binge-watching, also called binge-viewing, is the practice of watching television for longer time spans than usual, usually of a single television show. In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73% of people define binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”  Binge-watching as an observed cultural phenomenon has become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime where the viewer can watch television shows and movies on-demand.

The idea of assembling several consecutive episodes of a television series in order and watching them in rapid succession originated with the marathon, networks themselves programmed several hours’ worth of reruns of a single series. This practice began in the 1980s and is still popular among subscription television outlets in the 2010s.

Your Body and Mind on a TV Binge:
Here are a few ways the science of binge watching affects your mind, body and soul.

1. The Non-Walking Dead
The effects of sitting for long periods of time have been well documented, and it is generally understood that being sedentary for most of the time is harmful to your health.   Since you’re sitting with your spine in a C shape, it can cause cramped muscles, spinal pressure, and bad posture.  This is a sedentary behavior and if not moderated can lead to weight gain – You are simply not burning many calories if you are not moving your body around.

2. Friday Night Lights
The effects of fluorescent light on the brain have been studied and long term TV watching can have the same effect – too much exposure has been linked to headaches, eye strain, seasonal affective disorder, problems sleeping, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and anxiety among other symptoms.  Getting out into the sunshine more during the morning and daytime has been shown to combat the negative effects of too much fluorescent light exposure.

3. TV is the new Ice Cream: Depression and Loneliness
Some recent findings on binge-watching associated people who binge on television with depression, loneliness and an inability to control their behavior.  This however, was only a correlational study, and not concluded to be a direct cause and effect relationship.  As mentioned above, this can also be a symptom of too much flourescent light exposure, so its possible these issues are connected in some way.

4. Breaks are for Quitters: Persistence and Resiliency
There are positive effects of binge watching as well.  Based on a survey commissioned by Netflix in December, Three-quarters of 1,500 online respondents reported having positive feelings in binge watching and that binging was a welcome refuge from their busy lives. Nearly eight in ten people said binge-watching a TV show made it more enjoyable than watching single episodes. It would seem that people are craving the long narratives that today’s good television can provide. In today’s world of shortened attention spans, binge watchers have shown an ability to be resilient and focus on a task for long periods of time.

5. This Show is Like My Life Story: Cognitive Empathy
We may become glued to complex, emotionally-charged stories, and want to consume a lot of them, because of our ability to recognize the feelings of others.  In addition to identifying others’ discomfort or elation, this branch of “cognitive empathy” examines how humans can also adopt others’ psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters. Research has pointed to this occurrence more often with reading fictional texts as opposed to watching a fictional film or television series, in that a more profound emotional reaction occurs while reading as opposed to watching.  But perhaps Binge watching creates more of an emotional bond to characters and scenarios than a shorter time duration.

What it Means to “Binge”:
“Binge” is defined as a short period of time in which you do too much of something.  Inherent in the definition, is a judgement that the behavior is excessive, or somehow suggests the binger is “out of control.”  For some activities like eating, or drinking alcohol, there are real, immediate threats to your well being and these are considered harmful activities.  Perhaps “binge” watching television is not the proper term.  Many people prefer to watch television series this way, and are otherwise responsible, balanced individuals who can moderate their entertainment consumption.  So “binge-watching,” although a very appropriate buzzword to describe the activity, creates too negative a connotation. A few hours is not as excessive as all day marathons.  Getting to watch something you desire is a pleasurable activity, and so if a viewer takes some breaks from sitting for long periods of time, or stretches often enough, the pros and cons can balance out.  Moderation, with all things in life, is the key here.