Science and Tech roundup, week 5

    Are we human, or are we...robot?

    So, when will machines surpass humanity and take over the world in a robotic apocalypse? Is that even possible? Sylvester Johnson, an associate professor of African American studies and religious studies at Northwestern, is working on a study that aims to answer those questions – kind of.

    Johnson is looking at machines like IBM’s Watson to uncover the limits of intelligent machines and, yes, whether they can ultimately challenge humans’ dominance. “We are able to engineer machines to perform human tasks, and many scientists will tell you that machines can think,” Johnson told the Chicago Tribune.

    On Saturday, Johnson will discuss the topic during his talk called “Of Machines and Men,” held in Harris Hall at 2:30 p.m. as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

    Get money, make computer science

    Former insurance company CEO Dennis Chookaszian, McCormick ‘65, gave $6.5 million to his alma mater to create the Chookaszian Family Program in Computer Science as part of Northwestern’s We Will campaign.

    According to a Northwestern press release, the number of computer science majors at the University has more than tripled during the last five years, creating a huge demand that Chookaszian’s new program will support when it launches next fall.

    In particular, the program will prioritize an expansion of faculty in a field called learning sciences, which blends education and computer science.

    Solving diabetes one recipe at a time, and also with a bear

    Weinberg junior Odette Zero spent time in Guatemala this summer conducting an independent research project for which she collected “illness narratives,” or interviews with diabetic residents to discover what they know about the disease and how to manage it. Zero’s research took place in San Miguel Dueñas, a small town in south-central Guatemala that she regularly visits with her Guatemalan-born mother.

    Zero found many of those she interviewed didn’t know that the foods they were eating could help with diabetes, which prompted her to find English recipes for diabetics that she could modify using food and ingredients from San Miguel Dueñas. Here's Northwestern’s Q&A with Zero.

    Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz are finding ways to help others manage diabetes in a slightly different way: through Jerry the Bear, one of Design for America’s first projects at Northwestern back in 2010.

    Jerry has come a long way since then. In 2012, Chung and Horowitz co-founded Sproutel, a company that calls itself “Disney for healthcare” and claims Jerry as its flagship product. The pair has since created a new and improved form of Jerry for which they are currently taking preorders and plan to ship in the summer of 2016, according to an article earlier this week in The Boston Globe.

    Jerry originally only taught children with type 1 diabetes how to take care of themselves, by monitoring the bear’s diet, measuring his blood glucose levels and giving him insulin shots. The new version of Jerry has been expanded to teach children about health and wellness through a set of daily routines, and food allergies by helping kids avoid allergens and practice good hygiene.


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