Author Archives: Rachel Lauren Satell


“Siri, where should I eat lunch”? “Ok Google, I need to buy an umbrella. Where should I go”? We have come to live in a world where we ask our phones everything from where the closest gas station is to how many stars are in our galaxy. Whether we realize it or not, artificial intelligence, has become a part of our everyday lives.  The popularity of films like Ex-Machina, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Wall-E demonstrate our recent preoccupation with artificial intelligence and the potential uses and implications for the technology.

My last blog post  got me thinking about artificial intelligence and how AI technology attempts to interpret and anticipate our emotional and physical needs. Movies like Ex-Machina capitalize on the fear that AI technology may one day develop consciousness with disastrous consequences. There is absolutely a potential to cause harm with AI technology, conscious or otherwise. I started to wonder if there was a way to instill artificial intelligence technology with a moral code, a sense of right and wrong.  I was also curious to find out what the government’s stance on AI is.

An article recently published in Nature  suggests that as AI technology becomes more advanced and more intelligent the only way to ensure that AI technology is benevolent is to focus programming efforts on instilling a code of ethics in AI. As for what that would look like, I’m not entirely sure. Who would be in charge of this moral code? After all, each one of us lives by our own code of ethics, which are informed by our individual world view and cultural experience.

As far as the government is concerned, the White House, released an official report on the future of artificial intelligence earlier this month.  They laid out a plan, though not in detail, to utilize AI to increase economic growth and automate certain sectors of industry. AI is definitely something to keep an eye on as it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Works Cited


“The Administration’s Report on the Future of Artificial Intelligence.” The White House. The White House, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Crawford, Kate, and Ryan Calo. “There Is a Blind Spot in AI Research.” Nature 538.7625 (2016): 311-13. Web.
Davies, Jim. “Program Good Ethics into Artificial Intelligence.” Nature (2016): n. pag. Web.

Show Me a Little Emotion

Happy, sad, angry, confused: four basic emotions that those of us who experience empathy can immediately identify in someone else’s facial expression. Or can we?  During a sociology class in high school we were shown a series of facial expressions and asked to identify the emotion that person was feeling. If we guessed accurately, it indicated we felt empathy, if not we were told it was indicative of anti-social behavior and the marker of a sociopath. I always wondered how accurate this test was and how universally it could be applied. This is an important topic because, not only does this have ramifications for the study of psychopathy but also for developing artificial intelligence technologies that attempt to recognize facial expressions.


In a 2008 study conducted on inmates published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, doctors Hastings, Tangney, and Stuewig found that psychopath was negatively correlated with facial recognition of both sad and happy emotions. The inmates were tested using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version the field standard screening process that tests for psychopathic personality disorders. I couldn’t help but wonder how universally these tests could be administered as both the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and the aforementioned study that utilized it are studies conducted in the western world. Could these same standards be applied to different cultures and peoples?


A recent article published in Science suggests that it may not as facial expressions are not necessarily universal. Studies conducted with isolated peoples in Papua New Guinea found that facial expressions may be cultural constructs. The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea recognized expressions that you and I would read as shock or fear as angry and threatening. This divergence suggests that expressions of emotion are not universally understood.

I would be interested to find out what would happen if tests that are the standard in the west, like the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, were administered to peoples of vastly different cultures.  I would also be interested to see if there was a way to test these theories in a double-blind, controlled study as they are far more reliable.

Works Cited

Hastings, Mark E., June P. Tangney, and Jeff Stuewig. “Psychopathy and Identification of Facial Expressions of Emotion.” Personality and Individual Differences. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2008. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

“Multi-Health Systems — Home.” Multi-Health Systems — Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

Price, Michael. “Facial Expressions—including Fear—may Not Be as Universal as We Thought.” Science (2016): n. pag. Web.

Flipping the Switch

Imagine if there was a switch in your brain that could shut down your ability to control impulses and self-control. A recent study published in Science Advances has found evidence of just that. Since the temporoparietal junction of our brains allows us to view things from the perspectives of others, including the perspective of ourselves down the line. This is the portion of our brain allows us to regulate the impulse to better ourselves in the present at a cost to ourselves in the future. This function is tied to the decisions we make in the present, if we are not able to see how decisions will effect ourselves in the future it is unlikely we will make rational decisions.

The study was carried out by Alexander Soutschek and his team, in a controlled study. They attempted to interrupt the temporarparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation for 40 seconds followed by a 30 minute task. The control group received the same transcranial magnetic stimulation in a different area of the brain so as not to skew the results. Participants of both the control and test group were asked to choose between the instant gratification of a monetary reward the amount of which was uncertain or the longterm benefit of receiving a larger, guaranteed reward within three to eighteen months.  They were then asked to view a series of red dots from the perspective of an avatar. This series of questions tested not only the participants’ ability to make well-informed choices by taking on the perspective of others but also by taking on the perspectives of themselves down the line. The team was able to reject the null hypothesis when participants failed to use perspective to make good decisions.

92338-homer-simpson-brain-meme-u4qy I began reading the article I found it to be a really interesting discovery. However, I couldn’t figure out what good it could do for society as a whole until the conclusion. An article in Scientific American,  pointed out the potential benefits of this discovery on addiction.  If addicts are unable to view their lives in the future, having gotten clean, it is unlikely they will feel the compulsion to quit as they lack the motivation to do so.

If you are interested in learning more about the temporoparietal junction of the brain, as I was, check out this video, to find out how this area of the brain can effect moral decisions.


Television often offers us a window into worlds and professions we do not ordinarily interact with. Shows featuring doctors, lawyers, scientists, and officers of the law have proven to be incredibly popular time and time again. One such show is, Bones, a dramedy

An imagining of what a family compromised of  H. Sapiens and Neanderthals  may have looked like.

An imagining of what a family compromised of H. Sapiens and Neanderthals may have looked like.

combining crime solving, forensic science, and anthropology. The accuracy of the science featured on Bones, and in other shows in the genre, is often questioned. In 2013 Fox aired an episode titled, The Archaeologist in the Cocoon. The episode culminated in the discovery of a half Homo neanderthalensis, half Homo sapiens family.


The idea for the episode was likely sparked by a 2010 discovery by the Neanderthal Genome Project. 

This is an interpretation of what a Neanderthals may have looked like.

This is an interpretation of what a Neanderthals may have looked like.

According to a study they conducted, the modern, non-African human shares as much as 2.5% of it’s DNA with the Neanderthals of the past. Evidence suggests that the interbreeding between Neanderthals and our Homo Sapiens ancestors occurred in Eurasia. It has been hypothesized that the Y chromosome of the Neanderthal was incompatible with that of the Homo Sapiens females, often resulting in miscarriages. This could explain why we do not currently carry more of the Neanderthal DNA in our own genes.

In 2012, Dr. Rachel Wood, found compelling evidence that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens inhabited the Earth 8,000 years apart, making interbreeding impossible. Wood suggested we fail to reject the null hypothesis, that interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens produced offspring. However, recent findings documented in Science News, support not only the idea of relations between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens but also of relations between Homo Sapiens and Denisovans. Denisovans are hominids that walked the Earth at the same time as the Neanderthals. According to research done by a joint effort between Harvard Medical School and UCLA, those of South Asian descent are likely to share Denisovans genetics. The genes we have maintained from our Denisovans and Neanderthal predecessors may help us to fight off certain infections and illnesses. 

Denisovans male.

Denisovans male.

These recent findings have fascinating implications for the scientific world and our understanding of human evolution. Homo Sapiens, Denisovans, and Neanderthals were not originally thought to have existed at the same time. The evidence of DNA from Denisovans and Neanderthals in modern human beings, like you and I, make this incredibly unlikely.


I have always been fascinated by dinosaurs and evolution.  We are still discovering things everyday about what the world was like before humans inhabited the Earth.   The paleontologists and archaeologists who take on the task of uncovering the many Millenia that remain a mystery to us are a vital part of the scientific world and offer us a glimpse into the past.  Recently there have been several fascinating findings in paleontology.

Specifically, new discoveries are being made regarding the Pterosauria order of dinosaur. A winged order of dinosaur closely considered to be reptiles, the Pterosaurs  Found all over the world, during their heyday, the Pterosaurs ranged in size and featured large brains. A new species of pterosaur was recently discovered in Patagonia. Alive during the early Jurassic period, this new species of pterosaur will be called Allkaruen koi, meaning “ancient brain”. The find was unusual is it included, amongst many other fossils, a fully intact braincase. This will allow paleontologists the opportunity to study the brain compisition of the species. Last year a different species of the fantastic flying pterosaur was found in Utah. This new discovery helps bring us closer to understanding the species and the order as a whole.

If you, like me, can’t get enough dinosaurs you’ll be interested to know that more pterosaurs fossils have been found in China. One of which was the skull of a male Hamipterus tianshanensisThis marks the discovery of an entirely new genus and species, separate from that of the pterosaurs’ found in Patagonia.  New things are being discovered about the pterosaurs all the time. This latest round of discoveries brings us one step closer to understanding them.

The public has long been fascinated with dinosaurs, take for instance the recent success of Jurassic World, the next chapter of the Jurassic Park series th;at captivated the world years ago.




Hey I’m Rachel, I’m a senior majoring in telecommunications and minoring in English. I’m from Berwyn, PA and I love all things pop culture and travel.  The closest thing I do to scientific research is watching Grey’s Anatomy and the Discovery Channel.


I have been surrounded by science people for the last two years as my roommates have been veterinary, biology, and forensic science majors. However, science is just not really my thing. I understand the basic science behind telecommunications technology and bits and pieces I have picked up from my roommates however, it’s not really my thing.  The periodic table doesn’t exactly capture my interest and I’m not a math fan either so I don’t relish learning equations.

That said, I know that science is incredibly important and I should make an effort to be aware of current events and scientific discoveries. Science is at the forefront of our economy and plays a massive part in our every day lives. I am hoping that in taking this class I will learn more about science today and make keeping up with new discoveries a habit. I am taking this class to try and make that happen…. and to fulfill my general education requirements so I can graduate (that’d be great).