Monday, December 16, 2013

Google, Facebook, Robots and Artificial Intelligence

It seems a lot is happening in the structuring of the world of robotics and artificial intelligence those days ...

Google and Facebook seems to be playing a game of "who will acquire more ressources" on these two connected fields. Google for instance just got "Boston Dynamics", a well-known (military) quadruped robots, which become the 8th major acquisition of Google in this field, while Facebook is hiring key scientists from the academic world in order to boost its research groups on artificial intelligence.

Why the big players of the Internet world want to invest in artificial intelligence and robots ?

Well, first obvisouly for economic reasons: social network platforms need to diversify their activities, obviously. And artificial intelligence may be a good way to do so, capitilizing on an expertise in algorythms they already have, with important research teams working on such subjects. But not only direct economic outcomes could be foresee. Developping more powerful artificial intelligence paradigms would allow a more efficient use of the data and meta-data these companies are gathering, and therefore, targeting adds more efficiently and ultimately generating more money. Also, it is something to be considered in the light of the Editorial on CHB, where social networks may be a step before the rise of technology-enhanced human group cognition. Same for robotics, it goes in the same line than augmented reality for Internet application.

Interestingly, with the economical power such major companies have, they may well succeed were university researcher failed due to ressources limitations. In any case, it will be interesting to follow ...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lab Update

Well, looks like I have not blogged since a few months ...
Not an excuse, I know, but things have been extremely busy in the lab these last months. We launched a few fascinating projects (I know, I am biased), and some already brought some results. Also, we had some major editorial activities, some of them had some nice echoes in the media.

In the last few months, we got a pretty important media coverage, both on our work on tinnitus, and on our works on human behavior in virtual spaces. This included appearance in a few TV show, radio talks, and interviews in local newspapers. That kept me a bit busy, but well, it is important to show to people what we are doing and how research can contribute to advance well-being of people.

Pursuing our research on human behavior in virtual spaces - and, for those who have read some of my recent papers, my interest for popular culture-based virtual settings - we advanced in a fascinating direction: that's it to use immersive virtual spaces as tools to predict human behavior in large-scale crisis. I already have suggested that a few months ago :

Guitton MJ (2013) Editorial: Developing tools to predict human behavior in response to large-scale catastrophic events. Computers in Human Behavior, 29:2756-2757.

but with Dr C├ęcile Cristofari (postdoc in our team), we pushed things further ... considerably further :

Guitton MJ, Cristofari C (2013) Life in Science: Zombiology. Science, 342:559.

(and two major contributions are on their way, a rather long and comprehensive commentary on public health to be published soon on practical ways to use zombies to implement training tools for health-related organisations, and an experimental study that we just submitted yesterday).

In a logic of anticipating future of humanity, or more specifically, how new technologies could affect it, I also got the following editorial published :

Guitton MJ (2014) Artificial vs. Enhanced Intelligence: Computer or Human Behavior? Computers in Human Behavior, 31:332-333.

a good anniversary milestone discussing some of the unexpected outcomes of half a century or more of research on artificial intelligence.

And we got a few other nice things on their way, including the paper with Dr Anna Lomanowska (her last paper as postdoc in the lab, or first as junior faculty, depending how one looks at it), and another editorial on the "dark side" of social networks :

Lomanowska AM, Guitton MJ (2014) My avatar is pregnant! Representation of pregnancy, birth, and maternity in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 31:322-331.
Guitton MJ (2014) The importance of studying the dark side of social networks. Computers in Human Behavior, 31:335.

And with the new coming year, we are having a lot of new projects too !
One of them is of course the conference of the Royal Anthropological Institute, which will be held in the British Museum May 29th to May 31st, and in which I am the convenor and chair of the first panel on "Anthropology and photography in the digital age". Call for paper is open, so people interested, please have a look and submit !

More updates to come in future blog posts !

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lab Update

Well, I just got officially promoted as member of the Editorial Board of the newly journal "Advances in Medicine", in the Otolaryngology section. Always pleasant for the ego, of course. But I want to mention here a few of the reasons why I accepted to be part of this adventure.

First, what has made me hesitate. New journals are always a risk : you never know what will be their fate and if they will survive the few first issues. Furthermore, what will be their quality, and impact factor is unknown obviously.

But second - and in the present case, more important - is what has made me think it was something I should do. The format of the journal : it is a journal which is taking ONLY reviews ... meaning, we go back to the original format of the "progresses" and "advances" series. It is not another journal aiming to publish any experimental work just to create more "background noise", but a journal which specifically will provide the scientists a forum to summarize, synthezise, digest knowledge, to put the most recent advances in perspective. Not to do primary research, but to give to people the tools to understand it. With the tremendous increase of the quantities of published work (sometimes not always of the best methodological quality), the need for accurate and authoritative reviews is critical. Sending reviews to a regular journal is dangerous : the regular journals are not supposed to take all of them (as they are usually primarily targetted to innovative research), and will mostly take a few "invited reviews" ... which, despite being often of excellent quality, can by definition not cover all the spread of a field, but only a few particular subjects and topics. Another point which took my decision is the fact that this new journal covers almost all the fields of current medicine (Anesthesiology, Cardiology, Critical Care, Dentistry, Dermatology, Emergency Medecine, Endocrinology, Epidemiology, Gastroenterology, Genetics, Geriatrics, Hematology, Hepatology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, Otolaryngology, Pathology, Pediatrics, Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry, Public Health, Pulmonology, Rehabilitation, Rheumatology, Surgery, Transplantation, Urology, Vascular Medicine). Advances in Medicine is not a purely "specialty-related" journal, it rather offers the potential to act as a constantly updated medical encyclopedia of a constantly growing corpus of knowledge. I see the potential of such a journal not only for scientists and other researchers, but for practitioners and students alike.

Anyway, let's see how this journal goes, and wish it the best successes !

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Literature Update

The issue of November of Computers in Human Behavior (issue still in progress) looks so far very good. I selected here a few papers dealing with a lot of interesting topics.

First, a series of two papers regarding two aspects of age-dependent online use. One on the impact of virtual spaces on adolescents’ sense of identity, and one on the effect of sharing virtual experience between people from different generations on intergenerational cohesion.

Davis K (2013) Young people’s digital lives: The impact of interpersonal relationships. and digital media use on adolescents’ sense of identity. Computers in Human Behavior, 29;2281–2293.
Chua PH, Jung Y, Lwin MO, Theng YL (2013) Let’s play together: Effects of video-game play on intergenerational perceptions among youth and elderly participants. Computers in Human Behavior, 29;2303–2311.

Something interesting regarding (cyber)psychopathology (at large), on the profiles of college cyberbullies.

Schenk AM, Fremouw WJ, Keelan CM (2013) Characteristics of college cyberbullies. Computers in Human Behavior, 29;2320–2327.

Must be read just before or just after our paper on Internet addiction (Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2013) Internet addiction assessment tools: dimensional structure and methodological status. Addiction, 108:1207-1216. [PDF]), for a more global view on cyberpathologies.

Internet privacy and sexualisation in virtual spaces are important topics, and here is an interesting paper on that.

Beaussart ML, Kaufman JC (2013) Gender differences and the effects of perceived internet privacy on self-reports of sexual behavior and sociosexuality. Computers in Human Behavior, 29;2524–2529.

And finally, a paper on data mining and analysis of Twitter threads.
Purohit H, Hampton A, Shalin VL, Sheth AP, John Flach J, Bhatt S (2013) What kind of #conversation is Twitter? Mining #psycholinguistic cues for emergency coordination. Computers in Human Behavior, 29;2438–2447.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Comment: on Open Access

I know that what I will say is going against the main stream, but alternative points of view are important as well. As we can all see by the incredible number of new Open Access journals flourishing daily and harassing scientists and other scholars via filling email boxes with invitation to submit a paper there, Open Access it now very fashionable. And as we can read in Nature, there is a global movement even in funding agencies to promote Open Access, as a wider way to spread scientific results.

Of course, nothing can be said against the fact that, once published, we all would want our results to be accessible as largely as possible.

However, there are some risks as well.
With the former publishing model, in which Authors submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal, the Authors who do the experiments and write the paper do not have to pay more. If accepted, the paper gets published in the journal, and it is readers who will pay via (individual or institutional) subscription, or with a pay-per-view system. I don't want to discuss here the question of the pricing of the subscriptions, which can reach extremely high levels for universities which often have to maintain active tremendously large collections. Money is sparse, so often universities unfortunately have to make choice. But in this "classical" model, the interest of the journal is to only accept the best papers, so the reputation of the journal will stay high, and consumers will be willing to pay to keep their subscription.
With the Open Access model, it is a bit different. Authors submit an article to peer-reviewed journal. But, if the paper is accepted, the Authors have to PAY to make sure that the paper will be in Open Access, meaning freely accessible by anyone anytime. Great, but nothing is free, it is in fact the Authors who pay for that. Meaning, not only the Authors have to do the experiments, to write the paper, and to finally pay to have it published. Given that Reviewers work for free, the money goes all in the journal. I am not saying that the journal does not have fees and people to pay. Nor I am saying that it is a bad system. There are some excellent peer-reviewed Open Access journals, the first names coming in mind being PLoS ONE (which initiated the movement) and the Frontiers series. But still, in such a model, the interest of the journal is not necessary anymore to insure the highest level of publication, but to get the most papers published, since the money is not coming from the copies of the journal purchased (linked to the intrinsic quality of the papers inside the journal and to the overall reputation of the journal), but from the number of papers published. And hence, here is the danger to go for quantity over quality.

Having said that, I myself publish a lot of papers in Open Access journals, so I am not fundamentally against this idea (not at all). Just, I believe we still need to find the optimal way to articulate the Open Access model of publishing with the more traditional systems, in order to keep the quality of published science: only keeping the highest quality for publishing research (whatever the field, whatever the Impact Factor) can pave the way to human progress.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lab Update

Very long time I did not post something, sorry ... A lot of interesting projects going on, which kept me busy from updating. But now, it is really time for a small update !

A lot of good things happened in the lab in the last few months, here is a short summary.

First and foremost, our approach of virtual anthropology to study cyberbehavior and virtual worlds is so far extremely rewarding. We are advancing really well on different directions, and have enough data to launch a few long-term projects (some of them having keep me away from posting and tweeting recently). As a general update, I got elected as a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute a few month ago and got promoted Associate Editor for Computers in Human Behavior (going to be official in the coming days or weeks). I can not stress enough how much I consider that this journal has an amazing potential. It is one of the oldest and clearly most prestigious academic journals on human behavior in virtual spaces, and, in contrast to most of the other journals of the field, it is trully inter-disciplinary. I was already part of the Editorial Board, and I am glad that I will be able to work more to do my best to push the journal forward.

Enough about me, now regarding the lab people ! Dr Anna Lomanowska is going to become Assistant Professor at the School of Psychology June 1st. But nonetheless, her postdoctoral grant to work in my lab got renewed one more year. And Catherine Lortie got the extremely prestigious Alexander Graham Bell grant from the three Research Council of Canada for outstanding students and research projects, which is given only to the 100 best canadian students. Of course, I am lucky to have such good people in my lab. But that also reinforces me in the idea that we should probably be doing good research, and that our working hypothesis go in the good direction.

And indeed, it shows with the publications. Since the last post (wow, was it really in January ? Shame on me !), we got a few more papers published :

Achim A, Guitton M, Jackson P, Boutin A, Monetta L (2013) On what ground do we mentalize? Characteristics of current tasks and sources of information that contribute to mentalizing judgments. Psychological Assessment, 25:117-126.

In fact, this paper was Epub ahead of Print since a good 6 months. But now at least, it is fully published. Worthy of note, it already elicited some comments and debates, which is always a good sign ...

Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2013) Internet addiction assessment tools: dimensional structure and methodological status. Addiction, [7 May 2013, Epub ahead of print].

This paper is going to be a "must-quote", honestly. We performed a in-depth review of the different questionnaires and assessment tools developed so far to evidence Internet addiction, and we attempted to extract from the meta-analysis the general trends of how people in the field actually do perceive Internet addiction. So far, we already got some pretty good feedback. Catherine presented it in Nice at the 21st European Congress of Psychiatry (EPA) and is currently at Toronto presenting it at the Canadian Association for Neuroscience annual meeting.

Guitton MJ (2013) Telemedicine in Tinnitus: Feasibility, Advantages, Limitations and Perspectives. ISRN Otolaryngology, 2013 (2013), Article ID 218265.

With this paper, I am pretty happy. We are now succeeding to apply a bit of what we studied on human behavior in virtual spaces to medical problematics, and particularly to some which are close to my heart. More on this subject is coming soon (we are working on a few projects on tele-medicine in otolaryngology, going to be really interesting !).

And the work I presented at the PCA/ACA meeting a few months ago on the morphological conservation in human-animal hybrids in science fiction and fantasy settings (is our imagination as free as we think it is?) is now accepted for publication in Advances in Anthropology.

On the "molecular" side of our research, we have not been inactive either, with two papers published or accepted since January, both in the extremely prestigious Journal of Neuroscience :

Bories C, Husson Z, Guitton MJ, De Koninck Y (2013) Differential balance of prefrontal synaptic activity in successful versus unsuccessful cognitive aging. Journal of Neuroscience, 33:1344-1356.

and the coming accepted paper :

Arsenault D*, Dal-Pan A*, Tremblay C, Bennett DA, Guitton MJ, De Koninck Y, Tonegawa S, Calon F (Accepted) PAK inactivation impairs social recognition in 3xTg-AD mice without increasing brain deposition of tau and Abeta. Journal of Neuroscience, Accepted.

And, as a final note for this long update post, we are always looking for amazing PhD students and striking post-doctoral fellows to work on our research thematics. I have a lot of idea to explore both virtual worlds and human behavior in these virtual spaces, so do not hesitate to contact me if that sounds appealing to you !

Monday, January 7, 2013

Future of Virtual Worlds


This post is an answer, or a complement to a few other posts. The excellent post of Botgirl Questi ("Virtual worlds is dream over") which summarizes things very well, the also excellent post of Tateru Nino ("That's just plain embarrassing") which launched in the last few days a debate on the "game" aspect of Second Life, and how to classify it, and my own post ("Shrinking of communities in Second Life"), which was intended to be polemical (or at least not fully "politically correct" by being the "Devil's attorney" and mentioning that users too may be somehow guilty of the shrinking of communities in Second Life).

As Botgirl described it extremely well in her post, there is a serious loss of hope in people who were dreaming of a "Metaverse". This came due to two main phenomenon : 1) The numerous issues with Second Life, and 2) the fact that none of the other alternative Second Life-derived grids got enough power to attract a critical mass of users which would be enough to launch a real global movement.

As I wrote in the previous post, it is more than just an issue on platform, it is a way deeper issue, which is: how do we want the Metaverse to be shaped?

What made the success of Second Life was the fact that nobody needed to be a programmer to enter the virtual world, and to become part of it. Sure, some communities of builders emerged, and some individuals did truly amazing work as “builders”, “fashion designers”, “SL photographers” ... but the vast majority of users did not. They simply “lived” their Second Life, rather fully (which explains also the extremely high number of “Adult” oriented SIMs). And what was amazing in Second Life is that NUMEROUS independent communities were co-existing in relative harmony. I believe there is nothing like a “SLebrity”, but there were a lot of “community SLebrities”. Some people in Second Life got famous among some circles (sometimes hundreds, or even thousands, of people) for “blogging” about SL and the Metaverse, but were vastly ignored by a majority of users. Some people from some very strong communities, let's say for instance, the Gorean community, reached a similar status of “Legend”, and were known or heard of by any people in SL Gor, but there name was never mentioned in other communities. In Star Wars Role-Play, some people were known by all (for instance the former leader of the Hutt Council, Darmutta the Hutt), and their words were extremely respected ... but if a Hutt comes into a non-Star Wars SIM, people would probably laugh at him a lot.

This superimposition of various communities was I think a key in Second Life's success. Second Life reached a lot of people. It was revolutionary because it succeeded to reach a lot of people.

The new platforms are not succeeding that so far. One issue I think is that they are mostly doing the same thing than Second Life. Less expensive, more open ... anything goes ... but it is still very similar in a lot of aspects. And, some are less “user-friendly” that Second Life used to be. Without any experience of virtual spaces, you could navigate your way in Second Life almost intuitively. Without previous experience of Second Life, it is in some platform rather complicated to build something …

But the Metaverse is not linked to a single platform. We already had such a discussion few months ago on this blog ("Metaverse, Hyperverse, Cyberverse"). New tools, such as augmented reality, human-machine interfaces ... the possibilities are endless.

An issue still is the “democratic” aspects of virtual worlds. A problem I see in the current avatars of the “Metaverse” is the existence of an “elite” of people travelling from one platform to another (in “platform”, I include blogs and twitter too), very active and very involved. But I fail to see a democratisation of the Metaverse currently. A true Metaverse will emerge and exist only when (much) more users will come and join. A lot of attempts to use the Metaverse for something else than just being there often failed (I think particularly about education ... a lot of places tried to have courses or lectures in Second Life, to conclude that it was easier to do it in normal class or in tele-conference). That does not mean that virtual worlds can not be used for educational purposes. Just, we need to think to that differently (I say that, but I am not claiming to be better than the others nor to have the magical answer on that). Virtual worlds have potential for education, but we did not sized it fully yet. Same goes for a lot of other applications.

So, if the virtual world of Second Life may be not giving us too much hope, in no way would I say that the Metaverse is over. Virtual worlds are the future, I am rather sure of that !

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lab Update: Media Coverage

Some excellent Media Coverage for this New Year !

As expected, the "Virtually Naked: Virtual environment reveals sex-dependent nature of skin disclosure" paper published in PLoS ONE got a lot of media coverage. Some comments were really nice, some less ... but that is due I think to the provocative subject of the paper. However, if people actually READ the paper itself (and not just the press resume), they can see that we were extremely cautious with what we said. Still, a question coming often is : And ? What does that mean ? Well, two answers to that I guess : 1) virtual spaces allowed us to study human behavior without the external (environmental) constraints (and the "social" constraints, even if arguable, but in the paper you can see we did an experiment on this aspect); and 2) it does have important practical implications too. When we will want to design efficient medical virtual spaces, we will need to control for all the parameters of the avatars. Including, how they are named (Guitton MJ (2010) Cross-modal compensation between name and visual aspect in socially active avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1772-1776), how they look like (Giard F, Guitton MJ (2010) Beauty or realism: The dimensions of skin from cognitive sciences to computer graphics. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1748-1752), how they create group according to their appearance (Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, 27:1258-1261 or Lortie CL, MJ Guitton (2012) Looking similar promotes group stability in a game-based virtual community. Games for Health Journal, 1:274-278), how they relate to a community (Guitton MJ (2012) The immersive impact of meta-media in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 450-455 or Guitton MJ (2012) Living in the Hutt Space: Immersive Process in the Star Wars Role-Play community of Second Life. Computers in Human Behavior, 28:1681-1691), or how they dress (this new paper in PLoS ONE). Yes, taken individually, those papers may seems strange, but we need to get the "bigger picture", which is, understanding the multimodal reality of an avatar.

Second nice point : the Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (edited by Prof. Zheng Yan, in which I wrote the Chapter on Cyber Behaviors in Canada) got nominated for the Outstanding Reference Sources Award by the American Library Association ! This award recognizes  and recommends "the most outstanding reference publications of the year for small and medium-sized libraries". Well, the Outstanding Reference Sources Committee still has to do the final review of each title nominated, but still, it is a very positive outcome for this fascinating project. This Encyclopedia also got a really nice review published in Choice Magazine (from the Association for College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association).