Kenshō, ‘the antithesis of Goop,’ launches a research-based guide to natural medicine – gpgmail


Goop is cashing in on pseudoscience and, in the process, giving natural health practices a bad name. Krista Berlincourt, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a new startup, Kenshō Health, hopes she can take back the narrative.

“We’re the antithesis of Goop,” Berlincourt, a fintech veteran who previously led marketing and product at Simple Finance, tells gpgmail. “What we are creating is less of a consumer magazine. We are a holistic health platform that approaches things as more of a holistic health medical journal — everything is backed by science.”

Kenshō, launching today, is an invite-only subscription-based platform for holistic healthcare providers to list their services and share knowledge. The startup has also collected information to construct a research-backed guide to holistic health, something the team believes has been missing from the natural health sector.

Berlincourt and Kenshō co-founder Danny Steiner, who previously worked at NBC Universal, Conde Nast and Hulu before pivoting to health and wellness, have raised $1.3 million in seed funding from Crosscut, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, and Female Founders Fund. The pair, based in the LA area, have both suffered from chronic illnesses that had them in and out of doctor’s offices for years.

“I had two years of working with a team of incredible Western physicians and then I had a crash that landed me in the ER. That’s when I realized, OK, this isn’t working,” Berlincourt said. “When you’re caring for yourself or someone you love, there are standards. I am focused on elevating and creating those standards in a way that can be better advised.”

The global wellness economy represented a $4.2 trillion market in 2017, according to The Global Wellness Institute, as subcategories like personalized medicine, healthy eating and fitness/mind-body accelerate growth.

Kenshō, nestled in the personalized and complementary medicine category, says it ensures all of the care providers featured on its platform are 100% validated. Before being allowed to list their services, providers complete a background check and their provider credentials are verified. Kenshō then affirms the providers use research-backed methods and that they have vetted peer references and clients who can provide positive feedback.

Kenshō’s launch features providers from Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University and more.

“When you look at health as a whole today in the U.S., we only treat the physical,” Berlincourt explains. “The reason that is destructive is 70% of death is premature and lifestyle related. We are dying faster and people are dying more quickly, generally speaking, as the world turns.”

Many, of course, are skeptical of natural care practices because they can be untested or dependent on unscientific principles. Additionally, holistic care often forces patients to pay out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, patients across the globe are turning to non-traditional methods.

”There’s been a massive shift in the zeitgeist in the way people look at health,” she adds. “One in three people have paid for supplemental care out of pocket from a holistic health provider.”


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This ‘ultragentle’ robotic gripper collects fragile marine life – gpgmail


The creatures of the depths live in a very different world — one lethal to us. But our world is lethal to them as well, all sharp edges and rapid movements. If we’re to catch and learn about the soft-bodied denizens of the deep, our machines too must be soft — and that’s what this Harvard robotics research is all about.

Collection of samples from the deep ocean is a difficult task to do safely: Although these animals are subject to pressures and temperatures well beyond what any surface creature could handle, they are nevertheless very easily damaged by handling. Existing methods to collect them for study often involve sucking them into little containers that are kept pressurized and brought to the surface. But it would be nice to be able to snatch an intriguing critter up and inspect it in vivo, wouldn’t it?

To that end researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have been working on simpler, safer ways to entrap these creatures temporarily, letting them go seconds or minutes later once the collector has gotten some good images or (I don’t know) sampled some mucus.

A little more than a year ago, they created an “underwater Pokeball,” a kind of soft geodesic form that could close around something like a jelly or drifting fish. But even with that kind of method, there’s still the possibility that it could get squished during closure.

So they continued their work, pursuing instead “noodle-like appendages” that, when not activated, are as pliable and harmless as cooked spaghetti, or rather fettuccine considering their shape.

Each “finger” is made of an “elastic yet tough silicone matrix,” and inside it are tiny fibers that remain slack when not in use, but which can be stiffened using a tiny amount of hydraulic pressure. This causes the whole finger to bend in a specific direction, in this case inwards at the same time as the others, scooping whatever is in their range into the soft 3D-printed “palm.” The grip is soft enough that it won’t harm the creature, but firm enough that it can’t just wriggle out.

 

Sinatra et al. / Science Robotics

At that point the researchers are free to do what they wish, though presumably after taking such care to catch the animal unharmed, they won’t be doing anything too rough with it.

There are few limitations on the size or length of the fingers, meaning they can be customized for different operations. The device you see pictured was made to be effective in catching common jellies, but the whole thing could easily be scaled up or down to handle bigger or smaller animals.

Of course the whole thing can be attached to a submersible, but it’s small and simple enough that it can also be made into a handheld gadget for manual sampling, should that what a given researcher prefers. They put together a prototype and “demonstrated the use of this hand-held soft gripper to successfully perform gentle grasping of three canonical jellyfish species.”

Here’s hoping this means less shredded jellies in our oceans, and perhaps one day you’ll be able to rent such a grabber while snorkeling and have a chance to examine fragile marine life closely without having to grab it with your hands (not recommended).

The researchers’ work was published today in the journal Science Robotics.


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How ‘ghost work’ in Silicon Valley pressures the workforce, with Mary Gray – gpgmail


The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically.

It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point.

This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems?

Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results.

It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology.

Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass. 

Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography

Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation.

In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do.

Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO.

Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards.

But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth.

Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do.

But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang.

I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem.

Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it.

Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions.

It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.


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These robo-shorts are the precursor to a true soft exoskeleton – gpgmail


When someone says “robotic exoskeleton,” the power loaders from Aliens are what come to mind for most people (or at least me), but the real things will be much different: softer, smarter, and used for much more ordinary tasks. The latest such exo from Harvard is so low-profile you could wear it around the house.

Designed by researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute (in collaboration with several other institutions), which focuses on soft robotics and bio-inspired mechanisms, the exosuit isn’t for heavy lifting or combating xenomorphs but simply walking and running a little bit more easily.

The suit, which is really more of a pair of shorts with a mechanism attached at the lower back and cables going to straps on the legs, is intended to simply assist the leg in its hip-extension movement, common to most forms of locomotion.

An onboard computer (and neural network, naturally) detects the movements of the wearer’s body and determines both the type of gait (walking or running) and what phase of that gait the leg is currently in. It gives the leg making the movement a little boost, making it just that much easier to do it.

In testing, the suit reduced the metabolic load of walking by 9.3 percent and running by 4 percent. That might not sound like much, but they weren’t looking to create an Olympic-quality cyborg — just show reliable gains from a soft, portable exosuit.

“While the metabolic reductions we found are modest, our study demonstrates that it is possible to have a portable wearable robot assist more than just a single activity, helping to pave the way for these systems to become ubiquitous in our lives,” said lead study author Conor Walsh in a news release.

The whole idea, then, is to leave behind the idea of an exosuit as a big mechanical thing for heavy industry or work, and bring in the idea that one could help an elderly person stand up from a chair, or someone recovering from an accident walk farther without fatigue.

The whole device, shorts and all, weighs about 5 kilograms, or 11 pounds. Most of that is in the little battery and motor pack stashed at the top of the shorts, near the body’s center of mass, helping it feel lighter than it is.

Of course this is the kind of thing the military is very interested in — not just for active duty (a soldier who can run twice as far or fast) but for treatment of the wounded. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this came out of a DARPA project initiated years ago (and ongoing in other forms).

But by far the more promising applications are civilian, in the medical field and beyond. “We are excited to continue to apply it to a range of applications, including assisting those with gait impairments, industry workers at risk of injury performing physically strenuous tasks, or recreational weekend warriors,” said Walsh.

Currently the team is hard at work improving the robo-shorts, reducing the weight, making the assistance more powerful and more intuitive, and so on. The paper describing their system was the cover story of this week’s edition of the journal Science.


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Why AI needs more social workers, with Columbia University’s Desmond Patton – gpgmail


Sometimes it does seem the entire tech industry could use someone to talk to, like a good therapist or social worker. That might sound like an insult, but I mean it mostly earnestly: I am a chaplain who has spent 15 years talking with students, faculty, and other leaders at Harvard (and more recently MIT as well), mostly nonreligious and skeptical people like me, about their struggles to figure out what it means to build a meaningful career and a satisfying life, in a world full of insecurity, instability, and divisiveness of every kind.

In related news, I recently took a year-long paid sabbatical from my work at Harvard and MIT, to spend 2019-20 investigating the ethics of technology and business (including by writing this column at gpgmail). I doubt it will shock you to hear I’ve encountered a lot of amoral behavior in tech, thus far.

A less expected and perhaps more profound finding, however, has been what the introspective founder Prayag Narula of LeadGenius tweeted at me recently: that behind the hubris and Machiavellianism one can find in tech companies is a constant struggle with anxiety and an abiding feeling of inadequacy among tech leaders.

In tech, just like at places like Harvard and MIT, people are stressed. They’re hurting, whether or not they even realize it.

So when Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society recently posted an article whose headline began, “Why AI Needs Social Workers…”… it caught my eye.

The article, it turns out, was written by Columbia University Professor Desmond Patton. Patton is a Public Interest Technologist and pioneer in the use of social media and artificial intelligence in the study of gun violence. The founding Director of Columbia’s SAFElab and Associate Professor of Social Work, Sociology and Data Science at Columbia University.

desmond cropped 800x800

Desmond Patton. Image via Desmond Patton / Stern Strategy Group

A trained social worker and decorated social work scholar, Patton has also become a big name in AI circles in recent years. If Big Tech ever decided to hire a Chief Social Work Officer, he’d be a sought-after candidate.

It further turns out that Patton’s expertise — in online violence & its relationship to violent acts in the real world — has been all too “hot” a topic this past week, with mass murderers in both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio having been deeply immersed in online worlds of hatred which seemingly helped lead to their violent acts.

Fortunately, we have Patton to help us understand all of these issues. Here is my conversation with him: on violence and trauma in tech on and offline, and how social workers could help; on deadly hip-hop beefs and “Internet Banging” (a term Patton coined); hiring formerly gang-involved youth as “domain experts” to improve AI; how to think about the likely growing phenomenon of white supremacists live-streaming barbaric acts; and on the economics of inclusion across tech.

Greg Epstein: How did you end up working in both social work and tech?

Desmond Patton: At the heart of my work is an interest in root causes of community-based violence, so I’ve always identified as a social worker that does violence-based research. [At the University of Chicago] my dissertation focused on how young African American men navigated violence in their community on the west side of the city while remaining active in their school environment.

[From that work] I learned more about the role of social media in their lives. This was around 2011, 2012, and one of the things that kept coming through in interviews with these young men was how social media was an important tool for navigating both safe and unsafe locations, but also an environment that allowed them to project a multitude of selves. To be a school self, to be a community self, to be who they really wanted to be, to try out new identities.


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