Campus news in brief

Deborah Chu, Valene Mezmin Dec 5, 2016

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and IIITD look into preventing selfie-related deaths

With a growing number of deaths involving people taking selfies in hazardous locations, such as on railroad tracks or cliffs, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, India (IIITD), have conducted a new study to look into such accidents in hopes of finding a way to prevent them.

By looking through public records, researchers were able to collect and analyze a list of 127 deaths worldwide that were associated with selfies between March 2014 and Sept. 2016. They then designed a computer program that identifies a selfie as dangerous based on location, image, and text, with 73 percent accuracy.

Ultimately, the goal of the study is to develop an app that would prevent deaths, possibly by warning users of dangerous situations or temporarily disabling a phone’s camera. In addition, the data could be used in a public policy approach, by potentially establishing “no selfie zones” in certain areas and educating the public about dangerous selfie practices.

Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, associate professor at IIITD with a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, explained that if an app were successfully implemented, it could have far-reaching benefits, beyond the scope of selfie-related accidents. For example, augmented reality games such as Pokemon Go can similarly put users at risk by diverting attention away from dangerous situations.

“Every life is precious,” commented Kumaraguru, who launched the study after hearing reports of a selfie-related death. “When you see a problem in society, you find ways to use technology to solve it.”

PROGRESS helps women improve their communication and negotiation skills

A new program at Carnegie Mellon University seeks to help women and girls become better negotiators. It is called the Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society (PROGRESS). Its goal it to help improve women's negotiation skills to help them achieve goals which rely on having good communication skills.

Ayana Ledford, executive director of the nonprofit, believes that there are numerous opportunities for students to negotiate in college. Some examples are negotiating with teachers on assignments or negotiating cleaning responsibilities with a roommate. "As part of the program, women — and also men — will learn how to negotiate, share experiences and learn to apply personal negotiation strategies in a casual environment," Ledford said in a university press release.

PROGRESS is based on the work of Linda Babcock, the James M. Walton Professor of Economics and head of the Social and Decision Sciences department at Carnegie Mellon. Babcock co-authored the book "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide," which includes her research on the art of negotiation and explores how this affects women. Babcock believes that better negotiation skills can help women close the gender wage gap and earn as much money as their male colleagues.

PROGRESS has recently created a toolkit for university students which provides them with materials to create clubs to improve their negotiation skills. Participants can also serve as mentors for girls in economically disadvantaged communities.