SciTech Roundup, Oct. 11

CMU Research Roundup

What an Uber trip really costs
Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft have taken heat for being pricier than other transportation options. But what about their costs to society? This was the question that members of Carnegie Mellon's Vehicle Electrification Group aimed to address in a paper titled "Air Pollution, Greenhouse Gas, and Traffic Externality Benefits and Costs of Shifting Private Vehicle Travel to Ridesourcing Services." They found that the vehicles of these companies would not have to start the engine as often and also were newer and built to more stringent pollution standards than the average car. However, they also found that because drivers spend so much time driving between passengers and waiting for passengers, fuel consumption is about 20 percent higher than an average personal vehicle. As a result, they found that while an Uber or Lyft trip can reduce air pollution costs by nine to 13 cents per trip, the greenhouse gases, traffic congestion, and noise costs society 45 cents per trip. The team encouraged those taking Uber or Lyft trips to take pooled rides whenever possible to offset the cost.

The benefits of active learning, and how to implement it
Active learning is said to be better than passive or traditional lecture-based learning, but what does active learning really look like? Researchers from Carnegie Mellon's Human Computer Interaction Institute worked with those from other universities to compile their studies on what active learning looks like in a wide range of situations. In the studies, the researchers implemented active learning through physical activity, AI-based applications, "playful learning landscapes," and less structured activities like outings and play. Studies also found that students believed they learned more through traditional learning methods when in fact they learned better with active learning. Another study found that active learning can also reduce the difference in academic performance between students in minority and majority socioeconomic and ethnic groups.

Optimizing treatment for Parkinson's Disease
A team from Carnegie Mellon's Gittis Lab is looking into ways to extend the short-lived benefits of current treatment options for Parkinson's Disease. The treatment method in question is deep brain stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes implanted in the brain send electrical signals to the global pallidus, a part of the brain that controls movement. However, the effects of the treatment, which is control of unwanted movement, disappear immediately after DBS. The researchers looked into targeting specific groups of neurons in the global pallidus with short bursts of electrical stimulation and found that their treatment method seemed to provide benefits that lasted at least four times longer than those of conventional DBS.

National SciTech Headlines

Facebook and Instagram crash
Facebook and all its related products (including Instagram, Messenger, Oculus, and WhatsApp) were down for six hours on Monday due to what was supposed to be routine maintenance that disconnected all of Facebook's data centers from the internet. As the servers were unreachable, Facebook employees were unable to access the tools they would typically use to resolve the problem, prolonging the outage.
Once they were able to reconnect the data centers to the internet, they gradually resumed services in a rollout to prevent crashes that would occur if all services resumed at the same time. During the period that Facebook was down, users turned to Twitter to resume posting on social media.

Facebook whistleblower testifies before Senate, armed with thousands of company documents
Former Facebook data scientist for the Civic Integrity team Frances Haugen, testified before the Senate on Oct. 5, arguing that Facebook did little to stop the harm that it did in misinformation and toxic content. But what makes her testimony more powerful than those who came before is that she amassed thousands of company documents during her time at Facebook that supports her case. Her testimony reveals that Facebook targeted teens, exploited their insecurities, and misstated and misportrayed its software’s harmfulness to its users.

Twitch hacked, with big consequences
Video game and entertainment streaming company Twitch was hacked, with 125 GB of its entire source code, creator payout reports, and other data from properties Twitch owns posted to anonymous comment board 4chan on Oct. 6. The poster said the reason behind the leak was to foster disruption in their belief that the Twitch community was "a disgusting toxic cesspool.” Security experts recommend changing Twitch passwords and turning on two-factor authentication.