Daily Archives: January 29, 2020

Medicare chooses to cover acupuncture for pain in the midst of an opioid crisis – NewsDio

Posted: January 29, 2020 at 9:49 pm

Medicare said this month that it would cover acupuncture for people with chronic low back pain, seeking to give patients alternatives to potentially addictive narcotic pain relievers.On January 21, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a national coverage determination for this treatment. For coverage purposes, people must have had chronic low back pain that has persisted for at least 12 weeks or more, the agency said. This pain should not have an identifiable cause, such as infections, diseases, surgery and pregnancy.

Under these circumstances, CMS will cover up to 12 visits in 90 days. The agency said it will cover eight additional sessions for those patients who demonstrate improvement. There is a limit of 20 acupuncture treatments covered per year. Treatment should be discontinued if patients show no improvement, CMS said."We are taking advantage of important lessons learned from the private sector in this critical aspect of patient care," Kimberly Brandt, Chief Deputy Administrator of Operations and Policies at CMS said in the announcement. "Excessive dependence on opioids for people with chronic pain is one of the factors that led to the crisis, so it is vital that we offer a variety of treatment options for our beneficiaries."

In the decision memorandum, CMS said insurers, including Aetna, several Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente and United Healthcare plans provide some acupuncture coverage. The agency said the relative safety of acupuncture and the serious consequences of the opioid crisis in the United States provided "sufficient reasons to provide this non-drug treatment" to people enrolled in Medicare who have chronic low back pain.

"While a small number of adults 65 years or older have enrolled in published acupuncture studies, patients with chronic low back pain in these studies showed improvements in function and pain," CMS said.Round Trip ProblemIn the decision memorandum, CMS said it had reflected and then, in 1980, rejected the idea of covering acupuncture. In 2004, CMS considered acupuncture for fibromyalgia but found no convincing evidence of this benefit. In that same year, CMS also reached the same conclusion about the use of acupuncture to relieve pain in patients with osteoarthritis.

CMS also noted in the memo that many groups and individuals had written to the agency in support of Medicare acupuncture coverage, and patients often included personal pain relief reports.But some commenters told CMS that acupuncture was a "pseudoscience," with positive results described in some report probably due to the placebo effect.Among the critics of the proposal was Steven L. Salzberg, PhD, director of the Center for Computational Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He told CMS that he was concerned about the use of taxpayers' money to cover acupuncture."No well-designed study has shown that it has any benefit beyond a placebo effect, and scientifically there is no serious debate about its effectiveness," Salzberg said in his comment sent to CMS in January 2019. "Simply put, I don't work , and patients who believe in acupuncture are being deceived. Testimonies such as those in the comments here do not include evidence. "

Salzberg confirmed to Medscape Medical News on Tuesday that it remains his point of view.

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

. (tagsToTranslate) acupuncture (t) traditional Chinese medicine (t) alternative medicine / complementary medicine (t) alternative treatment (t) medicine (alternative / complementary) (t) pain (t) chronic back pain (t) back pain ( chronic) (t) chronic pain (back) (t) chronic pain (t) elderly / elderly concerns (t) geriatrics (elderly care) (t) opioids (t) pain (pain management) (t) management from pain

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Medicare chooses to cover acupuncture for pain in the midst of an opioid crisis - NewsDio

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I Went to a High-End Psychedelic Retreat to Address My Anxiety – VICE

Posted: at 9:49 pm

On a Saturday afternoon last year, I sat in a 100-year-old renovated church in Zandvoort, a coastal town in The Netherlands, and ate about 30 milligrams of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

This was out of character. I haven't taken drugs since my early 20s. I relish the feeling of being in absolute control, and recoil at uncertainty. Handing over my brain and sense of reality to a fungus was terrifying. And yet I had come to a legal psilocybin retreat to do just that.

For the past year or so, Ive been reporting on the resurgence of psychedelic research. People with treatment-resistant depression, addiction, and terminal illness-related anxiety have been finding what sounds like incredible relief from these drugs. As someone with anxiety and OCD, I was curious if mushrooms could release me from maladaptive habits, and the ruminating thoughts that seem to stay with me no matter how many years of therapy I do.

I was not alone in my intention; the 14 others at the retreat didnt travel from all over the world to take shrooms recreationally. During our introductions, many talked about wanting an improved mental quality of life, accessing higher levels of spirituality, or finding ways to address a feeling that something was missing. About half had never taken psychedelics, and had no interest in doing so until reading about the resurgence of psychedelic medicine in outlets like The New Yorker or The Economist. Nearly everyone mentioned being influenced by journalist Michael Pollans recent book, How to Change Your Mind, a best-seller that chronicles the recent spike in research.

Psychedelics may be infiltrating the educated elites reading lists, but taking these drugs in a formal setting with doctors administering them is still difficult. The trials in the U.K. have thousands of people on their waiting lists, including people who already participated and want to do it again, said Rosalind Watts, a psychologist at Imperial College London's psilocybin depression study. At the end of every lecture I give, there is a line of people saying, I really need to try this. Where can I go? Watts told me.

In the face of this demand, psychedelic retreats are stepping in to fill the gap. They are scattered around the world, usually in places with legal loopholes. In the Netherlands, for example, trufflesthe base of the mushroomare legal, and thats what we consumed.

I went to a retreat called Synthesis. It cost $2,000 for three days (they waived my fee, and VICE paid only for the transportation to and from Amsterdam). It provided impeccably designed, modern accommodationswith a sauna, vegetarian chef, and an ever-flowing supply of herbal teas. The retreat consisted of one day of preparation, one day when we took the truffles, and a day dedicated to integration, or processing our experience. There were four facilitators to guide 15 clients, and two of them were licensed mental health clinicians. There was a medic present on the day of our trip.

The Lighthouse interior. Courtesy of Synthesis.

Retreats are advertised as places for mental transformation and growth. But the experience at a retreat can be very different from a clinical trial. There is no precedent for what a psychedelic retreat is "supposed" to be, or what kind of support its required to provide. Synthesis is on the responsible and safe end of the spectrum; there are other retreats with no trained psychologists or doctors, where facilitators take mushrooms with their attendees. Some completely lack sufficient screening for more serious mental health disorders.

As psychedelics continue to shed their dated, Nixon-era reputation, a new generation of interested users will seek these drugs out. They are people like me: nervous about taking psychedelics illegally or unsupervised, not necessarily interested in the recreational effects, but excited about the medical promise. Within this group will also be people (like me) with varying levels of mental health disorders, who have come across ongoing psychedelic research and cant or won't wait for regulatory approval.

As such, retreats risk becoming a testing ground for unresolved questions around these drugs as treatment: How much support does a person need during a trip intended for mental healing? Should that support come from psychologists and psychiatristsor shamans? Is it better to take these drugs in groups, or alone? Whats the right dose? What about microdosing? Is a medical trip different from a recreational one? Is there a way to predict who will have a difficult trip?

I went to Synthesis not only to see what mushrooms could do for my life, but to ask what the looming psychedelic wellness movement will look likenot just in a clinical context, but as a burgeoning form of medical tourism and DIY mental healthcare.

Over the three days, I did observe others having the kind of transcendent moments I had read so much about. But what I went through was something different. My trip was not fun. It was highly emotional, painful, and at moments, approached being deeply therapeuticbut perhaps not as much as it could have.

Im far too anxious to have ever considered going to a different kind of retreatsay, an ayahuasca retreat in the Brazilian jungle somewhere. That kind of retreat is centuries old, and steeped in cultural meaning, but also includes vomiting, sleeping outside, and eating unfamiliar foods. Synthesis was different: It had amenities. Showers. A bed. Fruit-infused water. A Dutch chef named Lotta, who brought in bushels of organic produce each morning.

Synthesis is the first wave of a new kind of psychedelic retreat. It aligns its mission with burgeoning science and research projects, not just the mystical. Synthesis copies many of the practices at Imperial College Londonone of the worlds best medical centers working on psychedelicswhen administering psilocybin, and collaborates with researchers there, providing data on the experiences of people who take psychedelics in group settings. But this creates a somewhat confusing hybrid. Is it a spa? A vacation? A research study? A doctors appointment? A therapy session?

This new breed of retreat is still substantially different from an actual research trial. At Imperial, for example, participants go through an extensive screening process, where they discuss their mental health, and also their childhoods and past trauma, which starts to build trust with the therapists, Watts told me. There are about five hours of one-on-one preparation with a therapist. Subjects take psilocybin twice, with two guides assigned to each person, usually a psychologist and psychiatrist. There are two hours of integration following each dose, and three follow-up Skype calls, each an hour long.

Watts acknowledged that not everyone needs that. The retreat setting is in a group, with less prep time and individualized attention,which could be fine for most people. "But some people might need more," Watts said. "Certainly for people that have a history of lifelong depression, then they for sure would need a lot more than that.

I met Gemma, a 31-year-old designer who lives in Portland, in the car that brought us from the train station in Amsterdam to Zandvoort. She later told me that she has had depression since she was a teenager. From 18 to 28 she was on and off a variety of antidepressants.

Many of the newer psychedelic retreats don't recommend that those with serious mental health issues attend. At Synthesis, every participant has to complete a health screener ahead of time. Myles Katz, co-founder of Synthesis, told me they turn away about half of the people who apply.

Synthesis's medical screener asked Gemma about depression, and when she was open about her history, they asked her some follow up questions about her mental health. But I dont really know where I am mentally, to be honest, she said. I go to work every day. I go out and socialize. Im not in bed every day and I have not been institutionalized. However, I have lived feeling this way for so long that I am in this space where I get used to the way I am.

Though retreats are technically for so-called "healthy normals," on every psilocybin retreat website I looked at, including Synthesis, they advertise themselves as places of mental healing. (Along with a due-diligence caveat saying that they are not providing official medical care.) Your body and mind knows how to heal itself; psilocybin allows us to trust ourselves again, Truffles Therapy in Mexico wrote. The only requirement is your willingness to surrender your ideas and let nature do what she does best.

Buena Vida retreat, also in Mexico:

"Do you find that your regimen of mental health, therapy & SSRI medication is just helping you 'get by' but not truly BREAK THROUGH?Have you suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD for so longyou cant even remember feeling good?Those looking to heal chronic depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of creativity, PTSD or even simply a lack of purpose in their lives are sure to benefit from a safe session with psilocybin mushrooms.

This framing can end up attracting people who have mental illness histories. As Gemma approached 30, she started to explore natural and alternative medicines, seeing naturopaths and getting into yoga and supplements. Her naturopath asked if she had heard of microdosing, and she started to read about psychedelics, right around the time Michael Pollans book came out. One Friday night, home alone, she came across the Synthesis website.

I was like, Oh my god, this is amazing. You read about all this stuff, but heres a place I can go and I can do this, she said. People say it was almost like this cure for depression. I know it doesnt specifically say that on the website, but you read so many positive things and it starts to make sense. I was like, I have to do this. I remember feeling a real sense of like, Wow, my future could be so much different.

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We were welcomed to The Lighthouse, as the renovated church is called, by our guides, Adam, Valerie, James, and Odin. They were dressed, as one might have expected, in flowy clothes, and had peaceful, earthy vibes.

Adam, an American yoga instructor and certified Reiki Master who lives in Berlin, was our lead facilitator. Valerie, a regal brunette from Oakland, is an LMFT from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy certification program; CIIS trainees go to retreats for hands-on experience as part of their curriculum. Valerie and James, a British man with a low ponytail and a gentle voice, were the only licensed therapists at the retreat.

Shortly after arriving, I milled around the cavernous kitchen and living space, saying awkward, earnest hellos to the other guests. (For their privacy, and so as not to interfere with the effects of the program, I am only including testimonies of those who consented to interviews two weeks after the retreat itself.)

On our day of "preparation," time stretched out long in front of me, and I itched from anticipation. We talked as a group about our intentions, and the following days plans, or as Adam called it, our Flight Instructions.

There was a lot of emphasis on leaning in to anything that we might experience. Adam said to trust, let go, and be open. If we were looking for a mantra, he suggested that we breathe in to Let, and exhale to go. He assured us there was no such thing as a bad tripanything that happened would teach us something.

The next day, we enacted a kind of tea ceremony, crushing truffles with a mortar and pestle along with lemon and ginger. We went to the "ceremony room," a large white room with a skylight and heated floors. There were mattresses for us to lie on, blankets, and eye shadesto encourage an internal, introspective journey (this is what most research protocols call for as well). My hands were shaking as I drank the mushroom tea and spooned the mashed up truffles from the bottom of the teapot into my mouth. I lay back, and put my eye shade on.

The ceremony room. Courtesy of Synthesis.

The first hour was completely physically overwhelming. It was as if I was in a kaleidoscope that someone was shaking rapidly. I felt dizzy and panicked. At one point, I opened my eyes and saw Adam sitting next to me. It must have been obvious that I was distressed because he put his hands over menot touching me, but doing Reiki. It felt hot, painful, and I didn't like it. I tried to push his hands away, and he told me to breathe and lean into it. This had the opposite effect of being calming: I became frantic, and it was suddenly urgent for me that someone else sit with me instead of him.

The day before, Valerie had told me that if I started to feel overwhelmed, I could look for her. I asked Adam if he could get her, and he told me that she had gone to lunch.

I couldnt understand how that was possible. For a moment, I thought I had hallucinated it, which terrified me. I was no longer sure of what was going on around me. I couldn't figure out where I was, or how long it had beenand it was all rooted in a confusion around Valerie leaving to go out to eat. (I found out later that all the guides were taking quick 20-minute lunch breaks.) I thought that my brain was hiding her from me, that it was my own fault that I couldnt see the one person who could help me. I existed inside this despair, self-hatred, and confusion for what felt like hours.

Eventually, Valerie did return from her break, and when she sat down next to me, I started to cry. I wanted her to hold my hand or touch me so that I could know, even with my eyes closed, that she was there, but couldn't figure out how to ask for that.

After some undetermined amount of time, I managed to request if we could leave the ceremony room for a break from the music playing over the speakers, which I found to be overpowering. We went into the living and dining room, where Lotta, the chef, was chopping food.

Listening to a woman preparing food, and feeling reunited with Valerie, my mind started to dwell on my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmotherthe matriarchal line of women in my family. My mom is Chinese and grew up during the Cultural Revolution. I had spent time in therapy before talking about the trauma she went through and my relationship to it. But on shrooms, I started to experience this in a tangible way that I never have before.

I felt literally connected to all of my female relatives, and started to think about the stories that I had heard about their childhoods and lives. Snippets came and wentmy great grandmother running her dumpling shop, and then being forced to become a maid for her husbands family. My grandmother running away from home at 12 and living alone in the attic of a library. My grandmother in the labor camps during the Cultural Revolution. My mother's nanny stealing food during the Great Starvation.

With my brain going in and out of Communist China, I told Valerie about my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother. I felt the searing loneliness of their neglect, and the starkness of them having to push aside everything except their survival.

But while I was experiencing all of this, I also had some level of understanding that I was not supposed to be out of the ceremony room. Valerie was not supposed to be only sitting with me. She was one of four people there to take care of 15. I was taking her away from the group who also needed to be taken care of.

In a moment of lucidity, I looked through the window at the backyard and saw Gemma, sitting and cryingshe looked distraught. I felt horribly guilty for taking away one of the people there to help her. That knowledge made my journey harderand even more so since I was grappling with the themes of care, and my often-suppressed desire for others to take care of me. Here I was asking for care, but knowing deep down that I was asking for too much given the context that I was in.

While I spent most of the day crying, Christopher, a 50-year-old from Monterey, California, spent it laughing. He said the mushrooms told him he had spent too much of his life crying and now it was time to laugh, and not feel guilty. In his journal he wrote, Im just going to laugh the whole time. I fucking deserve it.

Even within that pleasure, family history came up for him. I realized very vividly that my mother is living inside me, and not only is she living inside me, but the people that live inside of her are in me as well," he saida sentiment that reminded me of my own journey. Another line from his journal read: I wonder what a fun childhood is like.

Two weeks after our trip, Christopher noticed some subtle changes in his life. He used to react intensely to adverse circumstances, but now finds himself pausing before he responds. He said he felt a greater sense of connection to peopleeven those he doesnt know. He was not the kind of person to marvel at the interconnectedness of all things before, but said that now, the instinct to do so came easily. Im not talking about a massive transformation that has occurred and Im changed forever, Christopher said. Its a slight shift. Its opened up new ways of looking at things and ways of behaving and ways of responding.

Ed was 72 when at Synthesis, and is 73 now. Hes a lawyer in Manhattan who had tried to get into meditation, but there was always some block that he couldnt get over. I thought that this was an enabler to get me over that, he said. All of the answers in the material world werent enough. I thought, there has to be more, but I hadnt found the more yet.

Ed also left Synthesis with a great sense of connection. I had a sense of knowing, surety, and a sense of peace and great comfort that there is a unity between me, other people, nature, and the world, he said. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for just being alive in this place. Gratitude for others, and love.

During his trip, he told me he went to the Ganges with a guru, and conducted a symphony, hallucinations he experienced in a dream-like fashion.There was so much joy during the course of the journey, he said. "It was this happiness and joyfulness that had been buried for so many years inside of me. And it was all coming out. There was this big smile on my face, and the experience of ecstatic joy it was overwhelming.

The ceremony room. Courtesy of Synthesis.

Gemma's experience was more like mine. She saw some visuals at the beginning, swirling nature-like things, that made her smile. But after awhile, she wasnt completely sure where she was, and was feeling physically very uncomfortable. You know that kind of feeling before you get a bug," she said. "You wake up in the middle of the night and youre like, somethings wrong with my body. Im going to be ill.

At the start of the ceremony, Gemma tried to let go. But it wasnt clicking. I kept saying to myself, 'Your body will only give you what you can handle.' And, 'What are you trying to teach me?' I wasnt getting any of those answers," she said. "Did I have a bad trip? I didnt see myself dying. I wasnt terrified or having horrible visions. I was just quite fearful and anxious.

Out of our group, only Gemma and I had trips that I would define as "difficult." Is it because we both had pre-existing mental health issues? From Watts qualitative work, shes found that there is a difference between groups of people that do psychedelics who have psychiatric or traumatic history. It makes sense that you have to go through those layers first, she said.

People take psychedelics every day and dont have licensed therapists with them. We dont require that everyone at Burning Man bring their therapist when they take a tab of LSD. But these retreats are not just another place for recreational use. They are intentionally set up for people to have deep and healing experiences, and by doing so, could be attracting people with mental health concerns that they want to heal. And in that setting, shouldn't there be someone present who is an expert at dealing with that?

A retreat in Jamaica, Mycomeditations, says on its website that while it confers with clinical psychologists and therapists before and after retreats, there is not always a therapist present. Also, about half of the facilitators take mushrooms with the guests. They have identified as their [sic] 'sweet spot,' as they are able to empathize and assist with guests who are in the mushroom space more effectively, the site reads. Synthesis does not allow their facilitators to take psilocybin, and is against the practice. What's considered acceptable from retreat to retreat can vary widely.

Psychedelics Today, which interviewed the owners of Mycomeditations multiple times on its podcast, recently released a statement withdrawing its support of the retreat, saying that The team seems to have great intentions, but there are some missing pieces around safety that have made us not willing to endorse the company any further.

An embittered discussion ensued on Psychedelics Today's Facebook page from people who had gone to the retreat and had different experiences. Some felt that the retreat was accepting people who were too vulnerable and werent able to provide the proper support, and others had incredible and healing experiences.

Katherine MacLean, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins who volunteered as a facilitator on a Mycomeditations retreat, said that she witnessed one to two potential medical emergencies on each of the two retreats she went to, including several hours of severe vomiting and diarrheabeyond what she said is normally seen with mushroomsand one person who lost consciousness and fell, hitting their head on concrete.

Also, the retreats accept people who are at significant risk of harm, including people with physical and psychological conditions that would almost always be excluded from other remote psychedelic or meditation retreats, and certainly screened out of clinical trials. She became uncomfortable offering prep and integration support for people with extreme depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance dependence ... and voiced my concerns about taking on such serious and vulnerable cases.

A founder of Psychedelics Today, Kyle Buller, said that when he went to Mycomeditations, people took the mushrooms out in an open field. "Everybody was invited to bring their own music and you know, sometimes it just felt really loose," he said. Some of the facilitators were great even though they were under the influence. They did a really great job holding space, but sometimes I would wonder, whose experience is this? Is this the facilitator's trip or is this the participant's trip?

Matthew Johnson, a psychiatrist and the associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, said that though he believes deeply in the promise of psychedelic therapy, he cannot recommend any retreat in good conscience because of the wide amount of variability and lack of professional oversight. He said that these drugs are generally pretty safe, but there are still risks. In a clinical setting theyre best equipped to handle those risksbe they physical or mental.

Further, he worries about what impacts a rise in retreats might have on ongoing research. If no one is guiding what they're doing, bad outcomes or experiences could color the reputation of the science that's taking place.

You dont have to go far back into the history of psychedelics to find examples of dosing gone wrong, he said. Im pretty obsessed with the lessons from the past in this area, and Im doing my best to shape the field so that we continue to absorb those lessons, Johnson told me. There were so many dimensions where boundaries become blurred surrounding psychedelics. Were concerned about it. Like, if the law passes in Oregon and some life coach is overseeing a session and someone runs out and gets hurt, people will say, oh that psychedelic research is not so safe.

I asked Johnson if a potential solution would be to separate out people like Gemma and meprovide different levels of supportso that I could have had a personor twowith me the whole time. He's not sure. He said that even if we could create a delineation between healthy and unhealthy people, theres still a certain amount of unpredictability.

"Youve got to be driven by the higher need for care, Johnson said. Thats why in the clinical setting there are psychologists and psychiatrists who have built relationships with their patients, and are experienced with trauma, depression, and anxiety.

He recalled a psilocybin study he conducted with participants who were experienced meditators; people with tens of thousands of hours of meditation under their belts. Youd think this person has all of their ducks in a row, you know?" he said. "Like, theyve sorted out their childhood issues and whatnot. Well, guess again. This stuff comes up with any human being, even without an explicit history of trauma. Were complex and I personally think that every human being has some level of unresolved trauma, whether its diagnosable or not. I don't think theres a person alive where you could say, 'Yeah, theyre going to have a high dose of a psychedelic and no deep issues are going to come up. I dont think that person exists.' Humans are very deep.

Right after my weekend at Synthesis, I went to Berlin for a conference on psychedelic medicine hosted by the MIND European Foundation for Psychedelic Science. One panel discussion was titled: Therapists versus Healers: Requirements for Training and Personality of Psychedelic Therapists. Predictably, the clinicians on the panel felt that some kind of official training was important to guide a person on a trip, while "healers," like an experienced mediator, felt it was notthat a deep understanding of these drugs was more important.

Johnson said that he doesn't think there is going to be a clinical benefit for someone who spends the whole time feeling like they don't know what they got themselves into, or that they can't trust the people around them. Youre probably not going to completely surrender psychologically into the experience, which is what you really need to do to reap the benefits," he said. "You cant surrender when you have second thoughts, like What is going on here?

A difficult trip at a retreat could still be healing, but it could also be re-traumatizing, especially if someone has issues of abandonment, said Gita Vaid, a ketamine-assisted psychotherapist, who also took truffles at Synthesis with me. If someone is not available in those critical moments, its not only a lost opportunity, it could be triggering.

Elizabeth Nielson, a psychologist and psychedelic researcher who focuses on integration, said that she often gets calls from people who went on retreats, and are struggling afterwards. They havent always had a bad trip but sometimes what they experienced is hard to grapple with when they return to daily life.

Nielson has heard stories of people walking away with life-changing experiences too, she said. But she likened it to going to a farmers market and buying a homemade herbal remedy for something. It may or may not work, but its unregulated. [Retreats] may not be doing anything illegal, theyre also not working within the structures of the existing mental healthcare system, which is very different, Nielson said. I think that a lot of people dont really understand that.

A lot of clinicians are getting approached by their patients with questions, Nielson said. Theyre being looked to as authorities on this topic because its mental healthcare, she said. But there isn't a lot of formal training or continuing education training for them to look for. To that end, she recently helped develop a program for clinicians to learn about harm reduction and integration in clinical practice in relation to psychedelics.

One issue is cost. If every retreat staffed licensed clinicians it would cost like 10,000 pounds, or something," Watts said. "We are all going to have to, at some point, think about: Whats the minimum safe and effective framework for people? Another is that just because someone is a trained therapist doesn't mean they have experience knowing how to help someone go through, or cope with, a psychedelic trip.

Vaid had attended Synthesis to see what other frameworks for psychedelic care were out there. She told me that she was impressed by our three days, even though it was very different from her own practiceshe works with much lower doses of ketamine that are personalized for each patient.

Her setting is much more like a therapy session. Synthesis was more spiritual, including components like meditation, breathwork, and body work. Having a mystical experience, research shows, is a predictor of a positive outcome from the drug, but it's not known how much that should come from the setting itself. I am personally not a spiritual person, at least in the traditional sense. I find rich meaning in human emotions, psychology, art, music, chemistry, biology, and nature. But things like crystals, energy, deities, and spirits dont move me, and so when Adam held his hands over me, in an attempt to soothe me with Reiki, it felt not neutral, but hostilelike an affront to my personal beliefs.

My experience was so focused on the women in my family that I found I couldn't sit with anybody but a woman. Valerie was the only female facilitator there during my weekend at Synthesis. Johnson said most of the research trials include a man and a woman for each subject because they're learning how important diversity is in being able to support people reliving different kinds of trauma.

Katz, the Synthesis cofounder, and I had a conversation about my experience, and I shared some of these thoughts. He was receptive, and said he's aware that retreats are still a work in progress. He said they're now trying out individually-geared doses, and offering women-only retreat weekends. And they usually do try to have a gender balance otherwiseon my weekend, the group was supposed to be led by a woman named Nataja who got sick. As their customer base continues to grow, theyve encountered a bottle-neck with facilitators, Katz said. At the moment, theyve paused the number of customers they are accepting to hire and train more. That was an example of where we werent equipped to be flexible when someone cancelled last second," he told me.

Synthesis just had their 500th customer, which is hundreds more than some of the clinical trials. At the same time, Katz said, Its only 500 people. The research isnt able to readably predict what makes a trip go one direction for one person, and a completely different one for someone else.

Were just one organization working with one particular method of using psilocybin, Katz said. And we're doing the best we can to uphold the medical safety and best practices that we believe can help data-driven decisions about what will make things better."

In November, Synthesis announced that Robin Carhart-Harris, the Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, would be joining their advisory board. It's a continuation of a collaboration that already exists between the two groupsSynthesis provides data to Imperial College's Ceremony Study, which tracks ceremonial use of psychedelics. But Katz hopes that Carhart-Harris's presence will help them further advance their screening process, how they support their guests, and perhaps even using data to try and predict what kind of experiences a person might have and have the right kinds of support ready. "Being able to legally operate with customers and psilocybin is a unique advantage of Synthesis, and we believe there is a lot more potential than simply the retreat business we have started," Katz said.

I asked him if he thought that, through their alliance with Imperial College and their dedication to following best practices, they might specifically attract the very kinds of people that need more support, like mepeople who theyre not necessarily equipped to help.

Katz said it's possible, and it's a tough position to be in. He knows that when Synthesis rejects someone, they go to another retreat. Thats not a great scenario, because were basically saying its not safe, and theyre like, I dont care, if this other person will accept me, he said.

Theres truly so much more that we dont know than we do know, Katz said. It sounds a bit harsh, but its essentially trial and error, and growing. Saying, okay that doesnt work. Shift.

I was interested in taking shrooms because it seemed like it could "reset" your brain. Watts said that now-infamous notion comes from a quote from an interview that she did with a participant, which was picked up by the media. While it rang true for that person, she said people can get too excited about the metaphor. In their screenings, many people reference that sentiment, telling Watts that they want a brain reboot. People with that expectation can resist going into difficult emotions during their trips because they thought it was just going to be a "reset"effortless.

What's often missing from the psychedelic health stories that we read is that psychedelics are a tool. They can facilitate psychological work, but it's still workwork that isn't always easy or fun, and can be very painful.

This is an intense therapeutic process, Watts said. "This is a journey into the deepest parts of yourself and potentially might be very challenging. I think the messaging around psychedelics, it would be helpful if that changes a bit.

Perhaps for some it is like a reset. But I bet that there will be others, like me and like Gemma, for whom it is not as simple as ripping a bandaid off.

I want my time to be explained to me a bit more, Gemma said. "I know you shouldnt compare to anybody elses journey, but Im like: has anybody had a situation like this? Am I the only person to go through this retreat and do this, or is it common? You really question yourself when you leave it. Everybody says this is the most amazing thing in their life. And youre like, Oh god. Is there something really wrong with me now? Johnson said that actually, it's common: people blame themselves and thinking theyve screwed it up, and squandered their experience.

I dont think we can blame individuals for not having a good experience, or point to them "not letting go," or "surrendering" as the only thing that went awry. From my experience as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, its really difficult to change your character and change your mind even when youre motivated and have intention to do so, Vaid said. Psychedelics are not the magic bullet for that. Its a process and you can gain insight. But most of us know that when you have insights and a big 'A-ha' moment, how much that actually translates to real change is limited.

Vaid thinks the relationship part of psychedelic therapy is not talked about enough. Much of the advertising for the retreats focuses on how taking these drugs is an opportunity to change your mind, including sciencey terms like "deactivation of the default mode network" or "neuroplasticity." But the relationship and therapy piece is no less significant than the medicine itself, Vaid said.

I wonder what my experience would have been like if I had had a dedicated person to sit with me, like in a medical study. Watts considers having a hand to hold a bare minimum for psychedelic work. What if I hadnt had to worry whether Valerie had to be somewhere else to take care of other people?

"To need the support of someone and for it not to be there can be like a kind of repetition of primary wounds in childhood, Watts said. Thats another reason why we love having a male and a female therapist, because its a reparative situation for people who havent had a loving mom and loving dad dote on them all their childhoods. We all crave it. In a way, its almost like a mini-reparenting exercise.

The dining table at meal time. Courtesy of Synthesis.

Looking back, what I did experience was profound. I've talked about my mother and her history in therapy before, but not with the depth of feeling that occurred during my psilocybin trip. I was, without judgment, able to dive into those emotions in a way that I never had. There were times I was hysterically crying and gasping for air, and I don't cry in front of other people. I'm very careful to control my behavior around others, and here I was, in front of a stranger, really letting go.

I'm unsure if I had any lasting effects from my trip. I've since dwelled on the themes that came up for me, especially around care and abandonment, more than I would have otherwise. But not in ways that feel necessarily productive or healingit's more like a wound was reopened.

I did not feel blissful, I did not walk away from my trip with a deep connection to the universe. If I were to summarize my takeaway in one sentence, it would be that that life is full of suffering, and that we are forced to sacrifice our softness to have the strength to face that suffering. I am curious if my takeaway would have been different with more support.

I don't know if I'll do psychedelics again. I wouldn't rule it out. I did learn a lot about what kind of support I might need if I did it again in a therapeutic context, and about parts of myself, my family, and my past that could be deeper wells of pain than I previously thought.

As psychedelic retreats increase in number, its going to be key for them to recognize the experiences that dont involve beautiful visuals and the love-is-universal revelations. People with mental health conditions and people with trauma may have different journeys on psychedelics. If only the good experiences get talked about, there's less room for the idea that difficult experiences can be transformative too, with the proper support and integration. The clinical framework seems to allow for that, and expect it. It's almost a given that people will experience difficult things. The question is whether non-clinicians will figure out how to make them worthwhile.

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The Medical Minute: Is impossible meat too good to be true? – Newswise

Posted: at 9:49 pm


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Newswise It sizzles on the grill. But does it fizzle in terms of nutrition? Thats the question when it comes to the new plant-based burgers that are flying off grocery store shelves and restaurant tables.

Consumer choices include the Beyond Burger, the Impossible Burger and even Impossible sausage crumbles, which a major pizza chain is testing in select nationwide markets. These plant-based meat substitutes promise the flavor, aroma and taste of beef without the associated health risks. But whats inside these new patties, and do the potential health benefits outweigh the risk of eating these processed foods?

To be clear, registered dietitians at Penn State Health favor eating whole foods over processed foods. But these newer meat substitutes can be a great transition food for someone looking to eat a more plant-based diet, said Andrea Thompson, a registered dietitian at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

Todays trendiest plant-based burgers differ from past offerings. Traditional processed veggie, soy or black bean burgers, which debuted in the 1970s, contain processed vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, peppers among them), protein (soy or black beans), rice, oats and corn oil. Many remain on the market today.

The new plant-based burgers combine protein (soy, pea, bean or brown rice), oils (coconut, sunflower or canola), and methylcellulose and food starch as binders, depending on the brand. Impossible also uses heme a molecule naturally occurring in plants to give its burger added flavor. Beyond Meat uses beet juice extract, apple extract and natural flavors to achieve the same goal.

Overall, plant-based burgers tend to have fewer calories than burgers made with animal-based meat, Thompson said.

All plant-based meat substitutes offer an alternative to animal-based meat, which carries some health risks. Literature shows that people who eat more saturated fat which is found in red meat are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, said Susan Veldheer, assistant professor and registered dietitian in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine. However, plant-based meats contain some fiber which could be considered a benefit that red meat doesnt offer. When we look at groups of people who eat diets that are high in fiber they tend to have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, she said.

In addition, red meat production brings environmental concerns. Many environmental agencies have concluded that animal agriculture for human consumption is one of the top, if not the number one contributor to human-caused climate change, Thompson said.

But plant-based meat substitutes also raise eyebrows among dietitians. For one, theyre ultra-processed, Veldheer said. That means they go through a lot of manufacturing and processing before they reach your plate and often contain ingredients that are not commonly found in the average kitchen. Ultra-processed foods tend to contain more sodium than their whole plant or animal-based counterparts.

They also may carry similar amounts of saturated fat. In fact, recent studies suggest that the coconut oil found in plant-based burgers have a similar impact on blood cholesterol levels as oils from animal-based products like butter, Thompson said.

The newer plant-based burgers do contain small amounts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). These products are developed to withstand herbicides such as glyphosate, which is linked to certain types of cancer. We dont know the full health implications of GMOs because they are relatively new to our food supply, and its very difficult to research GMOs and their impact on health, Veldheer said.

People with soy or coconut allergies should avoid the newer plant-based burgers, since they often contain one or both ingredients. Some may also contain gluten. Some may also contain eggs or dairy, which means they are not vegan. Always read the nutrition label, Thompson said.

And while plant-based burgers are the new kid on the nutritional block, the healthiest food choice remains eating more whole foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The diets proven to prevent disease such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH eating plan stress whole foods, Veldheer said. The research in this area is pretty clear. The more you choose whole foods over processed foods, the healthier your diet will be, which can lead to better health overall.

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TheMedical Minuteis a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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This tech firm used AI & machine learning to predict Coronavirus outbreak; warned people about danger zones – Economic Times

Posted: at 9:48 pm

A couple of weeks after the Coronavirus outbreak and the disease has become a full-blown pandemic. According to official Chinese statistics, more than 130 people have died from the mysterious virus.

Contagious diseases may be diagnosed by men and women in face masks and lab coats, but warning signs of an epidemic can be detected by computer programmers sitting thousands of miles away. Around the tenth of January, news of a flu outbreak in Chinas Hubei province started making its way to mainstream media. It then spread to other parts of the country, and subsequently, overseas.

But the first to report of an impending biohazard was BlueDot, a Canadian firm that specializes in infectious disease surveillance. They predicted an impending outbreak of coronavirus on December 31 using an artificial intelligence-powered system that combs through animal and plant disease networks, news reports in vernacular websites, government documents, and other online sources to warn its clients against traveling to danger zones like Wuhan, much before foreign governments started issuing travel advisories.

They further used global airline ticketing data to correctly predict that the virus would spread to Seoul, Bangkok, Taipei, and Tokyo. Machine learning and natural language processing techniques were also employed to create models that process large amounts of data in real time. This includes airline ticketing data, news reports in 65 languages, animal and plant disease networks.


We know that governments may not be relied upon to provide information in a timely fashion. We can pick up news of possible outbreaks, little murmurs or forums or blogs of indications of some kind of unusual events going on, Kamran Khan, founder and CEO of BlueDot told a news magazine.

The death toll from the Coronavirus rose to 81 in China, with thousands of new cases registered each day. The government has extended the Lunar New Year holiday by three days to restrict the movement of people across the country, and thereby lower the chances of more people contracting the respiratory disease.

However, a lockdown of the affected area could be detrimental to public health, putting at risk the domestic population, even as medical supplies dwindle, causing much anger and resentment.

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Why Unsupervised Machine Learning is the Future of Cybersecurity – TechNative

Posted: at 9:48 pm

Not all Artificial Intelligence is created equal

As we move towards a future where we lean on cybersecurity much more in our daily lives, its important to be aware of the differences in the types of AI being used for network security.

Over the last decade, Machine Learning has made huge progress in technology with Supervised and Reinforcement learning, in everything from photo recognition to self-driving cars.

However, Supervised Learning is limited in its network security abilities like finding threats because it only looks for specifics that it has seen or labeled before, whereas Unsupervised Learning is constantly searching the network to find anomalies.

Machine Learning comes in a few forms: Supervised, Reinforcement, Unsupervised and Semi-Supervised (also known as Active Learning).

Supervised Learning relies on a process of labeling in order to understand information.

The machine learns from labeling lots of data and is able to recognize something only after someone, most likely a security professional, has already labeled it, as it can not do so on its own.

This is beneficial only when you know exactly what youre looking for, which is definitely not commonly the case in cybersecurity. Most often, hackers are using a method of attack that the security program has not seen before in which case a supervised system would be totally useless.

This is where Unsupervised Learning comes in. Unsupervised Learning draws inferences from datasets without labels. It is best used if you want to find patterns but dont know exactly what youre looking for.

This makes it useful in cybersecurity where the attacker is always changing methods. Its not looking for a specific label, but rather any pattern that is out of the norm will be flagged as dangerous, which is a much better method in a situation where the attacker is always changing forms.

Unsupervised Learning will first create a baseline for your network that shows what everything should look like on a regular day. This way, if some file transfer breaks the pattern of regular behavior by being too large or sent at an odd time, it will be flagged as possibly dangerous by the Unsupervised system.

A Supervised Learning program will miss an attack if it has never seen it before because it hasnt yet labeled that activity as dangerous, whereas with Unsupervised Learning security, the program only has to know that the action is abnormal in order to flag it as a potential threat.

There are two types of Unsupervised Learning: discriminative models and generative models. Discriminative models are only capable of telling you, if you give it X then the consequence is Y. Whereas the generative model can tell you the total probability that youre going to see X and Y at the same time.

So the difference is as follows: the discriminative model assigns labels to inputs, and has no predictive capability. If you gave it a different X that it has never seen before it cant tell what the Y is going to be because it simply hasnt learned that. With generative models, once you set it up and find the baseline you can give it any input and ask it for an answer. Thus, it has predictive ability for example it can generate a possible network behavior that has never been seen before.

So lets say some person sends a 30 megabyte file at noon, what is the probability that he would do that? If you asked a discriminative model whether this is normal, it would check to see if the person had ever sent such a file at noon before but only specifically at noon. Whereas a generative model would look at the context of the situation and check if they had ever sent a file like that at 11:59 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. too, and base its conclusions off of surrounding circumstances in order to be more accurate with its predictions.

The Artificial Intelligence that we are using at MixMode now is what is in the class of generative models in Unsupervised Learning, that basically gives it this predictive ability. It collects data to form a baseline of the network and will be able to predict what will happen over time because of its knowledge of what a day of the week looks like for the network.

If anything strays from this baseline, the platform will alert whichever security team oversees it that there has been an irregularity detected in network performance that should be adhering to the baseline standard.

For example, It collects data as it goes and then it says I know whats going to happen on monday at 9: People are going to come in and network volume will grow, then at noon they gonna go for lunch so the network level will drop a bit, then theyll continue working until six and go home and the network level will go down to the level it is during the night.

Because of its predictive power, the Generative Unsupervised learning model is capable of preventing Zero-Day attacks, which makes it the best security method out there and has the fastest response time to any breach.

Semi-Supervised or Active Learning takes the best of both unsupervised and supervised learning and puts them together in order to make predictions on how a network should behave.

Active learning starts with unsupervised learning by looking for any patterns on a network that deviate from the norm, then once it finds one it can label it as a threat, which is the supervised learning portion.

An active learning platform will be extremely useful because not only is it constantly scanning for any deviations on the network, but it is also constantly labeling and adding metadata to the abnormalities it does find which makes it a very strong detection and response system.

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Landis+Gyr’s Revelo Brings Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning to the Edge of the Grid – PRNewswire

Posted: at 9:48 pm

ATLANTA, Jan. 29, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Landis+Gyr (Swiss: LAND.SW) is presenting the latest advancements in grid edge intelligence with the introduction of its Revelo metering platform at DISTRIBUTECH 2020 in San Antonio this week. With the Revelo release, Landis+Gyr is changing the way utilities visualize the quality of power delivery at the edge of the grid, enabling them to manage energy more proactively.

Combining edge computing with Landis+Gyr's proven grid metering technology for waveform data capture, Revelo enables utilities to develop real-time pattern recognition of energy delivery. Over time, machine learning in the meter will provide immediate feedback to quickly identify fault conditions and provide proactive safety alerts. Ultimately, this will support the growth and integration of otherwise disruptive distributed energy resources.

"Utilizing event recognition and pattern matching algorithms applied to high resolution metrology data from Revelo meters, it will be possible to both detect and categorize a variety of grid faults to quickly understand the cause and location. This is just one example of how sophisticated data sampling, combined with edge computing, can transform utility operations," said Tim Weidenbach, Chief Product Officer at Landis+Gyr.

To realize the full capability of the Revelo platform, Landis+Gyr has partnered with cutting-edge companies that are transforming how distribution systems are managed and how consumers are served with high-value, real-time energy management solutions. Over the past year, Landis+Gyr has been working with Utilidata and Sense to ensure Revelo has the data sampling, edge computation, and networking needed for grid and consumer-facing applications.

"The key to modernizing and optimizing the electric grid is to match intelligent hardware with innovative software," said Jess Melanson, President and COO of Utilidata. "Advanced metering must become a core operational platform to help manage an increasingly complex, decentralized, clean, and customer-centric grid. The Revelo platform has the advanced capabilities to make this a reality, enabling real-time, distributed data analysis, predictive modeling, and substation-to-meter optimization. We are thrilled to have teamed up with Landis+Gyr to make great strides towards realizing this future."

Sense CEO Mike Phillips commented, "We've found that the key to engaging consumers with energy is to give them a detailed, real-time view of what is going on in their home. This requires functionality that was not previously available on AMI meters, like high-resolution waveform data, significant edge computation, and low latency networking. These features are now available on the Revelo metering platform.

"We're excited that our partnership with Landis+Gyr has created a path for us to provide our software solutions for this next generation of utility meters, providing the full Sense consumer experience with no need for additional hardware in the home," Phillips concluded.

Visit Landis+Gyr at DISTRIBUTECH at Booth #2633 in the Expo to hear more about this game-changing technology and how it will help your utility cope with the exciting challenges of the future grid.

About Landis+GyrLandis+Gyr is the leading global provider of integrated energy management solutions for the utility sector. Offering one of the broadest portfolios, we deliver innovative and flexible solutions to help utilities solve their complex challenges in smart metering, grid edge intelligence and smart infrastructure. With sales of USD 1.8 billion, Landis+Gyr employs approximately 5,600 people in over 30 countries across five continents, with the sole mission of helping the world manage energy better.

More information is available atwww.landisgyr.com.

About Utilidata, IncUtilidata, Inc., an energy software company backed by leading venture capital firms, is the industry leader in energy grid optimization. The company's patented technology captures real-time signals from the electric grid and provides actionable insights to save energy, integrate distributed energy resources, and better detect grid anomalies. The company is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. For more information, please visit http://www.utilidata.com (http://www.utilidata.com) or follow @Utilidata on Twitter.

About Sense Sense's mission is to make all homes intelligent by keeping people informed about what's happening in their homes, and helping to make them safer, more efficient, and more reliable. Founded in 2013 by pioneers in speech recognition, Sense uses machine learning technology to provide real-time insights on device behavior, even for those devices that are not "smart." Customers rely on Sense for a wide range of uses including checking what time their kids get home, monitoring their home appliances, determining whether they left appliances running or doors open and identifying how to reduce their energy costs. Sense is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. To make sense of your energy, visit: https://sense.com.

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JP Morgan expands dive into machine learning with new London research centre – The TRADE News

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JP Morgan is expanding its foray into machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) with the launch of a new London-based research centre, as it explores how it can use the technology for new trading solutions.

The US investment bank has recently launched a Machine Learning Centre of Excellence (ML CoE) in London and has hired Chak Wong who will be responsible for overseeing a new team of machine learning engineers, technologists, data engineers and product managers.

Wong was most recently a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he taught Masters and PhD level courses on AI and derivatives. He was also a senior quant trader at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs in London.

According to JP Morgans website, the ML CoE teams partner across the firm to create and share Machine Learning Solutions for our most challenging business problems. The bank hopes the expansion of the machine learning centre to Europe will accelerate the deployment of the technology in regions outside of the US.

JP Morgan will look to build on the success of a similar New York-based centre it launched in 2018 under the leadership of Samik Chandarana, head of corporate and investment banking applied AI and machine learning.

These ventures include the application of the technology to provide an optimised execution tool in FX algo trading, and the development of Robotrader as a tool to automate pricing and hedging of vanilla equity options, using machine learning.

In November last year, JP Morgan also made a strategic investment in FinTech firm Limeglass, which deploys AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to analyse institutional research.

AI and machine learning technology has been touted to revolutionise quantitative and algorithmic trading techniques. Many believe its ability to quantify and analyse huge amounts of data will enable them to make more informed investment decisions. In addition, as data sets become more complex, trading strategies are increasingly being built around new machine and deep learning tools.

Speaking at an industry event in Gaining the Edge Hedge Fund Leadership conference in New York last year, representatives from the hedge fund and allocator industry discussed the significant importance the technology will have on investment strategies and processes.

AI and machine learning is going to raise the bar across everything. Those that are not paying attention to it now will fall behind, said one panellist from a $6 billion alternative investment manager, speaking under Chatham House Rules.

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UoB uses machine learning and drone technology in wildlife conservation – Education Technology

Posted: at 9:48 pm

The university's new innovations could transform wildlife conservation projects around the globe

The University of Bristol (UoB) has partnered with Bristol Zoological Society (BZS) to develop a trailblazing approach to wildlife conservation, harnessing the power of machine learning and drone technology to transform wildlife conservation around the world.

Backed by the Cabot Institute for the Environment, BZS and EPSRCs CASCADE grant, a team of researchers travelled to Cameroon in December last year to test a number of drones, sensor technologies and deployment techniques to monitor the critically endangered Kordofan giraffe populations in Bnou National Park.

There has been significant and drastic decline recently of larger mammals in the park and it is vital that accurate measurements of populations can be established to guide our conservation actions, said Dr Grinne McCabe, head of field conservation and science at BZS.

In related news: Sustainable Livestock Systems Collaborative seeks to solve the food crisis through tech

Bnou National Park is very difficult to patrol on foot and large parts are virtually inaccessible, presenting a huge challenge for wildlife monitoring. Whats more, the giraffe are very well camouflaged and often found in small, transient groups, said Dr Caspian Johnson, conservation science lecturer at BZS.

Striving to uncover the best method for airborne wildlife monitoring, BZS reached out to Dr Matt Watson from the UoBs School of Earth Sciences, and Dr Tom Richardson from the Universitys Aerospace Department, as well as a member of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). The team forged successful collaborations using drones to monitor and measure volcanic emissions to create a system for wildlife monitoring.

A machine learning based system that we develop for the Kordofan giraffe will be applicable to a range of large mammals. Combine that with low-cost aircraft systems capable of automated deployment without the need for large open spaces to launch and land, and we will be able to make a real difference to conservation projects worldwide, said Dr Watson.

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AI Is Coming to a Grocery Store Near You – Built In

Posted: at 9:48 pm

For the consumer packaged goods industry CPG for short the Super Bowl presents both an opportunity and a challenge. The National Retail Federation estimates that almost 194 million Americans will watch Super Bowl LIV.The report claims that each one will spend an average of $88.65 on food, drinks, merchandise and party supplies. Really.

To secure valuable shopping cart space, big food and beverage brands like PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Tyson Foods pull out all the stops, offering promotions on soda, beer and hot dogs designed to be so tempting that they stop consumers in their tracks. Once a promos set, brands need to ensure they have the right amount of product in the right places. Its a process known as demand forecasting, where historical sales data helps estimate consumer demand.Getting that forecast right can make or break the success of a campaign.

Demand forecasts play an important role in a CPG brands day-to-day operations, but they take on a special significance during events like the Super Bowl, where billions of dollars are a stake. If a forecast underestimates demand, brands cede sales to competitors with readily available products. Companies that overestimate demand run the risk of overstocking the wrong store shelves or watching inventory expire in distribution centers.

Increasingly, the brands that come out on top are victorious because of technology. At Kraft Heinz, for example, machine learning models do much of the heavy lifting to generate accurate demand forecasts for major events like the Super Bowl.

What you got probably five, seven years ago were a lot of the consulting firms pitching you on what AI can do, said Brian Pivar, senior director of data and analytics at Kraft Heinz. Now, youre seeing companies build these things out internally they see the value.

For the worlds biggest food and beverage brands, growth means mergers and acquisitions, with big brands often buying smaller competitors that have cornered the market on emerging trends. Acquiring a startup food brand isnt easy, but its much less complex than merging two multinationals that manage critical sales, supply chain and manufacturing processes using customized software platforms.

Thats the world Pivar stepped into when he arrived at Kraft Heinz in late 2018, three years after the merger of Kraft Foods and H.J. Heinz created the worlds fifth-largest CPG brand. In the years since, the company has doubled down on artificial intelligence technologies, including machine learning. But Kraft Heinz, like many other companies in its space, is still playing catch up.

Theres a lot of opportunity to leverage AI to help us make better and smarter decisions.

Even when companies like Kraft Heinz want to move full-steam ahead and incorporate the latest tech into their operations, they still face challenges. Chief among them is the ability to implement technical builds successfully.

CPG companies dont always have strong data foundations, said Pivar. So what you see sometimes is a data scientist spending most of their time getting and properly structuring data. Lets say 80 percent of their time is spent doing that and 20 percent is spent building ML or AI tools instead of the reverse, which is what you want to see.

When Pivar came to Kraft Heinz, his first order of business was to develop a five-year strategy that gave leadership visibility into both his teams goals and their roadmap. Instead of hiring a crew of data scientists right off the bat, Pivar instead brought on data engineers to ensure that his team had the necessary foundation to build advanced analytics. The company also spent four months evaluating and testing cloud partners to find the perfect fit.

In the two years since Pivar joined Kraft Heinz, his team has built machine learning models to generate more accurate demand forecasts around major events with distinctive promotions, like the Super Bowl. Prior to Pivars arrival, these forecasts were generated manually in spreadsheets like Excel.

Machine learning can do amazing things.Read more about the latest ML technology.

His team also built atool that relies on recent sales data and inventory numbers at stores and distribution centers to predict when supermarkets will need to be resupplied and with what products, along with insights about the cause of low stock.

Were looking across the business, from sales to our operations and supply chain teams, said Pivar. Within all of those spaces, theres a lot of opportunity to leverage AI to help us make better and smarter decisions.

Kraft Heinz isnt the only big player in the CPG space thats incorporating AI across its business. Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo subsidiary, is working on a project that uses computer vision and a custom algorithm to optimize the potato-peeling process.Beer giant AB InBev uses machine learning to ensure compliance and fight fraud.And Tyson Foods is considering the viability of using AI-powered drones to monitor animal health and safety.

Even grocery stores are getting in on the action. Walmart has built a 50,000-square-foot store in Levittown, New York, filled with artificial intelligence technology.

Walmarts Intelligent Research Lab, or IRL, is both a technology testbed and a fully functioning store covering 50,000 square feet.The store is filled with sensors and cameras and can automatically alert store associates when a product is out of stock, shopping carts need collecting or more registers are necessary to quell long lines.Theres enough cable in IRL to scale Mt. Everest five times, and the store has enough computing power to download 27,000 hours of music per second.

CPG brands are still figuring out how best to leverage artificial intelligence, which means that, at least in the short term, the shopping experience might not change drastically. But that doesnt mean consumers wont be driving change at least, according to Shastri Mahadeo, founder and CEO of Unioncrate.

Unioncrate is a New York-based startup whose AI-powered supply chain-planning platform generates demand forecasts based on consumer activity and the factors that impact purchasing decisions. For Mahadeo, AI has the potential to both save brands money and reduce waste by aligning production decisions with consumer demand.

If a brand can accurately predict what a retailer is going to order based on what consumers are going to buy, then theyll produce whats needed so they dont have money tied up in working capital, said Mahadeo. Similarly, if a retailer can accurately predict what consumers will buy, then they can stock accordingly.

In addition to streamlining back-end processes related to manufacturing and supply chain management, Pivar said that within 10 years, AI could be used to create a more personalized shopping experience, one where brands customize promotions to consumers with the same focus seen on platforms like Instagram or Facebook.

What does that mean to CPG? asked Pivar. Were still figuring that out, but thats where I see things going.

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Google shows off far-flung A.I. research projects as calls for regulation mount – CNBC

Posted: at 9:48 pm

Google senior fellow Jeff Dean speaks at a 2017 event in China.

Source: Chris Wong | Google

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are crucial to Google and its parent company Alphabet. Recently promoted Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has been talking about an "AI-first world" since 2016, and the company uses the technology across many of its businesses, from search advertising to self-driving cars.

But regulators are expressing concern about the growing power and lack of understanding about how AI works and what it can do. The European Union is exploring new AI regulation, including a possible temporary ban on the use of facial recognition in public, and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, recently suggested that AI regulation could be on the way in the U.S., too. Pichai recently called for "clear-eyed" AI regulation amid a rise in fake videos and abuse of facial recognition technology.

Against this backdrop, the company held an event Tuesday to showcase the positive side of AI by showing some of the long-term projects the company is working on.

"Right now, one of the problems in machine learning is we tend to tackle each problem separately," said Jeff Dean, head of Google AI, at Google's San Francisco offices Tuesday. "These long arcs of research are really important to pick fundamental important problems and continue to make progress on them."

While most of Google's projects are still years out from broad use, Dean said they are important in moving Google products along.

Here's a sampling of some of the company's more speculative and long-term AI projects:

Google's robotic kitten helps it understand locomotion.

Google's D'Kitty is a four-legged robot that the company says learned to walk on its own by studying locomotion and using machine learning techniques. Dean said he hopes Google's research and development findings will contribute to machines learning how physical hardware can function in "the real world."

Using braided electronics in soft materials, Google's artificial intelligence technology can connect gestures with media controls. One prototype showed sweatshirt drawstrings that could be twisted to adjust music volume. The user could pinch the drawstrings to play or pause connected music.

Google's tech-woven fabric can control music.

A new transcription feature in Google Translate will convert speech to written transcript and will be available on Android phones at some point in the future. Natural language processing, which is a subset of artificial intelligence, is "of particular interest" to the company, Dean said.

Google Translate currently supports 59 languages.

Google Health announced new research Tuesday, showing that when the company's AI is applied to retinal scans, it can help determine if a patient is anemic. It can also detect diabetic eye diseases and glaucoma, Dean said. The company hopes to analyze other diseases in the future.

Google examines eye health

Google is using sensing tools to track underwater sea life. Using sound detection and artificial intelligence, the company said it can now detect orcas in real time and send messages to harbor managers to help them protect the endangered species.

Google announced Tuesday that it's teaming up with organization DFO and Rainforest Connection to track critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales in Canada. The company's also in the early stages of working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help detect species in the ocean nearby.

Google's artificial intelligence can detect certain sea animals based on sounds.

Google's working on a project called MediaPipe, which analyzes video of bodily movements including hand tracking. Dean said the company hopes to read and analyze sign language.

"Video is the next logical frontier for a lot of this work" Dean said.

Google is working on an AI project that detects sign language.

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Google shows off far-flung A.I. research projects as calls for regulation mount - CNBC

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