• Dr. Timothy Smith

Sharks, Bites, and Burns, Summer’s Here [Help Us, AI!]

Great White Shark

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Memorial Day, the unofficial first day of summer, flew by a week ago, putting us clearly in the summer season with vacations, trips to the beach, hiking, outdoor dining, and other activities that expose us to dangers less encountered in different seasons. For example, shark attacks only happen when people go swimming in the ocean, and most people go to the beach in summer. In “Why Shark Attacks Could Be on Rise Around the World,” the author, Debbie Lord, notes that an increase in coastal sharks and more people in the water increases the chance of human-shark interactions, thus increasing the chance of a shark attack. (ajc.com) Not only do sharks pose a danger during the summer, mosquitos bite billions of people annually, and mosquitos not only leave an itchy bite wound—they also carry many diseases such as zika virus and malaria. Mosquitos thrive in summer, and people expose more skin for them to bite when wearing summer clothes. Exposed skin and more intense sunlight dramatically increases the potential for painful, damaging, and potentially cancer-causing sunburns.

Some of the dangers of summer such as sharks, mosquitos, and sunburns will always exist, but new applications of artificial intelligence stand to help us reduce the risk of injury. From Australia with its beautiful beaches and many great white sharks that threaten its swimmers and surfers comes a company called Smart Marine Systems, which makes a product called Smart Buoy. Smart Buoy uses sonar technology and artificial intelligence to identify sharks as they come close to the beach. (smartmarinesystems.com) Using sonar beacons mounted on the ocean floor and detector buoys that analyze the changes in sonar signal using artificial intelligence, the system can detect a shark and send a message to a lifeguard’s or other safety monitor’s smartphone alerting them of the danger. The virtual net has the advantage of continuous monitoring and not subject to glare or low visibility that cameras can suffer from. At $38,000 each, the Smart Buoy may not be cheap, but it may help prevent attacks such as the fatal great white attack on Arthur Medici last summer in Wellfleet, MA. (boston.com)

Although less spectacular and terrifying than a shark attack, mosquito bites affect billions of people around the world. Last year, the Shark Attack File listed sixty-six unprovoked shark attacks worldwide. (floridamuseum.ufl.edu) In comparison, the World Health Organization reported 435,000 deaths by malaria in 2017, which comes from mosquito bites. (who.int) Mosquitos transmit other diseases too such as dengue fever, zika, and eastern equine encephalitis. Furthermore, of the over 3,000 species of mosquitos, only forty transmit diseases. In a blog titled, “Beating the Bloodsuckers: AI Takes a Swat at Mosquitoes and Malaria,” the author describes research conducted by Oxford University researchers and London’s Kew Garden that uses smartphones and AI to detect the presence of different types of mosquitos. (blogs.nvidia.com) The project, called Humbug, takes advantage of the fact that each kind of mosquito makes a unique buzzing sound. AI can tell the different sorts of mosquitos apart, alerting people to disease carrying mosquitos around them. Although not yet available for regular use, it would undoubtedly make for a helpful smartphone app in the summer to remind one to apply insect repellent when mosquitos present themselves and more importantly if those mosquitos could be carrying a disease.

Summer means sun, and with all that sun comes the risk of sunburn. Sunburn not only causes pain but contributes to long term skin damage, including wrinkles and. in some cases, cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Apart from using sunscreen and staying in the shade, new technology powered by artificial intelligence can tell people if they have exceeded the safe sun exposure level based on their skin type. One such product called QSun works with a clip-on UV light detector that communicates with a smartphone that can not only alert you to sun over-exposure, but it can also calculate how much vitamin D you produce. (qsun.co) L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant, also offers a similar device called My Skin Track UV.

Summer brings fun, vacations, more time outdoors, and an increase in risk for accidents and injury. According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, traumatic child injuries double in the summer and adult injuries increase by about 25-30 percent. (post-gazette.com) Such injuries include bites and burns. New technologies using artificial intelligence have stepped in to help mitigate some of the risks that come with the summer season. Smart Buoy helps alert life guards and other safety officials of sharks coming into swimming areas. Although not available yet, a project called Humbug continues to perfect a smartphone app to warn against the presence of disease carrying mosquitos. Other smartphone applications available today can help prevent overexposure to the sun. Products such as QSun can tell you based on skin type and grade of sunscreen applied how long you can remain in the sun before getting burned. Summer has arrived, and everyone should try to get the most fun out it. Consider a few new technologies that may make your summer safer too.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.

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