Playing with neural networks – new scientific names for bacteria

It was recently Valentine’s Day, and I came across the story of an AI that had come up with some innovative messages to print on candy hearts. Over Christmas, my sister (who never fails to bring joy into my life) had shown me a new Harry Potter story that had been written by an AI, and I was extremely taken with this new source of mirth in my life. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I wondered whether I could put neural networks to my own uses.

Via an aiweirdness post about recipes, I found the open-source neural network code that Janelle Shane used, and I thought I should give it a try. After some struggle learning how to navigate in Mac’s terminal and figuring out all the things I had to install to get the model to run – I did it. I ran a neural network! My fiancé learned to code his own neural networks a few months ago just for fun, so I was expecting it to be a much more involved process. But karpathy did the hard work of writing the neural network code; I just had to implement it. Continue reading

Why is showering bad for our skin bacteria? (evolutionary questions)

After reading Alanna Collen’s 2015 book 10% Human: how your body’s microbes hold the key to health and happiness, I have become interested in, among other topics featured in the book, the work of the AOBiome company. Collen mentions this company in the context of aspects of our modern lifestyle which may be detrimental to the beneficial microbes that live on and in us. In this particular case, it is the practice of showering every day with body soap and deodorant that may be disproportionately displacing certain types of bacteria that process ammonia and help control the bacteria responsible for giving us body odor. AOBiome proposes that by replenishing these ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOBs) on our skin, we can reduce or eliminate the need for deodorants and showers. We can also replenish them through contact with soil or untreated (an unpolluted) water, according to Collen. I have read up on AOBiome a bit, and their scientific logic seems sound and is backed up by pilot studies they have done (see end for links). However, I have some questions about the evolutionary biology side of things: Continue reading