Meet the panel: captcha and coriander

Adam introduces the team answering your questions...
08 October 2019

Interview with 

Beth Singler, Phil Sansom, Sam Virtue, Olivia Remes


A bunch of cilantro


Adam introduces the team answering questions this month. There's AI aficionado Beth Singler, gene genius and Naked Scientist Phil Sansom, mental heath expert Olivia Remes, and physiology fanatic Sam Virtue...

Beth - Yeah. So I find it really fascinating that people quite regularly use those CAPTCHA devices for Internet security where you check the box say I'm not a robot. You know these.

Adam - Yeah.

Beth - Yeah. And that's short for Completely Automated Public Turing Test. So obviously from Alan Turing, who set up this idea of how we choose to see whether something's A.I. or not. But what a lot of people don't know is that when you're filling in some of these forms or selecting on an image, what is and isn't a crossing on the road, you're actually educating algorithms better in their machine vision systems, so actually the humans are performing a service for the A.I. in doing these CAPTCHA tests.

Adam - So all these things have come around on “pick the road signs” we're helping the cars learn.

Beth - Yeah. The funniest one I think is when you have to pick out all the ones where it's Sarah Connor from the Terminator series or not, so we're actually helping the A.I. identify Sarah Connor and find her.

Adam - I mean, it's preparing for the future I suppose. Brilliant. We also have fellow Naked Scientist and host of Naked Genetics, Phil Sansom. Hey Phil, so what have you brought in? You've got something on the desk there for us.

Phil - Yeah. I've brought some show and tell. I'm gonna do some quick Foley work.

Adam - Oh, love it.

Phil - This is a bag of coriander. And the reason I brought it in is because I don't know if you guys are aware, but for different people supposedly coriander tastes and smells very different. I've got Beth and I've got Sam next to me. I'm just gonna give you guys a sniff if that's all right. What do you think?

Beth - I don't like coriander. Doesn’t smell particularly nice to me.

Sam - It smells great to me. Makes me think of a delicious curry.

Phil - I wonder, Beth does it smell like soap to you?

Beth - No it smells like dirt.

Phil - That's interesting because some people say soap, some people say dirt. Some people say delicious curry.

Adam - Yeah I'm fairly much in the camp that it tastes like washing-up liquid.

Phil - Yeah, well, me too. I hate the stuff. Good thing I brought it in. But the reason I wanted to talk about it is because, that there was a study that took place in 2012 where they analyzed around 15000 people's whole genomes. And in this set of people, they'd had data which was like: “Do you like coriander? Do not like coriander?” And what they found is that there's a certain single base change on a certain chromosome, that was really really strongly linked with whether or not people like coriander, and that little base change is in a gene that codes for a smell receptor in your nose that detects a chemical called aldehydes and aldehydes are part of what makes coriander smell like coriander but they're also in loads of detergent products and washing-up liquids, and also insects, hence dirt and cleaning products. Now the caveat to this is that there's only 10 percent of the variability that is down to the genes, but it is quite a cool thing to think that that can affect something at such a big level.

Adam - And that's why for years I thought my wife was mad because she liked the taste of soap.

Phil - That might be something else.

Adam - Oh yeah. Could be. So we've also got, also from the University of Cambridge, Sam Virtue here with us, so Sam, what do you want to bring to the table about physiology that you'd like to talk about?

Sam - So I’m going to actually debunk a myth, and at least according to my local supermarket it is Halloween tomorrow, so I thought I would bring in a bit of a macabre myth, which is about something that happens after we die, or more accurately something that doesn't happen. So there's a long standing myth that your fingernails and hair continue to grow even after you've died. This is just not true. Once you die your heart stops, you stop pumping blood, and the cells that make the proteins that make our hair and make our fingernails are also all dead. But this myth may have came about because another thing happens after we die, which is we dehydrate, so the fingernails and hair look longer because the rest of us is smaller, not because they're actually getting longer.

Adam - So it's prunes as opposed to zombies going on.

Sam - Indeed.

Adam - Brilliant. And finally Olivia Remes is here to chat anxiety and mental health with us, so you also have a myth that you'd like to bring to the table don't you?

Olivia -  I do. I do. So a lot of people think that you know, when they're feeling very anxious, and especially if they've had anxiety for a long time or if they're worrying a lot, they think that it's just part of who they are it's their personality trait. You know, they're just a born worrier or just extremely shy. But actually it's not part of who you are. It's a diagnosable condition which can be treated. And that's really important to know because anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the world. One in 14 people are affected. Women are twice as likely to have anxiety as men and young adults are also most affected. And the thing is anxiety, if you have it, it can lead to suicide to depression to substance abuse. But there is treatment and there are things that we can do to help ourselves to overcome it.

Adam - So serious people don't have to just say they're just a worrier. There's help out there.

Olivia - Exactly, exactly. You can you know put your worries out of your mind especially if you know if you worry a lot, if you have excessive uncontrollable worries which a lot of people with anxiety have.


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