How to free our kids - and ourselves - from tech addiction, with Gaia Bernstein

How to free our kids - and ourselves - from tech addiction, with Gaia Bernstein

In today's podcast episode, law professor Gaia Bernstein talks about the challenges of keeping control over our thoughts and actions, even when some powerful forces are pushing in the other direction.

Adobe Stock

Each afternoon, kids walk through my neighborhood, on their way back home from school, and almost all of them are walking alone, staring down at their phones. It's a troubling site. This daily parade of the zombie children just can’t bode well for the future.

That’s one reason I felt like Gaia Bernstein’s new book was talking directly to me. A law professor at Seton Hall, Gaia makes a strong argument that people are so addicted to tech at this point, we need some big, system level changes to social media platforms and other addictive technologies, instead of just blaming the individual and expecting them to fix these issues.

Gaia’s book is called Unwired: Gaining Control Over Addictive Technologies. It’s fascinating and I had a chance to talk with her about it for today’s podcast. At its heart, our conversation is really about how and whether we can maintain control over our thoughts and actions, even when some powerful forces are pushing in the other direction.

Listen on Apple | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Stitcher | Listen on Amazon | Listen on Google

We discuss the idea that, in certain situations, maybe it's not reasonable to expect that we’ll be able to enjoy personal freedom and autonomy. We also talk about how to be a good parent when it sometimes seems like our kids prefer to be raised by their iPads; so-called educational video games that actually don’t have anything to do with education; the root causes of tech addictions for people of all ages; and what kinds of changes we should be supporting.

Gaia is Seton’s Hall’s Technology, Privacy and Policy Professor of Law, as well as Co-Director of the Institute for Privacy Protection, and Co-Director of the Gibbons Institute of Law Science and Technology. She’s the founding director of the Institute for Privacy Protection. She created and spearheaded the Institute’s nationally recognized Outreach Program, which educated parents and students about technology overuse and privacy.

Professor Bernstein's scholarship has been published in leading law reviews including the law reviews of Vanderbilt, Boston College, Boston University, and U.C. Davis. Her work has been selected to the Stanford-Yale Junior Faculty Forum and received extensive media coverage. Gaia joined Seton Hall's faculty in 2004. Before that, she was a fellow at the Engelberg Center of Innovation Law & Policy and at the Information Law Institute of the New York University School of Law. She holds a J.S.D. from the New York University School of Law, an LL.M. from Harvard Law School, and a J.D. from Boston University.

Gaia’s work on this topic is groundbreaking I hope you’ll listen to the conversation and then consider pre-ordering her new book. It comes out on March 28.

Matt Fuchs

Matt Fuchs is the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org and Making Sense of Science. He is also a contributing reporter to the Washington Post and has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, WIRED and the Washington Post Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him @fuchswriter.

Massive benefits of AI come with environmental and human costs. Can AI itself be part of the solution?

Generative AI has a large carbon footprint and other drawbacks. But AI can help mitigate its own harms—by plowing through mountains of data on extreme weather and human displacement.

Adobe Stock

The recent explosion of generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E enabled anyone with internet access to harness AI’s power for enhanced productivity, creativity, and problem-solving. With their ever-improving capabilities and expanding user base, these tools proved useful across disciplines, from the creative to the scientific.

But beneath the technological wonders of human-like conversation and creative expression lies a dirty secret—an alarming environmental and human cost. AI has an immense carbon footprint. Systems like ChatGPT take months to train in high-powered data centers, which demand huge amounts of electricity, much of which is still generated with fossil fuels, as well as water for cooling. “One of the reasons why Open AI needs investments [to the tune of] $10 billion from Microsoft is because they need to pay for all of that computation,” says Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan. There’s also an ecological toll from mining rare minerals required for hardware and infrastructure. This environmental exploitation pollutes land, triggers natural disasters and causes large-scale human displacement. Finally, for data labeling needed to train and correct AI algorithms, the Big Data industry employs cheap and exploitative labor, often from the Global South.

Keep ReadingKeep Reading
Payal Dhar
Payal is a writer based in New Delhi who has been covering science, technology, and society since 1998.
Blood Test Can Detect Lymphoma Cells Before a Tumor Grows Back

David Kurtz making DNA sequencing libraries in his lab.

Photo credit: Florian Scherer

When David M. Kurtz was doing his clinical fellowship at Stanford University Medical Center in 2009, specializing in lymphoma treatments, he found himself grappling with a question no one could answer. A typical regimen for these blood cancers prescribed six cycles of chemotherapy, but no one knew why. "The number seemed to be drawn out of a hat," Kurtz says. Some patients felt much better after just two doses, but had to endure the toxic effects of the entire course. For some elderly patients, the side effects of chemo are so harsh, they alone can kill. Others appeared to be cancer-free on the CT scans after the requisite six but then succumbed to it months later.

"Anecdotally, one patient decided to stop therapy after one dose because he felt it was so toxic that he opted for hospice instead," says Kurtz, now an oncologist at the center. "Five years down the road, he was alive and well. For him, just one dose was enough." Others would return for their one-year check up and find that their tumors grew back. Kurtz felt that while CT scans and MRIs were powerful tools, they weren't perfect ones. They couldn't tell him if there were any cancer cells left, stealthily waiting to germinate again. The scans only showed the tumor once it was back.

Blood cancers claim about 68,000 people a year, with a new diagnosis made about every three minutes, according to the Leukemia Research Foundation. For patients with B-cell lymphoma, which Kurtz focuses on, the survival chances are better than for some others. About 60 percent are cured, but the remaining 40 percent will relapse—possibly because they will have a negative CT scan, but still harbor malignant cells. "You can't see this on imaging," says Michael Green, who also treats blood cancers at University of Texas MD Anderson Medical Center.

Keep ReadingKeep Reading
Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich has written about science, medicine and technology for Popular Science, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, the New York Times and other major national and international publications. A Columbia J-School alumna, she has won several awards for her stories, including the ASJA Crisis Coverage Award for Covid reporting, and has been a contributing editor at Nautilus Magazine. In 2021, Zeldovich released her first book, The Other Dark Matter, published by the University of Chicago Press, about the science and business of turning waste into wealth and health. You can find her on http://linazeldovich.com/ and @linazeldovich.