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AcademicI am Dr Evan Pickett and IamA herpetologist - AMA!

Mar 18th 2017 by liquidGhoul • 9 Questions • 54 Points

I am Benjamin from Turret Psychoanalytics. I am responsible for the development and deployment of our new Artificial Intelligence that can predict human behavior using social media. We are launching it as a marketing product at CeBIT in a few days. I would love to have a conversation with reddit about the advancements we have made in sentient Artificial Intelligence and its potential implications on society.

Answers to some basic questions: I am 20 years old. My background is mostly in psychology. My title is Chief Data and Information Officer. Our website is https://www.bigdatacanada.co/ .

Proof: http://i.imgur.com/ePoDr54.jpg

Q:

When you tell people your a herpatoligist, have you ever had someone think you studied herpies?

A:

Have these analytics helped you to be dangerous?


Q:

Many times

A:

Yes, of course.


Q:

Hey Dr. Pickett, thanks for doing this. What's something going on in your field that you wish the public knew more about?

A:

Assuming your technology is designed for good, what would happen if it's used for evil?


Q:

The global amphibian declines. Until the 80s, amphibians were remarkably resilient to humans. They hadn't declined much compared to mammals, birds or other groups. Despite their reputation for being sensitive.

But, a single disease (a chytrid fungus) has completely changed that. And now, in the past few years, another chytrid has started wiping out European salamanders. If this chytrid gets into the Americas, we're going to have another major extinction event in just thirty years (North America has an incredible diversity of salamanders).

We need to stop moving frogs around the world. This shouldn't be hard. Crack down on the amphibian pet trade and stop trading live frogs for food. Doesn't look promising though.

A:

Everyone has a different definition of what makes something evil. I will go out on a limb though and say probably bad things.


Q:

Why did you decide to go into this field. Which subspecies was your favorite to study and interact with?

A:

Good definition. How do you feel if your software was used for bad things?


Q:

I grew up on a farm in Australia. When I was in high school, I started to discover the diversity of frogs on the property (current count is 13 species) and started to really enjoy looking for them/photographing them. Then I discovered their plight due to the chytrid fungus and wanted to help. Research seemed the logical choice.

The common green tree frog was one of the first frogs I found on the farm and is still one of my favourite frogs to interact with. They're super docile and lovely.

A:

I would feel bad.


Q:

Any particular frog organisations that you would recommend need financial support? I occasionally donate to the Cairns Frog Hospital, but I like to make a frog related donation every year before tax time (they are my favourite animals)

A:

Predicting behavior seems like a page out of the Minority Report movie.

Can it predict crime before it happens?


Q:

Aww, bless! 💚

The amphibian research centre based in Melbourne has done some amazing work. Particularly with saving corroborees from chytrid.

A:

Theoretically, yes. However, it is a question I don't want answered. It would not be just to punish someone for something they haven't done yet, even if you could stop it from happening.


Q:

What kind of classes did you have to do for your PhD?

A:

I will be in Hannover, Germany next week. Can you provide a bit more information about your presence at CeBIT 2017? Where is your stand located?


Q:

In the Australian system, there isn't any coursework. If you need a skill, you learn it on the job, learn from journals, learn from someone who knows or go to a workshop. Workshops I went to were mostly for statistics, particularly analysis of mark-recapture data.

A:

Our booth location can be found at our CeBIT page feel free to come visit me or one of our team at the booth while you are there. If you would like we can supply you with a ticket code as well.


Q:

What is the strangest thing you've learned about reptiles and/or amphibians?

What's your favorite animal?

A:

RemindMe! 5 days


Q:

The levels of parental care are what always astound me. There are species that raise their tadpoles in their stomach (sadly extinct, but my old lab is working to resurrect them), Darwin's frogs raise theirs in their vocal sacs, Pipa pipa raise their eggs in their back skin, Assa darlingtoni raise their tadpoles in pouches (I've worked on this species). There are a huge number of species who will guard their eggs - even though they are almost completely harmless. Here's a father protecting his eggs

Also, there's a super common species in eastern Australia where the males will fight using a sharp thumb bone that protrudes through their skin. You often find males completely covered in scars.

I really like chubby frogs, such as the turtle frog or Asian painted frog. For non-amphibians, I love mudskippers.

A:

I sincerely doubt that it will. It operates completely offline to avoid situations like that.

Edit


Q:

I missed this AMA at the time but hope it isn't too late to ask a question. I am obsessed with amphibians myself and have always had a thing for the gastric brooding frog which I presume was what you referred to here. I would die a happy man if I could ever see one. What do you think the chances are of them still being around in the wild and how close is your old lab to being able to clone them?

A:

So can your AI will predict which craft beer I will drink when I go to a restaurant?


Q:

I'd say chances of finding them in the wild are close to zero. They are the most searched for of the extinct frogs in Australia. I think there's good chance of finding a few species that have disappeared, but not Rheos.

Last time I heard an update, the lab had gotten fertilised eggs to the blastula stage, but they don't progress further. There was a documentary about it last week in Australia, but I haven't watched it yet (don't know if this link will work for you). It may be more up-to-date than my information, but I hadn't heard any major developments in a while. A lot of cloning is trial and error, and it's made especially harder because they're working with 30-year-old cells from the bottom of a freezer.

A:

yes! What it would do is take your post/comment history and create a model of what you are interested in based on that. The cool thing that it can do is fill in the gaps in your interests using some fancy math. So even you if have never talked about your craft beer preference online it would be able to predict it.


Q:

Sadly I can't view that in the UK but I'd love to watch it.

A:

I don't want your or any other software reading my comments and then making a prediction / recommendation on those comments. How do we stop you and others from making this bullshit?


Q:

It might be found elsewhere - that's just what popped up on my Facebook feed.

A:

We may be the only company who works with data from social media in this exact way, but we are not the only ones working with social media data. The best way would be to not use social media at all. However, that isn't really realistic in 2017. What you can do is email companies and say that you don't like this practice and that you won't buy products that are marketed with targeted advertising. Please don't do this though, I really like my job.


Q:

Which do you prefer, toads or frogs?

A:

What king of programming language do you use?


Q:

I guess toads, but that's a very tough question.

A:

We use Python for our AI.


Q:

How much do herpetologists make? And do you plan on teaching forever or do you want to do something different after?

A:

I only know numbers for Australia and Hong Kong. You can either work in private industry (as an environmental consultant), who make 50k+. Senior levels can pay pretty well. There's a decent amount of work in consulting, a lot of my herpo friends are consultants now.

You can work in the public service (env. scientists, museums etc.). In Australia, these jobs pay nicely, in HK they do not.

You can work in academia. Pay varies wildly. In Australia, PhD earn very little (20-30k). Similar in HK, but they also need to pay fees, which take about a third of their income. After PhD, Australian pay is nice (70-90k for a postdoc), but the job security is horrendous. HK, pay is worse at the postdoc level, but quickly overtakes Australia after the postdoc level. Profs are paid very well.

There are also NGOs for conservation work. Generally pay is very low.

I'm enjoying teaching for now, but I suspect this may change in the future. I am itching to do more conservation work.


Q:

How long did it take you to finish your studies?

A:

I got through the system pretty quickly. Three years of undergrad, a year of honours (honours isn't very common internationally - it's essentially a one year research program) and three years of PhD.

In the US, it's common for people to do a 3-4 year undergrad, 2 year masters and 5 year PhD. I'm pretty glad I didn't go through the US system.


Q:

which common creature should we enjoy now that is likely to become endangered very soon?

A:

Go to the wet tropics. Enjoy everything there, because it's amazing and we can't seem to stop destroying it. And explore at night, that's when forests come alive.


Q:

What made you pick a reptile over an amphibian?

A:

Extant amphibians only really meet two out of the three reasons I gave. But, if I can choose extinct animals. I'd go with Eryops. Cause they do meet those criteria, and they're badass.


Q:

Do you ever eat frog legs?

A:

I do not - it would make me sad. And I live in Hong Kong, so there is ample opportunity.


Q:

Which species do you really admire currently?

A:

The corroboree frog. Cause it's just holdin' on to existence.


Q:

Has anyone tried to get it out there that a frog species is on the last straw?

A:

Because it's so pretty, it does manage to get into the Australian media a fair bit. There's a lot of work on saving it. It's almost extinct in the wild now, although they are continuing to reintroduce in the hope that they'll evolve some resistance to chytrid. But they're able to breed them in captivity now (it was a big effort), so I think they'll at least be safe from complete extinction.


Q:

what do you think of the situation in venezuela?

A:

It's pretty fucked up when the bakers are getting arrested.