Tuesday, 18th September 2018
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By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD

Q. Perhaps as many as 2.5 billion people suffer from this untreated yet correctable condition, about 80% of them living in developing countries. It’s estimated that by 2050 about half the world population will be affected. Can you identify what it is?

A. It’s myopia, or poor vision, "the largest unaddressed disability in the world today," says Hong Kong philanthropist James Chen. In 2011, he founded Vision for a Nation (VFAN) to provide affordable eyewear in developing countries, starting with Rwanda, and within five years, it had screened 2.5 million people. Eventually, VFAN "revolutionized" the country’s eye care system to make it accessible to all 12 million Rwandans.

To save money, 90% of the lenses provided were simple reading glasses. It streamlined distribution by offering only five items, including reading glasses that covered nearly all farsighted needs and adjustable lenses for nearsighted patients. To speed up diagnosis, VFAN trained 2,700 Rwandan nurses in a 3 day basic eye screening program. A final obstacle was demand, since most people don’t know how bad their eyes really are and what impact that has on their functionality. Also, cultural biases, especially for girls, cause some parents to worry that glasses might hinder their daughters’ marriage prospects.And so the mission continues. By 2019, VFAN hopes to expand its pilot program in the Central Region of Ghana to the entire nation.

Q."Mind your online Ps and Qs," you are frequently advised. Now, how might artificial intelligence (AI) aid in this quest for civility?

A. "F bombs are out, and pleases and thank you’s are in," reports "New Scientist" magazine IBM has created an AI that "translates offensive chatter into more polite language while keeping the message intact." Training utilized millions of Twitter and Reddit entries, after which the team gave that AI unfamiliar offensive posts to make "more palatable." In almost every case, the AI successfully completed its task. As team member Cicero Nogueira dos Santos says, the system could one day handle social media "posts containing hate speech, racism and sexism."

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