Tag Archives: Technology

The surprisingly boring role AI could play in classrooms

If recent clickbait headlines are to be believed, robots are already taking over our schools, relegating “Sir” or “Miss” to the status of a second-rate computer dumped at the back of the class.

Yet to many experts, the real value of artificial intelligence (AI) to education may be far more humdrum as a back-of-house tool to free up time for human teachers to build students’ social skills, resilience, appetite for learning and character.

Schools need to take more advantage of AI’s teaching capabilities

Miles Berry, principal lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton and a key architect of the national curriculum for computing, introduced to replace ICT four years ago, is disappointed at how few schools have exploited the new programme fully.

“AI is difficult to teach and schools either lack relevant resources or don’t know how to apply them, but in order to plug the technology skills gap, we must give our youngsters time to experiment with creating rudimentary chatbots for example,” he says.

“Setting up a Google Assistant, Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa and getting it to answer some of the questions that come up in a lesson would be a fairly simple task for many computing teachers, but to get them on-side, we need to talk far more about the role of machine-learning and far less about the dawn of the robots.”

While Mr Berry agrees that for now at least, AI is better suited to subjects with right and wrong answers than to teaching the nuances of Shakespeare, or even sport, its ability to relieve pressure on teachers is, he says, “unignorable”.

“Machine-learning can already play a vital role in setting work, in marking and assessment, and can track individualised learning very proficiently. If schools harness this power to its fullest extent, our human teachers are free to concentrate on the softer skills that are so vital to our employers,” says Mr Berry.

As a result of AI not being on the core curriculum, finding time to dedicate to it in the classroom is a challenge and this is partly why adoption has been slow

While growing numbers of primary, as well as secondary schools, are now teaching their pupils how to code, this is only one tiny element of AI and a skill which will be “old hat” by the time they enter the workforce, says Professor Rose Luckin of University College London’s Institute of Education.

One of three expert witnesses invited last year to attend a House of Lords Select Committee session on AI education and digital skills, she argues that “overall computational thinking” is far more interesting and creative than the term “coding” would suggest.

“I have nothing against coders, but it’s the easiest and arguably the least interesting aspect of AI, and one which deters many people, including women, from joining our tech companies at a time when we desperately need their skills,” says Professor Luckin.

“When it comes to equipping our youngest children for a world where AI will be enormously influential in their working lives and at home, the vast majority of our schools aren’t even at first base yet.”

Some manufacturing roles could be obsolete in the coming decades as automation takes hold.

While Professor Luckin can’t comment on whether staffroom Luddism or apathy may be factors, she does believe that the scarcity of teachers with a grasp of AI is becoming a serious problem and calls for far closer collaboration between tech firms and educators.

“Some schools are drafting in tech experts to help introduce AI to the classroom, but this often fails because they don’t create materials that work in a classroom setting and they don’t know how to teach people,” she says.

“It would be unthinkable for the medical profession, say, to introduce AI without the direct input of medics in the actual development of resources and exactly the same should be true of education. Teachers don’t need fancy equipment, they need easy-to-use, easy-to-explain materials which don’t necessarily require a tech person to be in the room.”

Tailoring education for future workplaces

IBM developer Dale Lane, who helped create the educational tool Machine Learning for Kids, believes that while the “most critical aspect of AI education is helping teachers to improve their own skills and educate our children more effectively”, this continues to be overlooked. He shares Professor Luckin’s frustration over the lack of progress so far.

“As a result of AI not being on the core curriculum, finding time to dedicate to it in the classroom is a challenge and this is partly why adoption on the ground has been slow,” he says.

“Where IBM has had more success has been with activities which include elements of AI in non-computing subjects; for example, getting kids to train a chatbot to answer questions on the Vikings or using ‘text classifiers’ to understand how different newspapers report on the same story.”

Former teacher Tom Ravenscroft, founder and chief executive of Enabling Enterprise, which aims to bring the world of work into the classroom, has a very different perspective on the nature of the UK’s skills gap to that held by Mr Lane.

“The qualities which employers across every sector crave above all others, including tech skills, are those which are essentially human, including persuasive presentation and interpersonal skills. However hard some people may try to argue this, these abilities cannot be taught by machines,” says Mr Ravenscroft.

“While I would agree that there is a role for AI in the classroom, the biggest skills gap in the UK is not related to our interface with robots or our ability to code, but in our day-to-day dealings with other human beings.”

Thanks to their familiarity with computer games, children are less apprehensive than their parents about letting a computer mark their work or provide feedback

Mr Berry stresses that despite AI having no official place on the school curriculum, its applications are already making their mark on the lives of learners.

“Google Translate is helping millions of students whose first language isn’t English and, at a very basic level, spelling and grammar correction is making the polishing of our prose easier for all of us,” he says.

“AI can present information and provide practice time and time again, without becoming impatient or judgemental. Thanks to their familiarity with computer games, children are less apprehensive than their parents about letting a computer mark their work or provide feedback.”

Although Mr Berry believes that the biggest names in tech, including Microsoft and Apple, are “very generous in sharing free content with schools”, one man with a foot in both business and education camps believes industry can do more to help.

AI can present information and provide practice time and time again, without becoming impatient or judgemental

Paul Drechsler, chairman of Teach First and president of the CBI, says: “All of us would agree that our young children need to be properly equipped to enter the workforce of tomorrow, and I would urge all businesses both inside and outside tech to look again at what more they can do to provide knowledge, support and funding to teachers and pupils.

“If we accept that one day computers are going to be far better than we are at processing all forms of explicit knowledge, including literacy, numeracy and languages, we see the real AI challenge isn’t about creating more computer experts, but about building the skills which machines cannot emulate.

“Teamwork, leadership, listening, staying positive, dealing with people, and managing crisis and conflict are know-how skills, not know-what skills, and that’s where we humans will always triumph. But we need teachers, businesspeople and policy-makers to be in the same room to develop an education strategy appropriate for the next generation.”

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

By Virginia Matthews · Raconteur


Managing risk in the energy sector’s cyber supply chain

This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Geostrategy platform

As the energy sector has become more globalized and increasingly complex in its reliance on software components, the supply-chain risk has evolved and expanded.

While energy sector cyber supply-chain issues have been recognized and studied for several years, they still persist.

One such risk that stands out is “unintended taint”, namely flaws in software components unintentionally built into products in design or implementation, which makes them distinct from both counterfeit — substituting lesser quality or imitation products — and “malicious taint,” which is intentional supply-chain subversion.

Unintended taint may lead to unintended supply-chain subversion, and represents a significant and credible threat to the uninterrupted functionality of critical infrastructure within the energy sector.

The report Supply Chain in the Software Era outlines a taxonomy for understanding certain energy sector risks and provide concrete and exploratory recommendations for policy makers and the private sector.

While some of the options may be unattractive to some, others are comparatively easy, if the will exists. The much less attractive option is to continue down the current road, providing the pathways for accidents and for adversaries to undermine energy operations, which would have a much more profound effect on the sector, the global economy, and national and international security.

Bookending the research between 2015 and 2017, two high-profile cyberattacks in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia leveraged supply-chain vulnerabilities to impact operations at two energy sector organizations.

In December 2015, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian homes were temporarily plunged into darkness in the first confirmed cyberattack against an electric grid. In August 2017, a cyberattack halted operations at Saudi Aramco. In both cases, improvements in the security of supply-chain components would have halted the attacks.

Cyber supply-chain security has become a prominent issue in the energy sector, and the attempts to address it are growing. For instance, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is updating its Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standards to include supply-chain protections.

Additionally, companies like BitSight, Security Scorecard, and Sir-Track (in Germany), which measure “digital exhaust,” are increasingly used to measure public, observable artifacts of third-party suppliers’ Information Technology (IT) and IT security practices.

However, gaps still exist — NERC-CIP applies to only a subset of systems and components that impact safety and reliability at a subset of electric utilities, and measuring Internet-facing security is (at best) an indirect bellwether of the technology used in energy sector control systems.

Software security vulnerabilities are a natural result of the development process and —despite best efforts — cannot be fully eliminated.

Each year, more than 10,000 security vulnerabilities are discovered in common off-the-shelf (COTS) components. They show up in global cyber supply chains, including those of the energy sector; and weaknesses and vulnerabilities in software design and implementation accrue along the multistep journey through the supply chain, whether intentional or accidental.

A single software component can compromise the operational integrity of critical systems. For instance, hardcoded default passwords — a known class of supply-chain vulnerabilities — in a safety-instrumented-systems component facilitated the shutdown of Saudi Aramco’s operations in December 2017.

Several alternative courses of action are recommended in the brief to address these issues.

Apply existing frameworks across the energy sector — Energy sector companies or the Department of Energy (DOE) can leverage existing frameworks, particularly the NERC-CIP standard and the DOE’s Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model, as blueprints for improving security across the energy sector, including third-party suppliers.

Incentivize trusted IT Practices to Avoid Unintended Taint in the Energy Sector —Congress, the DOE, and energy sector companies can increase awareness and adoption of practices that are known to be effective, and avoid those that are known to be ineffective, through reduction of regulatory burden, use of buying power, or other incentives.

Vulnerability Monitoring, Coordination, and Sharing — The DOE, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and industry organizations can increase awareness and understanding of existing software vulnerabilities across the sector to reduce information asymmetry among organizations affected by the same or similar issues.

Examine Other Models of Operation, Liability, and Regulation — Congress, the DOE, and DHS, as well as other affected stakeholders should identify and analyze alternative approaches to operation, liability, and regulation, which may increase safety, security, and reliability across the energy sector.

Supply Chain in the Software Era , Beau Woods and Andy Bochman

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

By Atlantic Council

This New Camera Can See Through The Human Body

Surgery is getting better all the time. More procedures that once required large cuts and lots of recovery time can be performed with a tiny incision and a high-tech endoscopic camera. But endoscopes aren’t perfect. They may show physicians an image of your insides, but they don’t tell them exactly where in the body they’re shooting the footage. Luckily, researchers may have found a solution to this problem. They’ve developed a super-sensitive camera that can detect light through the human body — light like the kind that comes from an endoscope.

Cutting-Edge Tech Made Even Better

It may surprise you to know that as revolutionary as endoscopes have been, they involve a bit of guessing. The surgeon generally has to estimate where the endoscope is in the patient’s body based on where they started, and as endoscopes get more advanced and are able to reach ever smaller areas, that gets even harder.

Because it’s pretty dark inside the human body, an endoscope shines a light to illuminate the image. Most of those light particles, or photons, scatter — although some scatter less than others — while others escape straight through the tissue. Experts call those slightly scattering particles “snake photons.” Straight-ahead particles are “ballistic photons.” To identify where the endoscope is in the body, researchers from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh created a device that can detect both of these types of photons. What’s more, it also records how long those photons take to pass through the tissue, helping it identify exactly where the endoscope is located.

Seeing Right Through You

The team tested their device on tissue models of birds and sheep lungs, and were able to figure out where the endoscope was within centimeters, much more precisely than previous methods. They even tried it in a human body, placing a scope on the back of a torso and imaging from the front, with a hand placed in the way for good measure. The camera generated an accurate image, although it did take 17 seconds to do so.

But this is just a first step. The team hopes to improve upon their technology by testing different light wavelengths and building more advanced detectors. That could help physicians find the endoscope at even greater depths.

By Unique hassan w

Google pledges not to develop AI weapons


Google.jpg© Provided by The Telegraph Google pledges not to develop AI weapons

Google has pledged not to use its artificial intelligence technology in military weapons or anything that might weaken human rights in a set of principles announced on Thursday.

This commitment follows protests from staff over the US military’s research into using Google’s vision recognition systems to help guide drones.

Google insisted last week that its AI technology is not being used to help drones identify human targets, but told employees that it would no renew its contract after it expires in 2019.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said: “We want to be clear that while we are not developing AI for use in weapons, we will continue our work with governments and the military in many other areas.

“These collaborations are important and we’ll actively look for more ways to augment the critical work of these organizations and keep service members and civilians safe.”

Mr Pichai did not explain how Google would reach decisions about when to limit the use of AI, but added the company was not coming up with “theoretical concepts”. He said “They are concrete standards that will actively govern our research and product development and will impact our business decisions.”

The new AI principles follow weeks of protest from over 3,000 Google employees over “Project Maven”, an programme with the US Pentagon on AI for drones.

Miles Brundage, a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, said on Twitter: “A bit vague in places, they don’t exclude offensive cyber security or anti-materiel autonomous weapons but it’s a start.”

The principles clearly state that Google will not work on AI for weapons but they also leave room for interpretation for company executives and allow Google to work for the military.

Among its objectives, the projects aim is to develop and integrate “computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts.”

In an open letter from Google employees to Mr. Pichai, employees expressed concern that the military could weaponize AI. “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war…Google’s unique history and its direct reach to the lives of billions of user set it apart.”

The principles also address a much broader range of concerns. Mr Pichai pledges to avoid creating systems that reinforce “societal biases on gender race or sexual orientation,” and says that privacy safeguards should be incorporated into AI.

Source: The Telegraph

What Will Our World Look Like in 2099 As Predicted By Genius Futurist Whose Predictions Are Always True

Do you believe in predictions? Well, our civilization has had numerous prophets and seers but those were mainly the people who would give their predictions about the future based on some hallucinations. What if someone would try to make predictions based on their knowledge and experience? Well, that is why we have tried to explore the predictions of one guy, Ray Kurzweil.

Ray is an inventor, scientists, an inventor, and futurist. He is also involved in fields such as optical character recognition, text-to-speech, speech recognition technologies, AI development, etc. He is a genius.

Well, he made a huge number of predictions and over 80% of those came true. And now he predicts that robots are going to become a common household item like a toaster or an oven. He literally said that robots are going to become a “mainstream” thing in 2027.

The guy has a nice track record in predicting all sorts of things, and that is why we simply can’t take his words for granted.

The Modern-Age Seer

Ray made some predictions and published them in three books. 115 out of 147 predictions came true. And the rest were only partially true and 3 were a total miss. And we have found some of his predictions that we are yet to see.

The Huge Advancement in Medical Science 2019

According to Mr. Kurzweil, medical science is going to make giant leaps in 2019 and humanity will annihilate almost 95% of deathly diseases. That may even include cancer.

The Reversed Aging

The advanced use of stem cells is going to slow down the aging process and maybe even completely reverse it.

2020 is the Year of Compact PCs

According to Ray, computers are going to be smaller in 2020 and they will be a part of our clothing. We will have flexible computers that you could use almost anywhere.

The One World Government

Humankind is going to unite in the near future. The political arena will come to that point in which globalization will force all the governments to form one new “World Government”.

Biotic Humans

Ray says that humans are going to start experimenting with nanotechnology in order to improve human bodies. Think, artificial limbs, memory chips, artificial organs, improved vision, etc.

Unmanned Vehicles

A long time ago, Ray made a prediction about unmanned aircraft which are now being used by armies around the world. Well, now he thinks that it is the prime time to start trusting our lives in the AI and the unmanned road vehicles. According to him, that will reduce the chance of human traffic error. Some of those vehicles have already been developed by almost all vehicle manufacturers, starting with TESLA.

Humans will Use Nanotechnology To Understand The Human Brain

Well, scientists are allegedly going to use the nanotech to map the human brain.

In 2027, Humans Will Finally Deliver the Final Version of the A.I

According to the world’s best scientists, we should be extremely careful when developing the first fully automated AI. And while the AI could help people with brain-related maladies like dementia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and memory loss, it could also mark the end of the humankind. Optimists say that the AI will cure us all, and pessimists say that one wrong line of code would be enough to erase the entire civilization.

The AI will pass the Turing Test in 2029.

By 2029, robots and other machines will be able to think and feel like us. They will even be able to pass the “Turing Test” which proves the ability to think like a human.

The Thin Line Between the Physical and Virtual Reality Will Disappear

The virtual reality is now taking its first baby steps. However, 2029, we will not be able to make a difference between the two.

Nanotechnology Will Make Eating Unnecessary

Nanotechnology is going to help us heal faster. It will fix our bodies from the inside, and some say that we won’t even have the need to eat…

In 2030 We Will be Able To Upload Our Consciousness

And according to Ray, we will be able to upload our thoughts and ideas directly into the computer. So, we won’t have to use traditional input methods like a keyboard and mouse. And you won’t need and VR equipment to do that. Everything will be done by nanomachines.

Telepathy Through Networking

And since nanotechnology will be a part of our cells, then we will be able to communicate without phones and PCs.

Improved Bodies

And by 2030, humans will be able to change the physical appearance whenever they like.

Men Will Lose The Fight

And by 2040, artificial intelligence will start its rule over the biological intelligence. People will get bored with the normal world and will spend the most of their time in a world similar to the “Matrix”.


2045 – Huge Upgrades For the Human Body

Human bodies will get upgrades just like programs now do. Nobody will have abnormalities and weaknesses. And when we combine this with the reversed aging, we get the version of a human being fit for interstellar travel.

AI Will be The Smartest “Life Form” on Earth

And since everyone will start upgrading their minds and bodies, the AI will be the smartest thing in the world. And there won’t be much difference between humans and machines.

By 2099, Earth Will Become one Super Computer

Traditional humans will have to live in reservations because the world will become one huge PC. Space travel will become widely available and the speed of light will no longer be an obstacle. Human’s AI will spread its influence throughout the galaxy, and it will not stop there.

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By abc-news-au


Credit: Google

Tenor, a popular GIF platform with more users than Twitter, was acquired Tuesday for an undisclosed amount by Google.

Google said Tenor will remain a separate brand, but that GIFs will be featured on many of its services moving forward.

“Tenor surfaces the right GIFs in the moment so you can find the one that matches your mood,” Cathy Edwards, director of engineering at Google Images, said in a post. “Tenor will help us do this more effectively in Google Images as well as other products that use GIFs, like Gboard.”

Tenor says it sees some 12 billion searches every month, and brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts, AT&T, Sprint, Nestle, Nissan and KFC pay it $100,000 to $500,000 to appear in relevant GIF search results performed by consumers, according to a recent profile in Bloomberg Businessweek.

GIFs have become a natural extension of language, especially with younger consumers, and Google’s acquisition likely signals a new medium that requires search—and needs to be rationalized.

“Through first glance GIFs might seem frivolous, they’re actually a powerful concept,” Ben Clarke, co-founder and president of digital agency The Shipyard says. “In a very compact frame they combine images, story and text. From an advertiser’s perspective this gives them back some of their tools they may feel they’ve lost in other mediums.”

And with Google’s help, he adds, “those GIFs will become a part of the normal fabric of search and, consequently, of commerce. This will have some of the benefits of biddable media—targeting, efficacy—but at least on paper could reinject some personality into digital ads that in some ways have become stale, like text search ads.”

​Americans discover unexpected African roots through DNA testing

As more Americans take advantage of genetic testing to pinpoint the makeup of their DNA, the technology is coming head-to-head with the country’s deep-rooted obsession with race and racial myths…
This is perhaps no more true than for the growing number of self-identified European-Americans who learn they are actually part African.

For those who are surprised by their genetic heritage, the new information can often set into motion a complicated recalibration of how they view their identity.

Nicole Persley, who grew up in Nokesville, Virginia, was stunned to learn that she is part African

Her youth could not have been whiter. In the 1970s and ’80s in her rural home town, she went to school with farmers’ kids who listened to country music and sometimes made racist jokes. She was, as she recalls, “basically raised a Southern white girl.”

But as a student at the University of Michigan: “My roommate was black. My friends were black. I was dating a black man.” And they saw something different in her facial features and hair.

“I was constantly being asked, ‘What are you? What’s your ethnic background?’ ”

While African-Americans generally assume that they may carry non-African DNA dating back to sexual relations between masters and slaves, many white Americans like Persley grow up believing that their ancestry is fully European, a belief manifested in things from kitschy “100 percent Irish” T-shirts to more-sinister racial “purity” affiliations.

Now, for under $100, it has become increasingly easy to spit into a vial and receive a scientifically accurate assessment of one’s genetic makeup. Companies such as 23andMe and

Ancestry.com provide a list of countries or regions where the predominant genetic traits match those of one’s forebears. (There is no DNA category for race, because a genetic marker for it does not exist.)

In recent years, multiracial Americans have increasingly entered the national consciousness

Between 1970 and 2013, the portion of babies living with two parents of different races rose from 1 percent to 10 percent, the Pew Research Center found. From 2010 to 2016, those who identified as being of two or more races grew by 24 percent, according to census data, a jump that could have had as much to do with the changing way in which Americans identify themselves as an actual increase in the racially mixed population.

But when the mixing happened several generations back, it can take people by surprise. While little data exists comparing people’s perceptions with the reality of their ethnic makeup, a 2014 study of 23andMe customers found that around 5,200, or roughly 3.5 percent, of 148,789 self-identified European-Americans had 1 percent or more African ancestry, meaning they had a probable black ancestor going back about six generations or less.

The discovery elicits a range of emotions

Given the fraught history of slavery and racism, finding out that one is part African makes some people feel vulnerable, even defensive, while others celebrate the discovery. At the DNA Discussion Project, an initiative at West Chester University in Pennsylvania that surveys people about their perceptions of their genetic makeup before and after DNA tests, 80 percent of the 3,000-odd people they have so far surveyed self-identify as white.

Of those, two-thirds see themselves as of only one race, and they are more likely to be shocked and unhappy with their test results than those who identify as mixed or other races, according to a peer-reviewed paper conducted by the project.

But for some, white identity trumps DNA

If the test result is too disruptive to their sense of self, they may rationalise it away. One white supremacist who discovered he had African DNA claimed on the white nationalist website Stormfront.com that the testing company was part of a Jewish conspiracy to “defame, confuse and deracinate young whites on a mass level.”

Members of white nationalist groups have advised those who discover non-Aryan heritage to rely more on genealogy or the “mirror test,” as quoted in a sociological study of Stormfront members discussing ancestry-test results. (“When you look in the mirror, do you see a Jew? If not, you’re good,” one commenter wrote.)

“For me, the number one takeaway is how easily people reject science,” said Anita Foeman, a professor of communication studies who co-directs the DNA Discussion Project, whose respondents are mostly in and around Philadelphia. (In a sample of 217 self-identified European Americans from the project, 22 percent learned that they had African DNA.)

“Many whites would get a new story and say, ‘I’m still going to call myself ‘white,’ or ‘I’m still going to call myself ‘Italian,’ ” Foeman said. “They started to less see race as genetic and more a question of culture and [physical appearance].”

The project found certain groups – younger people and families, for example – to be more open to the news. “Women just tend to be more flexible in terms of racial identification,” Foeman said.

Technology helping to break down polarisation

In an era when technology is partly blamed for an increased sense of polarisation, it is perhaps ironic that a technological advance is helping to blow up some of that. And because users can connect with relatives on the DNA registries, some white test-takers have been fascinated to find fourth or fifth cousins who are black.

The test results can present an intriguing puzzle. When a significant amount of African DNA shows up in a presumably white person, “there’s usually a story – either a parent moved away or a grandparent died young,” said Angela Trammel, an investigative genealogist in the Washington area. “Usually a story of mystery, disappearance – something.”

Mysteries unravelled

For Persley, 46, the link turned out to be her grandfather, who had moved away from his native Georgia and started a new life passing as white in Michigan. He married a white woman, who bore Persley’s father.

But in researching her genealogy after college, Persley discovered that her grandfather’s brother, her great-uncle, continued to identify as African American back in Macon and became a celebrated architect. A recent genetic test confirmed that Persley’s DNA is around 8 percent African.

“That was a bombshell revelation for me and my family,” said Persley, now an artist and real estate investor in Boca Raton, Florida. She doubts her father knew. “My father had already passed away, so I could not ask him. It would have been, I think, a very difficult conversation to have with him, and I don’t think he would have been pleased. . . . I’m absolutely proud of my genealogy and my heritage, but I think my father would have thought I was dishonouring his father, because it was a secret and I dug it up.”

Her mother was flabbergasted.

“Her jaw dropped,” Persley said, “and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, I was married to a black man, and I didn’t even know it!’ ”

Persley now recalls hints in her father – his laugh, his mannerisms – that remind her of black friends and makes her sad about connections that were lost.

“To me, that’s the real tragedy of it,” she said. “His father had to completely reinvent himself and cut everyone in his family off, and that’s so tragic.”

For Brendan Lordan, 18, of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, the test also helped fill in missing family lore

He grew up believing that he was German and Irish, and had known about all his relatives except for a great-great-grandmother.

“Nobody knew her name or who she was,” Lordan said. She had had three sons, but they were taken away from her as infants. “When she was on her deathbed, one of them was allowed to go in and talk to her for a few minutes, but only with the light off.”

The family assumed it was because she was socially inferior to the boys’ father, perhaps a prostitute.

But when Lordan’s DNA test came back 4 percent African, another narrative emerged: that she was black but her sons had been light enough to pass as white.

Comparing his test results to the family history made the fair-skinned Lordan reconsider his assumptions.

“The rule in the Old South was a drop of African blood makes you African,” he said. But now that the drops can be measured, “it sort of made race seem a lot more arbitrary. You’d never think I had African heritage just by looking at me. . . . It’s sort of made me disregard race more.”

Still, those drops have had a potent effect on people’s identities

For some whites, even a smidgen of African ancestry was commonly referred to as “the taint,” said Harvard University African and African American studies professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. “That said it all: that it was something to be ashamed of, something dark and dirty.”

Gates, whose PBS show “Finding Your Roots ” helped actor Ty Burrell and singer Carly Simon discover that they had African ancestry, said he hopes that mounting awareness of the complexity of DNA will help lead to greater understanding across racial and ethnic lines.

“One of the pleasures I get from doing

‘Finding Your Roots’ is to show that we’re all mixed and that for 50,000 years everybody’s been sleeping with everybody – and that makes me blissfully happy, because my enemy is racism,” he said.

Often, African DNA is hard to source

Lisa Gross, 55, a sixth- or seventh-generation Kentuckian, grew up hearing she had Native American ancestry, a common narrative for families with unexplained dark complexions. So, in 2014, she mailed in her saliva sample to find out.

The results showed her to be mostly European, but while there was a trace of Native American DNA, “the bigger surprise was that I have a significant amount of sub-Saharan markers,” she said. “I was thrilled. I thought, ‘Wow – where’s that? Where did that come from?’ . . . It’s someone within the last 10 generations. That would go back to about 1600.”

Gross’ relatives came to the New World in the mid-1700s, so the African DNA contribution may have happened in Europe, she said.

“In the best-case scenario, it’s someone who is not in servitude, who was not a slave,” she said. “It’s a free person who enters into the relationship of their own free will, who is not coerced, who is not commanded. That is what I hope. But history tells us that that is probably not the case.”

As DNA tests become more commonplace, Foeman hopes that they will help shift the cultural paradigm. “We are living at a time when people think they have to stick in their camps, but I think people are getting exhausted by that,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to reboot the conversation about race.”

For Persley, it did.

“I felt kind of like a spy, because if I was in a group of white people and they were throwing around the n-word or racist jokes, I felt like I couldn’t idly stand by anymore,” Persley said. “I became kind of an activist. I’d say, ‘Don’t talk like that around me. It offends me – stop.’ ”

Gross, too, said that the discovery made her realize how artificial some cultural narratives can be.

“In this day and time,” she said, “I think that we need to be open to these experiences, and when you think about the concept of race and ‘I’m 100 percent this,’ it’s almost laughable.”

Source: allforwoman.co.za

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