From Mind Reading to the Reading Mind

by Kathryn on March 22, 2018

My latest feature article for Science News for Students explores how the brain reads and how the process can go wrong, either as the result of dyslexia or a brain injury: Cool Jobs: Decoding how your brain ‘reads’

The idea for this story came out of an interview on a totally different topic. I had planned to include the idea of “passthoughts” in my story about brain waves and brain-computer interfaces: One day, computers may decode your dreams.

But the first draft of that story was way too long. I had to cut the section on passthoughts. But I had conducted two great interviews already with scientists working in this area. Was that work all for nothing? Of course not! I managed to turn both interviews into something new.

One of the scientists I spoke with, Sarah Laszlo, had mentioned during our conversation that her main area of research was into how the brain reads. She mentioned that she brought kids into her lab regularly to measure brain waves as they read. I thought this sounded super cool. But her research was still in progress. So I pitched the idea of a feature article about reading once her next paper was published.

Two years later, here is the story!

My other interview about passthoughts wasn’t wasted, either. Last year I saw that Muse magazine was planning an issue focused on cybersecurity. So I pitched an article on passthoughts. The editor asked me to write it at a 3rd to 4th grade reading level, which was a fun challenge. I interviewed John Chuang again, since it had been so long since our original talk. He had come out with a few new papers on the subject in the meantime.

The article, “Think Your Password,” came out in the March 2018 issue of Muse.


If You Believe in Me, I’ll Believe in You

by Kathryn on November 13, 2017

The latest issue of Muse magazine focuses on artificial intelligence. This topic is one of my absolute favorites to think and write about. Way back in high school, I did a big project on the question: “will computers ever be able to think?” At the time, my opinion was “no.” I didn’t think computers could ever have the capacity to match human creativity or emotion. Now, I’d say “yes, they already think!” without hesitating. Artificial intelligence is leagues beyond where it was in the 1990s. But my concept of what “thought” entails has also changed. Now, I feel that what computers do is an alien kind of thought.

A little over a year ago, I was working on pitching a book proposal. The book was going to be about artificial intelligence for kids. That proposal didn’t end up getting accepted, though I plan to tweak it and resubmit at some point. However, when the Muse AI issue was announced, I turned my idea for the book into an article. The article discusses deep learning and the current state of AI technology. I also wrote a sidebar about whether computers will become (or already are) self-aware. The sidebar ends with one of my favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll: “If you believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

Unfortunately, belief may not matter much when it comes to AI. We may not get a chance to decide whether AI is truly self-aware or thinking. It may surpass our own intelligence so quickly that we don’t know what hit us. Here’s a fantastic post about the potential dangers (and potential upsides) of superintelligence.




Microbes, Microbes, Everywhere!

October 12, 2017

I’ve spent a lot of time recently writing about the microbiome. My June article on Cool Jobs in forensics focused mostly on researchers developing crime-solving tools based on microbial fingerprints or microbial residue. I wrote another article on the same topic for Muse. It will come out in January. My latest Science News for Students […]

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Seven Books in One Month

September 20, 2017

I guess five articles in a few weeks doesn’t seem so impressive any more! I had seven books come out in August 2017. Here they are: Robotics Engineer, Cutting Edge Careers, ReferencePoint Press, August 2017 Virtual Reality Developer, Cutting Edge Careers, ReferencePoint Press, August 2017 Real-World STEM: Develop Fusion Energy, ReferencePoint Press, August 2017 Kimberly […]

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Five Articles in Three Weeks

June 14, 2017

Apparently, I’ve been busy! In a span of three weeks, five of my articles came out on Science News for Students. June 8, 2017: Cool Jobs: New tools to solve crimes June 5, 2017: Underwater robot vaccuums up lionfish June 1, 2017: Are fidget spinners tools or toys? May 25, 2017: Cool Jobs: Counting calories and Explainer: All about the […]

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Robots and Cyborgs

April 20, 2017

Recently, I’ve written two articles for Science News for Students about robotics: Teaching robots right from wrong and Wired and weird: Meet the cyborg plants Artificial intelligence has always been one of my favorite things to learn about and think about. When my editor at Science News for Students said she’d like to see a feature on […]

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A Love of Language and Letters

March 9, 2017

A very special article just came out in Muse magazine: “Communing with the Letter Spirits.” This piece is about Douglas Hofstadter’s Letter Spirit project, which was an attempt to model human creativity through a computer program that created its own fonts. But for me, the meaning goes much deeper. When I was a teenager, I […]

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Climate Change vs Fracking

February 13, 2017

Four years ago, I attended a fascinating talk by Richard Alley about melting ice and climate change at the AAAS conference in Boston. Read my post about it here. When I found out that Muse magazine was going to focus an upcoming issue on climate change, I immediately remembered that talk and pitched an article […]

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How to Make a Dream Journal

November 21, 2016

I had the most awesome college job ever. I worked in the library repairing books. An elderly gentleman named Chuck taught me how to reinforce spines, replace covers, and repair torn pages (with a tiny iron and special fabric – never scotch tape!). I even learned some binding techniques. I loved that job. For Muse’s […]

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Happy Halloween

October 28, 2016

Ever since I first learned that a fungus can turn ants into zombies, I’ve wanted to write about it. I finally got the chance! My editor wanted a piece on “real zombies” in time for Halloween. This was a dream assignment for me. I love bugs, especially spiders. Ants are pretty cool, too. Here are […]

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