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ASU archaeological center digs out opportunity for veterans

Military vets at ASU working to digitize thousands of records for the public.
September 15, 2016

Military veteran students at Arizona State University are preserving irreplaceable archaeological records for future generations thanks to an innovative initiative by the school’s Center for Digital Antiquity.

As the nation’s largest digital repository of global archaeological data and information, the center has hired student veterans as digital curators. They'll work on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project making thousands of previously unreleased records public as part of the Veterans Curation Program. 

The corps has decades of archaeological investigations to catalogue, and putting students on the task “just made sense,” said Frank Pierce-McManamon, executive director of the Center for Digital Antiquity of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“There are a lot of student veterans at ASU, and (the university) really tries to take care of these folks and give them opportunities,” Pierce-McManamon said.

The first two student veterans started working in August with two others joining the team this month.

“This program is really good,” Army veteran Nickolas Rudolph, one of the new student digital curators, said. “I would love to see more people be able to take advantage of it.”

Rudolph, who is pursuing a second ASU bachelor’s degree in forensics, has been interested in archaeology for a long time and saw this opportunity as a perfect fit. He also sees it as a greater cause.

“I basically jumped at the chance to be able to work in this field and gain some experience,” he said. “And I think also, it’s important to me to do something that is still some kind of service to the greater community.”

As a former Army counterintelligence agent, Rudolph is no stranger to collecting information for others to examine. He compares this job with military intelligence document exploitation, a task he did in Afghanistan. 

“It’s all very similar,” said Rudolph. “It’s all about taking information and making sure it’s able to be found and analyzed.”

The key word is “found” for Rudolph and fellow student veteran Tyler Sutton, who started working at the center at the same time. As they add records to a digital file and create the metadata so that info related to archaeological reports, artifacts, images, and projects can be picked up by internet search engines. This means thoroughly reading each report — which can vary from a few pages to hundreds of pages — to create keywords and determine which elements to highlight so the data can be easily accessed by the public.

“It’s not just simple data entry,” said Sutton, digital curator and Air Force veteran. “You really have to use good judgment."

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Air Force veteran and senior criminology and criminal justice major Tyler Sutton works to digitize archeological records in Hayden Library on the Tempe campus on Sept. 14. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

From reports documenting ancient burial grounds in Hawaii to mass graves in the Middle East, Rudolph and Sutton have learned a lot about archaeology, the U.S. and the world. Occasionally, there is a personal run in with the past. Rudolph said a report he worked on related to a mass grave site in Basra, Iraq, “sticks out because I’ve been there. It’s interesting.”

An archaeological background is helpful but not essential for the digital curator job, said Leigh Anne Ellison, Center for Digital Antiquity program coordinator“They’re definitely learning some archaeological terms along the way,” she said. “Information management is one the major skill sets they’re developing.” 

Digital curators need to be technologically savvy and accurate, said Jenny Cashman, Center for Digital Antiquity research analyst and digital curator.

“That’s one of the things that we looked for, attention to detail and ability to just understand that accuracy is important,” Cashman said. “Because if [information] is not entered accurately, no one can find it later in a search.”   

An analysis by the center illustrates the popularity of the information being digitized and made public at ASU. “We have records of millions of page views” and “tens of thousands of downloads,” Pierce-McManamon said.

Archeologists doing work research are some of the primary customers. Others include the general public researching family or town histories. 

The concept has room to expand. Student veterans could be employed to collect other Department of Defense records or archaeological materials from other government agencies. In the future, not only could the digitization take place at ASU but also the lab portion of initially scanning all the archaeological collections.

“That’s definitely a down the road plan,” Ellison said. “There is space to grow there, and certainly if we could expand beyond Corps of Engineer collections.”


Top photo: Senior forensics major and army veteran Nick Rudolph works to digitize archeological information at Hayden Library on ASU's Tempe campus on Sept. 14. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Science and the human brain: How far is too far?

Think-tank brings together leaders for two days of talks in Washington, DC
ASU professor Diana Bowman talks brain ethics
September 15, 2016

ASU professor helps international think-tank organize event to tackle this and other ethical questions

Important ethical and legal questions are coming up with the rapid expansion of neuroscience and neurotechnology: Among them, how far is too far when it comes to science and the human brain?  

New developments could lead to cures and treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but what about technology that could limit individual freedom by controlling behavior? Then there’s the matter of who will have access to brain-enhancement technologies and who owns data connected to brain-computer interfaces?

To dig into these and other issues, the international think-tank Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is bringing together leaders for a two-day conference in Washington, D.C., starting today.

Arizona State University professor Diana Bowman has been involved as a member of the steering committee for “Neurotechnology and Society: Strengthening Responsible Innovation in Brain Science,” which organizers say intends to advance the understanding and development of innovations in brain science and technology.

Bowman, associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and other leaders hope the discussion will provide clarity regarding the direction of research, its social and economic influence and the regulatory frameworks that will develop.

She spoke with ASU Now about what she expects from the conference.


Diana Bowman

Question: What could go wrong if research and development in brain science goes unchecked?

Answer: The human brain is considered the last frontier for medical research; its complexity, and importance to defining the individual self, has ensured that the brain has received substantial attention from scientists, physicians, philosophers and ethicists alike.

Large-scale investment into brain research by the public and private sectors promises to unlock new therapies and novel approaches for treating costly illnesses and disease including, for example, dementia, Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries.

But as we begin to unlock, and better understand, how the human brain functions there is the potential for abuse, or for ethical and legal concerns to go unchecked. Think Minority Report. Think functional magnetic resonance imaging of criminals, in an effort to predict impulsivity and recidivism and where such approaches to preventing criminal activities, and potentially limiting freedom in order to prevent crime, could infringe fundamental human rights.  

Q: How have we gotten to this point? And what ethical dilemmas have come up, so far?

A: Different technologies and their applications are already giving rise to a myriad of ethical and moral dilemmas.

Of these, some of the most pressing related to human enhancement and the ways and extent to which we should pursue human enhancement technologies: Do the benefits of invasive neuromodulation outweigh potential risks? And what are the privacy and data security risks associated with innovations with brain-computer interface? And what does this convergence mean for ‘the self’?

Theses types of questions are being considered by different groups and individuals around the world. Greater coordination is needed and we need to speed up the pace at which these types of questions are considered and acted upon.

Q: How quickly has the technology advanced?  

A: Research on the human brain is not, in itself, new. Brain science research and advances in neurotechnology has already resulted in numerous medical devices already entering the market.

However, the convergence of other technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and additive manufacturing, combined with enhanced imaging technologies and more powerful infrastructure, will accelerate the pace at which new neurotechnologies evolve, and the entry of new drugs and products into the market.

So too will the aging population, and the pressures that meeting their physical and mental health needs place on governments and other stakeholders.    

Q: Do we expect regulations to be put in place? Are there any now? Should there be?

A: Existing regulatory regimes will capture the types of research being undertaken by scientists involved in these large-scale brain projects, and the products that the projects give rise to — whether that is in the United States, Australia or Israel to name just a few.

The more important question, though, is whether these existing regimes and instruments shall be adequate and effective for the types of technologies and products that they give rise to? And this question we cannot answer at this time given that we simply do not know what this exciting field or research shall give rise to.

The fact that we cannot answer this question makes an event such as the Neurotechnology and Society workshop all the more important.

Bringing together key stakeholders across all relevant fields in order to better understand the trajectory of the research and technologies shall allow us to begin the process of evaluating the effectiveness of the current regimes, and, where necessary, to proactively explore other regulatory and governance models so as to ensure that the potential benefits outweigh potential risks.

Q: Who is this science for? 

A: One can reasonably assume that the therapies and products that are initially developed as a result of this fundamental research will, at least in the first instance, benefit a small segment of the population (i.e., those who are most able to afford them), the majority of whom are likely to reside in developed economies.

This alone presents a myriad of social and ethical challenges, and while not new in themselves, need to be incorporated into funding decisions including the prioritization of research.

For this to be meaningful, different stakeholders need to be at the table and difficult conversations will need to take place. Such conversations need to take place now, ahead of the science, and alongside the development of the science and technologies.  

Q: What would be going too far?

A: Going too far, in my view, can be simply described as follows: not learning the lessons from previous technologies, including their entry into the market and consumer acceptance thereof. For society to be able to take full advantage of the benefits offered by neurotechnologies, we need to ensure that broader ethical, social and legal questions are addressed in real time, and that society is actively engaged in the development, and deployment, of the technologies.