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Koko was an incredible icon for the animal world. She will be missed.

The lowland gorilla who wowed scientists and the public alike with her mastery of sign language passed away on June 21 at age 46.

From the time of her birth, Koko was an instant animal celebrity. She was on the cover of National Geographic twice and became a symbol for those working to improve our understanding of animals and how we treat them.


In her later years, Koko stayed in the spotlight. As recently as 2016, she was making Instagram videos with the band The Red Hot Chili Peppers and even learning how to play the bass guitar with the band's musician Flea.

[rebelmouse-image 19346916 dam="1" original_size="1024x568" caption="Image via FolsomNatural/Flickr." expand=1]Image via FolsomNatural/Flickr.

"Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world," the Gorilla Foundation said in a statement.

Koko's groundbreaking communication skills created invaluable bridges in the relationship between humans and animals.

Koko was best known for learning sign language. Dr. Francine Patterson famously taught a young Koko some simple words and phrases that helped launch a larger program at Stanford University in 1974.

Koko eventually learned to understand an estimated 2,000 English words and learned to sign 1,000 of her own. Patterson stayed with Koko for her entire life, and their relationship was chronicled in a 2016 documentary.

Koko famously had relationships with other human celebrities like Robin Williams — something he called "a mind altering experience." Williams and Koko become close over the years, and after Williams' death, Koko became visibly emotional when she was given the news he had died.

In a viral video that surfaced around the time of his passing, Koko and Williams are seen playing games with each other, and she even recognizes his face on the cover of a VHS tape of one of his movies.

Another favorite celebrity of Koko's was the inimitable Mister Rogers, who she shared some lovely moments with.

And while Koko was in many ways "adopted" by our collective culture, she mimicked human behavior in her own ways, famously asking for a pet kitten for Christmas in 1984. Her caretakers gave her a stuffed animal, but she held out for the real thing. She finally got her pet kitten a year later. She hilariously signed "obnoxious cat" when it playfully bit her.

Her life is a reminder that how we care for and learn from our fellow creatures is an evolving process.

Koko was an animal icon, but she was also more than that. Her contributions to science, communication, and understanding of the animal kingdom has been profound.

She had equally lasting effect on average people as well, creating empathy and compassion for creatures that were often portrayed as threatening. Her legacy is part of a larger relationship between humans and nature that is gradually improving as we educate ourselves about the amazing world that surrounds us.

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Dion Merrick / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.09.21


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