Using web search data to detect lung cancer and swinging through the universe with Kinect

While the U.S. election dominated global headlines, there has been lots of other news you may have missed, including Microsoft researchers who detected lung cancer risks through web search logs, and an art exhibit where you can explore the universe from the seat of a swing. So take a moment to look at the world around you – and beyond – this weekend.

Although smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of lung cancer, nearly 20 percent of diagnoses are made in people who are non-smokers. That means geographic, demographic and genetic factors also play a role in the devastating disease. A Microsoft research labs project aims to tackle those aspects by exploring the feasibility of using anonymized web search data to learn more about lung-cancer risk factors and provide early warning to people who are candidates for disease screening.

The findings, published Thursday in JAMA Oncology, extend research from June on the feasibility of using the text of questions people ask search engines to predict diagnoses of pancreatic cancer. The machine-learning method builds on patterns found in the search queries.

“Here, we are not just looking at the text of the queries; we also consider the locations that people are in when they issue these queries, and we tie that back to contextual risk factors linked to those locations,” says study co-author Ryen White, chief technology officer for health intelligence at Microsoft Health in Redmond, Washington.

Online risks have real-world consequences, new Microsoft research shows. Most people have had at least one negative online experience that hurt their trust in others and increased their stress or sleep deprivation, according to the preliminary results of the survey, which polled youth and adults in 14 countries.

The full study on the state of digital civility, personal online safety and digital interactions will be made available on international Safer Internet Day 2017 on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Microsoft decided to release preliminary results following the conclusion of the U.S. presidential election and in conjunction with World Kindness Day on Sunday, Nov. 13.

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