Spoken-language app makes meal logging easier, could aid weight loss

Spoken-language app makes meal logging easier, could aid weight loss

For people struggling with obesity, logging calorie counts and other nutritional information at every meal is a proven way to lose weight. The technique does require consistency and accuracy, however, and when it fails, it’s usually because people don’t have the time to find and record all the information they need.

A few years ago, a team of nutritionists from Tufts University who had been experimenting with mobile-phone apps for recording caloric intake approached members of the Spoken Language Systems Group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), with the idea of a spoken-language application that would make meal logging even easier.

This week, at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing in Shanghai, the MIT researchers are presenting a Web-based prototype of their speech-controlled nutrition-logging system.

With it, the user verbally describes the contents of a meal, and the system parses the description and automatically retrieves the pertinent nutritional data from an online database maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The data is displayed together with images of the corresponding foods and pull-down menus that allow the user to refine their descriptions—selecting, for instance, precise quantities of food. But those refinements can also be made verbally. A user who begins by saying, “For breakfast, I had a bowl of oatmeal, bananas, and a glass of orange juice” can then make the amendment, “I had half a banana,” and the system will update the data it displays about bananas while leaving the rest unchanged.

“What [the Tufts nutritionists] have experienced is that the apps that were out there to help people try to log meals tended to be a little tedious, and therefore people didn’t keep up with them,” says James Glass, a senior research scientist at CSAIL, who leads the Spoken Language Systems Group. “So they were looking for ways that were accurate and easy to input information.”

The first author on the new paper is Mandy Korpusik, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science. She’s joined by Glass, who’s her thesis advisor; her fellow graduate student Michael Price; and by Calvin Huang, an undergraduate researcher in Glass’s group.

Context sensitivity

In the paper, the researchers report the results of experiments with a speech-recognition system that they developed specifically to handle food-related terminology. But that wasn’t the main focus of their work; indeed, an online demo of their meal-logging system instead uses Google’s free speech-recognition app.

Their research concentrated on two other problems. One is identifying words’ functional role: The system needs to recognize that if the user records the phrase “bowl of oatmeal,” nutritional information on oatmeal is pertinent, but if the phrase is “oatmeal cookie,” it’s not.

The other problem is reconciling the user’s phrasing with the entries in the USDA database. For instance, the USDA data on oatmeal is recorded under the heading “oats”; the word “oatmeal” shows up nowhere in the entry.

To address the first problem, the researchers used machine learning. Through the Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, they recruited workers who simply described what they’d eaten at recent meals, then labeled the pertinent words in the description as names of foods, quantities, brand names, or modifiers of the food names. In “bowl of oatmeal,” “bowl” is a quantity and “oatmeal” is a food, but in “oatmeal cookie,” oatmeal is a modifier.

Once they had roughly 10,000 labeled meal descriptions, the researchers used machine-learning algorithms to find patterns in the syntactic relationships between words that would identify their functional roles.

Semantic matching

To translate between users’ descriptions and the labels in the USDA database, the researchers used an open-source database called Freebase, which has entries on more than 8,000 common food items, many of which include synonyms. Where synonyms were lacking, they again recruited Mechanical Turk workers to supply them.

The version of the system presented at the conference is intended chiefly to demonstrate the viability of its approach to natural-language processing; it reports calorie counts but doesn’t yet total them automatically. A version that does is in the works, however, and when it’s complete, the Tufts researchers plan to conduct a user study to determine whether it indeed makes nutrition logging easier.

“I think logging is enormously helpful for many people,” says Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at Tufts’ USDA-sponsored Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “It makes people more self-aware about the junk they are eating and how little they actually enjoy it, and the shock of huge portions, et cetera. But currently, it is really tedious to log your food. There are any number of programs like MyFitnessPal where you can manually enter it by hand, but even with shortcuts it is tedious and not as user friendly as it needs to be for millions of people to use it really regularly.”

“A spoken-language system that you can use with your phone would allow people to log food wherever they are eating it, with less work,” she adds. “As I see it, we need to come up with something that really isn’t much work, so it isn’t an extra burden in life.”

[Source:- Phys.org]

The Facebook crusade of polarising Australian ‘aid worker’ Oliver Bridgeman

Terrorist or aid worker? The Australian Government and Oliver Bridgeman are telling competing stories.

TWO months ago, Queenslander Oliver Bridgeman was jovial, flexing his muscles and joking with the camera in a video posted to Facebook. He was bragging about the school he’d built “with his own hands”.

The 19-year-old was filmed in another video running past an armed guard to spray-paint “#FREESYRIA” on a concrete wall topped with barbed wire. The reward, he said, was worth the risk.

It’s not an activity typically associated with a terrorist, but then Bridgeman says he’s not a terrorist. The Australian Government begs to differ — on Friday the Immigration Department cancelled the Toowoomba-born teen’s passport and ordered he hand it in to the nearest consular post in Turkey.

Trapped in Syria, Bridgeman is back on Facebook, pleading his case and telling the world how he misses home. It could be a while before he sees it again.


On Friday, following the news his passport was cancelled, Bridgeman wrote: “No matter what the Australian Government say or do, they know that I’m here to help humanity and especially the people of Syria.”

Months earlier he wrote: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

They are the same messages he’s been pushing since March last year when he boarded a flight to the Middle East despite telling friends and family he was destined for Indonesia.

His parents, who have not been named, said in a statement in May they had no idea their son was travelling to Syria. They defended him against reports he joined the Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

“We do not believe he is participating in fighting of any kind, nor do we believe he is supporting or participating in terrorist acts.

Bridgeman’s lawyer, Alex Jones, said the government’s decision to cancel the teen’s passport is “nonsensical”.

“The Australian Government has stranded a Queensland teenager in a foreign country,” Mr Jones said.

“This has happened at a time when Mr Bridgeman was organising to come home and had been communicating and fully co-operating with authorities.”

Behind the scenes, Bridgeman thought everything was lining up for a successful return to home soil. He’s kept quiet, stayed out of the media and was waiting for the green light. It never came. An appeal against the decision will be filed on Monday but the government appears determined to keep him out of Australia.


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton responded to criticism over the decision by saying the government will take a hands-off approach to helping any Australian in Syria, regardless of why they’re there..

“People who go off into conflict zones — even if they’re well intentioned — ultimately can cause significant grief and stress for their own families,” Mr Dutton said on Saturday.

“This is something people should contemplate before they go — not when they’re in the middle of a conflict zone.”

He said helping Australians get out of Syria “puts our own military staff and personnel at risk”.

The Bridgeman decision comes as the Australian Government reveals at least one person every day is being hauled off a plane from Australia to the Middle East.

Oliver Bridgeman converted to Islam before flying to the Middle East. Now he wants to come home.

Oliver Bridgeman converted to Islam before flying to the Middle East. Now he wants to come home.Source:Facebook

Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph show there have been 652 offloads since counter-terrorism unites were deployed at all Australian airports.

Bridgeman says he’s not one of them. In fact, he’s the opposite of a terrorist — kind hearted, generous, willing to help those in need.

“The sun is shining bright over Aleppo today,” he wrote on Facebook 10 days ago.

“Let’s hope we don’t get more bombs falling like yesterday. When the Russian strikes nearly hit that school my heart sank. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to see any dead children.

“My first time in Aleppo city and I’m still taking it all in. Despite the Russian strikes these people are so resolute.”


Between posts showing the destruction of the assault on Syria — wheelbarrows covered in blood, Syrian hospital staff helping the wounded — Bridgeman posts photographs of young children.

“Every time I head out to the refugee camps and see the conditions these people live in definitely makes me thankful for the blessings Allah has given me and every one back home,” he wrote on February 21.

“I love these kids with all my heart.”

On other days he thinks about his own predicament, about life in Darling Downs and the family he left behind.

“I get those days when I really miss home. I always remind myself that I’m here to help rebuild what the Syrians once called home.”

Bridgeman claims he is working with frontline aid organisation Live Updates from Syria. The group wrote a message of support for the Australian following the cancellation of his passport.

“It has become evidently clear that the western governments have one rule for Muslims and another for non Muslims,” the organisation posted.

Queenslander Oliver Bridgeman says he’s in Syria to help children affected by war. Picture: Oliver Bridgeman/Facebook

Queenslander Oliver Bridgeman says he’s in Syria to help children affected by war. Picture: Oliver Bridgeman/FacebookSource:Supplied

“Why is there one rule for Australian citizens like Matthew Gardner who fought with the Peshmerga Kurdish militia openly and then returned home without charge?

“Is Oliver Bridgeman’s only crime the fact that he is a Muslim?”

Bridgeman’s lawyer says his only option now is to apply for a temporary travel document but the main goal will be to have his passport reinstated. In the meantime, the Australian remains in Syria, a country declared the fifth most dangerous place in the world for aid workers, behind only Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan.

He’s dodging bombs and sniper attacks and says the streets are deserted.

“People have fled to escape the horrifying possibility of being seiged by the Assad government and it’s Allies,” he wrote from Aleppo on Friday.

“The constant bombing by Russian planes and the possibility of being sniperd by Iranian soldiers, this city has become to dangerous to live in for some. Please keep them in your prayers.”


[Source:- News.com]