By Melissa Wuske
Faith-Changing Movie Role
Actress Jennifer Garner recently played Christy Beam in the real-life story of the Beam family, Miracles from Heaven. The movie shows how the family coped with daughter Anna’s pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, which requires feeding tubes for sustenance, and how Anna was miraculously cured after a near-death accident.
Portraying this mother changed Garner’s life. “I fell so in love with this family, I fell so in love with their love for each other. I fell so in love with their faith,” said Garner. “It was a transformative experience to play [Christy]; she made me stronger.”
The Beam family’s faith has reawakened faith in Garner and her children. “When I got back to Los Angeles, I was talking to my kids about the movie,” said Garner. “They said, ‘Mom you don’t take us to church,’ and we went that Sunday. . . . That decision was a direct gift from this movie, and for that I’m very grateful.”
Good News Amid Genocide
In early 2015, ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians and then captured 200 Assyrian Christians in Syria’s Hasakah province. “In light of the ISIS militants’ ‘barbaric record with the captured,’ the destiny of these families is a major concern to us,” said Emmnauel Youkhana, Assyrian Church of the East leader.
After reaching a ransom agreement, ISIS released the Assyrian Christians over time in small groups. Now in 2016, a year later, the last 43 were released. “All of those abducted in those raids are now accounted for,” said Middle East Concern. “Almost all have been released, many in recent months following negotiations by church representatives.”
Love and Politics Online
It’s no surprise that Americans are spending more and more time online and on apps, for an increasing variety of purposes. As the presidential election approaches, Reddit, an online discussion forum, is a hub for political news: 7 percent of adults use Reddit, and 78 percent get news there. In the months leading to the vote, traffic and political comments are increasing, and 45 percent of Reddit users rely on the site for election news each week.
On the more personal side of life and online usage, a growing number of Americans are using dating sites and apps: 12 percent of adults have used an online dating site and 9 percent have used a dating mobile app (up from 3 percent in 2013). Since 2013, dating sites and app usage have tripled among 18- to 24-year-olds and doubled for 55- to 64-year-olds.
Robots with Empathy?
Worried that when robots inevitably take over, they’ll wage war against humans? A prototype by Georgia Institute of Technology called Quixote provides a more comforting view of the future. Quixote learns human social conventions through stories and a simple system of rewards.
“We find that Quixote can learn how to perform a task the same way humans tend to do it,” said associate professor Mark Riedl. “If an AI were given the goal of simply returning home with a drug, it might steal the drug because that takes the fewest actions and uses the fewest resources.” Through stories the AI learns what is socially acceptable.
“We believe that a computer that can read and understand stories, can, if given enough example stories from a given culture, ‘reverse engineer’ the values tacitly held by the culture that produced them,” Riedl and colleague Brent Harrison said.
Melissa Wuske is a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband, Shawn, live and minister in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Find her work online (melissaannewuske.com).