Monday, June 5, 2017

The autoimmune era

Humans, it appears, have successfully conquered external biological threats to them, at least in the short run. One implication of this dominance is the alarming rise of autoimmune diseases that now account for most of the healthcare costs. Their finely tuned and powerful immune system has become a great liability for the modern humans, devoid of bugs. Boredom of overdesigned systems appear to be as deadly as anything else. Recent discovery of rare diseases in which the immune system attacks the brain itself is a constant reminder that the biggest threat for humans in the long run is their own immune systems.
 
Heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, COPD, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension account for over 80% of the healthcare costs. The bugs are not implicated in any and it appears that the body has begun to attack itself. Original design deficiencies in Homo sapiens have certainly caught up with them. The plumbing was never designed to last more than a few decades and the body, now stretched to twice the original design life, seems to struggle to get rid of the waste products both in the brain and in the circulation systems. To make matters worse, humans invented agriculture recently and this has fundamentally changed the course of their health. They have been feeding themselves material that neither the body nor the bacteria in their guts have ever been designed to efficiently digest.
 
We are in the autoimmune era, in which most humans will die because of the efficiency of their immune systems or the inability of the circulations systems to discharge waste products. Medicine and Engineering are certainly converging, but not in a way that technologists imagined.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Artificially Intelligent Pain

Recent observations (1) from the University of Cambridge that machine learning could identify the amount of pain suffered by sheep from their facial expressions is a good tangent to pursue. It may even have applications in humans, unable to communicate because of  recent or permanent loss of auditory and visual functions. Machines have been growing in stature and they seem to trump humans in most routine tasks. But increasingly, they are filling the gaps that humans are unable or untrained to do. There is no turning back from the AI train as it had left the station nearly 3 decades ago. Now cheaper and faster computers are making what could not be done by pure imagination.


On the other hand, humans generally get over-excited about emerging technologies and they believe problems could be solved in the matter of months, if not, days. Often, they have been wrong and many examples are available, in air travel, the internet, human genome based medicines and most recently, machine learning. Humans have been slow leaners, in spite of the massive energy hog they have been endowed with and they are programmed to look to the future rather than the past. That is a good thing but looking too far and over the hills may get them into trouble, something that did not exist for most of their evolution.


Understanding pain from facial expressions is a good step forward but a 67% accuracy (1) is not sufficiently robust for practical applications. Machine learning can easily create models of that accuracy from random and noisy data. Before declaring victory, much work is in store to think about what it could mean.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/artificial-intelligence-learns-spot-pain-sheep

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vancomycin 3.0 - The fight continues

Recent news (1) that a new breed of antibiotics, possibly many orders of higher potency than what is currently available, is entering the fight against the Earth's oldest inhabitants, could be welcome news for extension of life for humans. However, the long term implications of such leapfrogs remain uncertain. Bacteria, the most robust form of life known, have been fighting and improving for nearly 4 billion years. The upstarts, humans, seem to have turned them back incrementally. But the aggregate number of evolutionary experiments possible matter and here, the single cell organism reign supreme and for ever.

Bacteria have crowded out the human gut and they supply a large number of genes incorporated into the human architecture. There has been some evidence that bacteria control the human brain from the gut using nerve ends and they have occasionally even breached the blood-brain barrier. The original Extra-terrestrials have been potent and high achieving, seemingly able to dominate anything thrown their way. They even dance in unison and communicate by telepathy, notions higher order animals, find hard to appreciate. Lack of sight and biases helped them cooperate across species and evolve into the most dominant life form on Earth.

The winner of this race is predetermined as the early arrivals to the blue planet have captured the soul and imagination of the irrelevant speck in the universe.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/superantibiotic-25000-times-more-potent-its-predecessor

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sleep discrimination

A recent study (1) concludes that the world is heading toward sleepless nights with climate change driving temperatures up. A mere 1 degree temperature rise at night could result in a 10% loss in sleep. This is a problematic trend, with a skewed impact on the poor who can't afford air conditioning. More importantly, loss of sleep has significant deleterious effects on health and cognition, with possible broad impacts on students and young adults. This is another reminder that changes in the environment could have negative effects on the population in many different ways. Anything that affects the rapid progression of millennials is not something humanity could afford, at this critical juncture, if they were to leap to a level 1 society.


As they ventured out of Africa, humans encountered harsh winters in the North with their systems adjusting rapidly by changes in skin and hair colors. Those who went South had an easier time and appear to be well positioned for the rising temperatures of the modern world. However, the organ they carry on their shoulders hogs energy and has to be kept cool for them to slumber. A rise in the ambient temperature is problematic for the human system and especially for the CPU. Perhaps, it is time for newer technologies that let a cooler bubble around the human brain. Evolution of the human brain has been slow. Massive leaps achieved a few hundred thousand years ago by animal fat have been tempered significantly by the advent of agriculture. And, modern humans appear to show slow degradation of cognitive capabilities, perhaps aided by substance abuse.


It is unlikely that humans can turn back the temperature dial but perhaps they can find more creative ways to cool the brain cells and sleep better.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/scientists-warn-sleepless-nights-warming-world

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tactical valley of ignorance

Many of the rich and famous appear to be now indicating that universal income (1) is a good policy. It may be too little too late with children running powerful nations and corporations. If they do want to make an impact, it will take more than speeches and photo ops. It will require actions to disseminate information across populations and technologies that can curb misinformation. It will require belief and the ability to embrace a utility function that encompasses humanity.

There are good signs for humanity, however. Bad examples have great value in education and we certainly have a great number of them in full display. But education is a necessary condition that will allow humanity to separate the wheat from the chaff, those who have been marginalized and the lucky, those who volunteer to make the world better and the uninterested, the unlucky from those who fight for money, the rebels from those who appear religious, the travellers from those who stay put, the indifferent from those who seek their own kind, the optimizers from those who maximize, the elderly from those who do not grow up.

We are slowly progressing toward a better society. The hiccups on the way are just that and contemporary events may provide rich fodder for comedy shows in a few decades. The millennials appear to have it but they have to get through a tactical valley of ignorance.


(1) https://townhall.com/tipsheet/laurettabrown/2017/05/25/mark-zuckerberg-argues-for-universal-income-in-speech-to-harvard-grads-n2331924

Friday, May 19, 2017

Immigrants

Nearly 3% of the population - 250 million, live outside the country of their birth (1) and it is a constant reminder that humans have been on the move for over 100 thousand years. They spread culture, ideas and biases across locations and continents, eliminated those who differ from them and clung together to survive in the bottleneck that reduced them to a few thousand. In spite of the walls that separated them, they pushed to assimilate in spite of the color of their skin, eyes or hair, and now we may be turning time back for the worse.


Knowledge has always slowed down the journey to destruction and those who did not imbibe from the fountain have been left behind to fend for themselves. Geographical segmentation schemes have separated siblings and illogical religious constructs have united those who never wanted to be united. Humans have separated themselves based on surface features, never considering that their architecture has been a lot deeper. As they shut down the boundaries of their recent homes based on ignorance, the intelligentsia bleeds but as they always do, they remain ineffective.


Move, move again - and let humanity come together, once again.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/people-move-science-migrations

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The advantages of sex

A recent study (1) suggests that genetic interactions are driving selection. This is an important finding and it suggests that mutations are not sufficiently robust to propel populations to more dominant states. In fact, mutations may have a negative effect on optimal progression. It has major policy implications in that, if humanity were to survive, it would be largely driven by genetic interactions rather than optimization in sub-populations.
 
Humans seem to be on a dangerous course, propelled by an affinity to surface features and segmented utility. The leaders in most countries appear to be less intelligent than average and it implies suboptimal policies with long term deleterious effects. As they travelled out of Africa by foot, first to Australasia and then to China, they never imagined the state of affairs, they would find themselves in fifty thousand years later. Some travelled north and obliterated the gentle Neanderthals and some stayed put, only to be marginalized. Some crossed the ice bridge into the new continent only to be separated from the rest.
 
Without an abundance of genetic interactions, humans are doomed to oblivion. Fortunately, the idiots who run countries and corporations have a limited life span.


(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6337/539

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Pinnacle

At the pinnacle of innovation, technology and war mongering, those who are climbing it seem to have left behind nearly ten million of their exact copies in Nigeria, with half of them malnourished and failing from diseases, amplified by hunger (1). For a societal leap forward, it will require moving the entire humanity to a position of sustenance. Empathy has been easier than effective policies, tweets easier than action, cosmetics and shallow conversations easier than thoughts and ignorance safer than seeking knowledge. Meanwhile, millions perish from lack of basic necessities.
 
The question remains to be why humanity is stuck in this local minimum. Good has always trumped the bad and ideas flourish over stagnation, but it appears that we are unable to break out of a stalemate, aided by global apathy and instability. Societal progress has been immensely hampered by illogical constructs such as an outward show of religion and patriotism. Those who could aid a move up from the valley have been busy nourishing their egos in academia and fighting their colleagues. Those who want to save the world by elevating themselves to the top of the hierarchy have been corrupt and emotionless. At the heart of this stalemate is lack of education, as ignorance has spread like wildfire across the world, aided and abetted by their leaders. If the 7.6 billion occupying the world only knew that they are clones of a single human being, perhaps we can begin to bridge the gap.
 
But it is a tall order as humans suffer from myopia, driven by hard constraints on life span.
 
(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/hunger-amplifies-infectious-diseases-millions-fleeing-violence-boko-haram