Sunday, July 8, 2018

Biological entanglement

Research from Northwestern University (1) that apparently demonstrates quantum entanglement in biological entities opens up new possibilities. A century-old but enigmatic theory has kept a few interested in thought experiments. The recent demonstration of a quantum superposition of a photon in a bacterium (2) is further proof that existing theories are inadequate to describe the universe around us. The status-quo foundational theories are not sufficiently robust to explain reality and that should provide excitement to the emerging generation as there is still much to be explained.

Engineering has kept Physics bottled up for many decades. In a regime of low knowledge, Occam's Razor has to rule, for proof can be manufactured by technology for any hypothesis. It is clear that we lost a century, chasing noise with no fundamental advancement in understanding. Entanglement has been intriguing in many aspects - it proves that the theories we take for granted are likely untrue. It is time to leave grand experiments behind and return to paper, pencil and thought experiments. Advancements can only come from such an avenue as it will require significant shifts away from established notions in Physics.

The struggle between determinism and uncertainty can be seen in many fields, Physics and Economics included. Humans are more comfortable with precision as their senses have been designed to fool them into such an idea. This should have had evolutionary advantages as pattern finding is more about reducing information into neatly organized classifications - predators, tribes, and poisons. And now, technologists have been getting ahead of themselves by machine and deep learning to reduce noise into recognizable patterns. Some have been even calling it "Artificial Intelligence," that includes facial recognition, synthetic speech, NLP, vision, and robotics. A less pretentious term could have been "expert systems," but then the millennials are never short of creative wordsmithing. All of these exciting technologies are simple applications of established mathematics with a deterministic end.

The fork on the road has been between determinism and uncertainty. Nearly 90 years ago, it was shown that the world does not work like we perceive it. That is ironic as perceptions have been the basis of most modern ideas, religion and politics included. They assert something to be true without doubt as the more precise one is, the better she is in the eyes of her followers. Scientists seem to have picked up some bad habits along the same lines, as they look for precision in experiments with the aid of massive computers and bigger particle smashers. Precision, however, is their Achilles' heel as attempts at reducing noise into pre-determined chunks will lead them down blind alleys with no exit.

The same struggle happens in economics, where researchers attempt equations and charts to explain outcomes in a clear and concise way. But not many have asked if the underlying assumptions are true and how uncertainty plays into decision-making. Without a clear understanding of the macro uncertainty that drives systems, some have been wasting time in "behavioral economics," as if explaining human irrationality has utility. If anybody has doubts about the fact that individuals are irrational, just study the zombies who trade back and forth looking at electronic terminals all day. But the behavior of the system could be distinctly different from those of the participants and it is something that engineering processes cannot tease out.

An evolutionary advantage, that bestowed humans with an ability to quickly classify predators, tribes, and poisons, will work against them in the future. As progress comes from diving into a pool of uncertainty and having the flexibility to challenge anything that has already been established. It does not take huge capital nor titles, just the ability to keep an open mind.


(1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171205130106.htm
(2) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00107514.2016.1261860


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Externalizing ego

From inception, humans have been guided by their ego, a constant force that separated the individual from society and provided meaning for her otherwise inexplicable emotions. With the advent of religion and the alluring hypothesis of the existence of God, ego was given higher context. It has been powerful in shaping and often restricting the individual's ability to observe from outside as the demarcation between the individual and the rest seemed clear. There have been philosophical attempts to break the shackles, but it has been limited to a few samples over the 100 billion that passed.

It is unfortunate. A design fault in the powerful quantum computer they carry lead most astray. The hardware provides possibilities but the software has failed to advance over the last half a million years. Ego has been chained to the darkest corners of the brain with an innate ability to disburse precise instructions on how and when not to interact. It has been exceptionally good at recognizing shades of white, black, brown and yellow. It recognizes right and left precisely but never the middle. It drives the West against the East, the South against the North and those who nestled in comfortable corners against those who want to change direction. It is powerful in its own mind and it is unable to consider alternatives. It speaks in full throttle in your brain and it shuns those without a voice. It wants to live perpetually and not let others do the same.

Humans, prisoners of their own ego, need an inspiration discontinuity to move further. It is unlikely to come from the past and the future appears uncertain, but that may not be bad.

Monday, June 18, 2018

ET deadline

As we approach the deadline for ET discovery, as proclaimed by the space agency, there appears to be a bit of panic. Discovering organic matter in Martian rocks (1) is not ET discovery, especially because there are plenty of abiotic explanations for the same. Even if it were of biological origin, it proves nothing as close proximity panspermia is not particularly interesting. The question remains to be where the green women are hiding in this vast universe of ours. The answer is that they may not exist.

Statistics enthusiasts always pointed to the fact that the universe contains 10 billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars and that makes it virtually impossible for life not to exist elsewhere. This could be true but a more interesting question is what the probability is for humans to find them. On this question, the chances appear bleak, for the laws of Physics constrain them to the darkest corners of the universe as they make toys to "explore," the heavens. It is almost like the current crop of explorers are yet to understand the harsh space-time constraints proposed by the century-old theory. 

Contemporary physicists are adept at proving that ever elusive particles exist by mining "big data," but they are certainly incompetent in finding tangible proof for the puzzle that has vexed humanity ever since they looked up into the night sky. "Is there anybody out there?." The most logical answer appears to be an emphatic no, as an "N of 1," experiment proves nothing, in spite of the daunting statistical likelihood. Even if the rover finds worms and bacteria in the red planet, it does not mean that they are extra-terrestrial, for two reasons. First, robust single cell organisms have been hitching rides on Mars missions forever and second, it could just mean that life originated there and then migrated to the blue planet. So, this is not the ET that the world has been waiting for.  Further out near Saturn, icy globes of Enceladus and Titan have been tantalizing for ET enthusiasts forever. They appear to be giving up on them, as it could be too much work. Digging 6 meters into the Martian soil and finding a single cell organism appears to be an easy way to put an end to the misery.

The space agency is on notice. They have to produce an ET in less than 500 days (as they promised several years ago).


(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6393/1096

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The naked put

Recent news of celebrities exercising a put option on life, apparently sub-optimally, has to be understood in a larger context. If the individual's expectation of aggregate utility from the point of decision to the expiry of the put is negative and deterministic, the exercise is optimal from her viewpoint. In a free society, the individual's optimum decision has to be upheld over society's desires.

However, if the individual's expectations are wrong or they are motivated by incorrect assumptions, then both the individual and society lose simultaneously. The solution to this rising epidemic is not tactical intervention but rather a strategic analysis of decision processes that lead individuals to a point of no turning back. One important area of further research is the struggle between the left and right brain processes. If the left brain dominates this negotiation, a linear and logical assimilation of known information, leading to a set of assumptions and subsequently an estimation of aggregate remaining utility, it may provide a deterministic or low volatility answer. In this case, the individual may incorrectly perceive an optimum exercise horizon. It appears that one solution is to re-engage the right brain more forcibly into the conversation.

As humanity move faster toward a technology-led society where predictability is increasing, it is possible that left brain dominance will continue to increase. The accelerated growth in suicide rates in developed countries is a symptom of this phenomenon. The solution is the nourishment of the right brain and the imposition of possible penalties for left brain dominance. An objective function that is primarily driven by materialism and ego, will continue to favor the left brain. The goal for societies, then, is to nourish complete individuals and not efficient humanoids. To do this, one has to get away from conventional and precise metrics and embrace uncertainty more fundamentally.

Humans, lining up on a conveyor belt to nowhere that appears to go ever faster, may want to look over the horizon and into the heavens, for inspiration.




Saturday, June 2, 2018

Deeper learning

A recent article (1) that demonstrates how neural networks could be used to approximate light scattering by nanoparticles is an interesting new direction. We appear to be approaching a regime in which prescriptive analytical solutions and conventional simulation become inferior to deep learning. This is exciting but it also presents a huge downside for the advancement of abstract knowledge. Models that show robust outcomes are welcome but a generation of new scientists, prone to taking to the machine to prove hypotheses, by feeding them small samples of historical data, could dampen theoretical advancement not only in Physics but also in other areas.

This struggle between empiricism and rationalism has been with humans from inception. Did they survive by predicting where the lion is likely to be by using historical data of previous (bad) outcomes or did they rationalize by abstracting the expected behavior of the animal? Did they predict when an animal is likely to attack by using historical data on the timing of previous attacks or did they understand the animal's incentives and available alternatives? Did they migrate incrementally by using predictions, originating from previous short excursions, or did they go boldly where no woman had ever gone? Were our ancestors empiricists or rationalists?

It is difficult to ascertain one way or the other. It appears that empiricism has been a hidden attribute in our psyche for long. Till the advent of computers, rationalism appears to have dominated but since then, empiricism has been on a steep rise. In Physics, they now collect and stream data to find "new particles," without even asking why such observations are important. In medicine, they "high throughput screen" looking for the needle in the haystack, without a clear understanding of the mechanism of action. In economics, they regress data to find insights without asking whether they are insights at all.

There is likely no stopping the trend. As computers get more powerful, empiricism will become ever more dominant. If this is a natural outcome of evolution, then, advanced societies elsewhere (if they do exist) would be asymptomatically approaching pure empiricism for knowledge generation. That could be there Achille's heal as it also means that their knowledge is dependent on the past. A planet full of robots, with no ability to abstract but with an infinite capacity to learn from the past, could be highly inefficient.

Would humans retain inefficient qualities of being a human? It seems unlikely.


(1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/6/eaar4206.full

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Brainy bitter

A recent study (1) suggests a novel way to control blood sugar and more generally, reduce the complications arising from type II diabetes, the disease responsible for over half of healthcare costs around the world. Meat eating homo-sapiens found agriculture recently and an overdose of carbs now threaten to create a negative slope to their expected lifespan for the first time in human history.  As millions around the world take to processed food and sugar-infused drinks as their economies improve, the world is moving closer to a healthcare precipice. They lose feeling in their feet, sight, movement and even reach amputations of limbs, not to mention the complete loss of life due to heart attacks and strokes, due to a simple condition - excess sugar and insulin in their system. The miracle of insulin has kept them going beyond expiry but all attempts at delivering the drug in easier ways, have failed.

Now, the intriguing new study shows how the brain could play an important part in the regulation of glucose (1) in the body. Dopamine release induced by deep brain electrical stimulation seems to improve insulin sensitivity, the loss of which portends the arrival of the wretched disease. Loss or lack of production of dopamine appears to reduce insulin sensitivity, likely leading to type II diabetes over time in non-diabetics. The pancreas which is responsible for optimally producing insulin to break down the bad intake is totally within the control of the brain that appears to behave differently based on the amount of dopamine it produces. The experiments explained in the study appear to support that neuronal activity in the forebrain could improve insulin sensitivity with beneficial effects on humans, either suffering from or tending toward the well-understood condition.

An active and stimulated brain could be the least invasive intervention to most diseases.


(1) Striatal dopamine regulates systemic glucose metabolism in humans and mice
http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/442/eaar3752



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Revisiting economics

As countries, run by clueless leaders, proliferate, it may be worthwhile to revisit economics in a modern context. Pure empiricism, albeit a small sample, tells us that decisions made by a few people will always be inferior to the wisdom of the crowd and markets. Although there have been a few examples of a benevolent, yet autocratic, leader maximizing societal utility through finely crafted policies, it is not something modern societies can aspire to. Humanity has been degenerating to such an extent that benevolence is not an attribute that one thinks of in leaders.

Recent findings that (1) the Greenland ice samples show how greed and ignorance, did the Roman empire in, are interesting. Money, based on a dirty metal, resulted in led pollution and the subsequent fall of an autocratic syndicate. As academics cling to pure notions of last century economics, they may be missing some important ideas. First, the value of countries and companies are not based on resources or balance sheets, but rather the ability to innovate. Second, there are different varieties of market failures with differing loss of value. For example, a country or company, with an educated and healthy population will have such a high competitive advantage, market failures in these domains will likely result in loss of value, much higher than anything else.

Markets and crowd wisdom provide good guidance for policy. As democracies get manipulated by information webs, it is unclear that the systems and processes that evolved to an optimum position will survive. As countries and companies bifurcate into red and blue without any brown in between, we are approaching a policy impasse. The gap is widening between those who want to focus on tactics to maximize today's cash flow and those with stars in their eyes, setting out to change the world. Neither is likely to succeed as the former will be like the frog that got cooked in a pool of water with slowly increasing temperature and the latter, learning to fly by jumping off the precipice.

Ultimately, it is a comedy - if you do not find the irony, it is time to check out.

(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/05/rise-and-fall-roman-empire-exposed-greenland-ice-samples







Friday, May 11, 2018

Loss of limbs (and mind)

A recent study (1) that demonstrates how to make electrotactile stimulation for human-machine interfaces more effective seems to move us closer to electronically controlled humanoids. More generally, acceleration toward the assimilation of humans and machines could have far-reaching effects on society. A bifurcating humanity, one part fast forwarding to applications of technology and the other left behind, searching for basic needs, may not be sustainable.

Humans appear to have a faulty objective function. Given the right initial conditions, any of the current seven billion samples on Earth could do as good as any other. So, the observed final outcomes in individuals is not a measure of capability but rather differences in initial conditions afforded. An advanced society will attempt to maximize societal utility by providing optimal initial conditions to every individual. And, such a society will celebrate accomplishments and mourn failures as a function of the slope of the knowledge created by the individual. Such a society will be free but also understand that most stand on the shoulders of giants who gave them advantages.

A singular statement emanating from the madhouse, "he is dying anyway," referring to an individual who helped build a country, is incomprehensible. It appears that we have failed to perpetuate a dream that assimilated the world, propelled innovation and remained to be the envy of the populace. Those who consider skin color to be a defining characteristic of success need to learn more, those who believe wealth is a defining characteristic of capability need to learn more, those who believe power is a proxy for arrogance need to learn more, those who believe segmentation schemes such as countries, languages, and religions are useful constructs, need to learn more.

As we enter the dark ages of the modern era, it is useful to look toward the guidance of science.



(1) http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/17/eaap9770

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Irrelvance

Professor Hawking's swan song that implies an infinite number of possible universes is apt. It seems interesting and it makes humanity utterly irrelevant. The idea that there could be an infinite number of universes with different physical laws appears very likely. If one could not transverse such universes, then, the existence of an entity within a narrow container does not explicate possibilities. 

Humans have developed in irrelevance. Out of Africa, they enveloped the world to kill and pillage and to eliminate anything that did not have the same skull shape. The species have been very destructive, suffering from biases based on surface features and most recently they apparently elected a leader, who in spite of getting educated in the "best schools," harbor few brain cells. He dictates his own health records and surrounds himself with lawyers, who could get him out of trouble. Not so fast. Lawyers are not sufficiently value-adding - in fact, they destroy value in most cases.

Future generations who look back to these dark ages will be astonished at the lack of intelligence. But then, humans have never been so intelligent.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

No Contact

What will an advanced society look like if it were based on the basic building blocks of known biological systems? We have observed that systems evolve from single cell organisms to somewhat more complex structures over time. The underlying objective function, however, has remained remarkably constant over 4 billion years. And it is optimized for few outcomes such as the individual entity's allowed time to the recycle bin and the probability of passing along its genes. From a system perspective, the optimization of such a localized and narrow objective cannot advance society, defined as the accumulation of all entities within scope.

This implies that society can only advance if the individual's objectives are different from what we are used to. In the only known experiment where chemicals spontaneously assembled to optimize simple and hard objective functions, it is clear that advancement is not possible. If other life forms exist, perhaps away from Carbon and DNA, it is conceivable that individuals have aligned incentives with society and in such a case, advancement is possible and that could be rapid.

It is possible that life forms tend toward binary endpoints - one in which individual's objectives are dominant where advancement is unlikely and another one in which individual is part of a unified whole, where advancement could be exponential. In the former, a hard end is likely and in the latter, a runaway advancement could lead to systems that can conquer the universe. In such a society, energy will not be a constraint and the only metric of importance will be the slope of aggregate knowledge. It is possible that mind could be abstracted from the body, the former allowing additive possibilities and the latter could be continuously replenished. Thus, individuals will not face a recycling horizon and society itself could have an infinite number of options to transverse space-time.

As the ET enthusiasts run out of time, they have to recognize a sober fact. Their cousins elsewhere, if they are like them, cannot surpass the space-time constraints to show themselves and if they are not, they will have no interest in "contact."


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Physics saves humanity


Recent news that a blood test could detect early-stage cancer with a 65% accuracy (1), is promising. However, this is not a sensitivity level that makes such technology very useful. Life sciences and healthcare researchers have been suffering from segmented specialization and domain experts in each sub-segment believe that they know everything. This has led to underutilization of available technologies from other industries and solutions that optimize within a narrow context. If the goal is to reach the best possible solution, it is advisable to get out of the labs and look across domains and let some of the egos go.

Healthcare, perennial laggards in the use of information technology, in the prediction, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases is falling further behind. As the engineers figure out autonomous cars and space tourism without breaking a sweat, life sciences and healthcare professionals, steeped in conventionalism, have been pretending that humans are indeed different from machines. Certainly, the policymakers in Washington appear closer to machines as they "retire," with lifetime healthcare benefits after robbing the same from 13 million Americans. And the most powerful one, after figuring out the 140 character idiot box, has been addicted to it just as a robot would be.

Machines are accelerating toward demonstrating higher cognitive capabilities while the frail bodies of the declining species suffer from a lack of acceptance of change. They have been immensely creative at inception. As they stood up in the African Savannah with a feeble architecture that was no match to the beasts that roamed, they courageously exposed themselves to danger. They traveled to every corner of the blue planet on foot and created habitats that are in sync with the environment. They survived a narrow bottleneck of fewer than 15,000 samples as the ice age advanced across the globe. And then, the "modern woman," arrived - and that was bad news. Agriculture, the industrial revolution, and computer technology seem to have made them weaker. Grains made them diabetic, industries have been fuming poison into their greenhouse and technology now appears to set them back.

The fundamental question remains to be that if life indeed is a result of Physics. Before the "God particle," and "gravitational waves," there were more fundamental concepts such as entropy. If entropy has an unambiguous positive slope and more importantly if there is a universal objective function that maximizes entropy, life certainly fits. Life appears to be most efficient compared to natural processes to accelerate entropy and that points to the idea that the creation, maintenance, and eventual destruction of life are driven by physical processes. To reject this hypothesis, one has to prove that life has entropy reducing effects. It does not appear to be so. Organization of life in structures from bacteria to humans appear to accelerate entropy. It is possible that one can mathematically show that the size of colonies of life that we observe is entropy maximizing.

Physics may require life to survive as it may be the best way to maximize an overall objective function. Humans may be saved in spite of themselves, by Physics.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/blood-test-shows-promise-spotting-early-cancers

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The bane of pharmaceutical R&D

A recent study (1) appears to raise red flags on pharmaceutical research, animal studies and the contemporary scientific process in general. Perhaps it could be new to the authors but most of what they describe have been known to the community for many decades. The following are important considerations in this debate. I state them without proof but there is plenty out there:

(a) A very large percentage of the published studies cannot be replicated
(b) Most of the published studies target proving something rather than the other way around
(c) The quantity of publishing (rather than the quality) is the most important metric for most educational institutions to determine the reward for academics
(d) Big pharma is run by outdated leaders who are trying to churn out incremental medicines to meet shareholder value targets
(e) The drug discovery and development processes are ably assisted by an incompetent regulatory agency with many conflicts of interest
(f) Hypothesis testing in life sciences still clings to a nearly 100 years’ old idea that uncertainty is normally distributed. And most statisticians, encumbered by the agency’s love for “p-value,” will not deviate from the framework. And in the process, they have approved bad drugs, rejected good ones and failed to identify sub-populations who could benefit from the NCE.

So, the authors’ contention that many animal studies are not published at all, albeit interesting, is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a much bigger problem to tackle. The leaders of life sciences companies and their regulators may want to consider retirement, say after 80, as they may need to yield to young leaders who have a higher appreciation of emerging technologies.

The correlation between animal studies that precede the clinic and what happens in humans has been incredibly low for almost a century. They have tried everything from mice, rabbits, dogs, and chimps in an attempt to prove the unprovable. In the process, they reduced animal welfare while simultaneously developing therapies that can only be called, “bad.” The finding that the therapeutic index of marketed drugs seems to decline over time is a warning signal that there are many inefficiencies in the R&D and approval processes.

Technology is advancing. We do not have to stick to regression slide rules to prove or disprove if a drug works anymore. It is time life sciences industry embraced ideas that are transforming every other industry. To make that happen, it will require cleaning the shop and starting over.

Old ideas die hard and older ideas are even worse.

(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/clinical-trials-may-be-based-flimsy-animal-data


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Man-made panspermia

Man-made panspermia is an increasing concern for humans as they struggle to understand their role in the universe. Harsh space-time constraints give them a very narrow view of their container that could be a small bubble in a multiverse. And thus far, they have not heard or seen from anybody in their neighborhood even with great efforts to do so. Calculations by a UCL cosmologist who showed that the solar system is about the size of an atom in the city of London, if one were to create a model of the known universe, may provide context to the irrelevance of our existence. Space explorations pursued by the budding species have been messy and may have already contaminated the very areas they use to estimate the probability of life elsewhere. It is ironic that in this "advanced technological age," our own space junk is showering down on us from the heavens.
Physical exploration of close proximities to understand the origins and existence of life is symptomatic of the lack of development of the human psyche. At the turn of last century, there were glimpses of intelligence when science and philosophy came together to explore ideas without toys and data mining. With the advent of computers, the ability of humans to advance abstract ideas has been declining. Who wants to theorize if one can simply grab "big data," and prove any possible hypothesis? This idea is accelerating with clinicians and scientists as they turn to machines to prove what they want to prove. Physics, without significant theoretical advancements for over a century, has been solely focused on colliders and space telescopes as if the ultimate frontier is data. As humans slip down to a regime driven largely by incrementalism, technology, and data, it is worth looking back to an age where abstract thinking made fundamental positive changes.
Religion, the original science, has provided a framework to think. The originators have been unbiased with an objective function that encompassed the entire society. But just as anything else, politics, business and academics included, such pure abstract notions were hijacked for the benefit of a few. The practice of religion, as observed today, has no semblance to the original thinking, just the opposite. Then science came along but it also shows similar attributes. Those who practice this modern religion, optimize within very narrow contexts with no real implications for society. What saved humanity thus far, however, is the sheer quantity of good over bad, perhaps aided by Selection that optimized outcomes over expected life spans. Humans appear to be drifting without any specific goals. Scientists and technologists are speeding down the highway that looks like it is to nowhere. And the onlookers from the pedestrian corridors have succumbed to a lack of understanding of societal utility. They appear to cling to unproven ideas and often have leaders who attempt to divide than unite. 
In a divided world of haves and have-nots, the colored and less colored, tall and short, wide and narrow, young and elderly, urban and sub-urban, sailors and climbers and musicians and mathematicians, we are all nestled in a space of an atom in a city of the size of London. And, there could be an infinite number of such cities. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

United Nations

The United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is generally a good philosophical framework for humans to attempt to climb out of the dreadful situation they are in. As the "advanced nations," run by idiotic leaders move backward by shoving millions of people away from health care and prevention, one can only wonder if the current regime is any different from the dark ages. The UN's attempts at expanding these goals to an overarching framework that includes social justice and environmental protection are likely ill-advised. Healthcare is already a complex multi factorial issue and given the limited capabilities of humans, it may not be a good idea to make it more complicated than it is.
Health has become an important issue for modern humans. For most of their history, it was not a worry as they either became prey to the mighty beasts, bacteria or their own kind before "old age," arrived. But now with tactical medications keeping them alive in the absence of meat eating predators, most have to worry about health care. As those in the know tend to stay away from politics, the halls of power are filled with octogenarian charlatans, attempting to save themselves and then perhaps, the rest of the world. The United Nations is no exception, where the appointees arrive with a bleeding heart but attempt to fill their own sacks back home. Grand ideas are good but perhaps the organization has to focus on tactics - to provide clean water, acceptable nutrition and health care to a billion people around the world. That certainly will not turn the heads of the Nobel committee but it will be a more important thing to do. As the man who sits on top of $70 billion still tries to figure out how many "nets," are needed in Africa and as the powerful industrialists attempt to enter the "healthcare market," in the US, the real question is whether they can do something practical.
It is unlikely. Doing something good has never won a Nobel prize, other accolades or a return for shareholders. But there are just a few unknown individuals who make humanity proud of their genes.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Where has all the compassion gone?

Recent news that hunger amplifies infectious diseases (1) is problematic for areas such as Nigeria where life is becoming more of a struggle. Humans are funny animals - they spend hours seeking pennies from work and then lose all of it in the stock market in a micro-second. There are 2 billion souls in the world struggling to defeat disease and hunger and they are there only because of the bad initial conditions they started from. Not many got "a few million $," to start a business, something the most powerful man in the world considers to be nothing. Ignorance typically has limits but not always.

Health and food are important public goods. Humans, attempting to rise from their meager beginnings from a few hundred thousand years ago are stuck in a level 0 society, seemingly forever.  They have successfully erected walls in every dimension and are often forgetful of the world at large. They are all connected by a singular genome in spite of the visible surface features, they seem to attach too much importance to. As their cousins die in areas hard hit by hunger and disease, most are unaware of humanity and life itself.

Could we ever pull ourselves to the next level? Could we stop religion and politics? Could we get over academics seeking tenure and politicians getting elected, again? Could we get those pretending to be the best come down from the heavens and could we get those in hell, climb upwards? Could we get humanity to even or at the very least understand that gold is not a proxy for value and power is not a proxy for intelligence?

Where has all the compassion gone? It is time for the next generation to rise and do something good.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/hunger-amplifies-infectious-diseases-millions-fleeing-violence-boko-haram

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The good people

Recent finding (1) that uses Uranium-Thorium dating on cave paintings in Spain seems to show that they are at least 64,000 years old, well before the arrival of the dominant species in Europe. The gentle and shy humanoids, the Neanderthals, perhaps more artistic and humble than their modern day counterparts, have been wiped out in the blink of an eye by those who migrated from the South. There have been many debates about their brain power and capabilities, arguments likely biased toward those who are making them. But now, it seems like their ability to create art, a clear precursor to intelligence, has predated the humans by a sizable slice of time.
The misunderstood species, now living in less than 5% of the human genome in the world may have been a more worthy occupants of the blue planet. Their swift elimination by those who invaded their hunting grounds indicates that they were gentle and perhaps accommodating. We have many modern day scenarios of the same. In South India, they welcomed most varieties of humans from around the world in recent times only to be run over later. In the Americas, the curiosity of the original inhabitants seem to have done them in. It has happened before, advanced societies seem to perish in the presence of brutal invaders and it could happen again. This implies that advancing thoughts and culture is not necessarily dominant if you want your genome to survive.
The simple objective function that drives most biological entities today - to optimally spread their genes - has a downside. It sub optimizes societal evolution and prefers micro advancement without any overall objectives. Humans are in the worst position - most believe they are put on this earth by God or something similar. And, they try to eliminate anybody who is different.
(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6378/912

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lies spread faster than truth

A recent study (1) that shows lies spread ten times faster than truth and reach as many more believers, is troubling. This appears to go against the basic notions of homo-sapien evolution as one would assume selection advantages to those who could separate truth from lies. So, either such advantages did not exist or the structure of recent society has given undefinable advantages to those who go against the grain. If it is the former, that implies who lived longer was able to utilize lies more advantageously and if it is the latter, perhaps society can do something about it.
As the social media kings rise - doling out information with zero marginal cost, they do not seem to understand that their actions have societal costs. As economists stick to their century old text books that discuss the trade-off between work and leisure, they are missing an important point. Leisure has a dark side, especially in the presence of "social media," where those with low cost of lack of work could derive higher utility from unbelievable lies than boring truth. The US currently has a leader who seems to have figured out this idea, perhaps by sheer accident. As the academics in ivy towers try to set the story right, they do not seem to realize that they have been rendered irrelevant by a populace, who derive no value from "education."
If the velocity of lies is ten times faster than truth, humanity may be progressing toward doom. The cause of this phenomena cries out for further research - but then it is unlikely as the social media kings are making money they cannot even count and the academics are still writing papers based on century old ideas to assure tenure.
(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Blue monkeys

As they roll out the next great technology - operating system and all - those behind the "revolution" seem to have missed some basic things. They have reinvented the "blue box," that shows up arbitrarily on your screen - and since they are all engineers, they do not want to give any options to the user. Often on my server, they show a blue box that requires you to "see" the updates and on my desktop, they give me only a few minutes before they forcibly shut my computer down. Monopoly has costs and if the company does not learn it, there could be trouble ahead.
Granted, they may be saving you as they realize the attacks from the East (and perhaps even from the West), but is it worth having a blue box at the center of the screen when you are doing something important or even watching a Netflix movie? More importantly, forcibly rebooting one's computer in the middle of watching a movie, may be taking monopoly power a bit too far. Even if the evil twin from the East is clamoring to get into your computer, throwing up a screen that proclaims your computer has been infected and you should call them so that they can disinfect you, it seems like a high price to pay when you are enjoying a movie. As often the case, engineers do not have much respect for the population and their programs are "most efficient." Efficiency, however, is not the only thing in life.
Makers of operating systems, autonomous cars and search, need to have an introspection. It is unclear if the leaders of these companies, "know everything." The blue box and failed artificial brain are ample evidence that they do not.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Economics 101

As the "best schools," attended by policy makers may have skipped Economics 101, it may be worthwhile to visit basic principles high school graduates understand. Ricardo's comparative advantage holds true in most cases and unilateral tariffs, however "strategic," are value destroying. There are many countries around the world who understood this after many years of bad experimentation. But now, one of the most advanced nations seems to be backtracking. Free trade and free markets are value enhancing for society and if the policy makers have any doubt, they may want to return to high school, perhaps this time avoid the "best ones," and attempt to learn something.
A few people making decisions that determine winners and losers has been shown to be sub optimal. In an integrated world economy, with firms and countries holding comparative advantages in differing competencies and production capabilities, it is always better to create an environment that allows specialization and trade freely. The socialists and worse have had difficulty understanding this concept. Some prescribed how many guns and butter to produce and others misguided by their elite education in the West, strategically imposed tariffs on selected goods and services. Underlying all these bad policies is the assumption that the policy maker has infinite wisdom to optimize. And, that has never worked out.
And now with infinitesimal wisdom, the one who is home alone, is attempting policies that have been conclusively proven to be bad. Education from the "best schools," may not be enough to have sufficient common sense.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Less precise health

A recent article (1) proposes that precision health should prioritize actionable information and long-term user engagement. That's a lot of words but it seems to make sense. Hardware and software companies have been on the prowl to sell "precision health," even though they may not know what it means. This could be a shocker for the statisticians, but health is not precise, not by any stretch of the imagination. As they roam the hallways with pocket calculators and actuarial tables, seeking higher and higher "precision," it is important to recognize that the human remains to be the most complex and enigmatic to figure out.
Health is a difficult construct to define. The regulators have gotten wind of "risk," recently and they are clamoring for "risk stratification." None of these people have had any formal education in risk or economics, but they feel they are experts on policy involving the same. They don't even seek information from other industries and that has been symptomatic of the entire healthcare value chain that includes manufacturers, providers, and payers, who seem to know pretty much everything there is to know. Not so. They may be brain surgeons but there are plenty of rocket scientists outside their domains. It may be better to talk to them, before plunging head down into the abyss.
A century of "development," appears to have increased lifespan by 2000 days. But from a utilitarian perspective, the incremental 2000 days gained by fantastic pharmaceuticals, crazy yoga and jumping up and down the whole day, do not seem to add much value. More importantly, the time gained generally reduces the quality of life, impacted by pain, hospitalization, and a lack of flexibility to make decisions. The human brain appears to deteriorate past allowed time and the individual behind the smoke screen suffers. The manufacturers who plunk down close to 100 billion every year into R&D do not seem to have any acceptable answers. The providers, left in the lurch to care for their patients who may not even recognize them, suffer equally. Meanwhile, the accountants at the payers are cranking up their calculators so that they can meet the quarterly EPS.
It is a painful movie to watch. As the brilliant folks in Washington figure out how to save themselves and perhaps the country, there is significant suffering across the landscape. Losing a life is unthinkable, losing a mind is equally traumatic.
(1) http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/430/eaao3612

Monday, February 26, 2018

Stop hiring "data scientists."

They have been riding high. The abandoned and somewhat less sexy field of Statistics has taken the business world by storm. Bottling old wine in new bottles certainly helped and now both venture capitalists and operating companies may be heading for a hangover. Engineers and statisticians have always wanted to be scientists and now they are crowned as such. There is a .ai company formed every 15 minutes by graduates of prestigious universities and there are capitalists with sacks of money willing to entertain them. As we have seen before, this movie will likely end in tears for many.
Data is certainly a good thing and applying "science," to it could also be good. But those who assert their "scientific credentials," based on regressions and neural nets should be aware that the slide rules they are using have been available for nearly half a century. Mathematics does not fade but asserting old ideas have suddenly sprung to life certainly shows the maturity and age of the emerging "scientists." Consulting firms have always been creative and some of the most famous ones, who could hardly spell "data science," just a few years ago are now pretending to be experts at it. Conferences are plenty where the scientists meet their seekers and the vendors portray their wares almost like the bartering that was routine a few centuries ago. They flow tensors, cognitive networks and even hardware in a Pizza size box, that apparently has solved all the world's problems, already.
Stop hiring "data scientists." They are ordinary human beings with bias and they could do your companies a lot of damage.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Breathe, breathe in the air

As the first biological entities emerged out of the water and into the land, the battle was just beginning. The toxic air was oxygenated over time and as complexity increased, they had to develop sophisticated systems to breathe. The toxin turned into life-giving Oxygen and over a million years, humanoids experimented with systems that could shuttle the magic molecule to power their systems.
Allergies and asthma followed modern humans as they transversed the globe with their badly designed respiratory systems, prone to catastrophic failure and that killed them in large numbers. Later, modern medicine will keep them alive for a few more decades but they often succumb to the inability to oxygenate. Their nemesis, the Virus, attacked their Achilles heel as most died of the common cold and some of the more advanced versions, aptly named Pneumonia. Recent news (1) that claims advances in bronchodilator drugs in asthma is certainly welcome news.
Humans, fragile and badly designed in most systems, do not appear to be robust enough to move to the next stage.
(1) http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/427/eaam8604

Monday, January 22, 2018

Personalized medicine

It appears that the completely archaic notion of mass-produced drugs for the average patient is about to change (1). The manufacturers paid lip service to personalized medicine for nearly a century and it was clear that their heart or business models were never in it. The normal function may have done as much damage to humanity as nuclear weapons, for those who adhere to it blindly believe in averages and standard deviations based on a manufactured construct. The only redeeming quality of humans is that they are different and diverse. As the men in power separate the weak from the wealthy, the struggling from those who never struggled, the golfers from those who cannot afford a club, the academics from practitioners, the atheists from the religious, the North from the South, the West from the East, they miss an important point - every human on Earth is different, regardless of the visible features they exhibit or where they originate from.
The design of clinical trials seems to fail this basic notion. Pushing humans through protocols like cattle through a food manufacturing company is not the best way to discover drugs. It is certainly the best way to reduce costs and to prove to the regulators that something important has been done. In the process, they left large underserved populations in the lurch and pumped those who take the medicine with a dose that is suboptimal. Emerging technologies are immensely capable to figure out who will benefit from a drug and who will not and at what quantity. It is time statisticians left the industry as their contributions do more harm than good, not unlike the insurance industry, clinging to actuarial tables.
Now, available technology can titrate every individual to the optimal dose and we do not need, "population statistics," to approve or to disapprove drugs. If the regulators do not return to school to learn what has been happening, they will continue to make bad decisions.
(1) Digitization of multistep organic synthesis in reactionware for on-demand pharmaceuticals
Philip J. Kitson, Guillaume Marie, Jean-Patrick Francoia, Sergey S. Zalesskiy, Ralph C. Sigerson, Jennifer S. Mathieson, Leroy Cronin*

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The dawn of non-invasive diagnostics

Recent news that a single blood test could provide the diagnosis of eight common cancers with 99% specificity (1) is a constant reminder that medicine is still stuck in archaic and invasive procedures to detect, diagnose and treat ailments. With a high concentration of human resources in provider settings, medicine has been slow in embracing emerging technologies and ideas, outside the domain. And this attitude is shared across the healthcare value chain including manufacturers, payers, and regulators.
It is unfortunate. Granted, Biology still remains to be the arena where humans could not progress exponentially. Their brains, with millions of years of deterministic training, have been well specialized to dominate engineering and chemistry. However, they could not understand the marvelous machines assembled by nature from a single cell organism to somewhat more complex humans, with any level of precision. Nature has had time to perfect designs of such beauty and humans, ever curious, have been trying to walk up to the cup of knowledge. But it has not been. Fossils indicate attempts at brain surgery many hundreds of thousands of years ago and despite higher structural knowledge, we have not advanced sufficiently to a differentiable plateau. In most simpler fields, we have demonstrably shown that humans are the weak links in decision processes - from transportation, energy, manufacturing and even, finance.
It is a conundrum. We are stuck - great strides in deterministic sciences do not translate into domains of high uncertainty and diversity. And, those who practice in these complex domains seem to have their blindfolds on as if they have nothing more to learn.  Diagnostics could provide the impetus to move higher - serum and stool harbor such information content, it is a shame we have not figured it out.
(1) Detection and localization of surgically resectable cancers with a multi-analyte blood test
1.        Joshua D. Cohen1,2,3,4,5, Lu Li6, Yuxuan Wang1,2,3,4, Christopher Thoburn3, Bahman Afsari7, Ludmila Danilova7, Christopher Douville1,2,3,4, Ammar A. Javed8, Fay Wong1,2,3,4, Austin Mattox1,2,3,4, Ralph. H. Hruban3,4,9, Christopher L. Wolfgang8, Michael G. Goggins3,4,9,10,11, Marco Dal Molin4, Tian-Li Wang3,9, Richard Roden3,9, Alison P. Klein3,4,12, Janine Ptak1,2,3,4, Lisa Dobbyn1,2,3,4, Joy Schaefer1,2,3,4, Natalie Silliman1,2,3,4, Maria Popoli1,2,3,4, Joshua T. Vogelstein13, James D. Browne14, Robert E. Schoen15,16, Randall E. Brand15, Jeanne Tie17,18,19,20, Peter Gibbs17,18,19,20, Hui-Li Wong17, Aaron S. Mansfield21, Jin Jen22, Samir M. Hanash23, Massimo Falconi24, Peter J. Allen25, Shibin Zhou1,3,4, Chetan Bettegowda1,2,3,4, Luis Diaz1,3,4, Cristian Tomasetti3,6,7,*, Kenneth W. Kinzler1,3,4,*, Bert Vogelstein1,2,3,4,*, Anne Marie Lennon3,4,8,10,11,*, Nickolas Papadopoulos1,3,4,*