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Scientific Sense Podcast

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Alzheimer’s - we fail again!

Recent news (1) that high profile experiments, targeting a solution for the famous disease, Alzheimer's, has failed again is sobering. It clearly indicates that life sciences companies are on the wrong track to improve a condition, most dread. It is also a constant reminder that systemic problems cannot be solved by treating symptoms or tactical observations. The engineering view of medicine has run its course and it has been very successful in fighting opponents that can be clearly identified. But now, a system failing because of overuse, cannot be mended by such crude methodologies.

Immortality is prohibited by contemporary Physics. So, the optimization problem narrows to maximizing utility within an afforded time horizon. Humans have been naturally optimistic, an evolutionary advantage. They have been attempting to extend life rather than optimizing within constrains. Therein lies the paradox for healthcare. As artificial intelligence progresses, it is conceivable that a human could have reasonable estimates of life span and disease incidences, at birth. For the first time in history, we may be in a position to focus on optimization of utility rather than extending a highly uncertain horizon.

It is clear that the human hardware deteriorates in predictable ways. Most of it appears to be related to plumbing, an inability to remove waste at an optimum rate. From the brain to the kidneys, waste removal efficiency seems to decline over time, just as in any physical system. We may need to accept this as an unbreakable law and find ways to slow down the deterioration. In this context, research in the direction of cure for auto-immune diseases may be misplaced. What could be more important is predicting the likelihood of disease early and slowing its progression.

Artificial Intelligence could have a significant impact on human utility and happiness. If one can get over the hype and confusion, it will become clear that AI could provide useful guidance for humans to best utilize their limited time in the universe.

(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/another-major-drug-candidate-targeting-brain-plaques-alzheimer-s-disease-has-failed

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