Friday, September 19, 2014

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Whew...a very long article on anti-aging technologies which actually seem to be pretty far out. A few observations the article makes: 
“For millennia, if not for eons—anthropology continuously pushes backward the time of human origin—life expectancy was short. The few people who grew old were assumed, because of their years, to have won the favor of the gods. The typical person was fortunate to reach 40.”
Hey, wait a second here...seems to me we have some sort of historical records from at least 2500 years ago in which ancient thinkers ponders the shortness of a normative 70ish year lifespan. Like for example this observation that was recorded a few years back
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.”  – Psalm 90:10
Also Plato, that guy was around 80 when he died.
Oh yeah, also what about the dude in The Highlander? He was pretty old. Yeah anyway...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fairly Benign Article This Week

In fact she calls for almost universal cancer screening for women over 30. It is the "we can-so we must" argument. Except that it's not quite so simple as saying that the BRCA1 mutation is "exactly a cancer-causing genetic mutation." There are a few difficulties here. 
  • As the article notes there is controversy, (of course there is), as the evidence that women with BRCA1 mutations but no family history of breast cancer are at great risk is scant
  • First BRCA1 and BRCA2 have well over a hundred variations and only a few of these are associated with cancer and tumors. 
  • Also, there is the fact that 90% of women with breast cancer do not fall into the category of testing positive for BRCA1 mutations and coming from families with histories of breast cancer 
  •  On the other hand we are told that women who test positive for the BRCA1 mutations have a 85% lifetime risk of developing cancer.
  I pulled the data from these last 3 bullets from an excerpt in Robert Kolb’s book “The Ethics of Genetic Commerce.”

In any case, Dr. King has certainly mastered the language of rights-speak snippets:
“Why should women be protected from information that will empower them and allow them to control their lives? We don’t need that kind of protection.”
She added, though, that women should not be told about other rare mutations whose significance is unknown.

So then, we ought to take from Dr. King that women should be protected from some inconclusive information about mutations and it ought to be mandated that they are provided information about some other inconclusive information regarding mutations...or something, I guess. It’s all a matter of dictating by degrees it seems.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Because This Always Turns Out So Well in the Movies

So, how is it that humans think?
Wouldn’t Google need to need to have a really good grasp of human thought in order to mimic it? Not only how humans think, but what human thought is? More than just looking at the processes, but dealing with the question: “what is it that humans are doing when they are thinking different types of thoughts?”
For example, how is wisdom different from empiricism? 
I don't mean, what parts of the brain handle wisdom and which parts handle empiricism.
I mean what is wisdom and what is empiricism.
Does Google have a department of researchers who have delved into the mysteries of “epistem√©” or a “Division of Epistemology” perhaps?
WOWEE!!! It's a human soul...Nope, never mind. It's just a bunch of servers in a datacenter. 
 eWeek has a little more detail on this story and cites a blog post from Hartmut Neven, director of engineering for the Google Research group who writes the following:
 “If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop. If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what's happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what's on the Web so you get the best answer."
Hmmm. So we’ve just got to do this or we won’t be able to cure diseases…or find really cute pictures of kittens on the internet.

But really the eWeek story is a bit less sensational while the Yahoo! bit seems like a headline to get clicks. All we can garner from any of this is that Google is really just about building systems that have the capacity to churn more data. I can’t really see how this is anything new from what computers already do. It’s just bigger, faster capacities and more simultaneous operations.

All a computer can do is operate a bunch of commands…essentially a pattern of “if-then” executions. This is not how human’s think.

As Jaron Lanier writes “You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?”

Monday, September 1, 2014

Issues in Science: Genetics and Embryology

This ought to help get some more regular posts up on this wall. I gave up pretty much all online news stories as well as FB over Lent this year and found it so freeing that I pretty much have stayed off since then. I've read maybe a handful of articles in news journals here and there and I've strayed back to FB or drudge now and then but have for the most part steered clear of the 24 hours news cycle and insta-opinion fabricators. I don't feel like I've missed a thing. It's not that I don't care. In fact, I was talking to a friend this weekend about how we sometimes feel like our opinion doesn't matter so the temptation is to give up and  develop a fatalist "nothing I can do about it" response. It's not that it doesn't matter what we think about events near and far. It absolutely does. It's just that we have gotten conditioned to think that somehow change is always 2 or 3 mouse clicks away and if it's not well...all consideration is futile. This is not to say that moral outrage is never an appropriate response. It's just that it is not always the most productive response. Sometimes it takes a while to develop a mature thought and a well considered response. Not just seconds or hours, but days, weeks and months...even (gasp) years. And just because we can't immediately measure the impact of our opinions on say, Syria, Gaza or Christians in Iraq doesn't mean that it doesn't matter what we think. 

Anyway, I have to comment on a weekly hot news story for one of my class in the Biotechnology track at school. So my hiatus from the trumped up world wide drama machine is now officially over. Fortunately, it's a simple assignment. A few comments or questions in short form. I can even use bullets. 

And...the story of the week is The Atlantic's coverage of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia (FODI) written by associate editor Kathy Gilsinan.

  • What is a dangerous idea? In the academic tradition of free inquiry how do we discern between what is different, unconventional, alternative, jarring, offense and what is down right dangerous or destructive? Also, is an idea destructive just because it is dangerous? What about provocative ideas in areas in which we need to be provoked? Gilsinan writes that "offense is practically baked into the conceit of systematically challenging deeply held beliefs specifically because they are deeply held."  I like that. Particularly in light of the Enlightenment Tradition of rejecting all revealed knowledge, dogmas and um, traditions in favors of some supposedly neutral Baconian empiricism in which we will eradicate all idols of the tribe, cave, marketplace and theatre. Surely, that is something that only other people do. Conceit indeed.