January 2020

Genetically modifying mosquitoes to prevent disease carries unknown risks

Source: The Next Web

Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes that should not reproduce, seem to be doing that (and thus surviving in the wild).

“Thus, like GM soybean or corn, there is legitimate concern about the propagation of new genetic material in wild populations with as yet unknown consequences.”

The End of the Beginning

Source: Stratechery |By: Ben Thompson

“… there may not be a significant paradigm shift on the horizon, nor the associated generational change that goes with it. And, to the extent there are evolutions, it really does seem like the incumbents have insurmountable advantages: the hyperscalers in the cloud are best placed to handle the torrent of data from the Internet of Things, while new I/O devices like augmented reality, wearables, or voice are natural extensions of the phone.”

Ben Thompson argues that there have been three revolutions/paradigm shifts in computing.

  1. One Room, Punch Cards, Batch
  2. Desktop & On-Premises, PC, Deliberate
  3. Everywhere, Cloud/Mobile, Continous

With VR, voice assistants, etc, we probably won’t go out of this third mode.

How Attachment Theory Works in the Therapeutic Relationship

Source: Aeon | By: Elitsa Dermendzhiyska

We are still unclear as to why talk therapy works, but in many cases, it works better than drugs. And why do most of them have about the same efficacy, whilst emploring very different modalities?

“Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said in 2009 in a widely cited paper: ‘It is remarkable that after decades of psychotherapy research we cannot provide an evidence-based explanation for how or why even our most well-studied interventions produce change.’”

“[T]his alleged equivalence among various therapies is a product of statistics. It says nothing about what works best for each specific individual, nor does it imply that you can pick any therapy and obtain the same benefit.”

The emotional bond with the therapist has been shown to be a reliable predictor of success/healing. The author says that attachment is what is really important.

“On this view, the good therapist becomes a temporary attachment figure, assuming the functions of a nurturing mother, repairing lost trust, restoring security, and instilling two of the key skills engendered by a normal childhood: the regulation of emotions and a healthy intimacy.”

“This pattern of empathising, then re-framing and de-shaming looks uncannily like the mirroring-and-soothing exchanges between mother and infant in the first years of life.”

“… change in therapy occurs not so much in the intellectual communication between client and therapist but in a more imperceptible way – through a conversation between two brains and two bodies.” (this does make me think again of therapy with psychedelics where it’s about a person and his/her feelings in an altered state and without too much intervention (in that session) with the therapist)

“The chief value of psychotherapy, he says, lies in its potential to rekindle our epistemic trust and jumpstart our ability to learn from others in our social environment.”

MuZero: DeepMind’s New AI Mastered More Than 50 Games

Source: Two Minute Papers (Youtube)

Great video about DeepMind’s New AI. Even more generalization.

Elon Musk Is Planning for Climate Apocalypes

Source: Jacobin | By: Paris Marx

Wow, what a piece. I guess it’s good to read things from another perspective, but I can’t really get my head around how other people sometimes think.

Visa, Plaid, Networks, and Jobs

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

Great piece about networks and a good history lesson on why credit cards are even a thing.

“It’s easy to forget just how many things a business that takes credit cards does not need to do: it does not need to extend credit, it does not need to collect payment, it does not need to handle excess amounts of cash. It does not, as Nocera noted, need to have much back office functionality at all. Instead banks provide the credit, Visa provides the infrastructure, and merchants pay around 3% of their sales.”

Reid Hoffman on Systems, Levers, and Quixotic Quests (Ep. 85)

Source: Medium | By: Tyler Cowen (Podcast with Reid Hoffman)

“I guess what I would say is that I tend to think in terms of systems — Dewey was a system thinker — but then I tend to think in terms of Archimedean levers, by which you change the systems.”

Well, a few things. One is, philosophy allows you to articulate theses with clarity. One of the things that philosophy tries to do is say, “Well, what’s your actual argument? What’s your actual theory? What’s your actual position?” That actually ties into one of the things that I give advice to entrepreneurs and to myself, which is to write out your clearest set of investment theses about what it is you believe the world is and is becoming, what your strategy is at making it happen, and why you can have a rare or unique position in so doing. And then articulating theories around, for example, having a theory of human nature, so that if you say, “The reason why I think this product will succeed is because this is where humanity will go when these kinds of technologies and these kinds of products and services are made available to them within their cultures and within their incentives.” “

“I think it’s also important to choose when you compete, which is frequently an error. I’d say that some of the patterns of how you do that is at least very well described within a board game context.”

Biotech Raises $85 Million To Develop Anti-Aging Technology

Source: World Health Net (via H+Weekly Newsletter)

“Aging is similar to muscular dystrophy in slowing down the mitochondrial replacement process; Epirium claims to have developed technology that can reverse the decline of the ever important mitochondrial function in aging and disease.”

“Epirium claims to have developed a novel pharmacological approach to treat diseases caused by mitochondrial depletion and dysfunction, and the company has carried out proof of concept human studies with plans to move to clinical trials in 2020.”

One to watch, and of course, always stay vigilant.

Scientists use stem cells from frogs to build first living robots

Source: The Guardian | By: Ian Sample

“They are living, programmable organisms.” When talking about programmable ‘computers’.

The robots, which are less than 1mm long, are designed by an “evolutionary algorithm” that runs on a supercomputer. The program starts by generating random 3D configurations of 500 to 1,000 skin and heart cells. Each design is then tested in a virtual environment, to see, for example, how far it moves when the heart cells are set beating. The best performers are used to spawn more designs, which themselves are then put through their paces.”

Scientists Extend Lifespan of Worms by 500 Percent

Source: Futurism | By: Kristin Houser

“But now, in a study published in the journal Cell Reports in July, an international team of researchers has found a way to make the worms live a full five times longer. That would be equivalent to a human reaching their 400th birthday — and the scientists think the new study could be an important step along the path to making that a reality.”

There is quite the divide between us humans and C.elegans, but it’s good to see that this much progress has been made with them.

“Past research had found a link between two signaling pathways in C. elegans — the insulin signaling pathway and the target of rapamycin pathway — and aging. Specifically, scientists found that altering the former pathway doubled a worm’s lifespan, while altering the latter increased it by 30 percent. Logically, that means altering both pathways should increase the worms’ lifespan by 130 percent. But as the authors of this new C. elegans discovered, it actually increased their lifespan by upwards of 500 percent.”

I think this research was also mentioned in Lifespan by David Sinclair.

We May Not Have to Age So Fast

Source: WSJ/David Sinclair’s Newsletter

“We all age chronologically with the passage of time, but what about our bodies? Is physiological aging inevitable too? A growing cadre of biologists is starting to say no, thanks to developments in the field of epigenetics, which studies not our DNA itself but the processes that determine how our genes “express” themselves in directing our cells throughout our lives.”

“… epigenetic markers don’t just measure aging but help to cause it.

The article mentions more of what is in Lifespan. It also highlights that research in mice is progressing fast, but human trials are still very limited.

Your Brain Is Not an Onion with a Tiny Reptile Inside

Source: PsyArXiv (via VeryBadWizards podcast)

“A widespread misconception in much of psychology holds that (1) as vertebrate animals evolved, “newer” brain structures were added over existing”older” brain structures and(2) these newer, more complex structures endowed animals with newer and more complex psychological functions, behavioral flexibility, and language. This belief, though widely shared in our introductory textbooks, has long been discredited among neurobiologists and stands in contrast to the clear and unanimous agreement on these issues among those studying nervous system evolution. We bring psychologists up to date on this issue by describing the more accurate model of neural evolution, and we provide examples of how this inaccurate view may have impeded progress in psychology. We urge psychologists to abandon this mistaken view of human brains.”

86% of introductory psychology books espouse this wrongheaded view.

The idea of an older animalistic brain buried deep without our newer, more civilized outer layer is referenced widely. Carl Sagan’s (1978) Pulitzer prize-winning book “The Dragons of Eden(which I recently reviewed) …

“The first problem is that these ideas reflect a scala naturaeview of evolution, in which animals can be arranged linearly from “simple” to the most “complex” organisms. This view is unrealistic in that neural and anatomical complexity evolved repeatedly within many independent lineages.” And the ‘newer’ animals are not per se better/more complex.

“Instead, the correct view of evolution is that animals radiated from common ancestors. Within these radiations, complex nervous systems and sophisticated cognitive abilities evolved independently many times.”

“The final—and most important—problem with this mistaken view is the implication that anatomical evolution proceeds in the same fashion as geological strata, with new layers added over existing ones. Instead, much evolutionary change consists of transforming existing parts.”

“all vertebrates possess the same basic brain—and forebrain—regions.” All mammals have a prefrontal cortex (but the size of ours is bigger).

The whole notion that system 2 is better than system 2 (Thinking, Fast and Slow) is therefore also flawed/at least if you take from it that other animals don’t have planning or self-control.

How the Dutch Use Architecture to Feed the World

Source: ArchDaily | By: Niall Patrick Walsh

Interesting photo series about our Dutch greenhouses, great pictures, and illuminating to see.

Technologies to watch in 2020

Source: Nature | By: Esther Landhuis

Some technologies for better understanding/reading our biology (RNA, macromolecule), learning more about our microbiome, computational models of cancer (so you can do ‘simulations’), better gene therapy (in mice).

The Tragic iPad

Source: Stratechery | By: Ben Thompson

The article describes the missed chance of the iPad. It didn’t allow for many developers to make good money and missed offering the unique features it has (next to being a thing on which you watch things).

Imagining Our Future Through Tech

Source: A16Z Conference 2019

Data – Algorithms

  • but missing ethical & privacy, and business models
  • take selfies – detect skin cancer – who to send it to?

How will life look like in 2030

  • smart toilet – looks for health markers/problems
  • spider silk shirt – with sensors and actuators
  • room that reconfigers itself (for different needs during the day)
  • exact meals for you
  • physical and avatar looks (smart mirror)
  • smart coach (listens to meetings etc) – assumes ‘smart/creative’ AI
  • work examples – AI helping – AR contact lenses
  • bitcoin and influencer coin :S
  • exoskeleton – for helping move
  • Autopods
  • Rent cocktail bar for few hours (AR again to fit it)
  • CRISPR cat, glow in the dark

All very/too optimistic about the speed of progress and lots of things we’re not going to use. But interesting take nonetheless.

Why You Should Be Optimistic About the Future

Source: A16Z Conference 2019 | By: Kevin Kelly & Marc Andreesen

Richest man India, providing (almost) free internet for 500M poorest people.

Ideas – is it going to work (meh), when is it going to work (timing is the hard part) (i.e. fiber optics already in Paris 100y ago)

Business models (AI)

  • horizontal provider
  • vertical

Biological science is at a turning point. From discovery to doing something with it (programming it).

More from less – Andrew McAfee

Positive view of robots/drones/machines fighting each other – less people die (but not pro war, but if, then not people dying).

Andreesen Horowitz thinks we’re already in the ‘singularity’ (since 300 years or so ago). Many indicators are much better than before, and doing so exponentially (versus being static for ages). We already have many of the technologies and techniques to make our lives better, we just need to execute on some of them.

The next few are via H+ Weekly newsletter and Future Plus (monthly/bi-weekly) newsletter.

(from the second one itself) “These vaccines now form the backbone of child and maternal health efforts around the world. The results speak for themselves. In 2010, seven million children died before reaching the age of five. Adjusting for population growth, that figure today should be eight million – instead, it’s just over five million a year.”

Vietnam grapples with an unexpected surge in solar power

Source: Economist

(from Future Plus) “Vietnam went from almost no solar in 2017 to more than Australia by the end of 2019. It’s now ten years ahead of its original clean energy targets.”

“Building a new [coal] plant takes the better part of a decade. Solar farms, in contrast, incite far less opposition and take about two years to build.”

Overlevingskans voor mensen met kanker opnieuw toegenomen (Dutch)

Source: NOS (Dutch news website)

(from FP) “The Dutch Cancer Registry says that the five-year cancer survival rate in the Netherlands has increased from 42% in 1989 to 65% in 2018.”

Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens: It’s the Real Deal

Source: IEEE Spectrum

“Today, Mojo Vision announced that it has done just that—put 14K pixels-per-inch microdisplays, wireless radios, image sensors, and motion sensors into contact lenses that fit comfortably in the eyes.”

“The first application, says Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing, will likely be for people with low vision—providing real-time edge detection and dropping crisp lines around objects.”

Wow, that is really cool and it would be great to see this type of technology available as a consumer product.

Facebook has trained an AI to navigate without needing a map

Source: MIT Technology Review

“A team at Facebook AI has created a reinforcement learning algorithm that lets a robot find its way in an unfamiliar environment without using a map. Using just a depth-sensing camera, GPS, and compass data, the algorithm gets a robot to its goal 99.9% of the time along a route that is very close to the shortest possible path, which means no wrong turns, no backtracking, and no exploration. This is a big improvement over previous best efforts.”

An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus

Source: WIRED

“The BlueDot algorithm scours news reports and airline ticketing data to predict the spread of diseases like those linked to the flu outbreak in China.”

Algorithms aren’t always so good at predicting things and I’ve previously read that the Google Flu prediction AI was really bad. So this is in a way good news to hear (now the trouble is in how far we can build on it and use it actionably).

“Khan says the algorithm doesn’t use social media postings because that data is too messy. But he does have one trick up his sleeve: access to global airline ticketing data that can help predict where and when infected residents are headed next. It correctly predicted that the virus would jump from Wuhan to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo in the days following its initial appearance.”

CRISPR Could Fry All Cancer User Newly-Found T-Cell

Source: Hackaday

“One of the human body’s greatest features is its natural antivirus protection. If your immune system is working normally, it produces legions of T-cells that go around looking for abnormalities like cancer cells just to gang up and destroy them. They do this by grabbing on to little protein fragments called antigens that live on the surface of the bad cells and tattle on their whereabouts to the immune system. Once the T-cells have a stranglehold on these antigens, they can release toxins that destroy the bad cell, while minimizing collateral damage to healthy cells.”

But it doesn’t always work (e.g. cancer pretending to be a healthy cell). Now they are working with a T-Cell that should identify every cancer cell.

“This T-cell interacts with a certain protein called MR1 that appears on the surface of every cell in the body. When it analyzes the MR1 proteins of cancer cells, it can tell that the metabolism going on inside the cell is distorted, and reports this miscreant cell back to the immune system.”

World First: Genetically Engineered Moth Is Released Into an Open Field

Source: Technology Networks

“The diamondback moth, also known as Plutella xylostella, is one of the most destructive insect pests of brassica crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and canola. … “The diamondback moth is a global pest that costs $4-5 billion annually and has developed resistance to most insecticides, making it very difficult to manage.” “

Before I’ve only heard of these ideas related to malaria and ticks (Lyme). And they also talk about the former: “Oxitec has now joined the fight against malaria, working to develop solutions to two malaria-transmitting mosquito species.”

“This study demonstrates the immense potential of this exciting technology as a highly effective pest management tool, which can protect crops in an environmentally sustainable way and is self-limiting in the environment.”