AI winter, revisited

by reestheskin on 25/06/2018

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Hype is not fading, it is cracking.

I like the turn of phrase. It is from a post on the coming AI winter. Invest wisely.

AI winter – Addendum – Piekniewski’s blog

Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot

by reestheskin on 19/06/2018

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A Magic Shield That Lets You Be An Assh*le? – NewCo Shift

The Internet of the 1990s was about choosing your own adventure. The Internet of right now over the last 10 years is about somebody else choosing your adventure for you.

link

“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum, and they charged the people., a dollar and a half just to see ’em…”

 

It’s (not) Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

by reestheskin on 18/06/2018

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These are a few words from the author of “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray”, but they speak to me at least of an intellectual honesty that is (as the author argues) increasingly rare in the academy.

I am not tenured and I do not have a tenure-track position, so not like someone threatened me. I presently have a temporary contract which will run out next year. What I should be doing right now is applying for faculty positions. Now imagine you work at some institution which has a group in my research area. Everyone is happily producing papers in record numbers, but I go around and say this is a waste of money. Would you give me a job? You probably wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t give me a job either.

What typically happens when I write about my job situation is that everyone offers me advice. This is very kind, but I assure you I am not writing this because I am asking for help. I will be fine, do not worry about me. Yes, I don’t know what I’ll do next year, but something will come to my mind.

What needs help isn’t me, but academia: The current organization amplifies rather than limits the pressure to work on popular and productive topics. If you want to be part of the solution, the best starting point is to read my book.

A quote from an earlier post I particularly like”

While the book focuses on physics, my aim is much more general. The current situation in the foundations of physics is a vivid example for how science fails to self-correct. The reasons for this failure, as I lay out in the book, are unaddressed social and cognitive biases. But this isn’t a problem specific to the foundations of physics. It’s a problem that befalls all disciplines, just that in my area the prevalence of not-so-scientific thinking is particularly obvious due to the lack of data.

I would make two observations. First, I think science is self-correcting — in the long run, at least. Just not when measured in lifetimes. Second, this takes me back to John Horgan’s book, and in particular how some domains of science are more easily corruptible that others (to be less combative, I might say, ‘less robust’). If you want to understand the modern medical research complex, you have to understand this.

 

The power of genetics

by reestheskin on 17/06/2018

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And no, I wouldn’t have thought the effect was measurable. Wrong again.

From the results presented here it is clear that there has been a slow but steady decline in the frequency of certain variants in the Icelandic gene pool that are associated with educational attainment. It is also clear that education attained does not explain all of the effect. Hence, it seems that the effect is caused by a certain capacity to acquire education that is not always realized.

Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment. PNAS.

Neanderthals would have made good doctors..

by reestheskin on 13/06/2018

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I posted this awhile back, but it still makes me smile. I wrote:

Well my knowledge of Neanderthals is rather limited to the work showing that some of them would likely had red hair. But now a reviewer (Clive Gamble) in Nature of a book on Neanderthals states that

Wynn and Coolidge conclude that today, Neanderthals would be commercial fishermen or mechanics, based on their enormous strength and ability to learn the motor procedures needed. Their capacity for empathy might even have made them competent physicians, the authors say, although a lack of mathematical ability means that they would never have been able to graduate from medical school. Neanderthals would also make excellent army grunts, with their high levels of pain tolerance, and would be good tacticians in small combat units. They would never rewrite the tactical manual — although tearing it up, however thick, would not be a problem.

Link

Images aren’t everything — well, sometimes, maybe they..

by reestheskin on 12/06/2018

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“It’s quite obvious that we should stop training radiologists,” said Geoffrey Hinton, an AI luminary, in 2016. In November Andrew Ng, another superstar researcher, when discussing AI’s ability to diagnose pneumonia from chest X-rays, wondered whether “radiologists should be worried about their jobs”. Given how widely applicable machine learning seems to be, such pronouncements are bound to alarm white-collar workers, from engineers to lawyers.

Economist

The Economist’s view is (rightly) more nuanced than Hinton’s statement on this topic might suggest, but this is real. For my own branch of clinical medicine, too. The interesting thing for those concerned with medical education is whether we will see the equivalent of the Osborne effect (and I don’t mean that Osborne effect).

Profit harvesting mode, without seed.

by reestheskin on 11/06/2018

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In Britain, an Epipen — a simple device that saves lives in the case of severe allergic reactions — costs $70. In France and Germany, roughly the same. In America, it costs $600. But in 2007, it cost in America what it did in Britain, France, and Germany. What happened? A drug company called Mylan bought the rights to it — and then it didn’t just send prices soaring, it uses all kinds of shady tactics to maximize profits from insurance companies and healthcare systems both. How?

Well, what does it cost to “make” an Epipen? Not a whole lot. It’s just a device for delivering a dose of epinephrine. The dose used in it “costs” maybe $1. I put “cost” in quotes because even those numbers are mostly fictional — the marginal cost of producing a basic chemical like this is pennies. In fact, the real problem is that epinpehrine became too cheap to manufacture — so cheap that many producers stopped making it altogether. And so a company like Mylan swooped in, put two and two together: corner the supply, gain a monopoly on the demand side, and hey presto — mega profits.

That’s predatory capitalism — a drug that should cost pennies, if the economy were run a little more sanely, costs hundreds, without any regard for the human possibility that is destroyed. Mylan didn’t create any real value whatsoever, only extracted it, siphoned it off.

Yep. Wealth creators, and wealth aggregators. Profit harvesting mode.

Umair Haque.

Sausages, and ‘unprofitable activities’ (aka students).

by reestheskin on 08/06/2018

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Besides, “university league tables are like sausages: the more you know about how they are made, the less you want to [do with] them”.

“Research was structurally unprofitable even if you scored really well in the research excellence framework,” he claims. “It’s being financed by surpluses on taught master’s. I think that’s fine because part of the reason people came on the taught programmes was because the place was very highly ranked in research, and they thought they were going to be sitting at the feet of the best economists around. Academics had to understand the dynamic and deliver the teaching because that was what was paying for the research. Yet because of the history of underfunding [undergraduate] students [before the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees in 2012], a kind of mood gained ground in British universities that [all] students were an unprofitable activity.

Paris to London: Howard Davies on the finance sector and universities’ common interests | Times Higher Education (THE)

Neoteny as a business model

by reestheskin on 07/06/2018

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Vanessa Sefa, a second-year English and education student, has just completed the course. She wants to be a headteacher, and the course gives her an opportunity to learn about working with other people. “I keep telling my friends to sign up for it. Why wouldn’t you want to do it?” she says.

Ms Sefa says: “It’s almost a matter of co-parenting. Universities are the final step before we enter the real world, and as a parent they should ensure we are equipped for the future.”

Universities step up to demands for leadership training

Casual, and not just the dress code.

by reestheskin on 06/06/2018

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According to the job description for the chair of modern Greek studies posted last month, whoever fills the professorship part-funded by the Greek Laskaridis shipping family will not be paid an “official salary” from the university. Instead, they will receive an unspecified share of €20,000 (£16,730) from the Dutch Society of Modern Greek Studies to carry out numerous academic duties for, on average, one day a week.

The professorship, named after the late shipping heiress Marilena Laskaridis, lasts for five years, during which time the post-holder will be asked to teach, to supervise PhD students and to win research grants.

Despite being based in Amsterdam’s Faculty of Humanities, the professor would not be an employee of the university and would not receive any of the usual benefits enjoyed by other staff.

Link

And the converse?

by reestheskin on 05/06/2018

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It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?”

Barrister blows whistle on ‘broken legal system brought to its knees by cuts’ | UK news | The Guardian

The cosmos from a wheelchair

by reestheskin on 04/06/2018

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Fine thoughts, with words and a life to match

The departure of scientific reality from what common sense suggests is going on (the sun going round the Earth, for example) no longer threatens political institutions, but it threatens the human psyche just as much as it did in Galileo’s day. Dr Hawking’s South Pole of time was 13.7 billion years in the past—three times as old as the Earth. His mathematics showed that the universe, though finite in time, might be infinite in space.

No philosophy that puts humanity anywhere near the centre of things can cope with facts like these. All that remains is to huddle together in the face of the overwhelmingness of reality. Yet the sight of one huddled man in a wheelchair constantly probing, boldly and even cheekily demonstrating the infinite reach of the human mind, gave people some hope to grasp, as he always wished it would.

The Economist’s obit of Stephen Hawking

The cognitive load of everyday life

by reestheskin on 01/06/2018

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As in:

The day-to-day weary battle to counteract the exaggerations and misinformation that corporations spend so much time creating. Including universities. Those seeking to subvert the intention of regulators, have more money, more time, and abuse the externalities that society has allowed them.

Power, order and scale

by reestheskin on 31/05/2018

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This is some text I recognise, but I had forgotten its source: Bruce Schneier.

Technology magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. Criminals, dissidents, the unorganized—all outliers—are more agile. They can make use of new technologies faster, and can magnify their collective power because of it. But when the already-powerful big institutions finally figured out how to use the Internet, they had more raw power to magnify.

This is true for both governments and corporations. We now know that governments all over the world are militarizing the Internet, using it for surveillance, censorship, and propaganda. Large corporations are using it to control what we can do and see, and the rise of winner-take-all distribution systems only exacerbates this.

This is the fundamental tension at the heart of the Internet, and information-based technology in general. The unempowered are more efficient at leveraging new technology, while the powerful have more raw power to leverage. These two trends lead to a battle between the quick and the strong: the quick who can make use of new power faster, and the strong who can make use of that same power more effectively.

Bruce Schneier

Wasn’t it always so?

by reestheskin on 30/05/2018

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“politics, and not economics, will be the key driver of human progress and prosperity in years to come”

Just look at the NHS. Dambisa Moyo quoted in the Lancet.

The state of the nation

by reestheskin on 29/05/2018

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Discussing the shortage of GPs, a locus GP writes:

As so often, there are several factors. Many GPs have retired early – the causes are often quoted as falling GP work earnings, disenchantment with CCGs, the CQC, and revalidation. I think more significant is the sense that we have suffered a loss of control of our work, with QOF making us ask pointless questions about emergency contraception to 45-year-olds, prescribing software pop-ups that order us around for petty savings, warnings about FGM on computers of doctors in areas with no ethnic minorities. These are very harmful to our sense of doing a worthwhile job.

And we have failed to recruit new GPs. Quite an achievement when one considers that the training is three years rather than seven, salaries are good, and there is no out-of-hours work if you don’t want it. How have the deaneries managed that? I have talked to many young doctors and most of the ones who have done F2 in general practice have felt exploited and hated it. They feel that have been chucked in at the deep end. There seems to have been lots of investment in the system for training registrars who often work at the practices of the doctors in the training hierarchy, but very little in F2 practices – who are after all the shop window that we need to perform well if we are to attract new GPs.

Pulse

‘The most important thing humanity has ever built.’

by reestheskin on 28/05/2018

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Well, this was the modest description of a ‘new’ way to test blood. Except it wasn’t. The reality distortion field in hyperspace. If you don’t know the Theranos story — or doubt the importance of real journalism — have a look.

Link

The journalist who broke the story, John Carreyrou, has a book coming out soon. Jean-Louis Gassée, a shrewd observer of Silicon Valley, has a nice piece about it. Note the turtle neck.

Just talking ‘bout

by reestheskin on 26/05/2018

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In this week’s privacy nightmare, an Oregon couple discovered their Amazon Echo smart speaker recorded their conversation and sent the audio to an acquaintance — without their knowledge.

The claim seemed improbable, until the company confirmed it really happened. Amazon said it was reviewing how its smart speakers work to avoid similar situations.

Link

On the academy

by reestheskin on 25/05/2018

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Business schools are being reinvigorated by the apprenticeship levy, with 40 out of 113 universities creating specific MBA courses to take advantage of the tax, according to a new survey.

Businesses are permitted to spend the money on MBAs, but only up to £18,000, compared with the typical course fee of £24,000 in the UK. Tuition fees at the top MBA providers can rise up to £80,000.

Several of the new courses, however, are stripped down to fall within the levy funding limits.

Those that back levy-funded MBAs, however, point to research by the Office for National Statistics, which concluded that a 0.1 rise in management effectiveness led to a 9.6 per cent rise in productivity.

Business schools create new courses to tap apprenticeship levy

Something to live for.

by reestheskin on 24/05/2018

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Vargas Llosa tells me he is starting a new novel, and I wonder if he will ever stop writing, as Philip Roth did as he approached 80. “Writing is what I do. It is my life,” he replies immediately. “To be alive but dead is the worst possible thing, although it happens to many people.” Vargas Llosa then bows his head low to the table in a gesture of the abundant grace and humanity that I had not expected to see two hours earlier. “In fact, I hope to die writing.”

John Paul Rathbone in the FT

BMJ visual summaries and not being wrong

by reestheskin on 23/05/2018

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Maybe it is just me, but I find many of the graphics in the BMJ hard to follow. The image below is from a clinical update on “Depression and anxiety in patients with cancer” (BMJ 28 April 2018, p116-120). It occupies two whole pages. I am not certain what problem the graphic is trying to solve. For me, it just induces a sense of incomprehension. Or nausea.

In dermatology, there was a famous US academic known for producing slides with numerous arrows, many involving feedback. It was professional cargo-cult science (as the BMJ is cargo-cult education). Sam Shuster always cautioned: more than 3 or 4 arrows per slide, usually means bullshit.

That which is simple is wrong; that which is complicated is useless (Paul Valery).

End of the world [refrain]

by reestheskin on 16/05/2018

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But outside in Times Square, the LED news tickers were telling a different story. On Tuesday, Gibson Brands, Inc – with the biggest product line in the guitar business – filed for bankruptcy, succumbing to an estimated $500m debt load and a failed reinvention in 2014 as a “lifestyle brand”.

Now I know things are really bad.

Troubles in the land of the six-string are not restricted to Gibson. Ten years post-recession, the guitar industry in the US continues to bob, with the 2,633,000 units sold in the United States in 2017 about 5% short of where things stood in 2008, according to Music Trades magazine. The heavyweight retailer on the American scene, Guitar Center, carries $1.6bn in debt.

Played out? Gibson’s bankruptcy fuels fears for the guitar’s future | Music | The Guardian

And here, too.

Politicians beware

by reestheskin on 15/05/2018

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Factfulness ( the book)

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting

Hans Rosling

Diagnosing money.

by reestheskin on 14/05/2018

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Science 21 June 2013: 1394-1399.

For most alumni, university fundraising may seem to be uncoordinated and lacking in focus—an assortment of phone calls, solicitous letters, and invitations to a class reunion. But for Steven Rum, it’s a science. And the goal is to carry out more research.

Rum is senior vice president for development and chief fundraiser for Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Last year, his team had a banner year, raising $318 million. Their approach places the physician scientists at Hopkins on the donor front lines. The goal is to turn the positive feelings of “grateful patients” into support for new research, faculty chairs, academic scholarships, bricks and mortar, or simply defraying the cost of running a multibillion-dollar medical center.

Rum has 65 full-time fundraisers on a staff of 165. Each one is responsible for meeting weekly with physicians—their “caseloads” range from a dozen to more than 30 docs—to discuss which of their patients might be potential donors. The conversation is designed to help them identify what Rum calls a donor’s “qualifying interest” and connect it to their “capacity,” that is, the ability to make a donation.

More often than not, Rum’s team finds that sweet spot…..

”Ideally, I’d like to have one gift officer manage no more than six doctors,” he says.

Link

Facebook, as Big Tobacco for ‘the next billion’

by reestheskin on 11/05/2018

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Exactly in the same way that Big Tobacco has been free to fill the lungs of Asian of African populations, with little interference from local health administrations, Facebook will have a free hand to lock up these markets. (If you find my comparison with the tobacco industry exaggerated, just ask the Rohingyas or people in the Philippines about the toxicity of Facebook to democracy — or read this Bloomberg Business Week piece, “What happens when the government uses Facebook as a weapon?)

Mark Zuckerberg’s long game: the next billion – Monday Note

Closing time

by reestheskin on 10/05/2018

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A beautifully written vignette in the NEJM by Abigail Luger

Moving On | NEJM

Now I’m the one contemplating a permanent departure. My health is fine, but my stamina is pretty much gone. Our health care system is not kind to the chronically ill and marginally insured, and it is not particularly kind to their doctors, either. Our patients are condemned to an unending swim against a hostile tide. Doctors can head for shore.

Max Schrems: the man who took on Facebook — and won

by reestheskin on 09/05/2018

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Great story. Only true.

Schrems sent the complaints to the Irish data protection commissioner in Portarlington, a town with a population of 8,000. From a modest office above a supermarket, the Irish DPC was responsible for regulating all the tech companies that nominated their Dublin-based subsidiaries as “data controllers”. Despite its role protecting millions of EU citizens, the commissioner had just 26 staff at the time.

FT

This all reminds me of that wonderful scene in the film Local Hero when the visitors from the US mega corporation discover that the same person (played by Denis Lawson) runs the bar, hotel, office, professional services etc. in the small Scottish village where it is set.

BTW: instead of the mandatory GDPR corporate training, can we just not watch Local Hero again?

Institutions (and certification) matter

by reestheskin on 07/05/2018

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My third issue is more nuanced. The biggest reason for cataract blindness is the dearth of ophthalmologists. Orthopaedic surgeons in Leicester faced with a backlog of carpal tunnel surgery decided to train intensively one theatre nurse. As a result, our carpal tunnel surgery service is probably the best and most cost effective in the country. Having a person who is not a “fully qualified doctor and surgeon” operating on cataracts could be the best solution.

Quote from, John Sandford-Smith, retired ophthalmologist, Leicester. BMJ 2018;360:k640

This sort of argument is old, and largely correct. But you can only scale such a process with the help of some form of certification, because without it, there is no durable career structure. And without this, there is no investment.

Focus on the kids: they are the vulnerable ones

by reestheskin on 04/05/2018

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I used to think this whole topic was overblown. But then again, I once thought those who foresaw the obesity epidermic were selling something. Wrong on both counts.

Former Google Design Ethicist: Relying on Big Tech in Schools Is a ‘Race to the Bottom’ | EdSurge News

I see this as game over unless we change course,” says Tristan Harris, a former ethicist at Google who founded the Center for Humane Technology. “Supercomputers play chess against your mind to extract the attention out of you. The stock price has to keep going up, so they point it at your kid and start extracting the attention out of them. You don’t want an extraction-based economy powered by AI, playing chess against people’s minds. We cannot win in that world.”

In an interview with EdSurge, Harris noted that the focus of their campaign started with children because they were the most vulnerable population. He says that particularly children in schools had little agency over whether they opted into or out of a technology platform because of pressure from both peers and educators handing out assignments.

Our struggle with Big Tech to protect trust and truth

by reestheskin on 03/05/2018

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Some nice turns of phrase and perspective from this article in the FT

In 1829, the great Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote: “Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it . . . the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery . . . the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches, and practices the greater art of adapting means to ends.”

He continued with a lament for older ways of doing and being: “On every hand, the artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster. The sailor furls his sail, and lays down his oar, and bids a strong unwearied servant . . . bear him through the waters.”

It is a measure of just how much speedier our age is that no one today will take the time to write or read such comparatively languorous prose. What is striking about Carlyle’s writing from today’s vantage point is how early in the industrial revolution he mounted a protest against it. By 1829, the steam engine was entering its ­heyday, but the explosion of iron, steel, coal and oil that we associate with the industrial age was visible only on the horizon.

FT