On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

Air NZ Customer Service


I was going to blog about 3D Bio-Plotting today and if this is of interest to you, bookmark or subscribe to the RSS feed. This is going to be a very exciting disruptive technology that has the potential to have a huge impact on our life expectancy and the health industry.

In my last blog I wrote about how John Donahoe, CEO of eBay has a good understanding of what business eBay is in and it isn’t helping people buy and sell things online, or about their recent purchase of Red Laser for comparison shopping.

I wonder if Air New Zealand really understand what their business is at times. If you read their Vision Statement and Guiding Principles, it doesn’t say anything about the travel experience, or about the social relationship with customers or being the facilitator of people’s dreams. In fact a lot that Air New Zealand does is about that, but at times they seem to lose track of that and of course their major focus is on delivering a dividend to their share holders. The bottom line is people do business with people, like me. Individuals who have feelings, not just bums on seats as they say in the hospitality business.

In What Would Google Do, by Jeff Jarvis, still one of my favorite books, this is what he says about airlines:

Air travel’s business model today is based on overselling seats, billing us for checking bags, charging us for pillows and pretzels and just about everything they can think of but air………………. Does that sound familiar. I know it is hard to run an airline profitably, but as someone who has traveled around the world at least a dozen times, there have been many years where I spent 4 months of the year travelling, I understand that traveling is stressful and tiring and little things like being stuck in transit at San Francisco Airport for 8 hours because the Air NZ counter doesn’t open till 90 minutes before the flight and they don’t have an interconnect deal with their partner Lufthansa can be frustrating. They don’t engender loyalty, which I can assure you cost them a lot of money from me from time to time. I have also declined the two invitations to take out an Air NZ Platinum American Express Card. Why would I support an organisation like that, which doesn’t put me first?

Anyway, I started this blog because of frustration over my latest experience with Air New Zealand. Now I have to say that all the people I have spoken to at their service center have been friendly and polite and helpful to a point. But they fall down on some simple things like detail.

So here’s what happened. Last year my wife an I booked flights to Sydney to attend a wedding in Hunter Valley. Prior to the wedding, we were told that my father in law had weeks to live as he had a recurrence of cancer that he was not going to beat. We had to cancel the flight for which we paid $944.20 including taxes and Air NZ said that due to compassionate grounds they would hang on to our money and allow us to rebook at a later date within 12 months, which we thought was reasonable.

I re-booked in January for a trip at the end of this month (I have flown with Air NZ a number of times since then including a trip to Rarotonga in October). I gave my credit card details for the $150 re-booking fee (for 2 of us). Yesterday I went to print off the tickets and organize travel insurance and there was no email. I rang the call centre to find out why and after being transferred and disconnected and waiting a while to speak to someone again, I was told that the flights had been cancelled because they hadn’t been paid for. I was flabbergasted. I gave her my credit card details on the spot, but on checking yesterday, my card account had not been debited. I have already paid in advance for accommodation and we had both applied for leave etc and made arrangements to meet friends over there etc.

Anyway, the nice friendly chap I spoke to went and spoke to his supervisor and apparently, they can still get us on the same flights, but it would now be more expensive for the transfer fee of the tickets. They wanted to talk to the call center person who arranged the booking for us and she is not back until Monday, so they will get back to me on Monday or Tuesday.

So here’s the thing. I have no certainty for one or two more days that I will in fact get those flights and I may have to pay more for my tickets than the extra $150 which in itself would mean that we are paying $1,094.20 for 2 return flights to Sydney from Auckland, at the same time that Flight Center is offering one way tickets for $79 plus taxes (including one bag) at their travel expo.

I can’t believe that the supervisor couldn’t have just authorized the deal on the spot and taken my credit card details once again. What does it cost them for their time to document the discussions, chase the previous consultant who I believed had booked my flights, confirm back to the consultant who I spoke to yesterday and then have him ring me on my mobile to hopefully tell me they will honor the arrangement we had made in the first place. My cost is of course stress for myself and my wife as to whether we will be on the flights booked, that we won’t lose the money we prepaid for accommodation and so on, and it certainly sours our anticipation of a nice little holiday.

On top of that Air New Zealand have had the use of just under a thousand dollars of our money for free for a year. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and more expedient to just say, sorry, something has gone wrong here, we can’t explain it, but if you will give us your credit card details again, we will send you a confirmation email in around 15 minutes. We hope you enjoy your trip with Air New Zealand. Then I would be writing a blog saying how wonderful and caring Air NZ was, even after they had clearly slipped up. It’s been my experience that often its not the problem but the way it is dealt with that makes all the difference. Frequently when a company has a problem and deal with it well, they will end up with more loyal clients than they would have had if the problem had not occurred in the first place.

OK, I’ve had my vent and will let you know if Air NZ fix things for me or not.

In the meantime, what about your experiences with airlines. What do you think of their visions and their customer service? Do you feel they have a good balance between customer service and shareholder satisfaction? Are you loyal to a particular airline? Why?

On Living Longer


I’ve decided I want to live longer.  I love technology and I love this world of change and the ability to be involved in this technological era. I have things to contribute and I want to be active in ICT, Location Based Services and also as a songwriter. I want to see my children and grandchildren grow up and explore this ever changing world and see what they make of it.

I’m going to have to work longer, that was always expected, but then providing my Maslow and Herzberg needs are met, I enjoy working. I enjoy making a difference, helping people achieve their goals. I enjoy learning, watching what is helping in my spheres of interest, particularly those mentioned above. I enjoy collaborating and networking and am particularly passionate about seeing New Zealand step up to the plate and continuing to innovate and achieve greater success on the world stage.

I reckon a healthy target for me would be 120 given medical advances now and in the future. My greatest risks are probably heart and cancer, with the determining factors being nature and nurture and my general disposition i.e. my attitude and happiness.

One thing that is obvious is that I have to look after my financial well being. If I continue to work, then raising the retirement age isn’t going to be a major for me. If I am enjoying my work, see a future for myself where I can contribute from my experience, passion and knowledge and can continue to grow, I wouldn’t be expecting to retire at 67.

I know I can’t rely on the Government to give me any kind of lifestyle on the retirement pension anyway. Our budget deficit has just been raised to over $15b and despite some significant successes, we still don’t have an infrastructure that really supports innovation. We tend to take credit once people are successful, but most successful innovators tend to be successful in spite of the country’s and their employers contribution rather than because of it.

So my first considerations as I start goal setting and planning will be how I can maintain my lifestyle in the years to come, continue to build an asset base so that when I wind down to a shorter working week I can continue to enjoy a lifestyle and if I should be forced into retirement through poor health (which is not the plan) I can still live comfortably, which no one can in NZ on a pension or benefit. I have a super scheme, I still have a mortgage. I am closing down my rental property LAQC and have sold my rental property. The Government doesn’t want people be able to claim losses from their expenses and without that I can’t afford to own rentals. I’ve invested in public companies before, but unless you are buying and selling daily, this is in my opinion a far greater risk business. Even the biggest companies make mistakes or get caught up in circumstances beyond their control and shareholders unless they are big, have little or no control over their destiny. How many Kiwis lost their life savings in the past by investing in ‘rock solid’ companies?

So I’ll invest in myself. I am studying song writing at Berklee Music on-line, which is costing me a small fortune, but if I can score 1 or 2 hits somewhere along the way, I’ll recoup that investment. I study the industries I’m involved in daily through the media, the occasional conference, networking in person and through social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter and I read a lot.

I have and continue to amass a huge amount of local and international experience in a number of industries, particularly in the application of leading edge technologies to solving business problems. Experience, I have learned takes years and is perhaps something that is least appreciated by younger people who come out of university thinking they know everything and by people who have stuck in one industry or a very small number of companies during their work career.

So to cut a long story short, I need to start planning for my long future. I need to consider a range of aspects, particularly how I want to live those years, what I want to do in them, what I want to contribute, what capital I need, how to maintain my health and fitness. Must be time for some goal setting and dream building.

I’ll leave the last word for now to Anne Brunet (who came via that other little university in Boston (not Berklee Music, but Harvard) and Thomas Rando of Stanford U.

Note the real meat of this video starts around 21 minutes in.

The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

Olmesartan and Recovery from Autoimmune Disease


The following presentation is fascinating. So many people suffer from autoimmune problems. Could it be that many of them can be cured using a subset of Vitamin D?

It makes sense that many bacterial genomes damage the immune system over time and incrementally shut it down. In effect microbiota block the Vitamin D Receptors from producing antimicrobials.

Professor Trevor Marshall has worked with over 500 human subjects and demonstrated reversibility of   many autoimmune conditions including Lupus, MS, Type 2 diabetes and many more conditions, typically chronic inflammation conditions.

What is even more impressive is that as the inflammation receded, a host of other conditions that the subjects suffered from also disappeared. These included  memory loss, obsessive compulsive disorder, osteoporosis, bipolar and even cardiovascular disease.

In their research they discovered a couple of very interesting points. One is that only 1,25 dihydroxyviatmin-D can activate VDR transcription, whereas Vitamin D that we can take as pills actually inhibit it.

Could this be one of the discoveries that will help increase our life expectancy and potentially cure people from many terrible diseases?

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest