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.

 

Workplace Bullying in Christchurch


Further to my blog this morning on how people are, or are not coping with stress from the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, we are now hearing stories of increased workplace bullying in Christchurch. I don’t know how much it would take place normally, but this is another example of ordinary people being stretched to extraordinary limits.

According to a story published in many media this week, the stress levels are as high as would be found in a war zone. An AAP story says that scripts for sleeping pills and anti anxiety drugs are up and many people are self medicating with alcohol often resulting in violent incident, domestic and otherwise. Women’s Refuge reports a 30% increase in demand since the February earthquake.

A poll in The Press established that only 38% of people in Christchurch don’t want to leave. Of course as I mentioned in my blog yesterday on  Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch, because of mortgage commitments, and the logical lack of buyers, many people can’t afford to leave if they wanted to.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Key is still unable to say whether a decision will be announced this week on which streets or  suburbs will not be rebuilt.

Here’s another every day view from NZ Herald TV, brushing your teeth with lemonade because there is no water.

I feel sick and sad this morning


Footnote to my story in November called “Why don’t auckland hospitals work smarter rather than harder.” and the previous one The Hospital is the best place to be when you are sick, or is it?

My friend passed away this morning after an agonising battle with cancer. One has to wonder how much easier it would have been for her if she had received the treatment she was entitled to at the times she was turned away due to strikes and staff shortages. I’m sure she would still be with us today if she was able to receive the treatments and surgeries she was scheduled for.

Her husband is one of those nice old school Kiwi guys who listens to what he is told and didn’t want to rock the boat. He refused to fight through the management or the media to get the treatment his wife needed because he felt that was not the way you behave. Now he has lost his wife and soul mate too soon. We had to respect his right to be true to himself, but I’m not sure we have to accept the system that put him in that position.

My advice, if you are in a situation like that, where lives can be saved or prolonged and the bureaucratic penguins and the system is holding stolidly fast to this is where the line starts and if you’re not there anymore when you get to the end of the line, will the next patient shuffle forward, make a noise like someone’s life depends on it, especially if it does. People who go to the media miraculously get the treatment they need and sometimes before its too late.
We Kiwis need to stop being PC and accepting the bs that comes from our health industry. Note its not the wonderful hospital staff, they are put in an invidious position by the administrators, by the beurocrats and by the politicians who sleep sound at night and whose close ones are probably not getting turned away because “a registrar is off sick and the shift couldn’t run”. They are the ones who have to lie to the patients and their families when cost cutting measures, old fashioned systems full of lost paper files and ancient systems, and cost cutting means many people don’t get their surgeries, live or die in pain.

This person’s story is over. We won’t be going to the media or fighting because it is not what her husbands wanted. I respect that and much as it burns me, I will not add to his grief or risk creating feelings of guilt to him to make matters worse. He came from a generation who said yes sir, I know you are doing your best and genuinely trusted that. She may still have died, in fact probably would have, but she might have had a few more years and she certainly wouldn’t have suffered the degrees of agony of that she did over the last 4 months. We don’t do that to animals.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, make a noise, get your loved ones help, let the media know and as a country we have to get our government and administrators to invest in the new technologies that in the long run will cost less and save more lives.

Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder

 

 

Getting Your Household Ready for an Emergency


Christchurch City Council has a really good list of things to prepare in an emergency and if any area knows what to do, it’s them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and its a good idea to learn from someone else’s hindsight.

It seems obvious, but there is a lot more to it than you might think off hand.

Food. What happens if you can’t visit a grocer for a couple of weeks? What if there is no power? What if you have no water coming from the tap or it isn’t drinkable? If there is no power you can’t boil water. Do you have babies who need special foods? What about pets?

Cash. This was another major in Christchurch, no power, no comms, no EFTPOS. What happens when you need to rush to the store for last minute supplies? How much cash does anyone carry these days? Really obvious when its too late!

Gas for the BBQ is well worth it. Is your cylinder full? Lots of people will leave them over winter unless they also use the cylinder for other things, like a heater.

Medicine. If you can’t get to the doctor or the pharmacy and you use regular drugs, how long can you go without repeats or a new script? What state is your first aid kit in, what about regulars like paracetamol, bandages, antiseptics, slings? Do you have a St Johns or other first aid book? In many emergencies face masks would also be worth having around.

How many things do you have that need batteries? Torches, radio’s, emergency lights, many people only have battery powered can openers. How about your mobile phone, can you charge it if you have no electricity? A product like Cellshot might be worth investing in. Its great to see products like that available in NZ now. Of course candles and matches or lighters are also a must, something that non smokers may not have.

What about your camera? It struck me that it would have been a great idea in Australia with the floods if you could prove what you lost to the insurance companies before things got thrown out. A digital camera would make life much easier when it comes to rebuilding.

While I’m on mobile phones, I never thought about the fact that I couldn’t use my landline when there is no power. It’s well worth having an analogue phone in the house as they are powered by the exchange. Telecom did a great job in helping people donate their old phones to people in Christchurch. There’s a good business opportunity for someone to bring in new analogue phones for emergency back up.

Water is essential for so many things, cooking, drinking, washing, hygiene. Many disasters could mean that very quickly none of the water in your taps or house is usable. Some bottled water will keep for a year or more, but it also needs recycling or rotating.

Meetup plan. A number of friends in Christchurch had family members all over the city. It would be a great idea to have a plan on where to meet if people get separated, a public place, with common friends etc.

Getaway Kit. What if you had 5 or 10 minutes and had to leave in a hurry? What would you take with you? Lots of people have ended up with nothing in an emergency.

Do you have precious heirlooms? Special family items like photos, videos, jewellery etc that can’t be replaced? Do you keep them somewhere safe. Many of us have multilevel homes? If that’s you are those special things at ground level or up high? I have plastic bins that I bought from the Warehouse that stack and seal. They were only around $20 each and all my precious things like letters from grandparents etc are safely protected from the elements. Do you have your computer backed up? All those digital photos? where do you keep your backup?

The point is that these are all logical and simple things to do, but very easy to wish you had done once its too late.

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.

Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder


A friend of mine was prepped for 2 days with nil by mouth a month or 2 ago for urgent cancer surgery. The first day she got bumped and the 2nd day was the start of a radiographers strike. Last night she was prepped for an 8 hour operation and got bumped due to a critical case that suddenly appeared. We thought she was criticial, but obviously that’s not for us to judge.

I’ve asked the question before “Is hospital the best place to be when you are sick?” and pretty  much decided unless it was a private hospital, possibly not. But of course most of us don’t have any choice especially as we get older.

It is nice to see that some things are improving. For example Auckland Health Board has decided to send some patients to private clinics for radiation treatment to reduce waiting times.

I had blogged previously about waiting times at North Shore Hospital based on experiences waiting with family members in A & E and subsequently in corridors in some cases for days, without being assigned to wards. Each time we were told that it was an exceptional case and we were just unlucky. A registrar was sick and therefore his team couldn’t operate was a common excuse. Think about it, an entire team doesn’t operate because one person doesn’t turn up? Maybe they were stretching the truth, being they are short staffed and can’t afford another registrar, and they didn’t turn up because they didn’t exist.

According to the reports, North Shore Hospital is improving and it is now only the 3rd worst in New Zealand. North Shore Hospital supports North Shore and Waitakere with an excess of 400,000 population and rapidly growing. Of course things will change with the new Super City, but the problems won’t go away.

As you can see in previous blogs I’ve written such as ‘76 Deaths, Surgical Mistakes in New Zealand Hospitals‘ I have been pushing for more specialized technology to streamline processes for many years. The technology has been around for a long time, yet we still seem to rely heavily on paper. Tablet and handheld computing has been around for a long time. Most of us use WiFi in the home, in cafe’s, at the airport and understand the power of dealing with information once, accurately and allowing instant access to anyone who needs it in a timely fashion. That’s how we live.

I now see bar codes on patient wrist bands, but I don’t see them being read by a handheld computer to check for allergies, conditions etc at the bedside. This technology could have saved many NZ lives at a tiny fraction of the cost of their lost lives, productivity etc.

When I started promoting this technology, it was with Pocket PC, Palm and Symbol technologies (handheld computers, 3D Bar Code Readers, Portable Printers, Digital Cameras which were being used in many US and European hospitals and that was 20 years ago!

Today there is superior technology such as the Panasonic Mobile Clinical Assistant CF-H1 which runs on Windows 7. The video is pretty corny but it really does illustrate how efficient it is to use mobile technology. Of course this technology has a rugged drop spec, is chemical resistant, lasts 6 hours on a standard battery.

This technology means everyone is in sync and has access to critical data on demand. Paper gets misplaced in hospitals. I had one visit with a daughter that was delayed by 90 minutes simply because someone had misplaced her file. Data can be shared with specialists and medical staff in and out of hospital, including images such as scans, x-rays, photos, test results, charts and graphs. Allergies and condition interactions can be monitored to minimise risk of causing new problems, doses can be confirmed, approvals provided remotely. Pretty much the whole world’s medical knowledge is available online today.

Today’s world should be about harnessing technology to work smarter rather than harder. I suspect the focus is on cost of the technology because our hospitals are run by administrators tasked with saving money. Of course they are largely man aged by politicians. If health is a major election platform every election, why is it that the performance is still so poor?

Next time you are in hospital, have a look at how they use or don’t use technology. Think about how you operate in your business. Think about what’s at stake and ask them why they do things the way they do.

We have national elections next year. They will be talking about improving the health system. Will they be talking about improving the ICT structure and putting information in the hands of the clinicians? Or will they be talking about saving money, improving the monitoring of staff performance and measuring waiting times in A&E?

We have an ageing population and growing population. They are going to need more services and we could increase our throughput, reduce patient risk, significantly improve outcomes by harnessing technology, working smarter rather than harder, expecting great results from staff working double shifts several times a week.

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?