Artificial life forms

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Organically grown, artificial, self reproducing machines are here.

This is still very far away from highly evolved artificial life but has its potential uses.

Highly evolved artificially engineered life is also a reality now but that’s not about creating life from scratch. That’s all about genetically re-engineering an already evolved species.

The old GMO techniques were slow, expensive and error prone.

The new techniques using CRISPR and others like it are precise, inexpensive, quick and quite easy.

I would really like a phosphorescent pet dog that glows bright red in the dark. Just kidding….

Culturing cancer cells on a chip

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This technology could work not just for glioblastomas. 

Therapies could be tried on various cancers and cellular diseases on a chip to see what works and what does not.

Tissue Culture Diagnostics 2.0, which enables us to culture abnormal human cells in a chip outside of the body and test drugs and other combination therapy on them.

I suspect the biggest leveraged gains from this technology will come from using it for research to identify new, effective therapies.

Of Human Limitations and the Complexity of the Universe

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We pride ourselves on our understanding of rules and laws and concepts to explain what we see and experience. 

Guess what, we will have no option but to trust machine created algorithms which are practically impossible to explain using the same models. 

This is not in the future but it is already here. For example, with some medical diagnostics and predictive systems. or AlphaGo.

This is a depressing scenario for all of us engineers and “rational” beings. We like to understand and explain how things work. We seek the underlying laws that allow us to do so.

David Weinberger states the obvious when he says “the true complexity of the world far outstrips the laws and models we devise to explain it.”

But then he also makes a powerful case for the learning machines and how they are able to overcome the human limitations that prevent us from deriving meaningful rules out of this complexity.

“Alexa, please tell me if it’s going to rain today.” 

“Yes GK, It will rain at 3:25 PM today for 12 minutes at your location.”

And there will be no way to know how Alexa knows that and no way for Alexa to explain that to us in a meaningful manner.

Jaggery is just as bad as sugar for our kids

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There is this widespread nutritional superstition in India which says refined sugar is bad but unrefined sugar (jaggery) is good for you.

This is wrong.

While unrefined sugar may have some small additional mineral value, excess will harm you and your children in the same way that refined sugar will.

Our children are getting way too much sugar in their diets from too many sources. Feeding them more is not a good idea. It does not help that people like Rujuta Diwekar are spreading this kind of superstitious myth.

Green revolution and crop diversity

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Industrialised agriculture, combined with the packaged food industry have distorted quite a few of our behaviours.

Not all of it is bad. After all, the days of famines and starvation are over.

We are able to feed a global population that is many times larger than what it was in 1920.

Changes of this scale have negative effects as well.

Now it is time to fix them.

An explosion of new species is just around the corner

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The consequences of democratised access to gene editing technology is certainly one of the biggest issues we will grapple with in the next 3 to 4 decades.

Nessa Carey believes that consensus is the only way to manage the risks. I do not agree at all.

There is a reason why consensus works for nuclear weapons but it does not for meth labs.

When everyone has access, it is too complex to deliver consensus or control.

The cat is out of the bag and an explosion of human engineered organisms is around the corner.

I am not sure how this can be avoided. I have not heard of any theories that make sense.

I am also concerned that while there is a lot of talk nowadays about the threats to humans from Artificial General Intelligence, why is there not much talk about the threat from garage engineered plants, microorganisms and possibly even insects, reptiles and mammals.

It takes a lot of money and resources to build complex AI. CRISPR on the other hand, can be used by practically anyone.

Your kitchen gas is dirty fuel

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Indoor air pollution is as big a killer as outdoor air pollution.

There are several reasons for high indoor air pollution. One of them is the so called “clean fuels” in the kitchen.

People mistakenly believe that LPG gas stoves is “clean fuel” and “non polluting”. This notion is false.

Lighting up an LPG stove in your kitchen is like running a petrol vehicle engine in your kitchen. I would argue that the vehicle is less polluting because it is Bharat Stage V compliant and has filters that clean up the exhaust gases. The gas stove has no such thing!

Please ensure that your kitchen has a powerful chimney plus exhaust fan and that it is working well. It must be used every time the gas stove is switched on.

Right to Privacy and WhatsApp Groups

Do WhatsApp groups have a right to privacy – how do we interpret the law in India?

I think this depends upon the purpose of a WhatsApp “group”.

Is the WhatsApp group a gathering of individuals equivalent to

– a family gathering

– friends getting together at home?

– town square public gathering?

– elected members of a housing society or a company Board of Directors?

– religious gathering in a mosque or church

– party at a club

– and more …

IMHO, except for the first two, none of the other groups can indulge in hate speech or plan a crime.

No privacy protection is available under the law.

Should WhatsApp be required by law to maintain records of such group conversations for use by law enforcement or as evidence in a court of law?

After all, they own and manage the property which hosts these groups?

Most Sugar mills must stop producing sugar and electricity

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The push of sugar mills in India towards ethanol is good news.

However it is only part of the solution. It must go together with BIO-CNG from bagasse.

“Ethanol plus bio CNG from bagasse plus the manure byproduct” is the magic formula for sustainably turning around the sugar industry in India.

The “subsidised sugar plus power to the grid from bagasse” model has very poor economics which will get worse going forward.

The ethanol+ bio-CNG + manure will create an economically superior solution for millions of farmers and reduce our fuel import bills as well.

A man made killer flu

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Bio Weapons have been talked about for a long time and many governments have funded this kind of research.

But now with gene editing technologies, it has become easy for non state actors, including malicious individuals to create horrifying pathogens.

Here is an engineered pathogen with three thousand times the mortality rate of swine flu. Scary stuff.