Moralistic vs Consequentialist thinking

Reference podcast – 

https://rss.art19.com/episodes/d1682fd4-9ac7-48b5-92ab-fbb943146d10.mp3

Liv Boeree – World Champion Poker Player. Liv endorses consequentialism in her interview with Tim Ferriss

Consequentialist thinking is basically that the  consequences of your actions are far more important than the actions themselves!

We now live in an age where we have access to more data and information to understand the consequences of our actions. Consequentialists therefore say that our ethics and moral rules must be guided by our knowledge of the consequences.

I disagree for two reasons –

1. This kind of “greater good” thinking has resulted in some of the biggest disasters and human tragedies that the world has seen. From Stalin to Mao and worse. Consequentialist values lead to the pursuit of poor consequences by morally twisted individuals. We are all better off with a widespread and common understanding of basic values (morals?). For example – non-violence or inclusiveness 

2. We overestimate our ability to interpret data and understand the consequences. If all of us were good at it, we would all bet the same way and on the same horses. Consequences are usually expressed in the form of probabilities and not absolutes. And it is human nature to not only get the probabilities wrong, but also to bet against the best probabilities.

A brain dead person may not be dead after all!

Reference article – 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/

Reviving dead pig brains means only one thing from an ethics standpoint and that concerns the definition of human death.

If a person’s breathing stops, is he dead? We now know he is not and that he can be put on a ventilator.

If a person’s heart stops, is she dead? We know that it is not true because hearts can be revived and hearts can be transplanted as well.

Pig brains have thrown up a conundrum for us.

Theranos and Napster ?


Reference link – https://onezero.medium.com/post-theranos-startups-are-still-out-for-blood-5d5c43cf3376

The fall of Theranos did not wipe out the pin prick diagnostics industry.

On the contrary, it is much like Napster, which went down but laid the foundation for the enormous disruption of the music industry. 

Napster showed the way and the opportunity for download and streaming services and today’s music industry owes much to the fact that Napster existed when it did. Apple, Spotify and so much more…

Theranos, similarly showed how big the market is and investor interest is for successful, edge of the network diagnostics.

So now we have many more companies doing very interesting work in the space. The diagnostics industry is going to see significant disruption. 

Much of the diagnostics technologies, labs and methods of today are going to be replaced in the next decade. They will be replaced by superior technologies, devices, tests, at the edge of the network and at much lower costs.

Pseudoscience in school textbooks

Reference article – https://thewire.in/the-sciencges/pseudoscientific-claims-are-irrational-but-thats-not-their-biggest-danger

The mainstreaming of Pseudo Science is an unfortunate fall out of the politics in the last few years.

Just as we have the creationists in the US who do not recognise evolution (among other things), we are breeding our own versions of crackpots who see science in myth and see evidence of advanced technology in the mythology of relatively primitive times.

Nothing wrong with the crackpots. They are very entertaining.

The problem is when their theories (alternative facts?) start appearing in school textbooks.

Parents must watch out for such things in school text books and point them out to their children. Get them scientific international reading material that makes the children question everything and not blindly believe anything they see in their textbooks.

Let’s teach our children to not unquestioningly believe their text books or their teachers. They must ask their teachers and get sensible answers. They must learn to check credible alternative sources of information (books and online) and challenge the fake news, myth and fake science.

Blind obedience and belief in the guru is not a virtue in school children. It’s a damaging and stupidly outdated concept. It will be a handicap for them in tomorrow’s job market. 

Look at all the fake stuff floating around in WhatsApp groups and many of your friends actually believing them and forwarding them! Do you want your children to grow up to be like those ignorant simpletons?

Artificial life forms

Reference article – https://thenextweb.com/robots/2019/04/19/cornell-scientists-create-living-machines-that-eat-grow-and-evolve

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

Reference article – https://medium.com/scientific-american/new-strategies-take-on-the-worst-cancer-glioblastoma-7b3439c8c3f5?

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

Reference article – https://onezero.medium.com/machine-learning-might-render-the-human-quest-for-knowledge-pointless-5425f8b00a45

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

Reference link – http://foodnetindia.in/blog/2019/02/21/chappati-with-jaggery-and-ghee-is-not-a-nutritious-meal/

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

Reference link – http://foodnetindia.in/blog/2019/03/04/nine-crops-make-up-65-of-global-food-output/

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

Reference link – https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/02/nessa-carey-interview-china-gene-editing-big-pharma-100000-genomes-project

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.