The coming deluge of data in the medical world

A few decades ago, a physician or a pathologist had to deal with a much smaller knowledge base than modern medicine today.

As medical knowledge grew in size and complexity, we have seen the emergence of various specialities. And then naturally, superspecialists.

In the coming decade, we shall see an explosion of data. This is just round the corner in the biotech and medical world.

It will not be possible for human specialists to deal with this deluge of data or to make sense of it beyond a point.

It will become necessary for doctors and pathologists to work with AI machines which summarise and interpret this data for human specialists.

It will not be possible for doctors to function effectively without extensive use of artificial intelligence frameworks that help the doctor to diagnose or to recommend a course of action.

Here is an article that summarises the emerging situation well from a pathology viewpoint.



Why must we be metal and silicon?

There are many ways humans are trying to extend life. One influential school of thought is the idea that we will have the ability to replace damaged organs or extend the capabilities of our organs.

The popular imagination and science fiction has dealt with this and fantasised about this for many decades now. That humans will become cyborgs.

But that imagination has almost always been about metal and silicon. Or at least the core of the cyborg was metal and silicon. Look at Arnie in The Terminator – metal covered with flesh but not the other way around.

There was no flesh cased in a protective inorganic casing. Those were usually the evil aliens and not cyborgs or augmented humans. Our cultural biases were speaking – anything biological and as intelligent as the human is an evil alien.

What if the biggest advances are going to be in regeneration of organs. Whether it is within our bodies or grown elsewhere and transplanted into our bodies? Not just regeneration of hearts, kidneys, livers, bone and joints; but the brain too.

It appears to me that in the coming couple of decades, genetic engineering may make much bigger leaps than synthetic biology.  That the future is biological advancement of the human species and not fusion with inorganic machines.

We live in interesting times.

Here is the Ted talk that set off this thinking. Meet Dr Luhan Yang and Lika the cute pig –

Sholay and Pyaasa will be reborn in 2025

Technologies to create professional grade content are rapidly becoming ubiquitous and easy to use.

Take the example of the ability to take high quality photos and apply a range of effects on them. Anyone with a high end phone can do it now. You needed a studio with expensive software and a highly skilled person to do that just 15 years ago.

What about movies? Look at the amazing number of amateur produced, professional quality videos on YouTube! And so many of them now made with hand held phone cameras. An amateur with a handheld camera and video editing software on their computer can now create a recipe video which is just as good as something in Masterchef Australia. And that 3 minute video does not cost ten thousand dollars to produce. It can be done for as low as a hundred dollars.

What next? I will argue it’s the creation of virtual worlds that are indistinguishable from the real. Whether it is used for creating movies or games.

Within the next 5-6 years we will have inexpensive tools available off the cloud, which will make it possible for any amateur to create vast and complex virtual worlds, characters, voices, music and more and stitch them together to tell a story – into a movie or an interactive game.

Stuff that costs millions of dollars today to make for a Twentieth Century Fox or Yash Chopra Films or an Electronic Arts. This will be done by talented amateurs and created without any live actors, from the comfort of their bedroom desks.

Sholay, Pyaasa and other such movies will be remade. With the same actors. Young actors. In any period set of the producers choosing. In color. They will be better than the classics. They will be better than the originals. And nobody will be able to make out that they are artificial creations and computer generated characters and sets. They will be indistinguishable from the real.

This is not decades away. The first such movies will be available within 5 years. Some great tools are already there.

Extinction of a Species – By Design

I am not sure if we should be troubled about the work being done to eliminate mosquito species that are vectors for diseases.

This is no longer science fiction. There are multiple initiatives which follow variants of a basic approach : “Make males whose offspring will only be males. Then release a few of these engineered males into the wild”

This approach, as some experiments have shown, have the potential to rapidly eliminate the species within a few generations in that area. This can be a very short period. Less than a couple of years.

There is no way that this can be isolated to a particular area. Any such initiative will soon spread worldwide and make the species extinct.

These “blood suckers” which cause malaria, dengue, chikungunya are not just disease carriers. They are also food for other animals. They are a part of the food chain. 

Only the females feed on blood. Both male and female mosquitoes primarily feed on nectar. The same thing that honey bees feed on. They also perform the same function that bees do – they pollinate the flowers (Some have argued that mosquitoes are not the great pollinators they are suspected to be).

We are entering an era of genetically engineered plant and animal species of all kinds. These mosquitoes are merely the beginning. Many of these species will get into the wild without any controls because the species are created by individuals or small groups of people in DIY labs.

Somehow, the thought of man made genetic solutions that eliminate or replace an entire existing species troubles me.

What about you?

Here is the mosquito article –

Criminal or Needs Help? How Do We Know?

Someone told me the other day that the reason why we send people to jail is not to punish them. That’s not the reason at all.

The reason is protection. And it works both ways. Protecting society from criminals and protecting criminals from vigilante justice. One keeps society safe and the second keeps it sane.

That brings me to the topic of mental illness. It is possible to argue in the following manner :  Almost all criminal behaviour is deviant from what we consider “normal”.  Criminal behaviour born of thought patterns that are deviant from the normal is what we may call mental illness. And so a person who has exhibited criminal behaviour is to be treated as a victim of mental illness.

In the last century, we have recognised and accepted some forms of deviant behaviour as born of mental illnesses and recognised that some others (like homosexuality) are not illnesses at all and are perfectly normal. 

But many other behaviours are yet to be recognised and formally classified as mental illness by the criminal justice system. Even perfectly normal behaviours like homosexuality continue to be criminalized in less developed legal systems and unfortunately in India as well.

Just as in other areas of life, I expect technology to play a major role in the coming two decades in this area. So far, psychiatry has not had the technology to look at things like genetic profiles or body chemistry at hormonal and other levels. The causal relationships or correlation between these and mental illnesses is neither visible nor well understood. I think that very strong relationships most likely exist and they will be found.

This opens up the possibility of cures or methods of containment. 

Maybe in future, we will be able to treat these people as victims and help them to reverse the condition or contain it. Maybe many of the people who go to jail today, don’t really belong there.

Alok Sarin makes an interesting case here on an associated topic –


Portable Medical Imaging and Communicating Thought

I was reading this extraordinary set of claims for a new technology at this link –

Coming from Mary Lou Jepsen, you have no option but to take the claims seriously.

Imagine looking into your body at resolutions that are even better than MRIs or CAT Scans. Imagine being able to do that over extended periods of time and not just looking at organs but also movements and flows! And all this as a wearable and not while lying inside a huge machine in a hospital.

The telepathy piece is something I have difficulty believing in. I think the jump from imaging, to interpretation and then communication of complex thought patterns is not feasible using any current technology.

Speech to text is complex enough. Interpretation of the nuances of language is still a work in progress.

Here we are talking of interpreting thought, or rather the visual expression of it as seen on an imaging machine. I suppose that will work  for basic commands that you would use for playing a video game for example. It may also work for communicating simple phrases or feelings or direction etc.

I can’t see how complex, structured (or monkey brain) thinking can be interpreted or communicated.

Maybe I am reading this wrong. I am assuming that a machine is interpreting and then communicating the interpreted thought patterns to humans. On the contrary, here it is humans who interpret the raw expression of thought?  And this is easy for us because it is not much different from what we “see” in our own heads?

I would so love to be a part of this team! This work seems to be really exciting.