February 26, 2017

UK Heart Disease Breakthrough

Who says medicine in UK is abysmal?

Trials have been completed in Greece and are planned in UK and the US this year and next for a stem cell therapy of heart muscle that reverses the scarring induced by heart disease.

This is the first time scarring has been shown to be reversible. It could herald an end to transplants and lead to a treatment for heart failure within three to five years.

Professor Westaby said: "This would be the biggest breakthrough since the first transplants three decades ago."

Professor Westaby has been working on the technique for more than a decade and is carrying out the study with Professor Kim Fox, head of the National Heart and Lung Institute, at Imperial College London.

The implanted stem cells were created by medical outfit Celixir, co-founded by Nobel laureate Professor Martin Evans, the first scientist to culture mice embryonic stem cells in a laboratory.

Professor Westaby was inspired to work on the breakthrough in 1999 after a four-month-old baby girl's heart healed itself after he carried out a major life-saving operation.

Kirsty Collier, from Swindon, was dying of a serious and rare heart defect. In a last ditch effort Professor Westaby cut away a third of her badly damaged heart.

Surprisingly it began to beat. Fourteen years later a scan has shown that the heart had healed itself.

Now Kirsty, 18, has a normal one. Professor Westaby said: "She was essentially dead and was only resurrected by what I regarded at the time as a completely bizarre operation.

"The fact there was no sign of heart damage told me there were foetal stem cells in babies' hearts that could remove scarring of heart muscle. That never happens in adults.

"It's all down to the clues we got from Kirsty's operation."

Posted by JohnGalt at 1:30 PM | Comments (0)

February 6, 2017

Super 'Super Bowl'

You may have heard about the Super Bowl commercial that was going to be filmed during the Super Bowl. And, like me, you may have missed it during the post-game. Here it is.


Well done, Hyundai - A company from a nation that also hosts many U.S. troops far from their own homes.

Posted by JohnGalt at 12:09 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Saw it live. Quite refreshing after the Audi Agitprop. Awesome indeed.

I fear the great age of Super Bowl Ads may be behind us. I enjoyed several (Martha & Snoop -- ehrmigawd) but the great spectacle seems to have passed.

Posted by: jk at February 7, 2017 10:41 AM

December 16, 2016

In Fairness

I do enjoy our running discussion about autonomous vehicles. So many of our contretempses are based on opinion and abstract theory, but on this I enjoy being 100% right and the rest of you being 100% wrong. It feels good.

But, in fairness, I am sitting on some inculpatory information. This Sunday will see a five-star, glowing Review Corner for Tim Harford's Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. It is a brilliant book that affects music, art, politics, business, technology, and personal lifestyle choices.

Don't wait for Review Corner: buy it or at least listen to Russ Roberts's EconTalk podcast with the author.

I'll have a lot to say and might miss "Chapter Seven: Flight 447 and the Jennifer Unit: When Human Messiness Protects Us from Computerized Disaster."

Recall that Earl Wiener said, "Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors." 21 In the case of autopilots and autonomous vehicles, we might add that it's because digital devices tidily tune out small errors that they create the opportunities for large ones. Deprived of any awkward feedback, any modest challenges that might allow us to maintain our skills, when the crisis arrives we find ourselves lamentably unprepared.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb [Review Corner] would appreciate the fragility element. I don't think it substantively undercuts the argument for autonomous vehicles, but it is a concern that the computer -- as in Flight 447 -- does the easy stuff and then hands it off when things get bad. That is a legitimate concern: "oh we're all gonna die, you better take over."

UPDATE: I meant to include one more excerpt:

With fly-by-wire, it's much easier to assess whether the trade-off is worthwhile. Until the late 1970s, one could reliably expect at least twenty-five fatal commercial plane crashes a year. In 2009, Air France 447 was one of just eight crashes, a safety record. The cost-benefit analysis seems clear: freakish accidents like Flight 447 are a price worth paying, as the steady silicon hand of the computer has prevented many others.

Still, one cannot help but wonder if there is a way to combine the adaptability, judgment, and tacit knowledge of humans with the reliability of computers, reducing the accident rate even further.

Harford, Tim. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives (pp. 198-199). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:34 PM | Comments (7)
But jk thinks:

Too. Much. Fun.

I'll allot some sympathy for your emergency override. I believe you'll find me very agnostic about implementation. My fulsome devotion is to automation qua automation. I want two things, and I'll let you pick the details.

First, I want the productivity. Reading The Most Important Graph

First, there is no obvious reason why growth should not continue indefinitely—although future growth will likely be more dependent on technological change than in the past. In the West, for example, we cannot replicate the growth boost that resulted from the entry of large number of women (50 percent of the population) into the labor force.

I want that slope. Watch the TeeVee News' Helicopter view of a traffic jam -- even in modest little Denver -- and imagine those man-hours returned to productivity. Gimme that and you can design the rest of the box.

Secondly, I want the reduced body count. Even Harford admits a 25 to 8 reduction in fatal commercial plane crashes per year.

As for our unfortunate pedestrian (who didn't know he was 30' from certain death until he saw the clip on YouTube...) You want 100% I think my engineer buddy knows there is no 100%. But what if we get the same better-than-3X improvement that aircraft achieved? If you were 1/3 as likely to get hit by a computer than a person -- wouldn't you take that?

(And I bet they will not be popular until they are more like 10x, but why not start at 2:1?)

Posted by: jk at December 19, 2016 5:41 PM
But johngalt thinks:

It's not fair. Neither of us may like it, but that's the way it is. Robots don't get a free pass for "human error."

How about a compromise? The autodrive feature automatically disengages unless you are on a freeway or an onramp? Wouldn't that solve your traffic jam issue while leaving the complicated city driving to the higher level state engine?

Posted by: johngalt at December 19, 2016 7:19 PM
But jk thinks:

Wow -- I think we have the essence of our disagreement -- the proverbial crux of the biscuit! It is "Higher level state engine."

I have zero doubt that automated drivers will be far better than a great percentage of their human counterparts. Computers will be in the 90th percentile and not susceptible to inattention when a really hot human of favored gender is visible.

I accept your concern that you're a 95th percentile driver (curiously, everyone self-reports somewhere in there, but I'm not quibbling) and fear you are "stepping down." That is actually legitimate.

I also accept the Smithian (That's Will, not Adam) concern of "Enemy of the State" where the government can drive you to the Christian White Guy interment camps instead of Starbucks.

But do you really doubt that autonomous will be a lot safer, statistically, than human drivers? Should that be the case, I don't think we have an argument, they will not be allowed until proven far superior. As long as tort lawyers need Rolexes, natural forces will keep them limited until they are far far superior.

Posted by: jk at December 20, 2016 1:16 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I stand by my "Summer of oh-one-four" position:

I think I mentioned I love the tech. What I don't love is the implementation chosen by Google for demonstration purposes. I want the Dodge version of this... not the PRT version as envisioned by the DAWG promoting egalitarians at google.org.

Empowerment of the less mobile? Yaay.
Faster and safer travel? Yaay.
Legalized texting while driving? Yaay.

Just put my manual controls back in. That's all I ask. Well, and maybe a turbocharged V-something with 8-speed automatic paddle shifted transmission, independent active suspension and a tuned exhaust. Or an electric power plant with a thorium battery. And voice controls.

Posted by: johngalt at December 21, 2016 6:10 PM
But jk thinks:

Okay, we're good (and I seem to hold tightly with my '14 position).

I think my favorite model is an Uber with manual and automated controls. When possible, it uses automated control but in bad weather or a very complex environment it behaves just like today's vehicle.

Posted by: jk at December 21, 2016 6:38 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Now were singing from the same hymnal. How about a convertible? Two-seated? Sporty looks and handling? Sort of a "Mr. Uber?" ;)

Posted by: johngalt at December 22, 2016 10:33 AM

December 15, 2016

Newfangled Technology

I could not agree with my blog brother more fulsomely. In the face of direct video evidence of failure, development shall be halted to ensure that no human life is harmed.

We cannot allow these new-fangled gadgets to kill our children!!!!

Posted by John Kranz at 4:31 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

If I had a big red graphic arrow I would point it downward from the top center of the frame. "Human Operator."

I don't object to vehicles operating autonomously, I only object to vehicles big enough to squish or lacerate me operating autonomously in public places. How long until we read of a UPS driver who runs an Ubermobile off the road to save lives?

Posted by: johngalt at December 15, 2016 6:13 PM

Gratuitous "Piling On"

What a relief that the latest "most important election in our lifetime" is over and we can get back to important debates, like the one over self-driving cars.

I don't know the maker but the operator is identified as "Uber." Right there at the ten second mark, Uber's self-driving Volvo wagon drives right through an intersection against a red light that a human operated car had already stopped for. Barely missing a pedestrian!

In its defense, Uber said the incident resulted from "human error." Rilly?

According to Uber, the cars aren't yet ready to be hit the streets without someone monitoring them, meaning someone from the company was likely behind the wheel. A statement issued by Uber Wednesday afternoon attributed the red-light being run in the video to an error by the person monitoring the car.

"This incident was due to human error," the statement read. "This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate."

But, if self-driving Ubers are safer, why do they need a human monitoring them from behind the wheel in the first place? Perhaps that human driver isn't the only entity who warrants suspension.

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:46 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Barely? Two car lengths? The pedestrian does not even slow down.

Posted by: jk at December 15, 2016 4:43 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Without hyperbole, what kind of fake-news site would we be?

Seriously, "barely" is in the eye of the beholder. Is a pedestrian any less dead if she didn't see the train that hit her?

Why didn't the Ubermobile stop? My hypothesis is that the car that has the camera in it, stopped at the intersection, blocked its view of the signal on the left curb. [Werner Heisenberg, call your office.] But the violation is not excused. AI may be able to learn and even process for situations like this as well or better than humans. Until it can, however, jeeburz man, you gotta admit they belong on a test track.

And would you consent to at least a "panic button" for the poor passenger(s)?

Posted by: johngalt at December 15, 2016 6:10 PM
But jk thinks:

I hope I have not repeated this joke in this context but you know the old line "You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the friend you're hiking with." Human drivers are HORRIBLE. Autonomous cars, by the time you really have to worry about encountering them will likely be 10 or 100 times safer than their human counterparts.

If you had not clarified that your extreme example of danger was an autonomous Uber, I would have thought it was "Boulder, on a Wednesday."

Posted by: jk at December 16, 2016 10:41 AM