Systems medicine: The cure for Alzheimer’s may come from a leap forward in high-performance computing

sysmed

It would be an overstatement to say the days of bubbling beakers and test tubes in medical research labs are gone. But today, you’re as likely to see a supercomputer in the laboratory as you are racks of tissue samples.

Advanced modern medical research has become computational. Nowhere can you see this better than in the work the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) is doing on Alzheimer’s research.

According to Prof. Joachim Schultze, funding director of DZNE’s Platform for Single Cell Genomics and Epigenomics (PRECISE), the computing demands of just one aspect of Alzheimer’s research—genomics—are enormous.

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Moore’s Law is ending. Now what?

mooreslaw

In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would double every other year for the foreseeable future. His prediction, now known as Moore’s Law, has proved remarkably durable but is nearing the end of its useful life.

As a result, the world will need new technologies to keep pace with exploding data volumes and insatiable demand for the insights that data contains. “Can we continue to kick the can down the road?” asked Kirk Bresniker, chief architect for Hewlett Packard Labs, at the company’s recent Discover conference in Las Vegas. “No, we really need to have this conversation now.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has invested significant resources in developing three primary alternatives to traditional computing architecture: neuromorphic computing, photonic computing, and its keystone technology, Memory-Driven Computing (MDC). All three technologies have been successfully tested in prototype devices, but MDC is at center stage.

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The Ethics of AI

ethicsainn

The development and adoption of the technology has been so rapid that what we can expect from AI—or how soon we’ll get there—no longer seem clear. And it’s forcing us to confront a question that hasn’t dogged previous computer-research efforts, namely: Is it ethical to develop AI past the point of consciousness?

The proponents of AI call out the ability of self-regulating, intelligent machines to preserve human life by going where we cannot safely go, from inside nuclear reactors to mines to deep space. The detractors, however, who include a number of high-profile and influential figures, assert that improperly managed, AI could have serious unintended consequence, including, possibly, the end of the human race.

To begin untangling this moral skein, and possibly sketch a path toward policies that could help guide our path, we talked to five experts—a scientist, a philosopher, an ethicist, an engineer, and a humanist—about the implications of AI research and our obligations as human developers.

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How growing up in the Navy made certain truths self-evident

NAS Whidbey old seaplane base

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

Diversity provides a competitive and creative edge, no matter your ethnicity.

I’m a straight, white son of the American working classes. They don’t come much more “cis” than me. Big, hairy, white guy from the rural west. Married. Can tie a tie. I hike, I’ve owned trucks, and I like country music (well, to a point). On the surface of things, it might not make sense to too many that I’m a ferocious proponent of “diversity.”

I want to explain why I am and why it makes me a better writer and why I would not willingly work in a monoculture.

GO NAVY!

I grew up in the United States Navy. I was born into it to a father who was a career sailor, who retired as a Senior Chief during my teenage years. For those of you who have not enlisted or grown up in the military, you need to understand that I until I was 14 I never spent two minutes in a room where everyone was white. Continue reading “How growing up in the Navy made certain truths self-evident”

Digitizing Shakespeare

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Our world is currently characterized by digitization. On a daily basis we interact with digital tools and properties. However, if we think about digitization in general, we probably think about the big things first: communications (who writes letters these days?), transportation (how many times have we cursed at the computers that make our new cars unfixable with a wrench and a willingness to bark our knuckles), and of course, weapons (drones, anyone?).

But the success of this technology on a large scale has given birth to an almost pathological willingness to experiment on a personal scale. Things we never would have thought needed digital versions – cabs, meals, maps, books, cigarettes, wine – we now can’t imagine in solely analog forms.

Part of this trend is commercial. Entrepreneurs and investors are looking for the proverbial next big thing and who’s to say that isn’t digital underpants that track your menses? Surveys only get you so far. After that you have to take the risk of producing and trying to sell the beeping networked panties of your dreams.

But an arguably more dignified reason for experimenting is the human desire to answer the question “What if?”Continue reading “Digitizing Shakespeare”

A Geographical History of San Francisco

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Since we moved back to San Francisco last year, I’ve been taking pictures of places of literary and artistic note in the city. I published a post on “literary life in North Beach” on my agency’s blog. This is an ongoing and less geographically restrictive diary of the city’s literary, artistic, scientific, and political history.

 

202 Green Street, where on September 7, 1927, under the auspices of William Crocker (grandson of the transcontinental railroad magnate Charles) and the Crocker Bank, Philo T. Farnsworth and his “Lab Gang” sent the first TV signal ever broadcast to the Merchants Club about eight blocks away.Continue reading “A Geographical History of San Francisco”

Ainadamar: Chapter Fifteen

Ancient_covered_souq,_Aleppo,_Syria

This is the fifteenth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. 

I published a new chapter each week for the past few months, but will not post any more. To read the previous chapters, click on the category Ainadamar. To read the entire novel, contact me and I will send you a copy. 

Chapter Fifteen

Lambena

Nimue and Weekiebye made their way through the vegetable and fruit markets and into a narrow, deep-eaved side street. The passageway led to a long plaza surrounded by bays. Here the city’s butchers provided meat, poultry, fish, reptile and…whatnot to the inhabitants of the hungry city and the visitors who used the nearby intersecting space routes. Continue reading “Ainadamar: Chapter Fifteen”