Worldwide Web Watch

WWW

August 26, 2015

In Editing Humanity, The Economist highlights the benefits of gene editing by one of the newer technologies called CRISPR-Cas9.  The benefits of CRISPR-Cas9 over older technologies are that it is simpler, faster and more precise.  It also holds great promise for targeting and eradicating a host of human diseases.  However, one of the issues is how far should scientists go with a technology whose implications are not completely understood?  It is one thing to mess around with random cells in a petri dish for experimentation purposes and then disposing them but quite another to begin messing with germ-line cells and creating a modified entity where the effects affect future generations.   While CRISPR-Cas9 is a tremendous breakthrough, there is still much to be learned and understood about this gene editing method to avoid its being unleashed in counterproductive and harmful ways.   However, states the article, dilemmas, concerns, and a bit of a learning curve should not impede “CRISPR’s benefits or obstruct its progress.”

Technology Triple Trivia

TTT93 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers

August 25, 2015

1. What is missing from this picture?

Hint:

Answer: regulations are all over the United States map when it comes to drones.  Some states have them, some states don’t and where they do have them, they appear either too stringent, inadequate or lacking foresight.  Then there’s all the pending legislation.  It’s all very confusing. Drones have impeded firefighting efforts, have been modified (by a teen) and used to complement weaponry, have delivered illegal drugs from here to there, have infiltrated people’s private moments and caused a nuisance in others.   On the other hand, drones have delivered beneficial medicines over yonder, have benefited the military and may take more cars off the road and FedEx planes from the skies, reducing the carbon footprint.   There are pros and cons with new technologies.  A key issue for legislative bodies is recognizing beneficial uses along with potential misuses and issuing a fair and balanced set of comprehensive guidelines.  As this article points out, technology and progress are not the problem.  Problems manifest themselves not when, but how we put novel technology to use.

2. Acrophobians need not apply…

Hint:

Answer: a Canadian company has been granted a U.S. patent for a “space” elevator.  20 times taller than any other man-made structure, it is intended to give astronauts a more efficient working platform.  The plan is also for it to be used in other areas, including tourism.   Elon Musk, however, has serious doubts.  Read more here.

3. Thirsty? Do this:

Hint:

Answer: open a book.  Literally.  But not just any book.  A book whose pages, serving as a filtration system, may be torn out to transform raw sewage into drinking water via implanted bacteria-eradicating nanoparticles.   Being developed by a Carnegie-Mellon post-doc, it may indeed be a worthy read once it is officially published.

 

 

 

Worldwide Web Watch

WWWearth

August 19, 2015

NPR‘s Laura Sydell reports that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) is working its magic in unthinkable ways.  Originally crafted to safeguard the entertainment industry, its provisions are being applied to practically anything that runs on copyrighted software protected by digital locks.  This includes farming equipment.  Farmers, as an example, risk violating the DMCA and face a hefty prison term and/or fine if they break the software’s digital lock to fix equipment that breaks down.   Equipment manufacturers cite safety concerns while users balk at the expense of being forced to use external service providers.   DMCA exemptions may be granted, but these only last 3 years.  A better option, for farmers and others, would be amendment of the DMCA.  Of course, that is something the equipment manufacturers would like to avoid.

Technology Triple Trivia

TTT33 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers.

August 18, 2015

1.  Where might we increasingly see “technological unemployment” due to minimum-wage increases?

Hint:

MCD

Answer: a big push to more than double minimum wage may force McDonalds and other restaurants to trade in the human touch for the technological touch, in order to retain profits and customers.  Technology may be more efficient across the board but many patrons, nonetheless, enjoy going to restaurants for human interaction, the characteristics of which a robot has yet to master.   However, if given the choice between having a restaurant thrive and having it close its doors due to insurmountable expenses, technology might be the way to go.  Read more here.

2. What triple “P” technology was recently approved by the FDA?

Hint:

Answer: printed prescription pills may be the next big thing.  Spritam, a 3-D printed anti-epileptic drug that was just given the green-light by the FDA, may soon be followed by other drugs.  3-D printing of prescription medications allows for customizable efficiency — the pills, as part of the personalized medicine movement, can be individually tailored to meet a particular patient’s needs.   On the efficiency side, there is also talk of patients eventually being able to print medications from home, however, given the potential for abuse, effective legal frameworks will have to be put in place before this happens. Read the details here.

3.  Once again, this technology emphasizes that knowledge is power:

Hint:

Answer: sometimes it takes a big name (think Angelina Jolie) to raise greater awareness of a life-saving or life-enhancing technology.  Recently, renown scientist Eric Topol had his entire genome sequenced which revealed he carries the variant for two major diseases, one being a metabolic muscle disease and the other causing excessive iron absorption.  Owning this kind of information is priceless — from family planning to lifestyle-changes — it is a worthwhile investment, for those who can afford it.   The hope for many is that the price of whole genome sequencing will keep going down so that the average person can take advantage of the opportunity afforded by this technology.  Read the story here.

Worldwide Web Watch

WWW

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Ben Casselman and Dana Goldstein, have written a thought-provoking piece for FiveThirtyEight on sentencing considerations in Should Prison Sentences Be Based On Crimes That Haven’t Been Committed Yet?  The authors question whether selected assessment factors reliably and fairly predict an offender’s future behavior.  Pressures on prison systems and social reform as a whole, are moving states like Pennsylvania to incorporate risk assessment results as part of the information available to, but not binding on, judges in sentencing dispositions. Critics point out that a system that uses questionnaires as part of its risk-assessment process is prone to subjective interpretations and, further, that some of the factors considered and evaluated to predict future behavior are riddled with racial and socio-economic bias.

While a number of study outcomes on the integration of risk assessment tools are positive, some have met criticisms and are, therefore, inconclusive. In addition, in certain cases at least, the “technology” employed to amass such critical bits of life-impacting information seems surprisingly archaic (e.g, questionnaire-based assessments). In a world that more and more consistently relies on “smart” algorithms, the idea of less advanced measurement tools seems to strengthen critics’ arguments. As noted by a University of Pennsylvania statistician, who happens to have developed a more up-to-date method, “the most widely used tools are a generation behind a lot of the developments that are going on in computer science and statistics.” However, irrespective of the technology, when it comes to statistical generalizations stemming from risk assessments, Barry-Jester et al., in conclusion, ask one of the bigger questions, whether “it is fair to look at the behavior of a group when deciding the fate of an individual?”