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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Rx: Kindness?

Gotta love the NLP bot audio track. Below, interview with David Fessler, Bedari Director.

We shall see. I applaud this effort. Lord knows we are living in increasingly unkind times.
The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to advance scientific research into kindness and the barriers to it, and to share this knowledge through courses for UCLA students, and through information shared with the public...
Quite the faculty lineup.

A first paper (Creative Commons licensed pdf):
Elevation, an emotion for prosocial contagion, is experienced more strongly by those with greater expectations of the cooperativeness of others

A unique emotion, elevation, is thought to underlie prosocial contagion, a process whereby witnessing a prosocial act leads to acting prosocially. Individuals differ in their propensity to experience elevation, and thus their proneness to prosocial contagion, but little is known about the causes of such variation. We introduce an adaptationist model wherein elevation marks immediate circumstances in which generalized prosociality is advantageous, with this evaluation of circumstances hinging in part on prior expectations of others’ prosociality. In 15 studies, we add to evidence that elevation can reliably be elicited and mediates prosocial contagion. Importantly, we confirm a novel prediction–generated by our adaptationist account–that an idealistic attitude, which indexes others’ expected degree of prosociality, moderates the relationship between exposure to prosocial cues and experiencing elevation. We discuss how our findings inform both basic theorizing in the affective sciences and translational efforts to engineer a more harmonious world, and we offer future research directions to further test and extend our model… 
"Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so." --Sam Harris
Hmmm... Might there be any scholarly nexus between a "science of kindness" and that of "neuroaesthetics?" After all, the expressed moral value of "kindness" is in fact a cultural "aesthetic."

Truth and Nonviolence in Post-Truth Times: An International Conference on Mohandas Gandhi
January 30 @ 8:00 am - February 2 @ 5:00 pm

The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute is a co-sponsor of Truth and Nonviolence in Post-Truth Times: An International Conference on Mohandas Gandhi, Thursday 30 January – Sunday 2 February 2020 at UCLA.

More information at
"Post-truth times." Yeah.

See also The Kindness Podcast.

BTW: My personal kindness coefficient is running at high tide this week.

Three weeks early. Momma and child doing fine.




See SBM's troubling "Is defending science-based medicine worth it?"
Pseudoscience, denialism, fake news, and disinformation about health are a bigger problem than ever, thanks to social media. As doctors and scientists join lay defenders of science on social media, will they be willing to pay the price in terms of harassment? Or will they decide it’s not worth the hassle. And what about our fellow docs who think that it’s beneath them to debunk quackery, that it is so easy as to be not worth their effort?
Read the entire post. I am a devoted daily SBM reader. I cite them frequently. From their astute commentariat:
So long as we are committed to improving the human condition and the condition of our planet it is worth standing up to the slings and arrows of quacks and profiteers. Many of us see this through the lens of science but the problem is widely pervasive. Political discourse at the highest levels of government is now little more than rabid attacks fueled with lies and innuendos leaving no oxygen for meaningful policy debate. Freedom of speech has dissolved into a sort of generalized license to say whatever one feels regardless of its grounding in fact or reality. This, my friends, is a descent into madness, into chaos.

A Cincinnati pediatrician who posted a pro-vaccine video on TikTok says she has been harassed by anti-vaxxers, including one who left the comment, “Dead doctors don’t lie.” Dr. Nicole Baldwin says the vaccine deniers deluged her office with calls and threats and gave her medical practice low ratings on Yelp. Baldwin said she won’t be cowed…

More to come...

Friday, January 10, 2020

The 2020 Baltimore Science Fair

A call for participants, judges, and other volunteers.

Details here, including online registration and volunteer forms.

Support for the upcoming generation of scientists has never been more important or more rewarding. Join us.

Bobby Gladd, ASQ Section volunteer lead.


Monday, January 6, 2020



Apparently, that's a thing. Have to admit, I had a fleeting first reflexive, jaded reaction of "OK, stick the prefix 'neuro' on some word or phrase, and you've minimally got a VC Seed Round on Sand Hill Road."

But, wait...
"Everything is aesthetic. The environments in which we live and work, the sounds we hear, sights we see, and smells we encounter are the pathways through which we experience the world around us. And aesthetics is so much more than enjoying beautiful things. The uniquely human response to aesthetics constantly influences our mental and emotional states. We know more than ever before about the sensory systems that enable us to process and decode the world around us. Still, we are just on the cusp of understanding the potential of aesthetics to maximize those systems for improved health, wellbeing, and learning.

Today, as the incidence of chronic disease and depression, anxiety, and stress rise, and the gaps in health, wellbeing, and learning outcomes expand, we turn most frequently to the medical profession for traditional and pharmaceutical solutions. Despite great advances, these approaches still fall short in offering preventive, non-invasive, timely, and sustainable solutions. What if we could incorporate other interventions that are engaging, empowering, and affordable?

There is much promising evidence that a variety of arts approaches work to improve mobility, mental health, speech, memory, pain, and learning, potentially improving outcomes and lowering the cost and burden of chronic disease and neurological disorders for millions of people. These approaches, including visual arts, dance and movement, music, and expressive writing are timely, responsive, and cost-effective. Moreover, research suggests that other types of aesthetic experiences, including immersive and virtual reality and architecture are also associated with improved health, wellbeing, and learning outcomes. 

To date, neuroscientists, social scientists, and practitioners interested in these topics have largely operated in isolation, lacking high-quality data sets, standardized measures and implementation protocols, and statistical power to make any causal claims regarding impact or influence evidence-based practice broadly. With rising acknowledgement of the limitations of this disparate effort, researchers and practitioners are calling for an approach that brings together studies of the behavioral outcomes of arts experiences with biological markers to map the neurological bases for various aesthetic experiences. This approach would enable researchers and practitioners to document, refine, replicate, and scale successful interventions.

For this shift and collaboration to take root, research questions must be defined across diverse disciplines. The growing and interdisciplinary field of neuroaesthetics is a logical home for this work, exploring the role of the arts, music, architecture, and natural environments as they alter and shape individual brain responses. Beyond a disciplinary base and theoretical frame, this work needs an organizing mechanism that facilitates collaboration across disciplines and sectors, builds a common research vocabulary and approach, houses a centralized database for researchers and practitioners, and leads field-building and dissemination efforts..."
"Everything is aesthetic." Yeah. Assuming a sentient neurological structure via which to perceive, comprehend, and recall it. Invertebrates need not apply.

Hmmm... will AI develop aesthetic sensibili(ties?), with human-compatible ethics?

Got onto this stuff via a re-post by Danielle Ofri, MD over at LinkedIn.

As anyone who has heard “their song” can attest, the right music has the power to make you move. Now healthcare providers are trying to harness this power to help patients with a neurological motor disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Over the past three decades, researchers have begun to uncover the neural basis of music’s effect on the brain with an eye toward treating diseases like PD. A growing body of research reveals that the influence of music is far-reaching—shaping connections in the brain, improving our senses and movement, and enhancing our mood.

The Many Disharmonies of Parkinson’s Disease
As the second-most common neurodegenerative disease following Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than 10 million people worldwide and is projected to afflict almost 1 million Americans by 2020…
Well, I am unhappily now in that clinical cohort. And, I am "an old washed-up guitar player," one now wrestling with the anxiety attending the prospect of perhaps losing my hard-won chops of more than 60 years' acquisition (my episodic left-hand tremor is increasingly messing with me). Just at a time when I've looked forward to getting active again in the fray.

Johns Hopkins, man. They have their mitts in everything. We now live just a couple a miles from them. Wonder if this Hopkins IAM Lab needs a lab rat LOL..

Interesting history, the whole Hopkins empire. My son bought me this book for Christmas.

A compelling read. interesting town I now call home. We are now a few weeks out from the arrival of our new Grandson.

The International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) is a multidisciplinary research-to-practice initiative from the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University that is accelerating the field of neuroaesthetics. Our mission is to amplify human potential.

IAM Lab is pioneering Impact Thinking, a translational research approach designed to solve intractable problems in health, wellbeing and learning through arts + mind approaches. IAM Lab brings together brain scientists and practitioners in architecture, music and the arts to collaborate in research and foster dialogue. We spur continued innovation by sharing these findings with a broader community.
So, yeah, "neuroaesthetics."
Impact Thinking
Developed by the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, Impact Thinking is a translational research approach to enhance human potential in health, wellbeing and learning through the arts...
What makes Impact Thinking different and essential?
Impact Thinking makes the translational scientific process inclusive, relevant and actionable. It moves beyond studies that begin and end in a lab to solve real-world, urgent problems and pave a path for broad implementation. For example: How can playing music ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? How can architecture and design reduce chronic stress in the workplace?

Impact Thinking is based on the fundamental values of collaboration, transparency and follow through and the belief that applied neuroaesthetics can change the world. Impact Thinking projects are initiated by an Impact Team of a brain scientist and a practitioner in an arts discipline. Each project is facilitated by a project coordinator and supported by advisors, dissemination experts and community stakeholders…
As usual, I have much to learn.


Yeah, PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) by any other name.


Watch all of it.Seriously.

Below: of specific, direct interest to me:
Impact Thinking Projects
Guitar PD
In partnership with the Center for Music and Medicine at Johns Hopkins, this project brings together neurologists and musicians for a unique series of guitar lessons specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. During an 18 week period, participants are randomly assigned to treatment and control groups and assessed at the outset and every six weeks on a variety of self-reported and performance-based measures. These include mood, social participation, cognition and arm and hand function.

Hypothesis: Moving hands, arms and fingers rhythmically on the guitar to make music will benefit arm and hand function and cognition in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
"Impact thinking," the deeper dive, here

I will be doing my own uncontrolled "research," given that I know how guitar playing benefits me (takes me "out-of-body"), and, as I've mentioned, I'm having trouble of late with some of my more difficult chords, and a bit freaked out at the prospects of losing this ability. I mostly play my jumbo 12-string these days--an imposing axe in its own right.

So, I will have to be assiduously 'shedding my guitar (and bass, for that matter) going forward as part of my PT/OT amid my new world of Parkinson's. Along with stepped-up gym rat time comprised mostly of pickup hoops and the next available class of Parkinson's "shadow boxing."

Want to eschew the PD meds as long as possible, given the side-effects and other limitations.

It's interesting. In addition to the usual online Parkinson's patient education rescources--e.g., WebMD, Mayo, Wiki, the major Parkinson's Foundations, etc--I studied four initial books coming from patient and caregiver perspectives.

Now this stuff is all "upside my head" to where I'm feeling the symptoms more acutely.

At least I know what I'm facing, from a variety of insightful perspectives.

Guess I'll have to write some more songs.



 Just saw Daniel J. Levitin on the CBS Morning News. Bought his new book.
...When I was in college, one of my favorite professors was John R. Pierce, a former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the inventor of satellite telecommunication, a prolific sci-fi writer, and the person who named the transistor when a team under his supervision invented it. I met him when he was eighty, in the second iteration of his “retirement,” giving classes on sound and vibration. He invited me to dinner at his house once; we became friends and went out to dinner regularly. Around the time John turned eighty-seven, he grew depressed. One of the pastimes he enjoyed most was reading, but now his eyesight was failing. I bought him some large-type books and that perked him up for a few weeks, but much of what he wanted to read—technical books, science fiction—was not available in large type. I’d go over and read to him when I could, and I arranged for some Stanford students to do the same. But he still kept slipping. Then he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His shaking bothered him. His memory was failing. He no longer found pleasure in things that he used to enjoy. And he was growing increasingly disoriented. 

I suggested that he ask his doctor about taking Prozac, which was new at the time, and just being prescribed for the kinds of age-related problems he was facing. (Prozac helps to boost levels of serotonin in the brain—one of those mood-enhancing hormones I mentioned previously.) It was transformative. Although it didn’t help the Parkinson’s specifically, his attitude changed. He felt younger. He started holding dinner parties again, and lecturing to students, something he had given up doing just a year earlier. A simple chemical change in his brain gave him a second wind. John lived to ninety-two, and much of those last five years were filled with joy and satisfaction for him...

Levitin, Daniel J. Successful Aging (pp. xv-xvi). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Interesting. I started on Sertraline HCL (Zoloft) in 2017 when Danielle was ill and dying. Weaned myself back off it earlier this year.

Just started back a week ago, after consulting my docs. We shall see.

I've cited Dr. Levitin before, some years back.


More to come...

Saturday, January 4, 2020

JUST "the facts?"

With the election cycle in full swing, it’s open season for journalists hell-bent on catching candidates out in lies and misrepresentations. In a world that has become relentlessly “truthy,” to borrow Stephen Colbert’s apt neologism, we need journalists, scientists and other experts to stand up for facts and keep the public debate honest. But when it comes to climate change

One such zone has been on display since the release of a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report entitled Global Warming of 1.5 °C, whose authors concluded that we had 12 years left (now 11) to achieve radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming. This alert has been widely cited, and politicians who have invoked it have been repeatedly fact-checked. But some of this checking makes the dialogue feel more like ice hockey—where “checking” is intended to disrupt play and establish dominance—than like an e ort to help the public understand a complex but crucial issue…

But let’s not fact-check things that aren’t facts. There is a world of interpretation—and therefore a range of justifi able readings— built into any expert judgment. We should discuss that reasonable range and fl ag claims that are obviously unreasonable. But we should not confuse judgments with facts…

- Naomi Oreskes, PhD
From Scientific American.

apropos, again, "Define Evidence." "Define Expert." Define Science."


Australia’s bushfires are a wake-up call: we must build a more humane economy before it’s too late
Economists used to admire scientists. Now they ignore them at our peril.

Back in the 1800s, scholars in the field of economics cast an envious glance at their colleagues in science.

They envied physics, with its laws of gravity. They looked with green-eyes at those studying chemistry, with its elements and atoms. And they longingly admired their biologist chums with their categorisations and evolutionary adaptation.

Now more than a century on, as we begin the third decade of the third millennium, economics no longer seems to take heed of science, let alone defer to scientific realities.

It is (invariably mainstream) economists with their contentions and blind spots that drive so much policy making, not scientists with their evidence-based models and forecasts.

The tables have well and truly turned. And nowhere is this so sorely – and painfully – acute as in Australia in the summer of 2019 and 2020.

Bushfires rage across the country, fuelled by record heat, and are now surging through acres of parched land dryer than ever after the worst drought in a generation.

In response, the Australian Prime Minister has held fast to a vision that a growing economy is the only option. He told a national TV station that "What we won't do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching [green] targets which are being sought".

What Morrison is effectively asserting is that the economy matters more than the science – in fact, that a certain model of the economy matters more, one in which the sole purpose of the environment is as an input to production and where it is assumed that growth will translate to benefits for all. This positions the economy at the top of the food chain, dropping crumbs to communities and extracting from the planet rather than something that is dependent on society which operates as a sub-set of the natural world…

More to come...

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Happy New Year to all. Hope you had a safe and sane evening. Hope you have a great 2020.

Below, online registration for this opens today. Baltimore middle and high school students.

[Click the image.] I have agreed to serve as my technical society's local section lead volunteer for the event (ASQ Baltimore Section 0502). Should be very interesting. Towson U. is right up York Road a few miles from our house.

The Science Fair is affiliated with this organization.

Given my ongoing interest in issues of science and tech, this will go right to my wheelhouse. "Why trust science?"

More to come...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Next up, 2020

Should be quite an eventful year. Presidential election year (ugh), with Trump (ugh) undergoing a fractious Senate impeachment trial amid all the maudlin political campaign hoopla. Obamacare is back in the judicial crosshairs yet again, global warming continuing apace largely unmitigated, health space digitech proceeding on multiple fronts, innovation conflated with hype at every turn...

My wife and BFF of 45 years turns 70 this New Year's Eve. My new grandson is to arrive 1st week of February (perhaps sooner). I will be mounting my counterattack on Parkinson's as I turn 74 in February, and will be pushing forward on a number of topical fronts in general as I see fit.


Finished this book. Excellent.

He's done his homework. And his candor is admirable (click the image).

Below, now under way.

Wonderfully written so far. Glad I picked this one too.
UPDATE: Finished it. Excellent. Five stars. I'm a sucker for the deftly turned phrase. Robert had my head spinning. On to the next one. Stay tuned.

May you all have a Happy and safe New Year. If you're traveling, I hope your hassles are not too onerous. I'm glad to be staying put this year.

One of my Facebook friends turned me on to these cats. Simply fabulous.


Re-read this interesting Arthur C. Brooks article on decline and "loss" as I reflect on my coming year(s).

More to come...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

My personal G20 Summit

ICD-10, that is.

On December 10th I wrote a post entitled "dx: Parkinson's?"

Just got back from my Kaiser Neurology consult.

Yep. From my visit notes: "Your exam is consistent with clinical diagnosis of Parkinson's disease..."

ICD-10 code G20

There're no direct bioassay nor imaging dx indicators. No cure. Not fatal, just progressively debilitating. Meds are problematic. They ordinal-rank "stage" it I - V. I feel like a 1.5, subjectively. Elevated fall risk is my particular priority concern.

Had a tangential lab draw (thyroid indicator), came home, put on a slow-cook pot of chili, and I'm shortly off to another KP facility for a 3:45 CT brain scan.
To see if they can find one (wocka-wocka), and to rule out any tumor(s)--one would hope.

Guess I'll have to launch a support/info podcast. This is how you learn. Throw stuff out there--after doing your onset due diligence, so you don't look foolish.

Down in the basement family room. Pulled up one of my old Vegas Logic Pro X podcast tracks onscreen, put one of my mics in front of it, shot a pic with my iPhone, uploaded it to Photoshop, added the text, then took another iPhone pic of all that, with my mug in the shot (with Ranger sitting by, just out of the shot).

I've been told that I have a great face for radio, so this will be a natural.

Called my amazing musician-singer-songwriter friend Doug Brons in Grant's Pass, Oregon, asked his permission to use one of his tunes as my chase tune, segue and v/o-bkg music, a song called 'Dance." Granted.
Sometimes you're up,
Sometimes you're down,
Life can spin you
Like a merry-go-round.
Best way to chase it 
Is to face it, you see,
Just get up and dance...

Registered a blog name. Will fire stuff up and get to it ASAP.

Gotta run. Back at'cha later. Stay tuned.


CT brain scan was negative for any pathology (or much else, some might say). Good news. Plan hereafter for now includes stepped-up regular vigorous exercise, which I've already begun (my hoops Jones, to which I'm gonna at least add therapeutic "shadow boxing" at the Y):
Various studies in the 1980s and 1990s supported the notion that rigorous exercise, emphasizing gross motor movement, balance, core strength, and rhythm, could favorably impact range of motion, flexibility, posture, gait, and activities of daily living. More recent studies, most notably at Cleveland Clinic, focus on the concept of intense “forced” exercise, and have begun to suggest that certain kinds of exercise may be neuro-protective, i.e., actually slowing disease progression...[link]
And, more more concerted daily guitar practice, which I need anyway. If I lose my guitar chops, that will be way bad for my headspace.

Not gonna do the Sinemet Rx, for now. Gotta be a better way to elevate the dopamine.

Lots to learn. Lots to try to contribute. Props to my KP physicians thus far.

And, [Bleep] Parkinson's.


Add four more to the endless reading pile.

Stay tuned.


Friday cardiology post-SAVR px annual follow-up. Everything looking great there. Really like my new KP cardiologist. Onward to confront my "G20" head-on.


Posted this on Crackbook.

If I lose my chops... I don't wanna think about it.

OK, enough boo-hoo'ing. How about a few laughs?


More to come...

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The future of malevolence: anonymous darkweb assassins for cryptocurrency hire

This is rather frightening. From my new Harper's issue.
The idea of an online assassination market was conceived long before it was possible to build one, and long before there was anything resembling the dark web.

In 1995, Jim Bell, an anarchist engineer who had studied at M.I.T. and worked at Intel, began writing a serialized essay titled “Assassination Politics” that proposed a theoretical framework for encouraging and crowdsourcing the murder of public officials. Inspired by a Scientific American article on the newfangled concept of encrypted “digital cash”—which did not yet exist in any meaningful way—Bell created one of the most sinister thought experiments of the early web.

The essay imagined a website or platform where users could anonymously nominate someone to be killed and pledge a dollar amount toward the bounty. They’d also be able to pay a small fee to make a “prediction”—an encrypted message that only the predictor and the site were privy to—as to when that person would be killed. Once the person was confirmed dead, the predictions would be decrypted and the pledged funds automatically transferred to the successful predictor. Implicit in the design was that the best way to predict when someone is going to die is to kill them yourself.

An ardent anarcho-libertarian, Bell was one of the more extreme cypherpunks, a group of internet privacy and cryptography advocates that coalesced around a mailing list in the early Nineties. (John Gilmore, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Timothy C. May, a senior scientist at Intel, were among the first contributors.) Bell’s own politics were animated by a pronounced distrust of government. He believed that his system would bring power to heel and usher in a new anarchic order. “If only 0.1% of the population, or one person in a thousand, was willing to pay $1 to see some government slimeball dead,” Bell wrote,

that would be, in effect, a $250,000 bounty on his head ... Perfect anonymity, perfect secrecy, and perfect security ... Chances are good that nobody above the level of county commissioner would even risk staying in office.
Since conspirators would never meet, or even be aware of one another’s identities, it would be impossible to rat anyone out. The money trail would be invisible. Back in 1995, there was no such thing as bitcoin or any other tradeable cryptocurrency, and few had access to encrypted web browsing. Now it’s easy to purchase bitcoins on any number of mainstream markets and “tumble” them so that their point of purchase is obscured. Similarly, thanks to Tor, accessing the dark web requires only opening a browser and enduring slower download speeds…
Subscribers-only paywalled long read written by Brian Merchant (BTW, I checked using a different browser while not logged in. It appears that they give up one free full read). This one essay is worth the cost of subscribing. I've been a Harper's subscriber for decades.

One more excerpt:
[Recent HS grad Alexis Stern’s] murder had apparently been ordered on a website called Camorra Hitmen, which advertised gun-for-hire services with the promise of keeping its clients anonymous.

Earlier that month, a user had logged on to Camorra Hitmen with the Tor browser—the most popular way to access the dark web—and created an account with the alias Mastermind365. Five days later, Mastermind365 sent a message asking whether it was possible for a hit man to carry out a kidnapping instead of a murder. The site’s administrator replied that it was, but it would be more expensive, because such an operation was riskier.

A week later, on July 15, Mastermind365 sent another message. “I have changed my mind since i previously spoke to you,” the user wrote.

I would not like this person to be kidnapped. Instead, i would just like this person to be shot and killed. Where, how and what with does not bother me at all. I would just like this person dead.
And with that, Mastermind365 sent more than $5,000 in bitcoin to Camorra Hitmen, along with a photo of Stern—a portrait sshe’d posted on a website she’d built in one of her classes…
Well, of late here we've just been looking at stuff like"Questioning Innovation," "America's epidemic of unkindness" and "Ethical Artificial Intelligence?" How about the ultimate in malevolent ethics, the ultimate in creepy unkindness, the worst uses of 'innovation?" Darkweb-enabled, cryptocurrency-funded anonymous murder for hire markets?
The author notes that these dark net platforms are prime real estate via which to scam gullible assassin-wannabees. You pays you bitcoins upfront and you gets hustled, who you gonna complain to--the FTC? Justice Dept Financial Crimes Unit? Serves your ignorant ass right.

Still, people have in fact been killed by cyber-nutjobs.
"Monteiro started scrolling through messages he had cached from Yura’s previous sites. The markets may have been scams, but the desire for violence was real. Monteiro had amassed a running list of people who had been singled out for death; people who’d had bounties placed on their heads, and a log of detailed conversations about how and why their would-be killers wanted them beaten, tortured, kidnapped, and murdered. It was like a Wikipedia entry for the outer extremes of human cruelty…"
While I was working on this story, journalists at BBC News Russia confirmed the first known case of a murder being ordered on the dark web and successfully carried out by hired assassins. On March 12, 2019, two young men, aged seventeen and nineteen, were arrested for the murder of a prominent investigator in Moscow who had been aggressively pursuing a drug-trafficking operation. The murder was not orchestrated over any of Yura’s scam sites, but over a standard, all-purpose dark-web marketplace similar to the Silk Road, according to Andrei Soshnikov, one of the reporters who broke the story. The killers never met the person who posted the job. They were paid anonymously, in bitcoin, and one of them attended a concert later that night.

A threshold had been crossed. For years, “dark-net hit man” stories made for good clickbait and little else. Experienced tech journalists emphatically debunked such stories as myths, because for years, that’s all they were: myths and fearmongering. But the fact that the hits didn’t happen was never really about the technology; it was an issue of trust. There has never been any serious question that the technology behind the dark web could preserve anonymity and allow users to move untraced through its pages: it absolutely can. That’s why the FBI resorts to old-fashioned methods of going undercover as drug buyers, child pornographers, and hit men in an effort to catch criminals there…


One of my recently finished reads.

Again, Amazon link embedded in the cover pic. This one also goes to my AI tech riffs, to which I will be returning soon. to wit,
The Power of Unintended Consequences

Neither Alfred Nobel nor Mikhail Kalashnikov anticipated how their inventions would be used for disruptive political violence. In the same way, the creators of the Internet, social media, and the many new and emerging technologies today have not foreseen the nefarious uses to which they’re being put. 

Today’s period of innovation is comparable to the explosive era of open technological innovation at the turn of the nineteenth century, and arguably even more potentially disruptive. Current and emerging technologies were not consciously designed to kill, as the AK-47 was; they are just as subject to popular whim, more tailored for attention-getting, and more wide-ranging in their potential applications, both good and bad. Because the current technological revolution is an open one, and because there is again so much money to be made by the diffusion of the new technologies, they have again spread rapidly and will continue to do so. Due to their accessibility and ease of use, clusters of new technologies will be combined in novel ways that are unanticipated. 

In the next part of the book, we will use the insights introduced in the first two sections to examine how today’s new and emerging technologies are already being used to raise the stakes of political violence, by enhancing the mobilization and reach of surprise attacks. We’ll also investigate how emerging breakthroughs in autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence may be harnessed for even more potent leverage...

Cronin, Audrey Kurth. Power to the People (pp. 167-168). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

apropos of the foregoing riff on disturbing advances in internet-facilitated violent mayhem, I am reminded of a screenplay idea that occurred to me a number of years ago back when the Silk Road thing was above the fold:

Quickie Photoshop expression.
"TM?" LOL. The joke will utterly escape those mired in the Irony-Free Zone.
I'm a long-time fan of intrigue/action flicks such as the Borne series, the Homeland series, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, Syriana, Zero Dark Thirty, The Kingdom, Traitor, the incredible Peaky Blinders, etc etc etc. I've never written any fiction, but this dark idea seemed like something worth an effort. My idea focused on neutralizing obvious "bad guys" (e.g., terrorists, corrupt pols, and myriad egregious criminals / predators--hardly a novel concept), but the foregoing Harper's article infers a whole new dark tech-enabled level. Terminal "doxxing" of anyone who irks you on Twitter or Facebook?

I've already had my share of Chairborne Division Armrest Battalion Keyboard Kommando "death threats" for mocking simpleton anarchist militia buffoons such as the poignant Bundy sagebrush rebellion clan (The Power of Photoshop Compels Me...). And, while that hapless posse can't even pronounce "Tor" and "cryptocurrency," well...

Nah, not gonna dial it back. BYKOTA has its limits. I'm not the one advocating violence. I advocate pushback mockery of those intransigently advocating violence and intimidation.


More to come...

Christina Farr Twitter thread on our personal health data

 Nicely done.

Eleven follow-on tweets in the thread. Read them all. Follow the links she provides. Good job.

If anyone wants to gumshoe my health history, just read my blog. That HIPAA horse is way outa my barn.

More to come...

Friday, December 13, 2019

The 2019 AI Now Institute Report

An important read, and not just for us techie people.
Click the cover image for the full PDF
Forty pages of endnotes. Kudos.

See my prior post "Ethical artificial intelligence?"

Stay tuned. A busy topical week.

2.6 Health
AI technologies today mediate people’s experiences of health in many ways: from popular consumer-based technologies like Fitbits and the Apple Watch, to automated diagnostic support systems in hospitals, to the use of predictive analytics on social-media platforms to predict self-harming behaviors. AI also plays a role in how health insurance companies generate health-risk scores and in the ways government agencies and healthcare organizations allocate medical resources.

Much of this activity comes with the aim of improving people’s health and well-being through increased personalization of health, new forms of engagement, and clinical efficiency, popularly characterizing AI in health as an example of “AI for good” and an opportunity to tackle global health challenges. This appeals to concerns about information complexities of biomedicine, population-based health needs, and the rising costs of healthcare. However, as AI technologies have rapidly moved from controlled lab environments into real-life health contexts, new social concerns are also fast emerging.

The Expanding Scale and Scope of Algorithmic Health Infrastructures

Advances in machine learning techniques and cloud-computing resources have made it possible to classify and analyze large amounts of medical data, allowing the automated and accurate detection of conditions like diabetic retinopathy and forms of skin cancer in medical settings. At the same time, eager to apply AI techniques to health challenges, technology companies have been analyzing everyday experiences like going for a walk, food shopping, sleeping, and menstruating to make inferences and predictions about people’s health behavior and status.

While such developments may offer future positive health benefits, little empirical research has been published about how AI will impact patient health outcomes or experiences of care. Furthermore, the data- and cloud-computing resources required for training models to AI health systems have created troubling new opportunities, expanding what counts as “health data,” but also the boundaries of healthcare. The scope and scale of these new “algorithmic health infrastructures” give rise to a number of social, economic, and political concerns.

The proliferation of corporate-clinical alliances for sharing data to train AI models illustrates these infrastructural impacts. The resulting commercial incentives and conflicts of interest have made ethical and legal issues around health data front-page news. Most recently, a whistle-blower report alerted the public to serious privacy risks stemming from a partnership, known as Project Nightingale, between Google and Ascension, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the US. The report claimed that patient data transferred between Ascension and Google was not “de-identified.” Google helped migrate Ascension’s infrastructure to their cloud environment, and in return received access to hundreds of thousands of privacy-protected patient medical records to use in developing AI solutions for Ascension and also to sell to other healthcare systems.

Google, however, is not alone. Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, as well as a wide range of healthcare start-ups, have all made lucrative “data partnership” agreements with a wide range of healthcare organizations (including many university research hospitals and insurance companies) to gain access to health data for the training and development of AI-driven health systems. Several of these have resulted in federal probes and lawsuits around improper use of patient data.

However, even when current regulatory policies like HIPAA are strictly followed, security and privacy vulnerabilities can exist within larger technology infrastructures, presenting serious challenges for the safe collection and use of Electronic Health Record (EHR) data. New research shows that it is possible to accurately link two different de-identified EHR datasets using computational methods, so as to create a more complete history of a patient without using any personal health information of the patient in question. Another recent research study showed that it is possible to create reconstructions of patients’ faces using de-identified MRI images, which could then be identified using facial-recognition systems. Similar concerns have prompted a lawsuit against the University of Chicago Medical Center and Google claiming that Google is “uniquely able to determine the identity of almost every medical record the university released” due to its expertise and resources in AI development. The potential harm from misuse of these new health data capabilities is of grave concern, especially as AI health technologies continue to focus on predicting risks that could impact healthcare access or stigmatize individuals, such as recent attempts to diagnose complex behavioral health conditions like depression and schizophrenia from social-media data.

New Social Challenges for the Healthcare Community
This year a number of reports, papers, and op-eds were published on AI ethics in healthcare. Although mostly generated by physicians and medical ethicists in Europe and North America, these early efforts are important for better understanding the situated uses of AI systems in healthcare.

For example, the European and North American Radiology Societies recently issued a statement that outlines key ethical issues for the field, including algorithmic and automation bias in relation to medical imaging. Radiology is currently one of the medical specialties where AI systems are the most advanced. The statement openly acknowledges how clinicians are reckoning with the increased value and potential harms around health data used for AI systems: “AI has noticeably altered our perception of radiology data—their value, how to use them, and how they may be misused.”

These challenges include possible social harms for patients, such as the potential for clinical decisions to be nudged or guided by AI systems in ways that don’t (necessarily) bring people health benefits, but are in service to quality metric requirements or increased profit. Importantly, misuses also extend beyond the ethics of patient care to consider how AI technologies are reshaping medical organizations themselves (e.g., “radiologist and radiology departments will also be data” for healthcare administrators) and the wider health domain by “blurring the line” between academic research and commercial AI uses of health data.

Importantly, medical groups are also pushing back against the techno-solutionist promises of AI, crafting policy recommendations to address social concerns. For example, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (UK) 2019 report, “Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare,” pragmatically states: “Politicians and policymakers should avoid thinking that AI is going to solve all the problems the health and care systems across the UK are facing.” The American Medical Association has been working on an AI agenda for healthcare, too, also adopting the policy “Augmented Intelligence in Health Care”as a framework for thinking about AI in relation to multiple stakeholder concerns, which include the needs of physicians, patients, and the broader healthcare community.

There have also been recent calls for setting a more engaged agenda around AI and health. This year Eric Topol, a physician and AI/ML researcher, questioned the promises of AI to fix systemic healthcare issues, like clinician burnout, without the collective action and involvement of healthcare workers. Physician organizing is needed not because doctors should fear being replaced by AI, but to ensure that AI benefits people’s experiences of care. “The potential of A.I. to restore the human dimension in health care,” Topol argues, “will depend on doctors stepping up to make their voices heard.”

More voices are urgently needed at the table—including the expertise of patient groups, family caregivers, community health workers, and nurses—in order to better understand how AI technologies will impact diverse populations and health contexts. We have seen how overly narrow approaches to AI in health have resulted in systems that failed to account for darker skin tones in medical imaging data, and cancer treatment recommendations that could lead to racially disparate outcomes due to training data from predominantly white patients.

Importantly, algorithmic bias in health data cannot always be corrected by gathering more data, but requires understanding the social context of the health data that has already been collected. Recently, Optum’s algorithm designed to identify “high-risk” patients in the US was based on the number of medical services a person used, but didn’t account for the numerous socioeconomic reasons around the nonuse of needed health services, such as being underinsured or the inability to take time off from work. With long histories of addressing such social complexities, research from fields like medical sociology and anthropology, nursing, human-computer interaction, and public health is needed to protect against the implementation of AI systems that (even when designed with good intentions) worsen health inequities.

More to come...