2015 June 25 Thursday
On Threshold Of Post Antibiotic Era

Watch this: Maryn McKenna: What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more?

50,000 people per year in the United States and 700,000 per year globally are dying from infections which can resist all antibiotics.

We'll lose surgery because opening the body will let in resistant bacteria. Giving birth will become much more risky. Injuries will become a lot more dangerous. Strep throat will cause heart damage. Says McKenna:

How did we get to this point where what we have to look forward to is those terrifying numbers? The difficult answer is, we did it to ourselves. Resistance is an inevitable biological process, but we bear the responsibility for accelerating it. We did this by squandering antibiotics with a heedlessness that now seems shocking. Penicillin was sold over the counter until the 1950s. In much of the developing world, most antibiotics still are. In the United States, 50 percent of the antibiotics given in hospitals are unnecessary. Forty-five percent of the prescriptions written in doctor's offices are for conditions that antibiotics cannot help. And that's just in healthcare. On much of the planet, most meat animals get antibiotics every day of their lives, not to cure illnesses, but to fatten them up and to protect them against the factory farm conditions they are raised in. In the United States, possibly 80 percent of the antibiotics sold every year go to farm animals, not to humans, creating resistant bacteria that move off the farm in water, in dust, in the meat the animals become. Aquaculture depends on antibiotics too, particularly in Asia, and fruit growing relies on antibiotics to protect apples, pears, citrus, against disease. And because bacteria can pass their DNA to each other like a traveler handing off a suitcase at an airport, once we have encouraged that resistance into existence, there is no knowing where it will spread.

We ought to ban antibiotic use in livestock. Antibiotic usage in medicine ought to be cut in half.

What else should we do? My guess: Develop ways to make our immune systems much stronger. For starters, develop lots of vaccines against assorted bacteria species. When drugs can't help you are on your own. Your own immune system needs to become much stronger. We also need immune system strengthening by other means. We differ greatly in the effectiveness of our immune systems. We need to discover the genetic variants that make some immune systems stronger and develop cell therapies and gene therapies that will strengthen our immune systems.

Policies of governments around the world with regard to antibiotic usage have been retarded for decades. Time to stop being so stupid.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 25 08:47 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(13)
2015 June 21 Sunday
Small Robot Grocery Store Planned

Check out the proposed self-serve grocery store . Its like a big and fancy vending machine. A few hundred items to be offered.

A store like that could operate 24x7. A 7-11 style store could be set up to work that way. Though cigarettes and alcohol would require a human cashier unless the cash register could verify the age of the purchaser with the credit card or debit card company.

How to make a robotic store attractive to use? Speed. The 24x7 open hours is great for night owls. But for the rest of us speed could set a robotic store apart. Very fast service. Imagine you could order from a tablet at home. Or access their product order menus via 802.11 wireless in the store parking lot. People could order, pay, and, if the machines were designed to be fast, then your order could be ready by the time you reached the store front. This would save time walking around the store, waiting in line, and waiting for a cashier to ring up your order.

Retail is going to automate. It has to lower costs and increase convenience in order to compete with online stores. I can see an opening for a store chain that only sells stuff that is easy to dispense from an automated store front. Look at the limited selection at dollar stores for an analogy. An automated store front could sell products which have shapes that lend themselves to automated dispensing.

Automated store fronts won't have impacts on the level of, say, robotic surgery (which we need for installing replacement organs grown in vats). But robotics in the retail and wholesale industries combined with autonomous vehicles will take humans out of the chain in the flow of goods from robotic factories to homes.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 21 11:49 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2015 June 20 Saturday
Periodic Partial Fasting Cuts Biomarkers For Aging

First the researchers tried calorie reduction in old mice with promising results

In a new study, Longo and his colleagues show that cycles of a four-day low-calorie diet that mimics fasting (FMD) cut visceral belly fat and elevated the number of progenitor and stem cells in several organs of old mice -- including the brain, where it boosted neural regeneration and improved learning and memory.

Then the researchers did a similar low calorie regime for 5 days a month for 3 months with good effects on biomarkers for aging.

In a pilot human trial, three cycles of a similar diet given to 19 subjects once a month for five days decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with no major adverse side effects, according to Longo. 'Strict fasting is hard for people to stick to, and it can also be dangerous, so we developed a complex diet that triggers the same effects in the body,' said Longo, Edna M. Jones professor of biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute. Longo has a joint appointment at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. 'I've personally tried both, and the fasting mimicking diet is a lot easier and also a lot safer.'

This beats long term calorie restriction. Could you cut your calories by a third or a half for 5 days a month?

The diet slashed the individual's caloric intake down to 34 to 54 percent of normal, with a specific composition of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and micronutrients. It decreased amounts of the hormone IGF-I, which is required during development to grow, but it is a promoter of aging and has been linked to cancer susceptibility. It also increased the amount of the hormone IGFBP-, and reduced biomarkers/risk factors linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including glucose, trunk fat and C-reactive protein without negatively affecting muscle and bone mass.

Seems like it could help.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 20 04:35 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Autonomous Vehicles Won't Need Horns

If you aren't already sold on the idea of autonomous vehicles imagine never hearing honking car horns. The computers will communicate with each other wirelessly. How pleasant.

Will autonomous vehicles use horns to signal human drivers who are about to cause an accident? Even if they do horn use will decline.

Autonomous vehicle research has turned up some lessons about dangerous human drivers. What struck me about it: if vehicles could just detect when drivers aren't paying attention the vehicles could apply the brakes and beep at the driver with an inside speaker.

Anyone want to hazard a prediction in the comments? In what year will vehicles under autonomous operation do 1% of the miles traveled per year? When will they hit 50% of the miles traveled?

Note how I phrased the questions, in terms of miles traveled, not in terms of vehicles with autonomous capabilities. The vehicles will not start out with autonomous capabilities in all driving conditions (e.g. highway operation will come first) and drivers will not activate autonomous capabilities at all possible times.

When making your prediction keep in mind that new cars account for just a small portion of total miles driven. The average car is kept for Cars are being kept for about 11 years (and here too) and reaching 150k+ miles. In recent years the average time owning a car has risen sharply. This slows the spread of a new technology on the road. Be very aware that newer cars are much safer.

On the other hand, imagine your job required you to drive 25k miles per year. Would you jump at the chance to get an autonomous vehicle and free yourself from clutching the steering wheel for hours every day? Early adopters might skew toward longer distance drivers.

Autonomous vehicles will cut vehicle accident fatality rates. Already many driver assist technologies in vehicles are contributing to a sharp decline in vehicle fatalities.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today released the 2013 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data that shows a 3.1 percent decrease from the previous year and a nearly 25 percent decline in overall highway deaths since 2004. In 2013, 32,719 people died in traffic crashes. The estimated number of people injured in crashes also declined by 2.1 percent.

Longer lasting cars actually raise vehicle fatalities. A car built in the year 2000 is much more dangerous than a car built in 2015. What we need: upgrades for car computer equipment. This is already obvious in the passenger compartment of cars with ancient radios and other electronics. We also need upgrades for safety equipment so that one can add lane departure warning, collision avoidance automated braking, and the like.

How much does computer assist already reduce accident rates? Cars with front crash prevention tech have 7-15% lower insurance claims filed on them.

KPMG research shows that automation of some parts of the driving task have already led “to reductions in claim frequency.” According to the report “vehicles equipped with front crash prevention technology have a 7–15 percent lower claim frequency…[than] vehicles without it.” As portfolios of new products come to market “the downward drop in frequency will likely only continue.”

Revenue in the car insurance business is going to plummet along with declining accident rates.

Here is the full KPMG report. They are expecting about a halving of the accident rate from 2013 to 2027 or 2028. That is partly driven by the spread of technologies (e.g. front crash prevention systems) already going into some new vehicles today.

The incremental nature of a succession of driving assist technologies makes it hard to state clearly when autonomous vehicles will become available. Different people will take autonomous vehicle to mean different things. First, technologies short of full autonomy providfe successively more help to drivers who still have their hands on the wheel. Second, even when the autonomous systems start taking over fully they won't do it for all driving conditions. There is separated highway vs non-separated highway vs street in dense city vs street in suburb and so on. Also, there are a variety of weather and construction and accident conditions where many autonomous systems will ask the human driver to take over.

If we are going to argue about dates for various levels of autonomous vehicle penetration then for the foreseeable future we have to talk about how many miles driven autonomously rather than how many 100% autonomous vehicles are on the road. Autonomous technologies will take over some pretty high double digit percentage of total miles driven before the tech becomes mature enough that a blind person will be to travel alone in a vehicle anywhere a seeing person can drive.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 20 11:59 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2015 June 18 Thursday
Robot Impact On Productivity

Lately robots have been boosting productivity about 0.35% annually. By comparison, IT has been boosting productivity by about 0.60% annually with about 5 times as much capital expenditure. So higher ROI from robots? Keep in mind these numbers could contain substantial inaccuracies.

Does it make sense that IT is doing more than robots to boost productivity? My intuition is yes because so far robots have been used mainly in manufacturing and manufacturing is a much small portion of the economy than it used to be. Manufacturing only makes up 8.8% of total employment in the United States, about 12 million workers in 2013. So robots need to spread out into a lot more parts of the economy in order to have a large impact on productivity.

Check out this table of employment by sector in the US economy. 5 different sectors each employ more people than manufacturing does. Consider the prospects for automation in each of these sectors. For example, the retail trade has about 15 million worker, wholesale has about 5 million, and transportation and warehousing has about 5 million. Well, picture self-driving trucks, self-driving local delivery vehicles, totally automated warehouses, and easy online ordering. The need for store employees, vehicle operators, and warehouse and wholesale employees will drop dramatically from robots and IT systems. Goods will move from factories to end purchasers with little human involvement.

I expect IT systems will continue to automate a lot of financial work including investment management. Index funds beat active managers. Robo-advisors for money management will probably make it easier to manage your money. Betterment, WealthFront, Charles Schwab, and Vanguard are among those offering automated investment advising.

In what occupations will robots start to make major in-roads in the next 5 years? Do you know about robots that are under development for a purpose in your industry? Where can you see them fitting in outside factotries?

By Randall Parker 2015 June 18 07:37 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(11)
2015 June 06 Saturday
Staph Bacteria Toxin Causes Type 2 Diabetes In Rabbits

This might explain the higher incidence of insulin resistant diabetes among the obese.

A new study by University of Iowa microbiologists now suggests that bacteria may even be a cause of one of the most prevalent diseases of our time - Type 2 diabetes.

The research team led by Patrick Schlievert, PhD, professor and DEO of microbiology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, found that prolonged exposure to a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria causes rabbits to develop the hallmark symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, including insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and systemic inflammation.

"We basically reproduced Type 2 diabetes in rabbits simply through chronic exposure to the staph superantigen," Schlievert says.

The UI findings suggest that therapies aimed at eliminating staph bacteria or neutralizing the superantigens might have potential for preventing or treating Type 2 diabetes.

Greg Cochran has been saying for years that pathogens are causing mo

Lose weight! The heavier you get the more staph bacteria will grow on your skin.

Obesity is a known risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, but obesity also alters a person's microbiome - the ecosystem of bacteria that colonize our bodies and affect our health.

"What we are finding is that as people gain weight, they are increasingly likely to be colonized by staph bacteria - to have large numbers of these bacteria living on the surface of their skin," Schlievert says. "People who are colonized by staph bacteria are being chronically exposed to the superantigens the bacteria are producing."

I bet Paul Ewald and Greg Cochran are not surprised by this news. Said Greg in 1999:

I HAVE a motto," Gregory Cochran told me recently. "'Big old diseases are infectious.' If it's common, higher than one in a thousand, I get suspicious. And if it's old, if it has been around for a while, I get suspicious."

By Randall Parker 2015 June 06 01:26 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Telomere Length Changes And Cancer Risk

When telomere caps on chromosomes get too short cells usually lose the ability to divide. Telomere shortening is a major cause of aging. But it is also a protective mechanism against cancer. A pattern in telomore length changes is associated with the development of cancer.

CHICAGO --- A distinct pattern in the changing length of blood telomeres, the protective end caps on our DNA strands, can predict cancer many years before actual diagnosis, according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine in collaboration with Harvard University.

The pattern -- a rapid shortening followed by a stabilization three or four years before cancer is diagnosed -- could ultimately yield a new biomarker to predict cancer development with a blood test. This is the first reported trajectory of telomere changes over the years in people developing cancer.

Possibly the stabilization of telomere lengths is due to a mutation that turns on telomerase. That telomerase mutation enables cells to go thru more cell divisions and therefore enables cancer cells in particular to go thru many more cell divisions than healthy cells would be allowed.

Initially, scientists discovered telomeres aged much faster (indicated by a more rapid loss of length) in individuals who were developing but not yet diagnosed with cancer. Telomeres in persons developing cancer looked as much as 15 years chronologically older than those of people who were not developing the disease.

But then scientists found the accelerated aging process stopped three to four years before the cancer diagnosis.

What's the direction of causation for telomere shortening and cancer? Does something accelerate aging and therefore cause more rapid accumulation of genetic mutations that lead to cancer? Or is the cancer process at an early stage causing more rapid telomere shortening?

Here is a familiar argument for long time readers: If we could cure cancer then we could safely increase telomere lengths (given a drug or gene therapy for doing that). Shortening telomere lengths every time a cell divides is an anti-cancer mechanism. But it is also an aging mechanism. The body gives up unlimited cell division because the need to produce more cells for repair is balanced against the threat of death from cancer. Remove the cancer threat and the body could do much more extensive cell replication and slow the rate of aging and even partially reverse aging.

Given a pill to cure cancer I'd then want to take a pill that lengthens my telomeres.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 06 12:05 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
On The Threat Of Extinction Of The Human Race

Alex Tabarrok is not bothered by the prospect of the eventual extinction of the human race. He thinks our genetically engineered successors will be cyborgs and cease to be humans.

This begs the question: what is a human? Is someone with a 170 IQ still homo sapiens? Well, yes. Suppose genetic engineering produces a lot more very high IQ people whose bodies last a couple of centuries even without medical intervention. Will they still be humans? Yes. Yet this will usher in a huge change in human societies. Very bright people will function at a higher level. This does not strike me as an extinction event.

If society radically changes because the average IQ rises to, say, 150 does the resulting massive changes in group behavior make that society no longer a human society? I think it remains a human society. Look at the biggest concentrations of very bright people. They seem human to me. So no extinction of the human species at that point.

Suppose successive future generations are genetically further and further away from current humans. Some of those alternations will just involve removing lots of low frequency harmful genetic variants that reduce the performance of mind and body. We all have these sorts of genetic variants. I think these sorts of fixes to the genome will just make us more energetic and upbeat. We'll function better.

I do not think tight interfaces with computers make people non-human either, unless the biological mind ceases to be in control. Pure artificial intelligences are another matter. If (or perhaps when) they achieve autonomy I do not see why they should be friendly to us. I do not even see why they should be friendly to each other. What's different? Their moral reasoning. They won't have the innate moral reasoning of most humans. They'll be closer to psychopaths in their reasoning but with far greater intellectual ability. Given sufficient power they'll be far less dependent on humans too.

There are a number of ways we could get wiped out by biological intelligence. Obviously, one would be alien invasion. We have no idea what the odds are of that happening.

The biggest threat I see from biological intelligence comes from tinkering with genetic variants for moral reasoning. There is a large genetic component to psychopathy. Therefore some humans could create offspring that morally reason very differently than us. The biggest danger I envision would come from genetically engineering very bright psychopaths who would be easy to condition to believe a specific religion. Such a psychopathic society could pose a significant threat, especially if it was willing to die to wipe out the rest of us. It could do genetic engineering of other species, notably killer viruses and also biological agents wthat would wipe out our crops and cause ecosystem collapse. I'd look upon such a society as not human.

What's the dividing line to you for when a current or future someone ceases to be a human?

Machine intelligence is a different story. Machine intelligence does not have our innate moral reasoning circuitry and whatever moral reasoning we try to give it could be easily modified by software updates that the machines do to themselves or each other or by malicious humans. The threat from machines seems much greater. Getting defeated by robots (or, more precisely, artificial intelligences controlling robots) would probably mean extinction of the human race.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 06 11:30 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2015 June 02 Tuesday
Robotics For Food Processing

A company in the Netherlands, Lacquey, has developed a robot that can pick up, orient, and core a cabbage.

What's the big deal about that? vegetables and fruits are much more inconsistent in shape than manufactured parts. Machines can much more easily recognize a manufactured part, pick it up, and install it somewhere.

Amazon recently held a contest for robots to pick up goods from shelves since that work is still done by humans in Amazon warehouses. The robots did not do well enough to pose a threat to humans who do this work currently. But given that a robot can handle a cabbage I expect warehouse goods picking to fall to robots.

Wondering if your job will be automated in the next 20 years? Make some choices at this NPR UI for seeing the odds of your job getting automated. I think their odds of radio announcers having only a 10% of getting automated seems wrong. Both speech synthesis and use of prerecorded pronounced words seem like major threats. Also, they do not mention anesthesiologists and yet clearly that's a job that's getting near ripe for automation. Ditto radiologists.

Curiously they have umpires and referees at a 98.3% chance of getting automated. Also, they have restaurant cooks, waiters, and waitresses at over 90% chance of getting automated. Since the largest group of people in the United States who work for near minimum wage work in food services and the growing movement for higher minimum wage will raise their cost to employers robots are going to become a lot more attractive to restaurant owners. Once robots can do food prep, cooking, packaging, and even delivery to tables then human employment in food services will plummet.

By Randall Parker 2015 June 02 08:58 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Site Traffic Info
Site Copyright
The contents of this site are copyright ©