Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Smart AI

By Jonathan D. Moreno

Image courtesy of Flickr
Experiments that could enhance rodent intelligence are closely watched and long-term worries about super-intelligent machines are everywhere. But unlike avoiding smart mice, we’re not talking about industry standards for the almost daily steps toward computers that possess at least near-human intelligence. Why not? 

Computers are far more likely to achieve human or near-human intelligence than lab mice, however remote the odds for either. The prospects for making rodents smarter with implanted human neurons have dimmed as the potential for a smart computer continues to grow. For example, a recent paper on systems of human neurons implanted in mice didn’t make them smarter maze-runners. By contrast, in 2016 a computer program called AlphaGo showed it could defeat a professional human Go player. Those machine-learning algorithms continue to teach themselves new, human-like skills, like facial recognition -- except of course that they are better at it than the typical human. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Worrisome Implications of Lack of Diversity in Silicon Valley

By Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The term “artificial intelligence” (AI) was first used in 1955 by John McCarthy of Dartmouth College to describe complex information processing (McCarthy 1955). While the field has progressed slowly since that time, recent advancements in computational power, deep learning and neural network systems, and access to large datasets have set the stage for the rapid acceleration of AI.  While there is much painstaking work ahead before transformational uses of AI catch up with the hype (Kinsella 2017), substantial impact in nearly all aspects of human life is envisioned. 

AI is being integrated in fields as diverse as medicine, finance, journalism, transportation, and law enforcement. AI aims to mimic human cognitive processes, as imperfect as they may be.  Our human tendencies to generalize common associations, avoid ambiguity, and more tightly identify with others who are more like ourselves may help us navigate our world efficiently, yet how they may translate into our design of AI systems is yet unclear.  As is typically the case, technology is racing ahead of our ability to consider the societal and ethical consequences of its implementation (Horvitz 2017). 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Stem Cell Debate: Is it Over?

By Katherine Bassil

Image courtesy of Flickr
In 2006, Yamanaka revolutionized the use of stem cells in research by revealing that adult mature cells can be reprogrammed to their precursor pluripotent state (Takahashi & Yamanaka, 2006). A pluripotent stem cell is a cell characterized by the ability to differentiate into each and every cell of our body (Gage, 2000). This discovery not only opened up new doors to regenerative and personalized medicine (Chun, Byun, & Lee, 2011; Hirschi, Li, & Roy, 2014), but it also overcame the numerous controversies that accompanied the use of embryonic stem (ES) cells for research purposes. For instance, one of the controversies raised by the public and scholars was that human life, at every stage of development, has dignity and as such requires rights and protections (Marwick, 2001). Thus, the use of biological material from embryos violates these rights, and the research findings gathered from this practice does not overrule basic human dignity. With a decline in the use of ES cells in research, the use of induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells opened up avenues for developing both two- and three-dimensional (2D and 3D, respectively) cultures that model human tissues and organs for both fundamental and translational research (Huch & Koo, 2015). While the developments in this field are still in an early phase, they are expected to grow significantly in the nearby future, thereby triggering a series of ethical questions of their own.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Is the concept of “will” useful in explaining addictive behaviour?

By Claudia Barned and Eric Racine

Image courtesy of Flickr
The effects of substance use and misuse have been key topics of discussion given the impact on healthcare costs, public safety, crime, and productivity (Gowing et al., 2015). The alarming global prevalence rates of substance use disorder and subthreshold “issues” associated with alcohol and other drugs have also been a cause for concern. For example, in the United States, with a population of over 318 million people (Statista, 2018), 21.5 million people were classified with a substance use disorder in 2014; 2.6 million had issues with alcohol and drugs, 4.5 million with drugs but not alcohol and 14.4 million had issues with alcohol only (SAMHSA, 2018). Similarly, in Canada, with a population of over 35 million people (Statistics Canada, 2018), a total of 6 million met the criteria for substance use disorders in 2013, with the highest rates among youth aged 18 – 24 (Statistics Canada, 2013). Concerns about addiction are particularly evident in widespread media alarm about the current fentanyl crisis affecting the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K, and the climbing rates of fentanyl related deaths globally (NIDA, 2017; UNDC, 2017).