News — At The Edge — 10/5

Doc Huston
8 min readOct 5, 2019


Articles this week reflect good, bad and ugly — health tech, computer & robot tech, and unstable situations in politics-economy-environment — aspects of our technological civilization.


AI can now diagnose heart disease in just four seconds, ‘as good’ as doctors —

“Analyzing a patient’s heart function on a cardiac MRI scan…takes doctors around 13 minutes [but] …[AI] in a fraction of the time with equal accuracy…[showing] greatest sources of measurement error arise from human factors….

’This indicates that automated techniques are at least as good as humans, with the potential soon to be ‘super-human’ — transforming clinical and research measurement precision.’”


New blood test could detect more than 20 types of cancer —

“[A] breakthrough…spots changes in the genes, as disease develops…to improve screening for cancer, allowing treatment much sooner, when it is more likely to succeed…[with] 99.4 per cent cases identified as cancer…correctly spotted….

[Key is] abnormal patterns of methylation in the DNA, which can indicate different types of cancer…[pinpointing] source nearly 90 per cent of the time, including…some of the most difficult to spot…[thus] a feasible way of screening people for cancer….

[With] 20 types of cancer, including hormone receptor-negative breast, colorectal, esophageal, gall bladder, gastric, head and neck, lung, lymphoid leukemia, multiple myeloma, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer….

[The] test accurately detected 76 per cent of high mortality cancers…[with] 32 per cent for patients with stage one cancer; 76 per cent for those with stage two; 85 per cent for stage three; and 93 per cent for stage four….

[Detecting] modest percent of common cancers early could translate into…more effective treatment if the test were in wide use.’”


Could Immunotherapy Treat Diseases Besides Cancer? —

“[The] strategy for treating disease by stimulating the body’s immune system…[is] beginning to be employed for everything from fighting autoimmune illnesses to preventing tissue rejection in organ transplants…[with] tremendous potential because the immune system is fundamentally involved in every organ and in many health conditions.

‘The opportunity exists…[for] immunorevolution…[with] engineering T cells to attack other disease-related cells….

[Others] experimenting with treating autoimmune disorders with low levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2)…[where] research suggests low doses may be able to treat a wide range of autoimmune conditions by boosting levels of a type of cell called a regulatory T cell, or Treg, which naturally muzzles the immune response…[and] uses immunotherapy to suppress the immune system — the opposite of what cancer researchers do….

CAR-Ts made with engineered Tregs could also be used against inflammation or in transplant patients to prevent rejection. Stem cell transplants…cure some blood cancers but can also lead to life-threatening graft versus host disease, in which immune cells from the donor attack the recipient. It should be possible to engineer so-called CAR-Tregs to induce tolerance to recipient cells — or even to an entire transplanted organ to prevent rejection….

[Thus] learning how to manipulate the immune system to fight cancer has taught researchers information they can now use to fight diseases ranging from infections to arthritis….

[The] engineered T cells — is transformational…in so many different settings and diseases…[but] bit early to know whether it’s going to be a commercial product for patients.’”


Amazon may soon be able to track your phone’s location even if you don’t use any of its products or services –

“Amazon-made routers and devices in homes and stores is set to increase nationwide…[building] a ‘mesh network’…where each device communicates…together to transmit data…[e.g.,] placing 700 devices across Los Angeles…cover the entire metropolitan [city]….

Now, privacy watchdogs are sounding alarm bells….Even if you don’t use Amazon’s wireless networks in your own home…[or] when you go out…[it] gets data about the location of your devices…even if those devices don’t sign onto the network, just like a smartphone can detect nearby networks without signing on…[receiving] unique identifier assigned to each device…[and] company could pair that…address with your user profile.

[I]t’s unusual for companies to build such sprawling mesh networks using devices that users set up in their own homes….

[Also] turning over insights from its network of Ring cameras to as many as 200 police departments nationwide….Amazon has not specified what sort of data it will track with its new mesh networks, or whether that data will be up for grabs by the law enforcement agencies.”


Proof that a quantum computer can outperform a classical one —

“[Google] carried out…over three minutes a calculation that would take…world’s current-best…supercomputer, 10,000 years to execute….

Quantum computers employ three counterintuitive phenomena.

  1. ‘superposition’….Google’s machine has 53 qubits, which between them can represent nearly ten million billion possible superposed states….
  2. ‘entanglement’, which ties quantum particles together across time and space….A quantum calculation starts by addressing qubits individually: making one of them mostly zero, say, and then entangling it with its neighbor by a certain amount. That done, it lets the rules of physics play out….[At end] qubits are examined simultaneously to…maximize the chance of choosing the right answer….
  3. ‘amplitudes’…can be negative as well as positive…[so] wrong answers cancel each other out, while those that represent the right one reinforce [answers]….

The biggest problem…is how to spot and correct [errors]…[and] a race to develop useful quantum algorithms to run on them.”


Robots’ abilities to recognize and manipulate things are improving

“RoMan is the first machine capable of manipulating unfamiliar objects in an unknown and unstructured environment…[because] it has to learn about the world through observation and experiment before it can manipulate it. So it is trained…to recognize unfamiliar [things]…

Having so grasped an object, RoMan assesses its weight and decides whether to try to lift it or drag it…as ‘intuitive physics’…[so] when confronted with a real barricade…[it] can recognize objects…work out whether…best lifted, pushed or pulled, and position itself in the optimum place to do so….

[Need] RoMan to be capable of ‘whole body manipulation’, to exert more force…using its body weight in the way a human being might, in order to push open a stiff door or to move heavy furniture by bracing against a wall….

[The] problem with RoMan is that it is still impractically slow…[taking] 10–15 seconds to decide what to do…[and] need to learn to deal with a wider range of objects….

Beyond military applications…might work in warehouses, pick fruit, clear litter or tidy people’s homes…[or] collect rocks from [Mars].


Just One Tea Bag Can Release Billions of Microscopic Plastic Particles Into Your Drink, Study Finds —

“From Arctic snow to the deep sea, microplastics have been found in some unusual places…[now] a plastic tea bag at 95 degrees Celsius releases around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup…much more than other foods and beverages…contaminated with plastics….

’Table salt…[has] approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup’….

[Whether] this is actually a problem for human health is uncertain. The World Health Organization concluded…plastic particles in drinking water were a ‘low’ risk to humans at their current levels…[but] said more research was needed, especially on the health impacts of chemical additives and of microplastics less than 150 micrometers in diameter, which could enter the body’s tissues….

[A] test of how the plastic particles impacted water fleas…’did cause significant behavioral effects and developmental malformations’….

[Better] to skip plastic tea bags for paper bags or loose leaf tea’….

On average, between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year.”


Repo-market ructions were a reminder of the financial crisis —

“Banks fund themselves on a short-term basis via demand deposits…[and] money markets, such as that for repos.

Many bank assets…are illiquid and long-term, such as loans…[and] mismatch leaves banks vulnerable….

Post-crisis, both governments and markets have proved surprisingly tolerant of risky borrowing. Despite household deleveraging, companies have taken on enough debt to keep private borrowing high; at 150% of GDP in America, for instance, roughly the level of 2004…[as] market for syndicated business loans has boomed, to over $1trn in 2018, and loan standards have fallen.

Many loans are packaged into debt securities, much as dodgy mortgages were before the crisis. Regulators have declined to intervene — remarkably….

Just as the threat of bank runs migrated from depositors to money markets, so systemic risk may now be building up in non-bank institutions….

Insurers in some countries…have been hoovering up hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign bonds, hedging the exchange-rate risk….If, in a crisis, these funds cannot renew their hedges, they could be exposed to significant losses.

The vulnerabilities of supposedly staid firms may be an underappreciated source of risk for big banks…because finance remains extraordinarily globalized…outside the view of national regulators….

Troubles in repo markets illustrate…threat posed by this opacity….No obvious disaster looms. But the world did not appreciate the peril it faced in 2007 until too late.”


Trump’s misbehavior fits a global trend —

“Trump is a particularly egregious example, but…British Prime Minister Boris Johnson [tried]’…suspending Parliament…[but] nation’s high court…ruled was ‘unlawful.’ Indian Prime Minister…Modi has…governed in ways that have terrified his country’s minorities…Philippine President…Duterte has praised extrajudicial killings…[and] Erdogan of Turkey and…Orban of Hungary have managed to change the constitution to assist in one-part… one-man [rule]….

[Many] writers have chronicled the ‘democratic recession,’ but it remains unclear why….

Between 1995 and 2014, there were large increases in the share of people who would like to see ‘a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections,’ growing by nearly 10 percentage points in [U.S.]…20 points in Spain and South Korea…25 points in Russia and South Africa….

[W]e are living in times of great…economic, technological, demographic, cultural [change]…[and] people feel insecure and anxious.

They believe that existing institutions, elites or established ideologies are not serving them well…[and] a majority in 21 countries say they see little change regardless of who wins an election.

So people are open to supporting populist leaders who play on their fears, seize on scapegoats and promise to take decisive action on their behalf…[and] tribal politics…[with] sense that…our team is always in the right…the enemy of institutions, norms and the rule of law…[so] people actually celebrate leaders who break the law because they supposedly do so to help their tribe….

The key enabler of American populism has been the Republican Party…[and] American democracy today desperately needs the GOP to uphold democracy rather than feast on its destruction.”

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May you live long and prosper!
Doc Huston



Doc Huston

Consultant & Speaker on future nexus of technology-economics-politics, PhD Nested System Evolution, MA Alternative Futures, Patent Holder —