Friday, May 29, 2015

Smart Machines Getting Too Smart For Humans?

This week’s Nature has a section on ethical aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence. Reading this article, the associated comments, and the accompanying special section on Machine Intelligence in this week’s issue, has left me deeply concerned. The accelerating capabilities of both individual intelligent machines and the Internet itself raise all sorts of questions about whether human beings will be better off or not if artificial intelligence continues to evolve in its current uncontrolled fashion.  It seems we need a measured assessment of both the potentials and hazards of this thrust before we proceed much further. Clearly it is always difficult to accurately anticipate the path of an emerging technology and to create guidelines concerning its development and implementation. Nonetheless society has done this previously in the context of other transformative technologies such as nuclear weapons and genetic engineering. Although there is plenty of hype in the media, it surprises me how little the issue of Artificial Intelligence has been addressed by ethicists or by governmental bodies. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Antibiotic Resistance: Big Pharma Fails to Address the Challenge

A recent report in SCIENCE is another example of ‘Big Pharma’ failing to address important public health issues.  The problem of resistance to conventional antibiotics is reaching crisis proportions, accelerated by the widespread use of antibiotics in mass agriculture. The technology to develop powerful new drugs is there, but the profit motivation is not.  In many respects this situation is similar to the problem of developing medications for diseases such as malaria that primarily affect poorer countries and thus provide little opportunity for large profits. It is encouraging to learn that some governments are seeking ways to break the roadblock on antibiotic development. However, is this enough?  One might argue that this key area of drug research be pursued through innovative public funding rather than be left to the dictates of Wall Street.