Artificial Intelligence and Medicine

When teaching the machine, the team had to take some care with the images. Thrun hoped that people could one day simply submit smartphone pictures of their worrisome lesions, and that meant that the system had to be undaunted by a wide range of angles and lighting conditions. But, he recalled, “In some pictures, the melanomas had been marked with yellow disks. We had to crop them out—otherwise, we might teach the computer to pick out a yellow disk as a sign of cancer.”

It was an old conundrum: a century ago, the German public became entranced by Clever Hans, a horse that could supposedly add and subtract, and would relay the answer by tapping its hoof. As it turns out, Clever Hans was actually sensing its handler’s bearing. As the horse’s hoof-taps approached the correct answer, the handler’s expression and posture relaxed. The animal’s neural network had not learned arithmetic; it had learned to detect changes in human body language. “That’s the bizarre thing about neural networks,” Thrun said. “You cannot tell what they are picking up. They are like black boxes whose inner workings are mysterious.”

The “black box” problem is endemic in deep learning. The system isn’t guided by an explicit store of medical knowledge and a list of diagnostic rules; it has effectively taught itself to differentiate moles from melanomas by making vast numbers of internal adjustments—something analogous to strengthening and weakening synaptic connections in the brain. Exactly how did it determine that a lesion was a melanoma? We can’t know, and it can’t tell us.

More here, from Siddhartha Mukherjee in the New Yorker (h/t Azra Raza).

And, in the same vein, here are some thoughts on terrorism.

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BC’s weekend reads

  1. Pakistan’s ambitious naval delusions
  2. Diplomatic assassinations have a long and tragic history
  3. When tyranny takes hold
  4. Nullification and secession in America (review)
  5. A liberal global trading system without the United States
  6. Floating exchange rates and tariffs

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Smuggling Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs out of the USSR
  2. Are memes disrupting American politics? So asks a Leftist
  3. The 4th Amendment, policing, and pedagogy
  4. At least the end of the War on Drugs is nigh
  5. A new (old) strategy for a polycentric world (but why not federation?)
  6. A simple map of Brazil and its states

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The Two Asian Americas
  2. Is Hawai’i an occupied nation?
  3. A federal system for Britain
  4. Capitalists from Outer Space
  5. The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations
  6. Humane Canada

Around the Web

  1. France must avoid repeating American errors
  2. The internationalism of the American Civil War; shockingly incomplete (almost dishonestly so), but a good starting point
  3. The false piety of the Hebdo hoodlums
  4. Sri Lanka’s surprise political transition
  5. From Martin Anderson to Charlie Hebdo and back

Surowiecki on Intellectual Piracy

James Surowiecki had an excellent article in the June 9 issue of the New Yorker about countries committing intellectual piracy. It includes a nice summary of how “stealing” patented ideas played a major role in the early economic development of the United States. In the process, it surveys some of the considerable historical evidence debunking the widespread myth that intellectual property is necessary for, or even makes a contribution to, economic growth.

President’s Day

Ever notice how the most famous and revered Presidents are the ones that have led us to war, or were responsible for massive public works projects that turned out to be more harmful than good?

Kinda weird, huh?

My highest ranking Presidents would have to be the unknown ones, simply because they must have done a good job if their names aren’t mentioned much in the historical records.  Libertarians like to cite Grover Cleveland and John Tyler as good Presidents, but these two didn’t do much for African-Americans and Native Americans.

However, as far as the old adage goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, these guys stack up very well comparatively with other Presidents, especially the post-war ones.

If you have a couple of favorite Presidents in mind, feel free to share them and also explain a little bit about why you think they deserve your esteem.  Personally, I think the worst President was Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed by Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush.

War is the health of the state, and between these three Presidents the state grew immensely.  Bastard tyrants, all three of ’em!

P.S. the New Yorker just profiled Congressman Ron Paul.