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.

What’s happened tonight

Hello, dear community! I wasn’t able to write here for quite a long time, but what’s happened tonight changed my mind and I feel an urgent need to share my experience with you.

What is a peaceful living? Seems that majority’s answer is “to feel safe in your country, in your house, to have enough money for living and inspiration for self-realization, etc.”. Well, edge of a corner is a feel of safety. And I’ve lost it tonight.

Just imagine. It’s 3 p.m., you sleeping in your bed, watching 10th dream and declining internally start of a working week. And then suddenly you awaken by door bell, there’s a lot of police outside, an ambulance (accidental heart-attack of your neighbour), bomb-finding squad with trained dogs and around 300 people on the street, scared to death. Evacuation. In night, which’s dark as shit, soldiers trying to find bomb: somebody called to police hot-line and reporting a chance of terroristic attack on our building. It’s a phone terrorism – 3 years of a jail in Russia. They didn’t found anything, so we were able to move back in one hour.

But will you be able to sleep again? I wasn’t.

Two hours of total sleep, wasted day at work… And know what? It’s a PTSD – posttraumatic stress disorder. I’m afraid to go home. Afraid to sleep. Because I’ve lost that sense of safety in my own house. You can be killed on a street (optional joke about hard living in Russia), you can die in car accident or somewhere else. But your house – is your fortress. Fortress with paper walls.

Be safe.

Gun Control Works Just Fine in France

In semi rural Normandy, in France, a mass is interrupted by two young men who speak Arabic among themselves. They force the aged priest to kneel. They demand that some of the faithful present video the next scene. Then they cut off the priest’s head with a long knife. They don’t shoot him!

After this, they take several people hostage, injuring one seriously and they attempt to escape. The police are waiting for them outside and shoot the decapitators dead.

In this true story, only the police had guns just like liberals and President Obama want it to be the case in the US. The murderers almost did not commit their crime because they only had one gun that was not even functional, almost didn’t.

ISIS quickly claimed the crime as committed by some of its “soldiers” (brave soldiers, murdering an eighty-year old priest). One of the dead assassins was immediately identified as a local young man. He was on electronic bracelet parole after being arrested in Turkey and sentenced for trying to join Islamic State. The French authorities don’t joke when it comes to terrorism!

The main French imam condemned the crime immediately and in the most vigorous terms. He did not comment on the mode of the assassination, beheading. He did not speculate whether this could have some cultural resonance for some Muslims, given that the Prophet Mohamed himself demonstrated a certain preference for beheading as a way to dispatch his enemies. (References on request.)

The French are brain frozen. No one in France has wondered publicly about what would have happened if one of the faithful at mass had carried a hidden handgun.

The Nice Massacre

Following the massacre in Nice yesterday, I am hearing comments on radio that, together, would have one believe that it could not happen here, that it’s somehow the fault of the French themselves. I think that’s a dangerous dream.

Americans have to get past the Irma la Douce fantasy about France that many still shelter in their hearts. The French do not wile away their days at sidewalk cafes terraces brimming with insouciance. (That means a “devil-may care” attitude.) France is an industrial society pretty much like the US though without most of the inventiveness. Its economic policies for the past twenty years have been stinky. The causes of the French stagnation would sound familiar to any Bernie Sanders supporter. The current government of the Socialist Party differs from the Obama administration in matters of degree only. The same la-la-la Land dream occupies the minds of most of the French Left as of most American liberals. If anything, the French tend to be more realistic because they have had more experience of its failures.

It’s not the case that France has had an open borders policy as I have heard say on conservative radio today. Nevertheless, for historical reasons, France probably has many more Muslims proportionately than the US has. “Probably” because no one knows who is really a Muslim; no one really knows who is really a Catholic. The only thing that’s more or less known is the number of Muslims names. There are many. Most are French citizens by birth.

The current French Minister of Labor has a Muslim name. People with Muslim names are present throughout all levels of French society. They are in banking, in entertainment. The most popular French citizens probably have Muslims names; they are in sports. By and large, such people are well integrated within a mostly religiously indifferent French society. That is, as well as can be done within an economically stagnant society with a permanent unemployment rate of 10%, 20% for the young. How much discrimination there is against people with Muslim names is anyone’s guess. The fact is that immigrants with Muslim names keep trying hard to move to France. Not many try to move to Egypt or even to Saudi Arabia, for example, where the fate of immigrants may be even worse.

This large population with Muslim names is seen from the US as providing a bottomless pool of jihadist recruits. That’s true but it should also be an asset in combating violent jihadism. Thousands of French police personnel have Muslim names. (The police officer murdered outside Charlie Hebdo was one such.) Hundreds if not thousands of police and other security personnel are fluent in diverse dialects of Arabic. This is more, of course, than can be said of their American counterparts.

The French intelligence services have earned the respect of their allies. The country was not caught sleeping after the Bataclan slaughter. It had been under a state of emergency lightly suspending some personal rights. The state of emergency was slated to be removed in the coming days. Perhaps, someone did not want it to stop although it’s hard to believe given how light it was.

As I write on July 15th, there has been no claim by any Islamist organization. The only thing known is that the driver of the truck, the murder weapon, was a person of Tunisian origin who was probably a French citizen. That’s not enough to prove a link to Islamist terrorist organizations. The man was known to the police as a petty criminal (a familiar story). Note that a petty criminal is one who is not very successful, one at the bottom of the criminal pecking order. He was also undergoing a difficult divorce. I speculate that jihadist organizations provide people of Muslim origin undergoing personal difficulties a high-sounding excuse for venting their anger on the innocent many.

If there was indeed an involvement of ISIS or Al Qaida, no reason for the attack on civilians need to be found. They hate Westerners, irrespective of what Westerners actually do. The fact that France has been publicly involved in fighting Islamist terrorism in two theaters – in Iraq next to the US and in Mali may have made it a priority target for jihadists.

With this group assassination the lack of scruples of violent jihadists is confirmed again. Given the number of victims, the circumstance and the location of the crime, there is a 100% certainty that some of the victims have Muslim names. (By the way, the best video of the event was supplied by an Egyptian tourist.) I wonder if this is going to prompt Muslim organizations everywhere, including in the US, to do more than passively deplore the crime. I wonder if this is going to lead to request for energetic surveillance measures involving the breeding marshes of violent jhadists, which are not Lutheran seminaries or Buddhist monasteries. I ask because, under Obama, in this country, we are paralyzed by political correctness as if avoiding bruising the feelings of some was well worth a few hundred blown up civilians here and there.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Freedom of the Athenians (book review)
  2. The Myth of the Myth of Barter
  3. Trade Liberalization and Growth: New Evidence (pdf)
  4. From West Philly to Gulshan e Iqbal and Back
  5. Obama’s Witness for the Prosecution
  6. When Your Dream Lovers Die

From the Comments: So what should the US do with Syrian refugees?

There have been a number of excellent discussions in the ‘comments’ threads recently. I have been following them all, but I’m trying to space out, for beauty’s sweet sake, what I think are especially good insights here (my fellow Notewriters are welcome to do the same).

Dr Khawaja’s answer to Dr Delacroix’s question about what he would do “with respect to the Syrian refugees coming to this country” is worth another look:

I would do exactly what the Obama Administration is doing. Let the Syrian refugees in, vet them, and accept the risks. I more or less said that in one of the links I posted [here – BC]. Here’s the vetting procedure, by the way:

http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

I haven’t heard anyone explain what’s wrong with it. Its rigor far exceeds anything applied to student visas or tourist visas.

As for the “Zionist extremists who helped during the war of independence,” the Irgun and Lehi were by all accounts terrorist organizations. They began a campaign of terror well before the war of independence. Their doing so was instrumental to bringing about the mass exodus of Palestinians from what was to become Israel. The Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, who was later to become Prime Minister of Israel. In other words, Israel was not only founded by terrorists, but the Israelis had no compunction electing the self same terrorists to lead their country in subsequent years (Shamir and Sharon being the other two).

I don’t know where you get the idea that “the Jews that the US failed to take in before WWII were German Jews.” Why couldn’t they have been, say, Polish or Russian? And where is the difficulty in imagining militantly communist or fascist Polish or Russian Jews?

“I think it’s not difficult separating Muslims from Christians. Boko Haram does it all the time.”

Well, if we’re going to use arguments like that, why don’t I just say that it’s not difficult separating terrorists from non-terrorists. The TSA does it all the time. Now, if you’d like to propose that we start hiring members of Boko Haram for positions in the TSA, I’m skeptical, but all ears.

I should point out that in one of the posts I pasted up there, I was the one pointing out to someone at my blog that there is no eliminating the risks if we allow the Syrian refugees in. The risks are ineliminable. But I live in the New York City area. I go in to Manhattan whenever I get the chance. If there is a terrorist attack, it’s likely to take place right here. It’s not as though I’m merely imposing risks on other people and cowering somewhere else in safety.

Well? Is the vetting process as it stands good enough? Without reading the link Dr Khawaja provided, I feel confident claiming that it is. Violent criminals shouldn’t be allowed into this country (unless the crimes were committed a long, long time ago), of course. Sex offenders is too tricky a topic to deal with right now (think about getting in trouble for mooning in Russia or something like that), but if the crimes weren’t violent I’d opt for a let ’em in and wait approach. Terrorists of the Islamist variety that come from failed Arab states tend to be good boys at home. What about people with military backgrounds? What about the fact that states in the Arab world have laughable bureaucracies and that records should be taken with a big ole’ dose of salt?

Irfan hasn’t had the pleasure of knowing Jacques as long as me or Dr Terry, so his responses are bit more polite and more serious than what we tend to throw at him now. I forget sometimes just how important obstinate, bellicose ignorance can be for igniting important dialogues (Donald Trump, anyone? Bernie Sanders?).

On a slightly different note: I wonder if the uncomfortable fact that some of Israel’s founders were terrorists, coupled with the fact that Israel is the most successful state in the post-Ottoman world today, is an unacknowledged reason why Arabs have turned to the same tactics today. Why would anybody want to copy a failure, after all?

Small Thought On The Terrorist Attack in Paris, France

What the attack in Paris has made clear to me is that there is a deep hatred amongst people against the west. I believe that much of this hatred stems from the same roots from which my discontents with the west had also grown – western interventionist policies with foreign nations. I also sense such discontents among the few people that I know from Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, and Serbia.

My displeasures with the west originate from the personal stories of my parents who, before they became victims of the Khmer Rouge, were also victims of American bombings of Cambodia – a fact that is not widely known. The bombardments that started in 1965 ended in 1973, and had killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Indeed, before the Khmer Rouge took power over Cambodia in 1975 and before they sent all people to the rural areas to grow foodstuffs for ‘Angkar’ (the Organization/the State), there were already widespread famines and scores of displaced people due to the bombings. It had created a chaotic climate in which the anti-western, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist propaganda of the Khmer Rouge found their way into people’s minds – mostly into the minds of those poor rural Cambodian people that were suffering most from the secret bombings. Ben Kiernan writes in ‘Bombs over Cambodia’ (2004):

Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as antiAmerican propaganda. Chhit Do replied:

“Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched . . . . The ordinary people sometimes literally shit in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them. . . . Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge.”

Cambodia, together with Laos, still remains one of the heaviest bombed countries in the history of the world.[1] My parents were just 7-8 years old at the advent of the secret bombings. Imagine that a drone would bomb the school of your child or the hospital in which your loved ones are, would you not feel enraged? Would you not want to take revenge on those that are responsible?

A pre-moral person looks at the consequences of the actions. He sees the attacks, he acknowledges the dead, he becomes emotional and judges firmly. A moral person withholds his judgements and attempts to comprehend the causes of the attackers’ actions. I do not want to justify the killings of the French people, but I would like to emphasize that if we were really to honor the victims, we should reflect on the question why there are people that hate the west so fiercely. Maybe our society itself is part of a larger machine that is the origin of foreign hatred against the west. We must not only realize that religious fundamentalism is a danger to the world, but that there is a more contemptible false idol which is democratic fundamentalism – the uncritical acceptance that democracy is equal to liberty, that it is always superior and that, if necessary, it should be spread with violence.

As long as we, as a society, fail to reflect on ourselves and the political system we participate in, we will never find a fundamentally peaceful solution.

Footnote
[1] See Ben Kiernan’s ‘Bombs Over Cambodia: New Light On US Air War