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Explaining the ‘Valley of Death’ on the Hill, Robert gets applause

My friend Dr. Robert Selliah took his message to Capitol Hill in February, to talk of drug discovery – pediatric drugs, that is.

I’ve followed Robert’s work for some years now and often tell him what’s impressive is his knack of explaining biotech complexities in such as way that a lay person gets it. In my Public Speaking class, when I deal with a Manuscript Speech, I address how important it is to not let jargon and the ‘Haigspeak‘ creep in.

Here Robert deals with the thicket of drug discovery by light-heartedly cautioning the audience that some technical language was coming.  And he even threw in an analogy, comparing the ‘linear process’ of molecular discovery to making a movie. Nice touch!

Capitol Hill is stocked with technocrats, who probably know how to tune out speeches. I’m sure Robert kept them awake, tuned to his ‘movie’!

 

 
 

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‘Wall’ of illfame lands Arizona Republic and USA Today a Pulitzer

Funny how much a wall can do – even in its absence. The Pulitzer prize board awarded the Arizona Republic one of the most prestigious journalism awards, for reporting on Trump’s attempt to build that wall. Not one story, it was a series of stories in multi-media – newspaper articles, video, podcasts and even VR.

Here’s the story in VR, in 4 chapters.  And if that’s not enough, it’s the basis of a documentary, The Wall.

 

 
 

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While some robots handle hernias, others could be invade countries. Are we crossing the line

I’m all for the use of surgical robots, or the emerging field of ‘drone journalism’ for data gathering, and even exoskeletons. But could others go too far?

Two types of robots worth considering this week:

Exhibit A: Robots in the battlefield. The Guardian reported that AI experts have called for a boycott of South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The arms race for autonomous robots as machines of war is real. The US Military with Lockheed Martin has been developing autonomous armored vehicles.

Exhibit B: Then there’s the more benign use of a robot –in a coffee shop! The Da Vinci surgical robot (which I have written about) was used in a ‘demo’ of sorts in Kullman, Alabama, to give people a chance to see its capability in a friendly setting. This robot typically handles gall bladder and hernia procedures. (No fear, it’s not an autonomous bot.) Nice touch, humanizing this strange-looking refrigerator-sized 4-arm robot.

The point being, teaching robotics ought to come with a layer of ethics. It’s not enough to be develop breakthrough robots just because we can. There is such a thing as the 4 Laws of Robotics, as written up by Science Fiction writer, Isaac Asimov. They are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  4. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

The fourth law was added later by Asimov. We may have begun crossing the line, and ignoring it.

Interestingly, the UN this week has addressing the pace of robotics, through the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreement, and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. Lots of semantics in the debate, with regard to ‘autonomous’ and ‘automated’ and what constitutes ‘human control’ of these devices.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2018 in Education, Robotics, Technology

 

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Egg-on-Facebook. Is this a confession or face-saving ploy?

Confession, or mea culpa?

Mark Zuckerberg’s published statement to Congress, tries to make it a bit of both. But that doesn’t easily get Facebook off the hook.

I find it incredulous that many of the data leaks (not hacks) were something Facebook ‘learned’ about from journalists at The Guardian, and Channel 4 etc. Or so Zuckerberg claims. How is it that a company that specializes in data harvesting and monitoring of millions of people and entities, didn’t have an algorithm or human sniffers to alert it to what was being done through its servers?

I find it odd that a company that was founded by a guy who literally ‘scraped’ data off Harvard’s computers (and thus stumbled on the business model) didn’t look out for the same thing happening to his domain.

 

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‘Weapon of Mass Instruction’ – Where did a Library lead you?

This week, April 8-14 is National Library Week. It’s a given: libraries have transformed our lives. Whether it was a sparsely equipped school library, or an uncle’s bookshelf, there’s a chance that a ‘library’ or a book that you randomly picked led you to this career.

So how did a library change your life? 

I am asking this question from as many people as possible, and will post responses here. Do send me your mini stories!

 

WEAPON OF MASS INSTRUCTION: Created by a photojournalist, this moving library, a ‘tank,’ is a converted 979 Ford Falcon that holds up to 900 books.

PROJECT GUTENBERGR, an Internet archive of 11 million boks and texts, and 4 million audio recordings of writing. You could find and download for free a book published prior to 1923! Gulliver’s Travels? Hamlet? It’s free!

 

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Book, Education

 

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Child’s Trade Deficit lesson – to Trump

Who said ‘trade deficits’ are hard to understand? With some graphics a kid could do it. The script is spot on.

(Despite the fact that the target audience is the most powerful man in the world.)

Of course this seems ‘produced’ by older folk – probably by the Jimmy Kimmel show. But there’s great lessons in her presentation technique – voice inflexion, body language and gestures, and even the pacing. The kid turns a very dry subject from Economics 101 into a story.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2018 in Communications

 

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Rock, Paper, Scissors, Writer’s Notebook!

There are some sure-fire things that spark creativity in a classroom. And no it’s not always a computer! I say this despite the fact that my class is a computer lab, so bear with me. I keep magnets of all shapes and sizes handy, as it is easy to start a conversation about science with a lump of metal. I also have a box of weird-looking rocks that look like they belong to a Martian landscape.

A few weeks back our reading specialist gave me a book called A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher. It seems pretty obvious, that every would-be writer should jot down thoughts and ideas he or she stumbles upon. The book encourages students to consider taking ‘notes’ in different ways: “Seed ideas,” “Mind pictures,” “Digging out crystals” and “Snatches of talk” among others.

When I teach writing, no matter what the task at hand is (a letter, a poem, an essay, a speech) I get the student to start with a blank sheet of paper and use it as a ‘brain dump.’ This could exist on the margin of a hand-drawn graphic organizer. Somewhere in that stockpile, there will suddenly appear a key word or phrase that you can take and run with. Fletcher explains that unearthing ideas is akin to excavation:

“Once you locate the rock you use a heavy tool like a crack hammer to carefully break off pieces of stone ….revealing a ‘gem pocket’ filled with sparkling Herkimer diamonds.”

Writing is a lot like that. Anything can spark an idea, but one must painstakingly mine it to let the words tumble out.

 

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2018 in Education

 

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