Analogue computer in 1949
In the beginning we had raw materials, then moved into the development of analogue computing devices, then made a transition to silicon and digital technologies, and now, with the development of biological machines- we are faced with situations that require a close ethical analysis. Since the 1950s, we have the transformation of silicon technology- starting with Bell Labs and Intel to produce supercomputers. Then in the 1970s-1980s, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs revolutionalised the personal computer. However, now electronics is now taking another step in its evolution: biological machines. Previously, I wrote about DNA or molecular computing in The End of Software Development.
The National Academy of Sciences recently published a paper on scientists who developed a prototype of molecular computer based on nanofabricated networks. Molecular computers, as a proof of concept, have been developed by various scientists around the world since the mid 1990s, however, currently researchers are now integrating molecular computing with nanofabricated networks. The problem with electronic computers is that although they are extremely powerful at performing a high number of operations at very high speeds in a sequential manner, they do not have parallel processing capabilities. Another problem with electronic computers is that they require a higher processing power as more data is input, and often suffer from cooling problems.
What is different about molecular or DNA computing is that it utilises biological elements- namely Adenosine and other molecules and enzymes which have self-organising, and self-selecting principles, and can be input to process multiple functions at once- similar to the way the human brain works. The molecular, nanotech driven computer that scientists had developed in July of last year, and the research which was published this past month, is based on a configuration of a specifically designed nanostructured network with a large number of molecular-motor-driven, protein filaments.
Other scientists have also integrated nanotechnology with molecular computing, such as researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel utilised strands of DNA to create a nanobot computer inside of a living creature—a cockroach in 2014. In their paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers describe how they created several nanobot structures using strands of DNA, injected them into a living cockroach, then watched as they worked together as a computer to target one of the insects cells.
Biochemical nanocomputers already exist in nature; in essence, they are manifest in all living things. Instead of silicon microchips, they are run on DNA molecules ("the processor") and enzymes ("the software"). The question of molecular computers infiltrating the commercial market is not a question of how, but when? What is interesting is that biological machines might not be perceptible to the naked human eye- instead it might resemble a droplet of water, and integrate seamlessly into one's own biology; in essence creating autonomous bio-molecular computers that can be injected into our own living cells, replacing the electronic computers we have today, which are only visible as external hardware and wearable smart technology. A lot has been written about this singularity, the marriage of human and machine- as popularised by Ray Kurzweil; however, as we move towards biological machines- and away from electronic computers, we are entering a more specious, ethical conundrum.
The Terminator cyborg in popular media, inspired by Professor Kevin Warwick
Professor Kevin Warwick of the Cybernetics department at the University of Reading in the UK (whose nickname is "Captain Cyborg") has long been a pioneer in the development of the biological brain interface, as his research produced an interesting molecular computing methodology in which brain cells from living organisms were grown in a petri dish and were attached to a mechanical robotic interface. Biological machines have something electronic computers and current AI research based on binary computing does not have: they possess consciousness. One such robot Professor Warwick had developed was reported to have "committed suicide" because it could not cope with its environment, leading Professor Warwick to develop a Board of Ethics called "Bioethics", to address the main social, ethical, philosophical and anthropological issues related to his research.
The irony is, the more advanced we think we are becoming, in the end, we are returning to our biological roots of behaviour. Quite personally, unlike Ray Kurzweil and Professor Warwick, I do not like the idea of being injected or implanted with technology, especially a molecular nanostructured computing unit into my own cells. Why mess with nature's own perfection? However, if we could access that technology wirelessly, and choose to shut it on or off, then I think it would really take "wireless" into an entire new direction.
A dystopian future of a society of people wearing 3D virtual reality headsets is highly unlikely with the advent of nanotechnology and molecular computing.
In the future, we won't be holding a smartphone or typing into our keyboards. We won't be wearing virtual reality headsets. Artificial intelligence will be replaced by molecular nanostructured biological machines, perhaps similar to our own selves, and they will have consciousness, just as we do, if we choose to give them a brain.
By 2040, we might access all our healthcare data via a biological implant in our fingertip or via a retina scan and be able to wirelessly access an interface that allows us to compute, write, read, and communicate with others via a seamless brain-to-brain interface. We might all possess quantum memories, able to exceed our own capacity for data. All the vivid details of our dreams and memories may be compressed into a scanning device that has the key to our DNA. However, if we think about current practical applications, and where this nascent technology will move towards in just the next 5-10 years, I will extrapolate that the sectors that will be most affected will be telecommunications, education and healthcare.
By Sierra Choi
For those of you who aren't aware of the FDA, it is the regulatory agency called the Food and Drug Administration in the United States that regulates all pharmaceuticals and medical devices. In the UK, there is a similar agency called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that is sponsored by the Department of Health. Approval of any medicines or devices must first be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) through their centralised procedure for all of the EU, before compliance with the UK MHRA.
Typically biotech companies working with nascent technology must clear FDA or EMA approval before having their product be available for sale in the US or the EU. In the past several companies have come under fire for not attaining FDA approval before their products became available.
The most recent case was Theranos, the blood diagnostics company lead by Elizabeth Holmes, in which their drug testing devices became available at Walgreens before they had cleared FDA approval. The other high profile case was 23andme- which had sold genetic testing kits for predisposition towards certain diseases in 2006 before the FDA banned those tests in 2013. Although a modified version of the 23andme kits are available in the US market- for ancestry testing only, the complete kit received MHRA approval in the UK in 2014 and became available to purchase at places like Superdrug for around £125. These are examples of two companies utilising innovative, nascent technology that had failed to first receive FDA approval before their products became available for widespread use.
23andme complete testing kit available at Superdrug
Although in the media, the Theranos technology had been criticised, quite personally, I would rather trust the results of the Theranos blood diagnostics- which analyses your blood in real time, as opposed to the one taken at a traditional laboratory, which could take 2-3 weeks before results can be processed, and often the blood samples are treated with heparin (to prevent coagulation) which can ulimtately lead to inaccurate results. I have previously written about Theranos here. Theranos had indeed launched an exciting new era of blood diagnostics; unfortunately, when they came out of stealth mode, they forgot that little thing called the FDA. Certainly it is the kind of agency one does not want to make enemies with. Despite the fact that the FDA has been a thorn in the side of many biotech companies, and even for doctors practicing alternative treatment methods for cancer, the FDA has the power to ban devices, treatments and medications, hence limiting the growth of biotech companies that wish to sell their products in the US market.
South Korea's yBrain tDCS headbands
Currently I've been researching BCI startups, especially those in transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). South Korea has been innovative in this space for over a decade, with yBrain (founded 2013) creating devices that resemble headbands which are worn that sends electrostimulating signals to potentially treat neurodegenerative diseases. They released a consumer version of brain fitness devices for healthy individuals in Nov of 2014 and another transcranial stimulation headband called the yBand for people with Alzheimer's (AD) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
Similarly, in the US, Halo Neuroscience is following yBrain's lead and also has developed a brain stimulation headband for athletes and consumers who wish to enhance strength and athletic skill. However, the problem with these sorts of headbands is that because they are worn, only certain parts of the brain might be stimulated- whereas, athletic activity and learning is located holistically around different parts of the brain.
In addition with the case of AD and MCI patients, the disease often is placed in multiple places in both sides of the hemisphere, whereas due to the positioning of the headband, can only stimulate the areas of direct contact.
Although I am far from an expert in this field, thus far, after perusing through the research materials, and various published papers, I am not convinced that tDCS could potentially be a treatment method for healthy people nor for people with AD or MCI. Because the brain has numerous cells and connections, it would be difficult to target many different areas at once, and the neural connections must themselves be repaired for the stimulation to even be moderately effective. In addition, typically Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS as opposed to tDCS) has been utilised in the past to induce alpha, beta or delta waves in the brain. Where tDCS passes an electrical current through your brain, affecting the neurons that the electrons travel through, TMS uses electromagnetic induction to create a similar effect.TMS has been successful in this area for treatment of depression and other mental illnesses.
Music and meditation have also been used for centuries to induce calm states in the brain and to alter brain waves.
According to my research, the most promising technology for Alzheimer's, stroke victims and people with MCI is one that has been around for a long time: hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). All our cells need oxygen to repair itself. Being in a chamber with pressurised oxygen allows the cells in our bodies and brain to received a concentrated source of oxygen, hence quickly repairing damaged nerves, tissues and neural connections.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was pioneered in the UK, beginning with English scientist Joseph Priestley who discovered oxygen in 1775, then moved towards treatment for people with "the bends", a decompression sickness that deep sea divers can suffer from in 1937. In the 1950s and 1960s, hyperbaric oxygen therapy was also utilised to enhance the radiosensitivity of tumours, for people with diabetic ulcers and the treatment of carbon monoxide, cyanide and hydrogen sulfide poisoning. In 2013, an scientists at Tel-Aviv University carried out a study of HBOT treatment on 74 patients, with some astonishing results.
Several patients, who had suffered from strokes up to 20 years before, had re-learned to walk and talk, suggesting that neurons in the brain can be revived when exposed to pressurised oxygen. In the past, a lack of oxygen was thought to cut off and kill brain cells, as in the instance of stroke, however, this study suggest these neurons are in fact, dormant and have anaerobic metabolism which are enough to stay alive, but need oxygen in order to fully function.
Currently in the US, HBOT is standard treatment for decompression sickness, and in some cases for traumatic brain injury. In the UK, HBOT treatments are also available via a referral were covered by the NHS for a wide variety of conditions until 2008, when a change in the Public Health Commissioning Network only allowed certain conditions to be covered.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy portable pod
HBOT is also popular amongst athletes- such as US NFL football players, who use portable HBOT chambers that they can use in their comfort of their own homes. HBOT treatment accelerates recovery and sports injuries.
Although I am rather sceptical about the effects of transcranial direct current brain stimulation (tDCS) and lean more towards transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and Hyberbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) treatment, the latter which already has a high track record for effectiveness, I would still be willing to see how tDCS could be applied for consumer use cases despite all of its hype. I'm not sure I would want to put on a Halo headband however, as I'm not keen on the idea of an external device so close to my head sending direct electrostimulation currents as the long-term effects of this technology are still unknown. However, I would be interested in getting my own HBOT inflatable pod.
By Sierra Choi
(Disclaimer: This post is not intended to diagnose any conditions and are the opinions of the author)
I read a very interesting opinion piece in the New York Times over the weekend on sexual harassment called "She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk 'Feelings"'.
In the op piece, the author writes about a previous graduate student who had excelled in science then subsequently moved onto a company in which she wanted advice from the author regarding an email she had received from a colleague with a one-sided crush. The forwarded email she had received from her male colleague was:
“Can I share something deeply personal with you?” Within the email, he detonates what he described as a “truth bomb”: “All I know is that from the first day I talked to you, there hadn’t been a single day or hour when you weren’t on my mind.” He tells her she is “incredibly attractive” and “adorably dorky.” He reminds her, in detail, of how he has helped her professionally: “I couldn’t believe the things I was compelled to do for you.” He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result. He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”
The author of the op piece, A. Hope Jahren, a Professor at the University of Hawaii, then comments on the nature of sexual harassment, especially in STEM related fields where there are fewer women then men. However, what is most interesting about this article are the comments that it generated. Some of the selected comments ranged from directly forwarding the email to HR:
and other male commentators who thought the piece was an unfair perspective on what could be a potential workplace romance:
and still another who had met his wife under such circumstances:
and another who thought that successful women need a senior male mentor who can shield them from potential harassers:
I can't say what other women should do in a situation as this, but I can say that a woman, especially if she is attractive and intelligent, will generally tend to garner a lot of admiration from both men and women. I think what is important is that we have to understand that even in a workplace, or a STEM related field, that people aren't robots, they have feelings. Some people develop feelings, others don't. I think we should use our best judgement in these circumstances and not immediately fall into litigation mode thinking. When rejecting the advances of someone, I personally think it's important to be as kind as possible. I ask myself, how would I want to be rejected if I had a one-sided crush on someone?
If I were to have received a letter with those kinds of strong, emotional confessions, this is what I would have probably written:
Hey [Colleague] or Dear [Supervisor]:
Thank you for your email. I was really moved by your sentiments, I was never aware that you felt that way. I think you are a great guy because of [list reasons 1, 2 and 3]. Because of those reasons, I consider you as someone who is trustworthy and honorable. However, I am going to be honest here, but I'm afraid I am not interested in a romantic relationship with you. I am here to focus on my career goals, and I consider you a [friend/ colleague/ mentor]. However, I think any woman who ends up with you will be very lucky.
Colleague or Supervised Person
And if the circumstances were appropriate, I would also add: PS: I am organising a team happy hour next week. Could you help me?
Now mind you, this would be my way of handling any social awkwardness, by approaching it head on as I am not the type to ignore situations or let it fester into awkward passive-aggressiveness or heavily depend on HR to solve interpersonal relationships. I also think it's best to send out an email so the other party can avoid embarrassment after rejection that might occur in a face-to-face meeting. I also think an email response of this nature gives time to the other party to take some time to think about their rejection and save face. In addition, asking for the other's party help in regards to a light social event for the entire team might help to relieve embarrassment and pressure from the other party, so they can focus on something pleasant and not feel humiliated and outcasted.
Truth is, a lot of men have egos. So can women, but historically women have been better at navigating through situations that require emotional intelligence. This isn't to say that sexual harassment doesn't happen, and certainly there exists cases of an extreme or even questionable nature that should be dealt with accordingly. However, I think a colleague who has an one-sided crush should be given the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately jumping on the sexual harassment bandwagon.
Now imagine, instead that I were to send a very blunt email telling the colleague to "back off creepy stalker!" or forward the email to HR which would eventually get back to him. He would probably not only feel rejected, but completely humiliated, and when people are humiliated, they end up resorting to a grudge match or look for revenge. This is basic human psychology. When someone is humiliated, that person will keep an eye out for a time when he or she will get payback. This leads to competition and internal fighting. I think that is why it is always in one's best interest to reject potential suitors and admirers as kindly as possible. Being kind is not the same as being wishy-washy, passive-aggressive and lacking a backbone. You can be strong, firm and kind. Nothing bad ever happens when you take time to be kind to someone.
Onto other analyses, currently the stock market has moved out of consolidation form a week early. This could potentially have two ramifications:
1) The 161.8% fibonacci retracement level will be tested again- with the SPY potentially moving towards 210.42 in the next couple of weeks. However because the consolidation time again has been shorter, there is potential for another correction at the 202 or 204 levels, before reaching the 161.8% fibonacci retracement level at 210.41.
2) End of last week's formation showed a continuation of a bullish trend where the next significant level will be at the 161.8% fibonacci retracement level at 210.41. After this level has been reached, a stronger correction is possible due to a shorter consolidation period and pullback to 198 or towards the support line.
Also, this has been the first time since 2011 in which the S&P and gold have moved out of an inverse relationship:
Again, the gloom and doom predictions by the media a month ago seem to have been all but forgotten, but I would be careful for those hedge funds out there not to buy the top.
By Sierra Choi
[Disclaimer: This post is not intended as any legal nor stock market advice and is for educational purposes only.]
When I first meet people, people have sometimes told me later that they had the impression that I come from an ultra privileged background and imagined that I spent much of my youth on holiday traveling to exotic locales. Everyone has unconscious biases, and this impression couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is that my parents were hard-working immigrants who worked seven days a week to give me an education. Everything they didn't have growing up, they had tried to provide for me.
I remember in elementary and middle school, all of my friends would go on holiday or summer camp, but I never had a month off. From 3rd to 6th grade, during the summers, I was enrolled at the local community college and took computer courses and critical thinking courses. At that time, my father was working for the Chevron Corporation and the entire office was outfitted with Apple computers. He told me it was incredibly important that I become computer literate because understanding technology was the key to all future endeavors. It was the early 90s and I wanted to take ballet and horseback riding lessons like all the other girls, but instead I learned the basics of how to program in ASIC. I was one of two girls in the summer class, and the other girl, Maria and I would play 2D games such as Super Mario Brothers and Bushido after our classes. Previously, I wanted to pursue gymnastics, as I had excelled in the sport when I was seven years old, and won several awards; but after doing research, my father decided that the life of a gymnast was not for me. He concluded that gymnastics coaches abuse their gymnasts and they are put on medications at an early age that stunted their growth, he told me. Instead, I was enrolled in martial arts: Hapkido and later, Shindo Jinen Ryu, which is a Japanese form of karate that incorporates aikido, jujitso and kendo. Out of a class of 40, again, there were only 3 females in the course. For the next 10 years, as I moved up in rank from a white belt, it was me, Jenna and Jenna's sister who comprised of the only girls in the class.
Me, demonstrating a defensive move as a 2nd grader (left, in a ponytail) and receiving my green belt at 11 years old (right). I was one of 3 girls in my martial arts class.
As a child, I was always surrounded by books, to a chaotic degree. Our house had books everywhere. My friends even dubbed my house: The Library. My father had a love of books and reading, and we had piles of books in every room. Every week, my father and I would make a trip to the bookstore and I would choose 10-12 books to read that week. I graduated from middle school with the most amount of book reports ever written: over 200 in a single year. No one was even close to breaking my record. My father taught me how to write essays: The opening sentence has to catch people's eye, he told me. He tutored me every morning from 5am to 7am in math and science before he left for work. With a cavalier attitude, I've always told people math came easy for me, but in reality, it was due to all the hours my father had invested in me.
Sundays were the only time when my father would be home early from work at 6pm. My father taught me the value of cuisine. I was at that age in middle school, a preteen, when I was beginning to think that cooking was a kind of slight against feminism and due to the influences of the US media, that the modern woman didn't dare enter the kitchen. However, my father taught me about the art of cooking, and how important it was to nourish yourself with fresh, whole foods. He built a garden in the backyard of our modest suburban home, and would let me choose which vegetables I wanted to grow. Whilst my friends went on skiing trips every weekend to Lake Tahoe; on every Sunday, my father and I would choose one recipe from my vegetarian cookbook to try. It's important to follow the basics of every recipe, but it doesn't have to be exact, he told me, and you can choose to add and change what you want. You can be consistent, but every chef is different.
My signature dish as a child was something called the "meatless loaf". A plant-protein based dish with vegetables, beans and nuts.
However, at University, I became disillusioned. During my junior year, I wanted to drop out and move to Paris. I didn't like some of my Professors and was just beginning to understand the politics of being a part of academia. There was a level of sycophancy in academia that I wasn't comfortable with, and the highest scorers were always the ones who repeated whatever the Professor said, word for word. I didn't have a plan, but like every other 19-year-old, I was filled with a kind of arrogance and couldn't find the value of my courses, when really, I felt that I learned most things that I pursued on my own time anyway. My father would have none of it.
We are not quitters. It is always important to finish what you start, my father told me. You may not see value in it now, but you will later. Indeed, he was right.
Despite the fact that my father worked seven days a week, he always made time to instill important values which have been important in my evolution as a woman.
I think women entrepreneurs are inevitably different from male entrepreneurs. When VCs talks about entrepreneurs, I find that many are attracted to the sort of man they would like to be. This is an unconscious bias. We are all attracted to people that we want to emulate. Travis Kalanick is popular, not only because he is a charismatic speaker but because men want to emulate him. The fact that Uber's burn rate in China alone is $1 billion per year alone should raise some red flags, but it has not affected the fervor of late stage fundings. He is probably the only entrepreneur who has been able to successfully raise billions just months after raising billions. He is the lead in an action movie, and he is the epitome of what men would like to be. However, women entrepreneurs face a different journey because we have to unravel decades of cultural normative thinking, in addition to navigating through the values of what women should be.
Sara Blakely (left), billionaire founder of Spanx, took 2 years to launch her prototype whilst working at another full-time job. Lynda Weinman (right) founder of Lynda.com was a full-time designer and educator who spent 2 years to launch her educational site.
Although many people cite that as an entrepreneur- one can't work on ideas on a part-time basis, or on the weekends, and that it is important to jump in- all or nothing, I find this sort of advice contradictory to progress. I find that the most successful entrepreneurs- male or female, tend to be strategic thinkers. They are not the types who gamble, but are calculated risk takers. Gamblers look at statistics and think they have a 1/100 chance of winning or even a 50/50 chance, and bet it all on black or red, or else jump in head first into an empty swimming pool. This is the kind of risk that is damaging to VC communities, people who are careless and lack a cohesive strategy.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs who take time to carefully build their prototype instead of rushing it out 3 months after the formation of their company, I think are more likely to succeed. Certainly, there are types of startups that are based on one simple app- perhaps it's that app that made your phone look like a beer glass or others that take virtually no time to launch, like a travel rental website, but those aren't the sort of companies that I find compelling, although I have nothing against pure slapstick fun or travel, I just prefer to focus my attention on startups that are ambitious enough to make an effect on at least 1 billion people in a positive way.
The one-hit wonder: the iBeer app, one of the most popular apps of 2008
Currently I am working with a startup that is based on BCI (Brain Computer Interface) that has the ability to change the treatment options for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and stroke victims. I asked the founder how long it would take him to produce his MVP and when he told me one month, I was very surprised.
I asked him, "You can build this in one month?!" Ah, yes, but he explained to me that he actually took 2 years to build his prototype whilst he had been a full-time PhD student. Similarly, another friend of mine who is a founder of a financial monitoring firm in London told me that he took 2 years to build his prototype, and he did this whilst having a full-time job as a software engineer. Another founder I've come to know, Julian McCrea of Portal Entertainment, a Greenwich based startup which analyses visual information to target emotion-based advertisement in users and has landed coveted deals with Warner Bros and other Hollywood studios, told me it took him 2 years to research and develop his idea before launching the prototype. In terms of other visible founders, Sara Blakely, the self-made billionaire of Spanx, also took 2 years to produce her prototype whilst she had a full-time job.
I've found that entrepreneurs who are quick to launch something without a strategy are the ones who aren't in it for the long-run. This "all-or-nothing" mentality is actually a misnomer to entrepreneurship because oftentimes, I find that if VCs themselves are not entrepreneurs, they only see the result, and not the process it took to get there. Fast-forwarding to the result is not possible without going through the process. Rome wasn't built in a day. Execution is important, and an army charging blindly into the enemy without a plan is a sure route to failure. I think that is one of the main reasons why 90+% of startups fail. Too many entrepreneurs are told to "just do it" without a strategy and people often misinterpret and cite the Lean Method to make an argument that strategists who think carefully and make calculated risks are somehow not as able as those who jump in head first without thinking and randomly try everything until they finally find one win on black by their audience. Advice like "your prototypes should take less than 90 days to build" is antagonistic to entrepreneurship, it's more akin to gambling.
Calculated risk-takers are strategists rather than gamblers.
And gamblers are different from calculated risk takers. However, despite that gamblers can often be charming, they are not in it for the long haul. They are in it for the short-term. They are 1 get-rick-quick scheme away from infomercials.
I find entrepreneurs who spend 2 years in development without a salary are typically not the gambler types. They are in it for the long haul. If they did it whilst having a full-time job and facing professional and personal challenges, more kudos to them. They know how to manage their responsibilities and time and those are important characteristics I think all successful founders share.
I learned from my father that investing in time and people are one of the most important qualities to have in a world that may often seem to be filled with ever changing disposable roles. Big ideas are worth striving for, and people are the most important resource in any organisation.
By Sierra Choi