If there’s one thing that irritates me more than government agencies making bold proclamations about making progress in cancer but not providing sufficient funding to have even a shot of realizing such ambitions (I’m talking to you, Cancer Moonshot), it’s people in other disciplines that are not cancer biology making bold proclamations about how they’re going to “solve” cancer or coming up with new “theories” to explain cancer. That’s not to say that cancer research can’t benefit from new perspectives from different sciences and disciplines can bring or new ways of thinking about the problem of cancer. I might seem arrogant, but, whether I am arrogant or not, I’m not that arrogant. What irritates me so much is that these scientists who are not cancer biologists inevitably come across as arrogantly overconfident, not to mention as condescending. The attitude seems to be: How come you cancer biologists never thought of this before? How come you never saw this before? Of course, in some cases, cancer biologists did think of this before and did see this before, but ended up rejecting it because it didn’t fit with the evidence.

Perhaps the best example of this occurred a few years ago when two astrophysicists, Paul Davies and Charley Lineweaver, decided to jump into the cancer research business with a concept they called atavism as a cause for cancer. Basically, the idea was that cancer is an evolutionary “throwback” to the dawn of intracellular life. Of course, having admittedly “no prior knowledge of cancer,” Lineweaver and Davies had stumbled upon a very old idea without realizing how old it was. Indeed, they seemed to think they were the first to have thought of it. As I pointed out at the time, there can be advantages to brining in scientists from different disciplines, but one consequence of doing so is that they often don’t know which hypotheses that have been considered before and rejected based on the evidence and therefore frequently act as though they were the first to have thought of a new hypothesis. As blogger Darren Saunders put it at the time, Lineweaver and Davies remind one of a doctor who reinvented calculus.

Or this:

Earlier this week, I sensed a similar, but related phenomenon when I started seeing headlines like this one in The Independent, Microsoft will ‘solve’ cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus, says company. My first reaction when I read that headline was stunned disbelief that anyone could be so arrogantly ignorant as to make a statement that definitive without apparently knowing much about cancer—or biology for that matter. To be fair, I decided to read the article, because I know that headlines don’t always match what was actually said; let’s just say they tend to strip nuance from the statement.

Silly me:

Microsoft says it is going to “solve” cancer in the next 10 years.

The company is working at treating the disease like a computer virus, that invades and corrupts the body’s cells. Once it is able to do so, it will be able to monitor for them and even potentially reprogramme them to be healthy again, experts working for Microsoft have said.

The company has built a “biological computation” unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer.

And:

“The field of biology and the field of computation might seem like chalk and cheese,” Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research’s Cambridge-based lab, told Fast Company. “But the complex processes that happen in cells have some similarity to those that happen in a standard desktop computer.”

As such, those complex processes can potentially be understood by a desktop computer, too. And those same computers could be used to understand how cells behave and to treat them.

Yes, there is a resemblance between cancer and computing in much the same way that counting on your fingers resembles a supercomputer. The hubris of this project is unbelievably. Seriously> I thought antivaccinationists demonstrated the arrogance of ignorance, but they’ve got nothing on Microsoft. (Of course, it is Microsoft.) My reaction was virtually identical to Derek Lowe’s, only with more…Insolence. Indeed, he perfectly characterized the attitude of people like Linweaver, Davies, and now Bishop as a “Gosh darn it fellows, do I have to do everything myself?” attitude. Yes, those of us in cancer research and who take care of cancer patients do tend to get a bit…testy…when someone like Bishop waltzes onto the scene and proclaims to breathless headlines that he’s going to solve cancer in a decade because he has an insight that you stupid cancer biologists never thought of before: The cell is just a computer, and cancer is like a computer virus. (Hey, you know, viruses cause some cancers; so why not make the analogy to computer viruses?)

Basically, what Microsoft is doing is yet another machine learning approach to cancer. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any objection to computational approaches to biology, cancer, and the treatment of disease. Quite the contrary. What chaps my posterior here isn’t necessarily the concept. If you hose off the many layers of hubris and bullshit behind Microsoft’s initiative, there might be a germ of a good idea there. In fact, if you strip the bullshit away, you’ll see that even Microsoft seems to realize that it’s overpromising:

Microsoft says that solution could be with us within the next five or ten years.

Andrew Philips, who leads Microsoft’s biological computation group, told The Telegraph that in as little as five years it hopes to be able to develop a system for detecting problems. “It’s long term, but … I think it will be technically possible in five to ten years’ time to put in a smart molecular system that can detect disease.”

Um, I have news for you. There are lots of research groups who’ve been working on this sort of problem for a long time in clinical medicine and oncology. Indeed, check out this review article, which shows that, while there aren’t a huge number of scientific papers being published each year on machine learning tools to predict cancer and cancer recurrence, there are a respectable number, and that number is growing. Such tools are being applied to genomic and proteomic data—and have been for years. This is not a new thing. And notice what Andrew Phillips says: In five-to-ten years maybe he can come up with a smart molecular system to detect disease. Those of you who’ve read my many posts about overdiagnosis and overtreatment know that detecting cancer at ever earlier stages will not necessarily result in better outcomes or improved survival. It will, however, make overdiagnosis (i.e., the detection of subclinical disease that would never progress to cause a problem within the lifetime of the patient) much more likely, and overdiagnosis always leads to some degree of overtreatment. (See breast cancer and prostate cancer.) We’ve been down this road before.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Maybe Microsoft has a new way of applying machine learning to cancer. Maybe it has new ways of modeling the cellular processes that lead to cancer. If so, its software engineers would do well to talk less and code more, instead of saying something like this:

“The field of biology and the field of computation might seem like chalk and cheese,” Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research’s Cambridge-based lab, told Fast Company. “But the complex processes that happen in cells have some similarity to those that happen in a standard desktop computer.”

As such, those complex processes can potentially be understood by a desktop computer, too. And those same computers could be used to understand how cells behave and to treat them.

If that were possible, then those computers wouldn’t only be able to understand why cells behave as they do and when they might be about to become cancerous. They’d also be able to trigger a response within a cell, reversing its decision and reprogramming it so that it is healthy again.

Model intracellular processes leading to cancer and look for ways to reverse the process? Well, golly gee! Why didn’t cancer researchers think of that? It’s only what they’ve been trying to do for the last 100 years! What is systems biology but doing exactly that, using genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data? What is “precision medicine” but almost exactly this? After over 15 years of having the tools to analyze the expression of every gene in a cell simultaneously and the computational power to model it, we’re only just scratching the surface of systems biology and computational biology, and Microsoft is going to “solve” this problem in five to ten years. Would that it were so easy! As another blogger put it, it “would be great if genetics were just one big Intel Core I7 that one could program in binary assembly language after decoding its instruction set, but I have doubts it’s that simple.”

Here’s the thing. Cancer biology like all biology, is probabilistic, not deterministic. Computers are deterministic. Their instructions consist of binary strings of 0s and 1s. True, computers can model probabilistic situations, the number of possible outcomes rapidly becomes incredibly large, and in cancer biology the number of potential interactions is astronomical. Worse, we don’t understand many of the alterations in cancer cells. As I’ve pointed out many times before, cancer cells are really messed up, and, worse, cancers themselves, thanks to the power of evolution, are made of a very heterogeneous bunch of cells with a very messed up genome. That’s why cancer researches like Derek Lowe (and I) get a bit testy reading this sort of thing:

I have beaten on this theme many times on the blog, so for those who haven’t heard me rant on the subject, let me refer you to this post and the links in it. Put shortly – and these sorts of stories tend to put actual oncology researchers in a pretty short mood – the cell/computer analogy is too facile to be useful. And that goes, with chocolate sprinkles on it, for all the subsidiary analogies, such as DNA/source code, disease/bug, etc. One one level, these things do sort of fit, but it’s not a level that you can get much use out of. DNA is much, much messier than any usable code ever written, and it’s messier on several different levels and in a lot of different ways. These (which include the complications of transcriptional regulation, post-transcriptional modification, epigenetic factors, repair mechanisms and mutation rates, and much, much, more), have no good analogies (especially when taken together) in coding. And these DNA-level concerns are only the beginning! That’s where you start working on an actual therapy; that’s what we call “Target ID”, and it’s way, way back in the process of finding a drug. So many complications await you after that – you can easily spend your entire working life on them, and many of us have.

And I haven’t even mentioned the role of processes like epigenetics, the immune system, and all the other myriad biological processes that contribute to cancer. Nor have I mentioned that using machine learning on the medical literature, as also proposed by Microsoft, will be limited by the fact that there are a lot of crappy studies in the literature. Then there’s the consideration that the analogy itself is suspect. Computers are designed, programmed, and debugged by human beings. Organisms and cancers are the result of millions of years of biological evolution.

I’ll leave Microsoft with this analogy, quoting Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Well, cancer is complicated. Microsoft will find out how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly complicated it is. I mean, you might think it’s complicated to trick people into upgrading to Windows 10, but that’s peanuts compared to cancer.

An analogy, and a relevant xkcd cartoon:

Yep that about sums it up.

Comments

  1. #1 Megpie71
    Behind a keyboard in Australia
    September 23, 2016

    Unfortunately, if this continues, you’re going to get a lot of exposure to the other wonderful tendency which is common to computer programmers, engineers, and senior managers: the tendency to believe if they can’t do something, it must be simple to do. (The IT sector is a breeding ground for examples of Dunning-Kruger syndrome like practically nowhere else on earth. Even politics doesn’t come close).

    This is why specialist computer programmers are the strongest believers in the idea of artificial intelligence Real Soon Now (while neuro-psychologists and psychologists who deal in questions about the definition of intelligence and the way the human brain works are much more sceptical). It’s why computer engineers believe we’re going to be capable of building self-sustaining space-faring colonies within their lifetimes (while biologists and sociologists laugh hollowly into their caffienated-beverage-of-choice at the notion). It’s why the whole notion of terraforming is popular among the geeky set in the IT industry (and not among the geeky sets in agriculture, construction or biology).

    Essentially, these guys have no idea how much they don’t know about just about every other field going, and they’re entirely too damn impressed with how much they know about coding.

  2. #2 RichardR
    September 23, 2016

    These Microsoft people may want to look into the phenomenon of ’emergenge’, whereby a system based on even a few simple rules can exhibit stunningly complex behavior – behavior that cannot be predicted, and can only be steered by trial-and-error. A very good example is Langton’s Ant, where only two rules in a very simple checkerboard universe produce consistent yet complex and unpredictable results.
    As far as we know, quite a lot of what goes on in living organisms is based on emergence as a product of iterative evolution. This means that even a million years of looking at the ‘code’ (e.g. DNA) won’t tell you how it works, let alone how to fix it if it doesn’t work properly. This doesn’t mean we might as well give up research in cellular and molecular biology, but it does mean that there are probably a lot of processes going on that we can’t fully understand for very fundamental reasons, and that we must be very careful about simplistic claims such as ‘breaking the code’.

    Then again, this is Microsoft talking, whose words have always been light years ahead of what their Word (and other products) actually delivered…

  3. #3 Helianthus
    September 23, 2016

    I read Derek Lowe’s take on this yesterday on the Pipeline’s blog. The biologists and chemists in the comment section were not impressed by Microsoft, either.

    A few comments are worth reading for the lolz. Expect to hear a lot about the blue screen of death.
    I liked the one about calling the tech support center.

    They’d also be able to trigger a response within a cell, reversing its decision and reprogramming it so that it is healthy again.

    It sounds so much like the usual alt-med tripe about “the cure for cancer they don’t want you to know”. One cure for all cancers.
    Also, when I first read it, I thought we were talking about reversing entropy, here. I mean, it’s like extinguishing a forest fire; it’s well and good, but the burned trees stay burned.

    So the MS guys want to design a nanobot which will
    – fit inside a cell and not disrupt its physiological processes
    – detect physiological and/or genetic changes indicative of a cell “deciding” to go the cancer route
    – optionally but optimally, repair the cell and make it non-cancerous again

    For the first one, I’m no specialist in micro- and nano-robotics, so I cannot judge the feasibility with current or next-to-current technology. Although I have this bad feeling that the MS guys are no more robotic experts than they are cancer experts, either. Actual robotics specialists may want to chime about waste heat and other trivial issues.
    Maybe these issues are not insurmountable, but 5 years to get a working prototype is very likely an awfully optimistic objective.

    The second one – very tricky. As the oncologists could point out, we have some success on the macro scale when looking for specific cancers. But to create a miniaturized, all-purpose sensor and fit it into something small enough to go into the cell… Neither the knowledge nor the technology is here yet.
    And let’s not talk about the impossibility of fitting an oncologist inside the cell along the nanobot to interpret the data and make a diagnosis. Well, maybe we can use remote access – so the nanobots should have some sort of I/O interface to the outside, as well. All 10 billions of them (one per cell). It’s just getting better and better.

    Finally, repairing the cell. It if was just killing the cell, that would be a mere trifle, compared to all the other requirements. To repair genetic damage or influence cell metabolism, the nanobot will need to pack a lot of information (most of the host’s DNA code, for genetic repair), plus processing/decision power, plus the mechanical/chemical tools to do the job.
    All of this in a non-toxic, long-lasting, non-bugged package, much smaller than the cell it’s inside, cell which is already bulging with very similar information and tools. .
    A tall order. I’m afraid we will need Tardis technology.

  4. #4 Andrew Dodds
    United Kingdom
    September 23, 2016

    Helianthus –

    You could – just* – consider a nanobot capable of detecting chromosomes different to the ‘normal set’ for a patient, and killing any cell in the body with abnormal chromosomes. That’s a *bit* simpler than trying a specific detect-and-repair. (Let’s ignore red blood cells, reproductive cells et al).

    Even then, you can bet that some cancers would evolve in a way that stopped the nanobot from gaining entry, and the potential side effects could be catastrophic.

    *just as in ’50 years assuming lots of progress’

  5. #5 Helianthus
    September 23, 2016

    @ Andrew Dodds

    You could – just* – consider a nanobot capable of detecting chromosomes different to the ‘normal set’ for a patient

    Yes, but as I pointed out, the nanobot will need some sort of reference of what a “normal set” is, either external or internal. That would take some room.

    Worse, I think that differentiated somatic cells don’t have the same exact DNA package from one tissue to the next; the nanobot will need different references for different somatic cells – or at the minimum know which DNA parts are important and which ones are fine to overlook.
    And as you said, potential side-effects would be catastrophic. It’s going to be a lot more complex than “five to ten years time”.

    To be fair/open-minded, one can dream and imagine we will find a molecule, or a short collection of molecules, which are indicative of the cell going nuts. This could include some specific chromosome chemical damage. That would simplify the programming of the nanobot a lot (up to not using a nanobot at all, but just some fancy new chemo or immunotherapy). That’s something biologists have been chasing for some time, actually.

  6. #6 Quark
    September 23, 2016

    @Andrew Dodds

    “consider a nanobot capable of detecting chromosomes different to the ‘normal set’ for a patient, and killing any cell in the body with abnormal chromosomes”

    -> To me, any ‘nanobots’ therapy doesn’t really sound realistic. Because of the brownian effect, you can hardly ‘guide’ a robot to the right spot, you only work with probabilities (as orac said). Anyway, if you create a compound nanosized, it is a molecule, so you are back to square 1 : a drug. Likely a drug with high specificity to only target the diseased cells (expressing some specific cell-surface marker), which what cancer research is trying to do for years.

  7. #7 Quark
    September 23, 2016

    I’ll add that you couldn’t do any ‘bot’ with any kind of ‘memory’ nanosized bot anyway, because we have already kind of hit the min size for most of the electronic composant in our smarphone (lower scale would complexify the things a lot, because irregularities in the matter composing the different part of the device would induce a lot of problems).

  8. #8 Ian
    September 23, 2016

    Read the full article from Microsoft (http://news.microsoft.com/stories/computingcancer/), instead of the summary from the Independent. I think the Independent story has latched onto the most sensational bits, which exaggerates the hubris. Most of the MSFT article has nothing to do with MSFT solving cancer, but rather about how computer scientists can help biologists by providing better computational tools, enabling biologists to take greater advantage of machine learning to be more efficient. And the cell programming is fully acknowledged as a moonshot, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing.

    • #9 Orac
      September 23, 2016

      I did read the full article. It’s only slightly less full of hubris than the coverage in The Independent and elsewhere.

  9. #10 The Vodka Diet Guru
    England
    September 23, 2016

    From the horse’s mouth, without journalists summarising and giving it the click-bait treatment:
    http://news.microsoft.com/stories/computingcancer/

    Essentially, it lists different applications of machine learning and the Azure cloud that can be used by scientists to research cancer.
    Note how the original title
    “How Microsoft computer scientists and researchers are working to ‘solve‘ cancer”
    is more modest than the interpretation used by the Independent and everyone else. Also, in my view, these are testimonials by people with biology and medical background, who then work with technology, rather than random techy guy encroaching in the domain of medical research.

    Partial disclosure: I work with Microsoft and their technology for a living 🙂

    • #11 Orac
      September 23, 2016

      Which I read. See my comment above. For example, from the press release:

      At Microsoft’s research labs around the world, computer scientists, programmers, engineers and other experts are trying to crack some of the computer industry’s toughest problems, from system design and security to quantum computing and data visualization.

      A subset of those scientists, engineers and programmers have a different goal: They’re trying to use computer science to solve one of the most complex and deadly challenges humans face: Cancer.

      And:

      One approach is rooted in the idea that cancer and other biological processes are information processing systems. Using that approach the tools that are used to model and reason about computational processes – such as programming languages, compilers and model checkers – are used to model and reason about biological processes.

      Ah, yes. The “biology is information” hypothesis. Maybe so, but almost certainly not in the way Microsoft thinks. It’s many orders of magnitude more complex than anything they’ve tackled before.

      Color me less than impressed. None of this is particularly new or innovative, at least not in concept. Maybe Microsoft has innovative methodology to achieve these concepts. I hope so.

      That’s not to say it’s not worth doing, but, holy hell, tone down the claims and show some awareness of the state of the field,

  10. #12 palindrom
    September 23, 2016

    It’s a pity that Davis and Lineweaver succumbed to this physics-hubris temptation. They did contribute a lovely pedagogical article some time ago on the behavior of observer horizons in an expanding cosmology, that many here would find to be quite interesting and relatively accessible:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0310808

  11. #13 Chris Hickie
    September 23, 2016

    Not to be outdone….

    The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative just announced one of its biggest investments to date: It is ponying up more than $3 billion to kickstart “Chan Zuckerberg Science,” an initiative that plans to bring together multidisciplinary teams of scientists in an effort to prevent, cure or manage “all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” ( http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/21/494908196/chan-zuckerberg-initiative-announces-3-billion-investment-to-cure-disease )

    I like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s much more specificGlobal Polio Eradicatioin Initiative. Now, would someone with a lot of money please go after measles?

  12. #14 machintelligence
    Top of the heap (relatively speaking)
    September 23, 2016

    An adage from the computer age of dinosaurs 40 years ago (mainframes and punch cards): Computer programmers are always willing to tell you that they can solve all of your problems — without knowing what those problems are.
    Things haven’t changed much.

  13. #15 herr doktor bimler
    September 23, 2016

    its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers

    I have read “Blood Music”. This never ends well.

  14. #16 Orac
    September 23, 2016

    Heheh. So have I. Greg Bear is one of my favorite SF writers.

  15. #17 MarkN
    September 23, 2016

    Gives a whole new meaning to the Blue Screen of Death.

    Isn’t this outside of the Microsoft model anyway? Typically someone else develops the proper solution so that it can be …….

  16. #18 Mike
    September 23, 2016

    This happens in Ag sciences a lot as well. Groups with no Agricultural scientists will make all kinds of proclamations about what farmers should or could be doing without having an understanding behind the science of why farmers are doing something now.

    This seems to come from people with a background in government policy. There was the federal government announcing the cancer moonshot, so the computer people used the same time frame as the policy people developed.

  17. #19 Vicki
    September 23, 2016

    It’s not as though they’ve just invented bioinformatics. I’m related to a bioinformatician (who got his Ph.D. in the field in the late 1990s), and he says that he is pleased to be helping build tools to build tools that people may use to help find cures. Not “it’s just code, therefore it’s easy.”

    Or, my more cynical thought: have Microsoft get back to us when they have solved the problem of computer viruses and other forms of malware.

    • #20 The Vodka Diet Guru
      England
      September 23, 2016

      RE: the cynical thought about computer viruses and Microsoft – and let’s be clear I don’t speak on their behalf – I will paraphrase what I heard at Microsoft UK headquarters last year:

      If there was a way to eliminate 90% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild, and to do so automatically at zero cost… would you be interested? Then switch on Automated updates on Windows, and looking at historic data that is exactly what happens: There’s new exploits coming up all the time, but of all those that are already known, there’s new patches coming up all the time that can be applied free of charge for products that are under the normal support period.
      (end of paraphrasing 🙂 )

      IMHO, in this day and age, it takes more than passive negligence to get a virus on your PC.
      The problems that were common in the 1990s and 00s with viruses are very easy to avoid. Be it viruses in executable files, trojans, email-carried malware, executables not being recognised as being from unknown sources… all easy to avoid now, and completely different from 15 years ago. How good would it be if the same sort of outcome was achieved by research of cancer/any other disease?

  18. #21 Terrie
    September 23, 2016

    Megpie71, I work in IT Support. Software engineers are amazingly arrogant. They can create programs to do all sorts of complex things, yet can’t figure out to add a printer. It’s oddly impressive.

  19. #22 herr doktor bimler
    September 23, 2016

    have Microsoft get back to us when they have solved the problem of computer viruses and other forms of malware.

    They solved the problem of malware by rebranding it as a feature and calling it Windows 10.

  20. #23 Marry Me, Mindy
    United States
    September 23, 2016

    I gotta say one thing, that Microsoft does have a lot of experience in trying to remove computer viruses.

    Of course, if they could actually do something to PREVENT them, it might be more helpful.

  21. #24 Renate
    September 23, 2016

    It would be nice if Microsoft did devellop a version of Windows where one don’t need new drivers for all outside equipment, drivers that aren’t made, because the product is no longer available, but still very much functioning and usable, if it wasn’t for a missing driver for Windows.

    Perhaps Microsoft can stick to it’s trade, like the saying: ‘coblber stick to your trade’.

  22. #25 Jay
    September 23, 2016

    Renate, that might not be Microsoft’s fault. I come from an era before windows had drivers for anything, they came on a floppy disk(s). Windows providing drivers always seemed like a luxury to me.

  23. #26 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    September 23, 2016

    Microsoft arrogant? Perish the thought!
    Seriously though, I agree that like the cobbler sticking to his last, Microsoft should concentrate on what it does. The latest Windows 10 update was recently installed on my laptop. I am more than a little unhappy. Some of the “improvements” aren’t.

  24. #27 Ron Skurat
    September 23, 2016

    Megpie is correct – years ago I worked for a couple websites back when content provision was done in-house (i.e. the first dot-com boom) and there is absolutely nothing like the rank stupidity of IT “engineers.” Something about the over-determined character of programming, or, more likely the determinedly male-adolescent culture if IT, makes them think that their elaborate Sudoku game translates into complex systems.

  25. #28 The Danish Salmon of Doubt
    Dublin, Ireland, next stop the pub
    September 23, 2016

    disclaimer: I do work for Microsoft

    I read the linked article from MS. I have no connection at all to that group, but I thought much of it was fairly reasonable. On the other hand, I thought the independent article poor, I had visions of Nixon’s promise in the seventies when the article talks about a potential solution in 5 to 10 years. Really dislike that.

    The MS article on the other hand seemed ok to me. It called out several times that it was early days yet, it was clear that MS collaborates with pharma and other professionals. And remember, this is all Microsoft Research. Yes, they have programmers there, but the unique thing about it is that they also have experts in loads of other fields, after all, they are in the blue sky research. I would have thought that any investment in this is good, but agreed, lets have less of the over selling

  26. #29 Dave F
    Texas
    September 23, 2016

    In my humble opinion, simply, bold claims move people and solutions and the reference to the moonshot should help the Microsoft case.

    Having lost my own mother to cancer added to having worked for MSFT in the past, I am encouraged. I have seen the resources and people they have to bare on an issue like this. Also the amount of information and potential breakthroughs gained even by failure would be tremendous..

  27. #30 Politicalguineapig
    September 23, 2016

    Renate: t would be nice if Microsoft did devellop a version of Windows where one don’t need new drivers for all outside equipment, drivers that aren’t made, because the product is no longer available, but still very much functioning and usable, if it wasn’t for a missing driver for Windows.

    Or worse, sometimes an update *deletes* a driver entirely, especially if it’s not specifically a windows driver. I had that happen with the driver that links my ipod to my computer.

  28. #31 sadmar
    September 23, 2016

    Phillips said researchers benefit from Microsoft’s history as a software innovator.

    So they’re going to solve cancer by buying code from startups and making cludgey knock-offs of tech from Apple?

    If I didn’t know the hubris was real, I’d think this is a cynical PR move to get people to think MS can actually deal with computer virii, rather than rely on third-party add-ons that slow your computer to a crawl, interrupt your work constantly, and have to be changed to a different company annually, as one year’s top anti-virus software inevitably goes into the toilet the next year.

    If you want to eliminate 99% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild… you buy a Mac.

  29. #32 Rich Woods
    Not in Reading
    September 23, 2016

    @Vodka Diet Guru #20:

    and to do so automatically at zero cost

    Out here in the real world, automatic updates come with a cost. I’ll leave it to you to work out why.

  30. #33 Gilbert
    September 23, 2016

    Hmm. Windows CE, ME, and NT –CEMENT {designed to weigh computers down like a stone}

    The day M$FT makes a product that doesn’t suck will be when they start selling vacuum cleaners.

    Perhaps they will be able to make some advances in protein folding which, interestingly enough, is currently being crowdsourced:

    Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding…. The highest scoring solutions are analysed by researchers, who determine whether or not there is a native structural configuration (native state) that can be applied to relevant proteins in the real world. Scientists can then use these solutions to target and eradicate diseases and create biological innovations.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foldit

  31. #34 Karl Withakay
    September 23, 2016

    >>>>>
    “If there was a way to eliminate 90% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild, and to do so automatically at zero cost… would you be interested? Then switch on Automated updates on Windows, and looking at historic data that is exactly what happens:”

    OK, numerous problems with that statement.

    Zero day exploits are increasingly on the rise. Even if that 90% figure is historically accurate, don’t expect it to stay at that way going forward. (Of course, if everybody did turn on automatic updates, that 90% figure would surely change because the only exploits left in the wild would be the ones not covered by current patches)

    Also, not all threats are created equal. It’s possible for that remaining 10% to be at least as dangerous as the combined other 90%. Pop ups on your PC are generally less dangerous than cryptolockers, for example. Go ahead and click on that .exe in your email with your fully patched PC, and let me know how it works out for you.

    Current Antivirus & anti-malware with current definition updates are arguably far more important that a fully patched PC.

    An increasing proportion of threats are email phishing related. Good luck patching the humans against social engineering.

    And about that zero cost, that must be coming from an individual user and not someone involved in running a large IT enterprise. Managing pc patching in a decent sized organization is anything but zero cost, and you really can’t deploy patches as soon as they are released without some software testing and quality assurance in a big, complex environment. Letting PCs automatically update direct from Microsoft is a bad idea in any largeish computer base.

    but otherwise, spot on observation there. 🙂

  32. #35 JP
    September 23, 2016

    If you want to eliminate 99% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild… you buy a Mac.

    Or go Linux, but that presents its own problems.

  33. #36 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    September 23, 2016

    @sadmar:

    If you want to eliminate 99% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild… you buy a Mac.

    Or install Linux.

  34. #37 John Lemire
    Kirkland WA
    September 23, 2016

    I understand where you’re coming from but please take a couple things into consideration. Microsoft didn’t make these claims, an individual who works there did. I also work for Microsoft and had a similar reaction to the headline. This would be analogous to believing climatologists or meteorologists have the slightest clue as to the causes/predictions/modeling of global warming yet many “scientists” go along with the program despite the modeling being woefully simplistic, poor data integrity, heavy financial biases,etc.etc. Anyway while I on the other hand doubt this effort as a whole is unaware of the issues that you raise, I hope you volunteer your expertise and welcome whatever contributions they can make in 5-10 years. They may build a tool or find an insight that sparks a thought in someone such as yourself that eventually leads to something. I lost my father to cancer over 40 years ago so I am in the camp that feels the status quo is not progressing fast enough. Alternate perspectives help break group think which is a genuine concern in narrow fields where much of both the background and the specialized education is shared. Also consider that this is not an either or zero sum scenario. Yes computational power really is growing exponentially but that doesn’t rule out hybrid involvement of human insight. I can’t vouch for the truthfulness of this article but I can be inspired by it nonetheless, and if it is true it’s a real shame those specialists who like you “know how complex and hard” this really is didn’t reach out to the “gamers” a decade earlier. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110918144955.htm

  35. #38 Christine Rose
    September 23, 2016

    I have never lost data due to malware but have lost data many times due to automatic updates. Most malware comes from predictable channels (such as Java exploits in ads). Leaving aside the fact that these channels should never have been opened in the first place, it’s insane to say that the whole problem is that a lot of users don’t have automatic updates.

  36. #39 Okay
    September 23, 2016

    I get it seems a little cocky to make such an assertion, but at the same time, the author of this post is about as arrogant as they come too. Pot calling the kettle black much?

    In all fairness, MSFT is the largest software company in the world with more resources than any software company in the world. Comparing them to anyone else trying to do similar stuff is misunderstanding the environment and the level of resources you’re talking about.

    Say what you want about MSFT, but they have some of the most advanced technology and software in existence and more resources to put into it than anyone else. The author comes across bitter almost. Isn’t it a good thing that they’re putting resources into fighting cancer?

    Good grief, calm yourself!

  37. #40 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 23, 2016

    #1 Megpie 71

    Essentially, these guys have no idea how much they don’t know about just about every other field going, and they’re entirely too damn impressed with how much they know…

    Are you shure you’re not speaking of economists?

  38. #41 jrkrideau
    September 23, 2016

    sadmar
    If you want to eliminate 99% of the accumulated IT security threats and exploits that are in the wild… you buy a Mac.

    Julian
    Or install Linux

    Linux seems good.
    My computer was seized by a hijacking programs the other day. Red screen saying call this number, etc.

    My approach–sod that! My backups are up to date and I don’t use proprietary software.

    If I have to I’ll reinstall Ubuntu or buy a new hard drive.

    Hard reboot to computer, prepared to do a clean install from a USB. Ubuntu just nicely loaded with no trace of hijacking that I can see after about 4 days.

  39. #42 palindrom
    September 23, 2016

    This would be analogous to believing climatologists or meteorologists have the slightest clue as to the causes/predictions/modeling of global warming yet many “scientists” go along with the program despite the modeling being woefully simplistic, poor data integrity, heavy financial biases,etc.etc.

    Uh-oh.

  40. #43 palindrom
    September 23, 2016

    jkrideau — was your computer running Windows when it was hijacked?

  41. #44 palindrom
    September 23, 2016

    jkrideau — Sorry, stupid question on my part:

    I don’t use proprietary software.

    Next I’ll be asking, is this ham-and-cheese sandwich kosher?

  42. #45 Gilbert
    September 23, 2016

    I can’t vouch for the truthfulness of this article but I can be inspired by it nonetheless, and if it is true it’s a real shame those specialists who like you “know how complex and hard” this really is didn’t reach out to the “gamers” a decade earlier.

    Interesting, John Lemire.

    A hugely talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem: that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless. But meaning is what he already craves.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2333804/

  43. #46 Narad
    September 23, 2016

    Linux seems good.

    When the day comes, I’m going OpenBSD.

  44. #47 JustaTech
    September 23, 2016

    Ah yes, the “spherical cow on a frictionless plane” approach to biology. *sigh*

    I know a lot of people (though currently none at Microsoft) who work in computational biology. It really does have promise, particularly when there is a tight and strong relationship with researchers who are doing cell-based work.

    Basically the issue here is 1) super-hype article, 2) kinda-hype press release, 3) very excited computer scientists. I think the computer scientists and mathematicians will do some good research and make some useful tools that biologists ad clinicians will use. What we get out of the tools, well, that’s what we can’t know.

  45. #48 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 23, 2016

    # 43–44 Palindrome

    —was your computer running Windows when it was hijacked?

    Heavens no. Ubuntu 16.04.

    is this ham-and-cheese sandwich kosher?

    Do you want it to be?

  46. #49 palindrom
    September 23, 2016

    Well, I really do like ham-and-cheese sandwiches, so I suppose I’d prefer it to be kosher, but on the other hand I’m not constrained by kosher dietary laws so it doesn’t matter.

    What I of course meant was that I should have inferred from your post that of course you were not using Windows.

    I’m on Fedora, by the way, I think F24.

  47. #50 Orac
    September 23, 2016

    Basically the issue here is 1) super-hype article, 2) kinda-hype press release, 3) very excited computer scientists. I think the computer scientists and mathematicians will do some good research and make some useful tools that biologists ad clinicians will use. What we get out of the tools, well, that’s what we can’t know.

    Yep. Like I said, I’m all for computational biology and systems biology. I just don’t like overheated statements that (1) betray a lack of understanding of just how complex cancer is and (2) make it sound as though cancer researchers now don’t know what they’re doing.

  48. #51 JP
    September 23, 2016

    is this ham-and-cheese sandwich kosher?

    Do you want it to be?

    It could be if you used “happy ham,” which is not-so-fondly remembered from a Dharma Rain Zen Center Christmas dinner. The fake turkey was much more edible.

  49. #52 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 23, 2016

    # 51 JP
    happy ham,”
    Obviously a gourmet treat, . And fake turkey sounds, yes well, like something. I have had turkey bacon and I don’t recommend it either.

    I have never understood why, if you wanted a vegetarian diet you need to produce fake meats when you can do fantastic things with real vegan dishes.

  50. #53 JP
    September 23, 2016

    I have never understood why, if you wanted a vegetarian diet you need to produce fake meats when you can do fantastic things with real vegan dishes.

    Agreed, but my late great teacher had an attachment to having “meat” at holidays. He was also grill-master in the summers, with veggie sausages and grilled fruits and veggies.

    I have had turkey bacon and I don’t recommend it either.

    Turkey bacon was big when I lived in a big communal-kitchen house in Portland with multiple Jewish residents. (Laid back kosher kitchen; no separate dishes for everybody, but no pork or shellfish in the kitchen.) I can’t speak for it, since I was vegetarian at the time. I’ve been veg/vegan off and on for most of my adult life, but have given up on all that living out here, since it’s pretty much impossible given the culture and the dietary habits of my relatives. Well, also chicken wings. (I make a mean batch of buffalo wings myself these days.)

  51. #54 Wzrd1
    September 23, 2016

    Soooo, we can now expect Microsoft to cure our cancers and issue a patch to keep it away on Patch Tuesday.

    Seriously, the software needs a patch each and every month, it uses two characters to code it, 0 and 1. DNA has for characters.
    Systems interacting with systems, feedback systems, immune systems, yeah, that’ll be a lot of patches and service packs.

  52. #55 Gary O'Connor
    Australia
    September 23, 2016

    The attitude of the author is a little disturbing?

    It seems like he’s in a race to be the first to discover a cure for cancer rather than someone desperately trying to find ways to stop it and avert all the pain and suffering that those affected have to go through and he’ll be damned if some upstart who he feels is not as highly qualified as himself could possibly come along and, who knows, solve it before he does.

    I would have thought that his attitude should have been something like, ‘Well they’re a bit cocky but, with a bit of luck, they might just come up with something that will help because any research into this problem is welcome’?

    What has probably inspired this statement from Microsoft could have something to do with what they’re doing with data storage on DNA? Have a look here…

    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/04/microsoft-experiments-with-dna-storage-1000000000-tb-in-a-gram/

    Note these lines from that article….’The company’s main customers are research labs that insert custom genetic material into microbes to produce organisms that can perform useful chemical processes, such as producing desirable nutrients. ‘

    That is terribly exciting

    All you Mac and Linux geeks that are spreading your ABMer stuff on this blog ask yourself this question, What are Linux or Mac doing for cancer research? Oh, that’s right….Nothing.

    Let’s hope that Microsoft succeed or at least go partway to finding something that can help rid us of this terrible infliction.

    • #56 Wzrd1
      September 25, 2016

      Erm, Gary…
      First, it isn’t Linux or Mac, it’s Linux or Apple Computers, the former being open sourced, non-corporate and non-profit, the latter being a peer of Microsoft.
      Second, it’s a software corporation, not a biology corporation.
      Finally, you’re bitching at an oncologist, who has been repeatedly been disappointed in the past.

      With no due respect, I’ll stick with the oncologist’s view on oncology.

  53. #57 Ed
    UK
    September 24, 2016

    Yet another xkcd cartoon!
    http://xkcd.com/1736/

  54. #58 Daniel Corcos
    France
    September 24, 2016

    It seems quite easy: just shutdown the patient and restart.

  55. #59 gaist
    September 24, 2016

    “Uninstalling Cancer…..
    87552 hours remaining.”

    Certainly sounds like Microsoft.

  56. #60 Narad
    September 24, 2016

    I have never understood why, if you wanted a vegetarian diet you need to produce fake meats when you can do fantastic things with real vegan dishes.

    Well, define “fake meats.” Homemade veggie burgers can be delicious, which is what counts. Moosewood’s “BBQ” tempeh and tempeh Reubens are pretty tasty, etc. I’m not crazy about seitan, but you get my point.

    Given the strong possibility that I may soon have to take refuge with vegetarians (now ovo-lacto, formerly vegan), I’ve been thinking about cooking – the least I could do for someone with two boys who’s also running a lab.*

    So, OK, burritos are easy and pretty frugal, allow people to pick their fillings, have garnish variety and side-dish options, can be made in excess for the next day’s lunch, and . . . get dull fast. I’m seriously thinking about getting a can of jackfruit and testing out some of the recipes for jackfruit “carnitas” just for the hell of it.** What’s the real difference from using marinated and seared portobello mushrooms for a “meaty” note?

    * I also suspect that there have been a lot of single-dish meals going on.
    ** Making real ones is kind of a pain in the ass, anyway.

  57. #61 Narad
    September 24, 2016

    ^ Damn, I forgot to include an essential video review of Tofurkey by Gregory Ng.

  58. #62 Narad
    September 24, 2016

    ^^ I will give one thumbs-up for a mass-market seitan item: Companion brand curried gluten. It’s not exactly the most versatile stuff in the world, but I got hipped to it from an anecdote in the late Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook in which she served it to Paula Wolfert as a topping for toasted cheese bread.

    Seventh-Day Adventist cookery is something that I’ve never investigated.

  59. #63 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    September 24, 2016

    The most delicious restaurant meal I ever had was a vegetarian curry at an Indian restaurant in Cresta Shopping Center in Randburg.
    As an aside, I can’t have tofu. I can’t digest it.

  60. #64 Jeffm
    September 24, 2016

    I’m a hardware engineer – MCP, MCSE+I …

    This doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies at all. As a matter of fact, when Patch Tuesday rolls around, our team waits at least a week before applying the patches to the boxes on our network. Why? Because we don’t want to be beta testers. I’ve seen patches hose computers -by OEMs- so it’s equivalent to an involuntary phase 1 clinical trial.

  61. #65 Gilbert
    September 24, 2016

    gaist,
    Are you sure you want to remove cancer and all of it’s components?
    {uninstaller online 3rd party cancer provider — please tell us why you want to remove the product.}

  62. #66 Old Rockin' Dave
    With Bruce Boxleitner on a lightcycle...
    September 24, 2016

    Just a few stray interjections…
    1) I trust Microsoft to do difficult things right about as much as I trust the Mitch McConnell to do simple things right. Since the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, I have had to reset my Microsoft account password, can only sign in as “Other User”, can only use said MS password to sign in instead of my own unguessable PIN, and can’t add a family member account. And a few other annoyances that I’m sure are around the corner. I think I can do without them trying to update my pancreas.
    2) Apple is no Rolls Royce of home computing, either. Remember when Siri couldn’t tell you where to go for an abortion (Cortana tells me where to find prostitutes near me!)? They also came up with such works of genius as the hockey puck mouse and phones and tablets that can’t take a storage card or use USB OTG, or USB anything . Naturally, their phones only charge with hardware incompatible with every other wireless device on Earth and now, no headphone jack.
    3) We have four different diets in my little nuclear (Sorry, that should be renewable energy.) family. My daughter is a vegan and earnestly preaches the gospel of no animal products for any reason whatever, although she did grant me absolution for my two bovine heart valves (If she ever goes evangelical will she handle fake snakes (Or FakeSnakes – tastes like tofu chicken!))?). My wife is an ovo-lacto-pescatarian (That really sounds like a religion.). I’m a flexitarian – relatively small amounts of meat in defined circumstances, which for me is weekends and holidays. My son eats like he’s still in college, if he had gone to college in 1959. The fifth diet in the house is the dog’s, and the less said about that the better. The good thing about Young Rockin’ Daughter’s veganism is that she finally had to learn to cook – the drawback to that is that everything she makes tastes like kale in kale sauce. She also seems to believe in superfoods.
    (As you may notice, I sure do love my parentheses.)

  63. #67 rs
    September 24, 2016

    “(As you may notice, I sure do love my parentheses.)”

    You’ll just love https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisp_(programming_language)

  64. #68 Alain
    September 24, 2016

    Hi Orac,

    meet a similar tale in psychiatry:

    Minnesota’s Suicide Prevention Plan.

    Not a single psychiatrist was involved in the writeup of the document. Only one MD among the staff.

    Alain (whose Birthday was yesterday on the 23rd and I hit the 40’s crisis).

    • #69 Wzrd1
      September 25, 2016

      Thanks for the excellent information, Alain!
      That sounds like a plan developed by those feeling the need to “have a plan”, but unwilling to actually develop a real plan.

      Frankly, I find our mental health care system as one of a great embarrassment, a true disgrace.
      Have I used enough negatives to describe it?
      It actually makes me embarrassed to call myself a citizen of this land.

  65. #70 Robert L Bell
    September 24, 2016

    @Gary O’Connor

    What is LINUX doing for cancer research? For one thing, it’s not wasting valuable time and energy on pointless OS trivia – which apparently is a much bigger issue than you understand. For another, it doesn’t encourage really sloppy programming habits that lead inevitably to corrupted data and untrustworthy results.

    So there’s that.

  66. #71 Wzrd1
    September 25, 2016

    Oh, as for vegan diets, I’m a happy omnivore. That said, I have a tofu lasagna that’s to die for.
    Invented by necessity when dad was on dialysis.

  67. #72 Old Rockin' Dave
    September 25, 2016

    I have difficulties with math, but I think I see a flaw in Microsoft’s plan and I would like someone who can do it better to check me on this.
    Whenever we see the testimony regarding forensic DNA testing, we are told that the odds are approximately 1 in 50 bazillion or some other impossibly large number that anyone else is a match for the profile in question, in whole or in part. Now I doubt that the figures quoted are quite as decisive and unquestionable as all that, but the odds must still be pretty high, top prize in Power Ball high at the least. With so many possible variations of the human genome I would think that in many cases it would be impossible to tell whether a given profile is “normal” or not, as if anyone really knew what normal is. All this, and I am also pretty sure that there are a hell of a lot of surprises waiting as we delve into the “batteries not included” fine print of the genetic code that can’t even be guessed at yet – Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”.

  68. #73 weirdnoise
    September 25, 2016

    I use Linux, FreeBSD, and Darwin (i.e. MacOS). All are capable of running genomics software, as is Windows, and I’m sure good science is done on each. But the most sophisticated computation in genomics and other biomedical research is done on multiple computers at once, by the dozens or even hundreds.

    Microsoft is selling their “cloud computing” product, Azure, as a replacement for some of the university and corporate computing clusters used in research. For those unfamiliar with the concept, cloud computing is essentially a way of renting some fraction of a provider’s datacenter, whether a tiny fraction of a CPU and storage for editing your documents to large server farms, such as used by Netflix, who doesn’t own those servers but pays Amazon Web Services to serve every bit of content Netflix provides.

    And maybe “renting” isn’t even the right word here, since using some of the excess capacity to support medical research is wonderful PR, worth the expense for a while at least.

    Home computer use has been on the decline for several years, which is why MS has been driving toward touchscreen support for Windows along with a cloud-based software rental model. Given that consumer use of computation is increasingly done on phones and the Windows phone has bombed badly, they need new markets. Cloud computing, especially at the corporate level, is a rapidly growing market. And the fastest growing segment of that market is in research and engineering.

    It’s all about money.

  69. #74 Alain
    September 25, 2016

    Weirdnoise,

    I tend to think about the evolution of computing as written by Rob Landley when thinking about your statement (“Home computer use has been on the decline for several years, which is why MS has been driving toward touchscreen support for Windows along with a cloud-based software rental model.”)

    Mainframe -> minicomputer -> microcomputer (PC) -> smartphone

    At the moment, we need a host computer or an azure service to develop for the phones (iDevices, Android; I’m not overly concerned by M$) but later on, they’ll develop the capability to be self-hosting (tablet with 64GB of ram and a 1TiB PCIe SSD? Android do takes up a lot of disk space and compute to compile) and if not done by corporations (Samsung, LG, etc…I’m looking at you), it will be done by enterprising hardware hacker like the gang responsible for the Raspberry PI, the Parallella (Andreas Olofsson, spelling?) or even your’s truly (I got myself this book as a bday gift),

    I got some more url to post how that can be done but that will be done in a second post in which, I’ll also adress the probabilistic vs deterministic nature of cancer and computers.

    Alain

  70. #75 Murmur
    UK-ia
    September 25, 2016

    Alain @68

    That plan is pretty piss poor and Dawson’s critique of it seems very necessary.

    A while back over here someone was touting a model of alleged suicide prevention based on one used in Orac’s state: it was pretty poor too and excluded most of the highest risk groups…

    Disclaimer: assessment of self-harm was my main area of professional expertise, and I helped write multi-agency care pathways and training around the area which were well received.

  71. #76 Alain
    September 25, 2016

    As for the hardware equation, it is already known that we can use graphic cards to compute mathematical equation and one of the possibility is to use chemoinformatics to do the work needed to solve biological issues like cancer and to that end, the infrastructure needed to solve them start at markov-chain monte-carlo (don’t know if it has been implemented in hardware but graphic accelerators has the mathematical facility to implement it in software but have the calculation done in hardware); physics (see http://www.geforce.com/hardware/technology/physx) and probabilistics facilities (the kind of which is calculated in Schaum’s Outline of Probability, Random Variables, and Random Processes, 3rd Edition.

    Of course, these are starting points and not at all what is envisionned by Microsoft to help solve the problems eithers but yes, in my not so humble opinion, it is possible that computers develop the probabilistic compute capacity to help solve biological issues with the possibility that my null hypothesis is that I know just enough to be dangerous with my opinion and I don’t know enough about cancers to fully grasp the picture 😀

    Am I a fool? probably

    Big Al

  72. #77 Alain
    September 25, 2016

    In bold: Start at. nothing else was intended to use bold fonts.

    Al

  73. #78 Alain
    September 25, 2016

    Murmur,

    I do agree with your assessment. That said, I should be commenting in 2 weeks as I don’t have internet access at the rehab center (it is possible to have it but I need to use mobile internet key which depend on a fully functioning computer and about 145$ + taxes per month for the internet access itself…)

    Alain

  74. #79 Alain
    September 25, 2016

    That said, I downloaded about 1.5GB of source code to finish building the ‘puter (see linux from scratch http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/lfs/ and http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/blfs/) but coughing up the dough for the internet access will come later.

    Al

  75. #80 Gilbert
    September 25, 2016

    Maybe the’ll thread the cancer with slime molds:

    The extension to a much larger network of slime mold tubes could process nanoparticles and carry out sophisticated Boolean logic operations of the kind used by computer circuitry…

    “The slime mold based gates are non-electronic, simple and inexpensive

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327100335.htm

    The University of Leeds is trying to use bacteria to build hard drives, and there’s even potential to use salmon testes in storage devices. But Gale says that this type of research helps us do more than just create new types of computers. It also helps us understand life itself.

    “Computation might turn out to be the ‘killer app’ for understanding biological systems, the way that mathematics has turned out to be the killer app for understanding physical systems,”

    https://www.wired.com/2013/06/slime-mold-computers/

  76. #81 Narad
    September 25, 2016

    That plan is pretty piss poor and Dawson’s critique of it seems very necessary.

    If you want worse, check this out.

    • #82 Wzrd1
      September 25, 2016

      @Narad, re Northern Michigan U’s policy.
      Jesus Fucking H. Christ! What a bass ackwards policy, fully opposed to all current knowledge, literature, theory, practice and general sanity!
      Some idiot needs someone from HR to pull out a very tiny match, then while speaking “You are fired”.

      Excuse the profanity, but seriously, this is a *really* big, bad and damnably ugly big deal.
      Even the US Army knows better!

      I’m torn between wanting to find the idiot that penned this policy and tripping him or her with my cane and just vomiting.
      The latter is winning, so nauseous has that level of incompetent stupidity has made me!

  77. #83 JP
    September 25, 2016

    Narad beat me to it. I’m guessing that the trauma of having a friend actually commit suicide would be far worse than having a conversation about it.

    (Something I could stand to be reminded of from time to time.)

    • #84 Wzrd1
      September 25, 2016

      @JP, having had friends commit suicide, yeah, it’s extremely traumatic to those who knew the silently suffering victim.
      Frankly, whoever created this policy needs to find a new job, perhaps in sanitation. They’ve ignored all of the past few decades of research, current practices, federal advice and general common sense.
      Honestly, I’m feeling nauseous over reading that entry from Narad.

      @Narad, thanks! While reading that was distressing, I really needed to know about that bass ackwards policy!
      I’ve had buddies that committed suicide, it wasn’t a fun experience for any of us.
      But, this week, my wife started to experience suicidal ideation, we’re working on which novel medications for her neurological pain that she’s recently been prescribed to find the cause.
      As she recalls those suicides and their impact on all of our teams, as well as me, she’s taken our honesty always policy to talk to me about her problem.

  78. #85 Denice Walter
    September 25, 2016

    re vegans, vegan ‘meat’, vegetarians et al

    I usually enjoy making fun of vegans immensely because I know of a loon who prescribes it as the solution to all health problems as well as AGW and personal debt…

    But really, I must speak truly and say that I have had many excellent adventures in that realm:
    – my friend from an Italian family tried to be a vegan and created many terrific dishes based on her aunt’s cooking
    – some ninja warriors… I mean ESTEEMED PRACTITIONERS of tai chi.. once took me to a Chinese New Year celebration in NY’s Chinatown- it was 11 degrees F outside.. we feasted ( for hours) upon vegan duck and assorted dim sum and entrees that were B!TCHING fabulous.
    – I jborrowed a cookbook based on Roman cuisine with many excellent choices that even I can emulate
    – Indian food ( with dairy products). Need I say more?
    – Israeli ‘pizza’ places with salad choices ( hummus, etc).
    – Middle Eastern mezze

    I don’t eat any pork, beef, lamb I’m not Kosher) but seriously vegan/ vegetarian choices make life easier for me.
    Also, I spend a lot of time in restaurants.

  79. #86 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 25, 2016

    @ 81 & 82

    That has to be one of the outstandingly stupid moves a university admin has taken in years and IIRC some uni admins can be really , really stupid.

    Have suicidal thoughts, get punished if you talk — commit or try to commit suicide because no help.

    You know JP you just might have a point. Clearly they are not smart enough to figure out such a complicated thing!

  80. #87 prn
    September 25, 2016

    This from a hyperbolic marketing company that couldn’t get DOS right or finished in 10 years. The company that brought us Win 98 ME and Vista .0 or excused its failures with “not a bug but a feature”.

    I don’t think so.

    • #88 Wzrd1
      September 25, 2016

      @prn, #86, please! A bug with seniority is a feature for Microsoft.

  81. #89 Ellie
    Still on the green side of the grass
    September 25, 2016

    JP, I know we don’t “know” each other, but I read what you said and I want to tell you that it’s horrible for the friend left behind. I had a friend almost 50 years ago who suffered from depression. She used to call me at all hours of the night just to talk. She called one night about 3 and I had worked two jobs that day and just couldn’t stay awake to talk. She died two days later of an “accidental” overdose. It wasn’t my fault, and I know that, but it took decades to get over the guilt, and the grief was entirely different from that I had felt about others close to me who had died. I have a loved one who is often close to taking her life, and I worry about her every single day. But worrying is better than grieving.

    This is none of my business, I know, but your post just touched me in a way that I had to respond. I watch for your posts, and I wish you well, and to have the best life that it is possible for you to have.

  82. #90 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 25, 2016

    # 60 Narad

    / Well, define “fake meats.
    Well, commercial “hamburg” patties and what looks like some weird approach to a hot dog—though I have never eaten one. They look way too dangerous.That Tofurkey is the epitome of this.

    I cannot really comment on taste etc, since I’ve never tried any of this except the commercial “hamburg” patty which was probably no worse than a MacDonald’s burger. It just seems weird to me to try to make something look like a meat serving when it is clearly supposed to be vegetarian.

    If I wanted something to replace a hamburger I’d probably suggest a falafel or perhaps a samosa and not try to say it’s a burger. Shrug, I just don’t see the point.(Note to self—time to make more samosas)

    And, in general for a lot of vegetarian choices (vegan or ovo-lacto) I’d start checking out other cuisines. Arab cuisines have some lovely ideas as do Chinese and, as far as I can see most of Indian cuisine is vegetarian. I have a fair number of recipes from all three cuisines, some of which I’ve even got to work.

    Things do get a bit more complicated as a vegan since a lot of Indian recipes assume milk products but Chinese recipes don’t and a good number of the Arab recipes I have or have seen don’t.

    However I am not a vegetarian. I’m having stir-fried chicken with onions and green peppers in a chili garlic sauce and sautéed spinach with fermented tofu (totally addictive flavouring) served with rice. If you need a vegetarian version substitute firm tofu.

    # 63 Julian Frost
    I can’t have tofu. I can’t digest it.

    Pity, I know of a few lovely tofu recipes but there are lots of alternatives thank heavens.

    Just be glad you’re not celiac in a Western country. That can really limit your diet. I’ve worked as a cook and keeping a celiac customer safe can be a nightmare—commercial Worcester Sauce and pepperoni can/does contain gluten!

  83. #91 Francisco
    September 25, 2016

    This programmer was obviously around too many “yes men”. The moment that the programmer arrogated a potential cure for cancer, is the precise moment that he should have received a dozen “eye rolls”, “face palms, and “head bangs”.

    Even biochemists are a bit more careful with their claims.

  84. #92 JP
    September 25, 2016

    I watch for your posts, and I wish you well, and to have the best life that it is possible for you to have.

    Thanks. My advisor claims to be optimistic that “with a lot of time and effort,” I’ll have a “happy and productive life,” but I’m considerably less hopeful. I can’t help but feel sorry for the man, though, who has had several of his (according to him, best) students absolutely lose their sh!t over the past couple of years. He mentioned feeling guilty as well, as I was pretty clearly nuts at his Thanksgiving last year, making clang associations and all the rest of it. My friends also felt bad, since they hadn’t really said anything during the more fun parts of the experience, when I just seemed to be having too much of a good time. Clearly none of this has been easy on anybody.

    My own father committed suicide, which should be an object lesson for me in what not to do with my life, but I find his decision pretty forgivable, given that he had a pretty bad TBI and was forgetting how to do things basic to his livelihood, like weld. I’m sure some of it was due to the mood disturbances and personality changes that can come about with a TBI, too, though.

  85. #93 JP
    September 25, 2016

    Well, commercial “hamburg” patties and what looks like some weird approach to a hot dog—though I have never eaten one. They look way too dangerous.That Tofurkey is the epitome of this.

    I cannot really comment on taste etc, since I’ve never tried any of this except the commercial “hamburg” patty which was probably no worse than a MacDonald’s burger. It just seems weird to me to try to make something look like a meat serving when it is clearly supposed to be vegetarian.

    I dunno, burgers are a nice type of sandwich, and sometimes you just want one. The black bean burgers I have had have been pretty uniformly great, if sometimes a bit crumbly.

    As far as sandwiches go, I can’t recommend the Tofurky deli meats, although they were tolerable. I in fact live pretty close to the Tofurky homeland; a friend of mine had a job working for them (Turtle Island, Hood River, OR) for a while shortly after high school.

    Tempeh is a good choice for sandwiches, though. There was a place in Ann Arbor that made a mean tempeh Reuben, which a friend insists is a contradiction in terms, but whatever, it tasted pretty darn good.

  86. #94 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    September 26, 2016

    If I wanted something to replace a hamburger I’d probably suggest a falafel or perhaps a samosa and not try to say it’s a burger.

    Just this past Friday, I had a portobello mushroom cap and Swiss, and while it was *not* a grilled burger, flavored with lots of smoke, it too made a fair substitute. I recommend it to your attention.

  87. #95 Peter Harris
    September 26, 2016

    “If there’s one thing that irritates me more than government agencies making bold proclamations about making progress in cancer ”

    I agree, but for different reasons of course.
    Cancer research is a monumental waste of money.
    Because quite simply, you cannot “cure” cancer.
    “Rogue” mitosis, will occur naturally, if given the right environment.
    To use an analogy, it’s like leaving exposed steel to the environment, where the conditions will make it rust.
    Similarly, what people need to do is rustproof their bodies, with good clean nutrition, good hydration, stress reduction, adequate sleep and positive thinking.
    You cannot cure cancer, you can only prevent it.

    Since the beginning of modern Cancer research, which I date around the 1950s, globally there has been approximately $2.7 trillion spent on cancer research, and from what?

    Oh yes, to keep those “doctors,” with too many uppercase letters preceding their name, in an endless exercise of chasing one’s tail, and propagandising to a “hopeful” public, that someday, there will be a cure for Cancer

  88. #96 squirrelelite
    September 26, 2016

    As a result of that research, 20% more people are still living for 5 and even 10 more years after getting diagnosed with cancer.

  89. #97 Kruuth
    United States
    September 26, 2016

    Anyone remember Microsoft BOB?

    I have a feeling this is going the same way.

  90. #98 Calli Arcale
    September 26, 2016

    Kruuth — and lest we forget: Microsoft Bob did produce one thing that lasted.

    Comic Sans.

  91. #99 Murmur
    UK-ia
    September 26, 2016

    Narad @81

    I had to check the date when I read that, just in case it was an April Fool gag…

    If I gave my genuine opinion of that I suspect the moderation here would blow up under the sheer weight of obscenities (I can be very sweary)…

    Suffice to say I await the inevitable law suit for culpable negligence when a student there does eventually follow through on their thoughts, which seems like an inevitable consequence of that kind of asininity.

  92. #100 Old Rockin' Dave
    September 26, 2016

    The return of Mr. Harris, alleged holder of multiple degrees earned at the University of [redacted].
    “[W]hat people need to do is rustproof their bodies, with good clean nutrition, good hydration, stress reduction, adequate sleep and positive thinking.”
    All very nice and warm and fuzzy. I will give you a pass on most of those; certainly if adequate hydration plays a part, then that would give homeopathy an actual effect. I will limit my question on this to asking for your explanation of the exact role of positive thinking is in cancer prevention.
    “You cannot cure cancer, you can only prevent it.”
    Well, there’s some positive thinking for you. I have a vision of thousands or millions of people hearing your ex cathedra proclamation and suddenly dropping dead from a sudden return of cancers they thought they had been cured of decades before. It will certainly come as news to so many who have been, yes, cured of cervical, breast, testicular, thyroid, renal, and other cancers after treatment with one or more scientific modalities.
    Now should we look to cure naturopathy, or to prevent it?

  93. #101 jrkrideau
    At the bottom of the lake (the bottom end that is)
    September 26, 2016

    94 Johnnie

    Just this past Friday, I had a portobello mushroom cap and Swiss,

    Sounds good. Stuffed portabellos are on the menu for the weekend or early next week. Had not really considered one as in bun.

    @ Old Rocking Dave
    And apropos of nothing in particular.

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

  94. #102 Narad
    September 26, 2016

    Stuffed portabellos are on the menu for the weekend or early next week. Had not really considered one as in bun.

    Yah, I’ve never considered that either. Fajitas, fer sure. But there’s one thing about the “fake meat” designation that has been lingering in the back of my head: it implies a nosology. Where, pray tell, do aspics fit in here?

  95. #103 Calli Arcale
    September 26, 2016

    Old Rockin’ Dave: I suppose it is some concession to the truth that at least Mr Harris doesn’t claim to be able to do anything at all helpful for people who come to him with cancer. After all, it seems he considers them to be lost causes. I suppose that is one way to improve one’s success rates: only treat the well.

  96. #104 Old Rockin' Dave
    Pondering the relative virtues of Rolf Harris and Peter Harris...
    September 27, 2016

    jrkideau: I am put in mind of this quote from Sir Arthur C. Clarke – “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
    Calli Arcale: Good point. I missed that one.

  97. […] Serikat yang juga profesor di Wayne State University School of Medicine, menulis tanggapannya dalam ScienceBlogs (23/9), menggunakan nama alias […]

  98. #106 Emma Crew
    September 28, 2016

    Man, 20-odd years ago, “research.microsoft.com” was my husband’s work desktop machine. The group he worked in was doing stuff with compilers and creating tools to help programmers do their jobs more easily. People working in product groups tended to turn their noses up at anything that didn’t have a ship date/price tag/patent. Things have sure changed.

  99. #107 Eli
    October 4, 2016

    Showing up late here with a relatively trivial comment, but:

    A really good way to show that you’ve spent very little time thinking about Subject X is to say something like “[Concept from subject X] is not unlike [concept from subject Y that was named in direct reference to the first concept]”. The “genetic changes (sometimes caused by literal viruses) producing cells that reproduce in a dangerous way… are a lot like *computer* viruses, if you think about it” thing here is a pretty good example. But my favorite distillation of the principle is this Onion headline: I’m Like a Chocoholic, but gor Booze.

  100. #108 Eli
    October 4, 2016

    Er, “for” not “gor”

  101. #109 JustaTech
    October 4, 2016

    Eli @17: Exactly! It’s a spherical cow on a fricitonless plane.

    At some point you have to admit that you’ve made too many assumptions in order to make the math easy.

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