Science and Technology links (October 13th, 2018)

  1. Chronic exposure to canola oil results in a significant increase in body weight and impairments in working memory… in mice. (Source: Nature)
  2. Belly fat is not just fat in reserve, it signals your body through hormones. Some of these signals might be helpful, but some are not. Visceral fat is strongly associated with prostate cancer and breast cancer. Losing fat in your belly is a good way to reduce your cancer risks.
  3. Computerized Tomography (CT) scans are used to diagnose blot clots, tumours, fractures. Algorithms based on “deep learning” can accurately identify CT scan abnormalities requiring urgent attention. (Source: Lancet)
  4. Does innovation bring prosperity or does prosperity bring innovation? You would think that it is the former, but it seems that there is a strong case for the latter. Indeed, if you come from a prosperous society, you will be more “future-oriented” as per the life history theory. That is, if you are rich, you are more likely to be optimistic and to invest in the future, thus to contribute in new inventions.This seems a tad simplistic to me. While I don’t deny that the life history theory might be valid, I think facing difficulties with the right frame of mind is what is most likely to push you to innovate.
  5. Open source is the idea that we can broadly collaborate on building new technology as if it were a public good. It has been repeatedly at odds with other conventional industrial models where technology is assumed to be a private good. For example, Microsoft has long openly fought open source as if it were a threat to its business model. Bill Gates, one of Microsoft’s founders, famously compared people who share software freely to thieves.To this day, government agencies have trouble funding open source software while many research grants go toward funding private software projects.

    In the last 20 years, most corporations have changed their stance on open source and come to realize that it is not a threat to corporate profits. I assume governments are not far behind.

    Patents are another problem for open source: patents are granted by the state to keep an invention from being part of a public good. Thus patents (and thus governments) can hinder open source. The proper fix would be to change laws so that patents cannot harm open source projects… but that is difficult to achieve politically.

    Patents can be used is several different ways but corporations like Microsoft mostly use patents in a defensive manner: when another entity seeks to sue Microsoft for patent infringement, Microsoft can threaten to sue back.

    Open source projects can be outgunned as part of such a fight. To bring some balance back several companies have joined forces to create the Open Invention Network which creates a large defensive pool of patents. Should a company try to shut down an open source project on the basis of a patent, the Open Invention Network can intervene.

    This week Microsoft joined the Open Invention Network. Other members include Google, IBM, Sony, Toyota.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

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