Science and Technology links (February 3rd, 2019)

  1. A Canadian startup built around electric taxis failed. One of their core findings is that electric cars must be recharged several times a day, especially during the winter months. Evidently, the need to constantly recharge the cars increases the costs. I think that this need to constantly recharge cars challenges the view that once we have electric self-driving cars, we can just send our cars roaming the streets, looking for new passengers, at least in the cold of winter in Canada.
  2. If you are going to train computers to emulate medical doctors, you need objective assessments of medical conditions. That may prove more difficult than it sounds. Human experts rarely agree on medical diagnosis and therapies. How can you assess an artificial intelligence in these conditions? Somewhat ironically, the first step might be to learn to assess better the medical doctors themselves. This may not prove popular.
  3. Researchers are making progress toward reconstructing speech from neural patterns (Nature paper). The accuracy is still low but it is getting credible. One day, we may be able to speak through a brain implant.
  4. The US spy agency (NSA) is the largest single employer of mathematicians in the world?
  5. Neanderthals are often believed to have vanished because they could not hunt as efficiently as homo sapiens: they needed to get close to the prey to kill it unlike us. However, it seems that neanderthals could throw their spears far away.
  6. A highly cited Canadian medical researcher (Sophie Jamal) has been banned from getting further research funding in Canada because of how she fabricated data. When caught, she put the blame on her assistant. She is cited about 1000 times a year and she is the author of about 50 research articles. She lost her job at the University of Toronto where she was a professor and her medical license. She was the research director of the Centre for Osteoporosis & Bone Health.
    As I am fond of saying, it is almost trivial in research to fabricate results. Thus, while it is hard to know for sure how frequently results are just made up, it is probably more frequent than most people expect. And before you object that work is peer reviewed: when reviewing a manuscript, you are not going to redo the work to check that it works. Even if you wanted to check the work, it is often impossible to do it in an economical fashion. That’s why I argue that we have to take into account the reputation of the authors when reviewing a science paper. If you have found someone’s results to consistently be reliable in the past, it is reasonable to give them more credibility in the future. Reputation matters.
  7. According to an article in the Guardian, aspirin prevents cancers. (To my knowledge, this has not been robustly demonstrated yet.)
  8. Party balloons were invented by scientist Micheal Faraday.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (February 3rd, 2019)”

  1. The electric car “finding” seems to be a red herring. Of course a Taxi company knows, in advance, how many kilometres its cars will likely be driven. The owning company has two other conventional taxi companies. They are not ignorant of the data.

    So given that they knew both the distances expected, and the range of the cars they were using – what was the “real reason” the company is folding?

    BTW: my electric car (2012 Volt) shows a real world variance of from 45 km to over 70 km electric range depending on outside temperature. That is a 36% reduction in range in cold weather.

    1. It’s a shame the Volt is no longer being made. 50 miles on a charge is enough for 95% of most people’s needs. We just purchased a way too expensive Honda Clarity, which appears to be the only plugin hybrid on the market that approaches the Volt’s electric range.

      I’ve never really understood the hype around self driving cars. I’m not a believer.

    2. The “real reason” is probably “complicated”. They did not say that they folded because of the range. The founder only reports on it as a finding, not a cause of the failure.

      Maybe your view is that one could have anticipated it. You are no doubt correct. But electric cars are new, there were no other examples. It is always easy, in retrospect, to say that it was “known”… but did they factor it in? It seems that the founder did not. He was taken by surprise.

      1. I suspect that there were many reasons for the failure, and most new companies fail. To tease out the electric car as being responsible would, in my view be premature.

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