A.I. VERSUS M.D.

A.I. VERSUS M.D.
What happens when diagnosis is automated?
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Apr 3 2017 Issue
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/ai-versus-md

One evening last November, a fifty-four-year-old woman from the Bronx arrived at the emergency room at Columbia University’s medical center with a grinding headache. Her vision had become blurry, she told the E.R. doctors, and her left hand felt numb and weak. The doctors examined her and ordered a CT scan of her head.

A few months later, on a morning this January, a team of four radiologists-in-training huddled in front of a computer in a third-floor room of the hospital. The room was windowless and dark, aside from the light from the screen, which looked as if it had been filtered through seawater. The residents filled a cubicle, and Angela Lignelli-Dipple, the chief of neuroradiology at Columbia, stood behind them with a pencil and pad. She was training them to read CT scans.

“It’s easy to diagnose a stroke once the brain is dead and gray,” she said. “The trick is to diagnose the stroke before too many nerve cells begin to die.” Strokes are usually caused by blockages or bleeds, and a neuroradiologist has about a forty-five-minute window to make a diagnosis, so that doctors might be able to intervene—to dissolve a growing clot, say. “Imagine you are in the E.R.,” Lignelli-Dipple continued, raising the ante. “Every minute that passes, some part of the brain is dying. Time lost is brain lost.”

She glanced at a clock on the wall, as the seconds ticked by. “So where’s the problem?” she asked.

Strokes are typically asymmetrical. The blood supply to the brain branches left and right and then breaks into rivulets and tributaries on each side. A clot or a bleed usually affects only one of these branches, leading to a one-sided deficit in a part of the brain. As the nerve cells lose their blood supply and die, the tissue swells subtly. On a scan, the crisp borders between the anatomical structures can turn hazy. Eventually, the tissue shrinks, trailing a parched shadow. But that shadow usually appears on the scan several hours, or even days, after the stroke, when the window of intervention has long closed. “Before that,” Lignelli-Dipple told me, “there’s just a hint of something on a scan”—the premonition of a stroke.

The images on the Bronx woman’s scan cut through the skull from its base to the apex in horizontal planes, like a melon sliced from bottom to top. The residents raced through the layers of images, as if thumbing through a flipbook, calling out the names of the anatomical structures: cerebellum, hippocampus, insular cortex, striatum, corpus callosum, ventricles. Then one of the residents, a man in his late twenties, stopped at a picture and motioned with the tip of a pencil at an area on the right edge of the brain. “There’s something patchy here,” he said. “The borders look hazy.” To me, the whole image looked patchy and hazy—a blur of pixels—but he had obviously seen something unusual.

“Hazy?” Lignelli-Dipple prodded. “Can you describe it a little more?”

The resident fumbled for words. He paused, as if going through the anatomical structures in his mind, weighing the possibilities. “It’s just not uniform.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just looks funny.”

Lignelli-Dipple pulled up a second CT scan, taken twenty hours later. The area pinpointed by the resident, about the diameter of a grape, was dull and swollen. A series of further scans, taken days apart, told the rest of the story. A distinct wedge-shaped field of gray appeared. Soon after the woman got to the E.R., neurologists had tried to open the clogged artery with clot-busting drugs, but she had arrived too late. A few hours after the initial scan, she lost consciousness, and was taken to the I.C.U. Two months later, the woman was still in a ward upstairs. The left side of her body—from the upper arms to the leg—was paralyzed.

I walked with Lignelli-Dipple to her office. I was there to learn about learning: How do doctors learn to diagnose? And could machines learn to do it, too?

[snip]

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Hungary university backed by Soros ‘is facing closure’

Hungary university backed by Soros ‘is facing closure’
Students and staff at the Central European University (CEU) in Hungary are protesting against what they say are government plans to close it down.
Mar 29 2017
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39429309

The university says new legislation proposed by the right-wing Fidesz government on Tuesday night makes it impossible for it to function. 

The CEU’s founder, philanthropist George Soros, has a strained relationship with the PM Viktor Orban.

But the government says it supports the university and does not want it to go.

Education Secretary Laszlo Palkovics said the proposed legislation followed a review of 28 foreign universities operating in Hungary, including the CEU in Budapest.

“This is not an anti-CEU investigation and not against Mr Soros,” he said.

The Hungary-born billionaire founded the university in 1991 and continues to fund it.

He wanted the CEU to be a bastion of liberal thought and promote the values of an open society and democracy.

But the university appears to have become the latest target in a campaign by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government against liberal values.

The government says the CEU and other foreign-funded universities are operating outside the law, and that the new legislation aims to create a new legal footing.

The BBC’s Nick Thorpe in Budapest

The CEU, established and registered in New York State, is an independent, private university for masters and PhD students from more than 100 countries. 

If approved by parliament, the law would mean the university can only continue working if an intergovernmental agreement between US President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is signed, and if the university establishes a campus in the US by February next year. 

The first is unlikely – both Mr Trump and Mr Orban are sworn enemies of Mr Soros. The second is physically impossible. 

Twenty-seven other foreign universities will be affected by the legislation, Education Secretary Laszlo Palkovics told the BBC, and all must abide by the new law. 

Only the CEU has no campus in its home country, the US.

But CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff says the university is fully legal and the new law has been designed to disable it. 

“We will defend our achievements vigorously against anyone who seeks to defame our work in the eyes of the Hungarian people,” he said.

The new rules would force the CEU to change its name, set up a campus in New York, change its curriculum and become subservient to both the US and Hungarian governments.

[snip]

Net Neutrality Is Trump’s Next Target, Administration Says

Net Neutrality Is Trump’s Next Target, Administration Says
By STEVE LOHR
Mar 30 2017
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/technology/net-neutrality.html

The Trump administration served notice on Thursday that its next move to deregulate broadband internet service companies would be to jettison the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules, which were intended to safeguard free expression online.

The net neutrality rules, approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, aimed to preserve the open internet and ensure that it could not be divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for web and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else.

Supporters of net neutrality have insisted the rules are necessary to protect equal access to content on the internet. Opponents said the rules unfairly subjected broadband internet suppliers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter to utility-style regulation.

In a news conference, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, mentioned the net neutrality rules affecting telecommunications and cable internet services, noting that the Obama administration had “reclassified them as common carriers.”

Mr. Spicer said President Trump had “pledged to reverse this overreach.” The Obama-era rules, Mr. Spicer said, were an example of “bureaucrats in Washington” placing restrictions on one kind of company — internet service suppliers — and “picking winners and losers.”

Telecommunications and cable television companies fought being classified as common-carrier utility services, which are subject to anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules. They said the classification opened the door to government interference that would ultimately reduce incentives to invest and would therefore result in higher prices and hurt consumers.

Mr. Spicer made his comments after Congress voted this week to complete its overturning of Obama-era internet privacy protections and to allow broadband companies to track and sell their customers’ online information with greater ease. The vote was seen as a prelude to further deregulation for broadband companies.

Mr. Spicer remarked on the rollback of privacy rules before he spoke more broadly about regulations on broadband internet services. President Trump, he said, will “continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth.”

[snip]

CEU Responds to Proposed Amendments in Hungarian Higher Education Law

CEU Responds to Proposed Amendments in Hungarian Higher Education Law
Mar 28 2017
https://www.ceu.edu/article/2017-03-28/ceu-responds-proposed-amendments-hungarian-higher-education-law

Central European University (CEU) expresses its opposition to proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, tabled in Hungarian Parliament today. After careful legal study, CEU has concluded that these amendments would make it impossible for the University to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, CEU’s home for 25 years. CEU is in full conformity with Hungarian law. The proposed legislation targets CEU directly and is therefore discriminatory and unacceptable. CEU calls on the government to scrap the legislation and enter into dialogue to find a solution that allows CEU to continue in Budapest as a free and independent international graduate university.

“Any legislative change that would force CEU to cease operation in Budapest would damage Hungarian academic life and negatively impact the government of Hungary’s relations with its neighbors, its EU partners and with the United States,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “I call on the government to enter into negotiations with us to find a satisfactory way forward that allows CEU to continue in Budapest and to maintain the academic freedoms essential to its operation.”

The 2004 joint declaration between the Hungarian government and the State of New York confirmed the parties’ joint agreement to support CEU’s goal of achieving Hungarian accreditation, while at the same time maintaining its status as an accredited American university. Following the 2004 joint declaration, a special law namely Act LXI of 2004 on State Recognition of Közép-európai Egyetem, established Közép-európai Egyetem (KEE); literally translated, this means “Central European University.” KEE was established as the Hungarian entity which then allowed for Hungarian accreditation of 10 graduate and doctoral level programs at the University. CEU/KEE is one higher education institution with one campus in Budapest. The dual identity of CEU/KEE enables the University to comply with both Hungarian and U.S. laws and award both Hungarian and U.S.-accredited degrees. This is a common model. CEU is one of many American-accredited international universities that do not operate any academic programs within the U.S.

In addition, the amendments would require CEU to open an additional campus in the state of New York. Forcing CEU to do so would have no educational benefit and would incur needless financial and human resource costs.

The section of the amendment that most clearly illustrates discrimination against CEU is the provision that prevents Hungarian universities (in this case, KEE) from delivering programs or issuing degrees from non-European universities on behalf of CEU. Existing legislation allows for university programs and degrees from OECD countries (including the U.S.) to function through joint Hungarian entities, as CEU/KEE currently does. Hungary itself has been a member of OECD since 1996, and as such, should not discriminate against other OECD countries.

Another clear example of discrimination in the proposed amendment is the elimination of a good-faith waiver that currently allows academic staff from non-EU countries to work at the KEE entity without requiring a work permit. The change would create additional and unnecessary barriers to hiring and recruitment. Given that CEU relies particularly much on professors from outside of the EU, the new regulation would place the university in a disadvantageous position.

[snip]

Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear

Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear
Fake news is too big and messy to solve with algorithms or editors — because the problem is….us.
By danah boyd
Mar 27 2017
https://backchannel.com/google-and-facebook-cant-just-make-fake-news-disappear-48f4b4e5fbe8

Increasingly, I’m frustrated by (and often antagonistic toward) the emergent narrative about how to address so-called “fake news.” My anger is growing, not only because as I write this I’m almost 10 months pregnant and grouchy, but also because I see the possibility of well-intended interventions backfiring. I understand why folks want to do something now — there’s a lot of energy in this space, and the underlying issues at play have significant consequences for democracy and society. Yet what’s happening at this present moment is not actually new. It’s part of a long and complicated history, and it sheds light on a variety of social, economic, cultural, technological, and political dynamics that will not be addressed through simplistic solutions. Racing to implement Band-Aids may feel good, but I worry that such an approach creates a distraction while enabling the underlying issues to flourish.

Let’s start with a common “fix” that I’ve heard in the solutionist mindset: Force Facebook and Google to “solve” the problem by identifying “fake news” and preventing it from spreading. Though I appreciate the frustration over technology companies’ ability to mirror and magnify long-standing social dynamics, regulating or pressuring them to find a silver bullet solution isn’t going to work. From my vantage point, this approach immediately makes visible three differently scaled problems:

1) No one can even agree on a definition of “fake news,” even though a ridiculous number of words are being spent trying to define it.

2) Folks don’t seem to understand the evolving nature of the problem, the way that manipulation evolves, or how the approaches they propose can be misused by those with whom they fundamentally disagree.

3) No amount of “fixing” Facebook or Google will address the underlying factors shaping the culture and information wars in which America is currently enmeshed.

What is “Fake News?”

I’m not going to try to create a masterful definition of “fake news,” but I do want to highlight the interwoven tropes that are at play. Discursively, this frame is used to highlight every form of problematic content, including both blatantly and accidentally inaccurate information, salacious and fear-mongering headlines, hateful and incendiary rhetoric produced in blogs, and propaganda of all stripes (driven by both the State and other interests). Throughout my career, I’ve watched the deployment of such slippery terms (including bullying, online community, social networks, et cetera) for all sorts of political and economic purposes, and I have consistently found that without a precise definition or a clearly articulated problem, all that is achieved from drumming up conversations about the dangers of XYZ is spectacle.

By and large, I mostly see “fake news” being deployed by folks as a new frame for pushing long-standing agendas and commitments. This is true for researchers who have long critiqued corporate power, and it’s true for conservative pundits who love using this frame to shore up their hatred for mainstream media. So now there are dozens of meetings being held on “fake news” as folks wring their hands to find a solution; meanwhile, pundits and advocates of all stripes are calling on companies to fix the problem without even trying to define the problem. We’re seeing some folks focusing intently on “accuracy” and “truth,” while others are more focused on how content produces cultural frames.

Inside the internet platform companies, meanwhile, folks are struggling to create content policies that can be consistently applied. I’m always astonished at how inconsistent people are about what should and shouldn’t be prevented under the umbrella of “fake news” — and I’m mostly talking to experts.

Opening up the process doesn’t help. When the public is asked to report “fake news,” reports stream in from men’s rights advocates calling feminist blog posts critiquing patriarchy “fake.” Teenagers and trolls challenge pretty much everything.

Finding a third party to turn to isn’t much better. Experts can’t even agree on who is a hate group and who is engaging in protected speech. (I’m partial to the SPLC list, but that shows my political bent. And even its list doesn’t account for all of the groups that progressives might want to label as hate groups.) Just ask folks where they stand on blocking tabloid journalism or Breitbart and you’ll see conflict immediately.

[snip]

UK government can force encryption removal, but fears losing, experts say

UK government can force encryption removal, but fears losing, experts say
Investigatory Powers Act lets UK compel removal of electronic protection but it would face enforcement challenges and risk driving targets to other services
By Alex Hern
Mar 29 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/29/uk-government-encryption-whatsapp-investigatory-powers-act

The government already has the power to force technology firms to act as it wants over end-to-end encryption, but is avoiding using existing legislation as it would force it into a battle it would eventually lose, security experts have said. 

The Investigatory Powers Act, made law in late 2016, allows the government to compel communications providers to remove “electronic protection applied … to any communications or data”.

On Sunday the Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on “organisations like WhatsApp”, which is owned by Facebook, to make sure that they “don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other”. Rudd hinted at new legislation if they did not cooperate, despite the existing legislation already allowing the government to force such cooperation.

Alec Muffett, who is a technical advisor and board member for the Open Rights Group, said that using the existing legislation would lead the government into an argument it will lose “though they may buy some time forcing people to pay lip-service to it”. 

“Eventually they will lose the battle because they will never (for instance) coerce the global open-source community to comply,” Muffett said. “Government time and money would be better spent elsewhere – pursuing criminals through ‘human’ means and by building upon metadata – than in attempting to combat ‘secure communication across the internet’ as an abstract entity.”

Muffett, who previously worked at Facebook and was the lead engineer for adding end-to-end Encryption to Facebook Messenger, added that actually attempting to enforce the law as it stands would require “a massively illiberal and misconceived business case … to be thrust upon Facebook/WhatsApp in order to force it to undermine its own security technologies”.

“It would be an ugly battle, and (win or lose) it would be self-defeating,” Muffett said. “People would flee a less secure, less competitive Facebook and move to other platforms – ones with less cordial government relationships, or with no corporate presence at all.”

Antony Walker, the deputy CEO of techUK, added that the existing law already gives the UK a strong range of powers “that enable the security services to do their job”. He said: “This legislation was put in place following an extensive and rigorous process of parliamentary scrutiny focused on ensuring the checks necessary to keep a democratic society secure.

[snip]

Snoops may soon be able to buy your browsing history. Thank the US Congress

Snoops may soon be able to buy your browsing history. Thank the US Congress
Not only did they vote to violate your privacy for their own profit – they are making it illegal for a key watchdog to protect your privacy online
By Bruce Schneier
Mar 30 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/30/snoops-buy-your-browsing-history-us-congress

Think about all of the websites you visit every day. Now imagine if the likes of Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon collected all of your browsing history and sold it on to the highest bidder. That’s what will likely happen if Congress has its way.

This week, they voted to allow internet service providers to violate your privacy for their own profit. Not only have they voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online. 

That this is not provoking greater outcry illustrates how much we’ve ceded any willingness to shape our technological future to for-profit companies and are allowing them to do it for us.

There are a lot of reasons to be worried about this. Because your internet service provider controls your connection to the internet, it is in a position to see everything you do on the internet. Unlike a search engine or social networking platform or news site, you can’t easily switch to a competitor. And there’s not a lot of competition in the market, either. If you have a choice between two high-speed providers in the US, consider yourself lucky.

What can telecom companies do with this newly granted power to spy on everything you’re doing? Of course they can sell your data to marketers – and the inevitable criminals and foreign governments who also line up to buy it. But they can do more creepy things as well. 

They can snoop through your traffic and insert their own ads. They can deploy systems that remove encryption so they can better eavesdrop. They can redirect your searches to other sites. They can install surveillance software on your computers and phones. None of these are hypothetical. 

They’re all things internet service providers have done before, and are some of the reasons the FCC tried to protect your privacy in the first place. And now they’ll be able to do all of these things in secret, without your knowledge or consent. And, of course, governments worldwide will have access to these powers. And all of that data will be at risk of hacking, either by criminals and other governments.

Telecom companies have argued that other Internet players already have these creepy powers – although they didn’t use the word “creepy” – so why should they not have them as well? It’s a valid point. 

Surveillance is already the business model of the Internet, and literally hundreds of companies spy on your Internet activity against your interests and for their own profit.

Your e-mail provider already knows everything you write to your family, friends, and colleagues. Google already knows our hopes, fears, and interests, because that’s what we search for. 

Your cellular provider already tracks your physical location at all times: it knows where you live, where you work, when you go to sleep at night, when you wake up in the morning, and — because everyone has a smartphone — who you spend time with and who you sleep with. 

And some of the things these companies do with that power is no less creepy. Facebook has run experiments in manipulating your mood by changing what you see on your news feed. Uber used its ride data to identify one-night stands. Even Sony once installed spyware on customers’ computers to try and detect if they copied music files.

[snip]