, September 27, 2021

Techopian Weekly - Views on the News - 5 June 21


  •   6 min reads
Techopian Weekly - Views on the News - 5 June 21

Techopian's weekly roundup on some of the key stories covered this week. For those too busy during the week but need something to make them seem informed on Monday morning

Who wants to live forever?

"There's no time for us," sang Freddie Mercury. "Forever is our today." One thing is for sure, living forever must be boring, even if you were richer than King Midas, or really rich, with more money than Jeff Bezos. What do you do once you have done all the things you love more than a million times?

Well maybe living a tad longer would be nice — providing you can stay fit, that is. It is well known that experiments with mice show it is possible to extend their lifetime if they are slightly under-fed, keeping them always hungry. Many of us might respond to this research by saying, 'so what? I don't want to live longer if I am permanently hungry.'

Now researchers have found a gene that can mimic the effect of calorie restriction...in mice. Apparently, if the mice can be engineered to express a protein called SIRT6, males can see their median lifespan increase by 27 per cent. "Female mice saw extensions of 15 per cent," states a report in New Atlas.

Professor Haim Cohen, the lead author of the study, said: "This discovery, combined with our previous findings, shows that SIRT6 controls the rate of healthy ageing. If we can determine how to activate it in humans, we will be able to prolong life, and this could have enormous health and economic implications."

Let's just hope that the gene involved isn't also associated with the sense of feeling hungry, even if you have just eaten.

Then again, suppose we all lived, say 15 per cent longer, but suffered all the illnesses associated with old age, such as Alzheimer's.

This coming week, US regulators might be approving a new drug designed to treat Alzheimer's. The drug was developed by Biogen and its partner Eisai Co.

If fasting isn't for you and you are worried about your weight, The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a drug designed to treat obesity. The drug, Wegovy, comes courtesy of Novo Nordisk. The FDA has approved a 2.4-milligram dosage.

So, does this mean that in a few years time, we will be able to take the Novo Nordisk drug, the Biogen drug and maybe another drug getting us to express more SIRT6? Will we then be able to eat what we like, live longer, and reduce the severity of Alzheimer's? Unfortunately, the Novo Nordisk drug is only to be taken in conjunction with exercise (okay, that's alright) but also a reduced-calorie diet. As for the Biogen drug, of the two large scale trials to test the drug, only one showed that it significantly slowed the progression of the disease.

There is another point here. The drugs that are being developed promise applications previously considered impossible: A treatment for Alzheimer's, a treatment for obesity, and who knows in time a drug that can make us live longer. The low hanging fruit of the pharmaceutical world might have already been picked, and while the fruit we are now chasing might be hard to reach, it is delicious in a way that previous breakthroughs could only hoped for.

And while we are on this topic, the human genome has been sequenced— all of it. That may sound like old news to you; after all, the sequencing of the human genome was meant to one of the greatest achievements of the first few years of this decade. But around eight per cent of the genome remained unsequenced. Not anymore (assuming peer review confirmation), researchers used different technologies developed by PacBio and Oxford Nanopore to complete the sequencing. They say: "The newly completed regions include all centromeric satellite arrays and the short arms of all five acrocentric chromosomes, unlocking these complex regions of the genome to variational and functional studies for the first time".

All of this work matters; we are inching our way to understanding the very building blocks of life with incredibly far-reaching implications. The fruit we are chasing might be hard to reach, but it is incredibly juicy.

Furthermore, work being carried out by the National Institutes of the Health (NIH), a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, who have tested "more than 100 genetic mutations linked to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias". They are planning a project "designed to help scientists better understand how genetic mutations lead to the brain cell damage underlying Alzheimer's disease and other dementias".

Putting feelings into business

"If you don't have a higher purpose and don't put feelings at the centre of an organisation, I don't think you can make money, people won't buy your products, and staff won't hang around," says Damien Stork, co-founder of CHX Performance.

We interviewed Damien as part of our focus on leadership. CHX believes that feelings matter, that mood is important. This is not just some latter-day hippie approach to business, which puts happiness ahead of making money. It's an approach that sees a direct link between making a profit and putting the emotional stability of staff at the centre of an organisation. To find out more read, CHX Performance: Business leadership and mental health.

AMC shares Zoom upwards

It's been a busy few days in the world of tech shares. Zoom shares picked up nicely, shares in cinema company AMC went through the roof.

It won't surprise you to learn that Zoom did well last year. But will working from home (WFH) not to be confused with WTF stay? Or, to put it another way, WTF will happen to WFH?

The Techopian view is that it is here to stay. "Do something for three months or longer, and it becomes a habit", says John Jeffock, CEO of Winmark in the Leadership interview we held with himself and Group CEO of Moneypenny, Joanna Swash. He is absolutely correct of course as we now see millions of workers who have decided that they don't want to suffer a commute into work every day jostling with other commuters in crowded trains.

There is, as PwC said, a war for talent. We reckon that companies that fail to adopt WFH permanently and fail to make it work will be at two disadvantages. They will fail to attract top talent, and they will eventually struggle under the yoke of higher overheads to compete with companies that can make WFH work. See Zoom results: The future of remote work is explained by Darwinian selection

As for AMC investors, this is a re-run of the GameStop saga earlier this year. Gathering together in groups, sharing ideas on forums such as Reddit, they bought in, and the AMC share price reached for the sky in a way that characters in movies never seem to do these days. AMC has, as it were, gone in for a bit of carpe diem and seized the day. With its share price riding so high, it was able to go out and raise money, partially alleviating analysts' fears who felt AMC would struggle to ever pay its debts back. As for the little investors who bought in, it is possible that their activity has become self-fulfilling and made AMC a more viable company.

There are however, two problems. And the problems are rather serious. See Meme investors in AMC are driven by ideology; will it end in tears?

Green Software Foundation

Last week, Microsoft announced the launch of the Green Software Foundation with Accenture, GitHub, and ThoughtWorks as founding members. The Green Software Foundation is a non-profit with a mission "to create a trusted ecosystem of people, standards, tooling and best practices for designing 'green software'", for example, digital infrastructure with the least possible impact to the environment.

Katja Grimme looks into this further. See Sustainable IT: The launch of the Green Software Foundation

AI is designing AI

When people discuss the possibility that AI might one day become conscious, they seem to overlook an important point. We know it is possible because it has happened before. Evolution has created consciousness. It has even created at least one species with self-awareness. Rather than asking 'are we capable of designing a computer with human-like consciousness?' we should instead ask whether it is possible that digital evolution might create an algorithm with consciousness comparable to that of the simplest conscious organism, whatever that might be, an amoeba perhaps, Techopian has considered this before,  see Is synthetic consciousness nigh? A report in the MIT Technology Review says that AI is learning how to create itself.

If AI can create AI, then AI might be subject to a kind of evolution. And the end result could be...well, let's just say it will be far-reaching.

Censorship on social media

And finally, you may have heard that Facebook has chosen to ban Donald Trump for two more years. This despite Mark Zuckerberg's apparent adoration of Trump, at least the image in this tweet seems to suggest Trump adoration.

However, take this tweet. The video shows an individual being tortured in Nigeria, and it is beyond horrific. The horror is all the more terrible because this video is genuine. But some commentators argued that the video should have come with a warning, that it was too upsetting.

So we ban politicians for lying in a way that could upset democracy, but should we ban (or censor) some content that tells the truth?

See also: Does the social media reaction to Naomi Osaka show a need for censorship?

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