The Pointless CRISPR Patent Fight
The end of a protracted and costly tug-of-war litigation has likely arrived, and the question of who gets to claim the status and rewards of inventing the CRISPR-Cas9 technology for editing the genetic code of DNA has been decided: Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute team at MIT.
On the losing end was the team from UC-Berkely, headlined by geneticist Jennifer Doudna. It was Doudna who exposed the power of CRISPR-Cas9 to the rest of us outside the world of molecular biology with her TED talk (2.2 million views and counting). More impactful than Doudna’s repeated claims to having invented the technology in her talk was the metaphor she used to describe it: “That’s sort of analogous to the way that we use a word-processing program to fix a typo in a document.”
Why was this multi-million-dollar patent fight pointless? As the WIRED article linked above points out, at the time the conflicting patents were filed in 2012, the Cas9 protein (which was the subject of the patents) was the only protein known to be able to facilitate the “word-processing” like function of CRISPR. Now, some 6 years later, teams around the world have been finding many alternative proteins to use.
A Googler’s “Jerry Maguire” Moment
As I’ve noted previously, Google is suffering a SIGSW over it’s toying with the idea to reenter the Chinese search market by agreeing to provide government censored search results. The anger many employees feel over what they (correctly) believe to be Google violating the spirit of its own “don’t be evil” ethic has boiled over beyond mere complaining on the company’s internal bulletin boards and signing a protest letter. Employees are now resigning over the issue, and not just low-level ones either. Jack Poulson was a Senior Research Scientist working on Google’s AI and Search functions before resigning his position in protest after working at Google for two years. His 6-page resignation letter (with 25 footnotes!) is worth the read.
Paying Is Voluntary but the Selfies Are Free
The store is called The Drug Store, but it’s not a pharmacy. It sells designer drinks from Dirty Lemon (who owns the store) that sell for over $10 per bottle, and yes: paying is voluntary. There is nobody working the store, and no credit card machine to use. Instead, customers send a text message to Dirty Lemon self-identifying what they bought, and their credit card is charged accordingly. (This is the same method Dirty Lemon uses exclusively to sell its drinks online.) Aesthetically, the store is designed to encourage people to snap selfies of themselves inside posing with their chic DL bottles on Instagram.
As they say online: what could possibly go wrong?
Can a CAT Scan See Your Mind?
It can show your brain, of course, but are these really the same thing? This is the question that Dr. Michael Egnor tackles in this thought-provoking article. Dr. Egnor is a neurosurgeon and professor of neurological surgery and pediatrics at Stony Brook University in New York.
He opens his piece with an arresting description of a child born with only about 1/3 the normal amount of brain matter, distributed along the periphery of the child’s skull. The remaining volume of the child’s head was filled with water. Not only did little Katie survive, she is soon to be graduating from high school as an honors student. If our minds are simply what we call the neuronic activity of our brains, how can such a fractional brain produce a whole, healthy mind?
The relationship between our brains and our minds is a question that extends beyond just the boundaries of neuroscience, philosophy and theology. With the onward march of AI, the question is being asked: can a machine ever truly think? Is artificial consciousness possible? Here’s a video of an address (<16 minutes) Dr. Egnor delivered at the launch of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, WA. He says “no,” because thinking and computations are two different categories entirely.
This story is proof that you truly never know the future impact you could have simply by putting your creative output out into the world. Valentino Dixon had served 27 years in prison of his 36-years-to-life sentence for murder when he got the news: his conviction had been vacated and he would soon be a free man. The catalyst that started journalists digging into his conviction that ultimately led to the realization that he was, in fact, innocent? — Dixon’s hand-drawn, colored-pencil drawings of golf courses (he’s never played a single hole, anywhere) and the profile of Dixon in Golf Digest six years ago because of those drawings.
Let me say that again: colored pencil drawings about golf courses started a chain of events that led to an innocent man finally being freed after 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
This is one worth reading.