Berlin Tech Scene

It’s 38 degrees celsius in Berlin this week, so I’m going to keep this post relatively short. I chose to move to Berlin four years ago (that’s in 2014) directly following my PhD. I chose this city for a number of reasons, one of which is the apparent burgeoning tech scene. I wanted to do a postdoc in Europe, but I wanted the possibility of not having to move city/country again after the contract ended. At the time, three cities stood out for me: London, Paris and Berlin.

London was my first home abroad; I moved there when I was 17. But the political climate in the UK has been toxic for about 10 years now. I’ve considered moving there many times, and each time I’ve rejected the opportunity. Quelle surprise: Brexit finally happened 2 years ago! Continue reading “Berlin Tech Scene”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

This is an article which I don’t want to write, but I also do. I live my life as if nothing happened. I pretend nothing happened. But the effects on my life both then and since have been enormous.

Where were you when 9/11 happened? I was at my parents’ house in Ireland, preparing for my first day at university. I know this because I’ve told myself the story many times by now. I’ve seen the TV reports so often that I can remember the planes crashing into the towers. Only I can’t. I don’t remember any of it.

I was 19 and at least 6 months of my life are completely missing. I got up most days. I talked with people. I successfully registered for university. I moved into on-campus accommodation. I did sport on rare occasions. I even had a girlfriend for 3 months. But the memories were never formed, or if they were I have never had subsequent access (for the neuroscientists out there: they faded out about 12 months later). Continue reading “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”

AI in Healthcare II

Continued from Part I

Part I of this article appeared last week. In it I introduced the topic of statistical vs biophysical approaches to biological applications. I discussed the huge power of statistical approaches in image analysis and providing decision support services to doctors. I then discussed the 5 major limitations of data-driven approaches when they are applied to biological problems.

I will now continue by looking at biophysical approaches, their pros and cons, and finishing up with a brief introduction to hybrids which attempt to combine these two methods. Continue reading “AI in Healthcare II”

AI in Healthcare I

Motivation

I live in Berlin, which is fast becoming the tech hub of Europe. Over the past two years we have seen a massive up-tick in the number of healthcare oriented startups, which are receiving funding on the basis of their use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As somebody who knows a bit about the underlying technical and application problems of AI, what I see has made me very uneasy.

As a result of some personal conversations I was invited to give a Keynote address to the Digital Health Forum of the Berlin Institute of Health in March. This is a big deal because the BIH is a joint venture between Europe’s biggest teaching hospital, Charité Berlin, and one of Germany’s foremost centres for biological research, the Max-Delbrueck-Center, Berlin. The talk was extremely well received, so I have now given a public version at PyData Berlin 2018 which will be published on their YouTube channel in the coming weeks. (Update: the video is available here). In the meantime, I have written the discussion up as an article in two parts: part I is below and part II is available here. Continue reading “AI in Healthcare I”

Influences: Steve Grand

One of my favourite games from my childhood was Creatures. I still remember buying it in a large cardboard box and finding the small 3.5″ floppy disk which nestled inside. This was my first experience of two new technologies: virtual worlds and alife.

The game featured little furry creatures (they reminded me of Ewoks, from Star Wars) called Norns. These creatures hatch from eggs. The installation disk, as far as I recall, hosts the simulation environment and the encoding for your first Norn egg. The basic idea was that your Norn would hatch and was supposed to have certain behavioural traits which would make it unique compared to those of your friends. The baby Norn would then wander around the virtual world (a side-on platform type world, with very rich background graphics) and try to interact with a number of the items littering the environment. Continue reading “Influences: Steve Grand”

PyData Berlin 2018

PyData Berlin 2018 will be taking place this weekend. I will be in attendance and, on Saturday, will present a talk on AI in Healthcare.

The abstract I submitted is woefully inadequate. Luckily, I was able to write a more coherent description in the message to the organisers and they were gracious enough to accept me.

I will be talking about my main hobby-topic: why you can’t just throw the current black-box methods at biological problems and expect it to work out.

The talk is the same as one I gave as a keynote in private session at the Digital Health Forum of the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), in March. The feedback from the BIH was so positive that I wanted to open this topic up to a wider audience (this version will also have a video posted online).

I will write up the talk as an article and post it here in a week or so.

Designing a Disruptive Technology

Did you know that the development of new drugs has been unprofitable since 2005? (article, original study) I knew we were approaching that point, but I didn’t realise that we had already passed the threshold 13 years ago.

I have an insight which will completely disrupt (transform) the pharma industry. I have the background of working in two different domains in order to give credibility to my insight. And I have the ability, on a technical level, to execute on it.

How many of you have heard this pitch before? Continue reading “Designing a Disruptive Technology”

Mathematics and Biology

Having worked in two traditionally distinct fields, both separately and combining the methods of both, I have more than a few thoughts on what separates these disciplines and how this can be quite detrimental.

As I see it there are two core differences between a mathematical world-view and a biological one: the first is in how knowledge is acquired; and the other is the difference between a dynamical world-view and a static one. What may surprise you is which one is static and which one is dynamic!

Knowledge acquisition

Continue reading “Mathematics and Biology”

Shame

A number of stellar academics made minor headlines, in 2016-17, by publishing CVs of their failures. This had an initial, and intended, positive effect. Many early-stage researchers marvelled at the bravery of Stanford-level professors being willing to open-up about the unsuccessful pathways which they had followed earlier in their careers. Some of those writing their admissions even argued that their current CV would not get them a real job, outside of academia.

A natural, if gentle, backlash set-in pretty quickly. It’s all very well for successful associate or tenure-track professors to open-up and reveal their inner worries. But they are doing this from a position of incredible privilege. Would it really break down any barriers to reveal that the British royal family have worries about health and relationships and money too? Of course not! It softens their public image in some eyes; it humanises them. But it does not change the fact that they are revealing that even people with privilege have mundane worries too. If you have risen to tenure-track at a top American university you have joined the privileged classes, even if you did not start out that way. Your contribution to society may be in opening up new access to the elites, but it is not in admitting that the elites also fail sometimes.

I was very tempted at the time, to join the rush, and post my own CV of failure. I wanted  Continue reading “Shame”

Simmunology is….

my first real startup. That is, the first time that I’ve actually incorporated a company. Simmunology Limited exists since last week.

The path to incorporation has been an interesting and sometimes terrifying ride. (Aside: understatement will typically be an element of my style, this should be borne in mind when reading my prose.)  I finished up a postdoc in computational neuroscience at TU Berlin last December (2017). Since then I have been trying to establish a place for myself in the world in which I get to use my, not inconsiderable, experience to choose my own directions.

I left academia with a strong feeling that not-all is right in the academic world. In fact it is very, very wrong. But more importantly, I don’t think that the kind of cross-disciplinary talents which I bring to the table will ever be fully utilised in that sector, at least not as it exists today.

I came up with two pet projects which I thought I could work on to bring an impact to the world. The first,  Continue reading “Simmunology is….”