Monday, 25 June 2012

The Beginning of the End for FaceBook

The mask has dropped from the face of FaceBook. Greed has got the better of FaceBook's owners and since the IPO, we've started seeing how the business model now works. That's their prerogative, but it doesn't augur well for the longevity of the company, though.

It started with business pages. It turns out that customers who 'like' a business's page will not automatically see all posts by that business, contrary to what one would expect. Only 8-10% of the business's customers will actually get to see those posts. If a business wants to reach all of its customers, that can of course be arranged. FaceBook wants businesses to 'promote' their posts (on payment of an extra something, of course) to reach all of their customers. That 'extra something' is estimated to be $500 per customer. Sound like greed?

Well, maybe it's reasonable to expect for-profit organisations to pay their way instead of getting a free ride, but now the virus is hitting non-commercial users also. This is probably just a couple of days old. Post something that you think might be of interest to your friends, and FaceBook helpfully suggests that you 'announce' it.

OK, so 'announced' posts are seen by twice as many friends. I see. So applying some rough arithmetic tells me that a regular post will only be made visible to half my friends by default. A slightly more generous proportion than that afforded to businesses. Oh well! Might as well 'announce' it, then. So you click the "Announce" button, and you get this:

Ah, 2.34 GBP so all your friends can see what you have to say. But shouldn't your friends already see what you post? Isn't that the definition of 'friend'?

No, this is the new FaceBook. They reckon they've got enough eyeballs, now they can start gouging (that makes for particularly gruesome imagery).

My prediction? FaceBook will be gone in a year if they don't back-pedal. We like social media, but we don't really need it with the shackles added. Bye-bye, FaceBook!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Celsius-Fahrenheit Conversion Lite

I was talking to an American at QCon about how cold Sydney gets in "winter", and I realised I didn't know how to readily express 5 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit, which is what the Americans understand (to go with their other antediluvian measures like gallons, pounds and miles). Of course, I know that you multiply by 9, divide by 5 and add 32, but it's not an operation you can do when you're talking ("in clickstream", to use an expression I learnt at the conference).

This guy told me an approximation that works pretty well:

Celsius to Fahrenheit: Double the value and add 30.
Fahrenheit to Celsius: Subtract 30 and halve.

So 5 degrees Celsius is approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit ((5 x 2) + 30), which is close to the actual number, which is 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sometimes, "timely and close enough" are better than "accurate but too late".

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A Immigrant's Discovery of Australian Movies

Australian movies - Is that even a category?

For a long time, growing up as I did in India, I only knew of two kinds of movies, - English and Indian. (Being South Indian, I knew that Bollywood/Hindi movies weren't the only Indian ones!). But it took a few years for me to realise that English-language movies themselves were not a monolithic group. British movies were different from American ones, and the discovery came as a pleasant surprise. I learnt to enjoy both.

I repeatedly rediscover the truth expressed by author Aatish Taseer, that "the world is richer in its hybrids." A world with only one genre of anything would be bland indeed, and it's as true for movies as it is for anything else. It's with a fresh thrill that I have discovered a third category of English-language movies. It turns out my adopted country makes some pretty awesome movies too, and they have their own distinct flavour to them.

An Australian friend first introduced me to "The Castle" (Thanks, David Urquhart!). This was hilarious. I found myself gasping with surprised laughter at the unexpected lines ("I pay cash" "What is it with you wogs and cash, anyway?") and some of the most sloppy legal arguments ever made ("It's the vibe").

I recently watched "Kenny", which is the portrait of the perfect Aussie bloke, an unassuming man in the most er, mundane job one can imagine, yet facing every difficult situation and difficult person with patience, humour and a philosophical attitude. I haven't yet read anything of Dostoevsky's novel "The Idiot", but a blurb said it was a "portrait of the perfect man". "Kenny" is exactly that. It too has hilariously funny lines delivered deadpan ("I can't advise you on what marriage will be like, mate. If you were to marry my ex-wife, I could tell you a fair bit, but you'll be marrying someone else, mate.") 

On the flight to NY, I decided to watch Australian movies after I finished watching "John Carter of Mars". Since I was flying Qantas, this was an opportunity that normally doesn't come my way.

The first one I saw was "Swerve", a low-budget action-thriller set in a small outback town. Lots of violence and killing, but also the trademark Aussie humour throughout. The scenes of criminal activity taking place right when the police band is marching through town and when policemen are having tea in a train's restaurant car are wickedly funny. It's an irreverent Aussie poke at their cops. After this movie, I long to see the Outback for myself and travel on the Indian-Pacific Railway from coast to coast.

I then saw the romantic comedy "Any Questions for Ben?", a story of a highly-paid twenty-something "brand strategy manager", whose life is a meaningless sequence of parties, drinking and sex. The protagonist is quite a jerk and never managed to gain my empathy. He didn't deserve to get the girl. In fact, he didn't deserve to get any girl, in my opinion. From a certain perspective, this movie was pointless. But it was absolutely thrilling for me to see an Australian city (Melbourne) picturised so brilliantly. I never realised Melbourne was such a beautiful and happening world-class city.

The male lead was a jerk, but the female lead didn't really have a lot of character depth either. I didn't really understand what made her tick or what she stood for. But man, is Rachael Taylor a looker! I consider her the best-looking movie star since Jacqueline Bisset.

It's weird that the movie billed as a comedy wasn't really funny, but the action/thriller was the one with the wicked humour.

At any rate, I've discovered one more reason to be proud of being Aussie. We've got some great movies with a flavour all their own!

Review of "John Carter of Mars"

I watched three movies on the flight to NY. One of them was "John Carter of Mars".

Everyone knows Tarzan of course, but I have always been fascinated with Edgar Rice Burroughs's other creation. His series of stories about John Carter and Barsoom (Mars) simply weren't talked about much. I did come across the odd comic when I was a kid, and this only enhanced the air of suspense and mystery about John Carter's Mars. One of my comics ended on a cliff-hanger when the princess Dejah Thoris, having despatched four armour-wearing "instructoresses" in the arena, now faced a much more formidable challenger - a Green Martian. "And she stood with a smile on her lips to face death, as befits the daughter of ten thousand Jeddaks..." I never got to read the sequel.

That's why I could barely suppress my delight when I saw "John Carter of Mars" listed among the movies on Qantas's entertainment system, and that was the very first one I watched.

Well, what can I say? This was a fantastic movie, a real classic. I wonder why it didn't click in the theatres. Perhaps a combination of inadequate promotion and having the oxygen sucked out of the entertainment world by The Avengers contributed to the commercial flop.

But seriously, see it, people. This reviewer shares my enthusiasm.

This movie has everything, - adventure, fantasy, action, romance, a hero with courage and heart but a tragic past, a beautiful and strong warrior-princess (who is also a scientist - ticks all my boxes!), a hyper-cute dog-like monster, and the most chilling set of villains to come along in a while. It's very scary to think there can be a bunch of people older than all our civilisations who can manipulate us (Earthmen or Martians) into destroying ourselves - but gratifying that they too can be beaten.  

This is the second time Mars has re-entered my consciousness in a fortnight. Ray Bradbury's passing made me reflect on The Martian Chronicles, the red dust and the glass cities with their brittle spires. And now Edgar Rice Burroughs has deliciously assaulted my senses with this classic. (Mild spoiler: I simply loved the scene when John Carter first realises that Mars's low gravity effectively gives him super-strength.)

The best tribute to both these writers would be to describe "John Carter of Mars" with the title of one of Ray Bradbury's stories - "Mars is Heaven".

Oh, Barsoom!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Agnostic Argument - 2 (Imaginary Numbers and the Power of Prayer)

In the previous instalment, I set up a framework to decompose the various aspects of the "God" concept into "assertions" that could be evaluated relatively independently. Using this framework, compound claims can be broken up into their constituent assertions, and we can tell whether disproving one assertion automatically invalidates the others or not. On a personal note, I'm gratified that it upgrades my position of agnosticism from a rather embarrassing "I do not know" to "I know exactly what I have proved to be false and what I have not".

In this post, I want to talk about another case of compound claims by theists that results in a logical error on the part of the atheists. A frequently-stated atheist position is the inefficacy of prayer. The argument goes that since God does not exist, all prayers directed at God are a waste of time. Therefore, a true atheist must not pray. To my mind, this argument also seems over-reaching because it involves a non sequitur. To wit, God may not exist, but prayer may still be useful for some neuroscientific reason that we still don't understand. Disproving the existence of God does not automatically disprove the efficacy of prayer.

As an analogy, the square root of minus one does not exist, but it would be silly to assert that it is a waste of time to solve mathematical equations involving such "imaginary numbers" merely because they don't exist! On the contrary, very useful results have been obtained, notably in electronics engineering and electrical circuit design, through the use of imaginary numbers.

We know that "faith moves mountains". We have heard of doctors curing patients with placebos, and sometimes with nothing more than their confident word. We know of people who achieved stupendous tasks under the stress of a crisis, and who could not repeat the feat later once they realised how "impossible" it was.

The mind is a very powerful thing, and neuroscience constantly surprises us with what it is capable of achieving.

Opposition to prayer is another trap that atheists have fallen into because of a logical fallacy. They have accepted yet another of the theistic compound claims at face value and failed to break it up into separate assertions to be dealt with independently. The compound claim of the religious ("God answers the prayers of all those who believe in Him") could be thought of as being composed of the following assertions:
  • God exists
  • We should pray to God with faith
  • If we have faith, our prayers will be answered
It may well be that the third statement is independently true regardless of the truth of the first and second statements.

In other words, the "magic" ingredient may be faith itself rather than the object of that faith. Somehow, the mind may be organising itself and influencing others in ways that bring about desired results. We need more research into prayer. A rejection of prayer merely because of its traditional association with a being whose existence is doubtful may be an illogical position, and could be costing us many free benefits.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Agnostic Argument - 1 (An Assertion-based Framework to Assess Theistic Claims)

[An abridged version of this post appears as a guest article on my friend Gill Eapen's blog.]

I consider myself an agnostic and not an atheist. I confess this has always embarrassed me a little, because I cannot boast of any of the certainty that theists and atheists display in their respective positions. I do try to be a rationalist though, and by this measure, I must say I have found both theists and atheists wanting. Lately, I have stumbled upon a conceptual framework that allows me to be more structured in my approach to the theist-atheist debate, and now I'm no longer embarrassed about my lack of certainty. I now know what we can be certain about and what we cannot. The lack of rationalism in the theistic position is well-known (it emphasises faith over reason, after all), but this framework for the first time allows us to see exactly where the atheist argument fails.

Let's say your five-year old tells you one night that he just saw an eight foot tall bogeyman moving about in the garden. What would you do?

You would probably break your child's report down into three parts, and deal with each of them differently:

Statement 1: There's someone in the garden.
Statement 2: That someone is the bogeyman.
Statement 3: The bogeyman is eight feet tall.

You can probably safely dismiss Statement 3 as the product of a child's imagination. No one is eight feet tall. Well, perhaps if they're wearing stilts, but on the balance of probabilities, you can probably rule that out.

You probably don't have to give any credence to Statement 2 because the term "bogeyman" is just a name that holds a special fearful meaning to a child. Any other name could be used in its place and it would add no value to the observation.

That leaves Statement 1, which may have to be taken seriously. The child may in fact have seen someone moving about in the garden, and this is something that calls for investigation.

What this tells us is that we may often hear statements that contain more than one assertion, and we need to tease apart those various assertions in order to deal with the overall statement sensibly. It would be irresponsible, in our example, to refuse to investigate whether there is someone in the garden merely because there is no such thing as the bogeyman or because no one can be eight feet tall.

Religions routinely make such compound claims. As a rationalist, I would not take them as literally true or as the word of God. Religious texts were authored by human beings. They make various claims, and these claims are artificially fused into what the religion in question would consider "core beliefs". An adherent must believe in all the claims to be considered a believer. Selective unbelief is generally not tolerated (although in today's world, most educated theists do exhibit only selective belief in the core scriptures of their religion).

My experience as an IT professional working in the area of Identity Management has exposed me to structured ways of analysing compound claims. What people hold to be truths can be considered "assertions", the validity of which needs to be proven. The technology standard called Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) talks about three types of assertions that can be made about a subject: Identity Assertions (i.e., that a subject exists and can be uniquely identified as such-and-such), Attribute Assertions (i.e., that a subject has certain properties) and Entitlement Assertions (i.e., that a subject may be permitted to do certain things).

I believe the theist-atheist debate can also be meaningfully structured using this assertion-based framework. The various statements made about God need to be deconstructed into a set of "assertions" before we can start to prove or disprove any of them. I believe this is sorely needed because I have seen atheists make statements to the effect that since Evolution adequately explains how life evolved on earth, it proves that God does not exist. To my mind, this is analogous to responding to your child saying that since no one can be eight feet tall, there cannot be anyone in the garden. To be truly rational, we need to understand the scope of what we are proving or disproving and not to conflate a limited proof to one with a wider scope.

Here's my attempt at this:

Existence Assertions (EA):
  • God exists
Attribute (or Capability) Assertions (AA):
  • God is omniscient (all-knowing)
  • God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
  • God is omnipresent
  • God is all-merciful
Deed (or Event) Assertions (DA):
  • God created the Universe
  • God created all life on Earth
Intent Assertions (IA):
  • God has a plan for all of us
  • God does everything for the good
[There could be additional assertions too, for example an Attribute Assertion that God is male. However, this is not likely to be universally accepted by theists. The Vedantins, for instance, claim that there exists a Supreme Consciousness but make no assertions about the gender of this being. Worshippers of the Mother Goddess see divinity as feminine.]

[Not all theists accept all of the above assertions. I personally know of one person who implicitly rejects the Intent Assertions above because of their paranoid belief that God is malevolent and vindictive, and who prays only to humour him.]

Now, all these assertions are independent (of course, the Existence Assertion is an obvious precondition for all of the others). Importantly, we should recognise that one or more of these assertions may be proven or disproven without impact upon the others. We should also recognise that some of these assertions may be partially proven or disproven (e.g., that God may not be all-knowing, but knows more than all humans put together).

While theism takes all the above assertions as valid without proof, atheism doesn't always do a convincing job of disproving them either. Part of the reason is that atheistic arguments take the compound claims of religion at face value and do not tease apart the various assertions within them. This approach may be good for winning an argument, but not for establishing the truth. As a rationalist, I am more interested in the truth than in proving a prior position.

For example, even a definitive proof that the Universe was created by a Big Bang and not by God would not automatically disprove the existence of God, since the Existence Assertion does not depend upon the Deed Assertion. (At best, it would spell the end of "God as we know it".)

The same goes for the Theory of Evolution. The Theory of Evolution only disproves a single Deed Assertion, not the Existence Assertion or even any other Deed Assertion. [Incidentally, the use of the word "theory" for Evolution does not mean it is an unsubstantiated idea. In science, an idea has to have fairly strong evidence in its favour before it can be elevated to the status of a Theory. If it was just an idea without evidence, it would probably be called the Evolution Hypothesis or Darwin's Conjecture. Evolution is as much a theory as Gravitation, and a pretty strong refutation to the Deed Assertion that God created all life on Earth.]

But of course, even such a convincing refutation of the Deed Assertion does not automatically disprove the Existence Assertion. Many atheistic arguments make the irrational leap from one to the other, and this is where they can be seen to fail. By accepting without question the theists' bundling of assertions instead of challenging such bundling, atheists are in fact abandoning rationality and critical thought.

The assertion-based framework I introduce here allows us to play with ideas of "limited theism" by tweaking the degree to which each of the above assertions is valid. One could, for example, postulate the existence of a networked human consciousness that evolved along with the human species, that knows as much as all humans put together and has some limited ability to influence the actions of people. This hypothesis then accepts the Existence Assertion but only partially accepts the Attribute Assertions of classical theism.  Obviously, this consciousness did not create the Universe nor was it responsible for creation, since it was itself the product of Evolution. Hence, this limited theism rejects the Deed Assertions. In intent, the consciousness could be seen as benign, since by definition, a by-product of evolution probably is aligned to human survival and well-being. The hypothesis therefore accepts the Intent Assertions to a great extent. Such a hypothesis might be useful in exploring why prayer seems to work or in researching certain kinds of parapsychological phenomena without stigma. Without such a framework, a discussion of phenomena like the efficacy of prayer would call for taking sides between absolute atheism (which refuses to entertain any notion beyond the purely material) and outright mumbo-jumbo, where all rational thought is suspended.

We should be able to have a richer and more nuanced discussion about theology and similar subjects relating to the nature of our existence without being trapped within absolute, black-and-white positions. Hopefully, a framework such as this can provide a useful starting point to structure the debate.

Friday, 8 June 2012

And So Died Ray Bradbury

Looks like I'm not the only one to mourn Ray Bradbury, fantasy and science fiction author, who died on the 5th of June 2012. This cartoon says it all.

Bradbury wasn't just a fantasy and science fiction writer. He was a poet who could squeeze imagery and emotion out of words. I wish I could write like him.

One of my Ray Bradbury favourites is "And So Died Riabouchinska", a poignant love story later dramatised by Alfred Hitchcock for TV (and starring a very young and handsome Charles Bronson before the lines set in).
She was all white stone, with light pouring through the stone and light coming out of the dark eyes with blue tones beneath like fresh mulberries. He was reminded of milk glass and of cream poured into a crystal tumbler.
"You're making me sweat," said the detective. "Do you think I'm a fool? Do you think I don't know love when I see it? I've watched you handle the marionette, I've seen you talk to it, I've seen how you make it react to you. You're in love with the puppet naturally, because you loved the original woman very, very much. I've lived too long not to sense that." 
When he found the next day that she was really gone and there was nowhere to find her, it was like standing in the center of a titanic explosion. All the world was smashed flat and all the echoes of the explosion came back to reverberate at midnight, at four in the morning, at dawn, and he was up early, stunned with the sound of coffee simmering and the sound of matches being struck and cigarettes lit and himself trying to shave and looking at mirrors that were sickening in their distortion.

The movie clip is good, but can hardly capture the magic of Bradbury's prose-poetry.

She was that woman who always seemed to be passing by on days when the shade was green under the tunnels of oaks and elms in the old town, her face shifting with the bright shadows as she walked, until it was all things to all people. She was the fine peaches of summer in the snow of winter, and she was cool milk for cereal on a hot early-June morning. [...] And those rare few days in the world when the climate was balanced as fine as a maple leaf between winds that blew just right, those were the days like Ann Taylor, and should have been so named on the calendar.
As for Bob Spaulding, he was the cousin who walked alone through town on any October evening with a pack of leaves after him like a horde of Hallowe'en mice, or you would see him, like a slow white fish in spring in the tart waters of the Fox Hill Creek, baking brown with the shine of a chestnut to his face by autumn. Or you might hear his voice in those treetops where the wind entertained; dropping down hand by hand, there would come Bob Spaulding to sit alone and look at the world, and later you might see him on the lawn with the ants crawling over his books as he read through the long afternoons alone, or played himself a game of chess on Grandmother's porch, or picked out a solitary tune upon the black piano in the bay window.

One of the wisest and most moving passages is from that story, the words of the 24 year-old teacher to her 13 year-old student:
First, let's admit that we are the greatest and best friends in the world. Let's admit I have never had a student like you, nor have I had as much affection for any boy I've ever known. [...] And let me speak for you -- you've found me to be the nicest teacher of all teachers you've ever known. [...] But there are facts to be faced and an entire way of life to be considered. I've thought this over for a good many days, Bob. Don't think I've missed anything, or been unaware of my own feelings in the matter. Under any normal circumstances our friendship would be odd indeed. But then you are no ordinary boy. I know myself pretty well, I think, and I know I'm not sick, either mentally or physically, and that whatever has evolved here has been a true regard for your character and goodness; but those are not the things we consider in this world, unless they occur in a man of a certain age. In an ideal climate, Bob, maybe someday they will be able to judge the oldness of a person's mind so accurately that they can say, `This is a man, though his body is only thirteen; by some miracle of circumstances and fortune, this is a man, with a man's recognition of responsibility and position and duty'; but until that day, Bob, I'm afraid we're going to have to go by ages and heights and the ordinary way in an ordinary world.
As if a motion-picture projector had jammed a single clear memory frame in his head, he found his mind focused ridiculously on a scene whipped out of childhood. Spring mornings as a boy he found he had leaned from his bedroom window into the snow-smelling air to see the sun sparkle the last icicle of winter. A dripping of white wine, the blood of cool but warming April fell from that clear crystal blade. Minute by minute, December's weapon grew less dangerous. And then at last the icicle fell with the sound of a single chime to the graveled walk below.
A million years ago a naked man on a lonely northern trail saw lightning strike a tree. And while his clan fled, with bare hands he plucked a limb of fire, broiling the flesh of his fingers, to carry it, running in triumph, shielding it from the rain with his body, to his cave, where he shrieked out a laugh and tossed it full on a mound of leaves and gave his people summer. And the tribe crept at last, trembling, near the fire, and they put out their flinching hands and felt the new season in their cave, this small yellow spot of changing weather, and they, too, at last, nervously, smiled. And the gift of fire was theirs.
And here is our cup of energy, fire, vibration, call it what you will, that may well power our cities and sail our ships and light our libraries and tan our children and bake our daily breads and simmer the knowledge of our universe for us for a thousand years until it is well done. Here, from this cup, all good men of science and religion: Drink! Warm yourselves against the night of ignorance, the long snows of superstition, the cold winds of disbelief, and from the great fear of darkness in each man. So: We stretch out our hand with the beggar's cup.... "Ah."
The Cup dipped into the sun. It scooped up a bit of the flesh of God, the blood of the universe, the blazing thought, the blinding philosophy that set out and mothered a galaxy, that idled and swept planets in their fields and summoned or laid to rest lives and livelihoods.
The beautiful hand outside the ship trembled, a tremendous image of his own gesture, sank with oiled silence into the ship body. The Cup, lid shut, dripped yellow flowers and white stars, slid deep. The audiothermometer screamed. The refrigerator system kicked; ammoniated fluids banged the walls like blood in the head of a shrieking idiot.
The captain sat for a long while by the body, feeling many separate things. I feel sad, he thought, and I feel good, and I feel like a boy coming home from school with a handful of dandelions.
His men waited for him to say it out. They waited for him to gather all of the coolness and the whiteness and the welcome and refreshing climate of the word in his mind, and they saw him settle the word, like a bit of ice cream, in his mouth, rolling it gently. [...]
"North," murmured the captain. "North." And they all smiled, as if a wind had come up suddenly in the middle of a hot afternoon.

For the sheer romance of time travel with dinosaur thrills, you can't beat A Sound of Thunder (this site has the original story with illustrations!) It still gives me goose pimples to read

What's with the spelling? You need to read the story to find out!

Well, you get the picture. Nobody, but nobody, could write like Ray Bradbury. And now he's gone.

His epitaph may be most aptly sourced from his own work "Something Wicked This Way Comes":
Death doesn't exist. It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.

Se-paletted at Birth?

I just realised these two iconic pictures are strikingly similar.

Norman Rockwell - Self Portrait

The Carpenters: Christmas Portrait - Album Cover

How many similarities can you find?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Modern Medical Miracles

I believe we are on the cusp of a new Golden Age, and this article supports my feeling. Go ahead and read it, but these were the bits that stood out for me:

Imagine the leaps we can make as a species if we [lived to 150]. In the early 1900s, for example, life expectancy was 30, so inventors, artists, scientists and engineers reached their peak in their twenties. Today, those same people (sic!) are at their prime in their forties and fifties. [...] But imagine [...] if they were able to carry on inventing and discovering for another 30 or 40 years. The Renaissance may have been a direct result of the development of reading glasses. which enabled older people to participate in a way that they couldn't before because their eyes were not working properly.

You can say that again. My late father's brain was as alert and active at age 80 as it was in his younger days, but he had to give up reading and translating Japanese because his eyesight was a lot worse.

A professor is working on "quantum dots" - microscopic, photosensitive flecks of silicone that could one day be used to "inject" new information into the brain and provide non-invasive treatment for Alzheimer's, epilepsy and blindness.

And autism, hopefully.

He and his team had managed to put mice into a state of suspended animation using hydrogen sulphide. [...] A mouse that had been fully suspended has no heartbeat, but the cells have also stopped dying. After six hours, Roth was able to bring it "back to life". [...] Trying to get the medical community on board would be challenging, though, Roth admits. He thinks inducing a partially suspended state ("dimming the lights rather than turning them out completely") would be more acceptable.

I think the human race has a skewed sense of ethics. We worry about the naturalness of new things, right from the earliest view of medicine as interfering with the suffering that God has purportedly willed for us, to today's debates about stem cell therapy. Influenced by my background in IT, I view the human being as nothing more than software running on hardware, - an electro-chemical consciousness (or "state" in IT terms) running on complex, but fragile, organic hardware. That's why I don't believe there is a mystical "soul", and why I have no moral qualms about messing around with hardware, swapping parts, suspending system state, and the like. Anything to keep the operating system stable and running, because that's what we are :-).

If we were to take [hydrogen sulphide] at night, to suspend instead of sleep for example, would we live twice as long?

Make it available at my chemist, and I'll buy it :-).

He needs an organ transplant, so Satava instructs the computer built into the surgical robot to print one using the soldier's stem cells. [...] because there was no internet connection in the middle of the desert, they used a transponder on an unmanned aerial vehicle hovering overhead.

Of course, it's got to be for soldiers first! The military must always come before the civilian. What's really obscene about our civilisation is how the improvement of our peacetime lives is so often just a spin-off from the improvement in our ability to kill each other.

Chizeck says they're also working on creating "no fly zones" around certain anatomical structures that a surgeon doesn't want to touch.

Yup, it would be great if organs not involved in a surgical procedure could be "greyed out" so a remote surgeon couldn't accidentally "click" on them and do damage.

In short, we are all IT people now. Banking and financial services are nothing but computer systems these days, and often some systems guy knows the business logic better than the business executives themselves. It'll be cool if someday a nerd in a computer room somewhere knows more about surgery than the surgeons themselves...