Thinking on the ethics of AI

Artificial Intelligence. Image from with permission

Artificial Intelligence has been on my mind a lot recently as it invades medicine and the rest of society too. The Australian government is putting effort into developing ethical guidelines around AI and I been puzzling as to how that should look.

Central to that are concerns around privacy which are hardly new but are more and more in the center of developing technologies which move faster than the regulators can catch up.  If we give over personal information do we know how that is going to be used? Re-used? Re-sold?  Do we really have a clue as to how it may be used.  Should we be entitled to an expectation that all the uses of that information are related to the reason why we handed it over initially?  I think so.

If our personal information has value then who owns that value?  When we get a service for free then it’s often been said that we are the product.  But perhaps its fair to expect that the provider of that ‘free’ service let’s us know who the end users of our information are, and perhaps we should have an option to opt out.

Does the right to be forgotten help you?  There has been much made of an expectation that online services shouldn’t hold our information for ever – they should allow us to be forgotten when we want to.  Embarrasing selfie from uni days – forgotten!  Social media post espousing views you are no longer proud of – forgotten!  I fell off my chair when I discovered that Google knew exactly where I was day in and day out for several years.  But it’s now – forgotten! Perhaps even more critical to the AI debate is the right to correct information that is held about you and to know exactly what information is on file.

So given all that information is being collected, what should we expect before Artificial Intelligence systems start making decisions about us? I’ve got: Fairness, Contestability, Transparency, Privacy and Compliance with the Law.  From and society-wide viewpoint its interesting to think about net benefit – or as Google famously puts it: “don’t be evil.”

It’s the last of these that is engaging the little bit of my brain that it interested in philosophy because it really does stir up some ethical thought.  If you develop a cool AI that saves you and your customers time and money then  – cool, well done.  But what if there are losers in that process, perhaps some of your customers can’t use it or get odd, unjust or incorrect responses.  Overall you and your customers are happy but some people get shafted.  Do we accept a utilitarian type conclusion that, overall, things worked out well.  Or do we demand a social justice type approach where we do the extra yards to look after everyone.  Does the answer to that depend on the service at hand?  Or who the provider is?  Generally we’d expect our governments to do work which was inclusive, just and defensible (do you know about the Aussie RoboDebt debacle?) Other firms maybe held to a lesser standard but probably they shouldn’t be.  If your bank refuses your loan application then it seems fair that your should be able to ask ‘why?’ And get and answer that makes sense, is legally based and correct.

Returning from the College of Surgeons meeting with themes for 2019

Temple and Mass transit from the Bangkok convention center

This year the Australasian College of Surgeons met in Bangkok.  I’ve always loved Thailand and signed up early for the week in the warm, fascinating, beautiful, crazy and polluted Kingdom of Thailand.  Bizzarely, as I dropped in for the firs visit it years the Thais were celebrating the coronation of their new King and the capital was looking more beautiful than ever with posters, flags, flowers and temples everywhere to celebrate the auspicious occasion.

The College meeting is different for everyone because there are often four, five of six sessions running concurrently with lots of choices and variety.  That’s before you get tempted by catching up with friends and colleagues for lunch, dinner or drinks. So for me the themes that came out of the meeting we about technology, especially artificial intelligence and diversity which has been front and center for a few years now.

In some ways that’s odd because there’s nothing about the technical aspects of my job. Sometimes that’s the way  – and this year the most exciting stuff about reconstructive surgery was from the genetics lab where certain ‘unsolvable’ problems are slowly being nutted out.  I will remain ever grateful to those doing that work because it won’t be me!

So, artificial intelligence, makes its way into the OR!  The smart Neurosurgeons have forever been trying to leverage technology to make some of their work more successful. (Check out the work of Antonio Di Ieva). Some brain tumours are just nasty – aggressive, prone to reccurr quickly and associated with damaging surgery and terrible long term results.  New work using Fractal geometry and computer learning is trying to steer surgery better to remove tumours more completely while damaging surrounding brain less.  Clearly the maths is making it into the mainstream and into the theatre.  Hopefully it makes a big difference.

Part of this progress is due to ever greater access to computational tools previously stuck in university departments, programmed by experts and horribly expensive.  The new centre at Maquarie Uni in computational medicine will be a first but not the last.  Artificial intelligence tools are much more broadly available and coming to be used in new ways every month.

This has me thinking about my field and especially about melanoma.  We still have problems with diagnosis in melanoma – too many patioents needs invasive biopsies for rule out the presence of melanoma when all along they have benign moles.  Expert assessment is not that accurate and cameras, microscopes and fancy lights have only helped a little.  The field is crying out for better tools and they are coming.  I’m expecting the AI would to march into skin assessment just as it is taking steps into radiology and pathology.  Interesting days!

Busy Bangkok

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to a terrific mentor.

I was at a memorial service today for a great local mentor who was so important to me as my early career developed. His granddaughter Tessa read this poem by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. I can’t remember hearing it before and I was so impressed by her reading and by Longfellow’s sentiment. Much better than the simplistic carpe diem.

A Psalm of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.
Thanks to Don for everything that you taught me and I can see that you lived by Longfellow’s message to “Act, – act in the living Present”.

Adobe Lightroom CC first impressions

I’ve been running Adobe’s new iteration of Lightroom for the last couple of weeks and I am starting to form some interesting impressions.  It would be fair to say some positive and some negative.

Lightroom has been around for years and has been the mainstay of my organising my library.  I take lots of photos or my patients at work and I also have a large number of personal photos.  There are a little over 50,000 images in my libraries and only Lightroom has enabled me to tackle organising them.  I used Lightroom 3 and then 4 for many years and extensively employed:

  • a folder based organisation structure
  • keywords
  • collections

These tools set me up for organisation but I was always in trouble when I changed devices or I wanted to use a mobile device.  I always worried about backups too and had a three layer backup plan.

The biggest change with the new Lightroom CC is moving the primary repository of all the images into the cloud.  Each device keeps a low res version of each image but overall there is less space needed and everything stays up to date.  I love that.  The App for Android, which I use, is simple but really effective.  I can take images on the phone camera and add them to my library immediately.  They are backed up, available and synced! Finally!

The new lightroom also does an awesome job with face recognition which becomes a really useful tool albeit several years after Apple implemented it.  The cloud storage also allows search using any term, not just previously applied tags.  This is terrific if I want to find photos of elephants, the beach or sunset.  It’s less awesome if I want to be able to separate photos of melanoma from squamous cell tumours.  I’ll need to tag those.

Where I feel let down is that Lightroom still feels like a work in progress, major features are missing and the product does not replicate the tools of the old desktop Lightroom 4.
Thinks like the ability to print.  To search for tag1 and tag2.  To find photos with no tag. Most editing tools are more basic too although this has little effect on me as I’m not often looking for those tools.

My advice is: enjoy it for what its is but recognise what it is not.  It not a polished piece of software yet but hopefully additions will roll out frequently!

Installing SSL was not entirely smooth

The browsers that I use regularly, particularly Google Chrome and Firefox have been becoming more and more noisy about web pages that use the http protocol.  This is the long established but insecure protocol that sends pages from server to client unencrypted.  The more more modern and in some ways more secure https is preferred.  So it became time to upgrade my website and its WordPress blog to enable https.

The first step was easy – my host was able to automatically generate an SSL certificate which is installed on the web server and which allows communications to be signed and transmitted securely encrypted.  That was done with a click of a button.  Thanks WebSiteSource.

Next, as I worked through this HowTo, was a recommendation to install a plugin called ReallySimple SSL.  Sounded good to me but for some reason I started hitting a reasonably well know WordPress problem.  I started getting blank screens in the admin area of my WordPress blog.  Fortunately there were a few guides, including this one, which helped work out which Theme or Plugin was responsible.  A bit of FTP work, following the youtube instruction was all that was necessary.

Now Really Simple SSL is playing nicely with all the other elements of my site and I have a lovely little green padlock in Firefox.

Typing tutors

As an adult who was never taught to type at school I have decided that enough is enough! It’s time to type properly. I gave been trying out a bunch of speed typing websites and here are my favourites.

EdClub has TypingClub with hundreds of pages of instruction. I rate it as my current fav.  Now on lesson 140 I’m starting to feel that I’m making progress but it still hurts to go backwards before picking up speed.

Note to self: Time to ditch WEP secured WiFi

You know how there’s a special class of thinks which sit on your list of items ‘to do’ but somehow never make it to the top and just don’t get done. Well the WiFi at home has been in that category for perhaps two years. I have an old, sprawling brick house and need three access points to provide reasonable coverage. When I set it up (in 2007, I think) WEP was already insecure and outdated but now its really an embarrassment.

What’s the problem? WEP is an antiquated standard which is easily broken allowing unknown users into your network. This tutorial show you how to reveal the holes in your WEP WiFi in three minutes.  So rather than providing security against malicious users all it does is provide a veneer of apparent security and block you family and mates from using your network.

This week it has to go….!

Is this the turning of the Australian privacy tide?

In a small step towards recognising the legitimately personal nature of metadata the Australian Privacy Commissioner has ordered telco Telstra to hand over personal metadata to journalist Ben Grubb after a two year dispute. The story is covered by ABC here.

The ruling appears to represent a different point of view to that espoused by the Abbott government which has argued that mandatory data retention laws did not retain personal information because metadata was analogous to no more than the address on an envelope (Abbott’s analogy in August 2014.)  Clearly information that records where I was, when and who I contacted is a lot more personal that that.  Also clearly, if the AFP posted an officer at my front gate to check what envelopes come into my letter box, I’d be worried.

The issue is briefly covered by Lateline reporter Margot O’Neil in a video here.

Annoyed? Google ‘citizens not suspects‘ or ‘electronic frontiers Australia‘.