Monday, February 18, 2019

Russia, China, and the New Cold War

Overly aggressive US foreign and economic policies toward Russia and China are pushing the two into a tighter relationship. US rapprochement with China, exploiting Sino-Soviet tensions, was an important achievement of Nixon and Kissinger in the previous Cold War. Today a solidified Russia-China bloc is an extremely negative development for US interests.

There are important synergies between the two countries. Russia still leads in key military technologies, and can supply China with badly needed natural resources.  China has a more vibrant economy and is starting to surge into global leadership across a range of technologies and in manufacturing.

The main source of potential conflict between the two is the sparsely populated, but resource rich, Russian Far East. I doubt territorial ambitions there are a top priority for China, especially if an amicable trading relationship can be established for oil, gas, and other resources. Chinese economic influence in the region is growing, threatening to overwhelm the Russians. But the trajectory is manageable if both sides agree to cooperate.

The article excerpted below is by Bruno Maçães, a former Europe minister for Portugal, and author of The Dawn of Eurasia (Penguin 2018).
Politico (EU): ... In the halls of the Kremlin these days, it’s all about China — and whether or not Moscow can convince Beijing to form an alliance against the West.

Russia’s obsession with a potential alliance with China was already obvious at the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual gathering of Russia’s biggest foreign policy minds, in 2017.

At their next meeting, late last year, the idea seemed to move from the speculative to something Russia wants to realize. And soon.

... Every Russian speech — from obscure academics to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself — played that note and no other. There was even a new sense of desperation in the air.

As Sergey Karaganov, a former adviser to Putin, explained to me at breakfast, now everything must be about China.

... There was no doubt at Valdai that China knows how to do economic growth, and that Russia does not. Russia’s elite — always so ready to resist any sign of Western hegemony — have no problem admitting China’s economic superiority. Their acceptance reminded me of the way Britain gave way to the United States as the world’s dominant economic power.

... In the past, the possibility of an alliance between the two countries had been hampered by China’s reluctance to jeopardize its relations with the U.S. But now that it has already become a target, perhaps it will grow bolder. Every speaker at Valdai tried to push China in that direction.

When Putin finished a fireside chat with policymakers — a set-piece of the conference, where he fields softball questions from the audience — he made a gesture to leave the room, but then quickly rushed back to grab Yang Jiechi, a former Chinese foreign minister and arguably the main architect of the country’s foreign policy. He insisted on walking out with Yang by his side, to the obvious delight of his Chinese guest.

... I met Karaganov again at a meeting with Chinese officials and think tankers in Beijing a few weeks ago. There, a number of Chinese participants said they doubted Russia’s assertions that the world is in the midst of a new Cold War.

Karaganov dedicated himself to convincing them otherwise, arguing with increasing passion that China is deluding itself if it thinks issues between Beijing and Washington can be conveniently resolved to the benefit of both sides.

If Beijing places its bets on peace and cooperation, the great Chinese adventure will come to an end, and China will have to live in the shadow of the U.S. for another generation — perhaps forever, Karaganov said. Chinese authorities, he argued, have no more than five years to make a decision.

The meeting was held under the Chatham House rule, so unfortunately, I cannot report on what the response from the Chinese side was; only Karaganov allowed me to relay his words.

... from my own separate conversations, Chinese officials appear to agree the clock is ticking. They’re just not yet convinced they should choose war — even a Cold War.
More Bruno Maçães: podcast interview on his new book Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order. See also Remarks on the Decline of American Empire.

Ice Cream Kron

First UFC victory by a Gracie since 1994! Congratulations to Kron, son of Rickson Gracie. His nickname, Ice Cream Kron, means Cool Under Pressure. Ironically, you can tell that he's a sensitive guy and that fighting takes a huge toll on him.

He won in old school fashion. The progression was classic -- something I taught to Yale BJJ club students in the mid-1990s. Caceres throws a right, Kron ducks under to get the clinch, hiding his head under Cacere's arm. Kron takes the back, entwines his leg and uses his bodyweight to take Caceres to the mat. Kron moves smoothly into a rear naked choke, hiding his hands from Caceres. Almost no energy expended by Kron. Alex Caceres, an athletic UFC veteran, defeated in 90 seconds with a minimum of violence.

Jiujitsu, the gentle art.

Some background on Rickson and Kron, from Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan. Kron's submission grappling fights against Garry Tonon and Marcelo Garcia are unbelievable.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Precision Genomic Medicine and the UK

I just returned from the UK, where I attended a Ditchley Foundation Conference on machine learning and genetic engineering. The attendees included scientists, government officials, venture capitalists, ethicists, and medical professionals.

The UK could become the world leader in genomic research by combining population-level genotyping with NHS health records. The application of AI to datasets of this kind has already led to the creation of genomic predictors that can identify individuals at high risk for common disease conditions such as breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc. Such breakthroughs provide insight into the genetics of disease, and allow more efficient allocation of resources for prevention and early detection to the individuals who would most benefit. This saves both lives and money.

The US private health insurance system produces the wrong incentives for this kind of innovation: payers are reluctant to fund prevention or early treatment because it is unclear who will capture the ROI. Consider a cost-effective intervention that, e.g., prevents a patient from developing diabetes. This produces an obvious health benefit, but if the patient later changes insurer the financial benefits are lost to the one that paid for the intervention. Not a problem, though, in a single-payer system.

The NHS has the right incentives, the necessary scale, and access to a deep pool of scientific talent. The UK can lead the world into a new era of precision genomic medicine.

NHS has already announced an out-of-pocket genotyping service which allows individuals to pay for their own genotyping and to contribute their health + DNA data to scientific research. In recent years NHS has built an impressive infrastructure for whole genome sequencing (cost ~$1k per individual) that is used to treat cancer and diagnose rare genetic diseases. The NHS subsidiary Genomics England recently announced they had reached the milestone of 100k whole genomes.

For common conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, etc., most of the recent advances in risk prediction have come from even larger datasets (many hundreds of thousands of individuals) with genotypes from inexpensive arrays (~$50; like those used by 23andMe) that sample the genome at the roughly million or so most informative locations. By contrast, a whole genome sequence measures all 3 billion base pairs. This provides more raw data per individual, but we do not currently know how to use most of that information.

At the meeting, I emphasized the following:

1. NHS should offer both inexpensive (~$50) genotyping (sufficient for risk prediction of common diseases) along with the more expensive $1k whole genome sequencing. This will alleviate some of the negative reaction concerning a "two-tier" NHS, as many more people can afford the former.

2. An in-depth analysis of cost-benefit for population wide inexpensive genotyping would likely show a large net cost savings: the risk predictors are good enough already to guide early interventions that save lives and money. Recognition of this net benefit would allow NHS to replace the $50 out-of-pocket cost with free standard of care.

More on genomic precision medicine.

Slides I presented at Ditchley.

A 10 minute video covering the slides.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Manifold Show, episode 3: Noor Siddiqui on Stanford and Silicon Valley

Show Page    YouTube Channel

Noor Siddiqui, Thiel Fellow, on Stanford and Silicon Valley – Episode #3
Corey and Steve interview Noor Siddiqui, a student at Stanford studying AI, Machine Learning, and Genomics. She was previously a Thiel Fellow, and founded a medical collaboration technology startup after high school. The conversation covers topics like college admissions, Tiger parenting, Millennials, Stanford, Silicon Valley startup culture, innovation in the US healthcare industry, and Simplicity and Genius.

man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally
resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Brexit, the movie: Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings

The Brexit movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings, is really good.

I was able to watch it online for free: Channel 4 in the UK. (Perhaps you can do that as well if you don't get HBO.)

I had to see it this afternoon before heading over to Dom's for dinner tonight :-)

See Dom's blog On the referendum #20: the campaign, physics and data science
We created new software. This was a gamble but the whole campaign was a huge gamble and we had to take many calculated risks. One of our central ideas was that the campaign had to do things in the field of data that have never been done before. This included a) integrating data from social media, online advertising, websites, apps, canvassing, direct mail, polls, online fundraising, activist feedback, and some new things we tried such as a new way to do polling (about which I will write another time) and b) having experts in physics and machine learning do proper data science in the way only they can – i.e. far beyond the normal skills applied in political campaigns. We were the first campaign in the UK to put almost all our money into digital communication then have it partly controlled by people whose normal work was subjects like quantum information ...

If you want to make big improvements in communication, my advice is – hire physicists, not communications people from normal companies and never believe what advertising companies tell you about ‘data’ unless you can independently verify it. Physics, mathematics, and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting which satisfies neither of the necessary conditions – 1) enough structure in the information to enable good predictions, 2) conditions for good fast feedback and learning. Physicists and mathematicians regularly invade other fields but other fields do not invade theirs so we can see which fields are hardest for very talented people. It is no surprise that they can successfully invade politics and devise things that rout those who wrongly think they know what they are doing. Vote Leave paid very close attention to real experts. (The theoretical physicist Steve Hsu has a great blog HERE which often has stuff on this theme, e.g. HERE.)

More important than technology is the mindset – the hard discipline of obeying Richard Feynman’s advice: ‘The most important thing is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.’ They were a hard floor on ‘fooling yourself’ and I empowered them to challenge everybody including me. They saved me from many bad decisions even though they had zero experience in politics and they forced me to change how I made important decisions like what got what money. We either operated scientifically or knew we were not, which is itself very useful knowledge.
See also these old posts Brexit in the Multiverse: Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign and Brexit: victory over the Hollow Men.

From Dom himself (physicists appear at 13min40 ;-)

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