Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

Knowns and Unknowns

November 6, 2020

Are we really better off now than we used to be? In the old days we knew what we knew, and we knew there were things we didn’t know.  Today with the growth of data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, there are many more things we know and even more that we know we don’t know.  There are even things we could know but don’t bother to know, mainly because we don’t need to know them.  Someone else, or increasingly something else knows them for us, thus saving us the bother of knowing them.

We even discover from time to time that there are things we know that we didn’t know that we knew.  We are beginning to suspect that, more than all the things we know and know we don’t know, there are even more things we don’t know that we don’t know.  But we don’t know for sure that we don’t know them. If we knew this for sure (if we knew them) then it would just add to the things that we know that we don’t know and would no longer be unknown unknowns.[i]

It is kind of like the names of things.  Sometimes there are multiple names given to the same thing, and sometimes multiple things have the same name.  Of the two suboptimal situations multiple things with the same name is always the more vexing.  This is usually an intra-language problem and not inter-language problem, which makes it even more troubling.  You would expect a person speaking a different language would have a different name for something, but you might expect (wrongly it seems) that people speaking the same language would have the same name or names for the same thing.  Worse, people of the same language often have different polymorphic descriptors referring to the same object. 

What is even worse, a monomorphic descriptor can refer to a set of objects that can either overlap (like a Venn diagram[ii]) or be totally discontinuous, often without people even knowing that they don’t know.

[i] Conceptualized by Donald Rumsfeld February 2002.  Things we are neither aware of nor understand.

[ii] Conceived around 1880 by John Venn, according to Wikipedia.

Entropy and Consciousness, Part 2

September 25, 2020

This is a follow up to a previous article on consciousness and entropy:

We have entered into the age of uber-prediction.  No I don’t mean guessing when your hired ride will arrive, but an age when nearly everything is predicted.  Humans have, of course, always been predicting the outcomes of activities and events.  Predicting the future has been called an emergent behavior of intelligence. Our ancestors needed it to tell them the most likely places that the alpha predator might be hiding, as well as telling them which route would most likely be taken by the prey they are trying to catch.

There is a natural feedback loop between predicted outcomes and expected outcomes. If a predicted outcome is perceived to be within a certain margin of error of an expected outcome the prediction is said to have “worked” and this positive assessment (i.e. that the prediction worked) when it occurs tends to reinforce the use of predictive behavior in the future.  In other words it increases the occurrence of predictions and simultaneously increases the amount of data that can be used for future predictions.

In the past we did not have as much data or as much computing power to process the data as we have today. This had always acted as a constraint on, not only, the aspects of life that could be predicted (i.e. not enough data), but also on how quickly prediction worked in respect to the aspect of life being predicted (i.e. not enough processing power). Predictability now tends to “work” better than it ever did before because there is more data to use and faster ways to use it.  The success of prediction creates a virtuous cycle that reinforces the desire for more prediction.

The state of the world around us seems to be increasing in its predictability.  This leads me to believe that we must be pushing back more and more against entropy, which is defined by Claude Shannon in Information Theory as a state of zero predictability where all outcomes are equally likely. This means you need less new information to predict an outcome because the amount of ambient information is constantly increasing.  To make information work for you, often requires discovery of predictions made by others. Consequently you need to ask less questions to obtain a workable prediction. The less entropic a system, the more information it contains.

Information is measured in the bit, or single unit of surprise. The more bits a system has the more possible surprises it can have and the less entropic it is. So it follows that the more information there is in a system, the more units of surprise it potentially has. 

In My Humble Opinion

June 14, 2020

I was just thinking about how so much of the present day protests remind me of the 1960’s, in spirit at least, if not strictly on issues.  Protests of the 1980’s and 2000’s era seemed, to me at least, to get watered down too easily with every well intended “people oriented” cause of the day.  IMHO, this is probably why, for the most part, they don’t appear to have been very successful (though they did keep the ball rolling, so to speak).  If the current BLM protesters can stay focused and disciplined they do have a decent chance of actually influencing the evolution of social change as much or more than their predecessors.  But they need to stay focused on a few issues and their leaders need to have a concrete, but flexible program for specific steps that can be taken to correct the social and economic inequity that has now surfaced for all to see.

Sooner or later in this process people who are not themselves protestors will turn to the protestors, and the leaders who support them and say “What changes do you want to see enacted?”  Not what meta-issues do you feel (or know) are unjust and need to be corrected, but what enforceable steps do you think need to, and can be, taken?  I hope there is a short list of answers to this question.  Because if there is not, then the initiative, and its spirit, will quickly dissipate and the motivation to take corrective action will simply compete with the other issues of the day.

It is also important to understand that whatever solutions percolate out of the protests they have to produce two results, both measurable in a defined time frame.  Number one is a reduction in the occurrence of undesirable events, for example, unjustified murders by those who are expected to maintain order.  And second, a skewing, or slight flattening, of the wealth distribution curve.  I say “slight” because I would hate to see a disincentive to wealth creation in general.

I wish the peaceful protesters well.

Entropy and Consciousness

May 3, 2020

A curious finding according to the study referred to in the article above is that the human brain displayed higher entropy when fully conscious than when not. “Normal wakeful states are characterized by the greatest number of possible configurations of interactions between brain networks, representing highest entropy values,” the team wrote in the study.  This means that, at least to me, that the higher number of connections between brain cells at any point in time, the higher the level of entropy at that point.  One could extrapolate that the more wakeful one is the more entropy there is in the brain and by inference, as one goes to sleep the less entropic the brain becomes.

This seems to go against the idea that learning, reasoning and awareness about the world is a type of “push back” against entropy.  Instances of life are generally seen as organized, metabolizing and replicating pieces of matter that eventually are overcome by entropy and die.  Almost like little islands of anti-entropy in a sea of entropic chaos.  How life can maintain this uphill struggle has always been a fascinating subject of study for biological scientists. Individual instances cannot keep up the struggle forever.  We eventually fall below a minimal level of energy production and consumption and die. This is probably the motivator for the evolution of replication and reproduction.[i]

We think of consciousness as a characteristic of life and thus of order, but this study seems to say the opposite.  Consciousness is a characteristic of chaos and disorder, and that pieces of matter at various locations and periods of time, when they display local order, tend to have less entropy and less consciousness.  This seems to me to infer a type of “cosmic consciousness” associated with entropy.  A concept that, at least from my experience dates back to, at least the hippie era of the 1960’s and 70’s, when expressions such as this were quite often externally stimulated.

Can life’s tendency to continue to live, that is to be less entropic, be a natural reaction against the cosmic consciousness which tends to disorganize our local order?  Can states like sleep, for example, be temporary reversals in the flow toward entropy while consciousness pushes forward our flow toward it?  Is it possible that cosmic consciousness is just the sum total of all local consciousnesses, and after one dies consciousness in the form of entropy, in a sense, lives on?

Another article along the same vein is this:

An earlier post by me about entropy and information loss can be found at:

[i] A subject for another day.

The Scientist: DNA Could Hold Clues to Varying Severity of COVID-19

April 19, 2020

From the front lines of the COVID-19 War

March 25, 2020

25 March 2019

Let me start by saying I (Wayne Kurtz) am NOT a front line Medical Worker. I received this as an email from someone I know who is, and decided to share it here. It is a first hand observation and assessment of the situation in one emergency room in one hospital in one city (New Orleans, LA) within the first two weeks of the COV-19 Pandemic in the USA.

This is from the front lines. Read carefully and look up the words you do not understand. There are a few things I take away from this, number one if you think rubber gloves and a mask will save you from getting it you are deadly wrong.  I am an ER MD in New Orleans. Class of 98. Every one of my colleagues have now seen several hundred Covid 19 patients and this is what I think I know.

1. Clinical course is predictable. 2-11 days after exposure (day 5 on average) flu like symptoms start. Common are fever, headache, dry cough, myalgias(back pain), nausea without vomiting, abdominal discomfort with some diarrhea, loss of smell, anorexia, fatigue.

2. Day 5 of symptoms- increased SOB, and bilateral viral pneumonia from direct viral damage to lung parenchyma.

3. Day 10 – Cytokine storm leading to acute ARDS and multiorgan failure. You can literally watch it happen in a matter of hours.

4. 81% mild symptoms, 14% severe symptoms requiring hospitalization, 5% critical.

5. Patient presentation is varied. Patients are coming in hypoxic (even 75%) without dyspnea. I have seen Covid patients present with encephalopathy, renal failure from dehydration, DKA. I have seen the bilateral interstitial pneumonia on the xray of the asymptomatic shoulder dislocation or on the CT’s of the (respiratory) asymptomatic polytrauma patient. Essentially if they are in my ER, they have it. Seen three positive flu swabs in 2 weeks and all three had Covid 19 as well. Somehow this ***** has told all other disease processes to get out of town.

6. China reported 15% cardiac involvement. I have seen covid 19 patients present with myocarditis, pericarditis, new onset CHF and new onset atrial fibrillation. I still order a troponin, but no cardiologist will treat no matter what the number in a suspected Covid 19 patient. Even our non covid 19 STEMIs at all of our facilities are getting TPA in the ED and rescue PCI at 60 minutes only if TPA fails.

7. DiagnosticCXR- bilateral interstitial pneumonia (anecdotally starts most often in the RLL so bilateral on CXR is not required). The hypoxia does not correlate with the CXR findings. Their lungs do not sound bad. Keep your stethoscope in your pocket and evaluate with your eyes and pulse ox.

8. Labs- WBC low, Lymphocytes low, platelets lower then their normal, Procalcitonin normal in 95%
CRP and Ferritin elevated most often. CPK, D-Dimer, LDH, Alk Phos/AST/ALT commonly elevated.

9. Notice D-Dimer- I would be very careful about CT PE these patients for their hypoxia. The patients receiving IV contrast are going into renal failure and on the vent sooner.

10. Basically, if you have a bilateral pneumonia with normal to low WBC, lymphopenia, normal procalcitonin, elevated CRP and ferritin- you have covid-19 and do not need a nasal swab to tell you that.

11. A ratio of absolute neutrophil count to absolute lymphocyte count greater than 3.5 may be the highest predictor of poor outcome. the UK is automatically intubating these patients for expected outcomes regardless of their clinical presentation.

12. An elevated Interleukin-6 (IL6) is an indicator of their cytokine storm. If this is elevated watch these patients closely with both eyes. Other factors that appear to be predictive of poor outcomes are thrombocytopenia and LFTs 5x upper limit of normal.

13. Disposition – I had never discharged multifocal pneumonia before. Now I personally do it 12-15 times a shift. 2 weeks ago we were admitting anyone who needed supplemental oxygen. Now we are discharging with oxygen if the patient is comfortable and oxygenating above 92% on nasal cannula. We have contracted with a company that sends a paramedic to their home twice daily to check on them and record a pulse ox. We know many of these patients will bounce back but if it saves a bed for a day we have accomplished something. Obviously we are fearful some won’t make it back.
We are a small community hospital. Our 22 bed ICU and now a 4 bed Endoscopy suite are all Covid 19. All of these patients are intubated except one. 75% of our floor beds have been cohorted into covid 19 wards and are full. We are averaging 4 rescue intubations a day on the floor. We now have 9 vented patients in our ER transferred down from the floor after intubation.

14. Luckily we are part of a larger hospital group. Our main teaching hospital repurposed space to open 50 new Covid 19 ICU beds this past Sunday so these numbers are with significant decompression. Today those 50 beds are full. They are opening 30 more by Friday. But even with the “lockdown”, our AI models are expecting a 200-400% increase in covid 19 patients by 4/4/2020.

15. Treatment – Supportive.
Worldwide 86% of covid 19 patients that go on a vent die. Seattle reporting 70%. Our hospital has had 5 deaths and one patient who was extubated. Extubation happens on day 10 per the Chinese and day 11 per Seattle.

16. Plaquenil which has weak ACE2 blockade doesn’t appear to be a savior of any kind in our patient population. Theoretically, it may have some prophylactic properties but so far it is difficult to see the benefit to our hospitalized patients, but we are using it and the studies will tell. With Plaquenil’s potential QT prolongation and liver toxic effects (both particularly problematic in covid 19 patients), I am not longer selectively prescribing this medication as I stated on a previous post.

17. We are also using Azithromycin, but are intermittently running out of IV.
Do not give these patient’s standard sepsis fluid resuscitation. Be very judicious with the fluids as it hastens their respiratory decompensation. Outside the DKA and renal failure dehydration, leave them dry.

18. Proning vented patients significantly helps oxygenation. Even self proning the ones on nasal cannula helps.
Vent settings- Usual ARDS stuff, low volume, permissive hypercapnia, etc. Except for Peep of 5 will not do. Start at 14 and you may go up to 25 if needed.
Do not use Bipap- it does not work well and is a significant exposure risk with high levels of aerosolized virus to you and your staff. Even after a cough or sneeze this virus can aerosolize up to 3 hours.
The same goes for nebulizer treatments. Use MDI. you can give 8-10 puffs at one time of an albuterol MDI. Use only if wheezing which isn’t often with covid 19. If you have to give a nebulizer must be in a negative pressure room; and if you can, instruct the patient on how to start it after you leave the room.

19. Do not use steroids, it makes this worse. Push out to your urgent cares to stop their usual practice of steroid shots for their URI/bronchitis. We are currently out of Versed, Fentanyl, and intermittently Propofol. Get the dosing of Precedex and Nimbex back in your heads.

20. One of my colleagues who is a 31 yo old female who graduated residency last may with no health problems and normal BMI is out with the symptoms and an SaO2 of 92%. She will be the first of many.

21. I PPE best I have. I do wear a MaxAir PAPR the entire shift. I do not take it off to eat or drink during the shift. I undress in the garage and go straight to the shower. My wife and kids fled to her parents outside Hattiesburg. The stress and exposure at work coupled with the isolation at home is trying. But everyone is going through something right now.

Everyone is scared; patients and employees. But we are the leaders of that emergency room. Be nice to your nurses and staff. Show by example how to tackle this crisis head on.

Good luck to us all.

Information Entropy

February 9, 2019

Is there a maximum amount of data about any given subject above which the incremental value of any additional data begins to approach zero? Even more starkly is there a point where more data about a given subject may actually begin to have a negative effect, in that it actually decreases the amount of information about the subject?

I don’t mean that newer data may prove that old data about the subject is no longer accurate and therefore render the old data out of date. In which case the old data would still exist but no longer be relevant. I’m talking about a situation where the informational content, i.e. the payload of the data, will actually decrease. This would be a situation when we know less about a subject at some point in the future than we knew in the past, based on all the data there is on the subject. I think it would have to have something to do with context, with the passage of time, and the associations between units of data about the subject and data about other subjects. The more connections, the more information a body of data has.

This is a tricky speculation. I mean, is it possible to actually know less at some point than was previously known? Not for just a single person, as sometimes happens as we age and simply forget the information we previously could recall about a subject. I am talking about the accumulated knowledge about a subject. It is kind of like a subject becoming simpler over time rather than more complex. Which is pretty much the opposite of observed reality.

In fact, this just may be what happens as we approach absolute and universal entropy. I am not a physicist but why would this not be the case? There would be two aspects to this, not only would universal entropy eliminate any differences between things, but the differences between parties, places and time would cease to exist as well. Not only would there be less information on all subjects, but there would be less and less subjects to have information about. Nor would there be anyone to have and be responsible for information, even if it did still exit.

Automation and the End of Human Wealth

January 15, 2019

Time is money. Well not really, but they do equate very nicely. A person’s wealth can be measured not only by how much money he or she controls, but by how much of their time can be used for activities not necessary just for survival. This time, freed up from mere survival activities, has always been used to create increasing wealth for humans. The increase in wealth creation accrues to both producers and consumers. Producers get wealthier by getting more money, and consumers get wealthier by getting more time.

Previously the march toward automation has created ever increasing wealth because some party has invented the latest automation, sold it to others, and another party has bought the automation and used in to free up more of their time. In the 6BI sense, “money” and “time” are the product and payment exchanged at armslength in the transaction.

The question we should ask now is, will we ever reach the point when there are simply no new wealth creating activities that humans can invent? A time when every activity that could have created new wealth for humans will already be performed by some form of automation. Could it be possible that at some point in time any invention, instead of being valuable to some human, will have no value and thus not be able to be exchanged for money?

If we ever do reach the point where additional automation can no longer drive the creation of wealth for humans because everything that humans could do for themselves will have already been automated, then there will be no advantage, or value, to the next invention. It simply will not be an innovation.

At that point in time, I believe the earth’s human population will crash or go into a period of slow negative growth. There will be no motivation to either invent or procreate. Human population will decrease as a product of reduced opportunities and consequently the influence of humans on the planet will decrease.

On the other hand, the robots and artificial intelligence that provide automation to humans, since they do not need to either invent nor procreate, will increase in number and influence. In number because they will wear out more slowly than flesh and blood humans and in influence because they will no longer be dependent on humans to improve their programming.

Because of the decrease in number of unmet human needs fewer software developers will be needed, for example. This decrease in unmet needs, doesn’t necessarily mean humans will be more satisfied, just that there will be fewer and fewer value and wealth creating activities that they can perform for themselves.

If this happens, and there are substantially less humans, will there really be a lesser need for automation? What will happen when there is no longer any new human need or activity to be automated? Will robots and artificial intelligence continue to operate with humans eventually becoming less and less relevant to them? Will humans become even less aware of the means of automation? Are humans ultimately essential for the operation of automation and thus as human numbers drop, computing entities, the means of automation, will drop as well? Will automation itself be automated and operate without human intervention at all because any knowledge of how it works will eventually be lost to humans?

Will there be an ever increasing demand for resources such as electricity to keep a kind of “closed loop” automation going and going even though it has reached the point where automation’s added value to humans is at, or near zero? Even more interesting, from a human perspective, what will happen when new wealth can no longer be created?

The Currency of the Human Cohabitation Contract

September 27, 2018

This article is somewhat different from those I usually post here, in that it is not explicitly about a computing subject.  However, it asks questions about what happens when assumptions on which expectations are dependent evolve over time, thus changing definitions in the process.  It is something I have been thinking about for a while and have finally decided to write it down so the idea does not get lost.


Children are the currency of the human cohabitation contract.

Traditionally a man’s role was to provide a woman children in exchange for companionship and nurture.  A woman’s role was to provide a man children in exchange for companionship and protection. These sex specific roles in the cohabitation contract go back to way before the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, to our hunter and gatherer ancestors.  All the way back to the early Hominins like Homo Erectus, as much as a million years ago.

The evolution of cohabitation roles is now changing this equilibrium.

As men become more capable of nurturing and women become more capable of protecting, the role of each sex is changing.  Each is becoming more like the other.

One result of the evolution of the roles in the cohabitation contract is the increase in the number of single parent family units and the increased acceptance of homosexuality.

After a certain point neither sex needs the traditional services of the other as they once did.  They have begun to provide these services for themselves.  Thus the definition of the cohabitation contract roles is evolving.  However, the definition of the services provided are not.

This shows the difference between sex and gender.  Sex is the biological difference between males and females.  Gender is sociological differentiation between men and women.  Throughout history gender was determined by sex.  Males were men and females were women.[i]  The roles of the cohabitation contract were essentially sex roles.  Now they are evolving into gender roles.

No one knows how far the evolution of cohabitation roles will go.  Will there be a tipping point when the trend reaches the critical mass to produce an accelerating change in human society?  Will this change then become a permanent stable condition?  Will it be uniform across the globe?

Power has almost always accrued to the cohabitation role providing protection.  This role has traditionally been played by men in nearly every civilization in history, and even pre-historically.

Will males in mass realize and become aware of the change in their role expectations?  Will this awareness be perceived by men as a loss of power?

Will females become aware in mass of the change in their role expectations?  Will a significant number of women form alliances to protect this newly realized power?

One key to answering these questions is whether roles produced by changes in the cohabitation contract will be perceived as gender roles, or will they continue to be perceived as sex roles.

How cohabitation roles are perceived should have a measurable effect on the maturation process of boys into men, and girls into women.  The gender roles, man and woman, may actually change.  Possibly each immature sex will evolve into its mature form in an environment where males will no longer just be men, and females will no longer just be women.  We might no longer think of men only as male, nor women only as female.  Cohabitation contract roles may change so much that they may become disassociated from either sex or gender.  The roles of nurturer and protector may someday not even be exclusively performed by humans[ii].

Regardless of the change in the definition of the roles, children will continue to be the currency exchanged for services between these roles in the cohabitation contract.  As long as these services are provided in a manner acceptable to both genders, it will make little difference who plays these roles.


[i] Note the word in English used to identify the two groups. The stem word in both cases designates the man/male and the “modified” word identifies the “wo”man/”fe”male.  This could be a by-product of, at least in the English speaking parts of the world, the male dominating the female socially throughout history.  In some languages (ex: Estonian, Hindi) there are distinct words for “man” and “male”, while “woman” and “female” are not differentiated, with a single word for both.

[ii] An argument could be made that this has already begun to happen..