I like being a mad scientist

I like being a mad scientist. Am I a mad scientist? A tiny bit, yes, ‘cause I do research on things just because I feel like. Mind you, me being that mad scientist I like being happens to be practical. Those rabbit holes I dive into prove to have interesting outcomes in real life.

I feel like writing, and therefore thinking in an articulate way, about two things I do in parallel: science and investment. I have just realized these two realms of activity tend to merge and overlap in me. When I do science, I tend to think like an investor, or a gardener. I invest my personal energy in ideas which I think have potential for growth. On the other hand, I invest in the stock market with a strong dose of curiosity. Those companies, and the investment positions I can open therein, are like animals which I observe, try to figure out how not to get killed by them, or by predators that hunt them, and I try to domesticate those beasts.

The scientific thing I am working on is the application of artificial intelligence to studying collective intelligence in human societies. The thing I am working on sort of at the crest between science and investment is fundraising for scientific projects (my new job at the university).

The project aims at defining theoretical and empirical fundamentals for using intelligent digital clouds, i.e. large datasets combined with artificial neural networks, in the field of remote digital diagnostics and remote digital care, in medical sciences and medical engineering. That general purpose translates into science strictly speaking, and into the prospective development of medical technologies.

There is observable growth in the percentage of population using various forms of digital remote diagnostics and healthcare. Yet, that growth is very uneven across different social groups, which suggests an early, pre-popular stage of development in those technologies (Mahajan et al. 2020[i]). Other research confirms that supposition, as judging by the very disparate results obtained with those technologies, in terms of diagnostic and therapeutic effectiveness (Cheng et al. 2020[ii]; Wong et al. 2020[iii]). There are known solutions where intelligent digital cloud allows transforming the patient’s place of stay (home, apartment) into the local substitute of a hospital bed, which opens interesting possibilities as regards medical care for patients with significantly reduced mobility, e.g. geriatric patients (Ben Hassen et al. 2020[iv]). Already around 2015, creative applications of medical imagery appeared, where the camera of a person’s smartphone served for early detection of skin cancer (Bliznuks et al. 2017[v]). The connection between distance diagnostics with the acquisition and processing of image comes as one of the most interesting and challenging innovations to make in the here-discussed field of technology (Marwan et al. 2018[vi]). The experience of COVID-19 pandemic has already showed the potential of digital intelligent clouds in assisting national healthcare systems, especially in optimising and providing flexibility to the use of resources, both material and human (Alashhab et al. 2020[vii]). Yet, the same pandemic experience has shown the depth of social disparities as regards real actual access to digital technologies supported by intelligent clouds (Whitelaw et al. 2020[viii]). Intelligent digital clouds enter into learning-generative interactions with the professionals of healthcare. There is observable behavioural modification, for example, in students of healthcare who train with such technologies from the very beginning of their education (Brown Wilson et al. 2020[ix]). That phenomenon of behavioural change requires rethinking from scratch, with the development of each individual technology, the ethical and legal issues relative to interactions between users, on the one hand, and system operators, on the other hand (Godding 2019[x]).

Against that general background, the present project focuses on studying the phenomenon of tacit coordination among the users of digital technologies in remote medical diagnostics and remote medical care. Tacit coordination is essential as regards the well-founded application of intelligent digital cloud to support and enhance these technologies. Intelligent digital clouds are intelligent structures, i.e. they learn by producing many alternative versions of themselves and testing those versions for fitness in coping with a vector of external constraints. It is important to explore the extent and way that populations of users behave similarly, i.e. as collectively intelligent structures. The deep theoretical meaning of that exploration is the extent to which the intelligent structure of a digital cloud really maps and represents the collectively intelligent structure of the users’ population.

The scientific method used in the project explores the main working hypothesis that populations of actual and/or prospective patients, in their own health-related behaviour, and in their relations with the healthcare systems, are collectively intelligent structures, with tacit coordination. In practical terms, that hypothesis means that any intelligent digital cloud in the domain of remote medical care should assume collectively intelligent, thus more than just individual, behavioural change on the part of users. Collectively intelligent behavioural change in a population, marked by tacit coordination, is a long-term, evolutionary process of adaptive walk in rugged landscape (Kauffman & Levin 1987[xi]; Nahum et al. 2015[xii]). Therefore, it is something deeper and more durable that fashions and styles. It is the deep, underlying mechanism of social change accompanying the use of digital intelligent clouds in medical engineering.

The scientific method used in this project aims at exploring and checking the above-stated working hypothesis by creating a large and differentiated dataset of health-related data, and processing that dataset in an intelligent digital cloud, in two distinct phases. The first phase consists in processing a first sample of data with a relatively simple, artificial neural network, in order to discover its underlying orientations and its mechanisms of collective learning. The second phase allows an intelligent digital cloud to respond adaptively to users behaviour, i.e to produce intelligent interaction with them. The first phase serves to understand the process of adaptation observable in the second phase. Both phases are explained more in detail below.

The tests of, respectively, orientation and mode of learning, in the first phase of empirical research aim at defining the vector of collectively pursued social outcomes in the population studied. The initially collected empirical dataset is transformed, with the use of an artificial neural network, into as many representations as there are variables in the set, with each representation being oriented on a different variable as its output (with the remaining ones considered as instrumental input). Each such transformation of the initial set can be tested for its mathematical similarity therewith (e.g. for Euclidean distance between the vectors of expected mean values). Transformations displaying relatively the greatest similarity to the source dataset are assumed to be the most representative for the collectively intelligent structure in the population studied, and, consequently, their output variables can be assumed to represent collectively pursued social outcomes in that collective intelligence (see, for example: Wasniewski 2020[xiii]). Modes of learning in that dataset can be discovered by creating a shadow vector of probabilities (representing, for example, a finite set of social roles endorsed with given probabilities by members of the population), and a shadow process that introduces random disturbance, akin to the theory of Black Swans (Taleb 2007[xiv]; Taleb & Blyth 2011[xv]). The so-created shadow structure is subsequently transformed with an artificial neural network in as many alternative versions as there are variables in the source empirical dataset, each version taking a different variable from the set as its pre-set output. Three different modes of learning can be observed, and assigned to particular variables: a) cyclical adjustment without clear end-state b) finite optimisation with defined end-state and c) structural disintegration with growing amplitude of oscillation around central states.

The above-summarised first phase of research involves the use of two basic digital tools, i.e. an online functionality to collect empirical data from and about patients, and an artificial neural network to process it. There comes an important aspect of that first phase in research, i.e. the actual collectability and capacity to process the corresponding data. It can be assumed that comprehensive medical care involves the collection of both strictly health-related data (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugar etc.), and peripheral data of various kinds (environmental, behavioural). The complexity of data collected in that phase can be additionally enhanced by including imagery such as pictures taken with smartphones (e.g. skin, facial symmetry etc.). In that respect, the first phase of research aims at testing the actual possibility and reliability of collection in various types of data. Phenomena such as outliers of fake data can be detected then.

Once the first phase is finished and expressed in the form of theoretical conclusions, the second phase of research is triggered. An intelligent digital cloud is created, with the capacity of intelligent adaptation to users’ behaviour. A very basic example of such adaptation are behavioural reinforcements. The cloud can generate simple messages of praise for health-functional behaviour (positive reinforcements), or, conversely, warning messages in the case of health-dysfunctional behaviour (negative reinforcements). More elaborate form of intelligent adaptation are possible to implement, e.g. a Twitter-like reinforcement to create trending information, or a Tik-Tok-like reinforcement to stay in the loop of communication in the cloud. This phase aims specifically at defining the actually workable scope and strength of possible behavioural reinforcements which a digital functionality in the domain of healthcare could use vis a vis its end users. Legal and ethical implications thereof are studied as one of the theoretical outcomes of that second phase.

I feel like generalizing a bit my last few updates, and to develop on the general hypothesis of collectively intelligent, human social structures. In order to consider any social structure as manifestation of collective intelligence, I need to place intelligence in a specific empirical context. I need an otherwise exogenous environment, which the social structure has to adapt to. Empirical study of collective intelligence, such as I have been doing it, and, as a matter of fact, the only one I know how to do, consists in studying adaptive effort in human social structures. 

[i] Shiwani Mahajan, Yuan Lu, Erica S. Spatz, Khurram Nasir, Harlan M. Krumholz, Trends and Predictors of Use of Digital Health Technology in the United States, The American Journal of Medicine, 2020, ISSN 0002-9343, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.06.033 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002934320306173  )

[ii] Lei Cheng, Mingxia Duan, Xiaorong Mao, Youhong Ge, Yanqing Wang, Haiying Huang, The effect of digital health technologies on managing symptoms across pediatric cancer continuum: A systematic review, International Journal of Nursing Sciences, 2020, ISSN 2352-0132, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnss.2020.10.002 , (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352013220301630 )

[iii] Charlene A. Wong, Farrah Madanay, Elizabeth M. Ozer, Sion K. Harris, Megan Moore, Samuel O. Master, Megan Moreno, Elissa R. Weitzman, Digital Health Technology to Enhance Adolescent and Young Adult Clinical Preventive Services: Affordances and Challenges, Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 67, Issue 2, Supplement, 2020, Pages S24-S33, ISSN 1054-139X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.10.018 , (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X19308675 )

[iv] Hassen, H. B., Ayari, N., & Hamdi, B. (2020). A home hospitalization system based on the Internet of things, Fog computing and cloud computing. Informatics in Medicine Unlocked, 100368, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imu.2020.100368

[v] Bliznuks, D., Bolocko, K., Sisojevs, A., & Ayub, K. (2017). Towards the Scalable Cloud Platform for Non-Invasive Skin Cancer Diagnostics. Procedia Computer Science, 104, 468-476

[vi] Marwan, M., Kartit, A., & Ouahmane, H. (2018). Security enhancement in healthcare cloud using machine learning. Procedia Computer Science, 127, 388-397.

[vii] Alashhab, Z. R., Anbar, M., Singh, M. M., Leau, Y. B., Al-Sai, Z. A., & Alhayja’a, S. A. (2020). Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic Crisis on Technologies and Cloud Computing Applications. Journal of Electronic Science and Technology, 100059. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnlest.2020.100059

[viii] Whitelaw, S., Mamas, M. A., Topol, E., & Van Spall, H. G. (2020). Applications of digital technology in COVID-19 pandemic planning and response. The Lancet Digital Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2589-7500(20)30142-4

[ix] Christine Brown Wilson, Christine Slade, Wai Yee Amy Wong, Ann Peacock, Health care students experience of using digital technology in patient care: A scoping review of the literature, Nurse Education Today, Volume 95, 2020, 104580, ISSN 0260-6917, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2020.104580 ,(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0260691720314301 )

[x] Piers Gooding, Mapping the rise of digital mental health technologies: Emerging issues for law and society, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 67, 2019, 101498, ISSN 0160-2527, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2019.101498 , (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160252719300950 )

[xi] Kauffman, S., & Levin, S. (1987). Towards a general theory of adaptive walks on rugged landscapes. Journal of theoretical Biology, 128(1), 11-45

[xii] Nahum, J. R., Godfrey-Smith, P., Harding, B. N., Marcus, J. H., Carlson-Stevermer, J., & Kerr, B. (2015). A tortoise–hare pattern seen in adapting structured and unstructured populations suggests a rugged fitness landscape in bacteria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(24), 7530-7535, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1410631112 

[xiii] Wasniewski, K. (2020). Energy efficiency as manifestation of collective intelligence in human societies. Energy, 191, 116500. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2019.116500

[xiv] Taleb, N. N. (2007). The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable (Vol. 2). Random house

[xv] Taleb, N. N., & Blyth, M. (2011). The black swan of Cairo: How suppressing volatility makes the world less predictable and more dangerous. Foreign Affairs, 33-39

Checkpoint for business

I am changing the path of my writing, ‘cause real life knocks at my door, and it goes ‘Hey, scientist, you economist, right? Good, ‘cause there is some good stuff, I mean, ideas for business. That’s economics, right? Just sort of real stuff, OK?’. Sure. I can go with real things, but first, I explain. At my university, I have recently taken on the job of coordinating research projects and finding some financing for them. One of the first things I did, right after November 1st, was to send around a reminder that we had 12 days left to apply, with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, for relatively small grants, in a call titled ‘Students make innovation’. Honestly, I was expecting to have 1 – 2 applications max, in response. Yet, life can make surprises. There are 7 innovative ideas in terms of feedback, and 5 of them look like good material for business concepts and for serious development. I am taking on giving them a first prod, in terms of business planning. Interestingly, those ideas are all related to medical technologies, thus something I have been both investing a lot in, during 2020, and thinking a lot about, as a possible path of substantial technological change.

I am progressively wrapping my mind up around ideas and projects formulated by those students, and, walking down the same intellectual avenue, I am making sense of making money on and around science. I am fully appreciating the value of real-life experience. I have been doing research and writing about technological change for years. Until recently, I had that strange sort of complex logical oxymoron in my mind, where I had the impression of both understanding technological change, and missing a fundamental aspect of it. Now, I think I start to understand that missing part: it is the microeconomic mechanism of innovation.

I have collected those 5 ideas from ambitious students at Faculty of Medicine, in my university:

>> Idea 1: An AI-based app, with a chatbot, which facilitates early diagnosis of cardio-vascular diseases

>> Idea 2: Similar thing, i.e. a mobile app, but oriented on early diagnosis and monitoring of urinary incontinence in women.

>> Idea 3: Technology for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, through the observation of speech and motor disturbance.

>> Idea 4: Intelligent cloud to store, study and possibly find something smart about two types of data: basic health data (blood-work etc.), and environmental factors (pollution, climate etc.).

>> Idea 5: Something similar to Idea 4, i.e. an intelligent cloud with medical edge, but oriented on storing and studying data from large cohorts of patients infected with Sars-Cov-2. 

As I look at those 5 ideas, surprisingly simple and basic association of ideas comes to my mind: hierarchy of interest and the role of overarching technologies. It is something I have never thought seriously about: when we face many alternative ideas for new technologies, almost intuitively we hierarchize them. Some of them seem more interesting, some others are less. I am trying to dig out of my own mind the criteria I use, and here they are: I hierarchize with the expected lifecycle of technology, and the breadth of the technological platform involved. In other words, I like big, solid, durable stuff. I am intuitively looking for innovations which offer a relatively long lifecycle in the corresponding technology, and the technology involved is sort of two-level, with a broad base and many specific applicational developments built upon that base.  

Why do I take this specific approach? One step further down into my mind, I discover the willingness to have some sort of broad base of business and scientific points of attachment when I start business planning. I want some kind of horizon to choose my exact target on. The common technological base among those 5 ideas is some kind of intelligent digital cloud, with artificial intelligence learns on the data that flows in. The common scientific base is the collection of health-related data, including behavioural aspects (e.g. sleep, diet, exercise, stress management).

The financial context which I am operating in is complex. It is made of public financial grants for strictly speaking scientific research, other public financing for projects more oriented on research and development in consortiums made of universities and business entities, still a different stream of financing for business entities alone, and finally private capital to look for once the technology is ripe enough for being marketed.

I am operating from an academic position. Intuitively, I guess that the more valuable science academic people bring to their common table with businesspeople and government people, the better position those academics will have in any future joint ventures. Hence, we should max out on useful, functional science to back those ideas. I am trying to understand what that science should consist in. An intelligent digital cloud can yield mind-blowing findings. I know that for a fact from my own research. Yet, what I know too is that I need very fundamental science, something at the frontier of logic, philosophy, mathematics, and of the phenomenology pertinent to the scientific research at hand, in order to understand and use meaningfully whatever the intelligent digital cloud spits back out, after being fed with data. I have already gone once through that process of understanding, as I have been working on the application of artificial neural networks to the simulation of collective intelligence in human societies. I had to coin up a theory of intelligent structure, applicable to the problem at hand. I believe that any application of intelligent digital cloud requires assuming that whatever we investigate with that cloud is an intelligent structure, i.e. a structure which learns by producing many alternative versions of itself, and testing them for their fitness to optimize a given desired outcome.  

With those medical ideas, I (we?) need to figure out what the intelligent structure in action is, how can it possibly produce many alternative versions of itself, and how those alternative thingies can be tested for fitness. What we have in a medically edged digital cloud is data about a population of people. The desired outcome we look for is health, quite simply. I said ‘simply’? No, it was a mistake. It is health, in all complexity. Those apps our students want to develop are supposed to pull someone out of the crowd, someone with early symptoms which they do not identify as relevant. In a next step, some kind of dialogue is proposed to such a person, sort of let’s dig a bit more into those symptoms, let’s try something simple to treat them etc. The vector of health in that population is made, roughly speaking, of three sub-vectors: preventive health (e.g. exercise, sleep, stop eating crap food), effectiveness of early medical intervention (e.g. c’mon men, if you are 30 and can’t have erection, you are bound to concoct some cardio-vascular s**t), and finally effectiveness of advanced medicine, applied when the former two haven’t worked.  

I can see at least one salient, scientific hurdle to jump over: that outcome vector of health. In my own research, I found out that artificial neural networks can give empirical evidence as for what outcomes we are really actually after, as collectively intelligent a structure. That’s my first big idea as regards those digital medical solutions: we collect medical and behavioural data in the cloud, we assume that data represents experimental learning of a collectively intelligent social structure, and we make the cloud discover the phenomena (variables) which the structure actually optimizes.

My own experience with that method is that societies which I studied optimize outcomes which look almost too simplistic in the fancy realm of social sciences, such as the average number of hours worked per person per year, the average amount of human capital per person, measured as years of education before entering the job market, or price index in exports, thus the average price which countries sell their exports at. In general, societies which I studied tend to optimize structural proportions, measurables as coefficients in the lines of ‘amount of thingy one divided by the amount of thingy two’.  

Checkpoint for business. Supposing that our research team, at the Andrzej Frycz – Modrzewski Krakow University, comes up with robust empirical results of that type, i.e. when we take a million of random humans and their broadly spoken health, and we assume they are collectively intelligent (I mean, beyond Facebook), then their collectively shared experimental learning of the stuff called ‘life’ makes them optimize health-related behavioural patterns A, B, and C. How can those findings be used in the form of marketable digital technologies? If I know the behavioural patterns someone tries to optimize, I can break those patterns down into small components and figure out a way to utilize the way to influence behaviour. It is a common technique in marketing. If I know someone’s lifestyle, and the values that come with it, I can artfully include into that pattern the technology I am marketing. In this specific case, it could be done ethically and for a good purpose, for a change.  In that context, my mind keeps returning to that barely marked trend of rising mortality in adult males in high-income countries, since 2016 (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.AMRT.MA). WTF? We’ll live, we’ll see.

The understanding of how collective human intelligence goes after health could be, therefore, the kind of scientific bacon our university could bring to the table when starting serious consortial projects with business partners, for the development of intelligent digital technologies in healthcare. Let’s move one step forward. As I have been using artificial neural network in my research on what I call, and maybe overstate as collective human intelligence, I have been running those experiments where I take a handful of behavioural patterns, I assign them probabilities of happening (sort of how many folks out of 10 000 will endorse those patterns), and I treat those probabilities as instrumental input in the optimization of pre-defined social outcomes. I was going to forget: I add random disturbance to that form of learning, in the lines of the Black Swan theory (Taleb 2007[1]; Taleb & Blyth 2011[2]).

I nailed down three patterns of collective learning in the presence of randomly happening s**t: recurrent, optimizing, and panic mode. The recurrent pattern of collective learning, which I tentatively expect to be the most powerful, is essentially a cycle with recurrent amplitude of error. We face a challenge, we go astray, we run around like headless chickens for a while, and then we figure s**t out, we progressively settle for solutions, and then the cycle repeats. It is like everlasting learning, without any clear endgame. The optimizing pattern is something I observed when making my collective intelligence optimize something like the headcount of population, or the GDP. There is a clear phase of ‘WTF!’(error in optimization goes haywire), which, passing through a somehow milder ‘WTH?’, ends up in a calm phase of ‘what works?’, with very little residual error.

The panic mode is different from the other two. There is no visible learning in the strict sense of the term, i.e. no visible narrowing down of error in what the network estimates as its desired outcome. On the contrary, that type of network consistently goes into the headless chicken mode, and it is becoming more and more headless with each consecutive hundred of experimental rounds, so to say. It happens when I make my network go after some very specific socio-economic outcomes, like price index in capital goods (i.e. fixed assets) or Total Factor Productivity.

Checkpoint for business, once again. That particular thing, about Black Swans randomly disturbing people in their endorsing of behavioural patterns, what business value does it have in a digital cloud? I suppose there are fields of applied medical sciences, for example epidemiology, or the management of healthcare systems, where it pays to know in advance which aspects of our health-related behaviour are the most prone to deep destabilization in the presence of exogenous stressors (e.g. epidemic, or the president of our country trending on Tik Tok). It could also pay off to know, which collectively pursued outcomes act as stabilizers. If another pandemic breaks out, for example, which social activities and social roles should keep going, at all price, on the one hand, and which ones can be safely shut down, as they will go haywire anyway?      

[1] Taleb, N. N. (2007). The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable (Vol. 2). Random house.

[2] Taleb, N. N., & Blyth, M. (2011). The black swan of Cairo: How suppressing volatility makes the world less predictable and more dangerous. Foreign Affairs, 33-39.