Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cancer is just a software platform problem: Microsoft will 'solve' cancer within 10 years by 'reprogramming' diseased cells

A short post.

Hand a computer scientist a computer and some genetic data, and the world then becomes a deterministic, binary place:

Microsoft will 'solve' cancer within 10 years by 'reprogramming' diseased cells
Sept. 20, 2016
Sarah Knapton, Telegraph science editor

Microsoft has vowed to “solve the problem of cancer” within a decade by using ground-breaking computer science to crack the code of diseased cells so they can be reprogrammed back to a healthy state.

Chris Bishop, laboratory director at Microsoft Research, said: “I think it’s a very natural thing for Microsoft to be looking at because we have tremendous expertise in computer science and what is going on in cancer is a computational problem.

"What is going on in cancer is a computational problem" sounds like a form of cybernetic scientism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism) in this sense:

Scientism ... is a term that is used, often pejoratively, to denote a border-crossing violation in which the theories and methods of one (scientific) discipline are inappropriately applied to another (scientific or non-scientific) discipline and its domain. 

We are only scratching the surface in genomics, and to state it is merely a "computational problem" as if biology worked like a deterministic, binary digital computer is, in my mind, wishful thinking.

It would be great if genetics were just one big Intel Core I7 that one could program in binary assembly language after decoding its instruction set, but I have doubts it's that simple.

-- SS

9/21/16  Addendum

Medicinal chemist/scientist Derek Lowe has written the "long version" of this at http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2016/09/21/better-faster-more-comprehensive-manure-distribution

Hat tip to commenter Bruce Grant.

-- SS


live IT or live with IT said...

They show laughable naivety.

Bruce Grant said...

As Derek Lowe put it earlier today, “...any application of machine learning to the biology literature has to take into account that a good percentage of that literature is crap, and that negative results (which have great value for these systems) are grievously underrepresented in it as well.”

InformaticsMD said...

Bruce Grant,

Indeed. It also has to take into account that we don't know what we don't know and that presumptions it's all a deterministic system that can be "programmed" may be naive.

Where is Derek writing now? I used to follow his Medicinal Chemistry blog at Corante, "In the Pipeline."

-- SS

InformaticsMD said...

Ah, never mind...I see In the Pipeline has found a new home!


-- SS