Tag Archives: medicine

Finding An Available COVID-19 Vaccine With A (Very) Useful Website

I’m not a doctor. I’m not the least bit qualified to give medical advice. Unless it involves superhero comics, football, or 90s sitcoms, I have little to no expertise in that field. I’m just a guy who writes sexy stories and makes YouTube videos.

With that disclaimer aside, I do feel comfortable giving one bit of advice. It’s simple and you’ve probably heard it from people who are much smarter than I’ll ever be.

Please, if you can, get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

I know that’s easier said than done. Hopefully, with the recent approval of a third vaccine, it’ll be even easier in the coming weeks. Even with supplies being so limited, I encourage everyone to make the effort. To help, I’d like to share a very useful tool that I recently found, courtesy of NPR. It’s called Vaccine Finder.

Please, if you ever bookmark a website, make it this one. It may very well help end this horrible pandemic just a little bit sooner. If you need more information on it, here’s the same NPR story that I came across that explains what it is and how to use it.

NPR: CDC Launches Web Tool To Help Americans Find COVID-19 Vaccines

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and Castlight Health, is launching a new tool that allows Americans to search for COVID-19 vaccine providers with stock of vaccine where they live.

The tool, which builds on the existing VaccineFinder.org platform, will capture inventory data from vaccine providers around the country.

In most states, the initial launch is limited to certain providers — those getting the vaccine directly from the federal government. In Alaska, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee, the tool shows all the vaccine providers, including hospitals, clinics and public health vaccination sites.

Residents of those four states can look up their cities or ZIP codes and find an interactive map of all the places administering COVID-19 vaccines and see which ones have vaccine doses in stock.

Again, I’m not expert, but this website will help you link to people who are. Check it daily. Make it part of your morning routine. Make your coffee and then use this site to try and locate a vaccine. Then, make the appointment and follow all the necessary steps. You’ll help yourself, your loved ones, and your entire community.

We’re almost through this horrific pandemic. We’ll get through it faster if we all make the effort. Hopefully, this website will help.

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Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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The First People Have Received The COVID-19 Vaccine (And We Should Celebrate)

It’s almost over. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that with each passing day.

This historically horrible year is almost over. We’re in the home stretch with the holidays approaching. A new year is almost upon us and the bar for improvement for 2021 is laughably low compared to previous years.

We can also say with a straight face that the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over. I say that knowing full-well that cases are still rising and people are still dying at a horrific pace. That’s still objectively terrible.

The reason there’s hope now is we actually have a working vaccine. Thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists, doctors, and those who volunteered to test this unproven treatment, the key to ending this pandemic is upon us.

It also is just the first. There are multiple vaccines in late stages of development. It’s very likely that we’ll have a second effective before New Years. That’s a powerful one-two punch to this pandemic that has killed so many and disrupted so many lives.

These aren’t folk remedies or something some shady health guru is trying to pawn for a quick buck. Contrary to what anti-vaxxers may claim, these vaccines will actually protect people. As of this writing, it’s being distributed to front line care workers and vulnerable populations.

Just this past week, the first individuals received the vaccine. It started with a British woman in Coventry. It continued with an ICU nurse in New York City. CNN even captured it in a live video feed.

CNN: ICU nurse in New York among the first people in the US to get authorized coronavirus vaccine

A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York City, was administered the vaccine during a live video event at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday.

Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, delivered the shot.

“She has a good touch, and it didn’t feel any different than taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said immediately afterward.

This isn’t just a turning point in the fight against a deadly disease. This is something we should celebrate. Moreover, I believe this is the kind of celebrating we should learn from.

I admit I’ve celebrated some less-than-important things in my life. Hell, I celebrated the day when comics started coming out digitally the same day they came out in shops. I treated that like I won the Super Bowl.

People celebrate all sorts of events that they believe to be the most important thing in the world. Whether it’s their team winning a championship or a movie grossing $2 billion at the box office, we all have a different bar for what warrants celebrating.

For just once, let’s all re-think where we raise that bar. Let’s also let this be a prime example of something that’s truly worth celebrating and praising.

Make no mistake. Creating this vaccine this quickly is a remarkable achievement. We’ve endured pandemics in the past. Some of those pandemics have killed far more people. This disease could’ve definitely killed more. If we didn’t have this vaccine, or even if we had to wait a year to get it, thousands more would’ve died.

Now, going into 2021, countless lives will be saved because of this. It’s a testament to the power of science, hard work, and human ingenuity. It’s as heroic as we can be without the aid of superpowers or magic wands. As someone who loves superhero media, I say that’s a beautiful thing indeed. So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate and celebrate this achievement. I also fully intend to get this vaccine, once it’s available. When that day comes, I’ll gladly share that moment and encourage others to do the same.

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Why You Should Be (Very) Skeptical About Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

There’s no way around it. This global pandemic has been a year-long gut punch to everyone on this planet. Some nations have taken those punches better than others, but even those who’ve handled it well still contend with its effects. It’s frustrating and agonizing. Nobody denies that at this point.

We also accept that there’s no way to definitely end this pandemic without a vaccine. That’s why many people, including myself, follow any news about potential vaccines closely. It’s easy to get excited when we hear about the progress some organizations have made. It’s even tempting to think that we’re close.

Avoid that temptation because, if you take the bigger picture into account, we’re not that close. It’s very likely that we’ll be without a proven vaccine for the rest of the year. It’s for that same reason that you should take Russia’s announcement of a successful vaccine, which it dubbed Sputnik V, with immense skepticism.

I’m not just saying that as an American or as someone who has mixed opinions about Russia and its autocratic government. Believe me, I’d love it if this vaccine were as effective as Russian claimed. I’d gladly celebrate it and commend Vladimir Putin’s knack for “motivating” development. That’s how much I want this pandemic to end.

However, there are some very good reasons to be cautious about this claim. Forget, for a second, that it’s coming from Russia, a country with an extensive history of large-scale disinformation campaigns. Just consider this simple scenario.

Imagine if someone walked up to you and claimed they had an app on their phone that could predict lotto numbers. You’re both intrigued and impressed. You ask for proof that it works. That person refuses to give it. They also ask for information about the program. They only give you the barest of basics, which you can’t verify.

Would you be willing to accept that this program works?

Moreover, would you be willing to accept it if doing so meant risking your life and that of your entire community?

Chances are most reasonable people would be skeptical and for good reason. That’s exactly why you should be skeptical of Russia’s claim. Russia has not released any scientific data on its vaccine testing and has not conducted the kind of large-scale test that most vaccines require to determine their safety and effectiveness. Without that kind of test, it’s impossible to tell whether the vaccine is effective.

That’s why practically every major health organization on the planet isn’t celebrating just yet. They’re not completely discounting it, though. There is a genuine interest in reviewing the data. That’s critical since this isn’t some fancy space probe. This is something we’re injecting into living human beings. We need to make sure it’s safe. Otherwise, we could end up causing more suffering than we prevent.

Beyond just causing a spike in cases, due largely to a false sense of security, an ineffective vaccine could undermine the public’s faith in public health. Vaccines have already been subject to all sorts of negative scrutiny in recent years. If this vaccine proves less-than-effective, it could set public health back years and lots of people will die because of that.

That’s what’s at stake here. There’s a time to rush something and a time to take bold risks. This isn’t one of them. Public health and medical science is not something we can rush. This isn’t like going to the moon or breaking the sound barrier. Those efforts required risks, but that risk was taken on by a few willing and brave individuals.

When it comes to medicine, the risks go beyond the test subjects. We cannot and should not take big risks when millions of lives are potentially at stake. This virus has already killed way too many people. Buying into a vaccine before we know for sure it’s effective could ultimately kill even more.

I’ll say it again. I want this pandemic to end as much as anyone. I want this vaccine to work as well as the Russian government claims. However, I’m not prepared to roll up my sleeve until those claims are verified. I encourage others to exercise similar caution.

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Why You Should Be Pessimistic About Optimistic News On Vaccines

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I try to focus on the positives, even when I’m surrounded by a lot of negatives. It’s part of my personality. Granted, I wasn’t always like that. As a teenager, I was a pretty miserable, jaded, self-loathing cynic. There’s a long story behind that, but it’s not important right now

The reason I make that disclaimer is because the past few months have killed my sense of optimism. Actually, that’s an understatement. The impact of this massive global pandemic has taken my optimism, shot it five times with a shotgun, and ran it over eight times with a fully loaded pickup truck. My optimism is dead. It will be for the foreseeable future. That’s what this pandemic has done.

At this point, I question the sanity of anyone who has clung to any sense of optimism. Thousands of people are dead. Infections are in the millions. Things are getting worse every day. That’s not an opinion. That’s just basic goddamn math.

Now, I’m not trying to turn everyone into a pessimist, nor am I trying to crush everyone’s hopes. The point I want to make here is that there are just some things that hope cannot help, no matter how many inspirational quotes you read. Yes, hope and optimism can go a long way in many fields. A global pandemic just isn’t one of them.

To that point, I want to highlight the recent “optimism” surrounding vaccine research. I admit I too have been following this closely, too. How can you not? Even a cynic would agree. The best way to end this pandemic and get our lives back is with a vaccine. That’s somewhat distressing, given all the negative press vaccines had leading up to this moment.

At the same time, it’s remarkable how much the world has united behind this effort. I can’t remember a time when so many countries and so many organizations were this unified in their effort to achieve something. I want to find hope in that, but there are still a few intractable problem. This time, it has to do with both math and physics.

Making a vaccine is hard. There’s just no way around it. Even if you know the exact molecular sequence, producing it on a mass scale and distributing it to a large number of people is also difficult. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of resources and logistics, the likes of which can’t be solved overnight or even within a year.

For that reason, when you see a positive story about a vaccine for COVID-19, you should be very pessimistic. Just look at this recent story from the Associated Press regarding Moderna’s vaccine research.

AP: First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

There’s no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year — record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren’t uncommon with other vaccines — fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn’t being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

“Small price to pay for protection against COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn’t involved with the study.

He called the early results “a good first step,” and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it’s really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

On the surface, it looks rosy. It hints that a vaccine is getting closer. It may even arrive at the end of the year. They’re even saying that research is moving at record speed. It all sounds so great.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Don’t expect this pandemic to be over by Christmas, either.

Notice that I bolded the phrase “a good first step.” Also, note how few details about the research are actually listed or linked to. It just notes how many people were involved and how many will be utilized in the next step. That’s both a sign and a red flag.

It’s a common problem whenever the media tries to report on science. Actual scientific research, namely the kind reported in journals, is not the kind of thing you can fit into a simple news blurb. You can’t fit it in an article, let alone a tweet. Most scientific research, especially of the medical variety, involves a lot of numbers, intimate details, and chemical constructs that most people aren’t equipped to understand.

It’s not that the news media has to dumb it down for us, the public. It just can only report on the broadest details. Those details often include the various complications and shortcomings of the research. Make no mistake. Those complications are there. If they weren’t, then the scientific research wouldn’t be necessary. It’s why becoming a doctor is so difficult and laborious.

I don’t doubt for a second that most of these doctors want to end this pandemic. Some are probably hopeful that they’re close. However, you can’t be a good doctor without sticking to rigorous science. Breakthroughs don’t happen all at once. Those light-bulb moments we see in movies and TV shows aren’t even close to what happens in real life.

In real life, medical breakthroughs still take years if not decades. The sheer complexity of disease and our methods for treating it preclude easy fixes to big problems. In terms of problems, pandemics are as big as they come. If ending it required only one breakthrough, it would’ve been found by now and thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost.

That’s why you should never look at vaccine news in terms of a breakthrough. Even headlines that inspire hope in this field can only ever tell part of the story. Unfortunately, science is hard and so is creating effective medicine. You can’t rush it. You can’t encourage it. It’s at the mercy of hard limits that you can’t bullshit your way around. That’s what makes it hard. It’s also why it works.

Remember that the next time you see headlines about the prospect of vaccine research. Don’t assume it’s going to finish tomorrow. Don’t assume a miracle will speed it up. That’s not how science works and that’s not how this pandemic will end. For now, the best we can do is endure, brace ourselves, and retain our sanity until things eventually do change for the better.

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A Message (And A Challenge) To Anti-Vaxxers

There’s a time for discussing serious politics.

There’s a time for discussing the veracity of certain scientific principles.

There’s even a time to question the very assumptions we once held without reservation.

All that said, a global pandemic is not one of those times.

I bring this up because, like so many others who have been stuck at home for months on end, my ears perk up every time I hear news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19. There’s a good reason for that. Every legitimate doctor, who doesn’t have a TV show or infomercial, says the same thing. The best and quickest way to end any pandemic is with a vaccine.

That’s not news for most people. If you passed high school biology, you know what a vaccine is and why it works. However, in the years leading up to this pandemic, there was a concerted movement against vaccines, especially for young children. It was called the anti-vaxx movement and, like many social movements relating to science, it was driven by misguided goals and faulty data.

I won’t get into the history of the movement. John Oliver already did a very comprehensive breakdown on the issue back in 2017, long before the pandemic. Here’s the video in case you need a refresher.

Even if you don’t support all the points Mr. Oliver made, I do have a message for those still skeptical of vaccines. Whether you were anti-vaccine before the pandemic or have just come to distrust modern medicine in general, I have one critical question to ask.

What’s your alternative for ending this pandemic?

It’s a legitimate question. Nearly every doctor agrees. Vaccines work. A vaccine is what will end this pandemic. If all those doctors are wrong and your side is right, then this is the best possible time to prove it.

You, whether you identify as an anti-vaxxer or are just skeptical of western medicine, have a chance to both show up the entire medical establishment and save thousands of lives. People are dying. Economies are faltering. Societies are frozen in place. The medical establishment, no matter what you think of them, are working on a solution. Where’s yours?

Now, I’m not saying the medical establishment is staffed by angels. There are many shady dealings in the modern medical industry, especially among pharmaceutical companies. Corrupt her not, however greedy their motivations might be, they’re still doing the work. They’re researching, developing, and testing potential treatments for this deadly disease.

There’s still time for the movement to do the same. If there’s any legitimacy to the anti-vaxxer’s stance, this would be their chance to demonstrate it. If anyone in this crowd, be it some renegade doctor or Jenny McCarthy, can come up with a better treatment, then they won’t just be a hero for saving so many lives. They’ll have proven their point beyond any reasonable doubt.

The time to make that statement is now. At some point, they’re going to find a treatment. It probably won’t be this year, but with lives, money, and prestige at stake, someone is going to succeed. Then, as the pandemic subsides and cases decline, what will the anti-vaxxer crowd have to say?

They’ll watch with the rest of the world as a vaccine ended a pandemic. On top of that, they’ll have sat around and done absolutely nothing to have developed another treatment. They had a chance to both save lives and show up the medical establishment, but failed. What does that say about the movement and its credibility?

That’s just some food for thought.

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Religious Zealots, Vaccines, And (Unavoidable) Hypocrisy

To some extent, a global crisis is the ultimate bullshit filter. You can bullshit your way through a lot of things. Things like politics, economics, theology, and philosophy can all be twisted and obscured by a skilled bullshitter who has little concern for the truth, ethics, or decency. However, no amount of bullshit can circumvent the grim realities of a global pandemic.

A disease like the coronavirus/COVID-19 doesn’t respond to fancy rhetoric, dogmatic beliefs, or ideological divides. It responds only to the immutable laws of physics and biology. To this virus, you’re not a liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Satanist. You’re just another host.

It’s a grim, yet sobering perspective. It’s also revealing in other ways. As I’ve noted before, I believe we’ll eventually beat this disease. Not since World War II has there been a crisis that has unified humanity’s effort to a singular cause. It will take time and people will still die, but we’ll ultimately save more lives because of the advances we make. The fact that nobody dies of Small Pox anymore is proof of that.

As hopeful as I am for this outcome, which still seems so far away, it does bring up another issue that will likely emerge once this crisis ends. That issue has less to do with the science and more to do with the religious zealots who have spent decades trying to inject themselves into scientific circles.

I’ve mentioned religion before in pointing out some of the humorous headlines they’ve inspired in this crisis, but there’s nothing funny about this particular issue. As always, I want to disclose that most religious people aren’t zealots. They don’t take their religion, their holy text, or their eccentric leaders too seriously. They believe what they believe, but live their lives as decent, loving human beings.

This is not about them.

The people I’m referring to here are the people who yell the loudest whenever someone points out a scientific fact that contradicts their preferred holy book. These are the people who demand that their theology be treated with scientific credence in a classroom. They’re also the ones who demand special treatment by the government and greater influence in society as a whole.

I single these people out because in a crisis like this, they can’t survive with the rest of society without being hypocrites in the highest order. I say that as someone who freely admits he can’t predict the future to any degree. However, I’ve met enough religious zealots in my life to surmise predictable patterns.

With that in mind, here’s how I predict religious zealots will react when a vaccine or treatment is found for COVID-19.

They’ll thank their deity and not the doctors or scientists.

They’ll eagerly get in line to receive the treatment, whatever it might be.

They’ll later claim that their deity protected them over the course of the crisis

They’ll then claim the crisis was a punishment for insert-hot-button-social-issue-here.

On top of that, they’ll do all of this with a straight face and a clear conscious. They won’t think of themselves as hypocrites, but that’s what they’ll be by the very definition of the word.

They’ll have claimed that prayer heals and protects adherents, but conveniently overlook how it failed to protect anyone during this crisis.

They’ll have claimed that any science that contradicts their theology, namely evolution, has no merit and should not be supported on any level. Then, they’ll gladly enjoy the fruits of that same science once a vaccine is perfected. Chances are they’ll go right back to bemoaning the same science because it doesn’t line up with their holy books.

Even those who openly defied orders by health officials will face few consequences for their behavior. Even if it’s proven that people suffered and died because of their reckless behavior in the face of a pandemic that doesn’t respond to prayers or preaching, they aren’t likely to change their ways. Even if their hypocrisy is thrown in their face, it won’t change them or their zealous dogma.

That’s the most frustrating part. Most reasonable people, regardless of their faith, understand that there’s a time for prayer and a time for working with the science we know to solve a big problem. Many of those working on a vaccine as I write this are religious. Some might even be motivated by their religion to save as many lives as possible. These people are truly heroic in their own right.

Those who build their religious zealotry on false promises, false hope, and even outright fraud deserve no such praise. Their theology depends on a foundation of bullshit and when a crisis like this cuts through it, then the only thing left is hypocrisy.

I take some comfort in the knowledge that, thanks to the internet and social media, a record of their hypocrisy will remain. They might try to bullshit their way around the facts, but at some point, all the bullshit in the world can’t overcome such hypocrisy.

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Six Technologies The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Could Accelerate

Humanity is capable of amazing feats when given the right incentive and circumstances. The problem is that humanity is also rather stubborn when it comes to incentives and exceedingly evasive when it comes to changing circumstances. We’ll go the extra distance and beat the odds eventually. We just need to be dragged kicking and screaming for a while.

When it comes to the ultimate incentives and circumstances, few check more boxes than a global pandemic. I don’t think I need to belabor how bad the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been. Even without media distortions and political agendas, there’s no getting around the damage it has and continues to inflict.

People are dying.

People suffering.

Societies and economies are teetering on the brink of collapse.

This is not a tenable situation and one nobody wants to see again. As bad as it is, there might be one silver lining to this global tragedy. It could help accelerate the development of technology that was already in the works, but lacked the necessary motivation to develop faster.

What follows are a few technologies that I believe this horrible pandemic might help in the sense that it’ll add some urgency. Nobody wants to see a mess like this again. Whether you’re rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we have every reason to find new ways of preventing these plagues before they happen and these technologies are instrumental in doing just that.


Artificial Intelligence (Not Necessarily The Advanced Kind)

It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. I’ve certainly made a concerted effort when writing about it in the past. However, in the context of battling plagues, we don’t necessarily need the kind of super-advanced, super-intelligent AI to provide some of those benefits. When it comes to combating plagues, we don’t need an AI to be as intelligent as a human. We just need it to help us combat deadly disease.

This can be done without the kind of AI that finds its way into Skynet or Hal 9000. An AI that can better-analyze genetic data, run simulations on possible treatments, and track the spread of a disease can do plenty to prevent or mitigate future plagues. If it can just help us identify and isolate new cases in a short span of time, then that alone could save millions.

At a certain point, AI could get powerful enough to calculate entire treatment programs once it has the genetic data of a pathogen or condition. After this global, well-publicized crisis, it’ll have plenty of data to work with.


Space-Based Broadband Internet

When it comes to dealing with pandemics, the incentives don’t stop at treating the disease. Given all the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19, we now know how challenging it is to endure an extended quarantine, especially for kids with no school and sports fans with no sports.

Enduring this crisis has revealed just how critical it is to have a strong, robust internet connection. It may not treat the disease, but it makes the measures recommended by the authorities more bearable. The problem is our current infrastructure for the internet is badly in need of upgrades and its role in helping us function has been made abundantly clear during this crisis.

For work, play, and just avoiding crippling boredom, we need a better internet. That’s where space-based internet, like the ones being developed by companies like FaceBook and Google come in. The idea is as simple as it is awesome. Use satellites and other high-flying crafts to deliver data more efficiently and reliably.

There are a few space-based internet service providers now, but they’re incredibly limited. This crisis, which needs reliable internet for so many reasons, might help pick up the pace in refining this technology. At the very least, it will allow people to binge-watch Netflix from the summit of Mount Everest.


Nanoparticle Vaccines

On the medical side of things, this crisis should go a long way towards teaching people the importance of vaccines. While I don’t doubt the anti-vax crowd will find an excuse to protest, even those skeptical of modern medicine can’t deny the need for better preventative measures for these treatments. Unfortunately, vaccine technology has been stagnant for decades.

This pandemic will hopefully change that and not a minute too soon. The current process for producing a vaccine is long and cumbersome, taking upwards of two years. It’s a process that has a lot of room for improvement. That’s where technology like nanoparticles come in.

The key to any medical treatment is the effectiveness of the delivery system. Vaccines have always had to take a messy path, but nanoparticles could change that. Instead of relying on the biological equivalent of a blunt instrument, nanoparticles could become biological smart-bombs, targeting pathogens with the precision we need to keep them from ever becoming pandemics.

Anti-vaxxers who refuse these just have a death with.


Gene Editing/Synthetic Biology

Not unlike vaccines, gene editing and synthetic biology stand to get a major boost from this crisis. I’ve written about gene editing tool like CRISPR in the past. I’ve touted it as a tool that could potentially treat all infectious disease, especially when combined with synthetic biology. That might have been hyperbole, but I stand by my claims on it’s potential.

Gene editing can do more than make pet fish glow. In theory, it can tweak and rewrite the DNA of organism, including the viruses that infect us. The challenge is refining the procedure so that we know how to modify diseases or create entirely new organisms that combat them through synthetic biology.

It’s not a small challenge. I’m grossly oversimplifying the obstacles in refining this technology into something usable. However, those obstacles are not insurmountable. It just requires time, resources, and motivation. After being economically and socially ravaged by a global pandemic, these efforts will have a lot more urgency.


Immersive Virtual Reality

While the scientists and doctors take up the challenge of fighting future pandemics, the rest of us are tasked with enduring the boredom they incur. I’ve noted before how boredom could become the plague of the future. I hope those stuck at home for weeks on end are done doubting me.

The entertainment industry may never be as vital as the medical industry, but it’ll play an important role in helping people stay sane, calm, and kind. Binge-watching TV and playing video games is helpful, but there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, you’re still just sitting on a couch, looking at a screen.

To keep things both interesting and active, the development of virtual reality should get a major boost. It has existed for years and grown considerably from the days of the Virtual Boy, but it has room for improvement. Thanks to improving computer technology and more advanced interfaces like Neuralink, the experience could become even more immersive.

Beyond simply treating boredom, it could allow a greater sense of active engagement, which is critical when everyone is practicing social distancing. Being isolated and cut off from human contact may help temper a plague, but it’s not healthy. A way to immerse yourself in a realistic environment could help make future quarantines more bearable while also opening a new market, which gaming companies are sure to exploit.


Sex Robots (Obviously)

Does this one really need an explanation? When you’re stuck inside, horny, and run out of things to binge-watch, things are going to happen. Even if your partner or significant other is with you, they might get sick and you might feel lonely. Given how pandemics tend to temper the market for sex workers, a sex robot might be the best and only option.

If at least one company or horny entrepreneur hasn’t realized that by now, I’ll be shocked. The market for sex robots has been growing in recent years. After enduring a pandemic and weeks of social isolation, that market has likely grown. People rarely forget big global events like this. They’ll remember how lonely they were and that memory will fuel the development of sex robots more than any libido.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, technology

A (Hopeful) Perspective On The Coronavirus

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As a general rule, I always watch the news with a skeptical eye. That’s not just because we live in an era of fake news, misguided outrage, and conspiracy theories about shape-shifting lizard people. I’ve learned from time, experience, and observation that the news can only ever tell part of a story as it’s happening. The full story never comes out until much later. Sometimes, it’s years later.

That’s not easy when following stories like the coronavirus. Unlike other major news stories that make headlines for all the wrong reasons, this is a serious issue. This is something the public needs to know about. The coronavirus is not just a nasty cold. It’s killing people all over the world. That’s an indisputable fact and one that warrants serious concern.

At the same time, there’s a context worth noting. As bad as the coronavirus is, it’s not the second coming of the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. This is not the kind of disease that will turn the planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the mold of a Stephen King novel. It’s still serious, but it’s not a global cataclysm. Even if it ends up killing millions, there are over 7.6 billion people on this planet.

Human beings adapt.

Human beings survive.

It’s one of the few things we’re good at.

There’s another perspective worth considering when following the news of the coronavirus. Unlike the devastating plagues of the past, humanity has developed a decent infrastructure for medicine, technology, and research. Granted, it took us centuries of trial, error, and mass death and there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but that system is there. It’s better than nothing. Just ask Medieval Europe.

That system is already doing its job in combating the virus. Already, researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have mapped out critical portions of the virus. That sort of thing couldn’t have been done this quickly or at all just 30 years ago. This data is critical for the development of treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine.

The fact that this happened so quickly after the outbreak is something the news hasn’t reported on. Even if treatments develop and the virus is contained, as we’ve seen with other recent outbreaks, it probably won’t be a huge story within the ever-changing news cycle.

We know this because in late 2019, the first vaccine for Ebola was approved for use by the FDA and it barely showed up in the headlines. Considering how much panic the Ebola outbreak caused several years ago, this is quite a triumph. It shows just how quickly our current system can respond to these diseases.

Again, there’s still room for improvement and accessibility to medicine is a major issue, but the coronavirus is not some new form of disease. It’s a virus. We know what viruses are. We have the technology to study, treat, and combat them, more so than we have at any point in human history. Considering how much better we’ve gotten since the heyday of the AIDS pandemic, I say that’s reason to be hopeful.

That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. When the CDC issues a warning about the coronavirus, we should take it seriously. At the same time, we should take comfort in the knowledge that we live in an era where human ingenuity has limited the suffering caused by these devastating plagues.

As with Ebola, we will eventually develop a treatment for the coronavirus. It won’t be perfect, but it will limit the death and suffering it causes. It also won’t make the news because it’s just not scary or dire enough. At this point, finding effective treatments for diseases is so mundane it barely qualifies as news. That’s an objectively good thing.

I hope that helps provide a bit of context and hope to the news surrounding the coronavirus. It’s still worth taking seriously, but we shouldn’t let grim headlines distract us from the great things that humanity achieves when faced with a challenge.

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Filed under biotechnology, Current Events, technology, Uplifting Stories

Neuralink Event: Updates, Insights, And (Big) Implications

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It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Neuralink. There’s a good reason for that. Even though Elon Musk announced the formation of the company back in 2017, there hasn’t been much news, aside from a few cryptic teases. That didn’t stop me from proclaiming it be one of the most important venture of all time and I still stand by that proclamation.

Finally, on July 16, 2019, we got some news from Neuralink that attracted major press coverage. Musk, in an event that was live-streamed, offered some tantalizing details on the state of the company’s research into advanced brain implants. He didn’t announce that they’d perfected it. However, he did make clear that this is not some crazy idea he just scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

The presentation was lengthy and I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m nowhere near as smart, articulate, or successful as Elon Musk. Very few individuals on this planet are. If for no other reason, watch this event to affirm that he’s serious about merging human brains and machines.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here a few key points:

  • The first use of this technology will be to treat brain disorders
  • The company has over $150 million and almost 100 employees
  • It has made significant strides in crafting advanced electrodes that can be implanted in a human brain
  • The current prototype utilizes chips that can process brain signals
  • The prototypes have proven functional with rats and monkeys

These insights are intriguing, but they’re not going to change the world overnight. It’s not like we’ll be able to order our own brain implants from Amazon by the end of the year. This technology is still in its infancy. We’ve only recently developed computer hardware that can communicate with brain cells. We’re a long way off from functioning on the level of the Borg.

What Musk laid out wasn’t just a vision. He offered specifics, citing where we are with the technology and who will initially benefit. It makes sense for those with brain disorders to act as the first beneficiaries. Aside from the difficulty of convincing most people to have something put into their brains, these implants could be invaluable at helping quadriplegics improve their lives.

It’s not an impossible feat, having brains interact directly with machines. It has been successfully done with monkeys. It’s just a matter of testing, refinement, and improvement. Like cell phones and Lasik surgery, which I’ve had done, the technology will improve once it has a foundation to build on.

Now, we got a glimpse of that foundation and there’s plenty of reasons for excitement. While nobody can predict the future, especially not as well as someone like Elon Musk, there are some major implications for the near and distant future.

Just controlling a computer with your brain is not the endgame of this technology. Musk stated clearly in the event that the ultimate goal is to create an intimate, symbiotic relationship between humans and advanced artificial intelligence. He sees it as a necessary relationship if we’re to minimize the existential threat posed by AI.

Before we get to that goal, though, it’s almost a given that this technology will find other uses and markets. One market that wasn’t mentioned in the presentation, but could prove very lucrative, is gaming.

As much as video game technology has advanced since the early days of Nintendo, the controls haven’t evolved much. We still need a keyboard or a controller to interact with the system. As someone whose reflexes were rarely fast enough while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, I can appreciate those limitations more than most.

Imagine an interface where moving a character or a cursor required only your thoughts. Suddenly, you’re no longer restricted to button sequences and analog sticks. The controls only limited by your brain’s ability to give the necessary commands. Whether you’re playing an old Mario game or Grand Theft Auto V, you guide everything along with your thoughts.

Considering the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, the incentives for innovation are strong. If a brain interface offers novelty or advantages for gaming, then Neuralink is in a position to reap the benefits.

Those same benefits extend beyond the gaming industry. While it may take a while for an implant to process the complex controls of a video game, it might not take as long to create one with the ability to give wielders more direct control of their smartphone. Some may recoil at the thought of being that connected with their smartphone, but the benefits may be too good to pass up.

I can easily imagine an interface that not only helps people type messages faster, but provides better security than passwords, fingerprints, or facial recognition. Hackers might be able to crack a password, but brain signals would pose a far more daunting challenge.

This kind of interface also opens the door to a more intimate forms of communication. It’s one thing to just send texts and emails with our phones. What if we could send codes through brain implants that actually convey feelings and emotions? Instead of emojis, we could just send a coded message from one implant to another that conveys anything from happiness to shock to sarcasm.

That level of communication wouldn’t just be groundbreaking. It would change the way human beings interact. Again, it would be somewhat rudimentary at first, but with refinement, it could open entirely new channels for those who take advantage of this technology.

These are just some of the possibilities. The implications for the distant future are big, but the possibilities for the near future are just as tantalizing. Right now, the near-term goal revolves around helping brains interact with computers. At the moment, those computers are not advanced AIs. When that time comes, though, we’ll at least have a channel for that interaction.

These are exciting times, indeed. This is not just some eccentric billionaire’s crazy vision. This is really happening. There have been many technological advances that have changed our lives, but this technology may ultimately change much more than that.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Neuralink, Sexy Future