I won the Anti-Patents Policy Hackathon


On September 13, Mind the Bridge hosted a policy hackathon sponsored by Dell at the MTB Innovation Center in San Francisco. The Dell PolicyHack™ brought together entrepreneurs and U.S./EU policy experts to solve policy challenges. The goal is to productively brainstorm and to provide top-line thinking that can inspire and serve as basis to develop and implement full policies.

My team was formed by:

  • Sara R. Klucking (Section Chief, Innovation & Programs, Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, US Department of State)
  • Bogdan Ceobanu (Policy Officer, Startups & Innovation, European Commission)
  • David Hodgson (CEO, Hummingbird Labs)
  • me

The five teams had 75 minutes to come up with a policy solution to issue areas that impact entrepreneurs. Each team was then be given five minutes to pitch their solution to the panel of judges formed by:

  • Pēteris Zilgalvis (Head of Unit, Startups and Innovation, European Commission)
  • John Zysman (Professor Emeritus, Political Science, UC Berkeley)
  • Burton Lee (European Entrepreneurship, Stanford University)
  • Richard Boly (Principal, Beaurichly Llp)
  • Alberto Onetti (Chairman, Mind the Bridge and Startup Europe Partnership).

Master of ceremony was Kristen Mattern (Senior Government Affairs Manager, Dell). The issue areas were: funding, trade, migration, patents, and privacy. Obviously, I chose patents.

When I started telling my team my ideas about patents (basically, how to effectively end the system, since it is so broken and dysfunctional, and what would happen), they thought I was out of my mind. But I ended up convincing them with evidence. So finally my proposals were the ones I presented . We were supposed to present as a group, but Sara and David fled right before we were up for the presentation, and Bogdan “let me do the talking” and the answering of questions.

Although the other teams did a great job, my team won!

The award: to have my ideas written in a paper that will be presented to the European Commission as “expert policy advice”.

It’s ironic: over a decade after I was lobbying against software patents in the European Commission in Brussels, having Microsoft’s lobbyist as my main adversaries, now the European Commission takes my anti-patents ideas as expert advice, and Microsoft is my free-software company’s main partner. I guess time puts everything in its place.

That’s how you hack the system from inside.

Although I never believed that was the way to real and meaningful change, at least now I can say “been there, done that”.

Talking to Prof. Church about machine learning applied to genomic research

During my flight to Boston I read “Regenesis”, the interesting genomic science book by Professor George Church, which was a gift from my friend Dr. Raminderpal Singh.

George, Raminder and Jorge 2016 Boston

On Wednesday evening I had a very interesting conversation in Boston with both of them. Neither of them needs an introduction in the genomics world, but for those of you outside the field:

  • Raminder is Vice-president at Eagle Genomics and Advisor at Kanteron Systems. He was previously Genomic Medicine Strategy Lead at IBM, where he was responsible for the Watson Genomics project.
  • George is a bestselling author, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT. His PhD led to the first genome sequence and contributed to nearly all “next generation” DNA sequencing methods.

Since George’s lab work revolves around chip-DNA-synthesis, gene editing, stem cell engineering, super-resolution, molecular computing, dark matter and similar subjects, and since he has PhD students from Harvard, MIT, Boston U., and Cambridge, during the conversation I could not resist the opportunity and I asked him about de novo computational discovery of motifs.

It is an idea I had a few weeks ago while sailing from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki: what if we apply machine learning/intelligence (whether Random Forests or Hierarchical Temporal Memory) algorithms, or even better quantum computing, to look for sequence motifs (nucleotide or amino-acid sequence pattern) to help us predict and engineer structural motifs (chain-like biological molecules)? We could begin with those related to binding and folding, which could lead to an exponential advance in the field of information storage and synthetic biology. But that would be only the beginning. The possibilities and implications could be really far fetching. It would overflow the SFLD 😉

In a nutshell (graphical silly example), it would make it much easier to go from this:
to this:

And not only describe it, but also understand it and facilitate its application in de-novo engineering.

There are already over 100 software programs which try to do this programmatically (MEME, EXTREME, AlignAce, Amadeus, CisModule, FIRE, Gibbs Motif Sampler, PhyloGibbs, SeSiMCMC, ChIPMunk, Weeder, SCOPE, MotifVoter, MProfiler…). Weirauch et al. evaluated many in a 2013 benchmark. But what I am proposing is a lot more powerful, versatile, and quick than anything done before (as far as I know).

He mentioned some of the research work his wife (Harvard Professor Ting Wu, whom I also met in Boston) is currently involved in around Super-resolution imaging for chromatin folding, and evolutionary conservation, and told me “your idea is really interesting”.

Honestly, I usually can care less about what others think of my ideas (I’m a scientist, I value evidence and data, not “beliefs” or “judgements”) but I personally admire and respect his work, and agree with his views, specially on sharing knowledge and human genome editing, so his comment made my day and encouraged me to further pursue that hypothesis… someday. Right now in my spare time I am redesigning a multi-sensors data stream interface for NASA (pro-bono, unrequested… but that’s my idea of fun!).

Setting up my first art exhibit

The weekend of February 27 and 28 I set up my first art exhibition as Independent International Art Curator.

In collaboration with the Internet Freedom Festival, held in Las Naves (Valencia) from 2 to 6 March, Net Freedom Art Show is an international, itinerant, collective and multidisciplinary contemporary art show. After its debut in Valencia, it will be exhibited in galleries around the world (New York, London, Santiago de Chile, and Kaunas).

In this exhibition, I have collected works by Carlos Motta (Colombia), Pawel Althamer (Poland), Osamu Tezuka (Japan), Dave Cicirelli (USA), Patricija Gilyte (Lithuania), Claudio Zirotti (Italy), Mery (Spain), and Paulina Vassileva (Bulgary).

Most of the works come from private collections, acquired in museums like the Guggenheim and the New Museum in New York. Others have been donated by the artists, having been exhibited in places like the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, or Art Basel.

With this provocative, irreverent, atypical exhibition I intend to provoke the viewer to think about some of the focal points of the struggle for freedom online, such as Community, Gender, Diversity, Media, Technology, Best Practices, Design, and Politics. In this sense, all the works integrate multiple messages, including the heterogeneous group of selected artists representing the diverse nature of the Internet.

Hope you like it.

The White House Chief Data Scientist assures me the White House strongly supports encryption and opposes back doors

Tuesday March 1 I had a conversation with Dr. DJ Patil, the First White House Chief Data Scientist, at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

He was interested in discussing ways in which the White House can help healthcare technology companies like mine. The first issue I raised was my concern over the FBI’s request for Apple to decrypt a suspected criminal’s iPhone.

My position in this issue is well known: weak encryption means weak security for ALL of us, so nobody can request weak security for security’s sake.

As I told Dr. Patil that built in encryption is not something that can be made weaker or stronger on a per-case basis. We either all get strong encryption or we do not. If back doors are forced onto technology products, and strong encryption is restricted, we will all suffer from it, not just the healthcare industry. Besides, expecting the user to trust a central authority is not a good idea either, as we found out from the US Government’s recent failures preventing cyber criminals from accessing confidential and private data.

To my delighted surprise, Dr. Patil completely agreed with me and assured me that the White House strongly supports encryption and opposes back doors.

He apologized for not being able to elaborate much more, since this was an ongoing court process, but I did not need any more elaboration. His words were crystal clear. Let’s hope the Obama administration remains so and actively helps us lobby against diminished security and rights.

Microsoft comes to Valencia to meet with my team, collaborate on medical technology research, and discuss a Term Sheet

On February 25 a group of medical imaging researchers from Microsoft came to our company’s headquarters in Valencia (Spain) for a day-long workshop on bleeding edge medical image software.

I must admit that just a few years ago I would have laughed at the idea of such an occurrence for many reasons. But things change, and now Microsoft is much more open (and convinced) about Open Source software, their researchers have demonstrated exceptional ability in advanced medical imaging analysis algorithms (unlike their failed business strategy around Amalga), and my company has grown and innovated to the point where it captures the interest and even enthusiasm of some of the largest technology companies in the world.

It was a full day of technological immersion, talking about computer code, software architecture, advanced machine learning, medical imaging analysis algorithms… my definition of fun! We also talked about ethics, industry regulatory landscape and commercial strategies.

While the contents of the discussions, including the Term Sheet, are under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement), the one thing I can talk about is the delicious paella we all enjoyed for lunch in the country club across from our office, next to the 5 swimming pools and the tennis courts 😉

I stood up against a terrorist in a German train

Yesterday, after spending the day at a tradeshow in Düsseldorf, on my way by train to the hotel in Mülheim, I stopped in the town of Duisburg, which was on my way, because I heard they were setting up a Christmas market. The market was indeed being set up, but it was still closed, so I decided to go back to the station. To avoid the sprinkling rain I took the 901 tram at König-Heinrich Platz.

From the window I saw three kids (around 12-13 year old, I guess) wearing some team sports uniform, laughing and rushing onto the tram. They were not particularly disrespectful or anything, but one man standing in the platform (tall pale and bolding German, around 40 years old) apparently didn’t think so, because they did not let a woman board the tram before them. Some of us appreciate old-fashioned manners more than others, but it is hardly a crime, anywhere in the world, to not let a woman board a train ahead of you… specially when you are a pre-teen or teenager, so commonly unaware of your surroundings.

So this man started screaming at the kids. I saw that out of the three kids (two white and blonde, the other one middle-eastern looking), he was only screaming at the foreign-looking one. My German is not too good, but I picked up words like “schwein” (cerdo), “mohr” (moorish, used pejoratively for “muslim”), “Paris”, “terrorist”… You did not need a PhD in Germanic Languages to understand what was going on there: an obviously mentally unstable person, directing xenophobic fury at the wrong “target”.

Had my German been better, I would have told this person that while I defend his freedom of speech, that is no way to address a kid. Or anyone for that matter. Since I could not communicate in his language, I did not say anything, but remained alert, fearing things could get worse. And they did.

This man held the automatic tram door, preventing the departure on time, while his screams got louder, his tone more aggressive, and his body language more menacing.

I was at the other end of the tram-car, but I looked around and nobody did anything. The car was full of people, most of them German looking. But they all acted as if that was not happening. Some looked around the platform, as if looking for the police, or some “authority”.

I have found, excuse my gross generalization, that while the English are to a large degree “conformist”, the Germans are to a large degree “obedient”. Had the police, or any other form of formal authority been there, things would have gone completely different. But upon lack of authority, brutality and submissiveness took over. Sorry to sound so obvious, but let’s keep in mind the dangerous results that mixing the “wrong” circumstances, xenophobia, ignorance, and mindless acceptance can produce.

At this point, seeing that nobody else was doing anything at all to stop this violent escalation, I got up from my seat, walked across the car, and positioned myself between that kid and the aggressor. The man kept holding the door and shouting at the kid as if I was not there. Everybody else remained still.

Then, a good four minutes into this non-sense, and after having gestured several menacing signs (“cut throat”, “fist smashing”, etc), the man, who was still in the platform, reached into the car, holding the kid’s uniform and pulling towards him trying to get him out of the car and onto the platform.

This is what I call a “terrorist”. Someone with the intent to instill terror in others, particularly to prove a point or avance a particular ideology. If you find the use of this word not appropriate, ask yourself about state-sponsored terrorism, or about the constant mis-use of the term “terrorism” by the media (western or eastern) or politicians.

That was the line, that was it. I grabbed the man’s hand, twisted it (I think my Aikido sensei, years ago, used to call this “sankyo”), kicked him in the chest, and knocked him onto the platform.

Free from the man’s hold, the doors automatically closed and the tram moved on. Nobody did or said anything. Nobody even looked at me. Not even the kid.

I have witnessed and suffered my share of violence throughout the years, but what struck me the most was not a demented criminal, a “terrorist” attacking a “victim”. What struck me the most was the appalling passivity of everyone in that train.
What’s happened to us? When did we become “lambs”? Have we always been “lambs” (whether “God’s”, “the crusade’s”, or “Bush’s”)?

What happened to idealism, utopia, values and beliefs? How can an agnostic like me have more “beliefs” (or at least be more willing to act on them) than the church-going and flag-rallied crowd? What do we think we have to loose, that makes us fear helping others? How can we be so blind in not seeing that inaction will cause us more harm than putting ourselves in harm’s way to defend our values and ethics (not “morals”)?

We are so full of ourselves. We talk non-stop about modern western civilization’s grandeur. I consider myself a liberal free-thinking humanist and peacifist. We are so proud of our humanism, our liberalism, or democracy, our liberty, our rights… but all those are little more than nice sounding ideals, tergiversated and manipulated by politicians, corporations and mass media.

Is John Gray right when he talks about “The Human Animal”, the “Homo rapiens”? When I look around me, that is what I see.
But a Zen monk once told me while sipping some green tea in Japan: “we are what we choose; not so much what we do, or even why we think we chose it”. Some contemporary information technology theories, behavioral neuroscientists, as well as some metaphysical philosophers, would agree with that to a surprising large extent.

So I chose. I chose to stand up.

Invited by the London Stock Exchange to participate in the market opening ceremony

On Friday, November 6th, I was invited by Marcus Stuttard, head of AIM (the London Stock Exchange’s growth market), to participate in the London Stock Exchange market opening ceremony, which takes place daily at 8:00 am.

The ceremony offers companies joining London Stock Exchange’s markets the opportunity to mark their success on the day of their admission. The event was followed by drinks and breakfast.

The reason why I was invited is because one of my companies (Kanteron Systems) had been selected as a member of the #ScaleUpClub 2015. The club is hand-picked by Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (@svc2uk), a not-for-profit organisation that brings together US early-stage investors and disruptive UK start-ups, identifying the 58 firms that could hit £100m in revenue in the next three to five years (let’s hope they’re right!).

According to the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper, the report lists “the British companies most likely to become technology giants to rival Facebook and Google”. One of them is my company, Kanteron SYstems!

It was interesting to experience it “from the inside”, to see all the “tech-fireworks” and to network with some very well know investors and executives (general partners from firms like Google Ventures, CEOs from firms like Tesla, ARM, or Raspberry Pi…).

Another day at the circus. Another attempt by the system to assimilate. Another delicious observational experience.

Million masks march

On Thursday, coming back home from a meeting, I run into the Million Masks March. While I assume I agree with most of their anti-system protests (the truth is I did not bother to read them), I think their choice of Guy Fawkes as an “icon”, even if a graphical one as proposed by the comic/movie “V for Vendetta”, is a very stupid one. Just read about what that historical figure had in mind and judge for yourself.

Another thing that struck me is the media sensationalism, the government paranoia and over-reaction, and the typical “apparatus show of force”, including a large number of policemen, police vehicles, and even laser projections on public buildings, like the message projected on the National Gallery regarding the obligation to comply with police request to remove face maskings, and saying:

“Failure to comply (sic; notice it did not say “failure to do so”) is an offence”

Pina Bausch dance company at the Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

Between my trip to Mexico and the next one to Peru and Colombia, I spent a weekend in New York, and took the opportunity to go with my wife and her ex-husband to see “Kontakthof” by Pina Bausch dance company at the Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

Before the show we went to a South African restaurant in Brooklyn called Madiba. Interesting mix of flavors and decor, great seafood imported directly from Mozambique, rustic atmosphere and somewhat “hipster” but not too much despite being in Brooklyn.

The performance did not disappoint me, because since I saw the documentary “Pina” I have been a fan of her choreography. The group is very heterogeneous, and solid, and the varied and interesting performance, with moments of humor (which aroused reactions of “simplistic and reactive” absurd hilarity from the crowd) and moments of great tension as it reflected sexual abuse or body objectification of women by men.

Although it can be said that the choreography (let me call it “script” for its obvious figurative component) bears the passage of time, since it was created decades ago, as usual it is in the details where the voice of the author is, a window into her inner world, beyond social commentary that a superficial glance reveals. From the “deviant” character to the subtly different reaction (unconscious, natural, or rehearsed?) of each female dancer against male harassment, if we pay attention and go beyond the absurd (like the “ducks projection”) or the interesting but obvious multilingual broken stories, we find the richness and depth that elevate the play to the status of a masterpiece.

Wearable review: Withings Pulse Ox, WS-30 WiFi scale, and Blood Pressure Monitor

Due to the launch of the biosensors module for my company’s medical imaging and data solution a few days ago, the Withings company sent me a biosensor (wearable) Withings Pulse Ox, manometer BPM and WiFi WS-30 scale for testing and integration tests ahead of some national projects we are about to sign in London and Santiago de Chile.

All three came in luxury packaging, and were relatively easy to connect and set up, at least for a “tinkerer” (there are people who gets annoyed if I use “hacker” as a synonym, although it is) like me.

The WS-30 scale is connected via WiFi, and sends the weight and BMI, either to the “cloud” or to another application (data accessible via API) and synchronizes it with the phone, either Apple’s iOS or Android, as in my case, by its own application or connection with third-party applications.

scale

The BPM blood pressure cuff is one of those devices that doctors place around a patients’ arm and inflate to measure blood pressure. In this case it’s the same, but driven by a phone, and measurements are wirelessly synchronized as explained above in the case of  the scale, but there is also the option of using a USB cable.

esfigmomanómetro

Finally, the Pulse Ox is a “bracelet-type” or “clock” device showing (depending on configuration) with each press of its single button: day / time, blood oxygen level (SpO2) and pulse, quantity and quality of sleep, steps, distance and elevation. It’s really light and comfortable to wear, easy to use, and I like its design.

Pulse Ox

These are certainly excellent devices, and I really appreciate them opening access to the data, unlike others (like Basis).

dasboard

I shall not comment on the benefits and dangers of this “quantify-self” trend to quantify all personal activities (although in my case I do it for work and aim to provide data and monitoring to certain patients in a simple, integrated mode). What is certain is that with the “internet of things” (IoT) there is no escape from this trend of quantifying that some denounce as “reductionist” or “dehumanizing”, while others see as a panacea to solve all kinds of problems. I prefer to focus my efforts in trying to make sure that if it has to happen, it is an open, integrated, interoperable, and privacy-safeguarded accessible way. And that’s what I’m working on (or rather my great team of developers).

The market for these devices is growing at full speed, although they are not exactly cheap (yet). Each has advantages and disadvantages. From Intel to Apple through Nike and Samsung, many multinationals are betting that soon everyone will wear a device like these in one form or another, even in the fabric of their shirt. The last to arrive is the last one I expected, specially since they seem to have done it so well: Microsoft, with its “Band”, which not only provides connection from iOS devices, Android, or Windows Mobile of course, but also has advanced sensors like constant pulse reading or GPS.

MS Band

This is getting interesting!