Senator Wyden of Oregon has proposed a national vote by mail system under a partnership with the United States Postal System. The proposal would eliminate the current electronic voting machines. I respect the goal of reducing the high cost of maintaining the old fashioned approach of paper ballots and scanners, but I think we can do much better. Internet voting, as described in Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy, is a much better way.
Policy makers who are afraid of the Internet and want to maintain the status quo. Paper forever. I understand the concerns about the Internet, but they can be solved. Paper voting has its own issues. A friend of mine lives in a condominium building. For the 2016 election, his wife received a notice to vote by mail, but he did not. He visited the election precinct where he would normally vote in person to ask why he had not received the vote by mail invitation. An election worker checked online and reported that he had already voted. He informed the election worker he had not voted. They then showed him a scan of his ballot envelope. It was not his signature, but he recognized the name. It was another person in the condominium. This is not a case of fraud. The person who cast my friend’s ballot did not realize the ballot was not his. The postal delivery person put the envelope in the wrong mailbox.
The Internet is not perfect, but it is more dependable and accurate than a paper based system. It is also more convenient and can enfranchise millions of people who currently cannot vote because it is not convenient for them. In some cases voting the old way is just not possible.
The Western Australian Electoral Commission just announced a significant move to internet voting for people who have insufficient literacy skills, are sight impaired, or are otherwise incapacitated. The Australian iVote system has been used since 2011 in all state elections. Once registered, voters get an 8 digit iVote number and a 6 digit PIN. They use this to log into the system to vote and once having voted online, can verify their vote through an automated telephone system.
In 1963, when I started in engineering school, there were two tracks that an electrical engineering student could choose from — electronics or power. Electronics was about solid state devices such as transistors. (The Intel microprocessor was not to come until 1971). The “power” track was mostly about electric motors and power generation. Fast forward fifty years and you can see an evolution occurring with regard to bioengineering. I call it BioEverything.
Initially “bio” was a special interest area that spread roots from the biology department into various engineering disciplines. Bioengineering has become a structured curriculum for students interested in the intersection between engineering and biological sciences. Bioengineering combines engineering principles with life sciences. There are three tracks available to students. Biopharmaceutical engineering encompasses biochemistry and chemical engineering. Bioelectronics/biophotonics focuses on applications of electrical engineering and physics in bioengineering such as signal processing, biosensors, and biochips. Cell and tissue engineering straddles the fields of molecular and cell biology, materials science, mechanical and electrical engineering and encompasses biomaterials and biomechanics. Studies range from cells and tissue to organs and systems. Sounds quite a bit different than transistors and electric motors.
I believe what we will see in medicine and healthcare over the next ten years will dwarf what we have seen in the past 100 years. It is a real possibility for those of us who started out back in the days of the transistors and motors and have aging bodies that some day we will benefit from bioengineered “components”. The implantable pacemaker was just the beginning. Bioengineering graduates will be developing pacemakers for the brain, cochlear implants for hearing deficiencies, artificial cartilage for our knees, devices to enable the blind to see, and cures for today’s incurable diseases. At some point a nanotechnology “cocktail” will bring nanobots to our internal systems to replace faulty cells with newly engineered ones. Just like computers have become ubiquitous, it is clear that bioeverything is on the horizon.
Bioethics will become a larger concern as research begins to reach into the basics of life. Biophysicists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed a brain-on-a-chip which models the connectivity between different parts of the brain. The chip mimics the connectivity between the various regions of the brain where many diseases develop. The brain-on-a-chip will enable researchers to study neurological and psychiatric diseases, including traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, and drug addiction .
A physician surgeon friend enlightened me about the story I posted last week. I was not 100% accurate in what I wrote. I always appreciate feedback about my blog posts, especially if it highlights an error on my part. The following is what he said.
I’ve been meaning to respond to the e-mail from you that I saw Saturday. It’s the one on the artificial meniscus. I do not know much about it but I think your message was not entirely correct. Menisci are cartilage but they are fibrocartilage and when a young person (usually athlete) “tears their cartilage” it is the meniscus and this usually leads to a partial removal or repair. In the ‘old days’ we use to just remove them. Damaging a meniscus does increase ones chances of subsequently developing degenerative arthritis but degenerative arthritis is the results of damage to the articular cartilage and when related to a torn meniscus develops years later. Most cases of degenerative arthritis are due to the ‘wearing out’ of the articular cartilage for reasons not fully understood and not actually related to meniscal damage. Add to this that fibrocartilage ages (like all collagens in our body) and most of us over the age of 50 have some degree of meniscal damage. That contribution to subsequent degenerative arthritis is not understood.
Having an artificial meniscus to replace a damaged meniscus is likely to be a wonderful thing but I suspect it will be used almost exclusively for the young athlete and not have a major or even significant impact on older adults incidence of degenerative arthritis.
Baby boomers have a lot in common. One thing is the need for joint replacements. The annual number of knee and hip replacements is nearly one million. Looking ahead we may not have enough surgeons to meet the demand. The demand comes from injury, overuse, and arthritic deterioration of cartilage. We have all heard the phrase, “I am down to bone on bone”. Breakthroughs in 3-D printing may bring new solutions.
The cartilage that provides a cushion, like a shock absorber, between your thighbone and shinbone is called the meniscus. It is very common for active people to tear the meniscus. There are surgical options to treat a torn meniscus, but in many cases this can lead to further deterioration. As I reported here in July 2016, researchers have developed a new water-based polymer gel which is extremely tough, flexible and formable, yet highly lubricating. It has all the mechanical properties of native cartilage and can withstand wear and tear without fracturing.
The next step will be actually 3-D printing a meniscus. A Canadian biotechnology company, Aspect Biosystems, a leader in the field of bioprinting and tissue engineering, is working with a healthcare specialty products company to put bioprinting on the map. The collaboration is being facilitated by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. The result may be a bioprinted knee meniscus which can be surgically implanted.
A little more than five years ago, a couple of tech entrepreneurs in San Francisco got the idea to develop something new. The idea was to create a free web-based service which allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements, called applets, which are triggered based on changes to other web services such as Gmail, Facebook, or Weather Underground. They called the idea IFTTT, an abbreviation of “If This Then That”. It sounds complicated, but you will find it simple after I provide some examples.
A simple example is about weather. If wunderground.com shows a forecast of rain where you live, then you would receive an email. A variation would be if the forecast is rain, then the forecast would be placed on your Google calendar. Following are a few more examples. If the President signs a bill into law, you would receive an email about it. If the New York Times has an article about the Affordable Care Act, then the article would be sent to your inbox. If you are within 10 miles of your home, the thermostat would be changed to your desired setting. If you receive an email with an attachment, then it would be saved to your Dropbox.
There are millions of possibilities and the idea is growing rapidly. You can browse through available applets at IFTTT.com. Applets can be a convenient way to gain daily productivity, but The city of Louisville, Kentucky had a bigger idea. They have created a family of applets, called Smart Louisville, to benefit asthma sufferers. One of the Smart Louisville applets will retrieve the Air Quality from Louisville Metro Government’s Air Pollution Control District. The applet works with a Philips Hue smart lightbulb which can change color. If the air quality is good, the bulb turns green. If it is moderate, the bulb turns yellow. An unhealthy air quality turns the bulb red, and a hazardous condition turns the bulb dark purple.