Episode  MSP56  The Fluffy Episode
Episode  MSP56  THE FLUFFY EPISODE
Today’s show is about technology you can feel good about. We know. We didn’t believe it, either
These shows are dictated to and transcribed by machines, and hurriedly edited by a human. Apologies for the minor typos and grammar flaws.
So many of his shows are influenced by what’s he’s been watching or reading that week. Judging from today’s subject matter, Kulturpop’s Matt Armitage has finished Game of Thrones and seems to have been bingeing on Goop for the past few days.
You want to talk about innovation this week?
· Yes. And you’re a bit off the mark with the Goop reference.
· We will not be talking about products for steaming your engine compartment, nor coconut oil’s miraculous ability to bridge political division and heal the culture wars.
· I wanted to explore the tangents you kept me off on last week’s show.
· We were talking about peak technology and the growing unease that people have with technology companies.
That’s not surprising when you see how Facebook has been faring the last couple of weeks…
· No, you’re absolutely right. Which is why I would direct people back to our tech visionaries episode.
· We touched on this a little last week. It now seems that FB COO Sheryl Sandberghas also been implicated in the company’s Soros-gate scandal, engaging a PR company that specialises in opposition research and disinformation and deflection campaigns.
· For a company in the midst of a supposed battle to control a fake news epidemic and deliver balance to its users…
· …the decision to engage a company to conduct a fake news smear campaign is baffling.
· And hot on its heels this week we’ve had the story that Facebook blocked a post by one of its own former managers, outlining the reasons he thinks the company has failed its black employees and users.
· The reason the post was blocked? That it goes against the site’s community standards.
So, you’re saying, enough with the bad news!
· Partly. I’m saying don’t get side-tracked by the bad news.
· Don’t ignore it. I don’t want people to be cyber ostriches with their heads in the silicon.
· But when you feel the anger rising in your chest, or that feeling of apathetic helplessness when you see yet another tech transgression…
· Have a search around and look for the positive things that technology is doing.
Like enabling drone strikes on civilian populations…
· Today is turning out to be so not light and fluffy. But it will be.
· Drone strikes are another example of what I’m talking about.
· Drones are potentially an incredible technology but we get side-tracked by the people who use them as weapons, or tools to spy on you.
· Truly, that is part of the story. But look at the other things they can do, like airlift medicines to remote areas.
Or to scan for survivors during natural disasters?
· You’re getting into the swing of it.
· Look at the whole story and the incredible things we’re inventing and discovering, like last week’s Geeks stories about solid state aircraft – planes that have no moving parts or traditional engine but create enough thrust to fly.
· Or the special light that’s been developed to help diagnose diabetes and heart disease.
· Today I want to look at that side of the picture.
· There’ll be another Facebook scandal next week. Twitter will ban someone will inexplicably allowing someone else to stay online.
· Snapchat will do something no one understands. And I will still be searching Instagram for cat videos.
Where does the innovation start?
· Today is the light and fluffy episode so let’s start with killing something.
· Cancer to be precise.
· My mum thinks that the world would be better with no crocodiles in it, but I’ll go for cancer instead.
· This is a story that dropped in November with the announcement of this year’s Nobel prize for Medicine.
· The prize went to two scientists, one American, James Allison, and one Japanese, Tasuku Honjo, who have pioneered the use of a new breed of cancer fighting drugs that use our own immune systems to fight cancer.
· And despite the prize hardly anyone knows about this approach to treating these diseases.
Fighting cancer is something that comes up on BFM on various shows and segments. A Nobel Prize is an enormous thing. Why do you think so few people know about immunotherapy?
· According to a Stanford University research oncologist called Daniel Chen who is quoted in the Guardian,
· In The field is moving so fast and so unexpectedly even fellow scientists in The field are struggling to keep up.
· One of the knock-on effects of that is that it’s quite bewildering for doctors and patients.
· Not to mention the fact that anything that touted as the kind of miracle cure when it comes to cancer also faces that goop effect.
I knew you had ulterior motives for mentioning goop at the start…
· Because we’re used to hearing a lot of new-age remedies for serious illnesses.
· We’re used to hearing about quack remedies like boiling a radish and leaving it under your pillow and letting your immune system fight off the disease.
· So when we see a word like immunotherapy we naturally think new age and not science.
So where’s the science?
· As I said we are talking about radishes we’re talking about oncologists.
· It’s quite sad thing to say, especially on a light and fluffy episode, having a lot more people on the planet means having a lot more cancer.
· Having a lot more people with cancer means we have a lot more data about the behaviour of cancer cells and the way they interact with our bodies.
· And one of the mysteries of cancer is its ability to overwhelm the immune system and prevent it from attacking those invading and replicating self.
Which is where the boiled radish comes in?
· You can go and boil a radish, I’m going to carry on with the show.
· Our Nobel winner Jim Alison, realised that cancer wasn’t overwhelming or exhausting our immune system.
· It was essentially tricking it into staying docile.
· So his approach is a bit like the TV show breaking the magician’s code.
· To expose those tricks and to devise new ways to block them.
· That was back in 1994.
Quite a few of our listeners weren’t even born in 1994. That’s hardly a rapid development.
· Which brings us back to your boiled radish.
· Alison and his team had a drug that worked on certain melanomas in mice.
· But it could be quite dangerous for humans.
· While the drugs worked for people, they kickstarted the immune system, that process in itself could be dangerous to some patients.
· But when they did work, the results were remarkable. Some patients reaching the end of stage four cancer were effectively cured.
Let’s speed forward to today. Why has this slow-moving discovery suddenly picked up speed?
· Partly because of data and partly because of the way innovation often works.
· Let’s use the mobile phone as an analogy.
· They were introduced in the 1980s and started to become commonplace in the 1990s.
· It was only around 10 years ago, the mobile phones and already been around for twenty five years, that they became more than devices to make calls on.
· Obviously this is a simplification because it goes hand-in-hand with the development and militarisation of computers and chips and all the other pieces of hardware.
· But Look at how quickly phones have moved on in the last decade.
· Assuming that I don’t have to write any long documents or presentations, I don’t need a computer with me to work any more.
I know you’re going to try and link this back to cancer research…
· In those first decades really of the development of the mobile phone, there were incremental improvements.
· Better screens, better battery life, Bluetooth, text messages.
· Remember when WAP was the only way to get online on the phone, using tortuously slow 2G connections?
· That’s how it went with the immunotherapy drugs.
· And Dr Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University, the co-Nobel winner we mentioned earlier made a further discovery.
· That cancers were tricking the T cells that was supposed to fight them into believing that they were buddies.
· That allowed into building a newer class of drugs that had fewer toxic side-effects than the CTLA-4 class of drugs we discussed earlier.
These are the ones that former US President jimmy Carter took a couple of years ago?
· Yes. These drugs are classed as PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitors, and Carter, despite being in his 90s, responded really quickly to treatment.
· That drug, known in most countries as Keytruda is the most widely known immunotherapy cancer treatment.
· But the Guardian argument points out that this is immunotherapy’s penicillin moment – by which it means, it’s the development that has opened the door to the world changing potential of these drugs.
What kind of scale are we talking about?
· We’re talking about going from the iPhone and its initial app store to the pocket computers our phones have become.
· There are now more than 900 cancer immunotherapeutic drugs in development.
· Half a million patients involved in more than 3,000 clinical trials, with another 1,000 trials soon to start.
· And that’s just with these checkpoint drugs.
· Other areas of research include bespoke vaccines. These are drugs that are specific to the individual, so that the medicine adopts a specific approach rather than a catch-all one.
· That can increase the efficiency, the effectiveness and possibly the side effects.
Is there a danger that we’re getting carried away with the hype?
· Sure. One of the most effective ways to currently use them is to combine them with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
· So those treatments do the rapid work of killing tumours and leave the immune system to mop up and clear the debris.
· And yes, it’s not a miracle cure. As we mentioned before, restarting those T-cells can flood the patient’s body with toxins.
· And we have to also remember the cost. While the treatments can be successful, if a full course costs USD1m or more, that really limits the application and it could develop into a tiered street of medicine, where only those with super money or incredible medical coverage can access cutting edge treatments.
· But that’s where we come in. As I said earlier, this field is moving faster than many doctors and us, the general public, can keep up with.
· So we’re the ones who have to put pressure on the people we elect to make these treatments widely available.
I suppose that’s a fluffy end to our first half. After the break, all the fluff you can eat.
Today we’re looking at the happy smiling face of innovation, though in typical MSP fashion that involves killing cancer cells.
What have you got for us in this half?
· I’m going to be a bit zippier in this part of the show. If there’s anything you guys out there in listener land would like me to come back to and do in more detail, you can head over to the Mattsplained FB page and let me know.
Can they tweet?
· They can semaphore naked for all the good tweeting will do.
· Which is the perfect segue for us to talk about agroforestry.
No it isn’t.
· I know it isn’t, but they might not have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out.
· Which makes it the perfect segue into agroforestry. wink wink.
· I like this story because it’s one of those reverse tech ideas.
· We reported earlier this year on China’s urban planners looking to classical and traditional Chinese town planning as a way to build cities that are more environmentally sound.
· Simple things like tiered ponds to help retain water and mitigate flooding, as well as to nourish the greenery that can help to cleanse the air and reduce temperatures.
· And agroforestry is a climate mitigation technique that lends itself well to tropical countries like Malaysia.
It’s nice to see you’ve done some actual research for today, rather than spouting off.
· You’re very mean. It’s a good job Jeff’s back next week.
· There have been various high tech solutions for scrubbing carbon from the air announced over the last few years.
· A company called Carbon Engineering announced in June that it pioneered a technique that takes carbon out of the air and turns into fuel.
· This one does sound a bit like it came out of a kids sign’s competition project.
· Massive fans blow hair onto can come surface that is coated with a solution the traps the carbon dioxide.
· You can imagine it being a little bit like the 8 year old’s volcano projects in US sitcoms that spews an endless torrent of foam before exploding and covering the principal head to toe.
· The company estimates that the cleaning costs around USD$100 per metric tonne of CO2.
· Which is apparently much cheaper than some rival technologies.
That’s still billions in investment and infrastructure costs.
· You’re talking hundreds of billions and potentially trillions.
· Which is something else that we’ve mentioned before.
· We get fixated on the shiny innovation and stop thinking about the technologies that came before.
· And When it comes to carbon cleaning we already have a very effective technology that is highly effective, long-lasting and remarkably cheap.
· Funny man. Though carbon sinking donuts is an awesome idea.
· But that would require us not to digest them, which could be problematic in the long run.
· I was thinking of trees. Agroforestry is an environmental management technique that’s thousands of years old.
· When we think about agriculture, we tend to think of it in its modern sense.
· Which is acres and acres of denuded land planted with whatever cereal or other staple crop or vegetable.
· We sprayed them with pesticides to keep them clear of pests and weeds and to increase the yields.
· And we chop down trees and hedges because they make it harder for fun machinery like factors and trailers to gain access to the fields.
You want to turn back the clock?
· As I said, new technology isn’t always better technology.
· And we aren’t talking about replanting every field of barley with oak trees.
· We’re talking about set aside.
· There are plenty of schemes that pay countries or private landowners to set land aside, especially forested land and leave it uncultivated.
· Agroforestry allows you to turn some of that set aside into financially productive land that also has a positive net effect on the world’s climate.
We’re not talking about developing virgin rainforest?
· No, this could be something you do with secondary forest or part of a wilding process with previously cultivated land.
· It involves combining trees, shrubs and crops.
· The trees absorb the carbon but also provide shade for many of the crops.
· And amongst those trees you can also plant fruit or cacao trees.
· So what you have is a carbon sink that is revenue generating.
It still has to cost money?
· I was looking at a Washington Post article that examined this.
· Project Drawdown is a global project that aims to develop agroforestry on 19 million hectares of land.
· To give your visual reference–
· That’s a land area larger than the entire country of Cambodia.
· Estimated cost for that is about US$27 billion which is projected to yield a profit of over US$700 billion by 2050.
Ok. The fluffiness is starting to cuddle me.
· You’re going to like the next one then.
· This is something I’ve talked about many times over the fantastic number of years people have been letting me wail and holler from the heights of BFM.
· And it’s the 4 day working week.
· I think we mentioned that a company in NZ called Perpetual Guardian was experimenting with a 4 day work week for its staff of 250.
Hang on, why is this technology?
· This is social and cultural design.
· So it’s human technology.
· We talk a lot about automation and machines replacing human workers.
· But one of the weird things is that most people, across the world, are working longer hours than they have done in decades.
· Technology, whether it’s email or instant messaging, has helped to push work inexorably into our private lives.
· But we aren’t necessarily seeing productivity gains from this increase of work.
You mean things like stress related disorders and the costs of time off relative to productivity.
· And as most of us are hunched over laptops in cheap chairs, there’s the physical and health effects of being sedentary for long periods.
· So the net effect of all the overwork, can end up being less work at an increased cost.
· Which is lose-lose for everyone.
So give us the good news from New Zealand…
· So, back to perpetual Guardian.
· To the trial was very simple.
· They worked for eight hour days a week but were paid the normal salaries for five.
· So it wasn’t like some flexitime schemes, where you work 40 hours over four days instead of five and your days are staggered so the company still operates Monday to Friday.
I feel we should have a drum roll…
· You’re really starting to get into the fluffy spirit.
· Academics who have looked at the the results of the trial which happened in now much in April earlier this year found that staff Felt better about the worklife balance, they felt less stressed and they were happier in their jobs.
· And as a result, the company is adopting the model full-time but on a voluntary basis.
· Staff you need the flexibility of a five-day week because there are days where they have to leave early for childcare or other commitments Will still be able to do so.
Can you see more companies rolling this out?
· Obviously it’s not a model that can work for everyone.
· Or rather, it’s a model that only works if everyone does it.
· It would be hard for BFM for example to operate on a four day week unless it let another station take over the other three days of broadcasting.
· But I do support the concept of working less if that means the time you spend at work is used more productively.
It’s easy to say when you’re not an employer.
· I get that.
· I’m not an employer any more. I used to be.
· And I would turf my staff out of the office.
· Most of them were employed in part because of their extra-curricular activities and interests.
· So part of their intrinsic value to my company or the company I was running was vested in their social life or hobbies.
Isn’t it more normal for bosses to want to see their staff spend as much time in the office as possible?
· Which is entirely short-sighted.
· Having them spend as little time as possible while getting the job done to a high standard should be the optimum.
· We have to get past the idea that we own people and their time.
· It’s a trade. Both sides have something to gain.
· So it’s in everyone’s interest to make that experience as pleasant and frictionless as possible.
· A lot of people forget that happiness is an established economic indicator.
· Happy, healthy people are a great advertisement for your company.
· And they’re great for your bottom line.
I’m still waiting for the gates of Hell to open and for Matt to summon forth some fire spitting hell hound to consume the end of the show. But it looks like he’s been true to his word, fluffy.