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Comment Re:neural net application (Score 1) 116

I completely agree. I work in computational neuroscience, and the memristor was basically the last thing left that brains can do that can't be implemented in silicon. Neuromorphic analog VLSI circuits are going to benefit from this a lot. However, there are still a number of issues that might not be trivial to implement, such as competition between different synapses in the same neuron, which are mathematically necessarily to prevent instabilities from occurring. I think the main point is that solving the nonlinear ODEs in the brain numerically, on a digital processor, is very inefficient compared to the brain. However, instantiating them in an analog circuit with internal state variables (i.e. memristor-like devices) will actually be much MORE efficient than the brain. Given that the rate-limiting steps in brain computation are basically stray capacitances dictating the membrane time constants, those stray capacitances are much easier to reduce in analog circuits, so these circuits should be able to operate orders of magnitude faster than biological ones. We'll make great pets someday.

Comment Re:non-issue (Score 1) 324

Television shows like House, M.D. always make me chuckle, having been too close to the subject matter for suspension of disbelief to work. When something serious goes wrong with one's body that cannot be diagnosed with first-line test results and (revenue-generating) treatment prescribed in 8.5 minutes, you are no longer an asset to the healthcare industry. You are a liability. There is no genius physician who will ponder over your case in his or her downtime. There are no attractive residents who will hold conferences in well-appointed conference rooms where they will discuss your case and argue over the possible diagnoses on whiteboards and through video teleconferencing.

I'm sorry that your experience with medical care has left you so jaded, but the truth is that this sort of thing happens a lot more than you know, especially at academic hospitals. Most people who go into medicine are interested in the mystery cases, and if anything, I feel like the truth is the very opposite of what you're saying: people with simple presentations that look like routine cases often aren't given enough attention, and the mystery cases are ruminated over far beyond the point where anything productive results from it. The thing about House, MD that makes me chuckle is how bad the physicians on the show are. I guess that's part of the plot, though, that they can't make the diagnosis in the beginning, or else there wouldn't be a show.

Comment Re:non-issue (Score 1) 324

As a physician, I agree with you that learning good people skills is a critical skill for most physicians. However, I think the whole situation is more complicated than you seem to acknowledge. First, there can be technically incompetent physicians who miss diagnoses or prescribe outdated treatments, but they're loved by their patients. On the other hand, I know a few technically excellent surgeons who are total jerks. So I agree with you that people skills and clinical skills are not totally separate and distinct, but they're not totally inseparable either. However, technical incompetence is a more serious problem than poor people skills. I agree, a doctor with poor people skills will never be truly excellent. But a technically incompetent doctor kills people.

A second, more subtle, issue is that sometimes being a good doctor requires you to do things that will make your patient unhappy. For example, a good primary care physician will bug his/her patients to quit smoking and lose weight. Those are things that annoy people, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that sometimes it's easier to make the patient happy than it is to do the right thing and come off looking like a bad guy. For example, people come in all the time demanding antibiotics for viral upper respiratory infections. Giving those patients antibiotics is doing them a disservice, as it breeds resistant organisms, but doctors that do it will be more popular, and primary care physicians do it all the time for that reason. Another example is building false hope in patients with a poor prognosis. As far as I'm concerned, that sort of pandering is cowardice pure and simple, but physicians are human too, and it's hard to be the bad guy.

Finally, posting random stuff on a web site is just not a reliable way to evaluate anyone. Mostly you'll just get a few posts from a tiny, disgruntled fraction of the patients a doctor sees. And in most of those cases, the complaint says more about the patient than the doctor. In fact, having more complaints most likely reflects the fact that the doctor is willing to accept more difficult patients, the same way that many surgeons with low success rates are the ones willing to accept the toughest cases. I agree that it's silly to try to make patients sign agreements that they won't post online, but it's even more silly to take online posts seriously.

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