The 2019/2020 updates to Google search parser have probably served the interests of the corporate advertising making up Alphabet Inc’s biggest revenue stream. Fair enough. It’s a pity this focus has collateral damage, downgrading the NLP (natural language processing) of the once-excellent Google search engine parser itself.
Here’s an example.
I search for “how do I use my iphone as a webcam for my mac laptop?”. The results are mostly on point. It correctly identifies I’m asking about an app that’ll turn my iPhone into an extra camera accessible by my Apple Macbook laptop.
Next, I search for “how do I use my mac laptop as an iphone camera?” or “using laptop camera on iphone” or “how do I use laptop camera through my smartphone”. Variations on a theme. I want to search for info on how to access / use the camera on my laptop, through my iPhone. It’s the opposite of the first search. Sadly, this simple request becomes a demonstration of the degraded Google NLP.
No matter what I try, I can’t get Google to search for a solution to using laptop camera through smartphone. Every result is about using the smartphone as a webcam for the laptop. This coarsening of the Google parser is relatively recent and it sucks.
It used to be an art to find good wording, to narrow down search results until they were on point no matter how esoteric the info required. It should concern us all that this trend is infecting across corporatized tech the world over. It’s the opposite of evolution. Tech improves, function degrades.
If anyone reading this is able to get Google to search for using the laptop camera on the smartphone (as opposed to using the phone camera on the laptop), send a message or write a comment.
I suspect what you’ll find is more and more examples of the dumbing down of the Google search engine as Alphabet cuts the fat on its results. The fat being anything that isn’t a product or service or media, or marketing amplifier for a product or service or media.
Most of us want to know the non-hype non-fakenews state of play with coronavirus testing, both for active infection and post-virus antibody immunity. But it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff with so much prattle and such loud misdirection dominating the media landscape; not to mention political spin infecting what information is given out to a particular audience.
We know vaccines aren’t yet available but what’s the status on other effective peer-reviewed therapeutics that’ve been approved or are going to gain approval this month? Clear data on genuine therapeutics is invariably misrepresented, such is chaos thrown up by political, business and nationalist self-interest fighting each other for most advantage. This piece tries to clear away the bullshit and focus only what’s verifiable.
I’ve tried to be as concise as possible going over the details of coronavirus/COVID-19 testing and therapeutics. There’s a lot of data to collate so excuse the level of detail. Better to cover all the bases, so anyone keen to dig deeper has enough concrete facts to look in the right places for further (or ongoing) information. Please be mindful this is a changing situation and the information in this piece is accurate as of 7th April 2020.
How Do We Test for Covid-19?
There are currently two ways to test for Covid-19:
Antigen testing, to see if someone currently has the virus
Antibody testing, to see if somebody has had the virus
At the moment most focus is on antigen testing, mainly for critical-care patients and frontline health-care workers, to detect if they currently have the virus.
Antibody tests exist commercially but none, as yet, have been validated except in a handful of individual countries via emergency (speculative) approval.
This is currently a PCR test that involves extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the back of the nose, or via a throat swab, and then converting it into DNA.
This is then replicated many times so that a significant quantity of the DNA can be detected by a PCR machine.
Detection indicates whether the virus is present in a patient’s system.
Lab-based antigen tests are generally taking around 24 hours to process. The government has made excellent strides in reducing these times, including partnerships with logistics companies, drive-through testing facilities and the building of “super labs” across the country.
A critical element to mass testing will be driving and scaling innovations in rapid antigen testing and tests that can be delivered at the point of care.
The antibody (or serological) test involves taking a blood sample and looking at whether immunity has been developed by the presence of antibodies in the blood – in this case the Covid-19 IgG antibody, which develops around two weeks after the infection.
Covid-19 antigens are placed on the surface of a microtiter plate. Patient serum is then incubated in each well and the IgG antibody from the patient is detected using a secondary antibody that binds to human IgG. If the patient has antibodies to the Covid-19 antigen, this patient will be called seropositive for the Covid-19 antigen. This process is typically done via a finger-prick blood test.
Acting very much like a pregnancy test, with lines that appear to show the result, this test offers three interesting signals:
A solitary positive for IgM means the person has had a very recent (potentially current) infection.
Positives for both IgM and IgG mean the user was infected some time within the past month.
A positive for IgG alone means that the infection occurred more than a month ago and the user should now be immune to a repeat of it.
A negative result probably means no infection, though it could also mean that it is too early in the course of an infection for antibodies to have appeared, since the first IgMs typically turn up only 7 to 10 days after an infection has begun. This is why PCR testing will remain important.
NOTE ON IMMUNITY
There is a consensus in the scientific community that some immunity is conferred once a patient has had Covid-19. A report from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention on 25 March says, “there is emerging evidence from early studies suggesting that individuals develop antibodies after infection and are likely to be immune from reinfection in the short term”.
Rapid Tests That Have Passed FDA/EUA/China Regulatory Systems
Regulatory Mark Received
Antibody: Lateral flow chromatographic immunoassay to detect antibodies
Two-minute testing kit for diagnosing Covid-19
FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)
Abbott ID NOW COVID-19
POC PCR isothermal test that delivers a positive result in five minutes and a negative result in 13 minutes
Ten-minute lateral flow immunoassay that detects IgM and IgG antibodies directed against SARS-CoV-2
Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2
Rapid PCR test that runs on GenXpert benchtop system – delivers result in two hours from sample collection to delivery of result
Received FDA EUA
Xiamen AmonMed Biotechnology (Fujian, China)
COVID-19 IgM/IgG test kit (Colloidal gold)
Ten-minute lateral flow immunoassay that detects IgM and IgG antibodies directed against SARS-CoV-2
Coronavirus (COVID-19) IgM/IgG Rapid Test Kit
Suitable for the qualitative detection of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19) N-Protein IgM / IgG antibodies in human serum, plasma, whole blood, or finger prick samples.
ERA-BIO (Era Biology Group)
CE-Marked COVID-19 IgM/IgG Lateral-Flow Kit
A 10-minute sample-to-result lateral-flow assay, which has 95% sensitivity and specificity for the primary and secondary antibodies produced in serum for SARS-CoV-2
In medicine, the branch that deals specifically with the treatment of disease and the art and science of healing. In pharmacology, therapeutics accordingly refers to the use of drugs and the method of their administration in the treatment of disease. The word comes from the Greek “therapeia” meaning “a service, an attendance” the related verb being “therapeuo” meaning “I wait upon.”
COVID-19 has no vaccine and no 100% effective therapeutics available at present (5th April 2020). Vaccines are in development, some at the point of clinical trials, and there are various therapeutics being trialed or approved. These therapeutics have yet to be proven but all have shown some signs of helping the body fight back against the coronavirus spread.
THERAPEUTICS CURRENTLY IN TRIAL OR APPROVED
The first approved coronavirus drug in China has reportedly shown efficacy in treating Covid-19 safely in a clinical trial involving 70 patients.
Gilead’s Remdesivir (GS-5734)
An experimental broad spectrum anti-viral that was originally designed to treat Ebola; it has undergone clinical trials in China. The trials are being performed on 761 patients in a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study at multiple hospitals in Wuhan. The results from the trials are expected to be available over the next few weeks.
Approved in China for the treatment of severe complications related to coronavirus, the drug is being evaluated in a clinical trial in China, which is expected to enrol 188 coronavirus patients. The clinical trial is expected to be conducted until 10 May.
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine
These drugs have been shown to be safe and efficacious against malaria for decades. Coronavirus patients administered with the Chloroquine Phosphate drug achieved a better drop in fever and shorter recovery time in clinical trials being conducted in Chinese hospitals. Large-scale clinical trials with both these drug are taking place in April.
Artificial intelligence is providing answers. BenevolentAI provides a large repository of structured medical information, including numerous connections extracted from scientific literature by machine learning. Together with customisations bespoke to 2019-nCoV, a team used BenevolentAI to search for approved drugs that could help, focusing on those that might block the viral infection process. This process identified baricitinib, which is predicted to reduce the ability of the virus to infect lung cells.
Global Companies Testing for International Provision
Lab-Based PCR Testing:
Thermofisher US-based provisioner of scientific instrumentation, reagents, software and services. Capacity: They are producing PCR swab kits, scaling to 5 million per week. And assisting the UK with ramping up capacity for PCR test with their PCR testing machines.
Roche Swiss multinational health-care company that operates worldwide under two divisions: Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics. They also produce PCR test kits and the testing machines. Capacity: Their CEO said on 23 March that they had provided 400,000 kits in the US over the last week alone.
Mologic British firm Mologic is working with partners in Africa to develop tests that will be manufactured in Senegal. Capacity: It has been granted £1 million to produce two different types of test by the UK government: one antigen, one antibody.
Biopanda Northern Irish biotech company Biopanda produces a rapid antibody test. Capacity: The company is selling its testing privately within the UK and has also previously despatched orders “throughout Europe and across the world.”
SureScreen SureScreen is a private firm based in Derby, England. They say they have created a test (Rapid Test Cassette) that can determine with 98 per cent accuracy if a person is infected. It involves taking a blood sample via a finger prick and using a screening device. They say diagnostic time is ten minutes. Capacity: SureScreen says its test has been validated and is already being used by private buyers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, UAE, Kuwait and Oman. It is believed around 175,000 tests have been conducted with the SureScreen kit so far. The company claims it has had more than 2 million orders for next month.
Randox Northern Ireland-based company Randox Laboratories has also developed a “multiplex viral respiratory infection array” that tests for Covid-19 and nine other infections simultaneously. Randox said the test is capable of processing 324 patient samples, generating 3,240 reportable results, in just eight hours. Capacity: The company is distributing the tests to more than 40 countries worldwide.
Novacyt This company is working on a rapid-test PCR kit, which works through a nose or throat swab. It produces a result in two hours. Capacity: The company says it has enough raw materials to manufacture 3.5 million PCR tests that can provide results in a couple of hours. The company says it has made almost £18 million selling test equipment to more than 80 countries.
Quadram Institute Quadram Institute, based in Norwich, England has produced a kit that works from a throat swab sample and is a molecular test to establish if a person currently has Covid-19 (a rapid-test PCR kit). The company says the test could be used in a hospital anteroom, processing 16 samples at a time and displaying the result on a smartphone. Capacity: We believe it is a small-scale trial at present.
Where Is Antibody Testing Already Being Used?
The US regulatory body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised – on an emergency basis – the use of the first antibody test, produced by Cellex. The FDA said it is “reasonable” to believe the testing kit works effectively.
In authorising the Cellex test, the FDA said that “the known and potential benefits of your product when used for diagnosing Covid-19, outweigh the known and potential risks of your product.”
China has approved eight antibody tests, while kits have also been approved in countries like Singapore, South Korea and Australia.
In Europe, it is understood that Germany will be launching a mass antibody testing regime in the coming weeks.
Watching the New Hampshire primary results roll in, it looks like a narrow Bernie Sanders victory over Buttigieg and Klobuchar – moderate, corporate Democrats – with ex-Vice President Biden and opportunist identity politician Elizabeth Warren falling short of 10% share of the vote. Mobs of ecstatic followers – or crowds of enthusiastic supporters, if you prefer not to think about the implications of a thousand human beings shouting in unison the same three syllables for minutes on end – assemble to make the ‘white noise’ for their candidates and speeches at podiums framed by star-spangled banners are sent out to deliver exhortations, platitudes and vows of exceptional patriotism to the world’s media.
So much so familiar.
What I don’t understand about today’s world – and a result like this, in a strongly libertarian traditionally non-conformist state, can be a useful paradigm – is this coming together of a very resilient bigger picture conservatism with what looks like the triumph of fiction over fact. All the fiction needs to do is deliver better feel-good, in the moment, than the prosaic fact; and it wins votes. Why doesn’t reality matter more than fantasy? The former has consequences. It impacts real lives. The latter is here today, gone tomorrow, like an evening’s narcotic indulgence?
Bernie Sanders, whatever one’s opinion of his analysis of society or the solution his platform proposes, is a politician with a long track record in public service. His background is consistent, his opposition to entrenched power well documented and his message to the electorate has a simple consistency. Democratic socialism. Healthcare for all. Education for all. Less money spent on foreign war. More taxes from tax-avoiding trillionaire corporations. Love it or loathe it, as an ideology, Sanders has been on message for decades. This is an example of ‘reality’. It’s documented by fact and embodied in this 79 year old Brooklyn Jewish man’s long and authentic American lifestory.
Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of a small city in Indiana with a few years in office and a mixed bag of results. He’s been running down the political middle of the American political road since college and has been making legitimate progress as a professional lawmaker moderating the attentions of dynamic business in a town much in need of investment and urban renewal. Buttigieg is an archetype of centrist, corporate Democratic Party outreach: good communicator, mainstream white skin – not white hair – with a single humanizing ‘flaw’ (he’s gay). Mayor Pete looks credible.
By rights Buttigieg should be at the start of a long career in public service, as yet untested and still to build a record of facts in the real world by which his credentials for President can be properly assessed. This lack of substance made him an underdog before the Democratic campaigns began but with the early backing of the Democratic Party heterodoxy and the heavily corporat mainstream media, an idealized Mayor Pete was lifted to national coverage. Audiences responded well. Pete may not have much on his public service record but twenty years of preparation for public speaking in front of the mirror served him well in the transition to photo opportunities with podiums and flags above stock price tickers and news media headline bars.
Here’s where I lose touch with the thinking of half my fellow voters. In the Democratic Party corporate headquarters, polling and performance showed sleepy Joe Biden wasn’t a hit with voters. He had none of Obama’s charisma and speaking ability. Biden reacted ornery when questioned by friendly interlocutors, which presaged disaster if he was ever placed on a stage with Donald Trump’s barfly provocation. What’s more, the white privilege entitlement – albeit with a mostly benign patrician heart – was alienating the rump of the Democratic voter base. Biden’s appeal to his long record in politics, achievements (by his own light) of some note, rather than winning plaudits for the fact was losing support for ‘too much detail’. No surprise the DNC switched horses to back Buttigieg.
What I don’t understand about Biden isn’t his crony-capitalist American exceptionalism but why the facts of his record of proven centrism is a voter loser where the promise-filled rhetorical vaguery of Buttigieg’s bullshit exceptionalism – albeit spoken with Hollywood aplomb – persuades actual voters with actual ballot papers to commit their future (and the country) to such an unproven, unknown big business apologist?
p.s. this isn’t a problem solely in the United States. Boris Johnson in the UK played up his role as a fantasy buffoon, bumbling but likeable, fascism with a good speaking voice. He beat the sincere, long-suffering opposition parties with ease and the rump of his voter base came from the very demographics his platform has – for decades – sought to exploit. Bizarre.
Corporations have longevity, resources and reach way so far beyond any individual, their regulation should be considered in the same way state or national government must have legal limits to protect the individual from potential abuse of overwhelming power.
Let’s not conflate the regulation of immortal corporations with individuals. Free speech absolutism must apply to individuals but multinational megacorps like Facebook or YouTube have the potential to be a ‘holocaust’ against libertarian (or any dissenting) content.
What’s more, the censorship can be reduced to an algorithm or subordinated to authoritarian direction that effectively sends content creators into life-changing exile for minor or unknowable transgressions of arbitrary rules; with no way to appeal.
If anything corporations should be regulated AGAINST censorship – typically against those labelled alt-right as a one size fits everyone not towing one of the mainstream tribal lines.
Regulating the corporation is a necessary safeguard to protect individual free speech. As it happens, this includes those voices most likely to have something important to say about freedom.
The end of the decade is fast approaching. On the 12st of December 2019, the United Kingdom goes to the polls in the most divisive, fucked up election in living memory. Whether the voters know it or not, the stakes are enormous. Eleven months later the United States Presidential election will play with similarly high stakes. The two great English-speaking democracies are facing an unparalleled existential threat.
On one side, the democratic ideal, fact and accountability, public service as a standard that transcends political team games. This might be public service as social democracy provisions, national utilities and wealth redistribution but equally it could be serving the public best by regulating the level playing field for competitive winners-and-losers free market capitalism. Between those poles is politics and that’s fine.
But on the other hand, the dealer’s side, this British election and elections elsewhere is entrusting the future of a free and democratic society to the vicissitudes of an stupefied electorate that’s been degraded by austerity, distracted by Brexit and targeted relentlessly by a media who’s purpose is to amplify the agenda of freewheeling big capital.
Government always exists in tension with sovereign speculative wealth but in the UK, the Conservatives – traditionally party of business and self-interest – has been taken over directly by big capital completely. This takeover is a game changer. The same has happened in the United States and it has created an unseen but fundamental schism at the heart of government. It means at least one of the main parties likely to be voted into executive power is no longer looking to govern for the sake of the best possible future for the country. In the United Kingdom, less resilient than the United States, executive power equals authoritarian power and the potential for abuse is unregulated even by checks and balances.
Big capital actors don’t care about what’s in the national interest. Why should they? That’s not the game they’re playing. They’re not concerned with the traditional political arguments about more or less socialism, bigger or smaller budgets for public services versus spending on stimulating business as the engine of economic growth. Big capital is about profit and monopoly. These speculators are global in outlook, because national borders are a ringfence for the unimportant distinctions between mythologies of populations; idiosyncrasies to be exploited, nothing more. It’s your problem, if you’re an advocate for democracy, to deal with the collateral damage of big capital’s hunt for profit running through the domain of public interest. The masses exist to work, pay tax, consume and – when necessary – take the hit when the boom bust economics dip into the red.
Big capital owns most of the European and American media. Big capital interests largely control the message (through media and advertising and consumer services). Big capital is profit-driven. Its interest in people goes only so far as how best to use their labour and exploit their consumption. This makes the training of a stable culture of mass-consumer acquiescence a collateral requirement of the profit chase. Stability and consumption are a tricky proposition, balancing well-defined homogeneous demographics at the same time as keeping the population atomised against socialist ideas.
Collective power versus entrenched power. The mainstream must be regulated, subordinated to the dictates of the consumer here and now, or else profit suffers. Profit can’t be allowed to suffer so big capital dominated government becomes, inevitably, an organ of control, not liberation. By default it’s an ideology of mythology over history, reaction over reflection, short-term instincts encouraged to eclipse long-term interests.
The Conservatives in the UK, just like the Republicans in the USA, have been taken over by the big capital ideology. Emboldened by the capitulation of the population to austerity and the government to underwriting consequences of bad investment (diverting tax income and future debt into the coffers of the speculators), big capital is pushing to seal the deal.
In a sense the UK election – and the American 2020 vote – are a line in the sand. Will big capital succeed in placing its well-paid employees in government, taking control of the reigns of power to deregulate and deck stack its entrenched power? Or will the public get wise to this?
Have enough regular voters been affected by the degrading of their own lives so they realise the real enemy of their long-term quality of life? Or has the media and the stubborn consumer conservatism of the electorate built up a coda of mass introversion where the public opt for a surrender to populist fantasy?
In short, has the ever-practical, patient big capital cabal trained enough turkeys to not only refuse the hands that feed but instead, far worse, on December 12th 2019 and November 8th 2020, vote in favour of Christmas?
For us human beings, born primate, bred storyteller, we are terribly mismatched with our technological future. Philosophy and narrative become our poetry and metaphor; socio-economics define the play in which we all have our parts; but reality, the fundamental nuts and bolts, truth and fact, to which science aspires to understand in a way that carries objective meaning across generations: this must be sold in iambic pentameter soliloquy when in practice it must be communicated in relentlessly practical lingua franca prose.
Reality is an objective aspiration to see the world as it is, subjectivity held to account by science. It is the distillation through the scientific method of the observed, experienced environment – from the proximately tangible all the way to universal conditions – separating the erroneous white noise of bias, habit, ephemera and error from those persistent peer-reviewed conclusions that most accurately codify the diverse crucible of existence.