Can Another 70s Science Fiction Work Be Successfully Updated?

Tomorrow night HBO will premiere Westworld, a series based on the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton.  That film was set in an amusement park for adults populated by robots (the Westworld of the title was just one part of the park).  While the film did spawn a sequel and short-lived television series, it did not dive into issues around the use of androids but was a technology-gone-wrong tale.  The series has the potential to do both of those things and perhaps more.

The television program has all the elements that suggest a quality production.  The cast is noteworthy and includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris.  HBO has a reputation for sprawling storytelling of a high caliber (its Game of Thrones recently became the show with the most Emmy awards), and reports are that the network has invested heavily in the production. was developed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and Nolan directs the first episode.  He has co-written many successful movies with his brother Christopher Nolan, and created the television program Person of Interest, which recently ended a five season run examining the implications of a pervasive surveillance entity acting within modern society.  J.J. Abrams is credited as an executive producer, though it is unclear how much of a hand he has had in the show given his heavy workload that includes overseeing the Star Trek and Star Wars movies.

2015 may have been a big year for robots in popular culture, but if Westworld turns out to have the goods then 2016 could be too.  And maybe it will join Battlestar Galactica as a work from the 70s that was updated and better the second time around.

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White House Festival Sprinkles In Some Science And Tech

The Obama Administration will host a South by South Lawn festival at the White House on Monday, October 3.  Meant to evoke the South by Southwest festival (which the President attended this year), South by South Lawn will include the winners of the latest White House Film Festival, musical performances, art displays and other interactive exhibits.

But from the marquee discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio throughout the festival, science and technology are part of the event.  DiCaprio will speak with the President and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe before the domestic premiere of Before the Flood, a climate change documentary produced by DiCaprio (among others), who also appears in the film.

Aside from the conversation and film premiere, there are several sessions in the afternoon that at least brush up against innovation, science and/or technology.  Along with the interactive exhibits, attendees can learn more about the Cancer Moonshot, design for everyone, addressing food (in)security and using technology and innovation to address societal problems.

The event will be streamed through Facebook and the websites of the White House and South by Southwest.

Health And Human Services Department Trying To Increase Access To Clinical Trial Data

On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced actions that should increase the availability of clinical trial data.  This parallels an announcement from the Vice President focusing on clinical trials concerning cancer.

The overall goal of these policies is to make the clinical trial much more effective.  The announcements focus on making it easier to use clinicaltrials.gov and similar online resources for accessing and sharing clinical trial data.  Under the final rule issued by HHS, more trials involved with FDA-regulated drug, biological and device products will need to provide registration data and results on clinicaltrials.gov.  This should also make it easier to find clinical trials that need participants.  The rule takes effect on January 18, 2017, and affected parties must comply within 90 days of that date.

The NIH policy applies to all NIH-funded clinical trials, which means that some clinical trials not otherwise covered by the HHS rule will fall under the NIH policy (primarily early stage trials for FDA-regulated drugs, biologics and devices and small device feasibility trials).  It also takes effect on January 18, 2017.

Complementing the expansion of registration requirements are new compliance measures.  Both the HHS rule and the NIH policy allow for marking the clinical trial as non-compliant on ClincalTrials.gov and for withholding grant funds.  The HHS rule allows for monetary penalties, and the NIH policy would allow for non-compliance to be considered in future grant applications.

Additionally, the NIH is working to improve the usability of ClincalTrials.gov and may be using the recently released redesign of trials.cancer.gov.  While White House Innovation Fellows assisted with the trials.cancer.gov redesign, NIH intends to work with the 18F group at the General Services Administration to improve the clinical trials website.

White House Seeking Stories For This Year’s Manufacturing Day

The first Friday of every October is Manufacturing Day in the United States.  The 2016 edition takes place on October 7.  Co-produced by manufacturing organizations and the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Manufacturing Day is intended to publicize manufacturing in the country and help people better understand the state of manufacturing in the country.

The Obama Administration is looking to publicize Manufacturing Day with stories and incentives to establish and/or strengthen connections between manufacturers, makers, and educators.  They are looking for stories, but they have to be submitted by tomorrow, September 16.  I suspect the input will help the Administration create the list of government and private sector commitments they like to announce with some of their big science and technology events.  Think of it as a science and technology flavored use of the ‘bully pulpit’ of the Presidency.

If you’re interested in participating in Manufacturing Day activities (which are not limited to October 7), consult the event listings on the Manufacturing Day website.

NASA Implements Public Open Access Proposal For Its Funded Research

Last week NASA announced a public portal through which the public can access research funded by the agency.  It’s part of NASA’s open access policy, required by the 2013 Obama Administration policy encouraging research agencies to make more of their funded research available to the public.  The agency requires its funded researchers to deposit their juried conference proceedings and peer reviewed articles in PubMed (one of several agencies that either do so now, or will soon).

The public portal is broader than the PubMed link.  Besides NASA’s PubMed section, the site also links to NASA’s data.gov section, which includes the agency’s publicly available datasets.  You can also check out the agency’s data management plan (its requirements for researchers to support the long term management of and access to the research data they produce), and the OSTP policy that nudged all this in the first place.

I really hope that other agencies look closely at this portal and feel free to copy as many elements of it as possible.

USPTO Opens Patent Data For Cancer Purposes

Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a Cancer Moonshot Challenge.  It runs from now until 5 p.m. Eastern on September 12.

The Challenge involves using a curated data set of nearly 270,000 patent documents going back to 1976.  The goal is to analyze, sift and visualize this data to see what insights might be there to speed up progress on cancer cures.  Entrants will develop a visualization to represent these insights, along with a story (1,000 words or less) that supports the visualization and access to the visualization for testing purposes.

Submissions will be judged on five criteria (each weighted equally):

  • Creativity and Innovation – how unique is the approach to the issue and/or the issue itself
  • Evidence Base and Effectiveness – the strength of the evidence and the impact the story has on cancer R&D and/or the public policy process
  • Value to Public – how much value is provided to policymakers and stakeholder communities
  • Usability – visualization should encourage engagement by policymakers and the public
  • Functional Product – visualization should be interactive and function as described

Government Releases Federal Source Code Policy

On Monday the federal Chief Information Officer, Tony Scott, announced the release of the Federal Source Code policy.  It covers custom source code developed by or for the Federal Government, and is intended to encourage its sharing and re-use by other government agencies.  Additionally, at least 20 percent of this source code must be shared with the public, and the policy will encourage agencies to share more.

The policy is straightforward, and includes general guidance for agencies to determine when and how to develop custom source code.  It also encourages the sharing of source code as open source software.  This supports government transparency, and it also allows for improvement of the shared code through the collaborative ethos of the open source community.  This isn’t the first time that the government is sharing source code, as federal agencies have been sharing code on Github for some time.  This includes the new data.gov website, which will serve as a portal to custom federal source code and a resource for agencies working to comply with the policy.

Agencies have 90 days to develop a policy for complying with the Federal Source Code policy.