Monday, July 31, 2017

Big Pharma, The Triangle Of Death, and AI: Three Documentaries You Should See in 2017

This past week, Etcetera's podcasting crew had the opportunity to interview writers, producers and directors associated with three documentaries showing at the Traverse City Film Festival:
producer Andrew Grant and director/writer Anniken Hoel (Cause of Death: Unknown); director Zaradasht Hairan (Nowhere to Hide); and producer Greg Kohs (AlphaGo). You can listen to the podcast on Soundcloud; as always, we welcome your thoughts on our Facebook page and on this post!

To give you an idea of where the conversation ranged on these three films, here are some observations and questions that worked their way into our discussion with them, as well as some links with which to pursue each topic. I think you will find what our guests had to offer as fascinating and insightful as we did!

Cause of Death: Unknown 
Featuring producer Andrew Grant and director/writer Anniken Hoel
  • Prescription drugs are the third-leading cause of death in Europe.
  • From 1991-2015, pharmaceutical companies paid 373 settlements totaling 35.7 billion for marketing fraud.  From 1998-2016, they spent 3.5 billion in lobbying expenses. In 2015, they spent 5.4 billion in direct-to-consumer ads. In 2012, they spent 24 billion on physician advertising.
  • “There are many more people who are well than are sick, so the way to sell the drug to the broadest audience is to make people who are well THINK they are sick.” There are lots of misleading narratives, such as ads and children’s books convincing people they are bipolar when they are not.
  • Prozac allowed mental illness to be treated by doctors instead of by psychologists or psychiatrists. What effect did that have, especially when Prozac lost their patent in 2001 and other competitors could come into this lucrative marketplace? 
  • Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, said, “All journals are bought – or at least cleverly used – by the pharmaceutical industry.”  Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, editor for the New England Journal Of Medicine, says he cannot find drug review authors who do not have financial ties to drug companies. 
  • There is a troubling question raised of if these drugs even work. Could institutions give you any positive studies of the effectiveness of psychotropic drugs?
  • The FDA is largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and there is damning evidence that the FDA looks the other way on safety issues it finds with drugs. How do we change that?
  • Are doctors willing accomplices, or have they been very carefully and methodically misled? 
  • Is the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) compromised?

Anniken Hoel talks 'Cause of Death: Unknown' (interview with Cinema Scandinavia)

Nowhere to Hide 
Featuring director Zaradasht Hairan
  • Nowhere To Hide takes place in the Diyala Province of Iraq, also called the Triangle of Death.
  • Nori, the featured documentarian, says, “It’s difficult to diagnose this war…you don’t understand the disease.” Is there a proper diagnosis? And if so, what is the disease?
  • How did the invasion of Iraq contribute to the current state of ongoing war? Is Iraq better or worse after the Gulf War?
  • What is in store in the future for Diyala and perhaps all of Iraq? Is there any hope it can return to a semblance of normalcy?
  • The Chicago Tribune noted that after seeing this “it is unconscionable to turn away.” Is there something a watching world can do, or is this something that must be addressed internally to really effect lasting change?
  • It’s not always easy to get a good perspective on the Middle East here in the United States. How does the average Iraqi (or the average Muslim) view groups like ISIS and Al-Quaeda?
  • What don't you think Americans understand about Iraq that you wish they could understand?

Nowhere To Hide (website)

Director Greg Kohs
  • One of the important distinctions between chess and Go is that chess values material (the number and type of pieces on the board) while Go values a more pattern-based complexity that is not necessarily related to the number of stones on the playing field. 
  • We use language for AI such as “creativity, learning, and growing.” I read an article that claimed AlphaGo was using “introspection,” which is remarkably anthropomorphic. Is that what’s actually happening – the AI is morphing into something resembling a person – or is it just that the machine is getting more convincingly efficient, and it’s the best language we have to describe what’s happening? The debate is over whether or not it is ‘mimicking’ or is it ‘becoming.’     
  • Philosophers are wrestling with understanding consciousness, thought, self-relfection, etc. when it comes to both people and AI. A neuroscientist named Bobby Azarian wrote in Raw Story that AI will never attain consciousness because that requires intentionality, which only arises from possessing beliefs, desires, and motivations. He concluded there will never be Strong AI with self-awareness, sentience and consciousness that experiences the world subjectively (how do you describe what is’ like to see a pretty girl, or drink a beer, or hear a great orchestra?) On the other hand, Antonio Regalado, writing for MIT Technology review, quotes scientists who argue that consciousness is a product of structure: “Consciousness is a property of complex systems that have a particular cause-effect repertoire.”  Does the rise of AI suggest we might all be machines, or that machines may become persons? Or will there always be a line between the two?
  • Much of this movie is set in Korea. Another movie out of Korea, The Doomsday Book, features a beautifully shot short film called The Heavenly Creature that focuses on the implications of AI, specifically as it relates to religion and what it even means to be human.

AlphaGo (website)
AlphaGo (documentary website)

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