Episode 41 - Dr.Ken Ford on AI, ketosis, evolution and better science

by Break Nutrition | Podcast

Show Notes


Dr.Ford’s bio is impressive. He’s the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC), a not-for-profit research institute providing a “new model for interdisciplinary research”. In addition to…

  • a PhD in Computer Science
  • an honorary doctorate from the University of Bordeaux in France
  • he served as the Associate Center Director and Director of NASA’s Center of Excellence in Information Technology
  • he was picked by George Bush and confirmed by the US Senate to serve on the National Science Board (NSB), which is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that advises the President and Congress on policy issues
  • he was Chair of the NASA Advisory Council until 2011 and was awarded NASA’s highest honor, their Distinguished Public Service Medal
  • he also supports the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) as a member of the Advanced Technology Board (ATB)

After serving in the navy he went on to a PhD in Computer Science to study Artificial intelligence (AI). AI was a door to questions about the mind-brain connection he’d been thinking of as a philosophy student. Dr.Ford co-hosts the STEM-Talk IHMC podcast (@ihmc_stemtalk) with research scientist Dr.Dawn Kernagis. It’s marvelous, so please check it out.

Raphael asks Dr.Ford for is opinion on Sam Harris’ argument that only 3 basic assumptions are needed to support the inevitability of AI

  1. intelligence is a product of information processing in physical systems
  2. we will continue to improve our intelligent machines
  3. we do not stand on the peak of intelligence or anywhere near it

Which precautions should be taken with regards to AI and its development?

What happened in Dr.Ford’s career after being an AI researcher for many years?

What kind of people work in the IHMC’s truly interdisciplinary environment?

What drugs, supplements or interventions can we use to protect ourselves against ionizing radiation that humans will encounter a lot of during space travel?

A recent mouse study from 2018 found a ‘gravitostat’ functioning independently of leptin regulating body weight and fat mass. Can we extract practical tips from this or is it still too early?

What sort of exercise technologies are already being used on space stations to counter the absence of gravity?

What factors weigh into the decision of exploring space with robots or humans?

What about the other technologies being developed by DARPA and NASA? Are these advances bleeding over into exercise science?

What does an exoskeleton look like as of 2017/2018?

How do you talk to people about the significance of technological progress versus technological change?

It’s important to use an evolutionary framework and the mismatch hypothesis to address current questions of health and disease. As an example, this could be used to understand why grip strength has dramatically decreased in a generation (study).

That medical research and practitioners don’t make better use of the evolutionary framework is a great loss to progress in this realm. There’s a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky who’s title capture this

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

Around 1969 when Dr.Ford was a wrestler, he started becoming interested in the ketogenic diet. How did his interest in the diet emerge at that time?

Wrestlers cut weight by going so low calorie they’re often ketogenic by ‘mistake’ and/or without knowing it. Dr.Ford explains what he learned from this.

Ketones and muscle mass. Effects of ketones on anabolic resistance being of particular interest to Dr.Ford.

Is improved anabolic resistance for testosterone, IGF1 and mTOR due to ketone body activity analogous to ketones increasing TSH receptor sensitivity?

Is it evolutionarily congruent to remain in chronic ketosis? Is it even a good question, given all the assumptions?

It’s hard to imagine human Paleolithic or Mesolithic populations that were never occasionally in ketosis. The burden of proof can be argued to be on those holding the counterfactual position that humans were never in ketosis.

Ketone esters. Achieving ketosis with through diet or fasting versus using a supplement? What’s the state of ketone supplementation research? What should people be aware of in this regard? Check out STEM Talk episode 54 with Brianna Stubbs on ketone supplements, a fantastic deep dive on the matter!

READER BEWARE: this is a novel field of research and some exogenous ketone studies are of very low-quality. One such example is the recent study by Louise Burke et al. called Ketone Diester Ingestion Impairs Time-Trial Performance in Professional Cyclists (2017)

  • A better name for the study would be Vomiting impairs time-trial performance in professional cyclists
  • The study probably shouldn’t have been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Physiology and was unfortunately published in the New York Times (here’s the response from the ketone ester company Hvman to the NYT piece)
  • The ester used in the study had never been pharmacologically assessed for ketone ratio or gastrointestinal (GI) tolerability
  • The ester was ingested alongside Coca-Cola before the race which predictably led to (every!) athlete having GI issues
  • The authors speculated that the 2% time-trial decrease was because of the ketone body acetoacetate (that they measured in urine), not so much the GI distress itself.
  • Results were reported in a confusing manner. Case in point, “All participants reported gastrointestinal discomfort associated with the intake of the ketone diester No similar symptoms were reported with the PLAC trial”

Not all scientific fields are equally rigorous. Nutrition, is one of the least rigorous scientific field. How does Dr.Ford explain this difference in rigour between scientific fields?

Resistance training (RT) in the ageing population. How can RT mitigate some of those decreases muscle mass and function?

RT is hard for older people to adopt. How can elderly people progress through a RT program? What other approaches are there to RT?

  • Hierarchical sets
  • Kettlebells
  • Blood flow restriction training (BFR) – not occlusion!

Mechanisms of blood flow restriction training: is it the accumulation of metabolites secondary to blocking venous return creating an angiogenic signal? IGF1 and growth hormone increase substantially after blood flow restriction training…

Familiarity or lack thereof with what it feels like to exercise a muscle vigorously. One has to learn to give 100% effort, it’s not simple to do when just starting out to exercise.

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). How has EMS evolved in the last 10 years? Is it only for the injured or for athletes as well?

Could EMS help an elderly person go from being totally sedentary to basic RT? Maybe BFR could be used to bridge EMS and RT…

Raphael asks Dr.Ford if the IHMC is working on cancer? Could their interdisciplinarity help the field of cancer that has been struggling for decades now.

Dr.D’Agostino’s work on cancer, specifically its metabolic underpinnings, is starting to get mainstream attention. Physicist Paul Davies, astrobiologist Charley Lineweaver and oncologist Mark Vincent are an example of a fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration in the field of cancer.  Radiation Oncologist Dr.Champ and colleagues is also highlighting some promising results . Dr.Ford is confident much good work will come out from studying Metabolic Theory of cancer.

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