18 Jan 2024

Summer science: AI and medicinal cannabis

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 18 January 2024
A graphic of binary code and circuitry in the shape of a human head.

Photo: Wenjie Dong

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In our final instalment of the summer science series, we have two more stories from science communication students.

Each year, science communication students at the University of Otago’s Department of Science Communication are tasked with producing a podcast on a controversial science topic.

In this episode, we hear two of those stories – on artificial intelligence and medicinal cannabis – from Marika Ljunberg and Rhys Latton.

The engineer and the ghost

A man wearing a suit, tie and glasses speaking into a microphone with people on a projector screen behind him.

Michele Farisco. Photo: Supplied.

In June 2022, Blake Lemoine, a software engineer at Google’s Responsible AI division, decided to go public. For a period of time, he had been talking to his executives about his firm belief that the chatbot they were developing, LaMDA, had gained consciousness. But Lemoine’s executives were convinced he was mistaken. 

How can we know whether an artificial system is conscious? What should we do if we realise we have created artificial conscious entities? And should we try and create them at all? 

According to neuroethicist Dr Michele Farisco, conscious AI is the only way we can make sure that AI is developed safely: by giving it a moral sensibility. But not everyone agrees that this is a good idea.

Listen to the episode to learn more about ethics and artificial consciousness, and explore the question: what’s humane for the non-human? 

Music credits:

  • Contemporary New Age Theme 9 by Mac Squier (BMI) CAE/IPI#420010737, publisher Mac Squier Music (BMI)
  • Busy by Lenny Williams (BMI) CAE/IPI#195221668, publisher Harry L. Williams Music Publishing (BMI)
  • Background Info by Lenny Williams (BMI) CAE/IPI#195221668, publisher Harry L. Williams Music Publishing (BMI)
  • Clock Mallets by Lenny Williams (BMI) CAE/IPI#195221668, publisher Harry L. Williams Music Publishing (BMI)
  • Gentle Harp Underscore by Lenny Williams (BMI) CAE/IPI#195221668, publisher Harry L. Williams Music Publishing (BMI)

Medicinal cannabis: the hazy world of evidence and efficacy

A lit-up sign depicting a marijuana leaf below the word 'medical'

Photo: Joshua Barash/WeHo City/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Medicinal cannabis is a now legally available treatment option in Aotearoa through your GP, but many doctors are hesitant to prescribe it due to a lack of solid evidence of its efficacy. 

One of the reasons cannabis is controversial is that there is no single condition where cannabis is the preferred, first-line treatment option, says Dr Peter Radue from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health at the University of Otago. 

With a dearth of clinical trials, researchers are increasingly turning to what's called "real world evidence" – or people's reported experiences – to build up a picture of medicinal cannabis evidence, says Dr Geoff Noller, medical anthropologist and independent researcher specialising in the field of psychotropic drug research. 

Listen to the episode to hear more about the challenges of researching and prescribing medicinal cannabis.

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