November 08, 2010

Eric Drexler at Metamodern talks about the benefits of a good checklist and a new quantum gravity paper

1. A good surgical checklist was used to provide big benefits - during a three-month test across eight hospitals, several continents, and almost 4,000 patients, a new technology reduced serious surgical complications by 36% and deaths by almost 50% — in raw numbers, over 150 cases of severe harm and nearly 30 patient deaths. Eric Drexler and Metamodern highights the benefits described in the Checklist Manifesto book.

The prototype hardware consists of a sheet that lists 19 carefully engineered steps. The first step after sign-in — proved by testing to be crucial — is a pause in which the members of the surgical team simply introduce themselves to one another by name.

A carefully engineered checklist is a high-value medical technology by any measure you choose. It averts injury, saves lives, saves money, improves morale, and reduces staff turnover. It costs virtually nothing. Only inertia holds it back, and what the humble checklist needs most now is an infusion of glamor and excitement. A Nobel Prize for Dr. Gawande would do more than recognize accomplishment: It would give a boost to a critical technology that could save your life.

“A Surgical Safety Checklist to Reduce Morbidity and Mortality in a Global Population” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2009).

2. “Quantum gravitational contributions to quantum electrodynamics” (D. Toms, Nature, 4 Nov.) is the most exciting paper I’ve [Eric Drexler] seen on quantum field theory and gravitation in a long time. It offers no speculations about strings, extra dimensions, new symmetries, or the like, and no loop quantum gravity or causal dynamical triangulations, just a carefully cross-checked mathematical analysis that reveals how general relativity transforms quantum electrodynamics at very edge of the breakdown of General Relativity itself.
In brief, QED predicts that the strength approaches infinity;
QED + GR predicts that the strength approaches zero.

Many of the (meager) news reports to date describe Toms’ paper as if it merely smoothed out some difficulties with calculations in QED — those pesky infinities! — but that misses the point: This result extracts new physics from old physics, sharply revising our understanding of current physical theory as it approaches the Planck scale, the very edge of the unknown.

Nature - Quantum gravitational contributions to quantum electrodynamics

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