Input Devices

Low-Cost EEG Head-Sets Promise Virtual Reality Feedback Loops (thestack.com) 35

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from the University of Memphis have found that it's possible to use a low-cost EEG device such as the $300 Emotiv Epoc to understand how a user is feeling — opening up the path to genuine psycho-biological feedback in virtual/augmented reality scenarios. The Epoc has been used, in combination with the Razer Hydra, to give users control over VR/AR environments, but integrating emotional feedback into VR environments heralds many new possibilities in the fields of medical research, gaming — and, of course, marketing research.
Science

Consciousness May Be the Product of Carefully Balanced Chaos (sciencemag.org) 121

sciencehabit writes: The question of whether the human consciousness is subjective or objective is largely philosophical. But the line between consciousness and unconsciousness is a bit easier to measure. In a new study (abstract) of how anesthetic drugs affect the brain, researchers suggest that our experience of reality is the product of a delicate balance of connectivity between neurons—too much or too little and consciousness slips away. During wakeful consciousness, participants’ brains generated “a flurry of ever-changing activity”, and the fMRI showed a multitude of overlapping networks activating as the brain integrated its surroundings and generated a moment to moment “flow of consciousness.” After the propofol kicked in, brain networks had reduced connectivity and much less variability over time. The brain seemed to be stuck in a rut—using the same pathways over and over again.
Science

New Clues To How the Brain Maps Time (quantamagazine.org) 79

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Quanta Magazine: Our brains have an extraordinary ability to monitor time. A driver can judge just how much time is left to run a yellow light; a dancer can keep a beat down to the millisecond. But exactly how the brain tracks time is still a mystery. Researchers have defined the brain areas involved in movement, memory, color vision and other functions, but not the ones that monitor time. Indeed, our neural timekeeper has proved so elusive that most scientists assume this mechanism is distributed throughout the brain, with different regions using different monitors to keep track of time according to their needs.

Over the last few years, a handful of researchers have compiled growing evidence that the same cells that monitor an individual's location in space also mark the passage of time. This suggests that two brain regions — the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, both famous for their role in memory and navigation — can also act as a sort of timer.

Medicine

Chronic Stress Could Lead To Depression and Dementia, Scientists Warn (independent.co.uk) 60

schwit1 writes: A major review of published research suggests that chronic stress and anxiety can damage areas of the brain involved in emotional responses, thinking and memory, leading to depression and even Alzheimer's disease. Dr Linda Mah, the lead author of the review carried out at a research institute affiliated to the University of Toronto, said: 'Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia.'
The Military

Psychic Dogs and Enlisted Men: the Military's Research Into ESP (muckrock.com) 49

v3rgEz writes: Government research often pushes the boundaries between science and science fiction. Today, the proud bearer of that mantle is often DARPA, experimenting with robots, cybernetics, and more. But in the sixties, during the height of the Cold War, this research often went into more fantastical realms, even exploring whether ExtraSensory Perception (ESP) was possible. Thanks to FOIA, MuckRock looks back on the paranormal history of American surveillance.
Medicine

Twins Study Finds No Evidence That Marijuana Lowers IQ In Teens (sciencemag.org) 307

sciencehabit writes: Roughly half of Americans use marijuana at some point in their lives, and many start as teenagers. Although some studies suggest the drug could harm the maturing adolescent brain, the true risk is controversial. Now, in the first study of its kind (abstract), scientists have analyzed long-term marijuana use in teens, comparing IQ changes in twin siblings who either used or abstained from marijuana for 10 years. After taking environmental factors into account, the scientists found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.
Biotech

Sensors Slip Into the Brain, Then Dissolve When Their Job Is Done (ieee.org) 20

An anonymous reader writes: Silicon-based electronic circuits that operate flawlessly in the body for some number of days--soon weeks--and then harmlessly dissolve: they're what University of Illinois professor John Rogers says is the next frontier of electronics. Today he released news of successful animal tests on such transient electronics designed for use in brain implants, but says they could be used just about anywhere in the body. As these devices move into larger animal and eventually human tests, Rogers says he'll be working on the next generation--devices that intervene to accelerate healing or manage medical conditions, not just monitor them.
Science

Weak Electrical Field Found To Carry Information Around the Brain (eurekalert.org) 123

Zothecula writes: In a development that could lead to improved understanding of memory formation and epilepsy, scientists have discovered a new way information may be traveling throughout the brain. The team has identified slow-moving brainwaves it says could be carried only by the brain's gentle electrical field (abstract), a mechanism previously thought to be incapable of spreading neural signals altogether. "Although the electrical field is of low amplitude, the field excites and activates immediate neighbors, which, in turn, excite and activate immediate neighbors, and so on across the brain at a rate of about 0.1 meter per second."
Science

How Procrastination Can Be Good For You (nytimes.com) 94

HughPickens.com writes: Over 80 percent of college students are plagued by procrastination, requiring epic all-nighters to finish papers and prepare for tests. Roughly 20 percent of adults report being chronic procrastinators. But Adam Grant writes in the NY Times that while we think of procrastination as a curse for productivity, procrastination is really a virtue for creativity. According to Grant, our first ideas are usually our most conventional -- but when you procrastinate, you're more likely to let your mind wander, giving you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. "When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it's in limbo, it stays active in our minds." Jihae Shin designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters evaluated how original they were. The procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

Even some monumental achievements are helped by procrastination. Grant says that according to those who knew him, Steve Jobs procrastinated constantly. Bill Clinton has been described as a "chronic procrastinator" who waits until the last minute to revise his speeches, and Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost a year procrastinating on a commission, to the point that his patron drove out and insisted that he produce a drawing on the spot. It became Fallingwater, Wright's masterpiece. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind Steve Jobs and The West Wing, is known to put off writing until the last minute. When Katie Couric asked him about it, he replied, "You call it procrastination, I call it thinking."

Medicine

French Drug Trial Leaves One Brain Dead and Five Critically Ill (theguardian.com) 232

jones_supa writes: One person is brain dead and five others are seriously ill after taking part in a phase one drug trial for an unnamed pharmaceutical firm at the Biotrial clinic in France. In medicine, phase one entails a small group of volunteers, and focuses only on safety. Phase two and three are progressively larger trials to assess the drug's effectiveness, although safety remains paramount. The French health ministry said the six patients had been in good health until taking the oral medication. It did not say what the new medicine was intended to be used for, but a source close to the case told AFP that the drug was a painkiller containing cannabinoids, an active ingredient found in cannabis plants. Mishaps like this are relatively rare, but in 2006 six men fell ill in London after taking part in a clinical trial into a drug developed to fight auto-immune disease and leukaemia. All trials on the drug at the French clinic have been suspended and the state prosecutor has opened an inquiry.
The Military

US Modernizes Nuclear Arsenal With Smaller, Precision-Guided Atomic Weapons (nytimes.com) 230

HughPickens.com writes: The NY Times reports that the Pentagon has been developing the B61 Model 12, the nation's first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, the Model 12 was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites and its yield can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage. The B61 Model 12 flight-tested last year in Nevada and is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise.

And some say that's the problem. The Federation of American Scientists argues that the high accuracy and low destructive settings means military commanders might press to use the bomb in an attack, knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited. Increasing the accuracy also broadens the type of targets that the B61 can be used to attack. Some say that a new nuclear tipped cruise missile under development might sway a future president to contemplate "limited nuclear war." Worse yet, because the missile comes in nuclear and non-nuclear varieties, a foe under attack might assume the worst and overreact, initiating nuclear war. In a recent interview, General James Cartwright, a retired four-star general who last served as the eighth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the overall modernization plan might change how military commanders looked at the risks of using nuclear weapons. "What if I bring real precision to these weapons?" says Cartwright. "Does it make them more usable? It could be."

Biotech

First Children Have Been Diagnosed In 100,000 Genomes Project (bbc.com) 75

Zane C. writes: The 100,000 Genomes project, an organization dedicated to diagnosing and researching rare genetic disorders, has just diagnosed its first 2 patients. After painstakingly analyzing about 3 billion base pairs from the parents of one young girl, and the girl herself, "doctors told them the genetic abnormality — in a gene called KDM5b — had been identified". The new information will not yet change the way the young girl, named Georgia, is treated, but it opens up a path for future treatments. For the other girl, Jessica, the genetic analysis provided enough information to diagnose and begin a new treatment. A mutation had occurred "[causing] a condition called Glut1 deficiency syndrome in which the brain cannot get enough energy to function properly." Jessica's brain specifically had not been able to obtain enough sugar to power her brain cells, and as such, doctors prescribed a high fat diet to give her brain an alternate energy source. She has already begun showing improvement.
Debian

How To Talk About Mental Illness Online? 308

An anonymous reader writes: Shortly after the death of Debian founder Ian Murdock, Bruce Perens, who succeeded Murdock as Debian Project Leader in 1996 and was also Murdock's employer for a period of time, claimed very publicly that Murdock died of mental illness, although no evidence has been provided. Without referencing Murdock or Perens, another prominent Debian Developer, Daniel Pocock, has asserted that discussion about who has or had a mental illness is a step too far. To be fair, it sure doesn't sound like Perens was trying to do other than express sympathy in light of a tragic death.
Government

Brain Game Maker Lumosity Fined $2 Million For False Advertising (sciencemag.org) 70

sciencehabit writes: Lumos Labs, the company that produces the popular 'brain-training' program Lumosity, yesterday agreed to pay a $2 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for running deceptive advertisements. Lumos had claimed that its online games can help users perform better at work and in school, and stave off cognitive deficits associated with serious diseases such as Alzheimer's, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress.

The $2 million settlement will be used to compensate Lumosity consumers who were misled by false advertising, says Michelle Rusk, a spokesperson with the FTC in Washington, D.C. The company will also be required to provide an easy way to cancel auto-renewal billing for the service, which includes online and mobile app subscriptions, with payments ranging from $14.95 monthly to lifetime memberships for $299.95. Before consumers can access the games, a pop-up screen will alert them to the FTC's order and allow them to avoid future billing, Rusk says.

Medicine

Brazil Cautions Women To Avoid Pregnancy Over Zika Virus Outbreak (discovermagazine.com) 102

iONiUM writes: According to an article at Discover, "Authorities in Brazil have recently issued an unusual and unprecedented announcement to women: don't get pregnant, at least not just yet. Amidst an intractable outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, public health authorities in Brazil are highly suspicious of an unusual surge of cases of microcephaly among newborn children." There were over 3,000 cases in 2015.

It's believed this virus is linked to shrinking newborns brain, and it is spreading. "Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it was first detected in Uganda in the 1940s. After spreading through Africa and parts of Asia, it has made its way to Latin America. There is no known vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the disease caused by the virus. Since May 2015, the Brazilian government estimates that some 1.5 million people have been infected with the virus." The CDC has published an article about it, and travel warnings are now being issued for pregnant women.

Science

Ant Behavior Significantly Altered By Injecting a Single Enzyme (arstechnica.com) 45

New submitter Fiona_OHanlon writes: According to an article at Ars Technica, researchers injected enzymes into ant larvae brains, causing genetically identical ants from different castes to behave as if they were from the opposite caste. From the story: "Carpenter ants live in a caste system, where some members of the colony grow into large, strong worker guards known as majors and others grow into small, inquisitive food scouts known as minors. [The researchers] focused specifically on enzymes that affect 160 genes whose activity diverged the most between minors and majors. Those genes included ones associated with learning, memory, and the way neurons communicate with each other in the brain. ... After several experiments with feeding the substance to their insect subjects, the researchers figured out how to inject the enzymes into the brains of major workers shortly after hatching (abstract). The treatment made the ants take on new social roles immediately. ... The modification ultimately depended on changing the behavior of one particular gene, Rpd3, which set off a cascade effect that changed the behavior of other genes too."
Communications

Human Brain Still Beats Computers At Finding Messages and Meaning Within Noise (hackaday.com) 64

szczys writes: One thing the human brain still does a lot better than computers is to recognize patterns within noise. That's why CAPTCHA uses distorted images to prove you're human, and random number generators are often inspected by visual representation. There is a technology that leverages this human knack for signal processing to make us part of the machine. The Hellschreiber is a communications device which has no idea whatsoever what the message actually is. It transfers a signal from one unit to the next, before being assembled into an image. A human looking at the image will see words, much like CAPTCHA. But even if the signal isn't perfect, our brains can often pick out the order within the madness, much like inspecting a PRNG for uniform distribution.
Medicine

Star Wars Fans and Video Game Geeks 'More Likely To Be Narcissists,' Study Finds (independent.co.uk) 182

schwit1 writes: Those who take part in "geeky events" are more likely to have an "elevated grandiose" level of narcissism, according to a study conducted by the University of Georgia. Psychologists examined the personality traits of those who turn to "geek culture," developing a Geek Culture Engagement Scale and a Geek Identity Scale to help quantify the figures. It was found that those who scored highly on both scales were more likely to narcissists. Subjects are scored on a scale of one to five, depending on how often they take part in activities such as live action role playing games, Dungeons and Dragons, cosplaying, puppetry, robotics — and enjoying things such as video games and Star Wars.
Advertising

Games Involving Candy Stimulate Kids' Appetites (www.ru.nl) 43

An anonymous reader writes: Most of us are aware by now of the myriad internet games created not for their own sake, but as a marketing tool for another product. But we're not the target audience for these games — kids are. New research out of Radboud University found that two-thirds of all kids around primary school age play one of these games at least once a week, and almost none of them are aware that they're advertisements (abstract). Worse, the game-ads are really effective. "..shortly after playing a game with an embedded food advertisement, children ate 55% more of the candy offered to them than children who had played a game with an embedded toy advertisement." The researchers further add that "it does not matter whether the games are about candy or fruit: children eat more candy after playing a game involving food."
Science

How Brain Architecture Leads To Abstract Thought (umass.edu) 106

catchblue22 writes: UMass Amherst scientists have analyzed fMRI data to link brain architecture with consciousness and abstract thought. "We momentarily thought our research failed when we saw that each cognitive behavior showed activity through many network depths. Then we realized that cognition is far richer, it wasn't the simple hierarchy that everyone was looking for. So, we developed our geometrical 'slope' algorithm," said neuroscientist Hava Siegelmann (abstract). "With a slope identifier, behaviors could now be ordered by their relative depth activity with no human intervention or bias," she adds. They ranked slopes for all cognitive behaviors from the fMRI databases from negative to positive and found that they ordered from more tangible to highly abstract.

"'Deep learning is a computational system employing a multi-layered neural net...the brain's processing dynamic is far richer and less constrained because it has recurrent interconnection, sometimes called feedback loops.' Her lab is now creating a 'massively recurrent deep learning network,' she says, for a more brain-like and superior learning AI."

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