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Technology

Brain-Inspired 'Memcomputer' Constructed 52 52

New submitter DorkFest writes: "Inspired by the human brain, UC San Diego scientists have constructed a new kind of computer that stores information and processes it in the same place. This prototype 'memcomputer' solves a problem involving a large dataset more quickly than conventional computers, while using far less energy. ... Such memcomputers could equal or surpass the potential of quantum computers, they say, but because they don't rely on exotic quantum effects are far more easily constructed." The team, led by UC San Diego physicist Massimiliano Di Ventra published their results in the journal Science Advances.
Medicine

Common Medications Sway Moral Judgment 118 118

sciencehabit sends news that two commonly-prescribed drugs have been shown to influence how the human brain makes moral decisions. Citalopram is an SSRI used to treat depression, and levodopa is often used to combat Parkinson's disease. A new study (abstract) asked subjects to set a monetary value on receiving painful electric shocks — for themselves and for others (e.g. "Would you rather endure seven shocks to earn $10 or 10 shocks to earn $15?"). The study found that subjects on citalopram (which affects serotonin levels) were willing to give up more money to reduce shocks, both for themselves and others. Those on levodopa (which affects dopamine levels) made people just as willing to shock others as they were to shock themselves, when those on a placebo tended to be more reluctant to shock others. [Neuroscientist Molly] Crockett says those effects could suggests multiple underlying mechanisms. For example, excess dopamine might make our brain's reward system more responsive to the prospect of avoiding personal harm. Or it could tamp down our sense of uncertainty about what another person is experiencing, making us less hesitant to dole out pain. Serotonin, meanwhile, appeared to have a more general effect on aversion to harm, not just a heightened concern for another person. Such knowledge could eventually develop drugs that address disorders of social behavior, she says.
Technology

The Real-Life Dangers of Augmented Reality 52 52

Tekla Perry writes: Today's augmented reality devices have yet to go through extensive tests of their impact on their wearers' health and safety. But by looking at existing research involving visual and motor impairments, two Kaiser Permanente researchers find they can draw conclusions about the promise and perils of augmented reality, and point to ways wearable developers can make these devices safer. The researchers write: "Peripheral vision is more important than you might think, because it provides a wealth of information about speed and distance from objects. Central vision, despite the great detail it offers, gives you only a rough estimate of movement toward or away from you, based on changes in size or in the parallax angle between your eyes. But objects moving within your peripheral vision stimulate photoreceptors from the center of the retina to the edge, providing much better information about the speed of motion. Your brain detects objects in your peripheral field and evaluates if and how they (or you) are moving. Interfering with this process can cause you to misjudge relative motion and could cause you to stumble; it might even get you hit by a car one day."
AI

WSJ Overstates the Case Of the Testy A.I. 227 227

mbeckman writes: According to a WSJ article titled "Artificial Intelligence machine gets testy with programmer," a Google computer program using a database of movie scripts supposedly "lashed out" at a human researcher who was repeatedly asking it to explain morality. After several apparent attempts to politely fend off the researcher, the AI ends the conversation with "I'm not in the mood for a philosophical debate." This, says the WSJ, illustrates how Google scientists are "teaching computers to mimic some of the ways a human brain works."

As any AI researcher can tell you, this is utter nonsense. Humans have no idea how the human, or any other brain, works, so we can hardly teach a machine how brains work. At best, Google is programming (not teaching) a computer to mimic the conversation of humans under highly constrained circumstances. And the methods used have nothing to do with true cognition.

AI hype to the public has gotten progressively more strident in recent years, misleading lay people into believing researchers are much further along than they really are — by orders of magnitude. I'd love to see legitimate A.I. researchers condemn this kind of hucksterism.
Medicine

High-Fat, High-Sugar Diet Can Lead To Cognitive Decline 244 244

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from Oregon State University have completed a study into how the sugar and fat content of a diet relates to cognitive flexibility. They found that diets with high amounts of either led to a decline in cognitive function. "This effect was most serious on the high-sugar diet, which also showed an impairment of early learning for both long-term and short-term memory." After four weeks on a high-fat or high-sugar diet, the performance of mice on various mental and physical tests started dropping. One of the scientists, Kathy Magnusson, said, "We've known for a while that too much fat and sugar are not good for you. This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, and that's one of the reasons those foods aren't good for you. It's not just the food that could be influencing your brain, but an interaction between the food and microbial changes."
Science

'Brain-to-Text' Interface Types Thoughts of Epileptic Patients 31 31

Jason Koebler writes with a link to Motherboard's article about research from the Schalk Lab of Albany, New York, where researchers "have just demonstrated for the first time that it's possible to turn a person's thoughts into a legible phrase using what they're calling a "brain-to-text" interface," writing "It's still still the early days of this technology—electrodes had to be placed directly on the brain and the 'dictionary' of phrases was limited. Still, brainwaves of thought patterns were turned into text at a rate much better than chance."
Medicine

Triggering a Mouse's Happy Memories With Lasers Gives It the Will To Struggle On 66 66

the_newsbeagle writes: With optogenetics, scientists can tag neurons with light-responsive proteins, and then trigger those neurons to "turn on" with the pulse of a light. In the latest application, MIT researchers used light to turn on certain neurons in male mice's hippocampi that were associated with a happy memory (coming into contact with female mice!), and then tested whether that artificially activated memory changed the mice's reactions to a stressful situation (being hung by their tails). Mice who got jolted with the happy memory struggled to get free for longer than the control mice. This tail-suspension test was developed to screen potential antidepressant drugs: If a rodent struggles longer before giving up, it's considered less depressed.
Medicine

Monitoring Brain Activity With Mesh Electronics 31 31

An anonymous reader writes: Medical researchers have long known that bioelectronics could substantially improve patient diagnosis and treatment, but the difficulty in putting that circuitry into place kept more traditional options at the forefront. Now, a team of scientists has found a clever way to deliver flexible electronic meshes via syringe, which could make it easier to monitor complex brain activity without dangerous surgery. "The scientists demonstrated they could inject a 2mm wide sample of the mesh through a glass needle with an inner diameter of only 95m. During injection, the mesh structure continuously unfolds as it exits the needle. Injection of the mesh through a needle with a 600m inner diameter produced similar results." The team has already tested the technique on rodents, and found minimal response from astrocytes, cells involved in repairing damaged brain tissue. They were able to record the rodents's brain activity as well.
Earth

Why Our Brains Can't Process the Gravest Threats To Humanity 637 637

merbs writes: Our brains are unfathomably complex, powerful organs that grant us motor skills, logic, and abstract thought. Brains have bequeathed unto we humans just about every cognitive advantage, it seems, except for one little omission: the ability to adequately process the need for the whole species' long-term survival. They're miracle workers for the short-term survival of individuals, but the scientific evidence suggests that the human brain flails when it comes to navigating wide-lens, slowly-unfurling crises like climate change.
Medicine

Man With the "Golden Arm" Has Saved Lives of 2 Million Babies 97 97

schwit1 writes: James Harrison, known as "The Man with the Golden Arm," has donated blood plasma from his right arm nearly every week for the past 60 years. Soon after Harrison became a donor, doctors called him in. His blood, they said, could be the answer to a deadly problem. Harrison was discovered to have an unusual antibody in his blood and in the 1960s he worked with doctors to use the antibodies to develop an injection called Anti-D. It prevents women with rhesus-negative blood from developing RhD antibodies during pregnancy. "In Australia, up until about 1967, there were literally thousands of babies dying each year, doctors didn't know why, and it was awful," explains Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. "Women were having numerous miscarriages and babies were being born with brain damage." It was the result of rhesus disease — a condition where a pregnant woman's blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby's blood cells. In the worst cases it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies. Australia was one of the first countries to discover a blood donor with this antibody, so it was quite revolutionary at the time. Last year we ran a story about another person with "golden blood" named Thomas.
Robotics

Robotic Assistive Devices For Independent Living 17 17

Hallie Siegel writes: Kavita Krishnaswamy has extreme physical disabilities that severely limit her mobility. She also has drive and a keen mind. I met her last month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), where she attended via BEAM. In this article, Kavita shares her Phd research to develop robotic assistive devices that give independence to people with severe disabilities. Interesting work on the need for 'multi-modal' interfaces — ie. interfaces that allow the users to interact with the assistive device in different ways, including speech recognition and brain-computer interface.
Biotech

Hacking Your Body Through a Nerve In Your Neck 82 82

agent elevator writes: IEEE Spectrum has a feature (part of its Hacking the Human OS issue) on the future of vagus nerve stimulation, a device-based therapy with the potential to treat a ridiculously wide variety of ailments: epilepsy, depression, stroke, tinnitus, heart failure, migraines, asthma, the list goes on. One problem is that, because it required an implant (a bit like a pacemaker), it was never anybody's first-choice therapy. But now there's a non-invasive version, a device you just hold to your neck twice a day for a few minutes. It's being trialed first for migraines and cluster headaches (which sound horrible). If it works, vagus nerve stimulation could compete directly with drug treatments on cost and convenience and it would let doctors find new ways to hack human physiology.
Sci-Fi

Secret Files Reveal UK Police Feared That Trekkies Could Turn On Society 214 214

An anonymous reader writes: Scotland Yard was worried that fans of shows like the X Files and Star Trek might run amok during the Millennium according to secret files. The file, called UFO New Religious Movements (NRMs) And The Millennium, reveals that anti-terrorism experts were also concerned about the brain-washing effect of Dark Skies, Roswell, Millennium and The Lawnmower Man on viewers. According to the Telegraph: "The secret briefing note was obtained from the Met under the Freedom of Information Act by Sheffield-based British X-Files expert Dr Dave Clarke while researching a new book, How UFOs Conquered the World. Dr Clarke, who teaches investigative journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, said: 'The documents show the police and security services were concerned about the export of some new religious movements concerning UFOs and aliens from the USA in the aftermath of the mass suicide by followers of the Heaven's Gate.'"
Biotech

After a Year of Secret Field-Testing, Brain-Controlled Bionic Legs Are Here 50 50

An anonymous reader writes: Today, an Icelandic prosthetic-maker announced that two amputees have been testing brain-controlled bionic legs for over a year. The devices respond to impulses in the subjects' residual limbs, via sensors that were implanted in simple, 15-minute-long procedures. "When the electrical impulse from his brain reaches the base of his leg, a pair of sensors embedded in his muscle tissue connect the neural dots, and wirelessly transmit that signal to the Proprio Foot. Since the command reaches the foot before the wearer's residual muscles actually contract, there's no unnatural lag between intention and action." This is a huge step forward (sorry) for this class of bionics. It may seem like a solved problem based on reports and videos from laboratories, but it's never been exposed to real world use and everyday wear and tear like this.
Science

Scientists Discover First Warm-Blooded Fish 33 33

sciencehabit writes: The opah lives in the dark, chilly depths of the world's oceans, using heated blood to keep warm. It's the first fish found to be fully warm-blooded. Certain sharks and tuna can warm regions of their body such as swimming muscles and the brain but must return to the surface to protect vital organs from the effects of the cold. The opah on the other hand, generates heat from its pectoral muscles, and conserves that warmth thanks to body fat and the special structure of its gills. “It’s a remarkable adaptation for a fish,” says Diego Bernal, a fish physiologist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Music

What Happens To Our Musical Taste As We Age? 361 361

An anonymous reader writes: New research from Spotify and Echo Nest reveals that people start off listening to chart-topping pop music and branch off into all kinds of territory in their teens and early 20s, before their musical tastes start to calcify and become more rigid by their mid-30s. "Men, it turns out, give up popular music much more quickly than women. Men and women have similar musical listening tendencies through their teens, but men start shunning mainstream artists much sooner than women and to a greater degree."
Math

John Urschel: The 300 Pound Mathematician Who Hits People For a Living 170 170

HughPickens.com writes: Kate Murphy writes at NYT about mathematician John Urschel whose latest contribution to the mathematical realm was a paper for the Journal of Computational Mathematics with the impressively esoteric title, "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians." "Believe me, I am aware that terms such as multigrid, Fiedler, and vector are not words that people use in their daily lives," says Urshel.

But as an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens, John Urschel regularly goes head to head with the top defensive players in the NFL and does his best to keep quarterback Joe Flacco out of harm's way. "I play because I love the game. I love hitting people," Urshel writes. "There's a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I'm (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I'm hard-pressed to find anywhere else."

Urschel acknowledges that he has faced questions from NFL officials, journalists, fans and fellow mathematicians about why he runs the risk of potential brain injury from playing football when he has "a bright career ahead of me in mathematics" but doesn't feel able to quit. "When I go too long without physical contact I'm not a pleasant person to be around. This is why, every offseason, I train in kickboxing and wrestling in addition to my lifting, running and position-specific drill work."
Games

Psychologist: Porn and Video Game Addiction Are Leading To 'Masculinity Crisis' 950 950

HughPickens.com writes: Philip Zimbardo is a prominent psychologist from Stanford, most notable for leading the notorious Stanford prison experiment. He has published new research findings based on the lives of 20,000 young men, and his conclusion is stark: there is a developing "masculinity crisis" caused by addiction to video games and pornography. "Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation — they are alone in their room," says Zimbardo. "It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward center of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction. What I'm saying is — boys' brains are becoming digitally rewired."

As an example, Zimbardo uses this quote from one young man: "When I'm in class, I'll wish I was playing World of Warcraft. When I'm with a girl, I'll wish I was watching pornography, because I'll never get rejected." Zimbardo doesn't think there's a specific time threshold at which playing video games goes from being acceptable to excessive. He says it varies by individual, and is more based on a "psychological change in mindset." To fight the problem, he suggest families need to track how much time is being spent on video games compared to other activities. "He also called for better sex education in schools — which should focus not only on biology and safety, but also on emotions, physical contact and romantic relationships."
Patents

Brainwave-Reading Patents Spike On Increase In Commercial Mind-Reading Apps 29 29

smaxp writes: Consumer market researcher Nielsen leads the pack, with patents describing ways to detect brain activity with EEG and translate it into what someone truly thinks about, say, a new product, advertising, or packaging. Microsoft Corp. holds patents that assess mental states, with the goal of determining the most effective way to present information. "Neurotech has gone well beyond medicine, with non-medical corporations, often under the radar, developing neurotechnologies to enhance work and life," said SharpBrains Chief Executive Alvaro Fernandez at the NeuroGaming conference in San Francisco.
Medicine

Space Radiation May Alter Astronauts' Neurons 73 73

sciencehabit writes: NASA hopes to send the first round-trip, manned spaceflight to Mars by the 2030s. If the mission succeeds, astronauts could spend several years potentially being bombarded with cosmic rays—high-energy particles launched across space by supernovae and other galactic explosions. Now, a study in mice suggests these particles could alter the shape of neurons, impairing astronauts' memories and other cognitive abilities. In the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, a range of high-level cognitive tasks such as reasoning, short-term memory, and problem-solving, neurons had 30% to 40% fewer branches, called dendrites, which receive electrical input from other cells.