Neuroscience hat trick

Three significant announcements in one week!  Neuroscience is galloping ahead, thanks to improved scanning techniques, and also to Moore's Law, which allows bigger and bigger data sets to be acquired and analysed.  You need that when you're studying the most complex thing known to man. Perhaps the most interesting of the three is a review of what happens in the brain when its owner loses consciousness.  A team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 12 healthy volunteers to see how information flows changed inside their brains as they lost consciousness...

Eavesdropping on the brain

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine claim to have identified a brain region which is uniquely responsible for mathematical thinking.  Say hello to your intraparietal sulcus, or IPS: it's what provides your numeracy (or lack of it).  The IPS is activated when (and only when) you think about numbers, including imprecise quantitative terms such as “more than”. One of the interesting aspects of this study is the unusual way the researchers obtained their data.  Brain studies are usually carried out on patients lying immobile inside MRI scanners, which are huge, clunky, and noisy machines with giant magnets.  Or they...

Alzheimer’s breakthrough?

The headlines today (10th October) suggest that a cure for Alzheimer's is imminent. Well, not quite.Scientists at the University of Leicester have arrested brain cell death from prion disease in mice.  This is reported to be the first proof that neuro-degeneration can be delayed in any living animal. Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of "mis-folded" proteins, or prions. In Parkinson's the alpha-synuclein protein goes wrong, in Alzheimer's it's the amyloid and tau proteins, and in Huntington's it's the Huntington protein.  The brain responds by shutting down local protein production for so long that the cells are eventually destroyed.  By targeting the...

The Human Brain Project has officially begun

Today (Monday, October 7), the Human Brain Project (HBP) has officially begun.  Scientists from 135 institutions met at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland to kick off what is described as “the world’s most ambitious neuroscience project”. The HBP was selected as one of the EU's flagship research project a full nine months ago.  I'm guessing that by Brussels standards, this represents quite rapid progress. The Human Brain Project’s initial mission is to develop six research platforms: neuro-informatics, brain simulation, high-performance computing, medical informatics, neuro-morphic computing and neuro-robotics. The neuro-informatics platform will build a map of all the brain’s...

3D printing at an inflection point

3D printing is not directly connected with the development of AI, or conscious machines.  But it is probably one of the wake-up technologies for people outside the bubble that takes an active interest in AGI.  These are the innovations that may alert people to the fact that technology in general is moving increasingly fast, and is going to change our lives dramatically.  The other obvious ones are wearable computing and augmented reality (Google Glass), driverless cars, automation by task-specific AI, and increasingly smart robots in military, industrial and domestic settings. The respected IT research outfit Gartner has just issued a...