Monthly Archives: January 2006

The Future Of Mind Controlled Prosthetics

And oldy, but a goody.

This article talks about what’s in future store for people who need to have their limbs replaced with prosthetics.

Darpa, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research division, now wants to ratchet that work up about ten notches, by developing a “neurally controlled artificial limb that will restore full motor and sensory capability to upper extremity amputee patients. This revolutionary prosthesis will be controlled, feel, look and perform like the native limb.”

So, basically, what Luke Skywalker gets in Empire Strikes Back, after Darth chops off his hand. Except, researchers won’t have a long, long time to get this limb ready. Darpa wants the robo-arm stat — in four years or less.

The limb would have to be wired directly into the peripheral nervous system, instead of the brain-controlled arms being demonstrated today, Darpa tells researchers interested in working on this “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” project. Under agency guidelines, the arm will need enough finesse to pick up a raisin or to write in longhand. It needs to be sensitive enough for the wearer to handle day-to-day tasks in the dark. And the limb will have to be strong enough to lift 60 pounds at a time.

The article contains some interesting links. Additionally, this article links to a flashwave file that demonstrates how monkeys are taught to control robotic arms with their thoughts.

In order to view the flashwave file, first save it to disk (by either leftclicking or rightclicking and then saving). Once you have it on your harddisk, you can drag it into an Internet Explorer window to play it.

For more coverage (and pretty pictures) of monkeys thought-controlling robotic arms, read this link.

Should you be curious as to the future of prosthetics for humans, read this article:

“[For the] long term, we want to develop a system that allows humans with paralysis to move their limbs in a way that they can carry out useful movements and lead independent lives. And we want to develop a new class of neurotechnologies that can diagnose and treat disease and restore lost functions in humans,” said Donoghue. “These are ambitious goals, but we believe they are realizable.”

For anybody who wants to read about the very real and existing BrainGate system in action, read this article and this article.

The last link has a video of a paralyzed Matt Nagle controlling a mousecursor with his thoughts alone. Unfortunately, viewing this requires registration. If anybody knows a link to the video, I’d appreciate to have it so I can put it in this post.

I think I can summarize this post nicely by saying…

We are becoming cyborgs.

Cars Driving Themselves

Ananova reports that Honda has released a selfdriving car.

The article’s information is so compact, I see no point in summarizing it. I’ll just copypaste the whole thing here for your reading pleasure:

Car drives itself

A car that drives itself has been launched.

The Honda Accord ADAS automatically speeds up and slows down – and even steers around bends.

All the driver has to do is gently nudge the wheel every 10 seconds reports the Mirror.

Honda spokesman Graham Avent said: “The Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) doesn’t replace the driver – you can’t climb into the back seat for a nap! But it keeps you in your lane and at a safe speed on motorways.

“It makes long journeys much less tiring and will prevent some accidents by reducing driver error. It’s the biggest step forward in safety since the airbag.”

ADAS only works on motorways and dual carriageways, but Honda bosses hope that future models could drive on any road.

The car works by using two main components. The Adaptive Cruise Control is a radar sensor behind the Honda badge in the front of the car that scans ahead for other vehicles. It then speeds up or slows down accordingly. It also has a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) – a camera next to the rear-view mirror which watches the white lines and controls steering.

The £25,880 Accord goes on sale in March with all Hondas due to have ADAS by 2016.

Vauxhall hopes to have a self-drive Vectra on the road by 2011.

Autoexpress.co.uk has reported on this a few months ago. Read their article here.

Also worthy of your attention: a previous post of mine regarding autonomous cars racing a 130 mile race.

And then there’s General Motor’s intention of releasing selfdriving vehicles in 2008.

The Quest For Immortality

Aubrey de Grey is a scientist with The Methuselah Foundation. He’s got a background in computer science. He has used his engineering mindset to come up with an engineering approach to stop the aging process dead in its tracks (pun intended). This will allow humanity to stay young forever and live an indefinate lifespan.

A few years ago, Aubrey began digging around in scientific publications in order to find out what exactly causes us to age. As it turns out, there are only 7 major processes that cause our bodies to become old and wither away.

Why is he so sure there are only 7? Because the last one of those 7 has been found over 20 years ago. And 20 years just so happens to be an eternity in science. Had there been more aging processes in our bodies, science would have surely found some of those more recently.

The seven things that slowly kill us over time are:

  1. Too few cells
  2. Too many cells (cancer)
  3. Chromosomal mutations (dna corruption)
  4. Mitochondrial mutations (another type of dna corruption)
  5. Junk inside cells
  6. Junk outside cells
  7. Protein crosslinking outside of cells

And that’s basically it. Tweak all of those so they don’t do damage anymore, and you’ve got yourself a non-aging human.

A huge task, but peanuts compared to the impossible task that some researchers, with the impractical researcher mindset that doesn’t aim for application in practice, would have you believe.

For details, check Aubrey’s site on SENS (Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence). Everything is explained there, from the technical stuff to the most basic of immortality-related concerns.

Aubrey’s SENS has had some criticism. Nobody ever manages to build a solid case against SENS, but some keep critisizing it anyway. So Aubrey has issued a challenge in July 2005. Anybody who can construct a solid case against SENS, can win 20.000 dollars. Easy money… you’d think. Strangely, nobody has picked up the challenge yet.

Gee, I wonder why. 😉

In order to get enough funds available to engineer immortality in humans, Aubrey first wants to implement it in a mouse. Once the world has seen that it is possible to seriously intervene in the aging process, the funds will surely flow. Human immortality should come no more than a few years behind rodent immortality. Aubrey thinks it is achievable in about 25 years.

In order to achieve the world’s first immortal mouse within the next 10 years, Aubrey has come up with the Methuselah Mouse Prize. The M-Prize can be donated to, and whoever demonstrates a record life extension in mice receives a financial prize.

History shows this is a very succesful model. The Ansari X-Prize for cheap spaceflights has collected several millions over several years. Those cheap spaceflights were made not too long ago.

The M-Prize is growing much faster than the X-Prize did in its day. At the moment, it is at 3.209.275 dollars. That’s impressive, especially if you consider that the M-Prize has only been around for about 2.5 years. It was at only just below 2 million not so long ago, but a generous and anonimous donater put an extra million on there and pushed it towards the 3 million. Now, it has already climbed up to 3.2 million.

Aubrey has recently had some nice exposure when he went on CBS 60 Minutes (America’s most popular news program, or so I’ve read). An inside friend of mine tells me this appearance was a really big deal, and site hits increased massively. It is fascinating to see all of this coming into the mainstream. The interviewer, Morley Safer, took Aubrey seriously. No laughing and pointing fingers at his ‘crackpot’ ideas. Not bad if you consider that the word ‘immortality’ has only been accepted in scientific circles a few years ago.

It will be extremely interesting to see this pick up even more and more in the years to come.

Statistics show that curing diseases such as cancer and diabetes will only prolong our lives by a few measly years, while intercepting aging itself will increase our lifespans with decades. We’re losing 100.000 people per day to old age. The world sorely needs a cure for aging. It’s about time we got practical and efficient, and pump our research dollars where they matter… into anti-aging research.

Wanna help turn this into a reality?

You can!

Spread the meme. That is very important. Tell all your friends and relatives. Post about it on your favorite forum.

Know any rich folks? Enlighten them and talk them into donating to the M-Prize.

Do whatever it takes to let it be known to the world that we can stop aging and live healthily for as long as we like. Let it be known that this is for real, and that the science behind immortality is as solid as a ton of bricks.

Together… we can take on death.

Scientists Grow Stem Cells In New Medium

Scientists have managed to grow stem cell cultures that are free of animal cells.

The new work, reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, is a crucial step in stem cell research because it will allow growth of these cells without using animal products that can harbor viruses and other potential sources of problems.

“This is the first time is has been possible for us to derive new cell lines in completely defined conditions in medium that completely lacks animal products,” said James Thomson, senior author of the new study and a UW-Madison professor of anatomy who seven years ago was the first to successfully grow human embryonic stem cells in the lab.

This is good because…

Many scientists worry that animal viruses and other agents might be taken up in the human cells and could infect human patients if those cells were to be used for therapy.

“All of the concerns about contaminating proteins in existing stem cell lines can essentially be removed using this medium,” wrote Ludwig in the Nature Biotechnology paper.

All in all yet more progress for stem cell research.

GenoTrim – The Official Site

Salugen has now apparently launched the official GenoTrim Site. GenoTrim is the DNA pill that has been in the news recently and which, according to Salugen, will easily burn off your excess fat for you without having to go on any diet.

It’s in Dutch, so I’m going to translate the short bit of info that it has right now:

(Run the site through a site translator yourself if you feel like it.)

Salugen is the marketleader in nutrigenomics. It researches, develops and markets patented nutritional supplements based on DNA.

More than 30 years of research by Prof. Dr. Kenneth Blum and many millions of invested dollars have been spent finding the causes of genetic nutritional imbalance in the body which leads to health complaints. Salugen Inc. is the pioneer and leader in finding DNA based nutritional solutions.

The first application of this revolutionizing technology is GenoTrim, which restructures the body, hightens energy levels and prevents jointpains.

What is this body restructuring?

The body consists of 4 basic elements (molecules):

  • Bone
  • Muscle
  • Water
  • Fat

Of these 4 elements, fat is the lightest molecule, so losing much fat does not result in great weightloss. That is the reason why many existing programs and weightloss diets don’t work, which can be frustrating. Body restructuring aims at looking thinner, being in better shape and feeling better. That is the focus of GenoTrim. It doesn’t aim at the weighing scale alone. Losing weight will be a natural result.

What is GenoTrim?

GenoTrim is the world’s first unique and completely natural nutritional food supplement based on your personal DNA. All ingredients and minerals are 100% natural. The unique patented formulas will give you an optimal result. Because of the study into genes, GenoTrim is capable of feeding genes that are in imbalance so this imbalance will restore itself. The reaction of the body is a healthier look, slimmer figure and less weight. But the most important thing is, it just makes you look good and healthy.

The 5 important groups of GenoTrim are:

  • Enhancing energy production
  • Raising immunity, important factor is stress
  • Less sensitive to infections
  • Enhances the working of the nerve system
  • Increases immunity

Salugen makes nutritional supplements just for you, which guarantees optimal results.

That’s an almost literal translation. Lots of easy-to-understand, unscientific salesman-talk:

  • Dieting doesn’t work because burning fat will not cause much weightloss? Where is the logic in that? If weightloss is not that important with respect to fatloss, why talk about weightloss in the first place?
  • Weightloss will be a natural result of looking slimmer and getting a better figure? If a better figure is guaranteed, then (again) why even bother mentioning the weightloss? Who cares what you weigh as long as you are in good shape (and thus not obese).
  • Why is immunity named twice in the so-called ‘groups’ of GenoTrim? Must be a marketing decision to get the number of GenoTrim-targets up to 5.
  • Feeding genes? What does that mean?

I consider salespitches such as these to be an insult to my intellect. I prefer the emphasis to be on the science myself. But at least GenoTrim seems to be for real.

For more information, see this comment that was posted under my previous GenoTrim post. Not sure where it was pasted from, but it looks genuine at first glance.

Has anybody actually seen it on the Oprah show, where it was supposed to be broadcast as claimed previously, on old year’s eve? Comments welcome.