If so, it will be time to scream… but out of joy, rather than fear, for it could be a turning point in the history of robotics.
Psikharpax — named after a cunning king of the rats, according to a tale attributed to Homer — is the brainchild of European researchers who believe it may push back a frontier in artificial intelligence.
Scientists have strived for decades to make a robot that can do some more than make repetitive, programmed gestures. These are fine for making cars or amusing small children, but are of little help in the real world.
One of the biggest obstacles is learning ability. Without the smarts to figure out dangers and opportunities, a robot is helpless without human intervention.
“The autonomy of robots today is similar to that of an insect,” snorts Guillot, a researcher at France’s Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics (ISIR), one of the “Psikharpax” team.
Such failures mean it is time to change tack, argue some roboticist.
What if we gave scientists machines that dwarf today’s most powerful supercomputers? What could they tell us about the nature of, say, a nuclear explosion? Indeed, what else could they discover about the world? This is the story of the quest for an exascale computer – and how it might change our lives.
What is exascale?
One exaflop is 1,000 times faster than a petaflop. The fastest computer in the world is currently the IBM-based Roadrunner, which is located in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Roadrunner runs at an astounding one petaflop, which equates to more than 1,000 trillion operations per second. The supercomputer has 129,600 processing cores and takes up more room than a small house, yet it’s still not quite fast enough to run some of the most intense global weather simulations, nuclear tests and brain modelling tasks that modern science demands. For example, the lab currently uses the processing power of Roadrunner to run complex visual cortex and cellular modelling experiments in almost real- time. In the next six months, the computer will be used for nuclear simulation and stockpile tests to make sure that the US nuclear weapon reserves are safe. However, when exascale calculations become a reality in the future, the lab could step up to running tests on ocean and atmosphere interactions. These are not currently possible because the data streams involved are simply too large. The move to exascale is therefore critical, because researchers require increasingly fast results from their experiments.
Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have found that there are probably ways to regenerate brain matter.
Animal studies conducted at the National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, have shown that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting along with vitamin and mineral intake, increase resistance to disease, extend lifespan, and stimulate production of neurons from stem cells.
In addition, fasting has been shown to enhance synaptic elasticity, possibly increasing the ability for successful re-wiring following brain injury. These benefits appear to result from a cellular stress response, similar in concept to the greater muscular regeneration that results from the stress of regular exercise.
Additional research suggests that increasing time intervals between meals might be a better choice than chronic calorie restriction, because the resultant decline in sex hormones may adversely affect both sexual and brain performance. Sex steroid hormones testosterone and estrogen are positively impacted by an abundant food supply. In other words, you might get smarter that way, but it might adversely affect your fun in the bedroom, among other drawbacks.
Scientists have discovered drugs which can block out memories and have the potential to radically alter human personalities. No, this isn’t the “nerd discovers beer” scene from every college movie ever – chemicals like propranolol and ZIP have already been shown to remix recollections. But if memories make the man, what happens when you mess with them?
We simply don’t know. Neuroscience Lesson #1 is “The human brain is a terrifyingly complex device, even ones which watch American Idol.” Any alteration could cause serious side-effects, with the additional problem that such symptoms are difficult to diagnose. If your kidney stops working, we have all kinds of ways of measuring that. How you eventually fall over, for one thing. But outside of the Care Bears cartoon there’s nothing to quantify imagination or confidence.
A major part of this problem is that human beings are simply crap at collecting data. Any number of reasons from forgetfulness to embarrassment can prevent patients from reporting regular symptoms for things like broken feet, never mind the nature of their own thoughts – they’re patients, not Zen philosophers. This is why some scientists think online logging might be the answer – a medical version of twitter, for example, where out-patients can report any and every odd feeling as they happen and have the data logged in real time. It’ll certainly be no worse than much of the content already up there – though putting somebody online and telling them to share personal information after erasing their memories may cause new problems. And boost the Nigerian economy.
If you’ve e ver been educated, and the fact that you’re reading this means that you either have or are extremely good at guessing, you’ve tried to find a way to enhance your memory. Reading things ten times, flash cards, enough coffee to accelerate an elephant to eighty-eight miles an hour – and none of them work. Now scientists may have found an all-purpose “memory on” switch hiding in your head.
A team of German an UK researchers have applied magnetoencephalographic techniques to look inside the very living brain of dozens of people, and if that fact doesn’t impress you chalk one up to “humans can get used to anything.” These people have machines that can scan your mind and draw maps! Sure, those maps are like urban planners trying to document a computer chip, not really sure of which does what or how to represent it, but we can still see some general functions from all the data acquired.
Just Say NO To Old Age: Professor X isn’t the only one with incredible mental powers: recent research says that you might be even better at brain-boosting, helping heal yourself with the power of a positive attitude – while he can’t even summon up the mental energy to stand.
The power of positive thinking might make us sound infinity percent more likely to wear hemp and say “man” an inappropriate number of times for science reporters (i.e. ever), but it’s real research at Harvard. Professor Ellen Langer has conducted several studies into “mindfulness theory”, researching just how much your attitude affects your actual body. The answer: quite a bit.
One of Benjamin Button’s many stories-within-stories in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, involves the tale of a clock built for the New Orleans train station that is designed to run backwards, in the hope that it will resurrect the First World War dead.
With a similar result in mind, in one experiment Langer shut several septuagenarians in a hotel that had been redecorated in mid-eighties style, eliminating all evidence of the last two decades. Subjects were instructed to act as if they’d really gone all Doctor Who, and after only seven days they were faster, stronger, better than before. Stronger for seventy-year olds, anyway, and certainly stronger than a control group who didn’t get this amateur time-travel and were basically left to think about how damn old they were.
Also see this article.
They’re not quite as efficient as Borg technology. But new “nanoprobes” made by combining scorpion venom with tiny metal beads are giving the fight against cancer a big performance boost.
Previous work had shown that chlorotoxin, a chemical derived from the giant Israeli scorpion, affects a protein on the outside of brain tumor cells called MMP-2. This protein is thought to help the cancer cells spread.
Chlorotoxin binds to MMP-2 like a key fitting in a lock. When the chemical latches on, both it and the protein get sucked into the cell.
Fewer MMP-2 sites on a cell surface make it harder for the cancer cell to travel to new regions in the brain.
In a new study, scientists chemically bonded iron oxide nanoparticles with a lab-made version of chlorotoxin to create tiny nanoprobes, each carrying up to 20 chlorotoxin molecules.
“So when a tumor cell uptakes a single nanoparticle, it is absorbing quite a few chlorotoxin molecules at once,” said study leader Miqin Zhang of the University of Washington.
The researchers found that the nanoprobes can halt the spread of brain tumors in mice by 98 percent, compared to 45 percent with the scorpion venom alone.
A company called Transmolecular Inc. is already testing chlorotoxin by itself as a brain cancer therapy for humans.
A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.
The “Blue Brain” has been put in a virtual body, and observing it gives the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory.
Scaling the simulation to the human brain is only a matter of money, says the project’s head.
The work was presented at the European Future Technologies meeting in Prague.
The Blue Brain project launched in 2005 as the most ambitious brain simulation effort ever undertaken.
While many computer simulations have attempted to code in “brain-like” computation or to mimic parts of the nervous systems and brains of a variety of animals, the Blue Brain project was conceived to reverse-engineer mammal brains from real laboratory data and to build up a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make them up.
The first phase of the project is now complete; researchers have modeled the neocortical column – a unit of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex which is responsible for higher brain functions and thought.
Washington: Scientists are on track to block your worst fears after identifying the most prominent neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a key role in the process of “unlearning.”
It could eventually help develop therapies to treat a variety of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including phobias and anxiety.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
According to researchers at California’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a receptor for glutamate, the most prominent neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a crucial role in the process of “unlearning”.
“Most people agree that failure to ‘unlearn’ is a hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorders and if we had a drug that affects this gene it could help soldiers returning from war to ‘unlearn’ their fear memories,” said Stephen F. Heinemann, a professor at Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, who led the study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.