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Archive for the ‘neuroscience’ category: Page 411

Aug 17, 2009

A lifeboat for consciousness

Posted by in category: neuroscience

I recently began to worry that something/someone, some field, force, disease, prion, virus, bad luck and/or natural causes could threaten and perhaps destroy the most valuable entity in the universe, an entity more valuable than life itself. Consciousness. What good is life extension without conscious awareness? What is consciousness?

We know the brain works a lot like a computer, with neuron firings and synapses acting like bit states and switches. Brain-as-computer works very well to account for sensory processing, control of behavior, learning and other cognitive functions. These functions may in some cases be non-conscious, and other times associated with conscious experience and control. Scientists seek the distinction – the essential feature, or trick for consciousness.

Some suggest there is no trick, consciousness emerges as a by-product of cognitive computation among neurons. Others say we don’t know, that consciousness may indeed require some feature related to, but not quite the same as neuron-to-neuron cognition.

In either case, humans and other creatures could in principle become devoid of consciousness while maintaining cognitive behaviors, appearing more-or-less normal to outside observers. Such hypothetical non-conscious behaving entities are referred to in literature, films and philosophical texts as ‘zombies’. Philosopher David Chalmers introduced the philosophical zombie, a test case for whether or not consciousness is distinct from cognitive neurocomputation.

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Jul 23, 2009

Artificial brain ’10 years away’

Posted by in categories: engineering, human trajectories, information science, neuroscience, robotics/AI, supercomputing

Artificial brain ’10 years away’

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News, Oxford

A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

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Jul 6, 2009

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, neuroscience

Unique opportunity to sponsor research investigating an infectious cause and potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease



Alzheimer’s disease afflicts some 20 million people world-wide, over 5 million people of whom reside in the United States. It is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the US. The number of people with the disease is predicted to increase by over 50% by 2030. The economic as well as emotional costs are huge, the costs being estimated as more than $148 billion each year (direct and indirect, for of all types of dementia, to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses).

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, apart from the very small proportion with familial disease. We are investigating the involvement of infectious agents in the disease, with particular emphasis on the virus that causes oral herpes/cold sores/fever blisters. We discovered that most elderly humans harbour this virus in their brains and that in those (and only those) who possess a certain genetic factor, the virus confers a strong risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Also, we found that the virus is directly involved with the characteristic abnormalities seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

There are several treatment possibilities available to combat this virus and all would be suitable candidates as therapies in Alzheimer’s disease. However, much more research is needed before trials of these agents for Alzheimer’s disease in humans can begin.

In these financially difficult times many funding bodies have to prioritise projects based around long established hypotheses. Projects involving new avenues of investigation can receive very positive comments by scientific reviewers, yet are rarely funded, as they almost always appear risky compared with projects largely confirming or expanding existing ideas. Such conservative projects are almost guaranteed to produce useful data, though with modest impact. This situation can mean that research proposals with the potential to transform our understanding of a disease and offer new approaches to its treatment never reach the threshold for funding and are not implemented, even though the potential and quality of the science is acknowledged by reviewers and funding panel.

It appears that our work examining a viral cause for Alzheimer’s disease is in this category. Despite our publishing a large number of potentially very exciting papers on this topic, and despite our research projects being reviewed favourably by scientific referees, few funding panels are prepared to commit resources to fund our work, as by doing so they deny funding to other more straightforward, very low risk projects.

We are therefore actively seeking sponsorship for several projects of varying costs to investigate the interaction of virus and specific genetic factor, the pathways of viral damage in the brain, and the effects of antiviral agents. All the projects would provide significant evidence strengthening the case for trialling antiviral agents in Alzheimer’s disease.

Antiviral agents would inhibit a likely major cause of the disease in contrast to current treatments, which merely inhibit the symptoms.

If any Lifeboat member knows of a company or individual that would be interested in sponsoring some of our research on Alzheimer’s disease then please contact me for further details.

Ruth Itzhaki

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May 30, 2009

Create an AI on Your Computer

Posted by in categories: complex systems, human trajectories, information science, neuroscience, robotics/AI, supercomputing

Singularity Hub

Create an AI on Your Computer

Written on May 28, 2009 – 11:48 am | by Aaron Saenz |

If many hands make light work, then maybe many computers can make an artificial brain. That’s the basic reasoning behind Intelligence Realm’s Artificial Intelligence project. By reverse engineering the brain through a simulation spread out over many different personal computers, Intelligence Realm hopes to create an AI from the ground-up, one neuron at a time. The first waves of simulation are already proving successful, with over 14,000 computers used and 740 billion neurons modeled. Singularity Hub managed to snag the project’s leader, Ovidiu Anghelidi, for an interview: see the full text at the end of this article.

The ultimate goal of Intelligence Realm is to create an AI or multiple AIs, and use these intelligences in scientific endeavors. By focusing on the human brain as a prototype, they can create an intelligence that solves problems and “thinks” like a human. This is akin to the work done at FACETS that Singularity Hub highlighted some weeks ago. The largest difference between Intelligence Realm and FACETS is that Intelligence Realm is relying on a purely simulated/software approach.

Which sort of makes Intelligence Realm similar to the Blue Brain Project that Singularity Hub also discussed. Both are computer simulations of neurons in the brain, but Blue Brain’s ultimate goal is to better understand neurological functions, while Intelligence Realm is seeking to eventually create an AI. In either case, to successfully simulate the brain in software alone, you need a lot of computing power. Blue Brain runs off a high-tech supercomputer, a resource that’s pretty much exclusive to that project. Even with that impressive commodity, Blue Brain is hitting the limit of what it can simulate. There’s too much to model for just one computer alone, no matter how powerful. Intelligence Realm is using a distributed computing solution. Where one computer cluster alone may fail, many working together may succeed. Which is why Intelligence Realm is looking for help.

The AI system project is actively recruiting, with more than 6700 volunteers answering the call. Each volunteer runs a small portion of the larger simulation on their computer(s) and then ships the results back to the main server. BOINC, the Berkeley built distributed computing software that makes it all possible, manages the flow of data back and forth. It’s the same software used for SETI’s distributed computing processing. Joining the project is pretty simple: you just download BOINC, some other data files, and you’re good to go. You can run the simulation as an application, or as part of your screen saver.

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Jan 13, 2008

Carnegie Mellon study achieves significant results in decoding human thought

Posted by in categories: neuroscience, robotics/AI

Newsweek is reporting the results of a scientific study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon who used MRI technology to scan the brains of human subjects. The subjects were shown a series of images of various tools (hammer, drill, pliers, etc). The subjects were then asked to think about the properties of the tools and the computer was tasked with determining which item the subject was thinking about. To make the computer task even more challenging, the researchers excluded information from the brain’s visual cortex which would have made the problem a simpler pattern recognition exercise in which decoding techniques are already known. Instead, they focused the scanning on higher level cognitive areas.

The computer was able to determine with 78 percent accuracy when a subject was thinking about a hammer, say, instead of a pair of pliers. With one particular subject, the accuracy reached 94 percent.