Month: February 2018

28 Feb 2018

Long Term Depression Permanently Changes the Brain

IN BRIEF

Is clinical depression a degenerative illness? One new study shows that inflammation in the brain linked to depression increases over time.

DEPRESSION INFLAMMATION

New research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto has revealed something remarkable about mental illness: years of persistent depression-caused inflammation permanently and physically alter the brain. This may dramatically affect how we understand mental illness and how it progresses over time.

In a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that those who had untreated depression for over a decade had significantly more inflammation in their brains, when compared to those with untreated clinical depression for less than a decade. This work jumps off of senior author Jeff Meyer’s previous work, in which he found the first concrete evidence that those with clinical depression experience inflammation of the brain.

This study went even further, proving for the first time that long-term depression can cause extensive and permanent changes in the brain. Dr. Meyer thinks that this study could be used to create treatments for different stages in depression. This is important because now it is clear that treating depression immediately after diagnosis should be significantly different than treatment after 10 years with the illness.

IMPROVING UNDERSTANDING

Once a doctor and patient find a treatments for depression that works for the patient, treatment typically remains static throughout the course of the patient’s life. Taking this new study into account, this might not be the most effective method.

A PET image of a slice of human brain, showing areas of blue and red coloring. This method was used to measure depression-caused inflammation in this study.
A PET image of a slice of human brain. Image Credit: Jens Maus

This study examined a total of 25 patients who have had depression for over a decade, 25 who had the illness for less time, and 30 people without clinical depression as a control group. The researchers measured depression-caused inflammation using positron emission tomography (PET), which can pick out the protein markers, called TSPO, that the brain immune cells produce due to inflammation. Those with long-lasting depression had about 30 percent higher levels of TSPO when compared to those with shorter periods of depression, as well as higher levels than the control group.

Many misunderstand mental illness to be entirely separate from physical symptoms, but this study shows just how severe those symptoms can be. These findings could spark similar studies with other mental illnesses.

It is even possible that depression might now be treated as a degenerative disease, as it affects the brain progressively over time: “Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” Meyer said in a press release.

Source: Futurism

26 Feb 2018

Using “Nanodrops” to Repair Corneas Could Ultimately Replace Glasses

IN BRIEF

Quite a number of people develop nearsightedness or farsightedness during their lifetimes. “Nanodrops,” a new eye drop developed by Israeli ophthalmologists, has successfully fixed corneas in pig eyes, and could potentially do the same for people.

New eye drops developed by researchers from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Bar-Ilan University in Israel can improve both nearsightedness and farsightedness, the inventors claim. However, so far the “nanodrops” have only been successfully tested on pigs’ corneas.

The eye drops are “a new concept for correcting refractory problems,” said David Smadja, one of the ophthalmologists who worked on the eye drops, at Shaare Zedek’s research day on Feb. 21, as reported by The Jerusalem Post. The patented drops use nanotechnology to improve vision.

According to the National Eye Institute, both children and adults can develop either nearsightedness or farsightedness. Around five to 10 percent of Americans suffer from farsightedness, and it becomes more likely to develop if both parents are also farsighted. Nearsightedness, however, currently affects around 42 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 54, with those living in urban environments more than twice as likely to develop the condition

Smadja explained during the research day that the nanodrops could potentially be used for more than just correcting someone’s corneas. Replacing multifocal lenses is also feasible, which would enable people to focus on objects from various distances.

Patients would have to launch an app on their phones to measure their eyes’ refraction and create a laser pattern. This pattern would then be “stamped” onto the corneal surface of the eyes.

While a promising development, Smadja didn’t say how often the eye drops need to be applied in order to fix a person’s corneas or ultimately replace glasses. Furthermore, what additional work needs to be done before moving on to human trials was not discussed. One factor that may need to be determined is whether the eye drop solution is toxic to humans, and another is how much of the solution is needed per application in order to make an impact.

Sight is one of the most important senses we have, and scientists continue to research ways to maintain and improve it. Alongside Smadja’s nanodrops, work has been done to determine if stem cells can effectively treat macular degeneration, and the Ocumetics Technology Corporation is working on a bionic eye that could prevent cataracts and push eyesight beyond 20/20 vision. As we continue to discover new ways to upgrade our senses and abilities, we advance closer and closer to a world of enhanced humans.

Source: Futurism

24 Feb 2018

A New Georgia Bill Could Allow Residents to Pay Taxes with Bitcoin

Georgia has become the latest US state to consider allowing its residents to pay their taxes using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Senate Bill 464, which was introduced on Feb. 21 by Republican state senators Michael Williams and Joshua McKoon, aims to amend Georgia’s laws regarding tax payments to compel the state’s revenue commissioner to accept cryptocurrencies as payments for taxes and license fees.

“The commissioner shall accept as valid payment for taxes and license fees any cryptocurrency, including but not limited to Bitcoin, that uses an electronic peer-to-peer system,” the bill states.

The bill stipulates that upon receiving a Bitcoin tax payment, officials have 24 hours to convert the funds into fiat currency and credit the taxpayer’s account for the converted dollar amount.

This could cause some headaches for taxpayers seeking to take advantage of the feature, as cryptocurrency prices often fluctuate greatly from day to day. However, it could prove popular among cryptocurrency enthusiasts as adoption continues to increase.

It’s unclear whether the bill will garner enough support to pass the legislature, as other similar bills have failed in the past in other states across the country. Two years ago, for instance, Bitcoin-friendly New Hampshire voted down a bill that would have made it the first state to accept Bitcoin tax payments.

Notably, though, Georgia is not the only US state currently considering whether to make cryptocurrencies a valid payment method for state taxes.

As CCN reported, Arizona has the jump on accepting Bitcoin tax payments. SB 1091, which includes similar language to Georgia’s bill, passed the Arizona Senate 16 to 13 earlier this month and is currently working its way through the legislative process in the state’s House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Wyoming — a state that does not have income taxes — is on the cusp of approving a measure that would exempt cryptocurrency holdings from the state’s property tax, effectively equating it to other forms of money, which have always been exempt from property tax obligations.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Souce: CNN

22 Feb 2018

India’s Chandrayaan-2 Has More Power Than NASA’s Apollo Missions, But Cheaper

 

IN BRIEF

India’s space agency is scheduled to launch their second mission to the Moon, called the Chandrayaan-2. It would be the first time for India to land a rover unto the lunar surface, all at a cost that’s cheaper than making the film “Interstellar.”

COSTS AND EFFECTS

Not everything worthwhile has to be pricey, or so the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) wants to prove with its planned Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon. Although it’s the second India-led lunar mission, the Chandrayaan-2 would be the first time ISRO would attempt to send a lander and a rover on the lunar surface.

While that already is a feat for any space-fairing nation, ISRO’s main selling-point for its new program is its low cost. The mission is so cheap that it would cost you more to embark on a fictional — albeit expensive — space journey like the $165-million sci-fi flick Interstellar. For comparison, the Chandrayaan-2 costs only around $123-million, thanks to a process described by ISRO chairman K Sivan as “simplification”.

Image credit: ISROImage credit: ISRO

“Simplifying the system, miniaturizing the complex big system, strict quality control and maximizing output from a product make our space missions frugal and cost-effective,” Sivan told The Times of India. “We keep strict vigil on each and every stage of development of a spacecraft or a rocket and, therefore, we are able to avoid wastage of products, which helps us minimize the mission cost.”

From the perspective of all other space missions scheduled in the next couple of months — which include the launch of NASA’s exoplanet hunting spacecraft TESS, as well as their InSight Mars lander — the Chandrayaan-2’s mission to the Moon might not seem like much. Nothing could be further from the truth.


With lunar missions so few and far between in recent years, it’s about time humanity goes back to the Moon. This time, with the Chandrayaan-2, we’re going back with more power than NASA’s Apollo missions, said minister of state Jitendra Singh, speaking to NDTV. The goal, Singh noted, would be to gather data that “may open up possibilities of future habitation of the Moon.”

India’s new lunar mission is set to follow the Chandrayaan-1, whose findings helped confirm the presence of water on the Moon’s surface back in 2009. With the Chandrayaan-2, India expects to discover more about the Earth’s next-door galactic neighbor. The program “will be a breakthrough mission not only for India but for the entire world,” Singh added.

Observers — including SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk — have often pointed out how a lunar base could benefit all other space exploration programs in the works, especially those that aim for Mars. NASA’s Mars program, for example, relies on the Moon as a potential jump off point. From this perspective, setting up a useful fixture on our satellite is long overdue.

Source: Futurism

19 Feb 2018

An Ultrathin, Super-Stretchy Nanomesh Skin Display is the Future of Wearables

IN BRIEF

The tech, which was brought to life through an academic-industrial collaboration led by Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering, will be displayed and discussed today, February 17th, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Japenese researchers have created a stretchy, ultrathin electric “skin” that can read and display the wearer’s heartbeat. Using built-in electrode sensors and wireless communication, the breathable nanomesh sensor fits flush against the wearer’s skin and records information (like the waveforms of an echocardiogram, for example). It then sends the information its gathered directly to a smartphone, external storage device, or even syncs with the cloud.

The tech, which was brought to life through an academic-industrial collaboration led by Professor Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering, will be displayed and discussed today, February 17th, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

As semiconductor technology has improved, so too have applications for wearables that can track vital signs and other health information on the wearer, syncing it up with their smart devices in real time.

The display created by the team of researchers in Japan is a 16 x 24 array of micro LEDs combined with elastic wiring attached to a rubber sheet. Designed for flexibility, it can stretch to 45 percent of its original length. “Our skin display exhibits simple graphics with motion,” Professor Someya said in a press release.”Because it is made from thin and soft materials, it can be deformed freely.”

 

Image credit: 2018 Takao Someya Research Group.

Wearables are getting more powerful (and often sleeker in design) with each new iteration that hits the market: from wearable MRI devices (which some propose could allow us to read minds) to our first real glimpse into human sleep patterns, to bendable batteries that could drastically improve implants, wearables propelling medicine into the future.

In terms of what it can monitor, the skin display isn’t wildly more advanced than existing technologies, but its seamless nature and interconnectivity make it extremely easy to use. Patients who need constant monitoring of vital signs could use the tech to make sure the information is sent directly from the device to their doctor, but in a way that’s noninvasive, convenient, and reliable.

Wearables are getting more powerful (and often sleeker in design) with each new iteration that hits the market: from wearable MRI devices (which some propose could allow us to read minds) to our first real glimpse into human sleep patterns, to bendable batteries that could drastically improve implants, wearables propelling medicine into the future.

In terms of what it can monitor, the skin display isn’t wildly more advanced than existing technologies, but its seamless nature and interconnectivity make it extremely easy to use. Patients who need constant monitoring of vital signs could use the tech to make sure the information is sent directly from the device to their doctor, but in a way that’s noninvasive, convenient, and reliable.

For patients with limited mobility, being able to have accurate, real-time, remote monitoring that keeps them connected to those overseeing their care, all without the stress of scheduling and getting to an appointment, wearables can be life-changing. Or, at the very least, a lot more comfortable.

Source: Futurism

17 Feb 2018

The “Father of Artificial Intelligence” Says Singularity Is 30 Years Away

You’ve probably been told that the singularity is coming. It is that long-awaited point in time — likely, a point in our very near future — when advances in artificial intelligence lead to the creation of a machine (a technological form of life?) smarter than humans.

If Ray Kurzweil is to be believed, the singularity will happen in 2045. If we throw our hats in with Louis Rosenberg, then the day will be arriving a little sooner, likely sometime in 2030. MIT’s Patrick Winston would have you believe that it will likely be a little closer to Kurzweil’s prediction, though he puts the date at 2040, specifically.

But what difference does it make? We are talking about a difference of just 15 years. The real question is, is the singularity actually on its way?

At the World Government Summit in Dubai, I spoke with Jürgen Schmidhuber, who is the Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at AI company NNAISENSE, Director of the Swiss AI lab IDSIA, and heralded by some as the “father of artificial intelligence” to find out.

He is confident that the singularity will happen, and rather soon. Schmidhuber says it “is just 30 years away, if the trend doesn’t break, and there will be rather cheap computational devices that have as many connections as your brain but are much faster,” he said.

And that’s just the beginning. Imagine a cheap little device that isn’t just smarter than humans — it can compute as much data as all human brains taken together. Well, this may become a reality just 50 years from now. “And there will be many, many of those. There is no doubt in my mind that AIs are going to become super smart,” Schmidhuber says.

Image Credit: Randall Bruder/Futurism

Today, the world faces a number of hugely complex challenges, from global warming to the refugee crisis. These are all problems that, over time, will affect everyone on the planet, deeply and irreversibly. But the real seismic change, one that will influence the way we respond to each one of those crises, will happen elsewhere.

“All of this complexity pales against this truly important development of our century, which is much more than just another industrial revolution,” Schmidhuber says. Of course, the development that he is referring to is the development of these artificial superintelligences, a thing that Schmidhuber says “is something that transcends humankind and life itself.”

When biological life emerged from chemical evolution, 3.5 billion years ago, a random combination of simple, lifeless elements kickstarted the explosion of species populating the planet today. Something of comparable magnitude may be about to happen. “Now the universe is making a similar step forward from lower complexity to higher complexity,” Schmidhuber beams. “And it’s going to be awesome.”

Like with biological life, there will be an element of randomness to that crucial leap between a powerful machine and artificial life. And while we may not be able to predict exactly when, all evidence points to the fact that the singularity will happen.

Source: Futurism

15 Feb 2018

Mining Crypto Takes So Much Bandwidth, It’s Inhibiting the Search for Alien Life

IN BRIEF

Astronomers listening for radio messages from alien civilizations require lots of processing power to crunch the data. Now, those astronomers are finding the GPUs they need in short supply as crypto miners buy them up.

Thanks to the cryptocurrency craze, we might miss out on a call from E.T. Astronomers are reporting that they can’t as easily access the graphics processing units (GPUs) needed to run their powerful telescopes and radio arrays, as they’re being bought up by those looking to mine cryptocurrency.

Daniel Werthimer, chief scientist for the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project at the University of California-Berkeley, told the BBC that he’s found GPUs in short supply only over the past few months. Aaron Parsons, another Berkeley astronomer who works on the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera) radio telescope, had a similar story: he told the BBC that the price of GPUs his team needed had doubled.

 

Though designed specifically to render visual tasks, GPUs have been recruited for cryptocurrency mining thanks to their speed and efficiency at performing the repetitive computations needed. But they’re also essential for scientists that need to process large quantities of data, like those scanning radio waves from huge swaths of the universe in hopes of catching an extraterrestrial message.

“At SETI we want to look at as many frequency channels as we possibly can because we don’t know what frequency ET will be broadcasting on,” Werthimer told the BBC. “And we want to look for lots of different signal types – is it AM or FM, what communication are they using?” As a result, SETI has as many as 100 GPUs at some telescopes.

Radio astronomy isn’t the only victim of the cryptocurrency craze; a 2017 report highlighted the high carbon emissions produced by crypto mining, which requires large quantities of energy. Yet that cost could be remedied if the electricity needed were generated from renewable resources, rather than fossil fuels.

Parsons expressed concern that radio astronomy work, meanwhile, could be halted entirely if the GPU shortage continues. In that time, we could potentially miss a call from our galactic neighbors — and Earth doesn’t currently have an answering machine.

Source: CNBC

14 Feb 2018

A Renowned Futurist Says We Should Merge With AI to Protect Humanity

IN BRIEF

At the World Government Summit in Dubai, futurist Ian Pearson asserted that humans and AI need to merge before the latter becomes “billions of times” smarter than the former. He adds to the growing list of experts, including Elon Musk and Sebastian Thrun, who believe a merger is the best way to ensure AI remains safe.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already besting human intelligence in a number ways. Google and DeepMind’s AlphaGo Zero is arguably the greatest Go player in the world, and it learned the game by teaching itself. DeepMind researchers claim they never even reached the limit of the AI’s potential, meaning it could be capable of even more impressive tasks.

AlphaGoZero is just one of many AIs under development across the globe, and as the industry continues to grow, these systems are going to get smarter and smarter. According to futurist Ian Pearson, humanity’s only option if it wants to maintain pace is to merge with AI.

Pearson made this assertion today, February 13, during a panel hosted by CNBC at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

“The fact is that AI can go further than humans, it could be billions of times smarter than humans at this point,” said Pearson. “So we really do need to make sure that we have some means of keeping up. The way to protect against that is to link that AI to your brain so you have the same IQ…as the computer.”

Pearson isn’t the first to suggest humans merge with AI. Elon Musk has floated the idea in the past, and he even started a company, Neuralink, to work on developing the technology necessary to make it happen.

Pearson cited Musk’s reservations about developing advanced AI during the panel: “I don’t actually think it’s safe, just like Elon Musk…to develop these superhuman computers until we have a direct link to the human brain…and then don’t get way ahead.”

Some foresee such a merger leading to the creation of enhanced humans.

During a World Government Summit panel on Monday, Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity and co-founder of Google X, said he believed AI would eventually make people “superhuman,” and last year, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief engineer, said AI would enhance, rather than displace, humanity.

In truth, augmenting humans was on a lot of people’s minds at the World Government Summit, which drew industry leaders, experts, and government officials from around the world.

“Such a gathering has been much needed and will help the international community embrace the enormously positive impact of AI while at the same time getting prepared to mitigate potential downsides,” Cyrus Hodes, Vice President and Director of the AI Initiative, told Futurism.

If Pearson is right, we’ll need all of those powerful minds working together to ensure humans remain in control of AI and not the other way around.

Source: CNBC

12 Feb 2018

Scientists Tease Out How the Brain Processes Sensory Experiences

Building a World

Our raw sensory experiences — what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell — make up our construction the world around us. But how? How does this continuous stream of raw data translate into a seamless understanding of our existence?

Two recent studies from researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies explore how a brain region known as posterior parietal cortex (PPC)influences perception. They showed that, at least in rats, this region contributes tothe merging of different sensory information as well as the formation of memories of recent sensory experiences.

One of the two studies, which was published on Jan. 30 in the journal Neuron,reveals how signals that arrive through different channels (from different senses) integrate in this brain region. In this study, researchers wanted to know how we recognize objects without all of its sensory properties. In other words, they wondered how, once we’ve experienced something like an apple, we’re able to know what it is by sight alone (without smelling, tasting, or feeling it).

They explored this by measuring neural activity in the PPCs of trained rats as they interacted with objects. The researchers found that, while neurons varied in how they encoded objects, the neural response was the same for touch, vision, and audition.

“This means that the message of the neurons was the object itself, not the sensory modality through which the object was explored,” Mathew Diamond, senior investigator, said in a press release.

Exploring Senses

In the second paper, published Friday, Jan. 9, in the journal Nature, researchers zeroed in on the exact neural circuit in the PPC that can sometime cause our expectations to actually taint our memories. They examined how recent sensory memories are both formed and kept by training rats to compare the volume of two separated sounds of different volumes — testing them over and over again.

By observing the rats’ PPCs, the researchers found that, as the rodents waited for the second sound, the memory of the latest sound they heard shifted towards the average of all the previous sounds from their previous tests. The results confirmed that PPC can cause memory to slide towards the expected value.

How does the human brain make sense of sensory stimuli like sound? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay
How does the brain make sense of sensory stimuli like sound? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

These results still have to be replicated in human brains before we can apply the findings to ourselves. But, the deeper we explore into how and why the brain functions as it does, even in model animals like rats, the more insights we can gain to better we understand the human species.

For decades upon decades, scientists have wondered how the raw sensory data that barrages our brains every day shapes our perception of the world. These studies suggest that the PPC takes part in two critical processes: the integration of sensory signals and the storage a retrieval of stimulus memory. They also indicate that three senses — seeing, hearing, and touch feeling — are integrated in the PPC.

If the brain processes observed in rats are similar in humans, then this new understanding could one day have an impact on technology. The neurological basis of our sensory experiences could play a huge role in developing wearable technologies. It could even support growing research into Brain-ComputerInterfaces.

Source: Futurism

10 Feb 2018

Want a World Without Blackouts? Power the Future With Renewable Energy.

Renewable and Sustainable

Whether at the national or corporate level, an integral part of most plans to combat climate change is making the shift to renewable energy sources. With solar and wind power leading the charge, renewables are steadily finding their way into the energy infrastructure of a number of countries and companies. Some have already become 100 percent renewable, while others continue to carefully wean themselves from fossil fuel.

There is, however, a sizable hurdle that early renewable energy adapters will inevitably encounter. Energy output from solar and wind, and to a lesser extent hydrogen, are dependent on circumstances beyond human control. An emerging solution to this issue is the use of energy storage devices or commercial-grade batteries like Tesla’s Powerpack.

A new study from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) argues that this hurdle could very well be overcome by a combination of solutions. By making renewable energy completely reliable, it could provide consistent power across all sectors, potentially making blackouts a thing of the past. A manuscript of the study has been published in the journal Renewable Energy.

Lead author Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford, also lead a recent study that presented a roadmap to 100 percent renewable energy dependence for 139 nations. In the new study, the researchers completed the roadmap, suggesting three scenarios that would maximize renewable energy output and sustain power to supply the grid.

Three Solutions

Using a combination of computer modeling programs that can predict global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054, Jacobson and his colleagues constructed scenarios where 139 nations, grouped into 20 world regions, had converted all sectors into renewable energy by 2050. The team also factored in the effect on energy output from solar and wind power sources. Using another model, the team then calculated the energy produced by more stable renewable sources, such as geothermal and hydrogen.

“One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost,” co-author Mark Delucchi, a UCB research scientist, said in a statement. “Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies.”

The results described three scenarios in which nations struck a proper balance between energy output from renewables and predicted energy demand for 2050. Of note, in all three scenarios, blackouts at low energy costs were avoided for a five-year period. The researchers noted that having various energy storage options available was an important factor in that outcome.

For the 20 regions in CASE A, concentrated solar power (CSP) storage, batteries and thermal energy storage proved to be crucial — however, the study noted that “no hydropower turbines beyond current capacity or heat pumps were added.”

Similarly, the 20 regions in CASE B, also found that thermal energy storage and CSP-with-storage were key; the only difference was the addition of hydropower turbines. Though, the study noted that these didn’t increase annual hydrogen power output.

In the third scenario — CASE C — things played out a little differently. CSP and commercial grade batteries were the dominant energy storage options for the regions in the scenario (14 instead of 20),  but no hydropower turbines were included. However, the study noted that “heat pumps with no storage replaced all cold and low-temperature heat thermal energy storage.”

Jacobson also noted that an important consideration for all three scenarios, in terms of creating a roadmap that works, is political cooperation between the 139 nations. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, though — considering how clean energy programs and climate deals often depend quite heavily on the politics of the nations involved.

“Ideally, you’d have cooperation in deciding where you’re going to put the wind farms, where you’re going to put the solar panels, where you’re going to put the battery storage,” Jacobson explained. “The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time.”

Having a road-tested roadmap, so to speak, should at the very least help guide these nations — and the researchers hope they’ll be confident to take action sooner rather than later. If warnings about the rate of global warming are to be heeded, we need a stable renewable energy infrastructure in place well before 2050.

Source: Futurism