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By Michelle Roberts A multiple sclerosis treatment being tested in patients can stop the disease for at least five years, say doctors. The risky therapy involves wiping out the person's immune system with strong cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant. Doctors say only some patients will be suitable to try it, particularly because it is so high risk. Out of 281 people who had the treatment, nearly half benefited, but eight died shortly afterwards. The work in JAMA Neurology is one of the largest and longest investigations of this aggressive MS treatment. Mark Rye, 41 and from Surrey, had his transplant just before Christmas 2016. Two months on he is doing well. "It was a hard decision, knowing what could go wrong. My wife and I discussed it for many, many hours. We've got small children and I didn't want my MS to get worse and end up in a wheelchair. "I did this to halt the condition and so that I can be there for my children, who are still so young. I want to be able to play rugby and football with them as they grow up." What is not clear is for how long the therapy might ultimately work. Freeze frame MS is not fatal, but it is incurable. The disease causes the immune system to attack the protective coating of nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which can create problems with a person's vision, walking and balance. © 2017 BBC
By Esther Landhuis For much of her life Anne Dalton battled depression. She seldom spoke with people. She stayed home a lot. The days dragged on with a sense of “why bother?” for the 61-year-old from New Jersey who used to work at a Wall Street investment firm. After trying more than a dozen combinations of antidepressant drugs to no avail, things got so bad two years ago that Dalton went in for electroconvulsive therapy—in which “basically they shock your brain,” as she puts it. Like Dalton, most of the estimated 16 million U.S. adults who have reported a major depressive episode in the past year find little relief even after several months on antidepressants—a problem that some researchers say may stem from the way mental illness is diagnosed. Objective lab tests can physically confirm heart disease or cancer, but psychiatric conditions are classified somewhat vaguely as clusters of reported symptoms. Doctors consider people clinically depressed if they say they have low mood and meet at least four additional criteria from an overall list of nine. Yet depression can manifest differently from person to person: One might be putting on pounds and sleeping much of the time whereas another might be losing weight, feeling anxious and finding it difficult to sit still, says Conor Liston, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The fact that we lump people together like this has been a big obstacle in understanding the neurobiology of depression,” Liston explains. © 2017 Scientific American,
By JOANNA KLEIN The good news is, the human brain is flexible and efficient. This helps us make sense of the world. But the bad news is, the human brain is flexible and efficient. This means the brain can sometimes make mistakes. You can watch this tension play out when the brain tries to connect auditory and visual speech. It’s why we may find a poorly dubbed kung fu movie hard to believe, and why we love believing the gibberish in those Bad Lip Reading Videos on YouTube. “By dubbing speech that is reasonably consistent with the available mouth movements, we can utterly change the meaning of what the original talker was saying,” said John Magnotti, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Sometimes we can detect that something is a little off, but the illusion is usually quite compelling.” In a study published Thursday in PLOS Computational Biology, Dr. Magnotti and Michael Beauchamp, also a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, tried to pin down why our brains are susceptible to these kinds of perceptual mistakes by looking at a well-known speech illusion called the McGurk effect. By comparing mathematical models for how the brain integrates senses important in detecting speech, they found that the brain uses vision, hearing and experience when making sense of speech. If the mouth and voice are likely to come from the same person, the brain combines them; otherwise, they are kept separate. “You may think that when you’re talking to someone you’re just listening to their voice,” said Dr. Beauchamp, who led the study. “But it turns out that what their face is doing is actually profoundly influencing what you are perceiving.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Sam Wong Can a mouse be mindful? Researchers believe they have created the world’s first mouse model of meditation by using light to trigger brain activity similar to what meditation induces. The mice involved appeared less anxious, too. Human experiments show that meditation reduces anxiety, lowers levels of stress hormones and improves attention and cognition. In one study of the effects of two to four weeks of meditation training, Michael Posner of the University of Oregon and colleagues discovered changes in the white matter in volunteers’ brains, related to the efficiency of communication between different brain regions. The changes, picked up in scans, were particularly noticeable between the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and other areas. Since the ACC regulates activity in the amygdala, a region that controls fearful responses, Posner’s team concluded that the changes in white matter could be responsible for meditation’s effects on anxiety. The mystery was how meditation could alter the white matter in this way. Posner’s team figured that it was related to changes in theta brainwaves, measured using electrodes on the scalp. Meditation increases theta wave activity, even when people are no longer meditating. To test the theory, the team used optogenetics – they genetically engineered certain cells to be switched on by light. In this way, they were able to use pulses of light on mice to stimulate theta brainwave-like activity in the ACC. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 23260 - Posted: 02.21.2017
Hannah Devlin Rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold. The scientists behind the work said it may be possible to detect these changes and predict if someone is at risk more than a decade before meeting the threshold for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Janet Cohen Sherman, clinical director of the Psychology Assessment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said: “One of the greatest challenges right now in terms of Alzheimer’s disease is to detect changes very early on when they are still very subtle and to distinguish them from changes we know occur with normal ageing.” Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Sherman outlined new findings that revealed distinctive language deficits in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor to dementia. “Many of the studies to date have looked at changes in memory, but we also know changes occur in language,” she said. “I’d hope in the next five years we’d have a new linguistic test.” Sherman cites studies of the vocabulary in Iris Murdoch’s later works, which showed signs of Alzheimer’s years before her diagnosis, and the increasingly repetitive and vague phrasing in Agatha Christie’s final novels – although the crime writer was never diagnosed with dementia. Another study, based on White House press conference transcripts, found striking changes in Ronald Reagan’s speech over the course of his presidency, while George HW Bush, who was a similar age when president, showed no such decline.
By Matthew Hutson, Veronique Greenwood For some things, such as deciding whether to take a new job or nab your opponent's rook in chess, you're better off thinking long and hard. For others, such as judging your interviewer's or opponent's emotional reactions, first instincts are best—or so traditional wisdom suggests. But new research finds that careful reflection actually makes us better at assessing others' feelings. The findings could improve how we deal with bosses, spouses, friends and, especially, strangers. We would have trouble getting through the day or even a conversation if we couldn't tell how other people were feeling. And yet this ability, called empathic accuracy, eludes introspection. “We don't think too hard about the exact processes we engage in when we do it,” says Christine Ma-Kellams, a psychologist at the University of La Verne in California, “and we don't necessarily know how accurate we are.” Recently Ma-Kellams and Jennifer Lerner of Harvard University conducted four studies, all published in 2016. In one experiment, participants imagined coaching an employee for a particular job. When told to help the employee get better at reading others' emotions, most people recommended thinking “in an intuitive and instinctive way” as opposed to “in an analytic and systematic way.” When told to make employees worse at the task, the participants recommended the opposite. And yet later experiments suggested this coaching was off base. For instance, in another experiment, professionals in an executive-education program took a “cognitive reflection test” to measure how much they relied on intuitive versus systematic thinking. The most reflective thinkers were most accurate at interpreting their partners' moods during mock interviews. Systematic thinkers also outperformed intuiters at guessing the emotions expressed in photographs of eyes. © 2017 Scientific American
Many people think of fish and seafood as being healthy. However, new research suggests eating certain species that tend to have high levels of mercury may be linked to a greater risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Questions remain about the possible impact of mercury in fish, according to a preliminary study released Monday that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 69th annual meeting in Boston in April. Fish and seafood consumption as a regular part of the diet was not associated with ALS, the study said. "For most people, eating fish is part of a healthy diet," said study author Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a fellow of the academy. In addition, the authors said their study does not negate the fact that eating fish provides many health benefits. Instead, it suggests people may want to choose species that are known to have a lower mercury content, and avoid consuming fish caught in waters where there is mercury contamination. The researchers stressed that more research is needed before fish consumption guidelines for neurodegenerative illness can be made. While the exact cause of ALS is not known, some previous studies have suggested the neurotoxic metal to be a risk factor for ALS, a progressive neurological disease. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.
By Greta Keenan The ocean might seem like a quiet place, but listen carefully and you might just hear the sounds of the fish choir. Most of this underwater music comes from soloist fish, repeating the same calls over and over. But when the calls of different fish overlap, they form a chorus. Robert McCauley and colleagues at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, recorded vocal fish in the coastal waters off Port Headland in Western Australia over an 18-month period, and identified seven distinct fish choruses, happening at dawn and at dusk. You can listen to three of them here: The low “foghorn” call is made by the Black Jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) while the grunting call that researcher Miles Parsons compares to the “buzzer in the Operation board game” comes from a species of Terapontid. The third chorus is a quieter batfish that makes a “ba-ba-ba” call. “I’ve been listening to fish squawks, burble and pops for nearly 30 years now, and they still amaze me with their variety,” says McCauley, who led the research. Sound plays an important role in various fish behaviours such as reproduction, feeding and territorial disputes. Nocturnal predatory fish use calls to stay together to hunt, while fish that are active during the day use sound to defend their territory. “You get the dusk and dawn choruses like you would with the birds in the forest,” says Steve Simpson, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter, UK. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By WINNIE HU Ruth Brunn finally said yes to marijuana. She is 98. She pops a green pill filled with cannabis oil into her mouth with a sip of vitamin water. Then Ms. Brunn, who has neuropathy, settles back in her wheelchair and waits for the jabbing pain in her shoulders, arms and hands to ebb. “I don’t feel high or stoned,” she said. “All I know is I feel better when I take this.” Ms. Brunn will soon have company. The nursing home in New York City where she lives, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, is taking the unusual step of helping its residents use medical marijuana under a new program to treat various illnesses with an alternative to prescription drugs. While the staff will not store or administer pot, residents are allowed to buy it from a dispensary, keep it in locked boxes in their rooms and take it on their own. From retirement communities to nursing homes, older Americans are increasingly turning to marijuana for relief from aches and pains. Many have embraced it as an alternative to powerful drugs like morphine, saying that marijuana is less addictive, with fewer side effects. For some people, it is a last resort when nothing else helps. Marijuana, which is banned by federal law, has been approved for medical use in 29 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia. Accumulating scientific evidence has shown its effectiveness in treating certain medical conditions. Among them: neuropathic pain, severe muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, unintentional weight loss, and vomiting and nausea from chemotherapy. There have also been reports that pot has helped people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia as well as Parkinson’s disease. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Robert F. Service Predicting color is easy: Shine a light with a wavelength of 510 nanometers, and most people will say it looks green. Yet figuring out exactly how a particular molecule will smell is much tougher. Now, 22 teams of computer scientists have unveiled a set of algorithms able to predict the odor of different molecules based on their chemical structure. It remains to be seen how broadly useful such programs will be, but one hope is that such algorithms may help fragrancemakers and food producers design new odorants with precisely tailored scents. This latest smell prediction effort began with a recent study by olfactory researcher Leslie Vosshall and colleagues at The Rockefeller University in New York City, in which 49 volunteers rated the smell of 476 vials of pure odorants. For each one, the volunteers labeled the smell with one of 19 descriptors, including “fish,” “garlic,” “sweet,” or “burnt.” They also rated each odor’s pleasantness and intensity, creating a massive database of more than 1 million data points for all the odorant molecules in their study. When computational biologist Pablo Meyer learned of the Rockefeller study 2 years ago, he saw an opportunity to test whether computer scientists could use it to predict how people would assess smells. Besides working at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, Meyer heads something called the DREAM challenges, contests that ask teams of computer scientists to solve outstanding biomedical problems, such as predicting the outcome of prostate cancer treatment based on clinical variables or detecting breast cancer from mammogram data. “I knew from graduate school that olfaction was still one of the big unknowns,” Meyer says. Even though researchers have discovered some 400 separate odor receptors in humans, he adds, just how they work together to distinguish different smells remains largely a mystery. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By JANE E. BRODY “Feeling My Way Into Blindness,” an essay published in The New York Times in November by Edward Hoagland, an 84-year-old nature and travel writer and novelist, expressed common fears about the effects of vision loss on quality of life. Mr. Hoagland, who became blind about four years ago, projected deep-seated sadness in describing the challenges he faces of pouring coffee, not missing the toilet, locating a phone number, finding the food on his plate, and knowing to whom he is speaking, not to mention shopping and traveling, when he often must depend on the kindness of strangers. And, of course, he sorely misses nature’s inspiring vistas and inhabitants that fueled his writing, though he can still hear birds chatter in the trees, leaves rustle in the wind and waves crash on the shore. Mr. Hoagland is hardly alone in his distress. According to Action for Blind People, a British support organization, those who have lost some or all sight “struggle with a range of emotions — from shock, anger, sadness and frustration to depression and grief.” When eyesight fails, some people become socially disengaged, leading to isolation and loneliness. Anxiety about a host of issues — falls, medication errors, loss of employment, social blunders — is common. A recent study from researchers at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that most Americans regard loss of eyesight as the worst ailment that could happen to them, surpassing such conditions as loss of limb, memory, hearing or speech, or having H.I.V./AIDS. Indeed, low vision ranks behind arthritis and heart disease as the third most common chronic cause of impaired functioning in people over 70, Dr. Eric A. Rosenberg of Weill Cornell Medical College and Laura C. Sperazza, a New York optometrist, wrote in American Family Physician. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Michael Price BOSTON--Among mammals, primates are unique in that certain species have three different types of light-sensitive cone cells in their eyes rather than two. This allows humans and their close relatives to see what we think of as the standard spectrum of color. (Humans with red-green color blindness, of course, see a different spectrum.) The standard explanation for why primates developed trichromacy, as this kind of vision is called, is that it allowed our early ancestors to see colorful ripe fruit more easily against a background of mostly green forest. A particular Old World monkey, the rhesus macaque (pictured), has a genetic distinction that offers a convenient natural test of this hypothesis: a common genetic variation makes some females have three types of cone cells and others have two. Studies with captive macaques has shown that trichromatic females are faster than their dichromatic peers at finding fruit, but attempts to see whether that’s true for wild monkeys has been complicated by the fact that macaques are hard to find, and age and rank also play big roles in determining who eats when. A vision researcher reported today at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science, that after making more than 20,000 individual observations of 80 different macaques feeding from 30 species of trees on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, she can say with confidence that wild trichromatic female monkeys do indeed appear to locate and eat fruit more quickly than dichromatic ones, lending strong support to the idea that this advantage helped drive the evolution of trichromacy in humans and our relatives. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
JoAnna Klein Some microscopes today are so powerful that they can create a picture of the gap between brain cells, which is thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. They can even reveal the tiny sacs carrying even tinier nuggets of information to cross over that gap to form memories. And in colorful snapshots made possible by a giant magnet, we can see the activity of 100 billion brain cells talking. Decades before these technologies existed, a man hunched over a microscope in Spain at the turn of the 20th century was making prescient hypotheses about how the brain works. At the time, William James was still developing psychology as a science and Sir Charles Scott Sherrington was defining our integrated nervous system. Meet Santiago Ramón y Cajal, an artist, photographer, doctor, bodybuilder, scientist, chess player and publisher. He was also the father of modern neuroscience. “He’s one of these guys who was really every bit as influential as Pasteur and Darwin in the 19th century,” said Larry Swanson, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California who contributed a biographical section to the new book “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.” “He’s harder to explain to the general public, which is probably why he’s not as famous.” Last month, the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis opened a traveling exhibit that is the first dedicated solely to Ramón y Cajal’s work. It will make stops in Minneapolis; Vancouver, British Columbia; New York; Cambridge, Mass.; and Chapel Hill, N.C., through April 2019. Ramón y Cajal started out with an interest in the visual arts and photography — he even invented a method for making color photos. But his father pushed him into medical school. Without his artistic background, his work might not have had as much impact, Dr. Swanson said. © 2017 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 23251 - Posted: 02.18.2017
By Nathaniel P. Morris Cardiovascular disease and mental illness are among the top contributors to death and disability in the United States. At first glance, these health conditions seem to lie at opposite ends of the medical spectrum: Treating the heart is often associated with lab draws, imaging and invasive procedures, whereas treating the mind conjures up notions of talk therapy and subjective checklists. Yet researchers are discovering some surprising ties between cardiac health and mental health. These connections have profound implications for patient care, and doctors are paying attention. Depression has become recognized as a major issue for people with heart disease. Studies have found that between 17 and 44 percent of patients with coronary artery disease also have major depression. According to the American Heart Association, people hospitalized for a heart attack are roughly three times as likely as the general population to experience depression. As many as 40 percent of patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery suffer from depression. Decades of research suggest these illnesses may actually cause one another. For example, patients with heart disease are often sick and under stressful circumstances, which can foster depressive symptoms. But depression itself is also a risk factor for developing heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure why, but something about being depressed — possibly a mix of factors including inflammatory changes and behavior changes — appears to increase risk of heart disease. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post
Emotions are a cognitive process that relies on “higher-order states” embedded in cortical (conscious) brain circuits; emotions are not innately programmed into subcortical (nonconscious) brain circuits, according to a potentially earth-shattering new paper by Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown. The February 2017 paper, “A Higher-Order Theory of Emotional Consciousness,” was published online today ahead of print in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This paper was written by neuroscience legend Joseph LeDoux of New York University and Richard Brown, professor of philosophy at the City University of New York's LaGuardia College. Joseph LeDoux has been working on the link between emotion, memory, and the brain since the 1990s. He's credited with putting the amygdala in the spotlight and making this previously esoteric subcortical brain region a household term. LeDoux founded the Emotional Brain Institute (EBI). He’s also a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Why Is This New Report From LeDoux and Brown Significant? In the world of cognitive neuroscience, there's an ongoing debate about the interplay between emotional states of consciousness (or feelings) within cortical and subcortical brain regions. (Most experts believe that cortical brain regions house “thinking” neural circuits within the cerebral cortex. Subcortical brain regions are considered to be housed in “non-thinking” neural circuits beneath the 'thinking cap' of the cerebral cortex.) © 1991-2017 Sussex Publishers, LLC
Link ID: 23249 - Posted: 02.18.2017
By Timothy Revell It can be difficult to communicate when you can only move your eyes, as is often the case for people with ALS (also known as motor neurone disease). Microsoft researchers have developed an app to make talking with your eyes easier, called GazeSpeak. GazeSpeak runs on a smartphone and uses artificial intelligence to convert eye movements into speech, so a conversation partner can understand what is being said in real time. The app runs on the listener’s device. They point their smartphone at the speaker as if they are taking a photo. A sticker on the back of the phone, visible to the speaker, shows a grid with letters grouped into four boxes corresponding to looking left, right, up and down. As the speaker gives different eye signals, GazeSpeak registers them as letters. “For example, to say the word ‘task’ they first look down to select the group containing ‘t’, then up to select the group containing ‘a’, and so on,” says Xiaoyi Zhang, who developed GazeSpeak whilst he was an intern at Microsoft. GazeSpeak selects the appropriate letter from each group by predicting the word the speaker wants to say based on the most common English words, similar to predictive text messaging. The speaker indicates they have finished a word by winking or looking straight ahead for two seconds. The system also takes into account added lists of words, like names or places that the speaker is likely to use. The top four word predictions are shown onscreen, and the top one is read aloud. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Emma Hiolski There’s more to those love handles than meets the eye. Fat tissue can communicate with other organs from afar, sending out tiny molecules that control gene activity in other parts of the body, according to a new study. This novel route of cell-to-cell communication could indicate fat plays a much bigger role in regulating metabolism than previously thought. It could also mean new treatment options for diseases such as obesity and diabetes. “I found this very interesting and, frankly, very exciting,” says Robert Freishtat of Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., a pediatrician and researcher who has worked with metabolic conditions like obesity and diabetes. Scientists have long known that fat is associated with all sorts of disease processes, he says, but they don’t fully understand how the much-reviled tissue affects distant organs and their functions. Scientists have identified hormones made by fat that signal the brain to regulate eating, but this new study—in which Freishtat was not involved—takes a fresh look at another possible messenger: small snippets of genetic material called microRNAs, or miRNAs. MiRNAs, tiny pieces of RNA made inside cells, help control the expression of genes and, consequently, protein production throughout the body. But some tumble freely through the bloodstream, bundled into tiny packets called exomes. There, high levels of some miRNAs have been associated with obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Link ID: 23247 - Posted: 02.17.2017
By Alice Callahan Once fat cells are formed, can you ever get rid of them? The number of fat cells in a person’s body seems to be able to change in only one direction: up. Fat cell number increases through childhood and adolescence and generally stabilizes in adulthood. But this doesn’t mean that fat cells, or adipocytes, are stagnant. The size of individual fat cells is remarkably variable, expanding and contracting with weight gain or weight loss. And as with most cell types in the body, adipocytes die eventually. “Usually when old ones die, they are replaced by new fat cells,” said Dr. Michael Jensen, an endocrinologist and obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic. Cell death and production appear to be tightly coupled, so although about 10 percent of adipocytes die each year, they’re replaced at the same rate. Even among bariatric surgery patients, who can lose massive amounts of weight, the number of fat cells tends to remain the same, although the cells shrink in size, studies show. Liposuction reduces the number of fat cells in a person’s body, but studies show the weight lost is typically regained within a year. It isn’t known whether this regain occurs through the production of new fat cells or expansion of existing ones. People who are obese tend to have more fat cells than those who are not, and several studies have found an increase in fat cell number with weight regain following weight loss. The fact that fat cell number can be increased but not decreased most likely contributes to the body’s drive to regain weight after weight loss, said Dr. Kirsty L. Spalding, a cell biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the lead author of a 2008 study showing that fat cells die and are replaced. Beyond their role in storing fat, adipocytes secrete proteins and hormones that affect energy metabolism. © 2017 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 23246 - Posted: 02.17.2017
By Kelly Clancy More than two hundred years ago, a French weaver named Joseph Jacquard invented a mechanism that greatly simplified textile production. His design replaced the lowly draw boy—the young apprentice who meticulously chose which threads to feed into the loom to create a particular pattern—with a series of paper punch cards, which had holes dictating the lay of each stitch. The device was so successful that it was repurposed in the first interfaces between humans and computers; for much of the twentieth century, programmers laid out their code like weavers, using a lattice of punched holes. The cards themselves were fussy and fragile. Ethereal information was at the mercy of its paper substrate, coded in a language only experts could understand. But successive computer interfaces became more natural, more flexible. Immutable program instructions were softened to “If x, then y. When a, try b.” Now, long after Jacquard’s invention, we simply ask Amazon’s Echo to start a pot of coffee, or Apple’s Siri to find the closest car wash. In order to make our interactions with machines more natural, we’ve learned to model them after ourselves. Early in the history of artificial intelligence, researchers came up against what is referred to as Moravec’s paradox: tasks that seem laborious to us (arithmetic, for example) are easy for a computer, whereas those that seem easy to us (like picking out a friend’s voice in a noisy bar) have been the hardest for A.I. to master. It is not profoundly challenging to design a computer that can beat a human at a rule-based game like chess; a logical machine does logic well. But engineers have yet to build a robot that can hopscotch. The Austrian roboticist Hans Moravec theorized that this might have something to do with evolution. Since higher reasoning has only recently evolved—perhaps within the last hundred thousand years—it hasn’t had time to become optimized in humans the way that locomotion or vision has. The things we do best are largely unconscious, coded in circuits so ancient that their calculations don’t percolate up to our experience. But because logic was the first form of biological reasoning that we could perceive, our thinking machines were, by necessity, logic-based. © 2017 Condé Nast.
Hannah Devlin A transportable brain-scanning helmet that could be used for rapid brain injury assessments of stroke victims and those felled on the sports pitch or battlefield is being tested by US scientists. The wearable device, known as the PET helmet, is a miniaturised version of the hospital positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, a doughnut-shaped machine which occupies the volume of a small room. Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, the neuroscientist leading the project at West Virginia University, said that the new helmet could dramatically speed up diagnosis and make the difference between a positive outcome and devastating brain damage or death for some patients. “You could roll it right to their bedside and put it on their head,” she said ahead of a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston. “Time is brain for stroke.” Despite being only the size of a motorbike helmet, the new device produces remarkably detailed images that could be used to identify regions of trauma to the brain in the ambulance on the way to hospital or at a person’s bedside. The device is currently being tested on healthy volunteers, but could be used clinically within two years, the team predicted.