Reconstruction from brain activity – YouTube

Below is a clip showing the reconstruction of video subjects where shown via MRI scanning of their brains.   Pretty remarkable.


The ‘reconstructed’ video looks odd because the reconstruction method was actually to match the brain activity against snippets of YouTube videos.   Future techniques will be able to do far better.  The key proof of concept here is the fidelity with which the MRI scanning of the brains can identify what sort of thing they’re looking at at all.

Reconstruction from brain activity – YouTube.

Carbon Nanotubes Could Replace Rare Earth Indium in Solar Cells

A frequently voiced concern about solar energy is the dependence of solar cells on rare earth elements such as indium.  While rare earth elements are actually far more plentiful than their name suggests, it’s also encouraging to see studies showing that components made from abundant elements can replace them.

In this case, a team headed by Marc C. Hersam at Northwestern has found that they can replace indium tin oxide with carbon nanotubes, one of many examples of extremely versatile carbon replacing other elements that I expect to see in years to come.

From Science Daily:

Solar cells are composed of several layers, including a transparent conductor layer that allows light to pass into the cell and electricity to pass out; for both these actions to occur, the conductor must be both electrically conductive and also optically transparent. Few materials concurrently possess both of these properties.

Currently, indium tin oxide is the dominant material used in transparent conductor applications, but the material has two potential limitations. Indium tin oxide is mechanically brittle, which precludes its use in applications that require mechanical flexibility. In addition, Indium tin oxide relies on the relatively rare element indium, so the projected increased demand for solar cells could push the price of indium to problematically high levels.

Hersam and Marks’ team has created an alternative to indium tin oxide using single-walled carbon nanotubes, tiny, hollow cylinders of carbon just one nanometer in diameter.

via Researchers use carbon nanotubes to make solar cells affordable, flexible.

Rat cyborg gets digital cerebellum

New Scientist covers another step towards functional neural prosthetics.  Development here will be slow and complex, but we now have sufficient proof of concept across the field to see that interfacing digital systems with out brains is quite possible.   We’ll use that first to help those who’ve suffered brain damage of some sort, and then eventually to augment.

AN ARTIFICIAL cerebellum has restored lost brain function in rats, bringing the prospect of cyborg-style brain implants a step closer to reality. Such implants could eventually be used to replace areas of brain tissue damaged by stroke and other conditions, or even to enhance healthy brain function and restore learning processes that decline with age.

Now Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues have created a synthetic cerebellum which can receive sensory inputs from the brainstem – a region that acts as a conduit for neuronal information from the rest of the body. Their device can interpret these inputs, and send a signal to a different region of the brainstem that prompts motor neurons to execute the appropriate movement.

“It’s proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyse it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain,” says Mintz, who presented the work this month at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK.

via Rat cyborg gets digital cerebellum – tech – 27 September 2011 – New Scientist.

Memory Prosthetics – Some Progress

Theodore Berger and team, who I’ve been following since describing their work in More Than Human, achieved success earlier this year in recording a rat memory during encoding, and playing it back to the rat later.

This is a very very very early step towards being able to encode our memories digitally, outside of our brains, and potentially even transfer them from person to person.  It’s on the path towards Matrix-style transfer of skills.  The first applications will be for those who’ve suffered memory damage through aging, senility, disease, or brain damage.  But eventually (perhaps in decades), it has the power to enhance our cognitive abilities.

With a flick of a switch and a burst of electrical activity, rats have been given access to lost memories. The concept might one day help people with brain damage remember how to perform everyday tasks.

Theodore Berger at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues, used electrodes implanted within the hippocampus to record patterns of brain activity while rats learned how to operate a sequence of levers to gain a reward.

via Rat memory restored by installing replay electronics – tech – 20 June 2011 – New Scientist.

30,000 Human Genomes to be Sequenced in 2011 – Exponential Growth

MIT Technology Review on the incredible rise in number of genomes sequenced per year:

Exponential: The number of human beings whose entire DNA sequence is known has increased dramatically.

This year, the world’s DNA-sequencing machines are expected to churn out 30,000 entire human genomes, according to estimates in Nature magazine. That is up from 2,700 last year and a few dozen in 2009. Recall that merely a decade ago, before the completion of the Human Genome Project, the number was zero. At this exponential pace, by 2020 it may be feasible—mathematically, at least—to decode the DNA of every member of humanity in a single 12-month stretch.

The vast increase in DNA data is occurring because of dazzling advances in sequencing technology. What cost hundreds of millions of dollars a decade ago now costs a mere $10,000. In a few years, decoding a person’s DNA might cost $100 or even less.

via A DNA Tower of Babel  – Technology Review.