Scientists Image an Entire Flatworm Brain in Realtime

Microscopy is all about tradeoffs between the size of an imaged volume and spatial and temporal resolution. That is, until now. A new microscopy technique invented by researchers at the University of Vienna and MIT allows scientists to comprehensively image the neural firings of a living flatworm brain in realtime, vastly increasing the amount of data we can collect.

This is the first time a microscopy technique has been used to measure neural activity in an entire animal in realtime before. The principle behind its operation is similar to how the “bullet time” sequence in The Matrix was filmed, but with all the cameras returning data at the same time, and the sample being transparent.

In the filming of The Matrix, a series of cameras around Keanu Reeves captured his movements as he falls dramatically backwards, dodging bullets while the camera angle spins around him. A light field microscope is similar. It’s like a normal optical microscope, but it consists of a series of microlenses which beam back optical data from different angles around the sample …

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Sky Whale

A remarkable new aerospace design by Oscar Viñals is what he calls the “greenest aircraft imaginable.” The design, called the Sky Whale, has a 88-meter (289 ft) wingspan and room for 755 passengers. It looks like a fusion between a plane and an airship, and is a full three stories tall.

The design makes use of the most modern materials, such as ceramics and carbon fiber composites, and is designed to reduce drag and energy expenditure as much as possible. An average flight from New York to San Francisco burns fuel equivalent to 2 to 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person, about the same footprint as six weeks of normal activity. This makes reducing the environmental impact of flying among the highest priority for those looking to lessen their carbon footprint. The Sky Whale may fit the ticket.

Everything in this plane has been redesigned from the ground up. The Sky Whale features a double fuselage, covered with small solar cells which contribute energy to the hybrid-electric engines and further lessen the environmental impact. It uses fiber-optic cabling and has …

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Japan Researchers Make Embryonic Stem Cells Without Embryo in Major Discovery

Researchers in Kobe, Japan and Boston have made the biggest breakthrough in stem cells yet, producing “embryonic-like” stem cells from mice by exposing differentiated cells to the stress of an acid bath. Previous methods of producing embryonic stem cells required complex genetic engineering or tedious cell sorting. This new technique simply involves bathing blood cells in a weakly acidic solution for half an hour.

The result was so surprisingly that at researcher who discovered it, the young Haruko Obokata at the Riken Institute for Developmental Biology in Kobe, didn’t believe it at first. Neither did her colleagues. “I was really surprised the first time I saw [the stem cells]… Everyone said it was an artifact – there were some really hard days,” Dr. Obokata said. The new cells have been dubbed STAP cells by the researchers.

Proposals involving embryonic stem cells are one of the basic building blocks of the field of regenerative medicine. The cells made by Dr. Obakata were shown to be capable of differentiating into dozens of specialized cells, from cardiac-muscle cells to nerve cells. Though the results were …

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Anissimov to Speak at Transhuman Visions on March 1st

Author of Blog Michael Anissimov will be speaking at the Transhuman Visions conference in Piedmont, CA (near Berkeley) on March 1st. Tickets are $35 and can be ordered on Eventbrite. The topic of the talk will be on hierarchy and high-trust societies. If you’re in the Bay Area, get tickets and watch my talk!  Many transhumanist luminaries will be there.

Some highlights:

Max and Natasha Vita-More Brian Wang, author of Next Big Future (my favorite futurist news blog) Zoltan Itsvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager John Smart, a deep-thinking futurist who created Acceleration Watch

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Google Introduces New Smart Contact Lens

Is Google working towards a heads-up-display built into a contact lens? It sure looks like they’re heading in that direction, with a contact lens that measures blood glucose level in tears using a tiny censor.

The initial focus is on helping people with diabetes. Diabetics have to measure their blood glucose levels several times a day, which usually involves pricking their finger and drawing blood, a painful routine. By using a contact lens that measures their blood glucose and gives them the heads-up, they can avoid the chore.

Google engineers described the electronics in the contact lens as so small that they look like “bits of glitter,” along with an antenna “thinner than a human hair”. Though the contact lens is currently just a prototype, the engineers are “exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.”

The smart lens consists of sensors sandwiched between two soft layers. A pinhole in the lens allows the tear fluid to make contact with the …

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Solving the Deficit Crisis with Life Extension

The United States government is over $17 trillion in debt. That is over $56,641 of debt for every man, woman, and child in the country.

In the past four years alone, debt has skyrocketed from 75% to more than 105% of GDP:

It’s not just the size of the debt itself, but the pace at which it is increasing. In fiscal 2013, interest payments on the debt totaled $222.75 billion, or 6% of all government spending. Some money funds have stopped buying securities due to fears of a US default, demonstrating to us that the process of issuing securities for debt cannot continue forever. The more debt our government builds up, the harder it is to keep borrowing.

The source of much of this growing debt is spending on Social Security and Medicare. If we are going to pay for these programs in the long run, we need a new strategy. According to New York Times

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Nano-Harpoons for Silk Brain Interfaces

Silk brain implants, developed by Brian Litt at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, are in the news again, this time as part of an NIH-funded study where they’re being used to stop epilepsy in rats.

What are silk brain implants? They’re silk membranes just 2.5 microns thick which support a network of flexible electrodes for neural interfacing. The membranes are designed to dissolve, leaving the electrodes behind.

A couple of technologies have been developed since 2010 which could be used with the silk membranes to make them more useful. The first are flexible microchips, just 30 microns thick, developed in Belgium and announced in October 2012. The second are nano-scale carbon nanotube neural harpoons, a millimeter long and nanometers wide, developed at Duke University and announced in July 2013.

The neural harpoons could hook up to neurons up to a millimeter in the brain, while the flexible microchips do localized processing. This approach would provide much clearer signals than electrodes which just …

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The Colloidal Silver Crowd ‘Debunks’ Transhumanism

A new criticism of transhumanism recently made the rounds. It’s not particularly insightful, but many transhumanists shared it on the social networks.

It turns out that the article is more of a criticism of mind uploading in particular rather than transhumanism in general, though it does attack Ray Kurzweil near the beginning.

The context: NaturalNews.com, where the article was published, is ground zero for health crankery on the Internet. Their Facebook page has 378K likes. Colloidal silver, fluoride paranoia, ‘cancer cures’, you name it. Visit the website to see what I mean.

Writers at NaturalNews see Kurzweil’s vision as directly threatening to their worldview and business. Kurzweil argues we will all become nearly-immortal cyborgs by the late 2040s, through the progress of medicine and bionics. NaturalNews, on the other hand, advocates for taking natural substances to extend life and cure ills. The approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, though NaturalNews seems to think they are.

Both sides are mistaken. We …

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What are Your Political Views?

I thought it would be fun to write up some poll questions and see the answers. These answers reflect what I hear all the time. They aren’t strawmen because I’ve heard people who sincerely espouse them all.

There are no points or score of anything like that, because this is too complex to fit on a linear scale. Just write down your answers, list them in the comments, and waste a bunch of time arguing about them.

Here we go.

1) The military is…

A) Necessary to defend our country, but much larger than it needs to be. Its funding should be cut by 10-30% to help fund health care, infrastructure, and programs for the needy.

B)  Essential. The world is a dangerous place, and we need a large military to assert our interests globally. Funding should be kept roughly where it is, though it would be nice if there were less waste and more efficiency. Maybe the military should even be a little larger than it is now.

C) An overblown military-industrial complex perpetuated by bloodthirsty hawks, killer of …

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MetaMed — Personalized Medical Research
Backed by Peter Thiel and Jaan Tallinn

Doctors, like other experts, have limited domain knowledge. The average primary care visit is only 11 minutes, a figure which hasn’t changed since the 1930s, with four minutes of that being the patient talking. Doctors often lack the time to evaluate up-to-date research relevant to specific patients or diseases. In a widely cited and approved study, one researcher, John P. A. Ioannidis, even argued that up to 80% of medical research findings doctors rely on are flawed.

Many doctors and medical professionals lack a basic understanding of statistics. For instance, in one study, sixteen out of twenty HIV counselors said that there was no such thing as a false positive HIV test (Gigerenzer et al 1998). Another study found that British general practitioners rarely change their prescribing patterns, and when they do, it’s not in response to evidence (Armstrong et al 1996). Gigerenzer …

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