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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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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The Mundanity of Physical Enhancement

Although physical enhancement is what most people associate with transhumanism, it’s not particularly interesting. A man with tentacles and wings who can fly and breathe underwater is still just some dude. Humans are primitive beings, with conspicuously primitive minds — we just recently evolved from un-intelligent apes that used the same stone tools for millions of years.

Everything truly exciting about the transhumanist project lies in the mental realm. Only through opening up and intervening in the brain can we really change ourselves and the way the world works. Anything else is just the surface.

What approaches can we take to cognitive enhancement?

First, take brain surgery. It is extremely unlikely that cognitive enhancement will be conducted through conventional brain surgery as is practiced today. These procedures are inherently risky and only conducted under necessary circumstances, when the challenges of surgery outweigh the huge cost, substantial risk, and long recovery time of the procedures.

More subtle than brain surgery is optogenetics, regarded by some as the scientific breakthrough of the last …

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Tech Company Identifies Marijuana Strains With Artificial Intelligence

Marijuana is just the beginning. Soon, systems like this will be able to help people identify other plants, products, textures, landscapes, sounds, and locations.

Ever wonder what type of marijuana you have? There’s an app for that, and it’s called StrainBrain-the newest creation from the Medical Cannabis Network (MCN). At StrainBrain.com, medical marijuana patients can upload pictures of their cannabis, and the web application will use a proprietary software system (similar to facial recognition technology) to automatically identify the strain and its medical uses, show locations where the strain can be purchased legally, and provide strain suggestions for similar strains. This is the first time in history that facial recognition technology has been applied to the cannabis industry, making StrainBrain the most sophisticated marijuana reviews site ever created.

And yeah, this is not referring to artificially intelligent marijuana…

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Elon Musk: I’ll Put a Man on Mars in 10 Years

I find such statements inspiring whether they are meant seriously or not, and whether they come true or not.

Elon Musk shows that you can be rich and spend a lot of money without increasing net existential risk. Not increasing it, not decreasing it, just… risk-free behavior.

Space travel does not significantly lower the probability of existential risk because the majority of the probability mass is occupied by human-indifferent superintelligence, which can casually reach into space if it wants to. Also, self-sufficient space colonies are very far off. You need something miles across at a cost of tens of millions of dollars given current technology.

Another point I’ve made in the past is that as everyone becomes uploads and accelerates their thinking speeds, space will begin to seem very far away. Right now, Luna is 3-4 days away. To beings whose brains are made up of molecular computers with 100 GHz switching speeds, Luna is about 3,000,000,000 days away. That’s about eight million years. An eight million year trip to go …

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First Practical Artificial Leaf Developed

From Science Daily:

Scientists have claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking in Anaheim, California at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said. “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”

Wired reports that the leaf is ten times more efficient than …

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The Week Quotes Me on Thorium

I am quoted in the current featured article in the online edition of The Week, about thorium nuclear power:

Why are fans so excited about it? Thorium-fueled reactors are supposed to be much safer than uranium-powered ones, use far less material (1 metric ton of thorium gets as much bang as 200 metric tons of uranium, or 3.5 million metric tons of coal), produce waste that is toxic for a shorter period of time (300 years vs. uranium’s tens of thousands of years), and is hard to weaponize. In fact, thorium can even feed off of toxic plutonium waste to produce energy. And because the biggest cost in nuclear power is safety, and thorium reactors can’t melt down, argues Michael Anissimov in Accelerating Future, they will eventually be much cheaper, too.

Thorium addresses the biggest safety concerns: proliferation and meltdown, which would make the plants much less attractive as terrorist targets as well.

Here’s a quote from a NASA paper, “High Efficiency Nuclear Power Plants …

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Confirmed: Key Activities by “Anonymous” Masterminded by Small Groups of Decision-Makers

In a recent post I  made on “Anonymous”, commenter “mightygoose” said:

i would agree with matt, having delved into various IRC channels and metaphorically walked among anonymous,i would say that they are fully aware that they have no head, no leadership, and while you can lambast their efforts as temporary nuisance, couldnt the same be said for any form of protest (UK students for example) and the effective running of government.

I responded:

They are dependent on tools and infrastructure provided by a small, elite group. If it weren’t for this infrastructure, 99% of them wouldn’t even have a clue about how to even launch a DDoS attack.

A week ago in the Financial Times:

However, a senior US member of Anonymous, using the online nickname Owen and evidently living in New York (Xetra: A0DKRK – news) , appears to be one of those targeted in recent legal investigations, according to online communications uncovered by a private security researcher.

A co-founder of Anonymous, who uses the nickname Q after the character in …

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Introducing brainSCANr


The Brain Systems, Connections, Associations, and Network Relationships (a phrase with more words than strictly necessary in order to bootstrap a good acronym) assumes that somewhere in all the chaos and noise of the more than 20 million papers on PubMed, there must be some order and rationality.

To that end, we have created a dictionary of hundreds of brain region names, cognitive and behavioral functions, and diseases (and their synonyms!) to find how often any two phrases co-occur in the scientific literature. We assume that the more often two terms occur together (at the exclusion of those words by themselves, without each other), the more likely they are to be associated.

Are there problems with this assumption? Yes, but we think you’ll like the results anyway. Obviously the database is limited to the words and phrases with which we have populated it. We also assume that when words co-occur in a paper, that relationship is a positive one (i.e., brain areas A and B are …

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Singularity Summit 2009 Featured in Carl Zimmer Article in Scientific American

Carl Zimmer wrote this: “Can You Live Forever? Maybe Not — But You Can Have Fun Trying“. This is a very positive, yet slightly skeptical look at the Singularity movement. This article is a follow-up to Zimmer’s earlier article in Playboy, which came out this January. This year, there have been articles on the Singularity Summit and Singularity Institute in Playboy, GQ, the UK Independent, and Scientific American. Here’s a funny bit from the current article:

After the meeting I decided to visit to researchers working on the type of technology that people such as Kurzweil consider the steppingstones to the Singularity. Not one of them takes Kurzweil’s own vision of the future seriously. We will not have some sort of cybernetic immortality in the next few decades. The human brain is far too mysterious and computers far too crude for such a union anytime soon, if ever. In fact some scientists regard all this talk of the Singularity as a …

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