Scientists to build ‘human brain’: Supercomputer will simulate the entire mind and will help fight against brain diseases

mind control

Scientists to build ‘human brain’: Supercomputer will simulate the entire mind and will help fight against brain diseases

  • The ‘brain’ will take 12 years to build
  • It will feature thousands of three-dimensional images built around a semi-circular ‘cockpit’

PUBLISHED: 18:27 GMT, 15 April 2012 | UPDATED: 19:14 GMT, 15 April 2012 

The human brain’s power could rival any machine. And now scientists are trying to build one using the world’s most powerful computer.

It is intended to combine all the information so far uncovered about its mysterious workings – and replicate them on a screen, right down to the level of individual cells and molecules.

If it works it could be revolutionary for understanding devastating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and even shedding light into how we think, and make decisions.

 
Ambitious: Scientists are hoping to build a computer that will simulate the entire human brain
 
Ambitious: Scientists are hoping to build a computer that will simulate the entire human brain

Leading the project is Professor Henry Markram based in Switzerland, who will be working with scientists from across Europe including the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Cambridge.

They hope to complete it within 12 years. He said: ‘The complexity of the brain, with its billions of interconnected neurons, makes it hard for neuroscientists to truly understand how it works.

‘Simulating it will make it much easier – allowing them to manipulate and measure any aspect of the brain.’

Housed at a facility in Dusseldorf in Germany, the ‘brain’ will feature thousands of three-dimensional images built around a semi-circular ‘cockpit’ so scientists can virtually ‘fly’ around different areas and watch how they communicate with each other.

It aims to integrate all the neuroscience research being carried out all over the world – an estimated 60,000 scientific papers every year – into one platform.

The project has received some funding from the EU and has been shortlisted for a 1 billion euro (£825million) EU grant which will be decided next month.

When complete it could be used to test new drugs, which could dramatically shorten the time required for licencing them than human trials, and pave the way for more intelligent robots and computers. 

There are inevitably concerns about the consequences of this ‘manipulation’ and creating computers which can think for themselves. In Germany the media have dubbed the researchers ‘Team Frankenstein’.

 
The various areas of the human brain
Graphic: Corbis

But Prof Markram said: ‘This will, when successful, help two billion people annually who suffer from some type of brain impairment.

‘This is one of the three grand challenges for humanity. We need to understand earth, space and the brain. We need to understand what makes us human.’

Over the past 15 years his team have painstakingly studied and managed to produce a computer simulation of a cortical column – one of the small building blocks of a mammal’s brain.

They have also simulated part of a rat’s brain using a computer. But the human brain is a totally different proposition.

High energy consumption: The computer will require the output of a nuclear power station
 
High energy consumption: The computer will require the output of a nuclear power station like Sellafield, pictured here

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Mind-boggling! Science creates computer that can decode your thoughts and put them into words

Mind-boggling! Science creates computer that can decode your thoughts and put them into words

  • Technology could offer lifeline for stroke victims and people hit by degenerative diseases
  • In the study, a computer analyzed brain activity and reproduced words that people were hearing 

By Tamara Cohen
05:49 GMT, 1 February 2012

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction dreams – or nightmares.

Scientists believe they have found a way to read our minds, using a computer program that can decode brain activity in our brains and put it into words.

They say it could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by stroke or degenerative disease, but many will be concerned about the implications of a technique that can eavesdrop on thoughts and reproduce them.

Scroll down for video

 

Scientific breakthrough: An X-ray CT scan of the head of one of the volunteers, showing electrodes distributed over the brain's temporal lobe, where sounds are processed

Scientific breakthrough: An X-ray CT scan of the head of one of the volunteers, showing electrodes distributed over the brain’s temporal lobe, where sounds are processed

 
 
 
 

Weird science: Scientists believe the technique, shown here, could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next

Weird science: Scientists believe the technique, shown here, could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next

Neuroscientists at the University of California Berkeley put electrodes inside the skulls of brain surgery patients to monitor information from their temporal lobe, which is involved in the processing of speech and images.

As the patient listened to someone speaking, a computer program analysed how the brain processed and reproduced the words they had heard.

 

 

The scientists believe the technique could also be used to read and report what they were thinking of saying next.

In the journal PLoS Biology, they write that it takes attempts at mind reading to ‘a whole new level’.

 

Brain workings: Researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours

Brain workings: Researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours

 

Words with scientists: The top graphic shows a spectrogram of six isolated words (deep, jazz, cause) and pseudo-words (fook, ors, nim). At bottom, the speech segments how the words were reconstructed based on findings from the electrodes

Words with scientists: The top graphic shows a spectrogram of six isolated words (deep, jazz, cause) and pseudo-words (fook, ors, nim). At bottom, the speech segments how the words were reconstructed based on findings from the electrodes

Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience, added: ‘This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig’s [motor neurone] disease and can’t speak.

‘If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands could benefit.’

 

The researchers tested 15 people who were already undergoing brain surgery to treat epilepsy or brain tumours.

They agreed to have up to 256 electrodes put on to the brain surface, as they listened to men and women saying individual words including nouns, verbs and names.

 
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Testing: As a subject listened to someone speaking, a computer program analysed how the brain processed and reproduced the words they had heard

Breakthrough: The ability to scan the brain and read thoughts could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by a stroke or degenerative disease

Breakthrough: The ability to scan the brain and read thoughts could offer a lifeline to those whose speech has been affected by a stroke or degenerative disease

A computer programme analysed the activity from the electrodes, and reproduced the word they had heard or something very similar to it at the first attempt.

 
 

Co-author Brian Pasley said there is already mounting evidence that ‘perception and imagery may be pretty similar in the brain’.

Therefore with more work, brain recordings could allow scientists to ‘synthesise the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device.’

Their study also shows in sharp relief how the auditory system breaks down sound into its individual frequencies – a range of around 1 to 8,000 Hertz for human speech.

Pasley told ABC News: ‘This study mainly focused on lower-level acoustic characteristics of speech. But I think there’s a lot more happening in these brain areas than acoustic analysis’.

He added: ‘We sort of take it for granted, the ability to understand speech. But your brain is doing amazing computations to accomplish this feat.’

 
 

Analyzing words: This graphic breaks down the three ways the brain hears spoken words and processes sounds

Analyzing words: This graphic breaks down the three ways the brain hears spoken words and processes sounds

This information does not change inside the brain but can be accurately mapped and the original sound decoded by a computer. British expert Professor Jan Schnupp, from Oxford University who was not involved in the study said it was ‘quite remarkable’.

‘Neuroscientists have of course long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity’, he said.

‘But proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound (or at least a fair approximation of it) is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications.’

He played down fears it could lead to range of ‘mind reading’ devices as the technique can only, at the moment, be done on patients willing to have surgery.

Non-invasive brain scans are not powerful enough to read this level of information so it will remain limited to ‘small numbers of willing patients’.

He added: ‘Perhaps luckily for all those of us who value the privacy of their own thoughts, we can rest assured that our skulls will remain an impenetrable barrier for any would-be technological mind hacker for any foreseeable future.’

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2050 – and immortality is within our grasp

2050 – and immortality is within our grasp

 

 David Smith, technology correspondent

Britain’s leading thinker on the future offers an extraordinary vision of life in the next 45 years

Cross section of the human brain

Supercomputers could render the wetware of the human brain redundant. Photograph: Gregor Schuster/Getty Images

Aeroplanes will be too afraid to crash, yoghurts will wish you good morning before being eaten and human consciousness will be stored on supercomputers, promising immortality for all – though it will help to be rich.

These fantastic claims are not made by a science fiction writer or a crystal ball-gazing lunatic. They are the deadly earnest predictions of Ian Pearson, head of the futurology unit at BT.

‘If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it’s not a major career problem,’ Pearson told The Observer. ‘If you’re rich enough then by 2050 it’s feasible. If you’re poor you’ll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it’s routine. We are very serious about it. That’s how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.’

Pearson, 44, has formed his mind-boggling vision of the future after graduating in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, spending four years working in missile design and the past 20 years working in optical networks, broadband network evolution and cybernetics in BT’s laboratories. He admits his prophecies are both ‘very exciting’ and ‘very scary’.

He believes that today’s youngsters may never have to die, and points to the rapid advances in computing power demonstrated last week, when Sony released the first details of its PlayStation 3. It is 35 times more powerful than previous games consoles. ‘The new PlayStation is 1 per cent as powerful as a human brain,’ he said. ‘It is into supercomputer status compared to 10 years ago. PlayStation 5 will probably be as powerful as the human brain.’

The world’s fastest computer, IBM’s BlueGene, can perform 70.72 trillion calculations per second (teraflops) and is accelerating all the time. But anyone who believes in the uniqueness of consciousness or the soul will find Pearson’s next suggestion hard to swallow. ‘We’re already looking at how you might structure a computer that could possibly become conscious. There are quite a lot of us now who believe it’s entirely feasible.

‘We don’t know how to do it yet but we’ve begun looking in the same directions, for example at the techniques we think that consciousness is based on: information comes in from the outside world but also from other parts of your brain and each part processes it on an internal sensing basis. Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that’s what we’re trying to design in a computer. Not everyone agrees, but it’s my conclusion that it is possible to make a conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence before 2020.’

He continued: ‘It would definitely have emotions – that’s one of the primary reasons for doing it. If I’m on an aeroplane I want the computer to be more terrified of crashing than I am so it does everything to stay in the air until it’s supposed to be on the ground.

‘You can also start automating an awful lots of jobs. Instead of phoning up a call centre and getting a machine that says, “Type 1 for this and 2 for that and 3 for the other,” if you had machine personalities you could have any number of call staff, so you can be dealt with without ever waiting in a queue at a call centre again.’

Pearson, from Whitehaven in Cumbria, collaborates on technology with some developers and keeps a watching brief on advances around the world. He concedes the need to debate the implications of progress. ‘You need a completely global debate. Whether we should be building machines as smart as people is a really big one. Whether we should be allowed to modify bacteria to assemble electronic circuitry and make themselves smart is already being researched.

‘We can already use DNA, for example, to make electronic circuits so it’s possible to think of a smart yoghurt some time after 2020 or 2025, where the yoghurt has got a whole stack of electronics in every single bacterium. You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it.’

In the shorter term, Pearson identifies the next phase of progress as ‘ambient intelligence’: chips with everything. He explained: ‘For example, if you have a pollen count sensor in your car you take some antihistamine before you get out. Chips will come small enough that you can start impregnating them into the skin. We’re talking about video tattoos as very, very thin sheets of polymer that you just literally stick on to the skin and they stay there for several days. You could even build in cellphones and connect it to the network, use it as a video phone and download videos or receive emails.’

Philips, the electronics giant, is developing the world’s first rollable display which is just a millimetre thick and has a 12.5cm screen which can be wrapped around the arm. It expects to start production within two years.

The next age, he predicts, will be that of ‘simplicity’ in around 2013-2015. ‘This is where the IT has actually become mature enough that people will be able to drive it without having to go on a training course.

‘Forget this notion that you have to have one single chip in the computer which does everything. Why not just get a stack of little self-organising chips in a box and they’ll hook up and do it themselves. It won’t be able to get any viruses because most of the operating system will be stored in hardware which the hackers can’t write to. If your machine starts going wrong, you just push a button and it’s reset to the factory setting.’

Pearson’s third age is ‘virtual worlds’ in around 2020. ‘We will spend a lot of time in virtual space, using high quality, 3D, immersive, computer generated environments to socialise and do business in. When technology gives you a life-size 3D image and the links to your nervous system allow you to shake hands, it’s like being in the other person’s office. It’s impossible to believe that won’t be the normal way of communicating.

“Humanity is about going beyond biological limitations”

Image: Drawing of The Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of The Vitruvian man.

NEW YORK Dreams of immortality inspired the fantastical tales of Greek historian Herodotus and Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s legendary search for the fountain of youth. Nowadays, visionaries push for the technologies to transplant human brains into new bodies and download human consciousness into hologram-like avatars.

The latest science and schemes for achieving long life and the “singularity” moment of smarter-than-human intelligence came together at the Singularity Summit held here October 15-16. Some researchers explored cutting-edge, serious work about regenerating human body parts and defining the boundaries of consciousness in brain studies. Other speakers pushed visions of extending human existence in “Avatar”- style bodies — one initiative previously backed by action film star Steven Seagal — with fuzzier ideas about how to create such a world.

Above all, the summit buzzed with optimism about technology’s ability to reshape the world to exceed humanity’s wildest dreams, as well as a desire to share that vision with everyone. True believers were even offered the chance to apply for a credit card that transfers purchase rewards to the Singularity Institute.

“Humanity is about going beyond biological limitations,” said Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist whose vision drives the Singularity Institute.

Rebuilding a healthy body The most immediate advances related to living longer and better may come from regenerative medicine. Pioneering physicians have already regrown the tips of people’s fingers and replaced cancer-ridden parts of human bodies with healthy new cells.

“What we’re talking about here is not necessarily increasing the quantity of life but the quality of life,” said Stephen Badylak, deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Success so far has come from using a special connective tissue — called the extracellular matrix (ECM) — to act as a biological scaffold for healthy cells to build upon. Badylak showed a video where his team of surgeons stripped out the cancerous lining of a patient’s esophagus like pulling out a sock, and relined the esophagus with an ECM taken from pigs. The patient remains cancer-free several years after the experimental trial.

The connective tissue of other animals doesn’t provoke a negative response in human bodies, because it lacks the foreign animal cells that would typically provoke the immune system to attack. It has served the same role as a biological foundation for so long that it represents a “medical device that’s gone through hundreds of millions of years of R&D,” Badylak said.

If work goes well, Badylak envisions someday treating stroke patients by regenerating pieces of the functioning human brain.

Live long and prosper The work of such researchers could do more than just keep humans happy and healthy. By tackling end-of-life chronic diseases such as cancer, medical advances could nearly double human life expectancy beyond almost 80 years in the U.S. to 150 years, said Sonia Arrison, a futurist at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, Calif.

Long-lived humans could lead to problems such as anger over a “longevity gap” between haves and have-nots and perhaps add to stress on food, water and energy sources. But Arrison took a more positive view of how “health begets wealth” in a talk based on her new book, “100 Plus” (Basic Books, 2011).

Having healthier people around for longer means that they can remain productive far later in life, Arrison pointed out. Many past innovators accomplished some of their greatest or most creative work relatively late in life — Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa at 51, and Benjamin Franklin conducted his kite experiment at 46.

“Innovation is a late-peak field,” Arrison told the audience gathered at the Singularity Summit.

Even religion might find a renewed role in a world where death increasingly looks far off, Arrison said. Religion remains as popular as ever despite a doubling of human life expectancy up until now, and so Arrison suggested that religions focused on providing purpose or guidance in life could do well. But religions focused on the afterlife may want to rethink their strategy.

Making ‘Avatar’ real (or not) The boldest scheme for immortality came from media mogul Dmitry Itskov, who introduced his “Project Immortality 2045: Russian Experience.” He claimed support from the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Education and Science, as well as actor Seagal, to create a research center capable of giving humans life-extending bodies.

Itskov’s wildly ambitious plans include creating a humanoid avatar body within five to seven years, transplanting a human brain into a new “body B” in 10 to 15 years, digitally uploading a human brain’s consciousness in 20 to 25 years, and moving human consciousness to hologram-like bodies in 30 to 35 years.

That vision may have exceeded even the optimism of many Singularity Summit attendees, given the apparent restlessness of the crowd during Itskov’s presentation. But it did little to dampen the conference’s overall sense that humanity has a positive future within its collective grasp — even if some people still need to be convinced.

“We are storming the fricking barricades of death, both physically and intellectually, so we have to make it sexy,” said Jason Silva, a filmmaker and founding producer/host for Current TV.

By Jeremy Hsu

    10/17/2011 7:39:40 PM ET2011-10-17T23:39:40

You can follow InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @ScienceHsu. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

Scientists Warn of Ethical Battle Concerning Military Mind Control

Scientists Warn of Ethical Battle Concerning Military Mind Control

Advances in neuroscience are closer than ever to becoming a reality, but scientists are warning the military – along with their peers – that with great power comes great responsibility!

March 20, 2012

A future of brain-controlled tanks, automated attack drones and mind-reading interrogation techniques may arrive sooner than later, but advances in neuroscience that will usher in a new era of combat come with tough ethical implications for both the military and scientists responsible for the technology, according to one of the country’s leading bioethicists.

“Everybody agrees that conflict will be changed as new technologies are coming on,” says Jonathan Moreno, author ofMind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century. “But nobody knows where that technology is going.”

[See pictures of Navy SEALs]

Moreno warns in an essay published in the science journal PLoS Biology Tuesday that the military’s interest in neuroscience advancements “generates a tension in its relationship with science.”

“The goals of national security and the goals of science may conflict. The latter employs rigorous standards of validation in the expansion of knowledge, while the former depends on the most promising deployable solutions for the defense of the nation,” he writes.

Much of neuroscience focuses on returning function to people with traumatic brain injuries, he says. Just as Albert Einstein didn’t know his special theory of relativity could one day be used to create a nuclear weapon, neuroscience researchintended to heal could soon be used to harm.

“Neuroscientists may not consider how their work contributes to warfare,” he adds.

Moreno says there is a fine line between using neuroscience devices to allow an injured person to regain baseline functions and enhancing someone’s body to perform better than their natural body ever could.

“Where one draws that line is not obvious, and how one decides to cross that line is not easy. People will say ‘Why would we want to deny warfighters these advantages?'” he says.

[Mind Control, Biometrics Could Change the World]

Moreno isn’t the only one thinking about this. The Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer writes in his book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, that “‘the Pentagon’s real-world record with things like the aboveground testing of atomic bombs, Agent Orange, and Gulf War syndrome certainly doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence among the first generation of soldiers involved [in brain enhancementresearch.]”

The military, scientists and ethicists are increasingly wondering how neuroscience technology changes the battlefield. The staggering possibilities are further along than many think. There is already development on automated drones that are programmed to make their own decisions about who to kill within the rules of war. Other ideas that are closer-than-you-think to becoming a military reality: Tanks controlled from half a world away, memory erasures that could prevent PTSD, and “brain fingerprinting” that could be used to extract secrets from enemies.Moreno foretold some of these developments when he first published Mind Wars in 2006, but not without trepidation.

“I was afraid I’d be dismissed as a paranoid schizophrenic when I first published the book,” he says. But then a funny thing happened—the Department of Defense and other military groups began holding panels on neurotechnology to determine how and when it should be used. I was surprised how quickly the policy questions moved forward. Questions like: ‘Can we use autonomous attack drones?’ ‘Must there be a human being in the vehicle?’ ‘How much of a payload can it have?’. There are real questions coming up in the international legal community.”

All of those questions will have to be answered sooner than later, Moreno says, along with a host of others. Should soldiers have the right to refuse “experimental” brain implants? Will the military want to use some of this technology before science deems it safe?

“There’s a tremendous tension about this,” he says. “There’s a great feeling of responsibility that we push this stuff out so we’re ahead of our adversaries.”

The program is to model machine intelligence on human intelligence by
understanding how our brains work:
Then allow machines to be fully autonomous and enable them to follow their
programming, already machines built from these methods are capable of learning
Why would we want a stupid human factored in to being a pilot? An electrical circuit is
thousands of times faster than protein synapses, why have a worm when you can have an
eagle? Of course we are capable of ‘tele-war’ by connecting nervous systems to devices
tele-tanks are also a possibility.
In the next decade, the program’s timetable is to have functioning real-
life terminators:
Here are other citations you may find interesting:
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models to decode
and reconstruct people’s dynamic visual experiences:
http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2811%2900937-7
Data mining opens the door to predictive neuroscience:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/epfd-dmo041112.php
New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable:
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/26/business/la-fi-auto-drone-20120126/2
Artificial synapses could lead to advanced computer memory and machines that
The problem is all of this is old news, the military-industrial complex is 5-10 years
ahead of the public. If I were to say that DARPA is currently working on
smart-dust nanotechnology and is even capable of adding, editing, and
deleting memory in humans would you believe me? Doesn’t matter, time will prove it.

www.opticsinfobase.org

Optics InfoBase is the Optical Society’s online library for flagship journals,
partnered and copublished journals, and recent proceedings from OSA conferences.

How to Use Light to Control the Brain

How to Use Light to Control the Brain

Stephen Dougherty, Scientific American
Date: 01 April 2012 Time: 09:38 AM
 

In the film Amèlie, the main character is a young eccentric woman who attempts to change the lives of those around her for the better. One day Amèlie finds an old rusty tin box of childhood mementos in her apartment, hidden by a boy decades earlier. After tracking down Bretodeau, the owner, she lures him to a phone booth where he discovers the box. Upon opening the box and seeing a few marbles, a sudden flash of vivid images come flooding into his mind. Next thing you know, Bretodeau is transported to a time when he was in the schoolyard scrambling to stuff his pockets with hundreds of marbles while a teacher is yelling at him to hurry up.

We have all experienced this: a seemingly insignificant trigger, a scent, a song, or an old photograph transports us to another time and place. Now a group of neuroscientists have investigated the fascinating question: Can a few neurons trigger a full memory?
In a new study, published in Nature, a group of researchers from MIT showed for the first time that it is possible to activate a memory on demand, by stimulating only a few neurons with light, using a technique known as optogenetics. Optogenetics is a powerful technology that enables researchers to control genetically modified neurons with a brief pulse of light.

To artificially turn on a memory, researchers first set out to identify the neurons that are activated when a mouse is making a new memory. To accomplish this, they focused on a part of the brain called the hippocampus, known for its role in learning and memory, especially for discriminating places. Then they inserted a gene that codes for a light-sensitive protein into hippocampal neurons, enabling them to use light to control the neurons.

With the light-sensitive proteins in place, the researchers gave the mouse a new memory. They put the animal in an environment where it received a mild foot shock, eliciting the normal fear behavior in mice: freezing in place. The mouse learned to associate a particular environment with the shock.

Next, the researchers attempted to answer the big question: Could they artificially activate the fear memory? They directed light on the hippocampus, activating a portion of the neurons involved in the memory, and the animals showed a clear freezing response. Stimulating the neurons appears to have triggered the entire memory.

The researchers performed several key tests to confirm that it was really the original memory recalled. They tested mice with the same light-sensitive protein but without the shock; they tested mice without the light-sensitive protein; and they tested mice in a different environment not associated with fear. None of these tests yielded the freezing response, reinforcing the conclusion that the pulse of light indeed activated the old fear memory.

In 2010, optogenetics was named the scientific Method of the Year by the journal Nature Methods. The technology was introduced in 2004 by a research group at Stanford University led by Karl Deisseroth, a collaborator on this research. The critical advantage that optogenetics provides over traditional neuroscience techniques, like electrical stimulation or chemical agents, is speed and precision. Electrical stimulation and chemicals can only be used to alter neural activity in nonspecific ways and without precise timing. Light stimulation enables control over a small subset of neurons on a millisecond time scale.

Over the last several years, optogenetics has provided powerful insights into the neural underpinnings of brain disorders like depression, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Now, in the context of memory research, this study shows that it is possible to artificially stimulate a few neurons to activate an old memory, controlling an animals’ behavior without any sensory input. This is significant because it provides a new approach to understand how complex memories are formed in the first place.

Lest ye worry about implanted memories and mind control, this technology is still a long way from reaching any human brains. Nevertheless, the first small steps towards the clinical application of optogenetics have already begun. A group at Brown University, for example, is working on a wireless optical electrode that can deliver light to neurons in the human brain. Who knows, someday, instead of new technology enabling us to erase memories á la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we may actually undergo memory enhancement therapy with a brief session under the lights.

This article was first published on Scientific American. © 2012 ScientificAmerican.com. Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. VisitScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news.

New Surveillance System Identifies Your Face By Searching Through 36 Million Images Per Second

New Surveillance System Identifies Your Face By Searching Through 36 Million Images Per Second

 

When it comes to surveillance, your face may now be your biggest liability.

Privacy advocates, brace yourselves – the search capabilities of the latest surveillance technology is nightmare fuel. Hitachi Kokusai Electric recently demonstrated the development of a surveillance camera system capable of searching through 36 million images per second to match a person’s face taken from a mobile phone or captured by surveillance. While the minimum resolution required for a match is 40 x 40 pixels, the facial recognition software allows a variance in the position of the person’s head, such that someone can be turned away from the camera horizontally or vertically by 30 degrees and it can still make a match. Furthermore, the software identifies faces in surveillance video as it is recorded, meaning that users can immediately watch before and after recorded footage from the timepoint.

This means that the biggest barrier in video surveillance, which is watching hours of video to find what you want, is gone.

The power of the search capabilities is in the algorithms that group similar faces together. When a search is conducted, results are immediately shown as thumbnails, and selecting a thumbnail pulls up the stored footage for review. Because the search results are displayed as a grid, mistaken identifications can be ruled out quickly or verified by pulling up the entire video for more information.

The scenarios that this system could be useful for are endless. The police, for instance, could find individuals from old surveillance video or pick them out of large crowds, whether they are suspects or people who’ve been kidnapped. Or if a retail customer is caught stealing something on camera, the system could pull up footage from each time the customer has been in the store to identify other thefts that went unnoticed.

Rapid search of the video database allows users to review video around key timepoints.

The company, which specializes in video cameras for the imaging, medical, and security markets, states that the system is ideally suited for large-scale customers, such as law enforcement agencies, transportation centers, and retail centers. The system will be released in the next fiscal year presumably customized to specific customer’s needs. Interested parties have to contact the company directly, which is probably wise in order to control whose hands it ends up in. And this means that soon, the only thing that’s going to be anonymous anymore are the agencies and organizations using the software.

While this news should make anyone concerned about privacy shudder, it really was only a matter of time before something like this was developed. Likewise, it means that competing systems will follow until systems like this are common. So it will be up to legislators to define how the technology can be used legally as with other surveillance systems, like license-plate recognition cameras.

Check out the video from the security trade show so you can see for yourself just how easy it is to be Big Brother with this system:

[Media: YouTube]

[Sources: DigInfoDigital TrendsPhysOrg]