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  • Empathy For Virtual Characters Studied With FMRI Brain Imaging

    vrml (3027321) writes "A novel brain imaging study published by the prestigious Neuroimage journal sheds light on different reactions that players' brains display when they meet a virtual character in a game world. While their head was inside a fMRI machine, participants played an interactive virtual experience in which they had to survive a serious fire emergency in a building by reaching an exit as soon as possible. However, when they finally arrived at the exit, they also found a virtual character trapped under an heavy cabinet, begging them for help. Some participants chose not to help the character and took the exit, while others stopped to help although the fire became more and more serious and moving away the cabinet required considerable time. Functional brain imaging showed activation of very different brain areas in players when they met the character. When there was an increased functional connectivity of the brain salience network, which suggests an enhanced sensitivity to the threatening situation and potential danger, players ignored the character screams and went for the exit. In those players who helped the character, there was an engagement of the medial prefrontal and temporo-parietal cortices, which in the neuroscience literature are associated with the human ability of taking the perspective of other individuals and making altruistic choices. The paper concludes by emphasizing how virtual worlds can be a salient and ecologically valid stimulus for modern social neuroscience."

    49 comments | yesterday

  • CCP Games Explains Why Virtual Reality First Person Shooters Still Don't Work

    An anonymous reader writes Icelandic studio CCP is better known for EVE Online, but its first foray into virtual reality with space shooter Valkyrie has caused a stir, and is widely seen as a flagship game for the Oculus Rift headset. In a new interview, Valkyrie executive producer Owen O'Brien explains what advantages the game will have when played with a headset — and gives his view on why a dogfighter is better suited to VR than a first person shooter: "People have hacked it together, but it doesn't really work," he says. "The basic problem is Simulator Sickness. In Valkyrie or any cockpit game or driving game, what you're doing in the real world, assuming you're sitting down, more or less mimics what your brain is telling you you're doing in the game. So you don't get that disconnect, and it's that disconnect that causes sickness. So, the problem with first-person shooters is that you're running or crouching or jumping in the game but not in the real world, and because it's so realistic it can make some people (not everybody) feel nauseated if they start doing it for extended periods of time."

    154 comments | about a week ago

  • Fossils of Cambrian Predator Preserved With Brain Impressions

    An anonymous reader writes "Researchers on Wednesday described fossilized remains unearthed in China showing in fine detail the brain structures of a bizarre group of sea creatures that were the top predators more than half a billion years ago. The 520-million-year-old creature, one of the first predators of its day, sported compound eyes, body armor and two spiky claws for grabbing prey. "The animals of the Cambrian are noted for being a collection of oddballs that are sometimes difficult to match up with anything currently living on Earth. But even among these oddities, Anomalocarids stand out (as their name implies). The creatures propelled themselves with a series of oar-like paddles arranged on their flanks, spotted prey with enormous compound eyes, and shoveled them into a disk-like mouth with large arms that resided at the very front of their bodies—although some of them ended up as filter feeders."

    45 comments | about a week ago

  • Chimpanzee Intelligence Largely Determined By Genetics

    As reported by National Geographic, intelligence in chimpanzees appears to be strongly heritable, according to research led by William Hopkins, a primatologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, who examined both genetic and environmental factors for a group of related chimpanzees with varying measured intelligence: To find out how much of that variability is due to genetics, Hopkins and his team assessed the cognitive abilities of 99 captive chimpanzees. They used a battery of 13 tests measuring various manifestations of intelligence, such as how the animals dealt with the physical world, reacted to sound, and used tools. The group of chimps tested had an expansive family tree, ranging from full siblings to fourth and fifth cousins. This allowed the researchers to calculate how well scores on cognitive traits aligned with genetic relatedness. Two categories of tasks were significantly heritable: those related to spatial cognition, such as learning physical locations, and those that required social cognition, such as grabbing a person's attention. Some chimps are quite clever, making kissing sounds or clapping their hands to draw an experimenter's attention, Hopkins said. "This one is a real measure of intelligence and innovative behavior."

    157 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Take a Picture Just By Thinking About It, Using Google Glass With MindRDR App

    rtoz (2530056) writes A London based company, This Place, is launching a new app "MindRDR" for providing one more way for controlling Google Glass. It will allow the users to control the Google Glass with their thoughts. This MindRDR application bridges the Neurosky EEG biosensor and Google Glass. It allows users to take photos and share them on Twitter and Facebook by simply using brainwaves alone. This Place has put the code of this app on GitHub for others to use it and expand on it.

    41 comments | about two weeks ago

  • A Brain Implant For Synthetic Memory

    the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "People who have experienced traumatic brain injuries sometimes lose the ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Since many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered TBIs, the U.S. military is funding research on an implantable device that could do the job of damaged brain cells." Lofty goals: "To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories — those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ... Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models ... into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function."

    87 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Consciousness On-Off Switch Discovered Deep In Brain

    An anonymous reader writes "One moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area. Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises. When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.

    284 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Study: People Would Rather Be Shocked Than Be Alone With Their Thoughts

    sciencehabit writes "How much do we hate being alone with our own thoughts? Enough to give ourselves an electric shock. In a new study, researchers recruited hundreds of people and made them sit in an empty room and just think for about 15 minutes. About half of the volunteers hated the experience. In a separate experiment, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to push a button and shock themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think. One of the study authors suggests that the results may be due to boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. "I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world," he says. "So when we don't give it anything to focus on, it's kind of hard to know what to do."

    333 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Happy Software Developers Solve Problems Better

    First time accepted submitter HagraBiscuit (2756527) writes Researchers from the Faculty of Computer Science, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy, have quantified and analysed affective mood index against objective measures of problem-solving effectiveness for a group of software developers. From the report abstract: "The results offer support for the claim that happy developers are indeed better problem solvers in terms of their analytical abilities. The following contributions are made by this study: (1) providing a better understanding of the impact of affective states on the creativity and analytical problem-solving capacities of developers, (2) introducing and validating psychological measurements, theories, and concepts of affective states, creativity, and analytical-problem-solving skills in empirical software engineering, and (3) raising the need for studying the human factors of software engineering by employing a multidisciplinary viewpoint.

    121 comments | about three weeks ago

  • The Internet's Own Boy

    theodp (442580) writes "The Internet's Own Boy, the documentary about the life and death of Aaron Swartz, was appropriately released on the net as well as in theaters this weekend, and is getting good reviews from critics and audiences. Which is kind of remarkable, since the Achilles' heel of this documentary, as critic Matt Pais notes in his review, is that "everyone on the other side of this story, from the government officials who advocated for Swartz's prosecution to Swartz's former Reddit colleagues to folks at MIT, declined participation in the film." Still, writer/director Brian Knappenberger manages to deliver a compelling story, combining interesting footage with interviews from Swartz's parents, brothers, girlfriends, and others from his Internet projects/activism who go through the stages of joy, grief, anger, and hope that one sees from loved ones at a wake. "This remains an important David vs. Goliath story," concludes Pais, "of a remarkable brain years ahead of his age with the courage and will to fight Congress-and a system built to impede, rather than encourage, progress and common sense. The Internet's Own Boy will upset you. As it should." And Quinn Norton, who inadvertently gave the film its title ("He was the Internet's own boy," Quinn said after Swartz's death, "and the old world killed him."), offers some words of advice for documentary viewers: "Your ass will be in a seat watching a movie. When it is done, get up, and do something.""

    194 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Is Time Moving Forward Or Backward? Computers Learn To Spot the Difference

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes For the first time, scientists have taught computers to figure out the direction of time in videos, a result that could help researchers better understand our own perception of time. Regardless of any possible applications, "we just thought it was a great problem," says one of the study's authors. Teaching computers to see the arrow of time combines computer science, physics, and human perception to get at the heart of the question, "How do we understand the visual world?" The researchers "broke down 180 YouTube videos into square patches of a few hundred pixels, which they further divided into four-by-four grids. Combining standard techniques for discovering objects in still photographs with motion detection algorithms, the researchers identified 4000 typical patterns of motion, or 'flow words,' across a grid’s 16 cells. ... When they tested their program on the remaining 60 videos, the trained computers could correctly determine whether a video ran forward or backward 80% of the time."

    78 comments | about a month ago

  • Long-Lasting Enzyme Chews Up Cocaine

    MTorrice (2611475) writes "Despite cocaine's undeniable destructiveness, there are no antidotes for overdoses or medications to fight addiction that directly neutralize cocaine's powerful effects. A natural bacterial enzyme, cocaine esterase, could help by chopping up cocaine in the bloodstream. But the enzyme is unstable in the body, losing activity too quickly to be a viable treatment. Now, using computational design, researchers tweaked the enzyme (full paper, PDF) to simultaneously increase stability and catalytic efficiency. Mice injected with the engineered enzyme survive daily lethal doses of cocaine for an average of 94 hours."

    73 comments | about 1 month ago

  • Endorphins Make Tanning Addictive

    Rambo Tribble writes: Research published in the journal Cell describes a mechanism whereby exposure to UV light leads to endorphin production in the skin. Additionally, they show that rodents exhibit the characteristics of addiction to those substances. This adds to earlier studies which demonstrated withdrawal-like symptoms in frequent tanners One of the researchers, Dr. David Fisher, commented, "It sounds like a cruel joke to be addicted the most ubiquitous carcinogen in the world,' The researchers conclusions are subject to some skepticism, however. Addiction researcher Dr. David Belin is quoted as opining, "... their study is going to be seminal even though their conclusions are not supported by their results." The BBC offers nicely rounded coverage, as well.

    51 comments | about a month ago

  • First Movie of an Entire Brain's Neuronal Activity

    KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "One of the goals of neuroscience is to understand how brains process information and generate appropriate behaviour. A technique that is revolutionising this work is optogenetics--the ability to insert genes into neurons that fluoresce when the neuron is active. That works well on the level of single neurons but the density of neurons in a brain is so high that it has been impossible to tell them apart when they fluoresce. Now researchers have solved this problem and proved it by filming the activity in the entire brain of a nematode worm for the first time and making the video available. Their solution comes in two parts. The first is to ensure that the inserted genes only fluoresce in the nuclei of the neurons. This makes it much easier to tell individual neurons in the brain apart. The second is a new techniques that scans the entire volume of the brain at a rate of 80 frames per second, fast enough to register all the neuronal activity within it. The researchers say their new technique should allow bigger brains to be filmed in the near future, opening up the potential to study how various creatures process information and trigger an appropriate response for the first time."

    44 comments | about a month ago

  • Open-Source Hardware For Neuroscience

    the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "The equipment that neuroscientists use to record brain signals is plenty expensive, with a single system costing upward of $60,000. But it turns out that it's not too complicated to build your own, for the cost of about $3000. Two MIT grad students figured out how to do just that, and are distributing both manufactured systems and their designs through their website, Open Ephys. Their goal is to launch an open-source hardware movement in neuroscience, so researchers can spend less time worrying about the gear they need and more time doing experiments."

    41 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Interviews: Bruce Perens Answers Your Questions

    A while ago you had the chance to ask programmer and open source advocate Bruce Perens about the future of open source, its role in government, and a number of other questions. Below you'll find his answers and an update on what he's doing now.

    224 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • General Anesthesia Exposure In Infancy Causes Long-Term Memory Deficits

    First time accepted submitter LordFlower (606949) writes "In a study, published today in Neuropsycopharmacology, exposure to general anesthesia in both human and rat infants was associated with long-term episodic memory deficits. Children aged 6 to 11 years exposed to general anesthesia during infancy had poorer episodic memory than age/gender matched controls. This deficit was replicated in rats using an analogous paradigm with full experimental control of pre-existing conditions could be exercised, suggesting a causal relation rather than correlational one. Prior research in rats suggests a mechanism of disrupted developmental synaptogenesis and apoptosis.

    While a growing literature has demonstrated the presence of memory deficits and neurodegeneration in rats after general anesthesia exposure in infancy, this is the first to demonstrate a long-term deficit after exposure during human infancy. Given that each year 1.5 million infants undergo a surgery requiring general anesthesia, these findings are particularly alarming."

    90 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Interviews: Forrest Mims Answers Your Questions

    A while ago you had the chance to ask amateur scientist, and author of the Getting Started in Electronics and the Engineer's Mini-Notebook series, Forrest Mims, a number of questions about science, engineering, and a lifetime of educating and experimenting. Below you'll find his detailed answers to those questions.

    161 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Study: Rats Regret Making the Wrong Decision

    An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered that rats in a decision making experiment showed three behaviors consistent with regret. David Redish and his graduate student Adam Steiner '...trained rats to do a task they call "restaurant row." The rat ran around a circle past a series of four spokes, each leading to a different flavor of food. As the rat came to the entrance of each spoke, a tone sounded that indicated how long it would have to wait to receive that specific flavor of food. The rat could choose whether to stay or go, depending on how much it liked that food and how long it would have to wait...The rats showed three behaviors consistent with regret. First, the rats only looked backwards in the regret conditions, and not in the disappointment conditions. Second, they were more likely to take a bad deal if they had just passed up a good deal. And third, instead of taking their time eating and then grooming themselves afterwards, the rats in the regret conditions wolfed down the food and immediately took off to the next restaurant.'"

    94 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Robotics Engineers: "We Don't Want To Replace Humans. We Want To Enhance Humans.

    Lucas123 writes: 'Scientists developing smart robotic prosthetics say the lines between robots and humans is beginning to blur and that someday soon people will be able to improve their body. For example, robotic prosthetics, using a built-in computer, 100 sensors, and 17 motors, can take natural cues from a user's residual limb, giving him or her the dexterity and grace to play a piano. Robotic exoskeletons have helped people suffering from paralysis walk again and the U.S. military is just weeks away from testing a new exoskeleton. And, more than six years ago, a University of Arizona researcher who had successfully connected a moth's brain to a robot predicted that by 2022 we'll be using "hybrid" computers that run a combination of technology and living organic tissue. "By utilizing technology, you're able to improve your body beyond anything you could do in the past," said Daniel Wilson, an engineer with degrees in machine learning and robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.'

    124 comments | about a month and a half ago

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