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  • New MRI Studies Show SSRIs Bring Rapid Changes to Brain Function

    A story at the Los Angeles Times reports that researchers at the Max Planck Institute have found that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, various of which are widely used in anti-depressant medications, cause changes in healthy subjects' brain architecture just hours after ingestion. As the article mentions, one reason that this rapid change is surprising is that patients taking SSRIs to treat depression typically take considerably longer (weeks) to perceive a change in mood. A slice from the story: When more serotonin was available, this resting state functional connectivity decreased on a broad scale, the study found. This finding was not particularly surprising -- other studies have shown a similar effect in brain regions strongly associated with mood regulation. But there was a two-fold shock: Some areas of the brain appeared to buck the trend and become more interdependent. And all the changes were evident only three hours after the single dosage. ... The rapid connectivity shifts noted by the study might therefore be precursors to longer-term changes, perhaps starting with remodeling of synapses, the microscopic gaps where chemical neurotransmitters such as serotonin flood across to an adjacent brain cell, the study suggests. But this type of brain scanning can’t pick up changes at such a scale, so the hypothesis will have to be tested other ways[.] ... Study subjects did not have diagnoses of depression, so researchers will need to generate similar maps among those diagnosed with depression, and re-map them during and after depressive episodes, as well as after treatment, Sacher said. Comparisons might then show whether a certain initial architecture predicts treatment success.

    131 comments | yesterday

  • UCLA Biologists Delay the Aging Process In Fruit Flies

    An anonymous reader writes:Life scientists at UCLA have located a gene in fruit flies which, when intentionally activated, increases lifespan by about 30%. The gene (called AMPK) is normal important as an energy sensor, usually triggered by cells with low energy levels. By triggering it at other times, the researchers slowed the fruit flies' aging process (PDF), even beyond the organ system in which the triggering occurred. "Walker said that the findings are important because extending the healthy life of humans would presumably require protecting many of the body's organ systems from the ravages of aging — but delivering anti-aging treatments to the brain or other key organs could prove technically difficult. The study suggests that activating AMPK in a more accessible organ such as the intestine, for example, could ultimately slow the aging process throughout the entire body, including the brain."

    82 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Music Training's Cognitive Benefits Could Help "At-Risk" Students

    AthanasiusKircher writes In recent years, emphasis on standardized testing and basic skills has forced many schools to cut back on things like arts and extracurricular activities. A study out this week from Northwestern University hints that schools may be hurting "at-risk" kids even more by cutting such programs. Just two years of music lessons were shown to have significant effects on brain activity and language processing which the researchers argue could help close achievement gaps between at-risk students and more affluent students. Aside from better brain response to language observed in the lab, practical effects of the interventions were readily apparent: 'Leaders at Harmony Project approached the researchers after the non-profit observed that their students were performing much better than other public school students in the area. Since 2008, over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project's free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent.' Note that this is only one of several ongoing studies showing significant cognitive benefits for music training among at-risk students; an article last year from The Atlantic gives a more detailed summary of related research.

    58 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Japanese Firm Showcases "Touchable" 3-D Technology

    skade88 notes an interesting new piece of tactile feedback technology unveiled in Japan. Officials of Miraisens, a high-tech firm based outside Tokyo, said the technology, which can be used to improve the gaming experience or allow someone to physically shape objects that exist only on a computer, will soon be available for purchase. "Touching is an important part of human communication, but until now virtual reality has lacked it," Chief Executive Natsuo Koda said. "This technology will give you a sense that you can touch objects in the 3-D world," said Koda, a former virtual reality researcher for Sony Corp. It works by fooling the brain, blending what the eye sees with different patterns of vibration created by a small fingertip device, said Norio Nakamura, the inventor of so-called 3D-Haptics Technology and chief technical officer at the firm. In one demonstration of a prototype head-mounted display, the company showed how the wearer can feel resistance by pushing virtual buttons.

    41 comments | about three weeks ago

  • States Allowing Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Painkiller Deaths

    An anonymous reader writes: Narcotic painkillers aren't one of the biggest killers in the U.S., but overdoses do claim over 15,000 lives per year and send hundreds of thousands to the emergency room. Because of this, it's interesting that a new study (abstract) has found states that allow the use of medical marijuana have seen a dramatic reduction in opioid overdose fatalities. "Previous studies hint at why marijuana use might help reduce reliance on opioid painkillers. Many drugs with abuse potential such as nicotine and opiates, as well as marijuana, pump up the brain's dopamine levels, which can induce feelings of euphoria. The biological reasons that people might use marijuana instead of opioids aren't exactly clear, because marijuana doesn't replace the pain relief of opiates. However, it does seem to distract from the pain by making it less bothersome." This research comes at a time when the country is furiously debating the costs and benefits of marijuana use, and opponents of the idea are paying researchers to paint it in an unfavorable light.

    217 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Magnetic Stimulation Boosts Memory In Humans

    sciencehabit writes: Our memories are annoyingly glitchy. Names, dates, birthdays, and the locations of car keys fall through the cracks, losses that accelerate at an alarming pace with age and in neurodegenerative diseases. Now, by applying electromagnetic pulses through the skull to carefully targeted brain regions, researchers have found a way to boost memory performance in healthy people. The new study (abstract) sheds light on the neural networks that support memories and may lead to therapies for people with memory deficits, researchers say. Similar studies have been performed using electric current.

    74 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Coffee Naps Better For Alertness Than Coffee Or Naps Alone

    An anonymous reader writes: Caffeine is a staple of most workplaces — it's rare to find an office without a coffee pot or a fridge full of soda. It's necessary (or at least feels like it's necessary) because many workers have a hard time staying awake while sitting at a desk for hours at a time, and the alternative — naps — aren't usually allowed. But new research shows it might be more efficient for employers to encourage brief "coffee naps," which are more effective at returning people to an alert state than either caffeine or naps alone. A "coffee nap" is when you drink a cup of coffee, and then take a sub-20-minute nap immediately afterward. This works because caffeine takes about 20 minutes to get into your bloodstream, and a 20-minute nap clears adenosine from your brain without putting you into deeper stages of sleep. In multiple studies, tired participants who took coffee naps made fewer mistakes in a driving simulator after they awoke than the people who drank coffee without a nap or slept without ingesting caffeine.

    133 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Why Do Humans Grow Up So Slowly? Blame the Brain

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes Humans are late bloomers when compared with other primates — they spend almost twice as long in childhood and adolescence as chimps, gibbons, or macaques do. But why? One widely accepted but hard-to-test theory is that children's brains consume so much energy that they divert glucose from the rest of the body, slowing growth. Now, a clever study of glucose uptake and body growth in children confirms this 'expensive tissue' hypothesis.

    128 comments | about a month ago

  • Robo Brain Project Wants To Turn the Internet Into a Robotic Hivemind

    malachiorion writes Researchers are force-feeding the internet into a system called Robo Brain. The system has absorbed a billion images and 120,000 YouTube videos so far, and aims to digest 10 times that within a year, in order to create machine-readable commands for robots—how to pour coffee, for example. From the article: "The goal is as direct as the project’s name—to create a centralized, always-online brain for robots to tap into. The more Robo Brain learns from the internet, the more direct lessons it can share with connected machines. How do you turn on a toaster? Robo Brain knows, and can share 3D images of the appliance and the relevant components. It can tell a robot what a coffee mug looks like, and how to carry it by the handle without dumping the contents. It can recognize when a human is watching a television by gauging relative positions, and advise against wandering between the two. Robo Brain looks at a chair or a stool, and knows that these are things that people sit on. It’s a system that understands context, and turns complex associations into direct commands for physical robots."

    108 comments | about a month ago

  • It's Dumb To Tell Kids They're Smart

    theodp writes Over at Khan Academy, Salman Khan explains Why I'm Cautious About Telling My Son He's Smart. "Recently," writes Khan, "I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach." According to Dr. Carol Dweck, who Khan cites, the secret to raising smart kids is not telling kids that they are. A focus on effort — not on intelligence or ability — says Dweck, is key to success in school and in life.

    243 comments | about a month ago

  • A Better Way To Make Mind-Controlled Prosthetic Limbs

    the_newsbeagle writes: To make a brain-machine interface, you need a way to capture neurons' electric signals. The most precise and most invasive way uses implants that are stuck in the gray matter. The least precise and least invasive way uses EEG sensors stuck to the scalp. But researchers at Johns Hopkins University say there's a third way that gets the best of both worlds, which is not too invasive and fairly precise. They use ECoG systems, in which a mesh of electrodes is placed under the skull, draped over the surface of the cortex.

    They're testing their systems on epilepsy patients, who have these ECoG systems inserted anyway while they're waiting for surgery (the electrodes record the source of their seizures). The researchers are capturing these patients' movement commands from their brains, and using them to control robotic limbs. Someday such a system could be used by amputees to control their prosthetic limbs.

    28 comments | about 1 month ago

  • At Home with Tim O'Reilly (Videos 1 and 2 of 6)

    Wikipedia says Tim O'Reilly "is the founder of O'Reilly Media (formerly O'Reilly & Associates) and a supporter of the free software and open source movements." And so he is. O'Reilly Media is also the company from which Make magazine and the assorted Maker Faires sprang, before spinning off into an ongoing presence of their own. (This year's Solid conference, as well as the confluence of hardware and software at OSCON demonstrate O'Reilly's ongoing interest in the world of makers, though.) O'Reilly has been a powerful force in technical book publishing, popularized the term Web 2.0, and has been at least a godfather to the open source movement. He's also an interesting person in general, even more so when he's hanging out at home than when he's on stage at a conference or doing a formal interview. That's why we were glad Timothy Lord was able to get hold of Tim O'Reilly via Hangout while he was in a relaxed mood in a no-pressure environment, happy to give detailed responses based on your questions, from small (everyday technology) to big (the Internet as "global brain").

    We've run a few two-part videos, but this is the first time we've split one video into six parts -- with two running today, two tomorrow, and two Thursday. But then, how many people do we interview who have had as much of an effect on the nature of information transmission -- as opposed to just publishing -- as Tim O'Reilly? We don't know for sure, but there's a good chance that O'Reilly books are owned by more Slashdot readers than books from any other publisher. That alone makes Tim O'Reilly worth listening to for nearly an hour, total. (Alternate Video Links: Video 1 ~ Video 2; transcript below covers both videos.)

    11 comments | about a month ago

  • Humans Need Not Apply: a Video About the Robot Revolution and Jobs

    Paul Fernhout writes: This explanatory compilation video by CGP Grey called "Humans Need Not Apply" on structural unemployment caused by robotics and AI (and other automation) is like the imagery playing in my mind when I think about the topic based on previous videos and charts I've seen. I saw it first on the econfuture site by Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel. It is being discussed on Reddit, and people there have started mentioning a "basic income" as one possible response. While I like the basic income idea, I also collect other approaches in an essay called Beyond A Jobless Recovery: A heterodox perspective on 21st century economics. Beyond a basic income for the exchange economy, those possible approaches include gift economy, subsistence production, planned economy, and more — including many unpleasant alternatives like expanding prisons or fighting wars as we are currently doing.

    Marshall Brain's writings like Robotic Nation and Manna have inspired my own work. I made my own video version of the concept around 2010, as a parable called "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income." (I also pulled together a lot of links to robot videos in 2009.) It's great to see more informative videos on this topic. CGP Grey's video is awesome in the way he puts it all together.

    304 comments | about a month ago

  • New Watson-Style AI Called Viv Seeks To Be the First 'Global Brain'

    paysonwelch sends this report from Wired on the next generation of consumer AI: Google Now has a huge knowledge graph—you can ask questions like "Where was Abraham Lincoln born?" And it can name the city. You can also say, "What is the population?" of a city and it’ll bring up a chart and answer. But you cannot say, "What is the population of the city where Abraham Lincoln was born?" The system may have the data for both these components, but it has no ability to put them together, either to answer a query or to make a smart suggestion. Like Siri, it can’t do anything that coders haven’t explicitly programmed it to do. Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like "Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in." Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom.

    161 comments | about a month ago

  • Open-Source Gear For Making Mind-Controlled Gadgets

    the_newsbeagle writes If you've been hankering to control a robotic battle spider with your mind but haven't known how to begin, you're in luck. A startup called OpenBCI is now selling an Arduino-compatible board that any reasonably competent DIYer can use to build a brain-computer interface. The board takes in data from up to 8 EEG scalp electrodes, and hackers are already using it to pull of some good tricks. There's the guy with the battle spiders, and there's a group in L.A. building a paint-by-brain system for a paralyzed graffiti artist.

    32 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Wiring Programmers To Prevent Buggy Code

    mikejuk (1801200) writes "Microsoft Researcher Andrew Begel, together with academic and industry colleagues have been trying to detect when developers are struggling as they work, in order to prevent bugs before they are introduced into code. A paper presented at the 36th International Conference on Software Engineering, reports on a study conducted with 15 professional programmers to see how well an eye-tracker, an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, and an electroencephalography (EEG) sensor could be used to predict whether developers would find a task difficult. Difficult tasks are potential bug generators and finding a task difficult is the programming equivalent of going to sleep at the wheel. Going beyond this initial investigation researchers now need to decide how to support developers who are finding their work difficult. What isn't known yet is how developers will react if their actions are approaching bug-potential levels and an intervention is deemed necessary. Presumably the nature of the intervention also has to be worked out. So next time you sit down at your coding station consider that in the future they may be wanting to wire you up just to make sure you aren't a source of bugs. And what could possibly be the intervention?"

    116 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Experimental Drug Compound Found To Reverse Effects of Alzheimer's In Mice

    Zothecula (1870348) writes "While there has been progress made in the fight against Alzheimer's, our understanding of the dispiriting disease remains somewhat limited, with a definitive cure yet to be found. The latest development comes at the hands of researchers from Yale's School of Medicine, who have discovered a new drug compound shown to reverse the effects of Alzheimer's in mice."

    105 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Study Finds That Astronauts Are Severely Sleep Deprived

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 85 crew members aboard the International Space Station and space shuttle and found that despite an official flight schedule mandating 8.5 hours of sleep per night, they rarely got more than five. In fact, getting a full night's rest was so difficult that three-quarters of shuttle mission crew members used sleep medication, and sometimes entire teams were sedated on the same night. Given that sleep deprivation contributes to up to 80% of aviation accidents, it's important to better understand why sleep is so difficult in space, the authors say."

    106 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • IBM Creates Custom-Made Brain-Like Chip

    An anonymous reader writes In a paper published Thursday in Science, IBM describes its creation of a brain-like chip called TrueNorth. It has "4,096 processor cores, and it mimics one million human neurons and 256 million synapses, two of the fundamental biological building blocks that make up the human brain." What's the difference between TrueNorth and traditional processing units? Apparently, TrueNorth encodes data "as patterns of pulses". Already, TrueNorth has a proven 80% accuracy in image recognition with a power consumption efficiency rate beating traditional processing units. Don't look for brain-like chips in the open market any time soon, though. TrueNorth is part of a DARPA research effort that may or may not translate into significant changes in commercial chip architecture and function.

    105 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • US Intelligence Wants Tools To Tell: Who's the Smartest of Them All?

    coondoggie writes Can a tool or technology be applied to the brain and accurately predict out of a given group of people who will be the smartest? The research arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is looking for exactly those kinds of tools."IARPA is looking to get a handle on the state of the art in brain-based predictors of future cognitive performance. In particular, IARPA is interested in non-invasive analyses of brain structure and/or function that can be used to predict who will best learn complex skills and accomplish tasks within real-world environments, and with outcome measures, that are relevant to national security.

    162 comments | about a month and a half ago

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