Archive for the ‘Evolution’ Category
At the Neuroscience 2011 conference, scientists at The Rockefeller University, The Scripps Research Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania presented new research demonstrating the impact that life experiences can have on genes and behavior. The studies examine how such environmental information can be transmitted from one generation to the next — a phenomenon known as epigenetics. This new knowledge could ultimately improve understanding of brain plasticity, the cognitive benefits of motherhood, and how a parent‘s exposure to drugs, alcohol, and stress can alter brain development and behavior in their offspring.
The new findings show that:
- Brain cell activation changes a protein involved in turning genes on and off, suggesting the protein may play a role in brain plasticity.
- Prenatal exposure to amphetamines and alcohol produces abnormal numbers of chromosomes in fetal mouse brains. The findings suggest these abnormal counts may contribute to the developmental defects seen in children exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero.
- Cocaine-induced changes in the brain may be inheritable. Sons of male rats exposed to cocaine are resistant to the rewarding effects of the drug.
- Motherhood protects female mice against some of the negative effects of stress.
- Mice conceived through breeding — but not those conceived through reproductive technologies — show anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors similar to their fathers. The findings call into question how these behaviors are transmitted across generations.
Source | Kurzweil AI
Esmail Bonakdarian, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Computing Sciences and Mathematics at Franklin University, has developedan evolutionary computation approach that allows researchers to search for models that can best explain experimental data derived from many types of applications, including economics.
Bonakdarian employed his evolutionary computation approach to analyze data from two well-known, classical “public goods” problems from economics: When goods are provided to a larger community without required individual contributions, it often results in “free-riding”; but people also tend to show a willingness to cooperate and sacrifice for the good of the group.
He cautioned that if the number of independent variables is large, and there is no intuitive sense about the possible relationship between these variables and the dependent variable, “the experimenter may have to go on an automated ‘fishing expedition’ to discover the important and relevant independent variables.”
As an alternative, Bonakdarian suggests using an evolutionary algorithm as a way to “evolve” the best minimal subset with the largest explanatory value.
“This approach offers more flexibility as the user can specify the exact search criteria on which to optimize the model,” he said. “The user can then examine a ranking of the top models found by the system. In addition to these measures, the algorithm can also be tuned to limit the number of variables in the final model. We believe that this ability to direct the search provides flexibility to the analyst and results in models that provide additional insights.”
The Glenn IBM 1350 Opteron cluster at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) was used for the project.
Source | Kurzweil AI
Cognitive neuroscientist Robert H. Logie at the University of Edinburgh has found that a “workspace” in the brain allows us to do something while other functions operate in the background or to apply ourselves to a single task involving more than one function, contrary to the “controlled attention” model.
“We have a range of different capacities, each with its own function, and they operate at the same time” when we perform a task or think about something, says Logie. Within this “multiple-component framework,” working memory capacity (the ability to keep track of ongoing mental processes and moment-to-moment changes in the immediate environment) is “the sum of the capacities of all these different functions.”
Logie used imaging data to demonstrate that if you ask people to do one sort of task, you get one brain pattern, and if you ask them to do another, you get another pattern. He said that if you make the same task harder (for example, remember word lists faster), “you see increased activation in the same area.” Complicate it by adding words to the sequence, and different networks fire.
The multiple-component model holds great practical promise, says Logie. If you see general impairment in aging or after brain damage, you can give only generalized support. However, where there is decline or impairment in specific cognitive functions, you can still exercise the remaining robust functions. This can help people live richer, more independent lives, says Logie.
Source | Kurzweil AI
Last month, a 114-year-old former schoolteacher from Georgia named Besse Cooper became the world’s oldest living person. Her predecessor, Brazil’s Maria Gomes Valentim, was 114 when she died. So was the oldest living person before her, and the one before her. In fact, eight of the last nine “world’s oldest” titleholders were 114 when they achieved the distinction. Here’s the morbid part: All but two were still 114 when they passed it on. Those two? They died at 115.
The celebration surrounding Cooper when she assumed the title, then, might as well have been accompanied by condolences. If historical trends hold, she will likely be dead within a year.
It’s no surprise that it’s hard to stay the “world’s oldest” for very long. These people are, after all, really old. What’s surprising is just how consistent the numbers have been. Just seven people whose ages could be fully verified by the Gerontology Research Group have ever made it past 115. Only two of those seven lived to see the 21st century. The longest-living person ever, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, died at age 122 in August 1997; no one since 2000 has come within five years of matching her longevity.
The inventor Ray Kurzweil, famous for bold predictions thatoccasionally come true, estimated in 2005 that, within 20 years, advances in medical technology would enable humans to extend their lifespans indefinitely. With six years gone and 14 to go, his prophecy doesn’t seem that much closer to coming true. What happened to modern medicine giving us longer lives? Why aren’t we getting any older?
We are living longer—at least, some of us are. Life expectancies in most countries not ravaged by AIDS have been rising gradually for decades, and the average American today can expect to live 79 years—four years longer than the average in 1990. In many developed countries, the superold are among the fastest-growing demographics. (There is evidence that this progress may be grinding to a halt among some demographics, however.) But raising the upper bounds of the human lifespan is turning out to be trickier than increasing the average person’s life expectancy. This may be a case where, as with flying cars, a popular vision of technological progress runs afoul of reality’s constraints.
In the past few years, the global count of supercentenarians—people 110 and older—has leveled off at about 80. And the maximum age hasn’t budged. Robert Young, senior gerontology consultant for the Guinness Book of World Records, says, “The more people are turning 110, the more people are dying at 110.”
Young calls this the “rectangularization of the mortality curve.” To illustrate it, he points to Japan, which in 1990 had 3,000 people aged 100 and over, with the oldest being 114. Twenty years later, Japan has an estimated 44,000 people over the age of 100—and the oldest is still 114. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Young says, the odds of a person dying in any given year between the ages of 110 and 113 appear to be about one in two. But by age 114, the chances jump to more like two in three.
It’s still possible that the barrier will eventually go the way of the four-minute mile. Steve Austad, a former lion tamer who is now a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, argues the apparent spike in mortality at age 114 is merely a statistical artifact. Today’s oldest humans, he’s reminds us, grew up without the benefit of 20th-century advances in nutrition and medicine. In 2000, he bet fellow gerontologist S. Jay Olshansky $500 million that someone born that year, somewhere in the world, would live to be 150. Olshansky, an Illinois at Chicago professor who wrote about the paradox of longevity for Slate last fall, doesn’t expect to be around in 2150 to collect his winnings. Even a cure for cancer or heart disease would do little to extend the maximum length of human life, he argues, because there are simply too many risk factors that pile up by the time a person is 115 years old. He believes supercentenarians owe their longevity more to freakish genes than perfect health; the 122-year-old Calment smoked cigarettes for 96 years. Olshansky and Austad agree on one point: A technological breakthrough, perhaps in the realm of genetics, that slows the aging process could send life spans surging upward.
Is such a discovery imminent? At this point, the question is little more than a Rorschach. Young, the Guinness World Records consultant, compares the quest for superlongevity to the efforts of alchemists in the Middle Ages to turn lead into gold. They were right to think it was possible, but wrong to imagine they had any idea where to begin: Scientists finally succeeded in transmuting elements in the 20th century only after first unlocking nuclear physics. By that time, alchemy was largely irrelevant; the real trick was splitting uranium atoms.
The same may be true of enabling humans to live to 150. Age, it’s worth remembering, is more than just a number. Young, who has spent time with dozens of supercentenarians, says even the hardiest humans turn frail by 110. As for Besse Cooper, the new world titleholder, Young reports that she can still talk, though her eyesight is failing. “As a quality-of-life issue, I think she could handle another year. I’ve seen some that, bless their hearts, probably shouldn’t be here anymore.”
Source | Slate.com
The Biological Canvas parades a group of hand selected artists who articulate their concepts with body as the primary vessel. Each artist uses body uniquely, experimenting with body as the medium: body as canvas, body as brush, and body as subject matter. Despite the approach, it is clear that we are seeing new explorations with the body as canvas beginning to emerge as commonplace in the 21st century.
There are reasons for this refocusing of the lens or eye toward body. Living today is an experience quite different from that of a century, generation, decade, or (with new versions emerging daily) even a year ago. The body truly is changing, both biologically and technologically, at an abrupt rate. Traditional understanding of what body, or even what human, can be defined as are beginning to come under speculation. Transhuman, Posthuman, Cyborg, Robot, Singularity, Embodiment, Avatar, Brain Machine Interface, Nanotechnology …these are terms we run across in media today. They are the face of the future – the dictators of how we will come to understand our environment, biosphere, and selves. The artists in this exhibition are responding to this paradigm shift with interests in a newfound control over bodies, a moment of self-discovery or realization that the body has extended out from its biological beginnings, or perhaps that the traditional body has become obsolete.
We see in the work of Orlan and Stelarc that the body becomes the malleable canvas. Here we see some of the earliest executions of art by way of designer evolution, where the artist can use new tools to redesign the body to make a statement of controlled evolution. In these works the direct changes to the body open up to sculpting the body to be better suited for today’s world and move beyond an outmoded body. Stelarc, with his Ear on Arm project specifically attacks shortcomings in the human body by presenting the augmented sense that his third ear brings. Acting as a cybernetic ear, he can move beyond subjective hearing and share that aural experience to listeners around the world. Commenting on the practicality of the traditional body living in a networked world, Stelarc begins to take into his own hands the design of networked senses. Orlan uses her surgical art to conceptualize the practice Stelarc is using – saying that body has become a form that can be reconfigured, structured, and applied to suit the desires of the mind within that body. Carnal Art, as Orland terms it, allows for the body to become a modifiable ready-made instead of a static object born out of the Earth. Through the use of new technologies human beings are now able to reform selections of their body as they deem necessary and appropriate for their own ventures.
Not far from the surgical work of Orlan and Stelarc we come to Natasha Vita-More’s Electro 2011, Human Enhancement of Life Expansion, a project that acts as a guide for advancing the biological self into a more fit machine. Integrating emerging technologies to build a more complete human, transhuman, and eventual posthuman body, Vita-More strives for a human-computer interface that will include neurophysiologic and cognitive enhancement that build on longevity and performance. Included in the enhancement plan we see such technologies as atmospheric sensors, solar protective nanoskin, metabrain error correction, and replaceable genes. Vita-More’s Primo Posthuman is the idealized application of what artists like Stelarc and Orlan are beginning to explore with their own reconstructive surgical enhancements.
The use of body in the artwork of Nandita Kumar’s Birth of Brain Fly and Suk Kyoung Choi + Mark Nazemi’s Corner Monster reflect on how embodiment and techno-saturation are having psychological effects on the human mind. In each of their works we travel into the imagined world of the mind, where the notice of self, identity, and sense of place begin to struggle to hold on to fixed points of order. Kumar talks about her neuroscape continually morphing as it is placed in new conditions and environments that are ever changing. Beginning with an awareness of ones own constant programming that leads to a new understanding of self through love, the film goes on a journey through the depths of self, ego, and physical limitations. Kumar’s animations provide an eerie journey through the mind as viewed from the vantage of an artist’s creative eye, all the while postulating an internal neuroscape evolving in accordance with an external electroscape. Corner Monster examines the relationship between self and others in an embodied world. The installation includes an array of visual stimulation in a dark environment. As viewers engage with the world before them they are hooked up simultaneously (two at a time) to biofeedback sensors, which measure an array of biodata to be used in the interactive production of the environment before their eyes. This project surveys the psychological self as it is engrossed by surrounding media, leading to both occasional systems of organized feedback as well as scattered responses that are convolutions of an over stimulated mind.
Marco Donnarumma also integrates a biofeedback system in his work to allow participants to shape musical compositions with their limbs. By moving a particular body part sounds will be triggered and volume increased depending on the pace of that movement. Here we see the body acting as brush; literally painting the soundscape through its own creative motion. As the performer experiments with each portion of their body there is a slow realization that the sounds have become analogous for the neuro and biological yearning of the body, each one seeking a particular upgrade that targets a specific need for that segment of the body. For instance, a move of the left arm constantly provides a rich vibrato, reminding me of the sound of Vita-More’s solar protective nanoskin.
Our final three artists all use body in their artwork as components of the fabricated results, acting like paint in a traditional artistic sense. Marie-Pier Malouin weaves strands of hair together to reference genetic predisposal that all living things come out of this world with. Here, Malouin uses the media to reference suicidal tendencies – looking once again toward the fragility of the human mind, body and spirit as it exists in a traditional biological state. The hair, a dead mass of growth, which we groom, straighten, smooth, and arrange, resembles the same obsession with which we analyze, evaluate, dissect and anatomize the nature of suicide. Stan Strembicki also engages with the fragility of the human body in his Body, Soul and Science. In his photographic imagery Strembicki turns a keen eye on the medical industry and its developments over time. As with all technology, Strembicki concludes the medical industry is one we can see as temporally corrective, gaining dramatic strides as new nascent developments emerge. Perhaps we can take Tracy Longley-Cook’s skinscapes, which she compares to earth changing landforms of geology, ecology and climatology as an analogy for our changing understanding of skin, body and self. Can we begin to mold and sculpt the body much like we have done with the land we inhabit?
There is a tie between the conceptual and material strands of these last few works that we cannot overlook: memento mori. The shortcomings and frailties of our natural bodies – those components that artists like Vita-More, Stelarc, and Orlan are beginning to interpret as being resolved through the mastery of human enhancement and advancement. In a world churning new technologies and creative ideas it is hard to look toward the future and dismiss the possibilities. Perhaps the worries of fragility and biological shortcomings will be both posed and answered by the scientific and artistic community, something that is panning out to be very likely, if not certain. As you browse the work of The Biological Canvas I would like to invite your own imagination to engage. Look at you life, your culture, your world and draw parallels with the artwork – open your own imaginations to what our future may bring, or, perhaps more properly stated, what we will bring to our future.
Source | VASA Project
Researchers at MIT have discovered a gene called NDT80 that can double yeast lifespan when turned on late in life.
The gene is activated when yeast cell rejuvenation occurs. When they turned on this gene in aged cells that were not reproducing, the cells lived twice as long as normal.
The MIT team found that the signs of cellular aging disappear at the very end of meiosis (which produces spores). “There’s a true rejuvenation going on,” said professor Angelika Amon.
In aged cells with activated NDT80, the nucleolar damage was the only age-related change that disappeared. That suggests that nucleolar changes are the primary force behind the aging process, Amon said.
If the human cell lifespan is controlled in a similar way, it could offer a new approach to rejuvenating human cells or creating pluripotent stem cells, Amon said.
Source | Kurzweil AI
NOBEL laureate Barry Marshall plans to become the first Australian to post his own full genetic code, or genome, on the internet, even though it does reveal unsettling insights.
His nearly-completed six-billion-piece code shows he is at nearly three times higher lifetime risk of macular degeneration and double for testicular cancer and for Alzheimer’s disease.
”If I develop Alzheimer’s disease, that’s bad luck, but it’s not going to worry me,” says Professor Marshall.
The power of the genome to reveal each individual’s biological strengths and weaknesses will guide diagnosis and identify effective drugs for individual patients in a revolution about to sweep world medicine, he says.
”It is not going to be long before every Australian will be carrying their genome on a smart card.
”This is going to be an enormous and unprecedented help to their health,” says the doctor, who swallowed a laboratory culture to prove that bacteria caused stomach ulcers.
It was an idea that confounded the medical orthodoxy but ultimately won him and Dr Robin Warren the Nobel prize.
At the National Press Club yesterday, Professor Marshall predicted that in a decade we would have our genome on our smart phones and be able to routinely gain access to those of prospective boyfriends or girlfriends.
People would get used to the swings and roundabouts of knowing their genetic make-up as the benefits to their health became clear and treatment got better-targeted.
He told of his wife’s concern about her own mother’s macular degeneration, which were allayed when a genome scan found she did not have her mother’s gene for the blinding condition.
Treatments of conditions like high cholesterol would continue to improve as doctors took advantage of routinely upgraded refinements of genetic influences.
”Australians currently seem too paranoid to truly embrace genomics. Yet there will soon be thousands of human genomes publicly available,” he says, pointing to the publishing of their genomes by gene map pioneer Dr Craig Venter and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. His comments come as Australian health authorities grapple with how to authorise new drugs dependent on pre-genetic testing. He believes that the growing demand for personal genomes – already available in preliminary form for as little as $200 – will require a huge increase in experts to interpret the lengthy sequences of letters comprising the human DNA.
Professor Marshall says Australia, like the US, should legislate against discriminatory practices like higher life insurance premiums on the basis of genetic tests.
Ronald Trent, professor of medical molecular genetics at Sydney University, says that any data individuals publish that might be interpreted as having an adverse health risk could potentially be used by life insurance companies, but not health funds, to determine policies.
But Professor Trent said Australia and the US systems were not comparable given Australian measures like the Disability Discrimination Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on genetic grounds, and the availability of universal health insurance.
Source | The Age
Aldebaran Robotics, which produces the Nao Humanoid Robot, has announced that it has raised another $13 million in venture capital. The bulk of funds are being provided by Intel Capital, the hardware giant’s investment arm.
From the press release:
The new funds will play a key role in allowing the business to develop its product offering into additional vertical sectors such as health and social care. The investment will also help Aldebaran streamline its production operations and increase its research and development capabilities.
“Working with Intel Capital is a step we believe will propel the business and help the technology we have developed reach its full potential. Our products have the flexibility to provide solutions across a range of applications and this investment will play a huge role in helping drive manufacturing efficiencies and further our research capabilities to help the business’ expansion into new markets. Intel products are ideally suited for the processing demands required by robotics. This investment from Intel Capital enables Aldebaran to become a key player in this nascent industry.” , Bruno Maisonnier, founder and CEO of Aldebaran Robotics said; “It is primarily for us, a fantastic mark of recognition and trust from a group that has always favored innovation and has risen in recent years at the top of the global computer market”.
This is a big step for Aldebaran and its Nao line of humanoid robots. If it pays off for Intel, I’d expect to see a lot more investment in the area of personal robotics going forward. In particular, it’ll be interesting to see if Intel starts going into the business itself – at least on the processor end.
Source | Forbes
Pool sharks, beware: a new robot will give you a run for your money. It’s definitely not the fastest player but it completed 400 shots with an 80 per cent success rate.
The robot, designed by Thomas Nierhoff, Omiros Kourakos and Sandra Hirche at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, has two arms that can move in seven different ways. Cameras mounted above the table track the position of the balls and cue, and feed this information to the robot’s computers. It can then decide on the best move and calculate how the arms should be oriented to complete the stroke. To get into position, it rolls around the table using predetermined coordinates.
The system doesn’t only help the robot, it can also assist human players. The ceiling camera is hooked up to a projector that overlays information about how to hit each ball to successfully sink it.
Nierhoff’s robot isn’t the first to play pool and it may soon have to prove itself. Last year, Silicon Valley robotics firm Willow Garage released a video of its PR2 robot having a go. Perhaps it’s time for a competition?
The Munich machine was presented at the International Conference for Robotics and Automation last month. For other playful robots, check out these acrobatic flying jugglers and this ball-catching humanoid.
Source | NewScientist
A team of Virginia Commonwealth University scientists hasdiscovered a new class of “superatoms” — a stable cluster of atoms that can mimic different elements of the periodic table — with unusual magnetic characteristics that may have applications in spintronics.
The team examined the electronic and magnetic properties of clusters having one iron atom surrounded by multiple magnesium atoms.
The team found that when the cluster had eight magnesium atoms, it acquired extra stability due to filled electronic shells that were far separated from the unfilled shells.
The new cluster had a magnetic moment of four Bohr magnetons, which is almost twice that of an iron atom in solid iron magnets. There are only nine known elements that exhibit magnetic character in solid form.
This could lead to significant developments in the area of molecular electronics where such devices allow the flow of electrons with particular spin orientation desired for applications such as quantum computers, the scientists said.
Source | Kurzweilai.net
IT IS time for cinema to take its next step. 3D technology now fills our screens with beautifully rendered characters and virtual environments, but we could have so much more.
So says Dennis Del Favero, director of what he calls the world’s first 3D interactive film, Scenario. Rather than having audience members sit back and enjoy the action, the interactive narrative has them drive the story.
Undoubtedly, the ultimate synthetic interactive environment must be the virtual worlds generated by Star Trek’s “Holodeck”. To date, steps in this direction have been restricted because computer-generated characters cannot yet understand and speak in natural language. One solution is to sidestep the need for language and interact with audience members using physical markers, like movement.
In Scenario, which is loosely based on the life of Elisabeth Fritzl, the Austrian woman imprisoned by her father in a cellar for 24 years, audience members’ movements around the cinema are tracked using 16 near-infrared cameras. Treading the line between a movie and a game, audience members are introduced to the plot, and assigned avatars and a mission: to collect virtual body parts and return them to an oversized baby. But they must work against artificially intelligent sentinel avatars, which use information from the cameras and the position of objects in the film’s virtual world to plan their actions. For example, the sentinels can only move the baby’s head if they are next to it, but might better achieve their objective by pushing an audience member’s avatar.
Makers of interactive films can also hook into physiological reactions. Earlier this year, Unsound debuted in Austin, Texas. In this horror film, the visuals, music score and sound effects change depending on the heart rate and skin response of its collective audience members. For example, something horrific happens to the lead character, but in one version of the scene the audience can see it happening, while in another they can only hear it. “If the audience is highly reactive we will not show the graphic scene, and if the audience is bored to tears we would,” says Ben Knapp of BioControl Systems, a technology firm based in San Francisco that collaborated on the film. According to Knapp, amalgamating the average emotional response of an audience overcomes any “noise” in the data – such as an audience member thinking “I need to pee.”
Approaching the hurdle of language recognition, Marc Cavazza at Teesside University, UK, has created a computer system that detects the emotional content of speech. While it takes no notice of the user’s words per se, it categorises speech according to a range of attributes in their voice including pitch, duration and pauses. Using this technology, you can enjoy a conversation of sorts with a virtual character from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The character’s responses depend on predispositions based on their personality in the novel.
The Holodeck is still some way off, then. According to Cavazza, for complex plots to be driven by the audience, virtual characters must understand words.
Even once this is achieved, another issue appears: confining the narrative. Computer-memory constraints mean that an interactive movie cannot allow for unlimited plot choices. One work-around is to build a movie like a choose-your-own-adventure book, where audiences only influence the plot at specific points. But Michael Mateas at the University of California, Santa Cruz, reckons it would be more interesting if interactive films are developed as a virtual world, where the plot is directed by characters and their relationships.
Along these lines, Mateas has created Prom Week, which follows a fictional group of high school students in the week before their final dance. To be released on Facebook in August, Prom Week will immerse the player in hallway politics as they dictate the future of the virtual students through a range of options. Each interaction between characters is recorded into a database, the sum of these interactions driving the plot’s direction by evolving the characters’ sentiments towards each other. “We want it to feel like these characters are alive,” says Mateas.
Source | New Scientist