Monday, July 31, 2006

SENS Withstands Three Challenges : $20,000 Remains Unclaimed

If you don't know who Aubrey de Grey is and what SENS is, you should first read The Quest For Immortality.

SENS Withstands Three Challenges : $20,000 Remains Unclaimed.

The science magazine Technology Review has released the results of the SENS Challenge, which was established to test the validity of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), the brainchild of longevity researcher Dr. Aubrey de Grey. SENS lays out a detailed engineering approach to alleviating and eventually reversing the debilitation caused by aging. Following a controversial profile of de Grey published by Technology Review in 2005, Dr. de Grey’s charitable foundation, the Methuselah Foundation, and Technology Review jointly offered $10,000 each to establish the SENS Challenge. This $20,000 purse would be awarded to qualified experts who could demonstrate that SENS was “so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate”.

An eminent panel of judges, comprising Rodney Brooks, PhD, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Anita Goel, MD and PhD, founder and chief executive of Nanobiosym; Vikram Kumar, MD, cofounder and chief executive of Dimagi, and a pathologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston; Nathan Myhrvold, PhD, cofounder and chief executive of Intellectual Ventures, and former chief technologist at Microsoft; and J. Craig Venter, PhD, founder of the Venter Institute and developer of whole-genome shotgun sequencing, which sped up the human genome project, deliberated over the three serious submissions and has now delivered its verdict.

The judges’ unanimous opinion is summed up by Dr. Myhrvold, who observed: “Some scientists react very negatively toward those who seek to claim the mantle of scientific authority for ideas that have not yet been proved. Estep et al. seem to have this philosophy. They raise many reasons to doubt SENS. Their submission does the best job in that regard. But at the same time, they are too quick to engage in name-calling, labeling ideas as 'pseudo-scientific' or 'unscientific' that they cannot really demonstrate are so. We need to remember that all hypotheses go through a stage where one or a small number of investigators believe something and others raise doubts.”

The summary:

Aubrey de Grey wants to solve the aging process with his SENS program. Because the idea of immortality is so controversial, SENS has received much criticism, depite having solid science to back it up.

In order to increase SENS's credibility, the SENS challenge was created a year ago. Anybody who can show that SENS is so wrong that it is unworthy of serious attention from the scientific community, can win $20.000 dollars.

A few groups have tried to debunk SENS and have failed, causing SENS's credibility to go up.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Future Of Computers (6)

CNNMoney recently had 3 very interesting articles that let us in on the future of computers. I simply could not resist sharing these with all of you.

Quantum leap.

Brain prosthetics. Telepathy. Punctual flights. A futurist's vision of where quantum computers will take us.

She awakes early on the morning of April 10, 2030, in the capable hands of her suburban Chicago apartment. All night, microscopic sensors in her bedside tables have monitored her breathing, heart rate, and brain activity.

The tiny blood sample she gave her bathroom sink last night has been analyzed for free radicals and precancerous cells; the appropriate preventative drugs will be delivered to her hotel in Atlanta this evening. It's an expensive service, but as a gene therapist, Sharon Oja knows it's worth it.


Computers everywhere: Their most common prediction is that we will see - or rather, we won't see - computers everywhere, painted onto walls, in chairs, in your body, communicating with one another constantly and requiring no more power than that which they can glean from radio frequencies in the air.

'I won't have to remember anything': Exponentially smarter computers also raise the possibility of achieving a couple of computer science's long-held goals: a human-brain-imitating neural network and true (or near-true) artificial intelligence. "This is going to be my mental prosthesis," says UCLA's Yablonovitch. "Everything I want to know, I can look up. Everything I can forget, I can find. I'm going to get old, but it won't matter. I won't have to remember anything."

Computers in your headband: Of all the scientists' visions of the quantum future, Wolf's may be the most out-there. "The vision is that we don't have a laptop anymore," Wolf says. "We don't have a cellphone. We wear it. It's a headband. And instead of having a screen, we have direct coupling into the right side of the brain."

Coming soon: Google on your brain.
Down the road we're probably going to have access to something approaching all information all the time. Our lives - much longer by then because of the implications of this for medical care - will be enriched, even as our behavior will be very unlike how we live today.

Already much of our software and data is moving to giant remote servers connected to the Internet. Our photos, music, software applications like Microsoft Word, and just about everything else we use a computer for will be accessible to us wherever we go.

The other huge, and related, move of the moment is toward ultimate mobility. Several trends are taking us there. The cellphone is becoming more like a PC while the PC is becoming more like a cellphone. In short, the next great era of computing - succeeding the PC one - will likely be about smaller, cheaper, more-powerful portable devices.

If you wonder how devices can get smaller and yet replace the PC, keep in mind that a major innovation we're seeing right now is vastly-improved voice-recognition software. While it only works on the fast processors of a PC today, the inexorable growth of computing power will soon take that kind of power into your cellphone. So long keyboard!

Surfing the Web with nothing but brainwaves.
Someday, keyboards and computer mice will be remembered only as medieval-style torture devices for the wrists. All work - emails, spreadsheets, and Google searches - will be performed by mind control.

If you think that's mind-blowing, try to wrap your head around the sensational research that's been done on the brain of one Matthew Nagle by scientists at Brown University and three other institutions, in collaboration with Foxborough, Mass.-based company Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems. The research was published for the first time last week in the British science journal Nature.

Nagle, a 26-year-old quadriplegic, was hooked up to a computer via an implant smaller than an aspirin that sits on top of his brain and reads electrical patterns. Using that technology, he learned how to move a cursor around a screen, play simple games, control a robotic arm, and even - couch potatoes, prepare to gasp in awe - turn his brain into a TV remote control. All while chatting amiably with the researchers. He even learned how to perform these tasks in less time than the average PC owner spends installing Microsoft Windows.


Already, the Brown researchers say, this kind of technology can enable a hooked-up human to write at 15 words a minute - half as fast as the average person writes by hand. Remember, though, that silicon-based technology typically doubles in capacity every two years.

So if improved hardware is all it takes to speed up the device, Cyberkinetics' chip could be able to process thoughts as fast as speech - 110 to 170 words per minute - by 2012. Imagine issuing commands to a computer as quickly as you could talk.

But who would want to get a brain implant if they haven't been struck by a drastic case of paralysis? Leaving aside the fact that there is a lucrative market for providing such profoundly life-enhancing products for millions of paralyzed patients, it may soon not even be necessary to stick a chip inside your skull to take advantage of this technology.

These are three lengty articles, but they are well worth the read.

This post is part of an ongoing series. To read the rest, see The Future of Computers (5).

Also see Extremely Fast Computers In Our Near Future.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bird Flu Vaccine Breakthrough

Bird flu vaccine breakthrough.

The most effective vaccine developed so far to combat the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been unveiled.

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is behind the prototype vaccine, based on a deactivated strain of H5N1 isolated in Indonesia last year.

It was tested on 400 adults in Belgium, using a proprietary adjuvant, an ingredient added to stimulate the immune system and increase the response.

The company said the vaccine provoked a strong response in more than 80% of the people tested - more than any other vaccine in development.

By the end of the year the company will know if it will be possible to mass-produce the vaccine, estimating the cost per dose could be £4.

"These results are highly significant and mark real progress," said J P Garnier, GlaxoSmithKline's chief executive officer, although he added: "There is still a lot more work to be done."

But Prof Peter Dunnill, the chairman of University College London, said: "It would still only allow coverage of five per cent of the global population if all the world's viral influenza vaccine capacity was used."

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Robot Destroys Lung Tumors Quickly

Radiation-armed robot rapidly destroys human lung tumors.

Device completely obliterates lung tumors within 3-4 months in some patients.


At the University of Pittsburgh, Ozhasoglu and approximately 30 colleagues form one of the largest US teams devoted to the CyberKnife, a radiation delivery system that uses an accurate, precise robotic arm to aim highly focused x-ray beams at the site of a tumor. Currently there are 76 active CyberKnife sites worldwide (with 45 in the US), and an additional 62 scheduled to be installed globally.

Recently, the Pittsburgh researchers upgraded their CyberKnife by adding a system called "Synchrony," which accurately targets tumors that move as a result of breathing. Synchrony instructs the robotic arm to move the radiation source (a linear accelerator that produces x-rays) in sync with the tumor motion.

As a result of the unique real-time tumor tracking capabilities of their upgraded CyberKnife, the researchers have established detailed methods for the safe treatment of lung tumors which otherwise couldn't be treated with a high dose of radiation due to lack of sufficient real-time tracking accuracy in other, more conventional radiation therapy machines.

Treating lung tumors with the enhanced Cyberknife requires only 1-3 sessions lasting 60-90 minutes. In conventional radiotherapy, patients must endure dozens of radiation treatments, each lasting about 15 minutes but requiring 20-30 hospital visits.

In a single treatment, Cyberknife blasts a lung tumor from all sides by delivering typically 100-150 intense, focused x-ray beams, causing the tumor to absorb approximately 10 times more radiation than in a conventional radiotherapy session. Cyberknife can deliver so much more radiation than other techniques because its robotic arm aims the x-rays precisely enough to avoid surrounding healthy tissue.

To track the moving tumor, the CyberKnife takes real-time x-ray pictures of the patient while using external markers attached to the patient's chest or abdomen to follow tumors in real time with a few millimeters of accuracy. The researchers also applied Synchrony to treating tumors in the thorax and abdomen, which can move as much as 4 cm during respiration.

The rate of progress in biotechnology and robotics (and nanotech, and AI for that matter) never ceases to amaze me.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Are You Immune to Cancer?

Are You Immune to Cancer?

Seven years ago, biochemist Zheng Cui of Wake Forest University was conducting a routine experiment, injecting test mice with a strain of cancer cells so aggressive it caused a 100 percent death rate. Oddly, one of the mice wouldn't die. Thinking he had made an error, Cui injected the mouse with a million times the lethal dose, but it still lived.

Cui was intrigued. He bred the mouse and found that 40 percent of its offspring share a remarkable resistance to many forms of cancer. When the animals' immune systems identify a cancer cell, a genetic tweak allows their bodies to launch a massive attack of white blood cells that kills the budding tumor.

Now Cui and his colleagues have found a clue that may point the way to an actual cure. When they inject white blood cells from any of these anticancer mice into their nonresistant brethren, the injected animals become resistant as well, fighting off induced cancer in a matter of weeks or avoiding it entirely.

Even more promising, Cui has sampled a group of human volunteers and found that 10 to 15 percent have similar super cancer-fighting white blood cells. That could explain why some people never get cancer and why others' tumors spontaneously regress. Cui proposes injecting these people's white blood cells into cancer patients to see if he can transfer their immunity.

Other, more established oncologists point out that Cui's mice are genetically uniform; humans, with their distinct DNA differences, would run a deadly risk of the donated cells attacking their host, even if they aren't rejected first. Cui counters that these issues could be overcome, as they have been for other types of transplants. "All the delivery mechanisms are in place," he says. "We truly believe that this is a viable approach."

Immunity to cancer is a tantalizing promise. One that would take away one of mankind's greatest fears.

Did you know that immunity to HIV also seems feasible?

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Big Tests for Fuel Cells In 2007

Big tests for fuel cells coming in 2007.

Next year fuel cells could take a significant step forward, according to a CEO of one of the leading manufacturers of the technology.

In 2007, the U.S. military will conduct field tests of hybrid power systems, which combine lithium ion batteries and methanol fuel cells, Peng Lim, CEO of MTI Micro Fuel Cells, said during an interview here Tuesday. The hybrid power systems will be squeezed into portable radar and other devices and will be tried out in remote sensors that pick up vibrations, sounds or movement in the field and radio the data back to headquarters.

In hybrid systems, the small lithium ion battery provides peak power while the fuel cell recharges the battery or runs the equipment when less power is required to run it. Fuel cells harvest the energy from chemical reactions and then provide that energy (in the form of electrons) to devices.

"Fuel cells will be there to refill your tank, and your tank will be lithium ion batteries," Lim said. "We will complement lithium ion. Over the next 10 years we could be a replacement."

MTI plans to deliver a round of fuel cell prototypes to Samsung at the end of the year to power cell phones and a second round of prototypes in the spring of 2007, he said. If all goes well, Samsung could potentially incorporate fuel cells into products. Generally, a product can go from prototype to shelves in around 18 months.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Computers 500 Times Faster Than Today

Magnetic fields created using nanotechnology could make computers up to 500 times faster.

The University of Bath is to lead an international £555,000 three-year project to develop a system which could cut out the need for wiring to carry electric currents in silicon chips.

Computers double in power every 18 months or so as scientists and engineers develop ways to make silicon chips smaller. But in the next few years they will hit a limit imposed by the need to use electric wiring, which weakens signals sent between computer components at high speed.

The new research project could produce a way of carrying electric signal without the need for wiring. Wi fi internet systems and mobile phones use wireless technology now, but the electronics that create and use wireless signals are too large to be used within individual microchips successfully.


The process, called inverse electron spin resonance, uses the magnetic field to deflect electrons and to modify their magnetic direction. This creates oscillations of the electrons which makes them produce microwave energy. This can then be used to broadcast electric signals in free space without the weakening caused by wires.

The possibility of using the special semi-conductors in this way was first pointed out by Dr Alain Nogaret, of the University of Bath’s Department of Physics, in an important scientific paper in 2005 (Electrically Induced Raman Emission from Planar Spin Oscillator, in Physical Review Letters). The latest research is the first attempt to turn theory into practice.

“The work could be very important for the creation of faster, more powerful computers,” said Dr Nogaret.


“But if this research is successful, it could make computers with wireless semi-conductors a possibility within five or ten years of the end of the project. Then computers could be made anything from 200 to 500 times quicker and still be the same size.


The project is the only one which aims to create wireless emitters and receivers that fit on semi-conductor wafers, where individual devices are one ten thousandth of a millimetre in size.

It will also allow the creation of integrated circuits which will still continue to work properly even if some of its connections fail – the system can be programmed to reroute itself so that it can continue working. At present a failure in a connecting wire can put an integrated circuit out of action.

Also see The Future Of Computers and Extremely Fast Computers In Our Near Future.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Toyota Plans Plug-in Hybrids and Ethanol Cars

Toyota mulls plug-in hybrids, ethanol cars for US.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM) top U.S executive said the Japanese auto maker may introduce ethanol-powered vehicles in the U.S. market in the "near term" and it is "pursuing a plug-in hybrid vehicle" in the U.S.

Toyota North America President Jim Press said the company, widely viewed as a fuel-efficiency leader in the auto industry, is embarking on the projects in an effort to "solve some of the key issues in our society, as well as encourage other auto makers to keep moving forward." Press's remarks came in a prepared speech released by Toyota in advance of an appearance before the National Press Club here.

"Toyota is strongly considering introducing a flex-fuel vehicle program in the United States in the near term," Press said. "We're already developing vehicles that can operate in ethanol-rich Brazil and we're optimistic that we can offer similar vehicles to American consumers."


Toyota's entry into the E85 vehicle chase would likely be a relatively inexpensive venture and could give the auto maker one more tool in its assault on the U.S. market. It remains the fastest growing of the large car companies participating in the U.S. market and is threatening to eventually dethrone Ford as the No.2 player in the U.S.

Press did not elaborate in his remarks on the company's exact plan related to plug-in hybrid vehicles, except to say the announcement of Toyota's interest in such products has been "highly anticipated." Ford (F) Chief Executive Bill Ford in May said his company is considering selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle, which can be plugged in when not in use in order to recharge batteries.

Toyota is considered to be the clear leader in the global market for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. The auto maker launched its Prius sedan in the 1990s in Japan and began exporting it to the U.S. shortly after it debuted. Press said Toyota has "sold more U.S. hybrids so far this year than Cadillac, Buick or Mercedes-Benz has sold cars."

He said Toyota plans to launch its sixth hybrid in the U.S. market next year.


"Make no mistake about it, hybrids are the technology of the future and will play a starring role in the automotive industry during the 21st century," he said. "That's why Toyota is not backing off its strong commitment to hybrids. We know they are absolutely essential to the future success of this industry."

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Brainy Robots and Smart Computers

Brainy Robots Start Stepping Into Daily Life.

Last October, a robot car designed by a team of Stanford engineers covered 132 miles of desert road without human intervention to capture a $2 million prize offered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon. The feat was particularly striking because 18 months earlier, during the first such competition, the best vehicle got no farther than seven miles, becoming stuck after driving off a mountain road.

Now the Pentagon agency has upped the ante: Next year the robots will be back on the road, this time in a simulated traffic setting. It is being called the “urban challenge.”

At Microsoft, researchers are working on the idea of “predestination.” They envision a software program that guesses where you are traveling based on previous trips, and then offers information that might be useful based on where the software thinks you are going.

Tellme Networks, a company in Mountain View, Calif., that provides voice recognition services for both customer service and telephone directory applications, is a good indicator of the progress that is being made in relatively constrained situations, like looking up a phone number or transferring a call.

Tellme supplies the system that automates directory information for toll-free business listings. When the service was first introduced in 2001, it could correctly answer fewer than 37 percent of phone calls without a human operator’s help. As the system has been constantly refined, the figure has now risen to 74 percent.

More striking advances are likely to come from new biological models of the brain. Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, are building large-scale computer models to study how the brain works; they have used an I.B.M. parallel supercomputer to create the most detailed three-dimensional model to date of a column of 10,000 neurons in the neocortex.

“The goal of my lab in the past 10 to 12 years has been to go inside these little columns and try to figure out how they are built with exquisite detail,” said Henry Markram, a research scientist who is head of the Blue Brain project. “You can really now zoom in on single cells and watch the electrical activity emerging.”

Blue Brain researchers say they believe the simulation will provide fundamental insights that can be applied by scientists who are trying to simulate brain functions.

Maybe We Should Leave That Up to the Computer.
Do you think your high-paid managers really know best? A Dutch sociology professor has doubts.

The professor, Chris Snijders of the Eindhoven University of Technology, has been studying the routine decisions that managers make, and is convinced that computer models, by and large, can do a better job of it. He even issued a challenge late last year to any company willing to pit its humans against his algorithms.

“As long as you have some history and some quantifiable data from past experiences,” Mr. Snijders claims, a simple formula will soon outperform a professional’s decision-making skills. “It’s not just pie in the sky,” he said. “I have the data to support this.”

Some of Mr. Snijders’s experiments from the last two years have looked at the results that purchasing managers at more than 300 organizations got when they placed orders for computer equipment and software. Computer models given the same tasks achieved better results in categories like timeliness of delivery, adherence to the budget and accuracy of specifications.

No company has directly taken Mr. Snijders up on his challenge. But a Dutch insurer, Interpolis, whose legal aid department has been expanding rapidly in recent years, called in Mr. Snijders to evaluate a computer model it had designed to automate the routing of new cases — a job previously handled manually by the department’s in-house legal staff.

The manager in charge of the project, Ludo Smulders, said the model was much faster and more accurate than the old system. “We’re very satisfied about the results it’s given our organization,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there are no daily problems, but the problems are much smaller than when the humans did it by hand. And it lets them concentrate more on giving legal advice, which is what their job is.”

Mr. Snijders’s work builds on something researchers have known for decades: that mathematical models generally make more accurate predictions than humans do. Studies have shown that models can better predict, for example, the success or failure of a business start-up, the likelihood of recidivism and parole violation, and future performance in graduate school.

They also trump humans at making various medical diagnoses, picking the winning dogs at the racetrack and competing in online auctions. Computer-based decision-making has also grown increasingly popular in credit scoring, the insurance industry and some corners of Wall Street.

The main reason for computers’ edge is their consistency — or rather humans’ inconsistency — in applying their knowledge.

The summary: computers will eventually be better at everything, they'll take over all our jobs, completely automise our economy and we will be living in robot nation.

If you want to read the full stories at the source (, you'll need a login + password. These can be easily obtained from here.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Artificial Intelligence Reaches The Golden Years

AI Reaches the Golden Years.


Most recently, AI rose to meet Darpa's Grand Challenge of creating a robot car that could drive itself along a desert road to a specific destination. Sebastian Thrun, leader of the Stanford University team that built Stanley (which won the 300-mile race and was named best robot ever by Wired magazine), envisions a future where cars will drive themselves, eliminating crashes and freeing up their passengers to pursue more productive activities than road rage.

"Certainly I was happy that we had won, but I was even happier that five other teams had finished. I think it shows that what Darpa had thought to be a real challenge was actually really possible," said Thrun.

So while AI hasn't put a robot in every household, the field has made strides, which makes room for speculation about the future.

If the rate of computational power grows exponentially, the possibilities of true artificial intelligence, as seen in movies like The Terminator and I, Robot, could be possible very soon, said Kurzweil.

He pictures a world where humans and machines have merged, enhancing our cognitive abilities and keeping our bodies healthy from the inside.

"It's not a human civilization and a machine civilization competing with each other," Kurzweil said. "It's a human-machine civilization that's already merged, and that merger is going to get more intimate."


Thrun, who will be giving a keynote address on winning the Darpa Grand Challenge, says the first 50 years of AI is just the prologue. "I think 200 years from now we are going to smile back and think of this era as blind and stumbling people who were trying to make progress but didn't know where to poke," he said.

Also see This Computer May Be Too Smart, about a computer that can analyze facial expressions to read their mood.
"NEUROMARKETING." Robinson also has gotten inquiries from online retailers and computer service providers, such as IBM, who envision tailoring their products to the emotional state of consumers. While surfing the Web, for instance, your computer could determine if you liked certain products and then modify content to your individual tastes or alter advertising to fit your mood.

The use of Robinson's emotionally aware technology to improve company sales represents the latest advance in neuromarketing—the study of the brain's response to marketing to measure consumer preferences. "Neuromarketing can help predict what products people are going to choose," said Dr. Gemma Calvert, director of Neurosense, a British consulting firm.

Another application for the mind-reading computer is as an "emotional hearing aid" to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome, who have difficulty reading others' emotions. Robinson's MIT partners are designing a prototype headset that informs the wearer of people's moods, and are currently improving its accuracy by recording individuals' reactions to everyday events.

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Suspended Animation In Surgery

Stuck Pig.

Mike Duggan, a veterinary surgeon, holds his gloved hands over an 8-inch incision in the belly of pig 78-6, a 120-pound, pink Yorkshire. He’s waiting for a green light from Hasan Alam, a trauma surgeon at Massachu­setts General Hospital.

“Make the injury,” Alam says. Duggan nods and slips his hands into the gash, fingers probing through inches of fat and the rosy membranes holding the organs in place. He pushes aside the intestines, ovaries, and bladder, and with a quick scalpel stroke slices open the iliac artery. It’s 10:30 am. Pig 78-6 loses a quarter of her blood within moments. Heart rate and blood pressure plummet. Don’t worry – Alam and Duggan are going to save her.

Alam goes to work on the chest, removing part of a rib to reveal the heart, a throbbing, shiny pink ball the size of a fist. He cuts open the aorta – an even more lethal injury – and blood sprays all over our scrubs. The EKG flatlines. The surgeons drain the remaining blood and connect tubes to the aorta and other vessels, filling the circulatory system with chilled organ-preservation fluid – a nearly frozen daiquiri of salts, sugars, and free-radical scavengers.

Her temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit; brain activity has ceased. Alam checks the wall clock and asks a nurse to mark the time: 11:25 am.

But 78-6 is, in fact, only mostly dead – the common term for her state is, believe it or not, suspended animation. Long the domain of transhumanist nut-jobs, cryogenic suspension may be just two years away from clinical trials on humans (presuming someone can solve the sticky ethical problems). Trauma surgeons can’t wait – saving people with serious wounds, like gunshots, is always a race against the effects of blood loss. When blood flow drops, toxins accumulate; just five minutes of low oxygen levels causes brain death.

Suspended animation would give surgeons hours, as opposed to minutes, to perform surgery on life-threatening wounds.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Kurzweil: We Will Have Human-level Artificial Intelligence Within 25 Years

Why We Can Be Confident of Turing Test Capability Within a Quarter Century .

Ray Kurzweil, renowned inventor and futurist with a good future-prediction track-record, has written a paper in which he tries to convince the reader why we can be confident that we will have human level AI within 25 years. This will eventually result in a Singularity.

This Turing test that Ray talks about is a test where a person sits behind a computer and engages in a conversation with an AI on the other side. If the AI can convince the person chatting with it that it is not an AI but a real person, then the AI is said to have successfully passed the Turing test.

This AI is also said to be human level AI, because it is functionally indistinguishable from a real person with regards to intelligence.

Ray provides us with a few key insights that may change your mind just in case you'd already convinced yourself that human level AI (and above) was impossible. A quote from Ray's paper:

Of the three primary revolutions underlying the Singularity (G, N, and R), the most profound is R, which refers to the creation of nonbiological intelligence that exceeds that of unenhanced humans. A more intelligent process will inherently outcompete one that is less intelligent, making intelligence the most powerful force in the universe.


Artificial intelligence at human levels will necessarily greatly exceed human intelligence for several reasons. As I pointed out earlier machines can readily share their knowledge. As unenhanced humans we do not have the means of sharing the vast patterns of interneuronal connections and neurotransmitter-concentration levels that comprise our learning, knowledge, and skills, other than through slow, language-based communication. Of course, even this method of communication has been very beneficial, as it has distinguished us from other animals and has been an enabling factor in the creation of technology.


Machines can pool their resources in ways that humans cannot. Although teams of humans can accomplish both physical and mental feats that individual humans cannot achieve, machines can more easily and readily aggregate their computational, memory and communications resources. As discussed earlier, the Internet is evolving into a worldwide grid of computing resources that can be instantly brought together to form massive supercomputers.

Machines have exacting memories. Contemporary computers can master billions of facts accurately, a capability that is doubling every year.3 The underlying speed and price-performance of computing itself is doubling every year, and the rate of doubling is itself accelerating.

As human knowledge migrates to the Web, machines will be able to read, understand, and synthesize all human-machine information. The last time a biological human was able to grasp all human scientific knowledge was hundreds of years ago.

Another advantage of machine intelligence is that it can consistently perform at peak levels and can combine peak skills. Among humans one person may have mastered music composition, while another may have mastered transistor design, but given the fixed architecture of our brains we do not have the capacity (or the time) to develop and utilize the highest level of skill in every increasingly specialized area. Humans also vary a great deal in a particular skill, so that when we speak, say, of human levels of composing music, do we mean Beethoven, or do we mean the average person? Nonbiological intelligence will be able to match and exceed peak human skills in each area.

For these reasons, once a computer is able to match the subtlety and range of human intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it, and then continue its double- exponential ascent.

Absolutely true. I agree 100% with Ray on the above.

Our opinions diverge, however, from here on:
I pointed out above that machines will match (and quickly exceed) peak human skills in each area of skill. So instead, let's take one hundred scientists and engineers. A group of technically trained people with the right backgrounds would be capable of improving accessible designs. If a machine attained equivalence to one hundred (and eventually one thousand, then one million) technically trained humans, each operating much faster than a biological human, a rapid acceleration of intelligence would ultimately follow.

However, this acceleration won't happen immediately when a computer passes the Turing test. The Turing test is comparable to matching the capabilities of an average, educated human and thus is closer to the example of humans from a shopping mall. It will take time for computers to master all of the requisite skills and to marry these skills with all the necessary knowledge bases.

Once we've succeeded in creating a machine that can pass the Turing test (around 2029), the succeeding period will be an era of consolidation in which nonbiological intelligence will make rapid gains. However, the extraordinary expansion contemplated for the Singularity, in which human intelligence is multiplied by billions, won't take place until the mid-2040s (as discussed in chapter 3 of The Singularity is Near).

My opinion is that there will be a hard take-off towards a full blown Singularity once an AI achieves human level intelligence.

Maybe it's me, or maybe it's just that my definition of the Singularity differs from Ray's. But I really don't see why it would take 15 years after the achievement of human level AI for our society to be transformed beyond recognition.

It seems to me, that once you attain human level AI, thousands of copies of this AI are easily made. All copies could learn different skills and merge with one another not long after that. All of this would go at blinding speed, since the computers of that time will be extremely fast and globally interconnected into one big giant virtual supercomputer. A radical transformation of the world we live in would be sure to follow.

The only thing that could prevent this scenario from happening, as far as I can see, would be if the first human level AI would use up all our computational resources at once, thereby preventing thousands of copies from being made. However, I think it is very unlikely that we will have a computational power scarcity 25 years from now.

What are your thoughts on superior AI and the implications of it?

Please, feel free to comment on this one. I want to hear my reader's opinions.

(For everybody interested in more of Ray Kurzweil's future predictions, read Renowned thinker sees boundless future.)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This Is a Computer on Your Brain

This Is a Computer on Your Brain.

A new brain-computer-interface technology could turn our brains into automatic image-identifying machines that operate faster than human consciousness.

Researchers at Columbia University are combining the processing power of the human brain with computer vision to develop a novel device that will allow people to search through images ten times faster than they can on their own.

Darpa, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is funding research into the system with hopes of making federal agents' jobs easier. The technology would allow hours of footage to be very quickly processed, so security officers could identify terrorists or other criminals caught on surveillance video much more efficiently.

The "cortically coupled computer vision system," known as C3 Vision, is the brainchild of professor Paul Sajda, director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing at Columbia University. He received a one-year, $758,000 grant from Darpa for the project in late 2005.

The system harnesses the brain's well-known ability to recognize an image much faster than the person can identify it.

"Our human visual system is the ultimate visual processor," says Sajda. "We are just trying to couple that with computer vision techniques to make searching through large volumes of imagery more efficient."

The brain emits a signal as soon as it sees something interesting, and that "aha" signal can be detected by an electroencephalogram, or EEG cap. While users sift through streaming images or video footage, the technology tags the images that elicit a signal, and ranks them in order of the strength of the neural signatures. Afterwards, the user can examine only the information that their brains identified as important, instead of wading through thousands of images.

This is only the beginning of our coming mind-machine merger.

Every thought about what could happen when we start amplifying our intelligence?

If not, read the Singularity FAQ.

Ray Kurzweil was right when he said We Are Becoming Cyborgs.

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Protein DVD To Store 50 Terabytes

Indian-born scientist developing coated DVD's that can make hard disks obsolete.

An Indian born scientist in the US is working on developing DVD's which can be coated with a light -sensitive protein and can store up to 50 terabytes (about 50,000 gigabytes) of data.

Professor V Renugopalakrishnan of the Harvard Medical School in Boston has claimed to have developed a layer of protein made from tiny genetically altered microbe proteins which could store enough data to make computer hard disks almost obsolete.

"What this will do eventually is eliminate the need for hard drive memory completely," ABC quoted Prof. Renugopalakrishnan, a BSc in Chemistry from Madras University and PhD in biophysics from Columbia/State University of New York, Buffalo, New York as saying.


"The protein-based DVDs will be able to store at least 20 times more than the Blue-ray and eventually even up to 50,000 gigabytes (about 50 terabytes) of information. You can pack literally thousands and thousands of those proteins on a media like a DVD, a CD or a film or whatever," he said.

The high-capacity storage devices will be essential to the defence, medical and entertainment industries.

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Robot Car Parks Itself

Park the Beamer by Bot.

Driving your car into a cramped parking space can be a harrowing experience, but BMW says it has developed a robotic parking system to solve the problem.

The luxury carmaker's parking-assist technology will park your car for you as you stand outside and watch, according to BMW during the demo of a working prototype at its Munich headquarters this week.

All you do is press down on a remote-control button and your Beamer parks itself.

The parking system is very straightforward to operate, said Raymond Freymann, managing director of BMW group research and technology.

"You just press a button," Freymann said. "It is something simple, but something that is really smart."

The company says the technology will be available within three years.

There's a movieclip of the car at the source article.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Extremely Fast Computers In Our Near Future

Intel aims for 32 cores by 2010.

Chicago (IL) and Westlake Village (CA) - Five years ago, Intel envisioned processors running at 20 GHz by the end of this decade. Today we know that the future will look different. CPUs will sacrifice clock speed over core count: Intel's first "many core" CPU, will run at only two thirds of the clock speed of today's fastest Xeon CPU - but achieve 15x the performance, thanks to 32 cores.

"Dual-core" is a term Intel never really warmed up to. In fact, two cores per processor is just the first step on a ladder of increasing core counts that, as we believe today, will lead the microprocessor industry into another period of growth. Instead of promoting "dual-core", Intel typically talks about "multi-core" - a term the company internally refers to as project "Kevet" - and explains the press and analysts that "many-cores" - processors that potentially could hold "dozens of cores" - will be available sometime in the future.

Freescale Unveils Magnetic Memory Chip.
Achieving a long-sought goal of the $48 billion memory chip industry, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (FSL) announced the commercial availability of a chip that combines traditional memory's endurance with a hard drive's ability to keep data while powered down.

The chips, called magnetoresistive random-access memory or MRAM, maintain information by relying on magnetic properties rather than an electrical charge. Unlike flash memory, which also can keep data without power, MRAM is fast to read and write bits, and doesn't degrade over time.

Freescale, which was spun off of Motorola Inc. (MOT) in July 2004, said Monday it has been producing the 4-megabit MRAM chips at an Arizona factory for two months to build inventory. A number of chip makers have been pursuing the technology for a decade or more, including IBM Corp.

Sometimes referred to as "universal" memory, MRAM could displace a number of chips found in every electronic device, from PCs, cell phones, music players and cameras to the computing components of kitchen appliances, cars and airplanes.

"This is the most significant memory introduction in this decade," said Will Strauss, an analyst with research firm Forward Concepts. "This is radically new technology. People have been dabbling in this for years, but nobody has been able to make it in volume."

MRAM is totally cool. It takes all of the advantages of our current memories (harddisks, DDR-RAM, flash-RAM, etc.) and none of the disadvantages.

MRAM is fast and non-volatile. The last one allows for instant-on pc's because loading the OS on every boot won't be necessary anymore.

The only reason why we have different types of memories nowadays is because these different memory types have their own advantages. Hard-disks allow for permanent storage. DDR-RAM is fast and therefore adequate for processing data. Cache memory is extremely fast but also very expensive, which is the reason why conventional computers only have very little of it.

In the years to come, all of these types of memory will be replaced by MRAM. And that's how MRAM got the name of 'universal memory'.

Computers are not only getting a lot faster; they're also getting a lot smarter:

How a Computer Knows What Many Managers Don't.
So why ever trust a computer model to run your investments? Because, in the real world, it seems to pay off.

Replace your mouse with your eye.
"Eye-trackers will one day be so reliable and so simple that they will become yet another input device on your computer, like a much more sophisticated mouse," said Professor Guang-Zhong Yang of the Department of Computing at Imperial College.

Also see The Future Of Computers.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tweaking Genes In The Basement

Tweaking Genes in the Basement.

In the 1970s, before the PC era, there were computer hobbyists. A group of them formed the Homebrew Computer Club in a Menlo Park garage in 1975 to trade integrated circuits and swap tips on assembling rudimentary computers, like the Altair 8800, a rig with no inputs or outputs and memory measured in kilobytes.

Among the Club's members were Apple founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

As the tools of biotechnology become accessible (and affordable) to a wider public for the first time, hobbyists are recapturing that collaborative ethos and applying it to tinkering with the building blocks of life.

Eugene Thacker is a professor of literature, culture and communications at Georgia Tech and a member of the Biotech Hobbyist collective. Just as the computer hobbyists sought unconventional applications for computer circuitry, the new collective is looking for "non-prescribed uses" of biotechnology, Thacker said.

The group has published a set of informal DIY articles, mimicking the form of the newsletters and magazines of the computer hobbyists -- many of which are archived online. Thacker walks readers through the steps of performing a basic computation using a DNA "computer" in his article "Personal Biocomputing" (PDF). The tools for the project include a $100 high school-science education kit and some used lab equipment.

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High-tech Prosthetics

High-tech prosthetics: Out on a limb.

Advances such as telemedicine and the use of wireless devices in hospitals have become an accepted part of medical technology, but the notion of replacing limbs with computer-powered devices seems more like something out of "RoboCop" or "The $6 Million Man."

Since as far back as the Civil War, prosthetic limbs have consisted of unwieldy lumps of wood, plastic or metal. While some advances in materials have improved comfort for amputees, prosthetics still lack the responsiveness and feel of actual limbs.

Icelandic prosthetic maker Ossur is trying to change that with its Rheo Knee. Billed as the first knee with artificial intelligence, it combines up to 15 sensors, a processor, software and a memory chip to analyze the motion of the prosthetic and learn how to move accordingly. More recently, Ossur introduced the Power Knee, which houses a motor and more sensors. The motor helps replicate some of the action of muscles that have been lost along with the limb.


Bionics industry researchers estimate the next five years will bring major advances, including mind-controlled prosthetics in which sensors are attached directly to a patient's brain. Already, companies and universities are developing bionic feet, new cochlear implants to restore hearing to deaf people, prosthetic arms with embedded chips to control elbow and wrist movement, and hand prosthetics with artificial intelligence to control grip.

Jesse Sullivan, who lost both arms in a 2001 electrical accident, is testing technology that allows him to use his thoughts to control a bionic arm (the other is prosthetic). Dr. Todd Kuiken at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago took nerves from Sullivan's shoulder and implanted them in his chest, where sensors translate nerve impulses into instructions for a processor in the bionic arm.

How long until bionics appendages outperform our own biological ones?

Food for thought. :)

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Progress In Stem Cell Research

Crucial immune cells derived from stem cells.

For the first time human embryonic stem cells have been coaxed into becoming T-cells, suggesting new ways to fight immune disorders including AIDS and the “bubble boy” disease, X-SCID.

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are an attractive source of human T-cells for research and therapy because ESCs can be genetically manipulated with relative ease and can be grown in large quantities.

T-cells are crucial to the working of the immune system. If these cells are destroyed or absent – as occurs during HIV infection and X-SCID, respectively – the body cannot fight off infections. But despite their importance, much about human T-cell function is unknown because the cells are difficult to analyse with standard tools of genetic engineering.

'Virgin birth' stem cells bypass ethical objections.
"VIRGIN-BIRTH" embryos have given rise to human embryonic stem cells capable of differentiating into neurons. The embryos were produced by parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction in which eggs can develop into embryos without being fertilised by sperm. The technique could lead to a source of embryonic stem (ES) cells that could be used therapeutically without having to destroy a viable embryo.

Human eggs have two sets of chromosomes until fertilisation, when the second set is usually expelled. If this expulsion is blocked but the egg is accidentally or experimentally activated as if it had been fertilised, a parthenote is formed (see Diagram).

Because some of the genes needed for development are only activated in chromosomes from the sperm, human parthenotes never develop past a few days. This means that stem cells taken from them should bypass ethical objections of harvesting them from embryos with the potential to form human lives, say Fulvio Gandolfi and Tiziana Brevini of the University of Milan, Italy.

This is valueable research. Stem cells will be able to boost our health immensely.

Say goodbye to cumbersome organ transplants and functionally limited artificial prosthesis. With these babies, we can regrow our diseased/damaged/missing limbs and organs.

Science might even find a way to give us periodic stem cell injections using cells that have our own DNA but are younger than the cells in our body. That way, we would progressively grow younger, instead of older. And the concept is fairly simple.

Is immortality around the corner?

The possibilities boggle the mind.

Also see this post about super regenerative mice.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Nanotechnology To Enable Hydrogen Economy

Nanotechnology to Lower Hydrogen Economy and Fuel Cell Roadblocks.

Nanotechnology will play an important role in addressing many daunting technical challenges to hydrogen-based transportation, a highly regarded scientist and MIT professor said on Tuesday.

Mildred Dresselhaus, a professor of physics and electrical engineering at MIT, gave the keynote address at an MIT conference on nanotechnology and energy. Among other science management positions, Dresselhaus chaired a 2003 Department of Energy report called the Basic Research Needs for a Hydrogen Economy.

During her talk, Dresselhaus said there has been progress since the 2003 report was published, but there remain a number of challenges in hydrogen production, storage, and fuel cells , the devices which convert hydrogen to power.
"If we're going to use hydrogen for transportation or other large-scale uses, we are faced with a scale factor--we have to increase production by factors of many to achieve the levels of the energy supply for transportation," she said.

Storage, too, remains a "vexing problem," she said. "Energy density is the biggest challenge," Dresselhaus said. "Even if we address that, we still have a whole bunch of things to do."

For example, work needs to be done in reducing the amount of energy that is released and heat created when transferring hydrogen into a car, for example.

In the short term, most production-related research is focused on using fossil fuels to make hydrogen, which cannot be harvested like fossil fuels.

Longer term, nanostructure materials, used in fuel cell catalysts and other places, could lead to technical breakthroughs, she said.

Echoing the comments of her colleagues at MIT, Dresselhaus said that in the next 50 years new technologies will need to be developed to satisfy growing energy demand and to address climate changes from increased carbon in the environment.

In 2003, the DOE's authors said that a hydrogen-based economy was difficult but achievable, she noted. "Probably nobody has changed their assessment: the problem is difficult but we are making rapid progress and nanostructures are an important component," Dresselhaus said.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Self Driving Golf Car Performs Admirably

The self-driving Golf that would give Herbie a run for its money.


But now German car giant Volkswagen has turned fiction into reality by unveiling a fully automatic car which really can drive itself - and at speeds of up to 150mph.

It can weave with tyres screeching around tricky bends and chicanes, and through tightly coned off tracks - without any help or intervention from a human.


The GTi has electronic 'eyes' that use radar and laser sensors in the grille to 'read' the road and send the details back to its computer brain. A sat-nav system tracks its exact position with pin-point precision to within an inch.

The car can then work out the twists and turns it has to negotiate - before setting off at break-neck speed through a laid out course on a test track.

On a race circuit, it drove itself faster and more precisely than the VW engineers could manage - and can accelerate independently up to its top speed of 150mph.


The astonishing prototype was developed initially to help Volkswagen engineers test their vehicles.

But in an age when rapidly advancing technology and the Big Brother State is increasingly taking responsibility away from the driver - with the onward march of electronic speed limiters, collision avoidance systems, cruise control, satellite navigation, and pay-as-you-drive road tolling - the self-driving robot car is not such a distant prospect.

And many of the elements which make up its engine will be making their way into showroom cars within just a few years - just as sat-nav, collision avoidance sensors and anti-lock brakes have done in recent years.

A Volkswagen spokesman said: 'It really is a self-driving Golf. It steers, brakes and accelerates. And it races through handling courses independently. It can accomplish this at full performance and at the limits of its capabilities.'


The computer calculates where and at what speed the GTi has clearance between the cones. The GPS satellite enables navigation to within less than an inch.'

The miracle machine itself

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