Flash Freezing Your Brain To Become Immortal Is Not Only Super Unrealistic, It’s Unethical, Too

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The idea is simple, really.

Your body is flooded with embalming fluid, your brain is tucked into a freezer, and finally (and this is where researchers are currently a bit fuzzy on the details) science progresses to the point where it can reverse-engineer the human brain.

Voilà! Your digital self lives on forever. One more thing, though: You have to die first.

Not buying it? Neither are the neuroscientists at MIT. They’re calling bullshit on startup Netctome’s plans to backup your consciousness. MIT Media Lab announced it will sever any ties it has with Nectome — including a contract with Media Lab professor Edward Boyden — after the controversial startup caused an outpouring of criticism from the neuroscience community.

“It is so unethical—I can’t describe how unethical it is,” Sten Linnarsson, scientist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, told MIT Technology Review. MIT Media Lab also called the idea unrealistic: “Neuroscience has not sufficiently advanced to the point where we know whether any brain preservation method is powerful enough to preserve all the different kinds of biomolecules related to memory and the mind.”

Nectome issued a statement in response, stating that it would only go ahead with the support of the scientific community. “We believe that rushing to apply vitrification today would be extremely irresponsible and hurt eventual adoption of a validated protocol.” Well, that sounds a lot more reasonable.

Regardless, Netcome has amassed a waiting list of volunteers who are ready to get their brains put on ice, collecting $ 200,000 in the process. That amount sounds like a promising start. But we’ll have to see what the startup’s financial future looks like now that MIT has pulled out entirely.

Still, MIT Media Lab isn’t ready to completely discard the idea as a whole: “It’s possible that someday we will be able to simulate, in a computer, neural circuits with great accuracy, based on detailed enough biomolecular maps.”

But, let’s call a spade a spade. The concept of a digital consciousness is science fiction. And literally suggesting to euthanize the terminally ill by pumping their body with embalming fluid is bound to raise some eyebrows — to say the very least. The science isn’t there yet, so let’s all take a chill pill together, and wait for the technology to be ready. And let’s do it all before we ask people to give up their lives for some fantastical idea.

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Upcoming Minimalist Puzzler ‘Bloki’ Will Twist Your Brain into Knots in Mid-May

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An interesting new trailer crossed our news desk today, and the more I watch it the more it makes my brain hurt. But in a good way. It’s for an upcoming puzzler called Bloki from developer Junkhive, and I think they do a pretty good job of succinctly describing it here: “Bloki is a minimal, clean and mind-bending game with a simple goal each level – twist, turn, and build the structure to place the blocks on the points that match their color. With additional elements, like color switching tiles or obstacles, the game gets more and more interesting as it progresses. It also helps you train your spatial intelligence, as well as visualising and manipulating three dimensional space in your head.” Here’s the trailer.

Using the touchscreen, you’ll be able to rotate and position the group of blocks to your liking, as well as add on blocks as needed. The goal is to get the floating colored points aligned with the same colored blocks of the little structure you’re building. But that’s not all! “Some levels have tiles that change the colors of the blocks, some have points which must remain empty, and others have obstacles which restrict your movement.” It all sounds like some masochistic twist on the Rubik’s Cube, which is music to my ears. If you enjoy these types of challenging puzzlers that force you to think in three dimensional space, then look for Bloki to launch on iOS in mid-May for just 99¢.

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Reverse engineering consciousness: Is the brain a quantum computer?

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The human brain is often described as a powerful computer, a metaphor that leads many experts to fear AI could one day become sentient. But what if developers seeking to create machines that think are barking up the wrong tree? Our minds, according to some, are actually quantum computers. And, if that’s true, today’s deep learning techniques will never lead to general artificial intelligence (the singularity) without a serious hardware upgrade. All of the most advanced classical supercomputers on the planet combined won’t hold a candle to the 100 qubit quantum sytems that are on the way. Google is confident it’ll reach quantum…

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A Mobile Scanner Reveals Brain Activity of Patients Doing Everyday Tasks

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Children with mental and neurological disorders have plenty of challenges in their lives. The last thing they need is to sit still for a while with their heads stuck in a machine — the current technique that scientists use to take pictures of their brain activity. It’s inconvenient and unpleasant, but it’s also pretty limited, because it tells scientists nothing about how the brain behaves when the patient is active, going about their daily lives.

Scientists in the U.K. and U.S. decided it was time to make brain imaging way less stressful for patients, not to mention suitable for patients that struggle to keep still, such as toddlers.

They came up with a (scary-looking but) versatile helmet that allows them to move relatively freely as it scans their brain. The helmet is 3D printed, can be personalized to fit a patient’s head, and weighs less than one kilogram.

The researchers were able to shrink the machine without reducing its function by replacing the conventional sensors, which require a heavy cooling system, with tiny ones that use a different technique to capture the brain’s magnetic field.

As reported by New Scientist, the team tested the helmet on four volunteers. They were asked to move their fingers, to play a ball game and even have a cup of tea (because England). These experiments showed the portable scan worked as precisely and accurately as a conventional static one.

“This has the potential to revolutionize the brain imaging field, and transform the scientific and clinical questions that can be addressed with human brain imaging,” Gareth Barnes, a neuroimaging expert with the University College London and a partner of the project, told The Guardian.

Patients wearing the helmet can’t exactly forget about it — the scanner only works inside a special room designed to suppress the influence of the Earth’s natural magnetic field, which would interfere with the procedure. Oh, and it don’t just sit on the top of the head, but covers part of the face, too.

Still, the device could help researchers study child development, or brain activity of children with epilepsy. Better understanding could allow doctors to catch problems sooner, and treat them better.

Although still experimental, the device’s creators are confident that a mobile brain scanner holds great promises for science. They may do more tests, on people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, or psychoses, and see if they learn anything new.

They also realize the design isn’t quite where it needs to be. So they’re working on making future iterations look similar to a bike helmet. Perhaps they realized that terrified patients with their heads stuffed in giant devices might not give the most reliable brain scans.

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Brain interface adds sense of presence to bionic limbs

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It's been possible for a while to control bionic limbs with your brain, but there's been something missing: kinesthetic feedback, or the nervous system signals that give your limbs a sense of presence. You frequently have to stare at your artificial…
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Cryptocurrency News March 14 – what if 100% brain?

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It’s not a great day out there in the cryptos. Bitcoin nearly hitting $ 8k, Ethereum down to $ 616, and Stellar barely worth 25 cents. What a world! The end of the line So this guy thinks that Bitcoin is about to burst and it has no value, which would suck I guess. What’s funnier is that CNBC REALLY loves to get these people on that have one of two opinions – Bitcoin will be worth 7 billion dollars or zero dollars. I don’t really know how they get away with this weird emotional tug-of-war but I’m absolutely there for it.…

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Brain implants are happening — are you ready for yours?

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Brain implants or other types of neural links, such as Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) between the brain, the internet, and the cloud, are quickly entering the realm of science rather than science fiction. The Defense Advanced Research Agency is ready to run trials with closed-loop mood control chips linked to AI that can deliver an electrical impulse to regulate a soldier’s mood. In the private sector, Elon Musk has announced Neuralink — a neurotechnology venture that will not only focus on fighting diseases but also on augmenting humans so they can better compete with machines. The technology is advancing in…

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A Company Wants to Put a Chip in Your Brain to Cure Disease

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Non-Invasive BCI

Technological innovations like Elon Musk’s Neuralink and other brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) could one day improve human intelligence, memory, and communication. While the tech is enticing, in practice, the thought of actually having a chip implanted into your brain is enough to make even the most dedicated science fiction fan a little squeamish.

An Israel-based neurotech startup called BrainQ is taking a less invasive approach to integrating the human brain with technology. Instead of using implants, BrainQ is making use of non-surgically embedding EEG machines, which record electrical activity in the brain. EEGs have been used this way by other groups working with patients who are paralyzed, and BrainQ hopes their technique could achieve similar goals for improving the lives of stroke and spinal cord injury patients.

Blending technology with the human brain could yield incredible results. Image Credit: BrainQ

The neurotech company has a few fairly significant hurdles to clear before their tech could be made available for medical use, though. First, it will need to successfully complete human clinical trials. Then, the tech will need to gain FDA approval in order to be commercially in the U.S. The final and potentially the most difficult challenge for BrainQ will be the ongoing task of competing with all the other companies trying to create similar EEG-based technology.

While companies like NeuroLutions and NeuroPace will be overall competitors in terms of the technology itself, BrainQ seems to be the leading the development of applications that are focused on stroke and spinal cord injury patients.

Changing Medicine

The company hopes the tech will be available in the U.S. market by 2020. After that, they’ll continue to work to set BrainQ apart from other companies by developing applications for a wider range of diseases. Assaf Lifshitz, a spokesperson for BrainQ, told TechCrunch that in the future, the company hopes to use the tech to collect data and improve outcomes for patients with Alzheimer’s, and several diseases specific to children.

BrainQ’s timetable may be reasonable: since it relies on less invasive tech than, say, a brain implant, it will likely have a much easier road than other BCIs in terms of gaining FDA approval. As the tech is rolled out, BrainQ hopes it will be able to collect a more in-depth and broad range of data on the electrical activity of the human brain. That data could one day potentially lead to more refined assessments of a patient’s condition and ultimately, more effective treatments.

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Long Term Depression Permanently Changes the Brain

Depression Inflammation

New research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto has revealed something remarkable about mental illness: years of persistent depression-caused inflammation permanently and physically alter the brain. This may dramatically affect how we understand mental illness and how it progresses over time. 

In a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that those who had untreated depression for over a decade had significantly more inflammation in their brains, when compared to those with untreated clinical depression for less than a decade. This work jumps off of senior author Jeff Meyer’s previous work, in which he found the first concrete evidence that those with clinical depression experience inflammation of the brain.

This study went even further, proving for the first time that long-term depression can cause extensive and permanent changes in the brain. Dr. Meyer thinks that this study could be used to create treatments for different stages in depression. This is important because now it is clear that treating depression immediately after diagnosis should be significantly different than treatment after 10 years with the illness.

Improving Understanding

Once a doctor and patient find a treatments for depression that works for the patient, treatment typically remains static throughout the course of the patient’s life. Taking this new study into account, this might not be the most effective method.

A PET image of a slice of human brain, showing areas of blue and red coloring. This method was used to measure depression-caused inflammation in this study.
A PET image of a slice of human brain. Image Credit: Jens Maus

This study examined a total of 25 patients who have had depression for over a decade, 25 who had the illness for less time, and 30 people without clinical depression as a control group. The researchers measured depression-caused inflammation using positron emission tomography (PET), which can pick out the protein markers, called TSPO, that the brain immune cells produce due to inflammation. Those with long-lasting depression had about 30 percent higher levels of TSPO when compared to those with shorter periods of depression, as well as higher levels than the control group.

Many misunderstand mental illness to be entirely separate from physical symptoms, but this study shows just how severe those symptoms can be. These findings could spark similar studies with other mental illnesses.

It is even possible that depression might now be treated as a degenerative disease, as it affects the brain progressively over time: “Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” Meyer said in a press release.

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Scientists Use EEG Machine to Create Digital Images From Brain Activity

The Mind’s Eye

Neuroscientists at the University of Toronto in Scarborough have established a new method of recreating images perceived by the human brain based on electroencephalography (EEG) readings.

“When we see something, our brain creates a mental percept, which is essentially a mental impression of that thing,” said Dan Nemrodov, the postdoctoral fellow that developed the technique, in a press release. “We were able to capture this percept using EEG to get a direct illustration of what’s happening in the brain during this process.”

Test subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and presented with images of faces. The image was then recreated digitally as it was perceived in the individual’s mind using machine learning techniques to match their brain activity to particular types of facial features.

Previously, this has been accomplished using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, but there are practical advantages to being able to use EEG to perform the same operation.

For one, EEG machines are fairly common, portable, and less expensive than fMRI scanners. They also have a better temporal resolution: while an FMRI can capture images over seconds, EEGs can track how the image develops in the brain in milliseconds. 

While some have expressed doubt about the suitability of EEGs for such applications, Nemrodov is confident the results prove otherwise. The next step will be for researchers to expand the process beyond images of faces.

While it might drum up some potentially frightening applications, the “mind reading” technique could be life-changing for many people, giving those who are unable to speak or use sign language a way to communicate. It could also provide law enforcement with the ability to render a clear picture of what a witness remembers about a particular event. Being able to see what the person saw, without the inconsistencies introduced by testimonies made after the fact, or verbal descriptions of a person’s appearance to a sketch artist, which would completely change how we investigate a crime.

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