…sells itself as aiming to “simulate a complete human brain in a supercomputer” but this is clearly bollocks.
It’s interesting that this claim makes the press kit and the flashy video but the actual report (pdf) has much more sober claims about ‘simulating brain dynamics’ and the like.
But it’s important to realise that while their big sell is nonsense, the project is likely to genuinely revolutionise neuroscience in a way that could push the field light years ahead.
What Markram has realised is that the single biggest barrier to progress in neuroscience is the co-ordination, sharing and integration of data.
Essentially, it’s a problem of information architecture but quite frankly, you can’t sell that to politicians and they can’t sell it to the public. Hence the ‘simulating a complete human brain’ fluff.
What the project aims to do is co-ordinate neuroscience teams looking at neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience and computational modelling and give them the tools to easily share data with each other.
One of the big pay-offs will genuinely be the creation of biologically feasible computer simulations of neural networks with the hope that these can be used for practical applications like virtual drug testing and computer-based experiments.
Markram has gained valuable experience of meshing heavy-duty computing with working lab teams and has recruited some of the world’s leading neuroscientists to the project.
Although the spin seems over-the-top scientifically this is an important project that, if successful, could be a scientific landmark.
The web is a perfect example of what engineer and early computer scientist Vannevar Bush called “intelligence augmentation” by computers, in his 1945 article “As We May Think” in The Atlantic. He described a future in which human ability to follow an associative knowledge trail would be enabled by a device he called “the memex”. This would improve on human memory in the precision of its recall. Google is today’s ultimate memex.
The web also demonstrates what JCR Licklider, another early computer visionary, called “man-machine symbiosis”. Humans create the documents that make up the web and provide the associative links between them. Search engines follow our breadcrumb trail, evaluate the strongest paths, and lead others to what has been found. When the algorithms for finding the “right” documents improve, we all get smarter; when spammers or other malware lead the algorithms astray, we all get dumber.
Man-machine symbiosis isn’t just about knowledge retrieval, it’s also about knowledge creation. Our computers have no intelligence without us, but they accelerate our collective intelligence at a speed that has never been seen before.
social evolution: the ritual animal by dan jones
…neighbourhood friends formed small groups comprising “the number of people you could fit in a car”. Later, fighters began living together in groups of 25 – 40 in disused buildings and the mansions of rich supporters. Finally, after Gaddafi’s forces were pushed out of Misrata, much larger and hierarchically organized brigades emerged that patrolled long stretches of the defensive border of the city. There was even a Misratan Union of Revolutionaries, which by November 2011 had registered 236 rebel brigades.
McQuinn interviewed more than 300 fighters from 21 of these rebel groups, which varied in size from 12 to just over 1,000 members2. He found that the early, smaller brigades tended to form around pre-existing personal ties, and became more cohesive and the members more committed to each other as they collectively experienced the fear and excitement of fighting a civil war on the streets of Misrata.
But six of the groups evolved into super-brigades of more than 750 fighters, becoming “something more like a corporate entity with their own organizational rituals”, says McQuinn. A number of the group leaders had run successful businesses, and would bring everyone together each day for collective training, briefings and to reiterate their moral codes of conduct — the kinds of routine group activities characteristic of the doctrinal mode. “These daily practices moved people from being ‘our little group’ to ‘everyone training here is part of our group’,” says McQuinn.
painting by joe dragt
I have been reading about the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF), which hopes that chemical and other methods, including a refined version of plastination, will enable brains to be preserved with such fidelity that memories, personality, and even identity can be preserved.
This may well seem reminiscent of the older cryogenic preservation projects which have not always had a good press over recent years, though they still continue to operate and indeed have refined their processes somewhat. But although the BPF also has a vision of bringing people back to life after their natural death, it is in many ways a different kettle of fish. It does not itself offer any kind of service but merely seeks to promote research, and it does not expect to see a practical system for many years. In addition, it makes its case and addresses objections in a commendably clear and thoughtful way – see for example this blog post by John M Smart, co-founder of the BPF. Perhaps this is partly also to do with its impressive panel of advisors, which includes such names as Chalmers, Seung, and Eagleman, to mention only a few.
I have some reservations about the project, which fall into several categories; there are general concerns about the practicality of preservation, doubts about personal identity, and doubts about the claimed social value of letting people have a prolonged or renewed life; but there are positive factors, too.
In the long aftermath of atrocities such as the Newtown school massacre, families and health-care professionals are left trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. Thoughts duly turn to the future, and to prevention of such incidents, but what happens to the children left behind? How best to help them cope? The sobering answer, according to a systematic review published in Pediatrics last week, is that we do not know.
Valerie Forman-Hoffman and colleagues had searched for high-quality studies that assessed interventions in children or adolescents exposed to non-relational traumatic events — including war, terrorist attacks, community violence, and natural disasters. Having boiled the available evidence down to just 22 short-term studies that tested 20 different treatments, they were left with worryingly vague conclusions.
Drugs, it seems, probably don’t work. Only three were assessed — imipramine, fluoxetine, and sertraline — and none showed efficacy. Psychological treatments fared little better. Few showed clinical benefit (mainly school-based treatments that incorporated cognitive behavioural therapy), with the authors concluding, as strongly as available evidence would allow, that psychotherapeutic treatment might be more effective than no treatment at all.
The authors call for more research into the comparative effectiveness of different interventions for this age group. But a focus on observational analysis of the long-term wellbeing of children and adolescents following a traumatic event would also be desirable. People cope with trauma in different ways. It is normal that extreme circumstances elicit extreme responses, but what is a normal reaction to a traumatic event? Without knowledge of the natural history of reaction to trauma, how do we know when to intervene, and when such intervention might be harmful? The answers will vary from child to child, although research might yet reveal general patterns that will be of use to clinicians. In the meantime, it is important that evidence-based support is available when necessary — which might be some time after the original traumatic event.
photo by reuters
The central government has unveiled its first blueprint to control the environmental and health risks of toxic chemicals, and for the first time officially acknowledged the existence of “cancer clusters” due to such pollution.
The blueprint, covering the period from 2011 to 2015 and posted on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, admits that excessive levels of chemical pollutants are already found in the country’s major rivers and lakes, and even in animal and human bodies.
“In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages’,” the blueprint said.
In recent years, toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as ‘cancer villages
from the white house preventing gun violence
1. require background checks for all gun sales
2. strengthen the background check system for gun sales
3. pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons
4. limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
5. finish the job of getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets
6. give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime
7. end the freeze on gun violence research
8. make our schools safer with new resource officers and counselors, better emergency response plans, and more nurturing school climates
9. ensure quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people
No single law – or even set of laws – can prevent every act of violence in our country. But the fact that this problem is complex can not be an excuse for inaction.
how guns became gadgets — lightweight, easy to use, and more effective than ever by christopher mims
It doesn’t take more than a few hundred dollars and a trip to a Wal-Mart in the US to create an assault rifle identical to the one used to murder 27 people in an elementary school… Under laws that have been on the books since gangster Al Capone proved the devastating capacity of machine guns, Americans can’t buy fully automatic rifles. But the action on modern assault rifles is so smooth that one can still fire four shots a second, simply by squeezing the trigger as quickly as possible. You only have to reload every 20 shots, or 30 with a bigger magazine. Owing to the design of modern bullet magazines, reloading only takes a few seconds.
Despite being a “long gun,” a properly configured AR-15-style assault rifle can weigh less than the average laptop computer (about 5.5 pounds) and its longer barrel makes no-look aiming easier than with a pistol. The optional collapsible stock (the part that usually protrudes from the back of the gun) is perfect for maneuvering indoors, and the gun has very little kick, allowing a user to squeeze off round after round while staying on-target.
The bullets an AR-15-style assault rifle can fire are available in a wider variety than those available to the US military. While troops are in many cases limited to solid slugs designed to penetrate both walls and people, the hollow-tipped bullets favored by many AR-15 fans are, according to the magazine Guns and Ammo, “specifically created for defense against two-legged predators.” These bullets fragment on impact, transferring as much energy to their targets as possible, which “creates a very impressive wound cavity.”
An AR-15, in other words, is how you turn a schoolroom into an abattoir for six year old children.