Artificial brain '10 years away'

Professor Markram at TED

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, has already simulated elements of a rat brain.

He told the TED Global conference in Oxford that a synthetic human brain would be of particular use finding treatments for mental illnesses.

"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," he said.

The Blue Brain project was launched in 2005 and aims to reverse engineer the mammalian brain from laboratory data.

In particular, his team has focused on the neocortical column - repetitive units of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex.

"It's a new brain," he explained. "The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions complex cognitive functions.

"It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ."

And that evolution continues, he said. "It is evolving at an enormous speed."

"It's a bit like going and cataloguing a bit of the rainforest - how may trees does it have, what shape are the trees, how many of each type of tree do we have, what is the position of the trees," he said.

"But it is a bit more than cataloguing because you have to describe and discover all the rules of communication, the rules of connectivity."



Major Genetic Differences Between Blood And Tissue Cells Revealed

ScienceDaily (July 16, 2009) — Research by a group of Montreal scientists calls into question one of the most basic assumptions of human genetics: that when it comes to DNA, every cell in the body is essentially identical to every other cell. Their results appear in the July issue of the journal Human Mutation.

This discovery may undercut the rationale behind numerous large-scale genetic studies conducted over the last 15 years, studies which were supposed to isolate the causes of scores of human diseases.

Except for cancer, samples of diseased tissue are difficult or even impossible to take from living patients. Thus, the vast majority of genetic samples used in large-scale studies come in the form of blood. However, if it turns out that blood and tissue cells do not match genetically, these ambitious and expensive genome-wide association studies may prove to have been essentially flawed from the outset.

Schweitzer is optimistic that this discovery may lead to new treatments for vascular disease in the near to medium term.

"The timeline might be five to 10 years," he said. "We have to do in-vitro cell culture experiments first, prove it in an animal model, and then develop a molecule or protein which will affect the mutated gene product. This is the first step, but it's an important step."



The Mysterious Lizards Who Swim In Sand

When the tiny lizard known as the sandfish moves through sand, it literally dives under the surface of the ground as if swimming. Now physicists have figured out how they do it - and want to build sandfish robots.

Georgia Tech physicist Daniel Goldman and his team observed the sandfish as they swam through sand, using X-rays and tiny sensors placed in the sand that measured how grains were displaced as the lizards moved through them. One thing they discovered right away was that the sandfish were indeed "swimming" - they tucked their legs up next to their bodies and moved in an undulatory wave like fish through water. Another interesting finding was that the lizards could go slightly faster in tightly-packed sand, as long as they varied the frequency of the wave created by the movement of their bodies. Their work is published today in Science.

There are implications for this research that go beyond understanding how lizards move through sand. Goldman and his team think it could help roboticists in designing rescue bots that could worm their way through collapsed rubble. It would also be useful for creating surveillance robots that can swim invisibly under sand, tracking enemy locations or even recording conversations that take place outdoors in sandy regions.



Scientists Discover Light Force with 'Push' Power

Scientists discover repulsive side to light force (PhysOrg.com) -- A team of Yale University researchers has discovered a "repulsive" light force that can be used to control components on silicon microchips, meaning future nanodevices could be controlled by light rather than electricity.

The team previously discovered an "attractive" force of light and showed how it could be manipulated to move components in semiconducting micro- and nano-electrical systems—tiny mechanical switches on a chip. The scientists have now uncovered a complementary repulsive force. Researchers had theorized the existence of both the attractive and since 2005, but the latter had remained unproven until now. The team, led by Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale's School of Engineering & Applied Science, reports its findings in the July 13 edition of Nature Photonics's advanced online publication.

"This completes the picture," Tang said. "We've shown that this is indeed a bipolar light force with both an attractive and repulsive component."

The attractive and repulsive light forces Tang's team discovered are separate from the force created by light's radiation pressure, which pushes against an object as light shines on it. Instead, they push out or pull in sideways from the direction the light travels.

Using both forces means they can now have complete control and can manipulate components in both directions. "We've demonstrated that these are tunable forces we can engineer," Tang said.

These light forces may one day control telecommunications devices that would require far less power but would be much faster than today's conventional counterparts, Tang said. An added benefit of using light rather than is that it can be routed through a circuit with almost no interference in signal, and it eliminates the need to lay down large numbers of electrical wires.



Facebook growth

facebook-growth-700000It’s been just under 90 days since Facebook announced it has crossed the 200 million active user mark. Today, that number is somewhere around 240 million, perhaps even close to 250 million. If Facebook were a country, it would now have the 4th largest population in the world.

While Facebook has been growing at around 300,00 to 400,000 active users per day for most of the last three quarters, its growth rate seems to have again significantly increased in recent weeks to around 700,000 to 750,000 new users per day based on data we are tracking from Facebook’s advertising tools.

If Facebook continues at this rate, it could reach 300 million active users by November. Keep in mind, however, that as has been the case for most of the last year, about 70% of that growth is happening outside the United States. Nevertheless, Facebook still grew at an 8% monthly clip in the US in May, up to nearly 70 million active users today.



The Value of Real Disease Cures and Inexpensive Tests

A blog makes a point that the healthcare funding battles are like generals fighting the last war. The new healthcare should focus on cures and cheap tests.

This site covered the detailed statistics that most of the healthcare costs are focused on the chronic diseases for the sickest 5% of people.

Curing cancer is worth $50 trillion to the USA alone according to a 2006study by Kevin M. Murphy and Robert H. Topel of the University of Chicago.

- A 10% reduction in cancer death rates has a value of roughly 5 trillion dollars to current and future Americans
- Reducing cancer death rates by 10% would generate roughly 180 billion dollars annually in value for the U.S. population
- These figures don’t even count any gains from reduced morbidity and improved quality of life
- Gains in longevity from 1970 to 2000 were worth roughly 95 trillion dollars to current and future Americans
- This amounts to a gain of over 3 trillion dollars per year (roughly 25% of annual GDP)
-Value of reducing the death rate by 1/10,000 worth roughly $630 to one person
- This corresponds to a value of a statistical life of $6.3 million


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