Tag Archives: Science

Neuralink Hopes to Test their Brain-Machine Interface before the end of 2020

For many years communicating with your computer by thought has been science fiction. Today, that is coming closer to reality. Many significant advances have been made to manipulate prosthetics. Efforts to create a wider brain/machine interface are underway.

One of the major efforts in this area is being made by Neuralink. Elon Musk, among others, founded the company in 2016. Elon Musk has said that humans must become cyborgs if they are to survive in the robot and AI filled future. He has predicted that we must enhance our own intellectual abilities. If we do not, we will become redundant. According to Musk, Neuralink’s first goal is to help people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects.

Musk has said, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” The concept behind that is to integrate communications and computer processing power.

Neuralink is researching a direct link between the brain and computers. It has developed a system to feed thousands of electrical probes into a brain. According to Musk, it hopes to start testing the technology on humans sometime in 2020.

Neuralink has the potential to reshape both computing and humanity. The approach that Neuralink is taking uses a robot to insert tiny leads. Each of these leads is only a fraction of the width of a human hair.

First, sewing machine-like technology drills small holes. Ultra-thin electrodes called threads are inserted. A small chip is connected to a “wisp” of 1,024 threads. Up to 10 chips might be embedded under a user’s skin. Musk has said, “Ultimately, we can do a full brain-machine interfaces where we can achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI.” It might be possible for people to type 40 words per minute by thinking with such an interface.

Neuralink calls their approach a Neural Lace. The Neural Lace provides a technology layer above our brains. The expectation is for Neural Lace to increase our cognitive performance levels. The thought is that the closer we become to AI the less of a threat it will be. Neuralink hopes to have this in a human patient by the end of this year.

The Neuralink electrodes are being designed to both read and write data. The Neural Lace is a device that is intended to grow with your brain. Its major purpose is to optimize mental output.

In the long term, Neuralink sees brain-connected chips and wires placed under the skin. The user would wear a communications pod behind their ear like a hearing aid. The ‘pod’ would then use Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with a phone or computer. The long-term goal is to build a “digital superintelligence layer”. It will provide a high bandwidth interface between the brain and machine intelligence. The distinction between humans and machines may become almost imperceptible.

The challenges to developing this technology are significant. There have been successes in tests with animals. According to Musk, “A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain”. Many labs are researching brain-machine interface (BMI) technology. But some worry that Neuralink’s invasive method is risky.

The development of other non-invasive methods are underway. The hope is for these to not only read brain activity but also stimulate it. Using one of these technologies humans may someday be able to define what we want to become. It seems clear that humans are on a path to a more symbiotic relationship with our machines.

This is part of transhumanism. That is the enhancement of humans through the use of technology. At the low-end many of us have already taken a step along the transhumanism path. By wearing eyeglasses or a hearing aid we have augmented our bodies with technology. Other augmentations might enable us to ‘see’ wavelengths of light outside the usual visual spectrum. They might also include methods to accelerate the pace of learning. We might someday rapidly learn new skills or gain a better memory.
Further Reading

  1. Why Elon Musk’s transhumanism claims may not be that far-fetched
  2. Elon Musk: To Survive The Age of Artificial Intelligence, Humanity Must “Achieve Symbiosis With Machines”
  3. Elon Musk says Neuralink plans 2020 human test of brain-computer interface
  4. The merging of humans and machines is happening now
  5. An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels

Holograms that you can Feel?

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Globe created by the Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display developed at the University of Sussex. Credit: Eimontas

I thought that this was something of interest. The article “From sci-fi to science lab: Holograms you can ‘feel’” describes a holographic system called Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display (MATD) which “can simultaneously deliver visual, auditory and tactile content”. This uses “acoustophoresis” to move and manipulate particles to create the hologram.

This work was written up in the article “A volumetric display for visual, tactile and audio presentation using acoustic trapping” that appeared on11/13/19 in Nature. This could bring some very interesting interactive displays in the future.

 

USA, Arizona, Winslow – Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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While we were driving on our 2019 Road Trip to Henderson, NV to visit family we passed by Meteor Crater Natural Landmark just east of Flagstaff, AZ (Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc., Interstate 40, Exit 233, Winslow, AZ 86047 USA). We were in no hurry so we took the time to visit. As you can see from the aerial photo above, the crater is quite large.

IMG_0884The meteorite that created the crater 50,000 years ago is estimated to have weighed 300,000 tons and was traveling at a speed of 26,000 miles per hour when it hit the Earth. The meteorite exploded with the force of 2 ½ million tons of TNT. In the photo above you can see the largest found fragment of the mostly iron meteorite.

IMG_0876The resulting crater was 3/4 of a mile (about 1 kilometer) wide and 750 feet deep. Over the intervening 50,000 years, the crater has filled in some so that it is now only 550 feet deep.

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To give you some perspective of the size, they have placed a 6′ astronaut figure (because the astronauts headed to the Moon trained here) and a 4′ x 6′ US flag at the base of the crater. They are placed inside the red circle in the photo above.

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Of course, you can’t see them with the naked eye. Even in the close up above you can’t see them.

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I had to use one of the prepositioned telescopes at the visitor center observation deck to see them. With a little effort, I captured a photo with my iPhone. That does put the distance in perspective!

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There is a nice visitor center (far right) with a film and museum on the edge of the crater. You can also see in the photo above how the rim of the crater is raised almost 150′ above the level of the ground. This is because the meteorite buried itself into the ground before exploding. That explosion pushed the edge of the crater up as well as spreading millions of small meteorite bits around the area.

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We were also on a short guided (man in yellow) tour that went about a quarter of a mile west along the north rim of the crater.

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We thought that this side trip was well worth the expense (Adults: $18.00, Seniors (60+):  $16.00, Juniors: (age 6 to 17) $9.00, Non-Active Duty U.S. Military/Veterans (with I.D.): $9.00) and time.


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Coffee Seems to Combat the Onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

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(See my other Coffee related posts) – I read “Dark Coffee Can Reduce The Risk Of Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Diseases, A New Study Showed” a few months ago now, but seeing it again today, I wanted to share it. This article is based on “Phenylindanes in Brewed Coffee Inhibit Amyloid-Beta and Tau Aggregation” published in the October 12, 2018 issue of the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

In the study conducted at Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto, researchers tested three different Starbucks coffee blends (Instant light roast, dark roast, and decaffeinated dark roast) for phenylindanes. They looked for phenylindanes as these compounds which are produced in the coffee roasting process are known to inhibit proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s from clumping.

The study links the consumption of coffee, particularly dark roast coffee, with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The darker the roast, the more phenylindanes that are produced. This avenue of research is in its early stage and much is still unknown about the exact interaction of the compounds.

Still, this is yet another in a series of studies that indicate that chemicals contained in coffee have a beneficial impact on health.

Nuclear Rockets, ​the Future of Space Propulsion?

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(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – I came across the article “Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets” today and wanted to share it.

 

 

The idea of a nuclear rocket engine was developed in the 1960s for NASA. The research was led by Werner von Braun and successfully tested in Nevada.

What is a nuclear thermal rocket?

A conventional chemical rocket carries combustible chemicals which are ignited, then the resulting gases flow out of a nozzle propelling the vehicle. In a nuclear rocket, a small marble size chunk of Uranium fuel undergoes fission. This energy released heats hydrogen to very high temperatures (nearly 2500 C). The hydrogen is then expelled from the vehicle in a nozzle like on chemical rockets. The difference is that nuclear propulsion is two to three times as efficient.  Tests were carried out starting in 1955 that have proven that this technique will work. Testing was discontinued in 1973.

Where are we Now? 

The original design required highly-enriched uranium. Current designs will most likely rely on low-enriched uranium.  This would make nuclear propulsion systems safer to work with. On May 22, 2019, the US Congress approved $125 million to fund new nuclear thermal propulsion development.

Another alternative being researched is using fusion instead of fission for propulsion. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is working on what they call the Direct Fusion Drive. Applied Fusion Systems is also at work on a fusion alternative.

Whether it is fission in the short term or fusion in the long term, the prospects for nuclear-powered rockets looks very positive. Read the full article for more details.

Sailing in Space on Light

(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – The idea of a ‘sailing on light’ with a Solar Sail has been around for a while. A test flight of LightSail 1 (formerly LightSail-A) was launched on May 20, 2015. While the mission had problems, the LightSail 1 flight was considered a success.

The larger LinghtSail 2 is scheduled to launch June 24, 2019, aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

Celebrate National Robotics Week!

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Robots – This week, actually it started yesterday, celebrates robotics in the US. Per the National Robotics Week website:

National Robotics Week (RoboWeek) is a series of grassroots events and activities during the month of April aimed at increasing public awareness of the strength and importance of the U.S. robotics industry and of the tremendous social and cultural impact that robotics will have on the future. Activities come in all shapes and sizes from a robot block party, university open house, or a robotics competition. The mission of RoboWeek is simple — to inspire students in STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages. Celebrate RoboWeek by hosting an event in your community, sponsoring or attending a local event, or spreading the word on social media.

National Robotics Week was first celebrated in 2010 after university and industry leaders appealed to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics to create a “national roadmap” for robotics technology. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week.

Is AI As Smart As We Think?

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Robots – Articles appear all the time touting how ‘intelligent’ a new system is. But are they really as smart as claimed? The article “How intelligent is artificial intelligence?” raises the point that we should look harder at how these systems have reached their conclusions.

This article is based on work done by researchers from TU Berlin, Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Among the points raised in the article:

  • Some seemingly successful AI systems employ flaky or even “cheating” problem solving strategies
  • Some AI systems sometimes use so-called ‘Clever Hans Strategies’ [1]
  • It is quite conceivable that about half of the AI systems currently in use implicitly or explicitly rely on such ‘Clever Hans’ strategies.

The researchers used a technology developed earlier by TU Berlin and Fraunhofer HHI, the so-called Layer-wise Relevance Propagation (LRP) algorithm. This algorithm allows visualizing which input variables an AI system uses to make their decisions

 

 

Footnotes:

  1. Clever Hans was a horse that could supposedly count and was considered a scientific sensation during the 1900s. As it was discovered later, Hans did not master math but in about 90 percent of the cases, he was able to derive the correct answer from the questioner’s reaction.