Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ tag: Page 3

Apr 22, 2014

Could Mind-reading Technology Become Harmful?

Posted by in categories: counterterrorism, cybercrime/malcode, ethics, government, law enforcement, neuroscience, security, singularity, transhumanism


The increasing detail at which human brains can be scanned is bringing the possibility of mind-reading appliances closer and closer. Such appliances, when complete, will be non-invasive and capable of responding to our thoughts as easily as they respond to keys on a keyboard. Indeed, as emphasized in the Lifeboat Foundation’s 2013 publication, The Human Race to the Future, there may soon be appliances that are operated by thought alone, and such technology may even replace our keyboards.
It is not premature to be concerned about possible negative outcomes from this, however positive the improvement in people’s lifestyles would be. In mind-reading appliances, there are two possible dangers that become immediately obvious.

Danger 1: “Thought police”

Brain-machine interfaces have many possibilities that deserve to be explored by science. However, there are also potentially dystopian threats presented by this technology. Even technologies like personal computers, which were seen as liberating to the individual and not aligned with powerful governments, have also become windows that regimes can use to spy on their citizens.

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Jun 10, 2013

Intimations of Imitations: Visions of Cellular Prosthesis & Functionally-Restorative Medicine

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, engineering, futurism, life extension, nanotechnology, neuroscience

In this essay I argue that technologies and techniques used and developed in the fields of Synthetic Ion Channels and Ion Channel Reconstitution, which have emerged from the fields of supramolecular chemistry and bio-organic chemistry throughout the past 4 decades, can be applied towards the purpose of gradual cellular (and particularly neuronal) replacement to create a new interdisciplinary field that applies such techniques and technologies towards the goal of the indefinite functional restoration of cellular mechanisms and systems, as opposed to their current proposed use of aiding in the elucidation of cellular mechanisms and their underlying principles, and as biosensors.

In earlier essays (see here and here) I identified approaches to the synthesis of non-biological functional equivalents of neuronal components (i.e. ion-channels ion-pumps and membrane sections) and their sectional integration with the existing biological neuron — a sort of “physical” emulation if you will. It has only recently come to my attention that there is an existing field emerging from supramolecular and bio-organic chemistry centered around the design, synthesis, and incorporation/integration of both synthetic/artificial ion channels and artificial bilipid membranes (i.e. lipid bilayer). The potential uses for such channels commonly listed in the literature have nothing to do with life-extension however, and the field is to my knowledge yet to envision the use of replacing our existing neuronal components as they degrade (or before they are able to), rather seeing such uses as aiding in the elucidation of cellular operations and mechanisms and as biosensors. I argue here that the very technologies and techniques that constitute the field (Synthetic Ion-Channels & Ion-Channel/Membrane Reconstitution) can be used towards the purpose of the indefinite-longevity and life-extension through the iterative replacement of cellular constituents (particularly the components comprising our neurons – ion-channels, ion-pumps, sections of bi-lipid membrane, etc.) so as to negate the molecular degradation they would have otherwise eventually undergone.

While I envisioned an electro-mechanical-systems approach in my earlier essays, the field of Synthetic Ion-Channels from the start in the early 70’s applied a molecular approach to the problem of designing molecular systems that produce certain functions according to their chemical composition or structure. Note that this approach corresponds to (or can be categorized under) the passive-physicalist sub-approach of the physicalist-functionalist approach (the broad approach overlying all varieties of physically-embodied, “prosthetic” neuronal functional replication) identified in an earlier essay.

The field of synthetic ion channels is also referred to as ion-channel reconstitution, which designates “the solubilization of the membrane, the isolation of the channel protein from the other membrane constituents and the reintroduction of that protein into some form of artificial membrane system that facilitates the measurement of channel function,” and more broadly denotes “the [general] study of ion channel function and can be used to describe the incorporation of intact membrane vesicles, including the protein of interest, into artificial membrane systems that allow the properties of the channel to be investigated” [1]. The field has been active since the 1970s, with experimental successes in the incorporation of functioning synthetic ion channels into biological bilipid membranes and artificial membranes dissimilar in molecular composition and structure to biological analogues underlying supramolecular interactions, ion selectivity and permeability throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s. The relevant literature suggests that their proposed use has thus far been limited to the elucidation of ion-channel function and operation, the investigation of their functional and biophysical properties, and in lesser degree for the purpose of “in-vitro sensing devices to detect the presence of physiologically-active substances including antiseptics, antibiotics, neurotransmitters, and others” through the “… transduction of bioelectrical and biochemical events into measurable electrical signals” [2].

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Dec 7, 2010

Rethinking Education to Build Better Learners — Naveen Jain

Posted by in categories: education, neuroscience

My generation was the last one to learn to use a slide rule in school. Today that skill is totally obsolete. So is the ability to identify the Soviet Socialist Republics on a map, the ability to write an operation in FORTAN, or how to drive a car with a standard transmission.

We live in a world of instant access to information and where technology is making exponential advances in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, genetics, robotics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence. In this world, we should not be focused on improving the classrooms but should be devoting resources to improving the brains that the students bring to that classroom.

To prepare students for this high-velocity, high-technology world the most valuable skill we can teach them is to be better learners so they can leap from one technological wave to the next. That means education should not be about modifying the core curricula of our schools but should be about building better learners by enhancing each student’s neural capacities and motivation for life-long learning.

Less than two decades ago this concept would have been inconceivable. We used to think that brain anatomy (and hence learning capacity) was fixed at birth. But recent breakthroughs in the neuroscience of learning have demonstrated that this view is fundamentally wrong.

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