- Pew Internet have released a study that determined specific pros and cons of using digital technology in a classroom environment. According to the survey, the majority of middle school and high school educators believe that digital tools increase student collaboration with applications such as Google Docs, and help them share their work through social media platforms…. Read more
- I’m picturing Radar O’Reilly as a cyborg here… The Cognitive Desktop: From Siri’s Creators, A Predictive Digital Personal Assistant
- Just in case you want to really mitigate your Sharknado risk: SAMS wetsuits make surfers look less tasty
- National Geographic has a fascinating piece up now about how forensic linguistics led to revealing J.K. Rowling as the actual author of The Cuckoo’s Calling. OK, so it’s not TIME magazine publishing about natural language processing but still great to see it being discussed mainstream. read about it here
- Drones – use them only for good.
- Did you sign a petition to stop phone record surveillance? Oh, well. Secret court renews controversial NSA phone data harvest program (Denver Post). John Perry wrote today in IEET that he likens this practice to piracy: “…there’s a way the NSA debate is like the piracy debate. The problem with a file sharer isn’t that he or she copied, but that the copy was done without permission. The NSA can be characterized as doing the same thing: copying data without permission. In both cases, a fundamental quality of digital technology — frictionless, nonrivalrous copying — enables the behavior. In both cases, the authority to grant permission is the key issue.”
- And, to close out today’s SITN for Tech, two interesting things on mapping. The first is a project in London, ON, to map social good endeavors. The mapathon (next Thursday, the 25th) is open to the public.
- The second is a new Coursera online class that actually started on the 17th (for 5 weeks), so you’ll have to play a bit of catch up for credit, I think: Maps and the Geospatial Revolution The short description reads, “Learn how advances in geospatial technology and analytical methods have changed how we do everything, and discover how to make maps and analyze geographic patterns using the latest tools.” Hat tip Robert Dunne for the course link.
Tag Archives: AI & Cognitive Science
Fast zombie brain vs. slow zombie brain (Credit: Zombie Research Society)
Neuroscientists Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen of the Zombie Research Society have begun a multi-part examination of the neuroscience of the zombie brain. Each part will focus on one key aspect of what makes a zombie, and develop a brain model that explains such zombie behavior.The introduction to the project describes their methodology:
Neuroscience has shown that all thoughts and behaviors are associated with neural activity within the brain. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the zombie brain would look and function differently than the gray matter contained in your skull. Yet, how would one know what a zombie brain looks like?
Luckily, the rich repertoire of behavioral symptoms shown in cinema gives the astute neuroscientist or neurologist clues as to the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of zombie behavior. By taking a forensic neuroscience approach, we can piece together a hypothetical picture of the zombie brain.
So far, they’ve examined two key symptoms of the zombie epidemic. Dr. Voytek has examined the the aggression of zombies, and notes that the most likely explanation for this behavior is a lack of a functioning orbitofrontal cortex. Dr. Verstynen examined the gait of zombies, and has differentiated between “fast” and “slow” zombies. “Slow” zombies likely suffer from damage to the cerebellum, leading to their lumbering, uncoordinated style of movement. “Fast” zombies, by contrast, appear to have no such difficulties.
More symptoms will be analyzed and explained from a neuroscience viewpoint over the coming weeks, so be sure to stay tuned to Oscillatory Thoughts and The Cognitive Axon over the course of the next few days. For more about what to do in the event of a zombie outbreak, the CDC has basic preparedness on their website here, and has a comic book on zombie preparedness here. For more background on Dr. Voytek’s neuroscience research, check out my interview with him here.
This past Saturday, October 15th, marked a momentous occasion in the history of cleanliness: the fourth annual Global Handwashing Day. Yes, it exists. Established by the Global Public Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap in 2008, it has since been celebrated by schools, families, and villages across the world, from China, to Peru, to Burkina Faso. And it’s not just a gimmick: proper handwashing has the potential to save more lives than any vaccine or medical intervention and is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of preventing disease. But what’s more, it’s also an incredibly powerful psychological tool.
We tend to consider moral transgressions in terms of physical cleanliness
Consider this recent review from Current Directions in Psychological Science, which explores the consequences that hand washing has on the mind. The series of studies that the authors explore take as their starting point the historically close association between physical disgust and moral disgust: when we perceive a moral transgression, we tend to react in a similar way as we would to something that is physically off-putting, such as spoiled food or physical contaminants in the environment. We recoil in the same fashion; our face scrunches up in the same repulsed expression; even our brain lights up in overlapping neural networks, evoking similar subjective feelings in both instances.
And when we think about morality, we tend to think about it in terms of physical cleanliness. In one demonstration of this effect, researchers asked people to think abut a past behavior that was either moral or immoral. Those who thought about immoral acts were later far more likely to fill in word fragments such as W _ _ H and S _ _ P with words related to cleanliness, such as wash and soap, whereas no such effect was observed in any other group. On the flip side, people who were exposed to either a messy room, a stinky smell (including a “fart spray” in one study), or a video that showed a dirty toilet were more likely to judge others’ moral transgressions as more severe and more deserving of punishment than people who made the same judgments while sitting in a clean room.
What’s the Latest Development?
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have successfully engineered a robotic cerebellum that functions in the brain of rats. First the scientists sought to understand what kind of signal a rat cerebellum sends when it receives stimuli, then they duplicated that response in the mechanical cerebellum they engineered. “Attaching the synthetic cerebellum to the rat, the scientists tried to condition it to blink at the sound of a tone. To get the rat to blink they first fired a puff of air at the rat when the tone sounded and then just sounded the tone.” When the motorized cerebellum was attached, the rat blinked.
What’s the Big Idea?
The artificial cerebellum represents a higher order of brain-computer interface than what is currently experienced by users of advanced prosthetics that receive and execute orders from the brain. Since the cerebellum is but a part of the brain, the scientists had to engineer the “cerebellum to receive information from one part of the brain and send it back to another.” Scientists need to understand more about how the cerebellum functions before a test is performed on humans but this recent experiment is good news for those with brain injuries.
Debunking Common Brain Myths
Neuroscientist, Princeton University
IN AN ATTEMPT TO PUT MATTER OVER MIND, researchers are beginning to decipher what exactly is happening in our brains when we are making decisions.
Our thoughts, though abstract and vaporous in form, are determined by the actions of specific neuronal circuits in our brains. The new field known as “decision neuroscience” is uncovering those circuits, thereby mapping thinking on a cellular level. Although still a young field, research in this area has exploded in the last decade, with findings suggesting it is possible to parse out the complexity of thinking into its individual components and decipher how they are integrated when we ponder. Eventually, such findings will lead to a better understanding of a wide range of mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, as well as explain how exactly we make the multitude of decisions that ultimately shape our destiny.
Recently, three experts in decision neuroscience discussed their work, describing the genesis of this cutting-edge field and why it incorporates several disciplines. They also identified the driving questions in the field and reflected on the potential practical applications of this research. The investigators who participated are:
- DAEYEOL LEE, PhD, Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine
- C. DANIEL SALZMAN, MD, PhD., Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University School of Medicine
- XIAO-JING WANG, PhD., Department of Neurobiology, Physics and Psychology; Director, Swartz Program in Theoretical Neurobiology; Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine
Addiction has been moralized, medicalized, politicized, and criminalized. And, of course, many of us are addicts, have been addicts or have been close to addicts. Addiction runs very hot as a theme.
Part of what makes addiction so compelling is that it forms a kind of conceptual/political crossroads for thinking about human nature. After all, to make sense of addiction we need to make sense of what it is to be an agent who acts, with values, in the face of consequences, under pressure, with compulsion, out of need and desire. One needs a whole philosophy to understand addiction.
Today I want to respond to readers who were outraged by my willingness even to question whether addiction is a disease of the brain.
Let us first ask: what makes something — a substance or an activity — addictive? Is there a property shared by all the things to which we can get addicted?
New research from Penn State and the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging finds that caregivers of people with dementia are not listening to what the people they care for want.
The researchers interviewed 256 pairs of people. In each pair, one person had mild to moderate dementia, the other was the caregiver.
The researchers interviewed members of the pairs separately, asking questions related to how much value they place on five core values: autonomy, burden, control, family and safety. For example, one question focused on the level of importance a dementia patient gave to the ability to spend his or her own money in the way he or she wants.
“Our results demonstrate that adult children underestimate the importance that their relatives with dementia placed on all five core values,” said [lead researcher Steven] Zarit. “For example, the person with dementia might think it is very important to continue to be part of family celebrations, but his or her caregiver might not.”
So the caregivers/decision makers aren’t taking into account what the person with dementia values. That’s really sad.
A few years ago I helped write a book titled I Can Still Laugh: Stories of Inspiration and Hope from Individuals Living with Alzheimer’s. My expert co-author was Audette Rackley at the Center for BrainHealth, part of the University of Texas at Dallas (my alma mater, and a current writing client).
The book is based on an intervention called cognitive stimulation, a dry academic name for something rich and human. The intervention supports things the person with dementia can do at any time, rather than trying prop up declining abilities. Helping people with dementia remain productive and connected helps mitigate the disease’s damaging byproduct: depression.
I Can Still Laugh focuses on a group of people with early-onset Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. The group—mostly men, all professionally successful, all diagnosed in their 50s and 60s–called themselves the Stark Club, for their most dynamic member, whose donation also supported the research. Temple Stark was a loving guy with a big laugh and a sunny attitude who was diagnosed when he was 54 years old, a father of two teenage daughters at the peak of his career as an insurance underwriter. The book’s title is a quote from Temple.