viernes, 27 de junio de 2014

How Evolution Gave Some Fish Their Electric Powers

Electric eels are usually 6.5 long and weigh about 45 pounds. Jason Gallant

The electric eel is one of the many creatures Charles Darwin sliced up and examined in his years aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. When he cut it open, he found that 80 percent of the fish’s body was taken up by three organs made of what looked like muscle tissue, but not quite. This is where the animal makes electricity.

After finding similar organs in other fish, Darwin correctly deduced that the lineages—six in all—came to the same adaptive conclusion independent of one another. Until now, though, no one has known how similar they were. According to a paper published today in Science, at least three of the six lineages evolved their electric organs through the same genetic pathways.

Taxonomically, these lineages were too distantly related to have inherited the organ from a common ancestor. In Origin of Species Darwin wrote that “Natural selection, working for the good of each being and taking advantage of analogous variations, has sometimes modified in very nearly the same manner two parts in two organic beings.” Biologists call this convergent evolution.

Imagine houses in built different parts of the country. The house in New Mexico may look different from a house in New England, but they’re built using the same basic structural parts,” said co-author Jason Gallant, a biologist at Michigan State University.

The team started with the electric eel—not actually an eel, but a type of knifefish. They took took DNA samples from cells in its electric organ—called electrocytes—and compared it to the DNA from other tissue, including its muscle, kidney, and nerve cells. From about 25,000 genes, about 100 stood out. In muscle cells, which electrocytes evolved from, these genes control the ability to contract. In the eel, these genes were highly suppressed. ”We think these are the ones that turn off the ‘muscleness’ of a muscle cell and turn on the current-generating ability,” said co-author Michael Sussman, a geneticist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The electric organ discharge starts when the fish’s brain sends signals that release a neurotransmitter onto the electrocytes. This opens tiny molecular doors that allow positively-charged sodium ions to rush in, creating an electric current. Our brain cells operate by moving ions around in a similar way.

After they’d isolated the genes in electric eels, the researchers looked at the RNA—the acid that encodes genes from DNA—of two other lineages of electric fishes. They found that the same genes were similarly manipulated, all with the same effect: Tweaking the muscle cell genetic code as a blueprint for a little organic battery

The researchers studied species of fish from the three lineages with black fish icons: elephantfish, catfish, and electric eels. Jason Gallant et al

Each electrocyte only turns out about 50 millivolts of electricity, but they are stacked end-to-end in the organ, so their charges accumulate like batteries in a Maglite. The eel’s electric organs (which take up about four-fifths of its body) can generate up to 600 volts. “There’s enough power in the eel’s electric organ to kill anything it wants,” said Sussman.

In each of the six electric fish lineages, there are several to hundreds of species. In Africa, there are over 200 species of electric elephantfish, and Gallant says that number has grown a lot in relatively recent evolutionary history. This is because they use their electric charge to communicate, in addition to helping them navigate the roots and rocks in their murky, river habitats. (Using electricity for predation, like the electric eel does, is a rarity among electric fish species.)

Each species of African elephantfish has its own specific frequency or pattern, a niche that helps it distinguish its own kind from the crowded, muddy water.

What’s really interesting is that this diversity of electric discharges—really, the invention of new electric discharges—might be driving new species,” said Gallant.

The recording below is the amplified sound of the electrical frequency that the Brienomyrus brachyistus elephantfish uses during courtship.

Sussman believes this research might have practical applications. Someday, he says, scientists might be able to create electrocytes from human stem cells, which could power biomedical devices like pacemakers or insulin pumps. But this, he says, is probably years away.

I’m not promising people that you’ll have electric organs and be able to charge your cell phones right away,” he said, “but I’m hoping that this paper might inspire research that will be able to create electrocytes.

However, the air we live in doesn’t conduct electricity like water does, so you probably don’t have to worry about getting shocked by a bio-engineered super villain.

By Nick Stockton
06.26.14 |

Por qué "Odio la Escuela pero amo la Educación". realmente te hace pensar dos veces.

¿Tiene el éxito en el sistema escolar correlación con el éxito en la vida? ¿O está simplemente el sistema escolar orientado a la retención de los hechos y la repetición?

Con miles de egresados ​​de la universidad, que desean continuar su educación sin ninguna garantía de obtener el trabajo de sus sueños al final, debemos preguntarnos si el sistema sigue teniendo el mismo valor como lo hacía antes.

Por Ignacio Rojas

Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She's Pretty

A new Verizon commercial cites a sad statistic by the National Science Foundation: 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.

People have offered many potential explanations for this discrepancy, but this ad highlights the importance of the social cues that push girls away from math and science in their earliest childhood years.

The video depicts one girl's development from toddler to teenager. She wanders curiously through nature, examines the plants and animals around her, creates an astronomy project, and builds a rocket with her older brother. But all along the way, she hears many all-too-common refrains from her parents: "Who's my pretty girl?" "Don't get your dress dirty," "You don't want to mess with that," and "Be careful with that. Why don't you hand that to your brother?" These statements are subtle, but the ad suggests that they can ultimately discourage girls from pursuing traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects in school.

According to AdWeek, the powerful commercial is the result of a partnership between Verizon and Makers and is narrated by Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani.

The video ends with a thought-provoking question: Isn't it time we told her she's pretty brilliant, too?

It sure is.

ORIGINAL: Huffington Post
By Caroline Bologna

Welcome to the Claytronics Project

Collaborative Research in Programmable Matter Directed by Carnegie Mellon and Intel

This project combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information known as claytronics.

Our goal is to give tangible, interactive forms to information so that a user's senses will experience digital environments as though they are indistinguishable from reality.

Claytronics is taking place across a rapidly advancing frontier. This technology will help to drive breathtaking advances in the design and engineering of computing and hardware systems

Our research team focuses on two main projects:
  • Creating the basic modular building block of claytronics known as the claytronic atom or catom, and
  • Designing and writing robust and reliable software programs that will manage the shaping of ensembles of millions of catoms into dynamic, 3-Dimensional forms.
Realizing the vision of claytronics through the self-assembly of millions of catoms into synthetic reality will have a profound effect on the experience of users of electronic information. This promise of claytronic technology has become possible because of the ever increasing speeds of computer processing predicted in Moore's Law

This website will introduce you to the ideas that are driving claytronics, the research team that is working to make it happen, and the hardware and software projects that enable the building of claytronic ensembles.

Development of this powerful form of information display represents a partnership between the School of Computer Sciences of Carnegie Mellon University, Intel Corporation at its Pittsburgh Laboratory and FEMTO-ST Institute. As an integral part of our philosophy, the Claytronics Project seeks the contributions of scholars and researchers worldwide who are dedicating their efforts to the diverse scientific and engineering studies related to this rich field of nanotechnology and computer science. 

To understand the future of claytronics, watch the concept video [.mov] created by Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center.

Use the links to the left to see a list of publications, some videos and photos documenting our progress, a partial list of talks we have given, and people working on the project.


En Japón, el Programa 'Todos a Aprender' se consolida como referente mundial de transformación educativa

La Ministra de Educación, María Fernanda Campo, viajó a Tokio para reunirse con 34 homólogos de países miembros de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE), y presentar los alcances y logros del proceso de transformación de la calidad educativa en Colombia, a través del programa 'Todos a Aprender'.

  • La Ministra de Educación, María Fernanda Campo, viajó a Tokio para reunirse con 34 homólogos de países miembros de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE), y presentar los alcances y logros del proceso de transformación de la calidad educativa en Colombia, a través del programa 'Todos a Aprender'.
  • La participación de Colombia en la Reunión de Ministros de Educación en Japón de la OCDE, se originó el pasado mes de abril, a raíz de la invitación de Andreas Schleicher, Director de la Educación de la OCDE, y luego de conocer, de primera mano, los alcances de esta estrategia educativa.
  • "Presentar ante la OCDE nuestros avances en materia educativa es un voto de confianza de la comunidad internacional para Colombia y reafirma que estamos trabajando en la dirección correcta", manifestó la Ministra.
Tokio (Japón), jueves 26 de junio del 2014. Mineducación. En un hecho sin precedentes, y como muestra de que Colombia va por buen camino en materia educativa, el Programa para la Transformación de la Calidad Educativa de Colombia, 'Todos a Aprender' (PTA) obtuvo reconocimiento a nivel internacional, llegando hasta Japón, donde se mostró como una experiencia innovadora de clase mundial, en formación pedagógica de estudiantes y educadores. Así quedó demostrado durante la participación de la ministra de Educación, María Fernanda Campo, en la Reunión de Ministros de Educación de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económico (OCDE), que se llevó a cabo en Tokio, los días 25 y 26 de junio, presentando ante 34 países miembros de esta Organización los avances y resultados de este programa. Esta participación surgió a raíz de la invitación que le realizó personalmente a la Ministra Campo, el Director de Educación de la OCDE y Coordinador Internacional de PISA, Andreas Schleicher, quien luego de visitar nuestro país el pasado mes de abril y conocer las experiencias en educación que se trabajan desde diversos puntos de la geografía nacional, le manifestó a la titular de la Cartera, la importancia de exponer ante otras naciones el proceso de transformación en educación que se está implementando en Colombia. "La invitación de la OCDE para presentar nuestros avances en materia educativa es un voto de confianza de la comunidad internacional para Colombia, que reafirma que estamos trabajando en la dirección correcta frente a la implementación de las políticas y estrategias que están transformando la calidad de la educación en el país", indicó la Ministra. Además Campo señaló que a través de ´Todos a Aprender' se ha consolidado un programa efectivo, incluyente y novedoso que contribuye al cierre de brechas, mediante una atención integral focalizada en las escuelas de más bajo logro educativo en el país. "Estamos llegando a lugares donde ningún otro gobierno había hecho presencia, -dijo la Ministra- transformando las prácticas de aula y la manera de enseñar y aprender". 

Al respecto el Director de Educación de la OCDE y Coordinador Internacional de PISA, Andreas Schleicher afirmó que tras conocer, desde hace varios años, el sector educativo colombiano y de acuerdo a su reciente visita al país, está convencido de que la educación en Colombia ha avanzado de manera significativa El director de Educación de la OCDE también reiteró además que el programa ayuda a los educadores a ser audaces en el pensamiento y en las acciones para lograr un cambio real en el terreno. La Ministra Campo recordó que aunque hay grandes desafíos en materia educativa, son importantes los avances de los últimos años, que se evidencian en las pruebas nacionales, las cuales arrojan mejoras en las competencias de lenguaje y matemáticas, en el 90% de los municipios de Colombia a los que llega el programa ´Todos a Aprender'

La participación de Colombia el este encuentro de los países miembros de la OCDE permite identificar oportunidades para el futuro, aprender de las experiencias exitosas de otros países y trabajar con los actores estratégicos de los diferentes niveles del sistema educativo internacional. 

Durante el encuentro de Ministros de Educación, algunos de los países participantes destacaron la presentación del Programa, por considerarlo como una iniciativa innovadora, que se proyecta como una política educativa, centrada en las buenas prácticas en el aprendizaje y que permitiría a Colombia, en las próximas décadas, hacer parte de los sistemas educativos más avanzados del mundo. Así lo manifestó el Ministro de Educación Básica de Sudáfrica, Mohamed Enver Surty, quien mencionó a Colombia como referencia de los proyectos que su propio gobierno adelanta. Dijo además que los dos países tienen un enfoque similar en la medida en que buscan brindar una oferta educativa de calidad a pesar de un contexto de inequidad y destacó el Programa 'Todos a Aprender' como un vehículo para abordar los retos que tienen países como Colombia y Sudáfrica. 

De otro lado, la Ministra Campo también se refirió al proceso de ingreso a la OCDE afirmando: "el proceso nos ha permitido acercarnos a las mejores prácticas a nivel mundial para mejorar la calidad de la educación. Pero Colombia también cuenta hoy en día con prácticas reconocidas como de talla mundial, por eso estamos hoy en Tokio presentando Todos a Aprender". Colombia y Letonia, país que también se encuentra en el proceso de entrada a la OCDE, son los primeros países que serán evaluados en educación, pues anteriormente la OCDE no incluía este criterio en el proceso. 

Como parte del proceso de entrada a la OCDE, el Presidente Juan Manuel Santos radicó el segundo semestre de 2013 una propuesta de Memorando que incluye tres temas que serán evaluados por la organización en educación:
  • educación en emergencia, 
  • educación transfronteriza y 
  • educación para el cambio social y económico. 
La Ministra reveló que en agosto de este año, el Ministerio de Educación radicará ante la OCDE un documento sobre las políticas públicas en educación en los últimos 10 años y en febrero de 2015, una amplia delegación de expertos de la OCDE visitará a Colombia para realizar la evaluación de las políticas educativas en el país. Finalmente la titular de la Cartera manifestó: "quiero reiterar el compromiso de Colombia con el proceso de adhesión a la OCDE y resaltar la importancia de participar en las diferentes iniciativas del Comité de Educación de la Organización para aprender de las mejoras prácticas educativas en los países que ustedes representan.".  

¿Qué hace del PTA una estrategia educativa tan efectiva? 
El Programa Todos a Aprender se implementó en Colombia desde 2012 y está dirigido a estudiantes de primaria de las instituciones educativas públicas de las zonas más vulnerables del país, con un énfasis en las áreas de matemáticas y lenguaje. El punto de partida fue focalizar las escuelas de más bajo logro y niveles de aprendizaje, que coinciden con los lugares en donde estudian los niños más pobres. La mayor parte de estas escuelas son rurales. El Programa desarrolla, de manera integral, cinco componentes: 
  • pedagógico, 
  • formación situada, 
  • gestión educativa, 
  • condiciones básicas y 
  • movilización, 
a través de los cuales se han beneficiado a 2.400.000 estudiantes en los rincones más apartados de Colombia. En Todos a Aprender se seleccionaron por meritocracia a los mejores 3.100 docentes del país, para realizar una formación y acompañamiento en cascada. 100 formadores se han encargado de formar a 3.000 maestros como tutores del programa, quienes a su vez acompañan a 90.000 profesores en la transformación de sus prácticas pedagógicas en el aula misma, creando así verdaderas comunidades de aprendizaje. De esta manera, se ha logrado beneficiar a 22.400 escuelas de 878 municipios, de las cuales el 78% se encuentran en zonas rurales. Además, el programa ha distribuido, de manera gratuita, más de 18 millones de textos escolares de matemáticas y lenguaje para estudiantes y docentes, con el objetivo de apoyar el desarrollo de un currículo de calidad.

Así mismo, Todos a Aprender impulsa las competencias lectoras de los estudiantes con la implementación del Plan Nacional de Lectura y Escritura y el uso de nuevas tecnologías TIC, el cual llega a todas las escuelas de Colombia. Igualmente el programa promueve la movilización social y el fortalecimiento de alianzas y compromisos que beneficien la sostenibilidad de las estrategias en los establecimientos educativos.

Con este propósito, se han consolidado las Ferias Regionales del Conocimiento en las que se comparten experiencias entre los diferentes actores de la comunidad educativa: docentes, rectores, estudiantes y padres de familia. "Estamos convencidos de que el Programa 'Todos a Aprender', sumado a otras importantes apuestas del país como el programa integral para la Primera Infancia "De Cero a Siempre", con el que atendemos a más de 1 millón de niños entre los 0 y los 5 años, permitirá mejorar la calidad de la educación de manera sostenida", resaltó la ministra Campo.

--- Descargue en el siguiente archivo el discurso de la ministra de Educación Nacional, María Fernanda Campo, en el marco de la Reunión de Ministros de Educación en Japón de la OCDE.
Discurso Ministra de Educación ante la OCDE en Tokio
Así mismo, escuche la intervención realizada por la jefe de la Cartera Educativa ante los 34 representantes países miembros de la OCDE haciendo clic en el siguiente enlace. FIN/JSGO/OAC

26 de junio de 2014

miércoles, 18 de junio de 2014

This 15-Year-Old Came Up With Software To Hunt Down Cancer-Causing Gene Mutations

In winning the Intel science fair, Nathan Han is already having an impact.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair doles out awards each year to high schoolers who could run intellectual circles around many adults. Jack Andraka, the creator of a cheap, accurate pancreatic cancer sensor, is a past winner. This time around, first place went to another cancer-related project: a computer program that can predict how harmful gene mutations related to cancer might be.

Nathan Han, a 15-year-old from Boston, says that he's been fascinated with bioinformatics for awhile. When a close friend's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he started thinking about possible projects. It's one of the most studied genes in the human genome.

In January, Han settled on his entry, which evaluates mutations in the BRCA1 gene--a gene commonly associated with ovarian and breast cancer--to see how harmful they are. Han taught his software program to suss out the difference between disease-related mutations and harmless mutations using data from public databases.

"I chose to focus on BRCA1 in particular for practicality. It's one of the most studied genes in the human genome," he says.

According to Han, his program has an 81% accuracy rate in identifying cancer-causing mutations, while existing algorithms have an accuracy rate of about 40%. His software could one day be customized to evaluate other genes and diseases, paving the way for better cancer diagnostic tools. "Down the road, as accuracy improves, I can imagine using this sort of process for personalized genomic analysis," Han says.

The 15-year-old hopes to publish his research, but at the moment, he's looking for a summer job in a research lab. His $75,000 science fair winnings will go towards college funds.

By Ariel Schwartz
June 5, 2014

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more. For story ideas: ariel[at]

There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas

Getty Images
Geologists have found a vast body of water deep below earth's surface and say it is evidence that oceans came from water inside the planet that seeped to the surface

Meet the Godzilla Earth. You Do NOT Want to Live There
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by Taboola

Geologists have long mused about the origin of earth’s seas. Did water, for example, arrive from somewhere else — like on icy comets that struck the planet? Or did water come from somewhere within?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited about the latter possibility.

Like something out of early 19th century playwright Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth — in which characters stumble across a massive underground basin — a team of geologists led by Steven Jacobsen from Northwestern University have found a vast body of water, three times the size of any ocean, located near earth’s core. It’s possible that water from this enormous reservoir oozed to the surface.

It’s good evidence earth’s water came from within, Jacobsen told NewScientist.

Jacobsen and his team used seismometers in their find, studying the speed of seismic waves to determine what lies beneath the surface. The waves slowed down upon reaching a layer of blue rock called ringwoodite, indicating that they were passing through water as well as rock. The depth of the phenomenon — 700 km below the mantle, which is the layer of hot rock underneath the surface — is also the perfect temperature and pressure for water to ooze out of the ringwoodite “almost as if it’s sweating,” Jacobsen says.

The discovery has only revealed ringwoodite beneath the continental U.S. however, so further experiments will need to be conducted to determine where else on the planet it can be found.


13 Jun, 2014

Prepárate para la lluvia de estrellas

Pensarás que es imposible contar las estrellas que se ven en el cielo, pero no son tantas como parece. 

 En una noche despejada y sin Luna, una persona con buena vista y sin ayuda de instrumentos ópticos podría ver alrededor de 3.000 estrellas. En todo el cielo, el número máximo que podemos ver es del orden de 6.000.

Imagen: Quizás el más famoso cúmulo de estrellas en el cielo, las Pléyades se puede ver a ojo desnudo, incluso desde una ciudad contaminadada.

Para disfrutar de las dos lluvias de estrellas activas este fin de semana, del cometa PanSTARRS y del solsticio de verano ven al Planetario, contemos estrellas y exploremos juntos el universo.

Nuestra galaxia es muy grande, tiene alrededor de ¡200.000 millones de estrellas! Y es solo una entre cientos de miles de galaxias en el Universo.

Junio 11 a junio 21: Lluvia de estrellas las líridas
Junio 22 a julio 2: Lluvia de estrellas las bootidas
En este mes podremos disfrutar del cometa c/2012 k1 Panstarrs en la constelación de Leo menor.

¿Cuántas estrellas puedes ver en la noche?
El número de estrellas que puedes ver en una noche clara (sin luna) en un área oscura (lejos de las luces de la ciudad) es de alrededor de 2,000. Entre más oscuro esté el cielo, más estrellas puedes ver. La luz de la Luna brilla en el cielo nocturno y reduce el número de estrellas visibles. En una ciudad grande, con una gran cantidad de luces en la noche, probablemente seas capaz de ver las doce estrellas más brillantes. La contaminación lumínica es un problema mayor para los astrónomos que están en la Tierra.

¿Cuál es la estrella más cercana a nosotros?
La estrella más cercana a nosotros, además de nuestro Sol, por supuesto, es Próxima Centauri. Forma parte del sistema triple estelar Alpha Centauri. Está a unos 4.3 años-luz de distancia. Un año luz es la distancia que la luz viaja en un año, a la velocidad de 300,000 kilómetros por segundo.

El próximo sábado 21 de junio tendremos Solsticio de verano

Fotografía: Una imagen compuesta que sigue la trayectoria del Sol hacia el final del día del solsticio de junio de 2012.

Los solsticios en junio, cuando el sol sale y se pone más hacia el norte, marcan el comienzo del verano en el hemisferio norte y del invierno en el hemisferio sur. A la inversa, el solsticio de diciembre indica el momento en el que el sol sale y se pone más al sur y es el comienzo del verano austral y del invierno boreal. Los días en invierno son cortos y las noches largas; en verano es al revés. O sea que al sol lo vemos menos tiempo transitando por el cielo durante los días de invierno que el resto del año. El camino del sol es distinto en diferentes estaciones.

¡Inscríbete a la Fiesta de estrellas Antioquia 2014!

ORIGINAL: Parque Explora - Medellín
Redacción Planetario de Medellín @planetariomed
17 de Junio de 2014

viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

Neuroscientists Join the Open-Source Hardware Movement

Two MIT grad students offer up DIY brain-recording gear
Photo: Open Ephys

Graduate students Josh Siegle and Jakob Voigts were planning an ambitious series of experiments at their MIT neuroscience labs in 2011 when they ran into a problem. They needed to record complex brain signals from mice, but they couldn’t afford the right equipment: The recording systems cost upward of US $60,000 each, and they wanted at least four. So they decided to solve their dilemma by building their own gear on the cheap. And knowing that they wouldn’t be the last neuroscientists to encounter such a problem, they decided to give away their designs. Now their project, Open Ephys, is the hub of a nascent open-source hardware community for neural technology.

Siegle and Voigts weren’t knowledgeable about either circuit design or coding, but they learned as they went along. By July 2013, they were ready to manufacture 50 of their recording systems, which they gave to collaborators for beta testing. This spring they manufactured 100 improved units, which are now arriving in neuroscience labs around the world. They estimate that each system costs about $3,000 to produce.

Neuroscience has a history of hackers, Siegle says, with researchers cobbling together their own gear or customizing commercial systems to meet their particular needs. But those new tools rarely leave the labs they are built in. So scientists spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel. The goal of Open Ephys (which is short for open-source electrophysiology) is not just to distribute the tools that Siegle and Voigts have come up with so far but to encourage researchers to put resources into developing open-source tools for the benefit of the whole community. “In addition to changing the tools, we also want to change the culture,” Siegle says.
Photo: Open Ephys Open Ephys just distributed 100 of its acquisition boards to neuroscience labs around the world.

The flagship tool that Siegle and Voigts developed is an acquisition board, which makes sense of the electric signals from electrodes implanted in an animal’s brain. The board interfaces with up to eight headstages that amplify, filter, multiplex, and digitize signals from the brain, and then sends those signals to a computer for further processing. Commercial systems typically have individual ICs perform each of those four functions, but Siegle and Voigts’s system uses a single microchip for the four steps. The chip was recently developed by Intan Technologies, based in Los Angeles. “Once we realized these chips were available, it seemed kind of silly to keep buying the big systems,” Siegle says.

The president and cofounder of Intan, Reid Harrison, says that shrinking and consolidating the gear wasn’t that complicated—it mostly required initiative. “It’s such a niche market that no one else had tried to miniaturize the technology,” he says. “It’s not exactly on the scale of CPUs and cellphones, which drive most IC technology.” However, Harrison says he recognized a need for his small, multipurpose chips. Neuroscientists are always trying to fit more electrodes into an animal’s brain to record more neural activity, he says, which requires ever tinier devices with the electronics close to the electrodes. “You could put 1,000 electrodes in the brain, but you don’t want 1,000 wires on an animal that’s supposed to be mobile,” he says. The Intan chips take information from up to 64 electrodes and turn it into one digital signal, eliminating the confusion of wiring.

The major neural technology companies have designed products that incorporate Intan’s chips, but they also swear by their larger, multichip systems. Keith Stengel, the founder of Neuralynx, in Bozeman, Mont., says that in his big systems, each component is optimized for peak performance. “A lot of our customers have said that you buy a Neuralynx system for the serious work that you’re going to publish, and then you get an Open Ephys system as a second system, for grad students to start their research on,” he says.
Illustration: Open Ephys Open Ephys offers building instructions for this head-mounted neural implant system for mice.

Andy Gotshalk, CEO of Blackrock Microsystems, in Salt Lake City, also argues that the commercial products will continue to be the gold standard. “You’re not going to be moving into FDA clinical trials using an Open Ephys system,” he says. The commercial products come with guarantees of quality and reliability, he says, as well as intensive customer support. Gotshalk says his customers are willing to pay a premium for that backing.

Both Stengel and Gotshalk say they welcome Open Ephys to the market and think that its systems can fill a niche. They’re also willing to work with the upstart to make sure their commercial software works with the Open Ephys hardware. Harrison agrees that the community is happy to have another option to work with, and he draws a parallel to the computing industry. “The existing tools are like the PCs and the Macs of the neuroscience world, but now we also have this Linux,” Harrison says. “It’s a lot less expensive, and you can hack it yourself, but it’s not for everyone.

By Eliza Strickland
Posted 11 Jun 2014

Mathematical Model Of Consciousness Proves Human Experience Cannot Be Modelled On A Computer

A new mathematical model of consciousness implies that your PC will never be conscious in the way you are

One of the most profound advances in science in recent years is the way researchers from a variety of fields are beginning to think about consciousness. Until now, the c-word was been taboo for most scientists. Any suggestion that a researchers was interested in this area would be tantamount to professional suicide.

That has begun to change thanks to a new theory of consciousness developed in the last ten years or so by Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and others. Tononi’s key idea is that consciousness is phenomenon in which information is integrated in the brain in a way that cannot be broken down.

So each instant of consciousness integrates the smells, sounds and sights of that moment of experience. And consciousness is simply the feeling of this integrated information experience.

What makes Tononi’s ideas different from other theories of consciousness is that it can be modelled mathematically using ideas from physics and information theory. That doesn’t mean this theory is correct. But it does mean that, for the first time, neuroscientists, biologists physicists and anybody else can all reason about consciousness using the universal language of science: mathematics.

This has led to an extraordinary blossoming of ideas about consciousness. A few months ago, for example, we looked at how physicists are beginning to formulate the problem consciousness in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory.

Today, Phil Maguire at the National University of Ireland and a few pals take this mathematical description even further. These guys make some reasonable assumptions about the way information can leak out of a consciousness system and show that this implies that consciousness is not computable. In other words, consciousness cannot be modelled on a computer.

Maguire and co begin with a couple of thought experiments that demonstrate the nature of integrated information in Tononi’s theory. They start by imagining the process of identifying chocolate by its smell. For a human, the conscious experience of smelling chocolate is unified with everything else that a person has smelled (or indeed seen, touched, heard and so on).

This is entirely different from the process of automatically identifying chocolate using an electronic nose, which measures many different smells and senses chocolate when it picks out the ones that match some predefined signature.

A key point here is that it would be straightforward to access the memory in an electronic nose and edit the information about its chocolate experience. You could delete this with the press of a button.

But ask a neuroscientist to do the same for your own experience of the smell of chocolate—to somehow delete this—and he or she would be faced with an impossible task since the experience is correlated with many different parts of the brain.

Indeed, the experience will be integrated with all kinds of other experiences. “According to Tononi, the information generated by such [an electronic nose] differs from that generated by a human insofar as it is not integrated,” say Maguire and co.

This process of integration is then crucial and Maguire and co focus on the mathematical properties it must have. For instance, they point out that the process of integrating information, of combining it with many other aspects of experience, can be thought of as a kind of information compression.

This compression allows the original experience to be constructed but does not keep all of the information it originally contained.

To better understand this, they give as an analogy the sequence of numbers: 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 18, 20, 24…. This is an infinite series defined as: odd primes plus 1. This definition does not contain all the infinite numbers but it does allow it be reproduced. It is clearly a compression of the information in the original series.

The brain, say Maguire and co, must work like this when integrating information from a conscious experience. It must allow the reconstruction of the original experience but without storing all the parts.

That leads to a problem. This kind of compression inevitably discards information. And as more information is compressed, the loss becomes greater.

But if our memories were like that cannot be like that, they would be continually haemorrhaging meaningful content. “Memory functions must be vastly non-lossy, otherwise retrieving them repeatedly would cause them to gradually decay,” say Maguire and co.

The central part of their new work is to describe the mathematical properties of a system that can store integrated information in this way but without it leaking away. And this leads them to their central proof. “The implications of this proof are that we have to abandon either the idea that people enjoy genuinely [integrated] consciousness or that brain processes can be modelled computationally,” say Maguire and co.

Since Tononi’s main assumption is that consciousness is the experience of integrated information, it is the second idea that must be abandoned: brain processes cannot be modelled computationally.

They go on to discuss this in more detail. If a person’s behaviour cannot be analysed independently from the rest of their conscious experience, it implies that something is going on in their brain that is so complex it cannot feasibly be reversed, they say.

In other words, the difference between cognition and computation is that computation is reversible whereas cognition is not. And they say that is reflected in the inability of a neuroscientist to operate and remove a particular memory of the small of chocolate.

That’s an interesting approach but it is one that is likely to be controversial. The laws of physics are computable, as far as we know. So critics might ask how the process of consciousness can take place at all if it is non-computable. Critics might even say this is akin to saying that consciousness is in some way supernatural, like magic.

But Maguire and go counter this by saying that their theory doesn’t imply that consciousness is objectively non-computable only subjectively so. In other words, a God-like observer with perfect knowledge of the brain would not consider it non-computable. But for humans, with their imperfect knowledge of the universe, it is effectively non-computable.

There is something of a card trick about this argument. In mathematics, the idea of non-computability is not observer-dependent so it seems something of a stretch to introduce it as an explanation.

What’s more, critics might point to other weaknesses in the formulation of this problem. For example, the proof that conscious experience is non-computable depends critically on the assumption that our memories are non-lossy.

But everyday experience is surely the opposite—our brains lose most of the information that we experience consciously. And the process of repeatedly accessing memories can cause them to change and degrade. Isn’t the experience of forgetting a face of a known person well documented?

Then again, critics of Maguire and co’s formulation of the problem of consciousness must not lose sight of the bigger picture—that the debate about consciousness can occur on a mathematical footing at all. That’s indicative of a sea change in this most controversial of fields.

Of course, there are important steps ahead. Perhaps the most critical is that the process of mathematical modelling must lead to hypotheses that can be experimentally tested. That’s the process by which science distinguishes between one theory and another. Without a testable hypothesis, a mathematical model is not very useful.

For example, Maguire and co could use their model to make predictions about the limits in the way information can leak from a conscious system. These limits might be testable in experiments focusing on the nature of working memory or long-term memory in humans.

That’s the next challenge for this brave new field of consciousness.

Ref: : Is Consciousness Computable? Quantifying Integrated Information Using Algorithmic Information Theory

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Good News: Education Is Evolving. The Proof Is In the Play

Quick, can you name three modern medical achievements that you never imagined would happen in your lifetime? If you can, maybe you thought of things like: growing organs in a laboratory, face transplants, and even a skull created by a 3D printer. Yet, if we ask a person to name three modern advancements in education, I think you will find fewer people who can give you a decent answer, let alone three. If you by any chance thought of that documentary about schools in Finland, I think that’s a great answer though it depresses me very much since I don’t live in Finland.

To be sure, many parents including myself are full of frustration and want more done to improve education. However, it would be wise to note that awesome educational developments are taking place right now, here in the U.S. These marvels come to us in the form of toys and games but with a twist – as both offer children the chance to practice a skill called computational thinking.

Thanks to two experts in tech education, Dr. Wendy Martin and Francisco Cervantes at the EDC Center for Children and Technology, I was able to learn what this was. According to Martin and Cervantes, computational thinking is practiced when you learn how to code. It’s the process of creating a program, letting it run, encountering problems, dissecting and examining the problem, and finding a solution so you can create something. Two products offering this to children as young as preschool-age are making news this month.

Motivation is the Key to Learning
I love KIBO. It is one of those toys that ranks up there alongside brainy toy greats such as the Etch-A-Sketch, Froebel Gifts, and LEGO. These are examples of very intuitive toys. You just pick up and play and when you’re done, you have undoubtedly gained something. KIBO is a perfect demonstration of how kids are learning through play all while needing little to no instructions.

With a toy like KIBO, kids are able to take a robot, scan bar codes on a sequence of connectable wooden blocks, each of which have a designated action. This creates a string of orders telling the robot what to do. Actions like “Begin – Shake – Light Up – Turn Right – End” are terrific for young learners but the command sequences can also become more complex. Kids can even use “If-Then” clauses. KIBO is kind of like constructing a sequence of actions, similar to the way kids do pretend play and create stories.

The great news this month is that the makers of KIBO, KinderLab Robotics, has launched a campaign on Kickstarter. Thus, anyone has the opportunity to become part of the first round of investors in this major advancement in education.

I asked Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers, the director of the DevTech research group at Tufts and chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics about any prerequisite knowledge needed to play with KIBO. It was a relief to hear that there was a lot of success across the board among children despite the varied backgrounds in family income and even neurological differences such as children with executive functioning impairments. In my experience as a tester of hundreds of toys, that trait is a genuine marker of a well-designed toy because there is something in it for everyone. Additionally, as a fan of Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of the original kindergarten that began in the 1800s, it was very obvious that KIBO really had those special qualities of toys that intrinsically support creativity and inquiry. “Our company name and our product, KIBO, are certainly influenced by the works of Friedrich Froebel,” said Umaschi Bers. “Exploring programming through play and developmentally-appropriate learning manipulatives are core to the philosophy behind KIBO.

Lisa Moellman, an education consultant and former Associate Director of the Harvard Achievement Support Initiative in Boston is also a parent of a child who had KIBO as part of his school curriculum for the past three years since kindergarten. (Yes, it’s aligned with the Common Core Standards too!) Moellman was very impressed and said that as the tools, the visuals, the programming was so hands-on and intuitive, her son and his classmates were able to easily access the robot’s functions and move forward. “That just kept his motivation really high.” Motivation is key. Little humans have little tolerance for glitches.

Computational Thinking Does Not Require Computers? Not Even Electricity or Reading?

The board game industry also recognizes the value in teaching kids how to code. It was no surprise to me that industry pioneer, ThinkFun became the new publisher of Robot Turtles, a game whose claim to fame is that it’s the most backed board game in Kickstarter history. This game for preschoolers had everyone waiting for its release this month including developmental psychologist and play consultant Dr. Jennie Ito of The Play Kitchen who had also pre-ordered the game because she believes that learning programming is important. “It teaches children that they can be creators,” she says. “That they can not only have an idea, they can actually turn their idea into something.

With Robot Turtles, kids are essentially solving problems as they help their turtles to reach their destinations by making a series of decisions. The fun part is that they are in the driver’s seat and the grown-up play partner is the “Turtle Mover” who must do whatever the child “Turtle Master” says by performing fun computer-noises like “BEEP” and “DOT” which has everyone holding their stomachs with laughter.

The red code cards here instruct the red turtle what do. ie. turn left, move forward.

It’s not that easy to get to your destination, there are ice walls, stone walls and crates to block your turtle’s path. Think! Make a good decision!

What is really great about Robot Turtles and programming in general is that similar to block play, you can start off simple and end up doing something rather complicated but only when you’re ready. I am really impressed with ThinkFun’s commitment to helping young kids grasp coding through game play. Not only have they added additional adventures to take things to a higher level but they’ve even created a dedicated website allowing kids to create and share their adventures with others and thus, learn from each other. Not surprisingly, such an activity is actually a very integral part of the culture of programmers and again, we are talking about preschoolers here.

You may ask yourself why is it important for kids to make robots or turtles shake, rattle, beep, bloop, etc. Why do we need them to make up these sequences? I had this same question but I look at it like this: Have you ever given directions or advice to a colleague and they mistakenly did something completely different? It has happened to all of us and it is because the language of people can have infinite meanings and possibilities. If you believe that then you can believe that we need to show kids the benefits of being clear, purposeful, and feeling fulfilled. To be truthful, I don’t believe you can actually teach this to children. However, with the right tools like KIBO and Robot Turtles, you are more apt to be successful in establishing a setting where these essential growth experiences can be accessed and owned by all children. To me, that is an awesome advancement in the science of education.

Note: Every product is usually personally tested by Toys Are Tools’ testers but all available KIBOs are currently doing their jobs as tools in schools. However, I am very grateful to have had a personal and lengthy live video demo by the founders of KinderLab Robotics. Robot Turtles was submitted to facilitate a review. Reviews are never promised.

More best toy tips from Jenn at Toys Are Tools.

By Jenn Choi

lunes, 9 de junio de 2014

Roadmap to Immortality – Artificial Intelligence

I’d like to present the last part of the Human Physical Immortality Roadmap, which is devoted to Artificial Intelligence. There’s a good chance this technology will be the game changer for the humanity at large. It may define our future.

We can write a book about the evolution of different technologies and how they are going to influence human condition and help achieve immortality. This Roadmap can serve as an illustrated table of contents for this book. The only problem that we have is we don’t know which publishing house to go to. If some of you have any contacts at a publisher that might be interested in such a book, please, let me know.

ORIGINAL: Maria Konovalenko
May 28, 2014

Meet the algorithm that can learn “everything about anything”


Researchers from Allen Institute for AI have built a computer system capable of teaching itself many facets of broad concepts by scouring and analyzing search engines using natural language processing and computer vision techniques.

The most recent advances in artificial intelligence research are pretty staggering, thanks in part to the abundance of data available on the web. We’ve covered how deep learning is helping create self-teaching and highly accurate systems for tasks such as sentiment analysis and facial recognition, but there are also models that can solve geometry and algebra problems, predict whether a stack of dishes is likely to fall over and (from the team behind Google’s word2vec) understand entire paragraphs of text.

(Hat tip to frequent commenter Oneasum for pointing out all these projects.)

One of the more interesting projects is a system called LEVAN, which is short for Learn EVerything about ANything and was created by a group of researchers out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Washington. One of them, Carlos Guestrin, is also co-founder and CEO of a data science startup called GraphLab. What’s really interesting about LEVAN is that it’s neither human-supervised nor unsupervised (like many deep learning systems), but what its creators call “webly supervised.”

What that means, essentially, is that LEVAN uses the web to learn everything it needs to know. It scours Google Books Ngrams to learn common phrases associated with a particular concept, then searches for those phrases in web image repositories such as Google Images, Bing and Flickr. For example, LEVAN now knows that “heavyweight boxing,” “boxing ring” and “ali boxing” are all part of the larger concept of “boxing,” and it knows what each one looks like.

More impressive still is that because LEVAN uses text and image references to teach itself concepts, it’s also able to learn when words or phrases mean the same thing. So while it might learn, for example, that “Mohandas Gandhi” and “Mahatma Gandhi” are both sub-concepts of “Gandhi,” it will also learn after analyzing enough images that they’re the same person.

So far, LEVAN has modeled 150 different concepts and more than 50,000 sub-concepts, and has annotated more than 10 million images with information about what’s in them and what’s happening in them. The project website lets you examine its findings for each concept and download the models.

According to a recent presentation by one of its creators, LEVAN was designed to run nicely on the Amazon Web Services cloud — yet another sign of how fast the AI space is moving. Computer science skills and math knowledge are one impediment to broadly accessible AI, but those can be addressed by SDKs, APIs, and other methods of abstracting complexity. However, training AI models can require a lot of computing power, something that is easily available to the likes of Facebook and Google but that for everyday users might need to be offloaded to the cloud.

By Derrick Harris
May. 23, 2014 - 10:16 AM PDT

domingo, 8 de junio de 2014

Computer becomes first to pass Turing Test in artificial intelligence milestone, but academics warn of dangerous future

Eugene Goostman, a computer programme pretending to be a young Ukrainian boy, successfully duped enough humans to pass the iconic test

A programme that convinced humans that it was a 13-year-old boy has become the first computer ever to pass the Turing Test. The test — which requires that computers are indistinguishable from humans — is considered a landmark in the development of artificial intelligence, but academics have warned that the technology could be used for cybercrime.

Computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it passed the test, which requires that a computer dupes 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations.

Eugene Goostman, a computer programme made by a team based in Russia, succeeded in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London. It convinced 33 per cent of the judges that it was human, said academics at the University of Reading, which organised the test.

It is thought to be the first computer to pass the iconic test. Though other programmes have claimed successes, those included set topics or questions in advance.

A version of the computer programme, which was created in 2001, is hosted online for anyone talk to. (“I feel about beating the turing test in quite convenient way. Nothing original,” said Goostman, when asked how he felt after his success.)

The computer programme claims to be a 13-year-old boy from Odessa in Ukraine.

"Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," said Vladimir Veselov, one of the creators of the programme. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality."

The programme's success is likely to prompt some concerns about the future of computing, said Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and deputy vice-chancellor for research at Coventry University.

In pictures: Artificial intelligence through history1 of 7

Deep Blue beats Kasparov. Getty Images
Watson wins Jeopardy. Getty Images
Boston Dynamics. Getty Images
DARPA Urban Challenge. Getty Images
Google Self Driving Car. Getty Images
Apple's Siri. Getty Images

Kinect. Getty Images
"In the field of Artificial Intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test, when a computer convinces a sufficient number of interrogators into believing that it is not a machine but rather is a human," he said. "Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cybercrime.

"The Turing Test is a vital tool for combatting that threat. It is important to understand more fully how online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true... when in fact it is not."

The test, organised at the Royal Society on Saturday, featured five programmes in total. Judges included Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in Red Dwarf, and Lord Sharkey, who led the successful campaign for Alan Turing's posthumous pardon last year.

Alan Turing created the test in a 1950 paper, 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence'. In it, he said that because 'thinking' was difficult to define, what matters is whether a computer could imitate a real human being. It has since become a key part of the philosophy of artificial intelligence.

The success came on the 60th anniversary of Turing's death, on Saturday.

ORIGINAL: Independent
Andrew Griffin
Sunday 08 June 2014