Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

dolphin underwater on reef close up look

The Remarkable Medicines Wild Animals Find in Nature

The “animals’ pharmacy” mainly aims at treating parasites and wounds using plants and insects

It turns out that many animals know how to alleviate some of their common health problems and we are only beginning to (officially) learn about it. Dolphins, for example: Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins get skin conditions, too, but they come about their medication by queuing up nose-to-tail to rub themselves against corals. In the journal iScience on May 19, researchers show that these corals have medicinal properties, suggesting that the dolphins are using the marine invertebrates to medicate skin conditions. Thirteen years ago, co-lead author Angela Ziltener (@DWAORG), a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, first observed dolphins rubbing against coral in the Northern Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt. She and her team noticed that the dolphins…

Young woman sitting on the floor, lights candles, enjoy meditation, do yoga exercise at home. Mental health, self care, No stress, healthy habit, mindfulness lifestyle, anxiety relief concept

Study: Eight-week Mindfulness Courses Do Not Change the Brain

Earlier studies may have been hampered by a small, self-selected, particularly needy participant base and by the fact that any intervention can succeed at first

In recent years, as mindfulness meditation began to catch on, research, including this open-access paper, claimed that eight weeks of mindfulness could change the structure of the brain. The neuroplasticity on which such studies relied is real enough. But a just-released study has found no evidence that eight-week courses like “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” make so radical a difference: In new research, a team from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by Richard J. Davidson, found no evidence of structural brain changes with short-term mindfulness training. Published May 20 in Science Advances, the team’s study is the largest and most rigorously controlled to date. In two novel trials, over 200 healthy participants with no meditation experience…

Stethoscope on computer with test results in Doctor consulting room background and report chart for medical costs in modern hospital on Laptop desk. Healthcare costs business and fees concept.

Would Health Care AI Mean Caregivers Spend More Time on Patients?

Chances are, it will just mean fewer and less qualified caregivers

Pat Baird, regulatory head of global software standards at Philips, recently wrote an article titled, “Can Artificial Intelligence ‘Rehumanize’ Healthcare?” His thesis is that “By lowering administrative burden, AI can increase caregivers’ time spent actually caring for patients.” I will argue that this vision for the contribution of AI to healthcare delivery will not happen due to some very observable forces. A place to begin the analysis is with the funding source for AI in healthcare. AI is bought or developed by healthcare delivery organizations. These organizations are following a business plan and if AI does not provide a business benefit, they will not pay for it. We can conclude that AI in healthcare will be designed and used to…

robot assistant
Girl in orange shirt standing near house robot

Is the World Running Out of Humans? Are Robots the Answer?

But then why have we “run out of human beings,” as some claim?

So some claim: The pandemic and the U.S. labor shortage are starting to change the conversation about robotics and automation from threat to opportunity — from putting jobs at risk to filling critical gaps in the workforce. “The biggest shift that has happened from 2018 to now is that we’ve literally run out of human beings to do the things that we need to do,” said roboticist Siddhartha “Sidd” Srinivasa, a professor at the University of Washington’s Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering in Seattle who founded Carnegie Mellon University’s Personal Robotics Lab during his 18-year tenure in Pittsburgh. That shift is giving a new spark to robotics engineers and entrepreneurs who have long aspired to change the world…

Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana

The Brain Unfolds Like a Drama, With Neurons in Different Roles

Researchers studying fruit flies hope that spotting the stages at which human neurons go missing or wrong can help develop treatments to insert or replace them

We are not accustomed to thinking of fruit flies as even having brains. But they have 120 types of neurons in their visual system alone (which could be why they are so pesky): In the research published in Nature, the researchers studied the brains of the fruit fly Drosophila to uncover the complete set of tTFs needed to generate the roughly 120 neuron types of the medulla, a specific brain structure in the visual system of flies. They used state-of-the-art single-cell mRNA sequencing to obtain the transcriptome — all of the genes expressed in a given cell — of more than 50,000 individual cells that were then grouped into most of the cell types present in the developing medulla… The…

Brain surgery

What Would Head or Partial Brain Transplants Do To Consciousness?

Researchers had some success swapping rodent heads (though there’s a catch) but no luck with monkeys. And then animal lovers weighed in…

Science writer Max G. Levy, profiling Brandy Schillace’s book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher (2021), reminds us of the strange case of neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White (1926–2010) and his quest to develop human head transplants — or, as he liked to put it, body transplants. A new body for your old head… an offbeat form of immortality. White started with rhesus monkeys. At Case Western Reserve University, starting in 1970, he attempted many such transplants. Only one attempt succeeded (sort of). Without the usual spinal connections and thus without access to a body, the monkey head lived only nine days. Another such monkey head transplant was reported in 2016 — carried out by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China…

Prohibited development of bioweapon in a lab. A dropper and a Petri dishes with human blood sample and a row of ampoules with a bio-hazard sign, close-up, selected focus.

Will AI Start the Next Pandemic? It Easily Could.

It’s a bigger risk than we might think, as an experiment written up in a Nature journal has shown

In a recent paper at Nature Machine Intelligence, three drug discovery researchers share an unsettling result from their experiment with AI drug discovery. Their normal practice when getting AI software to motor through thousands of possibilities (which might take human researchers years) is to penalize toxicity and reward bioactivity. They wondered what would happen when they decided to reward both toxicity and bioactivity — to challenge their artificial intelligence — modeled on open source software — to create a lethal bioweapon: To narrow the universe of molecules, we chose to drive the generative model towards compounds such as the nerve agent VX, one of the most toxic chemical warfare agents developed during the twentieth century — a few salt-sized grains…

Depth electrode on brain MRI imaging.

Imaging Studies Fail Badly at Linking Brain and Behavior

Aha! news stories about what brain imaging reveals about human behavior are probably based on studies whose findings would not be confirmed by further research.

Brain imaging has shed much light on medical conditions in recent decades. So it was hardly good news for neuroscientist Scott Marek at the University of Washington when the results of a study linking brain function with intelligence in 2000 children produced very counterintuitive results. He and his colleagues had divided the sample into two groups of 1000 and run the same analysis on each — and they did not match. At first, he told Nature, “I stared out of my apartment window in depression, taking in what it meant for the field.” Then the team decided to study the problem on a larger scale, using the three key studies in this type of research, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development…

Back view of disabled athlete woman with prosthetic leg

Promising New Developments in AI Prostheses Raise Stark Questions

The Olympic performance of amputee runner Oscar Pistorius in 2012 led to accusations that the prostheses performed better than natural limbs

Our rapidly developing ability to interface neurons and electronics offers amputees much more functional prostheses (though it is still a long and winding road). Here are some encouraging recent developments: ● A newer technology pioneered at Helsinki University Hospital and Imperial College London enables improved compatibility between a prosthesis and the remaining portion of the amputee’s limb. One current problem is that the connections between the prosthesis and the muscle that gives the commands (the myoelectric interface) can grow weaker due to external factors like sweating. Currently existing systems require adjustments or other measures from the user, but Yeung and his team developed a fully automated system that learns during normal use and thus adapts to varying conditions. “In this…

Concept of modern technical equipment to scanning damaged brain

Confirmed: “Secret” Tunnels Connect Our Skulls and Brains

The newly confirmed skull tunnels produce immune system cells and funnel them to the brain in case of inflammation or damage

Neuroscientists usesd to think that immune system cells were carried in the bloodstream from, say, big leg bones in order to address brain inflammation following a stroke, injury, or disorder. It turns out that the brain gets neutrophils from much closer to home, right under the scalp. That’s what one group discovered when looking for the cells in the tibia (the larger of the shinbones in the leg) in mice: They found that the skull contributed significantly more neutrophils to the brain in the event of stroke and meningitis than the tibia. But that raised a new question – how were the neutrophils being delivered? “We started examining the skull very carefully, looking at it from all angles, trying to…

warhead on transport stand, against a rocket. Weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, a bomb.

What Would a Real-World Nuclear Attack Be Like?

We know some of what it would be like from the records and reconstruction of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima

Since 1992, I’ve made annual visits to one of the most tranquil places I know, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory 11,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. After calibrating my atmospheric instruments, every evening I photograph the sunset while thinking about the horrors of nuclear war. That’s because I’m standing behind the old Atomic Energy Commission Building, from where nuclear tests over the Pacific were once photographed. The origin of those tests occurred 38 minutes before sunrise on July 16, 1945, when the pitch-black sky over New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) desert was instantaneously transformed into a blinding white glare. Scientists and technicians observed this phenomenon from miles away through welder’s glass to protect their eyes. What they saw…

Woman with hygienic mask shopping for supply.Budget buying at a supply store.Emergency to buy list.Shopping for enough food and cleaning products.Preparation for a pandemic quarantine due to covid-19

Historian Niall Ferguson on What We Can Learn From COVID

To start with how can we be pretty sure we are over it? Ferguson offers some evidence

At COSM 2021, Jay Richards interviewed historian Niall Ferguson, author of Doom: The politics of catastrophe (2021), on the lessons we could learn from historic disasters in interpreting the COVID-19 crises. Ferguson spoke at COSM 2021 (November 10, 3:00 pm) on “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe”: Setting the annus horribilis of 2020 in historical perspective, Niall Ferguson explains why we are getting worse, not better, at handling disasters. The lessons of history that this country — indeed the West as a whole — urgently need to learn, if we want to handle the next crisis better, and to avoid the ultimate doom of irreversible decline. Generally, he sees the economic impact of the COVID shutdown as comparable to fighting World…

San Francisco aerial view from sea side. Port of San Francisco in the front. City downtown and skyscrapers at sunrise.

When Silicon Valley Turns From Hype Over Vaporware to Fraud…

Jeffrey Funk and Gary Smith discuss the famous Theranos case, which resulted huge losses and in convictions for fraud

In a column published today at MarketWatch, Jeffrey Funk and Gary Smith talk about that unpleasant subject, the shady side of Silicon Valley. They’re not looking at the unicorns naively chasing rainbows but rather the cases of apparently deliberate deception. One of them is vaporware— announcing a product that won’t really exist any time soon (perhaps in the hope of dissuading potential buyers from investing in a competitor’s product). Another is “fake it until you make it,” the topic of today’s column. Investors sign on by throwing money at the company, which the company then spends trying to develop what it said it already has. Either way, the company keeps lying as long as necessary, or until its cover is…

Illustration of red blood cells with cancer cells.

“Killing Disease and Living Longer” Biotech Panel Now Online

Combining information technology with microscopic nanotechnology can help us find and weaken toxic bacteria so antibiotics can destroy them

Here’s the Innovations in Biotech workshop at COSM 2021 dedicated to “Killing Disease and Living Longer,” on November 11, 2021 in Bellevue, Washington: Panelists: Matt McIlwain (Moderator) — Managing Director, Madrona Venture GroupStephen C. Meyer — Director, Center for Science and CultureJim Tour — T.t. and W.f. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Rice UniversityMatthew Scholz — CEO, Oisin Biotechnologies Attendee Casey Luskin offers an overview of this panel at Manipulating Molecules: Combining info + nano for better medicine: At COSM 2021, scientists like Jim Tour and entrepreneurs like Matt Scholz offer a window into how we are learning to manipulate the building blocks of life (November 12, 2021). For example, Tour and his team are designing light-activated nanodrills which can drill…

Surreal brain tree in a desolate land and a determined person watering it using a sprinkling can. Man splashes the green shrub using a water pot, taking care of mental health. Human mind concept

It’s Not Even Clear How the Mind Relates to the Brain

Journalist and editor Ken Francis asks a series of skeptical questions of those who claim that the mind is really just the brain

Kenneth Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd (2018), offers some thoughts at New English Review on why the mind cannot be the same as the brain. The context is whether artificial intelligence will ever have minds or be able to read our minds (as opposed to scanning our brains): Without even a basic understanding of what consciousness is, the idea of putting it into a machine, while not difficult to imagine in the fantasy of science fiction, becomes almost impossible to grapple with when it comes down to real and practical implementation… As to where the mind resides, that is the biggest mystery in philosophy. Although it interacts with…

dangerous world

Putin vs. Ukraine: New Weapons Target Your Electronics, Not You

Putin’s recent warning about “consequences that you have never experienced” could refer to EMPs that target the computer-based systems that keep us all alive today

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military to strike Ukraine. He also made a public statement that included a dangerous warning: Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history. We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made. David Brennan , Tom O’Connor and Naveed Jamali, “NATO States May Give Sanctuary to Fleeing Ukraine Forces as Russia Advances” at Newsweek (February 25, 2022) This warning has been widely viewed as a threat to employ nuclear…

young sample plant growing in test tube , biotechnology research concept

What Biotech Innovations Can Help Us Live Longer, Healthier?

Jay Richards interviews venture capitalist Matt McIlwain, whose firm invests in new tech on current promising new directions

At COSM 2021, business prof Jay Richards interviewed venture capitalist Matt McIlwain, CEO of the Madrona Group, which invests in a wide range of promising software applications: McIlwain chaired a panel on innovations in biotech, “Killing Disease and Living Longer” on November 11, 2021: Matt Mcilwain (Moderator) — Managing Director, Madrona Venture GroupStephen C. Meyer — Director, Center for Science and CultureJim Tour — T.t. and W.f. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Rice UniversityMatthew Scholz — CEO, Oisin Biotechnologies Casey Luskin offers an account of McIlwain’s 2021 panel at “Manipulating molecules: Combining info + nano for better medicine”: Yesterday at COSM 2021, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, synthetic organic chemist James Tour, and biotech entrepreneur Matthew Scholz looked at how nanotechnology…

Bored couple with sexual problem addicted to internet mobile phone.Relationship difficulties

Bedtime Media Can Help Us Get Better Sleep — But Not Social Media

One issue is the way blue lights and electronic notification and alert beeps interfere with natural sleep patterns

University of Buffalo communications prof Lindsay Hahn doesn’t think we need to avoid media before bedtime in order to get better sleep. Her recent research showed that the question was more complex than that: “We found that media use just prior to the onset of sleep is associated with an earlier bedtime and more total sleep time, as long as the duration of use is relatively short and you’re not multitasking, like texting or simultaneously scrolling social media,” says Lindsay Hahn, PhD, an assistant professor of communication in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “Watching a streaming service or listening to a podcast before bed can serve as a passive, calming activity that improves aspects of your…

Abstract planets and space background

Future Technologies — Zoom! … or Doom?

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees a new role for us as galaxy gods as exhilarating but others aren’t so sure

Astrophysicist Adam Frank asks us to consider where we are on the Kardashev Scale for evaluating civilizations in the galaxy — or, at least, evaluating our own progress: Originally proposed in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev (1932–2019) and later modified in 1973 by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), the scale measures a civilization’s technological advances from 1 to 3 (or maybe 5) by how much energy it can call upon to do things. Currently, we are not even a Type 1 on that scale and Frank offers some thoughts on that, asking, in particular, whether such advances are universal in the galaxy anyway: The classification scheme Kardashev used was not based on social systems of ethics because these are things that we can…

Astronaut on rock surface with space background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

After Months in Space, Astronauts’ Brains Are “Rewired”

The “very new and very unexpected” changes in fluid flow and shape can last for months after a return to Earth

The effects of long-term space travel on humans are only beginning to be understood: In a new study, a collaborative effort between the European Space Agency and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, researchers have explored how cosmonauts’ brains change after traveling to space and back. And they showed how the brain adapts to spaceflight, finding that the brain is almost “rewired,” and both fluid shifts and shape changes occur. These changes can last for months after a person returns to Earth, the researchers found. The strange brain changes that the team observed were “very new and very unexpected,” study lead Floris Wuyts, a researcher at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, told Space.com. Chelsea Gohd, “Cosmonaut brains are ‘rewired’ by space…