Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

Female doctor analyzing liquid in test tube

The Decline Effect: Why Most Medical Treatments Are Disappointing

Artificial intelligence is not an answer to this problem, as Walmart may soon discover
Random variation, post-hoc fallacies, and data mining mean that “proven” treatments often decline in apparent effectiveness when released to the general public. Read More ›
The  man wiht a CPU.

Will a Brain-Computer Interface Be a Boon or a Nightmare?

BCI is probably coming anyway, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how we choose to use it

Talk about a scary headline from an impressive research group!: “The Brain-Computer Interface is coming — and we are just so not ready for it” from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Okay, what’s going on? Both more and less than we think, depending on what we focus on. The Bulletin, published since 1947, is best known for a Doomsday Clock which expresses how close the editors think we are to nuclear war and climate apocalypse. An article in the current edition of the Bulletin covers the remarkable advances in prosthetics in recent years, in hooking up neurons (which use electrical signals) to electronic limbs, enabling much better control of prostheses. But the startling thing to realize is where researchers…

Astronaut and robot or artificial intelligence.jpg
Astronaut and robot or artificial intelligence handshake on alien planet.

Should Robots, Instead of Humans, Go Into Space?

They might be better at life in space than humans. But could they be counselors too?

Are we here to re-create ourselves as robotic humanoids? In a recent podcast, Robert J. Marks discusses what robots can do for us with retired internist and author Geoffrey Simmons. In his most recent book, Are We Here to Re-Create Ourselves?: The Convergence of Designs (2019), Simmons argues that in creating artificially intelligent robots, we are trying to recreate the human being. But can we really recreate everything about ourselves? For example, they discussed, can robots be counselors? Should robots go into space instead of humans? As a writer, Simmons has found audiences for both fiction and non-fiction. For example, he wrote Z-papers (1976), a medically based crime thriller in which “In a Chicago hospital, the U.S. Vice Presidential candidate…

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A surprise box surrounded by balloons and ribbon on a pink background.-3d rendering.

The Human Brain Has Given Researchers a Big Surprise

Gray matter isn't the big story. Connection—the connectome—is the astonishing feature of the brain.

We hear a good deal about the gray matter (the neurons) in the brain. They are often considered synonymous with thinking. For a long time, it was believed that the white matter did not do very much and its signals were generally excluded from brain mapping studies as noise. But that has all changed in recent years: You might think that the brain is mostly gray matter, as it certainly looks that way, but in actuality there is more white matter in the brain. White matter is the infrastructure of the brain and includes the long nerve axons and their protective layer of fat, called myelin. Gray matter, on the other hand, is composed of the neurons themselves. Scientists have…

Worried doctors and medical researchers on conference meeting, discussing possible solutions for resolving a world health crisis. Health and medical care concept. Selective focus.

Computers Excel at Finding Temporary Patterns

Which contributes to the replication crisis in science

The scientific method calls for the rigorous testing of plausible theories, ideally through randomized controlled trials. For example, a study of a COVID-19 vaccine might give the vaccine to 10,000 randomly selected people and a placebo to another 10,000, and compare the infection rates for the two groups. If the difference in the infection rates is too improbable to be explained by chance, then the difference is deemed statistically significant. How improbable? In the 1920s, the great British statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher , said that he favored a 5 percent threshold. So 5 percent became the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the establishment of a 5 percent hurdle for statistical significance has had the perverse effect of encouraging researchers to do whatever…

Coronavirus pandemia concept, planet hologram

Supercomputer Provides a New Clue re COVID-19 Fatalities

A surprising pattern I found last April: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones

Back in April, I ran an analysis on COVID-19 death rates in relation to Earth’s hemispheres. I took the COVID-19 death rate for each country that reported more than 500 cases and plotted its death rate against its latitude. A surprising pattern emerged: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones: That is not a statistical fluke because the graph comprises 198 different countries and the best fit quadratic curve parameters have statistical significance scores of 0.12, 0.07 and 0.0000016 for the x^2, x and c components respectively. What could explain this pattern? As I noted at the time, one big difference is that, when it is cold and cloudy in the northern hemisphere, it is warm…

Human brain with an implanted chip.

Paralyzed Subject Gains Control Much Faster via a New Technique

The earlier technique for controlling a cursor through brain-computer interface worked but it required constant relearning

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have enabled a participant who is paralyzed in all four limbs to control a computer cursor, using only brain activity, by tapping into the brain’s own natural learning system. Without tapping into that system, brain-computer interface (BCI) needs extensive daily retraining in order to work. “It’s like asking someone to learn to ride a bike over and over again from scratch,” said study senior author Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, an associate professor of in the UC San Francisco Department of Neurology. “Adapting an artificial learning system to work smoothly with the brain’s sophisticated long-term learning schemas is something that’s never been shown before in a paralyzed person.” Nicholas Weiler, “First ‘Plug and…

Antibiotic resistant bacteria inside a biofilm, 3D illustration. Realistic scientific background

Do Bacteria Warn Others While Dying from Antibiotics?

Scientists are learning more about the complex ways bacteria overcome efforts to control them

That’s what we learn from a new open-access paper in Nature titled “Dead cells release a ‘necrosignal’ that activates antibiotic survival pathways in bacterial swarms.” It’s sometimes described as “screams,” but it’s actually a release of chemicals, which amounts to the same thing: a warning to prepare for an onslaught of antibiotics. The scientists also noted another curious factor: The cascade of genes turned on by necrosignals not only protected the surviving swarm from antibiotics, but promoted future resistance to the compounds that killed their comrades. What’s more, the scientists realized that subpopulations of swarm bacteria were genetically variable; some were more susceptible to the antibiotics than others. Swarms of bacteria may collectively cultivate different subpopulations as an evolutionary survival…

Genetic engineering and gene manipulation concept. Hand is replacing part of a DNA molecule.

Gene Therapy: IT Meets Medicine, But Who Is In Charge?

A biotechnology CEO would like to see patients have more power in determining advanced treatments

Jay Richards talked recently with Matt Scholz, Founder & CEO of Oisín Biotechnologies, about the challenges and promises of the information theory of biotech, especially as related to medicine: The panel in which Scholz participated at COSM 2019 focused on how artificial intelligence can make a difference in medicine: From the interview: Jay Richards: So how would you distill this panel? It was you and Babak Parviz, formerly of Google Glass and now from Amazon (and formerly Google Glass) and Lindy Fishburne, who’s on the funding side of information technology and biology. Matt Scholz: The panel was put together ranging from the computational side of it to the actual therapeutic side and finance. So I think that made it a…

Wolf Spider

Why Do We Fear Spiders More Than Bees?

It’s a peculiarity of human psychology that science fiction writers have exploited

Children of Time, the novel that won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for Adrian Tchaikovsky in 2016, featured a classic science fiction theme: Humanity faces a superior civilization—in this case, a civilization of intelligent spiders. The novel uses and reimagines familiar science fiction conceits – terraforming, superintelligence, a decaying starship – in a story that interweaves the development of an empire of spiders accidentally gifted intelligence with the descent into barbarism of a starship crew searching for a new home. Its thoughtful depiction of two civilisations trying to understand each other cleverly inverts the usual narrative of planetary conquest, and features startling moments of cognitive estrangement during clashes with the alien, yet sympathetically drawn, spiders. Paul Mcauley, “Tale of…

Medical technology concept. Electronic medical record.

Top Tech Analyst: Human Biology Is Too Complicated for Humans

He hopes to be able to customize medicine for every person by building a virtual proxy for every person

Recently, Jay Richards interviewed Craig Mundie former Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer, who is currently president of of Mundie and Associates, which coaches CEOs on technology strategy and organizational design. The topic was what AI can do for medicine and healthcare. Mundie’s dream is to build an AI that rivals human intellect. While many worry that AI can aid totalitarian rule, he sees himself as more pragmatic; it can, he says, be used for good or ill just like any other technology. He explained to Richards why we need AI to dominate health care: From the interview: Craig Mundie: I think there are a few big trends that are happening. Really big computers that are good at doing artificial…

Senior man in a wheelchair using a virtual reality device

VR Pioneer Founded Off-Campus Lab to Work On Practical Uses

RATLab, founded in 2005, gave unlikely students a chance to work on serious virtual reality projects

In a recent podcast, “Rats in the Technology lab” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks continued his discussion with the “grandfather of virtual reality” Thomas Furness. Furness shares his tribulations and triumphs with RATLab (Rats in the Technology lab), which is an “incubator” for innovative ideas in technology. All the employees are RATs (Rocking and Thinking). Furness is, of course, King Rat. So how did it get started and what happened then? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-092-Thomas-Furness.mp3 Transcript. Partial transcript: Thomas Furness (right): Well, I was enjoying my activity at the university, certainly a wonderful place to do research. But it is a bureaucracy, and I’ve found that sometimes having worked for the Air Force for the Department of Defense for 23 years,…

smart medical technology concept, doctor use smart glasses to use augmented reality to show the anatomy body of the patient for analysis and find the way to treatment in surgery room at hospital..

Virtual Reality Joins Actual Reality — and It’s a Real Advance

The grandfather of virtual reality explains how everyone began to think of ways VR might help them

As a result of media reports of his success in pioneering virtual reality for the US Air Force, many people contacted Thomas Furness. asking about civilian uses for virtual reality. In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks continued his discussion with the “grandfather of virtual reality.” And the people who contacted Furness were not asking for better computer games. They were talking about really serious issues: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-086-Thomas-Furness.mp3 Transcript. Partial transcript: Thomas Furness: One question that came, one of the first ones I received, was from a mother who had watched a program that, apparently I was talking about the virtual cockpit. She called me and said, I watched this program. I want you to know my…

senior in coma.jpg
side view of senior man in coma on bed in hospital

Is There Hope for People in a Persistent Vegetative State?

Yes! Modern neuroscience is shining a light on their minds

Today, many neuroscientists don’t even call it a persistent vegetative state. The new term is disorders of consciousness. One neuroscientist recounts, In the past 20 years, advances in neuroimaging techniques have allowed us to explore brain functions in these altered states of consciousness. One breakthrough study conducted at our lab, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, involved 54 DoC patients. The researchers asked the patients to perform two mental-imagery tasks while they lay in a brain scanner. In the first, they were asked to imagine playing tennis; in the second, to imagine walking from room to room in their home – mental tasks that are associated with contrasting patterns of neural activity. Remarkably, five patients…

The concept of planet Earth similar to the COVID-19 virus
The concept of planet Earth similar to the COVID-19 virus

Twenty Years on, Aliens Still Cause Global Warming

Over the years, the Jurassic Park creator observed, science has drifted from its foundation as an objective search for truth toward political power games

In 2003, author and filmmaker Michael Crichton (1942–2008), best known for Jurassic Park, made a now-famous speech at Caltech, titled “Aliens Cause Global Warming.” The title was humorous but the content was serious. He was not addressing some strange theory of global warming; he was warning about the politicization of science. Crichton (left, in 2002, courtesy Jon Chase, Harvard CC 3.0), noted that, over the years, science has drifted away from its foundation as an objective search for truth and given itself over to political power games. The first time that he witnessed that was with the famous Drake Equation, used to turn SETI speculations about space aliens into a science. The Drake equation was a series of probabilities multiplied…

A hand pointing at brain MRI on the light box

Why Brain Activity Doesn’t Reveal Our Minds

There is poor correlation between different scans of even the same person’s brain, experienced researchers say

At one time, we were told that, one day, machines will read our minds. But, now researchers say, the more we know about the brain (set aside the mind for a moment), the more reasons we have for doubt: But a new analysis by some of the researchers who have done the most work in this area finds that those measurements are highly suspect when it comes to drawing conclusions about any individual person’s brain. Karl Leif Bates, “Studies of brain activity aren’t as useful as scientists thought” at Duke Today Brain scanning—functional MRI (fMRI)—tells us about general brain structures, says Duke University neuroscientist Ahmad Hariri, who led a team that reanalyzed the data. It doesn’t say much about the…

walnut split on a white background

My Right Hemisphere Is An Atheist! No, Wait …

In reality, split-brain surgery does not split consciousness in any meaningful sense

The atheist neuroscientist who has made bizarre claims about the outcomes of split brain surgery appears not to know much about neurosurgery.

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St Francis Outpatient Center in Federal Way, Washington State

COVID-19: Atheism Went Viral As Well

Atheists are uniquely unsuited to accuse others of devaluing human life

Professor Steven Pinker’s quickly deleted tweet provides a window into anti-religious hate. In health and medicine, he is entirely mistaken. 

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couple of two seniors or mature people walking in the airport going to their gate and take their flight wearing medical mask to prevent virus like coronavirus or covid-19 - carrying luggage or trolley

Ten Ways COVID-19 Will Change Your Next Air Trip

You’ll still get there but it definitely won’t be half the fun

On board, the plane will be cleaner but also leaner. Expect to wear a mask and snack before you go.

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medical statistics and graphic charts with stethoscope

Making Sense of the Numbers Behind COVID-19

Media and politicians put statistics before us to sway our opinions. But what do they really mean?

Numbers can frighten or enlighten. The secret is making them explain themselves. Here’s a quick primer.

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