Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

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Human brain with an implanted chip.

Can Implanted Computer Chips Cure Depression?

Brain–computer interface (BCI) is promising for paralysis and prosthetics but raises concerns in the treatment of depression

Brain computer interface (BCI) shows promise in treating paralysis or enabling prosthetics to work almost naturally. But BCI for treating depression sounds like hype: Say goodbye to pills, therapy, and all that. With such gloomy prospects, it was only a matter of time scientists realized there must be better ways to treat depression rather than pills. After all, drugs only work because they act on certain brain regions to modulate the concentration of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine. Therefore, in the end, the regulation of mood depends on stimulating brain signals in certain parts of the brain — that is, neurons firing — and this can be done more accurately by just zapping the neurons directly with electricity. Diego…

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Real Python code developing screen. Programing workflow abstract algorithm concept. Lines of Python code visible under magnifying lens.

How Do We Know the Machine Is Right If No One Knows How It Works?

We don’t, and that’s a problem, says Oxford philosopher John Zerilli

Oxford philosopher John Zerilli, author of A Citizen’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence (2021), asks us to consider how machine learning, the most widely used type of AI, might be deciding our lives without our knowing it: There are many reasons not to take job rejections personally, but there’s one in particular you might not consider: you might have been screened out by an algorithm that taught itself to filter candidates by gender, surname or ethnicity – in other words, by factors that have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. Even if you’re unfazed by the spectre of runaway robots enslaving humanity, this little tale shows how the ascendancy of machine learning (ML) comes with risks that…

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African American woman studing and reading the Bible.

Does Religious Belief Help People Think in a More Complex Way?

One psychologist became interested in the question because many studies have associated religious belief with better health and greater longevity

University of South Florida psychologist Jay L. Michaels, who has a background in experimental social psychology and quantitative psychology, designed a study to test that proposition: In the study, 630 adults from from 48 countries completed a cognitive assessment in which they were asked to pick a phrase that best described a given behavior. They had the choice of picking a high-level description (which focused on why the action was performed) or a low-level description (which focused on mechanistic aspects of the action.) For example, one item asked whether “reading” was better described as “Gaining knowledge” or “Following lines of print.” Eric W. Dolan, “New study links intrinsic religious motivation to higher-level patterns of thought” at PsyPost (May 22, 2021)…

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Coronavirus covid-19. Child praying to God requesting that the coronavirus covid 19 not spread beyond control.

Side effects: COVID Got People Praying Again

Despite the fact that many could not go to houses of worship

McLean Hospital psychologist David H. Rosmarin has the stats: In the early days of the pandemic, economist Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen examined Google searches for the word “prayer” in 95 countries. She identified that they hit an all-time global high in March 2020, and increases occurred in lockstep with the number of COVID-19 cases identified in each country. Stateside, according to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans prayed to end the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, and nearly one quarter reported that their faith increased the following month, despite limited access to houses of worship. David H. Rosmarin, “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” at Scientific American (June 15, 2021) Not…

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Young man wearing coverall and safety mask working on production line of modern pharmaceutical factory, portrait shot

U.S. Moratorium(ish) on Gain-of-Function Research

Evaluating the effectiveness of the 2014 U.S. moratorium on gain-of-function experiments

In the last two articles, we discussed the vindication of the lab leak theory through the publication of several investigative articles, and the risky nature of gain-of-function research and the evidence that it may be a key component to the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we turn to the U.S. Due to the risky nature of gain-of-function research, what actions has the U.S. government taken to mitigate those risks? In 2014, the U.S. government placed a moratorium on new gain-of-function experiments for influenza, MERS, and SARS. That moratorium defines “gain-of-function” in very broad terms covering any “research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease.” The moratorium expired in 2017 and was replaced by an oversight board,…

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Medical science laboratory. Concept of virus and bacteria research

What Is Gain-of-Function Research and Why Is It Risky?

The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the NIH find themselves in a tough spot

Last time, we talked about the vindication of the lab leak theory, as a growing number of investigative articles have pointed to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now,we turn to the role risky gain-of-function research may have played in the affair. To understand why some in the U.S. government and the NIH want to downplay funding of gain-of-function research, we need to understand what exactly it is. All viruses mutate, some faster than others. Influenza is one of the fastest mutating viruses, followed by HIV. SARS-CoV-2 mutates slower than both viruses, which is why many scientists believe vaccine booster shots will likely be every few years, rather than annually, like the flu. Scientists need to…

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Science laboratory research and development concept. microscope with test tubes

Lab Leak Theory Vindicated: What That Means for Fighting COVID-19

What was the U.S. government's role in downplaying the lab leak theory?

Vanity Fair adds to the growing number of investigative articles pointing to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at the U.S. government’s role in downplaying that lab leak theory. Behind closed doors, however, national security and public health experts and officials across a range of departments in the executive branch were locked in high-stakes battles over what could and couldn’t be investigated and made public. Katherine Eban, “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins” at Vanity Fair At a time when the Mainstream Media has sullied its reputation by parroting experts rather than seeking multiple viewpoints and checking sources, several articles stand out as excellent pieces of long-form writing and…

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In the Hospital Sick Man Lying on the Bed, His Visiting Wife Hopefully Sits Beside Him and Prays for His Rapid Recovery. Tragic, Somber and Melancholy Scene.

Is It Safe to Revise the Standard for Legally Recognized Brain Death?

People have a right to not have a controversial concept of death imposed upon them

Originally published on MercatorNet on May 28, 2021 by Nancy Valko I have been writing for many years about the implications of brain death, the lesser known “donation after cardiac/circulatory death”, diagnosed brain death cases like the supposedly “impossible” prolonged survival and maturation of Jahi McMath, and unexpected recoveries like Zack Dunlap’s. Some mothers declared “brain dead” were able to gestate their babies for weeks or months to a successful delivery before their ventilators were removed. Last August, I wrote about the World Brain Death Project and the effort to establish a worldwide consensus on brain death criteria and testing to develop the “minimum clinical standards for determination of brain death” (emphasis added). I also wrote about the current effort “to revise the (US) Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) to assure a…

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Little brave pawn wearing artificial paper crown suit on chessboard with figures, business entrepreneur leadership concept

Do You Have a “Selfish Prefrontal Cortex”?

Do you tell “white lies” only for selfish motives?

A recent neuroscience paper claims to determine whether your motives are selfish: You may think a little white lie about a bad haircut is strictly for your friend’s benefit, but your brain activity says otherwise. Distinct activity patterns in the prefrontal cortex reveal when a white lie has selfish motives, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience. White lies — formally called Pareto lies — can benefit both parties, but their true motives are encoded by the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). This brain region computes the value of different social behaviors, with some subregions focusing on internal motivations and others on external ones. Kim and Kim predicted activity patterns in these subregions could elucidate the true motive behind…

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Human brain with an implanted chip.

What Will Elon Musk’s Neuralink Really Change, If It Catches On

Neuralink’s computer chip implants may help restore function in people with motor or sensory disabilities

Finishing the third and final podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, had a look at entrepreneur Elon Musk’s implanted brain chip venture, the Neuralink: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 14:28 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Let me end our discussion together by asking you an outlier question. Elon Musk is developing something called Neuralink. It’s a chip which goes into the brain. Its immediate application is going to be for those that are handicapped. It is going to allow them communicate directly to objects that they can’t control normally because of their handicap.…

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Human skull with a syringe holds in the mouth and vaccine bottle on space of brown paper, Bad side effect concept

Michael Egnor: Stop Making Killing a Form of Cure

Euthanasia and abortion are not forms of medicine, he says

Recently, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor pleaded with medical colleagues to take a stronger stand on the rapid normalization of killing as a form of “cure” in our society: The medical profession should take a clear stand on this issue: doctors who deliberately kill — whether by abortion or by physician-assisted suicide or by euthanasia — are not practicing medicine when they kill. Medical practice always entails the maintenance of health, the treatment of disease, and the relief of suffering. Ending the life of a patient or of the child in his mother’s womb is neither the maintenance of health nor treatment of a disease nor the alleviation of any suffering. It is simply the killing of an innocent unwanted child. I…

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Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

Why Don’t Changes to Our Bodies Create a Different Consciousness?

The sense of consciousness remains single and united despite ceaseless bodily change

In the third podcast of the “Unity of Consciousness” series, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness, including the question of why there really can’t be two of you. But Dr. Marks asks one final question: If consciousness is simply generated by the body, as materialists think, why don’t changes to our bodies create different consciousnesses? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 11:06 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: There are cells that change quite a lot. And then there are cells that don’t change a lot, for example, neurons. That is, you keep the same neurons.…

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Woman wearing gloves with biohazard chemical protective suit and mask. She crossed her arms with unhappy face.

Covid-19 Lab Leak Theory Upgraded from Conspiracy to Plausible

Many scientists were discouraged from openly discussing the possibility of a lab leak, which hindered serious investigation

Could the SARS-CoV-2 virus have originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology? The public was informed, until quite recently, that the “scientific consensus” was that the virus that causes COVID-19 likely passed from animal to human and was neither designed nor accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan. However, this “consensus” has turned out to be anything but. Several scientists have voiced their concern over the lack of transparency on the part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), imploring that the “lab leak” hypothesis should not be thrown out. They were largely ignored. Some scientists have even said that they experienced “very intense, very subtle pressures” to avoid advancing the lab leak theory. It’s advancing anyway, as more evidence accumulates.…

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Prosthetic robotic arm with palm in fist, 3d rendering on black background

Nobel Prize Economist Tells The Guardian, AI Will Win

But when we hear why he thinks so, don’t be too sure

Nobel Prize-winning economist (2002) Daniel Kahneman, 87 (pictured), gave an interview this month to The Guardian in which he observed that belief in science is not much different from belief in religion with respect to the risks of unproductive noise clouding our judgment. He’s been in the news lately as one of the authors of a new book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, which applies his ideas about human error and bias to organizations. He told The Guardian that he places faith “if there is any faith to be placed,” in organizations rather than individuals, for example. Curiously, he doesn’t seem to privilege science organizations: I was struck watching the American elections by just how often politicians of both…

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Dying woman with nurse

Do People Suddenly Gain Clarity About Life Just Before Dying?

A small number of cognitively challenged or dementia patients become lucid — for the first time in years — just before dying

The percentage of people who suddenly become lucid on the point of death may be small but their stories are remarkable. The best known case was that of Anna Katharina Ehmer (1895–1922) who, due to mental disabilities, lived in a psychiatric institution called Hephata in Germany for most of her life (from 1896 to 1922). She … allegedly never spoken a single word during her life. Yet, she was reported to have sung dying songs for a half hour before she died. The case was reported by the head of this institution and by its chief physician. We consider it difficult to evaluate the authenticity of the case definitively in retrospect. Nevertheless, there are similar cases and a variety of…

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Sci-fi Saturday: In “No Guarantee,” Brain Uploading Proves Costly

In a ruined mid-21st century Britain, a couple gains tickets to a virtual world — if their brains can be uploaded. But can they?

“No Guarantee” (2016) by Stuart Black and Nick Mather (at DUST, May 11, 2021) 5:22 min. A couple living in the ruins of London 2056 must decide whether they should upload their consciousnesses into the mysterious Cloud 9.” Fuller description: “London 2056 – the city is dying and those living in the smog-clogged ruins live by their wits. Those who can afford to opt out of the desperation upload their consciousnesses to Cloud 9. This is advertised as a one way ticket to virtual heaven – but can the Company who run it really be trusted? Virgil and Mary have different attitudes: she wants to go, he doesn’t. Can she persuade him to ‘ascend’ before he dies from terminal illness?…

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Disabled student in class room.

Paralyzed Man Writes, Using Only Imagination — and an Algorithm

With implanted electrodes, the volunteer, 65, achieved 90 characters per minute

The science media has been abuzz these last few days with news of man paralyzed from the neck down who was able to type using only his thoughts — communicating via a brain implant: A 65-year-old man had two grids of tiny electrodes implanted on the surface of his brain. The electrodes read electrical activity in the part of the brain that controls hand and finger movements. Although the man was paralyzed from the neck down, he imagined writing letters softly with his hand. With an algorithm, researchers then figured out the neural patterns that went with each imagined letter and transformed those patterns into text on a screen. Anushree Dave, “Brain implants turn imagined handwriting into text on a…

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Artificial intelligence concept. Robotic hand is holding human brain. 3D rendered illustration.

Failed Prophecies of the Big “AI Takeover” Come at a Cost

Like IBM Watson in medicine, they don’t just fail; they take time, money, and energy from more promising digital innovations

Surveying the time line of prophecies that AI will take over “soon” is entertaining. At Slate, business studies profs Jeffrey Funk and Gary Smith offer a whirlwind tour starting in the 1950s, with stops along the way at 1970 (“In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being”) and at 2014: In 2014, Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence and will have all of the intellectual and emotional capabilities of humans, including “the ability to tell a joke, to be funny, to be romantic, to be loving, to be sexy.” As we move closer to 2029, Kurzweil talks more about 2045. Jeffrey Funk and…

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Closeup of hand female caregiver holding oxygen mask with cute child patient in hospital bed or home,little girl putting inhalation,doctor or nurse intensive care,health care,support,help concept

A Short Film Explores the Dreamscape of a Child in a Coma

While her faithful father waits and tries to connect with her…

Last week, five animated short films competed for Oscar gold, with the top prize going to the emotionally charged “If Anything Happens I Love You.” The short is a bold examination of bereavement as two parents grapple with the violent loss of their young daughter. It’s a worthy winner. However, my own pick didn’t make the shortlist. WiNDUP (2020), written and directed by young creative Yibing Jiang, is also a poignant meditation on parenthood and grief — in this case, for a child in a possibly irreversible coma — as well as a technical gem. Jiang’s company, Unity, uses custom-built software to create shorts in “real-time 3D” on standard computers. Doing without certain tools that animators take for granted today,…

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Tiny people betwixt logic board

Why Did a Prominent Science Writer Come To Doubt the AI Takeover?

John Horgan’s endorsement of Erik J. Larson’s new book critiquing AI claims stems from considerable experience covering the industry for science publications

At first, science writer John Horgan (pictured), author of a number of books including The End of Science (1996), accepted the conventional AI story: When I started writing about science decades ago, artificial intelligence seemed ascendant. IEEE Spectrum, the technology magazine for which I worked, produced a special issue on how AI would transform the world. I edited an article in which computer scientist Frederick Hayes-Roth predicted that AI would soon replace experts in law, medicine, finance and other professions. John Horgan, “Will Artificial Intelligence Ever Live Up to Its Hype?” at Scientific American (December 4, 2020) But that year, 1984, ushered in an AI winter, in which innovation stalled and funding dried up. By 1998, problems like non-recurrent engineering…