Researchers find birds can theorize about the minds of others, even those they cannot see | Phys.org

The question of what sets humans apart from other animals is one of the oldest philosophical puzzles. A popular answer is that only humans can understand that others also have minds like their own.

But new research suggests that ravens - birds singled out by many cultures as a symbol of intelligence and wisdom - share at least some of the human ability to think abstractly about other minds, adapting their behavior by attributing their own perceptions to others.

The study, "Ravens Attribute Visual Access to Unseen Competitors," was published Feb. 2 in Nature Communications. It found that ravens guarded caches of food against discovery in response to the sounds of other ravens if a nearby peephole was open, even if they did not see another bird. They did not show the same concern when the peephole was closed, despite the auditory cues.

The findings shed new light on science's understanding of Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states - including vision - to others, said Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston. Buckner is an author of the paper, along with Thomas Bugnyar and Stephan A. Reber, cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna.

https://phys.org/news/2016-02-birds-theorize-minds.html

Scientists Just Detected Brain Waves in Mini Lab-Grown Brains | Mother Jones

For the first time, scientists have detected brain waves similar to those of a pre-term baby in miniature, lab-grown brains.

The results, published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, have big implications for the medical field. Access to human brains are a consistent barrier to studying conditions like Alzheimer’s, autism, or schizophrenia; for obvious reasons, infant brains are even more difficult to obtain. So models that are grown from stem cells like these mini-brains (known to scientists as “cortical organoids”) may offer a solution.

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/08/scientists-just-detected-brain-waves-in-mini-lab-grown-brains/

A Successful Artificial Memory Has Been Created | Scientific American

We learn from our personal interaction with the world, and our memories of those experiences help guide our behaviors. Experience and memory are inexorably linked, or at least they seemed to be before a recent reporton the formation of completely artificial memories. Using laboratory animals, investigators reverse engineered a specific natural memory by mapped the brain circuits underlying its formation. They then “trained” another animal by stimulating brain cells in the pattern of the natural memory. Doing so created an artificial memory that was retained and recalled in a manner indistinguishable from a natural one.

Memories are essential to the sense of identity that emerges from the narrative of personal experience. This study is remarkable because it demonstrates that by manipulating specific circuits in the brain, memories can be separated from that narrative and formed in the complete absence of real experience. The work shows that brain circuits that normally respond to specific experiences can be artificially stimulated and linked together in an artificial memory. That memory can be elicited by the appropriate sensory cues in the real environment. The research provides some fundamental understanding of how memories are formed in the brain and is part of a burgeoning science of memory manipulation that includes the transfer, prosthetic enhancement and erasure of memory. These efforts could have a tremendous impact on a wide range of individuals, from those struggling with memory impairments to those enduring traumatic memories, and they also have broad social and ethical implications.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-successful-artificial-memory-has-been-created/


Alternative link in case of paywall:
https://interestingengineering.com/inception-scientists-have-successfully-implanted-an-artificial-memory

Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic | The Guardian

Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in laboratories and tech firms, a leading researcher has said.

The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.

Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, said an equivalent of the doctor’s oath was crucial given that mathematicians and computer engineers were building the tech thatwould shape society’s future.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/16/mathematicians-need-doctor-style-hippocratic-oath-says-academic-hannah-fry

Japan approves first human-animal embryo experiments | Nature

A Japanese stem-cell scientist is the first to receive government support to create animal embryos that contain human cells and transplant them into surrogate animals since a ban on the practice was overturned earlier this year.

Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, plans to grow human cells in mouse and rat embryos and then transplant those embryos into surrogate animals. Nakauchi's ultimate goal is to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people.

Until March, Japan explicitly forbid the growth of animal embryos containing human cells beyond 14 days or the transplant of such embryos into a surrogate uterus. That month Japan’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines allowing the creation of human-animal embryos that can be transplanted into surrogate animals and brought to term.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02275-3

Soon, intelligent machines could help decide whether to keep people in jail. It’s time to prepare | The Star

Fahad Diwan logs in and fills out the details of a person facing a bail hearing. Date of birth. Current charges. Pending charges. Past convictions.

Once his SmartBail program is done, he says, an algorithm trained on a mountain of data will be able to assess whether that suspect is a good candidate for pretrial release. Unlikely to be a flight risk. Unlikely to commit offences. Likely to comply with the conditions of release.

Suspects in custody are “legally innocent people,” said Diwan, 30, who hopes to one day put his software to use in Ontario’s bail courts. “We just want to find a way to make the system better, faster, economical.”

Proponents of this kind of program say machine learning would save time and money by quickly identifying people who should be released, speeding up bail hearings, reducing the number of people in jails and freeing up courts to focus on defendants who should have a full, contested hearing. All that with less bias and without affecting the crime rate.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/19/soon-intelligent-machines-could-help-decide-whether-to-keep-people-in-jail-its-time-to-prepare.html

Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?

A few years ago, a scientist named Nenad Sestan began throwing around an idea for an experiment so obviously insane, so “wild” and “totally out there,” as he put it to me recently, that at first he told almost no one about it: not his wife or kids, not his bosses in Yale’s neuroscience department, not the dean of the university’s medical school.

Like everything Sestan studies, the idea centered on the mammalian brain. More specific, it centered on the tree-shaped neurons that govern speech, motor function and thought — the cells, in short, that make us who we are. In the course of his research, Sestan, an expert in developmental neurobiology, regularly ordered slices of animal and human brain tissue from various brain banks, which shipped the specimens to Yale in coolers full of ice. Sometimes the tissue arrived within three or four hours of the donor’s death. Sometimes it took more than a day. Still, Sestan and his team were able to culture, or grow, active cells from that tissue — tissue that was, for all practical purposes, entirely dead. In the right circumstances, they could actually keep the cells alive for several weeks at a stretch.

When I met with Sestan this spring, at his lab in New Haven, he took great care to stress that he was far from the only scientist to have noticed the phenomenon. “Lots of people knew this,” he said. “Lots and lots.” And yet he seems to have been one of the few to take these findings and push them forward: If you could restore activity to individual post-mortem brain cells, he reasoned to himself, what was to stop you from restoring activity to entire slices of post-mortem brain?

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/magazine/dead-pig-brains-reanimation.html

German Ethics Council: Germline editing “not ethically out of the question” | European Scientist

On Monday, the German Ethics Council made public a 230-page report discussing their current position on human genome manipulation and in particular, germline editing. According to the press release published on 9 May, a few days before the report, “germline interventions currently too risky, but not ethically out of the question”.

The council made up of 26 ethicists, legal scholars, scientists, and other experts unanimously agreed there are no compelling philosophical arguments against altering human germlines, which they write is not “in principle, ethically reprehensible.” […]

The World Health Organization called for the establishment of a global registry of gene editing research on humans last March. And many scientists would now agree, genome-editing in the human germline should not be regulated by the scientific community but by law.

All members agreed “ the human germline is not inviolable”, although not all are in favour of the pursuing germline interventions – some are concerned the possible benefits may not outweigh the potential downsides.

https://www.europeanscientist.com/en/public-health/germline-editing-not-ethically-out-of-the-question/

Prepare Yourself For The Shock Of Mass Implantable Brain Technology | Forbes

Patient Undergoing Implantable Brain Technology Procedure

Patient Undergoing Implantable Brain Technology Procedure


[…] The first wave of evolution is expected to offer healing-of-sorts for various individuals such as those profiled in the film with Parkinson’s Disease, paralysis, blindness and more. The next wave is more about general usage.

Of course, who would deny any person suffering from neurological disorders the ability to possess a better quality of life through brain implants? But when such technology is beginning to be touted via interviews in this documentary as that which will be able to help you jump higher, run faster, rid oneself of this habit or that, or that annoying personality trait or another via programming, we could be teetering on some very shaky moral and spiritual ground.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurencoleman/2019/05/12/prepare-yourself-for-the-shock-of-mass-implantable-brain-technology/


A war made me realize: The world needs biomedical engineers | Zahra Moussavi

It was a sunny and pleasant spring day in Dezful, a small city in the south part of Iran. There were not many people on the street but I remember a young teenager pedalling slowly on his bike. I remember him because a moment later he was decapitated by a piece of metal when an Iraqi missile hit the neighbourhood.

His headless body pedalled for a while before falling to the ground. Everything in that moment registered in my brain like a scene in slow motion.

In shock, all I was thinking was: “Wow! How can the body balance without the brain? The body’s motion must have also been programmed in the spinal cord!”

It was spring of 1981 and I was 20 at the time, a second year university student with no background in biology or human physiology. A year earlier, I wanted to become a nuclear physicist and work on a Nobel Prize winning project. Then the war between Iran and Iraq started and the universities closed. I went to the Red Cross and to hospitals to learn first aid and then to the fronts to help with the war casualties.

The war scenes — and particularly the teenage cyclist on that particular day — made me decide to become a biomedical engineer.

https://theconversation.com/a-war-made-me-realize-the-world-needs-biomedical-engineers-84759

AI MIT CSAIL’s AI can predict the onset of breast cancer 5 years in advance

Breast cancer is the second leading cancer-related cause of death among women in the U.S. It’s estimated that in 2015, 232,000 women were diagnosed with the disease and approximately 40,000 died from it. And while exams like mammography have come into wide practice — in 2014, over 39 million breast cancer screenings were performed in the U.S. alone — they’re not always reliable. About 10% to 15% of women who undergo a mammogram are asked to return following an inconclusive analysis.

Fortunately, with the help of AI, scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Massachusetts General Hospital are making steps toward more consistent and reliable screening procedures. In a newly published paper in the journal Radiology, they describe a machine learning model that can predict from a mammogram if a patient is likely to develop breast cancer as many as five years in the future.

https://venturebeat.com/2019/05/07/mit-csails-ai-can-predict-the-onset-of-breast-cancer-5-years-in-advance/

Decoded Brain Signals Could Give Voiceless People A Way To Talk | NPR

Scientists have found a way to transform brain signals into spoken words and sentences.

The approach could someday help people who have lost the ability to speak or gesture, a team from the University of California, San Francisco reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"Finding a way to restore speech is one of the great challenges in neurosciences," says Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a professor of engineering at Brown University who wasn't associated with the study. "This is a really exciting new contribution to the field."

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/24/716790281/decoded-brain-signals-could-give-voiceless-people-a-way-to-talk

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter | MIT Technology Review

Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613277/chinese-scientists-have-put-human-brain-genes-in-monkeysand-yes-they-may-be-smarter/

Philosophers and neuroscientists join forces to see whether science can solve the mystery of free will | Science

Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will, without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain. Three decades later, they have reached the same conclusion as the philosophers: Free will is complicated.

Now, a new research program spanning 17 universities and backed by more than $7 million from two private foundations hopes to break out the impasse by bringing neuroscientists and philosophers together. The collaboration, the researchers say, can help them tackle two important questions: What does it take to have free will? And whatever that is, do we have it?

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/philosophers-and-neuroscientists-join-forces-see-whether-science-can-solve-mystery-free

Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing | Nature

Eric Lander, Françoise Baylis, Feng Zhang, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Paul Berg and specialists from seven countries call for an international governance framework.

We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children.

By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban. Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.

In Spain, prisoners’ brains are being electrically stimulated in the name of science | Vox

A team of scientists in Spain is getting ready to experiment on prisoners. If the scientists get the necessary approvals, they plan to start a study this month that involves placing electrodes on inmates’ foreheads and sending a current into their brains. The electricity will target the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that plays a role in decision-making and social behavior. The idea is that stimulating more activity in that region may make the prisoners less aggressive.

This technique — transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS — is a form of neurointervention, meaning it acts directly on the brain. Using neurointerventions in the criminal justice system is highly controversial. In recent years, scientists and philosophers have been debating under what conditions (if any) it might be ethical.

The Spanish team is the first to use tDCS on prisoners. They’ve already done it in a pilot study, publishing their findings in Neuroscience in January, and they were all set to implement a follow-up study involving at least 12 convicted murderers and other inmates this month. On Wednesday, New Scientist broke news of the upcoming experiment, noting that it had approval from the Spanish government, prison officials, and a university ethics committee. The next day, the Interior Ministry changed course and put the study on hold.

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/3/9/18256821/prisoner-brain-study-spain-aggression-neurointervention-ethics

Is Ethical A.I. Even Possible? | NYT

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — When a news article revealed that Clarifai was working with the Pentagon and some employees questioned the ethics of building artificial intelligence that analyzed video captured by drones, the company said the project would save the lives of civilians and soldiers.

“Clarifai’s mission is to accelerate the progress of humanity with continually improving A.I.,” read a blog post from Matt Zeiler, the company’s founder and chief executive, and a prominent A.I. researcher. Later, in a news media interview, Mr. Zeiler announced a new management position that would ensure all company projects were ethically sound.

As activists, researchers, and journalists voice concerns over the rise of artificial intelligence, warning against biased, deceptive and malicious applications, the companies building this technology are responding. From tech giants like Google and Microsoft to scrappy A.I. start-ups, many are creating corporate principles meant to ensure their systems are designed and deployed in an ethical way. Some set up ethics officers or review boards to oversee these principles.

But tensions continue to rise as some question whether these promises will ultimately be kept. Companies can change course. Idealism can bow to financial pressure. Some activists — and even some companies — are beginning to argue that the only way to ensure ethical practices is through government regulation.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/business/ethics-artificial-intelligence.html

The Free Will Pill | Philosophy Now

If we found out next week that neuroscientists had conclusively demonstrated that free will does not exist and that our so-called ‘choices’ are purely the result of automatic brain functions, I think we would be right to take this news badly. But imagine further that, as we continue to develop new ways to alter human brain chemistry and so on, we found a way to design a ‘free will pill’ – something like Prozac or Adderall – which alters our brains so that we can act freely.

It turns out that some recent work on free will makes this speculation more plausible than you might think. And this brings up all sorts of bizarre questions, such as whether we can freely choose to take a free will drug; whether we should take a free will drug; and what kind of effects such a drug would have on us, individually and socially.

https://philosophynow.org/issues/130/The_Free_Will_Pill

Scientists Successfully Double the DNA Alphabet | Smithsonianmag.com

In 1953, when scientists conclusively identified DNA’s structure, it was a monumental, Nobel-Prize-winning revelation: four nucleotides, each containing a letter-labeled base, were arranged in a double helix structure. These four bases, or “letters,” form pairs: adenine, A, matches with thymine, T, and cytosine, C, bonds with guanine, G. These pairs are essentially the building blocks of life on Earth; the way in which the pairs are arranged creates the genetic instructions for how proteins are made, which in turn aid in pretty much every critical process that keeps us alive.

Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has expanded the genetic alphabet by creating synthetic DNA that uses eight letters rather than four, according to a new study published in the journal Science. The new manufactured structure is called "hachimoji DNA," from the Japanese words for "eight" and letter." Creating hachimoji DNA was, as Carl Zimmer writes in The New York Times, “a chemical tour-de-force” for the group led by Steven Benner, a synthetic biologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution. The advance offers new possibilities in many fields, including medical research and data storage.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-just-doubled-number-letters-dna-alphabet-180971552/

China’s CRISPR twins might have had their brains inadvertently enhanced | MIT Technology Review

The brains of two genetically edited girls born in China last year may have been changed in ways that enhance cognition and memory, scientists say.

The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose lab uncovered a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory and the brain’s ability to form new connections. 

“The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls’ cognition is impossible to predict, and “that is why it should not be done.” 

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612997/the-crispr-twins-had-their-brains-altered/