Category Archives: neuroscience

The biggest tech hits and misses of 2013


Edward Snowden: the most wanted man since Julian Assange.

So what were the biggest technology related stories in 2013? There were quite a few, but here are the 10 most important.

Selfies take over:

With the Oxford Dictionaries naming “selfie” as the word of the year in November, the self-portrait’s domination of pop culture was complete. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt recently got in on the action with their own selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

Is the self-portrait, followed by its inevitable sharing on social media, a sign of society’s growing narcissism? It’s a topic that’s now being debated. Over at the Globe and Mail, Navneet Alang argues it isn’t – it’s merely the latest evolution of how people are defining their identities while communicating with each other.

I think it’s even a little more innocuous than that. Whenever I show friends or relatives vacation photos of famous monuments or gorgeous vistas, they always wonder why I’m not in them. People like to see other people in photos – it’s often what makes them interesting. Read the rest of this entry »


Military looking to regulate brains with implants

deep-brain-stimulation-diagram-thing-640x353This is your brain. This is your brain as regulated by your smartphone.

As kooky as it sounds, it’s within the realm of possibility – or at least U.S. military scientists believe it is. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced last week that it is working on an improved version of an implanted “brain pacemaker,” or the devices that are currently being used to treat patients ranging from Parkinson’s to deep depression.

The $70 million program, which DARPA calls Systems-Based Neurotechnology and Understanding for the Treatment of Neuropsychological Illnesses, is part of the mega-neuroscience initiative announced by U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year. The military agency, which specializes in far-out science (it created the internet and the computer mouse, among many other things), is hoping to use its discoveries to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental issues.

DARPA is “trying to change the game on how we approach these kinds of problems,” according to program director Justin Sanchez. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 29, 2013 in DARPA, neuroscience


Obama’s brain project could change everything

brainIt’s not every day that potentially historic science news breaks, but it did happen this week with a report that U.S. President Barack Obama is set to unveil a big project to map the human brain.

According to the New York Times, Obama will announce the decade-long plan when he unveils his budget next month. The effort – akin to the Human Genome Project that mapped DNA – is likely to cost at least $3 billion, but will seek to answer some long-standing questions about how the brain works.

It’s hard to overstate just how important and ground-breaking such a project would be. As the newspaper puts it, the plan will bring together federal agencies, private foundations, neuroscientists and nanoscientists in “a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 20, 2013 in neuroscience


2021: Mysteries of the brain are tackled

Forget space, the final frontier is the brain. Scientists, who tell us that very little is known about this all-important organ, have understood this for some time. Neuroscience has been progressing for decades now, although at a pretty glacial pace.

What looks to change over the next decade is that non-scientists are now starting to consider the possibilities that may come from understanding the brain, which is important because they – as in governments, businesses and the general public – are the ones that really drive technological advancement. If governments, supported by their constituencies, get behind certain lines of research with big-time funding, there’s little that can’t be accomplished, and quickly.

There are many examples. In four years during the Second World War, the Manhattan Project managed to crack the secrets of the atom and pump out scores of beneficial technologies – not the least of which was nuclear power – while the race to moon in the 1960s achieved similar results in under a decade. In more recent times, scientists from around the world – with resources from both government and business – went from knowing very little about the human genome to having the whole thing mapped out in 10 years. All of this proves that when humanity puts its considerable brain and wallet power to a task, we can achieve amazing things. (Cheap plug time: much of this stuff is covered in detail in Sex, Bombs and Burgers.)

All that is needed is a spark. Some smaller companies, such as Toronto-based InteraXon, believe that all that is needed to kick this field into high gear is something to capture the public’s imagination. The company has already lit up the CN Tower with mere thoughts and created a brain-controlled iPad game to show the sorts of things that are possible.

We may be seeing that quintessential kick-starter with the DARPA arm I blogged about a little while ago. The robot arm, controlled by a neural implant and intended for war amputees, is now being fast-tracked through clinical tests by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, indicating that government is beginning to see that such technologies are not beneficial, but possible. If things go well with the arm, it will likely spin off into wide-spread interest in neural technologies, leading to advanced brain research and the funding that follows.

Things will get really interesting once we understand more about the brain, which will happen in lockstep with the advancement of computers I talked about yesterday. In the next 10 years, we’re going to start hooking our brains directly up to computers and the internet, leading to a whole host of possibilities in the decade after that. Doing internet searches by just thinking about them, sending messages to each other in a method akin to telepathy and, yes, even watching porn in our minds… just a few of the things we’ll be inching toward.

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Posted by on March 1, 2011 in bionics, neuroscience