Companies are developing software to analyze our fleeting facial expressions and to get at the emotions behind them.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
Does it look Orwellian? it surly has the potential for misuse (by NSA for example?! "oh, we do not need to worry about NSA trying to misuse the technology", you may say). ;)
Though such algorithms also have the potentials for being used for good, let's say, to detect depression (or other mood disorders) in early stages through evaluation of microexpressions. Or even it could be used to see if the treatment process of mood disorders is successful or slow.
Another complex aspect would be if it finds its way to the courtrooms just as the brains will go on trial (co-incidentally, NYTimes has another piece on this aspect http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/nyregion/the-day-when-neurons-go-on-trial.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0). But is it good to use it , let's say, to test whether the witness feels compassion for the defendant? or even whether the prosecutor harbors negative emotions toward the accused, while he/she is asking for certain punishments? The answer seems to be very complicted. It is neither a straight NO nor a solid YES.
Like many other tools, there are many ways that we can use this sort of technology to improve things rather than to misuse them. It is us as the members of the society which will set the tone of how we are treated by the elements of societal interaction. I belive that scientists and innovators should not leave these aspects off to the external affairs. Rather, they should engage with others such as lawmakers, data-handlers and etc, to make sure that collectively we can shape our society for better.
Is a million lines of code a lot? How many lines of code are there in Windows? Facebook? iPhone apps? Let our data-visualization program your brain.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
It is interesting to see that some codes (like Unix) are brief, yet elegant. Some show vast expansion in their revisions (like Linux). Some look mysteriously big (like F-35). Some look ridicolously big (not coincidentally, Microsoft's OS and office). And some have won the competition in size (healthcare.gov), which may reflect the complex stupidity of the human society. But there are two sets of codes missing from this chart. Arguably the 4 letter code of DNA (A, C, G & T) is the most elegant of all. But how many lines of code are there in the genome? We have an estimate of how many genes are there, but are still dumbfounded in figuring what are they doing exactly. The other mysterious code is the neural one. If one tells you that it only is a binary 1/0, just like the computers, you can answer "maybe yours is". How many lines of code are there that constittue the mind, of a man, of a frog, of a worm? That is only the key to the pandora's box.
In a wide ranging radio interview, SFI Distinguished Fellow Murray Gell-Mann discusses what it means to think like a scientist, the value of rejecting orthodoxy, beauty and simplicity, reductionism vs. interdisciplinarity, complex systems science and theory, and intelligent life on other planets, among other topics.
"Is the human conscience led by the head or the heart? Is the moral progress we have enjoyed – religious freedom, the abolition of slavery, anti-war movements, civil, women’s, and gay rights – a gift of empathy and emotion, or of reason and logic? Psychologist and author Steven Pinker and philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein survey the history of moral progress in human society, a history, they say, suggesting that reason and logic have had a surprisingly powerful role in shaping the human condition."
In Aspen Neurotechnology meeting. As my background (in computational neuroscience and neurotechnology) dictates, I have immensly enjoyed the scientifc talks so far. However, I am very much eager to hear the talks in a very much needed topic: "Regulatory and Ethical Challenges in Translating Neuroscience Research".
I believe this issue should not be overlooked. Not just scientists and enterpreneurs, but the whole society should engage and set an adaptive system that provides the flexibility for advancements while keeping a watchful eye on potential misuses of the powerful techniques that will emerge in the coming years. A while ago, I posted the report of Neuffild council on bioetchis of neurotechnology. If you are interested, here is the post:
Very interesting...This is a good first step in transferring memory from one to another, for good or bad. If one day we can erase memory and rewrite it (which we will do at some point), what are the limits? on whom and how it should be practiced? who should have the permit to do it? Would we be able to detect "real" memories from "implanted" ones? Can we recognize that part of the memory are erased?
This Nature commentary too is reflecting upon a very important issue.
Few people wish to be poor. Many find it puzzling that those in poverty seem to get stuck in that state, even when there are opportunities to improve one's lot. On page 976 of this issue, Mani et al. (1) provide a possible reason: Poverty-related concerns impair cognitive capacity. Simply put, being poor taps out one's mental reserves. This could explain data showing that the poor are likelier than others to behave in ways that are harmful to health and impede long-term success—in short, behaviors that can perpetuate a disadvantaged state.
The eye-opening study of Mani et al. included laboratory experiments and field studies that tested the “cognitive constraint” hypothesis. One experiment gave individuals who were poor (defined by household income) hypothetical financial decisions, followed by tasks that measured mental abilities. Poor people who earlier had contemplated a difficult financial decision showed worse mental performance than others. A study of farmers demonstrated that the mental acuities of the same person varied with swings in income. Farmers were given challenging cognitive tests before and after harvest. Before harvest, the farmers experienced much financial strain, whereas after harvest (and the receipt of payments), they did not. The results showed clear and demonstrable improvement in cognitive capacity after harvest. This outcome held after accounting for the stress of pre-harvest periods. The authors propose that poverty imposes a cognitive load, which impairs cognitive capacity.
The depletion of mental functioning with poverty comports with a framework called the limited-resource model of self-control. Failures of self-control are implicated in some of society's most pressing problems, including poverty (1–6). When people want to reach a goal, they use self-control to produce responses and behaviors aimed at moving themselves from the current (undesirable) standpoint to the preferred state. This powerful process, however, is not used as often as it should be. One reason is that self-control is a limited and depletable resource (7). When people use self-control, it is like top-flight running for a cheetah, in which a brief period of exertion results in exhaustion.
Everyone must regulate eating and spending, and wearing down self-control resources leads to detrimental behaviors for both. In one study, people made to resist the lure of delicious chocolates later showed worse performance on demanding mental tasks and at managing negative emotions. Moreover, it led to overeating unhealthy foods (8). In another situation, participants were given cash to spend or keep. Those who earlier had used self-control to suppress unwanted thoughts later spent more money and reported stronger desires to spend all the newfound cash. The depletion of self-control ability led to unwise spending (9). Both examples suggest a vicious cycle: Overcoming urges and making decisions can deplete mental resources, which in turn can lead to problematic behaviors. Because the poor must overcome more urges and make difficult decisions more often than others, they are more likely to overeat, overspend, and enact other problematic behaviors.
Self-control may be the greatest human strength (6) because it is involved in the ability to make wise choices. Several studies have found that after using self-control (and thus reducing the resource), decision-making patterns shift toward favoring intuitive over reasoned options (10). For example, options were constructed so that they were extreme on some dimensions (e.g., expensive and high quality) or balanced (moderate price and modest quality). Choosing the latter reflects the use of deliberate cognitive strategies to accept trade-offs. Those who earlier had engaged in self-control activities preferred extreme options that required fewer trade-offs. Moreover, the process of making trade-offs itself requires self-control (11). These findings suggest that decisions requiring many trade-offs, which are common in poverty, render subsequent decisions prone to favoring impulsive, intuitive, and often regrettable options.
Regulating urges and desires, even basic ones such as for sleep and leisure, exacts a cumulative effect. Researchers surveyed people seven times a day for several days, tracking their recent desires, attempts at resistance, and whether they performed behaviors implied by the desires. In line with the limited-resource model, people became progressively worse at self-control the more they resisted unwanted desires (12) (see the figure).
Chronic pain may be analogous to poverty (13) as these patients' behaviors parallel those seen by Mani et al. Patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, performed a task that either did or did not require focused attention (comparable to the focus required to drive during pummeling rain, for example). Afterward, they were given a challenging cognitive task. The outcomes were striking. Patients with chronic pain had poor cognitive performance regardless of whether they earlier had used self-control or not. By contrast, healthy individuals showed the standard depletion effect of worse performance only after previous exertion of self-control. These findings imply that there may be entire segments of people who, like the poor and those chronically in pain, suffer constant self-control depletion.
The limited-resource model of self-control points to the following state of affairs for people in poverty. Resisting urges and controlling one's behavior drains self-control resources. The poor must resist and control more than others because they have less money, food, and expendable time. Such limited supplies demand trade-offs, and hence many decisions. And, there is a snowballing, adverse effect of engaging in self-control on subsequent self-control capacity. Altogether, these processes spell a dwindling supply of self-control with few chances to recover.
Governments and organizations must recognize that the lives of the poor are filled with land mines of desire, trade-offs, and self-control dilemmas. Paring down the sheer volume of decisions that the poor must make—perhaps through defaults—and allowing others to share in the decision-making process could help. Scheduling interviews and appointments earlier in the day could be beneficial because people generally possess greater cognitive capacity at that time (12). Public settings that require individuals to handle forms, rules, and decisions could have a care area for children to minimize competing demands on attention.
Recent estimates show that about 20% of the world's population is in poverty (14). Although that is half of what it was 20 years ago, it is nonetheless a huge number (14). Economists are fond of the theory that the more people on Earth, the better, because people create ideas. With more people come greater odds of discovering the cure for cancer, renewable energy sources, or how to cultivate world peace. That premise rests on the notion that all people have adequate mental capacity, a premise now called into question by Mani et al. for a fifth of the world's population.
References and Notes↵ A. Mani, S. Mullainathan, E. Shafir, J. Zhao, Science 341, 976 (2013).Abstract/FREE Full Text R. F. Baumeister, T. F. Heatherton, Psychol. Inq. 7, 1 (1996).CrossRefWeb of Science R. F. Baumeister, K. D. Vohs, D. M. Tice, Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 16, 351 (2007).Abstract/FREE Full Text E. J. Finkel, C. N. DeWall, E. B. Slotter, M. Oaten, V. A. Foshee, J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 97, 483 (2009).CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science B. J. Schmeichel, J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 136, 241 (2007).CrossRef↵ R. F. Baumeister, J. Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Penguin Press, New York, 2011). Search Google Scholar ↵ M. S. Hagger, C. Wood, C. Stiff, N. L. Chatzisarantis, Psychol. Bull. 136, 495 (2010).CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science↵ K. D. Vohs, T. F. Heatherton, Psychol. Sci. 11, 249 (2000).Abstract/FREE Full Text↵ K. D. Vohs, R. J. Faber, J. Consum. Res. 33, 537 (2007).CrossRefWeb of Science↵ P. Pocheptsova, O. Amir, R. Dhar, R. F. Baumeister, J. Mark. Res. 46, 344 (2009).CrossRef↵ J. Wang, N. Novemsky, R. Dhar, R. F. Baumeister, J. Mark. Res. 47, 910 (2010).CrossRef↵ W. Hofmann, K. D. Vohs, R. F. Baumeister, Psychol. Sci. 23, 582 (2012).Abstract/FREE Full Text↵ L. Solberg Nes, C. R. Carlson, L. J. Crofford, R. de Leeuw, S. C. Segerstrom, Pain 151, 37 (2010).CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science↵The World Bank, Poverty Reduction & Equity, “Poverty,” April 2013; http://go.worldbank.org/VL7N3V6F20
Genetic imprint from traumatic experiences carries through at least two generations.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
It is quite interesting that there are two camps of viewpoints on this issue. As young kids, how do we know what is dangerous and what is not? Part of it is surly learned through observing others, being protected by adults. Though it is interesting to observe that children (at very young age) have instinctive aversion of certain things. How did they gain such knowledge? The article by Dias, points to possible underlying mechanism.
ps. This commentary is on an article published in nature neuro:
The empiricist tradition of philosophy needs a rethink, according to theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
Among the theoretical biologists, Kauffman surly stands out as a revolutionary thinker. Undoubtedly, the common roots of the scientific vision, that he advocates, and his philosophical perspective are intertwined. This piece reflects upon that notion.
We knew that sleep relates to plasticity. Now evidence emerge pointing to another vital role of sleep.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
"Humans spend on average one-third of their lives sleeping. If we don’t, a slew of symptoms ensue including mental fatigue, poor decision-making, impaired learning, and heightened risk for migraines. Yet, we still don’t know why we need sleep. Now Lilu Xie and colleagues have found new evidence for why getting our nightly shuteye is vital. During sleep, mice have a greater flow of fluid moving in the areas between brain cells. Much like an aquatic garbage truck, this fluid cleans the brain of toxic metabolites—waste that brain cells secrete during waking hours. One such waste product is β-amyloid, a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. When the researchers marked the β-amyloid with fluorescent tags, they observed the protein moving out of the brain two times faster in sleeping mice than in those that are awake. In fact, the total flow of fluid when awake is only 5 percent of what it is when asleep. As it turns out, sleep literally clears the mind. To learn more, read the Report: http://scim.ag/19Mjf3j, the News story:http://scim.ag/19Mj3RC, and the Perspective:http://scim.ag/19Mj7Rn"
A potential application for generating human cerebral organoids (brainlike structures) will be the ability to study brain development, model disease, and gain a better understanding of actual brain physiology.
Nima Dehghani's insight:
A news/views on a paper that was published last month in nature (Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly)
Lancaster et al. have provided a major leap by developing a method to grow miniature human brain-like structures (cerebral organoids) from embryonic stem cells in vitro. The “minibrains” recapitulate a surprising number of features of human embryonic brain development, heralding a new phase of modeling human disease. ...Even regions within a cerebral organoid show the normal process of neocortical development intriguingly well. For example, the horizontal, oblique, and vertical orientations of dividing stem cell progenitors closely resemble the trend in the human brain rather than in the mouse brain... Lancaster et al. further show that human cerebral organoids model some human diseases better than do mice....They do not grow beyond a 4-mm-diameter size, apparently because the lack of a blood supply limits access to nutrients. They lack many brain parts and cell types. And it is not yet clear how close the electrical potentials in organoids are to brain potentials, nor whether organoid neurons connect with the regions seen in an actual brain. Ethicists need not worry just yet, and may never need to worry, about the philosophical implications of “consciousness in a dish.”
Our brains give us the remarkable ability to make sense of situations we've never encountered before—a familiar person in an unfamiliar place, for example, or a coworker in a different job role—but the mechanism our brains use to accomplish this has...
A new series on PBS started few days ago. In our life time, advancements in neuroscience will transform our judiciary system and our approach in determining guilt and punishment. Just few days ago, I was looking a neuroengineering-related title and found my way in the stacks of Harvard law. It seems that not only neuroscientist feel that their work will impact this discipline, but also that there are lawyers who equally believe in the convergence of the two. Later on, I mentioned this among an intimate group (also including two lawyers in training and an old-school established lawyer). The discussion was centerd on whether it is a good thing or bad one to bring quantified neuroscientific evidence to the practice of law and judiciary settings. My personal take on this issue is that it should not scare lawyers or judges that "neuroscientists will make these souleless machines that will sentence people without understanding the humane aspect of the issue". In fact, to the contrary, I believe that such evidence could complement other just like a fingerprint (for example) would do. And it is imperative that neuroscientists advocate that a) these methods will get better and better but are not meant to be used as the decision makers in the judiciary settings, b) they won't be black and white soulless machines. The mind is probabilistic and so is our interpretation of its cognitive computation. Just by relying on them, there is a lesser likelihood that lawyers, jurors and judges would make a grave mistake.
(Phys.org) —Comparisons between the stock market floor and a zoo are not far from the mark, according to a new study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Though I have to say that in humans it may not be the case that the rich will risk less. I think the analogy of water/thirst with economical wealth is a weak one. In fact one may argue that richer you are, it is more likely to risk. The construct of our economical system is such that the more you put in, there likelihood to gain more is higher. Also, it is true that risking is not always profitable, but those who take extreme risks are the ones that jump across the scales of wealth.