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Why You are Wrong About Death and Aging

June 26, 2014

BBC HARDtalk speaks to IEET Fellow Dr. Aubrey de Grey who believes it is a proposition that 21st century biotechnology will soon be able to deliver indefinite lifespan.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a biomedical gerontologist, a Fellow of the IEET, and the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Foundation. The editor of Rejuvenation Research, the world’s only peer-reviewed journal focused on intervention in aging, he is an advocate of research seeking answers to how molecular and cellular metabolic damage brings about aging and ways humans can intervene to repair and/or obviate that damage.

The central goal of Aubrey de Grey’s work is the expedition of developing a true cure for human aging. In his view, the main obstacle to developing such technology is the position of biogerontology at the boundary between basic science and medicine. He believes that the fundamental knowledge necessary to develop truly effective anti-aging medicine mostly exists, but the goal-directed frame of mind that is best suited to turning research findings into tools is very different from the curiosity-driven ethos that generated those findings in the first place.

As a scientist with a training in an engineering discipline, specifically that of computer science, Dr. De Grey believes himself to be well placed to bridge this gap. He attempt to do so in three main ways: by doing basic biogerontology research, identifying and promoting specific technological approaches to the reversal (not merely the prevention) of various aspects of aging, and by arguing in a wide range of forums, extending beyond biologists, for the adoption of a more proactive approach to extending the healthy human lifespan sooner rather than later.

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/degrey20140625

Video

Google I/O 2014 | video: Ray Kurzweil presents “Biologically Inspired Models of Intelligence”

June 26, 2014

Google | For decades Ray Kurzweil has explored how artificial intelligence can enrich and expand human capabilities. In his latest book How to Create a Mind, he takes this exploration to the next step: reverse-engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works, then applying that knowledge to create intelligent machines.

In the near term, Ray’s project at Google is developing artificial intelligence based on biologically inspired models of the neocortex to enhance functions such as search, answering questions, interacting with the user, and language translation.

The goal is to understand natural language to communicate with the user as well as to understand the meaning of web documents and books. In the long term, Ray believes it is only by extending our minds with our intelligent technology that we can overcome humanity’s grand challenges.

New device allows brain to bypass spinal cord, move paralyzed limbs

June 26, 2014

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A man in Ohio has become the first patient ever to move his paralyzed hand by using his thoughts. Credit: Image courtesy of Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center

 

For the first time ever, a paralyzed man can move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts thanks to an innovative partnership between The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Battelle.

Ian Burkhart, a 23-year-old quadriplegic from Dublin, Ohio, is the first patient to use Neurobridge, an electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries that reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralyzed limb. Burkhart is the first of a potential five participants in a clinical study.

“It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals,” said Chad Bouton, research leader at Battelle. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”

The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralyzed limb. In this case, Ian’s brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand, hence the name Neurobridge.

Burkhart, who was paralyzed four years ago during a diving accident, viewed the opportunity to participate in the six-month, FDA-approved clinical trial at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center as a chance to help others with spinal cord injuries.

“Initially, it piqued my interested because I like science, and it’s pretty interesting,” Burkhart said. “I’ve realized, ‘You know what? This is the way it is. You’re going to have to make the best out of it.’ You can sit and complain about it, but that’s not going to help you at all. So, you might as well work hard, do what you can and keep going on with life.”

This technology has been a long time in the making. Working on the internally-funded project for nearly a decade to develop the algorithms, software and stimulation sleeve, Battelle scientists first recorded neural impulses from an electrode array implanted in a paralyzed person’s brain. They used that data to illustrate the device’s effect on the patient and prove the concept.

Two years ago, Bouton and his team began collaborating with Ohio State neuroscience researchers and clinicians Dr. Ali Rezai and Dr. Jerry Mysiwto design the clinical trials and validate the feasibility of using the Neurobridge technology in patients.

During a three-hour surgery on April 22, Rezai implanted a chip smaller than a pea onto the motor cortex of Burkhart’s brain. The tiny chip interprets brain signals and sends them to a computer, which recodes and sends them to the high-definition electrode stimulation sleeve that stimulates the proper muscles to execute his desired movements. Within a tenth of a second, Burkhart’s thoughts are translated into action.

“The surgery required the precise implantation of the micro-chip sensor in the area of Ian’s brain that controls his arm and hand movements,” Rezai said.

He said this technology may one day help patients affected by various brain and spinal cord injuries such as strokes and traumatic brain injury.

Battelle also developed a non-invasive neurostimulation technology in the form of a wearable sleeve that allows for precise activation of small muscle segments in the arm to enable individual finger movement, along with software that forms a ‘virtual spinal cord’ to allow for coordination of dynamic hand and wrist movements.

The Ohio State and Battelle teams worked together to figure out the correct sequence of electrodes to stimulate to allow Burkhart to move his fingers and hand functionally. For example, Burkhart uses different brain signals and muscles to rotate his hand, make a fist or pinch his fingers together to grasp an object, Mysiw said. As part of the study, Burkhart worked for months using the electrode sleeve to stimulate his forearm to rebuild his atrophied muscles so they would be more responsive to the electric stimulation.

“I’ve been doing rehabilitation for a lot of years, and this is a tremendous stride forward in what we can offer these people,” said Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State. “Now we’re examining human-machine interfaces and interactions, and how that type of technology can help.”

Burkhart is hopeful for his future.

“It’s definitely great for me to be as young as I am when I was injured because the advancements in science and technology are growing rapidly and they’re only going to continue to increase.”

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEbioFpdK5E


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Here’s a Surprising Look at How Nanotechnology Could Reengineer Our Bodies

June 21, 2014

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Nanotechnology could change human biology forever. From prosthetic limbs and new burn treatments, to cancer detection and bones that heal in days or weeks, nanotech could be the future of medicine.

Nanotechnology is any technology that allows for manipulation of matter beginning at the nanometer (nm) scale, commonly on the 1–100 nm range. According to nanomedical expert Frank Boehm, “[t]he ability to work at this scale will allow for the fabrication of unique materials and devices with improved and novel properties, such as enhanced water repellency (superhydrophobicity) or the increased performance of chemical reactions (catalysis) due to dramatically increased active surface areas.”

Currently, nanomedical devices are typically made of special kinds of nanomaterials like nanoparticles, solid or hollow nanoshells, nanotubes and hollow nanospheres. While these technologies are “still quite rudimentary and passive,” because they simply let the bloodstream carry them along, Boehm says future devices will navigate with synthetic derivatives of flagella or cilia.

The most advanced nanotechnology we have right now are the gold nanoshells, 100-200nm in diameter, which are solid silica cores covered by a very thin gold skin. It’s used in AuroLase Therapy, where the gold nanoshells are guided to cancer cells and activated by a laser light that makes them collapse, release cancer drugs and destroy tumors. (It’s still undergoing trials.) Other similar technologies are underway.

What’s the future of nanomedicine? Boehm posits this nanomedical concept, an imaging device just one micron wide. Thousands could work together to map an entire human vascular system.

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These devices could provide an amazingly high-resolution map of a patient’s veins and arteries, letting doctors know the thickness of various pathways or where plaque is building up in the bloodstream. Thus, they could be used to let doctors know whether a patient is at risk of an aneurysm or heart attack.

Autonomous nanomedical devices could be used to quickly identify and neutralize toxins, as well as supplement the immune system. They’d basically hunt down threats to an organism’s health and destroy them. Nanoretinal implants could provide blind individuals with full vision, or augment regular human vision. The possibilities are endless; they could even extend the human lifespan. One Indian review concluded that “[o]nce nanomechanics are available, the ultimate dream of every healer, medicine man and physician throughout recorded history will at last become a reality.”

Would it be safe? You can probably let your fever dreams of grey goo go. Nanomaterials are present in “order-of-magnitude higher” levels in our environment, and are generally far less deadly than household cleaning products or insectides which we encounter every day.

But scientists don’t yet adequately understand the potential effects. Because of their high surface-mass ratio, nanoparticles are highly reactive and could trigger unforeseen chemical reactions. Some could be toxic. Or because of their “large surface area, reactivity and electrical charge,” they could agglomerate, clumping together and forming much bigger lumps of material.

Slate says you shouldn’t be concerned, saying that “technologically wonderful as engineered nanomaterials are, many of them don’t seem as worrisome as imagined when seen in the cold light of commercial reality.” Development, research and production techniques will minimize risks, and scientists are already busy tackling safety concerns.

http://www.policymic.com/articles/89803/here-s-a-surprising-look-at-how-nanotechnology-could-reengineer-our-bodies

Microsoft Announces Azure ML, Cloud-based Machine Learning Platform That Can Predict Future Events

June 17, 2014

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Microsoft has been on quite a cloud roll lately and today it announced a new cloud-based machine learning platform called Azure ML, which enables companies to use the power of the cloud to build applications and APIs based on big data and predict future events instead of looking backwards at what happened.

The product is built on the machine learning capabilities already available in several Microsoft products including Xbox and Bing and using predefined templates and workflows has been built to help companies launch predictive applications much more quickly than traditional development methods, even allowing customers to publish APIs and web services on top of the Azure ML platform.

Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president at Microsoft, who was in charge of the Azure ML, and spent years at Amazon before joining Microsoft to lead this effort, said the platform enables customers and partners to build big data applications to predict, forecast and change future outcomes.

He says this ability to look forward instead of back is what really stands out in this product.

“Traditional data analysis let you predict the future. Machine learning lets you change the future,” Sirosh explained. He says by allowing you to detect patterns, you can forecast demand, predict disease outbreaks, anticipate when elevators need maintenance before they break and even predict and prevent crime, as just a few examples.

Sirosh says the cloud really changes the dynamic here because it provides the ability to scale, and the service takes care of much of the heavy lifting that would have taken weeks or months for  companies trying to do it themselves in-house in a data center.

“The cloud solves the last mile problem, Sirosh explained. Before a service like this, you needed data scientists to identify the data set, then have IT build an application to support that. This last part often took weeks or months to code and engineer at scale. He says Azure ML takes that process and provides a way to build that same application in hours.

What’s more is it supports more than 300 packages from the popular open source project R used by many data scientists.

Sirosh says the hope is that as more people use the platform and generate APIs and applications, and create what he called, “a virtuous cycle between data and APIs. ” People have data. They bring it to [Azure ML] to create APIs. People hook into applications then feed data back to the cloud and fuel more APIs, “he explained.

The product is currently in confidential preview, but Microsoft did mention a couple of examples including Max 451, a Microsoft partner working with large retailers to help predict which products customers are most likely to purchase, allowing them to stock their stores before the demand.

Carnegie Mellon University is working with Azure ML to help reduce energy costs in campus buildings by predicting and mitigating activities to reduce overall energy usage and cost.

Microsoft is not alone in this space, however. IBM launched Watson as a cloud service last winter for similar types of machine learning application building and just last week a startup called Ersatz Labs also launched a deep learning artificial intelligence cloud platform.

Azure ML goes into public preview next month. There is no word yet on the official launch date.

http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/16/microsoft-announces-azure-ml-cloud-based-machine-learning-platform-that-can-predict-future-events/

Bionic pancreas frees people from shackles of diabetes

June 16, 2014

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Ed Damiano’s son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000. He was 11 months old. Damiano, a biomedical engineer, decided to create a device that would help his child and millions of others better manage their disease. He set a goal of having it ready by the time his son went to college.

Results from the latest clinical trials of his smartphone-linked artificial pancreas suggest he might just make that deadline.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when beta islet cells in the pancreas die off. These cells sense levels of blood sugar, aka glucose, in the blood and secrete the necessary amount of insulin to keep those levels normal. Insulin also enables glucose to enter our body’s cells, where it is used as a source of energy. This means an imbalance in blood sugar not only starves blood vessels and organs of energy but also keeps the blood saturated with glucose, which can cause tissue damage and sometimes lead to coma or even death.

The disease usually occurs early in life and can be managed through careful monitoring of blood insulin levels, controlling what food is eaten and when, modifying physical activity, and the use of pumps or injections to deliver insulin and the glucose-raising hormone glucagon to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range.

An app for that

But controlling the disease is all-consuming, lurking in the back of every waking decision. Damiano, who works at the University of Boston, says a bionic pancreas his team has developed with colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital offers hope of a normal life to people with type 1 diabetes.

The device takes over the task of monitoring and regulating sugar levels in the blood. Every 5 minutes, a signal is sent wirelessly from a glucose monitor under the user’s skin to an iPhone app, giving their blood-sugar status. The app calculates the amount of insulin or glucagon needed to balance blood sugar, sending a signal to pumps carried by the user to administer the required dose via a catheter. Before eating, people can input data about the type and size of their meal.

The artificial pancreas performed well in hospital-based clinical trials in 2010. But the important test is whether it works in a real-world environment. In the latest study, 20 adults wearing the device were put up in a hotel for five days but were otherwise free to do as they chose, including eat in restaurants and go to the gym. Thirty-two young people, aged 12 to 20, were also monitored for five days at a summer camp for kids with diabetes. For both groups, the results with the bionic pancreas were compared with five days of the participants using their usual method of controlling the disease – pricking their finger to monitor glucose levels and using an insulin pump, that requires them to manually calculate the dosage.

“The device performed beyond our expectations, it did a wonderful job of controlling their blood sugar,” says Damiano. Both the highs and lows of sugar levels were better controlled than what the participants were able to do managing their own diabetes prior to the trial, he says.

That is important because as many studies have shown, the better you control your glucose, the closer it is to normal range, the longer you can stave off the long-term health complications of diabetes, says Damiano.

Emotional impact

The study had a tremendous emotional impact on participants. “They got a glimpse of life without diabetes, and that is pretty profound,” he says. In many cases, the participants were reluctant to give the devices back, he says.

Anna Floreen participated in the adult arm of the study and blogged about her experience: “I went to Starbucks and ate a banana for breakfast without fear of not enough time having passed between [insulin injection] and food consumption and wondering whether or not the 20 minute brisk walk to work would drop my blood sugar in 2 hours!”

“It’s fantastic that research on the artificial pancreas is forging ahead, both in the US and in the UK,” says Alasdair Rankin, director of research at Diabetes UK, a charity which is supporting the development of a similar device with researchers at the University of Cambridge. “Clearly more work will be needed before these systems can be used independently at home as a routine treatment option, but there is now real hope that this technology has the potential to transform the lives of people with type 1 diabetes within a generation,” he says.

Damiano hopes that a series of longer trials starting this month and next year will lay the path for the device to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. With any luck, this may come to pass before his son heads off to college – in the autumn of 2017.

The results of Damiano’s study and several other groups working on artificial pancreases were presented today at the meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Francisco.

Journal reference: New England Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1314474

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25732-bionic-pancreas-frees-people-from-shackles-of-diabetes.html#.U6B6kXbm7gG

D-Wave confirmed as the first real quantum computer by new research

June 16, 2014

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Ever since D-Wave arrived on the scene with a type of quantum computer capable of performing a problem-solving process called annealing, questions have flown thick and fast over whether or not the system really functioned — and, if it did function, whether it was actually performing quantum computing. A new paper by researchers who have spent time with the D-Wave system appears to virtually settle this question — the D-Wave system appears to actually perform quantum annealing. It would therefore be the first real quantum computer.

Up until now, it’s been theorized that D-Wave might be a simulator of a quantum computer based on some less-than-clear benchmark results. This new data seems to disprove that theory. Why? Because it shows evidence of entanglement. Quantum entanglement refers to a state in which two distinct qubits (two units of quantum information) become linked. If you measure the value of one entangled qubit as 0, its partner will also measure 0. Measure a 1 at the first qubit, and the second qubit will also contain a 1, with no evidence of communication between them.

Researchers working with a D-Wave system have now illustrated that D-Wave qubit pairs become entangled, as did an entire set of eight qubits. (The D-Wave uses blocks of eight qubits, as shown below). [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevX.4.021041 – “Entanglement in a Quantum Annealing Processor”]

Assuming the experimental evidence holds up, this fundamentally shifts the burden of proof from “Prove D-Wave is quantum,” to “Prove the D-Wave isn’t quantum.” Evidence of entanglement is the gold standard for whether or not a system is actually performing quantum computing.

So, now what?

Now that we have confirmation that D-Wave is a quantum computer (or at least, as close to confirmation as we can likely get), the question is, how do we improve it? As we’ve previously covered, the D-Wave isn’t always faster than a well-tuned classical system. Instead of arguing over whether or not an Nvidia Tesla GPU cluster with customized software is a better or worse investment than a supercomputer that’s cryogenically cooled and computes via niobium loops, we’re going to look at what D-Wave needs to do to improve the capabilities of its own system. As Ars Technica points out, its architecture is less than ideal — for some problems, D-Wave can only offer less than 100 effective qubits despite some newer systems having 512 qubits in total, because its architecture is only sparsely connected. Each group of eight qubits connects to itself, but each island of eight qubits has just eight connections to two other adjacent qubits.

D-Wave has stated that it intends to continue increasing the number of qubits it offers in a system, but we can’t help wondering if the company would see better performance if it managed to scale up the number of interconnects between the qubit islands. A quantum system with 512 qubits but more than just two connections to other islands might allow for much more efficient problem modeling and better overall performance.

Inevitably this kind of questioning turns to the topic of when we’ll see this kind of technology in common usage — but the answer, for now, is “you won’t.” There are a number of reasons why quantum computing may never revolutionize personal computing, many of them related to the fact that it relies on large amounts of liquid nitrogen. According to D-Wave’s documents for initial deployments, its first systems in 2010 required 140L of LN2 to initially fill and boiled off about 3L of fluid a day. Total tank capacity was 38L, which required twice-weekly fill-ups. The Elan2 LN2 production system is designed to produce liquid nitrogen in an office setting and can apparently create about 5L of LN2 per day at an initial cost of $9500. [Read: Google’s Quantum Computing Playground turns your PC into a quantum computer.]

Did I mention that you have to pay attention to Earth’s magnetic field when installing a D-Wave system, the early systems created about 75dB of noise, and it weighs 11,000 pounds? Many of these issues confronted early computers as well, but the LN2 issue is critical — quantum computing, for now, requires such temperatures — and unless we can figure out a way to bring these systems up to something like ambient air temperature, they’ll never fly for personal use. Rest assured that lots of research is being done on the topic of room-temperature qubits, though!

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/184242-d-wave-confirmed-as-the-first-real-quantum-computer-by-new-research

Paralyzed man in robot suit kicks off World Cup

Jun 15, 2014

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It lasted only two seconds, but a paralyzed man made history Thursday when he kicked off the World Cup in Brazil with the help of a robotic suit.

Juliano Pinto, 29, was seen in a short YouTube clip kicking a soccer ball while wearing the exoskeleton at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo. He then raised his fist in the air.

The feat was backed by Walk Again Project, a nonprofit group involving U.S. and European universities and other organizations as well as more than 100 scientists. It posted the video on Twitter.

“We did it!!!!” tweeted neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University Medical Center, who led the construction of the exoskeleton.

Electrodes under a cap worn by the user detect brain signals and transmit them to the exoskeleton that translates them into steps or kicks, according to Colorado State University (CSU), whose vice president for research Alan Rudolph is a project manager for Walk Again.

CSU researchers developed a 3D-printed polymer liner in the cap to keep the electrodes in place and also contributed special brackets on the cap that hold LED sensors providing feedback to the user showing how well he controls the exoskeleton.

The user also receives tactile feedback from artificial skin in the suit developed by Gordon Cheng at Technical University of Munich (TUM), a partner in the Walk Again Project. The artificial skin, consisting of flexible printed circuit boards, sends signals to small motors that vibrate against the user’s arms, helping guide the robotic legs.

The project’s origin, according to TUM, lies in an experiment in which Nicolelis had a monkey walking on a treadmill in North Carolina while Cheng had a humanoid robot in Kyoto, Japan, follow the signal generated by the monkey’s movements.

“After the Kyoto experiment, we felt certain that the brain could also liberate a paralyzed person to walk using an external body,” Cheng said in a statement.

The World Cup event is “the beginning of a future in which the robotic garment will evolve to the point of becoming accessible and enabling anyone with paralysis to walk freely,” Walk Again said in a statement.

But improvements to the bulky, heavy mechanisms will be necessary before the technology can take off.

Strength-boosting exoskeletons developed for people who can move their limbs or have partial movement, such as Cyberdyne’s HAL suit, tend to be lighter.

“Robotic exoskeletons remain in the very earliest stages of development,” Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, wrote in a blog post after seeing a demo of the machine in Brazil.

“Scientists need to refine their designs and test them on more people, and they need to analyze and publish the enormous amount of data they’ve already gathered.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2363420/paralyzed-man-in-robot-suit-kicks-off-world-cup.html

‘Trust hormone’ oxytocin helps old muscle work like new, study finds

June 14, 2014

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Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that oxytocin — a hormone associated with maternal nurturing, social attachments, childbirth and sex — is indispensable for healthy muscle maintenance and repair, and that in mice, it declines with age.

The new study published in the journal Nature Communications, presents oxytocin as the latest treatment target for age-related muscle wasting, or sarcopenia.

A few other biochemical factors in blood have been connected to aging and disease in recent years, but oxytocin is the first anti-aging molecule identified that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in humans, the researchers said. Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin, is already used to help with labor and to control bleeding after childbirth. Clinical trials of an oxytocin nasal spray are also underway to alleviate symptoms associated with mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and dementia.

“Unfortunately, most of the molecules discovered so far to boost tissue regeneration are also associated with cancer, limiting their potential as treatments for humans,” said study principal investigator Irina Conboy, associate professor of bioengineering. “Our quest is to find a molecule that not only rejuvenates old muscle and other tissue, but that can do so sustainably long-term without increasing the risk of cancer.”

Conboy and her research team say that oxytocin, secreted into the blood by the brain’s pituitary gland, is a good candidate because it is a broad range hormone that reaches every organ, and it is not known to be associated with tumors or to interfere with the immune system.

A happy hormone

Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “trust hormone” because of its association with romance and friendship. It is released with a warm hug, a grasped hand or a loving gaze, and it increases libido. The hormone kicks into high gear during and after childbirth, helping new mothers bond with and breastfeed their new babies.

“This is the hormone that makes your heart melt when you see kittens, puppies and human babies,” said Conboy, who is also a member of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center and of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). “There is an ongoing joke among my research team that we’re all happy, friendly and trusting because oxytocin permeates the lab.”

The researchers pointed out that while oxytocin is found in both young boys and girls, it is not yet known when levels of the hormone start to decline in humans, and what levels are necessary for maintaining healthy tissues.

Christian Elabd and Wendy Cousin, both senior scientists in Conboy’s lab, were co-lead authors on this study.

Previous research by Elabd found that administering oxytocin helped prevent the development of osteoporosis in mice that had their ovaries removed to mimic menopause.

Extra oxytocin more beneficial for the old

The new study determined that in mice, blood levels of oxytocin declined with age. They also showed that there are fewer receptors for oxytocin in muscle stem cells in old versus young mice.

To tease out oxytocin’s role in muscle repair, the researchers injected the hormone under the skin of old mice for four days, and then for five days more after the muscles were injured. After the nine-day treatment, they found that the muscles of the mice that had received oxytocin injections healed far better than those of a control group of mice without oxytocin.

“The action of oxytocin was fast,” said Elabd. “The repair of muscle in the old mice was at about 80 percent of what we saw in the young mice.”

Interestingly, giving young mice an extra boost of oxytocin did not seem to cause a significant change in muscle regeneration.

“This is good because it demonstrates that extra oxytocin boosts aged tissue stem cells without making muscle stem cells divide uncontrollably,” Cousin added.

The researchers also found that blocking the effects of oxytocin in young mice rapidly compromised their ability to repair muscle, which resembled old tissue after an injury.

The researchers also studied mice whose gene for oxytocin was disabled, and compared them with a group of control mice. At a young age, there was no significant difference between the two groups in muscle mass or repair efficiency after an injury. It wasn’t until the mice with the disabled oxytocin gene reached adulthood that signs of premature aging began to appear.

“When disabling other types of genes associated with tissue repair, defects appear right away either during embryonic development, or early in life,” said Conboy. “To our knowledge, the oxytocin gene is the only one whose impact is seen later in life, suggesting that its role is closely linked to the aging process.”

Future treatment options

Cousin noted that oxytocin could become a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy as a way to combat the symptoms of both female and male aging, and for long-term health. Hormone therapy did not show improvements in agility or muscle regeneration ability, and it is no longer recommended for disease prevention because research has found that the therapy’s benefits did not outweigh its health risks.

In addition to healthy muscle, oxytocin is predicted to improve bone health, and it might be important in combating obesity.

Conboy said her lab plans to examine oxytocin’s role in extending a healthy life in animals, and in conserving its beneficial anti-aging effects in humans.

She noted that there is a growing circle of scientists who believe that aging is the underlying cause of a number of chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s and Type 2 diabetes.

“If you target processes associated with aging, you may be tackling those diseases at the same time,” said Conboy. “Aging is a natural process, but I believe that we can meaningfully intervene with age-imposed organ degeneration, thereby slowing down the rate at which we become progressively unhealthy.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140610112751.htm

The age of robots is here

June 12, 2014

 Gallery by Monique Rivalland


Gallery by Monique Rivalland

 

To make the case for granting personhood to robots, it’s not necessary to show that they can function as persons in all the ways that a “person” may be understood by a legal system. It’s enough to show that they may be considered persons for a particular set of actions in a way that makes the most sense legally and logically.

Editor’s note: Mark Goldfeder, senior lecturer at Emory University School of Law and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, is the author of a forthcoming book on robots in the law. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — For the first time, a computer program passed the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. A computer on Saturday was able to trick one third of a team of researchers convened by the University of Reading into believing it was human — in this case a 13-year old boy named Eugene.

The Turing Test, named for British mathematician Alan Turing, is often thought of as the benchmark test for true machine intelligence. Since he introduced it in 1950, thousands of scientific teams have tried to create something capable of passing, but none has succeeded.

Until now.

And that outcome means we need to start grappling with whether machines with artificial intelligence should be considered persons, as far as the law is concerned.

In 1920, Karel Capek introduced the mainstream world to the concept of artificial people in his play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” (the word robot comes from the Czech word for serf labor). Since then, society has been fascinated by the idea of a robot walking among us, or even crossing over into personhood like a modern-day Pinocchio.

The fascination continues; just take a look at this year’s box office. In the recent film “Transcendence,” Johnny Depp starred as a sentient machine. In the critically acclaimed “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell in love with an advanced operating system named Samantha. Coming attractions include more installments in the rebooted “RoboCop” franchise; “Star Wars: Episode VII,” with its universally lovable droids; and, of course, “Terminator 5.”

A question at the heart of all these movies is this: At what point does a computer move from property to personhood?

Robotic legal personhood in the near future makes sense. Artificial intelligence is already part of our daily lives. Bots are selling stuff on eBay and Amazon, and semiautonomous agents are determining our eligibility for Medicare. Predator drones require less and less supervision, and robotic workers in factories have become more commonplace. Google is testing self-driving cars, and General Motors has announced that it expects semiautonomous vehicles to be on the road by 2020.

When the robot messes up, as it inevitably will, who exactly is to blame? The programmer who sold the machine? The site owner who had nothing to do with the mechanical failure? The second party, who assumed the risk of dealing with the robot? What happens when a robotic car slams into another vehicle, or even just runs a red light?

Liability is why some robots should be granted legal personhood. As a legal person, the robot could carry insurance purchased by its employer. As an autonomous actor, it could indemnify others from paying for its mistakes, giving the system a sense of fairness and ensuring commerce could proceed unchecked by the twin fears of financial ruin and of not being able to collect. We as a society have given robots power, and with that power should come the responsibility of personhood.

From the practical legal perspective, robots could and should be people. As it turns out, they can already officially fool us into thinking that they are, which should only strengthen their case.

The notion of personhood has expanded significantly, albeit slowly, over the last few thousand years. Throughout history, women, children and slaves have all at times been considered property rather than persons. The category of persons recognized in the courts has expanded to include entities and characters including natural persons aside from men (such as women, slaves, human aliens, illegitimate children and minors) as well as unnatural or juridical persons, such as corporations, labor unions, nursing homes, municipalities and government units.

Legal personality makes no claim about morality, sentience or vitality. To be a legal person is to have the capability of possessing legal rights and duties within a certain legal system, such as the right to enter into contracts, own property, sue and be sued. Not all legal persons have the same rights and obligations, and some entities are only considered “persons'” for some matters and not others.

Just last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case about whether a corporation is person enough to ask for a religious exemption.

New categories of personhood are matters of decision, not discovery. The establishment of personhood is an assessment made to grant an entity rights and obligations, regardless of how it looks and whether it could pass for human.

To make the case for granting personhood to robots, it’s not necessary to show that they can function as persons in all the ways that a “person” may be understood by a legal system. It’s enough to show that they may be considered persons for a particular set of actions in a way that makes the most sense legally and logically.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/10/opinion/goldfeder-age-of-robots-turing-test/