Brain

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Social animals often establish “pecking orders” or social hierarchies. In crowded social situations one individual must wait patiently while another eats or occupies a choice perch. Rather than fight a bloody and dangerous battle every time access to a resource is being contested, they establish early on who will have priority in any pairing.

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Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a branch of neurological medicine in which small devices that can deliver electric impulses are placed into the brain, in areas that are damaged or affected by disease. The central idea behind DBS is that these devices, which are most often electrodes, are used to replace, augment or modulate abnormal activation (or ‘firing’) in the neural circuits found in these brain regions. This may in turn correct or alleviate their manifestations in the mind or body, which include uncontrollable movements in Parkinson’s disease (PD).

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Electroencephalograms (EEGs) are a relatively well-established way of analysing brain activity. They use non-invasive sensors that detect the electrical activity of this organ through the skull. They then represent this activity in graphical forms than can be recorded, stored and used by people such as medical professionals. EEGs have been observed to be reliably associated with the brain activity they are supposed to visualise. Many normal, healthy brain regions even produce reproducible EEG feedback patterns, or frequencies.

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Many wearable devices can now track your heart rate, steps, speed, balance, body temperature and sleep. Smart devices are definitely the future and will be used in people’s everyday lives. A new generation of brain-reading technology was created by the company NeuroSky, with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) biosensors.

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When we think of mind reading, we may imagine a process by which an entity, perhaps aided by super-advanced technology, ‘listens in’ on our thoughts to capture or record them. However, thoughts and how they manifest in the brain are much more complicated than simple voices in our heads. Currently, the best of our scientific tools that come close to representing how it works are non-invasive techniques that can produce accurate 2D, 3D or 4D (i.e. ‘real-time’) images of a person’s brain and which specific regions are involved in thought formation.

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The role of viral vectors as carriers, to effect and manipulate expression of certain genes, has done wonders in the realms of medicine and therapy. Experts are now considering the possibility of the very same virus vehicles to instead transport cargo to the neurons of the nervous system. This would help them to understand and treat neurodegenerative disorders and other diseases more effectively in the future.

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Cognitive Computing is a new and evolving research area, which broadly refers to both hardware and software technologies that attempt to mimic the capabilities and functioning of the human brain. While at its base is the major disciplines of Artificial Intelligence and Signal Processing, this new discipline exhibits certain features common to the human brain model:

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Researchers at the University “Carlos III” in Madrid have developed a virtual reality system for rehabilitation of the shoulder. It includes a built-in movement sensor and allows the patient to do controlled exercises as part of a football game.

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The positive identification of a person has been identified as a need of our growing society for centuries, together with crime and law enforcement. First there was facial recognition and detection of walking style. Now, with our ever-increasing human population the need for “more accurate” identification appeared, including fingerprints and handwriting analysis, either to identify or to authenticate (e.g. bank transactions) certain individuals.

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The brain is the most complex structure in our body. It has more than 200 billion neurons, which are all interconnected in specific orders. This creates synapses, which are the neurotransmitters. Between these synapses, signals are transferred and this in turn creates a circuit.

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How many times have you gone to karaoke or heard someone sing along with a song on the radio only to sing the wrong lyrics? Don’t be ashamed, it’s more common than you think. When I first heard Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, without knowing the song’s title, I wondered about the lyric ‘hold me closer, Tony Danza’. Danza is a famous Italian-American actor and former boxer, but I was confused why this song was about him.

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Patients at the receiving end of fatalities sometimes enter a coma, a mental and physical unconscious state of being. But brain trauma or neurological disorders can also culminate in individuals who show minimal consciousness or MCS, which means they are vaguely aware of their surroundings. Patients can occasionally blink their eyes, but cannot communicate in any other manner. It was this unfortunate condition, incidentally impacting millions of Americans per year, which prompted scientists, to come up with a revolutionary idea.

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Facebook has finished running F8, their annual conference where they explore the potential technologies of the future. Many of us have been waiting for some pretty exciting revelations as to where they see the company heading in the future and as usual, they did not disappoint.

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No matter how many times it’s asserted, our brains are not computers. It’s not uncommon to compare the brain to the currently favored technology. Our brains have been compared to many different inventions throughout history, from clockworks to telephone switchboards. Our understanding of the brain has grown, and there are parallels between a brain and a computer. Both can learn and adapt, have short term and long term storage, and can be modified (known as neuroplasticity in the brain).

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New, state of the art equipment for monitoring neural response is being developed by scientists and engineers from the University of California, San Diego. The researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Institute for Neural Computation are developing a brain monitoring system that monitors 64-channels and is wearable. The team is headed by Tim Mullen and Mike Yu Chi.

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The human brain is a wondrous thing. It can process many different types of complex information nearly instantaneously. In a sense, your brain is the best computer out there—although today’s most powerful computers based on silicon chips can complete mathematical operations far faster than the average human, they are unable to or clumsy at performing certain tasks that our brains can do with ease.

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For people who have lost a limb, prosthetic arms and legs provide a means of gaining independence and feeling that they can achieve tasks on their own. Traditionally though, these prosthetics have been somewhat uncomfortable and clunky; the external electrodes can be affected by nearly devices and there is a lack of fine dexterity. Many amputees report that one of the main reasons for not wearing their prosthesis is because of problems related to the discomfort around the socket.