News Items (Part One)
Science. Technology. Some good news, for once.
News Items covers four subjects: (1) World in Disarray, (2) Financialization of Everything, (3) Advances in Science and Technology, and (4) Electoral politics, foreign and domestic. Six days a week, not Sundays. Weekdays by ~6:45am ET. Saturdays: sometime in the morning, usually.
This special edition of News Items was put together by associate editor Tom Smith and yours truly.
1. An artificial intelligence created by the firm DeepMind has discovered a new way to multiply numbers, the first such advance in over 50 years. The find could boost some computation speeds by up to 20 per cent, as a range of software relies on carrying out the task at great scale. Matrix multiplication – where two grids of numbers are multiplied together – is a fundamental computing task used in virtually all software to some extent, but particularly so in graphics, AI and scientific simulations. Even a small improvement in the efficiency of these algorithms could bring large performance gains, or significant energy savings. Hussein Fawzi at Deepmind says the results are mathematically sound, but are far from intuitive for humans. “We don’t really know why the system came up with this, essentially,” he says. “Why is it the best way of multiplying matrices? It’s unclear.” “Somehow, the neural networks get an intuition of what looks good and what looks bad. I honestly can’t tell you exactly how that works. I think there is some theoretical work to be done there on how exactly deep learning manages to do these kinds of things,” says Fawzi. The research paper, published in Nature, is here. (Sources: deepmind.com, newscientist.com, alhusseinfawzi.info, nature.com)Source: asia.nikkei.com)
2. Consciousness is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. This awareness is subjective and unique to you. A Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine researcher has developed a new theory of consciousness, explaining why it developed, what it is good for, which disorders affect it, and why dieting (and resisting other urges) is so difficult. "In a nutshell, our theory is that consciousness developed as a memory system that is used by our unconscious brain to help us flexibly and creatively imagine the future and plan accordingly," explained corresponding author Andrew Budson, MD, professor of neurology. "What is completely new about this theory is that it suggests we don't perceive the world, make decisions, or perform actions directly. Instead, we do all these things unconsciously and then -- about half a second later -- consciously remember doing them." (Sources: bumc.bu.edu via sciencedaily.com)
3. Scientists at the Krembil Brain Institute, part of the University Health Network, have proposed a new mechanistic model (AD2) for Alzheimer's, looking at it not as a brain disease, but as a chronic autoimmune condition that attacks the brain. This novel research is published today, in Alzheimer's & Dementia. "We don't think of Alzheimer's as fundamentally a disease of the brain. We think of it as a disease of the immune system within the brain," says Dr. Donald Weaver, co-Director of the Krembil Brain Institute and author of the paper. "We need new ways of thinking about this disease, and we need them now," says Dr. Weaver. “To date, most of the approaches in Alzheimer's research have been based upon the theory that a protein called beta-amyloid, which is supposedly abnormal in the brain, clumps up. And when it clumps up, it kills brain cells." "But we believe beta-amyloid is right where it should be. It acts as an immunopeptide – a messenger within our immune system – so that, if we have head trauma, beta-amyloid repairs it. If a virus or a bacteria comes along, beta-amyloid is there to fight it." That's where the problem occurs, says Dr. Weaver. "Beta-amyloid gets confused and can't tell the difference between a bacteria and a brain cell and so it inadvertently attacks our own brain cells. This, then, becomes what we call an autoimmune disease. The immune system is actually attacking the host, our brain." (Sources: uhn.ca, alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
4. Carnegie Mellon University researchers have pioneered the CMU Array—a new type of microelectrode array for brain computer interface platforms. It holds the potential to transform how doctors are able to treat neurological disorders. 3D printed at the nanoscale, the ultra-high-density microelectrode array (MEA) is fully customizable. This means that one day, patients suffering from epilepsy or limb function loss due to stroke could have personalized medical treatment optimized for their individual needs. The collaboration combines the expertise of Rahul Panat, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Eric Yttri, assistant professor of biological sciences. The team applied the newest microfabrication technique, Aerosol Jet 3D printing, to produce arrays that solved the major design barriers of other brain computer interface (BCI) arrays. The findings were published in Science Advances. (Sources: eurekalert.org, science.org)
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