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Virtual-Digital Brains

An excerpt from The Guide to the Future of Medicine.

The brain is a unique organ, the most developed organ in the universe with some very interesting features based on psychological studies. In a classic study, students found a boring task more interesting if they were paid less to take part. The unconscious mind reasoned that if they did not do it for money they must have done it because it was interesting. Multi–tasking skills, hallucinations, obedience to authority (e.g. the Milgram Experiment), and the placebo effect all underscore what a special system we have to deal with when researching the brain.

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Japanese scientists could map one second’s worth of activity in the human brain with K computer, the fourth most powerful supercomputer in the world. It has 705,024 processor cores and 1.4 million gigabytes of random access memory (RAM) at its disposal. Simulating the neural network of 1.73 billion nerve cells and 10.4 trillion synapses requires such petascale computers; simulating the whole brain at the level of individual nerve cells and their synapses will probably be possible with exascale computers within the next decade.

Stanford University announced that it has been working on a circuit board that can mimic the behavior of the human brain. The so–called Neurogrid circuit is now able to replicate the processes of 1 million human neurons, resulting in computer chips that are 9,000 times faster than a desktop computer. The human brain consumes only three times as much power as NeuroGrid with 80,000 times more neurons than that. Their long–term goal is to develop this technology further so that its prosthetic interaction with the human mind could look like science fiction. One of the lead researchers said that due to exponentially powerful technologies which are transforming our sphere of possibilities, we are no longer subject to Darwinian natural selection. We will be able to extend our reach.

The Human Brain Project, funded by the European Commission, aims at building a completely new computing infrastructure for neuroscience and brain–related research, catalyzing a globally collaborative effort to understand the human brain and its diseases and, ultimately, to emulate its computational abilities. The project involves hundreds of researchers and will cost an estimated €1.1 billion. Sebastian Seung and his team work on mapping the brain’s connectome under the OpenWorm project. Their mission is to simulate a nematode worm in a computer. In 2014, European scientists produced the first ultra–high resolution 3D scan of the entire human brain. In the US, President Barack Obama recently approved a $100 million brain mapping initiative. These examples show that the pace at which brain research is moving forward is extraordinary.

IBM’s Cognitive Computing Group has developed chips that can simulate how neurons and their connections work by being able to simulate the creation of even new connections. A chip called “SYNAPSE” can simulate 256 neurons with about a quarter of a million synaptic connections. The project’s long–term goal is to simulate 10 billion neurons with their 100 trillion connections, representing approximately the power of the human brain but using less and less power.

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In the 19th century, punch cards were used to control automatic textile looms, enter data and commands into computers from 1896 and were used well into the 1970s. Keyboards were only introduced in the 1960s, as well as the first mouse in 1963 containing a block of wood with a single button and two gear–wheels. The first optical mouse appeared in 1980, multitouch was introduced in 1984; and natural user interfaces such as the Nintendo Wii or Microsoft Kinect were released in the 2000s. These are the ways we have been expanding our minds in the form of communicating with digital devices. The next logical step is designing brain–computer interfaces that could be controlled by thought.

We are getting closer to understand in detail how the brain really works. It is the biggest quest humanity has ever gone on. Simpler obstacles and almost unsolvable technical difficulties are on the way.

Get your copy here!

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What Does The Theranos FDA Approval Mean?

Elizabeth Holmes left Stanford and founded Theranos in 2003. The company is based on an invention related to cheap and fast blood tests. It is said to require only a droplet of blood. I would be the happiest person if it could work like they state but the company has refused to reveal details about the technology because of business secret. They already have available services though in Walgreens over the US.

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Now, out of nowhere, the FDA approved its Herpes virus test.

As part of the approval, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the company are also making public for the first time details about precisely how the famously secretive business performs the particular test being approved—in this case, an assay to detect the sexually transmitted disease herpes simplex virus (HSV-1).

Theranos is fighting in the front line of the battle of digital health and biotech innovation, but it’s hard to follow them with trust without knowing what weaponry they have. A company that is ready to take responsibility in this battle would provide information to the scientific community. At least, something to chew on.

The Medical Futurist: Weekly Introduction

Working as a speaker and consultant with medical technology, pharmaceutical and web companies; as well as universities and governments worldwide, my mission as The Medical Futurist is to make sure the advances of technology lead to a better healthcare for everyone!

I publish a daily newsletter about the future of medicine, manage a popular Facebook page about the future; launched a Youtube channel and share related news almost every hour on Twitter.

Here is my new book, The Guide to the Future of Medicine:

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I’m also the author of Social Media in Clinical Practice handbookand the founder of Webicina.com, a service that curates medical content in social media for medical professionals and e-patients.

I launched The Social MEDia Course, the e-learning format of my university course focusing on medicine and social media for medical students, physicians and also patients with Prezis, tests and gamification.

I hope you will enjoy reading Scienceroll.com!

Why Predicting The Future Of Medicine Is Hard – Video

Science fiction movies sometimes show us a great future, but in medicine, they almost always make a huge mistake. There are 3 major reasons why predicting the future in medicine & healthcare is hard, if not impossible.

Please do share what you think.

A New Wearable For Water Safety

A new wearable is seeking crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Kingii is meant to help people who get in trouble in water and provide a sign that can be seen from a distance. It inflates, stays like that for 48 hours, has a compass and a whistle.

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I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Let’s see how it goes.

The World’s Most Lifelike Robot Prosthetics

Nicky Ashwell was born without her right arm and now she got equipped with Steeper’s bebionic small hand. This seems to be one of the most sophisticated robotic prosthetics out there. For years, Touch Bionics has seemed to be in the forefront but now there are more competitors.

First UK user receives world’s most lifelike bionic hand: Nicky Ashwell becomes first UK user

First UK user receives world’s most lifelike bionic hand: Nicky Ashwell becomes first UK user

Her bionic hand costs about $11,000 and has 337 mechanical parts and 14 precision grips. Its makers want to transform the lives of 3 million amputees. An excerpt from the article:

“I realized that I had been making life challenging for myself when I didn’t need to,” she continued. “The movements now come easily and look natural. I keep finding myself being surprised by the little things, like being able to carry my purse while holding my boyfriend’s hand.”

With such developments (cost goes down while functionalities improve), soon, all prosthetics will be as futuristic as Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand in the trailer of Star Wars Episode VII (at 00:45 in the video below).

5 Healthcare Startups Among The 30 Innovative Companies Changing The World

CNN came up with the Upstart30 list that features 30 innovative companies that are changing the world. The only good thing about such lists is that you can come across startups you have never heard of before. Here are 5 healthcare startups from the list:

  • uBiome: genetic sequencing of your microbiome, the microbes living in your digestive system.
  • Ovuline: data on menstrual cycles and physical and emotional symptoms to predict when a woman is most fertile.
  • Honor: In elderly care, they screen and assign caretakers to seniors based on skills.
  • Eko Devices: Using Bluetooth technology, the Core sends digital recordings of heartbeats to Eko’s app and web portal. Doctors can chart the heartbeat or send the recording to a specialist for further review.
  • BioBots‘ first product is a revolutionary 3D printer for building cells, tissues and organs. The printer uses a chemical that works with visible blue light technology, which doesn’t harm the cells.

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