Archive for October, 2009

Optogenetics: a new (slightly scary) way of decoding memory

A bundle of silica glass fibers for optical co...

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The emerging field of optogenetics is providing neurologists with a novel way of exploring memory processing in the brain.  It involves first genetically engineering the brains of test animals, such as mice, to be receptive to light, then using light to control the optically-sensitized neurons.  An article in MIT’s Technology Review discusses the process of triggering memories with “light switches” (see the Related Article below).

Simply stated, the process involves triggering neurons to fire by stimulating them with light, by means of a fibre-optic probe. This firing then activates adjacent neurons which in turn activate a network of neurons equivalent to a memory unit.  The process as it stands is pretty invasive, requiring the insertion of probes – not to mention the genetic engineering of the subjects’ brains.  It’s not hard to imagine an extension of the infra-red scanning approach I mentioned in a previous article on mind reading to accomplish something similar in a far less invasive way, ideally without the need for any GM light-sensitive neurons.  With the added ability to map the location(s) of specific memories – they tend to be spread around – an IR external probe could then trigger memories by re-visiting and stimulating the associated neurons, perhaps through highly directional ultrasound or some yet-to-be-discovered stimulus.  So who knows, “read once, remember anytime” may be an axiom of learners of the future.

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Magic Mouse: a Multi-touch Innovation from Apple

Apple recently introduced Magic Mouse, a wireless interface device that extends the usual mouse interactivity to include multi-touch functionality.  There are no discrete left/right buttons or scroll-wheels, as everything is done via the seamless top surface with  either single-touch clicks to a specific area, single-finger scrolling up or down,  or multi-touch movements with two fingers.  The mouse’s symmetrical ergonomic design allows users to set up the interactions for both right and left-handed use.  The device is included with all new iMacs and is also available as an individual purchase for  AUD$99.00 The video below probably explains Magic Mouse better than I can.

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Lifeblogging with pictures

ViconRevue Camera (Image: Vicon)

ViconRevue Camera (Image: Vicon)

In a recent post I discussed the idea of capturing and storing a lifetime’s experiences with video.  An article in New Scientist discusses a “lifeblogging” device that could do the same thing with snapshots taken automatically.  The ViconRevue is a camera that can be worn around the neck and set up to take pictures at regular intervals, recording a user’s daily routine for later review.

The device was initially developed by Microoft Research at Cambridge as a means of providing Alzheimer’s patients with a record of their daily routines so that a therapist could revive memories of what had happened to them during the day.  This can obviously be extended to include the daily routines of anyone who wants to chronicle their life (lifeblog) in pictures.

ViconRevue can be set up to take a picture every 30 seconds or when the environment changes.  Its infra-red sensor can detect the presence of another person standing in front of the user, which then fires the camera. Up to 30,000 pictures can be stored in a 1Gb memory database for later replay or download to a laptop.

iPod nano (image: Apple)

iPod nano (image: Apple)

Apple’s latest iPod nano can accomplish something similar, but it does it with video.  The 8Gb version is tiny (90.7mm x 38.7mm), featherweight (36.4 gm)  and captures H.264 VGA video (640 x 480 pixels) at up to 30 frames per second, with AAC audio.  Eight gigabytes of Flash memory storage will capture 8 hours of video or store 7000 pictures. The iPod’s Lithium-ion battery will play 5 hours of video footage or 24 hours of audio before a re-charge is needed.  For the 16Gb version, double the video capture and photo storage figures quoted above.

I think this device represents something like a paradigm shift in accessible audio/video hardware, particularly given the fact that its relatively cheap (AUD$199.00 for the 8Gb version or AUD$249.00 for the 16Gb) and offers a range of media tools in addition to audio and video (FM radio, voice memos, pedometer, shake-to-shuffle tune selection – demonstrated above). The teeny anodised-aluminium casing is available in a rainbow spectrum of  9 colours – something we’ve come to expect from Apple.  The clincher for me, though,  is that Apple offers to add a free  personal laser-engraved message to really make your nano one of a kind.

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Superstruct: an online game with a purpose

Superstruct is an online game for people who think about the future.  The particular future that is the focus of the game is the world in the year 2019.  It promises to be not just  imaginative musings about how things may turn out, but an actual means of inventing a possible future through collaborative action.  The best way to understand Superstruct is to go to the game’s main site:

Here’s an intro video:

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