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23 Jun

The Very Real Project To Upload A Human Brain

Understanding how our brain works is the holy grail of neuroscience. Our brains are estimated to be made of 85 to 100 billion neurons with electrochemical signals jumping between them, creating thought, decisions, bodily functions, and the essence of who we are. If we understand how these neurons and synapses operate then we could cure diseases, prolong our health and memory, and maybe – just maybe – we could copy those patterns to a computer or to host bodies.

The creation of a “substrate independent minds” sounds like science fiction or the subject of fringe science. The fact is, the project to upload a human mind to a computer is happening right now with neuroscientist Randal Koene as a chief advocate.

For Koene, the idea is very simple. If you map the brain and identify the patterns by which the neurons fire, you could effectively copy them as basic binary computer code. If you do this correctly you would copy those unique synapses that make up our emotions, skills, and personalities. Koene believes that if all the basic functions of the brain are copied and the complexities of how the neurons communicate are rendered accurately, then the computerized version of your brain would be self-aware.

Are you freaked out? Do you have questions? Of course you do.

This is a big idea that raises a lot of unknowns. While something may be possible, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how it will work. That’s much like the story in the movie Self/Less – just because we could upload our brains to another, younger body doesn’t mean we know what would happen.

  

Koene has theorized that we could potentially live in host bodies – human, or even human ones that our computerized brains have adapted to different living environments. Koene also thinks we could simply live in a digital environment much like the “Cloud.” While we know how our brains react to each other as humans, we don’t know how our brains would act towards each other in bodies we don’t recognize now or even just as a digital brain occupying space in the Cloud. Our synapses for memories and behavior would probably have to evolve.

This evolution or expansion of our consciousness is exactly why Randal Koene believes uploading the human brain is a good thing. As a species we need to find a way to evolve to meet the rapidly changing future and infrastructure around us, and this could be the answer. After all, many prominent minds like Stephen Hawking haven’t been shy about stating they believe the very artificial intelligence and robots we’ve created will one day evolve themselves beyond our intelligence and eventually take over. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like science fiction any more, but perhaps a necessity to keep our species – or at least the intelligence and essence of it alive.

In fact, it isn’t science fiction it’s science fact that Koene’s research and those of others’ are real. There is an open source movement called “The Open Worm Project” that has already created a virtual brain of a roundworm and uploaded it into a Lego robot. YOU can even participate in refining that project to begin to get comfortable with creating virtual intelligence.

There is also the research being done at USC and Wake Forest where in 2011 scientists created the world’s first artificial neural implant which works in a rat. They targeted the rat’s hippocampus where neurons and electrical signals create the memory to perform tasks. The scientists copied the patterns of the signals and placed them on a chip. Next, they removed the rat’s hippocampus and the rat couldn’t do the tasks. Adding in the chip? The memory to complete tasks was restored.

It’s cutting edge science, but no longer science considered on the fringes. In 2013 the EU and US announced initiatives to boost the field of brain research and hopefully move the goals into the mainstream.

We’ve come a long way, but we all know worm and rat brains are far from the beautiful, complex machine that is the human brain. Koene’s continued work on mapping the brain with the goal of creating a “whole brain emulation” could take years and years to complete. So each neural pathway Koene and other neuroscientists explore is critical in achieving a full understanding of the brain and how to replicate it.

That time may be just what we need to wrap our minds around the enormous consequences of creating our own virtual intelligence means. How long would we be able to live? Would we redefine what it means to be human by programming out undesirable traits? Would we be able to have relationships?

In short, would the rush of being “immortal” be replaced by a reality that brings on more questions than answers? One can theorize, but we can’t yet answer that question. As we find out in the movie Self/Less, it will likely be a very personal question.

Would YOU upload your brain? Let us know!

Resources:

Vice

Pop-Sci

Randal Koene

Carboncopies.org

22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.

 

So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Phys.org

Toyota Mirai

 

 

19 Jun

SCIENCE CHANNEL SALUTES THE NATIONAL FINALISTS IN THE 2015 YOUNG SCIENTIST CHALLENGE

See Videos of Their Incredible Projects

Harnessing ocean currents, curbing CO2 emissions, circular ion accelerators. How cool do these ideas sound? What’s even cooler is these are just a few of the real amazing projects the national finalists in the annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are creating.

We here at Science Channel are in awe of the possibilities this next generation is embracing. Science, curiosity, and questioning everything will be how we embrace the challenges of the future. Clearly the ten students chosen have their eyes on that future, and are thinking about how we can make it a better place.

So how did these ten students get to this point? The annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for students in grades 5-8. Students all over the country submitted short videos communicating the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. The finalists rose to the top of the competition due to their science acumen, innovative thinking and exceptional communication skills demonstrated in their entry videos.

151126_YSC_JUNE_FACEBOOK_1_FINEach bright young student will now have the exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M Scientist during a unique summer mentorship program, where they will be challenged to develop an innovation that positively impacts them, their family, their community or the global population. As part of the world-renowned program, students will meet virtually with their mentors, who will provide guidance as the finalist develops his or her idea from a concept into an actual prototype.

Throughout the program, each student will have access to resources and support provided by 3M and Discovery Education. Students will then present their inventions during the competition’s final event at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. October 12th and 13th.

Congratulations to the top 10 finalists in this year's Challenge:

  • Peter Finch, Harrisville, R.I., Homeschool
  • Arthur Frigo, III, Jupiter, Fla., Turtle River Montessori
  • Raghav Ganesh, San Jose, Calif., Joaquin Miller Middle School, Cupertino Union School District
  • Amulya Garimella, Pittsburgh, Pa., Dorseyville Middle School, Fox Chapel Area School District
  • Iris Gupta, North Potomac, Md., Robert Frost Middle School, Montgomery County Public Schools
  • Hannah Herbst, Boca Raton, Fla., Alexander D. Henderson University School, Florida Atlantic University Schools
  • Alec Lessing, New York, N.Y., Collegiate School
  • Conner Pettit, Lone Tree, Colo., Cresthill Middle School, Douglas County School District
  • Krishna Reddy, Wichita Falls, Texas, Kirby World Academy, Wichita Falls Independent School District
  • Sanjana Shah, Cupertino, Calif., John F. Kennedy Middle School, Cupertino Union School District

You can check out the finalists’ impressive entry videos by visiting the following YouTube playlist: Young Scientist Challenge 2015

For more information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, including photos and bios of the ten finalists and a list of the state merit winners, please visit www.youngscientistchallenge.com.

 

 

 

14 Apr

3D Printed Shelby Cobra Is A Stunner

Imagine a world where you could order every detail you ever wanted from a car online and have it 3D printed to your specifications. Or, where once very rare cars are replicated via 3D printing for a new generation.

The 3D printed car is here. The first model, the Strati was a little rough around the edges, but it didn’t take long for the developers to raise the bar and re-create a 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 in honor of its 50th anniversary this January. The printed Cobra was definitely finished to be a stunner.

The car is a collaboration of many companies. The 3D chassis and electric motor came courtesy of the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). They used their Big Area Additive Manufacturing printer, which can print single pieces in sizes greater than one cubic meter – and in this case they used a composite that included 20 percent carbon fiber.

The 3D-Printed Cobra took just six weeks to complete, though the printing itself only took about 24 hours. The signature Cobra sleek blue and white finish was the work of Knoxville, Tennessee-based company Tru-Design that specializes in carbon fiber and fiberglass.

 

With such a gorgeous and speedy end result it’s easy to see what ORNL is trying to innovate. The idea is that with 3D printing the manufacturing process can be done on a large and rapid scale. The 3D-Cobra is proof that something as large as a car, needing both style and durability can be created with 3D printers and may one day change the automotive industry and perhaps have an impact on the environment.

The team that worked on the car has dubbed it a “laboratory on wheels.”

As the ORNL team works to take the process of 3D printed cars to the next level, the shift could change many things – concept cars could more easily come to fruition. Rare models could be replicated. Even better, your daily ride could be customized to you. It’s an interesting future to contemplate.

If you live or are visiting in the Washington DC area now, you can see the 3D Shelby in the lobby of the Department of Energy. You can follow its progress on Twitter via #3DPrintedCar.

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Sources:

Department of Energy

Gizmag

CNET

 

22 Sep

You Have to See This Single-Wheeled Electric Motorcycle in Action

It may look more like a unicycle than a traditional motorcycle but the single-wheeled, self-balancing RYNO could be the coolest way to run your errands; at the very least, it's an efficient way to drive around a crowded city without worrying about finding a parking space.

How does it work?

"Lean forward, and the bike will accelerate forward. Lean back, and the bike follows suit, standing up taller and slowing down," RYNO proclaims.

Want one? The electric motorcycle starts at $5,295.00 for a late 2014 delivery.

Take a look at the RYNO in action:

How It's Made: Motorcycle Engines

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17 Sep

This Is What A Plane Carrying 195,000 New iPhones Looks Like

As the first reviews roll in on the new iPhone 6, the smartphone has already smashed Apple's record for preorders, with more than 4 million iPhone 6 devices ordered in the first 24 hours.

How do all of these iPhones get to U.S. consumers? On planes!

One reader of MacRumors shared photos showing 195,000 iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices he just flew to the U.S. from China: " Yep, that's what I do. I fly stuff. Privileged to be a small part of the team. Just landed a 747 in Anchorage," he wrote.

HuffPost Tech reports he wrote in a later post that "the shipment [weighed] a combined 256,000 pounds, and the plane landed at 'a little under max landing weight at 643,000 lbs.'"

Of course, 195,000 iPhones is just a drop in the bucket with millions of preorders. Apple has already warned customers that "demand had outstripped supply" for the new iPhones and that some customers will have to wait until next month for their order to be fulfilled.

iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed the World

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12 Sep

Carnegie Mellon 'Smart Headlights' May Make Nighttime Driving Safer

Innovative new headlights technology from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute could make nighttime and inclement weather driving safer.

The 'smart headlights' allow drivers to use high beams "without fear of blinding oncoming drivers or suffering from the glare that can occur when driving in snow or rain at night," a CMU press release said.

Here's how it works: The programmable headlights track oncoming vehicles and dim "only the small parts of the headlight beam that would otherwise shine into their eyes."

"During snow or rain showers, the headlight improves driver vision by tracking individual flakes and drops in the immediate vicinity of the car and blocking the narrow slivers of headlight beam that would otherwise illuminate the precipitation and reflect back into the driver's eyes."

An early version of the technology was demonstrated in this 2012 video:

Don't look for this cutting-edge technology on showroom floors just yet; Dr. Srinivasa Narasimhan told The Huffington Post that it would be three to five years before smart headlights show up on new cars.

Smart headlights aren't the only cool car technology to come along lately. In the Netherlands, this car hack is absolutely outrageous and ridiculously out-of-control:

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9 Sep

This Is Your Brain On Social Media

STOP: Before you Tweet or Facebook this blog post, stop and watch AsapSCIENCE's latest video, which breaks down what social media is doing to your brain.

The YouTube channel explores five ways the Internet is actually changing your brain structure; for instance, according to AsapSCIENCE, "five to 10 percent of Internet users are unable to control how much time they spend online... brain scans of these people actually show a similar impairment of regions that those with drug dependence have."

Shocked? Surprised? Hit play:

How does brain chemistry work

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29 Aug

Happy Friday! Here's A Robot Riding A Hoverbike

It's the Friday before a three-day weekend. In that spirit, we present a robot riding a hoverbike for your viewing pleasure:

(You can learn more about the hoverbike here.)

Want more hovercraft amazingness? Check this out:

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8 Jul

Your Car Could Soon Run on Green Fuel -- Literally

As gas prices rise, your thoughts may begin to turn to alternate fuel sources that are less costly to both your wallet and the environment.

Introducing, algae fuel.

Tonight on World's Strangest, take a closer look at this green energy source that could change the way we get around.

Algae "could potentially produce up to 60 times more oil per acre than land-based plants," according to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, meaning we'd get a lot more bang for our buck (i.e., get more oil from a smaller space).

Here's how it works:

World's Strangest airs TONIGHT at 8/7c on Science Channel

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