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Week 29 – Monday


Week 29 – Monday 


What letter should replace the question mark?








Date answer published: 
Thu, 20/07/2017

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Posted in Mensa Brainteasers.

Fake Obama created using AI tool to make phoney speeches

The tool that can edit videos of people speaking and make them say something they have not.

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Posted in BBC Sci Tech.

Drinking coffee associated with lower risk of death from all causes, study finds

(credit: iStock)

People who drink around three cups of coffee a day may live longer than non-coffee drinkers, a landmark study has found.

The findings — published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine — come from the largest study of its kind, in which scientists analyzed data from more than half a million people across 10 European countries to explore the effect of coffee consumption on risk of mortality.

Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Imperial College London found that higher levels of coffee consumption were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes, particularly from circulatory diseases and diseases related to the digestive tract.

“We found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, and specifically for circulatory diseases, and digestive diseases,” said lead author Marc Gunter of the IARC and formerly at Imperial’s School of Public Health. “Importantly, these results were similar across all of the 10 European countries, with variable coffee drinking habits and customs. Our study also offers important insights into the possible mechanisms for the beneficial health effects of coffee.”

Healthier livers, better glucose control

Using data from the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition), the group analysed data from 521,330 people from over the age of 35 from 10 EU countries, including the UK, France, Denmark and Italy. People’s diets were assessed using questionnaires and interviews, with the highest level of coffee consumption (by volume) reported in Denmark (900 mL per day) and lowest in Italy (approximately 92 mL per day). Those who drank more coffee were also more likely to be younger, to be smokers, drinkers, eat more meat and less fruit and vegetables.

After 16 years of follow up, almost 42,000 people in the study had died from a range of conditions including cancer, circulatory diseases, heart failure and stroke. Following careful statistical adjustments for lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking, the researchers found that the group with the highest consumption of coffee had a lower risk for all causes of death, compared to those who did not drink coffee.

They found that decaffeinated coffee had a similar effect.

In a subset of 14,000 people, they also analyzed metabolic biomarkers, and found that coffee drinkers may have healthier livers overall and better glucose control than non-coffee drinkers.

According to the group, more research is needed to find out which of the compounds in coffee may be giving a protective effect or potentially benefiting health.* Other avenues of research to explore could include intervention studies, looking at the effect of coffee drinking on health outcomes.

However, Gunter noted that “due to the limitations of observational research, we are not at the stage of recommending people to drink more or less coffee. That said, our results suggest that moderate coffee drinking is not detrimental to your health, and that incorporating coffee into your diet could have health benefits.”

The study was funded by the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers and the IARC.

* Coffee contains a number of compounds that can interact with the body, including caffeine, diterpenes and antioxidants, and the ratios of these compounds can be affected by the variety of methods used to prepare coffee.

Abstract of Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries: A Multinational Cohort Study

Background: The relationship between coffee consumption and mortality in diverse European populations with variable coffee preparation methods is unclear.

Objective: To examine whether coffee consumption is associated with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: 10 European countries.

Participants: 521 330 persons enrolled in EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition).

Measurements: Hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs estimated using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models. The association of coffee consumption with serum biomarkers of liver function, inflammation, and metabolic health was evaluated in the EPIC Biomarkers subcohort (n = 14 800).

Results: During a mean follow-up of 16.4 years, 41 693 deaths occurred. Compared with nonconsumers, participants in the highest quartile of coffee consumption had statistically significantly lower all-cause mortality (men: HR, 0.88 [95% CI, 0.82 to 0.95]; P for trend < 0.001; women: HR, 0.93 [CI, 0.87 to 0.98]; P for trend = 0.009). Inverse associations were also observed for digestive disease mortality for men (HR, 0.41 [CI, 0.32 to 0.54]; P for trend < 0.001) and women (HR, 0.60 [CI, 0.46 to 0.78]; P for trend < 0.001). Among women, there was a statistically significant inverse association of coffee drinking with circulatory disease mortality (HR, 0.78 [CI, 0.68 to 0.90]; P for trend < 0.001) and cerebrovascular disease mortality (HR, 0.70 [CI, 0.55 to 0.90]; P for trend = 0.002) and a positive association with ovarian cancer mortality (HR, 1.31 [CI, 1.07 to 1.61]; P for trend = 0.015). In the EPIC Biomarkers subcohort, higher coffee consumption was associated with lower serum alkaline phosphatase; alanine aminotransferase; aspartate aminotransferase; γ-glutamyltransferase; and, in women, C-reactive protein, lipoprotein(a), and glycated hemoglobin levels.

Limitations: Reverse causality may have biased the findings; however, results did not differ after exclusion of participants who died within 8 years of baseline. Coffee-drinking habits were assessed only once.


Coffee drinking was associated with reduced risk for death from various causes. This relationship did not vary by country.

Primary Funding Source:

European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Consumers and International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Abstract of Association of Coffee Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Nonwhite Populations

Background: Coffee consumption has been associated with reduced risk for death in prospective cohort studies; however, data in nonwhites are sparse.

Objective: To examine the association of coffee consumption with risk for total and cause-specific death.

Design: The MEC (Multiethnic Cohort), a prospective population-based cohort study established between 1993 and 1996.

Setting: Hawaii and Los Angeles, California.

Participants: 185 855 African Americans, Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, Latinos, and whites aged 45 to 75 years at recruitment.

Measurements: Outcomes were total and cause-specific mortality between 1993 and 2012. Coffee intake was assessed at baseline by means of a validated food-frequency questionnaire.

Results: 58 397 participants died during 3 195 484 person-years of follow-up (average follow-up, 16.2 years). Compared with drinking no coffee, coffee consumption was associated with lower total mortality after adjustment for smoking and other potential confounders (1 cup per day: hazard ratio [HR], 0.88 [95% CI, 0.85 to 0.91]; 2 to 3 cups per day: HR, 0.82 [CI, 0.79 to 0.86]; ≥4 cups per day: HR, 0.82 [CI, 0.78 to 0.87]; Pfor trend < 0.001). Trends were similar between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. Significant inverse associations were observed in 4 ethnic groups; the association in Native Hawaiians did not reach statistical significance. Inverse associations were also seen in never-smokers, younger participants (<55 years), and those who had not previously reported a chronic disease. Among examined end points, inverse associations were observed for deaths due to heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Limitation: Unmeasured confounding and measurement error, although sensitivity analysis suggested that neither was likely to affect results.

Conclusion: Higher consumption of coffee was associated with lower risk for death in African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos, and whites.

Primary Funding Source: National Cancer Institute.

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Posted in kurzweilai.

The thought that counts.

Neurocritic asks a great question here, neatly provoking that which he would have defined – thought. What is thought, and what are individual thoughts? He quotes reports that we have an estimated 70,000 thoughts a day and justly asks how on earth anyone knows. How can you count thoughts?

Well, we like a challenge round here, so what is a thought? I’m going to lay into this one without showing all my working (this is after all a blog post, not a treatise), but I hope to make sense intermittently. I will start by laying it down axiomatically that a thought is about or of something. In philosophical language, it has intentionality. I include perceptions as thoughts, though more often when we mention thoughts we have in mind thoughts about distant, remembered or possible things rather than ones that are currently present to our senses. We may also have in mind thoughts about perceptions or thoughts about other thoughts – in the jargon, higher-order thoughts.

Now I believe we can say three things about a thought at different levels of description. At an intuitive level, it has content. At a psychological level it is an act of recognition; recognition of the thing that forms the content. And at a neural level it is a pattern of activity reliably correlated with the perception, recollection, or consideration of the thing that forms the content; recognition is exactly this chiming of neural patterns with things (What exactly do I mean by ‘chiming of neural patterns’? No time for that now, move along please!). Note that while a given pattern of neural activity always correlates with one thought about one thing, there will be many other patterns of neural activity that correlate with slightly different thoughts about that same thing – that thing in different contexts or from different aspects. A thought is not uniquely identifiable by the thing it is about (we could develop a theory of broader content which would uniquely identify each thought, but that would have weird consequences so let’s not). Note also that these ‘things’ I speak of may be imaginary or abstract entities as well as concrete physical objects: there are a lot of problems connected with that which I will ignore here.

So what is one thought? It’s pretty clear intuitively that a thought may be part of a sequence which itself would also normally be regarded as a thought. If I think about going to make a cup of tea I may be thinking of putting the kettle on, warming the pot, measuring out the tea, and so on; I’ve had several thoughts in one way but in another the sequence only amounts to a thought about making tea. I may also think about complex things; when I think of the teapot I think of handle, spout, and so on. These cases are different in some respects, though in my view they use the same mechanism of linking objects of thought by recognising an over-arching entity that includes them. This linkage by moving up and down between recognition of larger and smaller entities is in my view what binds a train of thought together. Sitting here I perceive a small sensation of thirst, which I recognise as a typical initial stage of the larger idea of having a drink. One recognisable part of having a drink may be making the tea, part of which in turn involves the recognisable actions of standing up, going to the kitchen… and so on. However, great care must be taken here to distinguish between the things a thought contains and the things it implies. If we allow implication then every thought about a cup of tea implies an indefinitely expanding set of background ideas and every thought has infinite content.

Nevertheless, the fact that sequences can be amalgamated suggests that there is no largest possible thought. We can go on adding more elements. There’s a strong analogy here with the formation of sentences when speaking or writing. A thought or a sentence tends to run to a natural conclusion after a while, but this seems to arise partly because we run out of mental steam, and partly because short thoughts and short sentences are more manageable and can together do anything that longer ones can do. In principle a sentence could go on indefinitely, and so could a thought. Indeed, since the thread of relevance is weakened but not (we hope) lost at each junction between sentences or thoughts, we can perhaps regard whole passages of prose as embodying a single complex thought. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is arguably a single massively complicated thought that emerged from Gibbon’s brain over an unusually extended period, having first sprung to mind as he ‘sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter’.

Parenthetically I throw in the speculation that grammatical sentence structure loosely mirrors the structure of thought; perhaps particular real world grammars emerge from the regular bashing together of people’s individual mental thought structures, with all the variable compromise and conventionaljsation that that would involve.

Is there a smallest possible thought? If we can go on putting thoughts together indefinitely, like more and more complex molecules, is there a level at which we get down to thoughts like atoms, incapable of further division without destruction?

As we enter this territory, we walk among the largely forgotten ruins of some grand projects of the past. People as clever as Leibniz once thought we might manage to define a set of semantic primitives, basic elements out of which all thoughts must be built. The idea, intuitively, was roughly that we could take the dictionary and define each word in terms of simpler ones; then define the words in the definitions in ones that were simpler still, until we boiled everything down to a handful of basics which we sort of expected to be words encapsulating elementary concepts of physics, ethics, maths, and so on.

Of course, it didn’t work. It turns out that the process of definition is not analytical but expository. At the bottom level our primitives turn out to contain concepts from higher layers; the universe by transcendence and slippery lamination eludes comprehensive categorisation. As Borges said:

It is clear that there is no classification of the Universe that is not arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what kind of thing the universe is. We can go further; we suspect that there is no universe in the organic, unifying sense of that ambitious word.

That doesn’t mean there is no smallest thought in some less ambitious sense. There may not be primitives, but to resurrect the analogy with language, there might be words.  If, as I believe, thoughts correlate with patterns of neural activity, it follows that although complex thoughts may arise from patterns that evolve over minutes or even years (like the unimaginably complex sequence of neural firing that generated Gibbon’s masterpiece), we could in principle look at a snapshot and have our instantaneous smallest thought.

It still isn’t necessarily the case that we could count atomic thoughts. It would depend whether the brain snaps smartly between one meaningful pattern and another, as indeed language does between words, or smooshes one pattern gradually into another. (One small qualification to that is that although written and mental words seem nicely separated,  in spoken language the sound tends to be very smooshy.) My guess is that it’s more like the former than the latter (it doesn’t feel as if thinking about tea morphs gradually into thinking about boiling water, more like a snappy shift from one to the other), but it is hard to be sure that that is always the case. In principle it’s a matter that could be illuminated or resolved by empirical research, though that would require a remarkable level of detailed observation. At any rate no-one has counted thoughts this way yet and perhaps they never will.

Posted in conscious entities.

Brain scanning could improve dementia diagnosis for two thirds of patients, study finds

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Posted in Telegraph Science.

Projecting a visual image directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes

Brain-wide activity in a zebrafish when it sees and tries to pursue prey (credit: Ehud Isacoff lab/UC Berkeley)

Imagine replacing a damaged eye with a window directly into the brain — one that communicates with the visual part of the cerebral cortex by reading from a million individual neurons and simultaneously stimulating 1,000 of them with single-cell accuracy, allowing someone to see again.

That’s the goal of a $21.6 million DARPA award to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), one of six organizations funded by DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design program announced this week to develop implantable, biocompatible neural interfaces that can compensate for visual or hearing deficits.*

The UCB researchers ultimately hope to build a device for use in humans. But the researchers’ goal during the four-year funding period is more modest: to create a prototype to read and write to the brains of model organisms — allowing for neural activity and behavior to be monitored and controlled simultaneously. These organisms include zebrafish larvae, which are transparent, and mice, via a transparent window in the skull.

UC Berkeley | Brain activity as a zebrafish stalks its prey

“The ability to talk to the brain has the incredible potential to help compensate for neurological damage caused by degenerative diseases or injury,” said project leader Ehud Isacoff, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “By encoding perceptions into the human cortex, you could allow the blind to see or the paralyzed to feel touch.”

How to read/write the brain

To communicate with the brain, the team will first insert a gene into neurons that makes fluorescent proteins, which flash when a cell fires an action potential. This will be accompanied by a second gene that makes a light-activated “optogenetic” protein, which stimulates neurons in response to a pulse of light.

Peering into a mouse brain with a light field microscope to capture live neural activity of hundreds of individual neurons in a 3D section of tissue at video speed (30 Hz) (credit: The Rockefeller University)

To read, the team is developing a miniaturized “light field microscope.”** Mounted on a small window in the skull, it peers through the surface of the brain to visualize up to a million neurons at a time at different depths and monitor their activity.***

This microscope is based on the revolutionary “light field camera,” which captures light through an array of lenses and reconstructs images computationally in any focus.

A holographic projection created by a spatial light modulator would illuminate (“write”) one set of neurons at one depth — those patterned by the letter a, for example — and simultaneously illuminate other sets of neurons at other depths (z level) or in regions of the visual cortex, such as neurons with b or c patterns. That creates three-dimensional holograms that can light up hundreds of thousands of neurons at multiple depths, just under the cortical surface. (credit: Valentina Emiliani/University of Paris, Descartes)

The combined read-write function will eventually be used to directly encode perceptions into the human cortex — inputting a visual scene to enable a blind person to see. The goal is to eventually enable physicians to monitor and activate thousands to millions of individual human neurons using light.

Isacoff, who specializes in using optogenetics to study the brain’s architecture, can already successfully read from thousands of neurons in the brain of a larval zebrafish, using a large microscope that peers through the transparent skin of an immobilized fish, and simultaneously write to a similar number.

The team will also develop computational methods that identify the brain activity patterns associated with different sensory experiences, hoping to learn the rules well enough to generate “synthetic percepts” — meaning visual images representing things being touched — by a person with a missing hand, for example.

The brain team includes ten UC Berkeley faculty and researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Paris, Descartes.

* In future articles, KurzweilAI will cover the other research projects announced by DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design program, which is part of the U.S. NIH Brain Initiative.

** Light penetrates only the first few hundred microns of the surface of the brain’s cortex, which is the outer wrapping of the brain responsible for high-order mental functions, such as thinking and memory but also interpreting input from our senses. This thin outer layer nevertheless contains cell layers that represent visual and touch sensations.

Jack Gallant | Movie reconstruction from human brain activity

Team member Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, has shown that its possible to interpret what someone is seeing solely from measured neural activity in the visual cortex.

*** Developed by another collaborator, Valentina Emiliani at the University of Paris, Descartes, the light-field microscope and spatial light modulator will be shrunk to fit inside a cube one centimeter, or two-fifths of an inch, on a side to allow for being carried comfortably on the skull. During the next four years, team members will miniaturize the microscope, taking advantage of compressed light field microscopy developed by Ren Ng to take images with a flat sheet of lenses that allows focusing at all depths through a material. Several years ago, Ng, now a UC Berkeley assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, invented the light field camera.

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Posted in kurzweilai.

World’s most indestructible creature – the tardigrade – will be alive on Earth until Sun dies 

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Posted in Telegraph Science.

DeepMind AI is learning to walk and other tech news

BBC Click’s Marc Cieslak looks at some of the best of the week’s technology news stories.

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Posted in BBC Sci Tech.

‘Smart’ vending machine could sell alcohol and ammunition

The machine uses biometric security to verify users have the right to buy its products.

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Posted in BBC Sci Tech.

Cheer up! July 14th is the happiest day of the year

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Posted in Telegraph Science.