Friday, 9 February 2007

Science Friday

There are some cool science stories in the news lately. Two of the stories dominating the news — climate change and bird flu — I have already covered, but here are some more...

Have you ever worried someone could 'read' your mind? Look at your private thoughts and feelings, explore the inner reaches of your brain? Personally, that thought frightens me and I hope it is not purely possible, but scientists are making headway on mind reading technology.

Brain scans have been developed which it is claimed can predict what a person is about to do.

German, British and Japanese scientists were able to "read minds" using sophisticated functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) and computer programs.

Current Biology reported people were asked to think about adding or subtracting - scientists were able to read intentions in 70% of cases.

A UK expert advised caution, but said such technologies would develop.

Such techniques could be used to help people who are paralysed - there are already some steps being taken towards helping people using computer-assisted prosthetic devices linked to computers.

But this research might also allow abstract thoughts and intentions to be read.

It may even be possible to carry out instructions such as "send email" simply by thinking them - with a scanner picking up the wish and translating it in a way that the computer can act on.
It looks like you need a scanner and computing hardware and software, a willing participant, and some luck (the chance that the intentions will be picked up by the fMRI) for this kind of mind reading to work. From what I have read, it is not like the computer would be able to read your inner thoughts, and the thoughts they would read would be voluntary. I doubt mind reading technology can get advanced enough to read anything more complex than a voluntary nerve impulse — like in the case of a paralyzed person wanting to get a drink by signaling with their hand, but they can't because they are paralyzed, so the computer alerts their caregiver. This is interesting nonetheless, but I would not worry too much about someone extracting your memories and abstract thoughts with a scanner and computer.

With all this talk about the destructive effects of climate change, do you find yourself wondering what would happen in the worst case scenario? Would future human inhabitants or potential extraterrestrial visitors be able to see and experience the amazing biodiversity we enjoy today? Thanks in large part to the Norwegian government, it looks possible.
The final design for a "doomsday" vault that will house seeds from all known varieties of food crops has been unveiled by the Norwegian government.

The Svalbard International Seed Vault will be built into a mountainside on a remote island near the North Pole.

The vault aims to safeguard the world's agriculture from future catastrophes, such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change.

Construction begins in March, and the seed bank is scheduled to open in 2008.

The Norwegian government is paying the $5m (£2.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to house three million seed samples.
The design plans look neat too.

The mental disorder of autism is more common than previously thought, as around one in 150 American children have it, according to new data.
Approximately one in every 150 children in the United States has autism or a closely related disorder -- a figure higher than most recent estimates -- according to a federal survey released yesterday, the most thorough ever conducted.

The new data, from 14 states, do not mean that autism is on the rise, because the criteria and definitions used were not the same as those used in the past.
The article goes onto say that the nationwide number of autistic children is 560,000. Why is the prevalence so high?

First ever legitimately FDA-approved over-the-counter diet drug:
GlaxoSmithKline's weight-loss drug, "alli", has become the first ever to be approved for over-the-counter use in the US, where 65% of the population is obese or overweight.
The question is, will it work and what are the affects — assuming they're positive maybe the drug will help. However, wouldn't it just be easier to live a more active lifestyle and eat healthier? I guess in America, every health problem needs a drug as a solution... from bad parenting to obesity. (Just a note, but that 65% statistic the above article cites seems low compared to figures I have read.)

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