Alex Torex Blog

SciTech oriented blog

What causes autism? Scientists discover people with the condition have too many brain ‘connections’

  • People with autism have too many synapses in their brains, say researchers
  • Synapses are places where where neurons connect and communicate
  • Surplus synapses due to a lack of ‘pruning’ that normally occurs early in life
  • Discovery is huge leap in understanding of the complex condition – and could pave the way for possible treatments

What causes autism? Scientists discover people with the condition have too many brain ‘connections’ | Mail Online

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Neuroscience | Leave a comment

Google’s fact-checking bots build vast knowledge bank

The search giant is automatically building Knowledge Vault, a massive database that could give us unprecedented access to the world’s facts

GOOGLE is building the largest store of knowledge in human history – and it’s doing so without any human help.

Instead, Knowledge Vault autonomously gathers and merges information from across the web into a single base of facts about the world, and the people and objects in it.

The breadth and accuracy of this gathered knowledge is already becoming the foundation of systems that allow robots and smartphones to understand what people ask them. It promises to let Google answer questions like an oracle rather than a search engine, and even to turn a new lens on human history.

Knowledge Vault is a type of “knowledge base” – a system that stores information so that machines as well as people can read it. Where a database deals with numbers, a knowledge base deals with facts. When you type “Where was Madonna born” into Google, for example, the place given is pulled from Google’s existing knowledge base.

This existing base, called Knowledge Graph, relies on crowdsourcing to expand its information. But the firm noticed that growth was stalling; humans could only take it so far.

So Google decided it needed to automate the process. It started building the Vault by using an algorithm to automatically pull in information from all over the web, using machine learning to turn the raw data into usable pieces of knowledge.

Knowledge Vault has pulled in 1.6 billion facts to date. Of these, 271 million are rated as “confident facts”, to which Google’s model ascribes a more than 90 per cent chance of being true. It does this by cross-referencing new facts with what it already knows.

“It’s a hugely impressive thing that they are pulling off,” says Fabian Suchanek, a data scientist at Télécom ParisTech in France.

Google’s Knowledge Graph is currently bigger than the Knowledge Vault, but it only includes manually integrated sources such as the CIA Factbook.

Knowledge Vault offers Google fast, automatic expansion of its knowledge – and it’s only going to get bigger. As well as the ability to analyse text on a webpage for facts to feed its knowledge base, Google can also peer under the surface of the web, hunting for hidden sources of data such as the figures that feed Amazon product pages, for example.

Tom Austin, a technology analyst at Gartner in Boston, says that the world’s biggest technology companies are racing to build similar vaults. “Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and IBM are all building them, and they’re tackling these enormous problems that we would never even have thought of trying 10 years ago,” he says.

The potential of a machine system that has the whole of human knowledge at its fingertips is huge. One of the first applications will be virtual personal assistants that go way beyond what Siri and Google Now are capable of, says Austin.

“Before this decade is out, we will have a smart priority inbox that will find for us the 10 most important emails we’ve received and handle the rest without us having to touch them,” Austin says. Our virtual assistant will be able to decide what matters and what doesn’t.

Other agents will carry out the same process to watch over and guide our health, sorting through a knowledge base of medical symptoms to find correlations with data in each person’s health records. IBM’s Watson is already doing this for cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York.

Knowledge Vault promises to supercharge our interactions with machines, but it also comes with an increased privacy risk. The Vault doesn’t care if you are a person or a mountain – it is voraciously gathering every piece of information it can find.

“Behind the scenes, Google doesn’t only have public data,” says Suchanek. It can also pull in information from Gmail, Google+ and Youtube.”You and I are stored in the Knowledge Vault in the same way as Elvis Presley,” Suchanek says.

Google researcher Kevin Murphy and his colleagues will present a paper on Knowledge Vault at the Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in New York on 25 August.

As well as improving our interactions with computers, large stores of knowledge will be the fuel for augmented reality, too. Once machines get the ability to recognise objects, Knowledge Vault could be the foundation of a system that can provide anyone wearing a heads-up display with information about the landmarks, buildings and businesses they are looking at in the real world. “Knowledge Vault adds local entities – politicians, businesses. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Suchanek says.

Knowledge vault

Richer vaults of knowledge will also change the way we study human society “This is the most visionary thing,” says Suchanek. “The Knowledge Vault can model history and society.”

Google already has a way to track mentions of names over time using historical texts, measuring the popularity of Albert Einstein vs Charles Darwin, for instance. By adding knowledge bases – which know the gender, age and place of birth of myriad people – historians would be able to track more in-depth questions, such as the popularity of female singers over time, for example.

Google’s fact-checking bots build vast knowledge bank – tech – 20 August 2014 – New Scientist

August 21, 2014 Posted by | AI | Leave a comment

Young blood to be used in ultimate rejuvenation trial

In California, people with Alzheimer’s will be given transfusions of young blood to see if improves their cognition – there’s good reason to hope it might

IT SOUNDS like the dark plot of a vampire movie. In October, people with Alzheimer’s disease will be injected with the blood of young people in the hope that it will reverse some of the damage caused by the condition.

The scientists behind the experiment have evidence on their side. Work in animals has shown that a transfusion of young mouse blood can improve cognition and the health of several organs in older mice. It could even make those animals look younger. The ramifications for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries could be huge if the same thing happens in people.

Disregarding vampire legends, the idea of refreshing old blood with new harks back to the 1950s, when Clive McCay of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, stitched together the circulatory systems of an old and young mouse – a technique called heterochronic parabiosis. He found that the cartilage of the old mice soon appeared younger than would be expected.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that the mechanisms behind this experiment were more clearly understood. In 2005, Thomas Rando at Stanford University in California and his team found that young blood returned the liver and skeletal stem cells of old mice to a more youthful state during heterochronic parabiosis. The old mice were also able to repair injured muscles as well as young mice (Nature,

Spooky things seemed to happen in the opposite direction, too: young mice that received old blood appeared to age prematurely. In some cases, injured muscles did not heal as fast as would be expected.

Several other experiments have shown similar effects. In 2012, Amy Wagers at Harvard University showed that young blood can reverse heart decline in old mice. Her team paired healthy young mice with old mice that had cardiac hypertrophy – a condition which swells the size of their heart – and connected their circulatory systems. After four weeks, the old mouse’s heart had shrunk to the same size as its younger partner. In this experiment, the young mouse was seemingly unaffected by the old blood, its heart not changing in size.

Once the researchers had ruled out the effect of reduced blood pressure on the older mice, they identified a protein in the blood plasma called growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) that appeared to fall with age. To see if it was linked to the rejuvenating effects, the team gave old mice with enlarged hearts daily injections of GDF11 for 30 days. Their hearts decreased in size almost as much as they had in the parabiosis experiments (Cell,

A year later, the same team showed in mice that daily injections of GDF11 also increases the number of blood vessels and the number of stem cells in the brain – both factors known to improve brain function. A separate team led by Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford performed similar experiments. His team injected blood plasma from young mice into old mice and showed an improvement in the old mice’s physical endurance and cognitive function (Nature Medicine, DOI: 10.1038/nm.3569).

In both mice and humans, GDF11 falls with age. We don’t know why it declines, but we know it is involved in several mechanisms that control growth. It is also thought to mediate some age-related effects on the brain, in part by activation of another protein that is involved in neuronal growth and long-term memory.

So the billion-dollar question is: would a GDF11 boost have the same effect in humans? Wyss-Coray thinks it will, having taken the next step of injecting young human blood plasma into old mice. His preliminary results suggest that human blood has similar rejuvenating benefits for old mice as young mouse blood does.

“We saw these astounding effects,” he says. “The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we’ve studied so far.”

Now, the final step – giving young human blood plasma to older people with a medical condition – is about to begin. Getting approval to perform the experiment in humans has been relatively simple, says Wyss-Coray, thanks to the long safety record of blood transfusions. He warns against swapping blood at home because transfusions need to be screened for disease, matched for blood type and the plasma needs to be separated out. “Certainly you can’t drink the blood,” he says. “Although obviously we haven’t tried that experiment.”

So in early October, a team at Stanford School of Medicine will give a transfusion of blood plasma donated by people under 30 to older volunteers with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Following the impressive results in animal experiments, the team hopes to see immediate improvements in cognition, but Wyss-Coray cautions that it is still very experimental. “We will assess cognitive function immediately before and for several days after the transfusion, as well as tracking each person for a few months to see if any of their family or carers report any positive effects,” he says. “The effects might be transient, but even if it’s just for a day it is a proof of concept that is worth pursuing.”

Young blood to be used in ultimate rejuvenation trial – health – 20 August 2014 – New Scientist

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Health - Anti-aging | Leave a comment

Official Destiny – Launch Gameplay Trailer

▶ Official Destiny – Launch Gameplay Trailer [UK] – YouTube

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Games | Leave a comment

Could LIZARDS be the key to regrowing human limbs?

Professor Kusumi added: ‘Using next-generation technologies to sequence all the genes expressed during regeneration, we have unlocked the mystery of what genes are needed to regrow the lizard tail.

‘By following the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future.’ 

Could LIZARDS be the key to regrowing human limbs? | Mail Online

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Health - Regenerative Medicine | Leave a comment

Samsung PN51F8500 51-Inch Plasma TV Verdict

The choice between LCD and plasma technology is a fairly simple one. If you subscribe to our opinions on what constitutes great image quality, plasma is the clear choice. All that remains is to assess your room conditions. If you like to watch television in either total darkness or in low light, plasma remains your best bet. If you have a bright sunny window or a lot of light coming in from another room, you should probably go with LCD.

The final consideration has to be resolution. It seems unlikely that anyone will develop an Ultra HD plasma TV. While there is no rush to buy into 4K, it will become the standard eventually, just as FHD did. Moving forward, then, our best hope is OLED technology. It offers the contrast performance of plasma and the low power consumption of LCD/LED.It currently commands a mighty premium, though. As a result, if my Pioneer were to die today, I would happily stick Samsung’s F8500 in its place.

Samsung PN51F8500 51-Inch Plasma TV Verdict – Tom’s Hardware

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

Netgear R8000 Nighthawk X6 AC 3200 Tri-Band WiFi Router Review

For those looking for the market’s best wireless coverage and some of the best features out of the box in a router, the Netgear Nighthawk X6 is now the current market standard. It doesn’t hurt that priced at $299, this is not even the most expensive router in its class…check that – there is no other “Tri-Band” Wireless-AC router on the market. We must admit, we really didn’t know if the early buzz about this router was all marketing-speak, but when we saw what the router could do in real-life, we quickly became believers.  The biggest downside of this router is its sheer size, but if you are creative (or neat) you really should have no major problems placing the device where you want. Netgear ships the Nighthawk X6 R8000 with its standard 1-year Hardware warranty including 24 hour technical support by phone for 90 days from purchase.

Netgear R8000 Nighthawk X6 AC 3200 Tri-Band WiFi Router Review Netgear R8000: Final Thoughts and Conclusions

August 21, 2014 Posted by | IT Hardware | Leave a comment

Adaptive Material Inspired By Octopus Skin

Scientists behind this new material gained their inspiration from cephalopod skin, which is a master magician when it come to changing color almost immediately, depending on the environment around. Right now, the prototype material will only be able to change between black and white, but lead researchers Cunjiang Yu at the University of Houston and John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign intend to bring these basic principles to the next level in order to roll out even more complex material down the road.

Last year, we talked about how squids could be the inspiration for new camouflage clothing for our boys in the battlefield, and here we are with the baby steps of this technology. Will we see a new “Mystique” class of material soon?

Adaptive Material Inspired By Octopus Skin | Ubergizmo

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Neuromorphic ‘atomic-switch’ networks function like synapses in the brain

Researchers in the U.S. and Japan have developed a self-assembled neuromorphic (brain-like) device comprising more than a billion interconnected “atomic-switch” inorganic synapses embedded in a complex network of silver nanowires.

The researchers are located at the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA) at the National Institute for Materials Science, Japan.

The atomic switch, a recently developed nanoscale circuit element, has been shown to possess synapse-like properties in a purely inorganic device. The device uses a billion junctions per square centimeter incorporated into a densely interconnected network of silver nanowires.

Neuromorphic ‘atomic-switch’ networks function like synapses in the brain | KurzweilAI

August 19, 2014 Posted by | AI | Leave a comment

Earth is in overdraft just EIGHT months into the year: We’ve now exhausted our natural budget for land, trees and food, warn campaigners

  • The world has now reached ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ claim campaigners
  • This is point in the year when humans have exhausted natural supplies
  • For the rest of the year, food stocks and forests are being depleted, land degraded and carbon dioxide will build up in the atmosphere, they claim
  • Problem is worsening, with Earth in ‘ecological debt’ earlier each year

Earth is in overdraft just EIGHT months into the year: We’ve now exhausted our natural budget for land, trees and food, warn campaigners | Mail Online

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Science | Leave a comment

Scientists bypass spinal column non-invasively to trigger walking

Japanese researchers have created an “artificial neural connection” (ANC) from the brain directly to the spinal locomotion center in the lower thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine, potentially one day allowing patients with spinal-cord damage, such as paraplegics, to walk.

The study led by Shusaku Sasada, research fellow, and Yukio Nishimura, associate professor, both of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), was published online in The Journal of Neuroscience on August 13, 2014.

Neural networks called “central pattern generators” (see Ref. 2 and 3 below) in the locomotion center (lower than the lesion site) are capable of producing rhythmic movements, such as walking, even when isolated from the brain, the researchers suggest.

Scientists bypass spinal column non-invasively to trigger walking | KurzweilAI

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Neuroscience | Leave a comment

Sharp’s one-bezel Aquos Crystal smartphone is headed to the US

Sharp is making a new entry into the US market with its unique Aquos Crystal smartphone. Sharp hasn’t been a major player in the US up to now, but it has quite a name in some Asian countries. While we’ve drooled over some of its Japan-exclusive smartphones, we can at least expect to see one of them in the US this year. The Sharp Aquos Crystal is a mid-range smartphone with a stand-out feature: it only has one bezel.

Sharp’s one-bezel Aquos Crystal smartphone is headed to the US | Android and Me

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

Google purchases Jetpac, creators of image recognition app

Google has acquired image recognition company Jetpac. Jetpac is an iOS app that recommends restaurants, bars and attractions to people based on their publicly-shared Instagram photos. The app analyzes photos using image recognition technology and can determine different types of food, outdoors or indoors and even things like hipster mustaches in order to provide the best recommendations for new places to try.

What will Google use Jetpac for? It’s possible that Jetpac’s image recognition could make its way into Google+, allowing for better recommendations. More likely, however, is that Google will use the technology behind Jetpac’s City Guides to enhance Google Maps and its Explore feature. In any case, we’re looking forward to Google’s ongoing efforts in becoming a one-stop shop for helping discover new things.

Google purchases Jetpac, creators of image recognition app | Android and Me

August 18, 2014 Posted by | AI | Leave a comment

Official Destiny Gameplay Trailer: The Moon

▶ Official Destiny Gameplay Trailer: The Moon – YouTube

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Games | Leave a comment

Star Citizen – Murray Cup Trailer

Star Citizen – Murray Cup Trailer – YouTube

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Games | Leave a comment

Hints of epigenetic role in Alzheimer’s disease

We already have some evidence that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s might be elevated by poor diet, lack of exercise, and inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, obesity and clogging of blood vessels with fatty deposits. The new research hints that the lifestyle changes that raise Alzheimer’s risk may be taking effect through epigenetic changes.

The idea is strengthened by the fact that the brain tissue samples studied in the new work came from hundreds of people, many of whom had Alzheimer’s when they died, and that a number of genes identified were found by two teams working independently, one in the UK and one in the US.

“The results are compelling and consistent across four cohorts of patients taken across the two studies,” says Jonathan Mill at the University of Exeter, who led the UK-based team. “It’s illuminated new genetic pathways affecting the disease and, given the lack of success tackling Alzheimer’s so far, new leads are going to be vital.”

“We can now focus our efforts on understanding how these genes are associated with the disease,” says Philip De Jager of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who headed the US team.

That might not be easy. Because the samples came from the brains of people who had died, the researchers cannot say yet whether the gene changes help cause the disease, or occur as a result of it. One Alzheimer’s researcher not involved in the study even wonders whether the epigenetic changes are simply a natural part of ageing.

Screen test

Both teams screened DNA from the brain samples for chemical changes that switch genes off through methylation – the addition of chemical methyl groups to DNA. These epigenetic changes don’t alter the underlying sequence of DNA that someone has inherited, but they can change dramatically the pattern of genes that are expressed in a way that can encourage the development of cancers and mental disorders, for example.

De Jager’s team looked at methylation patterns in samples from the prefrontal cortex of 708 people, about 60 per cent of whom had Alzheimer’s when they died. The prefrontal cortex is vital for higher cognitive thinking and invariably damaged in people with Alzheimer’s.

Mill’s team screened tissue from the same region, and from two other brain areas that also suffer disproportionate damage in Alzheimer’s: the entorhinal cortex and the temporal gyrus. As control tissue, Mill’s team also screened tissue from the cerebellum – which is usually not damaged by the disease – and blood. They initially screened for methylation changes in samples from 122 people who had Alzheimer’s when they died, then to validate the initial results they repeated the procedure in further post-mortem samples, taken from about 220 people who had also died with the condition.

The most dramatic methylation differences between tissue affected by Alzheimer’s and control tissue samples, especially in the entorhinal cortex, were in a gene called ANK1, which has not previously been linked with Alzheimer’s. That gene produces ankyrin 1, an essential ingredient of the outer membranes of cells that is vital for keeping cell structure intact.

“There’s not been any evidence linking it to dementia previously,” says Mill. “But genetic studies have linked it to type 2 diabetes, which, in turn, has links to dementia, so there could be some common pathway linking the two diseases,” he says.

In all, De Jager’s research highlighted 11 genes, while Mill’s research identified seven – four of which were also among De Jager’s 11, including ANK1.

“This innovative research has discovered a potential new mechanism involved in Alzheimer’s by linking the ANK1 gene to the disease,” says Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, which also provided funding for the study. “We will be interested to see further research into the role of ANK1 in Alzheimer’s and whether other epigenetic changes may be involved in the disease,” he says.

Cause or effect?

The key challenge now for both teams is to establish whether these epigenetic changes can accelerate the progression of the disease. That is important because some of the epigenetic effects were as pronounced in people who died with the disease as in those who had classic signs of the disease in their brains at death but had shown no symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

This point drew criticism from some researchers, who said it reduced the case for causation. “Is it Alzheimer’s or simply ageing causing these changes?” asks Ewan McNay of the State University of New York in Albany, who is exploring links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. “It’s very preliminary work, and more is needed to further explore the associations.”

Mill and De Jager say that the changes seen occur very early in the disease, and so at the very least they might be useful for predicting whether people are at raised risk of developing symptoms later on. De Jager also points out that methylation is a reversible process, so with the right drugs it might be possible to treat the epigenetic changes.

Hints of epigenetic role in Alzheimer’s disease – health – 17 August 2014 – New Scientist

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Health - Life Style | Leave a comment

Transylvania Timelapse

▶ Transylvania Timelapse – YouTube

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Graphics | Leave a comment

Ex-Siri CEO Poaches Apple to Create “Viv: The Global Brain”

The product is named “Viv” after the Latin verb for “life”.  Under the three “pillars” adopted by Viv Labs, the Viv digital assistant service will learn something new every day from people worldwide and will have algorithms to make new knowledge connections not directly taught to it.  

It will be able to understand ambiguous, abstract commands with complex conditionals — for example you can ask it to buy the cheapest available item that meets some criteria and it will hunt it down and initiate a purchase for you.  It will even know the social context of what to do in in certain cases such as knowing to call a taxi if you tell it “I’m drunk.”

In his vision laid out to Wired, Viv Labs, Inc. CEO Dag Kittlaus indicates that the sale of Siri, Inc. to Apple, Inc. (AAPL) was a learning experience.  This time around he isn’t interested in selling his Siri successor, he’s determined to license it (or so he says).  He states:

Siri is chapter one of a much longer, bigger story.

Intelligence becomes a utility.  Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to everything, and it knew you, and it knew everything about you, and it could do everything?

Let me just cut through all the usual founder bullshit.  What we’re really after is ubiquity. We want this to be everywhere, and we’re going to consider all paths along those lines.

DailyTech – Ex-Siri CEO Poaches Apple to Create “Viv: The Global Brain”

August 17, 2014 Posted by | AI | Leave a comment

ASUS RT-AC87 Wave 2 802.11ac consumer router priced at $269

ASUS today announced the price of the ASUS RT-AC87, a Wave 2 802.11ac consumer router, at $269.99 for North America.

The new router offers supports the fastest 5 GHz with speeds up to 1.73Gbps.

ASUS RT-AC87 features QSR1000 4×4 Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) chipset,.

This apart, the RT-AC87 utilizes four external antennas and Universal Beamforming to maximize range throughout the home or office, improving signal strength and performance even to older 802.11a/b/g/n clients.

ASUS will be targeting users who are looking for HD-grade video, ultra-low-latency gaming and heavy file sharing. Its MU-MIMO technology enables it to stream rich content to multiple devices in every corner of a home, in Full 1080p or 4K Ultra HD resolution.

MU-MIMO enables the RT-AC87 to form groups of multiple devices that can be served at the same time, simultaneously.

Previous 802.11n and 802.11ac routers can stream to only one device at a time. | ASUS RT-AC87 Wave 2 802.11ac consumer router priced at $269 –

August 15, 2014 Posted by | IT Hardware | Leave a comment

Retailer reveals Galaxy Note 4 specs

If that’s the case, you can expect the Galaxy Note 4 to come with a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) display with 515 pixels-per-inch, a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 805 processor, 4GB of RAM, and up to 64GB of built-in storage. It will also have a microSD card slot, a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera with optical image stabilization, and Android 4.4.3 KitKat.

Cult of Android – Retailer reveals Galaxy Note 4 specs

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment


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