Dec 21, 2013
Re-blogged from New Scientist
WITH a click of a mouse, I set a path through the mountains for drone #4. It's one of five fliers under my control, all now heading to different destinations. Routes set, their automation takes over and my mind eases, bringing a moment of calm. But the machine watching my brain notices the lull, decides I can handle more, and drops a new drone in the south-east corner of the map.
The software is keeping my brain in a state of full focus known as flow, or being "in the zone". Too little work, and the program notices my attention start to flag and gives me more drones to handle. If I start to become a frazzled air traffic controller, the computer takes one of the drones off my plate, usually without me even noticing.
The system monitors the workload by pulsing light into my prefrontal cortex 12 times a second. The amount of light that oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin in the blood there absorbs and reflects gives an indication of how mentally engaged I am. Harder brain work calls for more oxygenated blood, and changes how the light is absorbed. Software interprets the signal from this functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and uses it to assign me the right level of work.
Dan Afergan, who is running the study at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, points to an on-screen readout as I play. "It's predicting high workload with very high certainty, and, yup, number three just dropped off," he says over my shoulder. Sure enough, I'm now controlling just five drones again.
To achieve this mind-monitoring, I'm hooked up to a bulky rig of fibre-optic cables and have an array of LEDs stuck to my forehead. The cables stream off my head into a box that converts light signals to electrical ones. These fNIRS systems don't have to be this big, though. A team led by Sophie Piper at Charité University of Medicine in Berlin, Germany, tested a portable device on cyclists in Berlin earlier this year – the first time fNIRS has been done during an outdoor activity.
Afergan doesn't plan to be confined to the lab for long either. He's studying ways to integrate brain-activity measuring into the Google Glass wearable computer. A lab down the hall already has a prototype fNIRS system on a chip that could, with a few improvements, be built into a Glass headset. "Glass is already on your forehead. It's really not much of a stretch to imagine building fNIRS into the headband," he says.
Afergan is working on a Glass navigation system for use in cars that responds to a driver's level of focus. When they are concentrating hard, Glass will show only basic instructions, or perhaps just give audio directions. When the driver is focusing less, on a straight stretch of road perhaps, Glass will provide more details of the route. The team also plans to adapt Google Now – the company's digital assistant software – for Glass so that it only gives you notifications when your mind has room for them.
Peering into drivers' minds will become increasingly important, says Erin Solovey, a computer scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many cars have automatic systems for adaptive cruise control, keeping in the right lane and parking. These can help, but they also bring the risk that drivers may not stay focused on the task at hand, because they are relying on the automation.
Systems using fNIRS could monitor a driver's focus and adjust the level of automation to keep drivers safely engaged with what the car is doing, she says.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Stay in the zone"
Nov 16, 2013
Stanford Center on Longevity competition challenges students to design products to help older adults
The design contest solicits entries from student teams worldwide and is aimed at finding solutions that help keep people with cognitive impairments independent as long as possible.
The competition is currently accepting submissions in what is called Phase I of the challenge. Submitted concepts will be judged in January and finalists will be given financial help to flesh out their design and travel to Stanford to present it.
From January until April, called Phase II, finalists will also have access to mentors in different schools and centers at Stanford
The final presentations, in April, will be before a panel of academics, industry professionals, nonprofit groups and investors.
The top prize is $10,000, while the second place team will take home $5,000 and third place will get $3,000.
Jul 18, 2013
A participant wearing camera glasses and listening to the soundscape (credit: Alastair Haigh/Frontiers in Psychology)
A device that trains the brain to turn sounds into images could be used as an alternative to invasive treatment for blind and partially-sighted people, researchers at the University of Bath have found.
“The vOICe” is a visual-to-auditory sensory substitution device that encodes images taken by a camera worn by the user into “soundscapes” from which experienced users can extract information about their surroundings.
It helps blind people use sounds to build an image in their minds of the things around them.
A research team, led by Dr Michael Proulx, from the University’s Department of Psychology, looked at how blindfolded sighted participants would do on an eye test using the device.
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Aug 04, 2012
Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jul 21;
Authors: Dresler M, Sandberg A, Ohla K, Bublitz C, Trenado C, Mroczko-Wasowicz A, Kühn S, Repantis D
Abstract. The term "cognitive enhancement" usually characterizes interventions in humans that aim to improve mental functioning beyond what is necessary to sustain or restore good health. While the current bioethical debate mainly concentrates on pharmaceuticals, according to the given characterization, cognitive enhancement also by non-pharmacological means has to be regarded as enhancement proper. Here we summarize empirical data on approaches using nutrition, physical exercise, sleep, meditation, mnemonic strategies, computer training, and brain stimulation for enhancing cognitive capabilities. Several of these non-pharmacological enhancement strategies seem to be more efficacious compared to currently available pharmaceuticals usually coined as cognitive enhancers. While many ethical arguments of the cognitive enhancement debate apply to both pharmacological and non-pharmacological enhancers, some of them appear in new light when considered on the background of non-pharmacological enhancement.
Jul 30, 2012
Sports athletes in recent years have concentrated on making themselves stronger and faster (sometimes to their own detriment and sanctity of the sport — see Baseball, Steroids Era), but building muscle mass is only part of the equation. Nike, one of the biggest sponsors of sport, sees potential (and profit) in specialized eye gear designed to allow athletes to fine tune their sensory skills and “see their sport better” through the use of modern technology.
To prove its point and draw attention to its Sparq Vapor Strobe sports glasses, Nike commissioned a study at Duke’s Institute for Brain Sciences that focuses on “stroboscopic training” using Nike’s eyewear. In essence, Nike went in search of scientific data to prove that simulating a strobe-like experience can increase visual short-term memory retention, and purportedly found it.
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May 07, 2012
Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being.
Nat Neurosci. 2012;15(5):689-95
Authors: Davidson RJ, McEwen BS
Experiential factors shape the neural circuits underlying social and emotional behavior from the prenatal period to the end of life. These factors include both incidental influences, such as early adversity, and intentional influences that can be produced in humans through specific interventions designed to promote prosocial behavior and well-being. Here we review important extant evidence in animal models and humans. Although the precise mechanisms of plasticity are still not fully understood, moderate to severe stress appears to increase the growth of several sectors of the amygdala, whereas the effects in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex tend to be opposite. Structural and functional changes in the brain have been observed with cognitive therapy and certain forms of meditation and lead to the suggestion that well-being and other prosocial characteristics might be enhanced through training.
Mar 11, 2012
The increasing miniaturization and computing power of information technology devices allow new ways of interaction between human brains and computers, progressively blurring the boundaries between man and machine. An example is provided by brain-computer interface systems, which allow users to use their brain to control the behavior of a computer or of an external device such as a robotic arm (in this latter case, we speak of “neuroprostetics”).
The idea of using information technologies to augment cognition, however, is not new, dating back in 1950’s and 1960’s. One of the first to write about this concept was british psychiatrist William Ross Ashby.
In his Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), he described intelligence as the “power of appropriate selection,” which could be amplified by means of technologies in the same way that physical power is amplified. A second major conceptual contribution towards the development of cognitive augmentation was provided few years later by computer scientist and Internet pioneer Joseph Licklider, in a paper entitled Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960).
In this article, Licklider envisions the development of computer technologies that will enable users “to think in interaction with a computer in the same way that you think with a colleague whose competence supplements your own.” According to his vision, the raise of computer networks would allow to connect together millions of human minds, within a “'thinking center' that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval.” This view represent a departure from the prevailing Artificial Intelligence approach of that time: instead of creating an artificial brain, Licklider focused on the possibility of developing new forms of interaction between human and information technologies, with the aim of extending human intelligence.
A similar view was proposed in the same years by another computer visionnaire, Douglas Engelbart, in its famous 1962 article entitled Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.
In this report, Engelbart defines the goal of intelligence augmentation as “increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble (…) We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations.We refer to away of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human ‘feel for a situation’ usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.”
These “electronic aids” nowdays include any kind of harware and software computing devices used i.e. to store information in external memories, to process complex data, to perform routine tasks and to support decision making. However, today the concept of cognitive augmentation is not limited to the amplification of human intellectual abilities through external hardware. As recently noted by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg (Sci Eng Ethics 15:311–341, 2009), “What is new is the growing interest in creating intimate links between the external systems and the human user through better interaction. The software becomes less an external tool and more of a mediating ‘‘exoself’’. This can be achieved through mediation, embedding the human within an augmenting ‘‘shell’’ such as wearable computers (…) or virtual reality, or through smart environments in which objects are given extended capabilities” (p. 320).
At the forefront of this trend is neurotechnology, an emerging research and development field which includes technologies that are specifically designed with the aim of improving brain function. Examples of neurotechnologies include brain training games such as BrainAge and programs like Fast ForWord, but also neurodevices used to monitor or regulate brain activity, such as deep brain stimulators (DBS), and smart prosthetics for the replacement of impaired sensory systems (i.e. cochlear or retinal implants).
Clearly, the vision of neurotechnology is not free of issues. The more they become powerful and sophisticated, the more attention should be dedicated to understand the socio-economic, legal and ethical implications of their applications in various field, from medicine to neuromarketing.
Oct 12, 2010
The new issue of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation magazine (3/2) is now online and available for full-text download. Topics covered by this issue include brain-computer interface, cognitive enhancement and trainers and the use of massive multiplayer online games in rehabilitation and therapy.
Sep 20, 2010
The XWave is a new technology that uses a single electrode placed on the wearer’s forehead to measure electroencephalography (EEG) data, and converts these analog signals into digital so they can be used to control an external device. The XWave comes bundled with a software that includes a number of brain-training exercises. These include levitating a ball on the iDevice’s screen, changing a color based on the relaxation level of your brain and training your brain to maximize its attention span.
In the company’s own words:
XWave, powered by NeuroSky eSense patented technologies, senses the faintest electrical impulses transmitted through your skull to the surface of your forehead and converts these analogue signals into digital. With XWave, you will be able to detect attention and meditation levels, as well as train your mind to control things. Objects in a game can be controlled, lights in your living room can change colour depending on your mood; the possibilities are limited to only the power of your imagination.
Mar 01, 2010
Dec 13, 2009
This short movie, entitled The Future of Augmented Cognition, depicts DARPA’s vision of how augmented cognition will in the future be used to integrate multiple sources of information. The film is set in the year 2030, and takes place in a command centre which monitors cyberspace activity for threats to the global economy. The movie was commissioned by DARPA and directed by Alexander Singer.
Dec 08, 2009
Now that neuroscientists have identified the brain's synchronizing mechanism, they've started work on therapies to strengthen attention. Ultimately, it may be possible to improve your attention by using pulses of light to directly synchronize your neurons, a form of direct therapy that could help people with schizophrenia and attention-deficit problems, said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. In the nearer future, neuroscientists might also help you focus by observing your brain activity and providing biofeedback as you practice strengthening your concentration. Researchers have already observed higher levels of synchrony in the brains of people who regularly meditate.
Sep 21, 2009
The sensitivity of a virtual reality task to planning and prospective memory impairments: Group differences and the efficacy of periodic alerts on performance.
Neuropsychol Rehabil. 2009 Aug 26;:1-25
Authors: Sweeney S, Kersel D, Morris RG, Manly T, Evans JJ
Executive functions have been argued to be the most vulnerable to brain injury. In providing an analogue of everyday situations amenable to control and management virtual reality (VR) may offer better insights into planning deficits consequent upon brain injury. Here 17 participants with a non-progressive brain injury and reported executive difficulties in everyday life were asked to perform a VR task (working in a furniture storage unit) that emphasised planning, rule following and prospective memory tasks. When compared with an age and IQ-matched control group, the patients were significantly poorer in terms of their strategy, their time-based prospective memory, the overall time required and their propensity to break rules. An examination of sensitivity and specificity of the VR task to group membership (brain-injured or control) showed that, with specificity set at maximum, sensitivity was only modest (at just over 50%). A second component to the study investigated whether the patients' performance could be improved by periodic auditory alerts. Previous studies have demonstrated that such cues can improve performance on laboratory tests, executive tests and everyday prospective memory tasks. Here, no significant changes in performance were detected. Potential reasons for this finding are discussed, including symptom severity and differences in the tasks employed in previous studies.
Jul 29, 2008
Auditory and Spatial Navigation Imagery in Brain-Computer Interface using Optimized Wavelets.
J Neurosci Methods. 2008 Jul 6;
Authors: Cabrera AF, Dremstrup K
Features extracted with optimized wavelets were compared with standard methods for a Brain-Computer Interface driven by non-motor imagery tasks. Two non-motor imagery tasks were used, Auditory Imagery of a familiar tune and Spatial Navigation Imagery through a familiar environment. The aims of this study were to evaluate which method extracts features that could be best differentiated and determine which channels are best suited for classification. EEG activity from 18 electrodes over the temporal and parietal lobes of nineteen healthy subjects was recorded. The features used were autoregressive and reflection coefficients extracted using autoregressive modeling with several model orders and marginals of the wavelet spaces generated by the Discrete Wavelet Transform (DWT). An optimization algorithm with 4 and 6 taps filters and mother wavelets from the Daubechies family were used. The classification was performed for each single channel and for all possible combination of two channels using a Bayesian Classifier. The best classification results were found using the marginals of the Optimized DWT spaces for filters with 6 taps in a 2 channels classification basis. Classification using 2 channels was found to be significantly better than using 1 channel (p<<0.01). The marginals of the optimized DWT using 6 taps filters showed to be significantly better than the marginals of the Daubechies family and autoregressive coefficients. The influence of the combination of number of channels and feature extraction method over the classification results was not significant (p=0.97).
Jul 16, 2008
The Walt Disney Internet Group has released the "Einstein's Brain Game".
The game proposes 20 brain training exercises covering Einstein’s theories of relativity and ideas about the solar system. It features 4 categories - maths, memory, logic and visual coordination, as well as a bonus Sudoku puzzle game, to give the brain a thorough work-out.
Nov 25, 2007
Sep 09, 2007
MindFit is a software-based assessment and training program for 14 cognitive skills important for healthy aging. The software is recommended for people over 50 who want a novel and varied mental workout. The program has 21 exercises that train 14 cognitive skills.
MindFit was recently launched by Susan Greenfield, one of Britain's best-known neuroscientists
Link to BBC report
Mar 19, 2007
Against conventional wisdom, the computer training in MindFit(tm) cognitive skill assessment and training software, created by CogniFit, Ltd. http://www.cognifit.com), was found to improve short-term memory, spatial relations and attention focus--all skills used in driving and other daily activities that maintain our independence as we age.
The trial was conducted at the Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center of Tel-Aviv University in Israel, where researchers are taking a leading role in the study of age-related disorders. During the two-year clinical trial, doctors conducted a prospective, randomized, double-blind study with active comparators of 121 self-referred volunteer participants age 50 and older. Each study participant was randomly assigned to spend 30 minutes, three times a week during the course of three months at home, using either MindFit or sophisticated computer games.
While all study participants benefited from the use of computer games, MindFit users experienced greater improvement in the cognitive domains of spatial short term memory, visuo-spatial learning and focused attention. Additionally, MindFit users in the study with lower baseline cognitive performance gained more than those with normal cognition, showing the potential therapeutic effect of home-based computer training software in those already suffering the effects of aging or more serious diseases.
"These research findings show unequivocally that MindFit, which requires no previous computer experience of users, keeps minds sharper than other computer games and software can," said Prof. Shlomo Breznitz, Ph.D., founder and president of CogniFit. "In fact, the same cognitive domains that MindFit keeps sharp are also central in most daily activities-including driving-that enable aging independently."
Breznitz continued, "These findings support CogniFit's belief that if you exercise your brain just as you do your muscles, you can build the speed and accuracy of your mental functions, significantly. 'Working out' with MindFit three times a week from the comfort of your home will yield similar results for your brain as exercising at the gym with that same frequency does for your muscles."
"We are additionally encouraged by the implications of our findings for those already below baseline in cognitive performance," said Nir Giladi, M.D., principal investigator, senior neurologist for the Department of Neurology for Tel-Aviv University's Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and faculty member in Tel-Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine. "In the future, we may research MindFit's effect on Alzheimer's disease and forms of dementia."
MindFit software helps to assess and build overall cognitive skills for baby boomers, seniors and people of all ages. In other research studies, MindFit has helped users to improve their short-term memory by 18 percent. The comprehensive cognitive training program assesses, trains and enhances cognitive skills--including memory, focus, learning and concentration and safeguards overall cognitive vitality, an overall concept patented by CogniFit.
After an initial assessment session, users are encouraged to train with the software on their home PCs three times a week for 20 minutes a day. Then, MindFit provides fun, individualized training to match users' unique cognitive skill sets, changing exercises and levels to suit each individual's unique needs. No other cognitive assessment or training software product on the market has that personally tailoring technology.
Feb 25, 2007
A company called Blink Twice is developing a speech-generating device that promises to improve the way differently-abled children communicate with their world:
The tango! is an amazing communication aid that accomplishes all the amazing things you've seen in the emulation. It contains phrases, words, and spelling, all in easier-to-understand, digitally enhanced or synthesized voices. In a snap, it lets you create photo albums, do voice-morphing, and change icons using photos.
The tango! is the first speech-generating device to bring the power of mass communications and consumer electronics to the world of AAC. It combines a broad array of communication methods, such as an intuitive language hierarchy, ingenious new icons, and easy-to-access pop-ups, with the vast power of consumer electronics - like a built-in camera and voice morphing, so individuals can better match their specific communication needs with the best features to achieve them.
Dec 28, 2006
Via the BrainBlog
The New York Times has a front-page article concerning the current state of mental-gymnastic services. From the article:
Science is not sure yet, but across the country, brain health programs are springing up, offering the possibility of a cognitive fountain of youth.
From “brain gyms” on the Internet to “brain-healthy” foods and activities at assisted living centers, the programs are aimed at baby boomers anxious about entering their golden years and at their parents trying to stave off memory loss or dementia.
“This is going to be one of the hottest topics in the next five years — it’s going to be huge,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, co-director of special projects for the American Society on Aging. “The challenge we have is it’s going to be a lot like the anti-aging industry: how much science is there behind this?”