Feb 272006

A recent study carried out by researchers from the University College London in the United Kingdom has concluded that the brain is more successful at storing memories when it has been “primed” in advance to consider the meaning of what is to be stored. Neuroscientists already knew that neural activity during and immediately after an event occurred was an important factor in the success of memory storage, but this new research illustrates that one’s frame of mind prior to the event may be just as crucial. Nature.com has published a brief article today summarizing the study which itself was published in full in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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Feb 242006

According to a study published recently in Nature, neurons firing synchronously help to focus the brain’s attention on certain tasks and lead to quicker response times. When neurons fire independently their electrical output is nothing but noise, and no coherent signal is discernible in the static. When even a few neurons fire synchronously, their individual signals reinforce one another, and a tone arises from the background noise. The study, a collaboration between Robert Desimone, from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands, expands on previous work by Desimone which concluded that neurons fired synchronously during periods of concentration. The new experiments indicate that neural synchronization also helps the brain detect and react quickly to events.

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Feb 232006

ST5 Satellite Antenna

BoingBoing.com is reporting that NASA will make history next month when it launches three Space Technology (ST5) satellites into orbit on board a Pegasus XL rocket. It is not the launch itself that is noteworthy, but rather a relatively small, but very important component of the satellites: their antennas. Not much bigger than a quarter and looking a lot like a randomly bent paper clip, the ST5’s antenna are actually the result of 80 computers running a “survival of the fittest” evolutionary algorithm in parallel to calculate the most efficient design for the space antenna. The March launch will mark the first time that a device designed by AI will have flown and be put into operation in space.

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Feb 222006

Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, was a British mathematician, logician, and cryptographer. In 1950 he published a 28-page paper in the British quarterly Mind called “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” The paper is better known by most as “Can Machines Think?”, the title it was given when in 1956 it was republished in the much wider-read The World of Mathematics. The significance and continuing influence of the ideas presented by Turing in this seminal work cannot be overstated, and his modest proposal of a test suitable for judging if a computer is thinking has become the proverbial brass ring that has eluded and frustrated AI researchers ever since.

In the Winter 2006 edition of The New Atlantis, writer Mark Halpern, an accomplished software designer and programmer, thoughtfully re-examines Turing’s landmark paper, the much lauded “Turing Test,” the Loebner Prize, and the broken promises of AI.

Read “The Trouble with the Turing Test” at TheNewAtlantis.com.

Feb 172006

Girl sleeping.

According to NewScientist.com, a recent study has concluded that the conscious mind is fine for making simple decisions, but for complex, important choices you are best off to “sleep on it” and let your unconscious mind mull it over and make the decision for you. Over thinking a critical decision with many factors often yields an unsatisfactory choice since the conscious mind does not appear to be able to consider all of the factors or weigh those it does consider properly. On the other hand, the unconscious mind seems to be able to sort, weigh, and evaluate all of the factors, yielding a more satisfactory decision.

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Feb 152006
Stanley the Stanford University Volkswagen

Stanley the Stanford University Volkswagen

Fresh off their 1st place finish at Darpa’s Grand Challenge 2005 and not content to rest on their laurels, the robotics experts from Stanford University have announced their next goal is to develop an autonomous vehicle capable of driving from San Francisco City Hall to downtown Los Angeles, at highway speeds no less! Gizmodo.com has a summary today of an article published last weekend by the Palo Alto Online News revealing this ambitious goal. Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, spoke with the publication recently offering some insight into Stanley’s fate and the direction of Stanford’s robot vehicle development program.

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Feb 142006

Ugobe Pleo demoA little over a week ago at the DEMO 2006 conference Ugobe announced their first designer life form, Pleo, a robot modeled after a one week old Camarasaurus. Pleo is the first offering from the new California-based robotics company co-founded by Furby designer Caleb Chung. In the weeks prior to the announcement, several tech blogs had begun ruminating about Ugobe and whether they could live up to the declaration on their homepage that their technology would transform “inanimate objects into lifelike creatures exhibiting stunning, organic movement and dynamic behaviors.”

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Feb 132006


Neuroscientists from the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have discovered that after completing a task, a rat’s brain will mentally replay recent events, but in reverse order. They believe this process plays a key role in learning and memory and may explain why taking frequent breaks when studying is more effective for learning new material than cramming for extended periods of time. Their work could yield a better understanding of amnesia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders and lead to more efficient methods for learning and memorization.

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Feb 102006

Robotis RX

The Korea Times is reporting that on Thursday South Korean robot manufacturer Robotis unveiled the RX, a robot capable of running at almost 0.5 mph. Developed in conjunction with Samsung Electronics and Korea’s Ministry of Information and Communication, the RX stands 2 feet tall. Like the Robotis’s Bioloid kit, the RX is made up of modular components that can be rearranged easily into other forms according to Kim Byoung-soo, Robotis chief executive.

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Feb 082006

Lifting an arm, picking up your foot, wiggling your fingers – most of us can do these things without giving them a second thought. Once your brain has set the movement in motion how do you know (without looking) that the appendage responded appropriately? It turns out that you can’t really tell. NewScientist.com is reporting today that researchers from the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, Australia used a simple test to determine that the same signal your brain sends to initiate a movement is also responsible for the sensation of movement you feel, and this feeling occurs regardless of whether or not the actual movement takes place. Their results offer insight into the phantom limb phenomena, a sensation that a missing limb is still attached and is moving appropriately with other body parts, experienced by a majority of amputees.

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