What does it mean to be human in the age of AI and robotics?

Professor Kathleen Richardson, who will give a talk in UCD in November, is Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots (Source: UCD)

The advance of AI, robotics, and other new technologies are leading to an unprecedented transformation of the human world.

The plotting the future series of public lectures at UCD is seeking to explore how the place of humans in the world is changing, and the implications of that.

Kathleen Richardson, Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robotics and AI, De Montfort University Leicester will deliver the fifth lecture in the series on the 9th November with a talk entitled ‘Turning Persons into Property and Property into Persons’.

Kathleen Richardson is the Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots and Senior Research Fellow in Ethics of Robotics and part of the Europe-wide DREAM project (Development of Robot-Enhance Therapy for Children with AutisM).

Kathleen is author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines. She is now working on her second manuscript The Robot Intermediary? An Anthropology of Attachment and Robots for Children with Autism.

This is a public lecture and all are welcome, but registration is required in advance. To register visit http://www.ucd.ie/humanities/events/plottingthefuture/

What makes a memory? Prof Tomás Ryan, TCD will explain in public talk

Prof Tomas Ryan, TCD, will explain what a memory is, in a public talk on Wednesday 25th October (Source: TCD)

How are our memories, thoughts, and experiences stored in the brain?

The scientific search for what precisely makes a memory and the physical basis of self is older than science, psychology, or modern medicine.

The search even predates the theory of evolution and over the centuries has been led by priests and physicians, philosophers and physicists.

Only in recent time has a basic understanding of memory emerged from modern scientific investigations. Though such investigations are still in their infancy, some surprising findings have emerged.

In this public lecture, Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Tomás Ryan, will discuss recent technology that he and his colleagues have developed that allows us to label and switch on (or off) specific memories.

Professor Ryan will also describe how such technology has allowed us to gain unprecedented insights into the true nature of memory loss, amnesia, and depression, before elaborating on the implications of such studies for our understanding of aging, dementia, mental health, and the nature of our own individuality.

The talk takes place in the Stanley Quek Theatre, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Pearse Street.

Date: Wednesday, October 25th, 6:30 pm. Admission is FREE and all are welcome.

My weekly science news round up on East Coast FM: weight loss; mindfulness; ancient Egypt; super volcano; Chinese space station

The latest science news from around the world 

Broadcast on The Morning Show on East Coast FM (20/10/2017)

A group of scientists say there is no evidence for many of the benefits claimed for mindfulness (Source: http://www.positivepsychologyprogram.com)

 

Every two lbs overweight knocks nine weeks off your life

Source: Telegraph, UK

  • Study of 600,000 people study link between longevity and lifestyle
  • Smoke pack of cigs per day, die seven years earlier on average
  • Edinburgh University researchers did this as a so-called big data project, which means analysing and cross referencing vast amounts of data.
  • If you are two stone overweight, then it will take, on average, six months off your life.
  • Data came from Europe, North America and Australia, via the UK Biobank.
  • But… also found that life is extended by one year for every year a person stays in education after school, on average. That’s a massive effect.
  • Life expectancy continuing to increase, and in the UK it stands now at 79.5 years for a man, on average, and 83.1 for a woman.
  • But, Public Health England found this year that the average ‘healthy’ average life expectancy – the number of years a person can live largely free of illness – is less than the age people get the state pension

Little proof mindfulness meditation works, say scientists

Source: Scientific American

  • Scientists in the US now asking where is the proof that mindfulness works? Question asked by a group of 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
  • Lots of studies have been done on mindfulness and it has been reported to relieve stress, pain and even slow ageing.
  • But, these researchers are critical of these studies because they say they are poorly designed, they have inconsistent definitions are what mindfulness actually is, and often do not use a control group to rule out the placebo effect.
  • Only some 9 per cent of studies on mindfulness has been tested in clinical trials, one report said, and meta analysis of mindfulness research not impressive.
  • In 2014, a review of 47 meditation trials, involving over 3,500 people found that no evidence mindfulness enhanced enhanced attention, curtailed substance abuse, helped sleep or controlled weight.
  • Mindfulness meditation and training is now a huge industry, so there are vested interests promoting its effectiveness, the scientists state.
  • Less than 25 per cent of trials on mindfulness monitor potential negative effects and that is causing worry among scientists too.
  • The 2014 review did find some benefits, modest benefits, for anxiety, depression and pain from the use of mindfulness.
  • A reputable trial this year found that mindfulness attention training reduced self perceived stress, but not the stress hormone cortisol. What does it mean?
  • Another trial found that mindfulness increased the thickness of the prefrontal cortex around of the brain, which is associated with complex behaviour, decision making and shaping the personality.

Ancient Egypt brought down by volcanoes and climate change

Source: Independent UK

  • Volcanic eruptions caused riots and rebellions against Ptolemaic rule and Cleopatra was one of those leaders.
  • Ancient Egypt relied on monsoon weather to provide water irrigate the nile delta region, as does 70 per cent of the globe still today
  • Researchers at TCD and Yale looked at the historical records and used climate modelling methods (working backwards) to do this study.
  • Summer floods helped crops to grow, fed population and were the fundamental basis for the wealth of ancient Egypt at this time 350BC to 30 BC or so.

Yellowstone Super Volcano could erupt inside decades causing global volcanic winter

Source: Independent UK

  • The last time it erupted was 630,000 years ago and created the Yellowstone caldera, which is 40 miles wide.
  • The volcano is so big that if it erupted, it could choke the Earth’s entire atmosphere with ash, blocking out a lot of sunlight, causing temperatures to dip, and this would continue for years.
  • That last massive eruption, scientists at Arizona State have found, occurred following two influxes of fresh magma into the magma chamber.
  • The temperatures increased around the volcano as this happened over decades, not centuries, as previously thought.
  • This shows that the the yellowstone volcano could become dangerous inside decades, at any point, when temperatures start to rise.
  • Large parts of the USA would be covered in dangerous ash if it erupted, the Earth would dramatically cool, sunlight would struggle to get through and the impact would last more than a decade. Life would get very tough, esp in US.

Chinese space station will crash to Earth in months

Source: Guardian UK

  • The 8.5 tonne orbiting laboratory (two large male bull elephants) is now out of control, and in a death spiral, and the ISS will follow perhaps as earth as 2020.
  • The Tiangong-1, or heavenly palace, lab was launched in 2011 as part of China’s push to become a space superpower.
  • Visited by taikonauts including China’s first female taikonaut Liu Yang in 2012.
  • Much of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but scientists in the west estimate that pieces as large as 100kg (16 stone man) will crash to Earth anytime between now and April 2018.
  • Impossible to predict when and where the pieces will fall scientists say.
  • No-one has been hurt by space debris falling to Earth, but in 1979 NASA’s 77-tonne Skylab space station crashed to the ground with some large pieces landing outside Perth.

 

Better treatments for nerve damage can follow new CÚRAM research

Better treatment methods for regeneration or repair of nerve tissue can follow new CURAM research (Pic: CURAM)

Better treatment options for those that have suffered nerve damage can result from new research at, based at NUI Galway, according to researchers.

The treatment of peripheral nerve injuries that result in the loss of motor or sensors remains a major problem around the world.

However, new research at the Centre for Research in Medical Devices, supported by SFI, can provide improved treatment options. The results of the new study were published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Researchers have used artificial nerve grafts in recent years in an attempt to restore the function of the injured peripheral nervous system; which is that part of the nervous system that lies outside the brain and spinal cord.

This study explored the differences in nerve repair that result from the use of such grafts made of two different materials: collagen and polymer PLGA.

Both collagen and PLGA have been successfully used to repair damaged nerves in the laboratory, but this success has not transferred to patients in the clinic.

The CÚRAM study results supported the idea that the success of attempts to regenerate damaged nerves is dependent on the graft material used.

The different impact of graft material had been shown by many previous studies but this CÚRAM study provides a clearer understanding of how the body responds to collagen and PLGA grafts specifically.

According to the researchers, this paves the way for the development of specific nerve regeneration strategies based on the biomaterial used.

The study focused on a non-critical nerve injury and did not incorporate the effect of increasing gap distance on the regenerative response.

Plant proteins key to fighting hunger and global warming – TCD research

Legumes are high in protein density and have a relatively low environmental production cost (Source: Monash University)

The consumption of plant protein found in peas, beans and lentils can stave off global hunger and reduce the environmental impact of food production.

That’s according to a TCD study which shows that plant protein from legumes has the high nutrient density and the lowest environmental production costs.

The study led by Assistant Professor in Botany Mike Williams and conducted by students Shauna Maguire and Conor O’Brien was part of Project TRUE which is an initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The TCD researchers scored dietary protein sources in terms of both the environmental cost of production (which incorporates greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and land requirement), and their nutrient content.

“Plant protein sources, in this case legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, show the highest nutrient density and the lowest environmental costs associated with production,” said Professor Williams.

“For example, peas have a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio approximately five times higher than equivalent amounts of lamb, pork, beef or chicken,” Prof Williams said.

“In other words, you receive more beneficial nutrients per 100 kcals of legumes than similar amounts of meat, and at far less an environmental cost,” Prof Williams added.

The researchers believe that providing quantitative estimates for sustainable food and agriculture can help consumers make more informed choices about how they will source the main protein component in their diet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The consumption of plant protein found in peas, beans and lentils can stave off global hunger and reduce the environmental impact of food production.

That’s according to a TCD study which shows that plant protein from legumes has the high nutrient density and the lowest environmental production costs.

The study led by Assistant Professor in Botany Mike Williams and conducted by students Shauna Maguire and Conor O’Brien was part of Project TRUE which is an initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The TCD researchers scored dietary protein sources in terms of both the environmental cost of production (which incorporates greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and land requirement), and their nutrient content.

“Plant protein sources, in this case legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, show the highest nutrient density and the lowest environmental costs associated with production,” said Professor Williams.

“For example, peas have a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio approximately five times higher than equivalent amounts of lamb, pork, beef or chicken,” Prof Williams said.

“In other words, you receive more beneficial nutrients per 100 kcals of legumes than similar amounts of meat, and at far less an environmental cost,” Prof Williams added.

The researchers believe that providing quantitative estimates for sustainable food and agriculture can help consumers make more informed choices about how they will source the main protein component in their diet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volcanic eruptions in ancient Egypt triggered revolts, TCD research indicates

Volcanic eruptions may have disrupted the stability and prosperity of of ancient Egypt by triggering revolts (Source: heritagedaily.com

Major revolts in ancient Egypt may have been triggered by volcanic eruptions that prevented the Nile from its usual summer flooding.

That’s according to research conducted by TCD and Yale University historians who examined evidence from ancient Egyptian writings during the Ptolemaic period, as well polar ice-core records and climate modelling.

The researchers believe that this research, published in Nature Communications can improve understanding of how societies respond to climate shocks.

Egypt’s Ptolemaic era, which ran from 305 BC to 30 BC is famed for its prosperity, cultural and material achievement, rulers such as Cleopatra, and was home to the great city of Alexandria.

The success of Egypt during this glorious period of its history was directly linked with the river Nile, and its annual summer flooding, which provided the water, and irrigation necessary to support the region’s thriving agriculture.

It is very rare in science and history to have such strong and detailed evidence documenting how past societies responded to sudden hydroclimatic shocks,” said Dr Francis Ludlow, from the TCD School of Histories and Humanities, who jointly led the study.

“To fully understand how sudden environmental pressures could act to destabilise society, the historical context is key, and in this case included pressures from high levels of taxation and ethnic tensions that likely coalesced to trigger revolt at times of agricultural failures from insufficient floodwaters,” Dr Ludlow added.

The researchers were able to show that large volcanic eruptions disrupted the African summer monsoon and reduced Nile river flow. This helped to trigger economic and political instability, in particular to trigger revolts against Ptolemaic rule of Egypt and limiting that state’s ability to wage warfare.

The authors also provided evidence of further social stresses through the increased sales of family-held land following eruptions. This has been documented in the surviving records, and likely to have occurred because families were unable to meet state taxation demands after failed harvests.

The study, according to the authors, also has significant implications regarding how societies will respond to future climate change, and more specifically about how the nations that depend upon the summer flood waters of Nile might manage under the impact from the next big volcanic eruption.

 

Schizophrenia due to faulty brain wiring, according to NUIG co-led research

Changes in white matter right across the brain have been conclusively linked to schizophrenia in an international study co-led by NUIG (Pic: NUIG)

The hallucinations, delusions and cognitive difficulties experienced by people with schizophrenia are due to widespread damage to the brain’s wiring.

That’s according to research carried about by scientists across the world as part of the ENIGMA consortium and co-lead by NUI Galway.

“It’s almost 40 years since we had the first clues that schizophrenia was associated with changes in the brain structure,” said Professor Gary Donohue, NUIG, a senior author on the study published in Molecular Psychiatry.

“What the ENIGMA consortium has achieved here is to provide definitive proof that these changes are not specific to any one area of the brain, but rather reflect subtle, yet widespread changes throughout the brain.”

“In terms of the idea that schizophrenia might be caused by a mis-wiring of the brain, this study provides unequivocal evidence that this is the case,” said Professor Donohue. “The next step will be to identify the individual genetics variants that lead to the mis-wiring,” Prof Donohue added.

Schizophrenia has been the focus of neuroimaging studies for decades, yet its neurobiology remained only partially understood. The World Health Organisation has described the disease as a leading cause of disability, and more disabling than paraplegia or blindness in 18 to 35 year olds.

Prof Gary Donohoe, Psychology, NUIG, was a senior author on the research (Pic: Aengus McMahon)

The ENIGMA consortium brought together researchers from all over the world to conduct the first large-scale, co-ordinated study of white matter differences in people with schizophrenia.

The researchers examined samples from 4,322 individuals, and that large number allowed for greater power to identify changes across the entire brain than has been possible with previous studies.

The consortium team used a technology called diffusion tensor imaging to show that, in people with schizophrenia, the white matter fibres which connect different brain regions are frayed making communication between different regions ‘sub optimal’. Changes were seen right across the brain.

This is the first conclusive evidence to support the ‘dysconnectivity hypothesis’ which held that schizophrenia may involve abnormal or inefficient communication between brain regions due to disturbances in the pattern of white matter.