Information that deserves attention, 3

These are the articles and videos from the previous week I found most interesting.

  1. Michio Kaku on Reading Minds, Recording Dreams, and Brain Imaging
  2. Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?
  3. Cryptography Primer
  4. ASIMO and Beyond: The history of Honda’s robotics program
  5. Get your next eye exam on a smartphone
  6. How to create nanowires only three atoms wide with an electron beam
  7. The emergent patterns of climate change
  8. The ABCs of Persuasion

Michio Kaku on Reading Minds, Recording Dreams, and Brain Imaging

Dr. Michio Kaku returns to Big Think studios to discuss his latest book, The Future of the Mind ( Here he explains the remarkable advances in brain imaging.


When I was a child I was fascinated by telepathy in science fiction. In fact, I tried really hard to read other peoples’ minds, to project my thoughts into other peoples’ heads. And I came to the conclusion that maybe telepaths do walk the surface of the earth but I wasn’t one of them. Now I’m a physicist and I realize that with all the electromagnetic probes that we have of the human brain we can actually see thoughts ricocheting across the brain itself. We can see the thinking living brain as it thinks and we can create computer simulations of this to understand what people are thinking. So at the present time telepathy exists. For example, look at my colleague Stephen Hawking. He’s lost control of his fingers now so he cannot communicate even with a laptop computer. But look at his right frame of his glasses.

There’s an EEG sensor that picks up radio waves from his brain, decodes that and he’s allowed to manipulate to some degree a laptop computer. You can do better by putting a chip directly on top of the brain. People who are totally paralyzed, who are vegetables and they’re trapped in this shell of a lifeless body — these people can now play videogames. They can read email, write email, do crossword puzzles. They can operate their wheelchair. They can control household appliances. They can control mechanical arms. Next they will control mechanical legs and exoskeletons. In fact, one of the people that pioneers this technology for the next World Soccer Cup wants to have a paralyzed person put on an exoskeleton and initiate the soccer games. That’s a goal for one of the scientists that I’ve interviewed for my book.

And so we’re way past simply understanding the way in which the brain radiates radio. We’re at the point now where we can actually interface the human brain with a computer and eventually with an exoskeleton by which they can become Iron Man. And so Iron Man is not simply a question of science fiction. It’s something that we can actually visualize in the laboratory.

In addition to putting a chip on top of the brain you can actually put sensors directly into the brain itself that are like hair-like thin fibers. There’s a certain class of people with depression that have been resistant to drugs, pharmacology, psychiatry, counseling. They are chronically depressed. It turns out that when you put a brain scan — put them in a brain scan you find out that yes indeed there’s a certain part of the brain that seems to be associated with this depression. By putting in probes you can dampen the electrical activity of this and all of a sudden they’re cured. On one hand you see somebody who’s chronically depressed, wants to commit suicide, has been plagued by this. And afterwards they’re just cured. It’s remarkable. But this is just another of the ways that we can access the human mind. Another way is through probes in an operation on epileptics. Epileptics have many seizures — many of them are life threatening. It’s possible to remove part of the cranium. These people are fully awake during this process because the skull has no sense organs to sense pain.

You put a bunch of electrodes directly on the brain itself. These people can type. These people can type very quickly simply by thinking about it. They think about a certain letter, a computer recognizes the pattern and a computer will type in this way. Yet another way of probing into the brain itself is with an MRI scan. We can take the living brain, put it in an MRI and get 30,000 dots like a Christmas tree set of lights that code the amount of electrical activity. You take these 30,000 dots, put it into a computer program that can then decipher it and bingo, what you get is a picture of what they are thinking. We can now visualize what somebody is thinking about. In fact it’s on the web. There’s a picture of Steve Martin, for example, in one of his movies and then right next to it is a picture as viewed through the human mind. This is amazing.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton


Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?

David Epstein

When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. Yet as David Epstein points out in this delightfully counter-intuitive talk, we might want to lay off the self-congratulation. Many factors are at play in shattering athletic records, and the development of our natural talents is just one of them.


Cryptography Primer

Integral Asymmetric Functions

Josh Benaloh

Microsoft MSR-T

This will be the third of six cryptography primer sessions exploring the basics of modern cryptography. In this session, we’ll explore integral asymmetric functions including Diffie-Hellman and RSA with an emphasis on how and why they work and the properties they enjoy.

Subsequent sessions (on alternating Fridays) are expected to include the following topics. Depending on the interests of the participants, other topics may be included or substituted. Non-integer asymmetric functions including elliptic curves and lattice-based systems Cryptosystem properties, attacks, and vulnerabilities Applications including zero-knowledge, secret sharing, homomorphic encryption, and election protocols

ASIMO and Beyond: The history of Honda’s robotics program

Honda began to follow its dreams of building a humanoid robot in the mid 1980s, and has continued work toward that dream to this day. This video, created for the recent North American debut of the latest version of ASIMO, examines the history of Honda’s humanoid robotics research as well as highlights some of the other Honda robotics technology.




Get your next eye exam on a smartphone

Andrew Bastawrous

TED Talks

Thirty-nine million people in the world are blind, and the majority lost their sight due to curable and preventable diseases. But how do you test and treat people who live in remote areas, where expensive, bulky eye equipment is hard to come by? TED Fellow Andrew Bastawrous demos a smartphone app and cheap hardware that might help.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.


How to create nanowires only three atoms wide with an electron beam

Junhao Lin, a Vanderbilt University Ph.D. student and visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has found a way to use a finely focused beam of electrons to create flexible metallic wires that are only three atoms wide: One thousandth the width of the microscopic wires used to connect the transistors in today’s integrated circuits and some of the smallest wires ever made. The discovery gives a boost to efforts aimed at creating electrical circuits on monolayered materials, raising the possibility of flexible, paper-thin tablets and television displays.


The emergent patterns of climate change

Gavin Schmidt

TED Talk

You can’t understand climate change in pieces, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. It’s the whole, or it’s nothing. In this illuminating talk, he explains how he studies the big picture of climate change with mesmerizing models that illustrate the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.


The ABCs of Persuasion

In the latest RSA Short, bestselling author Dan Pink shows us how to influence others more effectively; it’s as simple as A-B-C. Whether we’re employees pitching to our bosses, parents and teachers cajoling kids, or politicians presenting new policies, we can all improve the way we persuade others.

A – Attunement

B – Buoyancy

C – Clarity

Voice – Daniel H Pink
Animation – Cognitive Media

Watch Dan Pink’s lecture in full:…


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