Tag Archive: Humans


Cloned human embryonic stem cell (Credit: OHSU/Flickr)

An international team of scientists announced today that for the first time ever, they were able to create new human stem cells by cloning older, fully mature human cells. The process cannot be used to create full human clones, as the scientists involved were quick to point out, but it does allow for cells to be grown to fit specific functions within an individual’s body — resulting in new, patient-specific liver cells or heart cells that actually pulse on their own, for example.

Eventually, scientists hope to refine the process to the point it could be used to help treat disease and even create whole custom organs, but that is likely to be several years away at the earliest. “While there is much work to be done in developing safe and effective stem cell treatments, we believe this is a significant step forward in developing the cells that could be used in regenerative medicine,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the leader of the research team and a senior scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), in a news release.

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2045_Plan

A Russian mogul wants to achieve cybernetic immortality for humans within the next 33 years. He’s pulled together a team intent on creating fully functional holographic human avatars that house our artificial brains. Now he’s asking billionaires to help fund the advancements needed along the way.

The man behind the 2045 Initiative, described as a nonprofit organization, is a Russian named Dmitry Itskov. The ambitious timeline he’s laid out involves creating different avatars. First a robotic copy that’s controlled remotely through a brain interface. Then one in which a human brain can be transplanted at the end of life. The next could house an artificial human brain, and finally we’d have holographic avatars containing our intelligence much like the movie “Surrogates.”

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An average human, utterly unremarkable in every way, can 
perceive a million different colors. Vermilion, puce, cerulean, periwinkle, chartreuse—we have thousands of words for them, but mere language can never capture our extraordinary range of hues. Our powers of color vision derive from cells in our eyes called cones, three types in all, each triggered by different wavelengths of light. Every moment our eyes are open, those three flavors of cone fire off messages to the brain. The brain then combines the signals to produce the sensation we call color.

Vision is complex, but the calculus of color is strangely simple: Each cone confers the ability to distinguish around a hundred shades, so the total number of combinations is at least 1003, or a million. Take one cone away—go from being what scientists call a trichromat to a dichromat—and the number of possible combinations drops a factor of 100, to 10,000. Almost all other mammals, including dogs and New World monkeys, are dichromats. The richness of the world we see is rivaled only by that of birds and some insects, which also perceive the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

Researchers suspect, though, that some people see even more. Living among us are people with four cones, who might experience a range of colors invisible to the rest. It’s possible these so-called tetrachromats see a hundred million colors, with each familiar hue fracturing into a hundred more subtle shades for which there are no names, no paint swatches. And because perceiving color is a personal experience, they would have no way of knowing they see far beyond what we consider the limits of human vision.

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Throughout human evolution, multiple versions of humans co-existed. Could we be mid-upgrade now? At TEDxSummit, Juan Enriquez sweeps across time and space to bring us to the present moment — and shows how technology is revealing evidence that suggests rapid evolution may be under way.

Mark Gasson, senior research fellow at the University of Reading, was able to infect a tiny, radio frequency identification (RFID) chip with a virus before he placed it under the skin on his hand. He uses that chip to activate his cell phone, as well as open secure doors.

Thanks to the computer chip, his cell phone knows when he’s using it, and when someone else is trying to operate the device. If someone else tries to use his phone (after, say, stealing it), that person is not able to use it. Only Gasson can.

And instead of him swiping an ID card to enter his building, he just needs to wave his hand to gain entrance. The convenience of not taking out his ID and the safety of his phone come with a price, however.

He served as carrier, and was able to pass the virus on to an external computer. The virus was of Gasson’s own design and was not malicious. But he was able to show that computer viruses can move seamlessly between computers within and outside the body. And theoretically, if a person had several computers in his or her body, a computer virus could spread from one to another, infecting them all.

Why would people have computers in their bodies? Researchers around the world are developing tiny electronics that can be ingested or embedded in people for health or even security reasons. Consider the camera pill, which records data from the intestines, bionic eyes, bionic limbs, implantable telescopes to improve vision, and more.

The kind of computer chip that Gasson installed in his body is not in wide use, so no need to worry as of yet. In fact, you have more reason to worry about bed bugs than computer bugs. But in the future, computers will get under our skin, and people will have to take precautions to spread digital infections.

Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.

Scientists analyzed material from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a massive cavern located near the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Previous excavations there had uncovered an extensive record of human occupation.

Microscopic analysis revealed clear evidence of burning, such as plant ash and charred bone fragments. These materials were apparently burned in the cave, as opposed to being carried in there by wind or water, and were found alongside stone tools in a layer dating back about 1 million years. Surface fracturing of ironstone, the kind expected from fires, was also seen.

Although modern humans are the only human species alive today, originating about 200,000 years ago, other human species once roamed the Earth, such as Homo erectus, which arose about 1.9 million years ago.

“The analysis pushes the timing for the human use of fire back by 300,000 years, suggesting that human ancestors as early as Homo erectus may have begun using fire as part of their way of life,” said researcher Michael Chazan, a paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Toronto and director of the university’s archaeology center.

The research team’s analysis suggests that materials in the cave were not heated above about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius). This is consistent with preliminary findings that grasses, brushes and leaves were burned for these fires — such fuel would not have been capable of hotter flames.

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Computer programs that think like humans

Intelligence – what does it really mean? In the 1800s, it meant that you were good at memorising things, and today intelligence is measured through IQ tests where the average score for humans is 100. Researchers at the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have created a computer program that can score 150.

IQ tests are based on two types of problems: progressive matrices, which test the ability to see patterns in pictures, and number sequences, which test the ability to see patterns in numbers. The most common math computer programs score below 100 on IQ tests with number sequences. For Claes Strannegård, researcher at the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, this was a reason to try to design ‘smarter’ computer programs.

“We’re trying to make programs that can discover the same types of patterns that humans can see,” he says.

The research group, which consists of Claes Strannegård, Fredrik Engström, Rahim Nizamani and three students working on their degree projects, believes that number sequence problems are only partly a matter of mathematics – psychology is important too. Strannegård demonstrates this point:

“1, 2, …, what comes next? Most people would say 3, but it could also be a repeating sequence like 1, 2, 1 or a doubling sequence like 1, 2, 4. Neither of these alternatives is more mathematically correct than the others. What it comes down to is that most people have learned the 1-2-3 pattern.”

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Are We Maxed Out on Intelligence?

A provocative new paper warns that our societal effort to do whatever it takes to improve intelligence may be misguided, as any increases in thinking ability are likely to come with problems.

In other words, although we put a lot of energy into improving our memory, intelligence, and attention — smarter is not always better.

In a paper, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the authors looked to evolution to understand about why humans are only as smart as we are and not any smarter.

“A lot of people are interested in drugs that can enhance cognition in various ways,” said Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick, who cowrote the article with Ralph Hertwig of the University of Basel. “But it seems natural to ask, why aren’t we smarter already?”

To answer this question, the authors reviewed the evolutionary process and discovered that additional intelligence gains would most likely be offset by some other unintended consequence.

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