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About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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February 22, 2004

Empathy is a Hardwired Feeling

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As I mentioned in emotions in art and the brain "emotions and feelings are mediated by distinct neural systems. Whereas emotions are automatic responses to sensory stimuli, feelings are 'private, sbjective experiences' that emerge from the cognitive processing of an emotion eliciting state."

Providing hard evidence of this view is an excellent piece of research reported in this week's Science by University College London neuroscientists, Tania Singer and Ray Dolan (who showed videos of this research at the neuroesthetics conference).

"Human survival depends on the ability to function effectively within a social context. Central to successful social interaction is the ability to understand others intentions and beliefs. This capacity to represent mental states is referred to as "theory of mind" or the ability to "mentalize". Empathy, by contrast, broadly refers to being able to understand what others feel, be it an emotion or a sensory state. Accordingly, empathic experience enables us to understand what it feels like when someone else experiences sadness or happiness, and also pain, touch, or tickling."

An Overview of the Empathy Experiment: (A real stinger)

"To hunt for this form of empathy, the researchers recruited 16 heterosexual couples who were romantically involved and assumed to be attuned to each others feelings. Each man and woman had electrodes attached to their right hand capable of delivering a mild, ticklish shock or a stinging, short jolt of pain.

Each woman then had her brain scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging, while being able to view only the right hand of her beau sitting beside her. Unable to see her loved one's face, her only clue to his state was conveyed symbolically by a set of lights indicating whether he was receiving a mild shock or a stinging jolt.

When the women were subjected to a strong shock, a whole series of brain regions lit up including those on the brain's left side that physically mapped the pain to their hand. The regions of the brain - the anterior insula (AI) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) - involved in the emotional response to pain and other situations, also lit up.

But when their partners were zapped, regions physically mapping the pain were quiet while the AI and ACC and a few other regions lit up in the women's brains. And the signals from those two areas were stronger in women who reported a greater degree of empathy, suggesting these regions mediate empathy.

Singer suspects that our brain's ability to intuit the emotional response of others could have been strongly selected during evolution. "If I do something, it tells me will it make you smash me, will you kill me or will you like it? Being able to predict how others feel might have been necessary for human survival," she says.

I couldn't agree more, empathy is critical to human survival. This research is a great addition to the growing scientific literature on empathy and provides further evidence that animal models of human behavior are insufficient to undertand human behavior and to develop effective neuroceuticals.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals

February 19, 2004

Pharma's Horizontal Future

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Drug development is hard and costly. Clearly, something must change if the scenario of $10m drugs with 2 year development times is going to emerge by 2020. (see #7).

To get an idea of the cost issues facing today's pharma industry, I highly recommend Derek Lowe's recent coverage of the subject. For example, in...

- Darn those R&D costs, he rightly agrees with others on $805 million cost/drug
- How drugs die he reviews how 46% of all failures result from lack of efficacy in Phase II
- Drug prices and costs he shares his concerns over Phase III failure rates
- More on high prices and otherwise he investigates pricing power and patents

As I explored last year in pharma's coming industrial implosion, the entire industrial organization (indeed the economic geography) of the pharmaceutical industry is in for a radical change as we enter the era post-genome pharmacology.

Helping support my distant projections is a piece by 35 year biotech veteran, G. Steven Burrill in the most recent Drug Discovery World: (not yet on-line)

"We are about to see the pharmacoeconomic model change...the integration of genomic information into drug design...will make the firms horizontally, instead of vertically integrated."

"Targeted pharmaceuticals and biologics...do work for the betterment of healthcare by reducing the cost and time of development and time to market. As we better understand the body as a biologic system (systems biology)...It is not just changing the healthcare paradigm, it is changing life itself."

Getting from time A to time B will not be simple. Trillions of dollars (and even more Yen and Euros) of investment capital in NBIC-related technologies will be needed if we are to see this level of change in the coming decade. More on the shifting economic geography of the pharma industry in time...

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

Astrocytes Are Stem Cells

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Howard Hughes researchers report in today's Nature that they have found a third type of stem cell in the human brain, astrocytes. Until recently, astrocytes were thought to provide only a supportive, nurturing environment for the neuron, while this research shows that they can actually function as stem cells.

As Nadar Sadia, one of the primary researchers on the project details, "The astrocytes can form new stem cells and are able to generate all three types of mature brain cells...They form a novel ribbon-like structure in the brain's lateral ventricle. Stem cells from comparable areas in the rodent brain follow a distinct path from their place of origin to the olfactory bulb (a brain region that processes smells), where they create new neurons."

“This speaks to the plasticity of the human brain,” he said. “Certain cell types may have hidden potential.” These subtypes of astrocytes appear no different from any other astrocytes, implying that “it's possible that other astrocytes in other regions of the body have the same potential.”

Randall Parker's comment on this finding hits the nail on the head. "What seems surprising about this result is that only now in the year 2004 has anyone even checked to see if astrocytes can become nerve cells." Well, the research probably began several years ago, but the point is well taken.

As I discussed in "Yes, Your Brain is Very Complex" and Tom Ray detailed in his five part Brain Waves series on "Exploring the Brain's Boundaries", our understanding of the brain's complexity continues to grow. This is just another classic example.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuropharma

February 18, 2004

Soul Made Flesh and Mind Wide Open, Monday in SF/Bay Area

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Two of my friends (and favorite authors of recent books) are both speaking in the SF/Bay Area on Monday at the same time, noon.

Carl Zimmer will be speaking at the Stanford Medical School (sponsored by the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics and the Stanford Brain Research Institute). He'll be talking about his book, Soul Made Flesh, which chronicles how the search for the soul was transformed into the science of the brain in the 1600s. As Carl put it, "It was a remarkable transformation that foreshadowed both today's ongoing revolution in neuroscience as well as the ethical quandaries it poses for us." Directions to Carl Zimmer's talk.

Steven Johnson will be giving a reading at Stacey's book store in downtown S.F. on his recently released book, Mind Wide Open. In a similiar way that Po Bronson did for his book What Should I do With My Life?, Steven is currently collecting commentary and reactions to how MWO has impacted people's lives at his website. Directions to Stacey's in S.F..

Fortunately, Carl Zimmer's talk will be taped by CSPAN's Book TV and because I will be flying to NYC Monday night for my talk at the NBIC conference, I think I'll be heading downtown to see Steven laugh in person.

Also, don't miss Cory Doctorow who will be reading and signing his latest novel, Eastern Standard Tribe, at Borderlands Books in S.F. tomorrow night.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging

Neuroesthetics Defined

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From my recently published article in The Lancet Neurology --

"Neuroesthetics uses brain imaging and genetic analysis to understand the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement."

Neuroesthetics' (also spelled, neuroaesthetics by the British) research has broad implications for all parts of society, including: our legal systems, business productivity and entertainment. The increasing interest and compelling research occurring in this emerging discipline has led the Institute for Neuroesthetics to launch the Journal of Neuroesthetics, due to appear late this summer.

See Semir Zeki's recent articles to get a taste of the direction the journal will likely take, or try to attend (and blog) the symposium on "Embodied Esthetics" in Zurich, March 1st and 2nd.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics

February 17, 2004

Brain Waves is Chlorine?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Quick one: Humbug put together a periodic table of blogs that is a take off of the period table of elements in chemistry. Check out Brain Waves placement where chlorine would be. Looks like I missed being a noble gas by one electron, a problem that Brad Delong seems to be interested in understanding more about.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: X-tra

February 16, 2004

Neuroesthetics, Emotions in Art and the Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

My article, Emotions in Art and the Brain, a review of the key findings discussed at the Third International Conference on Neuroesthetics, was published today in the March issue of The Lancet Neurology.

The article highlights the following research:

- Arthur Shimamura, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, on embodied esthetics
- Ray Dolan, Director of the Emotions and Cognition Group at the University college London, on emotions and feelings
- Semir Zeki, conference organizer, from the University of College London, on the legal ramifications of neuresthetics
- Dan Fessler, UCLA's Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture, on the evolutionary advantage of emotions
- Rosa-Aurora Chavez, National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico City, on the neurobiology of creativity

As I mentioned in cubism, camouflage and cultural change, I am spending a considerable amount of my time these days exploring the cultural implications of neurotechnology. This article was part of this ongoing process.

I would like to thank Peter Hayward at the Lancet for his continued interest in Brain Waves and for the opportunity to share some of my initial thoughts on our rising neuroculture. Purchase the full article.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics

February 13, 2004

The Final Cut -- Robin Williams and Mira Sorvino

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The arts have always been at the cutting edge of cultural consciousness. The recent rise of neurotechnology related themes in movies highlights the increasing public interest and fascination with neuroculture issues.

In addition to the recent thriller Paycheck starring Ben Affleck and the soon to be released romantic comedy Eternal Sunshine in the Spotless Mind starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, a third movie is due out in July that explores the personal and societal implications of memory erasing technologies.

The Final Cut, starring Robin Williams and Mira Sorvino, has William's playing the role of a professional "cutter", someone who edits people’s life-videos after their death for a memorial-service presentation. As Bonn film critic, Lee Marshall describes, William's job is to "respect the living", not the dead.

The ethical implications of emerging neurotechnology will be profound. It is for this reason that I urge all of you who have relationships with any individuals involved in these movies to contact me directly. I have excellent relationships with the leading neuroethicists who are working today to ensure neurotechnology is used for the betterment of humanity tomorrow.

DONATIONS should be directed to the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE's achievements to date) and the Center for Bioethics at Stanford University where Judy Illes currently resides.

Note on the importance of funding neuroethics this year: In an election year, most wealthy individual donors decrease their donations towards non-political groups. Moreover, neuroethics is a cutting edge discipline that few profoundly understand.

Please get us in contact with the actors and producers of these films. They are among the few who have thought deeply about the philosophical and societal implications of emerging neurotechnology, while also having the money to donate to the groups who have dedicated their lives to neuropolicy issues.

I challenge the thousand of you who read Brain Waves each day to use your social networks for this purpose. Thank you.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture & the Brain

February 12, 2004

Lynch's 15 Laws of the Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Each year John Brockman at the Edge poses a thought provoking question to the world community to ponder and answer. Last year's question was "What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I (the President) can begin to deal with them?" My response...Dear Mr. President.

The question for 2004 is: "What is Your Law?"

Lynch's 15 Laws of the Neurosociety

1. Lynch's Law of Social Forecasting

By viewing recent human history as a series of techno-economic waves with accompanying socio-political responses it is possible to understand the type and timing of how new technologies will shape our future human society.

2. Lynch's Law of Future Societal Change

Neurotechnology will drive the next fifty year wave of societal change, the neurotechnology wave 2010-2060.

3. Lynch's Law of Neurotechnology

Neurotechnology, the set of tools that influence the brain, are being driven by nanobiochips and brain imaging technologies that will make neurological analysis inexpensive and pervasive.

4. Lynch's Law of Nanobiochips

Nanobiochips that perform the basic bio-analysis functions (genomic, proteomic, biosimulation, and microfluidics) at a low cost will transform biological analysis and production in a very similar fashion as the microprocessor did for data during the information technology wave. Unlike Venter's Second Law, the cost of biochips will decline even more rapidly because they will be the driving low cost product that will transform every industry. Nanobiochips will emerge around 2012.

5. Lynch's Law of Human Brain Imaging

Nano-imaging techniques will make possible real-time analysis of neuro-molecular level events in the human brain. The brain imaging bottleneck will be broken around 2015.

6. Lynch's Law of Neuroceuticals

When data from biochips and brain imaging are combined they will enable the development of neuroceuticals. Neuroceuticals are tools that will reduce the severity of mental disorders and improve mental health.

Neuroceuticals can be broadly categorized into three classes:Cogniceuticals, Emoticeuticals, and Sensoceuticals.

7. Lynch's Law of Neuroceutical Development

Today's pharmaceutical development process where a new drug can take 15 years and can cost over $800m. By 2020 new neuroceuticals will take less than 2 years to develop and cost under $10m. Details of pharma's industrial implosion in chapter 4 of my forthcoming book, Neurosociety.

8. Lynch's Behavioral Law of Neurotechnology (Perception Shift)

By influencing multiple personality characteristics, neuroceuticals will shape how people perceive daily issues. New behaviors will emerge that culminate into a substantially different behavior repertoire than people currently encounter. A person who is slightly less depressed, slightly less anxious, slightly more aware, and with slightly better recall behave differently than people do today.

9. Lynch's Law of Human Performance Enablement

By improving economic productivity countries will legalize performance enhancing tools by 2020. This shift will come with the understanding neuroceuticals are the latest set of tools, in humanity's long history of tool building, that enable individuals to live, live longer, and live happier.

10. Lynch's Law of Neurocompetitive Advantage

Neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology. For example, innovation is a complex mental function wherein cognitive assessment and emotional compassion combine to accelerate the creation of new knowledge. Individuals that utilize neuroceuticals (say to forecast emotions) will become more productive and creative will attain neurocompetitive advantage.

11. Lynch's Law of Regional Economic Development

Neurotechnology clusters will emerge in India and China first because the political and cultural views on human testing won't impede technological experimentation and development.

12. Lynch's Law of the Neurosociety

Neurotechnology will give rise to a new type of human society, a post-industrial, post-informational, neurosociety.

13. Lynch's Law for the Survival of Humanity

Empathy

14. Lynch's Personal Law of Life

People do the best they can with the resources they have.

15. Lynch's Personal Law for Life

Give more, get more.

(see my talk at NBIC conference on Feb 26th in NYC)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (10) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

February 11, 2004

Gavin Newsom, SF Mayor, to Support Same Sex Marriage

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"A little more than a month ago, I took the oath of office here at City Hall and swore to uphold California's Constitution, which clearly outlaws all forms of discrimination," Gavin Newsom said. "Denying basic rights to members of our community will not be tolerated."

As today's S.F. Chronicle recounts, "San Francisco was the first city in the nation to pass a law requiring city contractors to provide the same benefits to their employees in domestic partnerships as married workers receive." In addition, "the city assessor also has awarded the rights when it comes to property transfers."

On the national level, President Bush plans to endorse the following language introduced by Representative Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colorado, for a constitutional amendment: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

For his part, Senator John Kerry, Democratic front-runner, opposses gay marriage but does not support a constitutional amendment, according to his campaign.

My great uncle was a Jesuit priest at USF. Another great uncle was a Jesuit missionary in China. My great aunt was a nun in Los Angeles. My grandfather attended the seminary before marrying my grandmother. While I love and respect the passion of my deceased relatives, I believe they'll be squirming in heaven today when I provide my full support for Gavin Newson's decision to support same sex marriages. Why? People are people, beliefs are beliefs, and we our country is based on the premise of liberty and justice for all.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: SF Focus

February 10, 2004

Emergent Democracy, Participatory Economics and Social Software

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Posted by Zack Lynch

By viewing history as a series of techno-economic waves with accompanying socio-political responses it is possible to understand how new technologies shape human society.

As Brian Arthur has successfully argued, the information technology wave has reached the golden age. While the global infrastructure build-out marches on, the socio-political impact of IT continues to gain momentum.

The growing emergent democracy movement provides an excellent example of how IT's latest innovation, social software, is reshaping the political landscape. Yesterday's digital democracy teach-in at E-tech used social software to share and capture the latest emergent democracy issues in the US, developing nations, and across the world.

While the political ideals underlying emergent democracy are crystallizing quickly (e.g. emergent democracy is not direct democracy) it has yet to define or adopt an economic framework to compliment its goals. One perspective that shares some similarities is participatory economics, or parecon.

Parecon is being touted as an economic alternative to capitalism and socialism. According to Michael Albert's recent treatise, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, a participatory economy is a democratic economy. "People control their own lives to appropriate degrees. Each person has a level of say that doesn’t impinge on other people having the same level of say. We impact decision in proportion as we are affected by them." (see case studies from the Balkans and Argentina.)

Parecon is built on four key values:

Solidarity: Economies affect how people interact. They affect the broad attitudes people have toward one another.
Diversity: Economies affect the range of options that people have in their work and in consumption.
Equity: Economies affect the distribution of output among actors. They determine our budgets or what share of the social product we receive.
Self-management: Economics affect how much say each actor has in decisions about production, consumption, and allocation.

It is important to note that I have many problems with Albert's vision of parecon, including: the innovative capacity of job complexes; the effective implementation of cross-cultural resource allocation mechanisms; and his static view of human nature (just to name a few). However....

Evolving social software represents the technological glue that can tie emergent democracy and participatory economics into a functional political economic alternative. Indeed, both participatory economics and emergent democracy inherently depend upon a global information infrastructure that supports transparent information exchange and collaborative decision-making across multiple social and geographic scales (i.e. social software).

So while social software continues to prove itself within businesses, its impact on our political lives in only just beginning.

Comments (2) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

February 8, 2004

Legal and Ethical Implications of NBIC

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here are the key points of the presentation I'll be giving at the NBIC 2004 conference in NYC on February 26th.

Using History to Illuminate the Societal Implications of Converging Technologies

-250 Years of Converging Technologies
-Techno-economic Waves and Socio-political Responses
-Neurotechnology Bottlenecks: Biochip (NB) and Brain Imaging (IC)
-NBIC Convergence Enables Neurotechnology
-Neuroceuticals: Improving Human Performance
-Societal Impacts of Neurotechnology
-Neurocompetitive Advantage
-Unknown Impact: Perception Shift
-Evolution of Neuropolicy Issues
-Neurosociety Institute Focus Areas

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NBIC 03-04-05

February 7, 2004

Non-Neuro Thoughts

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here are a few (non-neuro) things I thought were worth pointing out:

1. Amazing photo: The colors of Orion.

2. Social networking map of book purchases.

3. Socialtext is hiring (primary requirement: superhuman) So is Technorati!

4. Deflation: M3 money supply since September has fallen over two percent, its largest decline in 60 years.

5. Why you should trust Josh Wolfe's nanotech blog.

6. Harvard's Nicholas Carr supports Carlota Perez's, author of IT Doesn't Matter model of recurring 50 year cycles of techno-economic waves and socio-political responses. I use this model in my book to predict the next fifty years, the neurotechnology wave (2010-2060).

7. Get ready to donate your old glasses to Glasses For Humanity. In developing nations, one billion people—including many school-age children—do not have access to the prescription eyeglasses they need, and another 1.5 billion people do not have the reading glasses they need.

8. Magnatune: Artists get a full 50% of the purchase price. And unlike most record labels, our artists keep the rights to their music.

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: X-tra

February 5, 2004

Judy Illes on Current Challenges in Neuroethics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Judy Illes, senior research scholar at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, will be speaking tomorrow at this week's Ethics in Society noon time forum on "Current Challenges in Neuroethics".

A leading neuroethics scholar, Judy also heads the neuroethics theme group in conjunction with the Stanford Brain Research Institute, and is the Principal Investigator on several projects:

1. Ethical challenges in Neuroimaging (funded by the Greenwall Foundation) -- Co-investigators include: Tom Raffin and Scott Atlas.

2. Advanced Neuroimaging: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues. Joining the team of multi-disciplinary co-investigators mentioned above are Mildred Cho and Bruce Arnow.

3. Fetal MRI: Patient Expectations, Clinical Experience and Decision-Making

Having met Judy last year at Arthur Caplin's talk on What's Wrong with Improving Our Brains?, I am sure this will be an invigorating talk. I look forward to sharing the talk's highlights and adding it to the over 30 other articles posted here on Brain Waves - Neuroethics.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

February 4, 2004

NBIC 2003 Recall, Slick Nano-Slime

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Posted by Zack Lynch

One of the more impressive talks at last year's NBIC conference was Dr. Carlo Montemagno's presentation on an actin-based nanorobotic system developed by the UCLA biomotor group.

Having tried to design nanosystems for almost a decade, he recently turned to biomimetic principles (mimicking nature) with promising results. These principles include: local communication, no central processing, fully distributed, and stupid agents that follow simple rules. See the videos of the UCLA Biomotor group.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NBIC 03-04-05

February 3, 2004

Guilt by Brain Fingerprint

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories is moving to Seattle with the expectation of rapid growth.

Brain fingerprinting is designed to determine whether an individual recognizes specific information related to an event or activity by measuring electrical brain wave responses to words, phrases, or pictures presented on a computer screen. The current technology uses a sensor-equipped headband to spot a brain impulse called P300.

Having tested the technology in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, it is now being used to measure whether people recognize evidence of a crime, whether a person has been trained as a terrorist, or even whether advertisements were memorable (neuromarketing).

Neurotechnology continues to drive the neuroethics discussion. Wrye Sententia, director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, said that she is worried that demand is so strong for improved screening of terrorists in airports that brain-scanning technologies could be used against people's will and rushed into the market before being proven accurate.

"We're all for it if people can use it to clear their name of a crime, but it should be a voluntary use," Sententia said. "But what a person knows and thinks is private, and this technology really pushes the question of whether thoughts are private."

If you are interested in hearing the latest on brain fingerprinting make sure you catch BFL's founder talk at the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle Feb. 12-16th.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroethics

Epic Snow Boarding

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Whistler, Banff, Jackson Hole...couldn't hold a candle to Tahoe today. Two feet of fresh powder and a warm afternoon sun made for some of the best snow boarding I've ever experienced. Tons of freshies. Can't wait for sunrise at Sugar Bowl (Sugar's real-time snow cam, Tahoe SnoWeb info).

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: