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friday :: october 29, 2004
living neural networks: how the neurons compute

A University of Florida scientist has grown a living 'brain' that can fly a simulated plane, giving scientists a novel way to observe how brain cells function as a network.

The 'brain' -- a collection of 25,000 living neurons, or nerve cells, taken from a rat's brain and cultured inside a glass dish -- gives scientists a unique real-time window into the brain at the cellular level. By watching the brain cells interact, scientists hope to understand what causes neural disorders such as epilepsy and to determine noninvasive ways to intervene.

"We're interested in studying how brains compute," said Thomas DeMarse, the UF professor of biomedical engineering who designed the study.

"If we can extract the rules of how these neural networks are doing computations like pattern recognition, we can apply that to create novel computing systems," he said. DeMarse experimental 'brain' interacts with an F-22 fighter jet flight simulator through a specially designed plate called a multi-electrode array and a common desktop computer.

"It's essentially a dish with 60 electrodes arranged in a grid at the bottom," DeMarse said. "Over that we put the living cortical neurons from rats, which rapidly begin to reconnect themselves, forming a living neural network – a brain."

The brain and the simulator establish a two-way connection, similar to how neurons receive and interpret signals from each other to control our bodies. By observing how the nerve cells interact with the simulator, scientists can decode how a neural network establishes connections and begins to compute, DeMarse said.

"There’s a lot of data out there that will tell you that the computation that's going on here isn’t based on just one neuron. The computational property is actually an emergent property of hundreds or thousands of neurons cooperating to produce the amazing processing power of the brain."

With Jose Principe, a UF distinguished professor of electrical engineering and director of UF's Computational NeuroEngineering Laboratory, DeMarse has a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to create a mathematical model that reproduces how the neurons compute.

These living neural networks are being used to pursue a variety of engineering and neurobiology research goals, said Steven Potter, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech/Emory Department of Biomedical Engineering who uses cultured brain cells to study learning and memory. DeMarse was a postdoctoral researcher in Potter's laboratory at Georgia Tech before he arrived at UF.

"A lot of people have been interested in what changes in the brains of animals and people when they are learning things," Potter said. "We're interested in getting down into the network and cellular mechanisms, which is hard to do in living animals. And the engineering goal would be to get ideas from this system about how brains compute and process information." >from *'Brain' in a dish acts as autopilot, living computer* october 21, 2004

related context
deconstructing brain waves: view of thought in action. 'a new approach to interpreting brain electroencephalograms, or EEGs, that provides an unprecedented view of thought in action.' july 2, 2004
> pattern recognition: oscillatory associative memory networks. 'human brain and its use of neurons have a great advantage over computer memory in that they employ oscillatory memory systems, systems where the individual components can oscillate or freely change between states.' may 14, 2004
> brain is a dynamic network: new paradigm for how the brain functions. 'the brain is not a huge fixed network, as had been previously thought, but a dynamic, changing network that adapts continuously to meet the demands of communication and computational needs.' october 15, 2003
> synchrony: order is inevitable. 'any system of 'coupled oscillators' -- that is, entities capable of responding to each other's signals -- will spontaneously self-organize.' april 9, 2003
> first look at the world: making sense of the unknown. 'babies use relationships between objects to build an understanding of the world.' december 3, 2002
> genes, neurons, internet: organizing principles of networks. 'a study uncovers a strategy for finding the organizing principles of virtually any network – from neural networks to ecological food webs or the internet.' november 11, 2002
> think networks: the new science of networks. 'it is about how networks emerge, what they look like, and how they evolve. it aims to develop a web-based view of nature, society, and technology.' june 6, 2002
> brain implants. 'on october 26, 1998, a paralyzed man who received a brain implant - a neurotrophic electrode - become the first human to successfully control a computer using only his thoughts.' october 30, 2000

compute: not only an electric process

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friday :: october 22, 2004
hiv-immune mutant gene

Two women have been identified as carrying a mutant gene that is immune to HIV/AIDS, the first such cases uncovered in China, a researcher said.

The finding is the joint effort of a research programme, "Association of Human Genetic Polymorphisms with HIV Affections," jointly conducted by the University of Washington in the US State of Washington and local Infectious Disease Hospitals and medical institutions in Guangdong Province.

Tuofu Zhu, associate professor of University of Washington and associate director of the Clinical Core at the Centre for AIDS Research (CFAR), introduced the programme to China a year ago as a part of his global research in nations in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.

"Before, such mutant genes were only found in Caucasians. The finding has encouraged us to do further research in China, with the aim of developing medicines to prevent and cure HIV/AIDS for different races," said Zhu.

So far, according to Zhu, his programme in Shenzhen has identified 11 Exposed Seronegatives (ES) since January. Zhu explained that the immune systems of some individuals may be capable of resisting HIV infection. These individuals who do not appear to be infected with HIV despite multiple sexual encounters with HIV infected partners are referred to as exposed seronegatives (ES). To be specific, any one who has conducted sexual activities at least twice weekly in four consecutive months with an HIV-infected partner might be identified as ES. Of 11 ES cases, two cases have later been identified as carrying the mutant genes. In Zhu's opinion, if medicine functioning similarly with the genes was put in the vagina and rectum, the HIV virus couldn't find its carrier to enter the human body and thus would be expelled.

In Shenzhen, both confirmed samples are women who have been exposed to HIV for many years but remained uninfected. However, due to the limited qualified samples, Zhu said it is still too early to draw any conclusion from the programme, adding "we definitely need more support from the local hospital, medical institutions and government to collect more data from ES people." >from *Two Women Found With HIV-Immune Mutant Gene* by Wang Zhuoqiong, China Daily, october 1, 2004

lo+positivo presentation and performance by ovni&extra (graffiti) & l.u.v.e. - la ultra violeta experience (music)
friday, october 22, 2004. 20 h
straddle3. c/ riereta, 32 1-3

related context
new vih-like virus. 'a study of african hunters has shown that a virus similar to hiv has passed from apes to humans from bushmeat of the kind that is being sold illegally in the u.k. "this is the area of the world where hiv came from, and this is most likely the mechanism by which hiv emerged into the human population." although the full public health implications are still unknown, the fear is that the new virus could result in a new disease which would have global impact.' from 'aids warning over bushmeat trade.' bbc news, october 26, 2004
> scientific knowledge on hiv/aids prevention distorted. 'at the instigation of higher-ups in the bush administration, fact-based information on the centers for disease control's website has been altered to raise scientifically questionable doubt about the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of hiv/aids.' 2004
> landmark agreement with samoa for aids cure search. 'many of our best drugs were derived from traditional remedies, but nearly all pharmaceutical companies have abandoned programs to search for drugs in indigenous areas. that may change as a result of a new agreement between uc berkeley and the government of samoa, which recognizes the right of the samoan people to the genetic dowry of their native plants. in return for letting locate and clone from a local tree the gene for a promising aids drug, berkeley has agreed to share any royalties from the gene-derived drug with the people of samoa.' september 29, 2004. via victor
> scientists find hiv-blocking protein in monkeys. 'a gene that prevents monkeys from getting hiv has been identified, and researchers have found that a protein the gene makes blocks the aids virus in human cells.' february 25, 2004
> aids epidemic should be treated as a disaster. 'the world health organization declared the hiv/aids epidemic a global health emergency, but researchers argue that governments should go one step further and treat it as a disaster.' november 12, 2003
> attacks on science: ethics and public health. 'special-interest groups have influenced policies related to needle exchange programs for the prevention of hiv (not to fund needle exchange programs).' january 11, 2002
> world aids day: link and think. 'an observance of world aids day in the personal web publishing communities.' december 1, 2001

our mutant gene

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friday :: october 15, 2004
real-world processing

There's an old myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains, but researchers at the University of Rochester have found in reality that roughly 80 percent of our cognitive power may be cranking away on tasks completely unknown to us. Curiously, this clandestine activity does not exist in the youngest brains, leading scientists to believe that the mysterious goings-on that absorb the majority of our minds are dedicated to subconsciously reprocessing our initial thoughts and experiences. The research has possible profound implications for our very basis of understanding reality.

"We found neural activity that frankly surprised us," says Michael Weliky, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. "Adult ferrets had neural patterns in their visual cortex that correlated very well with images they viewed, but that correlation didn't exist at all in very young ferrets, suggesting the very basis of comprehending vision may be a very different task for young brains versus old brains." This suggests that though the young ferrets are taking in and processing visual stimuli, they're not processing the stimuli in a way that reflects reality. "It may be that in very young brains, the processing takes place in a way that's not necessarily disordered, but not analogous to how we understand reality to be. It's thought that dyslexia works somewhat like this —that some parts of the brain process written words in an unusual way and seem to make beginnings of words appear at their ends and vice versa. Infant brains may see the entire world the same way, as a mass of disparate scenes and sounds."

A second surprise was in store for Weliky. Placing the ferrets in a darkened room revealed that older ferrets' brains were still humming along at 80 percent as if they were processing visual information. Since this activity was absent in the youngsters, Weliky and his colleagues were left to wonder: What is the visual cortex so busy processing when there's no image to process? "This means that in adults, there is a tremendous amount of real-world processing going on—80 percent—when there is nothing to process," says Weliky.

Initially, Weliky's research was aimed at studying whether visual processing bore any resemblance to the way real-world images appear. This finding may help lead to a better understanding of how neurons decode our world and how our perception of reality is shaped.

"The basic findings are exciting enough, but you can't help but speculate on what they might mean in a deeper context," says Weliky. "It's one thing to say a ferret's understanding of reality is being reproduced inside his brain, but there's nothing to say that our understanding of the world is accurate. In a way, our neural structure imposes a certain structure on the outside world, and all we know is that at least one other mammalian brain seems to impose the same structure."

Weliky, in a bit of irony, set 12 ferrets watching the reality-stretching film The Matrix. He recorded how their brains responded to the film, as well as to a null pattern like enlarged television static, and a darkened room. >from *Under the Surface, the Brain Seethes With Undiscovered Activity*. October 6, 2004

related context
reality mining: browsing reality with sensor networks. 'sensors streaming their data online are turning the internet into a global sensor network. software platforms that integrate and mine these data streams may create a world in which sensors become pixels and we browse reality as easily as we browse web pages today.' september, 2004
> reality, illusion. 'the research shows how the mind creates its sense of order in the world and then adjusts on the fly to eliminate distortions.' march 23, 2004
> fantasy and reality: handled by different parts of the brain. april 8, 2002
> context processing: mental operating system. 'context processing is a kind of mental 'operating system' that sits between the brain's prefrontal cortex and cognition.' january 4, 2002

cognitive power processing the real world

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friday :: october 8, 2004
urballon: an urban media space

A balloon equipped with a projector and wireless connection to the web that enables people to submit content online and broadcast it in public spaces. The balloon is located in open urban spaces frequented by pedestrians at sunset and night (e.g. plazas, parks). The ball is tethered and floats at a height of approximately 3 stories. The images and text submitted via this site are projected directly below it.

The project aims to create a parallel experience between urban and information spaces. Balloons filled with air are also filled with data: the body of air inside Urballoon becomes a metaphor of the content in the website. The globe displays the project's URL, becoming site in physical and digital contexts. Such a mobile architecture is highly extensible and reusable, enabling it to serve as a flexible platform for varying types of future urban applications.

Our conventional understanding of the urban condition and the distinction between private and public space has been blurred by the evolution of technology. Generation and distribution of mass media are also models undergoing a radical transformation. Urballoon is a probe being introduced into the flows of our current urbanity. This experimental architecture seeks to juxtapose emerging notions of mobility, P2P networking, syndication and blogging with traditional uses of social space, broadcasting and outdoor advertising.

Urballoon is a work in progress by Carlos J. Gomez de Llarena which started in 2002 and was presented at Spectropolis. >from *urballon site*.

Spectropolis: Mobile Media, Art and the City, an event (New York, october 1-3, 2004) that highlighted the diverse ways artists, technical innovators and activists are using communication technologies to generate urban experiences and public voice. The increasing presence of mobile communication technologies is transforming the ways we live, construct and move through our built environment. The participants of Spectropolis make obvious or play with this shift, creating new urban perceptions and social interactions with cell phones, laptops, wireless internet, PDAs and radio. Projects included a portable hearing device that transmits a soundscape responding to immediate surroundings (Sonic Interface by Akitsugu Maebayashi), an artificial flower that indicates the availability of wireless internet activity through luminescent color patterns (Hotspot Bloom by Karen Lee), a wired bicycle that chalks text messages from the web onto city streets (Bikes Against Bush by Joshua Kinberg) and a computer station for free download of digital art ephemera (WiFi Ephemera Cache by Julian Bleecker). >from *spectropolis site*.

related context
fused space: new technology in/as public space. july 23, 2004
> monitor public space: eyes in the skies, democracy in the streets. june 4, 2004
> the architecture of knowledge... the intelligent plaza ... village brain, multimedia information display sphere-space, planted as a tree within the Munich olympic village. concepts by cedric price.

media space balloons
over the former fields of raval and poble sec

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friday :: october 1, 2004
cityborg beta distro

cityborg is a cultural project oriented to build a digital open platform to generate social networks in our mediated environments. our open basis are the cityborg distro, a gnu/linux distribution, and the related internet node, cityborg.net.

we incorporate context weblog — information on arts, science, technology, and their intersections — to track the emerging culture and transform the news on cutting edge technologies in new features for cityborg distro.

the roots of cityborg are nurtured by the energy and growing dynamics of 'collective of collectives' in barcelona' underground. in this 'primordial soup' we feel the need for a new cultural tool that synthesyze and contribute to the new cultural movement (free software, urban explorers, diyers, hackivists...).

the borg live cd is a bootable cd-rom containing a gnu/linux operative system , that permits you to boot directly from the cd , without the need of an hard disk installation. the system is based on slax, the slackware linux live cd. features: kernel 2.4.27, the xorg graphical system, windowmaker , icewm , windowlabs as desktop managers and many programs , including... firefox ( browser ) , thunderbird ( e-mail client ) , gaim ( instant messenger ) , gnomemeeting ( video conference and telephony ), mplayer ( audio/video encoder/decoder ), xine ( video player ) , cinelerra and kino ( video editing ), pure data - pdp - pidip (real-time computer music software ), and jack (a low-latency audio server). >from *cityborg site*.

related context
knoppix linux live cd.
> dyne:bolic. 'shaped on the needs of media activists, artists and creatives as a practical tool for multimedia production.'
> x-evian. 'carefully chosen and configured for activist users, for liberated cultural, technological and social production.'
> a new cultural movement?. 'software becomes an engine of cultural innovation.' august 7, 2002

cityborg: the revolutionary potential of everyday life

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