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One of the inspiring things about science and technology is that amazing discoveries, inventions, and just curious and astonishing developments keep happening day by day, compounding on one another to create an impression of progress of the sort we do not always get from watching the world of politics. In this first edition of "Now for Something Completely Different" I have three articles on advances in synthetic and real brain circuits.  

Photobucket(Before and after schematics illustrating volatile memory properties induced by application of voltage inputs. Notice how the WO3-X-5 filament looks like a Christmas tree in blue snow, image credit: MANA, NIMS)

Kurzweil brings us the story of Synaptic electronic circuits that learn and forget like neural processes, which may pave the way for new classes of electronic devices that simulate, and mimic neural circuits in the brain, and may open up new means of researching those with memory problems, and smart people who can't find their keys when they get high.  

Rui Yang, Kazuya Terabe and colleagues at the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), and the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA) in Japan and at the California NanoSystems Institute/UCLA have developed “nanoionic” (processes connected with fast ion transport in all-solid-state nanoscale systems) devices capable of a broad range of neuromorphic and electrical functions. ...

Synaptic devices that mimic the learning and memory processes in living organisms are attracting interest as an alternative to standard computing elements to help extend performance beyond current physical limits. However, artificial synaptic systems have been hampered by complex fabrication requirements and limitations in the learning and memory functions they mimic. ...

“These capabilities open a new avenue for circuits, analog memories, and artificially fused digital neural networks using on-demand programming by input pulse polarity, magnitude, and repetition history,” the researchers conclude.

For more information please read: On-Demand Nanodevice with Electrical and Neuromorphic Multifunction Realized by Local Ion Migration, by Rui Yang et al., in ACS Nano, 2012, DOI: 10.1021/nn302510e

A cartoon showing spikes of activity traveling among neurons (credit: UC Berkeley)

‘Neuristor’: memristors used to create neuron-like behavior

HP Labs researchers may have figured out a way to create a chip that generates neuron-like spikes (sharp signal pulses), using a combination of memristors and capacitors to create a spiking output pattern, Ars Technica reports.

Neurons encode information in the pattern and timing of  spikes. The researchers used a simplified model of neurons based on sodium-potassium ion channels to turn the neuron on and off.

Each unit consists of a capacitor (to allow it to build up charge) in parallel to a memristor (which allows the charge to be released suddenly. The combination produces spikes of activity as soon as a given voltage threshold is exceeded.

For more information please read A scalable neuristor built with Mott memristors, by Matthew D. Pickett, Gilberto Medeiros-Ribeiro, R. Stanley Williams, in Nature Materials, 2012, DOI: 10.1038/NMAT3510

And, I'm unable to resist the exquisite symmetry from a little noticed post I did on December 7, 2012, entitled MIT and Harvard researchers create 3D brain tissues in petri disk, where I report sort of an opposite development, circuits of real brain tissue simulating the function of electric circuits "manufactured" using  photomasking techniques similar to those developed for producing integrated circuit chips. Scientists at MIT and Harvard have developed an inexpensive way of Creating 3D brain tissues in a lab dish, using brain cells from the primary cortex of rats, opening up new areas of brain and neural research.  


(Graphic credit: U. Gurkan et al./Advanced Materials)

The new technique yields tissue constructs that closely mimic the cellular composition of those in the living brain, allowing scientists to study how neurons form 3D connections and to predict how cells from individual patients might respond to different drugs.

The work also paves the way for developing bioengineered implants to replace damaged tissue for organ systems, according to the researchers.

“We think that by bringing this kind of control and manipulation into neurobiology, we can investigate many different directions,” says Utkan Demirci, an assistant professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).

Other researchers have been growing other organ tissues in petri dishes, but other organs are more homogenous than the brain. The "incredible heterogeneity" of the brain presents special challenges as the brain contains intricate interconnections of diverse cell types, such as inhibitory and excitatory neurons, glia cells, and other support networks. This new technique allows sequential layering of these different types of cells, embedding them in plastic gel screens similar to overhead projector sheets rather than the vastly more expensive scaffolding grids used in integrated circuit technology.

Researchers have managed to get the resolution of their gel layer tissue cubes down to a width of 10 microns, which is similar to the size of a body cell. Their current goal is to create a cubic millimeter of brain tissue consisting of 100,000 cells with 900 million connections.  If we pause and think about that for a moment, we glimpse just the tip of the iceberg of the astounding complexity of a full human brain.

In the long term, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how to design tissue implants that could be used to replace damaged tissue in patients. Much research has been done in this area, but it has been difficult to figure out whether the new tissues are correctly wiring up with existing tissue and exchanging the right kinds of information.
In future work, doctors may be able to take brain cells from patients with certain neurological disorders and turn them into stem cells that can be grown in these 3-D lab dishes to help develop drugs targeted to these disorders much more quickly than would be the case if experiments had to be done to brain cells still attached to humans, where research is limited by human research ethics committees. (ho, ho, ho! I"m joking here, but this research does raise the question of at what point do we need to worry about networks of brain cells "experiencing pain?" )  

Maybe they need to hook these lab dish brains to some eyeballs, legs and vocal chords so they can do input-output tests. Of course, we need to start to prepare ourselves for the day one of these new lab dish creatures talks back and turns out to be smarter than we are. At the rate we are seeing such extraordinary advances in brain science this day may be sooner than we expect.

If you enjoyed this inaugural edition of And Now for Something Completely Different please sign up to follow me or this new group which will report interesting developments in space, science, technology, humor, the arts, or other different areas completely at random.  

Happy Holidays, Peace on Earth, and a Happy New Year

Originally posted to And Now for Something Completely Different on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 03:46 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The first artificial neural networks were (21+ / 0-)

    done by Rashevsky at Chicago in the 1930s.  Turing later did what Rashevsky did.  I was there with Rashevsky in the Early 1960s.   By this time we were into modern relational systems and complexity and knew the electronic neural networks were a detour from understanding nervous system function.   His paper introducing relational ideas was in 1954.

    The term "Artificial Inteligence" is one of sciences biggest mistakes.   The real name is "machine intelligence"  I have work with electronic neural networks for over 30 years.

    Our new book explains why these toys are never going to be anything but "machine intelligence"

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 03:59:57 PM PST

    •  Thanks don. One of the reasons I love posting here (13+ / 0-)

      is I always can count on learning many new things. Do I remember correctly that you have posted many brilliant posts on system science and complexity theory? If so, this may explain your own person evolution?

      So you do not think some variation of these kinds of real, or synthetic brain circuits will ever gain "self-awareness?"  

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:05:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Even lower animals are far ahead of the best (11+ / 0-)

        these toys can hope for.  This discussion was over  well over 20 years ago.  The best modern work showing that organisms are not computable is this book by A Louie:More Than Life Itself: A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology (Categories)  Louie's use of category theory is sound as are his proofs.  My paper following up on Louie's book is:Even More than Life Itself: Beyond Complexity  Axiomathes
        September 2011, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 455-471  Is built on that book's results and is a stepping stone to my book with Jim Coffman: Global Insanity: How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World

        Our chapter on the "mythology of mechanisms" is a good, up to date summary of these issues.

        An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

        by don mikulecky on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:20:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks Don. These publications are impressive. (8+ / 0-)

          One reason I published the third article about real brain stems cells being printed in 3-D scaffolding, that then grow their own connections,  is to show how quickly researchers are exceeding the artificial electrical circuits in numbers of connections.

          The current project is to grow a designed brain structure out of real rat brain stem cells that will have a cubic millimeter of brain tissue consisting of 100,000 cells with 900 million connections.

          It is only a matter of time before these are hooked up to eyeballs, and other input and output organs, where I suspect we will start to learn about the relationships between the internal brain connections that form in response to different types of external stimulation.  

          The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

          by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:31:04 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  One of the most successful applications (10+ / 0-)

            of the relational approach is in brain plasticity.  We have years of studies showing conclusively that brain function is not localized.  The idea that you can learn about brain function from studiing neurons is also a dead end.  For example:The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

            Norman Doidge, M.D.,
            is a renowned research psychiatrist and author of the bestselling book, The Brain That Changes Itself. He has written over 170 articles—scientific and popular—that have appeared in several media outlets such as the U.S. News and World Report, the Medical Post and the back-page essay for Time Magazine. He was also featured in the PBS special, The Brain Fitness Program, which became the most successful TV fund raising drive in PBS’s history.

            What is brain plasticity? Why did it take so long for scientists to discover that the brain is plastic and can change? What future developments can we expect in the field of brain plasticity? Listen to Norman Doidge and Dr. Michael Merzenich discuss these questions.

            Learn about this great scientific finding!
            Read “Chapter 3: Redesigning the brain,” from Dr. Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself. It features Posit Science’s co-founder Dr. Michael Merzenich’s breakthrough research on brain plasticity.

            The first chapter of this book is about the late Professor Bach-y-Rita who worked with Steve Kercel from our group.  Steve taught him the relational approach and he took off with it.

            We are seeing strokes cured and all kinds of learning disorders helped by this approach.  Just so you don't think it is all theory.  It works better than anything we ever knew!

            An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

            by don mikulecky on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:44:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Would it be possible to derive patterns (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HoundDog, mike101

            that respond to entirely new stimuli than the traditional senses.

            I'm talking sensitivity to radio and/or high-end EM spectra, magnetic fields or sensitivity or topical sensitivity to chemical traces.

            •  A brilliant possibility cskhendrick. I suspect (4+ / 0-)

              once they start growing different kinds of neuro-receptors such as the rattle snack ability to perceive infrared, and sharks and certain ells who are reported to perceive electro-magnetic fields, it will soon be anything goes, as far as these kinds of possibilities.

              Long, long ago, in my first year at Cornell as an electrical engineering student enrolled in a biology class, I proposed   a way that certain migratory birds might be able to detect electromagnetic waves with arrays of cells containing ions that would interact with electric fields.  It created quite a commotion and I was brought all the way up to the department head, who dismissed the idea saying the particular birds involved had no such known cells.

              I dropped out and moved to Boston, came back into Academia via a back door at MIT, and the Harvard night school, in a different field, so it turned out not to go anywhere, but I've always found these issues to be fascinating.  

              The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

              by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:10:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, it is interesting that there exist magnetic (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cskendrick, HoundDog, Larsstephens

                and electrical sense organs. Downconverting radio frequencies may be an issue...but look at the simple crystal radio that puts out an audio frequency using a bit of natural rectifying crystal.

                -- We are just regular people informed on issues

                by mike101 on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:17:42 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  the other side of the coin - field propagation (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                HoundDog, Larsstephens

                Perhaps ... if there is even such an animal - a biochemical chain with piezoelectric properties.

                On the topic of migrations, insect migrations like with monarch butterflies seem to depend in part on very accurate timekeeping, perhaps tying in to location of the sun.

                After all, once Europeans had good timepieces (read: longitude) that plus shooting stars (and the sun at specific times of day) made navigation child's play.

                Maybe butterflies got a 100-million year drop on us. :)

    •  Then there was Frank Rosenblatt's (6+ / 0-)

      Perceptron which I found fascinating back when I was in college back in the late 1960s.

      The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

      by Mr Robert on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:00:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great post. (8+ / 0-)

    You continue to rock this place.

    (Of course, these are favorite topics of mine, so I may be biased.)

    Denial is a drug.

    by Pluto on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 04:08:37 PM PST

  •  I saw this... (5+ / 0-)

    using brain cells from the primary cortex of rats,

     I am guessing this would be vivisection?

    •  You are probably correct. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:20:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I will admit (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        this article and the information in it is way above my level of understanding. However, and to put it mildly, I am troubled that animals are still sentenced to a life of being nothing more than a test subject in order to satisfy  the whims and aims of science. I hope for the day that we abolish this practice. I know it may be  wishful thinking, but we can still hope and work for something better .

        •  I understand and share much of your concern which (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Larsstephens, Fabiano1

          is one reason I brought up the whole issue of ethics and the question of when do we need to become concerned that these artificially grown brains become self-aware and capable of suffering pain?

          Compassion for the suffering of other sentient being is a noble virtue and  transcends and trumps any technical details I think, so I believe your concerns are justified.

          I'm sorry it had not occurred to me to think about where there were harvesting these brain stem cells, but most likely they are from rat fetuses, so your concerns are well founded.

          There has been progress in clowning stem cells so this development might greatly reduce any suffering of the lab animals, as once the cell lines are established further animal sacrifice may not be necessary.

          And, some of my scientist friends tell me that they prefer standardized cell lines to improve their experimental control.

          The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

          by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:20:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wait till THIS gets tacked on (4+ / 0-)


    Optogenetics is the integration of optics and genetics to control precisely defined events within specific cells of living tissue [1] even within freely moving animals, with the temporal precision (millisecond-timescale) needed to keep pace with functioning intact biological systems, and with suitably fast and precise methods for reading out the effects of optogenetic control.

    In 2012 Gero Miesenböck was awarded the InBev-Baillet Latour International Health Prize for "pioneering optogenetic approaches to manipulate neuronal activity and to control animal behaviour."

    In 2010 Karl Deisseroth was awarded the inaugural HFSP Nakasone Award for "for his pioneering work on the development of optogenetic methods for studying the function of neuronal networks underlying behavior."

    •  Super cool. Check out my response to your other (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cskendrick, Larsstephens

      brilliant post on perceptions of electro-magnetic waves.

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:11:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Wow. Direct excitation or silencing of (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cskendrick, HoundDog, Larsstephens

      neurons/neural pathways via implanted fiber optics that change the configuration of properly placed controllable molecules.
      Artificial signaling. Computer generated patterns taken to mean whatever was trained to follow from them.
      Eventually...Plug into the Matrix?
      Hang on to your hats, folks.

      -- We are just regular people informed on issues

      by mike101 on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 06:44:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That, or broadcast behavioral modification (4+ / 0-)

        Say someone figures out how to, oh, make a flock of seagulls go postal on an idyllic coastal town?

        Then a little later, install mood modifiers in clubs (party, buy more drinks, yay)

        Or tweak high-definition TVs and web videos to make those sales messages a LOT punchier.

        Oh. Then come the campaign commercials.

        .... then the good stuff

        no such thing  as insomnia

        induced comas for surgery

        the reverse - means to pull people FROM comas

        and ramp this puppy up to the logical conclusion: laser mediated gene expression...regeneration becomes child's play. stem cell inducement (and direction) and last but not least much more finessed experimentation of the types speculated in the diary.

  •  They can't be very smart if they didn't learn (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to ALWAYS put their keys in the same place ALL the time.

    Then it simply becomes a matter of remembering, while high, what exactly they are always supposed to do with their keys, and why that is important.

    Driving across town to the only store open that sells Triple Chocolate Drumsticks (chocolate and nuts hard shell topping and covering the inside of the cone, chocolate ice cream, and a tunnel of chocolate running through the ice cream) at 2:00 am. is an important reason...

    Now where the fuck is it I always leave my keys? I hafta go to the store.

    Just your average every day Autistic hillbilly/biker/activist/union steward with an engineering degree.

    by Mentatmark on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 09:13:13 PM PST

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