Hacker le cerveau pour influer sur les décisions.

Le rêve de tout marketer, chaîne de télé ou dictateur (rayer la mention inutile) va se réaliser : des scientifiques ont piraté le cerveaux de macaques (nos plus proches cousins) et leur ont fait changer d’avis lors de prises de décision.
Pas encore un risque immédiat, la procédure passant par une opération chirurgicale mais déjà le scientifique de s’inquiéter du danger de cette procédure.

A rhesus macaque. Image: Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr

While your brain should still be safe from hackers for some time yet, a new study, in which macaques had their choices controlled by electrical impulses, adds to a growing body of work that suggests brains can be manipulated with a surprising degree of precision.

Using electrodes implanted in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a region deep in the brain associated with the reward circuitry of the brain, researchers were able to fundamentally influence the decision making of macaques. The work was published today in Current Biology.

The study, conducted by a joint team from KU Leuven in Belgium, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, consisted first of an A/B test in which macaques were shown a pair of images, and their preference for one or the other recorded. Some monkeys might prefer a picture of a ball, others a star, but in any case, the research team was able to glean a baseline preference for each individual.

Then came the big test: Could electrical microstimulation affect the results? Indeed, by applying small, regular electrical impulses to the VTA, the team "was capable of selectively reinforcing and motivating behavior during operant and Pavlovian conditioning paradigms." In other words, after flipping the switch, macaques that preferred image A picked image B, and vice versa.

I asked Wim Vanduffel, a co-author of the report, if the results suggest that electronically-controlled decision making is possible, to which he emailed, "Certainly so!"

The team used fMRI imaging to guide implantation of the electrodes.

"The data show that the preference of the monkeys changes quite dramatically," he wrote. "The effect was slightly larger in the first compared to the third animal, likely because of the positioning of the electrodes (but that is speculation)."

Of course, it’s more complex than simply plugging a wire into a monkey’s brain and controlling what it does. For one, the team, led by John Arsenault, still had to convince the macaques to actually go along with the game, which meant adding in an additional juice reward; the animals didn’t suddenly turn into robots.

"Indeed, we could not have the monkey ‘work’ for microstimulation alone," Vanduffel wrote. "In other words, to reinforce the operant behavior we used an additional reinforcer (juice)."

And lest you fear that your brain could be taken over by someone on the street, the effect of electrical stimulation on decision making requires the extremely precise placement of electrodes deep into the brain—something not likely to happen without you knowing.

"The targeting itself is probably ‘ever lasting’: once the electrodes are in the right locations (and if there are no complications), they probably will work for long periods of time," Vanduffel wrote. "The critical issue is to reach a sufficiently large number of VTA neurons. So positioning is very important—and not trivial."

Postoperative image confirming the planting of electroding in the VTA, deep in the brain.

I particularly like the way Vanduffel put it in a release, saying, "Of course, there is also a potential danger here: The method could be used maliciously to manipulate a person’s brain remotely without his knowledge. But as yet, there is no reason to worry. Non-invasive, high-precision methods for stimulating deep brain centers are not yet available."

Regardless, it’s more evidence that stimulating the brain is indeed possible. Previous work has focused on optical stimulation, including particularly futuristic research into controlling mice brains with lasers. Deep brain stimulation is already used in humans, but not with the direct decision-making effects of the most recent study. 

Perhaps the closest to the brain hacking concept—albeit for good—is DARPA’s interest in developing brain stimulation therapies for treating brain trauma, including PTSD. So while we’re a ways off from worrying about people hijacking our brains or an offshoot from the Matrix scenario, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the brain’s electrical processes can be manipulated with a fine degree of precision—and, one day, we may even be able to copy them.

"We’ve known for a long time that the ‘working of the brain’ can be reduced to the electrical activity of neurons," Vanduffel said. "If one were able to ‘mimick’ this artificially, one would have a working brain. Obviously, this is purely hypothetical since it seems impossible to mimick ~100 billion neurons, and many more connections between them."

Regardless, that we can tap into the electrical systems of the brain means a future where we can regulate our brains with more control than we can imagine now. It’s an area with huge potential for treatment of neurological disorders, as electrical implants could perhaps act with more precision than pharmacological treatmeants—just as long as they don’t get hacked.

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Crackopolis

Un impressionnant reportage en 15 épisodes sur le crack à Paris. Une claque surtout quand on a vécu dans les quartiers cités.

Une plongée lucide sans voyeurisme sur la vie d’un addict.

A écouter absolument.

ARTE Radio – crackopolis.

Caféine en salière.

Pour améliorer son repas déjà accompagné de redbull : de la caféine à saupoudrer comme du sel, histoire de rester « actif ».
Même une salade devient énergétique!

Ever eaten a salad and thought "wow, this lettuce is nice, but I sure wish it gave me a buzz, too?" Well, wonder no longer: CaffeinAll is here to turn anything and everything into an Energy Food™.

Powdered caffeine has been around for a minute, but CafeinAll, a new product from the folks over at Caffex (who brought us caffeinated marshmallows), promises to be something different. The particularly brazen idea, essentially, is to turn all foods into Red Bull replacements. 

Let Caffex explain. No, really. Let them explain from the beginning, like the, very beginning. The product’s explanatory video literally starts with the line "this is Earth," which you’ll learn is a planet where a type of living thing known as humans live and have created something known as the internet. You might have heard of it. And now, humans not unlike those who created the internet and skyscrapers have also created "the world’s only odorless, non bitter, take-with-you-anywhere, use with anything caffeine powder."

"Now any of your foods or drinks can become high powered energy foods," as opposed to being that stamina-sapping waste of time you’ve grown used to.

Here, I’ve done some math:

  • Strawberry + CaffeinAll = Energy Strawberry
  • Marshmallow + CaffeinAll = Energy Marshmallow 
  • Steak + CaffeinAll = Energy Steak
  • Peanut + CaffeinAll = Energy Peanut
  • Cocaine + CaffeinAll = Moderation
  • Palcohol + CaffeinAll = Big No-No ("NEVER Mix Caffeine and Alcohol!" Caffex explains)

"You know what the cool thing about energy drinks is? You get energy! You know what sucks? You spend a small fortune on these beverages and are usually left with a cracked out sugar hangover and upset stomach," a publicity firm for Caffex said to me in an email. "Want energy popping pancakes in the morning? Energy infused granola bars? Want to see your lunch salad take off like a rocket? How about a protein shake guaranteed to motivate your ass at the gym? All of this is possible with CaffeinAll."

You get the idea. 

CaffeinAll isn’t even a new thing—it has been around since last year, but the goal of selling this in a salt shaker is a new idea. The company has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help them with the new packaging. And, to be fair, Caffex isn’t the only company trying to find new ways to get you to take caffeine. Remember that caffeinated toothbrush patent? And there’s any number of others ways to get your fix.

In any case, literally advocating that people turn anything they want into that thing + caffeine seems somehow, I don’t know, crazy? 

And, really, why mess with putting it on food at all? It’s an odorless white powder, and caffeine goes "directly to your bloodstream" as one of its creators, "Steve," explains in the video. What happens if you snort it?

"It would wake your ass up immediately," the company’s spokesperson told me.

When eating it, "one shake does the trick for a lot of people. But, if you’re a deadline driven writing rockstar who is used to consuming large amounts of caffeine than it might take two or three shakes. Start with one," he told me. "I would wait on the snorting."

 Anyways, have at it, folks. Be careful out there.

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Illum

Une nouvelle excuse pour vendre un rein ou un enfant : déjà que le Lytro m’avait bien fait fantasmer, voici la version pro avec des spécifications qui font rêver mais surtout un changement radical sur comment construire une image, comment lui donner un sens, raconter une histoire.

A few tweaks here and there and this black brick will be Lytro’s Illum, a brand-new $1,599 camera designed to show professional photographers, and the world, the power of light-field photography. It’s the company’s second camera, the follow-up to its eponymous point-and-shoot that could refocus a photo after it was shot. The Illum does that better, and takes much better and more versatile pictures in general. But for Lytro, the real plan is only beginning to unfold. The company’s job, its mission, is to fundamentally change the way we think about images. To not just provide better, faster cameras that take beautiful pictures, but to reimagine what a picture is in the first place. That part hasn’t changed since the dawn of photography nearly two centuries ago, and Lytro believes it holds the keys to the next phase.

Lytro changed photography. Now can it get anyone to care? | The Verge.

Acheter sans jouer

J’ai une explication : la paternité

I am not ashamed to admit that I have taken advantage of Steam sales and Humble Bundles to amass a library of roughly 150 games for a fraction of the retail price. I am, however, ashamed to admit that I’ve only actually played about one-third of them…>

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Marre du Monopoly?

Voici les 10 meilleurs jeux anti capitalistes.
Second degré et poil à gratter inside.

Image: Molleindustria

Become a revolutionary in the comfort of your own home simply by playing video games. That’s the call to arms from independent Italian video game developer La Molleindustria (‘the soft industry’). Since 2003, Molleindustria has been creating web-based games that critique and satirize the worst tendencies of capitalism. Some of their most interesting offerings include Trademarkville, a game that frustrates the user by asking them to endlessly rename simple objects as more words become trademarked and banned, Phone Story, which puts players in the shoes of exploited Foxconn factory workers, and Unmanned, which invites the player to simulate the everyday life of a US drone pilot.

The games that Molleindustria creates all seem just a little perverse. Some of them are designed to be impossible to win, and force the player to make questionable ethical choices. The McDonald’s Video Game, for instance, allows players to visit every site of McDonald’s production and supply chains, from the slaughterhouses to the front lines of McDonald’s stores, administering the system all the way. Then there are their more bizarre offerings like Queer Power, which allows players to fuck instead of fight as their anatomies and gender identities continually morph, all within a classic Street Fighter setup.

Despite developing video games, however, Molleindustria is not a video game company. Instead, as their 2003 Molleindustria Manifesto states, “Molleindustria is theory and practice of soft conflict—sneaky, viral, guerrillero, subliminal conflict, through and within video games.” To Molleindustria, video games are a tactical tool in the struggle against capital. Their explicit goal with infusing video games with serious and often dark themes is to mount “a call for the radicalization popular culture.”

The mind is a battleground, according to the Manifesto, and one that is constantly “contended by services and commodities.” Their games provide a break from the constant barrage of promotionalism in pop culture.

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Les chaussettes seront sèches 30% plus vite.

C’est pas le tout de réchauffer le climat : l’évaporation de l’eau de toute la planète va être plus importante que prévue.
Une broutille : 30% de l’eau disponible

Drought at Lake Hume. Image: Flickr

Sure, scientists expect the changing climate to bring on more drought. There’s going to be less rainfall in already arid regions, that’s fairly certain. And that alone would be bad news for denizens of the planet’s dry zones—in some places in North Africa, the American Southwest, India, and the Middle East, water shortages could well become an existential threat to civilization. But new research shows that evaporation may be more of a problem than previously thought: Climate change could dry out up to a third of the planet. 

The study, published in the journal Climate Dynamics last month, estimates that climate change will cause reduced rainfall alone to dessicate 12 percent of the Earth’s land by 2100. But if evaporation is factored in, the study’s authors say that it will "increase the percentage of global land area projected to experience at least moderate drying by the end of the 21st century from 12 to 30 percent."

“We know from basic physics that warmer temperatures will help to dry things out,” the study’s lead author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement. “Even if precipitation changes in the future are uncertain, there are good reasons to be concerned about water resources.”

Writing in a 2011 literature review in the science journal Nature, the physicist Joe Romm elaborates on how increased heat and evaporation can lead to a vicious cycle: "Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature."

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Touché coulé

La civilisation les touche puis les tue.

Terena people in Brazil. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s a story we all know—Christopher Columbus discovers America, his European buddies follow him, they meet the indigenous people living there, they indigenous people die from smallpox and guns and other unknown diseases, and the Europeans get gold, land, and so on.

It’s still happening today in Brazil, where 238 indigenous tribes have been contacted in the last several decades, and where between 23 and 70 uncontacted tribes are still living. A just-published report that takes a look at what happens after the modern world comes into contact with indigenous peoples isn’t pretty: Of those contacted, three quarters went extinct. Those that survived saw mortality rates up over 80 percent. This is grim stuff.

Image: Scientific Reports

“Our analysis dramatically quantifies the devastating effects of European colonization on indigenous Amazonians. Not only did ~75 percent of indigenous societies in the Brazilian Amazon become extinct, but of the survivors, all show evidence of catastrophic population declines, the vast majority with mortality rates over 80 percent,” writes Marcus Hamilton of the University of New Mexico in a paper published in Scientific Reports. 

Those numbers shouldn’t be surprising—like I said, this isn’t much different from what has happened time and time again to the Native Americans, to the Incas, to the Mayans, and to hundreds of other small tribes throughout North and South America.

Sure, people don’t go in and kill entire tribes directly, they offer indigenous people the chance to assimilate into modern culture. But, as Hamilton notes, the trappings of modern society—access to better healthcare, technology, and education—haven’t improved tribes’ overall outcomes.

“We tested to see whether absolute year of contact (a proxy of the technological evolution of medicines), and other proxies of access to medicine including distance to major roads and distance to closest town had substantial effects on post-crash population growth rates. None of the effects were significant and so are not reported here,” Hamilton wrote.

It’s important that someone qualitatively took a look at the effect—it’s one thing to say “modern civilization killed the indigenous people,” another to have the cold, hard facts to back it up. 

But Hamilton also highlights the good news, which I’d argue is a little bit misguided. He notes that, after the initial “crash,” indigenous populations are often able to recover, and some of the communities have some of the highest growth rates in the world. I’m not calling Hamilton out here—if that’s what the data shows, it’s what it shows. And it’s better that the population "rebounds" rather than dies out completely. But that doesn’t excuse the crash in the first place.

I don’t know that we should be talking about these people’s deaths and their communities’ subsequent recovery as if we’re looking at our stock portfolio. Hamilton notes that “despite the catastrophic mortality of indigenous Amazonians over the 500+ year contact period, the surviving populations are remarkably resilient and remain demographically viable.”

That’s probably what’s running through these people’s minds when they watch their loved ones die: The demographic viability of their community as a whole, as if their imminent “recovery” isn’t one that’s plagued with a forced change in lifestyle, a loss of culture, the utter destruction and pollution of the land that they’ve lived in for lord knows how many years. Their numbers might recover in some cases, but what about what they lost in the process?

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Lentement et à l’envers

TOKYO REVERSE from Simon Bouisson on Vimeo.

Ready for Wut? Ready for war

L’arbre cache la forêt (radioactive)

Les arbres de la région de Tchernobyl ne se décompose pas. Ajoutez un temps sec, une allumette et on repart comme en 86

Image: Henri Sivonen

As if the Ukraine didn’t have enough to worry about these days with Russia invading Crimea, recent scientific research points to the very real threat of a nuclear forest fire. Great heavy metal band name aside, the forests around Chernobyl—the nuclear power plant that exploded 28 years ago—are not decaying properly and should it all catch fire, radioactive material would spread beyond Chernobyl’s Zone of Alienation, the off-limits 1000 square-miles around the decommissioned facility located 68 miles north of Kiev.

This Zone of Alienation has given environmental scientists much to study, with insects choosing to not live there and the birds that do live there developing abnormalities like deformed beaks, odd tail feather lengths, and smaller brains. The trees too, have been shady.  

Image: Inside Pripyat, one of Chernobyl’s evacuated cities/Eero Nevaluoto

Scientists who have been studying the environment inside the Zone of Alienation since 1991 noticed something about these trees, specifically what they described as “a significant accumulation of litter over time” in a study published recently in Oecologia. And by “significant,” they mean the trees are not decomposing and their leaves are just sitting there on the ground, not decomposing either. This is especially so in the Red Forest, an area of woodland around Chernobyl named thusly because the trees turned a ginger color and died due to the worst radiation poisoning in the area. In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, lead author of the study and biologist at the University of South Carolina Timothy Mousseau called all this non-decayed organic matter “striking, given that in the forests where I live, a fallen tree is mostly sawdust after a decade of lying on the ground.”

The reason for this lack of decay around Chernobyl is that microbes, bacteria, fungi, worms, insects, and other living organisms known as decomposers (because they feed on dead organisms) are just not there and not doing their jobs. Mousseau and his team discovered this after leaving 600 bags of leaves around Chernobyl in 2007. When they collected the bags in 2008, they found that the bags filled with leaves placed in areas with no radiation had decomposed by 70 to 90 percent, but the leaves in areas with radiation? They only decomposed about 40 percent. “There is growing concern that there could be a catastrophic fire in the coming years,” Mousseau told Smithsonian.

Besides getting rid of what is basically tinder for wildfires, decomposers are essential when it comes to plant growth because they put nutrients back into the soil, and back into the environment generally. The lack of decomposers could also explain why the trees that are alive around Chernobyl are growing very slowly. These Chernobyl trees cover about 660 square miles of the Zone of Alienation and have been absorbing radionuclides like strontium 90 (causes bone cancer) and cesium 137 (effects range from nausea to death) for almost three decades. If these trees are burned, these radionuclides would be released into the atmosphere as “as inhalable aerosols” reported Scientific American last year, citing a 2011 study. Besides inhaling cancer-causing particles in the air traveling hundreds of miles away, the biggest threat would be to food like milk and meat “produced as far as 90 miles from the fire.”

In fact, the threat of a Zone of Alienation wildfire spewing radioactive particles has been a concern among environmental scientists since 1992. The threat has only gotten worse due to the longer, drier summers attributed to climate change.  

There are firefighters stationed around the Zone of Alienation specifically for preventing a forest fire inside, but they’re “obviously not prepared for a major wildfire situation” says SA, with hardly any “professional training, protective suits or breathing apparatuses.” Firefighters currently scout for fires by climbing six watch towers a day, along with the help of one helicopter that is “occasionally available.” They do have a Soviet tank that has been retrofitted with a 20-foot-blade though, to chop down and crush the dead trees that refuse to decay currently littering the roadways. 

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Lammily : la Barbie aux mensurations normales bientôt sur le marché

L’année dernière, Nickolay Lamm avait montré à quoi ressemblerait une Barbie si elle était dotée de mensurations humaines réalistes. Afin de pouvoir commercialiser sa poupée basée sur le prototype en 3D, il a lancé une campagne appelée “Average is Beautiful” (“Dans la moyenne, c’est beau”) sur KickStarter. Alors qu’il reste quelques jours à la campagne, le […]

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