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Main article: Neuroscience

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The first U.S. clinical trial of using an in-brain chip to fight opioid addiction is now underway

19:29 | 5 November

Opioid addiction is easily one of the top widespread healthcare issues facing the U.S., and research indicates we’re nowhere near achieving any kind of significant mitigating solution. But a team of medical researchers working at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) and West Virginia University Medicine (WVU) are beginning a new clinical trial of a solution that uses brain-embedded technology to potentially curb opioid addiction in cases that have resisted other methods of treatment

A team of neurosurgeons from RNI and WVU successfully implanted what’s called a ‘deep brain simulation’ or DBS devices into the brain of a 33-year old man, the first person to participate in the trial. The DBS device consists of a number of tiny electrodes, attached to specific parts of the brain that are known to be associated with addiction and self-control behaviours. The DBI should, in theory, be able to curb addiction as related impulses are sent, and also monitor cravings in real-time in the patient, providing valuable data to researchers about what’s occurring in cases of treatment-resistant opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction resulted in as many as 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people in West Virginia in 2017, WVU notes. That’s the highest rate of opioid-related death in the U.S. Other, less invasive treatment options are definitely available, including opioid alternatives that will provide pain relief to chronic sufferers like the one being developed by startup Code. But for existing sufferers, and especially for the significant portion of opioid addiction patients for whom other treatments have not proven effective, a high-tech option like DBS might be the only viable course.

This RNI trial will initially include four participants, who have all undergone thorough courses of treatment across a number of programs and yet continue to suffer from addition. The team involved also has extensive experience working with DBS in FDA-approved treatment of other disorders, including epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s definitely a last-resort approach, but if this clinical trial produces positive results, it could be an option to help the most serious of cases when all other options are exhausted.

 


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Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global is buying a startup that uses neuroscience to boost app usage

15:55 | 16 October

When Arianna Huffington stepped down from her role at the Huffington Post to start Thrive Global, she said the goal of her new business was to help a generation “avoid the burnout that all too often comes with success today.”

In practice, that has meant creating a business that sells mindfulness and general health and wellness tips and tricks to a cohort of corporations that believe increased mental and physical health can lead to greater on-the-job productivity.

Now, Thrive Global is adding a tech tool to its arsenal of cognitive behavioral therapies with the acquisition of the Los Angeles-based startup, Boundless Mind.

Originally called Dopamine Labs, the company was founded in 2015 to bring some of the same technologies that social media companies like Facebook used to boost engagement to a broader range of applications.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the stock and cash acquisition will see all nine members of the current Boundless team join Thrive Global. Previous Boundless investors including Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Esther Dyson will join Thrive Global’s cap table.

“We were very impressed by their neuroscience-based artificial intelligence that they used to power changes in behavior,” says Huffington. “We can use technology to hook people to unhook them from unhealthy behaviors.”

Boundless “epitomized the use of technology to encourage healthy habits,” Huffington says.

From Huffington’s perspective, most health problems in the U.S. are actually rooted in behavioral problems rather than biological ones. “Until 100 years ago, people died from infectious diseases… Now most people are dying from behaviors,” says Huffington, quoting Boundless Mind co-founder Dalton Combs.

Roughly 70% of healthcare spending in the U.S. goes to behavioral change and lifestyle-related conditions, says Huffington. Thrive Global tackles the issue through a combination of pop psychology and celebrity advice, while Boundless uses artificial intelligence and machine learning nudges.

The Boundless technology works by monitoring what activity is happening on the phone’s tap screen (similar to Apple’s screen time monitoring). What Boundless does on the back end is analyze that data and create prompts to encourage behavior — in much the same way that other companies’ apps have notifications to prompt re-engagement.

Going forward, the Boundless team is hoping to use more of the information coming from a phone’s increasing array of sensors to better refine its notifications. Results from the adoption of the company’s software vary, but Boundless points to data from apps spanning health, fitness, productivity, finance and e-commerce – including a 60% increase in walking, 30% increase in productivity and 21% increase in engagement around diet and exercise. 

APPROVED BOUNDLESS x AH PHOTO 1

Arianna Huffington and the co-founders and staffers of Boundless Mind

Thrive Global has three pillars to its business: live workshops, a digital health program called Thriving Academy, and a newer mental health focused package called Thriving Mind.

The company has already signed corporate partners like Accenture, JPMorgan, Hilton, Bank of America and Procter & Gamble, and Huffington says customers have already seen results in lower rates of employee attrition and better employee satisfaction results on surveys. 

These kinds of correlations don’t mean causation and the company is still working to better quantify the benefits of adopting its workplace wellness protocols. One of the places where Thrive Global is putting its brain training regime to the test is in call centers in Central America, 

“You can imagine how the Boundless intervention will allow us to hyper-personalize,” says Danny Shea, Thrive Global’s head of global expansion. In call centers that could mean prompting an employee to take a break after a long or stressful call.

“We’re thrilled to see the continued growth and market expansion at Thrive Global” said Somesh Dash, General Partner at IVP and member of Thrive Global’s Board of Directors. “The combination of Thrive’s mission and Boundless Mind’s technology is truly remarkable and the integration will help Thrive scale a game-changing and differentiated behavior change technology platform to enterprises around the world.”

To date Thrive Global has raised over $65 million from investors including JAZZ Venture Partners, IVP, Marc Benioff, Ray Dalio, and Kevin Durant.

 

 


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This startup just raised $8 million to help busy doctors assess the cognitive health of 50 million seniors

07:23 | 8 October

All over the globe, the population of people who are ages 65 and older is growing faster than every other age groups. According to United Nations data, by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65, up from one in 11 this year. Meanwhile, in Europe and North America, by 2050, one in four people could be 65 or over.

Unsurprisingly, startups increasingly recognize opportunities to cater to this aging population. Some are developing products to sell to individuals and their family members directly; others are coming up with ways to empower those who work directly with older Americans.

BrainCheck, a 20-person, Houston-based startup whose cognitive healthcare product aims to help physicians assess and track the mental health of their patients, is among the latter. Investors like what it has put together, too. Today, the startup is announcing $8 million in Series A funding round co-led by S3 Ventures and Tensility Venture Partners.

We talked earlier today with BrainCheck cofounder and CEO Yael Katz to better understand what her company has created and why it might be of interest to doctors who don’t know about it. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: You’re a neuroscientist. You started BrianCheck with David Eagleman, another neuroscientist and the CEO of NeoSensory, a company that develops devices for sensory substitution. Why? What’s the opportunity here?

YK: We looked across the landscape, and we realized that most cognitive assessment is [handled by] a subspecialty of clinical psychology called neuropsychology, where patients are given a series a tests and each is designed to probe a different type of brain function — memory, visual attention, reasoning, executive function. They measure speed and accuracy, and based on that, determine whether there’s a deficit in that domain. But the tests were classically done on paper and it was a lengthy process. We digitized them and gamified them and made them accessible to everyone who is upstream of neuropsychology, including neurologists and primary care doctors.

We created a tech solution that provides clinical decision support to physicians so they can manage patients’ cognitive health. There are 250,000 primary care physicians in the U.S. and 12,000 neurologists and [they’re confronting] what’s been called a silver tsunami. With so many becoming elderly, it’s not possible for them to address the need of the aging population without tech to help them.

TC: How does your product work, and how is it administered?

YK: An assessment is all done on an iPad and takes about 10 minutes. They’re typically administered in a doctor’s office by medical technicians, though they can be administered remotely through telemedicine, too.

TC: These are online quizzes?

YK: Not quizzes and not subjective questions like, ‘How do you think you’re doing?’ but rather objective tasks, like connect the dots, and which way is the center arrow pointing — all while measuring speed and accuracy.

TC: How much does it cost these doctors’ offices, and how are you getting word out?

YZ: We sell a monthly subscription to doctors and it’s a tiered pricing model as measured by volume. We meet doctors at conferences and we publish blog posts and white papers and through that process, we meet them and sell products to them, beginning with a free trial for 30 days, during which time we also give them a web demo.

[What we’re selling] is reimbursable by insurance because it helps them report on and optimize metrics like patient satisfaction. Medicare created a new code to compensate doctors for cognitive care planning though it was rarely used because the requirements and knowledge involved was so complicated. When we came along, we said, let us help you do what you’re trying to do, and it’s been very rewarding.

TC: Say one of these assessments enables a non specialist to determine that someone is losing memory or can’t think as sharply. What then?

YZ: There’s phrase: “Diagnose and adios.” Unfortunately, a lot of doctors used to see their jobs as being done once an assessment was made. It wasn’t appreciated that impairment and dementia are things you can address. But about one third of dementia is preventable, and once you have the disease, it can be slowed.  It’s hard because it requires a lot of one-on-one work, so we created a tech solution that uses the output of tests to provide clinical support to physicians so they can manage patients’ cognitive health. We provide personalized recommendations in a way that’s scalable.

TC: Meaning you suggest an action plan for the doctors to pass along to their patients based on these assessments?

YZ: There are nine modifiable risk factors found to account for a third of [dementia cases], including certain medications that can exacerbate cognitive impairment, including poorly controlled cardiovascular health, hearing impairment, and depression. People can have issues for many reasons — multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s — but health conditions like major depression and physical conditions like cancer and treatments like chemotherapy can cause brain fog. We suggest a care plan that goes to the doctor who then uses that information and modifies it. A lot of it has to do with medication management.

A lot of the time, a doctor — and family members — don’t know how impaired a patient is. You can have a whole conversation with someone during a doctor’s visit who is regaling you with great conversation, then you realize they have massive cognitive deficits. These assessments kind of put everyone on the same page.

TC: You’ve raised capital, how will you use it to move your product forward?

YK: We’ll be combining our assessments with digital biomarkers like changing voice patterns and a test of eye movements, and we have developed an eye-tracking technology and voice algorithms, but those are still in clinical development; we’re trying to get FDA approval for them now.

TC: Interesting that changing voice patterns can help you diagnose cognitive decline.

YK: We aren’t diagnosing disease. Think of us as a thermometer that [can highlight] how much impairment is there and in what areas and how it’s progressive over time.

TC: What can you tell readers who might worry about their privacy as it relates to your product?

YK: Our software is HIPAA compliant. We make sure our engineers are trained and up to date. The FDA requires that we we put a lot of standards in place and we ensure that our database is built in accordance with best practices. I think we’re doing as good a job as anyone can.

Privacy is a concern in general. Unfortunately, companies big and small have to be ever vigilant about a data breach.

 


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Researchers create first mind-controlled robot arm that works well without surgery

20:19 | 20 June

Carnegie Mellon researchers working with peers from the University of Minnesota have made a big breakthrough in brain-computer interface (BCI) and robotic technology: They’ve developed a way for a person to to control a robot arm with their minds – with no surgery or invasive procedures required to make it possible.

The mind-controlled robot in this experiment also showed a high degree of motor control, as it’s able to track a computer cursor as it moves across a screen. This is obviously a huge step forward in the field, since it proves the viability of controlling computers with your brain more generally, which could have all kinds of potential applications, not least of which are providing people with paralysis or other kinds of disorders that affect movement an alternative way to operate computerized devices.

To date, successful, highly precise demonstrations and executions of BCI tech in people has depended on systems that incorporate brain implants, which pick up the signals from inside the user. Implanting these devices is not only dangerous, but also expensive and not necessarily fully understood in terms of their long-term impact. This has led to them not being very widely used, which means only a few people have been able to benefit from their impact.

The CMU and University of Minnesota research team’s breakthrough is to develop a system that can deal with the lower signal quality that comes from using sensors that are used outside of the body applied to the skin instead. They were able to employ a combination of new sensing and machine learning technologies to grab signals from the user that are from deep within the brain, but without the kind of ‘noise’ that typically comes with noninvasive techniques.

This groundbreaking discovery might not even be that far away from changing the lives of actual patients – the research team intends to start clinical trials soon.

 


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Neurobehavioral health company Blackthorn pulls in $76 million from GV to treat mental disorders

19:08 | 13 June

There are numerous challenges to finding effective treatments for mental disorders. However, Blackthorn Therapeutics, a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health, is betting its technological approach to finding drugs that work will put it ahead of the competition. Lucky for them, GV and other biotech investors have shown they agree by adding another $76 million in Series B financing to the coffers.

Today, Blackthorn announced the close of its $76 million series B round from GV, Scripps Research, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and a bevy of other biotech investment firms, including Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Vertex Ventures HC, Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Biomatics Capita.

Blackthorn has been heads down the last couple of years on a clinical trial for a drug that could potentially treat mood disorders. In April, the company announced positive results from its phase I trial for the drug.

The company plans to use the funding to advance its clinical-stage programs for mood disorders as well as for potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder, advancing towards clinical investigation in 2020.

Brian Chee, a managing partner at Polaris Partners, Lori Hu, a managing director at Vertex Ventures HC, and Julie Sunderland, a managing director at Biomatics Capital have joined Blackthorn’s board as directors in conjunction with the funding.

Blackthorn also recently added two people to its executive team. Jane Tiller has joined as chief medical officer and Laura Hansen as vice president, corporate affairs.

“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” said Blackthorn’s president and COO Bill Martin, Ph.D. “Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”

 


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As Alzheimer’s costs soar, startups like Neurotrack raise cash to diagnose and treat the disease

19:00 | 11 June

As studies show that early diagnosis and preventative therapies can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, startups that are working to diagnose the disease earlier are gaining more attention and funding.

That’s a boon to companies like Neurotrack, which closed on $21 million in new financing led by the company’s previous investor, Khosla Ventures, with participation from new investors Dai-ichi Life and SOMPO Holdings.

Last year, the Japanese life insurance company, Dai-ichi Life partnered with Neurotrack to roll out a cognitive assessment tool to the company’s customers in Japan.

And earlier this year, the Japanese health insurer, SOMPO conducted a 16-week pilot with Neurotrack, where more than 550 of SOMPO’s employees took Neurotrack’s test and followed the Memory Health Program for four months. Neurotrack and SOMPO are now working to deepen and extend their partnership.

“As the global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow, the private sector is joining government and nonprofits to address the problem in their markets. In Japan, for example, traditional insurance companies are developing novel solutions that incorporate Neurotrack’s products to advance better memory health among its population,” said Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack Co-founder and CEO. “These partnerships are innovative models that we hope to replicate in other markets, enabling traditional insurance companies to create new markets while helping to address the Alzheimer’s crisis. And now they’re also investing in our company so these companies have two ways of doing well by doing good.”

Neurodegenerative disorders are becoming a more serious issue for the island nation — and the rest of the world. In fact, over the weekend the G20 first raised the possibility that aging populations could be a global risk.

“Most of the G20 nations already experience or will experience ageing,” Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, told reporters from Agence France Presse. “We need to discuss problems that arise with societal aging and how to deal with them.”

In the U.S., the estimated cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was an estimated $277 billion in 2018, according to a study cited by WebMD. Roughly $186 billion of those costs are borne by Medicare and Medicaid with another $60 billion in payments coming out-of-pocket. That number could top $1.1 trillion by 2050, according to the same report.

Neurotrack uses cognitive assessments that follow eye movements using the camera on a computer or mobile phone to create a baseline for cognitive functions. The company then uses a combination of brain training and diet, exercise, and sleep adjustments to try and improve cognitive function and health.

Its technology is one of several different approaches startups are taking to try and provide early diagnoses and potential preventative measures against the disease.

MyndYou is another company tackling neurodegenerative diagnostics uses an app to monitor movement among its users. The company assesses that data to determine whether there may be any issues related to cognitive function.  It recently partnered with the Japanese company Mizuho to test its efficacy among Japan’s aging population.

Then there’s Altoida, another startup which launched recently to tackle the cognitive assessment market. It uses augmented reality and a series of memory tests to assess brain function and attempt to detect neurodegeneration.

Neurotrack’s technology, based on research from Emory University, has managed to attract more than just Japanese corporations. Previous investors like Sozo Ventures, Rethink Impact, AME Cloud Partners, and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff have also thrown cash behind the company.

To date, the company has raised more than $50 million including $6.8 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Aging.

The company said its new investment will be used to develop new partnerships in additional global markets and continue research and development.

“One can now feel empowered to test for potential memory decline, given that Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program can help stave off cognitive decline. This fully integrated platform enables users to assess the state of their memory, reduce future risk for decline, and monitor progress in order to take better control of one’s memory health. We combine these tools with deep analytics to further target and personalize, creating a very powerful precision medicine solution,” said Kaplan. “Just as when you go on a diet, you use a scale to provide evidence that you’re losing weight. Neurotrack now has the equivalent of both a scale to measure and the Memory Health Program for cognitive health. This is a game-changer for dementia risk.”

Japan has national efforts targeting a reduction in the onset of dementia in 6% of people in their 70s by 2025 (the country has the world’s largest population of the elderly with over 20% of the country over the age of 65). Roughly 13 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s in Japan by 2025.

Part of the company’s success in fundraising comes from the results of a preliminary study that showed improved cognitive functions for people diagnosed with some decline in cognitive function after a year of using Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program. The company claims it has the the first fully integrated, clinically-validated platform that can assess a person’s cognition through its cognitive assessment — which can predict conversion from healthy to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or MCI to Alzheimer’s disease within 3 years at 89% accuracy, and within 6 years at 100% accuracy.

While that kind of assessment is good, Alzheimer’s symptoms can begin to appear as early as 25 years before the onset of the disease. So there’s still work to be done.

“Neurotrack has built an incredible integrative platform that is transforming our battle with Alzheimer’s,” said Jenny Abramson, Founder & Managing Partner of Rethink Impact. “Elli’s two decades of experience in the private sector and in government are helping her scale this solution to the millions of people suffering from cognitive decline around the world. We couldn’t be more excited to continue to support Neurotrack, given both the financial opportunity and the impact they are already having on this critical disease.”

 


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Lenovo leads $10M investment in 6-legged robot maker Vincross

19:00 | 19 February

Vincross, the company behind the six-legged robot Hexa, said on Tuesday that it’s picked up $10 million in a Series A+ funding round led by Lenovo Capital, the startup fund managed by Lenovo Group. Returning investor GGV Capital and newcomer Seekdource Capital also participated. The company declined to disclose its latest valuation but said the proceeds will go towards research and development as well as new product lines.

Neuroscience and artificial intelligence researcher Tianqi Sun started Vincross in Beijing back in 2016 when he raised $220,000 for Hexa on Kickstarter. At the time the insectile, programmable robot had separated itself from the horde of humanoids on the market by billing itself as the first robot that can climb stairs, making it suitable for firefighting and other rescue tasks.

Meanwhile, Lenovo’s interest in the startup underscores the personal computer giant’s intent to catch the impending robotics wave, which has been evident since it shelled out $500 million in 2016 for a new investment vehicle to back artificial intelligence, robot and cloud computing startups as the PC market dwindled. Some notable AI companies from its 100-plus portfolio are face recognition company Face++, chipmaker Cambricon and electric automaker Nio.

Beta testers have used the Mind Kit to build a salt-passing robot. Photo: Vincross

“Lenovo lead this round as they had an aligned vision with us on how the future of consumer electronics products that will be in everyone’s home will be robotics, similar to how this has been the case for laptops and computers, which Lenovo is also known for,” founder and chief executive Sun told TechCrunch.

Vincross also announced Tuesday a new developer kit called Mind to serve customers at all levels of building capacities. The firm says early testers have used it to build devices from a voice-controlled gadget that passes you salt and pepper at the dining table, to an all-terrain, legged robot that looks just like Hexa. Amateurs and professional developers can order the suite for $99 on Kickstarter before it gets retailed at $150, a pricetag Sun believes is competitive for consumer-facing robotic development kits.

Vincross already runs an open platform for developers to toy with new hacks for Hexa, upon which they can sell those skills through the company’s online marketplace. The firm has sold about 2,000 devices till this day to researchers, educators, young developers and more in 20 countries, with most of its sales coming from China and the U.S., where Vincross has set up overseas operations.

Within the space of robots for kids, Vincross faces competition from Shenzhen-based Makeblock, which raised $30 million in 2017 to build its development kit targeted at young programmers.

“The types of consumers [Mind Kit is] targeting should be in the process of learning basic programming skills but interested in robotics development, and so we anticipate interest from high school students or older, all the way up to robotics makers,” suggested Sun.

 


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Halo’s second-gen brain stimulating headphones run $399

00:54 | 10 January

Two and a half years after doing pushups on stage at Disrupt New York, Bay Area-based sports health company Halo Neuroscience is back with the second generation of its brain stimulating headphones.

The biggest update to the spiky wearable this time around is a newfound focus on the headphone aspect of the product. The Halo Sport 2 adds bluetooth audio — a nice change from its hardwired predecessor. After all, no one wants to be tethered while working out.

Co-founder Dr. Daniel Chao tells TechCrunch that it was one of the most requested feature from the first gen. People spending that much on a device like this wanted to be able to continue to use it as standard headphones when not training. There are little tweaks here and there to the hardware, as well, including the spiky contact strip, which is now one piece, so you can remove and dunk it in water more easily.

The other big difference here is price. The original headset ran close to $1,000. This one retails for $399 — or $299, if you get in early. That’s a pretty big dip in cost, and should go a ways toward getting the system into the hands of those of use who aren’t pro athletes. It’s still not cheap, but scale and funding have gone a ways toward helping mainstream the product.

The Sport 2 starts shipping in early April.

 


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Researchers are putting fish into augmented reality tanks

14:19 | 26 December

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, while testing the “station keeping” functions of the glass knifefish, have created an augmented reality system that tricks the animal’s electric sensing organs in real time. The fish keeps itself hidden by moving inside of its various holes/homes and the researchers wanted to understand what kind of autonomous sensing functions it used to keep itself safe.

“What is most exciting is that this study has allowed us to explore feedback in ways that we have been dreaming about for over 10 years,” said Eric Fortune, associate professor at NJIT. “This is perhaps the first study where augmented reality has been used to probe, in real time, this fundamental process of movement-based active sensing, which nearly all animals use to perceive the environment around them.”

The fish isn’t wearing a headset but instead the researchers have simulated the motion of a refuge waving in the water.

“We’ve known for a long time that these fish will follow the position of their refuge, but more recently we discovered that they generate small movements that reminded us of the tiny movements that are seen in human eyes,” said Fortune. “That led us to devise our augmented reality system and see if we could experimentally perturb the relationship between the sensory and motor systems of these fish without completely unlinking them. Until now, this was very hard to do.”

To create their test they put a fish inside a tube and synced the motion of the tube to the fish’s eyes. As the fish swam forward and backward, the researchers would watch to see what happened when the fish could see that it was directly effecting the motion of the refuge. When they synced the refuge to the motion of the fish, they were able to confirm that the fish could tell that the experience wasn’t “real” in a natural sense. In short, the fish knew it was in a virtual environment.

“It turns out the fish behave differently when the stimulus is controlled by the individual versus when the stimulus is played back to them,” said Fortune. “This experiment demonstrates that the phenomenon that we are observing is due to feedback the fish receives from its own movement. Essentially, the animal seems to know that it is controlling the sensory world around it.”

Whether or not the fish can play Job Simulator is still unclear.

“Our hope is that researchers will conduct similar experiments to learn more about vision in humans, which could give us valuable knowledge about our own neurobiology,” said Fortune. “At the same time, because animals continue to be so much better at vision and control of movement than any artificial system that has been devised, we think that engineers could take the data we’ve published and translate that into more powerful feedback control systems.”

 


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How machine learning systems sometimes surprise us

13:43 | 13 November

This simple spreadsheet of machine learning foibles may not look like much but it’s a fascinating exploration of how machines “think.” The list, compiled by researcher Victoria Krakovna, describes various situations in which robots followed the spirit and the letter of the law at the same time.

For example, in the video below a machine learning algorithm learned that it could rack up points not by taking part in a boat race but by flipping around in a circle to get points. In another simulation “where survival required energy but giving birth had no energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle that consisted mostly of mating in order to produce new children which could be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children).” This led to what Krakovna called “indolent cannibals.”

It’s obvious that these machines aren’t “thinking” in any real sense but when given parameters and a the ability to evolve an answer, it’s also obvious that these robots will come up with some fun ideas. In other test, a robot learned to move a block by smacking the table with its arm and still another “genetic algorithm [was] supposed to configure a circuit into an oscillator, but instead [made] a radio to pick up signals from neighboring computers.” Another cancer-detecting system found that pictures of malignant tumors usually contained rulers and so gave plenty of false positives.

Each of these examples shows the unintended consequences of trusting machines to learn. They will learn but they will also confound us. Machine learning is just that – learning that is understandable only by machines.

One final example: in a game of Tetris in which a robot was required to “not lose” the program pauses “the game indefinitely to avoid losing.” Now it just needs to throw a tantrum and we’d have a clever three-year-old on our hands.

 


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CrunchWeek: Apple Makes Music, Oculus Aims For Mainstream, Twitter CEO Shakeup
Peter Short
Noted Google maybe grooming Twitter as a partner in Social Media but with whistle blowing coming to…
Peter Short