Arquivo da tag: Tecnofetichismo

Will we ever have cyborg brains? (IO9)

Will we ever have cyborg brains?

DEC 19, 2012 2:40 PM

By George Dvorsky

Over at BBC Future, computer scientist Martin Angler has put together a provocative piece about humanity’s collision course with cybernetic technologies. Today, says Angler, we’re using neural interface devices and other assistive technologies to help the disabled. But in short order we’ll be able to radically enhance human capacites — prompting him to wonder about the extent to which we might cyborgize our brains.

Angler points to two a recent and equally remarkable breakthroughs, including a paralyzed stroke victim who was able to guide a robot arm that delivered a hot drink, and a thought-controlled prosthetic hand that could grasp a variety of objects.

Admitting that it’s still early days, Angler speculates about the future:

Yet it’s still a far cry from the visions of man fused with machine, or cyborgs, that grace computer games or sci-fi. The dream is to create the type of brain augmentations we see in fiction that provide cyborgs with advantages or superhuman powers. But the ones being made in the lab only aim to restore lost functionality – whether it’s brain implants that restore limb control, or cochlear implants for hearing.

Creating implants that improve cognitive capabilities, such as an enhanced vision “gadget” that can be taken from a shelf and plugged into our brain, or implants that can restore or enhance brain function is understandably a much tougher task. But some research groups are being to make some inroads.

For instance, neuroscientists Matti Mintz from Tel Aviv University and Paul Verschure from Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, are trying to develop an implantable chip that can restore lost movement through the ability to learn new motor functions, rather than regaining limb control. Verschure’s team has developed a mathematical model that mimics the flow of signals in the cerebellum, the region of the brain that plays an important role in movement control. The researchers programmed this model onto a circuit and connected it with electrodes to a rat’s brain. If they tried to teach the rat a conditioned motor reflex – to blink its eye when it sensed an air puff – while its cerebellum was “switched off” by being anaesthetised, it couldn’t respond. But when the team switched the chip on, this recorded the signal from the air puff, processed it, and sent electrical impulses to the rat’s motor neurons. The rat blinked, and the effect lasted even after it woke up.

Be sure to read the entire article, as Angler discusses uplifted monkeys, the tricky line that divides a human brain from a cybernetic one, and the all-important question of access.

Image: BBC/Science Photo Library.

Emerging Ethical Dilemmas in Science and Technology (Science Daily)

Dec. 17, 2012 — As a new year approaches, the University of Notre Dame’s John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values has announced its inaugural list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology for 2013.

The Reilly Center explores conceptual, ethical and policy issues where science and technology intersect with society from different disciplinary perspectives. Its goal is to promote the advancement of science and technology for the common good.

The center generated its inaugural list with the help of Reilly fellows, other Notre Dame experts and friends of the center.

The center aimed to present a list of items for scientists and laypeople alike to consider in the coming months and years as new technologies develop. It will feature one of these issues on its website each month in 2013, giving readers more information, questions to ask and resources to consult.

The ethical dilemmas and policy issues are:

Personalized genetic tests/personalized medicine

Within the last 10 years, the creation of fast, low-cost genetic sequencing has given the public direct access to genome sequencing and analysis, with little or no guidance from physicians or genetic counselors on how to process the information. What are the potential privacy issues, and how do we protect this very personal and private information? Are we headed toward a new era of therapeutic intervention to increase quality of life, or a new era of eugenics?

Hacking into medical devices

Implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers, are susceptible to hackers. Barnaby Jack, of security vendor IOActive, recently demonstrated the vulnerability of a pacemaker by breaching the security of the wireless device from his laptop and reprogramming it to deliver an 830-volt shock. How do we make sure these devices are secure?

Driverless Zipcars

In three states — Nevada, Florida, and California — it is now legal for Google to operate its driverless cars. Google’s goal is to create a fully automated vehicle that is safer and more effective than a human-operated vehicle, and the company plans to marry this idea with the concept of the Zipcar. The ethics of automation and equality of access for people of different income levels are just a taste of the difficult ethical, legal and policy questions that will need to be addressed.

3-D printing

Scientists are attempting to use 3-D printing to create everything from architectural models to human organs, but we could be looking at a future in which we can print personalized pharmaceuticals or home-printed guns and explosives. For now, 3-D printing is largely the realm of artists and designers, but we can easily envision a future in which 3-D printers are affordable and patterns abound for products both benign and malicious, and that cut out the manufacturing sector completely.

Adaptation to climate change

The differential susceptibility of people around the world to climate change warrants an ethical discussion. We need to identify effective and safe ways to help people deal with the effects of climate change, as well as learn to manage and manipulate wild species and nature in order to preserve biodiversity. Some of these adaptation strategies might be highly technical (e.g. building sea walls to stem off sea level rise), but others are social and cultural (e.g., changing agricultural practices).

Low-quality and counterfeit pharmaceuticals

Until recently, detecting low-quality and counterfeit pharmaceuticals required access to complex testing equipment, often unavailable in developing countries where these problems abound. The enormous amount of trade in pharmaceutical intermediaries and active ingredients raise a number of issues, from the technical (improvement in manufacturing practices and analytical capabilities) to the ethical and legal (for example, India ruled in favor of manufacturing life-saving drugs, even if it violates U.S. patent law).

Autonomous systems

Machines (both for peaceful purposes and for war fighting) are increasingly evolving from human-controlled, to automated, to autonomous, with the ability to act on their own without human input. As these systems operate without human control and are designed to function and make decisions on their own, the ethical, legal, social and policy implications have grown exponentially. Who is responsible for the actions undertaken by autonomous systems? If robotic technology can potentially reduce the number of human fatalities, is it the responsibility of scientists to design these systems?

Human-animal hybrids (chimeras)

So far scientists have kept human-animal hybrids on the cellular level. According to some, even more modest experiments involving animal embryos and human stem cells violate human dignity and blur the line between species. Is interspecies research the next frontier in understanding humanity and curing disease, or a slippery slope, rife with ethical dilemmas, toward creating new species?

Ensuring access to wireless and spectrum

Mobile wireless connectivity is having a profound effect on society in both developed and developing countries. These technologies are completely transforming how we communicate, conduct business, learn, form relationships, navigate and entertain ourselves. At the same time, government agencies increasingly rely on the radio spectrum for their critical missions. This confluence of wireless technology developments and societal needs presents numerous challenges and opportunities for making the most effective use of the radio spectrum. We now need to have a policy conversation about how to make the most effective use of the precious radio spectrum, and to close the digital access divide for underserved (rural, low-income, developing areas) populations.

Data collection and privacy

How often do we consider the massive amounts of data we give to commercial entities when we use social media, store discount cards or order goods via the Internet? Now that microprocessors and permanent memory are inexpensive technology, we need think about the kinds of information that should be collected and retained. Should we create a diabetic insulin implant that could notify your doctor or insurance company when you make poor diet choices, and should that decision make you ineligible for certain types of medical treatment? Should cars be equipped to monitor speed and other measures of good driving, and should this data be subpoenaed by authorities following a crash? These issues require appropriate policy discussions in order to bridge the gap between data collection and meaningful outcomes.

Human enhancements

Pharmaceutical, surgical, mechanical and neurological enhancements are already available for therapeutic purposes. But these same enhancements can be used to magnify human biological function beyond the societal norm. Where do we draw the line between therapy and enhancement? How do we justify enhancing human bodies when so many individuals still lack access to basic therapeutic medicine?

Reading history through genetics (Columbia University)

5-Dec-2012, by Holly Evarts

New method analyzes recent history of Ashkenazi and Masai populations, paving the way to personalized medicine

New York, NY—December 5, 2012—Computer scientists at Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have published a study in the November 2012 issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG) that demonstrates a new approach used to analyze genetic data to learn more about the history of populations. The authors are the first to develop a method that can describe in detail events in recent history, over the past 2,000 years. They demonstrate this method in two populations, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Masai people of Kenya, who represent two kinds of histories and relationships with neighboring populations: one that remained isolated from surrounding groups, and one that grew from frequent cross-migration across nearby villages.

“Through this work, we’ve been able to recover very recent and refined demographic history, within the last few centuries, in contrast to previous methods that could only paint broad brushstrokes of the much deeper past, many thousands of years ago,” says Computer Science Associate Professor Itsik Pe’er, who led the research. “This means that we can now use genetics as an objective source of information regarding history, as opposed to subjective written texts.”

Pe’er’s group uses computational genetics to develop methods to analyze DNA sequence variants. Understanding the history of a population, knowing which populations had a shared origin and when, which groups have been isolated for a long time, or resulted from admixture of multiple original groups, and being able to fully characterize their genetics is, he explains, “essential in paving the way for personalized medicine.”

For this study, the team developed the mathematical framework and software tools to describe and analyze the histories of the two populations and discovered that, for instance, Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of a small number—in the hundreds—of individuals from the late medieval times, and since then have remained genetically isolated while their population has expanded rapidly to several millions today.

“Knowing that the Ashkenazi population has expanded so recently from a very small number has practical implications,” notes Pe’er. “If we can obtain data on only a few hundreds of individuals from this population, a perfectly feasible task in today’s technology, we will have effectively collected the genomes of millions of current Ashkenazim.” He and his team are now doing just that, and have already begun to analyze a first group of about 150 Ashkenazi genomes.

The genetic data of the Masai, a semi-nomadic people, indicates the village-by-village structure of their population. Unlike the isolated Ashkenazi group, the Masai live in small villages but regularly interact and intermarry across village boundaries. The ancestors of each village therefore typically come from many different places, and a single village hosts an effective gene pool that is much larger than the village itself.

Previous work in population genetics was focused on mutations that occurred very long ago, say the researchers, and therefore able to only describe population changes that occurred at that timescale, typically before the agricultural revolution. Pe’er’s research has changed that, enabling scientists to learn more about recent changes in populations and start to figure out, for instance, how to pinpoint severe mutations in personal genomes of specific individuals—mutations that are more likely to be associated with disease.

“This is a thrilling time to be working in computational genetics,” adds Pe’er, citing the speed in which data acquisition has been accelerating; much faster than the ability of computing hardware to process such data. “While the deluge of big data has forced us to develop better algorithms to analyze them, it has also rewarded us with unprecedented levels of understanding.”


Pe’er’s team worked closely on this research with study co-authors, Ariel Darvasi, PhD of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was responsible for collecting most of the study samples, and Todd Lencz, PhD of Feinstein institute for Medical Research, who handled genotyping of the DNA samples. The team’s computing and analysis took place in the Columbia Initiative in Systems Biology (CISB).

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The computing facility of CISB is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Belo Monte é um monstro do desenvolvimentismo” (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4604, de 16 de Outubro de 2012

Antropóloga critica a construção de hidrelétrica no Xingu, afirmando que ela causará mais impactos do que benefícios, podendo afetar até, a longo prazo, tradições indígenas.

Enquanto indígenas de diversas etnias, além de pescadores, ribeirinhos e pequenos agricultores ocupavam o canteiro de obras da hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, no Sul do Pará, numa manifestação contra a construção da usina, a antropóloga Carmen Junqueira fazia um balanço de suas pesquisas com os povos da região, no auditório da PUC de São Paulo, durante o Colóquio Transformações da Biopolítica, no último dia 10.

Foi pouco depois da criação do Parque Indígena do Xingu, pelo então presidente Jânio Quadros e por pressão dos irmãos Villas-Boas, que ela pisou na região pela primeira vez e se deparou com uma paixão que entrou em seus estudos, na vida particular, e em sua casa: os povos indígenas do Alto Xingu, especialmente os Kamaiurá, até hoje referência importante de cultura indígena. Desde 1965, ela os visita periodicamente e até os recebe em casa, em São Paulo, acompanhando mudanças, principalmente em decorrência do desenvolvimento econômico que tirou as aldeias do isolamento.

Em quase 50 anos estudando a etnia, ela tem analisado o contato cada vez maior com a cultura branca, e enxerga parte das novas características nas aldeias como inerentes ao processo. Mas o discurso analítico da antropóloga muda quando o assunto é Belo Monte. Em meio segundo de resposta, ela afirma: “Sou contra”. Carmen classifica a construção da hidrelétrica, que está sendo tocada pelo consórcio Norte Energia – responsável pela construção e operação de Belo Monte – como parte de um projeto desenvolvimentista do governo que atropela o valor histórico e cultural das populações locais.

Como a senhora vê a ocupação que está acontecendo neste momento nos canteiros de obra da Norte Energia, no Sudoeste do Pará?

Os ocupantes estão defendendo sua própria sobrevivência. A maioria de nós desconhece os saberes dos povos indígenas, ribeirinhos e outros tantos que zelam pela natureza. Eles representam a quebra da monótona subserviência consumista, oferecendo diversidade e originalidade. Nós não sabemos, mas eles estão igualmente nos defendendo.

Por conta do progresso, que tem sido a palavra de ordem no País?

Eles estão nos defendendo de uma fúria desenvolvimentista. Sou totalmente contra grandes hidrelétricas. Sei que temos de gerar energia, mas o impacto desses empreendimentos monstruosos é muito danoso. Acredito em outro modelo, mais local, com pequenas centrais, energia das ondas do mar, do sol. Conheço a hidrelétrica de Tucuruí (no Rio Tocantins, no Pará) e, quando estive lá, não consegui nem enquadrá-la numa foto, dado o tamanho do monstro. E a história de Balbina (no estado do Amazonas) todo mundo já conhece, trata-se de um empreendimento com grandes impactos, incompatíveis com os benefícios.

A senhora esteve em Altamira, em cujas imediações estão sendo feitas as obras de Belo Monte. Quando foi isso, e qual era o cenário lá?

Estive lá logo que o burburinho começou, vi o projeto de perto, conversei com as pessoas. O que está acontecendo lá é um desenvolvimento a qualquer custo. Vai afetar muitos povos indígenas, como os Kaiapós e Juruna, além de populações rurais. Não sei como vai ficar quando estiver pronto, os impactos nas populações, porém, serão imensos. E essa energia gerada vai para indústrias, o zé povinho mesmo não leva quase nada para si.

E os Kamaiurá, foco principal de seus estudos desde a década de 1960, serão afetados?

Os Kamaiurá ficam um pouquinho mais para baixo no Pará. Diretamente não serão afetados, mas hoje o que acontece na região do Xingu afeta a todos. Eles não estão mais isolados. Haverá consequências secundárias. Muda a flora, muda a fauna, isso afeta as populações, que são expulsas e não participam do processo. Quando dizem “ah, mas é pouco o que será usado de território”, é um argumento pífio. O território é deles, e, por tudo que fizemos com os povos indígenas, temos pelo menos uma dívida moral com eles.

Quais são as principais mudanças que a senhora já registrou no comportamento do povo Kamaiurá desde o início de suas incursões ao local?

Como todo povo indígena, eles gostam muito de mel. De repente o açúcar surge como um produto baratíssimo. Isso começou desde a época dos irmãos Villas-Boas, que, no entanto não gostavam que os índios adquirissem todos os nossos hábitos. Depois da década de 1990, os Kamaiurá começaram a comprar muito açúcar, em pacotes de cinco quilos. Hoje já tem uma moça com diabetes na aldeia. O que quero dizer com isso? Essa entrada do capitalismo mudou o comportamento nas aldeias. Vai mudando o paladar. O capitalismo coloniza até o apetite dos índios, que passaram a consumir o que nós consumimos. Hoje, as listas de presentes que eles me pedem para quando voltar têm produtos para depilação, embelezamento dos cabelos, e outras coisas que classifico na categoria novidades, que vão desde cachorros a aparelhos eletrônicos. Os jovens hoje têm acesso às redes sociais, o que traz mais mudanças ainda. Eles têm um programa de rádio e, outro dia, foram me entrevistar novamente. Pela primeira vez, um deles passou a palavra ao outro dizendo “É com você, Bené”. Isso não é coisa de futebol? Hoje eles cobram hospedagem, cobram por direito de imagem. Já entenderam a economia monetária, embora para eles a troca ainda seja o primordial.

A ecopolítica, foco do colóquio de hoje, propõe-se a analisar práticas de gestão que incluem mecanismos de controle das populações, dentro da democracia participativa. Quais são os impactos desse controle sobre os povos indígenas?

Eles estão passando por várias mudanças e teoricamente têm mais poder de participação, mas não é real. E sobre mudanças no cotidiano, eles encaram como naturais. Só entram na defensiva mesmo quando pode haver impactos na tradição. Fiz entrevistas na aldeia para descobrir o que eles chamavam de tradição. São ritos e mitos, o que eles mais valorizam. Ainda não é o dinheiro. Enquanto tradição para nós tem a ver com rotina de trabalho, de família, filhos, para eles é a arte. Isso é o que mais valorizam.

E isso tudo pode ser afetado por esses grandes empreendimentos?

Essa perda cultural deve entrar no cálculo dessas grandes obras. Mas não entra, ninguém dá valor a isso. Os grandes empreendimentos modificam a flora e a fauna; é possível que o regime dos peixes se altere. A sobrevivência dos xinguanos pode ser afetada. O maior perigo é com a alimentação precarizada, e que eles comecem a se voltar para o turismo ecológico. Seria desastroso se começassem a realizar suas cerimônias até para inglês ver. Com o tempo, essas cerimônias poderiam perder seu caráter aglutinador, sua memória, tornando-se apenas espetáculo.

(O Globo)