Doctor dubbed 'the father of cyborgs' tested implants in his own brain

Doctor dubbed 'the father of cyborgs' tested implants in his own brain

How far would you go to create a brain-controlled speech decoder? Doctor Philip Kennedy already helped blaze a trail in brain-computer interfaces back in the 80s. Now, a report in MIT Technology Review explains how the neurosurgeon decided to crank his research up a notch. Well, several notches, really, by having putting implants into his own brain to better learn how neurons function with speech. What’s more, Kennedy paid $25,000 and underwent highly invasive surgery — including the removal of the top of his skull — for the privilege.

Kennedy is often dubbed the “father of cyborgs” for his early work with connecting brains to computers. Work that has given people with severely debilitating conditions new ways to communicate by translating neural signals into computer-friendly commands. But a full speech decoder has remained elusive. He also developed new techniques that made implants on the motor cortex less crude. Early experiments involved placing electrodes through holes in rat skulls, a process Kennedy would make much less risky by figuring out a way to have neural cells grow through implants directly on the cortex itself.

But what makes a pioneer of neural implants decide to undergo the same kind of surgery he helped develop? The answer is typically lugubrious — lack of funding and support from the FDA, not to mention the more practical lack of volunteer subjects. The latter factor compounded by the fact most of his subjects are usually too disabled to communicate effectively, making the research even harder. Kennedy’s decision to go under the knife didn’t go without some raised eyebrows from peers, especially given that prescribing surgery on a healthy subject — even if that subject is yourself — is contrary to the Hippocratic oath.

Kennedy’s surgery took place in Belize in 2014 after years of contemplation and meticulous planning. Despite that, it didn’t go without hiccup. Removal of the top of the skull is always risky, but a spike in Kennedy’s blood pressure during the process caused his brain to swell, leaving him unable to talk upon waking. The condition would eventually pass, but an experience that must have been incredibly frightening when rousing after such an invasive procedure.

Was it worth it? Kennedy appears to think so. He claims the initial results are “extremely” encouraging, and that the data has allowed him to spot patterns in how different combinations of 65 neurons consistently triggered when speaking or thinking about speaking the same sound. A vital step towards that speech decoder.

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A university is digitizing thousands of wax cylinder records

A university is digitizing thousands of wax cylinder records

The University of California, Santa Barbara has an alternative for those whose unusual musical needs can’t be fulfilled by Spotify and similar services. Its library has been digitizing cylinder recordings of 19th to 20th century music, and so far, the official UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive website already has 10,000 tracks you can stream. The library’s latest addition to that pile is comprised of 150 two- to four-minute recordings of Everlasting celluloid cylinders. The cylinder format, which looks like an empty toilet paper roll, is a type of recording medium before the more familiar phonograph record overtook it in popularity.

In the 1880’s, Thomas Edison developed all-wax versions (see image above) that could play whatever was etched on their surfaces for around a dozen times before they became unplayable. Later on in early 1900’s, more durable ones made of celluloid and other materials were developed to compete with the disc format. The UCSB team is working to digitize all types and has around 3,000 pieces waiting to be processed. If you want to help out so you can listen to more pre-World War I music, you can contribute to the team’s budget and “adopt” a cylinder for $60.

[Image credit: benjamin.ks.chan/Flickr]

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The Big Picture: The world's most powerful x-ray laser

The Big Picture: The world's most powerful x-ray laser

This is a photo of the Linac Coherent Light Source or LCLS — an x-ray free-electron laser in Stanford University’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It’s also dubbed as the most powerful x-ray laser in the world. The SLAC Lab took a group of amateur and pro photographers on a tour of its facilities, giving them the chance to shoot photos of both the LCLS and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) for a contest. This image captured by Nathan Taylor is one of the top three entries taken by people from the group and will be submitted to this year’s Global Physics Photowalk, which aims to show behind-the-scenes photographs of the world’s leading particle physics laboratories. You can see all the winners, including another winning picture by Daniele Fanelli that features toy dinosaurs, along with the other entries that got honorable mention on SLAC’s website.

[Image credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory/Nathan Taylor]

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SceneSkim movie app does exactly what it says it would

SceneSkim movie app does exactly what it says it would

As much as I love watching movies, I’m not doing it for work and don’t really need to worry about finding a specific scene or line of dialogue as fast as possible. But I’m not a film scholar or student, so those folks have it a little tougher when it comes to such matters. To that end, researchers have at the University of California Berkeley have developed SceneSkim. It’s a bit of tech that leverages captions, scripts and plot summaries to speed up searching for scenes in flicks rather than manually fast forwarding or rewinding. There’s a video of it in action below and it looks pretty slick, actually and should be a boon for the people who need quick access to specific movie scenes.

It pulls in the script, plot synopsis and captions to populate its results, and clicking on individual elements from each take you to the specific scene where it’s happening. SceneSkim even allows for searching for a specific keyword or phrase too. Want an accurate count of how many times the F-bomb is dropped in Wolf of Wall Street? Now’s your chance.

[Base image credit: Paramount PIctures/Mary Cybulski]

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​40 years later, Sony finally kills Betamax

​40 years later, Sony finally kills Betamax

Betamax: the punchline for over a decades-worth of VHS-center comedy bits and most format wars. However, Sony’s Beta cassettes can still be bought in Japan. Just about. Sony’s announced that it’s finally, finally, finally stop selling the cassettes. No need to rush to Tokyo just yet, as you still have until next March to buy-up all the Betamax supplies you’ll never need — including a cleaning tape. It’s also dropping its MicroMV camcorder tapes In a bid to… make space in the warehouse, we guess.

Image credit: SSPL via Getty Images

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Supreme Court dismisses appeal based on warrantless phone search

Supreme Court dismisses appeal based on warrantless phone search

It’s hard to forget a name like Quartavious Davis, but let us remind you anyway: he was sentenced to 162 years in prison with no possibility of parole for a number of armed robberies in Miami. His target locations included big name outlets, such as Walgreens and Wendy’s. Now, the Supreme Court’s nine justices have rejected the appeal he filed — based on the fact that feds obtained his phone data without a warrant — to overturn his conviction. As you may have guessed, authorities used his phone data as evidence in court, showing that his device connected to cell towers near the target locations when they were robbed to make and take calls.

His lawyers argue that feds needed a “probable cause”/a warrant to seize that information, but they failed to convince the Court of Appeals in May that the lack of one violated his right under the Fourth Amendment. Reuters noted that under the federal Stored Communications Act, feds don’t need probable cause to request for a customer’s records. They only need to show that there are “reasonable grounds” for the request and it’s relevant to the investigation. Wondering whether feds actually need a warrant to acquire your cell site data or not? According to Ars Technica, different courts rule as they please. It’s definitely confusing, and the Supreme Court declining to hear Davis’ case makes the situation even more so.

[Image credit: Getty/AndreyPopov]

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Time Warner Cable's Roku TV test starts in NYC for $10 per month

Time Warner Cable's Roku TV test starts in NYC for $10 per month

We’ve been telling you about Time Warner Cable’s plan to test streaming TV for its internet-only customers since before it was officially announced, but now customers can actually sign up for it. If having a cable box is part of what you hated about cable TV, now internet customers can get access to the TWC TV app on a variety of devices without adding a box or having a tech come out. During the trial, testers will get a free Roku 3 player, and the cheapest plan (with channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and TBS among the 20+ included) starts at just $10 per month on a 12 month contract . Adding Showtime and Starz doubles the price, and testers can get a pretty healthy package with channels like Disney and ESPN for $50 per month. As we detailed when it announced, there’s no DVR with this setup, but it is an easy way to get TV without some of the hassles. The main drawback here? Unlike something like Sling TV, this is only available to Time Warner Cable customers, and during the test it’s only in NYC — check out the site for all the details.

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'Painless' dental cavity procedure regrows tooth enamel

'Painless' dental cavity procedure regrows tooth enamel

When a dentist says the word “cavity” a lot of people sweat thinking about painful injections and relentless drilling. But scientists in Britain have developed a new procedure dubbed EAER, or “Electrically Assisted Enhanced Remineralisation,” that can repair a slightly decayed tooth before a deep cavity forms. The supposedly painless procedure involves cleaning (not drilling) the tooth of any signs of mild decay, then flushing it with minerals and stimulating it with an electric pulse. This pushes the minerals into the deepest part of the lesion and speeds up a naturally occurring process called “remineralization”. This is where minerals in your saliva and some foods enter the tooth enamel and make it stronger.

Dr. Rebecca Moazzez from King’s College London notes that getting a cavity and having it filled is a vicious cycle, because they’re not made to last forever so it means a patient will always have to get it touched up and refilled, forever. The new procedure won’t replace the effects of regular toothbrushing and cavity fillings, but by repairing slightly damaged teeth, this team of scientists may have found a painless way to stop cavities from maturing.

[Image credit: Shutterstock / Pojoslaw]

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This awesome DIY railgun fires rounds with 27,000 joules of force

This awesome DIY railgun fires rounds with 27,000 joules of force

Used to be that if you wanted to fire off a few high-velocity rounds with an electromagnetic railgun, you’d have to land a commission aboard the USS Ponce. That is, until YouTuber Ziggy Zee went ahead and built one from scratch — no 3D printing required. The 250 pound device utilizes 56, 480-joule capacitors driven by a 400-volt power source to launch its aluminium projectiles with a staggering 27,000 joules of force.

The projectile is first accelerated to 50 MPH using a CO2-based propellant. As the 22g aluminum slug passes through the subsequent pair of copper rails, the capacitors discharge, forcing it out of the muzzle with more than 900 pounds of force. This discharge is so powerful, in fact, that it causes the slug to partially melt as it travels down the rails.

Zee has already run more than a dozen tests on the weapon, to great success, and has created an imgur post illustrating the build process. That poor, poor piggy bank.

This awesome DIY railgun fires rounds with 27,000 joules of force

[Image Credit: Ziggy Zee – Imgur]

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Hanako 2 robot acts like a human dental patient, makes us say 'aah' (video)

Hanako 2 robot acts like a human dental patient, makes us say 'aah' (video)
No, she’s not in a state of shock, nor is she hunting for plankton — she’s simply waiting for the dentist to polish her pearly whites, just like any other conscientious robot. Known as the Showa Hanako 2, this humanoid was originally developed last year as a tool for dentists looking to practice new procedures. Now, engineers at Japan’s Showa University have updated their dental denizen, adding a motorized head and replacing her PVC skin with a more realistic silicon coating. She also boasts speech recognition capabilities and can execute freakishly natural movements, including blinking, sneezing, coughing and, under more unsavory circumstances, even choking. See her in action for yourself, after the break.

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