Tag Archives: Dr. Lanfranco Aceti

Reverse engineering the brain Ray Kurzweil style; funding for neuroprosthetics; a Canadian digital power list for 2009

After much hemming and hawing, I finally got around to reading something about Ray Kurzweil and his ideas in an interview at the H+ site and quite unexpectedly was engaged by his discussion of consciousness. From the interview,

I get very excited about discussions about the true nature of consciousness, because I‘ve been thinking about this issue for literally 50 years, going back to junior high school. And it‘s a very difficult subject. When some article purports to present the neurological basis of consciousness… I read it. And the articles usually start out, “Well, we think that consciousness is caused by…” You know, fill in the blank. And then it goes on with a big extensive examination of that phenomenon. And at the end of the article, I inevitably find myself thinking… where is the link to consciousness? Where is any justification for believing that this phenomenon should cause consciousness? Why would it cause consciousness?

Some scientists say, “Well, it‘s not a scientific issue, therefore it‘s not a real issue. Therefore consciousness is just an illusion and we should not waste time on it.” But we shouldn‘t be too quick to throw it overboard because our whole moral system and ethical system is based on consciousness.

The article is well worth a read  and I have to say I enjoyed his comments about science fiction movies. I’m not enamoured of his notion about trying to reverse engineer brains no matter how ‘mindfully’ done. I suspect I have a fundamental disagreement with many of Kurweil’s ideas which as far as I can tell are profoundly influenced by his experience and success in IT (information technology).

Unlike Kurzweil, I don’t view the brain or genomes as computer codes but I will read more about his work and ideas as he makes me think about some of my unconscious (pun intended) assumptions. (Note: in the H+ article Kurzweil mentions some nanotechnology guidelines from what the interviewers call the Forsyth Institute, I believe Kurzweil was referring to the Foresight Institute’s nanotechnology guidelines found here.)

I guess I’m getting a little blasé about money as I find the $1.6 million US funding awarded to help with neuroprosthetics for returning US soldiers a little on the skimpy side. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a terrible legacy: more than 1,200 returning American soldiers have lost one or more limbs. To address this growing national need, researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are laying the groundwork for a new generation of advanced prosthetic limbs that will be fully integrated with the body and nervous system. These implantable neuroprosthetics will look and function like natural limbs, enabling injured soldiers and the more than 2 million other amputees in the United States lead higher quality, more independent lives.

As for making these limbs more natural looking, I find this contrasts a bit with some of Lanfranco Aceti’s work  (I first posted my comments about it here) where he notes that males (under 50) don’t want limbs that look natural. I don’t if he or someone else has followed up with that but it certainly poses an intriguing question about how we may be starting to view our bodies, gender differences and all.

Michael Geist has a 2009 Canadian digital power list on The Tyee website here. I was surprised that Gary Goodyear (Minister of State for Science and Technology) received no mention, given his portfolio.

Happy T Day! Robots; Nano-enabled prosthetics; ISEA 2009 aesthetics and prosthetics; Global TV (national edition): part 2

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone as Canada celebrates.

Since I have mentioned military robots in the not too distant past, this recent headline Two Military Robots That Rival the Creepiest Sci-Fi Creatures for Kit Eaton’s Fast Company article caught my eye. One of the robots, Big Dog (and its companion prototype Small Dog), utilizes artificial intelligence to navigate terrain and assist soldiers in the field. The larger one can carry heavy loads while the smaller one could be used for reconnaissance. The other robot is a cyborg beetle. Electrodes have been implanted so the beetle’s flight patterns can be controlled. There are two videos, one for each robot. It is a very disconcerting experience watching the beetle being flown by someone standing in front of a set of controls.

Keeping with the theme of planting electrodes, I found something on Azonano about a bio- adaptive prosthetic hand. Funded by the European Union as a nanotechnology project, here’s more from the news item,

What is unique about the sophisticated prototype artificial hand developed by the SMARTHAND partners is that not only does it replicate the movements of a real hand, but it also gives the user sensations of touch and feeling. The researchers said the hand has 4 electric motors and 40 sensors that are activated when pressed against an object. These sensors stimulate the arm’s nerves to activate a part in the brain that enables patients to feel the objects.

Led by Sweden’s Lund University, the researchers continue to work on the sensory feedback system within the robotic hand. The hurdle they need to cross is to make the cables and electric motors smaller. Nanotechnology could help the team iron out any problems. Specifically, they would implant a tiny processing unit, a power source and a trans-skin communication method into the user of the hand to optimise functionality.

It’s a fascinating read which brought to mind an ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) 2009 presentation by Dr. Lanfranco Aceti (professor at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey). Titled The Aesthetic Beauty of the Artificial: When Prosthetic Bodies Become an Art Expression of Empowering Design Technologies, the presentation was a revelation. Dr. Aceti’s research yielded a rather surprising insight from a doctor in London, England who specializes in prosthetics. According to the doctor, women want limbs that most closely resemble their original but men (under 50 years old usually) want limbs that are metallic and/or look high tech. Lanfranco suggested that the men have been influenced by movies. Take for example, Wolverine (Wikipedia entry here) where the hero’s skeleton has been reinforced with metal and he can make his claws (now covered with metal) protrude from his arms at will. You can view Lanfranco’s site here or a simple biography about him here.

A few months back I posted about  prosthetics and design student projects and I’m starting to sense a trend emerging from these bits and pieces of information. There is the repair aspect to prosthetics but there is also an increasing interest not just in the aesthetics but in the notion of improving on the original. At its most extreme, I can imagine people wanting to remove perfectly healthy limbs and organs to get an improved version.

I got a chance to see part 2 of Global TV’s (broadcast in Canada) nanotechnology series, Small Wonders. As I’ve noticed that my link for part 1 of the series is no longer useful I am providing a link to part 2 which will land you on the search page. If you don’t see part 2 listed, go to the mutimedia tab which is just above the search results and where you can find part 1 and I assume, at some point, part 2.

As I hoped, they focused on nanotechnology projects in the materials field in part 2 of the series. They noted that nanotechnology-based materials in sports equipment and clothing are already available in the market place. An interview with Dr. Robert Wolkow at the National Institute of Nanotechnology and at the Physics Dept. at the University of Alberta, featured a discussion about replacing silicon chips with more efficient materials built at the molecular level.