Saturday, October 14, 2017

NEWS POST: Scientists Treat Depression With Magic Mushroom That Can 'Reboot' The Brain

Scans showed reduced activity in some parts of the brain after taking the drug (Ben Birchall/PA
A mind-altering magic mushroom drug can treat depression by "rebooting" the brain, research suggests. Scientists tested the drug Psilocybin on 19 depressed patients who could not be helped by conventional treatments.

The patients reported an immediate mood improvement described by some as an "afterglow" effect that lasted up to five weeks. Brain scans indicated the drug had re-set the activity of key neural circuits known to play a role in depression.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College London, said: "We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments.

“Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’. "

The drug may be giving the patients the "kickstart" they need to break out of their depressive states, he said.
Imperial College London (Philip Toscano/PA)
Similar brain effects have been seen in patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a controversial treatment that triggers temporary seizures with electric shocks.

Magic mushrooms containing Psilocybin and its derivative Psilocin can cause hallucinations, changes in perception and an altered sense of time. Both chemicals are classified as illegal Class A drugs in the UK, as are the mushrooms themselves.

In the study, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, patients with treatment-resistant depression were given a 10mg and 25mg doses of Psilocybin seven days apart.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans showed reduced activity in certain parts of the brain after taking the drug. They included the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region known to be involved in processing emotional responses, stress and fear.

Psilocybin also induced increased stability in another brain network previously linked to depression.

The scientists warned that despite the encouraging results people with depression should not attempt to self-medicate with psychoactive drugs.

How to change your personality: research shows that psilocybin can improve your outlook on life – Psychedelic Times
Originally published by PRESS ASSOCIATION

Friday, October 06, 2017

GUEST BLOG POST: 4 Visionaries Who Saw Far Into The Future And How They Did It — Greg Satell

To paraphrase Heidegger, to build a new vision of the world, you first must understand what it means to live in it.

Clockwise: Richard Feynman, 
Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee 
&  Marshall McLuhan
Successful people solve problems.  Look at any great fortune, whether it be Carnegie, Ford or Gates and you find that the source of their vast accomplishment was a problem solved.  Even more prosaic executives spend most of their time solving one problem or another, with greater or lesser skill.

The contrast in outcomes can be attributed to the scale and difficulty of the problems they tackled.  All too often, we get so mired down in day-to-day challenges that the bigger issues fall by the wayside, being left for another day which never seems to come.  That, in the final analysis, is the difference between the mundane and the sublime.

So we should pay special attention to those whose ideas had impact far beyond their own lifespan.  It is they who were able to see not only the problems of their day, but ones that, although they seemed minor or trivial at the time, would become consequential—even determinant—in years to come.  Here are four such men and what we can learn from them.

Vannevar Bush and the Emerging Frontier of Science
By any measure, Vannevar Bush was a man of immense accomplishment.  A professor at MIT who invented one of the first working computers, he also co-founded Raytheon, a US$30 billion dollar company that prospers to this day.

Yet even these outsized achievements pale in comparison to how Bush fundamentally changed the relationship of science to greater society.  In the late 1930’s, as the winds of war began to stir in Europe, Bush saw that the coming conflict would not be won by bullets and bombs alone.  Science, he saw, would likely tip the balance between victory and defeat.

It was that insight which led to the establishment of Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).  With Bush at its helm, the agency led the development of the proximity fuzeguided missilesradar, more advanced battlefield medicine and, not least of all, the Manhattan Project which led to the atomic bomb.

As the war came to a close, President Roosevelt asked Bush to write a report on how the success of the OSRD could be replicated in peacetime.  That report, Science: The EndlessFrontier, outlined a new vision of the relationship between public and private investment, with government expanding scientific horizons and industry developing new applications.

He wrote:
Basic research leads to new knowledge. It provides scientific capital. It creates the fund from which the practical applications of knowledge must be drawn. New products and new processes do not appear full-grown. They are founded on new principles and new conceptions, which in turn are painstakingly developed by research in the purest realms of science

Bush’s report led to the foundation of the NSFNIHDARPA and other agencies, which have funded early research in everything from the Internet and GPS, to the Human Genome Project and many of our most important cures.  It has been Bush’s vision, perhaps more than almost anything else, that has made America an exceptional nation.

Oh, and he also wrote an essay in 1945 that not only laid out what would become the Internet, but influenced many of the key pioneers who designed it.

Marshall McLuhan and the Global Village
Where Vannevar Bush saw the transformative potential of science, Marshal McLuhan was one of the first to see the subtle, but undeniable influence of popular culture.  While many at the time thought of mass media as merely the flotsam and jetsam of the modern age, he saw that the study of things like newspapers, radio and TV could yield important insights.

Central to his ideas about culture was his concept of media as “extensions of man.”  Following this line of thought, he argued that Gutenberg’s printing press not only played a role in spreading information, but also in shaping human thought. Essentially, the medium is the message.  Interestingly, these ideas led him to very much the same place as Bush.

As he wrote in 1962*, nearly 30 years before the invention of the World Wide Web:
The next medium, whatever it is—it may be the extension of consciousness—will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.

McLuhan argued further that the new age of electronic media would disrupt the private experience and specialization that the dominance of printed media brought about and usher in a new era of collective, transnational experience that he called the global village.  Anybody who watches global news networks or surfs the Web can see what he meant.

Importantly, however, he did not see the global village as a peaceful place.  Rather than promoting widespread harmony and understanding, he predicted that the ability to share experiences across vast chasms of time and space would lead to a new form of tribalism, a result in a “release of human power and aggressive violence” greater than ever in history.

It has become all too clear what he meant by that as well.

Richard Feynman Sees “Plenty of Room at the Bottom”
When Richard Feynman stepped up to the podium to address the American Physical Society in 1959, he had already gained a reputation as both an accomplished scientist and an iconoclast (during his tenure at the Manhattan project, he became famous for his safecracking and other pranks).

His talk, modestly titled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom would launch a revolution in physics and engineering that continues to play out to this day.  Starting from a seemingly innocent question about shrinking an encyclopedia down to the size of a postage stamp, he proceeded over the next hour to invent the new field of nanotechnology.

The talk, which is surprisingly easy and fun to read, also gives a fascinating window into how a genius thinks.  After pondering the problem of shrinking things down to the size of molecules, he proposes some solutions, then thinks some more about what issues those ideas would create, proposes some more fixes and on and on until a full picture emerged.

One of the most astounding things about Feynman is that his creation of nanotechnology was not a one-off, but part of a larger trend.  He was also a pioneer in parallel computing and did important work in virology.  All of this in addition to his day job as a physicist, for which he won the Nobel prize in 1965.

Tim Berners-Lee Creates a Web of Data
Tim Berners-Lee is most famous for his creation of the World Wide Web.  In November 1989, he created the three protocols—HTTP, URL and HTML—that we now know as the “Web” and released his creation to the world, refusing to patent it.  Later, he helped set up the W3C consortium that continues to govern and manage its growth and further development.

The truth is, however, that the Web wasn’t a product of any great vision, but rather a solution to a particular problem that he encountered at CERN.  Physicists would come there from all over the world, work for a period of time and then leave.  Unfortunately, they recorded their work in a labyrinth of different platforms and protocols that didn’t work well together.

So Berners-Lee set out to solve that problem by creating a universal medium that could link information together.  He never dreamed it would grow into what it did.  If he had, he would have built it differently.  He wrote at length about these frustrations in his memoir, Weaving the Web.  Chief among them was the fact that while the Web connected people, it did little for data.

So he envisioned a second web, which he called the Semantic Web.  Much like his earlier creation, the idea outstripped even what he imagined for it.  New protocols, such as Hadoop and Spark, have made data central to how today’s technology functions.  Increasingly, we’re living in a semantic economy, where information knows no bounds and everything connects.

The Best Way to Predict the Future Is to Create It
Take a hard look at these four visionaries and some common themes emerge.  First, all except McLuhan took an active role in bringing their ideas into realities.  Bush played a central role in implementing the scientific architecture he designed.  Feynman offered prizes for people who could make things at nanoscale and Berners-Lee continues to take an active role at W3C.

Another commonality is that, while their ideas didn’t meet with immediate acceptance, they stuck with them.  McLuhan’s ideas made him an outcast for much of his career until he became an international celebrity in his fifties.  Berners-Lee created the Web partly out of frustration after the hypertext community wouldn’t pursue it.  Bush and Feynman met less resistance, but were already prominent in their fields.

Probably most importantly, none of them were following trends.  Rather, they set out to uncover fundamental forces.  It was that quest for basic understanding that led them to ask questions and find answers that nobody else could imagine at the time.  They weren’t just looking to solve the problems of their day, but sought out problems that transcended time.

In effect, they were able to see the future because they cared about it.  Their motivation wasn’t to beat the market, impress a client or attract funding for a startup, but to understand more about how the universe functions and what could be made possible.  In doing so, they helped us see it too, so that we could also join in and make the world a better place.

Or, to paraphrase Heidegger, to build a new vision of the world, you first must understand what it means to live in it.
– Greg

*Note: After publishing this article on Forbes, Andrew McLuhan, the grandson of Marshal McLuhan, contacted me questioning the provenance of the quote I cited as coming from 1962.  He says that it is, in fact, a combination of two separate quotes from two different times.  Here’a an excerpt of our discussion: “The first part of the statement comes from a speech Marshall gave at a conference in 1965 in Illinois called “Address at Vision 65”. The second part was taken from a book by Bruce Powers and Marshall McLuhan, part of a recorded conversation on page 143. It remains a bit of a mystery as to how the two separate parts were cobbled together, and indeed why they were attributed to the Gutenberg Galaxy. Coupland likely got it off the web, where it’s attributed thus… and everyone along the line just assumes it must be a correct citation.”

Greg Satell is a popular speaker and consultant. His first book Mapping Innovation, came out in 2017. Follow his blog at Digital Tonto or on Twitter @DigitalTonto


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

NEWS POST: The Portable Science Kit Entrepreneur

Bathabile Mpofu, Creator of ChemStart, takes hands-on scientific experiments into schools in South Africa

Millions of school children in Africa lack the equipment that makes the teaching of scientific subjects come alive. Inspired by her own experience in the system, one young entrepreneur in Durban, South Africa, has created an economical kit of simple, hands-on experiments.

Originally published on BBC

Saturday, September 30, 2017

NEWS POST: Google Launches Health Knowledge Panels And Four Other Products In Nigeria

Google - android central
At the top of health-related Google searches, you’ll now see a snapshot of the condition, symptoms and treatment

Tech giant Google announced the official launch of health knowledge panels in Nigeria on September 25, 2017. In a statement made available to Media, Google said Health Knowledge Panels appear at the top of any health-related search result and provide a snapshot of the condition, symptoms and treatment of more than 800 commonly searched for health conditions.

Google said its health knowledge panel is now available in twenty countries in Africa including Nigeria on mobile and desktop; it covers over 800 health conditions curated to display facts for health problems and symptoms based on peoples’ search interests.

Tamar Yehoshua, Google’s VP of Product Management said, “Nigerians are turning to Google Search to find answers to a variety of topics ranging from health, to financial well-being to entertainment and sports to national interests. In fact, Search growth in Nigeria has been accelerating and has been recently outpacing the global growth average, proof that Google Search has become an important information destination for the people.”

“As we roll out this feature in Nigeria, our hope is to help to provide knowledge to Nigerians searching for information about common health issues.  We collaborated with a team of medical experts from institutions such as the University of Ibadan and the Mayo Clinic to ensure that all the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from health institutions and experts around the world.”

Google had earlier pre-announced plans to launch a number of new features like Health Searches, Google posts and Sports Searches for users of Google Search in Nigeria at the ‘Google for Nigeria conference in July’.

“It should be noted though that the health card feature is intended for informational purposes only, users are advised to consult a medical professional regarding actual health concerns,” Google stated.

Google Announces Introduction Of Five More Products
Google - Headquarters in California, USA
Google has announced introduction of five additional products that would enable internet users to access information with ease.

Mr Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, Google’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Anglophone West Africa, made this known in an interactive session with some internet users including journalists in Lagos on Friday. Kola-Ogunlade listed the products to include Gboard, Health Knowledge Panel, Movie Showtime, Entertainment Archive and Google Post.

He advised internet users to take advantage of the products for more relevance. According to him, Google built its platforms and products to be globally relevant. He said that Google introduced Gboard in July to enable sending of messages in dialects including Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. He described Gboard as a new keyboard from Google for Android or iPhone.

“If you are like most Nigerians, then you probably have a grandma, uncle or family member that prefers to read messages in Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa.

“The next time you need to type a message on SMS, Whatsapp or any other messaging app, simply click on the Google ‘G’ logo on your keyboard and click on translation and let Gboard do the translation for you. No more app switching; just search and send, right from your keyboard. If Gboard is not installed on your phone, you can download it from the Apple store or the Android play store,” he said.

According to the manager, Google introduced the health knowledge panel in the realization that 20% of searches on it are health-related. He said that the panel covers up to 800 health conditions.

“You may be worried about a loved one down with malaria. By simply typing ‘Malaria’, Google will show you a health panel with information on malaria symptoms and treatments.

“Google’s health knowledge panels is now accessible to Nigerians and Google has partnered with the University of Ibadan to ensure that answers are reviewed by Nigerian doctors,” he said.

Kola-Ogunlade said that the Google Movie Showtime would enable an internet user to get a list and times for movies showing at a nearby cinema. “Just type ‘whatmovies are showing at the Ikeja Mall’ into Google, and Google will give a list of movies showing at Ikeja Mall plus the time those movies are showing,” he said.

He added that Google was archiving and getting Nollywood films so that local contents would show on the Google search. “Simply type the name of the ‘Nollywood movie into search and let Google give you all the information, including the actors,” he said.

According to the manager, Google Post will get more details of what a favourite musician, movie or sports star is up to. “With Posts on Google, entertainers and businesses can share visible updates directly to Google. This means you get your favourite star’s live update alongside your search results when you Google them.

He said that Google announced the availability of Google Posts in Nigeria at Google for Nigeria on July 27, noting that Nigeria was the third country where the feature was made available. “Some of the country’s popular musicians are already using it. Posts had been available for limited use since January 2016. Google Posts allow businesses and individuals to create posts that show up in the knowledge panel on Google Search and Google Maps. Posts expire after a week, unless they are event-based, in which case, they expire after the event date,” he said.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

NEWS POST: Rapid Blood Test Tells Heart Attack Within 15 Minutes, Twice As Accurate As Existing One

A rapid blood test could diagnose a heart attack within 15 minutes of a patient arriving at A&E, a major trial has found. The test, developed by British scientists, was twice as accurate as the existing one used by the NHS, according to the study
Blood test will tell if you've had a heart attack within 15 minutes of arriving at A&E: Rapid test found to be twice as accurate as existing one

The cMyC test correctly excluded a heart attack in 32% of patients It was developed by British scientists and is twice as accurate as troponin test It could mean thousands of patients are given the all-clear and sent home within quarter of an hour of arriving at A&E 

A rapid blood test could diagnose a heart attack within 15 minutes of a patient arriving at A&E, a major trial has found. The test, developed by British scientists, was twice as accurate as the existing one used by the UK National Health Service, according to the study.

Crucially, it could mean thousands of patients are given the all-clear and sent home within quarter of an hour of arriving at A&E. Currently, patients complaining of chest pain have to wait at least three hours, and many are kept in overnight for observation.

Not only would the test reassure worried patients and their families, but it would ease pressure on hospitals, free up beds and save the NHS millions a year. The British researchers, whose work is published in the Circulation medical journal, hope it could be rolled out within five years.

Researcher Dr Tom Kaier, a cardiologist at King’s College London, said: ‘It is important to work out early who has had a heart attack and who hasn’t. We see patients in hospital who have to stay for further tests as a result of a mildly abnormal blood test – this is stressful and often unnecessary.

 ‘Our research shows that the new test has the potential to reassure many thousands more patients with a single test.’ Some 188,000 people have heart attacks in Britain each year. But more than a million a year arrive at hospitals complaining of chest pains, the vast majority of which are not serious.

Dr Kaier estimates that at his own hospital, St Thomas’s in central London, the test would save £800,000 a year in reduced admissions and free up 2,500 beds for the neediest patients.

Researcher Dr Tom Kaier estimates that at his own hospital, St Thomas’s in central London, the test would save £800,000 a year in reduced admissions and free up 2,500 beds for the neediest patients
Doctors currently have to wait at least three hours before they can diagnose a heart attack, and they have to repeat tests for a period of at least six hours before an attack can be ruled out and a patient discharged.

The heart attack blood test currently used by the NHS – called a troponin test – is not definitive for most patients, meaning up to 85 per cent require an ECG scan and often have to stay in for monitoring. The new test, which looks for a protein called cardiac myosin-binding protein C or cMyC, is quicker, more sensitive and better at detecting damage.

The research team carried out blood tests for troponin and cMyC on nearly 2,000 people with chest pain at hospitals in Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The cMyC test correctly excluded a heart attack in 32% of patients – up to twice as many as troponin. At 15 per cent, the heart attack detection rate was the same for both.

Professor Mike Marber, also of King’s College London, said: ‘This research is the first of its kind for cMyC. We’ve shown that this test is not only just as good as the current test for working out who has had a heart attack, but it’s also much better at working out who hasn’t.’

Originally published on DAILY MAIL UK

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

GUEST BLOG POST: What Creativity Really Is - And Why Schools Need It — Liane Gabora

In this time of global technological change and sustainability challenges, we need to increase creativity levels in the next generation, to ensure the innovations that will keep us afloat. Teachers may fear creative mess, but time for reflection and interdisciplinary thinking can nurture innovation too. Image: Shutterstock
Liane Gabora
Although educators claim to value creativity, they don’t always prioritize it.

Teachers often have biases against creative students, fearing that creativity in the classroom will be disruptive. They devalue creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence. They inhibit creativity by focusing on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience in class.

Why the disconnect between educators’ official stance toward creativity, and what actually happens in school?

How can teachers nurture creativity in the classroom in an era of rapid technological change, when human innovation is needed more than ever and children are more distracted and hyper-stimulated?

These are some of the questions we ask in my research lab at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia. We study the creative process, as well as how ideas evolve over time and across societies. I’ve written almost 200 scholarly papers and book chapters on creativity, and lectured on it worldwide. My research involves both computational models and studies with human participants. I also write fiction, compose music for the piano and do freestyle dance.

What is creativity?
Although creativity is often defined in terms of new and useful products, I believe it makes more sense to define it in terms of processes. Specifically, creativity involves cognitive processes that transform one’s understanding of, or relationship to, the world.

There may be adaptive value to the seemingly mixed messages that teachers send about creativity. Creativity is the novelty-generating component of cultural evolution. As in any kind of evolutionary process, novelty must be balanced by preservation.

In biological evolution, the novelty-generating components are genetic mutation and recombination, and the novelty-preserving components include the survival and reproduction of “fit” individuals. In cultural evolution, the novelty-generating component is creativity, and the novelty-preserving components include imitation and other forms of social learning.

It isn’t actually necessary for everyone to be creative for the benefits of creativity to be felt by all. We can reap the rewards of the creative person’s ideas by copying them, buying from them or simply admiring them. Few of us can build a computer or write a symphony, but they are ours to use and enjoy nevertheless.

Inventor or imitator?
There are also draw backs to creativity. Sure, creative people solve problems, crack jokes, invent stuff; they make the world pretty and interesting and fun. But generating creative ideas is time-consuming. A creative solution to one problem often generates other problems, or has unexpected negative side effects.

Creativity is correlated with rule bending, law breaking, social unrest, aggression, group conflict and dishonesty. Creative people often direct their nurturing energy towards ideas rather than relationships, and may be viewed as aloof, arrogant, competitive, hostile, independent or unfriendly.

Also, if I’m wrapped up in my own creative reverie, I may fail to notice that someone else has already solved the problem I’m working on. In an agent-based computational model of cultural evolution, in which artificial neural network-based agents invent and imitate ideas, the society’s ideas evolve most quickly when there is a good mix of creative “inventors” and conforming “imitators.” Too many creative agents and the collective suffers. They are like holes in the fabric of society, fixated on their own (potentially inferior) ideas, rather than propagating proven effective ideas.

A society thrives when individuals are given the space to create or imitate ideas. (Unsplash/Chris Barbalis), CC BY
Of course, a computational model of this sort is highly artificial. The results of such simulations must be taken with a grain of salt. However, they suggest an adaptive value to the mixed signals teachers send about creativity. A society thrives when some individuals create and others preserve their best ideas.

This also makes sense given how creative people encode and process information. Creative people tend to encode episodes of experience in much more detail than is actually needed. This has drawbacks: Each episode takes up more memory space and has a richer network of associations. Some of these associations will be spurious. On the bright side, some may lead to new ideas that are useful or aesthetically pleasing.

So, there’s a trade-off to peppering the world with creative minds. They may fail to see the forest for the trees but they may produce the next Mona Lisa.

Innovation might keep us afloat
So will society naturally self-organize into creators and conformers? Should we avoid trying to enhance creativity in the classroom?

The answer is: No! The pace of cultural change is accelerating more quickly than ever before. In some biological systems, when the environment is changing quickly, the mutation rate goes up. Similarly, in times of change we need to bump up creativity levels — to generate the innovative ideas that will keep us afloat.

This is particularly important now. In our high-stimulation environment, children spend so much time processing new stimuli that there is less time to “go deep” with the stimuli they’ve already encountered. There is less time for thinking about ideas and situations from different perspectives, such that their ideas become more interconnected and their mental models of understanding become more integrated.

This “going deep” process has been modeled computationally using a program called Deep Dream, a variation on the machine learning technique “Deep Learning” and used to generate images such as the ones in the figure below.

The images show how an input is subjected to different kinds of processing at different levels, in the same way that our minds gain a deeper understanding of something by looking at it from different perspectives. It is this kind of deep processing and the resulting integrated webs of understanding that make the crucial connections that lead to important advances and innovations.

Cultivating creativity in the classroom
So the obvious next question is: How can creativity be cultivated in the classroom? It turns out there are lots of ways! Here are three key ways in which teachers can begin:
  1. Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.
  2. Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as by painting murals that depict biological food chains, or acting out plays about historical events, or writing poems about the cosmos. After all, the world doesn’t come carved up into different subject areas. Our culture tells us these disciplinary boundaries are real and our thinking becomes trapped in them.
  3. Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection. This provides time and space to foster the forging of new connections that is so vital to creativity.
Liane Gabora, Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies, University of British Columbia

Originally published on THE CONVERSATION