The phrase, "reading is fundamental," is a slogan, a meme, and the name of a children's literacy nonprofit. For those of us who can read, especially with a fluidity that feels almost like an extension of our own thinking, the expression's rationale is simple: the foundation of our composed world is the written word. After all, the ability to read is necessary to send a text, apply for a job, or even to identify our favorite products after they've undergone yet another rebranding. Illiteracy in the modern world is like trying to navigate the high seas with neither a knowledge of the stars, a map or a compass--possible, but needlessly difficult. But new research suggests that learning to read does more than make life easier: it literally changes how the brain works by increasing connectivity between its regions.
Another year begins, and another science fiction concept is becoming science fact. If that sounds incredible, consider that it's already happened in studies with rats and monkeys, and in a limited way with humans as well. None of the studies have quite accomplished mind reading, but they have bridged the chasm between brains in a way that didn't seem possible until now. The most notable non-invasive study involving humans, so far, showed that people sitting in different rooms can play a simple computer game together by using equipment that enables each person to "communicate" information via brain waves. It was a basic test of the theory, but it worked, and it demonstrates what's possible as the technology advances.
For centuries, scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying the human brain have attempted to unlock its mysteries. The role the brain plays in human personality -- as well as the myriad of disorders and conditions that come along with it -- is often difficult to study because studying the organ while it's still functioning in a human body is complicated. Now, researchers at The Allen Institute for Brain Science have introduced a new tool that could make such study a whole lot easier: functioning virtual brain cells. The fully 3D computer models of living human brain tissue are based on actual brain samples that were left over after surgery, and present what could be the most powerful testbed for studying the human brain ever created. The samples used to construct the virtual models was healthy tissue that was removed during brain operations, and represents parts of the brain that are typically associated with thoughts and consciousness, as well as memory.
Thanks to deep learning, the tricky business of making brain atlases just got a lot easier. Brain maps are all the rage these days. From rainbow-colored dots that highlight neurons or gene expression across the brain, to neon "brush strokes" that represent neural connections, every few months seem to welcome a new brain map. Without doubt, these maps are invaluable for connecting the macro (the brain's architecture) to the micro (genetic profiles, protein expression, neural networks) across space and time. Scientists can now compare brain images from their own experiments to a standard resource.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and its corresponding technology all hinge on our human understanding of what intelligence is. One thing that we, however obvious, know for sure is that intelligence is linked to the brain. Whether it is dictated fully by cortical folding or any number of variables continues to be up for discussion. And so, while there are many ways to display and exhibit intelligence, a main goal of developing AI tech is to mimic human brain functionality. It's been an implied backbone to the entire field.