It’s always been one of our dreams… to be able to direct our dreams. it’s known as lucid dreaming. A dream state where you are totally or partially aware of being in a dream and being able to act and direct yourself and others within it. Imagine being the star, director, and scriptwriter for your own ultra-realistic dream-film!
Scientists have discovered that it is possible to induce lucid dreaming in sleepers by applying mild electrical currents to their scalps, a recent study reported in the publication Nature Neuroscience says.
Professor J Allan Hobson, from Harvard Medical School co-authored the paper. He said:
“The key finding is that you can, surprisingly, by scalp stimulation, influence the brain. And you can influence the brain in such a way that a sleeper, a dreamer, becomes aware that he is dreaming.”
It is a continuation of previous research in this field led by Dr Ursula Voss of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Germany who said:
“Lucid dreaming is a very good tool to observe what happens in the brain and what is causally necessary for secondary consciousness.”
Prof. Hobson also thought it could have medical benefits:
“As a model for mental illness, understanding lucid dreaming is absolutely crucial. “I would be cautious about interpreting the results as of direct relevance to the treatment of medical illnesses, but [it’s] certainly a step in the direction of understanding how the brain manages to hallucinate and be deluded.”
By examining the sleepers’ REM (Rapid Eye Movements- the indicator of deep sleep dreaming) and brainwaves over a range of frequencies, scientists have found that lucid dreamers demonstrate a shift towards a more “awake-like” state in the frontal and temporal parts of the brain, with the peak in increased activity occurring around 40Hz.
The study involved 27 volunteers, none of whom had experienced lucid dreaming before. The researchers waited until the volunteers were experiencing uninterrupted REM sleep before applying electrical stimulation to the frontal and temporal positions of the volunteers’ scalps. The applied stimulation had a variety of frequencies between two and 100Hz, but neither the experimenter nor the volunteer was informed which frequency was used, or even whether a current was applied. Five to 10 seconds later the volunteers were roused from their sleep and asked to report on their dreams. Brain activity was monitored continuously throughout the experiment.
The results showed that stimulation at 40Hz (and to a lesser extent at 25Hz) resulted in an increase in brain activity of around the same frequency in the frontal and temporal areas. They found that such stimulation, more often than not, induced an increased level of lucidity in the dreams of the sleepers.
The authors suggest triggering lucid dreaming in sleepers might enable them to control nightmares, for example returning soldiers suffering with PTSD; post-traumatic stress disorder.
But for others, the chance to be “awake within a dream” may be possible… perhaps a dream come true?
In the blue corner we have Stephen Hawking, representing mankind; world renowned physicist, presenter, philosopher and cosmologist, author of the blockbusting book “A Brief History of Time”, and a brain the size of a small planet.
In the red corner, a computer. Or a computer programme, perhaps, representing AI. Artificial Intelligence.
Seconds, away, Round One. Well, not just yet, this is to be a future bout of boxing, in the not too distant future. Humankind versus AI. Some would say it should never be a contest at all. We humans invented AI, and can control it. It is our baby, our spawn of the future, and it can never bite the hand that feeds…. or can it? Stephen Hawking thinks AI is a threat to all our futures…
Stephen Hawking, in an interview with a UK Sunday paper is quoted thus:
“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
Hawking thinks we are moving too quickly, too far, without considering the possiblerepercussions. Fromdigital personal assistants to self-driving cars- he believes we’re on the cusp of the kinds of artificial intelligence that were previously exclusive to science fiction films. Shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hal 9000 and I, Robot? The possibility of smart robots roaming the streets is not so far-fetched. he basically asks who will control AI when AI becomes programmed to control itself?
It’s not just that there may be massive unemployment due to robotisation, if a robot is sufficiently intelligently programmed to consider itself “aware” or even “alive” then why would it allow anyone to control it, or worse still, switch it off? If the answer is no, then we could be on the way to a global conflict between humans and robots. Pure fantasy? Stephen Hawking doesn’t think so. Perhaps we should start dumbing down drones already….
Don’t try this at home! Researchers have been conducting controlled experiments using volunteers and the fairy-tail red and white mushroom, the Fly Agaric.
Given in small quantities, many of those interviewed experienced memories they had forgotten about, usually associated with their early childhood. Playground incidents, seeing a steam train for the first time, a Christmas unwrapping… Many of those interviewed swore that these were genuine memories unlocked by the ‘shroom.
The next stage of the experiment was to increase the amount of the mushroom given to the volunteers. This had to be undertaken under strict medical supervision because too much Fly Agaric and the mouth and throat could become numb, and close due to anaphalactic shock. A proportion of those who had the higher dose of mushroom reported memories that were not of their childhood, and were not of their existing lives at all. They wrote down what they had “remembered” and were then interviewed by psycho-analysts to test the veracity of their memories. They all appeared to be genuine and not manufactured.
Researchers are preparing a report to publish but have already claimed that the mushroom has unlocked memories of previous existences that were locked and retained in some immortal part of the soul- it could not be the brain because the brain and body dies and rots. However the theory is that like a cloud-based IT application, upon being re-born, your characteristics from previous lives are re-loaded into your body as you develop in the womb. However the memories from previous lives are not normally accessible and are screened out. But the Fly Agaric mushroom stimulates a small part of the brain where these past-life memories are normally concealed.
Could this be evidence that we are immortal and have lived previous lives? The research is being peer-reviewed before publishing, and a number of volunteers are repeating the experiment to confirm the results.
But don’t try this yourselves. The Fly Agaric is a poisonous mushroom, and this experiment could only be conducted under strictly controlled medical conditions.
Financed by the European Union’s cognition unit (€8.5m) iCub is a robot with an impressive AI. It has has sophisticated motor skills, which include the ability to grasp and manipulate objects. However, unlike other “programmed” robots, iCub acquires its skills naturally, using its body to sense, then gbather information and then explore the world. This is of course similar to the way a two-year-old baby learns and interracts with the environment around it. That may be why iCub has a baby-like face.
iCub is not a single entitiy anymore; a creche of 25 iCubs have been rolled out to centres across Europe, the US and Japan who are collaborating in the programme. Most specialise in some aspect of AI/robotics, such as Dominey’s facility in Lyon, where they are concentrating on iCub’s ability to interact with humans on shared tasks through language and action. Others focus on the more practical side of manipulation of objects.
All the various parts of this series of ambitious projects are connected by using how a baby/child learns as he or she grows and advances . By 18 months, a human can already understand the gesture to pick up a pencil. This is not about language (at least not to begin with). Young children are born equipped to explore their environment and interact and co-operate with their parents before they can speak or understand speech. These social developmental drives are built into iCub’s operating system. Then, it’s simply a question of interacting with iCub and letting its own body and sensors guide it. Using a bow and arrow? No problem!
Through repetitive play, one team has taught iCub to distinguish a stuffed toy octopus from a purple car, this despite iCub never having seen the objects before. New gestures are learned by grasping iCub’s arm and rotating it in a certain way. These are then recorded in its autobiographical memory. Consequently next time it can make the gesture without being prompted. In the same way iCub can be taught new words and concepts, by through interacting with its human tutor, much in a way a baby interracts with its mother during play.
Recent developments include a touch-sensitive skin to enhance iCub’s ability to gauge when it is getting too close to an object and is in danger of hitting it. This is onviously a prerequisite for persuading people that it is safe to interact with robots at close quarters!
Watch out for more news about iCub as it learns and grows- perhaps into an iWolf?
It’s been talked about often over the past years, but as advances in artificial intelligence, understanding how our brains work, and computers become faster and smarter, means that it could be decades rather than centuries before we will be able to upload the complete contents of our brain to a computer. We’d be storing memories, personality, abilities and knowledge.
But then we die. Even with all the advances in medical sciences there is a limit to how long life can be prolonged unless a cure for random cell mutation is found. Yep, cancer is likely to get us all in the end- it’s the ultimate backstop to stop us living forever.
But if you have all your brain’s content stored on a computer, the possibilities of how one can retrieve them after death become intriguing. If your body was cryogenically suspended just before you succumbed to an incurable disease, it could be revived in the future when a cure had been discovered. In that way you could back in your old skin with your noddle intact and resuming your life where you left off. Or, if your body is no longer available (someone switched off the freeze control in the cryogen suspension chambers dammit) then future computers may be able to actually use the information on them from your brain to give you an existence within the computer. That may sound like Tron on a bad day, or a permanent dream-like state for the mind without a body, but at least you’d have consciousness of your existence. Communication with the outside world would be as simple as how a computer now communicates with us today- text, images, sound, you name it. There are even likely to be sophisticated programmes in existence whereby you can “see” yourself and interact with the real world (or a damn good copy of it). A virtual life programme for you. Not only that, you would still have all the computing power of your brain, but massively racked up with all the computing power of a future computer. You could learn, experience, expand… as near immortality without sterility as you could imagine.
Far-fetched? President Obama is spending a cool $1 billion to map the brain in its entirety, while the European Union announced it would fund a $1.3 billion effort to build a human brain in a silicon substrate. First we have to find out where our memories exist and how they are stored and accessed in the brain when required.
David Chalmers is one of the world’s leading philosophers of the mind. He has written some of the most influential papers on the nature of consciousness. He is director of the Centre for Consciousness at Australian National University and is also a visiting professor at New York University. He’s no slouch or frizzy-haired boffin on Cloud Nine.
Chalmers addressed a conference in New York called Singularity Summit, where computer scientists, neuroscientists and other researchers were offering their visions of the future of intelligence. Some speakers spoke of the possibility of a time when we would understand the human brain in its fine details, be able to build machines not just with artificial intelligence but with super intelligence and be able to merge our own minds with those machines.
The leap may be just as great as the one imagined in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein: Prometheus Unbound. Just as no-one knew whether life had been bestowed to the creature after being subjected to lightning, and what sort of life, and whether it would be grateful, we wouldn’t know whether an uploaded system of your brain into a machine, body or computer would be conscious, a zombie, or mad as hell!
Chalmers didn’t see why an uploaded brain couldn’t be conscious. He opined that there’s no difference in principle between neurons and silicon.
Watch this space, and don’t forget to leave a note where to find your memory stick…