Neurofitness games

Via OmniBrain: PositScience offers a video game touted to improve cognitive skills, called the Brain Fitness Program. It tests auditory recognition speed then improves your score through memorization practice. It claims to reverse aging. I have a moisturizer that does that too; I should be 12 by now.

But in seriousness, numerous studies extoll the benefits of keeping sharp, especially for seniors (none say you can reverse age, but there are benefits, such as preventing and treating depression).

There's a free Check Your Brain Speed sample test, and since I'm inclined to take tests like Which Star Trek Species R U, I'm not going to turn down a chance to test my "brain speed."

Results reveal that I'm an Android or Hologram, but I'm embarrassed to tell you how "old" my "brain speed" is. I am, however, quick enough to know the results are graded that way to make me want to buy the game.

Nintendo offers Brain Age, a neurofitness video game that seems to have a bit more to it:

Brain Age is inspired by the research of Professor Ryuta Kawashima, a prominent Japanese neuroscientist. His studies evaluated the impact of performing certain reading and mathematic exercises to help stimulate the brain.

Brain Age presents quick mental activities that help keep your DS brain in shape. Activities include quickly solving simple math problems, counting people going in and out of a house simultaneously, drawing pictures on the Touch Screen, reading classic literature out loud, and more.

Mixing Memory: Motivated Reasoning II: Are Political Partisans Irrational?

Mixing Memory: Motivated Reasoning II: Are Political Partisans Irrational?

A detailed, expert debunking of neuromarketing in politics; sure to engage "the thinking part of your brain."


Welcome to the Future: CNN

CNN will air a special report on March 25 titled Welcome to the Future: The Future is in Your Grasp, which looks at progress in a number of areas including health, entertainment and technology. Among the research they're highlighting is the BrainGate Neural Interface, under development by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems Inc.

A small chip implanted in the motor cortex enables thought to control computers, and the goal is to one day help disabled users regain control of limb movement. The first test subject, who was given an implant in 2001, said, "Within the first three days I was able to control the cursor pretty much. When I think back on it, it's kind of a trip to think that my brain signals was controlling a mouse, changing channels on my TV, adjusting the volume, opening e-mails."

Researcher Dr. Leigh Hochberg said, "I'm very hopeful that these technologies will be able to help people with paralysis in the future; to make communication occur more easily, to allow people to control their environment more directly and, I hope, to one day to be able to move again."

Read more about CNN's program, and watch some video highlights, here.


The winner is...

Wow, I'm truly impressed! 50 inspired and inspiring new neurowords were entered in the contest by 30 people. Ranging from jokiness to snarkiness to serious descriptions of science, I think a lot of them are destined to enter the lexicon. Now that you've invented them, you'll use them, right?

Ultimately, that's what determined the winner.

"Neurologism: a word created by prefixing "neuro" to almost any normal word" was the first entry in the contest, and the gold standard. As soon as I read it I laughed and said to myself, damn, it's going to be tough to beat that.

It was. My mind was open though, I was a fair judge, so I was torn between neurologism and several other outstanding words. I didn't decide until today when I saw it used on other blogs. That did it – a word that not only defined the entire concept behind the contest but was instantly adopted by all who read it? Yep. That's a winner.

Congratulations, Neil H.!

And congratulations to everyone who coined a neurologism – your imagination keeps language alive.


BAW wraps up

Brain Awareness Week concludes today, and with that I'll post the final neurosong. It's actually a whole set of them - the Neuro Nation Mix by DJ Statikfire, a Chicago DJ who specializes in "industrial/gabber/electro and tech house/electro/synth" music. It's a good way to end the week since one of the songs in the mix is actually about neuroscience (instead of just a title): the cyberpunk/transhumanist concept of "neural ascention."

The neuroword contest has been such a smashing success it's going to be tough to pick a winner. If you have any last minute inspirations, post them now - contest ends at midnight PST. I'll announce the winner Monday evening.


Brain art

I found some spectacular photographs of the brain, taken by "neurollero" Mark Miller. "Brains are gorgeous at the right magnification," he notes. View his Flickr slideshow by clicking on the image:

Today's neurosong is Neural - Noise, a kickass tune from a French band.


More on neurowords

Neuromarketing is not that new, so reading a story in EurekAlert about "a groundbreaking new study" that is supposedly "the first to use fMRI to assess consumer perceptions" is a little disappointing. Neurowords aren't spreading through the lexicon so quickly.

OneLook Dictionary Search turns up a long list of neurowords (thanks Shawn!) that do appear in dictionaries online. Others, including neuromarketing, are bound to appear soon. Aspies activists will probably lobby to get "neurotypical" in the Oxford English Dictionary (the ultimate authority on neologism acceptance). Others will appear in time, and in more flexible dictionaries first, as they're noticed. I intend to bring them to the attention of some of those editors - the neuroword contest is bringing in many that ought to be popularized.

But names don't need dictionaries. Business names, titles and intarweb pseudonyms are entirely creative entities, the more unique the better.

NeuroInsights compiled a list of neurotechnology businesses and found 65 of them were prefixed with neuro. (Zack Lynch blogged about it, with links to all the companies, here in Brain Waves.) Neurologix, Neuronetrix, Neuronyx, and NeuroMetrix illustrate a subcategory of neurowords - mix "neuro" with an "x" for a truly shiny high tech name.

Elsewhere online you can find a lot of blogs, books, and journals named with neurowords. Among my RSS feeds, I've got 17 sources.

But aside from adding instant meaning to a descriptive name, neurowords are quite practical. As neuroinformatics develop, subcategorizing into more and more neurowords is useful. In my del.icio.us tags I have 13 categories created from them (and intend to add more at the end of the contest). As a neuroinformaniac I need to be able to sort with as much specificity as possible. The fact neurowords can be creative and amusing too, is just a bonus.


Brain Awareness Week, yay - today's neurosong is punk rock. The Undead - Hitler's Brain. Science fiction and myth popularized the idea that Hitler's brain was saved, and functioning, in a jar, leading to many similar stories and satire like the celebrity heads in Futurama. Irregular Webcomic once held a contest to caption a sequence of photos involving Hitler's brain in a jar; funny results are here. (Hint: winning entry involves a goldfish.)



My neuroword contest has brought many clever, creative entries from people like an artificial intelligence developer, neuroethicist, neuroinformatics developer, and some just described as neuroscientists. But one member of that subset has a problem with the idea instead.

"Academia owes nothing to 'pop-science,'" says Sean in a comment at Brain Waves in response to Zack Lynch blogging about the contest. "We should really appreciate what we have and preserve the integrity of the field of neuroscience."

I'm disappointed Sean won't be entering his word "neuroisms" but even more that he fails to see the value in them.

In my original post I mentioned a "grand" neuroword called Neuromancer. It's writer William Gibson's neuroword, title of one of the most influential novels - not just sci fi novels - of all time. Many of today's Ph.D grads grew up dreaming of his cyberspace and neural interface concepts. The entire net is indebted to technology that developed from his creative visions and the words he coined to describe them (like "cyberspace") and science continues to experiment with future apps. Concepts like recording dreams, described in the story The Winter Market from Burning Chrome, inspire imagination and ultimately research. Aldous Huxley described virtual reality "feelies" in Brave New World decades ago and technology still hasn't caught up to his vision, but we're certainly on our way. I blogged about one development yesterday. Huxley also influenced bioethics and psychopharmacology. Soma and moksha were prescient, and cloning impacts academia and pop culture alike.

The H.G. Wells Award for Outstanding Contributions to Transhumanism for 2006 was awarded to Charles Stross, a science fiction writer and scientist, for his insightful vision of the singularity in his novels. [Free ebook here.] Artificial intelligence technology owes much to neuroscience and vice versa - and often where they overlap is in the arts.

A neuroword (or "neurologism: a word created by prefixing "neuro" to almost any normal word") can inspire thinkers in new directions, including of course scientists but anyone who reads them. And words are the writers' domain.

A few other contest entries describing innovative applications, sciences borne of neurowords:

"Neurovisual: visual input originating from internal neuroimplants rather than from the eye."

"Neuromanticism: the discipline that investigates neural correlates of love."

"Neurodigitization: the process of translating data and information about a nervous system into a sequence of discrete symbols from a finite set."

"Neuroceutical: A side-effect free neuropharmaceutical."

Limiting expression to nothing but the word neuroscience would be death instead of synergy. And what was that about academic science looking to pop science creativity?


Brain Awareness Week cascades on, and today's neurosong is another kind of pop science, music made by a robot. From Traditional Robot Music Vol. 2, this is Neuron-Nest - March of the Bot Posse.

Contribute to science by entering your neuroword in the contest. Thanks for all the neurotastic entries to date!


BAW - Day 3

On the first day of Brain Awareness Week I introduced different concepts of neurosongs. The ones I'm posting merely have brain-related titles/artist names (today's, klao DNA - Synaptic Frequency, is made by a robot. It's from Traditional Robot Music, which is, along with Vol. 2, free for download). But another possibile definition included sound used as a weapon. I said I wasn't going to write about that.

Then I read Positive Technology Journal on this article in Top Tech News about controlling movement and balance with sound and electrodes.

The technique, called galvanic vestibular stimulation, sends sound through a headset which affects the inner ear and electricity to the brain through electrodes attached to the head. It controls balance; as they play a VR video car racing game, players feel as though they are moving through the course. But more, movement of the body can be triggered – subjects move against their will.

The best commercial promise for GVS still appears to be its use for enhancing video games. Next-generation gaming consoles such as the Xbox 360 and ever-evolving PC graphics cards are setting the bar for visual realism higher and higher. If developers can someday enhance stunning visuals with equally stunning sensations, ultrarealistic games that take advantage of GVS might shake up the industry.

But even the use of GVS in gaming raises an interesting ethical dilemma, McLean said. Could the technology, she asked, enhance gamers' experience of violence to the degree that it blurs or even completely evaporates the line between fantasy and reality? If that's the case, McLean added, GVS could be seen as a tool that ultimately promotes violent behavior.

It also could be a tool that provides a virtual experience unlike any other. If GVS delivers on its game-enhancement potential, developers and marketers might hold the remote in their hands, easily holding a captive audience of enthralled gamers in their sway.

The researchers stress that GVS should be used in a medical setting because of the danger in "zapping" if not performed by a trained professional, but one of their tests was a game and the application is obvious. Others include controlling movements of prisoners.

The truth is that GVS in its current stage is far from the control freak's ultimate weapon. Boston University's Collins dismissed the possibility of using the technology to move humans completely against their will because, he said, "Our central nervous system, through volitional commands, could largely override the effects produced by GVS."

Perhaps it's not ready now, but we should be prepared for it or similar systems and consider how to use them. The future may not lie with restraining prisoners, it could be Nintendo game violence come to life.


Enter the neuroword contest!


BAW - Day 2

Brain Awareness Week continues, with today's neurosong: Kiln - Neuron.

Like the neuroword neurosong? Those are both neologisms I coined. With the proliferation of relatively new terms like neuroethics, neuroaesthetics, neuromarketing, neuroeconomics, neurophilosophy, and many more, it's easy to get swept up in the neurohype and be a little creative. For me it started with a sci fi series I wrote and titled Neuropunk. When I discovered the name was already in use (it's also a bad title because it's too similar to cyberpunk and that grand neuroword, William Gibson's Neuromancer) I came up with a bunch more and haven't stopped since.

To celebrate Brain Awareness Week I invite you to try your hand at neuroword neologisms. I'm hosting a contest: leave a comment with your original neuroword, definition and email address and at the end of the week the best will win a special set of 52 brain teaser puzzles on playing cards. Puzzles are great for neurofitness (Faith Popcorn coined that one) and fun besides.

Think one up, and enter!

[Contest is now over. The winner is...]

[And the other winner is...]


BAW - Day 1

Happy Brain Awareness Week!

Organized annually by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives with partners such as the Society for Neuroscience, BAW raises, well, awareness of, yes, the brain. (Here's a public service announcement to share.)

As anyone who already has some awareness can attest, that can encompass a LOT of things. So much so that as I sit down to write I find myself with option paralysis.

Therefore, today's going to be a bit of a cop-out while I ponder what to do. A few cool links. Here are four neuroscience wikis:

Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience Wiki
Neurotransmitter.net Wiki
Artificial Intelligence Wiki: AIWiki
NA-MIC (National Alliance for Medical Imaging Computing) Wiki

And! And! A neurosong. What's a neurosong? I'm not referring to music that affects brain waves, which is a sub-science in itself and runs the gamut from sound used as a weapon by the military to new age warblings that claim to cure cancer along with insomnia for just $19.99 per CD. Nor are they songs that use sounds from the brain (I'm still waiting to hear someone use this sample of action potentials in a trigeminal ganglion cell in a dance remix.) These are simply songs with titles and/or artist names related to the brain.

Neuroactive is a Finnish EBM/future pop band who've released titles like Morphology. Their web site is down or I'd link it; also, this song is available for free download (I'm not pirating) but I can't find that link again either so here it is, available for seven days:

Neuroactive - Contempt [Hardmix]

I'll be posting neurosongs every day this week, and am going to host a BAW contest (with a prize!) so tune in tomorrow for more.


Computational linguistics saving lives

Grzegorz Kondrak of the University of Alberta has developed a way to use computational linguistics data in an AI system that spots drug names that are too much alike.

The FDA is using his system to evaluate new drug names by comparing them to existing ones. By ensuring more unique drug names medical errors due to confusing similar-sounding and similar-looking names can be reduced. In the USA that's as many as 162,500 deaths a year that could be prevented.

Kondrak originally developed the software to find similarities in words for language history comparisons, and says it was criticized as having no practical application at the time. A recent article in Artificial Intelligence in Medicine proves otherwise.

A noble scientist, he adds that he makes his research openly available.

"If anyone asks for it, I just give it to them," Kondrak said. "I was a funded researcher, and I look at it as my responsibility to share what I've learned and what I've done."

"When you do basic research sometimes you don't know how it might become of use, but if this software helps to reduce even just 10 per cent of prescription errors in the U.S. that translates into helping a lot of people, and it's very satisfying to contribute to that."


BrainEthics: Im-Gen videos now up

Brain Ethics announced good news - the 2006 International Imaging Genetics Conference videos are now online. "Buy some chips and a cola and put yourself in front of a double-screen projector (one with the video and one with the PDF) and enjoy!" Cool. Last year's coverage of this emerging area of neuroimaging was great.


No schizophrenia?

2 NAMES, 1 DISEASE: Does schizophrenia=psychotic bipolar disorder? in Current Psychiatry suggests that schizophrenia is actually severe bipolar I psychosis and not a separate diagnosis. A comprehensive review references questions going back many years, and argues that incorrect diagnosis has many implications. For the patient they include "less likely to receive a mood stabilizer or antidepressant...symptoms worsen, more likely to receive neuroleptics for life, increasing risk for severe and permanent side effects, and greater stigma with schizophrenia."

Three disorders—schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and psychotic bipolar disorder—have been evoked to account for the variance in severity in psychotic patients, but psychotic bipolar disorder expresses the entire spectrum. We concur with others that psychotic bipolar disorder includes patient populations typically diagnosed as having schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. In other words, there is no schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

It's worth considering, but I'd like to read reaction to this idea. Starting with your comments?

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