Neurotechnosocioeconomic impact

Neurotechnosocioeconomics is a fantastic new neuroword coined by Zack Lynch of Brain Waves in a post proposing a study on that very thing.

"What does it mean?" I was asked while spreading the new word. Just what it sounds like. The social and economic impact of neurotechnology (neurostimulators, brain-computer interfaces, etc.). Zack would like to further research the market and its social impact as regards the cost and treatment of neurological and psychiatric illnesses. He is seeking $2M in funding to quantify these trajectories.

Not the first person I've seen sort-of-seeking research funding on a blog. Does that work? Further study is required about this apparent trend, so I too will ask. I'd like a large grant for a project. Please comment with an enthusiastic "yes, I'm in!"

Various studies have compiled research on the economic impact of depression in the workplace, in developing countries, etc. One major report related to neurosocioeconomics from the WHO, The World Health Report 2001 - Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope, is oft-cited, and smaller studies also point to treatment deficits and directions. No shortage of depressing statistics on depression, for example. Unfortunately, there's been little socioeconomic impact as hospitals continue to close psychiatric beds and cut services, laws to require US health insurers to provide equity for mental illnesses languish and stall, and treatments remain inaccessible to many people suffering from brain illnesses.

Stigma is very strong. I hope Zack will have more success in swimming against the current.


Generative Art

Nervous States by Jonathan McCabe is data visualization using a process that resulted in a material gallery show of six digital prints. Neural nets generated patterns processed further by the artist/programmer; entirely new, generative art. When it's based on a neural net and mixed down further, what similarities may remain with human systems? Interesting questions re the emerging art form of data aesthetics. I'm really just learning how much creative potential there is, not being a programmer myself. Two of my favourite sites on info vis are Information Aesthetics, and Data as Nature (hat tip for this very post); they feature a tantalizing variety of original ideas and images.

McCabe's Nervous States was distilled with a novel process:

Each image is essentially a visualisation of the output state of a small neural network. The X and Y coordinates correspond to two variables in the connections of the network; the colour of the pixel at that point is a representation of the network's behaviour for those parameters. So the image is a map of system states; coherent colours show areas of relative stability or gradual change; edges show sharp jumps in the output; marbled swirls show complex oscillations.

Got that? The teeming void's review continues, and sums up the intriguing essence of this work:

This work also makes me wonder about communication, meaning and generative art. As McCabe explains them, and in the context of the "nervous" metaphor, the generative system is poetic in itself; the images can be read in that context, as mysterious maps of complex dynamics - or they can function on a more "retinal" level, as sheer visual stimulus - or perhaps both. But how comprehensible is the generative system for a wide audience? Does it matter? Understanding the images as state maps, rather than physical (or even simulated physical) traces and gestures, is a considerable leap of abstraction. And at a time when open-source tools are drawing more and more artists and designers to generative techniques, McCabe's work issues a similar challenge: underneath the initial challenge of learning to code is the conceptual process of understanding, designing and visualising generative systems, and it's those systems that (I'd say) are at the core of the work.

Read on: teeming void's review of Nervous States.



First - Omni Brain has moved to ScienceBlogs.com, part of the Seed Media Group responsible for many interesting projects (see Phylotaxis). Steve and I will continue to post brain silliness, for lots more readers. My blog attention has been focussed on the move of late, but Neurofuture remains a priority. Onward into the future!

Neurosurgery has long incorporated robotics, technology allowing far more precision. Computer assisted surgery (CAS) has been around for a while in various configurations, including telementoring in which a remote robot is controlled by neurosurgeons while closely monitored by a distant expert surgeon. A team in Saint Johns, New Brunswick and Halifax were the world's first to perform neurosurgery by telesurgery, in 2002, using the SOCRATES telementoring system (published here).

No CAS telesurgery system gave direct control of the surgery to one remote surgeon via the robot, however. That's now changed with another Canadian innovation, the NeuroArm from the University of Calgary and MD Robotics. (Canada has developed a number of telemedicine applications, being a large country with a far-flung population, and expertise in space robotics.) The NeuroArm has a haptic interface, integrates with near-realtime MR neuroimaging, and provides "all the features that a neurosurgeon would need to directly manipulate [surgery]." It's been in development for years and now going into manufacturing.

Designed based on biomimicry, the controller’s hand movements (master) are replicated by robotic arms (slave) which hold surgical tools. The NeuroArm comprises 2 arms, each with 7 degrees of freedom, and a third arm with 2 cameras which provides the surgeon with a 3-D stereoscopic view7. NeuroArm is able to carry out microsurgical techniques and soft tissue manipulations such as biopsy, microdissection, thermocoagulation, blunt dissection, grasping of tissue, cauterizing, manipulation of a retractor, tool cleaning, fine suturing, suction, microscissors, needle drivers, and bipolar forceps. All the tools are exchanged at the end-effector, which also provides haptic force feedback to the surgeon.

...In an attempt to replicate the surgical arena, the workstation provides the surgeon with 3 areas of feedback: sound, sight, and touch4. The surgical microscope (binoculars) give stereoscopic views of the brain’s complex folds, while MRIs and robotic sensors create a 3-dimensional map of the brain for the surgeon on the displays. The microsurgical tools and real-time MRIs increase the accuracy of the surgeon 1000-folds (from an accuracy level of 1 millimeter to one-thousandth of a millimeter)...The NeuroArm’s image guidance system is so advanced that the surgeon can simulate the procedure in virtual reality beforehand.

Just don't confuse it with the other NeuroArm, tempting as it may seem to build your own NeuroArm from a kit.

Read more about robotic neurosurgery and telesurgery.
Read more about medical robotics and CAS.

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