Google Glasses – Never Stop Playing – Ouroboros

Watch these two videos and then watch Ouroboros. Augmented Reality glasses … video games we can take with us anywhere … it’s only a matter of time before we start creating worlds to jack ourselves into ….. and thus: Ouroboros.

Google Augmented Reality Glasses

Playstation Vita – “Never Stop Playing”

And my short film – Ouroboros Season One

Brain-Computer Implant Has Passed 1000-Day Milestone


A paralysed woman was still able to control a computer cursor with her thoughts 1000 days after having a tiny electronic device implanted in her brain, say researchers who devised the system. The achievement demonstrates the longevity of brain-machine implants.

The woman, for whom the researchers use the pseudonym S3, had a brainstem stroke in the mid-1990s that caused tetraplegia – paralysis of all four limbs and the vocal cords.

In 2005, researchers from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the Providence VA Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston implanted a tiny silicon electrode array the size of a small aspirin into S3’s brain to help her communicate better with the outside world.

Top image: 2006 Matthew McKee.

The electrode array is part of the team’s BrainGate system, which includes a combination of hardware and software that directly senses the electrical signals produced by neurons in the brain which control the planning of movement.

The electrode decodes these signals to allow people with paralysis to control external devices such as computers, wheelchairs and bionic limbs.

In a study just published, the researchers say that in 2008 – 1000 days after implantation – S3 proved the durability of the device by performing two different “point-and-click” tasks by thinking about moving a cursor with her hand.

Her first task was to move a cursor on a computer screen to targets arranged in a circle and select each one in turn. The second required her to follow and click on a target as it moved around the screen in varying sizes.

Leigh Hochberg, visiting associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the BrainGate trial, told the website Medical News Today:

This proof of concept – that after 1000 days a woman who has no functional use of her limbs and is unable to speak can reliably control a cursor on a computer screen using only the intended movement of her hand – is an important step for the field

However, the device did not perform perfectly – fewer electrodes were recording useful neural signals than they did when tested six months after implantation.

The researchers say there is no evidence of any fundamental incompatibility between the sensor and the brain. Instead, they believe the decreased signal quality over time can largely be attributed to engineering issues. Ongoing research means these issues are now less of a problem than they were when S3 received her implant.

Speaking with Brown University’s news service, lead author John Simeral, assistant professor of engineering at Brown, said that they would like to further improve the sensitivity of the device:

Our objective with the neural interface is to reach the level of performance of a person without a disability using a mouse

Hochberg says that S3’s implant is still working and she is still participating in trials.

This post by Helen Thomson originally appeared in New Scientist.

The ancestor of all life on Earth might have been a gigantic planetary super-organism


The ancestor of all life on Earth might have been a gigantic planetary super-organism

All life on Earth is related, which means we all must share a single common evolutionary ancestor. And now it appears that this ancestor might have been a single, planet-spanning organism that lived in a time that predates the development of survival of the fittest.

That’s the idea put forward by researchers at the University of Illinois, who believe the last universal common ancestor, or LUCA, was actually a single organism that lived about three billion years ago. This organism was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and was basically an amorphous conglomeration of cells.

Instead of competing for resources and developing into separate lifeforms, cells spent hundreds of millions of years freely exchanging genetic material with each other, which allowed species to obtain the tools to survive without ever having to compete for anything. That’s maybe not an organism as we would comprehend it today, but that’s the closest term we have for this cooperative arrangement.

All that we know about LUCA is based on conjecture, and the most promising recent research has been in figuring out what proteins and other structures are shared across all three domains of life: the unicellular bacteria and archaea and the multi-celled eukaryotes, which are where all plants and animals evolved from. This isn’t a foolproof method — it’s possible that two extremely similar but not identical structures could evolve independently after LUCA split into the three domains — but it’s a good starting point.

Illinois researcher Gustavo Caetano-Anollés says about five to eleven percent of modern proteins could be traced back to LUCA. Based on the function of these particular proteins, it appears LUCA had the enzymes needed to break down nutrients and get energy from them, and it could also make proteins, but it probably didn’t have the tools necessary to make DNA. This fits with other research that suggests LUCA fed upon many different food sources, and that it had internal structures in its cells known as organelles.

The big difference between LUCA and everything that came after, of course, is DNA. Because LUCA didn’t have the tools to deal with DNA, it probably used RNA instead, and it likely had very little control over the proteins that it made. The research suggests the ability to precisely control protein manufacture only came long after LUCA split apart, which means that protein-making was probably always a big crapshoot.

That’s why LUCA had to be cooperative, with any cells that produced useful proteins able to pass them on throughout the world without competition. This was a weird variation on what we know as natural selections — helpful proteins could go from a single cell to global distribution, while harmful or useless proteins were quickly weeded out and discarded. The result was the equivalent of a planet-spanning organism.

So why did this paradise of cellular cooperation give way to the last three billion years of cutthroat competition? The simple answer is that some cells probably outgrew this arrangement, as they had finally developed all the structures needed to survive without help. We don’t know quite why that happened, but it appears to coincide with the sharp increase of oxygen in the atmosphere. Whatever the cause, cells began eking out their own independent existences, ending the reign of LUCA that had lasted hundreds of millions of years… while beginning a new order that is still going strong 2.9 billion years later.

BMC Evolutionary Biology via New Scientist. Image by fusebulb, via Shutterstock.

TR10: $100 Genome

Via Technology Review

Nanoscale sorting: A tiny nanofluidic chip is the key to BioNanomatrix’s effort to sequence a human genome for just $100. Bionanomatrix

In the corner of the small lab is a locked door with a colorful sign taped to the front: “$100 Genome Room–Authorized Persons Only.” BioNanomatrix, the startup that runs the lab, is pursuing what many believe to be the key to personalized medicine: sequencing technology so fast and cheap that an entire human genome can be read in eight hours for $100 or less. With the aid of such a powerful tool, medical treatment could be tailored to a patient’s distinct genetic profile.

Despite many experts’ doubt that whole-genome sequencing could be done for $1,000, let alone a 10th that much, BioNanomatrix believes it can reach the $100 target in five years. The reason for its optimism: company founder Han Cao has created a chip that uses nanofluidics and a series of branching, ever-narrowin­g channels to allow researchers, for the first time, to isolate and image very long strands of individual DNA molecules.

If the company succeeds, a physician could biopsy a cancer patient’s tumor, sequence all its DNA, and use that information to determine a prognosis and prescribe treatment– all for less than the cost of a chest x-ray. If the ailment is lung cancer, for instance, the doctor could determine the particular genetic changes in the tumor cells and order the chemo­therapy best suited to that variant.

Cao’s chip, which neatly aligns DNA, is essential to cheaper sequencing because double-stranded DNA, when left to its own devices, winds itself up into tight balls that are impossible to analyze. To sequence even the smallest chromosomes, researchers have had to chop the DNA up into millions of smaller pieces, anywhere from 100 to 1,000 base pairs long. These shorter strands can be sequenced easily, but the data must be pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle. The approach is expensive and time consuming. What’s more, it becomes problematic when the puzzle is as large as the human genome, which consists of about three billion pairs of nucleo­tides. Even with the most elegant algorithms, some pieces get counted multiple times, while others are omitted completely. The resulting sequence may not include the data most relevant to a particular disease.

In contrast, Cao’s chip untangles stretches of delicate double-stranded DNA molecules up to 1,000,000 base pairs long–a feat that researchers had previously thought impossible. The series of branching channels gently prompts the molecules to relax a bit more at each fork, while also acting as a floodgate to help distribute them evenly. A mild electrical charge drives them through the chip, ultimately coaxing them into spaces that are less than 100 nanometers wide. With tens of thousands of channels side by side, the chip allows an entire human genome to flow through in about 10 minutes. The data must still be pieced together, but the puzzle is much smaller (imagine a jigsaw puzzle of roughly 100 pieces versus 10,000), leaving far less room for error.

The chip meets only half the $100-genome challenge: it unravels DNA but does not sequence it. To achieve that, the company is working with Silicon Valley-based Complete Genomics, which has developed bright, fluorescently labeled probes that bind to the 4,096 possible combinations of six-letter DNA “words.” Along with ­BioNanomatrix’s chip, the probes could achieve the lightning-fast sequencing necessary for the $100 genome. But the probes can’t stick to double-stranded DNA, so Complete Genomics will need to figure out how to open up small sections of DNA without uncoupling the entire molecule. Continue reading

Entrepreneur Anshe Chung Makes A Fortune Selling Virtual Land, Banking and Fashion

Via Singularity Hub

How much would you pay for a piece of imaginary real estate? Anshe Chung has made millions renting it. Maybe your investment portfolio needs to include more fake property. A decade ago Ailin Graef was just another player in online games with a virtual avatar named Anshe Chung. Now the young entrepreneur’s China-based company manages online video game property worth millions in US dollars. How? In some online worlds, like Second Life, in-game currency (in this case, Linden Dollars or L$) can be sold for real money. Ailin/Anshe started making virtual money by designing and selling virtual fashion items for her fellow avatars. She leveraged that into virtual real estate investments. Today, Anshe Chung Studios has 80+ employees managing thousands of rental properties, helping design new 3D virtual chat rooms, and making tons of money on virtual to real currency exchanges. Anshe was the first person whose virtual property exceeded a real world value of 1 million dollars, and Anshe Chung Studios is perhaps the single largest third party developer of virtual property ever. Hers is a model for a new kind of online mogul: not one who makes the games, but someone who works inside the system to make a killing. Anshe Chung is a digital life mogul. Who wants to be next?

Anshe Chung is the online persona of Ailin Graef, world's first virtual millionaire and a developer of digital property.

Each online video game has its own way of handling currency. Some just give you points, some allow you to perform repetitive tasks to earn coins, and many will allow you to trade virtual goods and currency back and forth. The true goldmines (so to speak) are those games where the currency can be exchanged for real world money. Second Life allows its users to readily exchange L$ for US dollars or Euros, etc. Entropia actually sets the rate to a fixed amount. Either way it means that the activities you do in the video game can translate to an actual income. Some people, like Graef/Chung see that as an opportunity to make a fortune.

Graef started off in mid 2004 designing small scale animations/styles for virtual fashion. “Give me a few fake bucks, I’ll give you this nifty alternate design for a normally bland accessory.” (Something like that.) Anshe Chung Studios continues to make customized goods you can buy to dress your avatars in several online worlds.

Here's what 21,000 L$ (about $80) per week can get you. Not a bad island, even if it is virtual.

Once you start accruing virtual currency, however, investment opportunities outside of fashion begin to arise. In some virtual worlds, like Second Life, you can buy land to modify and develop. That’s what Graef did, and soon “Anshe Chung” was managing vast tracts of land in Second Life. And the scope of that real estate continues to expand. Today you can go to Azure Islands, some of the custom built and designed landscape built by Anshe Chung Studios, and get yourself your own parcel to rent starting at around L$ 821 or $3 USD per week. The really fancy plots go for as much as 13000 L$ a month (about $50), and the prices just keep going up from there (check out the picture to see what $80 a week will buy you). Anshe’s tenants may simply want a fancy place for their avatars to live online, or they could be more business minded. Virtual dance clubs and other meeting places can draw in good business by having the right landscape and design. It’s not just Second Life selling to Anshe Chung Studios who’s selling to users. There are many more tiers in the economy as everyone in Second Life, Entropia, IMVU and the other online worlds find places to live their virtual lives.

Online real estate is just the beginning. AnsheX is a virtual currency exchange. Do you have USD but want Linden dollars? AnsheX will sell you some. Same for Euros and PED (the currency for Entropia) or IMVU credits and Hong Kong dollars. While AnsheX rates are pretty close to the going rates, they make real world money on each purchase. Customers are willing to buy and sell at slightly disadvantageous rates because they can get the currency in 24 hours or (much) less rather than having to barter or arrange their own deals by hand.

So, you’re a fashion mogul, a real estate developer, and a banker – what’s next for your virtual empire? You might as well step behind the video game. Anshe Chung Studios is one of the major partners with a hand in Frenzoo, a social network and online chat program based in Hong Kong. Create an avatar, spend money (or time or both) dressing them just right, then go and meet other avatars and chat. Frenzoo has a pretty standard formula for success. IMVU is similar and has 50 million+ users and six million items up for sale. Catch the demo video for Frenzoo below and judge for yourself whether it has the same potential:

We’ve certainly seen people make real money on virtual property before. A single piece of territory sold for $635,000 not too long ago. What makes Ailin Graef and Anshe Chung Studios different is that their endeavors highlight the diverse paths one can take to gaining wealth by augmenting the way people play online games. The appearance of avatars, the design of locations, and the facilitation of trade are three big virtual markets and Anshe is tapping them all.

Talk about expanding markets - did we mention that many of these virtual worlds, like Frenzoo, are going mobile?

I also marvel at the value of the secondary markets that Anshe represents. If the actual producers of these virtual spaces are the ones reaping in billions of dollars (as Blizzard is with World of Warcraft) there’s still hundreds of millions to be made as players trade not with the owners, but with each other. Most of those business deals are probably going to be small – probably for virtual property valued at less than $1, but when you multiply that by millions of items for sale and tens of millions of regular users…that’s a lot of cash. The efforts of Anshe Chung Studios exemplifies how these games constitute real economies. Er, virtual economies. Or real virtual economies – look, you get the idea, these games are real revenue generators. Graef accrued a million dollars worth of online wealth way back in 2006. Others have followed and it looks like the future could support a wave of new VR moguls who build their riches on nothing but digital living.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t all some elaborate bubble. After all, when you buy Linden dollars, or an island paradise, or a new broach for your avatar you aren’t owning anything physical. Some day the entire affair could come crashing down. Imagine if people suddenly lose interest in a simulated environment because a new and better one arrives. Your investments could turn out to be worthless.

The same could be said of any investment on Earth.

Take a good long look at the multi-tiered empire Anshe Chung has built, and think of all the people it took playing those games to help her build her fortune. Those millions of players represent a growing part of our population. As online living continues to gain ground, the virtual economies (however temporarily) will thrive as well. There’s money to be made in those digital hills. Ailin Graef was the first virtual millionaire. The first billionaire could be right around the corner.

[image credits: Anshe Chung Studios]

[sources: Anshe Chung Studios]