Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA – Brain Blogger http://brainblogger.com Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Wed, 30 May 2018 15:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Top Smart Clothes http://brainblogger.com/2016/04/23/top-smart-clothes/ http://brainblogger.com/2016/04/23/top-smart-clothes/#respond Sat, 23 Apr 2016 15:00:36 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=21509 The concept of dressing smart is about to change. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing trainers, a suit or a chimpanzee onesie. Any garment can actually be very smart if made with the right technology, that is to say, if it is “intelligent clothing”.

While smart wearables like wristbands and watches are already popular gadgets amongst athletes and fitness enthusiasts, smart clothes are still in the initial stages of production. However there are a few smart wearable electronic garments out there, which are already able to track our heartbeat and rate, body temperature, performance, muscle activity and breathing.

In the longer run, the potential uses of smart clothes are as varied as our needs, our creativity and our imagination. Japan, The US and Europe are at the top of the list in countries researching and developing these garments.

Smart clothes for sport and health

There have also been prototypes of smart clothes for monitoring posture and movement in order to improve body postures or assist in rehabilitation after injury. The sports and fitness industry is one of the most interested in creating smart garments. The variety of such garments is rapidly growing, with shirts which track sleep patterns, trousers which warm our legs before exercise, bras which support the breast when most needed and shirts which offer feedback during training.

One very remarkable design which is still in production is a bra that could scan for breast cancer.

According to experts; hospitals, the military and rescue services have been amongst the sectors most interested in the development of such garments, but soon the industry will expand towards individual consumption.

Smart clothes for babies

AT&T and Exmovere are working on baby pyjamas with biosensors fitted to transmit critical vital signs such as heart rate, skin temperature, moisture and movement in order to prevent cot death.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the next wave includes a range of smart clothes for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. Such garments could feasibly be used to keep track of a baby’s development inside the womb or of much milk your baby is getting from the breast.

Is it all positive?

Smart clothes may very well have an extremely positive impact on our health since they will be able to directly assist us in accurately tracking the state of our bodies. Nonetheless, there are other potential consequences which should be taken into account such as the potential impact on our privacy and mental wellbeing.

Using smart clothes will doubtless become a very popular trend amongst those interested in body image, fitness and health, and probably for a host of other reasons including numerous lifestyle niches. For some people smart clothes could also quite literally become life savers.

However, we might find that these garments manifest as yet another source of information glut in a society that’s already flooded with it. Getting undressed at night might come to mean taking off our connections, as well as our clothes.

References

Chan, Marie et al. (2012) Smart wearable systems: Current status and future challenges, Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, Volume 56, Issue 3, 137 – 156.

Axisa, F., Schmitt, P., Gehin, C., Delhomme, G., McAdams, E., & Dittmar, A. (2005). Flexible Technologies and Smart Clothing for Citizen Medicine, Home Healthcare, and Disease Prevention IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, 9 (3), 325-336 DOI: 10.1109/TITB.2005.854505

Image via Lorimer Images / Shutterstock.

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Top Tech Gadgets for the Elderly http://brainblogger.com/2016/04/06/top-tech-gadgets-for-the-elderly/ http://brainblogger.com/2016/04/06/top-tech-gadgets-for-the-elderly/#respond Wed, 06 Apr 2016 15:00:07 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=21480 The elderly have often been neglected by technology developers as a focus market. The stereotype is that they are technophobes, or at least slow to pick up new innovations.

However, in reality not only are the elderly very capable of using a range of complex modern technologies, they are also very often in need of devices that can ease their lives and empower them in their range of abilities. Let’s look over a few of the best examples out there.

Small tech goes big

It seems that we are currently obsessed with reducing the size of new devices to make them more and more portable. However according to researchers, most elderly people prefer to spend their time without rushing and stressing and going from one place to the other, as many young people do. Many spend a great deal of time in their homes, which is often referred to as “ageing in place”.

Therefore, gadgets designed to support home living can be very useful, especially when they are designed appropriately for the elderly. Some simple examples include TV remote controllers, mobile phones and tablets designed as lightweight and featuring large illuminated buttons. TV audio amplifiers can also be very useful for, as well as audiobooks downloaded as MP3s or played on tablets and similar devices directly from a browser or a playlist.

Cleaning robots

Robotic technology for the home is still in its incipient stages when compared to most sci-fi tales of humanoid robots carrying out our domestic duties. Still, there are already many domestic robots that are on their way to becoming a commonplace feature of our times.

Amongst the most popular are lawnmowers and automatic vacuum cleaning devices which are able to navigate around obstacles and can be scheduled to vacuum or even wash floors in sequence.

Alarms /strong>

The improvements in home alarms and mobile phone security apps for seniors have been noticable. There are sophisticated gadgets now available which can track activity patterns and create alerts for carers and family or friends when there is an unexpected interrupt in an elderly person’s routine. There are also a good range of wireless alarm systems which can be placed around the home with ease.

GPS shoes and smart soles

These remarkable inventions are shoes and/or soles containing wearable devices which track people’s movements and remotely inform contacts as to their location. For those who wander due to conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, this is a great facility. GPS shoes update information periodically so caregivers can be informed about the location of the user with frequencies ranging up to every 10 minutes. GPS smart soles allow online tracking of a user’s location through any smartphone, tablet or browser with the login details.

Memories’ treasures

Treasuring the memories of our yesterdays and our loved ones is something that many increasingly enjoy in their later years and can also stimulate memory functions and provide an overall boost to happiness and well being. There is a range of interesting possibilities such as large digital photo frames which display thousands of photos, as well as audio and video content in some cases. Some of these digital photo frames can be updated remotely from a relative’s computer or even mobile phone.

A widening range of gadgets are now becoming more user friendly, interesting and empowering for the elderly, as well as a diversifying range of gadgets custom-made for this market group. After all, this is a segment of the population who should be respected and should never be neglected. They brought us into this world, and we we will all arrive into this demographic in the end.

References

Brooker, D., & Duce, L. (2000). Wellbeing and activity in dementia: A comparison of group reminiscence therapy, structured goal-directed group activity and unstructured time Aging & Mental Health, 4 (4), 354-358 DOI: 10.1080/713649967

Image via Huntstock.com / Shutterstock.

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Digital Childhood http://brainblogger.com/2016/03/27/digital-childhood/ http://brainblogger.com/2016/03/27/digital-childhood/#respond Sun, 27 Mar 2016 15:00:54 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=21448 Many children these days have access to a multitude of digital items from a very tender age. They also rapidly pick up skills in these items’ use. Devices commonly accessed by young children include large and small screens, keyboards and control functions for mobile phones, laptops, tablets, televisions and desktop computers.

According to a recent study of Children’s Media Use in America in 2013, the use of digital devices amongst under two year olds had increased from 10% to 38% in just the last two years.

Experts point out that many children are growing up in a media-saturated environment and that in many parts of the world we are approaching universal access to media technology. Children can find digital media devices at home, school and even at nursery.

Positive Impact

It is commonly believed amongst parents, experts and carers that digital media has a significant impact on children’s environments, development and behaviour. There’s certainly a relationship to the learning process, as well as to their overall experience of being in the world, and likely an effect on how they build and learn about relationships. Still, there is a huge debate about how exactly children are affected by digital media.

A huge host of serious issues intersect around the topic, ranging from those related to body image, to concerns about overuse, perceptions of violence, development of obesity and sleep disorders, attention difficulties, and worries about online predators are amongst those most discussed in the media and by experts.

The potential negative outcomes of these devices’ use by small children can be alarming. Therefore the core question is how can we help shape this impact and keep it positive?

Challenging Screens

One first step is to be aware of what digital platforms children are using and how they are engaging with these. This will vary significantly according to age, gender and socioeconomic status. However the clear tendency is a trending increase in their use and in overall time spent by children using digital devices.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends avoiding passive screen time for under twos. Limiting screen time and offering creative and stimulating activities for children can sometimes be a challenge for parents and carers.

It has been well demostrated that passive screen time even with products aimed at mental stimulation, in the case of small children, toddlers and babies does not in fact help children to learn and can even delay their development. Young children learn best through interaction.

Opting In

In case of opting for some passive screen time it is advisable to carefully review the parental guidelines available for media such as films, games and cartoons as well as watching the content with the child in order to guide their experience.

It is also necessary to be aware of the emergent potential negative uses of digital devices which can become of concern as children get older. It is important to try to maximise our opportunities to make sure children are also aware of these issues by talking about them openly.

Older children and teenagers are frequently exposed to a wide range of digital media and need to be aware of their potential overuse, the risks of addiction to video games and social media, and the dangers related to sharing their personal information online.

Children of the digital age have a lot to explore out there in the digital world. The main challenge for parents and carers is to guide this process in such a rapidly changing digital environment.

References

Vandewater EA, Rideout VJ, Wartella EA, Huang X, Lee JH, & Shim MS (2007). Digital childhood: electronic media and technology use among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Pediatrics, 119 (5) PMID: 17473074

A Common Sense Research Study (2013) Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, October 28.

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Your Memory and Google http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/24/your-memory-and-google/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/24/your-memory-and-google/#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2015 15:00:48 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20469 As I was searching for some very old emails last week, I sadly realised that many of them had been erased. Almost two decades of communication with friends and family, lost forever. I remember just a few phrases of the most precious emails which I had probably read more than a hundred times and sadly I know that I won’t be ever able to recall the rest of those memories.

While I could blame Yahoo because I am sure I did not choose to erase those emails, I entirely blame myself. I just relied too much on technology and trusted a single company not to make clumsy mistakes. After some sad nostalgia over those memories I found myself wondering how it is that the use of the internet is shaping our formation of memories.

According to some recent research we tend to use the internet as a personal memory bank, no longer relying on our brain to recall the names or telephone numbers of people we know. This is called “the Google effect”.

Thanks to search engines, email providers, applications and social networking sites, we can go from a vague input to a search function and still find out the name of a song, an actor or an album, or even the full name or personal contact information for an old friend.

According to the theory of transactive memory proposed more than 30 years ago, we are instinctively more relaxed about not remembering facts such as birthdays and telephone numbers when we know that a third party can remind us of this data, should we need to ask them.

Columbia University professor Betsy Sparrow maintains that the internet is now filling that role. We rely on it heavily and increasingly to remind us of things that we once knew, including facts about the wider world. For example, I am happy to know that I can google my friends and stay up to date on their lives via social networking sites, even when I am not really in touch with many of them.

However, if those emails had been face-to-face conversations I would have probably remembered a bit more than a few isolated phrases here and there based on what they decided to post online. Maybe I would also remember gestures, settings, smells and sounds which would enrich those memories.

The internet provides us with vast amounts of information but this is simply not enough when it comes to social relations–we need direct experience. If the information related to our social relations cannot be recalled on screen anymore it simply disappears in a cloud of unformed memories, barely leaving signals of its existence in our minds.

References

Bohannon, J. (2011). Searching for the Google Effect on People’s Memory Science, 333 (6040), 277-277 DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6040.277

Sparrow B, Liu J, & Wegner DM (2011). Google effects on memory: cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science (New York, N.Y.), 333 (6043), 776-8 PMID: 21764755

Image via Andrea Danti / Shutterstock.

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Do You Suffer From Techno-Stress? http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/22/do-you-suffer-from-techno-stress/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/22/do-you-suffer-from-techno-stress/#respond Tue, 22 Sep 2015 15:00:59 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20471 Rapid advancements in technology and the spread of its use are double-edged phenomena in our modern world. In fact, some studies suggest that there is an increase of stress and health problems relating to information overload in the use of communication and information technologies (ICT).

While many argue that digital technologies have impacted communication and productivity positively, for others this is debatable. More communication is not necessarily better communication or better productivity.

Negative psychological response

Some call this “techno-stress”, defined as a negative psychological response related to the use of digital technologies. According to researchers referencing this phenomenon, numerous and rapid changes in digital technologies may be making us feel forced to keep up to date with these changes, to multitask more effectively and carry out increasing amounts of work remotely.

In many cases people do not just do their work from their workplace. In fact, the concept of the workplace is itself a rapidly changing concept. It is no longer necessarily a reference to an office, a factory or a specific place. Many roles, especially ICT roles are carried out without any need to be in a specific geolocation.

The workplace can now be anywhere as long as we have a suitable device that allows us to carry out our specific tasks. Airports, trains, holiday resorts, even our beds could now be called workplaces.

Techno-strain and techno-addiction

Salanova et al., argue that we can actually experience techno-stress in two main ways: “techno-strain” and “techno-addiction”.

Techno-strain is related to high levels of fatigue and anxiety, and low self-belief related to the use of ICT. Techno-addiction is related to the excessive and compulsive use of ICT.

How to cope

The research suggests that many find it increasingly difficult to draw boundaries between work and leisure, with states of techno-stress being commonplance and related to a compulsion to be connected and constantly updated via multiple channels of communication.

In order to cope with this problem and get back in balance, experts suggest that employers become increasingly aware of this problem, provide additional support and training to employees on the subject and promote responsible ICT use.

We’re pretty good at getting connected online, now perhaps we need to learn how to unplug ourselves, which I, as a techno-expert, would like to “techno-suggest”.

References

Tarafdar, M., Gupta, A., & Turel, O. (2013). The dark side of information technology use Information Systems Journal, 23 (3), 269-275 DOI: 10.1111/isj.12015

Salanova, M. (et.al.) (2014). Technostress: The Dark Side of Technologies, in The Impact of ICT on Quality of Working Life. Springer, pp. 87-103.

Image via Catalin Petolea / Shutterstock.

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Your Companions – Top Social Robots http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/20/your-companions-top-social-robots/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/20/your-companions-top-social-robots/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2015 15:00:13 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20460 Personal robots are already amongst us. They can dance, play music, chat and respond to our touch. However, personal robots that could ably assist us with the housework are still far from being properly developed.

Some are still very slow, or have problems recognising speech, their movements can be clumsy, their bodies might be carried just by a pair of wheels and overall they might not be very handy just yet. But before we completely disappoint you about the idea of having a robot at home we have some good news for you. Robots are developing fast and there are some fine examples which are already being used as companions.

Some prototypes have good memories and can serve to remind us of things such as important dates and meetings, and some appear to possess a better sense of humour than many humans! They can recognise when they are being found amusing or not and can respond with a laugh when they realise that we are laughing with them.

According to Rodney Brooks, roboticist and MIT professor, we will rely on autonomous robots in the near future. He considers that they will replace people in carrying out mechanical and repetitive tasks and will become our main collaborators at home, something which could be particularly useful among populations with increasing numbers of elderly people.

Jibo and Buddy

Jibo and Buddy are both currently prototypes of social robots which are partly funded from crowdfunding projects. According to their developers, they are connected devices which can be considered family robots.

They can recognise the members of the family, work as cameramen for video and photo work as well as follow instructions, play music, hold conversations, remind us of personal appointments or tasks, entertain and educate. Jibo and Buddy can also answer the phone and leave voice messages.

Pepper

This is a humanoid, rather short and chatty robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics. He can currently speak English, French, Japanese and Spanish. According to his developers he is a very empathic robot and can detect people’s emotions.

Pepper can give the weather forecast and make jokes. He comes with a tablet to display images and app developers are creating a number of entertaining and educational functionalities which can make him an increasingly funny and interesting companion.

Romo

This personal programmable robot is based on the use of an app and a little piece of hardware with wheels that can be attached to a smartphone so the robot can roam from one place to the other.

Romo can have emotional reactions and respond to your facial expression. It can smile or be shy and and even sneeze. It can use other smartphone functions such as taking photographs. The developers refer to it as a friendly robot with a personality that can be enjoyed by old and young alike.

We are far from having anthropomorphic companions to help us around the house. For now Roombas continue to sell well. These are contact sensitive vacuum cleaners which can change direction when encountering obstacles, sense spots of dirt and stop themselves from falling down stairs.

These Roombas can be considered as robots being used for very basic house chores, but their status as companion is obviously pretty much non-existent. We’ll just need to wait a little longer to have affordable robots in our homes doing far more than the vacuuming.

References

Breazeal, C. and Bar-Cohen, Y. (2003) Biologically Inspired Intelligent Robots, Bellingham, Washington: SPIE (The International Society for Optical Engineering) ISBN 0-8194-4872-9.

Image via charles taylor / Shutterstock.

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Top Pregnancy and Labor Apps http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/12/top-pregnancy-and-labor-apps/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/09/12/top-pregnancy-and-labor-apps/#respond Sat, 12 Sep 2015 15:00:43 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20453 There are apps for everything nowadays, so it is only natural that many have been created to assist in that most important of times in our lives, pregnancy and labor. Arguably this emergent technology is playing quite a significant role in shaping the ways expectant mums keep track of their physical and mental condition.

This software’s development is also pushing obstetric and health professionals to adapt to their technologically equipped patients. Of course there are also plenty of apps directly made for healthcare professionals too.

Some of these apps function as reference tools or calculators, facilitating information access and providing quick access to technical guidelines. In the course of this use, the information which they provide may shape the decision-making process of both patients and experts alike. For this reason it is important to acknowledge their impact as well as ensuring their safety and trustworthiness.

Expectant mums might find some of the following apps very useful. Each of these has been reviewed by UK healthcare professionals and bears their stamp of approval.

Pregnancy tracking

Amongst the apps for pregnancy tracking, Pregnancy + is one of the most popular, being used by more than two million people. This app provides interactive images of developing babies, has a personal diary feature and users can log doctor’s appointments, browse babies’ names, store shopping lists and information about their birth plans, diet and exercise regimes. Its broad functionality and level of detail are two of its best features.

My Pregnancy Today is another app which can be used as a daily guide to pregnancy which first time parents might find particularly useful since it provides so much useful everyday information on navigating the course of a pregnancy.

Tracking your baby´s movements and heartbeat

There are also apps for tracking your baby’s heartbeat, such as Tiny Beats, which uses a mobile phone to listen to the baby’s heart and record it.

However, this might be considered misleading if it is used as a reference for the wellbeing of the baby since a mum’s heartbeat can be easily confused with a baby’s. Many midwives recommend that the best way to keep track of your baby’s activity inside the womb is by the number and quality of movements.

Apps for keeping healthy

Squeezy is an app which can help both pregnant women and mums to get into the habit of doing pelvic floor muscle exercises. Apps providing exercises for expectant mums can be useful if designed and used with care and according to health experts’ recommendations.

Apps for labor

Some apps can also be used for tracking contractions in order to record the exact time a contraction starts and ends, which can be very useful in order to decide when to head to hospital.

For breastfeeding mums who are expressing milk, there are also apps for tracking the pumping and storage of breastmilk, such as Milk Maid.

Of course for the new baby there are also a number of apps available for tracking their health, habits and development. These may well be a good subject for an upcoming article. Please let me know in the comments which apps you have found useful in pregnancy!

References

Fernández, M.A. (2015) Apps móviles sanitarias para Ginecología y Obstetricia, Metas de enfermería, ISSN 1138-7262, Vol. 18, Nº. 3, 2015, pág. 15. http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=5044153

Image via Syda Productions / Shutterstock.

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Hypnotech – Technology for Hypnosis http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/31/hypnotech-technology-for-hypnosis/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/31/hypnotech-technology-for-hypnosis/#respond Mon, 31 Aug 2015 15:00:09 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20409 A balancing pendulum, a soothing voice and a pair of starry, deep and focused eyes are amongst the common elements imagined when attempting to get into a hypnotic state. Can technology help?

Reaching a state of hypnosis seems to be much simpler with the use of an app or computer. Personally, I have to say that I have used some self-hypnosis techniques which seemed to work. But there does not seem to be any scientific evidence to support their efficacy.

Mystique and debate

Hypnosis is one of those mysterious states of human consciousness known to be the subject of much debate. Some critical views support the idea that it is nothing more than a relaxation technique or a state of heightened suggestibility highly shaped by the existing expectations of the “hypnotised” subject.

According to a range of studies, there is no strong scientific evidence to support the use of hypnosis and this is why it is often spoken of in terms of the placebo effect.

A complementary tool

However, according to many hypnotherapists and proponents of the practice, hypnosis can be a rich resource as well as a popular complementary tool in the treatment of a range of medical conditions and day to day challenges such as stopping smoking, losing weight, overcoming traumas, pain and anxiety and even giving birth naturally with minimum pain relief.

It has also been used to be a complementary therapy in the treatment of skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome and sleep related conditions.

Hypnosis procedures involve a series of instructions and suggestions which can help us to focus and concentrate in order to then follow further instructions usually designed to help us to achieve a specific goal.

Hypnosis in a gadget

Self-hypnosis techniques can involve the use of gadgets, apps or computers. On the internet we can find a huge range of resources such as written texts, music, videos and audio tracks with instructions, all of which are supposed to be resources which lead us in to a hypnotic state.

Often these materials are supported by other resources such as books and one-to-one or group live courses. It is also possible to find a large number of apps for iPhone and Android on this topic.

According to a recent study which unearthed an astounding 1,455 apps designed for hypnosis for sale on iTunes, it is necessary for users to be aware of issues in responsible app development and use, since none of these apps had been tested for efficacy, or had any evidence offered in support of their functionality.

However, the researchers in this study did conclude that using such apps can be potentially a tool for achieving hypnotic states. It is just that again, technological experimentation and production is racing ahead of the supporting scientific and social science fields surrounding its use, and the popularity of apps designed for a certain function is booming even while the field of related study is itself languishing somewhat.

References

Marc I, Toureche N, Ernst E, Hodnett ED, Blanchet C, Dodin S, & Njoya MM (2011). Mind-body interventions during pregnancy for preventing or treating women’s anxiety. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (7) PMID: 21735413

Sucala, M., Schnur, J., Glazier, K., Miller, S., Green, J., & Montgomery, G. (2013). Hypnosis—There’s an App for That:

International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 61 (4), 463-474 DOI: 10.1080/00207144.2013.810482

Webb AN, Kukuruzovic R, Catto-Smith AG, Sawyer SM. Hypnotherapy for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD005110. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005110.pub2.

Image via Alta Oosthuizen / Shutterstock.

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The Age of Your Baby’s Brain http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/12/the-age-of-your-babys-brain/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/12/the-age-of-your-babys-brain/#respond Wed, 12 Aug 2015 15:00:40 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20271 Knowing a baby’s exact gestational age is essential in antenatal care. It allows midwives and doctors to estimate delivery date, assess the need of medical intervention and make other critical decisions during pregnancy. A recent study suggests that an innovative alternative may be upon us: a highly accurate means of calculating gestational age based on the analysis of the most complex organ of all, the brain.

During the first weeks of pregnancy, the last recorded date menstruation is ordinarily used to establish an estimated due date. During antenatal care, this date can be adjusted according to the information provided by traditional two-dimensional ultrasound imaging of the fetal cranium. This is commonly done after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Lack of accuracy

While many methods have been proposed to better determine the exact age of an embryo or a fetus, in practical terms within the medical community it has been a challenge to find a method which is truly accurate. This has been especially difficult amongst deprived and low income populations, amongst whom factors such as unavailable or unreliable menstrual history and late obstetric care can drastically alter dating information.

During the third trimester of pregnancy in particular, the biological variations in the general development of fetuses means that the correlation between physical form of the fetus and gestational age begins to become divergent.

When the development of a fetus is influenced by external conditions such as malnutrition, the size of the foetus can of course be impacted as well as the development of various bodily systems.

Measurements by brain activity

The brain is generally the last organ to be affected by issues such as malnutrition during gestation, as it is extremely well protected and enduring in its attributes. According to the researchers, calculation of the brain’s activity based on 3D ultrasound image appearance and the patterns generated by the brain can provide us with very specific information about the age of a fetus and its neurodevelopmental maturation.

The scientists claim that their model can provide an accuracy of gestation age of 6-10 days and that it outperforms current clinical methods in calculating gestational age during the third trimester by about 5 days.

This method has never been attempted before and seems very promising especially for assessing gestational age even in cases with deviations in growth.

In future research, the team plan to analyse further correlated factors in assessing the maturation of the fetus, focused around further understanding fetal neurodevelopmental patterns.

References

Namburete, A., Stebbing, R., Kemp, B., Yaqub, M., Papageorghiou, A., & Alison Noble, J. (2015). Learning-based prediction of gestational age from ultrasound images of the fetal brain Medical Image Analysis, 21 (1), 72-86 DOI: 10.1016/j.media.2014.12.006

Namburete, Ana I.L. et al. (2014) Predicting Fetal Neurodevelopmental Age from Ultrasound Images, in Medical Image Computing and Computer-Assisted Intervention–MICCAI 2014, Springer International Publishing.

Image via Juan Gaertner / Shutterstock.

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Brain-Controlled Gadgets http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/08/brain-controlled-gadgets/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/08/brain-controlled-gadgets/#respond Sat, 08 Aug 2015 15:00:17 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20245 Despite trying to convince ourselves that telekinesis is possible, any possible cases of the ability are strictly relegated to the realms of pseudo-science for now, with a serious lack of conclusive evidence in their favour. However, neuroscience is already enabling the use of the human mind for controlling objects in the physical world, using equipment often referred to as a brain-machine interface (BMI) or a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Direct interface between our brains and machines is now possible. However, emergent devices in this sphere often require “brain training” in order to function, and their successful use is dependent on our ability to summon quite specific brainwaves and frequencies at will. This technology is based mostly based on machine interpretation of signals naturally produced by our brains.

For example, a machine could interpret a brain signal as corresponding to our imagining a specific shape or image, through familiarity with reading our brain function over time. The machine may then duplicate an approximation of the image on a screen; theoretically it could also interpret qualities such as colour, movement and texture in order to represent them.

With this technology, video games will become far more immersive, creating the illusion of magic within the game as players tune, move, lift or manifest virtual objects and change the landscape, colours and lights of virtual surroundings while playing. This might occur according to specific intentions, or even matching general features of the moods of players.

The interpretation of our thoughts can of course be applied in more practical terms in our daily lives. We should not be surprised if before long we are living in “smart homes” where we can control our household devices and turn on and off screens, computers, heating, lights and doors simply by mentally willing it.

There are already some examples of cars that can be controlled via BMI. Scientists have applied similar technologies to control wheelchairs designed for the physically impaired, and the control of prosthetic limbs with our brain signals is also possible.

These technologies are still posing many challenges for their developers and users since they require a lot of training and patience in order to be able to send the right signals to the machines. However, scientists are very optimistic in relation to the effective control of robotic systems using BMI systems.

Some gadgets based on similar developments of neuroscience are indeed already on the market.

Some examples are Emotiv-Epoc, MUSE and Neurosky. All three claim to able to measure and track brain signals including emotions and levels of stress, concentration and relaxation in order to help us learn how to optimize the activity of our brains and produce specific brain signals which can be recognised by computers and other electronic devices.

Soon the strength of our brains, creativity and the bounds of our imaginations might be interpreted and reproduced by computer systems, and we may find ourselves recreating our thoughts via the direct medium of an interfaced electronic device. The implications for art, amongst many other areas, are extraordinary. In a literal sense this time, our imagination will be the only limit.

References

Khan, M., Hong, M., & Hong, K. (2014). Decoding of four movement directions using hybrid NIRS-EEG brain-computer interface Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00244

Ramos-Murguialday, A., Broetz, D., Rea, M., Läer, L., Yilmaz, ?., Brasil, F., Liberati, G., Curado, M., Garcia-Cossio, E., Vyziotis, A., Cho, W., Agostini, M., Soares, E., Soekadar, S., Caria, A., Cohen, L., & Birbaumer, N. (2013). Brain-machine interface in chronic stroke rehabilitation: A controlled study Annals of Neurology, 74 (1), 100-108 DOI: 10.1002/ana.23879

Image via Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock.

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Top Meditation Apps http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/07/top-meditation-apps/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/07/top-meditation-apps/#respond Fri, 07 Aug 2015 15:00:15 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20259 Meditation is not only a hippie trend anymore, with more and more people becoming interested in it. In recent years, potential benefits such as relief from stress, depression and anxiety have been well established scientifically.

But have you ever tried to concentrate on your breathing, on the visualisation of a white spot, or just on trying to let your thoughts go without any success? What about keeping a jumpy leg calm or keeping your posture straight while meditating? For many, meditation remains a real challenge.

Technology seems to be impregnating even these most intimate areas of our minds.

An array of apps claims to be able to help you to achieve a state of mind that will bring you all the benefits related to mediation. Here are some of the most popular apps out there at this time.

Some of the most comprehensive apps include a wide selection of tools. Sattva for example includes timers, heart monitors and goal trackers. Calm provides music, natural scenes and guided meditation sessions. Headspace offers 10-minute meditation sessions, animations and instructions to assist in the process.

The Mindfulness App offers guided meditation sessions that can span from 3 to 30 minutes and reminders to meditate. Omvana can help you to customise each meditation with background sounds and narrated instructions. Some short guided meditations are included in Take a Break, Relaxation, and Pocket Retreat, all of which are iPhone apps.

Some other meditation apps are simpler and are used as tools for specific states of mind or transitions. An example that could help us to “be in the present” is the 7 Second Meditation app. Relax Lite might help us to relax in a short time; Pranayama and Zazen are both designed to improve our deep breathing and Silva Relax claims to help us focus.

These apps promise solutions when it seems to be tricky to calm our minds or bodies down. Personally I think they are a good idea and probably fairly useful. Nonetheless, it really seems paradoxical to resort to a machine in order to work on something the root of which requires that we work internally. Monks certainly do not need apps to meditate, they learn by practicing patiently and learning how to control their bodies and minds. Part of the benefit of the process comes from that very practice.

References

Dakwar, E., & Levin, F. (2009). The Emerging Role of Meditation in Addressing Psychiatric Illness, with a Focus on Substance Use Disorders Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 17 (4), 254-267 DOI: 10.1080/10673220903149135

Mars, T., & Abbey, H. (2010). Mindfulness meditation practise as a healthcare intervention: A systematic review International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 13 (2), 56-66 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijosm.2009.07.005

Image via PlusONE / Shutterstock.

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Learn a Language While You’re Asleep http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/06/learn-a-language-while-youre-asleep/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/08/06/learn-a-language-while-youre-asleep/#respond Thu, 06 Aug 2015 15:00:13 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20249 Some people claim that they can learn a new skill while having a lucid dream. Have you ever tried to learn a language by listening to an audio course, to music or to the radio while doing something else, such as sleeping?

The language industry offers many options packaged for absorption while sleeping, which are commonly criticised as based on pseudo-scientific methodology, since it has been very difficult to prove the true potential of such passive learning.

According to recent research, interactive learning-in which the student is actively involved in the process of learning-is the best way to learn a new language.

In counterpoint to most research however, a recent study carried out by Swiss psychologists Schreiner and Rasch attempted to explore the possibility of learning a foreign language while asleep, or at least to reinforce a vocabulary. According to this study, reactivating memories by way of replaying recently learnt words during sleep can improve the memorisation of new vocabulary.

The study was based on giving new Dutch words to a group of six German students before 10 pm. The words were replayed to one half of the group during active or passive learning, and to the other half during non-rapid eye movement sleep (NonREM), which is in the first hours of the night, while we do not dream.

At 2am, both groups were asked about the words and the scientists found that the group who had the words replayed while asleep performed significantly better at recalling them.

While the researchers replayed the words to the participants who were asleep, they noted increased theta brainwave activity, similar to the activity generated in the brain while we are actively learning during our waking hours.

As a result, this study concluded that the verbal cues reactivated associated memories which can help to consolidate the language learning process.

So perhaps it is the case that many of the language learning products on the market such as CDs, audiobooks and apps designed for use during these first hours of sleep can actually have some benefit, although it is yet to be shown that they can assist us in the original act of learning new vocabulary. This might make for an interesting follow-up study for Schreiner and Rasch.

Scientists have also pointed out that those participants in their study who were kept awake at night may not have performed so well due to sleep deprivation. This potential bias in the study needs addressing, and also serves as a whimsical reminder about the value of a good night’s sleep for any learning process.

References

Schreiner T, & Rasch B (2014). Boosting Vocabulary Learning by Verbal Cueing During Sleep. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991) PMID: 24962994

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Fittening App http://brainblogger.com/2015/07/24/fittening-app/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/07/24/fittening-app/#respond Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:00:54 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20070 It is well established that regulations in the weight loss industry are slack enough to allow potential harm to consumers, and many advocate for the government to strengthen existing laws. The vested interests in the market are a serious concern, with the weight loss industry in the US alone generating around $60.5 billion in revenue across 2014, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

One might imagine that the wealth of information now online might help individuals to become more informed, but in such an unregulated industry the abundance of both crafted and ignorant misinformation available has led to a sea of confusion in regard to good practice. People are consuming products with little benefit, and in some cases serious risk to health.

Apps for fitness

The boom of apps dedicated to the weight loss industry has not only augmented the existing surfeit of books, exercise programmes, magic milkshakes, pills and dietary supplements, machines, clothes and other weight loss paraphernalia and services. It has also, to an extent, challenged that tottering body of devices, threatening to reduce the profusion.

Apps exist now which work as diet trackers, calorie counters, exercise aids and body building coaches. There are those which aim to control appetite and or influence us in making decisions when dining, shopping or simply eating.

Are these apps healthy for you?

Some of the most popular apps have proven to be not only doubtfully effective but potentially harmful. For example, one of the most popular is the 7-Minute Workout App that claims to provide an effective circuit routine for losing weight and strengthening muscles based on 12 exercises done daily.

The app is only recommended for people who are actually fit enough to push their bodies into a short high intensity workout regime. This means that the elderly, people with heart disease and hypertension or those who have suffered a previous injury are not supposed to use it. In fact even people who are merely overweight are advised against its use. There is of course no way to enforce this advice.

Another problem related to free online calorie counters and diet planners such as MyFitness Pal is that their use could generate or contribute to an unhealthy and unnatural relationship with food.

Counting with a click absolutely every calorie we take in might be useful for losing weight, but not necessarily for developing healthy long term habits or ways of thinking about our own consumption.

Personalised training apps such as Fit Star are based on pushing our bodies to their limits. Such virtual trainers or coaches are mostly basic and largely underdeveloped pieces of software which can raise the risk of personal injury, especially with those who have had previous injuries or obsessive behaviour. The accountability just isn’t there with virtual replicas of personal coaches, at least not yet.

Achieving fitness goals?

Undoubtedly many of these new apps can help to achieve new fitness goals if used correctly and in combination with the advice and aid of health experts.

However the trend in their actual use is not so balanced. Individual apps continue to go supernova and hit viral status, and for now the control just isn’t there to prevent some of these tools from exacerbating certain negative or dangerous habits possessed by individual losers. As a result self-harm can be the ironic result of an action taken the name of getting fitter at the very ease of a click.

References

Begley CE (1991) Government should strengthen regulation in the weight loss industry, School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston 77225,
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 91(10):1255-1257.

Market Research (2014) The U.S. Weight Loss Market: 2014 Status Report and Forecast,
February 01, Marketdata Enterprises Inc.

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Human Bodies – Part of the Internet of Things http://brainblogger.com/2015/07/18/human-bodies-part-of-the-internet-of-things/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/07/18/human-bodies-part-of-the-internet-of-things/#respond Sat, 18 Jul 2015 15:00:07 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=20080 We live these days surrounded by a network of connected electronic devices which is continually expanding. Some call it the Internet of Things (IoT), in which the Internet integrates every single “smart” virtual and physical object in the world in possession of an identifiable computing system into one network.

Quite what this means, and what will happen next is a matter of intensive scrutiny, anticipation and at times serious concern. Stephen Hawking has warned that technology poses a considerable risk of destroying humanity in the coming century, and there are other less fatal but perhaps no less permanent consequences for human life in the meantime.

The IoT is composed of myriad units of tech from iPads and mobile telephones to electronic chips, application software, mobile and web apps. Even programmes and sensors attached to everyday objects such as washing machines, thermostats and household electricity systems feed into it.

Cameras are its eyes, microphones its ears. At least by proxy, we can make the case that both humans and even animals are part of its nature as well, since we are both its creators and users, its beneficiaries and its victims.

We are moving towards a decentralised computer system generating more numerous (yet frequently shallow) connections with people, locations and hubs of information technology around the world. We are thus increasingly able to communicate, organise, work and send commands remotely. We can only imagine the potential for information flow and delivery of commands in the future, and the cascade of privacy and security issues bound to follow.

The IoT is wirelessly connected, which is the basis of the ease with which information can be exchanged. However this is also its main weakness since it is so vulnerable to hacking and corrupting of devices to malicious ends by equally wireless and remote means.

At this early stage of the IoT, people with access to smartphones and the Internet can already automatically and instantaneously exchange information about their location on the move, the happenings they wish to publish in their everyday lives and their very flow of thoughts through social networking sites.

It is long acknowledged that our shopping history and the record of our transactions by credit and debit card allow companies to monitor our consumption. Tracking pets with chips is also becoming a common practice.

We are now going beyond this. In Sweden, a microchip embedded under the skin with personal and contact details allows workers to open doors and use photocopier machines. In Mexico, microchips are also inserted to control personnel’s access to the country´s criminal investigation centre.

Our augmented bodies could soon become integrated parts of the IoT, leaving behind wearable technology such as wristbands and cards as we build the tech in to ourselves as “hardwear”.

Our bodies might become the vehicle for a mine of personal and security information, which will raise both philosophical and safety issues, with our own brains no longer being the only location within our physical selves where information is stored. The implications are staggering, and as yet it is a huge unknown how this type of chip-bearing may influence identity, as well as cultural and social norms.

Of course this is all just the very tip of the iceberg, as at some stage bio-circuitry will surely become commonplace and the human brain itself will become an integrated part of the network, at which point it will no longer be a network of things but of beings.

References

Medaglia C.M. and Serbanati, A. (2010) An Overview of Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things in D. Giusto et al. (eds.), The Internet of Things: 20th Thirrhenian Workshop on Digital Communications, pp. 389-395, New York: Springer. ISBN: 9781441916730

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Disruptive Intelligent Machines http://brainblogger.com/2015/06/27/disruptive-intelligent-machines/ http://brainblogger.com/2015/06/27/disruptive-intelligent-machines/#respond Sat, 27 Jun 2015 14:00:48 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=19880 Intelligent machines are very likely to become as popular as smartphones. Still, the intelligence of a machine remains a debatable term and the first examples are as yet incipient prototypes. In truth it is difficult to conceive a technology more disruptive than truly intelligent machines.

In some years “intelligent personal assistants” such as Siri and the new Hound, will likely be seen as an archaic pre-intelligent form of technology.

According to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, some innovations labelled as disruptive can significantly shape networks and markets through displacing older technologies. Christensen makes the industry his focus, speaking of disruption to markets, although of course we can see such technological paradigm shifts as socially and personally disruptive as well.

For example, personal computers replaced typewriters when they became widely available. They not only replaced the existing function of the previous technology but provided a range of entirely new functions such as fast digital text processing, integrated applications and computer programming.

We can see similar upheaval in the nature of the market and the nature of the use of disruptive tech in the replacement of traditional phones by mobiles.

Some authors challenge the notion that one wave of technology disrupts the last, arguing that it is a far more patchy process in which old technologies are not completely displaced by new ones but enhanced, shaped or transformed, continuing to exist in new forms of their own.

A fairly kitsch example of this can be seen in the form of the expensive but stylish USB Typewriter, attached to a monitor and or tablet, for those who still want to feel the click of those old fashioned keys as they write. In fact, old style handsets also exist for use with mobile phones.

Disruptive innovations can be seen across all fields where tech plays a role, such as education, medicine, law and so on, frequently raising ethical issues and question marks.

In the field of robotics and medicine, new discoveries in tele-surgery, virtual reality and surgical simulators might revolutionise the ways surgery is done and enable remote surgery to become a reality.

Truly intelligent machines might even revolutionise the justice system in time, when artificial intelligence (AI) is truly able to construct arguments based on efficient access to (and organisation of) information and is able to embark on a process of learning – one of the greatest challenges in the field of artificial intelligence research.

It is widely expected that in the future intelligent machines will replace the workforce across an increasing number of fields. Therefore their production is likely to become less costly, more efficient and more reliable, posing major challenges both for companies and for society at large.

In 1997 a computer beat a chess champion for the first time in the famous match Kasparov vs. Deep Blue. Computers have reigned supreme in chess ever since. In recent years scientists have taken some major strides closer to achieving artificial intelligence. The ultimate challenge of machine intelligence over human may not be as far into the distant future as we imagine.

References

Christensen, C. (1997) The Innovator´s Dilemma, USA: Harvard Business School Press.

Satava RM (2002). Disruptive visions. Surgical endoscopy, 16 (10), 1403-8 PMID: 12170350

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