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Monday, February 18, 2008

Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029

Tiny machines could roam the body curing diseases
Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029, a leading US inventor has predicted.

Humanity is on the brink of advances that will see tiny robots implanted in people's brains to make them more intelligent, said Ray Kurzweil.

The engineer believes machines and humans will eventually merge through devices implanted in the body to boost intelligence and health.

"It's really part of our civilisation," Mr Kurzweil explained.

"But that's not going to be an alien invasion of intelligent machines to displace us."

Machines were already doing hundreds of things humans used to do, at human levels of intelligence or better, in many different areas, he said.

Man versus machine

"I've made the case that we will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence with the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029," he said.

We're already a human machine civilisation; we use our technology to expand our physical and mental horizons and this will be a further extension of that."

Humans and machines would eventually merge, by means of devices embedded in people's bodies to keep them healthy and improve their intelligence, predicted Mr Kurzweil.

"We'll have intelligent nanobots go into our brains through the capillaries and interact directly with our biological neurons,"

The nanobots, he said, would "make us smarter, remember things better and automatically go into full emergent virtual reality environments through the nervous system".

Mr Kurzweil is one of 18 influential thinkers chosen to identify the great technological challenges facing humanity in the 21st century by the US National Academy of Engineering.

The experts include Google founder Larry Page and genome pioneer Dr Craig Venter.

The 14 challenges were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, which concludes on Monday.

UK scientists developing a "bioactive scaffold" to protect the stem cells and encourage them to grow into bone or cartilage

UK scientists hope to mend shattered bones and damaged cartilage using a patient's own stem cells.
They are developing a "bioactive scaffold" to protect the stem cells and encourage them to grow into bone or cartilage when placed in the body.

The Edinburgh University team hope the technique, which uses stem cells from blood and bone marrow, will be tested in patients within two years.

Surgeons said it could help repair trauma injuries too severe to heal.

The £1.4m project could also eventually have an impact on treating conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Dr Brendon Noble, who works in the University of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine said initially they would look at mending cartilage injuries which do not tend to heal well or bone fractures caused by severe trauma such as motorbike accidents.

Elderly patients with fractures also tend to heal less well, he said.


The key to success would be to get the "recipe" right for encouraging the stem cells to grow in what are effectively harsh environments, he explained.

"A lot of research that has gone before is working out what will drive them down the route to become a specific cell type.

"The next stage is trying to think of innovative ways to encourage them to do that in the body - often we can do things in the laboratory and that's easy but we tend to forget that the cells in the patient were not happy in the first place."

The scaffold consists of a fairly rigid mesh structure, coated or impregnated with a drug that helps the stem cells take hold.

As well as using stem cells from bone marrow, Dr Noble's team is working with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service to culture bone forming cells from blood.

This would mean the patient does not have to undergo surgery to harvest the cells.

Dr Noble added: "Half of us will have orthopaedic surgery in our lifetime.

"We are also living longer and want to remain more active in later life so such problems are going to become more prominent and more expensive."

Professor Chris Moran, member of the British Orthopaedic Association and expert in trauma surgery at the University of Nottingham, said this kind of research meant in the future surgeons might be able to repair trauma injuries too severe to heal by current techniques and even replace bone lost to cancer.

But he added: "In order to move this technology from the laboratory to the operating theatre, the scaffold will need to be compatible with the human body and resist rejection."

Scientists Discover Earth-like Planet That Could Hold Life

Scientists say there may be many more worlds in our galaxy
For the last several years, scientists have been discovering new planets elsewhere in the universe at an astonishing rate. Now a group of researchers who have surveyed a large group of stars similar to our own Sun say that potentially life-supporting rocky planets may in fact be extremely common in the Milky Way, circling anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent of Sun-like stars.

Using the Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers looked for signs of hot dust at distances plausible for planet formation around various stars, categorized by age.

They found that warm dust at that distance was relatively common around stars that were 10 million to 20 million years old, but that it fell off almost entirely by the time stars were about 300 million years old.

That's about the right time scale to correspond with the time the Earth and other planets are believed to have formed slowly through the collision of smaller bodes, out of the Sun's own dust cloud. Here's University of Arizona astronomer Michael Meyer, who led the study:

"We don't often see warm-dust around stars older than 300 million years. The frequency just drops off. That's comparable to the time scales thought to span the formation and dynamical evolution of our own solar system," he added. "Theoretical models and meteoritic data suggest that Earth formed over 10 to 50 million years from collisions between smaller bodies."

A separate study found dust that some believe is attributable to the process of planet formation around stars that were just 10 million to 30 million years old.

The data can be interpreted different ways. At worst, it appears to show that at least one out of five Sun-like stars has the potential for forming rocky planets, they said. An optimistic interpretation might be that some massive discs of dust would form planets more quickly – and in that case, up to 62 percent of stars could be planet-forming.

But either way, the data seems to show there are plenty of other planets out there.

Earth-Like Planets May Breed Life

New evidence suggests more than half the Sun-like stars in the Milky Way could have similar planetary systems.

University of Arizona scientists, using NASA's Spitzer space telescope, have discovered that between 20 percent and 60 percent of the stars orbiting many sun-like stars in our galaxy were similar to planet Earth, increasing the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life.

These stars have favorable conditions for forming rocking planets like Earth able to hold life, according to the study presented by school astronomer Michael Meyer.

He said more studies were needed to determine which of these stars possibly hold extraterrestrial life, Meyer told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday.

Meyer and his team studied six group of stars that resemble our sun and sorted them by age, with the youngest estimated between 10 and 30 million years and the oldest between a billion and three billion years old

A similar search for extraterrestrial life is currently being conducted by the European Space Administration's Darwin mission. The agency's Technology Research Program has sponsored the development of critical optical components whose frictionless mechanism can respond to the touch of a feather.

The mission is aimed at discovering extrasolar planets and whether their atmospheres can sustain life.

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