Friday, March 7, 2008
.S. scientists said researchers may soon be able to use brain-scanning instruments to read someone's mind.
Dr. Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California in Berkeley, said his team has figured out how to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to tell what someone is looking at based on brain activity.
A report, published online in the journal Nature, said it is the first step to being able to see the contents of someone's visual experiences.
"When the deck of cards, or photographs, has about 120 images, we can do better than 90 percent correct," Gallant said.
He said the next step is to interpret what someone is seeing without having the subject select from known images.
The research team said a device that can read out the brain's activity could be used to assess damage from strokes, the effect of drug treatments or to help diagnose conditions such as dementia.
File this under futuristic (and perhaps a little scary): In a step toward one day perhaps deciphering visions and dreams, new research unveils an algorithm that can translate the activity in the minds of humans.
Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, report in Nature today that they have developed a method capable of decoding the patterns in visual areas of the brain to determine what someone has seen. Needless to say, the potential implications for society are sweeping.
"This general visual decoder would have great scientific and practical use," the researchers say. "We could use the decoder to investigate differences in perception across people, to study covert mental processes such as attention, and perhaps even to access the visual content of purely mental phenomena such as dreams and imagery."
The scientists say that previous attempts to extract "mental content from brain activity" only allowed them to decode a finite number of patterns. Researchers would feed image to an individual (or ask them to think about an object) one at a time and then look for a corresponding brain activity pattern. "You would need to know [beforehand], for each thought you want to read out, what kind of pattern of activity goes with it," says John-Dylan Haynes, a professor at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences that was not affiliated with the new work.
"The advance brought forward here," he continues, "is that they have set up a mathematical model that captures the properties of the visual part of the brain," which can then be applied to previously unseen objects.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance images (fMRIs) to record activity in the visual cortices of a pair of volunteers (two of the study's co-authors) while they viewed a series of images. They examined the brain by dividing the regions into voxels (volumetric units, or 3-D pixels) and noting the part of the picture to which each section responded. For instance, one voxel, or slice, might respond in a certain pattern to, say, colors in the upper left-hand corner of the photo, whereas another voxel would be set off by something in a different portion of the picture.
Haynes says the team could "go back and infer what the image was that a person was seeing" by monitoring the activity in each brain section and deciphering what sort of information would most likely be found in the corresponding part of the visual field, or photograph.
When the volunteers scanned a new set of 120 images—depicting everything from people to houses to animals to fruit and other objects—the computer program correctly identified what they were looking at up to 92 percent of the time; when the image pool was upped to 1,000, the algorithm was successful 80 percent of the time. Naturally, its accuracy decreased as the number of possible pictures grew, but even at a quantity 100 times greater than the number of images indexed on the Internet by Google, according to the scientists, the model would be successful greater than 10 percent of the time. (This far exceeds the success rate of random guessing.)
"This indicates," the researchers wrote, "that fMRI signals contain a considerable amount of stimulus information and that this information can be successfully decoded in practice."
Haynes says the method is limited to deciphering information that can be mapped out in space, such as sensory inputs (where a sound is coming from) or motor function (what action one's arm has performed). The challenge, he says, is that it cannot "be easily applied to cases where you don't have a clear mathematical model," such as memories, intentions and emotions. "High-level thoughts would be a bit tricky to get a hold of without such a mathematical model," he adds.
One of the creators of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, has died. While the game's heyday has passed, its cultural influence bestrides gaming and how the media views young people.
Dungeons & Dragons’ fans will surely be saddened by the fact that Gary Gygax, the popular game’s first edition’s co-creator, died today.
Without Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) it is hard to imagine the massively successful World of Warcraft. Both games immerse the user in a fantasy realm which appears on the surface to owe more than a little to Lord of the Rings.
Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most popular role-playing game franchises of all times! Also known as D&D, the game was originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and first published more than thirty years ago, in 1974.
Dungeons & Dragons has always remained in the hearts of its players, who had to create characters that were then starting all kinds of imaginary adventures within fantasy settings. The first edition of the game was highly successful and this led to a proliferation of similar titles, such as Tunnels and Trolls, Traveller or RuneQuest.
With no less than four editions launched during all these years, D&D remains the best-selling and best-known RPG franchise, with approximately $1 billion in book and equipment sales.
However, despite the game’s success, Gary Gygax died on Tuesday morning after he had been suffering for a long a time from different health problems. He was 69 years old and died at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Fortunately for him, Gary Gygax managed to leave behind a highly popular game, which will be always remembered by many generations of fans.
Dungeons & Dragons inspired not only other video games, but also books and movies, and Gary Gygax has started to be considered the grandfather of fantasy RPGs. Gygax was survived by his wife.
Following its brief campaign to support the doomed HD DVD format, Microsoft has now apparently entered into talks with Sony to bring Blu-ray disc technology to the Xbox 360. That once-unthinkable scenario was outlined today in a report in the British economic daily the Financial Times, two months after Xbox group marketing manager Albert Penello reopened the door to the possibility.
"It should be consumer choice; and if that's the way they vote, that's something we'll have to consider," Penello told the Reuters news service during the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in January. Since then, though, decisions by retail giants Wal-Mart and Best Buy as well as online rental house Netflix made up the public's mind for it, causing Toshiba to finally abandon HD DVD production last month.
Citing an unnamed "senior executive," the Financial Times said that Sony and Microsoft are not simply discussing a successor to the Xbox 360's now discontinued, dirt-cheap external HD DVD drive. The newspaper said that there is also the possibility of an internal Blu-ray drive being incorporated into a new, more expensive "premium" 360 model, as it is already in the PlayStation 3. Thusly, Sony would earn royalties from sales of a rival console--a first for the game industry.
For its part, Microsoft quickly denied any move toward Blu-ray had been officially made. "We have made no such announcement," a rep told GameSpot. "Games are what are driving consumers to purchase game consoles, and we remain focused on providing the largest library of blockbuster games available."
For its part, Sony welcomes the possibility of a Blu-ray-equipped Xbox 360. "If Microsoft wants to release Gears of War 3 on a Blu-ray Disc, I think we can make that happen," Sony Computer Entertainment America's vice president of product marketing Scott A. Steinberg told GameSpot prior to today's report.
The top discussion of the day, brought to us by the inquisitive lads at the Financial Times of London, says that Sony has been in heavy talks with Microsoft to bring the Blu-ray player device to the Xbox 360. [Update: The main rumor has now been confirmed by Sony U.S. President Stanley Glasgow. Check it out here.]
The rumor has expanded throughout the Internet, with some groups believing that once Warner Brothers dropped the hammer at CES 2008 and chose the Blu-ray consortium, the Redmond group all but cast off the HD DVD format immediately, despite their public support for more than a month. In the ensuing weeks, with more and more studios and retailers going Blu, and Toshiba finally deciding to drop their High-Def baby, the talks between Sony and MS have gotten way more intense.
There are a few possible results here and like everything else, they all have to do with money. Consumers could easily switch up to a Blu-ray player, but only if there's a significant savings difference between the Blu-ray XBox player and the other separate Blu-ray players out there. And Blu-ray players are expensive. Remember that at one point, the XBox HD DVD was one of the best HD DVD player deals out there, just like the Blu-ray PS3 was finally thought to be a good buy when it went down to a reasonable price.
Second, Microsoft doesn't want to increase the price of any part of their system at a time when the spectre of a recession could increase profits for cheap gaming systems (it's a good entertainment value), and yet, The Big R might still might force people to only buy a few select games. In any case, they'd rather be close to the Wii's champion price point, and the lack of a top of the line High-Def certainly isn't hurting their bottom line.
Japan's Pioneer Corp said Friday it will stop making plasma panels amid intense competition and will instead outsource the production of plasma panels for its television sets.
The Japanese maker of car navigation systems and audio equipment said it will start buying plasma panels from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd (NYSE:MC) , the world's largest consumer electronics maker, but did not provide details on the timing and volume of panels it will now outsource.
The decision to exit plasma panel production came after Pioneer slashed its sales projection for plasma TV sets to 480,000 units for the current fiscal year ending this month from the initial target of 720,000 sets.
Pioneer said it now expects to report a net loss of 15 billion yen for the fiscal year ending March 31 as it will book an impairment loss of 19 billion yen on its plasma display manufacturing facilities. This would be its fourth straight year of reporting a net loss.
Consumer electronics maker Pioneer Corp <6773.T> said it would fall into the red for the fourth straight year on costs to scrap production of plasma displays as it rejigs its strategy in the cut-throat flat TV market.
Pioneer is expected to now turn to Panasonic brand maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co <6752.T> to supply it with panels for its plasma TVs, thereby allowing it to focus on design and marketing and save on production costs.
Pioneer is the world's fifth-biggest plasma TV maker, but it has been struggling to compete with larger rivals such as plasma industry leader Matsushita and LG Electronics <066570.KS>, which can leverage economies of scale.
The company, which also makes home stereos and car electronics, said it now expects to post a group net loss of 15 billion yen ($146 million) for the year to March 31, compared with its previous forecast of a 6 billion yen profit.
The new forecast reflects 19 billion yen in losses to write down the value of its plasma panel production facilities.
"This move will allow us to transform our business model for displays from vertically integrated, capital-intensive operations to a leaner business model geared to making value-added product proposals," Pioneer said in a news release.
The decision to end production of plasma panels was widely flagged by the media, including Reuters, earlier in the week.
The move follows a deal struck last year with Sharp Corp <6753.T> under which Sharp will supply Pioneer with liquid crystal display (LCD) panels, allowing Pioneer to round out its product line-up with LCD TVs.
But pulling out of plasma production marks a major shift in Pioneer's strategy. The company has spent a little over 100 billion yen to build four plasma panel production lines and to buy two more lines from NEC Corp <6701.T>.
Japanese TV makers have been undergoing a realignment as top manufacturers with ample output capacity such as Matsushita and Sharp look for panel buyers, while midtier players seek ways to obtain display panels without making hefty initial investments.
Pioneer said it would now refocus its resources on more promising businesses such as car electronics and audio equipment.
Shares of Pioneer closed Friday down 5 percent at 1,151 yen ahead of the announcement, but had surged 16 percent in the previous three days on reports it would cease making plasma panels to cut losses in its flat-TV business.
The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier on Friday that Pioneer and Matsushita were also planning to jointly develop low-cost and high-quality panels for shipment as early as 2009, and that Pioneer engineers could be transferred to Matsushita.
Apple’s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, left, and the venture capitalist John Doerr at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.
High-flying venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers placed a $100 million bet on Apple's iPhone on Thursday by creating the iFund.
KPCB partner Matt Murphy will manage that gamble, by heading up a team that will invest in game-changing applications for the mobile Internet. His group will include KCPB co-founder John Doerr and Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, along with high-ranking advisers from Apple.
in an Interview - talked to Murphy late Thursday about his new charge and the significance of the iFund. Following is a brief excerpt of the interview, but the entire Q&A will be posted here Friday.
Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, is hoping to expand the iPhone’s appeal by luring software developers to create programs for it.
John Doerr, the venture capitalist, is adding an incentive: his firm is putting up $100 million to invest in the work of those programmers.
At an event Thursday at Apple headquarters, Mr. Jobs announced a low-cost software development kit that outside programmers can use to create programs for the iPhone, much as they now write the vast majority of the programs created for the Macintosh. Until now, iPhones have officially been able to run only the limited assortment of applications that Apple includes. (Some buyers have modified the phones to add unauthorized software.)
“We’re very excited about this,” said Mr. Jobs, who also announced that the company was adding features to make the iPhone more appealing to business users. “We think a lot of people, after understanding where we are going, are going to want to become an iPhone developer.”
Sharing the stage with Mr. Jobs, Mr. Doerr announced that his firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, had established a $100 million venture capital fund for iPhone entrepreneurs. Called the iFund, it is the largest fund the company has created for a specific technology.
“The potential for iPhone is huge,” Mr. Doerr said.
Matt Murphy, the Kleiner partner overseeing the fund, said he expected the fund to last two to three years, after which the company might decide to add more capital.
Mr. Jobs said Apple would offer a developer kit for $99 that would allow programmers to create everything from games to business programs. On Thursday, Sega and AOL demonstrated applications they created for the iPhone using the kit.
The programs that are created will then be available to iPhone users exclusively through a new service on all iPhones called the Apps Store, an aspect of the plan that may discourage some developers. Apple will keep 30 percent of the sale price.
Mr. Jobs said that Apple would offer only those programs that it approves, rejecting pornography, for example, and programs that might not provide adequate security for users.
He argued that developers would benefit from Apple’s being the sole distributor because only Apple could give third-party programs such wide exposure to customers. All iPhone users will be able to browse the available programs directly from their devices. Customers will also benefit, he said, from Apple’s weeding out of malicious programs.
“We can track the developers and we can tell their parents,” Mr. Jobs said, joking about the demographic profile of many Apple entrepreneurs.
In an attempt to lure corporate customers, Apple executives also announced that the iPhone would be able to work directly with Microsoft’s Exchange software, allowing it to interact closely with corporate networks and e-mail systems in much the way that BlackBerry devices do. Apple said Genentech and Nike were among the companies that were already taking advantage of this feature.
The new business abilities will be added to the iPhone in June and will come to existing owners in a free upgrade. The software will include extensive security features, like the ability to lock and erase the system remotely in the event of loss or theft.
“The majority of the objections I.T. managers have had about the iPhone have been addressed today,” said Van L. Baker, an analyst with Gartner Inc., referring to corporate information technology managers. “It’s a very valid and robust device, and for that reason it’s a viable platform for the enterprise in competition with the BlackBerry and others.”
But attracting a huge following among corporations is something Apple has not been able to achieve with the Macintosh, and it remains to be seen whether the iPhone will take sales from the BlackBerry, the popular business communicator sold by Research in Motion of Waterloo, Ontario.
“It’s a better device and platform that does more things than the BlackBerry,” Mr. Murphy said. If people have been questioning whether the iPhone is a business tool, the integration with Exchange “takes the issue off the table,” he said.
The iPhone is already the second most popular smartphone after the BlackBerry, with a 28 percent share of the market, but its inability to communicate with corporate computer systems running Microsoft Exchange has hindered its growth in that market.