Daily Archives: February 18, 2013

Scientists create ‘sixth sense’ brain implant to detect infrared light

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A brain implant which could allow humans to detect invisible infrared light has been developed by scientists in America. Photo: ALAMY

A brain implant which could allow humans to detect invisible infrared light has been developed by scientists in America.

telegraph.co.uk | Feb 15, 2013

By Nick Collins

Scientists have created a “sixth sense” by creating a brain implant through which infrared light can be detected.

Although the light could not be seen lab rats were able to detect it via electrodes in the part of the brain responsible for their sense of touch.

Similar devices have previously been used to make up for lost capabilities, for example giving paralysed patients the ability to move a cursor around the screen with their thoughts.

But the new study, by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, is the first case in which such devices have been used to give an animal a completely new sense.

Dr Miguel Nicolelis said the advance, reported in the Nature Communications journal this week, was just a prelude to a major breakthrough on a “brain-to-brain interface” which will be announced in another paper next month.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Sunday, he described the mystery work as something “no one has dreamed could be done”.

The second paper is being kept secret until it is published but Dr Nicolelis’s comments raise the prospect of an implant which could allow one animal’s brain to interact directly with another.

In the first study, rats wore an infrared detector on their head which was connected to electrodes in the part of their brain which governs touch.

When one of three ultraviolet light sources in their cage was switched on, the rats initially began rubbing their whiskers, indicating that they felt as if they were touching the invisible light.

After a month of training, they learned to link the new sensation with the light sources and were able to find which one was switched on with 100 per cent accuracy. A monkey has since been taught to perform the same task.

The study demonstrates that a part of the brain which is designed to process one sense can interpret other types of sensory information, researchers said.

It means that in theory, someone who is blind because of damage to their visual cortex could regain their sight using an implant in another part of the brain.

Dr Nicolelis said: “What we did here was to demonstrate that we could create a new sense in rats by allowing them to “touch” infrared light that mammals cannot detect.

“The nerves were responding to both touch and infrared light at the same time. This shows that the adult brain can acquire new capabilities that have never been experienced by the animal before.

“This suggests that, in the future, you could use prosthetic devices to restore sensory modalities that have been lost, such as vision, using a different part of the brain.”

The study is part of an international effort to build a whole-body suit which allows paralysed people to walk again using their brain to control the device’s movement.

Infrared sensing could be built into the suit to inform the person inside about where their limbs are and to help them “feel” objects.

Dr Nicolelis and his collaborators on the project hope to unveil the “exoskeleton” at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Biden lobbies as Colo. approves gun-control measures

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Rep. Dickey Lee Hullingworst, center, D-Boulder, shows House Minority Leader Mark Waller, left, R-Colorado Springs and Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, her whistle as the debate over gun control bills goes on at the Capitol in Denver on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. / AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

AP | Feb15, 2013

DENVER A package of Democratic gun control measures began moving through the Colorado Legislature Friday, with Vice President Joe Biden personally phoning four lawmakers from his Colorado ski vacation to speed along the emotional debate.

Biden phoned three freshmen in the state House from moderate districts, along with Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino. The calls came several hours after the chamber started a long debate over gun-control measures including expanded background checks and ammunition limits — responses to mass shootings, including the killings at a Colorado movie theater.

Those two measures advanced on unrecorded voice votes Friday. Lawmakers were told to prepare to debate late into the night on other gun-control measures, new fees on background checks and a ban on concealed weapons on public college campuses.

One of the freshmen, Democratic Rep. Tony Exum, hails from conservative Colorado Springs and said he had no idea who would be on the line when a “restricted” number rang his cellphone during afternoon debate.

“He said, `This is Vice President Joe Biden.’ I said, `No way!”‘ Exum recalled with a chuckle after the call.

Exum said that Biden repeatedly called him “chief,” a reference to Exum’s former service as a fire chief. Exum said Friday night that his mind was already made up to support the gun-control measures, but Biden asked about the package’s prospects. Exum said prospects were good and that he was happy to hear from the vice president on Colorado’s gun debate.

Biden also talked to Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan, whose southwest Colorado district includes more Republicans than Democrats.

The vice president also called Democratic Rep. Dominick Moreno, a lawmaker from suburban Denver.

“We just had a brief conversation about what we’re doing today and emphasized the importance of Colorado’s role in shaping national policy around this issue,” he said. Asked what he thought Biden meant, Moreno said, “Well, I can only speculate, but I think mostly because Colorado is such a politically moderate state.”

Biden left a message for Ferrandino but didn’t speak to him.

The vice president was in Snowmass, just outside Aspen, for a holiday weekend skiing trip with his granddaughters.

Colorado’s votes capping magazine sizes and requiring background checks for all gun purchases came after eight hours of debate. The votes were preliminary and unrecorded, but they were the first chance for many lawmakers to debate gun control after mass shootings last year in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

“These high-capacity weapons have no place outside the fields of war,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who sponsored the ammunition bill, which limits magazines to 15 rounds for all firearms, with a more restrictive eight-round limit for shotguns. The bill makes an exception for magazines that people already have in their possession.

Republicans in the chamber spent hours arguing that the limit violates Second Amendment rights. They also cited a Colorado gun manufacturer that has threatened to leave Colorado if the measure becomes law. The bill was amended to exempt that company, but Republicans still argued against the measure.

“We are not safer by limiting the constitutional rights of law-abiding firearm owners,” said Republican Rep. Frank McNulty.

A few Democrats appeared to agree Friday, though an exact vote count won’t be known until recorded votes are taken Monday. GOP leaders were hoping gun activists would spend the weekend pressuring rural Democrats like Rep. Ed Vigil of southern Colorado, the only Democrat who argued Friday against any ammunition limit.

“We should be going down the path of making mental health available to people who really need it,” Vigil argued.

The gun debate was at times emotional and pointed. One gun lobbyist was asked to leave the Capitol after a heated exchange off the floor with a Republican lawmaker who said the lobbyist was falsely accusing her of considering voting for the gun-control measures. The gallery was at times packed with gun-rights activists.

Travelers left more than $500,000 at airport checkpoints last year, TSA keeps the change

NBC News | Feb 17, 2013

by Harriet Baskas

TSA-airport-securityFrazzled and forgetful passengers left more than a half million dollars in spare change in the plastic bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints last year.

That’s about $45,000 more than the amount left behind in 2011, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

What happens to all that money?

TSA makes “every effort to reunite passengers with items left at security checkpoints,” said agency spokesperson Nico Melendez. But all those nickels, dimes, quarters – and a smattering of poker chips and crumpled bills – usually end up getting counted, forwarded to the TSA financial office and then spent on general security operations.

Congress approved that TSA expenditure in 2005, but some lawmakers and passengers rights groups are unhappy TSA gets to keep the change.

In 2009, and again in 2011, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced unsuccessful legislation that would require TSA to give the unclaimed cash to the United Service Organizations (USO), a private nonprofit that operates centers for military personnel at more than 40 U.S. airports. The lawmaker plans to reintroduce the bill soon, “as a stand alone measure and as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill,” Dan McFaul, a spokesman for Miller’s office, told NBC News.

Money left behind by passengers at airport checkpoints is “a windfall TSA does not deserve to keep,” said Paul Hudson, executive director FlyersRights.org, a non-profit consumer organization. But rather than give the money to the USO, he’d like the funds to go to nonprofit groups that look out for the rights of travelers. “Passengers pay a lot of taxes on airline tickets and there is currently no government funding in the United States for organizations that seek to help passengers,” he said.

“Common sense would dictate that the money is returned to the people who lost it … travelers,” said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. But he doubts TSA will ever be required by law to give the change left at airport checkpoints to passenger rights organizations.

If the TSA continues to be able to keep the left-behind money though, Macsata would like the agency to be directed to use it for staff training “to better educate them on how to appropriately handle and treat unique travelers, including travelers with medical conditions, children and travelers with disabilities.”

TSA’s Melendez doesn’t know why passengers leave money in the plastic bins at airports, but says “placing spare change or any other items in a purse or briefcase prior to going through security is the easiest and best way to maintain positive control of your belongings.”

DARPA wants to watch how you type your sentences and how you use your mouse to assemble an “online fingerprint”

armypad

foreignpolicy.com | Feb 15, 2013

By John Reed Friday,

DARPA is getting serious about one of the issues that cyber-security professionals inside and outside government regularly bemoan: the relative inability of weak passwords to protect…anything.

To overcome the fact that passwords can be stolen or hacked — and don’t necessarily protect a computer once the authorized user is logged on — the Pentagon’s research arm has kicked off a $14 million effort to develop sensors that can constantly monitor users’ online behavior to determine whether they are who they say they are.

This kind of vigilance is going to become all the more important as the Pentagon shrinks the number of networks it runs under its cloud-computing initiative and fields mobile devices capable of handling classified information. Ask any cyber security expert and they will tell you that computer networks will inevitably be compromised and that the best defense lies in constantly monitoring for weird behavior.

How exactly do you do that? Well, that’s where DARPA’s Active Authentication program comes in. The Active Authentication program is aimed at verifying your identity based on your online behavior instead of an easily guessed or stolen password.

“The program focuses on the development of new types of behavioral biometrics focused on the user’s cognitive processes,” Richard Guidorizzi, DARPA program manager, explained in an email to Killer Apps. In English, that means Active Authentication will monitor your computer habits — like your typing patterns, the way you use a mouse, and even how you construct sentences — to assemble an “online fingerprint.”

“Examples of this could include, but are not limited to, behavioral biometrics that focus on a user’s unique way of typing on the device or cognitive biometrics that focus on how the user processes language and structures sentences,” he said.

In theory, a user would log onto his computer using a government-issued secure ID card, known as a Common Access Control card. This would tell AA sensors to begin monitoring the user, analyzing typing and sentence structure, and comparing the patterns to previous behavior.

AA isn’t just limited to desktop computers. DARPA will also address mobile devices.

This could come in mighty handy for soldiers and spies who are increasingly reliant on smart phones and tablets to do everything from filing flight plans to collecting and sharing classified information.

Mobile devices will have their own unique safeguards. “For example, the accelerometer in a mobile phone could track how the device rests in a user’s hand or the angle at which he talks into it. Another technique might track the user’s gait, reflecting how he walks as it is transported. In theory, each of these examples could be another layer of user validation,” Guidorizzi writes.

Don’t expect AA tech to be put into place anytime in the near future, though — AA’s work is experimental. “This program is not intended to develop fielded systems but instead to advance the technologies and concepts outlined above,” added Guidorizzi.

Still, some type of online identity software may emerge in the coming years. Just today White House Cyber Security Coordinator Michael Daniel told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that he wants to see research and development programs that sound a lot like AA shift the balance of cyber power from favoring the attacker, as it does right now, to favoring the defender.

Daniel told Killer Apps he wants to know whether there are “ways that you can bake in better credentialing into the underlying structure of the Internet? Are there ways you can get the software manufacturers make software secure by default, so that you actually have to work at browsing insecurely?”