David Rowan – 10 Tech Disruptions to Watch out for !

David Rowan , the editor of Wired UK was in Bangalore recently to deliver a keynote speech at the launch of K-Start , a startup incubator managed by Kaalari Capital. The Tech Guru spoke about the latest Trends in Technology and the impact they are having on our daily lives.  He provided succinct examples on how exactly new technologies are services are disrupting the world economy.

technology adoption
David Rowan delivers his talk on High Technology Disruption at Bangalore, India.

Given below are some key takeaways from his well received talk.

In the last century innovation moved in a linear way. but we now live in an exponential era, where innovation and scale occurs more rapidly aided by technology, collaboration and large market potentials. For instance no company in the last century could have imagined having a billion clients. Today Facebook, Whatsapp and Gmail, all have more than a billion monthly active users.

  • The speed at which consumers are adopting new technology
    is accelerating.
  • If you want your product or service to connect with people think in “Human” terms.
  • Add Artificial Intelligence to everything, that’s the way forward.
  • The Internet of Things is a US$ 15 Trillion opportunity waiting for entrepreneurs.
  • Services both online and offline are getting really personal, in fact there is a merging of these two once disparate worlds at key intersections.
  • Designed experiences always win. Add sensors to everything.
  • In the future , consumers will pay to be secure.
  • Mobile is redefining Human Behavior around the globe.
  • Mobile First – Across the developing world more and more users are accessing the Internet for the first time through their mobile devices completely bypassing desktop machines and PC’s.
  • 4G Networks rolling out across the world will have a significant impact over the next the 2-3 years. High bandwidth has the potential for new services on mobile that were previously not possible.
  • No Sector is immune from disruption. In the past year Journalists  have joined  the long list of human professions that are being taken over by robots and Artificial Intelligence.
  • Last but not the least, Keep Questioning everything !

These are some of the key points he mentioned but I have barely managed to capture the gist of his talk.  The video of the talk he delivered in Bangalore is not yet accessible online but a similar one he delivered in Washington D.C a few months ago is available. If you are interested in viewing his talk, check out the video below :

Karl Deisseroth talks about Illuminating the Brain

Karl Deisseroth, a legend in the field of neuroscience visited Bangalore on January 18th, 2016 as part of the Cell Press-TNQ India Distinguished Lectureship Series. He presented a short talk titled “Illuminating the Brain” at the J.N Tata Auditorium in IISc.

The  Stanford university neuroscientist and psychiatrist is credited with creating two techniques that allow researchers to study how intricate circuits in the brain operate and create different patterns of behavior.

  • Optogenetics – Is a technique that integrates optical and genetic techniques to formulate neurons which have light sensitive ion channels. These special type of neurons can then be turned off and on using just light. This technique is being used at neuroscience labs across the world to come up with ground breaking findings since 2005, when it was first developed.
  • CLARITY – Stands for Clear Lipid-exchanged Anatomically Rigid Imaging / Immunostaining-compatible Tissue hYdrogel, this new technique was more recently developed at Stanford University. By using this technique , neuroscientists are able to render tissues and even complete brains transparent while the cells and their connections remain intact. This new technique permits a remarkable view into the networks that shape behaviour.
brain-lectures
The Maestro delivers his speech.

Karl Deisseroth’s talk at Indian Institute of Science offered the students and researchers assembled a glimpse of his path breaking work and the challenges that motivate him and his team.  The optogenetic methods developed by him has been used to study neural circuits and behaviour among rats and fruit flies.

You can read more about his group at :

http://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/about_pi.html

A Profile of Karl and his work is available at :

http://www.nature.com/news/neuroscience

Karl Deisseroth has helped chart fundamental advances in the study of brain science and is a top contender for the Nobel Laureate. The hall for his talk was jam-packed with at least 700 people in attendance.

brain lecture

Resources :

For those neuroscientists looking for more information on optogenetics and CLARITY, you can head over to the following links :

Evolution of Human Brain Superiority

The brain in vertebrates basically comprises the three major parts: the hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain. Cerebellum (Latin for little brain) is a region of the hind brain. Among mammals, the brain has two new structures: ‘neocerebellum’ that is added to the cerebellum and the ‘neocortex’ that grows out of the front of the forebrain, called the prefrontal and frontal lobes.

Human beings are blessed with large convoluted mass of this grey neural matter comprising neocerebellar and neocortical tissue in the form of extensive foldings, valleys and ridges, which increase the surface area of the cortex and allow a maximum amount of grey matter to be packed within the confines of the skull. This is the reason why human beings enjoy the largest ratio of brain weight to body weight as compared to that of any other life form. Other intelligent mammals like dolphins and chimpanzees also have convoluted brains as compared to the smooth brains of lesser intelligent animals.

humans monkey brain

The unique abilities of the human brain—the powers of speech and written language, the power of thinking, observing, planning, reasoning, imagining etc.., reside in the cerebral cortex and this makes us what we are, different from other animals. Although, the size of the brain does define the intelligence of that being, it is actually the brain weight in relation to body weight that is a good indication of intelligence. It is for this reason again that the tiny hummingbird having a brain weighing less than a gram is remarkably equipped with a marvelous variety of behaviours!

The human brain has evolved from 44g organ, about 3-4 million years ago, to the present size of 1500g (1.5kg) that comprises about 10 billion specialized neutrons, capable of receiving, processing and relaying the electrochemical signals which control all our sensations, actions, thoughts and emotions. Scientists believe that human evolution has exceptionally involved a large number mutations in a large number of genes, including several genes involved in brain development. Interestingly, human intelligence is not just attributed to the number of neurons that the brain possesses but more importantly, it is how these neurons are organized and interconnected that makes a difference. More connections mean more vibrant communication links between the interconnecting neurons that results in myriad complex functions of the human brain that make this organ unique to our species.

What are the building blocks of the Human Brain ?

Neurons are the building blocks of the brain. All neurons share common structural features. A neuron basically has a cell body or ‘soma’ that contains the nucleus which, in turns, houses the complete genetic blueprint of the organism. The nucleus is surrounded by cytoplasm, the chemical ‘soup’ of the cell that contains the organelles essential to the functioning of the neuron. Thus, neurons are similar to other body cells, except that unlike most other cells they rarely divide to reproduce new neurons. For carrying out specialized tasks, every neuron has complex communicative channels—the structures called ‘dendrites’ – which are like many tentacles of an antenna system that receive signals from other neurons.

As soon as a dendrite is stimulated on receiving a chemical signal from a neuron connected to it, this signal travels rapidly as an electrochemical impulse from the cell body moving along the neuron’s single axon where it gets picked up by the dendrites of other neurons. Although the size of the neuron’s body is usually small, the length of its axon could be considerable, which means that one neuron may influence the firing of another neuron connected to it but present far away.

The points where two interconnected neurons are joined with each other are special junctions called ‘synapses’. Known as ‘synaptic junctions’, they normally connect the axon of one neuron with the dendrites of another. Unbelievably, a typical neuron in the cortex of the human brain has about 10,000 synapses, which constitutes a complex wiring system that is unparalleled to the complexity of even the most advanced supercomputers! Basically, this intricate wiring of neurons in the human brain bestows it the most amazing abilities this organ possesses.

The brain comprises not only the excitable cells called the neurons but also the non-excitable, support cells called the ‘neuroglia’ that in Latin means ‘nerve glue’ which largely comprise the glial cells. Besides neurons and glial cells, the brain has many blood vessels – arteries, veins and capillaries that also serve the brain tissue.

New Study on evolution of Human Brain released

Brain Rejuvenators – A Good Nights Sleep

Along day of hard work and mental stress may diminish one’s vitality which can be only restored by a good night sleep. Having rested undisturbed, the body normally comes back to its normal state of energy, just as the dawn of a new day brings in fresh life and hope for all. However, everyone is not so lucky to have a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep night after night as many people suffer from sleep disorders and have a disturbed sleep pattern. Insomnia or lack of sleep also drains away the body’s energy and disrupts the sleep and wake time, thus making one feel quite sick.

As we trace the patterns of sleep, it is indeed astonishing that while we sleep, our brain buzzes with activity. This brain activity can be recorded as Electro Encephalograms (EEGs) which reveals the dynamic behaviour of sleep manifested as characteristic electrical patterns in a sleeping person’s brain as well as the presence or absence of eye movement. Based on this, the two main types of sleep are Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) sleep and Non-Rapid-Eye-movement (NREM) sleep. On an EEG, REM sleep is called the active sleep that is characterized by low-amplitude high-frequency waves having ‘alpha’ rhythm. The eye movements of REM sleep are believed to be related to dreams, as people who are awakened from REM sleep normally report their dreams in a vivid manner.

On the other hand, in NREM sleep, there are three distinct stages: N1, N2, and N3. During the progression from stage N1 to N3, brain waves become slower and more synchronized. Therefore in stage N3, EEG reveals high-amplitude, low-frequency waves (delta waves) that is characteristic of deep sleep. Normally, in a healthy adult, sleep begins with NREM sleep where the transition from wakefulness to N1 occurs within seconds after the slow eye movements appear in a person who is feeling very sleepy. The second stage, or N2, comes next that lasts for 10 to 25 minutes, which then progresses to N3 stage. The latter is deep sleep that lasts for 20 to 40 minutes.

As NREM sleep progresses, the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli, and it is difficult to awaken an individual from sleep. The REM sleep follows this, which comprises about 20 to 25 per cent of total sleep in a typical healthy adult. NREM sleep and REM sleep continue to alternate through the night in a cyclical fashion. Interestingly, most NREM sleep occurs in the first part of the night. Although the first episode of REM sleep may last only about five minutes, it generally becomes longer through the night. The normal cycles of NREM and REM sleep are believed to restore both physical and mental states of the body on waking up. Normally, younger people have more concentrated periods of deep sleep and older people have more periods of REM sleep. Sleep patterns can be affected by many factors like age, stress, alcohol, drugs, environmental conditions such as temperature and light, and time of the day or night relative to an individual’s internal/biological clock. Normally, the intake of coffee, tea, chocolate or cola drinks at bedtime interferes with sleep. Whereas, herbal oils such as juniper, lavender, geranium, sandalwood, neroli and ylang ylang help to induce sleep.

Stages of Sleep in Humans

What is the purpose of Dreams in sleep ?

Dreams are believed to be the expressions of deep-seated emotions that to some extent are precognition about the future. According to Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams, dreams are a representation of unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. The activation-synthesis model of dreaming, proposed by J. Allan Hobson and Robert MeClarley in 1977, emphasizes that certain neural circuits in the brain become activated during REM sleep, which is turn, activates specific areas of the limbic system involved in emotions, sensations and memories, including the amygdale and hippocampus. The brain’s interpretation of this neural activity during sleep is manifested as dreams. However, there are several other theories that provide suggestive explanations to the occurrence and meaning of dreams.

What are sleep disorders ?

Sleep disorders are changes in sleeping patterns, which may range from excessive daytime sleepiness and increased movement during sleep to difficulty in sleeping and abnormal sleep behaviors. Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder where a person is unable to get proper amount of sleep one needs to wake up refreshed. It, however, is often a symptom of another problem like stress, anxiety, depression, jet lag and intake of some drugs among other factors. In addition to insomnia, the most common sleep disorders are sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), and narcolepsy. Respiration and sleep are strongly coupled. Changes in the neurological control of breathing are known to affect sleep patterns and this may result in periodic breathing, upper airway obstruction besides sleep Apnea periods.

A Bundle of Grey Matter

The vast repertoire of life forms existing on our planet, including us, are all unique components of nature that are held together through a common thread called ‘Life’. But every life form, be it a single-celled bacterium or a complex living system of a multi-cellular organism, is bestowed with unique identifying features that make it stand out from the rest.

An human beings, we are greatly blessed for we singularly possess a highly complex 1.5 kg organ that sits comfortably inside our skull and fills the space between our ears. Thanks to this amazingly wonderful organ, we could understand the myriad mysteries of galaxies and unravel the structure of atoms, and have unfolded the secrets of the genetic code, each a daunting challenge on its own. This seat of intellect called ‘brain’ had bestowed us with an unparalleled ability to think rationally, a quality that no other life form, however big and mighty on this planet can boast of.

The unique position of human beings in the entire living world owes greatly to this highly sophisticated organ which is the key to human thinking, learning and all higher mental functions besides being involved in several mundane tasks such as sensing the environment, regulating body temperature and controlling body movements among others. The puzzle of how the human brain allows us to perceive behave, think, feel, and control our environment poses a daunting challenge that has baffled scientists over the years.

The important aspects of this puzzle are to firstly understand how over millions of years the primitive nervous system of our early ancestors evolved into an organ that has made us today the most adaptable and intelligent organism on the planet. Secondly, the challenge before us is to unravel the mystery of how a single fertilized egg cell develops the intricate structure of the brain during the course of embryonic development in the womb. Unfolding how the mature human brain continues to modify itself at cellular and molecular levels to acquire new skills and information in an ever changing world is yet another intriguing challenge that we faces today.

The Evolution of Brain

To understand how the human brain differs from the brain of other animals, let us take a look at how this organ evolved over the years in different animals including us. Each and every being inhabiting our planet today has had a history of millions of years of evolution during which that species was subjected to survival battles with its competitors. In fact, the exposure to many hostile environments allowed the more fit species to survive while the unfit beings that were unable to cope up with the adversities were simply wiped out. Basically, there occur genetic alterations called ‘mutations’ to give-rise to new adaptations in a life form to suit a given environment. In this way, life form that emerge victorious in adapting themselves to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation.

As different organisms climbed the evolutionary ladder over millions of years, their brains also got evolved. Although the basic building blocks of this organ – the brain cells – are almost identical in all animals, the evolution of brains of insects, fish reptiles, birds and mammals has been dependent on particular tasks controlled by specific regions of the brain that were crucial to the survival of that species. For example, the nervous system of a jellyfish is very simple as it comprises an undifferentiated network of nerve cells or neutrons that primarily serve to coordinate the animal’s swimming motions. Worms have a simple nervous system, which includes a distinct brain that is connected to groups of neurons organized as ‘nerve cords’ running along the length of their body. Interestingly, even with their brain removed, worms are able to perform many types of body functions that include locomotion, mating, burrowing, feeding, and even maze learning!

Brain complexity in insects is seen as a giant fiber system that allows rapid conduction of nerve impulses, connecting parts of the brain to specific muscles in legs or wings. Such neural connections permit, for example, the cockroach to dart away as soon as it senses any movements or objects around it. Insects thus have astounding sensory reception than any other life form that makes them the most abundant multi-cellular organisms on our planet.

The complexity of brain and its functioning increases as one moves up the evolutionary ladder. The brain becomes much larger and more complex as we move to vertebrates such as fish and amphibians. The spinal cord is protected within the vertebrae of the backbone where lies the nerve fibres that orchestrate a busy two-way highway of communication categorized as motor and sensory pathways. Move up further and see the brains of reptiles and birds, and they appear to be still more complex, especially those areas of the brain are more developed that are devoted to specific senses. For example, crocodiles have huge olfactory bulbs, which is the area of the brain that deals with smell. Then comes a wide variety of mammalian species, having varying brain shapes and sizes.

Evolution of Human Intelligence

Noted scientist Michio Kaku talks about the evolution of the Human brain along with its concurrent structures and functions in the below video.

World Mental Health Day

On October 10 every year, World Mental Health Day is observed in more than 100 countries. Celebrated since 1992, this event is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Several activities organized at both regional and National level include educational lectures and various advocacy programmes to raise public awareness on mental health issues, besides investing in prevention and treatment services.

Today, most psychiatrists agree that about one-third of schizophrenia cases are curable. A positive approach for integrating schizophrenics back into the web of society is the ‘family therapy’ where all the family members of an individual diagnosed with schizophrenia are appropriately informed about this mental illness and how a congenial family atmosphere can contribute towards better improvement in patient’s condition. Such advocacy efforts for education families to improve patient care at home, through compassionate understanding of this mental disorder, can avoid unnecessary hospital visits and even reduce the drug dose of such patients.

It ultimately rests with the ‘sane’ individuals of the family and society as a whole to remove the stigma associated with schizophrenia and accept their less fortunate brothers and sisters suffering from this disorder as an integral part of family/society, and provide them a supportive and tolerant environment that naturally draws such people back into the social network.