CHEAP AND NON-INVASIVE
New research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has successfully demonstrated how a non-invasive method of stimulating the brain can boost cognitive performance. Working under DARPA’s Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program, scientists from HRL Laboratories in California, McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Soterix Medical in New York tested their brain device on macaques and observed a substantial increase in the monkeys’ ability to quickly perform certain tasks.
Reprogramming the Human Mind: Here’s How We’ll Make Humanity 2.0 [INFOGRAPHIC]
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In their study published, which has been published in the journal Current Biology, the HRL team describes how they used non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate the prefrontal cortex in the macaques. They then prompted the animals to perform a task based on associative learning — learning associations between visual cues and a location — in order to get a reward.
The macaques that wore the tDCS brain device significantly outperformed the control group. The former needed only 12 trials to learn how to immediately get the reward, while the latter needed 21 trials, with the tDCS device accounting for the 40 percent increase in learning speed, according to the researchers.
“In this experiment, we targeted the prefrontal cortex with individualized non-invasive stimulation montages,” lead HRL researcher Praveen Pilly said in a statement. “That is the region that controls many executive functions, including decision-making, cognitive control, and contextual memory retrieval. It is connected to almost all the other cortical areas of the brain, and stimulating it has widespread effects.”
Based on the results of their study, the researchers say the increased learning speed was caused by the modulated connectivity between brain areas and not the rate at which neurons fired.
ALL IN THE MIND
The ability to increase one’s brain function almost instantaneously is no doubt appealing. As such, the concept has been a fixture of science fiction for decades (see: “Flowers for Algernon,” “Limitless”), but advancements in technology seem to be bringing us closer to a future in which quickly leveling-up intelligence is a real possibility.
In addition to this DARPA device, researchers from Boston University have developed their own non-invasive method to improve learning using high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS). However, the DARPA researchers claim their device is cheap, which may make it more appealing than other technologies like it.
Simply making people smarter is not the sole purpose of this type of research. A potentially more immediate application of DARPA’s brain device is the treatment of people suffering from neural degeneration that causes a loss of memory function.
As the team noted in their study, “These results are consistent with the idea that tDCS leads to widespread changes in brain activity and suggest that it may be a valuable method for cheaply and non-invasively altering functional connectivity in humans.”
Best of Both Worlds
Credit card companies are a long-standing pillar in the financial services sector. Credit cards were the first cashless payment option made available to the public and now, one of the leading financial services firms in the world has decided that it’s time for credit cards to get involved in blockchain technologies. On Friday, MasterCard announced that it’s opening up access to a blockchain-based business-to-business (B2B) payment service under a new option called the “MasterCard Blockchain API.”
Launched during the Money 20/20 Hackathon in Las Vegas this past weekend after testing and validation had been completed, this service is slated to become available to customers this week. “MasterCard’s blockchain solution provides a new way for consumers, businesses and banks to transact and is key to the company’s strategy to provide payment solutions that meet every need of financial institutions and their end-customers,” the company said in a press statement.
This move comes as a bit of a surprise, as MasterCard previously issued a blanket rejection of Bitcoin. Still, MasterCard’s blockchain service heralds what Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin described to be blockchain’s potential to replace credit cards. Instead of being taken over by blockchain technologies, however, MasterCard decided to embrace the movement.
For Everything Else
As a decentralized digital transaction ledger, blockchain offers MasterCard users a more private and secure option for making transactions, one that is both easily scalable and flexible. The new blockchain API builds on MasterCard’s existing payment network, which covers some 22,000 financial institutions, and also expands blockchain’s capability to handle transactions. The move also solves some of the challenges that B2B schemes typically have, which include “speed, transparency, and costs in cross-border payments.”
“By combining MasterCard blockchain technology with our settlement network and associated network rules, we have created a solution that is safe, secure, auditable and easy to scale,” Ken Moore, MasterCard Labs EVP, said in the press release. “When it comes to payments, we want to provide choice and flexibility to our partners where they are able to seamlessly use both our existing and new payment rails based on the needs and requirements of their customers.”
With a financial giant like MasterCard betting on blockchain, previous predictions by experts seem to be coming true. Blockchain is changing the way we do things — particularly financial transactions. Recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation opened up a payment platform that caters to those without access to traditional financial services. The blockchain revolution, however, is definitely not limited to just the world of finance. Industries like healthcare, aviation, energy, diplomacy, and education are also exploring blockchain solutions to fit their needs. There is even the possibility of a new internet powered by blockchain.
In short, in the age of information, a secure yet easily trackable method of keeping tabs on data is in high demand — especially with recent hacks and security breeches. Blockchain solutions might just be what the world needs.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.