With his new stem cell derived cheek bones, Brad Guilkey no longer tries to hide his face with long hair

SingularityHub.com, by Keith Kleiner

A fourteen year old boy’s missing facial bones have been regrown with the help of his own stem cells.  The procedure, led by Jesse Taylor, MD, a surgeon and researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, represents the culmination of years of work that first began on pigs.  The technology appears to be general enough that it may have the potential to grow almost any bone in the human body, possibly revolutionizing treatment for tens of millions of people across the world suffering from severe bone disorders or damage.  The procedure represents one of a growing slate of successes that are moving stem cells from pie in the sky dreams to real world therapies.  See the video at the end of this post.

Lets try to explain the procedure as cleanly as possible:  These new stem cell derived bones are not grown 100% from the ground up with stem cells.  Instead donated bone is first molded into the precise shape of bone that the patient requires, serving as a scaffold for the stem cells to grow upon.  Holes are then drilled into this bone scaffold and mesenchymal stem cells taken from the patient’s abdominal fat along with a growth factor known as morphogenic protein-2 (BMP-2) are inserted into the holes.  BMP-2 is a critical protein within the body responsible for signaling mesenchymal stem cells to proliferate and differentiate into bone cells.  The bone scaffold filled with mesenchymal cells and BMP-2 is then wrapped in a thin membrane of tissue that naturally coats human bone surfaces called periosteum. The periosteum used in this surgery was taken from the patient’s thigh. Periosteum is important to the body’s normal production of BMP-2, and just as vital to providing a blood supply to nourish new bone formation.  This periosteum wrapped scaffold infused with mesenchymal cells and BMP-2 is surgically implanted into the patient and over time the stem cells grow over the scaffold to create real, healthy, functioning bone in the patient.

The teenage recipient of the surgery, Brad Guilkey, has a rare genetic condition known as Treacher Collins syndrome, which caused him to be born without zygomatic cheek bones responsible for providing prominence and support around the bottom of the eye sockets.  The condition had left Guilkey with droopy looking eyes and cheeks that he had attempted to partly hide with his long hair.  In addition to affecting his looks, the condition left Guilkey in constant danger of severely injuring his eyes since they were not protected by the missing cheek bones.  Now with the new cheek bones in place it is heart warming to see this now 15 year old boy looking and feeling normal enough that he has given up on the face hiding hair.

Although metal and other synthetic materials can sometimes be used as replacement parts for damaged or missing bones, real living human bone is still by far the best solution when possible.  As with all stem cell treatments derived directly from the patient, one of the greatest features of the procedure is that there is no risk of immune system rejection of the new bone since the cells are the patient’s own.

Four months after Guilkey’s procedure a CT scan indicated that the cheek bones had filled in normally with healthy bone, but it’s unknown how the bones will evolve and maintain themselves over the course of several years and beyond.  Only time will reveal such answers.

In the meantime at least two other patients have already undergone a similar procedure and more aggressive tests continue on bones of different sizes and lengths within pigs.  According to Cincinnati Children’s a research paper is being prepared for peer-review journal publication, describing the use of the procedure to grow viable, dense bone in pigs and the duplication of results numerous times. The researchers worked with pigs because their immune systems are very similar to that of humans, making the animals a good model for simulating engineered bone growth in people.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre elements of the entire procedure is that the doctors really don’t know how or why the stem cells work their magic.  Other than helping things along with BMP-2, the doctors are pretty much letting natural biological signalling and decision trees within the human body regulate the growth of this bone.  The phenomenon of not really knowing how the stem cells actually work is in fact common among most of the stem cell procedures being attempted across the world today.  Given the amazing ability of stem cells to morph into pretty much any type of cell within the body researchers are squirting these little miracles into spinal fluid, brain tissue, bone – anywhere they can – to see what happens.

We are still in the dark ages of a bright future for stem cell therapy.  Even with the current “throw in the stem cells and see what happens” techniques of today new bones are being grown and eyesight is being restored to the blind.  As researchers continue to study and unravel the secrets of stem cells the advances will only become more impressive.  In the next several decades it is entirely conceivable, in fact likely, that we will be able to have several different types of replacement organs and tissues custom grown for our bodies.  The Methuselarity may indeed be within our reach!

SingularityHub.com, December 2010 by Aaron Saenz

Michio Kaku explores how humans and machines could unify instead of compete.

Are you worried about the coming robot apocalypse? Does research into artificial general intelligence freak you out? Do you look at computers and start dreading for the safety of your children? If so, world renowned physicist and science champion Michio Kaku has a message for you: instead of fearing technology, humanity should learn how to become part of it. Kaku hosts a great TV show called Sci Fi Science wherein he explores some of the amazing technologies being developed today, and the out-of-this-world consequences they could bring tomorrow. Recently, he took a look at the Technological Singularity, which as he puts it will be “a time when computer power grows without limit, surpassing human intelligence, sweeping aside everything in its path.” Sounds scary, huh? Well, after talking to experts around the world, Kaku decides there’s only one reasonable way to deal with the Singularity: join it. By merging with computers, humanity will not only preserve itself, it will expand into realms it cannot comprehend in the present. Watch clips from Kaku’s Singularity episode in the video below. By the end Kaku is openly recruiting us to join him in embracing the machine.

Michio Kaku is one of the most famous modern day presenters in science. He’s authored several best sellers, hosts two radio programs, has the Sci Fi Science TV show (now in its second season), and writes a blog on BigThink. As we’ve shown in the past, he seems to delight in answering questions from average readers and viewers, and no subject seems too far-fetched for him to consider and explain. It’s only fitting then that Kaku take a long look at the Singularity and consider the implications of exponential growth in artificial intelligence. While Kaku doesn’t espouse as op outlook on what the growth of AI could mean for humanity. I tend to share his view. Accelerating technology is only scary when you view it as separate from ourselves. Once you realize that we are already increasing the ways we incorporate it into our everyday lives (how long do you go between using your phone, the internet, or computer?) continuing along that path starts to make sense. Don’t fear the machine conquering humanity. The machine will become one with humanity.timistic approach to the subject as many others, he does end up with a very positive

The following clips were (apparently) taken from Sci Fi Science’s episode “AI Uprising”. The video was uploaded to YouTube by ImYoda69, I make no guarantees of its copyright status.

[image and video credits: Sci Fi Science]

Kurzweil explores the mind and humanity’s journey to recreate it in his presentation from Singularity Summit 2010.

SingularityHub.com, December 21st, 2010 by Aaron Saenz

Will we ever create an accurate simulation of the human mind? Can we detect and measure consciousness? When will artificial intelligence surpass human intelligence?

Humanity has questions about the development of AI, and for decades Ray Kurzweil has been trying to find the answers. Those who know the author, futurist, and inventor’s work will be familiar with his beliefs in the exponential growth of information technology, and the inclusion of more technologies into the IT label. Lately, Kurzweil has become increasingly interested in the human mind, how we may be able to understand it, and eventually how we could recreate it. He’s working on his seventh book, How the Mind Works and How to Build One, which will explore those concepts. This past August, at the annual Singularity Summit, Kurzweil gave attendees a sneak peak into his upcoming book via an hour long presentation with almost the the same name: “The Mind and How to Build One”. Thanks to the Summit organizers, The Singularity Institute, Kurzweil’s talk is now available to watch online; check it out in the video below. From his discussion on consciousness to his explanation of the processing methods of the cerebral cortex, this is one of the best Kurzweil presentations I’ve ever seen.

I attended this year’s Singularity Summit, and had a great time. I remember some commenters at the Summit lamenting that Kurzweil started his talk rather slowly. However, I think the first 15 minutes of his presentation give some really valuable background to what he wants to discuss. Right away Kurzweil points out that the brain is not some mystic device, some quantumly unknowable system that we’ll never be able to understand. We can, for the first time in history, reliably peer inside the brain and see what’s happening. That’s an important step in creating a comprehensive map of how our brain behaves. But in terms of AI, we may not really need that map. Kurzweil explains that reverse engineering the brain isn’t absolutely necessary to develop artificial intelligence, it is just that understanding the brain can help us augment our pursuit of AI rather well. He relates how we’ve already had success with determining how the brain understands speech and visual input. These pattern recognition tasks have given us insight into how the rest of the organ processes information. With this context, Kurzweil’s ready to jump into the future of creating artificial minds.

…But first he takes a bit of a detour. At 14:45 he starts to discuss the reasons why some people believe in the Singularity and others do not. Importantly, he points out that education, intelligence, and age aren’t the determining factors. Glad to hear that the people who disagree with the concept of the Singularity aren’t dumb, ignorant, or childish. At 17:44 he starts back towards the brain, explaining how the cerebral cortex is composed of modules, which he calls recognizers, that serve as linked labels for real world objects and metaphysical ideas. …and then he gets away from the mind again. From 19:00 to 25:15 he shows evidence supporting the theory that information technologies have experienced exponential growth. For those who have seen Kurzweil speak before you can skip that part of the video. If this is your first Kurzweil presentation I have some bad news: Singularity Institute didn’t include the slides in the video. Luckily I tracked down a similar presentation he gave to Google in 2009 (see it below). You can see all the graphs of exponential curves you’d ever want by checking out slides 5 through 44.

The real meat of the presentation starts up after 25:00 when Kurzweil really gets into exploring concepts related to the brain. Jump to that point in the video and you won’t be disappointed. Slides 56 through 71 in the Google presentation are helpful to look through while you listen to him speak.

Unfortunately, Kurzweil was not able to appear in person for the Singularity Summit, instead he teleconferenced in. I was in the auditorium for the presentation, and I remember him looking a little like a giant floating head, but luckily you’ll miss out on that when you see the video below.

It’s appropriate that a man who often talks about the democratizing effects of technology can be seen for free on the Internet. Ray Kurzweil visited Google campus in Mountain View in July as part of the Authors at Google series. His hour long presentation is available to watch after the break. For those of you who have never had a chance to see Kurzweil speak about the Singularity and what it will mean for humanity, this is a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

How do I summarize Kurzweil’s thesis? Predictable exponential growth. While humans tend to think of their world on a linear scale (where’s that baseball going to be in two seconds? …better duck!), information technology develops at an exponential pace. This leads us to misunderstand how large trends develop: the Cold War seemed like it would go on forever, the popularity of the Internet seems to come out of nowhere, etc. Kurzweil predicted these developments, and many others, and wants to talk to you about the future. It’s coming a lot sooner than you think: we could have machines with human level intelligence by 2029.

For those of you who have watched Transcendent Man, or read the Singularity is Near, you may want to skip the first half of the Google presentation. There’s not a lot that is new there. Kurzweil’s latest book, The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, is mentioned but only in passing.

If I could offer a highlight reel:

  • Skip ahead to around 29:22, Kurzweil demonstrates his handheld mobile reader, part of knfb Reading Technology. With just a single picture, the tiny device can read a page of text in any of 16 languages. Very cool.
  • 33:03 Kurzweil addresses complaints that his exponential graphs don’t include data points that would offset his proposed exponential growth curve. Here we see a wide collection of points added in to his graph without a huge variance. He goes on to explain how individual paradigms may end, but larger trends continue steadily and support his claims.
  • Around 35:00 – Many different fields are becoming information technology. Medicine (with DNA), art, literature, and even physical objects may one day be transferred through emails.
  • 44:00 – A discussion on nanotechnology and respirocytes.
  • Artificial intelligence is a big theme when discussing the Singularity. Kurzweil explores the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain starting around 46:50. Humans, he says, are very good at pattern recognition and hierarchical structure. In the next 20 years, brain scans into the neocortex and cerebellum will enhance our understanding of how we accomplish these feats.
  • There’s a great translation demonstration at 54:00 that leads directly into the presentation summary at 54:35.

All of the presentation slides are available as a download by following this link.

While many of the concepts Ray Kurzweil discussed at Google have been repeated in other settings, this presentation does a great job of summarizing. As always, I’m impressed by his track record, but not completely willing to accept his future predictions. That’s a sentiment shared in some of the recent and upcoming movies about the Singularity. Maybe it’s just our linear brains rejecting the concept of exponential growth? I’d like to hear more about how you view Kurzweil’s futurist thoughts, so make sure to add a comment below.

Part of why I like this presentation so much is that Kurzweil fills it with memorable statements that encourage the audience to learn more about the nature of their minds. At 26:04 he explains that consciousness, in its very nature, is not measurable. It is a subjective evaluation, not an objective one. Science is simply not going to be able to have a definitive test for consciousness. That’s very appealing to me as both a challenge to experimentalists, and a launching point for philosophers. At 27:30, Kurzweil explains how thoughts create the brain saying, “we create who we are by the thoughts we have.” Our thought patterns are literally rewiring our brain and our brain’s wiring is influencing our thoughts. Speaking from experience, that’s a wonderfully interesting concept to explore with friends over coffee late at night. At 39:25 he states that, “…the cerebral cortex is a LISP processor.” Referencing the computer language LISP that uses linked lists as a data structure. Kurzweil describes the cortex as filled with units (“recognizers”) that build complex concepts out of links to other concepts. That’s a delightful (and apparently accurate) way to understand the way our minds learn, and again, something fun to discuss with friends or inspire you to read a book about neuroscience. It also jives very well with Jeff Hawkins’ theories about the brain. Hawkins is the founder of Palm, Handspring, and most recently Numenta, a company that uses the architecture of the brain to help design narrow artificial intelligence for interesting things such as sorting through video footage. We here at the Hub are fans of Hawkins, and it’s nice to see that apparently Kurzweil is too.

Further memorable sections:
43:00 – Kurweil discusses spindle neurons and the importance they have in our higher reasoning.
45:00 – He explains that we can only really test our perceptions of consciousness, not consciousness itself.
52:00 – The ‘Duck Theory’ of consciousness: If something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc it’s probably a duck. In the same way, humanity will likely decide to accept artificial entities as ‘alive’ when they do the things that our consciousnesses do, even if we don’t have a test.
55:00 – Questions begin: 1) Is it possible the quantum wave function is a mental field? 2) How accurately do we need to model the brain to get intelligence? Neurons, subcellular, macromolecular? 3) Is scanning a human brain to the molecular level necessary before we get AI?

I should say that this presentation at the Singularity Summit has become a little frustrating to me. Around minute 30, Kurzweil starts to discuss the amount of code it would take to simulate a brain. A poor interpretation of these comments lead to PZ Myers, a researcher and blogger of some renown, to trash the entire presentation. We covered Myers’ original blog posting, as well as Kurzweil’s response, when it happened. As such I won’t go into the debate too much here. Suffice to say that Kurzweil believes that our brains are encoded by our DNA, which represents a reasonable amount of code to try to simulate/recreate in the future. However, he also states outright that a simulated brain will need to be ‘taught’ because experience is a key element in the development of a mind (watch around 29:35). Myers seems to have missed all this and concluded that Kurzweil had a laughable naive comprehension of the complexity of the brain. Ugh. Misunderstandings such as these are not the best basis for reasonable debate.

Over the years Kurzweil’s name has become somewhat synonymous with the Singularity. That’s to be expected, I guess, since he has written so many books that have directly or indirectly discussed the topic. I often lament that equivalence because it opens up a complex intellectual concept to boring ad hominem counter arguments. Today, however, I’m rather glad that Kurzweil is so often portrayed as the leader of the Singularity. He doesn’t always have the best stage presence, but it’s hard to ignore the depth of thought and clarity of vision he brings to his presentations. At the Singularity Summit Kurzweil painted a detailed picture of the brain as we know it today, and the way we may delve it more deeply in the future. I look forward to reading his upcoming book to see how he expands upon these ideas.

[image credits: R. Kurzweil via Slideshare.net]
[screen capture and video credit: Singularity Institute]
[source: Singularity Summit 2010]

Time Before Present Time to Next Event Event
3700000000 2400000000 Life
1300000000 750000000 Eucaryotic cells, multicellular organisms
550000000 220000000 Cambrian Explosion (body plans)
330000000 135000000 Reptiles
195000000 113500000 Class Mammalia
81500000 49000000 Primates
32500000 25500000 Superfamily Hominoidea
7000000 3100000 Family Hominidae
3900000 2100000 Human ancestors walk upright
1800000 800000 Genus Homo, Homo Erectus, specialized stone tools
1000000 700000 Spoken language
300000 200000 Homo sapiens
100000 75000 Homo sapiens sapiens
25000 15000 Art, early cities
10000 5000 Agriculture
5000 2490 Writing, wheel
2510 1960 City States
550 325 Printing, experimental method
225 95 Industrial Revolution
130 65 Telephone, electricity, radio
65 38 Computer
27 14 Personal Computer
Chart Countdown to Singularity, Events expressed as Time before Present (Years) on the X axis and Time to Next Event (Years) on the Y axis, Logarithmic Plot Page 17, Linear Plot page 18.

Car-Free, Solar City in Gulf Could Set a New Standard for Green Design

Sketch by Foster + Partners

CARLESS Masdar is next to the Abu Dhabi international airport.

In an ever more crowded world facing environmental limits, the push is on to create entire communities with reduced needs for energy, water, land

The latest effort comes not in some green hub like Portland, Ore., but in the Persian Gulf, fueled as much by oil wealth — and the need to find postpetroleum business models — as environmental zeal.

Masdar City, will be a nearly self-contained mini-municipality designed for up to 50,000 people rising from the desert next to Abu Dhabi’s international airport and intended as a hub for academic and corporate research on nonpolluting energy technologies.

The 2.3-square-mile community, set behind walls to divert hot desert winds and airport noise, will be car free, according to the design by Foster + Partners, the London firm that has become a leading practitioner of energy-saving architecture.

The community, slightly smaller than the historic district of Venice, will have similar narrow pedestrian streets, but shaded by canopies made of photovoltaic panels. It will produce all of its own energy from sunlight.

Water will flow from a solar-powered seawater-desalinization plant. Produce will come from nearby greenhouses, and all waste will be composted or otherwise recycled, said Khaled Awad, property manager for the project.

The first phase, to be completed over the next two years, will be construction of the Masdar Institute, a graduate-level academic research center associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Readers can see a simulated video tour of the city and post comments on the Dot Earth blog.

Attempts at such green communities have had mixed results. Arcosanti, the ecotopian town in the Arizona desert, was started three decades ago. Still a work in progress, it is now being encroached on by Phoenix’s suburban expansion.

China, with help from American partners, has embarked on building instant rural communities and cities designed to limit environmental impacts, but recent reports have disclosed many problems.

Still, environmental campaigners appear enthusiastic about Masdar City, which is part of a planned $15 billion investment in new energy technologies by Abu Dhabi.

At an international energy conference in that city, two years ago Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, director of the One Planet Living initiative of the environmental group WWF International (known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund), said independent monitoring would help ensure that the project lived up to its billing.