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Fantastical is releasing today its biggest update ever with new tools to schedule personal and work meetings, as well as an improved calendar view with a new option.
Version 3.6 brings Fantastical Scheduling, which is probably the best way to schedule meetings with new Openings and Proposals features.
With Openings, users can share their availability with recipients, who can then book a meeting with a free slot from the organizer’s calendar. It’s a simple, intuitive way to end multiple e-mails with one link showing all the free slots available for a specific meeting.
Proposals feature, for example, let organizers suggest a handful of alternative days and times for an event and see which time receives the best response from invitees.
Not only that, but the best part of this function is that it embraces all users, including those who don’t use Fantastical. That said, the app’s user just has to send a customized link that will open a webpage with the information regarding Openings or Proposals, with no need to create an account or take extra steps.
“Today’s release of Fantastical version 3.6 marks an important milestone in Flexibits’s goal to simplify calendar scheduling,” said Michael Simmons, CEO & Co-Founder of Flexibits. “Fantastical users no longer need to spend large amounts of time messaging multiple people to try and find a time that syncs up with multiple invitees and schedules. Fantastical Scheduling manages all of this securely, automatically, and easily.”In-depth look at Openings and Proposals features
What’s more exciting about these new features is how simple it is to schedule a meeting. While Openings are great for one-on-one business meetings, scheduling lunch with a partner, or having a feedback talk with an employee, Proposals are amazing for big meetings, happy hours, or even scheduling parties with friends.
With Openings, by default, requests are automatically added to the organizer’s calendar once a time has been requested, which is easier for those who need to schedule lots of meetings every day. This function also offers a highly customizable scheduling experience, cutting out a significant degree of time required to compare schedules and decide on a date.
Again, both of these features are privacy-first and don’t require non-Fantastical users to create an account, they just have to access the customized link, and select a date.Quarter view feature makes life easier for Pro users
This Quarter view looks great on a Mac or on an iPad, as everything appears on a single screen and makes it easier for users to plan their quarter.
Fantastical 3.6 is available now for free on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The free version is available with limited features, while a Flexibits Premium subscription enables all premium features and is available with monthly and discounted annual options.
A single Fantastical Premium subscription unlocks all features and includes all platforms. While some developers charge more when announcing big updates with different tiers, Flexibits is bringing Fantastical Scheduling at no additional cost.
Flexibits Premium comes with a 14-day free trial and is available for $4.99 monthly or $3.33 when billed annually. Additionally, Flexibits Premium for Families enables up to 5 family members to use all premium features with monthly and discounted annual options.
The app requires macOS High Sierra 10.13 or later, iOS 13 or later, iPadOS 13 or later, and watchOS 6 or later. You can download it here.
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Agile management and flexibility can help retailers use data to better capitalize on consumer trends. One European retailer is now using an efficient supply chain and real-time information about trends to bring consumers the latest fashions as soon as they hit the runway.
Latest Trends at Affordable Prices
Headquartered in Berlin, Lesara is an online fashion retailer offering 50,000 products annually to consumers in 23 European countries. Lesara is unique in its use of data to identify current fashion trends. It then works with factories to bring the latest products directly to consumers at a competitive price. Lesara founder and CEO Roman Kirsch said in an interview with Forbes that with agile management, robust analytics and a fast, transparent supply chain, Lesara’s turnaround time beats that of its competitors by almost an entire month.
“We don’t invest in expensive supermodel campaigns, but rather invest in great experiences that promote word-of-mouth through social media,” Kirsch said. “Our vision is to enable everyone, everywhere, to afford the newest trends in apparel at great prices.”
Kirsch explained that they support this model by investing in efficiency and using the supply chain as a main driver for cost structure. Lesara’s data-driven demand forecasts, elimination of overstock and online-only operations allow the company to deliver up to 25 percent cheaper price points without sacrificing quality.
Innovation Is at the Forefront of Retail
According to a report on agile innovation by Ernst & Young, leaders need to rally their organizations around new models of innovation and “cultivate an agile culture of experimentation” by encouraging ideas and embracing failure. They should also eliminate bureaucracy, think simply and act fast with an approach for identifying and pursuing new innovations.
Additionally, Kirsch noted the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone, learning from your mistakes and promoting values like speed over perfection. So far, Lesara has been able to prove that having management agile enough to respond to robust data can help bring the right products to market faster. “We believe that subjective decision making based on instincts can never be as powerful as understanding consumer demands as they develop and catering to them in real time,” said Kirsch.
Darrell Rigby, head of the global innovation and retail practices division at Bain & Company, stated in an article in Harvard Business Review that agile innovation methods often start at the top, and typically include Scrum (emphasizing creative and adaptive teamwork in solving complex problems), lean development (a focus on the continual elimination of waste) and Kanban (reducing lead times and the amount of work in process). According to Rigby, companies can bring valuable products to market and improve engagement by focusing on visibility and adapting to customers’ changing priorities.
In contrast to many other retailers in the fashion industry, Kirsch firmly believes that the main driver of fashion growth will be mobile, and that it’s only at the beginning of its innovation. “We’re constantly challenging the status quo and pushing widely accepted opinions and assumptions, with the best argument winning the conversation,” said Kirsch.
Privacy is a major issue that has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. Data leaks and breaches have brought to the forefront the issue of data ownership and control online. A Virtual Private Network or VPN helps to address concerns of cybersecurity and privacy faced by users.
VPNs help to create a safe network that encrypts a user’s web traffic and masks their virtual profiles.
ProtonVPN is a VPN provider that aims to allow users to benefit from the world’s strongest privacy laws. The platform prioritizes the security of users and is supported by the community.
What is ProtonVPN?
ProtonVPN is a VPN provider based in Geneva, Switzerland, and was founded in 2024 by a team of scientists that met at CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research). They created ProtonMail, one of the world’s largest encrypted email services. ProtonVPN was then created with the need for better protection of activists, journalists, and users.
It is also supported by FONGIT, which is a non-profit foundation working for the public good and is funded by the Swiss Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation. ProtonVPN provides complete transparency while running the VPN service in an honest and secure manner.
ProtonVPN encrypts the user’s connection while browsing the web by routing the connection through encrypted tunnels. Some of the key features of ProtonVPN are:
Encryption: All the user traffic is encrypted with AES-256 while the key exchange is done using 4096-bit RSA, HMAC, and SHA384 is used for message authentication.
Safe protocols: ProtonVPN only uses secure VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard. It does not have any servers that support PPTP and L2TP/IPSec, giving users the assurance that their VPN tunnel is protected by the most reliable protocol.
Perfect Forward Secrecy: In order to make sure that a user’s encrypted data cannot be captured and decrypted later if an encryption key is compromised, ProtonVPN uses a curated selection of encryption cipher suites that have Perfect Forward Secrecy.
WireGuard’s open-source protocol
WireGuard is a new VPN protocol that is fast and secure allowing users to access faster speeds with better performance and security. The ProtonVPN platform launched this open-source lightweight protocol reduces the CPU load that is required to process it thereby providing a longer battery life for a user’s devices such as phones, laptops or tablets.
All apps offered by ProtonVPN are fully open-source and audited as the platform focuses on transparency and accountability.
Secure core architecture
ProtonVPN has a secure core architecture which gives it the ability to defend itself against network-based attacks. The traffic is routed through multiple servers before leaving the ProtonVPN network helping in the protection of the data and user information.
In case a user’s connection to any of the VPN servers is interrupted, the kill switch feature automatically blocks all connections to their device so as to protect the user’s IP address and not expose it to outside of the secure VPN tunnel.
Prices and plans
ProtonVPN has several plans that the user can choose from as per their need.
The free plan allows users to access 23 servers in 3 different countries with a medium speed and no-logs policy. Users can also access blocked content through a VPN connection.
With the basic plan priced at $4 per month, users get access to 350+ servers in 40+ countries. They get to use 2 VPN connections with a high-speed, no-logs policy. Users can also access blocked content and get the NetShield adblocker with this plan. P2P and BitTorrent support is also provided to these users.
The Plus plan offers 1400+ servers in 61 countries for a $5.99/month plan. Users get 10 VPN connections and upto 10 Gbps speed. They can also access blocked content and streaming service support along with the Secure Core and Tor over VPNs. P2P and BitTorrent support is also provided with this plan.
With the Visionary plan, users get to access all plus plan features and a ProtonMail visionary account with just a $24 per month plan.
ProtonVPN works in over 61 countries with 1,432 servers and a 1,675 Gbps capacity. It is based in Switzerland giving it strong privacy and legal protection structure. The platform has built a trustworthy and transparent system, informing users exactly who is running the service. It is also open-source and anyone can examine the apps and their code.
ProtonVPN has also commissioned professional audits for their full-release software from SEC Consult and publishes the full results online. The platform places special focus on privacy and ease of use for its users around the world. Currently, ProtonVPN has a limited time 50% off on its ProtonVPN Plus plan. This year-end offer is open to new users, Free plan users, and ProtonVPN Basic plan users.
For more information on ProtonVPN, please check out their official website.
In business and education, virtual meetings and video calls became the norm in the last few years. Video conferencing helped spread the popularity of remote work and online schooling by increasing productivity and boosting teamwork while sitting comfortably at home. Because of this, Microsoft Teams, just like Google Meet and Zoom, became one of the most popular team communication tools.
Microsoft Teams is a great way to have online meetings with team members, clients, or anyone else you need to talk to. But what if you’re not sure how to join a meeting? Don’t worry, we’ll show you how. Read on for tips on how to join a Microsoft Teams meeting.
Table of Contents1. Join with an Email Link
You can join a Teams meeting through a link that was sent to you by email. All Teams users can create and send you a meeting invite, and you can use it to join the call. Here’s how that works:
2. You will be taken to a new window that will offer you different ways to join the Teams meeting. It will depend on the device you’re using, and on whether you have the Microsoft Teams app installed on your device or not. You can choose to download the app from the app store, use the already existing app on your device, or join the meeting through a web browser.
3. The next screen will start connecting you to the meeting call. However, you may have to give Teams permission to access your camera and microphone. You’ll also have to type in your name.
4. Before joining the meeting you can test and tweak your audio and video settings and choose the devices you want to use (if you have multiple). Meeting controls are user-friendly and intuitive.
5. Select Join Now to request to join the call. Depending on the settings for the meeting you can either join right away or wait for the organizer to approve your request to join the meeting.2. Join Using Your Meeting ID and Passcode 3. Join via a Calendar Link in Microsoft Outlook Calendar 4. Join from a Notification
Whether you’re using a PC, Android, iOS mobile device, or even an Apple Watch, you will receive a notification to remind you about your scheduled meetings. Here’s how it works:
1. Depending on your device, the notification will look something like the image below.5. Join from a Calendar Link in The Microsoft Teams App
Another calendar that allows you to join a Teams meeting is inside the Teams app itself. If you have been invited to a meeting by an organizer, you will have it scheduled in the Microsoft Teams calendar. Here’s how it works:
2. Find the meeting you want to join on the set date. Select the meeting.6. Join from Chat
You can also join a meeting through the Teams app’s meeting chat section. To do so:
1. Open up your Teams app and go to the Chat section.Join a Microsoft Teams Meeting from Anywhere
Joining a new meeting on Microsoft Teams is easy and can be done in several different ways. Whether you’re using the desktop app, the web app, or the mobile app, all you need is an internet connection and either the meeting ID or link. And if you’re having trouble joining a meeting, there are always options for audio and video calling so that you can participate in the discussion. Also, if you’re an Apple CarPlay user, you can join the Teams meeting on the road, as you drive.
It’s been seven years since Tencent picked up a 36.5% stake in Sogou to fend off rival Baidu in the online search market. The social and gaming giant is now offering to buy out and take private its long-time ally.
NYSE-listed Sogou said this week it has received a preliminary non-binding proposal from Tencent to acquire its remaining shares for $9 each American depositary share (ADS) it doesn’t already own.
That means Sohu, a leading web portal in the Chinese desktop era and the controlling shareholder in Sogou, will no longer hold an interest in the search firm.
Also read: 10 Best Saas Marketing Tools And Platforms For 2023
Sogou’s stocks jumped 48 percent over the news to $8.51 on Monday, nevertheless still far under its all-time large at $13.85 in the time of its first public offering.
Founded in 2005, Sogou went public in late 2023 billing itself as a challenger to China’s biggest search service Baidu, though it has long been a distant second.
The company also operates the top Chinese input software, which is used by 482 million people every day to type and convert voice to text, according to its Q1 earnings report.
Ever since the strategic venture with Tencent kicked away, Sogou, so”Search Dog” in Chinese, has become the default search engine to get WeChat and gained hugely from the giant’s traffic, even although WeChat has also developed its own search feature.
The possible buyout will include Sogou to some listing of Chinese companies to delist in the U.S. as tensions between the nations heighten lately.
It is going to also allay concerns among investors that fear WeChat Search would make Sogou redundant.
So far WeChat’s proprietary search function is apparently gleaning data mostly within the program’s enclave, from users’ information feed, user-generated posts, e-commerce shops, via to messenger programs integrated into WeChat.
That is a great deal of articles and solutions targeted at WeChat’s 1.2 billion active users. A lot of men and women don’t look past the chat program to customer information, purchase food, play games, or even buy markets.
However there stays information away from the monumental ecosystem, and that is Sogou’s turf — to deliver what is available on the open internet (obviously, subject to government censorship including most of Chinese providers ) to WeChat users.
The objective is to lock traffic and consumer insights. For example, articles printed on WeChat can not be hunted on Baidu. Consumers can not open Alibaba shopping hyperlinks without even leaving WeChat.
Sogou is barely WeChat’s only lookup ally. To catch a complete selection of data requirements, the messenger has also struck deals with co-opt fellow microblogging platform Weibo, Quora-like Zhihu, and societal trade service Xiaohongshu to its hunt pool.
The human brain
Everything felt possible at Transhuman Visions 2014, a conference in February billed as a forum for visionaries to “describe our fast-approaching, brilliant, and bizarre future.” Inside an old waterfront military depot in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, young entrepreneurs hawked experimental smart drugs and coffee made with a special kind of butter they said provided cognitive enhancements. A woman offered online therapy sessions, and a middle-aged conventioneer wore an electrode array that displayed his brain waves on a monitor as multicolor patterns.
On stage, a speaker with a shaved head and a thick, black beard held forth on DIY sensory augmentation. A group called Science for the Masses, he said, was developing a pill that would soon allow humans to perceive the near-infrared spectrum. He personally had implanted tiny magnets into his outer ears so that he could listen to music converted into vibrations by a magnetic coil attached to his phone.
None of this seemed particularly ambitious, however, compared with the claim soon to follow. In the back of the audience, carefully reviewing his notes, sat Randal Koene, a bespectacled neuroscientist wearing black cargo pants, a black T-shirt showing a brain on a laptop screen, and a pair of black, shiny boots. Koene had come to explain to the assembled crowd how to live forever. ”As a species, we really only inhabit a small sliver of time and space,”Koene said when he took the stage. ”We want a species that can be effective and influential and creative in a much larger sphere.”
Koene’s solution was straightforward: He planned to upload his brain to a computer. By mapping the brain, reducing its activity to computations, and reproducing those computations in code, Koene argued, humans could live indefinitely, emulated by silicon. “When I say emulation, you should think of it, for example, in the same sense as emulating a Macintosh on a PC,” he said. “It’s kind of like platform-independent code.”
The concept of brain emulation has a long, colorful history in science fiction, but it’s also deeply rooted in computer science. An entire subfield known as neural networking is based on the physical architecture and biological rules that underpin neuroscience.
Roughly 85 billion individual neurons make up the human brain, each one connected to as many as 10,000 others via branches called axons and dendrites. Every time a neuron fires, an electrochemical signal jumps from the axon of one neuron to the dendrite of another, across a synapse between them. It’s the sum of those signals that encode information and enable the brain to process input, form associations, and execute commands. Many neuroscientists believe the essence of who we are—our memories, emotions, personalities, predilections, even our consciousness—lies in those patterns.
In the 1940s, neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch and mathematician Walter Pitts suggested a simple way to describe brain activity using math. Regardless of everything happening around it, they noted, a neuron can be in only one of two possible states: active or at rest. Early computer scientists quickly grasped that if they wanted to program a brainlike machine, they could use the basic logic systems of their prototypes—the binary electric switches symbolized by 1s and 0s—to represent the on/off state of individual neurons.
Neuroscientist Randal Koene
A few years later, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb suggested that memories are nothing more than associations encoded in a network. In the brain, those associations are formed by neurons firing simultaneously or in sequence. For example, if a person sees a face and hears a name at the same time, neurons in both the visual and auditory areas of the brain will fire, causing them to connect. The next time that person sees the face, the neurons encoding the name will also fire, prompting the person to recollect it.
Using these insights, computer engineers have created artificial neural networks capable of forming associations, or learning. Programmers instruct the networks to remember which pieces of data have been linked in the past, and then to predict the likelihood that those two pieces will be linked in the future. Today, such software can perform a variety of complex pattern-recognition tasks, such as detecting credit card purchases that diverge dramatically from a consumer’s past behavior, indicating possible fraud.
Of course, any neuroscientist will tell you that artificial neural networks don’t begin to incorporate the true complexity of the human brain. Researchers have yet to characterize the many ways neurons interact and have yet to grasp how different chemical pathways affect the likelihood that they will fire. There may be rules they don’t yet know exist.
But such networks remain perhaps the strongest illustration of an assumption crucial to the hopes and dreams of Randal Koene: that our identity is nothing more than the behavior of individual neurons and the relationships between them. And that most of the activities of the brain, if technology were capable of recording and analyzing them, can theoretically be reduced to computations.
Koene, the son of a particle physicist, first discovered mind uploading at age 13 when he read the 1956 Arthur C. Clarke classic The City and the Stars. Clarke’s book describes a city one billion years in the future. Its residents live multiple lives and spend the time between them stored in the memory banks of a central computer capable of generating new bodies. “I began to think about our limits,” Koene says. “Ultimately, it is our biology, our brain, that is mortal. But Clarke talks about a future in which people can be constructed and deconstructed, in which people are information.”
It was a vision, Koene decided, worth devoting his life to pursuing. He began by studying physics in college, believing the route to his goal lay in finding ways to reconstitute patterns of individual atoms. By the time he graduated, however, he concluded that all he really needed was a digital brain. So he enrolled in a masters program at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he focused on neural networks and artificial intelligence.By mapping the brain, humans could live indefinitely.
By then, many of the other group members had earned their credentials. And in 2007, computational neuroscientist Anders Sandberg, who studies the bioethics of human enhancement at Oxford University, summoned interested experts to Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute for a two-day workshop. Participants laid out a roadmap of capabilities humans would need to develop in order to successfully emulate a brain: mapping the structure, learning how that structure matches function, and developing the software and hardware to run it.
Not long afterward, Koene left Boston University to become the director of neuroengineering at the Fatronik-Tecnalia Institute in Spain, one of the largest private research organizations in Europe. “I didn’t like the job once I figured out they weren’t into taking any risks and didn’t really care about futuristic things related to whole brain emulation,” Koene says. So, in 2010, he moved to Silicon Valley to take a job as head of analysis at Halcyon Molecular, a nanotechnology company that had raised more than $20 million from PayPal cofounders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, among others. Though Halcyon’s goal was to develop low-cost, DNA-sequencing tools, its leaders assured Koene he would have time to work on brain emulation, a goal they supported.
“We need to provide a foundation so the new field of brain emulation is taken seriously,” Koene tells me from his bedroom command center. He opens a color-coded chart on one of the screens. It consists of overlapping circles filled with names and affiliations, divided into wedges representing the roadmap’s objectives. Koene points to the outermost circle. “These are the people who just have compatible R&D goals,” he says. Then he indicates the smaller, inner circle. “And these are the people who are onboard.”
The human brain is made up of billions of nerve cells connected by trillions of synapses. Together, they encode information, such as personality and memory. Scientists at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science have developed a technique called “Brainbow” to map this circuitry in exquisite detail. The cerebral cortex, at the top of this image, stores memory and controls conscious activity, such as motor skills and vision. By making a 3-D dataset of high-resolution images, scientists can trace the brain cells to reveal connections. Livet, Weissman, Sanes, and Lichtman/Harvard University
Today, as it happens, every pillar of the brain-uploading roadmap is a highly active area in neuroscience, for an entirely unrelated reason: Understanding the structure and function of the brain could help doctors treat some of our most debilitating diseases.
By following the threadlike extensions of individual nerve cells from frame to frame, Lichtman and his team have gained some interesting insights. “We noticed, for instance, that when an axon bumped into a dendrite and made a synapse, if we followed it along, it made another synapse on the same dendrite,” he says. “Even though there were 80 or 90 other dendrites in there, it seemed to be making a choice. Who expected that? Nobody. It means this thing is not some random mess.”
When he started five years ago, Lichtman says, the technique was so slow it would have taken several centuries to generate images for a cubic millimeter of brain—about one thousandth the size of a mouse brain and a millionth the size of a human one. Now Lichtman can do a cubic millimeter every couple of years. This summer, a new microscope will reduce the timeline to a couple of weeks. An army of such machines, he says, could put an entire human brain within reach.
At the same time, scientists elsewhere are aggressively mapping neural function. Last April, President Obama unveiled the BRAIN Initiative (for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) with an initial $100 million investment that many hope will grow to rival the $3.8 billion poured into decoding the human genome.
Studying how neurons fire in circuits and how those circuits interact, he says, could help demystify diseases such as schizophrenia and autism. It could also reveal far more. Our very identity, Yuste suspects, lies in the traffic of brain activity. “Our identity is no more than that,” he says. “There is no magic inside our skull. It’s just neurons firing.”
To study those electrical impulses, scientists need to record the activity of individual neurons, but they’re limited by the micromachining techniques used to produce today’s technology. In his lab at MIT, neuro-engineer Ed Boyden is developing electrode arrays a hundred times denser than the ones currently in use. At the University of California, Berkeley, meanwhile, a team of scientists has proposed nanoscale particles called neural dust, which they plan to someday embed in the cortex as a wireless brain-machine interface.
Whatever discoveries these researchers make may end up as fodder for another ambitious government initiative: the European Union’s Human Brain Project. Backed by 1.2 billion euros and 130 research institutions, it aims to create a super-computer simulation that incorporates everything currently known about how the human brain works.There is no magic inside our skull, it’s just neurons firing.
Koene is thrilled with all of these developments. But he’s most excited about a brain-simulation technology already being tested in animals. In 2011, a team from the University of Southern California (USC) and Wake Forest University succeeded in creating the world’s first artificial neural implant—a device capable of producing electrical activity that causes a rat to react as if the signal came from the animal’s own brain. “We’ve been able to uncover the neural code—the actual spatio-temporal firing patterns—for particular objects in the hippocampus,” says Theodore Berger, the USC biomedical engineer who led the effort. “It’s a major breakthrough.”
Scientists believe long-term memory involves neurons in two areas of the hippocampus that convert electrical signals to entirely new sequences, which are then transmitted to other parts of the brain. Berger’s team recorded the incoming and outgoing signals in rats trained to perform a memory task, and then programmed a computer chip to emulate the latter on cue. When they destroyed one of the layers of the rat’s hippocampus, the animals couldn’t perform the task. After being outfitted with the neural implant, they could.
Berger and his team have since replicated the activity of other groups of neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of primates. The next step, he says, will be to repeat the experiment with more complex memories and behaviors. To that end, the researchers have begun to adapt the implant for testing in human epilepsy patients who have had surgery to remove areas of the hippocampus involved in seizures.
“Ted Berger’s experiment shows in principle you can take an unknown circuit, analyze it, and make something that can replace what it does,” Koene says. “The entire brain is nothing more than just many, many different individual circuits.”
That afternoon, Koene and I drive to an office park in Petaluma about 30 miles outside of San Francisco. We head into a dimly lit, stucco building decorated with posters that superimpose words like “focus” and “imagination” over photographs of Alpine peaks and tropical sunsets.
Guy Paillet, a snowy-haired former IBM engineer with a thick French accent and a cheerful Santa Claus–like disposition, soon joins us in a conference room. Paillet and his partner had invented a new kind of energy-efficient computer chip based on the physical architecture of the brain—an achievement that had earned them inclusion in Koene’s chart. Koene wanted an update on their progress.
“That’s a very good idea!” Paillet interrupts, before Koene can even finish asking whether he might fabricate their device too.Many scientists seem to puzzle over a question more fundamental to the brain uploaders’ goal: What’s the point?
As we pull out of the parking lot, Koene is ebullient. I had just witnessed his job at its best. “This is what I do,” he says. “You have got tons of labs and researchers who are motivated by their own personal interests.” The trick, he says, is to identify the goals that could benefit brain uploading and try to push them forward—whether the researchers have asked for the help or not.
Certainly, it seems, many scientists have proven willing to consult and even collaborate with Koene. That was clear last spring, when scientists from institutions as varied as MIT, Harvard University, Duke University, and the University of Southern California descended on New York City’s Lincoln Center to speak at a two-day congress that Koene organized with the Russian mogul Itskov. Called Global Future 2045, the conference’s objective was to explore the requirements and implications of transferring minds into virtual bodies by the year 2045.
Some of those present, however, later distanced themselves from the event’s stated “spiritual and sci-tech” vision. “We were trying to get people with a lot of funding who can do big things to start investing in important questions,” says Jose Carmena, one of the Berkeley neuroscientists working on neural dust. “That doesn’t mean we have the same goal. We have similar goals along the way, like recording from as many neurons as possible. We all want to understand the brain. It just happens that they need to understand the brain so they can upload it to a computer.”
Carmena’s reticence was shared by other researchers, some of whom grew alarmed at even a faint possibility that their opinions about the technical plausibility of brain uploading—however qualified and cautious—might somehow be misinterpreted as an endorsement. “There is a big difference between understanding and building a brain,” Yuste says. “There are many things that we more or less understand but we cannot build.” For example, the brain’s hardware could prove critical, he explained, “or there could be intrinsic stochastic events, like in quantum physics, that could make it impossible to replicate.”
Hayworth, for his part, is now a senior scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, a leader in connectomics, where he is developing techniques to precisely image much larger sections of brain than currently possible. He also founded the Brain Preservation Foundation, which has offered a prize for inventing a method that can preserve the brain until emulation technology catches up. “I know this is a controversial topic,” he says, “and there aren’t a heck of a lot of scientific institutes of any type that relish being dragged into it. Hopefully at some point that will change.”
In the meantime, many scientists seem to puzzle over a question more fundamental to the brain uploaders’ goal: What’s the point? Existing indefinitely in the confines of computer code, Lichtman points out, would be a pretty boring life.
Earlier in the day, I had asked Todd Huffman, a member of Strout’s early discussion group, whether the quest really boiled down to achieving immortality. Koene and I had dropped by Huffman’s company, which received venture capital to develop automated brain-slicing and imaging technologies. Huffman was wearing pink toe nail polish on his shoeless feet and sported a thick beard and bleached faux-hawk.
“That’s a very egocentric and individualist way of characterizing it,” he responded. “It’s so that we can look at the thought structures of humans who are alive today, so that we can understand human history and what it is to be human. If we can capture and work with human creativity, drive, and awareness the same way that we work with, you know, pieces of matter,” he said, “we can take what it is to be human, move it to another substrate, and go do things that we can’t do as individual humans. We want as a species to continue our evolution.”
Brain uploading, Koene agreed, was about evolving humanity, leaving behind the confines of a polluted planet and liberating humans to experience things that would be impossible in an organic body. “What would it be like, for instance, to travel really close to the sun?” he wondered. “I got into this because I was interested in exploring not just the world, but eventually the universe. Our current substrates, our biological bodies, have been selected to live in a particular slot in space and time. But if we could get beyond that, we could tackle things we can’t currently even contemplate.”Mind Transfer Through Sci-Fi History
1929: The World, the Flesh, the Devil, by J.D. Bernal
In a passage that captivates generations of futurists, Bernal predicts mankind will one day leave the body behind and achieve immortality, even replacing the “organic brain cell by a synthetic apparatus.”
1956: The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
One billion years from now in the city of Diaspar, a central computer creates new bodies for a rotating group of citizens, storing their minds in its memory banks between lives.
1962: The Creation of the Humanoids
1966: “What Are Little Girls Made of?”,_ Star Trek_
A lovelorn Enterprise nurse beams down to the planet Exo III with Kirk to search for her fiancé. Alas, he turns out to be a mad scientist who transferred himself to an android body after suffering frostbite.
2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY, Keir Dullea, 1968 Courtesy: Everett Colletion
In the film’s finale, mission pilot David Bowman hurtles through space and time until he is transformed into a fetal being enclosed in an orb of light—a reference to mind uploading explained in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name.
TRON (US/TAIWAN 1982) YOU MUST CREDIT: WALT DISNEY PICTURES
TRON US/TAIWAN 1982 YOU MUST CREDIT WALT DISNEY PICTURES PICTURE FROM THE RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE TRON US/TAIWAN 1982 YOU MUST CREDIT WALT DISNEY PICTURES Date 1982, , Photo by: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10345609)
Not only does an underhanded and mediocre rival rip off videogames designed by the protagonist, he then has the audacity to digitize him into the mainframe using an experimental laser.
1989: “The Schizoid Man,” Star Trek: The Next Generation
Mercenary Mick Jagger and henchmen travel back in time to try to snatch Emilio Estevez. A rich guy stored in a future “spiritual switchboard” wants to upload his mind into Estevez’s body and steal his fiancée.
THE 6TH DAY, (aka THE SIXTH DAY), Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2000 Courtesy: Everett Colletion
2000: The 6th Day
In the future, an eye scan copies brain contents for transfer to a cloned body. When Arnold Schwarzenegger returns home to discover his clone has moved in with his family, he recruits him to help blow up the cloning facility.
2004: Battlestar Galactica
Dying in battle isn’t that big a deal to members of the cybernetic civilization called the “Cylons.” They have backup copies of their brains and can simply upload them to new bodies when something goes wrong.
A paraplegic soldier uses a device to telepathically control a genetically grown body and spy on a race of 10-foot-tall, blue aliens. The aliens, and ultimately the soldier, upload their memories to the planet’s neural network.
Courtesy: Everett Colletion
Shawn Mikula’s technique stains and preserves an entire mouse brain in plastic resin (inset). The brain can then be imaged (a) in order to reconstruct neural circuits (b)—in this case, tracing a single neuron (green) along with synapses (yellow and orange) and nearby cell bodies (blue).How to Store a Brain (and Everything in It)
While the first upload of a human brain remains decades—if not centuries— away, proponents believe humanity may be far closer to reaching another key technological milestone: a preservation technique that could store a brain indefinitely without damaging its neurons or the trillions of microscopic connections between them.
“If we could put the brain into a state in which it does not decay, then the second step could be done 100 years later,” says Kenneth Hayworth, a senior scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “and everyone could experience mind uploading first hand.”
To promote this goal, Hayworth cofounded The Brain Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit that is offering a $106,000 technology prize to the first scientist or team to rise to that challenge. He says the first stage of the competition—the preservation of an entire mouse brain—may be won within the year, an achievement that would excite many mainstream neuroscientists, who want to map the brain’s circuitry to better understand memory and behavior.
Current preservation methods (aside from cryonics, which has never successfully been demonstrated to preserve the brain’s wiring) involve pumping chemicals through the body that can fix proteins and lipids in place. The brain is then removed and immersed in a series of solutions that dehydrate naturally occurring water and replace it with a plastic resin. The resin prevents chemical reactions that cause decay, preserving the brain’s intricate architecture. But in order for all of the chemicals to fully permeate brain tissue, scientists must first slice the organ into sections 100 to 500 microns thick—a process that destroys information stored in connections made along those surfaces.
Shawn Mikula, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, developed a protocol that appears to safeguard all of the brain’s synapses. It preserves the extracellular space in the brain so that the chemicals can diffuse through myriad layers of the whole organ. Then, if the brain is sliced and analyzed at a future date, all of its circuitry will remain visible. Hayworth is currently using electron microscopy to examine the mouse brains sent to him as proof of principle. (In order to win the technology prize, the protocol must also be published in a peer-reviewed journal.) So far, Hayworth says, Mikula’s technique seems effective.
If immortality is defined as brain preservation via plastination, Mikula says, then it’s a reasonable extrapolation of his research results. But as for actually uploading it to a computer: “Who can predict these things? Science is modern-day magic,” Mikula says, “and in the absence of a strong argument against the future feasibility of mind uploading, anything is possible.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Popular Science.
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