FENS & Dana Foundation International Brain Awareness Week 2017

Original link


Dates and Duration: 13-19 March 2017


Cherine Fahim
Endoxa Neuroscience s.à.r.l
Château de Vaumarcus, le château 3, Centre Administratif International de Vaumarcus Bureau 305, 2028, Vaumarcus, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Tel: (141) 798731508
Email: endoxaneuroscience@gmail.com

During 5 days I have visited 8 primary and secondary schools in the Canton of Neuchâtel districts of: Cortaillod, Bevaix, Gorgier, Saint-Blaise, la Tène, and Neuchâtel Terraux (age range 6-15 years old). I planned 2 different powerpoint presentations adapted to the age of school students. The first focused on introducing the neuron, brain and ADHD to primary school kids and the second presentation focused on brain development, anxiety and stress for secondary school kids.

In addition to the powerpoint presentation, I have also prepared some hands-on activities like construct a neuron, or construct a brain with play doh. At the end of the presentation and activities the winners received a gift (either a rubber brain or a precious stone).

This 5 days plan was built on a strong belief that a new approach is needed: a structured but flexible model that facilitates neuroscience/brain knowledge development and implementation into health promotion and prevention as early as possible targeting school age children and adolescents.

This new approach is bridging the gap between neuroscience findings and the general public, especially children/adolescents and their teachers. Rapid, breakthrough change cannot happen in the field of childhood-teens mental health and learning unless neuroscientist, people, organizations, and systems learn from each other’s successes and failures. This requires a cluster for asking and answering questions such as: how to prevent stress from damaging/shaping the child-teen brain? Indeed, teachers need to learn more about what it is that is shaping kids’ brains. Kids need to learn

more about what it is that is shaping their brains. I have received very good feedback from teachers acknowledging the importance of such an event.

Our target was to let them learn what is the brain, what is shaping it for better and for worth. The objective of the DeStress and Shape your Brain workshops is to foster understanding of anxiety, stress, ADHD from an entertaining neuroscientific view so that these children-teens are prepared to prevent and manage stressful situations now and in the future. Most importantly, I have accompanied them into understanding that they can re-shape their brains.


The D disorders: When a Volcano erupts!

Original article: http://bold.expert/the-d-disorders-a-volcano-erupts/

It is homework time, somewhere, in September. “Alex!” His mother calls. “Stop watching TV and please come do your homework.” Alex doesn’t reply. His mother repeats her request twice. Without even glancing at her, Alex continues watching his cartoon. Her voice is as ephemeral as the sound waves that carry it to Alex’s ear. His brain is mesmerized by the colorful cartoon. After the third time, he turns up the volume of the TV. Noticing her mother’s exasperation, his older sister switches the television off. Alex scowls at her and throws the remote control, striking her on the forehead. “Alex! That’s enough! Now go to your room.” In his room, Alex knocks over a chair and throws down the homework that was lying on his desk.

It might be homework time, or bath time, or dinnertime. Suddenly, a child explodes in response to a parental demand or comment. It is a critical situation that can lead to anxiety, frustration, and even despair on both sides. Facing such situations on a regular basis causes significant impairment within the family sphere and interferes with social activities, school, and work. Families suffer; teachers describe children as disobedient and unruly; neighbors call them spoiled brats; pediatricians/psychiatrists diagnose them with disruptive behavior disorders (DBDs), also known as the D disorders.

D disorders are one of the most serious public health problems facing society today. They comprise (1) oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), typified by anger, severe non-compliance, and defiance; and (2) conduct disorder (CD), which is characterized by aggressive/cruel behaviors deliberately aimed at harming people, as well as by property loss or damage, deceitfulness or theft, and frequent lying. Typical of those with D disorders are a shallow affect, impulsivity, and a lack of remorse, empathy, and self-regulation.

The key to controlling behavior lies in the brain

How can you regain control of a situation that has got out of hand when you have difficulty activating your brain control regions? Recent research using magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that compared with healthy 8-year-old children, children with ODD display a significant reduction in the density of gray matter (GM: contains neurons, which are the main cells involved in cellular communication) in the left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a key prefrontal region that plays a pivotal role in emotional self-regulation and impulse control.

In contrast, they show an increase in the left temporal area, which has been found to be associated with aggressive, impulsive, and antisocial personality traits. These structural abnormalities present some evidence for the existence of neuropathology in ODD during childhood, and may contribute to the pathogenesis of this disorder.

The real problem is not Alex, but rather his brain’s functional and anatomical dysregulation. The OFC is crucially implicated in the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and in the regulation of socio-emotional behavior in settings requiring social affiliation and social judgment, as well as self-awareness, inhibition, and the management of behavior through judgments and decisions about one’s actions.

This brings us back to the image of Alex thoughtlessly throwing the remote control and hitting his sister in the head. His BIS should have kicked in and told him to answer his mother, turn off the TV, and go do his homework. It should also have prevented him from throwing the remote control. However, it didn’t.

How to help Alex?

In our role as parents and/or health professionals, it is our job to help Alex activate his OFC to control the situation, think about moral judgments, and feel empathy. There is no magic formula for educating an ODD child. However, there is general agreement on the concept of applied behavior analysis (ABA), formerly known as behavior modification, as a means of guiding children’s behavior.

ABA is based on the principle that reinforcement and punishment shape behavior; reinforcement promotes behavior repetition, while punishment discourages it. One straightforward application of this principle is found in cognitive-behavioral training.

Cognitive training is currently the subject of considerable discussion. It is an expanding field, with methods ranging from simple cognitive neurocoaching to neurofeedback and, more recently, brain-computer interface (BCI) applications. It often involves computerized training programs, which are particularly appealing in the computer age, especially for children. Increasingly complex programs have been developed to improve behavioral function and combat distorted thinking.

Since it promises to promote attention and self-control skills, behavioral training may be a particularly appealing non-pharmaceutical alternative for treating ODD children.

Helping children control their behavior

When parents and teachers find themselves in a frustrating situation with a child suffering from a D disorder, they need to avoid becoming upset and arguing with the child. If they are mindful of cognitive training paradigms, based on knowledge of the brain’s functions and anatomy, they may be able to help children like Alex activate their OFC and experience a sense of inner peace. Over time, with encouragement, these children may learn to do this on their own.

Should we be worried about merging AI with human stupidity?

Original article: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/ai-and-human-stupidity 

From the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology (BRAIN) initiative of the White House to Google Brain research, Facebook hiring neuroscientists to work on Brain Computer Interface (BCI), Elon Musk Starting up Neuralink to download your mind and Bryan Johnson Kernel to merge the human brain with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Singularity defines 2030 the moment when Machine Intelligence is equal to Human Intelligence (HI) and merged with it. However, how should this machine intelligence be configured? Ah! Based on the human brain structure and function! Big Data, deep machine learning, neuroimaging and neuroscience research.

Indeed, learning, memories and emotions that made you who you are, your common sense, decisions, intuitions, free-will, morality and your consciousness are part of your brain, and can be stored… But can they be replicated? A brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons which are interconnected electrically and chemically to for approximately 100 trillion connections that makes you feel, imagine and think. Do your math!

Should we be worried about that? Excited? Afraid? Surprised? Or lost in this scientific jargon? Should we be worried about creating a merge between Artificially Intelligent Machines (AIM) with HI or human stupidity (HS)?

To answer these overwhelming questions, let’s start from the beginning: The Creation of Adam (Genesis 1: 26–27). In the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo painted along the longitudinal axis the Creation of Adam depicting God wrapped in a shape representing the brain to suggest that God not only endowed Adam with life, but also with intelligence. This wrap was proposed to be the human brain cortex: the siege of our intelligence, decision making, conscious awareness and morality. Intriguingly, God’s arm is branching out from the frontal lobe, specifically the cingulate gyrus, a brain region known to be implicated in cognitive and emotional error monitoring and “free-will” decision making. With it God is touching Adam’s hand.

The simple message encoded in this painting conveys the merge, during the creation, between the brain and HI. Since our creation, our cognitive and emotional behaviors have been shaped by our brain, and undeniably these behaviors shape our brain.

Today, “Adam” strives not only to create AIM, but also to endow them with a human touch! The question is will he also endow AIM with a “free-will” decision making? First, humans created AIM and then they discovered that they could not compete or follow these machines’ wild pace of capabilities. Energy and resources have thus been mobilized to accelerate the creation of neuroprosthetics, Brain Machine Interface (BMI), BCI, a neural lace surrounding the cortex (to augment HI) by linking it to AIM, mind uploading and connecting it to the cloud.

Igniting a Human-AIM revolution opened a Pandora’s box full of ambiguous and uncertain possibilities and difficulties. For example, imagine certain decisions that you are taking intuitively, and an AIM knows/prefers another alternative answer – accordingly it sends suppressive neural code to certain brain regions and changes your brain’s decision.

Designing and implementing AIM capable of communicating/merging with the human intelligence (HI) demands knowledge about the human brain. Indeed, the last decades witnessed a plethora in neuroimaging neuroscience studies investigating brain functional and anatomical regions, hubs, nodes and networks. These brain networks represent a set of highly connected brain regions that play a central role in empowering efficient communication between cortical regions, together forming a densely interconnected “rich club.” However, we more and more discover that they are like the Matryoshka doll, yet with potentially infinite probabilities.

Regarding probabilities, it is worthy to note that a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, 2017) argued that neuroimaging studies have inflated false-positive rates (5-70% false positives). These results question the validity of a number of functional/structural magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies correlating certain brain networks to human behavior. The second most important tool of knowledge into brain function is electroencephalography (EEG), however, similarly its results have been questioned by scientists, specifically a low signal quality and artifacts of all kinds.

fMRI and EEG are the building blocks on which visionaries and scientists are building their exponential ideas on merging humans and AIM. The Singularity movement, Diamandis, Hassabis, Johnson, Kurzweil and Musk among others, are striving to interface the digital world with the human brain for the purpose of augmenting or repairing human cognition and emotions, and potentially human longevity.

Augmented HI is a well full of promises and pitfalls. Augmented HI implicates that we can “easily” turn short term memories to stronger long term memories; erase traumatic memories or make them weaker; inhibit unwanted thoughts, use our mental flexibility, ameliorate our decision making and process switching, enhance deep learning and reinforcement learning. However, as discussed above our knowledge about these brain functions and their anatomical structures is still under investigation and may be full of false positives. Neuroimaging neuroscience research indeed made giant leaps offering a live stream into the brain, nevertheless it is a long mysterious journey into the depth of the human brain and mind.

The dilemma of merging rational/tangible and mathematically configured AIM with an irrational/intangible cognitively, emotionally-socially human mind is challenging. We are still far from fully scrutinizing the inner workings of the human mind. Hence before connecting it to AIM we should be aware that the bar is high, as high as beyond the sky and clouds. Let’s hope that brain science fiction will soon turn into brain science facts and that Human-AIM merge will turn to be Human-AIM-HI and not human stupidity (HS).

Poorly created Human-AIM-HS merge have the potential to rapidly escalate dangerous situations to catastrophic conclusions. A poorly merged system that gets hacked, controlled or shut down may comprise our morality, privacy or security. AIM are “currently” built without the capacity of self-modification, however, humans are created with this capacity, called neuroplasticity. Imagine an intelligent machine (i.e, warrior-robot) having the access to human neuroplasticity! Now imagine a stupid, greed and immoral human having access to the power of a warrior-robot! Are you worried?

Keep in mind that notwithstanding the scale and pace of neurotechnology, the Human-AIM-HI project is still in its infancy. An infant that we are vigorously feeding both intellectually and financially to become the future. While feeding it we should not forget that humans are fiendishly complex and unpredictable. Human evolution was ignited by an uneven natural selection, greed and fear. Imagine merging these with AIM-HI? What would be the result? Maybe brain hacking, loss of free-will, fewer mind wandering into the stream of consciousness, dependent cognitive thoughts on AIM, less self-generated thoughts… Maybe it’s the natural evolution of humans, or maybe we indeed need to merge with super intelligent machines to become super humans.



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