21 January 2021

Male vs Female Brains

A study, published in Cerebral Cortex, suggests that brain androgyny does exist, and it is common. Psychological androgyny is thought to be psychologically protective. Scientists have long argued over how different male and female brains really are. There are many reports of differences between male and female brains in the literature. Other researchers argue that these differences are tiny, and the categories are anything but absolute. One study suggested that, psychologically, most of us are in fact probably somewhere on a spectrum between what we stereotypically consider a male and a female. To test this, a brain continuum was created using a machine-learning algorithm and neuroimaging data. While male and female brains are similar, the connectivity between different brain areas have been shown to differ.

Researchers used these connectivity markers to characterise the brains of 9,620 participants (4,495 male and 5,125 female). They discovered that brains were indeed distributed across the entire continuum rather than just at the two ends. In a sub-sample, approximately 25% of brains were identified as male, 25% as female and 50% were distributed across the androgynous section of the continuum. What’s more, we found that participants who mapped at the centre of this continuum, representing androgyny, had fewer mental health symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, compared with those at the two extreme ends. These findings support the hypothesis that there exists a neuro-imaging concept of brain androgyny, which may be associated with better mental health in a similar way to psychological androgyny.

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18 January 2021

Ethical Challenges of BCIs

Controlling animal movements with your thoughts alone. Monitoring a pupil’s attention in class with a headset that scans brain activity. And, of course, the much more familiar cochlear implants that help the deaf hear or deep-brain stimulators that assist people with Parkinson’s disease to regain functional mobility.This is neurotech, new, potentially revolutionary technology that promises to transform our lives. With all the global challenges of today, we need revolutionary technology to help the world cope.Neurotech is our, frankly, mind-blowing attempt to connect human brains to machines, computers and mobile phones. Although brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are the heart of neurotech, it is more broadly defined as technology able to collect, interpret, infer or modify information generated by any part of the nervous system. Why? To develop therapies for mental illnesses and neurological diseases. Beyond health care, it could soon be used in education, gaming, entertainment, transportation and so much more.

Still, neurotech is at the very dawn of its technological journey. As it becomes more commonplace, we must consider the risks it might present, the ethics around it, and the necessary regulation. We have to anticipate and deal with the implications related to the development, deployment and use of this technology. Any neurotech applications should consider potential consequences for the autonomy, privacy, responsibility, consent, integrity and dignity of a person. What if someone were to face employment discrimination because the algorithms that power a neurotech application used for hiring misinterpret his or her neurodata? What if a criminal gets a hold of the previous or current neurodata of the secretary of defense and steals top secret information? Ethical concerns increase when we are not just monitoring someone’s neurodata but also interpreting it, decoding the person’s thoughts—with implications for accuracy and mental privacy.

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09 January 2021

AR Headset by Apple

Rumors of Apple developing smartglasses have persisted since 2016, but a report from DigiTimes says that Apple is now in the second phase of production. Earlier reports indicated that Apple had initially planned to ship a more immersive AR headset followed by smartglasses, though subsequent reports now indicate plans for a more immersive device have been scrapped for an all-inclusive but less powerful wearable.

Prognostications on the arrival of Apple's AR wearables have ranged from 2020, which was clearly missed to as late as 2023. However, more recent reports have pegged Apple's AR device debut for later this year. In the meantime, Apple has developed a software ecosystem with ARKit and smartphone components like LIDAR sensors that point to the eventual hands-free future.

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