Blood sugar tech’s magic

Paul Raven @ 20-07-2011

Medical implants – think pacemakers and the like – are getting more commonplace, and that trend is likely to continue. But as any gadget-hound will know, tech needs juice to keep running… and you don’t really want to have to keep digging out a device from inside your body so you can swap out the batteries, do you? Of course you don’t… which is why the University of Frieburg’s research into biological fuel cells powered by the host’s blood sugar is a promising development.

They are looking into the use noble metal catalysts, such as platinum, to trigger a continuous electrochemical reaction between glucose in the blood and oxygen from the surrounding tissue fluid. The use of platinum (or a similar metal) would be ideal, as the material exhibits long-term stability, it can be sterilized, and electrodes made from it wouldn’t be sensitive to unwanted chemical reactions, including hydrolysis and oxidation.

The Freiburg scientists are ultimately hoping that the surfaces of implants could be covered with a thin coating of the fuel cells, which would then power the devices indefinitely.

Medical uses are all well and good, of course, but there’s a whole bunch of other cyborg gubbins that could use the same power-source. Book your combat hardening and sousveillance countermeasure systems implant appointments today!

[ Yeah, yeah, I know. Puns don’t kill people; people kill people. ]


Escher Circuits: visual computation programs

Paul Raven @ 30-03-2010

Here’s a proper science fictional “what-if?”, via the ever-reliable MetaFilter, where the brilliant slug-line “software for your wetware” was applied: is it possible to exploit the biological computation power of our visual apparatus to deal with tasks that we find difficult at a cognitive level? Or, to put it another way: can we set up the brain to act like a processor that uses complex visual stimuli as a form of program?

Or, even more simply: can we make diagrams that, when looked at, produce a certain computational output in our minds?

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit crazy… but Mark Changizi sure comes across like he knows what he’s doing.

The broad strategy is to visually represent a computer program in such a way that, when one looks at the visual representation, one’s visual system naturally responds by carrying out the computation and generating a perception that encodes the appropriate output to the computation. That is, there would be a special kind of image that amounts to “visual software,” software our “visual hardware” (or brain) computes, and computes in such a way that the output can be “read off” the elicited perception.

Ideally, we would be able to glance at a complex visual stimulus—the program with inputs—and our visual system would automatically and effortlessly generate a perception that would inform us of the ouput of the computation. Visual stimuli like this would not only amount to a novel and useful visual notation, but would actually trick our visual systems into doing our work for us.

And the visual stimuli he’s on about [image borrowed from linked article]?

XOR gate Escher circuit

Well, that elicited a few cognitions from my brain… though I’m not sure that any of those cognitions are particularly useful.


Drexler on our mysterious cellular vaults

Tom James @ 23-02-2009

vaultEric Drexler discusses “vaults” – tiny structures present in the cells of every plant and animal:

Like ribosomes, they’re atomically precise self-assembled structures made of protein and RNA, but they’re big and hollow, large enough to pack many ribosomes inside.

Looking forward, this information could help protein engineers develop methodologies for designing large self-assembling structures.

Vaults are unusual in many ways, but what I find most surprising about them is this:

To this day, no one knows what they do.

Mmm. A nanoscopic biological structure of unknown purpose and potential technological utility: I smell MacGuffin

[image from Eric Drexler’s blog]


Old-school bioweapons – sick sheep

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2007

Ram with curly horns Biological warfare would appear to be a much older idea than we thought. New translations of ancient Middle Eastern texts suggest the Hittites had hit upon the idea of weakening their enemies with diseases by sending them rams “cursed” with a bacterial infection called tularemia – over 3 millennia ago. Tularemia is still a potentially lethal agent today … whether or not a sheep would be a successful delivery system in our modern age is an unknown quantity, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were parts of the world where it could still be very effective. [Image by Dave-F]

On a lighter note, I can’t help but be reminded of the Sheep Cannon from the hilarious and addictive Worms computer games.

[tags]warfare, biological, disease, history[/tags]