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Diving Into 2015 - Oculus As Sensorma, EEG As Internet Addiction Hack, and Optogenetics Turns Up The Light

posted Dec 24, 2014, 1:39 AM by Ellen Pearlman


Five sensory installation imputs, one in the center in front of the chair, two on either side

Simon de Diesbach at ECAL (University of Art and Design in Lausanne) with help from from Alain Bellet, Gael Hugo, and Christophe Guignard made the installation OculusUs combining the real and virtual worlds. The wearer sits in a darkened room surrounded by five simple robotic mounted mechanical contraptions. They put on the Rift. If they move their eyes in the correct direction, matching visual cues, it makes a match  and triggers the contraptions, like a Rube Goldberg machine, to launch into action. The contraptions produce startling sound accompaniments. 


The participant puts on the Oculus Rift. This is what they see in either eye

The viewer, sitting in a darkened, quite room is told where to took.  If the big white arrow overlaps a pre-determined shape they are looking at  (guided by the user’s eye and head motion), it triggers a response. In the first response a real glass falls to the ground and shatters producing a visceral, loud, and immediate sound. This continues on for four more events, merging a sculptural installation, sound art, and VR.


Glass shattering in a container after subject aligns the target

Other triggered events are tumbling marbles, clacking wheels, and chains dragged across a ridged surface. This piece merges the unknown, outside world, and the internal imagined virtual world in a new, compelling, and totally authentic way. 



EEG treatment, photo by Fernando Morales, Panos Pictures

EEGs are being used in odd ways at a military-style internet addiction treatment center outside of Beijing, China. Though photographer Fernando Morales took a picture of this subject being monitored during “treatment” no information seems to be available on what, exactly was going on during said EEG  treatment. The approach seems to use behavior modification with a “boot camp” lifestyle.

The facility is run by Tao Ran  who works with the Medical Center for Internet Addiction, General Hospital of Beijing Military Command. He employs  a “Tough Love” approach. Even though the place looks like it came out of a prisoner of war camp, Ran has published quite a number of articles on the subject though it is hard to assess if his approach is successful, as a number of patients are reported to have died in such facilities. 


Commander Tao Ran at work. You’re in the army now and I don’t mean Warcraft!

What is clear is internet addiction is a real problem. In this study by a group of researchers in Korea, all sorts of changes were observed in internet addicted subject’s Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta levels. Without going into a neuroscience explanation, subjects who were depressed and internet addicted were compared with subjects who were just internet addicted but not depressed, and subjects who were deemed normal. 


Red is the higher value, and blue is the lower value.

I”m not quite sure what absolute and relative power is as indicated by these studies, but its pretty easy to see that depressed, internet addicted kids are really out of wack, and plain old internet addicted kids are messed up as well. If VR games using the Oculus Rift get into kids hands at an early enough time in their lives (think 10 years from now) this could become a very troublesome scenario. Tao Ran thinks boot camp can cure depression and addiction without real psychological intervention, but that’s the state of therapy in China.


I’ve written about Optogenetics and Ed Boyden before on Planet3D, but the McGovern Institute For Brain Research has released a new video with more information on the process. The video goes into great detail about “basket” neurons and “pyramidal” neurons.


Basket neurons inhibit activity


Pyramidal neurons excite activity

If the precise function of each type of neuron could be studied, researchers could figure out how they work together, and how flawed neurons produce disease. The researchers had to figure out how to turn groups of these neurons on and off.


Pond algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii just hanging out

A simple micro-organism pond algae gives the answer. It needs light for photosynthesis, and swims towards light using its “eyespot”. The eyespot contains a light sensitive protein. It is particularly sensitive to blue light and when it encounter that light it releases ions - sort of like a “battery being charged by a solar cell.”


Blue light releasing ion battery charge in photo receptors

Since neurons are electrical the idea is if these special photoreceptors could be inserted into them, maybe they could turn the neurons on when blue light is shone on them. This means turning light into electricity so neurons can be made to fire. So they took some DNA from the algae and stuck it into the neurons pictured above using gene therapy vectors. The neurons loved it, let it nest, and treated it like it was an organic solar cell, It even grew the little green photo receptors. The photo receptors were, “as expected” sensitive to the blue light, and it didn’t affect any other neurons.


Neuron with implanted photo receptor having blue light shone on it to turn it on

 The researchers could activate either only the basket cells or the pyramidal cells for milliseconds. After activation, the cells go back to their normal resting state. This could mean that if someone had a brain disease that had messed up basket cells, the blue light could trigger the basket cells to turn on, possibly making them self-repairing, sort of like what Star Trek Dr. McCoy did for the crew of Star Trek.

To turn the neuron cells off, there is a photo receptor that is sensitive to orange light. 


Orange light used to turn off the receptor cells

The issue is how to construct 3D light delivery systems that can be inserted in the brain. These photoreceptors basically turn light into a binary code. Ed Boyden is working on this problem, and has developed a delivery system that can target 16 points in the brain. Boyden also said that his lab is beginning to think about uploading bits of memory into the brain.


16 point delivery system delivering blue light for optogenetics

Boyden says this could be used for chronic pain, eplipsey, types of blindness and even addiction. Maybe someone should inform Commander Tao Ran about this, so he can quit the Chinese military boot camp shtick, but I don’t see that happening any time soon


Dr. McCoy pre-optgenetics, but on the right track