Tuesday, February 15, 2011


By Carl Zimmer; scientificamerican.com; December 22, 2010
Level of Difficulty: ***
Read the first three paragraphs of the text with your teacher and focus on the question posed at the end of paragraph 1. Discuss your views as a class. Now look back at the text and read the rest of page 1 and the first line of page 2 highlighting what you feel are the important points as you go. Now answer the following questions:
1.       What is one of the most important concerns if we are really able to merge our brains with computers?
2.       What does Chalmers feel about the above concern and why?
3.       How can one guarantee that the system resulting from the merging of a human brain and a computer won’t be a zombie?
4.       How does Chalmers reach the conclusion that “reconstructive uploading will be good”?
At this point stop and discuss the answers to the questions. Then read the next paragraph, 10, with your teacher and discuss it. When you have done so, read 7 more paragraphs down as far as ***. Now answer the questions below:
5.       What concern does Horgan voice concerning singularity?
6.       What do you think that wonderful word, smorgasboard, in paragraph 14 means?
7.       What does “them” in the phrase “Not one of them takes…” in paragraph 15 refer to?
8.       What is a second concern voiced by some scientists concerning singularity?
9.       These same scientists have two different views concerning how to improve our brains. They are:
At this point stop once again to check your answers and discuss what you have read so far. When you have done so, read three more paragraphs (17, 18 and 19). Now answer question 10.
10.   Summarize the three paragraphs you have just read in one sentence.
Check your answers and continue reading: read the last paragraph on page two and the first three on page three (20, 21, 22 and 23) with your teacher and focus on the last sentence of paragraph 23. Discuss your views. Your teacher will now explain the word “exponential” to you and make a sentence. When you have understood what the word means continue reading until *** on page three (24,25,26,27 and 28). Now answer question 11.
11.   Summarize the main idea of the above paragraphs in one sentence.
Check your answer and continue reading until the bottom of the page.
12.   Which sentence in this section serves the function of a quasi thesis statement?
13.   How successful have Kurzweil’s predictions been on the whole and what is the reason?
Stop once again to check your answers and discuss what you have read so far. When you have done so, read on as far as *** on page 4; until the end of paragraph 38. Now answer the questions below:
14.   What conclusion can be drawn from the information in paragraph 34?
15.   What overall conclusion can be drawn from the information presented in paragraphs 35,36,37 and 38?
Discuss your answers and your views before reading down to the bottom of page 4.
16.   What title would you give this section?
17.   What, according to Farah, are the two main issues in relation to the drugs discussed in this section?
Discuss your answers and your views and turn to page 5. Read five paragraphs (46, 47, 48, 49 and 50). Now answer the following questions.
18.   What exactly does Boyden specialize in?
19.   If you were to give this section a title, what would it be?
Discuss your answers and your views. Now read down to the bottom of page 5. Now answer the   following questions:
20.   Of all the problems related to implants in the brain, which two are the worst technical problems?
21.   What is main biological problem related to implants?
22.   Boyden and his colleagues have thought of three solutions to the problems listed in this section. They are:
23.   How could it be possible to use light as a source of power for these implants?
Discuss your answers and your views. Now move on to page 6 and read as far as the summit schedule. Now answer three more questions.
24.   Recount, as briefly as you possibly can, the experiment concerning the blind mice without looking back at the text.
25.   What does Boyden plan to use the new technology for?
26.   Why is the information about laser treatment for myopia included in the text? Answer in your own words.
Discuss your answers and your views. Now read from the bottom of page6 to about the middle of page 7;( For a little ground truthing, I called Olaf Sporns…). Now answer four more questions.
27.   Sandberg reaches the conclusion that” for now, brain emulation is a zero sum game”. How does he reach this conclusion* Use your own words and answer in one sentence.
28.   Provided scientists can scan an entire human brain in the necessary detail, what would be the next step?
29.   What does the last “it” refer to in the following quote: “I don’t know whether a complete simulation of a brain, one to one, would actually produce a mind. I find it pretty likely but I don’t have evidence for that. I want to test it.”
30.   Why would one want to produce a whole brain emulation?
Discuss your answers and your views before moving on and reading down to the end of page 7. Now answer two more questions.
31.   In what respect do Sandberg and Sporns disagree?
32.   Sporns does feel that whole brain emulations have certain advantages. What are they?
Discuss your views and your answers and complete the text.
33.   What mental skill are computers not good at?
34.   Why did our brains evolve the way they did according to Marcus?
35.   The third paragraph from the end ends with the following sentence: “Marcus didn’t’ see any reason scientists wouldn’t eventually figure that out.” What does “that” refer to?
36.   Marcus makes a suggestion in the conclusion of the text. What is it?

This wonderful text which touches on the very latest theories as to how to “enhance” our mental powers as a species can be covered in one of two ways:
The First Alternative: Students are asked to access the articles in Time magazine on “Singularity” and read them carefully. They come to class having started to form their opinions concerning the movement. The text should then be covered as suggested and the whole activity should be rounded off with an opinion essay.
The Second Alternative: This text is covered back to back with “Too Clever, Too Fast, Too Happy” also posted on this blog. The former aims to achieve immortality or at the very least, a marked improvement in mental abilities via the merger of the human mind and a computer, while the latter aims to achieve the same goals via germ line genetic engineering. The whole activity should then be rounded off with an essay
Remember, the notes below are suggestions and if the activity develops a momentum of its own, go with it. My gut feeling is that pauses will be necessary so I have indicated the logical interludes.
Read the first paragraph of the text out loud to the students including the question at the end and invite comment. Then distribute the texts and read on until the end of paragraph three. At this point, they will be engrossed in the text so ask them to read the first page and the first line of the second page. When counting the paragraphs, I didn’t count that single line as a separate paragraph. When they have done, ask them to answer the first four questions.
1.       Will an uploaded system be conscious?
2.       He feels it will be conscious because there is no difference in principle between neurons and silicon.
3.       By gradual uploading, neuron by neuron, staying conscious throughout.
4.       Each waking…
At this point, stop; check their answers and encourage them to voice their opinions. Then read paragraph 10 out loud to them and invite comment. After this little interlude, ask the students to read down to the ***; 7 paragraphs to be exact. When they have done so, they can answer five more questions.
5.       That it might become an apocalyptic cult masquerading as science.
6.       A wide selection of…
7.       The researchers
8.       A reckless promise of false hope to the afflicted.
9.       People boost their brains with enhancing drugs / They have sophisticated computers implanted in their brains for years.
At this point stop for another discussion. Then have them read three more paragraphs – 17, 18 and 19 – and summarize them in one sentence.
10.   ( Possible answer) From the beginning of the 20th century on, people made a lot of predictions which turned out to be grossly exaggerated.
Time for another breather… This time read the last paragraph on page two and three more on page three out loud to them. Allow them to voice their opinions. Now explain the word “exponential”
(produced or expressed by multiplying a set of quantities by themselves), and make a sentence( The population is increasing on an exponential curve). Then have them read as far as *** on page three; paragraphs 24 through 28. Then comes another summary question:
11.   (Possible answer) The speed at which technological developments are taking place is tremendous.
Having discussed their answers, tell them to read on to the bottom of page three. They can then answer two more questions.
12.   The first sentence of paragraph 29.
13.   Many failed; scientific understanding doesn’t advance in lockstep with technological horsepower.
After another discussion, ask them to read on as far as*** on page four (until the end of paragraph 38). They can then answer two more questions.
14.   Sequencing the human genome has revealed to scientists that they know less than they thought they did.
15.   A lot of the tips in Trancendare are profoundly banal.
After another brief pause for you know what, have them read down to the bottom of page four. They can then answer two more questions.
16.   Cognitive enhancement with drugs
17.   How much enhancement the drugs can actually bring and whether they do any harm.
Breathing time again; they have A.D.D remember! When you are done, have them turn to page five and read five more paragraphs (46 through 50). They can then answer two more questions.
18.   Restoring damaged brains by implanting tiny on board computers.
19.   Input devices.
Stop to discuss implant devices; some will be enthralled others will find it icky. Then they can go on to the bottom of page five.
20.   Wires that snake out of the skull; the implants are power hungry.
21.   The brain attacks the electrodes covering them with a protective coat of cells.
22.   Shrinking implants in size, use less power…, a better performance.
23.   By inserting a light channel gene from algae into the brain on board a virus.
Having allowed for excited comments and lively discussion ( fingers crossed), move onto page six and have them read as far as the summit schedule. If you observe attention flagging, you read out loud. They love it! Then, three more questions.
24.   Students’ own answers
25.   To treat blind people
26.   To show that new technology can seem scary at first but that we quickly master it and it becomes commonplace.
If you didn’t need to read out loud up until this point, I am pretty sure you will now. Besides, you will want to share the gory detailsJ So on you go until the middle of page seven; up to “For a little ground truthing, I called Olaf Sporns.”  Now they can answer four more questions.
27.   The procedure would be too invasive.
28.   Writing software that can turn all the data into a three dimensional model and booting up this virtual brain
29.   Whether a complete simulation of … produce a mind.
30.   To run experiments, test drugs, to free the mind
Another breather… I predict a desire to comment so give them the chance; it is motivating. On to the end of page seven; the bit on Sporns.
31.   S. found it ridiculous to expect scientists to be able to capture an individual’s mind.
32.   Researchers may discover some of the laws for building thinking networks. These laws may allow scientists to build machines that have mental processes similar to ours./ OR robots with human like cognition
Again allow those who are repelled to voice their horror and those who are intrigued to say so. They can now finish the text.
33.   Generating rules from experience
34.   Because we evolved into animals that could learn to find food and avoid being eaten
35.   Deciphering brain signals well enough to let the iPhone talk to it.
36.   We have to get ready for a life different from our own.
Have them write an opinion essay so they have fun commenting. You won’t need to say much; they will be ready from the word go.