Kids' soceoeconomic status and brain function

Children of low socioeconomic status work harder to filter out irrelevant environmental information than those from a high-income background because of learned differences in what they pay attention to, according to new research published in the open access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Hey, look!  More evidence that severe income inequality objectively handicaps poorer children.  This is from the recent EurekAlert article, Family's economic situation influences brain function in children.  It turns out, while wealthier kids' brains more actively respond to information they need to respond to positively, seeking opportunities, poorer kids' brains constantly scan for things to go wrong, and respond when they know they have to, when there doesn't seem to be any threat.

There were no significant differences between the two groups in the accuracy or reaction time during the task. The researchers did, however, observe differences in brain wave patterns between the two groups. Higher SES children exhibited far larger theta waves in response to sounds they attended to than to than those they should have ignored. In the lower SES children, however, this pattern was reversed – the theta waves evoked by the unattended sounds were much larger than those for the attended sounds.

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The findings suggest that lower SES children have to exert more cognitive control to avoid attending to irrelevant stimuli than higher SES children, and that doing so therefore requires more mental effort. This may be because they live in more threatening environments, in which it might be advantageous to pay attention to a broad range of environmental stimuli which are not unambiguous distractions, and may turn out to be important for survival.

This is good science, but more importantly, isn't it kind of horrifying that some classes of American children are in such a more threatening environment that their brains end up wired completely differently?

Google brain: Woo!

(via SourceFed) Google is doing the best thing in science yet.  They're creating a "Brain-styled neural network," which they're feeding random information off from YouTube.

So far, the computer knows what a cat is.  That's awesome.  (It's also great that it's what it learned from YouTube.) This isn't really the first step towards artificial intelligence, Google made that first step a long time ago, but it's a big one, and it means we might be close to seeing a singularity-like event.

The fact that the computer is learning how to identify and define things like 'cats' means it will likely soon come up with a definition for 'human,' and that will answer a pretty big question.

I don't think you can just ask a computer what a human is.  I would assume it'd be obvious to anyone that a computer's estimation of what a human is would just be a useful set of guidelines that aren't representative of some deep, universal truth.

In fact, that's my point.  I love the idea of a computer that can learn, because I think it makes it a lot more obvious, and a lot more undeniable, that the way we categorize things isn't some magic, universe-piercing insight, it's just a categorization set that's useful to us.  Our goals are to survive, so we're good at categorizing things in ways that relate to our biological survival.

Google's brain computer's goal would be to successfully interact with humans.  So, it's going to learn how to categorize things in a way that enables it to achieve concept-overlap between itself and the people it talks to.

SourceFed has already given us an example of people freaking out because it's totally going to kill us all.  And it's not going to do that, because it's got no reason to.  What I'm really looking forward to seeing is the people who get obsessively indignant about how it's totally not a human or whatever, and it's an abomination, or shouldn't have equal status, basically the whole spectrum of anti-robot racism is what I think we have to look forward to.