Are we gods now? More from TED2016

Are we god’s now? More of Iris.AI’s favorites from TED2016

What happens in your brain when you hear a great story? How can we use this knowledge to build a common ground in our societies? Now that we have found “the global search and replace tool for gene editing”, what should we do with it?

These are just some of the questions you’ll be thinking of when listening to Jennifer Kahn and Uri Hasson’s TED talks. Iris.AI got a good grasp of the topics. If you’re up for it, she helps you explore the wonderful and terrifying science behind gene editing and gives you a pretty fascinating set of research articles shedding light on the hidden neural mechanisms by which humans communicate.


#6 Jennifer Kahn: Are we gods now?

“Humans presume that the safest option is always to preserve the status quo, but that’s not always true.”

Let me guess, in the past couple of years you haven’t read one single news article covering radical technologies without finding the word CRISPR, or at least gene editing, from it. “CRISPR is a tool that allows researchers to edit genes very precisely, and easily, and quickly… It’s basically a word processor for genes“, explains Jennifer Kahn, science journalist for e.g. National Geographic, in her great talk about the implications of the new technology.

Kahn takes malaria as an example. For years have researchers tried to find a way to edit the genes of malaria-resistant mosquitoes. Now with CRISPR, they have not only managed to genetically engineer mosquitos to be malaria resistant, but also to insert the machinery that does the cutting and pasting on the mosquito.

This latter discovery means that CRISPR-based gene drive will spread the edit relentlessly until it is in every single individual in the population, making it like a global search and replace tool for gene editing. As for mosquitos, putting an anti-malarial gene drive just in one percent of them, would mean that it spreads to the entire population in a year. For humans it wouldn’t work quite like that, as our reproduction cycle is much slower.

“Should we? Are we gods now?” Kahn asks. She reminds the audience that sometimes it can be frightening to act, but sometimes not acting is worse. Humans have a tendency to assume that the safest option is to preserve the status quo. In reality, that’s not always the case.   

There’s quite an impressive repertoire of open access articles covering topics from gene editing to malaria. Take a look at all the results found by Iris.AI via this link:

#7 Uri Hasson: The power of storytelling

A great storyteller causes the neurons of an audience to sync with the storyteller’s brain.

“Imagine that you have invented a device that can record my memories, my dreams, my ideas and transmit it to your brain. That would be a game changing technology, right? Actually, that device already exists. It’s called human communication system and effective storytelling.” Neuroscientist Uri Hasson’s research team at Princeton University uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal the details of this device in order to understand the hidden neural mechanisms by which people communicate.

In his talk Hasson leads the audience through several studies revealing interesting facts about brain patterns and how they can be transmitted from one brain to another. In one of them, five people listen to the same story. Before the recording begins, their brains aren’t aligned. However, as the story starts, particular areas of the brain start going up and down with a similar pattern, they synch.

Perhaps even more interestingly, it’s only the stories, and not words, that couple people’s high-order brain areas, like frontal cortices. Why is this important? Well, it means that effective storytelling is a pretty powerful tool to build common ground. “After all, the people we are coupled to, define who we are”, Hasson concludes.

The neural networks of Iris.AI were totally coupled with Hasson’s brain. She understood most of his stories and found a set of interesting research papers. Zoom into them via this link: