Tag Archives: systems


The human brain’s wiring diagram – with 100 trillion connections between neurons – is called the “connectome”. The idea has been around since the 1960’s but there is a new explosion in understanding.

The last time there was this much excitement was in 1986 when Sydney Brenner, Nobel Laureate, was given the entirety of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (this was Isaac Newton’s venue). Brenner published “the Book” where he documented the mapping of a transparent worm and its 302 neurons.

Even so, “The race to map the connector has hardly left the starting line”.

“If the cells and fiber in one human brain were all stretched out end to end, they would certainly reach to the moon and back. Yet the fact that they are not arranged end to end enabled man to go there himself. The astonishing tangle within our heads makes us what we are.”
–Colin Blakemore, a physiologist from the UK

Since 2005, Sebastian Seung at MIT has been trying to map this incredible phenomenon, and NYT Magazine wrote about his work this Sunday, January 11, 2015 (“Mind Games” by Garath Cook). He just left MIT in 2013, and now joins his mentor David Tank at the Princeton Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics.

He started by studying (in Germany, with two graduate students in 2006) the high-resolution brain imaging analysis of Winfried Denk, a scientist who built a device. The device, according to David Tank, imaged brain tissue with enough resolution to make out the connections between individual neurons. The problem was that the images were very blurry and articulating them, mapping each one, etc was a “herculean effort’. So the big problem to solve was – could this task be automated?

Obviously, this relates to the phenomenal leaps ahead in mapping made possible by computer analysis. Another example of this is the Human Genome Project, which mapped the DNA that provides every cell’s genetic instructions. This was obviously breakthrough work, and following after this work was work on Proteome (proteins), Foldome (folding of proteins). Note the U.S. Government has “The Brain Initiative”, which is a 12-year, $4.5 billion brain-mapping project.

So the “connectome” is the brain’s physical structure, which must be mapped. At the same time, a major effort is underway that is separate – namely, to map the areas of the brain that “light up” and therefore are related to certain cognitive functions.

This reference to “physical structure” is meaningful – because people tend to relate to the brain in terms of movement….a dynamic “flow” like a river, and not a physical structure like a river bed.

Haim Sompolinsky studied this structure to understand “aha” moments in learning. This idea relates to an ancient idea- from Plato and Aristotle – that meaning emerges from the ones between things. And in the 21st century, it appears that their is physical terrain that describes this ancient concept: the likes between neurons (note William James described mental processes as associations).

A typical human neuron has thousands of connections. A neuron can be as narrow as one ten-thousandth of a millimeter and yet it can stretch from one side of the head to the other!


Wikipedia on Connectome

NYT Article on Connectome

Santiago Ramon y Cajal – illustrations of neurons and neural networks

Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner mapped the 302 neurons of a transparent worm in the seventies. He wanted to understand how behaviors emerges from a biological system.

EyeWire – online game that challenges the public to trace neuronal wiring in the retina of a mouse’s eye (has 165,000 players in 164 countries).

connectionism – a cross-disciplinary idea that simple units, connected in the right ways, can lead to surprising abilities (memory, recognition, reasoning).

Harald Hess – a genius in creating scientific tools.”MERLIN” – new brain imaging system. Janella Reseach Campus. They believe they will have mapped a fruit fly’s neural network within two years

Google: announced in September, 2014 at the White House that they had launched their own connector project. Tom Dean is a Google Research Scientist, who also works with the Allen Institute. He wants the “Google Earth of the Brain”!!!!

Forbes Discusses Google and Nest

Forbes Article

Nest Labs is taking the next step in its quest to become a hub for the smart home, by letting other gadgets and services access its learning thermostat and smoke detector for the first time.

With the long-awaited developer program Nest is launching today, other apps and devices will be able to access what Nest detects through its sensors, including vague readings on temperature and settings that show if a person is away from their home for long periods. These services will even be able to talk to one another via Nest as the hub.

Nest, founded by former Apple executive Tony Fadell, has long-been seen as one of the leading companies in the smart home revolution. Google bought the company for $3.2 billion in January, and last week Nest bought video monitoring service DropCam for $555 million to (for better or worse) learn how people behave in their homes, for instance by reportedly tracking how doors are open and shut.

Crucially, Nest is not letting third parties get access to the motion sensors on its thermostat and smoke alarm, says co-founder Matt Rogers — though it’s unclear what sort of access Nest might eventually give to DropCam’s video footage. “We’ve been building it for about a year,” he says. “One reason it’s taken us this long to build is we realized we had to be incredibly transparent with our user about data privacy.”

That means plenty of reminders to developers about what data can be used for, and requirements that they get user permission before sharing data with Nest. It will be a private, but very open platform, says Rogers. Apple’s own foray into smart homes with a service called HomeKit will likely have far more restrictions.

“Also,” he points out, “ours is not vaporware.”

Nest is expecting myriad developers to start building integrations into its two main devices, but it’s already done some early integrations with eight other companies, including wearable-fitness tracker firm Jawbone, Mercedes-Benz and Google Now, the digital mobile assistant that learns about a person’s routines and notifies them of important information. The pitch from Nest: “create a more conscious and thoughtful home.”

As of today, the Jawbone UP24 band will have a setting that turns on the Nest thermostat when it senses its wearer has woken up from a night’s sleep. Mercedes-Benz’s cars will be able to tell Nest when a driver is expected home, so it can set the temperature ahead of time. Smart lights made by LIFX can also be programmed to flash red when the Nest Protect detects smoke, or randomly turn off and on to make it look like someone is home when Nest’s thermostat is in “away” mode.

Developers are excited about the program because it means they can learn more about users than they could before. One partner in the program who didn’t want to be named, said that the extra data they could collect from Nest’s devices could help them become more competitive in their own field. “We can’t live with just the information we get naturally,” they said.


Opening up to other services is integral to Nest’s re-invention of the humble thermostat, which some say parallels the way Apple reinvented the mobile phone. “It’s going to be a huge, huge game changer and it’s only the beginning,” Wernick says, adding that the role of the smart thermostat may be gradually morphing “to being a controller for your house and lifestyle.”

The bigger advantage for Google is what it can learn through Nest and potentially through other devices connected to it. Wernick believes Google Now will eventually be able to use Nest as just another sensor point to learn more about people’s lifestyles, so it can better predict habits. “It’s going to understand your behavior better to help guide you in your life,” he says.

Would Google Now be able to use Nest’s data to serve Google’s all-important advertising ambitions?


“Nest is sticking its toe in home automation, which opens them to all the same problems that home automation companies are dealing with,” says Dan Tentler, founder of security company Aten Labs and expert on SHODAN, the search engine for Internet-connected devices.

Google buys Nest

General Systems Theory

Here is why I love the Bertalanffy…..

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a distinguished biologist, occupies an important position in the intellectual history of the twentieth century. His contributions went beyond biology, and ex- tended to psychology, psychiatry, sociology, cybernetics, history and philosophy. Some of his admirers even believe that von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory could provide a conceptual framework for all these disciplines.

Here are some references!

buy the book here: http://product.half.ebay.com/General-System-Theory-Foundations-Development-Applications-by-Ludwig-Von-Bertalanffy-1969-Paperback-Revised/578858&tg=info

General Systems Theory: The Book

Wikipedia Article on Bertalannfy

More Insight from an Admirer

Complex, adaptive systems

Note date! JCR authored this.

December 2, 2000

Applications and their Enabling Technologies for Adaptive Dynamic Systems

Adaptation to a dynamically changing world is essential. Look at computer science, economics, political science, communication, and hundreds of other fields: Wherever you look, no matter what the field or endeavor, there are applications and then there are underlying enabling technologies that enable applications. Applications can be adaptive and dynamic, and so can the underlying enabling technology.

In computer science, the theory of operating systems is the theory of enabling technologies.

Windows is an operating system on which applications run. It is also an enabling technology. It enables Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and hundreds of other applications to run in the complex multi-tasking, multi-device environment of a desktop computer.

In political science, the theory of democracy is a theory of enabling technologies. A constitution is a fundamental enabling technology. The process of legislating is an enabling technology as well. Legislation is provided for in constitutions, and thus a constitution is a more fundamental enabling technology than legislation. When is comes to adaptation, one would expect the more fundamental enabling technology (in this case constitutions) to adapt more slowly than the higher order technology, legislating.

In economics, the theory of capitalism is a theory of enabling technologies. Take a market, for example. A market for wheat futures at the Chicago Board of Trade is an enabling technology. CBOT abides by the laws of Illinois and the U.S. in setting up this marketplace. It provides the underlying infrastructure that makes it possible for millions of buyers of wheat to find millions of sellers. A buyer finds a seller through a market, and thus a market is a fundamental enabling technology that makes it possible to bring a buyer and seller together. In a market, the notion of a price provides a second enabling technology. As in other cases below, a market is more fundamental technology than a price. And – as such – one expects prices to adapt quickly to the dynamically changing world outside.

In communications, the theory of language is a theory of enabling technologies. Syntax and grammar, nouns and verbs are the language of democracies everywhere.

In the internet, it is not unusual to see even more dynamic and adaptive systems, There have been a proliferation of underlying enabling technologies that make there systems possible. Take book selling for example. Amazon.com routinely provides book reviews, provided by everyday people. One enabling technology is simply the technical capability of storing these reviews as they are written. But a very exciting additional enabling technology provides for other readers to grade the quality of the review.