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10 Mind-Blowing Discoveries This Week

Turns out it is pretty easy to hack into your brain to get your PIN and other important numbers.

Photo Credit: Kompaniets Taras/ Shutterstock.com


1. What the hack?

You’d think scientists from the University of Oxford in Geneva and the University of California would be making big enough salaries not to have to hack into people’s brains and get their PIN numbers.

Yet that’s what they’re working on, using stuff even probably you could afford and anyone can buy. The researchers “ took an off-the-shelf Emotiv brain-computer" interface which lets users interact with computers by thought and costs around $299, according to CBS Seattle’s Peter V. Milo. They sat their subjects in front of images -- banks, PIN numbers and people -- then “tracked the signals coming off the brain, specifically the P300 signal,” given off when when people recognize something meaningful. Michael Harper, writing in redOrbit says, “ To test this new hack, researchers showed their subjects images of Barak Obama. The P300 wave spiked shortly after the subjects saw this image, confirming recognition in the subjects’ brains.

“Next, the subjects were shown an image of their own house, which also caused the P300 wave to spike shortly thereafter.”

They were able to get the subject’s PIN 60% of the time. 

This sounds pretty scary and the team said it was concerned about making information so easily obtainable. Two things in this writer’s opinion that make it slightly less worrisome: a) you’re not rich enough for someone to go through this trouble to get your PIN; and b) by the time this is a common form of robbery your personal information will be written into your DNA or on the inside of your urethra or something less hackable. It doesn’t seem worth sweating right now.

2. If you don’t believe in evolution maybe you should try it.

Having your brain broken into is exactly the kind of scary thing that could make a person afraid of technology and science along with it. There are other things, like cloning and genetic engineering that make people leery of sci and tech progress. Then there’s religion which has certainly found itself at odds with both scientific and social progress.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, had something pretty direct to say about that in a video on Big Think in which he talks about the problem of people who don’t believe in evolution. Evolution denial “holds everybody back” he says, and that if adult creationists want to do so, fine, but, “don’t make your kids do it, because we need them,” to be the “scientifically literate voters and taxpayers,” and the problem-solvers of tomorrow. 

He won’t get any argument here. As Douglas Adams put it, “God used to be the best explanation we'd got, and we've now got vastly better ones.” I’ll put it this way: it’s lovely to believe in the spirit of Santa’s round-the-world journey but I’d be dubious about the physics.

This video actually went up in March but only went viral this week, showing up on sites from CNN to io9 to the New York Daily News . Guess it, I dunno...evolved an audience. 

3. Forever in amber.

Here’s a perfect example of how that whole Earth-is-6,000-years-old belief might mess you up. Scientists just found some microscopic bugs trapped in droplets of amber found in Italy --  and the amber is 230 million years old. Seth Borenstein of the AP  writes that the bugs would be from the Triassic period (which puts them before the Jurassic period and well before Jurassic Park ).

Scientists looked through 70,000 droplets of amber from northern Italy and found two tiny mites and part of a fly which was smaller than a fruit fly. David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History in New York was surprised to find the mites so strongly resembled their descendants, saying “they’re dead ringers for modern gall mites." Modern mites (sounds like a magazine, doesn’t it?) now live on flower plants: the ancient mites were here before flower plants.

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