News updates from the world of science 

A.I. Big Brother is watching you…

Plans may be underway to introduce an ‘Urban Operating System’ for cities, which could mean that sensors found in buildings and other areas could help to keep transport links, services, and buildings running as they should be, therefore controlling the city without the need for human observation.

This proposed OS works much like those used in PCs, and would measure and control variables on multiple scales: from monitoring traffic jams and controlling traffic lights to allow emergency services quicker access to those in need, to measuring temperatures in office rooms and changing the level of air-conditioning to maintain a pleasant environment to work in.

However, whilst this may herald a new era in improving our quality of life – maintaining job satisfaction, reducing daily niggles such as traffic jams, and even saving lives, there is also the issue of the lack of human input. Technology can, and often does, go wrong – and what happens to the city if and when it does? One cannot help to think of sci-fi films such as I, Robot and 2001: A Space Odyssey and shudder at the very thought.

Is this real life?

Anyone who’s watched the YouTube video “David After Dentist” is no doubt aware of the strange, and often hilarious, effects that anaesthesia can have on a patient ‘coming round’ after surgery. However, recent research carried out by Emery Brown, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston may mean that this is a thing of the past. At present there is no method for helping a patient ‘wake up’ after being anaesthetised, however Brown’s team found that by injecting drugged rats with Ritalin, the effects of the anaesthesia was reversed, and the rats woke up more or less immediately.

This discovery was made on the basis that whereas anaesthesia dulls the firing of neurons, Ritalin boosts neuronal activity, increasing the level of dopamine and therefore increasing arousal levels, helping a patient ‘wake up’. Although the team only investigated the effects of Ritalin on rats, if similar results are found in humans, this would help anaesthetised patients get back on their feet much sooner than the current time it takes (often hours). It is even hoped that the treatment may be used to treat people in comas.


Katie Henderson

Image credit – JermJus