Monday, February 19, 2024

Artificial Intelligence: Recent Advancements and Implications

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a field that combines computer science and robust data sets to enable problem-solving (IBM). It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines. These problem-solving models can be used for a wide variety of tasks. These tasks include speech recognition, customer service, computer vision, recommendation engines, and automated stock trading (IBM). These are just as of now, and the wide range of uses seems to keep on growing as time goes on. 

    In 1950, Alan Turing published Computing Machinery and Intelligence. A paper is widely known as the start of the idea of artificial intelligence. Turing became famous for being the person to decode the Nazi’s ENIGMA code; he proposed the question “can machines think?” The paper goes into depth on this new test Turing has created, now known as the “Turing Test.” The Turing test is essentially a test of AI intelligence; it says that if a computer can convince a human that it is not a computer, and believe that they are speaking to a human, the computer passes the Turing test, and therefore the computer must have some form of intelligence. The validity of this test has been debated ever since. 

    In his talk, Dr. Vukov explained recent developments and thoughts on whether or not Artificial Intelligence is truly conscious. He explained the Turing test, different philosophical perspectives, the Chinese Room, and weak AI versus strong AI. Weak AI, also known as Narrow AI, is most of the AI that surrounds us today. Examples of Weak AI are Amazon’s Alexa, IBM’s Watson, and automated driving vehicles. These interfaces have a clear input and output and are not directed by anything except for user input. Strong AI is a theoretical form of intelligence in which a machine would have intelligence comparative or equal to humans (IBM); it would have self-aware consciousness that can solve problems and think of the future. Following this, Dr. Vukov gave us the example of the Chinese Room, which holds the argument that current Artificial Intelligence is not conscious.

    The Chinese Room is a comprehensive test of whether or not something has a true understanding of what it is doing. In this example and story a man or woman is placed in a room with symbols placed across the room. They are then instructed to put together a series of symbols. Turns out these symbols are Chinese characters, and the person made a real sentence that makes sense to a fluent speaker. However, this person was not fluent and did not know what they were doing, but it made sense. This argument translates to Artificial Intelligence such as ChatGPT not fully understanding what it is saying, or the true context that it holds, but it makes sense to us humans. This brings to question and more or less shows that ChatGPT and other forms of current artificial intelligence are not Strong AI, and they are more or less ‘fancy machines’ that will do as told. 


    Recently, researchers at Amazon have trained a new Large Language Model (LLM) for text-to-speech that they are claiming exhibits “emergent abilities,” (AI News). They call it ‘Base TTS’, it is a 980-million parameter model and is the largest text-to-speech model created yet. Text-to-speech models are used in the development of voice assistants such as the Weak AI models previously mentioned. What sets BaseTTS apart isn’t just its amount of parameters, but the extensive training it has received. BaseTTS was trained on over one hundred thousand hours of recorded speech from public sites across many languages, allowing it to navigate pronunciations and translations with ease. Amazon’s researchers found that when their model had upwards of one hundred fifty thousand parameters, it suddenly became increasingly better at understanding and speaking language. They claim that “it can use complex words, show emotions, use punctuation correctly, and cleverly ask questions,” (Sejal, 2024). 


    Now this brings some questions to the forefront… Regarding Dr. Vukov’s talk, a sentient AI would have to be able to not only show emotions but also understand them and give a response that makes sense to the system internally, such as we humans do. Although BaseTTS does not do this (making it not sentient nor any other AI) and holding the Chinese Room to be true; it does bring us other factors into the conversation such as the expression of emotion. Not only does it make us revisit the conversation, but it brings us one step closer to AI completely fooling us that it is indeed another human.




References

   Sharma, Sejal. “Amazon Develops World’s Largest Text-to-Speech Model with ‘emergent’ Qualities.” BASE TTS: Amazon’s Largest Ever Text-to-Speech Model Promises Natural Speech, Interesting Engineering, 19 Feb. 2024, interestingengineering.com/innovation/amazon-develops-worlds-largest-text-to-speech-model.
    
    “What Is Sentient Ai?” Built In, builtin.com/artificial-intelligence/sentient-ai. Accessed 19 Feb. 2024.

    “What Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) ?” IBM, www.ibm.com/topics/artificial-intelligence. Accessed 19 Feb. 2024.

    

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Keeping up with Testosterone



    A recent study suggests that controlling testosterone levels and TACR3, a brain receptor, could have a critical role in the development and treatment of anxiety disorders. Testosterone, a hormone know for its impact on mood- regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamaine, has been identified as a potential modulator of TACR3 expression. 

    To investigate this relationship further, researchers conducted an experiment on rats, manipulating testosterone levels and TACR3 activity. Through their experiemnt, the researhcer gained insight into the mechanism of anxiety disorders. They found that altering testosterone levels and TACR3 activity had a significant imapct on anxiety-like behaviors in the animal. This suggested that targeting the TACR3 pathway with testosterone could potentially lead to more effective therapeutic aproaches for anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorder has an impact on various aspects of our lives, including our self- esteem, confidence, and social skilll. By understanding how testosterone affects emotions and brain functions, scientist can deveelop more strategies in treating anxiety disorder. This research has also shed light on the role of testosterone in protecting neurons and promoting neuroplasity. With the adancemetns in research with testosterone, developing mediciations or therapies that specially target the TACR3 pathway, potentially creating a more targeted and efficient tratment for anxiety disorder. 


References

Mechanism linking anxiety to testosterone. (2024, January 24). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/01/240122144432.htm

Wojtas, M. N., Diaz-González, M., Stavtseva, N. S., Shoam, Y., Verma, P., Buberman, A., Izhak, I., Geva, A. B., Basch, R. S., Ouro, A., Pérez-Benítez, L., Levy, U., Borcel, É., Núñez, Á., Venero, C., Rotem-Dai, N., Veksler-Lublinsky, I., & Knafo, S. (2023). Interplay between hippocampal TACR3 and systemic testosterone in regulating anxiety-associated synaptic plasticity. Molecular Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-023-02361-z


Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Importance of Sex Differences in Neural Mechanisms and Symptom Presentation

Effective treatments and timely diagnoses are important factors in managing mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. Existing research has identified both physical differences in the brain and differences in symptom presentation that relate to sex. While studies that include both men and women have become far more common, much of our understanding of mental illnesses is based on studies that mainly had male participants. Continued research into these sex differences and their effects is crucial to improve treatment approaches. 


The article “Sex differences in the transcription of glutamate transporters in major depression and suicide” (Powers et al., 2020) examines how the expression of vesicular glutamate transporters (VGLUTs) and excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs), differs between male and female subjects with major depressive disorder (MDD). Though the underlying mechanisms of MDD are not well understood, many studies have found evidence that the disorder varies between females and males. The results of this research also support the idea that there are significant differences. Through the analysis of glutamate transporter expression, it was found that EAAT2, VGLUT1, and VGLUT2 had increased levels of expression in the female subjects with MDD compared to the controls. Similarly, when examining the female MDD suicide group, expression was once again higher compared to the female controls. However, there was no significant difference found when comparing the MDD nonsuicide and suicide male groups to the male control. Based on this, the researchers concluded that abnormalities in the expression of glutamate transporters may contribute to why women are diagnosed with MDD more often than men and report more severe symptoms. This study demonstrates the importance of further research into sex differences and the potential for more effective treatments that target mechanisms specific to a patient’s sex. 


In addition to sex differences in the neural mechanisms underlying disorders, understanding how symptom presentation varies between men and women is also important. Research conducted by McDonnell et al. (2021) investigated what factors impact the age of diagnosis (AOD) and age of first concern (AOC) in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The importance of their research is illustrated by the impact of early identification and intervention, which can lead to more positive outcomes for people with ASD. The study included 365 children who already had a diagnosis of ASD and the data was analyzed for trends related to sex, cognitive ability, and other demographic factors. The results showed that although the age of first concern was similar between boys and girls, female participants had a later age of diagnosis, particularly if they also had a high verbal IQ. Since other demographic factors could not explain the differences between AOD in girls and boys, the researchers concluded that it is more difficult to identify autistic traits in females given the current diagnostic approaches. One theory that could explain the variation in symptom presentation is that girls are better at camouflaging their symptoms than boys. In addition to making it harder for clinicians to identify ASD, masking can have harmful effects. This study exposes the need for revision of diagnostic criteria, which are predominately based on male symptom presentation, to improve outcomes for girls with ASD.


The studies done by Powers et al. (2020) and McDonnell et al. (2021) both demonstrate that further research into sex differences in neurological illnesses is essential to effectively treat patients. Since both studies involved humans, many additional variables could not be controlled and may have influenced results. The findings of these experiments should be replicated to support their validity. Future studies investigating the effect of a patient's sex on their illness would be very beneficial for improving diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches. 





Sources: 


Christina G. McDonnell, Elizabeth A. DeLucia, Elizabeth P. Hayden, Melanie Penner, Kristina Curcin, Evdokia Anagnostou, Rob Nicolson, Elizabeth Kelley, Stelios Georgiades, Xudong Liu & Ryan A. Stevenson (2021) Sex Differences in Age of Diagnosis and First Concern among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 50:5, 645-655, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2020.1823850


Powers, B. E., Joyce, C., Kleinman, J. E., Hyde, T. M., Ajilore, O., Leow, A. D., & Sodhi, M. S. (2020). Sex differences in the transcription of glutamate transporters in major depression and suicide. Journal of Affective Disorders, 277, 244–252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.055


The effects of Neuro Law and improving our criminal justice system

 

The effects of Neuro Law and improving our criminal justice system

Neuroscience is one of the biggest growing fields in science. Neuroscientists look into the inner workings of the mind and through their research we can help treat different types of issues. These issues range from mental health diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and major depressive disorders. Through this research, we can properly diagnose individuals dealing with these difficulties and find options to help them cope with these difficulties. Because of this neuroscience research has been used in many different fields besides science. One of those fields is law. Neuroscience and Law, often time referred to as neurolaw, has paved the way to helping fix our justice system in terms of better sentencing and better treatment for people dealing with mental health disorders. Though this may be the case there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to better our criminal justice system. This article goes into detail about how this link between the two fields can help better our criminal justice system.  

            To better understand how we can fix our criminal justice system we first must understand how neuroscience and law are linked. An article in the Journal of Neuroscience titled “Law and Neuroscience” by Owen D. Jones goes into detail about how neuroscience and law are connected. In the article, they explain that many legal officials such as lawyers and judges seek the aid of neuroscientists to answer questions such as “Is this person responsible for his behavior?”, and “How competent is this person”. More specifically they can help aid law by increasing juror confidence, calling into question or contradicting a case, identifying legally relevant facts, separating people into useful categories, illuminating decision pathways with information that may lead to more informed and less biased decisions, and improving law’s ability to estimate probabilities of future behavior. Overall this article helps the reader to understand the need for there to be a connection between neuroscience and law.            

            This can be seen in many different court cases and several news articles. One article in Times magazine written by Dr. Christine Montross, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, calls into question the level of responsibility the criminal justice system has when tending to mental illness. In the article, Dr. Montross goes into detail about how she has witnessed the severe lack of care that is being given to people with mental health issues both in the prison system and in the number of resources that are being provided for these individuals. Policing is one of the biggest areas that needs to be reformed. During police arrest, it is required that the person remain obedient. However, people dealing with manic episodes may not be able to do so. Dr. Montross goes on to say “This misalignment between the expectation that people will follow commands and their medical inability to do so has the potential for disaster. Of the roughly 1,000 fatal shootings by police in 2018 approximately 25% of victims were mentally ill. People with mental illness are sixteen times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than people who are psychiatrically well” (Montross). This quote is very shocking because it shows that police must make the call when it comes to determining whether that person is mentally capable of being arrested and taken to jail, instead of a psychiatric facility. Often jail is one of the places where mentally ill patients end up because they have been wrongfully put into prisons instead of mental health facilities. Although it is the case that mentally ill patients need to be properly treated and facilitated there is an inability to due to the lack of funding that is being given to mental health care centers. The passing of acts such as the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 and the 2008 recession took away more than 5 billion dollars in funding for mental health services. This means that people don’t receive proper treatment and end up in the prison system.

            This article shows that there is a need for neuroscience when it comes to law enforcement and criminal justice. This article ties back to the 7 ways in which neuroscience can help in the legal field. With a better understanding of mental health, we are then able to make better decisions when it comes to sentencing and determine what is the correct facilitation for a person dealing with mental health issues. This article also calls for more action when it comes to providing the resources needed for the house people dealing with mental health issues. Through this research, we can improve our criminal justice system and further advance how we prioritize mental health.

References:

Jones, O. D., Marois, R., Farah, M. J., & Greely, H. T. (2013). Law and neuroscience. Journal of Neuroscience33(45), 17624-17630.

Montross, Christine. We Must Change How Our Criminal Justice System Treats People with Mental Illness, 2020, https://time.com/5876045/we-must-change-how-our-criminal-justice-system-treats-people-with-mental-illness/. Accessed 2023.

 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Intersection of Law and Neuroscience: Recent Research and Updates

 In 2013, Jones et al. discussed the growing intersection between neuroscientific evidence and its role in the justice system. They cited evidence from the United States v. Lorne Allan Semrau where fMRI was used to decide whether an individual's actions warranted criminal intent. In another case, Florida v. Grady Nelson, jurors considered whether an abnormal EEG should impact a defendant's sentencing. The article drew an interesting dichotomy between abnormal brain measurements and responsibility for a crime and whether individuals displaying these abnormalities should be treated for mental health deficits or sent to prison to serve their sentence. 

In 2023, an article published by the American Bar Association (ABA) published an article titled "The Pros and Cons of Neuroscience in the Legal System", and expanded on many ideas originally presented by the Jones et al article from 2013. The article focuses on five types of neuroscientific evidence including brain scans that may reveal neurological disorders, research that correlates neurological impairments in the frontal lobe to an increase in violent crimes, genetic factors that may influence one's likelihood to commit a crime, neuropsychological evidence regarding an individuals decision making and impairments in cognition to avoid the death penalty. 

Even after identifying these five types of neuroscientific evidence with the potential to impact criminal law, the ABA runs into similar issues cited in the 2013 Jones et al. article. Neuroscience, as a rapidly growing field is everchanging and advancements in neuroscientific imaging are occurring daily, making it difficult to standardize the type of neuroscientific evidence admissible in court. Both articles, however, stress the need for an interdisciplinary approach regarding neuroscience and law. Given difficulties in standardizing neuroscientific evidence, the ABA article acknowledges its potential when defendants suffer significant cognitive deficits. 

Continuing from dialogue originating from the Jones et al. paper, the American Bar Association highlights the role of neuroscientific evidence in determining an individual's cognitive capacity. Particularly in cases where individuals may be suffering from dementia or other disorders that affect cognitive function. This evidence may be essential to determine an individual's decision-making capabilities and ability to govern their own autonomy. Moreover, it may provide insights into guardianship and end-of-life care. However, conversations regarding guardianship often receive tremendous backlash for violating an individual's autonomy and raise many ethical concerns. On a more positive note, these individuals can be given better assistance when diagnosed with a neurological disorder to better ensure that people on their healthcare team, like doctors, nurses, and nursing home staff are putting the patient's best interest first. 

In conclusion, the ABA article continues critical conversation regarding the intersection of neuroscience and law originally discussed Jones et al. article from 2013. Both highlight the evolving landscape of neuroscientific evidence in the legal system, discuss the importance of continued conversations regarding ethical concerns, and stress a need for collaboration between legal and neuroscience communities to ensure a responsible and effective integration of neuroscience into the justice system.


References: 

Jones, Owen D. and Schall, Jeffrey D. and Shen, Francis X., Law and Neuroscience (August 19, 2020). Jones, Owen D. and Schall, Jeffrey D. and Shen, Francis X., LAW AND NEUROSCIENCE, 2nd Edition, ISBN 978-1-5438-0109-5, Forthcoming , Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 20-56, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3677088

The Pros and Cons of Neuroscience in the Legal System, www.americanbar.org/groups/law_aging/publications/bifocal/vol44/vol44issue5/prosandconsofneuroscience/. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.

Influence of Glutamatergic System

In the research article titled Sex differences in the transcription of glutamate transporters in major depression and suicide Dr. Sodhi and colleagues emphasize the importance of understanding the mechanism behind glutamate transporters and their critical role in the brain by looking closer at its genetic expression given that mRNAs encode said glutamate transporters. The study recruited both females and males with a major depressive disorder (MMD) or MDD patients who had passed due to suicide. The findings of the study indicated that females with depressive disorder displayed a higher expression of excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs) and vesicular glutamate transporter subtypes (VGLUT1 & VGLUT2) whereas EAAT expression was lower in the male violent suicides. This study proves to be a positive step toward the understanding of glutamate and its role in the brain.

 

Similarly, in the research article Glutamatergic system abnormalities in posttraumatic stress disorder by Dr. Nishi and colleagues, the study closely examines the role of the glutamatergic system and its impact on disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With the use of 110 participants with PTSD and major depressive disorder (MMD), glutamate levels were recorded before and after 3 months. Their findings showed that glutamate levels are positively linked to the levels of PTSD severity but not with MDD severity. With this in mind, this unique neurotransmitter- Glutamate- plays a major role in the brain and livelihood of people.

 

Ultimately, both studies illustrate the importance of understanding glutamate and its influence on the brain in order to treat mental disorders like depression or PTSD. The scientific field continues to take big steps towards the prevention and treatment of mental disorders by aiming to comprehend the glutamatergic system and use its knowledge.

 


References: 

Nishi, D., Hashimoto, K., Noguchi, H., Hamazaki, K., Hamazaki, T., & Matsuoka, Y. (2015). Glutamatergic system abnormalities in posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychopharmacology, 232(23), 4261–4268. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-4052-5

Sexual Dimorphism in Psychiatric Illness: Who is More Susceptible?

    Anyone can develop psychiatric illnesses like depression and anxiety, but some individuals are genetically predisposed; there exists a gender disparity within the development of cognitive disorders, and women are more prone to doing so. The distinction can be attributed to biological differences in cellular signaling pathways and levels of gene expression in the brain, but also environmental and sociocultural factors.

    There are critical differences between males and females in their expression levels of genes encoding for proteins that associate with neurotransmitters, and these variations are evident in the differences observed in patients with depressive disorders. In “Sex differences in the transcription of glutamate transporters in major depression and suicide” by Sodhi et al., the glutamate system is investigated to figure out how it contributes to the biological basis of major depressive disorder (MDD) and suicide through acting on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Susceptibility to developing the disorder was found to indeed be sexually dimorphic, with mRNA expression levels of glutamate receptors and glutamate transporter genes in dorsolateral DLPFC being upregulated in females with MDD. Abnormalities in glutamate signaling can lead to cell death, thus explaining reduced glial and neuronal cells in the DLPFC of female MDD patients. This reduced number of cells would lead to lower activity levels in the DLPFC, causing issues in decision making and problem solving and issues in these cognitive functions could lead to greater susceptibility to suicide.

    Also discussing sexual dimorphisms in the brain, “Sexual Dimorphism in Brain Development: Influence on Affective Disorders” by López-Ojeda et al. emphasizes the significance of sex hormones and their effects on brain structure and function, as well as their roles in behavioral outputs like stress response. Environmental stimuli also serve to highlight differences in male versus female brain activation; positive stimuli for males and the counterpart negative stimuli for females generates higher levels of activity in the amygdala. Additionally, even in cases where males and females alike experience the same level of anxiety and/or stress, it is the behavioral differences in how they react to adverse stimuli that further distinguishes the gender disparity in mood disorders.

    Both articles discuss the role of sex differences in developing and managing cognitive disorders, with females being more susceptible to major depressive and mood disorders. These studies underscore the importance of creating therapies tailored to account not only these biological differences among males and females, but behavioral differences as well; the sociocultural impact on health and its role in the development of cognitive disorders is often overlooked.

López-Ojeda, Wilfredo, and Robin A. Hurley. “Sexual dimorphism in brain development: Influence on Affective Disorders.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, vol. 33, no. 2, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.neuropsych.20100269.

Powers, B., Joyce, C., Kleinman, J. E., Hyde, T. M., Ajilore, O., Leow, A., & Sodhi, M. S. (2020). Sex differences in the transcription of glutamate transporters in major depression and suicide. Journal of affective disorders, 277, 244–252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.055.