Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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Discussing the Mystery of Consciousness

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What is consciousness? How can we use language to define it? Is there a way to measure it scientifically? Is it something only humans have, or do animals and plants have consciousness too? Does it require awareness of the self? What does it mean to have consciousness?

These questions inspired “The Mystery of Consciousness,” a recent discussion between neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, M.D., Ph.D., and philosopher David Chalmers, Ph.D., at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. The conversation was the first public event hosted by the newly formed Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement (ICE) at Dartmouth University, an organization that seeks to create dialogue between the sciences and humanities.

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Spirituality vs. Science at the Rubin

Zachary Quinto, an actor best known for roles in theater, film, and TV shows such as 24, Heroes, and American Horror Story, spoke about his lifelong spiritual journey at the “The Brain on Spirituality,” a Brainwave 2016 program at the Rubin Museum in Manhattan.

quinto rubin

Photo credit: Filip Wolak

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Neuroethics Seminar Series: Seeing Consciousness

shutterstock_221470261How is new technology helping us gain a better understanding of consciousness in patients with severe brain damage? If a patient is unable to communicate or even blink, does that mean he or she is completely unaware? At what point should the intentions stated in a living will be determined by the patient’s family or surrogate?

These questions were among the issues discussed at Harvard Medical School’s most recent neuroethics seminar, titled “Seeing Consciousness: The Promise and Perils of Brain Imaging in Disorders of Consciousness.” The school’s  Center for Bioethics invited Joseph Giacino, Ph.D., director of Rehabilitation Neuropsychology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; Joseph Fins, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College; and James Bernat, M.D., Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience at The Dartmouth Institute to share the stage and give a brief talk for its Neuroethics Seminar Series.

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The Science Behind Fear and Anxiety

In a packed theater at the Rubin Museum last Wednesday, Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., and Mark Epstein, M.D., shared the stage to untangle the mysteries behind two emotions that we are all too familiar with: anxiety and fear. Epstein is a psychiatrist in New York City, who blends Buddhist practices with his work in psychotherapy. Ledoux directs the Emotional Brain Institute of New York University, where he is also University Professor.

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy Rubin Museum of Art

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

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