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Op-Ed: Why we should worry about Big Tech's investment in a new brain technology – Los Angeles Times

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This July scientists reported using a neural implant in a man’s brain to restore his ability to communicate. The man, known as Pancho, has been partially paralyzed and unable to produce intelligible speech since suffering a severe stroke in 2003.

The new technology records Pancho’s brain activity with an array of electrodes, analyzes the activity to detect the words he is trying to say and then translates those intentions into written words that can be displayed on a computer screen. It is the latest advance in the exploding field of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. Similar systems have made headlines for allowing people paralyzed from the neck down to control computer cursors and muscle stimulators directly with their thoughts.

Brain-computer interfaces allow computers to read information out of, or insert information into, a living brain. We will undoubtedly see more headlines about BCIs as new advances build on prior successes. That’s why we need to be asking basic questions now: How do these technologies work? Could they be used to surreptitiously read our minds? Should we be excited or worried about how BCIs may affect our society?

While both brains and computers are complex, brain-computer interfaces are possible because of two simple facts. The first is that your brain contains hundreds of tiny maps. Each of these maps represents specific features of your physical sensations and intended actions. Rather than being made of paper and ink, the maps are made up of brain cells and rendered with electrical activity. And crucially, the basic set of brain maps and their locations within the brain are very similar across individuals.

Thanks to their specialized functions and universal locations, brain maps are ideal entry points for BCI technologies. To glean information from Pancho’s brain about what he was trying to say, scientists opened up a portion of his skull and placed 128 electrodes against a brain map that represents movement of the tongue, lips, jaw and larynx — in other words, the parts of his body that generate spoken sounds. This allowed the scientists to measure electrical activity in the brain map that represented the words he was trying to say.

Capturing signals from a brain map is only the first step in making a useful BCI. Although the location of a brain map is the same across individuals, the details — what patterns of activity within the map mean — differ from person to person. In a sense, the unique features of your specific brain maps serve as a kind of encryption, shielding your specific thoughts and sensations from would-be eavesdroppers.

That brings us to the second fact that makes BCIs possible. Thanks to advances in machine learning, scientists have developed programs that can learn to recognize key patterns in a vast sea of numbers. They train these programs to decode brain signals by feeding them tons of examples. But if the goal of training such programs, called decoders, is to decipher signals from the brain of a particular individual, then those examples must also come from that specific brain.

Researchers developing BCIs often create such examples by instructing an individual to think specific thoughts at specific times, creating a neural curriculum for the program to learn from. In Pancho’s case the scientists collected nearly 10,000 examples of activity in his speech map while he tried to say common words presented on a screen and another 250 examples while he tried to say sentences built from those words. Even with this extensive training, his decoders erred between 25% and 50% of the time.

While the universal features and locations of brain maps make them obvious portals for BCIs, the unique features of your brain maps tend to protect them from prying eyes. In cases where BCIs have successfully read specific thoughts or intentions from a brain, it has been with the permission and compliance of the individual whose brain was being read.

But there are surreptitious ways to train decoders on your brain without your knowledge. This can happen if your neural data, whether collected from electrodes in your brain or from sensors embedded in a headband or a hat, falls into the hands of companies with detailed information about your activities.

For example, Facebook partly funded the research that made Pancho’s BCI and has its own in-house BCI development program. The company reported working on BCIs that decode neural signals collected by a noninvasive wearable device that could allow people to type with their minds by imagining talking. While Facebook’s recent statements indicate they are steering away from those specific plans, they continue to actively research other BCI concepts.

Before the general public begins lining up for such technologies, we should ask ourselves how we plan to protect personal rights and privacy in a world where technology like this becomes widely used.

With troves of data about your purchasing history and online behavior, many companies already know more about you than you may want. If corporations or advertisers could get access to your personal neural data, the threat to privacy would be enormous.

And if a company like Facebook or Google were allowed to collect signals from your brain while you use their products to compose messages, make purchases or browse your feeds, they would then have the data they need to train a decoder to read some of your specific thoughts and actions. What they could read would be limited and sometimes incorrect, but it would be access to your thoughts that you didn’t intend to grant.

Like all technologies, brain-computer interfaces are not inherently good or bad. They are simply tools. BCIs could offer huge benefits for people who have been hurt by injury or illness. Yet they also raise significant dangers. The richest tech companies on Earth are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing better BCIs because they are betting BCIs will be the world’s next disruptive technology. If they are right, we cannot trust these corporations to regulate themselves.

Earlier this year, a group of neuroscientists and ethicists recommended that the United Nations create a commission to examine how BCIs and other neurotechnology should be supervised and regulated. At the international and national level, governing bodies should begin putting protections in place to limit how neural data may be collected, used and shared.

In addition to reaping the benefits of BCIs, we need to ensure that we have the means to protect ourselves from corporations with every incentive to exploit this technology — and the inner workings of our own brains — for their financial gain.

The ‘Tesla Bot’ will be capable of performing various human tasks, Musk claimed. But he has a history of touting innovations that proved to be vaporware.

Rebecca Schwarzlose is a cognitive neuroscientist researching the developing brain at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of “Brainscapes: The Warped, Wondrous Maps Written in Your Brain — and How They Guide You.”

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Sudbury med-tech firm lands $8M in investment funds – Northern Ontario Business

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Rna Diagnostics has received investment capital that will enable it to complete a clinical trial on its cancer diagnostic tool, the RNA Disruption Assay.

The Sudbury-based med-tech startup announced on Sept. 9 that it’s received $8 million from a group of investors, led by iGan Partners, a Toronto-based venture capital firm, and the Crown corporation BDC Capital.

That money will enable Rna Diagnostics to complete its trial, called the breast cancer response evaluation for individualized therapy (BREVITY), which began in 2018.

“The continued support of iGan Partners and our current investors, combined with the support of BDC Capital as a new investment partner, is exciting,” said John Connolly, president and CEO of Rna Diagnostics, in a news release.

“The closing of this series A financing will allow us to complete the pivotal validation trial (BREVITY) of the RNA Disruption Assay™ (RDA)™. BREVITY is currently recruiting patients at over 40 breast cancer centres in Europe and North America.”

IGan led the way during an earlier round of funding, in 2018, worth $5 million. Rna Diagnostics has additionally received funding through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, FedNor, the Northern Cancer Foundation, and the angel investment firm Northern Ontario Angels.

The RNA Disruption Assay determines whether a patient’s tumour is responding to cancer therapy five weeks into treatment.

If the patient’s tumour isn’t responding, the oncologist can change course, cutting down on lost treatment time and considering other treatment methods that may be more effective.

Rna Diagnostics believes this approach could reduce harmful side effects for patients and improve their chances of survival. It could also reduce costs for cancer treatment centres.

“This is an enormous, expensive problem for cancer centres,” Connolly added. “Typically, in solid tumour cancers, only 30 to 40 per cent of patients receive a survival benefit from a given drug regimen.”

The RNA Disruption Assay was discovered by Dr. Amadeo Parissenti, a researcher and professor at Laurentian University, in 2007.

In moving the test towards commercialization, Parissenti later founded Rna Diagnostics, which operates out of Sudbury’s Health Sciences North Research Institute, the research arm of the local hospital, Health Sciences North.

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India likely to block Chinese investment in insurance giant LIC's IPO -sources – Financial Post

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NEW DELHI — New Delhi wants to block Chinese investors from buying shares in Indian insurance giant Life Insurance Corp (LIC) which is due to go public, four senior government officials and a banker told Reuters, underscoring tensions between the two nations.

State-owned LIC is considered a strategic asset, commanding more than 60% of India’s life insurance market with assets of more than $500 billion. While the government is planning to allow foreign investors to participate in what is likely to be the country’s biggest-ever IPO worth a potential $12.2 billion, it is leery of Chinese ownership, the sources said.

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Political tensions between the countries rocketed last year after their soldiers clashed on the disputed Himalayan border and since then, India has sought to limit Chinese investment in sensitive companies and sectors, banned a raft of Chinese mobile apps and subjected imports of Chinese goods to extra scrutiny.

“With China after the border clashes it cannot be business as usual. The trust deficit has significantly widen(ed),” said one of the government officials, adding that Chinese investment in companies like LIC could pose risks.

The sources declined to be identified as discussions on how Chinese investment might be blocked are ongoing and as no final decisions have been made.

India’s finance ministry and LIC did not respond to Reuters emailed requests for comment. China’s foreign ministry and commerce ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Aiming to solve budget constraints, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is hoping to raise 900 billion rupees through selling 5% to 10% of LIC this financial year which ends in March. The government has yet to decide on whether it will sell one tranche of shares seeking to raise the full amount or choose to seek the funds in two tranches, sources have said.

Under current law, no overseas investors can invest in LIC but the government is considering allowing foreign institutional investors to buy up to 20% of LIC’s offering.

Options to prevent Chinese investment in LIC include amending the current law on foreign direct investment with a clause that relates to LIC or creating a new law specific to LIC, two of the government officials said.

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They added that the government was conscious of the difficulty in checking on Chinese investments that could come indirectly and would attempt to craft a policy that would protect India’s security but not deter overseas investors.

A third option being explored is barring Chinese investors from becoming cornerstone investors in the IPO, said one government official and the banker, although that would not prevent Chinese investors from buying shares in the secondary market.

Ten investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and SBI Capital Market have been chosen to handle the offering.

($1 = 73.8200 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Aftab Ahmed and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi, Nupur Anand in Mumbai; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Edwina Gibbs)

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In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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ImpactAssets Strengthens Investment and Client Engagement With Three Strategic Promotions – Yahoo Finance

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Appointments reflect rapid growth as impact investments surge 60 percent and grants jump 76 percent in 2020.

Northampton, MA –News Direct– ImpactAssets

BETHESDA, Md., September 22, 2021 /3BL Media/ – ImpactAssets, a leading $1.6 billion impact investing firm, announced three promotions across its investment and business development teams:

  • Sandra Osborne Kartt, CFA has been promoted to Managing Director, Investments

  • Nick Peters has been promoted to Director, Investments

  • Deb Parsons has been promoted to Managing Director, Business Development

The promotions follow a rapid growth of the firm’s leading-edge impact investment offerings for individuals, advisors, foundations, corporations and other partners. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, ImpactAssets and its clients made 220 investments in funds and companies that are having a transformative impact on people and planet, totaling $415 million in impact investments. Clients also doubled down on their commitment to solving the world’s greatest challenges, generously giving $181 million in grants, a 76 percent increase.

CEO and Chief Investment Officer Margret Trilli said, “I am thrilled to announce these well-deserved promotions. Sandy and Nick have each been vital in building a best-in-class lineup of impact investments, leading the team in completing 21 due diligences last year, and Deb has been instrumental in strengthening top tier service amidst explosive growth in new clients. With continued expansion in our impact investment and charitable activity, I am tremendously excited to see what they will accomplish next.”

Sandra Osborne Kartt, CFA

As Managing Director of Investments, Sandra manages the team responsible for sourcing, due diligence and selection for investment options spanning asset classes and impact themes. With expertise in social equity and microfinance, she oversees the ImpactAssets’ Impact Notes Program. Prior to joining ImpactAssets, Sandra served as a Risk Officer at Developing World Markets, an impact investment asset manager focused on linking the capital markets and financial institutions serving the bottom of the pyramid in emerging and frontier economies. She also worked at Keefe Bruyette & Woods, a boutique investment bank, as a sell-side equity research analyst covering the U.S. banking industry. Sandra holds an MA in Economics from New York University, a BS in Economics from Louisiana State University, and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

Nick Peters

Nick’s new duties as Director of Investments include overseeing the sourcing, due diligence and selection of investment options with expertise in Climate Solutions. Prior to ImpactAssets, Nick was on the investment teams at AiiM Partners and Factor[e] Ventures, where he led investments in early and growth stage investments delivering positive environmental and social change. He also worked as a Financial Fellow at Project Drawdown, where he focused on financial and impact modeling of climate solutions, mobilizing climate-friendly capital, and launching a new global modeling platform. Nick holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a BA in Economics and International Studies.

Deb Parsons

As Managing Director of Business Development, Deb leads all client engagement and business development at ImpactAssets. She has 15+ years working with investors, donors and large-scale initiatives to create positive social and environmental change. Deb has played key roles in consulting projects focused on bringing together disparate stakeholders for a common good with specific focus on gender and racial equity. She has worked in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors across impact areas. Deb holds an MBA from Kenan Flagler Business School, UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Carolina Venture Fellow.

About ImpactAssets

ImpactAssets is the leading impact investing partner for individuals, families and philanthropists tackling the world’s greatest challenges by investing in the world’s brightest ideas. We make it easy for our clients to “discover, connect and invest” in game-changing entrepreneurs and funds. Founded in 2010, ImpactAssets increases flows of money to impact investing with our 100% impact investment platform and field-building initiatives, including the IA 50 database of private debt and equity impact fund managers.

The ImpactAssets Donor Advised Fund is an innovative vehicle that empowers donors to increase the impact of their giving by combining it with strategic, sustainable and responsible investing to build a sophisticated philanthropic endowment. The Fund currently has more than $1.6 billion in assets in 1,700 donor advised funds, working with 350 wealth advisors across 60 financial services firms.

ImpactAssets is headquartered in Bethesda, with offices in New York City and San Francisco. Learn more at https://www.impactassets.org/ImpactAssets

View additional multimedia and more ESG storytelling from ImpactAssets on 3blmedia.com

View source version on newsdirect.com: https://newsdirect.com/news/impactassets-strengthens-investment-and-client-engagement-with-three-strategic-promotions-254721102

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