Explore your body


Experts of medical informatics are always looking forward to a digital revolution in studying the human anatomy. The BioDigital Human is a three-dimensional, fully interactive visualisation programme that enables users to explore the human body in ways that could have never been possible with a cadaver, much less a medical atlas. But, it can never replace good ol’ dissection.

BioDigital Human is especially designed for those who have a difficult time
picturing the two-dimensional pictures in a book in three dimensions.

The creators feel that with traditional anatomy atlases, doctors are at the mercy of what the authors have created for them. But with BioDigital Human, they can manipulate it themselves. Also, the digital body can be explored again and again and again – a feature that cannot, for obvious reasons, exist for cadavers.

The tissues shown in BioDigital are labelled, thereby helping you to see how they are connected to various parts of the body. It can be zoomed in or out, and can be rotated in just about any direction. This digitised human is linked to various educational resources, like MEDLINE, which have a plethora of information about the various medical conditions associated with the area/organ of interest.

The programme can also be used by patients to understand their bodies better and as a promotional tool to generate awareness and interest in careers related to science.

BioDigital Human is especially designed for those who have a difficult time picturing the two dimensional pictures in a book in three dimensions. As is the norm with most contemporary digital tools, you can share your virtual exams with friends via various social media platforms. This way, you can extend a collaborative environment beyond your classroom.

But, there are students who still prefer studying from an atlas because the pictures there are more vivid. And there are doctors who believe that nothing can substitute looking at a body.

Professors at various universities feel that this programme is alright if used as a reference. They are, however, not very sure how it would be incorporated into their curriculum and they do not see how it would dramatically improve the way students dissect cadavers.

If some professors are anything to go by, then, although the programme helps students understand how various organ systems interact, the 3D renderings look a little cartoonish and do not compare favourably to the illustrations in atlases. The programme is quite impressive, but it is still very different from what can be seen in a body.

But, BioDigital is much better than its competitors like Anatomy TV and BodyMaps that have a similar concept but are less detailed and user friendly.

The cost of the programme may act as a deterrent for many. You can use the basic online version for free, but you will have to pay for more advanced features. New York University has connections to the developers that helps them get the programme at economical rates. But many other medical schools and hospitals may not find it affordable.

Even then, it does seem like a really cool way to understand your body and see some wonderful digital work

 

Nuclear power stations cause childhood leukemia – and here’s the proof .


Controversy has been raging for decades over the link between nuclear power stations and childhood leukemia. But as with tobacco and lung cancer, it’s all about hiding the truth, writes Ian Fairlie. Combining data from four countries shows, with high statistical significance, that radioactive releases from nuclear plants are the cause of the excess leukemia cases.

I can think of no other area of toxicology (eg asbestos, lead, smoking) with so many studies, and with such clear associations as those between nuclear power plants and child leukemias.

In March 2014, myarticle on increased rates of childhood leukemias near nuclear power plants (NPPs) was published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity (JENR).

A previous postdiscussed the making of the article and its high readership: this post describes its content in layman’s terms.

Before we start, some background is necessary to grasp the new report’s significance. Many readers may be unaware that increased childhood leukemias near NPPs have been a contentious issue for several decades.

For example, it was a huge issue in the UK in the 1980s and early 1990s leading to several TV programmes, Government Commissions, Government committees, a major international Conference, Government reports, at least two mammoth court cases and probably over a hundred scientific articles.

It was refuelled in 1990 by the publication of the famous Gardner report (Gardner et al, 1990) which found a very large increase (7 fold) in child leukemias near the infamous Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.

Over 60 epidemiological studies confirm the link

The issue seems to have subsided in the UK, but it is still hotly debated in most other European countries, especially Germany.

The core issue is that, world-wide, over 60 epidemiological studies have examined cancer incidences in children near nuclear power plants (NPPs): most (>70%) indicate leukemia increases.

I can think of no other area of toxicology (eg asbestos, lead, smoking) with so many studies, and with such clear associations as those between NPPs and child leukemias.

Yet many nuclear Governments and the nuclear industry refute these findings and continue to resist their implications. It’s similar to the situations with cigarette smoking in the 1960s and with man-made global warming nowadays.

In early 2009, the debate was partly rekindled by the renowned KiKK study (Kaatsch et al, 2008) commissioned by the German Government which found a 60% increase in total cancers and 120% increase in leukemias among children under 5 yrs old living within 5 km of all German NPPs.

What is ‘statistically significant?

As a result of these surprising findings, governments in France, Switzerland and the UK hurriedly set up studies near their own NPPs. All found leukemia increases but because their numbers were small the increases lacked ‘statistical significance’. That is, you couldn’t be 95% sure the findings weren’t chance ones.

This does not mean there were no increases, and indeed if less strict statistical tests had been applied, the results would have been ‘statistically significant’.

But most people are easily bamboozled by statistics including scientists who should know better, and the strict 95% level tests were eagerly grasped by the governments wishing to avoid unwelcome findings. Indeed, many tests nowadays in this area use a 90% level.

In such situations, what you need to do is combine datasets in a meta-study to get larger numbers and thus reach higher levels of statistical significance.

Governments wouldn’t do it – so we did

The four governments refrained from doing this because they knew what the answer would be, viz, statistically significant increases near almost all NPPs in the four countries.

So Korblein and Fairlie helped them out by doing it for them (Korblein and Fairlie, 2012), and sure enough there were statistically significant increases near all the NPPs. Here are their findings:

Table: Studies of observed (O) and expected (E) leukemia cases within 5 km of NPPs.

O E SIR=O/E 90% CI p-value
Germany 34 24.1 1.41 1.04-1.88 0.0328
Great Britain 20 15.4 1.30 0.86-1.89 0.1464
Switzerland 11 7.9 a 1.40 0.78-2.31 0.1711
France b 14 10.2 1.37 0.83-2.15 0.1506
Pooled data 79 57.5 1.37 1.13 – 1.66 0.0042

[a] derived from data in Spycher et al. (2011).
[b] acute leukemia cases

This table reveals a highly statistically significant 37% increase in childhood leukemias within 5 km of almost all NPPs in the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the latter 3 countries have announced nuclear phaseouts and withdrawals. It is only the UK government that remains in denial.

So the matter is now beyond question, ie there’s a very clear association between increased child leukemias and proximity to NPPs. The remaining question is its cause(s).

Observed risk 10,000 times greater than it’s meant to be

Most people worry about radioactive emissions and direct radiation from the NPPs, however any theory involving radiation has a major difficulty to overcome, and that is how to account for the large (~10,000 fold) discrepancy between official dose estimates from NPP emissions and the clearly-observed increased risks.

My explanation does involve radiation. It stems from KiKK’s principal finding that the increased incidences of infant and child leukemias were closely associated with proximity to the NPP chimneys.

It also stems from KiKK’s observation that the increased solid cancers were mostly“embryonal”, ie babies were born either with solid cancers or with pre-cancerous tissues which, after birth, developed into full-blown tumours: this actually happens with leukemia as well.

My explanation has five main elements:

  • First, the cancer increases may be due to radiation exposures from NPP emissions to air.
  • Second, large annual spikes in NPP emissions may result in increased dose rates to populations within 5 km of NPPs.
  • Third, the observed cancers may arise in utero in pregnant women.
  • Fourth, both the doses and their risks to embryos and to fetuses may be greater than current estimate.
  • And fifth, pre-natal blood-forming cells in bone marrow may be unusually radiosensitive.

Together these five factors offer a possible explanation for the discrepancy between estimated radiation doses from NPP releases and the risks observed by the KIKK study. These factors are discussed in considerable detail in the full article.

No errors or omissions have been pointed out

My article in fact shows that the current discrepancy can be explained. The leukemia increases observed by KiKK and by many other studies may arise in utero as a result of embryonal / fetal exposures to incorporated radionuclides from NPP radioactive emissions.

Very large emission spikes from NPPs might produce a pre-leukemic clone, and after birth a second radiation hit might transform a few of these clones into full-blown leukemia cells.

The affected babies are born pre-leukemic (which is invisible) and the full leukemias are only diagnosed within the first few years after birth.

To date, no letters to the editor have been received pointing out errors or omissions in this article.

 


 

References

  • Bithell JF, M F G Murphy, C A Stiller, E Toumpakari, T Vincent and R Wakeford. (2013) Leukaemia in young children in the vicinity of British nuclear power plants: a case-control study. Br J Cancer, advance online publication, September 12, 2013; doi:10.1038/bjc.2013.560.
  • Bunch KJ, T J Vincent1, R J Black, M S Pearce, R J Q McNally, P A McKinney, L Parker, A W Craft and M F G Murphy (2014) Updated investigations of cancer excesses in individuals born or resident in the vicinity of Sellafield and Dounreay. British Journal of Cancer (2014), 1-10 | doi: 10.1038/bjc.2014.357
  • Fairlie I (2013) A hypothesis to explain childhood cancers near nuclear power plants. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 133 (2014) 10e17.
  • Gardner MJ, Snee MP; Hall AJ; Powell CA; Downes S; Terrell JD (1990) Results of case-control study of leukaemia and lymphoma among young people near Sellafield nuclear plant in West Cumbria. BMJ. 1990;300:423-429.
  • Kaatsch P, Spix C, Schulze-Rath R, Schmiedel S, Blettner M. (2008) Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants. Int J Cancer; 122: 721-726.
  • Körblein A and Fairlie I (2012) French Geocap study confirms increased leukemia risks in young children near nuclear power plants. Int J Cancer 131: 2970-2971.
  • Spycher BD, Feller M, Zwahlen M, Röösli M, von der Weid NX, Hengartner H, Egger M, Kuehni CE. ‘Childhood cancer and nuclear power plants in Switzerland: A census based cohort study’. International Journal of Epidemiology (2011) doi:10.1093/ije/DYR115.

 

 

Future flexible electronics based on carbon nanotubes: Improving nanotube transistor performance with fluoropolymers.


Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University have demonstrated a new method to improve the reliability and performance of transistors and circuits based on carbon nanotubes (CNT), a semiconductor material that has long been considered by scientists as one of the most promising successors to silicon for smaller, faster and cheaper electronic devices. The result appears in a new paper published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing.

In the paper, researchers examined the effect of a fluoropolymer coating called PVDF-TrFE on (SWCNT) transistors and ring oscillator circuits, and demonstrated that these coatings can substantially improve the performance of single-walled carbon nanotube devices. PVDF-TrFE is also known by its long chemical name polyvinyledenedifluoride-tetrafluoroethylene.

“We attribute the improvements to the polar nature of PVDF-TrFE that mitigates the negative effect of impurities and defects on the performance of semiconductor ,” said Ananth Dodabalapur, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin who led the research. “The use of [PVDF-TrFE] capping layers will be greatly beneficial to the adoption of single-walled carbon nanotube circuits in printed electronics and flexible display applications.”

The work was done in collaboration between Dodabalapur’s group at UT Austin and Mark Hersam’s group at Northwestern University as part of a Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) supported by the Office of Naval Research.

A potential successor to silicon chips

Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) are just about the thinnest tubes that can be wrought from nature. They are cylinders formed by rolling up a material known as graphene, which is a flat, single-atom-thick layer of carbon graphite. Most single-walled carbon nanotubes typically have a diameter close to 1 nanometer and can be twisted, flattened and bent into small circles or around sharp bends without breaking. These ultra-thin carbon filaments have high mobility, high transparency and electric conductivity, making them ideal for performing electronic tasks and making flexible electronic devices like thin film transistors, the on-off switches at the heart of digital electronic systems.

“Single-walled carbon nanotube (FETs) have characteristics similar to polycrystalline silicon FETs, a thin film silicon transistor currently used to drive the pixels in organic light-emitting (OLED) displays,” said Mark Hersam, Dodabalapur’s coworker and a professor in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. “But single-walled carbon nanotubes are more advantageous than polycrystalline silicon in that they are solution-processable or printable, which potentially could lower manufacturing costs.”

The mechanical flexibility of single-walled carbon nanotubes also should allow them to be incorporated into emerging applications such as flexible electronics and wearable electronics, he said.

For years, scientists have been experimenting with carbon nanotube devices as a successor to silicon devices, as silicon could soon meet its physical limit in delivering increasingly smaller, faster and cheaper electronic devices. Although circuits made with single-walled carbon nanotube are expected to be more energy-efficient than silicon ones in future, their drawbacks in field-effect transistors, such as high power dissipation and less stability, currently limit their applications in printed electronics, according to Dodabalapur.

A new technique to improve the performance of SWCNTs devices

To overcome the drawbacks of single-walled carbon nanotube field-effect transistors and improve their performance, the researchers deposited PVDF-TrFE on the top of self-fabricated single-walled carbon nanotube transistors by inkjet printing, a low-cost, solution based deposition process with good spatial resolution. The fluoropolymer coated film was then annealed or heated in air at 140 degrees Celsius for three minutes. Later, researchers observed the differences of device characteristics.

“We found substantial performance improvements with the fluoropolymer coated single-walled carbon nanotube both in device level and circuit level,” Dodabalapur noted.

On the device level, significant decreases occur in key parameters such as off-current magnitude, degree of hysteresis, variation in threshold voltage and bias stress degradation, which, Dodabalapur said, means a type of more energy-efficient, stable and uniform transistors with longer life time.

On the circuit level, since a transistor is the most basic component in digital circuits, the improved uniformity in device characteristics, plus the beneficial effects from individual transistors eventually result in improved performance of a five-stage complementary ring oscillator circuit, one of the simplest digital circuits.

“The oscillation frequency and amplitude [of the single-walled carbon nanotube ring oscillator circuit] has increased by 42 percent and 250 percent respectively,” said Dodabalapur. The parameters indicate a faster and better performing circuit with possibly reduced power consumption.

Dodabalapur and his coworkers attributed the improvements to the polar nature of PVDF-TrFE.

“Before single-walled carbon nanotube field-effect transistors were fabricated by inkjet printing, they were dispersed in an organic solvent to make a printable ink. After the fabrication process, there could be residual chemicals left [on the device], causing background impurity concentration,” Dodabalapur explained. “These impurities can act as charged defects that trap charge carriers in semiconductors and reduce carriers’ mobility, which eventually could deteriorate the performance of transistors.”

PVDF-TrFE is a polar molecule whose negative and positive charges are separated on different ends of the molecule, Dodabalapur said. The two charged ends form an electric bond, or dipole, in between. After the annealing process, the dipoles in PVDF-TrFE molecules uniformly adopt a stable orientation that tends to cancel the effects of the charged impurities in single-walled carbon nanotube field-effect transistors, which facilitated carrier flow in the semiconductor and improved device performance.

To confirm their hypothesis, Dodabalapur and his coworkers performed experiments comparing the effects of polar and non-polar vapors on single-walled carbon nanotube field-effect transistors. The results support their assumption.

The next step, Dodabalapur said, is to implement more complex circuits with single-walled carbon nanotube field-effect .

ANTI FUNGAL DRUG CICLOPIROX MAY KILL HIV / AIDS VIRUS FOR EVER -NEW BOOSTUP FOR HIV/AIDS CARE .


An already approved anti-fungal drug can kill the HIV virus in lab cultures. Since the drug has already been tested on humans, clinical trials maybe around the corner.A topical anti-fungal drug called Ciclopirox causes HIV-infected cells to commit suicide by jamming up the cells’ powerhouse, the mitochondria – according to a study by researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. And unlike current anti-HIV drugs, Ciclopirox completely eradicates infectious HIV from cell cultures, with no rebound of virus when the drug is stopped. The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The treatment of patients with HIV has been revolutionised by the advent of combination anti-retroviral drugs. But although these drugs are highly effective at keeping HIV at bay, they must be taken for the life of the patient and never eliminate the infection completely.This is illustrated by the often rapid resurgence of virus in patients who stop taking these medications.The persistence of HIV is partially due to the ability of the virus to disable the cell’s altruistic suicide pathway, which is normally activated when a cell becomes infected or damaged.

A team of researchers from three departments at New Jersey Medical School,Led Zeppelin Officialy Michael Mathews and Hartmut Hanauske-Abel, previously showed that Ciclopirox, commonly used by dermatologists and gynecologists to treat fungal infections, inhibits the expression of HIV genes in culture.

The group now shows that the drug works against HIV in two ways: It inhibits the expression of HIV genes and also blocks the essential function of the mitochondria, thereby reactivating the cell’s suicide pathway.Healthy, uninfected cells examined during this study were spared. And remarkably, the virus did not bounce back when Ciclopirox was removed.

Indeed, the authors note the speed with which a second FDAapproved drug believed to have promise in subduing HIV, Deferiprone, has moved directly from tests in culture to a phase I human trial conducted in South Africa, thanks to previously published results now reinforced by additional research in culture described in the current paper.In contrast to Ciclopirox, approved for topical use, Deferiprone is approved for systemic use (in certain thalassemia patients with iron overload).
The discovery that two drugs, each well-tolerated by patients when used as indicated, are deadly to HIV-infected cells, may open a new chapter in the fight against HIV/AIDS that moves the world closer to the eradication of HIV-1 infection.

  • prof drram

    An already approved anti-fungal drug can kill the HIV virus in lab cultures. Since the drug has already been tested on humans, clinical trials maybe around the corner.A topical anti-fungal drug called Ciclopirox causes HIV-infected cells to commit suicide by jamming up the cells’ powerhouse, the mitochondria.Indeed, the authors note the speed with which a second FDAapproved drug believed to have promise in subduing HIV, Deferiprone, has moved directly from tests in culture to a phase I human trial conducted in South Africa, thanks to previously published results now reinforced by additional research in culture described in the current paper.In contrast to Ciclopirox, approved for topical use, Deferiprone is approved for systemic use (in certain thalassemia patients with iron overload).
    The discovery that two drugs, each well-tolerated by patients when used as indicated, are deadly to HIV-infected cells, may open a new chapter in the fight against HIV/AIDS that moves the world closer to the eradication of HIV-1 infection.

Nanotubes help healing hearts keep the beat


Carbon nanotubes serve as bridges that allow electrical signals to pass unhindered through new pediatric heart-defect patches invented at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital.

A team led by bioengineer Jeffrey Jacot and chemical engineer and chemist Matteo Pasquali created the patches infused with conductive single-walled carbon . The patches are made of a sponge-like bioscaffold that contains microscopic pores and mimics the body’s extracellular matrix.

The nanotubes overcome a limitation of current patches in which pore walls hinder the transfer of electrical signals between cardiomyocytes, the heart muscle’s beating cells, which take up residence in the patch and eventually replace it with new muscle.

The work appears this month in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano. The researchers said their invention could serve as a full-thickness patch to repair defects due to Tetralogy of Fallot, atrial and ventricular septal defects and other defects without the risk of inducing abnormal cardiac rhythms.

The original patches created by Jacot’s lab consist primarily of hydrogel and chitosan, a widely used material made from the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans. The patch is attached to a polymer backbone that can hold a stitch and keep it in place to cover a hole in the heart. The pores allow natural cells to invade the patch, which degrades as the cells form networks of their own. The patch, including the backbone, degrades in weeks or months as it is replaced by natural tissue.

Researchers at Rice and elsewhere have found that once cells take their place in the patches, they have difficulty synchronizing with the rest of the beating heart because the scaffold mutes that pass from cell to cell. That temporary loss of signal transduction results in arrhythmias.

Nanotubes can fix that, and Jacot, who has a joint appointment at Rice and Texas Children’s, took advantage of the surrounding collaborative research environment.

“This stemmed from talking with Dr. Pasquali’s lab as well as interventional cardiologists in the Texas Medical Center,” Jacot said. “We’ve been looking for a way to get better cell-to-cell communications and were concentrating on the speed of electrical conduction through the patch. We thought nanotubes could be easily integrated.”

Nanotubes enhance the electrical coupling between cells that invade the patch, helping them keep up with the heart’s steady beat. “When cells first populate a patch, their connections are immature compared with native tissue,” Jacot said. The insulating scaffold can delay the cell-to-cell signal further, but the nanotubes forge a path around the obstacles.

Jacot said the relatively low concentration of nanotubes—67 parts per million in the patches that tested best—is key. Earlier attempts to use nanotubes in heart patches employed much higher quantities and different methods of dispersing them.

Jacot’s lab found a component they were already using in their patches – chitosan – keeps the nanotubes spread out. “Chitosan is amphiphilic, meaning it has hydrophobic and hydrophilic portions, so it can associate with nanotubes (which are hydrophobic) and keep them from clumping. That’s what allows us to use much lower concentrations than others have tried.”

Because the toxicity of carbon nanotubes in biological applications remains an open question, Pasquali said, the fewer one uses, the better. “We want to stay at the percolation threshold, and get to it with the fewest nanotubes possible,” he said. “We can do this if we control dispersion well and use high-quality nanotubes.”


A scanning electron microscope image of a pediatric heart patch invented at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital shows the patch’s bioscaffold, with pores big enough for heart cells to invade. Credit: Jacot Lab/Rice University

The patches start as a liquid. When nanotubes are added, the mixture is shaken through sonication to disperse the tubes, which would otherwise clump, due to van der Waals attraction. Clumping may have been an issue for experiments that used higher nanotube concentrations, Pasquali said.

The material is spun in a centrifuge to eliminate stray clumps and formed into thin, fingernail-sized discs with a biodegradable polycaprolactone backbone that allows the patch to be sutured into place. Freeze-drying sets the size of the discs’ pores, which are large enough for natural heart cells to infiltrate and for nutrients and waste to pass through.

As a side benefit, nanotubes also make the patches stronger and lower their tendency to swell while providing a handle to precisely tune their rate of degradation, giving hearts enough time to replace them with natural tissue, Jacot said.

“If there’s a hole in the heart, a has to take the full mechanical stress,” he said. “It can’t degrade too fast, but it also can’t degrade too slow, because it would end up becoming scar tissue. We want to avoid that.”

Pasquali noted that Rice’s nanotechnology expertise and Texas Medical Center membership offers great synergy. “This is a good example of how it’s much better for an application person like Dr. Jacot to work with experts who know how to handle nanotubes, rather than trying to go solo, as many do,” he said. “We end up with a much better control of the material. The converse is also true, of course, and working with leaders in the biomedical field can really accelerate the path to adoption for these new materials.”

Digital twins’ could soon console loved ones after we die


  • The claims were made by futurist and system theorist John Smart
  • He believes we will have ‘digital twins’ within the next five years
  • These twins could act like digital personal secretaries or agents
  • They could also, one day, have human faces and hold conversations
  • In addition, when people die, loved ones could converse with digital versions of ourselves long after our death
  • Apps already exist that offer similar tools including Siri and Google Now
  • The claims signal a step towards the futurist theory of singularity

By 2020, our day-to-day lives, relationships and even what to have for dinner could be controlled and run by digital versions of ourselves.

According to futurist John Smart, within the next six years many of us could have so-called ‘digital twins’ that schedule our appointments and even have conversations with others on our behalf.

And they could one day console loved ones after we die by mimicking our voice, emotions, mannerisms and thoughts.

According to futurist John Smart, within the next five years many of us could have so-called ‘digital twins’ (illustrated) that schedule appointments, make decisions and have conversations with others on our behalf. They could even console loved ones after we die by mimicking our voice, emotions, mannerisms and thoughts

According to futurist John Smart, within the next five years many of us could have so-called ‘digital twins’ (illustrated) that schedule appointments, make decisions and have conversations with others on our behalf. They could even console loved ones after we die by mimicking our voice, emotions, mannerisms and thoughts

Mr Smart, founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, made the comments during an interview with Business Insider.

WHAT IS SINGULARITY?

Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, believes that in just over 30 years, humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity.

Mr Kurzweil also claims that the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts and this could happen as early as 2100.

The claims made by John Smart regarding ‘digital twins’ are a step towards this futurist theory of singularity becoming a reality.

Technological singularity is the development of ‘superintelligence’ brought about through the use of technology.

The first use of ‘singularity’ in terms of technological minds was by mathematician John von Neumann in the mid-1950s.

He said: ‘ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.’

The term was then used by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge who believes brain-computer interfaces are causes of the singularity.

Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann’s use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann’s classic The Computer and the Brain.

Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 while Vinge predicts it will happen before 2030.

‘When you and I die, our kids aren’t going to go to our tombstones, they’re going to fire up our digital twins and talk to them.’

He continued there are prediction apps and software that already carry out similar tasks – such as Siri and Google Now – and these services are only going to get smarter as algorithms, interfaces and processing power increases.

The software in prediction apps is based on an algorithm that combines various snippets of information to form a prediction.

In the case of personal-assistant apps, the software scans calendar entries to work out where a user is, or should be.

It combines this with location data, taken from the phone or tablet’s GPS unit, as well as posts on social networks, email information and more. It then presents the user with the help it thinks they need.

For example, if a calendar on an Android phone contains a diary invite, Google Now will create a reminder.

It will then check to see whether the user is en route to the meeting and add directions to this reminder, or work out how long it will take them to get there based on current traffic.

Elsewhere, as users pass bus stops, prediction apps can show bus timetables, show the latest deals as they enter a supermarket, or open a digital boarding pass as they approach an airport.

Mr Smart believes that digital twins could additionally learn our likes and dislikes from emails, messages and verbal feedback, in the way that machine learning currently does.

IBM’s Watson supercomputer uses machine learning, as does ‘Eugene Goostman’ – a computer program that was able to trick users it was a teenage boy, leading to claims it had passed the Turing test.

Watson won the TV game show Jeopardy, in 2011, by answering general knowledge questions posed in natural language.

More recently it has been used as a customer call centre agent and can learn a customer’s needs.

Mr Smart continued there are prediction apps and personal assistant software that already carry out similar tasks – such as Siri and Google Now (pictured) – and these services are only going to get smarter as algorithms, interfaces and processing power increases

Mr Smart continued there are prediction apps and personal assistant software that already carry out similar tasks – such as Siri and Google Now (pictured) – and these services are only going to get smarter as algorithms, interfaces and processing power increases

The Turing Test was introduced by Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing in 1950 as part of his paper Computing Machinery And Intelligence in which he predicted that computers would one day be programmed to acquire abilities rivalling human intelligence.

Apple's Siri (pictured) already uses context to answer questions, and digital twins could take this a step further to learn about how a person thinks

Apple’s Siri (pictured) already uses context to answer questions, and digital twins could take this a step further to learn about how a person thinks

He proposed a test called The Imitation Game, which would identify whether a computer is capable of thought.

A person, called the interrogator, engages in a text based conversation with another person and a computer – and must determine which is which.

If they are unable to do so the computer is deemed to have passed –  as was the case with Eugene.

And as firms such as Google buy artificial intelligence firms, such as Deep Mind, it makes the technology more mainstream.

Google’s acquisition of DeepMind in June wasn’t the tech giant’s first foray into artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Its Hummingbird search update was created to make Google ‘more human’, and searches can now understand context, like a human brain.

Google also hired futurist Ray Kurzweil as Engineering Director in 2012.

Kurzweil has famously claimed that in just over 30 years, humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity.

He also believes the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts and this could happen as early as 2100.

The claims made by John Smart are a step towards this futurist theory of singularity becoming a reality.

Andrew Sheehy from Generator Research told MailOnline: ‘We can already see evidence of machine learning and machine intelligence in existing Google products like Google Now, the search function that forms part of Google+ Photos and Google’s self-driving car project.

‘A string of recent acquisitions in the field of robotics and machine intelligence, along with the recent hiring of Ray Kurzweil as a director of engineering shows that Google is by no means done with machine learning: it is clear that the company is just getting started.

Mr Smart believes digital twins could learn our likes and dislikes from emails, messages and verbal feedback, in the way that machine learning currently does, such as ‘Eugene Goostman’ - a computer program that was able to trick users it was a teenage boy, leading to claims it had passed the Turing test (pictured)

Mr Smart believes digital twins could learn our likes and dislikes from emails, messages and verbal feedback, in the way that machine learning currently does, such as ‘Eugene Goostman’ – a computer program that was able to trick users it was a teenage boy, leading to claims it had passed the Turing test (pictured)

Futurists believes that in just over 30 years, humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal - an event called singularity. This chart plots the exponential growth of computing. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, claims singularity will become reality as soon as 2045

Futurists believes that in just over 30 years, humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity. This chart plots the exponential growth of computing. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, claims singularity will become reality as soon as 2045

Mr Smart (picutred) is a futurist and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation

Mr Smart (picutred) is a futurist and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation

‘Taking into account the present scale of Google’s computer network, the size of its user base and its capital reserves, Google is well placed to take on something as ambitious as machine consciousness.’

Machine consciousness differs from machine intelligence.

There are already intelligent machines that can learn from their mistakes and fix errors, but many of these are programmed to do so.

For example, world chess Grandmaster, Gary Kasparov, was defeated by IBM’s ‘Deep Blue’ supercomputer in 1997.

‘To make wise decisions in the present, we must strive to deeply understand where we are in relation to both the known past and our probable futures,’ explained Mr Smart.

‘This will require the support of global communities, which make the disciplined development of the field of foresight their top priority.

‘In particular, one of my long-term professional goals is to find passionate financial sponsors interested in the development of more world-leading academic programs in technology foresight, acceleration studies, and evolutionary development studies.’