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Shelly Fan

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a neuroscientist-turned-science writer. She completed her PhD in neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she developed novel treatments for neurodegeneration. While studying biological brains, she became fascinated with AI and all things biotech. Following graduation, she moved to UCSF to study blood-based factors that rejuvenate aged brains. She is the co-founder of Vantastic Media, a media venture that explores science stories through text and video, and runs the award-winning blog NeuroFantastic.com. Her first book, "Will AI Replace Us?" (Thames & Hudson) will be out April 2019.

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From This Author


Inside OpenAI: Will Transparency Protect Us From Artificial Intelligence Run Amok?

Last Friday at the Neural Information and Processing Systems conference in Montreal, Canada, a team of artificial intelligence luminaries announced OpenAI, a non-profit company set to change the world of machine learning. Backed by Tesla...

Designing Robots That Learn as Effortlessly as Babies

A wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked, babbling human baby hardly looks like the ultimate learning machine. But under the hood, an 18-month-old can outlearn any state-of-the-art artificial intelligence algorithm. Their secret sauce? They watch; they imitate; and they extrapolate. Artificial intelligence...

Longer Life in a Pill May Already Be Available at Your Local Drug Store

To most of the scientific community, “anti-aging” is a dirty word. A medical field historically associated with charlatans and quacks, scientists have strictly restricted the quest for a “longevity pill” to basic research. The paradigm...

Gene Drives Could Wipe Out Insect-Borne Disease — But What’s the Price?

In 2014, a few days after Christmas, Dr. Valentino Gantz walked into his lab at the University of California, San Diego to check on some newly hatched fruit flies. With a single look, he knew...

Bugs as Drugs: Seeking the Microbial Secret to Health

Our body is, in essence, more ecosystem than organism. The human body teems with trillions of microbes — bacteria, viruses and fungi — and at any moment, we may be carrying between one and three...

First Human Tests of Memory Boosting Brain Implant—a Big Leap Forward

“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all.” — Luis Buñuel Portolés,...

Rats Engineered to See Infrared Light, Use It to Seek Out Water

The brain is a great information processor, but one that doesn’t care about where information comes from. Sight, scent, taste, sound, touch — all of our precious senses, once communicated to the brain, are transformed...

Speeding Up Physical Therapy With ‘Matrix’-Like Brain Training? It Isn’t So Far Fetched

Learning to walk again after a traumatic accident is no easy task. One of the hardest things for motor-impaired patients is to generate the correct brain signals to help them recover efficiently. The current best option...

Scientists Connect Brain to a Basic Tablet—Paralyzed Patient Googles With Ease

For patient T6, 2014 was a happy year. That was the year she learned to control a Nexus tablet with her brain waves, and literally took her life quality from 1980s DOS to modern era...

Wireless AI Device Tracks and Zaps the Brain, Takes Aim at Parkinson’s

Zapping the brain with implanted electrodes may sound like a ridiculously dangerous treatment, but for many patients with Parkinson’s disease, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is their only relief. The procedure starts with open-skull surgery. Guided...

How Aged Neurons In a Dish Can Accelerate Longevity Research

Aging insidiously leaves its mark on our brains. With age, our well-oiled neuronal machinery slowly breaks down: gene expression patterns turn wacky, the nuclear membrane disintegrates, and neatly organized molecules inside the cells break out...

Forget Humans vs. Machines: It’s a Humans + Machines Future

Forget humans versus machines: humans plus machines is what will drive society forward. This was the central message conveyed by Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president of IBM Research, at the Augmenting Human Intelligence...

Naughty or Nice? One Brain Scan Is Now All It Takes to Find Out

With a simple scan of your brain at rest, scientists can now guess whether — on average — you are naughty or nice. “We have now begun to see really strong evidence of a connection...

Playing 20 Questions by ‘Telepathy’? Big Score for Brain-to-Brain Communication

Interpersonal communication just got a lot more intimate. So intimate, in fact, that two strangers — physically separated by a mile — can literally get into each other’s heads to solve problems together, using only...

Brain-Controlling Sound Waves Used to Steer Genetically Modified Worms

Move over optogenetics, there’s a new cool mind-bending tool in town. A group of scientists, led by Dr. Sreekanth Chalasani at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, discovered a new way to control neurons using...

Meet the Mind-Controlling Algae Protein That Could Cure Blindness

It sounds completely crazy: as early as next year, using gene therapy scientists hope to restore sight in the blind by giving their eyes additional “light sensors.” We’re not talking about bionic eyes: instead of...

Why We Should Embrace — Not Fear — the Biohacker Uprising

Dr. Steve Kurtz was making arrangements for his wife Hope’s funeral when the FBI burst in. Kurtz, a professor of arts at the New York State University, was detained and interrogated for 22 hours as...

Gene Therapy May Be Our Newest — and Most Effective — Weapon Against Alzheimer’s Disease

In 2001, a team of neurologists at UC San Diego began testing a highly experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The process sounds far more sci-fi than science: Using tiny pieces of skin taken from the...

We May Soon Have a Lifelong, One-Shot Flu Vaccine — and Halt the Next Pandemic Before It Starts

The battle with flu is a seasonal struggle, and one we don’t always win. The effectiveness of flu vaccines vary tremendously from year to year, and the reason is simple. There are three major types...

How We’re Battling Virtual Reality’s Dreaded Simulator Sickness

Like many other eager early adopters, my first encounter with virtual reality headsets began with heart-pounding excitement, and ended in nightmarish nausea. To an unfortunate subpopulation of people, virtual reality’s side effects are no joke....

First 3D-Printed Drug Ushers in Era of Downloadable Medicine

3D-printed widgets are taking the medical world by storm. Polymer-based skull implants? Check. Doughnut-shaped Tylenol pills? Check. Totally rad-looking prosthetic arms with a $150 price tag? Check again. These, and plenty other medical novelties, clearly...

Are Artificial Neural Networks the Key to Unravelling the Mysteries of Autism?

Autism is a tough nut to crack. Part of the reason is complexity: The disorder manifests in a bewildering array of symptoms — everything from basic perceptual disturbances to high-level cognitive and social deficits. Because...

Think Your Conscious Brain Directs Your Actions? Think Again

Think your deliberate, guiding, conscious thoughts are in charge of your actions? Think again. In a provocative new paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a team led by Dr. Ezequiel Morsella at San Francisco State University...

How Tiny Lab-Grown Human Brains Are Giving Big Insights Into Autism

First came lab-grown mini-hearts. Then came 3D printed skin. Now scientists have taken “body on a chip” to a whole new level. Starting with skin cells from patient biopsies, scientists transformed them back into stem...

Animal Brains Networked Into Organic Computer ‘Brainet’

Imagine a future where computers no longer run on silicon chips. The replacement? Brains. Thanks to two separate studies recently published in Scientific Reports, we may be edging towards that future. In a series of experiments,...

How the Brain Makes Memories: Scientists Tap Memory’s Neural Code

Some of our most treasured memories begin with a simple association: the smiling face of that special someone, tied forever to the place where you first met. Sadly, these episodic memories — memories that encode...

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