In Search of the Ultimate Crowdsourced Artistic Project

The past two weeks have seen a whirlwind of innovation in the music industry - everything from's $0.99 blowout offer for Lady Gaga's new album to Apple's decision to offer a cloud-based music offering. The biggest innovation yet, though, may be the new crowdsourced album project from the U.K.-based Kaiser Chiefs, which involves fans in not just producing completely bespoke versions of the album - but also rewarding them for distributing the album to their friends and followers across the Web. Instead of sharing profits with a middleman like or iTunes, the Kaiser Chiefs are sharing profits with their fans: £1 for every bespoke album sold.

Kaiser Chiefs Medieval Crowdsourcing, of course, is nothing new in the artistic space. Given the current state of the music industry, bands have been increasingly willing to cede some part of artistic control to their fans - but it's usually something like determining what the bonus track on the album should be, or maybe choosing which city they should tour to promote the album. This time, however, the Kaiser Chiefs are crowdsourcing the production, marketing and distribution of their new The Future is Medieval album to their fans -- and giving them an economic stake in the success of the album by ensuring that every album they help to sell results in cold hard cash deposited into that individual's PayPal account.

The process of jumping aboard the Kaiser Chiefs' profit train is relatively simple: the website walks you through each step of the process in a fun - almost whimsical - manner. First, you start by sampling about 60 seconds each of 20 new tracks that the Kaiser Chiefs created for the album. Based on these samples, you then mix together 10 of your favorite songs into one album. Next, you're asked to generate the artwork for the album by dragging and dropping images onto a digital canvas. After paying £7.50 (approximately $12.50 given today's dollar-pound exchange rate), you get a digital version of the album that you can download as a folder of MP3 files. Plus, you get access to banners and other creative assets that you can use to promote the album wherever you want on the Internet. And, yes, you can "like" your new album on Facebook and re-tweet it to your followers on Twitter.

This is clever on several different levels. The first, and most obvious level, is that it's no longer about just buying "the best song" on the album for $0.99 -- you're committing to the full album. Considering that the Kaiser Chiefs hadn't released an album in three years, this is somewhat of a risk. However, given that you have a choice of 20 different songs, it's not hard to find 10 that work together for your bespoke version of the album. Plus, assuming that you are passionate enough to sell 5-10 copies of the album to other friends, you can make back your investment relatively quickly. 48 hours after the release of the album, the best-selling version of the album has sold 67 copies.

The other level is that it puts fans to work on promoting and selling the album for you. It's like a giant Tupperware party on the Internet, only instead of selling Tupperware, you're selling digital music. Invite some friends over, let them listen to and sample the music, and encourage them to buy it. The more time and energy you spend on promoting the music, the more money you can make. Who needs the Corporate Middleman when you have people all over the world who could help you market, promote and distribute?

Obviously, this type of ultimate crowdsourced artistic project is not for everyone. Most bands don't have the prior track record of the Kaiser Chiefs, who sold millions of copies of their debut album and have had a #1 hit song in the U.K. By being willing to challenge the dominance of the digital music behemoth iTunes, though, the Kaiser Chiefs are making it easier for smaller, unsigned bands to make money - and for the music industry to regain its mojo. It used to be that the Long Tail was about the creation of content - now the Long Tail seemingly refers to the distribution and monetization of that content. The Kaiser Chiefs would say that The Future is Medieval, but it is actually the current music industry business model that is medieval.

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  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
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In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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