Researchers Connect Rats' Minds Via Internet | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Researchers Connect Rats' Minds Via Internet

An experiment that used rats to create a "brain-to-brain interface" shows that instructions can be transferred between animals via electronic signals and the Internet, according to scientists who studied how rats can use brain implants to share problem-solving information.

The research could be used to create "novel types of social interaction and for biological computing devices," lead scientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University writes in his summary of the study, published in Scientific Reports.

In the study, researchers trained rats to perform simple tasks to receive a reward based on either visual or physical stimuli. Scientists then implanted microelectrodes in the brains of the animals, which were split into "encoder" and "decoder" groups.

In one experiment, rats were shown a single light that indicated which of two levers to press for a drink of water. When it performed the task, signals were sent to another rat's brain in an identical cage, where the animal was shown two lights and two levers. The "decoding" rats were able to make the right choice more than 60 percent of the time.

A similar test was conducted using an "encoder" rat in Brazil, paired with a "decoder" rat in Durham, N.C., via an Internet connection.

The "rat mind-meld" experiment has met with some skepticism. For instance, neuroscientist Bijan Pesaran of New York University tells Wired that he'd "really be impressed" if the rats learned how to achieve a better success rate.

A similar idea occurs to University of Pittsburgh neurobiologist Andrew Schwartz, who tells science writer Ed Yong, "Although this may sound like 'mental telemetry', it was a very simple demonstration of binary detection and binary decision-making."

That's not quite the same, he says, as a continuous mind-to-mind connection.

If that thought makes you worry that rats might someday use the technology to work against humankind, professor Christopher James, from Britain's University of Warwick, says you can relax.

"We are far from a scenario of well-networked rats around the world uniting to take us over, the stimulation is crude and specific," he tells The Daily Mail.

The lead researcher, Nicolelis, tells Ed Yong that he's working to link together the brains of more than two animals — and that he'll soon begin experimenting with monkeys, which could "control virtual avatars and combine their brain activity to play a game together," Yong writes.

"Rats don't have a sense of self so it's hard to say what the effect on the animals are," Nicolellis says, "but monkeys can collaborate in a much more complex way."

The possibility of connecting brains with computers is a hallmark of Nicolelis' work. He has previously tested ways to connect monkeys' brains with robotic arms. And he hopes to create a body suit that could allow paralyzed people to gain full mobility. His lab has received $26 million in funding from DARPA — the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — Reuters reports.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

For The Autumnal Equinox, A Poem As Chilling As The Fall Weather

Tuesday is the first day of fall. This time of year reminds critic Abigail Deutsch of Stephen Dobyns' "How to Like It" — a poem about a man who ponders his lost summers and fleeting dreams.
NPR

Keeping Heirloom Apples Alive Is 'Like A Chain Letter' Over Many Centuries

Scott Farm in Vermont grows 100 apple varieties, some of them dating back to the 1700s. These apples may not look as pretty as the Red Delicious, but what they lack in looks they make up for in taste.
WAMU 88.5

New Anthony Brown Video Accuses Opponent Of 'Hiding' And 'Lying"

Democrat Anthony Brown unveiled a new web video today alleging that Republican Larry Hogan is "hiding" his positions on contentious issues like abortion and gun control.
NPR

Retailers' Customers Cautioned As Cyber Attacks Continue

Home Depot says some 56 million card holders were possibly compromised in a cyber attack. It says there's no evidence that debit PIN numbers were comprised or that the breach affected online shoppers.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.