Electronic Brain Link Lets Rats Send Each Other Thoughts

| 28 Feb 2013 22:12
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Scientists have allowed rats to turn their thoughts into direct messages.

For every ounce of wonder and knowledge the field of neuroscience gives us humans, it could be reasonably argued that it gives the rodent world twice the amount in nightmares. In a fresh twist on this theme, a team from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina has done something wonderful, albeit confusing, for our small and furry friends: They have managed to allow two rats to communicate directly over thousands of miles using cables implanted into their brains.

Detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, the brain-link works by patching into the sensory- and motor-sensitive parts of the rats' brains and then linking them up, allowing the two creatures to share information from those signals with one another. The patching-in is done with an array of microelectrodes, each measuring roughly one hundredth of the diameter of a human hair, implanted directly into the brain.

The scientists behind it demonstrated the effectiveness of the system using a fairly simple-sounding experiment. Two rats were stationed in boxes that contained two switches, two lights, and a water bottle. The switches were located beneath the lights. Rat A, the encoder (sender of information), was trained to know that pressing one of the two switches when the light above it was illuminated would earn it a sip of water from the bottle. Rat B, the decoder (receiver of information), was not given this information; additionally, its box didn't have the handy-hint lights fitted to the box of Rat A. For added assistance, a feedback system that denied Rat A its water if Rat B chose the wrong switch was also put in place. Simple, right?

Here's the cool bit: When the two rats were hooked up with a brain-link, the scientists found that Rat B was able to learn the behavior needed to get sips from the water bottle using only information passed on from the brain of Rat A. With no assistance from its minders and no hints from the lights above the switches, Rat B was able to hit the right switch at the right time and earn itself a drink around 70% of the time.

To further prove their point, the team then repeated the experiment using one rat housed in North Carolina and a partner rat housed at the University of Natal in Brazil. As before, the decoder rat was able to pick the right water-switch thanks to its handy brain-link with the trained encoder rat.

"[It] takes about 45 days of training an hour a day [to get the experiment to work]," said Professor Miguel Nicolelis, who led the team behind the brain-cable. "There is a moment in time when... it clicks. Suddenly the [decoder] animal realizes: 'Oops! The solution is in my head. It's coming to me' and he gets it right."

Depending on how you feel about biotechnology and the future of human communication, it might be that you're thinking this could be a useful thing for human beings to become involved with. If so, and provided non-invasive techniques for getting deeply involved with human brains are possible, Nicolelis has good news on for you: "We will have a way to exchange information across millions of people without using keyboards or voice recognition devices or the type of interfaces that we normally use today," he said.

"I truly believe that in a few decades... we will know what it is to communicate in that way," concluded Nicolelis.

Can you imagine that? The mind (privately, for the moment) boggles. It's tempting to wonder how the rats are taking this; can they sense the other rat, or do they just feel their limbs moving towards the right switch? Either way, your sacrifice in the name of the human networks of the future will not be forgotten, cable-brain-rats. Enjoy the water while it lasts.

Source: BBC

Image: Duke University Medical Center

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Hevva:

"[It] takes about 45 days of training an hour a day [to get the experiment to work]," said Professor Miguel Nicolelis, who led the team behind the brain-cable. "There is a moment in time when... it clicks. Suddenly the [decoder] animal realizes: 'Oops! The solution is in my head. It's coming to me' and he gets it right."

No one finds this part a little sketchy?

We sure this place isn't called NIMH or something?

holy skritt telekinetic rats!

I for one welcome our new hive minded rat overlords

Sounds cool, but which part of the brain are they sending the signals from/into? I need to know whether I should grab my tinfoil hat now, or if the link just allows a share in ideas.

Zombie_Moogle:

Halyah:

Zombie_Moogle:

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku put it really well (I'm gonna paraphrase): We're starting to develop technology that'd qualify as "futuristic" (Long story how they judge this, but a fascinating concept). The question is, do we use this technology to make everyone's life better, or do like we've done throughout history & kill each other with it?

I'm hoping for the former

It will be both. Much like rocketry gave us access to space at last, it is also a tool that has been used to kill who knows how many people by now. The question is if someone steps in to put in restrictions and laws that prevents someone from abusing this on too big a scale as a complete prevention is ultimately impossible. As they say... it'll get worse before it gets better.

Very true, there will be those that abuse the technology. I don't think laws will be what prevents a catastrophic event as a result of these advancements though. Example: people pirate software & hack computers, so governments respond with bills like SOPA, which contains restrictions that could theoretically break the entire internet. More likely, the exponential increase in availability of information will allow people to better protect themselves against such threats. Maybe that's simplistic, but as a fan of open source software, I can say it's worked out pretty well so far.
I genuinely cannot wait to see how data encryption would work. Would we even need to? Can the data within an organic storage medium (brain) be directly translated to/from digital technology? Every brain works slightly different, so would our best line of defense be our own mental instability? All exciting questions I would love to see answered, for better or worse

Currently no we can't exchange data from organic to digital in a same way you'd do it from one computer to another. That is something that is in the process of being bridged as we speak. One need simply check out the latest advances in prosthesis technology and other various cybernetics to see just how far along it has gotten already. Deus Ex? It's soon a reality. A matter of decades at most. Maybe less, maybe more. That said how easy it'll be to manipulate someone with something like this comes down to how different a single human brain is from another and the factors involved.

Pinkamena:

Ldude893:
I'm just going to take a wild guess here:
One is a genius; the other's insane.

Absolutely brilliant.
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Hey nice picture of a clapping rat you have there >_<

Callate:
Simply put:

"You wouldn't be concerned about a neural uplink unless you had something to hide, Mr. Johnson."

no. i'm concerned about such a thing because why should i trust the people who build the tech, put it in my brain, and run it? think about the Internet, and how occasionally things go wrong. do you want that to be your brain?

but i agree, rats don't mean humans. this is so far from the point of humans it isn't worth worrying about.

feel bad for the rats though. its a little sick to do that to living things.

doggie015:

bladester1:
Adapting this to humans would be suuuch a grea idea, rolls eyes. All you need is one hacker to fuck people up...

All it takes is one rouge mind and...
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People can turn you quite literally into a human proxy... If it goes to humans I am NEVER getting this augmentation without assurances that it cannot act as an implanted hack-wire

Direct intervention is nesicary

But seriously, this is slightly frightening

Whatever technology comes from this could be the most awesome teaching tool ever. Imagine a world were everybody knows everything. Schools could be put out of use and the unemployment problem would be solved forever.

Simply put:

"You wouldn't be concerned about a neural uplink unless you had something to hide, Mr. Johnson."

The worst case scenario always starts off innocent just like this did: Seeing what's possible and learning things. When this becomes sufficiently advanced, abuse will be a reality in the form of forcing people to agree with your politics. Do you want to take the chance that this is going to be your opponents? The only way to safely ensure this technology is not abused is to use it to prevent people from abusing it. You might think I'm putting the horse way ahead of the cart here but what if I'm right? You wouldnt want your opponents using this to take your free will and thats why its just as wrong if you want to use it against them. It only makes sense to have this conversation now so noone can use ambiguity to legalise slavery.

This was in RATS. Not humans. Temper your expectations a little.

I understand it's an awesome idea, and all the things you could do with it, but also understand that a Rat and a human are two very different things. Whether or not it can even work, what unintended consequences it will almost undoubtedly have, how insanely expensive it'll be to research, and the very good possibility that the only thought we will be able to transfer is "EAT POTATO". Never mind trying to send thoughts cross-species, or if the human brain even processes thoughts the same way as Rats.

I'd be surprised if we've done anything with this in 100 years.

*Side note, How exactly are these scientists getting funding for these kind of projects? Do we just hand out free money to any idiot that says "Hey let's stick a wire in two rat brains and see what happens"?

This is pretty cool :P
Thinking multiplayer in real life xD

this is the plot of a fair few post-apocalypse pieces of media (www.romanticallyapocalyptic.com) just saying. though I am sure it would have it's uses, I wouldn't connect to a network with it. I just know someone would put pornography over my vision or something like that.

tangoprime:
What if those 5 kilo rats plaguing Tehran get a hold of this technology?

Heh, I was going to mention the same thing. I can imagine this technology could be used to make a private rat army.

Ldude893:
I'm just going to take a wild guess here:
One is a genius; the other's insane.

Absolutely brilliant.
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Old Father Eternity:

6th And Silver:

bladester1:
Adapting this to humans would be suuuch a grea idea, rolls eyes. All you need is one hacker to fuck people up...

I agree completely. We should also never ever use scissors, because all it takes is one person to stab someone with them. *rolls eyes harder*

Actually that is a valid concern if this tech advances along the lines of cerebral implants or prolonged interaction sessions with devices akin VR or what ever you may have at that point. If someone figures out how to use the system to manipulate the minds of the people connected to it, then the consequences can be disastrous. This has potential to be more akin to wmd's than a single lunatic running around with a knife or a rifle for that matter.

My point was that just about anything CAN be hazardous in the wrong hands. But that doesn't mean we should just ignore the potential practical uses of a particular technology, it just means we have to carful about implementing it.

And if we're talking about "weapons of mass destruction", then I'll give you another example: The fact that 9/11 happened does not mean that airplanes are a bad idea.

What if those 5 kilo rats plaguing Tehran get a hold of this technology?

Um...

Should I be afraid? On another thread I likened the psionic ability of Telepathy to radio communication since both utilize similar electrophysics...even theorizing that something like this could be used except using remote links not a direct electrical connection.

So...when are we going to utilize superconductor elctromagnetism technology to emulate Telekinesis by creating a rig that allows us to control objects with magnetism via mental stimulation?

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