Manic Fringe

Luc

The personal blog of the one and only Luc Gendrot. Internet Superhero. Not really.

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Rat Brain technologies push brain interfaces leagues forward

Human-rat "telepathy" in action

I have a--probably unhealthy--obsession with superpowers of the mind. Characters like Professor X and Jean Grey from X-men are most often my favorites. That’s why I get so excited when I see breakthroughs like the following ones involving rat brains from the last few months:

Scientists move a live mouse’s tail using only their brain

Scientists have tentatively bridged the gap between the brains of other species and our own in this new interface that allows them to cause a rat’s tail to move involuntarily. The human is hooked up to an EEG to measure their brain activity, and a device that utilizes focused ultrasound allowing researchers to stimulate the motor cortex of the rat directly and noninvasively.

So while this might more accurately be called human-computer-rat telepathy, it still seems to herald a promising new age of neural technologies. Which is cool. Ever being the technolgical optimist I can totally envision a future where predecessor technologies allow you to use your Google Glass mounted NeuroConnect™ module to turn on your roomba (or control your personal robot assistant, but I’m not that optimistic) as soon as you think about it on your drive home from work.

Maybe I should write science fiction...

Rats help each other to solve puzzles telepathically

This one is even cooler for me because I also have a penchant for stories that involve hive-minds.

Neuroscientists at Duke university managed to connect two rats together using a BCBI (Brain Computer Brain interface). The interface measures neuronal stimulation as an “encoder” rat solves a puzzle wherein it has to press a lever, as it solves that puzzle correctly, the rat is rewarded and the signal recorded was sent to either the “decoder” rat’s sensory cortex or its motor cortex (in two separate trial experiments).

Astonishingly the transfer of information between the two rats, mediated by the BCBI, allowed the decoder rats to perform previously unencountered problems and solve them about 67% of the time. Enough to be statistically relevant, and enough to make this humble biology student say “HOLY CRAP THATS COOL.”

I must have read it somewhere, but I remember reading that they’re working on connecting more than two mice together. Again always the optimist but I imagine a world where people can perhaps temporarily join “neural nets” of people all connected to one another with this technology, using their collective pool of knowledge and experience to solve complex heuristic problems. Imagine if we coupled this technology with a more advanced form of the non-invasive focused ultrasound we mentioned above? There are a lot of potential applications for technology like this.

Obviously the complexities still need to be fleshed out before this becomes anywhere near commercial. Between developing more precise data collection techniques, and determining how to connect larger areas of the brain using larger arrays of microelectrodes, and perhaps perfecting non-invasive techniques for neuronal stimulation, among a slew of other hurdles. This sort of technology seeing the consumer is probably quite a ways off, but as with all things technological we stand to be pleasantly surprised by human innovation, if Moore’s law stays true to its conclusions.

References

Duke University Medical Center (2013, February 28). Brain-to-brain interface allows transmission of tactile and motor information between rats. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/02/130228093823.htm

Yoo S-S, Kim H, Filandrianos E, Taghados SJ, Park S (2013) Non-Invasive Brain-to-Brain Interface (BBI): Establishing Functional Links between Two Brains. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60410. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060410

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