Linking Two Brains via the Internet
OK, my mind is officially blown. Science is just so freaking cool.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened. Researchers in Brazil read the brain state of a rat, transmitted that information via the internet to North Carolina and used it to stimulate another rat’s brain, which then performed the task shown to the first rat in Brazil.
In one experiment, the researchers trained two rats to push a lever when a light flashed. Apparently several levers were linked to different lights.
They separated the rats and inserted various electronics into their brains. Then they flashed a light for one of the rats. That rats brain state was being encoded and sent to the other rat. It had to depend on the visual information from the brain of the first rat to know which lever to push to get the reward.
It gets better. The first rat didn’t get a reward if the 2nd rat pushed the wrong lever. The communication became two way. The first rat modified it’s behaviors and brain function to help the 2nd rat get the right lever.
Now, neither of the rats was saying, “I’m going to modify my brain function to get that treat.” What probably happened was the 1st rat was expecting a reward. When the reward didn’t appear, it repeated the behavior, maybe in a slightly different way. Like a small child who almost got something right, it tried harder. My speculation would be that more focus on the task would result in a ‘cleaner’ mind state sent to the receiving rat.
It’s like humans, we do some things so often, we don’t even think about it… until we’re forced to. For example, going to pee is easy. Going to pee with a broken wrist requires some thinking and focus.
The second experiment involved rats using their whiskers to measure the size of an opening. That information was then transmitted from a rat in Brazil to a rat in North Carolina who performed a task based on the size of the opening.
One, very fascinating thing, that the researchers found was that the receiving rat’s brain actually changed. The 2nd rat’s brain actually created a second “whisker pattern” in its brain that responded to the 1st rat and not its own whiskers.
Basically, your brain has a representation of you in it. That representation is linked to all the sensory nerves in your body. That’s how you know when someone pokes you in the leg or in the hand. Rats’ whiskers are connected to sensory nerves and, some time ago, researchers had mapped the whisker pattern in the rats brain.
But the rat in North Carolina built (for lack of a better term) a second mental map for a set of whiskers. Only it was the set of whiskers of a rat on another continent connected to it by the internet. Yes, the brain maps were sent via the internet.
The rat’s brain was plastic enough (a technical term meaning that the brain can change) to accommodate a complete second set of whiskers.
These experiments were done with only a few thousand neurons mapped in the brain. The researchers are hoping for an order of magnitude increase in the amount of mapped neurons in the next few years.
The researchers are also considering whether this could develop into an organic computer system. There’s nothing in the knowledge or technology that would prevent multiple animals from being linked in an organic social computing network.
The researchers are looking at this to help paralyzed people learn to walk or control exoskeltons.
Personally, I can’t wait to learn Kung Fu via download. The only problem I see is some one hacking into a system like this and just programming humans to be smart bombs or religious zealots. The science fiction novel Helm, by Steven Gould (not THAT Stephen Gould) talks about some of this kind of technology and uses for bad and good.