Jul
09
2008

The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What's an amazing thought!

posted on Sun, 08/17/2008 - 5:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

cyborg monkeys are evil

posted on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 9:14pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options