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Neuroscientists Wire Two Rats’ Brains Together And Watch Them Trade Thoughts

One rat, presented with a task, completes it using only the thoughts transmitted from another rat's brain


Building on years of experience trying to wire animal’s brains into machines, Duke’s Miguel Nicolelis decided to up his game, devising a scheme to wire two rat’s brains into one another. The two rats, kept in separate cages, could only communicate via electrode. One rat, taught to do a task, passed electrically-captured brain signals directly into the cranium of another rat.

The second rat completed the same task without ever being taught, relying on nothing more than the transmitted electrical signals, says Wired:

When it received this stimulation, the second rat’s performance climbed to 60 or 70 percent. That’s not nearly as good as the rats who could actually use their sense of touch to solve the problem, but it’s impressive given that the only information they had about which spot to chose came from another animal’s brain, Nicolelis says.

The new research, explained by Nicolelis in the video above, provides a glimpse of a potentially very odd future when combined with other nascent technologies. But  the University of Pittsburgh’s Andrew Schwartz, “a pioneer in patient brain-computer interface,” warned Technology Review not to get too excited just yet:

“The binary decisions made in the rat tests are not up-to-speed with what brain-computer interfaces can do these days…

It may sound like ‘mental telepathy’ and therefore seem exciting, but when looked at more carefully, it is very simplistic,” he wrote. “As a communication channel, you could think of a locked-in patient trying to communicate by blinking, where a blink means yes and no blink mean no.  This kind of information could be conveyed by recording from a single neuron in one rat and buzzing electrical current in the receiver rat. If the rat feels the buzz, it means yes, no buzz means no.

But here’s how Nicolelis hopes this work will develop, according to Technology Review:

But Nicolelis sees this demonstration as the beginning of a new line of research that could lead to a new form of computing. He says his lab is working on “swarms” of rats that could share motor and sensory information via brain-to-brain interfaces. “If you put brains together, you could create a more powerful non-Turing machine, an organic computer that computes by experience, by heuristic,” he says. “That could be a very interesting architecture to explore.”

So it seems that our technological future may be one that includes a race of Rat Borg. May they live long and prosper.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Technology Allows Paralyzed Rat to Walk Upright

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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