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Brain-to-Brain Interface in Rats
February 28, 2013 10:56 AM   Subscribe

"In a stunning first for neuroscience, researchers have created an electronic link between the brains of two rats, and demonstrated that signals from the mind of one can help the second solve basic puzzles in real time — even when those animals are separated by thousands of miles."
posted by sarastro (78 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Finally! I can escape this flesh prison and download myself into a solidly futureproof tamagotchi keychain!
posted by SharkParty at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great
posted by The Whelk at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was sitting around a room the other day with a bunch of plugged-in high-powered executive types, and they were talking so fast and using so much level 9 biz jargon that I felt like I was a monkey in a room of homo sapiens. Methods of communication change the hardware of our brains. We are a faster people than the people of 300 years ago. This is the next step. The people communicating seamlessly brain-to-brain 100 years from now will be so plugged into a network of information that they would be, essentially, the Singularity.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


That link is overloaded, at this moment, so here is another one.
posted by swlabr at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2013


I'm sending electronic impulses to let ya'll know how freaking excited this makes me. Hit the button on the right when you feel it.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The people communicating seamlessly brain-to-brain 100 years from now will be so plugged into a network of information that they would be, essentially, the Singularity.

And doubtless not really recognizable as individual people, cognitively.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:10 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the mysteries of local news site commentary are answered.
posted by twjordan at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is one I clicked first just because of the graphic. Hook me up. I'm ready.
posted by maggieb at 11:12 AM on February 28, 2013


All you need is a few hundred brain linked rats, a 3D printer making teeny AR15s, and "Boom goes the dynamite!" for New Zealand's cat problem.

The lead researcher's first name wouldn't happen to be Gareth, would it?
posted by Debaser626 at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hope they called one of the rats Joe 90.
posted by yoink at 11:15 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Nature news article article is better, and includes video.

Here is the actual paper. It's open access.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 11:15 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of a comment from Vinge's (of course) Marooned in Realtime -- something to the effect that individuality is inversely proportional to bandwidth.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:15 AM on February 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Let me just state in advance that once they adapt this technology to include humans, my scrap of brainpower will be 100% on the side of the massive collective human-animal hive mind and just as thoroughly opposed to the luddites who try to hold onto their so-called "individual" consciousness.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2013


so basically, if you're being hunted by a human-rat-machine collective bent on assimilating you, you should uh probably look elsewhere for help.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can anyone tell me where the lever is in the video? It's not clear to me the Decoder rat is ever making a choice.
posted by maryr at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2013


Let me just state in advance that once they adapt this technology to include humans, my scrap of brainpower will be 100% on the side of the massive collective human-animal hive mind and just as thoroughly opposed to the luddites who try to hold onto their so-called "individual" consciousness.

And as a bonus, if you get in trouble you can say that you were just following orders.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:32 AM on February 28, 2013


It's all fun and lever-pushing games until we accidentally resurrect the Rat King.
posted by BlueJae at 11:35 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought it said cats. So disappointed.
posted by Kabanos at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go ahead and get all plugged in, folks. As soon as you get completely wired up, I'll key in the killer joke, and then it'll finally all be over...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2013


The people communicating seamlessly brain-to-brain 100 years from now will be so plugged into a network of information that they would be, essentially, the Singularity.
And doubtless not really recognizable as individual people, cognitively.
It occurs to me that this is basically the apotheosis of the totalitarian dream, and it is making me kind of queasy to see anyone greet it with anything beyond dread.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:42 AM on February 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


no, but seriously. wow.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:43 AM on February 28, 2013


Looks like a foot pedal device to me, maryr.
posted by bonehead at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that this is basically the apotheosis of the totalitarian dream, and it is making me kind of queasy to see anyone greet it with anything beyond dread.

As with everything, it depends on the implementation. If it can be one-way (i.e. rich people sucking knowledge, experience and skills directly from poor people) then yes, that's a big problem. But if we are literally all in it together, it could be interesting.
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It occurs to me that this is basically the apotheosis of the totalitarian dream

What does this even mean, though? Wouldn't this assume that a hypothetical brain network would be hierarchical? It doesn't seem like that has to be the case to me, but maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

Anyway, I admit that I haven't read the paper yet, but I wouldn't be declaring Singularity just yet -- the Nature News article that Pre-Taped Call In Show linked upthread seems to be hinting pretty strongly that other neuroscientists think their conclusions are pretty over-sold for the data they actually have. Still an interesting result if it's indeed true.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2013


If you think I type too much now and say alarming things, just wait until I can type directly with my brain.
posted by loquacious at 11:50 AM on February 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nicodemus says this is all part of phase 3 of the plan. The owl says they've gone too far.
posted by humanfont at 11:50 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rupert Sheldrake, your office is calling...
posted by goethean at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2013


But if we are literally all in it together, it could be interesting.

Especially for those that choose to opt out.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I soo love this! Is this headed toward humans losing freedom? It's complicated.

There is nothing wrong with losing your privacy provided the powerful lose much more privacy. We should move towards a extremely transparent society where the powerful's actions instantly become matters of public record, ideally this should cover their thoughts as well. Anyone not wielding any power should ideally retain a measure of privacy in their thoughts and actions though. Is that division likely? Initially no, the powerful often manipulate early adoption of technology, but the blowback is a bitch. Any society that adopts this "privacy for the little guy but zero privacy for the powerful" will radically reduce many problems like corruption, making it more competitive.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2013


I suppose in the dystopian future many of us are imagining there will be two groups of people:
The willing and the unwilling made willing.

Muwhahahaha.
posted by dobie at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2013


I'm with you, saulgoodman - let's recite it together: Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2013


What does this even mean, though?

It potentially means the end of individual, differentiated identity, is what I think the original poster and myself are worrying about.

If all our individual minds are fully integrated, at a biological level with one another, there's no longer any individual identity to speak of, just a giant undifferentiated super-brain.

That's the totalitarian dream, isn't it? No individual differences? Every part of humanity working together seamlessly in service to the whole? Ugh. I'm creeped out just thinking about. And I'm a Buddhist, so I don't even believe in being too attached to the individual self.

Mainly, it just sounds so boring. (But luckily this tech is still a long way from that nightmare scenario--I realize that. It's just--ach!)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm picturing one of the rats sitting there thinking about punching himself and laughing.
posted by orme at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what are we going to do tonight Brain?
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 12:00 PM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Imagine implementing a memory server or figuring out a good security model for executing flesh scripts. Probably would need a machine intermediary. I don't know about ya'll but I've had difficulty compiling the mind-ssh module for my early 80's model brain.
posted by Mister Cheese at 12:00 PM on February 28, 2013


Especially for those that choose to opt out.

I was going to say, it sounds like the ultimate Facebook. In both the good and bad senses.

However, I don't see why being able to exchange information brain to brain is going to erase individual differences like everyone here is saying. We already do it with paper and speech and we are still individuals, more or less.
posted by DU at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is going to have interesting implications for encrypted communication.
posted by carter at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is nothing wrong with losing your privacy provided the powerful lose much more privacy.
There are things wrong with losing freedom, even if the 'more powerful' are also losing freedom. Also, this relies on a really unexamined and simplistic definition of 'power'.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Individual differences and privacy seemingly contribute enormously to scientific and technological progress though, saulgoodman. You'd therefore keep them around for economic reasons, at least amongst your technical class. It's the managerial class who's privacy creates economic inefficiencies like corruption.

Would North Korea possible without 20th century mass communication technologies? I donno, maybe not. Yet, their asinine repressive state has thoroughly prevented them from participating in the modern world. America's corporatism will ultimately doom it, provided anyone else implements tools to better limit corruption.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2013


Awesome man, why do rats get all the good stuff first?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't see why being able to exchange information brain to brain is going to erase individual differences like everyone here is saying. We already do it with paper and speech and we are still individuals, more or less.

Too slow.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:20 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, imagine a Beowulf cluster.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was sitting around a room the other day with a bunch of plugged-in high-powered executive types, and they were talking so fast and using so much level 9 biz jargon that I felt like I was a monkey in a room of homo sapiens.

Not... the other way around? Like the sole human in a room of screeching monkeys or parrots mindlessly repeating their stock phrase?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:28 PM on February 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh gosh. What if they do this with 50 rat brains, and we discover it makes them super smart, being a mind. Then the rats start wiring up other rats. I've seen their little ratty hands . . . Sure, they lack a thumb but are still quite dexterous and can manipulate object with their tiny fingers. I had a pet rat when I was a kid who used to scoop water up with her little hands and drink it from her cupped palm . . . She used to break out of her cage at night to come hang out with me in bed. (waking up with little feet padding across your face for the first time is an "interesting" experience.) Locks couldn't contain her; the only thing that worked in the end was just piling rocks on the top of her cage.

They're already super smart. The last thing we need to do is short circuit the need for language with direct communications.

It will be "The Secret Of NIHM 2, Cyber Rats: The Killening"
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:28 PM on February 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


What if they do this with 50 rat brains, and we discover it makes them super smart, being a mind. Then the rats start wiring up other rats.


Forty two.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:33 PM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I said privacy, not freedom. If you've less privacy, but technology plus transparency laws remove significantly more privacy from more powerful actors, then you gain freedom because they cannot abuse their authority nearly so easily. You saw DOJ admitted that Aaron Swartz prosecution was politically motivated, right?

It's critical authorities lose more privacy and that laws remain vaguely sensible. At present, we're allowing our governments and companies to keep spectacular numbers of secrets, but a serious transparency movement is plausible. At present, we're also creating spectacularly stupid technology laws, ala the CFAA, DMCA, copyright, etc., but again change remains possible. There is an awfully long road from "rats communicate" to "everyone implants their mobile phone", plenty of time for the blowback to current abuses.

Also, freedom is ultimately an economics tool that keeps a society moving forwards technologically and culturally. America might well take the North Korean path by monitoring all its citizens thoughts, while authorities grow increasingly corrupt. I'd expect many countries should avoid that fate however, provided we avoid world government of course.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:34 PM on February 28, 2013


Yeah, the Human Beowulf cluster is exactly where you want this to go.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:35 PM on February 28, 2013


It occurs to me that this is basically the apotheosis of the totalitarian dream

Gosh I don't want to spoil Hannu Rajaniemi's amazing trilogy in the making too much, but if you have concerns with the political implications of the Singularity, you should probably check it out.
posted by mek at 12:54 PM on February 28, 2013


It occurs to me that this is basically the apotheosis of the totalitarian dream

It occurs to me that it's much, much more complicated than that. We have all the technology in place already for any grimdark meathook totalitarian fantasy (or rainbowbrite fluffybunny total utopia fantasy), and we've had it for decades and decades. Yet, we're in a world with grimdark bits and rather nice ones, all mixed up together. This leads me to suspect that the technology (even exotic technologies of the self, like this one) are not actually determinative.

I think in this conversation, we're trading on ideas of what it means to be a person that don't actually hold up in reality, and that the discomfort we're feeling over technology that sends messages directly between brains is the discomfort of being forced to confront the idea that our individual, distinct, self-determining selves have never been what we thought they were.

Say the human-animal-machine hivemind comes to pass, the wired-together world that I (horrifyingly) would actually prefer to the conventional death of my individual consciousness. I suppose the goal of the set of memories and actions associated previously associated with "me," in their new context, would be to be interesting or useful enough for the hivemind to occasionally refer to my routines. "ah, we can solve this problem by doing something You Can't Tip a Buick-ish" or "it might be fun to think about this in a You Can't Tip a Buick way" or "when considering this ethical question, I think it behooves us to go about this like You Can't Tip a Buick."

It occurs to me that this is how individuals already set many of their social goals.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:12 PM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Key phrase from the paper:

decoder rats were trained to become proficient while receiving ICMS as a stimulus.


In other words, 'decoder' is misleading. The receiving rats had already been trained to respond in a particular way to a brain zap, and then that zap was derived from another rat. The receiving rat was not interpreting the signal from the sending rat, just responding to pulses delivered to one section of its brain of a kind which it had already been trained to respond to.

posted by Segundus at 1:16 PM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Say the human-animal-machine hivemind comes to pass, the wired-together world that I (horrifyingly) would actually prefer to the conventional death of my individual consciousness.
the thing about power is that shortly after this starts up, you stop getting a choice
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:18 PM on February 28, 2013


That happens in conventional death, too.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:20 PM on February 28, 2013


moreover, choice? Is "choice" what we do when we're out here human-ing? We choose from a wide range of options as free, distinct, self-determining individuals?

are you kidding?!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


WE3 is gonna happen in real life before the movie comes out at this rate.
posted by cmoj at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody give the rats tiny MP-35s.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2013


yeah but I don't see you racing towards death for the sake of being an organ donor

and sure, volition may be a polite fiction

it's the fiction that human rights and consent are founded upon, though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2013


man, if it were remotely possible to back up my memories and characteristic behavior patterns, I would copy them everywhere, and if I can donate them to a hivemind, hell yes I'm gonna. I don't rush to donate organs because I don't think organ donation makes the world more me, but I do think making my memories and characteristic behavior patterns more widespread does make the world more me. and I like making the world more me.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:32 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


and I like making the world more me.
correct: there is also the problem of cultural imperialism as enhanced by new technologies
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every part of humanity working together seamlessly in service to the whole? Ugh. I'm creeped out just thinking about. And I'm a Buddhist, so I don't even believe in being too attached to the individual self.

I'm not a Buddhist, but I've done a little meditation. I don't think I would even describe my own unitary brain as "working together seamlessly in service to the whole." And then if I imagine, say, wiring my fiancee's mind in so we can make every single decision as a couple? I'm not sure "totalitarian apotheosis" would quite capture the results.
posted by jhc at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


No, your thoughts aren't being broadcast to the neighborhood, now go take your medicine. Oh wait a second...
posted by bookman117 at 1:44 PM on February 28, 2013


The decoding rat still had to be trained to push the correct lever via reward.

It's more crude ESP than crude mind-control at this point.
posted by RobotHero at 1:49 PM on February 28, 2013


I don't know, I think whether or not this technology - which I feel like I have to note is still completely hypothetical even given the results of this paper - would be likely to lead to a totalitarian wet dream (or a communitarian or anarchist one, for that matter) depends so much on the specific implementation and how it is regulated that we probably can't say very much with confidence in the abstract case.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's good if the potential encourages people to agitate for stronger transparency laws and privacy protections. All my blind optimism up thread should not detract from anyone's fears about how brain invasive technology might be abused, but instead suggest that activism might pay off even bigger.

In that vein, RSA designer Adi Shamir recently said to prepare for a "post-cryptography" world, although mostly he's talking about valuable targets.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:13 PM on February 28, 2013


I guess the reason why I went full-on devil's advocate here (though, um, I am out about how I would genuinely prefer not to die, so I'm not entirely playing devil's advocate), uh, I guess the reason why I am so crotchety on this thread is because I think a lot of people think of finding ways to say "this technology could be totalitarian!!" as the essence of studying technology in society, when really it's a way to evade studying technology in society.

(And yeah, this thing isn't actually any meaningful merger of minds, right? It's just a buzzer and a controller for that buzzer, with the only twist being that both the controller and the buzzer are inside the heads of the rats, rather than outside. Right?)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:24 PM on February 28, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick, you are such a selfish gene.
posted by capgrassyndrome at 2:41 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


>And doubtless not really recognizable as individual people, cognitively

I'm not sure individual brains can rigorously be defined as individual people in many ways, even when contained in one skull. We contain multitudes.

I'm furious at my multitudes for blanking on the author and title, but I am half-remembering a book discussing how dissociative identity disorder is a spectrum and while few of us are so far on one side of it to have named separate personalities etc, most of us have edged towards disassociation during some trauma or another in our lives.

Beyond straight-up DID, there's such sundry phenomenon as acting differently around different people, or changes due to experience over time. Hell, I'm a different person than I was this morning, because I've learned a number of things.

Further down the rabbit hole we have the relatively recent scientific evidence that decisions are made by our brains before we're consciously aware of them; this dethrones rationality as sitting at the top of the mental heap. It's perhaps evolutionary the latest tool, a feedback loop through which decisions can be evaluated, but not necessarily (at least directly) through which decisions can be made. Who am I if "I" am not the one making the decisions, but some chump who's cobbling some epistemologically rickety ex post facto narrative of some other (subconscious? unconscious?) processes' output.

Norman Mailer calls writing the spooky art. Where does what we write come from? I am (or, light of Douglas Hofstadter, the I is) watching these thoughts come together, feeling the fingers type. "I" have vague intuitions about what the next few points will be, but their rhetorical shape isn't known until I see it typed out. Perhaps I'm alone in thinking so, but there's something odd about not knowing what I'm going to do until I do it in any degree. At least, it seems weird from the hypothesis that identity, agency, volition and rationality (perhaps ability to rationalize?) are one and the same. At least I gather that's the hypothesis. Criminal culpability is founded upon free will. Isn't a material universe fundamentally a deterministic one, whether we can calculate the outcome of complicated phenomena or not? (quantum indeterminacy doesn't materially affect emergent macroscopic phenomena).

Figuring out what identity (I-ness) is gets pretty complicated. Of course, you can say that one "I" == one soul and be done with it if that's what gets you through the night.
posted by wires at 3:19 PM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Relax, for crying out loud.

Resistance is futile.

Now, let me talk to 7/9.
posted by mule98J at 3:45 PM on February 28, 2013


Resistance is futile.

I've always wondered how the Borg can continue on. I mean, assuming that the collective is the sum of all its parts, wouldn't they eventually assimilate enough individuals who didn't want to be assimilated so that the collective would decide to stop doing it or maybe even disband altogether?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:58 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other words, 'decoder' is misleading. The receiving rats had already been trained to respond in a particular way to a brain zap, and then that zap was derived from another rat. The receiving rat was not interpreting the signal from the sending rat, just responding to pulses delivered to one section of its brain of a kind which it had already been trained to respond to.

Indeed. This experiment seems equivalent to training a "decoder" dog to salivate when it hears a bell, and then having a computer ring the bell when the "encoder" dog is eating food. Oh no wait it has to be more groundbreaking, so we'll measure whether dog A is eating with a DIGITAL BRAIN IMPLANT! and we'll transmit the audio bell to the other dog with a DIGITAL BRAIN IMPLANT!

So yeah, it's basically telepathy and a cure for paralysis all-in-one.
posted by crayz at 5:35 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Among the lofty talk of agency and volition here, I can't help but imagine spam beamed directly into my mind at 2:30 in the morning while I try and fail yet again to get some sleep.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:20 PM on February 28, 2013


Yeah, they missed that "beamed directly into your mind" part in Black Mirror episode #2, but really you should never blame a television show or movie for a its lack of imagination.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick, you are such a selfish gene.

I prefer to think of myself as a process that wants to be really persistent.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:29 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Morphogenic fields are real.
posted by Folly at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2013


I prefer to think of myself as a process that wants to be really persistent.

Not nice.
posted by benzenedream at 6:53 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


and sure, volition may be a polite fiction

I'm still convinced that limited volition is not a polite fiction; it's real, just more complicated and probably with a much larger unconscious component than we typically imagine. We see measurable differences in behavior, for instance, based on beliefs, expectations, and other non-deterministic factors. Sometimes we're freer than others, sure, but there's still plenty of room for meaningful agency. If there isn't, it doesn't matter anyway and never did, so in that scenario, who cares? The only scenario worth caring about is the one in which we do have agency, even if limited and imperfect.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:19 PM on March 1, 2013


Yawn

The guy in that video already hooked up two human brains over the internet. Albeit, in a much simpler manner.
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:23 AM on March 2, 2013


Critical review with a response in comments from a member of the Nicolelis lab.
posted by Segundus at 1:37 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yorkshire Pigs Control Computer Gear With Brain Waves
posted by homunculus at 3:23 PM on March 5, 2013


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