Simian Cybernetics
July 10, 2004 12:23 AM   Subscribe

Brain implants 'read' monkey minds. (No, not that monkey mind.) A group of CalTech neuroscientists have been able to predict the actions of monkeys by observing neural activity in the parietal and premotor cortices related to planning and motivation (PDF.) Other research previously allowed monkeys to control a robotic arm with their minds; this observed the higher-level goal and value signals, and could lead to more natural thought-activated prosthetic devices for people with paralysis. [Via MonkeyFilter.]
posted by homunculus (29 comments total)

 
So, how long -- with this research -- before we welcome our cyborg monkey overlords?
posted by delmoi at 12:29 AM on July 10, 2004


This is very interesting. Soon we will able to watch TV and change channels without any physical activity whatsoever. Except for the fights that will ensue from the constant switching, that is.
posted by y2karl at 12:42 AM on July 10, 2004


So, how long -- with this research -- before we welcome our cyborg monkey overlords?

I don't know. The filthy monkeys don't tell me their plans. It could be anytime and anywhere.
posted by homunculus at 12:45 AM on July 10, 2004


Except for the fights that will ensue from the constant switching

Surely we'll have mind-controlled Battlebots to do the fighting for us.
posted by homunculus at 12:47 AM on July 10, 2004


I look forward to the day I can throw this keyboard awa^W^W^W^W^W^W^W I LOVE MY KEYBOARD! IT IS BEST KEYBOARD IN ALL WORLD!
posted by Basalisk at 1:07 AM on July 10, 2004


Some monkeys' just scrawl what they're thinking on the wall: "MONKEY HATE CLEAN."
posted by josephtate at 1:53 AM on July 10, 2004


I liked Yahoo's headling best - "Monkey mind control study raises hopes"

It certainly raises my hopes of forming an army of subservient simians who will, at my command, issue forth from the depths of my secret volcano layer and cast down all those who oppose m...oops, I've said too much.
posted by TungstenChef at 2:49 AM on July 10, 2004


It's worth noting that the logical endpoint of this research (realtime molecular-level monitoring of everything that goes on within the brain) utterly destroys nearly every religion out there - if it can be conclusively proven that humans are essentially deterministic ongoing chemical reactions, then the concept of a metaphysical soul or spirit which exert some influence on your actions is removed from possibility.
posted by Ryvar at 3:58 AM on July 10, 2004


Should also note that, if proven, this destroys the notions of free will, and with it guilt or personal responsibility as well - people wouldn't good or bad, nor are they even making decisions (being chemical reactions they never actually choose anything) - some just have flawed neural topologies.
posted by Ryvar at 4:03 AM on July 10, 2004


And flawed neural topolgies must, of course, be used to set an example to other equally flawed nerual topologies.

Free will can mean different things.
posted by spazzm at 4:21 AM on July 10, 2004


*sigh* Some people just HAVE to conflate science and religion.

Sorry Ryvar, you're flat out wrong. No matter what scientific proof you pull out, all I have to say to trump it is "God made it that way by acting at a level that we we cannot (and possibly never will be able to) detect. You see, that's why it's called faith, it's by nature unfalsifiable.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:22 AM on July 10, 2004


See this excellent Wired article for a discussion of the same question but with cosmological constants. I don't know about the more literalist faiths, but the Catholic church would have no problem with this. I think this was linked to in a FPP before, but I need to go to bed instead of doing more searching.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:33 AM on July 10, 2004


From 2014:

"The Department of Homeland Security today announced that 'intercranial screening devices' would be a required installation on any American wishing to travel as part of a national program to identify terrorists simply from their brain wave patterns. These devices, along with the now 5-year-old TOPS data screening program which has helped identify 400,000 terrorists based on their data demographics, is 'guaranteed' to stop any future terrorist attacks like the last one, thirteen years ago."
posted by briank at 4:41 AM on July 10, 2004


I want to be first in line to have a monkey implanted into my brain!
posted by mcsweetie at 5:08 AM on July 10, 2004


Ryvar: "if it can be conclusively proven that humans are essentially deterministic ongoing chemical reactions, then the concept of a metaphysical soul or spirit which exert some influence on your actions is removed from possibility"

As a card carrying atheist (we get discounts all over the place) it pains me to point out the little flaw in this argument. For one thing you've got this little problem. This might seem like it would cause very small imprecisions until you look at the various chaos theory papers produced over the last thirty or so years.

You've also got the fact that you're going to have lots of difficulty tracking all of the possible emergent phenomena that exist above or below your chosen level of analysis. I wrote a chunk of the philosophy of science ‘reductionism’ article at the Wikipedia on that very topic.
posted by snarfodox at 6:46 AM on July 10, 2004


snarfodox:

The Uncertainty Principle applies only if one is willing to accept that the soul/spirit/metaphysical 'self' affects the brain at the quantum level.
posted by Ryvar at 8:42 AM on July 10, 2004


Also, to TungstenChef:

Entire religions can be thrown out regardless of faith if firm contradictions can be found in their basic epistemological foundations. Let's use the Christian faith as an example, because that's the one I know the best.

One of the tenants of the Bible is that if part of it were false, the entire thing would be false, but even beyond that the concept of the soul and spirit - and the influence they have on you as you 'make choices' are fundamental to the religion.

If it can be demonstrated that there is no such thing as the soul, nor spirit, nor free will, the entire Christian faith collapses in on itself like a house of cards- I think Konolia will back me up on that statement. The central act of Christianity is the *choice* to accept Christ as savior, and thus a mind devoid of choice is in conflict with the very underpinnings of all Christian faith.

Not to mention many other faiths (scientology, islam, Buddhism all make frequent use of the concept of choice in their doctrine).

To falsify these religions, then, by their own admission via their core texts, all one has to do is prove that there is nothing more than chemical clockwork occuring between the sodium ion pulses coming from your senses, and those outgoing to your motor system. That is why this work is important - because it has the potential to tear gigantic holes in nearly every major established religion.
posted by Ryvar at 9:14 AM on July 10, 2004


and could lead to more natural thought-activated prosthetic devices for people with paralysis
A friend of mine was one of the researchers at Brown who worked one of the monkey robot-arm experiments.

He now works at Cyberkinetics, a new company who has gotten FDA approvals to do trials:
Cyberkinetics' first clinical product is the BrainGate™ Neural Interface System. Based on more than ten years of development at Brown University, the BrainGate™ System is intended to provide severely disabled people with a permanent, direct and reliable interface to a personal computer.
posted by malphigian at 10:16 AM on July 10, 2004


It's worth noting that the logical endpoint of this research (realtime molecular-level monitoring of everything that goes on within the brain) utterly destroys nearly every religion out there - if it can be conclusively proven that humans are essentially deterministic ongoing chemical reactions, then the concept of a metaphysical soul or spirit which exert some influence on your actions is removed from possibility.

Sure, the brain is deterministic--if you can prevent all input external to the system from changing any of its internal states. All this research is showing is that you can make a highly probabilistic guess on what the brain wants to do in the very short term. The subject is still perfectly capable of doing something different if it detects a change in its preconditions for taking the current action.

Followed to its logical conclusion, this research is not leading to a deterministic theory of the brain. The only way a brain could be characterized as deterministic is if the universe surrounding it (however you care to or can draw that boundary) is also deterministic. To arbitrarily keep uncertainty from entering the picture, you might say the whole universe is deterministic, but then you'd need to come up with a theory detailed enough to predict interaction with a subuniverse for the period in which the subuniverse is cohesive.

In a lab, controls can be set so high that input is nearly completely controlled, making it look like a deterministic system. Unfortunately, the subject is not going be "alive" in the sense we like to think about it, because its senses and ability to interact with its surroundings will be so thoroughly limited.

I don't quite see where you're going with all this threat-to-the-world's-major-religions stuff. Maybe you've found a religion of your own, and you think a deterministic brain is somehow fulfilling to its worldview?
posted by bafflegab at 10:16 AM on July 10, 2004


"Implanting chips in the parietal cortex might yield unexpected side-effects, cautions Donoghue. Suppose you planned to shake your boss's hand, but thought transiently about slapping him in the face. The slap could happen."
posted by homunculus at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2004


Ryvar: The Uncertainty Principle applies only if one is willing to accept that the soul/spirit/metaphysical 'self' affects the brain at the quantum level.

Around thirty years of chaos theory have been pointing us towards the idea that very small changes in a system tend to be amplified enormously over time. The more complex your initial system is, the harder your problem. Weather is bad. More than one hundred billion neurons in a partially connected network is... daunting.
If your ‘soul/spirit/metaphysical self’ is to be considered an emergent phenomenon that happens to be surfing a neurochemical ocean it can be said to be responsive to the ebb and flow (and occasional hurricane), but not necessarily bound to it in a hard deterministic fashion.
These days you can be a materialist and (terrible thought) a dualist.

That said, I once conducted an experiment on an electroencephalograph (while the other guy doing ERP stuff wasn't watching). I had the subjects first do a few button pushes, worked out what was the gross activation pattern that indicated a button push decision (just preceding the motor activation), and then asked them to trick the computer into telling them that they had pushed the button.
I had people literally screaming with frustration as the screen popped up a message telling them that they were about to press the button a fraction of a second before their finger pressed the button. They were always convinced they could trick it with false motor activity. Nobody ever did.
posted by snarfodox at 11:28 AM on July 10, 2004


Hey cool... I got a ‘thank you’ acknowledgement for technical support in this [PDF] paper (published by the aforementioned ERP guy) in Neuropsychologia. Nobody ever says thank you.
Amazing the little things you find on the web that you otherwise wouldn't know about. Thanks MeFi.
posted by snarfodox at 11:50 AM on July 10, 2004


Ryvar: The Gestalt of Determinism
It's not possible to prove the world is deterministic or not. It may be possible to prove humans are, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Interestingly, it is very hard for humans to intentionally act indeterministically, for instance, trying to write down a random sequence of numbers. Generally, they'll write down a surprisingly low-entropy sequence.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:59 AM on July 10, 2004


The Department of Homeland Security today announced that 'intercranial screening devices' would be a required installation on any American wishing to travel as part of a national program to identify terrorists simply from their brain wave patterns.

Resistance is futile...
posted by homunculus at 12:17 PM on July 10, 2004


"The three animals involved in the study have been retired to an animal sanctuary."
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on July 10, 2004


if proven, this destroys the notions of free will

IIRC, one of the creators of ALICE, after extensively studying human interactions, observed that most human behavior maps into a very small space of possible actions. There are "subroutines" in our actions that, once acquired, replace actual thought in ordinary situations. (Consider how little attention you spend on driving now, versus when you were first learning).

He held the opinion that, much as astronomy moved the Earth from the center of the Universe, the study of intelligence will likely move Free Will to a less significant position in the architecture of the human mind.

I'm sure many people will oppose this idea, thinking that it "cheapens" human life, much as many opposed the heliocentric theory, because it made the Earth less cosmically important.
posted by SPrintF at 12:52 PM on July 10, 2004


While these types of studies show that you can predict behavior by monitoring the neural activity of the brain, it provides a minimal insight into conscious/spiritual experience. It is important to note that the parietal brain areas noted in this article are thought to encode the intention to making an action while other brain areas are involved in suppressing the response and still others pull everything together to provide a conscious percept of the event. Because this is the case, using neural activity (even across a wide variety of brain areas) to predict behavior is valid only under highly controlled conditions.

When attempting to generalize these findings to achieving a predictive power for conscious/spiritual experience you would have to assume that information processing throughout the brain is not shaped by previous experience and that a specific set of stimuli will always elicit the same set of neural responses. The current perspective in neuroscience is that information processing throughout most of the brain of higher organisms (and in particular the parietal cortex of monkeys and humans) is highly contingent on context (i.e. previous experience, the motivational state of the organism and the external environment).
posted by Gif at 2:30 PM on July 10, 2004


Ryvar - Sorry man, you have fallacies at multiple levels in your conclusions. Let's take a look.

One of the tenants of the Bible is that if part of it were false, the entire thing would be false
What's the chapter and verse on this statement, I always thought it was tradition? In any case, it isn't a problem unless you subscribe to a very strict literalist interpretation of the Bible. Show me an "error" and I'll tell you how it's metaphorical, not a statement of fact. Also, what if THAT particular statement is false? If so, than there's no problem whatsoever with other factual errors in the Bible.

Also, you are only talking about a small subset of Christianity. I forget the term, but only a few sects hold that accepting Christ as your personal savior as necessary for salvation. The Catholics and Episcopalians, for example, don't require this at all and so a determanistic model of the brain holds no problem.

If it can be demonstrated that there is no such thing as the soul, nor spirit, nor free will, the entire Christian faith collapses in on itself like a house of cards

The soul by definition is not of this world and therefor totally undetectable. There's no way to prove or disprove it.

Finally, please stop generalizing on the term Christianity. There is such a diversity of Christian beliefs that trying to lump them together does a disservice to any discussion you might have about them.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:49 PM on July 10, 2004


First, I'd like to point out that Christianity is not a dogma or an epistemological system, but a community of faith which evolves and grows according to the current understanding of the world. Attempts to "disprove" it are therefore... ah... futile and sort of beside the point.

Second, I just thought someone should say that while it's currently out of fashion, predestination was a very strong feature of early protestantism, especially Calvinism -- better known in the US as Presbyterianism -- and the early Congregationist (now better known as "Non Denominational") sects.
posted by hob at 5:39 PM on July 10, 2004


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