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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The robot with a rat's brain

Human life as we know it is over. The way things have been going for us around here lately, that may not be such a bad thing.
Scientists at England's University of Reading (Reading is the sort of place where scientists are really cool) have created a robot which is controlled by cultured rat neurons.
In short, a robot with a rat's brain. Or, as some might call it, a politician.
Curiously, these scientists are very clear about what they are trying to achieve. They want to know how memories are stored in a brain made out of live matter.
I will not pretend to explain to you how this is all done. For I am a normal human being. (Here's a link to some intelligent people on the subject.) However, as I understand it, they separate the rat neurons out in an enzyme bath (a little like Epsom salts, I suppose, to rest the traumatized rat brain parts) and then they lay the enzymes on some electrodes.
That sparky little connection is the link between the brain and the machine.
One day, I will control you.
(Credit: CC Asplosh)
Here is a part I do understand- the rat brain communicates with the robot body via Bluetooth. Yes, just like drivers in California.
Apparently, the brain starts functioning within 24 hours, sending out impulses, presumably such as "can you crawl along that subway track and get to the cheese sandwich that the senior vice-president just dropped?"
The biggest issue for the scientists is keeping the brain alive. The biggest issue for me is that each rat brain has its own personality.
"It's quite funny, you get differences between the brains," said Kevin Warwick, one of the brains behind the Rat Brain Robot. "This one is a bit boisterous and active, while we know another is not going to do what we want it to."
You might be wondering just how similar rat brains are to human brains. Well, apparently, we simply have more brain stuff, rather than a lot of different brain stuff. (One rat brain=1 million neurons. One human brain=100 million neurons. It's amazing there isn't a Fox TV show called Are You 100 Times Smarter Than A Rat?)
Our gray-mattered similarity to rats I find simultaneously both reassuring and frightening.
However, I am still suspicious that the researchers really want to make a political point here.
You see, Britain's most unpopular politician just at the moment is the somewhat uncertain Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Your 100 million neurons will be shocked to discover that the Rat Brain Robot is called Gordon.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10017283-71.html#ixzz17Mh55zxZ

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