A robotic cerebellum has been implanted into a rat’s skull. From the Oct. 4, 2011 news item on Science Daily,
With new cutting-edge technology aimed at providing amputees with robotic limbs, a Tel Aviv University researcher has successfully implanted a robotic cerebellum into the skull of a rodent with brain damage, restoring its capacity for movement.
The cerebellum is responsible for co-ordinating movement, explains Prof. Matti Mintz of TAU’s [Tel Aviv University] Department of Psychology. When wired to the brain, his “robo-cerebellum” receives, interprets, and transmits sensory information from the brain stem, facilitating communication between the brain and the body. To test this robotic interface between body and brain, the researchers taught a brain-damaged rat to blink whenever they sounded a particular tone. The rat could only perform the behavior when its robotic cerebellum was functional.
This is the third item I’ve found in the last few weeks about computer chips being implanted in brains. I found the other two items in a discussion about extreme human enhancement on Slate.com (first mentioned in my Sept. 15, 2011 posting). One of the Brad Allenby [the other two discussants are Nicholas Agar and Kyle Munkittrick] entries (posted Sept. 16, 2011) featured these two references,
Experiments that began here at Arizona State University and have been continued at Duke and elsewhere have involved monkeys learning to move mechanical arms to which they are wirelessly connected as if they were part of themselves, using them effectively even when the arms (but not the monkey) are shifted up to MIT and elsewhere. More recently, monkeys with chips implanted in their brains [2008 according to the video on the website] at Duke University have kept a robot wirelessly connected to their chip running in Japan. Similar technologies are being explored to enable paraplegics and other injured people to interact with their environments and to communicate effectively, as well. The upshot is that “the body” is becoming more than just a spatial presence; rather, it becomes a designed extended cognitive network.
The projects are almost mirror images of each other. The rat can’t move without input from its robotic cerebellum while the monkeys control the robots’ movement with their thoughts. From the Oct. 3, 2011 news release on Eureka Alert,
According to the researcher, the chip is designed to mimic natural neuronal activity. “It’s a proof of the concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and then return it to the brain,” says Prof. Mintz, who recently presented his research at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK.
In reading these items, I can’t help but remember that plastic surgery was a means of helping soldiers with horrendous wounds and it has now become part of the cosmetics industry. Given that history, it is possible to imagine (or to assume) that these brain ‘repairs’ could be used to augment or reshape our brains to increase intelligence, heighten senses, improve motor coordination, etc. In short. to accomplish very different goals than those originally set out.