Saturday, January 19, 2008

Monkey brains used to control Japanese robots

By now, I think it's pretty much common knowledge that humanity is going to be wiped off the face of the Earth by one of the following catastrophes:

- Zombie outbreak
- Germ pandemic
- Sentient robots who decide to overthrow their meatbag creators

Well, scientists at Duke University have brought us at least one step closer to the third possibility. They've stuck probes into the brains of rhesus monkeys and used the monkeys' thoughts to control robots walking around in Japan.

"They can walk in complete synchronization," said Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, who also is the Anne W. Deane Professor of Neuroscience at Duke. "The most stunning finding is that when we stopped the treadmill and the monkey ceased to move its legs, it was able to sustain the locomotion of the robot for a few minutes -- just by thinking -- using only the visual feedback of the robot in Japan."

Implanted electrodes gathered feedback from brain cells of two rhesus monkeys as they walked forward and backward at different paces on a treadmill. Sensors on the monkeys' legs tracked walking patterns while researchers used math models to analyze the relationship between leg movement and activity in the brain's motor and sensory cortex. From there, researchers in North Carolina and Japan determined how well brain cell activity predicted speed and stride.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or to shriek in terror at this development. On the one hand, monkeys are hilarious and always good for a chuckle or two, but on the other, scientists are hooking up electrodes to fucking monkey brains and allowing the monkeys to control robots!

The thing about scientific research is that the vast majority of it is incredibly boring and only meaningful to scientists. That's okay, though, because the scientists are generally benevolent and using their collected data to solve problems faced by humanity, such as how to create the perfect artificial papaya flavoring.

Then you get scientists like the ones on this Duke team, who seem to be hell-bent on bringing on the apocalypse. I can just imagine what's next -- monkeys telepathically controlling Predator drones and Abrams tanks, which will plow over the surface of the planet searching out the terrified human population and committing wanton slaughter.

You read it here first -- 10 years from now, we'll be facing the Robot-Monkey-Zombie apocalypse. When it happens, you won't be able to say you haven't been warned.